Keeping Your Composure (w/ Kate Purmal)

In addition to talking about the NFL and Spotify, Zach sits down with author, executive, & mentor Kate Purmal to discuss her own journey and her book Composure: The Art of Executive Presence.

Want to know more about our LinkedIn Learning courses? Check them out!

Check out Kate’s latest book, Composure: The Art of Executive Presence, on Amazon.

Connect with Kate on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the Twitter thread Tristan mentioned in his tip.

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(00:57): Whats up yall its Zach from Living Corporate, happy Black History Month. Now look, Imma tell yall straight up, Black History Month, you know, youre listening to this on a Tuesday, on the eighth of the month of February. And some of yall might be like, Hey, yo, Zach, not and are you ever Beyonce, are you gonna have a white woman on Living Corporate in Black History Month? But I am, I am, I am. And the reason why is because we talked a great deal about accountability, about reflection, about learning, about growth. And as we talk about the future of black and brown folks, particularly in working context, white women are going to play a large factor in that.

(02:01): I think about my own journey. I have had a white woman manager at some of my most critical career spots and stops. And frankly, I was harmed deeply every time. And its terrifying, frankly, how much power white women wield without really taking any accountability for it. Straight up, its scary, to be honest. And so, anytime Im able to have someone on who I believe is sincere, who has an authentic story, and whos willing to be reflective and accountable, and theyre positioning in all of this stuff. And by this stuff, I mean, white supremacy, capitalism, the patriarchy, I want to have those conversations. So, Im really excited about my conversation with Kate Permal, who is a lot of different things. Shes a mentor, shes an educator, shes an author. We talk about her book. We talk about her own journey as a mother of a black girl, of a biracial girl.

Zach (03:17): And the conversation she had and she continues to have with her now, adult daughter, Mariah Driver. So shout out to Mariah, and Im just really thankful that we were able to have this conversation. It kind of felt like, I dont know, it kind of felt like very communal because Ive already like connected with Mariah a couple times on the pod. And I just appreciate our conversations every time, respect and shout out to the team over there at Web Flow. And so anyway, Im just excited about, the conversation yall are gonna hear today. And look, before we go to that, I just want to tap on a couple of other things briefly. So the first thing is, theres a phrase and its, Everybody want to go to heaven, but no, nobody want to die.

Zach (03:55): And what it means is everybody wants to participate in the reward, but no one wants to go through any type of struggle to get the reward. And so, as I think about Brian Flores and him being very public and airing out text messages. Which, you know, thats typically frowned upon to air out somebodys texts like screenshots, but I love it of course, like I support it. But he went there and really is taking a stand on a whole media tour with his lawyers, airing it out. Letting it go. And, its sick because everyones already framing what hes doing as a sacrifice, because thats a tacit acceptance of the fact that we know, he will not be getting another opportunity. Even though hes not wrong. And Ive had some conversations with some friends, some respected colleagues who said something along the lines of, look, Brian Flores has f-ing money. Everybodys not in a position to do that.

(04:56): And we had a conversation, a phenomenal conversation about the idea that, its not really about the money. The money is a nice cushion, but people make decisions all the time. Martin Luther King didnt have no f-ing money; Malcolm X didnt have no f-ing money; Stokley Carmicheal didnt have f-ing money. [inaudible 00:05:17] Shakur did not have f-ing money. These people dont be having no, they never have f-ing money. They just had courage and they had the courage of their convictions. And I really want us to understand that for us to really get the systemic change were looking for, we need folks with the courage of their convictions. And if you dont have that, Im not gonna shame you for that because, literally, virtues are virtues because they’re rare.

