Minda Harts’ “The Memo”: A Critical Alternative to Leaning In for Women of Color

Jennifer Brown | |

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Speaker, founder, and author of “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat At The Table” reveals the experiences that led her to write her book, and the response she’s received from readers as she’s traveled the country on her book tour. Discover the challenges that underrepresented talent face as they climb the corporate ladder, and what organizations can do to attract, recruit and retain diverse talent. Minda also discusses why she prefers the term “success partners” instead of “mentors.”

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • What led Minda to write “The Memo” (5:30)
  • Why Minda decided to shorten her name (10:30)
  • The shift that Minda experienced on her book tour (22:00)
  • The challenges that underrepresented talent face in the boardroom (28:30)
  • How to improve office culture (31:00)
  • How companies can retain diverse talent (34:00)
  • The importance of having courageous conversations (36:00)
  • The problem with mentorship and the term that Minda prefers (37:30)
  • The importance of engagement and relationship building (39:00)

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

JENNIFER BROWN: Minda, welcome to the Will to Change.

MINDA HARTS: Hi Jennifer. Thank you for having me.

JENNIFER BROWN: I’ve been tracking you ever since our books came out on the same exact day, August 20th, 2019. Hasn’t it been a whirlwind since then?

MINDA HARTS: I know. We share a birthday. It has been a whirlwind. Absolutely. A good one though.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. I mean how many cities have you visited to do book events?

MINDA HARTS: It sounds crazy when I say it out loud, but I’ve been at 41 cities.

JENNIFER BROWN: That is a lot. That’s a lot of plane travel. A lot of hotel rooms, lot of adoring audiences. Hopefully a lot of book sales, I’m sure, and it’s a whirlwind, but what I interpret in that, and I know that you’ve gotten this, is just this tremendous outpouring of gratitude that you wrote your book, which is called The Memo, and it is I think described as, and I would agree with this description that it is the lean in for women of color. It is that classic to be timeless and evergreen book, I think. We already see that it’s taking hold in so many conversations about how we as women, can be having very different experiences from each other. That advice and support and community and challenges can look very different depending on what identity prism or prisms we’re looking at them through and that we’re having those experiences through.

So I’ve just enjoyed reading it. I’ve enjoyed seeing the response to it and I’m so glad you wrote it, and I know that you are a lifeline to so many that had never really seen your experiences in print before. So, I know you know all that, but I just wanted to make sure our audience knows the context of it and the importance of it from where I sit, and today we’re going to dig in with Minda a bit on what she’s learned in all those 41 conversations and all of her media interviews and appearances and especially what women like me or people like me can do to support somebody like Minda. You know, what can I do as a would be ally, as a want to be ally, and what can other allies do?

Because each group among us that listens to this podcast, we talk a lot about having these intersectional identities and both having the need for allyship but also the opportunity to be allies to each other, and that’s true for all of us.

So anyway, I’m just really happy to have you here, Minda, and let me start by asking you to share a little bit more about your diversity story. How did you come to us in the world? What was formative for you? How would you answer that question and sort of introduce yourself in that way to our listenership?

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, thank you so much for your kind words, and I would definitely say you are an ally, so thank you for the way that you show up or in my book I call it a success partner, so thank you Jen.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I love that. I want to ask you about that later, put a pin in that one.

MINDA HARTS: But great question. My diversity story. It’s funny when you ask that because I feel like at different parts of my life I had different diversity stories, but I think the one that was pivotal to me was in 2013, it was a hard time for me in the workplace. I had been used to being one of the only ones in the workplace for over a decade. I’d started to settle into the fact that I could never speak up on some of these inequalities that I experienced firsthand, that I just had to continue to sweep them under the rug.

I was reading the book at that time was a ship Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. I just remember that in the office place that day when the book came out, everybody got a copy. Every woman, that is, got a copy of the book, and I was so excited to finally have these conversations about women in the workplace, and as I started to read it, obviously there’s some really great advice in the book, but I didn’t see myself as a woman of color, a black woman in it.

Granted, I know that Cheryl Sanberg is not a woman of color, but I just felt that that was kind of like the impetus for me. I had been reading all of these career books and I never felt like they were talking to me. I wondered if anybody else had felt that way, and the more that I assessed the current workplace that I was in, I realized that not all women were treated the same way and had the same opportunities. So for me, I started to really take a hard look at what the experiences of women of color are in the workplace and finally saying, okay, Minda, give yourself permission to speak on these things. Give yourself permission to find an environment in which you can thrive, and it’s okay to be who you are. You don’t have to contort to make everybody else okay, because that doesn’t necessarily get you any further ahead, and it doesn’t help those in the workplace understand the pain that’s being caused in some instances.

