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Episode 236: Going Deeper by Bringing Mental Health and DEI Together—with Ymani Hawkins

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So, in this podcast, we're going to talk about an example of combining sort of two really important areas together into a single consulting practice.

In this case, it's mental health with diversity, equity, and inclusion work. So, I brought on someone who has actually done this as part of her consulting practice and really been able to take the work she does to a different level. Ymani Hawkins is going to join us and she's going to share what that looks like and how she works with clients to help them get the results that they want, but in a fundamentally deeper kind of way.

So, let's get started.

Hi, I want to welcome to my show today, Ymani Hawkins. Ymani, welcome to the show.

Ymani Hawkins: Hi, glad to be here.

Deb Zahn: So, let's start off. Tell my listeners what it is that you do.

Ymani Hawkins: Yes. So, my name is Ymani Hawkins. I use she/her pronouns. I am a diversity and mental wellness coach and founder of Deepish Consulting, which elevates mental wellness and trauma-informed care in the diversity space, which is a huge mouthful.

I'm sure we'll dive into that, but yeah, that's a little bit about what I do.

Deb Zahn: Wonderful. We are definitely going to dive into that because you know that I love that you combined the mental health world, which is so critical right now, with the diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging world, which also is so critical right now. You put it the two of those together, which I think is really special and really important.

So, what made you put those together?

Ymani Hawkins: Yeah. Thank you. Such a good question. So, my professional background has primarily been in mental health. I was a suicide hotline practitioner. I interned as a therapist. I did a whole lot of things related to mental wellness and discovering my own journey. Being neurodivergent has been something that I've been super passionate about.

And so having that background really kind of instilled in me the foundational elements of understanding trauma, of understanding differences when it comes to humans. And that was something that just kind of lit me up. It was something I was super passionate about. My DEI practitioner. So, all things diversity, I grew up knowing, I didn't necessarily have a passion to do it until grad school, where my university had some issues related to diversity.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I remember those.

Ymani Hawkins: I was kind of thrust into this advocacy role, and I had a passion to really drive that. And because I was learning about social work, it was getting my master's in social work at the time I was being instilled with all of these elements of social justice and culturally responsive care and all of these things.

And it kind of drove me to want to pursue DEI just in a different way. And so as time progressed. 2020 happened, and that was a thing.

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah, I remember that.

Ymani Hawkins: I felt this. Oh yeah. It was a thing for a minute. I felt this collective grief from specifically my community folks of color when George Floyd was murdered, Breonna Taylor, et cetera.

Yeah. And we were having difficult conversations but didn't know how to approach those conversations. And I'm like, I know how to have those conversations. I have a trauma-informed care background. I have a desire to meet people where they are through therapy and have this language that I feel like people really need.

And so Deepish was. I emerged from that the need that I felt like the DEI space lacked the know-how the language, the tools, and the skills really needed to lay the foundation of trauma-informed care related to DEI. So, that's kind of how that was birthed. And it's been a journey for sure.

Deb Zahn: I imagine. So, I love all of that and you said so many beautiful things in that, and I can't help but think because obviously, I have a lot of clients and other folks I work with who the ones who care about, diversity, equity, inclusion as, as well, they should and are still committed to doing the work.

But this is different. This isn't traditional DEI and, and we talked about before the show, there's sort of the DEI light, which is, oh, come in and do a bunch of training and nothing changes, but we checked that box. But then you actually go deeper, and you're actually trying to affect real change.

And this is even beyond that. So, when you're first talking with people, clients or potential clients, how do you talk to them about this so that they understand the added element of what you're bringing on the mental health side is better than what they're used to or better than what they would commonly expect?

Ymani Hawkins: So, a lot of my work is revolved around redefining professionalism and challenging the ways in which we're going about doing work in the workplace. And I think trust is a foundational element of any relationship. And so I bring that into the work that I do. Statistically, we've seen that without trust, without something like psychological safety these efforts will fall flat just kind of a waste of time.

Like you're saying, you do training. No one cares. We just keep going. We repeat the process, right? I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the person, the heart change. A lot of my work is also revolving around coaching executive leaders on navigating language and changing their heart posture to be better leaders, right?

