Zach has the pleasure of chatting with FranklinCovey’s Pamela Fuller in this episode themed around the topics of engagement and inclusion. She shares with us why she thinks that we’re often talking about unconscious bias rather than just bias, and she also gives us a practical example of what it means to tie inclusion to performance. Listen to the full show to hear Pamela’s definition of employee engagement and a whole lot more.
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and look, we’re back. It’s Season 3. It’s 2020. You know, you’re probably riding in your hover jet or, you know, petting your cloned pig. I don’t know what’s happening in the future, but, you know, it’s 2020 is my point. It’s a new year, and, you know what we do. We have authentic conversations that center underrepresented voices in the corporate space–and corporate space is just another word for saying “work,” so a 9-to-5 job. So underrepresented voices at work, that’s what we do. We amplify those through having authentic conversations with black and brown executives, hiring partners, entrepreneurs, creatives, activists, artists, musicians. Like, anybody, right? And we’re having, like, these evergreen conversations. Like, we’re taking these evergreen topics rather, but we’re centering them on black and brown / underrepresented perspectives, and we have, like, really great guests. Like, Season 1 we had some really incredible guests, Season 2 we had some really awesome guests, and Season 3 is no different. We have with us today Pamela Fuller with FranklinCovey. For more than 15 years, Pamela has worked in both the public and private sector supporting clients and solving complex problems. She currently serves as FranklinCovey’s Thought Leader, Inclusion and Bias as well as a Global Client Partner responsible for supporting some of the organization’s most strategic accounts. Her solutions-oriented and client-centric approach has resulted in unique solutions that exceed client expectations and achieve results. Pamela works with clients to match the right solution to organizational strategic priorities and is particularly adept at designing tailored, competency-based programs to solve her client’s most pressing needs. Through this work, Pamela has designed programs that have made an impact on hundreds of thousands–yo, hundreds of thousands–of participants to include FranklinCovey’s newest offering, Unconscious Bias: Understanding Bias to Unleash Potential. Prior to her current role, Pamela served as an EEO & Diversity Analyst and Trainer where she conceived and implemented proactive diversity programs to include human capital planning, training on unconscious bias and microaggressions, and statistical workforce analysis. She also served the non-profit community for nearly a decade, executing marketing, communications, special events and fundraising strategies. She is a highly sought-after consultant–I mean, come on, after everything I read, clearly she is a highly sought-after consultant–speaker and strategist, having addressed leaders across the world on leadership topics to include unconscious bias, high potential leadership and building an inclusive and effective culture to include the United Nations System, U.S. federal government and the Fortune 500. My, goodness. I mean, come on, y’all. Like, if that doesn’t get you off your seats, if that don’t get you paying attention to something, I mean… [ow sfx] Goodness. Pamela, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Pamela: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I am good. I don’t know if you ever get used to hearing your bio read. I think there’s a humility that we’re all raised up with that makes that feel so strange. So, um, anyway, I’m just thrilled to be here and engage in this conversation.
Zach: Man. You know, let’s just get right into it, right? Like, a critical part of any conversation is language and clear definitions. I think, like, you know, the D&I space has been existing for a while, but I feel like that we’re seeing a shift in the past handful of years where, I don’t know, just the intention around the work is just that, more intentional. And so before we even get into this whole conversation, like, can we get your definition of inclusion and bias?
Pamela: Absolutely. I think inclusion–as I think about inclusion, I think we know we’re being successful with inclusion when it is a metric of performance. If everyone in the organization feels included, valued, respected, then they are able to perform at their best, and I think that’s really important, that connection to performance, because quite often people talk about diversity and inclusion around sort of a moral responsibility or it being the right thing to do, and while I firmly believe all of those things, I think that a conversation about the right thing to do is not as compelling in an organization as the impact on performance. So yes, it’s the right thing to do for lots of reasons. Ultimately as a business or an organization, the reason it’s most important is to ensure that we are positioning everyone to perform, to meet whatever our goals or results are for the organization, and people can’t do that if they feel inhibited or encumbered or disrespected or ignored or tolerated, right? So inclusion is a sense that everyone feels they can contribute their best selves and that they desire to do so, because if I’m not included I don’t even want to give you my best ideas, right? And I think bias, as we talk about bias, we define bias at FranklinCovey and in our new offering around–we define it as a preference, a preference that we might have about a person or a place or a thing, a circumstance, and the word preference I think is really important to the definition, because when we think of bias we often think of it being inherently negative. We think biases of prejudice or a stereotype, and if it’s inherently negative we get a little bit defensive about it. So people bring up bias and a lot of people in organizations, particularly people who don’t feel like they’ve been on the receiving end of bias, might get really defensive. You know, “I don’t have bias,” or “I don’t have prejudice. I don’t have stereotypes. I sort of treat everyone fairly,” but if we define it as a preference we speak to what bias really is. It’s a natural part of the human condition, of how the brain works, and we have preferences that on their face don’t have value, but they impact our behavior, and that behavior has a result that can be negative or positive. So bias is preferences we have about kinds of things, whether your desk is messy or gender or race, you know? Bigger, heavier issues, or the sorts of qualifications people have or where they went to school, where they’re from in the country, all kinds of things, and that impacts how we interact with other people, how we handle circumstances, how we make decisions, and those decisions, or that impact, again goes back to performance. So I think that these terms are really valuable when we can tie them to performance, because that’s the result of inclusion and bias.
Zach: No, and I’m right there with you, right? I think so many times–let me take a step back. So I think premises, discussing premises is really important. So I do believe, in my experience and also from what I’ve read as well as conversations that I’ve had with other leaders, [that] a lot of times when we talk about diversity and inclusion it’s framed around the comfort of the majority, right? So, like, just now when you framed inclusion around performance, that in itself is a differentiator–this is not even an ad for FranklinCovey by the way, y’all. This is not an ad. I’m just trying to shout–but, I mean, with respect, [laughing] it’s a differentiator because with the tie-in to performance there’s also, like, an underlying theme of accountability, right? Like, if I’m tying something to performance, I’m tying to something tangible and measurable, that means that there is an outcome that we’re looking to achieve. I think a lot of times when we talk about inclusion though specifically they are moreso tied to, like, feelings or, like you said, moral imperatives, and the reality is, like, the world operates today very exclusively. There are plenty of exclusive spaces, and there are plenty of systems that are built off of exclusivity. So I don’t know if that angle of positioning as inclusion as, like, the right thing to do is going to win over the masses, because if the moral imperative was that strong and people really vibed with it, we wouldn’t have all the work that we have to do. So it’s interesting though, kind of on with the idea of inclusion, a popular definition of inclusion is being asked to dance at the party you were invited to, right? And people say it–I’m sure you hear it often, but people say it with such, like–I don’t know, like it’s just such a [swaggy?] thing to say, and I’m like, “Okay. I mean, it’s cool,” but can we talk a little bit about the role that power plays in inclusion? Like, do you think that you can have inclusion of underrepresented employees without granting them some authority within the organization that they operate?
