254 : Dissidence & Technology (w/ Mandy Price)

Zach has the pleasure of sitting down with Mandy Price, co-founder and CEO of Kanarys, to have a conversation centered around the concepts of dissidence and technology. They take a deep dive into both, spotlighting what has changed in part due to recent tragic events, and Mandy talks a bit about the genesis of Kanarys and what initially got her into this line of work.

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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and we’re here again. It is a Tuesday. That’s why you’re listening to my voice and why you’re gonna be listening to a very dope conversation that we have with our guest today. As you know, Living Corporate–or maybe you don’t know because, you know, maybe this is your first time listening, but for those who are first-time listeners, Living Corporate is a platform that centers and amplifies marginalized voices at work. We do this by having real talk in a corporate world by having conversations with black and brown thought leaders, movers and shakers, executives, influencers, whoever, taking fairly evergreen topics, but centering them around marginalized perspectives and experiences. And so with that being said, we have a really special guest, very excited to have her on the platform, Mandy Price. Mandy Price is the CEO and co-founder of the Dallas-based Kanarys Inc., a web platform that incorporates data and AI to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Mandy, welcome to the show. How are you doing? How are you feeling?

Mandy: I’m doing great. How are you, Zach? It’s so good to be here with you today.

Zach: It’s a pleasure to be with you as well. You know what? I’m doing well, because, you know, like we talked about very briefly off mic, you know, my daughter is beautiful. She’s getting bigger and bigger every day. My wife is strong and in good spirits, and I’m doing okay. I’m thankful for the immediate things around me and the fact that there’s peace in my immediate vicinity. At the same time I’m tired, right? I’m exhausted, and I look at the news and I look at, you know, the continued brutalization of people that look like us, and that’s tiring, you know?

Mandy: It’s extremely tiring. It’s traumatic. It’s draining. You know, sometimes I struggle with the words to express my emotions because they’re so full, and it’s very, very difficult, but the one thing that is encouraging to me and my team and I’m sure to you and many others that have fought for marginalized voices to be heard more is that the discussions are starting to change. No longer are we kind of just looking at the systems. People are starting to talk about the disease. “How do we rid out the disease?” And we know that the issues that we see in corporate America and really the systemic inequities that we see throughout our society, because it’s not just in corporate America, we see it in education, we see it in healthcare, obviously the criminal justice system. It’s pervasive throughout our country, and we know that these kinds of surface level policies, be it in corporate America or any other setting, aren’t gonna work, that we have to do the hard work, that we have to look at these issues from a systemic basis, and so as I hear people talking about institutional racism, systemic inequities, I’m encouraged, more encouraged than I’ve been in a long time, because often when we’re in D&I circles I felt that we were speaking two different languages, you know? I’ve long felt that diversity and inclusion was about justice and fairness, that that’s what people wanted, they wanted to work in a work environment that they knew was fair and that they would actually have a chance to succeed in that work environment and there weren’t these barriers where they’re not gonna get the same type of job assignments, their pay wasn’t gonna be fair, they weren’t gonna have the same promotion opportunities, and I think people are starting to think about D&I through that lens, which we have long advocated, as opposed to thinking of it from a programmatic sense, which is what we see so much in corporate D&I, which is “We’re going to create environments–” Which are important, I don’t want to take away fom that, but so much of the work was “We’re going to celebrate Black History Month or Pride Month or these different kind of celebrations,” and not to me really looking and doing the really, really hard work of “Are our systems, our policies, our procedures perpetuating these inequities that exist within our workplace?”

Zach: I agree with you, and I think to your point–and I’ve talked about this a little bit, like, over the past couple of weeks, but the idea that a lot of this corporate D&I stuff, it’s talking–1: it puts the effort and blame back on marginalized voices for being marginalized, so it’s up to you to adjust your behavior to better assimilate with the white majority so that you’re not so marginalized all the time and maybe people forget about the color of your skin because, you know, unconscious bias and then intersectionality, right? Like, it doesn’t really–it doesn’t come together for anything, and then also the idea of having a bunch of training and activities that don’t really tie back into the systems within the organizations themselves. So when folks are saying words like systemic but then not offering systemic solutions, it brings me pause if they actually understand the language that they’re using, you know what I mean? 

