She’s Bringing Diversity and Inclusion into the Workplace
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On International Parity at Work Day, we’re highlighting the need for diverse voices in the workplace, and promoting equity for all employees. CircleAround spoke with Dr. Rassheedah Watts, founder and owner of Inclusive Action Institute, a first-generation scholar three times over, and a first-time entrepreneur. Dr. Watts uses her experience to help companies and individuals create better work environments for all.
According to the Inclusive Action Institute website, the organization “provides professional and personal development solutions within the scope of diversity and inclusion.” It offers services such as social justice and diversity training, asynchronous courses, diversity consulting, train-the-trainer programs, allyship coaching — particularly for C-suite executives committed to growing as equitable and inclusive leaders — and leadership training with an emphasis on female leadership.
CircleAround caught up with Dr. Watts to learn more about her professional journey and the important work she’s doing.
CA: What events from your past prompted you to develop your current role?
RW: Being born and raised in San Francisco, California, in a very diverse neighborhood definitely shaped who I am and what I do, so I often say that this work is intrinsically in my blood. I lived in somewhat of a bubble of diversity and inclusion for many years, until I moved out of the city and saw the reality.
Interestingly, as a child, I've always enjoyed teaching in one way or another, and connecting friends with other friends. I created my own inclusive communities without even realizing what I was doing. I guess it should not be surprising that my current work combines teaching, sharing my passion for diversity, and being a human connector.
CA: What is your role as chief diversity officer like today?
RW: As founder and owner, I run the main show. What this means is that the content knowledge and delivery comes from me, while other logistical pieces are outsourced as needed. This may seem like a lot, but it's not because I am selective with my time and who I work with. My ideal clients are those truly committed to learning and making transformative changes.
CA: What are some of your biggest career highlights?
RW: At this point in my life, I have two huge career highlights to share. The first is in my role as a chief diversity officer, successfully guiding my college through an in-depth inclusion and racial-healing initiative, which has parlayed into a number of collaborations with local city officials. The broad scale of this work, which was accomplished in the midst of a pandemic in under 10 months through my leadership, gives me joy. It's also evidence of the passion I have for building inclusive communities.
Another huge highlight is as founder and owner of Inclusive Action Institute, which provides individuals and organizations with solutions and learning resources in diversity, equity, inclusion, and leadership for positive change agency and sustainable transformations.
I'm currently leading an Allyship Coaching program, which is really filling a need for professionals committed to making an effective impact in their circles of influence. Supporting a new subset of people whom I may not have otherwise reached, had I not chosen to strive forward as a socialpreneur, has been an absolute pleasure and a significant highlight in my life journey. This experience has taught me to continue pushing past tangible and mental barriers, particularly as it concerns my identity as a woman. I've learned that for me, there is always a fruitful side over the mountain of adversity.
I've learned that for me, there is always a fruitful side over the mountain of adversity.
CA: What is the biggest challenge you currently face?
RW: Racial battle fatigue is common when confronting issues of racial inequities and injustice. Likewise, it can be frustrating to not see the work that upholds equity and inclusion move forward as quickly as many of us would like to see (if at all). However, every step forward is a step I celebrate because it is a step. This work is about perseverance, and certainly not for the faint of heart. It's not surprising that many individuals serving in this capacity suffer from burnout.
CA: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned so far?
RW: The older I get, the more I realize the importance of having a yes-I-can mindset. Every time I've done this, without fail, I've entered into a new exciting moment. First it was the decision to move across the country to pursue a career opportunity. The move would be a big change for me, and it was a bit unnerving at the time, but I held on to my yes-I-can mindset. Because of that, I was able to accomplish a lot of good with the students that I served, and truly be that role model that I never had.
Teaching an advanced social justice leadership course was also exciting for me, particularly as the only Black woman leading such a weighty topic within a predominantly white institution. My students were amazing, and everyone that was there wanted to be there. We discussed almost every social identity, including immigration, sexism, religion, and more. Everyone was extremely committed to the discussions, and to their learning journey. They were truly a breath of fresh air for me.
The third has been realizing my value as a professional, scholar-practitioner, woman of color, leader. Prior to this point in my life, I was in a mind state where I hoped someone would give me an opportunity. I hoped I would get a good job, I hoped I would get noticed for a job promotion — I hoped. Hope is good, but if you don't take matters into your own hands, you will be doing a lot of hoping. Working extremely hard and not getting recognized for it will not place you on a forward-moving career path. That is simply not how the system is designed.
Once I got out of the hope mindset, and committed to strategically doing, it transformed me. I went from hoping I might get a job, to turning down opportunities. I am now someone who is actively recruited. This is not a braggadocio, but rather demonstrating the importance of positioning oneself strategically, instead of thinking small as a woman, which many of us easily do. I say aim high and play big. You'll surprise yourself.