How Racism Works to Destroy You (w/ Dr. Monica Cox)

Zach reads a farewell mail from an ex-PwC employee who details their experience of racism, sexism, and retaliation at work, discusses the reality of oppressive systems at work, and talks to Dr. Monica Cox, a professor of engineering education at Ohio State University. Make sure you listen to the entire podcast! Learn more about Monica by following her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

You can connect with Dr. Cox on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Zach (02:21): What’s up y’all this is Zach from Living Corporate. If you’re listening to this and I just want you to know that I see you, right. I see you looking to survive, to thrive, to take care of yourself, to take care of your family. I recognize that this work, the work that you have, the job that you had is not easy. Seeking to survive, seeking to have peace, seeking to have rest is not easy. I recognize that microaggressions and macroaggressions are real things. And I recognize that you’re likely not getting paid the amount of money that you want to be getting paid. And you’re likely not at the level that you believe you should be at. I recognize. I hear you. I get that. I see you. And I want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with being frustrated, angry, and ultimately choosing to reject systems and spaces that don’t serve you.

(03:27): There is no better time to be looking for a new job than right now. And I would encourage you wherever you are listening to this, to look up and look elsewhere. Even if you’re happy, where you’re at, look up and look elsewhere anyway. It’s just a good time to do it. The market is on fire for those who know how to engage the market. And so, this is an extended way to say, I hope that you’re engaging the Tap In With Tristan. I hope that you’re listening to Liberated Love Notes. I hope that you’re listening to the Leadership Range. I hope that you’re reading blogs on our Living Corporate’s platform. I hope that you’re catching up on shows on I hope that you’re engaging in educating yourself and that you’re growing, you’re challenging yourself to be better. Not just for the sake of betterment’s sake alone, but because you deserve it, you deserve to be at your best.

(04:28): And I’m confident that there’s something in Living Corporate’s network to help you be better. You know, it’s interesting, as we’ve talked about this a little bit, I just exited Big Four Consulting a couple of months ago now. It’s been a little over two months since I have left professional services. And I was on a social networking app and I saw someone post this resignation email, or really it wasn’t an resignation email because this person was essentially, shown the door. But before they turned the email off, she sent this huge blast, right. Like blasting the company. And it was right, and it was great. And so, what I’mma do, I’m gonna read this email. All right, I’m gonna read this email. And then we’re going to talk about why I read the email and, what application I believe there is for us in this email.

(05:37): All right. So, again, context, this is a consultant from PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). She left. She was pushed out the door after not getting promoted. And she wrote this. She wrote this resignation email. So we’re gonna read it right now. So the subject line is, «Open letter to my colleagues a peronal note on discrimination at PWC. Dear friends and colleagues, Unfortunately, today is my last day at the firm. Many of you reached out to me over the past few months, but I have not responded to your notes. This is not because I had fallen out of our friendship, but because I have lost faith in what our firm stands for. And here’s why. Our firm discriminated against me by repeatedly denying me a promotion, because I am a black woman who was not born in the U.S. When I complained about this discrimination, the firm retaliated against me, which culminated in my termination today. I have shared my story below, and hope you will take the time to read it.

(06:45): About 12 months ago as our country and the world experienced a social movement and reckoning over racism. Our leader seized every opportunity to tell us that they were rallying behind the end of race discrimination, in particular in the workplace. At the same time, however, they’re also denying me a promotion to director for the third time because of my race, color, national origin, and sex. The partners and directors team that helped me prepare my case, worked with me to escalate this injustice at top levels of our firm. Every single leader, FS and diversity inclusion leader for FS Financial Services. FS leader, strategy, and leader, and a few more chose to look the other way to protect the other few partners who had been untruth. Who had been using untruthful facts to misinterpret my performance and relationships with clients during career round tables in May, 2019, November, 2019, and May, 2020.

(07:42): Behind the facade of its outward messaging regarding diversity inclusion and anti-discrimination, PWC fosters a work culture that stifles the development of black female, and non-native born employees preventing them from achieving promotions and advancing within the firm. This comes as no surprise when we look at the composition of the PWC leadership team, which fosters a discriminatory culture.»

(08:06): She continues, «The U.S. leadership team comprised of 19 members of staff with only one black woman, and two black men. The U.S. Board of Partners comprised of 22 members has only one black man among its members. As for strategy [inaudible 00:08:20] there’s only one black man and not a single woman amongst the 23 global leaders.» Now, she continues forward with these rhetorical questions. «Aren’t we religiously telling our clients that effect of diversity and inclusion starts at the top? Aren’t we telling our executive clients that they have to walk the talk to lead real cultural change? So why is it that we keep talking the talk and placing our quote unquote efforts, and programs that do not drive any real change in the status of black people at this firm? As someone who specializes in culture, and gives this very advice to our clients, I find an able to escape this dissonance between what I tell them to do, and what I know PWC has failed to do internally.

