DEI Communication + PR Expert, Jackeline Stewart
When I interviewed Jackeline and learned more about her career, I saw her as an ambassador to DEI communications. Helping organizations revamp their narratives so that they could better engage with multicultural audiences is not easy, but it is necessary! ⠀
As a Black/Afro Latina who came of age in the Bronx, Jackeline understood that all environments thrive when there is diversity. This experience became a compass for her career journey. Her dedication to social justice is wondrously woven into every job she’s ever held, including her current role. Jackeline’s ability to do this exemplifies how one can be a defender of justice and still be a working professional. We need people like Jackeline in these spaces!
What does a VP, Brand Multicultural Communication do?
Currently, my are developing and implementing a multicultural communication growth strategy for Edelman. I develop strategies to help clients authentically engage diverse audiences. I do this by consulting corporate, nonprofit, and organizational leaders on their marketing and D&I (diversity and inclusion) positioning.
What’s your backstory?
I was born in Colón, Panama, and I came to the United States when I was a little over two years old. My family and I first settled in Brooklyn and then eventually moved to the Bronx. Growing up in the Bronx, I was blessed, because I grew up in a very up in a very multicultural environment, I realize now how many opportunities it opened up for me.
For example, I feel naturally at ease surrounding myself with different people and cultures. There was a sense of ownership growing up where I did. I'm very proud to be from the Bronx because the Bronx has remained one of the few areas in the city that has not become heavily gentrified, yet. It's still holding on its identity.
I'm curious what led you to your current role, it sounds like your upbringing has led you to where you currently are now?
I've had quite an adventurous career path. I first started at the National Council of La Raza, which is now known as Unidos US. There, I helped create and disseminate the Latino narrative during a moment in time when the general public thought that Latinos were only focused on immigration issues. I got to develop a story that encompasses a holistic view of the Latino experience. The truth is Latinos are concerned about a variety of issues, not just immigration. Whether it's health care, education, socioeconomic status- we care about all of it. Advancing the Latino narrative helps to improve American priorities.
I also used to work at the Latino Labor Narrative, which was an excellent transition for me. Then, I was a writer for the DNC 2012 National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. I probably worked 12 – 14-hour days sometimes, but it was one of the most productive experiences of my life. I got to bring my immigrant parents to a national convention, so it's something that I hold very dear.
Later on in my career, the General Services Administration was dealing with a small spending scandal, and I was brought on to help change the narrative. Shortly after, I landed at Spitfire Strategies in Washington, DC, where I founded and helped grow the civil rights and racial justice portfolio. I worked to ensure that we had a person of color's point of view embedded within the company's values and client work. Embarking on this initiative would allow me to bring my very best to work.
When the position I have now opened up, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine all of the professional experiences I had gained and help Edelman advance their work in diversity, equity, and inclusion - especially in developing multicultural communication. Let's keep it real, 'multicultural' is mainstream, and there is no such thing as niche audiences anymore. If you are out here in the world, trying to promote your brand, you are talking to multicultural audiences.
What kind of skill sets does one need to obtain to be successful in the role that you currently have?
1. Knowing the value proposition of inclusion and diversity: We know that a company’s bottom line benefits significantly from having a diverse staff, diverse leadership, and diverse board of directors. If companies want to be at the top of their game and have a competitive advantage, then they have to make a purposeful decision to diversify their staff.
2. Listening. You must be willing to hear the priorities of your stakeholders and be able to mirror those said priorities in your work.
3. Ability to take risks. In our world, if you do not want to innovate and try something new, it is clear that you are doing to be left behind. This requires saying to yourself, ‘no! I am worthy, and I deserve to be here, and what I have to say is important!’
Have you ever gotten a piece of work-related advice that you feel is misguided, but for some reason, it keeps getting shared?
There are so many things, especially as a woman of color, that folks will say to you, and it's not relevant. At the start of my career, I was advised not to affiliate myself with colleague’s junior to me because it would give the impression that I was not a leader. This advice doesn't make sense. If you are not surrounding yourself with different perspectives, you risk hearing a good idea. The best ideas don't always come from the person with the highest job title. You have to be open to hearing all perspectives, from all levels, at every point in a person's career.
Secondly, I don't believe in hierarchies. I've been raised to treat the front-desk person with the same respect that I treat a CEO. You are required to be a good colleague to everyone, not just those who will help you to advance in your career.
As a woman of color, what is a valuable lesson that you can offer other women of color who are interested in this type of career?
Stop underestimating the value that you bring. Women of color, and women in general, usually will not apply for jobs that they think they are not 100% qualified for, compared to their male counterparts. We sell ourselves short in terms of salary and benefits. We have to be willing to invest in ourselves and be prepared to stretch beyond what we think we know. We need to reach further than those limits and stop under-estimating our value. That is a statement that I want to overemphasize;
you belong in every room that you are in. You belong in every seat that you occupy. And no one should tell you any different!
Have you been in positions where you did not feel that way?
Imposter syndrome is entirely natural. But as long as you don't become a victim of imposter syndrome, it won't take over your life. I would lie to myself and say things like 'I don't belong here,' but I can't let that voice be louder than the experience I have gained, or the faith that I have in myself.
We always think there is someone better, brighter, prettier, skinnier, this and that and, honestly, there isn't. You are the best person to do whatever job it is that you that you've earned. We need to start believing that we belong in any space we dedicate our careers to.
Did you ever have to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health because of work? And if so, what tips can you share that have been helpful for you?
I shared this story in a personal essay before, but in 2014, I got diagnosed with discoid lupus. This is a type of lupus that manifests externally. So, it means that you will lose your hair. My doctors made it very clear to me that stress exacerbates this condition. I had to have these challenging litmus tests to figure out why I wasn't doing well. Basically, I needed to put myself in check. Don't let it get to the point where your body is ringing the alarm for you to take care of yourself. You are a priority.
My friends and I got together one night and decided that we needed to create a space where we can be ourselves and dance all night without chatting about the pressures of our job. I live in a very professional town that is very corporate and politically minded, so one is always talking about these two things. My friends and I just wanted a space to have fun and not bring our jobs with us. This led us to create @GrownAF, a proactive online initiative that hosts parties. I think self-care looks like many different things. People think it is all about massages, getting manicures and the like, but it's also laughing or spending time with your loved ones.
Regarding your health scare with discoid lupus, how is that going now?
The doctors were able to put me on a management system that included medicine. I go to a therapist every other week, who can help me produce strategies so that I'm not overwhelmed. Therapy has helped tremendously by helping me to remove those stressors in my life that I don't need. Therapy, is fantastic. I wish I could be a therapy evangelist!
Rejuvenation has also included growing in my faith, which may look like different things for some people. For some, growing in their spirituality means going for weekend hikes. I do this to get in touch with something more substantial than myself. As confident as I am in myself, it is essential for me to not always feel like the entire world is on my shoulders. I need to remind myself that there are bigger things in life.
What do you think is the most significant barrier women of color in the workplace face specifically in the communications field?
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that there are structural barriers. It's going to take some time to dismantle them. We carry the invisible burden of helping organizations come to grips with where they are and how they're treating women of color.
If we are going to take on this issue personally, then women of color need to continue to work together. We have to figure out what ways we can support one other and bring each other up. If there is only one of us in the room with access to opportunities, then there is something wrong with that picture. We have a responsibility to make sure that there are many of us in any given space.
People don’t benefit from being the only person at the top. There is a scarcity mentality of 'there's not enough,' and that is BS! There is enough opportunity to go around. If we have access to these opportunities, we are not only responsible but also accountable to each other to make sure that we are inviting others to the table.