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Heather McGhee

What does it mean to be an American today, and what are we to one another?

Distinguished Senior Fellow & Former President of Demos | Expert in Racial Healing

Contact Heather For Booking
Heather McGhee | Distinguished Senior Fellow & Former President of Demos | Expert in Racial Healing
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

What if, in the middle of your live TV appearance, someone called in and asked for advice in overcoming racial prejudice? For public policy expert Heather C. McGhee, the response was natural: she helped. In the wake of that exchange (viewed over 8 million times), Starbucks approached her to institute a company-wide anti-bias training program. From the personal to the corporate, McGhee kickstarted a much-needed cultural effort towards putting systemic repair into action—with urgency, the latest research, and sensitivity to all involved.

“This is a book for every American, and I am grateful for McGhee’s research, her humanity, and her never-more-important teachings.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author

As the former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos, she drafted legislation, testified before Congress, and became a regular contributor on shows like Meet the Press and Real Time with Bill Maher. She also led Demos’ own racial equity organizational transformation, resulting in a doubling of the organization’s racial diversity and growth across all measures of organizational impact. McGhee’s riveting talks communicate this with passion and seriousness, “challenging the paradigm of racial competition in this country.” Racism doesn’t just hurt us on a personal level. It divides and alienates companies and their employees, employees and their clients, clients and brands. The trickledown, explains McGhee, is far-reaching. In her upcoming book The Sum Of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone And How We Can Prosper Together (February, 2021), McGhee will explore the self-destructive bargain of racism, and the rising cost to all of us.


Not long after McGhee’s television appearance went viral, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz asked her to advise the company as it designed an anti-bias training for 175,000 employees in the wake of the unjust arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia store. McGhee co-authored a report with recommendations for how Starbucks can apply a racial equity lens to their businesses, and how other companies both large and small can benefit from doing the same thing. Her talks address this with clear takeaways, like how to make the process mission-critical, how to get buy-in from your teams, and how to do it all with joy. For the latest updates on Heather's writing, speeches, and media appearances, visit

Now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, McGhee holds a B.A. in American Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Civic Participation, and serves on multiple boards of trustees, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Indivisible.  


“Heather's presentation was engaging, thoughtful, and inspiring! The follow up conversation flowed naturally and set the perfect tone for this moment in time. We’ve received great feedback from members who clearly appreciate Heather's work, and there were quite a few comments in the chat from folks eager to get a hold of her book.”

Southeastern Council of Foundations

“The event was a splendid success. Heather gave an absolutely riveting talk, winning the admiration of students and faculty alike. It exceeded even my own very high expectations. She’s a gem.”

Yale University

“We have already received very positive feedback on your impactful and very relevant mainstage session. Some examples of the comments included “Heather was incredible”, “Superb in every way”. We are also deeply grateful for your participation and presentation during the Annual EGA Trustee Dinner sharing your wisdom and lessons learned from your time at the helm of Demos’ racial equity transformation. EGA members deeply appreciated listening to your insights and engaging with you.”

Environmental Grantmakers Association

Speech Topics

The Sum of Us What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together
Despite its position as one of the world's most advanced economies, America has, time and time again, created policies that routinely fail its people—from the 2008 financial crisis, to crippling student debt, to the continued lack of universal healthcare. But there exists a common thread that links all of these problems, says public policy expert Heather McGhee: Racism. Structural racism is the driver of inequality—not just for people of color, but for everyone.
In her new book The Sum Of Us, McGhee takes readers on a journey across the country, where she explores, with compassion, intelligence, and great care, what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm—the idea that progress for some of us, must come at the expense of others. "Now more than ever, racial division is a tool wielded by those who are the most wealthy, the most powerful, and the most self-interested," explains McGhee. What would actually improve our lives, and everything we share in common—from our infrastructure to our education system to democracy itself—would be to come together across racial divides.
This talk, based on McGhee's extraordinarily powerful book, pulls back the curtain on how racism divides and devastates us; but it also offers a path forward—into the achievable changes we need to make to create a just and equitable future for all.
Politics & Society
Dismantling Racist Systems Creating A Vision for Our Country’s Future
Racism is the common denominator in our most vexing public problems, and its legacy and impact in the United States are deep and profound for everyone. Racist lenses have infiltrated and negatively impacted every system we rely on—including many of those inside the creative economy, philanthropy, and cultural enterprise—and ultimately, make all of these systems poorer. In this keynote conversation, thinker, commentator, and well-known public policy and economic justice scholar Heather McGhee breaks down the far-reaching and detrimental effects of racism in both public and private policy, and then lays out a vision for how we can collectively move towards something more equitable and just⁠—something that serves all of us, including those of us carrying the most privilege, better.
Diversity & Inclusion
Leading Organizational Transformations Diversity, Racial Equity & Inclusion
Over her tenure as President of Demos, Heather McGhee increased the staff diversity by 100 percent and created an original racial equity curriculum and process that helped the 50 staff members and trustees better operate in a diverse professional environment. Most importantly, the organization’s transformation was characterized by joy and a renewed commitment to its mission and purpose from staff of all backgrounds. In the spring of 2018, Heather served as a pro bono advisor to Starbucks, helping shape their company-wide anti-bias training on May 29th and co-authoring a report, “Toward a Vision for Racial Equity & Inclusion at Starbucks” with recommendations that can be adapted for other corporations. With this talk, McGhee addresses corporate executives and staff about the business benefits of leading such processes and how to get alignment for change.


Bridging the Racial Divide Lessons from the Most Unlikely Friendship
Heather McGhee’s gracious response to a prejudiced caller on C-Span transformed his life and inspired tens of millions when the video went viral. By treating his admission of racism as a courageous step, she created an opening for countless other Americans to face their own biases. She went on to offer him ideas for how to overcome his prejudice, steps he has since followed and transformed his life. In this talk, McGhee speaks to what she has learned from her unlikely friendship, and, drawing on her expertise in racial healing and transformation, offer concrete steps for how ordinary people can bridge the racial divide at work, school, and in our fragile democracy.
Diversity & Inclusion
Fostering a Changing Workforce The Millennial Generation and Beyond
Today’s young people are inheriting a radically different economy and society that has left an indelible mark on their aspirations, values and life trajectories. An expert on the economic challenges facing young adults and youth-led activism, McGhee offers much-needed context for understanding the Millennial moment. She can speak to students, teachers, and  employers of millennials, and she can marshal the groundbreaking research Demos has undertaken to characterize the challenges facing a brand new, post-Millennial generation now entering the workforce.