Marketing both reflects and perpetuates how people think about each other and the world around them—which is why it’s so important that the people shaping those messages are truly representative of the audiences they serve. For the second year running, we’re proud to have teamed up with Adcolor members and the group’s founder and president, Tiffany R. Warren, who is the svp, chief diversity officer of Omnicom Group, to spotlight 18 executives who are carrying the torch for diversity and inclusion—and meaningfully mentoring others along the way. —Kristina Feliciano
Auger-Dominguez cited the late professor Walter Stafford as one of her first mentors who, at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, helped her understand the intersection of race, class and gender in society and who she worked with to research the social stratification of jobs.
“Frankly, it wasn’t until I got to the workplace that it truly hit me what that meant in these corporate places of privilege, culture and access,” she says.
After 20 years in that corporate world, she founded the consultancy Auger-Dominguez Ventures in 2019 and is now focused full-time on designing inclusive, equitable workplaces and human-capital strategies for startups and Fortune 500 companies alike.
“For me, the entry point to this work was similar for a lot of women and people of color—it was the experience of feeling [and] seeing other women and people of color marginalized, erased and cast aside, not because of their ability, but because of circumstance,” she says. “And I knew early on I wanted to change that.”
Now Auger-Dominguez is writing a book about how to dismantle existing processes and policies that have kept so many people from achieving their potential. But she says she’s proudest of the women she mentors, including Joy Peña, whom she hired in 2013 to manage diversity and inclusion for Disney ABC Television. After Auger-Dominguez left for Google in 2015, she tried to hire Peña again, but she was working at Electronic Arts by then. (Peña returned to Disney as director of global diversity and inclusion at ESPN in 2018.)
“We worked together for about three years, and during that time I received incredible opportunities and earned a promotion under her leadership,” Peña says. “Essentially, however, I gained a mentor and friend whose coaching, support and inspiration went far beyond our years of formally working together.”
Auger-Dominguez also mentors a young Latinx colleague at Google who recently posted on LinkedIn about how Auger-Dominguez represented the first time she saw herself reflected in an executive.
“She wrote … about what it meant to her, after years of feeling she needed to diminish who she was,” Auger-Dominguez says. “To me, those are the stories that remind me representation matters and that … beyond representation, it’s not just being one of the executives, but engaging with people in the organization.” —Lisa Lacy
Director, global diversity and inclusion, ESPN
Working alongside Auger-Dominguez, Peña says she learned how to show up with conviction, confidence, authenticity and empathy. “I learned that being a D&I leader often means speaking up during difficult, sensitive, unpopular and certainly complex times with truth and empathy, particularly as a voice for fairness and an advocate for others. I never saw her miss a moment to do so—both for the good of people and forward movement of our business, ultimately impacting people,” says Peña. “That level of courage and commitment continues to inspire how I show up in my work, in society and relationships overall.”
After spending a decade in publishing’s old-boy network, Bergeron thought advertising’s looser, more creative environment could provide a better fit and a fresh start.
But that wasn’t the case at Bergeron’s first agency gig about eight years ago, where bosses in Montreal asked the transgender exec to present as a man for certain clients and wouldn’t allow her access to the women’s restroom. And then there was the fashion party, when clients from a Swiss watch brand demanded that Bergeron be fired for, to paraphrase, being dressed as a woman.
“They wanted me not just taken off the account, but punished,” Bergeron says. “My expression had been seen as a provocation, when I was just trying to be myself.”
Though she considered quitting the industry, Bergeron found her next job at Cossette, with the female-led company supporting her through her medical transition and carving out 25% of her time, as of this year, for public speaking, advocacy and education about transgender issues. The creative exec is also developing internal best practices.
“I’m making sure that policies exist so the next generation of employees like me doesn’t have to suffer,” she says. “When you have to fight all the time about basic things, that’s energy not spent on solving creative problems.”
Bergeron, who dubbed 2019 “the year of queer washing,” says the ad world still has work to do behind the scenes, putting its own houses in order, and on a creative level, fostering truly representative talent and campaigns.
“There are cis or straight teams coming up with trans creative, and it’s positive for the most part because it’s visibility in the market,” she says. “But part of me feels like it’s people taking a break from their privilege to pay attention to the cause of the day.”
This fall Bergeron will debut her first book, a fictionalized autobiography set in 2050, while continuing to share her personal story in an emotion-packed speech called “Losing My Privilege: What Becoming a Minority Has Taught Me About Leadership.”
“Somehow I found a group of people to whom my difference doesn’t matter. That’s acceptance,” she says. “I’m special, but I’m not special—that paradox gives me a lot of power.” —T.L. Stanley
Vp, talent, Cossette
From working with Bergeron, who describes the relationship as “mentoring up,” Makowich learned that “despite our best intentions, we were still operating within a narrow scope.” Brainstorming sessions on improving benefits followed. “Chris’ perspective as a transgender female was a gateway to thinking about the many different needs we can support. We recently introduced the most flexible plan I’ve ever seen as an HR professional [encompassing transgender leave and meds, fertility, dependent parents and more], one that really supports our values of individuality and inclusion.”
