With headlines around DEI swirling in the past few months, corporate leaders are facing difficult decisions when it comes to their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Considered and consistent communication has rarely been more important as companies work to balance their missions with the potential of unforeseen social and political fallout.
In this edition of CNBC Equity and Opportunity Forum, we’ll talk to corporate leaders about how they are navigating the current environment, working to engage in constructive conversations with employees and other stakeholders, and potentially reframing DEI initiatives as they work to create equity and opportunity for all.
For CNBC Equity & Opportunity editorial coverage, stories and video, visit www.cnbc.com/equity-opportunity.
Linda Akutagawa (she/hers) is President and CEO of LEAP (Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics), an organization she has led for the last 10 years. She is committed to developing Asian and Pacific Islanders leaders, and from the classroom to the boardroom, she actively advocates for inclusive pathways for diverse leaders.
Ms. Akutagawa is a Commissioner on the 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission and an appointed member of the California Department of Insurance Diversity Task Force. She is also the Immediate Past Chair of the Alliance for Board Diversity, a Board Member of the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (a co-founding organization of #StopAAPIHate), a member of the Asian/Asian American Institute Advisory Board at California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) and a Board member of Japanese American Community Services (JACS).
She is a nationally recognized speaker and facilitator on leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion, nonprofits, and board governance. Ms. Akutagawa received her B.S. in International Business with a minor in Economics from California State University at Los Angeles. She has a Certificate in Nonprofit Board Consulting through Boardsource. She is married and a fur-mom to two spoiled rescue dogs and aunty to eleven nephews and nieces.
Michael C. Hyter is President and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council (ELC), the preeminent membership organization for Black CEOs, board directors, and the most senior Black executives at Fortune 1000, Global 500 and equivalent companies. He leads the organization’s efforts to increase the number of global Black executives in C-Suites, on corporate boards, and in global enterprises.
An accomplished senior executive, leadership consultant, author and thought leader, Hyter is widely known for his success in developing enterprise leaders and their next generation successors. For more than 25 years, Hyter has served as a trusted advisor to senior leaders in a variety of industries. He brings a wealth of leadership experience to The ELC in the areas of CEO succession, chief executive and executive to leadership development, and strategic Diversity and Inclusion consulting.
Prior to leading The ELC, Hyter was Chief Diversity Officer of global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry. He also led the firm’s Washington, DC office.
Hyter’s work is guided by the belief that one of the most effective ways to positively impact an organization’s bottom line is by growing and developing the talent within the organization.
His work with executives in Fortune 1000 companies has helped those organizations grow and enhance their businesses through innovative talent management strategies and programs.
A successful author, Hyter’s most recent publication is The Power of Choice: Embracing Efficacy to Drive Your Career (2020). He is also co-author of The Power of Inclusion: Unlock the Potential and Productivity of Your Workforce, published by Wiley in 2005.
Hyter serves on the board of directors of Dine Brands Global Inc. (NYSE:DIN), sitting on the Nominating and Governance Committee. He is a member of The Executive Leadership Council (ELC) and the Economic Club of Washington, DC. He was recognized by Savoy Magazine in 2018 as one of the most influential Blacks in Corporate America.
Ozzie Gromada Meza, President and CEO of the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA), oversees a distinguished membership organization, driving a mission to elevate Hispanic/Latino representation on corporate boards. Previously serving as the Vice President of Member and Talent Services at LCDA, he collaborated closely with board leaders, C-Suite executives, and search firms, leaving an indelible mark on the board talent pipeline for numerous prestigious organizations.
With a rich background in talent intelligence, Ozzie's career spans across search firms, consulting, and Fortune 1000 corporations. Notably, he played a pivotal role in establishing the executive recruiting function at Allstate Insurance. Recognized as a trailblazer in ESG, Ozzie has received accolades such as the Modern Governance 100 Award by Diligent and the Business & Finance Impact Award from the Special Libraries Association.
