This “special edition” episode of The Will to Change is a conversation I captured with the panelists I was slated to speak with on the main stage at the (since postponed) Workhuman live event in May of this year: Dr. Tom Bourdon, head of Inclusion and Diversity at Staples, Inc.; Jorge Quezada, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Granite Construction; and Tia Silas, Vice President & Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at IBM.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Tia’s diversity story, and how her mother inspired her to be an ally (12:30)
- The need to examine unconscious assumptions (23:30)
- The need for white men to think about their diversity stories (28:00)
- How to use your voice to help elevate others (39:00)
- Why positive intentions are not enough (43:00)
- The need to see allyship as a journey instead of a badge (50:00)
- Why leaders need to model vulnerability (53:00)
- The connection between diversity and innovation (57:00)
- How to practice “embodied leadership” (59:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
DOUG FORESTA: Hello, and welcome back to the Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. Of course, I’m with Jennifer Brown, and we wanted to share a little bit with you about some of the response to COVID-19, which I know if you’re anywhere on this planet, I’m sure it’s taking up room in your mind. Jennifer, thanks for letting me join you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks Doug, and for all of you in the audience, you might notice that Doug sounds a little bit under the weather.
DOUG FORESTA: I know.
JENNIFER BROWN: Get better soon.
DOUG FORESTA: Thank you. I appreciate it. So yeah, let’s talk about some of the things that you’re doing, because these really are extraordinary times. Can you say a little bit about what you’re doing to support our listeners and the community of people who obviously have been following you for a long time, like I said, during this really extraordinary time?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, extraordinary is the word. I have been up and down myself and today is an up day. I find I’m being creative, and connecting with community is what’s keeping me going right now. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of folks who listen to the Will to Change. I’m shifting our guest list slightly and thinking about bringing folks on just to have a conversation about leadership and diversity and inclusiveness in a time of crisis. So that’s a lens that you will see reflected in the upcoming conversations.
I want everybody to know that this episode for today actually was recorded before all of this happened. Yeah, it was related to the Workhuman Conference, which I was going to do a panel with Tia, Jorge and Tom. We were slated to speak on the main stage at Workhuman in May of 2020, so obviously that’s been postponed. But I think that what I want to say about this episode though, I still wanted to run it, Doug, because while we may be very distracted and not think that the topic of, in this case, including white men in the diversity inclusion journey in our organizations and just in life, may think that’s beside the point, but of course I disagree.
Actually, right now I think we have a time and a really unique window, especially in a crisis. I think as we are, everything is getting revisited, and as I’m envisioning the deck of cards has been thrown up into the air and none of us know how it’s going to land. I think this is a time for us to get real clear on a lot of things and to stretch our thinking and our education. What are we reading about? How are we taking this time, as we talk about in the book, to expose ourselves through media to different stories, different experiences?
So much of what we talk about, not just for our white, straight male colleagues and loved ones and friends, but for all of us who can activate our allyship at this time, perhaps more than ever, how can we all be beacons for inclusion as these decisions are being made quickly about how to virtualize teams, how to lead inclusive virtual collaboration, right? How to be productive in this unfamiliar landscape. The onus is on all of us to be even more vigilant about inclusion. So while this episode doesn’t per se focus on the crisis because of when it was recorded, I really would like to ask that we listen to it and just let it sink in, because it’s a really good conversation.
It’s leaders who I consider to be tremendously authentic and vulnerable in the work, and also really talented organizational strategists. I mean Tia leads diversity at IBM. I mean it’s a 400,000 person company, who will also be hit in this whole process. Jorge has been in a million different organizations, really some interesting places. Right now he’s in a construction company leading the diversity conversation. Tom is at Staples, but he’s also been an activist and is a LGBTQ identified person and friend. I know he’s a gay dad, so to speak, so I always check in on the gay dads online. I’m like, “What’s happening in that community?” It’s really a lovely conversation that I think turned so many norms on their heads and I love it. I just said like, here’s to the gay dads, so please look them up too.
Tom is really very verbal in social media about his experience and raising a multicultural family and his journey towards parenthood. So it’s just these are really incredible people and I know that they all would welcome, as I would, more communication from anyone who listens to the episode. So please look them up, ping them on LinkedIn, thank them for their work. A lot of us who are leading these efforts and organizations, we have our hands full in many ways as we are swimming as fast as we can, trying to ensure that our companies and decision makers are making inclusive decisions right now. I mean it was hard enough, I think, before this happened to maintain a focus and make sure that we were building inclusiveness into the muscle of the org.
That’s what people like Tia and Jorge and Tom and I work on every single day, so this is a really destabilizing time for us too. But actually it’s a true test of our resilience and our courage and the way we need to build relationships now and in the future. I believe that DEI will continue to be a focus, but it will be interesting to see how does it get reshaped coming out of this? Do we talk about it differently slightly? Are certain diversity dimensions going to come to the fore in a way that, for example, socioeconomic diversity, for example, hourly workers, for example, HR policies, paid leave?
There’s so many things that are going to become laser focused coming out of this, because we are going to realize how imperfect and incomplete our thinking was about everything really. So this is a real test for a lot of us, and I just wanted to get my voice in front of everybody on the Will to Change about it. I want you to listen to this episode. Also, we have some incredible ones coming up, right Doug?
