Melody Vanoy & Gayla Thomas-Dabney: A Synergy of Leadership in DEI and Organizational Development

Two CEOs Join Forces to Uplift Communities through DEI and Organizational Transformation!

In a world that’s more interconnected than ever before, the realm of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is increasingly vital. Organizations, both big and small, have recognized the importance of fostering diverse workplaces where all voices are not only heard but celebrated. Yet, achieving these goals is far from automatic. It takes visionary leaders who are passionate about sparking real change.

Meet the extraordinary duo, Melody Vanoy and Gayla Thomas-Dabney, both CEOs and women leaders who came together, driven by a shared purpose to make a difference. Their journey is a testament to the power of collaboration, driven by their passion to create a more inclusive world.

Melody and Gayla’s inspiring journey began within the corridors of Trinity Health, where they connected through their professional roles. As CEOs with a wealth of experience, they also nurtured separate DEI consulting firms, focusing on small organizations in need of transformation. It was the spark of their collaboration outside their primary roles at Trinity that would soon set the stage for something remarkable.

Their collaboration was born during a challenging time – the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a reduction in their efforts at Trinity. It was during this period that they decided to merge their skills and insights, each offering unique strengths. Their diverse geographic locations, each with distinct DEI needs, allowed them to maintain their separate organizations while fostering a “better together” approach.

In their collaboration, Gayla often leads the way when it comes to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) clients, providing essential support, especially in training. Melody, on the other hand, takes the lead in areas like Organizational Development (OD) and leader coaching, guiding organizations through significant change initiatives.

Both Melody and Gayla now have full-time commitments in the field, enabling them to expand their horizons further. They’ve built the teams needed to continue the impactful work of their organizations, GTD (Gayla Thomas-Dabney) and AmorX. These organizations play a crucial role in partnering with others to address DEI and various organizational development needs.

Their influence extends to a range of clients, including Ascension, CapEd, Healthwise, United Way, and the Catholic Health Services of Long Island. But their aspirations don’t stop there. Melody and Gayla have a new endeavor on the horizon. They plan to establish another organization, one that is specifically tailored to focus on community-based health equity and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) efforts. This new chapter is set to contribute to the betterment of communities and organizations alike.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

From Art Enthusiast to DEI VP

Melody’s career at GHX as the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion is a remarkable journey that began in a different field. Her pathway to becoming the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at GHX was unconventional yet inspiring.

Initially, Melody worked as an X-ray technician at the University of Michigan Health System. However, her DEI career took root when she volunteered to be a Department of Radiology DEI representative, bridging the gap between HR’s DEI initiatives and their department.

This initial experience led to her first formal DEI role as a DEI coordinator within HR. Over the years, she progressed from a coordinator to a DEI trainer and a senior consultant. Her contributions were recognized, leading to a system-wide director role in D&I at Trinity Health.

In 2022, Melody’s journey led her to GHX, where she assumed the role of Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion. In this role, she implements and manages the DEI and Culture strategy.

Remarkably, Melody’s career didn’t start with DEI in mind. She initially envisioned herself as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City due to her passion for art and art history. However, her career took an unexpected turn when she decided not to pursue a Ph.D., a requirement for art history. Instead, she obtained an MBA, which opened up a new world for her.

Her MBA program introduced her to organizational development, effectiveness, and diversity, igniting her passion and marking the beginning of her journey into DEI. It’s a field where she has found her calling and has never looked back.

Ironically, Melody’s initial venture, Amor X, started as an art consulting firm. She provided art consulting services to local businesses and individual clients, curating art from local artists and helping them showcase their work. However, as her career shifted towards business and DEI, Amor X transformed into a formal DEI and business strategy firm. Her business now focuses on guiding small organizations on their DEI journeys and gaining valuable experience in the field that complements her primary work.

Military Service to D&I Leadership

Gayla, the Division Chief of the Strategic Planning Division at the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ODEIA), embarked on a remarkable journey into Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) leadership after retiring from the military in 2005.

Before founding GTD Enterprise LLC, her career had been devoted to serving in the military, with a focus on an honorable retirement. However, her path also included diverse experiences working with the City of Gainesville, the Department of Defense (DOD), Higher Education, Healthcare, and the Federal government.

Her transition from the military to civilian life revealed significant cultural differences. Growing up in a military family, she understood D&I as something that you simply did. This background shapes her approach to leading D&I work, emphasizing the importance of extending grace to others. In her leadership, she ensures that everyone is invited to the table, emphasizing that inclusion is a two-way street.

GTD Enterprise LLC assembles a team of professionals who collaborate with clients to offer consulting services related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA), Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) strategic planning. The firm has served clients such as Healthwise, United Way-Boise, CapEd, Ascension, and INL.

Gayla acknowledges that leadership is not without its challenges, but she finds it rewarding. Her decision to step into D&I leadership was fueled by her belief that love can conquer hate.

“We are all uniquely and wonderfully made. As leaders in D&I, we often have to train our leaders, and that’s perfectly fine. In the military, senior enlisted personnel trained division officers to become naval leaders responsible for the lives of many. Leading sailors and junior officers was challenging at times. However, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I love leading in the field of DEIA,” she passionately declares.

Defining Success and Overcoming Roadblocks 

Success can take many forms, and for Melody, it’s about witnessing the tangible outcomes of her efforts. She believes success is achieved when individuals become more receptive to the work, feel included, and actively support it. In her view, success goes beyond just doing the work – it’s about the impact it has on people.

Having served as a leader in the United States Navy for 23 years, Gayla defines success through her teams. She finds it in their achievements, their growth into leadership roles, and their ability to learn and innovate. To her, success involves taking care of her team, a principle she learned while leading sailors in the Navy.

