Leading With Empathy & Allyship Show

How To Be An Ally In The Remote Workplace With Melinda Briana Epler

Leading With Empathy & Allyship promo with the Change Catalyst logo, a photo of host Melinda Briana Epler, a White woman with red hair, glasses, and black shirt.

In this last episode of Season 3, Melinda Briana Epler, Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst, talks about “How To Be An Ally In The Remote Workplace.” Melinda shares specific steps you can take in a virtual environment to be an active ally for others – often requested during the global pandemic – and answers questions submitted during the live broadcast.

Additional Resources

The live show is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now and White Coat Captioning.




  • “Empathy is different from pity or sympathy. It is really building a relationship. We learn what somebody is experiencing and access our own feelings to connect with them and act in solidarity. It is a muscle and you have to practice it. It can be learned…. Practice building that muscle.”
  • “How are you showing up for somebody on the other side of that screen… in the remote workplace? There are little subtle cues that make a big difference. Maybe that you are coming from another meeting where it was difficult. Or, you are coming from life and it was really difficult, and you might just need to take a moment to reset before coming into a new meeting so you can bring the energy you want to bring into that moment and really be there for somebody, and for your team.”
  • “In the tech industry, there are so many perks people have in the physical workspace – so think about what perks you can provide in the virtual workspace and remote workplace; whether that is technology, of course, and giving people what they need to develop a workplace that is ergonomically set up well so they don’t have physical stress on their bodies.”


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Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship. Here we have deep, real conversations about how we can be more inclusive leaders in our workplaces and our communities. I am Melinda Briana Epler, the Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. This is a safe space to learn, to build empathy for each other, and to understand tangible actions we can all take to make a difference in each other’s lives. 


This is our final episode of season 3 and you have me for the whole time together. I am going to talk about a topic we often get asked to cover which is “How To Be An Ally In The Remote Workplace.” I will share best practices for allyship in the remote workplace and some practical tips I have learned from years of experience doing this. We work with small startups all the way through Fortune 500 companies in building diversity, equity, and inclusion and particularly in building allyship across teams and leadership across the company. 


Before we go further, I want to recognize a year ago George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. I want to just take a moment of silence to honor his life and the lives of so many people who have been killed due to systemic racism and injustice. Let’s just take a moment here to recognize their lives and this moment. Thank you. Appreciate that and appreciate all of the work you all are doing to create change. 


On-screen, just a few logistics. We have our ASL interpreters today. They will be on screen taking turns on-screen. Appreciate your partnership. This is with Interpreter Now. It is also being live captioned by Maggie at White Coat Captioning. Please, if you want to turn on captions, just go to the bottom of the screen and click on closed captions and you will be able to adjust the settings there as well. 


And thanks to our team, I don’t do this alone. Juliette, Renzo, Ariyah, Emily – lots of folks behind the scenes working and doing things on this show and also in the Q&A. They are there for you in the chat while I am speaking and please share what’s resonating for you in the chat, what you are thinking about as we are talking today. I am going to ask you some questions too. And then, of course, we have a code of conduct at tcin.co/coc


Use the Q&A. I will spend time on questions. If you have questions, toward the end if you have questions, use the Q&A function so I can find them easily. 


I am going to share my screen here. All right. You all know who I am. I am Melinda Briana Epler, Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst and diversity, equity, and inclusion speaker, writer, advocate. I work to create change. The tools I use to do my work are human systems design, storytelling, community building, and behavioral science and I have been collecting and building upon these tools for a couple of decades. I have a book coming out which I have kind of mentioned a few times here. How To Be An Ally with McGraw-Hill comes out, what I haven’t said yet is the date I don’t think, September 14th. I am super excited about that. 


You can find my TED Talk about allyship at ted.com. Another resource is in episode 16, I talked about the stages of allyship and my own journey. 


Oh, you can’t see the interpreter. Uh-oh. I think if you go to grid view. If you change your view to grid view? If you are not seeing the interpreter? That might make a difference. Let me know if that works. “Side by side gallery,” says Maria. Try changing the settings a little bit so you can see. OK. Cool. Awesome. 


Today I am going to talk for a little bit here, show a few slides and take the slides down and then just kind of talk through some things that I have learned around the remote workplace. First I am going to lay the foundations of allyship. Some of you all have heard me talk about this before, but for those who are new, I want to make sure we have a basic understanding before we go into some specifics. 


