A Salute to Dr. Cathy Royal: Contributions to Gender and Racial Equality
Honoring One of Our Own
March is Women’s History Month and what better way to honor the women who have shaped our history and paved the way for generations of women than to celebrate one of our own. Cathy Royal, PhD, M.OD, M.A, B.S and adjunct professor of Organization Development and Environmental and Social Sustainability at Colorado Technical University, spoke with us about growing up in Civil Rights era in Detroit, her work in redefining gender and racial roles and how she’s helped change the world through inclusion, understanding and curiosity.
Asking the Right Questions
Royal’s upbringing in 1950s-1960s Detroit—a city alive with cultural awareness and division of power—set the course for the path she would take in life. From an early age, she knew what was expected of her but she wasn’t always comfortable with it. Royal was an inquisitive child, frequently asking her father why things were the way they were and daring to suggest they could be different. “If I could convince him,” she said, “I could convince anyone. I had to go to him with compelling and accurate data to change his mind.”
Royal quickly learned that by asking the right questions, she could foster change. She carried this curiosity with her as she pursued her first degree at Wayne State University. And it was here that she began exploring a new area of study called Appreciative Inquiry, which challenges the way we make decisions.
Through her studies and experiences, Royal saw firsthand the impact exclusion and privilege had on opportunities for women and people of color in education and the workplace. “Where are our women? Our black women? Our older women? Where are the opportunities for learning and empowerment that create pathways to business ownership, PhDs and leadership?”
Royal was determined to find the answers. Royal went on to earn a Masters of Science in Education Leadership from Wayne State University and a Masters in Organization Development and a PhD in Human and Organizational Systems from the Fielding Institute, eventually landing a position on the faculty at Colorado Technical University, where she loves helping her students find their voice and passion through inclusion and opportunity.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching for me is seeing other women grow and succeed,” she said. “I get excited when I see students catch fire about an idea.”
Moving Toward Understanding
Royal’s initial work in appreciative inquiry provided a foundation for some of her most important contributions to race and gender equality, including her award-winning Quadrant Behavioral Theory, which examines how power and privilege work within social systems.
According to Royal, the intersection of race and gender exist in all of us. We have a set of beliefs about what we should and shouldn’t do imposed by society, which can close us off to each others' experiences. “This creates a deep well of misunderstanding,” Royal said. The way toward understanding and inclusiveness, she explained, is to speak up and ask questions. “Open your mouth. If you hear something that could be gender bias or racial oppression, ask a question. You don’t have to accuse or condemn. The simple act of asking can change the dynamic. We have no idea how powerful our voices can be.”
As a mother, Royal understands the challenges many women face balancing school, work and family life. When asked what advice she gives her students—and any woman trying to pursue her dreams, she said to do something every day that encourages you to be the best you can be. “Write in a journal, have a conversation about your work. And if your dream is bigger than your reality, you can walk into your dream.”
Women Inspiring Women
Throughout her own journey, Royal has had many mentors and role models, her mother being her first and most important influential figure. “She was a strong community activist and supporter of adoption,” Royal said. “She raised 13 children with dignity and aplomb.”
Another of her role models is Mellody Hobson, current Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dreamworks Animation and director for several major corporations including Starbucks, Estee Lauder, and Groupon. “She coined I phrase I absolutely love, ‘know your worth,’ which is so important for women when it comes to pay and position.”
Today, Dr. Royal is an inspiration to her students at CTU and women everywhere. We salute you, Dr. Royal, for giving so much back to the community—and for being a strong role model for women and showing that one person can change the world.
Fortunately, women today have many options for furthering their education, even while working full-time jobs and raising families. CTU offers the convenience of online learning and the opportunity of working towards a Master’s degree while earning a Bachelor’s degree.