Meet Dr. Akilah Cadet, the Olivia Pope of Diversity in the Workplace

 

Written by Fredia

illustration by Paulina Zepeda

illustration by Paulina Zepeda

 

When I first caught wind of Dr. Akilah Cadet (last name pronounced Kah-Dey), I thought to myself, “how you gon’ be a Doctor and Olivia Pope in one?” I was salty due to the slay, to be honest. Since then, I’ve been actively working on leveling up my LinkedIn tagline to mirror Akilah’s, which appropriately reads, “The Olivia Pope of Diversity in the Workplace.” Please note, her prestige is official as she has already garnered the attention of Shonda Rhimes and her notable camp.

I first met Akilah at a black women’s empowerment event at The Wing’s newest San Francisco location, of which Akilah is a member. As I was flexin’ my way past the most perfect color coordinated bookshelf, I caught sight of Akilah draped in what can only be described as Cruella de Ville Coutour (faux fur though, just to be clear). Find yourself a woman with a great outfit, and you’ve found yourself a woman with an even better story.

Founder of Change Cadet consulting, Akilah makes a living by guiding high-level corporate folks to identify and present their best selves in their workplace. As a champion and educator for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Akilah hosts events and seminars to encourage an intersectional and joyful work experience for all. A Beyonce Historian, Akilah enjoys cursing, calling people on their bullshit, and empowering women to be amazing.

Do Akilah and I have a lifelong bond after one extended coffee date and interview? Yes. And I’m not just saying this because she’s literally touched Beyonce and lived to tell the tale. I’m saying this because she is equally honest and rooted in her convictions, as well as graceful and sweet. She is a Virgo after all.

 
photo by Vanessa Acosta  @fromabolivian

photo by Vanessa Acosta @fromabolivian

 

Fredia: Listen, I’ve got to know, did you talk to Shonda Rhimes on the phone?

Akilah: I can’t really get into the details of who was on the call and what the call was about, but I can tell you that they found me through a podcast that I was featured in.

Fredia: I guess you wouldn’t be Olivia Pope if you didn’t have juicy secrets. How did you become “The Olivia Pope of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” ?

Akilah: I gave the name to myself. Olivia Pope is a fixer and a problem solver, and that’s what I do for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Fredia: What other things about her do you see in yourself?

Akilah: In the show, things that are scary, sticky, or controversial, Olivia is able to go in and reshift the story to create a new narrative. Also, in her work, there’s a lot of truth and authenticity,  and I appreciate her purpose to always want to do right.

Fredia: Similar to Olivia Pope, you’re giving advice to high profile individuals. What’s something you’re working on to help them understand?

Akilah: I teach a lot of clients how to say, no.

Fredia: What’s the challenge in using the word, “no” ?

Akilah: The biggest misconception around the word “no” is that you’re letting someone down, but I ask, what is the real obligation there? A lot of people feel like they’re obligated to say yes all the time, and to be there for people all the time. But if you’re working on your wellness or any spectrum of self-care, you really have to say no sometimes.

Fredia: What’s an exercise you lead with your clients to help them say “no” more often?

Akilah: I advise my clients to practice saying “no” outside of work, where the stakes are low. For example, if you’re at a coffee shop and they get your order wrong, TELL THEM! You’re paying for it, shit, they’ll understand.

“My advice is, practice saying “no” to strangers, so you can begin to build the confidence to say “no” to your co-workers, friends, and family who you feel more personally connected to.”

Fredia: “No”, in itself, can be harsh for people. What are some underhand ways to say “no” that are just as effective?

Akilah:

“I’m not available”

“I’m not interested”

“I would like to talk about this at another time”

Another trick: When someone asks me to do something that I don’t want to do, I’ll escalate the situation to a point where I know they’re not willing to take it. For example: “Let’s put together a contract”, knowing then that they won’t follow up.

I couldn’t stop laughing once she said this. It was uniquely hilarious and more importantly honest. It’s at this point that I came to realize that I want Akilah constantly positioned in my front pocket as my personal “get out of undesirable conversations” guru.