DOUG FORESTA: Oh yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Like I just spoke yesterday and recorded with the head of the Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University. Dave identifies on the spectrum himself, and his insights about how folks on the spectrum are experiencing this right now is so invaluable and illuminating. As a neuro-typical myself, understanding and deepening my understanding of the neuro diverse community and all the diversity within the diversity within that community was … I know Doug, you and I just were constantly like, wow.
DOUG FORESTA: Yeah, we were blown away.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, we were blown away. So that one’s coming soon, and then there will be others that are teed up, but I just want you all to know. By the way, if you have recommendations for guests that you would really think would be valuable for the Will to Change community and for our own learning as we go through this, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let us know. Then I also wanted to let everybody know, Doug, that I have decided to do daily community call-ins/hangout with Jennifer next week. Because this extrovert is a little stir crazy over here, and so we’re doing a noon Eastern every single day next week, which is the week starting. What’s the date? The 23rd, and we will be sharing a zoom link in the show notes for this episode.
Please register, join me, come and meet some folks in the Will to Change community and in the Jennifer Brown consulting community. Come say hello. Come share what is going on in your world, what you’re experimenting with, what you’re trying, what you’re frustrated with, what walls you’re hitting, what’s working. I would really love to hear all that because they think this is … Like I said, it’s a very creatively productive time, at the same time for us, that it’s so traumatizing for so many that are suffering right now and who are dealing with extensive change, economic change, social, emotional change.
So join me noon Eastern every day next week. Come meet some folks and find community with us. I would welcome the opportunity to meet some of you that I’ve never spoken to before, so check out the show notes for that. Also, if you’re having virtual book clubs of any kind and you want to be reading Inclusion or How to Be an Inclusive Leader, each one of my books, I’m happy to beam in and say hello and answer any questions and do Q&A’s in the next month or two. So if you’d like to set something up like that, please also email us at email@example.com.
Please also make time to join my mailing list because I think that’s where we’re going to be sharing all the latest updates and programs that I’m doing. Go to jenniferbrownspeaks.com, and if you haven’t already downloaded the first chapter of my new book for free, you can do that there. That automatically adds you to the mailing list as well, and then you can opt out if you don’t want to be a part of it, but I think that that’s honestly probably the best way to keep track of what I am dreaming up next. Who knows? It’s a day to day thing.
DOUG FORESTA: Well, I really appreciate it, Jennifer. Thank you for being there for us during this time.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Doug, and thanks to everybody that has supported the Will to Change. I really, really appreciate you.
So with that being said, I’d love to welcome Tia, Tom, and Jorge and we will have already introduced them. So we’re going to jump right into our diversity stories, which is what we normally begin with on the Will to Change. And Tia, who’s at IBM, Tia and I have shared the stage several times and I’d love to have you take the audience through what you consider to be your diversity story and then that will be followed by Tom and finally, Jorge.
TIA SILAS: Yes. Thank you so much Jennifer. So excited to be here today and talk about a really important topic. My diversity story, my life has been filled with many moments that I think have impacted why I have a passion for this space and why I’ve lent my voice, but most prominently is probably my mother. I am a black woman who grew up in New York city and my mother, who also grew up in New York was part of an immigrant family, was what we would know today in colloquial terms as incredibly woke and spent a good portion of her life and my time as a child advocating, protesting, using her voice really on behalf of others, even when she had so little herself, and that became a huge marker in my life.
And almost to go full circle, as I entered college, I did work certainly advocating. I found myself on protesting lines and advocating for those whose voices I thought were important to hear. But probably most significant in my adult life was when I became a mother, in an interesting way. And as I looked at my brown children and the world in which they entered, it became an extreme obligation for me to do work that leaves this world in a place that is better than I entered it and increasingly push us to become people who will help stand up, be able to help stand up a mirror to them that really shows them their true worth and their value in this world. So that’s what I carry with me.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s beautiful Tia. Thank you. You share something in common. A lot of Will to Change guests share their relationship with their moms and it’s really… It’s probably not an accident that many of us that do this work now had trailblazing parents and influences in our families that showed us that way. And some of us didn’t also, so we had to find our own way. But I want to celebrate those moms and those parents and those grandparents and those siblings who truly showed us what courage looked like maybe before we were ready to really embody that ourselves. So thank you for that. Tom.
TOM BOURDON: Hi. Wow. Every time I listen to this podcast, all of these things I can relate to and already in the first few minutes, Tia and Jennifer, things that you’ve said are really resonating with me. So thank you for that. And it’s great to be here with you all. In terms of my own diversity story, I always think back to… At a young age, growing up in a very loving home with a mom and a dad and a sister and it was a very faith based Christian home, and I loved that upbringing, taught me lots of wonderful things in terms of compassion and thinking of others. But there was definitely also some struggle that ended up coming along with that for me, as someone who as I grew older started acknowledging that this concept of heterosexuality wasn’t exactly resonating with me, and that really conflicted with a lot of what we were being taught in church and in the home.
So really struggled for quite a while, but eventually graduated from college and moved as far away from the New England where I grew up as I could out to the West coast, and there I ended up within just a matter of a couple of weeks of moving out there, meeting the man who’s now my husband. We’ve been together for over 20 years, and we are in a binational relationship. He’s from Australia, me from the US, so got to go through some of those issues in terms of what does it mean when you’re from different countries and partnering for life and the struggles that can come along with that. Eventually I ended up going into diversity inclusion work and I did it in higher education. That’s where I essentially grew up. I went into that field of work, Tia, similar to what you were saying, really feeling that drive for being a change agent and for me it was wanting to create better environments for people where they might be struggling as I had throughout my education.