Zach (05:47): Everyone is not courageous. Most people are cowards. Like, thats just, thats a fact. So I do though, hope that you can, at the very least, just be quiet on the sidelines while the real people are putting in those courageous works, because theyre building a world that you will benefit from. Now, yes, Brian Flores is a millionaire. Im not counting this man pocket. Im just saying hes been making money for a while. And, hes still giving up his dream. He not making bank like everybody else, if we trying to compare whatever, if were trying to compare pay stubs. And so, theres something to be said about that. And its easy to be like, oh, why did he do this and why did he do that? And Im gonna challenge you. If you have something to say about Brian Floress method, similar to Colin Kaepernicks methods frankly, why dont you go stand up and advocate for yourself to your manager, who is underpaying you and overworking you? Why dont you be a mentor to that person who is on the periphery at their job, who is isolated and who you know isnt being treated fairly? Why dont you do something? Go do something.

(07:10): But yall just, Im excited. Im excited about like whats happening in the NFL. And I Im hoping that it just impacts everybody whos out there looking to get in really exclusive or hard to get places and looking to get their bread. Im never gonna shame nobody. Black folks who are trying to take care of themselves and take care of their family. And so I hope that this helps us as a people, as a collective. Shout out Kurt [inaudible 00:07:33] also.

(07:35): The other thing I want to talk about quickly is the Spotify situation. So, its wild. The only quick observation Ill make is the Spotify CEO in his letter, his internal memo said, look, we we disagree with his language, but we do not believe that silencing him is the right decision. I want you to understand something, Joe Rogan is getting paid a hundred million dollars by Spotify. So hes not being silenced. And he is beloved by a ton of people. So hes not being silenced. Not only that, but then like the next day after that little memo went out, a competitor to Spotify, came out and offered him a hundred million dollars just to come over there. Hey, take a hundred million dollars, like, yo just come over here. You can say whatever racist, illogical, nonsensical stuff you wanna say, cuz you can come over here. I will pay you. And like the CEO said, Ill give you a hundred, a million dollars over four years. So $25 million a year. Interestingly enough, the CEO going back to Spotify said, yo, so we not only gonna keep Joe Rogan and keep paying him his hundred million dollars, we gonna take a different hundred million dollars and were gonna create some type of fund to support black creatives.

Zach (09:03): So, in one instance, you got a hundred million dollars paying one racist white man. Then, on another instance, you got a hundred million dollars to support some uncounted number of black creators. So, again, everybody wanna go to heaven, dont nobody want to die. What does it look like for us to push back? Like, that is insane to me, dog. Like that is a joke. That is an actual joke. I saw a tweet about it. Like, yo, yall are paying this one person, this one entity this much, but then you want to like break that brick up amongst this whole community of people. And you dont even see how insulting that is. All this being said, I just want us to open our eyes, especially during Black History Month, because I dont know yall, its just, I dont know if its just a combination of age and like me being a father now. Maybe like me not having to like commute and be in office and kind of deal with like the politics and rigormaroll of just like being in majority white spaces, and feeling like the need constantly look over my shoulder.

Zach (10:12): Maybe its cuz Im no longer in a hyper toxic racist environment, like I was. But I just had more and more time to like, just breathe and see. And I just see through a lot of this stuff yall. Its like, its gross out here. And so its important that were just like really clear with, okay, what it is that we want and what are we willing to do to get what we want? We all have the right to be respected, we should be respected as human beings. And some of these moves are just nasty. All that being said, Im excited for us to check in and have this conversation with Kate Permal and talk about her book. But before we do that, were gonna tap in with Tristan. So, see you in a minute.

Zach (13:19): Kate, welcome to the show. How you doing?

Kate (13:21): I’m great, Zach. Thank you so much.

Zach (13:23): Hey, listen let me tell you something, you know, jokes funny but not, I dont know. Youre one of the few white women we actually have had on Living Corporate. So, shout out congratulations to you for that.

Kate (13:35): Thank you. Ive been noticing that as Ive been following you. A little intimidated to be honest with you, but you know, Im gonna go with it.

Zach (13:43): You join a great number. I mean shout out to Dr. Caitlin Rosenthal, you know what Im saying? So, listen, Id love to just start with like diverse, equity, and inclusion, your journey. LTheres plenty of folks that I talk to and frankly, I get, I have a certain level of fatigue of just dealing and engaging white folks in this space. I know theres a certain level of almost kind of like arrogant paternalism that happens when you talk to people in this space, or almost or even like opportunism. They kind of throw a bunch of jargon at you, but theyre not really talking about anything systemic, or meaningful, or real. So Id love to just understand more about your own journey, your own experience, your own perspective as we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a space.

