This week we’re talking about white supremacy culture and how it operates in the workplace. There’s a real challenge in running teams and companies that put DEI at the forefront and hold onto those values, while at the same time existing within a larger society that upholds white supremacy culture characteristics.
Contributors to this episode are:
Welcome to She+ Geeks Out, the podcast bringing you the voices of women+ from all walks of life to share with you what they geek out about– their passions, talents, struggles, and successes. In each episode, hosts Rachel Murray and Felicia Jadczak will feature different guests and discussions about topics including health, psychology, art, music, learning, and more. Episodes are fun, engaging, and provide some nuggets of information that you can take away. Oh, and yeah, they might be awkward sometimes. That’s just how we roll.
This season of She+ Geeks Out is unlike any other so far. Together, we will be unpacking what the future of work looks like for different groups of people in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition to our special guests, listeners will also get to hear snippets from our facilitation team on what DEI really looks like in the workplace from a practical, actionable standpoint.
In this episode, we discuss the challenges that put DEI at the forefront as we hold onto those values while at the same time existing in a culture shaped by white supremacy. We begin with SGO facilitators Rachel Sadler and Fatima Dainkeh defining white supremacy cultural values. They explain that a culture of hustling cannot prioritize rest or community. In our own work, are we perpetuating capitalistic ideologies or white supremacist values? Rachel and Fatima seek to draw a connections between capitalism, perfectionism, grinding, and white supremacy. Grey Elam, who works with New York City Programs Institute for Urban Parks at Central Park Conservancy, explains that systems are designed to protect the reservations and values of those who built it. Fatima adds that the defensive posture from many is unnecessary when white supremacy is rightly understood. She argues that we all live in a petri dish and cannot avoid these system. Everyone must ask themselves how they may be unintentionally perpetuating it.
As the episode continues, Dr. Ericka Powell, Leadership and Diversity Trainer and Consultant, talks about pushing forward without further harming the marginalized. What does it look like to empower those with marginalized identities? Belma McCaffrey, CEO and Founder of Work Bigger, shares about her parents move from Albania so that their children could eat and get an education. For her mother, loving life meant working hard. Belma explains what her mother did and did not mean by that phrase and how her parents’ example impacted Belma. Dr. Huong Dep, Board Certified Psychologist specializing in global mental health, joins the show. She discusses her own experiences as a Vietnamese-Chinese American living through a time of increasing Asian American violence. She also believes that we have all bought into the system and have much work in unlearning, standing up for our rights, and experiencing what the world has to offer. Naomi Seddon, author of Milk and Margaritas, confesses that it is easy to feel guilty. For example, when we are at work, we want to spend more time with our children. When we are with our children, we feel we should be working. She simply says we cannot have it all at the same time. Naomi is also concerned that our culture is going backwards on fixing the gender gap. SGO’s Victoria Variezza highlights the challenges regarding DEI issues while working on a global team. DEI approached from international and global perspectives do not look the same in every organization. Victoria challenges those in the field to be mindful of meeting the needs of all constituents. This means understanding both their local and global contexts, encouraging the individual toward self-work but also considering the systems which are supporting people.
Erin Learoyd, DEI Program Manager for New Balance, helps to bring the episode to a close as she discusses her experience working with a global company. Elba Lizardi is the Site Director at BASF, a global chemicals company headquartered in Germany with offices all around the world. From her perspective, it is challenging to explain DEI issues in many other cultures, what it is, and why it matters. Elba believes the same problems exist in different countries, even though they may look different. Finally, Dr. Ericka Powell jumps back into the conversation. People are tired, she explains. They wonder if we have arrived? Are we there? Dr. Powell responds, “We are so far from there.” We can only move as quickly as people want to change. She believes we must let people know we see them: “I know where you are,” she says. “But this is where you need to move. And I need you to move there quickly.” She says we are talking about transformation—the opportunity to transform how we do things together. A new world is possible. We can transform. And Dr. Powell wants to be part of it.
1:40 – Introducing the topic of DEI in a white supremacy culture.
2:00 – Rachel Sadler and Fatima Dainkeh define white supremacy and capitalism.
10:10 – Grey Elam and Fatima on the systems which perpetuate white supremacy.
21:35 – Dr. Ericka Powell on empowering the marginalized to move forward.
25:15 – Belma McCaffrey on high achievers, working hard, and perfectionism.
30:55 – Dr. Huong Dep on unlearning what the system taught us.
35:10 – Naomi Seddon explains why it is easy to feel guilty.
36:35 – Victoria Variezza discusses the challenges working on a global team.
40:30 – Erin Learoyd on the history of shoe manufacturing as a global company.
43:00 – Elba Lizardi highlights the challenges of explaining DEI in Germany.
47:45 – Dr. Ericka Powell on the possibility of transformation.
Fatima Dainkeh (00:00):
If you think about whatever microorganisms are growing within that cell culture, there has to be a very specific environment. You can’t make a mistake and mess up the temperature in that Petri dish, because whatever is supposed to grow up in there will not grow. We’re like microorganisms in the Petri dish. We don’t even know what’s being injected in there. We’re just like, “This is part of culture.”