There’s nothing quite as sobering as being called out on your privilege, but Berndt welcomes it. In fact, he’s asked for unvarnished feedback from some of his trusted advisers and friends through the years and even today, when he considers himself “about 30% up the learning curve,” Berndt says. Although “I’m not suggesting I’m woke—that would be presumptuous.”
The shout-out list would be long, he says, and would feature Donna Pedro, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Ogilvy, where Berndt was previously co-president, and William Floyd, Google’s director of government affairs and public policy, among many others.
“People have been gracious and patient enough not to write me off if I did the wrong thing,” Berndt says. “I’ve had some really great peers who are extraordinarily blunt with me about what I’m doing poorly or correctly. Because of them, I learn something every day that I hadn’t thought through before.”
Berndt’s advocacy work, going back nearly two decades, includes his longtime involvement in DreamYard, a Bronx, N.Y.-based group that provides art supplies and classes to cash-strapped public schools. He’s brought students from West Side High School in Newark, N.J., to Google’s offices in Manhattan for meetups with his staff as part of his ongoing relationship with an urban campus that’s “a few miles from my house, but in a completely different world,” he says.
With the resources of Google’s Creative Lab, he’s spearheaded AI and VR projects and data visualizations based on global searches of topics ranging from the #MeToo movement to mass incarceration. Those accompanied visits he hosted from #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and prison reform activists. A veteran creative exec from Wieden + Kennedy and ChiatDay, with Apple’s “Think Different,” Nike and Microsoft campaigns on his CV, Berndt wants to deploy Google’s technology for social good.
“We can use the platforms we have to create interesting content and help get these messages out,” he says. “And we need to understand and represent the people behind the causes. That’s when we have the most value.” —T.L.S
Co-founder, creative director, The Hook
Owosina’s connection with Berndt started as an intro call that was scheduled for one hour but turned into three, Owosina recalls, making it clear that Berndt would be an involved, hands-on mentor. In place of a second phone conversation, Berndt invited Owosina to New York from his home base in Nigeria. “I ended up spending almost a week at the Google office in Manhattan,” Owosina says, meeting with Berndt and his team members for in-person chats that were “deeply educational and inspiring.”
Esi Eggleston Bracey
Bracey spent more than 25 years at CPG giant Procter & Gamble before joining beauty company Coty in 2015 and then Unilever in 2018.
For eight years, as the svp and global manager of cosmetics at P&G, Bracey lived in Geneva, Switzerland. And it was when she returned to New York in 2017 that she realized how much the U.S. had changed since her career began—notably, a shift from multicultural marketing to marketing for a world that’s more diverse.
“America is a different America today: 40% of Americans are people of color, and if you look at Gen Z, 48% of Gen Z are people of color. And when you look at marketing, it’s not only representation, but a mindset: ‘Don’t put me in a box. I’m an individual … speak to me,’” Bracey says. “So the work that I try to do in my business … is making sure even though we work in the mass market, we are … [offering a] more personalized assortment and programs that address different cohorts of constituents of people.”
That includes efforts like the Crown Coalition, which was co-founded by personal care brand Dove to create a more equitable and inclusive beauty experience for black women and girls. The Crown Coalition also sponsored the Crown Act, which made California the first state to make hair discrimination illegal in January 2020.
Bracey runs Unilever’s beauty and personal care business, which includes brands like Dove. That’s where she met Erin Goldson, who works on Dove Hair and runs the Crown Coalition program.
“It’s surprising today that in 2020, it’s actually legal in most states for someone to be denied employment because of textured hair. It’s OK for an employer to say, ‘You can have this job if you don’t wear braids or locs,’” Bracey says. “And it’s similar for kids in school—they can be suspended or expelled if their hair doesn’t comply with grooming policies.”
Bracey says she herself has succeeded because she discovered early on how to match herself with her workplace without compromise. “It took me five years to get to that point when I didn’t have to hide myself or do something different—when I cracked that, I was not only happier, but able to contribute more,” she says. “That’s what I want for [mentee] Erin [Goldson]—to bring her magic and not hide her magic to fit into the workplace and to be as successful as she can imagine.” —L.L.
Global associate brand manager, Dove Hair, Unilever
Goldson joined Unilever as an associate brand manager in 2016 and became global associate brand manager for Dove Hair two years later. Bracey notes that after “almost 30 years in the industry, as you can imagine, there’s a big web of people I mentor,” but she chose to highlight Goldson in Adweek because “she’s probably the youngest and the most junior, but probably the most thirsty. And she also works on some of the projects I’m most passionate about.”
Chung joined marketing and advertising firm Anomaly as a copywriter in 2018 and took over as diversity and engagement lead a year later in a role she pitched to the leadership team herself and that she describes as her dream job.
In her first year, the agency created a book for the 2019 class of Adcolor’s Futures program. Chung, a program alum from 2013, says the book, For Future Reference, includes excerpts from people of color across a range of experiences at Anomaly, a financial literary cheat sheet, thoughts on what it means to come out in the workplace from queer-identifying people, a budget-friendly insiders city guide for New York and Los Angeles and words of affirmation.
Earlier this year, Anomaly partnered with stock imagery company Tonl on a campaign to highlight people of color in advertising. “Historically, people of color have not had visibility in this industry—they didn’t exist or even now, when we do exist, we don’t have a lot of visibility. And visibility helps build equity,” says Chung.