So in that moment I did realize that I had to do something. Now, in 2013 I have to be honest Jennifer, I didn’t know what that looked like, but I knew at that moment that I could not keep functioning in the same way moving forward because I wanted to leave the workplace better than I found it.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s such a beautiful awakening, and you would go on then to write it and then we’ll talk in a moment about what it was like to shop it around, which I think is very interesting too, the reaction that this idea got.

But what was the process like of writing The Memo? Was it difficult? Was it cathartic? What did you draw on? Where did you access and remember all of the stories and incidences that had happened to you in your life? And was that an easy process to collect all that? I mean, did it sort of flow or was it difficult to pull up? And what kind of feelings did you have as you were writing it?

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, it’s interesting because when I first wrote it, I’m like, Oh, you know what? I’m going to have this kind of lean in for women of color. We’re going to talk about the things that we need to know about. But then when I started writing, I didn’t realize how many things that had happened negatively in my career had still stuck to me, and meaning that some of those microaggressions, some of those bias.

Early in my career I had an experience where my manager made fun of my nail color and went on to make jokes about how black people love bright colors, and even though that happened to me when I was… 15 plus years ago, I still remember it like it was yesterday. I still remember how it made me feel when him and my other colleague were laughing and I just had to sit through it and when I started to think about that moment, then I was taken down this path of other experiences that weren’t okay.

Actually, even though I started writing the chapters more so from a toolkit perspective, which is still a good portion of the book, I realized that I had to address some of these hurts and workplace traumas that all women obviously go through, but the ones that affect women of color that are said in ways that maybe other women don’t hear them the same way, and so for me it was like a healing process.

Even when I recorded the audio book, I thought certain things I wrote about I thought I was over, I thought I had moved on and I would break down in the middle of the session because I remembered the hurt and the pain of being in that space, in that and feeling isolated and not feeling like I had anyone to talk to or anywhere to go that I had to make it work, and so I didn’t realize when writing the book that I was, I guess in a sense making history because there hadn’t been a book like that by a major publisher, and so I didn’t realize what I was really birthing into the world.

JENNIFER BROWN: Birth, you did, and something was pulling you forward to tell this story and to get this into the world, and you are the one to do that, and thank goodness. You had a story I thought, speaking of indignities at work and microaggressions, or just aggressions, you shared at the Texas women’s conference where we had the pleasure of being on several panels together, you talked about your name, and names are so critical, so powerful for being seen and heard by others, and perhaps most especially if maybe that other is not familiar with our name or we have a name that is not sort of commonly known or pronounced. So tell us about your given name and sort of what happened in the course of being in the workplace world, in your experience.

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, it’s interesting. So my government name is Yasminda. If you look at it, it seems fairly easy or you know, people have various versions of saying it. But growing up, I’ve had a rough time with my teachers who were primarily Caucasian and they wouldn’t even try to say my name, and I had that in grade school. I had that in high school all the way to college. People, my professors wouldn’t even attempt to say Yasminda, and going through those different periods of my life, I realized that clearly this is a name that makes people uncomfortable and to make it more palatable each new phase of my life I tried to come back to Yasminda, but it just never panned out, and so I just stuck with Minda. When I graduated college, I automatically knew I had to go with Minda for the jobs that I really wanted because that was the first thing that they would see.

It sounds kind of like Linda and everybody’s comfortable because we know that sometimes those unconscious or conscious biases will prevent people from when needed, back then, to pick up the phone and call you for an interview, and so a lot of those things were in play there, and so really, even before I even started my first job and could even see if I could do a really good job of being there, I had all of these issues with my name. So it just made life so much easier at the time, I thought. But what I realized is if a place isn’t going to accept you for what your full name is, then that’s going to be the least of your worries going down there.

JENNIFER BROWN: Pay attention to that. That’s really good advice. Yeah, I think that’s true for so many identities. The vibe you pick up on even in the interview process, if you can even get the interview. I think so many things disqualify us and there’s so much bias, unconscious bias on the part of the selection process and folks that are doing that selection in terms of what they’re comfortable with, what they’ve seen before, what they’re willing to vouch for from an educational perspective. There’s so many.