Belma McCaffrey (00:24):
I think perfectionism is often rooted in, “I’m not good enough. I need to constantly be creating more value to be accepted in society.” And it’s really that value that I add that makes me worthwhile. And that’s not true, that’s an unhealthy belief.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:48):
Folks are tired, 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.
Felicia Jadczak (01:05):
Hi everybody, I’m Felicia.
Rachel Murray (01:06):
And I’m Rachel. Welcome to the SGO podcast, the She+ Geeks Out Podcast.
Felicia Jadczak (01:11):
This season is unlike any that we put out so far. What does the future of work look like when we’re thinking about Diversity and Inclusivity and Equity, and what does it look like for different groups of people?
Rachel Murray (01:21):
We got to interview so many incredible people.
Felicia Jadczak (01:23):
You’ll also be hearing some little snippets and interjections from our facilitation team.
Rachel Murray (01:28):
You’ll get their perspectives on what DEI really looks like in the workplace for a practical, actionable standpoint. So, let’s go.
Felicia Jadczak (01:38):
This week we’re diving in the deep end talking about white supremacy culture. There is a real challenge in running teams and companies that put DEI at the forefront and hold onto those values, while at the same time existing within a larger society that upholds white supremacy culture characteristics. Let’s start off with SGO Facilitators, Rachel Sadler and Fatima Dainkeh, defining the concept and how it shows up for us.
Rachel Sadler (02:08):
The term white supremacy culture comes from the work of Tema Okun, who identify the many ways we operate and how they’re rooted in the support of white supremacy. Characteristics like perfectionism, defensiveness, a continuous sense of urgency, either or thinking, power hoarding, fear of conflict, and individualism are just a few things we see not only in the workplace, but in our greater society that are viewed as norms. If you deviate from these norms, in particular, at work, you can be viewed as incompetent, lazy, ignorant, or even aggressive.
Rachel Sadler (02:47):
This contemporary idea of hustle or grind culture is rooted in the characteristics of white supremacy culture, and it’s designed to keep us toiling under this current iteration of capitalism. Because if you are constantly grinding, working long hours, then you can’t prioritize rest. If you’re only out for yourself, then you can’t prioritize community. If the options are either this or that, then there’s no room for difference or diversity of thought. If you can’t assertively address an injustice, then you have to suffer its, [inaudible 00:03:21]. All of these things collaborate to keep people focused on and even identified by their relationship with work, leaving little if no time for anything or anyone else.
Fatima Dainkeh (03:32):
Folks are doing the work, they got their ERGs going, they got their workshops happening, they’re doing some action planning. In this space of asking, “Are we really doing the work if we’re still perpetuating capitalistic ideologies and/or white supremacist ideas?” And it’s an excellent question because I think we’re all asking that question, how do you do this work while also recognizing that capitalism and white supremacy culture is very much connected to just owning a business, organization or institution?
Fatima Dainkeh (04:07):
I know I’m throwing a lot of words out there, so I want to take some time to just break down some of these concepts to help us think about what are these concepts and how are they impacting not just our workplace, but our lives. When we think about capitalism in our dear friend Webster’s Dictionary, and there’s probably other ways people think about capitalism, but with that definition, capitalism is defined as an economic and political system in which are countries trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit rather than by the state.
Fatima Dainkeh (04:41):
And so especially now today, we see that in our face when we’re thinking about not just organizations that are doing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion work, we’re recognizing how private sectors are really having a lot of control around politics, around certain things like healthcare, even more so than government. And the reason why that’s important to understand is because organizations don’t exist in a vacuum. Most of the folks who are leading institutions, who are leading work, they are also part of a system and a culture that is consistently telling them, “Here’s what it means to show up. Here’s what it means to run an organization. Here’s what it means to support or not support your employees.” This is where white supremacy culture comes into play. Because oftentimes when I think about capitalism, I just think about white supremacy culture because capitalism is very much connected to a lot of the foundation of this country, especially when we think about the Industrial Revolution.
Fatima Dainkeh (05:45):
What was happening there when we’re talking about hustle culture and the need to produce and to work, and that is directly connected to productivity and the need to always be productive. And why is that white supremacy culture? Well, it’s white supremacy culture because we ask ourselves, “Who designed the systems? Who designed the workplaces? Who designed the organizations?” So, bear with me a bit more because I am a Facilitator. I am a facilitator by training. So, we’re going to do some more terminology, more definition. What is white supremacy culture? You’re like “Fatima, you’re going around the circle. Just define it for me.” We’re going to take our time. Let’s start off with culture. Culture, when we think about the definition of culture, we’re saying it’s the customs, the arts, social institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or other social group. That’s the standing definition that we’re working with.
