Today we’re looking to the future. We asked our guests and facilitators what they think the future of DEI in the workplace looks like. We also talked to our facilitators about the barriers to a truly equitable workplace, if equity is really possible, and why they keep doing this work.
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.
In this episode, we dive into a unique season on the future of work. More specifically, we explore what the future of work looks like in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion and for different groups in the workplace. Bringing together various interviews and snippets from the She+ Geeks Out facilitation team, Rachel and Felicia tackle the future of DEI in the workplace from a practical, actionable standpoint. Today, they ask a number of guests and facilitators to predict what the future of DEI in the workplace holds, and they also talk with facilitators about barriers to a truly equitable workplace, if equity is really possible, and why they keep doing this work in spite of the difficulty of the journey.
We turn first to SGO’s Fatima Dainkeh, who explains why she believes DEI in the workplace is moving toward a more embodied and holistic lens. Guest Dr. Erika Powell adds that she sees in the future continued efforts to be part of the movement to wield power responsibly and for the empowerment of others. Rather than simply pursuing DEI aims as a matter of compliance, Erika sees herself and others owning the need – on behalf of humanity and the earth alike – to use their power to further DEI goals. Karina Becerra and Naomi Seddon jump in as guests to explain how they see in the future people pushing DEI movements further, demanding more, and urging organizations to prioritize flexibility and wellness. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future will continue to see lines between working and personal lives blurred, and people treated in the workplace more as real people and less as simply company contributors. Turning back to Fatima, we hear about how DEI work has been around for decades and seen various transitions, ultimately demonstrating that we cannot work in silos and moving toward a holistic approach. Our future selves will continue to ask how we can use a holistic lens, and how we can apply it to combat ills ranging from patriarchy to white supremacy.
Is this sort of future possible? Many challenges stand in the way of seeing our DEI hopes for the future become reality, but at heart, the question of possibility is in our hands. Steps forward require individual people, who in turn create systems. We shouldn’t be asking about whether a perfect future is within reach, but about whether concrete and good change is possible. And to answer this question, we should first turn to ourselves and ask whether or not we are ready to make this sort of better future a possibility. Are we willing to sacrifice some of our own comfort in privilege in order to see the system changed? Are we willing to put in the effort and energy to bring about change? We don’t have to have everything figured out in order to make progress; we simply have to try!
We hear next from SGO facilitator Kia Rivera about keeping momentum into the future. How do we spread efforts out across the organization, and how do we keep people engaged? Part of keeping the momentum going will necessitate moving away from a corporate DEI focus and toward a more grassroots foundation. In other words, we must decouple DEI from capitalism, return more of the power to the people, so to speak, and be about change rather than money. Kia anticipates that Gen Z will push the needle forward, and this hope in Gen Z is echoed by fellow SGO facilitator Rachel Sadler, whose view of the future brings together the possibility of continued cycles of struggle and growth, and anticipation that the new generation entering the workforce may break the normal pattern. Dr. Victoria Verlezza adds that, to her, the next DEI horizon is having an intersectional, holistic approach. The future, she says, is centering on the most marginalized feelings and voices. The next phase of DEI work, we go on to learn, should incorporate justice aspects. Justice is the last step in the process – the outcome. Working with greater intentionality for justice will be a challenging step for many individuals and groups, as it involves dismantling aspects of our normal lives (and maybe even some of our companies), but the end result will be well worth the growing pains.
Moving forward, we consider what barriers to equitable workplaces exist and what hope there is for the future. There are many barriers, from systems lacking accessibility to generational differences, organizational power gaps, old ideologies, and unconscious biases. We must avoid rooting ourselves in what used to work rather than looking for ways to innovate. And as we rethink how things have always been, we should also remind ourselves of the reasons for hope in the face of barriers to progress. Gen Z, of course, is a great source of hope because of its tenacity and effectiveness in pursuing DEI work. But as our facilitators have experienced, hope can also be found in lightbulb moments where small-scale change can be seen. After all, impacting just one person has a ripple effect, and though the overall scope of change needed is massive, it starts with individuals. Little moments of incremental change truly lead to larger progress! It is also crucial to remember that our job is to help people see and embrace the reality behind DEI aims, not to force them to change their minds or behave in certain ways. We can only do so much, but as we plant seeds, blooms will come.
1:04 – Welcome to this season and episode focused on the future of work.
2:05 – Fatima Dainkeh gets us started with thoughts on the future and embodiment.
5:51 – Karina Becerra and Naomi Seddon on what the future holds.
7:56 – Fatima looks to the future with a particular eye to the possibility of change.
15:20 – Kia Rivera shares about keeping the momentum going.
17:42 – Rachel Sadler and Dr. Victoria Verlezza on what they see in the future.
21:10 – The future and justice
24:34 – What barriers are there to seeing equitable workplaces?
29:11 – With all that stands in the way, what hope is there for the future?
36:51 – DEI work is hard, but there are lightbulb moments.
45:03 – Further thoughts on seeds yielding blooms.
50:24 – Thanks for listening to this episode!
