This episode was originally a Toolkit Conversation at the Better Man Conference, and features a conversation with Jennifer Brown, as well as Mita Mallick, Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta and Tony DeGruy, Technical Systems Engineering Leader for Cisco’s Workforce Experience team. Moderating the event was Eduardo Placer, CEO of Fearless Communicators.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
Jennifer Brown: I think in the beginning, one of the big epiphanies I’ve had is that in organizations we do not celebrate failure in any way. We don’t celebrate it, and we don’t celebrate it personally because we’re all on our phones creating a perfect Instagram life, which is not the reality of the pain and the grief we’re feeling behind screens. And so, if we don’t encourage people to celebrate failure, how can then you be comfortable with mistakes you’re going to make as an ally. Right? And so that’s like you are going to make mistakes. I know we all talked about this today. It’s going to cost you something, your pride, your comfort, sometimes your financial security or financial opportunities. And so, I think it’s just leaning into this idea that life is about failures and we don’t embrace that enough. I think trying to unlearn that is part of the ally’s journey.
Doug Foresta: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to The Will to Change, with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, best selling authors and entrepreneurs as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.
Doug Foresta: Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta, and of course, I’m here with Jennifer Brown. And today, the episode that you’re going to hear is actually from a panel that Jennifer was on from The Better Man Conference. The title of the conference was Obstacles and Opportunities: Equity Connection and the Possibilities of Inclusive Masculinity. And let me say a little bit about the panel itself. The panel was Obstacles and Opportunities: Managing our Triggers as Allies. Of course Jennifer was there, Mita Mallick, who has been on the program before. If you’re a fan of The Will to Change, you’ll recognize that name. She is the head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta. Also, there was Tony DeGruy, technical systems engineering leader for Cisco’s workforce experience team. And it was moderated by Eduardo Pacer, CEO of Fearless Communicators.
Doug Foresta: And we’re going to talk about they have a September event coming up, we’ll make sure to talk about that in a moment. But first of all, Jennifer, what a great event. I’m sure you must have had a blast doing this.
Jennifer Brown: We did, we did, we did. Absolutely. I look forward to The Better Man Conferences, plural, because they do a couple every year, so much. And, it’s such a unique opportunity to be in community with male identified leaders, intersectional men investigating their roles and responsibilities and opportunities to be inclusive, to activate their allyship, to think about privilege, yes, to think about their triggers as well. So I love that we all, I think, provided some good value on this panel and I can’t wait for The Will to Change audience to get some value out of it as well.
Doug Foresta: I do want to mention at the top too that as you were saying there’s another event coming up in September, there’s an event focusing on empathy and if you go to bettermanconference.com, you can register there for that event. That sounds really interesting, focusing on empathy. So, I definitely encourage our listeners to do that, that’s September 28th is that event.
Jennifer Brown: That’s right.
Doug Foresta: So Jennifer, you always present at this conference, and talk a little bit about how you carry what you learn there forward in your work.
Jennifer Brown: I believe so much that we need to meet learners and aspiring allies where they’re at and where we’re at, I should say we, it’s not somebody else, it’s me too. Meeting learners where they’re at and providing the right space container, nuggets, knowledge, encouragement, safe space to ask questions that may or may not be, we think they’re the right questions or not to be asking. But the container that Better Man Conference creates is that place to look around, virtually now, but it used to be in person which was really powerful, I thought. They’re equally powerful in different ways, but there was something about walking into that room with 200 mostly male identified leaders from so many different companies and they would bring these big contingents from companies.
Jennifer Brown: So, there would be the two tables from Cisco, and a table from AT&T, and a table form Toyota. And for me, we know a lot of these folks because they’re our clients and it is a family reunion in a way, but it’s such an emergent group of aspiring allies. It’s emergent because we are finally getting to this point, thankfully, that I’ve been trying to encourage and some of us have been encouraging for a long time to invite people who might have sat on the sidelines, who might have assumed, “I don’t have something to say or contribute. I don’t know how to speak about diversity, equity and inclusion of what it means to me. And therefore, I’m going to hold back and perhaps let others do the work while I get on with the other things that I have to do.”
Jennifer Brown: And that’s fundamentally what needs to change and has always needed to change, is that this is not somebody else’s job, this is my job. And not just that, but it’s my opportunity for growth and ultimately transformation. And I really believe that. Look, men need this work as much as everybody else. We’ve had guests, Doug, on that are involved with The Better Man Community that I’ve learned about through the community that specialize in things like The Man Box. And it’s heartbreaking to consider how constraining and constricting and limiting the expectations are that are put on men around masculinity, the documentary The Mask You Live In, the work that Ashanti Branch does, there is this conversation, if you know where to look for it, where you can jump in to it and check yourself in terms of assuming who has the privilege and who doesn’t. In some respects, yes, but in many respects, in an exclusionary world and a biased world, does not leave a lot of room for men to fully articulate themselves either.
