December 7, 2023

Episode #108: Leah Smiley -The Society for Diversity

Leah Smiley, CDE®, is the Founder and President of the Society for Diversity Inc., a global Education Technology (EdTech) firm that specializes in next generation management practices and professional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Certification. As a LinkedIn “All-Star”, Mrs. Smiley has facilitated hundreds of presentations for more than 10,000 professionals and executives around the world, as well as consulted with over 100 organizations. The Society for Diversity was recognized twice on the 2022 and 2023 Inc. 5000 listing as one of the fastest growing companies in the Midwest.

With more than 15 years of experience in the DEI field, as well as 25+ years as a master of training and organizational development, Mrs. Smiley is considered to be a DEI industry thought-leader. Through the Society for Diversity’s subsidiary, the Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC)®, Mrs. Smiley has helped thousands of DEI leaders achieve their dreams 50+ U.S. states and over 30+ other countries by conferring the industry-recognized Certified Diversity Professional (CDP)® and Certified Diversity Executive (CDE)® credentials. IDC is a member of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence and is currently pursuing accreditation through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Further, the Society for Diversity has registered IDC’s extensive catalog of intellectual property with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Mrs. Smiley’s work has been featured on international and national radio and television programs, as well as in Forbes, Fortune and Entrepreneur Magazines. Additionally, her work has been reported in the USA Today, Huffington Post, Business Insurance, The Indianapolis Star, The Indianapolis Business Journal, Indiana Minority Business Magazine, Associations Now, Franchising World Magazine, MEA Magazine, The Lexington Herald Leader, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Philadelphia Business Journal, Naples Daily News, The City Sentinel, Lee and Low Books, and more. She was also quoted in “The Inclusion Revolution Is Now: An Innovative Framework for Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace” by Maura G. Robinson and published by iUniverse.

Smiley has a blended family and lives in Indianapolis with her husband, whom she met while they were both political science majors at Hampton University. She also holds a Certified Diversity Executive (CDE)® designation from the Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC)®

In honor of the fellow business owners in your life that had an impact on you
becoming the person you are today, let’s celebrate them. Click this link to apply to be on our podcast to recognize those people:


you’re listening to the self-made is a myth make a difference together show with your host coach Tim campsa where we talk with successful business owners to hear the stories of their Journeys in building their successful businesses and more importantly we recognize the folks who help them Excel because we know that achieving business success is not something we can do on our own hi hello this is coach Tim csel and I’m excited to have a fellow business owner from Indiana with us today my guest is a basketball mom in her downtime she enjoys playing Scrabble and she’s most proud of taking wow check this out 39 people on a cruise to the Bahamas for her 50th birthday we’re gonna want to learn a little bit more about that that sounds fun it’s my pleasure to welcome Leah to the show today hello Leah Hi how are you I’m fantastic thank thanks for asking well hey let’s jump in and have you start by introducing yourself and tell us a little bit of your personal story like where you were born and live and about your family and your hobbies good thank you I uh I live in Indiana and I have been living here for the last I’ll say 19 years so it’s been pretty fun since I’ve been here uh I still feel like I’m not native so I’m like I get lost if I go downtown people are like can you tell me where I’m like no I’m I’m just a visitor like you right so um I’m originally from uh Phil the Philadelphia area I grew up in New Jersey so um I grew up in South Jersey which is different so if you grew up in North Jersey you’re considered a New Yorker South Jersey you’re considered Philadelphian okay so um technically I’m from the East Coast still go back there quite a bit uh to take my kids and family um back there every couple of uh weeks or so or a couple of months just so they can get used to being back there U my family loves Wawa and all sorts of donin donut all the East Coast stuff but um so um right now we have been uh I have a husband we’ve been married for 19 years we met in college oh wow that’s yeah we met in college uh I’ll say probably now let me see so in 1991 is when we met so it must be um a long long long long long time ago so tell us about that that cruise well um so my husband doesn’t like when I bring it up because he’s like we spend so much money but certainly yeah we um I wanted to do something special for my 50th birthday so I was like you know I want to do a cruise and um we wind up doing a cruise for all for our friends um our I won’t say all of our friends I’ll say our married friends because it’s it was just easy to do it that way so our married friends and their children uh our parents um and