Kate (14:28): Sure. Well, mine started out for my own journey in gender diversity. I graduated with a degree in software and engineering. I became a software engineer in the late 1980s and I worked in technology for most of my career. And I have been the only woman in the room for decades, pretty much. And so, there was an element of me that was equating that to other onlys and other marginalized groups. And my daughter is biracial, her fathers black. And I had a real reckoning with her about two years ago before I started writing my book. About the fact that I cant equate that journey to her journey. Its not the same. It is vastly different. And so, we really started to dig into what those differences were and how it was a painful conversation for me, and for her. Because as a white mother, I wanna protect my black daughter from feeling the things that happened on a daily basis in the workplace. And iI realized that so much of my lack of awareness around that was because it was just so painful to think that my daughter was experiencing things were really unthinkable for me.

Zach (15:54): I find that so interesting. Like there are folks, I wont say their names on this particular podcast episode, but who also have biracial children, and they kind of use them as props. You and I talked offline and thats not, of course, thats not the sense I get from you. But Im curious, what do you feel, do you feel that conversation happened late? Because your daughter is grown. So like–

Kate (16:21): Yeah, it happened really late. It happened very late. We really didnt have that conversation growing up. And in fact, I left my ex-husband to be the one to educate them on how to navigate the world, black. And I really did not appreciate it. It was when I read my grandmothers hands in the middle of the night, when I was on a yacht with my husband piloting, hes a yacht captain. It was the middle of the night, I was on watch. I was actually listening where he was interviewed and he talked about white body supremacy. And I just lost it, because I realized that as a white mother, theres an element of me that is terrifying, and traumatizing for my daughter and my son. And it was just this real moment of wow. I went through my whole life and raised these two kids without ever having that. And, was married to a black man without ever having that sense and having that awareness, and having that level of empathy, and that just that lens. And yeah, it was pretty intense.

Zach (17:43): And so when you use this word reckoning, like often, just culturally, in the last, since the murder of George Floyd, we use this word often. Im curious, what did that reckoning look like and how is it unique or different from when Trump was initially when he was elected? Can you talk to me a little bit more about just what that meant?

Kate (18:03): Yeah. This was really deeply personal. What it meant for me, it was a personal reckoning. It was a recognition of my complete abdication and lack of responsibility and awareness for the dynamics that existed in my family, and with my children, and with my ex-husband. And it was a very deeply painfull moment for me to have to look at my life as a mother and a wife, in a biracial family, and recognize how unaware I was.

Zach (18:42): I’m excited to talk to you about your latest book, in light of your own reckoning and self realization and growth, continued growth as we all continue to grow. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to the title?

Kate (18:59): Yes. So composure is the state in which you are able to be in its that grace under pressure. Its that state in which you are able to be calm in the face of whatever madness is going on around you. And it is this state of resiliency as compared to reactivity. And the whole premise of the book is we cant control our environment. We cant control microaggressions. We cant control bias, theres really no control over that. So how do you navigate that in a way thats healthy and productive for you as an individual and a human being? Doesnt mean that you tolerate it, doesnt mean that we dont try to change it, but are there ways? And thats what we explore in the book to make it less traumatic and less painful, and to make you able to be more resilient in those really difficult moments.

Zach (20:00): Its so interesting. Kate, as I think about my own career, I think about all the times Ive had to just not react in that moment. Where Ive had to kind of pause, or absorb and then reflect and then come back. Because I didnt have the same privileges to clap back as it were. Im curious, when we talk about executive presence, cuz even that term is loaded. And so, can we talk a little bit about how you are defining executive presence in this particular work?

Kate (20:35): Yeah, the word its interesting cuz since weve published the book, Ive reflected on executive presence. And Ive thought I should have said the art of presence.