(09:02): As for the third discriminatory denial of my promotion. I was the only black left within financial service strategy [inaqudible 00:09:12] non-leadership team. As one partner, put it at the time, quote, «You are the last one standing» end quote. Why is it that being black at this firm has to be a constant uphill battle to prove you deserve your seat? Why is it that I have had to consistently wait one to two more years on average, to get the acknowledgement and promotions that my peers have gotten, when I keep bringing stellar performance reviews into CRTs (Career Round Tables)?

(09:40): This is to say that discrimination has been a reality for me for a long time. And I simply reached the point where my constant optimism can no longer make sense out of it. It has been a toxic force that does everything it can to take away your dignity, make you feel weak, portray you as a poor performer and third class consulting, prevent you from bringing your authentic self to work. It’s not enough to be a great team player and high performer. You have to, quote»put who you are to the side». Remind me, what is DNI again?

(10:10): Push you out of the firm because not even our leaders would stand up to do the right thing. During the May, 2020 social movement one partner reached out to me after being summoned to, saying, quote, «Name, I read Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird» end quote. What? To every non-black partner and staff at this farm we do not need you to tell us about the black stories or authors you’re reading, or the black friends that you have, or the African countries you have visited. What we need is you for you to demonstrate true empathy when you see an unfairness being done to a black employee. Stand up, speak up, call out. Call out your colleagues on the offenses that they’re perpetrating. I would not be in this position, feeling I must speak up and call out PWC’s hypocrisy to all of you, if the partners in the CRT room had spoken up and called out their peers, when they saw them derail the process for my CRT reviews, which led to a biased outcome.

(11:04): That offenders rarely get held accountable goes beyond the fact that our partners and leaders sadly, do not speak up when they should. The firm continuously protects those offenders, leaving more black female and other minority employees at their mercy. How may you wonder? Go take a look at the contract PWC made you sign. PWC forces employees to sign binding arbitration agreements, that rob them of their ability to have their day in court, and to publicly call out PWCs, discriminatory, retaliatory, and otherwise unlawful conduct. As a result, it is no surprise that PWC makes little to no change to its policies, procedures, and practices. Despite the multiple cases that have been filed for discrimination and retaliation.

(11:45): I will leave you with this. Sexual harassment used to be hidden under such, keep it secret arbitration agreements until the Me Too movement. Many leading companies, including Google and PWC excluded it from the arbitration agreement as a result of social pressure. That being said, Google also excluded race discrimination from it’s arbitration agreements, recognizing how much hiding discrimination at work behind the veil of confidential arbitration, hindered the career advancement of black employees. Why is it that our firm, a leader in its own territory claiming to be a leader for our cross-industry national and global clients, cannot take the same simple step when it comes to ending racism and discrimination in the workplace?

(12:25): How much longer would our leaders turn away from doing the right thing to protect themselves if they knew they could be held publicly accountable? When will they finally do something that actually moves the needle and makes this firm a place where black and other minorities don’t have to do three times more to prove their worth? Dear colleagues and friends I’ve enjoyed working with many of you and wish you the best of luck. Hopefully, we can stay in touch, and good hope. And then her name.

(12:49): So I read this email one, because I found it riveting, and this was two weeks old. And at first, I was going to hop on this and like read it as soon as it came out. But now, because I really wanted to process the information for myself. And like grapple with the frustration, the hurt, the pain that this person wrote. And then also say, this was my experience. This the experience of several black folks, not just in professional services, not just in tech, but in work. It is.

(13:24): And it’s important for you to understand as an interesting side note. These systems aren’t even built to be held accountable, and to be fixed. Why do I say that? So, I got this email from a bunch of different people. Like they sent me screenshots, they forwarded me stuff, they sent pictures. And it made its way to Reddit. All right. It went viral. Now, fast forward, like a day later, I’m getting mad calls and texts about the fact that the email has been deleted from the company server. And that Reddit post got deleted too. Further, I was on this social platform and it was a company that Living Corporate has since ceased its relationship with, because they enabled white supremacy too. But it was just interesting that, that company shadow banned the link as well. The link, which was the Reddit post, which talked about the email, and the Reddit posts also got deleted, and the email got deleted from the company server.

(14:38): So my point is that these systems, they oftentimes they work together in concert, in coordination to protect themselves from any type of accountability. Which also speaks to the power of our voice. I think it’s important to remember that these systems are designed to do exactly what the author of this said. These systems are designed to take away your dignity to make you feel weak, to portray you as a poor performer, or a lesser than employee. And to prevent you from being your authentic self, these systems are designed to break you and designed to assimilate you into an acceptable mold of the white majority. Which is why oftentimes when you see the black folks that typically do well in corporate spaces, or who have long histories of being hailed and celebrated by the oppressor class, they often take on characteristics of the oppressor class. They’re often model white supremacy culture behaviors.