Chung met her mentees, Kiana Fernandez and Mingyo Lee, in the fall of 2019 while doing portfolio reviews at the University of Texas, where both are students. “What struck me was … they’re so incredibly talented in creativity, and what I noticed was they didn’t understand how talented they were and how powerful their creativity was. And it reminded me of myself,” Chung says.
That’s when Chung took them under her wing to ensure these soon-to-be college graduates were entering the job market in as strong a position as possible, which she says she didn’t have when she started out.
Both Fernandez and Lee say they followed Chung on Instagram prior to meeting her and that she is now a constant presence in their lives via email and video chat as they navigate the transition from school to career. “I’ve never really had anyone to personally relate to in the type of cultural landscape that I found myself in, but Jezz has really supported me and encouraged me to build an identity that I feel secure in,” says Lee.
Lee says Chung has also taught him about self-care. “Coming from a childhood and culture where this really wasn’t emphasized much,” he explains, “I think that advice has really been a huge help to the start of my career because not only does it make me a creative with a better understanding of myself, it also helps me realize what I’m looking for in an employer and the type of work I want to make.” —L.L.
Kiana Fernandez, Mingyo Lee
Students, University of Texas
When Chung met Fernandez and Lee, she noted “their inability to see their own creative potential and their own power.” And that “reminded me of what I went through and what people did for me—especially growing up in Asian culture, which tells us to be silent and don’t stand out and don’t make a lot of noise, don’t challenge authority and be grateful. It’s so much about shrinking and, in our conversations, I saw that.”
Thasunda Brown Duckett
Studies have quantified it, but Brown Duckett already knew from her own experience that most Americans don’t have money tucked away and couldn’t come up with a few hundred dollars for an emergency. In her working-class household growing up, even grocery money was scarce sometimes.
“I saw my parents struggle through job loss and ups and downs in life,” she says. “My goals always have been to help people like me, like my parents” get a handle on their finances and, beyond that, launch small businesses and learn to budget and save for those inevitable rough patches. She’s become an evangelist for financial health, particularly in diverse communities, as she leads an aggressive effort at Chase to open 400 new branches over the next five years, 30% of them in low-income areas.
So far, she’s overseen new locations in Camden, N.J., Anacostia, a primarily African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and some 90 other cities. A remodeled Harlem branch, like most of the new outlets, has dedicated space for on-site workshops “to make them even more meaningful to people’s lives,” she says.
Brown Duckett, one of the few black women in the industry’s C-suite, will continue to chip away at the deep-seated mistrust that underserved communities have of banks.
“For too long in this country, racial and other social issues made banking inaccessible for people like me,” she says, noting that her priority at the country’s largest bank is creating programs “that open doors to opportunity for more people, including black Americans, women, Latinx and Americans living paycheck to paycheck.”
With Essence magazine as a partner, Brown Duckett launched a financial literacy program last year aimed at black women, 70% of whom are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, bolstering them for what she calls their “CFO role.” She’s also active in Chase’s effort to recruit 4,000 African-American interns in the next four years and provide ongoing support to black-owned small businesses. Creating her own fund named for her parents, the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation, Brown Duckett gives annual scholarships to students and grants to nonprofits under the motto, “Extraordinary things can be done with ordinary resources.” —T.L.S.
Ariel Johnson Lin
Executive director, sports and entertainment marketing, JPMorgan Chase
With the backdrop of what she describes as a “high-touch, fully integrated mentor-protégé relationship with an any-means-necessary model,” Johnson Lin pursued and landed a Chase partner deal with actor-comedian Kevin Hart. “None of this would’ve been achieved without Thasunda creating a long-term pipeline for this firm-wide engagement,” she says. Her mentor’s advice about taking on new challenges and expanding her role “reminds me to trust my gut, be bold and create a path based on conviction.”
Claudia Romo Edelman
The research that Mexico native Romo Edelman has done at her foundation, We Are All Human, has given her quantifiable evidence that Latinos in the American workforce have extra hurdles to overcome in terms of confidence and self-perception. Where some might see wonky numbers and charts, Romo Edelman sees a wealth of untapped power.
“Women don’t apply for a job unless they think they have at least 70% of the qualifications to apply. For Hispanics, that’s 90%,” says Romo Edelman. “Hispanics are huge, but we act small. We’re powerful, but we act weak. It’s almost like a reverse marketing problem.”
Romo Edelman’s career leading marketing for humanitarian efforts like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Economic Forum and the UN Refugee Agency trained her to think fast in a crisis. So when the coronavirus pandemic shut down Romo Edelman’s plans to unveil her new nationwide corporate-backed Hispanic Star campaign (the launch was a planned tie-in with Major League Baseball’s Opening Day), she quickly harnessed all of Hispanic Star’s assets and redirected them.
“We’re going to coordinate action to help Hispanics that have been laid off,” Romo Edelman says. “We mobilized the Hispanic leaders and said we aren’t launching Hispanic Star the way we were going to, but we’re doing supply-chain matching so that companies like Unilever and P&G can diversify their supply chain.”
This is Romo Edelman’s fourth pandemic, and she’s learned a thing or two about the lasting impact public health crises can have on communities.
