Danyelle Wright has known she wanted to be a lawyer since the fourth grade. That was the easy part. Her mother told her that given her penchant for putting up an argument, it was the perfect job for her. Wright’s mother, a cheerleader in every conceivable fashion, would pass away at just forty-seven years old, the day before Wright’s first law school final at Ohio State University.
She didn’t get to live long enough to see Wright’s law career flourish; Wright had foregone a Georgetown offer to attend law school close to home, where she could take care of her mother and not place any strain on her younger sister, who was working to finish her own degree.
“My mother made me promise that I was going to finish no matter what,” Wright remembers. And despite her grandmother passing away a mere six months after her mother’s death, Wright and her sister held each other up and made it through.
Wright now serves a dual role (or “The Comma Diva” as she likes to describe her lengthy titles) as vice president of employment and labor law, and chief diversity officer at 143-year-old publishing and broadcast company the E.W. Scripps Company. She’s helping the organization continue to find new ways to retain, develop, and advance talent for those who have worked so hard to find their own success and just need a fair shot at it.
Understanding the Diverse Journey
Wright understands exactly what it takes for those who are not the beneficiaries of generational wealth to achieve success. She grew up in a single-parent household where finances were always tight. “I always knew that education was the key to get to where I wanted to go,” Wright explains. “It is something that cannot be taken away and yet, I also knew you couldn’t squeeze blood from a turnip.”
The young lawyer-to-be earned a scholarship to Northfield High School, a highly ranked school in rural Minnesota. Wright, an Ohio native, would attend with her mother’s blessing, knowing that it was the ideal first step in her own career.
Both at Northfield and Cornell University, Wright would find herself the lone Black woman in most circumstances.
“The experiences of this little African American girl were so unlike the experiences of those people that I ran track with or played softball with,” Wright explains. “There were all of these basic cultural differences that I try to keep in mind even today. I always try to assume positive intent. It’s something I keep on my whiteboard at work. Like Ted Lasso, I want to be curious but not judgmental. I want to know where you’re coming from so we can reach common ground.”
The Right Woman for the Jobs
Wright came to Scripps in 2015 after extensive work in the firm world. This body of work has included winning the Ohio State Bar Foundation Service Award for Attorneys 40 and Under, the Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazers award from the Taft firm, the Gracies Leadership Award from the Alliance for Women in Media, and a Cynopsis “Top Women in Media” award in 2021. Along with her extensive employment and labor work, Wright’s small but mighty team—two including herself—has also built the diversity and inclusion strategy from the ground up. But she says it can’t be a one-person job or departmental function.
“If the success of our equity, diversity, and inclusion strategy is based on me showing up, then we fail,” Wright says bluntly. “We all have a collective responsibility to make this happen.”
Wright sees her role as a “respectful disruptor.” She’s built a sound partnership with the executive team at Scripps that allows her to keep pushing forward while understanding the wider picture, a perspective that’s benefited by her dual role.
“You have to have a lot of courage in this role,” Wright admits. “My mantra is: ‘Say it, even if you’re afraid.’ We have to try things that may fail. We have to have conversations that may be uncomfortable. But if you have this seat at the table, you need to use your voice or you need to move out of the way.”
Wright has helped build DEI awareness and education from several different perspectives at Scripps. The Welcome Table provides a means of introducing DEI initiatives and conversations to the broader Scripps workforce. Courageous Conversations was born from the racial unrest of 2020, holding town hall conversations where employees can speak freely about issues important to them. And the EDI Academy provides more intimate settings to discuss those issues as more of a discussion group.
“In all of these efforts, the important thing to remember is you can’t stop talking about them,” Wright says.
There are so many more initiatives, educational opportunities, and work that Wright has undertaken that there simply isn’t room for, but it’s an ideal time to return to the little girl who knew she wanted to be a lawyer.
It’s hard to imagine someone better equipped with the experience and empathy necessary to build out DEI progress in an organization with such deep roots. Wright’s own story is enough. The more ways we can help support fourth-graders with high aspirations, no matter where they come from, the better off we will all be.
“Danyelle embodies the leadership wisdom of seeking first to understand before seeking to be understood. I and the BakerHostetler Labor & Employment team are most proud to work with Danyelle and our valued client Scripps.”
–David Holcombe, Partner