195 : Equity’s Place in the Future of Work (w/ Ruchika Tulshyan)

Zach chats with Ruchika Tulshyan, award-winning author & CEO and founder of Candour, about equity’s place in the future of work. Ruchika explains to us what it is about the diversity, equity and inclusion space that had her commit so much of her life to it, and she ties her breadth of experience back to her childhood in Singapore, where she grew up with people of all different nationalities, cultures and religions. She takes us through her career journey and graciously shares her struggles and triumphs along the way.

Connect with Ruchika on LinkedInTwitter and Instagram.

Visit her personal website. You can find out more about Candour by clicking here.

Check out Ruchika’s Harvard Business Review contributor page and get reading!

Read the pieces mentioned in the show, If You Don’t Know How to Say Someone’s Name, Just Ask and Women of Color Get Asked to Do More “Office Housework.” Here’s How They Can Say No.

Learn more about the books Superior and So You Want to Talk About Race.

TRANSCRIPT

Zach: What’s up, everybody? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. That’s right. I’m back. It’s probably Tuesday, or maybe you’re listening to this later. It’s, like, a Wednesday or a Thursday. I don’t know, but we’re recording this, and we’re recording this, of course, we’re having real talk in a corporate world. We center and amplify underrepresented voices in the corporate space, and by corporate space I just mean at work, okay? So this is not, like, an elitist thing, right? So, like, if you work at Wendy’s, hey, this is for you too, okay? If you work at Goldman Sachs, this is for you too. And you’re probably a white man listening to this, and if so, hey, man, thank you for listening to the podcast. I hope that you learn something from this. But this is for everybody is my point, and we do this, we amplify and center underrepresented experiences, by having underrepresented folks–these are, like, influencers, journalists, activists, educators, public servants, entrepreneurs, executives, recruiters, anybody, really, who is able to really come on and just have some real talk with us. And we’ve had some amazing guests every single week. I mean, every single week we have some fire–I mean, fire fire fire guests, and this week is no different, okay? ‘Cause you know who–I don’t even know if y’all know who we have, but I’m up about to tell you. We have Ruchika Tulshyan. Ruchika is a diversity & inclusion strategist, award-winning author and journalist. She is the author of “The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace,” a book on strategies for organizations to advance women. Ruchika’s company, Candour advises a number of organizations on diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. Ruchika is also the 2019 inaugural distinguished professional-in-residence for Seattle University’s communication department. Ruchika, hold on. I’ve gotta let the air horns fly. How are you doing?

Ruchika: I am doing very well, Zach. I’m so excited to be here. [children cheering sfx, both laugh] I love it, I love it. I really do.

Zach: We gotta get into it. We gotta get into. You’re an author, a journalist, an international speaker, and a CEO of your own consulting firm. Like, what is it about this space, about this diversity, equity and inclusion space, that had you commit so much of your life to it?

Ruchika: You know, it wasn’t planned at all, Zach. And I grew up outside the United States. I’m from Singapore originally, so I think about food all the time. In fact, right now while I’m talking I’m thinking about “What’s my next meal?” But–

Zach: What’s your favorite food?

Ruchika: So, you know, being from Singapore, we eat everything, but probably anything Asian, anything with noodles or rice. I can eat rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, snack, midnight snack. [laughs] You get the drift.


Zach: Yes. No, I do. So do you like pad thai?

Ruchika: I’ll never order it in the United States ’cause I’ve had it in Thailand quite a few times now.

Zach: Oh, my gosh. What it is like in Thailand?

Ruchika: It’s so different. It’s not sweet. It’s just–it’s got this beautiful… it’s like umami, you know? Like, there’s a different flavor altogether. So yeah, I haven’t–you know, I tried it once or twice in the U.S. in different cities, and I was like, “Yeah, this is not going to be the thing for me.”

Zach: You know, it’s interesting that you say that, because I remember–so I went to Japan. I was in Japan for a couple weeks last year–well, in 2018–and I remember just eating the food there. It’s like–it’s crazy that, like, most Americans don’t have all of their toes cut off from diabetes with how much sugar we have in our food, right?

Ruchika: Yes, yes, yes. And that’s–I mean, I could talk about this all day, because, you know, I think about this all the time. And again, I think it’s all related, right? And I think even talking about diversity and inclusion, like, really understanding people, finding a common language based on food I think is something that’s really special and a very, very important way to connect with people.

Zach: You know, I 100% agree. And just one last thing about the food, ’cause you talked about, like, when you have something in the States and then you–for me, ’cause I’m from here and, like, all my people, as far as I can go back, are from here, right? But when I went to Japan I had sushi in Japan. I said, “Wait a second.” [laughing]

Ruchika: Right? Isn’t it completely different?

Zach: I said, “What?” I just was–I mean, I had, like, a spiritual moment. It was just like, [blessings come in sfx, both laugh]. I said, “My gosh, my taste buds.”

