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Nubianna: Let’s meet our speaker for today, best known as MGJ. Maureen is a sought-after career coach, inclusion champion, D&I leader and keynote speaker. Throughout her career as a people and employee experience advocate at companies such as AIG, Sears, Washington Mutual, PWC and currently Cognizant, Maureen has built an exemplary brand of collaborating with and consulting senior executives, emerging and mid-career managers as well as teams. She is a thought leader and trusted voice in the areas of diversity, inclusion, equity, workplace engagement, and leadership development, with a focus on building a diverse, high-performing pipeline of strong women leaders. Not only has she been able to manage a successful career while raising a family, Maureen is an entrepreneur and held a national board seat with the National Association of African-Americans in Human Resources, has been recognized for her progressional accomplishments in Black Enterprise magazine, and was the 2014 recipient of the “Most Powerful and Influential Woman” award by the National Diversity Council. Joining us from Florida, Maureen, the floor is yours.
Maureen: Nubianna, thank you so much for that introduction. I am so sorry that you are not feeling well, so I am just thankful to have the opportunity to work with you and to be here. So good morning everyone from all parts of the country that people seem to be popping in from.
Again, my name is Maureen Greene James, and first I’d like to congratulate Zachary Nunn and Living Corporate for creating this platform and for allowing me to kick off this inaugural series, which will serve to educate and inspire and influence all voices who are a part of the conversation. Also I’d like to give thanks to you, Nubianna Aben, and Aaron DiCaprio as well for collaborating with me to deliver what I hope is a very meaningful dialogue and learning opportunity for all of us on recognizing and utilizing the power of our voices during this time, because now more than ever Black is the new Black–I’ll say that again, Black is the new Black, and for those of us who are the recipients of the hard work the giants of our past put in for the work, the work of our lives begins now.
So I’d also like to take this moment to acknowledge two major losses for our people, for our nation, and the fight for racial equality for decades – Cordy Tindell, CT Vivian, and Congressman John Robert Lewis. Condolences to their family and friends, they and countless others are the reason we stand today, and it is honestly because of them that we absolutely cannot rest. So let’s get started.
I’m gratified by the recent public statements from leaders at small- to mid-sized to large public and private universities and corporations really conveying their support and pledging to stand by the Black community to end racial injustices, and as I read what organizations are doing and I hear about it I wonder, you know, “Okay, so what’s next?” So “Let’s talk” is something that the mother of my son’s friend said to him, and she was not a woman of color or is not a woman of color, but here’s what she texted my son two days after the murder of George Floyd. “I hope you’re doing well. I need your input. From your perspective, what things, actions, behaviors, support, et cetera, can white people be doing to try to shift this attitude of blatant racism?” And because my son recognized his role in this–my son is a 21-year-old senior at the University of Florida–because he really recognizes this is something that, you know, he should respond to. You know, is a friend [who?] recognized my role as the inclusion leader for a tech consulting firm and is the founder of her own company, but more importantly he knew that all of these events angered me as much as they did him and our family, and so he reached out to me because he really didn’t know how to respond, and, you know, I kind of looked at it as “As a 20-year-old, should he even know how to respond to this adult?” So I gave him a litany of things to tell her, and don’t worry, I omitted all expletives, but I said, “Tell her to include and engage others who look like her in a conversation about their white privilege.” I said, “Tell her to have a courageous conversation with those who really look like her AND include you in that conversation,” and “Tell her she better be ready for loads of criticism, so she’s got to get quickly comfortable with being really uncomfortable.” And then “Tell her that you need her to be the person and the voice that stands with you and for the Black and African-American community. Tell her to use her white privilege to end white privilege.”
Now, again, this was 2 days after the murder of George Floyd. It was really still too raw for me. I wasn’t ready to talk about what I felt was nothing more than actually, and I’m being very honest here, a way to make them feel better, but something about her text to my son made me remember the words of Ta’Nehisi Coates in his best-seller “We Were 8 Years In Power: An American Tragedy,” and I’m going to read this. He said, “An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” Now, he was really in dialogue about a conversation around reparations, but when I thought about that quote as it relates to this woman’s text to my son, in that moment I really decided that I needed to release my anger and release the fear that I had felt for my son and my husband and the anxiety that I felt for my daughter, the hopelessness that I felt for Black men and women, brown people in general, those who I knew, those who I didn’t know, and for two weeks I had really been stuck in this place that held all of that, and I was literally rendered immobile until I finished sending all of these responses to my son to address this woman’s text.
As a leader in corporate America, sure, I knew I had a voice, but I was so stuck in this place of anger and frustration that I’d honestly forgotten all about that voice. I had let it completely escape me, but temporarily, and here’s the thing – we all have a voice, and it’s so important, now more than ever, that we find it. If we’ve lost it, let’s get it back. Let’s use it, because there’s power in our voices.