So, as you all know, usually I start with, what is your story? Because I have already done that in episode 16 I am not going to spend too much time on it. But I did want to say that everybody comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion work in different ways. We have seen that over the last 48 episodes. There are so many pathways to doing this work and to being an ally. I have been working my whole life to create social and environmental change using my tools of systems design, human system design, storytelling, community building and behavioral science. 


About eight years ago, I was an executive at an engineering firm in San Francisco. It was my dream job in a lot of ways using all of the skills I have acquired over the years. I was head of marketing and culture and also working with the nation’s largest healthcare systems, working to reduce their energy and water use and improve their social impact and creating a lot of great change in that industry and the world. 


I was proud of my work and also it was not a good experience professionally. It was a deeply painful experience professionally and I am still working through the impact of that on my life and career. While there were bigger issues, most of what happened were little behaviors, little patterns and barriers that kept me from doing my work well. They ate away at my confidence, they chipped away at my leadership capacity and my ability to innovate. I was being dismissed, not listened to, interrupted, talked over, my experience was regularly questioned: belittlement to the point of, despite my track record of success, in that workplace, I began to question my own expertise and Impostor Syndrome started to kick in. 


Little behaviors like this and patterns wear you down. Megan Smith, the former White House CTO, called it ‘death by a thousand papercuts.’ The little things every day, again and again. As the only woman on the leadership team of nineteen, the culture wasn’t created for me and there wasn’t space in that culture. 


It was mostly microaggressions. Microaggressions in the workplace are everyday slights, insults and negative verbal or non-verbal messages whether they are intentional or not, often unintentional, but still equally harmful. They impede your ability to do your work well. They can make you feel unsafe, belittled, disrespected, unheard, othered and like you don’t belong. I realized that I wasn’t failing. It took me a while to realize it was the culture around me that was failing me. The culture was not set up to be inclusive. 


How many of you all have experienced microaggressions at some point in your lives? I assume many of you have. Please feel free to raise your hand or just let me know. It can be really detrimental in the moment and also in the longer term as well. Microaggressions, yeah. “Been there, done that…,” Toki, I see. We will talk about this more in the coming episodes about how it impacts you from a physical and biological standpoint as well as emotional, cognitive, etc. 


It really does make a difference. I realized I wasn’t alone. Many people, when I give talks about this, come up to me afterward and say “Thank you for giving me a name to what I have been feeling and experiencing.” So many of us go through this alone. We are not alone. Microaggressions affect underrepresented people of all backgrounds in the workplace. When our colleagues don’t show up and if we can’t be our best selves it affects us all and has a real impact on happiness, productivity, profitability, and our collective capacity to innovate. We will talk more about the business case for empathy and allyship in a coming episode, actually. I want to share with you all some of the things that we have learned around the business case too and the case for doing this work. 


Yeah, Amy, “Why are they so hard to get over?” It is because it is a trauma. Especially when it is repeatedly happening over and over again. When I talk about allyship and the need to be there for each other, I am thinking about all the people who are underrepresented in the workplace across gender, race, ethnicity, LGBTQIA, disability, religion, people who are veterans and in tech anybody over 35 and in most industries, there is age discrimination as well, and others. There are lots of other identities that face underrepresentation in the workplace and barriers in the workplace. And keep in mind intersectionality. Some people hold more than one identity and some can hold all these identities meaning there may be compounded barriers in an opportunity to love and live and thrive. 


Just a quick reminder about why people are underrepresented. Historical privilege and oppression and 500 years of colonization here in the United States and in most parts of the world: enslavement, persecution, and the intergenerational impact that continues to have an impact on our health and our wealth. Intergenerational impact of years and years of systemic inequity in education, police and criminal justice systems, in housing and workplaces and then personal biases. We learn biases from our family, friends, our schools, our teachers, our media and even in the workplace and that can have a real impact. And then cultural marginalization as well. Popular culture, workplace culture, the stories we tell, who tells those stories. 


