Next Generation Voices: The Uncompromising, Unrelenting Drive of Gen Z for a More Equitable World

Jennifer Brown | |

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In this episode, originally recorded as a DEI Community Call, Farah Bala, the Founder & CEO at FARSIGHT led a discussion alongside Jannie Kamara, a fourth year student studying Black World Studies and Diversity in Leadership at Miami University, and Gentle Ramirez, a Bronx Native majoring in Africana Studies, and minoring in Creative Writing and Computer Science at New York University.

Topics discussed include how to bridge generational divides in organizational structures, how to responsibly push socially conscious messaging on various social media platforms, and how to apply mutual aid, transformative justice, and social capital redistribution theories to the workplace.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Some of the defining characteristics of Gen Z (5:00)
  • Strategies for advocating for social justice (13:00)
  • How to make leadership more accessible (18:30)
  • The impact of media and social media on young people (20:00)
  • The power of storytelling (23:30)
  • How to handle false narratives on social media (28:00)
  • How the COVID-19 pandemic has changed communication skills (34:00)
  • What the emerging workforce expects from employers (46:00)
  • Gen Z’s unique perspective on employment (48:00)

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

JENNIFER BROWN: Greetings Will To Changers, this is Jennifer, and I wanted to let you know that we are running another cohort of our popular DEI Foundations course starting March 9th. This course is meant to be for the learner, meaning someone who’s getting started on this work and the domain of understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion. Whether or not we do this as a job that we’re paid to do, whether or not we are an advocate interested in deepening into our own diversity stories, which we all have one, as we talked about a lot on The Will To Change, and also just thinking through, how might I apply this work as whatever role I have in terms of being an advocate, being a full-timer, being a part-timer, being an enthusiastic volunteer, which so many of us are before we become professionals in the space.

And I would just encourage you all to invest in this way in your own education, in your own skillset, and really mindset as much as skillset. So check it out. And as I said, the next cohort begins March 9th. We have a special code for podcast listeners that gives you 20% off, so if you text DEIfoundations, all one word, to 55444, you will get information on how to register and use that coupon code, PODCAST, all one word, all caps, for 20% off of the tuition.

Again, the program begins March 9th. Please consider making this investment in yourself. It is a six-week course that is a blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning. You will meet amazing people that are traveling the same journey and road that you all are. And you will also have an opportunity to learn from some of our fabulous team at JBC. So again, starting March 9th, six weeks. Check it out. And if you missed that [inaudible 00:02:07], you can also go to JenniferBrownConsulting.com and look up more information on our courses. And this is called the DEI Foundations course. So check it out, use the code, and consider joining us.

JANNIE KAMARA: Social media and media in general is such a powerful thing, and that’s something I’ve come to really realize this past summer. As students, we are really good at communicating and getting things across campus and across our community very fast, but this summer really put into perspective how fast things move throughout communities. Growing up with social media, I was kind of very much immersed in it, and it felt like it was my life.

But because of this pandemic, it’s really helped me understand that it’s better to take a step back from social media just to get your own break, your own self care, but using it intentionally for what you want to accomplish, for getting information out there, for getting just answers about things, or just ultimately to just make a statement, too. Social media is so powerful in making a statement. I really do value that we have this media, we have this access to everyone, this access to a global community.

DOUG FORESTA: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to The Will To Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now, here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.

Hello, and welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. This episode that you’re about to hear was originally recorded as a DEI Community Call and was led by Farah Bala, the founder and CEO of FARSIGHT, as she had a conversation with Jannie Kamara, a fourth year student studying Black World Studies and Diversity in Leadership at Miami University, along with Gentle Ramirez, a Bronx native majoring in Africana Studies and minoring in Creative Writing and Computer Science at New York University.

Some of the topics that they discussed were bridging generational divides and organizational structure, how to use social media and leverage it as a tool to connect people rather than divide them, and how to responsibly push socially conscious messaging on various platforms, how to apply mutual aid, transformative justice, and social capital redistribution theories to the workplace, and what that looks like in corporate world and how to continue to improve our communication skills in a virtual world, among other topics. So we know you’ll get a lot out of this. There’s a lot in this episode. Enjoy the conversation.

FARAH BALA: So Jannie and Gentle, first question. Let’s say you run into a time traveler from decades, forget decades, centuries ago. How do you explain your generation to someone from the past?

JANNIE KAMARA: I would describe this generation as being willing and wanting to challenge the status quo. I think for many people in my generation, we have been conditioned to not speak up, but for us, that’s very dissonant of who we are as individuals. And for me personally, I am never afraid to be the one to speak up on something that I find is not inclusive or that I find is just wrong with how it’s functioning.