Zach (20:45): Mmmm.

Kate (20:46): And thats really what Im going after. Executive presence comes from my legacy as a business executive and coach and my realm of work, which is primarily business. So really what we observe in business is people who have an executive presence, that is a powerful presence that is notable. Its sort of one of those things, you know it, when you see it. But really this is about presence and to a great extent, the the teachings in the book and the work that we do, it certainly permeates all aspects of life and it creates greater presence wherever you would like it.

Zach (21:27): I’m curious as to your perspective on the intersection of presence and what it is we can and cannot control. And your definition is, it rings very true to me. Im curious, your intersection of presence and self-advocacy, particularly as a professional from like a historically marginalized background. How do those things marry or work together or coordinate, if at all?

Kate (21:53): Thats such a great question. And I think thats the most difficult aspect of what were promoting. And the one that Ive spent a lot of time talking to my daughter about.

Zach (22:02): Hmm.

Kate (22:03): So we have a client whos a senior executive black woman, shes a senior vice president at a financial services company. And she has been a fierce self advocate her whole life, because shes had to be. And thats how she has achieved this incredible success. Shes wildly successful. And so, and one of the challenges for her is this perception of this angry black woman trope in the corporate world. Where, when she self advocates, when she asserts, she is tagged in that way, or people experience her in that way. So the question becomes, how does she self-advocate and how does she ensure that her voice is heard when the environment around her is pushing back against that?

Kate (22:56): And what we ended up working with her on was, being able to choose. What she realized was there are moments when she could put down her swords and she doesnt have to be as fierce. And there are other moments when she cant put down her swords and she needs to be that fierce. And unapologetically fierce because its the way that she, and only she can advocate for herself. But I think there was a breakthrough for her when she realized that she didnt always have to lead with the swords. Its like another client of ours said, I can let the general sit down and back and I can come out in a different way, but thats very situational. And so, its really about broadening the tools kit, giving a wider, broader range of tools.

Zach (23:43): Mmmm.

Kate (23:44): And then not, not eliminating any tools, but allowing some more discernment about when to use them.

Zach (23:50): Yeah. You know, thats just so real, because I think about, for me, Im coming out of a season of having being in really hyperoxic work environments. And really, honestly, this last job that Im in right now, its the first time in my 10 year career where I dont feel actively put upon, disrespected or marginalized or exploited. Like its the first time. And Im 32. And so, its hard to like the nuance and balance of the things youre speaking to and also not sending a message. We talked about this, like not sending a message of shame because people are trying to figure out how they can survive. Like this idea of advocating for yourself is really your survival tool. Theres so many people Ive talked to in my career, who Ive mentored or coached.

Zach (24:42): And theyll be like, man, I just wanna learn how to articulate and advocate for myself in the ways that you do. And really be clear on and network and build, how you build relationships. And I tell them every time I say, listen, I do these things not because I find some innate joy in it, or Im some sort of like guru. These are the mechanisms by which I leverage to survive so that I can continue in my career. Because if I was to just do what everyone else was to do, then I probably would be out of a job. I might not have a job. And so, Im excited to, Im excited for folks to really dive into this book and eally experience some of the thoughts that youve put together there. If there were three things that you would hope that a reader, particularly one of historically marginalized, black background, a black or brown person, black queer person, first generation professional, first generation American, perhaps, [inaudible 00:25:43] what would those things be?

Kate (25:45): Well, the first one is, theres several things that we use and I have a series on my podcast thats at, and its on brain hacks. And we just did a brain hack on microaggressions. Now this was with a white female executive having microaggressions in very serious senior meetings with white men. So its not the same, but theres still some parallelisms. So the first step in anything in order to be more resourceful is to disassociate. And the way you do that is, well, the first steps really to gain some time to buy yourself a little bit of time. So when something happens and you feel yourself reacting to it, notice your bodys like going on high alert, you get that tightness in your throat or in your chest, or maybe a pit in your stomach, whatever that is, your shoulders go up.

