Mita Mallick, Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Marketing at Unilever, joins the program to discuss her diversity story and how she came to appreciate the power of allyship. She discusses why she supports The Better Man Conference and the need for men to engage as allies. Discover the need for bridging work, and how to create safe spaces where education and inquiry can occur.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Mita’s diversity story, including being bullied by classmates (3:00)
- A male ally who made a difference in Mita’s life (4:00)
- Why Mita supports The Better Man Conference (10:00)
- The need for safe spaces for men (14:00)
- The future of diversity and inclusion strategy (26:00)
- The expectations of the emerging workforce when it comes to inclusion (30:00)
- The importance of intergenerational diversity at men’s conferences (33:00)
- The power of bringing a friend or colleague to an event (37:00)
- The need to meet people where they are (40:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Mita, welcome to the Will to Change.
MITA MALLICK: Thank you so much for having me, Jennifer.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, we’ve been friends for a long time and colleagues in the diversity and inclusion world. We’re actually here today specifically to talk about one of our mutually favorite conferences called the Better Man Conference, which is coming up this fall, 2019, in several different locations.
We’re going to dive into the purpose of that gathering. I’m really very interested to hear what your vision is for why you support it so much on a corporate level and on a personal level, and so we’ll dive into that today. But we always start the Will to Change with our diversity stories.
I know as a practitioner, you’re somebody that has traveled this path and done a ton of personal introspection about what diversity means to you, and the role of your story, your experience, your background, your identity. So what would you share with the audience as a way for us to get to know where you’ve come from and how you’ve entered this field?
MITA MALLICK: That’s a loaded question-
JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MITA MALLICK: We’ll jump right in. I would say I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrant parents. My younger brother and I were born and raised here. I was born in Michigan and raised outside of Boston. I always say I was born in a time and a place where it was not cool to be Indian. I think that probably resonates with many of your listeners no matter where in the world you’re sitting today or where in this country you’re sitting today.
I really struggled to belong growing up. We were one of a handful families of color in our suburbs and I was bullied pretty heavily, both verbally and physically growing up, throughout elementary school, middle school, high school, escalating from name calling, to spitballs to, I remember the N word and the S word, spic, being spray painted on our driveway and the New England weather eventually wearing it away because we didn’t have the money to actually repaint it, and I didn’t actually know at the time what any of that meant.
Probably the thing that I talk about now, which was the pivotal moment, was when my hair was actually set on fire in class when I was a freshman-
JENNIFER BROWN: Gosh.
MITA MALLICK: … in intro to physical science class. There were two boys who were throwing matches into my hair and my hair was set on fire. That is one of the more painful memories I have, of course the damage to my hair and then also to my psyche. More my psyche, it was pretty deep.
It was actually also the first time I had a male ally who really stepped in for me, who was the guidance counselor at the time, and also happened to be the cross country coach, track coach, and really took me under his wing because who knew I was fast. I could run fast. It was never very coordinated, but I could run fast.
That was a moment where I had at the first time in my life an ally really intervene and see what had happened and how I was being bullied. I would say that at that point in my life running really saved me. Even to this day as the things I’ve gone through in my adult life, I always go back to running.
That is where I come from, from my personal story, and that is why I think it’s so important to help people feel like they belong and help them belong and the responsibility we have, not just in our workspaces, workplaces, in our schools, in our communities, to help one another and be kind to one another.
JENNIFER BROWN: What did he specifically do, I’m curious, to support you, protect, intervene. Was it private moral support or was it more sort of overt and public than that?
MITA MALLICK: It was pretty public, which I know we’ll talk about. It’s very important. Well, first of all, the two boys were suspended for a certain amount of time. He was also the guidance counselor and the coach, which was interesting. And he put me on the team. He called my parents and said I’m going on the team. There was actually no choice in it, and it was like… but it was wonderful because if that hadn’t happened… It was awkward because I didn’t know any of the girls. I wasn’t as fast as some of the girls. I was fast, but it really… And sports is something I think is a wonderful way to bond to people, but he really made a public effort because the team had already been in, it was like midway and he said, “You’re coming. You’re joining, and you’re going to be at practice every day. You’re going to come to the meets. You’re participating.”
