This episode was originally recorded as a Panel for The Diversity & Inclusion Research Conference (DIRC20), and features a conversation between Jennifer Brown, Tsedale M. Melaku, Heather Metcalf & Grey Batie.
Pulling from their own intersectional identities and grounded in research, panelists embark on a nuanced, informative, and authentic conversation about allyship and their experiences navigating various spaces. Along the way, this panel explores the use of language and data in understanding the many facets of human experiences.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- The history of the DIRC Conference (8:00)
- How allies can remain resilient (21:00)
- How to use privilege for good (24:00)
- How to think about overlapping identities (29:00)
- How to use our voice for systemic change (36:30)
- The concept of an inclusion tax and what it means (40:00)
- The exhaustion that marginalized communities often experience at work (47:00)
- A definition of allyship (48:00)
- The need to have uncomfortable conversations (57:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
DOUGLAS FORESTA: Hello, Will To Changers, this is Douglas Foresta, and I could not be more excited to inform you that the next round of the DEI Foundation’s course starts January 12, 2021. And I know that if you are an avid listener of the program, you know about the DEI Foundation’s course. You know all that Jennifer, and JBC Consulting brings to the table. But I want to remind you that the DEI Foundation’s course guides you through a deeper understanding of what it means to be a truly inclusive leader, and empowers you to speak about the value of DEI work in a way that meaningfully engages the people around you.
Again, as I said, the next round is going to start on January 12, 2021, so you won’t want to miss this. I encourage you to join the hundreds of learners who have participated in online programs through JBC. To learn more about the DEI Foundation’s course and enroll today, text DEIfoundations, all one word, that’s DEIfoundations to 55444. And I have a special code for you today, which is to use the coupon code PODCAST for 20% off.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hello, all of my listeners on The Will To Change, I am so glad you’re tuning in today. As I sit here in early November, we are going through some really intense change of the country. And on the topic of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which is my passion, and I know probably yours too if you’re listening to The Will To Change. There’s so much to learn and so much to flex around that’s occurring as we close out 2020, what a year. I wanted to make sure that everybody knew the kinds of support that we are providing. We are providing something every week on Thursdays at noon, Eastern which we called the DEI Community Call.
It is a free hour long call. People have called it the DEI spa because it is known to restore us, to connect us with each other, to remind us about the critical importance of our work. To remind us of the strength of our community, and that we aren’t alone at this moment, and the beautiful diversity within our community of people doing this work, whether it’s folks who are doing it as their paid job in organizations, folks who are volunteering their time, folks who write about, and podcast about the topic, and people who want to do this work, which is more and more all the time. We hold these calls on every Thursday at noon, and I wanted to make sure that you have the text. You can send a text too to get on the RSVP list.
Once you’re on that RSVP list, you will also always know about the upcoming calls, who the guests are, what the topics are. And also you will have the opportunity to listen to the replay, which is really important because sometimes we just can’t make that call at noon Eastern on Thursdays. You could also read the chat, which is really interesting in these calls, really vibrant, full of ideas, and resources, and links, and offers to connect, and offers to meet up offline. I know that much serendipity has been introduced into the world because of the connections that have been made on the chat alone for these calls. I really encourage you to stay close to us because we are constantly pivoting in this changing world, we are constantly doing our head, and our heart, and our hands work to figure out how do we create change amidst so much uncertainty, and chaos, and countervailing forces, and polarization.
If you would like to get on this list, you can text DEIcommunity to 33777. So if you put 33777 into your text to field, and then write all one word DEIcommunity, it will prompt you to provide some information which we will guard, ‘course, and keep safe. But it will get you into the next and onto the list. And you can download a calendar reminder, and you can join us and feel all the things that I described. I just have to say we’ve been doing these since March 2020, every single week, and they have kept me going on a personal level. The checking in with the community reminds me of the magnitude of the work, but also the brilliance, and the intelligence, and the creativity of this community of advocates. I know for me, it’s been a touchstone in 2020. Please consider joining us. Now, on to today’s Will To Change.
DOUGLAS FORESTA: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to The Will To Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, best selling authors, and entrepreneurs, as they uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, everybody, it’s Jennifer Brown, and we’re doing something a little bit different today. I participated in and moderated a panel recently for a conference produced ans conceived by my good friend Paolo Gaudiano. Paolo is actually joining me for this intro because I felt it was really important to have the creator, and the visionary behind the conference, which is called DIRC20. So this past one was for 2020 was DIRC20, D-I-R-C, Diversity and Inclusion Research Council .info. DIRC20 involved a lot of different amazing panels. And I have the privilege of moderating one entitled Allyship and Intersectionality, Understanding the Roles of Power, Privilege, and Marginalization in DEI work. Paolo, I’m so happy to have your voice on The Will To change, and feature your work here.
PAOLO GAUDIANO: Jennifer, thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you, and it was an honor having you as a moderator for the panel. And it’s a real honor to be here as well. Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. I’m so glad that we got the okay to take the audio from this, and repurpose it as a podcast on The Will To Change because it’s just… I know that conference organizers in 2020, have learned a lot of things, experimented with a lot of formats. And isn’t it always the case that we want to honor those who are paid ticket holders, and those who attend the conference, but then we also want our content to live in perpetuity in a way as well. Maybe that’s a place we could start, Paolo, for people who are interested in knowing more about your conference, because I don’t actually… I’m not sure your conference is very well known in some of the circles that I’m in. What are your plans for future DIRC conferences? And maybe in the more immediate term, are there plans to publish some of the panels and Q&A that you constructed? And maybe what did you learn about the whole process, as we’re all learning about technology, and how to really program things in a way that is truly accessible globally?
PAOLO GAUDIANO: Well, that alone can make an hour long podcast.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know.
PAOLO GAUDIANO: I should give credit, my two… I have two people who co-organize this that really did most of the work. And these are Arshiya Malik, and Tony [Shwarla 00:07:37], and I really want to thank them because without them, this would not have been possible at all. And they probably could tell you more about those details than I could. But briefly, we were really focused when we realized that there was no way that this was going to be an in person event, we didn’t want to just simply try to replicate an in person event through an online platform. We really thought, “How can we make this more accessible, and have a broader reach, and really make it more flexible?”