So it’s such a fraught point in the employee life cycle and it, it literally screened out so much talent, and it’s very debilitating. So, that’s often the first place I recommend organizations start is, really analyzing in a truthful way what are the practices that are going on, whose resumes are, are being looked at.

Vivian Meng, who’s been a guest on our podcast and who’s a transgender data scientist, this brilliant woman, talks about the difference between life outcomes for Joe versus Jose, and literally did an entire study on it, and for my listeners, you can go back and listen to the whole story. Her name is Dr. Vivienne Ming and I would go back and listen to that.

Yeah, it’s something that just impacts so many of us and so we’ve got to support our recruiting partners of course, to spot that bias and also to help their hiring managers that they support, to spot their biases. Which is hard, right? Because now you’re in a coaching position with your internal colleagues to say, “Hey, I noticed that you didn’t want to look at this, this, and this, or this person and this person didn’t get a second interview.” And sort of pushing on that a little bit to say what was informing that.

MINDA HARTS: You know what’s interesting too is as I’ve been on the road, I’ve had the opportunity to speak in a couple of historically black universities and colleges to the next generation that will enter the workforce, and the one question, no matter what city I was in, they all asked the… Somebody’s hand went up about should we change our name before we get to the workplace? And that really broke my heart that even this next generation realizes that those are some of the systems that are at play.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh. Bright, heartbreaking. I get the same one about being out in interviews and it breaks my heart too to think about how do I advise them? It’s complicated. So anyway, I don’t know how you answer it. I know I say, we are the ones that are needed to change the institutions that we are knocking on the door of, and, like you just said, would you want to be a part of an institution that doesn’t honor you and isn’t fluent and comfortable in all aspects of identity? But how do you answer that question?

MINDA HARTS: Yeah. At first it was like, ah, do I tell them the politically correct answer, right? Or do I tell them the real answer?

JENNIFER BROWN: I bet you have a lot of moments like that.

MINDA HARTS: I try to give them a few different perspectives, right? But the main thing I always say is, you have a choice right now being in college, you get to determine who you want to be in the workplace. So if it’s using your government name, and that’s the name you want to be called, that’s the name you should use.

But if you feel as though that is going to be a hindrance in any sort, then you have to also think, is this the place that you want to work at? That you have to change your name? I said, but ultimately you have to make that decision and whatever decision you make just be comfortable with it. Put yourself at the center. I tried to put it from that perspective because it was something that obviously I did change my name. I still go by Minda 99.9% of the time. But I always think about it. It has never left.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yep. No, I’m sure. I’m sure you have really mixed feelings about your choice and I get that. Absolutely, and we are living proof that it’s still a struggle and it’s not at all resolved, and well, there’s just so much more work to do.

Back to the book though, so I referenced earlier that the story you’ve told me about shopping the book around. So you’ve written it and you’re presenting it to potential agents and things like that. What kind of response did you get?

MINDA HARTS: Well, so when I first started, when I wrote the proposal and I found an agent, shout out to Monica Odom, she loved it, right? Because she knew that the publishing industry had not had a book like this, and so she is a black woman, happens to be a black woman as well. She’s one of few in the literary agency world, and so she thought, Oh, this is a great book. Now would be the time when it would come out, and so she went on to do her job and then shop it around and was met with, there’s no audience for a book like this because there had not been a book like this out.

So all the… They’re like, there’s no comp titles, you’re not famous. All women, we have the all women books, the Lean ins, the Girls Boss, the Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office. Like they’ve covered all the bases and we couldn’t believe it. But on the flip side, we could believe it because the people making decisions don’t look like us. Right, and so they did not see a need. They did not see an audience that would buy a book like this.

So we did find a publisher, Hachette, that said, you’re right. You know, we didn’t realize there was a gap in career development for women of color and there should be conversations about this, and so I’m just really honored, and part of that allyship is giving voice to voices who don’t primarily get the opportunity to tell their stories.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. It’s just an amazing story. I’m not surprised, but you have now tapped into this audience. They are eating it up. Tell me about the 41 appearances. What have you heard in the room besides the just tremendous gratitude and energy to just have this conversation in a real way? What else have you discovered? And maybe it’s made you reflect on not just what you put in the first book. I’m saying first because there will be more, you know this, but what is this, you know, your book could only go so far because we only have the real estate we have, right? We have the printed page and I’m sure your publisher was probably yelling at you like mine was to make it shorter so people will read it quickly and et cetera.

But what did you discover in your audiences that perhaps you hadn’t anticipated, and then how is it informing, I suppose your next steps in terms of what else is needed to shore up and support and celebrate those who haven’t seen themselves reflected or their stories reflected?

