From the Bayou to the helm of Teen Vogue, Versha Sharma has not only shattered glass ceilings as the magazine’s first South Asian Editor-in-Chief but also stands as a counter-narrative in a media landscape often criticized for its lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As one of the 15 candidates up for election to the ONA Board of Directors for 2024-25, Sharma’s footprint is clear. She joined Teen Vogue at a time when women were increasingly taking on leadership roles.
Yet, Sharma is not just filling a role; she’s redefining it. She is an example for journalists of color navigating the often challenging landscape of news reporting.
Diversity at the Forefront
Under Sharma’s leadership, the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not just a corporate slogan but a guiding principle. Sharma said that she actively prioritizes diversity in what her staff looks like and the stories they tell.
“I’m so grateful to have the opportunity of this role, which has allowed me to put South Asians on the cover, allowed me to hire South Asians to write our stories and produce our photo shoots, and highlight the incredible creative work happening in this community,” Sharma said. “Any leadership position is challenging, but when I see other young people of color inspired by our work, it’s absolutely worth it.”
While many companies appoint chief diversity officers and launch DEI initiatives, the viability of such work comes into question due to a lack of support and resources.
“I think there’s been a backsliding in terms of devoting resources to DEI, which is a real shame. I’d like to see more accountability and commitment to advancing the cause of racial equity in newsrooms and am proud of the work ONA has been doing in that regard,” Sharma said.
“We’re only going to change things if we all work together,” she added.
The Beginnings of a Trailblazer
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Sharma’s upbringing provided her with a perspective that has shaped her career in journalism.
“Growing up as an Indian-American in the deep South, as a Hindu American in the Bible Belt, and as a young woman of color in central Louisiana had a huge influence on my worldview and decision to pursue journalism – especially to focus on elevating underrepresented voices in journalism,” Sharma said.
Sharma attended Centenary College of Louisiana, where she majored in political science which not only deepened her understanding of social systems but also reinforced her commitment to journalism.
“I’ve always been obsessed with politics, thanks to early influence from my dad, who is also very political,” Sharma said. “I think a political science degree is a great way to understand why our society functions the way it does – and to see where there’s room for improvement. That’s also the mission of journalism.”
Soon after earning her degree, Sharma took her political passion to the front lines, serving as a field organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in Louisiana.
“Working as a field organizer for the Obama campaign was a very unique experience – especially to get to do it in Louisiana,” Sharma said. “What was true then is still true now: national media and politicians often forget the diversity of people and ideology in certain states that are written off as purely ‘red’ or ‘blue.’
Years later, Sharma was hired at NowThis News — interviewing the former president whom she had campaigned for.
During her tenure at NowThis News, Sharma rose through the ranks eventually becoming managing editor, winning an Edward R. Murrow Award for her documentary on Hurricane Maria’s effects on Puerto Rico.
A Blueprint for the Future
Sharma said that her time at NowThisNews helped prepare her for her work at Teen Vogue.
“There’s a lot of editorial overlap between NowThisNews and Teen Vogue — both organizations are focused on serving news to young people, for young people, from young people,” Sharma said.
As Sharma continues to push the boundaries at Teen Vogue, her work serves as a reminder that the quest for diversity and inclusion is not a mere trend but a necessity. It’s a commitment that requires action, accountability, and above all, a willingness to challenge the status quo.
As she leads Teen Vogue into a new era, Sharma urges the industry to follow suit in driving change. For those who follow Sharma’s blueprint it may be challenging, but the rewards—for journalism and society alike—are immeasurable.
“There are several organizations and people out there already doing (DEI) work – hire them,” Sharma said. “Consult them, go to them for resources.”