Mandy: Absolutely, and like I said, that’s why I’m so encouraged by it, right? I think that’s what everyone is seeing. We’ll see. We are encouraged by the amount of companies [?], more encouraged by the companies that couple those statements with action, you know? There are many organizations that acknowledge that they have work to do [?] [and not?] only were they going to make donations or contributions to groups that are fighting racial inequities externally outside of their organizations, but many organizations have actually acknowledged that they have work to do internally and that they can’t just put out this statement, and I think it’s up to us to hold them to that, and it’s going to help the organizations that are really worried about doing the right thing and the ones that, you know, similar to what we were talking about, the celebrations of Black History Month. “Okay, [?] D&I. We’re done.” The organizations that simply said, “Okay, it’s Blackout Tuesday. We’re gonna make our logo black and that’s it. We did what we needed to do.” People will know the organizations that are serious and are wanting to put in the work.

Zach: That’s right, and to that point I really want for folks to hear a little bit about the history of Kanarys, ’cause, you know, you’ve been featured on Crunchbase and Business Insider and Forbes and Afrotech just to name a few, so it’s not like you’re a stranger out here, but I’d like to hear more about, like, the history of Kanarys and also really the story about your funding, right? Because the amount of funding that you’ve been able to acquire has been pretty incredible. And so we’ve been having conversations in the VC space about there continuing to be a more critical lens being put on how little VCs engage black founders and entrepreneurs, and here you are just gathering quite a bit, so I’d love to give you some space for that.