my siblings so it was pretty cool just to be able to go away for a week and um really and my daughter oh yeah my my my youngest daughter brought five for friends from her basketball team because uh they she she was celebrating her sweet 16 birthday so we did have some kids it was like the rainbow Nation you know it’s like black white asian all different races oh that’s awesome so yeah that was cool Leah I’m I’m sure there is a funny story that your family likes to tell about you but are you willing to share it with us today uh let me me see I don’t really have funny stories I mean I well you know what I do have one so um sure I would love to you know I my my uh when I started working um and I worked from home a lot um before I moved out and got an office uh my husband would watch the kids when they were young right so like my son was one year oneyear old and my daughter at the time was three and they were really really bad right so I mean they were like awful bad so I’m in the back and I’m like I told my husband before I’m like you gotta watch the kids okay so I can work because if you don’t watch the kids I can’t work so he’s like sure sure I got this so I’m like okay so you know I’m back there working in the room and next thing I know I hear something heavy moving across the floor and I’m like what is going on and I hear my my three-year-old saying push P push push and I’m like okay what what’s going on so I call out to my husband I’m like babe and uh I’m like are you watching those kids and he’s like and and I didn’t hear anything in reply I heard my daughter say baby sleep push what was it they were they were pushing this little um I’ll say chest that I had in the hallway so they were moving it from the front door all the way across in the living room now do they take after their mama or their dad with that naughtiness uh I don’t know who they take after my husband said he says they take after my side but yeah they they don’t like when people fall asleep when they’re supposedly watching them I don’t know what it is thank you for sharing hey tell us about how’ the business come come about and at what point did you have the confidence that you could run your own business so I’ve always been confident that I could run my own business um my dad he owned a gas station in New Jersey in Camden New Jersey um and our first jobs were uh with my dad so pumping gas so New Jersey you have to have somebody pump your gas you can’t pump gas yourself and um you know if I could pump gas in Camden New Jersey with in a cash business right I could work anywhere okay my dad used to always tell us like hey you better not mess up that money so it’s no coincidence that you know all of my siblings are really really good in math and money right so tell us a little bit more about the company what’s the name what do you guys do how do you help people so the society for diversity is an education technology company that’s specializes in diversity equity and inclusion certification and Next Generation management practices we have been around since 2009 and this is my third business so um the first two didn’t work out this one seem to do a little bit better um and certainly uh we have work with all different types of organizations uh corporations educ educational institutions nonprofits government agencies in all 50 US states as well as in 30 other countries um our specialty is really helping organizations to rethink diversity equity and inclusion so that they’re not doing black and white male and female um political correctness but they’re thinking about how this generation is changing and how expectations for management have shifted and require organizations to go away from outdated management practices and ineffective um business growth strategies fantastic and I know we we talked out offline and you just mentioned it it’s not the it’s not all the political stuff in terms of what you know what people refer to as diversity when they’re wanting to get votes but you actually care about helping the company become better and and diversity of thought as well and things like that right right right so ultimately that’s going to be your goal to have diversity of thought to change your organizational culture to make it so that you can live up to the actual objectives that your organization sets and that requires sometimes diversifying your products and services for example thinking about how if you have a product thinking about how to make that product more accessible for different groups and accessibility isn’t something that benefits people who have disabilities it benefits people from different Generations it benefits um people who perhaps maybe caregivers it benefits a lot of different individuals depending on their needs and when you kind of think about it like that you’re not limiting your conversations about diversity to race or to gender or to sexual orientation that’s awesome for everyone listening make sure to check out Leah’s company in the link in the description and uh visit her LinkedIn and uh give her a message tell her that you watched her video so hey Leah share us story where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it maybe even when you didn’t think that you could and the impact that that person had on you so I think my husband has been um really instrumental in in helping me to um you know go to the next level so um you know when when I started in 2009 my son was just an