Going Back to Go Forward: How the APA is Dismantling Systems of Oppression

Jennifer Brown | |

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This episode, originally recorded as a DEI Community Call, features a conversation with Dr. Maysa Akbar, Chief Diversity Officer for the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Akbar discusses the APA’s public commitment to continue its work to dismantle systemic racism, and how the organization has apologized for its longstanding contributions to systemic racism, acknowledging the historical harms inflicted upon communities of color by the discipline of psychology. Discover the approach that the APA took to delve into historical archives and identify the harms committed against communities of color, and why the passing of a resolution to uniformly define racism within APA became an essential baseline for the work they would do to fight systemic racism.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: We were undergoing at that moment throughout the apology DEI culture and climate survey. So looking at the baseline of culture and climate within the association. We had also started to look at representation and diversity within the association. So to know here we are undergoing this, how many people of color do we have? How many people from historically marginalized identities do we have? How many people who are non-binary? How many people who have a visible or invisible disability? We had no idea what that baseline was and that work needed to continue.

We were also undergoing a full-fledged disability as assessment because we had to identify a maturity model that worked for us. As an association, we have tons of members, we do tons of different convenings. And in terms of accommodations and accessibility, were we up to snuff in terms of that? So while we’re undergoing this entire piece of this apology, we are still assessing and deliberately making tweaks to the way that we function as an association.

JENNIFER BROWN: Ready to take the next step on your inclusive leader journey? Hi The Will To Change listeners. I want to let that our next cohort for the DEI Foundations program is launching on February 14th. And I want to tell you a little bit about how we designed it and why we designed this program and the way that we did and encourage you to join our wait list so that you can get information on the upcoming launch of the next cohort.

So I’ll give you that in a second, but first, I wanted to describe the program. So it is a six-week foundations’ online course. And really it’s mainly online, but there are also opportunities to interact live with your fellow students and also with our amazing faculty, which is populated by our senior consultants. And you’re going to hear from the main faculty member on the program on today’s episode of The Will To Change, Kevin England. So Kevin will be the main facilitator and teacher for the program launching on February 14th. You can get a feeling for his approach and his background, and get excited to work with him and learn from him.

And so in the course, it will be about meeting the challenges of the changing world of work and beginning to dismantle the systems of inequity that have permeated society, communities, and workplaces for far too long. You’ll understand what it means to be an inclusive leader, how unconscious biases impact your interactions with others, and you’ll leave the course being more confident in speaking about the value of DEI in a way that engages others around you. And as I said, you’ll have opportunities to learn from subject matter experts and peers, and uncover the power of your own diversity story so that you can talk about DEI in a way that connects.

So if all of this sounds like exactly what you need in the new year, please visit jenniferbrownconsulting.com and look for the tab called Courses. Go to DEI Foundations. And there is a wait list link there that you can put your information into. And ultimately, when and if you decide to register, which we hope you do, you can use the coupon code Podcast For 20% Off. So that’s Podcast For 20% Off. So make a note of that. And as you get information about the program, you can get that discount. And I really, really hope you’ll consider joining us as it lays a wonderful foundation for the beginning years of your journey towards hopefully becoming a DEI practitioner and leader and advocate in our space.

DOUG FORESTA: The Will To Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards the new, more inclusive workplace reality. She’s a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advised top companies on building culture of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now onto the episode.

Hello and welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. The episode you’re about to hear was originally recorded as a DEI community call, which is why you may hear some reference to the chat room or people in the chat. The conversation today is between Jennifer and Dr. Maysa Akbar, Chief Diversity Officer for the American Psychological Association, as they discuss the APA’s public commitment to continue its work to dismantle systemic racism, action which follows a policy change voted on unanimously by the organization’s governing council of representatives. And in October 2021, APA apologized for its longstanding contributions to systemic racism, acknowledging the historic harms inflicted upon communities of color by the discipline of psychology.

And in the conversation, you’ll hear Jennifer and Dr. Akbar talk about the approach that the APA took to delve into the historical archives for the discipline of psychology and identify the harms committed against communities of color, why this process was so complex and the importance of looking beyond written history. Also, why the passing of a resolution to uniformly defined racism within the APA became an essential baseline for the work that they would do to fight systemic racism, and the momentum that the APA’s public apology has created among other associations and industries to do the same, and the two publications and the works that will lay out two sides of APA’s process for others to learn from one, looking at the collaborative and personal aspect, and one outlining the scientific formal process.