Mandy: Yeah. So let me start with the kind of what was the impetus for Kanarys, how did I get into this work. My background is I’m a lawyer by training. I practiced law for 12 years, but during the course of that time, like many black professionals, at first I was volun-told that I was gonna be on the diversity committee, but I had a passion for the work, and as I started to delve further and further in I started to volunteer more, but I think a lot of us, kind of going back to the conversation you had earlier where people of color were the only people of color or African-Americans within that space, it’s “Mandy, don’t you want to be on the diversity committee?” “Well, I never told you that, but sure.” And so that’s kind of how the work begun, was, you know, initially doing work on our firm’s diversity committee as well as being a part of the ERG for black attorneys and, subsequently later as I moved firms, I also was on my firm’s women’s task force. And so my background as far as interest in diversity and inclusion goes back to really undergrad, where I did these issues, and the same thing when I was in law school. I worked at the Harvard Civil Rights Project, did a lot of work as well with the Law Review there, the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review on issues, and so those issues were expansive, and then when I came into the corporate world I really got to see first-hand for myself the pervasive issues that exist within corporate America. And I felt like I was prepared for it. My parents, I think all of us kind of received this kind of training as far as what we need to do, survival skills really as far as to succeed in corporate America, so I was well-equipped, but over time I felt that it was very clear to me that the approaches that we were taking to diversity and inclusion were not going to solve anything on a systemic basis. It was very much, “Well, let me treat you,” like you were saying, how to assimilate, how to kind of navigate the firm in a way that it’s currently the process is and political structures work,” and none of our D&I was really looking at things from an introspective basis. It was all based off of these kind of programs, you know, ERG celebrations and things of that nature, and so we know that we had 50% of women or we knew that our entry-level classes, as far as African-Americans and other people of color, were more diverse [?] people kind of ascended the ranks, but there was never discussion of “Well, why is that? Why is it that the number of black partners is so low?” I remember when I was working at a firm there was a 10-year span before there was a black partner [?], and so that kind of deep critical analysis of “Is there something within our policies that we need to change, that we need to look at as to why we’re seeing these discrepancies?” I remember being on a hiring committee where there were discussions of “Well, how do we increase the diversity?” Not, again, looking at “Well, why do we keep losing people?” And I remember broaching the subject of, “Well, why don’t we look at HBCUs?” And the immediate response was, “Well, we can’t lower our standards.” And so it was really clear to me when I looked at the kind of talent that all of the people of color, came from Harvard or Yale or Columbia, that there was these discrepancies even in the way talent was recruited, right, and when you would look at the backgrounds. And so I just started to really think about things on a more structural basis, and I wanted to create a platform where people could talk about these issues in a safe space, because I know conversations that I had in our ERG group were very different than the conversations that were had when leadership was involved, or even to be frank some of the chief diversity officers and things like that. People just felt that if HR or certain kind of leadership in the firm or the organization or the company were involved, then they weren’t as free to have these conversations, and so how can we create a safe space where people can talk about these issues in a way where that we could learn from each other but then also really equip the organizations with information that they needed to really understand the structural issues and the everyday lived experiences that their employees were facing. So that’s kind of how Kanarys evolved and how we grew the company. When you go to the platform, individuals are able to look at every organization from a D&I lens. Every company has a company profile page. We have around 600 companies that we’re tracking data on right now, but we add to that every single month. You can go in and request that your company is one of the ones that we track. And so we look at it from a data and analytics perspective. We know that that is the language of companies, right? If someone kind of goes in and tells their own experience it’s obviously real, but a lot of times those individuals are met with defensiveness, resistance, you know, all kinds of “Well, did that really happen?” And so you’re going in there trying to prove that your lived experiences are actually something that others are facing within the organization. So it’s extremely frustrating, right? You’re already dealing with all kinds of microaggressions, and for many people overt racism, right? You know, there’s covert and overt, and then to go in and actually try to address it only to be met with more resistance from HR or other leadership within your firm, we know that it’s very, very daunting for individuals, so I know that what I had kind of started to do was I wouldn’t talk about it with anyone. I just figured that this was the normal course [of how] people of color, especially African-Americans, were treated in the workplace, and I kind of just started to normalize everything, and I think as you look at the current events and the amount of people sharing their stories and–you know, none of the stories seem new to me, you know? It’s like–you know, I read stories and I’m like, “Yep, that happened to me. That happened to me too.” We just kind of become numb and think, “This is just what it’s like,” and we normalize it, and I think now we’re starting to see people say, “This shouldn’t be normal, and we have to speak up and talk about it,” because although we, Zach, know as people of color, as African-Americans, our everyday lived experiences, we have to make sure that we amplify those voices and let everyone know that this is how we have to deal in corporate America every single day. And so I think it’s more important now than ever, while people are actually looking at this from a systemic and institutional lens, that they know how pervasive this is within their organizations, and that’s what we encourage people to do on Kanarys. You know, our platform was created to amplify and share these stories, these voices, so not only can you go to Kanarys and see company D&I policies, we track all things, like I said, from a very detailed data and analytics perspective, so you can see their demographics, how they change, you can see their D&I policies, but you can see stories and look at reviews from other people of color, other marginalized voices that have worked in those work environments, you know? When I was moving from one firm to the next, you know, I looked at all kinds of different platforms that show you culture and reviews and things like that from workplaces, but what stuck out to me was–I was like, “That’s great. I’m glad to have happy hours, but what is it gonna be like for ME to work there,” right? I knew my experiences were gonna be different, and so the things that I was looking for in an employer were very specific, and so that’s why we created the platform, because we know that if you are a person of color, if you’re LGBT, if you’re disabled, there’s certain marginalized voices that have different things that they’re gonna want to look at for an employer, and so we provide them with that information and that data so they can really assess, “Is this place going to be open to me? Am I going to have the same opportunities? Am I gonna be able to feel included?” And that’s the information we provide on Kanarys.