So the work there was really grounded in social justice and intersectionality and I loved that decade of experience that I had working with young people and doing a lot around education and in creating positive environments. Eventually my husband and I adopted some children, so we now have what I call our multi-ethnic family also, similarly, Tia, to what you were saying as a parent, more and more things are coming up that are really grounding me in my work and making me look at the world differently. All of this has really prompted me to be doing the mission driven work that I feel so lucky to get to do today.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you Tom. That was great. I learned some things about you. All parents on today, except I’m a parent of fur babies, but not human children. However, thank you for sharing. They’re important too. Yes. So Jorge, we go way back, probably further back actually than I do with Tia and Tom. So tell us about your story and… I think we met when you were several companies ago, if I’m not mistaken.
JORGE QUEZADA: Yeah, correct. Thank you very much for inviting me to be part of this podcast. I can’t wait for May to come either. I think the panel, we’re going to be sharing some really cool things there as well. And thank you for allowing me to, to share my thoughts around my diversity inclusion story. And you can’t help but start getting emotional. You hear Tia’s story, you hear Tom’s story. And mine really comes from two places. First of all, I’m from Central America, I’m from San Salvador, El Salvador, and every time I say that, there’s a level of pride that comes because I can hear my accent? That’s the first thing that I notice when I say San Salvador. But the biggest one and it goes back to moms, so Tia, you had me going there, listening to your story. Has to do with… And I can tell you exactly that.
It was a Thursday, October, 1976 I was in the sixth grade and my mom came home, and it was one of those moments where the night before my mom had to choose between either staying home with my sick brother or going to work, and because she had exhausted all her time that it was allowed to her, she had to choose, she had to go to work and I had to stay home and take care of my brother and a sixth grader taking care, at that time he was six years old, and she came home and it was one of those… I think in all households, in the majority I would say you give your mom a hug and then she tells you to do your homework and you go through that routine.
But this time she just went right to her bedroom. It was a moment where I think most of us have had the experience of seeing one of our parents cry. It was a cry that I hadn’t experienced, and because I was from a single parent household, as a sixth grader, I felt like I was the head of the household so I was going to go in there and comfort her. And as I was trying to do that, she pushed me away. And it was the first time she ever pushed me away from a hug, and that’s why I say it’s kind of like a visceral emotional thing for me because then she looked at me and she basically said to me… And she created a call to action for me. She said, “If you ever become the person that I think you are, and you go to work for someone and you work for a company and you become a manager,” and at that time, that was the term that was used, manager. She said, at that moment, she said to me, “I want you to make sure that you never treat a mother like I was treated today.”
I think that was that moment that I became an ally. It was that moment that when I started working at the various companies I’ve been involved with, I was always not fighting for the underdog, because conceptually, as a sixth grader, I didn’t understand what that was, but emotionally I knew that I had to be there for people that had that visceral experience that my mom was experiencing. And I believe that that’s why I do the work that I do today and I get geeked up about it and excited and why I feel like I’m a champion for it.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh Jorge, that’s so special. I do know that story and it gets me every time. You were called to action as a youngster and boy have you fulfilled on that and then some, and you’ve been really at the heart of a lot of this work. I think I’ve learned so much seeing what you’re seeing internally in your organizations relating to the role of men in inclusion, and you were that young boy and now you’re that male leader that’s role modeling a lot of what we’re going to talk about today. So thank you for that.
I wanted to recap our session description, which Tom actually did some writing on. Thank you Tom. But there’s a sentence in here that’s important to frame this conversation, and Jorge, I’m going to ask you why white men and why now? Try to keep it as brief as you can, but I know it’s a big question and it’s a lot of feelings around it. But our session description says that identity focused movements have tipped the scales and created a lot of activity, but that we aren’t recognizing or haven’t recognized one of the most critical elements to creating sustainable, inclusive workplaces, which is the complete buy-in and involvement of white men, and white men are very unique because they have the ability to use their voice and influences in special ways and they can assist in alleviating some of the burden the work puts on those of us who are already marginalized.
I believe that. I think that is a very crisp way to describe the piece of work that now I think we all have to go after and tackle. And I do think it’s a very new framing of who needs to be at the tables, who needs to step forward and do more, and I wonder Jorge, how do you articulate the business case for this? Why them and why now?
JORGE QUEZADA: Wow. I’ll try to be as succinct as possible here on this because I think… So first of all, I feel like my work is literally to take something that’s really, to some people’s minds, complex and make it less complicated. So by being at different companies, I’ve had the opportunity to take a look at how we’ve trained, how we’ve included, who we we’ve worked with when it came to diversity and inclusion. And one of the things that dawned on me, and then I started looking at it and then it crystallized in my last stop was what do we talk about? When we talk about diversity, what gets examined and what gets left out? And if you think about it, we talk about diversity dimensions right? From primary, all the way down to organizational and cultural. And so it covers race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, religion, you name it. A lot of diversity dimensions.