So let’s continue and talk about a few powerful voices that are helping to move this conversation from talk to action. So we’ll start with Bubba Wallace. As we all know, Bubba is the only Black driver in NASCAR’S top racing series, and he continues, long after its been investigated and, you know, the flag had been taken down, he continues to draw widespread attention and acclaim for his principled stand that got the Confederate flag banned from races in a largely white sport. Next there’s Kylin Hill. On June 22nd, Mississippi State Kylin Hill tweeted that he would no longer represent the state of Mississippi unless the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag was removed, and so two days later coaches from the school and Ole Miss and other schools lobbied for this change, and on June 28th, Mississippi state legislators voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag. And next there’s Christian Cooper, who I like to call “the tranquil voice,” because on May 27th–which, by the way, is the same day that George Floyd was murdered–all this man wanted to do was birdwatch in tranquility, which is what one does [?], and yet his morning was upended by a privileged white woman who really put on what I refer to as a less-than-stellar Oscar performance, weaponizing her words to threaten his life. Thank goodness for his calm and his camera phone.
Now, we know that these are only a few of the powerful voices who are in this battle, but let’s move on, because we also know that there are powerful collective voices. For example, we have to acknowledge the global outcries after George Floyd’s death that led to charges being brought on officers in four days, which they say is the fastest on any officer in Minnesota history–and you all know it’s a rarity nation-wide. Protests were held in all 50 states and in more than 2,000 cities and in more than 60 countries. That is the power of a collective voice. And then who knew that on Colin Kaepernick’s behalf there was Ese Ighedosa. At the time she was an NFL employee and leader of the NFL’s Black Engagement Network. She, the Black Engagement Network and a group of Black NFL employees spent a number of years getting from 2017 when Kaepernick was newly unemployed to today where Goodell is admitting the league’s mistakes, and after players released a powerful video–more powerful voices–pushing the league to adopt a stronger stance, Goodell finally released a video of his own. He said, “We condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people. We admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest because we believe that Black Lives Matter,” and I’m paraphrasing, but that in general was his message. Ese, who’s now the president of [?] and founder of the Black ERG Collective, even she came out–she’s no longer with the NFL, but she said, “This is a full circle moment. Everything that the commissioner said in the video, the Black network asked him and the league to say 3 years ago.” So if we’re going to move the needle anywhere anyhow towards inclusion, we cannot let the stereotypical responses define us, and I was one of those people. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily provided an angry response, but I thought it in my head. It was probably written all over my face, right? So how do we have open conversations with others if we allow our emotions to overtake what truly is our sense and sensibilities?
So today let’s embark on this journey together as we talk through how we can create meaningful change by recognizing that power our Black voices carry and using that power, using our voices to show up for and lead conversations on race and accountability. So hold it, before we do that, let’s take a quick minute to bring our calming voice in, right? First let’s acknowledge we’re exhausted, like, really exhausted from so many questions, such as the one from the woman that I mentioned earlier asking, “How can we help,” and “Can you help me understand?” These are all really good questions, but let’s be real. How many of us are still tired of them? We’re sick of the assurances that we believe we receive from the people we work with and for or from our government leaders, and even though we’re sick of hearing all of that because it may not feel like we’re getting anywhere, we’re also annoyed by the silence, because to be silent is to be complicit. So just think about that. We’re sick of the questions. We’re exhausted. We’re sick of the assurances, but we’re also annoyed by the silence. So we want to hear it but we don’t want to hear it. Here’s the thing – there are many who are standing with us and for us in ways that, you know, to be honest, none of us expected, so we have to acknowledge this. We have to have gratitude for them and their stance. So yeah, we’re all exhausted, but as I said earlier, the work of our lives begins right now. So let’s continue to unpack that just a little, you know, this thing about standing up, standing with us and standing for us. I mean, what’s the difference? They sound the same, right? But really what is the difference, and before we even think about engaging people in a conversation, in a more stringent dialogue around this, we have to be able to explain that difference to others. So standing with us as Black and African-American people while we voice our concerns is really, really good. Let’s be clear about that. We’re not going to take anything away from that. It’s safe, but it’s meaningful. After all, we’ve had people who march in the streets for miles, chant Black Lives Matter in London. In France they chant “No justice, no peace,” hold up all kinds of creative signs, and some even get arrested, right? So these are people who are standing with us, and again, we’re not gonna take anything away from that whatsoever. But standing with us? Now, that… and standing for us, together, requires the real hard work. It requires people not of color to hear us and listen to us so they gain a bit more context and almost begin to build an understanding of the past and present and all of the pain that comes along with it that’s really brought us to this critical point in our journey as an overall community. So if we continue on this topic of standing up for us, here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re the executive assistant to the CEO or the new resident nurse at a hospital, the person who pushes the start button at the car wash, the college graduate who just landed a super job in your profession. As a member of this community, of the Black and African-American community, you have a voice. We have a collective, powerful voice, and when we think about all of the people who have come before us, it is absolutely incumbent upon us to use that voice and use it now. So let’s move onward and upward by acknowledging that power, you know?
