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In this episode, originally recorded as a DEI community call, Rhodes Perry, the Founder and CEO of Rhodes Perry Consulting, interviewed Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, the author of the award-winning book, How Exceptional Black Women Lead, and Founder of the Exceptional Leadership Institute for Women.
The timing of this particular conversation felt extra poignant, given that the call landed on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day: a date that marks the number of days a Black woman must work into the year to earn what her white male counterpart earned in the previous year. Discover how can we form alliances and coalitions and work together strategically so all of us can rise together to create lasting change.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- The special moment that we are having in our nation’s history (23:00)
- Why we need to have more candid conversations about racism in the workplace (28:30)
- How to break down barriers of difference and injustice (35:30)
- The business case for equity and belonging (41:00)
- Why being underestimated can sometimes be positive (44:30)
- How allies can help create positive change (49:00)
- The balance of centering and decentering voices (55:45)
- How ally ERG’s could be used as a training ground (58:45)
- How marginalized groups can advocate for equality for all (62:30)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: So without further ado, Rhodes, take it away.
RHODES PERRY: Thank you so much, Jennifer. It’s really an honor to I guess, be the interviewer for Dr. Avis Jones De-Weever, who is one of my favorite people. I think she’s incredible. So I want to give you a little bit of context about who she is and all the amazing stuff that she’s doing in the world. Then I have a few questions for her and I hope that this group, from everything that Jen has shared, you all definitely have a lot of questions as well, so we’re going to try to get to as many as we can.
For folks who aren’t familiar with, Dr. Avis Jones De-Weever, she is a career reinvention strategists, diversity consultant, and women’s empowerment expert. She’s also the founder of the Exceptional Leadership Institute for Women, which is a global, personal and professional development firm that helps established and aspiring entrepreneurs and executives experience accelerated success while building a holistic life that they love.
If she doesn’t sound busy enough to you all yet, she also serves as the president of Insight Unlimited, a Washington D.C.-based boutique consulting firm, specializing in diversity consulting, communication strategy and the development and implementation of impactful research.
I first came across Dr. Avis Jones De-Weever when I picked up her book, which is called How Exceptional Black Women Lead. If you have not read this book, I highly, highly, highly, highly, highly, highly recommend it. It’s amazing, it was published in 2016. The book is really packed with cutting edge research and moving personal stories from 70 exceptional black women leaders who relay strategies resulting in breaking away from the pack, making your mark and overcoming the layer challenges every black woman faces on her way to the top.
Given the large scale racial justice uprisings and many corporations’ more recent commitments to building anti-racist organizations, I’m going to be asking Dr. Avis Jones De-Weever to guide us through what it means to radically include black women and their experiences in the workplace. We’re also going to be touching on some current events that I think are pretty exciting, and that’s where I want to start.
So Dr. Avis Jones De-Weever, welcome. We’re excited to have you here. I want to go to the news, and I know you’ve been talking a lot about this over the past couple of days. For anyone, if you’ve been living under a rock, earlier this week, our former vice president, Joe Biden selected Senator Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate.
This makes Senator Harris the first black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major political party. Just talk to us about the significance of this announcement and how it relates to your award-winning book, How Exceptional Black Women Lead.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Yeah, thank you. I’m so excited to be here, Rhodes. I always enjoy talking with you. This is a historic moment on steroids for me. When I think about what this means, I believe it opens up an entire new world of possibilities for a little black girls, period. As extraordinary as I believe Senator Kamala Harris is, and I believe she is definitely extraordinary, I do think that it’s important that we acknowledge that she’s not the first woman.
She’s not the first black person, she’s not the first black woman to be qualified for that position.
RHODES PERRY: Yeah. Yes.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: I think it’s important that we acknowledge that it’s a falsehood to believe that only white males have been qualified for that position before today. What we have seen, however, is thank goodness, a level of maturity perhaps within a portion of this nation to acknowledge qualifications across the diversity of humanity that we have. So I am so thrilled for this moment.
I think it was an absolutely necessary moment because I do believe that she was the most qualified person for that job at this moment. Now, it’s also quite interesting, the timing of this. We are on the precipice of celebrating or acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment when largely white women were extended the right to vote. Black women had to wait over another 50 years before we were able to push and achieve that.
We’re not too far off from acknowledging, excuse me, over 55 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act. We are also at a point in which we are seeing a huge racial reckoning in this nation with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining steam. And in fact coming into play at a moment in which we’re seeing a much broader acceptance of the ultimate principles that undergird that movement by a wide range of people throughout society.
