Kendra Clarke, Vice President of Science and Product Development at sparks & honey, joins the program to share their diversity story, and the limitations of predictive modeling during a major disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic. Discover what entrepreneurs need to think about during this time, and the benefits of working virtually.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Kendra’s diversity story, including being raised by activists (13:00)
- Why economic downturns have been historically hardest for marginalized talent (27:00)
- The limitations of prediction modeling (31:00)
- What self-care looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic (36:00)
- Lessons and takeaways for entrepreneurs during this time (41:00)
- How to handle uncertainty (46:00)
- The “silver lining” behind the pandemic (51:00)
- The benefits of working virtually (54:00)
- What it takes to shape the future (60:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Kendra, welcome to The Will to Change.
KENDRA CLARKE: Thank you for having me. I’m psyched to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: Great to have you. You and I have danced on a lot of stages together. We had such fun co-presenting and riffing on what we call signals and I’ll let you explain what those are when we get into about your work with Sparks & Honey and your work as a data scientist. But you can share with our audience that you get to look at data all day long and mix it together with a blend of creativity and also intersectionality and your lens of experience too. I think that’s what enables us to have so much fun and what I really always learn so much about from you, which is that, you get to look at data and the future all the time. I mean, that’s your job at Sparks & Honey.
As such, we’ve presented on things like being queer women, for example to audiences full of LGBTQ people to talk about what is occurring in our communities and what do we need to be mindful of as we think about our economic realities, our professional identities, our future, our families. A lot of the things that when we’re in the world that impact our community and many others. So, I know that it’s not just data for you, it has so much heart in the way that I think we go back and forth and bring these insights to audiences and connect them into each other’s worlds. In my case, it’s workplace, right? So I’m always thinking about who’s lacking a voice in the workplace, for example, and who’s underrepresented and what does inclusion look like in that context.
Of course, we’re recording this today in the midst of this pandemic. I know that your world has been turned upside down and so has mine and so has all these things that we’ve talked about and yet I would imagine you’d be saying, we’ve been looking at this for a while. Maybe not literally, but I think a lot of things that are coming out right now that you’re watching, maybe are not surprising to you, right? It’s because you are constantly looking at the future at Sparks & Honey. So, I’m just really excited to hear what are you listening to right now? What are you thinking about? How are you feeling, and how are leading your virtual team and partnering right now and being sensitive to this new environment that we find ourselves in, but also just like what clues can you give us if possible about what’s ahead. So with that, I will invite you to say hello, tell us about your diversity story as we always start on The Will to Change.
KENDRA CLARKE: Awesome. Well one, thank you for having me. This is so much fun and I’m looking forward to the conversation that we’re about to have even though, yeah things are hard right now.
JENNIFER BROWN: Who knows?
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah, things are hard right now…
JENNIFER BROWN: They are.
KENDRA CLARKE: In this world, right? But yeah, so what is my diversity story? How did I get here? How did I get to this? Well, we’ll start young. We’ll start extremely young. So, I am black. I was adopted by a white couple in the 1980s, they jumped through a ton of hoops in the State of Indiana to adopt black children and they were anti-racist activists. So I went to my first protest to protest the Ku Klux Klan when I was six months old. Of course there was a photo on the front of the local paper, The Indianapolis Star of me in a Babybjorn. So often times yeah, on my dad’s chest, no less. This was 1986 and I’m actually giving you my age but yeah. So, not only do you have a feminist statement here but also like, yeah.
So a lot, that’s how I grew up. Yeah, I grew up being raised by these people who were activists. I tell people all the time that I didn’t really have a choice, right? My rebellion as a teenager was to do what? To become a Republican? That really would have gotten them going. But yeah, I just… it’s interesting because this has always been a part of my life, writing on my bio before the show, I was reminded of the fact that yeah, I have always… it is not unusual for me to be both a data scientist and… like an executive level data scientist… and also a DNI practitioner in various ways. Though very different ways than you are because I’ve always done this my entire life and was trained to it from toddlerhood.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. That is such a unique story. So much in there. Tell us about how your identity then continued to evolve, right? And you discovered more about your diversity story and how you identify now and how you think about being I guess in so many ways really unusual in so many respects.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah. I mean, well, in that way like identity continues to evolve. I’ve always known my entire life that I’m black and that racism exists in the world. I say that those are two gifts that I think my parents gave me. So that has always been part of my identity, right? My siblings and I grew up in a house where we choreographed routines to Motown in the living room. It was really idyllic in certain ways and then also very much not in others so don’t get it twisted. But yeah, so I grew up in this environment where I was very supported in a lot of ways but also was a weird kid. So my parents figured out very young, like very young that I was extremely smart and not just arrogant, which was my dad’s first thought actually. He was like, “She’s just really arrogant.” I know, I know, but I was four, so it’s okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. It was a different time, wasn’t it?
KENDRA CLARKE: It was different time, it was different time but, yeah. But, so I wound up going to college really young. I started college when I was 14 and within a couple of months had the realization like, oh goodness, the reason that I’ve been writing in my journals since I was 10 that boys are cool and all, but I don’t really get why people like, like them was because I’m queer. So, yeah. So then I came out as queer when I was like 14 and 15. I told my parents very young, I was terribly afraid of what was going to happen and they were like, “Okay, so you had something that you wanted to tell us?” I was like, “I just did.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Bless them.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah. I know right. Like this is actually-
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s a non-event.