Zach: So one, that’s incredible, and I do think that–I’ve had conversations with folks in the past when it comes to how real change happens within these organizations, and I’ve had conversations with folks who say, you know, “Do you really think that corporate diversity and inclusion can really drive change, or do you think it’s more external?” And I was like, “The reality is I believe that these organizations need external pressures coordinated with some folks internally who have the moral courage to do the right thing.” And so I’m curious, as we talk about, like, this new season or this moment–I don’t want to say it’s a season, but it’s certainly a moment because we’re about a few weeks in–of folks, like, centering and talking about black experiences and really having to call out racism, and some of them even being bold enough, and right enough, to say “police brutality,” do you anticipate an uptick, or have you already seen one, in activity on Kanarys as it pertains to folks sharing their stories and talking about these things?

Mandy: So we have started to see an uptick. I think people are realizing that we have to speak up and speak out. Like I said, I think so far, for so long, we have normalized [it], we have just become so accustomed to the way things operated and the ability to see kind of widespread change, which is definitely desired, but it was “How is that gonna happen,” right? And I think people realize now the importance of sharing their stories and ensuring that people really do know the day-to-day lived experiences. So we’ve definitely seen an uptick, but our platform was created for us to share our voices without this kind of muting that we see, especially, you know, on some of the traditional platforms. A lot of times black voices have been censored when they’ve talked about racism, when they’ve called out racist behavior, and we wanted to create something that never would mute those voices but would amplify that, because it’s so important that we really do show the pervasive nature of the way that racism operates within our society. I think for some people, especially people who aren’t black or who have not been marginalized, the way they view racism is very, very different. Racism is seen within this prism of malice or ill will or, you know, very concrete things. “I called someone the N word.” That’s racist, right? Those discrete actions, but understanding how racism actually presents itself in our society, and I think that we’re seeing that–and we’ve known for a long time–there’s been a disconnect, but I think the more we share these stories, it helps bring that enlightment to “Wow, I did not realize that someone’s everyday experiences really have racism manifested [?] in every aspect of your life,” and so I think we’re seeing the importance of that, even though it’s our normal, everyday life and we’re like, “Well, of course. This has been like this for centuries,” that’s coming and taking on more of an importance, and one of the things that we do on the platform, because we know leaders talk through measurements and data, is we aggregate all of the responses, and we show them where there’s statistical anomalies so that people can see the trends and the evidence where we’re like, “Well, you know, this is just not statistically possible if there’s not racism present,” right? That’s kind of what happens on the back end later once organizations go really, really far and maybe they’re presented with some kind of class action litigation or things of that sort. People actually start doing the work, budget analysis, and looking at it, but that’s what we do, we work with the companies on the data and say, you know, “What we’re seeing in trends is there’s some systemic issues within your organization, and so let’s start proactively working on that now.” So we’re, like I said, very encouraged by what we’re seeing, but I do think it’s gonna take this push-pull, this not only working on things internally but all of us have to externally push organizations as well to know that this is important, that we’re not gonna accept “check the box” or just the kind of marketing materials that we see sometimes, you know? “This is our D&I report.” No, we’re gonna say “These are our real experiences.” It might not be all polished, but it’s important that people know what it’s really like and which organizations are taking it seriously to really create those atmospheres of true inclusion, equity and fairness.

Zach: And so, you know, what I’m really curious about right now is as you’re having these conversations, and even historically before this moment, have you noticed a certain level of fragility when you actually bring these stories and experiences and things back to the organizations and say, “Hey, look, this is what people are saying about you”? Are they fairly receptive? I would anticipate that there’s a certain level of defensiveness, but I’m curious as to what your experience has been.

