Zach has the pleasure of chatting with Minda Harts, author of the best-seller “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table,” about the launch of her book and how her career and life has continued to shift and change in light of its success. She also shares a few interesting details regarding its creation, such as how it was rejected by several publishers, and she touches on what she believes organizations should be focused on to create more inclusivity and equitable treatment for Black and brown people, specifically for Black and brown women, at work. Click the links in the show notes to order a copy of her book!
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and, you know, it’s an interesting–I mean, interesting is such an understatement for this year. Just honestly chaotic and uncertain and anxiety-inducing, but with that being said, you know, I was really excited before everything went to poop. I bulk recorded a lot of content. Like, I spoke to a lot of really cool people, and we had some really dope conversations, and, like, honestly, I had enough content that was gonna get us through Thanksgiving. Straight up. I had enough content by March that was gonna get us through the rest of the year. But as I’ve said a few different times on Living Corporate, the nature of the world forced me to really reassess the content and really try to figure out what we need to shift and change, and so this is one of the conversations that we recorded some time ago with Minda Harts, who is a friend of the show, a long-time friend of the show who I’m a personal fan of, and we’re really excited to bring this conversation to you, even though it’s a little bit older. It’s still frankly evergreen because we’re talking about centering and amplifying people at work. We’re talking about a seat at the table. We’re talking about how her career has continued to shift and change and how her life has changed in light of the success of her book and all of the events and activities that have come with it. So the next thing you’re gonna hear is our conversation with Minda Harts. I just want to make sure that I say make sure you pick up a paperback copy of The Memo. It has two new chapters, and you stay connected with her on MindaHarts.com. Appreciate y’all. Peace.
Zach: Minda Harts, now, look, in addition to Minda’s passion for helping women of color secure their seat at the table, she’s also a lover of grits and rap lyrics–now, hold on. Grits and rap lyrics. This is gonna come back somehow during this interview, so I want to make sure y’all pay attention to this bio. She’s among many things. She’s a founder of The Memo, LLC, a career development company for women of color, an adjunct professor at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, a speaker who has conducted workshops and keynotes at corporations like Google, Time Inc., SXSW, The Campaign for Black Male Achievement, the New York Public Library, PayPal, Facebook. She out here, okay? Make sure you catch her on Twitter. She’ll drop her stuff later, but she’s all over. She’s talking to everybody, and she’s talking to universities and colleges like Western Illinois University, NYU Stern, North Carolina A&T–come on, A&T–and Cornell. Okay, see, that’s range, y’all. She’s talking to the HBCUs and the hoighty-toighty white supremacist organizations too, you know what I’m saying? She’s also a podcaster who invites you to join her weekly conversation with an amazing featured guest and growing community of professional women of color called Secure the Seat on all the DSPs. We’re talking about iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, okay? iHeartRadio. She’s all over, and she’s here with us again as a return guest. Minda, welcome back to the show. How are you doing?
Minda: Thank you for having me. You know I’m a big fan of you and Living Corporate, so honored to be back.
Zach: It’s a pleasure to have you. Okay, so look, it’s almost been a year since you’ve been on the podcast. We were talking about your book that had yet to be published at the time called The Memo, right? Now, what’s been going on the last, you know, year or so since we had you on?
Minda: Well, thank you for getting The Memo before a lot of people did. So I appreciate that, the love, even before the book came out. It’s been interesting. So the book came out at the end of August, and I’ve pretty much been on the road nonstop since the book came out, and I did not expect that. I started out going on a 10-city book tour that turned into a 28-city book tour that’s now turned into a I’m not counting anymore. I’m just happy that people still want to have these conversations. So I couldn’t do it by myself. I often say that success is not a solo sport, and not being quote-unquote “famous” or having a trillion followers, it’s really just been the organic swelling of conversations. So again, thank you for the opportunity.