KENDRA CLARKE: I have another sibling actually, like several of my siblings are queer but I have another sibling who is queer, who didn’t really come out and she didn’t really come out because basically no one would care. So, yeah. Yeah, and then-
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, blessings.
KENDRA CLARKE: Totally. Totally. Your identity also continues to evolve, right? So, I actually realized it wasn’t terrifically long ago, it was a few years ago through actually doing diversity inclusion and equity work that I was talking to somebody about what non-binary identities meant, because this particular person was very clear on what binary identity meant. So we talked about non-binary gender identities, and I was like, and like some people just don’t really feel particularly aligned with… they don’t really feel gender.
This person was like, “Oh, goodness, well, I feel gender so strongly.” So, I just… that’s so interesting, I didn’t realize that people couldn’t feel that. I was like, holy moly, another bolt of lightning like, I don’t really feel gender like that. So, that became another thing where, I came out as non-binary which yeah, so I’m a queer, black, non-binary fem who also happens to be a VP of data science at Sparks & Honey.
JENNIFER BROWN: A woman in tech.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, definitely like-
JENNIFER BROWN: Non-binary individual in tech, I should say.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah, but you know-
JENNIFER BROWN: What are your pronouns Kendra? What are your… what are-
KENDRA CLARKE: She, her and they, them. But yeah, but because I just… I’m also pronoun indifferent is another thing we’ve learned, but yeah. Yeah, pronoun indifferent in that like I don’t really feel personally validated when people use certain pronouns or don’t. So I don’t really care, which is another thing, right? But some people care so deeply and it’s really important to them. So, we learn things about ourselves all the time I think and it’s really interesting for me because as a data scientist, I feel like my entire life, the things that I’ve wanted to know most, I’ve felt like I should be able to get from reading them somewhere or from actually studying the data on something. But a lot of things, especially the things about identity, about who we are, about how we connect to one another, you can only learn by having conversations with other people, which is a weird thing to have to grapple with as somebody who would really-
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, it’s first data to you.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. But the interpersonal data is very much data. Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: So amazing. So tell us about like what are you… The Sparks & Honey mission of looking at the future, analyzing culture trends, predicting culture, right? So many, for example, CPG, consumer products companies come to you to understand what’s changing in our world. If we could look around the corner and really anticipate, what is our world going to be like, right? You are as an agency looking at these things in a way that the common person wouldn’t be able to access. So you’re looking… tell us where do you harvest this information from and I guess what are some of the… give us some examples of some key culture trends vis-a-vis maybe the DNI world that would be very applicable to my audience, which is always watching for these elements of identity and lived experience and marginalization and inclusion.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah, definitely. So, okay, so what kind of data am I looking at? Where are we getting and how are we doing this? Also, how do we use this? What does it tell us? These tiny questions, tiny questions. Yeah. So, we’ll start at the beginning though, right? So, I gather data from a bunch of different places. I gather a lot of social media data. I gather a ton of media and media publications so a lot of digital media. If it is written on the internet, I probably have it or maybe am interested in it. So, I collect a lot of that and then I structure that. I also look at a lot of academic papers and patent filings and a myriad of other things, right? So, I think about this because all of these different things that are getting published, these tweets that we’re sending out into the world, and I am unfortunately, or perhaps very fortunately, sometimes extremely on Twitter.
JENNIFER BROWN: Me too.
KENDRA CLARKE: I love it so much. I really do love Twitter so much. But yeah, but so these are… it’s data. It’s also the imprint of what somebody was thinking or doing or feeling at some moment in time, right? Or, you get an article on the internet and this is something that somebody cared so much about that they spent hours investigating it probably, probably a couple hours writing it. Somebody probably edited it and then it’s here for us to see. So, this is not only something that somebody is thinking, feeling, processing, but also that they’re spending time on. All of these things are just that and that’s the kind of data that I’m looking at, right? So then I run a lot of natural language processing so I can look at the different topics that are taking up a lot of space so I can look at… so I can actually apply various trends that we track. So I can see that this… I was looking at a bunch of content for a trend that we call new masculinity, which is kind of more nuanced-
JENNIFER BROWN: One of my favorites.
KENDRA CLARKE: … yeah, evolved ideas around masculinity. I was looking at stuff for that trend the other day and one of the things that I found, which was deeply funny to me was a bunch of articles about this men’s group where they are combating Me Too in that, so they want to be the solution to Me Too. They want to help be the allies that we need, but they’re going to do it by being predominantly affluent white men who get together and in situations where it’s only men and talk about the problems that they’re creating and solutions to them.
JENNIFER BROWN: Huh? Interesting.
KENDRA CLARKE: Right. So I was kind of-
JENNIFER BROWN: It reminds me of like white women’s groups-
KENDRA CLARKE: Pretty much.
JENNIFER BROWN: … that are getting together to talk about race.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah, it was one of those things I was like, your intention on this is really good and you’re talking about emotional vulnerability and crying and tapping into your emotions and how important that is as men to be able to do, but on the other… yeah, you’re excluding the people who can tell you how you’re screwing up and probably you shouldn’t do that.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re not going to have all the answers. You’re not going to have any of the answers, probably.
KENDRA CLARKE: Probably.
