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Adrianne C. Smith, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at FleishmanHillard, a global public relations and marketing agency, joins Steve Safier, Sam Liu, and Dennis Alvarado’s Capstone Seminar

Adrianne C. Smith, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at FleishmanHillard, a global public relations and marketing agency, joined Steve Safier, PhD, Sam Liu and Dennis Alvarado’s Capstone seminar to discuss Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DE&I).

Adrianne describes herself as both having DE&I in her DNA and being an “advocate, activist and liberationist,” explaining that she strives to change thinking about DE&I so people are open to new ideas and possibilities. As a DE&I thought leader, Adrianne has spent her entire career championing representation in the advertising and media industry. Her impact has been impressive and her drive to nurture an inclusive mindset has created opportunities for both students and professionals alike.    

Adrianne shared stories of how her personal life influenced her professional journey. A native of Alabama, she grew up in a Muslim and Christian household where she says she learned the importance of managing differences through an inclusive mindset with empathy.  She later applied her inclusive approach at Howard University’s Center for Excellence in Advertising. There she led programs to increase representation of people of color and underrepresented communities in the advertising industry to establish new talent pipelines from those with non-traditional backgrounds yet had transferable skills.

As an example, Adrianne told the story of a young woman who worked in the pharmaceutical sales industry and who was then trained by the program in advertising and marketing. Her pharmaceutical sales background, complemented by her new advertising and marketing training, enabled this woman  to work for an ad agency and gave her the tools she needed to thrive and became a global account director. This success story, Adrianne related, demonstrates that providing the appropriate skills leads to positive outcomes.  Adrianne went on to share that, since the program’s inception in 2008, 68% of those in the program remain in the advertising industry.

When asked how organizations have changed their embrace of DE&I during the past few years, Adrianne commented that there was a renewed sense of urgency after the death of George Floyd. This tragedy was the catalyst for creating a new and different level of commitment for greater accountability at organizations. She continued, “DE&I work is human connection work and, if the people in your organization are not feeling like they are included or they belong, that is when you will have a disconnect that leads to increased attrition and lack of engagement.”        

When asked about career advice, Adrianne emphasized the importance of leveraging the academic and professional experiences they have acquired thus far to continue to ‘move the needle’ on human capital within organizations. “Stay connected with each other, “she urged, “and make sure you treat people the way you would like to be treated.” 

Thank you, Adrianne, for sharing your experience and powerful stories with us!