(15:47): I mean, if you’re curious about white supremacy culture, you can listen to my interview with Dr. Tema Okun. He talks about, and he’s the author of White Supremacy Culture. It’s a phenomenal piece, phenomenal research and writing. All this being said is, I want you to understand that the most powerful thing that you have is your voice. You know, this whole notion that we’re going to change the system from the inside is an insulting fairytale. We cannot dismantle the house with the master’s tools. We cannot fix white supremacy or make it better. These systems are here to be dismantled. And it’s important for you to understand that, for you to be truly free is to reject these systems outright.

(16:46): Now, some of y’all going to hear that, and y’all going to say, oh, you’re being too radical. No, I got about blah, blah, blah. But I feel like I’m going to hit at least couple of people who hear what I’m saying. And so, what does rejection really look like? What is rejection of oppressive systems? What does it really mean to pursue liberation? And I’m gonna tell y’all I don’t have a perfect answer, but I will say it starts with rejecting spaces and rejecting environments that are clearly aiming to do you harm.

(17:25): You owe it to yourself to respect yourself enough. You should respect yourself enough to pursue spaces that are not harmful to you. I talk to people all the time and they don’t realize it, but they’re trapped. They’re trapped in these spaces because so many of us, we’re first-generation professionals, we’re first-generation college graduates, we’re the first in our families to even make, you know, $80,000, let alone six figures. So, we get complacent, and we get afraid, and we stay. We live in fear. We live in the fear of speaking up. We live in the fear of white gaze and making anybody with power too upset that we may, in fact, lose our position.

(18:18): And then, some of us, I have to say, want to be white. And I’m gonna tell y’all there is nothing that you can do to outperform white supremacy. I need you to really internalize that. You cannot outperform it. You can’t beat it. Some of us even try to put on whiteness, thinking that we can fit in with whiteness, only for that not to work. And then we’re even more bitter, and upset, and confused than we were before. I’m gonna tell you, putting on whiteness will only get you so far, but it’s never going to get you what you want. It may get you something, it won’t get you what you want.

(19:12): All this to say. I’m really excited about the guest that we have today. Dr. Monica Cox. Dr. Monica. Cox is someone that I have followed here. We’ve known of each other for some years. I love the work that she does. And I love her thought leadership. She’s been a guest on Living Corporate’s, the Group Chat, our live show, some time ago, talking about psychological safety, talking about effective allyship, talking about effective DEI. But she is a professor of engineering and education at Ohio State University.

(19:50): So the first woman, the first black woman to earn tenure in engineering at Purdue. And, one of her several accolades is that she won the 2008 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. So, Dr. Cox is wildly certified and credentialed by these by academic standards. What I enjoyed about our conversation was her rejection of systems that have proven her harm. And so, I found our discussion to be encouraging, affirming, and timely. And I want you all to hear it and listen, and just think about what systems can you reject in your day-to-day? What affirmation can you stand in? How can you affirm your own humanity today, by rejecting people dehumanizing you, or seeing you for you to be any less than your authentic self?

(20:48): Now, before we get in this conversation, we’re going to tap in with Tristan. So I’mma see you in a second.

Zach (24:51): Dr. Cox, how are you doing?

Dr. Monica Cox (24:55): Thank you. How are you?

Zach (24:56): You know what, I’m okay. I’m doing better. You know what I mean? I’m transitioned to new opportunity. I’m making moves. You know what I mean? Living Corporate is growing. Wife is good, baby girl is good.

Dr. Cox (25:09): Great. Congratulations. And by the way, you can call me Monica. I noticed, you know, some people call me Dr. Cox or whatever, but for the sake of this interview, just call me Monica,

Zach (25:17): I’m going to call you Monica. But that’s just like a really good transition into like the first thing I want to talk about. Because see, when I talk to and when I meet black academics, like I really try to honor or make note of their their honorific of doctor because they earned it. And there are so many from what I see, just again, I’m not in the academic space. I’m not in the ivory, but the conversation I have, as well as just like what I’m seeing on social media, it seems like disrespect is so common for black academics. Like, can you talk to me a bit about your perspective on the ivory and, why based on it, because I was looking at your profile, just why you have the positions you have on white academia?

Dr. Cox (26:04): Yeah. So first of all, thanks for having me again. I say that numerous times, because I love talking about this topic and I appreciate people who are not afraid to explore this. So, man, when I think about like the ivory tower, as people would say, it’s really a country club. And we don’t often think about it, but you know, it has its rules. It has, it has its systems. And when we enter that environment, you know, we are expected to assimilate, to code switch, you know, to really be a part of the culture. And I love the fact that academia is a place where you can explore the research and the work that you want to do. And it’s also a place to connect with people who are doing great work and are committed to educating the next generation of students. But I think my platform, which is very much focused on being authentic in the ivory tower, it pushes against that notion, a lot. And you know, I think, it’s just hard. It’s just hard to be that person. And so, a lot of my platform is how do you remain true to yourself and come out whole at the end of it? Despite the issues that people of color, particularly women of color, particularly black women face in the academy.