JENNIFER BROWN: Isn’t this being exacerbated? Anyway, I don’t want to take us off on a side note, but this work from home world, I think it’s a really interesting moment to revisit the masculinity and the evolution of that, right? Because there’s just so much being written about roles right now.
KENDRA CLARKE: Oh, definitely.
JENNIFER BROWN: In a heterosexual sense, anyway.
KENDRA CLARKE: Definitely. I mean, I think that right now we’re exploring a lot of things and there are a lot of people who are trying to quickly figure out like both… I’m thinking just in the nonprofit and addressing this space but also you have people who are trying to figure this out in the working world too within an organization’s hierarchy that all of a sudden, we’re at home all day, every day. We may or may not be sharing space with other human beings, we probably are, most of us and that’s our partner or our children or our… and whomever else. We’re cooking meals and if there are kids, they are probably doing school online and what happens if, that you need to do school online but you don’t have extra laptops for everybody? Or, you don’t have…
One of the things we looked at earlier this week too was, what happens if you don’t have particularly fast WiFi and you don’t have the money to spend much extra on boosting that WiFi speed? But yeah, I mean, it takes a lot of bandwidth to support multiple people on video calls all the time. Yeah, there are a lot of questions and I think about some work that groups like Time’s Up are doing, trying to think about how yeah, you balance everything because a lot of times, unfortunately, women and femme people bear a disproportionate brunt of a lot of the expectations and now all of our expectations are crammed into only our entire lives right now, from the time that we wake up until the time that we wake up.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s so much. Then we all know in past economic disasters, you and I talked about this, that women and people of color are slower to be hired back, right?
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: We were lamenting the fact that we were just starting to make strides with bias and hiring, right? We were just starting to talk about ban the box, like and employing formerly incarcerated talent for example, or doing a better job with people with disabilities. I feel like it’s hard not to feel that we’re taking this giant step back from an accessibility perspective for all kinds of talent.
KENDRA CLARKE: Totally. I mean, it’s… yeah, so both being a data scientist, one of the things that weirdly comforts me is, yes, like looking back at past occurrences or near occurrences or the best closest comparison that we can to what we’re experiencing right now and then I can also tell you that yes, there are a number of people who are writing about and thinking about the fact that… and talking on the internet right now about the fact that yes, like women, people of color, queer people and people with various other marginalized identities, certainly formerly incarcerated individuals, certainly people with disabilities, like these are typically groups of people that have a much slower time reentering the workforce than straight white men.
So any sort of economic recession disproportionately affects us, right? You know that’s… it’s truly worrisome. It’s definitely worrisome. But then also, the thing that does cheer me at least a little bit, having looked back at what’s happened in the past and looked at that as my worst case scenario, like that’s the baseline that we know that has been true historically and likely will be true this time but we’re already talking about it now. We’re already talking about the fact that we need to do a better job centering the most marginalized and so that does bring me some hope at the same time.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that point that you just made. The fact that we’re… immediately, we have the muscle now and the medium, media like Twitter to make sure we’re all thinking about this. We may not have the solutions, right, but you’re right that it does represent a sea change in terms of what we’re talking about early in a crisis, right? I have to believe that being vigilant and putting that education out there about what happens in times where bias can be exacerbated, right? When we are desperate for answers and things are happening fast and we don’t have a lot of control, is the worst recipe I think for opportunity. But the fact that we are actually, like I am hearing in social media a ton of reminders and sharing and research that’s happening to say, let’s not let this happen again. Let’s actually come through this with a lens towards who is at the table, towards who is going to be disproportionately affected, towards using whatever choices we have available to us, even if they’re limited to make really good and inclusive choices with that limited information.
I think you’re right that at least in my world, if business leaders decide not to opt for inclusive solutions right now… I just interviewed a millennial and gen Y expert, Lindsey Pollak on the podcast and she said, all eyes are watching what organizations are doing right now. The kinds of choices that are being made will matter. They may not right now feel that we have any wherewithal to figure out what does that mean and what do we want to do about it as a community but I do think that this will sort of… how we handle this is being watched and how companies walk their talk or how they put their values into play or how they don’t sideline the inclusiveness conversation because they don’t think it’s side of the desk or nice to have, they actually think it’s integral to building whatever’s next, that all is being noticed.
I think this is such… this is an interesting moment and I’m seeing really encouraging examples of organizations staying the course and a lot of our clients are actually, no, we still want to do this. We can do it virtually like yes, we can. Then we’ve got other companies where I hear from the team there that they’re not really getting any support. Maybe their budgets being taken, maybe they’re losing their jobs, maybe they’re being consolidated with other functions in the organization. So it’s really such a broad spectrum and it’s just going to be very interesting to see who comes out ahead especially understanding, how do we generate belonging in a virtual world? How do we do that on Teams? I mean, most people don’t know how to do that.
KENDRA CLARKE: Definitely, definitely. I mean, and all of the above, right? What you prioritize in the good times, that that matters. But we also notice and really notice what you’re prioritizing when times are not as good and it’s extremely telling. It’s extremely telling. Yeah, I mean, right now we are finding whole new ways to try to communicate and try to keep our lives functioning as close to normal, understanding that there is no normal. If you think about… so, one of the things that my team has brought up a few times is black is… is the idea of like a black swan event, an event that just really could not be predicted. That’s fair because we are in the prediction business a lot of times, right? We build prediction models for living literally and we can tell you that there’s a… what our scenarios are doing here is that they’re telling you that likely this force or this thing is going to increase 1% or 2% or however much within the next couple of years.
