The Opportunity of Inclusive Leadership with Cherise Bernard and Amri Johnson

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

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This episode, originally recorded as a DEI Community Call, features a conversation with Cherise Bernard, PhD, Director of Diversity, Engagement and Inclusion at McCann New York and Founder of Modern Work Consultancy, and Amri Johnson, CEO and Founder of Inclusion Wins. Discover how leaders can help drive an inclusive and equitable culture from the top down, and how leaders can hold themselves accountable to this work, and create more accountability within each part of their business to ensure impact. You’ll also discover practical ways for leaders to flex their cultural competencies.

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

Cherise Bernard: One of the competencies that we’re hearing a lot about is cultural intelligence, right? We all know what emotional intelligence is. Cultural intelligence is something that’s coming up to really make sure that that leader is aware of the different nuances of their organization, of culture. Especially if you’re in a global market, what does it mean to be inclusive and diverse in JPAC versus the United States? They have to know what that means. How do we make sure that our leaders are culturally competent? That’s something that they’ve never really had to be responsible for in such broad demand as they are now. How do we make sure that our leaders are culturally competent?

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.

Doug Foresta: Hello, and welcome back to the wealth of change. This is Doug Foresta. This episode was originally recorded as a DEI community call and features a conversation with Cherise Bernard, director of Diversity Engagement and Inclusion at McCann New York and founder of Modern Work Consultancy, as well as Amri Johnson, CEO and founder of Inclusion Wins. And in the conversation, Jennifer, Cherise and Amri discuss how leaders should help drive an inclusive and equitable culture from the top down, how leaders can hold themselves accountable in this work and create more accountability within each part of their business to ensure impact. You’ll also hear about practical ways for leaders to flex their cultural competencies, as well as how leaders can infuse a global outlook as they implement their DEI strategies. And now, onto the conversation.

Jennifer Brown: So Cherise right now is director of DEI at McCann, but previously at Spotify, which is where we met. But Cherise, thank you so much for agreeing to join me at Amri and the community today. And I’ll just hand it over to you.

Cherise Bernard: Thank you so much, Jennifer. Jennifer and I first met, I think it was about four years ago, on a panel at Spotify and that’s the first time that we met and we really connected. So I’m happy to be here. We’ve been on panels together since that time. And so I am just really, really encouraged and I find this community amazing. I’m looking over at the chat and looking at where everyone is from. It’s such a rich community. I want everyone to connect with me on LinkedIn, because I want to make sure we keep these connections going. I believe I’m the only Cherise Bernard on LinkedIn. Every time I check, it’s the only one that pops up. So please go there and look for me. It’s the same photo there so you shouldn’t be able to miss me. But welcome to our call today. We are going to really dive into some topics focused in on inclusive workplaces, equity, how to create inclusive leaders or promote inclusive leaders. We’re going to have a really rich discussion.

Cherise Bernard: But first, I want to introduce Amri. Amri and I connected on LinkedIn years ago, but I never knew Amri. It was just like, “Oh, we have a similar background. Let’s connect.” And then I reached out to Amri a few months ago to join on a panel that I was on. And I just find him extremely insightful, thoughtful with his approach. And he is, correct me if I’m wrong, Amri, you were in public health before this, right? Is that right? And I am myself a recovering scientist, so really focusing on analytics and data and metrics. So I love that we can bring that different perspective to this conversation. So I’m going to hand it over to Amri just to introduce yourself. Tell us about your company and what you do. And we’ll hop right into the conversation after that.

Amri Johnson: Fantastic. It’s always a pleasure to be in the presence of giants, those that are obviously in this discussion with me, but many of you that have been doing this work in a way that in the time that we’re in is not easy. And I applaud you for continuing the journey and continuing to learn and grow. As Cherise said, my name is Amri Johnson. I don’t know, I’m a dad of a two-year-old and two teenagers. I’m from Topeka, Kansas. I’m a Morehouse man. I’m a black man. I’m a humanist.

Cherise Bernard: You’re a Morehouse, man? I’m sorry. You never told me that. I’m a Spelman woman, Amri.

