Meet Deborah D. Vereen
and Frank Miles

Deborah D. Vereen was selected as one of the most “Influential Inclusion Leaders” of Central PA by the Central PA Business Journal. She is the recipient of numerous recognitions & awards, such as the Corporate Citizenship Diversity Award from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission; the Keystone Award for Community Service from the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association; the YWCA’s Women of Excellence Award; The Seed of Hope Award from the PA Educational & Entrepreneurial Youth Program; the Business Diversity Champion Award from the Harrisburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Leadership in Diversity Award from The Conference For Women. She is a certified master trainer and facilitator whose areas of expertise comprise DEI Strategic Planning, Leadership Coaching, Training & Development, and Inclusion Metrics, Reporting & Analytics and was invited to offer testimony before the bi-partisan Labor & Industry Committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature regarding Pay Equity for Women. Deborah is a Member of Forbes Coaches Council, an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches.

Frank Miles has chaired or co-chaired DEI Committees for several organizations. Like Deborah, Frank is a Harrisburg Regional Chamber Celebrate Diversity Honoree. He is also a recipient of the Champion of Business Diversity Award from the Central Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce; the Legacy Founder’s Award as an Advocate of Diversity; the Honorable Clarence C. Morrison Equal Professional Opportunity Award from Dauphin County Bar Association, named for the County’s first African American judge.  He has also been recognized by the Keystone Bar Association, which at the time served attorneys of color in Central Pennsylvania. He was also recognized for his work with the Milton Hershey School with the School’s Outstanding Service award. A dedicated teacher, Frank has served as an Adjunct Professor at Lebanon Valley College, and the Penn State Dickinson and Widener University Schools of Law.  He has been a leader in efforts to encourage more people of color to pursue law-related careers, including co-founding the “Pathways to Success” Foundation to raise funding for students of color interested in pursuing such careers.

The Story of Our DEI Journey Together

Not long after joining two of Central Pennsylvania’s largest corporations, we began to walk a DEI path together that has lasted more than two decades and is still going strong! We were asked to co-chair the Harrisburg Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Business Diversity Advisory Council, and quickly realized that we shared the same pragmatic approach to DEI.  
As the result of a “Listening Tour” we initiated to understand better the challenges faced by organizations that expressed a desire to become more inclusive, it became clear to us that they lacked the capability to create and implement a successful DEI plan. Neither their internal nor external resources had the education, experience, and skill set to design a sustainable plan to evolve the organization systematically, engraining DEI within the organization itself.  
To help address this need, in 2008, we co-founded the Diversity and Inclusion Professionals of Central Pennsylvania (, creating a resource group that brings DEI professionals together to discuss the day-to-day implementation of DEI initiatives. At meetings and educational events, members shared their frustration with the myriad challenges they faced and the lack of progress at their organizations. 

Several members told us how ill-prepared they feel they are for DEI work. Many previously held an unrelated position before management tapped them to lead diversity efforts across their organization. While they possessed the will to impact their respective employers positively, most didn’t know the way to do so successfully. They simply didn’t know how to convert DEI principles into practice. We found this to be true across the United States. 

Consultants unfamiliar with an organization or employees charged with DEI responsibilities but lacking the requisite DEI education and experience recommended “one-offs”: awareness events, training, supplier diversity metrics, new recruiting targets, and other well-intended efforts that checked the DEI box, but neglected to use a holistic systemic approach that embeds DEI values. Efforts to create an environment of inclusion and a culture of belonging frequently meet with limited success because the organization’s existing culture is poorly understood or ignored. 

While many DEI professionals possess the will to impact their respective employers positively, many simply don’t know how to convert DEI principles into practice.

Rather than meeting the organization where it is on the DEI journey and carefully sequencing DEI initiatives, significant changes were frequently attempted without first assessing the organization’s readiness to understand and be receptive to these efforts. 

Ultimately, we determined that while external DEI consultants may have a role to play in helping some organizations, they are not the permanent solution for achieving sustainable inclusiveness. For DEI values and practices to become part of an organization’s DNA, it must learn why DEI is critical to its own mission, its own goals, operational and financial, and, importantly, its own brand identity. Then it must strategically weave those values and practices into the organization itself. Such ownership is essential to the successful implementation and embedding of DEI efforts.