Jennifer Brown: And so, it’s not just, “Oh, how can you step up in solidarity and be an ally for or alongside others?”. It’s literally transformative personal work around, “Where have I felt the sting?”, “Where have I experienced or loved ones?”, “Why do I care about this?”. Discovering really your own pain and the things that need to be healed in you, the little boy version of you, and then growing up into adulthood but not having had a fulsome conversation about masculinity norms. So I think that this is work that is probably causing a lot of health issues, certainly causing a lot of suicide and mental health problems and challenges. And I think it’s, like I said, emergent. It’s sort of a new cohort, if you will, that’s officially entering this discussion. And I’m so grateful for it, I’m trying to summon it myself.
Jennifer Brown: I know Mita used to be at Unilever and The Better Man was hosted at Unilever last year before the pandemic, and they have The Men as Allies effort and they did a panel of the leaders of that network. And they presented their stories and talked about what it meant to be having this conversation with other men, and what it meant to be in the context of Unilever as a company and what they were informing from a product development perspective, or a talent attraction perspective, or a marketplace perspective, so it was really rich. And now she’s at Carta which is a much smaller company earlier in its journey, but they are so lucky to have Mita with the experience that she has that she’s going to build everything right, I think, from those early days, which is just so important.
Jennifer Brown: And then I wanted to say a little bit about Tony at Cisco. Cisco was one of my first clients at JBC and I always have such a deep soft spot for that culture and the way that we, in a way, grew together years ago. And one of the things I worked on years ago was helping to put their Men For Inclusion initiative in place. And I didn’t know Tony at the time and he wasn’t involved at the time. I think he was at Cisco but he wasn’t involved. And then subsequently it’s a full circle moment for me to be hearing how much they’re flourishing, and how much they’re growing, and the place at the table that they’re getting, and how much interest there is in that initiative growing and becoming recognized. So, Tony is a leader of that, and I love just seeing how its grown, it’s really encouraging.
Jennifer Brown: And Doug, this is still a little bit of a, Men As Allies groups, in the workplace is still somewhat of a hidden fact. It may be going on here and there in pockets but it’s something that I find companies are very quiet about. So, that’s the other thing, that there’s like a secretive energy to it.
Doug Foresta: We don’t necessarily want that to be a secret, right?
Jennifer Brown: Well yeah, it’s odd. I understand it’s a sensitive undertaking because there may be reactions to bringing men together to have this discussion from all sides of the issue, all political persuasions. “Why are we putting resources here when they’re needed over here?”, for example. That’s one piece of pushback. “Why is a safe space needed for those in a dominant or majority identity group?”. And yet, given what I just said, there’s so much work and growth that needs to happen in this group that we all need to be in partnership with. We need to shape whatever’s ahead together. That much I know, and in order to shape that more inclusively, we need all identities at the table participating in that shaping and in that building and we need everybody at that table to be doing their work. And to me, The Better Man encourages this work and it creates a space to do this work. As maybe unpopular as it might be or controversial as it might be, I don’t understand why it is, but I understand how it might look.
Jennifer Brown: But honestly, the partnership with men as a cisgender woman, just like my partnership with heterosexual people, Doug, is invaluable to me. I could not do what I do without everything that partnership needs to be and is in its best sense. So for me, there is nothing more important, in a way, than educating and supporting our allies, and I’m using that extremely broadly. Whoever’s listening to this, thinking about the people that you want to be in solidarity with you, what does that learning journey look like? What do they need to study? How do they need to utilize the privilege or power or platform that they have? What does being in solidarity look like and how well is that really understood by others? And I would say, not very well. It’s what I know I spend a ton of my time teaching about is sort of how to activate an ally voice. But this group in particular I think is at these very early stages. But with so much, so much capital to contribute to change. In fact, I might argue the most capital of any cohort to contribute to change. So, in a way, I think we should be doing the opposite of what most organizations are doing by staying quiet or not doing anything. We should be actually running forward as fast as we can to build allyship within this cohort. And it is the rare conference and space that exists to hold that conversation.
Jennifer Brown: So I hope everybody checks out the, yes, Doug like you mentioned, the event, next event on September 28th. The focus will be on empathy. I can’t wait for that. I’m not sure the link is live yet, but please just keep an eye on bettermanconference.com or send them a note at email@example.com and let them know you heard about it on The Will To Change and from me, they all know me, and indicate your interest. And if you work for a company or an organization, think about bringing a delegation. I want to leave that with everybody because I know our listeners would get why this is important. But learning in community for things like this is invaluable, the way that you can then unpack everything together. First of all, you experience the experience together, but then the processing of it, the post event analysis, the development of action steps, all of that I think we would definitely accelerate people’s participation and learning and buy into this concept. And even think about bringing HR partners along. So think about who you might want to bring that really needs to hear it first hand. And then look at it as a way to springboard into building your strategy for the coming year. That’s what I would encourage folks to think about these conferences as a tool to do. So enjoy the conversation everybody.