The conference is now three years old, we had an ’18, and ’19. 2020 was the first year that we did it as a virtual event, it began as a smaller gathering primarily of New York area, mostly academics, but it was really always meant to be the intersection between academia, practitioners, corporate leaders, foundations, public sector, anyone that really cares about making a difference in diversity and inclusion, and that realizes the value of research as being the driving… the linchpin behind a lot of that. One of the things that we learned was that… we did something that I’m very proud of, which is that we decided not to make it entirely free, because otherwise you get a million registrants and only five of them show up.
But we wanted to make it sufficiently inexpensive that anybody could afford it. Our most expensive ticket full price was $30. That helped a lot, and ensured that we had very good turnout. The content now, we had a lot of it was pre recorded, as the panel that people are about to hear it was actually recorded ahead of the conference. And it was made available 24 hours before the day itself, or the two days of the conference. And then during the days of the conference, we had those live Q&A panels in which you also participated. We found that even though there was a bit of confusion, because it was such a different model, people seem to really appreciate that because if you are…
Like we had somebody registered from Indonesia, somebody from Australia, and those people could go and watch the pre-recorded content at their leisure. They might not have been able to make the live Q&A, but we’re going to be releasing that very soon, and we’re going to be opening up the website to the general public in a couple of months at most.
JENNIFER BROWN: Fabulous. So that will be in early 2021.
PAOLO GAUDIANO: Correct.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Got it. Awesome. Tell us about how you constructed the panel itself, and a little bit about each of the panelists that people are going to be hearing from?
PAOLO GAUDIANO: Yeah, and it’s funny because I’ve been invited to moderate panels, I’ve been on panels. I find that panels can be incredibly valuable if you make the effort to plan them carefully and to make sure that you have great people, and not to make you blush on the podcast, but having a top notch moderator is always our first number one consideration, because a great moderator can really make a difference. And we knew that you would really pull it together. In this particular case, we had a number of interesting constraints, we want to make sure that we… and this has been true since the beginning, because so much of what we do is focused on the value of interdisciplinary collaborations, we wanted to make sure that the panel’s had multiple viewpoints, not just in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, et cetera, but really, in terms of where people come from.
You being such an incredible example of somebody working in the DNI space as a practitioner, then we had Tsedale Melaku, who is a professor, we had Heather Metcalf, who is actually the head of research at a very large society, the Association for Women in Science. And then Grey Batie, who is a student at University of Berkeley doing a PhD in nuclear physics, so quite a range. One of the things also is that because one of our biggest sponsors is the National Science Foundation, and in particular, their CISE director, which is about Computer Information Science and Engineering. One of the goals was to show that STEM is an area that not only is one that needs to benefit from more diversity and inclusion, but it’s one whose research can actually benefit diversity and inclusion.
And so every panel, including the one that you moderated, always had at least one or two people who came from a STEM background, which we think gave a tremendous depth to the conversation by adding all the different viewpoints.
JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent, Paolo, and you mentioned some of the sponsors, I know that you wanted to acknowledge them. I think that’s so important. What would you like to say about those?
PAOLO GAUDIANO: Yeah, I mentioned the National Science Foundation. And in particular, Dr. Fay Payton is somebody who’s been a leader in our work for a number of years. She’s actually a supporter of some of the research that we’re doing. This was the second year that she supported us, and we’re very grateful for that. But besides that, we actually had some… we only had a small set of sponsors. And of course, everybody wants sponsors because of the financial support. But for us it meant a lot. We had NYU, the Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity and Strategic Innovation. Lisa Coleman, who was a panelist on a different panel, who’s a phenomenal woman who runs that office. They actually supported us, and they’re very interested in being kind of the main sponsor next year.
Science Friday, which is a podcast that talks about science education, and they’re really, really interested also in the importance of diversity and inclusion. And they talk about a new series that they have out that specifically looks at some amazing women in science. InterpreterNow, we love them because they were the ones, and you might have seen, they had both ASL and captioning facilities throughout the life portion of the event, and they were absolutely fantastic. And I would recommend anyone, anyone that wants to do an event should really talk to InterpreterNow it because if you don’t make your content accessible, you’re not being inclusive.
Then the last group is somebody that I now considered your friend, Mario Fallone, who’s a lawyer and Harter Secrest & Emery. And they’re like one of the rare law firms that have had such an amazing pleasure working with because they work with us, both on the nonprofit and for profit side. And they’re some of the more reasonable, more helpful, just wonderful people. Very grateful to have gotten their support.
JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent. Paolo, how can folks follow you and all of the facets of your work and also make sure that you’re on the list for DIRC20, and 21, and particularly for that release of all this amazing content in the early part of next year?
PAOLO GAUDIANO: Well, I have a hard time following my own work, because [crosstalk 00:13:30]-
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re very prolific.
PAOLO GAUDIANO: Yeah, my finger’s on a lot of different things. They’re all tied together. But I would say the best thing is if you look at the website, dirc.info, D-I-R-C .info, we have announced… I don’t think it’s on the website yet, but we’re going to hold the fourth annual Diversity and Inclusion Research Conference DIRC21, will be tentatively on November 17, 18, 19, of 2021, which sounds really confusing, but it’s November 17th, 18th, and 19th. I would suggest that people start there, and look at the website. And with my last name, Gaudiano, being somewhat unusual, if you do a search for me on the web and LinkedIn, always happy to talk to people. Jennifer, it’s always an immense pleasure working with you, talking to you. I hope to have you involved with DIRC21 in some way as well.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh, anything and I will be there for you, and with the level of professionalism that you do everything with. So yes, everybody who listens to Will To Change, please find Paulo’s work, and like he said, it’s everywhere. But it is all incredibly thoughtful. And I think very forward thinking, and I count on you, Paolo, to really be on the vanguard of this conversation, and this conversation everybody’s going to hear today is no exception. So everybody, enjoy the panel.