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, so being a first time author as you know, I mean you have book two out so, but if you remember your first time…

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. How can I forget?

MINDA HARTS: … who your audience, you have an intended audience, right? But you put this out in the world and you hope that it resonates with people, and I guess I was pleasantly surprised that people saw their selves, too. So many people were coming to the book tour were coming, send me messages and they’re just saying, your story is my story. We have this collective story and thank you for having the courage to tell it because this is something we all talk about after 5:00 right, after 6:00. But we never talk about it at work, and just thank you, and I didn’t realize how much of just a release that was for so many women to finally feel seen.

I was hoping that they would feel that way, but that are stories, that they may not be identical, but there’s some common themes and just to say I see you, you’re working hard, don’t lean out. Find the right tables that are right for you, knowing that you have some options and just that kind of like a big sister, right? Or a mentor or coach is saying you can do it. But I see you, and I think for so long we’ve been, there’s been broad strokes of women in the workplace and what we know is that not all women experience the workplace the same, but we don’t talk about those intersections nearly enough on a major platform, and so just being seen. So many people are just happy to be seen and read something that resonates. But also culturally, I use a lot of pop culture and black culture to tell certain stories.

So again, to read about women, even I have a chapter called, say my name, say my name, and it’s about black women in executive roles at major companies that we don’t get to see their faces on the magazines. We don’t even know many of them exist because they don’t get the same platforms as others. So just to highlight that we have these things, that you’re not alone, and so that has been a common theme.

I’d say the thing that surprised me the most is how painful these things have been to women in every city, every event, there’s always tears, right? Because there hadn’t been a place for them to share their feeling. They’d been suffering in isolation, and trying to make things work and how much work trauma we pack and we keep moving and try to do better to get to the table, and we don’t give ourselves that time to heal.

So I realized that as I go into a potential second book dealing with healing before the table, because some of us are never going to be able to fully secure our seat or be authentic if we don’t give ourselves that time to heal from all the workplace pain.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah, I bet. I’ll bet. How do you… You absorb a lot of this conversation, it probably reminds you about a lot of your own trauma and then you went from like city to city to city and you and I talked about kind of carrying all that with you. How did you pace yourself through these deep, emotional conversations and who knows, maybe it was so sort of filling your cup because you’d also been starved for these conversations.

I guess, did you or did you notice your energy change over the course of the conversations? How did your own presence in the room shift over the course of all of those appearances, meeting all those people and sort of carrying it on location to location? Did anything shift? How did your messaging change in terms of how you spent the time in the room by the end?

MINDA HARTS: That’s a great, great questions. So for me, yes, I say the first 10 cities or 10 appearances, I end up crying as well. It invoked something in me and it’d be like this fast, even though it wasn’t like, woe is me. It was just like, therapeutic, right. Everybody was just feeling like they’re finally exhaling, and so their stories would trigger me and we’d all be like kind of this, and I’d have to get through it.

But what I realized was I needed to shift some of the conversation and say, okay, yes, we have these workplace traumas, but what does it look like to heal and give yourself that permission to heal, and kind of give me that space to yes, let’s call a thing a thing, but then how do we move forward in a way where we can pack light, if you will, and not carry all that stuff?

So once I was able to kind of have that moment of clarity, city to city, and seeing some of these common themes, I realized that I could curate more of a healing process, kind of going through the book is, which I wrote it, in each chapter has a certain theme, whether it’s networking or office politics or microaggressions. I think taking them through the journey, but hopefully by the end of it they feel motivated and inspired and so it took a little while to figure, to curate that whole process so that people realize that they don’t have to stay here. There’s healing on the other side.

JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. I love packing light. What is your biggest advice for lightening the backpack, so to speak, that we carry? What is it that we heal in community? I hear that loud and clear in your work, right? Which is that it’s like we feel like we’re so alone. We feel we’re isolated and yet we so need each other, and yet we have our guard up or perhaps we’re in this scarcity mentality and we don’t get the help we need, too.

Are there sort of quick things people can do that feel they’re carrying a lot of trauma related to identity forward and it’s not really serving them to be carrying at all.

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, and to your point, I think regardless of how you identify or your various intersections, we all have that baggage that we carry, and we all have to find ways to heal, and that maybe look different for each and every one of us, and I don’t pretend to be a psychiatrist or therapist, but I do, but from going myself, I know there are-

JENNIFER BROWN: You might be even better, you never know.

