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In this episode, author and professor Dolly Chugh joins the program to discuss the ways in which seeing ourselves as “good” can lead to greater fragility, and introduces the idea of being a “good-ish” person and what that entails. She also discusses the ways in which creating lasting change requires both confrontation and engagement and how leaders can use both for maximum impact.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Dolly’s diversity story of growing up in an Indian family in West Texas (2:00)
- The parallel between technology and diversity and inclusion work (11:00)
- The value of being able to make mistakes in a safe environment (24:00)
- How we often put ourselves in a tight corner and how that leads to fragility (27:30)
- Why we should aim to be a “good-ish” person and what that means (31:00)
- Why CEO’s can no longer avoid or gloss over DE&I issues (43:00)
- Why creating change require both “heat” and “light” (45:30)
- The pros and cons of confronting vs. engaging (48:30)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Dolly, welcome to The Will to Change.
DOLLY CHUGH: Thank you so much for having me, Jennifer.
JENNIFER BROWN: I heard about your book. The title is quite arresting. I know it’s a book about how good people fight bias, but the title is The Person You Mean to Be. And read so much into that because it’s really something that’s on my mind these days – intent versus impact, and our growing awareness that a lot of us might be well intended, and at the same time not proactively addressing the presence of bias in ourselves, around us, and in our world. I just loved it. It was timely and it’s such a practical, fun read full of so much research.
I am delighted to bring your voice to our audience on The Will to Change. We always start with everyone’s diversity story. We say everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. But you have a really interesting one. You share a little bit about it in the front of the book, but how would you answer that question given the wide-ranging professional and personal life that you’ve led so far?
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes. I so appreciate that question that you ask your guests. I’ve appreciated hearing their stories.
I think my diversity story is one of always being both inside and outside and having that little peephole from one side to the other. I’m the child of immigrants from India. I was born in India, and six months old when my parents brought me here to the U.S. We lived in Texas until I was nine in small towns in west Texas, where we were the only Indian family for miles and miles, for town after town.
Until I was nine, there was no one who looked like me anywhere in my world, my community, or in my school. We moved to New Jersey after that, and for those who are familiar with New Jersey, there are many Indians living New Jersey now, but there weren’t a lot at the time, which is going to make some people wonder how that could be true. Even in New Jersey in the ’70s and early ’80s, I was one of very few.
I think I had a perspective of being on the outside, but I also had insider membership in a lot of ways. I belonged to institutions and schools and communities that were considered the mainstream and had legitimacy in all sorts of ways.
In that way, I feel like I got the benefit of being on the inside, but also the benefit and the perspective of being on the outside.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. I think that comes through strongly that you are writing and trying to educate from this place in the middle. That’s a rare place to inhabit for a lot of us. That probably informed The Person You Mean to Be as a title. You say, “How do we empower people to be smart about this work but semi-bold?” I loved “semi-bold.” It doesn’t assume that we’re all activist warriors. It doesn’t assume that we all are going to it into a certain model when we think about a change agent. There is such a pressure that is narrowly defined by what doing enough really looks like.
Especially this year, a lot of our feet have been held to the fire about whether we’re truly living an inclusive life. Are we really role-modeling this behavior? So much has been pointed out to us this past year about how we walk around with inherited privilege and degrees of comfort because of our identity, et cetera.
But your book said, “Hey, get started somewhere.” It’s not about being super radical, it’s about the realistic steps that people can take. I really appreciated that, it’s really needed. I want to ask you, how did you land on that as what hasn’t been written about and why you to write about that?
DOLLY CHUGH: Jennifer, it comes very much from a point of my own grappling with that. I start the book laying on the floor at the Toys R Us – the massive Times Square flagship store when it was open there. I’m lying on the floor in the toy gun section, which I think was on the third or fourth floor. And I’m lying on the floor in the toy gun section because I’m part of a Black Lives Matter “die-in” protest of the shooting death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland who was playing in a park with a toy gun, only to be shot and killed by the police.