Working in academia as a student leader, that’s something I often do, is speak up against things, or challenge the status quo, or bring in new ideas that challenge the institution or challenge the structure that’s in place. And so I would just describe this generation as a generation who’s willing and wanting to just challenge the status quo, so yeah. Gentle, what are your thoughts?

GENTLE RAMIREZ: I think my first word would be boundaries. I think that this generation and my generation have opened my eyes to how boundaries are so important, not letting someone over work you or cross your boundaries in any way. Because that knowledge of self worth, that knowledge of there is something else that is better, I think has also been amplified by the internet.

I think when I think of just my generation and the internet and the access, and the kind of knowing and knowledge that is constantly shared, and just buzzwords from therapy that are just actually a part of our culture now, and setting boundaries with each other, setting boundaries with anyone and everyone, because that is how we plan to respect ourselves and walk through the world. So I think that I guess I would put boundaries in the definition of Gen Z in the definition in the dictionary.

FARAH BALA: Beautiful. Thank you. Something about what you said reminds me. I’ve been listening to a lot of Barack Obama interviews now that he’s on his book tour, and he did this interview very recently with Jimmy Fallon. And everyone’s asking him about his daughters, what’s it been like to be with your kids at home, et cetera, et cetera. He said something that’s really poignant that what the two of you are saying is pretty much mirroring.

He said, “This whole generation of young people coming up are smart, thoughtful, sophisticated. They really believe that everybody’s equal, that we should treat everybody fairly, that we don’t like racism, and we don’t like discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation. It’s second nature to them. And there is a courage and conviction that they bring to it that really is inspiring and makes me optimistic. It’s a matter of us old heads getting out of the way and making sure we don’t break things so badly that by the time they’re in charge, it’s not too late.”

So speaking of by the time you’re in charge, I want to connect boundaries with something that Amber Hikes said on last week’s call that really resonated with me when she said, “In white supremacy culture, when you talk about social justice, it’s aspirational. It has to be visioning. You have to think from that space.” So what is your vision for the world you want to be in?

JANNIE KAMARA: You take [crosstalk 00:08:46], Gentle.

GENTLE RAMIREZ: [crosstalk 00:08:46] I can take that. I’m an anarchist communist. My envision for the world is to eventually get away from capitalism, get away from the 40-hour work week, live in a place where we care about our community members and we do a lot of collective care and community care. My envision for when I am in a space of leadership, so hopefully by the time, in 10, 15 years, and I really don’t like admitting it, but I know that capitalism is not going to go away, and I hope that it does eventually. But in my lifetime, I would like to see steps towards it dismantling.

And I think that ways in which that it can dismantle is by little things, well, not little things, but pieces of the puzzle. First things first is probably just getting rid of the 40-hour work week so more people can have time for their own purposes and passions. I find for me and myself, the way I had to work part-time at… So I’m at NYU, and I worked 20 hours a week, and I also went to school full-time.

The way that I completely neglected myself because I needed to find a means for survival was something I did not want to do for the rest of my life. And it was entirely, for me, connected to power and connected to elitism. And while I got through it, it was not healthy for me at all. So I would like to envision a healthier world for people like me and myself to live in. Jannie?

JANNIE KAMARA: I completely echo everything you said before. I think for me, I also, in a social sense, I would love to envision a world where we are intolerant of intolerance, and that we are creating spaces without having to be told to create these spaces that are safe and brave for marginalized communities to go in and to be successful. And I think that we’re making steps to do that now, but I think that we could do more.

This generation’s often very impatient. I like to say that I’m an impatient person because for me, I know what I want, I understand the steps that it will take to get there. It’s ultimately the individuals who have that sense of power not wanting and willing to take that step to be the out person, go against the crowd and be public with denouncing things. And so in order for us to move forward as a society, we have to be outwardly intolerant of intolerances, be public with our condemnations of white supremacy, of racism, and of other things that create very harmful and hurtful spaces that marginalized communities occupy.

And so for me, I just envision a society socially that is intolerant or intolerance. And then we’re looking at an institutional way, everything that Gentle just said. For me, I want to keep on going in academia. I’m taking a gap year next year, but I want to go back and get my master’s in Student Affairs and Higher Education. And ultimately, in that sphere, helping students understand that you can come in wanting to go be a doctor and all these wonderful things, but understand, what is your purpose in life ultimately?