So for someone to extend that to me and include me in that way was something that hadn’t happened before, I would say, from the perspective of adults in the school and as an ally. At home of course, I had my dad as an ally, I had my brother, but in the school system for someone to do that for me, was groundbreaking for me.
JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It fits so many of the descriptions of the behaviors that we actually talk about now in the professional setting, right? It’s doing something loudly. It’s using whatever access or power or decision ability you have to hold a bigger vision, I think for someone who… It probably didn’t cross your mind that you could be on that team, let alone be a fast runner.
MITA MALLICK: Oh, absolutely not. No.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right?
MITA MALLICK: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Great.
MITA MALLICK: People see in you what you don’t see in yourself and that’s what also allies will do for you, and that’s what he did for me.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so beautiful. Fast forward, you professionally have distinguished yourself in your award-winning for your work in marketing and advertising, and you move into diversity and inclusion roles. Tell me about your journey of reconciling, realizing, I guess first, how are you looked at in the workplace? Who is under-represented and how does that catch fire in you as you travel your professional path? Maybe even share your own journey of learning around perhaps biases that you had originally and that you needed to raise your own awareness around in order to actually move to the place where you are leading this work.
MITA MALLICK: Yeah. I would start by why I got into this work, which is, we talked about my career in marketing. I was always passionate about storytelling, likely because of what I just shared with you. I was painfully shy and introverted. I think those two things are different, but I was painfully shy and I was introverted. I loved reading. I loved writing. I was obsessed with watching commercials when people actually did that.
JENNIFER BROWN: I remember those days.
MITA MALLICK: Right, the commercials. I wouldn’t watch shows but I loved commercials and I would love wandering the aisles looking at the Green Giant and Keebler Elf. I was really fascinated with branding and marketing at a young age. So I went into marketing. I was always, also because of who I am and my personal journey, was very interested in the intersection of marketing and inclusion. One of my career highlights was leading the hand and body lotion portfolio for Unilever and signing Viola Davis to be our healing project ambassador for Vaseline. What that did for the business and what that did for our relationship with her, it was phenomenal and a career highlight to help turn that business around.
My CEO at the time and CHRO had approached me about leading diversity and inclusion North America. I was very hesitant because I thought I was going to stay in marketing, like that’s what I was destined to do. They asked me three times and my younger brother said, “This is now the time to say ‘yes’, they’ve asked you about three times. Now it’s time to say ‘yes.'” He said to me, “But you’ve always been so passionate about this work in whatever you’ve done, so why not do this for a larger organization and be a change maker?”
Then as I shared with you my own story, I also at the same time was really uncovering my purpose. Unilever’s really great about this. We really help employees try to unlock their purpose. That can seem very high level. What does that mean? I have multiple purposes. My purpose is to be here today, Jennifer, with you is-
JENNIFER BROWN: I know. Thank you.
MITA MALLICK: … to be intentional this conversation. That’s a purpose.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
MITA MALLICK: My purpose is to be a great friend, daughter, mother, all those things. But we know that once you unlock your purpose, which is, “What is it that gets me to get up everyday and go to work beside the paycheck?”, it is when that purpose is discovered and you match it with your capabilities, the magic happens.
Something that has always driven me has been my family history. I said my parents are immigrants and my dad’s mother was married when she was 12 years old, and my mother’s mother was married when she was 10 years old. I always say they were married off to men in their 20s. They didn’t have a choice. There are many young girls, young women in the world today that don’t have a choice in that. They had very large families and they were remarkable women.
For me, when you talk about gender equality, its not theoretical or academic or something that I’m reading in Harvard Business Review or listening to on a podcast, it’s like, “Wow, this is it. This is me. I see what progress can look like in less than just three generations.”
