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Distinguished Alumna, Motivational Speaker, and CEO Alycia Anderson

Published: Monday March 4, 2024

Originally published on Chico State Today by Almendra Lawrence February 21, 2024

Black and white photo illustration of Alycia Anderson with the words: 2024 Distinguished Alumni Honoree

Alycia Anderson hasn’t always had a stage, but she’s always had her voice.  

From a young age, Anderson (Physical Education, ’05), has asserted herself by speaking up and living her core belief: she deserves to be included, just like everyone else. This has guided her through all seasons in life, whether it was encouraging her grade school teachers to let her participate in class instead of sitting on the sidelines or choosing to major in adaptive physical education and inclusion because she wanted to make an impact on future generations. 

Now an international TEDx motivational speaker, disability advocate, and inclusion educator, Anderson’s platform allows her message to reach wider audiences. Anderson is the founder and CEO of The Alycia Anderson Company, LLC., which focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) education and advocacy in the workplace. She has presented to companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch Co., AAA, and eHarmony; been featured in an AT&T commercial, the Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune; and was on CBS News

alycia sitting in her wheelchair in front of her podcast station with her hand on her hips

In 2023, she launched a podcast, Pushing Forward with Alycia, where she gives a voice to disability and aims to bridge the gap between society and the disabled experience. Each episode, she and her guest explore topics such as ambition, confidence, and resilience, inspiring listeners to succeed against all odds regardless of whether you have a disability or not.  

Born with sacral agenesis, a congenital disability affecting her spine, Anderson has used a wheelchair her entire life but has never been bound by it. However, when she entered the workforce, Anderson realized that disability inclusion was an afterthought for many companies. 

Anderson believes that disability is a vital part of the DEI conversation that intersects all other avenues. It can affect anyone’s life at any moment and can impact people of any ethnic background, race, or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, disability inclusion is often seen as compliance-driven and not as an individual’s experience. While compliance is important, Anderson said there are many more layers of inclusion to be explored. 

“In the whole DEI space that I work in today, 90% of companies are implementing diversity programs, but only 4% of companies include disability in that conversation,” Anderson said. “I made a conscious decision that I wanted to lead, not follow. …I’m passionate about advocating for these things because it was hard for me to enter the workforce and overcome these challenges. 

“I bring the heart and human experience to the conversation.” 

You inspire many people through your work. Who or what inspires you? 

The work inspires me. A lifetime of people who have been my allies, who have pushed me, who have seen things in me before I could see myself, inspire me. I’m inspired by the opportunity to pave a wider path of opportunity for the next generation of people with disabilities. I’m inspired by the opportunity to try to be fearless and overcome my own obstacles, and then take that opportunity to see what’s on the other side—the impact, the accomplishments that I’ve achieved by being brave enough to push through my fears, push through inaccessibility, push through stigma, push through all the things that I have to face. I’m inspired by the adventure I’m on. My husband and I travel all over the country, we speak to global companies, we create content, we engage with clients and audiences, and we experience the highs and downs through travel. And I interview incredible people on my podcast where I learn from perspectives and backgrounds that I don’t know. It’s that process of human connection and communication that inspires me to keep peeling back the layers of advocacy and what’s possible. 

How do you create positive change in the workplace and the world? 

By sharing and advocating for the things that need to be changed. By speaking out. By collaborating with others. By listening and learning. If you get any little nuggets of gold, share them with the people who are in your circles. My platform is called Heart of Inclusion for a reason. I believe that if we want to create positive change, we must lean in with love and empathy and try to have some understanding of other people’s backgrounds and journeys. This is a collaborative process of understanding each other. We need to lean in with love, even when we’re talking about the workplace. And a lot of empathy. 

What professional and what life advice would you give students today? 

My professional advice is to know your worth and then be ready to share what your worth is when the time is right. When the time comes to ask for a raise or to get a promotion, don’t be afraid to say what you’re worth. Use what is different about you—your diversity—strategically as a valuable attribute to leverage in the workplace, rather than the typical limitations we are often placed in. Use your differences to advance your career, literally using a strategy to move you forward instead of holding you back. I wish I had done this earlier in my life.   

When I was really young, my parents would tell me they knew my path in life was going to be a little bit difficult and challenging. And they would always tell me all the time to do the best that I can with what I’ve been given and to try to smile along the way because the smile will let other people in. So, do the best you can with what you’ve been given, and try to smile. That’s my life advice. 

What does it mean to be recognized by Chico State as a distinguished alum? 

This is one of the greatest honors of my life. I was shocked when I received the letter. I did a lot of self-reflecting because when I look back from where I came from, like when I entered Yolo Hall so many years ago as a somewhat young, insecure disabled women who was full of self-doubt—doubt in my abilities, doubt that I was going to fit in, or if I was going to be accepted—and now I look at where I am: a confident, strong, disabled woman with a capital D who is successful as a motivational speaker and I’m literally living my dreams. The things I’m doing today are the things I said years ago that I would be doing. I’m on global stages for companies like NBC and Victoria’s Secret, and these unbelievable companies and brands that I’m in front of and advocating for the future. It is an honor for me. So, when I look back at all of this and I put the little breadcrumbs together, this is a full-circle moment. This is a powerful moment for me. I’m proud to receive this award and this honor, and I’m so grateful to Chico State and (kinesiology) Professor (Rebecca) Lytle and all of the people who have lifted me up there to help me understand myself and become who I am. I’m grateful and I’m so proud and excited. 

alycia on stage wearing a black outfit and a headset microp0hone delivering a speech with her hands extended out pointing to the sky

Almendra Lawrence

Almendra (Journalism, ’11) is a bilingual content producer who helps empower and inspire audiences through storytelling. She also assists with editing and communications project management. She is a proud alumna and former editor-in-chief of The Orion.