Kia Rivera (00:01):
How do we decouple DEI from capitalism in some ways? How do we decouple it from being a business case and actually be at the root of wanting to promote inclusion and equity and change within an organization?
Felicia Jadczak (00:16):
So, in order to really adequately apply that justice lens, we have to dismantle, and that is the very frightening and overwhelming place to be in for a lot of people, because that means maybe our organization doesn’t exist anymore.
Dr. Erika Powell (00:33):
This isn’t a compliant, “Oh, we got to take our annual unconscious bias training.” or this isn’t like a, “Oh, well, we should be nice to each other and play in the sandbox together.”
Fatima Dainkeh (00:44):
Possibility is really within the human race. We’re not saying, “Will it be perfect?” We’re saying, “Is it possible?” And it’s only possible if we want it to be. So I always throw the question back at the folks. It’s like, are you ready to make it a possibility?
Felicia Jadczak (01:05):
Hi, everybody, I’m Felicia.
Rachel Murray (01:06):
And I’m Rachel. And 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 from a practical, actionable standpoint. So, let’s go.
Felicia Jadczak (01:40):
Rachel, did you get that time machine ready? Because today we’re looking to the future. We asked some of our guests and facilitators what they think the future of DEI in the workplace looks like. We also talked to our facilitators about the barriers to a truly equitable workplace, if equity is really possible, and why they keep doing this work. Here’s SGO staff, DEI programs and training manager, Fatima Dainkeh, to get us started.
Fatima Dainkeh (02:12):
What is next for the DEI world, the DEI work? I’ve been in that space of asking myself as well, what does the future look like? And the future looks like many things depending on the choices that we make now. I’ve talked about somatics a lot, and it’s something that I’m still practicing and trying to make part of. Not just my DEI work, but also my personal work. How am I more in tuned with my body, with the world, with nature, to further support the work that I’m doing, to further support conversations, to be a catalyst for folks, whether they’re thinking about internal changes or organizational change? Wherever they are, I think the future is moving towards a more embodied and holistic lens.
Felicia Jadczak (03:02):
Next, we’ll hear from Dr. Erika Powell.
Dr. Erika Powell (03:05):
Part of why I stay in this work is because I want to be part of the people on planet earth that are helping bring back power and helping to empower folks. 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 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 kind of 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.
Dr. Erika Powell (04:38):
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 a, “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. 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 (05:52):
Here’s Karina Becerra and Naomi Seddon with what they think the future holds.
Karina Becerra (05:58):
I think that this is it. I think this is our new reality. I don’t think that will ever go back to your 9:00 to 5:00’s crazy commute, insane amounts of travel on a plane. I think that if COVID has taught us anything is that we can do our jobs from anywhere at some flexible times. I think that folks are going to demand a lot more from their employers and from their management and even from their peers. I think that people will put up those rules for themselves like, “These are my rules of engagement,” if you will. “This is what I commit to do on your behalf.” I think people will hopefully appreciate hours outside of work that much more. I also feel like organizations have to make flexibility a top priority and wellness as well. I think that it’s only going to get better and it’s only going to grow because people are going to demand it.
Naomi Seddon (07:02):
COVID has taught us that the lines between our personal life and our working life have almost completely disappeared now. And yes, people are starting to return to offices, but I’m not sure that we will ever go back to the way things were, that clear division in that line, for a number of reasons. I think employees are now demanding more in this space, where they’re standing up and saying, “We’re human and when we bring ourselves to work, we don’t switch off. We are who we are.” I think for a number of reasons, the lines are becoming blurred between those two issues. But as a result of COVID, we’ve also seen some really sad and very real statistics around things like domestic violence. There’s been an increase globally. I think this is another issue that really is not spoken about enough.
Felicia Jadczak (07:55):
Let’s go back to Fatima.
Fatima Dainkeh (07:57):
When DEI was formally a thing, a lot of us track it back to the 1960s. In my opinion, DEI work has always been around because the social justice work and human rights movements are very foundational to what it is that we’re trying to do in the workplace. With that said, we’ve seen the transition from talking about cultural competency to multicultural workshops and trainings to just diversity. Then we added the I and then we added the E, and now we got a J and got a A. We are literally moving towards holistic approach, because we know that we cannot work in silos. We know that if we are tackling one issue, we have to tackle all these other issues because ultimately we’re going to have to tackle them.
Fatima Dainkeh (08:43):
So, the future of DEI work is asking ourselves, how do we use a holistic lens? How do we make sure that our companies, our workplaces, or institutions are not perpetuating some of the harmful effects of white supremacy culture, capitalism, patriarchy, and all of these things that have really moved us in a way that is not beneficial at all? We know this, we have the data, we need no more data. We don’t need data anymore to know whether or not white supremacy culture, patriarchy, sexism, all of it is, and we don’t need to know if it doesn’t work, we know it doesn’t work. So, being intentional in that way is the future in my opinion. And I also think we’re going to have to always bring the head and the heart in the work.