Hi everybody, and welcome to our panel today. This is Jennifer Brown, and I am an author and a consultant in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space, and also a podcaster, with a podcast that’s called The Will To Change. We have an incredible conversation teed up for everybody today with three leaders and inspirational advocates, and those that are also going to share their personal experience with this topic, which is such an important aspect of exploring it adequately and properly. We’re going to be discussing allyship and intersectionality. This panel is deep and wide knowledge, and personal experience-wise on the topics of power, privilege, and marginalization in the world of DEI. You’ll hear us talking about DEI, and that refers to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
I would like to get started right away and have each of our panelists introduce themselves. So I’m joined today by Grey Batie, Tsedale Melaku, and Heather Metcalf. Grey, why don’t we start with you? Introduce yourself, and if you’d like to include your initial perspectives on the topic that we’re going to be talking about today, I think we would welcome that. And let me say one more thing, my pronouns are she/her/hers. Grey, take it away.
GREY BATIE:: Thank you so much, Jennifer. I’m really happy to be here. My name is Grey Batie, I identify as gender non-binary, or gender non-conforming, and use they/them/theirs pronouns in addition to he/him/his pronouns. I’m really excited to be on this panel. This is a topic I personally feel very strongly about lying at many different intersections of identities. I’m here, really to discuss mine and the unique experiences that I’ve had getting to this point.
Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, and then went straight to MIT for college. I would say MIT for my bachelor’s degrees, and I double majored in [inaudible 00:16:54] nuclear engineering. Pretty involved in both the black community on campus as well as like the athletic organization. I played varsity basketball, and captain of rugby team there. That really shaped my experiences as the duality of being like the scholar athlete, and activist advocating on behalf of specifically black students, retention, and recruitment, and advocacy. I then continued on to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I earned my master’s degree in medical physics.
That was its own experience, I’m sure it’s going to come up again, my transition, I’m ultimately leaving a doctoral program and starting a new one entirely, where I’m now at UC Berkeley and pretty happy, pretty happy overall. But I’m a fourth year doctoral candidate in nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. That has been its own been fascinating experience. I transitioned from females, non-binary. It really has shaped my own perspective, and the ways in which I choose my time. I’ve tried to increase the number of black, and queer students within those spaces.
JENNIFER BROWN: So much accomplished, Grey. And I know you’ll be diving into what you just alluded to switching the school that you’re getting your PhD with, in a little bit, and why you chose to do that, and what that decision was like as it pertains to the topic we’re going to be talking about today. Thank you, Grey. Heather, let’s go with you next.
HEATHER METCALF: Hi, everyone. My name is Heather Metcalf. I use she/they pronouns, and I am currently chief research officer for the Association for Women in Science where I use an intersectional feminist approach to studying the workplace experiences of people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workplaces. Grey, what you’re sharing definitely resonates with the work that I do. I have an interesting mixed background as well. I’ve been doing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work throughout my entire academic career. I did my undergraduate degree as a first generation college student at a small state school in western Pennsylvania Clarion University. I worked work study positions in the Office of Special Equity, and in the computer science lab as I was doing a double major in math, and computer science. I minored in English writing, and I took Gender and Women’s Studies courses, and ethnic studies courses, and had the full mix.
Luckily, I had a really great mentor who encouraged me to do an internship program over the Summer with the Computing Research Association women’s Group. Is a distributed mentorship program where I learned about graduate school, it wasn’t even on my radar until that point. I ended up doing a master’s in Computer Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, and really profoundly experienced a sense of exclusion while I was there. I encountered harassment, was told I was only there because of affirmative action, and was among a population of women in the program. Only 6% women undergraduate and graduate student combined.
I sought to understand my experiences and ended up doing the first ever culture study in the department to look at how other people were feeling in the program, and learned a lot about different dimensions of marginalization that folks are feeling. And it had such an impact on me that I ended up turning down a really high paying job in industry to do a second master’s degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and really took me down this pathway to doing the kind of work that I do.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Yeah, I can’t wait to ask you more about what we all share on this panel is that we made extra time and energy to better the institutions we were a part of. Better the industries we found ourselves in because we want them to be better not just for ourselves, but for future generations. And so something that we all have in common as we know that the stakes are really high for talent to thrive in places where we are the only or the first, we’re really breaking a lot of ground. There’s a lot of bravery and courage and strategic approaches on this panel that I hope that you all will share about advice about how do we, at the same time advocate and remain resilient ourselves, and then create a new pathway for others that share identities, or don’t but are marginalized and underrepresented. Thank you, Heather. Tsedale, what would you tell us about your work?
TSEDALE MELAKU: My name is Tsedale Melaku. I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the Graduate Center with the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. I grew up in New York City in the Bronx, my parents sought asylum here with myself and my two brothers from Ethiopia. I grew up in the Bronx community. I ended up going to NYU for undergraduate school, and I double majored in Africana Studies and sociology with a minor in psychology. That experience was very interesting. I ended up wanting to go to law school. Before I was going to embark on that journey, a friend of mine convinced me to work for a corporate firm in the city, I was there six months, and then I immediately decided I was not going to go to law school. The lifestyle was not one that was appealing to me at the time, but more so the fact that I didn’t see any black, barely any black associates, and only one black partner at this major firm. That really shifted my idea of what that trajectory would look like for me.
Instead, I ended up in a PhD program studying sociology, which is my passion to begin with. So very lucky that I was able to pivot and go back. But in so doing, I ended up turning my gaze towards the firm that I was working at. I was working full time while doing my PhD. And wanting to understand what is that experience of black women, black men in terms of their trajectory in law firms. I ended up doing that study, which is this book that I have, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism, where I’m literally interrogating what that experience is in terms of race, and gender impacting the trajectories of black women lawyers. Then more largely what that looks like for women of color in organization.
