We had the good fortune of connecting with Cathy Harrell and her team and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Cathy, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?

I am passionate about promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.  It has been woven throughout everything I have done and will do.  I don’t show it off like a trophy but rather give it fertile ground to come to life whenever and wherever I can.

For the last several years, I had envisioned starting a diversity and inclusion consulting business after I retired from my vice president level corporate position. I could not envision myself fully retiring and not positively impacting the world at large and this would be my way to continue doing that.

As is what happens so often in life, my plans did not unfold as I thought they would: my company was acquired by a larger company and, after 18 years, I was downsized in March 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not knowing how serious the virus was going to be or how business-shattering the pandemic would be, I naively thought I would be in a new position in just a few short months and my plans would stay in place.

When George Floyd was killed in May 2020 and the United States turned upside down, I knew the plans for an African American, 60+ female professional who’s been with one company for 18 years would have to change. It took a minute to wrap my head around this new reality and the pivot began.

In July, a franchisee I had previously worked with called to ask if I would provide D&I training to his management team. He knew this was my passion as I was very involved in D&I at my former company. I agreed. On the heels of that call, an advertising agency I had worked with called to see I could help them with their D&I efforts. Again, I agreed. Without much fanfare, my D&I consulting business, DreamVision Diversity & Inclusion Consultants LLC was launched, and I have been drinking from the proverbial water hose.

Starting a business; growing it and maintaining it has been harder than I anticipated. The love of what I’m doing has sustained me. A sole owner must wear many hats at the same time and income comes in sporadically so you must have some type of financial reservoir to maintain your lifestyle. There is a tendency for doubt to set in when you compare your path with someone else’s and I must remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy.

I have the full support of my husband and my adult children, and they reassure me I am on the right path whenever I question whether I’m good enough to make a difference in this sometimes-volatile DEI space. The referrals and recommendations from former clients warm my heart and reaffirms that I am in the right place at the right time so I will continue moving forward even if I can’t see what the future holds. I keep moving forward because my WHY is my eight grandchildren who will one day inherit the workplace I leave behind and that is a strong motivation to leave it more inclusive than when I entered it.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about Cathy’s career, what can you share with our community?

I have spent over 30 years in the foodservice industry with various major fast-food companies.  I have held roles as vice president of field marketing, regional vice president of operations and director of field marketing. I have led diverse teams who worked closely with franchisees to assist them in marketing and operations excellence throughout the country.

At my last company, I worked to help establish its Diversity and Inclusion Council and its women employee resource group (ERG) which was a catalyst for the formation of additional ERGs. In addition to the DEI work inside the company walls, I worked with Schnake Turnbo and Frank’s Inclusion & Diversity Consortium which was established to broaden the DEI discussion throughout the Oklahoma City region and had the honor to be one of its speakers at its inaugural meeting.  I have also presented leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion concepts to the attendees of Schnake’s Leadership Academy.

In addition, I am a former board of advisor to the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance which was an advocacy organization who highlighted the career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality industry to high school students.  As we went across the country, talking about career journeys in the restaurant sector, there were hundreds of students who had never seen a Black woman in a senior position representing a major company.  They had no idea there was more to fast food above the restaurant level.

I have been a guest speaker at Morehouse College professional development classes discussing career opportunities for those that are interested in marketing, financial and supply chain.  I prod these young, bright, and intelligent students to not just be the person who eats a burger but rather be one of the people behind how that burger came to be.  There is so much opportunity that young minority students are unaware of!

I am continuing to work with advertising agencies and industry trade associations to further this vital work and to equip them to become inclusive workplaces.

I am also the board chair of Women After God’s Own Heart Ministry, Inc. that help women and girls positively impact their communities as they strengthen themselves with Christian concepts. This women’s organization has been a lifeline to me because it is comprised of women who genuinely care about others, and it shows in how they welcome strangers in and give so willing to help heal someone else.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
There are so many neat places to eat, drink and be merry in Atlanta, it is always hard to isolate a few. My husband and I enjoy Arnette’s Chop Shop, Kevin Rathburn Steak, STK Atlanta, Two Urban Licks and Blue Ridge Grill. I love shopping therefore, Phipps, Atlantic Station and Perimeter are all great places to visit. Westside Market is an interesting place for unusual new and consigned furniture and accessories. The Atlanta Beltline is great to walk, run, bike, eat or just hang out for hours. It’s where fun really is free!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My husband, who is my biggest cheerleader and my sons and my daughters-in-law for their unfailing love and support; and finally, Women After God’s Own Heart Ministry, Inc. for a safe space for women to heal old wounds, grow in authentic confidence, learn from others’ journeys and to give back.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cathy-harrell-5650204/

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