“Every pandemic in every area is about the secondary consequences, like what are we going to do with the economy. If you don’t have that recovery plan ready to go, it takes longer.”
Through the supply-chain effort, Romo Edelman hopes to ensure that Latinos are included in the post-pandemic economic recovery and don’t get left behind. It’s part of her overall philosophy: People who give have the most to gain. That concept applies to her work at the We Are All Human Foundation, and it applies equally to mentorship. —Mary Emily O’Hara
Founder and CEO, Agrosmart
Romo Edelman says she has learned from her mentee, Mariana Vasconcelos. “She’s so innovative and flexible,” says the CEO. “She always thinks, If I know this already, how do I get two steps ahead? I think millennials have that sense of leapfrogging a lot of things.” Vasconcelos isn’t just the CEO of Agrosmart, a tech pioneer that uses AI to help agriculture businesses adjust to changing climates—she’s also the daughter of farmers. She remembers being impressed early on not just with Romo Edelman’s marketing vision, but also her approach to parenting. “Right at the beginning of our relationship Claudia went to watch me presenting at the Kairos K50 Summit, and she had her children with her,” Vasconcelos recalls. “It is amazing how she balances family and work, and teaches her kids about business and impact.”
Gathering people together Bible-study style is in the blood for Ellis. The daughter of two pastors, Ellis has always known that fellowship and connection can happen when you invite folks into your home for conversation and food.
Though the Good Book was not involved, Ellis opened her one-bedroom Harlem apartment to 20 friends in 2016—she made tacos—and inadvertently started a movement. That event caught on quickly, soon formalizing into The Creative Collective NYC, a community of multicultural professionals who aspired to be in the creative world or already had a foothold there. Many were pursuing their art while holding down day jobs.
“People were looking for a place where they didn’t have to come with everything figured out,” Ellis says. “They could show up at any stage of their lives.”
While focusing on creativity and career, the group expanded its mission almost immediately “to cater to the whole self,” she says.
TheCCnyc, as it’s known, now hosts as many as four events a month with north of 250 people at each. Tickets often sell out within minutes. Topics range from financial planning and personal branding to mindfulness.
Its annual conference, the daylong CultureCon, debuted in 2017 with 150 attendees. Explosive growth followed, with 2,500 participants last fall and a week’s worth of activities as a runway. Speakers have included John Legend, Spike Lee, Regina King and Lena Waithe.
Ellis aims to add a job fair to future CultureCon schedules “so people can get face time with recruiters and we can bridge the gap in opportunities,” she says, describing herself as “a poster child” for TheCCnyc because she juggles a traditional 9-to-5 with her leadership of the group (she has an ongoing assist from those first 20 friends).
A publicist at Bravo, E! and Oxygen for eight years, where she handles “shows that celebrate diversity” like Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen and The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Ellis prides herself on the “brave space” that’s fostered by TheCCnyc’s programming. “It’s a space where everyone has a voice and can unapologetically speak up.” —T.L.S.
Jolly has learned “patience, proactivity and intentionality” from working with Ellis as a photographer and photo team leader on TheCCnyc’s events. “When conceptualizing a new project, I ask myself, ‘How can I be ahead of the curve?’” With Ellis pulling him into the inner workings of those gatherings, “my knowledge of the media industry has definitely expanded as a result,” Jolly says. “I’m able to see the many moving pieces in delivering a product to a client.”
Sarah Kate Ellis
Glaad has been studying LGBTQ representation in Hollywood films for nearly a decade and on network television shows going back to 2004. But the group had never before dissected the way members of the LGBTQ community are portrayed in advertising.
That’s about to change, with Ellis now laying the groundwork via research with Procter & Gamble. The project kicks off with a deep dive into how the American consumer feels about seeing LGBTQ people in ads.
“You can’t move what you don’t measure,” Ellis says. (Ellis and P&G’s Marc Pritchard would’ve released those findings at Cannes Lions, but they’re exploring alternatives in light of the festival’s postponement.)
On the heels of the public opinion survey, the group will start systematically looking at how top marketers rate in LGBTQ inclusivity. The effort, part of Ellis’ goal of forging closer ties to the advertising world, is just one of the Glaad leader’s many priorities in 2020, her sixth year in the role.
She’ll continue to rally support for a constitutional amendment that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. “Marriage equality was not the finish line,” she says. And she plans to keep up the kind of pressure that caused the Hallmark Channel to reverse its decision to drop a holiday-themed jewelry ad in December that featured a gay couple’s kiss.
Ellis is laser focused on the upcoming presidential election, stepping up scrutiny with the Trump Accountability Project of the ways that “our community is getting hammered under this administration.” Work will include voter registration and poll access.
The longtime media exec, a veteran of Condé Nast and Time Inc., is credited with turning around the financially struggling nonprofit since her arrival. But she faces another bottom-line challenge as the coronavirus pandemic forced cancellation of the Glaad Media Awards, which are major fundraisers in New York and Los Angeles. As of late March, she was busy trying to convert sponsorships into outright donations.
Ellis, who co-authored a memoir with her wife about their path to motherhood, has evolved Glaad from its traditional role, entertainment watchdog, to what she calls “cultural change agent.”
