Diversity & Inclusion

From Digital Marketing to DEI Champion: Connie Ross Makes an Impact

In the evolving landscape of corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), understanding the journeys of those at its helm offers critical insights into the challenges and triumphs of implementing effective DEI strategies.

Connie Ross

Connie Ross, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Manager at 84.51°, illustrates the nuanced path many DEI professionals navigate in their careers. Here we take a look at Ross’s career trajectory, her contributions to 84.51°, and the broader implications of her DEI work for HR leaders seeking to foster inclusive environments.

Early Career Insights and Drive for DEI

Ross’s entry into the DEI space was not a straightforward path but a journey marked by early experiences that highlighted the stark realities of underrepresentation in the corporate world. She started her career as a local marketing manager for a retail brand, where she helped create strategies to drive store traffic and organized grand openings for new stores. Later she transitioned into digital marketing.

“For the first five years of my digital marketing career, I was typically the only Black female attending conferences and engaging with digital vendors,” Ross recalls. “It truly opened my eyes to the lack of representation of Black women in spaces where our voices were desperately needed. From that experience, I made a vow to be intentional in mentoring and advocating for diverse and underrepresented voices.”

Transition to DEI and Impact

The pivot to a dedicated DEI role often comes from a place of personal commitment and professional necessity, a transition Ross navigated with purpose and passion. She describes the moment that catalyzed her shift into DEI, marking a significant turn in her career trajectory:

“My opportunity to turn my passion and advocacy for inclusion into a full-time career in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion started in 2020 with my role with a media agency,” says Ross. “As many organizations were looking for ways in which to answer the calls for racial justice for people of color, and being the mother of three young Black men, I took the initiative to have a conversation with our CEO, President, and Chief Human Resources Officer, to discuss an email that failed to address the human issue of what was happening with protests near our office.”

This proactive approach not only showcased Ross’s dedication to DEI but also her willingness to engage in difficult conversations for the betterment of organizational culture and inclusivity. Her efforts led to significant strides in DEI while in that role, setting a precedent for her future endeavors.

“Joining 84.51° in July of 2023 was an opportunity I could not pass up,” Ross says. “While many organizations launched their DEI programs in 2020, 84.51° had long held a commitment to diversity dating back to as early as 2016.”

Advancing DEI at 84.51°

At 84.51°, Ross found a platform that not only recognized the importance of DEI but had also been committed to it well before the societal reckoning of 2020. Her role involves building on a foundation laid by predecessors and pushing the boundaries of what DEI can achieve within the tech and data sectors—industries often criticized for their lack of diversity.

“What makes our organization unique in our DEIB efforts is our commitment to doing what’s right and connecting it to our organizational goals,” explains Ross. “As I mentioned previously, our commitment to DEIB started in 2016, well before many of our competitors started in the space. This firm commitment to do the right thing has held up in the face of the challenges of today because it is embedded in our culture. We work hard to ensure our leaders have what they need to improve on cultural and emotional intelligence to support their abilities to lead a diverse cross-section of associates at 84.51°.”

Ross’s work at 84.51° exemplifies the ongoing journey of DEI in the corporate world—not as a series of checkboxes but as a continuous commitment to growth, learning, and genuine inclusion.

Promoting Inclusion Through Employee Resource Groups

At 84.51°, fostering a diverse and inclusive environment extends beyond traditional DEI initiatives into what Ross and 84.51° call People Led Teams, a unique take on Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). “Our organization offers groups which we refer to as People Led Teams,” Ross explains. “Our People Led Teams support the various communities and diverse associates within our organization through meetups, book clubs, speakers and even helping to provide supportive services or mentoring.” This approach not only enriches the company culture but also ensures that diversity and inclusion are practiced daily, making 84.51° a place where every employee feels they belong and can thrive.

Embedding DEI into the DNA of the Organization

One thing most companies that excel at DEI have in common is that they don’t silo DEI off by itself. They embed diversity, equity, and inclusion into every aspect of the organization.

“At the start of our journey, we ensured that diversity, equity, and inclusion were embedded in our values,” Ross explains. “We ensured our leadership teams were provided with the necessary training and learning to improve their overall cultural intelligence. We made inclusion and belonging part of the goals. We developed training and curriculums to help our associates understand how they can improve their overall cultural intelligence. We committed early and we continue to honor that commitment.”

In navigating the complexities of DEI in the corporate world, Connie Ross’s journey and her impactful work at 84.51° serve as a testament to the power of dedicated leadership and innovative strategies in fostering inclusive environments. Through her efforts, 84.51° has not only set a benchmark for DEI initiatives but also highlighted the importance of embedding these practices into the core of organizational culture. As companies continue to evolve in their DEI approaches, Ross’s experiences and achievements offer valuable lessons in commitment, innovation, and the ongoing pursuit of equity and belonging for all employees.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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