One of the things that I have been thinking about as we continue this dialogue is that as people of color we all have this power now, right? And I don’t want to say that we didn’t have the power before, but when we say to move onward, to move upward, what I take that also as meaning is that [? for orange?,] Black is the new Black like I said earlier. And look. I don’t know if you can see my t-shirt, Black is the new Black, but that’s really what I think about when I think about this time. So right now more than any other time in history that’s the most important thing. There is someone by the name of Kwame Christian, who’s the director of the American Negotiation Institute, and he says, “The best things in life are actually on the other side of a conversation.” Who knew? People think the best things in life are always other tangible things that you can grab onto, but really in this day and age it’s all about being on the other side of a conversation. So it’s really important for us that once we recognize that Black is the new Black we ask the tough questions, and when we’re asking those tough questions we have to think about what happens if we don’t ask them. I always tell–well, I told them this when they were younger and now I still tell them this as young adults. If you don’t ask for what you want, you’ll never get it. So if you’re not asking these tough questions, if you’re not having these conversations, if they’re not already happening in your workplace, it just might be beneficial to start them, and you just might be the person to do that. So the tough question could be, “Are you willing to help change the dynamic by talking about racial inequality at work?” Boom. That just opens up so much, and here’s the thing, the response to that can be yes and it can be no, right? It’s not an open-ended question by any chance, and anybody who is not willing to jump into that conversation will answer it as one of those and then they’ll move on, but if you follow that up quickly with “Can you and I have a conversation about that?” Now you’re digging into deeper into it, because you’re inviting the person in, and you can really start to have the conversation, somewhat in the way that we started having the conversation around this at the place where I’m currently working. So one of the things we started to talk about was systemic racism and how it got us to where we are today and we kind of figured out a way to kind of show that trajectory from there to kind of where we are right now, right? So I’m not saying you dig that deep in, but I do think that if we’re not asking the question about how do we engage people in our workplaces, we’re never going to have the conversation. So it’s really important.
Again, it doesn’t matter where you are or what level you are. Be the person who uses the power of your voice to actually ask that question. You can also ask people–non-people of color and white people–to be an ally. Yeah. You know, when I think about the word “ally” it seems like that word is being totally overutilized these days, but, you know, we have to be honest. Up until May 27th, the word “ally”–at work anyway–only seemed to be used about allyship as a relationship in support of the LGBTQ+ community when in reality anyone can and should be an ally to anyone. So you can ask or say, “Social media is great, but will you be an ally for me during a meeting at work or at work in general?” And then you can follow that up with, “What does allyship mean? It means a white person taking the opportunity to really say, “I’m standing up for you. I’m supporting you. I would like to mentor you. I would like to sponsor you. I would like to understand your experience.” So if you are saying all of those things to the people that you’re working with, it behooves them to then engage in a conversation further about what allyship means and why it is so important to carrying this work forward and carrying the dialogue forward. And then you can also mention the word “representation,” and just simply tell them representation matters. Now, this is one of those things that I always think, you know, it’s a no-brainer, right? But it’s not a no-brainer to people who have never had to think about it before. So if you are able to say, “If I look at this company and I see myself represented,” it communicates that the company honors diversity and that there may actually be a more clear and viable career path for me. When a Black voice says that to someone, it immediately allows that someone to think, “Hm, what does the leadership look like in this organization? What does the leadership of this person’s team look like?” And it allows them to put that representation and that visible look together to say, “I get it. If they’re not able to see anyone at those levels, if they’re not able to feel like they’re being represented, then they automatically cannot see themselves there, and therefore why would they want to be there?” And so that’s a broader conversation, right? It’s a broader conversation around recognizing some of the things that can be done in an organization, the groups that can be leveraged such as our employee resource groups or our affinity groups, to actually look at building upon the current talent in the organization. So much to be done during that conversation.
And so when I think about all of this, at the end of the day I really think it’s important for us to let people know that it’s not enough for them to just stand for us. If we continue the thought and the dialogue around all this, what we’re really saying is we want them to stand with us and for us, together. You cannot do one without the other, and standing for us is the absolute most powerful. You can do all the marching you want. You can carry all the signs you want. But when you go home at the end of the protest and go into your offices the next day and you do nothing to recognize the Black and brown [fragility?], all of that’s for nothing. It’s important for us to let white and non-people of color know that their presence with us is beyond impactful, but their presence with us and their voice for us, that is everything. So I want us to take into consideration that we understand, as the Black and African-American community, the work that needs to be done. We may not be as comfortable in having the conversation around it, but there’s an opportunity to do that, and we are the ones, you know? We are almost the chosen ones, right, just as Martin Luther King before us and John Lewis and Nelson Mandela and all of them, we are the chosen ones today to be able to say, “Here’s how we move forward.” Even if we know and we feel that we don’t want to engage in that conversation, it’s incumbent upon us to do this, and when we think about the words and the language, we don’t want them to frame the narrative for us because when you water down the language of the narrative ultimately you’re watering down our experience, so we need to be the ones to tell that. It’s our opportunity to do that. So I want to stop here because I would like to spend some time digging deeper into this conversation and really taking a look at some of the questions and thoughts that you may have as well as hearing your experiences because again, this is a collective journey that we’re all on together, so everything that you have to share is going to help each of us through the conversation and help each of us feel the power, if you will, to take this back to our organizations.
