SGO Podcast Season 2 Episode 4: Uncomfortable Conversations

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About The Episode Transcript

This week we're focusing on what it looks like when DEI initiatives are up and running. The truth is, in many cases, it's going to mean more open dialogue and the potential for having uncomfortable conversations within your teams. We need to learn how to move out of defensiveness and fragility to make these conversations productive and useful. We discuss psychological safety, allyship, calling in or out, and providing feedback. 

Contributors to this episode are:


Erika Powell (00:00:01):
The bias is towards, "Well, what do we do next? How do we fix it?" But we cannot fix it until we create a space where folks feel like they can voice, "When you just made that comment about my hair being curly, I got nauseous." We're not at a place where we can say that to each other.

Victoria Verlezza (00:00:22):
I hear that a lot in sessions. "We don't want to offend somebody." It's more than being offensive. It's being harmful. People don't feel confident in having harder conversations out at work and in an open setting.

Anna Whitlock (00:00:36):
At my worst, I felt like you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. And at my best I'm trying and I'm learning. And I think that's a shared experience for a lot of people.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:00:48):
Who need to build that muscle of as a human how can you just show up for another human?

Felicia Jadczak (00:01:02):
Hi, everybody. I'm Felicia.

Rachel Murray (00:01:03):
And I'm Rachel, and welcome to the SGO podcast, the She Geeks Out podcast.

Felicia Jadczak (00:01:08):
This season is unlike any that we've 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 (00:01:18):
We got to interview so many incredible people.

Felicia Jadczak (00:01:20):
You'll also be hearing some little snippets and interjections from our facilitation team.

Rachel Murray (00:01:25):
You'll get their perspectives on what DEI really looks like in the workplace from a practical, actionable standpoint. So let's go.

Rachel Murray (00:01:39):
Last week, we talked about the process of building out a DEI program in an organization, and now we're going to think more about what it looks like when those initiatives are up and running. The truth is, in many cases, it's going to mean more open dialogue and the potential for having uncomfortable conversations within your teams. We need to learn how to move out of defensiveness and fragility to make these conversations productive and useful. We're going to be talking about things like psychological safety, allyship, calling in or out, and providing feedback. Here's Dr. Erika Powell.

Erika Powell (00:02:14):
I feel like part of these calls for performative DEI are getting at that psychological safety piece. So when people say, "You're being performative.", I believe one of the things that they're really saying is, "You're not connecting with me. You're not thinking about how safe I feel or how safe I don't feel." And I think [inaudible 00:02:40] does a fantastic job at getting people to have these hard conversations in a authentic way about bias, about microaggressions. And he comes at it from a different angle. So his classes aren't necessarily, "Let's have a class about unconscious bias." He actually works with the heat of the impact of what bias does or the impact of what a microaggression or the impact of what an ism does that makes people feel unsafe.

Erika Powell (00:03:17):
They may never tell you that they feel unsafe, because if you look at how, I get down with somatics as well, if you look at how bodies are conditioned when we look at that power dynamic between folks who hold a dominant identity and folks who hold non-dominant identities, part of keeping safe when you have a non-dominant identity is to get silent because you want to stay safe in some way, or to not push back because you don't want to poke the bear or anger rhe bear. One of the things I do is I go animal tracking. I am such a nerd and I love it. But I'm often out in nature at least once a month. And I remember the guy who's our head tracker one time he said, "Listen. Do you hear that?" And we're like, "Hear what? It's quiet." He was like, "The birds are quiet because we are on their home court." So that silence is what we need to listen to.

Erika Powell (00:04:23):
The question that I always have is why have almost every company that I know has taken an unconscious bias course, that's been the big push since 2020, and we still have people saying that they don't feel safe in the workplace or, "I don't want to come back to work." There was an article, I forget who it was, one of the big names, like a Forbes or a Fast Company, or one of the big business names. The headline was like Women of Color Don't Want to Come Back in the Workplace. They actually feel better off being in a virtual environment. Why is that? Why have we created a situation where someone can't say, "Hey, that sounds like a microaggression to me, or what bias might be here?"

Erika Powell (00:05:06):
So that psychological safety, I think, is what will make or break the DEI conversation going forward. It's not just about do you know what a microaggression is? Do you know what an unconscious bias is? Do you know what allyship is? It's do you know how you knowing that or not knowing that impacts the psychological safety you can create on your team, if you are a leader, and if you're not a officially recognized titled leader, what it does to your individual contributors, just like as an employee to an employee level?

Rachel Murray (00:05:41):
And it's probably related to some of the work around somatics, I would imagine. Can you talk a little bit about what somatics is and how that plays into this work?

Erika Powell (00:05:53):
Yeah, so somatics is a body based practice and the idea in general is to track sensation in the body. What do I mean? Rather than tell a story about the sensation, but to pause and really say, "When you said that, I constricted, I constricted in my throat. I constricted in my legs. Memories came up, or I felt heat in my arms." And I believe that is really the next level for folks to start to recognize what is happening in your body when you are in these conversations. Because our… And I'm a doctor, but not that kind of doctor, I believe our nervous system starts to hijack that initial felt response. And because of the bias, particularly in corporate arenas, the bias and the premium is on, "Let's not take the pause to pay attention to what's really happening. Pay attention to the quote-unquote birds in the room to see if they're being silent."

