Adaptability: The Process of Continual Renewal - Cynthia Plouché

Biology has shown us that the most important process for surviving in the natural word is adaptabilityliterally, the ability to adapt to new conditions. For humans, it’s a critical skill in navigating through uncertainties, complexities, and relentless change.

We’re in conversation with Cynthia Plouche, a seasoned financial services professional, collaborative leader, and facilitator of opportunity. Throughout her life and career, she has relied on adaptability to overcome obstacles and open new doors.

Cynthia, you’ve said your personal experience taught you that adaptability is a tool not only for surviving but also for succeeding. Can you talk to us about how this skill has helped you?

Adaptability for me has always been a way to stay open, work through challenges, and connect with others. I learned the lesson early on as a youth in Texas. By the time I reached junior high, bussing for desegregation was in full swing. As an African American, I was flung from a known world into one that felt unfamiliar and at first uncomfortable. I wanted to fit in and to be perceived by others as being like them.

Right before I started high school, my family moved to Clinton, Iowa, where African Americans were just 3 percent of the population. Again, in an eagerness to connect, I joined every activity I could squeeze in, from band and choir to student council. I also poured myself into studying. The dedication paid off by getting me into Harvard, where I majored in psychology and social relations.

Of my class of 1,650 at Harvard, 45 were Black women — again, just a small sliver of the total community. We hung together, supported each other, and found a wellspring of empowerment in our unity. This set in motion a lifelong theme for me: the importance of finding a personal place of belonging. Through the years, these women have continued to be a touchstone in my feeling less apart from and more a part of.

I went on to get an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and started my career working in financial services for a New York investment company. In an industry that’s predominately male, while I was working and learning, I again sought ways to connect — and was assured by my sense of belonging.

In New York, I met my future husband, who is white and Jewish. Our external differences provided another opportunity to adapt to a culture different from the one I grew up in. My husband and I raised three daughters together. I believe cultivating the skill of adaptability has also served our children, who — as biracial young women — have had the confidence to find their way in the world and connect through their unique identities.

In an era of increasing divisiveness, what kind of world could we envision if we were collectively more adaptable?

Cultivating adaptability would help us shed an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Together, we would honor the uniqueness of each person and embrace diverse backgrounds, values, and viewpoints to build a resilient and inclusive community — one that is never ‘set in stone’ but always in the process of continual renewal.

Thank you, Cynthia, for sharing your story with us.

Cynthia R. Plouche is the founder and CEO of The Alzenia Project, a nonprofit organization that leverages the impact of other nonprofits to help young women of color achieve personal and professional growth. Along with her devotion to advancing diversity, Cynthia is also an inspiring business leader. She has a successful career in investment management, including more than 10 years as co-founder and chief investment officer of a woman-owned firm and culminating in ongoing corporate board leadership within the mutual fund industry.

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