Zach chats with Aubrey Blanche, the Director of Equitable Design & Impact at Culture Amp, about re-imagining tech and belonging. She discusses her complicated relationship with race and identity, talks about how to effectively combat diversity fatigue, and much more. Click the links in the show notes to connect with Aubrey and check out Culture Amp’s anti-racism plan!
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and look, you know what we’re doing, right? Every single week we’re having real talk in a corporate world. And what does that mean? That means we’re having authentic conversations that what? Center and do what else? Amplify. Who? Black. And who else? Brown people. I keep on doing this weird call-and-response thing. I guess I’m just really excited. But the point is we’re having these conversations, and we typically have them with movers and shakers, and that could be executives to entrepreneurs to social capital investors to activists to elected officials to public servants, authors, you know, whoever. We’re talking to everybody. Typically these people are Black and brown, but every now and then we’ll have some white or white-presenting folks on the podcast as well, and we’re really passionate about that. Our goal is that if you’re a Black or brown person or one of the onlys in your workplace that you listen to this and feel affirmed and heard, and if you’re not one of those people that you take this opportunity, a rare opportunity, to really hear some frank conversations about, and from the persectives of, Black and brown people about being Black and brown at work, and you can use that information to be a better ally. See what I’m saying? So it helps everybody, and so like I said, every week we have an incredible guest, so let me just put our own collective back at Living Corporate. We’ve had some incredible guests though, and today’s no different. We have Aubrey Blanche. Aubrey Blanche is The Mathpath – that’s a math nerd and an empath, which is wild because that’s, like, the Dark Side and the Light Side of The Force coming together. She’s like a Gray Jedi. Anyway, director of equitable design and impact at Culture Amp and a start-up investor and adviser. Through all of her work, she seeks to question, re-imagine and re-design systems–now, y’all know we’re gonna double-click on that in a minute–and practices that surround us to ensure that all people can access equitable opportunities and build a better world. Her work is undergirded–I like that word, “undergirded.” Undergirded. Just say that to y’allselves, y’all. Undergirded. Undergirded by her training in social scientific methods and grounded in the fundamental dignity and value of every person. Aubrey, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Aubrey: Hey. Thank you so much for having me. I feel, like, genuinely blown away at the idea that I get to join you, and also your intro makes me want to cry. I just love what you’re doing. I love the mission and the vision. And “undergirded” is such a fun word.
Zach: It’s so great, right? There’s certain words that are just really nice to say. “Undergirded.” “Plethora.”
Aubrey: Right? I mean, [I’m a?] deeply over-educated human being, so just occasionally getting to use those silly $17 words that you don’t to, but [?].
Zach: You don’t have to. Erykah Badu once said, “What good do your words do if they don’t understand you?” But that’s for another conversation, another day. Look, I read your bio, or rather let me be honest–I took out, like, the first 20% of your bio for the sake of this conversation, but what does all of that really mean? Like, what do you actually do?
Aubrey: Yeah, what do I do? I feel like what I try to do is crush white supremacy with capitalism, which is confusing conceptually, but really what I think I try to do is harness the privilege that I have and I guess the oppression I’ve experienced as this very liberal human, and we can talk about what that means, and try to use the privilege that I’ve had and try to figure out how to scale those out. Like, that’s the [?] thing in my soul that I’m trying to do, and right now I happen to do that within the context of technology and investing and finance. What I’m really interested in is learning the rules of systems so that we can begin to evolve those systems so that they begin breaking themselves down where they are harming people.
Zach: I like that. I like that a lot. There’s a lot of nuance in what you just said, so that’s why I’m really excited to get into this. In fact, let’s talk a little bit about, like, this moment where we are, right? And before we do that, like, let’s zoom in on our interaction about you being on this platform, right?
Aubrey: Right. So for folks on the podcast, basically what happened is Zach was awesome and reached out to have me on, and my first sort of response was “Hey, want to be clear that I’m white-passing. I want to make sure that we have sort of BIPOC folks in front of my voice. I’m really happy to speak sort of to my people, but I also want to be respectful of not taking up more space than I need to,” and that for me is because–it’s really important to me just, like, on a basic, ethical level. Like, we have this moment. It’s always been important to listen to those voices, and I’ve tried to create that space, but it’s especially important now because so many people are listening. So I think I’m trying to figure out where my role is in this moment as a woman of color but someone who does have white privilege in so many settings, and then on top of that I’m trans-racially adopted, so there’s even more nuance inside that sort of like–
Aubrey: Yeah, it’s a lot.
