Melinda Briana Epler, Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst, and Aubrey Blanche, Director of Equitable Design & Impact at Culture Amp, talk about why it’s critical to think beyond diversity and representation. With a shift to equitable design, we build equity, right the power dynamics, and create greater access and support for people in our workplaces and communities who are most marginalized. The conversation covers how to build our capacity to create and lead this change.
Learn more about Aubrey’s work on:
- Aubrey Blanche’s website
- “Why your CEO can’t be your Head of Inclusion” by Aubrey Blanche
- “Get your squad together” by Aubrey Blanche
- Culture Amp’s commitment to building an anti-racist culture
- Culture Amp Diversity & Inclusion Starter Kit
- Atlassian Team Playbook
- “Introducing the Balanced Teams Diversity Assessment tool” by Aubrey Blanche
- Founder Mental Wealth program by Anthony Ware
- White Rage by Carol Anderson
- Leonardo Sosa’s Work at Dev/Mission
- “Designing Products for A Diverse World with Inclusive and Universal Design” at Tech Inclusion 2020
- Leading With Empathy & Allyship Episode 20: “Using Data To Drive Change with Danny Allen”
The live show is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now and White Coat Captioning.
- “We have seen this shift, and equity-first considers the overlapping privileges and oppressions that people carry with them…. A process of equity is one that seeks to sort of level those playing fields and create space where those who are the most marginalized have a seat at the table.”
- “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?’”
- “It takes work to deal with the skills of contentious conversations; it takes work to develop the skills of vulnerability and humility especially…. Company leaders who don’t invest in building those skills are going to regret it because this sort of demand we are starting to see…. We know Gen Z is even more staunch than Millennials about their workplace wanting to align to their values.”
The Mathpath (Math Nerd + Empath), Director of Equitable Design & Impact at Culture Amp
MELINDA EPLER: So many friends. This is Leading With Empathy & Allyship and I am your host Melinda Briana Epler, the Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst. At Leading With Empathy & Allyship we work to develop empathy and allyship and skills, tangible actionable skills we can all take into the workplace and communities to really, really be there for us and to make a difference for each other, individually, across systems, and cultures as well. Appreciate you all being here. Today we will be talking about shifting our work from diversity to equitable design with Aubrey Blanche, The Mathpath and the Director of Equitable Design & Impact at Culture Amp.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Good to be here.
MELINDA EPLER: If you will join me in describing yourselves to our listening audience for the podcast and also to anybody who is Blind or Low Vision on the live show as well. I am a White woman with long red hair, wearing a dark blue shirt and black and white glasses.
AUBREY BLANCHE: I am Aubrey. I am a Latino woman but I am White passing so fair skin. Light eyes and pastel pink and a gray t-shirt that says empathy on it. I thought I would dress for the podcast.
