Join Change Catalyst Founder & CEO Melinda Briana Epler with Daralyse Lyons on understanding what it means to be an upstander. An upstander is an individual who sees wrong and acts also called an ally.
We talked about Daralyse Lyons’s upbringing as a biracial kid and what led her to become an advocate and an upstander. In this fascinating conversation,
We learned about:
- Colorism and the dangerous path to rank people based on their skin colors.
- The difference between an upstander and bystander and how can we become an ally.
- The intersectionality of diversity and its assets to the corporate world and product development process.
- The inclusive leadership path people can choose in a corporate environment to lead by example.
- Learn more about Daralyse on her website: www.daralyselyons.com/
- The Upstander Project
- “Let’s Define Upstander” at Not in Our Town
- “Perpetrators, Collaborators, and Bystanders” at Holocaust.com.au
- “Dying of whiteness”, by Jonathan M. Metzl, How the politics of racial resentment is killing America’s heartland.
- Podcast: www.daralyselyons.com/demystifying-diversity
“Once people start to connect with other people in a way that is emotional and real and maybe visceral, it becomes kind of impossible to disengage at that point.”
“I don’t pretend to know what’s best for any person. But I do think that when we start allowing ourselves to be defined by society and by other people’s expectations of us, that’s a huge problem.”
“I think that’s one thing that people can do if they really want to be allies is not to sort of superimpose our own definitions on to other people, but to ask them.”
“I think that this idea that we have to kind of rank people, and rank ourselves is so problematic”
“The bystanders are actually the ones who tend to make up the majority of the social collective and who tend to be the ones who have the ability to, if they will step into that upstander role, these atrocities don’t happen or at least we could stop them a lot sooner.”
Creator of Demystifying Diversity Podcast
Daralyse Lyons, aka the Transformational Storyteller, is a journalist, an actor, and an activist. She has written more than two dozen full-length books, a handful of short stories, and countless articles, performed in various plays and in improv comedy shows. A member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and a summa cum laude graduate of NYU, with a double-major in English and Religious Studies and a minor in History, she is passionate about exposing the painful side of history, the side that is not written by oppressors. Through her studies, she has come to see the beautiful and overlapping philosophies of Judaism, Islam and Christianity and wonders why people so often use religion as a battering ram, instead of a source of solace and support. As a Biracial woman, she has made it her mission to stand for a more integrated world. As a sexually fluid person who has had relationships and experiences with both men and women, she has had to find her place amidst a multitude of communities that attempt to erase her orientation and has been a voice within the darkness.
After writing an award-winning children’s book (I’m Mixed!) about embracing her multiethnic heritage, Daralyse found her passion and her purpose educating others about the need to embrace all aspects of themselves. Since then, she has written and spoken extensively on the subject of diversity. Her perspective is one that looks to acknowledge the past while refusing to become incapacitated by it. As a Biracial, multiethnic and sexually fluid woman, she is uniquely empowered to use her seemingly disparate background as a catalyst for cross-cultural understanding.
MELINDA EPLER: Welcome to Leading with Empathy & Allyship. I am your host Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst. In this series we go deep and get real and explore empathy and tangible steps we can all take to be better allies and advocates for each other. I am excited to welcome Daralyse, creator of the Demystifying Diversity podcast.
DARALYSE LYONS: Thank you so much. I am excited to be here. It is wonderful to be joining you.
MELINDA EPLER: I am just going to do a few — say a few logistics and then we will jump into the conversation. Hello, Fabian, thanks for introducing yourself. Open and tired, yeah, I hear you. On screen, we have an ASL interpreter, Kalina. Our interpreters are sponsored by Interpreter Now, a Deaf-owned company we are proud to partner with. We have live captioning. If you want to turn on live captioning, go down to the bottom of the screen and click closed captions and Maggie is behind the screens typing away. Thanks to our team, Renzo, Sally, Antonia, and Juliet who, among many other things, are moderating the Q&A and as I mentioned earlier, we do have a code of conduct but you all seem to be awesome and we don’t really — you have your own code of conduct. Share our aha moments, please. Use the chat as often as possible so we know what’s going on with you and what you are thinking about. It helps us change the conversation. And then, if you have specific questions, we will leave plenty of time for Q&A at the end. Just use the Q&A function at the bottom of the screen. Daralyse is a writer and author of more than 20 books, right?
