When Janelle Coleman was approached about stepping back into the corporate world in the fall of 2020, she had just left a 13-year career of leading community relations at L Brands, an international specialty retailer headquartered in Columbus, Ohio to join a large nonprofit organization where she held a senior leadership role.
“We were in the middle of a pandemic and had witnessed the brutal murder of George Floyd. My husband and I talked it over, and he asked, ‘where are you going to make the biggest impact?’,” recalls Coleman.
Fast forward and Coleman is now President of the American Electric Power Foundation and Vice President of Community Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion for American Electric Power (Nasdaq: AEP). Coleman leads the company’s enterprise-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and philanthropic engagement strategy to drive community and business impact. She oversees $30 million in annual Foundation investments across AEP’s 11-state service territory and is responsible for engaging more than 17,000 employees through volunteerism within their local communities.
“Leadership matters, especially during uncertain or troubling times,” says Coleman, who was also influenced to join AEP because of a widely published letter written by the company’s then-CEO Nick Akins in response to George Floyd’s death and other social justice issues.
“AEP is committed to making a difference in the lives of our customers and employees. Our philanthropy addresses disparities often created by systems that have held people back for generations. Knowing that I have the support to help people in our communities gives me energy on a daily basis,” Coleman said.
Under Coleman’s leadership and with support from her team, the CEO, senior executive team, and AEP Foundation board, AEP has made great strides, including the following:
- Creating the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility (IDEA) Summit, which featured New York Times best-selling author and Harvard professor Robert Livingston. Dr. Livingston presented his book “The Conversation” to more than 200 leaders.
- Launching AEP Foundation’s Delivering on the Dream grant to support social and racial justice. AEP debuted its first social justice commercial in 2022. The awareness campaign reached an audience of 3.2 million across AEP’s 11-state area in conjunction with nearly $5 million given to more than 30 non-profit organizations working to address inequities in the U.S.
- Growing participation by 4% in employee resource groups in 2022, year over year. So far in 2023, ERG membership has jumped another 4% providing a workplace community for employees with shared interests and identities.
Coleman, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio says she knows the difference that can be made by removing barriers and
offering opportunities and support to historically marginalized communities. She is a first-generation college graduate who says she relied heavily on a Pell grant, student loans and the kindness of others to graduate from Ohio University with a degree in journalism.
“I was smart and a hard worker, but often times that isn’t enough to succeed. I had sponsors and others in my life looking out for me, which helped me get to where I am today,” said Coleman, who is dedicated to paying it forward to honor those who stepped up for her.
Coleman is passionate about giving back to her community. She was appointed by former Governor John Kasich to the board of trustees for her alma mater, Ohio University, and is the former board chair. She currently serves as board chair for the YWCA Columbus and is board president for the KIPP Columbus Foundation. Coleman is also a member of the board of directors for the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
Coleman is an active member of the Edison Electric Institute, Executive Leadership Council, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and The Links, Inc.
When asked what brings her joy, Coleman says it’s her work in the community and spending time with her friends and family. Coleman has been married to her best friend, Michael B. Coleman, former Mayor of the City of Columbus, for nearly seven years.
“Although we have a lot of demands on our time, we do our best to spend time with each other as much as possible. We also laugh a lot … a whole lot.”