Valeisha Butterfield Jones Drives Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Forward
By Cheryl Robinson
Implementing diversity and inclusion efforts is more than creating a division within a corporation to try and improve company culture. HR.com reported on survey data stating that most organizations lack a mature and effective diversity, equity, and inclusion program. Just 33% of participants say their organization has a formal budget allocated to closing pay gaps. Although 59% of companies are in less than mature stages of executing diversity, equity and inclusion programs, 11% are experts.
Valeisha Butterfield Jones, co-president of the Recording Academy (RA), in charge of the Grammys, initially joined the RA in 2020 as its first-ever chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. With a strong background in D&I, she was up for the task of changing the perspective of a 64-year-old organization that has often been criticized for lack of diversity among its voting members and for racial and gender bias when determining nominations and awards.
This year’s Grammy Awards taking place in April, will be the first major music award production committed to using inclusion riders. In partnership with Color Of Change, RA is working on an initiative called #ChangeMusic. The Rider is an accountability mechanism used in the hiring process to foster an environment of inclusion; it’s a tool to ensure equity and inclusion at every level during the production.
Additionally, the RA has donated $150,000 to GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) media advocacy organization. The donation supports GLAAD’s work to diversify the music industry and champion musicians in the LGBTQ+ community. Also, on March 8, the RA is releasing its Women In The Mix report that shines a light on women’s experiences working in the music industry.
“It [the Rider] was groundbreaking for us in music because a key priority for me has always been transparency, and accountability, making sure that we are measuring our progress every single step of the way,” Butterfield Jones comments. “We have an actual tool to make sure that we are ensuring gender diversity, diversity amongst creators with disabilities, LGBTQIA plus inclusion and beyond. It took us a year to develop it; it’s finally launched. And now we’re doubling down on that tool by having real partnerships and making sure that we’re investing in and partnering with organizations who are on the frontline.”
Butterfield Jones began her career in entertainment at HBO Sports in the boxing department. She then transitioned to RUSH Communications before accepting an offer at the Alzheimer’s Association as the national director of diversity and inclusion.
When former President Obama was a senator, Butterfield Jones volunteered on his campaign; she believed in his platform. Then, while working at the Alzheimer’s Association, she received a call from the Obama campaign for a full-time position. In her last two years with the administration, she served as the national youth vote director.
“It changed my life,” she smiles. “It was just a dream come true. … Where I really got energized was when I was on the ground and talking to young people hearing the issues that they cared most about, figuring out how to get President Obama reelected. We ended that cycle, with my leadership and support, having one of the highest youth voter turnouts in decades.”
After the campaign wrapped up, Butterfield Jones took a year off to stay at home with her child. Then, having time to decompress, she started contemplating her next move. She wanted a new challenge, something that would take her out of her comfort zone. So she applied at major tech companies, all for D&I-focused roles. Google offered her a position as the global head of inclusion.
During Covid and five years into her role at the tech giant, she heard Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, speak about his desire to hire a diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the first time in the company’s history. Butterfield Jones reached out to Mason Jr. at the same time a hiring recruiter reached out to her. After much contemplation, she decided to leap.
Initially, she joined the organization as the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. In August 2021, she joined Panos A. Panay as co-president.
“Leadership is a lonely sport when you do it alone,” she states. “If you look at how a lot of companies and organizations are building a more modernized structure, a lot of organizations are starting to move in this direction. It’s been modeled and tested and seems to have worked for a lot of companies. So I was excited to try here. And it has been the most amazing partnership. We can share responsibilities. We also hold each other accountable and inspire each other to think differently.”
As Butterfield Jones continues to evolve in her career and help the RA navigate the D&I landscape, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Do the research. Don’t go into a pivot blindly. Make sure you’re well versed in the material needed to start the new role.
- Understand the difference between being scared because something is out of your comfort zone versus something that is just not the right decision for you.
- Give it a try. The worst regret is wondering what could’ve happened.
“We need more compassionate leaders in roles like this,” Butterfield Jones concludes. “Respect has been key for me. There are many spaces where I’m the only woman at the table. There have been many spaces where I’m the only Black woman at the table or Black person. I take that responsibility so seriously.”
Photo Source: SAM HARRIS