Compass Trailblazers Making History Now: Aleshia McMath, VP, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Aleshia McMath has been making an impact at Compass Group since she started nearly 10 years ago. By combining fresh ideas with a people-first approach, she’s a champion and change agent for Compass Group’s associates and culture. As a wife and mother of five, she has instilled into her family that they can do and be anything by being true to who they are. And, in her new role as Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, she’s committed to instilling the same in Compass associates, while creating opportunities for them to grow. Read Aleshia’s story to learn how she got her start and why she’s a Compass trailblazer.
As Compass Group’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leader, you have to speak up and be the voice for so many of our associates. How did you find your voice?
I’m one of five girls, so growing up I didn’t feel like I had a true identity. I had to learn at an early age that if I wanted something, I needed to speak up and ask for it. That’s something I still carry with me today and what I try to do for our associates.
Speaking of your childhood, you grew up in Rochester, New York. How did growing up in Rochester shape who you are?
I loved my neighborhood and had a great time until I was about 15. That’s when things began to change in Rochester. A lot of the big businesses started to leave, and jobs weren’t as plentiful. You could literally see a shift in our neighborhood overnight. The biggest change was the drug epidemic and gang violence, and I struggled with losing some of my friends at an early age. I knew I needed to do something to help myself, my friends and my community. Throughout high school, I had some really great educators and mentors that provided counseling and instilled in me that I was special and that I could do something to make a positive impact on the world. My sisters and my parents were also super supportive, caring and very encouraging. I loved, loved law at the time, and I felt like I could help others by being a lawyer, so I decided that’s what I wanted to pursue.
What was a defining moment or event in your life that put you on the path you’re on today?
That’s an interesting story. What really put me on the path that I’m on today is my experience while interning at the DA’s office. I was in school at the time studying criminal justice … absolutely loving the learning process and working with the assistant district attorneys, preparing their briefs for court cases. Through my experience with the court system, I saw that black and brown people were being treated differently. That shifted my mindset and made me feel like I couldn’t make the impact that I thought I could in the criminal justice system. So, I stopped preparing for law school and changed course.
I was working at UPS part-time while attending school full-time … loading and unloading boxes and the management team recognized that I was a problem-solver, that everyone confided in me and trusted me with their personal matters. So, the management team asked if I would be interested in joining the HR team. That’s how I got my start in the field. It’s funny because I was running away from law, which was what I thought was going to allow me to fight for the rights of others, and I ended running into HR which has allowed me to help others.
What are you hoping to accomplish in your new role as VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
What I’m most hoping to accomplish is to provide more access to information, more access to opportunity, and more collaboration amongst the teams and leaders that are responsible for making Compass Group associates’ lives better tomorrow than they are today.
I also feel like there’s no way that we can talk about the diversity of who we are and celebrate it if we don’t empower people and give them opportunity to demonstrate their skills and abilities, and to live out their dreams. I don’t think we talk enough about people’s passion and dreams. They’re so important for helping you move to the next level. I want to help our associates realize their dreams through education, exposure and opportunity.
How do you see the Compass Group + Thompson Hospitality partnership benefiting associates?
The strategic partnership between Compass Group and Thompson Hospitality has been invaluable to our associates, our community, and our clients by providing new opportunities. It’s proven to be a wonderful legacy and we’re committed to continuing this great work on the journey ahead.
At Compass, we hear “Be the Difference” you want to see often. How are you being the difference at Compass?
When I think about being the difference, I think about how I can continue to have conversations and work on actions that help others see why DEI is so critical to who we are as an organization and to who we are as people. At Compass, we believe people are our purpose. To me, people are our purpose and DEI is our promise to our people, our culture and our community. I’m committed to that promise and giving people opportunities to bring their authentic selves, skills and dreams to an inclusive workplace and ensuring we are supporting the communities we serve, as well.
What’s an important leadership lesson that you learned?
To listen more than you speak. When I was younger, I had to learn how to vocalize my thoughts without being overly emotional. I don’t think that’s a race thing or a gender thing, I think that’s a maturity thing.
When issues impacted me and I felt a certain way about them, I didn’t think about my response…I just said what was in my heart. That approach didn’t always get me through the door or get the reaction from people that I hoped for. I had a great mentor who told me that I had so much passion that it was like a fire, and the closer people got to me, I burned them. That was important for me to hear. It taught me that I needed to work on my communication style. My mentor also taught me that your life needs to be 80% listening and 20% responding and acting. If you can listen well, you’ll be better equipped to provide inclusive decisions and do so much more in this world.
What words do you live by?
I always think about one of Maya Angelou’s famous quotes: “…people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I live by that and try really hard to let people know how passionate I am about them and helping them through my actions.