Fatima Dainkeh (06:39):
From a biological standpoint, cell culture is what you create to maintain tissue cells, bacteria, and so forth. And you do that, so that the conditions are suitable for whatever it is that needs to grow there. I want us to hold both of those definitions as I keep going because it’ll all connect, I promise. Now, let’s talk about white supremacy, white supremacy is the belief that white people are the superior race and should therefore dominate or be seen as a dominant group, aka powerful group in any society. And the reason why that’s important is because while race, we know, is a social construct, it still has impact. And we now know, and we’ve always known that race was particularly created to justify why white people should be in power. I won’t take too much time to give us a history lesson, but just go ahead and Google Manifest Destiny or Google white supremacy pseudoscience, order a copy of Medical Apartheid.
Fatima Dainkeh (07:40):
There are so many things that are out there that helps us understand where is our historical lens coming from. So, if the folks who are a small majority, and this doesn’t mean this is all white folks, but you have a small group of people who identify themselves as white, create the construct around whiteness and begin to put other folks in the white category. And then not only that, they say, “How are we going to make this happen?” Well, capitalism is connected to the foundation of the United States and other Americas, when we think about slavery. In order for capitalism to have worked, in order for us to be successful, and this is an air quote, I’m thinking monetary GDP, the best nation folks had to be enslaved and overworked and live in this culture in order for the ideology of whatever they thought capitalism should look like, could work.
Fatima Dainkeh (08:39):
We are no longer enslaved in that particular way, but some of the background of that still manifests in our day-to-day culture. What do I mean by that? What I’m saying is, this culture of productivity, overworking, not valuing humans, only thinking about outcomes. If I’m saying capitalism is part of this and making money and productivity is part of this, we then have to ask ourselves, “What is the culture that we have in the workplace?” And that culture that we have in the workplace will mirror the culture that we’ve created as a society. When I talk to organizations or I’m talking to clients, folks are burnt out. The hustle culture is a real thing. You’re not seen as great if you’re not perfect. We know perfectionism is a myth, but we push these narratives out there because we say, “In order for this system to continue the way it’s been built, we have to agree subconsciously or consciously with what has been passed down to us.”
Fatima Dainkeh (09:44):
I’m going to bring us back to our cell culture definition because if you think about whatever microorganisms are growing within that cell culture, there has to be a very specific environment. You can’t make a mistake and mess up the temperature in that Petri dish because whatever is supposed to grow up in there will not grow. We’re like microorganism in the Petri dish. We don’t even know what’s being injected in there. We’re just like, “This is part of culture.”
Felicia Jadczak (10:11):
Here’s Director of New York City Programs, Institute for Urban Parks at the Central Park Conservancy, Grey Elam, talking about the myths and illusions of a broken system.
Grey Elam (10:21):
I went through the Coro New York Leadership Center a couple of years ago, and while I was in that program, I had the privilege of working with Zander Grashow. And he talks about this concept and significance of considering stakeholders values loyalties and losses, and really basically asking what are we asking people to give up? If we can understand what someone’s being asked to give up, we can understand why an organization looks the way that it does. And he goes on to talk about this idea of the broken system, the myth of the broken system, that each system, each organization is crafted over time to reflect the values, the loyalties and the reservation of those who built it. And that’s just completely unavoidable, it’s fundamentally human. It’s not a bad thing, but it just means that we have an obligation to really question our assumptions and make space for the things that are unspoken.
Felicia Jadczak (11:16):
We’ll go back to Fatima.
Fatima Dainkeh (11:17):
When people hear white supremacy culture, they think, “Please don’t use that phrase because I am not a white supremacist, I am not a KKK. I don’t have visceral reactions or thoughts about folks of other racial groups.” You’re missing the point. I understand that reaction, that’s a very valid one. However, if you think about what I just shared and said, it’s part of that, but it’s not all of it. For example, and this is a trigger warning, so brace yourself if you need to pause, do that. But I need to be able to pull out another example to come back to this. For example, you don’t have to be a rapist to still support rape culture. And I say this because a lot of times folks are like, “Oh, well it has to be one or the other.” And it’s, no, the way culture works is we are all going to perpetuate it at various levels.
Fatima Dainkeh (12:11):
We’re not always going to do the same thing, but we’re going to have a similar foundation. Folks who support rape culture might never feel like they’re going to act upon it. However, they’re participating in victim blaming, and that is part of supporting rape culture. Similarly, you don’t have to be part of the KKK, to still perpetuate white supremacy culture, because white supremacy culture is about the way we behave, our actions, our thought process, how we show up. It’s a holistic lens in terms of how we’re looking at it. And so, in order for organizations to feel like they’re moving away from capitalistic approaches, especially the harmful aspects, and some folks will argue the whole thing is harmful. There are other thought leaders that are like, “Some of it is good if we look at it this way.” That’s not what I’m here to do today. But I do think we need to be curious about the structures that we continue to support and perpetuate.
