Zach sits down with Nicole Sanchez, CEO and Founder of Vaya Consulting, to discuss her career journey, her outlook on the future of DEI, and more.
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Zach (00:00): What’s up y’all, it’s Zach, from Living Corporate. I am so thankful, so excited yo, it’s Black History Month. And it’s interesting Black History Month, we talk about it in this context, oftentimes anyway, when we talk about blackness. And this is a really a white supremacist-like function. But we talk about blackness in the context of suffering. We don’t talk about blackness in the context of brilliance, and innovation, or resilience or collaboration. We don’t talk about blackness and its core, like the criticality of just black people to all of human history. We typically talk about blackness in the context of like extreme anguish and despair. And so, I am really like looking out as I say this in the podcast. If you are black, I’m telling you, you are living black history. You’re making black history every day, simply by showing up and being who you are in the spaces you inhabit.
(00:59): Now, I’m not talking to y’all, who over here, willingly being co-opted and selling people out and buck dancing and stuff. I’m not talking to you. I’m talking about everybody else. I don’t think a bunch of sellouts listen to Living Corporate. I don’t think so. I feel this content will make you too uncomfortable. I don’t know. The point is, that it’s Black History Month and, was just Valentine’s Day. I hope that whatever your day consisted of there was love involved. Shout out to the entire Living Corporate team. Shout out to everything we got going on.
(01:33): Yo oh my gosh. This spring, now I want you to mark your calendars. Early May, that’s what I can say. Just early May mark the calendars. Early May, pay attention. Early May. Early May, some stuff is popping off. I want you to pay attention, all right, so mark calendars. Okay. We’ll put a little countdown thing. You can sign up, be notified, but I’m so excited about where Living Corporate is headed this year. And yeah, just early May. That’s all I gotta say. Just I’m gonna say that for the next couple of weeks. And then, as we get closer, I’ll share more details. But early May, pay attention.
(02:16): Really excited about our guests today. Nicole Sanchez. Nicole Sanchez is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but she’s an executive, a board member, a public speaker, an educator, a mentor, a sponsor. I’ve been looking to have her on the pod for a while. We talked in this conversation about just the landscape of DEI. We talk about, she as a DEI consultant. We talk about her journey in pivoting and hanging her own shingle. The conversation she’s having with her clients around diversity, equity, and inclusion and where she sees this space going this decade. And I just really appreciate her boldness. I appreciate her transparency and her vulnerability. But before we get to that conversation, we’re gonna tap in with Tristan. So I’ll see you in a minute.
Zach (03:12): So wait, Nicole, you said five companies? I mean, I don’t wanna make presumptions or assumptions about your company’s size.
Nicole (03:22): We’re small. Yeah.
Zach (03:23): But only five? I would like why? I mean, I would think it’d be like half or maybe like two thirds.
Nicole (03:28): Oh No, no, no.
Zach (03:30): And when you say the right thing, what do you mean?
Nicole (03:33): So what a lot of people wanted in 2020 was trainings and that’s always the go to. It’s like, do an unconscious bias training for us because there, we can talk about that later if you want. So I would have to do some education around, like I’m not going to do an unconscious bias training, but I am going to do the introduction of what you all need to be talking about. Like what is DEI? Let’s all get on the same page. I’ll train your entire company if you want. So you can all get on a level set. A level set about what this means to do this work. (Sorry about the dog).
Zach (04:12): That’s okay.
Speaker 3 (04:14): All right.
Nicole (04:16): Do you want me to wait?
Zach (04:17): Yeah. Go. No, no, go ahead.
Nicole (04:19): Okay, great. So I said, okay, we’ll come and do trainings. And so, trainings in quotes. It wasn’t really trainings. It was, let’s all just make sure every knows what we’re really talking about. So we really talked about what will it mean for us to be an anti-racist organization? What will it mean for us to center the black experience? What will it mean to really do the work that backs up Black Lives Matter? Because thank goodness for the movement, because I could go into a place and go, if you’re seriously posting on your social, Black Lives Matter, here’s what you actually need to do to show up for that, in that way. And so, I think far too many companies thought that that was the work. That was it. We did the training, everybody talked about it like, oh, we got it from here.
(05:03): You don’t got it from here, but okay. You’re showing where your commitment level is. It’s not much. And I would say of the five that I’m working with at any given time and I think we are really doing the right things. They’re very different companies in very different phases. So I have the luxury now, of being kind of selective about who I get to work with. So I don’t have to do that thing that we all have to do as part of our practice, which is like, hold your nose and make a paycheck sometimes. And it’s like [inaudible 00:05:31], cause that’s the reality of running your own business, people have to get paid. And so, you go ugh, can I really, how long can I be in this business and what can I move forward?
