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Steve  Pemberton

Steve Pemberton

Chief Human Resources Officer, Workhuman & Best Selling Author


“Steve Pemberton was one of the most incredible speakers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. His message fit perfectly with our programming as he customized every last word. His own personal story had the audience standing in ovation at the end.” –Cyracom International

“I have been coming to our conference for 47 years and I’ve never met a man like him; heard a story like his or witnessed an impact like the one he had on us. A good man made great by his goodness.” - NAEYC

Considered one of America’s most inspiring business and HR leaders, Steve Pemberton’s triumphant life story is about defying seemingly insurmountable beginnings as a child orphaned into foster care. Born to a mother who was in the middle of a losing battle with alcoholism, it was said about Steve that “this little boy doesn’t have a chance in the world.” His inherited circumstances, handed down from one generation to the next, was not the fault of Steve, but he still looked at it as his responsibility. That determination to better his life was met by the kindness of everyday citizens who affirmed that fight. As told in the major motion picture and acclaimed, best-selling memoir, A Chance in the World, adversity only fueled his desire to become a man of resilience, determination and vision. Steve went on to find success as a corporate executive, innovative diversity and inclusion thought leader, visionary youth advocate and acclaimed speaker devoted to inspiring and helping others. Steve’s keynotes, like his life story, amplify his highly motivational messages: Believe in your dreams, rise above obstacles, create opportunities for others, and most of all, persevere. Read More >

Steve is the chief people officer of Workhuman. He champions and promotes the Workhuman movement to inspire HR leaders to embrace more humanity and foster a sense of purpose in the workplace. Steve is focused on building upon Workhuman’s award-winning culture, which has set a new industry standard through its own power usage of recognition and positivity. Before joining Workhuman, Steve served as the chief diversity officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance and Monster.com. A frequent presenter on Capitol Hill, in 2015, he was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to serve on the Advisory Committee for the Competitive Integrated Employment of People with Disabilities. Steve is also one of Recruiter.com Group, Inc.’s (OTCQB: RCRT) independent directors, which is a leading AI-powered and video hiring platform with the world's largest network of recruiters.

All these years later, as time and life has moved on, Steve has still not forgotten those human lighthouses or the lessons of service and integrity that mentors instilled in him. A passionate human rights champion, Steve has made equality, access, and opportunity the foundation of his personal and professional life. Author of the USA Today best-selling memoir and subject of the film, A Chance in the World, Steve chronicled his extraordinary journey of his search for family. His tireless advocacy for the disenfranchised has earned him numerous accolades – including honorary doctorates from Winston-Salem State University, Mt. Ida College, and Boston College. He received the prestigious Horizon Award by the U.S. Congress, presented to private sector individuals who have expanded opportunities for all Americans through their own personal contributions, and who have set exceptional examples for young people through their successes in life.

As a keynote speaker, Steve has earned high praise for his highly collaborative style, working closely with clients to seamlessly customize his content to the messaging goals for each event. A gifted communicator and powerful storyteller, Steve consistently receives stellar reviews for his ability to connect with a wide spectrum of audiences, ranging from business and healthcare organizations to education and community groups. As one client raved, "He was the best keynote speaker we could have gotten and I was sincerely praised for it." Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Extraordinary Journey of Steve Pemberton

Virtual Keynote: Human Lighthouse & the Power of Gratitude

A Chance in the World Promo

Creating A Different Vision

The Power of Education

A Chance in the World Sneak Preview

A Chance in the World - Reunion

ICON MANN 28 Men of Change

On Diversity and Inclusion

On Faith

Hope Is a Powerful Word

Speech Topics

A Chance in the World

Steve Pemberton’s inspirational story, A Chance in the World, has touched the hearts of millions. In this inspiring presentation, Steve tells how he defied seemingly impossible odds as an orphaned boy navigating the foster care system—all while trying to solve the mystery of his own identity and destiny. Steve also provides valuable lessons on self-empowerment, breaking negative cycles, creating a vision and achieving your goals—even when everyone says you don’t have a chance in the world. This unforgettable keynote from an exceptional speaker can be customized to reflect your organization’s focus, culture, objectives and specific challenges.

The Lighthouse Effect: How Ordinary People Can Have an Extraordinary Impact in the World

In this stirring follow-up to his memoir, Steve Pemberton gives practical encouragement for how you can be a "human lighthouse" for others and through these inspiring stories will renew your hope for humanity. Our polarized, divisive culture seems to be without heroes and role models. We are adrift in a dark sea of disillusionment and distrust and we need "human lighthouses" to give us hope and direct us back to the goodness in each other and in our own hearts. Read More >

Steve Pemberton found a lighthouse in an ordinary man named John Sykes, his former high school counselor. John gave Steve a safe harbor after Steve escaped an abusive foster home and together they navigated a new path that led to personal and professional success. Through stories of people like John and several others, you will identify how the hardships you have overcome equip you to be a "human lighthouse," inspiring those around you.