So, you're not just professing these values, but you're actually living them out and being a model. To show other people as well, that this is important. And this work, this is something we're putting at the forefront. I would say that redefining professionalism through a lens of trauma-informed care isn't typically how I do my work.

We're all coming into this space and place with identity, with intersectionality, with difference. All of us are right. And so I just welcome that into the conversations that I have and create a space for people to come together and connect on a human level before we start diving into what DEI is and typically that allows people to talk about racial trauma or building trust or what is inclusive mean.

To them, right? I think we come into spaces like DEI, right? And not all of us have the same orientation to what that even means. Right? So, talking about who we are, what comes up for us when we hear something like that and kind of grounding ourselves in a definition first, before moving into.

Practical steps forward, I think is something that I really love to do. And I also hold spaces for healing. We live in a cancel culture society where it's hard to say anything and learn and grow because if you make a mistake, that's it, you're done, you know? I don't think that is sustainable. I don't think we can grow that way.

And so giving people the space and opportunity to navigate and work out their humanness. Because we're all doing it in one space because we've set up that framework is super important. And so foundationally, I think that's something that I like to do to foster that change. Yeah. So, I'll, I'll stick with that for right now.

Deb Zahn: Oh my goodness. That is such good stuff. So, let me jump back because you talked about redefining professionalism. I want to dig into that and then I want to get into some of the healing work that you talked about. So, what is problematic about how professionalism is currently defined, and then what shift are you trying to actually make with that?

Ymani Hawkins: Well, one, I think when we hear the word professionalism, I think it's very monolithic. I think it excludes a lot of people and is not all-encompassing and representative of the culture that we say that we want. A lot of the work that I do talks about culture fits versus culture ads or hiring someone based off of their ability to just acclimate to the status quo versus being a person.

That changes up the status quo because that's something that we need in studying psychological safety. I learn a lot from Timothy Clark, who talks about the fact that we are cultural architects. We shape the culture. If another person were to enter this podcast, that's a completely different culture than what it is right now.

Right? I think that's a beautiful thing. And so welcoming. The fact that we are cultural architects is something that I really like to talk about and welcome to change whatever the definition of professionalism is to ensure that everyone is seen, heard, and valued for their difference. A lot of what I talk about is accessibility, especially pertaining to neurodivergence.

I have ADHD, right? And something as simple as advocating for myself in the workplace pertaining to being neurodivergent is something that is hard to do. But it's necessary to do because the definition of professionalism does not necessarily allow me the space and opportunity to express something like neurodivergence, right?

So, it's in a myriad of ways, but challenging the ways in which something isn't working is something that I'm always going to be here for.

Deb Zahn: I love that. And I love that. And I love the example you gave of the ADHD because if the definition of professionalism is you sit down at a computer and you stay there for eight plus hours and you focus, then you're automatically excluding folks who are neural divergent and have ADHD.

And then you take that and you, you multiply that across all kinds of different identities and divergencies. And you see. You look at it in terms of bringing the richness in, as opposed to no, must conform, must obey to this single solitary definition, which tends to be really singular and really boring and doesn't really make enable people to do their best work and bring their best self.

Ymani Hawkins: So, I I love that. There's something called the curb cut effect in the disability justice movement that basically talks about those curves or those indents in the road or the sidewalk when you're walking. People typically think that's for mail carriers or pregnant women who are carrying strollers.

Right. But the curb-cut effect says that if you do something for one population or one group, it actually makes things accessible for everybody. Right? And so it's easier for me when I wear my heels. It's easier for a person who is able. It works for everybody because we did this one thing to address one problem.

And so when we have conversations around it. Right. Redefining professionalism and making space for different, we're actually doing a really great thing. We might not see the results of it right away, but making provisions and access for one particular group of people will in turn, do that across the board and change the culture to be more welcoming and inclusive.

So, yeah, I really love talking about it in workplaces for sure.

