In 2021, we initiated the virtual DEI in Action Series to highlight leaders of all different backgrounds that are elevating DEI awareness around the globe in their own unique ways across industries. The series was a HUGE success, garnering 700+ viewers from all over the world! We host five-yearly events to celebrate Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Pride Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month.
Black History Month was created by Carter G. Woodson, an American historian and scholar known as the father of Black History. Woodson fervently believed that Black people should be proud of their heritage and all Americans should understand the largely overlooked achievements of Black Americans. In honor of this year’s national theme, Black Resistance, prominent Black leaders across industries will join our virtual series to share relevant personal stories of resilience and perspective on factors that inadvertently impacted the success of their professional career journeys.
Dr. Audra Pittman is Vice President for Giving for the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) where she is responsible for cultivating major gifts, planned giving, alumni services, and special events for the entire University. Prior to this, she served as VP for SCAD Atlanta, where she oversaw the fast-growing location’s academics and administration. She brings to her post more than 20 years of experience in the arts, education, and business. Prior to leading SCAD Atlanta, Dr. Pittman directed a city-focused arts and cultural council serving a constituency of just under 400,000 residents across the greater metropolitan area. Pittman had formerly chaired the SCAD Department of Professional Education.
Dr. Pittman engages in active volunteerism in the community. She is a member of the 2021 class of Leadership Atlanta, an executive-level initiative that fosters innovation, as well as personal and professional development, across the Atlanta business and education communities. She also serves on the board of Midtown Alliance, an organization committed to the ongoing cultural, educational, and professional enhancement of midtown Atlanta. A respected authority on education and employment issues, Dr. Pittman is an expert speaker on the future of engagement across the creative professions. She has served on numerous nonprofit boards including those of Boys Town, the United Way, and the Thomasville Center for the Arts.
Dr. Pittman holds a B.F.A. from the University of Connecticut, an M.A. in Teaching from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and a Ph.D. in Arts Administration and Art Education from Florida State University. She is married to Attorney Sean Pittman and they have three daughters Paloma (12), Phoebe (9), and Pilar (9).
Aaron Swain is a property management executive and owner with over 30 years of experience in market rate and affordable/subsidized multi-family management and development. Aaron has a distinctive background of business experience, an outstanding track record of sound business judgment, and a proven ability to maximize revenue while remembering how important the customer and his employees are. Aaron joined Columbia Residential in 2018 and his focus is on improving the bottom line of the organization and its properties by concentrating on the operational cost side through negotiated and comparative cost analysis. In addition, he develops and coordinates management policies to better manage sites that may have specific challenges. Columbia Residential is one of the largest affordable housing providers inside of the I-285 perimeter in Atlanta with over 6,000 apartments managed. Columbia manages an additional 4,000 apartments in four states.
Prior to joining Columbia Residential, Aaron was Senior Vice President and Chief Business Development Officer for a Midwest based real estate firm responsible for the oversight of a portfolio of 17,500 apartments in eight states. Most of the apartments in Aaron’s portfolio received some type of government assistance, including HUD mortgage insurance, project-based Section 8, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, tax exempt bond financing, and public housing. Aaron has served on several boards of trustees and directors, focusing on at-risk youth and affordable housing initiatives.
Dr. Ebbie Parsons, III, is the Founder and Global Managing Partner of Yardstick Management. A seasoned business executive with a passion for intentional impact, he has been applauded for his strategic thinking, engaging leadership, and results-oriented mindset throughout his successful career. After working at Fortune 500 companies, including Intel, Medtronic, and American Express, Dr. Parsons III decided to transition from a promising career in business in 2007 to join the prestigious Broad Residency Program in Educational Leadership. The Broad Residency was his first introduction to the inner-workings of America’s public education system, where he served as the Chief Operating Officer of Hartford Public Schools.