(05:43): And I don’t have to do that anymore. I definitely have had to do that in the past. I’ll be perfectly honest, but being able to do that means I’m seeing people who are going far. So I think there’s probably more than the five I’m talking about. Where something is happening, but the five, these I think are in the lead in their space. And so, one is, you know, in film and entertainment, one is a very small startup tech startup. One is a small to medium-sized high growth startup, tech startup. So it’s like they’re in different phases, but there’s something going right that we can leverage, really catapult their work forward.
Zach (06:27): You know, you made a comment, you tweeted something the other day, you said, Why don’t y’all read, why don’t companies read exit interviews of black employees, for the Black History Month?
Nicole (06:39): Well, they need to know their own black history in their own company. Don’t they?
Zach (06:43): That’s a bar. That’s a bar. No. So, it’s funny because I think, and I’m pro this too. There seems still to be like this true aversion to comfort within just Western context. So, white folks, don’t like to be uncomfortable. I mean, even like shout out to Dr. [inaudible 07”12] she talks about part of white supremacy culture. One of the elements or tenets of white supremacy culture is a right to comfort. Like I have the right. Any discomfort is actually some type of encroachment upon me as a person.
Nicole (07:25): Correct.
Zach (07:27): But discomfort and DEI go hand in hand. So, have you found yourself having to have those conversations? Like hey, lthis isn’t going to be, part of this when you talk to clients like, Hey, part of this might be uncomfortable.
Nicole (07:45): Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I mean, that’s where I start. That’s where I start the vetting process with clients to see if we’re a match. And, I don’t think anybody running their own consulting firm needs to learn how to do this, is to see who’s a match. I know again, sometimes you have to take a job. I don’t mean that, but if you’re trying to be in practice for a while to understand what you’re really good at, what you’re not, and what are the indicators of a potential client that they’re going to be open to your style and what you have to bring. So for me, it’s very important that I say that up front in our intake call, where I say, there’s absolutely no part of me that feels responsible for keeping you comfortable. Do you understand what that means? And, nine times, nine times outta 10, there is one person of color on the call who, you can see, go, you know like laugh from the other side. They’re like, ooh, no. And you know, that gets credibility. Because it’s like, when I say I truly don’t care to make white supremacy, to comfort white supremacy. I mean, every job I’ve ever lost or left, came to a head around–
Zach (08:53): You were at peace.
Nicole (08:54): Calling out. Yes, I am fine with my enemies. I am fine with how I left things. I am fine, because at some point white supremacy has to be challenged at the very, very, very, very, very tippy top. In the hardest moments when there are billions of dollars on the table, if you cannot reject white supremacy in that moment, you can’t reject white supremacy. And so, if you are lure by dollars, if you are lured by fame, if you are lured by a brand, if you’re lured by a celebrity, you’re not going to be able to actually confront white supremacy. So I’m very clear about that. And then the other thing that I say is, I need to hear you say black. Tell me about your black employees. And you know what kind of company you’re dealing with when you’re head of HR goes, Well, the African American, the people of colour, the African American numbers. I’m like, oh, wow, y’all, can’t even say black. We’re like, that’s like a [inaudible 00:09:47].
Zach (09:48): Scared.
Nicole (09:48): Yeah. Yeah. And I’m like, okay, you’re way too scared. I don’t think I’m the person for you because I’m gonna come in and say, oh, which Mike, are you talking about? White Mike or black Mike? And you’re gonna have to tell me on your staff, oh yeah, Mike, who’s black. Can you say that? Because that’s nothing wrong with that. Can you be not black and say black with your whole chest? Cause we all need to do this. Thank goodness I have had teachers and mentors except my Latina, my Latina in line on this. I need to be able to say black with my whole chest. And if I’m not teaching other non-black people to do that, well, then I’m deficient. I’m not doing my work. And so, it’s this long dance with potential clients that I can tell right off the bat, and we say, no, a lot. Again, that’s a luxury, that’s a privilege that I now have from being in the space for so long. But being able to say no because, and I don’t even have to tell them why I say no, but like in our notes, your head of HR could not say black. They don’t capitalize black, and this is a problem. I don’t wanna start at the basics. I’m too old. And I’ve been out this too long to bring people basic asses along.
Zach (11:01): So I think it’s scary that unconscious bias. No, no, no. I’m right there with you.
Nicole (11:06): Okay.
