Two women are leading the charge in helping businesses realize and strengthen their commitment to diversity, inclusion and social equity. The Woods and Watts Effect, a consultation firm founded by Michele Lewis Watts and Sommer Woods, is designed to provide solutions for companies looking to shift their mindset on systemic racism and navigate towards a more inclusive model.
Launched in January 2021, the Woods and Watts Effect takes a bold and unapologetic approach to break systems meant to keep minorities and underrepresented groups from having a piece of the American Dream. Working alongside individuals within organizations, Woods and Watts are able to get deep into the structure of a business and shift it for the better.
“Our goal is to make sure that in different organizations, projects, companies, that these particular entities are operating with an inclusive lens. The perspective of those that are involved internally and externally are definitely being incorporated into the process itself,” says Woods, chief inclusion officer.
Through a set action plan, the self-proclaimed “system dismantlers” work to diagnose specific problems companies face in diversity and inclusion, corporate bias and equity and then execute plans to introduce environmental changes for lasting results.
“In the business world, disrupters are highly celebrated. So, the same concept applies to the work that we’re doing,” says Watts, chief equity officer. “To dismantle a system also means to disrupt it. This is not your business as usual and on the other side of that is greatness, is success.”
A professor at Madonna University, Watts focuses on the content and curriculum of the program. With a background in sports, Watts has been able to explore the racial, social and economic disparities of not only athletes, but clients as well. The Ph.D. graduate has been able to see what lack of inclusion looks like for many across different avenues and help individuals to see the total picture.
“My favorite part is the transformation that people go through. You don’t always necessarily see it when they’re in the journey, but on the other side of that, when people have those ‘aha moments’ when people are on the other side of that and they realize they are better for it, that’s where I get the enjoyment,” Watts says.
Like her partner, Woods, also owner of Solution Architects, has experience in athletics. For over a decade, Woods has worked with and mentored inner city youth through the Midnight Golf program and has helped to implement golf clinics for youth for the PGA. With over 20 years of experience doing work around diversity and inclusion, the equity advocate has always been immersed in creating a seat at the table for everyone.
“My entire career has always been in the fabric. For both of us, it’s been in the fabric of what we do. It hasn’t been separate. For me, the enjoyment is the legacy, when you’re able to walk away and see the fruits of your labor,” Woods says.
With over 50 years collectively, the duo’s individual experience in both public and private sectors help to provide a unique set of tools and knowledge for clients. Meeting 15 years ago during their work on a Superbowl host committee, the pair would form a bond that translates both personally and professionally.
“We’ve been having conversations for several months, doing the really intentional work around the business, but we’ve been working in and around these spaces for several years since we met each other,” Watts says.
Priding themselves on an engaging, direct and non-traditional approach, these changemakers start at the ground level with their clients and move them through a series of self-reflective conversations and assessments to begin the process.
“You can’t do any work until you understand what the challenges are,” Woods says. “You can’t do any work unless you know how people think, their procurement process, their hiring process, how they interview people. You have to first understand what is your beginning delta in order for us to do the work moving forward.”
Next, through implementation and execution, the plan to move companies towards a more inclusive environment is hatched. This work, not for the faint of heart, is designed for companies who genuinely want to propel their employees and business to the next level and help foster a more cohesive institution.
“We want to work with companies that are intentional about this work,” Watts says. “They really, genuinely want to make a change because they want the organization to be better, they want their employees to have a better experience, they want to relate to their customers better, they want to grow their company.”
In recent years, police brutality and social justice have been thrust into focus shedding more light on systemic racism and providing a continuous narrative about exclusion and privilege. Through the works of organizations like Woods and Watts Effect, marginalized communities can start to breathe as new life is birthed.
“We’ve been the only person of color at the table. We’ve been the only woman at the table. We’ve been the only woman of color at the table,” says Watts. “We’ve been in the trenches. That translates to our work.”