Erika Powell (00:07:10):
The bias is towards, "Well, what do we do next? How do we fix it?" But we cannot fix it until we tune into and we create a space where folks feel like they can voice, "When you just made that comment about my hair being curly, I got nauseous." We're not at a place where we can say that to each other. And somatics starts to help people develop that language for themselves first and then you can start to do it in partnership. And the conversations that you can have when you take a somatic lens, I think, are quite transformative, particularly for this type of work.

Rachel Murray (00:07:54):
And on the flip side of that too, I love that because it's like for the other person to say, "Oh, wow. When you called me out on this thing…"

Erika Powell (00:08:03):
"I felt…"

Rachel Murray (00:08:05):
"I wanted to vomit. I was embarrassed. I felt sick in my stomach." Whatever that is and voicing that would probably really help to heal it on both sides.

Erika Powell (00:08:15):
Yes. And then what you get, and I think this is where you can see me lighten up, I'm like [inaudible 00:08:24]. Notice what happens, when you get this side and this side of the system talking to each other in a different way, you create a totality, I'm not trying to sound heady or woo-woo, you create a totality that really recognized the depth and the breadth of what's going on with a given ism or a given aggression or a given whatever we're working with. So once you have that, then you can go the next step, which is, "Well, how do we create something different?"

Erika Powell (00:08:59):
And it was as I started to evolve and get more comfortable with this work, again, using somatics as well as really using [inaudible 00:09:08] work as inspiration and a template and a model for how we can actually get to the other side of these conversations and tap in to the humanity that lies in our differences, I became more comfortable. And now I'm like those are the conversations that I want to have. I feel like that arc and I feel like every DEI practitioner has a different arc. Some folks have a different trajectory for me, I've landed in the, "Hey, I want to be able to have these conversations with folks and see how we can get them to the other side." Because that's where I feel like then we can start to get different policies, then we can start to get different behaviors in the system.

Rachel Murray (00:09:53):
People are coming at this from so many different places, and I know Felicia has talked about this a lot too, is the head versus the heart and how you get people to really buy into this reality that people are different and that people have different experiences and that people are socialized to different ways of thinking and being in the world. How do you get people to move into that space where they're trusting that it will be okay if they start to have those deeper, more intense conversations?

Erika Powell (00:10:24):
Slowly, number one. So I always like to think of it as, depending on where you start the time clock, and what do I mean by that? Looking at the bodies in this virtual room, if you look at my brown body, we could be starting 400 years ago. 400, maybe 500. I don't know. The historians can tell me where to actually start the time. As such, that is a lot of energy and trauma to try to move. So if you think that you are going to do it in two hours and be one and done, you are fooling yourself. It really has to be an ongoing conversation.

Erika Powell (00:11:16):
So one activity that I love doing with folks is I'll say, "Let's take a look at this diversity wheel." And we can be on the Zoom, let's say this is just a intro training. "Everybody close their eyes. Don't worry. I'm not going to jump through the Zoom or anything like that. Technology hasn't afforded me that privilege yet." And I'll say, "Close your eyes and just listen to this social identity or this part of the diversity wheel. What do you feel? What notice when I say it? And just type it in the chat."

Erika Powell (00:11:48):
And it really is a magical experience because what people start to see is, and I'll start slow with folks, so the ones that don't usually cause too much heat, and then I'll ramp it up. In my world, race is usually the thing that is the hottest jalapeno in the salsa bucket. I'll start at a two and then move up to race, if you will, and see what happens and people will pop in the chat what they feel. "Well, what do you feel on a scale of habanero?" And people will say, "Oh, I feel ashamed. I feel conflicted." And when people get to witness that even though we're all talking about the same thing, we're all talking about the word race, all of us have different experiences of it .and that different experience and that shame or that apathy or that whatever comes up for folks that is what's actually driving the conversation. That is what's actually keeping you from moving.

Erika Powell (00:12:56):
When people come to me, clients come to me and say, "Oh, we haven't moved our metrics. We can't get new candidates. We can't get this." Because you haven't really had that conversation, that depth of the conversation. Stay in it. Stay in the conversation. There is a cost to you and to the people that you work with, that you connect with when you don't stay in the conversation. And there is also a reward when you stay in the conversation and the reward of connection and being able to really have genuine connection with folks is priceless.

Rachel Murray (00:13:45):
Here's Dr. Victoria Verlezza SGO DEI facilitator, and one of the leaders of our leading DEI conversations to tell us more.

Victoria Verlezza (00:13:53):
Difficult conversations stem from two places. We either want to have them and we don't know how to have them, or we're fearful of having them because we don't want to say the wrong word or say the wrong thing, or we don't want to offend. I hear that a lot in sessions. "We don't want to offend somebody." It's more than being offensive, it's being harmful. So if we're going into a space and we want to have a conversation with somebody that might be a little difficult to navigate because we are unaware of all of these other things, we may end up causing more harm than good because we simply just aren't aware. So it's important to think about how identity plays into difficult conversations, because it's not difficult conversations isolated. We're not just having feedback conversations. We're not just having conversations about performance reviews. We're having conversations about these things and we have identities that are real and play out in these conversations.

Victoria Verlezza (00:14:56):
For example, if you're a white manager and you're giving feedback to a Black employee, there will be some level of unconscious bias or level of thinking about feedback from a bias perspective that you may not even know about. So how, in my mind, are we as individuals who are socialized within this system, and by this system I mean all of this systems, to have difficult conversations or to not have difficult conversations because we don't want to be perceived as being racist or sexist or homophobic because we're afraid of having the difficult conversation, or the conversation that could have some difficult outcomes, like a performance review conversation, for example. And so when I think about how do we talk about work related things, but also acknowledge identity being a piece of that, we have to do our own self work, to know who we are, how our own identities play out or how we are demonstrating a level of awareness.