Fatima Dainkeh (09:31):
What I currently see in a lot of corporate spaces is this need to only focus on the numbers. This need to check things off. Even this idea of taking workshops, it is amazing, because you do need targeted workshop content to help your folks grow within an organization. However, if it’s disconnected from everything else, there’s no future of DEI work at your job. On one hand, you want to say, “Yes, I want to hear your thoughts, let me work with you.” But after doing that work time after time, years after years, it’s no longer fruitful if our north star or the goal that we’re trying to reach is being inhibited by certain ideologies. That’s the tension to get us to the future of liberatory practices.
Fatima Dainkeh (10:24):
When we talk about the future of DEI work and where we need to focus more on, naturally, the question becomes, but is this really possible? “All these words sound pretty and somatics and liberatory teachings, practices and butterflies and rainbows, that’s cute. But when it comes down to it, it’s hard, Fatima, is it really possible?” Not kidding, emotional. The question of if things are possible ultimately is in our hands.
Fatima Dainkeh (11:02):
I often think about the structures and the systems that I live in now. Somebody or a group of people were like, “Is it possible for us to build a capitalistic, patriarchal, sexist, racist society?” They probably didn’t use those words, but they said, “Is it possible for me to be seen as a powerful dominant person, aka group?” And they said, “Yes, it’s possible.” And they said, “Well, how are we going to do it?” I think so many times we get caught up on, well, it’s so hard, it can’t, because we’ve been in this for so long, but we haven’t been in some of these structures that long either. And if somebody was like, “Hey, is it possible to defy gravity and put a plane in the air?” If you heard that when it was first proposed, you’d be like, “Are you good? Everything okay in your life? Did you consume something?” You would ask those questions because you’d be like, “That’s not possible.” Possibility is really within the human race.
Fatima Dainkeh (12:05):
We’re not saying, will it be perfect? We’re saying, is it possible? And it’s only possible if we want it to be. I always throw the question back at the folks, it’s like, “Are you ready to make it a possibility?” Because the truth is people make up systems. Systems are not in silos. Yes, we talk about the cards we’ve been dealt with, meaning historically, the systems that our ancestors have created and we’ve adopted. But at the same time, if we pause and ask ourselves what is the future that we’re trying to create? We have no problem creating drones. We have no problem creating things that we never thought would exist. That takes a lot of energy, that takes a lot of research, that takes a lot of skills.
Fatima Dainkeh (12:46):
Why don’t we have that same energy to a liberatory future? That’s my question. Part of the answer is that we’re comfortable. We’re comfortable, especially those of us who have privileged identities. To change the system, takes a lot of work, takes a lot of energy, it can be tiring. But if we’re trying to see the transformation that we’re dreaming of, we have to actually try and we have to move towards that. What does an organization look like that’s moving towards that? I always point folks to Adrienne Maree Brown, because, first of all, the human is a gem. She’s amazing. In her book, the book that I’m specifically referencing is Emergent Strategy. She uses the concepts of nature and who we are as humans and how people gather and how they grow to use that as a mirror to talk about the journey of creating radical organizations.
Fatima Dainkeh (13:40):
What I’ve learned from her writing and teachings and from other folks writings and teachings is that we’re not trying to get to perfectionism. And I think that’s stopping us from making change because we’re so conditioned to think if it’s not right, if it’s not a formula, if it’s not quantitative data, oh my gosh, how can we achieve it? I’m like, but we can, because we’ve done this before. Organizations that are trying to move in that space can take a moment and think about, what are the aspects that we currently are dealing with?
Fatima Dainkeh (14:14):
I have a friend who works for an organization, and this organization is a flat hierarchy. They try to support people in their movement, justice liberation. And when you go on their website, it’s like everybody is the co-director, and that is interesting to imagine and their thought pieces around whether flat hierarchies work or not. Beyond those articles that say whether it works or not, the fact is, this organization is trying it, this organization is like, “Hey, we’re all going to get paid a similar amount, because we’re all doing hard work.” You know what I mean? We would have to let go of some things, ultimately. If we’re talking about the future of DEI in the workplace, trying to get to liberation, whatever that looks like, we’re going to have to let go of certain things that feel very comfortable. We’re going to have to let go of instant gratification. There’s so many things that we’re accustomed to. Part of it is also self-work and then the external pieces as well.
Kia Rivera (15:18):
I’m Kia Rivera, my pronoun are she, her, hers, and I’m a DEI facilitator at SGO. I think what I am personally seeing with the clients and in my workshops right now is how do we keep the momentum going? We have a diversity, equity, inclusion committee, We have someone who’s full-time job as this or a full team, but they’re the only ones doing the work. How do we continue to spread it out throughout the organization? I think it’s been really powerful to even think about the last 10 years that we didn’t have. I didn’t know what a DEI officer really was 10 years ago, didn’t really know what a DEI facilitator was in some ways, too.
Kia Rivera (16:01):
Now, to be in this role and have that, but thinking about what comes next, I think it’s like how do we continue to keep the momentum going, especially in our political climates as it does feel like we are taking steps backwards? How do we keep people engaged in wanting to continue this work and not just have it be a fun hashtag or a perk of your office? How do you keep it within your organization in a baseline for your organization?