Zach: That is a lot. Okay, so when you say trans-racially adopted, like, your parents are what ethnicity?
Aubrey: Yeah. So I’m mixed, and I’m Mexican-American, and as of about a couple weeks ago I found that the other part is Irish. Fun fact – adoption is weird and keeps coming back to you. So my adoptive mother is second-gen American on both sides, Euro-American, and then my adopted father is actually Euro-American and Indigenous. So he’s Choctaw and has been an Indigenous legal activist in addition to being sort of corporate counsel, but my dad, what’s interesting is despite the fact that I grew up sort of in the Indigenous community and things like that is my dad is also white-passing. So my whole adoptive family looked hella white, but we actually had a really complex sort of racial identity within our family.
Zach: I mean–so I think it’s important, right? I mean, we’re gonna get there in a minute, but… so you operate in this space, right? I know when I first saw your picture I was like–do you watch Steven Universe?
Aubrey: I don’t.
Zach: Okay. So you should check out Steven Universe, ’cause, like, you give me strong Rose Quartz vibes. And it’s a compliment. Like, you should look up Rose Quartz. She’s great. But you kind of look like a star. Like, you do all these talks and all these things, and so outside looking in it’s like–I think you sit in this space that’s really interesting. So I’m not gonna profile you, ’cause I’ve listened to what you actually have to say, but you sit in this space that’s, like, you speak about diversity, equity and inclusion, you are white-passing–like, your experience and your identity is much more complex than that, but you sit in this very influential space and it’s, like, kind of–what I’m curious about is, considering the space that you’ve inhabited historically around this work, and when you think about this moment–like, it’s kind of like a watershed moment, right? Like, people are really starting to call D&I institutions to account, particularly white women in these spaces and groups. I’m curious, like, is there anything right now that you’re more sensitive to? You kind of talked a little bit about you’ve been thinking about it more. Like, where are you at just emotionally and mentally around this work right now?
Aubrey: Yeah. So I think, like, the Overton window of what we can talk about to white people has shifted, and so what I mean by that is my personal philosophy is that I’m someone who was born in a situation that was let’s just say much rougher than the one I got adopted into, and something I’ve always carried with me is–like, the phrase I use to describe it is “Little girls born like me do not sit in rooms and talk to billionaires.” It’s just a fact. Statistically speaking, there’s no reason I should be in the place in the world that I am. And so what I think about is I’ve moved through these very white supremacist systems, right? Like, I got to survive ’cause I need more SPF than some people, and I’ve learned how those systems work, but the problem is I always felt really alienated by them because they didn’t align with my sense of self, because for a lot of complicated reasons I really have been socialized and racialized as a Latina because of the social context I grew up in, and I didn’t actually understand whiteness until I went to college and people stopped being racist to me, and I was like, “Wow, I didn’t know that was optional.” Truly, and it sounds really silly to someone I think, but just given the specific circumstances of my life that happened. So throughout my 20s as I sort of my grew in my consciousness on this I kind of said, “There are particular spaces I can speak to that people who are darker than me can’t,” and I own and acknowledge that that is a relic and a fact of a white supremacist system, but it’s also still true. So what I try to do, and I will admit imperfectly, which is why I think we need people to keep us accountable to this integrity, is I try to talk to people who are going to listen to me more or I try to say things to shift the Overton window so that when darker people of color say them they receive less abuse. So I recognize when I say something first–and I say first meaning in ths space, not that it’s my magical idea, that I’m less likely to just get shit on for it because I look like Karen. And so I think about it like, “Can I be the linebacker for Black women? Can I normalize that idea so that we can make that space less hostile so then I can go, “Now listen to who you should listen to, and let me bring that voice into the room”? So I think that’s my dual responsibility, and now because suddenly we’re seeing communities actually capable of listening to BIPOC folks without immediately abusing I’m much more careful about where I step back, because I think I have less internal intuition about where the correct action is, and so I’m trying to be more deferential. So that’s where I am, but I wouldn’t say that I know what I’m doing. I’m figuring it out.