Most organizations that profess a DEI commitment, we found, lack a plan for achieving it. Or, if they do have a plan, it is ineffective because it is not organic, strategic, or cohesive. As a result, the plan does not mesh with the organization’s existing culture.  They struggle with DEI because they don’t understand how to make it part of what they do and how they do it. 

Most organizations that profess a DEI commitment lack a plan for achieving it. Or, if they do have a plan, it is ineffective because it is not organic, strategic, or cohesive.

We concluded that an organization’s DEI leaders and allies must employ savvy organizational intelligence and learn how to break down challenges to bring those in power along the journey to a sustainable environment of inclusion that enables a culture of belonging. We took what we had learned and created an approach to DEI that every organization can follow.

As thought leaders in the DEI field, we feel an obligation to share our lessons learned as widely as possible. That is why we have written MAKING DEI STICK How to Weave Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into Your Organization’s DNA.

At How to Make DEI Stick [link to that page of site] we share many of the lessons learned that appear throughout our book. We also apply our approach to contemporary issues and events.

Different Paths, Shared Thinking – A Conversation

Deborah I grew up in a very diverse, closely knit neighborhood in Central New Jersey.  I later realized that my parents had modeled inclusiveness by how they were receptive to and engaged with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and initially strangers who became part of their world. Those experiences profoundly shaped my worldview that humankind thrives in an environment of inclusiveness.

Frank My early surroundings were much more homogenous. I spent my childhood in Central Pennsylvania, where I went to a predominately white high school. My worldview, however, was informed by my mother, who supported the Civil Rights Movement and took me to the March on Washington in 1963 when I was seven years old.

Deborah My equity and parity belonging lens continued to be shaped by my education and career path. I have a computer science/programmer background, have lived in the mid-west and on the east coast, and was an owner and operator of a supermarket (former Acme location) and helped to enable the revitalization of a neighborhood.

Frank Inspired by my mother’s maxim that I was to “leave the earth better than I found it,” I was drawn to the practice of law as a means of helping others, particularly the underserved and powerless. After completing my bachelor’s degree at Bucknell University and my juris doctorate at the George Washington University Law School, in 1981 I joined a large Harrisburg, Pennsylvania law firm. The firm encouraged community involvement across the social and political spectrum, and I became President of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union where I and another lawyer represented a native Abenaki Indian’s seeking to protect his First Amendment right to practice his religious beliefs – a case eventually decided by the United States Supreme Court. I also served on the board of the local Planned Parenthood affiliate as it navigated the then recently enacted Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act. 

Deborah An important aspect of my worldview that I bring to DEI work is that I have experienced what it is to be “the only one” (gender and/or ethnicity) in a number of organizations throughout my career. In 1998 AHOLD/GIANT ( convinced me to relocate to Central Pennsylvania to become its first Senior Director of Organizational Effectiveness and Diversity (OE&D). At that time, I was the company’s first female and only Person of Color Store Manager, coming out of operations to return to the corporate world.  While at GIANT I earned the unique double credential of CCDP/AP (Cornell Certified Diversity Professional /Advanced Practitioner) from Cornell University.

I was able to utilize the business acumen and organizational savvy that I had learned from my experiences to forge relationships with top executives to make DEI part of GIANT’s brand identity. With holistic systemic change as the end in mind, I designed and directed the effective integration of diverse business practices into every area and discipline of the business.  Apparently, the community was paying attention as well and recognized how deeply committed I was to DEI. They actually gave me an award for “Tenacity in DEI Leadership at the Womens Heritage Annual event!”

I realized that my parents had modeled inclusiveness. Those experiences profoundly shaped my worldview that humankind thrives in an environment of inclusiveness.

Frank Knowing Deborah as I do, that comes as no surprise! Anyone who works with her knows that she demands integrity and cannot abide having her time wasted. Over the past twenty plus years we have discovered that we share many of the same values.

Not long after Deborah moved to the area, in January of 2000 I transitioned to the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company ( to become the company’s first General Counsel. I also served as Vice President and Corporate Secretary until retiring in 2016. Because my responsibilities included strategic planning and corporate governance, I was tasked with oversight of the company’s fledgling DEI efforts, with the Director of Diversity and Inclusion reporting to me. It was around this time that Deborah and I began our DEI journey together.

