The Online Weekly Community Newspaper of Associations, CVBs, and Hotels

Greg DeShields Terminated as Tourism Diversity Matters’ Executive Director

Ousted after Multiple Allegations of Bullying, Toxicity

By Todd McElwee

Tourism Diversity Matters’ (TDM) fired Executive Director Greg DeShields on February 18 following multiple accusations of bullying, belittlement, and toxicity towards women. Similar allegations have been levelled at DeShields from his time as an executive with the Philadelphia CVB (PHLCVB).

An official statement from TDM was obtained by USAE on February 19. A Philadelphia Inquirer story updated on February 16 stated: “Eight women have signed an open letter accusing their former boss—a prominent Philadelphia diversity and tourism industry executive—of toxic, hypocritical behavior.”

Greg DeShields

Among the signers of the open letter was Dr. Brandi Baldwin, CEO of Millennial Ventures, diversity consultant and former TDM Board Chair, who resigned from the governing body. Baldwin said she could no longer work at the organization if DeShields were not held accountable, according to a letter sent to the board.

DeShields, an openly gay black man, told USAE: “I respect the decision of the board.” He declined to answer if the allegations against him were true, and if not, why the women would make them against him and what explanation TDM gave him for his termination.

He added: “My focus remains on our common goal of promoting tourism and attention to issues of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I am looking forward to continuing this important work in my future pursuits.”

TDM’s founding CEO Mike Gamble, President & CEO, SearchWide Global, elected to step down. Gamble told USAE it was the right thing to do for TDM to move forward.

TDM’s statement said allegations of inappropriate conduct, which failed to uphold the organization’s values and mission, came from former employees and a board member and had caused concern within TDM’s board since mid-January. When far more serious allegations came to light on January 15, the organization immediately placed DeShields on administrative leave and hired an independent investigator to conduct an objective review of the issue, according to the statement. The board learned of additional allegations February 15 in the open letter.

Adam Burke, Interim Board Chair, TDM, President & CEO, Los Angeles Tourism, said DeShields was terminated with immediate effect and notified of that decision on February 18.

Burke was asked by USAE “When were initial complaints about DeShields filed, and what were they?”

“While, as you’ll understand, we can’t disclose confidential personnel information, I can share that the Board took immediate action upon receipt of Dr. Baldwin’s January 15 communication,” Burke said.

Concerning the timeline, the eight women’s open letter stated: “In an email dated December 14, 2023, Dr. Brandi Baldwin formally informed TDM’s CEO, Mike Gamble that she would be declining to extend her tenure as board chair stating ‘…I have a nagging feeling that I’m still going to be on Greg’s hitlist, and from a mental health perspective, I just can’t expose myself to anymore of his demeaning behavior.’

“Planning initially to step out of her role quietly, it wasn’t until further insight about toxic behavior by Greg DeShields towards other female staff surfaced that Dr. Brandi knew she could not succumb to TDM’s culture of avoidance and enabling.

“On January 15, 2024, Dr. Brandi along with two TDM staff members shared their distressing experiences under the leadership of Greg DeShields to the entire TDM board. What struck as odd in the ensuing events was that, despite Mike Gamble being implicated in grievances regarding the organization’s failure to address prior complaints about Greg DeShields’ behavior, he was involved in contacting the individuals who were asked to participate in what was initially termed an ‘investigation.’”

Allegations Against DeShields
The “Our Stories” section of the open letter included testimonials from 10 women—with three choosing to remain anonymous—as of February 22.

More women will be added as they chose to come forward.

Dates on the individual submissions range from 2014–2023. Concerning feedback from the letter, co-author Affiong Inyang, a former coordinator with PHLDiversity, who is now Sr. Digital Communications Manager, The Sikh Coalition, told USAE: “We’ve received an overwhelming amount of support for our courage to advocate for equity and inclusion in this way.”

The letter’s website also includes a Google drive with several e-mail correspondences and documents related to the matter.

Amber Dugger was a TDM Apprentice last fall. She said: “I was shocked to find out that his behavior is an open secret in most organizations. To my surprise, when I told my academic advisor at Temple University about what I was dealing with, I was quickly told that ‘this is how Greg is.’ How he behaved reminded me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In public, he was this friendly DEI champion, but behind closed doors he treated me like I was worthless. I confided in my family and their support was the only thing that kept me strong during my apprenticeship.”

Accusations at TDM include those from Sofia Mendoza, a former executive assistant, who stated: “Greg would constantly make references to the fact that English isn’t my first language. He made me feel like being a native Spanish-speaker somehow made me less professional.”
Natacha Agnant-Jacque, a former consultant with TDM, said: “I must say that this was by far one of the worst experiences I have had as a consultant. The way that Greg openly degraded and disrespected the consulting team on calls was awful, but just the tip of the iceberg.”
Inyang made allegations stemming from 2018–2019 during DeShield’s time as an executive with the PHLCVB.

“I was warned by one of my new female coworkers about Greg on my very first day of work. I dismissed the warning, assuming that perhaps they were disgruntled, but I soon realized that their warnings should’ve been heeded,” she said.

She continued: “It started with his tone—condescending, rude, and demeaning. Then it progressed to adding unreasonable tasks to my already full plate of work. I remember the very first time he yelled at me. I was so shocked and taken aback that I had no idea what to do. I checked in with a coworker and they told me that his previous assistants had the same experience.”

Asked if similar allegations were present when DeShields was hired, Burke said: “No, not to the best of our knowledge.”

PHLCVB was asked if an official complaint had ever been made against DeShields by another staff member at the CVB, and if so what for, and if he was ever disciplined, or spoken to, by superiors for allegations similar those brought against him.

“The PHLCVB has policies and resources in place for all staff to utilize should concerns arise during their employment with the company, no matter the topic, and it encourages employees to use those resources,” the bureau said in a statement provided by PHLCVB.

Multiple open letter signatories also accused TDM of questionable financial practices, including lack of transparency and delayed payments. Burke provided USAE with TDM’s 2021 and 2022 tax returns.

“In short, those assertions are unfounded,” said Burke. “As a non-profit organization, we have an obligation to be responsible stewards of the funds entrusted to us by our stakeholders. We’re absolutely committed to fiscal transparency.”

Neither Burke or Inyang shared any insights concerning potential legal action against DeShields or TDM.
USAE was unable to connect with Mendoza or Julie Coker, President & CEO, San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA), who headed up the PHLCVB from 2016–2020.

TDM’s Future
Burke said TDM’s board was reconvening February 23, after USAE’s press deadline, to establish a formal Search Committee and to develop an RFP that will be issued to potential search firms.

“It is imperative that this process is conducted with total transparency and that we take the time necessary to find the right candidates—both for an Interim CEO who will guide us through this period of transition and for the organization’s long-term CEO,” said Burke. “As a result, we are not putting a predetermined timeframe on the search.”

Asked what he’d like the industry to know about how TDM will move forward, Burke said: “That we recognize this is a pivotal moment for self-reflection and learning. Particularly since TDM was founded to address systemic inequities within the travel and tourism industry, we are profoundly troubled that anyone felt marginalized during their tenure with the organization. We are sincerely grateful to those individuals who came forward to share their experiences knowing that it takes courage to speak out under these circumstances, and we deeply appreciate their vulnerability and trust.

“It also underscores the need for us to recommit ourselves to pursuing TDM’s mission with great care and intentionality, and to ensure that everyone associated with the organization is held accountable to upholding the principles of equity and inclusion that are core to our work.”

(c) 2024 USAE Inc.

 PO Box 15009

 Chevy Chase, MD 20825