Zach: No, that’s a really honest answer, and thank you for the context and background. I think your premise, what you started off with in terms of your purpose, is different than most folks. Like, if you ask most people their purpose, like, they’re not going to say what their real purpose is, because most folks–painting with a wide brush, but I mean what I’m about to say–most folks’ goal is to, by some degree, be white men, right? So, like, their goal is to get as much power as they can. So, like, your whole framing of, like, “I’m gonna block for this other person so that they can have a platform to actually speak, I’m gonna leverage my access and my power and my privilege to then create space for darker-skinned Latinx, for Black women, for other people who are societally, historically in different ways just on their face,” no pun intended. Like, that’s just not the typical goal, right? So we’ve talked a little bit about the nuances of your identity and your background, and that’s incredible. I’d like to talk more about the concept of being white-presenting while also at the same time being a person of color, right? My challenge, Aubrey, right now is that, like, that “person of color” term is starting to become this, like, junk drawer thing where, like, everybody’s a person of color, but we don’t really specify or name identity in this work, even now. So, like, that’s why with Living Corporate, we don’t say “we center marginalized experiences of people of color at work,” we say Black and brown because we really want to be explicit with who we’re talking about. You know, you brought up being white-presenting. I’d like to hear more about the nuances of, from your perspective, Latinx identity and how you present versus culture and ethnicity, and let’s also add, like, the dynamic of how people perceive you.
Aubrey: So I think it’s something I think about a lot, and I want to bring in another piece of my identity that’s been really helpful for me in figuring this stuff out, which is I’m also a queer person. I’m, like, bisexual or pansexual or–I don’t know, whatever’s something that’s definitely not definitely gay and not definitely straight, and I don’t really think about it much harder than that, but I have a lot of things that are, like, queer signifiers in terms of my identity but, like, could also just be confused for [alt?] straight people. So again, most of my identities are invisible and liminal, and the way that I think about it is that we talk about that identity construction is a process, and so I can’t change that, like, I didn’t grow up in a Latin family, for example, and I would never lie about that. Something that was really interesting to me was–I have a friend who’s Indigenous who gave me a framework for thinking about this because I’ve struggled with my legitimacy as, like, part of the Latinx community or how do I relate to this label, “people of color”? I have a complicated set of feelings with that language but think it can be useful in terms of identifying a collective. For me it was really about who I am, and my identity is actually not something that can be challenged. The fact is, right, my lineage comes from people in Mexico, but I also can acknowledge that I have both colonizer and colonized in my DNA, and that is something [I have to?] deal with, but the thing that a friend of mine said that gave me the legitimacy that my identity is real is he said, “I can’t accept that the fact that we are pale means we are no longer from our ancestors, otherwise they would have been right that they could [BLEEP] the indigeniety out of us.” And that, like, is probably pretty harsh, but for me I was like, “Yeah, you’re right. There’s an energy. There’s a spirit. There’s a culture.” Now, I, for my own well-being did need to be put in a different family than the one I was originally born into. I’ve had to connect with and sort of become a part of my culture as an adult, so I’ve had a little bit of a different experience because of what was important for me. And so I think there’s that, but I think to pretend, like, my experience in terms of economics, in terms of the way that I have experienced racism and racialization, are meaningfully different than most or a big portion of the Latinx community, and I think for me that tells me what my role should be. So I’m grateful for the folks who, like, welcome me into the community and don’t do the, like, “You’re not legitimate ’cause you have a different story,” a story that also understands–here’s a fun fact – my adoptive mother is the most incredible person I’ve ever met, absolutely saved my life, and also we know that women of the dominant race, you know, bringing children from the colonized race into their family is [?]. Like, both of those things are true, and so for me I say because I have this almost armor in the systems we live in, my role is to listen to my community and advocate to the majority for it because I can be a translator, because I can move between, and so rather than seeing my ability to play with those systems of oppressions as questions about my legitimacy, I relate to them as in they give me a special role for my activism in the same way I think each of us have a special role in the way that we bring our activism to life in line with our purpose and our unique privileges and oppressions. So yeah, that was really deep for you, but that’s my honest answer, and I think I try to hold the humility that, like, I’ve definitely [BLEEP] up, right? I’ve definitely done things that were wrong, but I try to surround myself with people who tell me that when it’s happening so I can at least try to minimize the way that, you know, my white fragility or my internalized racism or any other -isms aren’t impacting the people around me.