Ingrid: Maureen, I truly appreciate your assertion that we should become comfortable being uncomfortable rather than thinking only of our discomfort. We should also think about others who are affected by disparities in the system. As a juvenile youth educator, I experience this all the time. What are some of the forms of resistance you have experienced as you chose to promote positive change?
Maureen: Ingrid, thank you so much for that question. So not only do I want to address it from some of the forms of resistance, but I also want to be able to share some of my responses or others’ responses that I have seen to that resistance. I have worked in this space for quite a few number of years, and I will tell you that the response most of the time not always, “Yes! Let’s do this!” Not always positive, not always people jumping up and saying, “I definitely want to engage in this,” which puts me on the side of discomfort when I’m being a part of those discussions, and so I have really used the opportunity to educate.
So one of the things that we had an opportunity to do in the organization that I currently work for was recognize that there are many people who simply do not know what they do not know, and I am a big proponent of, you know, not telling people and leaving them at that but really providing them the opportunity to go out and learn. You can teach someone to fish, but, you know, you’ve got to teach them what to do with it afterwards, right? So it’s all about providing the opportunity to people to learn, and one of the things that I recommended recently to a colleague who was completely resistant and said there are no disparities and didn’t understand what “the system” was, I said “I recommend that you watch something called Thirteenth.” Thirteenth is a documentary on Netflix which really talks about the history, really takes us through the history from the beginning and how this all began some 400 and change years ago. It talks about the systemic issue of oppression as it ties to our institutions where people are incarcerated. It talks about people in corporate America today and all of the things that have gotten us to where we are or, as some would like to say, to have gotten us to where we are, which they believe is nowhere, and I don’t believe that. I believe that we have come along on this journey through our forefathers and foremothers, and so it’s really our opportunity to, when we recognize that resistance in creating that positive change, that we think of things and share ways that have really impacted us and that we have been able to utilize with others to help them resist that change. So the other part, the other piece of advice I would share or an experience I would share also, is that it’s not just about telling something they should watch something, right? ‘Cause they can watch or not. It’s about walking them through an actual experience. So nothing more can be better learned by actually sharing with someone your own personal experience, so I will share one of mine. A few years ago I worked for a consulting organization, and I started my work there as a human resources director, and I wasn’t in the job for more than I would say probably a month before the person who hired me–who by the way it’s his role that I actually took when I came onboard because he was moving onto something else–he said to me, “You do realize that the only reason you got this job is because you’re Black and you’re a woman,” and I thought, “Okay, that came so far out of left field.” It wasn’t even like we were having a conversation as to why I got the job. We were having a conversation about work, and then he just casually put it out there, and then he went on to say that, you know, he supports the Black community and that he grew up in a part of Ohio where he actually just enjoyed hanging out on a certain side of the tracks, and I thought, “Wow, so this guy is really going here.” Like, I literally had been there 30 days. But the reason I share that story is because in that moment I had to recognize my power in addressing him, and I will tell you that I felt a little powerless at first because again, I had just gotten into the organization. I really felt like this was such an unusual and rather uncalled for conversation, and so I simply said to him, “I disagree. The reason I’m here is because of my skills and abilities, and that’s what got me to the table. You needed me, ’cause when I looked at representation in this organization I don’t see it, and if so I can be the driver behind changing that, then I am just happy to be here regardless of what you think is the reason I am here in the first place,” and I will tell you, he turned a little bit red. Okay, maybe a lot. And he apologized and said he didn’t mean it that way, and because I knew that he more than likely did mean it that way I didn’t even respond to that. I said “No, that’s okay, I just want to make sure that you’re aware that I know how I got here and I know what my being here means to the Black and brown people who are here. So yeah, I will use that representation, and it will serve me and this organization well.” So that’s the reason I share that story, because I think that we have an opportunity to again be that voice and make that change, but we have to be–we have so many experiences that we could share to really allow people to think and challenge and think and challenge and finally get to the point where they’re like, “Okay, I get it.” It may take some people longer than others, but I think it’s our responsibility to do that. So I hope that answered your question, and thank you for asking.
Kimberly: I agree that personal stories are extremely valuable. They help in essence to show that our experiences are not just these false things that we made up, they’re actually lived experiences that don’t only happen in our communities.
Kelly: Stories are great, but experiencing [?] first-hand with your friends is a whole ‘nother level.
Ingrid: Thank you. I wish you many blessings.
Nubianna: You were talking about the responsibility that we have to be allies for ourselves. One of the things that we often hear is that this isn’t our responsibility to have these conversations. It’s additional labor that’s taxing emotionally, mentally, and it’s uncompensated. So what is your reaction to that, to counter that?
