10 Black Diversity & Inclusion Thought Leaders You Need To Know

By Rowana Abennsetts


Diversity & Inclusion has come a long way over the years. Incorporating diversity and inclusion into the workplace is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. If done well, the proven outcomes of more diverse workplaces are evident. According to Harvard Business Review, companies with higher than average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues. Studies also show that higher representation of women in C-suite level positions results in 34% greater returns to shareholders. But the benefits of diversity and inclusion go far beyond financial gains. Employee satisfaction rates are shown to improve significantly with a more diverse workplace.

The conversation about D&I in recent years has been pushing harder on organizations and people in power. While many companies could slide by with filling perceived quotas or having one woman or person of color on their leadership team, many are understandably discontent with “diversity” and “inclusion” being used as nothing more than buzzwords, rather than providing access and equity.

For these 10 innovators in the diversity and inclusion field, D&I goes beyond meeting a quota – its about creating work environments where everyone can bring their authentic selves to work and respectfully collaborate with teammates from different backgrounds working towards the same mission.

Love Malone

Love Malone is founder and CEO of The Gradient Group, a platform that connects diverse talent to the creative, media and entertainment industries. Additionally, The Gradient Group will provide networking, education and employment opportunities.

“I have every intention of pushing everyone forward, but the people, we need everyone to do that for it to work. So, that for me, when we talk about inclusion, it’s one thing: it’s equity.”

Franklin Reed
Director of Diversity & Inclusion, TEKsystems

Franklin Reed is the director of Inclusion and Diversity at TekSystems, an industry leader in fullstack technology services. He works with executives and business leaders within the organization to create strategies that leverage diversity as a tool for growth and innovation, while also consulting with clients to find and place diverse talent.

“Inclusion and diversity is a direct derivative of our mission. We strive to provide opportunity not just for our internal partners but also for the professionals TEKsystems places on a weekly basis. My team and I spend our time and energy removing and minimizing barriers, and ensuring that regardless of background, experience, or any other identifier, everyone has opportunity.”  

Adrianne Smith
Global Director of Inclusion and Diversity, WPP

In addition to her new role at WPP, Adrianne is the founder of Vision Corps Media Group (VCMG), a media incubation company developed to create new content for current and emerging media outlets. Adrianne’s career has primarily focused on making the invisible visible by creating opportunities for underrepresented communities. Her career spans 20 plus years in advertising, media and professional development. She has produced both documentaries and television programs and in 2017, Adrianne created the Cannes Can: Diversity Collective to help underrepresented communities gain knowledge, exposure and networking opportunities at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

“I thought there should be one consolidated space where more subject matter experts of color and underrepresented communities could be heard and seen. My goal is to also help to elevate the conversation beyond the topic and show what it looks like in action.”

Sandra Sims-Williiams
Chief Diversity Officer, Publicis Groupe

Sandra Sims-Williams is the Chief Diversity Officer for Publicis Groupe – a corporation with an array of digital and media entities, such as Digitas, Razorfish, Starcom MediaVest Group, Zenith, Optimedia and the VivaKi Nerve Center and agencies such as Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, and MS&L among them. As CDO, she is responsible for developing and sustaining diversity and inclusion initiatives. Earlier this year, she made the Black Enterprise Top Corporate Executives list, The Inaugural Champion, Adweek & ADCOLOR, and SAVOY Magazine’s Most Influential Women in Corporate America list. Sandra is also a member of the advertising industry’s Diversity Steering Committee and serves on the boards of New York Women in Communication, Advertising Club of New York and ColorComm.

“We have increased leadership’s involvement. We want to have our environments be inclusive. That means you have to practice it, you have to show up, and the increase in BRGs [Business resource groups] tells you that our talent is ready, willing and able to march through. Of course, our political climate has changed. People want to be authentic and bring their full selves to work and the only way you can do that is to create an environment where talent can be their 100% full selves.”

Elise James DeCruise
VP Head of Multicultural Marketing & Inclusion | Award Winning Education/AdTech Transformation Leader

Elise is MediaMath’s Head of Multicultural Marketing and Inclusion. In her role, she helps MediaMath think about and better position diversity and inclusion within the workforce, workplace and marketplace, and inspires others to do the same. Previously, she founded and led MediaMath’s global educational arm, New Marketing Institute, which includes internal and external training initiatives, certification, enterprise education and global program development. Successfully transitioning from the financial sector as a global trainer at Thomson Financial (Thomson Reuters), Elise started out her digital marketing career at Right Media where she transformed their internal training program and founded Right Media University for the Sales, Operations and Technical Support teams.

“Inclusion to me is a feeling. I think when you feel included, you feel safe, you feel celebrated, and you feel like you matter. So, for me, it’s a feeling that you get when you have psychological safety, right? When you can bring your full self to work or to play. Right. And that you feel like you matter.”