Dr. Akbar has actually been a guest on The Will To Change previously on episode 113, Pain and Possibility, how Dr. Maysa Akbar is charting what’s beyond allyship. And definitely would encourage you to check out that episode as well if you haven’t listened to it. And now on the conversation.

JENNIFER BROWN: Dr. Maysa Akbar. I originally met you, Maysa, through Jenn Grace who published my first book called Inclusion. And you published a book with her as well, and it’s called urban trauma. And we were just talking about one of the things on Maysa’s long list is perhaps a second an edition of her book as well. She finds the miracle of time to do that, but it is incredible Maysa. And then a book on allyship that really moved me and spoke to me and we’ve done podcasts on it too. So if you’d like to know more about Maysa and our conversations, please go back into my Will To Change archives and look for our conversation on that. And then perhaps my team could put the link for that in chat as well.

But Maysa, why don’t you say hello to the community now that I’ve built you up and not deservedly so because people are going to understand very soon the enormous thing you’re tackling with courage and resilience and bravery and truth, and the difficulty of what you’ve taken on? And I just want to thank you as much as I can because the work you’re doing is really truly a role model of what is possible, but often what organizations don’t have the will to undertake. And I do not underestimate your leadership and the role that you’ve played in supporting that will, and that actual action that APA is taking for change. So I will hand over to you.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Thank you. I’m grateful for being invited into this space and into this community. It’s a village that I appreciate and care for quite a bit. DEI practitioners have a really tough job, often goes unseen and unrewarded. So I hope that what we can create today is an opportunity to fill your cup, to nurture you, to pour into you and to give you so of energy and stamina in what you do.

So I appreciate being in this conversation and sharing all of the work that we’re doing at APA, the American Psychological Association, not just associated to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but really going beyond that in terms of tackling racism head-on. And I know that we’re going to dive deeper into those questions today. And we hope that you will approach this from a space of curiosity. So feel free to ask questions and feel free to jump in. We want to make sure that we support you as you’re uncovering your path in your own organizations. So thank you for that wonderful introduction, Jennifer.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks, Maysa. Love that you brought up self-care, you brought up mental health than balancing the impact of this work on us personally as we lead it in organizations, how do we ensure our cup is filled? And I think I’ve been told that this call is one of those ways to let the air out of the balloon and just breathe together and acknowledge the difficulty of what we do and the courage it takes. And let this community refill your cup, realize that you’re not alone, but we can feel alone because we are alone in our organization sometimes in terms of our advocacy efforts, but we are not alone. Never make that mistake. We aren’t. And I know this community can use to connect outside of this call. So literally look at this list.

Maysa, I know you always make time, even though we don’t want to bother you because you’re on some pretty important tasks right now. I know that you would make time too to mentor folks through difficult change, particularly if you are all this to this and embarking on something that is as truthful as what the APA is embarking on, which is pretty unusual, shouldn’t be so unusual, but it is.

So Dr. Akbar, tell us how this started and how long you’ve been in role? And what was under way when you started, what did you initiate or were or pushed along? And tell us how this question began to be asked about the APA’s history, what to do about it, and then what felt into place in order to enable where you are now?

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Yeah, that’s loaded. And it’s funny, I find myself to be a storyteller and perhaps a lot of us could identify with that. And I want to maybe start your question back engineer into it from my lived experience rather than the professional hat that I wear. And you’ve heard my story, we’ve talked about my story. I’m the only child of two immigrant parents to this country. We struggled quite a bit as a family to try to adjust to all of the nuances of being in a new country with a new language. I’m originally from the Caribbean.

And you never know as you are going through adversity that that same adversity is what’s going to turn into something that is magnificent later on. And that sometimes we have to turn those moments of disappointment into lessons. These are the lessons that we’re learning and leaning into them.

And as I was trying to create identity for myself and trying to reconcile who I was and what I wanted to be, it took me into the journey of being a psychologist. And as a psychologist, what we do is that we study human behavior. We study the interactions between humans, why people are motivated to do the things that they do, why don’t they do some of the things that they should do in order for them to feel better about themselves or to move forward in terms of the goals that they have set. And then how do we get along or don’t get along for that matter?

And all of those elements culminated into now being in the end of my mid-career as a psychologist into coming into APA at a time that it was ready as an organization to make some really significant change. And there were moments throughout its 130-year history where there were a lot of things that either APA as an organization or the discipline of psychology which we inform as the largest psychological association in the globe, around the world that we aren’t necessarily so proud of.

