When Aisha Thomas-Petit was asked to consider the role of chief diversity, inclusion and corporate social responsibility officer for ADP, a company where she began in HR, she was unsure at first. “My first response was no, because I did not want to be pigeonholed as a Black woman,” she recalled. “It took a lot of thought and introspection and I arrived at: Why not me? If not me, then who?”
She took the job in 2019 and invested in DEI initiatives across the company. Then came another major opportunity last year: to join AMC Networks as its first-ever chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer and become the first Black person to sit on the leadership team. “It represents a first on many fronts,” she said of the role.
In a featured conversation at From Day One’s May virtual conference, titled “Diversity: How Employers Can Match Words With Deeds,” Thomas-Petit spoke with Sharon Epperson, senior personal-finance correspondent for CNBC, on what happened next. “I am not a savior–this work requires more than any one person,” she said. “It requires a deeply integrated strategy with measures of accountability and a whole bunch of people locking arms to get it done.”
Since her role began last November, that work has included a deep dive into company demographics and employee sentiments, clear goal setting, collaboration with employee resource groups (ERGs), and ensuring accountability from the company at large.
Thomas-Petit estimated that she spoke with at least 80 AMC Networks employees in the first few months. That was coupled with research into company demographics and responses from an employee- sentiment survey, broken down by demographics. “I looked at that data against some basic measures,” she said. “Who are our consumers? What is the labor market? If there’s wild variance between who we have internally … I knew that a baseline understanding of how far off we are with respect to those metrics would be a good place to start.”
After that investment in listening and researching, she worked with the leadership team to develop three clear “buckets” for company goals. The first is “talent and workplace”–initiatives around mentorship, recruiting, and the talent pipeline.
The second bucket is “content and programming,” in which Thomas-Petit works with other executives to roll out initiatives like Self-ID, a voluntary self-identification survey that collects data on aspects of identity on production sets. “We now have a pulse on what those demographics look like in our five current productions, and we’re going to expand it going forward,” she said.
The third bucket “is to be, and be perceived as, a company that is inclusive and socially responsible,” Thomas-Petit said. While there’s a task force formed around each area of focus, this task force is “after a deeper sense of belonging,” she added. In the early stages, it means figuring out ways to support employees being able to bring their true selves to work.
Thomas-Petit is collaborating with the company’s existing ERGs to expand their roles. “We’re switching gears from just celebratory–raising awareness and feeling good about the cultures that those groups represent–and taking an opportunity to partner with those groups to raise the [cultural] competency level of employees across the board,” she said.
Clear goal-setting also supports the wider push to give DEI initiatives adequate funding. “As long as what I’d like to do and we want or need to do is aligned to the comprehensive strategy I described, there’s no room for a no,” Thomas-Petit said of working with other company leaders in setting budgets.
Moving forward, she hopes to use her role to continue to support nuanced conversations about the wide breadth of experiences and perspectives that employees bring to the workplace: “There should be something about this subject matter that every single person can lean into here–that when Aisha says diversity, it is not synonymous with being Black.”
“My job at the end of the day is really to get people to care more,” she said. “That care factor has to be accounted for.”
Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.