She+ Geeks Out at SXSW 2019

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

We were honored that our panel on How Power and Privilege Show Up at Work was chosen as a Future Workplace Track session at this year’s SXSW.

The conference is known as a mecca for industry experts in tech, music, film, and culture. 2019 saw a newly named Future Workplace track bringing together thought leaders to discuss forward-thinking initiatives that will positively impact work. We were thrilled to see so many sessions related to diversity and inclusion on the list.  Read on for a roundup of a few of the events we took part in.

Brené Brown: The Only Unfollow that Broke My Heart
Our friend Brené (we can say that if we’ve seen her speak before, right?) was an opening speaker for SXSW. Brené was, as always, a warm and engaging speaker who brought her Texas pride to the stage. I came away from her talk feeling like I’d been enveloped in a warm hug. However, the more I thought about the actual substance of the talk, the more I wasn’t that excited in retrospect. Spoiler alert– the unfollow she referenced in her title was a reference to the fact that she wasn’t supporting herself. Maybe I should have expected that turn, but in all honesty I was hoping to hear a raw and real story about social media, fame, public speaking, shame, and how it all ties together. My primary takeaway from this talk? “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.”

Esther Perel: What Business Leaders Can Learn About Workplace Dynamics from Couples Therapy
I was excited to see Esther Perel speak, because I’m already a big fan of her podcast ‘Where Should We Begin?’. I’m also a big supporter of therapy, both business and personal. I wasn’t able to get in to this session right away, but once I managed to grab a spot on the floor (she’s popular!) I took a bunch of notes. Communication is probably one of the hardest things to master, and this was what Perel touched on. As she put it, ‘have you noticed we’re so good at avoiding conversations?’ It’s hard to have difficult conversations. One way to approach these types of discussions is by using a few phrases, such as: ‘I acknowledge you and your truth’, ‘I see your perspective’, ‘I’ve noticed that’, and more. She’s also a fan of starting a discussion by talking about what is great about someone– and only then, telling them what you want them to change. What I thought was really interesting was that Perel also touched on the idea of shame (a topic that Brown is well versed in). Perel noted that many times for those of us who strive for perfection, our sense of perfection is rooted in the shame of not being perfect. But, shame is useless. We have to overcome our fear of the risk of change, and see how that’s more of a motivating factor than the risk of getting stuck somewhere.

America’s Got Talent: Social Impact Hiring
This session touched on how to tap into ‘hidden talent populations’, which is especially top of mind for many employers these days given the current low rate of unemployment. In the United States, only 1 in 8 people graduate from college in 4-5 years. That leaves us with a very small talent pool, if we focus primarily on college graduates. What I loved about this discussion was that the panelists gave some real concrete tips on how to go about hiring for social impact. One example was to remove the box on a job application form that asks whether or not someone has had a felony. The discussion also touched on how to upskill current workers or others who could be trained to do a job. This is where soft skills (something Perel touched on) are so important. Some other tips:

  • Deliberately construct multi-generational teams
  • Offer career coaches for all levels
  • Check your age bias– tech skills don’t decline with age, for example
  • Support remote and flex roles
  • Be upfront about what you do and don’t accept.

Another point that really hit home was that it’s not just about placing someone in a job, it’s also about what support you offer that person post-hire.

A Girlfriend’s Guide to White Woman Allyship
I really appreciated that this panel took the time to discuss how they decided to structure the conversation, and how they chose the panelists. Given the title and topic, they had debated having a panel of all white women, a panel of all women of color, and ultimately landed on a panel with two white women and two women of color. I appreciated their candor and agree with this approach. I’m a big believer that we should have safe spaces for marginalized groups, but diversity includes everyone, and when talking about something like allyship and how to be an ally, we need everyone at the table.

The panel gave a bit of a history lesson, covering data points such as who has historically been the biggest benefactor of affirmative action? (it’s white women). One point I didn’t know was that it’s rare to see race and gender broken out in data. Thus, what sometimes happens is that when we talk about gender advances and gender dynamics, we’re talking about white women– and the voices and pain points of women of color get ignored or dismissed.