And when we were positioned to really tackle diversity, equity and inclusion, we had to ask ourselves, what does that really mean outside of putting it on paper, saying that we’re doing this, creating an office or having a chief diversity the officer in its place? And what do we need to look at internally to amplify what we’re saying we’re going to do? How do we move beyond lip service? How do we not make sure that we are riding some type of trend that’s happening because society is in such crisis all of the time, given COVID, the racial reckoning and what we’re calling the syndemic with now a mental health crisis that has been looming and really just showing itself?

And we decided to engage in a process of having internal look at who we are and to look at the things that were difficult in terms of what we engaged in. And so I may be able during the time that we’re talking paste some of the links, but we went through a process of engaging in a public apology for the harms that we have perpetuated specifically against communities of color because we understood that – specifically against communities of color. Because we understood that if we were going to be in the battle of dismantling and eradicating systemic racism, that we had to take responsibility for our past actions. And so I’ll leave it there, and then we can unpack that a little bit more, but that’s really been the journey towards where we are now as an association and a lot of the work that I’m leading within APA.

JENNIFER BROWN: Maysa, can you talk about examples of harm for those of us that aren’t deep on the history, and who’s harmed how? And, as I understand it, who did you deploy to go back through the history of the organization 130 years to document the harms? What was that process like, and what were some examples of the harms?

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Yeah, so we’re lucky enough to have the University of Akron, which actually, the Cummings Center holds the psychology archives, the historical archives for our discipline. And so the association hired Akron, and specifically the Cummings Center to go back into the history of psychology and start to detail all of the moments that have been documented in terms of historical harms. The powerful thing about what the Cummings Center also did is that they hired a group of consultants making up each ethnic group, largely, because no ethnic group is a monolith, and so there’s a lot of diversity within ethnic groups, to guide the process. Because along the way what they realized is that a lot of the documentation related to psychology’s history was very white centered and focused on the white psychologists documenting history, because psychologists of color were not included in the discipline earlier on, there was no perspective of diversity and representation related to the history so it was very white centered.

So it was really an extensive process of not just looking at the chronology, not just looking at what had been historically documented, but also getting the voices of other psychologists that study the history of psychology and challenging some of those very white centered views. The second thing that we did, which was really important, is to make sure that we honored oral history. A lot of times we elevate written history and we say, “This is the fact, this is what happened, and there’s nothing outside of this paradigm that exists.” And the reality is, is that we can’t deny people’s lived experience. What has been passed down from one generation to another, what have you been told? What has been your pain and your harm? And so we engage in a host of listening sessions asking people as psychologists of color to tell us, as they’re representing communities of color and informing us, what has been the lived experience in terms of their interface with psychology and what are some of those documented harms? And then we put those two incredible pieces together to really create a full chronology of the harms.

Now I’ll just give you a few highlights of the harms that were documented. And again, when I have a moment, I will link the chronology onto here. We took part of the eugenics movement. We had psychologists, specific psychologists that believed in human hierarchy and believed that the white race was superior to all other races. And we needed to take responsibility for the fact that in ways psychologists contributed and sometimes led initiatives or wrote about it in our journals and stated this as a common fact, that there is a difference in terms of promoting and perpetuating and failing to challenge those moments of racism because of the belief in human hierarchy. There were moments where we were complicit, where, let’s take throughout the Civil Rights Movement, where psychology could have really had an important role in identifying and supporting desegregation, and instead of taking a moment of leadership and supporting that movement, we just did nothing, right? So there were moments of commission and omission, and there were moments of explicit parts that we contributed to.

Another moment was putting indigenous children in segregated… Taking them out of their tribal communities and putting them into boarding school, and testing them and looking at their cognitive capacity and rating them based on Euro-white standards of intellectual functioning. And so imagine, Jennifer, if we didn’t take an opportunity to look back and identify those harms, if we didn’t formally apologize for the harms that we’ve created, if we didn’t take responsibility and what we said is, “Let’s just push this EDI thing or DEI thing or DI&B along. And now we’re fully engaged because George Floyd happened and COVID happened, and now we’re here.” And we decided that that wasn’t the right path for us. This was a more difficult path clearly, but it was the path that we chose to take and to lead by example of what others can do in order to rectify their past.

