Interview: Seena Hodges (Minneapolis I Chapter)

 

Educating against racism

It was after Seena Hodges led a workshop on inclusivity for the Women Presidents Organization (WPO) that she was invited to join the group’s Minnesota Chapter. It’s one of the best things she ever did.

“The biggest benefit, for me, is having a place filled with women who I can talk with about my business successes and challenges. The members who are seasoned businesswomen help you course-correct and you also meet women who are experiencing the same business life-stage as you are,” she says.

Seena runs The Woke Coach, which helps clients deepen their analysis of, and develop an understanding around, issues of racism, bias, allyship, and injustice, in 2018. For the first nine months she operated alone. Now she employs up to 10 people, depending on client needs.

She joined the WPO, which is dedicated to offering professional support, coaching and business guidance to women business leaders, about four years ago. Already she has made an impression in the organization, which has more than 2 000 members across Canada, the United States, Mexico, Peru, Spain, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Turkey.

She was an honoree in the 2023 Entrepreneurial Women of Impact Awards, announced last September. The awards aim to highlight and celebrate the exceptional achievements of women of color entrepreneurs in North America. They are presented by the WPO in partnership with Women Elevating Women, an organization that strives to boost the careers of women of color, and sponsored by JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking.

“It’s always an honor to see the work you do honored. Plus, clients love award-winning businesses,” Seena says.

Applications for the 2024 awards are open until July 15, and Seena encourages eligible women to enter. “Don’t feel as though you don’t have enough time, or let imposter syndrome hold you back. Do this for yourself. It is important that we recognize and celebrate each other and this is a great way of doing that,” she says.

Seena started The Woke Coach in 2018. It was just over a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, and she found herself having coffee with more and more concerned and confused white people who wanted to make sure none of their words or actions were racist, but did not know how to start fully learning how to understand the black experience.

“I started The Woke Coach to help,” she says. The company had its biggest growth phase immediately after George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white police officer in her own city, Minneapolis, in May 2020.

Seena says that in running The Woke Coach she draws on her past experience as a marketing and communications officer for philanthropic organizations and Broadway shows. She also draws on her undergraduate degree in English, Spanish and Theatre from Columbia College and her master’s degree in Theatre Management and Producing from Columbia University.

“I use my qualifications and experience every day. The Woke Coach is about bringing people together and showing them how to reach other’s emotions, just like you do in a show. In this case, their clients are the audience,” she says.

Also, Seena is a sought-after public speaker who gives keynote addresses, takes part in fireside chats on inclusivity, and hosts workplace conversations on the topic. In all of this, her theater training comes handy.

The Woke Coach offers five-, eight-, and 12-month workplace training programs, each called From Ally to Accomplice, and designed for up to 15 participants. The programs are specifically designed for leaders who are committed to authentic personal and professional cultural competency, leadership development, and creating inclusive workplaces.

The program name is taken from Seena’s book, From Ally to Accomplice: How to Lead as a Fierce Antiracist, which aims to educate people and corporations on the truth about the realities of racial injustice. For Seena, an ally advocates for groups or individuals who do not come from the same place of privilege as the ally, while an accomplice takes a step beyond allyship into using their privilege to challenge existing conditions at the risk of their own comfort and well-being.

She has a second book in the early planning stage – it will be based on her doctoral dissertation. That’s right, Seena’s enrolled at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to work towards a PhD in management and public service.

Seena says she’s very grateful for the camaraderie and support she has received through the WPO.

“I was a solopreneur for nine months, which can seem a very long time when you are working alone. The WPO helped me feel less alone,” she says.

The highlight of Seena’s working year is the WPO’s annual conference, the Entrepreneurial Excellence Forum. The next one will be held in San Antonio, Texas, from May 7 to 9, 2025.

“I’m always blown away at the conference,” she says, “The speakers are so energizing and enlightening, and it’s a time to reflect on the past year, often in conversation with other women entrepreneurs, and make plans for the future.”