Well, aren’t you in for a treat! We spoke with the incomparable Dr. Erika Powell, a wonderful friend of SGO’s, personally and professionally. We were a little silly, and within that silliness, some brilliant gems of knowledge were shared. If you enjoy this half as much as we did recording it, you’re golden. Don’t miss it!
Felicia Jadczak (00:00:07):
Hi everyone. Welcome to the She Geeks Out Podcast, where we talk with brilliant folks all about abolishing inequity in the workplace.
Rachel Murray (00:00:14):
Felicia Jadczak (00:00:15):
And I’m Felicia. We are the co-founders and co-CEOs of She Geeks Out.
Rachel Murray (00:00:20):
Yay. All right. So this past season we’ve focused on various aspects of doing the actual work of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. We’re so excited by some of the conversations we had. We wanted to release the entire interview in all its fabulous glory.
Felicia Jadczak (00:00:35):
So we’re recording this in early November, just as Twitter lights aflame with poor management choices by their new evil overlord.
Rachel Murray (00:00:43):
Question mark. What is evil? Never a dull moment. We live in wild times. We continue to live in wild times. Felicia, you want to wade in on this before we-
Felicia Jadczak (00:00:53):
Yeah, I mean, we can wade in on this together, but obviously who knows where Twitter will be or if it will even exist when folks are actually listening to this. But right now, it is going down in flames. And it’s interesting because I think from my perspective, obviously I have, well, not obviously, but I do have mixed feelings. Because on the one hand, it’s a business, it’s a social media platform. Is it the end-all be-all? No. Were there platforms and communities and spaces before Twitter? Yes. Will there still be places to gather and share and have information and all that stuff after Twitter? Absolutely. But none of that takes away from the fact that I do think that there are some really poor things happening on business levels, on human levels, and on a DEI level as well.
So for one, you and I were just talking about this this morning, Rachel, about how we saw that the ERG structure has been completely demolished at Twitter. And even though it looks like 75% of people are literally today waking up to news that they’re getting laid off, that companies going to look really different. But I just cannot fathom how this is a good business choice to get rid of existing structures that are meant to support people internally. So that makes me think this is on the business side, that’s where the evil question mark comes into play.
Rachel Murray (00:02:15):
Well, yeah, I’m like, are the ERGs going to be needed because who are they actually going to be keeping on staff? So what are their identities going to be? And it’s a really interesting choice, right? I have no idea what’s going on. All I can see is the people who are saying that they’re getting laid off on Twitter and on LinkedIn do not look like cis hetero white men. I’ve seen all the other sort of marginalized identities raising their hand just sharing it. Now, obviously that’s a huge generalization. I have no idea what’s going on, but I do think that it’s kind of interesting that they’re like, well, I guess we won’t need ERGs. Maybe this is why they’re going to reduce the company.
Felicia Jadczak (00:02:55):
To me, it really speaks of the problematic trend that we’ve seen over the last few years especially, which is DEI community, women, marginalized folks are the first on the chopping block. And that is just so incredibly problematic and I think it just doesn’t make any sense. And what we’ve seen over the last few years is that these folks are the ones who are building your community. And it just goes to the good old boys network. It goes to these really antiquated ideas of who has value. We’re seeing that Elon is bringing in folks from Tesla to review code. He’s bringing in his VC buddies. And so what’s really sad about this for me is that it just really is happening in real time, this very quickly condensed version of what is playing out at a lot of companies to be really honest, where it’s just really looking inwards to your own networks and to people who look and think like you. So it’s a big echo chamber that’s happening.
Rachel Murray (00:03:53):
Yeah, I’m totally reminded of, I think this was a year ago or so, maybe a little bit more of, I don’t know, time, what is it? With Basecamp, which was, honestly, they were one of our idols. They were both CEOs. They were writing all these books about how to manage people well because people are humans and humans-
Felicia Jadczak (00:04:12):
Rachel Murray (00:04:12):
Remote work. Like didn’t take any VC funding, all of the stuff that we really love and that’s the way we operate. And then I think it was last year, there was a real backlash on when people were voicing some concerns around the DEI topics. Basically the co-CEOs just decided to shut that conversation down completely. And it was just such a surprising choice and it was such a bummer. I don’t know where they are today. I’m sure they’re doing just fine.
Felicia Jadczak (00:04:43):
I mean, I think they’re still in existence. I think it’s such a bummer because to me that example definitely top of mind for me as well and what we’re seeing with Twitter and with other companies too. Coinbase is another one that came to mind as you were sharing about Basecamp because it’s base what’s in both words. But what we’re seeing is that there’s this immediate shutdown when any kind of pushback or dialogue is brought up. So with Basecamp, it was employees were saying, okay, we get that the two co-founders, you started this company and it’s like your thing, but it’s evolved beyond just you. And so while you have certain viewpoints and desires and ways that you want the culture to be, you can’t control a lot of that.
And here’s what we want. After the Basecamp debacle, I actually started referencing them indirectly or directly as the case might be in some of my trainings around culture because one of the questions I pose to people when I do trainings on inclusive culture is who creates culture? Is it leadership? Is it employees? And the answer is really, it’s everybody, right? So it doesn’t come from just one person. And I think that’s what we’re also seeing at Twitter is that there’s this very dynamic, and I’ve never worked there, but I’m seeing just what people are sharing, a really rich culture that has grown up and now it’s being forced into one man’s lane. And I think that’s the real tragedy of it is we’re just losing all this richness because we’re literally cutting it all away.