JENNIFER BROWN: And once you had that historical chronology, and thanks everybody who’s sharing the links in chat.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Thank you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, they’re taking care of you. So you could be present with us and just tell us the story, which is so powerful. Then what happened? So there was a vote, and I just want to know, were you surprised? What was the support like? What was the buy-in like? What did you need to do, if anything, to secure this way forward? And, I guess, what did it tell you about how these things can actually happen? They can align, they can be committed to.

I like to believe, otherwise I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, that there is a will to change. But how it lined up for you, I thought was really unique. But maybe not, maybe the will is there, but perhaps the process is presented in such a way, or the opportunity is urgent in the way that it is for you all, and that I wish it were for so many other industries, to line up and to decide to go forward in this brave and uncertain direction.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Yeah. I mean, we were definitely in uncharted territory, right? This is the first time in the history of psychology… When we talk about that this was a historic moment for us, this was a historic moment for us, right? We had never in engaged in this type of evaluation of our organization or of our discipline. And as an organization, the leadership, the board of directors, that we are a membership organization, so we’re made of hundreds of thousands of members. And our governing body are the board of directors, and what we call the council of representatives. And the council of representatives are commissioned to be the policy making body of the association. So in order for us to really formally document this as something that was adopted by the association, it had to be passed by our council of representatives, a body of about 190 members that make up different parts of psychology.

And leading up to October when that meeting was going to happen, it was extremely emotional. And of course you had moments of doubt, whether you’re doing the right thing, whether people are going to understand why we’re doing this or reject it, whether people are going to see this as a changing moment for psychology and what that means for them, and whether we can remain anchored in the identity of being an association that anchors its work around psychological science, right? And I think that what happened in the process is that, we do what we do best, every step of the way in this process of the apology, we went back to the science, contemporary science, looking at historical discrimination, hate, violence, racism.

In the February before, February 2021, our council passed a resolution, all of these policies are made through resolutions, a resolution that actually uniformly defined racism. We had to have a uniform definition because if we’re not in agreement on what racism is, then we don’t know what we’re dismantling or tackling, right? So we passed and adopted a uniform definition and understanding of racism, and really adopted the definition of Camara Jones. And if the audience hasn’t read that definition, she’s a physician who really is top notch in helping to identify and give context to the layers of racism. Oftentimes, and I’ll just kind of take a little bit of a detour and then go back to your question, oftentimes we focus, especially as DEI practitioners, on interpersonal racism. The difference between me and you, how you’re treating me, whether you’re micro aggressing or micro invalidating me, whether there’s implicit or unconscious bias at play.

But when we’re talking about engaging in the process of dismantling racism or being anti-racist, we’re looking at the higher levels of racism, not just interpersonal, we’re looking at institutional, structural and systemic. And so what Camara’s able to do is help you identify, what level of racism are you really focusing on, and which one are you tackling on? And we knew we wanted to be on the side of systemic and structural racism. So I think the first part is having a uniform definition and baseline on what it is that you’re going to tackle. And then to answer your question, we needed to kind of move forward with the council of representatives and say, “Are we prepared to take this position? Are we prepared to say that we are extremely remorseful and apologetic for the harms that we have caused? And are we prepared that an apology is not enough to rectify the harms of the past, but that we must engage in action steps in order to be fully present in the process of repair and reconciliation?”

And that was the second part of that question that was essential, because apologies without action are actually meaningless, right? Imagine if you and I engaged in an interpersonal conflict and you really hurt my feelings, Jennifer, you harmed me because you said something that was insensitive or that violated me as a person or my comfort zone, and you just wanted to then fully engage with me tomorrow as if nothing ever happened. Well, I couldn’t get past that harm, right? We need to repair our relationship, and then you need to show me with your actions more than your words that you really meant that apology and that you are prepared to move into repairing this relationship and reconciling how we will interact with one another in the future. So I say to this audience, apologies are essential, they’re necessary. We know this in our personal relationships, organizations must do the same, but without action, they are meaningless.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for pausing, we’re digesting.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Absolutely.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Our family motto, don’t be sorry, be different.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: That’s right, that’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right, so being different than, you are embarking on that, and gosh, where do you go? You have all this data, you have the organizational will, you have defined your terms, you have said, “We are going to act.” And, oh my goodness, it feels like a tree with a lot of branches, how do you shape those next steps and not get overwhelmed, Dr. Akbar? And what was that like? Did you feel that you really held the pen in terms of what that vision for addressing, in concrete ways, what you’ve now learned, what you know, what you’ve publicized? Remedies can look so many different ways, so I wonder kind of where did you start? What did you shape originally? And maybe how far down that road are you? And what are you learning? What are you observing? What is challenging your skillset, or beliefs, or stance as a practitioner, maybe?