In addition to his professional achievements, Ozzie Gromada Meza serves as an Advisory Board Member of the Association of LGBTQ+ Corporate Directors. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems and a Master of Science degree in Library and Information Science, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He and his husband take pride in their roles as parents to twins and consider Reno, Nevada home.
Antonio Neri is President and Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), responsible for leading the development and delivery of enterprise technology solutions and services that help organizations accelerate business outcomes by unlocking value from all of their data, everywhere.
Since being named CEO in February 2018, Antonio has leveraged his deep experience as a business leader and technologist to transform HPE into the global edge-to-cloud company. He has led the introduction of leading innovations such as HPE GreenLake, the company’s unified, automated, and secure hybrid-cloud experience, and Frontier, the world’s first supercomputer to break the exascale speed barrier.
Antonio has accelerated the company’s innovation organically and through targeted acquisitions, including Aruba Networks, Axis Security, Cray, Determined AI, Nimble Storage, Pachyderm, Silicon Graphics, Silver Peak, and Zerto, among others.
Under his leadership, HPE has also achieved its highest level of team member engagement in company history and has been recognized as a great place to work, including ranking #19 in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For® 2022.
Prior to his role as CEO, Antonio spent more than 23 years at Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) and HPE, holding numerous leadership positions, including President; Executive Vice President & General Manager of HPE’s Enterprise Group; leader of HP’s Server and Networking business; and head of HP’s Technology Services business.
Antonio currently serves on the Board of Directors of Elevance Health, Inc. (formerly Anthem, Inc.) and on Maserati and ROKiT Venturi Racing’s Advisory Board. He also serves on the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum and on the Technology Committee of the Business Roundtable.
Antonio graduated from Escuela Nacional de Educación Técnica in Argentina and attended the Universidad Tecnólgica Nacional.
Zakiyyah joined Gibson Dunn as Chief Diversity Officer in 2011, where she has led various diversity and inclusion efforts, including launching Women at Gibson Dunn and the Black Advancement Initiative, among others. Prior to joining the firm, Salim-Williams served as Diversity Director at the New York City Bar Association, clerked on the District Court for the Eastern District of New York and on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and was an associate at two global law firms. She also worked as an intern for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and for the White House Office of Counsel to the President.
She is also a Director on the New York Junior Tennis & Learning Board, and a founding member and advisor of the National Business Coalition for Child Care. Zakiyyah serves in an advisory and administrative role to the Board of the Alliance for Asian American Justice, a national pro bono initiative committed to standing up for victims, and preventing future acts, of anti-Asian hate. Additionally, Ms. Salim-Williams played a leading role as a member of the Planning Committee for the George Floyd Global Memorial’s 2nd Annual Rise and Remember Celebration in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
She graduated in 2001 from Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and in 1998 from Howard University, summa cum laude with a degree in Political Science.
Dr. Jamillah Bowman Williams is a Professor of Law at Georgetown University. She received her M.A. in Higher Education from the University of Michigan, her J.D. from Stanford Law School and her Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford. Her innovative research focuses on contemporary bias (implicit, explicit, and structural), the effectiveness of antidiscrimination law, and the capacity of law to reduce inequality and promote social change. More specifically, she uses social psychological theory and empirical analysis to examine the impact of antidiscrimination law on the individuals it was intended to protect. Her research has been published in a range of academic journals, featured by numerous media outlets, and she frequently consults leaders in business, government, and higher education regarding their workplace practices.
Dr. Williams is the founding Faculty Director of the Georgetown Workers’ Rights Institute, where she supports community-centered research and advocacy focused on racial and economic justice for marginalized workers. From 2022-24, Dr. Williams has been a Faculty Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society at Harvard Business School. Prior to joining the faculty at Georgetown, Dr. Williams worked as an Associate in the Employment Law practice of Paul Hastings, LLP in Chicago, IL where she specialized in conducting privileged diagnostics of employment processes and advising employers on diversity/inclusion programs.