Zach: Nah, you’re absolutely welcome. I just gotta drop some air horns for you real quick. [drops] You out there, and every time when you kept saying, you know, 10 turned to 28 and, you know, 28 turned to, you know, 58, you know what I mean, I just heard [blessings sfx], you know what I’m saying? We out here.
Minda: That’s what’s up. The blessings have definitely come in, and it’s become a best-seller, and it’s just crazy, because I don’t know if–we probably didn’t talk about it on the first time I was on the show, but I had four publishers say no, four out of five major publishers say that there was no audience for a book like The Memo, so the fact that it’s become a best-seller, I’ve been on the road for the last six months, really, that was the right–I don’t know what the word is. [laughing]
Zach: Well, it’s funny ’cause when people doubt you, right, then they try to come back to you when you drop your next book, and you’re gonna look at them like [Keke Palmer sfx] You know, just completely unrecognizable, ’cause they missed their shot, you know? You’re moving on.
Minda: Yeah. Run me that check. That’s all I need.
Zach: Real talk though. So your book has gotten a lot of attention, and it’s resonated with a ton of Black women specifically in spite of these publishers and a bunch of folks doubting the relevance it would have in the market. What was the journey? Like, what did it look like to actually get the book published, considering that you didn’t have the support that maybe a lot of people presumed that you did?
Minda: Yeah. It’s been interesting because I really am–and if you’ve followed me over the last few years on Twitter, you can see all of this happening in real-time, you know? As I said, I didn’t have any celebrities that endorsed the book. I did not have a large following. It really was just, you know, “If you build it,” hopefully they will come, and I’ve been doing this quote-unquote work since 2015, just talking about the advancement of women of color and Black women in the workplace, and so just building up that momentum and having those conversations, and then when I had the opportunity to write the book, I met an agent, and she’s one of the few Black literary agents out in the field, and so she understood why a book like this was important, and we both knew that this was history in the making because even in 2019 there hadn’t been a book about the experiences of women of color in the workplace by a major publisher, and because there wasn’t anything to point to they didn’t think that there was an audience for it. And we did end up getting a publisher who said, “Wow. Well, I guess there is a gap for women of color,” so they took a chance, right? I don’t even know if they thought it would do as well as it did, but all you need is one, right? All you need is one champion, and as one person told another person who told another person, and it’s just became this shared experience and my story became their story, and it’s been a really beautiful thing to remind us, as Audre Lorde said, that “Beware of feeling you’re not good enough to deserve it,” because sometimes our situations will tell us no or it will look like no, but we deserve it just like everybody else.
Zach: Man, that’s beautiful, and you’re absolutely right. Like, you have so many folks who will tell you no, but you don’t really need a bunch of yes’s. You just need one, right? And the fact is that you continued and you persevered on. And I do follow you, of course, on, like, social media and stuff, so I saw that, you know, there were times that you shared, like, you almost gave up, a few different times, pursuing getting this book finished and supported and published, and you continued forward. Can we actually do a little bit for those who maybe have been living under, like, a few rocks, can we talk about The Memo again and what The Memo is about and why you believe so many people have taken to it?
Minda: Yeah, I’m glad you asked that question. So basically it was 2015, I was on a train ride from DC to New York City, and in my ear buds came this Drake song called “Trophies,” and it said, “Did y’all boys not get the memo?” And it hit me in my seat, in my coach seat, that the boys had not gotten the memo. Corporate America hadn’t gotten the memo that women that look like me and underserved communities, under-resourced, deserve that seat at the table. We’ve been working really hard. We have the credentials, and we’re not being seen, and so that really was the impetus for starting my company the memo, which then turned into a podcast, Secure the Seat, and then eventually this opportunity to write The Memo, and I wanted to write a love letter to women of color in the workplace and tell them that they’ve worked too hard to lean out now and that I didn’t want them to defer their dreams of the C-Suite because certain companies can’t get it right. You know, maybe you do have to create your own table, or maybe the one that you’re at is just–that’s not the one for you, but don’t be afraid to go and find the table that’s right for you. So many of us are leaving corporate America because we don’t feel seen and we aren’t getting those opportunities, and I just wanted to write a book that talked to us about those experiences to let each of us know that you’re not alone and that we’re supporting each other and we’re coming for these seats, and it’s not just having a seat at the table, but it’s a sense of ownership. Once you sit down, what are you gonna do with that seat? And we have to hold companies accountable. So I wrote a very authentic book where I used rap lyrics, I used–I really brought my authentic self to this book because I wanted it to be for us, by us, and I hoped that our counterparts would read the book too to understand what it’s like, as Solange says, “to be us,” right? So that was really the important piece of writing a book like this.
