Join us each week for deep, real conversations about how we can all be more inclusive leaders in our workplaces and communities. In intimate conversations with advocates, activists, and allies, host Melinda Briana Epler provides a safe space to learn, build empathy for each other, and understand tangible actions we can all take.
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“One or two people in a company doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work cannot change it. It takes a critical mass of people working together. We are part of our company cultures, and if we don’t change ourselves, individually, and how we interact with each other, it’s really fundamentally not going to change very much. I realized pretty early on in the diversity, equity, and inclusion work that it is essential to have allies throughout our workplaces to really create that change and create that transformation.”
“Our research confirms that allies make a big difference. 92% of people surveyed feel allies have been valuable, and the more allies people have, the more they find allyship valuable. The majority of people – 68% of them – have at least two allies at work. However, 20% have just one ally, and 12% have no allies at all.”
“Unintentional harm is still harm. The impact is the key. Microaggressions are experienced and felt regardless of your intent. We must move from unintentional harm to intentional allyship.”
“Similar to biases, the key with microaggressions is to develop our empathy skills and to become more intentional so we recognize microaggressions forming and we stop them before they come out.”
“Biases are mental patterns. They are shortcuts that influence our perception about something, someone or a situation. We learn them from our families, from our friends, teachers, media, culture; and we might not be aware of them. They can perpetuate all the things we just talked about: oppression, inequity, and marginalization.”
“Allyship requires self-awareness. Self-awareness of your own presence and perspective, your biases, microaggressions, as well as curiosity, and openness to somebody else’s perspective. Really seeing them, appreciating them for their uniqueness. And having the courage to respond and show your empathy for them and their experience and to really take action.”
“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.”
“Sometimes when you have your ally and they have enough distance from it, they can point you toward the right support you need, the right network, the right way to get what you need because they have played this playbook before. They have seen this movie before. They are able to point you in the right direction and help you chase your dreams.”
“The first step of equitable design is about asking the question, ‘does this action, does this process, or does this situation create greater equality or equal power or opportunity?’ Just starting with that question – no matter what you are doing, whether you are organizing a career coaching session with a college student to designing a talent review process to building a special event, for example. I think you can ask that question first. And then I use a set of design principles to help me think about it…. ‘how can I or does this create equal power or opportunity?’ and then ‘how do I work from there?’”
“Being vulnerable is hard and that’s why you want allies in the relationships you are developing over time. If you do want to break down about this and, you know, the impact it is having on your family and your mental health and all of that, who can you go talk to about that? If you set-up the network in a healthy way, those people will be waiting for you, and you can do the same for them.”
“If you are really sorry, it requires more than saying the words ‘I am sorry.…’ It is really about the other person. It is really not about you. Allyship has to be about the other person. You have to be in a place where your desires come down to helping the other person, and it is not about you. If you can’t get there, you are really not being an ally.”
“If you have people of color in our organization, you know, make sure they know the path to move up the ranks and move them up the ranks. Clear the pathway. If somebody isn’t moving up the ranks, why aren’t they moving up the ranks? Is it because they don’t have a Master’s Degree or additional education? OK. Invest in that education.”
“Expanding the work of anti-racism is the thing that shifts the needle and has the impact around what we are all trying to do when we talk about diversity and inclusion. Understanding these are the systems we exist in, and we need to collectively counteract these behaviors – but it literally requires everyone to do it. I talk a lot about Asana, and a “team of everyone” approach. This D&I work is not work that can be done by one person. Everyone needs to understand it and everyone has a role to play so it can have impact.”
“And I think particularly for professionals in this space, you have to approach it in a way that allows you both to prioritize – or to center the groups that are under most harm at a particular moment – but also with the lens of centering, as well as, how can I expand this, or even scale it, if we want to use a business-y term? How can we scale it and take action in support of a particular group that will allow you to impact other groups?”
“There’s 574+ federally recognized tribes in the US. Like I said, we are less than 2% of the population. Each of those tribes having their own populations, their own language, history, cultures, cosmologies, and governance, we knew we would have to tailor curriculum to that context and tribes and partner communities. We needed to adapt the curriculum to include goals for sovereignty and the maturation of land in order to make it significant to our children…. That’s what culturally relevant means.”