So we are having a very special moment in our nation’s history right now, and so to have this pick happen in this moment tells me that this is a moment that is right, this is a moment in which the country is ripe for this. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy because of quite frankly change never is.
But I believe that we have the person and the people that are ready to do what’s necessary to shift this nation, even if begrudgingly, a little bit closer towards the equality of opportunity that it oftentimes likes to project to the world, but we have a hard time in terms of actually making it real in practice.
So this to me is a moment of celebration, but it’s also the starting gun for a lot of work that has to be done in order for that promise to ultimately be fulfilled.
RHODES PERRY: Yes. Yes. So important, and I think the moment of celebration is something that I think in doing work that many of us on this call do out each and every day, which is around change, sometimes when we get these kind of little wins, it’s like, okay, onto the next, onto the next and-
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Yes.
RHODES PERRY: … just creating a little bit of space to have… We were talking before the call, just a little bit of hope right now, it’s like, okay, this is an exciting moment. You had said something… You said a lot of amazing things for context, yet you said change is never easy. So I want to take the next question to talking a little bit more about the content of your book.
There’s a part early on in the book, you state that black women in the 21st century have infinitely more choices and opportunities than were commonly afforded to our mothers, grandmothers, and generations before, yet some things remain stubbornly unchanged. Walk us through what some of those stubbornly unchanged things include when it comes to the experiences of black women specifically in the workplace.
And potentially, as you said, for Kamala Harris and the impact for young black girls to see a powerful black woman in a leadership position. Is this a moment as well, where we might see some of these things that have been stubbornly unchanged? Is there a tipping point?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Absolutely. I definitely am hopeful that this is the beginning of that tipping point. Her being there and her operating in excellence, which has been her norm, is important because we are able to see on a broad scale, a black woman in leadership. That one thing that I was referring to, and some of the things that I was referring to that have remained stubbornly consistent… Let me grab some water.
RHODES PERRY: Me too.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Has been the fact that oftentimes black women do the work. We’re used to providing the labor, we’re used to operating in excellence. I often say that black women didn’t need a woman’s movement to be integrated into the workforce. We’ve been in the workforce since we’ve been in this nation, period. Most of that time we weren’t paid at all. That’s just the reality.
What has been unusual is that our work has been elevated and respected at the level that it’s deserved. What has been unusual is that we’ve actually received fair compensation for our brilliance. What has been unusual is that we actually ascend up into leadership. What has been more commonplace is that we do the work and other people get the credit. What has been more commonplace is that we do the work and we train the people that get promoted above us.
That has been the commonality. So what is beautiful to me about this Kamala nod is that she did the work, and for once in essence, she got the promotion. We got to make sure she gets the promotion. But the bottom line is she got tapped for the promotion. That is what’s unusual. And I’m hoping that this becomes much more of a commonality because I do believe that part of the challenge that black women face in terms of getting those just rewards is that people are not used to seeing black women in those spaces. They are not used to seeing black women leaders.
They’re used to seeing black women doers. They’re used to relying on our brilliance, and our labor, and our loyalty to our workplaces, but they’re not used to us being the ones calling the shots, and that’s what needs to change. That needs to change. And I’m hoping that this is the beginning of that change on a much broader level.
RHODES PERRY: Yes. Thank you. Thank you. One of the things we chatted about before was talking about glass ceilings and you often talked about cement ceilings for black women leaders. And this feels like a moment, if Kamala does get that promotion, it’s a smashing through, just…
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Yeah. We took out the power drill.
RHODES PERRY: Yes, yes. I thought that that was like a really insightful analogy. I want to continue going into the workplace now, and another thing that you stated in your book is that racism either past or present has quickly developed to that which shall not be named status in America and particularly in the workplace. When evidence, or individual, or institutional racism is revealed, it’s often met with a suspension of belief and dismissals.
Where we are today, large-scale racial justice uprisings, growing number of corporations committing on paper to building anti-racist organizations. Again, do you believe we’re at a turning point to have more candid conversations about racism specifically and white supremacy culture in workplaces?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: I sure hope so. I am hopeful. I definitely am hopeful at this moment. I can’t remember a time in my life where I’ve seen this much poignant attention on this issue, in which at least there seems to be a motivation to start to have not only serious conversations, but hopefully. And what’s more important than the serious conversation is to follow through those conversations with serious actions.
I think that the possibility is there. But I also think it’s our responsibility to ensure that there is that follow through. Because one of the parts of this work that has frustrated me over the years is that there seems to be an openness at least to perhaps have a cursory examination of issues. To go like an inch deep when you should be going miles, and then to be satisfied with that inch.