infant so um you know my husband had to you know I was traveling all over the the only way that I could get to all 50 states right is that I had to spend a lot of time traveling I spent the first 10 years of the business um traveling a lot so what that meant is like every other week um or sometimes two or four three or four times a month I was traveling sometimes a week at a time for instance we did the certification program at the Pentagon and um I was going for a week and a half so you know with my husband watching the young kids we had five kids in a blended family right so um at first I used to call because the first business trip I went on um my my son was just an infant he was just two months old right so um my first I used to call my mother-in-laws to come watch the kids and help my husband out but then eventually he got to the point where he was like I don’t need a mom to come help me you know I’m I’m a big guy you know I can handle this on my own yeah Leo what’s been the biggest learning that you’ve had as a business owner um planning is important uh but then also reading so if you listen to Warren Buffett and to Bill Gates sometimes we’ll talk about how many books they read on on an annual basis that is so important um because I found that when I read books I’m able to grow the business in a another to another level compared to if I’m not learning um but then that planning piece is so important like um you and I were just talking about how um I have my team develop uh plans for the line of business for each line of business but um they do plans they do reports all those different things just so that we can make sure that we’re being being intentional about how we grow and not just kind of randomly doing things so it’s very um I like to say that we run like a Fortune 500 company um and a lot of people when they work with us they’re they’re kind of shocked because they’re thinking okay this is going to be like a small business because we technically are a small business yeah um but I I like to run it like we are a big company that’s fantastic the the learning is is so key our founder um action coach franchise founder Brad sugars he he has us saying You Must Learn to Earn and the principle there is if we’re not learning then our competition is out is out learning us and out growing us and so to be able to keep up you gota so that’s great fantastic advice for everyone listening is what’s the current book you’re reading or what’s the podcast that you’re listening to so that you can grow and develop your own knowledge base right you that’s ultimately one of the most important things that um that I have learned throughout the course of the business uh that you have to read and learn and grow because if you can do that you have a better chance of surviving and thriving indeed hey another question here is we know that business success doesn’t happen in isolation so tell us about one of the biggest challenges that you faced during the years and maybe a fellow business owner who you know helped you to get through that so of course for all small businesses the challenge is always money so you know you you don’t have the luxury of um most businesses don’t have the luxury of getting a loan uh to get to get started or even to continue operations because when you don’t need the money um people are like oh yeah we want to give you a loan but when you need the money you can’t get a loan at all right so that’s one of the things well we had a conference one year and um I for some we we just didn’t have the the money to pay for the conference at the hotel was in Chicago and um we get to Chicago of course who you know who would go to a conference that they were organizing and not have the money to pay for it and then just go anyway so I’m like God is going to provide a way you know God is going to help us but anyway my brother-in-law he was a keynote speaker um my brother-in-law’s to have a smiley so um we invite he gets there and we’re like okay so I know this is UN unusual request um but we need like $60,000 to host this event or they could have cancel it and throw us out and all sorts of stuff so after he got finished cussing us out um yeah he he winds up giving us some money we had the successful and everything was good yeah but um for for everyone listening there the the the the one of the points here is make sure that you ask for the money before you need right get a line of credit or get a business loan so that you have it for when you need to draw on or have a a really nice relative who’s gonna give it to you right that’s right he he didn’t talk to us for a while after but we did pay him back all of his money um and we we paid him interest and all those different things so we did pay him back but yeah that was that was bad if I asked you to pick three people so I’m gonna put you on the spot a bit that um who have been instrumental in your business owner Journey the three people that you’re most grateful for them being there and helping with your growth who are the three people and how’ they help you so um my mother mother-in-law is one so my mother-in-law she would buy us food uh she would um you know W help watch the kids she would do what she would pay the utility bills she would use her trusted credit card um to to help us that was um you know and and certainly we of course we had to pay her bag it was we we didn’t get anything for free but um certainly that was a blessing