Kia Rivera (16:29):
I think the future, oh, I don’t know what the future looks like for DEI. I think that’s something I continue to see a lot of discourse on the internet about is like, has DEI become too corporate? How does it become more grassroots again? I think that’s a lot of what the future I see the conversation being around is like, how do we decouple DEI from capitalism in some ways? How do we decouple it from being, again, a business case and a way to make money and actually be at the root of wanting to promote inclusion and equity and change within an organization, not just so an organization can make money? How do we bring the power back to the people? Really is what I think the future will look like and that people will demand more.
Kia Rivera (17:14):
I really thought that would happen during the great resignation and now that we’re coming towards a possible recession, I don’t know. But I think that gen Zers in particular will be a lot more demanding when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and what they want to see the work look like. So, I’m really excited to see how they push the needle forward in ways that maybe we haven’t thought about yet.
Rachel Sadler (17:43):
My name is Rachel Sadler. I’m a facilitator at She Geeks Out. I identify as a biracial woman and I use she, her pronouns. I’m not sure what the future of DEI looks like. One part of me sees us repeating the same cycles we’ve been fighting against for decades. The backlash against DEI initiatives by politicians as well as individuals who have been so heavily indoctrinated to support white supremacy culture and capitalism is super discouraging. However, this new generation of folks coming up are not with this foolishness. They are speaking truth to power with their whole chest and, “I am here for it.” They are mobilizing, voting, protesting, boycotting, all the things. So the auntie in me is super proud of these folks coming up and that provides me with some hope.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (18:40):
Hi, I’m Dr. Victoria Verlezza, I use pronouns she and her, and I am a facilitator here at She Geeks Out. To these conversations, I bring a variety of identities. I am a white, autistic woman, who happens to be queer, and I am Jewish and I’m neurodivergent, and I have a lot of intersecting identities. The next frontier of DEI work for me is having an intersectional holistic approach. For such a long time, DEI work has simply been focused on race and gender and sexuality. For me, moving forward, the future is intersectional, and it’s non-binary, and it’s including disabled folks, and it is centering the voices of the most marginalized. I think, for such a long time, for such a long time, DEI work has centered the feelings and the learning of the dominant group, specifically white men. For me, we you need to move beyond that. The future is centering the most marginalized feelings and voices. We are truly creating an equitable workplace so that we’re not just perpetuating the same system.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (20:06):
I also firmly sit in the camp of, we probably should challenge capitalism a little bit more, how productivity shows up and how we are feeding into systems that we don’t necessarily all of us believe in. And how can we start challenging those on a daily basis? And I think that we, SGO, do that from our own little corner of the world. I think we’re a really good model for what that looks like. Holding two truths at the same time and really thinking about these things from a holistic perspective and thinking through work-life and life-work integration and not necessarily balance. How does that involve or interact with DEI? Because it does. And how do we honor the whole being and not just the worker bee?
Felicia Jadczak (21:01):
That was SGO DEI facilitators Kia Rivera, Rachel Sadler, and Dr. Victoria Verlezza, talking about the future of DEI work. DEI work is ever evolving. In my opinion, I think the next phase of DEI work is really incorporating the justice aspect to it. DEI as a field has evolved dramatically since I’ve been a practitioner and I’ve been involved in this work for over 10 years now. When I started doing this work back in the day, we were really focusing primarily on diversity, a little bit on inclusion. We talked about it, or I talked about it from the angle of D&I, diversity and inclusion. Then a couple years and equity started making its way into the mix, so started shifting to talking about DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion. That’s still very much something that’s very prevalent today in the work that I do. I talk a lot about DEI and that’s my primary focus.
Felicia Jadczak (22:02):
But even in the last few years I’ve seen additional shifts where now we’re also talking about things like belonging as part of the conversation. Some practitioners even have included this in their titles. So, you’ll see titles such as director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging or the like. But I think the next big piece of the puzzle that’s going to come up and get more popular in the next few years is really thinking about that last step in the process, which is justice. That’s really the outcome that we’re looking for.
Felicia Jadczak (22:37):
So, diversity, equity, inclusion, I think about, are the steps to get to the outcome, which is justice. I think that this one’s going to be a really challenging step for a lot of organizations to take and actually even for individuals as well. Because when we start looking at work and different aspects of work and people using a justice lens, sometimes that involves the idea that what we have existing in place is inherently injust. So, in order to really adequately apply that justice lens, we have to dismantle. That is a very frightening and overwhelming place to be in for a lot of people, because that means maybe our organization doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe it’s still exists, but it looks very different. Maybe my role exists, but I’m not in it anymore. All of these things start to come out when we start thinking about justice.
Felicia Jadczak (23:39):
I think that it depends industry by industry as well, too. Because in areas like the nonprofit world, for example, in education spaces, they’re already talking about justice, but in spaces that are a bit more corporate, it’s not part of the conversation quite just yet. Or it is part of the conversation, but it’s not something that companies are focusing on in terms of having justice efforts or social impact metrics that they’re really abiding by. But I think that’s going to be the big piece coming up for me, in my opinion, is that’s the future is really thinking about what are different ways of doing this work? These ways that we’ve been involved in for the past hundreds of years, maybe they don’t work anymore, maybe we need to think about a new paradigm. That’s what I will anticipate seeing in the future. We also ask them about the barriers they see to equitable workplaces.