Zach (27:41): And so then, you know, to your whole point around like maintaining or coming back to yourself and recognizing the person that you’ve come back to. Talk to me about experiences that you’ve had, that maybe challenged that. That have challenged you to maintain your wholeness and academia. Like what has that been like for you specifically?

Dr. Cox (28:09): Yeah, there are so many, I might have to narrow this down. I’m just trying to think because it’s so wholistic. And so, some of the challenges come back to… let me just back up for a little bit. So I am the daughter of educators who grew up in Alabama, and lived in Alabama, you know, during the civil rights movement. And in growing up with parents who understood inequities and really fought to make sure that everyone had an opportunity to be educated. Like that was my upbringing. And so, I would say that some of my issues come from being the daughter of my parents. Meaning that, when I walk in a room, I think that I am just as good as anyone else. I think that my qualifications should speak for me. And I think that I have a right to have a seat and a voice at the table.

(29:15): And just being, if I could use that word. Being sometimes is very offensive to people. And I want to say that I don’t think that people even sometimes realize how their biases come out during that time. And so, in a nutshell, I think that what I’m doing is pushing against a system, pushing against biases, pushing against ways of thinking and being that do not include black women. Or black women who value themselves and know that they have a right to everything that the U.S. Constitution says that we have a right to have. And has a right to be and live just as anyone else would.

Zach (30:04): And it’s sad. And I think, you know, for me coming up, I used to think that for some, I don’t know why I thought this. But just like, you know, in academics, like that would be a space where some of the nonsense of in the glow of the corporate world would not permeate or extend to, because it’s like, you know, we’re talking about just facts. We’re talking about, you know, it’s a place where people should really just respect your intelligence. I mean, you have this PhD, like we all have PhDs. This was several, several years ago. I realized that is certainly not the case. What I’m curious about Dr. Cox is, you know, there seems to be also an assumption or there is like this unspoken assumption that black academics, that these aren’t really experiences for those who aren’t in some type of like diversity and inclusion or leadership type specialty, but your background is engineering. Like what would you say to those who can’t, who don’t understand that black academics have these challenges? Black and brown academics have these challenges. Specifically, we’re talking about black women here, though. They have these challenges in all of academia, irrespective of specialization or background.

Dr. Cox (31:24): Yeah. You know, I want people to realize that higher ed in organizations are still very hierarchical. They’re very bureaucratic and you have to separate the intellectual freedom, and the academic freedom that we have from the systems in which we work, because systems are still systems. You still have to get promoted within. It’s like, no, it’s this, you have to enter the system first of all. You think about what it takes to enter. Well, people are looking to judge whether you’re qualified to be a member, and that means looking at the quality of your scholarship, looking at your potential to succeed in the system. And then once you’re in there, you know, people are looking at promotion and they’re looking at tenure. And so do we want to keep you? Do we think that you are someone who should remain among us?

(33:18): You know, so you do play the game. You have to play the game to get in. You have to play the game to stay in, but there is a point. And I’ll talk about this as a black woman, full professor, like when you’re a full professor that means that you no longer have to kind of prove in a way, that you deserve to stay. You know, it’s like there are ranks, assistant professor, you’re coming in. Then you get tenure, and once you’re tenured, you know, that is kind of the golden apple, so to speak. And so, you see so few black women in the full professor ranks, but when you see us, that means that we are now at those senior leadership tables in the faculty departments. We are at the tables that are determining who isn’t being hired. And so, we’re deciding who really enters the club. And I think to sum it all up, it’s just hard to get to that point. That is what we’re working for. And that’s where the tension comes in between trying to get in and hope that people will evaluate you equitably, so that you can stay in. But then once you’re there, what are you going to do with the power that you have, and with the opportunities to educate people, but also bring new people into a system that can be really rough?

Zach (33:54): You know, off mike, we talked, you said something. You said, Hey, you know, because well, hold on, for fuller context, we talked about the fact I was going through some challenges, which slowed me down in coordinating with you. And we kind of went back and forth, was like, okay, push this date, push this date. Finally you were like, Zach, I’m tired with you playing with my time. Don’t talk to me. That’s not what you’re saying, but I mean, I was like, [inaudible 00:34:12].

Dr. Cox (34:13): Ah ha!