That’s assuming that nothing really changes dramatically from where we are right now. That’s how prediction modeling works. What’s happened right now is just everything, every precedent, any data that could have told you where we’re going about anything right now is gone. It’s done. Everything is unusual and we have nothing to ground ourselves with and that’s really the thing that I’m trying to keep in mind 100% of always right now as a leader is that one, what I do matters. Even if it only matters to those immediately around me or those that I’m interacting with, which is a smaller group of people than normal but also not, because I’m FaceTiming with family more frequently and connecting with friends in various ways and connecting with my team in really meaningful ways.
But yeah, we’re starting everything with trying to make sure that we’re checking in about how people are doing and that we’re checking in about the circumstances that they’re working in because yeah, some of us are jokingly going to take calls in the conference room, which is our bathroom. Yeah, actually I feel pretty okay setting a hard boundary that says, if I have to take a conference call and I have to take a video call in my bedroom, I’m not going to turn on the video because I feel like it’s okay for me to have that thing that is private to me. I don’t feel comfortable with that, so I’m not going to do it. Yeah.
The other day, one of my friends, we actually were recording a briefing for Sparks & Honey and one of our advisory board members, who is also a friend of mine wore a bonnet on the briefing, he still had his bonnet on. I have not taken my… I have not unwrapped my hair really since for video calls because I was just like, why am I doing my hair every day? Why am I getting up in the morning and doing my hair so that I can be seen on video for like 15 minutes at ago. No one cares. To actually not allow people to see sometimes that things are effort is probably to our detriment in the long term-
JENNIFER BROWN: I so agree.
KENDRA CLARKE: … because we’re all going through it right now and that’s our best case scenario is that we’re all going through it right now. So I think that it does everybody a disservice to pretend like that is not the case. So the best thing we can do is ask, what do you need? Do you want me to pile more work on you? Do you want to just… do you want to swim and work for a while? Because that’s what’s going to feel best for you is that… that’s what’s going to help you manage the anxiety of this moment right now?
Do you just need to have the rest of the day off? Or take a couple days, honestly. Things feel urgent right now, but nothing is more urgent than our health and taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other and we’re all going to be figuring a lot of things out for a really long time. So what else can we do? Try to connect as best as we can and give space when we can and understand that it’s just a constant balance and a constant checking in as we go back and forth between the two.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for saying all that. It’s so true that productivity or I remember lots of articles in the last couple of months about like hustle porn. There’s some people who just talk endlessly about how surgically efficient can we be? It’s just the absolute opposite right now. That it is literally just asking for what you need. If you have any sort of ability to give people what they need and to get them to trust you enough to share what they need at that particular moment, which is changing constantly as well. So I think that the grace that we have to have with our being gentle with ourselves, but also not expecting the usual output from ourselves and others, particularly if we’re in a leadership position. I feel what you’re saying is like, well, what’s the worst that can happen? I mean, everything is on hold right now and I don’t know what does productivity even mean?
KENDRA CLARKE: Right. Also, even the things that aren’t on hold, like I… yeah, even the things that aren’t on hold are not as urgent. This is a moment where if ever somebody was going to understand just somebody saying something as simple as, “I don’t think that I’m in a place to take this call right now or to do this thing or this presentation or this whatever or I need an extra little bit of space,” there’s never been a better time that people would be more understanding. I don’t think most people are being understanding enough in moments but yeah, this is bad and it’s about to get worse and I’m not sure when we’re posting this so this… it may already be worse but yeah, but this is… we are collectively in a moment right now where we haven’t done the analysis yet because one of my data scientists is doing this for me right now.
This is one of my… the joys of running a team for me is, getting to send them off to find things out that I just want to know personally. So yeah, so we’re doing some analysis right now on basically the media environment and how much space COVID is taking up, et cetera, et cetera and looking into some of that. Yeah, and that’s… it’s taking up, at least it feels like, my perception of this, my hypothesis is that it’s taking up all of the air basically, it’s taking up all of the space. It’s all we’re really talking about and that’s a lot.
JENNIFER BROWN: I think you’re so right. I mean there’s nothing else the news is talking about and I mean, it’s pretty severe. Somebody referred to this as a… what do they call it? A induced coma that we’ve all been put into at least economically speaking. I think there’s going to be sort of mass change and extinction of small businesses and restaurants and I think we’re realizing like the bottom… so many of us are functioning so close to the bottom of what we really needed. Having a cushion is not a thing for so many. So yeah, so it’s really going to impact my whole community for sure. I think that the bigger, the more stable and larger the organization, the more chance it has of making it through and then it sort of goes down from there in terms of opportunity to survive. I mean yeah, it’s going to be really, really wild coming out of this I think.