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Yeah. I mean, I have to say that this is a team effort. I’ve appreciated what it means to take leadership in moving this work forward, and I’m grateful that I have been well positioned. And that’s why I started with my lived experience, because frankly, Jennifer, I don’t know that had I not gone through the levels of adversity that I needed to go through, that I could be in a position where now I’m tackling something that’s over 400 years of harm that has happened historically in this country, and then 130 years in the association that I represent. So don’t deny yourself as a practitioner, the inclusion of your lived experience in your work. Show up holistically, and sorry, I have to kind of make sure that I’m taking care of the audience along the way. It’s my nurturing type of way but I think that the leadership took a collective force to get us here. We had a visionary president during the time that this resolution was coming through. Dr. Jennifer Kelly was very focused in making sure that the apology was specifically addressing communities of color. Of course, practitioners being in the DEI space, you know that there is much more than just racism that we deal with and that we’re sort of tackling and unpacking in our everyday work. We knew that there were other communities that we needed to possibly go through the same exact process with, and there are so many isms that need to be tackled.

We wanted to start there. Our leadership wanted to start there and we know that our work is not done right. That we have many more of these sort of specific apologies that we probably need to engage in, in the field. But I think that the other thing that we thought a lot about and that the leadership thought a lot about is the future of psychology. We can’t think about the future of the field and making it better without wanting to make sure that we are consistently opening up the space for the diversity of thought, right? We can’t in any way feel that we’re living up to the standard of our association and the field of psychology if we didn’t sort of engage and embark in this. So what are the next steps in this process? Right?

There’s an apology, we’ve committed to the action steps, but how do we … it seems monumental, right? Many of you probably are here from different industries and you’re like, “How in the world would my industry ever engage in this process?” Right? It just seems daunting and overwhelming. And it is. I don’t want to sugarcoat it and say it was easy. Perhaps I’m making it look easy, but it wasn’t. Many painful nights.

The next step for us was to do an audit of what are the actual EDI … We call it EDI, equity, diversity and inclusion. EDI activities that are happening across the association that are focused on racism, race, and anti-racism work. That audit is due to be completed in a few short weeks and that will help us to identify, well, without the process of the apology where we’ve made this commitment, what have we already been engaged in? Because we knew that we were doing something, it just wasn’t coordinated, it wasn’t overly collaborated, and the focus was sort of diffused.

Now that we have an anchor and that we have a position of movement towards the future, we can start to bring those uncoordinated activities together. Then after we do that, and we’ve analyzed that data, we can then do a gap analysis. Where are we missing? Right? Because this is the accountability piece, Jennifer. You can’t do this work and you can’t engage in action without holding organizations accountable. The way that you hold organizations accountable is by understanding what you’re doing, understanding what you’re not doing and should be doing, and then setting the metrics and outcomes that are necessary in order to hold the leadership, the membership, the staff, everyone accountable for this. Right? Because DEI is everyone’s responsibility, not just the diversity person, the practitioner, the manager, the head of diversity, the CDO. It should be everyone’s responsibility.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, totally. Totally. That’s everywhere in my rewrite of my how to be an inclusive leader book. But the question is, so the transition we’re all in, is a few of us are doing a lot of the work historically and those of us who are doing the work to shape organizations and challenge them are those of us who are adversely impacted by the bias in those systems. Right? So we’re coping with leading an effort that impacts us directly and somehow I think leading also without the full participation of everybody in the organization. So I wonder Dr. Akbar, how did you line up or marshal power in the organization? How you think about power and influence and then the meaningful, deep engagement, not just performative engagement, but the deeper engagement of people who’d been sitting on the sidelines? Did you have a way or a method of doing that?

I mean, maybe what did you discover about the actual humans and organizations that create change? Who was doing it, who wasn’t doing it and who has stepped forward and how did you get them to step forward? I feel like there’s probably no other question that gets asked more often than that on these calls. Right, everybody? Which is, “How do I get my leaders involved?” So I’m sure it, wasn’t a totally easy road for you at all and I’m sure you probably dealt with a lot of hefty resistance too, around, “This is not my organization, this is not who I am, this is not what I stand for. Well, I’m not that kind of …” whatever, fill in the blank. So how did you convert that?