Maureen: Yeah, Nubianna. That’s a great question. So reflecting back on, you know, some of how I opened this, I shared my own personal experience, right? I’d had enough as we all did, right? I’d had enough after George Floyd. Like, I was spent. I really was, and because I lead inclusion for North America for the company I’m working with now, Cognizant, you know, I was getting a lot of questions around, you know, “What do we need to do? How do we move forward?” And even though I knew that at the end of the day that was my role, all things related to inclusion and belonging, I couldn’t because I was tired. I couldn’t figure out what could or would motivate me, you know? And I am being compensated to think about that, right, when you think about total compensation, but it was taxing. I was like, “Enough already,” and there was a part of me that wanted to say–like, I wanted to say to my son’s friend’s mom, you know, “You all created this. I didn’t.” It was really, really hard for me to get beyond that, you know, to really dig deep and think about the fact that there people who came before us who, if they had said “This is just additional labor and it’s just too taxing, and what am I getting out of this,” if they had said that, none of us would be where we are today. I think that the world would look very different and we would be in very different places, very different roles, you know? I can’t imagine what that would look like. So even though the work is hard and this is taxing–and here’s the thing. It’s not gonna end, right? We all know it’s not going to end. I felt suffocated when I believe it was last week or the week before when they released some additional transcripts of George Floyd’s arrest and him saying “I can’t breathe” over 20 times and begging, actually saying “please,” like, you are asking somebody with a “please” to help you breathe. So again, I felt this sense of immobilization, but it was quick because by that time I had gotten to where I needed to be. I’m now doing the work. I’m trying to figure this out, not just for the people in the organization that I work for but I’m trying to figure it out for my family, right? So we are not in the position to say, “It’s too hard. It’s labor-intensive,” and I had to myself move away from that so that I could get to this point.
Nubianna: Thank you. One of the questions that Zach asked is, “What points of advice would you have for executives at this moment?”
Maureen: I have a lot, because I’ve seen this responded to well and I’ve seen it responded to not so well. The first thing I would say is don’t stop the work that you’ve begun. So some organizations, you know, it took them a few days to get a corporate message out to their people, even longer to get something out to the external community and markets and clients that they serve, but when they did, you know, they said, “Yes, we’re going to donate $1,000,000 to this organization and to that organization to serve communities of color,” yeah, they made Juneteenth a paid holiday, but then where have we gone from there? And so here’s the thing. It’s a not a once-and-done. Systemic racism and racial inequality in the workplace is not something that you just flip a switch on and off with. That would be nice, if we could just flip it off and it stays off, but that’s not what it is. So my encouragement to corporate executives is to make sure you’re continuing not only the dialogue but the work, and what that means is involve the people within your organization who want to be involved. In other words, there are affinity groups, there are employee resource groups, there are leaders in the organization. So some of the senior leaders who really–as a senior leader for an organization you don’t have a choice. It’s not a “want to.” You will. You must. But they need to be involved in conversations. So if we’re talking to our CEOs, they need to make sure that they’re engaging people in the broader conversation. The reason why you want to engage people at all levels throughout the organization is because you may hear and learn some things about the people and where they are and the place that they are that’s very different from someone else, and it just might inspire a different type of action that is necessary. So it’s really critical that corporations and their CEOs and leaders are not doing their work in a vacuum. They’ve got to involve everyone. Also, we as the Black and brown community have to want to be there, and whether we, you know, feel that change is gonna come or not, we need to engage, because if we unfortunately sit back and say, “You know what? I’m not gonna do anything. I’m gonna let you all handle this by yourselves,” it will fail, and we cannot be the ones to then turn around and say they didn’t do anything, especially if we’ve been invited or made ourselves–more importantly made ourselves–part of the conversation to carry the work forward. Another thing I will say is a lot of organizations make these pledges to contribute dollars to serve underserved communities and communities of color, but what is even more meaningful is if they take some of the time that they provide to employees and allow them to actually go out into the community and to volunteer, to do some work working with our youth, to do some things differently around how we take a look at impacting our communities of color. In other words, if you’re gonna put your money where your mouth is, put your time there as well, you know? Really donate your time and efforts, because doing that also allows you, Mr. and Mrs. CEO, you, Mr. and Mrs. Leader, to really be able to hone into that community and have a better understanding of what is actually going on there and bring that understanding back into your organization so that people walk away with a true comprehension of how we got there and how we can work to fix that. So again, there’s no one size fits all approach, but I think the overall summarization of my response would be to stay on top of it, and don’t stop just because you’ve adjusted these things and because Juneteenth comes around and you give people the day off. Don’t say that that’s it. If it’s time to broaden your agenda or thinking as it relates to all of inclusion and move that to creating a culture of belonging, then do that, but don’t just stop at “George Floyd, end of June, okay, let’s move on and get back to business.” That will fail.
Nubianna: Yeah. Thank you for offering those points of advice. I want to bring up a comment that Kimberly put into the chat. Maureen, as you were talking about continuing the dialogue and the work, Kimberly commented that essentially allows for us to have a deeper conversation about race for people that don’t experience racism, and one of the things that she said that we could do to continue the conversation is to ask, “When did you first encounter race as a white person or a non-person of color?” Right? And the premise is that maybe people haven’t had to answer that question, and so that means that they’ve never had to think about their whiteness or their privilege, right? So Kimberly, thank you very much for your comment. Maureen, as you were also talking, you mentioned how so many [?] are pledging money or resources to organizations within their community. A question that we have from Vonda is, “Are there any success stories that you can point us to regarding substantial actions being undertaken by large companies?” But also I would like to add to that. You know, we know that this work isn’t, like, let’s say a bunch of things. They are true behavioral changes that need to happen, and with those behavioral changes there are resources that need to be allocated. So I too would be interested in what are some of those successes that you’ve been seeing and driving to create change.