That’s very annoying to me to put it lightly. So I’m hoping, I’m hoping that this is a moment where we can say. I’m loving all these corporations coming out with their beautiful statements about how black lives matter. If that is true, let’s put the rubber to the road and make sure that this doesn’t just devolve into a slogan. Let’s see that in terms of practice.
Let’s see that in terms of your representation, not only in your workforce, but in your executive level workforce. Let’s see that in terms of who gets access to the insider connections that can lead to the C-suite. Let’s see that. Look at CEOs. We’re still at this point, how many years now since Ursula Burns has stepped down? Still no black women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies.
I take these things a little bit… Maybe I’m a little, I don’t know. Generally speaking, I’m an optimist, but sometimes with this issue, given the past history, unfortunately of this nation, I understand. And this is probably not just us, it’s probably just the nature of change. It’s typically two steps forward and one step back. But I believe there is something in particular about our culture when it comes around race.
And our hesitancy to talk about it honestly, and then to act on it in terms of doing those things that need to be done to eradicate and abolish those institutional structures of racism. In which we like to get caught up in moments of discussion and light discussion, and light discussion just on certain issues. But when we talk about the reality of racism, a problem that I see constantly is that we have as a culture, a much harder time with someone being, for example, called a racist or to acknowledge that racism.
We have a much harder time with accepting that than we do with accepting the reality of racism. We would rather accept the reality of the status quo and just not talk about it. That’s the “he who shall not be named” part of it and just coast rather than to do the hard work that it takes to deconstruct. So that’s the level that we need to operate at right now. So this is not just a moment, it actually is a period in history that ultimately leads to substantial change.
RHODES PERRY: Absolutely, absolutely. Leadership, seeing more black women in leadership positions, having access. Some of these concrete actions that go beyond the statements that are consistent commitment over time in the mentorship piece, which you also talk about in your books, so important. Making sure that a ladder is being dropped down by leaders currently in businesses, major corporations, and that that ladder is being dropped down to black women-
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Absolutely.
RHODES PERRY: … to gain access.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Absolutely. We don’t need much, we just need a chance. The capability is there. What’s really interesting to me is that if you look at how black women operate outside the workplace, we lead organizations. We are leaders in our communities. We demonstrate over and over our leadership capabilities and we are more likely than any other demographic group to say that we actually want that next promotion.
So we go all in in our careers. We don’t have a problem with not leaning in. We leaning in, we fallin’ over the table, we fallin’ over the chairs, we leanin’ all the way. The issue is, are you going to recognize the brilliance, and create the opportunity, and open the door when it’s deserved? That’s all we’re asking for. I think it’s a pretty low ask.
RHODES PERRY: Yeah, yeah. And the role of allyship is really important, engaging in allyship work. There’s absolutely times where we can serve, we can engage in allyship work. And there’s other times when we may need an ally ourselves.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Absolutely.
RHODES PERRY: For white people like me, many of us are now, as you say, engaged in that process of de-educating to really understanding the realities of white supremacy culture and how it shows up in the workplace. And being honest, like you said, of really digging in of how it shows up in ourselves and how we may have benefited, and making that everyday commitment to engaging in allyship work.
I’m curious for you, when you’re thinking about engaging in allyship work, where are you aspiring to strengthen your own allyship work for other folks?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: It’s really to me about seeing people that are seeing ways in which we can work together towards creating the reality that we want in the world. I am interested in understanding how do we break down these barriers of difference? How do we break down these barriers of injustice wherever they exist in our culture? Because I don’t believe you can just make change for one group.
In fact, history tells us that it’s not the case. When you burst open the door for one group, you open doors for others. And I also believe that we’re more powerful together than we are separately operating only in our own different silos. So how can we form alliances? How can we form coalitions? How can we work together strategically so all of us can rise together? And in that work I’m looking for and I definitely want to be the person that is that fighter in the corner of someone else who is fighting their battle.
And in the same time when I’m fighting my battle, I want you in my corner and I want you to be there to. In essence, in my mind, in my mind’s eye, I see it as we are a group of warriors because it will take people who are in this fight for the long haul to create the change. And we have to do this as an army that takes advantage of the biggest advantage quite frankly, that we have, and that is, we have strength in numbers.
Really when you look at the various points of difference that we could work together across when you talk about race, when you talk about gender, when you talk about sexual orientation, when you talk about ability, there are so many slices that you can take at this Apple. Let’s think about, how can all of us figure out how can we collectively work together to create a more fair and just society?