Jennifer Brown: I’m so excited to be in conversation with these two folks, some of my favorite people. I’m Jennifer Brown, my people are Scotch-Irish, definitely Northern European, came over in the 1800s to the Eastern seaboard as a result of the potato famine, that’s all I know. However, and then migrated west and I grew up in the West Coast. I have a diversity equity and inclusion practice. I have a wonderful team of consultants who are fanned out on any given day working with companies to create organizations where all of us can bring our fuller selves to work and all of us can thrive and experience equitable cultures.
Jennifer Brown: And my allyship victory is I actually was accepted onto a Twitter chat, [inaudible 00:15:06] on Twitter, a live one, kind of like Clubhouse but one of those. And I noticed there weren’t any people of color in the group of presenters, and so I offered to recuse myself and suggest some missing voices. And I was met with so much appreciation for the decision to share that. And then an openness and an eagerness to be introduced to different voices that could join, maybe in my place but maybe I could stay a part of it.
Jennifer Brown: But I love when that combination of things happens because that’s literally putting our platform in play and educating at the same time and also elevating and centering different voices when we’re very aware that maybe there’s an overabundance of our voice.
Eduardo: Beautiful, thank you so much. We’re going to elevate spark elation, Jennifer. And with that, I am going to pass it to Tony DeGruy.
Tony DeGruy: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening wherever you’re joining us from. My name is Tony DeGruy and I am so glad that we are here together for this conversation. Where are my people from? So my parents are from Louisiana and Colorado and we migrated to California where I call home. I’ve traveled the world, but California will always be home for me. When I think about my role, by day I am a leader within the workforce transformation here at Cisco, but one of the things that gives me the most energy and the most passion is the work that we do with Men For Inclusion, which is a network that we’re striving to make [inaudible 00:16:45] that really helps bridge the gap between all of our difference in bringing folks together around inclusion and belonging.
Tony DeGruy: And my victory is just the fact that over the past couple of months we’ve had so many opportunities to share the road that we’ve been on at Cisco in terms of Men For Inclusion, and what we’ve done in terms of being able to contribute to other fortune 500 and fortune 100 companies for building out the DEI space in there with a focus towards men. So it’s really, really good to have that opportunity.
Eduardo: Beautiful, thank you so much. Elevated spark elation, Tony, yes. And I’m going to pass it to Mita Mallick.
Mita Mallick: Hi, everyone, I’m Mita, me/her. My people are from India, and please don’t forget about India, it’s really top of mind for me right now. I wrote a piece which I’ll share with The Better Man Conference and all of you. I’ve lost three family members to the pandemic. India’s just one of many countries that have been ravaged. As many of us have been vaccinated or are getting second shots, that’s not the reality of the inequities we know that exist in this world. So please don’t forget about India, Brazil, Nepal, so many countries I can’t include right now. So that’s really, I enter this conversation and that’s really heavy for me today.
Mita Mallick: My day job is I am the head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Carta. We are a fintech startup and we are all about creating more equity owners. My most important job is being mom to Jay who’s eight and going on 18, and Priya who’s six going on 16, which has only been accelerated in this pandemic. And my [inaudible 00:18:23] victory is really specific, Eduardo. I just thought about this as you mentioned this today. I am employed full time by Carta, I don’t make money right now off of speaking engagements. Anytime anyone asks me to speak, I am happy to donate that to any of the nonprofits I support, including [inaudible 00:18:43] in India. And thank you for Better Man Conference for doing that for me.
Mita Mallick: I had a friend who was invited to speak at a conference with me and they didn’t want to pay her as black woman, and that’s what she does, she has a full time consulting firm. And I just couldn’t understand how you can charge conference fees and ask us to speak for free. And I just said, “No, we’re not speaking for free. We’re not doing it, so you can take us off the agenda if you’re not going to pay them.” So, that’s my victory today.
Eduardo: Elevated spark elation. And just wanted to thank you for naming what you named at the beginning and inviting the sadness and the sorrow and the heart and really in the moment of our collective privilege here in this conversation knowing that there are people who are joining us from all over the world, and just want to hold space for that and the reality and lived experience of people all over the world, which is not necessarily that which may be living in this country.
Eduardo: So as we are moving into, we are bridging a conversation throughout the course of the day in relationship to feelings and emotions and triggers. And there may be things over the course of the conversations with our speakers that may have triggered our participants. And one of the things that I think is oftentimes a trigger that I hear, specifically in male identifying spaces or spaces of privilege, is this idea of privilege and identifying the word privilege, that once people hear the word privilege it’s like lock, closed, not coming in. And I feel like one of the things that I’m looking as a journey in this conversation as looking at what are the feelings that get in the way of our allyship and how do we have tools to manage that, to show up in our commitments. More committed to what we’re committed to as opposed to the feelings that are stopping us. And Jen, I know from your work you do a beautiful job of talking about, one, privilege, and also you have this beautiful graphic of the iceberg and what we see and what we don’t see when we’re talking about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. And I just want to ground all of us in a shared language and conversation, because again people are joining us wherever they’re at, just to create some shared language is useful to anchor as we engage in the conversation. I’m going to pass it to you, Jen.