Zach (34:13): I apologize. And I said okay. And so then, you know, you came back here on the Group Chat, which was super fired talking about just black folks bad treatment, academia. We alluded to, talked around that a bit, talked about effective organizational leadership. So what I’m curious about though, is something that you stated, which like stuck with me. I was like, make sure to ask, when this mike’s turned on. You said, had you interviewed me a year ago, I would have been very different, than I am today. So like, talk to me about the past 12 months, what it is that you’ve; what’s been going on? I know, of course we continue. We continue to have a continuous trauma through the brutalization of black bodies sanctioned by the State. We’ve had an insurrection, mobilized it seems by, or rather at least coordinated, supported by members of our own, some of our own elected officials. We’ve had of course a whole new presidential regime change. But then, at the same time, this new presidential cabinet seems to be doing some of the similar things that the last regime was doing. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that’s happened over the past year is my point. Talk to me about what these past 12 months have done for you and why you feel like you’re this different person?

Dr. Cox (35:34): Yeah. So, before the pandemic, even before last year, I feel that I was always really outspoken. You know, always saying things like, you know, let’s call things out, let’s have authentic conversations, let’s really dig into some of the injustices and the problems that are happening in the academy. And I just saw like, even among several of my peers, even those who look like me you know, people just were cautious, really, really cautious. And it’s like, let’s, don’t rock the boat. And I don’t always know if people, like intentionally said, let’s don’t rock the boat, but the action said it. The actions were very much you know, yeah, we know stuff is happening, but let’s just turn the other way. And I feel that last year, or even over the past year, more people have come out to say, this is unacceptable. I see people being braver.

(36:38): I see particularly black academics, particularly black women who, you know, have always been brave in my opinion. But I see intensity and it just feels really good to know that I am no longer alone. You know, I think it was just really easy to label me and to say so many bad things about who I was, just because I would call things out. But I also feel that that was a tactic to get rid of me, and to silence me, and to push me out so that people could continue doing what they were doing. And so, in summary, it feels good to have been at the forefront of what is catching on right now, but I hope that we can sustain whatever this momentum is, because the persecution is coming. I feel, you know, the scrutiny is coming and to do this work, you have to be extremely courageous, and deliberate, and unapologetic about it.

Zach (37:51): And so talk to me about, you know, it’s interesting, I’ve been in situations where you’re advocating for equitable treatment or you’re, you’re speaking of it. I experienced it quite often, frankly, with Living Corporate. How many times do you have folks that look like us, pull you aside and be like, you’re doing too much, or you know, this is kind of dangerous, or I rock with you, but I can’t really, I’m not going to say anything out loud ;cause I ain’t trying to mess up, blah, blah, blah. Like talk to me about that and like what that’s been like for you? If you’ve experienced that at all.

Dr. Cox (38:22): Yes. I’m laughing, I’m laughing, because I think that’s the story everywhere. I’ve really had a chance to think about this. And I just want to break it down a little bit. So I want to talk about this concept that I’ve realized this past year about insiders and outsiders. And like the biggest example I kind of give you, a clear example I can give you is when you look at politics, an insider would be Camila Harris. You know, she has been vetted, you know, through the system. And she’s, you know, in a position of authority as vice president, it’s really a big thing. But she still has to operate within the confines of that role. Because I mean, she does represent everyone as she should, but you know, she is, like I said, in that role. And on the other hand where you’re looking at an outsider, I think about someone like a Stacey Abrams. And Stacey Abrams, you know, was campaigning to be governor of Georgia. It did not happen, but she looked at the voter suppression and she’s like, hold it. Something else needs to happen here. Like maybe I’m going to shift a little bit and focus on, you know, the justice aspects. And so those are two very important roles, but the way that you respond in those roles is very different.

(39:50): And so, I bring that back to your original question where you’re talking about, you know, what this is about. And I think that when we look at us, as I’ll say, black people, you know, we sometimes are in those roles. Within an organization sometimes we’re the outsider where we don’t have seats at the table, where we don’t create the policies, but we’re able to somehow communicate in ways that are bigger than what’s on the inside. And I think what has happened is that we sometimes don’t understand the power of being in either of those positions. But knowing that together, we can really impact [inaudible 00:40:29]. And, you know, it’s just awareness and it’s understanding. And I think people are sometimes very afraid. When they’re on the inside, you know, you get your titles, you have your money, you have your accolades, and to stay in that system, you have to turn the other way sometimes. You have to show that you belong. And I just don’t know if there are many ways for people to be free, but also align with policies that promote everyone genuinely.

