Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Dr. Matthew Whitaker, Founder of Diamond Strategies, LLC., located in Phoenix, AZ, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Diamond Strategies is a premier Better Business Bureau A+ rated, NSDMC certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), and a trend-setting diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and community relations firm, and employee learning and executive leadership coaching and training provider, to Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, schools, government, and faith-based institutions, in the United States, Europe, Africa, and China. Our specialties include assessment, strategic planning, facilitation, and training, including industry-leading Training-of-Trainers, (TOT), Interest-Based-Resolution (IBR), thought leadership, keynote addresses, and transformative community-building events. We help foster institutional and community belonging, as well as effective interpersonal and intercultural communication, through myriad activities designed to provide the requisite knowledge, cultural humility, empathy, skills, attitude, and resources, that organizations need to engender healthy, positive, and effective cultures of collaborations, equity, and inclusion. No one does it better. Our passion at Diamond Strategies is helping our clients understand, embrace and leverage DEI to make themselves more happy, efficient, resilient, competitive, and successful at navigating our dynamic, often contentious, and constantly changing world. Indeed, our skilled leadership, combined with first-rate analytics and data-driven technology, will help your organization move the needle in the areas of DEI and community relations.

Our Mission is to be the catalyst our clients are looking for to assist them in creating inclusive, collegial, and successful environments by providing innovative and effective strategies that are tethered to their business plan and mission, to increase synergy, performance, productivity, profitability, and a sense of belonging. Our Vision is to answer the persistent call for a more inclusive and productive world by deploying our experts to increase cultural competency and leverage difference to create innovative office and educational environments. W.E.B. DuBois, wrote, "there can be no perfect democracy curtailed by color, race or poverty, but with all, we accomplish all." We at Diamond Strategies believe that "with all, we accomplish all.".

Our Team is keenly aware of, and has deep interests in many aspects of our culture. We are outspoken, resourceful, and enterprising diversity and inclusion gurus who are uniquely suited to help you and your institution. We are particularly adept at communicating comfortably and effectively with people from many walks of life. We are professional and collegial, and we do whatever it takes—putting in countless hours—to produce the best work possible. Not surprisingly, we are devoted to issues that affect the everyday lives of people, particularly those who have been rendered marginal by virtue of their race, class, and gender. Our team has coached and mentored executive leadership, administrators, and emerging leaders within 6 K-12 school districts, 13 community colleges, 11 universities, over 15 non-profits, and over 35 businesses and large corporations.

Tell us about yourself

I am the founder, CEO, lead facilitator, and trainer at Diamond Strategies. I am an award-winning educator, author, DEI and community engagement specialist, speaker, and founder of the Arizona State University, Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, winner of the 2014 Arizona Diversity Leadership Alliance (DLA) Inclusive Workplace Award, where I was a professor of history for 15 years. I founded Diamond Strategies to operationalize my research, writing, and teaching for institutions and municipalities, who need the knowledge, perspective, cultural humility, strategies, and tactics to equitize environments in real-time. Our nation has not been as divided as it is now in over 150 years. Historians and social scientists must play their part in not only explaining how we got here, but illuminating our way forward with practical solutions.

I completed a B.A. in History and B.A. in Sociology from Arizona State University (ASU). I completed an M.A. in U.S. history at ASU. I then traveled to East Lansing, Michigan, to study with one of the nation's leading historians and social justice advocates, Darlene Clark Hine, then John A. Hannah, Distinguished Professor of United States History at Michigan State University, now Board of Trustees Professor Emeritus of African American Studies and History at Northwestern University. I earned a Ph.D. in History, with honors, on May 4, 2001. During the spring of 2001, Dr. Whitaker accepted a professorship at his alma mater, ASU, where he taught for 15 years. While at ASU, I co-founded the Healing Racism Dialogue Series, winner of the 2008 National League of Cities Promoting Inclusiveness Award.

I founded Diamond Strategies, LLC. in May of 2016. I use my unique sociological and historical training (most DEI professionals have transactional business and HR backgrounds or clinical training) to help individuals, organizations, and communities, learn and leverage our diverse past and present to promote healing, social cohesion, productivity, and profitability. In 2021, I completed an Executive DEI Certification Program at Cornell University. I am deeply authentic in style and delivery, and I utilize my diverse familial background to reach and teach those who have more homogeneous experiences. For these efforts, I was given the Diversity Leadership Alliance's (DLA) 2016 Diversity and Inclusion Leader Award. My books include Hurricane Katrina: America's Unnatural Disaster, and Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West, and the forthcoming The Undisputed Truth: A Revolutionary Journey to Black Manhood.

I have consulted, spoken, and lectured in Australia, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, England, Ghana, Ireland, and Liberia. I have been featured on CNN, NPR, PBS, WVON, and KEMET, and I was given ASU's 2015 Pioneer Award for working to improve African American life, community, and culture. I was also given the City of Phoenix 2006 Martin Luther King, Jr. Living the Dream Award. I am a member of the Muhammad Ali Center International Advisory Board, a trustee of the New Life Center for domestic violence prevention and care, and a member of the Arizona Society of St. Vincent de Paul Community Advisory Board. Follow me on Twitter @Dr_Whitaker and Diamond Strategies @dstategiesllc.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