Amri Johnson: You can always tell a Morehouse man, but you can’t tell him much. I’m also an epidemiologist and I took the dynamics of how I think as an epidemiologist into practice. I actually got into the work because I was so bad at people management at a young age that I decided I needed to learn everything I could about leadership and organizational development and management and eventually made a career of it. I’ve been in the space for about 20 years. I kind of transitioned from my work in health disparities, health equity, into DEI, starting with more org development. And then moving in, started a couple of niche job boards, and eventually worked as a partner with my mentor and friend, Howard Ross, for about four years before I got recruited to come and start up the diversity and inclusion efforts at the research division of Novartis.

Amri Johnson: I stayed in Novartis for about nine years. Then I moved to the city where Novartis is located and quit. And then started a consulting firm called Inclusion Wins. We’re a people focused solutions provider. We do everything we do with an inclusion lens. But our work spans from values, culture development, but everything to solutions that are technical in nature. But our work is all with that lens of inclusion and creating a more humanistic workplace. So there’s more to it obviously as we’re all very complex, but I’m excited to be here today and looking forward to the conversation.

Cherise Bernard: Thank you, Amri. And Jennifer, I know that you already introduced yourself because this is your call, but any intro remarks you’d like to make before we get started?

Jennifer Brown: No, let’s just jump on it. I mean, you can find me all over, I’m told. I’m everywhere.

Amri Johnson: It’s true, y’all.

Cherise Bernard: It’s true.

Jennifer Brown: Sorry about that.

Cherise Bernard: And I got so excited because I heard Amri say that he was a Morehouse man. And I went to Spelman. And the two schools, they’re HBCUs, they’re right next door to each other. Morehouse is an all male school. Spelman is an all female school. And people used to be so alarmed when I said I’m going to Spelman. And I used to say, “Well, there’s Morehouse right next door. So don’t be alarmed. We’re going to be fine.”

Amri Johnson: Cherise, I tried to get into Spelman and they wouldn’t let me in. And I was like, “I have to go to the lesser school,” but occasionally I got to go on campus so it all worked out.

Cherise Bernard: Fun times, fun college days. So let’s dive into this conversation because one of the things, both at Spotify now at McCann, that we are wrestling with is all of the commitments that our leaders made after the unprecedented year of 2020, right? There were so many commitments that came out of every industry, the music industry, the tech industry, consult, I mean, everywhere. There were so many commitments. And leaders really, like Jennifer mentioned earlier, there was a learning curve. We never really talked about so much to that level, empathy as a leader and inclusion being inclusive as a leader and equity and the difference between equity and equality. So the first thing that I want to talk about now is with all of these commitments, what are the top priorities that you feel leaders really need to pay attention to now, as they go into this space of executing those commitments, what are the top two priorities that you think they should be focused on?

Jennifer Brown: Amri, do you want to go first?

Amri Johnson: Sure. I think, I mean, there’s a lot of things that we could focus on and I think sometimes we try to move to the tactical, but I think strategically we should be focused on making sure that we connect everything we do to the organization, raison d’etre, our reason for being. I think without doing that, it seems like this is just like we’ve perpetuated for a long time in the DNI space that is separate from what the organization’s responsibility, mission and purpose is. And I think when we make sure we connect everything we’re doing back to why the organization exists, that’s at the foundation of what I think we need to prioritize and reexamine and deconstruct, if we haven’t done it to the extent that we need to.

Amri Johnson: I’d say, secondly, I would ask if what we’re doing is accessible to everyone, if it’s actionable, meaning is it unambiguously prioritized by the organization, and is it sustainable, meaning aligned with purpose? So I’ll go back to point one on that last part is sustainability and alignment with purpose. Is it connected to why we’re here? Because otherwise people can always find an excuse for it not to be prioritized and not to be made something for everyone. And those are the two things that I would probably anchor on more than anything else. There’s lots of other tactics that we could probably go into today, but we get there, we get clear at the foundation, it just allows us to do things that we can’t do if we don’t make that a priority.

Cherise Bernard: Thank you, Amri. Jennifer, what do you think?