Cid Wilson was named President & Chief Executive Officer of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) in July 2014, where he manages a growing staff of talented, dedicated professionals. He leverages more than 30 years of corporate finance and Wall Street equity research experience to work closely with corporations, their CEOs and board directors, and chief diversity officers to increase the representation of Hispanics at all levels in Corporate America. In addition, he directs programs and initiatives aimed at encouraging Fortune 500 companies to increase Hispanic inclusion in the areas of employment, procurement, philanthropy, and governance.
Wilson has been featured, quoted, and sourced in numerous media outlets, including CNBC, ABC News, NBC News, Time, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Yahoo! Finance, The New York Times, Forbes, Bloomberg Business News and many more. In February 2004, he was on the cover of Black Enterprise Magazine; in March 2017, he was featured in MONEY Magazine; and in April 2017, he shared the cover of LATINO Magazine with the Chairman and CEO of General Motors Company, Mary Barra. This made him, one of the country’s few Afro-Latinos to make the cover page of both major magazines focused on African Americans and Latinos.
As the public face of the organization, Wilson promotes The Power of Hispanic Inclusion™ through direct corporate advocacy, thought leadership engagements, traditional media, and outreach to organizations, employee resource groups, and diversity leaders who share HACR’s mission. His ease in communicating within the C-suites of major U.S. corporations is a unique advantage in creating new partnerships and strengthening relationships with existing corporate members.
His focus on elevating diverse talent to corporate boards extends to all women and people of color through his service as part of the Alliance for Board Diversity (ABD), which comprises four leadership organizations including HACR. The other three are Catalyst Inc., The Executive Leadership Council, and Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP). Diversified Search serves as an advisor. He was appointed chair of ABD in January of 2022 for a 2-year term.
In September 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Wilson to the National Museum of the American Latino Study Commission that proposed to the President and Congress construction of a new Smithsonian Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He was named board chair of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino in 2012 and continues to lead advocacy efforts aimed at sustaining Congressional support for the museum’s completion.
Wilson graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in economics. He launched his Wall Street career in 1993 and steadily rose from the mailroom to the executive suite, earning national recognition as the #1 Specialty Retail Analyst by Forbes in 2006.
His thought leadership comes from many years serving on corporate boards, corporate advisory boards, and decades of interactions with corporate board directors and CEOs. He serves on the governing steering committee of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest corporate CEO initiative in the world focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In June 2021, Wilson was inducted into The Ohio State University’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion Hall of Fame for the inaugural Class of 2021 for his lifetime of accomplishments and his dedication to sharing his inspirations with the students of his beloved alma mater.
Wilson is a proud Dominican American with Bergen County, NJ roots, and has served the community through prominent nonprofit boards with leading advocacy groups, including LatinoJustice PRLDEF (formerly the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund), Unidos US (formerly the National Council of La Raza) and Dominicans on Wall Street (DOWS). As a youth empowerment advocate, he serves on the national board of directors for Junior Achievement USA. He is the former national president of the Dominican American National Roundtable (DANR), former vice chairman of the board of trustees for Bergen Community College, a former trustee ambassador to the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, a former member of the Association of Community College Trustees’ (ACCT) National Board of Directors, and a Gold Life Member of the NAACP.
Sharon Epperson, named one of “12 to Watch in TV News,” can be seen regularly on CNBC television and other media platforms.
As CNBC’s senior personal finance correspondent, Epperson covers the many facets of how people manage, grow and protect their money. Her expertise includes saving and investing for retirement, paying for college, managing mortgage, student loan, credit card and other debt, and building a financial legacy through estate planning.
Preparing your finances for the unexpected is another critical (and personal) aspect of her reporting. In September 2016, Epperson sustained a ruptured brain aneurysm and she nearly lost her life. She has become a staunch advocate for health and wellness issues, raising awareness about brain aneurysms and funding for research. In September 2018, she and her family established “The Sharon Epperson Chair of Research” through the Brain Aneurysm Foundation to provide grants for research on early detection and innovative treatments.
