Charlesiah McLean '99
By Bailey Black
“Leadership is the ability to unleash the true power of human capital,” said Charlesiah McLean ’99, Ed.D.
Leadership has been a core value throughout McLean’s career and a skill he strengthened as a student at Radford University. McLean served as a Student Support Services advisor, president of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. These experiences allowed him to develop strong leadership fundamentals and thrive professionally in various industries, including finance, retail, defense, and pharmaceuticals.
McLean started his career in education as a middle school teacher in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. During the summer months, he worked in diversity and inclusion for the Northwest Education Center, which led him to the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, where he served as area director for health careers and workforce diversity.
“Starting in education allowed me to tap into my passion for helping others as a diversity and inclusion champion, advocate and practitioner,” McLean said.
He is now the U.S. head of diversity and inclusion talent, attraction and engagement at Novartis, a global healthcare company based in Switzerland and one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. In this role, McLean designs, develops and implements diversity-focused recruitment and sourcing strategies, programs and initiatives. He also leads and manages partnerships with external organizations to advance diverse talent attraction.
“Impactful, inclusive and effective leadership includes mindfulness and self-awareness that allows me to remove barriers to allow my team to do their very best work,” McLean said.
Prior to Novartis, he was the global head of inclusion and diversity at Leidos, an aerospace and defensive information technology company. He has also served as a board member of Disability:IN D.C. Metro, an organization that advocates for the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in today’s workforce and marketplace, and he is an active member of the Black Doctoral Network, which connects companies to a national network of black and Latino Ph.D. scholars for cutting-edge expertise across many disciplines. McLean holds a Doctor of Education degree in educational leadership and administration.
McLean’s work and service have allowed him to support organizations in unlocking the power of diversity and inclusion to fuel innovation.
“It is critical as a leader to embrace how diverse perspectives can fuel innovative solutions,” McLean said. “You have a call-to-action to serve as an inclusion ambassador by creating a psychologically safe environment modeling inclusive behaviors that lead to continuous learning and an openness to all possibilities, which drives a high-performing culture. Leaders can leverage inclusion to drive strategic growth and business outcomes.”
Being curious, inspired and agile have been important to his journey, but McLean emphasizes the importance of building a supportive network that can hold one accountable in setting a career timeline and achieving key milestones. Part of building a network is finding mentors, which McLean says has been the key to his success. Based on his mentors’ impact on him, he has chosen to serve as a mentor to undergraduates and early career talent because he believes in paying it forward to the next generation.
When he reflects on his time at Radford, he remembers the impact his mentor Owen Watkins, M.S. ’88, who worked in multicultural student affairs, had on his student experience.
“He was like a second father to me in taking the time to be a listening ear, a coach and a mentor, helping me to navigate my undergraduate career as a first-generation college student,” says McLean.
His advice to those who hope to unlock the power of mentorship is, “For mentees, I would encourage you to approach each relationship with goals and objectives for what you want to accomplish. For mentors, I encourage active listening and willingness to learn and embrace how this unique relationship can also serve as a learning opportunity.
“Mentoring is a two-way relationship and a shared experience between the mentor and the mentee,” McLean said. “I have been a mentor for more than 15 years, and I learn just as much from the mentees I work with [as they do from me]. What has been most beneficial is the wealth in the intergenerational exchange that takes place.”