My biggest accomplishment as a business owner has been to offer the rare capacity to assess findings, understand their meaning, and communicate them effectively to academicians, business leaders, educators, students, and everyday people. All of us are keenly aware of, and have deep interests in, many aspects of our culture. We are outspoken, resourceful, and enterprising diversity and inclusion gurus who are uniquely suited to help you and your institution. We are particularly adept at communicating comfortably and effectively with people from many walks of life. We are professional and collegial, and we do whatever it takes—putting in countless hours—in an effort to produce the best work possible. Not surprisingly, we are devoted to issues that affect the everyday lives of people, particularly those who have been rendered marginal by virtue of their race, class, and gender. We have all of the skills and bona fides required, and since attitude reflects leadership, we are as diverse as we advise our clients to be.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are our world's greatest assets, whether manifested in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, national origin, faith, physical ability, or ideas. Our passion at Diamond Strategies is helping our clients embrace everyone's perspective and consistently get them to step outside of their comfort zones and customary modes of seeing, thinking, and doing. This is the work to which we have placed our hands, work that is all-inclusive and involves everything from helping clients build exemplary global workforces that value distinct worldviews and promote personal development and respect to helping faith-based institutions build more inclusive followings to aiding administrators and teachers in their efforts to help each of their students, regardless of their station, become college and career ready. Our efforts are a source of pride and motivation; we are primed and eager to assist.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Many people consider our work "touchy-feely," as opposed to a necessary investment, insurance if you will, in the cohesiveness and capacity for innovation within their organization. Too often, we are enlisted as fixers of problems that would never have arisen if corporate leaders who would have been proactive in embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Most homeowners will never see their homes burn to the ground, but they invest in homeowner's insurance anyway. Why? Because when disaster strikes, they will be able to rebuild. The capital will be there to start again. Likewise, we get flu shots, which actually give us a small dose of the virus to inoculate us again with severe illness, if not death. DEI work is an inoculation. It may sting, and it may make us feel feverish and uncomfortable, but it will protect us from a debilitating illness, and small businesses, in particular, do not have the financial capacity to survive a full-blown case of the homogeneous and unjust corporate flu. They cannot survive "going viral."

Like many entrepreneurs of color, I have also struggled to secure the necessary capital to grow my business and have thus taken a "bootstrap" approach to capital financing my business. I have self-funded Diamond Strategies with my own savings and retirement. I haven't borrowed a dime from any financial institution, but this is largely because most wouldn't help us anyway. This reality has compelled me to work twice as hard, with half as much, to get half of the work.

My blackness and authenticity are sometimes a plus, but in a world in which HR, equity, and inclusion efforts are increasingly led by white women, in offices that react sensitively, condescendingly, and defensively to large black men (I am 6'4″, 230lbs), speaking authoritatively about uncomfortable topics, among people who consider themselves to be informed on the one hand, but wield authority in largely homogeneous and inequitable environments on the other, but often absolve themselves of any complicity, let alone culpability, is like navigating a minefield in a three-piece suit and wingtips.

I have to be very mindful of my words, dress, tone, body language, and affability every second of every interaction with white authority as well. To be accepted, let alone successful in our white-dominated business world, black people have to be non-threatening in every way, shape, and form, even as some of us engage in work that requires transparency, directness, discomfort, and difficult dialogues. Black people have been in an abusive relationship with white America for 400 years, yet white leaders usually want us to check our trauma at the door. In the words of writer Greg Tate, they often want "everything but the burden" of our blackness. Many leaders will say, please help us become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, but don't display any of the vulnerability associated with societal injustices, inequities, and being black in the process.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

Forbes recommends, and I agree with these, that we should:

  1. "Picture your business like a workhorse - Although we like to think of businesses as our' babies,' the truth is, our businesses are meant to provide for us (not the other way around). Picturing your business more like a workhorse or mule can shift your mindset and transform how you manage the business. You should not be constantly paying into the business to make ends meet or be left starving after expenses. Lack of proper planning or market research often leads to owners launching without adequate knowledge of the time, effort, and funds needed to make the business successful. Your business needs to work for you, but you need to put in the pre-work to ensure you're creating (and protecting) a profitable business for the long term. - Lauren Marsicano, Marsicano + Leyva PLLC."
  2. "Focus on a niche market - As a professional services firm, and before we found our niche, we were offering a wide variety of services, similar to our competitors. The advice I received was to: (1) Print the list of all your clients you've served in the past year. Review the list and mark those clients that you've enjoyed working with. (2) Analyze what is common between these clients and their needs. What makes that commonality different from the market at large? (3) Design a service package that addresses the unique needs of these clients. Eliminate all other services. Focus on a very narrow segment of clients whom you love serving. Adjust your marketing and service delivery standards to meet their demands and charge premium fees for your services. This strategy did miracles for our organization. - Feruza Djamalova, Sobirovs Law Firm"
  3. "Ditch Perfectionism - Ditching perfectionism is the best piece of advice I've received. It has had a great impact not only on my business but also on my personal life. Perfectionists are slow-paced when it comes to checking tasks off their to-do lists. As a result, things rarely get past the drawing board. Work keeps piling up, and you have to deal with higher stress levels. This not only hinders your professional growth but it also disrupts your work-life balance. The solution? You have to keep the needle moving. This is what that advice taught me, and I haven't stopped since. - Jared Atchison, WPForms"

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I would like to share one of my favorite DEI quotes: "It's hard to keep an open mind if you don't have an open heart. You don't have to agree with what people think to learn from how they think. You don't have to share their identity to be curious about what shaped it. Treating people like with civility is a prerequisite for discovery." - Adam P. Grant.

Where can people find you and your business?




If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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