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Building on that, it was a great foundation. And then if I could wave my magic wand, I’d like to see accountability driven throughout the organizational muscle, and not just for diversity but for inclusion and belonging, which is, I think the trickier piece to measure. Both are tricky because diversity, invisible diversity dimensions are very historically and now currently difficult because people don’t trust the organization enough to really disclose who they are. So you can ask forever, but I’m not going to check that box if I don’t feel the psychological safety in the organization. So measuring diversity is complex, but the accountability piece around inclusion and belonging is how is this leader showing up in the context, and not just by my own self-report, which is limited and sometimes I can overestimate my success at being inclusive and creating belonging. And sometimes I underestimate how actually good I am, right? And I think that’s a little gendered, but we could talk about that. I would love your thoughts.

Cherise Bernard: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Jennifer Brown: So instead, what would be a more objective way to understand how a leader is, is showing up in the system and what are the competencies we’re for to measure and according to whom? So what I think the future needs to hold is that this is a part of my competencies that’s a part of how my performance is measured and compensated, and that if there were a system… And there probably is a tool out there that does this well, I’m not sure, but the 360 degree or 180, if it’s a very, very senior leader, to say, “According to whom am I enacting these behaviors?” And hopefully there’s the intent there. Is the intent matching the impact? The impact is what we have to get to, but it feels sometimes like it’s like sand through the fingers.

Jennifer Brown: It’s hard to wrap your hands around. But really the only actions that matter are the ones that are received. And so we’ve got to get, I think, very clear on giving ourselves a pass because I intend this, I believe this, I hold these values. I mean, that’s all great. I mean, you can be on board and be completely ineffective in terms of the way that you are utilizing what you have to shift the system around you. So I don’t know if that was your question, Cherise, but I figured, I always sent her on the vision for what I picture this to be in the optimal way, and then kind of backing up from that to say, so where are we really?

Cherise Bernard: I think the point of competencies are so important because as a DEI practitioner, there’s this high level black hole where we sit in this high level maze of values and vision. But when it comes time to execute a strategy, that requires number one discipline, but it also requires a certain level of competency in areas that leaders may not necessarily be aware of, right? So everyone on this call, you’re probably a DEI practitioner, maybe you’re someone hoping to pivot into that area. Amri and Jennifer, what are the ways… I saw someone in the chat actually ask about an assessment for leaders. We can get into that. But what are the ways that you have tried to shift leaders into that competency? Is it training? Is training the answer? Are people now over-trained? Let’s dive into how we develop these competencies. Leaders are really competent in the traditional business areas and business tools, and they use metrics and analytics for everything else but DEI. How do we drive home the fact that we need to build those competencies to those leaders as well?

Amri Johnson: It depends on if the organizational frameworks don’t make those competencies a priority, it’s really hard to make them stick. And so it doesn’t matter if you do training, it doesn’t matter if you take it and put it into an educational learning path because it won’t necessarily stick. And so I think you can do all of the things above, training, education, dialogue, et cetera. But I think for me, because I focus on systems and structures probably more, I’ve probably over-indexed on them with my clients, to the extent where if you build this into the leadership frameworks… And it’s really not that hard now, given what leadership is today and given if we think about kind of the contemporary leadership constructs that a lot of organizations have adopted, a lot of them have inclusion dynamics really built in.

Amri Johnson: They’re wired into the language of it. But to the expectations into the behaviors, into the organizational design and expectations into everything that goes into design, including the reward systems, they’re not hardwired. And so I think if we want those competencies to be realized, it has to be wired into how we work with teams, how we deal with power, how we reward all of the above. And then who do we select in that regard? Because if you don’t make that at the foundation of everything you do, subcultures are going to do it well. And the subculture or a leader of that subculture has more power, it will trump… Nope. I wasn’t trying to go anywhere so don’t go there. It will overtake the intentions of those who have been following it. So that’s why when I talk about unambiguous actions, it means that it’s built into how you do your systems and structures into an organizational design in a way that says inclusion is prioritized not because everybody’s… What’s that Lego song? Everybody’s…

Cherise Bernard: I don’t know the Lego song.

