About Us Purpose Miriam Lewis: Diversity and inclusion as a way of life

Miriam Lewis: Diversity and inclusion as a way of life

Miriam Lewis focuses on getting people where they need and want to be.

Miriam Lewis standing in Principal headquarters
3 min read |

Miriam Lewis has always been hungry for a fresh puzzle to solve, new things to learn, a challenge that felt bigger than herself. That may explain why, on a warm summer morning in 2020, this smart, ambitious Black woman from the South, with decades of corporate leadership experience, held hands with her husband Ray and decided to move to Des Moines, Iowa.

Lewis had received a job offer from Principal® for chief inclusion officer and it sounded like the kind of challenge she’d been looking for.

“My whole career has been this series of leaps, and this one would be the biggest yet,” Lewis says.

Getting people where they need to be

Lewis relocated nine times for roles of increasing responsibilities across Alabama, Florida, and Georgia within the financial services industry. She later held leadership roles at Clorox and Coca-Cola.

“I was in supply-chain management for years. We were always really good at getting products where they needed to go, but people were getting stuck in the process,” Lewis says. “So I wanted to start focusing on getting people where they needed to be.”

Helping people had been a defining force for Lewis since childhood and explains why she decided to move into the diversity and inclusion (D&I) space. Her father died when she was only two, leaving her mother to raise six daughters; the help of her extended family was essential. “It truly took a village to raise us all, and I depend on those relationships to this day,” Lewis says. “That’s probably why I love to help people, because we were helped so much.”

Finding and using her voice

Despite her upward career trajectory, Lewis struggled with using her voice in public for years. Then she was asked to speak at a women’s conference. “My legs were shaking so hard, I had to put my hands on them to hold still,” she says. “But I took a deep breath and stepped up. I shared some practical habits I use to manage my own finances. And—I received a standing ovation.”

When Lewis finally started to speak up with confidence, people listened. They even reinforced her perspectives, which made her feel more valued and empowered.

“Sometimes I’m the only one in the room with a different perspective. I’m very comfortable sharing that, and in making mistakes and learning from them,” Lewis says.

Making goodness happen

Lewis loves empowering divergent opinions not only because it’s right, but because it’s better for business and builds a deep sense of belonging.

“It’s feeling you can be your authentic self while at work,” Lewis says. “When you have that, you have the license to bring your ideas to the table and can focus on the business itself—because you’re not thinking about covering up. That’s how companies get the best out of every employee. Different backgrounds and ideas lead to innovations and better outcomes and solutions for customers.”

Diversity and inclusion are more than a job for Lewis. They’re a way of life. “Inclusion is linked to everything I do. It’s who I am. I don’t get to check it at the door at home or leave it at the office,” Lewis says. “At work and with my family and friends, I’m usually the one to bring everyone together, to consider other opinions, and ask, ‘What are we missing here or inviting others to say more?’ It’s also about listening, to what’s being said and what’s not being said. In an inclusive environment, only goodness happens.”

The authenticity of her commitment explains how Lewis landed at her current role, but it was the Principal offer to integrate diversity and inclusion work into a business model that sold her.

“I’ve spent the majority of my career as a business leader. It’s rare to see jobs for inclusion roles that reference a business background coupled with diversity and inclusion experience. And Principal did,” Lewis says. “Inclusion isn’t a human resources initiative. It’s a business imperative.”

What's next?

Discover more ways Principal stands up for people, business, and communities. To learn more about careers at Principal, visit principal.com/careers.