Fatima Dainkeh (13:08):
Because if we say, “This is the only way we can make money, this is the only way we can pay our employees.” And we’re not working towards another way of working and being, we’ll never reach where we can actually reach. And I don’t know what that place looks like or what that environment looks like, but it’s possible. And it’s only possible if we are working towards what we think is possible. But if we think, “Hey, capitalism has always been… This is the way. Folks are always competitive.” We’re not giving ourselves an opportunity to grow. And so, if we think about our lives and our workplaces in that realm, then we have to ask ourselves, “Well how far can our DEI work go?” Because it will get far, but it won’t get as far as it could get. White supremacy culture is not just perpetuated by white folks.
Fatima Dainkeh (13:59):
I think it’s really important to understand this because of the phrasing. It is very natural for folks who identify as White or have been identified as White to look at that phrase and feel a personal attack, there might be guilt, there might be shame. Oftentimes when I do my workshops, there are folks who do identify as White who have honestly told me, “This phrase, I don’t love. Because some of what you’re sharing or saying or some of the characteristics that you’re mentioning, I feel like other folks around the world also perpetuate this.” It’s an interesting point because often what I say is, white supremacy culture is not something that is naturally embedded inside of folks because they’re White. There’s no white supremacy culture gene. Just to be clear. However, the reason why white is in front of that is because we live in a society where we’ve made racial categories real.
Fatima Dainkeh (14:56):
And not only have we made racial categories real, but we’ve made racism as a system to oppress people and then to create advantages for White people. That is what is giving our perspective. However, you can go in a nation or a city or another state where it’s predominantly people of color and you can still see some of the white supremacy culture characteristics that I mentioned earlier, still perpetuated in that community. Well, why is that? Well, we’re all in the Petri dish. Just because you’re White doesn’t mean that you’re the only one in there, because we are all absorbing whatever has been left in that culture, that cell culture. And so as we think about it that way, we want to take a moment to say, all of us regardless or in honor of identity, to ourselves, “How am I perpetuating a form of culture that is negatively impacting my neighbor, a family member, a colleague?” Whatever the case may be, because it doesn’t benefit anyone.
Fatima Dainkeh (15:58):
Even if folks are getting advantages from a social sense, like white privilege for example, you don’t become your full self because you have to let go parts of yourself in order for you to hold up a system like that. There’s a lot that I’m giving, and you’re like, “Okay, this is great, beautiful words, terminology, but what if someone isn’t receptive to this? What if they’re defensive? How do I approach this person? Or where should I start?” I’m also trained in the public health space and I have my Master’s in Public Health. And one of the things we often focused on in my program was theory of change. How does change happen? When is the best time that change happens? And what are the things that you can do to make sure the change happens? We often talk about first window of opportunity. Usually a change doesn’t happen unless if someone is like, “Hey, we need to do something about this.” That’s number one.
Fatima Dainkeh (16:56):
Also, change happens in increments. So, if you’re trying to create something new in your community, in your household or at work, and folks are at point A and you’re trying to propose something at point Z, that’s probably not going to happen. And again, I’m not trying to say that the people who are at point A, are wrong or you are wrong, I’m just saying as humans, that’s not how we roll. Usually something drastic has to happen for us to skip a few letters. We might not even get to Z, but we might have more understanding. And so with those two things in mind, window of opportunity, increment of change, when we are talking to another human, we’re not just talking to a person with flesh and bones, we’re talking to somebody who has lived for how many years, who has been conditioned for how many years and has their own ideologies, their own beliefs and all of that.
Fatima Dainkeh (17:48):
We can’t expect that, if we use the term white supremacy culture or racism, that it is automatically going to land even if we have beautiful definitions and examples. Oftentimes when I do workshops around race and racism, I get to gauge the crowd and see where they’re at. And if a crowd is more on the introductory level or there might be some defensiveness, I will start off talking about culture literally the same way I did earlier. And then, I’ll also talk about dominance culture. Once you get people there and help them understand what is dominant culture, without naming any identities, you can hold onto that, because then they’re understanding, “Yeah, I’m part of, [inaudible 00:18:30], culture. I understand that this is how things work, X, Y, and Z.” Increments, you give folks doses of the information. And again, this is if you have time, energy, patience, all of that.
Fatima Dainkeh (18:42):
Then the next step is to start talking about some of the terminology that could fill a little squishy or create some tension in the body, but you’ve built it up enough that the person can handle whatever new terminology that you’re using. And defensiveness is a real thing, so honoring that, and I know that’s a hard thing to do because we’re trying to save lives, literally, and there’s someone who might not agree with the thought process. But if we understand the cycle of socialization, can we really be that mad? Because, this person is operating in their best Petri dish. If I’m meeting them here today, now, it’s going to take time. And so, defensiveness comes up because of fear. If someone is used to thinking a certain type of way and we give them another type of way, that’s going to feel like it’s negating their whole entire belief system. And their belief system is not just white supremacy culture that they feel defensive about, their belief system is connected to other things and usually it’s connected to their experiences.
