Vision, Strategy, and Execution:

Leadership Team Combines Lofty Aims with Concrete Actions to Transform Business Culture

December 13, 2022 | Amber Keister

Our leadership team is a multitalented, award-winning group of innovators and problem-solvers. They guide The Diversity Movement’s direction and provide the company with the expertise required to accomplish its goals.

For these inspiring professionals, diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t just business buzzwords. These leaders incorporated DEI principles into their lives and careers long before social unrest roiled the nation – and corporate America – in 2020. Now that it’s evident that business value and social good come from strategic DEI initiatives, our leadership team has stepped up to transform the modern workplace. 

We invite you to get to know these phenomenal people. Their inspiring stories demonstrate the grit, focus, and poise required to overcome obstacles, take professional detours, and remain true to the principles of equity and justice. Then, reach out to learn how you too can align your values and business goals with DEI best practices.   

Leadership team posed for a picture

Chief Executive Officer Donald Thompson on Responsibility

“I believe deeply in corporate social responsibility and the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. Businesses must be fully aware of — and fully accountable for — their impact,” he says. “At this moment, we each have a tremendous responsibility to help change the world.”

Read about Donald Thompson

Kristie Davis, Chief Financial Officer, on Flexibility

“When you’re at a small company, you are building the ship while you’re going down the river in it,” Kristie says. “It's always different. It's always challenging. And that's what I like. I don't like to be bored, and I'm definitely never bored.”

Shelley Willingham, Vice President of Business Strategy, on Resilience

"When I shared my story, people lined up afterward to tell me, ‘Thank you so much for being transparent. You really helped me.’ I knew that there was power in me sharing my story," Shelley says. "I decided to use my story, along with what I learned in business, to help other entrepreneurs.”

Vice President of Client Success Jamie Ousterout on Flexibility

“Because I had my own business, I can probably relate to some of our clients and understand some of the issues they've had. I do think having that varied experience from my past has helped. And I think that work ethic, that startup mindset – let's figure this out together – definitely helps as well.”

Kurt Merriweather, Vice President of Innovation, on Curiosity

“In order to be a good jazz musician, first you need to be a good musician, but then there are the things that happen spontaneously, the themes that you need to be able to react to,” Kurt says. “That's a powerful metaphor for how we do things.”

Jackie Ferguson, Head of Content and Programming, on Courage

“I wanted to step out from the shadows, because of the example that I wanted to set for my daughter,” Jackie says. “And that’s to not be afraid, to believe in yourself, and to believe that you can do something more than even you think you can in the moment.”

Director of Public Relations and Publications Bob Batchelor on Compassion

“Compassion and doing difficult things with humanity resonates with me. Being able to push toward a better world, to a better future with compassion and empathy, that's been my goal since I've known what those words have meant,” Bob says.

Headshot of Donald smiling
Headshot of Kristie Davis
Headshot of Shelley
Jamie headshot
Headshot of Kurt smiling
Jackie Ferguson headshot

Donald Thompson: A Life of Lofty Goals and the Drive to Achieve Real Change

Headshot of Donald smiling

On the surface, Donald Thompson’s career seems like a classic American Dream story: Young man works hard, gets his shot, and attains financial success. He has faced countless hurdles, from being born to young parents in an economically disadvantaged Southern mill town to leading a technology company without a formal degree in an industry where almost no one looked like him. Donald has been underestimated and proven himself many times.

But Donald’s story is also about the quest for power and influence: the power to change systems of oppression, the ability to influence others, to appeal to people’s selfish interests, and their better angels. Today, as the CEO and co-founder of The Diversity Movement, Donald is working to transform business culture to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

“I believe deeply in corporate social responsibility and the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. Businesses must be fully aware of — and fully accountable for — their impact,” he says. “At this moment, we each have a tremendous responsibility to help change the world.”

Donald’s conviction that everyone has the power to do great things aligns with his own personal journey. It could also have been guided by his sales creed: “Sell the future and manage the reality.”

Know your own worth 

Before he was an accomplished entrepreneur and influential CEO, Donald was a young man with no college degree and a family to support. However, he also had an unusual dedication to hard work, a string of successful sales jobs, and an unshakable confidence in his future. All he needed was a chance to show what he could achieve.

That opportunity came at Integrated Industrial Information (I-Cubed), a technology firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although, at first, it wasn’t certain that he’d even get hired there. During the third interview for a sales job at the company, Donald was told that his lack of a college degree was getting in the way of a job offer, despite his outstanding sales record.

“You should consider opening your mind to a new way of doing things,” Donald told the interviewer, a seasoned tech executive. “I will make you a lot of money — more than anyone else you’re considering. If I don’t, you can fire me.”

His interviewer’s reply was equally firm: “How do we know we can trust you to follow through on our sales if you couldn’t follow through and finish college?”

Don walked away without the deal he wanted. Then, the next day, he received a call from Grant Williard, CEO of I-Cubed, inviting him to the office to discuss a job offer. That meeting ended with an agreement that both men considered a win. 

“It sounded perfect. What Grant offered — an education, a mentor, and seat at the table — was exactly what I’d been waiting to find,” Don recounts in Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success. “[Grant] convinced me that I was joining a team where I could be special.”

For his part, Grant needed someone who saw “no” as merely the opening move in a longer game. His small business was competing for contracts against the technology giant IBM, and I-Cubed needed someone who was confident that they would get the eventual “yes” and willing to put in the work to make that happen.