When I think about your question about the inclusion work is that, for me, there’s the head and the heart. The head, we can all look at the metrics. We all know what we need to do, but you have to find your personal connection to this agenda and you have to help others. Help them find, “What is your personal connection? Why do you care about this work?” I know once you help people unlock that, because everyone to your point has a story, all of a sudden the agenda lifts in a big way.
JENNIFER BROWN: Okay. That’s right. Well, and that’s a perfect segue into Better Man Conference. Even when I say the title of the conference, people have a variety of reactions.
MITA MALLICK: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right? I’m sure you’ve heard that because you’ve been a proponent of this conference and this conversation and bringing Unilever into the mix to host this fall in New Jersey, which is really exciting. Thank you for doing that.
I want to talk about, why this conference? What do we need to be better? I don’t know how you feel about the title of it, but it certainly gets people’s attention. Tell me a bit about what drew you to this, to support and throw your weight behind it, and bring it to your audience and literally to your workplace and your employees too, as well as to the world? What is it going after that really appeals to you?
MITA MALLICK: The Better Man Conference for me, we talk about marketing, so it’s Ray’s vision of the Better Man Conference. It’s catchy and it catches people’s attention, and I think at the end of the day, we all want to be better people.
JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MITA MALLICK: What we all strive to be is just better. I met Ray Arata two years ago at a Working Mother Media event, and I connected with his vision. There wasn’t a lot of people in this space doing this work, talking about men being allies in the workplace and at the same time our own Men as Allies group internally was asking, what could they do, how could they be helping? Because I would argue that most people want to be allies.
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely.
MITA MALLICK: Most people would say they want to be allies, but they don’t know what that means. They don’t know how to show up. I go back to the example of my guidance counselor, cross country coach, who knew how to show up. That’s not innate for everyone and sometimes people feel like they need permission, and the truth is sometimes that you don’t. We just all need to be better people and standing up for each other in our workspaces, workplaces, and our communities.
Then Ray had asked me to come be on a panel last year at the Better Man Conference, which he hosted in New York at the Hearst Towers. I was just really floored by how honest people were being, how the tone of the conference was very positive and uplifting. Because I do think when we talk about men being allies for women and the role men can play, you want to be careful. Ray and I have talked about this, but it’s not about shaming, it’s not about being demeaning or condescending, but it’s coming from a positive place on how to educate and lift each other up.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. That’s what I do also appreciate. The tone, the energy, the openness to learning, and having it be a safe space to ask the questions without having it be such a public forum that you’re embarrassed about the questions that you have. The structure really does enable that.
It’s largely men in the room, but some women. I want to get back to that maybe, and we could talk about the composition of the room. Who’s in the room, maybe who needs to be in the room that’s not in the room, which is an interesting question I think about too. But the fact that there are men gathering to spend a full day on this topic to learn is, I agree, so encouraging and so unusual. Honestly, I travel through the same places you do and I don’t really see this happening, barring, I know Kat Gordon with The 3% Conference has something she calls the Manbassador Track at her conference. Right?
That’s a similar space, smaller, but at least it’s carved out for the sole purpose of learning for male allies who want to do more, be more, understand more, et cetera. So do you think a unique space is really needed? I know we debate this all the time in the diversity inclusion space. Are single identity spaces important?
Some people are of the mind that, “Well, people who are traditionally marginalized are the ones that need those spaces.” Like LGBTQ folks, like women of color, for example, so that they can feel, so we can feel safe to share, to let our guard down, that we’re not on display and that we can seek emotional support from each other, which is so critical to our sustainability and our emotional health and to our progress.
But I think some of the raised eyebrows about Better Man is why do men need to come together in this kind of space? How do you view that? I’m assuming you think it’s important, you believe it’s important, but why is it important? What are the characteristics of it that you really believe in as a tool for change and growth?
MITA MALLICK: Yeah. I think it’s similar to what you just talked about when you talked about, let’s say, LGBTQ community needing a safe space. Men also need a safe space to have these discussions and a psychologically safe space, I would argue, and a space where you can ask questions and be educated. I always say in this work, the questions are the most important thing.
