Angelique Bovee

Angelique Bovee used to be a boxer.  She rose to great heights, winning U.S. National Boxing Championships, and set her sights on going to the Olympics. But in 2004 and in 2008, when she would have age-qualified, women’s boxing was rejected by the IOC.  In 2012 it finally premiered as the last summer Olympic sport to include women, but at 35 years old, Angel had aged out.

If you meet Angel today, you’d never know she suffered such a grave disappointment. She has a spark in her step and a smile the size of Montana.  She works now advocating for athletes around the world.  Undaunted by her personal set backs, she’s now an employee of the Adecco Group, an enormous global supplier of talent to workplaces.  She’s a career coach for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athlete and Career Education program, helping Team USA athletes transition out of that world to whatever might be awaiting them.

Women’s Athlete Business Network Athlete Transition Program

I met Angel at the Ernst & Young partnership program with the global women’s leadership organization called International Women’s Forum (IWF).  Their partnership, called Women’s Athlete Business Network (WABN), is where women from all over the world of elite athletics are given an opportunity to transition, acquire a professional mentor to work with, and then spend a few days together learning from speakers in various disciplines. After two days of professional development they join the larger IWF conference, where they gain insights from the thousands of IWF members present, and from world-renowned thought leaders who speak on panels.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because of what Angel told me. “Surrounded by these women, I feel a sense of belonging.”

As managers who rush through our days to make a deadline or file a brief or attend nonstop meetings, we forget the things that matter to our employees. We forget that they want belonging, a connection to one another and to their leadership. Each of them has a backstory, something that might cause them to feel separate, without a tribe of their own.

This is why affinity groups in organizations matter so much, because we can see ourselves in those around us. We hear their story and it’s ours. We find that precious promise that, with such shared history–with those that get you– you can build trust, the most powerful emotion in any workplace. Teams that trust each other work with focus and speed, and with a minimum of drama.

Bravo to E & Y, IWF and the Adecco Group for recognizing that what most of us seek is to just be ourselves, and to work with others that make it easy to build trust.

And bravo to Angel, who defied the odds, became a national champion, and reaches a hand out to those who use her as their model of what success can look like for them.