That translates into the workplace. It translates. Education translates into the access that we have to networks, the access we have to opportunities, historical privilege and oppression lead to discrimination, of course, as well. Systemic inequities lead to hiring, pay and promotion inequity just as an example. Several inequities in the workplace. Personal biases lead to impact in hiring, promotions, project assignments, meetings. And then cultural marginalization leads to harassment, bullying, avoiding people because we don’t know what to say or do, tokenism, othering, and microaggressions first and then the bigger macroaggressions. 


Allyship is recognizing all of that. It is recognizing there is an imbalance in opportunity and using your power and privilege to change it. It is using your influence to make a change and shift. There are so many levels of what you can do but it starts with seeing and understanding the person next to us and recognizing there might be someone who is missing who should be standing next to us. First, doing the work to learn what they are going through and then help them succeed and thrive with us. So it is learning, showing empathy, and taking action. 


It is not enough just to learn. It is empathy in action. Rather than being a bystander, allies take action. It benefits us all. Again, we will talk more about the benefits of this but we have just done a study on allyship where I am super excited to be releasing it in a couple of months. Our data shows when we work together to develop a culture of allyship, people are safer, they are more engaged, happier, and feel a greater sense of belonging. McKinsey, of course, shows diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative, productive and more profitable. A lot of research shows greater happiness overall.


A reminder it takes all of us from every background. All of us. I need allies in my life. As a woman, I work every day to use the privilege I have to be an ally for women who have less privilege than I do: women of color, people with disabilities, people across the spectrum of under-representation. My privilege includes being a White, cisgender woman in the United States among many other things that give me more privilege than other people. 


All of us can be better allies and we all have the ability to be there for each other, show empathy, and take action on each other’s behalf. I have also talked about this and we talked about this with Vanessa back in season 1. I have mutual allies. I am an ally for people who have been allies for me at different points in our lives and we show up for each other when we need it. I am an ally for people who don’t even know I am an ally for them because sometimes this work requires stepping in, advocating, not asking for credit but advocating for people when they’re not in the room. 


I also change systems and all of that is allyship, all of that is being a good human, I would say. Just a couple of examples. This is from our research, actually. There are so many things you can do as an ally. Most of the time they are small acts that can make a big difference. We have heard a lot of different stories over the last three seasons. Here are a few examples directly from what people have said about how allies made a difference in their lives. “Hired me and gave me a chance.” “Ensured I was recognized for my work.” “Mentored me on how to become a leader.” “Put in a good word for me.” “Stood up for fair pay.” “Looked out for my well-being.” “Supported my ideas and gave me confidence.” All these things make a difference in people’s lives in ways we will never fully understand and see. I won’t go too much into this. This is all in my book, actually. [Laughter] And we will go deeper into some of this over the coming episodes, actually. 


But step 1 is to learn, unlearn, relearn. You all are here learning and relearning. We talked about history and how it has been written from one point of view and often history in our history books can write out whole cultures and whole ideas and whole systems and sometimes whole genders as well. So there is much to learn, there is much to unlearn because some of what we learned was incorrect, and then relearning. Allies also don’t get stuck in that learning. Again, it is empathy in action, right? 


So doing no harm: you have to work to do no harm. That starts with recognizing we have biases that we have learned from families, friends, media, film, television, and we work to understand those biases and correct them. The second part of doing no harm is recognizing and overcoming microaggressions so that we don’t do them. They are some of the most harmful things that can happen in the workplace. They are just little. Sometimes we don’t even know we are doing them. Really working on what microaggressions are, learning what they are and recognizing those, and then overcoming them and finding ways to make sure you are not doing them. 


Advocate for people whether or not they are in the room. How are you advocating for your colleagues to have jobs? Speaking opportunities, leadership opportunities, pay and promotion equity, even boosting their confidence and trust and trusting them to lead, giving them those opportunities. Step 5, stand up for what is right. Interrupt the biases and interrupt the microaggressions. Say something and do something when you see something is harmful. 


Step 6, lead to change. How are you showing up as a leader? Work on your inclusive leadership skills and doing your work in a way that is more inclusive and accessible and equitable. And model allyship as well is part of that – leading the change. You can show people what allyship looks like. 


Then step 7 is to transform your organization, your industry, our society. There are so many ways – we have centuries of inequity, injustice in our workplaces and in our industries, so there is a lot to do here. Take one step at a time in society. Also, how are you raising anti-racist children? We talked about that in one of the past episodes. Make sure you are voting and doing your jury duty because as the statistics show, Black, Latinx and Indigenous people are more often arrested. When they are arrested, they are more often convicted, and they are more often given harsher sentences. So doing our jury duty is a form of allyship in really making sure that is fair and just. 