The humble gestures of kindness that change the course of our lives can shift the course for America too. With a unique vision for building up individuals and communities and restoring trust, The Lighthouse Effect opens your eyes to those who are quietly heroic. You will reflect on the lighthouses in your own life and be reminded that the greatest heroes are alongside us--and within us. Read Less ^

A Chance to Lead: Navigating Adversity with Strategies from Everyday Heroes

Steve Pemberton has discovered invaluable life lessons and leadership strategies in the stories of everyday heroes that have triumphed in the face of adversity. These inspiring people do not necessarily fit America’s ideas of a traditional hero. Instead, they’re redefining what heroism truly means through their character and values, as well as the humility, strength, courage and perseverance that they’ve shown in challenging circumstances. Drawing from these inspirational stories and his own odds-defying personal and professional journey, Steve shares strategies that any leader, team or organization can use to navigate adversity, overcome obstacles and bring the best out of every employee. 

A New Take on Diversity: Moving from Labels to Experiences

After growing up in foster care and being labeled as a boy “without a chance in the world” Steve Pemberton has never cared for labelling people. Drawing upon his experience as the former Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, Pemberton discusses how the conversation on diversity should move away from a sole emphasis on classifying people by their visible characteristics. Instead, we should focus on who they are and the life experience they bring. Pemberton will outline how this approach brought increased shareholder value to Walgreens and Monster—and how it can be implemented by any company. By shifting the paradigm, you won’t just get more out of your employees. You’ll increase focus, company morale, customer engagement and top-line revenue.

A Chance to Lead: Recognizing Potential to Maximize Performance

As an orphaned foster child, Steve Pemberton was “given a chance” by a teacher that saw his potential. This life-changing event would later shape his leadership as a human resources executive and diversity officer at Monster.com and Walgreens.  In this compelling keynote for executives, hiring managers and recruiters, Pemberton lays out strategies for leaders that recognize hidden talent and create an organizational culture that gives each team member their best chance at success.  Pemberton shares real-life examples of employees and executives that saw the potential in people by looking beyond what others would see as disabilities or liabilities. He also shows how micro cultural changes can grow to become cultural norms within your entire organization.

A Chance to Lead: Breaking the Cycle in Health Disparities

After years of being trapped in the foster care system, Pemberton went on a search for his biological family. He discovered gaps in a health care system that ended up playing a tremendous role in shaping his life. He found that his grandmother had died of heart disease at just 40 years old, leaving all her children behind, including Pemberton’s mother, who had been battling with alcoholism and other health issues. Neither had access to treatment because the family was too poor to afford proper health coverage. Steve understands firsthand how social determinants of health can influence and damage lives and communities. He shares his personal story to help elevate the conversation around health disparities, hoping to make a difference in lives now and in generations to come, so that everyone has a "Chance in The World."

Breakout Session: Effective Strategies for Building a Great Team

This empowering, interactive breakout session focuses on the key strategies and behaviors that drive successful teams and further collaboration. Participants will learn how to leverage different views to improve outcomes, understand how to ask the right questions to build a powerful team dynamic, and build a culture of inspired engagement.

What Is a Man's Responsibility to Advance Women in the Workplace?

Steve Pemberton, Chief Human Resources Officer at Workhuman (formerly Globoforce), tackles this often-discussed topic with candor, clarity and conviction. His long career in diversity and inclusion work at Monster.com and now Walgreens Boots Alliance led him to develop the Five R's for advancing women in the workplace: Recognize, Respect, Regard, Re-Evaluate, Repeat. This framework has created a sustainable culture of inclusivity that moves beyond corrective action to a powerful embrace of the competitive advantage that full inclusion of women often provides. Told in Steve's inspirational style with powerful examples, audiences will leave empowered and inspired to move forward in their gender inclusion journey.

One America: The Micro Cultural Changes to Bring the “United” Back into U.S.A.

Steve Pemberton recently wrote, “There is a quiet whisper happening in our country today and we’re wondering whether or not we’re getting this right. We’re wondering about the daily deluge of cynicism, the me-first kind of behaviors, the ‘if it bleeds it leads’ kind of culture, and becoming increasingly disconnected as we are becoming technologically connected.”In this inspiring keynote, Pemberton calls for all of us to drive cultural change and bring the “united” back to the United States through a “One America” ideology. Steve uses his own story to demonstrate how people can unite as one to overcome impossible odds—inspiring all of us to return to faith and service.