Ruchika: Isn’t it? And all their food, everything. I mean, if you’ve had chocolate in Japan, if you’ve had, like, cookies in Japan, if you’ve had a cake in Japan, it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, you know?

Zach: Yes, and I’m just–and how conditioned I’ve been eating here, it’s like–I’m used to, like, if I eat something, like, a big meal, I’m used to be a little–like, a little sleepy afterwards, right? So I’m like, “Wait, why can I still walk? I can still walk around and, like, think cognitively after eating this meal. [?]” Okay, so I’m sorry. Long segue aside about food–but it’s important though. It’s a connection to culture. I’m right there with you.

Ruchika: So we were talking about diversity and inclusion, right? [both laugh] And how did I get into it? Well, you know, it’s connected. You know, it is connected. So I think I was kind of built for this in some way, although it wasn’t planned. So growing up in Singapore, I just grew up with people of all different nationalities, all different cultures, all different religions, and it was very much a way of my life, and I moved around quite a bit when I was younger. But what it really exposed me to was the fact that, you know, at the end of the day we’re all the same, you know? In many ways we want the same things. We really, really just want to be happy. We want to be heard. We want to feel valued and respected. And so I really grew up with that concept, you know, as a part of my life, just the way it was. You know, my friends were from all over the world, my teachers were from all over the world, and I really grew up with sort of an idealistic, almost Kumbaya sort of belief in the world, and when I moved to the United States about eight years ago, that was a very big shock for me, you know? And I really saw what I still think in some ways is modern-day segregation. You know, I really saw it in full force. There’s a stat that three out of four white Americans don’t have a single friend of color, and I think that’s really concerning, because I grew up in a very different sort of environment, and it really made me see the–it’s awesome. I mean, just talking about food, you know? Being exposed to different cultures, different types of food. I feel so lucky, and I actually think people are missing out, and so for a vast majority of Americans, the most diversity they ever experience is actually in the workplace. So, you know, I’m sort of setting myself up to saying that, you know, that was the early part of my life where I really felt, you know–I just had a connection, but I never thought that I would work in this field. I didn’t even know this field existed. And what changed for me is I began my career as a journalist and was really happy about it, loved it, then moved to Seattle and sort of transitioned into tech, because that’s what everyone does here, and it was the most challenging experience of my life, you know? I really encountered sexism and racism that I just wasn’t–you know, I didn’t think that it could happen to me. You know, I really grew up with the mindset that you work hard, you work smart, you put your head down and you do your thing–and sure, you know, you raise your hand for opportunities, you’re confident, et cetera, but I really didn’t think that it would make a difference, you know? My gender, my race, sort of the way I scope, my accent, my name. I didn’t think these things mattered, right? I know, so naive of me now that I reflect back on it. And it was a very rude, painful emotional awakening and really kind of created that empathy in me where I said to myself, “This cannot be the way that more than half the population is being treated in the workplace, right? And these are their experiences,” and as a journalist I started collecting experiences. I started collecting stories and case studies and even data, right, and research, and it was very clear that something had to change. So I wrote in my book, five years ago, at a time where people said, like, the way that women can, you know, advance in the workplace is they need to lean in, right? That was sort of the narrative of the day, that it was something lacking in women, there was something lacking in people of color, and they had to change, and I’m really glad that we’re thinking about this as a systems change that actually doesn’t–you know, if you have been stereotyped against, if you have had–you know, if people have this preconceived narrative about who you are and what your potential is in the workplace, it doesn’t matter how much you lean in, you know? I mean, like my friend Minda Harts says–you know, CEO of The Memo and has an awesome book out on it, on [?] of women of color at work, Zach. I know you know her. It doesn’t matter how hard you lean in if you’re a woman of color. You are just not going to be able to get ahead until those systemic biases have been addressed, and so that’s what got me into this work, and it’s a long-winded answer.

