- Rene Jones, chairman and CEO of M&T Bank, said he learned to use stereotyping as a "superpower."
- Nina Vaca, founder and CEO of Pinnacle Group, said good leadership stems from speaking to people with different opinions and role-modeling vulnerability when you don't know the answer.
- "At the end of the day, the more we can include people and create environments where people are encouraged and championed to speak up and share their ideas, the more competitive we're going to be," Jones said.
Rene Jones is one of four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, and the chairman and CEO of M&T Bank said he is no stranger to stereotyping.
Growing up the son of an African-American father and Belgian mother, Jones' says his siblings spanned the skin tone spectrum and he often faced stereotyping in every community he joined.
Eventually, he learned to use that stereotyping as a "superpower," a skill that guides his leadership and how he views others.
"We often think of stereotypes as things that are negative, but I think there's an opportunity to turn those around into a really positive opportunity," said Jones, during an interview at CNBC's Equity and Opportunity Forum on Thursday. "Oftentimes, when people don't expect you to do something is the best time when you can step up and deliver."
Jones spoke alongside founder and CEO of Pinnacle Group Nina Vaca, and the pair commented on how their personal experiences shaped their leadership mentality. Their key takeaway: Listening to employees and modeling behavior can build equity and opportunity in any work environment.
The question of how to build community becomes all the more complicated as companies cope with ways to integrate hybrid and fully remote workers in the ever-changing work landscape fractured by Covid-19.
Vaca, whose parents emigrated from Ecuador to the U.S., built Pinnacle, a provider of workforce support services, from a one-woman IT staffing firm into one of the fastest-growing women-owned businesses.
Vaca said good leadership stems from speaking to people with different opinions and role-modeling vulnerability when you don't know the answer.
"Creating and having an open mindset to learning and reinventing yourself and being the leader that you need to be ... that's where it begins because the company will not change until the CEO at the top changes," she said.
When in need of advice, both CEOs say they look for people with different perspectives, willing to challenge and offer honest feedback. Like Vaca, Jones agrees that modeling behavior — like calmness — is key to building a community.
"At the end of the day, the more we can include people and create environments where people are encouraged and championed to speak up and share their ideas, the more competitive we're going to be," he said.