Victoria Verlezza (00:16:07):
So there is some research done out of the UK that suggests that 51% of professionals say that they deal with a difficult conversation at work at least once or more a month. And in that same research, they say that 61% of professionals say they would like to learn how to manage those difficult workplace conversations with more confidence. So what we see is people don't feel confident in having harder conversations out at work and in an open setting. So for example, let's just say that you as an individual need to have a feedback conversation with somebody about their presentation they just gave, and it wasn't the best, it wasn't stellar and you need to have that conversation. Well, that conversation is also going to come with everything that you bring that is behind you. So all of your identities, all of the things that you know, how you came up in your sector, and everything this person knows and all of their past trauma and all of their identities and all of these pieces are playing out.

Victoria Verlezza (00:17:18):
So for me, the difficult conversation is not just, "I'm white, you're Black. Let's talk about it." It's giving, "I'm giving you feedback. How is this feedback going to be perceived? How is it going to land? How is it going to impact you? How are you impacted? How am I playing my raced being part?" Meaning, "How am I playing into the system of racism and white supremacy culture without knowing it?" So when we think about having conversations, we have to be really intentional about why we're having the conversation, what's the purpose? What is the purpose of the words we're using? We have to be mindful of how power, privilege and oppression can come up in language and body language and our perception of another person. For example, if they're smiling versus not smiling, are they laughing with you or are they joking with you or do they look really upset? We have to be mindful of these things.

Rachel Murray (00:18:10):
Next, we'll talk to Dr. Becca Shansky about the conversation she's having to move beyond biases in academia.

Becca Shansky (00:18:16):
The most important thing for a biomedical scientist to be able to do is to get grant funding from the government. There was a report that came out in 2010, I believe, called the Ginther report, which actually looked at funding success among PIs based on race. And what they found was that let alone the fact that there are way fewer Black PIs than are even represented in the general US population, Black PAs are funded much, much less successfully than their white counterparts. Even when you account for all kinds of things, like how many papers they have or anything that you think would maybe influence it from kind of a meritus standpoint. And so what this report revealed is that there is basically systemic racism baked into the very practice of peer review and that is something that needs to be actively changed. There was a follow up on that report that came up more recently, I forget the exact year, maybe 2019, something like that, basically showing nothing has changed. So there have been some more vocal calls to leadership at the National Institute of Health to really try and move the needle on that and make things more equitable.

Felicia Jadczak (00:19:42):
Yeah, it's so interesting because I think especially with programs like SBIR and STTR and then peer review and journals and all these structures and systems that are in place, it's so challenging to shift away from that first of all. And then secondly, like you were saying, just because we put in practices like blind review or whatnot doesn't mean that there aren't still judgements being made or people can figure things out. That's another thing too, right? I'm sure in a lot of these spaces, sometimes the communities are small and insular and everyone knows everybody else, and so even though you might not have names or institutions attached to an article or a paper, you still could probably guess who it is. Professors are no different than any other human beings. Everyone's got their dramas and their issues, right?

Becca Shansky (00:20:30):
Exactly. So that's one of the things that always comes up is, "Well, why don't you just remove identifying information from the grant applications?" And like you say, it's pretty impossible to do that. In part, because one of the actual things that you get judged on is the investigator themselves, have you been successful in the past? Are you the right person to do this grant? And so by that metric, you have to know who is proposing to perform the research, because you need to know if they have the right training for that. And then even if they did, as you say, you can guess. It's not that hard. So yeah, I think the blind review is not sufficient to fix these kinds of implicit bias problems that the field has.

Melanie Ho (00:21:19):
I'm also really curious, this question just kind of popped into my mind as you were sharing, because I'm wondering if this is something you've come across in your experience in your work where… I'm blanking on the actual article titles or research titles. But I know there's been a fair amount of research, especially in recent years around biases related to things like authorship and how people are listed and what order they're listed in terms of authoring papers and research projects. The research study that I'm thinking of is something around if there's one woman in a group of male authors, she's not treated in the same way than if there's one man in a group of female authors, and how even just the fact of being listed in a list of names has inherent bias that can come along with it. Is that something that you've come across or that you've even seen or experienced in your own experiences?

Becca Shansky (00:22:12):
I don't know the exact paper that you're talking about, but I can certainly imagine that if there is one man on the paper he's probably given more credit than a woman, given the converse scenario that you're describing. And there's definitely papers showing that. So in our field, the way that the authorship works is if the first author of a paper is usually the grad student or the postdoc who did most of the work who led the project, these papers, your first author papers are the papers that are your defining body of work. You might be middle author because you helped on somebody else's project on a different paper. But the first author is the ones that matter the most. And definitely there's evidence that papers where a woman is the first author don't get cited as much as the papers where a man is the first author, those kinds of things for sure come up all the time.

Becca Shansky (00:23:10):
There's just sort this, I don't know, this implicit idea that scientists are men. There's this whole movement or thing called Picture a Scientist where first they would ask little kids to draw, "What do you think a scientists looks like?" And they all do an old white man with a lab coat on. And that then became the name of this movie about sexual harassment and sexism in science that came out I think in 2020, that goes into some of those issues more deeply. So I think there is still a lot of unchecked bias that people have just in terms of what is valid science and who does it.