The panel’s definition of an ally includes the possibility of having to sacrifice something; acting as an ally requires that you spend some of your own social capital. I love this viewpoint, and it aligns closely with how we think about allies in our work and in our trainings.

One question they brought up was, how are white women failing people of color? Many women-focused employee resource groups were and are started by white women for reasons of power and access. We forget about people of color in this equation. Take a look at Equal Pay Day, for example. Equal Pay Day is one date, but then we also have Equal Pay Days for black women, for Latina women, etc. So what we actually have is Equal Pay Day for White Women– but that’s not the way we talk about that. Other ways that white women may fail people of color include:

  • Being silent
  • Taking up too much space and airtime
  • Not advocating for people of color in hiring decisions
  • Not recognizing their own unconscious biases
  • Falling back on white fragility tears when confronted with the above

I thought it was interesting that the panel noted that white women don’t always see their whiteness, but they do recognize their gender. And they have the experience of feeling that sense of Otherness. However, they still want to be liked, and have a sense of inferiority. Once we are able to recognize our privilege, then we as a result may feel shame and guilt. Marin Moran from Pandora stated, “use your privilege for good: your guilt isn’t helping anyone.” You can read more about how to use your privilege for good.

So, how do we change and how do we show up as an ally? The only way to see real change is if those in advantaged positions speak up. By showing up as allies, you give respect to others but also to yourself. Here are some further parting thoughts on actions you can take related to allyship:

  • Invite others to panels
  • Take note of who you follow on social media
  • Diversity isn’t just internal– what about supplier diversity, what vendors are you using?
  • Put in the work
  • Don’t message someone saying that you’re looking for a person of color or a woman of color
  • Do say that you want and hope that people of color apply for a role
  • Try to listen more than you talk

This was a great discussion all around and one of my favorite talks that I attended at SXSW!

Lead from the Outside: How to Make Real Change with Stacey Abrams
I was really excited to hear from Stacey Abrams. She was at SXSW to discuss her new book Lead from the Outside. She opened with a few lines that really resonated with me: “Sometimes you don’t get over something, you get through it. It’s disingenuous to say that you get over being angry, sad, bitter. I’ll be angry a lot but I won’t do is be still. When you’re focused on your enemy, you’re ignoring your allies.” Abrams shared that she keeps an Excel spreadsheet full of algorithms in which she measures personal and professional goals… and the earliest she would think about running for President would be in 2028 (!).

Diversity is the New Superfood
This session focused on how to leverage diversity from a business standpoint. It kicked off with a few interesting stats:

  • In the US, only 3% of companies have leadership that reflects the diversity of the country
  • 97% of large companies (companies with more than 1,000 employees) have D&I programs
  • 75% of underrepresented employees don’t feel impacted by D&I programs

Culture is iterative, and requires constant re-examination. Companies are not families, but they are communities of people and so the conversation needs to be not just about diversity, but also inclusion. One way to think about inclusion is the following: do you have that crazy relative who is still loved? Inclusion!

Inclusivity through Allyship and Intersectionality
This was the final session I was able to sit in on. Unlike the other sessions I attended, this one was held at Capital One’s “activation”. The session featured three LGBTQ leaders talking about intersectional allyship (have you noticed a theme in the sessions I attended?). One panelist shared the story of Stonewall– we’ve probably all heard it before. But, the original trans women of color who were instrumental in that incident got written out of the narrative. So it’s important to note and question whether your corporate policies backup participation in events like Pride, or if your company is just waving a flag. Black Pride started because black people felt left out of Pride events. So one way to examine your organization is to ask, does your company sponsor Black Pride as well as Pride? This session also spent some time unpacking intersectional allyship, and the idea that we we can think about ourselves as not just a group of identities, but also about how those various identities relate to power dynamics. It’s an ally’s responsibility to correct someone and show up for others regardless of if they are in the room or not.

It was a whirlwind at SXSW, and we only scratched the surface. We were really impressed by the amount of sessions dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion and hope that SXSW continues the conversations in future years. There is much work to be done!