all throughout our business the early years of our business my mother-in-law has been so such a blessing to us um my I would say I learned a lot from my dad uh just in terms of um you know learning just growing up uh as a daughter of an entrepreneur one of the things that I learned is that you always have to adjust right you’re never going to get to the point where you’re just kind of sitting there and and coasting like okay you know what I’ve been in business for 20 years and I’m still doing the same thing that I’ve always done you’re not going to survive in business or survive in business long right so um I would say that influence has been really really strong so we’re always innovating and trying to stay ahead of our competitors um from that perspective and and then um most importantly not last but most importantly my husband um we have been um he he helps out in he doesn’t help out a and like you know we have different working Styles I’ll say that yeah I I’ll start there so I I believe in in working you know I could work like 10 12 hours a day he works you know in spts right and um but he and he prefers to work on his telephone I prefer on a cell phone I prefer to work on a computer uhuh so I had to get used to that at first but once we started working together um on a consistent basis uh that’s when we wind up hitting the multi the million dollar Mark right so we our lifetime earnings were you know are you know a little over $10 million but we wind up hitting the consistent Mark for over a million in Revenue um in a year once and I started working together consistently so um but that that was a long journey I think that was like after like year you know 11 of the business or something like that I mean he didn’t we you know we it took a long time for him to get to that point yeah it’s interesting that I’ve noticed with many of our clients who are couples that the saying that Opposites Attract tends to be very true not only in a in a relationship but also in a business setting because subconsciously we know that we need our opposite to complete us but until we learn to appreciate that it can be like oh that person’s crazy and then finally we like oh yeah no right together we’re actually better than than on our own so that’s fantastic that you guys have been able to find the way to work together and have the one plus one equal more than two Leah as you think about the next three to five years what’s the biggest challenge that you see that you’re going to face in reaching your goals and who are the types of people you’re going to need to solve those so um the biggest challenge that we face is really external right so just dealing with the political environment and the elections and people who try to cause folks to think that diversity is actually divisive um uh so yeah that that’s the biggest challenge because a lot of companies have been cutting back on their Dei efforts and I’m not going to say it’s all because of the ex environment the other piece is that within the dii field diversity equity and inclusion field you also have a lot of people who jumped into the field um and they don’t really have the skills or the knowledge and they are kind of making a mess themselves like they are causing people to think like oh my goodness maybe we shouldn’t do this um so so it’s it’s kind of like re reworking the industry and helping people to helping companies to hire the right people so that they’re not doing these awful things that that have bad results right so um yeah some of the stuff some of the the negative critiques about diversity is Justified I’m not going to lie it’s 150% Justified so just trying to get those bad seeds out um the ones who who do you know the the race based stuff and everything like that but also helping companies just do business better um and then for our growth we see the future being and focusing on um those those high growth areas such as um the environment looking at uh the environmental social and governance issues um this is really big in Europe uh Europe has just passed um legislation that requires organizations to um look at their ESG efforts and develop sustainability plans and of course diversity and inclusion is a part of that um we have quite a few multinational organizations that we work with and just helping them to be more intentional about their environmental efforts in a way that’s balanced right so generationally we found that older people are like you know you don’t need to do anything about sustainability you know with the company you’re supposed to make money don’t worry about sustainability right the younger people are like if you don’t do sustainability we’re not going to buy anything or work there right so we have to kind of approach it from the balance yes yes and then as more organizations are working with technology I’m trying to tackle logarithmic bias so even if we did get rid of bias and all people there’s still going to be biases being programmed in computers and Technology right and machines so making it so that we can be real intentional about helping companies to to develop and design uh responsible um systems and platforms and making it so that they are educated in terms of how to ensure that they’re not programming bias or that bias isn’t iterating in their systems yeah so just a couple of small goals that you have for the company nothing insurmountable or very challenging at all right last question Leah Jim ran an