Kia Rivera (24:40):
Ooh, this is one I could talk about all day. Again, so many things. The systems we have in place are just not feasible when it comes to accessibility. Truly being flexible for parents, for caregivers, whether they be for children or other folks in their lives. I think that it’s really difficult to push forward a truly equitable organization when the system’s in place above it, when we think about how business works, how capitalism works, don’t allow for that to truly happen. I feel like it’s a continued give and take when we talk about an organization being equitable. I think that’s a big barrier I see.
Kia Rivera (25:22):
I see generational differences being a big barrier, thinking about where millennials are at in their age versus boomers, et cetera. There is a lot of generational differences when it comes to having these conversations. And I think even from millennials to gen Zers, there’s a huge gap there between what gen Zers want in the workplace and what millennials have sucked up and continued to work under, and really trying to think about how do we bridge those gaps?
Kia Rivera (25:53):
I think senior leadership, too, when we think about power and privilege, I personally feel as though as you get closer to power, you see less of what maybe entry level or folks beneath you and within an organization are talking about or asking for, because you are away from it. You’re not necessarily working with teams of people who are on the ground doing these things or at their desks doing these things. So, you’re further away from it. And I see that that’s where the big gaps in equity is right now.
Kia Rivera (26:24):
When it comes to DEI initiatives, that’s where I see a lot of the hard conversations happening is trying to get senior leadership on board to continue to push the needle. Again, I think making that business case for it, I think is really difficult. Then when we talk about ERGs, diversity committees, I think unions come up a lot, too, in these conversations. And I think a lot of organizations are afraid of unions right now. I think that that’s another thing that’s really stopping as a barrier for a truly equitable workforce and organization to work for everyone and be inclusive of everyone.
Rachel Sadler (27:02):
Unfortunately, there are still so many barriers to truly equitable workplaces, old ideologies of the way things have been, and therefore should continue to be still permeate so many organizations. Women are still getting paid less than men in the majority of industries, we are still having to address unconscious biases that keep people of color out of leadership. Issues around accessibility and ableism come to mind as there is still this very typical idealized employee folks have in their imagination, that does not allow them to consider anyone that deviates from that imagined ideal.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (27:44):
Some of the barriers that I see to truly equitable workplaces is being firmly grounded in what used to work and not thinking about innovative practices or innovative policies or intersectionality. I mean, we really truly cannot keep doing things the way that we used to do them. The workday, for example, is based on a man’s hormone level. As we think about the workday, men’s hormones reset every 24 hours, women’s do not. So how are we inadvertently excluding women by not thinking through our working cycles? For me, the barriers are continuing just as we’ve always done it. We really need to start challenging the way that we’ve always done it. If we are not challenging the way things have been done, I think that will be the biggest barrier to equity in the workplace. We aren’t thinking about things from a holistic approach. If we continue to silo these concepts rather than thinking about them as their containered thing, all of them together in this intersectional lens, we’re going to consistently perpetuate what has been done before.
Felicia Jadczak (29:11):
It’s a lot. So, with all that stands in the way, what hope is there for the future? Why do we keep doing this work?
Rachel Sadler (29:20):
When I think about abolishing inequality in the workplace, again, I harken back to gen Z, it’s wild that they have to clean up so much mess that generations before them have allowed to clutter the proverbial workplace. But these folks have the time and energy to let us know that they are not about to endure the same shenanigans of their forefathers, mothers, sisters, cousins, friends. These folks give me hope. So much of me wishes our generation or my generation could have paved the way for them without so many figurative potholes and detours that we’ve had to leave behind. But if what I see today is any indication of the future, I’ll let my hope slide just a little bit higher.
Kia Rivera (30:07):
I think gen Z for me is the ticket home. I think generationally, too, seeing the light bulb moments when I’m on a Zoom workshop with folks who identify as older and they’re like, “I didn’t understand this concept before, but now having had this hard conversation, I understand it more and I want to do a deeper dive on my own.” Seeing that small changes possible, I think I used to get really tied up and like, “We need big changes now.” And that isn’t really feasible within an organization, unfortunately. Being able to see small, incremental changes within a workshop or through consulting work and coaching has been really helpful and kind of my light in optimism.
Kia Rivera (30:47):
Then I think seeing things become a little bit more mainstream, for better or for worse, seeing that salaries for jobs are on job descriptions are really important in our moving forward and being the norm, seeing that people put their pronouns in their emails. I think those small little glimmers of hope that have become, I don’t want to say checklist items, but more and more companies are doing them and requiring them, and doing pronoun check-ins when you’re doing leading meetings, things of that nature, have become more commonplace.
Kia Rivera (31:18):
Whereas I think about even five years ago, I worked in an LGBTQ center and I was the only person to share pronouns during meetings. Now, coming to the more corporate side, that seems more commonplace to be doing. Then that’s given me a little glimmer of hope that things are actually changing as things become more mainstream and we continue to have these hard conversations. I think after doing workshops and seeing clients wanting to come back and continue the work has also made me very optimistic and given me that glimmer of hope, too, in the sense of like, “Oh, that workshop might have been really hard,” but people are getting stuff out of it and they want to continue the hard works.
