Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in professional development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Leah Kyaio, Founder and CEO of With Respect LLC., located in Deerfield, VA, USA.

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

We do diversity differently. We teach (and practice) the tools of respect and belonging crafted through a lens of resilience. What we find is that's what leads to justice and dignity - the real goals of diversity. We have seen it shift organizational cultures and provide individuals and groups with what is needed to truly engage in deep, meaningful conversations necessary to create sustainable change.

Our audience includes educational institutions, government agencies, large and small businesses, as well as nonprofits and community-based organizations. We work with those most interested in leading through equity and respect. We provide professional development training, executive coaching, and consulting to support your systemic change.

Tell us about yourself

I am two-skinned half Native American and half white Appalachian. My tradition teaches that we are all interconnected - what I do to you, I do to me, and what I do to me, I do to you. I wish for us all to connect with ourselves and each other in respectful ways, learning and growing together. When I look around, I see the challenges AND the solutions to that reality.

I grew up as an inner city thug where drugs and guns were the family business. I learned about white privilege young, having witnessed the death of my mother, two brothers, and sister. I was "left standing" because I was too white, white-passing. I was able to be the first generation to go to college, be an entrepreneur, and heal my personal and generational trauma because of allies along the way who helped me thrive in my resilience, realize my power, and step into it.

That's what my work is mostly about - creating the foundations, tools, skills, and pathways that allow each of us to become our best selves. I don't want nor expect we will all agree, think the same, or even like each other. That wouldn't be much fun anyway - where's the diversity in that? But we CAN be respectful if we have the tools and apply them. That's why I do what I do.

Watching as the learning and growing happens, the lightbulbs that go off for each of us, that's what keeps me going every day. I believe we are all simultaneously teachers and learners. We need each other to move forward. We need the tools to access one another, particularly when we don't see eye to eye. But that's the greatest gift of diversity. If we are in a room and we all agree, there's someone missing. That pushback and tension are what propels us forward.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Being a business owner. I grew up caught in the Cage of Oppression (our framework to understand the system of oppression). As my life unfolded, I found the allies and tools that helped me blur the bars of the Cage and change my life. My work is about sharing that experience and expanding it so those who have a different experience can also thrive. It isn't about simply overcoming our oppression. It's about learning how to understand our position within the Cage and using our privilege and our target to change reality.

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

Owning your own business is like getting a Ph.D. in personal growth and knowledge. You really have to get to know yourself to be able to deliver quality service while balancing self-care and business growth. Particularly working in a politically and emotionally charged business field, the balance of self and work is crucial to manage and maintain good health, good business, and good services.

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

  1. Live the life you love and love the life you live. When you get to do what you love as your job, it's not like work.
  2. Do your personal work. Almost all of us have some level of trauma. Owning your own business often helps you access those places left unhealed. Doing our personal work before, during, and after owning our business is the most rewarding experience. It influences finances and satisfaction.
  3. Networking is the most important part of marketing. Networking is how we get sales. Sales is how we stay in business. At the end of the day, it's about the relationships that we nurture authentically and with a high level of integrity that serve us best in business and life.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

My new book, Between the Bars: A New Framework for Creating Change in Social Justice, will be released on August 1, 2022. It promises to be an exciting and life-changing read, so don't miss it.

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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