In the last three and a half years that I’ve been doing this work, there’s really not a question that doesn’t offend me anymore because you have to just… It’s the intent versus the impact, I always say. Intent versus impact. I lead my life. I try to every day from a very positive place, I would say that 99% of people have positive and positive intent. And sometimes the intent doesn’t match the impact because they just don’t know or they just don’t realize. How can we educate people on, “Okay, Jennifer, this was my intent. I didn’t realize that was the negative impact it would have on you, but my intention was from a good place. Let’s have the discussion on coaching and guiding me on how the intent could have been better.”
That’s why I think it’s so important to have a safe space where you can have the Better Man Conference and men can understand, “Okay. I want to be an ally, but how do I show up, and what are the practical tools?” Now, I think what you were alluding to earlier is the danger of just men keeping that isolated, right? If we just have spaces and places where men or any group are just talking to each other individually and not cross sharing back or cross pollinating back, then we’re not building a stronger community around us.
That’s the hope that this is just the catalyst for, it’s just not Unilever man. The reason I wanted to host the conference is to impact the ecosystem, so we’ll have men from many different companies and as of course you said, women there as well, but how do we continue the momentum? How do we continue the best practice sharing? How will our Unilever men then come back and show up at work that following Monday? Those are the things that are going to be really critical in the days and weeks that follow.
JENNIFER BROWN: That is so true. You bring up this topic. I know that there was a big splash a year ago, I think it was, when there was an article about Deloitte allegedly eradicating its diversity networks because they were not being effective in the way that they needed to be, allegedly. And the real story is a whole different story. I think it was a bit of a headline grab, honestly, and knowing what I know now, but the question does arise, what is the future of single identity spaces and communities and is there a tendency for them to like over-rotate towards the single identity community? Right?
And that’s so important that it’s bonding capital as Kenji quotes, the author of Bowling Alone. He differentiates between bonding capital and bridging capital. ERGs and other groups, while strengthening each other in these safe spaces, and that needed community and strengthening, we need to also be bridging.
MITA MALLICK: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: The bridging work is the harder work. Really hard work. That’s I think where… Particularly in the era that we’re living in where there’s a sensitivity, there’s heightened awareness of saying the wrong thing, there is polarization, which we talk about all the time on the Will to Change, and then we share the unfortunate research that Lean In has been doing the last couple of years where men are reporting in the study pulling away from these critical one-on-one relationships, particularly with women because they believe, I think not entirely accurately, that any tiny misstep is going to get you in a heap of trouble, and set off this like domino effect for your own career and for that woman that you’re trying to support, i.e. like, “I can’t do anything right. I’m just going to take my marbles and go back into the corner.”
So the better man is like this really proactive counter to that, to say, “No, step in.” Step in and in order to learn you must step in and you must work across difference and you must investigate this, not only to be like a better man, but a better leader in the organizational context.
I think that we’re in this interesting “both and” moment of needing to find community, and that’s true for the men as well. They need to see what good looks like. When another man does something, that’s I think when men do their deepest learning. Not when necessarily, yes, when a woman says, “Hey, I need you to show up like this as an ally for me.” That’s critical. But I do think that men listen to and watch each other in a very different and a very important way. I wondered if you had thoughts about that.
MITA MALLICK: Yeah. It’s the role modeling piece. It’s the… We all want great role models and so how can we all be better role models and agents of change in our culture? We are all building great cultures, great communities, wherever we work. We want to each protect that, and it’s so precious, and not destroy it.
One of the things we’re hoping, and we know will come out of this conference, we talked about the practical tools, exactly what you’re saying, how do we teach and learn from each other? If I’m not in the room and someone has made a comment, let’s say about my appearance, even if I’m not in the room, it’s the responsibility of an ally to stand up and say, “That was an inappropriate comment. Here’s why, and let’s not say that again.” Right?
