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Atlanta Hawks’ Nzinga Shaw on the impact of Black women in leadership roles

Atlanta Hawks' Nzinga Shaw on the impact of Black women in leadership roles
Photo courtesy of Nzinga Shaw

As the chief diversity and inclusion officer of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena, Nzinga Shaw is the first person to hold the position in the National Basketball Association.

Shaw credits her educational background from institutions such as Spelman College, the University of Pennsylvania, and studying abroad at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom for her early introduction to the value of diversity.

Shaw believes Black women have the ability to run companies from a unique perspective.

“I consider my superpower to be telepathy,” she says.

“As a diversity an inclusion professional, I try to read deeper than the surface realizing that some people communicate through facial expressions and non-audible ways,” she adds.

What key skills or qualities make you unique as an African American female leader?

The qualities that make me unique as an African American female leader are my unapologetic nature and my candor with compassion. I feel extremely comfortable in my skin and pride myself on providing honest feedback to my colleagues, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation and any other qualities that set us apart.

What thoughtful or encouraging piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

A setback is a setup for a comeback.

Why is it important for women of color to lead or work in leadership roles and decision-making capacities?

It is important because women of color are highly competent, capable and offer a unique perspective when it comes to making business decisions. We have a deep understanding of diverse demographics within the marketplace and can authentically reach multiple audiences.

If you could thank any Black woman history maker for her contributions to society, who would it be and why?  

I would like to thank Dorothy Height for her remarkable contributions to society. She was a leader in addressing the rights of both women and African Americans as the president of the National Council of Negro Women. She was also a highly regarded member of my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Soror Height drew young people into her cause in the war against drugs, illiteracy and unemployment. The numerous honors bestowed upon her include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Why is it important for seasoned and experienced Black women to reach back and help younger women of color?

Paying it forward is the only way to guarantee that future generations will be prosperous and prepared to handle the challenges that lie ahead. Doing good for other women of color can have a positive, powerful effect on our own well-being and soul.

How do you feel about the hashtag #CollaborationOverCompetition?

This is an important message because it instills the value that we are stronger as a team than we are as individuals.

What qualities or values do you deem indispensable in your business partners or collaborators?

Trust, a strong work ethic and humor.

What are your thoughts on taking risks? Making mistakes?

Both risk-taking and making mistakes are necessary ingredients for an individual’s recipe for growth. My dad used to say, “Either you win or you learn, but you never lose.” Those words have had a profound impact on my life. If I was scared to take risks, then I would not be the first chief diversity and inclusion officer in the NBA. Now, I have a unique opportunity to impact the ascension of people of color and women in front office roles in professional sports.

What are three success habits you implement into your daily routine to maintain your success, sanity, peace of mind, etc.?

1. I read a lot. Reading helps me learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Instead of just diving in; relying on my gut and motivation to lead me, reading gives me a mental map to bypass rookie mistakes people make in life. 2. I wake up early. By the time that most people are getting themselves situated for the day, I have already accomplished a few critical tasks. Most people don’t lose a race with a head start. 3. I meditate because it alleviates stress, anxiety, prevents depression and improves my ability to focus.

As a successful woman in business, what is your greatest or proudest achievement?

My greatest achievement is becoming the first diversity and inclusion officer in the National Basketball Association and for all professional sports teams in North America.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Why?

My daughter is my biggest inspiration because she gives me a reason to hope, believe in goodness and compels me to be my best self. If I didn’t have her, I’m not sure that I would have the same sense of urgency and motivation to make the world a better place.

If you could have any person in the world become your mentor, who would you choose and why?

I would be mentored by Ingrid Saunders-Jones. She blazed an amazing trail for women of color to break the glass ceiling in corporate America. She, too, is my soror [as a member] of Delta Sigma Theta and more importantly, a cultural icon in the city of Atlanta where we both reside. Her work through Coca-Cola’s foundation created scholarship and educational opportunities for marginalized youth and she made diversity and inclusion a requisite. I am sure that if she were my mentor, I’d learn something new and valuable every day.

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