Maureen: Thank you both. That’s a great question. So a lot of the things that I’ve been seeing really ties to one of the things I said earlier, which is bringing people together to encourage and drive the dialogue, because, you know, organizations–and [?] these organizations are recognizing that, you know, they may know everything about revenue generation and their dollar, but they don’t necessarily know everything about their people and the experiences that their people have had. So one of the things that I have seen, which I highly applaud, is the opportunity for a CEO to actually bring people together to have a very candid dialogue, and when I say candid I mean candor that actually starts with that CEO really talking about their own experience of what got them to the point of seeing or recognizing racism. This is a difficult one. One of my clients actually really told me about an experience that she recently had, and this experience was with her leader who, shortly after George Floyd, was addressing some of the things that he really had to dig deep into himself to think about, the reasons he feels the way that he does about Black and African-American people, and I thought, “Okay, that was kind of interesting. It must have been a hard conversation,” and she said that he remembers being a young child and driving through a neighborhood in Chicago, and when they’d go through the neighborhood he was–he was driving with his dad, and his dad told him to get down in the back seat. And so he didn’t understand why. He just did as his father told him to, and when they got through the neighborhood his father told him he could sit back up again, and he told this story to his team and told his team that when he sat back up his father said to him, “It’s a really bad neighborhood and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to you,” and he explained to him that, you know, “There’s a lot of Black people who live here.” So he tells this story to his team, and he almost starts crying because he said it’s really the first experience that he recognized as a defining moment for him in terms of his own bias and racism, and up until that time he didn’t realize that that was the experience that really defined the way that he treated people of color, even people on his team. And so once she shared this story with me, you know, my first response was, “That’s great,” because it was an a-ha moment and now he’s sharing this moment with his team, and her response to me was, “Yeah, that’s great, but what are we supposed to do with that?” There’s nothing you’re supposed to do with it, but when I think about CEOs–so this wasn’t a CEO, but he’s a very senior leader in the organization. When I think CEOs doing the exact same thing–and there are many of them–I really think about the fact that they’re sharing that with you. It’s not so much you do something with it but you understand their perspective and how they got to where they are, and that is just as important as us, as Black and African-American people in this community, sharing our experience around how we got to where we are in terms of the anger and the frustration that we may feel. So the overall thing that I would say, Vonda, is really for our leaders, starting at the very top, to be a little vulnerable and share these experiences, because we know they all have them. They all have them and they all had them, and these are the things that define them, but they’re also these success points–if you want to call it success–that allows them to freely open up and start a conversation about racial inequality and justice, and inequality particularly in our workplaces, and it goes so much further beyond any monetary commitment that they could possibly make because now they’re bringing everybody into this dialogue. I hope that was helpful, Vonda.
Nubianna: I want us to close out with two more questions, and then if we have some time and people want to stay on we can continue the dialogue. I know that there was a statement that Debbie made, but one I wanted to circle back to not Kelly’s but Chris’s comment on needing advice, and then Trevon, I know you had a question, so we’ll get to you. First let’s address Chris’s question, and Chris says, “As a white man, how can I relate to others–non-black–without watering down the messages as Maureen has mentioned? I find myself in the conversation more and more and would appreciate some coaching and advice.”
Chris: Maureen, I think it’s great advice. I do what I like to call “the wolf in sheep’s clothing” quite often. Until COVID I was an executive, I’ve known Zach for years, and I deal with a lot of closet racists frequently, and it really gets to me because of kind of where I grew up and everything else, and at times I can address it, but other times I can’t, and at times it’s really, really bad, and I don’t want to be able to water down the message, but I need some strategies that I can call these people out and put them in check at times respectfully without, you know, obviously damaging my career, but to be able to basically put ’em in check, ’cause at times it gets really bad, and it’s really uncomfortable.
Maureen: So Chris, thanks for your question. I just want to better understand. Are you asking how you address these things, like, when you’re in the moment? You said at times you can address it and sometimes you can’t. Or it’s not the right place to do it? So you’re asking how do you do that?
Chris: Yeah, just some different strategies, because I don’t want to water down the message. You know, obviously I don’t want to create career suicide either, but I feel at times it’s just really bad because I see these guys that are–and typically it’s more, like, the older generations, the baby boomers, they’re in public and they’re talking one message, and then they get behind closed doors with a bunch of other old white guys that are running the company and they’re completely different, I mean, complete 180, and I’m sitting there behind closed doors and I’m just like… it appalls me. Is there anything, any advice you can give me? When I can I call them out, respectfully obviously, but I don’t want to water down the message. Now I think there’s a lot of momentum built up around this topic, and I think it’s a little bit more of a safer environment. One of the things you mentioned that really struck a cord with me was what you said about watering down the message, and as a white guy I don’t want to water down the message, but I think when I have the opportunity to speak up I think I absolutely need to.