And then when you think about it too, when you actually do all of that slicing and dicing, you realize, hey, there’s a whole heck of a lot of us.
RHODES PERRY: Yes. Yes.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: That’s a pretty powerful number. Okay, so let’s start being a little bit more strategic about how we can all work together to create the change that we all know we deserve. And it gives me hope.
RHODES PERRY: Yes. So recognizing there’s a lot of folks on this call who are members of ERG, and you’re talking about strength in numbers. What might be some ways that ERGs can collaborate and work together to bolster strength in numbers, to encourage the C-suite to stay focused on the broader diversity equity and inclusion commitments? Do you have ideas on that? Have you seen examples in action in the work that you’ve done?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: First of all, and this might be very elementary, but I think it’s not… we don’t gloss over the importance of understanding how critical it is that we make it clear to leadership how what we’re asking for is not just you to do something for somebody. I think it’s very important that you make the business case for why this makes sense. Because that’s 1000% true.
If you look at the demographics of this nation alone, we’re shifting. Right now, the majority of babies born in America, for example are babies of color. In just a couple of generations, we will no longer be a majority white nation. Then when you blow that out even today, let’s just be very real, we operate in a global economy, not just a national economy.
So really understanding how to be able to leverage the power of all different types of people for decision making in your business is smart business. It’s really just that simple. Do you want to sell more widgets? Okay? If you do, you need to understand what the people that you want to sell those widgets to what they really want. What they like, what they don’t like, how to present it to them so it makes sense, so that they understand the value.
And it’s hard to do that when all the people in decision-making positions don’t look like the bulk of people that you have the opportunity to sell to. It is just that simple to me. And at the end of the day, we’re talking about making business successful in the C-suite, and I can’t begrudge them of that. That’s the whole point in a business, or ain’t nobody got a job, so you want it to be successful.
But the best way to make it successful is to ensure that you have a wide variety of brains in that room that bring in that room with them a wide variety of experiences and lenses on the world that will help you do your job better and help the business thrive as a result. And I think when you bring it back to that, I think it makes it a little bit easier to push that case forward.
RHODES PERRY: Absolutely. And you’ve got with employee resource groups, the wide range of experiences, both lived experiences, professional skills that are the instant focus groups, the instant advisors to help with marketing, to help with recruitment, to help with identifying small businesses that can be contractors.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Exactly.
RHODES PERRY: It’s all there. And I know that this audience knows that more than anyone.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Exactly. It’s like if you have a wealth of riches right there under your nose.
RHODES PERRY: Yes, yes. One thing I want to pivot to leadership and this concept of underestimated leadership. And your book offers a really powerful roadmap for black women leaders. As I read it as a transgender guy, I found your book just… We talked about this before and I just want to mention it again, it resonated with me in a lot of ways where certainly not my experience, but there are similarities of being underestimated, overlooked.
Despite all of that, you share strategies on how to defy the odds and continue to work from the outside to make real change. Another book that I really like is Stacey Abrams’ Minority Leader, and I feel like there’s a lot of synergy between your book and hers where she talks about how to lead from the outside again, to make real change.
From your perspective, what strengths come from being an underestimated leader which many of us can employ to rise to the top and make a difference? But how can you further empower and inspire us on this piece?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: I think that one of the best strengths around being an underestimated leader is that in essence, if you’re very strategic, if you do what you need to do in the background, make the relationships that you need to make, have the strategy, it’s almost like you can be that sort of sneak attack, right? It’s like stealth mode, you can end up there and be like, “Oh, how do they do that?” So sometimes advancing in that way, it’s not easier, it’s a different path per se, but it can be advantageous when you’re strategic about it.
Sometimes the worst mistake you can make around someone is to underestimate them. That’s the worst mistake you make. So instead of allowing… If you find yourself in a position like that, and you feel like you’re being underestimated, and you’re not being challenged, and all of that. I know that it’s frustrating, but instead of just allowing that to suck yourself confidence or to let that diminish you, think about how can I use this to my advantage?
How can I develop myself in some way? How can I create these new relationships? How can I develop a new strategy about what I need to do to get to where I go? And then maybe I need to go around a certain person. Maybe I need to have a different route to where I need to go. But it doesn’t mean you can’t get to where you want to go. You just have to think about how can I do it differently. And perhaps by being this “underdog,” you’re able to emerge when you work underground in this very effective way in a way that will ultimately surprise folks.
They never saw you coming, and sometimes that works to your advantage, particularly if you’re in a situation. I hope this isn’t true for anybody, but if you find yourself in a situation where it’s somewhat of a toxic environment and you might believe that there’s someone within your environment that might seek to sabotage your advancement. In situations like that, sometimes being under estimated is good because if that person sees you even more of a threat, then they will have an even greater incentive to try to undermine you.