Pamela: Uh, no. [laughs] In short, right? But I think it sort of goes back to definition. So when we think about the moral imperative, there’s a power dynamic in that as well, right? Because what we’re saying if we say it’s a moral imperative, we’re sort of putting it in the same box as charity. Like, “This is a good will,” right? “A charitable act that I will do for these underrepresented groups is to bring them into the conversation.” So I think that’s another reason I feel very strongly about reframing inclusion and bias around performance, because I think it’s not a charity, right? There’s an actual end result. There’s whole populations we’re leaving out of organizations, and that is detrimental to performance, because ultimately organizations cannot serve–you know, I do a lot of work in the federal space. The federal government cannot serve the American people if it’s not reflective of the American people. That’s a big, grandiose example, but the same is true of private sector. Your customers are reflective of a population or a demographic and you can’t serve them if you don’t reflect them. So I think that power is an important part of this, and another thing that we see as we work with organizations is that organizations are typically more diverse at the front line. It’s difficult to get to diversity and inclusion in the senior ranks, and even as we look at the chief diversity officer or the office of diversity and inclusion or diversity, equity and inclusion, or even chief experience officer, right? I think corporations are going through a bit of a vanguard in terms of what that role is even called, but it’s interesting to see where that person sits in an organization and where they report, and I think where they sit and where they report is a reflection of how strongly the organization feels about the value of diversity and inclusion efforts and their linked performance.
Zach: Well, so where they sit, who they report to, and then also who they are, right? Like, who they actually choose to be in those positions.
Pamela: Yeah, because I think that there is a bit of a–I don’t know. There’s a lot of talk about that across D&I professionals in terms of the identity of the person in that role and does it need to be someone from a marginalized group, and I also think there’s a sentiment sometimes, particularly in highly technical organizations, that HR issues generally are people who are, like, not technical enough, and so there’s not always a lot of respect in an organization given to the capability of that person who sits in the role, which again goes to your point about power, that if it’s not a highly respected role, if it’s not seen as highly valued, then the person is limited in the impact that they can make across the organization.
Zach: And, you know, it’s interesting because I remember a couple jobs ago I was working, and we had the black affinity group, right? And, you know, there were multiple different affinity groups, and each affinity group had a leader, and for all of the other groups, right, military, women, East Asian, LGBTQ, all the leaders were, like, senior managers or directors, right? So low- to mid-level senior leaders, but then for the African-American affinity group it was, like, an experienced hire. Like, someone who has been, you know, working for, like, four or five years. So off top you’re like, “Okay, I don’t–y’all don’t care about this the same way that y’all care about these other spaces,” you know what I mean?
Pamela: Yeah, and it sort of violates best practice, right? So best practice around employee resource groups or affinity groups or business resource groups–again, sort of an evolution that organizations are going through, and each of those titles has a different contribution to make to the organization–but best practice across any of those structures is that there be executive sponsorship of the group and that the person who is the executive sponsor isn’t necessarily part of the group, because there’s research that shows that, when we look at diversity and inclusion efforts, if women and people of color are elevating those efforts and pushing them forward, if people in a marginalized group are pushing them forward, it can actually hurt their career over the long-term, because it seems self-serving, right? It seems like, you know, “I’m a black woman, I’m a Latino woman, and, like, we need more diversity in the senior ranks,” right? [laughs] It seems like I’m saying, “Hire me,” where as when a white man does that same sort of advocacy for issues of diversity and inclusion it seems benevolent, right? Because they don’t actually–at least on its face, they don’t have anything to gain from that advocacy. So one of the best practices for impacting any sort of whatever the structure is, affinity group, employee resource group or business resource group, is to have an executive sponsor who’s not a member of the group so you sort of counteract this research, right? You have an advocate who’s not part of the group and who, you know, for lots of reasons is sort of more trusted at the executive level because it doesn’t seem self-serving.
Zach: And to that point, I think when you talk about inclusiveness–and we’ve talked about, on Living Corporate, sponsorship and mentorship in the past. Like, to me, like, that’s the biggest opportunity strategically, and then just organizationally, when you talk about, like, the next step when it comes to employee resource groups. Right now it’s like these ERGs are spaces where others are able to kind of cluster together and either be kind of, like, other with themselves or just kind of be out of the way, but it puts responsibility on underrepresented employees. It fully charges black and brown, LGBTQ, disabled, it fully charges non-white men, non-straight, white men, to be in charge of their own inclusion efforts, right? Like, we’re not really connecting the dots between the folks who actually have authority, access, and power with these underrepresented folks. I often see these groups kind of just operate autonomously, almost like they’re an island in of themselves as opposed to them being connected to this larger organizational strategy. Is that something that you’ve seen often, or do you–like, are you seeing a shift in how these ERGs engage and work within the larger leadership structure?
Pamela: I see that as well, and I think–you know, I don’t see necessarily, like, a wave of engagement in the larger leadership structure. I think some organizations are just better at it than others for lots of–you know, it’s either a longer-standing program or sort of the people at play or there are executives who have made it their business to be a part of these groups. I think one of the challenges with employee resource groups is the burden, as you’ve highlighted, sits with the population, and even the effort that they put towards it, right? Like, we are all in the workplace. We have–you know, everyone I speak to across public and private sector, you know, small, medium, large companies, multi-national companies, everyone is doing two jobs. Everyone is over-worked, and there’s just not enough hours in the day. So then you look at demographics for underrepresented groups in corporate structures, and you’re thinking, “Wow,” and we’ve, got, like a handful of our high-performers putting additional effort and energy towards making these employee resource groups meaningful, which feels a bit counter-intuitive, right, when you’re trying to sort of close the gap and accelerate in the leadership ranks. So I think employee resource groups need to be a part of a larger strategy, because they do serve a purpose. I mean, when I look–so in our program, and to your point not a plug, but just an example that I think–an illustration that I think might be helpful when you think about this is we do an exercise around a network audit and just sort of looking at your network and doing an audit of your personal and professional network in terms of who you choose to go to, like, when you have a problem or when you have a new project or when you’re seeking coaching or mentorship about a specific issue, and when I do that activity for myself, I notice that my personal network is very reflective of me. I mean, it’s, like, women of color who are college-educated, often have a higher degree, have an MBA, and are sort of in fast-paced jobs, sort of big jobs, and on paper we look very similar, and that serves a purpose. That’s valuable for me for my own sense of belonging and sort of ensuring that I’m navigating things the right way and sharing my personal experience and the challenges I have that are specifically related to my role as a working mother of two brown boys in America, right? My professional network is much more diverse. There are many more men in my professional network. There are men in higher-level positions. There are also women. There’s a lot more geographic diversity, because FranklinCovey is a global company and because I’ve worked and lived in other states outside of Washington, D.C., where I currently live–or Virginia, I should say, just outside of D.C., and so I think that–and when I look at that I ask the question, “Where do I have opportunity? Where do I have opportunity to expand my network, both for my own sense of sort of professional growth and development and belonging and inclusion as well as, you know, for the benefit of my network?” And so I think ERGs serve a purpose. Like, it’s valuable for me to have a network that is reflective of me, because sometimes, you know, you don’t have to explain things. You can say, like, “This happened,” and people in your network who reflect you say, “Oh, I know. When that happens, this is what I’ve done,” you know? Where as when people are different then there’s a little bit more effort that you have to put in. You have to explain your perspective or explain why that might be problematic or ask the question differently. So I think they serve a purpose. It’s valuable to have that network, and we see that organizations who don’t have those sorts of networks really struggle to retain diverse talent and to promote diverse talent, but it can’t be the only thing, right? Organizations have to have a multi-pronged strategy that doesn’t put the burden only on those people to build a network for themselves. So there needs to also be some formal mentoring and coaching opportunities in place. There needs to be engagement of the majority in minority efforts. There needs to be formal leadership development opportunities and, you know, rotational assignments for people, and surveys that indicate what people’s experience is, and then response to that survey data, right? Most organizations do do sort of employee engagement surveys. They don’t necessarily respond to what they hear and try to bridge those gaps. So I think when ERGs are the organization’s only strategy, that’s a problem, but as part of a larger strategy I’ve seen them be really effective, ’cause there’s a purpose that that serves, and it’s valuable.
