Nicole Staples Walker,
nominated by Women’sFund of Central Ohio
By: Marcee Nelson
Third grade is about the time children start to figure where they fit in the world, when they start to develop social skills and a desire to blend in. Nicole Staples Walker was in the third grade when her family moved to a new Cincinnati neighborhood, placing her and her three siblings in a school that was predominantly white. They are African American.
“I didn’t look like the other girls looked, and I felt my confidence waver. I didn’t want to raise my hand or wear my hair naturally or speak up about my culture.”
Neither of Nicole’s parents had finished college, but they were determined that their children would. Being in a neighborhood with better schools was more important to them than the social and emotional impact. “I think they thought it would give us tough skin and a glimpse into the real world.”
Both her parents also had military backgrounds, which made for extra discipline at home, supervised studying, and extra “homework” like watching the news and reading the Sunday paper every week. Although it felt like torture at the time, Nicole admits that sparked her love for journalism.
It was at Ohio State University that she earned her journalism degree — and began to raise her hand to talk about things that mattered. Nicole jokes about her arrival on campus as “culture shock” because it was the first time she had been around people of so many colors — and so many who looked like her. “I realized my heritage was something to be celebrated, not watered down.”
Nicole also raises her hand when it comes to gender equality. For over 6 years she has helped The Women’s Fund make a tangible difference for girls and women. She wishes she had known about programs like Girls on the Run when she was a girl. Nicole feels her father urged her brothers to go into more technical “male” professions than he did with her sister and her. That left Nicole determined not to limit the thinking of any future daughters.
She also believes it’s important for women to speak up for themselves and to support other women. “No matter what your status, there is always a woman you can speak up for — you don’t have to be a CEO to talk about equal pay.”
Most people wouldn’t guess that the accomplished Director of Public Affairs at AT&T is actually shy. Although Nicole has always held community-facing positions, she is much more comfortable in smaller groups or one-on-one. This self-described “extroverted introvert” loves to start her day quietly alone with meditation and prayer. But a good day for her also includes connecting with causes and people she cares about. “If I can move the needle on something and have time for my family, friends, and a little self-care, that is a good day. Oh, and getting to open a cookbook.”
Cooking is a hobby Nicole loves. But she doesn’t expect to have much time to open cookbooks in the coming months, because she and her husband are expecting their first child — a son — in November.
With Nicole as his mom, this baby boy will grow up proud of his heritage, enlightened about gender equality, and unafraid to raise his hand.
If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?
“Given recent events, I would change the racial division we’ve been burdened with for so long. I would change the way that some people see and interact with people of color.”
What is the most important piece of advice you would share with a young woman growing up today?
“It sounds so simple, but just be yourself and don’t apologize for it. I spent too much time editing myself to fit situations or groups of people. It’s a waste of time, just be you.”
What women influenced you the most either past or present?
“My mother. As I gone through pregnancy, I’ve relied on her so often for advice, encouragement, and support. And, I’ve realized all of the sacrifices that she made for us when we were children I don’t think you can fully grasp the love your parents have for you until you start your own family.”
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