Deb Zahn: I love that. And I love that example. Cutting into the curbs started in Berkeley, California. Thank you very much. Where I went to school. I know the history of that. I love the history of that, but let's get into the healing part because what I've seen sometimes, luckily not all the time, as a lot of time with DEI work, folks almost treated as if, Oh, we're all blank slates. And so we're going to go do this thing and we're not bringing anything with us. And we're just going to do this thing together, which of course is not what reality looks like.

So, talk a little bit about the healing work that you do in response to what is actually reality.

Ymani Hawkins: Yeah. Absolutely. So, because of my mental health background. I come in DEI work with a particular lens. One of those perspectives that I have is the trauma-informed care lens. And part of the three principles of trauma-informed care are acknowledging the fact that trauma has occurred, right?

You can't... Ignore that it's there and contingent upon your background, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, you come into work with things; whether you acknowledge those things are not in the workplace is a different story, but we have them. And so a lot of the healing work that I do is. Acknowledging them putting that at the forefront of the conversation because a lot of people don't feel seen and heard in that way and then holding space for conversation around that difference because it can be hard to talk about at first, the work that I would do would say keep your identity at the door, right?

Like, don't bring that into the workplace because it's counteracting professionalism, right? It's not conforming to the status quo. Now, though, I have a drastically different perspective and bring that into the workplace 1 because it's going to enrich and, uh, the. The culture of the organization, but also people need to be exposed to difference.

Deb Zahn: Right? A lot of what I talk about is cultural humility versus cultural competence. Cultural competence speaks to the fact that you can be competent or reach a level of understanding about someone. And then, here's your badge. Here's your certification.

Ymani Hawkins: There's always something for me to gain perspective on and learn from another person with, right? So, the healing work that I do creates an opportunity for folks to talk about those differences to elevate DEI. So, we're not just talking about its importance in the business case for it, but we're living it out, even if it is hard.

To do, and the ways that I've navigated these conversations has shifted over time. At first, it was just training and giving people language to navigate something like racial battle fatigue or the allostatic load, which talks about the cumulative stress that we experience on a day-to-day basis that takes a wear and tear on our bodies. But it's since has created spaces like healing circles. And that's something that I really love bringing into the workplace. It's derived from a traditional indigenous culture. They're called hocoka in the Lakota language. And I use that framework and brought it into the workplace. And these are spaces, communal spaces.

There's no power structure. Even if you have a title, you're not bringing that into the space, right? We're all coming into the space as humans. We are learning from each other. There's an expectation that I'm learning from you. You're learning from me. Two truths can be right at the same time, right?

And opening space for those different dialogues. and it's really beneficial. People walk away laughing, crying, learning something new, wanting more. And it's really just beautiful to see really because we don't have those spaces in the workplace, but it also strengthens the relationships of people. So, when we talk about DEI, it's a little easier because I know you because I've built rapport with you because I understand or am trying to understand your cultural context and background. And so the start of the healing work comes from a place of meeting you where you are and understanding who you are to reach healing constantly. Because it's a constant and ongoing process.

Deb Zahn: So, yeah, I love that. And I imagine. So, as I'm a facilitator, I'm obviously not a facilitator for DEI work or mental health, but I know that you have to hold the space, which takes many, many things, many skills, knowledge, fortitude, all kinds of things.

And as an introvert. I'm good at it because I can see sort of what's going on under what's spoken, but it's exhausting. But there's, so there's all kinds of things that go into it. And I know for you, it must be layers and layers on top of that because you're not just a guide for a general topic, but you're a guide for something.

How do you, as a facilitator, sort of hold yourself up while you're doing that work?

Ymani Hawkins: Yeah, it can be hard to do. I think any helping profession, any a profession that involves people really has this.

There's a thing called compassion fatigue. Right. That I am very cognizant of. I will say that. Naturally, I think I'm a caring person. I love people. I was raised that way. My personality is extroverted. I, I'm in the mix life of the party that that's who I am. Right? So, it comes naturally. I also feel like my educational background, my undergrad is in interpersonal communication and then my master's is in social work.