Zach: No, you’re absolutely right. I think the challenge is that for so many organizations ERGs is, like, the beginning and end of their DE&I strategy, right? Like, it’s “Okay, we set these things up for y’all to be different over there. So have your happy hours, let us know what the budget it–you’ve got about $600 for the year–and enjoy yourself,” right? [both laugh]
Pamela: You can buy one bottle of wine.
Zach: Get your one bottle of wine and celebrate your one promotee and enjoy, right? [laughs] But jokes aside–and that really wasn’t a joke, but pessimistic commentary aside–[laughs]
Pamela: [laughs] Skepticism aside.
Zach: Yes, yes, yes. It’s interesting because I think what that doesn’t also account for is, like, the emotional labor that goes into, like, one even just being a part of an ERG, but then two working and trying to build one up, right? So like you said, we all have these full-time jobs. I’m a consultant, and so it’s like, “Okay, I’m already working on the billable engagement, then I have some additional work that I’m doing to, like, sell something else,” and then maybe I’m even working on a whitepaper or some research or something else, and then on top of that you want me to lead a whole ERG? Or you want me to participate in one? Like, even participating, right, I think it’s really easy–and I had a conversation with some colleagues some months ago, and they were talking about “Well, we’re going to judge ERG engagement by how many people show up to events,” and I was trying to explain–I was like, “Well, wait a minute. That can’t be your only measure for judging engagement or participation, because some people may just–honestly if you just sent out an email once a month with, like, some type of professional tip or did some type of blogging series, or–like, there are people who maybe just like to observe. They might not necessarily want to show up physically and hang around and hang out after a whole week-long of work,” because even showing up in spaces where we’re the majority can sometimes be performative, ’cause we don’t know everybody. Like, “I don’t know you.” Like, yes, you and I both might be black, but we’re not a monolith. Like, I still need to build up trust, and that in itself can be an emotional exercise. So how do we–you know, how do we account for the labor that’s involved in just being present in these spaces, right? I’m already exhausted from being present everywhere else, so now I’m going to be present here? This is going to be positive, but we need to make sure that we’re accounting for that effort, because it is an effort. It’s not just automatic. I think it’s really easy, outside looking in, just to think that everybody wants to just pop up to everything or do a happy hour or do insert-whatever-activity it is when it’s like, “Man, you know, honestly I would just benefit from somebody just sending me a note,” or “I would just benefit from a phone call or just listening on a conference call or,” like, again, reading a newsletter. I don’t necessarily know if I need to, like, be physically present somewhere on top of all of the things that I’m doing for me, right? Again, I’m not dismissing the reality that these events are great, they can be, but everybody’s different and, you know, I’ve yet to talk to one black person, black or brown person at work, who hasn’t, like, significantly dealt with some B.S. at their job that they’re actively trying to manage through and smile through, so, like, when you think about that kind of stuff, and then now I gotta kind of do this other thing, it can just kind of be a bit much, you know what I mean?
Pamela: Yeah, I agree. And I think personality-wise–so it’s hard because, you know, understanding the value that ERGs play and how they are helpful for some people and then, like, being personally an introvert, it’s a little bit hard for me. [both laugh] To go back to something I said earlier, they just need to be part of a more holistic strategy, and even I guess how they run. Like, so many times companies are using the term employee resource group and it really is an affinity group. It’s a club. And there’s sort of a–there’s a cliqueyness that can come from clubs that is not helpful. So I think–I believe really strongly in meaningful connection. I think that sometimes the D&I community can sort of become a little bit insular in terms of how it thinks about–you know, you sort of get a group of D&I professionals together and they’re like, “This is the answer,” right? Because we’ve seen, you know, it’s a decades-old profession, and we haven’t seen monumental, humongous shifts in representation, right? So there’s a list of best practices, and I think the D&I community–you know, myself included as part of it–it’s like we latch onto these things and say, “Well, let’s do this,” but there is–like, each organizational structure is really different, and it’s important to take into account what is gonna work in the organization to solve those specific challenges. I think, you know, we look at, like, Lean Six Sigma, and it’s a process that you can apply to processes, you know, process improvement. It’s a mechanism you can apply to process improvement to find efficiencies across any number of processes. I don’t think diversity and inclusion is the same in terms of, like, having sort of one process that can be applied to everything. I think understanding the organizational culture and context is really important, and then understanding what the people at the organization want is really important. So I think ERGs have their purpose, but I also think I guess in the measure of that it’s important to do some evaluation around, like, is this an affinity group, and do the people who are a part of it want it to be an affinity group, or do they want it to be more of an employee resource group that is focused more on mentoring, coaching, and sponsorship? Or more sort of meaningful connection versus safe space, right? I think affinity groups are like safe space. Come to this thing, this happy hour, or here’s this sort of best practices or, like, who to go to for what. Employee resource groups are more building your network and influence across an organization, sponsorship, coaching, mentoring, sort of an intense focus on promotion and leadership development, and then business resource groups are very tied to strategy, right? How are we–like, is this, the black business resource group, the BRG, going to, you know, build us a nwe customer channel or a new revenue stream, right, based on their connection to the company? So I think organizations are not always clear on, like, what it is they’re actually setting up and is that in alignment with the participants and what they’re looking for. I just think it takes some extra work, right? It’s easy to say, “Let’s set up these things.” It’s harder to say, “Let’s do some analysis around what kind of thing we need to set up and what it needs to do.”
Zach: You know what? I don’t think that I’ve had any conversations with anyone really–let me take that back, I’ve had one conversation with someone who has–like, in private, and we were talking off the mic about the difference between an ERG and a BRG, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had someone really articulate the difference between these different groups. I think that a lot of times what I’m seeing is that we’re just using these terms interchangeably, right? Like, without any type of thoughtful definition as to what they mean, ’cause I can say that, like, there’s one huge tech organization that uses affinity group, and they’re doing way more than another tech organization that I know that is using the term BRGs, right? But I just gotta give you a Flex bomb, ’cause I’ve never heard someone, like, just very simply explain why those terms mean different things and why they matter. So hold on one second. Come on, Sound Man. Drop it for me right here. [Flex bomb sfx] You know what I’m saying? That’s a DJ Flex bomb. Do you know Funkmaster Flex?
Pamela: Yeah. I like it. I’ll take it.
Zach: I appreciate it. No problem.
Pamela: It’s like I’ve won the podcast. [both laughing]
Zach: This has actually been a very, like, sound effect-light podcast, but, you know what, we’re gonna pick it up here. So let’s do this. Let’s talk about diversity within the context of inclusion. In your opinion, can an organization be inclusive and not be diverse? Like, is a white boys’ club inclusive?
