Shaw departing sports but legacy of diversity efforts will remain
As Nzinga Shaw departs the Atlanta Hawks this week, she leaves behind a trailblazing legacy that has reverberated throughout sports as teams and leagues put a greater spotlight on diversity.
The Hawks hired Shaw in December 2014 as the first team chief diversity and inclusion officer in the NBA following a racial controversy under previous ownership involving free agency recruitment. She’s now set to take a similar role with Starbucks.
“For us she embodies the value that an individual in that position can create for the brand,” said Oris Stuart, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the NBA. “She has shown that this is a position that can really help advance the strategic interests of our teams. It is a significant investment for the teams, and she has shown that there is real value that can be created.”
Stuart said that since Shaw joined the Hawks, the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks have hired their own chief diversity officers. More NBA teams are expected to follow.
“She was the first,” said Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. “No one else had thought about it. Now, one of the most wide-open fields in sports is diversity officer, and every college athletic department, pro teams and leagues are hiring them. She was a real role model for a lot of people. When Atlanta hired her, the status jumped in the eyes of people.”
Under Shaw, the Hawks created myriad diversity efforts including the MOSAIC symposium (Model of Shaping Atlanta through Inclusive Conversations) at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights that focused on race and gender in sports. The Hawks became the first professional sports team in Atlanta to march in the Pride parade, formed a partnership with the 100 Black Men of Atlanta organization and hosted a mentoring program for more than 100 at-risk teens.
“Her impact on the organization runs through every fiber of what the Hawks do, from the design of our building to make sure we had inclusion, to programming it in a way where people feel welcome, to having a fan council to work with different communities,” said Hawks CEO Steve Koonin. “Her impact has been significant nationally. Many teams have followed the lead. What used to be one of a kind is now becoming mainstream.”
Shaw said she expects others in the industry to increasingly learn from the Hawks’ diversity efforts.
“Five years ago, diversity and inclusion was nonexistent,” she said. “We were forced to get active in the space, and we didn’t know what it looked like at the time. It gave us the opportunity to be extremely innovative. We see other franchises mimicking our work. We have changed the narrative so that diversity and inclusion is proactive throughout the organization.”
But Shaw also said teams and leagues need to focus more on diversity issues.
“What needs to change is that folks at the very top need to be held accountable,” she said. “Having a mechanism to help them track wins and losses and being able to promote from within. There has to be a mechanism to make it not just lip service, but to hold them accountable from a compensation and performance management standpoint. It is making diversity part of the core focus of their business.”
Shaw is a 2018 SBJ Forty Under 40 award recipient and a 2017 SBJ Game Changer honoree. Before joining the Hawks, she worked as senior vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Edelman public relations agency and previously worked for the NFL and YES Network. She was appointed to the NBA’s Global Inclusion Council, which provides guidance for the league’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
Shaw is set to start her new job at Starbucks on Dec. 16.