Wonder Women of New York 2022: Latasha Gillespie

Latasha Gillespie
(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

For Latasha Gillespie, executive head of global diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Amazon Studios, Amazon Prime Video and IMDb TV, DEI efforts are about achieving measurable results, not necessarily changing individuals’ hearts.

“I can’t change hearts — I’m not God — but I can change what you do between 9 and 5,” Gillespie said. “What people have to keep in mind, in our line of work, is that we don’t do DEI for the sake of DEI. You have to understand that the goal of doing DEI is about changing and driving business outcomes.”

Aaron Walton, founder and CEO of multicultural agency Walton Isaacson, said of Gillespie: “That’s one of the reasons I think we really connected — obviously, through the important work of what DEI can do internally in terms of making team members feel welcome, respected and included in decisions that are made at an organization. What I love about Latasha is she also understands how it can help drive revenue and profitability and how more inclusivity can help a brand reach a larger target.”

Non-Traditional Rise

Gillespie’s journey to the center of an up-and-coming Hollywood studio is not an obvious one. She got her bachelor’s degree in finance from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and spent 20 years working in corporate at equipment giant Caterpillar. In 2015, she was asked to lead the company’s human resources across Africa, the Middle East, Commonwealth of Independent States/Russia and Asia-Pacific and thus relocated her family to Singapore. 

When Amazon called in 2016, she wasn’t prepared to decamp to Seattle, but the opportunity — to set DEI culture and policy for a giant, growing tech leader — was ultimately too appealing to refuse. So Gillespie, her husband and teenage son moved again in January 2017. (Her older son was at Howard University in Washington, D.C.)

I can’t change hearts — I’m not God — but I can change what you do between 9 and 5.”

— Latasha Gillespie

“My role was to set strategy for the corporation, accruing it to something that actually moved the needle for the corporation,” she said. “There had been a lot of activity [in the DEI space] without a lot of measurable results.” 

While the jump from Caterpillar to Amazon Inc. was somewhat overwhelming — because Gillespie was tasked with changing culture at a dispersed and disparate company of hundreds of thousands of employees — the move to Amazon Studios, Prime Video and IMDb in November 2018 represented another total shift in Gillespie’s industry and focus.

At Caterpillar, Gillespie had helped employees understand the importance of DEI through the company value of safety — asserting that good DEI practices create emotional safety for employees. At Amazon, the top value is customer obsession, Gillespie said.

“We move heaven and earth to get a package to you in two days, we read your comments and we have an easy return policy,” she said. “Similarly, are we equitably obsessing over all our customers? In order to make DEI initiatives work, you have to tie them to the business results and you have to make it organic.” 

At Amazon Studios, Gillespie and her team have instituted an inclusion policy and playbook. Any Amazon-branded production has to meet the goal of “30-30 20-20” — no more than 30% of department heads and seconds can be white men or women, and at least 20% have to be men of color and 20% have to be women of color. As a result of Gillespie’s work, the company also has set goals around religious faiths, LGBTQIA and differently-abled people.

Greenlighting Equity

Gillespie and her team also were instrumental in changing Amazon Studios’s greenlight process to make sure it is developing and producing inclusive and representational content using diverse talent above and below the line and in front of and behind the camera. Once per quarter, Gillespie and her team meet with Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke and senior business leaders to go over the data.

“I love her infectious enthusiasm for the business and for building culture,” Salke said. “She’s a real superstar in how she interacts with people and talent. She’s a very dynamic, passionate, creative, thoughtful and incredibly smart executive — that was very apparent to me from the first time I met her. It’s almost like because she wasn’t raised within the entertainment industry, she doesn’t have that baggage and she doesn’t feel like she has to stay in a lane.”

Said Gillespie: “I have the best job in the world. My goal is customer delight. I don’t have to chase advertising dollars or subscriptions, but I do have to chase customer delight. … I want to make sure that our entire team is committed to creating entertaining, binge-worthy content.” ■

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for more than 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for The Global Entertainment Marketing Academy of Arts & Sciences (G.E.M.A.). She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997 - September 2002.