Maureen: Oh, yeah. Chris, thank you for clarifying, and yes, thank you for being a champion, really, whether you recognize it or not, because at the end of the day you’re saying that you definitely want to be able to address this, and I think you should. I think we’re living in a time now where it is expected and almost will be seen as negative if you are not addressing it, if you’re not saying something. So that is certainly not addressing–say you’re in a room full of individuals, of your colleagues, that you are calling people out in front of thousands, but it does certainly mean you pull that someone or those few someones aside and say, “Hey, you know, we probably shouldn’t have said or done that,” or “Maybe we should look at this a different way, because there is a huge, fundamental impact on people of color within the organization, and we don’t want to create that kind of a culture or environment.” I know that to say that can be uncomfortable, but if you’re not saying those words you’re not saying anything. So it’s almost as if you have to really be honest about it, and you have to call it out, but again, find a way to do it–to use your words–respectfully and do it where it’s not in front of, you know, thousands, but you’re certainly addressing it. Again, silence is complicity, and so you don’t want to be any part of that, so don’t allow it to happen. But definitely call it out. I also would say that, you know, a lot of people take the route of, in organizations, going to their ethics and compliance, which I think is fine, but again, if you have a platform–and when I say that it means you have a higher level of a role in the leadership of your organization–it’s incumbent upon you. Sure, you can use ethics and compliance, but you need to have a conversation with that individual. When you don’t have the conversation and they don’t know you feel that way, they think that you feel the way that they feel, and so you have to be very candid and have that dialogue. And we could–you know, we could talk more about this. I’m happy to share information and we can have a dialogue about it further, because I really do applaud the fact that you–you know, you said you’re in these spaces all the time, and how do you address it without causing harm to yourself but still standing for us?
Chris: Yeah. Well, Maureen, I appreciate the advice, and I think you’re right. By not saying something I’m just as guilty as they are, but I’ve seen this with my friends when I was growing up where, you know, we’re just hanging out playing basketball, and the cops came and just harassed my friends, you know? But this happens, Maureen, way more often than you think it happens. It’s–
Maureen: Oh, no. I’m aware. [laughs]
Chris: It’s really bad. Even at this time, it really is, and it’s nice to see the momentum that’s being taken, that steps are being taken to really change this, ’cause it needs to happen. I think Trevon wants to get involved in this, so I’ll go on mute.
Maureen: Chris, I can’t say this enough – thank you. Just in your asking the question and having the conversation means that you yourself as recognizing your white privilege and that you are open to moving that dialogue further and doing something with it, so I applaud you for doing that, and thank you, and don’t stop. Now is the work.
Chris: I appreciate the acknowledgement and encouragement. Zach and I have been having these conversations for years, but thank you.
Maureen: Absolutely. Hi, Trevon.
Trevon: Hello. Thank you all so much for the conversation. Thank you, Nubianna. Thank you, Zach and team, for just putting this together. So Maureen, I think my question may be a bit layered–that’s why I was like, I mean, “If we’re at time,” we might be at time, but essentially it’s this – I think I came in a few moments after you started, but I caught a great wind of a message where you were saying to bring your personal story, and I’ve seen that work effectively for many others. It doesn’t quite work for me for a couple of reasons, but my question is gonna be centered around an idea of when I have these conversations both when it was unpopular and now that it’s popular, they tend to always lean quantitative for me. They always lean into the data, and I think recently a friend of mine, we were talking about–it’s nothing I’ve never heard before, but when I kind of expressed my concern and frustration with that they brought in this idea that I’ve known about which is, you know, when I’m speaking to non-Black or non-folks of color, they don’t see a person of color, per se. So they don’t necessarily take my experiences as ones that can qualify this sort of racism that exists. So if I say I experienced something they’re like, “C’mon. No, you didn’t.” Right? And then let alone, like, don’t let me lean into that privilege or, like, acknowledge it, ’cause then they’re like, “See? I told you. See, racism doesn’t exist, ’cause see, you’re Black, and your name’s Trevon, and you don’t experience that,” and I’m like “……………………….Come on, y’all. Like, we know [?],” right? So the things I’m wondering and the question is just how do I maybe present a space for these conversations that doesn’t lean into it just being, like, quantitative, where all we’re doing is throwing stats at each other and, “No, it is real because da-da-da-da,” like, how can I just lean into my story and just sit there and make them acknowledge it, or how do I get them–and I’m themming, but how do I get the conversation to just be more effective without it turning into a numbers battle and that being the proof as to why we need to just be good people.
Maureen: Hm. That’s a really good question, Trevon. [both laugh] We’re not gonna have enough time for the full response, but I appreciate you asking it. So what I really think about–data’s good, right? They say data tells a story, and it does, right, but data doesn’t necessarily tell the experience, and when we talk about the difference between the story of data and someone’s personal experience, those are two completely different things, and people who are white and not of color will tend to try to marry those because it appeases them, it appeases the conversation, right? Where at the end of the day it’s really the story that’s most impactful. And I don’t know what types of stories you’re sharing with people to make them kind of lean toward that way, but I think that if you’re going to be very open and personal in sharing your experiences, that would probably be the best way to get them to I would say move away from data, but certainly think more about how that experience happened to you, how it’s shaped your perspective and shaped the person that you are today. So it’s almost like saying that transparency is really, really key, and it depends on how transparent you’re willing to be, you know? How much of that, yourself, are you willing to give, and are you willing to share, make that story and that experience really matter to the audience to whom you’re speaking?