Rachel Murray (00:06:14):
And the reality is, I can see people might be thinking, well, the company will probably be fine. Basecamp is probably fine. Obviously, the companies can do fine, but can we do better? That’s the question is can we actually do better and grow more when we have more diverse voices in the space occupying the space. I mean, it just seems like a silly thing to do to try to, but I think there’s just a backlash. It’s a little bit of what we’ve talked about before with fatigue, backlash, this woke culture, fear. There’s just a lot of stuff coming up for folks. And for those who are in power, they have the ability to impact thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of people at the drop of a hat.
Felicia Jadczak (00:07:02):
I think that’s partially why this Twitter thing feels so shocking in a lot of ways is because it’s happening so quickly. We talked about this this morning as well, it’s like we’re already seeing some real time repercussions around things like whose voice is trusted or who is a real person, right? Or I shared, I’m seeing an uptick in fake profiles and people sharing stuff and commenting. My husband was telling me this morning, Steve was telling me that he was like, “Oh, Trump is dead.” I can’t even tell you, I had this brief flash of like, what? Before I was like, oh, right. Because there’s no content moderation anymore. So not actually true, unfortunately. To bring it back to us, I know that something that you and I have talked a lot about and we’re continuously working through it and thinking about it is for us with She Geeks Out, for so long it was just the two of us, right?
So when we talk about what’s our culture and how do we do things, it was literally you and me. And so what we say to our folks internally is, Rachel and I tend to agree on 99.9% of the things. And then that 0.1% is a lot to deal with. So when it happens, but the reality is we built this, I think a really dynamic culture for SGO over the years. And now that we have a team and we have multiple people and we have people who’ve been here for years now, what we are realizing is that the culture is not just driven by us anymore. I don’t know, how do you feel about that?
Rachel Murray (00:08:31):
I feel great about it, honestly. I think we mentioned this in one of the previous episodes. Our most recent hire is public programs manager who’s really going to be the one leading a lot of the community efforts that Felicia, you and I led for so many years. And I’ve been just excited to have another voice in there, one that I trust and think that is fantastic. And so I’m excited to have it grow beyond us honestly. And I trust our people too. I think we made some really good hiring choices and I think that goes part of it too.
Felicia Jadczak (00:09:03):
Well, I’ll say I agree with you and I know that even though my mouth will say yes, bring in all the differences and bring in all the things that aren’t what I think. Emotionally, it’s really on the emotional level, right? Emotionally, I’ve had to really check myself a lot in the last year or so, couple years. Because sometimes I’m realizing, oh, this is not what I want, or it’s not what I started out with. And then I have to go through this mental process of, is that okay? Or where are those points where I can, as we’ve talked a lot about, the frozen way, let it go. And where are those points where you and I need to step in and say, no, no, no, it’s got to go back on this track because maybe it’s more of a business decision or it might be more around our experience, right?
We’ve done certain things that we’ve tested or we’ve come up with processes because of certain reasons. I’m seeing that in real time right now with my team, which are the facilitators where we’re doing this really big content updating project which I’m really excited about. Especially because before, it used to just be me. And now I’m realizing, okay, well, first of all, it doesn’t have to just be me, but also when it comes to the work that we’re teaching and talking about, there are four different viewpoints that aren’t just mine. And then there’s four different ways of teaching this material. And there’s four different ways of thinking about how to get people excited. And then there’s also different viewpoints around why we have certain parts of our process. And so for some of it, I have to listen and say, okay, just because I like to do it this way doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it this way. So where can I budge on that?
And then there’s parts where I’ve had to sort step in and let folks know, you may not love this, but here’s why we’re doing it. And even though I hear you and I’m taking your feedback, it’s still going to stay this way because of X, Y, Z. So that’s a really tricky balance and I think it’s tricky for both leaders like us and for folks on the other side of the table. And it’s not to say that it’s bad or good, but it’s just, it’s complicated.
Rachel Murray (00:11:15):
Yeah, I agree with all of that. We both have a little bit of the founder syndrome for sure. But what’s nice is that we’re aware of it.
Felicia Jadczak (00:11:21):
Yes, the first step.
Rachel Murray (00:11:24):
First step is awareness. Absolutely. What we’re trying to do is be conscious of tying our rationale and our reasons for things to our values, to our north star, to our mission. What are we doing in service to that? And I think if we do get pushback from employees, which I actually look for, I relish it. I’m like, yes. I think where it has to be if we’re going to accept that feedback, they’re the same way that I think our employees expect us to give rationale for everything. I think if there’s a pushback, there has to be rationale on the other side. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t. And so it’s great, we have a nice conversation, we figure it out, we see what makes sense and then we do whatever we want. Right? You and me, Felicia, we do it. I’m kidding.
Felicia Jadczak (00:12:08):
You can’t say that on this podcast.
Rachel Murray (00:12:09):
Oh my goodness.
Felicia Jadczak (00:12:09):
Rachel Murray (00:12:14):
Yeah, no, it’s funny. Good times. We’ll write a book on it. It’s going to be great. All right.