You can have an occupation, but what do you want to accomplish? What do you want to gain? What do you want to learn from this life that you’re living so that you feel whole and complete? And so those are just the different visions I have for the world that I want to live in, in 10, 20, 15, however so years. So yeah.

FARAH BALA: We’re getting a lot of amens here and the being intolerant of intolerance. And the other thing that I’m hearing and I’m reflecting on a little bit, because when I’m working with clients, they’re at the height of their career sometimes in the coaching that I do with executives, and they’re then starting to think about, “Wait, is this my purpose, or is there something else going on?” And the stark difference that I’m hearing here is that, “Oh no, we’re starting with purpose. We know what purpose is, we know what that feels like, or we know what that wants to feel like, and that’s what’s driving us.”

So disruption 101 right there. Let me ask you, what are you already doing as activists, as leaders, as social justice advocates? What are strategies that you’ve already deployed that you’ve seen success with in the work that you do at university, outside with your other initiatives? Bring us into how you are creating impact and making change.

GENTLE RAMIREZ: Since about 2018, I’ve been a part of multiple different organizations in New York. I’ll name two. One is the Take Back the Bronx organization. It is a grassroot organization. Mainly the phrase of, “Whose streets? Our streets!” It’s about redistributing resources. It’s about giving out free food, giving out health care, I mean, giving out health PPE, masks and hand sanitizer, and making sure that people know where the shelters are, and whatever else they may need that we can provide.

I’ve also, at NYU, I’ve been a part of the NYU Prison Education Program. Our, well, my fellow peers or my fellow students who are studying, who are currently incarcerated, are still NYU community members. And often, the dissonance because of our differences in reality separate and continue to make stuff hard on the people who are currently incarcerated who already have a challenge as it is.

Being a part of the Prison Education Program has really changed my life, because I really thought that NYU as an institution was not doing enough or not really a part of the big NYC, and that it’s something that NYU currently brags, is that it has all these opportunities in New York City. And to see NYU be a part of the issues in Rikers Island, and trying to make sure that people who are released in a hopeful timely manner have a kind of stepping stone when they get out.

And just learning about incarceration and learning about the carceral state has completely been disheartening, but actually really amazing to see what a difference someone like me who is still in college can make while I am still in college, and know that these are my fellow students, and know that these are my fellow graduating class members really just opened my eyes up to what is possible.

JANNIE KAMARA: I think for me, Miami, I don’t know if any of you are… I hope some of you are familiar with Miami University of Ohio. We’re in Oxford, Ohio, which is 30 minutes north of Cincinnati. And so for me, it’s very hard to get involved in Hamilton, Cincinnati, because it is so far away from me. And because of that, I’ve had to do a lot of internal work at Miami through student leadership.

So right out the bat, I got involved in student government, I got involved in DEI efforts, I got involved in other areas that I wasn’t too familiar with. And so looking back on that, a lot of my work has been around making leadership more accessible to other students. Because students come in wanting to just get their education and go, but in that meantime, they’re like, “Oh, I really care about this institution that I’m at. How do I get involved?”

And so helping students understand the power they have in addressing the issues that arise at Miami, and helping students better understand how they can get involved and make a meaningful impact during their time at Miami. And so even this year, when I was elected, one of the first things I did was just go up on different panels and different interviews to help people understand how they can get involved in this work of DEI or just this work of social justice at Miami.

And another thing that I do is also a lot of research around student activism. I just finished up my capstone for this semester where I’m looking at Miami’s history of student activism and understanding, what are those themes that have been reoccurring when it comes to why students challenge and protest on college campuses, and how can we actually address that now since I have and we have this information? And so it’s ultimately making leadership more accessible, making information more accessible to students to help them understand that they can do this work just as well as I can.

And so that’s a lot of my work around that, and the institutional side is always asking why. If you’re getting an answer you’re not happy with, you don’t find it to be transparent, or you don’t find that answer to be consistent, asking why, that’s a lot of what my cabinet does. And so communication has been an issue that we’ve faced back and forth as student leaders to our university administration.

And so going into emails and saying, “Can we have more communication about this? Could we have more information? Could this be more clearer for us?” So that we are ensuring that that information we’re getting is that, sorry, the information we’re getting can be understood by students who don’t have the same experience as us. And so a lot of my work is just making this more accessible and bridging the gap between the average student and student leader to Miami’s administration and all those faculty and staff members at Miami. So yeah.