For Melody, a significant challenge was often getting in her own way. She acknowledges that her journey to a formal DEI role was enriched by the development she underwent. She worked on herself, addressed her biases, and utilized the materials she used on her team on her own personal growth. This approach helped her confront external barriers and work through them.

One of the most meaningful recognitions for Melody is hearing from a client that her services were highly valued and contributed significantly to their DEI journey. Repeat clients, she says, are the best form of recognition.

On the other hand, Gayla’s professional journey was filled with roadblocks that taught her valuable lessons. These experiences pushed her further into her destiny as a successful DEIA leader. The obstacles she faced inspired her to help others overcome their own challenges.

Her proudest recognition as a leader has been the trust she has earned and the recognition of her work by other leaders and colleagues in the DEIA industry. She has also received two DEIA awards of excellence for the work of GTD Enterprise LLC, reinforcing the impact of her dedication and leadership.

Leading with Integrity

Melody understands the importance of redefining the DEIA industry. She ensures that Amor X customizes its services to meet clients where they are on their journey, recognizing that each organization is unique. Regardless of the industry or competitors, Melody treats every client as an individual organization.

Challenges often arise in helping clients understand the value of their journey, regardless of their current progress. Melody’s role is to create strategies that accommodate their specific needs and pace, fostering an environment conducive to their organizational growth.

As a leader, she instills a culture of integrity within her team. Accountability is a key component – both in admitting when something goes wrong and creating a space for others to do the same. Melody also emphasizes inclusivity in all efforts and respectfully addresses opposing viewpoints, providing explanations based on best practices.

For Gayla, GTD Enterprise LLC makes significant contributions to the DEIA industry by offering clients access to recent best practices, trends, and analyses for strategic planning, education, and outreach. The company’s commitment to providing personalized attention and aligning their work with an organization’s culture empowers clients to become DEIA change agents at all levels.

Integrity, according to Gayla, means doing the right thing even when nobody is watching. As the CEO of GTD Enterprise LLC, she upholds this principle, recognizing that her background and career paths owe their success to integrity. Trust is paramount in leadership, and maintaining a solid reputation is a priority for Gayla in the DEIA industry and beyond.

A Passion for Inclusivity and Business Knowledge

Melody emphasizes that working in the DEIA industry, while fulfilling, is far from easy. It requires understanding and appreciating the collective cultures within an organization. Having a passion for this work is just the beginning; success in this field necessitates complementing that passion with concrete business knowledge to effectively communicate with executives.

Organizational leaders must recognize that DEI is no longer just a moral imperative but a crucial business necessity. Melody acknowledges that her innate passion alone wouldn’t have sufficed to navigate various industries. Her formal business education and the invaluable informal mentoring she received over the years have contributed significantly to her achievements in this field.

As she writes her dissertation on the future of Christian leadership, Gayla underscores the need for organizations to embrace inclusive leadership, equity, accessibility, psychological safety, and a culture of innovation. In her view, creating a workplace that embodies these essential principles will naturally attract diversity. She believes that the work of DEIA is not inherently difficult. Building relationships, fostering change agents, and inviting the next generation of leaders to the table are key strategies that benefit everyone involved. That, to her, is the winning approach.

Balancing Leadership and Personal Passions

Melody’s mantra is simple but powerful: “execute.” In her role at Amor X and as the VP of D&I at GHX, she efficiently manages client requests, delegating tasks to her team. Her responsibilities at GHX involve implementing a DEI framework and roadmap, which she oversees daily. Her team of DEI professionals caters to a range of client needs, from consulting and strategic planning to both in-person and virtual DEI education.

An advocate for work-life balance, Melody cherishes moments with her family, indulges in baking, spends time with her cats, and explores new destinations with her son, Jaden. Remote work’s flexibility allows her to work from her favorite cities across the US when she desires a change of scenery. She also prioritizes her team’s well-being, regularly checking in on their workload and stress management techniques.

Describing herself as a ‘Transformer,’ Gayla currently serves as the Chief of the DEIA Strategic Planning Division at the Department of Energy. In this role, she oversees DEIA Workforce Development Specialists, DEIA Business Partners, and DEIA Strategy Specialists.

Her work at GTD Enterprise LLC involves empowering her team of DEIA Specialists to meet client needs and offer technical assistance. Although she considers herself a spiritual believer rather than religious, she’s motivated to continue this work by the future generation of DEIA leaders.

During her free time, Gayla enjoys spending quality moments with her family, going for runs, and embarking on culinary adventures with her husband as they check off their list of must-try food places. Remote work provides the quiet space needed for reflection and relaxation, enabling her to think through her daily tasks and devise sustainable solutions.

Paving the Way for DEIA

Melody envisions a future where Amor X continues to expand its client base, extending its reach into the global arena. Her goal is to assist organizations in other countries with diverse DEI needs as they embark on their journeys. She firmly believes that she and her industry are in a state of constant evolution. Being a lifelong learner, she’s always on the lookout for opportunities to enhance her skills and expertise. Her advice to aspiring leaders is simple yet profound: never consider yourself an expert, for continuous learning is the key to progress.

Gayla’s vision for the future of GTD Enterprise LLC involves scaling up the team by hiring more employees and launching an extensive training program. She aspires to work with global clients in the upcoming year and is determined to complete her doctoral degree while continuing her globe-trotting adventures. Her message to aspiring leaders is rooted in the importance of understanding an organization’s culture and authentically embodying DEIA efforts and initiatives. In her view, employees are invaluable assets that significantly contribute to a company’s success. She emphasizes that DEIA is a transformative endeavor, ultimately about changing hearts. Making this work accessible to all and ensuring everyone has a seat at the table is the way forward, along with bold leadership, trust, and empowerment of DEIA teams.