And then in your life, when you see something, say something, do something. This is the work of recognizing both our commonalities and valuing differences. When we first meet people, even when we have been working with them for a long time and know them for a long time, we usually look for what we have in common. But, the other part of being an ally is valuing and appreciating what we don’t have in common – the ways we are uniquely different. This means listening with empathy and building understanding. The best allies that I know work internally to know themselves and then they listen and learn and act with empathy. 


Breaking down what empathy is because we don’t often talk about this – empathy is two things. This is adapted from Theresa Wiseman who is a nurse and her work is widely used to develop empathy in both physicians and nurses in the medical industry. Two parts to empathy: insight and engagement. Engagement is the part we often forget about. Insight is seeing their world. For this you have to be present, you have to take their perspective, be open, and see the world as they see it. Not as how we see it. It might be different from our own. 


Perception is different and unique depending on our unique experiences. Listen to and understand those unique feelings and experiences that they have. In the remote workplace, this might be listening to what they are saying, but it also might be tuning into what they are not saying, other facial cues, indications about what is happening in somebody’s world. 


Then, we engage. The second part of leading with empathy is engaging and appreciating people without judgments, without minimizing their experience. Trust their experience, and be curious about that experience. Then communicate that understanding. I see you; I hear you; I care about what you shared. Empathy is different from pity or sympathy. It is really building a relationship. We learn what somebody is experiencing and access our own feelings to connect with them and act in solidarity. It is a muscle and you have to practice it. It can be learned. Lots of studies show that empathy can be learned. I definitely didn’t grow up with as much empathy as I have now. I have really worked hard on it. Practice building that muscle. 


In 2020 the world changed. If ever there was a time for empathy for allyship it’s now, it is over the last year. There is so much going on and we are all going through something different. For those of you – actually, would you all just share some of the things going on in people’s lives right now. Some of the things you know are going on in people’s lives now. Just share something that is coming up in the workplace. I’ll start but please do share. I appreciate the folks that have shared so far. 


One is, of course, illness. Almost everybody knows someone who has been severely ill or has passed away from COVID. That collective grief is real. It is important to recognize. We are going to need to do some things in our workplaces to nurture ourselves over the next few years to get over that collective grief and burnout. 


“Mental health challenges,” says Erica. “Mental health challenges, Wellness.” Some of these comments are just coming to panelists. If you click panelists and attendees everybody can see them. “Financial stress,” yeah, absolutely. There is going to be anxiety and division around returning to work. Something that’s really important to keep in mind is anxiety around coming to work too soon. There are so many of us who have been pretty isolated. Big groups, I know I am going to have a hard time with big groups for a while. 


There is a disproportionate impact of COVID across the world. It has impacted people differently and some families have experienced job losses more than others. Disproportionately, it has affected women, Black, Latinx and Indigenous folks. And of course, racism for Black and Indigenous people and anti-Asian violence is coming up. “Virtual burnout,” Erica says. “So much anxiety to return to work,” definitely. 


Yeah, and also I am noticing that there are some people not comfortable taking off their masks, some people are not, and we are going to have to grapple with that as people go back to work in the physical space. The other piece of it is recognizing that maybe we don’t all need to go back to the physical workspace – normal. Some people are talking about returning to normal and normal didn’t work for everyone, right? 


We may need to redefine normal too and allow a hybrid workplace where people who are caretakers, parents, and caretakers of family members, of other family members, and people that have been commuting long hours, that’s not good for your health and well being right? And so many people with disabilities were fighting for so long to work remotely. And finally, we have this ability to do it, we have figured out a way, so maybe we need to redefine normal for everybody. 


I also want to say – don’t confuse this stuff with politics. Don’t confuse the stuff people are going through with politics. This is life. Please don’t ban conversations about it, but you have to encourage and recognize people’s unique experiences here, understand it, support each other through it. Now is not the time to ignore it. We recognize it, acknowledge, support your colleagues. It is what makes us feel like we belong right now, and it takes work to do that, but it is important. The alternative is not good. Trauma, lack of productivity and unnecessary stress is not good for anybody. “Recognize interconnectedness,” says Erica. “Be kind, check-in, listen,” absolutely. 