I’m very excited to have the opportunity to talk about that today, but also see how those experiences translate into other organizations. For example, in academia, what does that look like for women of color and black women specifically, or other organizations across industry? I think that this is going to be a really fruitful conversation as we start thinking and talking about what our identities mean, and how it impacts our personal trajectories, but the work that we’re doing and the communities that we’re hoping to advance, and support in so doing. Excited to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks so much. Yeah, and I hope you all in the audience are hearing these themes of how we hold our various intersectionalities, but also interact with… and in ultimately enlist the privilege that’s held by others in our world in terms of the ally relationship, or the accomplice relationship, which is the word I prefer. I also use co-conspirator sometimes to create positive change, and more inclusion. I do want to define intersectionality in here, what that means to you, how you apply that how you see your own intersectionality. But also, how would you define the term, and why is it an important lens to carry?
For all of us who are trying to change institutions and make them more inclusive, and more equitable, what is the importance of understanding what intersectionality really means in order to create positive change? Tsedale, let’s stay with you, and then maybe we can go to Grey, and then to Heather.
TSEDALE MELAKU: I think that’s a great question. We’re having these conversations, and everyone is saying intersectionality, but what does it actually mean? In terms of the way that I look at intersectionality, and the approach and the research that I do is, it’s essentially a way of looking at various identities, social categories, biological categories, all of those that intersect, overlap, or combine to create either advantageous outcomes, or disadvantageous outcomes. We’re looking at how varying identities come together in a particular way, in order to either create oppressive outcomes for individuals, or look at the privilege that comes out of varying intersecting identities.
It’s bi-fold, there’s two ways in which we should be looking at it. Everyone obviously has an intersectional identity, and that’s important to understand. But what matters is the ways in which varying identities intersect to create disadvantage, or advantage. Looking at what that looks like in organizations is critical. I center the work of… and experiences of black women. So looking at how race and gender in particular, in this instance, interact to create disadvantageous outcomes is critical. But at the same time, even in my own positionality, how do I see myself in this space? How do I see myself doing this kind of research, recognizing that as a cisgendered black woman, there are so privileges that I have, that I need to be thoughtful about when thinking about those who are more marginalized than I am.
I think that’s a great place for us to start thinking about privilege, and the impact of your own experiences in relation to others. And seeing that there’s always space for that added additional critical work in order to understand other people’s experiences. That’s the way I look at intersectionality.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you so much. I just want to chip in, people don’t expect their diversity speaker to look like me. And so I share being a woman in a male dominated cis male dominated world, and also being LGBTQ, having been out as a lesbian for 25 years. But the invisible aspects of diversity also can form and shaper intersectionality. Bringing those to the surface, I think, also educates those around us that we miss so much, and we may not be able to perceive what maybe the intersectional dynamics that are causing those headwinds that you’re referring to as well. We have to also check our assumptions about what we [inaudible 00:28:18] and what is [inaudible 00:28:19] in terms of our identities too. Thank you so much. Grey, how would you answer that question for you?
GREY BATIE: I want to answer it in two parts. First, I want to say how healing it is for me to be experiencing professionals like Dr. Melaku about really the concepts, and people dedicating their life’s work to understand these concepts for me is very cathartic because we don’t have these conversations in the field regularly. Jennifer, you’re brought out and people know who to call when they need help. But I feel like the space I occupy in the academy is like a step behind relative to like the corporate world. And so that’s something I’ve experienced navigating the past 10 years. I went straight through undergrad to masters, [inaudible 00:29:07] academia for 10 years straight, and so the way I’ve learned to exist in it, and how intersectionality has really impacted my experiences is really it’s really unique, I think.
The way I think about intersectionality is really about the existence of overlapping identities and the ways in which they play into oppression, honestly. I give talks… I’m very passionate about… I feel like with older people… not to be crass, but I don’t really care, it’s me and my generations, the future. Y’all need to start focusing on us. And so when I have these conversations, is really with young people trying to ensure that they understand that now we’re in a time where it matters, how you address people. We now have empirical data for the way these prejudices really impact people at the intersection.
I always, when giving these sorts of discussions, think about the amount of money people make, collect the white man’s dollar. Now it’s like… what is it? 72 for a woman, 60 something for a white woman, 60 something for a black man, and then even lower for a black woman. And so people who try to disentangle for me to of my most core identity is my blackness and my gender, it’s a really clear example of how even on a day to day these differences are manifesting, and structural barriers that really impact the existence of people like me in these spaces. I feel, I guess my opinion on it too has also evolved as my gender has changed in these environments.
The ways in which I’m acknowledged, and how I feel like it’s still largely impacted by my race, but then also acknowledging the privilege I hold now being cis passive. In the ways in which I feel like I have to advocate specifically, on behalf of black women because of the privilege are now holding this. These are conversations… Jennifer, you talked about enlisting the help of people in positions of power. And I feel like as I become more unapologetic in my identities, it’s demanded of the people who are in positions of power to one, acknowledge the work that I’m doing, but two, really sit in the face of their inaction. That’s been really interesting for me going from one program to the another where I felt like there was too many barriers to overcome at the University of Wisconsin as a queer black woman at the time.
Now, I feel like I have space in the city of Berkeley in the Bay Area. But really, what does that mean in a work setting, and how to bring to light how my experience has definitely impact my performance and how these needs to be at the minimum acknowledged, seven of them.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. So much in that, all right. Heather, I’ll let you, my head is spinning, this is great. And we may need to go back and define cis passing, by the way. Just, let’s make sure… let’s come back to that though, and get Heather’s thoughts. And then as we go… this is such a helpful thing to understand even for me, in the LGBTQ community, there is so much that I’m learning from being in conversation with you Grey, and the privileges I’m aware of, and the ways who I can speak truth to, who I can challenge, what my responsibility is to open doors. To not wait for permission to do certain things is how I try to embody my aspiring allyship.