Zach: That’s incredible. You talked a little bit about this book tour you’re going on, and off-mic we talked about you’re in the middle of about to hit the road again. So what have been some of your biggest lessons as you go to these different organizations, corporations, institutions, what have been some of your biggest lessons learned in sharing and talking about the book and leading panels and different Q&As and things of that nature?
Minda: Yeah. I really do see it as an opportunity. Like, I really have a privilege to be able to go inside of these companies, some of the top companies and brands, to talk about what it’s like to be a Black woman in the workplace, and I get to say the things that most women can’t say, right? And knowing that I have that responsibility to say what it’s like to be micro-aggressed on a daily basis, to deal with the promotion that you should’ve had but somebody else got it and to tell you “Next time,” you know? Being able to talk about those tragedies and those triumphs in a way that centers us in the career narrative, and it’s very powerful to be able to go in and do that, but scary at the same time, right? To be able to go and kind of talk about this, because I know that a few years ago I probably wouldn’t have been invited to talk about race at work. But we’re in a unique climate where there’s no way to get around it, and so the way that I see–even the way that Black women and women of color leave the room after we’ve had a session or had a conversation or a Q&A or a keynote, they just move differently, right? Knowing that the conversation was centered around you and your colleagues are listening to what it’s like to be you and just the way that their heads are, like, held up even higher when they walk out of the room in knowing that somebody’s rooting for them, right? Because often times we’re in these situations alone, suffering in silence, and so what does it look like to finally be seen for the first time? It’s a beautiful thing.
Zach: It is, and–so I’m not a Black woman, but I am a Black man, right, so while I benefit from certain aspects of patriarchy, I still am often one of the onlys in any space, and I can say as someone who, in my past, has felt just heavy with the things that I want to say but, you know, don’t want to get in trouble for saying or don’t want to be looked at differently or punished for saying, it is a blessing when someone can come in and really speak truth to power, especially when–you know, I’m just now a manager in my organization. I’m just now really at that point in my career where I have a formal title of a leader, but for those who are, like, not in that position, because there’s very few of us in positions of leadership in these organizations, and so especially when you have folks who don’t even have, like, the hierarchical authority–and again, like, I’m just a mid-level manager. I’m not no senior leader or executive or anything like that. So especially when there are people who are already at, like, the bottom rung of the ladder, when there’s someone who can come in and speak truth to power in that way, I think that’s really powerful, especially someone that looks like them. You walk away feeling a little bit lighter. Let me ask you this. Like, when you have these conversations and these exchanges with the white folks that bring you in, ’cause I’m presuming–you correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m presuming the organizations that you come in, like, the people who are in charge are white, so they’re coming in and they’re bringing you in to have these discussions. Do you ever feel as if you give them, like, more truth than they expected?