And what gets focused on, I think a representation piece in the discussion is when we’re talking about people of color, women, LGBTQ, we get into either or, and religions other than Christian. And so then what gets unexamined is white men, heterosexual, middle-class, upper class, able bodied Christian. That conversation doesn’t bubble up as much, so I would tell you that it was critical in the last company I was with and now Granite Construction, which I’m with now, that we include that voice, that perspective of white males. Because if you look at the numbers, the numbers tell you that most organizations are made up of white males.
We need to know what their unconscious bias and reveal them and have that conversation amongst themselves and the grouping of people. We have to understand the patterns of their thinking, and bring it to the discussion. And then we have to bring people together and bring white men in the conversations to have difficult conversations. So not only can we learn how to have conversations with white men as a Latino, but also white men can learn to have conversations with people of color, with women, folks in the LGBTQ community. So if we’re going to practice inclusion, it is critical for them to be in the conversation. No one gets an out in this conversation if we’re talking about inclusion. So that’s how I would position that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tia, you sound like you have something to say.
TIA SILAS: Well as Tom and you and so much of what Jorge say just lands so well with me, and I talk about this quite often, and I think even Jennifer, the last time we were around, I was talking about the fact that we’ve stepped into a world where inclusion itself has gotten so exclusive. I use this analogy and I talk about the fact that my husband, he’s a marathon runner, and the way in which we’ve approached our work in diversity for so long has been about training for a marathon by only doing crunches. So there’s this core that’s incredibly strong and it’s important, and you actually can’t get over the 26 miles without tremendous core strength. At the same time, an endeavor of this feat requires everyone to be involved if you’re really going to cross the finish line. So I love this idea, Jorge, you talked about this expanding of the prism through which we see people, including more people in, and white men in particular because of the way in which the scale of power is tipped. It is incredibly important that they are engaged in this conversation. I think that’s spot on.
JENNIFER BROWN: So good. And you know, Tom, you and I share being in the LGBTQ community, and interestingly sometimes we can pass as non-members of that community, sometimes we must feel we need to come out every single day. So it’s interesting, all the invisible diversity that exists around us. I think we’re at a time now too where we’re elevating that above the waterline. We’re encouraging people to bring their full selves to work. And of course the circumstances for bringing your full self to work need to exist so that you don’t harm yourself in the process of doing so, which is up to the company culture and all that. But there is intersectionality that exists amongst men of course. There is diversity in a group that may look very similar to our eyes and what’s visible. There’s all kinds of other dimensions at play. So how have you seen that, and that’s probably the story of your life as well in terms of bringing what’s hidden to the surface.
TOM BOURDON: Well I’d like to just start, I guess, by picking up on that first question, which is bringing men into this work, and when we think about inclusion that is about bringing everyone in as opposed to separating. Creating that us versus them mentality. When you look at any movements that existed, we always need allies. We need as many people as possible to come together to create the change.
So that’s kind of one of the first things I think about when it comes to bringing men. Particularly, straight white, cisgendered men into this work. But you’re right, when it comes to all of the identities that we hold and intersectionality, I love how you open these podcasts with people telling their diversity story, encouraging leaders, including white men to think about their diversity story, because we all have one and sometimes it’s connected to others who are in our lives and we might look at their diversity and think about why that’s important to us to fight for, to stand up for.
But also each and every one of us is going to have some aspects of our lives that are probably going to at some point, if not maybe even on a daily basis, create some experience where we might have a hurdle to jump over. And you’re right, some of them are invisible and we might choose to bring them to the surface or not. And others of them are right out there. But all of us are going to age. All of us at some point are going to experience being older in the workplace.
I think I told a few of you a story recently where there was this individual, an older white man who was really pushing back against diversity and inclusion work that was going on and wanted to talk about and really wanted to argue how when you talk about inclusion, you’re leaving out the majority of the population feeling like the conversation of inclusion left out white men. And I mean it was sad and ironic, but right before our call, he ended up getting into a major accident and all of a sudden this individual with a turn of life events is dealing with an ability issue that he never saw coming. Right? So in one way or another, this is going to matter to us if it’s not already on a daily basis, at some point it will.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
JORGE QUEZADA: And to build on this, the other notion that I think prompted the thinking around why we needed white men. It’s people of color or folks in LGBTQ community that are good at teaching this. And so we believe that diversity can only be taught by a few, but actually the stories that are shared by white men, they have their own diversity stories and I love the word intersectionality because you realize that they’re made up of more what we see, their experiences are critical in this conversation. So that’s the other to build on.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re right Jorge, we are good at teaching this. I love it because it’s such a primary part of our everyday life. I wanted to keep it personal for a moment more with the three of you. We do talk about the emotional labor question of always needing to be the teachers and often we’re the only ones of a certain identity even in the room and perhaps like you, you have the official job of teaching the organization as well, but you’re also experiencing your own difference on a regular basis too.
So I just wondered how, I know will to change audience members toggle between kind of wanting to be fiercely authentic and bring their full selves knowing that their full self is perhaps of a differing or underrepresented identity or identities, plural, and dealing with those headwinds that might be generated from stereotypes related to that. And that probably still happens to the three of you in your current roles. And then also at the same time being this standard bearer and somebody who’s a visible voice for the efforts in these massive companies that you all have worked for, work for now.
And so I wondered how do you manage all of that at the same time? How does that feel for you to be acutely aware of how you might be different. You have been historically underrepresented, you probably still are at your level and then how you also lead the conversation at the same time?