Zach: It’s long-winded. This is a podcast. [both laugh] But no, you’re absolutely right. I’m right there with you, right? And it’s interesting, when you talk about, like, systemic versus, like, individual actions–I’ll say for me, it’s been frustrating, like, just transparently, like, being a black man in majority-white spaces. And I’m in, like–I’m in professional services, right? So consulting, and a lot of times when there’s issues that come up when you’re dealing with folks or people want to frame you as being “angry” or “frustrated” or whatever the case is, like, whatever trope you want to kind of pull out, right, and then you share those frustrations with, like, other people who are not underrepresented, who are a member of the majority, their feedback or coaching is often, like, things that you need to do and change, but it’s like, “Yeah, that’s not really the problem.” And not to be arrogant. We all have places where we can grow and mature, and emotional intelligence and social intelligence and personal awareness, all of those things are very important. At the same time, like, have the moral courage to actually talk about the systems at play and how there are a lot of things that really aren’t our fault. Like, there are things that are being done to us or that we are–you know, it’s asymptomatic of larger systemic challenges, and it’s tough though. It’s tough to have those conversations, especially for folks in the majority. Some of them literally just don’t know how. Some of them it’s just so uncomfortable they don’t–you know, how much of that is real? How much of that is, like, you imagining it, right? But to me I’m just noticing more and more–like, I’m getting increasingly discouraged when you have these conversations, you know, and it’s like, “Yo, can we just have a conversation about, like, why is it that this person constantly calls this person or these types of people too opinionated or loud or aggressive or angry or–” Whatever the case is, right? Like, you kind of see it over time. And it’s funny that you bring that up about Minda Hart. Shout-out to Minda Hart. What’s up, Minda? In fact, hold on. I’ma get some air horns for you and Minda. [both laugh] So what you’re speaking to about leaning in, right, and how the concept of leaning in, it was promoted by a white woman with–and I recall there being major articles written and, like, championed about the fact that women of color can’t lean in, exactly what you just said, and so I’m curious, when you talk about your focus on gender equity, what does that look like, and how are you introducing intersectionality within the concept of gender equity? Like, how does that practically show up for you in the work that you do?

Ruchika: So Zach, let me tell you one of the biggest career mistakes I ever made in my life, and that was to write a book that overall lacks intersectionality. And my students will tell you this, because I make the poor things read my book for one of my classes. And so, you know, every class we have this discussion about, you know, the fact that my book lacks intersectionality as well as that it really treats gender as a binary, right? Which is fully my fault and also a big part of the larger system of publishing and editing, et cetera, where that, you know, concept of intersectionality is still lacking, right? And I don’t know–even right now, I don’t know if management theory has really caught up to the fact that you really need to have a very intersectional approach when you think about gender equality, right? Like, it is not just about the challenges that white women face. It is really about–if you really want to make change, it is about looking at the intersection between how women of color, both those intersections, experience the workplace, and then especially, from there, expanding that to include other marginalized identities in the workplace. So I will be the first to admit that my book lacks intersectionality, and my hope is, in all the work I’ve done since and will continue to do, I absolutely cannot–you know, I absolutely cannot take an intersectional approach. That being said, I really think, again, the key to making a difference when it comes to workplace gender equity is having a situation where the voice of the person who is the most marginalized in the room is centered so that the workplace works for all, right? So if the workplace was built by, say, a cis-hetero white man and that’s who the workplace is built for, if you do not consider the experience of what, you know, a woman of color, a black woman for example, a trans black woman of color, what’s the experience, you know? And who may have, you know, disabilities, cognitive, temporary, physical, whichever–or a combination. If you do not start there, then you’re going to continue perpetuating systems which alienate, you know, women, and especially women of color across the board, you know what I mean? So you really need to start with the person who’s the most vulnerable who is having really the most challenging experiences in the workplace and then expand from there and think about “What is it that they need to be successful,” right? And how can that be incorporated into the fabric of what you do? And that’s why part of what I love to do, I love speaking to large corporations. We just talked about someone who works at a large corporation who we both know, but really for me the–you know, I also really love working with smaller teams and startups, because when you can build intersectionality, when you can build inclusion and equity into the very fabric of your organization, right, when you’re building it from, like, one to five to ten to twenty employees, that is where you can really make a change, and I have seen that happen personally.

Zach: You know what? So first of all, you know what I’m saying, like, while you were talking I didn’t want to cut you off, but in my mind when you said–when you, like, owned up and you said, “My book does not address intersectionality,” I was like [record scratch sfx]. ‘Cause I was like, “Wow, that’s incredible, because everybody–” I want everybody to stop. Stop what you’re doing. You’re driving your car, you’re doing whatever you’re doing–especially you, diversity, equity and inclusion supposed subject matter experts–stop and see what Ruchika just did, okay? I asked her a question, a direct question about a very important concept if you want to consider yourself a diversity, equity and inclusion expert. You see what she didn’t do? She didn’t get all defensive and fragile. She outright owned something that she didn’t do and her commitment to improve in the future. Some of y’all need to learn from that. I’m talking to you. Yes. If you think I’m talking to you, I’m talking to you, okay? Shout-out to you. That was dope.

Ruchika: Thank you.

Zach: You’re absolutely welcome.

Ruchika: And listen, I’m not–you know, I don’t at all claim to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I do want to double-down on this point. Like, I’ve said it before, and I’m gonna say it again. I think growing up both outside this country as well as sort of in some way out of, you know, sort of the Western way of living has meant that I have had to approach DEI in the United States with a tremendous amount of humility and a learning mindset, right? I mean, in the country I grew up in, gay marriage is not legalized, right? I didn’t have any friends growing up who were out. The first time I actually came in contact with someone who was openly gay, for example, would have been sometime in my 20s. You know, openly, right? So what I’m trying to say is that you can have been brought up a certain way. The people you love may believe that, for example, having friends of different colors or treating people from different backgrounds equally, maybe you grew up thinking that’s not the way life should be, but my point is you can grow. My point is you can learn, my point is that it takes a tremendous amount of humility and learning to get to that place, and you absolutely can get there.