Melanie Ho (00:23:54):
Your research has to do with neuroscience and the brain and biology. But then you're also speaking to shifts in how we're thinking about these concepts at a really high level too. So curious how you're considering things like gender. And we have as a society been moving away from that view of gender as a binary. And of course gender is not the same as biology or biological sex, but I think certainly there's considerations there. And has that shift in thinking beyond the binary, has that had any impact on your work or how you're thinking about the work at all?

Becca Shansky (00:24:32):
Yeah, definitely. And this is something I think about a lot and has come up more and more in these kinds of conversations where those of us who are really interested in studying and looking for sex differences in our research, how do you then translate that up? Because I think for sure it is not the case that whatever we discover in a male mouse is going to translate just to men and whatever we discover in a female mouse is going to translate to women and boom, we're done, everything is solved. It's not really what to me translational neuroscience is about. It's about understanding what the brain is capable of in all of its possibilities. And those things can translate in any direction to people of any gender or sex once you get to that kind of clinical level. But if you're just ignoring half of what the brain is capable of, we're never going to know who that can help.

Becca Shansky (00:25:32):
So it's really not about studying female rodents for women. It's a part of it clearly. And if you're studying something pregnancy or postpartum, those kinds of things probably will be a little more directly relevant to female humans. But I think what we're understanding now is that the term sex within the context of what we're doing in animals is essentially a proxy for number of different conditions that female animals exhibit and any one of those could be part of what's driving the effects that you see. And so it's sort of a shorthand for actually describing a lot of different things that are going on in both the brain and the body. And so it's not just going to be this binary thing where everything is always going to be connected in that way.

Rachel Murray (00:26:26):
Here's Anna Whitlock, director of People, Strategy and Culture at LabCentral.

Anna Whitlock (00:26:30):
At my worst, I felt like you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. And at my best I'm trying and I'm learning. And I think that's a shared experience for a lot of people. But I don't always know that there's an awareness for that across the board. An example that I had that came up recently at LabCentral was the conflict that's happening in the Ukraine. And I think we talked about this a little bit with you all, is that there's an anonymous question that was like, "We need to be responding as an organization to this." Over the past two years as an organization, we have responded to various events that are happening in the world to condemn them, a lot of the violence that has happened towards Black people and people of color. And someone was saying, "We need to address this." And so it was addressed.

Anna Whitlock (00:27:20):
Then in a confidential call with some folks it was raised that that was really inappropriate from their standpoint, it felt not correct. And if we're going to do it there, then why aren't we doing it for this and this and this and this and that we shouldn't be doing it at all. And I tried to say in that context, it's a valid opinion, a hundred percent. There's no book of this is how you do it the right way. That's also a struggle that I had with an employee who was vehemently upset that I started a meeting without using my pronouns. What I did do was I very consciously said, "Just to start this meeting, I'd like everyone to share their name, their job and however it is that they'd like to introduce themselves and describe themselves." Because in an entirely different conversation where pronouns had been used, someone was upset because they don't identify with pronouns. And so setting that expectation didn't allow them to feel like they belonged. So I was very intentionally trying to avoid the suggestion we use our pronouns. But instead opening it up to say, "How do you want to introduce yourself?" With the implication that pronouns is one of the ways that you could choose to introduce yourself.

Anna Whitlock (00:28:32):
I always take that example with me because it's that ping pong effect sometimes of I have an experience where I learn something from someone and I respond to that in a way that then is hurtful to someone else. And as someone that I think is always trying to do the right thing and also deeply empathetic to people and how they want to experience life, it's upsetting to me that I'm not going to get it right even when I feel like I've learned. So just wanted to share that because I imagine it's a part of everyone's experience down this path and it's so personal and it's hard work and that is something I struggle with every day when I'm thinking about this work.

Felicia Jadczak (00:29:18):
Oh, thank you so much, Anna. I really appreciate your vulnerability because this is it, right? This is the work and you're not alone in this. This is a struggle. And even those examples you were sharing, I've heard that from other folks at other organizations. Apologies, if you were hoping you were special and unique but-

Rachel Murray (00:29:39):
And Anna, I will also say, Felicia and I mess up and we literally do this work every day.

Felicia Jadczak (00:29:46):
All the time.

Rachel Murray (00:29:46):
Because we're humans and humans are very fallible. And as much as we, I think, as women also to reject that as much as possible and try to be as perfect as we can be because we have been socially conditioned to be that, the reality is we aren't. So I just want to double click on that.

Anna Whitlock (00:30:06):
Thank you. I definitely don't ever want to be alone in that way. I don't want to be the sole person screwing up horrendously.

Felicia Jadczak (00:30:13):
Well, and I think too, that's part of what we speak to is that this stuff takes work. And as you were saying, sometimes we will mess up in a sense that we're going to be trying to support someone or some group of folks and then unintentionally do harm to other folks. So it's not about trying to be, I mean, we can try to be perfect, but it's about realizing that we will mess up and then how do you handle it when you mess up? And I think that's the piece that sometimes people forget because they're so focused on never messing up and that's actually not realistic. So let's agree there will be mistakes at some point, and we won't even know what it could be, and then how are we going to handle it when that comes up and comes up in our face?

Rachel Murray (00:30:55):
And I would just add very quickly to that too, I think the harsh reality too is some people will be understanding of our mistakes and other people will not be understanding of our mistakes. And that is also really hard to come to terms with is that sometimes people will just reject you completely and it is what it is. You can only control this part of you. So here's Victoria again.

