Candid Conversations

A Candid Conversation with Nesa Johnson and Michelle Martinez Reyes

AboveBoard | Nov 17, 2021

Two leaders on their journey to executive leadership and what they’ve learned along the way.

Recent data highlights disparities that exist in the makeup of executive leadership. 

White men make up 85% of high-paying boardroom positions, while only comprising 38% of the total population. Hispanic/Latinx individuals are the largest minority group in the United States at 18.3%, and make up 17% of the labor force. Yet, only 4.3% hold executive positions throughout the country. 

AboveBoard’s mission is to create a world where there is no singular face of executive leadership, but rather a diverse group of professionals who lead with their distinct experiences and unique perspectives. When a variety of perspectives and opinions are included in business decisions, organizations thrive. 

No two executive leaders share the exact same experience. However, many who identify as Latinx/Hispanic experience similar hurdles and gaps along their path to executive leadership roles. We spent time with Nesa Johnson and Michelle Martinez Reyes—two AboveBoard members and experienced senior executives—to discuss their career trajectory and to hear the advice they have for aspiring leaders. 

Their leadership journeys

“I’ve been in Human Resources for 18 years,” says Nesa Johnson, Vice President of Human Resources for Universal Studio Group, NBCUniversal Media. “I've recently returned to NBC Universal, which is where I started my HR career. This is my third stint at the company, so I can’t seem to get enough of the organization. My focus this time around is supporting TV production. I think it’s an interesting time to be supporting TV production with so much attention on the media industry and more awareness of what is happening in the industry. It’s COVID. There’s more awareness on social justice issues. That’s what this job has been since I rejoined in the middle of last year. It’s  been a wild 18 years, but a particularly wild 18 months in HR.”

Michelle Martinez Reyes, Chief Relations Officer of Kelley Kronenberg, has dedicated her career to marketing, an industry that has evolved dramatically over the past 20 years. She is currently looking for her next marketing leadership role.

“Everything in the world has pretty much been touched, run, or operated by something that has a nuance of marketing.” Michelle tells us about her industry. “And it’s been a wild ride. I’m so excited to see how digital is changing and transforming the landscape of what that means for us as consumers and as businesses, and how it’s affecting products, e-commerce and globalization.”

On staying motivated and engaged

Nesa explains, “It’s never boring. I like a day that’s filled with variety. I think the other key thing is the ability to make an impact. If you are working in an environment where people are valued, you have this great platform to influence the employee experience. Then you have the opportunity to elevate leadership and be a support for them by navigating some challenging issues.” 

"If you are working in an environment where people are valued, you have this great platform to influence the employee experience."

“The common thread has always been building and growth,” Michelle says. “So, probably the common denominator in all my roles, regardless of where I stood in the hierarchy, there was always the base component of growth. And whether it was growth geographically, growth by market or sector, or obviously growth in revenue, that has always been a key element in what I do. I’m also motivated by other leaders and mentors that are very much successful.”

Mentors, growth, and Latinx/Hispanic leadership

“As I reflect back on my career,” says Nesa, “I do wish there had been somebody able to show me those ropes a little bit more. Or even a leader who recognized ‘Oh wow, she’s not of this same world,’ and acknowledged that I am somebody with a minority voice that can contribute uniquely, and supported me in understanding how things work in the corporate world.” 

"When you have people from within your organization or from within your industry who really see potential in you, that helps a lot."

“If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re probably not growing. You’re too complacent,” says Michelle. “You’ve got to find really good mentors and sponsors. When you have people from within your organization or from within your industry who really see potential in you and can hold you up on their shoulders, that helps a lot.” 

She continues, “I think the representation of women has changed greatly. I’ve seen a lot more of a 50/50 split. I’ve seen the change not only at the staff level but at the executive levels as well. But that growth is definitely not seen in minority representation. I think a lot of companies like to say that they’re diverse, and they’re following all these considerations, and they’re really pushing for diversity. They use it for marketing and PR, but the true essence of why it’s important to have a diverse workforce and diverse executives in your organization, oftentimes, is not really captured.” 

Pushing the bounds of traditional thinking

Representation matters. When more folks see themselves in other leaders and executives, the opportunity for advancement feels attainable. With the underrepresentation that exists today, many professionals often feel as if they are  blazing a new trail entirely. 89% of Latinx/Hispanic professionals have felt overlooked for career advancement opportunities at some point in their careers. 

"Leaders need to create a space where everyone can feel safe to contribute their ideas and voices."

It's imperative that leaders push the bounds of traditional thinking to ensure they include underrepresented groups like Latinx/Hispanic professionals. “I’m more sensitive to people who are in the room and may be quiet,” Nesa says. “But I know they have good ideas and need to feel welcomed. It’s about leaders creating an environment and mechanisms where everybody can contribute. People have to feel safe. They have to feel like if they raise their voice, it’s valued in some way. It doesn’t mean that I or the business will always take that recommendation. We—myself included—have to feel safe to speak up. Leaders need to create a space where everyone can feel safe to contribute their ideas and voices.” 

Both Nesa and Michelle are passionate about uplifting others. They understand the need for mentorship. They are also acutely aware of the ways that it can transform someone’s career trajectory. It gives people the confidence and support they need to advance. Mentorship is a powerful example of how lifting up others can create a more equitable face of leadership throughout the business world.

As AboveBoard continues to create more pathways that expand access to leadership opportunities, we are grateful to have members like Nesa and Michelle who continue to trail blaze in their respective industries.

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AboveBoard is an executive hiring platform that connects qualified executives with board and full-time opportunities. We are expanding access for underrepresented groups of executives—particularly Black, Latinx, and women. To join visit

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