Zach: Amen. No, I agree, and I think we’re coming into an era where people are just getting, like, less and less tolerant of, like, corporatized nonsense, right? So, like, there’s going to need to be, eventually, some sort of reckoning with, like, the systems at play. In fact, we’re in a unique position because it’s an election year where we almost have kind of, like, a countdown. We know one way or the other there’s going to be an–like, there’s going to be another explosion, and there are going to be more and more people supposedly very surprised all over again, but I think–I also think that just, like, societally and generationally, like, we also have folks and younger folks who weren’t able to vote who saw the nonsense last time but weren’t in the same position who are in a different position this time. So I just think that the–I think that the dialogue is going to still be just as present if not more present than it was in 2016, so the imperative to really–like, to your point about humility and being willing to learn, centering the most vulnerable and continuing to seek to grow and develop yourself in this space is important, because I just don’t think that some of the trends that I saw in this, like, environment over the last decade I don’t think is gonna be sustainable this upcoming decade.

Ruchika: It isn’t. And you know, Zach, while you were talking I was thinking of this idea. You know, coming to this country as an immigrant, my experience was definitely steeped in and very much the way that I was told that I would be successful in this country was to uphold white supremacy, right? And I have to acknowledge that for us to really make a change, we need to address anti-blackness in a lot of immigrant communities, including the ones I’m part of, south Asian primarily. And I think it’s very important to really drill down into that a little bit more, you know? And if we do want to see a change, even in the workplace, you know, I work with tech companies, and there’s a lot of, like, “Oh, we don’t have a problem with people of color. Like, there are a lot of Asians doing really well in our tech company.” I’ve had leaders write to me–I used to write a column for a supplement of the Seattle Times, and I had people all the time from large tech companies being like, “Oh, but our CEO is a person of color.” “Oh, but our,” you know, whatever it is, you know, “Our top people are people of color,” and I really had to stop and say, “Listen, it’s not about people who are already represented in the workforce. If you really want to make a change, can you tell me how many black people are leading at this company? Can you tell me how many black [?] people [?]?”

Zach: Ooooooooh, goodness gracious, Ruchika. What you talking about? [laughs]

Ruchika: You know, how many indigenous women, for example, are [?] at your company? Then let’s talk about equity.

Zach: Well, ’cause we’re not a monolith. And you’re absolutely right, right? There’s this idea–and there’s terms that we use, and, you know, this is the thing. Living Corporate is a positive space, you know? If we make any, like, direct statement–we have real talk, but, like, we’re not–you know, we’re not trying to be overly mad all the time, right? [both laugh] As hard as it is, but, like, one thing that grinds my gears is, like, people using the term “people of color” when we’re really talking about specific underrepresented groups. Like, let’s actually name and give those groups the respect–like, because if you say black people, that’s already a very complex group. So, like, let’s at least say–if we’re talking about black people, let’s just say black people. If we’re talking about south Asians, let’s say south Asians. But, like, when we say people of color, it’s like–you know, I don’t know if you have it, but every black person who’s listening to this podcast knows what I’m talking about. You have a junk drawer in your house? It has, like, nails and, like, batteries and everything in there, right? Ketchup packets. And that’s really what “people of color” is, it’s just a junk drawer term. We’re just gonna throw–if you’re not eggshell white you’re a person of color, right? And it’s like, how do we break out of that? And so let me ask you this then. When you ask those follow-up questions and you start asking them to be specific, you know, and you ask, like, “Well, how many of this particular group do you have?” Then what does the conversation–what does that shift look like in conversation?

