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In this episode, originally recorded as a DEI community call, we welcomed Shalynne Jackson, Founder and Principal Consultant at Shalynne Jackson Consulting, and Denise Reid, Principal at DR Consulting. After a tumultuous year, Shalynne and Denise give us plenty to be hopeful for in the coming months. Discover the many lessons learned in 2020 – and how some of our industry’s top leaders are manifesting sustained change in 2021.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • The need to pivot in 2020 (13:30)
  • The potential for further disruption in 2021 (15:00)
  • The need to create safe spaces (16:00)
  • The power of creating community (22:00)
  • How to keep the momentum going in 2021 (25:00)
  • The importance of self-care (27:00)
  • Celebrating the small wins (34:00)
  • How to show up to work as your best self (39:00)
  • What leaders need to model (55:00)

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

JENNIFER BROWN: I know you two have an amazing, serendipitous origin story, the two of you. Why don’t you start us with that? I think it’s all about serendipity.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Yeah. Do you mean our personal relationship, or do you want to talk about ROI? [crosstalk 00:02:58] Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Either one, or both.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Denise, our personal relationship started with D&I in Tulsa. So, Mosaic. It was The Mosaic Group. I think that there’s no one better than you, unless [Kuma 00:03:11]’s on the call, you and Kuma, to share what Mosaic is, and the work they’re doing in Tulsa.

DENISE REID: Yeah. So, I met Shalynne when I was with the Tulsa Regional Chamber, and I was the executive director of Mosaic, which is the diversity business council. It was built around the concept of the business case, and leveraging diversity, equity, and inclusion as a competitive advantage for talent retention, attraction, as well as corporate, company, and growing those in the region. So, we launched a top inclusive culture survey. I will tell you I’m very good at R and D, and I call that ripoff and duplication, and did some research on other chambers and what they were doing. Cleveland had some stuff that they were doing. Cincinnati had amazing things that they were doing. So, with one of my volunteer leaders, we created the top inclusive cultures survey, where we started recognizing companies.

I used to be in corporate recruiting. I manage staffing for National and Alamo. That was a thing that I was always changing our competitors, or people, to do better with our recruiting, and onboarding, and those type of things. I knew competitive natures of corporate worlds were something that we could use. I wanted people to fight for that recognition as a top inclusive culture. So, we created beautiful awards. The first year that they came out, we got to 20. It wasn’t easy. Then people were like, “Well, wait a second. I want one of those.” That’s literally what started. Then we built our programming to how do you become an inclusive culture? We did lunch and learns and those type of things.

That’s really where it was. We pulled in our corporate partners to help assist, and there were lots of challenges with that. I had to put a lot of volunteers between me and the issue, because we had a lot of funders that were not happy with the direction that we were going. We were called the rainbow chamber, is what the nickname came from. Kuma is now there. She and I were very good friends. She was a colleague of mine, and she took my role when I left, and has continued gladiating, as I like to call it, for [crosstalk 00:05:39] and inclusion.

JENNIFER BROWN: If somebody can share Kuma’s information in the chat. I know Kuma’s name has come up a couple times as just an incredible resource in this space, too, but wow. Rainbow chamber. Was that used as a derogatory … meant to be as a derogatory term? Then I’m sure you claimed it and said, “Yeah. In fact.”

DENISE REID: I did, of course. My dad’s gay, and has been with his husband for over, close to 25, 30 years. Our CEO didn’t necessarily claim it. So, I had a lot to navigate. The research and best practices that we put in place were not my ideas. So, I was able to lean on those best practices. But I will tell you, the lens … I kept going, “Denise, the optics aren’t good.” That was something that was a struggle for me. Thankfully, I had Matt [Pavarnik 00:06:38], who was our COO at the time, said, “Denise, haven’t you guys done the research? Aren’t your volunteer leaders requesting this, and leading you in this way?” I said, “Yes.”

So, he was my advocate, my ally, my sponsor. He also tapped me for the role. So, I appreciate him so much. He’s in Topeka now, doing amazing things. He’s visual and vocal in leading this conversation, which is, I think, so needed in today’s world. He’s a white, straight male, and he owns it. He’s authentic. He’s transparent. He admits when he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: I think what’s also important to note about the rainbow comment, and I can only assume here. I never heard that. It’s also the partnership with the Oklahoma Equality Center. At one point, the Equality Center was the third largest. We think it’s now the fifth largest in the nation, somewhere up there. It’s really large. They do really, really, really good work, and they post the monthly meetings for Mosaic. So, I’m sure there’s some kind of pun intended there. The work that they have coming out of that organization is phenomenal. I would recommend anyone reach out and look into what Toby Jenkins and his crew’s doing.

I really think what’s cool about Mosaic, and we can shift to our lives, this hub, or BRG, or affinity group of those in the Tulsa area that’s doing D&I work, able to come together, whether it’s formally for an organization or just people that are passionate about it. The passion that comes out of that group is amazing. So, a lot of those people also are very passionate about the Return on Inclusion Summit, which is how we built our relationship with Jennifer. I feel like Jennifer is a Tulsa friend. I don’t even know if you’ve ever been to Tulsa yet, because of the pandemic, but we claim you in Tulsa, Jennifer.