I have the story I shared with you earlier in my career where I had a boss at the time who decided that it would be great to create a nickname for me. My full name is Madhumita. I now go by Mita, but when I started my career, I decided I was going to reclaim my full name, which is difficult to pronounce for anyone who is in the West.
The boss at the time decided it would be funny to call me Mohammed, and called me Mohammed for one year until I left. It was interesting to me because I feel like when those things happened, microaggressions as we call them at work or over bullying or however you want to term it, there’s clearly lots of different terms and lots of different escalation points, I was so ashamed and embarrassed back then to actually tell him to call me by my real name or stop calling me Mohammed, but I ask myself now, “Where were all the other people that could have actually said and pulled him aside and said, “It’s not funny that you call her Mohammad. Her name is Madhumita or call her Mita.”
Those are the things, those are the teachable moments. Especially when we think about harassment training, which we’ve all been through, a lot of what happens is there are so many bystanders who are there watching and are either frozen in the moment or don’t know what to say either before, during, or after. That’s what we want to teach people, especially men in this case, on how to help intervene.
Because it’s not always about the perpetrator. It’s about who was around and who could have helped, who could have helped to diffuse a situation or educate? Even the word perpetrator, we go back to intent versus impact, right? Another example we had talked about, if someone continues to mispronounce my name, continues to mispronounce it, Ray could intervene and say, “Hey, you probably don’t realize this, but you’re mispronouncing her name. It’s really not Maita, it’s Mita.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
MITA MALLICK: Those are the moments that are so critical in terms of intervention and allyship.
JENNIFER BROWN: So true. It’s such a… what I always say is so much less of a risk for people who are in a dominant group or in a power position to challenge behavior. It’s so much more risky. Imagine you, even having the courage to combat that and say something, you would’ve had to really put yourself on the line-
MITA MALLICK: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: … from a career perspective. Right? The risk you had to take was 100 times what the risk that somebody like Ray Arata would have had to take-
MITA MALLICK: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: … to have one conversation. Yeah. I say many hands would make light work when it comes to this and yet heavy amount of the work lies with people like you and me and others who are trying to find a voice, let alone use it, let alone take the risk of actually putting our job on the line to tell the truth.
MITA MALLICK: We need a hundred, a thousand more of you’s and me’s and Ray’s and that’s what the Better Man Conference is doing because we’re starting a movement that all of the individuals who walk out are going to be better people and changed when they walk out of the conference and then they’re going to bring that back. Not just to their, say, workspaces, workplaces, but to home, their communities as well.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, absolutely. You mentioned Men as Allies group at Unilever. I’m really so curious about these groups. I hear about them and I know a few of them that exist and I actually am promoting this idea. It’s interesting, the response that this idea gets when internal champions, such as yourself either broached the topic or when men raised their hand to say, “We want to form a group,” and to the eye rolls and the cynicism and the surprise and on the part of people like you and me, the delight to say, “Thank goodness, somebody is wanting to formalize this conversation to go rather public about their participation in something like this.”
I’m just curious, how did that occur, and what does the group focus on, and do you think these groups and these kinds of groups are a part of the future of diversity and inclusion strategies?
MITA MALLICK: It’s a great question. I’ll say what I’m sure you’ve heard from other companies is that at least at Unilever groups don’t exist because I want them to exist or our CEO wants them to exist. They exist because the employees want them to exist, and they’re driven by our employees with the support of our leadership.
Men as Allies came to be. We have a Women’s Business Resource group and especially I would say right around the time of the fall of Harvey Weinstein and really the springboard for #MeToo, there was a lot of discussion on how men could just be better allies for women in the workplace and what would that look like. That was when the group really came to be that it was also the sense of, it was an offshoot of the Women’s Business Resource group that still continues to be.
What could men be doing better? A lot of it is showing up to events, showing up to an event that the Asian Business Resource group is hosting. You don’t have to be Asian to attend, especially we want allies there. So I think the attendance has been so critical, the commitment and sign of support, the visible sign of support that you’re coming to events.
