Currently, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a trending industry. Many companies are posting “high priority” roles in the hopes of hiring a DEI practitioner who will offer a quick remedy to the gaps in their organization. We (as humans) did not create these systems of inequity overnight. Therefore, sustainable solutions often take time to manifest because the culture of the organization will not change overnight.
Helping organizations seal this gap is Dr. Theoria M. Cason, Founder, and Chief Executive Officer, of Theoria In Praxis, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm. It works with businesses and individual professionals to improve their performance by providing transformational experiences that challenge mindsets, provide feedback with actionable strategies to solve problems, encourage growth and maximize potential.
The name of her business reflects who Dr. Cason is and how she operates. It is a play on the phrase: theory to practice. As a scholar-practitioner she has built her career by following this order of operations: gather information, develop a plan, then act. “My name is of Greek origin, so I went to the source for inspiration. Praxis is the practical application of any branch of learning. Praxis can be used as a noun when you talk formally about putting an idea or theory into practice. When it comes to my work as a DEI professional, my clients can count on me to follow these three foundational steps: seek to understand, develop a strategy, and put it into action; hence the company name: Theoria In Praxis,” explains Dr. Cason.
Helping Organizations Transform
In many instances, the work to address the gaps in DEI is under-resourced. Many DEI practitioners are operating as the sole practitioner in their organization and are working in isolation. This is hard work, it is heart-work and there is a lot of unpaid emotional labor that is leading to burnout.
That is why Dr. Cason has created a virtual Global DEI Agile Community of Praxis for fellow DEI professionals. This confidential group-coaching program is for practitioners who have reached a roadblock in the implementation of their DEI strategic initiatives and would benefit from the combined brilliance of a community of experts and Theoria in Praxis’s resources.
Participation in the program is not confidential, however, what is discussed is contained within the program. The goal is not to air the company’s dirty laundry, but rather to collectively work through a problem of practice to further the goals of the organization. Organizational sponsorship is strongly encouraged, especially for companies that are unable to build a full DEI team of practitioners.
Theoria In Praxis Inc. provides the following services: keynote speaking, transformational coaching, consulting, strategic planning sessions, equity audits, and training workshops. Dr. Cason is excited to announce three new services recently added to her company’s repertoire. The virtual Global Agile Community of Praxis, the virtual Mariposa Mastermind for professional women of color, and the Global Inclusive Leadership for P.E.A.C.E. Program.
The Global Inclusive Leadership for P.E.A.C.E. Program is a highly specialized, one-week transformational DEI program for executives and c-suite leaders that takes place in Costa Rica. “We believe that to establish DEI efforts that will affect change and produce sustainable results, you need to infuse P.E.A.C.E. into the process. Program participants will gain strategic insights, personal leadership skills, and the opportunity to build a powerful network to accelerate their DEI efforts by using our five-step P.E.A.C.E. model within their organization,” says Dr. Cason.
Tracing Her Journey
When asked how to describe herself she says, “I am a great many things: a sister; a daughter; a friend; a scholar-practitioner; an adventurer; a globetrotter; a believer…Simply put…I am magic in motion! As a native North Carolinian, I share my southern charm and smile with everyone I meet because I firmly believe it is important to treat everyone with dignity and respect. When I was a child, before school each morning, my mother would tell me to remember ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ In high school, she would tell me to ‘go forth and do great exploits!’ To this day, both charges influence the way I approach my work.”
As a first-generation college student, Dr. Cason obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Being the daughter of a highly intelligent single mother who always pushed her to be better, and to do great things, she then went on to earn a master’s degree from Western Illinois University, and a Doctor of Education from the University of Pittsburgh. As she progressed in her academic and professional journey, she noticed that the people who look like her became fewer and fewer. This observation fueled her desire to engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
Engaging in the practice pushed Dr. Cason to seek out supplemental opportunities to develop her skills around DEI. Subsequently, she has also earned the credential of Cornell Certified Diversity Professional (CCDP) from Cornell University. Working with purpose-driven CEOs and decision-makers to cultivate an environment that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive requires a lot of headwork and heart-work. She says, “Amidst all the certifications and achievements I have accomplished to date, the two most notable for the DEI work I currently do are the certificate in Peace Education and the diploma in Social Innovation from the University for Peace, Center for Executive Education”.