Zach (41:09): Yeah. You know, so it’s interesting that you say that. I think for me and I haven’t been wrong yet, I’m going to be honest with you. So I’ve been around, I’ve been a few different places. I was in consulting for several years, but I was at a couple of different firms. And every time I would meet somebody and they had been with the company for like, you know, let’s say like 10 plus years, if this was a black person. They’d been at 10 plus years, nine times out of 10, they were not gonna really support me for real on the like, liberation piece. They’re not going to really try to shake the table for real, for real. Now, they’ll pull you aside. They might give you some advice and they might be really nice to you in private, but they’re not going to go out of their way and be like, you need to stop doing X, Y, and Z to Zach, that’s wrong. Like they’re not going to risk, whatever little piece of approval they have. Like, they’re very much so focused on assimilating. And frankly making sure that folks don’t forget. Making sure that people don’t think too much about the fact that they’re not white. You know what I mean?

Dr. Cox (42:17): Wow. I hear you.

Zach (42:19): And so, I have a bias. And I’ve shared this with somebody some time ago about like, and they ended up proving me right again. But like, it was bias. I have a bias. When I meet people who have been with an institution for like several, several, several years, I just question. I question how much are they really doing, and how much are they really pushing? Who are they advocating for? How much change are they really looking to make? And again, everyone doesn’t operate in that space, Dr. Cox. Like, I get that. Everyone doesn’t operate in this like very loud forward, forward space, but there has to be some willingness to be coordinated with those who are on the outside, who are the disruptors. It can’t be like when this whole thing around gradual change over time, or like, well, you know, we can get there if we’re just really genteel and humble about it. Like, that’s not true. Like, that’s not going to happen.

Dr. Cox (43:22): Yeah. That’s like the Booker T. Washington mentality, as I call it. Like, that was his approach, that gradual approach. And so, you know what, I really can tell you, also continuing the thread of like what happened last year is that I used to be on the inside. So, I can really tell you about that mentality, but also the change in me or what pushed me out a little bit. So, I enter my organization as an administrator. I was, I think, the first black woman tenured faculty in my college, and I was also a department chair. So, you know, when I came in, I was informed or I thought that, you know, we were really trying to move the diversity equity and inclusion needle. And my definition of that is, you know, we’re going to really look at under-representation, we’re going to bring some people in, we’re going to change the culture.

(44:24): Like we’re going to move it like seriously. Like, if I’m there we’re gonna push. And what I realized over time is that there was misalignment between what I thought DEI was, and what I could do in my role, versus what the organization thought. And I started using this term called, stop playing diversity’, because I just remembered in my interview that I told people, you know, to look at my blogs, look at my social media, really figure out who I am, because I’m not changing. Like, if this is what you want, then please feel free to hire me, but please don’t hire me if this is not what you want. And, you know, I was hired. But what I realized is that, like, when I started really pushing to say, you know, we’re going to really have these conversations. We’re going to dismantle some things, we’re gonna, you know, really try to include people.

(45:26): It was challenging. It was hard. I just don’t think that system wanted that. And, or maybe I think people didn’t understand what that meant. And so, getting back to an earlier question where you’re like, well, how have I changed over the past year? Or, you know, I think now people are saying, yes, we need to be more intense about it. And if we’re going to do this work, it needs to move the needle. Now, one thing I’m going to say is I was not reappointed in that position. And that was a lot. There was a lot of drama in the unit, you know, a lot of pushback just some stuff about like my social media presence and questions of did I really represent people you know, in the organisation well? You know, a lot of stuff. Some hurtful things, but, you know, I was consistent.

(46:14): I documented my life as a department chair, using a hashtag, #departmentyourlife. And, you know, if it was good, it was good. If it wasn’t good, then I said something about that as well. And I remembered before I left that I pretty much told the organization, they did some type of evaluation of me. And so, you know, it was split. Some people loved me, some people hated me. And, you know, I remembered it being put on me. And this is the first time I’m saying any of this Zach. So, you know, you’re getting like the exclusive interview here. But I remembered, you know, pushing back to the organization too to say that it was not just on me to change a culture. It was on the organization. And, I was asking, well, am I going to be reappointed?

(47:03): And they said, well, it depends on your responses. And I said, well, this is going to have to be a collective effort. Like I’m not just going to change and be like, oh, I’m going to be quiet or I’m not going to tweet. Like, that’s not the response that you’re going to get from me. Like we are going to have to collectively do something. And I’m talking about you know, human resources is going to have to get involved. You know, other people are going to get involved. And diversity, equity and inclusion, what are we doing collectively to make sure that I’m not stressed out every day, but that our organization continues to move. Oh, what happened is that I looked for jobs elsewhere. Just because I was like, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m going to be reappointed. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

(47:43): And I had a meeting and I was informed that because I looked for jobs elsewhere, I was not going to be reappointed. So it could have been a ton of other stuff. You know, it could have been all the other things leading up to it, but you know, that’s what happened.

Zach (48:05): [inaudible].

Dr. Cox (48:05): And I was pretty much pushed out of that position. And it was one of those things where I said, I am not going. Like, things just have to be a certain way. I know that in a system, you know, that choice was being made for me. But the thing that makes me laugh right now is that, you know, everything happened last year. You know, this was, this was February 2020, but the next month there was a pandemic. In June, George Floyd was killed. In November, there was the election.