FARAH BALA: Making leadership more accessible. I wanted to name… I have tons of questions. I can talk to the two of you forever. But our chat is constantly buzzing. I believe y’all are monitoring as well. If you see a comment, if you want to respond to something someone says, please feel free to do so as well. I want to talk about speed. And this is coming from my limited assumptive perspective, and my work is intentionally slowing folk down to see bigger picture, et cetera.

And [inaudible 00:19:24] is by how fast all of you are in communication, in getting things, in just moving. I’m curious to hear, how has growing up in a world of social media influenced you positively and negatively? I’m someone who did not grow up with social media at all or with a computer, and so just having a wired telephone came much later in life for me personally. So I’m just blown away by, developmentally, how much that impacts. But I’m curious to hear from the two of you. How do you see the level of social interaction facilitating your growth and development, and also, if in any way, inhibiting it?

JANNIE KAMARA: Social media and media in general is such a powerful thing, and that’s something I’ve come to really realize this past summer. As students, we are really good at communicating and getting things across campus and across our community very fast, but this summer really put into perspective how fast things move throughout communities. And I think that growing up with social media, I was kind of very much immersed in it, and it felt like it was my life.

But because of this pandemic, it’s really helped me understand that it’s better to take a step back from social media just to get your own break, your own self care, but using it intentionally for what you want to accomplish, for getting information out there, for getting just answers about things, or just ultimately to just make a statement, too. Social media is so powerful in making a statement. I really do value that we have this media, we have this access to everyone, this access to a global community.

And I hope that in this next year, we as people begin to further understand how it connects us and how we can use that to push for change and to push for socially conscious messages that help us understand the people around us. I don’t know if that answered your question. I just started talking because I love talking about social media. But Gentle, do you have anything to add?

GENTLE RAMIREZ: Yeah. I was thinking about your question, and two things popped up for me. One thing is how social media is effective in connecting people. Mutual aid efforts have astronomically been circulating on social media. People have been able to get COVID rent relief or food relief, and people raising money for everyone else. And these are just college students, these are anyone. It’s not a GoFundMe organizer or a nonprofit person giving out funds.

It is your everyday neighbor who is raising money for you on your behalf and giving you that money directly, and that is happening on social media, and that is completely amazing, I would say a blessing. And I’ve seen it change people’s lives. I’ve seen it really empower people to just want to help and know that they are not not powerful. You can be anyone and completely change someone else’s life, or your community, in that sense.

Another thing is social media growing up has been in conversations about feelings of self worth, and I would say just wanting attention or that kind of dichotomy of validation that a lot of both younger generations and older generations struggle with because of how social media is just a display of your best selves. And it makes a lot of people, or has different conversations about body positivity or body neutrality, or just reality in itself.

So I think two things came to mind. It’s just how positive and how life changing people on social media can be with mutual aid efforts and redistributing resources, and how the negative aspect of how it can really just hurt how you see yourself and where you go for validation and affirmations.

JANNIE KAMARA: Another thing that I thought of while Gentle was talking was storytelling, the power of media in storytelling. Because throughout this time that I’ve been very much more active on social media because of COVID, it’s been so impactful to know about the things that are happening across the country that I would have never known about if it weren’t for people putting it out there on social media, and putting out these campaigns, and putting out people’s stories on how they’re being affected by police brutality, COVID-19 pandemic, this election that just happened.

And so it’s just so amazing to see how I’ll learn about how California is dealing with COVID-19 compared to me being in Ohio, how even other countries are dealing with COVID-19, like Australia, and hearing their stories of how their entire life has been flipped upside down because they lost their job, or now they have to be full-time parent because their child is at home due to schools closing. And so that’s another thing that I find so valuable about social media, is that storytelling and understanding and humanizing these things, and humanizing these people that we’ve never seen in our lives in person. And so that’s another thing I wanted to add.

GENTLE RAMIREZ: I saw Jennifer just drop the question, “How mutual aid concepts work amongst employees to generate a more supportive system?” And I think my first reaction or my first thought was, in a way of redistributing resources and knowledge. For example, how do you know you’re getting paid enough if you don’t ask your male coworker who does the same exact job as you how much they’re getting paid? And then you realize you’re getting paid $10,000 less, but you never knew that because you never asked.

And the openness that is needed is a resource in itself. The knowledge of, “What does your contract look like,” or not what does your contract, all up in their business, but just, “How can I present myself at the end of the quarter in order to get this raise because I saw you did it last year?” That is an act of mutual aid as to how to make sure everyone around us and everyone around me, and the whole, how can I kind of level up and get paid more or get my needs met in whichever way is necessary? Not necessarily compensation, but however else may be needed that you see someone else doing.