Minda: That’s a great question. Well, it happens in two ways. So maybe there’s a woman of color, a Black woman, who’s read The Memo, and then she goes to whoever her direct reports are or HR or the employee resource group and says, “Hey, we gotta bring Minda in,” and then from there an executive sponsor has to sign off on it and all of these different things. It’s interesting because some places are like, “We want to bring you in, but what are you gonna say? Are you gonna burn the place down? Are you gonna lead a revolt? Is this gonna be productive?” And I often say, “Listen, I am an expert in my field. I would never do that, but I am gonna talk about the things that are in the book.” But I like to do that in a learning way. I’m not here to shame anybody, but I’m here to talk about a different narrative. What would it look like if everyone had equity? And that should not scare anybody off, right? So I think for people who aren’t used to these kind of critical conversations it may be like, “Oh, what’s gonna happen?” But then the end result is everybody’s, like, happy and like, “Wow, I’m so glad. I didn’t know these things.” So for me, again, it creates more of a conversation where hopefully people go back to their managers or talk about what does equity look like at the very top and why aren’t there any people that look like us when we constantly say that diversity and inclusion is a priority here, and so I think I look forward to seeing the impact years from now, right? Even a year from now, people giving themselves permission to have agency, to be able to speak on some of these things and advocate for themselves, and so just centering themselves. So I’m excited to see what the future of work looks like for us.
Zach: So when you say, like, you’re excited about the future, I’m curious, when people kind of come to you and they talk to you after these talks, ’cause you’ve shared on Twitter, like, some of the small exchanges you’ll have with individuals after your presentation, can we talk about exchanges that have really resonated with you for good or bad, positive or negative? Is there anything that really sticks with you, maybe even a pattern you’ve seen from folks that look like us as well as maybe some things you’ve seen from folks that don’t look like us?
Minda: Yeah. You know, every time I go into a space I’m really humbled and surprised, because the main thing that I hear time and time again is just “Thank you.” Like, women that look like us, and even men that look like us, will just say, “Thank you. You don’t know how hard it is to come into this environment every single day and be one of the only ones, and to finally feel like I don’t have to have that armor on for this moment,” and so it’s really–and then I’m met with hugs and I’m met with thank yous, you know? “Thank you for being the one to go out here and speak truth to power, because we need it. We’re barely surviving inside of the workplace.” So that’s a reoccurring theme each and every time, but then the other thing I would say is I’m really–so even though I talk about these tools in our tool kit that even as women of color we need to hone in on, but then I also talk about this whole, like, managerial training experience, because 70% of women of color feel as though their managers are not invested in their success. So I really talk about what tools companies need to be equipping their managers with to manage diverse talent, because that number is way too high, and it’s a direct correlation in my opinion to 4% of us being in the C-Suite. So if you’re not invested, then that’s where the critical work is on those managers, those front-line managers, middle managers, and so there needs to be some accountability there. So I think once they hear these statistics, now it’s not just our feelings, right? “I feel a certain way,” but here are the facts. So once I drop those facts on ’em, it changes the dynamics of the conversation too, right? Like, “This is real.”
Zach: No, it absolutely is, and it’s curious to me because I think, like, when you talk about the reality of lived experience and the impacts that it is, like, on our health, both physical and mental, it does impact the bottom line, and I don’t know if organizations–so I’m happy and I’m glad that you’re on tour. I’m really curious about, when you talk about the future and this tool kit and, like, you’re giving these tools to the people who are being oppressed in some way, shape or form. What I’m really curious about is how much the leaders, the executive decision makers, how much they’re keying in on these discussions and how much of that are they starting to translate into behaviors and policies and procedures that they need to shape and change so that people’s respite won’t come just from some external speaker that’s coming in for a day? Like, when I think about systemic change, like, I’m really curious what you think organizations need to be focused on to create more inclusivity and equitable treatment for Black and brown people across the board, but of course specifically for Black and brown women at work.
Minda: Yeah, it’s interesting because you’re right – I’m in and I’m out, right? So I really try to impart that it’s gonna require everybody in this room, and it’s not just the chief diversity officer who solves this problem. It’s every single person in the building. So that will require dismantling certain processes and procedures that are currently in place. You know, are we willing to do that there? And then the flip side is that we, Black women, Black men, whomever is underrepresented in the organization or company, we have to hold people accountable, right? Because if all leave feeling, like, on 10 after we’ve had this conversation and everybody’s feeling seen and all the things, but what happens on Monday morning, right, or Tuesday, when we see some of those inequalities? As I tell different Black women when I see them, it can’t be just me with the bullhorn, right? Now you all have to. When your manager says, “Have I ever done this to you?” You don’t say, “No,” even though you know they have, right? You’ve gotta say, like, “Yes, this has happened to me,” and the more that we talk about how these things are going on, then it’s not just “Oh, this girl that wrote this book, she’s talking about this stuff,” right, but making it real on your team, and I think that’s where the work is. Even though we have craziness happening in our country right now, but what’s gonna happen in your department? What function do we hold HR accountable, right?