Zach (11:06): And shout out to like, no, you’re good. No, I just. Shout out to being impatient and not being willing to yield on certain foundational things or things that you’ve said is foundational. I think, as you think about even this space, it’s kind of shocking to me that unconscious bias training is still socially accepted. I know we laugh about it. Like we laugh in our little spaces, we’ll be like that’s some bullshit. But the fact that it’s still like a thing. And it’s like, I continue to have conversations with all types of folks, organizations, leaders, other practitioners, and they will rattle, they’ll quickly point to unconscious bias training. And the thing about it, it’s like the things that we’re actually having issues with right now, none of it is unconscious. All of it is all conscious.
Nicole (12:11): That’s right.
Zach (12:13): January 6th was conscious. Donald Trump being elected was conscious. Shoot. These book bannings are conscious; people being anti-COVID vaccine is conscious; anti-Vax is consciousness. It’s bad. These laws not passing voting rights is conscious. It’s all conscious.
Nicole (12:31): It’s all conscious because like–
Zach (12:32): Y’all don’t. Yeah, yeah,
Nicole (12:35): No, I remember having this. I was at GitHub at the time, right before Donald Trump got elected. And I was meeting with my team, the social impact team. I had a whole team, I had a budget, we got, we got some stuff done when in that period of time, some really good stuff done. And I remember saying to them, you know, depending on how this election goes, our work’s gonna look real different. And I predict that this team will not exist, if Donald Trump wins. We were living in Obama’s whatever. There was some idealism for good, bad, or other, I’ve got questions for him should I ever meet him. But I said, I don’t think this team is gonna exist for much longer. And sure enough, it was so clear how intentionally, how intentional the dismantling of that social impact work was.
(13:27): And this is another, again, one of those things I don’t talk about quite openly. You know, because I think there’s a nuance there that a lot of people won’t get. I loved my time at GitHub. I loved the people I met. I loved my team. I really believed in open source methodology. I really believed in the engineers. I really believed that we were gonna go somewhere. And again, when people put real money, billions of dollars on the table, you can just watch who gets cut out systematically. It is conscious. It is not unconscious. We use the word, equity, diversity, equity, and inclusion. And we use it to apply to everything except for the literal distribution of shares of the company, which Silicon valley calls equity. It’s literally the same word. And we pretend like it… If your equity doesn’t show up in your equity, you are not running an equitable organization.
(14:18): So that’s where my bar is. And when I say I get to be choosy about who I work with, there are companies who are talking about this, and thinking about this. Thinking about what does it mean to do massive wealth transference in a tech context, to a diverse team where the social impact of making more blood black and brown people, and therefore their families, financially sustainable, financially secure. The impact of that is extraordinary. And those are the parts of DEI that I’ve always been really like most excited about. And so yeah, I went off there for a second, Zach.
Zach (14:57): No, no, you’re good. So it’s interesting and I’ve asked this question before. I think we had Wyvonne on.
Nicole (15:04): Oh, I love Wyvonne.
Zach (15:05): Shout out to Redisplit.
Nicole (15:07): Shout out to [inaudible 00:15:07]. She has a book that just came out. It’s called, How to Talk [inaudible 00:15:12].
Zach (15:11): She’s coming back. We’re gonna talk.
Nicole (15:13): Yeah.
Zach (15:14): Shout… Yes. Yes. Not looking to coach, this is your time. I love the fact that you’re succeeding space and showing love, cuz we’re not in a, you know, it’s not a scarcity mindset. We’ve got, Wyvonne coming back really soon to talk about the book. Now, back to you though, I’ve asked this question before, you just talked about wealth transfer. I think that those concepts are what scared the shit outta people. And I don’t think, I don’t believe that corporate America, as it stands today is even ready to have those conversations. I mean, I’d love for you to prove me wrong. Talk to me about what that’s looked like for you at Value Consult. I think that’s the entire core fear around all of this work is that people are gonna lose power. And so what does that look like for you to navigate those discussions in a meaningful and productive way?
Nicole (16:04): Well, I try and figure it out every day, cuz there’s no real map. It’s hard to explain some of the weird rooms I’ve found myself in. Where I get to see the real sausage being made. And I think for me, it boiled down to; cuz I would just be very explicit and I was very explicit about this at GitHub. That is what I wanted to do, what I just explained. And we di. With the Microsoft Acquisition, there were a lot of black and brown folk, a lot of queer folks who are now having access to opportunities that would change their financial situation, have now some security. That is not how I wanted it to go. I didn’t win that battle. But did we do some of it? Yes. And it scared the shit outta them. Of them, the investors. And I can only explain it in a nutshell when I’m sitting in a room with these guys, the midas list guys, the silicon valley midas list guys. And one of them looks at me and says, you’re very good at what you do. And I said, wow, thank you. And then he said, but I just fear you’re not a capitalist.