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Yeah, yeah. Or this is too political and we’re not a political organization. Right? Because a lot of times we politicize race and anti-racism and work and DEI work. I think that that’s probably one of those ways in which the performative conversation comes in and devaluing or silencing the work that really needs to be done. I wish I could give you a rocket answer, some kind of neuroscience, amazing, there are going to be firework response to your question, but I’m going to give you actually a really simple response that many of us already do, and that perhaps sometimes we don’t capitalize enough on, which is relationship building. What I found is that with colleagues where we did not see eye to eye, or our experiences were completely different, or who had the privilege to have entry into psychology because there were no barriers to being a psychologist or a scholar or a practitioner or a scientist, that same opportunity was not always afforded to me, and particularly my ancestors that came before me, is to start to have open dialogue about what it means that we are engaging in this work.

What is trepidation? What does the fear? What does that mean for them? What does that mean for the identity of the discipline? What does that mean for the identity of APA and psychology, and what does that mean for their own identity, from this point forward and into the future? Those conversations were not always walks in the park, for lack of better words, more colorful words, some that I probably shouldn’t use. They were difficult. They were complicated. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but what it did allow for is an opportunity to ground our differences in being able to at least engage in the conversations rather than making assumptions about one another, and to engage them in a way that we can do this with civility.

I think that a lot of times when we’re dealing with that interpersonal piece that I talked about, we get so passionate and caught up about our position around things, right? Our moral compass, the things that we believe in, the things that we’re passionate about, that we stop listening, stop listening to one another. I just wanted to take a different approach. What I understand from the science and from human behave is that we are wired for connectivity. We want to connect. Remember, racism is a social construct, right? We use that as a social construct to optimize discrimination and the way that systemic racism has worked in this country. It doesn’t mean that we’re different, right? It means that we have different world views, that we have different upbringings, that we have a different way of life, perhaps. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about those differences and at some point, understand what is the intersection of commonality.

Because when we reach the intersection of commonality, then I can see you. I can really see you. I can see your humanity and you can see mine. Then perhaps we can rally collectively around something that will change the world in such an incredible way. But until we’re able to get to that point together, then how can we in any way collaborate to dismantle something that is so massive, right? So I did a lot of relationship work and the leadership that had the stamina and the commitment, which many of them did, especially the board of directors and a lot of the APA staff that worked on this project, continued to forge forward, even when the obstacles and the barriers were put in place. Right?

We knew that we had a finish line and we knew we had to get there. We knew that we had a time commitment, a timeframe by which to get there. Then along the way, we did all of these other things to assure that we would be able to achieve that goal. It wasn’t flawless, and it wasn’t linear. It was a zigzag, detours, sometimes the road just fell off and then we fell off the cliff and had to climb back up. We had all these different challenges and analogies that I can give you, but we kept moving forward because we knew that that was … we had no choice. We had no choice.

JENNIFER BROWN: Have you heard that this has inspired similar associations and other to embark on a similar process, Maysa? I’m curious.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Yeah. To be honest, we’re not the first association to do it. There were other associations that preceded our work. There are many who are now reaching out to us to make sure that they are looking at their process. There are actually other industries that are also looking at our process. I mean, I would love to sort of plug that as the experts in human behavior, psychologists, which we are, that we took a very focused and scientific method to approaching this apology. Right? We gathered a lot of information from our subject matter experts in this space, even what the foundational elements are of an actual apology, right? There is a whole … if you all look at the website again and you look up the warriors path, that document, which is a report, takes you step by step through how do you actually issue an authentic apology as an association, and as a corporation, or as any entity?

So I think like what’s important is to understand that we must keep going in this process. I lost track of your question, Jennifer, can you just restate it? Because I-

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s okay. I wanted to know if you’re aware of the momentum that you’ve created for similar processes.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Oh, yes. For the association.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Yeah. So, now we’re supporting others. We’re in the process, something that probably won’t be published until the end of this year or the beginning of next year. We’ll have two major publications that will come out, that we have began to look at. One that will come out in our flagship journal, which is called The American Psychologist. The at flagship journal will hopefully be able to chronicle the entire process from beginning to end. Right? How do we begin this? What is the science behind it? What is the process? How do we look at all of these components? Then there is another publication called The Monitor, The Psychology Monitor, which will look at interviews and process and talking to people who were involved in the apology and how they saw it from their eyes, from their perspective.