This protest was speaking out against that death as well as so many others. And I’m lying on the floor, it’s the holiday season. This is a few years ago in December, and I remember Silent Night was playing on the Toys R Us intercom system.
Our protest had been very peaceful, very disciplined. It was the first protest I had ever been part of. I was amazed at how thoughtful and careful and well led it was. As I’m lying there on the ground listening to silent night, thinking about this 12-year-old boy. I’m crying because I think many of us are, being struck by the gravity and the magnitude of that moment. I also felt this incredible inadequacy because I said to myself, “This is such an important protest, this is such an important movement. It’s absolutely essential that movements and protests like this happen.” And yet, I know my own personality well enough to know that the amount of courage and gumption it took for me to even show up this one time and to drag along my husband and drag along two other friends, I would not be able to do that on a regular basis. This wasn’t going to be something I did every week.
I wanted it to be. I wanted to be that person. I wanted to believe that I had that level of courage, but I didn’t. This is the semi-bold part of me. I’m a child of immigrants raised to stay under the radar, raised to not make waves, raised to certainly never get in trouble.
So, here I am. I care deeply about the work, I know the work needs to happen, and yet I can’t see myself doing it on a regular basis. So the question is: Is that the only work to be done? Is “capital A” activism the only work to be done? The truth is: No; it isn’t at all. We know for a fact that can’t be the only work. There has to be work that happens at lunch at the office and in our PTA meetings and in our conversations while waiting for the cashier at Walgreens. These are conversations that also have to happen. That’s where semi-bold people like me can do more.
I had the realization as I lay there at Toys R Us that if this is the only work to be done, then we’re in trouble. But the good news is, there’s a lot more to be done and there are a lot of us to play that role who can do that work.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I love it. It’s starting small. I talk a lot about the continuum of inclusive leadership. I’m writing my second book on that and really trying to deconstruct those small steps, make them clear, and acknowledge that it is a journey. And if you become more of an overt activist as a result of taking all those steps, then that’s where you path will lead. But like you said, that’s probably not a fit for the majority of us and we need all of our contributions – small, large, private, public – even if it’s deciding to take the famous inclusion inventory called the Harvard IAT Test. You talk about the research work out of Harvard. It’s a free test online which measures your bias, and it’s a great place to start to sensitize yourself to how you look at the world – especially if you look at yourself as a good-hearted, well-intended person.
Did you feel like in writing this you were raining on people’s parades in terms of, “Oh, I’m woke. I’m in the resistance” or whatever? I’m active in my diversity stuff at work. Did you feel you were a bit like, “Hey, good job, but –”
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes. Nice try. (Laughter.) I have two teenage daughters, and they’ll certainly tell me that I can suck the joy out of anything.
JENNIFER BROWN: Aw! (Laughter.) Not true. Not true.
DOLLY CHUGH: So true. There is an element of that, but I’ll flip it. I think where I’ve been trying to flip it is rather than people feeling like their parade has been rained on, why not give yourself room to grow? Why do you have to be done? Why do you have to have figured it all out? Why do you have to have been born into knowing all of this?
I’ve found one analogy so helpful. I gave a TED Talk this fall, and the curator at TED introduced me to this analogy, which I’ve stolen from her liberally. Her name is Corey Hajim. It’s that technology is something we assume is changing all the time and that we need to keep up. We assume that whatever our knowledge was in 2018 is not going to be good enough in 2019. We’re going to have to learn, yet again, how to use our remote controls and we’re going to have to upgrade our phones and figure out a different way to back up our files.
If that’s true with technology, why wouldn’t it also be true on issues of diversity and inclusion? As you said in your intro, the world is also moving really quickly in that space and it’s okay for us to need to grow. It’s okay for us to have room to grow. So, I think where I’m trying to bring my voice to bear is not to make people feel shame and that their parade has been rained on, that they weren’t as “woke” as they thought they were, but to say, “Well, of course not. Why would you be? Why wouldn’t you still have all sorts of things to learn in this space just like you do in technology?”