Jennifer Brown: Thank you, Eduardo. Yeah, so everybody I’d like us to invite is to think about privilege much more broadly. I think this really hit home for me over the last couple of years as I’ve reconciled with and dealt with both my marginalized identities as an LGBTQ+ female in a cisgender male dominated world. And my pronouns are she/her/hers, by the way. But also, realizing that I have many privileges, both unearned and earned privileges, from both the circumstances into which I was born, and perhaps also the things that give me privilege that perhaps I worked very hard for as well. So the earned and unearned privileges, far from just being white and male, which is how we tend to talk about it, are things that I can enact, I can activate. And the story I shared earlier about my allyship victory, Eduardo, was me activating a privilege. To me, that was activating my platform, and my ability to speak the truth, and my ability to challenge something.
Jennifer Brown: So, I invite us to think about what we have access to because of those earned and unearned aspects. And by the way, both visible and invisible. So I have visible privileges and I have invisible ones too that I have to raise and speak out loud. But think about, what is easier for you to do or say? What do you have permission to do or say or not do? What is risky, less risky for you to do than for somebody else to do based on their package? What do I have access to? Whom do I have access to? Where can I get into a conversation or a space that somebody else might not be able to? These are all things that when we have something that someone else doesn’t and we’re here for equity work, those are things we desperately need to activate in solidarity with others as aspiring allies.
Jennifer Brown: So, far from being something we should be ashamed to talk about, I started to really talk about privilege and talk about mine specifically, so that I can try to say, “Hey, instead of denying this, let’s normalize,” or the word I prefer is usualize, “Let’s usualize the discussion of all of who we are.” This was not given to us randomly. We were given everything that makes up who we are for a purpose. And I feel extremely activated in my purpose and my journey as an aspiring ally. And by the way, I say aspiring because you’re only an ally when someone in an effected community calls you an ally. So this is not a destination, but rather a journey, and something that I’m earning everyday according to someone else. It’s not for me to say, not for me to claim. So, that’s what I work towards every day.
Jennifer Brown: And just to get back to your question about the iceberg. If we can picture an iceberg, 10% is above the waterline, 90% is below. So a lot of what we’ve been talking about in the Better Man community is these stigmatized identities, often invisible or maybe visible, but we just don’t talk about it. We don’t bring our full selves to work. I think this pandemic has caused a great lowering of the waterline in a way because we’ve had more truthful conversations, very difficult conversations. But it’s also upped the waterline weirdly because we’re in this virtual distance from each other. So, as we encourage building trust with each other and becoming more vulnerable and honest with each other about all of who we are, that’s really the good stuff that’s going to transform workplace cultures. So, even though I’m uncomfortable, I try to challenge myself to lower my waterline as often as I possibly can. And if I’m not uncomfortable, I’m not leading every day.
Eduardo: Yes, elevated spark elation to that. You know what’s so interesting is when I asked the question, initially your allyship victory, what was so present in each of your sharings was your adjacency and privilege in support of someone else. So for you, Jennifer, in the space that you were in, acknowledging, “Wait a second, everyone here is white identifying, we need some other voices in this space. So, how can I center that?” For you, Mita, in that conversation you probably had more agency or privilege than the African American woman who was also a speaker. So, using an exercise in your privilege in that moment to take a stand and do something risky, as Jennifer said, making a decision and pulling out. And then, for you Tony, using your privilege as a man in the space that you at work, to create organizations for men around inclusion. And I’m curious, we’re kind of seeing you, and you’re probably further along in your journey, and I’m curious at the beginning, and the feelings still happen, the mad, the glad, the fear, the shame, they’re still there, they don’t go away. I think we want to identify that the feelings are still present. But just curious, so if you track back to an early moment, what is it that you felt and what had you step in? And I’d love to take that to you Tony, locating in your work specifically.
Tony DeGruy: You know what’s so interesting, and I give credit to a lot of folks, I’m standing on your shoulders. Reality is I am. This past year in particular, we at Cisco were so blessed, because we’ve had conversations around a [inaudible 00:26:53] culture and our leadership across from our [inaudible 00:26:56] on down has really made Cisco that inclusive place to work and we strive towards that. Then came the incident where we saw the murder of George Floyd and it would have been so easy for many of us to draw our lines across race, color, beliefs, indifference, and just kind of draw back. But, we were able to step into some courageous conversations that were tearful, that were emotional, that were life affirming. And, as a result of having had those incidents, we were able to establish relationships between men and [inaudible 00:27:34] having no reason to have a conversation with one another. And to model what that looks like within our environment and be outpouring of that has just simply been amazing.