Amri Johnson: Y’all know the Lego song.

Jennifer Brown: Awesome.

Amri Johnson: Everybody’s awesome, yeah. Everybody’s awesome. No, this is complex. It’s difficult. It has tension and you have to be able to deal with that tension. And it has to be done in a way that, in my opinion, that’s structural because structure creates behavior. So when you do that, all the other stuff is really just the building of the muscle. So you make it repetition and reps around that so that we’re getting consistent to build that capacity over time, because it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s got to be built in so that people say, “Okay, this is what we have to do. And if you’re not doing it, we call it out and you have a chance to change it. And if you don’t, you might not belong here.” Then it’s okay that you don’t. Because there are other organizations that might not want to do this the same way. Go there.

Jennifer Brown: Right.

Amri Johnson: That’s not going to be the case either because I think everybody should be doing it like this. But until then, you go there. But until you are in that space of consistently calling that out when it’s counter to the structure, I think organizations will always have power imbalances that create a break in that possibility.

Cherise Bernard: Yeah, so insightful. What do you think, Jennifer?

Jennifer Brown: We get the behavior we tolerate, right? Like what do we let slide? What do we not address? What do we not unambiguously communicate, Amri, an unambiguous action. Right? I might say too, things need to be communicated a million times before they’re heard too. So I’ve been saying to leaders, particularly around the virtual inclusion, when we are for our talent and making sure people aren’t falling out, we’ve got to be extremely proactive in a way I think we’ve never been before to get these commitments through. And I hope also to highlight talent and make sure that people are being fostered in the organization, particularly in the virtual environment, because a lot of us, we’re non traditional talent or on the bubble. We’re teetering on the edge anyway, and then you add the virtual element and things become ambiguous that maybe weren’t ambiguous before.

Jennifer Brown: Am I seen? Am I valued? Who has my back? Where am I being elevated here? And is there a career path for me or are people looking out for things to give me a tip about or put my name forward? So that whole sort of unambiguous devotion that we really want to see from our leaders, unapologetic commitment, we want to see it. We want to hear it and we need to see inherit repeatedly. And so I think even that is… I mean, that’s a tenant of change management too anyway. Right? It’s communicate early, often. You need to say it. Say it in different ways. Say it from the head, say it from the heart, say from the hands, come out at a million ways because the messenger and the message… It’s complex. And that’s part of why I think we all love this work so much is we have to get, I think, creative about reaching as many people as possible in a complex system. And now very virtualized workforce who’s feeling, frankly, according to the data we’ve all been reading, feeling very not so great about their employer.

Amri Johnson: And very emboldened in a way like, “Hey, y’all ain’t doing this, and they are? Please.” They’re not having to really break a sweat because the possibilities are there. Really I don’t want to say I’m excited about what’s come out of the pandemic. As an epidemiologist, I’m absolutely horrified some days, but the whole idea of the fact that in the workforce right now, people can say, “Hey, has this organization taken care of its people? Has it really been completely open to all the dynamics that are happening and accommodating people so that they can thrive? Are they really concerned about my safety? And as a result, can I trust them? And if I can’t, then I just decide that I don’t want to work there anymore. And I can find another job because good people can always find their next thing.”

Amri Johnson: And so I think we go around, we go away from this dynamic of being emboldened or being held hostage by tyrannical managers versus having agency to say, “Hey, it’s the time. Companies are open. They’re not finding talent as quickly as they would like to. And if I put my hat in the ring, the possibilities for me are probably potentially broader than when the pandemic started.” So I think this is, let’s get away from, oh, companies need to do this to keep their people. Yeah, they do. But it is not about companies feeling like if they don’t do it, they still can. Now, if they don’t do it, I believe they’re going to miss out and it’s going to impact them in the long haul.

Cherise Bernard: It is. And these are conversations that are happening as we speak. This market is so ripe and ready for people who are not satisfied with the culture of their organization. And so business leaders are starting to see, we need to act on what we say we care about. We need to make sure that our values are being displayed and demonstrated every single day, because it’s no longer we can say this, but do this. That’s not what’s happening right now. And so as DEI practitioners, one of the things that we are responsible for is making sure that we are rolling out strategies that our leaders can be accountable for.