MINDA HARTS: You never know. But what I do tell them is just give themselves that space, right, find what that self care is, and then also, I think for me, we first have to acknowledge it because I know in our culture sometimes as black women we’ve been told just don’t pay it any mind, just keep going. Just keep going. Put your head down, work hard.

So we never have that time to say, Oh it’s okay. Yeah I am hurt. Right? But I don’t have time to feel that pain because I have to do an excellent job. I’ve got to get these presentations done, I got to try to get the promotion. So you’re just moving so fast that you don’t even realize like, man, this hurts, and then when maybe you go to another job and you find some of those same triggers and it might manifest in a way that makes you question your colleagues or this, that and the other. I think again, we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t pack light, because we can’t fully embrace our career health, our career future, our career happiness, if we are holding on those to those things each and every place, each and every day we wake up and go into the office.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right, and I love the evolution of securing your seat at the table, but doing that with the lighter load. Because you can’t enjoy and maximize that seat at the table that you have worked so hard to secure if you’re still in this place. But it’s so, so easy for so many people to say, well I’ll just, you know, drop it and shake it off like that. It’s not easy.

Trauma is trauma for a reason, and I believe that sort of being systemically ignored and underrepresented and having to deal with microaggressions multiple times a day and not seeing anybody that looks like you or shares your story or identity, it accumulates in this sort of invisible but insidious way over time, and I often say it’s the reason why I think we don’t see as many women and people of color, for example, breaking through to executive leadership and to these really critical roles where we need them to be.

We need to be there, right? Because we know that it will create huge change to have us there because representation matters. But if we’re also exhausted traveling up that arduous pipeline and many of us kind of peel out because it just becomes too difficult. To me that’s like the fault of the organizational culture and it’s…. Not to talk about blame or fault maybe is not the right word, but my question for would be allies and all the people that I have asking me, how can I do more to support that not happening?

I’m sitting here like trying to connect what you’re talking about to, is sort of supply and demand, right? The demand is support people to make it through and it’s in a lot of little ways, it’s private ways, it’s public ways, small, large. Allyship can take so many forms, but it’s also got to be met with the supportive folks who can lend a hand or be in… I love we talked about accomplicing, not just allyship but accomplicing, we talked about that in Texas.

So can you describe what role in the book do you identify for all of us to notice who might be having to exert more effort relatively to stay as… Keep that seat if they can get that seat and then to sort of manage also the headwinds that are being faced as you sort of travel up this mountain of seniority?

MINDA HARTS: Yeah. It’s interesting because right now when we’re recording, I’m sitting at this board room table right now and I’m looking around the table and obviously I’m the only one here, right? But I remember in my former life when I was at the table and I would look around the table obviously and see no one that looked like me, which was normal in my career, but it wasn’t right, but definitely not the point.

But what I would always look around at my colleagues and I think, how can I best support them, right? How can I get to know them? How can I build these strategic relationships that are beneficial for both of us? Like I would take that time to get to know them and figure out how I can be a good colleague and be supportive, and when I look back on it, it was very rare that anyone was doing that for me, right? I did have a sponsor and eventually he moved on to another job. But oftentimes when you are the only one, I wonder how often do allies or colleagues look at that person and say, I wonder what it’s like for them to show up every day?

Is my language the right way? Am I learning how to be a good colleague to them? Or if I’m a manager and I’m not used to managing diverse teams, what is it that that person might need from me that I’m missing, right? I think it takes us being introspective.

I think back to the Texas conference, I’m not sure if it was you or Tiffany that mentioned it, but we all want to assume that we’re all good people, right, and that can never be us making those decisions or saying those microaggressions or those bias. But we all have them, right, and it takes some ownership to say, okay, how can I do better? I just don’t think that people want to pull the mirror up to themselves and see how they could play a better role in just the overall office culture and the people that you work with.

So if you are in a position, think about the people who are on your team. Look at each of them individually, even the ones that you wouldn’t consider like quote unquote a friend. The ones that don’t go out to happy hour with you, what are you doing still to be a good success partner and a colleague, and I think all of our bias just tends to get in the way sometimes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, agreed, and also the danger of being well intentioned, in kind of assuming that everything’s okay, right? That you are an inclusive leader, but you haven’t really worked at becoming that, and I think some of us maybe are naturally, I mean, gosh, that story you just shared was beautiful. I mean I would love to have you as a colleague knowing that you were sitting in a room like, I wonder, what do people need and how can I partner best with them, and I mean those are all the beautiful and right questions.