Mandy: Traditionally there has been defensiveness, you know? There are companies that are more open than others, but overwhelmingly what we have seen is the desire to kind of hide anything that could be perceived as negative, and I think what companies are realizing is that people know things aren’t perfect because they live ’em, you know? They live the experiences, so they know that there are issues, so they’re not wanting, you know, this kind of sanitized view of what it’s like to work there. They want to know that you have a commitment to do the hard work and to make the changes, and so that’s what we’ve been, you know, like I said, talking about, just like you’ve been talking about the systemic nature of these issues for a long time, we’ve been talking about it for a long time and getting folks to realize that D&I is not marketing. It is not painting this pretty picture.

Zach: It’s not, right?

Mandy: [laughs] It’s not marketing, right, and so I think that there are organizations willing to do the hard work, but we’ve had many conversations that when we say, “This is what people are saying about your work environment. This is how your employees feel,” and their response is, “How can we tie this with a bow and try to make it look pretty for people?” And so I think that’s what organizations are beginning to see, is we don’t want the pretty bows, we want the commitment, and we want the uncomfortable conversations, and we want people to lean into this work and say, “We’re willing to look and really look at the disease and not the symptoms that we’ve all seen for years and years and years.” We all know that the representation of blacks and other underrepresented groups is abysmal in corporate America. We know that talent does not reside in one demographic. So we’ve been seeing the symptoms for a long time. Anyone should have been able to look and say, and organizations right now should be able to look in there, into their workforce, and say “Wow, it’s kind of amazing that all of our senior and mid-level management is of one demographic.” That is a warning sign that there is something amiss within your organization. And for some reason I think it is, like, the prevalance of white supremacy, just like we said earlier, the way that people view racism is from a kind of altered lens. When we talk in those terms not everyone is envisioning the same thing. I think the same thing when we talk about white supremacy. I think some people envision the KKK, you know? So there’s different kind of how we talk [?] on different levels of the D&I journey. There’s definitely different levels that people are on as far as their consciousness of how these terms, what these meanings, how they permeate themselves in our society. So we know white supremacy isn’t simply, you know, “I’m a member of the KKK,” or that kind of white supremacy that I think sometimes people think when they hear that word. White supremacy is if you look at your organization structure and all of your leadership is white and you think that is normal in a society that’s as diverse as ours, that’s a red flag that there’s a problem, because talent is evident everywhere. And so those are the kind of things that we’re really hoping will lean into and be willing to have that uncomfortable conversation and do the hard work of saying, “There’s something amiss here. If we live in a country as diverse as ours,” especially in some of the environments where these companies are headquartered, they are incredibly diverse areas that don’t match at all the demographics of what their workforce are.

Zach: And here’s the thing, right? So when you talk about leadership and leadership representation, it’s a common thing, it’s a commonly known thing that black and brown folks typically top out around that manager, senior manager level and that that, like, next tier of leadership–which is that, like, senior leader to junior VP level or whatever you want to call that, it thins out dramatically, and what I just described is a common thing across certainly most service industries in terms of, like, consulting and different types of client service professions, but that’s a common thing, and, like, it’s been common, and I’m really eager and just very curious to see how real this moment is and, like, is this just, like, a flash in the pan reaction thing or are we actually getting ready to have, like, some collective call to consciousness? That’s what I’m most curious about, that part, and to your point around white supremacy and how folks typically will characterize white supremacy being, like, the KKK, and it’s scary, because there are folks out there who sit in, like, very senior diversity, equity and inclusion positions who are just now coming into the reality of what white supremacy really is, what systemic racism is, you know? Are just now reading books from, like, Robin DiAngelo and Pamela Newkirk or, you know, like, studying black civil rights. You know, it’s a telling time, and I said this before, it’s really, like, a watershed moment for corporate D&I practices, you know what I mean?