Staying Motivated Amidst Challenges
Operating as a pioneer, Dr. Cason likes to forge new paths that did not previously exist. As such, she is motivated by opportunities to create new initiatives that can be sustained over time and will invariably improve the experiences of those who come after her. Her lived experiences are her primary source of inspiration. The people in her community are nothing short of exceptional. “I am privileged to know so many highly gifted, very intelligent, competent, and capable Black people from all walks of life. Their wisdom, resilience, sense of community, and most importantly their belief in me, inspire me to shine in the face of challenges and uncertainty. From the likes of Maggie Lena Walker to Mary McLeod Bethune to Patricia E. A. Cason to Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, I know that when I get out of bed in the morning, I stand on the shoulders of mighty women who were courageous enough to break barriers so that other women do not have to be the first.” she shares.
Equitable access to key decision-making roles is still a barrier for women in corporate spaces. The representation of women consistently decreases as the level of hierarchy increases. Moreover, most recently women across the world experienced job loss at unprecedented rates due to the pandemic; and among those who were able to acquire and sustain employment, the global gender wage gap was also exacerbated by the pandemic. One of the ways to tackle this systemic barrier to progress is to find ways to advance professionally outside of the system. Entrepreneurship is one pathway forward.
Opportunities for equitable access to key decision-making roles are even fewer for women of color. According to an article on catalyst.org, in 2021 in the USA, women held approximately 41% of the managerial positions. Of the 41%, white women represented approximately 33%, meaning they held one-third of all management positions; Black and Latina women held 4.3% each and Asian women held 2.7%. This means that even though many organizations are moving toward implementing DEI initiatives and diversifying the pipelines for leadership within their organizations, the doors of opportunity are not swinging wide open for women of color. As a champion for equity, Dr. Cason believes that self-advocacy is the highest form of self-care. For this reason, she decided to put herself into the C-suite instead of waiting for someone else to review her skills and assess her as worthy of the role and level of influence.
What motivates Dr. Cason to continue is the hope that her story will inspire someone else to take the baton and continue to forge new paths toward equity and justice. That is why she developed her virtual six-month Mariposa Mastermind program for professional women of color. In this program, she discusses strategic principles to help them break free from limiting beliefs, unleash their superpowers to rise as giants, or spread their wings and soar.
Taking Charge of her Journey
Dr. Cason first realized the importance her piece contributed during her graduate studies, when she looked around the class and noticed none of her classmates looked like her. That is when she began to mentor undergraduate students of color. As she progressed through her educational and professional journey, she continued to have similar, singular experiences; and that began to affect her sense of peace.
In 2009 she completed her certificate in peace education at the University for Peace, Center for Executive Education. There, she had the wonderful opportunity to learn with people from all walks of life: “such as the nun who traveled from Zambia; the community activists from Puerto Rico and Honduras; the gentleman from Colombia, the kind Canadian; the local Costa Ricans; the American educators; and all the people in between. I left with the understanding that as humans, we are all inextricably connected and have a shared responsibility to promote peace in our piece of the world,” says Dr. Cason.
Now as she strategically places her piece in the puzzle of work related to DEI, her sense of inner peace is her superpower. When it comes to the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion she believes we all have the capacity to be agents of change. This philosophy shapes her approach to the work. That is also why she believes that the Global Inclusive Leadership for P.E.A.C.E. Program is so effective. It is designed for purpose-driven C-suite leaders and decision-makers who are willing to go through the growing pains of change to cultivate a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment that fosters a sense of belonging.
Charting a Path for the Future
In addition to operating her business, Dr. Cason enjoys speaking and presenting, both virtually and in person. “In the near future, I would like to increase my speaking and keynote engagements. In the upcoming years, I’m looking forward to releasing my first book, and continuing my journey of exploring the human experience by traveling the world to better understand how humans make meaning of their piece of the world,” she adds.
Words of Wisdom for Women
For the women who would like to be the masters of their fate, Dr. Cason has this to say:
“I would encourage all women to identify ways to achieve the maximum amount of peace and to preserve it with all vigilance because it truly is priceless, which becomes a challenging feat if they are in a toxic relationship with their employer. Relationships should be reciprocal; so, women should work strategically to ensure their gains extend beyond the boundaries of their paycheck.
When it comes to aspiring entrepreneurs, I would encourage them to look for allies in unsuspecting places. Mentorship is essential for continued growth and success. I leverage the wisdom of people who have 15 to 20 years of professional experience. I also believe in the power of reverse mentorship and find value in learning from younger professionals who are driven to achieve. Entrepreneurship is the key to economic equity and freedom. So, I want to empower women to think outside of traditional systems and figure out how to exercise their skills to increase their impact, influence, and income.”