The other piece of this is to recognize what you are going through too. Michael Thomas said “Allies do the work,” and we need to do our own work to heal, to build resilience. “Self-care,” says Kevin, absolutely. Be kind to yourself so you can show up for other people. And also know when we are stressed, burned out, studies show that empathy can wane. We have to work ourselves harder, work harder when we are stressed out and burned out to build that empathy and use that empathy muscle for ourselves and each other. 


So what can we do as allies? Recognize and acknowledge – part of it is also learning to recognize subtle clues of exclusion. Little behavioral shifts people may have whether that’s in facial expressions, it might be distancing, it might be lower engagement. Lots of little cues in the remote workplace because we are not seeing people in their full bodies. We have to be a little more perceptive sometimes. 


Some other things to think about allyship in the workplace is in video, our body language and our facial expressions are heightened. We are seeing a lot of this square right here in front of our faces, right? For those of us who are on video. Consequently, because that’s all you can see, it is important to mind your microaggressions and consider microaffirmations and nodding and recognition of what someone is saying in your body language and your expressions. 


How are you showing up for somebody on the other side of that screen in a way that you might not have to so much in the remote workplace? There are little subtle cues that make a big difference. Maybe that you are coming from another meeting where it was difficult. Or, you are coming from life and it was really difficult, and you might just need to take a moment to reset before coming into a new meeting so you can bring the energy you want to bring into that moment and really be there for somebody, for your team. 


I have definitely learned on our team that tone doesn’t come through on chat. We really have to work hard to check in with each other, to describe a little bit more with our words sometimes. Last year around this time, one of my team members was being a little silent in Slack, which is the platform we use for communication. I finally just checked in and said “Hey, what’s going on?” and they said, “I am sorry I disappointed you.” I don’t remember a time – it was not my intention at all. There was nowhere in my mind a time when I was disappointed. I was working, I think, to achieve a solution to a problem at the time and so, sometimes you have to check in with people and also check to be sure that there is something actually there. That there is a there-there. There might not be a there-there. That communication is so important. 


You might have to describe the context. Remind each other the tone doesn’t come through the chat and don’t assume tone. This, across cultures, is really important as well. If you are working in a global workplace, tone and even tone in your writing, tone in video, also is kind of heightened. Just be aware of that cross-cultural difference in communication too. Overcommunicate and make sure that you are not assuming tone. 


I also have learned and I think a lot of us have learned that people say things via chat they would not say in person. Happens in my keynote sessions sometimes where there is no way that somebody would say that to me in person. But, they say it in the chat. A lot of companies that we work with most microaggressions happen in the backroom chat, so have a code of conduct that you can easily reference and point to violations of it. If you have a large company, really encourage your company to have a person that’s dedicated to ensuring the safety of inclusion on those internal platforms. Report. Call people in when you see microaggressions and intervene when you see something is harmful. All of the same stuff you would normally do as an ally, you do in the remote workplace as well. 


Overcommunication, again. And providing clarity around whether that’s your timelines and providing clarity around their goals, also checking in on what you have accomplished and those timelines. Sometimes timelines are a little bit different in the remote workplace, especially right now given what everybody is going through. Communicate also when you will be offline. We found that is really important as well so people know what to expect. 


Inclusive video conferencing is also super important. Make sure that you are providing accessibility and that somebody doesn’t have to ask for accessibility. ASL interpreters, captioning. Describe the slides and provide PDFs for anyone who is Blind or Low Vision or on the phone so they can follow along. 


Work harder to collaborate is another big one. We need to work on building, bridging isolation. So, use collaborative documents, innovation platforms, find other ways to get people involved and thinking in new ways. Sometimes even just having virtual coworking questions. I mean coworking sessions via video to hold each other accountable and ask questions. If you have an extrovert, find the way to have those moments. 


Re-creating the water cooler effect to find ways to get to know each other. Schedule time on each other’s calendars. We can’t have so many of these asynchronous moments so find moments in somebody’s day and check in with them. Building that empathy is so important. 