Fatima Dainkeh (19:47):
A lot of times, for example, if I say, “Oh, the myth of meritocracy, it’s a myth to believe that in this society you just need to work really hard to live the American dream.” But we know that’s not true because a lot of people work really, really hard and then aren’t afforded the same opportunities as other folks who are privileged. But it takes time to break that down to folks because they get defensive because they are thinking, “You’re trying to say that my hard work didn’t contribute to my success, and what you’re not going to do, is downplay me.” That is a very human response. Similarly to that, if we’re talking about white supremacy culture, it’s like, “I don’t think that I’m supreme. I don’t think that I’m superior to other people. In fact, my next door neighbor is a Black man, My daughter-in-law is Asian.”
Fatima Dainkeh (20:32):
And it becomes this small thing, and then what ultimately is happening is, “Oh my gosh, I’m a bad person.” That is literally what is happening, whether someone is voicing that out or not when it comes to defensiveness. And so, to understand how defensiveness works, then you’re able to pause and be curious. Curiosity is the best way to get someone further along. Not telling them how to think or what to do, but being curious about them. Ask them about their lives. If you have time and space for that, ask them about their understanding. Because once you have more information, you can then hold space to say, “I see where you’re coming from and let me explain how this might even be connected to your experience or how it’s not.” But that is the work that is deep work and is hard work. And that’s why companies hire companies like us to facilitate, because in many ways it is facilitation work. It is coaching work, it is taking your time to help someone grow and learn in wherever their ideologies might be.
Felicia Jadczak (21:35):
I also talked to Leadership and Diversity Trainer and Consultant, Dr. Erika Powell about how we can push this forward without harming marginalized folks further.
Felicia Jadczak (21:45):
In this work, we talk a lot about intent and impact and I think that comes up as well. I’m curious what your thoughts are around doing DEI work and who is the work for? Because I find that’s as 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.
Dr. Erika Powell (22:10):
Well, I think that’s the next level. When people, clients say to me, “We’ve done our ABCDs, 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.” And 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 fox track, maybe they’re in a, [inaudible 00:23:00]. I don’t know. Maybe they’re on a totally different beat together.
Dr. Erika Powell (23:05):
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 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 says, “In these experiences there are tasks that folks with marginalized identities have to do and 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 next gen DEI practitioners, buckle up butter cups because this is where it really gets real, this is where you need that, [inaudible 00:24:24], level skill set and you need a broader skill set, but beyond just the knowledge.
Dr. Erika Powell (24:30):
“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 is not really like that.'” So, I think that next level is getting both groups to dance in a new way.
Felicia Jadczak (25:15):
We also talked to Belma McCaffrey, CEO and Founder of Work Bigger about her lived experiences with perfectionism and white supremacy culture. I think a lot of what we talk about, which is white supremacy characteristics, the idea of perfection is something that perfection is not attainable. And I think collectively we see that as a goal that is achievable for us, especially in the US with our westernized lens. And I’m sure that must come up in some way, whether it’s on your community side where, you work with these high achievers, that must come up for them. And then, does it come up with the companies? I’d love to unpack that a little bit further.
Belma McCaffrey (25:56):
Yeah. It’s a constant, I feel like perfectionism is something that I feel like I constantly tackle, but it constantly shows up. And I think it comes from, if you want to go really deep, I think perfectionism is often rooted in, “I’m not good enough, I need to constantly be creating more value to be accepted in society.” And it’s really that value that I add that makes me worthwhile. And that’s not true. That’s an unhealthy belief. But that’s something that I’ve worked through personally and I see it in a lot of our members and I see it in a lot of our clients.
Felicia Jadczak (26:36):
You mentioned that that thread of needing and wanting and desiring to belong and be part of something. And I’m curious, tying your personal story and your personal experiences to the work that you’re doing with Work Bigger and the fact that you’re a high achiever and the way that you came into the US and how you’ve grown and then the folks that you’re supporting, do you find that, that is maybe a thread there that these high achievers are so, because they are looking to belong or get that gold star or get that A?
Belma McCaffrey (27:13):
It’s a big thread. I’ll share this story that I’ve been sharing quite a bit in our community. I went back to Albania, so after we went back in 2012, I went back seven years later in 2019 right before the pandemic hit with my entire family and it was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. And I’m sitting at the beach with my mom and we’re talking about Albania and the culture and the people and just the impact that communism had on the people and their struggles with work and their struggles to live. My parents did not have… I grew up with my parents having a lot of big desires and goals. My dad has always surrounded himself with books and learning and I think he wanted that even more so because that opportunity was taken away from him. He wasn’t allowed to finish school, neither was my mom.
Belma McCaffrey (28:08):
I’m sitting there at the beach and she says this thing to me and she’s like, “To work hard is to love life.” And I was like, “What?” I’m like, “Oh my God, what do you mean? Say more.” And she said, “To work hard is to love life.” And she didn’t mean it from this the way that, even myself had first approached work, which is like, “Let me climb the corporate ladder. Let me achieve all the things. Let me succeed to get that perfection and to get that love.” Whatever it is that’s underneath perfectionism. She was talking about it from a place of discipline. Really doing the thing that maybe feels hard in the short term, but really serves you in the long term. It allows you to create the life that you want for yourself, for your family. Again, for my parents reaching their full potential, that wasn’t in the cards for them, they couldn’t, they were focused on, “Let me meet my family’s basic needs. Let me get us out of Albania to a place where my kids actually are able to eat and have opportunity and can get an education.”