Zach: I mean, you out here just casually dropping wild bombs. You’re doing a phenomenal job. You should continue on this path. Like, stay here. So let’s talk a little bit about the culture summit in 2019 that you were at a guest speaker, a keynote speaker [at,] and you talked about diversity fatigue in tech, right? So it’s interesting–we’re going to continue to nail on this the next few questions, but I feel as if–so the majority has had to be aware or care about Black people for… let’s see here, has it been, like, three months? Two-and-a-half months? Like, it’s been a handful of months. Like, it hasn’t been that long, and people are already talking about being tired. So, like, I’m curious about when you think about the concept of diversity fatigue with, like, white leaders, and especially as you think about it at an organizational level, like, what have you seen work well to manage diversity fatigue?
Aubrey: Yeah. I think the thing about it–and this really relates to this idea that I say a lot, which is, like, [BLEEP] D&I, and what I don’t actually mean is, like [BLEEP] the goal, and I think they’re actually related things. People are tired. Like, I want to sit there and be like, “How dare you get tired?” But I understand how the human nervous system works, so I have to, like, deal with that as a real constraint. But I feel like diversity fatigue is partially happening because everybody’s had the same ten diversity talks for five years. They, like, put some money into branding and putting a Black face on their website, and then threw their hands up and said, “Why isn’t racism done?” And so when you describe it that way you’re like, “Oh, yeah, that was never going to work in the first place.” So I think the solution to diversity fatigue, rather than us, like, yelling at people who are tired, which is just going to make them turn off, and I, like, hold in my heart the frustration that we have to do this, right, because people are tired. They’ve done enough. But again, philosophical versus practical rationalism there. I think it’s this move to equitable design that actually I think fights diversity fatigue, because what are people tired of? They’re tired of being lectured at. They’re tired of not doing. So instead of saying, “We care about D&I,” my response is “If you don’t have a budget and you don’t have a time allocation, I don’t care and you don’t count,” ’cause I’m sorry, your caring didn’t help anyone. And that’s what equitable design is, right? It’s about what saying “What is my plan? What is my process? What is my data about what’s broken and what is my idea and my action about how we’ll try to fix it?” And when you go with that methodology, suddenly everybody gets a job. So maybe it’s–I’m speaking about Culture Amp in this exact moment, our programs, right? Our Black employees’ job right now is to attend the mental health program we’re offering for them and to take care of themselves. That is their job.
Zach: That is so healthy.
Aubrey: Right? Like, that is your job right now. In our company anti-racism strategy, our Black [campers?], your job is to take care of yourself. We’ve made it clear. We’ve brought in experts. My job is to build the corporate strategy, you know? Our CEO’s job is to fully fund the plan. This equitable design idea gives everyone a job, and it’s hard to get fatigued with something when you’ve given people, like, little win breadcrumbs along the way. So I’m not [perfect?], and if folks want to they can check out Culture Amp’s anti-racism plan online. We didn’t just publish the commitment, we published the operating plan, and at the end of this sort of six-month cycle we’ll provide an update for folks because accountability matters. It’s real. Cultureamp.com/antiracism if you want to check it out. The pillars are easy, which is support and care, accountability, education, and then access. So for me that’s what equitable design is. It’s everyone taking a look at the actions that they’re already taking in their day and going, “How can I design this to create a more equitable impact?” So maybe you’re giving a career coaching to that friend of a friend’s kid. Why don’t you ask that student to find an underrepresented classmate who you’re also gonna give a career coaching conversation to? I’m telling you. I did it last month. When you read a book written by a Black woman, why don’t you make sure you go online and write a review for it, because then the algorithm knows that people engage with that book. Right? It’s not about always–although certainly if you want to donate to the movement for Black lives and everything I vehemently support you. I think people mistake that, like, activism, that anti-racism, that D&I is something separate from what they’re already doing as opposed to a slight edit of the things they’re doing. So that’s how you overcome fatigue, and I’m totally fine if you as an ally–like, you just did that coaching conversation with someone who would not have had access to an executive before? Like, I’m chill if you pat yourself on the back for that. Go ahead. Like, I know, “ally cookies” or whatever, but if you want to self-high five or you want to tell another one of your friends who isn’t marginalized from that group, like, “I did a good thing,” and you want a high five from another white person, fine. Cool. If it keeps you motivated and it gets you to do the next 10 things over the next 10 and 100 years, then I’m fully supportive of that. So I guess that’s where it is. Like, we fight diversity fatigue by doing things consistently that actually work.
Zach: I feel like a large part of this work is massaging white discomfort or trying to figure out ways to, like, Jedi mind trick white folks into caring about Black and brown people. And, like, I hear what you’re doing at Culture Amp. The link will be in the show notes, ’cause I just looked at it and it’s fire. So it’s worth, and I also shared it with a couple of mentors, but I’d like to get your reaction to what I just said and, like, if you agree with that, then, like, is that tenable in today’s climate?