One more thing here that I want to mention is that so many people come on board for the first time in a company and are remote. Navigating that remote workplace can be more difficult: navigating the culture, navigating the systems, navigating processes. Be there for somebody. Help them navigate through the first few weeks and check in with them. Check-in with them over many weeks, over many months, to make sure they are feeling welcome and finding a place on the team and getting what they need. 


The last thing is advocacy, mentorship, sponsorship. All of this can make more effort in the remote workplace so you have to schedule, again, you have to really work a little bit harder to put it on the calendar. A lot is the same as well. There is no excuse. Just because we are remote, we still have to be good allies -so get creative. We all know inequities still exist, so there is a lot we can do to make sure our workplaces are more equitable, more inclusive. 


I want to pause to see if you all have other things you are doing and thinking about in your workplaces as well. I am going to take the slides down. I have a few more things I am going to talk about after this, but I am going to take the slides down so you can see us in full picture here. 


What else have you all done? “Engage with ERGs,” yeah absolutely. Thank you, Kevin. I am sure you all have done other things. Keep thinking about it. “Standing up in individual situations.” “Coaching colleagues.” Awesome, Madeline. “Reaching out to people.” Reaching out to people and checking in. Amy and Denise, both check-ins. Yeah. Absolutely. Little things that we can do can make a big difference in somebody’s day. Keep adding. I would love to see more of what you are doing. 


I am just going to talk specifically about managers. If you all have Q&A we will jump to Q&A in a little bit. If you have questions, please, do just use the Q&A window so I can find them easily. For managers and for leaders, some of the things you can think about, and these are things anybody who is leading a team, anybody who is leading a meeting even can also really focus on. 


First is to just actively address what’s happening in people’s lives. You can’t ignore it. Build that kind of psychological safety in your meetings and on your teams where you are sharing what’s happening in your lives and you’re learning from each other what’s happening in our lives because that can make a big difference. Whether that is in your standups and team meetings, having a time where you just all check-in with each other and say what you are feeling and thinking about that’s not related to work. That builds empathy for each other really makes a big difference and just find that psychological safety, build that psychological safety so that people can do that and feel safe. 


Normalize asking for real how people are. When you are asking how somebody is, don’t let fine be the answer. How are you really feeling? I really want to know. And then listen. I also think in this time, this is a difficult time for a lot of people. How can we bring joy to our team and find joy as a team? What are some little moments of joy that we can find for all of us to tap into that and make sure that we are enjoying, having some happiness in our lives? If anybody has any thoughts or suggestions about that, I would love to hear them. 


Gino says “Ensure quarterly fun get-togethers.” I know other teams have, they will spend every other week they will have an optional time for a game or some kind of fun interactive design session, something like that where people get to kind of think outside of the box. “Virtual happy hour,” yeah, Kevin. Great. Those random acts of kindness, yeah, one-hundred percent. 


Gino did a cookie bake instruction session during the winter holidays. I know a team that built gingerbread houses together. Little things like that. Another team built terrariums together. They got this package in the mail and all worked on them together. Little fun activities. 


Engagement. Part of that is engagement. You can find volunteer opportunities to work together. Other teams I have seen are mixing up teams across different projects from time to time so other people get to know each other. Especially in the remote setting, you might end up working with the same team consistently but how can you break it up a little bit and allow people to form other teams and get to know each other across the organization a bit more? 


Something else to think about is feedback. Feedback is so important in people’s careers and it often gets lost in general and then especially in the workplace. It is crucial to career growth. It is also crucial to our happiness and our sense of accomplishment. 


Schedule informal and formal check-ins. Since we can’t ask each other to lunch or coffee, run into each other in the halls or stop by each other’s offices. In the remote setting, schedule those little coffee moments and little informal check-ins to check in on projects, to check in on progress and to give somebody little pieces of feedback that can make a difference in their performance review going forward. 


Denise says “Always end every conversation with what I can do better and/or what can I do for you to make your work experience better,” yeah, absolutely. Open yourself up to that feedback as well so you are also progressing in your own career and growth and you are learning how to be there for your team. Absolutely. 


Mentorship, I mentioned before, can fall by the wayside in remote settings. Make sure you are still there for people and you’re still there for your team. And formal check-ins. Verlance says, “Virtual talent show! Allows you to see your colleagues in a different light (or spotlight!!), providing more opportunities for connection, respect and appreciation outside of work-related things.” Interesting. Huh. I haven’t heard that one. That’s cool. 