I say, I’m only an ally, if someone in an affected community deems me an ally. So it’s something that we work towards earning every single day. I’ve just learned so much from all of you, and I continue to in terms of my place, in both terms of needing allyship, but also providing it, and being in solidarity. So it’s a really interesting thing that we can do all these things at the same time. I appreciate your point about the ally you feel you are, and you’re striving to be, and for whom is a nuance that I want our audience to really notice. Because I think that’s a very, extremely forward thinking way of finding our place. There’s not a single one of us that doesn’t have something we need, and something we can be giving all the time, and simultaneously, sometimes it’s all. All right, Heather.
HEATHER METCALF: Thank you. You heard some really amazing ideas from the first two panelists here. So I’m going to try to build off of those. I think, for me, intersectionality, like our other speaker said, really is a concept for helping us examine, and unlocking systems of power, privilege, and oppression. I think a lot of times we can get caught up in the identity politics piece of it where it’s looking at the different threads of a person’s identity, but not connecting that back to the systems in which they become situated. I think Tsedale, and Grey both spoke really nicely to the idea of a person’s positionality within those systems can offer them either advantage, or privilege, or it can offer them oppression, or marginalization based off of how they’re situated there.
I think it’s really hard to tease apart a person’s identity when you have all of these threads that come together in a very particular way. And so in my own work using intersectionality, I think it’s really important first to acknowledge the roots of where the term comes from, which is black feminism, that it really is a term that was coined by Kimberly Crenshaw, and has been built upon by other feminists of color, particularly black feminists, to really look at the systemic arratia of people’s experiences, and how that arratia marginalizes people who are… I think about the feminist movement, and black social justice movements, where black women in particular within those movements don’t see themselves reflected in the feminist movement, which largely serve the needs of white women, and don’t see themselves reflected in the black social justice movement, because it centers the experiences of men. And so where is place for black women’s experiences, and intersectionality really helps us see that.
I think it’s also really important within understanding intersectionality that because of the different social positionings that we hold, that we can have both privilege, and marginalization at the same time. For myself, as a cis woman, I carry some privilege as a queer person who has a chronic illness, who grew up from a low income background, I experienced different dimensions of marginalization. For me, it’s about how do I use the aspects of privilege that I have to support people who are marginalized in ways that are different than how I marginalized? And how do I use my voice to to call for systemic change? That’s how I would answer that question.
JENNIFER BROWN: Amazing. Thank you for backing up and giving us the origins of intersectionality because I hear a lot of questions about how it’s kind of being co-opted, and repurposed not in a very accurate way, and it’s important that we go back and recap that as often as we can, and make sure that it’s, I think, more clearly defined, and tributed, and contextualized. Thank you. Gosh, we could go anywhere from here. Tsedale, I just would love to invite you to talk about power and privilege in the legal world. Might be reflections on how have you used your voice to create change to witness the experience of those who haven’t been welcome in that field and haven’t been able to thrive and yet are so needed, and really want to be in that world? And how, I guess, have you enlisted, I love this word enlisting our awakening allyship in others, or encouraging it.
I love Grey’s lens to around them expecting it. There is, I think… this is not like, “Oh, please support me, or this.” There is there should be a stronger, not an ask, and a demand. It’s a little bit lives between there, and yet we know that these systems are very slow to change. And there’s a lot of defensiveness and protection, personal, and institutional against change. There’s so much fear, there’s so much protection of power, et cetera. Paint us a picture of what that dynamic has been like in your advocacy work to make the world in the law world more inclusive?
TSEDALE MELAKU: Thank you. In my research, I examine the experiences of black women lawyers. And I think in telling you a little bit about how I ended up in that space, it had everything to do with the fact that there are so few black people in elite law firms, and corporate spaces, just in general. Thinking about that, I interviewed black women, lawyers in particular about their experiences in white firms. What I learned is that black women are forced to engage in significant invisible labor navigating white institutional spaces. In so doing, I developed two theoretical concepts, which I think is important because you can see the practical ways in which these concepts appear and exist in organizational spaces across the board.
The first is the invisible labor clause concept, which essentially explains the ways in which we’re seeing how marginalized groups if we… I center black women, but these are theories that can be used and applied to varying individuals with marginalized identity. Thinking about women, women of color, black women, specifically, LGBTQ+, differently abled folks, it just varies. But essentially how they are required to perform at an invisible labor in order to navigate their daily existence within the social and professional settings is critical. So when I’m thinking about the experiences of black women in law firms, or in various organizations, I think about how the invisible labor clause impacts your trajectory.
Then in thinking about that, I developed this concept called inclusion tax. And that is really important when I’m trying to understand how black women are not just navigating these spaces, but finding ways to engage in these spaces as well. This concept essentially describes the additional resources that are spent, “spent” in quotes here, such as time, money, mental cognitive labor, emotional energy just to be allowed in these white spaces, and to either adhere to, or resist white norms. This is so critical because we can often talk about the way that we’re compensated. But this is all work that’s done where we’re not being compensated. It’s not being recognized in their experiences.
What are some of the ways that this manifests? If we think about how black women navigate white institutional spaces, you have a lot of issues that center on appearance. Appearance narratives play a critical role in their experiences. So having to navigate that, having to conform to white normative aesthetics creates a lot of added invisible labor that they have to navigate and negotiate. From hair politics, which is oftentimes race talk that we don’t actually engage. And there’s a significant amount of studies out there that specifically talk directly to the appearance, and the importance of appearance and impression management as a result of appearance.
This really ties into diversity narratives and language that that censure on affirmative action hires, tokenism, these white narratives of affirmative action that often pull up like so being one of very few or an only in this space, creates the idea that we’re actually not qualified to be there. Having to prove yourself before actually getting the job. So not having the benefit of the doubt as most other individuals, or potential candidates have. This impacts everything from recruitment, to professional development, to gaining access to mentors, and more critically sponsors, to networking opportunities. All of that plays a significant role.
If we just look at just one thing, appearance. The idea of questioning competence just from appearance. The fact that when BIPOC, black, indigenous, and people of color make mistakes, it’s often a confirmation of some sort that they weren’t even qualified to be there. So not getting the benefit of the doubt, whereas their white counterparts are oftentimes seen as this being a learning opportunity. So when they make mistakes, it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop their craft, to become better lawyers, if we stay within law firms. But when it’s a person of color, it’s oftentimes a way of calling back on those abstract liberal ideas that oftentimes center this notion that we’re not qualified to be there.
