Dr. Rassheedah Watts, The Inclusive Community Architect is an award-winning diversity and inclusion strategist who works with individuals and organizations to elevate belonging and drive cultural change solutions that bring about transformational results. Dr. Rassheedah is also the Founder and CEO of Inclusive Action Institute, which provides development solutions in diversity, leadership, and racial justice using her proprietary framework The A.C.A . PillarsTM – a simple 3-step process. Further details on using this transformational tool are available in her book How To Be An Ally and Build Inclusion Using The A.C.A. Pillars TM.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: I grew up in San Francisco, California in a neighborhood full of great cultural richness, and as much diversity in people as there was food. As an only child in a single-parent household, life was a struggle and I grew up with very little means. Although we did not have family support, my mother, who cleaned houses for a living, always made it a point for me not to go hungry and she always had a little something stashed away. Those experiences taught me resilience, the importance of having compassion for another person’s life journey, and it gave me fire to never give up. I also learned to deeply appreciate the value that diversity brings to life.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: The statement that you must surround yourself with people that are accomplishing more than you in order to inspire you to greatness is completely true. Even if you don’t have a personal mentor or coach, it’s important to position yourself to receive elevated guidance, which is particularly impactful to someone like myself who didn’t grow up with role models or folks who were around to mentor me professionally. My springboard inspiration for where I am today started with wealth coach Lynn Richardson.
She looked like me, sounded like me, and so many parts of her story resonated with me that I actually believed that I could start a business – so I did! It really only takes a seed of belief that you can do it; and from a diversity perspective, there are many internalized barriers and limited belief systems that can form based on socioeconomic status, gender, and racial identity. There are certainly tangible barriers that are faced, but limited self-belief is a big one. So seeing someone like Lynn who was successful and hearing her encouraging words was the push that I needed.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: Not knowing their value and assuming they can do lead all facets of their business. There are many entrepreneurs who are underselling their services because they don’t understand the value they bring to their table. To counter this, they must consider their life experience, their expertise, the market, and their results. Focus on the results that you bring which will be your main differentiator in business.
Additionally understand that as an entrepreneur, time is money, which means that your time is too precious to do it all by yourself. Outsource items that are time-consuming or that you don’t understand. Ask for help to learn a system instead of spending time trying to figure it out. For example in my line of work, I’ve seen many executives run into serious trouble when attempting to establish their credibility as a diverse and inclusive leader, however, their lack of understanding is evident to all, with sometimes very devastating outcomes. The wiser decision would have been to hire someone who could train them to help fill their knowledge gap. Experts are out there to shorten your learning curve, so use them.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: Understanding our nation’s racial reckoning and the ongoing events that impact our society in the sphere of diversity, equity and inclusion, it is evident that there is much work to do everywhere. My goal is to support as many people and organizations with actionable transformations for their teams and communities, so being able to reach a broader number of people through online channels across the country has been an excellent opportunity.
One of my first diversity conferences brought in clients from D.C., the Mid West, and the West Coast, and people had the opportunity to connect and learn with each other, which was amazing. My signature Allyship Coaching Program was pandemic-inspired as it’s designed to provide fully online development support. I just don’t believe I would have created such online-focused programs, but I value being adaptable in business.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: 2 words: Transformational Results. My commitment is to help individuals and organizations move from knowledge to action when it comes to implementing strategic solutions that drive cultural and sustainable changes in diversity, equity, and inclusion. So many diversity programs provide a cursory knowledge of diversity, so through my years as a chief diversity officer, I’ve observed that many leaders and organizations have a surface knowledge of diversity, but not a depth of understanding on how to create systems that build inclusion in order to have a thriving workforce or to stand more competitive in the market.
Inclusive Action Institute brings years of transformational results through an authentic leader because this work is my life’s mission. It’s time to stop talking to talking, it’s time to walk it, and I’m here to provide the trail map and guidance.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: When working with a customer, diagnosing the needs of the person or organization that I’m working with is critical. As my commitment is to deliver transformational results, it’s important for me to understand what the issues are and what they have been in order to deliver a needs-based solution. This is the only way to avoid cookie-cutter, rinse and repeat recommendations. It’s simply not our business model and it is what makes Inclusive Action Institute different in the market.
Being authentic as a leader, ethical, and frank are also very important strengths that have brought me quite far in my business relationships with clients and staff. It’s important to mirror the actions and expectations one hopes to receive from others, and I take authenticity and ethical leadership very seriously. We have a selective client process for this very reason; I simply will not take on everyone as a client. Their values must align in order to produce successful outcomes from our relationship.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: That you must be self-aware enough to start working on your own brand. Early in my career, I first saw myself as a person who had a job. Eventually, I was the leader at a job. Then I became the person who had a business. In all of these scenarios I’ve described, there is a sort of detachment – specifically, that of an unidentified person, and that of the thing they do (own or lead). It is important to understand that we must be strategic in our branding which can start by first understanding who we are, who we want to represent, and knowing our values.
This helps align future career and business opportunities. Part of my personal branding was to align my expertise and strategic approach, which is how I landed on Dr. Rassheedah, The Inclusive Community Architect because it simply makes sense, it embodies me and what I do. I use my personal brand everywhere: my business, my book, and media work. Find what works for you.
How would you define “leadership”?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: I speak on the topic of leadership all the time, so this is a favorite question of mine. Using a diversity lens to answer this, a leader is someone (or a group) who isn’t afraid to stand courageously against injustice. A leader uses their power, influence, and voice to create opportunities to amplify the voices and work of others who may have otherwise been ignored.
A leader is also someone with high emotional intelligence who is willing to commit to lifelong learning, and who sets the tone of courage, change agency, and equitable treatment within their organization. Most importantly, a leader is not always someone in a formal leadership role. I believe that everyone has the ability to use their voice for justice, and in that way, everyone has the ability to lead as a change agent.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: You can do it! It doesn’t matter where you come from, how little money you grew up with, or if you don’t know the first thing about business. The key is knowing that there is a place for you and that you have a gift for the world that must be shared through your services. So my advice is to start reading, seek out information on starting your own business. There are tons of books and the internet is a great resource as well. Watch videos, attend conferences and workshops, and if you can find a mentor be sure you do. Just increase your knowledge to help you move to action, which is the basis for everything that I do.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Dr. Rassheedah Watts: The world is filled with opinions and everyone will have one for you. It’s important to consider expert advice from those who have accomplished your level of success or higher because these are the folks who are speaking to you from a high level of knowledge and experience, and even then it’s important to use your God-given wisdom. So my life lesson is to be very careful about whose advice I take because not everyone will understand your vision but people will always have an opinion. Stay true to your values and your vision, and let that serve as your map.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Dr. Rassheedah Watts for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Dr. Rassheedah Watts or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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