Pamela: I mean, I think this is the age-old diversity of thought discussion. So organizations will say, you know, “We don’t look very diverse. Like, on our face we all look the same, but we have so much diversity of thought. We all look at things really differently,” and I think–I mean, diversity of thought exists across everyone. Like, there’s a reality to we’re all individuals who are bringing our own contribution to the table, but I did–so I used to work at the U.S. Department of Defense, and I was facilitating, years ago, this senior executive diversity seminar. So it was a group of senior executives from various agencies because DOD is a big agency with a lot of subordinate agencies within it. So it wasn’t people who were working together every day. They were, like, in different places across DOD, and we’re facilitating this conversation around diversity and inclusion. It’s a couple-day seminar, multi-day seminar. And one of the participants–I will never forget this–stood up. It was a woman. And she said, “For whatever diversity that exists across this group of people,” like, whatever identity, diversity exists–and it was pretty diverse gender-wise with, like, one or two black and brown people, but otherwise didn’t… you know, they were all about the same age, and everyone seemed like they were able-bodied, at least from my–you know, from what I could see, but she said, “For whatever identity and diversity exists in this group, we’re all actually exactly the same person.” She said, “If you lined up our resumes, there’s sort of a path to becoming a senior executive at the Department of Defense. So we’ve all, for the most part, had prior military service, and we were all willing to move all over the world to serve in our next post,” which is sort of, you know, a thing that’s important at the DOD, and she sort of rifled through some things and said, you know, “We’ve all gone to this sort of handful of institutions, right? Naval Academy, West Point. We all probably maybe started–” A big part of DOD is the recruitment happens in the southeastern U.S., right? So we’re all, like, from–she just sort of railed through these things about all of the ways that they were the same, and I think that it was a really just interesting thought in the room around, like, how an organization, as a huge organization, how does the DOD, like, build and grow leaders? They often do so, like many organizations, you sort of build and grow leaders one way, and it’s the way that’s worked before, so you replicate that, right? You know, you hired an engineer for this role and the engineer did really well, and then you look at the job responsibilities and you decide, “Well, they must have an engineering degree to do this well,” even though the job responsibilities don’t necessarily require the engineering degree. But then, you know, for the rest of eternity it requires the engineering degree, right? So I think that organizations lean in to what they can attest to, right? What they can say they have. I think inclusivity is about behavior, and so I do think the organization can be inclusive, can behave in a way where everyone feels respected, valued and included, they feel like they can [tie?] to performance, but I would push further to say, “But do those behaviors really exist if it’s not a diverse workforce?” Because it means that there’s some bar of entry, right?
Zach: Right, stated or otherwise.
Pamela: Yeah, stated or otherwise. Like, and I think organizations will say, “Well, we’re based in Iowa, and it’s not that diverse,” or, like, “We’re a family company, and so we’re sort of small and, you know, we’re just word-of-mouth,” and my question is always, you know, “What is the opportunity?” Right? I did some work in rural Minnesota [laughing] a few months ago, and I was like–I thought it was in, like, the Twin Cities, in Minneapolis, and then, like, two days before they were like, “Okay, when you land we need to pick you up, and it’s a 5-hour drive north.” I was like, “Oh, my God. We’re going to Canada.” [both laugh] Like, I was not prepared for that, but it was really fascinating because I had a perception of what it’s like to live in rural Minnesota and that it was probably predominantly white people, but there’s several large Indian tribes. There’s a growing, like, Somali population in the state of Minnesota generally. There’s, like, this sort of large [?] Chinese enclave and I think a Vietnamese population, right? So during the course of this session that I was delivering and this conversation we were having, I could easily imagine an organization based in rural Minnesota saying, “Well, we’re not diverse because, like, the people aren’t here,” but in the course of this conversation with their community foundations it’s like, “Well, it sounds like there’s a lot of different people here,” right? So I think the thing that I would push on for an organization saying, “We’re really inclusive and we have diversity of thought, you know,” or “We’re just not–a diverse population isn’t interested in working here,” or, like, “We’ve tried to recruit and it doesn’t work,” or, you know, “Most of our hires are through referral or word-of-mouth,” I would just push on that and say, “Is that the best way to source candidates? Is that the best way to bring innovation into your organization? Is that the best way to look at things differently?” Like, there’s an opportunity in that that I think organizations don’t necessarily claim. They sort of talk it away. Like, no. It’s your responsibility as an organization to explore that opportunity in my opinion, particularly again as we tie to performance, because if you’re not doing it, then you’re not doing everything you can to enhance the performance in the organization.
Zach: So, you know, and you’ve talked about performance quite a bit, like, in terms of you’ve said the term and you’ve talked about tying it back. Can you give us, like, a practical example of what it means to tie inclusion to performance?
Pamela: The easiest thing for people to relate to is an individual example, is to say, “If I feel encumbered in any way, if I feel–” So I worked for… I’ll give you an example personally. So I worked for a woman for a long time who, on its face, identity-wise, we were very similar, and she sort of self-identified herself as my mentor, and I worked with her and I would complete projects for her in briefings. In the federal space briefings are a big deal, so you sort of work on them. They’re very detailed, and you know in consulting as well, right? Like, you prep a deck, right, for a presentation, and the details are important, and it gets reviewed by all of the important people, and then someone delivers it. And so at the time I was much more junior and I wouldn’t be the person who delivered it, but we’d be in these meetings and, because I’m the one who prepared it, right–the person who prepared it knows all the details. They know why the period is in that specific place–and so there’d be questions, and she clearly wouldn’t know the answers to those questions. She’d sort of look at me, and I would answer the question, and then sometimes I would, like, throw in my two cents about it because that is my way. [laughs] And whenever I had–like, whenever I sort of got too big in my boots or, like, had too much of a thought about it, she would stop me in front of everyone and say, “Pamela, as your mentor, I think that’s a private conversation we need to have. I need to give you some guidance on that. Let’s not–” You know, that kind of thing, and so I think that–
Zach: Hold on, hold on, hold on. Before you just fly past that. [both laugh] Had someone said that to me, I’d look at them like [record scratch sfx]. Like, what? You can’t just–so what did you say? What did you do?
Pamela: I mean, I was–so, you know, power was at play, right? Like, I was a–at that time, in that role, I was a contractor. I wasn’t even, like a full-time employee. I was an on-site contractor for this work, and so in front of all these senior leaders and, you know, at the behest of my boss, I didn’t really feel like I had an option. I mean, I needed my job. [laughs] So I would sort of shut up and just, you know, “Sorry about that. Look forward to talking to you about it privately,” right? And just try to move through and control my facial expressions, but when we think about performance, right, that’s very limiting, and so, like, that only had to happen a handful–you know, I’m a quick learner. Like, that only had to happen a handful of times before I understood that I didn’t really need to be giving anyone my best ideas, and I frankly didn’t need to be putting my best ideas into these briefings. Like, if she was gonna do them and she didn’t need my thoughts, right? I think it’s the same as, you know, you often hear in diversity, in terms of inclusion and best practices, about amplification, which came out of the Obama White House. The senior policy women realized that they were being skipped over. I mean, that is a direct connection to performance. You’ve got this idea, or you’re all trying to solve a problem, you have a suggestion, and it’s ignored. I mean, how many times do you keep doing that before you just decide, like, “You know what? I’m not gonna do it.” Like, “It’s not worth it,” right?