JENNIFER BROWN: Please claim me.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Look, I’m not even in Tulsa right now. I’m in Bentonville. So, yes. So, shifting gears a little bit, I am the VP of diversity for the Tulsa Area Human Resource Association. In that role, I chair our Return on Inclusion Summit. It’s a biannual diversity and inclusion conference, and it’s the largest in Oklahoma of its kind. We bring in people, anywhere from Jennifer Brown, [Vernā Myers 00:09:07], [Joe Gerstandt 00:09:08], [Lenora Billings-Harris 00:09:09]. It’s a really good conference. What I appreciate about it is that the … [TAHRA 00:09:18] is what we call the Tulsa Area Human Resource Association. They provide in kind support, and really keep it going from a structural foundation.

It’s a group of volunteers, community volunteers, that come together every other year. Really, every year. We’re always talking about it. That come together to put this on. So, that’s where Denise and I really were able to build our personal relationship, because she’s very passionate about the work. She has actually been there since day one. So, Denise, I don’t know if you want to talk about how it came about, but let’s talk about ROI.

DENISE REID: Yeah. So, the thing that was great about the Return on Inclusion Summit … I will give 100% credit, because [Alison Anthony 00:09:59], who is now the CEO of our United Way, was with Williams at the time, she was one of the original founders of Return on Inclusion, and she actually came up with the terminology. It was all about the business case for this work, because we weren’t taught … We had a number of organizations that were doing the social justice, and they were doing the equality work, and those type of things, but we needed more businesses at the table.

It started through TAHRA’s quarterly diversity meetings. [Stuart Soloman 00:10:31], who is the president and CEO of AEP PSO, our local electric, he basically talked about the power and reason for creating an inclusive workplace. That really started the conversation with some of our HR professionals, and wanting to build on that. So, with OCCJ, the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, Williams, the chamber, myself, and [Jeff Matthews 00:11:06] was actually the VP of diversity, that’s how it all got started. We cobbled together a panel discussion, and the mayor did the introduction. We held it at the Williams Theater. We had, I think, about … I want to [inaudible 00:11:22] people for our first meeting.

It was just something that everyone said, “This is great.” As we’ve grown, we’ve added a CEO breakfast, very specifically tied to CEO leadership, to create a safe space for them to have some peer learning, peer networking, around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and then it’s grown to include breakout sessions, which, again, we’ve gone deeper and deeper, and now we have a call for proposals. That work has gotten where we’re trying to be more intentional in our speaker lineup, the topics that are covered, and making sure that we are truly providing a wide range of learning opportunities from beginner to advanced.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: I think what’s really neat, also, about the CEO breakfast, or we call it round table now, because we’re virtual, is how we really tried to keep things going for them throughout the year, even if it’s through our partnership with Mosaic. So, Mosaic does a lot of things with the CEOs in the area, just to say, “This conversation has to keep going, and it can’t be an every other year type situation.” So, just very proud of a lot of the collaborations that we had throughout the Tulsa community, to keep this conference alive, but more so, keep inclusion alive in Tulsa.

We definitely know that Tulsa has a long way to go, just like our nation, just like our world. So, one of the things that was really a hurdle, many hurdles that were thrown at us, like everyone on this call, were the events of 2020, and everything that happened in 2020. So, we really had to shift this year. Obviously, we’re supposed to be in-person, and our topic was supposed to be one thing, and then the murder of George Floyd happened. I’m sure many of you are aware of Tulsa’s history, the Tulsa Race Massacre, but tied to that with Juneteenth, and then the president announcing that he was coming to Tulsa on Juneteenth, some community relations as it relates to the police.

Everything was happening at one time. It felt like we were on a call with Jennifer every day at one point. “We need to pivot. We need to do this. We’ll send you this article, Jennifer. We need to stay relevant.” So, the needs … I don’t know if you want to share more, but we definitely had to pivot to make sure that the conference was relevant, and we were speaking to, really, the pain and the healing that the community needed at the time. I think that we did a really good job. I’m really proud of the volunteers and just how we were staying in constant communication, and just really saying, “How do we react to this, and hold space for this, but also make it business applicable?”

It’s really important, with our conference, that we are there for HR professionals. So, we also wanted to say, “Hey, HR. This is how you stand up at this time and be there for your employees.” So, Jennifer and Denise, I know you all remember those calls vividly. Do you want to weigh in?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. It was intense. Gosh. It’s just amazing to think of all we’ve learned. I mean, I asked both of you, what did we learn about going through that process of, minute-by-minute, with the news rolling in, and having an event, which you had just moved to being virtual, and then realizing we could be taken over? I mean, the event could be interrupted at any point. Remember, Zoom bombing was a thing, and still is. I don’t know how often it happens anymore. Sadly, it probably still does. Just the interruption and the press. I love that you all held that space. You continued to hold the container and defend the container, but also while being flexible and responsive to the context in which the event was occurring.

I don’t think these instances are going away. The administration will be what it is going into the year, but there’s also going to be a countervailing, growing community that may cause further disruption in 2021. I wonder … I think these lessons are important. It’s not over. In fact, maybe the tactics will change, but the disruption is still a risk that we all need to be aware of and plan around. I actually wonder from the chat, as we’re talking, I would love to hear what have you learned about conferences, and gatherings, and learning events, from this year that have made you more flexible and able to anticipate whatever 2021 has in store for us, in terms of disruption? Which, I’m sure there’s more to come. [Shay 00:16:13], what were you going to say though?

SHALYNNE JACKSON: No. Someone answered, actually. Someone asked you what’s Zoom bombing? They answered it.

DENISE REID: We’ll tell you one of the things that was real for me as we were doing this, and trying to make sure that we were holding a safe space, and we were being intentional and grounded in what was happening, is the real fear of doing harm in this space with the conference, and not sensationalizing and giving it the weight that it deserved with what was happening in our world. Especially, I mean, our police department had just arrested two Black youths for jaywalking. The video was troubling, disturbing. So, everything that we had going on kept amping the feeling of intense responsibility.