The fact that you didn’t feel that coming back to you is the disturbing part. But tell me about approaching this. So really, really tactical for a moment. I get this question so much. Well-intentioned, perhaps majority identity member of a workplace will say, how do I, without tokenizing people on my team for example, like without calling attention to difference, how do I indicate that I want feedback about potential unconscious bias that I may be exhibiting? I want to learn more and I want to be a better colleague and I don’t want to be that person that says I don’t see color, or any differences. I want to see that. I want to see you, and I want to support you, so how can I do that and what do you need?

I mean maybe I just said it.

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, you said it. You said it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Kind of it right? I know, I know. Again, this question and I’m like, why are you asking me? Doesn’t it seem obvious, and then I literally stand on the front of a room and I say it and then I’m like, okay, everybody take notes right now. Just write that down. It’s not that hard, and yet maybe the hesitation is… I think it’s more like, what do I say, and I don’t want to put somebody on the spot. I also don’t want to make assumptions about who might be struggling and who’s not, too, based on the diversity I think I see about someone, right? There’s that.

MINDA HARTS: Yeah. I think obviously you hit it on the head. So one example that I could give is, I early in the book tour I went to this one law firm. They’re nationally, globally known and I went early on with the book and did a session for some of their first year associates and some of their partners. When I went into the organization to give the talk, one of the partners, he was there and he had brought me in, and so we had a great time. Everybody talked about the book and some of the associates spoke about some of their experiences, et cetera. But from their hiring class to who’s still there, there was only one… There started maybe with like seven or eight black women associates and they were only down to one now, and so that was that.

So then I left and maybe a half a month later after I went there, the partner reached out to me and he said, you know, Minda, thank you so much for coming and putting this book out there because I had no idea. I didn’t really pay attention to why we went from eight to one and he’s like, since then the one that we have left, she’s a star. I was worried, that I didn’t want to tokenize her and those sorts of things. But he said, you know, after your book, I’m giving myself permission to do the right thing and I don’t care what people might think about it. I’m going to… There’s an opportunity for her. He travels a lot, and so he said there is an office located right next to his and he had her switched over near him so that he can make sure that he’s leading by example.

So if he’s engaged in her career, and some of the others, that others will see that this is important and lead by example, and I think we have to have… It really blessed me that he thought about it, right? He thought, what can I do?

That young woman, after, when I had first come there, she had said, Oh, this is hard. I don’t know how long I’d be able to stay. But now she’s still there because of this change, right? So, it’s small acts-

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow. One person that makes a huge difference when you’ve lost everybody else.

MINDA HARTS: Yeah. Hopefully now they’ll create more of a culture to… now they’re having conversations with her. What can we do? Where aren’t we going to recruit? How we can we create a culture before more come in the door, right, and so I think those are the conversations that our leaders have to have. They have to have the courageous conversations and then have the courageous listening practice.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. Somebody called what you’re describing proximity the other day, and I really loved that, which is if you have any kind of power in a certain system that locating yourself proximal to someone, is a sharing of power, right? It’s kind of the traditional definition of sponsorship versus mentorship. Mentorship is the coaching behind the scenes and the brainstorming around career directions. The sponsorship is literally joining up your reputation with someone else or joining up your social capital, your professional capital. I think some people think, well can I do that, and is that okay to do? I don’t even think they know to do it, and so I find myself explaining that all of this is about power sharing. It is about acknowledging and not hiding the fact that some people in organizations have a lot of power relatively and some have less, and that one of the concrete ways we’re going to shift this, is that power sharing. So that’s what I hear in that story.

I know you call success partners is your preferred word, I think instead of mentorship, is that right, and can you define success partners? Because I know that’s a really big theme that you like to talk about.

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, so I kind of use success partners in a sense. So what I just described with the gentleman, the partner and the associate, he served as a success partner, right? He served as a sponsor in a sense, but I more so use the word success partner as a term for allyship because I think the problem that we’re running up against in the workplace even is that a lot of people are calling themselves allies, but then there’s no actionable steps to the allyship, right.

As I say, what does success really look like, because success isn’t just saying that you’re an ally, but you have to shift it into some action. You know, some tangibles, so the people that you want to be allies for, can they say, yeah, Minda, she was great. She helps here and there, blah blah blah. Or you know, well just be side eyeing you because you never really did anything but you keep saying that you are an ally.

