Building Our Own Table: Dr. Hayley Haywood

Meet the founder of Elevating Access

Hello friends,

When I put out the call for Black founders to feature, it was great to learn about Dr Hayley Haywood and her identity-conscious coaching approach, along with her other work. Please meet Dr Hayley…

Hayley, tell me briefly about your background prior to founding Elevating Access

I grew up in a multiracial, interfaith family in New York, raised by two artists. Prior to launching Elevating Access, I had almost 15 years of experience working with diverse organizations from NASA to Northeastern University. I'd worked with hundreds of professionals, administrators, and students to provide identity-conscious coaching, program design, and strategic advisory support.

My roles in higher education ranged from Assistant Director of Leadership Initiatives to Director of Multicultural and First-Generation Student Support, where my student success program resulted in 100% retention of two cohorts of first-generation college students of color – higher than any other group at the institution.

My learning from/with students informed my leadership as I progressed to senior roles like Assistant Provost for Organizational Learning, using institutional data to inform strategy that nurtures equitable post-graduate student outcomes. My equity-designed programs have increased retention of students and employees of color, nurtured sense of belonging, and enhanced team capacity to foster mission-aligned impact.

My work has been featured in publications including Inside Higher Ed, CareerConnectors.Org, local news, & StartUp Nation. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from my communities, lived experience, a psychology degree from Clark University, a master’s in counseling and personnel services from the University of Maryland College Park & a doctorate in organizational change & leadership through the University of Southern California, where I completed a critical narrative study on the college-to-career transitions of first-generation professionals of color.

Give me the elevator pitch for Elevating Access

At Elevating Access, our mission is co-create equitable pathways to soulfilling work by partnering with educators and employers to build impactful, sustainable identity-conscious programs, practices, & structures. We also offer research-backed identity-conscious career coaching that centers the intersectional lived experiences of professionals of color.

And in more detail?

Elevating Access operates at the intersection of workforce development, higher education, and equity - offering two primary areas of support: capacity-building assistance and identity-conscious coaching.

We work alongside universities and employers to help them redesign barriers into opportunities, regardless of where they are in the process. This could involve collecting data to identify the root causes of challenges, designing team retreats to spark innovative, values-aligned action-planning, or providing training and consultation in alignment with our 6 Ps of Equity Priorities model.

Coaching packages are designed around our research-based 10 Cs of Soulfilling Work curriculum. These services are “done for you” and can support an employee resource group, or universities who want to offer more identity-conscious programming for their students. We also work with individuals.

What inequity were you trying to address, and why is this important?

My mission is to expand equitable access to soulfilling work. We all deserve thrivable compensation, benefits that meet our holistic needs, time away from work (and the energy to use that time for joy and connection); and meaningful, values-aligned work in an environment free from physical and mental harm. Structural inequities have created uneven work experiences for first-generation, low income, & racialized professionals, which has led to wealth and health disparities. No one wins in these environments, and ignoring inequities costs way more than investing in addressing them.

I spent my career centering race and class equity in higher education, and the truth is—we need to do a better job preparing students of color and first-gen students for life after college. There are countless reports on workplace discrimination, wealth gaps, and the importance of DEI, but interventions often take a deficit approach, as opposed to responding to larger systems of power, privilege, & structural barriers at play. Similarly, career-focused coaches, programs and articles generally only include identity as an “add on” or “special topic.” But, identity is never not relevant. This is why I offer both identity-conscious coaching, and organizational change consulting through an equity lens.

How’s it going? What has the response been?

My heart is so full from the community support I’ve received in my first year of business. People in my network, including those I recently met, especially Black women entrepreneurs, have taught me just how critical community is to business success. I’ve also learned that interest is not the same as investment, so referrals and partnership truly make a difference. I’m really grateful to all of you who have wrapped your arms around me, shared insights, spoken my name in rooms I’m not in, and amplified my work. That is what true solidarity looks like and I will do my best to continue to pay that forward.

What’s next for Elevating Access?

Earlier this month, I launched a community coaching program called the Soulfilling Career Collective, which centers the needs and lived experiences of changemaking women of color. The program was sparked by requests from former students (now professionals) who identify as women of color and approached me for career coaching support because of my LinkedIn posts.

Through the Collective, I’m responding to a gap that career centers and onboarding programs tend to miss – identity-conscious career coaching. Career success goes deeper than having strong application materials. Women of color are navigating power dynamics, often seeking an escape from harmful work environments, which requires healing and intentionally redefining our relationship to work, rest, and productivity. We’ve been socialized to contort, reduce, harden, or disconnect from parts of our beautiful, layered selves and that shows up throughout our career and personal journeys. I want to help my clients become more of who they are and reignite their inner light. Overall, my goal this year is to elevate my impact and expand collaborations with colleagues who are craving the support to do meaningful, sustainable impact work that goes beneath the surface.

In relation to racism, what is your vision for the future?

I’m invested in a future marked by true community and opportunity, grounded in racial solidarity that embraces people in their fullness. Just as all oppression is rooted in the same soil, our freedoms are interconnected. I see us coming together intentionally and strategically to embrace our power in anti-oppressive ways, and elevate our collective impact. If you are truly about the liberation of Black people, you must also advocate for Black trans, immigrant, working class, system-impacted people. If you are advocating for gender equity, this includes supporting liberation of Palestinian women, queer Latine women, disabled Jewish women, single mothers, and people with a uterus who don’t identify as women. Antiracism is about more than celebration – it requires a commitment to self-work, redesigning barriers into opportunities, & redressing harm through reconciliation, repair, & reparations.

Is there anything I haven't asked you that you'd like to add?

I host a monthly LinkedIn audio show, Informational Interview, to highlight the hidden curriculum of career development through an identity-conscious lens. This month’s episode was centered on reimagining our relationship to money through a liberatory lens while living in a capitalistic society.

To get more of a flavor of my work, here are a couple of resources:

I hope you enjoyed learning about Dr Hayley’s work as much as I did. Please connect with her on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Thanks for reading,


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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2024. All Rights Reserved.

I am an anti-racism educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality, the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.

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