Epperson is a lead contributor to “Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow.,” a multi-platform financial wellness and education initiative at CNBC in partnership with the micro-investing app Acorns, and developed its companion 8-week learning course and weekly newsletter, “Invest in You: Money 101.” She also contributes to NBC’s TODAY and NBC Nightly News as well as Today.com and NBCNews.com.
Her book, The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take to Make the Most of Their Money-and Live Richly Ever After, was a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Awards, honoring works that have “changed the lives of millions.” She also was a contributing writer for The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster. Her personal finance expertise has been featured in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA Weekend, Self, Essence, Ebony and TIME, where she had covered business, culture, social issues and health as a correspondent prior to joining CNBC.
Epperson has numerous industry and civic awards, including the Special Achievement Award from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and the Savvy Inspiration Award from the non-profit, financial empowerment group Savvy Ladies. She won an Alliance for Women in Media’s Gracie Award for Outstanding Online Host for her “Financial Advisor Playbook” video series on CNBC.com. She has received the Vanguard Award for her distinguished career in business and personal finance reporting from the National Urban League Guild, and the All-Star Award from the Association of Women in Communications. She also has won awards from the New York Festivals, the New York Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.
Epperson is committed to improving financial literacy, particularly in underserved communities. She was invited to the White House during President Obama’s administration to speak about financial literacy and to moderate a public meeting of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability at the U.S. Treasury Department. She also speaks frequently at conferences and events for local and national organizations, colleges and universities about many facets of personal finance.
An adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Epperson has also taught courses at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. She enjoys teaching the importance of budgeting and building long-term savings as part of her professional development courses for graduate students.
Epperson received her bachelor’s in sociology and government from Harvard University, a master of international affairs degree from Columbia University, and an honorary doctorate from Carlow University in Pittsburgh. A Pittsburgh native, she has also been inducted into the Hall of Fame at Taylor Allderdice High School, her alma mater.
She currently lives with her husband and two children in Westchester County, N.Y.
Thasunda Brown Duckett is President and Chief Executive Officer of TIAA, a leading provider of secure retirements and outcome-focused investment solutions to millions of people and thousands of institutions.
As TIAA’s CEO, Duckett leads a company whose mission is defined by financial inclusion and opportunity – goals and values she has upheld throughout her career.
Duckett joined TIAA in 2021 after serving as Chief Executive Officer of Chase Consumer Banking, where she oversaw a banking network with more than $600 billion in deposits and 50,000 employees. Previously, she was CEO of Chase Auto Finance and National Retail Sales Executive for Chase Mortgage Banking. Earlier in her career, she was Director of Emerging Markets at Fannie Mae.
Duckett serves on the boards of NIKE, Inc., Brex Inc., Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Sesame Workshop, National Medal of Honor Museum, Economic Club of New York, University of Houston Board of Visitors and Dean’s Advisory Board for Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.
She sits on the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), The Business Council, Business Roundtable and the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board. Duckett is also a member of the Executive Leadership Council, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Jack and Jill of America, Inc.
She founded the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation, in honor of her parents, to recognize and reward people who use ordinary means to empower and uplift their community in extraordinary ways. She is passionate about helping communities of color close achievement gaps in wealth creation, educational outcomes and career success.
Duckett grew up in Texas and lives in Connecticut with her husband and their four children. She holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing from the University of Houston and an MBA from Baylor University.
