Edelman's Shaw joins Atlanta Hawks as NBA's first chief diversity officer

After a racism controversy at the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, the team has brought on Edelman's Nzinga Shaw for the newly created role of chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Nzinga Shaw
Nzinga Shaw

ATLANTA: Edelman SVP Nzinga Shaw has taken on a newly created role within the NBA as chief diversity and inclusion officer for the Atlanta Hawks and the Philips Arena.

Shaw, who started the job on December 8, said the role was created in part to foster diversity and inclusion after a string of recent racism-related incidents within the league.

"In recognition of [recent incidents], the league is taking a proactive step by creating this role to ensure that there are people in place in organizations that are exposed and there are processes and strategies surrounding diversity so that these issues occur less and less and hopefully go away," she said.

Reporting to Steve Koonin, CEO of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena, Shaw will serve as a liaison between internal, employee-facing departments and external, marketing, sales, and community-facing groups. She is responsible for managing recruitment, retention, ticket strategy, branding, marketing, player engagement, and community partnerships. Initially she will have no direct reports, she said.

Shaw is also tasked with ensuring that the Hawks are closely aligned with the Philips Arena and its strategy to attract new audiences. The Hawks play 66 home games per season, and the arena hosts concerts during the off season.

"My goal is to help the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena rebuild trust and partnerships in the Atlanta community, emphasizing civility, sportsmanship, and human decency in an effort to ensure that everyone can be a fan of the team, attend home games, and so that we can serve as a model for inclusion in the NBA," Shaw said.

The new role was designed to help the organization engage with multi-ethnic communities, offer opportunities for citizens to attend games, and aid with CSR efforts in Atlanta, she explained.

Earlier this year, Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson self-reported to the NBA that he sent  a racist email to Hawks president Danny Ferry in August 2012, which said that he believed the team’s fan base was too heavily African-American. Levenson will sell his interest in the team, and a search is underway for his replacement.

In April, former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life after a recording emerged in which he made racist remarks about African-Americans.

Such incidents have been "unfortunate for the overall brand of basketball," Shaw said.

She could not confirm whether other NBA teams would create roles similar to hers.

"What the Atlanta Hawks are able to accomplish with this role will be a good indicator for the league to decide on whether this model should be established [across teams], but I can’t speak on behalf of the league regarding their future plans," she said.

Shaw previously served as SVP, diversity and inclusion officer and head of Southeast and Southwest HR for Edelman, which she joined in 2010. She stepped down from the role on December 1.

Edelman US COO Julianna Richter said the firm expects to name Shaw’s replacement in the coming weeks.

"We are committed to advancing our diversity and inclusion efforts," said Richter. "[Shaw’s replacement] will work closely with our diversity and inclusion network across several priority areas including talent, engagement, and partnerships, and will report to me."

Prior to Edelman, Shaw was a director and HR generalist for the NFL and worked as an HR manager for Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network. She was also an HR manager for Essence magazine, according to her LinkedIn profile.

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