Felicia Jadczak (00:12:20):
Yeah, it’s complicated. Life is complicated, but let’s get it back to the podcast.
Rachel Murray (00:12:22):
Let’s get to it. I know.
Felicia Jadczak (00:12:25):
That’s something that’s not as complicated necessarily.
Rachel Murray (00:12:26):
How many people forwarded through this intro? That’s the question, right? Well, wonderful. So really quick before we intro Erika, our guests, quick housekeeping note. This is going to be our last episode until January.
Felicia Jadczak (00:12:41):
Rachel Murray (00:12:41):
I know. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be fine. Everybody’s going to be fine. And then we’ve got plenty planned for 2023, so stick with us. Honestly, you’re going to want to re-listen to this episode probably five times in a week because it’s so good.
Felicia Jadczak (00:12:55):
I know. I’m excited to re-listen myself and I was there for it. So there’s just so much good stuff there. For long time listeners, you are probably very familiar with Dr. Erika Powell. We’ve had her on the podcast a bunch. She’s worked with us for quite some time. We went to college together. But we are talking this week with an extended interview with Dr. Erika Powell. She is a DEI leadership and development coach and just a wonderful human being and a wonderful friend of ours.
Rachel Murray (00:13:23):
That is true. She is my favorite word, a delight. We laughed a lot right in the beginning, but don’t be fooled, we get into some pretty heavy stuff, some beautifully serious conversations around how to truly transform the workplace, and more importantly, how to do the hard work of DEI. I mean, we were both left completely inspired.
Felicia Jadczak (00:13:42):
Rachel Murray (00:13:43):
So very excited.
Felicia Jadczak (00:13:46):
Now onto our chat with Erika.
Rachel Murray (00:13:49):
Well, let’s get this party started.
Felicia Jadczak (00:13:54):
Well, I know what our intro-
Rachel Murray (00:13:55):
Well, that’s [inaudible 00:13:56]. We just like the softballs, which we’ll start with just like, why are we talking with you? Tell us about why you’re so brilliant.
Felicia Jadczak (00:14:10):
Who are you?
Rachel Murray (00:14:11):
Who are you?
Felicia Jadczak (00:14:11):
Why are you here?
Rachel Murray (00:14:12):
Tell us about your PhD. Tell us about Crunchyroll.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:14:14):
Crunchyroll. All the things, all the places, all the places I have been. So who am I? I am Erika Powell. Or wait, I guess I should say it in my fancy way. Doctor Erika Powell. I hold a doctorate in instructional design and technology. My bachelor’s is in cultural anthropology, and my master’s is in intercultural communication. So all that to say, when I think about wow, you have been around the world, doing a lot of stuff. What is the thread that connects me? And it always has been the workplace. I’ve held tons of different roles. I have helped people get up on power lines in the gas and electric industry. I have done leadership development, emotional intelligence. And in, what was it, 20… When did I start at Crunchyroll? Like 2018, 2019. I forget.
What is time anymore? You all, like really, are we in a pandemic? Are we out of a pandemic? Are we mid pandemic? I don’t know what is time. I had the wonderful opportunity in like 2018, 2019 actually. Let’s call it 2019. In 2019 to join Crunchyroll initially as their program manager for learning and development. And as time and circumstances would have it, that role grew into the head of learning and development and engagement, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging. That is a mouthful. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P. Keep going. Since then, I have branched out on my own as an independent consultant. I do a lot of DEI work as well as leadership development and emotional intelligence work. So that is moi in a nutshell.
Rachel Murray (00:16:17):
Can I just follow with one other thing that I love about your style? Maybe we can talk a little bit, this is a random question I wanted to add in because I love your style. One of the things that I really appreciate about you Erika is you talk about being people’s, you’re like their pilot. Can you talk a little bit about that approach?
Dr. Erika Powell (00:16:36):
Yeah, yeah. So I come to this work with so much love for what I think is this shift in consciousness that we’re having. When we talk about DEI, like I know folks say, oh well, we’re talking about DEI or some folks are adding in the justice. But when I facilitate a class or an experience, I always say that each of my classes is a flight because we go higher and we go wider in our consciousness. I never know where we might go because part of the biggest challenge of doing this work is you don’t know where folks are when they enter into your unconscious bias room or into your microaggressions or your allyship. If they are bold and brave enough to stay in the anti-racism conversation, I don’t know where they’re going or I don’t know what they’re coming in with.
And so part of why I say we go take a flight is because I really do feel like our consciousness is expanding in this conversation around DEI, particularly at work because so much happens in the workplace. Work can either move you up and through certain ladders, if you will, if you’re looking at it from that hierarchical model, or it can open different doors for you. So that’s where I get that idea of, all right, we’re going to go. If you’ve been in a class with me, you will know I’ll say, all right. When we look at the agenda, I’ll say, okay, so like a captain on the plane, these are the terrains, these are the lands that we will be passing over today. Are there any stops folks would like to take? If you have them, send it to me in chat.
Felicia Jadczak (00:18:28):
I love that. That’s so fun. This work is hard and can be so serious and important and it can also have these moments of levity or joy to it. I really appreciate your take on that too. I’m curious about how you’ve maybe historically and currently viewed bias at work. Because you mentioned you sort of came into this work through the L&D channel, if you will, and I’m sure that your thoughts have shifted over time. What does that conversation look like for you when you started out given to where you are now?