Victoria Verlezza (00:31:23):
Talking across difference is really key. Thinking about how our own individual dominant or oppressed identities play out and how that really does impact us in the workplace. I literally just was watching this TikTok video, yeah I'll out myself as a TikTok watcher. I was just watching this video about this white guy in Texas who is talking about the insidious nature of his own understanding of self. So he's a white guy and he was taught that certain people want, quote-unquote, "free stuff." And he knows the image of the people that are brought to his mind when he says, "These people want free stuff.", quote-unquote. That is beautiful that he can A, recognize it and B, he goes on to talk about how he recognized it in the moment in his workplace. We all have that. And that plays out when we're talking across difference. And the reality is we're all different.

Victoria Verlezza (00:32:30):
Just because we might have an identity in common does not mean that we do also have the same lived experience with those identities. It also doesn't mean that we have the same combination of identities. So thinking about intersectionality and how intersectionality plays out. So I might be white. Yes, I am white first. I show up in a space as a white woman first and foremost. But the things you don't see about me are the fact that I'm autistic, I'm neuro divergent. I am queer. I am in an interracial relationship. I am really short. I have chronic illnesses, et cetera, et cetera. All of those things create my identity and create how I'm going to show up. But first and foremost, I am a white woman. So as a supervisor or as a manager or as a leader, I have to be aware of those things. I have to be aware of my impact on others as a person who shows up as a white woman first and foremost.

Victoria Verlezza (00:33:29):
That level of awareness takes time, intention and practice. It takes effort. It takes constant, active commitment. So when we're thinking about how do we become or continue to be inclusive leaders, we have to think about how we show up in these conversations. One of the programs we do here at SGO is leading DEI conversations. A part of that is how do you facilitate conversations whether it be to a large group, but also how do you have these one-on-one conversations with people around identity? It's really important to consider how you show up and how you're impacting others. Some of the tips, some of the tricks we talk about and we really lean into are building that psychologically safe environment. How are we interrogating our own power and privilege? But also how are we holding space for others?

Victoria Verlezza (00:34:27):
We have to honor the fact that folks are not leaving themselves at the door. They are showing up as full, authentic humans with human feelings and human trauma. We have to embrace these uncomfortable conversations and embrace the humanness, but also realize impact is so much more important than intent. We as individuals, when we show up in these conversations, we have to realize we might misstep and that's okay. We have to own it and move on. And we have to commit to learning when we make a mistake or we misstep or we've, as people would say, offended, I would like to reframe that as harm… When we cause harm, first and foremost, if you notice body language, or if you notice that someone got a little tense by something we said or we did, acknowledge it. Say it. "Hey, I noticed that something I just said might have landed the wrong way. I just want to check in." It's up to that person to tell you yes or no. If they say, "No, I don't want to talk about it." Leave it be.

Victoria Verlezza (00:35:38):
If you think you did something that harmed someone else say you're sorry and say you're sorry once. What I see a lot and what I also know within myself is especially as a white person, a white woman, the desire is to apologize a lot. The desire is to say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry." And then explain. "I didn't mean it like that. You took it the wrong way." That is not an apology. That is not how we heal from something that was harmful. What we need to be doing is we need to acknowledge the harm. "I'm sorry. I will do better in the future. If you would like to talk about this at any point, please let me know." That is it. And then you as yourself, your individual self need to go and do something about it. Whether that be you're white person and you've micro aggressed, or you've said something out of pocket that is racist, well go talk to another white person.

Victoria Verlezza (00:36:38):
I actually hear the sentiment of, "I'm here to do my job. Why do we have to talk about triggers? Why do we have to talk about activators? Why do we have to talk about identity at work a lot?" And I hear it because that is the way things were done previously. So if we think about the working world, if we think about professional life very much was set up that your life, your identity, who you are, what makes you a unique human was left at the door, right?

Victoria Verlezza (00:37:07):
Think about Mad Men for example, the television show, who those men were, and I'm saying men, because the show is following a lot of white men in the '60s in the advertising world, they left who they were at the door. Who they became when they walked through the door… Because they all did walk, I can say walk, none of them were disabled, another thing. They showed up as white men. They were the bosses. They were doing what they were doing. There was no need to talk about it. There was no need to embrace you're a father, you're a this, you're a that. It was just the norm.

Victoria Verlezza (00:37:46):
We are no longer in white men should be the norm. We are in a space of embracing that people are everywhere with different identities and different experiences. And one of the reasons it's so important to talk about identity and how our different identities show up at work is because we need to. We can't just accept people for the fact that they're human. And I say this a lot. It comes up a lot in race workshops. Folks want to be what we consider colorblind. So folks think about, "I just see you as a person. I don't see you as anything else. You're just a person to me." Yes and. If we are embracing people just at human level, we are ignoring the fact that there are things that are going on on a daily basis and have been for centuries that are impacting people on multiple levels. It impacts the way they show up at work. It impacts their, quote-unquote, "productivity." It impacts them at a cellular level.

Victoria Verlezza (00:38:52):
We can't ignore the fact that police brutality exists. We can't ignore the fact that there's global pandemics happening. And I say pandemics, because there's lots of things happening. If we're ignoring that we're ignoring humanness. We're ignoring the fact that there are real life consequences to people for some of the things that are happening, quote-unquote, "outside of work." We can't not talk about these things. And I think the thing that really gets folks fearful, especially leadership positions, if you're not bringing attention to an issue, it's going to make it worse. We have to talk about the things that are impacting people at these very real levels because we can't expect someone to produce in a way that they have been if there's things going on right.