(48:42): And so, that’s what I mean when there was just this storm. And everything that I had said, everything that I was really advocating for just kinda came out. And it’s like, was Monica real? You know, was she telling the truth? And it’s just different., I know I’m saying a lot, but I guess I’m just letting you know. I’mma summarize this by just saying, when it comes to titles and positions, I was very hurt. When you about like my feelings being hurt, I was hurt honestly. In pain, like literally in pain, crying because, you know, I’d moved my family to this place. And I really thought that I was going to make change. And, you know, the decision of a single person just stopped that. And I always wanted to be like a Dean or I thought I was going to be a provost or a president, and I still may be. But I have seen firsthand how you can be really accomplished, but when one person makes a decision to come against you, it can shift your career.

(49:57): And that’s the power of the patriarchy. That’s the power of the system, that is the risk you take. And I will honestly say last year, I just really did a lot more social activism. And it was a risk, because I could have been pushed out even more. People could not have followed me, but what I’ve seen is the opposite in terms of starting an organization, co-founding an organization, Black and Engineering, which is now a non-profit. You know, that organization is now nominated for a Diversity Award by our professional society, our engineering professional society.

Zach (50:37): That’s good.

Dr. Cox (50:37): Yeah. And so, myself and some other colleagues are giving a distinguished lecture for that professional society. We are really visible and I’ve seen the arrival of the first woman Dean in the history of my college, but she’s also a black woman. And a few days ago, it was announced that the provost of our university, of my university is a black woman as well. So I’m not saying, it’s know because of me, but I’m saying that persistence, and that being very vocal, and that saying look at black women, protect black women, there are issues. And just knocking on the door of the provost, the president, and just being that activist, it mean something. But the last thing I’ll say about that, Josh, I feel like I’ve talked for 10 minutes, but I’m still gonna tell you this. Please edit as you would like, is that there’s sometimes sadness that I have, because I don’t know what I have gained. And I’m being really honest with you. You know, how you fight for other people and it’s like, yeah, you got your accolades, you got your stuff, but you know, I’m still up here, hurt, still dealing with the things that I’m dealing with. And that’s the part that I’m working through. If you really want to know the truth.

Zach (51:55): Yeah.

Dr. Cox (51:55): Feeling sometimes like I was a martyr, so other people could succeed, but where’s my recompense?

Zach (52:07): Huhh, man. I really, I really empathize with that. And it follows the meta-narrative of black women doing all the labor for the benefit of others and not getting their flowers, not getting their just due. To your point, not getting the recompense. You know, I guess with that being said, like, what advice would you give to other black academics folks who are looking to speak up, create impact? And top of the interview, we talked about being true to yourself, staying whole. What advice would you have given yourself, you know, 18 months ago?

Dr. Cox (52:49): Wow. Yeah. So I’m glad you asked this because I actually started a business in September, 2020. So this is something else that happened. Well, I had a business, but I rebranded my business, and it’s the Dr. Monica Cox Brand. And, in that business, I said, I want to create things that didn’t exist for me. Like there are a lot of diversity equity and inclusion programs. So it was like, well, why am I going through what I’m going through? Like nothing helped me, nothing protected me. And you know what I was thinking, even in response to your question is that I would tell myself, focus on, and this is what I say in my business. So in my coaching, with my clients, and with different people, I have a very different model, and a different approach. And what I would say is we always start by focusing on your boundaries.

(53:43): Let’s focus on your non-negotiables. Let’s focus on who you are, who do you want your ideal self to be? Because that’s who you want to see at the end of this journey. And often we don’t start with this is who, and as a person of faith, I say this, you know, this is who God made me to be, and I’ve been this way forever. And so I’ll give you an example, like, I’m mouthy. I am this communicator. I am so opinionated, but that’s me, like since I came out of the womb, that has been me. And so it didn’t matter that I got a math degree, or an engineering degree, or any of those things, Monica Cox was going to be like the mouthy engineering educator, professor, whatever. And I feel that academia, like when I came in, I squashed that. It was like, let me figure out what I have to do to play the game.

(54:33): Instead of saying, this is who I’m playing it to be. And I’m going to navigate this journey like as myself. And, it’s so easy to tell people to be themselves. But I think too, this comes with a journey of really having backup plans or really trying to think wholistically about your life, and not placing so much of your identity in an organization. And also, an element of my coaching too, is like accountability. So you make sure that you have people around you who when gaslighting happens, or when people try to tell you you’re less than, it doesn’t destroy you. It doesn’t tear you down because your identity is so strong. And that’s my thing. You know, I mean, like I’m saying it from a bigger developmental perspective, but the approach really is focused on you all the time.