Deborah That’s right.  I initially identified five large organizations within the region other than GIANT and established mentoring and collaboration relationships to ensure it wasn’t just one person or one company putting diversity on the radar screen.  Hershey Entertainment was one of those organizations, and I began seeing Frank at many of the same DEI events. We were asked to co-chair the Harrisburg Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Business Diversity Advisory Committee. Among other things we conducted a “listening tour” to better understand the local DEI environment. This helped us to plant and water DEI seeds to move the region forward.  

My worldview was informed by my mother, who supported the Civil Rights Movement and took me to the March on Washington in 1963 when I was seven years old.

Frank  It was also during this time that I became deeply involved with the Milton Hershey School, the world’s largest residential pre-kindergarten through grade 12 school and home for children in social and financial need. For several years I had the opportunity to work with a very diverse student population, teaching multiple courses as a Visiting Instructor.  I also coached the school’s Mock Trial Team for over 10 years, and helped to design the curriculum for its Law, Public Safety & Security Career Path. This was part of my broader effort to encourage students of color to pursue law-related careers.  

Deborah  Both of us were active with DEI initiatives beyond our own workplace. We saw that many organizations were struggling to make headway with their DEI efforts, and that those responsible for DEI tended to be siloed, with few resources. Often, they lacked experience in the DEI discipline, and had no one to mentor them in the field.

Frank  Deborah and I talked about the need for some outlet where individuals responsible for DEI could share lessons learned in a safe environment.

Both of us were active with DEI initiatives beyond our own workplace.

Deborah  It was during 2008 that Frank and I came up with the idea to start the Diversity and Inclusion Professionals of Central Pennsylvania ( Its purpose is to provide professional development tools for those working in the DEI field, educate members about successful efforts and trends, and identify and implement efforts to make Central Pennsylvania a welcoming and inclusive region.

Looking back, I realize that the timing for starting DIPCPA couldn’t have been better. I had decided to retire early from AHOLD/GIANT, which I did at the end of 2008. The following year I started The Vereen Group to continue my DEI work by providing services to various organizations, some of which I met through my involvement with DIPCPA.

Frank  Time and again DIPCPA members asked us to teach them how to effectuate change. While they possessed the will to positively impact their respective employers, many lack the way to do so successfully. Many Diversity Directors, as well as those in similar roles, expressed deep frustration with the agonizingly slow pace of progress and their seeming inability to advance even the most modest DEI initiatives.

Deborah  Although DIPCPA members worked across a variety of industries at dozens of very different companies, educational institutions, and governmental entities, a common cause of their frustration emerged – in their haste to join the growing commitment to diversity, most organizations neglected to educate themselves or seek out individuals with experience in creating and implementing effective DEI strategies.

Deborah and I talked about the need for some outlet where individuals responsible for DEI could share lessons learned in a safe environment.

Frank  To address this frustration, over the course of two sessions attended by more than 150 DEI professionals we mapped out the key elements of successful DEI strategic plans that we had implemented at our respective companies. We also tackled critical questions which all those in the DEI discipline need to ask: Do I have the courage to do this work and, if so, am I willing to put in the effort necessary to ensure that I am prepared, including understanding the history of the United States as seen through a DEI lens, and committing to ongoing learning about the evolution of DEI?

Deborah  The more Frank and I talked about our approach to DEI the more we realized that there is an urgent need throughout the United States for these lessons learned. As a nation, we are barely treading water in a river of societal unrest exacerbated by growing tension over what the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equality means and how it should be realized.

Frank  Our presentation to DIPCPA became the catalyst for our upcoming book, Making DEI Stick, which will allow us to share our approach with organizations and DEI Leaders everywhere.

Deborah resides in her townhouse, five miles from Frank’s farm in Pennsylvania.
She drinks tea.
He drinks coffee.
Both are immensely proud of their children.

“The key to making DEI part of an organization’s DNA is to understand the organization and its goals, meet it where it is on the DEI Journey, and show it how to systematically align sustainable DEI initiatives to help the organization reach its goals.”

—Making DEI Stick