Black Enterprise magazine, which has covered African-American businesses for almost 50 years and has a readership of 3.7 million, has developed the list of “Top Executives in Corporate Diversity” to highlight the most influential, high-ranking executives that lead diversity initiatives at the nation’s largest companies.

Madison’s Angela Russell, vice president of diversity and inclusion at CUNA Mutual Group, is one of them.

Yesterday, Black Enterprise released its latest exclusive list of the nation’s most powerful diversity executives in the March/April issue of Black Enterprise magazine that is now on digital newsstands.

“I was shocked. I was like, ‘Wait. What???’ I was pretty surprised and pretty thrilled and very honored,” Russell tells Madison365. “I wanted to text my mom and tell her about it right away.”

“We selected chief diversity officers, global diversity executives, executive and senior vice presidents, vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, and directors who lead diversity initiatives vital to the business objectives of their respective parent companies,” the magazine said announcing the list.

“Growing up my family got the magazine regularly. I’m very familiar with Black Enterprise – I saw it every month as a kid,” Russell says. “I didn’t know much about this part of it in terms of high they highlight topics of diversity and inclusion and it’s still surprising to me because I feel like here at CUNA Mutual we are so much at beginning of our journey.

“To be getting nationally recognized for our work is pretty awesome,” she adds, “and very humbling.”

Black Enterprise said that these executives “recognize the value of the link between diversity and engagement, which is driven by corporate leadership at the highest level.” The names of the diversity executives on the list represent some of the nation’s largest corporations in some of the biggest cities. How did they find Russell?

“I’m not really sure how they found CUNA Mutual Group, to be honest. For them to highlight, little Madison, Wisconsin, that’s great. It’s very cool,” Russell says.

“When Bob Trunzo became our CEO in 2014, one of the very first things he did was add inclusion as a corporate value,” Russell remembers. “He felt that that was one of the key missing links that we needed in our organization.”

Russell was hired as one of the first people to do this work as the Diversity & Inclusion manager.

“We’ve done a lot of great things. Before I started there was a change team that had gone through some racial justice training through the YWCA,” Russell says. “They were setting the foundation and planting the seeds to get where we are at right now.”

One big aspect of CUNA Mutual’s diversity and inclusion work is their 12 different employee resource groups – each one of them receives $2,000 a year to do a variety of activities to increase the awareness around diversity.

“I’m a member of the African-American employee resource group, for example, and we get together monthly to talk about challenges and opportunities within the workplace,” Russell says. “And then our organization can also use the employee resource groups as a sounding board. For example, sometimes we have HR policies that we want to have reviewed and we can use one of our employee resource groups review it to make sure we are seeing everything we need to see.”

Russell says that CUNA also has a robust diversity and inclusion learning series.

“About once every month, we have a nationally known speaker come in and provide training to our employees. We generally have a waiting list for people to attend both in-person and online,” Russell says. “This year we started off our D&I learning series with Jane Elliott. She was amazing.

Elliott is internationally known teacher, lecturer, diversity trainer, and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education who has been featured on Oprah and is famous for the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” experiment.

“We’ve had a theater troupe come up from Minneapolis to act out and to talk about the different challenges that come up around diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” Russell says. “Our training series is pretty robust.

“We also have a thing we call the ‘Inclusion Institute’ that we just started last year where we get a cohort of about 18 folks who want to take a deeper dive into learning how to create an inclusive workplace,” Russell adds. “The cohort of 18 meets every week for six weeks and they develop a project on what we can be doing new or different to create a much more inclusive workplace at CUNA Mutual Group.”

There will be a reception for the Black Enterprise 2018 list of “Top Corporate Diversity Executives” on June 8.

“I’m excited to be honored. It’s super-humbling. I still feel like we have a long way to go here at CUNA Mutual Group, but at least we are on the path and that makes me very happy,” Russell says. “I still continue to be surprised and really excited about the overall commitment of the organization because this is really not a one person thing – it really takes all of us working together.”