DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) with Dr. Akilah Cadet

As part of the Ladies Get Paid Book Tour, sponsored by Comcast NBC/Universal, Claire Wasserman, founder and author of Ladies Get Paid, in conversation with Dr. Akilah Cadet, the founder of Change Cadet, an Oakland based organizational development consulting firm specializing in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) discuss her career journey, what companies can do to ensure inclusiveness for all their employees, and how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) can truly embrace and advocate for their value. 


Claire Wasserman: Do you ever struggle with your rate in figuring out how to price yourself? Also, have you raised your rates as companies? I don’t know if they’re now realizing they should focus on inclusion or maybe they’re just afraid of being shamed?

Akilah Cadet: Coming from the public health world and initially figuring out what my consulting rates were, it was incredibly challenging because it was just like we lived off of potlucks and helping people. I still help people, I still do public health work, I’m still educating, but I had to have a hard talk of my worth and my value, my degrees, my expertise. Then, this is emotionally-heavy work to do and making sure I’m compensated fairly to buy the shoes, or the ring, or when COVID’s over, the travel, but more importantly, I’m able to sustain this business and my team. I’m not afraid to ask other people for rates and pricing when I first started, but now my COO and I are constantly reevaluating and staying above the demand.


Claire: Once you’ve been hired, how do you get an assessment of what’s really going on at the company?

Akilah: A lot of my work is centered around the intuition that I have and my experience I have doing this. If people are painting a certain picture, it’s like, “Okay, great.” Then I know that there’s these areas to potentially work on, but if I know if a company I work with only has five Black employees, I know that I have to talk to at least one. If I talk to one of the five Black employees, it’s a sample size to really know what’s going on, and how they can move forward.

There’s always that shift that happens that I’ve actually built into my work, so even if we have a scope of work of what they’re saying they need, we have a kickoff meeting where I learn more about what’s happening. There’s an NDA that’s in there, there’s contractual language where people feel comfortable, then I reevaluate the scope of work, like, “I know you’re saying this, but in order to get to X, we have to start at C, and then go to two, little two, then D, and then we can get to where you want to go.


Claire: Do you find that people want more surface? They’re feeling overwhelmed, they’re feeling like maybe they’re not being listened to, do they have any leverage here? Maybe for them, where do they begin when they see, this is potentially very big? Can they affect change?

Akilah: Yes, the way they affect change is two primary ways. One, how you’re showing up to work every day. Are you using microaggressions? Are you stereotyping your peers, those underneath you? Do you believe things have to be a certain way? Are they coming from a White supremacist view, White-dominant culture view? 


The second thing is really holding their leaders and their company accountable. It’s important for all levels of staff, but particularly the middle managers and junior people to hold their leaders and the company accountable to what they’re saying.


Claire: Can we define what racist means and how it manifests, and first steps for us to be able to reconcile that in ourselves before we can go to our management and say, “Now you need to examine yourself.”

Akilah: White supremacy doesn’t mean someone is necessarily a racist. White supremacy is how America was built; it is  the foundation of America. There’s no way around that. If we want to get to a place where we have humanity and equality for BIPOC people, we have to talk about what the real issue is.

Now, when White people hear the term White supremacy, they’re like, “Is there another word? Is there another term? That makes me uncomfortable” Good. I’m glad that makes you uncomfortable but no, there aren’t any other words. Those are the words to use. Within that discomfort, that’s where action happens.


Claire: We’re all suffering from emotional labor by the fact that we’re women, though, of course, women of color, experience it more. Maybe define what that is and if you want to give an example of emotional labor in your life.

Akilah: Imagine this, you wake up and the only safe space you have in your life is your home. As soon as I do get into my car, which is a luxury one, I am racially profiled. Is that my car? How can I afford that car? If a police officer drives next to me, then my blood pressure goes up, my heart rate goes up, because I don’t know if I’ll be pulled over because you know what I can guarantee? I’ll be harassed at best when I get pulled over. 


Then I go to meet with a client, and they’re waiting for Dr. Cadet, and I have to explain to them, I’m Dr. Cadet, even though they’re assuming it wouldn’t be someone in the flyest sneakers around. Once I get through that bias, then I go talk to the White CEOs of the company, then I have to explain to them like, “Yes. No, you hired me, remember? Let’s do this work together.” Then I can get to a place of some type of change or action.


Claire: What are questions that we should be asking if we are interviewing, including, what should BIPOC women in particular look out for when trying to advance their career? 

Akilah: It’s looking to see if they have a public or external statement of their diversity plan, [or a] diversity report. Unfortunately, it’s a reality for a lot of BIPOC people that you will be part of that work, but again, have the clear boundaries of how much you want to contribute. If they’re looking for

someone to specifically do the work, make sure it’s part of your job description, and you’re compensated for that.


Watch the entire conversation with Dr. Akilah Cadet here.

 A big thank you to Comcast/NBCUniversal for sponsoring this series.


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