Kia Rivera (31:56):
Having done those work for a few years now, I think about some of the small changes I’ve seen at organizations when it comes to inclusive interviewing, getting rid of pre-work or homework throughout the interview process or compensating for that, I think has been a big thing that I’ve seen change, especially at previous organizations I worked at. Then thinking about SGO, I think the generational differences and seeing those movements and those light bulb moments happen keeps me on my toes, one, when it comes to how I approach this work and not being stale and stagnant of how I talk about power and privilege and really forcing me to think about things from others’ perspectives and how I can really facilitate a conversation around those things and get them to a place where they’re like, “Oh, I might be uncomfortable, but I’m not in my panic zone when it comes to these things.”
Kia Rivera (32:46):
I know we’re not saying, “Oh, X, Y, and Z identifying group is terrible.” We’re having a hard conversation about the systems that are in place and historically what has needed to change. I think that those have been the great moments for me. Again, how even after hard conversations or seemingly hard workshops, folks come back and they’re like, “We want more.” This, it’s just a starting point and we really saw that throughout our workshop and we want to continue to have these conversations.
Kia Rivera (33:16):
I recently did a webinar for a pretty big organization where that happened and they’re hopefully coming back for more and that has been a highlight for me the last couple weeks of like, “Oh wow, we did a good job of highlighting the importance of this topic for an hour and they want to continue this conversation and want to hopefully do it in different sorts of ways,” whether it be short conversations, webinars, et cetera, and I think that’s been really cool. To see how people want to interact with our work, despite it maybe being harder difficult or getting pushback even from their employees at times. I think those have been the little optimistic pieces when it comes to how I approach this work and constantly keeping me on my toes when it comes to how we present this work.
Kia Rivera (33:58):
Or I might present it one way and someone would be like, “Hey, I have a question about this,” or,” Hey, I have a little bit of pushback on it.” And having me having to think about, “Oh, okay, I actually haven’t thought about it the way that this person’s presenting it. Now I can think about it this way and be prepared for the next time that I do this workshop and be able to meet people where they’re at in some ways.”
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (34:21):
The bright spots are optimistic glimmers that come to me or that I see when working with folks is folks are willing. I think about recent facilitations I’ve had and interactions with clients I’ve had and, individually, folks are engaged and invested in abolishing inequity in the workplace, and we know that soar organizations to some extent. For me, the bright light or the optimism comes from the fact that individuals are engaged. It might not be 50, 60, 70, 80 people, because you self-select into a program talking about race and it’s only 10 people. But for me, my approach to this work has always been, if you can impact one person and the one person’s thinking, that will have a ripple effect. So, if 10 people self-select into a workshop, for example, on race and racism in the workplace, that’s 10 people that will tell one other person or two other people and then that ripple, that impact can be so big.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (35:31):
For me, the way that I like to think about the work that I do is from a one person perspective or a one organization perspective, if there is just one person that I can plant a seed with, things are going to change. For some folks, it’s daunting, it’s not enough positive impact. But for me, if I lose sight of the one, I’m going to lose sight of the whole goal. For me, it’s that one person in the workshop who’s like, “Wow, I’ve never thought about this, and now I’m thinking about how I show up differently.” That’s a win.
Dr. Victoria Verlezza (36:05):
Or for me, when somebody uses their pronouns for the first time in a session with me and is like, “You know what? I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to do it because I understand it’s important.” That’s a win. Breakthroughs come from when folks say, “You know what? I’ve never really considered how my whiteness shows up as a leader, but now I’m thinking about it.” That’s a win. So, as long as I hold onto those things, I know that someday, it might not be tomorrow, it might not be in my lifetime, but we’re working towards abolition.
Felicia Jadczak (36:46):
Again, that was Rachel Sadler, Kia Rivera, and Dr. Victoria Verlezza. DEI Work is hard. It’s not something that you can take lightly. It is work that is deep and it is work that takes a lot out of individuals. For me, personally, it’s work that is very personal and can be a lot. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bright sides to it or that there aren’t light bulb moments or that there aren’t moments of joy as part of this work. Honestly, that’s what really keeps me going, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t do this work, because it is so challenging sometimes.
Felicia Jadczak (37:32):
What I really live for is what I call those light bulb moments. That’s when I’m in a training or in a discussion with somebody and I can see the wheels turning in their head. I can hear them struggling or working through a shift in thinking. I can see them changing their behavior in real time. That’s powerful because that is exactly what we’re aiming for.
Felicia Jadczak (37:56):
Sometimes when we get into this work or when we get into trainings or conversations, what turns people off is the realization that it’s so big, there’s so much to do, and there’s changes that need to happen at systemic levels. That is a lot to consider, because we’re, a lot of times, in general, not just in DEI work, but across the board, we’re taught that we can change at an individual level and we can change at an individual level when it comes to DEI work. But we can’t change everything that we want to change just by changing ourselves. So, I think that can be overwhelming. But the first step does come with the individual.