Victoria Verlezza (00:39:47):
In another vein, we see this research around belonging. And when we're not talking about identity at work, when folks don't see people who look like them or don't have representation physically or otherwise, like known representation, that impacts the way people feel like they show up or the way they belong at work. Belonging uncertainty is one of the things that difficult conversations can contribute to, especially if you as a leader or you as an individual contributor aren't giving praise at a equitable amount. If you are not giving feedback in an equitable rate, we are disproportionately impacting folks which is going to impact their belonging. I always want my coworkers to feel supported. So one of the ways that I manage up when it comes to feedback is I check in with the affected person.

Victoria Verlezza (00:40:50):
It's happened a few times in my career where I've had a white supervisor ignore comments from a Black queer woman. I've had the same supervisor misgender people in large meetings in all team meetings. My first action item is to check in with the person and say, "Hey, I noticed this…" Not in front of the entire group. "Hey, I saw this happen. I noticed this happened. Here's what I'm thinking. I want to check in on you. How are you doing? What can I do for you?" Let them say, "I'm fine. I'm not good." Whatever their answer is. And then I say to them, "Are you okay with one of two things? Are you okay if I go and address this privately with this person one-on-one, have that back and forth? Yes or no?" And then I say to them, "In the future, if this happens, what would you prefer me? Calling this out in public? Would you prefer me to just have your back in this situation if you choose to say something, knowing that someone in the room has your back? Or would you choose that I just ignore it?"

Victoria Verlezza (00:41:55):
In both instances, I've had very different responses. I've had, "I want you to go talk to them." And so I did. And then with that, "If it happens again, I want you to call it out in the meeting." And we did this once, they said something. And I was like, "Yeah, I noticed that too." So amplifying what this person is saying. Then in a different situation, they said, "No, I don't want to draw attention to it. I can't even think about it. It happens all the time. Especially when it comes to misgendering and using incorrect pronouns." Those are my approaches. It also assumes I have a level of a relationship with the person, but I do think, and I have heard, even if there isn't a personal relationship or a one-on-one relationship, folks appreciate being checked in on. Especially if you notice something. If you're noticing that something's gone a little awry and you, "Hey, I noticed this was awkward. It was awkward for me. I want to check in and make sure you're okay.", our colleagues appreciate that. It shows that you're paying attention.

Rachel Murray (00:43:06):
Here's SGO staff DEI programs and training manager, Fatima Dainkeh.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:43:11):
The word ally means so many things. And so when folks say, "What does it mean to be an ally?" I'm always like, "Okay, let's pause." Because I know the term ally leaves a bad taste in some of our mouths, especially folks who have been doing social justice work for a very long time. The reason why I say that is because unfortunately, and fortunately, language supports us in our actions, our behaviors, and helps us with our mindsets. And it is also very possible to co-op certain terminology or define certain terms based off of how we perceive them. When I think about the term ally, I'm thinking, "How am I practicing something in my day to day life to support someone else or another group of folks who might not have the same social privilege and power as myself?" And so when people say, "How am I an ally in the workplace?" That is usually the definition, really broad definition, but that's the definition that I start to work with because it really supports you in thinking about how do you leverage the privilege and power that you have.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:44:26):
And because we're humans, we have multiple identities. And so some of us have privilege in some areas and in other areas we don't. So for example, I am a Black woman. As a Black and as a woman, there are issues that I face in this country and in other countries, because those identities have been oppressed and have been marginalized. That does not make me powerless. That does not mean that I cannot be an ally to folks in other areas. So areas that I do hold privilege in is my sexuality. I identify as a heterosexual woman, so I don't necessarily have to think about on a consistent basis how I might be viewed or treated based off of who I choose as a partner and what that means in terms of communicating in the workplace.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:45:17):
So when we think about allyship in the workplace, that might look like you first reflecting on what are your identities, where do you hold privilege and power, understanding that on a social level, and then asking yourself, "How do I leverage that? How do I make sure that I'm also listening to folks who don't have as much privilege and power?" Because again, it's very easy to get into savior mode or guilt mode or shame mode, which then makes us feel like we need to do something immediately without pausing and listening to the folks who have to deal with being their certain identities because of the society or because of the workplace that they live in. And so reflecting on that, asking folks what they need, but then also practicing not making someone else your teacher.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:46:07):
It's so easy to feel like, "Oh, Fatima's a Black woman and there's a Black issue happening so I need to always ask Fatima. I need to confirm that she feels good about my answer." At some point, we need to get in the space of practicing our own allyship without solely relying on folks with marginalized identities, because it's tiring, number one. But number two, we need to build that muscle of as a human how can you just show up for another human without relying on that human? And so those are the various aspects to think about when we're thinking about allyship. I know that there are other words out in the community like co-conspirator, accomplice and so forth. And some of those other terminologies have surfaced because of what I was mentioning earlier, where sometimes the term ally or allyship is co-opted and folks aren't doing the work. So accomplice and co-conspirator is a reminder of what allyship was always supposed to mean to begin with.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:47:10):
So when we're thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion work, one of the questions we often get is, "How do you give feedback?" And really what people are asking us is, "How do you call in or call out?" So if folks are familiar with that phrasing, basically what this means is that there is a type of feedback that you give to folks that allows them to understand that what might have been done or said isn't okay, and hopefully gives an opportunity for change. So calling in is a type of method you use when you might have a great relationship with someone, maybe it's coworker, a team member, whatever the case may be. And they might say something that's inappropriate unintentionally. And again, we don't always know what folks' intents are, but you might know that, or you might assume because of the relationship that you have. So maybe it was a mistake, maybe it was a joke that they didn't realize was a microaggression, whatever the case may be. And so calling in is a type of method you use when you want to say, "Hey, can we pause? You might have not meant this, but here's how it felt or here's the impact." So that's one type of way of giving feedback.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:48:21):
Calling out is really a bit more than that. And the reason why I say a bit more is because oftentimes you use the calling out method if this is for someone who consistently continues to create negative harm within the workplace, folks have given them feedback but they aren't listening or they don't care and/or if the harm is so visceral or so in your face that you have to say or do something immediately. So you would use that method. And both methods can be needed. I'm not here to say which is better than the other. But for us to practice what we think is needed. So for calling out, you might use that if somebody says a gender or racial or ableist slur and knows that it is that and laughs about it, or if someone continuously has something negative to say about their colleague or is committing intentional microaggressions, you might need to say or do something there and then. Or if someone is participating in discriminatory hiring practices and making commentary that can impact your overall culture.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:49:35):
So when we're thinking about these forms of feedback, obviously it's not an exhaustive list, but it's very important to know how to give that type of feedback, especially when it comes to topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion. So now that we have an understanding of what calling in and calling out might look like sometimes people ask us, "Okay, but how do I call in or call out my manager? Or how do I call in and call out my colleague?" And that obviously might look different, and context matters. So if it's someone that's your manager, I want to recognize that there is power dynamics right there.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:50:15):
So you might want to take a step back to first ask yourself what's your relationship with your manager? If you've been in relation with this manager for quite some time, you might understand the way they appreciate feedback. You might now know the way they work. And so taking a moment to reflect on, "What might support me in giving feedback to this manager? What other forms of feedback? "There's other models that we work with at SGO, such as the SBI model, where we're thinking about first, we need to name the situation, then the behavior, then the impact, and then think about an action step.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:50:51):
So when things like a microaggression or a bias is committed, it can surface some emotional feelings and thoughts. And so sometimes we might need to take up step back and ask ourselves, "What are the things that happened? What's the example, what is the impact? How did it make me feel?" And share that with that person. And giving that person an opportunity to respond. We might not love the way our managers respond or the way our colleagues respond, but part of learning and part of doing this work is offering grace to that person especially if you don't think it was an intentional remark or behavior. Now, if it is your direct report, sometimes I hear people say, "I don't always want to be the person that's calling people in or out." We're also talking about relationships here.