Yeah, what do you… if you have some guesses, Kendra, I mean, what do you think the entrepreneurship is going… what are the hard lessons that entrepreneurs and that whole field are going to learn through something like this? Because I know that you pay a lot of attention to female founders and who’s getting… who has been traditionally underrepresented in the founder world and getting VC money and whatever. I can’t even imagine right now the bias that’s coming in to sort of harshly judge certain kinds of founders, right? Who are already on the bubble in terms of being trailblazers. We always like to tear people down, anyway. Then I just can’t even imagine the impact and how this is going to potentially set back like the progress… the small progress I think we’ve been making in terms of diverse founders.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah. Well, I mean, I have this top of mind because I pulled the stats a couple of weeks ago for something that I did for a talk that I did, but I think that less than… of the various venture capital money that’s been floating around to the world, less than it was 0.0043% of all VC funding has gone to businesses started and owned by black women. So that’s our starting point, that’s our baseline. The numbers are better for a number of other marginalized groups than that but not by a ton. The money that was already in the world and either going to fund various organizations was disproportionately not going to marginalized individuals that’s just how systemic inequity works, right? So that is our starting point and then you have an environment where everybody is pulling back, everybody is questioning leadership, everybody is contracting and quite honestly, a lot of people need jobs and also not everybody’s a particularly nice person and by nice person, I mean-
JENNIFER BROWN: News flash.
KENDRA CLARKE: … mindful and considerate and thoughtful and empathetic and the kind of leader who’s doing the work instead of just benefiting from the work. So that’s our starting point and so, we’d already been seeing a little bit of… we’d already been seeing a little bit of news about certain companies having female founders who were pushed out by investors because… who were questioning the ways that they were running the organization and then a lot of very senior female leadership exiting the company just shortly thereafter. We were already beginning to see those sorts of stories popping up before things got pretty bad in the last month or so. I am certain that that will likely continue. We are going to see investors who necessarily in part are taking more active roles in the companies they’ve invested in but not everybody is going to be nice, not everybody is going to be kind and this will continue to disproportionately affect and be hard on the people who are more marginalized.
That’s usually the way that things go and it’s terrifying to me because again, it’s back to that what you do when times are good matters, but what you’re doing and what you’re saying and how you’re behaving and what you’re doing when you think we’re not looking, like when times are bad, that really matters. My hope is just that we can have as much of this happening in the light as possible and that we’re able to… the thing about this moment is that everything changes. As much as everything is predictable, nothing like this has happened before. So at the same time, it’s this moment of opportunity where we have the opportunity to change things for the better in various ways. We don’t always have the leverage or we need to do some work to get some leverage but like, if this is the worst case scenario, that things get worse for all of us and it’ll be longer than it took for us to recover from the last economic recession, then what are the changes we start making now? What are the conversations we start now?
We have some powerful tools, right? With the media and with Twitter and with all of the things at our disposable. With our podcast, perhaps. What are the conversations we need to be having? Who are the people we need to be bringing in? Who are the people we need to be listening to? How does what’s going on in the world and our ability to analyze it and make the best decisions possible based on it, how does that shift?
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. We’ve been talking a lot on my community calls about the seat at the table that we have always deserved, certainly but now is really the proving time to say, have we somehow made the argument for the importance of diversity and inclusive organizations as they pertain to the bottom line? Have we made it well enough that we are at the table right now when really far reaching decisions are being made that are going to have a lot of ripple effects. So, a lot of folks are pivoting their efforts to speak more to leading inclusively in a virtual world, for example. So supporting managers and leaders around that skillset, right? They are pivoting around like anti-racism education for the API community, right? With the “Chinese virus” stuff and basically… or they’re educating their company on how there is white supremacists are Zoom bombing Zoom meetings, which, is what came to light this week.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please look it up and make sure you have the right settings on your Zoom so that when you are homeschooling your kids, you don’t have something horrible pop up on your screen. But anyway, so I think that the pivot, where we need to make is how do we talk about this as a mission critical more than ever for how we come out of this and how we come out of this in a more equitable place versus in a… a place where we go back years and years and in terms of progress. I mean, I don’t know if you were Chief Diversity Officer Kendra, right now in an organization, what do you think is your most compelling argument that what you know and pay attention to and this lens is so more critical than ever as we find a way through this?
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah, I mean I think that, I don’t know that we have wholly internalized enough that the most critical piece right now to anyone, in any business being able to do their job is to have some of their basic needs met. If we think about Maslow’s hierarchy, we have people who are striking from warehouses and for making deliveries right now because they’re not getting hand sanitizer or gloves or protective equipment of any sort and they’re potentially being exposed and they’re helping get things to us and their needs are not being met. For a lot of us in our other environments, our needs are not necessarily being met either. To continue right now to pretend that business as usual is even an option, should be a nonstarter.
So, if that is how we have to start every day, okay, so what do we know for sure? What can we do? As best as possible, my advice would be, and this is a thing that I’ve been trying with my own team and it seems to be working is, what can we structure that is cadenced, that gives people ritual that people can come back to? So like is there a meeting every day that… or, is there a check in or something that people can depend on that gives them stability in that way? Can we be as open as possible and as clear as possible about what we’re going through and what we’re dealing with so that other people are aware, one, but two, potentially feel like they can share as well and that they can be open. Just foster environments that are at their core, people centric because that’s what we need right now more than anything.
The things that are bringing us all together and I do not understand how any Zoom bomber right now has the energy to be doing that. I don’t understand. Where are you finding the energy to be a jerk? I can’t. Yeah, I can’t with that. But because we are all in this moment, like in this moment where at best we are operating in some mild version of crisis mode and at worst, it is worse than that. We can’t pay attention to things, we don’t absorb information correctly when our bodies are stressed out. That is just a fact. So, if that’s where we’re starting, what are the accommodations that we need to make? What stability can we give people? What stability can we not provide? What touchpoints do we need to have? Who do we need to check in with?
