Leader to Leader: Breaking barriers with BEV

Being a national lead for an employee resource group takes a lot of hard work, passion and empathy. These leaders' voices and advocacy help shape Molson Coors’ culture and business.

In our new series, Leader to Leader, we've set up a transparent conversation between leaders of separate employee resource groups to allow for deeper conversations and a transparent dive into what drives their work. 

Our first installment features a conversation between Native American Council National Lead Michelle Wentworth (procurement specialist – Rocky Mountain Bottle Co.) and the co-national leaders of our Black Employee Voices group, Sean Yates (senior manufacturing systems engineer – Golden Brewery) and Rich Kirkwood (senior distributor sales executive).

Michelle Wentworth: How did you get involved with BEV?

Sean Yates: I joined Molson Coors working in the (now closed) Memphis brewery, and in 2005 when I came to the Golden Brewery, there wasn’t much of a BEV chapter. Frankly, there were not a lot of Black employees, so the chapter was kind of flailing. The chapter president at the time pulled me aside and asked for some help building the chapter. I have been heavily involved ever since.

It’s been a great journey and has provided me the opportunity to interact with so many more employees and educate our allies.

MW: Why is it so important that BEV have ally support?

Rich Kirkwood: My thought process is actually pretty simple and direct. In our society, White people are in a position that Black people are not. And other people will listen to the support of allies before they listen to Black culture.

For example, if you see little kids on the playground and one is getting picked on, it just takes one person to step up and tell the others to stop messing with them. And the rest of the kids will realize they shouldn’t have bullied the other kid. That’s how allies in simple terms can stand up for Black people and other people of color.

MW: How has your involvement with BEV impacted your life outside of work?

SY: It has opened up more conversations with my friends and family. I have several friends with other companies who are in a similar position as me. And we regularly bounce ideas off each other and talk about what our companies our doing and the nuances of different situations.

As an example, we had a long conversation about the Black cops who (are accused of murdering) Tyre Nichols in Memphis. On the surface it might not look like it was race related, but there’s definitely a cultural component, and it’s more nuanced. 

I also take home a lot of what we talk about among BEV members to my kids and wife, and we discuss those things as a family.

MW: What is your 2023 personal goal for BEV?

RK: My personal goal this year is to bring more awareness to BEV. I have found that there are a lot of people across the organization who don’t know what is going on among our ERGs. And I really want to bring awareness to as many people as possible that BEV is here to support them.

MW: What do you view is your biggest accomplishment in BEV?

SY: To this date, I think my biggest accomplishment has been making BEV feel more cohesive. I can now proudly say that all of the BEV chapters connect and work together as a group. We’re providing feedback and leveraging members like we haven’t in the past. And I want to keep building on this momentum more.

RK: I agree with Sean that brining BEV together and being in a stronger place has been an amazing accomplishment. But for me personally, my biggest accomplishment connects back to how I got involved with BEV. When I first joined the organization, I was looking for a way to get involved with BEV from the field. I talked to my manager about wanting a BEV field chapter and he suggested I start it myself. With his support and a number of other influential people within the organization, we were able to get the BEV field chapter off the ground.

SY: There is also one more thing I’d like to touch on. Back in 2020, following George Floyd’s murder, I created a slide deck for leadership to better understand what was going on in the aftermath of the tragedy. I partnered with a few allies throughout the organization who helped me put it together. And the presentation went through more than just police brutality, but about how we’re treated when we go to the doctor and many other experiences Black people face. We presented that to the leadership team, and it was received very well. And the people who helped me put it together said they learned more about Black culture and history than they ever have before.

MW: I remember the presentation and what really stood out to me was something (a co-worker) said. She talked about how she will not let her son wear T-shirts or hoodies. She has him wear a button-down shirt. And I can honestly say I’ve never had to think about what my kids walk out of the house wearing. It was very impactful and left an impact on me.

That leads me to my next question: When you get to the end of your career and you look back at your time with BEV, what do you hope you’ve achieved, and what do you envision BEV will look like?

SY: I want to get to a place to where BEV operates like somewhat of a machine. Where folks who follow in our leadership shoes can easily pick up and take the reins. My other goal is certainly to increase membership. Now I don’t know what level I’d like to see it at, but I do want more people from all backgrounds and races to join BEV.

RK: I want the mission of BEV to change from being an organization that strives to increase representation and the promotion of Black employees to one more focused on boosting employee morale and being a place for employees to connect. I want the representation to be there so it’s not on BEV to be advocates.

MW: What should people who are seeking to be allies know?

SY: First of all, don’t be silent. Like we learn in the Empathy Experience, when you see something, say something. Help be a voice for others. Secondly, educate yourself. If you really want to be an ally and call yourself an ally, you have to educate yourself. That’s fundamental. You also need to understand your privilege, that your whiteness is a privilege, and you won’t have the same experiences as Black people. And lastly, believe what Black people say. I have had so many people doubt my experiences and ask for proof. And I want people to believe what I am saying even if it might sound outrageous — because a lot of the time, those experiences are.

RK: I’m going to add one more thing and it might be clichéd, but it’s to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I think a lot of people may not want to step up and be an ally, including myself at times, because sometimes it means you have to get uncomfortable. Over time, being uncomfortable will go away and stepping out, speaking up and listening will continue to get easier.