And the formal check-ins. We work with some companies where for two months leading up to performance reviews people are stressed, really stressed in the workplace. How can you reduce that stress? That stress doesn’t change. Maybe it even gets worse in the virtual space and the remote workspace. What do you do to reduce that stress? It’s not good for anyone. Find ways to reduce that. 


Little things around perks. Like in the tech industry, there are so many perks people have in the physical workspace – so think about what perks you can provide in the virtual workspace and remote workplace. Whether that is technology, of course, and giving people what they need to develop a workplace that is ergonomically set up well so they don’t have physical stress on their bodies. 


Also what makes an office a fun place to be? How does the home office also become fun? Whether that’s decor, plants – some companies have sent a plant along with the welcome package of technology and office furniture. Home lunches. I have seen a few companies where they either have happy hours after work or toward the end of work or lunches together where the company will actually give them a voucher to go buy lunch somewhere and then they all come together. Things like that. You can’t do that in the physical workspace for many people so figuring out how to do it in the remote workplace. 


Y’all I am sure have other examples of that kind of thing too. Hiring, use this opportunity to find more diverse team members. We have this unique opportunity to open up our networks beyond the headquarters of the office. The other piece of all this to keep in mind in hiring is really working with your team around how to handle the gaps in resumes that a lot of people, particularly women, will have over the next couple of years as they stepped out of the workplace to become caregivers full-time because somebody had to. How do you handle those gaps in resumes? Make sure you are working with your team on that so that they are not excluding people, excluding amazing people, from coming to work with you. 


We have one Q&A. If anybody else has more questions, so many great conversations happening here as well in the chat. But if you have specific questions, put them in the Q&A and I’ll jump to those in a moment. 


The hybrid workplace and Madeline, “What measures need to be adapted to hybrid?” I was going to go there next so we are on the same page. We have this ability to do remote work now most companies have figured it out to a certain degree. As I said before, the old normal wasn’t working so redefine that. Redefine normal. Make sure you are including everybody in that.


I think we are all trying to figure out exactly what that hybrid workplace looks like but equity. Making sure you are having a framework of equity around this and the perks that people have in the remote workplace are there. In presentations, you are acknowledging and recognizing equally people working remotely. Meetings and structures. Often we will forget about the people who aren’t physically in the room with us and it is really important to recognize and include folks that aren’t in the room physically with us but in the remote workspace.


If anybody else has thoughts around that I think that is kind of the next step in all of this. A lot of workplaces are going to have to think through is what is that “redefine normal” look like in the hybrid workplace? 


Tanya asks “How do you initiate those difficult conversations? Especially with a group that is unwilling to acknowledge their microaggressions caused.” That’s a big question. I am not sure if you are talking about the difficult conversations around microaggressions or if you are talking about the difficult conversations around racial injustice and anti-Asian hate and things that are happening now. 


I will answer the first question and say you do need to build a psychologically safe space. Build some ground rules at the top of having a conversation like this. The ground rules need to be very clear. What’s okay, what’s not okay, that this is a safe space and harm will not be tolerated, that being open to new ideas. All of these things are so important. You may want to bring in a facilitator to learn from them how they do it. There are some really great facilitators that have been doing this work for a long time. So you may want to learn from them the first time if you have never done this before. 


Sharing stories. TDo talked earlier this season about her work to have those conversations internally in the workplace and it was really storytelling. Having a place for people to share their own stories and really learn from each other. That can make a big difference. With a group unwilling to acknowledge their microaggressions – it is not a whole group usually that’s denying that. It is 1-2 people. I want to disentangle that a little bit. It is generally not a whole group. 


Acknowledging microaggressions, I think, starts with you, often, and kind of modeling that. I will say that modeling allyship, modeling acknowledgment of harm you have caused can make a big difference. Sometimes you can’t do this in a group setting. For the folks that are just not there, you kind of have to do it one on one. You can’t do it in a group setting because you need to create that safe space. If people are going to be harmed in that space, don’t do it. Have one on one conversations. 


You can do inclusive leadership coaching with some folks. I have done that with some executives who just needed to really understand what microaggressions were and tap into their motivations for changing it and doing the work to change it. They needed the space to practice it without creating harm in others too. It’s not easy and it takes time. Building that culture, where people feel safe, is essential and it doesn’t happen overnight. Yeah. Good question, Tanya. 