Kate (26:41): The first thing to do is just, we have people take breaths and count backwards from three to one, and ask a question. I dont care what the question is. Any question. Excuse me, could you please repeat that? Im not sure I heard you properly. Or whatever the question is just to buy yourself a little bit of time to get your breathing back in, try to get back in your body because usually flight or flights going on. Or, theres something going on where youre not fully present at that moment. The second thing is to actually while youre doing that, try to float out of yourself as if youre, I like to say on a Seven11 surveillance camera, looking down on the scene, and go, okay, what the heck is going on here? And that third party perspective you can say to yourself, yeah, you just heard that. Thats right you did hear that. That was a microaggression.

(27:34): Okay, were gonna handle this. We can handle it in this moment. We can handle it in a later moment. Got your back. Were gonna handle this, but just be present, stay present in the meeting. And really just to try to think about from the highest and best good, what is in the highest and best good in the moment? And usually it is maintaining dialogue in some way. And then, the third thing is really to separate from that figure out how to deal with the situation, and practice it so next time that it happens, youll be more resourceful. So what are the things you can say? What are the things you can do? If somebody has issued a micro-aggression, you can pause, you can let it land around you. You can just be silent for a moment. You can ask for clarification. Im sorry, could please repeat that I didnt hear what you said. You can do nothing and you can handle this later,. But the idea is we wanna add more resourceful options for you than just internalizing it, shutting down, shoving it away, and having it just sit in your system. Thats the worst thing that I think happens for most people when they experience this.

Zach (28:54): And I think Id be remiss if I didnt ask. As we wrap up is, you talked about the fact that you have a biracial daughter and that you had to come into your own reckoning. What advice, or what things do you believe that white women who are maybe in this space, what are some areas just kind of like, I dont wanna call them blind spots, but truly like spaces where they… What advice would you give them in their own journey around this space? Or who maybe even proclaim themselves to be allies or DEI experts, what points, if any of advice or feedback would you give them?

Kate (29:29): Well, the first one is humility. I mean, youve got to be admit humbly that youre white, and that you dont have this perspective. We have a BIPOC coaching group that we have been running with 16 BIPOC professionals in it. And the first thing that my business partner, Lee and I, who are white, my other business partner is black, a black man. So we have that perspective and he contributes heavily to the book. But the first thing we say is, look, we are two white women, and we recognize that the advice we give you may or may not land for you, or the things we talk about. So we invite you and we ask you to to bring those up on behalf of yourself and others, and we wanna create a safe environment to do that. So thats the first thing, is just calling out the elephant in the room.

(30:20): The second thing is that I think one of the things that people do thats the most damaging out of, it has good intention, is to try to talk someone out of the way they feel. And thats what I do with my daughter that night of reckoning. She was recounting the way that something that somebody said to her that was close to our family and the way it made her feel. And I was trying to say, thats not what they meant. And she just looked at me and said, mom, you are completely invalidating my feelings. And so, the only thing I know to do is to say, I am so sorry that you felt that way and Im so sorry you had to experience that. And thats it. Theres nothing else to do. Theres no fixing a moment of micro-aggressions, or bias, or inappropriate comments. We cant fix it. We can only hear and bear witness to it and do what we can to try to educate people and arm them be more sensitive and more aware.

(31:27): The third one is, I mean, there is this whole thing of education, but that goes without saying. I mean, its mostly just about being humble and the stating up front that Im a white woman, and I am doing my best to understand and advocate. And Im not gonna get it right, and when I dont let me know how can I do better.

Zach (31:46): Kate, this has been a great conversation. Im really appreciative of your time. And also, shout out to Mariah Driver.

Kate (31:54): Maria Driver, my daughter.

Zach (31:56): Yes. You remind me of my mom and how you hit me up. She was like, Im so proud of her and thank you for like… I was like, yo, this… me and my mom, we talk every day, but I called her after you DMd me, I was like, Im gonna call my mama. I miss her.

Kate (32:10): Oh, thats so beautiful.