Trevon: Yes, I understand that clearly, and I appreciate that. As I said before, it’s definitely one that I realize is an ongoing conversation, but I definitely think I needed the encouragement to just lean back into it and just settle into it.
Maureen: Yeah. It’s about transparency. It’s almost the same as someone who’s Black or African-American–I’ll use myself for example. I live in a city and neighborhood that predominantly does not look like me, right, so when I speak of these experiences and things that have happened either to my son or with my husband, you know, people kind of look at me like, “Girl, please. That didn’t happen to you,” you know what I mean, because of where I live, right, so they have to understand where I live does not define who I am and that at the end of the day, you know, I’m a sister that was born in Brooklyn, raised in Long Island, lived in New York forever until I moved to Tampa, and I have some experiences that you can’t even imagine. So regardless of where I physically reside today, I have some very, very deep experiences that have shaped my perspective and my thinking and who I am. Yours is the same. People will look at you and say you don’t have that experience even if your name is Trevon and not spelled like Trayvon Martin’s, but they will look at you and say, “That’s not your experience.” Well, who are they to tell your story? So it’s all about you being willing to be very transparent and break things down to people in a way that lets them understand your experience and your perspective, not they’re always gonna think “That doesn’t happen to you. That didn’t happen to you. It happens to other people,” as [they?] like to say. Yeah.
Trevon: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Nubianna: Absolutely. Thank you so much. I am going to transition us to start to wrap up our conversation, but I did want to mention something that Debbie put into the comments, and what she said was “As a Black [?], I think we have to be strategic about how we engage. We’re essentially the wounded being asked to help the well while still surviving in the places where we’ve been wounded. It’s a lot to ask if those who need to learn are fully reliant on us to make a change,” and I agree with that absolutely. As Maureen and I were having conversations preparing for this, one of the things I mentioned to her is it takes a mental toll, and essentially it’s causing us to [?] relive the trauma each time we have to tell our story, but as we mentioned in the conversation today, the value is within our story and the value is in sharing our lived experiences, and I think essentially as we become better allies for ourselves we work through those things and we have groups of people to help and support us to deal with those [?] and work through the wounds that we’re all healing from. With that being said, I really appreciate you, Maureen, for being our inaugural speaker, for being very patient and flexible with us as we’ve been working through this in getting this off the ground, and also for setting the bar so high. And to the audience, I really appreciate you tuning in with us, engaging and really helping us to become a true dialogue and to continue the conversation. Hopefully you walked away with some new insights and some new things to think about. I’d also like to thank Aaron, who’s been essential in helping us pull this off, and Zach of course for creating this platform so that we can evolve and have these types of conversation. If you want to connect with Maureen you can find her on LinkedIn. You can also check out her website, MGJSpeaks.com. She also had a conversation with Zach on the podcast. It’s podcast #131, so check that out. As far as us, if you liked your experience today please let us know. I am putting in a quick link to a survey. It’ll take you less than 3 minutes to complete. We’re thinking about expanding these conversations and making them even more engaging, but we need your help in order to do so. Also we’re on all the social media. So the Facebook, the Twitter, the Instagram, also LinkedIn. Also for the podcast you can find that information everywhere. Before we wrap up, Maureen, are there any shout-outs you’d like to give?
Maureen: Yes. So I’ll start where I started in the beginning of this, which is certainly shout-out to you, to Aaron, absolutely to Zach and Living Corporate for just putting this platform in place, right, and for allowing people to share their perspectives, for allowing the Black and brown perspective to be shared, as an opportunity to learn. As I said, learning, inspiring, and influencing. This is phenomenal, so thank you for allowing me to be a part of this. I recognize, Nubianna, that you have not been well, and I am sorry because you’ve really been a trooper through all of this, so really my thanks to you for just hanging in there and making all this happen. And then lastly I’d like to give a shout-out to my friend Amber [?]. She goes by Lynn. So I asked her to actually make this t-shirt that I’m wearing. I asked her to make this because when I was creating the outline for this I kept thinking, “We are at such a critical point now,” where Orange is the New Black was, like, THE show to watch–by the way, I’ve never seen an episode–but, you know, to be Black today and to recognize that we have that power in this community is huge, and so I’d like to give a shout-out to Amber because I said to her, you know, after I started working on this, I said, “Can you make this t-shirt for me please? It’s really important that I have this on Saturday, the 18th,” and she was like, “I got you,” and she sent it to me overnight, it got here yesterday, and here we are. So Black is the new Black, the work begins now, let’s do this, because we have no choice. Too many people came before us for us not to carry this forward.
Nubianna: Thank you. I absolutely agree. Thanks everyone, and until next time, please take care. We’ll speak to you soon. Bye.