Honestly, I’m not going to lie, I don’t talk to HR a lot normally. I mean, I do because I’m like, “Hey HR, how are you?” “Hey Kendra, how are you?” Like that’s that because we work together, but we don’t normally have check-ins but yeah, we’ve been talking several times a week just so I can be like, here are the things that I know that are going on, here are the… Just, I need to make sure we have clear communication with one another because everybody’s going through some stuff right now and we need to make sure that people are as best as possible taken care of when we can. That means too that a lot of people are maybe going through things a little bit extra, extra, extra. You, without a doubt in your workplace have people who come from backgrounds where perhaps their partners or their siblings or their parents are still working jobs where they are exposed to this virus every day and that is so wildly stressful to spend your entire day, all day worried for your family, for the people that you love.
You don’t know who’s maybe on the brink of a divorce and they now have two kids at home who are homeschooling and both of them are working from home and like… Who knows what people are going through right now and everything is just like on a scale of one to 10 it’s at a 13. How do you think in this environment? We have to give each other some space and we also have to connect with each other. Those are the things we’re holding in the balance.
JENNIFER BROWN: I mean it makes me think, we should have always been this people centric, right?
KENDRA CLARKE: Yes. We should.
JENNIFER BROWN: I mean, like some people are saying, we’re living through this like a moment of reckoning. But I think that there are some things about what we’re discovering about each other and the way that we’re caring for each other and working with each other that we may never want to not do again, maybe becoming a new normal because we… I mean, you and I and others know how broken a lot of our systems and processes and ways of working were, how exclusionary they were. I think that I’m mindful when I think of the silver lining, I think about the democratization of the workforce and the workplace in the virtual world, I think about the ability we have to truly be seen and heard or perhaps reveal more about our true lives to each other and enable the learning to happen versus perhaps being able to hide all of that because we fear the judgment, right?
But I don’t know, that’s the optimistic side of me saying that. The pessimistic side is, if we do show up as more fully ourselves because we don’t have a choice in this new world and we literally cannot hide it because it’s intruding constantly is that, is that worse for bias or is it better for the way that we can all sort of simultaneously lower the water line if we are all icebergs, if we can all kind of jump in and say, let’s have a real, real conversation and let’s really get to know each other. I think it could actually kind of help accelerate that acceptance that we’ve been striving so much for but that in the physical environment, there’s so many sort of visual cues that trigger bias, right? Trigger stereotypes, trigger microaggressions, I mean, there’s a lot. All of a sudden that input has been changed and I wonder if there’s an opening there.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah, I mean, I think that the way that our biases are transformed or not transformed when we’re no longer physically present with each other most of the time and I also do want to make sure that before I go too hard on this point, I make the point that people with disabilities, disabled people for many, many years have asked to be able to work remotely and are almost always in many cases turned down and look what we are doing right now. We’re figuring that out.
JENNIFER BROWN: Look at that, business metaphor. Yay.
KENDRA CLARKE: Hmmmm. Okay. So there is that point, right? Part of that is because we’ve kind of come to the table with this idea that, if I can’t see you, maybe you’re not working and I think that we’re getting to a moment where we’re like, actually, I just have to trust you and it’s tricky because sometimes being in person can make people more empathetic. There is no substitute for like hashing out some sort of conflict in person. It’s a disaster to do via Slack message or via text or via phone or even via video, but at the same… so it can make certain things worse, right? To have to call somebody on their biases. I’ve screened a few candidates and one of the things that I typically screen for is, can we read bias with this particular candidate in any way? That’s harder to do over the phone.
But also, this allows us, yeah, to acknowledge each other’s lives and potentially give each other… like go into all of these interactions with more grace than we would have otherwise. It allows us to build different kinds of friendships and bonds or just relationships in general and communication strategies in general because we’re figuring out how best to communicate versus trying very hard to convey in our way, in a typical environment where we don’t have things that are disrupting us and making us think about things a little bit differently. It really can be a double edged sword and we’ll see where it goes from here. Part of the answer too is, we’re not going to have a ton of data on some of the ramifications for a while. Do we see different and so what we have is anecdotal. So we’ll see, we’ll see how that plays out for sure.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love the way you just described it. We haven’t had physical offices at my company ever. There are things I really like about working virtually with the team, there are so many things. I think that if we were all in an office together, there are things that… like if you need to have a difficult conversation with somebody, I feel like almost in person it can get a little unwieldy and you don’t have that time to reflect. So, I think the time that we can take to process right now in this way of working is an interesting, at least as a leader, I find that it’s helpful for me to have that quiet so I can reflect. So anyway, I think it’s different for introverts and extroverts. There is pluses and minuses I think to that, which we’ve been talking a lot about-
KENDRA CLARKE: Sure, yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: … but I just-
KENDRA CLARKE: I have a number of people that I work with yeah, who are like, I never… like anybody who says that we should work from home always like, ah, yeah. We have a few of those. So yeah, I’m like, I will say that I think that this is… us not being present, having remote teams does ask you to be more mindful about your communication in various ways. You are yeah, you’re just… you’re more mindful about your communication, whether it’s you are more sparing with in certain times or you’re able to be more gracious in others. Yeah, that’s absolutely it. You hit that on the head.