And so I was and still with the skills and the knowledge and expertise to learn how to navigate difficult conversation, to be in spaces where people are navigating trauma, pain, discomfort, and just sitting in that space with them. And then I also, when I got my coaching certification in executive leadership, I learned how to ask thought-provoking questions and hold space for silence and reflection as well.

And so through my personality and through the skills that I've learned, it's become a lot easier to maintain the empathy piece and not become desensitized over time is something that I constantly have to check in with myself about, but I have rituals before and after just to ensure I'm still sane as a human navigating this work.

And then also keeping myself grounded and gratitude is a practice that I love to have. Doing DEI work can feel like one drop in a huge bucket sometimes. Like, am I making a difference? Am I striving to help my potential children's children's children? And it can feel really massive sometimes in weighty, but I focus on the things that I have done, right.

And the connections that I'm able to make and navigate those spaces with compassion and active listening, and really pay attention to the active feedback that I get when people walk away feeling like I learned something today, or I'm a little less biased today, or I've gained a new perspective today.

And so that definitely keeps me going for sure. And again, those practices that I have. I love to laugh. I will welcome any kind of humor in my life because I think it's important to just keep me going. So, I will say that. And my community is another thing that I like to fall back on. You know, I have Knowledge that I accumulate every day, all of the time from everywhere around me, even in the spaces that I facilitate I think people are wells of knowledge.

And so I am constantly in a place of holding myself to that culture, humility, value as well, and learning from people. And that kind of keeps me honest and keeps me grounded in the work that I do for sure.

Deb Zahn: Oh, this warms my heart beyond measure. I can't even tell you. So, I know you're headed somewhere else next, and we're not going to sort of dive into what that work is, but, but where are you going now that's going to take you on a bit of a new adventure?

Not completely new, but a bit of a new adventure.

Ymani Hawkins: Yeah. So, I am taking the intersection of mental health and DEI, and I'm bringing that to Dartmouth College to be their Director of Culture and Employee Belonging. And so I'll be taking this work and really fostering a culture of inclusion and safety and trust in higher education.

That's where my origins are from. I feel like I'm always learning in school, somewhere, sometimes. So, it's just a beautiful experience to get to do this professionally and to do this with an organization that I feel like is really passionate about this work and is already laying the foundation to do this work.

So, that's what my next chapter is going to look like. I'm super excited. It's a relatively new position and they're doing great work and I'm just grateful to be a part of that experience. Wonderful.

Deb Zahn: Now, I will always consider you a consultant and part of that wonderful world of consulting.

But what made you decide to go back into a workplace and, and leave consulting, even if it's for a bit?

Ymani Hawkins: I think impact and legacy have been two things I've just been thinking about. I'm always in existential crisis mode. It just, it's a thing. It's like, and they're making enough of an impact, you know?

And so I've just been thinking about that a lot and consulting work has granted me so many different opportunities that I'm super grateful for. But there is a passion to one work in higher education and then make an impact that is beyond me and in terms of legacy and this opportunity availed itself and I thought it was just perfect for what I'm doing.

And then also I learned a lot about being a consultant about myself, about navigating the workplace. And one of those things is even if the space isn't created yet. You can still be exactly who you are. I think there's a James Baldwin quote, and I'm going to butcher, but it basically says the space that I fit will not exist until I create it.

And to me, that just means like, I have a goal. I have a passion. I have a vision. And although I might not see where it fits yet, I might not see the audience. I might not see where the revenue's coming from. I still want to operate. On that, I still want to have faith that it's going to work out anyway because I found a niche and that niche is actually really palatable for folks and people will put the money there.

And so I saw that at a consulting level. Now that I had that, that confidence that it can be a thing and sustainable. I wanted to bring that to a platform that I feel like can make even more. Change and take that and run with it. And so I love consulting. I love coaching. Those are, those are the things that keep me going.

And so it's still going to be a thing, but it's pivoting now into a different platform. I'm hoping that at some point in my career that it'll circle back for sure because I still have a passion to do those things. But for right now, I feel called to do something at a. at a place in an organization that I feel like is really going to drive this work where I feel like they really need it right now.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And there's I know from any type of industry, clients always appreciate someone who's been in it and has been in a workplace and had to do what you're asking them to do. And so you're you have amazing credibility now in the work that you do, but if there's another chapter in your life in the future, whenever that is, and that chapter is consulting, there is nothing that builds credibility more than having to actually.