DARALYSE LYONS: Yes.
MELINDA EPLER: She has her own podcast, she is a consultant, a speaker, a journalist, an actress. You are busy and you are changing the world.
DARALYSE LYONS: I am. [Laughter]
MELINDA EPLER: So let’s start by — let’s start by talking about your approach to diversity work? How do you approach this work?
DARALYSE LYONS: It is interesting. I know some people may be on the phone, or some people may be just listening in and not be able to see me but I am biracial. You ask the question about how I approach this work and I think how I approach this work is similar to how I have always approached my life which is I have sort of been able to hold this spectrum/understanding of race for my entire existence and I have had a lot of practice, right, at being asked uncomfortable racial questions and sort of having to deal with these things at a very early age. I think, for me, this work just feels so inescapable because what I realize is other people aren’t having these conversations and other people aren’t necessarily engaging with these things in a way I have always had to engage with them but also, I think, as a result of being biracial, and also, I am a member of the LGBTQ community, I think like it is in some ways made it so that I have been really attuned to other people’s struggles as well as my own and I have always looked for areas of intersection and overlap and I would say that’s how I approach my specific work which tends to deal not just with one subset of diversity but the interconnectedness of oppression and the ways we can work to liberate ourselves and others from a space of community and empathy.
MELINDA EPLER: There is a lot you said there. At the end, oh, yeah. Well, could you talk a little bit about — you have talked in the past about, you know, the need for people to be personally invested in this work and what that means/looks like. How do we become personally invested and how do we get others to become personally invested?
DARALYSE LYONS: Right. I think it can’t come from an academic understanding of these issues. And don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to know, sort of, statistics and information in the ways that diversity or lack of diversity initiatives really impact people’s lives. I think it is important to know the data but what I find is once people start to connect with other people in a way that is emotional and real and maybe visceral, it becomes kind of impossible to disengage at that point. You know, I will give an example from my own life and my own work that’s connected to me. In the Demystifying Diversity podcast, I did a series of interviews about Islamaphobia in America and I consider myself to be aware and attuned but I did not really know or understand how impactful so much of what is happening in this country is on a daily basis or how people are being targeted and victimized. I sort of knew it in a general way but I wasn’t as present or attuned to it and after sitting down with people and hearing their stories and hearing about people dying as a result of other people’s hatred, it’s made me take such an active role in that specific part of the diversity fight which had not been part of — I didn’t see it as part of my fight until after I did those interviews. So I think that’s just an example of how like becoming really sitting down with another human being and finding that space for empathy and that space for connection, I think it awakens us to what’s not working in the world and it makes me more personally invested.
MELINDA EPLER: I think we might come back to that in a minute because I want to talk about the election. It is the forefront of a lot of American’s minds and globally, I think, as well because there is a huge global impact in who becomes president of the United States.
DARALYSE LYONS: Absolutely.
MELINDA EPLER: Global impact in so many ways from politics to climate and everything in between. One of the results is that we have a Black, Indian, biracial woman in the white house. How does that make you feel?
DARALYSE LYONS: Well, I think it is phenomenal and also, you know, ageism is a huge problem in the space of diversity, so we also have our oldest ever present and a biracial woman, you know, taking office. I think both of those things are very, very exciting in terms of opening up the possibilities and representation is so important. For little girls sitting at home who see Kamala Harris on the screen and their viewpoint of what’s possible for them becomes more expanded. I think that’s really, really important. I would say those things, to me, are really meaningful but also what I find to be incredibly meaningful and important, the work I do is non-partisan. I don’t want to take a political stand but in my journalistic work and reporting, there have been so many abuses that came out of the current administration and so many comments Trump specifically made that marginalized people and led to a lot of hate crimes and victimization of individuals, so for me, I believe that whoever is in a position of leadership and in a position of power, their words and their actions are very important and they say a lot about the values of the American people and the American public, so I am just very grateful that I think people that espouse my personal and professional values are in the White House today or will be at least in January.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. So you were talking earlier about making those personal connections and one of the things that came out of the 2016 election was the need for us to really better understand each other and I don’t know that we did that. I think we actually got more polarized. I am wondering if you have any thoughts or advice for people in organizations where they are looking to unify their teams right now after such a divisive election.