(17:17): I shit you not. And I said, I didn’t know, that was a prerequisite. And he’s like, yeah, I just don’t. I just don’t think that you’re basically like that. I don’t understand how money should be managed. I’ve got a whole-ass MBA. I’m CEO of my company and he’s just, you’re not a capitalist. And I was like, I dunno how to answer that question because I’m certainly not gonna say, yes I am! I’m gonna say, [inaudible 00:17:44]
Zach (17:45): Thank you.
Nicole (17:47): Yeah, exactly.
Zach (17:47): You’re right.
Nicole (17:48): I can play, I can do this. I can show you how this way is actually going to be better for you. And you still don’t want it because the fear of black and brown people having power is the scariest thing to white America. And gun laws didn’t really happen the way we know them now until what? Until the Black Panther started showing up.
Zach (18:10): Right, right, right, right, right, right, right.
Nicole (18:11): We don’t need more evidence that that’s, what’s going on. It’s the same thing there as it is in tech, in Silicon valley, as it is on Wall Street, as it is in Hollywood. It’s the same thing of white folks who are scared of losing their status. That’s it? Period. Page. Paragraph.
Zach (18:27): And you know, even that piece. And I still have questions about, as someone who’s been in this space for some years, I’m curious about the long-term sustainability of DEI, in a late stage capitalist context. In terms of, especially like internal, I think it is always gonna be some external stuff because companies are always gonna look for a way to say we did. So they want to check the box in some way, even like in the worst. They’re like, well, we did this.
Nicole (19:00): Yes.
Zach (19:00): But I’m saying like the internal DEI function, I don’t know.
Nicole (19:09): No, I don’t know either.
Zach (19:12): I don’t know it’s viability.
Nicole (19:15): Oh, I’m not pleased with where the field is right now. This is not what I think some of us who were there. And to be fair, I’m in like the second wave, the first wave was that stuff that was happening, hidden figures. Like the fifties, sixties folks who were not connected to each other and just trying to do what they were doing in the workplace. The first time underrepresented folks were showing up in professional workspaces, not as the cleaning person, not as the food service person. And so, those were the real pioneers. And then the folks in the eighties, you’ve got your, Ursula Burns’ who was the first black CEO woman of this era, when she was the CEO of Xerox.
(20:00): And so, those are folks. And then I think they’re folks like me who came in through an idealistic nineties lens and we were like, okay, let’s actually build our way out of this. Let’s actually do something that is much more constructive than what we were handed. But Gen X, we’re too small. And we were smushed by boomers on one side and millennials on the other. And I didn’t see a real change until millennials started coming of age in the workplace. And now that Gen Z is coming, I mean millennials shook everything up and Gen Z is just gonna come and just like pfftt. They’re like what’s this wall [inaudible 00:20:38] knock it over. And she’s like, I’m sorry [inaudible 00:20:43]. And I love it. I love it so much. I love Gen Z with my whole heart, cuz I’m also a mom of two Gen Zers and I love they push on everything and it’s beautiful. And they’re the most diverse, most multiracial and multiethnic, queerest group of neurodiverse people, the largest the world has ever seen. And they’re like, oh no, no, no.
Zach (21:08): It’s so exciting.
Nicole (21:08): It’s so exciting. And the world is going in their way, in their direction. And now I go, oh, actually, I don’t think it matters. Like I said, I don’t love where the field is, but I don’t think it matters cuz Gen Z is gonna make something way better out of the breadcrumbs that we’re leaving.
Zach (21:24): I agree. I mean it doesn’t, I still feel the need to stay and build things. But when I look at my siblings.
Nicole (21:35): How old are they?
Zach (21:39): So my oldest baby sister is 21. And then I have another sister who’s 20. Then 18 and then 17. Right.
Nicole (21:55): [inaudible]
Zach (21:56): They’re like right in the heart of that generation.
Nicole (21:58): Oh, it’s beautiful.
Zach (22:00): And so they talk to me about how they feel about stuff. And how and what their friends are doing. And I’m just like, Ooh, okay. Mmm, mmm.
Nicole (22:07): It’s new. It’s new language, it’s new concepts, it’s new everything. But it is… Yeah.
Zach (22:11): So it’s gonna be a different, like that’s a good point. And that does give me a different type of hope that, it may not be an office. It might just be, Hey, no, like we’re just not…
Nicole (22:23): Yeah.