Dr. Erika Powell (00:19:03):
Yeah, I remember when I first started doing L&D, the first class that anyone will ask a L&D person is, can you do a class on unconscious bias? We want you to create a class on unconscious bias. That is the letter A in the DEI alphabet. You don’t pass go until you’ve taken that class. When I first started out, I remember seeing a lot of stuff that I would say was very like… And no disrespect to the cog science folks, but it was very like, okay, well, these are our different types of biases. And I remember thinking, no one is going to memorize all 175 different types of biases unless you have that ability, and enough respect to those who have that type of ability. What does this mean for, as a lot of my career has been situated in business, how do I make this relatable to my CEOs, to my directors, to my senior managers? What does this really mean?
They’re not going to sit down and learn all 175 types of bias. The other thing that I think has shifted for me as I think about what does bias mean at work is not just like, oh, do we know that it’s an unconscious prejudice against someone else? But how does it really show up in our day to day conversations when we are recruiting, when we’re just in our daily like, Hey, we’re getting on a Zoom meeting. Hey Erika, you look like you’re losing a little weight. You look good. Let me see that art. Oh, that’s really interesting. So what I like to do is to get people to see how is it showing up and how does it make people feel when bias is present. So I feel like the evolution of myself as a DEI practitioner, because that could be a whole podcast on the evolution of a DEI practitioner.
Now I’m like, no, let’s really talk about what is it like to have bias in a conversation? What does it feel like so that we can make different choices and be aware of it. There’s so much content out there around unconscious bias and some of it is like a Pacman, like oh, spot the bias. Get it, get it. I hope you all like the sound effects. Very animated. For me, it’s more than attack the bias, it’s look inward and see where that bias is within you and how is that affecting your outcomes and how is that affecting your relationships that you make in the workplace regardless of what level you’re at, senior, executive, or an individual contributor. So I get down with the feels.
Rachel Murray (00:21:57):
I love that and it’s such a perfect segue into what I’d like to chat a little bit about next. One is that one person that you’ve talked about a lot is Lee Mun Wah and his work.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:22:09):
I know. I know, right?
Felicia Jadczak (00:22:11):
Is he going to be here? Is he going to be here?
Rachel Murray (00:22:16):
Oh my God, you’re killing me. And how that wraps into this concept of psychological safety when we’re talking about this work and triggering and just how does that all sort of wrap in together.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:22:28):
Right. I feel like part of these calls for performative DEI are getting at that psychological safety piece. When people say you’re being performative, I believe what they’re really saying is, one of the things that they’re really saying is, you’re not connecting with me, you’re not thinking about how safe I feel or how safe I don’t feel. And I think Lee Mun Wah does a fantastic job at getting people to have these hard conversations in an authentic way about bias, about microaggressions. And he comes at it from a different angle. His classes aren’t necessarily, let’s have a class about unconscious bias. He actually works with the heat of the impact of what bias does or the impact of what a microaggression or the impact of what an ism does that makes people feel unsafe. They may never tell you that they feel unsafe because if you look at how I get down with somatics as well, if you look at how bodies are conditioned.
When we look at that power dynamic between folks who hold a dominant identity and folks who hold non-dominant identities, part of keeping safe when you have a non-dominant identity is to get silent because you want to stay safe in some way or to not push back because you don’t want to poke the bear or anger the bear. One of the things I do is I go animal tracking. I am such a nerd and I love it. I’m often out in nature at least once a month. I remember the guy who’s our head tracker one time, he said, listen, do you hear that? We’re like, hear what? It’s quiet. He was like, the birds are quiet because we are on their home court. So that silence is what we need to listen to. The question that I always have is why have almost every company that I know has taken an unconscious bias course, right?
That’s been the big push since 2020 and we still have people saying that they don’t feel safe in the workplace or I don’t want to come back to work. There was an article, I forget who it was, one of the big names like a Forbes or a fast company or one of the big business names. The headline was like women of color don’t want to come back in the workplace. They actually feel better off being in a virtual environment. Why is that? Why have we created a situation where someone can’t say, hey, that sounds like a microaggression to me, or what bias might be here? So that psychological safety I think is what will make or break the DEI conversation going forward. It’s not just about do you know what a microaggression is?
Do you know what unconscious bias is? Do you know what allyship is? It’s, do you know how you knowing that or not knowing that impacts the psychological safety you can create on your team if you are a leader? And if you’re not a officially recognized titled leader, what it does to your individual contributors just like as an employee to an employee level?
