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Michelle Gadsden-Williams

Management executive Michelle Gadsden-Williams was born on May 21, 1969. She graduated summa cum laude with her B.S. degree in marketing and her B.A. degree in communications from Kean College in 1990. Gadsden-Williams later enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with honors with her M.S. degree in organizational dynamics in 2006.

Gadsden-Williams served as a diversity practitioner for more than twenty years in pharmaceutical and financial services. She held positions of increasing responsibility in the diversity management and staffing functions at Merck & Company, Inc., including as senior university relations and diversity consultant, future-talent program and diversity manager, and manager of diversity programs. Gadsden-Williams also held positions in the human resources division and in product management at Philips-Van Heusen Corporation and Wakefern Food Corporation in New Jersey. In 2006, Gadsden-Williams became the first African American executive director of diversity and inclusion at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. She was later appointed as managing director and global head of diversity and inclusion and as a member of the Talent, Branding and Communications Management Committee at Credit Suisse AG based in Zurich, Switzerland.

Gadsden-Williams was appointed as a member of the Global Advisory Council on Values for the World Economic Forum, and as a board member of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. She is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., a board member of the SLE Lupus Foundation in New York City, and an executive committee Member of the Women’s Leadership Board of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Gadsden-Williams has been profiled in Black Enterprise Magazine, Diversity Executive, Ebony, Essence, Fortune, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Gadsden-Williams is the recipient of a number of community service awards and accolades for her work as a diversity practitioner. She received Novartis’ Scientific Operations Business Excellence Award in 2004 and its Human Resources Excellence Award in 2003. In 2005, she was honored at the YWCA of Central New Jersey’s Tribute to Women in Industry Gala. She was the 2010 recipient of the Maya Way Award for Diversity Leadership from Dr. Maya Angelou, and has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree from Kean University.

Michelle Gadsden-Williams was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 13, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.185

Sex

Female

Interview Date

7/13/2013

Last Name

Gadsden-Williams

Maker Category
Schools

University of Pennsylvania

Kean University

James Madison Primary School

James Madison Intermediate School

John P. Stevens High School

Fashion Institute of Technology

First Name

Michelle

HM ID

GAD02

Favorite Season

Summer

Favorite Vacation Destination

Europe

Favorite Quote

To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

5/21/1969

Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Favorite Food

Pizza

Short Description

Management executive Michelle Gadsden-Williams (1969 - ) was the first African American executive director of diversity and inclusion at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.

Employment

Credit Suisse Group AG

Merck & Co.

Phillips Van Heusen

Wakefern Food Corporation

Novartis AG

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation

Favorite Color

Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641126">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Michelle Gadsden-Williams' interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641127">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams lists her favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641128">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641129">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls her Gullah ancestry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641130">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams talks about her paternal grandmother's background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641131">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641132">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641133">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams remembers her early household</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641134">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls her neighborhood in Edison, New Jersey</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641135">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams remembers a typical day in her early household</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641136">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641137">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls her early education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641138">Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her childhood personality</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641139">Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls her early religious experiences</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641140">Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams remembers her early interest in music</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641141">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls her extracurricular activities at John P. Stevens High School in Edison, New Jersey</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641142">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her social life in high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641143">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams remembers her childhood idols</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641144">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls her experience at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641145">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams talks about her influences in college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641146">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams remembers her first retail positions</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641147">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams talks about her management training program at Wakefern Food Corporation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641148">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls developing a diversity program at Wakefern Food Corporation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641149">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams remembers joining Merck and Co., Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641150">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls meeting her husband, David Williams, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641151">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls meeting her husband, David Williams, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641152">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her roles at Merck and Co., Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641153">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls joining Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641154">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams talks about her mentors at Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641155">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her accomplishments at Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641156">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams remembers being recruited to Credit Suisse Group AG</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641157">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her diversity work at Credit Suisse Group AG</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641158">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams shares her future plans at Credit Suisse Group AG</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641159">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams reflects upon her legacy in Corporate America</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641160">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams reflects upon the future of diversity work</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641161">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams talks about African American representation in diversity outreach</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641162">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls her diagnosis with systemic lupus erythematosus</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641163">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her husband's support through her illness</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641164">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams' husband describes how they met</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641165">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams' husband talks about his family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641166">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams' husband recalls his career at AT&T Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641167">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams' husband talks about his support of his wife's career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641168">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams' husband recalls changing his career aspirations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641169">Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams' husband reflects upon his marriage</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641170">Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams' husband talks about having a support system while working in Corporate America</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641171">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams narrates her photographs, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/641172">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Michelle Gadsden-Williams narrates her photographs, pt. 2</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

