Pivotal Woman – Tonya Cornileus – Vice-President, Development, Inclusion and Wellness – ESPN

Tonya Cornileus is the vice president, development, inclusion and wellness at ESPN where she serves as an integral member of the Human Resources senior leadership team and regularly acts as an advisor to other senior management at ESPN.

Dr. Cornileus is responsible for learning and organization development, talent management, diversity & inclusion, and wellness. Dr. Cornileus joined ESPN in November of 2009.

Prior to joining ESPN, Dr. Cornileus served as director, executive development & organizational effectiveness for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. from 2004 to 2009 and vice president, training & organizational development for Aegis Communications Group, Inc. from 1998 to 2004. She began her career as an educator in various school systems from 1985 to 1996.

Dr. Cornileus is involved with several professional and civic organizations. She serves on the Linkage, Inc., Women in Leadership Institute Advisory Board, and on the boards for Goodwin College, Connecticut; the University of Florida Foundation; and the University of Georgia College of Education Board of Visitors.

Dr. Cornileus has been recognized as one of the CableFax’s Most Influential Minorities in Cable every year since 2012 and was also named to Savoy Magazine’s 2019 Most Influential Women in Corporate America.

Additionally, she was honored with the University of Georgia College of Education Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement in 2014. Dr. Cornileus was profiled in the March 2013 edition of CLO Magazine and was also named one of the National Diversity Council’s 2012 Most Powerful and Influential Women Leaders in Connecticut.

In addition, Dr. Cornileus’ philanthropic endeavors focus primarily on promoting education. She also mentors high school students through the Hartford Consortium for

Higher Education’s New Beginnings program (since 2014) and actively supports the Greater Hartford Urban League, where she served on the board for several years.

Dr. Cornileus earned her Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Human Resources and Organizational Development from the University of Georgia and her bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications from the University of Florida.

Dr. Cornileus received the Senior Certified Professional designation by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM-SCP) and the Professional Coaching certification by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC CPC).

On the obstacles she has had to face as a woman of color in the sports industry:

I know others have faced obstacles, but that has not been my experience. I’m sure it has to do with the role I play in this industry.
As an HR executive at ESPN, my biggest obstacle was being viewed as a business leader first whose specialty happens to be in human resources. I didn’t want leaders to consult me only when they needed talent development solutions.

Therefore, I’ve always made it a priority to understand the business, including our company strategies, the financial model and the levers that impact profitability. I meet with business leaders often, shadow our production teams, and actively contribute ideas in meetings beyond the HR components.
I believe that has allowed my colleagues to see me as a full partner with them and that has been a key to success in my career. It also doesn’t hurt that I am a fanatical sports fan.

On how ESPN has supported her in her professional development:

e’re very proud of the progress we have made in our diversity journey. ESPN and The Walt Disney Company are leaders in the industry in providing employees with many professional development opportunities.

For one, we encourage development conversations between managers and employees. Not only do I lead the work to cultivate this culture of development, I am also the beneficiary of it. My manager has been supportive of my continued growth and development from the time I joined this company in 2009 to the present.

I’ve had opportunities to be mentored, complete stretch and rotational assignments, participate in high visibility meetings, attend conferences, and gain additional certifications.

Career advice she would give women who are trying to effectively pivot in their career

I’d say take the time to know what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at, and where the opportunities exist – and probably in that order. Be flexible and unafraid to try a role that stretches you beyond your comfort zone.
That’s where your greatest opportunity for growth exists.

You have to be comfortable being a novice when you decide you’d like to pivot in your career. That means staying curious and being a lifelong learner. Finally, bet on yourself. You’ve been successful up to this point; trust that you will continue to be successful. Plus, change can be exhilarating.

Advice she would give women who would like to work in the sports industry?

I advise women and anyone who want to work in the sports industry to immerse themselves in learning the business of sports, just as they would if they worked for another product or service company.

For ESPN, our product is our content. We are in the business of storytelling at ESPN and we get to tell some of the best stories in sports to our fans. Regardless of the role a person has, they should know their company’s product or service, and how they contribute to the company’s success.

On why ESPN is her Employer of Choice:

ESPN is the place of record for sports fans. Our mission is to serve them, anytime and anywhere. We are able to do that better than anyone for three reasons.

First, our people are our most valuable resource, and care and respect for employees and each other will always be at the heart of what we do. We believe in diversity and inclusion because it is the right thing to do and it is good for business. We strive to have a workforce that reflects the diversity of our sports fans.

Second, our culture is our competitive advantage. The passion, esprit de corps, and unrelenting commitment to quality storytelling and innovation are what make this company, now 40 years old, the best of the best.

Third, ESPN is a part of the world’s most successful media and entertainment company, The Walt Disney Company. We are in the enviable business of surprising and delighting guests, customers, viewers and fans, and not many other companies can say that.

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