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m going to steal that. That is really good.
DOLLY CHUGH: Good.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re absolutely right. It’s like relearning or learning a new language or tuning into a new frequency, particularly when you come from levels of privilege. It is the water we swim in every single day.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It requires the ability to step back and look at things more critically or through others’ eyes. It shifts everything. If you’re open to that, then hopefully it shifts the way you look at a lot of things. It shifts the way you lead, it shifts the way you show up at work, how you hire people, how you mentor and coach others. Seen through that lens, it informs everything in such a different way.
Some people complain that the work – they don’t verbalize this, but I think that some of the pushback on awakening to this, it’s more work in a time-compressed world, right? You’ve got to slow down a bit and say, “Why did I make that decision? Was that inclusive? Did I hold that person accountable? Did I hold myself accountable?” And slow down to examine that. We need to, then, build new habits in place of the old ones we’re challenging in ourselves.
We’re doing all of this in a faster, faster world, where we’re dealing with an overwhelming amount of information coming at us.
But you boil it down to some very quick, concrete actions we can take and it’s not complicated. What is your favorite advice for people who might have this verbalized or quiet resistance? Maybe it’s just inaction and being overwhelmed around our own biases.
DOLLY CHUGH: Absolutely. I feel it, too, by the way.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. That’s so true.
DOLLY CHUGH: I feel it! I wrote this book for myself.
JENNIFER BROWN: Don’t we always do that? It’s so true.
DOLLY CHUGH: Research is research. I feel that. One great entry point is I tell a story of two people I involved, Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, and they’re two collaborators who were working together on an excellent children’s book called Save me a Seat.
The story they tell is of how Sarah, who was well established in the children’s publishing industry, and Gita, who was a first-time author. As Sarah was finding herself uncomfortable because she was introducing Gita to various people in the industry, but didn’t know how to say Gita’s last name, even though they were collaborators. It was a long, multi-syllable, south Indian last name.
This was proving to be a real barrier in their relationship and in their collaboration. Sarah was really embarrassed by it and was scared to ask for help. She was stunned when she learned that Gita’s interpretation of people not saying her name was arrogance on their part, as opposed to them being scared or unsure.
That little story, to me, illustrates where we stand on so many of these things – that gap between intention and impact that you were describing is really showing up.
One really easy starting point for all of us is we all know people whose names we don’t know how to say. We work with them, we live near them, sometimes we’re even related to them. And to start with learning how to say their names, and to do it in a way where we accept the responsibility to do the work.
One thing we can all do is we can go on the Internet. If you just type into your favorite search engine “how to pronounce” and then let’s say you put in my last name, C-H-U-G-H. How to pronounce C-H-U-G-H. It will tell you how to pronounce my last name, and it will give you audio files. It will say, “Chugh.” It will give you sometimes multiple audio files where you can hear multiple people say it, you can play it again and again. That way, without asking the person to repeat it, often when people say their own names, they say it so quickly it’s hard to break it down, it’s hard to hear each distinct part. It’s hard to unpack where the emphasis is. But when we do it on the Internet, of course, we can just sit there and do all the things we do on the Internet, which is in the privacy of our own computer, learn what we need to learn.
Back in the days before Google, I used to call people’s voicemails in the middle of the night, their office answering message, to hear how they said their names. Now, we don’t have to quite resort to that.
This is a little easy trick – it’s not even a trick, it’s an actual act of empathy and an act of I would say even activism, that we’re saying that just because a name isn’t familiar to me doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of me knowing it, saying it, and saying it with confidence.
For most people, their name was the first, most important decision that was made about them when they were born. It had some significance to a family member, to their faith, to their history, to their legacy. If that piece of them is something we are avoiding saying, and that’s frankly what I do when I don’t know how to say someone’s name, I avoid saying their name and I even avoid them. I’m embarrassed to say how often that happens.