“Donald’s infectious optimism, how can that not sway you? How can you not be attracted to that? But I think that what stood out was his hustle. That's something that's become his trademark, but we recognized that Donald had hustle, stick-to-it-iveness, and tenaciousness,” Grant says. 

Get different results with a new perspective

And while he didn’t realize it at the time, Grant also needed an iconoclast to sell his disruptive product. I-Cubed and its software ran on personal computers, not the mainframe computers that were seen as essential to business at the time. The person who was charged with convincing people to buy I-Cubed’s product had to be able to think differently than everyone else and be open to new ways of doing things. 

“Don was selling into an environment that was very much not like him. Nobody looked like Donald. Everybody was highly educated; they had advanced degrees in engineering. We were operating in an environment where people looked like me,” Grant says. 

Those differences were at times challenging for Donald and Grant, who says their relationship “wasn’t always smooth sailing.” Because their viewpoints were so different, the two men had to invest in and trust one another, even through uncomfortable moments. Grant describes one such incident, when he had to face his own ignorance in a public way.

“We're in a team meeting, and I used the phrase, ‘That would make that person an Indian-giver.’ At that time and the people I was around, nobody felt there was anything wrong with that,” Grant says. “Donald interrupted me and said, ‘I'm not sure what Indians would think of that phrase.’”

Grant paused, thought for a moment, and realized Donald was right. 

“He brought a whole different perspective. Things that I never thought about before, I started thinking about,” Grant says.

At I-Cubed, Donald sold the company’s data migration software to engineering and design companies. Clients who were upgrading to new technologies needed a way to bring legacy data and designs into the new system, without damaging or corrupting the files. Donald was so successful bringing in new business, that in a little more than five years at the company, he was named vice president of business development. At 31 years old, he was Grant’s second in command. After another five years, Donald became I-Cubed’s president and CEO. 

Begin with the end in mind

At 36, Donald had achieved his dream of business success, an ambition that he had nurtured since he was a child. As a fifth-grader, he launched an enterprise selling Jolly Rancher candy to his schoolmates, at one point clearing $30 a week in profits. When the school principal (and his mother) eventually shut down his business, Donald was disappointed, not because he missed the cash, but because he missed the thrill of the sale. 

“I remember him always talking about how he was going to be a successful businessman. He told everybody who would listen, even as a young person,” says Donald’s sister, Amie Thompson. “I never doubted it, just because he was always trying things. I assumed that he would eventually figure out what would work to make it happen.”

Donald’s father was a college football coach. The lessons from sports were another constant in the Thompson household: the camaraderie of the team, the challenge of competition, and the thrill of winning. Donald and his sister also saw plenty of examples of achievement off the playing field. 

“All our parents’ friends were in academia, so we could see really successful Black people doing amazing things. A lot of people don't get a chance to see that kind of excellence,” Amie says. 

“We were always around education and, in addition to sports, that was a huge part of our childhood, being able to see all the possibilities to do different things.”

Because the elder Thompsons had likewise achieved much through education and hard work, Donald and Amie’s parents reinforced the idea that the future was full of opportunities for their children. 

“I don't think parents realize how sometimes their words can cause kids to think that they can’t do something. We just never ever felt that way,” Amie says.

Shrink your obligations and expand your choices

While Donald had reached a milestone when he became president and CEO of I-Cubed, he says an even greater accomplishment was achieving financial stability. Because of poor choices as a young man, much of Donald’s early career was spent paying down debt. When that burden was lifted, Donald had more choices. Instead of working to pay the electric bill and the mortgage, he could give his time and attention to figuring out his next big dream.

“That gave me the power to make sure I was doing things that aligned with my values with people,” Donald says. “I wanted to spend time chasing dreams and goals that were meaningful to me.”

I-Cubed was eventually sold, and Donald moved on to other enterprises. In 2019, while he was CEO of Walk West, a digital marketing agency in Raleigh, several tone-deaf and offensive mainstream ad campaigns created by other marketing firms appeared. Donald recognized the need for better multicultural marketing and decided to add a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training course to the company’s suite of professional development products. The online learning course would create the awareness and understanding needed to create business success in diverse workplaces and marketplaces. 

The course, “Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox,” resonated with business leaders and companies, and in the summer of 2020, demand for DEI education soared. Soon, Donald and four other colleagues founded The Diversity Movement (TDM), a business that aligned with his personal values and his aim to disrupt conventional business culture.

“Now, when I think about business, when I think about growth, when I think about things that I want to do, finances are a factor, but they're not the number one factor,” Donald says. “Instead, I think, ‘What is the mission? Who are the people involved? What is the goal?’”

Donald’s goal for TDM is simple and reveals his characteristic confidence in the future: to make the world a better place, one enlightened executive at a time, one transformed workplace culture at a time. 

Kristie Davis: Achieving Success through Hustle and Flexibility

Headshot of Kristie Davis

On the wall behind Kristie Davis’ desk, you’ll see a large poster with one key word on it: HUSTLE. It makes sense that the poster faces outward toward visitors, who might need the gentle reminder and inspiration, because Kristie certainly doesn’t. The vice president of operations at The Diversity Movement has always worked hard, moved fast, and figured things out along the way. 

“I can multitask and do lots of things at one time,” Kristie says. “It just comes naturally for me, but could definitely cause anxiety for someone else.”