Eduardo: Thank you. How about you, Mita? Just curious of where you are, your journey. When you shared that story, I was like, “Yaaaaassss! Get it!”. And again, you’re on a journey, so we’re meeting you at this point, curious, the earlier moments in your journey.
Mita Mallick: Well, just to talk about that specific moment, I still get uncomfortable. There’s no destination. This is a journey. I am not as, I don’t know. You have to ask my friend if I’m an ally for her. That’s not for me to say. And I get uncomfortable cause it’s uncomfortable talking about money. It always is. It’s not for me, it’s for someone else. So, when I keep thinking, something that’s harder to advocate for myself. But, if I’m advocating for someone else, that’s just easier. It’s just easier for me to do. And then I role model and hope somebody does that for me.
Mita Mallick: I think in the beginning, one of the epiphanies I had is that in organizations, we do not celebrate failure in any way. We don’t celebrate it. And we don’t celebrate it personally because we’re all on our phones creating a perfect Instagram life, which is not the reality of the pain and the grief we’re feeling behind screens. And so, if we don’t encourage people to celebrate failure, how can then you be comfortable with mistakes you’re going to make as an ally. And so, that’s like you are going to make mistakes. I know we all talked about this today. It’s going to cost you something. Your pride, your comfort, sometimes your financial security or financial opportunities, in the case of Jennifer. Maybe she’s offered a speaking opportunity that I know that in the past she’s given to someone else, who needs that opportunity more than she does, and will bring a different voice to that conversation than she would. And so, I think it’s just leaning in to this idea that life is about failures and we don’t embrace that enough. And so, I think trying to unlearn that is part of the ally’s journey.
Eduardo: You’re triggering, Mita, my [inaudible 00:30:58], which is the song that I sang at kindergarten graduation, which was “Everyone makes mistakes, oh yes, they do. Your sister and your brother and your mother, father too. Big people, small people, matter of fact, all people”. If we can allow that, I think it just allows some grace into the conversation, which I think is necessary for ourselves and then I think also, for the community that’s witnessing us engaged in that journey. I wanted to know, there was a question that came here, which was, “Various CEOs are saying that political discussions are harmful to workplace culture because it prevents unity and distracts from productivity. What is your take, or how would we recommend we respond to that argument?”. I just think that it’s really interesting, cause I think that question specifically, I think, triggers feelings in people right away. [inaudible 00:30:46] resist and avoid around some [inaudible 00:30:48] conversation around unity, which is totally covering the disunity, right? So, Jennifer, I’m just curious for you. Your response to that question.
Jennifer Brown: Thanks so much. I want to hear everybody else’s response.
Eduardo: Everyone’s going to get it.
Jennifer Brown: Okay, good. Equal treatment. Oh my goodness. Well, I’d like to say, look, businesses believe, rightly so, they want to be on the developing side, I won’t even say the right side of history, but I would say the dominant demographic, the changes that are happening in the world. And so, I think our talent bases becoming much more multicultural and much more open about identity. We witness the Generation Z’s in particular, who are bringing more of their full selves to work, including their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their mental health issues. So, we have a workplace that isn’t prepared to embrace all of that and that includes the politics of that younger generation, which skews a certain direction too. And then we have a marketplace that is also diversifying and we will be a minority-majority country soon, and our explosion in the buying power of non-white, non-male buyers and customers and decision makers in households.
Jennifer Brown: So, I think any company that views its journey as needing to be connected with those changes needs to reflect that effectively so people feel comfortable coming to work there and doing their best work. We need to feel that psychological safety and that belonging in order to be creative together. So, I think that if we speak about that as an objective reality and objective truth of what’s changing and then me assume, I believe that we need to mirror as best we can, that world that’s changing around us. I think that can help, but then again, I could make the opposite argument to myself, which is that half of our country may not be on board with the demographic changes, as we learned in the last election.
Jennifer Brown: So, what do we do about… Do we encourage political discussion when we know that we can argue the change argument, but are we really being inclusive of all beliefs? Eduardo, it’s difficult. As an LGBTQ person, I want to be welcomed and belong in a workplace, and if there’s somebody that has a values problem with who I am, it interrupts my ability to be creative and productive and really want to stay somewhere. So, I don’t think I’m interrupting somebody else’s ability to thrive and stay and feel a sense of belonging, but again, these are sort of two sides of a coin, so I hate to not answer the question, but I think it’s a tricky one, and I would really love to hear everybody else’s thoughts.
Eduardo: I love it. And Jennifer, thank you for… And one of the things that I… People often times think that vulnerability is like the sharing of things that have happened and I think vulnerability is really inviting the struggle. And I think that this is something we’re all struggling with. I think in conversation about diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, I think you raise a fabulous point. So, thank you for answering that, Jen. And I thought Tony and Mita, Mita, it seems like you animated and [inaudible 00:34:15].