Education. I know there’s a lot of articles and best practice sharing and things that the group is sharing amongst themselves. Then finally we have brought in facilitators like Chuck Shelton, who I’m sure you know, and working on similar to Better Man Conference but more one-hour, two-hour workshops on various topics. Then we had Asha Santos, who’s a prominent partner at Littler out of Boston, come in to do a really powerful master class on empowering the bystander, and how to combat harassment and stop it in its tracks.
There’s been a lot of workshops and education and things that the group has been doing slowly along the way, whether it was also to support Women’s International Month in March and the activities we had. Then of course this is going to be a huge catalyst. I should also say while I’m speaking about it and sponsoring it, the Men as Allies group is actually running the conference with Ray and his team. Glen,,who’s my colleague and has become a good friend and mentor of mine as well, he’s on our Global Dove Men+Care team, and so he’s really leading the charge. That’s also important so that everyone knows that it’s not the women running the conference. It is the Men as Allies group.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank God.
MITA MALLICK: … and the men are running the conference, which is important.
You asked me about the future of these groups. It’s complicated. I think you would agree with me that in 10 years, the utopia is that you and I need to find new jobs. That everybody is their own chief diversity officer, that would be the perfect world and that’s likely not going to be the case. I’m going to wager a bet. I would say that-
JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think I agree.
MITA MALLICK: I would say that you have to have both. Like you still need safe places and spaces where people can have these honest conversations and educate each other and feel like they’re supported within the community they identify with. But back to your bridging piece, then you just can’t be having these conversations in silos because then the change is never going to happen.
It also gets complicated. I, my two children, I have a four and a six-year-old, they’re growing up bi-cultural. All of my nieces and nephews are of mixed race. So how do they start to identify? I know so many people are grappling with that as well. If you are… I had a colleague say, “I’m Afro Latina. Where’s my group?” Right? That starts to get really complicated, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: I know.
MITA MALLICK: Because people want to… they want to belong and we all want to also belong on our terms and how we identify, and how we want to show up at work. I think that there’s going to be a need for both. I think there’ll be a need for business resource groups, community building in some way, but then this idea of how do you then bridge it back?
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I love that you brought that up. We often talk about the deep intersectionality of the particularly younger talent coming into organizations. Millennial talent and then Generation Z coming in whose oldest are about 23 or so now, and how they view their identity and celebrate all of their uniqueness, and also assume inclusiveness and diverse organizations are table stakes.
Then they come into the corporate world and they’re sometimes rudely awakened depending on what company, I’m sure not at Unilever, but I think it’s probably a rude awakening for anyone that’s been in the academic environment and who has grown up in that generation where there is such a comfort with declaring who they are. That I think people in my generation, and I don’t know how you would view this, but it’s totally unfamiliar to a lot of us to celebrate who we are in that fulsome way.
Then to enter the workplace relationship and that employer-employee relationship, and in a way expect that all of that is seen and heard and valued and welcomed, and it’s not just lip service, but it’s real. I know you probably think about this a lot. It leads me to think about two questions for you. One is, how intersectional have you seen this conversation about Men as Allies be? I’m also curious what generation of men are the ones that are raising their hand to have these conversations? Because I do think so much is changing between generations. You can really see this as something that the comfort level of even having these discussions and then the additional comfort level around, what does gender even mean? If we’re going to have a conversation about gender, let’s be inclusive about it.
MITA MALLICK: I would start by who’s showing up to the conference. At least for the Unilever men, Glenn and I had sent out a note inviting Unilever male leaders. By leaders entire Staff. It’s not just our U.S. board. We invited male leaders and, “Are you interested in coming?” And the response is overwhelming. We are also asking each of them to consider bringing someone who didn’t immediately raise their hand. And I think that’s really important, this idea of the plus one. Because you would automatically say, “Okay, these are the people who are self-selecting to go to the Better Man Conference or probably further along on their inclusion journey.”