Zach: Listen, it takes–and it’s funny because, like, the older I’ve gotten, the shorter my fuse is with that stuff, right? Like, if I take the time and I really put together things–’cause, you know, at a certain point, you know, you live life long enough [and] you don’t really need validation on every single thing, so you know if you put a good idea forward and people just glaze over it or they ignore you or they co-opt it in some way, it’s like, “Ah, okay. All right, I’ll keep those for myself from now on.” [laughs]
Pamela: So I think these sorts of slights are limiting to performance, and I think that if we were to look at, like, team dynamics, right, the boss who minimizes certain people while elevating other people, that inhibits performance, and you rely on–I mean, management is the highest calling. Like, in a manager’s role, you have infinite impact because you’re impacting the performance of your entire team, and you’re very much a connector, right? When you think of sort of middle management, you’re a connector between the front line and then the operational or strategic perspective in the organization, and so you look at a manager who’s doing that over the course of their, you know, 20-year career as a manager managing people and what sort of impact does that have on the performance of that team over the long term and how that team interacts with other teams and how we solve problems? So I think–and, you know, you look at retail, and of course, like, the common example, right, is the Starbucks incident a couple of years ago or Sephora last year. I mean, if that’s not inhibiting performance, I don’t know what it is. The performance in retail is whether you have consumers who are buying, and so if you’ve got whole groups of the population who you’ve shown through this mishap and through this behavior that they’re not welcome in your space or you’re not interested in them consuming, I mean, that has a serious impact on performance.
Zach: You know what? And it’s interesting because as you say that I think about, like, another really practical–like, a performance indicator, it’s just around, like, the retention of your team, right? So, like, in tech there’s this–at least from a marketing perspective–there’s an ongoing push for these tech spaces to be more inclusive, to be more diverse, to be more welcoming of underrepresented employees, not just at the–at the non-manager levels, but at the manager and senior manager and executive levels as well, and yet, like, we’re seeing that, like, these tech companies are just burning–first of all, tech is, like, a high-burn–like, consulting, [?], like, those different groups are high-burn places for everybody, and they’re particularly high-burn for underrepresented folks, right? Black and brown women, LGTBQ, of course trans individuals. It’s high, high, high, high-burn, high-turnover for these spaces, and it’s interesting because I don’t know–I’m a manager. Like, I’m the manager at a fairly large tech consulting firm, and retention of my team or, you know, how I’m able to help retain or drive retention of underrepresented folks is not measured. Now, I’m rewarded for recruiting people in. If I can refer somebody and bring ’em in, I have very hefty rewards for that, but what isn’t measured, for me anyway, explicitly is how we make sure those people say.
Pamela: I think, like, also the other reality of sort of consulting environments and high-burn, high-churn organizations is that we often dismiss people who leave as, like, it’s a failing on their part, so we feel like people left ’cause they can’t hack it, like, they can’t cut it, it’s too intense. I think more and more organizations are getting better at this, but I think lots of organizational cultures are designed to say, like, “That’s not our responsibility.” Like, “I got you here. It’s not necessarily my responsibility to keep you.” They don’t say that. Like, on their face–you know, publicly they talk about the value of retention and strategies to retain people and, you know, exit interviews, but culturally the organization–someone will leave and then everyone else will hear, like, “Oh, they weren’t really cut out for this anyway,” or, like, “It’s okay that they’re not here anymore.” So I think some of that cultural reality makes it tough too.
Zach: There’s a dollar value though with turnover. It costs money for people to leave, right? So unless, like, someone is, like, a legal risk to the company, 7, 8 times out of 10 it’s cheaper to keep ’em, you know what I mean? And so it’s just odd–it’s odd to me that we’re not… and I don’t know. You know, I’m not a lawyer. Maybe we’ll bring on somebody later in the season around, like, why is it that the recruitment efforts are so, like, so emphasized and marketed but the retention efforts aren’t, because–I mean, I know enough about human resources to know that hiring somebody just to have them leave, like, a year, year and a half later is just, like, a crazy cost, right? And so even if, to your point around the culture, like, if we’re not talking about from a moral perspective or even an ethical perspective, even if you just look at it from, like, a dollars perspective, there should be some type of focus on that, and I really want to take that and then get into this next piece. So I think that leads me well into my next question about inclusivity and employee engagement. I think it’s fair though, before we get into that, for us to define what employee engagement actually means. So as a subject matter expert and just from your perspective, Pam, how do you define employee engagement?
Pamela: So I think a lot of organizations talk about fit, and I think in the realm of diversity and inclusion, and particularly bias, conversations, fit is a bit of a four-letter word, and I think organizations put the burden of fit on the person who works in the organization. So, you know, they have to fit in our team. And I would argue that the burden is actually on the organization to create an environment where people fit, right? Like, where they can lean into their strengths and make a contribution, which I think ultimately what everyone wants to do. I mean, we all go to work for a paycheck, but you have a choice about where you get that paycheck from and how you spend your time. So I think the burden is on the organization to create environments where people can fit regardless of their identity, where their identity is not a hindrance to them fitting, quote-unquote, in the organization, and if such an environment is created, I think that helps employee engagement. I think that is a determining factor to employee engagement. If I feel like I belong in the organization, like I fit, like they’ve made space for me to be exactly who I am and make a contribution that I find meaningful that also contributes to the bottom line of the organization, then I am engaged, and that includes, you know, everything from organizational policies that tell me that I belong there to how my manager treats me or how my colleagues engage with me.
Zach: And, you know, it’s interesting because I know that, like, this idea around employee engagement, a lot of times–I did some work with… this was, like, before I was a consultant, but I was a part of this energy company, and Gallup was doing this whole, like, employee engagement survey for them.
Pamela: Yeah. “Do you have a best friend at work?” [both laugh] That’s their, like, infamous question.
Zach: Yo, that’s, like–boy. And no shade to Gallup ’cause I want y’all to come on here, but when they asked that at the time–this was some years ago–boy, you would have thought they figured out THE question to ask. I was like, “It’s one question. It’s one question, guys. Like, it’s okay. Yep. We get it. It’s not a huge indicator of a lot, but okay, great.” But in that work with Gallup I remember that, like, one of the key talking points they had was like, “Look, employee disengagement isn’t just, like, when the person is crossing their arms at their desk or always taking vacation or always sick or actively searching for another job on their computer,” right? It’s earlier than that, right? It’s not that extreme. So I’m curious, like, what has your experience and research shown you how employee disengagement manifests and then how it’s related to inclusive workspaces?