Mita Mallick: That was triggering for me. Jennifer said it so eloquently. I was like, I can’t go after that.
Jennifer Brown: Really?
Mita Mallick: [inaudible 00:34:21] very honestly. I’m going to use Jennifer’s language on privilege. It’s through the lens of privilege that we can bode conversations political. Black Lives Matter is not a political conversation, it’s a human rights issue. The growing increase in crimes against the Asian community is not a political issue, it’s a human rights issue. Me bringing up India is not a political issue, it’s a human rights issue. It’s real in Palestine. It’s a human rights issue, what’s happening there. Why do we have to make it a political issue? Why can’t we just say we don’t want people dying. And so, I don’t think I could, back to what Jennifer said, I couldn’t work for a company that wouldn’t allow political conversations, because I think that’s coded language, is what I feel, that is being placed upon this conversation.
Mita Mallick: I think one of the things that we’ve lost in this country is the ability to disagree with each other respectfully. I think that’s what people are scared of. I think the hardest job of a leader is to listen to something you don’t want to hear. That is what we have to get back to, is that you can actually have these conversations. At Carta, we’re having these conversations with care. We’re checking in on people on slack on the things that are happening in the world and you can do that in a caring way. I’ll stop now, but I can’t understand how, I don’t know how I would be working at Carta if people didn’t care about what was happening in my personal life [inaudible 00:35:50].
Eduardo: Mita, I love that, and I think we can reflect back on some of the things, the tools that our people have given us, which is like [inaudible 00:35:58] talking about if you’re feeling anger, there is often times something under that. So, being curious, if I personally slowed down in this moment and feel angry about something that somebody said or something that was present and look at what’s underneath that. Be curious to understand what’s beneath that. And I think what Jen talked about was like slowing down, feeling my feet on the ground, are really practical tools in the moment to get us into present and part of it is like what are the containers that we have to have these conversations and I think some things we’re finding and see us being like, “we’re not talking about it”, but people are talking about it anyway. So, there’s actually no container. There’s actually no leadership cause there’s fear of the leadership to actually hold the container and be responsible for it. And curious, Tony, what [inaudible 00:36:46] for you?
Tony DeGruy: You know what’s really interesting, and I am so blessed again and I will always shout that I work for a company, at Cisco, we truly believe that in the end the [inaudible 00:37:00] for everyone and we talk about it at work. It’s not political, it’s about humanity. Our CEO said one of our check ins very early during the pandemic was, “just be human”, and I think that resonates even to this day when we really think about where, and I’ll talk about men in particular. So many men right now are somewhat either disengaged or not engaged in [inaudible 00:37:25] initiatives either whether it being they’re hostile as in threatened by the change in cultural landscape. Others may be unmotivated to change. Reality is, they don’t see [inaudible 00:37:35] because they don’t see the abstract benefits of it, but the reality is it’s a time for change and that conversation takes on many roles. Whether we’re talking about discrimination, harassment, pay gaps, discrimination of full spectrum diversity, structural racism, patriarchy, you name it. It’s really that you have to have those conversations and maybe we’re having a different conversation if COVID doesn’t happen.
Tony DeGruy: So, I think that so much of what has happened in this phase forces those conversations. And then bringing it back to leadership. It’s really helping that we engage with one leader at a time and tell our story and get them on board with us. And again, we’ve been so fortunate, whether it be with our sponsorships and with others who we’ve talked to. And maybe it’s just that we were blessed to be in an ecosystem in which we are, because our corporation believes in it. And I couldn’t work for a company that didn’t believe it. I share, completely, that thought. If we can’t hold space for conversations for me as a human being, to talk about those things which challenged me, those things which trigger me, then maybe this isn’t the place for me and I wouldn’t want to be here.
Eduardo: I love that you said that, Tony. Elevated spark elation to you. Acknowledge this question that Kelly put in the chat. Isn’t having the hard conversations the essential undercurrent that pulls change along? Yes. And I think that I would love this to come to the different panelists, because I think sometimes, the fact that we also call it hard, I think initially, makes us have this avoidance, or approach avoidance reaction to it, cause it’s like we know it’s going to be hard. Even though the naming of it, the difficulty of it, I think is something that impacts our willingness to approach. So, I’m going to take it to you, Mita. What are tools or a tool, maybe your favorite tool or something practical on having the hard conversation, knowing that you have to have a hard conversation, what is a tool that you have to prepare yourself for that?
Mita Mallick: I think for me it’s as leaders, we’re trained to problem solve. Often times when you go into these conversations there’s no resolution. If someone comes to me and shares a racist experience they had with me, my job is not to be an investigative journalist. My job is not to dismiss it. My job is not to question it, or at that moment, provide a false equivalency of something that’s happened to me. And so, if Jennifer is coming to share something with me, we’re going to have a hard conversation, courageous conversation. I just have to be prepared that I’m just holding space to honor that story and to continue to check in and be there for her, but I’m not going to solve whatever happened and I think that’s why we feel uncomfortable at doing it, because there’s non-closure in these conversations. Because, if we would have fixed whatever it is, systemic racism, systemic sexism, insert the inequities that we face, we would have solved it. I think that’s why we get so hesitant. So, I just remind myself that I’m not going to solve anything. I’m going to listen, and learn, and show up for that person.