Grit and hustle

She honed those skills when she was an accounting student at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, N.C. Thanks to an understanding boss, Kristie was able to be a full-time student and work a full-time sales job simultaneously.

“If I needed to take a class during work hours, my boss would say, ‘Go to class, just get your work done,’ and I would pop out for a class,” Kristie says. “It made me a harder worker, but at the same time, I didn't have the traditional college experience that some others may have had.”

That pace continued when she returned to school to get her MBA, while continuing to work full time. In her last semester of the program, she was also pregnant with her second child. Unfortunately, the baby decided to upset her mother’s careful schedule. 

“My second child was born during quantitative methods,” Kristie says. “I had my daughter on a Wednesday, and the next Wednesday I was in class. My mom and my grandma, neither one was happy with me, but I needed to pass the class. I had maybe two or three weeks left, and I just needed a ‘C,’ so I wouldn't have to retake the class.”

Looking back, Kristie says she isn’t sure how she was able to accomplish everything, other than being determined to graduate on time. 

The wrong job and the right decision

Her work ethic and determination to succeed paid off when she became the controller at a company in the mid-2000s. Kristie is proud of the achievement, but she is equally proud that she walked away from the job to prioritize her family.

“If you think back 15 years ago, if you only worked 40 hours a week, you weren't a good employee,” she says. “I would leave home in the morning, and my kids would be just getting up to get ready to go to school. When I came home, they would be getting ready for bed.”

The turning point came when Kristie needed time off to care for her older child, who was home with the flu. Instead of sympathy from her all-male team, she was asked why she couldn’t find someone else to watch the sick child. “Then it clicked in my head: these are all men with stay-at-home wives,” she says. “Even if their child had the flu, they could continue to move as normal.”

She understood then, if she continued working for the company, she would be expected to put her professional life first. She wouldn’t have the flexibility she wanted and the work-life balance she needed. “I knew that if I continued along that path, I wouldn't be happy,” Kristie says.

Instead, she quit, ​​vowing that she’d never again take a job that took her away from her children so much. 

Putting family first and the cheer business

Kristie left a job because she put her family first, and she became an entrepreneur for the same reason. One of three co-owners of the Raleigh Elite Diamonds Cheer Gym, Kristie credits her younger daughter for getting her into the business. 

“I did not set out to own my own business,” she says with a smile. “I always tell people, I got suckered.”

More than a decade ago, Kristie’s daughter came to the car after her cheer and tumbling classes, despondent because her coach was planning to quit. The scheduling, paperwork, and other administrative duties had become too much for her. “Mom, you have to help. You’re good at administrative stuff. Please just see what she needs,” Kristie recalls her daughter saying.

After a short conversation with the coach, Kristie agreed to take over the registration and other office duties. That arrangement worked for several years, until the gym outgrew its rented space. With competitions coming up soon, the cheer teams needed a consistent place to practice, so Kristie suggested they buy their own building.

“Six years later, we're still there,” she says. “That's how I got into it. It was not intentional. I didn't cheer. I still ironically don't know a whole lot about cheerleading.” 

Bringing it all together

The cheer gym was a labor of love, but to pay the bills, Kristie held a series of accounting jobs. In March 2013, she joined Donald Thompson’s team at the technology firm I-Cubed, where he was CEO. Kristie was the accounting manager at I-Cubed for a little more than two years, but after the company was sold, the two colleagues parted ways. Then, in 2018, Kristie was invited to a meeting with Donald.

“And Don doesn't meet with people just to meet with people,” she says. Sure enough, during the meeting Donald asked her if she would consider working for him again, this time at Walk West, a digital marketing company where he had recently become CEO. After meeting with the rest of the leadership team, everyone agreed it was a good fit.

“That's how I ended up coming back to work with Don for the second time,” she says. “If you think about it, it makes sense. You gather the people that you already trust and know.”

A few years later, after The Diversity Movement (TDM) separated from Walk West, Kristie followed Donald to the new company. Today, she is once again on the leadership team of a growing business, but the environment couldn’t be more different from her job nearly 20 years ago. At TDM, there is a greater understanding of emotional wellness and support for family priorities. It’s also a small business where everyone’s roles shift in order to accomplish the company’s goals. 

“When you're at a smaller company, you get to touch a lot of different things versus at a large company you typically do one piece all day, every day, and you never really see the complete picture,” Kristie says. “Here, I get to see it all.”

For example, it was her responsibility to find new office space for TDM and attend to the details of outfitting and renovating the space – not a customary task for the head of finance. But the assignment touched every aspect of the business: making sure the space was affordable, ensuring it could accommodate a growth-minded company, and recognizing its potential as an event space that would help create community and bring people together. 

“When you’re at a small company, you are building the ship while you’re going down the river in it,” Kristie says. “It's always different. It's always challenging. And that's what I like. I don't like to be bored, and I'm definitely never bored.”

Shelley Willingham: Loss, Resilience, and the Power to Rebuild

Shelley Willingham headshot

There is a strength that comes from losing everything. 

Shelley Willingham, business strategist and serial entrepreneur, has experienced the intoxicating thrill of achieving her professional dream, the sobering gut-punch when it all disappears, and the satisfaction of building something new, this time based on values instead of financial gain.  

“I made all these decisions that were the right things for me,” she says. “Because when you lose it all, you're free to build whatever you want. You're free to do whatever you want to do.”  