When you think about the people that were on our committee, they are in corporate roles. I mean, Kuma Roberts was being put in front of the camera to lead these conversations as Black female leading Mosaic, and the trauma and the work that this takes. Self care has never been elevated more than what it has been in 2020. I felt like we were literally running in a hamster wheel at a thousand miles. The hamster kept getting thrown out. It was micro, just intensity. That was a lot. I think that fear for somebody like us, that live in this space, is real. If you think about the novice, I think that keeps them out of this space.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: I think one thing that the three of us have talked about, that came out of that, as well, is the power of community. We all know that. Right? Conceptually, especially in this space, we know that, but it was really community that got us through. Even as an ROI committee, we had to have moments where it was just like, “How are you?” Because this work can be really heavy, and a lot of times, you feel like you’re carrying a lot for other people. So, it’s really good to have that. It was good, in that space, to just be like, “Let’s pause. We’re going to plan and execute the ROI Summit well, but let’s do a check-in to say, ‘How are you doing?'”

Also, we were very intentional in going back to the foundation of taking care of the community. So, making it free. We want everyone to have access to this conversation right now, especially since the conversation with you, Jennifer, the one that you keynoted, was with a white male CEO, a white female CEO, and a Black SVP from Bank of America. These are conversations that people need to hear. We wanted to make sure that people could access those. So, I was really proud of the committee saying, “We’re not worried about money right now. Let’s focus on our community.”

Even going into next year, there’s a cost, but when I say it’s minimal, it is very, very minimal, because we want … This conversation is more important than the money. This conversation is more important than anything else. The community is what we just kept leaning on, and just our love for Tulsa, just to be honest. So, we’re really proud to be reaching the masses, and more and more across the nation are coming in, but there’s a lot of people from Tulsa that are really leaning in. We were just so, so proud just to see the way that our businesses continue to show up, and our CEOs continue to show up, and saying, “This conversation is important.”

Even that morning, Jennifer, that the CEOs spent with you, we received so much feedback. “This is going to be so helpful for me, because I want to continue to take care of my people. I want to continue to do this work in the way that I know is right, even if sometimes it feels icky. Sometimes it doesn’t feel good, or sometimes I’m making a decision that I know may upset one community, but I have to take care of … I have to do what’s right.” You can’t make everyone happy. It was just a really, really good conversation. We’re really looking forward to 2021. So, we keep talking about it, but we’re not sharing the date. We’re not sharing any details. We’re just making you all … The anticipation is real.

I did share the link in the chat. I can make sure I share it again. Jennifer, maybe whenever we send this out, we can add it. This year, it’s going to be February 24th, and possibly the 23rd and 24th, or the 24th and 25th. We know for sure it’s the 24th. Jennifer will be there on the 24th. It will be virtual. We are finalizing our speaker lineup now, but it is tied to the Tulsa Race Massacre, because next year is the centennial. It’s a really big year in Tulsa. It’s just a really big year in our nation. Right? We are well aware that come the new year, all of our problems are not going to go away. So, we are trying to be really intentional there. Denise, do you want to talk about it, especially since you are leading our speaker group this year? Do you want to talk about what’s to come?

DENISE REID: Yeah. So, we’re really excited. One of the things that we did, knowing that we were going to … The goal was to have it in-person, but, of course, we all know with COVID, and pandemic, and everything, we had to go ahead and pivot, yet again, to virtual. We also knew we had to change our theme. So, we made some direct asks and connections to the Centennial Race Commission. The project director, Phil Armstrong, helped us craft. So, it’s Greenwood Rising is the theme for the work that’s being done. So, we’re doing Talent Rising. I love that Phil Armstrong talked about this space, and he referenced Wells Fargo’s CEO saying, “I can’t find Black talent.”

He goes, “Then he’s not looking.” I mean, he was like, “Where are you? What are you doing?” So, we pivoted with that, with my friend, [Shaga 00:22:30], who is on my committee, to Talent Rising. I think Talent Rising is a beautiful one to really think about, because when you think about what’s going on with the pandemic right now, the unemployment, and the needs of supportive services, mental health, and all of those things, if we don’t take care of the whole person … I used to be over talent strategies. I say it’s cradle to grave strategies, which is something that really hurts people’s minds to think about. If you’re not creating a community, or a society, that takes care of everyone, you’re not winning, and you’re not growing, you’re not thriving, you’re not creating the welcoming space that you need.

So, Talent Rising is our theme. We also made a reach to Fulton Street Books, which is an African American owned bookstore that opened during a crazy year. They have an ally box that they created. I love that Jimmy Fallon did a shout out for them. They are going to create a syllabus tied to our learning practices on books that can be read. So, what we’re trying to do is create this space where you can gather what you want and need, or want to explore, but potentially don’t know what you really need to explore. We’re going to have two keynotes, and we are going to have a person of color as our second keynote. We’re still trying to get that finalized. We’re partnered with Fulton Street Books to try to find that, as well.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Ally box, tell us more, Denise.

JENNIFER BROWN: Ally box? Hm? I’m listening.

DENISE REID: It was so wildly successful. I mean, they had to shut it down. It’s a subscription where you get books that are curated, and they do discussions around these books. So, not only are they curated books around allyship and diversity, equity, and inclusion, but then there are groups that meet that are reading these books, and have discussion and dialogue, and creating a bit of that sense of community that we’ve talked about.