MELINDA EPLER: I love it. On the screen we have ASL interpreters. Thank you so much to Interpreter Now for our ongoing partnership. Appreciate them very much. As we said earlier, you can learn more about them at interpreter-now.com. This is also being live captioned by Maggie at White Coat Captioning. You can turn on the captioning by going to the bottom of the screen and click on closed captioning. You might have to hit the three dots. You can change the settings there. We have the team, Juliette, Renzo, and Ariyah are behind the scenes doing amazing things to make this happen and in the chat and in the Q&A. Please engage with us in the chat. Share what you are learning and thinking about. It really does make a difference in the flow of this conversation. Please continue to share in the chat. Appreciate you all. If you have specific questions for Aubrey and I just put them in the Q&A so I can find them easily. Let’s dive in. Can you start, Aubrey, by telling us about your story? Share your story and how you came to do the work you do.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Absolutely. I think I talk about my career being an accident, a very happy one, in some ways but also a little bit of an inevitability. I have a little bit of an interesting background. As I mentioned on the podcast, I am Latina but I am adopted and grew up in a non-Latin family. My adoptive father is Choctaw, Native American, and my adoptive mother is euro American. I am a mixture of Indigenous American and Euro American as many Latin folks are because of the history. I think living in the middle of these categories shaped my story. I joke I am bipolar and biracial and bicultural. I have learned how to sit on both sides of a lot of different lines and I think that gives me a perspective on radical inclusion and what we can know and what we can do. In terms of my career history, I came out of grad school and dropped in the tech industry because I was looking for a job. I didn’t come with some high ideals. I didn’t know it was supposed to be a super innovative place but when I got to tech I felt pretty only or pretty alone. I was one of the few Latinx people at my company. I asked where is everybody else and the answers I got were like, well, you know, we are a meritocracy and I can see you laughing silently at that. I started getting involved in diversity and inclusion work as sort of second shift as an ERG lead because I just didn’t like some answers that I was hearing. I was like wait — why aren’t there more people like me in this particular space? I just kind of asked the question. I said well, can I run some experiments to prove I am right and I was lucky I had a senior leader who sponsored be and said sure, go ahead and go off and do that. That work turned into full time DEI work which I have been doing almost a decade now. Hard to believe it goes back that far. I have been doing DEI work for almost 10 years in the tech industry. I went from Atlassian for five years and to now having the luck to join the Culture Amp team.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. Awesome. When we were meeting and it is a very common theme, I didn’t start out doing diversity and inclusion work. I didn’t start out saying that’s the career path for me either. I bet a lot of people in this work — I think a lot of us come at this when we realize there is a problem and it is time to fix it. Yeah. So when we were meeting to discuss this episode, you really wanted to talk about equitable design. We have discussed inclusive design with the idea we design for the edges and recognize unique experiences and design for specific needs and a breadth of needs and specific people that have needs where products need to address them. And then also designing with people rather than for people is inherent in that as well. I want to kind of talk about, define, equable — equitable design and first, what does equity mean?
AUBREY BLANCHE: We have seen this shift and equity first considers the overlapping privileges and oppressions that people carry with them and then a process of equity is one that seeks to sort of level those playing fields and create space where those who are the most marginalized have a seat at the table. Does that seem like an OK definition? Do you have anything to add?
MELINDA EPLER: I think that’s right. I would describe it as recognizing the historical oppression and discrimination that people have experienced and then designing something that addresses that both in the present and also addresses the inequities that happened in a generation because of that history.
AUBREY BLANCHE: I also talk about the difference between diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion is the outcome of a process of equitable design. I like to take people through diversity we know is sort of the differences that exist between people, especially in our work, we focus on things like gender, race, age, ability, veteran status, things like that. And then inclusion, of course, is the subjective experience of being included in a collective and seen and valued for who you are which I think we can all agree is a great thing but the goal of moving from that diversity and inclusion to a focus on equitable design is to say we still have the same goals and the construct is diverse and inclusive teams and people are balanced but we are focusing on the process of what we are going through every day. Change Catalyst does equitable design well even if you don’t call it that. You still get credit. It is not about the label but it is about the action. It is about thinking about how each interaction, or each decision we are make in an organizational context, is creating more or less equity. This is more of an art. It is often an art and a science. It is rare that there is this one thing that’s more equitable than not. We have really great interpreters here and thank you, interpreters. It is obvious adding an interpreter to this moment makes it more inclusive but once you get into organizational context the questions are a bit more murky. We use equitable design as a way to try to make it real and give people the frameworks they need to work through those challenges themselves.
MELINDA EPLER: So can you talk a little bit — can you talk about what is the process of equitable design look like? How do we make that happen?
AUBREY BLANCHE: I think what it comes down to is the first step of equitable design is about asking the question, does this action, does this process, or this situation create greater equality or equal power or opportunity? Just starting with that question – no matter what you are doing. Whether that’s 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 and that spoke to what you are speaking to earlier. I first start with the question how can I or does this create equal power or opportunity and then how do I work from there.
MELINDA EPLER: OK. OK. I know you are kind of working within Culture Amp to develop a culture where inclusive design is kind of the go-to for show decisions are made. What does that look like?
AUBREY BLANCHE: Yeah. So maybe I can talk about what we did sort of after — because Culture Amp after the video of George Floyd went viral almost a year ago, we recommitted ourselves to evolving more equitably and specifically being an anti-racist organization. We built a four-part strategy based on equitable design that was able to do that. A big part of equitable design is considering each of us have our own privileges and oppressions so our work is different based on that. Within the context of us we said how can we design an experience for Black Campers? We recognized the first step was making sure we were supporting our Black Campers.
MELINDA EPLER: Can you say what a Camper is?
AUBREY BLANCHE: A camper is what we call the Culture Amp employees. I have to tell you is we don’t have nearly enough happy camper jokes at work. Our Campers are our employees. When we were thinking about it, one of the design principles for equitable design, we talk about consent. There needs to be authentic consent and that people feel empowered to say yes and no, we need to think about marginality and designing for that margin or thinking of that intersectional stress case and community — we design with and for the community — and last, we are dedicated to making tangible, real world progress so we know that means we are not always picking the perfect solution but we are picking the solution that helps us move forward in the moment. So, for us, after sort of the video of George Floyd went viral one of the first things we said is we need to support our Black employees who are dealing with a level of mental and emotional stress that is just beyond what is reasonable. I know we have Anthony on the line so Anthony I will shout you out. Anthony came in and did a fantastic mental health program for our Black employees. Anthony is back with us again this year and we have extended the program to our Asian employees as well. Thinking about how equitable design evolves. Last year we saw our Black employees were in crisis and brought in mental health support. This year as we have seen the rise of Asian and Pacific Islander bias we realized that group needed support. That’s step one. The question of are you OK and what is the organization doing to help with that. We also work with — we have other mental health offerings but are very intentional to bring in those offerings that are community specific and culturally competent if that makes sense. And the next big part of our design process really had to do with making sure that our senior leaders were educated. What we knew is we had a lot of leaders who wanted to be help and be allies but they didn’t always know what actions that equaled if that makes sense. I think we can all relate to that. There have been moments where we are like I have a great intent and I want to do this but still ended up being a jerk or causing harm or not being in the right place at the right time because of that lack of knowledge or education about how. We did a huge education push which we are continuing through this year offering sort of an equitable leadership coaching program to our senior leaders as well as offering a course called managing across racial dynamics for our managers of Black employees so really trying to teach them what are the unique things they need to think of, how do I they design 1:1s and team meetings to make sure people are included. Those are a couple ways Culture Amp has brought equitable design to life. It isn’t about changing employees to make them better hires but it is about providing them the resources they need and beginning to evolve the culture and the cultures educational knowledge set to better support people from underrepresented groups.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. Are you thinking about how this might impact the products that Culture Amp has as well?
AUBREY BLANCHE: That’s a huge part of it. Because Culture Amp, as some may know, we are one of the world’s experiencing — employee experience platforms, I can never get that out. Employee experience platforms. For us, there is a lot of companies that come to us to ask questions about DEI, to get DEI guidance. Our platform is incredible in terms of helping companies collect data and to begin measuring inclusion with our industry standard inclusion survey. What we found is these things have not only helped people do better in their core role. If they are on the marketing team, for example, they have a better idea of how to market a product to DEI leaders. We find we are getting more innovative ideas. Yes, it absolutely influences our product development. I talk and I have conversations every week, every month if not every week, thinking about — just had one last week around how do we think about inequity in machine learning tools we are using? And are we using the right type of machine learning? Is it producing the right types of outcomes for our clients? So, yeah, I would say it is showing up in the product development as well as in the people side of the business.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. For those that don’t know, Culture Amp as Aubrey mentioned, does have the D&I survey and I think it is still free, right? That you can use it for free? Yeah. We helped early on, way back in early 2015 I think, help them kind of develop that initial survey and it has since evolved.
AUBREY BLANCHE: That is right. Way back in 2015, I remember I first had the luck to get in contact with Change Catalyst and the Tech Inclusion conference. Just six months ago, we released a new version of the survey and revalidated things. That’s available for free through Culture Amp’s D&I starter kit. As a business, we try to make sure we are creating access to inclusion learning. It is certainly a product we do sell with more customization but we wanted customers to start measuring quickly so that D&I kit is available for free with the survey included.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. You know, when we first met back in — talking about when we first met, you were doing this work and approaching it from your data science background at Palantir. Can you talk about data and how important it is to this work?
AUBREY BLANCHE: I think at the end of the day the data you are — you have is so important. I see companies blocking their DNI professionals from building a thoughtful data strategy often because company leadership says we don’t want to know; right? They are not willing to do the work — Brian is in this. Yes, you can’t get the data. So that is super normal. We hear that from a lot of companies.
MELINDA EPLER: We do too.
AUBREY BLANCHE: There is a couple different types of data. First is demographic data and that’s the diversity or the counting heads data. It is incredibly important. One thing I often see — yes, diversity and inclusion starter kit — that’s in the channel for whoever needs it. That will help you collect data. One of the things I see is often companies are trying to collect the wrong type of diversity data. I always say we are not trying to self-actualize data. We are trying to uncover patterns. So often they are creating 50 categories for gender. The reason for that is they go there are 50 categories for gender which is absolutely true but we don’t necessarily need to collect that data as an organization. For me, I often break it down into man/woman/non-binary/gender-fluid/trans-non-confirming. It is unlikely I will take different action to support the identities even though the individual identities are important to them it doesn’t change the organizational response and by creating those bigger categories it allows me to respect the privacy of individuals as well. We can collect less data but have enough insight to be able to move the culture. So, yes, thinking about data at that deep level is something I do a lot. On the inclusion side, I talked about the diversity and inclusion starter kit at Culture Amp but inclusion is looking at the subjective experience of people within the company. Even if you are asking survey questions about inclusion the data is not very useful if you don’t have the demographic data there to cut that data. Especially if you have a majority White, male, abled, civilian workforce and if you don’t have their demographic data you will see an inflated sense of matching. Having that gives you the ability to understand the subjective different experience of people over time.
MELINDA EPLER: When people look at qualitative versus quantitative, too, basically not enough people bother by said topics/issues for actions to take place. Almost like I don’t see it so it must not be true. There is a lot of, I think, really important data you need to collect around safety, engagement, commitment, belonging, all of those things are so important as a part of this and to, yeah, cross reference your data around representation and demographics is key. Agreed. The other thing you didn’t mention but I think is important in your work is that, at least at Atlassian, you were looking at that data across teams and I think that’s a key piece of it too.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Absolutely. There everything was about teams so it made sense to look at our diversity data that way as well but one of the important things and you can check it out in the Atlassian team play book. It is the building belonging playbook and there is a balance teams assessment we built that helps people look at the diversity of their teams. That tool is pretty cool. But really what we tended to say was the diversity really happens on teams not at the company level. So often those big numbers you see in company diversity reports are actually looking at representation not diversity. When you are just showing, for example, you know, you have got 20% women in technical roles or something like that, what you are actually looking at is representation rather than diversity. It is really that team level data that allows you to say are people, you know, are people working with people different from themselves every day and what is that experience look and feel like especially for those people who are most marginalized and by looking at the distribution of different identities across teams and departments, you are more easily able to identify who is an only on their team. So back when I was at Atlassian, we had, for example, 13.3% women on technical roles which wasn’t great but when you take into account we are based in Sydney, Australia which has even greater sort of imbalance challenges than the U.S. in terms of representation, but when we died the team level analysis, Melinda, we actually discovered on average, two thirds of our technical teams had a female team members even though the female team members only made up 13% of the total roles. We realized that women were likely the only woman on their team and we know when you are the only you are more likely to experience belonging uncertainty, stereotype threat, Impostor Syndrome and where we believe in that I think is an ongoing discussion on the interwebs in this field right now. We were able to build programs that ultimately created connections across teams. That was able to reduce attrition for women in engineering and technical roles by like more than 75%. It really came from that insight that people were feeling alone and feeling isolated. So we tried to solve for those feelings of isolation.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. We talked with Danny Allen last year, episode 20, around data. The whole episode was on data. In his data dashboard he is looking across teams to see which managers need more help in terms of training and developing those inclusive leadership skills and are there areas where, you know, across different demographics on different teams, there is a lack of promotion for women, for example, or a lack of promotion for Black people on those teams, and then as a result of that, really go deeper with that manager and say let’s work on this together. Really go deeper. We are going to jump to questions in a little bit. If you have questions, please, put them in the Q&A. I know this has been on your mind and last week we touched a bit but didn’t go in-depth to the growing number of companies who are banning the discussion of politics at work. I have been asked about this recently on a podcast that I have been on. I wondered what your thoughts are on that.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Yeah, so, I think there’s more and more companies that are trying to institute those policies but to me, I call it ostrich-ing like an ostrich gets scared and buries their head in the sand. But they are a rather large bird and that doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem. You are not really hiding. Not really hiding. That’s how I feel about it. Trying to ban discussions in the workplace is ultimately self-defeating because the fact is there are people for whom these are not theoretical discussions but they are the real dynamics of their very real life. And I don’t want to say outside of work because it isn’t like they take that hat off and set it on the corner table when at work but rather those are things they bring in. The stress of worrying about family members we see with teammates in India right now, for example. But also —
MELINDA EPLER: And there’s multiple layers in India too. You have farmers in your family, for example, as well as the — there’s many issues in India including the pandemic being a major one, obviously.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Right. We have our Asian employees more broadly affected by anti-Asian violence. We have our Black and Latinx whose family members are more likely to be impacted by the virus, have less access to vaccines. These are basic day to day realities and that doesn’t even count any of the other individual things that are going on that are impacted by those systemic oppressions. I think companies that seek to ban those discussions, I think that ultimately it is just not realistic. Or it is only realistic for a very privileged set of your employees. I think that when you are saying, you know, we are banning those discussions, what you are often saying is we are banning, you know, the real life of certain people from coming into our workplaces. It is very similar in my mind to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ The failed military policy that came out of my Alma Mater – so I am forever shamed for that – but really thinking about how it didn’t change the underlying person. It just makes them have to hide. Especially for companies where you are employees or workers. Do you actually want to put that cognitive load on your workforce?
MELINDA EPLER: That’s the thing. I think it actually does change you. It does cover — there is studies, so many studies, that show that covering, code-switching, and hiding pieces of your identity or having to in this point having to hide what’s really going on in your life is damaging and can impact your wellbeing and your long-term health effects as well as short term health effects and what does that do to your productivity level? It is just not good for business either. There is a lot there. I think — yeah, I agree. It is also, I think, in addition to coming from a place of privilege, it is also coming from a place of laziness a bit. That you are not willing to do the work to create a psychologically safe environment where people can safely discuss politics and whatever that means is a whole other side of this. What is politics to you may be someone’s identity.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Yeah, and I don’t know if you agree. We haven’t talked about this. This is a brand-new idea I am throwing at you. I talk about everything is political and the question is what is politicized in a particular workplace. Even something like choosing a benefits provider is a political decision if what we are defining as political as something that has to do with power. Whether you are choosing a PPO or going with Kaiser Permanente if you are here in California, for example, you are making a power decision about who and what is going to want to work at your workplace. That’s something most people don’t think of as a political decision so much. But it is relevant. I think something like that.
MELINDA EPLER: I think we are on the same page that that is not a healthy approach to this work. Instead just do the work to develop that inclusive culture and work on that psychological safety, creating those safe environments where people can have conversations safely.
AUBREY BLANCHE: You talked about it taking work and it is. It takes work to deal with the skills of contentious conversations, it takes work to develop the skills of vulnerability and humility especially – and I say at least once a week, ‘oh, I didn’t know that. Or I didn’t realize that.’ You know, sometimes that’s all it takes for those of us who have a lot of majority identities and I have a lot of minority ones, but also a lot of majority ones as well. I think you bring up a really important point that it is work and it takes effort and it takes skill in order to do that and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think that company leaders who don’t invest in building those skills are going to regret it because this sort of demand we are starting to see it, obviously Millennials, I think Gen X and Baby Boomers are less likely to demand these things whether that’s a cohort of the generation. We know Gen Z is even more staunch than Millennials about their workplace wanting to align to their values.
MELINDA EPLER: Yes and part of that influence is being open and being able to get comfortable and being comfortable getting uncomfortable. Yeah. Again, we will jump to questions in a minute. I see a few have come up and we will address this shortly. Could you talk a bit about what that training looks like that you do around kind of moving the work forward? Moving the work forward?
AUBREY BLANCHE: Different training for different folks. I will talk a little bit about the mentoring racial dynamic training that we just kicked off with another cohort this morning. It is very well timed. Really, what we are doing is we are taking people through a six-week course where they learn about, you know, racism and White privilege and White supremacy, history and the meritocracy myth, and building empathy and safety in underrepresented people, and what kind of behaviors look like, and take them through the knowledge around coaching underrepresented people. Speaking to, again, these issues of stereotype threat of imposter syndrome and educating our managers on how those things impact Black or otherwise marginalized employees so when they are coaching they don’t make common mistakes. They don’t think oh, this person isn’t confident or this person is asking for a lot of permission they must not feel confident in their ability. It might not be they don’t feel confident, but it might be they got in trouble in a previous company for exercising their judgment because of bias issues.
MELINDA EPLER: Or what we see all of the time is that people with underrepresented identities are more likely questioned about their expertise and more likely to face consequences for things that the majority population aren’t facing consequences for whether that is in the workplace or in the criminal justice system.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Absolutely.
MELINDA EPLER: You know, there’s so many, you know, I remember Leo Sosa spoke at our Tech Inclusion conference a few years ago. He has, over the years, worked with youth around getting them into S.T.E.M. and said, you know, told a story about how he brought his students to a tech company and there were lots of students coming to the tech company. His students are Latinx students. There is swag that tech companies always layout and the tables are full of the swag, and the White students are going and collecting it and putting it in their backpacks and his students are like what do we do? Take it? Not take it? They had to ask if they could take it because that is how our society treats them. I think that the same happens in our workplaces. There is the Impostor Syndrome that does reduce confidence levels, I think, too.
AUBREY BLANCHE: I think that’s so real. I think we don’t – you know, people’s workplaces aren’t prepared to answer the questions, so people are met with surprise. You can create a situation where someone feels like they have done something wrong, right? And again, it is because people don’t always know the sort of the cultural norms. I was raised in a house where my dad was an in-house lawyer and very corporate. I think about the lessons he taught me about corporate and when I got into tech I came across as really overly formal. That was because I was like oh, this is a job. I need to dress up for my job interview and shaking hands correctly and being proper. It turns out tech culture, for example, didn’t prioritize that. I was able to sort of learn; but you think about – for someone for whom that’s the only lesson they have ever gotten about it or they have no context whatsoever – how much harder that transition would be.
MELINDA EPLER: With our Tech Inclusion career fairs we realized we needed to prep before they came, because they were concerned about the dress code. We were like well, there is no dress code – but then for a lot of people, especially people new into tech, people moving from another industry into tech also, you know, they would come to the career fair in heels as a result come across as different, right? And so we realized just a little thing, to let people know. You know, you can dress a little more casually at a tech conference and here are some things to think about. Little things you can do make a difference. Aubrey Williams asks if we could talk more about Impostor Syndrome in the DEI world. How do you address Impostor Syndrome? I think there is another component of that, Aubrey, where often we work so hard on the Impostor Syndrome rather than the people that are kind of creating that affect in people/creating the impact. I think there’s two components.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Yeah, I think there is like this discussion right now: does Impostor Syndrome exist or not? I will just say I am not going to get into that discussion. I think that Impostor Syndrome or something like it exists in a lot of people’s heads, but if the framing of it doesn’t really exist for people, I am not going to dismiss that. We talk about a pervasive belief among people who do have a capability that they are frauds or not really as talented as they have been told, and they are about to be found out and all of those things. I think those are real psychological narratives people get in their heads. I think the argument about whether it exists or not comes from this idea of, do we want to locate that in the individual, or as a result of the systemic sort of oppressions or gaslighting they have experienced?
MELINDA EPLER: I would say both from my perspective.
AUBREY BLANCHE: I totally agree with you. I was going to be like, why is it not both? I just wanted to get into that little bit of it. When I think about how do I support people with Impostor Syndrome, I try to always use affirming language with people. I try to be careful to be complimentary. Part of it is I feel a lot of gratitude so it is easier to express. Also, you know, saying things to someone like, oh, that’s really great. Like, you did it. It is not a surprise at all but I am really excited to see you thrive. It is something that I do and it is something that comes up in the coaching. I just put some of the topics in the chat. I should put those in for panelists and attendees. There’s the answers for Grisel. Really, when I think about undoing Impostor Syndrome it comes from explicitly verbalizing you believe in people and you believe they are capable and giving them positive feedback when they do something well. I know that doesn’t sound like a big, magic fancy solution and it really isn’t. But I do think often the solutions to these big hairy problems come down to the actions we take every day. The bigger systemic solution to Impostor Syndrome are bigger anti-racism initiatives, making sure we are getting a balanced set of people into leadership positions, um, that type of thing.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah, agreed. Agreed. And I will say we have done a study on allyship and looked at what people want from allies and one of the top two is give me confidence so that is a key piece of it. That’s what people have said they want from allies. You are talking about microaccusations that we can do to accumulate in the same way microtraumas are things that accumulate. We can counter microaggressions with microaffirmations.
AUBREY BLANCHE: I haven’t heard that phrase before. I like that. I am going to take that one. Microaffirmations. That’s really beautiful. Learning things on the podcast. Always with you, learning something.
MELINDA EPLER: Aw. Brian, I know he had to leave but I want to address his question. How do you/we combat the immense pushback on critical race theory? I am frustrated hearing and seeing this firsthand in the community we live in.
AUBREY BLANCHE: To Brian, thank you for asking the question. I would say I often start by asking people what they think critical race theory is – I am like hey, tell me more about why you are concerned about and what you understand. First, I find there is a lot of misconceptions that people don’t know what it actually is. This goes to my idea of what’s political versus what’s politicized, and I think part of our work is to depoliticize these things. It is a critical political theory without question. It makes people do this or makes people do that. Often those things are based on unfounded assumptions. That’s the first way I deal with it. Not that it is fun. Not that I want to have to – after so many years – I hate it that critical race theory and its work is going mainstream and resulting in backlash, but I think we know the history of the United States is the history of White backlash. There is a really great book called White Rage. If people haven’t read it, it was one of those on the New York Times bestseller list. I would just say the push back against critical race theory isn’t something I find surprising, although I find it demoralizing.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah.