Aubrey: That’s such a good question. I was a little quiet because I was like, “Is it, like, 60% or 80% of the work?” Right? No, I think it absolutely is, and it’s the reason that I choose to do this work, because I think something that people don’t talk about enough–and I talk about in some communities that I’m building–us white-passing folks are the tactical weapons to solve this particular problem, right? Like, I don’t just, like, code switch, although I do that too. I literally identity switch at work minute by minute because I have the unique ability to, like, feel both sides of the coin ’cause I’ve lived both sides of them, so that’s actually a lot of the reason I do the work I do, because I know how much of this is, like, managing white discomfort, and frankly, my face partially manages white discomfort to have discussions about racism and white supremacy. So I think that’s true. Now, your next question is really important. Is it tenable or sustainable? I have a complex answer to that. So philosophically my answer to you is no. My deeply practical, science lady answer is it’s not an avoidable problem in the short term. So this is a weird theory I’m gonna give you, and it has to do with drug addiction, but I think it’s relevant for anti-racism work. So here’s a theory I’ve never spoken online before. So there’s something really fascinating about drugs and how they work on the brain, which is that the dosage and the frequency that they hit the brain completely changes the brain’s response to it. So, like, small amounts over time create resistance. Large amounts at once tend to cause addiction. I’m vastly oversimplifying, but just work with me. So I’ll say people who experience racism–not people of color, but people who experience racism, we basically have been given doses of racial stress throughout our lives, so we now have resilience to it. I’m nto saying it’s good. I’m not saying it’s ideal. I’m just saying it’s sort of a descriptive fact of the world. So white people, we basically have to dose them with enough racial stress in the right ratios at the right time to get them to be able to have these conversations, because what the research is telling us is white fragility is actually, like, people’s brains perceiving they’re in danger when they’re in absolutely no danger whatsoever. Like, that’s neuroscience. So philosophically I’m like, “Yeah, it’s not sustainable,” but we have to think about ways to give people experience through racial stress, white people specifically, so that they’re resilient and can have the conversations, and I think that’s the process that’s happening right now in a broader cultural sense is that white people–I mean, have you seen the New York Times Bestseller list? It looks like my bookshelf. [?] on one of my shelves called “What White America’s Reading.” So what I’m saying is I think we’re in a moment where white people are being dosed with racial stress in a way that they never have been, and so I am saying that, like, we’re still probably going to have another–I don’t know, I don’t want to put a timeline on it. That’s a terrible statistician thing to do, but I do think it will change because more white people are educating themselves, and even, like, white people that are in my family that I’ve never seen talk about racial justice before are, like, texting me and asking me questions. So, like, I’m really hopeful. I know how the 17 million different ways this could go sideways, but I have to hold onto that hope because that’s what motivates me to push so hard right now. So I think that there’s a real chance that there’s enough white people who are like, “Oh, I get some rules now, and I at least know to shut up and listen,” that we could build a coalition that’s big enough to actually create fundamental structural change. Like, I have to believe that’s true because that’s what I spend all of my time pushing for.
Zach: Right. I mean, I struggle with the ways that this space plays with language. I don’t know, like, to a certain extent, Aubrey, like, the language itself becomes like, this test and, like, just becomes very classist, and it becomes really exclusionary, because we’re talking in these very, like, esoteric terms that kind of mean whatever, right, and we write long Medium posts about this versus that, but at that same time a lot of folks are still using equity and equality interchangeably. So we really don’t understand–when I say we I mean, like, just the common person, not even a D&I expert but just, like, the common person. I do think a word though, when we talk about this space and we talk about achieving belonging at work is, like, redistributing organizational power. I don’t often hear the word “power,” like, really employed in conversations, particularly around Black engagement, brown people. I don’t hear that word. Have you thought about that? Is that significant to you at all?
Aubrey: I think I want to add another word in, ’cause I agree with you, right? Getting really esoteric about language, it excludes people who haven’t had those discussions about those specific subtle differences. I talk about equity. I actually don’t really use the word equality. I don’t think about equality that much.