JENNIFER BROWN: Goodness. So cool. Somebody can probably find the link. Fulton Street Books ally box. That’s amazing. Yeah. So, maybe let’s stay on that topic for a minute. I would love to hear the two of you unpack 2020, and where it leaves us in terms of coming into 2021. What do you think is going to be the most critical thing for us to get right, coming out of this year that has shown us so much, that has challenged us so much, all in different ways depending on our identities and our lived experiences, and where we are in that inclusion journey ourselves? I get asked this question all the time, and I’d love to hear all of you answer it, and also on chat, please. Please weigh in.

What is going to make sure that we don’t squander the gifts, and the insights, and the bravery, and the courage that was shown, and the pain that was experienced this year? I don’t want to squander a bit of it, and yet, I’m mindful that I am always asked, “Hey, Jennifer. What are the three things we could do to keep inclusion front and center?” Whatever. Business loves to ask you to reduce things, which is frustrating, because it’s complex. I think it’s beautiful in its complexity. Right? There’s not just one answer. What would you say, if asked that? Because I’m desperate, as I know everybody on this call is, to make all of this stick, to make sure the prioritization that we’re seeing now in this Fall is continuing, and that the urgency is felt.

If we fatigue, or the social justice movement fatigues, what is the source of urgency? Who takes up the baton then, and continues to stoke the flame for change? I think I know how you’re going to answer, but it’s going to take all of us to light our own flames, and then join our flames together to keep that light ahead of us this coming year. Let me toss that over to either one of you, and in chat. Please weigh in. We’re just brainstorming here.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: So, there’s a lot. Right? So, I’ll start with I was on a call recently with a group of practitioners. One of the things that really stuck out is we have to pace ourselves. There was a moment this year where it wasn’t sustainable. We were going so fast, especially for those that are passionate about it, like the 144 people on this call. You want to go fast, but if you take people too fast, you can lose them, even the people that think they’re ready to go fast. So, I think there was a moment … I know there was a moment where I was like, “We have to catch our breath, and we have to take care of ourselves.”

Self care is huge, not just in 2020, because you see behind me I have a school going on, my three-year-old coworker, but then we have work, and then I’m a lunch lady. Not only do we have a lot of that going on, it’s really, really important that we practice self care, even if it’s strictly for what’s going on in the world, because it was article after article. I know a lot of people that had to get off the social media. It was just too much. So, we need to pace ourselves, but that doesn’t mean stop. That doesn’t mean slow down. Sorry, that means slow down, but it doesn’t mean stop. It doesn’t mean that we’re doing too much. It’s too much too fast. Do you see what I’m saying?

So, that is one takeaway that I got from that call, was that it’s so true. It was feeling like we couldn’t come up for air. We do need to breathe, and we need to also learn to celebrate the small wins. I know a lot of times, we feel like some huge law has to be passed, or some celebrity has to take a stance, but it’s the little conversations in the coffee shop that register with people. It’s the little things. It’s the people that reach out, for me personally, on Facebook to say, “Thank you for a different perspective.” It’s the people that are willing to reach out on social media and say, “Can we talk? I want to understand that a little bit better one-on-one.”

Those are the small wins. We really, especially when doing this work, have to learn to celebrate those, or we’ll really get tired, because we’re waiting for this really big thing to happen when there’s a lot of small wins around us every day, this call being one of them. This came out of 2020. Right? I know a lot of people find community in this. I know you talked about it a little bit, Jennifer, but there’s a group of people from Tulsa that meet after every Jennifer Brown call to talk about what was talked about. That’s a win. That is a win.

JENNIFER BROWN: That is a win.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: 2020 gave us that.

JENNIFER BROWN: That is amazing.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Denise, I don’t know. It’s so much more I can go into, but would love to hear some of Denise’s thoughts, too.

DENISE REID: Yeah. I think, I mean, I’m an over-thinker and an over-preparer, as you know. So, when we were talking about a year in review, and what’s happened, 2020 has been epic. I mean, I think that until you really stop and look at everything, and then what are some of the moments that really resonated? I put in the chat one of my favorite quotes. This is what I use for myself. “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” by the amazing Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She died. Right? I mean, I can tell you, I think part of 2020 for me was when she died, the amount of collective, I mean, fear, and just anguish, and sorrow of her passing was huge!

I think that’s also what helped us with our election. I mean, I was donating to multiple groups, and I will tell you I went on a binge on Amazon one night with a glass of wine, and bought tons of RBG swag. I have a bobble head of RBG. I mean, that’s ridiculous, but I love it. My husband was like, “Is there a shrine being created here?” Because I kept finding artwork I liked. I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know.” So, I’ve got four different pieces of RBG, and masks! I wore my face mask to go vote. I’ve worn it out in public. That’s one of the ways that I’m able to share, in a really respectful way, that I stand on the side of what I believe is righteousness, and, I mean, believing in others, and equity, and those type of things.

I’m amazed at how many people in some of the rural areas of Oklahoma that go, “I love your mask.” That, basically, helps me feel even a little bit safer, and seeing Biden things in Tulsa, because we are a notoriously … We’re a state that being a Democrat in this state is tough. So, getting your fill and being able to find places where you can really get what you need back is so critical. Shay, your comment about community, this call has been something that has literally given me life, and allowed me to center and stay where I need to be, in a positive head space with everything that’s going on in today’s world.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Yeah. I think along those lines, too, though, so many people … I’m seeing a number of people that’s like, “I can’t be silent anymore.” They realize more and more that by being silent, you’re picking a side, even if you don’t know, or even if you don’t mean to, especially the marginalized individuals you’re looking. There was a moment where it’s like, “Are you going to help me? If I could do this alone, it would have been done a long time ago.” There’s a number of allies I’m seeing that’s like, “I can’t be silent anymore,” or, “I have to take this to the next step.” Allyship looks different for everyone. Does everyone need to get on a podcast, or be out on the frontline with the megaphone? No.

