Vanessa Abrahams-John

Vanessa Abrahams-John
Global Director, Diversity, Inclusion, Talent Acquisition, Praxair


As a professional, I consider my greatest strengths to be my ability to communicate and inspire. I have honed these skills over my 15-plus years as an attorney, negotiating corporate deals and conflict resolution. In my current role, these skills have been integral to achieving both short- and long-term goals with respect to diversity and inclusion. They have enabled me to guide, persuade, and enable business leaders to understand the power of building a diverse workforce and an inclusive environment, and how these can drive a business. I quickly realized that without appropriate, timely, and sensitive communication, people would not be invested in the accomplishments and change I was seeking to inspire.


I am inspired by leaders who are not motivated by fame or fortune, but by an intrinsic desire to seek equality and freedom for all, regardless of personal sacrifice. In my life, Nelson Mandela is the greatest example. This is a leader, who in the face of adversity and decades of oppression and imprisonment, responded with forgiveness, reconciliation, and love to ensure that freedom and equality were achievable for all people in his country, not just his own community.

I incorporate these learnings into my day-to-day business life. Mandela has helped me understand that the success of a country, or even a corporation, is built upon a foundation of ensuring diverse groups have equal opportunities and access. This ideal of advancing an inclusive environment, in which all people can thrive and succeed, is what has driven me throughout my career.


All great leaders are great communicators and motivators. I motivate people by being respectful and kind at all times, regardless of their level or role in the organization. I make sure I am on the same page with my team from the start by clearly defining expectations and roles, and I always share in the sacrifice of my team.


In my view, the greatest issues facing the African-American community are no different from the issues facing any community—the lack of opportunity for education and employment at the highest achievable levels. This absence of opportunity can lead to a lack of self-confidence in many, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy resulting in low achievement levels.


I consider it both a privilege and a responsibility to give back to my community. I serve on two not-for-profit boards that focus on providing educational opportunities to youth in urban communities. Education, in my view, is the one thing that levels the playing field when it comes to opportunities to be successful.


I’ve learned to take risks in my career, as long as they are well-informed risks. I have always taken advantage of every opportunity to develop and enhance my skill set outside my niche area and my comfort zone. I always strive to stay on a learning trajectory.


Maintaining balance is critical to achieving a successful career and living a happy life. I focus on three areas: Finding mental balance through regular spiritual devotion and exercise in my faith community; devoting at least one day each week to being completely present with my family; and seeking physical balance through a healthy diet and regular exercise.


Over time, I’ve learned that I can do anything that I commit myself to as long as I have time to prepare. I’ve also learned that I can lead effectively and make an impact without compromising the intrinsic values that I hold dear. I truly believe that people can become great leaders without compromising their integrity, empathy, or honesty. In fact, I would say that one cannot ever be a great leader without these traits.


Perform at a very high level in your current role while simultaneously looking for “growth” (not necessarily promotional) opportunities to learn the core business and further develop your skill set.