awesome business Guru says that we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with so as you think about that quote what advice do you have for business owners who uh you know just getting started and have this perception that they have to figure it out on their own right so um you need to have those people around you who can give you the real perspective I I love what you’re doing um Tim because um you’re helping people to really see that you’re not just going to start a business and it takes off right and even if it does take off you have a high opportunity for a high chance of failure if it takes off too fast because you’re not going to be prepared for some of the challenges and I think back about my own journey and how much I had to learn from um you know trial and era um and that that’s why it does take so long for people to to really grow their their Enterprises in a way that ultimately um allows them to experience true success but yeah just being able to to learn from other people and take their advice seriously um because you sometimes don’t take their advice seriously and you kind of listen to friends and family who have never done business before yeah they don’t have the um they don’t have the frame of reference or you know they may be telling you or you may be around people who tell you like what you want to do is impossible right so um you know it’s just making it so that you’re being intentional and and and now I kind of look back on my journey and the fact that I had to travel so much now I get to spend time with my kids and um really you know not miss any basketball games not miss any you know important school events and and that is priceless I mean I just I’m I’m really really blessed to be at the point where um I I do have um you know just the ability to to think back and help other entrepreneurs uh who were thinking about starting their businesses but you know it’s just a a very hard journey when you try to do it on your own so you do need to have that support system you do need to have coaches like you um who can guide you know people as they’re going through this process and and not necessarily try to go it alone because it’s hard and you can get discouraged easily and and think that I’m the only person who’s going through this right I I am the only person who’s having payroll issues or who the tax agencies are hounding or who you know I’m the only person who’s going through this right so you’re you’re not and um when you work with someone who is um you know you you get that technical assistance you can kind of keep it in perspective right and um when you’re working with when you have friends that are entrepreneurs you can you can learn like um and that’s that’s the important thing yeah because when we when we say things like I’m the only person the next thought that usually comes into our head is that must mean that I’m doing something wrong or I’m not good enough or I’m a failure and you know all those self-limiting beliefs can can destroy us so yeah you’re right being able to to hear that oh I’m not alone and this is the a normal part of the business owner Journey there’s ups and downs and these other successful businesses are going through struggles too it’s like oh okay this is this is just how it is right I don’t have to quit you know I don’t have to you know and there’s there when I first started my business I would go through the times where I’m like I’m gonna look for a job you know because I gotta pay these bills I’m gonna get a job and it one one time you know guy was just talking to me and he said look the time that you spend looking for a job is a time that you could spend making money and and I heard one time on Shark Tank um Mark cubin said when your back is up against the wall sell and I I thought about that like okay I just need to start selling selling the kitchen sink whatever I need to sell yeah yes well it sounds like you’ve been blessed with some incredible people uh that have been part of your business owner Journey if they were all on the show here today what would you want to say say to them thank you yeah just thank you so um I I do try to let everyone know that we appreciate them um and certainly that is um you know one of the the big things for us just making it so that you know people know that we appreciate them um and that we’re we’re grateful um but yeah this has been it’s a journey I know that there’s more ahead but um certainly uh this has been a um I’ll say a wonderful time of learning and growing and just developing and sometimes even I look at how I’m developing as a business owner and I look at some of the things that my kids go through as they’re trying to navigate the world um it is you know important that I keep everything in perspective right because they’re they’re also watching and um that’s that’s one of the big things and their friends are watching too and and everyone else Leah it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today thank you so much for being on the show thank you thank you for having me thanks for listening to the self-made is a myth show with your host coach Tim campaw please help spread this Movement by liking and subscribing to our show and following us on Facebook and Linkedin or wherever you listen to your favorite podcast to join our movement go to bead okay folks that’s a wrap please pay it forward and be sure to tune in next time to the self-made is a myth podcast