The question we always get is, “What about the rest?” And so what about just inviting someone who didn’t immediately… maybe the conference didn’t spark to that individual, but to extend it and say, “Jennifer, I’m going to this conference, and it would mean a lot to me if you came with me for the day.” Given our relationship, you likely if you had the time would say yes.
So how do you replicate that? So we actually, I’m really impressed we’ve got a lot of intergenerational diversity within the men that are attending for Unilever. Which is so important because it can’t just belong to everyone at the top, it can’t just belong to everyone at the bottom, and I always talk about the frozen middle because-
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, we do.
MITA MALLICK: … sometimes in organizations, you’ve got a lot of traction from the CEO and the U.S. board, which we’re really lucky we do. We’ve got great support from our senior leadership. You have everyone in the work doing the trenches and you and I are sometimes in the trenches as well doing that work. Then you have the frozen middle, the layer of managers, directors, VPs that are frozen. So how do you thaw that layer out? How do you invite those individuals? That happens at very… I think any of my colleagues who were working in enterprise-wide scale initiatives like I am for large companies, that’s the job to be done, is to really move the middle layer of people.
JENNIFER BROWN: So true. And remember that people leave managers before-
MITA MALLICK: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: … they leave jobs and companies, right? So this frozen middle is actually really a perfect storm for inclusion because if those are the folks that think about it the least or make the least time for it, or don’t think it’s important, that’s impacting everybody that they manage on a day to day basis in a really profound way in terms of their tenure at the company. Because after a while, when your boss doesn’t get it, it exhausts you. It’s just one of those things where you wake up and one day you’re just done.
MITA MALLICK: Absolutely. Yeah. I’m very excited about this plus one idea and just bringing people along the journey who normally maybe just didn’t spark to them or it wasn’t on their radar or they weren’t wanting to attend and having a friend invite them to come along. Then also for those individuals to talk about what happens in the days and weeks and months to come afterwards. How do we keep the momentum going?
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. The plus one idea is something I wonder whether you’re experimenting with it as well in the other diversity networks?
MITA MALLICK: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tell me about that because I think that’s to the bridging capital point when we say, “Oh, all are welcome. All are welcome.” I always say it’s not enough to just stick the letter A next to your name. You’ve got to go out and get people, they’re not going to just get the signal and somehow magically show up because there’s so many barriers to feeling comfortable to doing that.
Like people just aren’t going to… For a man to show up to a women’s network meeting is enormous for him. And by the way, it’s enormous for the women in the room to feel comfortable and embracing of him being there. It’s kind of this interesting two-way street that I’m not sure we’re always very honest about. People say, “Oh, nobody shows up. Therefore, nobody’s interested in our challenges.” But I don’t think it’s as simple as that.
MITA MALLICK: No, I agree. I think you’re right. You have to be specific about the requests you make. I think if we give people some benefit of the doubt, there’s a lot going on at home and at work, there’s just a lot. Sometimes people see events and they think they’re going to come and they just don’t.
Then there’s the point that people don’t feel comfortable going because, “I don’t identify as black, African American, Latin X, Asian, whatever the identifiable term you want to use. I don’t identify with that community, and so I don’t think I’m welcome.” The job is to be specific when you send out invites. If we’re having an event for Women’s History Month, I will say specifically, “Bring someone with you who normally you don’t see at these events. Reach out whether it’s your immediate team, your boss, a cross functional partner.”
We have so much power. We really do in our relationships. For the most part, if I ask someone to come to an event and they’re available, they will come because I asked them and they would come because you asked them and they would come because so-and-so asked them.
I think that’s so important because if you are a man, feeling uncomfortable about attending the Women’s Business Resource group event, which you’re invited to, “Oh by the way, then come with me,” because there’s safety in numbers. Right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
MITA MALLICK: It also reminds me of networking, which can be daunting and you go to these events and you’re like, “Oh, I don’t know anyone.” “Bring someone with you.” Right. It’s that same basic principle of extending yourself and going as a pair. Sometimes if I’m really trying to, for some of the bigger events I’ll email my top 25 friends and I’ll say, “Can you each bring three people?” Right? The one, the three, whatever it is, be specific on what you’re asking of them. What you want them to bring.