Pamela: I think–like, as a manager, when you look sort of out across your team, there are people who are excited to be there. So I think it’s less about–I think, again, sometimes we put the burden of employee engagement on the employee. Like, they’re on Facebook at work or they’re, like, you know, keeping Amazon in business during working hours, or they’re showing up late or whatever, and we turn it into a discussion around, like, employee behavior and etiquette, but I think there’s, like, a great–I mean, I think many people have great professional integrity, and they’ll be disengaged and wouldn’t be so belligerent in their behavior, right? [both laugh] They would, you know, search for their new job after hours on their home computer. And I think it’s when they come in–and they would even continue trying to, like, do a good job and make a contribution, but, you know, they’re doing what’s asked and not necessarily coming to you with additional ideas, and they’re not collaborating, right? You assign them something and you–I mean, engaged employees are actively engaged with their team, not only when they’re directed to do so. So I think the sort of solitary nature of an employee is an early indicator that they’re not engaged, right? Because when I’m engaged and I have something exciting–and I work remotely, so you have to be even more sort of deliberate about how you connect with people, but, you know, when I’m engaged and I’m excited about what I’m working on, I mean, I will call my colleagues just to say, like, “I want to hear what you think about this,” or, like, “I just got this exciting–you know, a client just asked me for this thing. I’m sort of excited about it and would like to hear your ideas,” or “Can I run this by you,” right? I think how they’re engaging, not just from an, I don’t know, administrative standpoint in terms of, like, do they show up on time? [both laugh] It’s more about, you know, are they working in isolation? Or are you seeing them actively engage with other people in the office? Do they have things at their desk that are of a personal nature? You know, I think people who don’t feel like it’s a right fit are much more cautious about that, right? They don’t have pictures of their kids up or their partner, their puppy, right? You know, what do they do at lunch? And what does that behavior look like? So I think it comes across in how they’re relating to other people in the organization.
Zach: Right? And so when I think about what it means for leaders then to not undermine inclusivity or engagement at work, right? Like, I mean, I believe it calls for a much higher level of emotional intelligence and general empathy than we’re giving folks credit for, and I question if organizations are doing everything they need to be doing to develop those muscles for leaders to even be sensitive and aware of those pieces that you just outlined, right? Because everyone has their own motivations, they have their own insecurities, they have their own pressures, and so it’s–I empathize with the idea that okay, you have these leaders coming in, and they have these different metrics and things they have to hit, and also they need to be highly astute and aware of where their employee is, if they’re paying attention, if they as leaders are creating an environment or opportunities for them to collaborate. If they’re modeling collaboration, right? Like, in your work with FranklinCovey, have you had situations where you’ve had to have those types of conversations with leaders on how they can create more engaging environments?
Pamela: I talk about that every day. I mean, I think that’s a big thrust of our approach around unconscious bias and really all of our content. So I think emotional intelligence had a moment, right? It had a time, and it was a word that people were using, but it’s sort of like self-awareness. Like, people say it’s really important that you’re, you know, self-aware as a lead, and everyone says, “I’m very self-aware,” and then you talk to them for 5 minutes and you’re like, “I don’t know that you know what self-aware means,” right?
Zach: “I don’t think you are.” [both laugh]
Pamela: “I don’t think you’re using that term correctly.” So I think emotional intelligence is sort of similar. Like, you know, people know the four dimensions of emotional intelligence. You know, it’s sort of like their DiSC profile. Like, they’ll say, “I’m an EITJ,” or whatever, and it just becomes this, like, default of, like, “I am” or “I am not.” I believe emotional intelligence is a skill that you can build, and I think empathy is important, but I also think curiosity is important. You know, our CEO Bob Whitman did an interview recently, and he said curiosity is the #1 leadership competency or quality that he looks for in a person, and I just feel so strongly about that, because I think you can’t be empathetic around information that you don’t have. Like, I can’t just–the goal is not to just be an empath who feels everyone’s feelings. The goal is to learn something about someone that helps you relate to them. So as we were prepping, you know, for the interview, I talked about my kids, and you mentioned that you are welcoming a child soon. This is a point of connection. We can have some empathy about that, right? I can immediately think about what it was like when my kids first showed up and how lovely that was and the sort of high emotion of that experience, or, you know, you could hear me talk about my three-year-old and think, “Oh, wow. In three years I’ll have a three-year-old.” [both laugh] So I think that the curiosity piece is really important, and I think as managers–what I talk to managers quite often about is making the time for that. I think managers feel, particularly first-line leaders, you know, they were in a role as an individual contributor. They get promoted to that first-line leadership level, and they often still continue to do their individual contributor role and try to manage people.
Zach: Right, on top of that.
Pamela: On top of that, and there’s just not enough time to do it. So of course you have to delegate and you have to trust your people, and there are strategies for how you can build trust in your people, build the capability of your people, but that has to be your new focus, and part of that is making some real time to cultivate connection among your team. And so, like, we’ll talk with managers. We talk quite often at FranklinCovey about the value and importance of having one-on-ones and having a structure for those one-on-ones so that they’re meaningful. It’s not just a drive-by at your desk, right? It’s not a weekly staff meeting, but actually having a one-on-one with people. And I’ll talk to managers and they say, “Well, we have our annual performance review,” and it’s like… that’s ridiculous. You can’t have this conversation once, and around a performance document no less, right? So the one time that we engage in a one-on-one meeting, it’s gonna be a high-stakes conversation, right?
Zach: Where your livelihood is directly on the line.
Pamela: Exactly. So I talk to leaders all the time about making the time and also being–you know, there are lots of introverts and lots of people to whom personal engagement doesn’t feel natural, particularly at work, ’cause I think we’re still fighting a little bit of the battle of, like, “I have a work persona and I have a personal persona,” and I just–you know, one of the models we use at FranklinCovey to think about that is the whole person paradigm and just that you don’t leave parts of yourself at home, right? You’re a whole person all the time, and I really ascribe to that. I believe in that level of authenticity, and I think that we need to work deliberately to build that level of authenticity across teams. Managers need to ensure that they do know what someone’s career goals are. Like, where do they see themselves in the future, and what are they interested in, and what are they excited about working on, and who do they really like to work with, and who are they challenged by, and, as a manager, can I find opportunities for them to connect with somebody they’re challenged by so that we can improve our total dynamic, right? I worked for–in college, you know, I worked in college, and the best manager I’ve ever had I worked for in college, and she sort of sat me down and was like, you know, “I know that you work here and we have these goals around what we’re doing.” I worked in the student activity center, and we did programming around diversity and inclusion actually, and she said, “But you’re a college student sort of at the beginning of your career and life, and it’s important to not be myopic in terms of how you look at your goals.” And so she gave me a little handout, and it had all of these different categories. It was like, finances and health and wellness and relationships and my family, and she said, “Every three months, every quarter, we’re gonna sit down and just look at this and look at what your goals are. I’m gonna share with you my goals,” right? So there was some vulnerability in it. It wasn’t just like, “I will divulge my whole life story and you’ll coach me through it.” She was also sharing her goals, and particularly at a time–like, in college, my goal was, like, “I do not want to get my cell phone cut off again. I need to find a way to pay this bill,” right? [laughs] And hers was “We’re gonna buy a house.” I was like, “Wow, a house,” right? Like, the process of getting through a mortgage. Like, there’s just–it’s a small example of how a manager built connection with me through curiosity and empathy. She was vulnerable about what her goals were. She took the time to have this quarterly conversation with me. She created a space where I could talk about my whole self and everything I was dealing with at that moment in my life, and I think managers can do that on different scales based on the organizational culture and what is and is not appropriate to discuss and all that, but managers can do something like that with every member of their team, and they should, right? We shouldn’t be having one annual performance conversation with your team. You shouldn’t also–there are lots of employees who say they only speak to their manager to get assignments, right? So their manager just does drive-bys at their desk or calls them into their office to say, “Here, work on this,” and never have, like, a more meaningful–
Zach: Really transactional.