Zach: No, you’re right. Here’s the thing about–I want to respond to the first thing first, like, I think I agree with you, and I can speak–one day I’m gonna get on this podcast and I’m gonna talk about the very real consequences that I faced for speaking the truth about my own lived experiences and kind of just what that looks like. I think that I have no issue doing that because it’s the right thing to do, right, but when I think about the fact that, like, I have a daughter and I have a wife, and I think about, like, what does it look like to–these are things I have to weigh. Am I gonna give this feedback to my boss, who is tone-deaf and elitist and ignorant and, like, all of this? Am I gonna do that at risk of me potentially, like, getting passed over for a promotion or getting fired or relationships icing over, which then impacts my employability? Like, those are the decisions I think that marginalized people have to make, and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t speak up and they shouldn’t hold their bosses accountable, but until we really have an honest conversation about the lack of power that individual folks have, both formally and informally by nature of whiteness, I think, like, it’s tough, right? It’s tough to expect people to be brave. Because it’s not like you’re being brave, like, on principle. Like, you’re being brave on, like, your career, you know what I mean?
Minda: Yeah. You know, and I want to say that it is a brave thing, and one of the things that we also have to take into account, in my book, is called securing your seat at the table. So obviously you may not be able to be, like, Assata Shakur running through your organization, right? But those small acts of courage and making sure you’re building the right alliances so that you’re not the only one having these conversations, right? So being strategic about who can speak on your behalf on this or who can put you forward on this, right? So us just sitting–not to say that we are, but we can’t just sit and hope that meritocracy [?]. We have to be doing something else. So if we want a difference, right, or if our manager does bring this to our attention, like, “Is this going on?” Then maybe you can say, “Yeah, I have experienced these things here, and I really like working here,” right? We all have to–but we can’t… what does James Baldwin say? I’m paraphrasing, but “We can’t solve anything unless we call it what it is,” right? And I think that part of that is for so long we’ve silenced ourselves because of fear, right, and because of maybe losing our jobs, but hopefully if the environment claims and wants to promote equality and equity, it will require us to at least be able to say, “Here’s what I think could be better,” right? And I think it’s all about not what you said but how you say it.
Zach: Nah, I agree with you. I think the other piece–you talked about HR. So, like, one of these days we’re also gonna have to have somebody from SHRM on the podcast, Minda. HR looking like–they just seem more and more like they’re almost just, like, the police of the organization, right? Like, they just kind of mobilize to act in whatever the primary interest of the business is. Now, folks have been saying that, like, “HR is not your friend,” so we know all of that stuff. Like, that’s true, but it just seems like more and more HR as an industry doesn’t really seem to be focused on diversity, equity and inclusion or even, like, talent strategy as much as it’s just focused on, like, lawsuit mitigation or whatever, just kind of executing against whatever, like, the most senior executives want them to do, and I’m curious, like, about HR’s function in this workforce of the future, because I don’t think that human resources is going to absorb diversity, equity and inclusion work, you know what I mean? Like, I don’t really know where they fit in all of this.
Minda: Yeah. I think that’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but last week I was speaking at this one company, and the CEO happened to be there for the talk, and he asked the question. He said, “So when I’m thinking about what you’re talking about, HR the system is broken, and clearly something that if you feel a certain way as a Black woman in an organization, something’s going on, you don’t have anyone you can tell about this. There should be somebody that represents your needs within the organization,” and so he said, “Maybe the function of HR needs to be redefined,” and I said, “Yeah.” I do believe that’s true, right, because HR, everybody loves to hate HR until they give you the job or whatever have you, but I do think that HR has too many functions. So what would it look like to actually have somebody who is maybe a justice advocate or something, right?