And the way exclusivity is and the hush idea that I’ve experienced in these spaces has really made me feel like it’s a kind of race. But if we’re all just coming into work, and we’re all trying to do our best, and we all have our own lives going on, and stuff comes up, I just think that mutual aid efforts can work in the workspace, and that is an example of transparency.

FARAH BALA: The one thing that you’re… It’s not just transparency in pay issue topics, but what I’m hearing is actually the converse of what you shared earlier, Gentle, around boundaries. What transparency is also infusing is breaking down existing supremacist structures and boundaries that divide people, that are shaped to keep people separate from each other. And what you’re speaking to in terms of that transparency in showing up to each other in support of one another, it’s a co-creative communal space versus I and you. And just that mindset of coming at it with that shatters a lot of existing structures because of that. We had a question… Oh, did I lose it? [crosstalk 00:27:50]-

JENNIFER BROWN: Farah, I’m looking through a few. I’m going to repost them here for you.

FARAH BALA: Thank you. There was a question around, oh, the social media. “How would you all suggest we use the power of social media to heal, bridge gaps, and connect as humans? I can’t help but acknowledge the downside of how false narratives can spread while disabling opportunities for meaningful dialogue.” Thoughts on that?

GENTLE RAMIREZ: Jannie, I’m going to let you lead on this one, because I’m going to think about what I want to say.

JANNIE KAMARA: Yeah, I’m thinking about that too right now. One second as I’m thinking. I think that with social media, with false narrative, they will always exist. People will always spread false narratives. I think it’s ultimately how you handle that false narrative, how you approach that false narrative, how you spread your own message. I think for me, how I use social media to heal is ultimately the people I follow and spreading their messages, because they relate and agree with my own belief systems.

And so I follow a lot of social justice organizations and spreading out their messages of fundraising efforts, their messages of people’s stories, their messages of incidents of brutality or incidents of discrimination and insensitivity. And then also, in my college campus, it’s ensuring that I’m leading these conversations around insensitivity or around DEI, and ensuring that I’m pushing a narrative that ensures growth and ensures a sense of community.

I don’t know if that answered the question, but when we are thinking about social media, it’s ultimately about this collective thought towards community. And if that false narrative is going against that, then that narrative right there should be rejected from the community because it’s not helping that community grow.

And so that’s a lot of what I do and what a lot of other organizations at Miami do, is that we are spreading narratives that are ensuring that we are looking inward, but also looking outward when it comes to bringing in information to help our community and taking that information and our own learned experiences to create more change outside into the other communities that we occupy throughout the country, throughout the globe, throughout anything. And so that’s my thoughts. Yeah.

GENTLE RAMIREZ: I was going to say, absolutely, social media can be a place of false narratives. I’m thinking of the multiple different platforms that there are, and I think about how it is easy to use Facebook or Twitter or Instagram as a credible source for news and information. And I think in terms of using social media to heal, it is about setting a boundary of responsibility to kind of know what is a credible source and what’s not, and know that for yourself.

And I think for me, I might find a news article on Instagram and be like, oh, but actually, I’ll look into it on a database or a Google search and make sure that it’s real before I actually make sure that I entertain the space and know and put my energy into something that I see online. And I think that in order to make sure that we’re using social media to heal or create community spaces, it is about making sure that platforms are both held with a grain of salt when they need to be. But I think that that’s my response to that question.

JANNIE KAMARA: [crosstalk 00:31:36]-

FARAH BALA: [crosstalk 00:31:37]… Yeah, go ahead.

JANNIE KAMARA: I was going to say, with those false narratives, or even misinformation, it’s going to that individual who’s spreading that and informing them that, “Hey, this information you’re spreading is inaccurate or is not helpful, or isn’t helpful for this community.” Giving them articles to help them better understand it so that that misinformation is pretty much dispelled, and ensuring that we are not only educating ourselves, educating our other community members about the issues that are impacting us so that we are ensuring that we aren’t spreading misinformation and false information throughout our own community, and creating essentially division because of this misinformation. That’s what I was going to add [inaudible 00:32:23].

FARAH BALA: Yeah. I want to highlight two very crucial things that you’re bringing up. You are choosing how we interact to that piece on social media. What I hear is you can either engage in it and get into this back and forth that goes nowhere, or you can use that as data to say, “All right, here’s where we need to educate more. Here’s where we need to do more to dispel that.” So how do we take that versus reacting to it, to leverage it and say, “Here’s what’s needed. Here’s a gap that needs to be filled”? That’s empowering when we have that choice.

And I think that common that comes through is what a lot of people, especially in our remote time, where we’re just so fed into whatever’s coming our way… And I think the crucial thing that you’re bringing up is, choose. Take a pause and choose. How do you want to deal with this piece of information? You might never have to communicate with that person ever again, but you’re still doing something with that piece of data, which I love.

JANNIE KAMARA: Yeah. You can wake up every day and choose violence, or you can choose peace.

FARAH BALA: Beautiful.

JANNIE KAMARA: Pretty much that. Wake up and choose violence or peace. Pick your choice, or battle. Pick your battle. [inaudible 00:33:33].

FARAH BALA: Oh, that’s great. There’s a question from Jennifer. “I feel COVID has really hurt communication skills between humans. The lack of physical face-to-face conversation has been changed forever. How do…” Ooh, the chat is buzzing. “How do Jannie and Gentle feel about…” Where did it go? Jennifer, I lost it.

JENNIFER BROWN: [inaudible 00:33:58] how do Jannie and Gentle feel we can maintain healthy conversation skills, consideration, compassion, et cetera?

FARAH BALA: Thank you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Sure.

GENTLE RAMIREZ: I think I’ll start. I think communication skills have definitely changed via Zoom and this platform. I think that in terms of COVID, I have attended Zoom funerals myself, which is why starting Zoom in September for school was really hard. I was like, “Pick anything else. Pick any… Google Meets.” I don’t know. I just never wanted to log into another Zoom call again. And nevertheless, I have had to do that for school.

And in terms of communicating over a platform, both grief, both for education, for study sessions, for anything, and I think that maintaining compassion and empathy have a lot to do with understanding, for me, making sure that I feel affirmed and affirming myself every day. COVID is a really tough struggle, and for everyone and for survivors of COVID. And I think that wearing a mask, I will probably wear a mask for the next 30 years regardless of whether or not we could be in person.

I’m in a state of trauma where I don’t imagine ever not being six feet away from someone else ever again. And I think that in the future, it is very possible for me to work through this trauma and go into a sense of feeling safe not with people in close proximity. But for right now, I think that making sure that I’m taking care of myself, and making sure that I have my community members checking in with me and making sure that I’m okay, and I can extend that same energy towards people who are my loved ones and my family, I think that that is okay for now.

And I think that coming to that conclusion for myself was something that was completely necessary. So while communication has changed, it is something that by adapting and by picking up coping mechanisms of affirmations and self care and yoga, and a lot of meditation that I do on a daily basis, I think that it is about how someone is going to survive. It is about doing what’s best for yourself. And doing what’s best for me is what I just mentioned, but knowing that that works for me.

JANNIE KAMARA: Yeah. This is something I struggle with. Surprise. As a person who’s a student leader, I very much struggle with communication. I also struggle with mental health, with my anxiety and depression. And so for me, I like to just burrow in my house like a hermit crab. But I can’t do that. And so for me, something I’ve had to learn throughout COVID is, I’m already an empathetic and compassion person outwardly. I’m very compassionate… Sorry, that was really hard for me to say that word, but compassionate and empathetic towards people and their experiences.

But I’ve had to learn that it’s very important for me to look inward and have compassion and empathy for myself and address the feelings, the emotions, everything, the thoughts that I’m having in order for me to be comfortable and grounded to communicate with others. Our campus, we just finished finals, and I want to hibernate for two weeks, but I can’t do that. And so I have to be grounded with myself and then say, “I’m okay to go out and talk to someone. I’m okay to go out and address an issue. I’m okay to do all of this.”

And affirm myself that we’re going to get through this regardless of that, and giving myself grace, absolutely. And so that’s the key thing here, is working on yourself as you’re working with others. Because you are a mirror of you. Everything around you is a mirror of yourself. And if you’re not giving yourself that empathy, that compassion, that grace, then you can’t really fully go out and be comfortable with doing that to others.

You can. You can, because everyone can rationally do that, but in a sense, you really can’t be you’re not grounded in yourself. And so, yes, putting on your oxygen mask first, absolutely. And so when I look at communication, that’s a big thing there, is that waking up every morning and saying, “I’m okay to do this. I don’t have to be perfect with how I do this. I don’t have to be number one in how I do this. I just have to do it and do it where I feel comfortable with giving out as much information about myself, about what I’m talking about, as much as I comfortably can in order to make this communication constant and consistent.” And so yeah.