So I just cannot overestimate the importance of both strategies, and allies, and mentors in terms of being able to effectively navigate situations like that. Because sometimes you will have to find your way around, over, under individuals that may be blocking for you to ultimately get to where you want to go.
RHODES PERRY: Yes. Yes. Thank you for sharing that. And I have to admit, so Jen, I am a terrible multi-tasker. I want to be present for Dr. Avis, so I know… I’m looking at this chat waterfall and I’m seeing things fly in. I’m sure there’s a lot of really great questions that folks have already asked, so want to create some space for hearing other voices as well so people can have their questions to ask.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you so much. Thank you, Rhodes. Yes, you’re right. I’ve been collecting them. Let me start with this one. It was a private message to me, but Dr. Avis, we’d love to hear your views on who should lead the discussions for DNI, especially related to race. “I’m a cis straight white woman who leads discussions for LGBTQ in the workplace. I’ve been told, it’s not my place to lead this discussion.
There have been several posts on LinkedIn about only black leaders should be leading discussions on racism in the workplace.” So we’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: I think there are two different paths for this. I think when we’re talking about issues specifically around Black Lives Matter and issues relating to the black experience, there need to be black people leading those conversations, period. But I also believe that when we’re talking about racism, for example, generally speaking, I do think that there is a space for everyone to work in that area.
And when I say work, I don’t just mean a contract, for example. I would never advocate that only black people should be responsible for leading discussions around, trainings around racism because I do not believe that it should be up to the labor of black people to undo something that we didn’t construct. So I think that there is a space for white people to take responsibility on this issue and to have a very important role in deconstructing this.
I’m not saying it’s only white people either, obviously, but I do not believe specifically that white people should be excluded for that reason. And I also believe that there are certain situations in which there needs to be specific… white people training other white people specifically. I think there is a role sometimes where there needs to be an environment where people can feel safe sharing.
I have a client, for example, she focuses specifically on anti-racism work specifically among white women. Her work is around helping white women unpack their stuff around race. And I think that’s an important role for somebody to feel. And she can have conversations with them that I can’t have with them, and I think that’s necessary. I think we all have a position to play in order to knock down racism, sexism, all the other isms in the world. We all have a world to play.
So I wouldn’t necessarily say that, no, because you’re a white woman, you should not train about anything having to do with this issue. But I do think if it is a specific focus on black people because there is a unique black experience, particularly in this country, I do think in those instances, it makes sense to have black people leading that conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. There were a couple of questions on that front. Another one relatedly, “As a white woman, I’m reminded I won’t experience the backlash the way other women in communities will. In what ways do I need to stretch my understanding of how an ally stands in the gap in order to create space for complex and challenging conversations and change who is seen as qualified for leadership?”
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: That’s an excellent question, I’m so glad that was asked. There are a couple of different ways in which you can do that. I think is very important. I have a simple rule, when you went to New York following 9/11, they started to put these signs up, “When you see something, say something.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Totally.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: I feel like it’s the same thing with this issue in that, for me, a good ally is someone who will, when they see something, they will say something. They just will not stand there quietly and let it go by. And I say that because oftentimes you will be in rooms for example that your people of color friends aren’t in, and you will be privy to conversations that they are not privy to. And people will in those conversations may let something fly that you know to your core it feels icky.
It doesn’t feel right, feels wrong. It’s racist, it’s sexist, it’s homophobic. It’s something… You know it. It’s like pornography, you know it when you see it, so you know it. What I want you to do in those situations is to say something. That’s your responsibility, when you see something, you say something. Then beyond that, look to see what you can do within your organization to be one of those who is involved with the process of making the changes necessary so that whatever you witnessed does not become habitual.
And if it is habitual, see what you can do to roll it back. To me, I think that is one of the main roles that you can have as an ally, that individuals who are in oppressed groups never really get those chances because people know how to police themselves to appear polite in open spaces and public spaces. But when they’re in private spaces, that’s where we most need you.
JENNIFER BROWN: What a beautiful call to action. Yes, you’ve got a group that’s doing this every day on this call.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Wonderful.
JENNIFER BROWN: Speaking of, Mandis, I’d love to invite you to come off mute. You’ve had a couple of really great questions related to this and some others, so take a gander, whatever you’d like to ask.
I think you’re still on mute, Mandis if you’re still with us.