JORGE QUEZADA: Yeah. This is Jorge. I guess I would say to you that it’s interesting because my diversity story, like I mentioned to you, I’m from San Salvador, El Salvador. I come to the United States. I really didn’t know I was Latino or Hispanic until I arrived at the United States. So automatically I was given a label and that label helped put me in a place where people felt comfortable. Okay, he’s that. And then as I started moving throughout my life, and especially in corporate America, the accolades that I would get was because I was fitting in. And at that time I really didn’t understand what assimilation really had done. Right?
And so for me to have been successful, I had to assimilate. That meant that I had to give up who I was and I couldn’t be my authentic self, but I thought I was because I was fitting in. And it wasn’t until I realized that maybe because of Dr Seuss, I think he said it in one of his books that, “My job’s not to fit in, but to stand out.” And in this work you have to challenge yourself to stand out. So not only that you can feel good about the work that you’re doing and on a personal level, but you also have to be a beacon of what authenticity looks like, what it feels like, what it should look like and how to practice it, right? And so you have to be a little bit out there in the fringes so that people can see that it’s safe to be your authentic self.
And so the way I’ve navigated through it is creating a balance of knowing that as an individual, right? I’m Jorge Quezada, salvadoreño from Central America who lives in the United States and is a United States citizen, but I’m also a member of Granite Construction that has norms and values that I have to live into. So it’s an interesting paradox of being an individual and being part of a group and knowing how to balance that and I think that that has taught me how to navigate through this work and teach this work.
TIA SILAS: This is Tia. Very similar to Jorge. I can think my career when I wasn’t in a DNI role, managing this careful balance of wanting to be known certainly for my skills and my expertise in delivering the work, but also wanting to be able to show up freely as a black woman and that to not somehow be perceived as diminishing the value of my work.
In an interesting way my work in diversity and inclusion has felt incredibly freeing. It is the first role where it is my obligation, it is my freedom to walk in and talk about my blackness and the whiteness in the room. It is the first time where I am requiring people to practice saying LGBT, right? It is the first time that I am deeply pushing people to think about the complexities of people with diverse abilities.
And in some ways understanding the studies around psychological tax and burden it has been freeing to be able to enter every room with that authentic piece kind of as an expectation. At the same time, I know that not everyone is a chief diversity officer, right? And so my work and preparing my leadership team around how they lead better has been deeply rooted in how do they become better listeners, right? Because the burden shouldn’t be even that you go out and you ask your marginalized friend to teach you all the ways of the world, there’s so many wonderful channels and opportunities if our leaders just take the time to listen. And this whole idea of saying we’ve all been willfully ignorant in so many ways and how do we move to willful awareness?
And I think that is a great opportunity for us to think about not putting additional tax and burden on people who are marginalized to help to carry the load alone, but also to teach those who need to figure out how to become meaningful allies.
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. Yeah. So then lining up more voices so that we’re not doing all the work. I think of it as running this relay race and having nobody to pass the baton to and how wonderful would it be to pass the baton? Speaking of your marathon analogy, I love it. I think of it as, as the fresh runner, right that’s jumping into the race. Somebody who is not dealing with the sort of accumulation of the struggle of the authenticity and the headwinds faced. But actually is this like fresh, I think relatively more, I would say privileged with a small p, which I only mean in terms of perhaps having certain advantages related to identity that mean that you have an easier path for example, or more access or people will listen to you differently.
So imagine we’re running a race, we’re on a team and I can hand the baton to somebody and they can run for awhile as an ally and I can take a little bit of a rest and I can regroup and think more strategically and do some self care. And think about it. It doesn’t always have to be me. And I think of it as working smarter, not harder. Working through people is an incredible way to kind of look at equity and rebalance some of what’s out of balance right now.
So I wonder, so when you do first engage your white men in this conversation, I know the resistance, I’m sure you get, whether it’s articulated or not. Sometimes it’s active resistance, but most often I think it’s like fear and hesitation and really permission at the end of the day to say like, can I use my voice and is it welcome and what if I make a mistake?
And so I know all of you are intimately familiar with this because if we don’t understand this first piece of this first hurdle, then I don’t think we’re going to really get anywhere with what we want on the other side. So describe that first hurdle in terms of white men saying, “Okay, I’m here, I understand the why, I want to get into the how.” Then what? And what have you seen and how have you overcome it in your orgs? And I’m not even saying… I think we’re all in the middle of trying to overcome it. So it’s not a done deal for sure. Go ahead.
TOM BOURDON: I’ll say a few words about that. So as a white man myself coming to this work, there’s some positives and some challenges that come along with that, but I’ll focus on the positives that I think I have an opportunity to talk from one white dude to another or to many others, particularly in corporate about the fact that we all do need to be part of this and we have to be willing to take risks. And I love what I heard. Tia I think it was you saying really teaching leaders how important it is to listen and to educate yourselves. And that is critical.
And then another really important piece is taking that privilege and power that so many hold and saying, “How can I use it? Not how can I take over, how can I save the day, but how can I be there to support others?” So really teaching them, yes, it can be scary, right? You might not know exactly what to say, but what role can I play, whether it’s small or large to support others and to use that privilege I have and to use my voice to help elevate the conversation or uplift someone who’s in need.
And it’s not always a fast process, but I really do think, once they understand the importance of diversity and inclusion and this work that we get to do and then they can kind of personalize it, whether it’s thinking through their own lives or understanding and empathizing other’s experiences. I’ve seen so many white men really get motivated to say, how can I help? How can I support? And it is that process then of teaching them how to listen and how to speak up, but how to not take over at the same time.