Championing the overhaul of the district’s school funding methodology, he negotiated the state’s first pay-for-performance teacher union contract. He led the redistricting of the city to an “All-Choice” system of schools. Following his time in Hartford, Dr. Parsons, III, was on the founding team of the groundbreaking Relay Graduate School of Education, where he led the organization’s Human Capital function. Following Relay, he took on a new challenge to serve as the Chief Operating Officer of the third-largest Charter Management Organization in the U.S., Mosaica Education, Inc. At Mosaica, Dr. Parsons, III, managed over 80 schools across eight states, Washington, D.C., the Middle East, and Asia. He led Mosaica to its two consecutive most profitable years in its 14-year history while simultaneously leading the company to its highest academic performance results in years.
Leveraging his wealth of experience and expertise in business and education, he launched Yardstick Management with a vision to become a leader in transforming and impacting the global landscape of the management consulting industry. Less than a decade later, Yardstick has become a world thought leader and powerhouse in providing specialized Management, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Talent consulting services to renowned mission-driven brands and organizations worldwide. Yardstick is committed to building its clients’ internal capacity to enhance its ability to deliver extraordinary results to its constituents.
He holds a BS in Industrial Engineering from Florida A&M University, an MBA from the University of Minnesota, and a Doctorate in Educational and Organizational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. He has also served as a Faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. Dr. Parsons, III, has extensive board leadership experience, including serving on the boards of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Metropolitan Opera Guild, Lighthouse Academies, Children’s Orchestra Society, the Georgia Symphony Orchestra, Urban Ministries, Inc., the Atlanta Music Project (an El Sistema Program), The Winans Group and the Finance Corps. Dr. Parsons, III, is a Fellow with the Pahara Institute and the Aspen Institute and is a Member of the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Global Leadership Network.
Dr. Parsons, III, resides in Atlanta, GA, with his wife, Ayana, and their adorable daughters, Ebbie Noelle, aka “Noey,” and Noohra Celeste. In his spare time, he enjoys cycling, kayaking, and, most of all, rooting for his favorite hometown team, the Michigan Wolverines. Go BLUE!
Slma Shelbayah is a Marketing, Communications, and Diversity Leader, Consultant, Adjunct Professor, and award-winning former CNN Broadcast Journalist. In 2015, she won the CNN Diversity Ovation Award for her commitment to inclusion in news coverage. She is passionate about diversity, human uniqueness, and unraveling taboo traditions and is dedicated to promoting the voices of under-represented individuals. Her background includes more than 17 years of experience as a journalist, communication, and public relations expert in the media industry, including roles as a reporter, show host, editor, writer, voice-over artist, and producer.
Serving as the Chief Communications Officer at Yardstick Management, Slma oversees the internal and external communications, strategy alignment, marketing, public relations, branding, and communication project management solutions for clients. She spearheaded a communications department leading a creative team responsible for rebranding the company both internally and externally.
Slma is also an Adjunct Professor of Business, Media, and Communications for Clayton State University and has previously taught at Brenau University, Herzing University, and Georgia State University. She teaches courses on public speaking, interpersonal communication, intercultural communication, speech, and business communication.
Her prior positions include serving as Director of Corporate Public Relations for Savannah College of Art and Design and a 7-year tenure at CNN serving in the capacity of Producer, Assignment Editor, and Writer working across different departments including, CNN International, CNN Digital Newsource, and CNN Homepage.
Slma was inducted and graduated from LEAD Atlanta’s distinguished and highly selective leadership program, LEAD Atlanta, for the class of 2018. She holds a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in Sociology and an M.A. in Linguistics with a focus on cross-cultural linguistics of Spanish and Arabic, both degrees from Georgia State University. She also obtained a certificate from Oxford University, U.K., during which students were selected from 30 countries across the world to pursue a seminar on global media policy: technology and new themes in media regulations.
Dedicating her time to community service that focuses on media, diversity, and inclusion, Slma previously sat on the Advisory Board for the Harvard Debate Diversity Project inaugural class, an initiative that provides selected high school students with debate training and an opportunity to spend a summer at Harvard College developing their speaking skills. Her life-long involvement with youth is also witnessed through mentoring as she is a board member of UBeyond Mentorship, a non-profit mentoring organization for young youth and professionals. Shelbayah also enjoys giving back to the media industry to further the impact on diversity, culture, and faith, and was previously on the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters.