Join Change Catalyst Founder & CEO Melinda Briana Epler with Andrea G. Tatum Senior Director, Corporate Equity Engagement, Catalyst Inc on discussing how to create a supportive working environment.
We discuss the Catalyst’s research and the challenges of the emotional tax for women, particularly women of color: the state of being highly “on guard” at work, which can impact well-being and ability to thrive in the workplace.
In this rich conversation, we learned about:
- Andrea’s personal experience experiencing racism in the workplace and how that led her to become an advocate.
- The role of inclusive leaders to develop workplace cultures where people feel valued and enabled to contribute their skills and expertise fully.
- The powerful change leading with empathy can create in the workplace.
“I think everybody has the opportunity always to be a learner. And I had never really thought about empathy as a skill. You’re not either born with empathy or not. You can learn it. You can learn to have empathy as a leader, and it’s really a superpower and has the ability to drive so much change within the workplace.”
“Just like anything else. I can’t expect to lose weight if I eat what I want to eat and I don’t go to the gym. That’s not realistic. So I always think about empathy and inclusive leadership as skills that you actively have to work towards. It’s a muscle that you can build over time.”
“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.”
Andrea G. Tatum
Sr. Director, Corporate Equity Engagement at Catalyst Inc
“Throughout her career, Andrea has been focused on helping companies create inclusive cultures where everyone belongs. Andrea joined Catalyst in June 2020 as the Sr. Director of Corporate Engagement, Western Region. In this role, Andrea provides guidance to a portfolio of companies headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area and Western Region of the US on how to create inclusive and equitable workplaces that work for women. She is also a part of our Speakers Bureau and brings her unique experiences alongside Catalyst’s deep research on topics such as Emotional Tax on People of Color.
Andrea’s passion and advocacy for Diversity and Inclusion was ignited early in her career in non-profit arts marketing. She was named one of Rolling Out Magazine’s Most Influential Women in Atlanta for her initiatives around cultivating diverse audiences. After 10 years in the arts, Andrea pivoted to tech where she grew her career as a product marketer, a certified project manager, and international event planner. Prior to joining Catalyst, she was with Tableau Software where she oversaw a portfolio of the company’s events and was the team lead for Diversity & Inclusion at their annual 20000 person user conference. Andrea then became Tableau’s Sr. Manager of Inclusion where she scaled the company’s DEI strategies around recruiting, engagement, and training.
Andrea graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in Advertising/Public Relations and holds a CAPM from the Project Management Institute.”
MELINDA EPLER: Hey, everyone. Welcome. If we could turn down the music a little, I will just… Sally, could you turn down the music just a little and then I will describe the slides for anybody who is — there you go. For anybody who is blind or low vision, can’t see the slides because you are on the phone, I will just say what the slides are sharing here. This is episode 28 emotional tax and the role of the inclusive leader with Andrea Tatum, Senior Director Corporate Equity Engagement — the slides are not advancing any more. There we go. Catalyst and created by Change Catalyst, changecatalyst.co and the slide has our logo on it as well. And thank you to Interpreter Now. Interpreter-now.com for our ASL interpretation. And we do have a code of conduct. Be kind, practice radical inclusion and we don’t tolerate harassment of any form. Tcin.co/COC for more information. Our next episode is with Kat Gordon with the 3% movement on the future of belonging and on December 8th with the Cofoundersf of Information. And the podcast is available on all your favorite podcast channels. Just search for Leading with Empathy & Allyship and the slide has the faces of lots of diverse folks that are joined us on this series. You can learn more at changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries Everyone, welcome. Please share where you are in the world. Feel free to share what you are working on as well. Say hello in the chat. I would love to know who you are and where you are tuning in from and what you do. Welcome to Leading with Empathy & Allyship. Hello to Toki. Bonjour and thank you for introducing yourself. This is a live event and podcast series. I am Melinda Briana Epler, the founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and the host of this series. We go deep and get real in this series. We build empathy, and explore tangible, actionable steps we can all take to be better allies and advocates for each other. And hello Starlett in New York and Lisa, hello in San Francisco working in digital health care. Awesome. Hello Mary Jean from Mill Vally. Today we are talking to Andrea Tatum, Senior Director Corporate Equity Engagement at Catalyst Inc about the motional tax and the role of the inclusive leader. Hello, Andrea.
ANDREA TATUM: Thank you so much for having me. I am excited to be here.
MELINDA EPLER: Excited to have you and excited to have a deep discussion about this. We will dive into what the emotional tax is in just a moment. On screen, we have an ASL interpreter now. Ourinate — our interpreters are sponsored by Interpreter Now. This is also by captioned by Maggie at White Coat Captioning. Thanks to our team, Renzo, Sally, Antonia, and Juliet who are doing lots of things behind the scene to make this happen and they are also monitoring the chat. There is a code of conduct. You can find at tcin.co/COC but just be kind and inclusive and do engage. It helps us and helps to know your aha moments and what you are learning and thinking during our conversation. Lastly, if you have questions for us, we will definitely leave time for questions at the end. Just use the Q&A function so we can find it easily and that’s down at the bottom of your screen. Hello, Liva and Lore Portland, Oregon. Nice to see you. Working on the Marco Polo app.
ANDREA TATUM: Big fan of the Marco Polo app.
MELINDA EPLER: Andrea, can you tell us about your story and how you ended up doing what you are doing now at catalyst?
ANDREA TATUM: Sure. I currently reside in the Bay Area but I am originally from Nashville, Tennessee. I got my start kind of thinking about all things diversity and inclusion when I began working in the nonprofit theater section. I was working as a marketer and really found that I didn’t see myself included in a lot of what we were doing. As you can imagine, the arts are very elitist and I was young and I was a Black woman coming into a really new space and I just saw so much opportunity to think about how we marketed to different audiences to start bringing them in. I was so lucky I had leadership that was open minded to having those conversations around driving diversity not just from who was in the audience but also what did your marketing look like and what was actually on the stage. Those conversations were something I was really doing early in my career. Fast forward, move to the Bay Area, worked for the San Francisco symphony for a little while and same kind of thing. Really, always looking at how do we bring in more diverse audiences and eventually decided if I am going to live in the Bay Area how do I get into tech and I pivoted and took all the skills that I had as a marketer and became a certified project manager and began doing events and really looking at products and how do you market products. And off the side of my desk was doing a lot of diversity and inclusion work for a company called tableau based in Seattle and I really loved the focus on data and I loved the work that I was getting to do around inclusion especially. Eventually, it ended up being a full-time position where I got to really focus on driving diversity within the organization, driving inclusion within the organization, but I felt like I was only doing it for this one company and I was actually a supporter of Catalyst. They are a nonprofit organization that has been in existence since 1962. I loved the research that they had. It just was so interesting to me to think about how to change behaviors through real data and I was really intrigued by that and a position came open and I have the opportunity to work across several different organizations throughout the Bay Area and the entire western region helping them to drive their DEI efforts forward.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. Awesome. I know one of the things you are passionate about and one of the things we decided to talk about in this episode is the emotional task. Catalyst has done some research on the emotional tax. First, what do you mean by emotional tax?
ANDREA TATUM: It is kind of the combination of feeling different from your peers at work because of your race, gender and ethnicity, and it is this feeling of constantly having to be on guard and concerned you are going to face bias in the workplace. The experience you are up against stereotypes in the workplace but what really makes emotional tax different is this is our experience day in and day out. We don’t have the ability to put aside your skin and say tonight I am not a Black woman, I am not a woman of color. We really looked at the experience that people of color were having. We looked at it both in Canada and in the United States. It was really interesting to see the shared experiences across all of these groups. The impact could even be things like their health — on their health and wellbeing and sleeplessness. And people saying perhaps they would want to leave their jobs. It is this combined experience that’s really kind of happening to people of color.
MELINDA EPLER: Can you talk about — can you share some examples maybe from your own life and how it has shown up for you.
ANDREA TATUM: One of the interesting things about having to be on guard is you are constantly having to process should I change? What can I change about myself to be more acceptable so that I don’t have to be concerned about-faceing bias? Or so that I am not concerned about having to face stereotypes.
MELINDA EPLER: Covering a piece of your identity, code-switching, being somebody different at home versus at work.
ANDREA TATUM: Exactly. It is exhausting. It is an exhausting experience. Earlier in my career I tried to fit in the molds and straightened my hair because I didn’t want to be judged if I had my natural curly Afro or my locks like I have now. It is so interesting because I am a part of several different Black women in tech organizations and things of that nature and I still Cy Young women asking can I go to an interview with my hair natural? And the fact that we have this whole crown act where we are having to have permission to show up as ourselves and so having to experience that, you know, having to feel like I need to tone myself down. I tell people I am me. I am animated. I am a little bit loud and I am a straight shooter and I tell you exactly what I think but to constantly process oh, how are they going to take that? How is someone going to think about what I am saying versus just being able to give my honest opinion and not have that fear of what people are thinking of me is something I would say is definitely a part of that.
MELINDA EPLER: I feel that to a certain degree as a white woman as well and constantly monitoring how I am showing up and monitoring what I am saying and how I am saying it and then on top of that being a Black woman, or an Indigenous woman, or a Latinx woman or all of the above.
ANDREA TATUM: Exactly. It is. It is that really unique experience and like you said with that intersectional lens of people as color, we are walking into spaces that aren’t also created for us and when you see those systems of oppression and having to kind of navigate inside of them, it really is truly a unique experience. I mean, I talk about this one example of back when I was really young, I used to have to call people to get magazine rates like how much is an ad going to cost in this magazine and I was calling this one person who the company had used for several years and they had a relationship with and he just asked me where are you from? And I get asked that question because I do have a southern twang and I just assume that’s what he was getting at and as the conversation went on, I realized he thought I was a white woman because he just thought I was a white woman and he asked me — when I told him I was from Nashville. He was like oh, you are like me, down there with the purist of the pure. It is a very shocking experience to have someone in the workplace to have someone say something so bold to you. And at that age, I think I wasn’t — I didn’t know how to fully bring myself to address it. I didn’t really know how to have my manager address it. I didn’t really know what to do. I mentioned it to my manager but I don’t think I understood the levity of what was happening. I let it go and it still really sits with me to this day. There is this desire of I wish someone had spoken up, I wish I had spoken up, I wish we would have made change and said maybe that’s not a company we need to work with but if you can imagine going forward, I never corrected him and I just let him believe that for the rest of the time that we worked together. It is a very draining, emotional kind of experience that you go through knowing that if I met this person, would he accept me for who I am? And just to know that’s not a unique experience I have had. People of color deal with this all of the time. It is really a lot to have to endure and navigate on top of saying let me show up to work and put on a smile, be productive, and go, go, go and deliver what I am here to actually do.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah and that brings up another point that the workplace is extended. It’s not just the people that we work with on a day to day basis but it is also clients, vendors, the people that we work with as another layer on top of that emotional tax outside of work entirely. Yeah.
ANDREA TATUM: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MELINDA EPLER: So how does it affect how people show up in the workplace or in their work and productivity?
ANDREA TATUM: Yeah, as I was saying is one part of emotional tax that we definitely know is it impacts sleep. I have looked at additional research from the sleep foundation and if you look at a lack of sleep there is a correlation to productivity. You know, for me, it’s just like yeah, if I am mentally exhausted, it’s going to be a lot harder for me to just focus on the work that I need to do. It really has an impact. For me personally, I talk a lot about my mental health and the impact that this has on that. Having to constantly think about how am I showing up — I ruminate. I go back and I play everything that happens in every meeting in my head again and it is very stressful to have to do that and it is very physical. It takes a lot out of me physically, emotionally and mentally. So when people are able to really thrive at work think about how much more a company gains because people don’t have that fear. They don’t have that sense of being on-guard. It really opens up doors and allows people to work together in a much better fashion and, you know, that’s my experience at least. Just knowing I can fee best version of myself when I believe that I am in a place where I have psychological safety to be able to take risks, to be authentic and to be myself. It makes a huge impact.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah, and in terms of innovation, if people are able to take risks, and not have that fear mechanism in the background and that can make a difference in how productive you are absolutely. Let’s talk about in that moment that you shared earlier, how could someone have showed up for you as an ally? Let’s start there and then we can talk abouta allyship plays a role in inclusive leadership and what we can do to really create change in our organization.
ANDREA TATUM: Sure. I think there is a lot of what-ifs in that scenario. I still, again, 10-11 years later think about these kinds of things but I do wonder what if my manager would have said hey, how is this impacting you? What do you need from me to do in this situation or what can I — and just had a listening empathetic ear. Not just saying OK, I am sorry to hear that and go about business as usual because what’s really what happened versus saying what do you need from me in this moment? I can be here to listen if you just simply need to express your concern or do you need us to action on this? And really being able to kind of come up together, like, I should I would have been able to say no, here is kind of a solution. I would be much more comfortable calling on a different magazine or newspaper and never having to speak to this person again. That would have been my ideal situation because every time I just was preparing myself like OK. Is this going to come up again? Am I going to have to tell him today he is talking to a Black woman and maybe we won’t get the same rates. I don’t know what the impact could have been but being able to say, let me help you remove yourself from that situation so you don’t have to worry about it — I more likely would have said I feel great in this space and I would have been more inclined to want to stay in that place and work there but when you have all of these little things that add up over time it really does have an impact on you and you say maybe this isn’t the environment that I want to be in. Maybe this isn’t the place where I want to work and that’s in your mind. So in an ideal world, having empathy for someone who is going through something that you’ve perhaps never experienced, is really critical to helping them kind of figure out what needs to happen next.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. And Catalyst just also released a report on empathy. Can you share a bit about empathy and the role empathy plays in leadership? Or should play, could play, ideally plays.
ANDREA TATUM: Yeah, absolutely. You know, for me, it was really good. Like, the thing I love about working at Catalyst is I am still learning and I think everybody has the opportunity to always be a learner and I had never really thought about empathy as a skill and that’s something they brought up and said, you are not either born with empathy or not. You can learn it. You can learn to have empathy as a leader and it’s really a superpower and has the ability to drive so much within the workplace. I mean, it can drive collaboration, it can help to reduce stress in the workplace, and it can really help to bring people together, and increase morale and all of these other things. There is so many benefits to being able to have empathy and the report talks about some of those benefits and how it’s a skill that ultimately can be cultivated but you have to work at it just like anything else. I can’t expect to lose wait if I eat what I want and don’t go to the gym. That’s not realistic. I think about empathy and inclusive leadership as skills that you actively have to work towards. It is a muscle that you can build over time.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. So much in there that I want to dive into but I think the first is that, you know, it seems like there are two pieces of empathy and activated empathy. Empathy itself — I believe empathy needs to be active. That it is not a passive like — you are not just having pity for somebody but you have really learning and exploring and understanding their situation and understanding and then taking action on it.
ANDREA TATUM: Absolutely.
MELINDA EPLER: And activating that empathy. It seems like when we have talking about the emotional tax which is a combination of navigating the workspace that was not necessarily created for you, white spaces when you are — and the stereotype that can play a role and the code-switching and all of that stuff and maybe feeling tokenized at the same time and there is a lot of weight to carry in that moment and on top of that experiencing micro aggressions or micro exclusions and I think there are two ways that empathy plays a role. One is in understanding what somebody is going through and taking action to solve that moment and solve for that moment and also mitigating the short and long-term impacts I think is a combination of both.
ANDREA TATUM: Absolutely. I think for me in my experience as a manager, I often ask people when they come to me with something and they say in this moment what would you like for me to do? There are times I just need to be heard. I just need someone else to know what’s going on with me in that moment and I think, and I am going to try to not get emotional but I think about things that happen outside of the workplace. I think about right now as people of color and Black people especially as we are seeing people be murdered in the streets who look like us and then I have to come into work and I have worked in spaces where I was the only Black person and you try to figure out like how do I process this alone? I am coming to work, you are asking me to still deliver on this project but my heart is breaking. My heart is heavy. I am sad. And when you have a really good manager whose got some level of self awareness and can check in and say what do you need? There has been times where all I needed was to express that I was upset and how it was going to impact me that day that maybe I couldn’t show up in the next meeting smiling and happy. I can’t do that. I can’t pretend. I couldn’t put that face on. And I needed that empathy — them to under the impact that it was happening. And there are some days I need for them to say actually, there is an action behind this. I need you to make space for me to be able to do this. I need you to help me inform other people of what’s happening or, you know, help me get out of this situation. So I always ask people what do you need? Do you need me to just listen? Do you need me to act? I can be a champion for you but I also don’t want to go and do something that someone doesn’t want on their behalf because sometimes it’s just personal and being able to have those personal relationships with managers — when I have been able to do that, it really creates this space where I want to be. I would rather work for a manager who I can have that trust with and know I can be OK and I am safe here to express my thoughts and my feelings even if they are not specific to work.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, and I think in situations like that it is so important to create that psychological safety between you too because there is so many people in an unsafe — or perceiving that it is an unsafe or untrustworthy relationship that you have with our manager, you might want something but say something else. I might not trust you to intervene or be my champion where I really want that to happen.
ANDREA TATUM: Yeah. Yeah. You know, we talk a little bit about having a level of curiosity as a manager. Are you curious about the person? You know? We are not just coming in and we are not robots. We are human beings with real experiences. So, as a manager, who can lead inclusively, there is a level of curiosity that you do to have about the people that you work with and be willing to engage them in a way that they are comfortable with and what makes them, you know, feel like they are seen, that they are valued, trusted, and all these things make a big impact on feeling a sense of belonging and inclusion.
MELINDA EPLER: Could we talk a little bit more about the role of an inclusive leader in creating that cultural of belonging and inclusion? What are some of the things that come up in the Catalyst work or just the work that you do?
ANDREA TATUM: There is some really great models if you look on the Catalyst website about leading inward and leading outward and there is these — it is kind of these different models that we talk about. I mentioned curiosity being one of them. But we also have like a lot of ways that say talk to me. Those are really DWI being an inclusive leader. I think that it’s so important for leaders to know that they have to the ability to make a big impact; right? When we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion in a corporate sense, it seems like such a big battle to have to conquer but the reality is, you know, one-to-one, a manager can make a big impact on someone’s willingness to stay, right? When I think about numbers, everyone goes to numbers in diversity, and like we need to hire more. No, no, you need the people who are already here to want to stay here.
MELINDA EPLER: Right. [Laughter]
ANDREA TATUM: You want them to be a champion for your company. You want them to be there. That will help you to reduce your kind of leaky pipeline, if you will. That is really what I think managers have to own and know that they play such a big role in helping to create a culture within a company where people of color and women feel that safety to say, like, this is a place where I want to be. I can thrive here and I can be developed. As a leader, you need to be able to see the potential within the people that you work with, so through getting to know them, through getting to understand what is it that they excel at. Then you are saying this person may have interest in this role and I can see them as a leader. Let me help to develop them. The goal is to get people to move up inside of your organizations and that’s all on a people manager and you can really sponsor people who are you know, whether they are part of your business or not. Creating opportunities center sponsorship which is going beyond mentorship can have a big impact on people of color and you are creating a place for them to say this is the place I want to be and this is good. That’s great. That’s what you want.
MELINDA EPLER: For those that are listening that don’t know the difference between mentoring and sponsoring — can you say a little bit more about that?
ANDREA TATUM: Yeah. You know, I think for mentorship, anybody can really be a mentor. You can have peer-to-peer mentors, you can have mentors who are above you, and I also think you can have mentors who have maybe at a level below you because you can always learn from people and that’s really the relationship I see for mentorship. Whereas sponsorship is something who is speaking your name when you are not in the room. How are you making sure that people know, and I have been lucky. I have had some really great sponsors in my career because I have advocated for myself, so whenever I wanted something, I always just spoke up and said this is a thing I want. I am interested in diversity and I am interested in this so others could speak on my behalf because they knew I had the skills but maybe people not seeing me in that capacity had no way of knowing I had those interests. So as a leader, especially if you are in some kind of an executive role, that you can take on speaking up on behalf of someone else and say oh, man, Melinda, or Andrea, they could be really great in this position. I have seen their leadership skills, I have seen their ability to bring people together and make an impact, I have seen what they can do as a marketer. When you speak up on someone, it makes people sit back and think well, maybe this promotion that’s coming up we shouldn’t look outside of the organization, we should be looking at this person who you said is a great leader and who is already here. That’s really the impact that sponsorship can have.
MELINDA EPLER: Anybody who is listening in and has questions, just put them into the Q&A and we will start to dive into those in a few minutes. One of the things I saw in the empathy research was the whole idea of building trust as a key component and it echoes the work we are doing around allyship and a key theme, a huge theme, that was emerging that I was wasn’t really expecting is trust and trustworthiness. Above all, people describe good allies as being trustworthy and having the ability to trust them and the same has come out in inclusive leadership work as well. Of course, that study will be coming out next year, or work on allyship, so we will share more then but can we talk a little bit about trust and how trust is formed and built and what that looks like when we are building empathy?
ANDREA TATUM: Yeah. I mean, to the point I made earlier, it really does require work. You have to be able to really know that I can trust you with what I have got going on, with my career advancement, speaking on my behalf. I also want to be able to trust that you are not judging me for things. I need to be able to know. We talk about bringing your authentic self to work a lot and being able to do that requires a level of trust that when I show up as me that that won’t then turn around and be a problem. So I have to be able to know because you can’t say on a job description, for example, oh, we really want someone who challenges the status quo. We want someone who really speaks up and then when I do challenge the status quo or I do speak up when something doesn’t feel right then I get kind of pulled to the side later and go hey, you know, you shouldn’t have spoke up. You shouldn’t have said anything. That was this person. You can’t speak up or the way you said that — like, I need to trust that my voice matters. I need to be able to trust you with that so that I really feel this sense of like, again, it is safety. It always comes back to that. It has such a big impact that I feel engaged and then it goes back to your intent to leave or to stay and to be productive and to be innovative and all of these things play together so much.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah, agreed. I think the other piece of trust is maybe — if I tell you something happened that you will act on it, you know? That I can trust you to take action when I need you to take action and whatever that looks like and to learn, if you don’t know what that looks like, right? That piece of it too. How have allies played a role in your life?
ANDREA TATUM: Oh, wow.
MELINDA EPLER: Can you think of a couple of examples? Or ways that allies have helped or shown up for you?
ANDREA TATUM: Oh, man. That’s such a good question. You know, kind of going back to what I was mentioning earlier, and having these experiences where, you know, maybe someone speaks up and says — I will give an example. Again, I am very bold and very outspoken in meetings and I tend to have an opinion about everything. I lead with that, joke about it, and it’s fine. I tell people you don’t have to agree with everything but I do want to share but I have been in some workplaces where that just wasn’t welcomed. When I found that I had an ally it was someone who could say, hey, Andrea, just so you know, when you left the room, that conversation didn’t end. That actually continued. Your name may have come up again and that allowed me to kind of then go back and address the situation and say what was it about what I did? And you know, somebody else could have just let that conversation have happened in a vacuum and I would have never known and it would have just shown up on a performance review later but someone really took concrete action saying hey, I want you to know what’s going on. I didn’t feel like them having the conversation without you in the room was appropriate. So you know, that’s one example that I have seen. Allyship can show up in so, so many different ways. When you have — when I talk about having a manager, I had one manager who really saw that I was struggling. There was some days when there was a lot happening in the world outside of work and I was struggling to show up. They said your energy is low. You don’t seem like yourself. What can I do? What do you need, you know, for me and I said I actually just need a minute. I need a break. I would have never taken the day off. You know, for me it was like come in, put your head down and do the job but when someone shows up as an ally and says what can I do to actually make this better for you? I took a moment and said what do I need? And what will make this better? And I needed to rest. I needed rest. I needed to heal from what was kind of going on. That just made a big deal and a huge difference in my ability to come back and show up as the best version of me. I think always just knowing allyship is a verb. It’s really got to be this concrete action that you do. It can have a huge ability to change someone’s day, their year, their career trajectory in all honesty. It is, you know, I think allyship is a great entry point but there is so much you can do, especially as I think about what’s going on in the world right now, to move beyond and move toward advocacy and that’s really advocating on behalf of other people as well but it takes understanding, it takes reading, and asking questions, and getting more knowledge about particular situations. So I always just kind of say to be an ally it is a constant thing. There is no yay pat on my back, I did allyship today.
MELINDA EPLER: Right. And you know, you brought up something that I think is really important in this situation you just described which is asking. You know, I work with a lot of executives on allyship and helping them build that empathy and allyship muscle, empathy and allyship muscles, and they get very nervous when it comes to intervening and when it comes to treating the impact afterwards because there is two pieces of this. Intervening in the moment but also working, as a manager, working after the fact to go back and say OK, how did that impact you and how can I help and so many people think that they have to have all of the answers in that conversation so they don’t have those conversations but really, all you have to do is ask, you know? That can make a big difference in and of itself because then it gives the person a moment to reflect and say well, what do I need and let you know.
ANDREA TATUM: I think the biggest thing with that is when you do ask you have to be willing to act, though.
MELINDA EPLER: Right.
ANDREA TATUM: It can’t be just the ask because sometimes people are like OK, well — like, how are you doing is such a day to day question that you ask but if you really want to know how I am doing, it may require you to sit down and have a conversation because if I just tell you I’m fine that may not be the whole story and the same thing as a leader. You need to be willing to say what’s the whole story? How do I act on it? And sometimes the act part is hard because what you may need to be able to do is dismantle an entire system that has been setup that’s oppressing people, holding people back, keeping them from being able to succeed in their current situations. So as you have to be able to say, you are telling me something that I may not have known, and I need to be able to figure out how — it is not even like fix it but how do I make sure the next person isn’t experiencing it and how do I make sure when I look at the system, the way it is setup, that it is not doing someone else harm as well? There is always that part about really being ready to act when you ask a question like that.
MELINDA EPLER: Jolean says as an African African I ask how would you feel if that happened to your daughter or niece? A way for them to tap into that empathy. So Mary Jane asks a hard question that I get asked a lot. What’s the best way to ask ignorant people to take action? Any thoughts there? How do you get people who don’t know what they don’t know? And will just be kind in that? Some people are staying ignorant because they want to stay ignorant but I think that the people that we can really potentially impact are those that just don’t know yet.
ANDREA TATUM: It is hard. Full disclosure. That’s not easy. There are some people though and in certain situations you need to meet them where they are at. You have to be able to acknowledge their experience and your experience really are different and so especially as a Black woman, like I think about race, and I think about intersectionality and all of these things way more than probably the average person does and so if you have a colleague who this isn’t their personal experience, it helps when you can build relationships. They do have to have some level of curiosity but if you can engage them in and build a relationship with them, meet them where they are, bring them along the journey, I find for me, storytelling is very impactful and when people can hear what your experience is they are far more likely to — it hits them more real versus when sometimes it’s just something they saw on TV or something they read in the newspaper or something that doesn’t impact them. That’s somebody else. But when I — I always talk about my personal experiences and try to find ways to relate to them in the best way that I can. I have one story I will tell that — I won’t say this person was ignorant but they didn’t know what they didn’t know and asked some questions in a meeting and I pulled them aside very kindly afterwards and I just said, hey, you may not be aware of how this came across but let me tell you about how I experienced it and how the person who you said something about may have experienced it as well. It wasn’t that I was trying to a tack that person, or anything like that. They didn’t know. They thought they were just kind of saying something funny but it wasn’t. It was harmful and it was disrespectful. So I found that I was able to, you know, pull them aside, have a conversation with them and try to relate to them on a personal level so that they could know that this was serious and just try to kind of bring them into the conversation.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. I am putting myself on mute because they are doing a lot of construction in the unit next door. There is people drilling in the wall. [Laughter] If you all have other questions, we do have a bit more time so let us know if you have other topics or questions you want to discuss. As we are looking to the future of Andrea, 2021, we are getting to the end of this year which has been an incredible year in terms of an emotional tax on so many people and if somebody says they are doing well right now, you might want to ask them again, by the way, if you really want to know the answer. As we kind of go into 2021, what are some of the things that you are thinking about in terms of inclusive leadership and in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
ANDREA TATUM: I am looking forward to a path forward. I think that there has been this world in which we are divided and I would really love to see our country come together more. I would like to see coworkers and colleagues come together more. And I think it really requires getting people, again, that storytelling, having the sense of empathy, and getting people kind of moving in the same direction. I think that’s really what I am hopeful in the future and that is that we can see a path forward in the work we are doing. Being able to see how to make real impactful change especially in the experience of people of color and especially Black men. My heart goes out to Black men when I think about their experience day to day in the workplace and outside the workplace. How can we come together and work together? That’s what I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we get past kind of some of the conversations that are light and be OK having hard conversations. Like I think we have to be able to tackle what’s really going on because that’s the only way that we can kind of move forward. I think about how do you break things? That’s always kind of been my philosophy. If it’s not working, break it. Rebuild the foundation. And I think that we have got a lot of foundation that we have got to rebuild because it’s been crumbled and as we build a stronger foundation together, we really have an opportunity to build on top of that a much brighter future and that is what I am hopeful for. I don’t think that all of a sudden 2021 is just going to be a switch and make, you know, everything that happened in 2020 go away but I think it is an opportunity to reset, rebuild, and move forward.
MELINDA EPLER: Well said, well said. You know, I would say that for a lot of people having hard conversations, and breaking things is not something that comes easy or natural, or, you know, my husband and I were talking the other night that, as a white woman growing up in my family, I was taught to not break things. To not, you know, not talk about race, not talk about politics, not talk about a lot of these thingss. Do you have any suggestions for how we start to do that and go about that?