Ruchika: Most people are tremendously uncomfortable and don’t want to engage, right? And that’s also–I’m happy to get off this topic because then I can talk all day, but part of it is the terminology and the language is flawed. In the same way “people of color” is flawed, so is “Asians.” [?] Indians and Indian-Americans, you know, capture some of the highest income groups in this country, but in the same category of south Asians–just if you look at the south Asian subcontinent–[Bangladeshi?] immigrants have the lowest rates of poverty, some of the lowest rates of poverty in this country. So what I’m saying is already the terminology that we use to describe, you know, race is extremely flawed. And by the way, I’d like to shout-out to a book that I’m reading that I love already. It’s called Superior by Angela Saini. She’s a British science journalist. I’m actually part of the team bringing her out to Seattle to speak at our university here. And I just love this book, because it really dives into how race science came about and the very flawed logic that is being used to show that there are differences biologically between the races–which, by the way, she argues very, very well, using tons and tons of data and research to show that that’s absolutely not true, [that?] race is a social categorization and we absolutely must acknowledge the experience of different people socially because of, you know, these categorizations. Biologically, there really aren’t that many differences. And so I think my point–you know, I’m gonna go off on a tangent here, but people don’t want to engage because we are so comfortable with this idea, “Oh, no. Let’s not talk about race.” That’s a very interesting thing that I’ve really noticed here in the United States. In fact, I did some of my tertiary education in the United Kingdom, and then I, as I mentioned, grew up in Singapore and moved around quite a bit. What I found is that really in the United States, people don’t want to talk about race, and as a result of not talking about race, they uphold racism, you know? It’s just–it’s baffling to me, it really is, and I think if you can’t address it–and, you know, I’ve now moved to Seattle, which is really–you know, another shout-out, my friend Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race. Excellent book. I highly recommend it to every single person out there. Amazing. I make my class read it every year, and they’re so grateful. After my boring book they go to her book and they’re so grateful. You should see the evaluation papers. They’re like, “[?] boring.” [laughs] But my point is without us really naming and owning some of the huge systemic barriers we’ve had in the workplace, I think we’re just gonna let the status quo run, and I think you have to be brave enough to get super uncomfortable and address those challenges.

Zach: You know, and it’s interesting you say that, right? And of course I agree. It leads me to the next question I have, which is recently Goldman Sachs announced that they won’t be taking companies public without at least one diverse board member, and then they went on to emphasize gender diversity. My first question is do you think that this is substantive, and then two, or Part B to that, do you believe black and brown men are largely excluded from DEI initiatives, and if so, why?

Ruchika: Okay, so firstly do I think that it’s substantive? I don’t think so, not at all. I think actually the word diverse–like, I think “diverse board member” already is just problematic. And here’s another shout-out. You know, Aubrey Blanche talks about how you cannot–the word “diverse person” is actually problematic. Like, there’s no such thing as a diverse person, right? [?] a white person is diverse, right? So diverse itself, you know, like, back to language, like, name what you mean, and what you mean here is “underrepresented,” right? Like, that’s what Goldman Sachs meant by one diverse board member. What they meant was underrepresented or underestimated. [?], but underestimated board member is what they were talking about, right? So already that training is problematic. And I think if you emphasize gender diversity, I really think you’re missing the boat, right? Are female founders underrepresented and underestimated? Absolutely, right? But here’s real talk. In the Fortune 500, 19% of the C-Suite is made up of white women. Only 4% is made up of women of color, right? So if you’re really talking about systemic change, if you’re talking about not trying to go through the same systems that are already in place, then you really have to look at race. Without that intersectionality, without actually naming that not only do we mean one board member from a underrepresented background in terms of gender but also race, you’re just really perpetuating the problem, right? So I think that–I just think they didn’t go far enough. I like the idea. I like what they’re trying to say. And we also know that in many, many cases, white women do perpetuate similar systems of patriarchy, right? If you talk to any woman of color in the world, she has a story for you about that.

Zach: It’s so interesting that you say that, right? Because I really want to talk about the role that white women play in upholding–not only upholding white supremacy, but also ironically–or unironically–patriarchy as well, right? And so it’s like, what–I think there’s more research and work to be done, and/or I’d love to just bring on more folks to just really deep dive into that subject, because I think it’s worth discussing. I think that it’s–as a black, straight man, I benefit from patriarchy, and I have my own privileges. I do believe that white women sit in a very unique position in America, or just in the world in general, in that they are an oppressed group but also heavily benefit from white supremacy, and so it’s just curious. And you’re absolutely right, I’ve talked to plenty of women, black and brown women, who have their own experiences and frustrations, and I’ve seen them as well. I’ve seen oppression in action at work. But I do find it to be an underdiscussed topic. I know that there are articles and things out there. I still just think there’s many more conversations we could have around it. I’m curious as to what’s gonna need to happen for us to, like, just more unabashedly address the topic head on though.

Ruchika: Absolutely, and I think it’s, again, that being comfortable with getting really uncomfortable, because I think so much of, again, sort of the leftover of workplaces that were designed for and have been sort of continued on by white men, I think it’s very much like you don’t talk politics at work, you don’t–you don’t bring your sort of real, authentic self to work, and we know that that’s changing with the next generation. I did want to answer your question about black and brown men largely being excluded from DEI initiatives. I do think so. I think black and brown men are–I think they do face some very specific and very, very difficult challenges. From a research standpoint, they–you know, we know research can always be flawed, but McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace study, their report–I in fact have it in front of me–shows that, at entry-level, men of color represent 16% of entry-level jobs in corporations, and when it comes to the C-Suite, that’s down to 9%, where with women of color it’s 17% at entry-level and 4% in the C-Suite. So we know that, you know, while there’s a huge underrepresentation of men of color, the percentage of underrepresentation of women of color relative to how many actually enter the workforce is really stark, right? Like, a quarter versus closer to half. So my point here is I think when you look at the data, you know, I can see why perhaps the experiences of men of color are sometimes left out and excluded from DEI initiatives. I do think it’s a very, very important part of–again, if you really want to make substantial change, you do have to include them. The only other way, again academically, I’ve looked at this is what I’ve found is that when you address the two historically most underestimated identities in the workplace, right, or historically lower-status identities–and that’s gender and race, so women of color–that’s where you can really make a big difference, because if you look at white women, they benefit from, you know, one high status, the [?] of being white, but one low status, and for men of color it’s patriarchy. You benefit from it. So I think there’s this–I think it’s a very delicate dance, but do I think we should build corporate diversity initiatives without including the experience of men of color? Absolutely not. I think again you will miss out, and again you’re gonna leave things out that really are crucial to making sustainable change.

