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Q&A with Sandra Sims-Williams, Chief Diversity Officer, Nielsen

Q&A with Sandra Sims-Williams, Chief Diversity Officer, Nielsen

Published 12-20-23

Submitted by Nielsen

Sandra Sims-Williams, Chief Diversity Officer, Nielsen.
Photo: Sandra Sims-Williams, Chief Diversity Officer, Nielsen.

Originally published in Nielsen's 2023 ESG Report

What motivates you in your role as a DE&I leader?

Sandra Sims-Williams: Three years ago, I joined Nielsen with a clear idea of what I was going to do as a DE&I leader. My previous work and experiences gave me a strong sense of what makes a successful DE&I strategy. 

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic started, just a few weeks into my Nielsen tenure, and changed the entire landscape in terms of engaging and supporting people. We all had to become more human at work, because you couldn’t walk away from what was going on. We were all sitting in front of the computer, staring at these boxes and pretending that we are having human connection, when we were all feeling isolated and uncertain about the state of the world. At the same time, we had to connect with people in their most human form and where they are coming from on multiple dimensions—not just a day-to-day work context, but also what’s going on behind that computer screen in their homes, their families, their communities. 

That leadership experience through the pandemic has continued to motivate and drive me as a DE&I leader. Our company and managers need to recognize what representation and inclusion really mean, so we can create an environment where people feel included and supported as their whole selves; and where they can fully bring their talents and experience to the work we do.

Nielsen’s values are Inclusion-Courage-Growth. How do you live those values as a leader?

Sandra Sims-Williams: I didn’t always have—or give myself—the space where I could show my vulnerabilities and challenges at work. But after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, I couldn’t ignore my feelings. I talked to my CEO, peers and team members about the sleepless nights and hard days, especially in the immediate aftermath, and especially as the mother of a Black son. By being transparent with my own feelings and thoughts, other leaders felt they too, had permission to share their feelings and experiences—some for the first time. To me, that humanity is what living our values of Inclusion, Courage and Growth is all about. As leaders, that’s how we have to model those values.

Nielsen has been going through many changes, both inside our company and in the industry. How do the Business Resource Groups support our transformation?

Sandra Sims-Williams: Nielsen is in a period of rapid learning and transformation, just like the broader media and technology industries. As we transform our culture to be even more focused on our clients and growth, our 200+ BRG leaders are the “culture meters” for where we are today and how we create our future. They help our company leaders better understand the business priorities and challenges facing our employees around the world—what they need, where we’re leading and where we need to keep up.

They are also our “cultural transformers.” Our BRG leaders have the courage and motivation to create the type of culture that we need to succeed as a business and where people can show up to achieve their fullest potential. With intention and authenticity, BRG leaders model the mindsets, behaviors and actions of our values (Inclusion, Courage and Growth) and Growth Culture (Transformation Obsessed, Learn-It-Alls Not Know-it-Alls, Outside-In and One Company) and inspire the same in others.

What’s one thing that surprised you in your role recently?

Earlier this year, the Corporate Citizenship team moved into my organization, and I now lead both DE&I and ESG efforts at Nielsen. It was clear to me that bringing these functions together could help us to better manage key risks, and cultivate more compelling and impactful opportunities for collaboration—for our people, our business and the communities we serve. But what’s been surprising to me and my team is how quickly the combination of these functions has already deepened our company’s broader conversations around topics like environmental justice.

For example, for Earth Day in 2023, we held a virtual volunteering event where almost 40 employees learned more about the environmental impact of waste on chronically marginalized communities. It’s clear that climate change is having an impact on already vulnerable communities in a quicker and stronger way than many people anticipated, and the connection between the conversations about environmental and social inequities will be more important than ever before. And I’m inspired and motivated by the role that Nielsen can play to generate awareness and education about these inequities throughout the media ecosystem.

What is next for DE&I across Nielsen?

As a global leader in audience measurement, data and analytics, diversity continues to be our differentiator. We recognize the unique role we play to influence change in our industry, in our communities and around the world. That includes not just greater representation and inclusion, but ensuring that it is authentic representation that creates greater awareness and empathy. The media and advertising industries are powerful forces for our understanding of other people and experiences. Nielsen has a central role to play in using our insights to foster that understanding. This year, we’re focusing our impact across the three pillars of our DE&I strategy: People + Culture, Business and Community, to systematically integrate inclusion and accountability into the full employee experience. For us to succeed, our work and the rest of the company must stay rooted in our values—Inclusion, Courage and Growth.

To learn more, download the 2023 Nielsen ESG Report here.

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Nielsen shapes the world’s media and content as a global leader in audience measurement, data and analytics. Through our understanding of people and their behaviors across all channels and platforms, we empower our clients with independent and actionable intelligence so they can connect and engage with their audiences—now and into the future.

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