“I don’t know if I was made for the job or the job was made for me,” she says. “It’s the intersection of what I love to do and what matters to me.” —T.L.S.
Chief communications officer, Glaad
“Sarah Kate has taught me the difference between hard work and smart work,” says Ferraro, who’s spent six years as Ellis’ top PR maven. “In advocacy and activism, burnout is a real threat to success, and she was able to help me streamline the work. She’s more than a boss. She also prioritizes my growth as a leader. She challenges me to aim high and take risks—for myself and for the community.”
Before he got into marketing, Ford was a journalist at The Source magazine. That’s where he met music editor Erik Parker as an intern in 2000.
“The main thing he gave me was he believed in me very early on when I wasn’t in the professional world,” says Ford. “He believed in me and gave me a shot.”
Since then, Parker has gone into directing and producing, but the relationship continues as Cashmere handled the marketing for Parker’s documentaries LA Burning and Hip Hop: The Songs That Shook America.
Meanwhile, Ford joined Cashmere in 2008 and has helped build it into a lifestyle agency with young, diverse creatives who work with brands like Adidas, Jack in the Box and Tanqueray.
And since his work with Parker two decades ago, Ford has also assumed the role of mentor for younger colleagues to help them understand realities at Cashmere and beyond.
“What’s most important to me is having young, intelligent people of color understand the realities of the world around them,” Ford says. “We have to work harder for opportunities, and if we slip up, our margin for error is much smaller. We have to learn … how to work and live in a broader society that’s defined African Americans in a certain space. In the workplace … you have to be professional, buttoned up and a good asset for the client, as well as add value to the organization. But that doesn’t stop you from being a black person … and that’s a lot to navigate. … It’s a heavy burden—it can be confusing at times.” —L.L.
Public relations manager, Cashmere
Jones joined Cashmere in 2012 as a public relations coordinator. She left in 2015 for a position at media company PMK, but returned in 2017. “She continued to grow away from Cashmere … she took her skills from the farm league to big league,” Ford says. “We planned for Cashmere to grow, and as soon as we were at a certain point, it was really a focus of mine—let’s see what Bree is doing.” And like Ford found with Parker before, Jones says she now has an advocate in Ford.
“Ryan has been a great example of doing whatever it takes to get the job done,” she says. “I have been strongly impacted by his stalwart work ethic, assertiveness and creativity, which has inspired me to think bigger, outside of the box and challenge convention. He has been a huge influence in my career based on his constant support and belief in me. Ryan has been a source in driving my passion for the work that we do as culture marketers.”
Tyrona “Ty” Heath
“One thing I always say is, ‘I don’t roll alone,’” notes Heath. Part of her overall approach to being a diversity and inclusion champion is simply including more people in her process. “I like to collaborate. I think it’s more fun, and then you have a stronger product that way,” she says.
Heath’s resume would inspire any marketer. Seven years at Google, nearly four years at IBM, faculty roles and her own successful consultancy (the Spectacled Marketer) preceded Heath’s four-year career at LinkedIn. Along the way, she finds time to sit on Adweek’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and the Digital Marketing Institute’s Global Industry Advisory Council.
Being a woman of color in the tech world can be alienating, and Heath cites “a perception that we don’t have as much latitude to make an error” as something she fights against. The best leaders, she says, are just as vulnerable and human as any of the people who report to them. That means being honest about your struggles as well as your accomplishments.
“I’ve made a commitment to be as real as possible with what it means to be a woman of color working in an industry where there are not very many people that look like you,” says Heath, “especially at the most senior levels of our industry.”
With the added pressure to prove oneself, supportive relationships are that much more vital. Heath counts several mentors—such as Caroline Clarke, Black Enterprise magazine’s chief brand officer—among what she calls her “board of advisors.”
Though it’s important to be honest about diversity issues, Heath aims to focus less on the obstacles and more on the opportunities for growth. While acknowledging that there’s still a ways to go in both tech and marketing, she’s committed to serving as an example of success—and to sharing how she got there. —M.E.O.
Global program manager, The B2B Institute at LinkedIn
Heath’s mentorship of Afiya Addison is fueled by optimism. “The main focus for me with Afiya, as another woman of color, is to help keep her focused on what’s possible,” Heath says. “It’s very easy to focus on what are the challenges and obstacles—which we should acknowledge and talk about, absolutely. But I think the bigger question is, What are we going to do? What are we doing?” The pair’s relationship works so well that Heath hired Addison to help her build The B2B Institute as global program manager. Addison quickly applied skills she learned from her “conscious and compassionate” mentor to her new role: “[Heath] has taught me to lead by first understanding everyone’s needs, before brainstorming the solution.” As a result, Addison says, “I’ve become the calm in the storm—when there is disagreement, people now look to me to drive consensus and resolution.”
As the actor delivering the voiceover in a new Ford Escape commercial, Angela Bassett may be the most visible black woman involved in the production, but she’s not the only one. In fact, UWG assembled an all-female, all-African-American cast and crew for “Built Phenomenally,” which is more than just an ad, Nelson says. “It’s a rallying cry.”
