Chuck Kinnebrew, one of the first five Black football players at the University of Georgia, has broken new ground his whole life. But after 50 years of pioneering firsts, it came time to pass the torch.
Kinnebrew, who recently retired from his role as vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Floor & Décor, joined the firm’s current DEI vice –president, Aisha Avery, to talk to UGA students about the intergenerational effort to build workplaces that are welcoming for all employees.
Kinnebrew helped integrate the Rome, Georgia, school system as a middle schooler in 1965. He was one of the first Black football players in the Southeastern Conference and was a trailblazer in the corporate world, working for DuPont, Home Depot and Floor & Décor.
Where Kinnebrew fought discrimination in the 1970s and 1980s, Avery’s work experience as a Gen Xer has been leading programs to make sure no one has to fight to feel included.
Their varied experiences have helped Floor & Décor, a relatively young and rapidly growing company, build a robust DEI program that is a core part of their company culture.
“We’re not only giving back, but we were able to set the foundation for something that will affect and impact how the company grows from here,” Kinnebrew said.
“We want DE&I to be part of our competitive advantage as a company,” Avery said. “As we continue to grow and meet the goals we have as an organization, we want to become more inclusive, more equitable and even more diverse — from our products to our people, to how we get out in the community and tell people who we are as a company.”
Kinnebrew was tapped to launch DEI efforts at Floor & Décor in July 2020 as he was preparing to retire from his role as senior director of indirect sourcing. He had built a career in sourcing and procurement for several companies and joined Floor & Décor in 2014.
The 2020 killing of George Floyd compelled Kinnebrew to go to Floor & Décor CEO Thomas Taylor with a list of 13 things that needed to change if the company wanted to be an inclusive and welcoming workplace.
“Lo and behold, he called me back in two weeks and asked if I would be willing to lead the DE&I effort,” Kinnebrew said. “My kids said, ‘You have always talked about giving back and now this gives you the opportunity to help a lot of people.’ Based on their influence I decided to take the job.”
He reached out to Avery, who was working in DEI at Home Depot at the time and credited her with being Floor & Décor’s “subject matter expert” who helped him jumpstart the company’s initiatives and score early wins internally.
Their collaboration set the stage for their company to take on the challenges of operating in a more diverse marketplace and helped ensure that Floor & Décor established a reputation as a growing company where talented people from all backgrounds can succeed.
“That’s what DE&I is all about,” Avery said. “It’s about a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds and experiences, and what you can achieve when you pull those together.”
Avery told the student audience they’d be surprised how often she and Kinnebrew did not initially agree on ideas and approaches, but even those instances produced better results for the company.
“He would listen to my perspective, and I would listen to his. We were able to walk away with a great outcome because we both considered each other,” she said. “That’s what collaboration is all about.”