Again, it goes back to the coffee shops. It goes back to what are the conversations? How are the conversations different at the dinner table? That’s where a lot happens in many homes. Right? So, a lot of people are stepping up and saying, “I have to choose a side, because it’s not right.” So, I really look forward to the number of people that continue to step up in 2021. One other thing that I would say is I see a lot of companies that’s realizing the one-and-done training’s not going to work. Now, there’s also a lot of companies that are new to this that are like, “We need training.” It’s like, “Yes, and you also need strategy.”

There’s a lot of companies. I mean, I have a lot friends who are consultants, and they’re like, “Whoa. 2020 has been good to me,” but, one, they need self care. I know someone that is going to be in Mexico starting the 30th for a month. She’s like, “This year has been a lot. I need to just leave my computer at home.” A lot of companies are seeing that we have to take this to the next level. We have to start a D&I department. We need to hire someone. We need to up our D&I department in terms of either head count or from a director role to a VP role. I was talking to a friend this morning about a position. We’d love to all see that CEO role or that VP role, but sometimes it does start with a program manager role or the coordinator role for companies to see, “Oh! We need more. We need more.”

What are the small wins. Right? I know that sometimes it can be aggravating, where it’s like, “My company doesn’t have a VP of diversity.” At least they have a program manager. There’s a lot of companies that don’t. How are we celebrating the small wins, and what came out of 2020, because prior to, a D&I role in a company was still unheard of a little bit. We heard about it in our pockets, in our groups, because we are D&I practitioners, but it’s like, “Why do we need that role?” Now, companies are seeing, “We need help. We either need to hire a consultant to help us build this strategy … Okay, now we see that we need someone to actually manage this strategy for us. We need help.”

I’m leaving 2020, one, understanding that I wish that not as many people had to lose their lives for this change. Let me be very, very clear. I wish that this many people did not have to lose their lives. There are some wins. That’s hard to say in the same sentence, but there’s some things that we can take into 2021, where I hope that we don’t go back to the past. One thing that Denise and I were talking about recently was it is sad that we’re celebrating the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre next year, and there’s a lot of history that continues to repeat itself when you look 100 years later. It’s like, “How do we stop that cycle? How do we stop that cycle?” I am hopeful that 2020 has taught us ways that we can, if we continue to sustain and keep up the momentum.

DENISE REID: Yeah. I 100% agree with that. There was a question in the chat. You guys, you know chat is epic on this call. I love it. I’m sad that I can’t be keeping up with it, but [Demaris 00:36:30] asked a question. 2020 has been challenging for a lot of underrepresented groups in corporate America, especially for DEI professionals in the midst of a pandemic. I’m finding the gap widening for individuals who couldn’t speak up, or get access or sponsorship to help them move forward. I think that’s one of the challenges. I think we’re going to see DEI move forward quicker, but I also think that there’s going to be a danger of people going, “Oh, we need implicit bias training.”

That’s to Shay’s point. Yes, and let’s get better understanding of where you are today. So, there’s the fear of people wanting to jump in and not truly understanding what it means to do this smart, and to create the psychological safety that’s required to do this well, and if your environment or culture is even prepared for that. I’ve had multiple conversations, even in groups that are less than welcoming because of their faith and those type of things, and trying to do … They want to do one-on-one counseling for somebody that said something, and I’m like, “I don’t know that one-on-one counseling is the right way to go with that. Shouldn’t you be creating a culture where it’s welcoming as a whole? Is that something that you’re striving for? Because it seems a little …”

It’s really mind boggling to hear what some people are trying to do around diversity, equity, and inclusion. It scares me a little bit. Then they’re not necessarily making the reach, or learning, or doing a deeper dive to understand how to move forward in a safe and then responsible way.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: I love that you said safe and responsible way. There’s so many great things in the chat. I promise we are not ignoring you all. It’s just so many great things coming through. I think that there is a common theme here just around just this need to be safe and responsible, and understand that a lot of times, a lot of this is coming from a good place. A lot of times, the, “We need implicit bias,” that’s coming from a good place. You don’t know what you don’t know. So, what I am seeing though are more CEOs, more leaders, saying, “We don’t know what we don’t know,” reaching out to consultants like yourself, Jennifer, and Dr. [Nika White 00:38:55], her firm. I know she’s really grown. She’s on this call. Reaching out to say, “Help us here.”

The professionals in this space can say, “It doesn’t just stop at unconscious bias.” We have to go beyond that conversation. This is to the question of, Jennifer, that you highlighted around unconscious bias, that someone had shared. It’s way more than that. It’s about psychological safety. Right? It’s about culture. I love what people are saying. It’s about what kind of culture are you creating for individuals to really show up and be their best selves? Because let’s be really clear. My authentic self, the self that I am at home, some of that I probably need to keep at home. So, I love to say, “How do I show up as my best self, and not have to cover?”

