Dr. Stephanie is an entrepreneur who has a relentless commitment to growth, social equity, and the empowerment of tomorrow's leaders. Her business, blog and podcast give others to the tools and road maps to bloom into their best selves.
We had the pleasure of being a guest on Dr. Stephanie's Blooming is a Habit podcast this past month (stay tuned for our upcoming episode release!). In this rapid-fire Q+A, Dr. Stephanie shares her journey as a visionary and as a leader. Be sure to check out her feature in this month's En Root: How Leaders Can Make Blooming a Habit!
Tell us about your personal and professional journey to date. How did you get to where you are today?
I am Dr. Stephanie Akoumany, the Founder and CEO of Bloom, a leadership, wellness, and community-building media and education company. I am also a mother, wife, daughter, marathoner, motivational speaker, researcher, and the host of the Blooming is a Habit podcast. Bloom uses the latest insights from public health, psychology and neuroscience to create engaging media, tech, curriculum, trainings, workshops and conferences that help humans bloom into their best selves.
Bloom helps individuals, families, schools and businesses plant seeds of mindfulness, play, productivity, empathy and inclusivity in their everyday lives, creating road maps for holistic success! Bloom honors the idea that happy, healthy, and empowered people can change the world. My parents always made it clear that they believed in me. They told me that I could do anything that I put my mind to. I was so lucky to have so much outside support. My mom shared her passion for learning with me and showed me that you have to know your worth, no matter what room you enter. I always knew that despite our family’s economic challenges, I could use my education and drive to change my life circumstances.
When I was 9 years old, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I always knew that I loved learning about people’s life stories, social issues and ingenious solutions. In 2009, I interned at the U.S. House of Representatives and introduced President Barack Obama at a televised White House press conference, where he was advocating for increased Pell Grants for college students from low-to-middle socio-economic statuses.
I earned my Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2018. My dissertation research highlighted how 55 black, early-adolescent girls from a Baltimore City public school utilized resilience strategies, particularly self-assertion, storytelling, creativity, play, and community-building, to cope with daily stressors.
I like to think of myself as the Olivia Pope of School and Workplace Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Wellness. I help my clients “fix” and/or improve any school and workplace cultural practices that are not helping their communities to bloom. Most of my clients are on the road to community healing through personal and professional development work. I have over 10 years of experience helping over 400+ students, 200 educators, and 100 parents in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. I also created the 2019 Bloom Wellness Summit, which was sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health in Baltimore, MD to help middle school girls and their teachers brainstorm and learn how to make wellness a priority at their schools.
At OutGrowth, we are committed to giving access. Tell us about your approach to your team's leadership development and career competency-building, and what this concept of access has meant for you.
I think that leadership development is so important because you have the opportunity to show your team that they are great, while inspiring them with the same passion that you have for your mission. Whether you’re working with students, employees or administrators, it’s great to give them the space to identify their passions. Then, you can give them opportunities to work on their dreams while at work, in a way that benefits you both. This is what I call alignment. You want your employees to feel focused, productive, creative and fulfilled. So many people do not enjoy the work they do. We need to change that. When people feel included and respected, they feel well. Productivity increases, fulfillment increases, and people are more likely to be responsible for the energy they bring to their company’s work culture. Together, we can cultivate work spaces where everyone can bloom!
I’ve had each one of my interns work on projects that both really excite them and align with my business goals. This is important because I know that this may not be my interns’ last job, and that they are just beginning their careers. They need to grow. I want them to feel like they learn something new every day, and that they are making a great impact in the world. I want their time at Bloom to propel their personal and professional development, showing them who they really are, and what they are really made of. I think career competency-building is extremely important because every field is constantly evolving, and you want to think about how you will evolve with it. What does your field or industry look like in the next 5, 10, or 20 years? How will technology and globalization affect your industry? What contribution can you make in your field? How will Social-Emotional Learning, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Employee Wellness be prioritized at your company? YouTube, podcasts and blogs are great tools for thinking about these questions.
Tell us about a pinnacle point or moment in your own development as a leader and professional.
A pinnacle moment in my development as a leader occurred when I was completing my dissertation, and I worked at the Swedish Embassy’s Mentor Foundation USA from September 2014 - December 2015, until I resigned for maternity leave. This position allowed me to create partnerships that supported students’ personal, social, academic and career development. In this role, I developed, implemented, and later directed their school-based and company-based mentoring programs in Washington, D.C. I worked hard to create, implement, market, secure grants for, and evaluate our programs. I also recruited, trained, and educated volunteer mentors, parents, students, teachers and school administrators, business professionals, philanthropists, stakeholders, elected officials, and international leaders on the value of our mentoring program. All of these experiences allowed me to find real-world and science-backed solutions to the social justice issues that I had been studying. When I stopped working there, I knew I had what it took to create my own business that was dedicated to helping all humans to bloom into their best selves.
How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook?
This experience changed the course of my life because it really made me realize that I could create my own company and reality. I could create a culture of entrepreneurship, mindfulness, and social innovation that pushed myself and others to follow their dreams. It pushed me to think abundantly, and believe in my own talents and skills to help others. My whole life led up to this moment. Now it’s manifestation time. Blooming Season.
If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Believe in yourself, because if you don't, you’re going to allow someone else to control your life. You have the ability to learn everything you need, and to run your own show. Our thoughts determine our destiny. You are what you think, so think positively. You have to practice creating ideas and habits that can help you to grow into the person that you are meant to be!
What is your favorite quote?
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Each thing has to transform itself into something better.”- Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I love this quote, but it’s tricky because I think you have to believe in yourself and in the universe against all past negative life experiences. You have to believe that you do live in what Dr. Wayne Dyer calls a “friendly universe” and not a “hostile one.” This is extremely hard if you have experienced trauma. I try to focus on the changes that I want to see in my own life and in the world, and take actions to move myself closer to my dreams. This mindset is a privilege, and it took years of personal development and mindfulness work to cultivate. I used to be so angry about social injustice, and now I know that bad things will happen, but it’s my job to find solutions and leave the world better than I found it. A book called The Moral Arc helped me to think about our social evolution as humans. We have to keep pushing for positive change. I share this mindset in the hope of helping others to create road maps and outline actions that can help them feel fulfilled, even against the odds. I want to hack our mindsets to enable us to be more resilient, peaceful, and solution-oriented.
Based on your professional experience, what are the top three career competencies that you believe will be most important in 2020 and beyond?
1. Social Emotional Learning and the your ability to incorporate mindfulness into your daily practice.
2. A Growth Mindset so that you will always be willing to be flexible and adaptable to people and your changing environment.
3. Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness. Being willing to learn from diverse groups of people with different worldviews and practices is so important. We can’t grow if we are not sharing ideas, respecting each other, and creating equitable workplaces and social institutions.
What's next? What are your next steps toward growth in 2020?
I will release Season Two of the Blooming Is A Habit podcast in February, and will be delivering several diversity, equity, inclusion, and wellness trainings. I will also be speaking at conferences and events around the nation and globe.
Dr. Stephanie Akoumany is the Founder and CEO of Bloom, a leadership, wellness, and community- building media and education company. She is also the host of the Blooming is A Habit podcast. Stephanie is a speaker, researcher, and educator who helps schools and businesses to cultivate cultures that embrace diversity, equity, inclusion, and holistic wellness.