A Winter Evening with Dr.Cadet
"Dr. Akilah Cadet and I did not meet in college, even though we attended the same school during the same years (go, Gators!). We met almost 15 years later in 2019, at the In Good Company Conference. I was speaking on a panel alongside Melody Ehsani and Kirsten Green (such a “pinch-me” moment), and Akilah was speaking on a panel called “Privilege, Power, and Change for Good.” While listening to the panel, it became so clear to me that her expertise and experience was critical for our growing company.
As a consultant, executive coach, strategic planner, & diversity facilitator, Dr. Cadet has made it her life’s work to create “soldiers of change” to help women & people of color achieve workplace success. She has done this by building an inspiring business with Change Cadet which provides people and companies with services that support anti-racism, diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. The Change Cadet team takes the time and effort to understand your personal or organization’s dynamic and how it contributes to the external environment. They listen and understand the dynamics of their clients so they can create custom, non-prescriptive approaches to individual and group behavior to ensure change. We, at DOEN, are so grateful for the immense wisdom and guidance Dr. Cadet and her team has provided and continues to provide for us, and we’re forever inspired by her values as we collectively continue to “do the work.” Learn more about Dr. Cadet and her work through our chat below."
You have degrees on degrees on degrees. Can you share your educational and professional journey in public health and organizational behavior with readers of ours who may be interested in pursuing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) work?
Yes, I literally have all of the degrees. I originally wanted to be a pediatrician and I was Pre-Med during my Health Science undergrad program. I quickly realized I couldn't be the type of doctor I wanted to be which would allow me to be present for my future family and, more importantly, myself. I could not see myself in a position where I was working for an insurance company or healthcare system as a physician yet I also didn't want to put the time and energy into building my own private practice. I decided to go the Health Administration route. I loved the work that I did in the past, but I did not like the inhumane amount of racism, discrimination and bullying when I would advocate for equality and fairness. So, while I was completing my doctorate in leadership and organizational behavior, the very research I focused on was the reason why I left healthcare. Fun, right! My data showed that I could not be the type of leader I wanted to be, a Black woman who was valued. So, I use the skill sets of my past health and public health career along with my doctoral expertise in diversity leadership and brought that into the work that I do today. If anyone is interested in pursuing a career in diversity, they should know that it's incredibly challenging and equally rewarding. It is of utmost importance that folks who go into DEIB are continuous learners and un-learners as well as advocates for continuous change. DEIB is not the only thing I do. I help companies, both big and small, around the world with their organizational structures.
I love the concept of “bringing your authentic self to work.” What are ways that your team brings their authentic selves to work everyday, and how do you encourage this as a leader?
It is important for me to practice what I preach for my team and for my clients. Since I live with a disability, I have to be careful with the amount of time I am working to not further exacerbate my health conditions. I need a flexible schedule that allows me to put my health first. What that means is, as a company, we have unlimited vacation in addition to several weeks of office shut down to put our health first. By creating a workspace that has time and where time is valued, people feel more comfortable with how they show up in the workspace. I am somebody who role models accountability, communication and transparency. So, if it is a work-related task and I make a mistake I'll hold myself accountable so that others in my team can do the same. I will communicate that I'm not having a good day physically or mentally and that I will need help and support so that my team can also do the same. And, more importantly, we're transparent about the big and small wins, how we are showing up for our clients and, most importantly, ourselves. I am an unapologetic Black woman who is aligned in purpose which allows for everyone on my team to be their true authentic self.
On the subject of authentic selves, can you share 15-20 ways that you identify, and any thoughts on how your identity has shifted or evolved over your lifetime?