Start right there. We can think about three people whose names we don’t know how to say and learn how to say them.
JENNIFER BROWN: So beautiful. This is such a great part in the book, I really recommend it. It’s in your introduction, but that whole story about Gita and being a good colleague in this case means not asking others to do what we often refer to as “emotional labor.” Figuring things out for us and going and doing our own research and homework. Even working within group to ask some of these questions and to do our own learning before we include others.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that, actually, because I’m writing my second book for what we call “majority folks,” which is shorthand in the workplace which might refer to white colleagues, male colleagues, cisgender colleagues, heterosexual colleagues. But getting together and having really honest conversations outside of the involvement of others. There is something very important about being able to be vulnerable to work on your own issues with people who might share those issues before you open up – or maybe alongside opening up the dialogue – for men, opening up the dialogue to having women attend, for example, or if there’s a group of white leaders who want to focus on whiteness and have that conversation.
There is a lot of debate about this. At its heart, it’s a debate about how learning happens, where it happens, and around whom it happens.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Does it happen across difference right out of the gate? Does it happen amongst sameness? Is that an important part of our own education so that we don’t overly burden others with our ignorance? I think this question is coming up a lot. I actually see some calling-out going on online, which you probably have seen as well. Inevitably, there is a lot of opportunity for offense to be taken either direction when we’re doing learning in group or we’re trying to exclude in order to have a certain conversation that needs to happen. And when do you include and create a diverse group of people sitting around the table to continue that learning? I wonder, do you have a viewpoint on that?
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes. I wrestle with that, myself. I think one of the things when I was writing my book, I was having a lot on this issue as well as lots of other issues, having a debate in my mind where I would almost get paralyzed in the writing. Because I just kept hearing the critics of that particular practice that I was advocating.
As you said, we could argue both sides of the issue that you’re raising about where the learning takes place.
I think where I’ve come out is there is no perfection, there is no perfect way to do this. And so, absolutely, if we’re going to limit a group to the dominant group, there will be critiques from outside that group, and vice versa.
Part of it is accepting that when we do this learning, we’re going to be criticized. Part of the work is being able and willing to take some of those critiques.
I do think that there is this aspect of wanting to do this work and be safe from criticism that is unrealistic, that we’re going to have to just accept that there will be some arrows directed at all of us. I don’t like that either. I don’t like the feeling of an arrow being directed at me, but I think the reality is that if we could have crafted the perfect way for learning, we would have done it by now.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s for sure. Yes.
DOLLY CHUGH: It’s just not there. I will say that I appreciate the value for places where one can make mistakes safely. Unfortunately, the Internet is almost never that place.
JENNIFER BROWN: We know this! (Laughter.) And, yet, we continue to return to it like a moth to the flame.
DOLLY CHUGH: Exactly. So, I think to some extent, tempting as it is to do this work online, it may require more face-to-face or phone-to-phone for that kind of interaction than the Internet can support.
JENNIFER BROWN: I agree. Fundamentally, what you’re talking about is fragility. We just had Robin DiAngelo on the podcast.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: She has a book called White Fragility that’s been on the bestseller list now for weeks. Is that the concept you’re describing? How can we learn and experiment and get things wrong and improve without expecting the arrows? Is it our fragility that makes us so sensitive? How do we understand that fragility and where it comes from when we talk about inclusion, particularly well-meaning allies? I will put a point on that. I think those are the folks who feel the most fragile, potentially feel attacked.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Go back into their hole after that attack thinking, “Well, I tried, and that didn’t go very well.”
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes. I’m a big fan of Robin’s work and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and discuss it with her. I think her work on fragility is brilliant and incisive to the point where people’s reactions to her work are so meta, right? It’s that mirror that’s the mirror of the mirror of the mirror of the mirror. It’s so meta. When you watch her present and you watch your own reactions to her presenting, and I’m watching myself saying, “Oh, God, I know exactly what she’s talking about.”