ANDREA TATUM: I think we all were. I think we all had this sense of, you know, the idea of color blindness, that’s something we were taught was a good thing but the reality is you need to see color. You need to see people for who they are. The wholeness of who they are. You need that in order to say I see you, I acknowledge you, and that is so needed. That’s when real connections happen. And that can help you, again, that’s that path forward is like — I am a Black woman, I have a husband, I have you know, general anxiety disorder, and I talk about that a lot, and I need people to know who I am and how all of those parts of the puzzle impact me day to day. I want to know, you know, if you are a mom and how does that impact you day to day? I want to know your story. I think when people can create those real connections, you have to opportunity to have conversations because you will start to find similarities inside of that because, although we have different experiences, there are a lot of things we share and we can find those commonalities and it humanizes people. I know some people are like I have never really had to work with people of color, Latinas or Black women before and have worked in silos but once you get to know someone you are like she is a mom, she likes to dance and workout and you get to know this person and I think that’s really cool. I think that’s an awesome opportunity to create and bridge divides.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah, even in the remote workplace we need to figure out ways to allow people to make those connections, to tell their stories to each other, and to learn from each other, to have those moments that might happen in the kitchen or near the water cooler that we have to figure out how to do in the remote workplace right now.
ANDREA TATUM: It is so hard. It’s hard as leaders if you can find ways to create that space for people to be able to connect and to, you know, engage with one another beyond just what’s due right now? What project are we trying to accomplish? I think people will feel more of a sense of belonging but I have to say this. You have to be OK with people saying I am bringing the version of myself that I want to bring. We are inside of people’s homes right now and there are some people who are like I may not be comfortable being on camera all the time. You have got to be — that goes back to that empathy thing. There may be a reason why I don’t want you to see my background. I am very privileged in that I work from home and I have a home office but some people are like I am working from my kitchen counter, right? There is that got to be this sense of what version are you OK with bringing to work and managers being OK with that. That’s how you show. You can’t just demand everybody has got to be on camera all of the time. You have to be able to say what do you need and what’s right for you right now and help create those connections.
MELINDA EPLER: And I think also open up the fact that not everybody has to have a perfect life behind their head when they are on camera. It is OK to have kids climbing on you or people walking past you and I think modeling that as a leader can be helpful. We have one question I think we can get to. It is not an easy question from Lamar. A few people in our company who are part of the Black employees group, the ERG, I guess, have asked to form a separate group just for allies so they can ask uncomfortable questions they want to ask and also feel safe. They feel like they can’t speak up in our Black employees group since they are not Black. I feel this is counter productive. How do I talk to them about this?
ANDREA TATUM: That’s really a good one. I think saying it out loud and saying this is a safe space where we can have courageous conversations. We are not going to — I think, and I use the word safe space with a lot of caution because it is not about making people comfortable. People need to be OK with being uncomfortable but they can have real authentic conversations. You can invite them in and say hey, if you really want to be apart of the conversation and want to be apart of change, we are inviting you be apart of this group where we have these real conversations. This is the most authentic place to be able to hear it. And acknowledge the fact that if you are not a part of the group there may be times you get things wrong. So if you do, you have to be able to acknowledge if you have cause harmed and say sorry. It is not about your intent. It is about the impact that you had, so you need to be able to figure out how do you acknowledge the impact that you had but still be in it. That doesn’t mean you runaway. That’s how you move forward. I go back to the gym analogy. Going to the gym doesn’t feel great. Building muscle there is a little bit of pain inside of it so you have got to be able to be OK building those muscles and moving through that and trying to not cause harm to the people who are a part of the Black ERG but being there to learn so they can become advocates as well. That’s my opinion on it.
MELINDA EPLER: And I would just add that ERGs are a safe space for people to be who they’re, right? As an ally, you have to be really careful in navigating that space and perhaps the ERG could take specific moments, like once a month, or something where they really just focus on the questions allies have and really exploring those questions so you are able to kind of do both and have the safe spaces to ask questions but it also a programmatic space to ask questions with ground rules and to really, yeah, be able to do both with that ERG.
ANDREA TATUM: And it is always so dependent on the culture of the company and the climate, so, yeah, you have to navigate it and figure out what’s best for that group and how to move forward. I think that’s a great question but I think coming together and having the conversation as a group and saying we don’t want you all to feel like you have to do this outside. We want you to feel like you can do this together and that’s monumental in saying everybody has a seat at this table.
MELINDA EPLER: I just realized we are at time. Thank you, Andrea. Appreciate all the work you do and what you brought to this conversation. Thank you.
ANDREA TATUM: Yes, thank you again for having me. I am so glad we could do this.
MELINDA EPLER: Me, too. Thanks to our live audience and your engagement and appreciate you being here each week. Join us each week for Leading with Empathy & Allyship. You can check out what’s coming up an changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries and please subscribe to the podcast and YouTube channel and give us a review. A thumbs up when you have a moment and of course, please, share it so that we can continue to grow this knowledge and this work and the muscle of change. All right. Thanks, everybody. Have a good week.
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.
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