Zach: So you speak about change and you talk about, like, the future. You know, it’s curious, ’cause as millennials–as we’ve entered the workforce, you know, there was this collective anticipation from thought leaders around “Okay, yo, watch out, ’cause millennials about to shake it up. We about to cause a ruckus, you know? It’s about to be crazy over here,” and there was a lot of that talk. I’m curious, you know, how have you seen that in the work that you do practically, the infusion of the millennial generation, and then what, if any, shifts do you anticipate as Generation Z comes into the workforce in the next decade?

Ruchika: You know, I don’t really 100% know how to answer this honestly. I mean, I teach students who are at the sort of cusp of millennial, Gen Z, and it’s really amazing to see, you know? They’re very, very different, at least in the sense of being at least aware of some of the huge problems we see in the world today. I mean, they’re the people most impacted by climate change, for example. And I do see that there is a very early understanding of social justice and why this is important, and that really gives me a lot of hope, right? You know, when I taught five years ago, my students weren’t that socially justice-minded in the way that they are right now. So already in five years I’m starting to see a huge change. At the same time, I think, again, they’re inheriting systems that were built with patriarchy and white supremacy at the core of them. So what’s interesting and exciting to see is many reject that, and they’re starting their own businesses, they’re doing their own thing, they’re in their own side hustles and their side gigs, and that’s really interesting, and that’s a very important part of the change of the future of work. At the same time, I think without addressing those systems of oppression, you are still gonna find many millennials who will continue to co-opt into them for many reasons, right? I mean, this is the generation that’s the most financially insecure in close to a century, and they’re really, really struggling with a lot of the mistakes that the generations before them made, and so I think that there’s no perfect answer for this. I think what I will say is that it’s exciting to see at least the data showing that millennials and Gen Z really care deeply about, you know, working in a place where they can live out their values, and they would actually–a significant portion of them would actually rather take lower pay than work for a place where their values don’t align, and that’s really exciting. That is a very different way of looking in the workplace. And again, maybe sometimes–I mean, I’m a millennial. Maybe I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing if I was not a millennial, right? Like, maybe I would have had that terrible experience in tech and I would have been like, “Well, you know, this is just the way that it is, and life’s like that, and I need to continue.” And I just want to admit that there’s tremendous privilege in me being able to do that. I mean, I talk to immigrant women whose ability to live in this country is tied to working for a job no matter how toxic it is, right? I talk to many, many, many people who have had to continue working in workplaces that were terrible for their mental health, terrible for their health in general, and they just had to, right? For a variety of financial reasons, health insurance, et cetera. So I do want to acknowledge that.

Zach: So let’s do this. Let’s talk a little bit about you, right? You have so much going on, and so I just want to make sure that we really give you space for you to share what you’re excited about this year and just what you’re focused on.

Ruchika: Thank you. Indeed, I do a lot. I don’t like to talk about myself, but I will say my goal for myself this year is to do a lot more speaking based on some of the topics that I care about, and, you know, it’s really inspirational when I’m able to address a room of people, and I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Thank you so much. This is the first time our leader has heard about unconscious bias and the experience of women of color,” or “This is the first time we’ve actually had language around what diversity, equity and inclusion means, and thank you for saying the things that you’ve said.” So I think part of my goal for this year is just to continue being a very vocal advocate for women of color, for people of color in the workplace, keeping an intersectional lens when it comes to, you know, diversity efforts. So that’s something I definitely want to do. I do write for Harvard Business Review, and my hope is to do a lot more work for them as the year comes along. I would like to share one article with you, Zach. Actually there are two. One that I’m really, really proud of is one I wrote very recently about why it’s important to pronounce people’s name correctly. I know I have a challenging name and an unfamiliar name in this country, and it really makes all the difference if you think about inclusion, and as time goes on this absolutely includes people’s pronouns and other sort of very subtle ways of making sure that you include people, and one of the easiest ways is to make an effort to get their name right. And so it sounds so simple, and it makes all the difference, because my name, 9 out of 10 times, is mispronounced. Like, even when I pronounce it correctly for people, they don’t want to listen, and I think that is something that really needs to change. So there’s that. The other is I really hope to continue writing about and speaking about topics that, like, generally we don’t easily talk about, and for me one of those is talking about office housework. So a couple of years ago I wrote an article about how women of color are asked to do more office housework, right? So this means all the non-glamorous work. It can be actually, you know, correlated to housework, like, you know, ordering lunch, doing the dishes, whatever it is, tidying up after meetings, but it also relates to the non-glamorous work at work, you know, like taking meeting notes or sitting on committees that don’t lead to promotion or mentoring the interns, for example. Like, i t’s not gonna impact your performance review, and so I really want to continue shedding light on these topics that people generally don’t talk about, but they do actually make a huge difference when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Zach: Man, shout-out to you, Ruchika. This has been super dope. I’m so excited. I love your work, I love your writing. We’re gonna make sure we have all of your information in the show notes, including the books that you referenced, and then, like, let’s just make sure–you know, you’re a friend of the show. Like, you’re welcome back at any time. So if you have anything you want to plug or you want to promote, you come here. We got you, okay? I’m serious, we got you. Let’s see here. Before we let you go, any parting words you have for us, for the folks listening in, for the–so we call… so did you watch The Avengers?