Do it with people in systems, in organizations. So, there's, there's no downside to ever bringing that into the mix. At least that's what I found because my conversations with clients, when I've had to say, oh, well, when I was in, when I was in it, here's how we handled it. And that just elevates the conversation automatically.

For sure. Love it. Love it. So, where can folks find you if they want to follow the ongoing adventures of Ymani Hawkins as you make this, not just this change, but also as you continue to make the impact and build the legacy.

Ymani Hawkins: Yes, absolutely. So, LinkedIn is where you can find me. Ymani my name is again, Ymani Hawkins.

It's spelled Y M A N I  H A W K I N S. You can find me on there as well as deepish. com and that's

You can find me there and I'd love to connect. I'd love to get to know how folks are thinking about trauma-informed care and mental wellness and the work that they're doing.

I love this conversation. I'm passionate about this conversation, so yeah, absolutely.

Deb Zahn: Can we just, I didn't tell you I was going to say this, we can cut it out if you don't like it. So, we've obviously talked familiarly, that's not a word, but you know what I'm saying. So, can we just tell people we've known each other for a really long time.

As someone who I have watched. And I had to get through, I have to tell you, I had to get through this interview without tearing up because I am so impressed with the work that you're doing. And I have had the privilege of watching this journey and seeing the amazing things that you're doing in the world.

And I'm about to start crying, so I'm not going to cry, but I love where you're headed. I love what you're doing. And I think you're making a huge impact in the world. And I'm grateful for it. I'm grateful for it, for the world.

Ymani Hawkins: Thank you. I appreciate you. I was telling you this before. I consider you a person that is, that is a pillar of all things badass. Like, breaking down the walls, breaking down barriers. You have instilled in me the importance of owning my voice, of speaking my truth, even if my voice shakes in so many different aspects of my life. And so talking about consulting work can be really scary and hard to do, but anytime I've asked you a question it's been real and it's been get it together. And it's also just been practical. It's been practical and it's been patient and I appreciate that. And just having that example is super important to me and something that I think people need. And so I'm grateful that you're doing this work. I think it's incredible. I will support you and all of the things.

I appreciate you having me on here.

Deb Zahn: Oh, of course. Well I'm going to ask this last question that's all about the, it's the big life question, which is, so you're out in the world, you're doing this great stuff, but you also have your life. So, how do you bring balance into that? However it is you think about that.

Ymani Hawkins: So, two things I think are really enriching to me, especially right now. One of those things is traveling. I love to experience new things. I'm an extrovert. I love people. I love food. I'm going to try all of the food. I love experiencing new things.

Deb Zahn: And take pictures of it and take pictures of it.

Ymani Hawkins: Yep. All of the things, all of the things as a millennial, for sure. I have to do that, but experiencing new things enriches me. It, it keeps me young. It keeps me humble. I learn a lot about people and I'm constantly asking questions. I feel like when we're young, especially. Two year olds, we, we're so annoyed by them because they can't stop asking questions about why and then we become adults and we have all the answers that just doesn't make any sense to me.


I channel my inner child by doing things that, you know. Push me outside of my comfort zone and traveling is doing that. And so I would say that, and faith is the other thing. My relationship with God is something that keeps me grounded. Even in the craziest of times, we live in a very wild world. Even these days and it can feel really overwhelming sometimes, but finding solace and peace in my relationship with God is something that has continued to carry me throughout my life.

And ironically, my name means faith. And so if I don't remember anything else, I do remember that. And I come back to that as a value. So, I would say those two things keep me grounded for sure.

Deb Zahn: Wonderful. Well, we're, we can both weep like as soon as we stop recording, but I, I thank you so much for being on the show.

Ymani Hawkins: I have wanted you on the show for some time, so I am so thrilled that you joined me and shared such incredible work that you're doing. So, thank you. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content, and I don't want you to miss anything.

But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those. And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.

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