Fatima Dainkeh (00:51:44):
So sometimes when we talk about allyship, calling in and calling out, those methods are part of that. And we often say that being an ally also means that sometimes you might lose some social credibility or you might not be the most liked in the workplace or organization, especially if the culture within your organization or workplace isn't at the same level of understanding why this type of feedback is important. And so taking the time to call your own self in is an example of ways to make people not automatically get defensive if you decide to call them in or out, because sometimes it can feel like you're being nitpicky or that you feel like you're perfect and you know it all, and we don't know it all, right? So if you're giving someone else grace, you want to also lead by example by giving yourself grace and showing people like, "Hey, I'm going to call myself in." Or, "Hey, someone just called me in. Here's what I learned from this situation and here's the change that I'm making."

Fatima Dainkeh (00:52:48):
So building a culture of inclusive feedback is really important because the more we can show examples from leadership all the way down within the workplace hierarchy, the more likely it's part of the culture. But if leadership isn't showing that they are receptive to feedback and/or making changes, then that directly impacts management level culture, which then directly impacts direct reports. And so part of it is also creating this culture where you're giving both informal and informal feedback. So beyond the, "Hey, you said this in the meeting, or I need to stop this right now because this was harmful.", what are some other mechanisms that are within an organization to collect that feedback? So is it during performance reviews? Is it during one-on-one meetings? Is it during quarterly check-ins? Whatever it is, you want to make sure that you're consistently creating both formal and informal space and time to collect data, but to also give people the opportunity to reflect on what might be working and what not might be working as it relates to feedback.

Rachel Murray (00:53:57):
We talked to Melanie Ho, author of Beyond Leaning In, and Naomi Seddon, author of Milk and Margaritas, about the conversations they're taking part in.

Melanie Ho (00:54:05):
Well, one topic that feels like it's been coming up a lot now that wasn't being talked about a year or two ago is weaponizing competence.

Felicia Jadczak (00:54:12):

Melanie Ho (00:54:13):
And at home and at work. I'd love to hear what you're all talking about related to that or anything else that's new now compared to a year or two ago?

Felicia Jadczak (00:54:21):
I think there's just so much continued and renewed focus on these discussions. I think for me personally, what I'm seeing is, and Rachel knows this, I feel very old, but I'm trying to stay hip. So I'm on all the different social media platforms, not all of them, but a lot of them and trying to keep current. But what I'm noticing in general is that there's just much more of a shift to having these discussions, whereas before would say, "Oh, well, that's just the way it was. Or I had to do this too. Or it's just the struggle. Yeah, I wish I could murder my husband." Or whatever the conversation were. And I think nowadays everyone's just like, "No, let's just talk about it. And actually let's have a discussion."

Felicia Jadczak (00:55:03):
What I was thinking about that popped into my head, which is definitely a different area, but I think it relates a lot to what you were saying, Melanie, is I was just noticing just in the last couple weeks really in the area of health and wellness, there started this huge movement that I'm seeing where literally people are like, "Hey, guess what? When women have procedures like insertion and removal of IUDs, they should get anesthesia for that. That's legitimate horrifically, painful procedures that they don't get any pain meds for. And why are we not talking about this?" And it's so interesting because it started this similar conversation where people are like, "Yeah, why aren't we talking about this? I've always been told to put it to the side or it's just the way it is or people just don't care or men just don't understand or whatever." And I think it relates a lot back to what you were talking about with this shift towards just having these discussions and being like, "Hey, let's actually talk about this." It's not the way you thought it was. Or doesn't have to stay this way.

Melanie Ho (00:56:02):
Yes. Because it's not just having the discussions, it's having the discussions in these much more open ways, using words or covering topics that are more taboo that even if we had talked about these topics before, it was kind of on the surface. And I feel like now people are getting at topics that it felt like before we weren't allowed to discuss.

Naomi Seddon (00:56:21):
I think having conversations within homes as well. One of the things I talk about in the book is that this is not just an issue that is relevant to employees and employers. This is something that we need to be talking about within our homes as well. Any of us that have husbands, that have fathers, that have sons, we need to be starting conversations with them and educating them on how to better support both men and women within the workplace around some of these issues as well, because men simply have to be part of the solution here. Men have to be part of the conversation here.

Naomi Seddon (00:57:04):
One of the things that has been really amazing to me is how many men have read my book, firstly, because it is pink so it's probably not a book that a lot of men would typically pick up. But not only have they taken the time to read it, but I've had so many men that have reached out to me and said, "Thank you so much for writing this book because I had no idea about some of these issues and I had no idea about how they impacted women in the workplace and I'm actively going to change the way that I manage my employees, my female employees in the workplace." And that to me is simply amazing.

Naomi Seddon (00:57:46):
But it comes back to the point of we need to be having more conversations and more education in order to find better ways to support our employees in the workplace and also to break down the stigma that exists. And I think that this is a challenge that organizations are going to have to tackle. I think that it's something that is going to be uncomfortable for some managers. It's going to be something that is uncomfortable for some organizations. But I don't think it's optional anymore. I think that this is something that simply must be done. Organizations have to start investing in D&I. They have to start bringing in experts. They have to start investing in developing strategy and policy and a plan for the next 12 months, two years, five years, if they want to continue to be successful in this space.

Rachel Murray (00:58:42):
Here's SGO facilitator, Kia Rivera.

Kia Rivera (00:58:45):
I think you can't have these hard conversations without acknowledging power or privilege and even marginalization when it comes to these conversations as a whole. And I also think while you're building systems within your organization to have DEI efforts, you have to acknowledge that folks have power, folks have privilege, folks are marginalized based on the systems of oppression that we have and the systems that we've had historically for hundreds of years now. And what can we do to dismantle those within our organization and help bring people up and make sure that our space is inclusive and equitable for everyone? It can be uncomfortable. It can be uncomfortable for people to acknowledge that they have power and privilege, even if they have marginalized identities. So I think it's not like you are the bad person and these are the good people. It's more like, "How can we come together and acknowledge the difference that we all have and work together for this overall goal?"

Kia Rivera (00:59:41):
So I think it's really important for organizations to talk about that overall goal from the beginning while having these hard conversations to be like, "We have to get uncomfortable in this moment to talk about these things." And I think power comes with positionality too. So even without identities and we think about maybe identities in the workplace, are you a senior leader? You hold power and positionality within an organization, so how can you lead these conversations too, and mirror language and help folks get uncomfortable and even talk about your own journey? Because I think that that's been really powerful is hearing people talk about how they've grappled with their own power privilege and even marginalization when it comes to these conversations. Because I think we've thought of the workplace as this meritocracy for so long and we don't talk about identities here, and now that DEI has become more forefront and more part of the conversation, we do have to acknowledge the uncomfortableness of it all and that we all are different and sometimes those differences lead to experiencing systems in very different ways. But what can we do in our workplace to make sure that doesn't happen?

Kia Rivera (01:00:42):
Having these hard conversations, it has to happen all the time too. It can't just happen… We talk a lot at SGO about the work not being the workshop. So workshops are great and I think they're a great place to have people come into your organization and have these conversations, or having a DEI team have these conversations. But how are you having these conversations after a workshop or after a training or after going to a conference? And I think that's really important to have them in your team meetings, in your one-to-one meetings with either your manager or supervisees. And I recognize not everyone wants to lead DEI conversations and that's okay.

Kia Rivera (01:01:18):
But how can you maybe be a part of a book club or talk about volunteering? Things of that nature that might meet people a little bit more where they're at? Because I think the daunting task of always having to be in these conversations maybe, quote-unquote, being uncomfortable, things of that nature could be really daunting to people and it seems like, "Oh, well they're in the next year. So why can't we just keep kind of kicking the can down?" It's like, no, we have the conversations all the time. We can start to make slow, incremental change and you'll start to see it a little bit more radically throughout the organization as well.

Rachel Murray (01:01:54):
Thanks so much for listening please. Don't forget to rate, share and subscribe. It makes a huge difference in the reach of this podcast and, by extension, this work.

Rachel Murray (01:02:03):
Make sure to tune in next week when we talk about recruiting and hiring inclusive teams. If you're looking to further your own knowledge and gain support alongside other incredible people, join our free community. You'll 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 This episode was written, produced and edited by Vienna DiGiacomo, hosted by Felicia Jadczak and Rachel Murray. The guests featured in this episode were Anna Whitlock, Dr. Erika Powell, Dr. Becca Shansky, Melanie Ho and Naomi Sedden. Our facilitators were Kia Rivera, Dr. Victoria Verlezza, and Fatima Dainkeh