January 13, 2019
Settling in for a now-ubiquitous video call, one can’t help but notice an elegant grand piano just over Sharon Jones’ shoulder. When asked if she plays, she laughs and says she doesn’t but aspires to someday. “It’s on my bucket list to learn. I thought if I bought one, I might actually start to play it!” Sharon’s upbeat approach and forward-thinking optimism were evident throughout a chat about her career and what she hopes to accomplish as GMMB’s newest Managing Director.
Why did you decide to join GMMB?
Three reasons. First, GMMB has an impressive reputation and combines two factors that increase my level of engagement and fulfillment. I’ll get to work with an agency that truly works to create “Real and lasting Change in the World” and do so while working in an agency environment, where I thrive. Second, the people I got to know during the interview process confirmed my perception that GMMB is filled with smart, passionate people who love what they do as much as I do. Third, I am confident there is genuine commitment across the agency, at all levels, to do the real work of becoming an anti-racist organization. We’re going to foster a more equitable and inclusive work environment that will continue to nurture and inspire innovation and spark creativity through an engaged, diverse workforce.
What led you to work in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Growth?
DEI has been a part of my DNA since I began my career. The pursuit of a diverse workforce that operates in an equitable and inclusive environment has been at the core of my Human Resources career since before DEI was a “thing.” While I don’t wish to date myself, I have been working in the space for over 30 years. My own career, with a series of firsts, focused me on DEI. I’ve lived it and know it can be better. I wasn’t exempt from experiencing what it is like to have the bar set just a little bit higher for people of color. I experienced first-hand the challenges of being the only Black woman in the room, the first Black female Vice President, and more. In my role as Director of HR and Head of DEI, I had the opportunity to lead companies in their journeys to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive.
At many companies/agencies your position is called a Chief Diversity Officer or a Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. Can you share your thoughts about the “Growth” in the GMMB job title? What does that mean to you?
I am excited that this is part of my title because this is a clear business recognition of the direct connection between DEI and the business. GMMB will grow as a result of improving diversity, equity and inclusion as measured by attracting, developing, engaging, rewarding and retaining talent. And finally, there are opportunities for us to get really good at this and can eventually even add a DEI piece to our business offerings. Ultimately, growth means there will be a measurable impact where we grow our business, our talent base, our clients and our impact. Growth is the result of DEI.
What are some common misconceptions about DEI work?
I think the most common misconception about DEI is that we do this work because it is the “right thing to do.” While that may be true, this implies that this work is only a moral issue. Studies have shown that organizations that operate in an equitable and inclusive manner and are diverse – in every way diversity can be measured – financially outperform their competitors. They also enjoy higher employee engagement, lower turnover and lead innovatively and creatively in their sectors. There is a business imperative for companies to put their full focus on implementing, supporting and funding the DEI function.
Last summer was an inflection point where many organizations – across sectors –pledged to do better. What will it take to keep the momentum going?
People need to continue to support the work of becoming an anti-racist organization along with being actively involved in fostering an equitable and inclusive environment. Too often we rely on the BIPOC community to educate us; we need to commit to educating ourselves, to supporting these efforts while we go about fixing things. Allies, accomplices, advocates in action are all needed, welcomed and required to create real and lasting change in the world. The only way to sustain the work is if as many people as possible are involved.
Given your knowledge of the sector, what do you think the top priorities should be to make it more diverse, equitable and inclusive?
Culture can be defined in many ways. Simply put, culture is defined by the behaviors that are encouraged, recognized, rewarded and replicated. In some areas, the industry has dated standards that are applied to how work must be produced. I think the sector should challenge these notions since they can stifle innovation and creativity.
Finally, on a personal note, what is the one thing you are most looking forward to doing once the pandemic is over?
I cannot wait to hug people without fear. I want to take off my mask, to see and connect with people. I look forward to getting on a plane and visiting GMMBers, friends, and family. I am someone who thrives on the energy of others.