The “big and bold” campaign is an example of the work UWG does for its clients, says Nelson, which involves not only crafting the creative concepts but also gathering talent in front of the camera and behind the scenes (and often in the C-suite) who represent the target demographic. Those consumers were almost exclusively African American when UWG was founded more than 50 years ago, in the wake of the civil rights movement. Over time, and with an aggressive push from Nelson, the demo has expanded to include Asian Americans, LGBTQ people, women, Latinx and other diverse groups.
Nelson, who bought the firm in 2012 from its founder, Byron Lewis, says it’s UWG’s priority to “demystify growth audiences” and look through a psychographic lens for Ford, a 30-year client, and others on the roster, like Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Home Depot and the U.S. Marines.
Though it may seem hand-in-glove for Nelson these days, she hadn’t planned on agency life as a career path. She’d been globe-trotting for Motorola, helping to launch the Rokr smartphone and digging into the then-nascent area of branded entertainment, when she interviewed with Lewis in the mid-2000s. Lewis, a pioneer in multicultural marketing, offered Nelson a chance to spread her wings beyond technology with a multifaceted gig. He also provided an inclusive environment unlike any she’d ever seen.
“Up until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much I was wearing my skin and my gender to work,” she says. “I knew that wouldn’t be the case here. No more whispers about being the ‘two-fer.’”
She helped modernize the firm in areas like digital and mobile, leaning into data “to unearth moments of truth,” and even updated its name from UniWorld Group to UWG. Its mission, though, remains the same, she says: “We identify where the soul of the brand meets the soul of the consumer.” —T.L.S.
Director, content strategy, UWG
Nelson has been “intentional in her support,” Smythe says. “She has provided the platforms for me to put myself out there in ways I would not have before, and now I view professional challenges differently. I pursue the things on the other side of my fear. And she reminds me that I have an obligation to grow into my potential, and get to a place where I can provide real opportunities for others.”
How exactly does one make the enormous lateral jump from marketing analytics to being chief of diversity for a global brand like Papa John’s? With the help of a village.
Russell faced a high-pressure challenge like no other when she stepped into the role overseeing diversity and inclusion for a company in crisis. It was July 2018, and the pizza company’s founder stepped down after a leaked recording of him using an offensive anti-black slur hit the news.
Russell had worked at Papa John’s for 12 years, and was already a rising leader in the company’s D&I initiative. But Russell had her own personal crisis: Her mother had just passed away from cancer. At first, she wasn’t sure she wanted to take on more work.
“It felt like an uphill challenge to positively promote the company and be genuine and authentic to myself in the middle of everything,” Russell says.
Before taking the mantle, she reached out for advice to her own mentors and to a network of diversity and inclusion specialists from other companies—including her previous employers at Brown-Forman and Humana. “Hey, we’re not going to let you fail” is the message Russell says she got in response.
“It’s a beautiful thing, how you kind of reach out to one person and they connect you with more, and then they connect you with more,” she says of what she calls her “village.”
Groups like CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion were an invaluable resource, and Russell relieved stress by continuing her Zumba hobby (she has taught classes for her Papa John’s colleagues, and on the day of her Adweek interview, was planning to take an online class after work).
It’s this kind of upbeat, extroverted approach to calling on all available resources that Russell shares with her mentees Tiffany Wynn (director of marketing and communications at Vivent Health) and Matt Story (senior director of global brand marketing at Visa.) When she took on Wynn and Story as mentees, both came prepared with a list of questions—starting with how Russell found the confidence to step up in a time of crisis. That sparked an ongoing discussion about how to remain authentic and “bring your whole self to work.” Being authentic means being OK with who you truly are, says Russell, and finding your voice and finding ways to be heard. —M.E.O.
Director, marketing and communications, Vivent Health
Wynn—who, in a 2019 merger, helped rebrand three HIV healthcare groups from Denver, Milwaukee and St. Louis into Vivent Health—recalls Russell telling her that when growth potential seems to halt, borrow a new approach from someone you don’t work with. “[Victoria said] if you are the smartest person in the room when it comes to your profession or expertise,” says Wynn, “you have to grow and be developed in the space you work in from the outside.”
Senior director, global brand marketing, Visa
When Story met Russell, he asked how she managed being a woman of color overseeing D&I amid a high-profile racial bias crisis—and was surprised by her response. “‘If you are going to rebel, rebel from inside the organization,’” is what Story says Russell told him. “I had never thought of being a rebel within my own organization. But this gave me the push to seek out ways that I could raise my hand.”
Singleton founded the consulting firm Pacific Educational Group in 1992 to focus on racial equity in schools. A book, Courageous Conversations About Race, and a seminar, Beyond Diversity, followed.
“To be an organization exclusively focused on racial equity, diversity and inclusion for almost 30 years is something to call out as significant in and of itself,” Singleton says. “We’re not in a country that embraces this work. It’s a country resistant to this work and in denial of the importance of this work, so to actually survive and thrive in that way—staying focused on the disparities and the systemic racism … that’s a hallmark.”
In the last decade, his work has expanded into industries like advertising. In February, the Courageous Conversation Global Foundation partnered with ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners to produce the “Not a Gun” campaign. The creative calls out systemic violence against people of color, while a website encourages viewers to sign a petition for de-escalation and unconscious-bias training for police officers.