I think it’s important when we think about that, we think about colorblind racism in organizations, and how this impacts the trajectory of BIPOC in these spaces. The idea that we often don’t get the benefit of the doubt, but also sameness creates advantages. So think about privilege and oppression. So the idea that white males, and white women benefit from sameness when we’re thinking about the leadership, and how sameness is oftentimes confused with likeness, and likeness oftentimes leads to the way in which we think about language, and language being exclusionary. So even in the recruitment process, the idea of fitting in, being a good fit, how that often is used to exclude marginalized groups, and particularly black candidates from entering these spaces.
Think about pipeline narratives. There’s a lot that we can really, really get into when we’re trying to figure out what is it about the experiences of black women in organizational spaces across the board, but how is it that they’re oftentimes excluded, marginalize, an outsider within, having to navigate and deal with self doubt. And we can take that and not isolate, or pull apart race and gender. Understanding how we think about intersectionality, and how none of this… Their nuanced experiences because of the ways that these identities intersect, combine, and overlap at all times, simultaneously to create that experience, which is very unique to their social location.
We can take that and think about Latinas, how do they experience that space? We can take that and think about transgendered women of color, how do they experience that space? They’re not even in that space. There are reasons why they’re not in that space at all has to do with the fact that difference is about value in the right ways. And so in my research, I find that if we think about the inclusion tax, if we think about invisible labor, you’ll often find that marginalized groups are having to expend a significant amount of invisible labor to pay a high inclusion tax to be in these spaces. I’d love to hear what others have to say.
JENNIFER BROWN: You know it. This tax on emotional labor, inclusion tax, how can we offset when we think about allyship, and we may not get a lot of time to talk about what is the response of someone who’s aware that this is occurring? That this is non compensated labor, and that is exhausting, fatiguing, bad for mental health, bad for our careers. How can organizations mobilized to really to name this, I think it’s very important to name it and then to make concrete systemic changes that lessen the the labor, that lessen the everyday fatigue, and the obstacles.
The work I think of the rest of the others that are out there looking at this, but not experiencing it, is to know what’s happening to be able to name it, to be able to understand it, and then to be able to diagnose it, and make concrete progress and commitment to lessening that. It can be tricky because it can be subtle, sometimes people don’t want to talk about it, sometimes people want to make the best of it, and just get on with the day. It’s difficult to always be the one that’s bringing the learning and educating. To say, “This is what it feels like in this organization to be somebody of my identity.”
It puts some of us into this teacher role that is also an exhaustion. Then to be either heard or not heard when we do so, I think adds to the fatigue. And really actually the jeopardy for our careers, because the more honest we are about a system that’s not working for us, the more we can be seen as challenging something that’s threatening to those who don’t want to change. But the risk is important to take on, but it’s particularly important, I think, for those who are not impacted in this way to undertake this, and bear that burden of change. It’s one of those sort of core learnings, I think that we need to activate more people to carry the many hands making lighter work around this. Feels very important to point out.
TSEDALE MELAKU: I’m sorry, I don’t want to cut you off, but I think it’s important to define allyship.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. [inaudible 00:48:07].
TSEDALE MELAKU: One of the things that… and I’ll just really quickly just shared this, my co authors and I have written an article now in the Harvard Business Review that looks at… it’s called Be a Better Ally. And it’s specifically, we are specifically engaging what allyship looks like by defining it. For us allyship is a strategic mechanism, that’s really used by individuals so that they can become co-conspirators, accomplices, or collaborators. So that they’re actually actively able to fight these injustices, and also promote equity, not just in the workplace, but in other spaces. But specifically, when we’re talking about the workplace, what are you supposed to be doing? It’s through the supportive and collaborative personal relationships that you’re building through very public acts of sponsorship, and advocacy. That is what is going to lead to these very systemic changes, and improvements that we want in the workplace as it relates to the practice, policies, or culture of organizations.
That’s how we’re looking at what allyship is, and you made a very key point, you can’t name yourself an ally. No. It comes from you doing the work. Someone has to identify you as an ally. And the only way they’re going to identify you as an ally is if they see you as someone who is strategically doing the hard work, taking those risks, engaging in not just critical dialogue, but actually pushing policy, pushing the leadership to be accountable for those statements that they’re putting out about racial justice and equity. That’s where allyship really comes into play. And recognizing that it’s not something that’s going to come overnight. We’re not going to have these changes overnight. Right now everyone wants to kind of say, “Well, here we are. We’re starting to have these conversations, and I’m now tired of it.” You’re getting the speed when it comes to like discussing racial equity-
JENNIFER BROWN: [inaudible 00:50:05].
TSEDALE MELAKU: … Social Justice. Exactly. And that’s not what we want. And those are not what allies do. Allies are here for the long haul. And when you recognize your positionality, you can see how you can become an ally for other people. But one thing that we all have to understand is, when you are marginalized based on race in these spaces, it’s very difficult for us to pick up that burden, and do that allyship work in the space because it immediately has a negative impact on other people’s perceptions of us. Because there’s this idea that race is oftentimes minimize, not oftentimes, always race is minimized, right. And it’s only now when it’s become such a public conversation that we’re starting to have people [inaudible 00:50:53] upon to talk about the impact of race, and racism on their trajectories.
But that also creates a significant amount of invisible labor, that is not compensated, or recognized, or valued. And that’s important. We have to think about allyship, intersectionality, invisible labor, the tax, and how we can bring all this together to make people accountable for their actions.
JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. Okay. Grey, let me [inaudible 00:51:22] you, comment on any of that, and whatever you’d like to add. I know you have some really good wisdom to share on it.