JENNIFER BROWN: I think the pausing, right? I mean, I always… when I teach unconscious bias, the pause before you take an action or before you say something, right? It doesn’t need to be a long pause, but it’s a moment where you catch yourself or you’re about to say something or you just said something and you pause and you’re like, let me revisit that, let me think about that. Was that fair? Is my bias showing? I think that this is a great time to reflect on your leadership style. I would imagine it’s going to be very humbling because a lot of leaders who thought they were good leaders in one environment are not going to be very effective in this other environment. Then new leaders and voices that are trusted and know how to communicate in this way, I think will become more valued.
With limited information in the virtual world, the ability to establish trust and emotional connection and show the caring and the grace, right, and the intentional thoughtfulness, I think that we’re going to have to practice with each other. It takes some slow… it’s the slowdown that we’ve been forced to make is actually a wonderful opportunity to really dig into that, to think about what would a leader look like that… what would the competencies be of somebody that would be successful in this new configuration? If that’s not me, how can I up my quotient on that? So I think that’s going to be really… I mean, I’ve been wanting that conversation for a really long time, but now we have this wind… you have a tailwind in a way for change right now.
We have sort of a lack of precedent. We have a power vacuum, we have no answers and this is such an opportunity for people to show up and do things a different way and get followers for that way to inspire others, to role model different things, to be vulnerable. I think one thing we’ve been encouraging for leaders forever and yet there was never a burning platform for it, right? We always had to manufacture the burning platform and now we’re in the burning platform.
KENDRA CLARKE: This is your burning platform. It’s true. Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right?
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Kendra, I want to know what are… so you get some of the biggest brands in the world coming to Sparks & Honey and in the usual times the questions might be like we were talking about earlier like, how am I going to have to pivot my products? What’s going to happen next year or two years from now that we can start planning now? So what’s coming to you now that just stands out in terms of the asks? Like the kinds of support, the kinds of… I don’t know, predictive analysis to the extent that you can right now. What are some of the questions and I guess what can we as organizational champions, which is what we have an abundance of on The Will to Change, what can we glean from that about how to position inclusion as the table stakes that we know it should be?
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah. So yeah, I mean all of this is… it’s a great question and-
JENNIFER BROWN: Developing.
KENDRA CLARKE: … yeah, and it’s all developing. But that’s also the thing, right? It’s all developing. So, I am a data scientist, I am not a strategist and I make that distinction pretty clearly because my job is to collect data and to understand it and then to model where it is likely going without things that change a lot, right? So what I… my models are all built on like the past that’s already happened, that’s data. Data is stuff that’s already happened in the past. So we’re at this moment right now where the best thing I can do is, I can say here is the data, but we have to play the strategy. We have to do the strategy, we have to be the strategist and to say, we’re taking this data and then we’re making the best possible decisions that we can in this moment with what we know.
The thing is like we are still getting clients who are coming to us for a number of different things. But we have clients who we already ask if they feel like, what am I doing? What’s going on? Help me navigate this moment in different ways, right? Perhaps what I’m doing required people to be in an arena together, to have a live sports experience together and now, we’re not doing that for a while so how do I take what I know about what… and what I was going to do and reconfigure it for this new world that we’re living in right now? So that’s one thing and then a lot of it is really a question about what stays changed and this is the one that I actually I love, I love as a data scientist because the thing that I actually tell people, and this is the thing that is true is like, we forget sometimes when we over rely on data that we have a lot of agency and power to shape the future.
We are people that have agency and power in the situation and so sometimes the things that… it’s no secret that the things that we invest in then become the things that become the things and all of a sudden, the world is in a different place, the self fulfilling prophecy because you made a decision and then you put power behind it and you brought it to life. So yeah, a lot of the things and the directions that the world was going in already are probably going to become even bigger things, right? So we’ve been having conversations about the urgency of climate change and the urgency of more sustainability and I can’t imagine that that conversation stops or shifts, especially right now knowing that pandemics like the one that we’re living through right now, are more likely and potentially just as devastating if not more devastating if we don’t take action on climate change.
So, those kinds of conversations are happening now and will continue to happen and I imagine they will be a larger part of the conversation as we begin to get away from the active daily emergency of what we’re living through right now. So we’re having those kinds of conversations too with clients where we’re able to say, okay, so the world is changed completely, you are correct in that, nothing will ever be the same but also, not everything has changed entirely and we can make good decisions and start to lay the foundations for where we want the world to be and where we think it should be going because that’s still the job of anybody who’s making strategy, anybody who’s making business decisions truly.
JENNIFER BROWN: You know what? It’s an incredible time to un-tether ourselves from, you work from that baseline as a data scientist but I think what you’re saying is sometimes we are tethered to that, right? Then change is incremental and slow.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right now you don’t… what do you base it on? Right? Where do you… where’s the starting point? So then it becomes a question of, to me what I hear is, it’s almost the judgment. It is your strategy, it is your interpretation of everything you’ve known to be true and then not having that to rely on anymore and thinking about what is the right answer, what is the optimal answer here? I feel like so the data is a jumping off point and I don’t know, given the changes that are in front of us, we’re going to have to make this up as we go a bit and it’s going to be about I think, voices and stories and compelling arguments and reckonings and truth telling and hopefully not fake news but-
KENDRA CLARKE: Definitely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right? The things that we are watching there’s going to be, I think just an opportunity to… I guess the opinions we have about things and the sense we have, and intuition about things can come to the fore and I just hope that we hear new voices and that we benefit from the ideas that we’ve never had the time or the inclination or the respect to really listen to and to put to the fore, right? Because we’ve been so grounded in a way in the past or in that baseline that has held us like a balloon to the ground, because now the balloon is in the sky.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah, I mean-
JENNIFER BROWN: So, hang onto the balloon and try… I don’t know what the metaphor is, but it’s actually an incredibly creative time right now. I mean, I have felt amazingly creative. As soon as I was able to come into acceptance that I may need to detach from what I’ve created and I may need to let go of the ego part of that and the outcomes that I expected and if I can just sit, like I have this abundance of wonder and all these things are occurring to me and the questions of what’s possible right now. Then right after that comes this, oh my goodness, I have to use my voice. Oh my goodness, I have to make sure… all that I’ve been waiting to do can actually be brought now to the fore and I feel like that’s so true for you too. I would put you in a leadership position to decide what we’re doing with no data, so.