Mandy: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And, you know, I think we are hoping it’s the latter of what you said, that it’s a watershed moment and the kind of normal corporate D&I practice as usual is going to be turned on its head for the first time–well, I don’t want to say first time because there’s a lot of organizations that have been doing the hard work. I think, as I talk to many D&I professionals, they’ve advocated for these things. The problem is that they didn’t have the support from their leadership. So when we talk about the watershe dmoment, It hink it’s hopefully, you know, going forward D&I practitioners, the people that have been leaning into this work and advocating for this work, will get the support and the resources that they need from management, because that has been a lot of the disconnect. We know even right before kind of what we’ve seen with, you know, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that have brought about is organizations were talking about cutting D&I. That was the first thing on the chopping block. You know, “We had the pandemic. Our business is losing–“

Zach: That’s the first thing to go every time.

Mandy: Right, and so hopefully now organizations are beginning to see how critical these issues are. D&I shouldn’t be first on the chopping block, and they need to provide the support and the resources to their D&I practitioners that they need to really do the work.

Zach: Amen, amen. Now, Mandy, we’ve talked about Kanarys, you’ve talked about the functionality of the platform, but I haven’t really given you space to, like, plug Kanarys, and so–you know, this is not an ad, but you’re here, so you might as well just go ahead and, like, let us know exactly where we can find you and all that information there.

Mandy: Yeah, sure. So you can go to www.kanarys.com, K-A-N-A-R-Y-S dot com, to look for–like I said, we have information on company profiles from a very deep D&I lens so people can go in and see not only things like the demographics or their very in-depth policies, non-discrimination policies. We do include that, but things like “Do they recruit HBCUs?” Very detailed information about kind of the structure of the company’s D&I policies and efforts, as well as looking at the lived experiences of other marginalized, underrepresented voices within that workforce. We allow you to filter down by all kinds of D&I topics, so you can say “I want to look at things that definitely directly relate to child care issues or things related to the disabled community.” It’s all, again, from a D&I lens, so you’re able to really filter down and see information at a very detailed level. We also include all kinds of resources to help you advocate for things within your workplace. So we do webinars that are more geared towards chief diversity officers, but we also have a resources page that includes things like materials if you’re an ally, right, and trying to learn more about this. You know that there’s been an extreme kind of reach out that we’ve never seen before for people saying, “What are the materials I can read? What are things I can learn more about?” We have those materials on our page, so feel free to share those with others if you are getting the same kind of outreach that we’ve seen so many other black Americans experiencing during this time, but we also have resources for ERG groups. So if you are in an organization where you’re still trying to get your leadership to release a statement, you’re still trying to get your leadership to think about “We can’t just release a statement. We need to take some actions. We need to look internally and externally and think about ways we can really promote racial justice in this country.” We have a couple templates, letters, that you can kind of format, reformat, to send to your leadership. So again, we’re all about “How can we work together, use our collective voices, to really approach these issues from a systemic basis?”

Zach: I love it, I love it. Y’all, this has been Living Corporate. Thank you so much for listening. You know we do this every single week three times a week minimum, right? So we got the Tuesday episodes, we’ve got Tristan’s Tips on Thursdays, and then we have either The Link Up with Latesha or See It to Be It with Amy C. Waninger, and that doesn’t even count, you know, some extra loosies we might drop in there depending on what the time or occasion may call for. You can check us out all over Beyonce’s internet, right? You can just type in Living Corporate. We’re gonna pop up, okay? But if you want to make sure you connect with us on Instagram, it’s @LivingCorporate. If you want to check us out on Twitter, it’s @LivingCorp_Pod. And again, just type in Living Corporate for the website, but if you want the domains, living-corporate.com, livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.tv, livingcorporate.us, livingcorporate.net–we got all the livingcorporates, Mandy, all of ’em except for livingcorporate.com. We don’t have livingcorporate.com because Australia has that one, so don’t type that in and get mad at me, because I’m telling you right now [that] it’s living-corporate–please say the dash–dot com, or livingcorporate dot whatever else, okay? Until next time, y’all, this has been Zach, and you’ve been listening to Mandy Price, CEO and founder of Kanarys. Peace.

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