Alright. I think we lost Mandis but let’s see, what other questions? Oh, we have a question here. “Why do you think there’s so much news chatter about the specifics of the ethnicity of Kamala Harris as a woman of color, i.e. not African American, is she really black, et cetera?” Back to the news cycle, what is your analysis of all of that factor?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: If Rhodes was on my live last night-
RHODES PERRY: I heard it. I highly recommend Facebook.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: I went off for a good hour-and-a-half. But honestly, try to conceptualize this in like 30 seconds. It is ignorance of history. It’s an ignorance of history. I’ll put two things. I think that there are some that are literally trying to do this specifically as a political strategy in order to attempt to undermine her resonance within the black community as a strategy to peel off part of the black vote, or at least de-energize the black vote when it comes to our voting power in November 3rd.
So I do understand that, I believe part of that is a political strategy. I also believe that it also represents a failure of our educational system to really teach people, not just black people, but people in this nation about really what the slave trade was. And the reality is that the triangle slave trade, which brought literally millions, kidnapped millions of Africans, and had those Africans literally dropped off throughout North America, throughout South America, throughout the Caribbean, and that went on for centuries.
That process means really where we ended up today as people who are descendant from that cataclysmically horrid and evil event. We are where we are just by happenstance, but we come from the same root. So it just by happenstance is the fact that my ancestors happened to be dropped off in this place that we now call America. And it’s by happenstance that her father’s people just happened to be dropped off in that place that we now call Jamaica.
But by how we construct the concept of race in this country, we’re all considered black if we are part of that diaspora. And so I believe it’s a stunningly ignorant statement, but I also believe that it is for some people a specific political strategy in order to disunify and undermine the power of the black vote in November.
JENNIFER BROWN: Concise, and hard to hear, and truthful. Thank you. You’re getting a lot of pluses in the chat. It’s great. Oh, let’s see. There’s so many good questions. Could I combine a couple of questions that have come in around the place of the balance between allyship and accomplicing, and speaking for communities? And how we help people manage the difference and the gap between intent versus impact when they are endeavoring in their journey to activate their voice and meaning well, but ending up taking space by not knowing better.
I think this is a question about that exquisite balance of centering and de-centering. Because we simultaneously need to, I think, show up, and role model, and normalize what accomplicing looks like. So we need more of us doing that overtly publicly so that people say, “Oh, that’s what it looks like. I can do that.” But then the danger is the over centering or the lack of focus then on the voices that need to be heard instead.
And I always find this as a difficult teaching point because I sound like I’m contradicting myself when I explain this to people. Is that how you look at it? And how would you guide well-meaning and yet stumbling aspiring allies?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: I think that it is really about just being conscious about creating space, about creating opportunities, about lifting as you climb in essence, about making sure that… I do think it’s important that people see themselves in different spaces so that people can see things are possible. I do believe that that is true, which is one of the reasons why I’m so excited about this Kamala pick.
But I also think that we always need to be very cognizant about making sure that we open up doors for other people too. That as we ascend to different heights, that we think of where are there opportunities where I can introduce new voices to this conversation? Where are there opportunities where I can broker relationships or at least introductions to insiders that might help the next person be able to get their opportunity?
I don’t think it needs to be a thing where you necessarily need to say, “I don’t need to be there.” But I think if you’re there, you need to take some responsibility to ensure that other people have the opportunity to get there too.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. We had a big conversation a couple of weeks ago on ally ERGs, and I wonder, Rhodes, you see this dynamic. Do you think we’ll be seeing more and more of those from where you sit? And what would be their purpose? I guess if you could wave your magic wand, what would those groups accomplish in terms of moving organizations forward?
Is that a critical missing piece that we’re going to look back and say, “Oh my goodness, we should have been doing this the whole time”? It was a really important piece of a puzzle.
RHODES PERRY: Yeah. I think that that’s a good question. I think ally ERGs are… It’s interesting because there’s different models and I think for some ERGs, it’s for an identity group and allies of. So I feel like allies have been a part of ERG fabric for a long time. I’m not totally sure in terms of what that will look like in the future.
I know that there is a push of more DEI councils that have leaders from different ERG groups to be the advisors to the C-suite, other decision makers in the organization. I’ve seen that shift more common than the concept of ally ERGs. So I’m interested in going back to hearing that conversation so I can learn. I think that the model of having allies within any ERG is really important, and if anything, giving guidance for those allies when you’re participating in an ERG.
If it’s an LGBT ERG, for example, just listening and then engaging in allyship work when called upon. And I think that’s this essence of being a good… engaging in allyship work.