FARAH BALA: Thank you for naming the trauma and the mental health impact that this time is causing. I’ve been saying this to pretty much everyone, especially the leaders, that we are going through something right now. We are changing every moment, and we don’t know how we are changing until research starts and the data comes in. And so we have to create space for that.

I want to bring back a question that we got from the chat that addressed Gentle’s point. Gentle, you bring up a good point. Workplace hierarchy is its own race and version of exclusion that the global workforce fights with every day. That’s why we have so many issues when a company will say, “We don’t operate or we don’t worry about titles,” when what’s happening in the hallway and the board rooms is exactly the opposite.

We have the gender wage gap, lack of board room diversity, slow development [inaudible 00:40:03] development for non-white professionals [inaudible 00:40:05] needs to be exposed, addressed, reworked. I want to connect that with what you were saying around space that’s needed, and I want to scale back to, this is what we could do for ourselves, and then as an organization.

You are about to enter the workforce in a couple of years. Workforces are actively changing in how they function. And yes, there are structures that have historically worked, and now we’re seeing what else needs to be done. What is a workspace that you want to go into? What is that ideal space where you feel seen, heard, valued?

GENTLE RAMIREZ: I will start by saying, I guess I will tie this back to the first question about my generation. And I think that my generation and myself, we do not dream of labor. We do not have a dream job. We have our kind of understanding and realization of our purposes and what we are aspiring to do, whether that be, my purpose today is to, I don’t know, clean up the streets on a Sunday because my neighborhood looks bad, and I’m just going to do that, and that’s my purpose.

Versus, I have an occupation, and I’m going to go there to survive, but… Yes, yes, we fetishize labor so much. We center our lives over our employment because that is such a big time commitment and such a big segment of our day. In terms of the workplace that I’m going to go into that I hope is accessible and inclusive, honestly, I think as I plan on graduating and plan on getting the whole first job out of college, I really hope that I can have a job that I can work from home in.

I think that before the pandemic, working from home was kind of looked down on and stigmatized as not really work. I think that I would really like to make sure that I feel safe and comfortable entering into whatever task that I have to do with clear communication between my supervisor and I, a lot of transparency into, how can I do this job most effectively? What is needed to be done? And make sure that I don’t take my work home with me in my personal life.

I think that I’ve seen, in sense of, I will mention my mother because I think that I’ve seen my mother work two jobs my entire life. My mother has worked two jobs my entire life, and she’s still working two jobs. And I will say that I tell her that she works too hard. I tell her that all the time. I’m like, “You’re working too hard. You’re going to work yourself in a grave. You need to take a break.”

And that’s really dramatic, but I’m just like, my mom is one of the hardest working people that I know for a job that does not pay her overtime. She stays, and they don’t pay her overtime. And it’s just like, I want to go into a workspace where I feel affirmed both culturally and monetarily. Because this is the world we live in. If you’re not monetarily telling me that I matter and monetarily compensating me what I’m worth, you can say that you love your employees all you want, but the proof is in the pudding.

And looking at the next two, three years, I definitely want to have a job where, if we go into this hybrid system of at the office or at home, I definitely want to make sure that I feel comfortable having that option and making sure that I feel that this job is accessible.

JANNIE KAMARA: Yeah, I completely agree with Gentle here. I think for me, I also agree with the idea of working from home, because I want to be able to be in my space and be comfortable. Although I do find the value of being able to go into work and do so much, but I was having a conversation with a couple of my friends. One of my close friends just got a job, and he’s working pretty much actually a professional job, a real job. [inaudible 00:44:28] that idea, but a real job still as a college student.

And for him, he was talking to me about how it’s… Sorry, I’m trying to remember what he said yesterday. I’m forgetting that as I’m talking. But we were talking about being in the workforce as a student and how we want to be able to have that space where we could stop our job at 5:00 PM and not have to worry about it after, and not have to sit down and constantly think about doing something.

And in addition to that, with this comparison of how we worked before COVID and how we’re working now, it’s really interesting to see how the amount of work we do decreases because we’re at home, because we’re doing things that are actually what our job title is, and we’re not doing those extra little things just to kind of take up time as we’re at the workplace.

And so for me, I want to be in a job where the work that I’m doing is the work I’m supposed to be doing that is meaningful and impactful for me, where I’m learning something while also contributing to whatever occupation I’m in. I don’t want to do extra things where it’s not within my job title, which I think the skills are very helpful there, but if I’m not getting compensated for that extra work, then why am I doing this work?