Fredia: That reminds me of that Homer Simpsons gif when he’s sliding back into the bushes…

Akilah: The other side to it is, people may feel like others deem them as selfish. People don’t want to be considered selfish, but I would argue that we can all be a healthy amount of selfish. If there are 4 cookies and 4 people at the table, and you take all the cookies, that’s an unhealthy level of selfishness. If you’re in the same scenario and express to the four people that you haven’t eaten all day, and that you’d love to eat more than one cookie, yes it’s selfish, but at least you gave everyone a chance to share their input.

“You have to ask yourself: If you can’t be present and available for yourself, but then you say YES to someone else, then will you really even be there for them?”

 
 


Fredia: So I noticed via your Instagram account that you’re a member of the Bey-Hive.

Akilah: Absolutely. Beyonce, Blue, The Twins, Jay, Solange, Tina, Kelly, Michelle, erybody.

Fredia: Top Three Beyonce Albums, GO!

Akilah:

3. BDAY

2. BEYONCE

1. LEMONADE, duh

Fredia: Tell me a bit more. What’s something in Beyonce that you see in yourself?

Akilah: Okay, let me break it down. Let’s take it back. 2006. Beyonce releases B-Day. On that album is the track: “Flaws & All”. Incredible track. Incredible lyrics.

Now, Beyonce Gisele Knowles-Carter is a Virgo. When you’re a Virgo, you’re a perfectionist, you’re anal, you like to be in control. For Beyonce to talk about her own vulnerability and flaws, that was really important not only for all Virgos, but for all women. I think we all consider the question “who’s going to love all that I am? Flaws and all.” I sometimes have a difficult time conjuring up love for myself, so imagine other people finding the strength to do that for you. I appreciate her continued vulnerability and thoughtfulness. She’s incredibly self-aware.


Fredia: You’re a Virgo as well, correct?

Akilah: I’m a Virgo. Beyonce is a Virgo. We are literally one year and two days apart. We’ve been in this friendly competition ever since we were born. She’s currently winning right now, but I am right behind her….[laughs] ..no I’m not.

Fredia: Have you met her yet?

Akilah: Who, Beyonce? Yes, we’ve held hands.

Fredia: I beg your pardon

Akilah: Yeah. We held hands. You want the story?

Fredia: Yes. Do I need to beg you? Because I will...

Akilah: It was the Formation World Tour. We had BeyHive seats, so we were very very up on the stage. So, Beyonce was walking on stage, and she puts her hand out. So, then I put my hand out. And so then I was holding Beyonce’s hand. And I was like, “OH SHIT!” I have the power of Beyonce now. It was in that moment that I realized I had to figure out how to use this power. So three months later I went full time into my business.

Fredia: Beyonce started Parkwood Entertainment, and you started Change Cadet.

Akilah: YES. I’m doing what I can do to figure out how I too can be in a position to motivate, inspire, and empower people. Because that’s what she does for me.

Fredia: I’m sure you can recite all kinds of Beyonce lyrics, but what are two of your own self-written empowerment lyrics?

Akilah: The first one is, “I’m Amazing”. The second one is, “Keep being amazing”.

Fredia: Well what about the rest of us?

Akilah: OH. You’re amazing too, OF COURSE. You’re amazing, and I want you to keep being amazing.

Fredia: Have you used this kind of language in your coaching or public speaking?

Akilah: Absolutely. The amazing thing about telling people that their amazing is, if you tell someone they’re amazing, they’ll believe it. And if they don’t believe it, the idea will at least begin a thought pattern around how they can be their best selves.


Fredia: How can we be our best selves?

Akilah: To start don’t be ashamed of who you are. I’ll say, “fuck, bitch, hoe” and I’ll use it in front of people who have millions of dollars, and I don’t care. It’s my true authentic self. I talk about depression. I talk about my heart issues. I’m an open book. Because I’m not ashamed a lot of people are inspired and motivated. That motivation allows them to think about what it would mean to be enamored with themselves. Well, could I do that? Would I feel comfortable doing that?


Fredia: Do you have any parting wisdom for the Women Sound Off community?  

Akilah: I would encourage people who are reading this to stop fighting. The more you fight against what life brings you, the harder it is. If you want to fight through anything, it should be your own personal fears. Work through them because on the other side of fear is where your secret sauce is, it’s where your happiness is, your joy, your passion.

Follow Akilah on Instagram and Twitter.

Learn more about Change Cadet here.

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