8$7

DATitle
Michelle Gadsden-Williams recalls developing a diversity program at Wakefern Food Corporation
Michelle Gadsden-Williams describes her diversity work at Credit Suisse Group AG
Transcript
And by the time you leave what is your position (unclear)?$$Well once I graduated from the Leaders in Training program, he offered me a role in his function in HR [human resources]. I could have gone anywhere else in the organization and I told him that I wanted to work for him and no one else. So I was a HR administrator once I graduated.$$Okay.$$I then talked to him about diversity as an opportunity that I think that most companies who want to really distinguish themselves and differentiate themselves that they do this affirmative action diversity work really well and that we should consider having such a function within the company. He said to me, "Michelle [HistoryMaker Michelle Gadsden-Williams] if you can create a business case that makes sense for this company maybe you can create a new job for yourself." And I said, "Okay," so I went to IBM [International Business Machines Corporation] and visited with Ted Childs [HistoryMaker Ted Childs, Jr.] and I went to PepsiCo and I visited with the head of diversity there. I went to Texaco [Texaco, Inc.] and I visited with Ed Gadsden [Edward N. Gadsden, Jr.] who is a distant cousin. So I made my way around to different companies doing some investigative reporting, so to speak, to really build a case for my company. Long story short, I built the business case. Ernie [Ernie Bell] helped me to package the presentation that I was going--he was going to allow me to present to the executive committee. I presented that information to the committee and I was able to create a job for myself once they said yes this is what we want to do. They then--Ernie said to me, "So Michelle do you want the job?" And I said, "Absolutely, yes." So that's when I entered into the diversity arena.$$Okay. So what did you learn about those other programs and you know, you mentioned Ted Childs--$$Yeah.$$--and he's very well known in the corporate community. I saw that you count him as one of your mentors.$$Yes.$$So what are you learning when you're seeing these different programs and did you see things--one what you're learning; and two did you see things that you thought were not good programs?$$Well, being a novice at the time, not necessarily understanding or knowing what good was. When I met with Ted what I saw was the power of the human condition, the power of influencing an organization that did well without diversity practice that then embraced it and then turned the corner and did even better. I, I think that IBM at that time was one of the frontrunners in the diversity space. So that was one of my first interviews, so to speak. So everyone else had similar types of programs but not to the degree to which what IBM was doing. So I saw, from my perspective not understanding what good looked like, it looked like everyone else was doing well at it. These were companies that were clients of Wakefern [Wakefern Food Corporation, Keasbey, New Jersey]; we used their products. So I said if our clients are using them in doing this (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Then we should do something like this.$$Then we should do something like this.$$So how long did it take to get the diversity program?$$Six months.$$Okay, and so what did you accomplish with the program and how much of a pipeline were you able to initiate?$$Well given that we were so embryonic at it, init- what we wanted to address first was increasing diverse representation in the company. So we wanted to hire diverse individuals so that's one of the things that we did first. So in I'd say the first year, we were able to increase our pipeline, I'd say maybe by 6 percent and we utilized that Leaders in Training programs as a pipeline to do that. So children, not children--students out of university were able to recruit individuals of diverse profiling utilizing that as an entree into the company. So we were able to leverage that program to bring in diverse individuals.$What had they been doing in the diversity space?$$Not a lot, just the traditional type of work. They had employee research groups who were putting on these events around theme months like Black History Month and Women's History Month. They were doing a lot in the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] community. They were doing a lot for women but for everyone else, not a whole lot going on. So they really wanted to turn the corner, they really wanted to go from good to great and they asked me if I would help them and I said yes.$$So you're in human resources.$$I am in human resources.$$Okay so what is the structure and how does it differ from what you did before and what have you been able to do in the two years and what are your plans?$$In terms of the structure, I work in the talent branding and communications division [at Credit Suisse Group AG], which is led by Pamela Thomas-Graham. So HR is part of the talent umbrella within TB&C [Talent, Branding and Centre of Excellence]. I sit on the human resources management committee which is the leadership committee for HR and I report to the head of talent development and strategy. I have a fairly small organization. I have in total there's thirteen of us globally who work in the diversity function. We are a forty-eight thousand person organization and we are in about thirty-six countries around the world. So it's a far cry from what I came from [at Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG]. A two hundred thousand person organization in two hundred countries versus forty-eight thousand in thirty-six. So for me less can be more because it's a very--it's a smaller organization where you can have more intimate conversations and dialogue and make the kind of impact that you want to make in a shorter amount of time because you're not travelling around the world fifteen times in order to meet everyone and to meet the leadership team and thus and so. So in terms of what I've been able to do are several things. To design the diversity 2.0 strategy, so they've done great work up until the time that I entered. It's now time to start thinking about diversity in the context of the business because we're talking about a Wall Street firm. These guys have been successful without diversity all these years, so why now? So it's starting from having that conversation, why they need to embrace it. The clients are asking about it. I spend a lot of my time speaking to clients and asking their questions. They want to know, "So what are you doing on the diversity front?" So the bankers will bring me in to talk about that. You know, I just think that this is a firm who's starting to understand that if they don't do it what is the consequence, that they won't be competitive. So I think they are starting to understand that a lot better and they are also starting to wrap their arms around the true business case in understanding, look if you don't treat your talent well, if you're not inclusive, if you have any unconscious bias in your decision making around promotions and hiring and all that, no one is going to work here. There are too many other firms out on the street--Wall Street and people have too many choices so we've got to do something different. So I think that they are starting to understand that a lot better.$$So what is your budget and what are your plans then? So you talked about the need.$$Yeah$$Um-hm.$$Budget--total budget I'd say it's minimal--six million [dollars].$$Um-hm.$$And that includes salaries and all the operating costs and all of that to run it.