So we all can do a better job of this, this word, but actually having something tangible or as we say in the black community, some receipts. I need to be able to have something that I can look at and say, yeah, that person was there for me. They shifted a situation, and to your point, using that proximity, I think if we look at it, it’s not just enough just to say you’re an ally.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s so right, and you know, success partner, success according to whom? I do think too that we, I don’t know, the ally is not the one to define success, I guess, right?

MINDA HARTS: Right. Exactly. The person you’re helping. In allyship, for example, before my book came out, you reached out to me and said, how can I help you? What can I do? And you’re obviously, I want to have a successful book writing. You knew that the book writing process, this was important to me, and so you said, how can we help, and you’ve obviously helped in many ways, but we’re on the podcast today. We’re talking about these things and sharing your audience and so that’s tangible to me, right. That helps me. We’re both benefiting from this interaction and I think it’s through relationship building and I think at the end of it, if people would just engage with each other more, then we’d find that we have so many more things in common that we could partner. We can look at it as a partnership more than anything.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. You shared a story about, and it made me sad, but I understood why it happened. At the Texas women’s conference there’s a giant bookstore, your book was there, my book was there and you monitored who stopped and looked at your book, right? It was there on a table with, I don’t know how many, there were like 50, like a lot, and it was all women of color and no white women that stopped. That picked up the book that looked at it. What did you learn about where we are in change, based on that experience? What did it make you reflect on? And then I guess what is the call to action that you would have?

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, so at that conference, it was a great conference, honored to have participated, and so they have this wonderful book store, as you said. So I took about 30 minutes and I just monitored who picked up the book and to your point, the only people that picked up the book were women of color, and so there were, I mean over 10,000 what were like 20,000 women at this?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, it was giant.

MINDA HARTS: I had two book signings that day and only one white woman purchased the book. Everyone that came to the book signing…and even that was outside of me monitoring who picked up the book. But what I realized when I saw white women pass the book, and it was right next to another career development kind of book, but it had a white woman on the cover and then you see my cover and they didn’t even look at it, but I say it was like this unconscious bias I’d like to tell myself is that they looked at that cover and said, Oh, and they saw the wording and they thought automatically that this was not a book for them.

And it pained me because I buy so many books that are not necessarily for me, right? But I can learn something from them or they have different people on the cover and I never let that stop me from getting something that I want information about, and what struck me so much is that if we would have to get up on the stage and said, how many of you are allies in the room? I guarantee probably almost everybody would have said that they were, right? But what are we doing to become better allies, and that would require us to learn about the people who we don’t typically engage with or that we don’t see on the higher tier of the totem pole, and so for me it’s like I don’t believe we, again, we’re saying that we are allies, but there’s no accountability for what that looks like.

I’m not saying, okay just because they didn’t buy my books they’re not an ally, but what I’m saying is that they didn’t even pick it up to look and see what it could have been. I had the same situation last night at an event I did, and the only people that came up, it was probably about 80 people there and eight of them were women of color, or identified that way, and those were the only people that came and bought books, even came into the table. It just pains me because again, allyship is such a strong word that we’re using, but we’re not doing anything different than we’ve done before. Many of us.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Yep. I agree with that. I’m asked a lot about like, I want to do more. Where do I start? I give them literally books to read, TV shows to watch, movies, to make sure they see, affinity group events to go and sit in the room, and the more sort of solo you are, or alone you are from an identity perspective, the better, and probably the more uncomfortable you are. However, that’s the point is to seek that out and put yourself in the midst of that. Then notice the discomfort that inevitably you’ll feel. But then remember that a moment of discomfort for some of us is… There’s a lifetime of discomfort in certain spaces for certain people, and so I always feel like I’m trying to say don’t let the discomfort deter you.

I mean the discomfort’s actually part of the learning. Notice what that feels like and then say to yourself, well this is a major empathy generator in terms of not just being there, but then you’re listening, you’re hearing, maybe you don’t understand some of the things you’re hearing. Maybe there’s language that’s new to you and there’s really only this way to kind of learn. I mean, you’ve got to hear something kind of over and over again too. I don’t think it’s just once. You have to hear it in various places to put together sort of a very cursory understanding of what somebody’s experience might be like, and we always have to say might, because it’s impossible to know. But that’s the work of allyship.