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. Chris Pope, I love the point you just made, “Could ally ERGs even be used as a training ground before allies join other ERGs?” I love that. I think that’s-
RHODES PERRY: I love that too.
JENNIFER BROWN: … such a great… Yeah, right? It’s perfect. And it reminds me of the emotional labor question, which is, do we need to move ourselves as learners to a certain point before we enter a space with an aspiring ally hat on? We need to have traveled quite a distance ourselves, I think before we enter those spaces so we don’t cause harm with the good intentions, but the misplaced or unfortunate impact.
And the practice and the muscle that needs to be developed, the question to me always is, where does that muscle get developed? There’s work we do ourselves and then there’s work we do in like-identity community, I think. Then there’s work we do in a cross-identity community. And it’s almost like if I had to make up an order, it would be in that order, so that when we are in a cross-identity community, we are so respectful.
We have the muscle developed, we can anticipate dynamics. We’re familiar with the ecosystem, and the lay of the land, and the language. And then we can get to work more quickly versus sorting out the harm that happens inadvertently because we didn’t do our homework and we didn’t do it in the right environment.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Yeah. I wanted to just say, I completely agree with that, that I think it’s really good to have armed yourself with a base level of knowledge and information such that you aren’t asking the low-hanging fruit type of questions that can over time if you or someone in a group that you hear the same very base question over and over again, it can get a little old. So I would definitely suggest that. Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re being very generous and very patient. It is old, it’s very old. It’s like, “This again?” This is great. I’d love to invite anyone to come off mute and ask your question if I haven’t gotten to it yet for Rhodes and Dr. Avis.
ALFRED RAMIREZ: I have a question. It’s Alfred.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Hi, Alfred.
ALFRED RAMIREZ: Hi. Hello. I’m without electricity for the last four days here in the Midwest.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my goodness.
ALFRED RAMIREZ: I’m on my phone. Yeah. I did have a question. I’m Chicano Hispanic heritage born in East LA and I’ve been doing the work for all my life. Could you speak to honoring Black Lives Matter and integrating the conversations around BIPOC issues, systemic racism that they’ve experienced, the inequities. Could you please speak to that?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Yeah. I think that honestly there is a relationship there. I think about the history of this country and I see that where there has been a lot of advancements in our law that has particularly come oftentimes with black movements at the forefront. When you look at the laws that have changed as a result of the civil rights movement and that have then also spawned the women’s movement.
Those laws don’t just apply to black people. Those laws have opened the doors for all sorts of different people of color. And I think what is important is that we see a little bit of reciprocity in that so that when we have then black movements and when we have injustices that tend to target black people, it’s wonderful to see other people of color join in those efforts.
Because it is… When I think about just… When you have one particular… Like I said, the history of this nation, and it’s the blood of black people, let’s just be very real. It’s the blood of black people that paid for the Civil Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And look at all the changes that have happened throughout society just based on that. So what I am saying is that when a black person is dead in the street, I don’t want to see just black people out there protesting.
Because the changes that will come as a result will not just benefit black people. It never has, and it never will. And if you look at specific policies, for example, affirmative action, historically speaking, the number one beneficiary has been white women. I think it’s very important for us to recognize that oftentimes there is a commonality in our history where black movements create space for all people.
And one of the things I can say that I have been very encouraged by in terms of this latest movement around black lives is that to the extent that I have actually gone and participated in protests, and I have seen protests shown in other cities across the nation. I can say that in this particular instance, I am seeing a more diverse cross section of America that are engaging in the protests that are leading to the changes that we’re seeing now.
And I am happy and very encouraged to see that, and I want to continue to see that moving forward. Because if all of us are to benefit, I think all of us need to be willing to put some skin in the game in order to see and fight for the difference that we all really want to see.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. By the way, today is black women’s equal pay day, I’m going to put that in the chat too. So get that out in social media. Why it matters. This is just one article of many. There’s so many other good questions. I love this one question for you Avis. Somebody asked, “Was there a moment when you underestimated yourself in your career? When you fell prey to that or how you overcame it?”
It’s a very personal question, but I’d love to… maybe we can tie this up on a personal note and how did you overcome it? What did you learn from it? Do you see it being repeated in others? I’m sure that you mentor and support.
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: I do support and mentor others around this, and I think… To me, that question goes to the whole idea of imposter syndrome and I see that as even more multifaceted in many ways, specifically for black women. But I would say that, and I mentioned this recently when speaking to some of my clients about this. I think I’ve been very fortunate and it sounds really strange to say it, but I consider myself as someone who was born free.