TIA SILAS: It’s a balance.
JORGE QUEZADA: Jennifer, I would tell you that for me what Tia and Tom just shared, what resonates for me is that this notion when we train as sometimes as facilitators, like sometimes you make assumptions and one of the assumptions is that we can tell people, “You need to get out of your comfort zone.” Like we’ll say things like that. Or we’ll say things like, “Let’s talk about the status quo. And you got to go from comfort zone to growth zone.” And we forget. And, and what really hit me was when you said fear.
When you bring the white male voice into the room or just any voice into the room and they start sharing with you what they’re fearful about, in this space, there’s a lack of confidence. They’re affected by others, like the friends around them if they start acting differently. So they don’t want to go into that fear zone. And when you can show people that in order for you to go to a growth zone, you have to walk into that fear zone so that you can be in the learning zone. A lot of this listening is also learning and then you can take them through that where they call it the consciousness quadrant like I don’t know what I don’t know, and when someone could admit to that, then you can take them to a conscious incompetence place.
And if they’re conscious incompetence, then you can teach them to become conscious competence and you can walk them through that. And those are the things I think that had resonated for me when we bring in white men and we talk to them about diversity and inclusion. And then we have to sit there and reflect a little bit and help them reflect of what that means because if in 15 days then you throw the word equity out there and you think that they’re going to understand how it connects the dots, it’s going to be real difficult.
Then you throw in the word belonging, then you throw the word uniqueness and all of a sudden now the brain is like, wait a minute, we were just talking about diversity and you got me to talk to you about diversity. Where’s this belonging thing coming in? Right? And so you have to create practices that are sustainable so that they’re curious, that they go find out for themselves and they’re not fearful of being curious. That’s I think what I’ve been learning in this space.
TIA SILAS: Yeah. The other thing that I would point out too is through experience, what I’m learning is that in my conversations with white men in particular, when I think about our organization, its building in great positions of power, is that, I think there is sometimes the hesitation around speaking, right? And I think it’s all the things that you mentioned early on, Jennifer, around “it’s a different language. I have very good intentions, but I don’t know the right words.”
Ally ship is practice, right? And so what we’ve been leaning more and more on this whole idea of ally ship as a verb, right? And so that does mean advocating and standing up and speaking, especially when you see that there is something that is problematic, but it also means taking action. Right? So it could be that maybe it’s not your voice, but you use your power to create a platform for somebody else’s voices to be heard. Right? We’ve leaned deeply into this idea of taking an action of sponsorship and what does that look like? So it’s an active step that you do to say, “I am going to leverage my network and think about someone who doesn’t have access to the same people I do and how do I give them access to my network?” And so I think there’s something around the action orientation of ally ship that is helpful in creating a broader menu of options for people to think about as they engage in the work.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. We often talk about being positively intended isn’t enough to build inclusive environments. And I do think that many people consider themselves to be good people. And then of course when you show them the data from their organization that my lovely team has collected, they’re horrified inevitably. Whether it’s like a pay gap, whether it’s-
TIA SILAS: “Who’s that?” Right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. “Wait a second, not on my watch.” And then it’s like, “No, it is on your watch.” And so it’s that like benign neglect. I think that leaders have I think outsourced the responsibility of a lot of this to either the diversity team or to the yearly unconscious bias training that everybody has to go through because it’s mandatory. And we’ve kind of, unfortunately, it’s not our fault, but it’s the way that our strategies I think have formed around celebrating diversity but also sort of an us and them like exclusionary dynamic to say, well I don’t even know where I fit in.
I don’t know anything about diversity. I’m kind of checking a box. They certainly aren’t clear, I think on the powerful business case of it. So, and that’s one of the things we haven’t really talked about, but we talk about all the time on the will to change. So we don’t necessarily have to go into that, but all the ways that we can invite people to the rationales and the reasons and the things that are going to create an aha moment for our, particularly white male leaders. They’re very diverse because for some folks like a story creates it, some folks the data creates it some… I know Jorge, in one of your previous organizations, you had literally like days long leadership programs for your white male leaders. Is that true? And you kind of ran through a curriculum that that took time over many months.
JORGE QUEZADA: Correct, yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: So I mean, I would love to hear a bit just a little bit about the structure of something like that. And are you a fan of that kind of approach? Is that what you might advocate for in companies as the right way and format in which to learn?
JORGE QUEZADA: So the answer is yes and no. And I’ll tell you why I say this. Like you said, in one of the organizations, we put our white male executives through a four and a half day immersion program. And I thought we were going back to the 70s in the training. But the genius in that was realizing how important it was to unpack the things that white men and men have been told what to do and what not to do in this conversation. So for instance, if we’re going to have crucial conversations or intentional conversations around D&I, politics, religion, people have to ask about, can you help me understand this? Right? And people who come from a certain group cannot feel like, oh my God, I got to bring it back up to you? It’s because we told people, don’t talk about religion, don’t talk about politics in the workplace.