Zach: I don’t either, but people be throwing–I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it, like, some big brands have used the word equality. I’m like, “Why are we–“
Aubrey: I’ll just give my particular view, and I want to do this without, like, throwing shade, but for me I tend to see people use equality when they’re familiar with a lot of the, like, deep social justice theories, because they’re articulating the outcome, and equality is the outcome of the process of equity, and the process of equity, by literal definition, is about redistributing power and opportunity, at least in the way that I perceive it. I think the other term that we have to talk about or that I think about a lot, and I can’t believe I work at a place where I have, like, advanced, deep conversations with executives about this, is [?] collective organizational justice. I think justice is helpful because there’s–I just learned a new type of justice, which is, like, my favorite fact ever, but thinking about, like, what does procedural justice look like, right? Equitable design creates processes that create procedural justice. I think about testimonial justice. So how do I make sure that people’s stories have the space to be told in the ways that they need to to respect human dignity and opportunity? And so I think redistributing organizational power is at the core of what I do, so really what I’m doing all day, whether I’m writing a corporate strategy or thinking about what hat I need to wear in a particular conversation, is I’m doing a power analysis of the situation. Like, a good example of this, and I’m gonna put this out there, when I think about power and systemic power, right, one of the most abusive things that exists that most D&I leaders aren’t even talking about are forced arbitration agreements. You have just [?] or also class action rights. So by including that in your employment contract to all of the CEOs and leaders listening, what you are saying is “[BLEEP] you and your power. You have absolutely no recourse that is fair if we mess up and harm you,” and I truly believe that that’s true, because what you’re doing is stripping that individual of the way that they might balance their power against the power of a corporation with backers, and that’s even ignoring the racial power dynamics or the ableist power dynamics there. So I think we would be so much better served if we talked about power, but then the other important thing I want to bring in–and I realize it’s your thing, but I’m gonna ask you a question, which is I don’t think that people understand the difference between power with and power over, and it relates to [?] earlier where I almost laughed–not at you, but you said, like, “You’re giving up power,” and I almost laughed because I don’t think by creating space for people I’m giving up power, because my definition of power is “power with,” so I believe that when I move out of a particular space, I am gaining power because the collective is gaining power and I’m a part of that collective.
Zach: But, see, in that though there’s, like, this–I don’t know. You have to have a different mindset and premise that you’re operating from to even see that as power though, right? Because most people don’t–it’s a zero-sum game. There’s also, like, a very capitalistic mindset to it too. So if you heavily prescribe to historically oppressive systems and you’re not necessarily, like–you don’t think in communal terms or frames, then you’re not going to see it that way. I agree with you though that, like, the idea of power with and power over is–and it’s funny, because I didn’t know that’s what you were going to say. I didn’t know that that’s what that meant in that context. I thought you meant, like, power with being like–I don’t know, I interpreted it differently. I think about the fact that a lot of people don’t consider the fact that, like, even if they aren’t high in an organization, they still have power by way of their whiteness, and that’s not a theoretical power. Like, it’s a real power. As an example, let’s pretend you and I work at Culture Amp and we are a part of the same team. We have the same job. In fact, I may be senior to you in the organization. The reality is, like, if you wanted to, you could just share a couple of points of feedback to other people around me and I could be fired. Not at Culture Amp, but you know what I mean. You have the societal–you have advantages to where if you say, “You know what? I just don’t think Zach is really cutting it,” or “I don’t really think Zach is that bright,” or “I don’t think” whatever or “Zach makes me feel uncomfortable” or whatever the case is, right, and so what was a struggle for me is when we talk about power, yes, we’re talking about, like, the white executives, or just executives period, like, people who are in positions of organizational authority, but also the people who are not in organizational authority who still can harm Black and brown people who should, on paper, be protected, even by the very pessimistic and harmful rules that that organization has created for its own leadership. Like, they still don’t really even participate or benefit from those protections because of the color of their skin or because of a disability or whatever the case may be, you know what I mean?
Aubrey: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, and I think that’s actually something we don’t teach people. I think it’s, like, American culture in general is very aggressive. Like, a lot of our cultural values are about control, but we don’t actually have a dialogue about it. So those of us on the bottom end of the distribution in any context tend to talk about it, but the people at the top don’t, and so yeah, I think people–also because we’re in this sort of capitalistic society. I say that as if I’m, like–capitalism is like traffic. I don’t like it, but I have to be in it. I got that from Nicole Sanchez. I want to give her a shout-out. She’s brilliant. I can only say that she’s someone who has guided me and taught me, and I appreciate her wisdom, and I don’t even have time to describe how much I think she’s great, but I think that’s it, that people don’t understand power. And also I think there’s this weird game in–I think it’s everywhere, but, like, American culture lies about it, where the thing is people actually, like, crave power and status, but they have to lie about wanting it, and it comes from our whole lie about, like, “Classes don’t exist in America,” even though they obviously do. “We’re not a classist system.” Yeah, we are. I’ve been on every rung of it. Trust me, I know. At different points in my life.
