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Conversations with the Inspiring Dr. Donna Maria Romeo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Donna Maria Romeo.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dr. Romeo. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m a Ph.D. applied cultural anthropologist, specializing in business anthropology or “consumer anthropology.” I am considered a pioneer in the application of the discipline of anthropology (methods and theories) to solving real-world business issues and the world of the consumer.

I came to the business world at a time when there were few people thinking outside the box when it came to understanding the customer. I saw this pressing need for a context-based, holistic understanding of the customer. Seeing them as people first– not as consumers, customers, end users, or shoppers, but as people who are multi-faceted and go beyond the stereotypes. A deep understanding of the customer is the foundation for uncovering unmet needs, tighter engagement, and innovative design (for products and services).

I received my B.A. in anthropology and history from Boston University, M.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of Michigan, and Ph.D. in applied anthropology from the University of South Florida.

After graduating with my Ph.D., I was recruited to join a major corporation–the Whirlpool Corp in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I joined the firm in the role of Corporate Anthropologist in the Global Consumer Design division. I was a trailblazer in applying the methods and theories of anthropology to the business world. For example, I introduced ethnographic research as a core competency to the organization. My focus was on understanding why and how people use products and services, what their needs are, and how to create better products. I worked across product categories, and became an expert on home living.

Then, I went to work for the JCPenney Corp in Plano, Texas. I introduced the field of anthropological research to the company. I worked across categories, including: fine jewelry, apparel (men, women, children), gifts, home products and furniture, gift registry, and customer service, I became a recognized expert in understanding the shopper from a 360-degree perspective. After that, I went to work for Pepsico, introduced ethnographic research to the firm, and further honed my expertise in understanding the shopper.

Since 2012, I have been working as an anthropological consultant for both B2B and B2C organizations. In 2017, I launched my new business, Romeo Anthropological Consulting. In addition to providing high quality strategic ethnographic research to businesses, my specialty is workshop training for employees and other professionals interested in improving the customer experience and obtaining a richer understanding of the customer.

My program of workshops is called “Passport to Discovery” (TM), and includes the Cultural Immersion, Customer Odyssey, and Changing Mindsets workshops. Currently, I am offering a two-day Cultural Immersion workshop, with a colleague, in McKinney (November 14-15, 2018).

Has it been a smooth road?
I was a single mother with a Ph.D. In 1998, there were few opportunities in academia and few tenured positions in anthropology departments.

I was forced to think outside the parameters of what made a “good” anthropologist. I had to open up my mind, and heart, to new paths to follow. I had no mentors, no one guiding me, or helping me along the path. As a pioneer, there was not someone showing me “how to do it”– it was all trial by learning.

It was a series of opportunities, many of which I had to make happen. There was much knocking on doors, and
a great willingness to change on my part. And, tons of ambiguity in cutting a new path. It wasn’t easy but somehow, I did it. There was no other choice.

I also went out of my way to find the few others, like me, who were inventing new paths. We learned from each other.

At that time, it was very much a man’s world. There were no on-site day care centers. I remember being a single mom without a local family support system and trying to find a last minute care provider for my sick child. Face time in the office was important, and few understood or cared about a woman struggling to find a way to balance her life.

My advice to young women– remain flexible, when an opportunity arises, even it seems counter to your dream path, jump on it, you can always make a change later. Understand that there can be power in ambiguity–where you can often write your own ticket, create your own path. And, of course, reach out to other women, find mentors and sponsors. Finally, realize that the harshest critic is yourself– try to be kind to yourself, if something does not feel right, it’s not, so let it go.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Romeo Anthropological Consulting story. Tell us more about the business.
As a business anthropologist with a PhD in applied anthropology, I am focused on providing high quality ethnographic research and workshop training for global organizations wanting to improve the customer experience and see the customer through fresh eyes.

Since 1999, I’ve been training & leading global cross-functional corporate teams “into the field” with the goal of obtaining a deeper understanding of the culture of the customer by walking in their shoes.

I am unique in that I bring an “inside-outside” perspective to everything I do. From years working inside corporations, I learned how to take the concepts and methods of anthropology and human centered design and make them relevant to the bottom line.

And, as an outside consultant with experience training large and small global firms, I bring a perspective free from internal corporate business assumptions, biases and orthodoxy. This inside-outside perspective ensures that all of my strategic research and workshop training remains relevant for corporate teams.

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
Remain flexible. Be open to new opportunities that may not seem to be in total alignment with your current goals or dreams. You are your harshest critic–be kind to yourself. And listen to your gut–it never lies. If something feels off, it is.


  • Ethnographic research is customized, based on the specific needs of the client. Pricing is not a set value as a result.
  • Training workshops range in price, based on the type of workshop offered. I offer 1/2 day, 1, 2 and 3 day workshops. I also provide customized on site workshop training to corporations. Pricing varies, based on nature of workshop.
  • My current workshop offering, Passport to Discovery–Improve the Customer Experience Through Cultural Immersion, in McKinney Texas (November 14-15, 2018), costs $2450 per person. Early Bird Discount before September 30– cost $1960 per person. Groups of 10 or more receive a special, negotiated rate.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Dr. Donna Maria Romeo

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  1. Maria Henderson

    August 22, 2018 at 10:20 pm

    I’m impressed to the max!

    • Isabelle M Leger

      August 23, 2018 at 11:05 pm

      Such an interesting career – bravo!

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