Here’s where I think we get in trouble. We have a really narrow definition of what a good person is. We almost all care about being seen as and feeling like a good person. Psychologists study moral identity and that moral identity is something that many people think is central to who they are. Even if we define “good person” differently, your definition and my definition may be different. But whatever our definition is, we value that good person identity.
In this particular space, a lot of us define good person as not a racist, not a sexist, not a homophobe, not any of the “-isms” and “-ists.”
And what that adds up to is a really tight corner with no windows and no room to grow at all. It’s not scientifically tenable, that tight corner, because what we know, as you alluded to earlier with IAT and Mahzarin Banaji’s work, we know unconscious bias is pervasive. We know systemic bias benefits many of us, and we’re unlikely to see it when it does. These are all scientifically shown phenomena.
If that’s all true, then that tight corner we’ve put ourselves in where the only way we can be considered a good person is if we’re free of all bias and we’re free from all benefits of bias, then there’s nowhere for us to go but fragility when we’re confronted with evidence to the contrary.
In that tight corner, the fragility is real. Our whole identity crumbles, it’s literally fragile if we use Robin’s work. Where the human mind is not build to take on and just sit there in that state of the identity crumbling, we call that self-threat; I call it the “Red Zone.” The human mind just won’t allow that to stay. It’s not an equilibrium state. What it will do is try to find ways to put our identity back together, to justify, to make everything okay again. It needs to feel okay about whatever identity that we value.
So, what ends up happening is I’m in this tight corner with no window, very narrow definition of “good person” identity. Oh, look, here’s all this evidence that tight definition of good person, you’re not meeting that definition. Oh, no, red zone, self-threat, fragility – have to fix it, have to fix it. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to either ignore that evidence you’ve just shown me or I’m going to deny that evidence or I’m going to say that evidence is actually your fault. I’m going to find all sorts of ways to repair my identity so that I am back to being where I wanted to be, which is seeing myself as a good person. That’s not a great place to be if we want to continue growing, if we want to be on this journey and do this work and be the semi-bold agent of change that we’re striving to be and that so many of your listeners are working hard at being.
That’s where I’ve been pushing the idea of being a “goodish” person instead of a good person. A “goodish” person is a work in progress, it’s not someone who’s done, who’s either a good person or they’re not. A “goodish” person is not a lower standard, I want to be really clear. It’s a higher standard than being a good person, because what it’s saying is when that evidence comes my way of ways in which I fall short, the ways in which I benefit from systemic bias, what I do instead of ignoring it or denying it is I own it. I notice it. I actually go looking for it. And then I figure out what I can do to address it.
So, “goodish” is actually putting responsibility for learning on me. Being a goodish person gives me that room to grow, that space to make mistakes, and then to actually improve.
JENNIFER BROWN: That was beautifully said. How can leaders and organizations who are on a journey, balance the work in progress, communicating that you know you’re a work in progress, admitting what is not yet clear to you or you might not have handled optimally or you didn’t even know existed. I think there are so many leaders right now who are really waking up to so much and so many people in general.
The past couple years have been a huge reckoning and a level of truth that has felt really exciting. I think many of us are really excited by it, but others say, “Wow, there’s so much I don’t know and I feel almost paralyzed.” You described the process of writing this book feeling paralyzed around, “How do I articulate these ideas, admit where I am, talk about my own journey?” And, yet, in the leadership context, I’m always faced with leaders for whom the paradigm was, “I need to know all the answers, I need to do everything perfectly. All eyes are on me all the time. I need to role-model things.”
In many ways, the emperor has no clothes, number one, because leaders are in a feedback vacuum as it is.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: But then you add the fact that you’ve got perhaps white, straight male leaders who dominate. The statistics tell us, they dominate leadership roles. They are trying to do their own work. There are kinds of work that should be done in private, and there are kinds of work that should be done in public, but these are all really new muscles and new knowledge. And then to incorporate into how you lead is often a tenuous spot I think.