JENNIFER BROWN: Great advice. I think it’s, how do you address the reality that, already, the folks who are underrepresented, trying to find community, experiencing marginalization, are already doing a lot of the heavy lifting to just show up every day, do your best work, be seen and heard, and then the ask is, “Oh by the way, you need to reach out and bring someone who’s not a part of that identity so that they can learn.” I would imagine there are some folks that really get that, that are on board with that, and some that are like, “No, I want my safe space and I don’t want to have to do that,”-
MITA MALLICK: Yeah. Of course. Of course.
JENNIFER BROWN: … because they don’t want to have to extend it. How do you… I know people are different, right? Some people are just not going to be into that concept and others are going to be really gung ho about it. I’m not sure what the question is. I just wonder, I guess, what would you say to folks who push back on this to say, “I worked hard enough to get the safe space and I need it. I need it for me. What is my duty?”
MITA MALLICK: No, I totally respect that. Absolutely. This is exhausting work. I always say, one of the things I’ve learned in this work is that you need to meet people where they are. And guess what, it’s really exhausting to continuously meet people where they are if they’re-
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, it is.
MITA MALLICK: … not where I am. And this is my job. So there’s a difference, right? And that’s hard sometimes because I separate being a woman of color versus being the head of diversity and cross-cultural marketing. Now those two things can’t always be separate, but they are separate because I’ve chosen to do this work. It’s a choice, and so there’s a lot. It’s hard work. So I will take that burden on as well. A lot of our DNI champions well.
I think most people… I haven’t actually gotten pushback because it will be something like, “Bring a friend. Bring someone you normally wouldn’t see at an event. And you know what, if you come with no one, it’s okay.” I think most people, it’s not a heavy lift. The three and the five, you get to be a heavy lift I get, but if you’re just saying, “Bring someone. Bring a friend, bring the person you sit next to every day. Ask your boss.” And that’s it. But we never want anyone to feel uncomfortable because this is hard work and there’s a physical and emotional toll it can take-
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
MITA MALLICK: … showing up every day at work. So we would never ever want anyone to feel that thing.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Some of-
MITA MALLICK: Most people-
JENNIFER BROWN: … us have more energy than others. Right?
MITA MALLICK: Yeah. And depending where you are in your journey. Most people will be happy to bring someone along.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I love that. I love this plus one idea. Thank you for sharing such a concrete tactic that people can do that’s relatively easy to do and low-risk, hopefully. I look forward to seeing all the plus ones-
MITA MALLICK: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: … at the event. The dates of the events, events, I say plural because there are actually three Better Man Conferences this fall. I want to point that out to our audience. In case you’re close to any of these, please come. New Jersey, Unilever with Mita, September 27th, San Francisco is October 11th, and New York City is November 19th.
Mita, thank you for your support and hosting and your thought leadership and the way that you approach this work with honesty and candor and a true business lens, which I always appreciate when I talk to you. You’re vulnerable and strategic all at the same time, and that is I think the height of efficacy in this work. Congratulations for all of that and all your success. Please everybody, if you’re anywhere near these conferences, please show up. It’s bettermanconference.com.
Mita, where can folks find more information about you if they want to follow your journey and your thought leadership going forward?
MITA MALLICK: At LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the best place to reach me. Jennifer, thank you for all that you’re doing. I’m excited about your new book that’s out and I’m excited that you’ll be involved-
JENNIFER BROWN: I know.
MITA MALLICK: … at the Better Man Conference-
JENNIFER BROWN: We’ll be on stage!
MITA MALLICK:… you’ll be there. Really, thank you for all of your leadership and support in this work. I know it’s going to be an amazing day and the movement continues, and anyone who has questions can reach out to me directly on the conference.
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