June 29, 2023

By Eric House

Fulbright Specialist Gabb taught first- through fifth-year communications students at Institut Supérieur de Communication et Publicité in Paris, France.

As a seasoned marketing and communications professional, Ashley Gabb understands the power of storytelling, and the central role played by diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Her transformative journey began when she was a student at Historically Black Lincoln University and has propelled her to become an expert in this field.

While working at a small Black-owned communications firm, Gabb led the public relations strategy for a DEI conference, where she first realized the possibility of a career at the intersection of communications, DEI, and community engagement.

“That’s really where I transitioned into seeing DEI as a career,” she said. “I got to see different aspects of what it could be and how it worked.”

She quickly transitioned into the field of supplier diversity, focusing on how corporate supply chains incorporate businesses owned and operated by members of underrepresented communities, including women, people with disabilities, veterans, and members of underrepresented or underserved communities.

As the Director of Supplier Inclusion and Diversity for The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC), Gabb is at the forefront of ensuring that this global company founded and headquartered in New York City not only works with diverse and small businesses, but that there is equitable participation across the supply chain. “Speaking as a Black woman, I love my job on all fronts,” she said. “And when you think about how The Estée Lauder Companies started as a small, women-owned business, it shows we are still staying true to our heritage.”

Serving as a Fulbright Specialist has enabled Gabb to extend her work internationally, traveling to France to teach first- through fifth-year communications students at the Institut Supérieur de Communication et Publicité (ISCOM) about the vital connection between communications and DEI. 

Communications is a huge component and driver for diversity, equity, and inclusion… it’s what builds a community for everyone to feel like they belong.

Gabb used lectures and case studies drawn from her work at ELC to help ISCOM students understand how to authentically communicate a company’s commitment to racial equity without being performative or reactionary. She challenged the students to develop their own recommendations for different companies, including ELC, and gave students the opportunity to present their recommendations to senior leaders on ELC’s Racial Equity Steering Committee.

For Gabb, this exercise and the conversations it sparked were the most memorable elements of her Fulbright experience. “They’re realizing there are things they can do today to be a little more inclusive and make sure that there’s some diversity [in marketing and communications],” she said. “I think just seeing the lightbulb go off is always fun.”

Gabb’s meaningful work with ISCOM and the relationships she’s formed have continued to bear fruit since her return to the United States. She continues to teach, has served as a marketing advisor for ISCOM programs, and brought her expertise to student and staff conferences.

Gabb (center) with her students.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she said, referring to all the exciting plans in motion.

Throughout her career and Fulbright experience, Gabb has come to appreciate the global significance and power of communications in DEI work.

“When we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, a big part of it is listening, and a big part is storytelling,” she said. “Communications is a huge component and driver for diversity, equity, and inclusion… It’s what builds a community for everyone to feel like they belong.”

Gabb plans to develop similar Supplier Inclusion and Diversity programs around the world for ELC. Her conversations about the DEI landscape with ISCOM students and administrators as well as her Paris-based colleagues at ELC have paved the way for her to expand ELC’s Supplier Inclusion and Diversity program internationally. Last year, the program expanded to France, Germany, and Switzerland, strengthening ELC’s leadership in supply chain diversity across the globe.

Fulbright helped me learn and bring back some [new] practices, or recognize where I can grow in my practice.

Gabb credits her Fulbright Specialist experience as an incredible opportunity for connection and continued learning, especially for working professionals such as herself.

“Fulbright helped me learn and bring back some [new] practices, or recognize where I can grow in my practice,” she said. “It’s all part of the exchange experience — it helps you share some of the best practices you’ve seen in other places. Then hopefully, we can all get on the same page of how we want to serve humanity.”