Zach (22:23): Doing that. Hey, we’re not gonna tolerate, no, our pay is going to be like this. No we’re gonna have more benefits like that. Cause, when we think about the future of work, I mean, even just like with technology. Folks, maybe not having even nine to five, like just the whole future of work, we have no idea. We can come in and prognosticate as much as we like, but technology and stuff has changed is such a fast rate. And like you said, Generation Z is such a different group of people. We don’t know like what the workplace look will look like in 20. No, I’m sorry, 15 years. Like not 20 something years, 15 years. It’s gonna be completely different. So look, we could talk all day, Nicole.
Nicole (23:05): I love it.
Zach (23:05): Let me ask you this, before I let you go. Like parting words and shoutouts to executive leaders in this moment right now. As we look at this election cycle, as we look at again, ongoing pressure. Black and brown folks, particularly black trans women continue to be killed at the hands of police on camera. There continues to be injustice. Like nothing is really socially changed for several communities since George Floyd’s murder. What advice would you give to organizations right now in this moment?
Nicole (23:44): I would give them the advice that, it’s funny that I’m really glad you brought up black trans women, black, trans folks overall. Because that’s actually where I go with my clients is the most vulnerable person cuz, they’ll try and say, well, what about this? And what about that? But what about disabled folks? I’m like, black disabled folks. Yeah. What about trans folk? Black trans, black, disabled trans folks. Like keep going. We’ll do this all day. You will not get me around black. Like that has to be a fundamental principle. And so, the advice I have for organizations right now, and especially for leaders, I will say is, go talk to your youngest, newest brownest, blackest, queerest, employees. Go talk to them and say, I don’t get this. I don’t get it.
(24:36): Tell me how you’re experiencing this company because I came up in a totally different time. And just listen. Like literally if you want one activity to do it, and go back and read the exit interviews of your black employees, but like for real.
Zach (24:50): [inaudible 00:24:50] Yes.
Nicole (24:51): Cause I’m not, I’m not joking about that. There are employees who will always tell the truth on their way out. Not everybody will, because there’s risk and there’s all kinds of things that you’re calculating, but somebody did. And I guarantee you it was a black person and it’s probably a black woman. That’s probably a queer black woman. And we go on and on and on. And they’re telling you where it hurts in your organization, and you’re not listening. And so, do it proactively before you lose all this talent. Go talk to all of these young people who are in your workforce right now, who you really don’t understand. Talk to your volunteer DEI committee. If I could get a CEO to proactively go and talk to some volunteer DEI committee and go, what are y’all trying to do? What’s wrong? And then listen and make it safe for people to say. That’s it. Then the rest of it can write itself. But there’s so many layers of ego between here and there that, that’s usually what gets these companies every time.
Zach (25:45): Nicole’s been a fire conversation.
Nicole (25:47): [inaudible].
Zach (25:47): Thank you so much for being a guest. I’m so glad we’re able to make this happen. I hope that you felt comfortable. We consider you a friend of the show. Hope you come back.
Nicole (25:56): Oh please. Yeah, because I have some writing that I would love to come back and share with y’all, that is on this topic.
Zach (26:02): Let’s definitely do it. Okay?
Nicole (26:05): [inaudible] Thanks.
Zach (26:06): Have a great weekend. We’ll catch you soon.
Nicole (26:08): Yeah. Sounds good. Thanks Zach.
Zach (26:10): Peace.
(26:13): And we’re back. Yo, shout out to Nicole Sanchez. Make sure if you aren’t following Nicole on all the socials, click the link in the show notes, learn more about everything she has going on. And yo, just thank you. Thank you for the love. Make sure if you haven’t already, stop, go to Apple Podcast, give us five stars. Okay? It helps us out a lot. And then, also, just check out Living Corporate’s network. We have tons of different content out there for you. Shout out to The Break Room podcast, focused on mental health for black folks at work. Shout out to The Leadership Range, Neil Edwards is coming back. Really excited about Neil and his content. Excited about Liberated Love Notes and everything that that represents for wholeness and reconciling yourself to yourself, personal identity, blackness, and really like self-affirmation. Such beautiful content. Thank you Brittany Janay Harris. Thank you for all your work. Shout out to Vonda Page over at The Group Chat. You know, just thankful. We have a lot of content going on. The Access Point is coming back really soon. Shout out to Justin Blyden and the entire team, BG, Julia, Dr. Edmonds, thank you so, so, so much. And, until next time, this has been Zach. Catch you soon. Peace.