Zach: Right. Let’s talk a little bit about–part of your bio I read included the concept of re-imagining systems, right? So I’ve had on a few guests, and many of them believe that this is a watershed moment for, quote-unquote, D&I, HR culture, like, that whole space. Do you think there’s any radical re-imagining that needs to happen today or that really should have happened a while ago but is certainly, like, further mobilized by this moment?
Aubrey: Absolutely. I mean, like, the thing is the phrase–it’s been repeated to me, like, every week, like, “Never waste a good crisis.” Well, what I mean is don’t waste the attention on these problems, because attention is what can get you the solutions. So yeah, do I think it’s a watershed? Gosh, I hope so. I hope that companies stop doing unconscious training and we have honest conversations about the fact that it was conscious design decisions in organizations that create intentional discrimination and exclusion. I’ve been saying that to everyone with a C-level title I can talk to. If you’re like, “Unconscious bias,” I’m like, “It was never unconscious bias. You were just too fragile to hear it. It was conscious failures of leadership.”
Zach: Listen… I’ll never forget–this was some years ago–I was talking to a leader about… and it was literally on my way out, ’cause I left, and I made a risk log as I was leaving. I said, “These are just things you need to know about the project we was on and the people on your team. Here are things that would help you if you just considered the risks.” Got on the phone. I had already resigned, so, like, it was, like, my last week, right? So then we’re talking and she’s like… one of the risk ops on there was–I literally made it so soft. I said “potential unconscious bias,” and her response was “I’ve never had a situation where I’ve been unconsciously bias.” And I said, “Well, by the very nature of the concept you wouldn’t know if you had been unconsciously bias, ’cause it’s unconscious.” So it’s wild when you think about, like, the multiple levels of grace and outs that white people provide themselves through diversity and inclusion work. It’s just not to me about justice, not about equity, really it’s not about Black and brown people at all, it’s just about shoring up power and control while kind of, like, protecting yourselves from litigious risk, right? But it’s not real.
Aubrey: You know what, Zach? You just said the word “risk,” and I want to one, yes, +1,000 you, and I want to talk about the way that risk can be re-imagined, and it’s a thing I’ve been saying to lawyers and executives, not just at Culture Amp. Like I said, literally to anyone who will listen, because I figure I have my, like, Hamilton, my [?] energy about this, like, how much [?] can we get in this moment? Which is that we can decide that risk means the company losing business because we have to fire an executive who’s an abusive [BLEEP]. Like, violations of human dignity are a risk we cannot bear, and we simply choose, when we identify abusers, to remove them out of our organizations. Like, that’s a choice that people can make about the definition of risk. And frankly, even if you’re talking in capitalistic terms, if you think about how much companies spend on, like, external legal firms when they get sued for discrimation, it is so much cheaper to fire an executive and hire a new one. Or anyone in the organization, right? If they’re not an executive they’re even less financially, you know, sort of creating return for the business. So again I go back to this idea of re-imagining. Let’s take the words and the concepts and just ask the basic question – “Do we have to do it this way? Is there a better way?” A company could say, “We value people being treated well because we know that treating you well equals better cognition, which equals more innovation, which in this economy, in our business, equals more dollars and revenue.” We can choose to act as if that is true, and that choice and that action is what builds the world in which it is true. So I’m saying this, like, I live in an industry where everyone’s like, “We’re changing the world.” I’m like, “You’re shooting a rocket into space. Someone did that already.” Not to diminish that it’s an incredible feat of engineering to get a rocket into space. It’s incredible, but it’s actually less incredible than being like, “Maybe we should treat our employees like full humans who are deserving of dignity.” Like, that doesn’t seem that bananas to me.
Zach: Well, it doesn’t though because you’re rejecting white supremacy and patriarchy, like, full-stop.
Aubrey: Because it’s lame and it diminishes–[?] I could drive, like, what, a Lamborghini because I look white? Like, my soul is not better off. Other beings aren’t better off. Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent, but white supremacy diminishes everyone, even those of us who benefit from it. Obviously those of us who benefit should do more work full-stop.
