With a 111-year history and over two dozen print and digital imprints worldwide, it’s somewhat shocking that Conde Nast hadn’t placed a global emphasis on diversity and inclusion before this year. But like so many media and luxury conglomerates—and amid its own fairly public reckonings at Bon Appetit and Vogue editor-in-chief and Condé Nast Global Artistic Director Anna Wintour—Condé Nast is now taking strategic steps to ensure its future is a more equitable one, recently announcing they’ve hired Yashica Olden to fulfill its first-ever global chief diversity and inclusion officer role.
The announcement was made last Wednesday via a release on Condé Nast’s site and a tweet. Olden was previously executive director of inclusion and diversity on the global culture team of British multinational communications company WPP, prior to which she held leadership roles at Credit Suisse and Barclays Capital, and was the first head of diversity and inclusion for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome. Her career thus far has also included roles in Munich and Khartoum. When she begins her tenure at Condé Nast on Oct. 26, Olden “will be responsible for developing and implementing diversity and inclusion strategies across the company’s global portfolio of brands and divisions,” says the release.
“Condé Nast plays an important role in shaping culture and people’s opinions about the events taking place in our world today,” said Olden, a native of Nashville, Tenn. and graduate of Wellesley College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations. “I’m excited to join the team and work with the incredibly talented editors, writers, designers and marketers to embed a global diversity and inclusion framework into every aspect of the business.”
“As a company, we are committed to recruiting and developing a diverse and inclusive workplace, and as content creators, it’s incredibly important that we have a team that has a broad range of perspectives and voices,” said Stan Duncan, chief people officer of Condé Nast, to whom Olden will report. “Yashica brings a wealth of experience in helping elevate diversity and inclusion strategies in large companies like ours and I’m looking forward to her insight and counsel in helping move our workplace culture forward.”
Speaking with Digiday, Olden gave more details about pioneering the new role, in which she “will lead an effort that currently gathers input from 20 staffers,” while building “a standalone diversity and inclusion team [that] will grow in size next year.”
“You really have to do quite a lot of listening and focus groups to understand what their unique needs are,” said Olden, referencing her work with the WFP. “That’s what I’ll be bringing to the role: This ability to listen, to discern and try to create impact based on what I’ve learned, and data and the voices of the people that work for us.”
Citing the results of Condé Nast’s first-ever diversity and inclusion report, Digiday noted:
Per the report, at least 75% of Condé Nast’s senior leadership is white (more than 2% of the report’s respondents did not share their ethnicity). Condé Nast’s report did not break down the granular gender balance across its organization, sharing only that women make up 68% of staff.
The report highlighted a number of things that the publisher is already doing to combat the problem, such as a pledge that 50% of candidates on all hiring slates will come from diverse backgrounds, and that by next year all of the company’s employees will undergo unconscious bias and anti-racism training. Condé Nast is also preparing a separate report about pay disparities among staffers, and plans to release a follow-up report later this year that tracks its progress.
“I don’t think leadership support and accountability is going to be a challenge for us,” Olden wagered, adding, “Even before they recruited me they were trying to work through and respond and listen to employees and rectify the situations that have emerged internally.”
Admitting that “the stakes are high” in her new role, she told Digiday her ultimate goal for Condé Nast is “taking all the diverse perspectives of the markets where they operate to be impactful and have its readership increase because of its focus on diversity.” To do so, she intends to pursue “a data-driven approach, a people-centered approach,” that eradicates bias from the hiring process and increases empathy in its culture.
“The way I look at diversity and inclusion and success is it’s everybody’s job,” Olden said. “It’s HR, it’s the editors-in-chief, it’s everyone, and that people view it as such. It’s trying to make sure that we’re hearing our employees and reacting accordingly, trying to make sure we have a strong strategy we feel confident about and can implement over a period of time, and trying to build those relationships and build our reputation in the culture space.”
It’s an ambitious, if admirable, task—and one Olden will be facing amid the unprecedented challenges of our current reality, as she acknowledged.
“Right now, we’ve got a pandemic we’re battling, Black people are still being murdered in the streets in the U.S.,” she told Digiday. “It’s heartbreaking, actually, knowing that many of our employees who are Black and people of color in the U.S. are really going through a tough time, and it means we have to continue to create more transparency around the work we do. We have to help them all heal from everything that’s happening, heal so they’re productive and are able to bring their whole selves to work again.”