So you’re going to have sort of like this juxtapose of a very familial, engaging collaborative sort of conversation that will happen in The Monitor, and then you’ll have this very scientific, formal process that we took in terms of addressing it. So if anybody outside of other associations wanted to follow the lead of what we’ve done, you have the opportunity to look at these two very well put together documents or publications that will come out either at the end of this year or the beginning of next. So yes, we have seen. So in order to answer your question without being elaborate, but I always feel like I need to put those things in, many associations have continued to reach out and I think will engage in this process. Those that I think are truly authentic and genuine in being able to really engage in this work need to take an important look at themselves before they move forward.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Excellent. Okay. Everybody we’re in Q&A land, I’ve been trying to keep a hold on the Q&A, but they’re flowing. Chris asked a question, “Who have been your primary sources and models that you’re trying to copy, Dr. Akbar?” Anything you’re you’ve approached the work from that’s really worked well? People, institutions, processes, theoretical frameworks, et cetera.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Well, if it’s for the apology itself, I mean, one of the things that we did is that we looked at other organizations that had engaged in their apology process. So for example, the Australian Psychological Association, a year or two before our apology came out, had fully issued an apology. And so we not only looked at their process, we talked to their leaders, we wanted to understand what went really well in this process and what didn’t go so well. And we also did that… we looked at the American Psychiatric Association and their process, in terms of on stateside US territory. How did that go as an American association in terms of issuing an apology? Those things are qualitatively different, let’s say, than in Australia where you’re dealing with different ethnic categories and different ways in which discrimination or racism has happened. And so it wasn’t a specific psychological, theoretical model but we did look at other models of other associations and then determined what we were going to put in place in terms of putting this together. I think we’ve really innovated in terms of when you compare what others have done, the process of this apology. And we hope that we can create a framework for others to be able to follow.

JENNIFER BROWN: Awesome. Thanks for mentioning there’s a Brene Brown Podcast interview. Check out chat with Dr. Harriet Lerner about apologies, the art of the apology. I know it’s sort of a deep dive into what seems like, sort of just this first step, but there’s so much probably work, Mica, in crafting that apology and the process that you undertake that begins the work. It’s not just a standalone, but it’s at actually… the work is happening in the crafting of the apology, in the participation in the shaping of the apology, in the ownership and accountability that’s created in the public declaration of commitment. There’s so much that gets kicked off in that.

There’s a question about, you know corporate America is addicted to the quick win, to the next steps. How did you go slow to go fast? Did you feel there was a want to wrap this up and move on or did the organization adequately slow down and sit with the discomfort to do the real work? Was there a tension there that you experienced? Because I know the lot of people on this call are corporate people and it just feels like we are under the gun to solve so quickly and yet when we know the work is really complex. And involves not just a head and a rational or logical or intellectual process, but I think a personal transformation too, which you were speaking to earlier, which involves things like our ego. Things that cause really difficult conversations and defensiveness and denial and all that. And to actually slow down to acknowledge all of that and to get through to the other side, is something I think that is really rushed in the corporate timeframes.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Yeah. That’s a really good question because the quick wins are critically important. And in fact, as we were undergoing this process of the apology… and remember we had two actually full teams in the association that were working on this. At the same time, I couldn’t just let go of all the other principles of DEI, I still had to make sure that we were undergoing at that moment throughout the apology a DEI culture and climate survey. So looking at the baseline of culture and climate within the association. We had also started to look at representation and diversity within the association. So to know what is… here we are undergoing this, how many people of color do we have? How many people from historically marginalized identities do we have? How many people who are non-binary, how many people who have a visible or invisible disability?

We had no idea what that baseline was and that work needed to continue. We were also undergoing a full fledged disability assessment because we had to identify a maturity model that worked for us as an association. We have tons of members, we do tons of different convenings. And in terms of accommodations and accessibility, were we up to snuff in terms of that? So while we’re undergoing this entire piece of this apology, we are still assessing and deliberately making tweaks to the way that we function as an association. So I wish I can tell you that this took all of the bandwidth that we had and this is the only thing that we focused on, but we didn’t. And we needed to continue some of that work. Now could [inaudible 00:49:54] did it at the capacity that it could have, had the apology not been on the table? We probably could have done more.

And we were looking at different aspects of the LGBTQ Plus community and we started to have listening sessions and courageous conversations around some of the issues that were affecting the diversity of communities within the LGBT kind of community. And so there was just so much that was going on. So what I would say is that, I don’t know that there’s any organization that’s going to say, “Yes, you can focus on this apology or engage in this apology and do nothing else related to DEI.” It’s an and both kind of scenario. And again, all of this can seem so extraordinary and monumental that we decide that it’s impossible, and we have to defy impossible sometimes in order for us to bring new definition to the way that we show up as practitioners. And so I would encourage you that there are some things that are already going, that are working. And then there are the new frontiers that you’ll have to face along the way, depending on your level of engagement around this work.