And it’s true, it creates a lot of tension. But that tension is what doesn’t allow us to move forward in getting to know each other a little bit better. So when I say yes, I’m an advocate for it, it’s because you have to give yourself time to unpack these topics. Then at the same time, I say no, because then how do you create scale? How do you become efficient at training? How do you get more people talking about this other than the white males? And that’s I think for larger organizations, that’s always an issue. Now we’re talking about micro-learning. And think about this, right? We go from being successful in teaching a four and a half day workshop. And then we say, we’re going to give it to you in three minutes in a micro-learning on your phone.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.
JORGE QUEZADA: Think about the gap that exists between learning about how to mitigate your bias in three minutes while spending a full day doing it. And maybe that’s not even enough. So that’s why I go, yes and no, right? Because there’s a different pool that’s being asked of us as practitioners to deliver content and training in a way that we can scale it. But at the same time, we know how critical it is to unpack these topics. Does that help?
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s a paradox for sure. If you’re Tia, you’re facing the same thing. And talk about IBM, giant organization. How are you all going after this and have you figured out any way to scale it or what are the priorities?
TIA SILAS: Yeah. So very similar. We’re abandoning the approach that it’s about one major learning around bias, right? One and done, and then we walk away. Instead, we’re thinking about the points of impact, right? So we’re thinking about showing up in the form of micro-learnings at selection processes. So when we think about our manager workflow and decisions that they’re making around careers, and compensation and all these things that matter, right? Their moments of impact for an employee, how do we actually embed bias education within those selection processes and the points that matter? Micro-learnings that remind our leaders how they need to operate. And then in addition, we are focused on more signature ways to deliver something at scale. The big thing for us is that we just recognize that it’s just a continuous journey, right?
So all the research, all the professionals, including you, Jennifer, are telling us that ally-ship needs to happen over and over and over again. And so we need to modernize our learning and think about something that takes a leader on a journey that is continuous. Ally-ship is not a badge, it’s not a label and it’s not something that ever ends. And so the learning needs to be something that can be continuous.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it is a journey. And I think too, the risk goes up for leaders to stand up and start to use their voice more publicly, particularly if they are on that journey and they’re going to have to do this imperfectly. And I’m really so intrigued thinking about how little we have… Jorge, you made the point about growth mindset. So much of the fundamentals of that is that conscious incompetence piece where I’m at that stage of, okay, now I know what I don’t know. But I don’t know what competence would look like. And what we want to move people into is conscious competence, right? Which is the awkward, I’m learning to ride a bike and I’m falling off every two seconds. That’s the place we’ve got to somehow create the safety…
Jorge, you described, there is no replacement for getting people in a room and having it be safe enough to ask the “dumb questions,” right? If it’s that we can somehow say, “Jump in, the water’s warm. We want you in this conversation. There is a safe way to engage in this. And by the way, we want you to engage in and find your voice, but we also simultaneously need you to make space for others.” And it feels, I can imagine, to a lot of people like this paradox that we’re trying to teach them. It’s like, use your voice, be a role model as if you are a white, straight male executive. Talk about diversity and inclusion. Make it personal, because other men are watching you and deciding what is okay here and what does a leader show up and act like here?
And that’s how we truly get change. To me that’s a scalable strategy, which is that if we have our early adopters and they’re comfortable enough and brave enough to step forward, use their voice and be visible doing this. This is how anything is normalized, right? Because everybody follows the leader. And if you have a male dominant industry or workforce, there’s many that have their all eyes on leaders to say, if he does it, then it’s okay for me to do it. So I do think that there’s something there too, to encourage those to be out there on the front lines. But I also worry that I want them to do this in a safe and a sustainable way, because I do know that these times that we live in are very sensitive. So if you don’t get it perfect, is there going to be the flexibility and the elasticity in the trust that we show leaders as they learn, and as they go more public, as they use their voice more, so that it can be normalized.
And so I’m just very acutely aware of that. And as I was writing the book, I say that it comes with more risk. The more you use your voice, the more risk you take. But then I say, and guess what? So many of us take risks every single day just to be who we are. That is a day to day experience. And so for somebody to say, “I’m uncomfortable, can I say that one thing? Or can I make that remark? Or can I give somebody feedback?” I like to say, if that is one moment of discomfort for you and there’s so many in your organization that are comfortable every moment of every day. So thoughts.
JORGE QUEZADA: What jumps to mind is, and I think I expressed to you guys, I was reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. And one of the things that really resonated for me, this notion of armoring up. And to go back a little bit to what we discussed around fear, I think what we have to share with men, I’ll stay with men, is that you don’t need to armor up when you’re feeling that moment of fear. Be vulnerable, right? Be your authentic self, because the minute you armor up, you prevent yourself from going into that learning zone. And you don’t get to see the paradox that you’re in. So one of the things that I mentioned about it takes four days to unpack some of this stuff. You realize that some white men will say, “I am not in the white male group.
I’m an individual. I’ve worked hard for what I’ve earned. And it’s in my family and the people around me.” But it’s important to know that yes, you are an individual. But you’re part of a group. And then also the efficiency, there’s a gravitational pull to talk about sameness and keep everything equal and minimize so that there’s no outliers. But you have to be able to see the difference that’s out there, and be vulnerable to acknowledge that difference that’s out there. And then the other paradox is around challenge and support. And it’s okay to challenge. Ask the questions, get involved in the discussion, but also support the work, be the ally, be the mentor, be the sponsor. Just recently, the head coach from the Cleveland Browns, I believe, just hired a woman coach. And out of his mouth comes, “My job is to get her ready to become a head coach.”