This year, Singleton says, Courageous Conversation has partnered with the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, to invite U.S. mayors to sign a compact that engages their cities in a comprehensive effort to address racial disparities and inequalities. This effort will coincide with the launch of a national tour in partnership with advertising agency Droga5.
“I think much of the work of change and transformation in this country happens at the city level—mayors are sitting with major crises [like] homelessness, employment issues, criminal justice, policing … ,” Singleton says. “We’re working side by side with those people in this very critical city that hosts [160,000] people per year for South by Southwest. This is the forefront of the work.”
Singleton met mentee Marcus Moore in 2007 when he brought his Beyond Diversity program to the Oakland, Calif., high school where Moore was teaching.
In 2014, Moore joined the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, where he crossed paths with Singleton again. Singleton provided feedback on a textbook Moore was developing, titled Growing Into Manhood: Social Emotional Learning Curriculum for African American Young Men. Moore later joined Courageous Conversation as an equity transformation specialist.
“Glenn taught me that my work, my most meaningful work, cannot satisfy the moment. Instead, I am charged to build for eternity. Whatever monument I stand to make relies on Glenn Singleton as a cornerstone.” —L.L.
Equity transformation specialist, Courageous Conversation
Moore calls his professional relationship with Singleton “the most valuable I’ve experienced,” adding his mentor taught him how to be present with and for the work. “Most importantly, he’s taught me how to build this work. Those who call for our services cannot simply engage in it. They have to accelerate it. … And when they do, their contributions fortify and sustain this mission in ways that will outlive us all,” Moore says.
Adrianne C. Smith
On her first trip to Cannes Lions in 2017, Smith saw only a few hundred people who looked like her in a sea of media executives some 15,000 strong. She vowed to change that during a Q&A with Halle Berry, who was a featured speaker.
“I didn’t even ask her a question—I was just so inspired and caught up in the moment because her comments were all about taking action,” Smith says. “I said, ‘We need to get more young people of color to this festival, and I’m going to do it.’”
And so she did, beginning the next year with the debut of Cannes Can: Diversity Collective. Smith persuaded a handful of agency and corporate sponsors to foot the bill, estimated at $10,000 a head, for five 20-something rising stars to attend the event. The following year the number jumped to 25, with a weeklong on-site activation called Inkwell Beach that included sessions with Naomi Campbell, Gayle King and Gabrielle Union.
Smith’s on-the-spot pledge may have been impulsive, but it was perfectly in keeping with her decades of advocacy work, going back to her time as the first executive director of the 4A’s Center for Excellence in Advertising at Howard University. While in that gig, she helped nurture young talent from various industries that went on to long-lasting (and Cannes-winning) careers in the advertising world.
These days, she’ll continue to spearhead Cannes Can in her newly minted role at WPP, an early and consistent supporter of her collective. She’s partnering with Judy Jackson, WPP’s global head of culture, and working across the holding company’s network of agencies that includes Grey, GroupM, MediaCom, VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson. The specific wording of her title reflects her approach to the job.
“I correct anyone who says diversity and inclusion because inclusion comes first—you can’t have diversity if you’re not being inclusive,” she says. “It’s not just semantics. I’m adamant about being inclusive. That breeds the space for diversity.” —T.L.S.
Rashad M.S. Williams
Manager, strategic planning, Mindshare USA
Part of the Cannes Can class of 2019, Williams says Smith “believed in me when it felt that very few people at her level did. Adrianne made an effort to secure my sponsorship, and I had no idea she was advocating for me until I got the acceptance call.” That experience helped him “establish a fearless, meaningful and bold start to my career.” The two execs “share an understanding of what it means to ‘be about it.’”
Ronnie Dickerson Stewart
Sims-Williams was the “biggest, baddest mentor,” says Stewart, who was previously svp of career advancement and inclusion at Digitas North America and now leads Publicis’ Talent Engagement and Inclusion Council in addition to her role as chief diversity officer.
“From the moment we first connected … [it was] I respect you as a human being, as a woman, as a woman of color—let me give you access to learning and coaching to grow,” she recalls of her mentorship under Sims-Williams. “Ultimately, I do serve as her successor, but the things she has taught me, [like] access beyond mentorship and sponsorship, continue.”
Stewart has her own roster of mentees, including Ashley McGowan, whom she has mentored the longest. The two met at agency FCB about a decade ago, and Stewart now serves on the advisory board of Coalesce Chicago, a nonprofit McGowan founded that seeks to provide resources for diverse professionals in the communications industry.
“Being on the sidelines, being a cheerleader, is one of the proudest things I’ve done, and [McGowan is] dynamic and will change the game and continue to do so in whatever role she’s in,” Stewart says.
She is just as enthusiastic about her other mentees. “These are individuals who I clearly see they have a spark, they know they have a spark and whatever I can do, I’m all about it,” Stewart says. “And, for me, it’s kind of important that I can support individuals in our industry who are … making waves, making change. And it’s exciting to watch them work. I want to shout from a rooftop, ‘Here are my mentees!’” —L.L.
Global business equity lead, Facebook
McGowan says when she met Stewart, she was in her first advertising job and knew immediately that she had found “a safe haven for my questions as I navigated a new world and a guiding light as I began to concept the professional I wanted to build within myself.”
In the 13 years since, McGowan moved on to Energy BBDO, mcgarrybowen, Microsoft and Under Armour, before landing at Facebook in 2018. Like her mentor, McGowan assumed the role of global business equality lead earlier this year. She says Stewart taught her to focus on impact.
“Through Ronnie, I have found ways to increase my productivity and effectiveness by being realistic about what I can balance. Ronnie’s dynamic coaching and honest conversations have taught me how to protect myself from ineffectiveness, leading to an ability to build and soar in my strengths and passions,” McGowan says. “Today, I am able to drive measurable impact in diversity and inclusion because I effectively prioritized.”
Not one to mince words, Wanga once told a crowd of retail suppliers that the industry was “in crisis” and “past the point of opt-in” on making its workforce and C-suites reflect the diverse makeup of America’s consumers.
“We cannot afford to have homogeneity in our decision-making because we don’t decide who walks in the door,” she said during a pull-no-punches 2018 conference talk in Phoenix. Sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with a Sojourner Truth quote, “Ain’t I a woman?” she told the largely white, male audience that diversity and inclusion is a “business imperative that if left unaddressed will render us irrelevant.”
“If you look at metrics every day on how your business is performing,” she said, “you should do the same thing on how you are performing on diversity recruiting and gender parity.”
Since taking over the top D&I spot at Target in 2014, Wanga has posted impressive numbers by those measures—in a single recent year, more than 40% of new corporate hires in the retailer’s home state of Minnesota were ethnically or racially diverse. And she’s spearheaded 170,000 hours of inclusion training for Target employees, which she calls “immersive experiences” that use podcasts, videos and other educational tools.
But beyond the typical recruiting and retention, Wanga also influences areas like community outreach and philanthropy, product mix and marketing. She’s advocated for a dramatic increase in shelf space for multicultural food, beauty products and toys, for instance, with double-digit sales jumps to match. And a recent TV campaign, under the theme “Founders We Believe In: The Honey Pot,” focuses on the retailer’s commitment to female-owned challenger brands. Honey Pot CEO Bea Dixon says Target’s support “changed my life” and opened doors for her beauty and wellness lines. Her success, she says, means that “the next black girl who comes up with a great idea—she can have a better opportunity.”
Often publicly preaching her “be yourself” mantra, the native Kenyan has said it’s tough but necessary to “unleash and weaponize your dimensions of difference,” which will translate to better bottom lines and stronger companies. “Stay who you are based on the truth of your experiences, and you don’t adjust who you are for the organization.” —T.L.S.
Ariana Isabel Sokolov, Georgia Messinger
CEO, COO, Trill Project
Accepted into the Target Incubator program, Sokolov and Messinger took a page from Wanga’s “empathetic listening” approach to hone the community guidelines for their mental health app and social network. They also tapped into the retailer’s college resources to find their own campus ambassadors. Wanga linked them to like-minded, mission-based groups and tech heavyweights, teaching them “to never underestimate our worth as a startup, and as people, and to embrace every challenge we face as young female entrepreneurs as new opportunities for growth and movement.”
Teneshia Jackson Warner
Several years out of college and into a solid job at IBM, Warner realized she had no spark for the gig, and soon after, a graduate school assignment gave her even more clarity.
“My key driver had been always earning potential because I’d grown up in a single-parent family that definitely had its financial struggles,” she says. “I wrote a paper for class saying, from that point forward, I was going to let passion and purpose lead and see where that would take me.”
Knowing it was “a true exploratory process with nothing traditional about it,” she says, she volunteered at Rush Communications, owned by Russell Simmons. “I was lower than an intern,” she says. “I wasn’t even getting paid.”
Within a year she became its general manager, spearheading a financial literacy tour called “Get Your Money Right” and cause campaigns like P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die.”
From there, Warner hung her own shingle, called Egami Group, to help marketers reach diverse audiences with purpose-driven messages.
She’s grown a roster over the past decade that’s included blue-chippers like Major League Baseball, Target and Verizon, and her company became the first black female-led firm to win a Cannes Lion Grand Prix in 2018, for Procter & Gamble’s “The Talk.” (Egami, a longtime partner of P&G’s “My Black Is Beautiful” platform, provided the key insight about conversations happening in African-American households across the U.S.)
Along the way, Warner has published two books, the case study and best-practices manual Profit With Purpose and The Big Stretch, about making dreams a reality. The latter book ties in with her ongoing Dream Project, a boot camp-style empowerment conference she founded for entrepreneurs that’s drawn more than 200,000 attendees since 2013.
Warner’s 2020 plans include media extensions of The Big Stretch, such as digital seminars, retreats and possibly TV and film content highlighting dreamers’ paths to success.
Her independent agency, meanwhile, will continue to seek out like-minded clients “who want to make a difference and speak to diverse audiences in culturally relevant ways,” she says, “so that our work can be tied to tangible change.” —T.L.S.
Senior manager, Allied Moxy
Warner has provided “coaching plus sisterhood plus professional development,” says Guyton, her former assistant, and “advocated for me to be on projects that were bigger than my title, paid for me to attend key conferences and given me honest feedback.” And when Guyton landed a new gig, Warner gifted her “my very first pair of really expensive designer shoes. It wasn’t the price tag that mattered as much as it was the message—she was helping me step into a new destiny.”