And then you add on the fire of certain headlines, I don’t like to make things about the impact of Me Too in terms of scaring leaders to do their work in public and to be visible about being works in progress. We’re talking about so much more than just inappropriate behavior. We’re talking about proactive, inclusive behaviors that all leaders can do, right? So, I don’t like to get it mired into just a Me Too conversation, although it’s a very important one.
When we are just trying to introduce more honest, transparent conversations amongst leadership about being works in progress, how do you advise – do you have advice for leaders that are doing this under a microscope? Like it or not, we expect leaders to understand it, get it, put it into action, do it perfectly, get all the awards, right? Meanwhile, I think a lot of people are like the duck on the surface of the water, their feet are just paddling really fast. You’re trying to make everything like okay and you’re just praying that you don’t do something wrong.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes. Absolutely, I would agree with the summary of the true quandary that leaders face.
I wrote a recent Forbes.com piece about Tim Ryan, who’s the chairman of PwC. I wanted to profile him because of his willingness to make his own learning visible to others. That’s a great model for what leaders going forward are going to need to be doing.
The leader that stands up in front of their people and claims to have no blind spots, that’s where we know where their blind spots are. The leader who tells us they have no blind spots, we know they’re in trouble. It’s the leader who can speak about their blind spots that tells us, “Okay, you’re actually doing something about it.”
What Tim Ryan has done so powerfully is he is a 53-year-old, straight, white male, who by his own confession, had no conversations about race growing up, didn’t have awareness, was fairly stunned when he learned what some of his black colleagues at PwC experienced on a regular basis.
And when he took over as chairman in July of 2016, as we know, that was a really tumultuous summer across the United States with a number of acts of real racial violence, racial tension.
His series of deliberate choices to listen and learn from people around him, and then to share what he was learning with others has become a real model for what other CEOs are trying to do. He’s leading CEO Action, which is a coalition of organizations, mostly Fortune 500 organizations, that are trying to take concrete actions, not just talk, but actions around these issues.
What he specifically is doing that’s even more powerful than forming a coalition or signing a pledge or taking out ads in the New York Times is that he will personally say, “I was scared to death to talk about race. This was really, really scary to me, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to have the conversation.
I elaborate in my Forbes piece about how he did initially do what you were describing about private versus public, having conversations with a very smaller inner circle within PwC, and then as he built his knowledge base, as he built his confidence in his ability to talk about race, he started having conversations with broader circles and broader groups both within the company and without.
I think until we have senior leaders who can stand in front of their people and say, “When I’m putting a diversity and inclusion program into place, I’m obviously asking you to learn something. Here’s what I am learning as well.” Until they’re willing to learn alongside us, nobody’s going to learn anything on their own.
JENNIFER BROWN: True. True. Yes. Regarding vulnerability, Brené Brown is giant for a reason. It was a message that nobody had put such a fine point on. But when I was reading it, I thought certain people might think they have more to lose through being vulnerable depending on their role. I think they have everything to lose if they’re not because when we talk about young people, and you’re a professor so you know, but vulnerability and authenticity and the humility that particularly younger talent are looking for in leaders is such a great business case for this whole discussion.
I know you have mixed feelings about the business case for diversity that people like you and I constantly have to lead with in a left-brain business world. It can’t be a moral case, it has to be a business case – blah, blah, blah.
But I think the vulnerability piece is one that I pull out to say that it’s an expectation or table stakes to be real and be a whole leader, to be a full and flawed person as a leader. It goes much further in terms of generating followership, respect, and love, honestly. What leader doesn’t want that? It’s so counterintuitive to the way we’ve defined executive behavior for example in this dog-eat-dog, capitalistic model.