JENNIFER BROWN: And how big is your team again? I said, not big enough.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: I only have four people on my team by the way.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my goodness me. Yes. Thank you.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: And I acquired over time, because when I started it was just me and another person.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow. Yeah. Congrats on that progress. [Madeline 00:51:38] asked a question I want to read here that people are resonating with. Putting the political scenario aside, how do you respond to comments that there shouldn’t be education materials or statements that make people uncomfortable or feel shame for past wrongs? Is it important to lay blame along the way of repair? Is that different than acknowledgement? And how is it reasonable or possible to regulate or legislate feelings? Boy, there’s a lot in there. So is it important to lay blame along the way of repair? So I guess this question is about the role of beyond acknowledgement to ownership and how you cope with the inevitable guilt, shame. Speaking of Brene Brown, by the way, everybody, a reminder. Really good work on the difference between guilt and shame. Shame, I’m a bad person. Guilt, I did a bad thing. One is more actionable than the other. But however, how do you view the role of that, and not glossing over or making people feel comfortable before we really should feel comfortable?

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: I think that’s a really complicated question and not one that I could give it a really sufficient answer because this work is so complex. I think that when we were engaging in the process of the apology, the focus and the intention was never to make people feel bad or to look at who they are today and make them feel guilty for the wrongs of the history of our association. But we did want to bring awareness to what has made psychology what it is today. And I think it’s up to the recipient and the receiver of that to place it where it needs to be. We can read history, understand the harms that have been caused, acknowledge it and figure out with our positions of privilege and power, many of us have them in many different ways, how we’re going to create equitable spaces in the future?

It’s not about going back. It’s about understanding that history informs the future and history is happening five minutes ago. So what is it that I need to know about this history that doesn’t paralyze me, but that moves me into action? And we talk about that in your inclusive leadership book, in terms of the different phases of how to be an inclusive leader. And I talk about it in my allyship book. To me, the history should be a fuel. It should fuel you to be different. It shouldn’t guilt you into inaction.

JENNIFER BROWN: What is it that I need to know about this history that doesn’t paralyze me, but insights me to action? Looking at history as fuel. I love that. Balancing the accountability, the association with or the guilt for not knowing, not doing enough, not doing anything, it is incredibly complex. But we have to also push forward and hold the vision for what’s possible. And I don’t know if we have a whole lot of time to waste. I think also I feel this urgency and we have to make some tough choices about where we put our learners, if you will, our partners, from an emotional space. And also from the encouragement that’s so important to pull that chair up to the table and say, “How can we build something different?”

So while we’d like to go back to go forward, I think we have to be judicious about how long we spend there and why. And then move people towards a proactive place of building, because we don’t have any time to waste. You have to rebuild an entire institution, which is what you’re doing, which is incredible. I hate that we’re out of time, Mica. Anyway, everybody-

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: I’d love to leave you with a few [crosstalk 00:56:15] departing statement-

JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely.

DR. MAYSA AKBAR: Or one departing thought. When we started this conversation before we got on, I shared with Jennifer that today is my daughter’s 17th birthday. And one of the things that I’ve been so proud that we’ve done as a family is that we broke generational cycles of poverty and of abuse and shame and so many other things. And we’ve been able to give our children a very privileged lifestyle. My daughter is in boarding school right now. She’s an amazing student, she’s doing so exceptionally well. And in the sage wisdom of a 17 year old, I’m going to leave you with what she told me one day. “Mommy, I’m privileged but not entitled. And I’m going to allow my privilege to change the world.” So I tell this audience, we all come into this work with privilege. Like my daughter let’s acknowledge that our privilege doesn’t have to turn into entitlement, but that instead we can leverage our privilege to change the world.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, what a perfect thought to leave us with. Thank you so much for joining us. And everybody stay tuned, Mica on a roll, and stay tuned with what the [APA 00:57:23] is up to. And as they publish things, we’ll share them out from [JDC 00:57:26]. So please stay in touch and we’ll share the amazing resources that APA is putting out there to help the world, do similar work. But thank you, [crosstalk 00:57:36] Dr. [Aqua 00:57:36], you’re a treasure.

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.

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