Pamela: Really transactional, exactly, and for managers–managers will also lean into that. They’ll say, “Well, no. It’s just that I’m really efficient and I don’t like to spend time and chit-chat,” and that kind of thing, and it’s more than that. It’s not chit-chat. It’s not–there’s substance to having a meaningful conversation with somebody.
Zach: That’s just so true. So you’ve talked about bias and, like, you’ve used the term bias. You’ve even said unconscious bias. It seems as if the default any time we talk about bias within the diversity and inclusion space is that it’s unconscious. Do you think that’s a fair observation, and if so, why do you think that, when we talk about bias, we’re often talking about unconscious bias and not just bias?
Pamela: I think that’s fair. I think–you know, really critical to any conversation I have about bias is about bringing the unconscious to consciousness, but also acknowledging that conscious bias exists. So I think unconscious bias can sometimes be used negatively, just like diversity of thought, but diversity of thought is really valuable, but it shouldn’t be the reason you don’t have diversity in other dimensions. And unconscious bias is really important, and it doesn’t negate the reality that there are very conscious biases that exist and impact people’s decisions. So I always include that in any conversation that I’m having about bias or any facilitation I’m doing, and the distinction is that conscious bias are things we can state directly. And so, like, once you can say it, it’s no longer an unconscious bias. So you’ll hear people say, like, “I have an unconscious bias around mothers of young children.” Like, “I really just don’t want to be hiring mothers of young children.”
Zach: Right, and that’s a conscious bias. You just–you just said it. [laughs]
Pamela: Right. Once you’ve said it it’s not unconscious anymore, and it’s important for people to reconcile that. You know, you’re running interviews, and for all of the candidates of color you’re asking them about, like, office etiquette, you know? Appropriate dress attire and showing up to work on time and how to, like, provide good customer service, and then for all of your, like, non-person of color, your white candidates, you’re asking them about, like, the substantive job responsibilities, right? And then someone brings it to your attention–because interviews are often done in panel. There’s usually more than one person at the interview, which is best practice, and they say, “Hey, I noticed that we spent, like, an inordinate amount of time with some of those candidates talking about what time they need to be at work, and I feel like at this level of a position that’s not that significant. And I sort of noticed that you only asked some of them that and not others,” and they’re like, “Oh. Well, you know, I had this black lady working for me once and she was always late, and I just want to make sure that that doesn’t happen again.” Right? [laughs] Well, sounds like you’ve got a bias around that. I mean, once it’s been brought to your attention, you don’t get to keep doing it. Like, you don’t get to keep making decisions through that frame, right? You have to work to mitigate the potential negative impact of that bias. So I think that any conversation around unconscious bias should include discussion about conscious bias and some of the real conscious bias that we have about, you know, employees at work and who should be in roles of authority and power, who should be promoted, or what kind of–you know, whether that is, you know, “We have this big project, but it requires lots of travel. We probably don’t want Pamela to do that. She’s got those little kids,” or “She’s taking care of her mother who’s sick.” Like, there’s a bias in that. You should have a conversation with me about that. That affects my employment and my potential and possibilities in the organization. So I just think they come hand-in-hand and one can’t be used as an excuse to ignore the other.
Zach: No, I think it’s just a great point, and I think the reason–so for me, it genuinely grinds my gears, because a lot of times I think D&I is often framed from the context of, again, like, majority comfort. So I believe that there’s a lot of language where we kind of–and it’s subtle, and it’s kind of inserted all across. So diversity of thought, unconscious bias, sometimes in ways to just kind of give folks an out, and so I don’t ever–I can tell you I don’t ever hear conversations around conscious and unconscious bias. I hear it and it almost just automatically defaults to “unconscious,” almost in a way to say, like, “It’s not your fault,” right? Like, it absolves you of responsibility as opposed to, “Okay, you have some actual biases, and they’re true. Like, these are actual real biases that you have and you conduct and you’re aware of, and they’re not all mistakes,” and I think sometimes when you talk about diversity and inclusion, when we’re not talking about actual biases–and again, not in a way that tries to make white folks feel bad, but in a way that is just honest, I think that can lead to more productive conversations. We’re in an era today where, you know, the 2020 election is coming up. We had a whole–a large part of America came to really see itself four years ago, and I think we have, like, another one of these instances coming up. It’s, like, one of the rare times I think in this space that we can start pointing to things and say, “Hey, this is a lightning-rod moment. This is a lightning-rod moment.” And I think we would be behooved to figure out a way to be a little bit more honest and intentional with calling out some of these things. I think it’s really dope that the way that you frame these conversations is in the context of conscious and unconscious, but I can tell you, like, I have never heard anybody do that.
Pamela: Yeah. I think a couple of things as you were talking came to mind. I think, you know, making white folks comfortable is an important part of work around diversity and inclusion, right? I do think we have too many internal conversations that, like, leave out that group of people, and it’s important for us to–it’s important for them to feel like they can join the conversation and help make progress, right, help make impact, and I think it’s a fine line, right? Like, it’s a fine line, and I walk it every day in my professional life to ensure that people feel like they can be part of the conversation without being accused of anything, and I work hard to create a space where people feel like they can be vulnerable and sort of divulge biases that they may realize, right, over the course of the conversation that we’ve had. The other thing that I think is problematic, the other sort of side of this, is, like, the call-out culture, that we don’t actually–the more sort of “woke” our culture gets for… you know, lack of–I feel like I date myself when I say “woke.” I’m like–
Zach: No, it’s okay. People will be using “woke” for another 10 years and, you know, most black and brown folks will be off it. It’s okay. [both laugh]
Pamela: But I think one of the challenges with, like, “woke” culture is that, like, we don’t let people make mistakes, and people don’t–so I think those two things are counter-balancing. Those things are–like, there’s tension there in that, where we want to call things what they are, which I feel–you know, I feel strongly about, like, let’s not use euphemisms to describe things. Let’s talk about what the challenges are. Like, why is it that even in my unconscious bias work, lots of organizations will say, “Well, we really want to focus on gender diversity,” right? Or “We really want to focus on our domestic workforce versus our global workforce.” I haven’t had, to this point, a single organization… maybe that’s not true, but I haven’t had very many organizations tell me “We want to talk about race,” or, like, “We want to talk about trans people,” right? So I think that there are some final frontiers around diversity and inclusion that organizations are not interested in addressing, and we have to get them interested in addressing those things. We have to name that and say, “It’s important for us to also talk about race,” right? We can’t limit–we can’t have a conversation about diversity and inclusion and bias and not talk about race. That’s an important component, particularly in the United States, of workplace diversity and inclusion. And on the other hand we have to also, like, allow for people to show growth in those areas and to say, “I am really uncomfortable talking about this,” or “My experiences working with black people have not been positive,” or whatever it is, so that we can make progress. So I don’t know that I have the answer. I mean, I think these are, like, age-old questions. [laughs] I don’t know that I have a solution for it, but I know that I’m constantly sort of teetering from one side of that to the other to try to create a space where people do feel like they can talk about it without any sort of shame and can make progress on it.
Zach: And I think–ugh, we gotta have a whole ‘nother episode on this, because, like, I’m with you. I get what you’re saying. I think for me, as–and again, like, context is everything. I’m a 30-year-old straight black man, and kind of coming up as a millennial, really passionate with a history of, like, studying activism and just, like, the history of white supremacy in this country. It’s challenging for me–like, transparently and vulnerably, right, it’s challenging for me when members of the majority will say, “I’m really uncomfortable,” and it’s like, “Okay, you’re uncomfortable having this conversation, but, like, you still have really nothing to lose,” right?