Cherise Bernard: But in my case, I am the DEI practitioner. I’m not doing the job of that leader. You’re the CEO, you have to take on this work. You have to take on this work as if it were making you the millions, just like everything else. Right? So that’s one of the things that I am adamant about in my role at McCann is that it’s the leaders who has to drive this behavior. The behavior starts from the top. We have to drive it from the top. So along with that vein, going back to the competency, one of the competencies that we’re hearing a lot about right now is cultural intelligence, right? We all know what emotional intelligence is. Cultural intelligence is something that’s coming up to really make sure that that leader is aware of the different nuances of their organization, of culture. Especially if you’re in a global market, what does it mean to be inclusive and diverse in JPAC versus the United States versus Latin…? What does all that mean? They have to know what that means.

Cherise Bernard: So as we talk about these competencies, I want to dive into cultural competence quickly and just say, that’s a crucial skill. But how do we make sure that our leaders are culturally competent? That’s something that they’ve never really had to be responsible for in such broad demand as they are now. How do we make sure that our leaders are culturally competent?

Jennifer Brown: Yeah, Cherise, such a good question. In my keynotes, we do some polling and we have a list of 10 identities, everything from ethnicity to gender, to gender identity, to socioeconomic background, to mental health, because these are all cultures and subcultures. And we ask what’s your comfort level and your knowledge about? And it’s super helpful the way that we’re engaging leaders in a new way, I hope, and we’re engaging new leaders in this conversation. So Cherise, you don’t have to work to educate everybody and lead the initiative because that’s not fair or sustainable or scalable. So leaders might feel overwhelmed about the number of cultures that we need to learn about that aren’t from our lived experience or we are not proximate to. And I understand. And that’s some of the pushback I get. How can I possibly learn all these things?

Jennifer Brown: And I’m like, “You can walk into gum at the same time. We can do this.” And by the way, intersectionality, intersectionality, I think is the glue. I mean, if I can understand a woman’s experience, but also a black woman’s experience. That’s a piece of knowledge I can commit to memory as somebody that only shares one of those identities. And think about, okay, so the common microaggressions, the common challenges, the statistics, the research, what do I know about that experience that I’ve studied? And also from people in my network, which by the way, we need to diversify our networks. That’s another huge piece that our learning needs to… That cultural competency doesn’t just come from book learning and media. It comes from the proximity to another soul who is walking through the world and who we’ve built enough psychological safety and trust with that we can actually have those conversations and we can share our lived experience, and even the painful stuff, even the raw stuff.

Jennifer Brown: So I think that leaders, to the extent, I literally have them kind of stack rank their degree of cultural competency around different identities. And I think it just helps to… There’s no shame in your answer. And I include myself. I say, “I am in my sort of… ” And everyone who knows my book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader, we have a four stage model, unaware, aware, active, and advocate. So if you’re an unaware and you’re moving into aware around disabilities or around mental health or around race and ethnicity, it’s very important and helpful to know where we are and then to take the next step. Strategically, I wouldn’t introduce really complex topics on this to somebody who’s just emerging. And so it’s important for us to know where we are as leaders. And then it’s important for the organization.

Jennifer Brown: We have an assessment too, by the way, and my team will share it in chat, but to assess where our leaders are from a maturity standpoint and give people the right dosage, the right information around cultural differences that can be absorbed versus throwing everything into a training program and treating everybody the same as a monolith because we are in vastly different places in terms of our skill and will. Right? Will is the attitude towards the learning, and then the skill is the learning of the skills and competencies and all that. So organizations, again, I’m waving my magic wand and I’m wishing this into being, is that we could use tools like ours and others to not put people into boxes, but to acknowledge the diversity of learners and the different identities that we need to elevate. And then how we support the… My friend, Chuck Shelton, calls this the laggards, the learners, and the leaders. How do we support people differently depending on where they are and accelerate their journey from there?

