When Audra Bohannon was a young girl, she discovered the power of giving back to others. As a sixth-grader in eastern Michigan, she managed to pacify a group of bullies in her class by offering to help them with their schoolwork. At the age of 13, she became a volunteer for Head Start, where she helped local children prepare for kindergarten. In her senior year of high school, her teacher recruited her as an aide to help him grade papers.
In college, she volunteered for multiple causes in between working full-time and completing her coursework. “I saw the results of it,” Bohannon said of volunteering. “I saw how it helped me serve others. I saw how it helped me build my brand. I saw how it came back to me in a way that I never even imagined.”
That same spirit of service has shaped her life’s work and guided her to her current role as a Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry, a global organizational consulting firm founded in 1969. She uses her vast corporate knowledge and experience to provide consulting services, executive coaching services, facilitation, and strategic leadership. While her portfolio is large, her fundamental passion is focused, promoting diversity and inclusion within organizations.
“What connects it all together is a commitment that I have to support organizations–to create cultures, to create climates–where all people can do their best work, no matter how different they are,” she said. “I just have a fundamental belief that people deserve to be able to grow and learn and they deserve to be able to realize their potential.”
She calls this brand of work “servant leadership,” and she has dedicated her life to it. “I think of myself as an instrument. I’m an instrument to be used to help other people to be better,” Bohannon said. “It’s about how do I engage, how do I encourage, how do I inspire, how do I empower others to do their best?”
Much of her work focuses on recognizing our unconscious biases and working hard to correct them. This is an important step leaders must take if they want to truly champion inclusion within their organizations. She believes humanity’s “tribal” instincts often result in what she calls “benign neglect” of those who are dissimilar to us.
“If you allow your subconscious to drive you, you will continue to maintain the status quo. If you want to disrupt the default, then you’ve got to do it at a conscious level,” she said. “When it comes to…diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is intentional work, it is focused work. It is some of the hardest work you can ever do, but it’s also conscious work.” In doing this work, leaders are helping to ensure that all community members are appreciated and supported, regardless of their backgrounds.
Consciousness is critical to Bohannon’s worldview, especially when shaping her own professional path. Her motto is “live your life by design, not by default.” By consciously uplifting others, Bohannon has managed to construct a fulfilling career for herself while also changing her community for the better. Still, the work of conscious inclusion is never quite done.“It’s really easy to default back to the status quo. And when you default back to the status quo, you go back to what’s similar. As opposed to being appreciative of what’s different.”
In this video, Bohannon discusses how she shifted from working in the fashion industry to the corporate world, how diversity has and has not changed since she began her career, and her advice for today’s entrepreneurs.