Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Officer
Dr. Vernell Sutherland was named TSA Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Officer in August 2022. She is responsible for all matters relating to DEIA in management, employment, and operations within TSA. The Chief DEIA Officer is appointed by and reports to the TSA Administrator, and is the principal DEIA strategist to senior leadership. In this role, Sutherland is responsible for fostering a work environment in which every employee is included, empowered, and treated fairly.
Sutherland closely coordinates and collaborates with TSA leadership, including the Chief of Staff; the Executive Assistant Administrators for Enterprise Support, Security Operations, Operations Support, and Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service; the Assistant Administrator for Civil Rights & Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement; Chief Counsel; and external political appointees and executive leaders. Sutherland also leads agency-wide diversity and inclusion initiatives in coordination with Human Capital and CRL/OTE.
Sutherland’s experience as an advocate for civil rights spans over 30 years. She is an accomplished executive with decades of senior leadership experience in diversity and inclusion, employment law, education, human resource management, equal employment opportunity, managing and influencing change, resolving conflict and problem solving.
She began her professional career as an educator for Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, Hawaii. Sutherland noticed how the behavior of girls versus boys resulted in boys dominating many aspects of the academic experience, such as being the first to take leadership roles. Her observations led to her doctoral studies at Boston University on non-verbal behavior and its impact on how women are perceived in the workplace. Sutherland advanced the study of showing how women were socialized to exhibit less power simply by their non-verbal behavior.
Sutherland moved from academics to business by leading technology operations divisions at Wang Laboratories, Ernst & Young, Nationwide Insurance, and United Healthcare. In these positions she recognized that those in underserved populations such as women and minorities experienced illegal discrimination and exclusion from advancing to their potential.
To further her passion for civil rights and equal employment opportunity (EEO), after completing her MBA and J.D. at the College of William & Mary, Sutherland became an employment law attorney and mediator. She represented plaintiffs in underserved populations who were illegally discriminated against by their employers. Her work resulted in employees being reinstated to their jobs and receiving compensation for harm, while employers were required to change discriminatory behavior.
Sutherland then applied her employment law and civil rights experience to the federal government. She joined the Department of the Navy Exchange Service Command as EEO Director, where she oversaw all EEO/DEIA matters including reasonable accommodation, alternative dispute resolution, and affirmative employment programs. She conducted barrier analyses, identifying EEO disparities and resolving inequities. Prior to joining TSA, Sutherland directed EEO/DEIA for the U.S. Army Regional Health Command-Atlantic where she oversaw over 20 EEO/DEIA directors at all Army bases east of the Mississippi.