Now the Vice President of Business Strategy at The Diversity Movement, Shelley leads the client acquisition strategy and execution while supporting each of the TDM business units in the development of their respective strategies. Her focus is on enhancing customer value, building competitive differentiation, and driving revenue and profit growth.

But even before joining TDM, Shelley, a Certified Diversity Executive, worked for decades to help corporate America understand the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

The success story 

In the early 2000’s, Shelley had a marketing and sales consulting company, and one of her clients was John Deere, which manufactures agricultural and lawn care machinery. “There was a huge influx of Spanish-speaking people coming into North Carolina, and I was trying to help the company market more effectively to this group,” she says. 

But while she was doing her research, she discovered that there was little, if any, information on the type of cross-cultural marketing she aimed to do. She recognized that this gap meant there was an opportunity to help companies connect with diverse populations. 

In 2003, Shelley founded the National Organization for Diversity in Sales and Marketing (NODSM), a company focused on helping large U.S. companies recognize the purchasing power of diverse populations and craft inclusive marketing strategies, free of stereotypes. The company grew rapidly, but the turning point came three years after its launch, when Shelley partnered with Fortune magazine on a special diversity section.

“That transformed my business,” she says. “The attention that I got from Fortune really catapulted my business. After that, I was getting meetings and having conversations that led to more success.”

Partnering with Fortune gave Shelley and her company national recognition and the credibility to court clients like Merril Lynch, Allstate, and General Electric. “Things were going very well. I had 15 employees. I was traveling all over, feeling like I was really making an impact,” she says.

But then came the financial crisis and the Great Recession. Merril Lynch, which was the source of 75% of NODSM’s revenue, collapsed and was sold to Bank of America in 2008. Shelley and her team worked hard to make up for the lost income. She poured her personal savings into the business, stopped paying the mortgage on her home, and sold the furniture in the office. But it was no use. 

“I did everything I could to continue to pay my staff, because they trusted me. They came to work for me; they had families to support,” she says. “I held on for as long as I could, until there was just nothing left.” 

Re-framing the narrative

The business, the house, and the car were gone. Shelley’s marriage didn’t survive the crisis either. She was humbled and destitute, but because she had a son to feed and a baby on the way, she gathered her resilience and looked for another job. 

Saint  Augustine’s University in Raleigh hired Shelley as their chief communications officer and vice president of marketing, and though she continued to think about opening another business, she spent five years at the university, raising her children and regrouping. Part of that healing process was coming to terms with the failure of the business, her own role, and what she could have done differently. 

“At the time, I was still very ashamed of what had happened to me. But one time when I shared my story, people lined up afterward to tell me, ‘Thank you so much for being transparent. You really helped me.’  I knew that there was power in me sharing my story,” she says. 

“I decided to use my story, along with what I learned in business, to help other entrepreneurs.”

Shelley started talking more about her experiences, and there were always people with similar stories. She started doing more speaking engagements, more business coaching, more marketing consulting, and in 2016, she brought all her interests together as Vision and Passion International, LLC. She was an entrepreneur again. Four years later, she launched Douglas Alexandra, a digital marketing company, to complement her other business enterprise.

This time, Shelley made a commitment to not do anything that “steals peace” from her, including working with clients she doesn’t click with or on projects that don’t touch her heart. “There’s no amount of money worth my peace. I have lost everything, so I know I can build it back” she says.  

The story continues at TDM

No matter what role Shelley plays –  business consultant, public speaker, marketing guru, or entrepreneur whisperer – she invests her time and energy only in the things she cares about and believes in. That mission-driven approach resonated with Donald Thompson, founder of The Diversity Movement, when they met. The two enjoyed several conversations in early 2020, mainly about potential partnerships, but then everything changed.

“When George Floyd was murdered, I was sick,” Shelley says. “As I watched the peaceful protests and energy around conversations of systemic racism, I was trying to figure out where I fit into this movement.”

The conversations with Don shifted as well. Instead of discussing collaborations, he invited her to join the leadership team for The Diversity Movement. It was an opportunity for Shelley to use her entrepreneurial talents, her business acumen, and work toward progress on diversity and inclusion. The offer also came with assurances that she would be able to continue serving her clients with her team at Douglas Alexandra. Shelley accepted, and since August 2020, has helped TDM grow.

“The work that we're doing and able to do as a group, as a team of so many talented people, that’s exciting to me. I know I can make more of an impact working together with the team than trying to do it on my own,” she says. “I'm glad that I made that decision, because I'm having a blast.” 

Shelley’s business-oriented approach to DEI allows her to discuss challenging topics with people from completely different backgrounds from herself, and who might not see things the same way that she does. She finds common ground around profit and loss.

“We have to be able to connect with people where we connect with them,” Shelley says. 

Shelley recalls talking to leaders of a travel company who refused to let same-sex couples come to their resorts. She asked them: “Do you know how much purchasing power and disposable income the LGBTQ+ community has?” Because the issue was framed as a business decision, the owners of the company were able to put their personal opinions aside and create a more welcoming environment at their properties. 

Through lots of similar conversations, Shelley is able to work toward creating empathy and changing ingrained attitudes. While the process is sometimes uncomfortable, forward-thinking companies know that to serve their customers – the most diverse adult population in U.S. history – they have to demonstrate that their business practices align with DEI values. 

“I'm glad that I'm able to have those conversations, and that they're open with me,” she says. “Because then we can address it together and hopefully move things forward.”

Living Our Values: Jamie Ousterout on Flexibility

Jamie Ousterout Headshot

Jamie Ousterout, Vice President of Client Success at The Diversity Movement, is a careful planner, but in her career and in life, she always makes sure to leave room for unexpected moments of discovery.

An avid traveler, Jamie likes to know where she will sleep each night, but between breakfast and bedtime, she keeps her options open. For instance, on a pre-pandemic trip to Ireland, she and her husband planned to explore the Slieve League sea cliffs in Donegal – some of the highest cliffs in Europe – and a hike along the Pilgrim’s Path sounded like the perfect way to reach the top.

“Anything that sounds like that, you should never do,” she says. “We got up towards the top, and the weather was so bad that my husband said, ‘We need to turn around. I don't want to die on our vacation.’”

They wisely turned back and took their car to the top instead. The rain was still coming down in torrents, but the couple managed to take a few photos before looking for shelter. 

“We ended up finding this really cool pub called The Rusty Mackerel,” Jamie says. “We each got a pint of Guinness and some broccoli cheddar soup. The server came out and said, ‘There’s nothing better in life!’ And it was just one of those moments. We realized, ‘There really is nothing better in life. This is amazing!’ So we ended up kind of happening upon it, but it was really, really cool.”

This is how Jamie works. 

She sets up a structure – a framework for success – but always keeps flexibility as part of the plan. Whether you’re traveling the world or exploring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies with a client organization, moments of discovery can be magical and precious. 

Jamie launched her operational strategy business, Stabilimenta, in one of those magic moments.

With degrees in English and history from Cornell University, Jamie worked for several companies in the publishing, marketing, and communications industry. In 2018, she started thinking about working for herself. 

“I just saw this need for these organizations that are small – wanting to grow but not really sure how – to really help them put the structures in place and help with their mission, vision, and values – defining those,” Jamie says. 

She spent months working out the details, which included lots of advice from her friends and business connections. In May 2018, during one of these exploratory meetings, Jamie unexpectedly landed her first client.

Her companions asked a few questions, including what Jamie could do for them. “I kind of walked them through what I would do, and they said, ‘That sounds great. Give us a proposal.’” 

She remembers thinking at the time: “Wait. Did I…? Is this happening now?” 

While landing that first client was a surprise, it wasn’t an accident. The plan was in place; it just needed that bit of serendipity to be complete.

At the same time as Jamie was nurturing her consulting company, Stabilimenta, she was also helping the Raleigh City Farm grow to reach its goals. Looking for more ways to be active in her community, Jamie volunteered to help the nonprofit with its marketing and communications. When she agreed to serve on the board in 2019, it was a pivotal time for the organization.

The farm’s fundraising plan was focused on in-person events, she says, and the board knew it needed to diversify its efforts. Plus, the farm itself needed more dedicated attention and day-to-day care.

“At the time, the property didn't look great. People were complaining,” Jamie says. The first pivot was to hire a new farm manager. “They came in and just completely revitalized it. And then a couple months later, of course, the pandemic hit.” 

Luckily, the pivot was already turning. The farm started donating produce to other local nonprofits that were fighting food insecurity. Instead of big in-person fundraisers, the board organized four smaller take-home events. With a grant from Bank of America, the farm launched a pay-what-you-can farm stand in 2021. Today, the urban farm has several big-name partners like Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and Spoonflower.

“I'm really just super proud that we’ve been able to make the shift,” Jamie says.

The pandemic also triggered a pivot in Jamie’s career. After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, she read Jackie Ferguson’s article “What Can I Do? Empowering Allies in Tumultuous Times,” and was inspired to write about her own education on racism. Jamie’s blog post led to more collaborations with The Diversity Movement and its team, which led to an unexpected invitation to join the staff. 

“I didn't really want to do that, but my dad – I get a lot of advice from my dad – he says, ‘Never turn down an interview.’ So all right, I’ll follow my dad's rules; don't turn down an interview,” Jamie says. “I spoke with [co-founder] Don [Thompson], and after our 30-minute conversation, I thought, ‘I'm gonna join The Diversity Movement.’

“I really enjoyed working with the team. I really enjoyed the impact we were making.” 

The experience she gained from building her own business has been an advantage in Jamie’s current role and not just because she learned how to work hard. At Stabilimenta and throughout her career, Jamie worked with clients in a variety of industries, from architecture to pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

“Because I had my own business, I can probably relate to some of our clients and understand some of the issues they've had,” she says. “I do think having that varied experience from my past has helped. And I think that work ethic, that startup mindset – let's figure this out together – definitely helps as well.”

Her talent for flexibility comes in handy when Jamie and her team are figuring out what works best for each client.

“We really do have our set methodology that we do try to explain to clients,” she says. “But then, everyone's a little bit different.”

For example, associations have a diverse set of stakeholders – board members, staff, and volunteers. These organizations need a different approach than a midsize company with a leadership team, a traditional corporate structure, and employees.

“I feel very lucky, because honestly, we have really great clients,” Jamie says. “They really are committed to DEI. They really do care about the work.” 

The Diversity Movement and its clients believe that the right DEI strategy can inspire people, transform workplaces, and create a better world. Contact us today to learn how Jamie and the rest of our team can craft a DEI solution for your business – one that leaves plenty of room for moments of discovery.