Belma McCaffrey (29:18):
But to me, the way my mom has spoken about it, to work hard is to love life from a place of discipline. Doing the challenging thing in the short term so that you can create the life that you want, to me that’s actually really healthy. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s about taking control of what you can and really prioritizing yourself and your wellbeing. Its very different from I think the culture that I’ve grown up with here, which is, “Let me get that paycheck. Whatever it takes, let me burn out.” And that philosophy really informs Work Bigger and the culture that we have. Because, something, one of my teachers said to me, we’re having this discussion, she said, “This is like a mantra,” or whatever you want to call it, “That I’ve been trying to adopt as I break away too, from these deeper beliefs that I’ve had around work and that pressure that we have.” Whether we’re refugees, immigrants, we want to do it as like, “You did all this for me so I want to do this for you in return.”
Belma McCaffrey (30:29):
And she said this thing to me, “It’s not yours. You can let that go. You don’t have to carry that. Their choices are not yours.” So, it’s a way to help separate from that pressure that we feel to show up a certain way for our families and for our ancestors. And I wanted to share that because what you were speaking to really hit on that. And it’s hard, it’s challenging for sure.
Felicia Jadczak (30:56):
Dr. Huong Diep is a board certified Psychologist specializing in global mental health. She shared her own experiences as a Vietnamese Chinese American in a time of increasing Anti-AAPI violence as well as how it impacts us psychologically.
Dr. Huong Diep (31:12):
I was reading the New York Times, I don’t know if you all read it, about a woman who is beat a 125 times, [inaudible 00:31:20]. I’m like, “That’s baffling to me.” And it just again, reminds me of that constant hyper vigilance that I think I felt during, I always felt it, but especially during the last two years. And just to think of what that does to a person and their nervous system when you’re just constantly living in that state of fear and awareness. I definitely say, [inaudible 00:31:47], and there are moments when I’m like, “Oh my gosh, they’re so different.” And then there’s sometimes I’m like, “Wait, we’re still battling so many of the same things.” Just having equal rights to be in the whole idea of just even being safe in our own homes, our own bodies without somebody else trying to govern and dictating to young people or whoever, women in terms of abortion laws, whatever that of what to do.
Dr. Huong Diep (32:12):
Again, it reminds me that oftentimes, there are more differences within culture rather than between culture. I think it has been a lot of, with my clients, a lot of reckoning to being like, “Okay, where did we learn this? When did the poison get in us? And how was it manifesting in us?” And that we all have it and we all have certain beliefs of, when I think about hustle culture now, what is not good, and Girlboss culture. Just all this stuff that at one time we all believed, we all bought into this. And so much of the work is unlearning, I think, I realize I’ve been, [inaudible 00:32:48], to think of pleasure as such a taboo, naughty thing and that I can only get pleasure or rest after working really, really hard. Sometimes I think getting a doctorate was my get a jail free card for any time I want a massage.
Dr. Huong Diep (33:06):
I’d be like, “Well I worked really, really hard to get my doctorate so that I could deserve this.” Which I know again, it’s part of the immigrant culture, the hustle culture, scarcity mentality, yada yada. It’s really annoying sometimes and you actually know how your brain is functioning, but it still wants to go down that neural path. And so, pleasure activism is just basically using pleasure, using rest, doing what makes you feel good on individual level as a way of saying, “F you, ” to demand, basically. And in the most simplest of ways, my most non-academic way, is just saying, “Yeah, here’s my way to show resistance.” Is that to stand up for myself of what I need and to listen to my body is a way of resisting the general trend. Almost liken it to, when you get off the Metro in DC in the morning and everyone is in their dark suit, heading in the same direction and you’re the one person in the bright outfit trying to walk the other way.
Dr. Huong Diep (34:09):
And it’s, you’re going, [inaudible 00:34:12], what everyone is saying, “But, this is how you to be.” For myself, when I try to engage, [inaudible 00:34:19], or work with my clients, it feels shocking. It feels like, “Ooh, I’m doing something bad.” But I think the more that I do that and the more that I’m listening to my body to be like, “I need to just take a nap right now.” Or, “I really just need to read a book. I don’t need to read a… I want, [inaudible 00:34:37], non-fiction, a Anti-racist book or whatever.” I read plenty of those. And so, I think part of this is, “I just need read something fun.” And so, it’s just a way of, I think standing up for our rights as humans, of just to be here and to experience what the world has to offer of, laying on the grass on a nice sunny day.
