Onward and Upward: Gina’s Determination Sets Waterloo’s Course

Top 10 Most Impactful DEI Leaders to Follow in 2024

Inspired by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s mantra, “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough,” Gina Weekley, the Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Waterloo Schools, embraces challenges as springboards for growth. Fearlessly pushing boundaries, she earned an esteem position among the “Top 10 Most Impactful DEI Leaders to Follow in 2024″, a testimonial to her transformative work and unwavering dedication.

Success takes on a myriad of meanings for each individual. It is a concept that Gina has personally grappled with and redefined over time. Growing up in an impoverished background, her initial perception linked success to tangible accomplishments like a high salary, prestigious titles, and significant accolades. However, Gina’s journey has led her to a profound realization – true success is rooted in the pursuit of inner peace and joy. For her, it now involves transcending personal boundaries, witnessing positive transformations in others, and actively contributing to systemic changes for the greater good. The crux of this transformative journey lies in shifting focus from external validations to internal fulfillment, marking a compelling shift in Gina’s perspective on what constitutes true success.

Gina, a Certified Diversity Professional, combines her 15+ years of experience in organizational development with a deep commitment to educational equity. As both Co-Founder/CEO of Weekley Connection Consulting and Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Waterloo Community Schools, she champions inclusive practices by actively integrating community voices into her programs. Gina is a sought-after speaker who has shared her expertise at community and national events, further solidifying her reputation as a powerful advocate for inclusivity. Leveraging her extensive background in nonprofit management, she actively supports Cedar Valley organizations and mentors educators, promoting research-backed programs for youth development. Driven by her intense passion, Gina holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa and is currently pursuing a doctorate at Baylor. A Cedar Valley, Iowa resident, she remains deeply committed to positive change within her community.

Gina succinctly describes herself as ‘DRIVEN.’ Given her unmatched dedication to fostering equity, inclusion, and belonging, we find it hard to disagree with this descriptor. In her role, she is immutable in making a positive impact.

Director’s (Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) Diary: One Waterloo Day at a Time

As the Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Waterloo Schools, this seasoned executive plays a pivotal role in shaping Waterloo Schools’ culture. As part of the District Leadership Team, she collaborates with diverse stakeholders to design and implement programs that guarantee fairness and equity for all. This involves crafting and overseeing initiatives that foster inclusivity, celebrate diversity, and address any disparities.

Beyond strategic planning, Gina actively engages with the school community. Whether co-teaching, delivering professional development, or simply connecting with staff, students, and families, she champions open dialogue and understanding. Her hands-on approach includes reviewing, recommending, and implementing policies, regulations, and procedures related to diversity and equity. She delves into data collection and analysis to monitor and report progress in areas affected by disproportionality. Leading various equity-focused committees and facilitating conversations, she’s a catalyst for positive change within the organization.

Inspiration Behind Taking the Step of Faith in D&I Leadership

Witnessing firsthand the systemic inequalities marginalized communities face, particularly in education, ignited Gina’s inspiration behind stepping into D&I leadership. Having personally experienced the sting of bias and its impact, she found her calling in empowering those unheard and underserved. Working in education, nonprofits, and youth services, she saw inequities deeply ingrained, not just in educational systems but across political, financial, and judicial spheres. This fueled her determination to become an active agent of change, challenging narratives and offering both educational insights and practical solutions. Though she acknowledges the omnipresence of inequity, even in seemingly inclusive spaces, she finds her purpose in dismantling these systems and fostering a more just world.

This adept professional notes: “My goal is to pave the way for a more inclusive world, creating spaces where every individual, especially the youth we serve, has the opportunity to belong and thrive.”


Gina’s journey was paved with self-doubt, a narrative that whispered that a child with trauma couldn’t reach for the stars. A college dropout with a stagnant life – fear was her invisible cage. Then, a spark: “Gina, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” This simple question, posed by a mentor, shattered the bars. Fear, not her past, was the true obstacle. The young Gina awakened, challenged her limits, and embraced possibilities beyond her wildest dreams. The transformation wasn’t just hers; it became a beacon of possibility for those around her. She learned that often, the biggest roadblock in our path is ourselves, and overcoming this requires courage and the support of mentors who believe in our potential.

