Diversity & Inclusion

Building a More Inclusive Work with Elise James-DeCruise

Elise James-DeCruise is a trailblazer in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), spearheading initiatives at the Ad Council with a passion for creating inclusive environments and opportunities. In this latest installment of our long-running series on DEI leaders, we explore James-DeCruise’s insights into her journey and the impactful work being done at the Ad Council to foster diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Elise James-DeCruise

Early Beginnings and Foundational Skills

James-DeCruise’s career trajectory reflects a commitment to learning, empathy, and creating spaces where everyone feels a sense of belonging. With a background in education, including training programs and certification in ad tech, career development, e-commerce and advertising industries, she brings a unique perspective to her role in DEI. Her passion for understanding people and leveraging technology intersects seamlessly with her dedication to DEI initiatives.

“I started out in the education space creating training programs and certification across a variety of industries she explains, adding that it was in part from these early experiences in education and her background as a student athlete that she developed crucial interpersonal skills that carried over into her current work.

“One of the focus areas that’s really important along our DEI journey is active listening, getting feedback, prioritizing the feedback and operationalizing it. It’s not enough to ask the question and do what you want to do. We have to listen to what needs to be done so that people feel they are seen, so they feel that they’re’  heard and respected. “

Reflecting on her early career experiences, James-DeCruise highlighted the importance of representation and inclusivity, especially in environments where she often felt like the only person who looked like her. This led her to prioritize creating access and opportunities for historically excluded groups within the industry, including women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities.

“When I started my career in the ad tech space , that’s where I first realized the lack of diversity, and I really wanted to make sure that I could create access to experiences, and hold space for my peers and the next generation of talent who have been historically excluded to gain access to the people within the industry,” James-DeCruise says. “That’s when I started to create these macro/     micro experiences, trainings, certification and onboarding programs to bring people through the ad tech marketplace. It benefited a lot of folks in the industry, career changers and recent college graduates who might not have had the opportunity to go to an Ivy League school or have access to a network or have enough social capital, if you will.”

Work at the Ad Council

At the Ad Council, James-DeCruise has been instrumental in implementing a strategic approach to DEI, focusing on four key areas: workforce, workplace, marketplace, and community. By tying specific initiatives to each of these lenses and leveraging employee resource groups (ERGs) and special interest groups (SIGs), the Ad Council fosters trust, builds community, and ensures that diverse voices are heard and valued.

Recognizing that DEI efforts extend beyond recruitment, James-DeCruise emphasizes the importance of creating inclusive cultures where diverse talent can thrive. Together with the Ad Council’s people operations team led by Regina Bradley, James-DeCruise’s team is committed to fostering a culture of inclusion and growth tosupport diverse workers through ERGs/SIGs, career development programs, and ongoing training for leaders to facilitate inclusive conversations and foster trust among teams.

Innovative approaches to hiring and sourcing talent further demonstrate the Ad Council’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. By adopting candidate-centric recruiting strategies and leveraging technology platforms like Greenhouse, the Ad Council ensures that biases are minimized throughout the hiring process, promoting fairness and equity.

The Importance of Two-Way Conversations

It’s no secret that DEI has faced backlash in some circles in recent years, and that’s largely due to a misunderstanding of the meaning behind DEI and a perception that such programs are all about preaching and shaming. Instead, James-DeCruise underscores the significance of active listening, feedback, and continuous improvement in cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture, to ultimately benefit everyone. By prioritizing employee feedback and operationalizing initiatives that meet the needs of each individual, the Ad Council fosters an environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute.

“What I found in the DEI role specifically at the Ad Council and my previous roles, is that you have to meet people where they are, but also pull them through,” she says. “In my experience, I find that there’s a lot of fear associated with this work: fear of the unknown; fear of being misrepresented. And there’s a certain level of empathy and grace that’s required when you’re in a vulnerable state of sharing who you are, and so that’s why I spend a lot of time with my team and, when I’m partnering across an organization to ensure that people feel safe, feel heard, believe their story is valuable, and that they recognize that this work is not perfect. No, we’re not perfect as humans but we always focus on progress over perfection. It’s about not letting the fear of failing get in the way of you taking your first step to connect and build community and trust     with people.”

Moreover, the Ad Council’s focus on vulnerability and authenticity encourages leaders to lead inclusively, setting the tone for open and honest dialogue across the organization. By holding space for individuals to share their stories and experiences, the Ad Council cultivates a culture of empathy, understanding, and accountability.

“One of the other areas we prioritize is around vulnerability. That allows my team and the leaders across the organization to really be reflective on how you show up as a leader. As a leader, you have an obligation to show up in an authentic way to yourself and to your team. And if you’re not doing that you cannot expect the people on your team to do it.”

Looking Ahead

While James-DeCruise acknowledges that the journey towards diversity, equity, and inclusion is ongoing and imperfect, she remains optimistic about the progress being made. With a commitment to measuring outcomes, celebrating wins, and staying curious and engaged, the Ad Council continues to make strides towards a more inclusive future.

“Everyone has a story or a story to share. And it’s important to hold space for people to have the courage to share their story because regardless of however you identify everyone can remember a time when they didn’t feel like they belonged, but we have the opportunity to change that.”

Together with her team, Elise James-DeCruise’s leadership and dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion is driving positive change at the Ad Council and beyond. Through strategic initiatives, measuring progress through data and employee feedback, innovative practices, and a culture of empathy and authenticity, the Ad Council is shaping a more inclusive world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

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

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