GREY BATIE: I’ve been taking notes because I really do feel like this is putting words again to the experiences. It’s something that I found that I struggle with early on, was having the language to explain these feelings in the first place. People are not only experiencing this, but in other fields, we didn’t get to meet psychologists, and sociologists who have experience naming these issues. Some of the points that stuck out from Dr. Melaku were the process of naming it, we’re like, “Okay, now we name it. Now it’s time to move on.” I’m like, “I love this, but that is not what’s happening in my experience in the academy.” We’re not at the naming it part yet. The color blindness, affirmative action, I’m just like, wow, putting terms to invisible labor, inclusion tax. I’m like, wow, this is speaking to all of me, and my colleagues who are at the intersection of experiences.
One of the things that I wanted to comment on is how to create allies. And frankly, I experienced a lot of the burnout, because I’m grad students, we don’t hold any power, if I’m being honest. And it is what it is. We sign up for this so that we can get a couple letters at the end of our name. Then I feel like we can start doing the work because then we have the affirmation from society like, “Oh, you know how to do this.” And so with respect to that, people are so burned out that I don’t even invest my time into teaching others about it, frankly, unless I’m getting paid because it’s like, “Yo, if y’all don’t value this, then how can I…” It’s either I’m getting paid, or I’m doing this at noble cost to young people. Because I think like I said before, it’s like, wow, what happens…
My perspective is, I somewhat have, somewhat have the language. I’m not an expert, I’m trying to read books on it, but I’ve had to equip myself to combat the experiences that people are putting on to me, but not being able to name. What of the younger people who aren’t as articulate as I am, who aren’t as persevering as I am. What happens to them? And why are we so insistent upon the fact that their space isn’t in these fields. Pivoting back then to allyship is like so then what do we do about it? And I personally, wow, Dr. Melaku just gave three concrete examples. So many times, I feel like people are like, “What do we do? What do we do?”
She mentioned supportive collaborations, advocacy, like the way you respond to situations, and those are all the things that I feel like people are really unwilling to do. I’m sick of telling people like, “Wow, y’all need to try.” And it’s like, “Oh, we are trying, but…” Me as one of two black people in my department, what does trying look like when we put together a list of demands and y’all are like, “Damn, that’s crazy. That’s a lot of work. Our work loads too much, but I get that y’all are struggling.” And so then it’s just like… for me I’m like, just say you don’t care about black people. Just say it, because we’re not being transparent. It’s like, wow, there’s a lot of work being done to undo a lot of the mediocre at best sets that we’ve made for compensating for the structural barriers that exist.
And now people are putting in work to dismantle them, and then people are like, “Oh, my bad. Sorry.” Not even sorry. We talked about pushing leadership to be accountable for their statements. That’s something I’m struggling with because the answer is, “Oh, we can’t do anything legally, our hands are tied.” And I’m like, “What about me?” The person who is here right now experiencing this turmoil, this unrest, this burnout? How are we making space for like, “Dang, these are awful, we get the trawler impacted, but we have no space of talking about it, we are not recruiting other people to do the work so that we’re not putting the labor on the only black person, the only trans person in the department to talk about how it can be inclusive.”
I’m like, “Yo, we have exceptional professionals who do this work, who would love to make space for it.” But I, I’m a little callous, because I’ve just been in it and seen at multiple premier institutions, the lack of effort they put into have these conversations, let alone make the changes in policies. And so it’s given me hope to talk to these people. But I really feel like the position that I played in this is unfortunately, like putting myself, and my feelings, and my experiences on the line so that you got to confront people. Like sit in your feelings, sit in the guilt, and sit in the privilege. I have this really… Because I was [inaudible 00:56:35]. I was like, “Oh, y’all know I’m black. I’m just doing these black things on the side.” And then people started getting killed, and I was like, “Wow, like this is affecting my ability to work.” And people are like, “Well, what are you talking about? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t heard of that, is it real? I don’t know.”
So then here at Berkeley, I’m like, “Look, Wisconsin was what it was, I really decided this degree isn’t worth my life.” I didn’t feel safe in Madison, Wisconsin. And so now everybody knows. I’m not ashamed to talk about my experiences, because they were mine. Who else is going to talk about this, if not me. So I come to Berkeley, and it wasn’t my goal to be out here sitting face to face with professors saying like, “Wow, y’all are really doing me a disservice.” It wasn’t my goal to do that. But then, as I continually get played by my classmates, and don’t get the benefit of a doubt, and mistakes aren’t learning opportunities for me, and [inaudible 00:57:29] those same privileges being given again, and again. [inaudible 00:57:33] it’s forced me to really have uncomfortable conversations, but ones that I’m proud of. Like having… how to shake these power dynamics with my academic advisor.
I’m like, “Yo, I’m black.” Centuries, like generations in this country there’s no separation like, “Oh, my family’s from here.” These are things that are impacting me and mine, and they have been, and they will continue to. You see me struggling, and so as I try to make space for myself in these places by saying, “Hey, I need time.” It also involves some really tough conversations like saying, “Hey, you’re not doing enough. And it makes me depressed, and in preventing me from competing at the best ability at my best.” The thing about it is I hate it, but I really feel like people need to hear it personally to believe it. It takes one person to say, “Hey, my first semester at Berkeley, when I was still identifying as a woman, one of my TAs playfully caught me a dumb bitch in front of my classmates.”
Who else is going to share these stories when we talk about changing the community, the culture, who’s response was there? Who’s response here for me? And then people are like, “Wow, at Berkeley, really?” And so I think we need to smash the veil off of how well we’re really doing and specifically in the sciences, I’m always like, “This isn’t objective.” We claim, “Wow, whoever gets to the right answer, good job.” But what about like how Heather was talking about the exclusivity that you experience in these spaces off ramp, and how much you really hurt you. I really saw my cohort in nuclear engineering was like eight people. I saw seven of them studying in the study lounge, and I’m like, “There is no other way to take this, but knowing that this is impacted specifically by my race to my gender.” Because the black guy was there, the white women was there. Where was I in those moments?