Pamela: Yeah. You’re like, “My life is uncomfortable.” [both laugh]
Zach: Right? “My whole life is uncomfortable. You have nothing to lose.” Like, unless you, like, carve a swastika in my desk or spit on my face and call me the N-word, like, you’re not gonna get fired, right? Like, this idea that anybody can just get fired for anything, like, that’s not true. So, like, you’re very much so protected by the very institutions you’re uncomfortable with discussing, and so it’s challenging for me as a D&I practitioner, as someone who is passionate about culture and transformation and change management. It’s challenging for me to, like, really figure out how to, to your point, like, balance those two spaces. I agree that, like, yelling at people or, like, lighting them up on Twitter is, like, not always the most–is not productive. My desire as we look at this next generation of diversity, equity and inclusion professionals and as this work continues to grow and evolve by just the nature of time is that there’s ways that we can leverage passion around justice and passion around–and righteous indignation for substantive corporate change. I think that, like, both are necessary. I think you need external and internal forces working together. I don’t believe that, like, organizations change simply by merit of a bunch of internal corporatized work. I think that it also takes a certain level of activism that is external, and I wonder, I’m very curious about what it would look like for both of those forces to work more in some type of harmony or coordination for organizational transformation. I think that there’s an opportunity for it. I haven’t seen that yet. Often times we’ll see, like, something really crazy happen, and then an organization will have to change because of, again, external pressures, or maybe, like, the CEO comes to some radical epiphany and, like, they, obstacles be damned, radically change the organization, but typically we haven’t really seen those things work together, and I don’t know if–I don’t know if we’re really gonna see the needle move until that happens. Is that fair?
Pamela: I think it is. I mean, you know, I think #MeToo is a good example of that, right? So, like, organizations for quite some time have had sort of compliance training around sexual harassment, and there’s–but the bar has been raised, I think societally, around the expectation there, and people have–men who have behaved badly have really seen punishment, right? I wonder, from what you’re saying, what the equivalent of that is for race or how we–how race becomes–because, I think, it’s just really interesting, again sort of looking at the sample size of at least the work I’ve done across these hundreds of thousands of people in so many organizations, that it just still, for a lot of people, is, like, a subject they don’t want to touch. Now, I do think–I do believe really strongly in the power of stories, and I think something about what’s happening in media, that so many different stories are being told about so many different populations–like, there’s a show that Netflix ran three seasons of called One Day at a Time, and it’s a remake of the old One Day at a Time, but it’s a Cuban-American family living in L.A., and, you know, my family is from the Dominican Republic. My kids and I and my husband, we watch that show, like, religiously, and every season for three seasons Netflix tried to cancel it. And there was, like, petitions and public outcry, and we’re like, “You need to tell these stories.” And there are 100 other things like that, and there’s, like, Humans of New York, which is telling crazy stories every day. And you look at this picture, and then you read, you know, the description and you’re like, “Oh, I never would have guessed that,” right? And I think there’s something about the vastness of the stories being told and the vastness and the sort of depth of the media, and so much of that is about race. Like, I remember, like, two years ago I read a Humans of New York post, and then the gentleman behind Humans of New York was traveling and so was in Africa, and it was a young couple with a baby, like, a toddler, and they said, “Yeah, we met in Indiana” or something, right? They met at university, and “We got married and we got pregnant, and we had to come back to Africa because we decided we couldn’t raise our son in a country where his race–where he’d have to carry his race with him every day,” and I think of that twice a week sort of looking at my boys. So I think, just as an example of, like, you can read something or see a story and it can just stick with you and help you see something differently. I posted–I went to Essence Fest this year for the first time, and Michelle Obama spoke, and she had her hair curly, and so I posted this picture of her on-stage and me at the concert sort of side-by-side on Facebook and said, “She let go of–” I can’t remember exactly what I said, but something like “Now that she’s not the First Lady, she can be her true self, and the power of seeing someone who looks like me in her position is not lost on me,” right? And I wrote about how it was impactful that we had, like, the same hairstyle. [laughs] ‘Cause I have very curly, naturally curly hair, which is a whole ‘nother conversation about whether that should be straight or not and what professionalism looks like, but a colleague of mine, one of our senior leaders actually, told me he saw my–and we had a call about something else and he said, “Hey, I saw that post, and I had never even considered, like, the decisions that you make about your hair, and it was impactful for me to see it.” So I think I’m sort of rambling, but I think that there’s something happening around media and those stories that is, like, a groundswell. Like, it’s opening people’s aperture for having the conversation and helping them feel empathy and curiosity and interest in these different stories and experiences versus laying their own negative story over race, and I think–I have an optimism that says this is going somewhere.
Zach: No, you’re absolutely right. I mean, you know, there’s another platform that, you know, has conversations with black and brown executives and leaders and all types of folks, you know? [both laugh]
Pamela: Called Living Corporate?
Zach: You know, called Living Corporate. You know, we do this all the time. [laughs] No, but I’m right there with you. I think that there’s an increasing appetite. I think what I’m curious about, what I’m passionate about seeing is frankly, like, what does it look like for platforms like Humans of New York, like Living Corporate, to develop some–or for this, right? Like, not even playfully or seriously [?] on Living Corporate. It’s just about what does it look like to take this story-telling approach and develop it into some type of programmatic inclusion effort for organizations, right? Like, to me, that’s–the organization that can take this, mobilize it internally for empathy upscaling, for inclusion upscaling, for leaders who have been connected with employee resource groups, like, that to me is, like, taking that next step, ’cause that’s you capturing the voice of your employees. That’s you actually being able to take something tangible and create some meaningful solutions for your organization. Like, that creates that grassroots-type movement, right? Like, that’s what I’m really interested in, and I think to your point around media, like, digital media, it’s only growing. Like, it’s only going to continue to expand, and so, like, what does that look like within the space of diversity, equity and inclusion? Okay, Pamela, look, this has been a super dope conversation. Y’all, thank y’all so much for listening to the Living Corporate podcast. You know, we’re on all the platforms. Google us, okay? Type in Living Corporate and we’ll pop up, but if you want to check out our website, living-corporate.com. Please say the dash. Living-corporate.com. Or you can do livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.org, livingcorporate.tv, livingcorporate.net, livingcorporate.us. We’ve got all the livingcorporates, Pamela, except for livingcorporate.com, but eventually we’re gonna get livingcorporate.com, okay? But we have all of the other livingcorporates, okay? Now, if you want to check us out on Instagram we’re @LivingCorporate. If you want to check us out on Twitter it’s @LivingCorp_Pod. And you know what? If you want to send us a question, a listener letter, you know, something, just a shout-out, just contact us on the website OR you can email us at email@example.com, or you can just DM us on social media ’cause DMs are wide open. I think that really does it for us today. I just have to thank y’all for checking it out. Shout-out to everybody listening, and shout-out to Pamela Fuller, leader, global thought partner, edge-snatcher, okay? [both laugh] Mother of two, you know what I’m saying? Public speaker, mover, shaker, mentor, sponsor, at FranklinCovey. ‘Til next time, y’all. Peace.