Naomi Sedden (35:08):
Really easy to fall in that trap of feeling guilty. When we are with our children, we feel guilty that we’re not doing more for our clients or for the work that we are doing. And then when we’re at work, we feel guilty that we’re not being present enough for our children. It is an absolute lie to say that we can have it all. You can have it all, but not all at the same time. You can’t be everything to everybody all the time. And I think we need to get off our own backs and start recognizing that, that is okay and not feeling guilty about it or shaming other women that are on their own journeys. For me though, prior to the pandemic, it was estimated to take a hundred years for us to close the gender gap. That to me was simply unacceptable. But we’re now looking at about 135.6 years, we’re going backwards on these issues. And as a mother of daughters, that is just a situation that I simply cannot accept for my own children or for any young girls out there.
Felicia Jadczak (36:19):
That was Naomi Seddon, Author of Milk and Margaritas. While many of these DEI initiatives are starting up in the US, our business world and economy is more global than ever. And there are challenges when working on an international team. Here’s SGO’s Dr. Victoria Verlezza.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (36:36):
DEI initiatives being approached from an international or global perspective is really important, especially as we see folks working globally for different companies or maybe moving within companies, or we’re seeing companies and organizations going more global. I think about Google, Snapchat, all of these very large organizations, DEI does not look the same in every single organization, in every single company. When organizations are approaching their DEI initiatives, it’s really important, especially if they have a global or international constituency, to be mindful of the fact that Anti-Blackness, for example, does not show up the same way in the UK as it does here in the US. And how can they be mindful of that? How can they be intentional about their DEI efforts and meeting the needs of all of their constituents? How they can think about, for example, the US is one of the only places that collect demographic information. That is something that most international or global companies do not and cannot collect because of atrocities that have happened in their own country.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (37:59):
So, how are we thinking about that? How can we be mindful of that? It goes back to, even if it doesn’t affect you, thinking about it. How can we be mindful about bringing to the forefront, some of these social justice concepts such as racism, sexism, religious oppression, et cetera, in a mindful and intentional way? Organizations, especially that have global international reach and employees, they really need to know their people. They need to know how these concepts interact with the surrounding community. Because just because you have an office, for example in India, does not mean that the person working in that office is from India. They could be from the UK and working in India. So, how are we being mindful about how these concepts show up in different contexts? I just said a lot of words. How can we be mindful about how these concepts show up in different contexts?
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (39:04):
That’s really important for organizations to do, especially at a global level because we don’t know how it’s going to affect the individual and therefore how the system will affect the individual or how the individual will affect the system. A way that I would suggest folks think about how to be intentional as they approach DEI within an international organization, is to really understand the local context, the global context, and then really encourage individual self-work. But also think about the systems that you have in place that are supporting folks, for example, employee resource groups. Can we have ERGs that are supporting folks’ different identities that they self-select into, but you as an organization have already bought into having this ERG? For example. And you’re telling folks you have it, let them self select in and let them have that support and that resource and have some financial support from the organization to maybe program or have that support network. I think that’s just one way, we can go into many, many others, but that’s a great start for folks, to really think about how they’re supporting folks at the individual level within the system.
Felicia Jadczak (40:27):
Here’s Erin Leoroyd, DEI Program Manager for New Balance.
Erin Leoroyd (40:31):
It’s important to remember here that, the history of the footwear industry has been rife with change, especially in the US. Starting in the eighties, the domestic supply chain, especially for athletic footwear, was just devastated when manufacturing moved almost entirely overseas. In fact, New Balance, I think again is the only company that maintained US manufacturing and still maintains it to this day. But, as an industry, we’re used to seismic shifts and how we do business. We have some experience there. That said, the changes in the last 10 to 15 years in particular, they’ve been pretty big. A few that have stood out to me are globalization. A continued increase in globalization means that current events around the world have both direct and indirect effect, not just on consumers, but also on associates. It’s their neighborhood, their lives. We are a global company and our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts started in North America.
Erin Leoroyd (41:28):
Again, largely, they were accelerated largely because of need. DEI is somewhat of a North American concept. We are not the first company to try to do something globally and we’re not going to pretend to be either. There are plenty of other companies that have led the way there and some best practices are starting to emerge. Without speaking specifically about what New Balance will be doing or is doing generally, some things that we have seen talked about a lot recently is having a global framework, something that’s a set of approaches that can be used by each region in which you do business, to then drill down into their own regional specific plan.
Erin Leoroyd (42:20):
Most corporations want consistency across their brand in a consistent associate experience. And that said, there is definitely a locality that matters. The values, the laws, those experiences are going to be very different depending on where in the world you are. And so, a plan such as that where you have a large global framework, again, a set of values that you would ladder up to, from the region, allows the regions to identify their areas of need and create plans that are going to have a positive impact on those needs.
Felicia Jadczak (42:59):
Next, I spoke with Elba Lizardi, Site Director at BASF, a global chemicals company headquartered in Germany with offices all over the world. And I’m really curious if you’ve noticed any geographical or global differences because, while there’s obviously a lot of similarities between England, UK, and the US, there’s probably also some cultural differences that might be popping up too.