Zach: See, in my mind, that’s what I would think HR would be, or at least some type of objective party, right? But so often they’re really there to mitigate and protect shareholder interests, and I don’t think that a justice advocate or, like, an internal advocate, I don’t think that that exists in the workplace today, you know what I mean?
Minda: Yeah, I don’t think so, because it is, like, restorative justice, right? That’s disruptive, right? But that’s what it’s gonna take.
Zach: Man, listen. Y’all need to get some restorative justice because, look, it’s better to have some type of internal restorative justice than have external restorative justice, ’cause external restorative justice sounds like [ra-ta-ta-ta sfx], you know? It’s not gonna be cute.
Minda: It ain’t. There’s gonna be lawyers, and you just don’t want it.
Zach: You don’t want all that smoke, you know? And again, if you’re not gonna be willing to face the challenges you have internally by swallowing your medicine, then you’re gonna be up on that headline like a couple of these companies have been and, you know, that news reporter gonna be looking at you, and you’re gonna be looking at them like [Paul Rudd look at us sfx]. Yeah, but I did. We did know. We did think. You gotta pay attention. Okay, okay, so let’s talk about this as we wrap up. Where can people check out The Memo? Where can they learn more about you? All of that.
Minda: Yes, and continue the conversation with us, but MindaHarts.com. M-I-N-D-A-H-A-R-T-S, and you can buy it wherever you like to buy your books – Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble. All the places.
Zach: Okay, y’all heard that. All the places, okay? It’s out there, so don’t try to be cute. Maybe you’re driving or you’re working out. Stop what you’re doing. Look in the show notes. The link’s right there. Make sure you get a copy of The Memo. And listen, white organizations, y’all out there–Becky, Karen, Sheila, all of y’all, you know, you’re probably, like, the leader of your little diversity and inclusion group. Book Minda and get her out there. In fact, go ahead and click the link, okay? Go ahead and buy, like, two or three hundred copies, okay? Give ’em to all your people on the team. Maybe get them and then you give them as part of an onboarding gift for your employees, see what I’m saying? I’m helping y’all. I’m giving y’all free consulting on my own podcast for somebody else’s company, okay? So you’re welcome, all right? Get it as a gift, as a huge gift, for the next leadership class that you come and you promote in, ’cause if you’re a leader you should understand how to be an effective ally and partner. This is gonna be an effective book for you. It’s a great tool, y’all, and it’s a great read, okay? So anyway, y’all heard it right here. Minda, before we let you go, any shout-outs?
Minda: Everybody. I’m rooting for everybody Black.
Zach: Hey, straight up. Rooting for everybody Black. Okay, okay. All right, y’all. Well, look, you know what it’s been. It’s been Living Corporate. You’ve been listening to Minda Harts, CEO and founder of The Memo, LLC, and of course The Memo the book. Make sure you check her out, make sure you check us out – Living Corporate is everywhere. Just Google us. We’re on all the little DSPs, okay? If you Google us you’re gonna have our website, but if you want to type in the website ’cause you’re old school, you want to go into the browser, you want to make sure you go to the exact domain you’re looking for, it’s www.living-corporate.com, okay? Or livingcorporate.co, .us, .net, .org. Shoot, all of them really except for livingcorporate.com, so don’t come at me telling me you went to livingcorporate.com and it didn’t work. Livingcorporate.com is not owned by us. It’s owned by some Australians. But everybody other domain, that’s us. But of course you could always just do living-corporate.com. Make sure you DM us, okay? LivingCorporatePodcast@gmail.com, or you can hit us up on social media @LivingCorp_Pod, @LivingCorporate on Instagram, okay? Catch y’all next time. Until next time, you have again been listening to Minda Harts, speaker, edge snatcher, author, writer, educator, okay? Peace.