What is your view on what that generation is ushering in in terms of expectations for leaders around inclusiveness? I always call it “showing your work,” like with math problems. We don’t want to see the leader at the end of the journey. We want to see the journey. How is the sausage made? I think that’s important.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes. I will say I started teaching MBAs in 2006, we’re in 2019. Even over the last 13 years, I’ve felt a difference in what my students want to see from me even in our little micro-leadership situation where I’m physically in front of them in the class as well as even virtually in the way we lead and communicate through e-mail. Sometimes it’s an eyeroll, and sometimes you can just feel it. I can feel it.
I feel that I get away with less. I really have to be the real deal up there. Let’s use this classroom metaphor as a great little microcosm of what happens out in the real world and what’s happening for CEOs in the organizations.
If I stand up in front of the room and I start BS’ing my students, it used to be that they might each privately be rolling their eyes. They might write a little note that their person sitting next to them will be like, “Yeah, I know.”
But now what is happening is that whatever BS I’m putting out there, all 65 students are group texting each other real time while I’m up there. Real time.
JENNIFER BROWN: Whoa.
DOLLY CHUGH: Students have never told me this about my own class, but I think I want to know, maybe I don’t. I’ve had them tell me about other professors’ classes that they come out of class and there has been 50 texts exchange within the class during that class about the class.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.
DOLLY CHUGH: This is the level of communication and transparency. There are no more people just privately wondering if they’re the only one not understanding the BS that’s coming at them. Now, they can just put it out there instantly. That is just a tiny little microcosm of what’s happening in the real world. What’s happening within companies and universities is that the topics that we used to be able to avoid, the things that we used to be able to gloss over, we just can’t anymore. Part of what CEOs, whether it’s on issues of diversity and inclusion or anything else, all the stuff that we avoid talking about because it’s hard to talk about or we’re scared we’re going to get ourselves in hot water, are going to be the topics we have to get better talking about because we’re not going to have the option to dodge them anymore.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s going to be much harder for some of us than others. It is a fact.
I know trying to write a book, like you have and like I am in the process of, to say, “Hey, the water is warm. Come in.” It’s about making sure you’re learning in a safe and sustainable way and that you’re being smart about it. But you don’t have an option to do the learning or not. That’s not the question like you just laid out perfectly.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: But you do get points – I don’t know if you ever say this, but I like to encourage people and say you get points for trying. Just taking a step and being uncomfortable and putting yourself out there, however imperfectly, we as a community have to be elastic and breathable enough that we can allow this experimentation learning, bouncing back, trying again. Does it worry you sometimes that there is a little bit of a hardness where there should be softness around forgiveness? Again, I’m not talking about Me Too. Maybe I need a different word than “forgiveness.” However we respond to each other when we don’t get it right, that elasticity that need, do you think there is more of it now or is there a hardening that’s happening amongst us? It’s great that so much anger is being expressed right now. It’s so important and cathartic. It has to come out in society, in politics, in the workplace – all of this stuff is so good.
And, yet, to remain breathable in the midst of that, it seems like a conundrum. Do we need to move through this certain phase before we get to this place where we can hold this space for flexibility?
DOLLY CHUGH: The framework I use in the book is of heat and light and that more breathable approach is the light-based approach of meeting people where they are, understanding and forgiving the mistakes, and then helping them move forward. It’s taking the other person you’re trying to bring along and taking their comfort into account.
Heat is a more confrontational, less breathable, more rigid approach you’re describing. It doesn’t take the comfort of the other person into account. It can be pretty unforgiving of mistakes. It can also be the form of a protest that intentionally creates inconvenience for others.
Personality-wise, I’m a light, breathable person. I would rather not get my $20 back rather than have an argument with the customer service person. For better or for worse, that’s who I am.
The thing that I learned from the little bit of research I did about social justice movements is that those movements that have the heat only or the light only don’t make as much progress as those who have heat and light.