Ruchika: You know, I did not.

Zach: Okay. All right, so–

Ruchika: In my defense, I have a 3-year-old, and life is very full. [laughs]

Zach: No, super respect. I definitely get it. My wife and I are welcoming our first kid.

Ruchika: Oh, congratulations.

Zach: Thank you very much. I was gonna make a reference. So, like, on Living Corporate, we call aspiring allies Buckys, because in The Avengers movie, Ruchika, Captain America had a friend, and his name was Bucky Barnes. But, see, Bucky Barnes got hurt, and he had to get some medical help, but his medical problems were so complex they had to actually send him to Wakanda, which is this fictionalized African nation–

Ruchika: I know Wakanda. [laughs]

Zach: Yeah, yeah, yeah, so–[laughs] and so then he goes to Wakanda, and they end up calling Bucky “The White Wolf,” you see what I’m saying? Because he’s, like, a friend of the Wakandans. So, you know, it’s a long way of saying we have a lot of Buckys listening in, aspiring allies, and I’m just curious if you have any words for them, for the Wakandans listening in, and for everybody in-between.

Ruchika: Ooh, wow. Okay, that is such a big sort of closing. [Zach laughs] So listen, I’ll start first with the Buckys. I think here’s the deal. You know, I think it’s always–it’s easy to, like, talk and believe that your frame of reference and your narrative is the most important or the most significant, and I think what we need to really start doing is to step back and listen. Like, literally listen and open up your networks and open up sort of your privilege and open up your world for people who haven’t had that experience, right? And what I mean is, like, for example, I’m a small business owner. Buy from me. Don’t come to me and say, “Oh, you’re doing great things. I’m so proud of you.” Buy from me. Refer me, you know? [cha-ching sfx] Yeah, literally. Like, it’s literally that, you know? And if someone’s doing great work at your company and, you know, you’re a white man with a lot of influence, recommend the woman of color. “Hey, you know who should run this meeting? This person who never gets to do that,” you know what I mean? So for me it’s about moving away from being a passive ally into an active accomplice, and I’ve heard this framing from a few different people. And so it’s really about being very active. So that’s my thoughts about, you know, Buckys. When it comes to people of color, when it comes to people who have been underestimatd, I had an experience last week where I was underrepresented. It was really hard. It really, really hurt. I think in those moments you really need to find your people. Like, you need to find your people. And they can be Buckys or they can be fellow Wakandans, but you need to find your people that you can really come clean with, that you can sit down and be like, “Hey, this horrible thing happened to me. Tell me I’m not crazy,” because for a long time, especially everything that actually led me to this moment, has been me pretending like, “No, everything’s great. I’m fine. Yeah, some moments are tough, but otherwise I’m doing great. I’m working super hard.” And I think we forget, like, we need those mental health checks. We need people who we can rely on, who can navigate some of the really, really hard stuff you have to navigate when you are underestimated at work. Does that work? Does that help? [laughs]

Zach: Does that work? Let me tell you something, you’re dropping mad bombs. [Flex bomb sfx] That’s incredible. Man, no, absolutely it works. Thank you so much, Ruchika. Now, look, you were talking about the importance of pronouncing someone’s name, and let me just say as an example, it is very important, y’all, and my country self–and I know some of y’all may think I come from Connecticut, but no, I’m actually from Georgia. Like, I’m very country, and–

Ruchika: I love Georgia. I lived there for a while.