Erica Lovett
Director, Inclusion & Diversity at Condé Nast

Erica Lovett leads Condé Nast’s U.S. inclusion & diversity strategy for a portfolio of 18 brands, a technology arm, and an entertainment division. Erica serves as a thought leader and subject matter expert, advising and collaborating with the Condé Nast executive team, business leads and employees across all levels to drive progress within talent acquisition, employee experience, company culture, communications, content, new business, partnerships and events. Most recently, Erica launched Condé Nast’s global employee council for diversity & inclusion, the company’s first global initiative to unify diversity efforts across all of its markets.

Erica began her career in Human Resources at Lord & Taylor before joining Rent the Runway, where she focused on diversifying the talent pipeline and developing community relationships and inclusive partnerships. In 2016 Erica joined Condé Nast as the first diversity lead. Erica holds a B.A. in History from Connecticut College.

“The industry must recognize and prioritize efforts to support greater diversity on the business side: the financiers, the chief executives, the heads of fashion houses, the senior level magazine editors, and business leaders. There is a lack of opportunity and access […] It’s a systemic issue tied to the homogeneity of industry leadership. Until fashion leaders across all categories become more diverse, we will continue to only progress at the surface level.”

See Also

Reginald Miller
Diversity and Inclusion Leader at VF Corporation

Reginald Miller is currently the Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion at VF Corporation. His incredibly dynamic background includes experience as Director of Diversity Strategy and Support at Walmart, an adjunct professor at the University of Phoenix, Tyson Foods and as Supply Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve.

“If we framed our D&I strictly around a U.S. perspective, we would lose half of our workforce. Sometimes, when the focus is solely on diversity, people do feel left out. Building a culture of inclusion and tying it to our company’s purpose is key to VF’s future growth. Whether we consider a person in the majority or minority is secondary because what is most important is that everyone has a seat at the table and feels like they can work at their highest level.”

Deadra Rahaman

Founder/Chief Strategist of Society Redefined Consulting

Society Redefined is a group of cultural specialists who challenge the dying “general market model.” Society Redefined understands the imperative of bringing different perspectives, experiences, and insights to the table. They are champions and serve as a voice for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Society Redefined was founded in 2017 and was the result of founder, Deadra Rahaman, looking to reset after being in agency life for 15 years. During her time in the industry, she began to notice the same things happening – the rise and eventual fall of large agencies consistently missing the mark when it came to properly addressing multiple facets of the changing consumer landscape. She previously lead strategy and client leadership at Spike DDB for Spike Lee in Brooklyn, creating successful strategic brand initiatives for clients. Deadra also helped expand Chevrolet’s global presence with its Manchester United partnership at Jack Morton Worldwide and the wholly owned, groundbreaking agency, GlobalHue developing Dodge’s first Hispanic initiatives.

I understand the science of culture and the consumer experience is key to the success of brands as they define who they are and as they try to connect with the ever evolving, melting pot of the New Consumer. I have a unique take on the world that exists. My perspective transcends beyond any age, gender or segment. I help others grow, learn and allow them to be successful.

Zahida Sherman
Director, Multicultural Resource Center, Oberlin College, Founder of Z Crown Consulting

In 2018, Zahida Sherman founded Z Crown Consulting to help organizations and individuals promote diversity and inclusion. Z Crown Consulting leverages Zahida’s experience in higher education and the legal field to help organizations promote diversity, equity, and inclusion across industries. Zahida earned her B.A. from Ithaca College where she majored in anthropology and Africana Studies. She has a M.A. in African History, with a minor in African American Studies from Northwestern University. Zahida’s writing focuses on race, gender, adulthood, and popular culture. Her work has been published in Bustle, xoJane, Healthline, Blavity, ForHarriet, Revelist, and How to Help, among others.

“My role is to create opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to understand identity, power, privilege, and equity, inside and outside of the classroom. In other words, my role is to help Obies understand their own identities so they can better promote social justice and belonging for everyone.

Carol Watson
Executive Vice President/Managing Director of Inclusion at BCW Global Founder, President, Tangerine Watson, Inc.

Carol is an experienced global facilitator, solutions strategist of cultural inclusion in marketing and a diverse talent acquisition and retention strategist and thought leader. Carol is the Founder/President of Tangerine Watson, Inc., the largest cross-cultural talent consultancy serving the advertising, marketing and media industries. She has worked with the largest agency, media and consumer brands, designed and executed the first definitive industry-wide study of diverse advertising professionals, The Impact Study, and produces Thrive, a cross-cultural career hub. Her board leadership includes Presidency of AWNY (Advertising Women of NY) and Board Advisor of Women at NBCU. Carol has been featured in the New York Times, Crain’s, Ad Age and Black Enterprise. She is also a frequent industry contributor, panelist and keynote speaker. Prior to founding Tangerine Watson, Carol was a senior executive in the advertising and media industry holding positions at The New York Times, Essence, and Vibe Magazine. Carol is certified in MBTI, IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory), iPEC Energy, is an ICF certified Executive Coach and a graduate of Pepperdine University’s Masters of Science in Organizational Development.

“We need to hold all people managers accountable for being inclusive leaders. Inclusive leadership is necessary to make sure all voices are heard, to make sure there’s no one missing.”

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