Cherise Bernard: I love that. There is a firehouse next to my house. So they just left. Sorry about that, everyone. I want to go to the chat really quickly because we’re getting some really interesting conversation around cultural intelligence and cultural competency. And I want to thank everyone for giving such insightful comments there. One of the things that I want to point out, this was said by Andrea Wicks Bowles, “It must start with self-awareness before you can discuss cultural competencies.” And I love that because have you ever spoken to someone about privilege and they tighten up? And it’s like, oh. We all have privilege. We literally all have privilege. Privilege is a very objective thing. And privileged simply means what are the things that you don’t have to think about every day, right? If you woke up and you have hot water, you’re privileged. If you woke up and you easily made breakfast or you bought breakfast, privilege, right?

Cherise Bernard: And so I want to shift the discomfort about some of these things regarding self-awareness to kind of a state of vulnerability. We need to just all be aware that we all have privilege and that might make the self-awareness a little bit easier. So, Andrea, thank you so much for that really great comment. Edward Gonzalez also said, “We need a cultural add and not a cultural fit. We have to move away from hiring talent that fits in, that’s a culture fit with our organizations and really look at who’s the best talent for the team. How can this person add to the team? How can they accelerate the growth of this team? And that’s a culture add.” So completely agree with you, Edward.

Cherise Bernard: And before we move forward, I want to really address this important question asked by Chris Jones. She said, “I’ve seen a plummet in DEI perceptions in Asian American employees. Could this be connected to their leadership’s lack of a good response to kung flu and Asian hate crimes?” And that just breaks my heart. Chris, thank you so much for asking that really pointed question. Amri and Jennifer, what are your thoughts about this?

Amri Johnson: I’ll go back to the cultural intelligence question, and then I’ll answer the question about the dynamics around colleagues and my friends in the Asian community. The way I frame cultural intelligence is the way that we see it in some of the literature around what they call CQ. Some of you are probably familiar with David Livermore and Linn Van Dyne’s work at the Cultural Intelligence Center up in Grand Rapids. What is it, do leaders understand, do people understand what it is from an academic and a practical perspective? And I think that’s critical. I mean, CQ predicts a lot of things. It predicts how well you can do in negotiation. It predicts how effective you are as a leader, particularly in a context that you’re not as familiar with. It impacts judgment. It impacts decision-making, how you adjust to various situations of complexity and adapt to those situations.

Amri Johnson: So understanding CQ on that level, understanding CQ’s four areas around cultural knowledge, which I think Jennifer pointed out is the knowledge of the various cultures, subcultures, and the mixtures of those cultures and subcultures by identity, as well as what other elements and aspects and attributes that one represents in that intersectional way or multidimensional way. We’re talking about strategy. How do you deal with these dynamics in situations when you enter into them, that you have enough self-awareness of what you’re various multi dimensions are so that you can really step back and make sure you plan when you’re interacting with somebody that comes from some perspectives that you might not be as familiar with or that you might have familiar familiarity with, but you don’t want to over-index on them to the point that you create a situation where you think where you should really be sitting back and listening, the dynamic of really understanding culture in a way that allows you to think about how you’re interacting as well.

Amri Johnson: So you’re strategizing about it, but you’re also thinking about it when you’re in situations. So can you respond when you have a dynamic where you might need to speak a little bit softer or where you need to potentially not be so focused on looking in someone’s eyes when they’re talking to you, or you need to do everything you can to ask really good questions, because some people might not be comfortable speaking to you based on their orientation to where you sit in the power dynamic or just who you are or even if you’re not any more hierarchically above them, that they’re just more humble. So how do you actually make sure that you do everything you can to leave people in a place where they can contribute at their highest level and thrive? So I think CQ is critical, and I think we should all be talking about it a lot more than I think we often do in organizations, including the cultural knowledge piece that I think has been consistently, probably taught by DNI people more so than the strategy and the actionable ways that you can do this in an effective way.