Zach: I appreciate that, and yes, Georgia is a dope place. I’m from Rome, Georgia. Shout-out Rome, Georgia, and then shout-out to Mississippi ’cause that’s where I’m from by way of ’cause that’s where all my people are from. But look, you want to take the time, y’all, and really slow down and make sure you can–and ask. Like, people will always respect and appreciate you trying to ask and seek as opposed to being like, “What’s your name? I’ma just call you Bob.” Like, “No, don’t call me Bob. That’s not my name,” right? Like, “My parents gave me this name. This name carries weight and meaning and history and culture, and it’s part of who I am as a human being that exists on this plane of existence with you, so please take the time to understand how to pronounce my name.” So with that said, Ruchika Tulshyan…

Ruchika: Thank you very much.

Zach: Thank you very much. No, you were a beast. This has been great. Very thankful to have you on the Living Corporate podcast. That does it for us, y’all. You know where to check us out. We’re on Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod, Instagram @LivingCorporate. We’re on all the different DSPs, so we got Spotify, Apple… I don’t think we’re on TIDAL. Maybe. I don’t know. Holla at me, Hov. “It’s ya boy!” I don’t know. But we’re on all the other DSPs, okay? So if you Google Living Corporate we will pop up, okay? You know, if you want to make sure–if you’re a browser person, you’re not really trying to take any risks, you know, type in www.livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.tv, livingcorporate.us, livingcorporate.org, livingcorporate.net, living-corporate–please say the dash–dot com, but we don’t have livingcorporate.com, okay? Australia has livingcorporate.com. The day that we’re able to wrest livingcorporate.com from Australia is the day that we have arrived, okay?

Ruchika: Wow. So you went out there and you got all of those domains?

Zach: We’ve got all the domains.

Ruchika: Wow. That is really–look, that takes a lot of work. I mean, obviously, you know, I’m, like, totally in awe, but this is, like, double the awe. That means you’re really serious about this.

Zach: Oh, we’re not playing. So if you type in Living Corporate dot anything else we will come up, it’s just that livingcorporate.com–so Australia, it’s, like, this corporate housing website thing. It’s really strange. And I’ve been, like, doing my work. I’ve been doing my Googles, my research, trying to figure out “How can I get this domain?” But you know, Australia’s a big place. Living Corporate, we’re only–you know, we’re just one little company, but we’re gonna get it though one day. Anyway, the point is we’re all over. If you want to send us a listener letter, look, DMs are wide open. We are not elitists. You don’t have to follow us, and we don’t have to follow you, for you to DM us. Just hit us up, baby. We’ll respond.

Ruchika: But you should follow Living Corporate because their podcasts are so incredible, and really, if you care about, you know, making real change and you want to hear from people who are out there who are really making change, between all of you and your guests, I mean, I learn something every single episode.

Zach: [straight up sfx] You hear that? Did you hear what Ruchika Tulshyan said? Come on, now. Goodness, gracious, the love is real. All right, y’all.

Ruchika: I mean it.

Zach: And I feel it, so thank you. Y’all, this has been Zach. You’ve been talking to Ruchika Tulshyan, speaker, innovator, educator…

Ruchika: All the things. [laughs]

Zach: All the things, you know what I’m saying? Give her all the things. Don’t play, okay? And make sure, Harvard Business Review, if y’all listen to this, you know… don’t play. She’s dropping that heat.

Ruchika: Hey, this is a very important part of this whole thing, okay? It’s really important to spread the love and to, what I say, you know–you know, this is not a case of, like, sending the elevator back down, which is super important, especially, like–I say this a lot when I talk to a room full of women, but it’s really important to be able to share the love and, like, be real, and be real in the sense like, “I need this. Can you help me get there?” And I think that’s one thing that, if you’ve been underestimated at work, you’ve been told for so long that, you know, you don’t matter or what you’re doing isn’t important enough, then it becomes hard to ask for help, right? I mean, all of the lean in narrative is about “Oh, you need to ask,” but you have always been shot down or you have been shot down 9 out of 10 times, then of course you’re gonna have bloody imposter syndrome, you know?

Zach: Oh, my gosh. Yo, we gotta–okay, so do we need to have you back, like, for a variety of reasons, but certainly to talk about, like, how to ask for help and just, like, managing the emotional labor of asking for help over and over and over again, ’cause you’re absolutely right. I mean, now, look, my dad, he’s a salesman. Like, that’s really who he is, and so I get it from him. Like, I’ll shoot. Like, I’ll shoot over and over and over again, but it doesn’t change the fact that at the end I’m exhausted, and it’s defeating to hear “no” all the time or to be undermined or for you to be told no, and then someone else comes along and asks for help and basically they end up doing a watered-down version of what you wanted help to do, you know what I mean? Like, that is… ugh, anyway. Goodness, y’all. Look, Ruchika got us over here about to have a whole new podcast in the wrap-up section of the show, but that’s okay, y’all. Look, you’ve been listening to Living Corporate. Make sure you check us out. Check out the show notes. ‘Til next time, y’all. Peace.

Ruchika: And I’ll be back. [laughs]

Zach: And she’ll be back. [laughs]

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