Felicia Jadczak (00:26:00):
So much good stuff to unpack there, Erika. As you were talking about the silence and how people use that as a safety mechanism, what made me think of next was how a lot of trainings have historically been centered on people who have more dominant identities and privileges because they don’t have that awareness. And in this work we talk a lot about intent and impact and I think that comes up as well. And so I’m curious what your thoughts are around doing DEI work and who is the work for? Because I find that’s a sort of ongoing tension is we want to educate and push people, especially those who have more dominant identities, but then we don’t want to harm people who are coming in from that place of silence or that place of keeping themselves safe. So I’m curious what your thoughts are on that.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:26:50):
Well, I think that’s the next level. When people say, people, clients say to me, we’ve done our A, B, C, Ds, where do we go next in all of this? The next layering is understanding, hey, we are in a, I like to call it a somatic cha-cha-cha. What I mean by that is there are invisible rules that say when I get on a Zoom with you, this is how I’m supposed to behave. I think the next level of DEI training will push people to see what is the actual cha-cha-cha they are in. Maybe they’re not in a cha-cha-cha, maybe they’re in Bachata, maybe they’re in a Foxtrot, maybe they’re in a Merengue. I don’t know. Maybe they’re on a totally different beat altogether. So if we can get people to see, this is the invisible structure that’s holding us together. At the next level, I think DEI training could do really, really well by supporting folks with marginalized identities, pushing past that learned silence and that learned…
There’s a wonderful researcher by the name, because you all know I can geek out on who’s in the field. If you haven’t checked out Ken Hardy’s work, he has a wonderful, I don’t know if it’s a full model. I just love how he says, in these experiences, there are tasks that folks with marginalized identities have to do. There are tasks that folks with dominant identities have to do. So if in a DEI training at the next level, because we know we’ve laid the foundation, the first layer of the cake is here. The second layer becomes, how do we empower folks with marginalized identities to move through that learned silence that’s protective in nature? And listen to the second part. And concurrently, and this is why like next gen DEI practitioners, buckle up buttercups because this is where it really gets real. This is where you need that Lee Mun Wah level skill set and you need a broader skill set beyond just the knowledge. And how do we equip those folks with dominant identities with the skills to start to move past the defensiveness that they have?
I know Robin DiAngelo talks about white fragility. And the next level is like, how do I start to recognize I’m getting fragile? And now because of my fragility, I’m going to deny the marginalized person’s experience. I’m going to tell them, oh, you’re being oversensitive or it’s not really like that. So I think that next level is getting both groups to dance in a new way. Maybe one day I’ll have the delightful benefit of running that program because I’ve been ideating on it for a while. But that I believe is the next level and that’s two separate skills.
Rachel Murray (00:30:21):
And it’s probably related to some of the work around somatics, I would imagine. Can you talk a little bit about what somatics is and how that plays into this work?
Dr. Erika Powell (00:30:35):
Yeah, so somatics is a body-based practice and the idea in general is to track sensation in the body. What do I mean? Rather than tell a story about the sensation, but to pause and really say, when you said that, I constricted. I constricted in my throat. I constricted in my legs. Memories came up. Or I felt heat in my arms. I believe that is really the next level for folks to start to recognize what is happening in your body when you are in these conversations. I’m a doctor but not that kind of doctor. I believe our nervous system starts to hijack that initial felt response. And because of the bias, particularly in corporate arenas, the bias in the premium is on let’s not take the pause to pay attention to what’s really happening, pay attention to the “birds in the room” to see if they’re being silent.
The bias is towards, well, what do we do next? How do we fix it? But we cannot fix it until we tune into and we create a space where folks feel like they can voice. When you just made that comment about my hair being curly, I got nauseous. We’re not at a place where we can say that to each other. And somatics starts to help people develop that language for themselves first and then you can start to do it in partnership. And the conversations that you can have when you take a somatic lens I think are quite transformative, particularly for this type of work.
Rachel Murray (00:32:35):
And on the flip side of that too, I love that because it’s like for the other person to say, oh wow, when you called me out on this thing, I felt I wanted to vomit. I was embarrassed. I felt sick in my stomach, whatever that is, and voicing that.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:32:53):
Rachel Murray (00:32:53):
It would probably really help to heal it on both sides.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:32:56):
Yes. And then what you get, and I think this is where… You can see me lighting up, I’m like, that’s my happy noise. My friend said that there’s a Star Wars little creature that makes that kind of noise. I don’t know. I forget what she said it was. But when you can get, notice what happens, when you get this side and this side of the system talking to each other in a different way, you create a totality. And I’m not trying to sound heady or woo woo, you create a totality that really recognized the depth and the breadth of what’s going on with a given ism or a given aggression or a given whatever we’re working with. Once you have that, then you can go the next step which is, well, how do we create something different?
Let’s use our bodies to titrate it out to see what feels good. I will say this and then I’ll come off of this thread. Part of what got me into DEI work in the way that I’m into it now was a few years ago I went to Wisdom 2.0. This was way in the before times, way before the pandemic was even a blip on, a sparkle on someone’s eye or a blip on the radar. I got a chance to go to Wisdom 2.0 which big conference here in San Francisco, spiritual yada yada yada. And I’ve always been curious about, well, how do we tie the spiritual with the very real isms that happen to people? I get it. I also want to see, maybe it’s because I’m coming from a Quaker background and we’re just like, yeah, we can be spiritual and we can have justice. They hold that dialectic very well.
And so long story short, I got a chance to witness a presentation where they were talking about allyship. What is allyship in the body? There was a woman on stage and then there were people who were supporting her from a somatic perspective. They kept saying to her, where do you need us to position our bodies so that you have a felt sense that we are allies here with you? It was almost as if the camera or life had slowed down. This was live, so I was actually there on the floor, but it was like life was moving in slow mo. You could see if the person moved to the right, if the person moved to the left, if the person did certain things with their body, how that was impacting the person who needed an ally in that situation. And I feel like that was a real game changer for me and it drives much of how I do the work that I do in DEI now.