“I think cancel culture fits into the notion we have to be perfect and right all of the time. The right comes from whoever has got that righteous anger. There is somebody on the other side who then feels shame and anger, who then becomes righteous in their anger – and the more we do that, the more we push each other away and teach each other we are different and not the same. The more different we are, the less likely we are to come together.”
“One thing that I think is super important in the first instance of bringing anybody on this journey, is understanding the perspectives of why they have the viewpoint they have at the moment. While I may disagree with people and their viewpoints, if I don’t understand it, I can’t truly bring that people along, because I am not tailoring my communication or the initiatives or the strategy or the education that that person needs to bring them on a journey. People are not a monolith.”
“You know, as much as racism is not new, I also do want to highlight that activism is not necessarily new. There has been such an incredible history of solidarity among communities of color as well. And unfortunately, part of it is just that it is not covered in our history books and there is not as much dialogue or amplification of those moments.”
“When we understand our privilege, it allows us to be empathetic, which is a part of allyship… and then to take action in support of people who don’t have all of the privileges we have. That’s really why it is so important to understand this. Step one in the allyship journey is to understand the privilege.”
“Children don’t process differences as a deficiency. How did we arrive at the conclusion that if you are different, if you are not white specifically, somehow you are deficient? Just because it is different doesn’t mean it is a deficiency.”
“When we look at the pay gap, we know that a lot of time the majority group is paid more because of the positions that they are in. They are more likely to be VP and higher and even manager. Our broken rung starts to happen at the manager level. How do we impact that? One way is through hiring but another way is through growing and retaining the talent we have and paying people fairly helps us to do that.”
What Allies Can Do During Black History Month
Rachel Williams, Head of Equity, Inclusion & Diversity at X- the moonshot factory
Lionel Lee, Head of Diversity Engagement at Zillow Group
Almaz Negash, Founder & Executive Director at the African Diaspora Network
“People talk about us without us. We need to be at the table. When people talk about our future, we must be at the table… Where are they talking about the continent, when I am from the continent, and I’m not even at the table?” – Almaz Negaz
“Empathy is a superpower. And it’s the common denominator for leaders and individual contributors in a successful organization and one that’s high-performing.”
“We need companies to do what they’re saying they want to do but show up in a totally different way.” Deepa Purushothaman
“I think so much of belonging is about having the courage to ask and engage your employees in ongoing conversation about what’s working for them, what’s making them anxious, what do they need.”
“What really makes emotional tax so unique is that it’s not limited to just the workplace. As people of color, this is our experience day in and day out. Everywhere we go, we don’t have the luxury of being able to put aside our skin and say, well, today, I’m not a woman of color. I’m not a Black woman.”
“The reality is that people with disabilities aren’t really disabled. It is our environments that disable us. If we can fix those environments so we can live our lives there is no such thing as disability.”
“The bystanders are actually the ones who tend to make up the majority of the social collective and who tend to be the ones who have the ability to, if they will step into that upstander role, these atrocities don’t happen or at least we could stop them a lot sooner.”
“If you’re an ally, particularly to Black and Brown boys, particularly to the persons of color, you should be trying to promote institutions and environments policies that would be protective of that community.”
“We have an opportunity to redefine what success looks like so that the costs that were incurred by the few are now shared collectively and I think if we can redefine what that looks like, we win together.”
“When we tell a disabled person that we don’t consider them to be disabled, what it is doing is perpetuating the stigma that being disabled is a bad thing. And when we don’t use words like disabled or disability, it is saying we think it is a bad word, and there is shame around it.”
“An ally helps you find your way without projecting on you who you should be.”
“I don’t want to be the kind of person who only knows Native American issues. I want to be the kind of person who thinks about making sure we have ASL folks and making sure we have people who are providing closed captioning. I want to be the kind of person who can share the statistics of what’s happening to our undocumented community. I want to be that kind of human being that never forgets we are all here and we are all living beings, and without that respect none of this matters and we are just repeating the same harm.”
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.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
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.
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.
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.
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.