Eduardo: I love the being with… I attended a conversation with someone who talked about the gift of non-closure. And sometimes this desire we need, that in a 30 minute conversation, everything is solved, fixed, the person’s happy, la di da, happy ending, big dance number, rain curtain tap dance, ta da! Happy! And I think that to be willing to be with the non-closure, that is continued work. And by work I don’t mean W-O-R-K, I mean weerrrk! W-E-E-R-R-R-K-! That we can continue to work at it. That there isn’t the destination. How about you, Jennifer?
Jennifer Brown: I wanted to say this seems like a good time to remind all of us that if white dominant culture has shaped the business world, we really need to understand the norms of white dominant culture. So, if you don’t know what those are, I find it really instructive to go back and read and research on white supremacy culture. Things like goals, and objectives, and worship of the written word, and perfectionism. I’ll just put that right there. Perfectionism leads us to be the victor. To sort of overcome the task, get it done, move on, check it off the list. This is what we’ve been raised in, socially, some of us, but also what dominates the workplace. This is what needs to change, is we are in a “VUKA” world, which is volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous. A “VUKA” world.
Jennifer Brown: So, what we are literally talking about right now is DEI skills as leadership skills for the world that we are navigating. We’re not talking about something to the side of the desk that’s “oh it’d be nice to have those skills”. This is literally the work ahead of us. It’s not just D and I work. It’s sitting with the ambiguity of a rapidly changing unpredictable landscape that all of us need to figure out, “How do I lead in this space?”, “How do we get things done when we don’t have the answers?”, “How do I support people to do their best work when our diversities are coming to the floor?”, “How to I build a team that’s going to generate, having enough psychological safety and trust with each other, that we will be innovative, we will be creative and people will feel purpose-driven?”. These are the questions.
Jennifer Brown: It’s so much bigger than DEI and I find that really exciting, cause I love those moments when I realize that what we’re actually talking about this human transformation and organizational transformation for a different landscape that’s never going back to the other. It’s just never going back. So, sitting in ambiguity, you are literally practicing your future self. You are building, it’s the building blocks of efficacy. In the future, I predict, it’s going to be the ones that ask the most questions that can tolerate ambiguity, that can invite input, and know how to create enough trust that we get that input. That’s assuming you have built enough psychological safety for people to give input. Most of us don’t give that discretionary effort that is that extra, that “I’ve been thinking about this all night and I’m so excited to share my idea”. We only do that when we feel seen and heard. So, there’s no way we’re going to pivot into this new world without all the stuff that we’re talking about. It’s elemental. That’s another way to frame it, if that’s helpful for people [inaudible 00:44:33] to believe it. But, if it’s helpful for people to put it in those terms, this is not what we always laugh about, the three of us or four of us. We are not going to win with the moral argument. Sadly.
Eduardo: I would like to add, as an and, Jennifer, I love that you talk about ambiguity and I think the other and to ambiguity is ambivalence, the willingness and ability to be with two conflicting emotions at the same time. I can be both terrified and relieved. I can be both really happy and grateful, and be profound and sad at the same time. I think ambivalence, as we continue to expand binaryness, we start understanding the spectrum more and that we can kind of sit and be in these and sometimes it’s confusing. And to be with that uncertainty and discomfort, they’re both and as opposed to the either/or, ends up really opening us to vulnerability, connection, humanity, deeper understanding.
Eduardo: Tony, I’m going to pass it to you as we wrap up the panel regarding this conversation.
Tony DeGruy: You started by asking a question around what is actual, and for me, as we shared earlier when we spoke, my faith informs everything that I do. So, before I enter into a conversation, I have to empty out me. And I empty myself out in my prayers. And, once I do that, it’s being able to say it’s not about me. It’s really about the other person in which I’m in conversation. But, beyond that, it’s not just that, but how can I love that person who shared their truth? There are so many variants of truth, and how do we do that and create a safe environment in which, how can I come alongside and walk with you through that which you present and how then do I represent what you just shared with me to those I have impact with or those who I have audience with? And it’s, how do I extend my influence or share my influence that you don’t have? How do I share the access I have to leadership across your environment you may not have? How do I walk with that? And, how do I, even if I may not understand it, how do I seek to better understand that which I don’t, so that I could represent it well?
Tony DeGruy: It is so important. It is so imperative that we empty ourselves out so that we can be filled with the experience, so that we can enter into their pain? If we can enter into it, into their pain, we can walk with them into their healing.