KENDRA CLARKE: I mean, I love that and thank you but also, yeah. Yeah, I will say, I feel like I’m still a little bit settling in. It took me a long time to get my body from being so stressed out by everything that’s going on right now, for me to feel like I could even process information fully. So, I’m still a little close to that and hopefully I’ll be able to create some stuff more ongoing. That said, I mean yeah, I think that right now there are so many decisions that we can be making, right? I’m treating this, for me at least, right now is a bit of a fallow season. I’m doing the things that only I can do as best as I can do them in this moment.
I’m trying to ensure that I am regularly taking care of myself and feeding myself and fueling myself with the kinds of things that make me feel good. You know what I mean? I do this anyway, I read my tarot cards every morning and I read a little bit of a book and I try to spend some time just for me and that’s a grounding practice for me. Then also yeah, thinking about and trying to figure out ways that… I mean, I have a little bit more time than normal because at least I’m not spending an hour plus a day commuting back and forth to an office or in transit between things and life does feel a little bit slower for me and that may not be true for everybody, like especially like medical professionals and people who are still having to leave the house to go to work every day.
Yeah, but in that slowness, what can we do? What can we potentially create? Also, how can we use some of this time and energy maybe to like… if you weren’t somebody who wanted to buy from Amazon before, maybe you have a little extra time to buy from not Amazon. Maybe there’s a local bookstore that is doing online deliveries that you can take advantage of. This is a time to support small businesses. Do a little bit more research. This is a time to think about the things that really matter to you a little bit more, right? We’re all cooking more and we’re all consuming content and we’re all trying to create and trying to keep ourselves busy and our minds busy. How are we turning that around and how are we giving that to the people around us because that’s important too.
We are connected human beings and I think that all of this continues to be a reminder of how connected we are to each other and how important that is. So yeah, so how do we make sure that we’re using what we can and what we can create to fuel ourselves, to fuel each other and to say like, you know what? It’s okay actually that I am where I am right now and maybe some things that I’m doing don’t entirely make sense to me. This may not be the moment where the things make sense to you all at once. That may take some time because we’re in an emerging information environments. The information continues to emerge and we still don’t entirely know what to do with it so we’re making our decisions and we’re plotting our lives as best as we can knowing that regularly, the rug has been pulled out from under us and everything is changing.
JENNIFER BROWN: Well, what an opportunity.
KENDRA CLARKE: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, yeah Kendra, I want folks to know about the briefings because you are often on them.
KENDRA CLARKE: I am.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sparks & Honey does them now virtually but they’re amazing. You can hear Kendra riff on absolutely anything and everything, which is what I so appreciate about you. So where can folks tune into those so they can see you do your work and learn from you and your amazing colleagues at Sparks & Honey?
KENDRA CLARKE: Definitely. So we are still doing briefings every day, not every day, we’re doing them Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, right now and you can definitely find them on LinkedIn, you can usually find them on Facebook and YouTube as well and we’ll often cut certain clips too. So recently we’ve been doing a lot of things that are just COVID-19 specific and or ancillary to that. So, we talked about intersectional issues and social determinants in one briefing, we talked about kind of the current ad environments and how that’s shifted very suddenly. We talked about a lot of different aspects of what’s happening right now. We, typically, when we are not all remote do this meeting in person, so if you’re in New York, you could also come by. So yeah, so that’s always a great thing to check out both because it’s interesting and it’s important. It’s been described recently by a couple people as like, the only news content about COVID they can really take, which is… that’s really sweet. I really appreciate that. But yeah, but we’ll be back talking about other stuff too.
JENNIFER BROWN: You just saying come by the office and attend a briefing, like that feels like-
KENDRA CLARKE: No.
JENNIFER BROWN: …a fantasy right now but we will return. We will return.
KENDRA CLARKE: We will. We’ll get there eventually and until then we are definitely on LinkedIn.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
KENDRA CLARKE: So, yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Great. Everybody so check out Sparks & Honeys briefings, check out Kendra and all the team over there and get this news in a way that is in this incredible context, which you always manage to put things in context, which is so refreshing but also just incredibly important right now. So Kendra, thank you for being such an amazing leader, such a generous data scientist, such a heart and such an eye towards inclusion. Thank you for your work and I know that you’re trailblazing in a million different ways and you probably just take it for granted, but you are an incredibly special voice in all of this to me and to so many. Thank you for the work you do.
KENDRA CLARKE: Thank you. Thank you.
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