Season 2, Episode 8 with Camille Leak: Exploring the Intersection of DEI and Trauma

A group in deep thought during the Accelerator in 2019.

“Become a witness to yourself.” – Camille Leak  

In Inclusive Life, we are continually looking at the ways in which we can reach across differences as a path to connection and liberation. We often explore the impediments to being with one another authentically such as defensiveness, perfectionism, guilt, and shame. Camille Leak brings this conversation even deeper. She brings us to what’s beneath these obstacles to connection: trauma.

Camille Leak is a DEI practitioner who believes that folks’ inability to be with other people’s differences is their fundamental lack of capacity to be with their own marginalization and trauma first. And what feels really new here is the way in which Camille deliberately and continually connects marginalization with trauma and trauma with marginalization.

Because we’ve been taught–some more than others– to “bypass and ignore our own marginalization and trauma for the comfort of other people,” Camille asserts that we will bypass and ignore others’ trauma and marginalization. We cannot do for others what we cannot do for ourselves. 

Awareness comes first. It helps to know what trauma responses are. We may have heard about the trauma responses fight, flight, freeze or fawn (appease), but can we recognize those responses as they show up in our bodies and in our behavior patterns? For example, flight can show up as chronic busyness. Fawning can show up in a tendency to inauthentically compliment or agree to stay connected and liked. 

And this is where becoming a neutral witness to ourselves enters in. Can we witness ourselves in pain with curiosity and kindness rather than judgment and a desire to fix? According to Camille, this is often where DEI efforts shut down: we want to keep it comfortable. We especially do not want to deal with our own pain. Let’s just do a bias training and keep it movin’.

As Nicole points out, growing up requires increasing our capacity for discomfort. As kids, we experience bumps and bruises as we learn a new physical skill. We learn to wait our turn, to confront challenges without falling apart, and to win and lose gracefully. 

And so the work of liberation requires us to exercise these same discomfort muscles as the stakes get higher and higher. We have to get in our reps, practicing staying with ourselves in discomfort. As we do that, we become better equipped to be neutral observers of others. Camille offers that we can begin to discern whether we are dealing with another person, or actually dealing with someone’s trauma response.

In the face of differences, there is the reality that one’s marginalization has happened because of another’s privilege. Can we develop the capacity to be with someone’s marginalization that we are, on some level, perpetuating and benefiting from?  It’s deep and necessary work that requires and generates empathy.

And empathy is connection across difference.

This conversation will make you pause and will invite you to look through the lens of trauma when approaching yourself, others, and all equity and inclusion work. 

We encourage you to seek out the support and facilitation Camille is offering. It so beautifully complements the work of Inclusive Life. 


In this conversation, Nicole and Camille discuss:

  • How Camille’s work in market research led her to her current work in DEI and somatics
  • The problem: our inability to sit with other people’s trauma
  • What trauma actually is 
  • Why organizations and their leaders want so desperately to avoid the discomfort
  • The fallout that ensues when leaders won’t get in touch with their own trauma
  • What trauma is not
  • The cost of not dealing with trauma and how it relates to white supremacy culture
  • Trauma response as a visceral mechanism to ensure safety and position
  • There’s not necessarily more trauma, there’s more willingness and ability to verbalize traumatizing experiences and systems
  • How can we acknowledge varying degrees and layers of trauma in ourselves and others without playing “oppression Olympics”?
  • The importance of relationship and how to begin to cultivate relationships across differences
  • What it means for Camille to live her best Inclusive Life


About Camille Leak:

Camille Leak (she/her) is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Practitioner, truth teller, and story teller. She often says, “I’m not doing my job if I don’t do two things: 1) tell you how DEI impacts your bottom line, e.g., how it makes you money, drives growth, or increases relevancy and 2) make you really uncomfortable; being uncomfortable is the only way you know you are doing DEI right.”

Via her practice, Real Talk & Brave Spaces, she provides group facilitation, workshops, and one-on-one coaching about a variety of DEI topics, cultivating spaces where individuals and groups can fearlessly confront the most uncomfortable elements of DEI.

Additionally, Camille is the Community Manager of Holistic Life Navigation, a company and community that serves to support people as they release stress and trauma by listening to their bodies. She got into trauma healing, facilitation and community management because she loves asking people questions that help them reach that “a-ha!” moment.

Camille was the DEI Learning & Development Program Manager for Amazon Web Services in which she supported the strategic direction of DEI by leading key initiatives across the enterprise, including Sponsorship/Mentoring Programs, Communication Strategies, and Learning & Development initiatives. Prior to joining Amazon Web Services, Camille was also the ID&E Manager at Altria, leading key initiatives across the enterprise, including Data Analyses, Communications, Employee Resource Groups, Self-ID Campaigns and Learning & Development programming. At Altria, Camille held previous roles in the Consumer & Marketplace Insights and Corporate Affairs functions. Prior to joining Altria, Camille was the Associate Head of Multicultural Insights at Kantar Futures, where she led the development and implementation of the annual Multicultural MONITOR and consulted with clients, offering actionable insights for engaging specific under-represented or marginalized consumers and an evolving general market that is increasingly diverse and requiring more of the companies and brand they choose to support.

Camille earned her B.S. in Business Administration along with a minor in Spanish from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She later earned her MBA at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School with a concentration in Marketing and Strategy.


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