Yeah. Yeah. “I was referring to difficult conversations to address the pain caused by the group.” Yeah. Yeah. I see. I see. I would bring in a facilitator if you can in that case so you can participate as well and so everybody can participate and somebody that’s really done this work before. 


The key to all this work and the key to one of our values and kind of what we consistently come back to at Change Catalyst is to focus on solutions. It’s really looking deep into what those solutions are. You don’t have all the answers. Sometimes it is talking it out together and really working together to find a solution that works. 


Thank you all for being here and sharing so many of your thoughts here. I really, really appreciate that and appreciate all of the work you all do. It is not easy always. Sometimes it is easy. Take care of yourselves. 


I want to say a few words about next season. Next season we have a special summer season – season 4. We have a lot of requests for some specific topics and I have my book coming out in not too long and so I also want to share some things that I have learned there. I’m just going to share my screen for a moment so we can see what is going on there. 


So, we are going to talk about four things. These are all requests that we have had over and over again for topics to talk about here and in our training as well. The first one on June 8th so not next week but the week after is “Why Empathy & Allyship Matter In The Workplace.” We will talk about how allyship is connected to some diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes, what people want from allies and always the business case. You all can use that in your advocacy internally to do more of this work. 


And then “Understanding & Correcting Our Biases.” Learning about biases and lots of different types that might come up in the workplace, in particular, and ways you can interrupt and correct them.


And then two episodes around “Recognizing & Overcoming Microaggressions.” The first part will be about verbal microaggressions, the different types and how to overcome them ourselves so we don’t create harm with our words. The second part will include other types of microaggressions, non-verbal, environmental and the actions we can take to intervene when we see or experience microaggressions. 


Every other week in June and July and then we are also taking August off just so you all know. The team needs a break, I need a little bit of a break, we all do. So, we will take a little bit of a break there in August. These were the most requested topics for the show so, hopefully, they will be valuable to you and valuable as you bring them back to the workplace. I am excited to see you all in a couple of weeks. 


And last, what will you do differently? A question for you all. What will you do differently? What action will you take after hearing all the things we talked about today? What action will you take? You can share here if you all are still here. 


I would appreciate knowing that. We will take a break next week so we will see you in two weeks. 


“Deep listening!” Awesome, Erica, thank you. 


Please share this with your colleagues. You can find previous podcast episodes at changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries. Please find this on your favorite podcast platform or YouTube and just like it or subscribe to it so we continue to grow our audience. 


Thank you, Gino, “Thanks for the space! Got to jump!” Thank you, all for the comments coming in. I appreciate you. “Be more mindful of my remote staff and also keep listening, learning and engaging.” Thank you, Denise. Thank you, Erica. “Take care of me.” Yeah, yeah. Exactly. That’s why we are taking a little bit of a break. Appreciate you all. Stay well. Stay safe and keep doing this work of empathy and allyship.

About the Host

Host: Melinda Briana Epler

Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.

As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.

Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.

Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.

In The Press

Watch Melinda’s TED Talk

Speaking Engagements

Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.


This show has given me clear opportunities to learn in the midst of 2020’s numerous social and personal challenges, including engaging remote content. I’ve learned new terms, heard new voices, diversified my interests and internalized personal narratives that have inspired me to get more active.

The show shaped my scope of reasoning on the dynamics in the corporate world, brand building, harmony across board with team mates. Your series has helped me feel less alone and less daunted by the challenges I face as a leader at a company that is used to moving fast with decisions and making swift progress across the board. I so earnestly want to grow and deepen my perspective when it comes to diversity and allyship; it’s not always clear how to do it. This series has felt like a path I can follow and revisit and draw strength and insight from. Thank you.

I watched many of your live shows in 2020, and I learned something from every discussion. They were inspiring on many levels. Early on during the pandemic (especially), the show also provided me with a sense of community that I was sorely needing. Thank you.

Virtual Training, Consulting & Coaching Solutions
If you’re looking for a way for remote teams to continue their learning and professional development, we’re now offering virtual allyship, inclusion and leadership trainings. We’ve also continued our consulting practice virtually. AND we now offer hourly coaching. Let us know if you’re interested in learning more!
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