Meet Acasia Wilson Feinberg - Holistic's Executive DEI Mentor
Acasia Wilson Feinberg has dedicated her career to providing equitable access to high-quality education. Her passion for this work stems from her childhood experiences in urban public schools where saw firsthand the challenges existent in our system. Her commitment continued through her work in early childhood education and in her role as a fifth-grade classroom teacher. Over the course of her career, Acasia has participated in efforts across 15 U.S. cities and abroad to better understand and attack some of the root causes of educational inequity by supporting teachers, leading organizing and advocacy initiatives, and leveraging technology and innovation. Prior to joining the Danielson Group, Acasia successfully led a three-year campaign to recruit and convene over 6,000 educators in Chicago with the aim of gathering their valuable perspective on education policy and elevating their leadership within their buildings and beyond.
Acasia's work and life have had two consistent themes -- a focus on working directly with executive leaders of organizations, and a focus on fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion wherever she goes. At Holistic, she is combining these two themes into a special offering -- our DEI Executive Mentoring program -- that helps organizational leaders better understand their responsibilities, challenges, and opportunities when it comes to DEI on behalf of their organization.
In addition to her full-time work in education, Acasia serves on the governing boards of Chicago Center for Music Education and Marwen, and the Rebuild/SpaceFund Foundation, and sits on the LFA board of Leadership Greater Chicago. Acasia resides in the city of Chicago with her husband and two children.
Take a look at our interview with Acasia to find out more about Acasia’s interests and passion for DEI.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background -- how did you get to this point?
I've spent my career working in public education. Specifically, I've worked in public education reform with an emphasis on the talent and human capital component of improving schools and systems. Whereas other industries are realizing the importance of DEI in terms of both their organizational culture and business bottom line, issues of race class and privilege have been a central focus in improving public education for decades. Through my work in the sector and my personal experiences, I have seen DEI efforts implemented with varying degrees of success.
Helping leaders to find an authentic way to communicate their value for the work, in their own voice, is critical and can't always be a public process.
Tell us about the idea behind the DEI Executive Mentoring program at Holistic. What inspired you to come up with this?
I have discovered a real passion for this work based on what I've seen in the field, namely well-intentioned leaders working hard to implement initiatives that at best fall flat and at worse create lasting damage to staff culture, morale, and an organization's ability to thrive. In my opinion, this is because successful DEI efforts require adaptive change and change management, but are typically approached in a technical way. Helping leaders to find an authentic way to communicate their value for the work, in their own voice, is critical and can't always be a public process. I was inspired to create this program to support leaders in being able to articulate a clear and compelling vision for DEI that their teams can get behind.
There is an artful negotiation that must happen between taking action and thoughtful listening and engagement that can be tough in business settings.
You've worked with a lot of executives on these sorts of matters. What are some of the things you've seen as common challenges?
There is a bias toward action, which makes sense, but it often leads to greater challenges. This is particularly tough when you are engaging with underrepresented groups who often don't feel heard or seen in corporate settings. There is an artful negotiation that must happen between taking action and thoughtful listening and engagement that can be tough in business settings in particular. When this balance is pursued and mastered, the benefits are invaluable. The mantra "go slow to go fast" is particularly apropos in this work!
What are some potential accomplishments you think might come from this work?
Simply put, this work can improve culture, retention, satisfaction, and productivity at an organization. At the same time, research has proven that more diverse teams make more objective decisions, are more innovative and more profitable. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.
What advice do you have for individuals in leadership positions to help them create diverse and vibrant organizations?
There can be discomfort in creating a more diverse team if that has not been the norm for your organization. I am excited by the DEI mentoring program because it provides an avenue to explore that discomfort and find strategic ways to move through it.
We are all limited by our own perspectives, but there is so much more material, books, articles, etc. that focus on DEI from different perspectives currently. These materials can be a great way of better understanding and exploring the biases we hold.
How do you foster diversity, inclusion, and equity in your day to day?
I am privileged to be a part of many governing boards and decision making bodies. I work to build trust and credibility and then share thoughts and insights were I think I can be helpful in moving DEI efforts forward. This often takes a ton of vulnerability, which is not fun but is almost always worth it on the other side in terms of what I learn about myself and/or others. I haven't always done the best job of challenging DEI issues in some of these settings. I think that is why I enjoy working with leaders one on one - I know how hard it can be to take a stand in group settings especially as an executive leader.
If you could meet anyone past or present, who would it be? What would you talk about?
I am obsessed with Jordan Peele. He is an extraordinary comedian, and also is able to use the horror genre in powerful ways that prompt dialogue. I know that we all think DEI is important, but to be shocked into empathy in a way that is so engaging and visceral. I think his work has contributed something profound to the conversation on racial equity.
What do you do for fun?
I always say that I am a Portlander at birth, but full of CHI love. Given this, I enjoy; fishing, hiking, backpacking, skiing, and fresh delicious food. My background is in the arts and I studied Shakespeare and classical voice, so I appreciate all things arts and culture. Lastly, I married into a Cubs family, so there's that!