One Culture, No Compromise: How Pinnacle is Expanding Networks to Boost Diversity

One Culture, No Compromise: How Pinnacle is Expanding Networks to Boost Diversity

By Eddie Alford of Pinnacle Financial Partners

October 20, 2023

In 2020, as calls for diversity in corporate America grew louder and louder, the leader of a nationwide financial institution set off a storm when he wrote that reaching the company’s diversity goals would be challenging because there was “a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from.”

On one hand, it’s easy to see how that statement could have been misinterpreted. Given institutional disparities in education and opportunity, African Americans and other people of color are underrepresented in financial institutions and the pipelines that feed them employees.

But benefit of the doubt is in short supply. That sentiment and others like it have been repeated again and again in DEI discussions across the country. “There’s not enough talent” and the insidious “we’ll have to change our hiring standards” are early indicators that a DEI initiative aimed at improving organizational diversity is doomed before it begins.

We at Pinnacle believe a strong and diverse team is critical to our success and performance, both as a firm and an active member of our communities. When our associates represent the communities we serve, we can then cascade our impact to reach more people more effectively. Our dilemma, however, was how to square this with our long track record of success with our hiring model where most roles require at least 10 years of experience and recruiting is based on direct referrals from Pinnacle associates. Could we increase diversity without compromising the hiring model that’s part of the bedrock of our business model?

It was a question, but never really a debate. Of course we could. We knew the talent was there. We just needed our leaders to be better connected to it.

Step one was expanding how we describe our hiring model. “We hire happy, successful, experienced associates who share our values and can thrive in and add to our culture.”

It’s a subtle shift that expands the definition of “cultural fit” to be more inclusive. We all bring personal experiences and perspectives to work, and a company’s culture is made up of the sum total of them all. As long as the individual fits our values and can commit to our mission, there’s always room for more perspectives in our culture.

Next was helping our leaders be more intentional in developing diverse professional networks. We did this in part by connecting them with organizations that serve them like The Nashville Black Chamber of Commerce, The Nashville Business Incubation Center, The Table, Advancing Women in Nashville, etc. This allows us to be good community partners while creating opportunities to bump our professional networks together and expand our recruiting pipelines. Our hiring leaders had meaningful time to meet new people and introduce themselves to large numbers of potential candidates and centers of influence.

At the same time, we gave them training on how to use tools like LinkedIn to find connections they didn’t know they had, learn about banking talent outside their traditional circles and ask for introductions.

By the time they were through, they found a larger, more diverse pool of candidates who could fit our culture, add to it and still fall in line with our rigorous model.

Our results from the last three years show that we can very much apply our rigorous model to a more diverse pool*:

  • 45% increase in minority representation overall
  • 08% increase in female representation overall
  • 400% increase in minority representation on leadership team
  • 233% increase in female representation on leadership team
  • 152% increase in minority representation among financial advisors
  • 96% increase in female representation among financial advisors

*Between Jan. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2023

We continue to hire all stars. We’re improving diversity. And we didn’t compromise our standards or our model – we simply expanded what it means to be part of the Pinnacle family.


Eddie Alford is the director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Pinnacle Financial Partners, leading the firm’s internal and external DEI efforts across the Southeast. Eddie has been with Pinnacle since 2005 with a background in learning and leadership development.