Eduardo: I love that. If we can be with their pain, we can walk with them to their healing. Is that what you said?
Tony DeGruy: Yes.
Eduardo: As we wrap up and we’re about to bring Ray up, I just want to acknowledge, Tony and I had a conversation prior to being here, that I think is indicative of this conversation we’re having. One of the things that Tony identifies that is below the waterline is his Christian faith. And, for me, as a gay identifying person, can often be triggered when I am told that I am in the space of someone who is a Christian. From my experience, I go into protection mode. I shut down. And what’s been so beautiful, Tony, is I feel your love. I feel walking with you. I feel so seen and honored by you and I just wanted to acknowledge that. And, it is an opportunity for me in conversation and community with you in reaction to my initial trigger of pain or fear, to continue to surrender to love, that I feel. And the profound love that I have for you, Tony, and being here with you, Mita, who I have known in various other spaces, and you, Jennifer Brown, as well.
Eduardo: So, elevated spark elation to the three of you. Thank you so much. Just quickly, how can they get a hold, how can they reach out to you? What’s the best way to connect with you? Jennifer, I’ll have you go first. What is the best way, if panelists have other questions, to reach out to you specifically?
Jennifer Brown: Thank you, Eduardo. This has been so short. I wanted so much more time. Thank you. Everybody, Jennifer Brown. I have two books on inclusion, so check those out, and a podcast called The Will to Change, which Mita has been a guest on, and a lot of wonderful voices of all kinds of identities, visible, invisible, intersectional, everything good. And, what else? Check us out in all socials @jenniferbrown on Twitter, @jenniferbrownspeaks on Instagram and thank you all for your work and for being here today. This is so special to see you all here and endeavoring to up your allyship game.
Eduardo: And, Tony, how do people get a hold of you? How do they remain in communication with you?
Tony DeGruy: Absolutely. On LinkedIn, or you can follow firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter. Either of those will be absolute ways to get in touch with me.
Eduardo: And, how about you, Mita? How do we remain in touch with you?
Mita Mallick: Well, you can hear my conversation with Jennifer on her podcast and home on LinkedIn, so find me there.
Eduardo: Beautiful. And I think what we’re going to do is we’re going to promote Ray. We’re going to stay in this room and Ray Arata, we’re going to bring you up for a final little moment here. And we’re going to wait for Ray. There he is. Hi.
Ray Arata: Hi.
Eduardo: Yes. I just want to acknowledge the diversity inclusion belonging of the five of us that are in this space. I think that that’s a beautiful testament to people on the planet coming together, creating love at the core and step-by-step walking together, becoming better. So, Ray just wanted to invite some final words for you.
Ray Arata: Thank you so much. I’m going to cue off your word love, Eduardo, because love, I could almost go into, love is a many splendid thing. I’m catching your virus.
Eduardo: Show-tuneitis, honey. You’re down. You’re down for show-tuneitis.
Ray Arata: Love is a many splendid thing. There we go. How was that?
Ray Arata: So, love is one of the hard based leadership principles. It’s my favorite. So, what I’m going to do right now, I took some notes about what really struck me, so I’m going to invite everybody to, remind them of their feet. Thank you, Jen, for teaching me how foundational my feet are and that they got me here. My invitation to all of you is that it’s your heart that will carry you forward on your journey to be a better human. Thanks for that. Better human. Noticing is the first step in our practice, to be with our emotions. And, with Sean and Perkins, what really resonated for me was when Perkins talked about that moment as a parent, we want to love our kids and that’s all that matters. So, I want to offer to all of you to contemplate that moment of loving your fellow human beings and to act from the heart in that moment, to be that ally, to be that inclusionary leader.
Ray Arata: Then, to my dear, dear friend, Jennifer Brown, I love, Jennifer, when you spoke on privilege. You offered us to usualize privilege. That was a new one for me. Much talk today has been focused on being our full human selves, so let’s also humanize privilege. Now, a lot of fear came, and shame came up today when Jen [inaudible 00:52:31] did her exercising throughout the conference. And I find myself as a white cisgendered male, that I have a choice, that I can choose either my white male fragility to keep me on the sidelines, or I can choose my white male ability to use my privilege to support and advance others. For those that identify as male here today, consider this question for yourself.
Ray Arata: Now, I hold a vision where everyone feels like they belong, that in all diversity and inclusion efforts, inside companies, that the men are on board and in action. This is a movement that is timely and necessary and we need everybody to participate. Thank you, Eduardo, for being such an awesome MC. To Vince, for all of your behind the scenes technical assistance. Thank you to Intel, Cisco, Fandom, Beijing, Genentech, MKP, Jerry and Brain Works. Most importantly, thanks to all of you who trusted us today and took the risk to show up. We hope you’re leaving with your hearts open. Share your experience, tell your friends, and get the conversation going in your company and in your life.
Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website? Over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com. You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work. And, discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
Speaker 7: You’ve been listening to The Will to Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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