Sydney Spears, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Ask the Expert: Practicing Compassion to Further Social Justice and Create Change

Articles Apr 24, 2024

Through our work with hundreds of clients, The Diversity Movement has connected with thousands of fascinating people who are creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces and communities. For this “Ask the Expert” series, we invite leaders to talk about their DEI journey, lessons they’ve learned, and what inspires them every day.

Sydney Spears, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Sydney Spears, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Sydney Spears, Ph.D., LCSW, (she/her) is a certified Mindful-Self Compassion teacher and the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) for the Center of Mindful Self-Compassion (CMSC). She has been dedicated to advocating for social justice for underrepresented and oppressed groups for many years. Practicing self-compassion and compassion for others are important elements in her equity work and her daily self-care.

For 18 years, Sydney served as an administrator and professor for the University of Kansas-School of Social Welfare. Her academic teaching specialty and research involved issues of diversity, social justice, and clinical social work. This work expressed Sydney’s deep passion for advancing social equity for BIPOC and women-identified communities as well as other marginalized communities interfacing systemic injustices.

Sydney is highly committed to advancing anti-oppressive and trauma-sensitive organizational practices, policies and programs. This commitment also extends into Sydney’s “empowerment and liberatory” work as a private practice psychotherapist and her organizational DEIB leadership work for CMSC and the Center for Trauma and Embodiment in the Boston area.

Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share the story of how you came to your current role?

Ever since I was an adolescent, I have been a strong advocate for dismantling sociocultural oppression in its various forms across marginalized communities. My own personal identity as a multiracial-Black woman generated this work as well as learning about the racial and patriarchal trauma that my grandparents, parents, and other ancestors endured. In the past, I have held roles in education and social work, such as an elementary school teacher, university professor, and administrator. Within each of these roles, I worked to support equity and social justice. Currently, I work as psychotherapist, coach, organizational consultant, and educator specializing in DEIB and advancing trauma-sensitivity, body-positivity, and empowerment. I also teach Mindful Self-Compassion courses specifically for BIPOC communities and for general communities.

How are you working to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in your community?

As the Director of DEIB for CMSC, I have been able to bring more voice, attention, and inclusivity regarding DEIB issues to the Board of Directors, Executive Director, and the teachers. I have also been able to facilitate a CMSC-based DEIB committee composed of Mindful Self-Compassion teachers representing culturally diverse identities. This committee serves to assess, identify, and participate in organizational equity issues and needs.

Can you describe a personal experience that fuels your passion?

Professionally, I have been able to support several BIPOC individuals in becoming certified teachers of Mindful Self-Compassion and to create opportunities for other culturally diverse individuals to advance professionally.

Can you tell us about a DEI win that you are proud of? It doesn’t have to be big, just meaningful for you.

About six years ago, DEIB was not very present within the curriculum of Mindful Self-Compassion. However, my advocacy about the importance and deep need of human inclusion and belonging, especially for those who have experienced sociocultural oppression, had a positive impact which led to many program-based culture changes.

Character is so important today in our professional and personal lives. Which character trait do you think has been most helpful in your journey? Can you please share a story or example of that trait in action?

Courage is the primary character trait that has been the most useful in my journey. There have been countless times in which I have had to advocate and give voice to a DEIB issue. It would have been so much easier and safer to be silent, but my passion for justice tended to override my fear of the potential risks of speaking up. My strength has allowed me to break the pull to be silent and amplify my voice on behalf of communities who never got a chance to have a seat at the table. This is an expression of “fierce/empowerment” self-compassion.

What does inclusive leadership mean to you?

  1. Creating safer and braver spaces for ALL to be valued, seen, heard, understood, and appreciated for the diverse perspectives and gifts they bring to the team.
  2. Building and valuing collaborative relationships within the team.
  3. All team members feel they are welcomed and appreciated.
  4. Sharing power by inviting the voices, perspectives, feedback, and actions of team members.
  5. Clear communication and transparency about organizational challenges, changes, issues, and needs. Provide team members with supportive resources in relation to their role and position if needed.
  6. Celebrate team member accomplishments both individually and collectively.

What strategies do you use to maintain your personal well-being and/or professional resilience?

Practicing Mindful Self-Compassion is necessary when engaging in DEIB work. DEIB is highly complex, challenging, and exhausting at times. When I feel myself becoming exhausted, I pay attention to my need to rest, and I take a break or set certain boundaries. I also practice Mindful Self-Compassion when I need to continue to work toward social justice, despite the potential risks. At those times, I remember that the journey is the reward.

How can people follow you online or connect with you?

Email me at

Check out more expert advice in TDM Library, where you’ll find articles, videos, how-to guides, podcasts, and webinars – all organized by topic so you can quickly find the answers you need about the subjects you care about. When you subscribe to TDM Library, you get access to thousands of award-winning DEI learning resources, so you can start improving your workplace culture right away.


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