Elba Lizardi (43:23):
Yeah. I will say, for example, in my previous organization, our headquarters were in the UK, so I spent a lot of time there. And I actually felt like they were quite similar, that we found that it was easy to do those ERGs between US, UK. Today on my current company, our headquarters are in Germany. And I get a lot of questions about, “Tell me more about diversity, inclusion. Tell me what that means, tell me why that’s important in the US.” Because a lot of our initiatives are US based. And so there is still… And I haven’t been to our headquarters yet because of COVID and everything, so I really don’t know even physically what it will look like. In terms of people in diversity, I do know that we move people all over the organization, so there’s probably going to be a lot of expats there.
Elba Lizardi (44:06):
But to me, the feedback I get or the questions I get make it very clear that Diversity, Equity, Inclusion may not be a topic very well understood, at least in Germany, or at least in the population that I’ve interacted with. Because they do ask, “What does that mean, when you say you’re working on inclusion for this? What are you talking about?” And I’m like, “That’s such a huge question.” Because it could be as simple as the ERGs or it could be, well, a mothers room, or we want gender neutral bathrooms or whatever. You can take that question and be like, “Ooh.” It just blows up. And so that’s hard. And I know this was a challenge that we had in my previous company, because when we used to talk about diversity, inclusion and even trying to understand our diversity. Diversity in the US is very specific a lot of times around the EO categories, of this is how we rank things.
Elba Lizardi (44:55):
But once you start going into, well what do we do in Mexico? What do we do in India? What do we do in South Africa? How do you actually get a demographic makeup of your entire company when, what’s maybe considered a underrepresented group in the US is not the same as an underrepresented group in another part of the world. So, I know that was a challenge that early on we were working on. I know for us here at BASF, we’re really focusing again on that US base, of what is our diversity look like? And there are some, I would say offshoots of our ERGs in other parts of the world, but our ERGs really are US based and there’s a lot of focus around the US right now.
Felicia Jadczak (45:34):
I think it’s so interesting too because, you touched on this with your last answer, but thinking about language differences, when we talk about things like pronouns for example, sometimes that doesn’t even apply to someone’s native language for how you’re talking about identity and people and things or whatever. Or, like you mentioned, what’s underrepresented or the way that things are set up here in the US in very many cases are totally different in other parts of the world. But, then the conversation is still important because we see that, for example, Anti-Blackness is something that we see globally. It’s not just an American thing. I’m thinking about the news that came out when we first heard of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how Black and Brown people are getting turned away at borders. And that’s something that I’ve heard people say to me, “Well, these problems don’t exist in my country.” And it’s like, “Well, they do, but they’re different.”
Elba Lizardi (46:33):
When you hear even our ERG name may not be appropriate of African American employee group or that population in a global organization, where there are people in the US who are not African-American, they’re actually just African. And so, it’s a weird conversation a lot of times, and I don’t even know anymore what to say when I’m talking to people. Because I think you know Felicia, as well, some people prefer Black, some people prefer African-Americans, some people prefer people of color. And even in the DNI space, I think we’re constantly learning and trying to understand what the right terminology is.
Elba Lizardi (47:04):
And I think that the biggest thing that I always repeat to people is that, we got to have that grace to be able to ask questions and be able to learn when somebody says, “I don’t like it that way, I prefer you say this.” And just take it as it is, don’t take it as an offense. Because, we have to keep learning. And that’s the one thing I also enjoy about the whole space, is that it is constantly growing and changing and there’s new things to learn and to understand. And that, as long as we’re open to that both sides, me as a learner and you as part of that community, whichever it is that might be asking for different terminology, that we’re all going to continue to grow, is the key.
Felicia Jadczak (47:38):
Finally, here’s Dr. Erika Powell again, to help us find the rhythm of pushing forward.
Dr. Erika Powell (47:44):
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. 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.
Dr. Erika Powell (48:48):
And our folks sometimes come to us at a kindergarten level or they come to us at a pre-K level and we are expecting them to do college level stuff, that’s compounded by the like, “Well come on you, 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.” We can get a nice rhythm that gets them to move the pace a little bit.
Dr. Erika Powell (49:29):
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, then people are 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 and participants stayed after, because I always had my little after parties.
Dr. Erika Powell (50:29):
We had the class and then we had the after party. And the individual was really in tears, it was a White male. And he said, after looking at these, [inaudible 00:50:41], 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 like, “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. And it’s those highs that have to motivate us. And we have to believe that a new world is possible, change is possible. 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.
Felicia Jadczak (51:33):
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Felicia Jadczak (52:10):
This episode was written, produced and edited by Vienna DeGiacomo, hosted by Felicia Jadczak, me, and Rachel Murray. The guests featured in this episode were Dr. Erika Powell, Gray Elam, Belma McCaffery, Huong Diep, Naomi Sedden, Erin Leoroyd, and Elba Lizardi. Our Facilitators were Fatima Dainkeh, Rachel Sadler and Dr. Victoria Verlezza.