What that says to me is that some of us are going to be more inclined towards light. Some of us are going to be inclined more towards heat. None of us like to be on the receiving end of heat, that’s the whole definition of heat. But if we care about advancement in this work, we should be grateful to those who are willing to bring the heat.
That does mean that sometimes that hardness, that rigidity, that lack of breathability is going to be what’s out there. I think if we go back to our CEOs, when they feel the heat back down or try to squash the are missing the value of the heat. The CEO may not be the one who can bring the heat, but the heat may actually be supportive of what the CEO is trying to do, even if it’s a more light-based way.
This heat and light, once I started thinking in terms of heat plus light, rather than heat or light, it just opened up so much for me. Whenever I started encountering these situations where I would find this little voice in my head saying, “Oh, if they would only,” or “I think the way they’re going about –” those little commentaries that start coming out of my mind, I often realized that what I was doing was critiquing the heat rather than valuing it.
JENNIFER BROWN: And, again, being mindful of fragility.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, the response to heat is fragility.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes. Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: We have to check ourselves if we tend to be on the fragility side, seeing heat as the catalyst that it is. I love relating this to CEOs. As you were talking, I was thinking CEOs can bring the heat, for sure, as well, right?
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: They can call out their leaders. They can institute pay equity surveys.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: And bring some real heat that will create change in a way that only CEOs and executives can and in a way that would take us years to do.
DOLLY CHUGH: Exactly. That’s right.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s interesting. When you think that they may be called out pretty directly, and seeing that as a learning opportunity. You know what? It’s honest feedback and many times it contains important truth if you can be not fragile about it. And then what you do with that, though, as a leader is take that on board and think about where you can apply heat, yourself, on your peers and people that look like you.
DOLLY CHUGH: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: We have to generate some accountability majority member to majority member. I often say I can fight something and make a case 15 different ways, but somebody who doesn’t look like me might be able to walk in and make it one time and be listened to.
DOLLY CHUGH: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I think how we all agitate in the system and how we persuade or pressure or apply these things, each of us needs to have heat and light in our arsenal. Personality-wise, we may gravitate to one or the other, but it’s one binary I really love to think about these days. What are your change tools and what are you most comfortable using? Just being cautious that we don’t see the heat as a counter or as a negative. There is room for calling-in and calling-out and the conversation about where it’s appropriate to apply heat and how and to whom. It needs to be strategic. A lot of collateral damage can happen if social media magnifies something, for example, and entirely ruins somebody’s reputation and goes viral. Some of that is deserved, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the truth is nuanced.
It’s interesting, as a person on the light side of the equation, like you’ve been saying Dolly, the fight needs all of us. I make that point so often on The Will to Change, that we all have something to contribute. And if we’re relatively more comfortable in this world, we especially have a lot of responsibility to contribute and apply both. This has just been wonderful.
I want to wrap up by directing people to where to find your scholarship, all of the amazing articles you’ve written, your book. Where would you like people to look for your work?
DOLLY CHUGH: Thank you so much. Well, my book, which came out in the fall of 2018, is available on Amazon as well as in Barnes & Noble and other independent bookstores. You can find it there.
If you want to read more about what people are saying about my book and articles I’ve written, you can go to my website, which is dollychugh.com. It’s got press about the book. If you want to hear my TED Talk, you can go to TED.com. It’s available there and it was on the 25 Most Popular TED Talks of 2018 list as well. You can pull up that playlist and find it there.
JENNIFER BROWN: Congratulations. This is amazing. Thank you, Dolly, for your work, your book, and for holding the space for “goodish” people everywhere.
DOLLY CHUGH: Thank you so much. Thank you for being such a powerful leader in this space, Jennifer. It’s a real honor to talk to you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Dolly.
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- Owning Your Power: Jennifer Joins the Beyond Barriers Podcast
- Cultivating a Purpose Mindset in Next-Gen Leaders: Social Entrepreneur Aaron Hurst Returns to the Will to Change