Gisele Marcus: A Resilient, Trailblazing Leader Fostering Diversity and Amplifying Voices in DEI Education

Meet Gisele Marcus, a trailblazer and thought leader in the realm of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as the Professor of Practice at Washington University in St. Louis. With a wealth of experience gleaned from over 20 years in corporate America, Gisele brings a unique perspective to her role, where she not only imparts knowledge but actively shapes the landscape of DEI education.

Her commitment goes beyond the classroom, as she assumes the pivotal role of Associate Dean – DEI at Olin Business School, steering strategic direction and championing initiatives that foster an inclusive culture. Gisele’s journey unfolds at the intersection of academia and real-world impact, making her a beacon of inspiration for future leaders.

The Journey from Corporate Leadership to Academic Excellence

Delving into the chapters of her life preceding Washington University, Gisele offers a glimpse into the inception of her career.

Reflecting on her multifaceted professional background, she shares, “As a five-time General Manager, my career has been entrenched in turning around departments, divisions, and entire organizations, where improving financial performance, enhancing operational efficiency, and reversing failed relationships were the goalposts in an array of industries including life sciences, commercial real estate, technology, and non-profit. I have been adorned with the tagline ‘I make organizations hum!’”

Before joining Olin, Gisele served as the General Manager of the $120M Asset Management Services business at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Recounting her transition into the non-profit sector, she explains, “Prior, I assumed my first non-profit role as Chief Operating Officer of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, one of the top 10 revenue-generating Chambers in the country.”

The narrative extends to her extensive tenure in commercial real estate and facility management outsourcing, spanning 13 years. Gisele’s roles included operational leadership of an $800M business segment globally, an expatriate assignment in South Africa, and spearheading a $1B strategic growth initiative to expand market presence into urban communities.

A Vision of Success, Legacy Leadership, and Dedication to Mentorship

According to Gisele’s distinctive perspective on success, it’s the realization of personal and professional goals, accompanied by the freedom to dance to her own rhythm and the commitment to leave a legacy beyond self. She explains, “Regarding my legacy recently I led the creation of a $1M endowment for my public service sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., at Syracuse University.”

Gisele highlights that the accomplishment is the result of a collaborative effort from a predominantly Black and female alumnae donor base, noting, that “66 percent of sorority members contributed to the fund.” The Kappa Lambda Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. attains the distinction of being the first on- campus organization at Syracuse University to establish a fund of such magnitude.

Gisele proudly reports, “This campaign has created 108 new donors, and 48 donors were added to the university’s Hill Society, established in 2018 for those contributing $2,500 and up.” She emphasizes the purpose of this initiative, stating, “This effort will ensure higher education for young women both born and yet to be born.”

Expressing her passion for mentorship, Gisele shares, “I also have a heart for mentorship. Last school year I hosted an international high school exchange student from Ghana through AFS-USA.” She details that the student secured a full scholarship through the State Department, based on academic merit and financial need, and attended the most diverse private high school in St. Louis.

Reflecting on the impact of this experience, Gisele observes, “This is an experience that has already changed the trajectory of her future to aspire to be a leader in the State Department of the United States.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Embarking on the Leadership Journey in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)

Navigating the challenging path of leading an organization to success demands courage and conviction. Gisele, driven by a profound inspiration, shares, “I was inspired for three reasons: (1) as a black woman in this country, I have been subjected to and impacted by systemic racism; (2) my working in South Africa after the end of apartheid and (3) my ancestors have lost their lives fighting for basic freedoms such as reading, voting, and using the same public facilities as whites.”

Rooted in personal history, she adds, “I was privileged to earn my MBA from Harvard Business School, an institution that did not allow blacks to attend when my grandmother was growing up. I am my ancestor’s dream. As a result, I am inspired to do this work.”

Under the spotlight is Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis as Gisele provides a glimpse into its strategic prowess. Addressing the competitive industry landscape, she explains, “We keep apprised of industry wins in corporate America, changes in state education, where DEI is being removed from budgets in Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas, positive outcomes within business schools with similar rankings to ours, and we stay abreast of scholarly work in the space.”

Within the business school, Gisele’s department actively tracks these trends, collaborating with the dean to make strategic adjustments that prioritize equity for students, staff, and faculty. Ensuring a culture of integrity is paramount for Gisele, who emphasizes, “Integrity is a core value at Olin.”

Holding herself to exacting standards of accountability and transparency, she asserts, “I am a keeper of my word. I am an advocate of sharing data and results in the DEI space which is the foundation of doing this work.” Gisele sets the tone by embodying these principles, expecting the same commitment from her staff, colleagues, and students.

In addition to her role as the instructor for “Leading Across Differences,” Gisele is entrusted with the primary responsibility of providing strategic direction for Olin Business School, aligning DEI initiatives with the school’s values and priorities.

Reporting directly to the new Dean of Olin, Gisele’s focus extends across a spectrum of stakeholders, including prospective students, current students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumni, business partners, and community members.

“Under the leadership of our new Dean, Mike Mazzeo, at Olin, we are embarking on a focus in the area of culture with a dedicated resource to lead this important area,” Gisele shares. Under Dean Mazzeo’s transformative leadership, Olin Business School is poised to elevate its focus on organizational culture. As a result, the commitment to integrity will persist as a foundational value deeply embedded in the fabric of the work conducted at Olin.

With an eye on the future, Gisele expresses her anticipation of collaborating with Dean Mazzeo to advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives stating: “In partnership, we, alongside various stakeholders, aim to foster an inclusive culture throughout all facets of the school, ensuring Olin’s active contribution to the broader St. Louis community.”

“To get real diversity of thought, you need to find the people who genuinely hold different views and invite them into the conversation.” – Adam Grant

Leading the Charge with Visionary Impact on D&I Education at Olin Business School

In terms of her pioneering role and pursuit of redefining the industry, Gisele shares insights into her transformative contributions and the impactful integration of innovative Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) ideas that propel the growth and vision at Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis. One notable achievement is the creation, development, and teaching of a mandatory course in the Business School, where MBA students acquire the skills to lead across differences.

As Gisele articulates, “I developed and teach a required course in the Business School designed to enhance MBA students’ understanding of how to leverage DEI in the business setting to help them confidently lead across differences. We created space for a required course.” The curriculum encompasses crucial topics such as defining terms, the business case for DEI, the impact of workplace inequality, the exploration of an array of diversity dimensions (i.e. race, religion, LGBTQIA+, neurodiversity, gender) and global implementation of DEI strategies.

Drawing from her extensive engagements, Gisele reveals a distinctive aspect, stating, “In the collaborations within higher education, consulting work, and speaking engagements I do, I have yet to find another university with a required course at this level. If such a course is offered, it is typically an elective.”

With pride, Gisele emphasizes her trailblazing role, “I am proud to be the first professor to develop a curriculum and to teach this course based on my 20+ years of experience within corporate America. By doing so, I impact how our students show up to lead with an array of current and future colleagues based on their learnings in my course.” Gisele’s vision extends beyond the classroom, leaving a lasting impact on how students, armed with the insights from her course, approach leadership, shaping the future of Olin Business School.

“Different doesn’t mean deficient”. – Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright

Guiding Tomorrow’s Leaders as Professor of Practice in DEI

In her capacity as the Professor of Practice for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Washington University in St. Louis, Gisele shares insights into her multifaceted responsibilities and a typical day at work. She delineates her role, stating, “I provide students with the tools and techniques to implement successful DEI initiatives/programs in the workplace.”

Emphasizing a practical approach, Gisele focuses on equipping students with the skills necessary for effective leadership within their future workplaces and communities. To stay abreast of the rapidly evolving field, she actively engages with clients, providing consultation in areas of belonging and connection.

Her commitment extends beyond academia as she serves on the Board of Directors of First Mid Bank & Trust (NASDAQ: FMBH), a public regional bank where DEI is a focal point. Summing up her essence in one word, Gisele chooses “resilient.” Whether facing personal or professional challenges, she approaches her goals with unwavering determination, navigating obstacles with tenacity and resilience.

“When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.” – Ava DuVernay

A Balancing Blueprint for Harmony in Life and Leadership

In her quest for equilibrium between personal and professional realms, Gisele unveils her strategies, emphasizing the importance of aligning professional pursuits with personal values. She attests, “I believe in investing in executive coaching to ensure that my professional life is on track and remains in alignment with my personal values.”

For Gisele, the key to balance lies in the convergence of energies with fundamental values, encapsulated in the pillars of “faith, family, finances, and fitness.” Guided by a strong faith and spiritual compass, she navigates the complexities of both worlds, weaving prayer into her daily routine as an essential component.

Recognizing the diverse needs of her employees, Gisele adopts an empowering approach, stating, “I give employees the space to prioritize their needs while attending to the work that is required of them.” This approach allows for flexibility, granting autonomy in completing tasks without dictating specific methodologies.

In nurturing her own well-being, Gisele prioritizes self-care, incorporating activities like bi-monthly massages, weekly chiropractic sessions, and three to four physical workouts per week. This regimen serves as the fuel to empower her to excel in both personal and professional spheres.

Navigating Challenges and Making an Impact as a Woman in Leadership

Reflecting on her experiences, Gisele addresses the challenges of thriving in the industry as a woman, particularly considering the added complexity of being a black woman. Citing the extensive “Women in the Workplace” study conducted by Lean In and McKinsey and Company since 2016, she notes, “Each year the findings denote that there is no single story of women at work. I came to higher education from corporate America and believe this to be true in both industries.”

Gisele highlights the unique struggles faced by Black women, emphasizing that they are more likely to speak out against bias and discrimination but also more likely to face retaliation for doing so. Undeterred by these challenges, she underscores the importance of competence in conjunction with passion, stating, “Passion alone does not deliver results. Passion coupled with competence can deliver results.” Gisele acknowledges the perception that individuals leading in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space are often non-white and emphasizes the need for a holistic evaluation of competence to drive meaningful change.

Looking ahead, Gisele outlines her plans to expand her impact on the board of AFS USA, aiming to increase diversity in households hosting international high school students. Beyond this, she expresses her commitment to continuing her work with the Children and Family Institute, focusing on adoption and foster care. Drawing from her decade-long experience, she emphasizes the transformative power of one adult’s influence, sharing a personal success story of mentoring a young lady who transitioned from a girl’s gang member to a successful entrepreneur, employee, mother, and wife.

Gisele opens up about her personal goals as a woman in leadership, declaring, “It is my goal to inform, encourage, and inspire the next generation of young women. If I can do that, our future is assured.” Proudly mentoring several young women, she aims to carve out a space where women of color not only have the opportunity to be seen and heard but also to receive mentorship and advancement in their chosen fields.

“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” – Sheryl Sandberg

A Vision and Inspirational Wisdom for Future Women Leaders

In her poignant message to aspiring women in leadership, Gisele goes beyond individual achievements, casting a spotlight on the profound impact collective empowerment can have on the next generation of female leaders.

Gisele Marcus’s commitment extends beyond rhetoric, as she actively contributes to creating a space where women, especially those of color, can be seen, heard, mentored, and propelled to success in their chosen fields. In this collective journey toward empowerment, Gisele’s vision intertwines with these powerful messages, resonating with the spirit of change, resilience, and unwavering belief in the potential of women in leadership.