Alumni Profiles

A Momentous Role

For most people dreaming of a career in human resources, an MBA isn’t written into the script. But back in the early 2000s, Aisha Thomas-Petit RBS’07 decided her burgeoning career in human resources and a master’s degree from Rutgers University–Newark would be a winning combination. She was right. In fact, it has helped her achieve more than she’d ever dreamed.

Today, Thomas-Petit is the first-ever chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at AMC Networks, where she strives to uplift diversity of thought, background, and experience both within the walls of AMC Networks and at every stage of the creative process in film and television. She’s also the first Black executive to sit on the company’s leadership team. “I almost can’t describe how I feel with those two things in mind, because it’s historic,” she says. “It’s meaningful beyond words.”

Thomas-Petit’s success is not surprising. But her career path is. “Being a chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer wasn’t part of the master career plan that I’d set for myself,” she says. Several pivotal decisions—starting with the choice to pursue an MBA—led to her current line of work. Here’s how Thomas-Petit came to inhabit her distinctive role, plus what she plans to do with it.

Beyond her wildest dreams

Some young people dream of becoming an astronaut or a firefighter when they grow up. Thomas-Petit envisioned a career in HR. “I really had my heart set on becoming an HR executive and sitting on an HR leadership team,” she says. “That was sort of my early dream.” After earning her bachelor’s degree in marketing from Syracuse University in 1998, she soon took a job in recruitment marketing.

As she observed people in the HR executive roles she aspired to, she noticed something interesting: each leader who stood out to her possessed something unusual for the field—an MBA. So she decided to earn one herself. In 2007, she completed her MBA at Rutgers–Newark, and she’s been climbing the corporate ladder ever since. “Today I look back on the MBA experience and what I think it did for me. It put me on an upward trajectory that was greatly accelerated,” she says.

Her résumé bears it out: before joining AMC Networks in November 2020, Thomas-Petit held high-level HR roles at JPMorgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, Barclays, and, most recently, ADP. She also served as an adjunct professor in Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations from 2013 to 2018.

Thomas-Petit’s MBA experience has helped her appreciate the importance of diversity and inclusion—a lesson she carries with her to this day. “Rutgers’ student body is very diverse,” she says. “Sometimes we have to pause and remember that we’re still operating in a world that’s somewhat homogeneous. We often socialize and build relationships with people who are like us. Broadening our networks is so, so critical, and an MBA affords you or me an opportunity to do that.”

A plot twist

After achieving her goal of becoming an HR leader faster than expected, Thomas-Petit found herself uncertain what to do next. “I started to think about how else I could extend my leadership,” she says. “As a division vice president at ADP, diversity and inclusion were always embedded in my people strategy. [But] I did not think I would be made responsible for the subject matter.” Then the company’s chief diversity and inclusion officer announced an early retirement—and Thomas-Petit’s manager encouraged her to pursue the role.

She decided to go for it. “I thought, ‘Why not? And why not me? Why not extend your leadership in this space that desperately needs to have the momentum sustained?’”

After serving in the role for just over a year, another major decision presented itself: AMC Networks offered her its new position of chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer. “Again, I had to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘Are you growing? And are you extending your leadership to places and spaces that need you?’”

She took the job.

Broadening impact

As Thomas-Petit settled into her new role at AMC Networks, she quickly realized that storytelling is central to the entertainment company’s brand. The company creates films and TV shows that reach audiences on several large platforms—including AMC, BBC America, Sundance TV, IFC, and more—and shape cultural narratives in the process. That’s a tremendous power. And it comes with great responsibility.

“We have to use our platforms to tell stories that reflect a variety of lived experiences,” Thomas-Petit says. To that end, she’s engaged in three key efforts. First is creating an inclusive environment in the workplace. Next is uplifting diverse stories and storytellers and improving representation both in front of and behind the camera. Finally, she’s focused on corporate social responsibility. “We are making an impact on the world that goes beyond the bottom line of our business,” she says. “This is not easy work, but it’s good work.”

Staying connected

Even as she tackles major initiatives, staying connected to her Rutgers network remains important to Thomas-Petit. She’s still in touch with her MBA cohort. She serves as an informal adviser at Rutgers’ Institute for Corporate Social Innovation. She regularly speaks on alumni panels. And she stays in touch with the Rutgers students she taught years ago as an adjunct professor, mentoring young HR professionals as they pursue dreams of their own.

These wide-ranging perspectives continually inspire Thomas-Petit’s actions at AMC Networks. “We’ve got to reflect the people in the world and their lived experiences,” she says. “We are going to produce the most amazing, authentic stories, and people will be able to see and feel and experience the richness of the diversity that represents our country and our world.”

Watch Thomas-Petit and other Rutgers alumnae discuss their journeys to becoming change agents, women’s leadership, and the importance and impact of advocacy in the recorded virtual event I’m Speaking: RU–Newark Alumnae as Change Agents.