Felicia Jadczak (00:35:54):
That feels so powerful. Thank you for sharing that moment. That actually ties into a question that you raised a little bit earlier but I want to go back to, given everything we’ve just been talking about. So you mentioned that as a practitioner you’ve evolved over the years. This moment feels like it maybe was the start of some of that evolution for you or part of that. I’d love for you to speak a little bit to that because I think that a lot of times, especially in this space with people who are not coming into the conversation from a lived experience lens, there’s this natural reflex to look at DEI practitioners as the experts and we have all the answers and just tell us what to do. And so we’re human beings too. And I know I’ve evolved over the years, so I’m really curious what your evolution has looked like.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:36:47):
When I first started I was like, yes, this is the culmination of everything I’ve wanted to happen in my life. That it has the cultural anthropology, it has the intercultural communication. I have found the promise land. Woo hoo. Initially, I think I was like, oh this is easy, we just have to come together. As I’ve gotten more into the work, I think about the IDI framework here. Initially I came in as like, whatever differences we have, we can surmount them. This is what we’re here for. And as I’ve matured or evolved in this space, what I realize is that the differences do matter and it’s in talking about the differences and how they impact our lived experiences that we actually get movement and shift. Now, when I was first starting off as a DEI practitioner, I didn’t want to get too much in the heat. Because I think the fear that every DEI practitioner lives with that they will probably never admit to you, let alone themselves is what if somebody says the thing. We all have different things that will set us off.
For me, the thing is I’m talking to a privileged group and they say, well, why does this matter? Or we don’t want to shift or change because we don’t want people to take our jobs. That’s my thing. Other people have their thing. You can look at the diversity wheel and identify your various things. And it was as I started to evolve and get more comfortable with this work, again, using somatics as well as really using Lee Mun Wah’s work as inspiration and a template and a model for how we can actually get to the other side of these conversations and tap in to the humanity that lies in our differences, I became more comfortable. And now I’m like, those are the conversations that I want to have. So I feel like that arc.
I feel like every DEI practitioner has a different arc. Some folks have a different trajectory. For me, I’ve landed in the, hey, I want to be able to have these conversations with folks and see how we can get them to the other side because that’s where I feel like then we can start to get different policies. Then we can start to get different behaviors in the system. But that was my arc.
Rachel Murray (00:39:43):
I love that. I think it’s a really good point because I think, as someone who does the sales side of things, people are coming at this from so many different places. I know Felicia has talked about this a lot too is like the head versus the heart and how you get people to really buy into this reality that people are different and that people have different experiences and that people are socialized to different ways of thinking and being in the world. How do you get people to move into that space where they’re trusting that it will be okay if they start to have those deeper, more intense conversations?
Dr. Erika Powell (00:40:22):
Slowly, number one, so I always like to think of it as depending on where you start the time clock. What do I mean by that? Looking at the bodies in this virtual room, if you look at my brown body, we could be starting 400 years ago, right? 400, maybe 500, I don’t know. The historians can tell me where to actually start the time. As such, that is a lot of energy and trauma to try to move. So if you think that you’re going to do it in two hours and be one and done, you are fooling yourself. It really has to be an ongoing conversation. It works best when you are working on a real world problem in your organization. So take it. I know we like to abstract and do hypotheticals because that’s part of white supremacy culture is like, let’s not really talk about the real thing that’s happening.
It works best when you do it in the context of a, hey, our organization wants, we have a retention problem, we are losing these types of folks. So if you can get folks to play with just the right amount of heat, I like to say in a titrated way, that’s when you start to get shifts and changes. Sometimes it happens in a training. Sometimes I think I’ve shared with you and Felicia, I think there’s a third space between coaching and training that we don’t have a word for, but it’s in that space that you can start to get movement. That’s what I’m seeing starts to move people in a different direction. Now not everybody has the resources and the time to create the third space. So if you don’t, when you are in a training, the facilitator or if you’re in a consulting engagement, because sometimes you can do it there.
The facilitator or the consultant really has to work to bring that in or the coach as well. So one activity that I love doing with folks is I’ll say, let’s take a look at this diversity wheel. We can be on a Zoom. Let’s say this is just intro training. Everybody closed their eyes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to jump through the Zoom or anything like that. Technology hasn’t afforded me that privilege yet. Maybe in 20 years I’ll be able to stick my finger through something. But for now, you’re okay. I’ll say, close your eyes and just listen to this social identity or this part of the diversity wheel. What do you feel? What do you notice when I say it? And just type it in the chat. And it really is a magical experience because what people start to see is… And I’ll start slow with folks, the ones that don’t usually cause too much heat, and then I’ll ramp it up.
In my world, race is usually the thing that is the hottest jalapeno in the salsa bucket. I’ll start at a two and then move up to race, if you will, and see what happens. People will pop in the chat what they feel. What do you feel on a scale of habanero? People will say, oh, I feel ashamed, I feel conflicted. When people get to witness that even though we’re all talking about the same thing, we’re all talking about the word race, all of us have different experiences of it. And that different experience and that shame or that apathy or that whatever comes up for folks, that is what’s actually driving the conversation. That is what’s actually keeping you from moving. When people come to me, clients come to me and say, oh we haven’t moved our metrics, we can’t get new candidates, we can’t get this. It’s like, because you haven’t really had that conversation, that depth of the conversation.