Jennifer, I know you talk a lot about covering. I think that one thing that 2020 has done though, it has removed the cover. I mean, I can’t ignore the fact that I’m also a mom. I can’t hide that. I’m not going to take these posters down every call that I have. But you’re starting to see more kids and pets pop into screens, when appropriate. 2020, it’s humanizing people. This is the real life. This is real life. Right? So, 2020 has really done that for us. I know that I’m really grateful, because I didn’t realize just how much I was trying to compartmentalize being a mom, and being a wife, and being a colleague. Now, all of them, they have to exist. They all exist together.

Going back to tying that to the unconscious bias thing, it’s like, “Okay, beyond the fact that we do have unconscious bias, and that training is very important, let’s talk about your people, and what your people need. Let’s talk about your people needing daycare. Let’s talk about the fact that sometimes your people are going to have to step away from the computer. Even after the pandemic goes away, let’s make sure that our people continue to feel supported in this way. Let’s make sure that our people still continue to feel like you need to go and handle X, Y, Z at your kid’s school …” Because you can’t get that time back. You miss those Christmas programs, and you miss all of that, you can’t get that time back.

One thing that someone taught me, told me, whenever I was pregnant with my first was my kid … She said, “My kid can tell me every event that I missed, but I can guarantee you that my colleagues cannot tell you the meetings that I missed.” So, you have to put your family first. That’s something that I thought I was doing well at until I came into the pandemic, and I was forced to actually do that. Right? Whether it’s, “If it’s okay, I can be on camera, but I may have to rock my little girl,” or, “Can we push this just a few minutes, because I have to make lunch. She has to eat.” So, I know I can go on and on, especially with what the pandemic has done for parents and spouses, and even those that are alone. We have to talk about mental health.

We’re really elevating mental health, because it can be hard to be in your home all the time. Some people have started to leave their home a little bit, but some people cannot risk it. They have autoimmune diseases. They have factors that it’s just not worth the risk. Sitting, hearing people say, “Well, the survival rate is duh, duh, duh, duh, duh,” but the fact that I run a very high risk … I will be vulnerable and say that I have alopecia. That is an autoimmune disease. Until 2020, I’ve never felt that it could be the reason I love my life. Never. I just lose hair. Now, we are very conscious about me going out. Just being honest.

So, those are the kind of things though that people have to be vulnerable about. Where I can say that on a call with you all, and I’m very open, there’s still a lot of people that’s dealing with mental health issues and/or just how the pandemic affects them. They’re not able to share that. That is what D&I is about. Right? That culture saying, “I cannot travel because I don’t want to be exposed. Let me tell you why. Let me tell you how I am at risk of being one of the 300,000 people.” So, could go on and on there, but 2020 has just really taught us to humanize people. I really feel like companies are leaning in on it in a way that … Is it everyone? No. But many companies are leaning in, in a way that is more authentic, and understanding, “We don’t know what we’re doing, but please come help us.”

DENISE REID: Yeah. I would also say that I think that messaging around companies taking a more human approach to their policies, procedures, creating a culture that’s more welcoming, is going to be something that’s going to make or break some companies, especially in certain markets. Tulsa’s not a heavy headquartered organization, but I can promise you that if companies are not creating a welcoming place, I don’t think they’re going to keep people like they used to. With 2020, I mean, somebody had said, “We’ve moved from sympathy to empathy, which has created activism.” I thought that was a really interesting concept. I believe that I’m seeing more people that are looking at that, even as in the workplace.

I think that’s an opportunity. How do we literally create a space to where we can have those activists? Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a team sport. It doesn’t belong with one person. It belongs across an organization, up and down, and it needs to be owned and understood at all levels. That, I think, is something that really needs to be part of what we do moving forward.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: Hey, if I could … I don’t know, Nika White, if you can hear me, but I just loved your comment about EAPs, and activating the mental health support. Specifically the dearth of therapists and coaches of different identities, which is so critical, because that lens is everything. So, Nika, would you just come off mute and share a little bit more about that?

DR. NIKA WHITE: Sure. So, hello to everyone. I always enjoy when I can come and be a part of this community. So, I was just thinking about the fact that with mental health being such a critical issue that all organizational leaders need to be thoughtful about. A lot of times, we have EAP programs. Are we thoughtful, as leaders who can influence that, to make sure that those partners have a wide breadth, and scope, and reach of therapists? I find that people of color these days are really traumatized. They need that support.

Oftentimes, it’s a little bit of a disconnect when they can’t be able to have someone to support them that looks like them, that maybe understands some of their pain points and their challenges. So, I’ve just been encouraging a lot of organizations to think more intently going into the new year about an evaluation of their EAP program, and making that a requirement, that they want their employees to have a good base of therapists to select and choose from.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Along those lines, I’m really seeing more and more companies don’t talk about their EAP program. If you’ve never worked for a company that has it, or are aware. You don’t know to go search for assistance. Or, they have it, and they really don’t talk about it. They don’t really share how … and making it anonymous. I know of a company. There’s been a time where it’s like, “For EAP support, come talk to HR.” Sometimes people don’t want to talk to HR. So, are you posting it any place, any chance that you get? I know that we’re not in break rooms right now. Are you mailing out reminders to your employees, saying simply, “We are here for you. Let us tell you how. Let us tell you how this is anonymous. If you call this number, we do not know.”

Because people don’t understand how the embarrassment sometimes, where I don’t want to go talk to someone that I see every day to tell them that I need this mental health support. If I can just get this phone number really quick on the footer of this email that they have, I may call. I may utilize those resources, where I wouldn’t have before, because I either didn’t know or I felt that I had to out myself to get the information to go to contact EAP, if that makes sense.

JENNIFER BROWN: Lots of resonance over here. Nika, you mentioned something about incentivizing utilizing EAP services. What are we seeing there? That’s interesting.