Founder. CEO. Black person. Woman. Disabled. Twin. Activist. Model. Sensitivity Editor. Friend. Speaker. Creative. Podcast host. Disability Advocate. Dismantler of white supremacy. Stylist. Homeowner. Unapologetic. First generation Haitian. Single. Very fun question! I became disabled four years ago, so that's a newer part of my identity. Obviously, I didn't plan on becoming disabled, but it's something that I take a lot of pride in and do what I can to show the world that disability is visible and invisible. That's also why it's important that I model, style, and create projects that have nothing to do with my day to day work. It is important for me to be in places that are not designed for me as someone who is disabled or a Black leader or a Black woman. I want to show up and disrupt spaces for good. My evolution as a CEO and founder has shifted with the demand of my firm’s work. It allowed me to take my company to the next level and sit at tables with folks like yourself, Margaret, that I wouldn't have been able to do if I stayed in health and public health. Sometimes I have to pinch myself with the various seats at the various tables. Through my work, I'm a little bit of a public figure now, so I'm adjusting to how people see my intersectionality and are inspired by that. I’m still learning how to live in spaces where I'm recognizable. Lastly, I'll add that I'm a new homeowner! Due to the hard work of 2020 I was able to purchase a little something in the Bay Area as a single woman, which is a huge deal.
You recently shared with me that one of the ways White supremacy works is that it makes people who are working to dismantle White supremacy question the validity or importance of their choices. Can you tell us a bit more about the insidious nature of White supremacy, this concept specifically and any examples of this that you can share from Business Leaders you have advised?
Yeah, so let's first talk about white supremacy. At the core of white supremacy, it is not a bad thing. It makes up the very structures and systems that allow white people to have social determinants of health in this country. What does that mean? Well, access to healthcare that isn't biased and where pain is believed. Being able to survive or not be harmed when pulled over by law enforcement. Access to wealth, whether it was generational or being able to get fair financing. Walkable neighborhoods away from freeways and factories with access to grocery stores, parks and public transportation. White supremacy is essentially what is needed for someone to live their best life. I say this confidently as a Black, disabled woman who does not receive the benefits of the pedestal in which white people benefit from in this country. Some white people have chosen the path of being an ally, accomplice, and advocate for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color), which is great! They're putting themselves in positions where white people who want to remain on that pedestal will say or do hurtful things towards them. This is how white supremacy works to maintain white dominance or superiority. For example, this year a local FOX news anchor was suspended from his network when wanting to add missing white woman syndrome to a story about a white woman who was missing and found. Missing white woman syndrome is when the media does not put the same energy into missing Black and brown women as they do with white women. The news anchor is a white man who had adopted a Black daughter and he used his privilege as a white man to highlight the inequalities in his news coverage. This is an example of how white supremacy works in the sense that a white person is showing up as an ally and accomplice, and they were punished for doing the right thing. The network felt adding “missing white woman” wasn't of value. (If you didn't catch it Black and brown women do not have the same value as white women.) I share this story with business leaders because the same can happen in workplaces where a leader is championing diversity efforts - they may be treated differently as a result of leaders who do not see the importance of diversity work and want to maintain white supremacy. White people should not be deterred by others who want to maintain power and control. If they choose comfort instead of being uncomfortable then the work that needs to be done will not happen. This is why dismantling white supremacy is my love language. If I had all the same benefits of white supremacy as white people, I would be valued, respected, appreciated and have the humanity I deserve.
What’s next for you, and what are your ambitions for Change Cadet in the next decade? The next decade?
I've already started a bit of it now, but definitely more in the years to come, which is doing more things that bring me joy. Dismantling white supremacy is incredibly hard work and even when I'm not explicitly doing that type of work, I am. So, in the next decade I hope I book a really cool modeling campaign; That maybe one or more books will make me a New York Times Bestseller or Oprah Book club author; That I’ll partner with a clothing line to develop a capsule collection; Maybe you'll see more of me on TV; And I'll be running after a very smart, cute little kiddo. I also hope that I will be able to find a partner and marry a guy who wants to pour into my joy. But overall, I hope I'm able to maintain as much of my health as I can to keep being amazing.
A massive thank you to Dr. Cadet for her time, her wisdom, and her dedication to always being amazing and doing the work. To learn more about Change Cadet and their offerings, visit the website at www.changecadet.com