Felicia Jadczak (00:44:44):
I love this because I think it really speaks to that tension. You spoke to this around we’re unlearning so much. I think there’s a lot, especially in the corporate world or in the working world, there’s a lot of white supremacy characteristics that we have so deeply ingrained that we don’t even realize it, right? I know for me, perfectionism is something I’m trying to move away from. Not because I don’t want to do good work, but because I don’t want to be constricted by this ideal. But I think the other layer that a lot of practitioners have to deal with, whether you’re in house or coming in as an outside vendor is undoing past traumas. Whether that’s personal or even undoing the work of past other practitioners who are not approaching this work in the same way that you are Erika, or that we are on the SGO team. Has that come up for you? What challenges have you seen when you’re coming into a space where it’s not their first rodeo and there’s a lot of history there that you’re also dealing with?
Dr. Erika Powell (00:45:50):
Yeah. I usually like to say, I call it the whammy. Remember that game show no whammy, no whammy, no whammy. You never know when the whammy is going show up. You don’t know when you’re going to hit that particular iceberg. And part of what I love about the She Geeks Out approach in general and part of what you all have taught me and I think your classes are really oriented towards is to that growth mindset. So when we look at what guidelines govern our session today, if we’re in a training or if we’re in a consulting engagement, we have to be willing to unlearn things that won’t get us to the next level. So a lot of my freezing when I hit that whammy of, what was it? A few weeks ago, I was teaching a class and a white male said to me, stayed after, he said, “I love the messaging and what do you say to the white men who say they don’t want to, it wasn’t their fault that slavery happened or it wasn’t their fault that all of these atrocities happened.”
I thought to myself, well, there’s the whammy because I definitely, part of being a good DEI practitioner is you got to know where your triggers are. That’s a ouch spot for me of like, I’m living with the effects of what happened. And so part of how I navigated that was I said to the individual, “Yeah, you’re absolutely right. They didn’t create that originally.” And the next level of unlearning and learning is to really think about how are they perpetuating that? Because this work, I believe in my heart of hearts, it’s so level mindset consciousness work. So in as much as it’s so, think of it in the same way that you would think of it as mindfulness work. There is no done. You are always learning and unlearning and growing and you hit a certain level.
So the message to that, those folks are, yeah, now start to think about how you can make things better now that you know, now that have that nugget of information, now that you have that awareness, what will you do moving forward for yourself, for the people that you interact with? And if you can get in your hot tub time machine and fast forward seven generations from now, this moment in time starts with you. That’s why I think I love, it seems unrelated, but in my mind, you all know how I’ll be connecting stuff. That’s why that land acknowledgement is so important at the beginning of a session, because this is that point in time that we talk about what happened and we acknowledge people’s agency and power and choice to show up in a hour and a half webinar, two hour class, whatever it is.
And it’s by their presence, by their being open to something new that they can actually shift and be something better for those who come after us or those if you can’t, like I said, if you can’t get in your hot tub time machine and go seven generations from now so that you can make it better for the people that you work with.
Rachel Murray (00:49:22):
It’s so interesting that you mentioned the land acknowledgement. I’m so glad that you did. It’s really funny because I had a conversation with someone recently who was an older person. I think generationally it’s just interesting to see the shifts in the way we are doing the work. I mean, just in the past few years, it’s just like the language has shifted, it always shifts, but it feels like everything is so immediate and on fire all the time. And then folks were asked to do this. There’s eye rolling that happens because there’s a fear that it’s performative. What you just said is so beautiful because, and I hope that it stays in because I think that people don’t understand sometimes the intention behind some of the actions that are being taken. And so I just want to honor that. But I also didn’t know if you wanted to add anything.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:50:17):
Yeah. I mean, I feel like, and this is kind of meta, but it’s the, why do I stay in this DEI work? Because this is hard work. This is soul grueling work. Those of us who are in it know there are some days you are like, I just want to close my computer for indefinitely. But part of why I stay in this work is because I want to be part of the people on planet earth at 10:47 AM Pacific Standard time, April 21st, 2022 that are helping bring back power and helping to empower folks. I feel like this work empowers both groups, both folks who hold power and privilege and dominant identities as well as folks who maybe hold marginalized identities. We don’t often frame the conversations that way, that’s actually usually it’s explicitly stated or like the narrative is, hey, we want to make it better for our marginalized groups. And we do, we do. And there is something really powerful about wielding power responsibly and recognizing it.
So in some ways I feel like my work is all about empowering folks for themselves as well as for others. And for me, that is the lens that I come to this work through. I wish that folks could see it in that way, that this isn’t a compliance. Oh, we got to take our annual unconscious bias training. Or this isn’t like oh well, we should be nice to each other and play in the sandbox together. What I hope to leave as a legacy behind, what I choose to stand for is that we need to live on this planet we call earth and in this galaxy we call whatever we call this galaxy. I’m on a galactic trip because I just did a talk with some astronomers the other day and that made my mind go like, oh yeah, we’re not the only game in town, earth.