DR. NIKA WHITE: Yeah. So, one of the things that I happen to know, just from my experience of being in organizations, as an employee, that had EAP programs, is that if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. You don’t necessarily go and leverage it. So, I feel like part of our responsibility, as leaders, and particularly those that understand the implications of not taking care of self during this very difficult time of uncertainty, is we need to create opportunities for people to feel that it’s okay, and to even incent them to do it. So, my team is relatively small, but for our W2 employees, we incent them when they do go and they share. There’s some special perks that come along with that.

Maybe it’s some additional time off, if you’ve also accompanied that with being able to tap into some of the resources that are available, from an EAP perspective. I think it also helps to normalize leveraging and using those services. Right? So, I think there’s a multitude of value in incentivizing your employees to use it, and talking about it often. We even have professionals with our EAP program that come in quarterly to highlight one particular service, just so that, again, we’re keeping it in front of our employees.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, good. You know what this reminds me of a bit? Bear with me. The fact that asking about salary history has become illegal in some states. Right? So, the onus is not on the interviewee to divulge what they are paid, because, by the way, that reinforces the pay gap inevitably, when we do that. The institution makes the decision to say, “We are not going to ask that. We are going to have a policy, an approach, and that is how we’re going to make sure that this is equitable.” It’s a similar concept. Right? Which is if we leave the seeking out and the activation to people, they are likely, either because of not understanding that it exists or the stigma that a lot of us have towards seeking support.

To me, the core of this is the onus. Who is the onus on? I love flipping that around and saying if the institution knows that this is pervasive, especially in 2020 more than ever, but it always has been pervasive and completely not discussed. How do we take a more forward and proactive stance, as an institution, and get people the help they don’t even know they need? This whole proactive thing, I want to see more of that on a whole host of things. It also reminds me of built it, and they will come. In the early days of employee resource groups, are the LGBTQ colleagues who are closeted going to raise their hand and say, “Please create a group for me?” No.

I knew, as the consultant, if I was in there setting everything up, I said, “Built it, and they will come.” You cannot wait for them to champion it, if there’s such a culture here that feels uncomfortable. Do it from the top. So, anyway. I just had that thought that, I think, change happens in this way, and the institution has to be much more proactive, and they will see the results from that, I believe, in a very different way. Great. Oh, my gosh. We only have eight minutes left. There’s so much good stuff in the chat.

Denise, we were having an amazing conversation that I wanted to just put a pin in before this. So, allies, accomplices, co-conspirators, this year, I think, has taken the expectations for allyship to another level. We are able now to say, “That’s performative allyship,” or, “That is superficial,” or, “That’s a one time. That’s not sustainable.” We’ve gotten really specific this year about privilege, and not just white privilege and male privilege. I think this conversation has exploded. I’m able now to be on calls with our white, straight male executive colleagues and give them 50 privileges that we can activate.

So, it’s so different from unconscious bias training. It is a whole different conversation, to say, “Given who you are, the life you were born into, the assets that you have within your disposal, what are the different ways you can get access? You have comfort. You have safety. You have permission. You can be heard differently than many of us. You have insider status. You have seniority status.” I heard pandemic privilege was another privilege I enjoyed unpacking recently, in thinking about some of us have quiet places to work. Some of us are not homeschooling and working. Just many things.

So, it’s just been fascinating. I think that piece, to me, feels like our huge opportunity to engage a whole new cohort of people in adding there are many hands making lighter work. I think that’s going to actually make a huge difference. It’s going to lessen our fatigue, because somebody quoted … I like to think about the relay race. Right? If you give me a break, and I can take a seat, because I’ve been working really hard, and I know that I can pass the baton though. The baton will continue. That gives us that self care, that opportunity to breathe, and turn inward, and restore.

The problem is that we don’t feel like anyone is there to catch the baton. So, we’ve got to help the baton runners. I think that work is really going to be critical this coming year, where I live. Right? I want you, as a runner, to be ready. I want you to know what the baton looks like. I want you to be equipped for the race. I want to have confidence in you that if I take my eye off that for a minute, that the work is not going to stop. So, what does that look like, Shay and Denise? What are the structures, I guess, that we need to build in this coming year that enable that?

DENISE REID: Yeah. So, I think the big thing that I look at here, and this is just from my experience, is that the white, straight male is leery of entering these spaces. They aren’t comfortable. They don’t always feel welcomed. They feel like they’re the enemy. That is something that, I mean, I’ve coached my husband on this. I mean, I’m like, “You could be the guy. You could be the guy that’s leading this conversation internally. It doesn’t have to be a female, an African American, but you could be the go-to on this space.” He still struggles with feeling comfortable with that.

I know this sounds somewhat … We need to create a welcoming space for them to get in there, dig in, make mistakes, but own those mistakes, and recognize they’re making them, and allow them to learn in realtime, in full transparency, in front of people. I mean, I make mistakes all the time, all the time. I own them. I will say, “Gosh, that’s a good point.” I have changed PowerPoints from a client training based off of feedback, in that moment. We really need to be vulnerable, authentic, and transparent as we do this work. We need to allow, I mean, the white guy to show up and say, “I want to do this, but I really don’t know where to start.”