Zach: Right. I feel you. I also think it’s wack, but that’s the reason. So what about this time right now scares you, Aubrey, mathpath, white-presenting woman, complex background. Like, is there anything right now that you feel more in the spotlight or more pressured?
Aubrey: The thing that I’m, like, deeply afraid of in this moment, to be specific, is I know what the United States does to people who don’t identify as white in history, and I’m afraid that white America won’t take the signals that we’re deep down the road to genocide seriously enough until we all start dying in higher numbers. That is actually what I’m afraid of, that white people don’t think it’s urgent enough to burn [BLEEP] down over, because the fact is, like, there are children in cages. This has been happening forever. We have police forces gunning down innocent civilians of all colors, although we know some communities experience that disproportionately. So what scares me? People wanting to lull themselves into a sense of security because they want the world to be better than it is.
Zach: Yeah, it’s scary. I think about where we are right now and just the death count because of COVID-19, and I think the fact that “defund the police” is still becoming such a–people are still pushing back so hard. I say, “Y’all, the data’s right here. They’re not solving crime. They’re bleeding communities dry because the budgets are way too hard. We are underserved in these other service areas.” And yet that’s still, like, a radical, crazy idea. We’re still pushing back against, like, the idea of reparations. Folks are still sending kids to school, right now, in the middle of a pandemic. Like you said, kids in cages. You’re right. It’s scary because–I don’t know. There’s a certain level of awareness that’s been really cool to see. Kind of weird, to be frank. As a Black person it’s kind of strange. But at the same time I’m looking everything and I’m just like, “Yo, this is–” Just talking about the pandemic alone, like, we haven’t even hit the second wave, and so it’s just like, “What are we doing?” So I hear you, that’s a fear of mine too.
Aubrey: That was the honest answer. It wasn’t an upper, but [?] all of these things are under people’s control, to pay attention, to advocate [?], and that’s what I was going to link it to. Like, if that’s not the world you want to see, refuse to live in it.
Zach: Right, no, 100%. Okay, so let’s wrap it up on this one. If you had to give three things executive leaders should be keeping in mind when it comes to engaging and retaining Black talent specifically, and in general a more socially conscious workforce–you think about Gen Z–like, what would those three things be?
Aubrey: #1: You need to go to therapy to deal with your own self-esteem, control and power issues. They will absolutely come out in the workplace. #2: You must educate youreslf, and the Google machine is an incredible resource.
Zach: And it’s free.
Aubrey: Free! There are so many people from Gen Z and the Black community that have put their thoughts and life experiences online you do not have to go bother someone who works with you. #3: What you value is not what they value, and they are coming to power. You need to learn how to gracefully evolve with the world. Those would be my most heartfelt pieces of advice to make what is an inevitable transition something that you can participate in and bring into the world as opposed to something you can fight and that will be painful.
Zach: That’s something that just kind of happens to you, ’cause it’s going to happen, right?
Aubrey: I mean, like, [?] is destiny. We know where this is going, so you can either be a part of that change and come into that new world or you can kick and scream, but it’s coming, and it can either be fun or not fun, and that’s really up to you.
Zach: I mean, first of all, this has been fire. We haven’t done sound effects in a while, but I still have them. Sound Man gonna put ’em in right here. And a Flex bomb too. There you go. Okay. So this has been incredible. You know what? I’m calling it right here. Aubrey Blanche, you are a friend of the show. Culture Amp, y’all are welcome here any time. This is not an ad. Culture Amp, what’s up?
Aubrey: Thank you for creating this space. I’m really grateful for this space to get to unpack these things. I guess my hope is other folks who have some life stories similar to mine get some wisdom and inspiration out of it so that they can do something that makes the world more incredible. So thank you so much for creating this space. I’m really grateful.
Zach: Look, I appreciate you. This is great. Y’all, this has been Zach with the Living Corporate podcast. You know what we do. We have these conversations every single Tuesday, and then on Thursdays we have Tristan’s Tips, and on Saturdays we have See It to Be It with Amy C. Waninger. So we have, like, a whole network really on one platform. You just have to check in when you check in, okay? But look, that’s been us. Check us out. We’re all over Beyonce’s internet. Just type in Living Corporate. We’ll pop up. I’m not gonna go through all the domains. We got all of ’em except for livingcorporate.com. We have all the other ones, so just type us in and you’ll see us over there. Until next time, this has been Zach. You’ve been listening to Aubrey Blanche, leader, mover, shaker. ‘Til next time, y’all. Peace.