But that we live in this earth and in this time in a way where we feel empowered and we wield our power responsibly. Because not only do the humans of planet earth need it, but the earth itself. If you track the climate change and the environmental justice and the poor little animals, we don’t actually have a choice to live in such a disempowered consciousness anymore. And that’s what I hope folks take away from this work when I lead a session.
Felicia Jadczak (00:53:34):
So much good stuff, Erika. These are mic drop moments. We don’t have that much time left. I was thinking maybe dealer’s choice for our question here. So I’d love to get your thoughts either on what’s been like maybe one of the biggest challenges for you in this work, which you’ve touched on a little bit here and there. Or what do you see as the future of this work? Which you’ve also touched on a little bit. Where would you like to go?
Dr. Erika Powell (00:54:10):
Let me see. Because this is a good question. I’ll give you a little smidgen of both. Challenges, folks are tired. We are two years in or two years after the murder of George Floyd and folks are at a point where they’re like, well, are we there yet? Are we there yet? And we are so far from there. So incredibly far from there. I think about Patrick Lyoya, the man that was in Minnesota, I believe. Don’t quote me on the state, where the police officer shot him in the back of the head. This was just a few weeks ago. Now, you and I both know so many companies have been doing these trainings. So what is happening that this is still happening? Even after the murder of George Floyd, we are still seeing this level of brutality and violence. What’s going on? That is a challenge that I see is that we’re taking this stuff but we’re not taking it to heart and we’re not taking it into our hands and our feet to choose differently.
The other challenge that I see is you can only move at the rate of people’s change and desire to change. We can’t move as quickly or as deeply as folks actually want to go. And that can be very frustrating because I think DEI practitioners are visionaries. We see what the world could be like. We see a bigger vision. Our folks sometimes come to us at a kindergarten level or they come to us at a pre-K level. We’re expecting the Duke College level stuff. And that’s compounded by the like, well, come on. Where have you been the past, fill in the blank. I think we have to hold that urgency of yes, I know where you are and this is where you need to move and we need you to move more quickly. I think you can definitely hold that as a goal. Having been a teacher, that’s one of the secret things that we can hold two things. We’d be like, yeah, you got to get to the letter…
I started off as a classroom teacher. Kids would come into letter A on the reading scale. They had to get to J by the end of the year and not everybody got to J, but if I could get you to a D or E, we going to go at this pace. We won’t be snailing it the whole way, nor will we be turtleing it. So we can get a nice rhythm that gets them to move the pace a little bit. But again, the key there is people will only move as quickly as they are willing to change. The facilitator just holds the beat. So if the facilitator’s got the tambourine going, the people going to tambourine. They will do their best at tambourining. Where I hope to see us go? I hope to see us really see this as a transformation. This is an opportunity to transform how we come together in workplaces, in communities. And that has to be what keeps us in the conversation in my world.
My biggest high is when folks get it. I remember one time I was doing an anti-racism class. Participants stayed after, because I always had my little after parties. We had the class and then we had the after party and the individual was really in tears. It was a white male. He said, after looking at these hallmarks and these characteristics of white supremacy, he realized how ingrained they were in how he did things. And he was starting to realize the cost of, oh, when I do this, this is how it pushes people away from me. This is what it keeps me from creating. And that was such a beautiful moment to see that, right? And it’s those highs that have to motivate us and we have to believe that a new world is possible, change is possible so we can transform. It may not be easy, but we can do it. And however long I live on planet earth, I want to be part of that so count me in.
Rachel Murray (00:59:08):
Erika Powell, every time. Always a delight, always a joy, always inspirational. It’s kind of frustrating how wonderful you are. We just have a few minutes. Anything else you want to add, you’re welcome to do so. No pressure. We can also just wrap it up because we did it.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:59:31):
If I had a clip, it would be stay in it. Stay in the conversation. There is a cost to you and to the people that you work with, that you connect with when you don’t stay in the conversation. And there is also a reward when you stay in the conversation. And the cost or the reward of connection and being able to really have genuine connection with folks is priceless.
Rachel Murray (01:00:04):
Thank you so much.
Dr. Erika Powell (01:00:05):
You can’t put a dollar value on that one.
Felicia Jadczak (01:00:09):
All the feels. I learned, I was inspired. I’m continuously reminded to not give up, even when we’re all really tired, which we can be.
Rachel Murray (01:00:18):
So true. Indeed, same on all counts. We both hope that you enjoyed this as much as we did. Thank you so much for listening. Please don’t forget to rate, share, and subscribe. It makes a huge difference in the reach of this podcast and by extension, this work.
Felicia Jadczak (01:00:34):
If you’re looking to further your own knowledge and gain support alongside other incredible people, join our free community at risetogether.shegeeksout.com. You’ll get a welcoming built-in support system grounded in the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Rachel Murray (01:00:49):
And you’ll have access to more episodes, additional resources, courses, webinars, coaching, and so much more. I think that’s it.
Felicia Jadczak (01:00:58):
All right. Well, that’s a wrap for the year.
Rachel Murray (01:01:00):
Felicia Jadczak (01:01:00):
Rachel Murray (01:01:01):
Ready for 2023.
Felicia Jadczak (01:01:03):
Oh, I already said bye. Yeah, I’m ready. Yeah. Great. Good. Okay, wonderful. Me too.
Rachel Murray (01:01:07):
Felicia Jadczak (01:01:07):