And I’m not thinking just literally in the term free like not in bondage, I’m saying, mentally free in terms of possibility. I believe that there are… Everyone has privileges, and so for me, how did that happen for me? It happened for me in the sense that I was born to parents, had two… a loving household. I’ve been loved since the day I was born. That is an advantage that not everybody has, and I acknowledge that.
I also know that seeing what my family did and the life that they created for themselves, quickly, I’ll just say that my father was someone who started out life as a sharecropper, really, his family were sharecroppers. And he made a very important decision early on as a child that he was not going to spend his life working for someone else. So as someone who was in the Jim Crow South, who had just a second grade education, because his family needed everybody working.
Having had the responsibility at the age of 14 to take care of his family after his father died suddenly, he understood that he needed to create a different way for them that would not be economically exploitative as that system was, so he started his own business. Fast forward, he was able to grow this very successful lumber company, was able to take care of not only all of his brothers through employment, but about a couple of dozen other people in the community through that work.
Was able to take care of his mother until the day he died, was able to provide well for us. My mother was college educated, she was a teacher, but she didn’t have to work. We could have lived off of his business. But what I’m telling you is that that background created a level of freedom for me as a child that I know that most people haven’t experienced because seeing that reality has always made me understand the power of possibility.
And having parents who because of that reality did not have to cower themselves in order to be able to get a paycheck. There was a level of self confidence, and freedom, and boldness that I saw every day that I think really helped to inform my perspective on the world. So I’ve never felt that I was less than anybody else ever in my life, and I think that has a lot to do with it. I’ve never necessarily felt that I’m better than anybody, but I sure as hell don’t think that I’m less than anybody.
So it is that confidence that I try to pull out of people because I think for a lot of people, that has just not been their reality. And we have to help people unlearn any sort of undeserved sense of less than feeling that they may have and instead be okay with looking themselves in the mirror and being able to accept the beauty of their brilliance. So that’s something that I think is really so, so important.
JENNIFER BROWN: It reminds me so much of the LGBTQ community and how for many of us, it’s our chosen family, and it’s a safe place to come of age. It is literally like family for so many of us and we need to find those communities where we can build up what we might have lacked-
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: … in our past, you’re right. And sort it out and say, “This was not ever true, and it’s something I’m carrying with me. And it’s still a lens that I… I think you have a less than lens that I see things through, whether it’s my potential or using my power, or where I fit, or advocating for myself.” So I think we do need to do inventories of ourselves to notice what we’re carrying forward that may not be serving us.
And also looking at our diversity dimensions as sources of resilience, and strength, and resourcefulness, and emotional intelligence. Rhodes knows we do this exercise called the gifts of being LGBT, and I literally grab a pen and I stand in front of the cross room and I say, “What are all the things that being this identity has taught you, and given you, and built in you, and equipped you with?”
And we come up with this giant list and it’s this list of when you look at it and you don’t know the context for it, it is literally the list of all the future leadership competencies that we know are going to be important. Agility, flexibility, emotional intelligence, courage, empathy. I know all of us on this call hope that the definition of leadership is changing right now. Right?
I think we started to learn in the pandemic, and then it’s only accelerated the critical part that empathy plays. And yet it has not been an acceptable leadership characteristic. So I think it’s a great time for us and it’s a great time to dig into how we became who we became. Even if it was because of marginalization, and exclusion, and bias, it built something in us. I draw from that every moment of every day.
So I thank you so much both of you. This has been so… I know I have to let everybody go. People are hanging on. I know you don’t want this to end, neither do I. But Rhodes, thank you. Let me give you the last word here and close us out. Thank you again for introducing me to Avis’ work, and Avis, thank you for what you’re doing in the world.
You have a ton of new fans and I want people to be able to reach you too. So Rhodes, ask Avis how people can find her work.
RHODES PERRY: Get the book. Yeah. Where can we find you Dr. Avis?
AVIS JONES DE-WEEVER: Yes. Probably the easiest thing for people to remember is you can just go to blackwomenlead.com. You can get more information on the book or you can sign up there to get on my email list and I can keep you abreast of everything that’s going on in my world.
RHODES PERRY: Yeah. Awesome. This has been amazing. I love just having a conversation with you and with Jen. And for everyone else, thank you for your patience of inviting me in and allowing me to ask some questions. I learned a lot from you all. I love the kind of allyship ERG as a training ground. So, great idea, I forgot who mentioned that, but that will definitely help me in my own work. I appreciate that. Jen, thank you, this is amazing, and this community is so generous and I’m sensing the love, in a work love kind of way.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes I feel it. We need that, we need to plug in.
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