Discovering Your Purpose with Charlene Wheeless

Charlene Wheeless is a recovering c-suite executive who is unapologetically authentic. When she started immersing herself in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversations, she heard so many excuses for why corporations were failing at DEI, including the “we have a pipeline issue” rationale.  That wasn’t going to fly with Charlene.

Charlene on Linkedin

Charlene’s book, You Are Enough! Reclaiming Your Career and Your Life with Purpose, Passion, and Unapologetic Authenticity


Jackie Ferguson: Hi, and welcome to season four of the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast sponsored by The Diversity Movement. I’m your host, Jackie Ferguson equality advocate and certified diversity executive. On this show, we discuss how diversity, equity and inclusion benefit our workplaces, schools, and communities by sharing the stories, insights, and best practices of game changers, leaders, and glass ceiling breakers that are doing the work to make our world a more understanding, welcoming and supportive place for us all.

Please welcome Charlene Wheeless to Diversity Beyond the Checkbox. Charlene is a former Communications Executive, winning PR awards from PR Week Magazine to Washington Business Journal and beyond. She is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and leadership and harmony life coach. Charlene, welcome to the diversity beyond the checkbox podcast. 

Charlene Wheeless: Thank you. I’m excited to be here with you, Jackie. Thanks.

Jackie Ferguson: Charlene, can you tell us a little bit more about your early career and then get into what you’re doing today?

Charlene Wheeless: So, I started out when I decided to go to college, I’m the first one in my family to go to college and I thought I would be a teacher when I went to school. And it was really a product of one, I liked the idea, but growing up a teacher was the only black professional I had ever seen. And so that seemed to me that that’s what I was supposed to do. My freshman year in college, I was telling somebody about this, getting ready for my education courses.

And we talked a little bit about what the lifestyle and quite frankly, what I probably would be making as a teacher. And I thought, whoa, maybe I should think about something else, but I was still pretty dedicated to it. But I took an elective course, and my first elective was a journalism course.

And so, it was a love at first letter, and from the moment I started in journalism I knew my career would be in journalism, PR communications, and 35 years later I’ve never looked back, you know? And so, you know, I did the typical. You graduate from college, you take on a corporate job and you climb the corporate ladder, or claw the corporate ladder, which is most appropriate. 

And I became a vice president at a company, a multi-billion-dollar company that was, I was their first female vice president at the age of 35, and continued to climb the corporate ladder. And then, in 2017, I was at the height of my career. I was a principal vice-president for a $40 billion company, running all of their corporate affairs at work.

And I was diagnosed with breast cancer and that completely changed my life. And so, the life I live today is, you know, 180 degrees different from anything I thought I’d be doing.

Full Episode Transcript

Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is brought to you by The Diversity Movement, hosted by Head of Content Jackie Ferguson, and is a production of Earfluence.

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