And those words themselves talked about sponsorship, making that declaration and the mentoring that’s going to take place. And then the final one I’ll tell you is that, sometimes when you get into this discussion, inevitably men, white men will say, “Listen, it’s not my fault that people of color have been put through all of this stuff.” Yes, it’s not your fault here in 2020. But the responsibility you have with the position that you have, and the ability to be an ally, mentor and sponsor, right? That responsibility, you have to balance it with, yes, it’s not your fault. But there’s a responsibility that you do have to make things better moving forward. So that resonates with what you just put forward there, Jennifer. That’s what comes to mind for me.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Tia, comments. Tom.
TIA SILAS: I would definitely go, amen, on top of that. I’ll add on.
TOM BOURDON: I’ll add the amen too.
TIA SILAS: I’m like holding back not saying anything.
TOM BOURDON: Preach.
TIA SILAS: Preach, exactly. What I’ll add on to that is I think as the panelist who comes from the technical space, I think there’s also this added complexity of this is a great personal journey. It needs to be seen as critical to being a leader of the future. When we think about the future of work, it should be increasingly diverse. We understand the benefits in terms of differentiated innovation. I also want to highlight, thinking about the immersion of technology and that runs across, right? Whether you’re talking about Granite Construction or a Staples, what we’re recognizing is that who makes it matters, right? That’s our IBM phrase.
But the underpinning of this is that what we’ve recognized is that innovation is being informed by our biases, right? And so our inability to tackle these issues, or to think about what does responsible use of our power and privileges look like if it fails to address our human tendency to be biased, or it doesn’t get into what are we going to mitigate… What do we do to mitigate the bias, which is ally-ship, it’s advocacy, it’s addressing that. Then there’s such broad implications to the future world, right? And so I think there’s a critical need for us to do this as we think about the corporations that the next generations will inherit. And that this is probably one of the most important things that we need to tackle to ensure that we’re on the right side of history.
JENNIFER BROWN: Here, here. Tommy. Get the last word.
TOM BOURDON: Sure. All right, here we go. I think there are so many white men out there who have such great hearts, and want to do the work and want to get it right. And they don’t know where to begin. I think there’s so much need to continue educating, and having these conversations and finding those opportunities for people to safely practice ally-ship and learn. But also to put themselves out there and take some risks. And for sure as we’ve heard, make sure you’re listening every step of the way. And I think the thing that concerns me the most is we live in a day and an age where so many leaders know the right words to say, but it doesn’t live in them, and they don’t know how to back it up. So it doesn’t go very deep. So I think we really need to take it to the next level now to make sure that everyone, but in this conversation, white men in particular, really know what it is when we’re talking about the importance of diversity and inclusion and how we can all be part of that journey.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tom, that was great. And what you’re talking about is the embodiment. As long as you’re leaving diversity up to someone else in your organization to “take care of,” that’s yet another day that you’re not actually embodying this. And true leadership is embodied leadership, right? It is the fact that you don’t need to lean on a Jorge, Tom or Tia to give you the talking points. You’ve actually gone through this process, taken it on, owned it, own it on a day to day basis because ally-ship is a verb. I love that. And that you’re on a journey and I think it’s absolutely fine to say, “I am on a journey. And there’s many things that I don’t know yet. And here’s what I’m learning. And here’s what I need to listen more to and surround myself with more.
And I may not exactly be perfect in the way that I articulate this, but I want to know so that I can get better.” Can you imagine organizations with leaders that were comfortable saying those kinds of words? It would be transformative. And I know that it is what everybody on this episode wants deeply in our hearts, is to see that courage and to see an organization catch leaders. Not let them fall, but actually encourage each other with those safe spaces in order to take that learning journey, because that’s the journey we’re all on. None of us is perfect. So this was beautiful. I wish I had more time with you, and maybe we do a post Work Human episode and we talk maybe about some of the things we hear at the conference.
Maybe we’ll get some really interesting questions from the audience. Maybe we’ll have some skepticism, maybe, who knows. Maybe we’ll find out that there’s a whole lot of efforts going on related to engaging white men in the inclusion conversation. That is more my prediction actually, because I’m starting to see it really pop up. And I’m really heartened, and I know all four of us are part of instigating that. So I do believe it’s a big part of our future strategies in order to be successful. And we’re in these really exciting, I think, early stage in this conversation. And I am so honored to have people in my life like the three of you, because it’s not always easy. And I might think sometimes I’m often left field, but you’ve really like centered us around the importance of this discussion.
You’ve personalized it, you’ve given us some really good ways to think about it. And most of all, I think you’ve shown so much grace and I think frankly love. And I don’t know if I’m ever allowed to use that word in the business context. But to be loving to our fellow humans and to say inside our hearts, I think we all understand what exclusion feels like. And there’s so much potential that we can discover in ourselves.
JORGE QUEZADA: I say bring on the love, Jennifer.
TIA SILAS: Bring on the love. I like that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you very much. I will. Thank you to the three of you!
TOM BOURDON: You’ve self-actualized me.
JENNIFER BROWN: I feel you all and I wish you were closer. And please everybody that’s listening to this, consider joining us at Work Human May 11th through 14th in beautiful San Antonio, Texas. Thank you Jorge, Tia, and Tom for joining me today.
JORGE QUEZADA: Thank you everyone.
TOM BOURDON: Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you everyone.
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