Felicia Jadczak (38:42):
For me, when I’m talking with somebody who maybe has never ever thought about what it even means to be equitable at work before and they start coming up with examples, that’s amazing. That really energizes me. When I talk about why pronouns are important and why we should be respecting people and how they identify, and not just talking about it as a preference, but as a reality of someone’s existence. Then the next time I talk to them, I see that they’ve added pronouns to their email signature or to their Zoom name, that’s powerful because those are slight small moments, but they’re moments that are moving the needle and they’re moments that are shifting, because it’s something that takes time and it will take a lot of these little, little moments that build to larger shifts.
Felicia Jadczak (39:32):
I was doing work with this group of people where I was a little bit concerned, because this group was from an industry that has historically been very resistant to having DEI-related conversations and to doing anything around DEI work. I was going into it with some trepidation because I knew that this was going to be a challenge. What really energized me was I was going through these trainings and folks were really quiet. In my head, I was thinking, “This isn’t really landing. They don’t care about this stuff. They’re just here because they have to be here.” I sent folks into some smaller breakout rooms to continue some discussions around some of these points that we were discussing and bringing up.
Felicia Jadczak (40:20):
I decided to jump into some of these breakout rooms to listen to what people were talking about and, honestly, to make sure that they were staying on track and not talking about the weather or other stuff that didn’t relate to the training. What really just made me feel so energized and pushed me to rethink how I was even approaching the training from my own emotional standpoint was listening to these people, how they were making connections, and they were in real time considering things that they had never thought about and tying it back to their work, and understanding and starting to realize why this was important.
Felicia Jadczak (41:03):
These were people who are very black and white, they’re very by the books. This DEI work is seen as fluffy and a nice to have, not an imperative. In real time, they were talking with each other, they were calling each other in. One person had said that he had never really thought about identity and he didn’t think he had any disadvantages and he was just going through life. One of his colleagues called him in and pushed him to think differently about their work and their experiences, because he said, “That’s not true. Don’t you remember when this happened or this happened and these people saying things?” Those moments are what I really live for, because that is exactly why I do this work, because I want to help people think about things in a different way.
Felicia Jadczak (41:54):
I don’t expect anyone to go through a training or conversation with me and go back to their work and completely upend everything and completely throw everything out and start over from scratch. But I want them to make some change. Or even if it’s a change in thinking, I want them to think about what we’re talking about. And that’s how I view my work is I view my work as I’m not trying to come in and change your mind necessarily. That’s obviously part of it, but it’s not my end goal, because if you’re not ready to change your mind or to change your way of thinking, then that’s not my job, because I don’t want to push you to where I want you to go.
Felicia Jadczak (42:34):
What I am doing, and this is how I think about it, is I am creating a space where we’re going to use this opportunity and use the space to get into the mess of it. We’re going to talk about the things, we’re going to explore ideas. I’m going to show you options and alternatives and give you different ways of considering a problem or a situation or a person that maybe you’ve never thought about before. And then you get to decide where you want to go with all that at your disposal.
Felicia Jadczak (43:09):
A lot of times, the metaphor that I like to think about when I think about the work that I do is I’m building a doorway, I’m building the doorframe, I’m building the door, and I’m hanging in on the hinges, I’m installing the doorknob and I’m opening the door for you. But it’s up to you to decide if you want to take that step and walk through the doorway. That’s not my job. My job is to create this situation that will allow you to go through, but I’m never going to push someone through that door. I’m going to meet you where you’re at, and I’m going to invite you to consider coming along with me to further your learning journey, but I’m not going to force you there.
Felicia Jadczak (43:51):
For me, when I’m holding that space and I’m building that doorway and I’m giving you some options and I’m allowing you to think about what paint color you want to paint the door, and then you take that step and you peek through the doorway, that is exactly why I do this work. I think that it can be a huge breakthrough, where people go back and they say, “Guess what? We had this conversation with you and we completely overhauled this part of our organization.” Amazing, that is absolutely what I would love to see happen.
Felicia Jadczak (44:18):
It can also look like, “We had this conversation with you, and I’m going to think about managing my employees a little bit differently next time performance reviews come around.” That’s also great, too, because it all adds up together. Those light bulb moments, those moments of joy where I can see that someone came in with fear and they were resistant and they were angry and they didn’t want to talk to me, and then they came back the next week and they talked more or they said they were thinking about what we talked about, or we had a moment of connection. Those are the moments that I live for. Honestly, that’s what makes it worthwhile, because otherwise this work is a lot. Those are what keep me going.
Fatima Dainkeh (45:03):
When I think about why I keep doing this work, honestly, it’s because there are a lot of great things that have happened within my journey. And beyond my journey, there are a lot of great things that various activists, DEI practitioners, social justice folks have created that have allowed me to have language to even talk about what I’m talking about right now. There are so many seeds that have been planted, that have created beautiful, beautiful flowers and just an amazing forest that all of us would love to witness and be in. At the same time, the moments that I think about the most is sometimes those one-on-one conversations or those breakthrough moments that happen during workshops.