(55:32): Focus on development of yourself and really reflecting and knowing who you are, and who you will be, as you take that last breath in life. You know, like would you say, you know what? I lived life in a way that mattered to me, you know, that reflected my values and reflected everything that I want my children and people to know me for. You know, is that part and digging in. And I think we lose it as academics, as professionals, we focus so much on the money, and the titles, and the accolades that when we don’t have that anymore, we’re crushed. Or, we compromise who we are to such a point that we no longer have integrity and courage.

Zach (56:31): I love it. I love it. Dr. Cox, and this has been dope. You know, we could go on forever. I want to talk to you a little bit about, you know, your shout outs. Who do you want to kind of give some love to, what organizations are you working with? You already alluded to some work that you’ve been doing with your engineering colleagues, but I’d just love to give you some space to really shout anybody that you need to.

Dr. Cox (56:52): Absolutely. So Black In Engineering is an organization that was founded after the murder, George Floyd. So it is a space where we talk about awareness. We’re promoting black faculty students, researchers, practitioners, and engineering., We’re just trying to make sure that they are safe in their environments and they’re able to prosper in their profession. So it is a very organic organization. Co-Founded by myself and my colleagues, Dr. [inaudible 00:57:23] Barry and Dr. Tierra Reed. And you know what, we’re just trying to be the champions for people who maybe think they’re alone. And we just let people know that as a community, we can do some really good stuff. And so, that’s also a point I want to make really quickly. Where if we have learned nothing else from this pandemic, it’s the power of connectivity. And like never go back to these organizations feeling that you are alone, because we’re not alone. At all.

(57:53): I’ll shout out my organization when I see some change, but, you know, I’ll do that. You know, I just think everyone who’s been supportive. You know, I thank my team, you know, I thank my family, my husband. You know, I feel like for me, it’s just like all the support that I have. There are so many people, my Twitter family you know, just people who’ve helped me make it through. The people who’ve held my arms. I feel like there’s this collective support, but even people like you, have, for me. Like, you acknowledge me, you value what I have to say. And you have really helped me to be encouraged in the midst of a lot of gaslighting, and a lot of sadness, that has happened you know, within my organization. So really it’s just anyone who’s helped me to get to where I am. And the ones who are there batting for me, and speaking for me, and claiming me. And yeah, helping me move forward.

Zach (58:52): Dr. Cox it’s a pleasure and it’s an honor. I’m excited. You have a fan in us. I hope that you can see yourself, a friend of the show because we consider you a friend of the show. And I will talk soon.

Dr. Cox (59:02): Yeah. And follow me @DrMonicaCox. I mean, I hope that all this information will be out there. But you know, my business,, you know, please feel free to share all of that because I just want all of us to be whole, and to get there together.

Zach (59:17): It’ll be written in the show notes. You know, we got you.

Dr. Cox (59:19): Thank you. I appreciate you. Thank you so much Zach.

Zach (59:22): Talk soon.

Zach (01:01:01): And we’re back. Yo, thank you so much to Dr. Cox, shout out to all the work that you’re doing. Make sure y’all follow Dr. Cox. All of her links, her information is in the show notes. You’ll learn more about her work. Shout out to Black Folks in Stem, shout out to the black professors out there, just in the trenches. It’s so easy to downplay or not necessarily appreciate all the labor and harm that these individuals are subjected to, just to help create a healthier, more inclusive learning environment for folks that look like me.

(01:01:40): And so, I just want to shout out, salute y’all. Especially, you know what I’m saying the black professors who are, you know, our leaders, because that’s a conversation for another day. But I have talked to Dr. McCluney and a few other doctors [inaudible 01:00:51] there be some snobs out there, but that’s not the point of this. Shout out to all my kinfolk professors. And yo, make sure that you check out the merch. We got dope new merch in the merch store. Alright. It’s getting cool and make sure you cop a hoodie or three. There’s some dope designs. I’m gonna put the link in the show notes. Make sure y’all peep that. And shoot, tell a friend or three about Living Corporate on Apple Podcast, give us five stars. Continue to grow and pay attention, keep your eyes peeled. We got all the shows coming back this month.

Zach (01:01:32): So we’re on a little bit of a break. Took a season break just because look, man, you know, hosts, they get tired too. You know, ain’t no Kevin Gates round here, we believe in rest and taking naps. Amen? But all the shows are coming back this month and next month. So that’s the Break Room, that’s the Group Chat, that’s the Access Point. So make sure you keep your eyes peeled. We’ll be dropping continued ads and stuff like that on here. We’ll let people know about it, but I’m just saying, get familiar if you’re not familiar already. Shout out to Madison, Butler, continues to drop super fine content on the blog. Shout out to Tristan, shout out to Amy, shout out to the whole Living Corporate team. ‘Till next time this has been Zach. Reject systems that are not for you. All right? Peace.

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