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In Cecilia's Shoes: My Journey Speaking Truth to Power

Name: Cecilia Stanton

Where do you live now? Crystal, Minnesota

Industry: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

What does it mean to you to have a voice?

It means being seen, represented, and valued. When I have a voice, I know I belong.

How did you find your voice?

My family was central to helping me identify my voice. I grew up in a large Latinx, multi-racial family of big personalities, so it was necessary to have my voice so I could be heard. Picture it: it’s Thanksgiving in New York City. I’m sitting at the dinner table surrounded by laughter, serious conversations, and maybe somebody (probably my brother) getting scolded. There’s tons of food on the table, because there’s always tons of food, and the dinner rolls are on the other side of the table from where I’m sitting. If I want one of those rolls, (and I want one of those rolls) I had to be loud to be heard. So I guess my journey to finding my voice started at a very early age.

I also come from a long line of performers. My father was very strict when it came to voice training. He knew that I had a talented singing voice and my innate sense of confidence would lead to my future success. Along the way, I attended a Junior High and High School for performing arts. I just knew I was going to be a singer and I would use my voice to delight and entertain. However, my singing voice didn’t always fit the parts created for girls, and I found myself straining my voice to meet expectations. Looking back, this experience feels connected to the many ways I have had to bend to fit into systems that were not made with me in mind.

By the time I went to college, I had lost the innate sense of confidence to use my unique voice. Instead, I worked hard to fit in. At this time I also came face to face with bias based on class, gender, and sexual orientation; which further expanded my understanding of the ways I had to compromise who I was to belong. It was in graduate school that I would finally crack the code to rediscover my unique voice and demand a space to be heard.

By the time my career had taken me to corporate America, I was ready, and I could hold my own in a space where no one looked like me. By this point and carrying forward to today, I've grown in my confidence to trust my instincts and speak up for what I know is right. To this day there are still times when those thoughts of inferiority creep in and I begin to question whether I should push harder and speak truth to power. It's in those moments that I think back to my dad’s unshakeable belief that I could use my voice for change.

What event or series of events helped you find your voice?

When I attended graduate school I stood out. I was the first-ever Black student to gain entrance into Lehigh University's prestigious cognitive psychology, pre-doctoral fellowship. Throughout my time in the program, I often compared my abilities to my predominately white, private school-educated peers, and never felt like I measured up. One day I remember a peer of mine saying to me: "Thank goodness for affirmative action because otherwise you never would have gotten in.” That one comment stuck with me and would cause me a lot of doubt every time I struggled in a class or when I failed at something while I was still learning. Today we call it imposter syndrome, but back then there were no words to describe what I was experiencing. I was ready to leave the program when Dr. Michelle Samuels, the Multicultural Affairs Administrator at the time, intervened. She spent the time getting to know my strengths, my dreams, and the vision I had for my future.

After that first meeting, she hired me on as a Graduate Assistant to undergraduate students in the Multicultural Office. During that period I met a lot of other students of color who were much younger than me and also trying to navigate in an environment that wasn’t built for our success. Together, with the direction of Dr. Samuels, we found a way to carve our own space at the University. One year later, she would get promoted to the Dean of Students and invited me to serve as the interim Dean of Multicultural Affairs. By doing this, she gave me a platform to use my voice to effect change. She probably doesn't know this, but she prepared me for a 20-year career where I get to do the things that matter most to me. When I was in school, DEI as a career field didn't exist as it does now, and I probably wouldn't have made it my career if Dr. Samuels hadn't believed in my passions and encouraged me to build my path. I'm forever grateful for the ways she set me up to become a diversity game-changer.

How did 2020 help you refine/redefine your voice?

After the murder of George Floyd, many people began to reckon with the fact our country has still not resolved issues of race and racism. The urgent need for diversity education, training, and standards existed before, but the events of 2020 marked an increased demand for social change.

As a diversity practitioner, I wanted to create a supportive community and a place for industry leaders to learn and share best practices in DEI. I believe at Stanton Adams and the Diversity Institute, we have created the perfect programs for DEI leaders and champions. Now I use my voice to teach and coach leaders who dare to realize equity in their organizations and the world.

How has your voice influenced others, particularly those in your community?

In my work, I try to be intentional about using my voice to uplift other women. The words that we use can make a difference in someone's journey. As women, sometimes the thing that can be the greatest barrier to success is what’s said about us when we’re not in the room. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a person’s reputation be negatively impacted by biased comments made in passing from one coworker to another. Enough of these off-handed comments can ultimately stall a person’s career. The hardest part is oftentimes the person doesn’t even know what’s been said or the ways bias is affecting their career. At a panel recently, I learned about a cool technique that I’ve adopted. When someone asks me about a colleague who I respect, I make a point to say, “Oh, she's a genius!" It’s fascinating how, with just a few words, we can create openness, give credibility, and support other women when they aren't in the room to do it themselves.

How does walking in other people’s shoes, or empathy empower your work?

A core principle of my work with Stanton Adams and the Diversity Institute is coaching Diversity Champions as they take brave, bold steps towards equity and inclusion. By walking alongside them on their journey, I can understand things from their perspective, and provide the best recommendations for how to move forward. While I am their coach, it ultimately becomes a collaborative learning process. Together, we both broaden our understanding of Diversity challenges and as a result, we increase our abilities to create innovative solutions.


Cecilia Stanton Adams is most known for her track record as an accomplished educator and Diversity thought leader. In 2010, she partnered with her wife Malissa Adams to found Stanton Adams Consulting which focuses on transforming organizations, teams, and individuals with the principles of equity and inclusion. In 2020, they expanded their business to include the Diversity Institute which works to coach and develop the next generation of Diversity leaders. Her visionary approach inspires others to find new and meaningful ways for passionate people to reach their full potential.

Cecilia lives with her wife, Malissa, her dog, Scrappy, and her two cats, Lucy and Tommy. She also loves cheering on her Instagram-famous daughter Celisia (@celisiastanton), who recently launched the thought-provoking and insightful podcast “Truer Crime” #mommasbaby

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