Fatima Dainkeh (45:50):
I remember the first time I started working at SGO, I was doing an in-person workshop for a client, and it was a mix of folks from different backgrounds. It was predominantly white company, but age demographics, there was a host of folks. I was giving a workshop on unconscious bias and microaggressions. I remember at the end of the workshop, a lot of folks were coming to me. They were like, “I’ve been living for this amount of years and I’ve been part of so many movements. I marched with Dr. King.” I mean, folks were just like, “This work isn’t new.” One, it’s beautiful to see that we’re not stopping this work, regardless of what formation it’s now taken in the workplace. But two, even with those folks who’ve been part of social justice and human rights movements, that workshop was eye-opening for them, because they’re also evolving and growing in their understanding of certain concepts [inaudible 00:46:51].
Fatima Dainkeh (46:52):
For me, that is a beautiful thing to hear, because when you’re doing this work, it can feel sometimes draining or you can feel like there’s no change being made. When you hear somebody say, “Yeah, we were the ones on the front lines, and I also just learned something new and I’m taking this back to my granddaughter.” I’m like, “First of all, praise to you, because I’m here because you marched. I’m here because you did the work.” That connection is beautiful.
Fatima Dainkeh (47:20):
I think the other piece of it is hearing from folks who might be skeptical to do a workshop with us or might be skeptical in the beginning, because of what they’ve heard about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Or maybe they’ve had a negative experience doing DEI work. Folks sometimes are honest in the beginning of my workshops, where they might say, the first three slides I get into it and somebody might be like, “This doesn’t make sense, why are we doing this?” And it’s like, okay, I’ve been here before, I ain’t scared. You know what I’m saying?
Fatima Dainkeh (47:54):
But at the same time, okay, [inaudible 00:47:56] moment like, “I appreciate your question, we’ve been in this for 45 minutes. I’m not here to change your mind. I’m just here to offer tools. Let’s keep going through this. If you still have questions or if it’s not making sense, pause us, this is your time as much as it’s my time.” I think when you do that for folks, you put the power back in their hand. People get afraid when they feel like you’re taking their power away or their autonomy away. When you say, “Hey, these are some awesome ideas. I’m going to leave it here on the table.” You get to choose what works for you.
Fatima Dainkeh (48:31):
What I’ve found, some of my most beautiful moments in facilitating have been those moments where someone started a workshop or a program with me and they were just like, “This is divisive. I don’t know why this makes sense.” Then at the end of that workshop or at the end of that program, they’re just like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard, I’ve ever gone through. I’m leaving this workshop feeling like a better person. I can’t wait to talk to my niece about this, because she’s been trying to tell me about why gender pronouns are important and I didn’t listen to her.” We’re not just changing workplaces. We’re not just planting seeds to change workplaces. We’re also helping people go back to their communities, go back to their personal lives, to go back and say, “I know I didn’t honor your pronouns, they, but I just took that workshop and if you want me to identify you as they, then I’m going to identify you as they. And if I mess up, forgive me, but I’m going to do it.”
Fatima Dainkeh (49:28):
That is what causes culture change, that is what causes culture shift, those little moments. So when we talk about change, it is incremental, it is very small. Nothing grows overnight. You know what I mean? Unless if you got gnats in your house, it’s like all over the place. I don’t know how those things work. But those are the things that keep me going, because ultimately I want to live in a world that is beautiful as… And this world is beautiful. Yeah, we’re talking about things that are harmful, but this world is really beautiful. How can we leverage our superpowers and our amazingness to continue making it beautiful for whatever other physical forms manifest here? That is what pushes me. That is what makes me hopeful. That is what gives me excitement to just see the change happening.
Rachel Murray (50:24):
Thanks so much for joining us this season. As you and I both know, abolishing inequity at work isn’t easy, but this work isn’t done alone. If you’re looking to further your own knowledge and gain support alongside other incredible people, we’ve got your back. Join our community and get a welcoming built-in support system grounded in the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. You’ll have access to bonus episodes, additional resources, courses, webinars, coaching, and more. Check it out at shegeeksout.com/community.
Rachel Murray (50:52):
This episode was written by Vienna DeGiacomo and Fatima Dainkeh, produced and edited by Vienna DeGiacomo, hosted by Felicia Jadczak and Rachel Murray. The guests featured in this episode were Erika Powell, Karina Becerra, and Naomi Seddon. Our facilitators were Fatima Dainkeh, Rachel Sadler, Dr. Victoria Verlezza, Kia Rivera, and Felicia Jadczak. Huge thanks to all of our guests this season, Amaia Arruabarrena, Anna Whitlock, Dr. Becca Shanksy, Belma McCaffrey, C.A. Webb, Charis Loveland, David Tedeschi, Elba Lizardi, Elisa Campos-Prator, Dr. Erika Powell, Erin Learoyd, Ginny Cheng, [inaudible 00:51:31], Himaja Nimmagadda, Dr. Huong Diep, Jason Fooks, Karina Becerra, Melanie Ho, Naomi Seddon, Reem Papageorgiou, Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe, Sarah Tracy, and Snaedis Valsdottir. Please don’t forget to rate, share, and subscribe. It makes a huge difference in the reach of this work. See you next season.