Amri Johnson: On the Asian dynamics, I think one, we have to do get clear on Asian is not this monolithic notion. And I think we’ve spent a lot of time going to Asia and thinking it’s far east. When we had a tax on Sikhs over the past few years that barely made the media, for example. We’ve had dynamics where there’s been groups of folks in this country that have been marginalized in ways that we’ve never ever tracked to have a real conversation about the breadth of what Asia is. There’s Asians that are treated similarly and have gotten similar shade as black people because of their skin tone. So I think what we’ve done is we have this tendency in our space sometimes, and I’ve been guilty of it too, is we start reducing people to a particular idea. So it’s a bit reductionist.

Amri Johnson: I don’t think it’s intentional, but it reduces people to this kind of space where, oh, this is who they are. And we’re not trying to centralize people, but we sometimes can. So we have to really raise up the conversation about what does it even mean? What does Asian mean and how are we addressing people where they are based on what situations are happening for them. And then we need to start looking at the data. Because I can tell you, our tech organizations have a lot of Asians. Now, do they have a lot of Bangladeshis or do they have a lot of Vietnamese or do they have a lot of people that came from places that were highly technical and have been refined and came to do highly technical jobs in this country with visas and that were born second, third, fourth generation? We’re not making that distinction the way that we could.

Amri Johnson: And I think that the level of complexity, as I think Jennifer regularly points out, is something that we have to be really affirming and talking about in a meaningful way, rather than just reducing it to the notion of Asian, which by its nature is a bit… Yeah, it’s a bit simplistic, and I know we know better and we got to do better than that. And I think when people feel like they’re seen with those distinctions, they’ll open up to talk about what they need so that we can then design our organizations for that.

Cherise Bernard: I love that. And that just reminds me of allyship, right? Because in order to be a good ally and taking it a step further, an advocate, we cannot create the monoliths, right? Even within the black community, people think the entire black community has a one point of view, and it’s not really accurate. But the goal here, as a leader, if you’re leader within your organization, and as a DEI practitioner, our jobs are to figure out those nuances, those complexities within a culture, within lived experiences and ask people what their experiences are. They might totally shock you, right? One of the things that I’m learning is not to place one person’s lived experience and transfer it to another person just because they might look alike. Even people in the same families have completely different lived experiences.

Cherise Bernard: And so our job as DEI practitioners are to dive deep, go a little bit deeper, figure out those lived experiences, how those lived experiences are related to how that person, how that employee, how that practitioner, how that leader shows up in the workplace, and then create personalized solutions for them in that situation. Right? As a leader, you have to know where your people. You can not group people in the same box. And that’s something that I’m really trying… We can all get better at that. We all can get better at that. So, Jennifer, do you have any thoughts on, that question?

Jennifer Brown: This is so great. No, this is so great. I mean, LGBTQ plus, I could say the same thing, right? Which identities within the community, the diversity within the diversity, as I think of it, are we not serving, are we not centering? Where is privilege taking over the conversation and the agenda and the education and the voices that we highlight? It’s just been such a learning to look critically within at our cultures too to understand the hierarchies there. And unfortunately, no surprise, they follow the hierarchies of our larger world. I mean, we exist in these communities, but this is the water we swim in. And so being, like you said, Cherise, proactive, to introduce complexity, introduce detail, like detail. The lesbian experience, cis-gender women that identify as gay, is completely different than the experience for our cisgender men within the community, just to pick one, and then it just goes on and on. Lesbians, for example, are extremely understudied.

Jennifer Brown: There’s not a lot of data about us socioeconomically, health wise. There’s a whole survey I’m going to be announcing to the community that is actually the most groundbreaking and largest survey in history of this community, this unseen community. So you’re, right, Cherise, we have to be the ones, the representatives. And that is allyship in a way, because we’re probably likely not going to have the lived experience of some of these things. Sometimes we do, but most of the time we don’t. And I do want to say, I have to say, the companies that jumped in to stop Asian hate and really, really hit the mark. I think that we have to look at those, celebrate that, generate more of that. But it was kind of a new muscle in a way to say, “We’ve never highlighted this community and those, these issues. And now we’re being asked to respond based on what’s happening.” And some companies did it beautifully.