And so that’s something I find a lot of value in, is that I want to be doing the work that I sat down and signed on to and said I’m going to do. But I think that also from a DEI perspective, something that I really do look for with different jobs at different companies is that, “Do you have public action plans on how you’re going to do anti-racist education, how you are going to actively combat racism within your workplace from not only a social, cultural level, but an institutional level? Are you putting metrics and timelines on the different initiatives and programs you want to put into your company that ensures that you’re creating an inclusive and diverse working environment?”

Because representation brings people to you. It’s the culture and what you’re creating in that workspace, and how you are compensating those individuals is what keeps them there. And that’s something I truly believe in, because in my field with working as a student leader, that’s why. I look at colleges like that. I came to Miami because of the people there, and I stayed for the people there. And so that’s the big thing with people.

We want representation, but we also want a space where we can feel comfortable to be ourselves, and we have people who are accepting of our authentic selves so that we can stay there and grow as an individual, and help this company, this organization, this nonprofit, whatever it is, grow and become something more that will help the global community. And so that’s something that I really do look at, is how can I as a worker, how can I as a person who’s engaging with this company hold you accountable for your actions and for how you’re creating a space that is representative of the people that you want to bring in and want to change this company? So that’s me.

FARAH BALA: Oh, how did an hour fly by?

JANNIE KAMARA: I don’t know.

FARAH BALA: I’m reminded of something that we had had a conversation, we had talked about this, of what is the world, what is the workspace we want to go in, and one of you had said, “We are the generation who will leave.”

GENTLE RAMIREZ: Yeah, that was me. We’re the generation that will say, “Fuck that job.” We’re that generation, because it is… I think in a sense of social media as well. I was taught, and people in my years were taught, “Be careful what you post on social media. You’re going to lose a job, or you’re not going to get hired,” stuff like that. Stuff like that. And next thing you know, you find out they actually don’t check, or recruiters don’t have that type of time to just look you up and all of that.

So I think that without that kind of fear, it is a lot of, this company wants you, versus you want that company. If you go into that kind of mindset of, I’m definitely over qualified. I’m brilliant. You say your affirmations before that interview, you practice, you’re ready. You know that you can do the work.

And if it is not working out, you know, in a sense of social media and access, these connections, your network, it is like, okay, I know someone at this company. Let me just ask for a referral, and don’t even mention it until you’re ready to go. And I’ve seen people do it, and I think that it’s very empowering. I think it’s very empowering to have that option, to have options.

JANNIE KAMARA: I completely agree with that. And I’ve had experience in that. I am, again, very committed to DEI work at Miami, but I really do value my time and energy. And this summer, Miami put together a taskforce where student time and energy were not acknowledged and not put in the forefront, because a lot of us students, we have summer jobs. We have things to do. We have to get ready for the next school year.

And a lot of us, I do this work because I care, but if I’m going to go into a taskforce and feel and be invalidated, and to look at other students being invalidated, I’m not going to stay, because this is my time and my energy. And I’m committed to this work, but I cannot be committed to something where I don’t feel as if my thoughts, my opinions, my experiences are actually being heard, seen, and valued. And that’s the mindset of pretty much the generation, is that we are putting so much time and energy.

Doing this work is a lot of time and energy, but if we’re not being acknowledged, if we’re not being validating, if we’re not being considered, then we’re going to leave and find somewhere else to do that same kind of impact. And us students, because it was a group of us, we made our own little taskforce where we created our own demands and our own recommendations. And that’s the thing. If we don’t like it, we’ll leave and make something else of our own to make that same impact, if not more, because this is our direct experiences. And so yeah, I completely agree. We are the generation that will leave.

FARAH BALA: If there was a statement or a one-liner to all the recruiters and all the companies, here’s who coming. You’re not just going to get skillset. You’re getting visionaries. You’re getting proactive, passionate, and purpose-driven individuals who are committed to a better world for everyone. And whatever needs to change in terms of hiring practices, whatever needs to change, because to get this energy from the ground up is only going to fuel business, is only going to fuel workspaces, is only going to fuel. And it’s going to disrupt.

So I think what I’m hearing that we should be ready for is, challenge disruption to where it’s creating something more equitable, more just, more communal, and that creates a space of happiness, joy, purpose, passion. Maybe. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you all for listening in. Thank you for all of your comments. This has been an absolute pleasure. Jennifer, thank you for having us.

JENNIFER BROWN: Farah-

FARAH BALA: And Jannie and Gentle, gosh, thank you for saying yes to this again.

JENNIFER BROWN: 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.

DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit JenniferBrownSpeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.

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