AUBREY BLANCHE: The one thing I am heartened to see is that the Biden Administration is certainly not without fault – I think we need to always hold them to account – but they are putting more balanced people in positions of leadership, people who have a history of this. So many of the executive orders we saw that were really problematic in the previous administration, we have seen some of those rolled back, so I think there are signs of progress. I would say we are seeing data that shows that the average public does agree racism is an issue, and the majority of White people agree that racism is an issue – which is something we haven’t actually seen in the history of this country, in terms of political polling. So I do think there are some bright spots even though we are seeing pushback. I think that’s just how America works. Not defending it. Just describing it.
MELINDA EPLER: With our last couple of minutes, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you approach — I know empathy is really important to you and how you kind of approach empathy and allyship.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Yeah, so I think one of the biggest things that I do, I am very much a book nerd, I mean I am a math nerd but I am an empath. I like reading and spend a lot of time reading mostly non-fiction, but I am trying to read novels and poetry. I spend a lot of time reading about the world and other people’s experiences because I don’t want to assume that how I experience something is the way that everyone else experiences something. What I can do is try to be a witness to those different experiences and build up my knowledge base over time of what different people feel like. Between books, podcasts, blogs, the Google machine is very free – which has its own problems with surveillance capitalism. I use Twitter a lot. For example, a few years ago, when I was just starting to understand my own disabilities and I wanted to start learning what people think about, I started following a ton of influencers in the disability and accessibility space. That’s one other thing I would say. Social media. I love Instagram and Twitter for this. They really can be windows into people who have consented and have agreed to put their content out to show different aspects of their experience. That’s something I would encourage people to do. Curate your feeds so you are experiencing a lot of different types of lives and ways to be. I think ultimately I just tend to believe that; I love that you call the podcast Leading With Empathy & Allyship, because for me empathy is the core and foundation to allyship.
MELINDA EPLER: Me too!
AUBREY BLANCHE: To me they feel intrinsically linked. I know people talk about allyship versus accomplices.
MELINDA EPLER: I think they are important as well and a part of allyship. I see them as a continuum of allyship. Accomplices are there to break the rules. We need people breaking the rules and changing the laws. We need that. That is important. Also, not everybody needs to do that. It is important for us to advocate and to practice other forms of allyship as well. So, yeah.
AUBREY BLANCHE: I am mindful we are getting close on time but is there anything else I can answer or think about. I don’t know if we have any Q&As. I was seeing if we had any more Q&A.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah, Sharone was talking about identity can be politicized especially if you are a person of color it is politicized. Absolutely.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Yeah, I think it is such a good point. I think it is one of the reasons why we talked about how we find this work in different pathways and one of the things for me as a White-passing or White-assumed person, ethnic heritage, I know that people listen to me. Not everybody and not all of the time. But my voice carries and so sometimes speaking out and being an ally because I am in that position is really, really crucial, I think, to who I try to be. Although, I never want to hold myself up as someone who figured it out. I have definitely messed it up and I am still learning.
MELINDA EPLER: I don’t know any perfect allies. Maybe part of being a good ally is knowing we are not perfect and being open to feedback around that and also open to continuing to grow and change and move forward.
AUBREY BLANCHE: I think that’s absolutely right.
MELINDA EPLER: Where can people learn more about you and your work?
AUBREY BLANCHE: AubreyBlanche.com is where my blog is. Or they can follow me on Twitter. @adblanche. I am on every platform like LinkedIn and Instagram on @adblanche.
MELINDA EPLER: Appreciate you.
AUBREY BLANCHE: Thank you so much. Thank you to the incredible team. I know you and I have been in conversation but half a dozen people made it come together. I want to send gratitude energy to the entire incredible Change Catalyst team who made this all happen.
MELINDA EPLER: Aw. I love them. They are amazing. I appreciate that. Thank you, everybody, for doing this work of creating change. My question for you today is how can you take equitable design and some of the things we talked about today into your workplace? What might you approach differently? Join us each week. Share this with your colleagues. You can find all of our past episodes at changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries and find our podcast on your favorite platform and like it, subscribe and help us grow our audience. We will see you all next 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.
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.