Gina’s Pre-Waterloo Journey

Before Waterloo Schools, Gina embarked on a path of self-discovery fueled by a desire for a more accepting environment. Leaving her Iowa hometown for Virginia, she found a welcoming atmosphere where she could openly embrace her LGBTQ+ identity. Here, her career truly began at the YWCA of South Hampton Roads. Surrounded by inspiring individuals, she found her voice and was empowered to grow in ways she never imagined. Working under the mentorship of Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols, a champion of nurturing future leaders, left an indelible mark on Gina. These transformative years shaped her perspective, ignited her career aspirations, and ultimately led her back to Waterloo, eager to share her experiences and empower her community. This journey, marked by personal and professional evolution, continues to shape Gina’s path, one filled with gratitude for the opportunities that made her who she is today.

Waterloo Schools, in Brief 

Gina is a proud alumna who now serves her home- the Waterloo Community School District. She feels honored about this endeavor and regards this endeavor as ‘completing a full circle in her journey.’ Spanning across various Iowa towns and accommodating more than 10,000 students across 21 campuses from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade, this expansive district mirrors the diverse and dynamic essence of the Cedar Valley.

As a major employer in the Cedar Valley, they have approximately 1,700 employees, including 851 full-time equivalents (FTE) professional staff and 558 FTE support staff. About 40 percent of their educators hold advanced degrees, highlighting the quality of our teaching force.

The cultural landscape has evolved richly since Gina’s time. Once primarily binary, it now embraces a rich diversity of languages, religions, races, and cultures, thanks to the invaluable contributions of immigrants and refugees who have joined this community. Reflecting its diverse demographic, Gina mentions that their district serves families from different socio-economic backgrounds. According to her, this diversity isn’t just statistics; it’s their strength, providing a wide range of perspectives and experiences that enhance each student’s education.

Waterloo Schools are committed to enriching every student’s journey. Programs like Life Labs, the Career Center, and Success Street equip students with the tools to thrive, whether aiming for college or a fulfilling career. Their goal is for every student to graduate with a diploma and a clear plan for the future.

Redefining Education Industry through Inclusive Leadership

Gina’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) approach goes beyond mere compliance. She recognizes that true transformation requires dismantling barriers and ensuring every voice is heard. This, she argues, unlocks the potential for remarkable innovation and progress within the education industry.

Her key tools? They are affinity groups, one-on-one coaching, deliberate recruitment strategies targeting marginalized groups, and intentional data-driven analysis. These create a fertile ground for diverse perspectives to flourish, enriching the school’s growth and vision—regular reflection, continuous learning, and determined commitment fuel this transformation. Gina champions leading by action, collaborating with her team to see these challenging yet crucial initiatives through. It’s not easy, but the potential unleashed makes it undeniably worthwhile.

Blueprint for a Culture of Integrity at Waterloo Schools

This experienced professional applies several key strategies to ensure a culture of integrity at Waterloo Schools. Cultivating trustworthy relationships is one of her main focus areas here. She prioritizes open, honest communication, tackling even tough topics with respect and empathy. By dismantling the culture of ‘nice lies,’ Gina underlines acting with character and doing the right thing even when faced with challenging situations. With these techniques of hers, integrity becomes the bedrock of every action and decision, guiding the school community toward collective growth and success.

Building Bridges, Not Agendas: Gina’s Manta to Thrive

Thriving in this industry wasn’t simply about hard work for Gina. It hinged on building meaningful relationships. “Do the difficult thing, even when others are hesitant,” she often reminds herself. Fostering trust and openness through genuine connections became the substratum of her success, especially when tackling complex issues like DEI. Vulnerability and transparency, she believes, are vital to creating an environment where everyone feels appreciated, even during challenging conversations.