Esther Aguilera is President & CEO of the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA), the largest national network of Latinos at the pinnacle of corporate leadership and governance. She built LCDA, a premier and consequential organization focused on advancing inclusion of Latinos in the boardroom. She is executive producer of the LCDA Annual Board Leaders Convening and launched the BoardReady Institute (BRI) to advance top Latino executives onto boards. She is a corporate governance expert and contributes on tropics related to the S&G of ESG, as well as DE&I. She serves on the Advisory Council of the NACD Center for Inclusive Governance and on the Board of Directors of the Thirty Percent Coalition. She is a recipient of the 2022 Modern Governance 100 by Diligent in the category of ESG and Diversity Trailblazer. She was named among the 2022 50 Most Powerful Latinas, recognized by Bloomberg Linea among the 500 Most Influential in Latin America in 2022, and 2021 Person of the Year by Al Dia News Media.
Rick C. Wade is senior vice president of Strategic Alliances and Outreach at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Wade develops and implements programs and initiatives to help the Chamber create new business relationships and partnerships across diverse audiences. He also provides counsel on policy issues and leads special projects. Wade’s wealth of knowledge and experience in both the public and private sectors enable him to give a megaphone to the voice of business across the country and share the positive impacts of the free enterprise system.
Before joining the Chamber, Wade was principal of The Wade Group, a strategic communications and global business development firm, and was a partner at Harves Investment Group, a consultancy that facilitated foreign direct investment into the U.S.
Previously, Wade was a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to former Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke where he was a liaison to the White House, businesses, trade associations, civic organizations, and local governments. He was a member of the White House task forces on Puerto Rico, Small Business Contracting, Automobile Recovery, Military Families, and Historically Black Colleges & Universities. He also served on the Interagency Business Council and former Vice President Joe Biden’s Task Force on Middle Class America and worked with the White House on implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Wade also worked with Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to foster regional economic development in distressed areas, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on expanding broadband to rural and urban America, the Minority Business Development Agency to create jobs through the growth of minority-owned businesses, and the Census Bureau on executing the 2010 decennial census.
In addition, Wade was instrumental in expanding opportunities for U.S. companies to sell their products in the global market. He represented the U.S. at international trade forums including the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum, and the Conference on the Caribbean and Central America. He served as special envoy to the Caribbean, oversaw private sector initiatives in Haiti following the 2010 devastating earthquake, and led trade missions around the world.
He was a senior adviser to the 2008 Obama for America campaign and is a member of the Democratic National Committee. He was an executive at Hoffman-La Roche and Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina. He also had experience at the South Carolina House of Representatives, the Cabinet of the Governor, and the Office of the President at the University of South Carolina.
Wade received his B.S. from the University of South Carolina and an M.P.A. from Harvard University. He was awarded honorary doctorates from Benedict College and South Carolina State University and has received numerous awards for exemplary leadership and public service.
Quita Highsmith is Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.
At Genentech Quita was selected as the first Chief Diversity Officer in the 46-year history of the company and reports to the CEO. She is responsible for enterprise-wide strategic initiatives that drive business impact by: investing in commercial efforts, stakeholder engagement, research innovation and community relations.
Outside of D&I knowledge, Quita brings brand marketing, business development and a global leadership perspective. Prior to becoming the CDO, she held leadership roles in Commercial and Government Affairs of several companies (Genentech, Sanofi, Aventis) where she impacted and improved revenues. Because she recognized the need to diversify clinical research, she co-founded Advancing Inclusive Research® an initiative to embrace equitable access.
Quita is routinely requested to address members of Congress, speak at national and international forums, and give media interviews with both large and small outlets, such as WSJ, STAT, The Atlantic, Katie Couric Media, and the HuffPost. She has co-authored several publications regarding health disparities in peer reviewed journals. In 2022, she was chosen by Savoy Magazine as one of the Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America and named Executive of the Year by Lead360.
Quita is an advisor to Cerebral, a mental health startup company and Artis Ventures. She is also committed to community service by working with nonprofit boards such as, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Northwest Kidney Centers, Delta San Francisco-Peninsula Scholarship Foundation and The Genentech Patient Foundation, serving on the Audit Committee.
Quita received both a Master of Business Administration Degree and an Advanced Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell University, as well as her undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky.