For the past decade, Nielsen Holdings has produced a series of annual reports, Nielsen’s Diverse Intelligence Series, highlighting a comprehensive collection of insights and the buying power of U.S. multicultural consumers compiled from the company’s multiple measurement verticals, spanning from retail to entertainment. Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s senior vice president of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement, the founder of the series, has been the company’s spokesperson for the company’s campaign, particularly the report focused on African American consumers.
Grace has raised U.S. awareness about Nielsen and its reliance on real people to share what they buy, watch, and listen to. Before there was a Black Lives Matter movement, Grace and her diverse team and diverse agencies were presenting Nielsen’s data to multicultural audiences with a simple “You Matter” message. Nielsen’s reliance upon everyday consumers, including multicultural shoppers and viewers, is significant because it is how the company can confidently and successfully sell representative insights to its roster of multi-billion-dollar clients, which includes manufacturers, retailers, broadcasters and advertisers.
This morning, Grace filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois against Nielsen, charging the 97-year-old global company with discrimination. According to Grace’s claim, despite numerous efforts over the years to advance beyond a senior vice president role, which she’s held for 13 out of her 16 years with the company, Nielsen has failed to promote her in spite of her high performance. Instead, the suit alleges, her courageous internal conversations and written correspondences about race and career advancement with a number of the company’s C-suite executives, including its CEO, have led to Grace being marginalized, and subjected to a hostile work environment.
Grace is one of the few executives of color who has remained at the company for more than a decade. When it comes to senior executives of color, Nielsen has been a revolving door, the company often opting to import senior-level talent rather than develop a strong front line from within. Grace’s lawsuit comes on the eve of Nielsen announcing the name of its spin-off consumer market research unit, and just weeks after the unit announced its new company’s world headquarters would be located in Chicago, where Grace resides, and has long-term business connections.
The lawsuit also comes less than a week after Nielsen released its 10th version of the popular Black consumer report, “The Power of Black Community – From Moment-to-Movement.” In the press release distributed last week with the release of the report, Grace is quoted as saying: “African Americans are calling out systemic racism …”
Nielsen’s corporate clients have leaned into the report and used the information to drive their bottom line. The Black community has also embraced the reports. Black-owned media companies, HBCU college presidents, civic and social justice organizations and professional associations use the reports’ insights to increase their advertising dollars, secure funding for innovative programs, address poverty and injustices, and to fund training and enrichment programs aimed at nurturing and developing the next generation of Black leaders.
Leaders of several prominent nonprofits say they are disappointed about the turn of events at Nielsen and express dismay that the company – especially given the current climate of social unrest does not practice what it preaches. Nielsen, they say, should be a leader in the diversity, equity and inclusion space and they are encouraging the company to get its internal house in order. “Cheryl Grace is a very visible and highly respected Black woman, most widely known in nonprofit and business circles across the nation as the face of Nielsen,” said Attorney Janice Mathis, executive director of the Washington-based National Council of Negro Women, Inc.
“But beyond being a corporate spokesperson, she has become a trusted voice in the African American Community. We need Nielsen to understand that the climate of trust this Black woman has created for their brand is in jeopardy. It raises a troubling and significant issue that the person most responsible for publicizing Nielsen’s commitment to inclusion is now herself charging unfair treatment at the hands of the company where she has been employed for 16 years.
If Nielsen’s biggest cheerleader is not cheering for them anymore, what can the Black community and women’s groups expect from Nielsen? To be credible about diversity and inclusion, Nielsen must be prepared to walk-the-walk that it espouses externally.”
Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization co-founded and first led by Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr., said the Atlanta-based social justice organization will pursue a meeting with the CEO and Nielsen board to obtain a better understanding of what is happening inside Nielsen, following a practice of the principles used by Dr. King.
“We cannot tolerate this, and we won’t tolerate this,” Dr. Steele said. “We will ask for a seat at the table to talk to the parties involved about this narrowmindedness and blatant form of racism towards Ms. Grace, who has been exemplary in the public domain representing Nielsen to the point where there are people standing in line trying to emulate Ms. Grace, because they see her as one of the role models, and for her to be treated like this is evidence of the systemic racism that continues in many of our corporations.”
Dr. Steele said the Grace versus Nielsen case is a vivid example that people of color cannot rest on their laurels, thinking that Dr. King’s dream for an America where people are not judged by the color of their skin has been achieved.
“We interpreted and perceived that Nielsen would be legitimate in terms of fairness,” Dr. Steele said. “But ultimately, at the end, after working with them for so many years and trusting them, because of the work and credibility of Ms. Grace, they seem to be an organization devoid of fairness. This is a slap in the face, and we must weed out this form of racism so we can achieve Dr. King’s dream.”