Jennifer Brown: Some companies did it sort of halfway and maybe wrote a check, like made a decision, “Oh, this is how we’re going to… We’re going to be quiet about it, but we’re going to support it,” or something. I mean, I heard a speaker say, “What we really wanted you, leadership, was we wanted you to be outraged. We wanted to feel that this wasn’t okay, from you. And we wanted to be consulted and asked and checked in with and included on the organization’s response to what’s going on outside.” So this is another opportunity to say, Amri, I think you said, “Check where we think we know,” watch out for that, and who or whom are we centering in these moments to let that let our organizational strategy and response be guided by the community being affected.

Jennifer Brown: And then this is not just a one and done. Hate doesn’t just happen and then go away, right? It’s it needs to be a thread and we need to add it to our discipline as an organization month after month after month, just like with a lot of other identity groups. Because these days, our issues are going to sort of pop up like whack-a-mole. It’s just this constant thing. And I understand, it’s a lot. I think it’s a blessing because we have this new way of being honest about things, new way of hearing our workforce, new way of using our voice as a company, which is extremely powerful. And it’s monetary and non-monetary. Sometimes even the non-monetary responses and commitments and taking a stand is more valuable than any amount of money that can be given.

Jennifer Brown: So I do think, this is a reminder to all of us, that we always needed to add this conversation to our collection of identities that we hold our leaders accountable for saying something, doing something, understanding the cultural competency. Amri, you just delineated, this is a gift. I mean, these times, the gift of the pandemic and being forced to really rethink is a challenge for us to evolve.

Amri Johnson: Absolutely.

Jennifer Brown: And we can do a lot in organizations at the same time. I believe that, but we need to not always look to the DNI team to lead every single thing. Right? It’s like, share the water.

Amri Johnson: Yeah.

Jennifer Brown: Share it. It’s a relay race, passing the baton and I’m going to be ready to run with it. I’m going to know what to do with that. And we need to build this kind of chain of accountability and readiness really because… Right? If we just wait, it’s not going to be effective. I mean, this is deep stuff that we need our leaders to take on. And it is scary. It is exciting. It is transformational. It’s about love and trust, and we don’t even know how to talk about these things in the workplace.

Amri Johnson: You just said the L word, Jennifer.

Jennifer Brown: The L word.

Amri Johnson: And it’s a word that really comes from a place of humanity. And to me, humanity is always the superset, and everything else is under that. And so if that’s where we spend most of our energy and time, there’s just a natural space where love emanates from in my opinion and my experience. Bob Marley said, “One, man is walking in a billion mans a barking.” And I think a billion mans a barking, oftentimes getting back to what Jennifer said, is there’s a lot of willingness but not a lot of skillfulness. And so that’s on the part of both practitioners. We need to build our levels of skill, and then we can actually maybe help our leaders build their levels of skill. Because a lot of people are still pretty young in this space, or new in its levels of maturity around this. There’s a lot to it. And this isn’t a criticism. I’m constantly trying to get better at understanding myself so that I can also learn what I need to do to help others, both that are on my team, as well as the clients that I work with.

Amri Johnson: And so I think if we want our leaders to be able to make things happen, you need to give them the space and time and tools to do it. And that starts with us getting us clear as practitioner as well, what we need to do, and then figuring out ways to make this not about us. And that’s hard. A lot of what’s what the social spaces are telling us is make this about you because it elevates you and an amplifies you. And that’s cool, but it’s incomplete. And I think we need to be talking about completeness in our organizations, with our managers, with our leaders.

Amri Johnson: And that goes back to love. If it comes and emanates from humanity, the ability to connect something in a way that makes people, it resonates from the heart, it happens. I mean, I’ve seen it happen. It’s not easy and it sometimes is painful, but that’s what love is. And all of that combined, to me, that’s what this work is all about. It’s why I do it. I mean, I can’t tell you, and Jennifer can probably agree, I’ll tell you how many hours of free stuff I’ve given away as a consultant, because I love. It’s just love. That’s who I am.

Jennifer Brown: And you want to see a change.

Amri Johnson: I do. And I got a two year old. He’s speaking four languages, living in Switzerland, and he’s going to be a black man. What? This is a conversation that’s much deeper than we’ve taken it, and the opportunities to do something extraordinary are countless.

Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website, You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

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