Gina’s vision extends beyond addressing specific issues. It’s about bridging the societal gap of disconnection and polarization. Her goal is to build spaces for civil discourse where individuals can engage personally and appreciate each other’s unique perspectives. It’s not about pushing an agenda but recognizing shared humanity and nurturing empathy. She believes this is the path toward a more inclusive and connected world.

Best Recognition as a Leader

“The most fulfilling recognition I have received as a leader doesn’t come in the form of awards or accolades but rather in witnessing the remarkable achievements of those I’ve mentored and led,” says Gina.

Witnessing individuals excel and assume positions such as local CEOs, teachers, and City Councilpersons fills her with an incomparable sense of pride and accomplishment. For instance, one of Gina’s mentees, who began as a young intern under her tutelage, now serves as the Founder and CEO of a flourishing national company. Watching their evolution from novices to influential leaders epitomizes her understanding of leading by examples. For Gina, leadership entails establishing and shaping an environment where aspiring leaders can grow, succeed, and, eventually, inspire others. She believes this continuous cycle of growth and empowerment serves as the greatest testament to effective leadership.

Family First: Motivating Force for Growth

Gina’s life revolves around her loved ones. Married to Aysha with daughter Aaliyah and “puppy son” Rajah, they are her constant inspiration. Four adored godchildren add to the family circle. Gina draws strength from her close-knit family, including her mother Karen and siblings Angela, Kenny, Ricky, and Anthony, whom she considers her “backbone.” Together, they motivate her to strive for her best self every day.

Finding Harmony: Gina’s Recipe for Balance and Motivation

Balance isn’t just a buzzword for Gina. Maintaining personal well-being in a demanding field like equity and inclusion fuels her effectiveness. Daily routines like meditation, walks, and reflection nourish her mental health and practices she encourages in others. Collaboration with the Wellness department ensures everyone has the tools to prioritize holistic health because they know “the best service comes from the best us.”

Flexibility is key. Respecting work-life integration, Gina encourages time with loved ones, trips, and laughter – vital elements that refill her cup outside work. Open communication fosters a supportive environment. Regular check-ins allow understanding of employee needs, challenges, and aspirations, leading to better service delivery.

Motivation thrives on recognition. Gina and her team celebrate milestones, acknowledge hard work, and provide growth opportunities, ensuring everyone feels valued and empowered to deliver top-notch service.

Personal Goals Fueling a Passion for Change

Gina’s personal goals chart a course of impactful growth. Her doctoral pursuit in Change Leadership at Baylor University equips her with deeper expertise for advancing DEI initiatives. Within the next two years, she envisions data reflecting the positive impact of these efforts on students, staff, and families, fostering a sense of belonging and boosting academic achievement.

Gina’s passion for empowering others shines through her desire to refine her coaching skills, witnessing the growth of individuals and teams fueling her. She plans to expand her consulting business, offering more organizations and individuals access to meaningful DEI work and opportunities to lead such efforts.

These aspirations are woven into the fabric of her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through continuous learning and personal growth, both academically and professionally, Gina strives to make positive difference in the lives of individuals and organizations.

Message to Aspiring DEI Leaders

Gina’s message to future DEI leaders calls for honesty and vulnerability. “Be honest about your struggles,” she urges them to connect with their “why” personally. Transparency about one’s own vulnerabilities fosters genuine connections and encourages others to do the same.

In their journey to dismantle oppressive systems, Gina reminds DEI aspirants of the responsibility to challenge the status quo and continually educate themselves about alternative solutions. She emphasizes the significance of using their voices effectively to avoid inadvertently perpetuating systemic issues.

Furthermore, this veteran professional highlights that the work of DEI leaders extends beyond themselves, impacting the upcoming generations. She encourages them to “Stay true to your purpose, be courageous, and lead with empathy and authenticity. Your commitment to DEI can truly make a difference.”