Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago Chief Communication and Diversity Officer Angela Adams is moving on – but isn’t sure where she’ll land, exactly.
“I decided to take a pause, to step away and to rest and then to reimagine what’s next,” she told Blueprint365.
Today is Adams’ last day with Goodwill.
Adams has been with the nonprofit retail organization for about seven years, beginning as Director of Community Relations, a new role created for her in 2016. Named vice president in 2018, Adams led the way to a more intentional focus on racial inclusion.
“It was evident to me that we were very comfortable and known for (being) thought leaders in serving individuals with unique abilities,” she said, referring to Goodwill’s central mission of providing employment and other support for people with disabilities. Adams said Goodwill SEW serves people with many different barriers to employment, and she was surprised to find that only about 20 percent of those were related to disabilities. The majority were other barriers: race, gender, social class.
“In addition to serving individuals with unique abilities, we saw that there was a great need to go deeper, and serve individuals who are on the margins of society typically. And that’s typically Black and brown jobseekers, Black and brown workforce,” she said. “And when you look at the talent needs across our region, and really just across the country, more and more data shows that closing the racial equity gap on the talent pipeline, both at the workforce level and at the leadership level, is really what will help us thrive as a region.”
With that data in hand, the organization formalized its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, naming Adams its first-ever chief diversity officer in 2021.
In the two years since, Adams has created a standing DEI committee at the board level and dedicated Martin Luther King Day as a company holiday, among other initiatives.
“We’re being very intentional about it to integrate DEI in every aspect of our organization,” she said. “We’ve created a 10-year enterprise plan, strategic plan for the organization, which focuses on racial equity at the core.”
“On the shoulders of steel workers”
Adams grew up in Gary, Indiana, the granddaughter of “that little paragraph in our American history called The Great Migration,” she said. The first of her family to go to college, she said she “stands on the shoulders of steel workers.”
After graduating from Florida A&M, she went into pharmaceutical sales, first in New York and Europe before opening a new sales territory in Milwaukee for Pfizer.
“I was supposed to be here for 18 months, and then go back. Do a rotation. But I met the love of my life, fell in love, stayed here, got married, and we started our family,” she said.
Adams said she found success with Pfizer because she wasn’t just going into doctors’ offices with a sales pitch – instead, she connected those healthcare providers with the community through events and other community relations strategies.
That community focus led her to go out on her own with “a small little PR agency in the corner of my house.” She partnered with a marketing services agency to take on some big clients, including Johnson Controls, which eventually brought her on board. She was working in communications and PR within their healthcare vertical when she was recruited to join Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare as Director of Community Relations.
“Most of my opportunities have been me being tapped on the shoulder, and then making decisions around what leaders were aligned with my personal values,” she said.
Goodwill aligned with those values when CEO Jackie Hallberg came calling in 2016, recruiting Adams to become Director of Community Relations for the largest Goodwill organization in the country, with nearly 6,000 employees in 23 counties and two states and more than $300 million in annual revenue. In addition to its primary business of second hand retail, Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago operates a commercial laundry and the U.S. Navy, Goodwill, and SourceAmerica are partnered at Naval Station Great Lakes through the AbilityOne Program, providing employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities. Goodwill Great Lakes provides food service, administrative, logistic services, and laundry to both sailors and recruits at the Navy’s only boot camp—Naval Station Great Lakes in Great Lakes, Illinois.
“For the past seven years, Angela has helped position Goodwill as a workforce leader in our community,” Hallberg said in a statement to Blueprint365. “Her dedication to both drive and clarify our mission of connecting people to work, preparing people for life is immeasurable. We are incredibly appreciative for her contributions to Goodwill and continuously inspired by her leadership in the communities we serve.”
Though she’s leaving her job, Adams isn’t really going anywhere. She’ll continue to serve on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents as well as the board of directors of Froedtert Hospital and the African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee, and on a committee of the board of the Marcus Performing Arts Center.
She said she has a “personal passion project.” She calls it CHARM, which stands for class, health, arts, resilience and moral integrity. Will that become a new job, a new nonprofit, a new entrepreneurial venture? Stay tuned.
“That’s my personal passion project. And I’m working with some local leaders here in the Milwaukee community to really define what that means,” Adams said.
“I heard a friend say, transitions are radical expressions of self love. And that’s what this is,” she said. “It’s not about anyone else. It’s about me being bold, and courageous enough to know that I can pause, and I can kind of enjoy the space that I’m in.”