Kurt Merriweather Taps Curiosity to Drive Growth and Innovation

Headshot of Kurt Merriweather

Kurt Merriweather, Vice President of Innovation at The Diversity Movement (TDM), relishes a good puzzle. Whether it’s navigating the plot twists of an espionage drama or coming up with a new product to help companies better integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the workday, Kurt likes to figure stuff out.

“I've always been a tinkerer, playing around with stuff, breaking things,” says Kurt, who is also a co-founder of TDM. “I’ve always been fascinated by things and trying to understand what makes them tick.”

Kurt pulled apart his fair share of gadgets and computers as a kid, and that same curiosity has propelled him throughout his long professional career.

It pays to be curious and adventurous

Given his early inclinations to dissect household electronics, it’s no surprise that Kurt has a B.S. in electrical engineering from The Ohio State University. But after several years of working as a systems analyst for Procter and Gamble, he surprised a number of people by quitting to pursue an M.B.A. 

“At P&G, there was a training program called P&G College. They put you together with a team, and the goal would be to increase the sales of a brand. I was thinking, ‘How can I change distribution to get more market share? How can I change these different elements of a brand to get into new markets?’ That was really fascinating to me,” Kurt says. “It was way more exciting than trying to figure out how to make things, physically.”


After attending the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, his journey took him to product management in Silicon Valley and then to AOL in the mid 2000s, where he managed business operations for its premium music service, AOL Music Now. That job was also pivotal, as it enabled him to combine his love for music, his fascination with technology, and his talent for business strategy.

“I wanted to follow my passion working more in entertainment-related things,” he says. “That moment at AOL was probably the moment that shifted my ability to do some things that I've done ever since then.” 

One of those things was his subsequent work at Discovery Communications, parent company of the Discovery Channel. Kurt was responsible for business development at Discovery Digital Media, which included digital properties,, and Discovery News. Among his accomplishments was helping develop technology that enabled viewers to select a moment in the television program they were watching, and in real time, get additional related content on their phones. The innovation resulted in a patent for Kurt and his team.  

“That was a lot of fun, when I was at Discovery,” he says.

In 2013, Kurt and his family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, following his parents and his brother. He joined ReverbNation, first as a senior vice president and then as chief product officer. The web-based platform provides a central site for independent musicians, producers, and venues to collaborate and communicate.  

“My family has been the thread that has moved me along my career,” Kurt says. “A lot of people have chased opportunities, and I've done it the other way around. I've found things around where my family is.”

Along with his corporate endeavors and raising his children, Kurt usually has a side hustle. He launched a fitness and wellness company with his wife, Valerie, in 2004 and a business consulting firm in 2016. These forays into entrepreneurship left him well prepared to help launch The Diversity Movement.

Launching and growing TDM

Also in 2016, Kurt connected with Donald Thompson, and the two started working together later that year at Walk West, a digital marketing agency. In 2019, having put together some professional development courses and projects around multicultural marketing, Donald brought the idea of a course on diversity, equity, and inclusion to the team. Jackie Ferguson wrote the course, “Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox,” and Kurt was responsible for developing business opportunities to sell it.

“I happened to connect with a friend of mine, who was part of a consulting company called Vynamic. She connected us to the team at BAYADA Home Health Care, and that's how BAYADA came to TDM. That's how the business came to be,” he says. “That opportunity was so significant that we were able to jumpstart the business from that.”

Today, Kurt is focused on the future of The Diversity Movement, how it can grow and keep innovating. He approaches those goals from three directions: developing new products, cultivating investors, and speaking to executive teams. 

While new products and investors are obviously essential to growth, conversations with C-suite leaders might seem less so. But DEI strategy can’t be successful without buy-in from the top. Kurt explains how DEI can help executives create better teams, attract new customers, and keep and retain talent. He also outlines how working with diverse suppliers can benefit organizations by driving costs down and accessing new ideas and markets. 

“I spend a lot of time with executives, helping them think about DEI from a different perspective, not only from a belonging perspective, but what's the business reason to do it,” Kurt says. 

“Those messages are important for executives to hear, in addition to messages around allyship and belonging.”

Creating a winning strategy and helping the team

Along with curiosity, teamwork is a refrain that has echoed throughout Kurt’s life, as a jazz musician, a sports enthusiast, and a business leader. 

“Being part of a team – a band or a sports team – the best people understand not only their position but everyone else's and then figure out how they fit into it,” he says.

When things happen in the market, Kurt says, the TDM team needs to react quickly and strategically, so they can serve clients and make sure they have the tools, resources, and guidance they need to be successful. 

“In order to be a good jazz musician, first you need to be a good musician, but then there are the things that happen spontaneously, the themes that you need to be able to react to,” he says. “That's a powerful metaphor for how we do things.” 

And then there's the scoreboard. Kurt admits that he likes to win, whether that’s in sports or in the marketplace. As an example of a recent winning product, he cites Analytics, a data and insights platform that enables client organizations to visualize employee sentiment and engagement according to demographics or business unit. Just like managing any other critical business function, C-Suite leaders can easily see their company’s DEI progress and the areas that need improvement.

“I like solving problems. That's what excites me about anything. I want to figure things out that haven't been figured out before,” Kurt says. “That's the thing that gets me going every day: How do we do this?”

“I don't know how we're going to do it, but we're going to figure it out, because we always do.”

Jackie Ferguson: Meeting challenges with courage and hard work

Jackie Ferguson headshot

It was 3 a.m. on June 11, 2020, and Jackie Ferguson was wide awake. In just a few hours she would be leading a virtual interactive presentation for more than 300 people attending the North Carolina Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference. It was her first speaking engagement, and she was terrified.

But she could have relaxed and gone back to bed, because everything in her life so far had prepared her for that moment. In addition to decades of advocating for equality and inclusion, Jackie had an innate appreciation for diversity, backed up by countless hours of hard work and preparation.

“I questioned, why do people want to hear from me? I did that for a really long time,” says Jackie, co-founder and head of content and programming at The Diversity Movement (TDM). 

“Now, after more than 100 speaking engagements, not only am I confident that I have something valuable to contribute, I am focused on how what I do impacts people, businesses and communities every day.”

Accepting challenges

Jackie grew up in Dutchess County, New York, the daughter of a White father and a Black mother. She remembers vibrant discussions around the dinner table between her parents, her siblings, and her Southern-born grandparents, who were an integral part of the multigenerational household. 

Those conversations, coming from many points of view, gave Jackie an appreciation for diverse opinions and cultivated her ability to ask and respond calmly to tough questions. She drew on that last skill during her first meeting with Donald Thompson, co-founder and CEO of TDM. 

In 2010, Jackie was looking for a new job, and she interviewed for an executive support position with Donald, then CEO of the technology firm I-Cubed. 

“When he offered some ‘constructive feedback’ on a successful marketing plan I shared, I was pretty irked, though I didn’t show it. That campaign made the company quite a bit of money,” Jackie says.

“I almost ended the interview. But the more I thought about it, I said, ‘This guy has a standard I’ve never seen before. If I can work for him, I can do anything.’”

Impressed by Jackie’s professionalism and her “firm and gracious demeanor,” Donald made her an offer, and she accepted.

“I loved that job, even though it was the hardest job I ever did until this job,” she says. “I love a challenge, and I find a lot of my personal values are wrapped up in what I do professionally – my desire to be exceptional in my work.”

Working for exceptionalism

Nearly a decade after that first meeting, Jackie and Donald were working together at Walk West, when he decided to add a course on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to the marketing agency’s suite of professional development products. Coming on the heels of several tone-deaf and offensive mainstream ad campaigns, the online learning course would create the awareness and understanding needed to create business success in diverse workplaces and marketplaces. Jackie immediately volunteered to write the material.

“We knew the benefits of having a diverse team where those voices also matter,” she says of her Walk West team.

The project drew on Jackie’s foundational expertise in writing, research, and marketing, as well as her longstanding interest in diversity and equity. Her deep dive into the subject matter included getting her certification as a Certified Diversity Executive, so she could create learning journeys and advise business leaders with confidence. 

“Jackie committed to thousands of hours of research to make an evaluation of other courses that were out there and make sure ours was better,” Donald says. “She talked with 50-plus companies to get feedback and parsed through all of that to consolidate that knowledge and learning into something that gave us a world-class product.” 

“Writing that course was challenging, and it was scary,” Jackie says. “I was doing a lot of things at once, but I’m really proud of what I was able to accomplish.”

The course, “Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox,” resonated with business leaders and companies, and Jackie was thrust into the spotlight. That focus became brighter as demand for DEI education soared in summer 2020. Companies started asking, “What’s next?”

Creating insightful content

The Diversity Movement was what came next. The company has continued to produce innovative content and products including MicroVideos by The Diversity Movement, named one of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas, and DEI Navigator, a membership service that offers DEI solutions for small and midsize businesses.

Jackie continues to create effective content, such as “The Inclusive Language Handbook: A Guide to Better Communication and Transformational Leadership,” which she co-authored with Roxanne Bellamy. The book was created to help executives, managers, frontline professionals, educators, and others make inclusive language a priority. 

“My hope is that in a small way, I can effect change so that the next generation can work, live and love in a more inclusive, equitable world,” she says of her work at TDM.

In addition to her duties at the growing company, Jackie also hosts the “Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox” podcast, interviewing global leaders, authors, and pop culture trendsetters who share their inspiring stories and insights on business, inclusion, and personal development. Now in its sixth season, the podcast is ranked in the top 5 percent of most downloaded podcasts worldwide.

The success of the show is largely due to Jackie’s rigorous preparation, her willingness to ask tough questions, and her comfort with challenging conversations.

“She’s so gentle, and also inquisitive and direct at the same time,” said Kaela Sosa, TDM’s curriculum and programming manager who helps screen podcast guests. “There’s this sort of aura about her. When you’re having a conversation about difficult topics, even if you don’t agree, you want to open up and you want to share.”

Jackie admits hosting the podcast was scary in the beginning, but like every other milestone in her career, accepting the challenge has been worth it. Her professional focus has been fueled by a desire to provide for and be a role model for her daughter, Diana.  

“I wanted to step out from the shadows, because of the example that I wanted to set for my daughter,” Jackie says. “And that’s to not be afraid, to believe in yourself, and to believe that you can do something more than even you think you can in the moment.”

Bob Batchelor: Compassion, Education, and Telling Stories that Matter

Bob Batchelor Headshot

Bob Batchelor’s career path has been full of uphill climbs and unexpected detours, yet he has always been guided by intellectual curiosity, storytelling, and a strong moral compass. 

As director of public relations and publications, Bob’s goal is to get people thinking, writing, and talking about The Diversity Movement (TDM), its people, and products. For most startups, the challenge is awareness, he says, and that means generating ideas and interest in the business: pitching stories to national publications, speaking on podcasts, and writing a lot about the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

“I love writing and storytelling, and I'm lucky enough to be at a place where I can tell important stories,” Bob says. “The Diversity Movement has consequence in the lives of countless thousands of people through its work, ultimately creating better organizations, leaders, and communities.”

Before joining TDM, Bob worked in executive and employee communications at Ernst & Young, FleishmanHillard, and Bank of America. He later taught public relations, strategic communications, and writing at the University of South Florida, Kent State University, and Miami University, among others. Bob has also written and edited many books on contemporary American culture, including Stan Lee: A Life; The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition’s Evil Genius; and Roadhouse Blues: Morrison, the Doors, and the Death Days of the Sixties

A flashback: Comic books and a career in writing

But before all those professional accolades, Bob was a boy in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, growing up in the shadow of Slippery Rock State College (now University). His mother, a single parent, prioritized education, and Bob says he had little doubt that he would go to college. 

“My love of reading came from comic books and Stan Lee. And then the love of reading led me to John Updike, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway,” Bob says. 

“I had an uncle who gave me his stack of comic books. At some point, I was able to pull some nickels and dimes together to buy some comic books of my own. I treasured them and treated them like they were gold.” 

Bob’s early ambitions were also influenced by the relative affluence of his friends’ parents, many of whom taught at the hometown college.

“I had an idealistic vision of what it was to be a professor,” Bob says. “I thought, that's a pretty good life. I could be a professor in a small liberal arts college and make a decent living, much more than I ever imagined what a person could make.”

But after college and graduate school, Bob’s career path didn’t lead to teaching. Instead, he found a position at a boutique strategic communications agency, and that sparked a deep interest in business and leadership. Without formal training in marketing or public relations, though, he had to rely on his writing skills. Luckily, the internet boom led to new positions in communications. He created content for websites in the late 1990s and later became a web content specialist at Ernst & Young. He created the first firm-wide electronic newsletter – revolutionary for that era – but antiquated today, little more than a glorified email. 

“I was in the right place at the right time,” he says. 

Plot twist number one: Professional success and a values check

Bob was also in the right place when the dot-com boom went bust. He was working in Emeryville, California, for FleishmanHillard, then the largest public relations firm in the world. When the company’s high tech business started drying up, Bob took a job across the Bay Bridge, working for Bank of America. 

It was a time of professional successes but a grueling schedule. Long hours at Bank of America were compounded by his internal desire to write books, which harkened back to his youthful reading habits and admiration for writers. 

“I was working 80-plus hours a week,” Bob says. “When I wrote my first book, I would get up at four in the morning, write until eight, then I would work for Bank of America from eight to six and write for another hour or two before bed. Then, on Saturdays and Sundays, I would write for five or six hours a day.”

While he was at the bank, he was contacted by an executive recruiter who approached him about a job as the U.S. chief of communications for a global pharmaceutical company. The money and the prestige of the position would have been life-changing, Bob says. As it turned out, it was life-changing for another reason. 

“They were going to lay off tens of thousands of employees. My job would have been to come in and lead that process. I had a crisis of confidence at that moment,” he says. 

“The money was fantastic, but that was never a motivator for me. It was more about doing good work and being able to sleep at night. And I couldn't sleep at night anymore, so I figured I had to do something different.’ 

Bob resurrected his childhood dream of working for a university. After moving to Florida, he got a job teaching public relations at the University of South Florida, the first of several academic positions. Teaching was an opportunity to inspire another generation of readers and writers, and through his students, to serve the community. His strategic communications and writing classes often involved service-learning projects for nonprofits and local businesses. 

“Compassion and doing difficult things with humanity resonates with me. Being able to push toward a better world, to a better future with compassion and empathy, that's been my goal since I've known what those words have meant,” Bob says.

Plot twist number two: A chance encounter and an unexpected offer

The university life also gave Bob time to work on his book projects. Because of his publishing expertise, a mutual friend introduced him to Donald Thompson, who was working on his autobiography and was curious how to launch a book.

“We had a great conversation,” Bob says of their first meeting over Zoom. “I walked him through what it means to be a published author and how you go about doing that. I checked in with him a couple of times during the pandemic. We traded some messages, and we kept in touch.”

Bob was teaching at Miami University, working on several books, and doing consulting work when the pandemic hit. The time at home sparked some soul-searching and a career reassessment. He wanted to be sure his work would have an impact but didn’t think he was making enough of a difference as a professor.

Returning to the work world after almost two decades in the university classroom was fraught with concern, especially about age discrimination, which many of his colleagues and connections had been discussing. Seeking guidance, he emailed several friends, one of whom was Donald, who had co-founded The Diversity Movement since their initial conversation. Instead of advice, Donald had a proposition for Bob: “You could go do a lot of things and work with a lot of different kinds of companies, but we're trying to change the world. Would you like to join us on this adventure?”

Of course, Bob accepted. 

“The offer appealed to the do-gooder side of me, which had been expressed through being a professor and an educator,” he explains.

“I believe that we actually are trying to change the world. From an education perspective, I can have an even larger consequence working for The Diversity Movement versus working with individual students, even if it's thousands of students over the course of a career. I can reach thousands of people with just one article.”