All that to say with my little rant, I really do firmly believe not naming yourself an ally, and really doing the work is my perspective. Is like who deemed you an ally? And it’s not a one time thing. It’s like, “Oh man, I stood up for Grey when they got called out. I’m a great advocate for trans people.” It’s like, “Oh, are you working on using gender neutral pronouns in everyday settings.” There’s more to it. I’m so excited to be having these conversations, and then also I’m like, “Who is going to take us back to my space?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Here, here. Oh, Grey, we’re here for you, and with you. I so appreciate the accountability, is what I hear in the way you describe the way you create accountability. You’re going further than polite, “I wish you would be a better ally.” It’s like, “Here’s where you’re falling short.” And it’s not just a one and done. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a way of being, and it’s never a destination. And you’ve got to enjoy the journey, I think too, of allyship, and learning, developing your muscle, and doing it and getting feedback from somebody like you, Grey. I know you tried to do this, but this would have been better.
GREY BATIE: [inaudible 01:01:07].
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. But this is labor. Back to Tsedale’s point this is labor to give even the feedback. And so I’m always really appreciative if somebody takes the time to say this is how it could have been better, how you can be better. I even appreciate that. It’s not about my reaction about getting it wrong, or doing something incompletely, which is all about like white fragility, for example, like, “Oh, poor me, I’m having an emotional reaction. I didn’t get it perfect.” By the way, perfectionism is a tool of white supremacy. So I’m always watching that in myself, and in my own ally journey, to say, this is not about me, don’t make it about me.
It is about if feedback is a gift, and it means even more coming at a time when there’s such a sort of so much labor happening, it’s like the duck with the feet under the water. For so many loved ones being in settings where your only is this sort of the labor, that invisible piece. The frantic peddling and the exhaustion that comes from that. We’ve got to acknowledge that, and then name it, and then do something about it, and keep doing something about it. Saying, “Hey, is the impact I’m having, is it making a difference?” It’s not my intent, it’s the impact. Really important distinction? Heather, we are almost out of time, but I want to give you the last word. What would you like to comment on, and contextualize for us?
HEATHER METCALF: Yeah. Wow. I feel like I could continue to have this conversation with all of you for hours and hours. It’s just so amazing. I’m thinking about how systems perpetuate themselves. I heard a lot of that in what Tsedale was saying, in what Grey was saying. In how even Grey, when you were saying that, “No, we can’t legally do that.” The legal structures are set up to keep themselves intact, the systems that are set up within our academic institutions to keep themselves functioning the way that they are that really reward not having these difficult conversations. That reward not putting ourselves in positions that make us take risk as an ally, that that put us in positions of looking the other way when we see someone experiencing racism, or sexism, or transphobia, rather than then asking for the accountability that you’re really wanting to see.
I think objectivity is one of those things as well. Just a pull on the STEM thread, this part of the work that I do here, there’s a lot of research that shows that the more objective that people think they are, the more that intentional, or unintentional bias creeps into the way that they make decisions, that creeps into the work that they do. I think being able to… to me, what makes a really strong scientist or makes someone really do great work, in academia in particular, is the ability to reflect on where the systemic issues that we’ve all been socialized into play out in our work. Whether that is if we’re doing a medical study, and we’re not even thinking about involving certain kinds of subjects into the work that we do.
I think about this with just within the last 10 years that we’re finding out that cis women have different symptoms of a heart attack than cis men do. And the fact that we’re not even looking at the experiences of trans folks than that at all. I think they’re the inertia for the systemic issues to continue to perpetuate themselves is really, really strong, and being able to make trouble around that, and to speak up around it, and to do what you’re doing, Grey, I know that it’s exhausting labor. And to do what you’re doing, Tsedale, to say, and to demand more. I think your language of demanding more is really, really important.
And if you are in a position of being an ally, when someone demands more of you, that’s a gift, you don’t see that as criticism of you that you should be defensive around, you see that as a, “Here’s where I need to grow, here’s what I need to do, and how I need to show up to be able to dismantle all of these structures that are put in the way.” I’ll leave it at that. I know that we don’t have much time, but I’m just really, really glad to be in conversation with all of you around these issues.
JENNIFER BROWN: So excellent. I can’t wait for a Q&A with the audience relating to this. I’m sure everyone’s going to bring juicy questions for all of you. But I just appreciate you, all the work you’re doing in the world, the way you heard the gratitude from Grey for the two of you, the language. The specificity that we can speak about these things now, and the end and the ways we need to speak about these things now. And name them. There’s a lot of education that has to be done so that people can activate in the right way to challenge the STEMs. And we’re really, I think, in our early days with that, but this year has showed us so much, and I think has really galvanized a lot of folks.
The education is not going to end. And we need to make sure we take care of ourselves as educators, and advocates. That we are doing a lot of lifting, living our lives. And also explaining and demystifying and holding accountable, and holding space and being really gracious, and, and patient. But I think we all agree though, that this… if we can muster the grace to be in the learning process with each other, we can connect to the intersectional experience, and important wisdom in that, and galvanize allyship and accomplices. Because one thing that’s true is we all need to go together, forward.
As we change these systems, it’s going to need more than just the four of us. It’s going to need a lot of people involved in a variety of ways. That’s to me sort of this beautiful and very complex challenge ahead of us. I want to thank each of you for being so personable, so real. Like I said, I just can’t wait to have a Q&A with this group. With that, I’ll wrap this up, and I appreciate each of you, but thank you for joining me today.
Hi, this is Jennifer, did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work. And discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves, and each other.
DOUGLAS FORESTA: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change, Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion, with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
- NASA’s DEI Journey with OD Specialist Diane Cain and JBC’s Adrienne Lawrence
- Doing the Work and Doing it Right: Deconstructing DEI with Author, Speaker and Consultant Lily Zheng
- Building the Damn Thing: Takeover Episode featuring VC and Author Kathryn Finney interviewed by WatchHerWork Founder, Denise Hamilton
- Through Thick and Thin: Employers Supporting Employees Through Health Crises with Cancer Channel Author Sarah McDonald
- Owning Our Place in the Privilege Equation: Dax-Devlon Ross, Principal, Dax-Dev, joins Jennifer and Ray Arata, Better Man Conference Founder