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, and they might not tell you. Some of the things that I write about aren’t things that I necessarily go to someone who’s offending you and say, what’s going on? So the things that your point is, you can get any of these type of books or resources and take them in bite sized chunks at your home. You know what I mean? But we all have to do something… You think about it as a workplace. You may not be a woman of color, but you might work with them, you might manage them, and so wouldn’t it bridge that empathy gap if you understood what some of the things they might be dealing with, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s absolutely right, and then to be more public about your allyship, you and I talked about that. Something I’m a bit obsessed about, which is the only way we can really change behavior in the workplace is if we normalize behaviors and they start to be expected. Because I think peer pressure is a really powerful tool for change. So, I think the listeners on The Will to Change are the kinds of people that are used to being first. But I might even call on all of us that want to be considered allies by anyone who has less of a voice than we do on any aspect of identity. I would ask, so are you great that you’re doing this? But who knows about the fact that you’re doing it?

I think then we take it to this more public conversation, and I mean by public, I mean out in the open, in perhaps in the workplace, right? Or a senior person, very powerful. When they talk about this, it then sort of sends a very strong signal that this is not only okay, but it’s actually desired and ideally rewarded. That would be the ultimate.

So I guess the question of, I want to make sure I’m not grabbing the spotlight about all the things I’m doing and I want to encourage people to be more public, but I don’t want them to suck up all the air in the room, and like inadvertently center themselves when really what they should be doing and talking about is what are the stories and the experiences that aren’t at the table and how can I be in service of making sure the spotlight is on that? So do you have any wise words for that balance? I know it’s not an easy one.

MINDA HARTS: Yeah, it’s not an easy one. But I think I wouldn’t encourage… I know it’s hard for people to go from like zero to 100 but I would just say remember this, if ever in question is be there when it counts, right? So when someone says the thing that you know is inappropriate or you know, the least you could do for starters is make sure that after that meeting you go to that person who might’ve been offended in that room and say, I want to acknowledge that this happened and I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to step in for you and be there for you, but you can count on me next time. But I think we don’t even want to have that conversation sometimes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, that’s so true. We’re so uncomfortable and it’s also kind of like not being sure if it was harmful or not. You know? I mean some of us are so used to biased ways of working. It’s really sad. I mean even just the elevating it to our attention and seeing it when it happens and particularly when it hasn’t happened to you, you almost have to have this like very heightened sensitivity to how things might be heard by certain people. Like the fact that if somebody says, the whole articulate, you know, comment. Like you have to know that that’s a thing, right, and chances are if you haven’t heard that that’s a thing in your world, which may be a white world, then that will go right over your head in a meeting, or in a water cooler chat or whatever.

So I do think it’s know the hot buttons for different communities. I know for me, somebody who I adore, who’s an amazing advocate, said sexual preference on the stage. At a recent conference I was at and the LGBT community, I was kind of sitting with some gay folks in the back and one woman just had had it, and she got up and she stormed the stage and she said, it’s not a preference, it’s an orientation and we’ve battled against this for our entire lifetimes and fought to be legitimately considered a community of identity and just berated this woman on stage, and so that was an example of I think a call out, which maybe didn’t need to be as painful as that, but anyway, the word preference is a painful spot for a lot of us.

The woman of course apologized, and PS we found out later that her gay son actually speaks about his sexual preference all the time. Like that’s the word he uses. So this poor woman was echoing her gay son, and yet… So it was this really interesting moment.

I think it just makes me mindful of the journey that would be allies undertake and the fact that we’re going to get things wrong sometimes, but it’s better to do something than to be silent, and I think that’s where these kinds of conversations really leave me, is to say, the appreciation for others that you are asking, even asking the question or even checking in is so powerful and it’s so appreciated and something that is easy to do and no it won’t get you in trouble with HR.

I mean, I don’t think. But anyway. So Minda, we’re coming up to the end of our time, but I want people to know where they can follow your work, buy your book. I know you mentioned your audio book earlier and that’s so great. I loved reading mine as well and it was a very emotional experience in and of itself to do that. So, please for our audience, check out Minda’s work, bring her into your organization to speak. For sure she does an amazing keynote in addition to Fireside Chats and I’ve done many panels with you Minda by now, and I love having your presence on the stage.

Yeah. So where can people find more about you and make sure that they’re supporting you in this important work?

MINDA HARTS: Thank you again, Jennifer for you the way that you show up. I truly appreciate your work and your expertise. You can find me at mindahearts.com. All of my information is there and you can purchase the book wherever you like to buy your books.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you so much Minda, and here’s to book number two. Get on it right away. Thank you for joining me.

USEFUL LINKS

Minda Harts

The Memo

The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead