HR Books Review: ‘A Chance in the World’ by Steve Pemberton

Feedback on the February #HRBookClub selection looks a little something like this:

“I could not get past where he’s beaten because he doesn’t know how to wash dishes.”

“I can’t finish the book. You should’ve published a trigger warning.”

I recommended “A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home” because it is African-American History Month. The author, Steve Pemberton, serves as an example of history being made in our lifetime. Plus the book has been made into a movie.

It’s a Tough Story

Steve’s story is harrowing. Raised in the foster care system in Massachusetts, he was subjected to abuse and neglect throughout his childhood. Few people in positions of power or authority intervened on his behalf. Steve’s natural abilities — combined with access to books and an education — helped him escape an impoverished life and become a successful writer, thinker and business executive.

Steve is an example of resilience and strength. He’s also a great human resources leader. From his biography:

Steve is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Globoforce, an HR technology company. Before that, he served as Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion and Global Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, the first global pharmacy-led, health and wellbeing enterprise in the world. He was the first person in Walgreens’ 100-plus year history to hold the position of Chief Diversity Officer. Under his leadership, the company reached record levels of performance in areas of representation, retention, employee engagement and supplier diversity.

How about that for impressive? I’m not sure if he holds his SPHR or SHRM-SCP, but his bonafides are strong.

The Most Important Lesson: Be Kind

Many of the #HRBookClub readers struggled with the depictions of abuse and neglect in the book, which affirms the need to discuss what’s happening with children across America. I also think you never know what burdens people are carrying on the inside. How do you really know what’s bothering your colleague? “A Chance in the World” gives us an opportunity to reflect on empathy, compassion and grace in the work environment.

So, even though the book is tough to read, I can’t recommend “A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home” enough. Remember that the story has a happy ending: Steve is safe, healthy, and has dedicated his life’s work to the service of others. Use the book to think about your journey and how you might overcome your obstacles.

It’s never too late for any of us.

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