SHALYNNE JACKSON: To Denise’s point, it’s also modeling it. So, I have privilege. I met my first colleague that goes by they, and I knew that. I knew it. I knew it. In a conversation, I said, “she.” I went to them and said, “I need you to help me. Correct me. Call me out when it’s appropriate.” But I had to model that. You would think that, “Oh, as the [inaudible 00:55:56], she’s going to get it right every time,” and I don’t get it right every time. To Denise’s point about vulnerability, are we being vulnerable? Especially doing this work for so long at an organization that was led by white, straight men in the Bible Belt, really grateful for that opportunity, because I was able to help. I also realized that they’re all on a different spectrum.

Some of them are ready to just jump right in. Others, it needs to be that thing that they feel comfortable coming in. So, for example, some of them can connect because, “Women, we can talk about women, because all I have are daughters. Let’s talk about that.” “Okay, maybe women doesn’t connect with me. Veterans, this is a part of this conversation. Now I can lean into the veteran conversation.” Give people the opportunity to lean in when they see that place of comfort, and don’t … We’re so quick sometimes to condemn people. “Why wasn’t that person at the event? Why wasn’t that person at X, Y, Z?” Give that person grace.

We have to extend grace and understand that it is uncomfortable. It is. I know that a lot of people are like, “Why is this uncomfortable?” It is uncomfortable when you’ve lived a life of privilege, and you are now having to, one, come to the realization that, “I am privileged, and that’s okay, but how do I extend this to someone else? Being privileged, they’re not saying necessarily that I don’t deserve what I have.” That’s a big undertaking. That’s a lot to explore. So, we have to give people that space. I think so much, so often, we just want the white, straight man … I know I may be the outsider here, but we want them to just wake up one day and be like, “I am on to take the charge!”

That’s scary. That can be scary, especially as someone that, when I realized my privilege, as a Christian, I realized how scary it is. It’s like, “Oh, I could step up right now and say something.” I didn’t realize I was excusing myself from this conversation, because it had nothing to do with me, when it had everything to do with me. Just really wanted to really say, one, we have to model it. We have to say, “Oops.” We have to name our oops and our ouches when things hurt us, as professionals, when we mess up, as professionals, and that gives people the grace and the space to say, “Oh, it is okay. It’s not about political correctness. It isn’t about always getting it right. It is messy sometimes. We will mess up sometimes.” And that’s okay.

It goes back to Joe Gerstandt’s comment, as well. It’s not about your first action. You’re responsible for your second thought. Sorry. It’s not about your first thought. It’s about your second thought and first action. We are all human. We’re going to make mistakes. How are you being intentional about the next step or the next thing that you do?

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow. It’s not about our first action.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: First thought.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh! [crosstalk 00:58:46] It’s not about our first thought. It’s about our second thought and our first action.


JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. I often talk about bias. Our first thought is maybe the biased one. Right? The one that comes from that fight or flight, that first response. The process of interrupting that, having a second thought, and then taking a different action than that first thought might have led you to do. Right? That’s the way. That’s the process we go through in our hearts and minds. The first thought will probably never go away, but sometimes it’s not the right one. Often, it’s not. Right? We’re flawed humans. We have these primal responses to things based on safety needs, honestly. That may not be rooted in our reality, but it doesn’t mean you’re not going to have that first thought. What matters is the measure of a person is that second thought, and then that first action.

By the way, Joe Gerstandt that everybody keeps talking about, we’re going to have Joe on one of these calls, everybody. So, I’m really excited, and on the podcast, too, at some point. So, you’ll be getting acquainted with Joe’s work. He’s an incredible white male ally that I’ve followed for years. So, a lot of people need to leave. I know we’re very busy tying up loose ends, but any final thoughts, Denise, Shay? I hate to let you all go, but also, you have made my year so rich. I’ve learned so much from all of you, and I have felt there’s really not just hope for our work, but I’m so excited about what we’re going to create next year.

I hope all of you are taking that … You talk about self care. Just congratulating yourself for pivoting through this year, for being strong, for being courageous, for believing, for having faith. That is a piece to really let that wash over you, what we’ve actually accomplished this year. I know I say that, but I need to do a better job of that, and just pausing and really celebrating that. Shay and Denise, you get the last word.

DENISE REID: Yeah. Well, I will say the one thing that, when you were asking me to think of next year, I want it to be the year of the woman. We have our first person of color vice president. Dr. Jill Biden, which you’ve seen the recent article about …


DENISE REID: She’s not a doctor, and don’t use that word. I love to cuss, and I’ve been refraining myself from being very authentic and using some swear words here. Let’s be Wonder Woman. I mean, let’s make this stuff happen in a really intentional way. We’ve always made impact. I think this is the year.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: I just want to, shameless plug, say we hope to see you all at ROI. Registration’s not up yet, but I’m sure as soon as it is, we’ll get it. We’ll let Jennifer know. I know a lot of you all will be on this call. Sponsorships, if you would like to be a sponsor, or your organization, looking to get rid of some of that money before the end of the year, we are open. It is tax deductible. Just go to the website, ROIOK.org. I think Denise is probably linking it. So, shameless plug there. You’ll see Jennifer’s face there, as well. Dr. White is going to present. It’s just so many great things going on.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s so good.

SHALYNNE JACKSON: Take care of yourselves, everyone, over the next few weeks. No matter whether you celebrate Christmas or not, celebrate yourself. Take care of yourself. Take this down time, and really take care of yourself. Get ready for next year, because we are all in this together, and we’re going to keep up the great work. Pace yourselves. Don’t forget you, is what I really want people to realize. Don’t forget you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Hi. This is Jennifer. Do 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. Discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together, and standing up for ourselves and each other.

DOUG FORESTA: 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 JenniferBrownSpeakers.com. Thank you for listening. We’ll be back next time with a new episode.