Zach (32:12): The book is called, Composure: The Art of Executive Presence, the author, Kate Permal and Lee Epting. Kate, thank you so much. We consider your friend of the show. Listen, I dont know if you have any other, what network looks like. If you have a bunch of well-intentioned liberal white folks, please let them know about Living Corporate. You know what Im saying? We take donations.

Kate (32:32): I’m going to. Yes.

Zach (32:34): Okay. All right.

Kate (32:34): I keep sending your stuff to the board. Im on a board of directors. I send it everywhere that I can. So yes, we want the work; the work you do is amazing. And I love the way that you speak to those in corporates, but you also speak to individuals who are out there in the world trying to make it in their careers. And those are so important. So yeah, we spread this far and wide.

Zach (32:54): Thank you, Kate. Well talk to you soon and I look forward to having you back.

Kate (32:58): Thank you Zach, I appreciate the work you do. Thank you. Thank you.

Zach (33:01): Peace.

Zach (33:10): And were back. Yo, shout out to Kate. Thank you so much for all of your work. Thank you for the very vulnerable and authentic conversation. I really want yall to understand and hear that, if youre a white woman listening to Living Corporate, you do a role in this work. You do participate in this space, and you do benefit from your whiteness. And you do benefit from you being a white woman, it is a different and unique experience. And, I can say that we need you in this fight, in this work to practice and leverage your privilege on our behalf. Help us out. Shout out to you know what Im saying? Shout out to the white women who are doing that work. Im not gonna name a bunch of people cuz I dont want to embarrass them, but I do have like a couple people in my life who Im just very thankful for. They be holding it down.

(33:58): And I did shout out Kate, Miss [inaudible 00:33:59] already. So Imma shout out her again and embarrass her cuz thats my homie. But I got like two other people that they dont know, so Im just keep it to myself. But for real, like theres a handful of white women out here who are really like doing the thing. And Im just really appreciative to yall, so shout out to yall. And shout out to my my sister-in-law who bakes her macaroni and cheese. And like off top, if you bake your macaroni and cheese, mad respect for real. Youre on a positive trajectory for allyship. And if you dont bake your macaroni cheese, holla at me. Im gonna tell you, explain to you why you gotta bake your macaroni and cheese, especially during Black History Month. You know what I mean?

(34:35): Last thing, yo, as we celebrate Black History Month, like organizations, if you lead an organization, I want you to listen to me real quick. So, as you turn down, I dont know, no, turn it up, my bad because you listening to me probably in your car, you listen to me on your phone or whatever the case is. Look, I need you to celebrate black folks like its Black History Month, every month. Dont just do it when its cute, cause thats exploitative. Dont just do it when it looks nice but actually promote black people, sponsor them, advocate for them. Make sure theyre getting the bag theyve earned. Help them, give them advice. But also put em in a position to grow and succeed.

Zach (35:19): Do more than the window dressing and the performative stuff that you be doing, typically be doing during Black History Month. Pay your black speakers. You know what I mean? Its interesting, like window dressing is cool. Cause like window dressing is needed. Cuz window dressing is what attracts people to the building to the storefront. But heres the thing, if the window dressing is super dope and then I go inside, it aint nothing up in there. Okay. Well now, not only have you lost a customer, but you have someone actively outside in the street talking about how trash your store is. Okay. Think about it. As my old pastor used to say, youll get that on the way home.

Zach (36:02): Look, this has been, Zach. Thats all we got today. Again, shout out to the team. Thank you again to Kate Permal. The book is, Composure: The Art of Executive Presence, where shell be doing a book giveaway. So if you email, with your name, your address and where we can send a book, yo well send you a book. All right. Just like that. I aint even gonna make you do nothing. I aint gonna make you jump through any hoops. You know what I mean? Its already a panorama. I just wanna make sure that yall get a chance to get the book. So just email, This is the general Gmail and you aint gotta be fancy. with your name, which address and well hook you up with a copy of, Composure: The Art of Executive Presence. Till next time, y’all. Peace.

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