Wadsworth, who oversees Gannett's 109 daily newspapers and USA TODAY, set about rebuilding Gannett's once industry-leading commitment to diversity by not just talking about the need for diversity, but putting systems in place to ensure that her vision is carried out.
Under her leadership, she has demanded that a diverse pool of candidates be considered for every open position in the consumer division and that the hiring team also include a diverse mix of decision-makers.
To cement these new standards, she backed the creation of a position focused on developing a diverse pipeline of internal and external talent.
Mizell Stewart III, current president of the News Leaders Foundation, oversees the talent pipeline.
“She is deserving not only for championing diversity in hiring and promotion, but reinforcing the business case for diversity and inclusion,” Stewart said. “To survive and thrive, news organizations must truly serve a changing America, and responding to a diverse mix of consumers is critical to our future.”
Currently, 26 percent of all of the USA TODAY Network's managers in local news and 24 percent of USA TODAY's managers are people of color, a notable improvement from before Wadsworth assumed her current role, according to her nomination letter. Among Gannett's eight regional editors, four are minorities. In the past two years, Wadsworth hired a diverse group of top editors at several of the company's sites, including Indianapolis, El Paso, Corpus Christi and Evansville.
Wadsworth has championed an emerging leadership program in partnership with the Poynter Institute, where 32 leaders within the company are groomed each year for their next career move. Mentoring and networking opportunities with top leaders from throughout the company and diversity are key components of the program. Its retention rate is 93 percent, and more than 75 percent of the participants earned promotions.
Michael Days, incoming president of NLA, said Wadsworth is a true diversity champion who is making a difference.
“(She) is proof positive that when the boss is committed to making diversity happen, it happens. It's particularly impressive that the significant gains are in top leadership roles," he said. "Well done!”
Wadsworth also has supported an internship/mentorship program that now has relationships with media organizations. One example is a newly formed partnership with the Sports Journalism Institute for 10 summer interns. The Institute is designed to attract talented students to journalism through opportunities in sports reporting and editing. It will ultimately elevate racial and gender diversity in sports departments nationwide.
Amalie Nash, VP of local news for Gannett, penned one of the nomination letters for Wadsworth. She wrote: “What makes Maribel special in this regard is her commitment to fostering the kind of environment where diversity is a core strength and value, and one that attracts diverse talent. She is the perfect choice for a McGruder Award because she practices what she preaches.”
Wadsworth, who will receive her honor, a leadership trophy and $2,500, during NLA's Sept. 9-10 conference in New Orleans, said she is honored to be this year's McGruder recipient.
“I can think of nothing more meaningful in my professional life than to receive this recognition for leadership in diversity, an award that honors the legacy of the great Bob McGruder,” Wadsworth said. “I am grateful every day for the opportunities afforded to me by the groundbreakers and ceiling-smashers who came before.
Each day I strive to pay it forward through a steadfast commitment to inclusion in our staffing and in our news coverage. This is how we, together, make a difference in our communities.”
Wadsworth also will be part of a three-person panel on diversity leadership on Tuesday, Sept 10. Sign up here
for NLA conference registration.