DARALYSE LYONS: Yes. So I think something that is really important is to make it as personal and as granular as possible. I think one of the things that is really challenging is often we are seeing people taking to social media to vent their frustrations, or to voice their viewpoints and there is a level of disembodiment to that. It tends not to be as likey — likely as if you are sitting with someone you have seen the last three years. Having a conversation with that person is going to be way more engaged and I think the investment in the relationship is a lot more profound than something as just embodied as social media. The first step for corporations is to begin to have those conversations ideally in a 1:1 setting. That’s what I personally advocate for first before taking it into a larger setting whether that be a group meeting or making a company statement which I think can be important in terms of unifying people behind a certain mission and brand integrity and authenticity. I think first you want to start by taking the pulse of where people are and what I really appreciated, Melinda, you asked how are people feeling at the beginning of the session. Even taking that time to check in and people and not assuming that we know how people are perceiving certain things or what their political leanings or their, you know, thoughts and feelings might be because the truth is you don’t really know until you take the time to ask.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit more about your experience as a biracial woman. How does that — can you go deeper into how that affects your life and your work?
DARALYSE LYONS: Yeah, absolutely. So I have two very concrete moments, viviv moments from my childhood and one is I remember my mother joined an interracial couples and parents group and it was all of us kids, sitting in a room, and taken to the side by a group facilitator, and all of us children who we both had one Black parent and one white parent and were asked to identify our race and the facilitator went around the room and every child identified as Black and their minority race and when they got to me I said I am biracial and she said what are you really? And I said, I am biracial. And she is like but you are Black. And I am like yes, absolutely, but I am both. And she said society isn’t going to see you that way and I said I think the problem isn’t in me but the problem is in society. [Laughter] I was seven or eight years old and I feel like that has been a defining feature of my work because I do feel like it is so important for people to self-identify and many people who have the same background choose to identify as their minority race and I think there are reasons for that and I don’t pretend to know what’s best for any person but I think when we start allowing us to be designed by society and other people’s expectation of us I think that’s a huge problem. I think that really, you know, a lot of this is about allyship but I think that’s one thing that people can do, if they really want to be allies is not to superimpose our own definitions on to other people, but to ask open-ended questions about, you know, tell me how you see yourself, tell me what’s important to you. How can I honor your sense of self not super impose my own beliefs on to you and we are seeing a lot of that with issues of gender that is coming to the forefront and people being misgendered. Even in journalism there is that. That stands out as one thing. I feel like I should let you ask questions before I tell you the second thing.
MELINDA EPLER: No, go for it. I am curious.
DARALYSE LYONS: The second story is I was at the Boys and Girls Club, 11-12 in middle school, and on the grass hanging out with friends and I heard out of the corner of my ear a young Black boy and a white girl and I heard the girl call the boy the N-word and I stormed over and said what did you just say? Like, I can’t believe you had that. And I turned to him and I said, are you going to do anything to this girl and he is like no, I can’t hit a girl and I said I can. And it is the first and only fight I have been in but I punched this girl and we got in a fight and the administration called my mom and my mom came to pick me up and, you know, when I got — I sort of the administration was like she was wrong for saying what she did but also you are not allowed to fight people here. And I got in the car with my mom on the drive home and I said, you know, gosh, am I in trouble and she said no, Dara, I’ve never been more proud of you in my life. And not that I condone violence but I see myself in that role of where and how can I step in when I do or see something that is not right? What role can I play in supporting other people who might not have the perception of agency or might not choose to — it is just a lot of burden often on the person who is being wronged and I think sometimes I just want to step in and support when and if I can.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. Allyship can happen, you know, that’s allyship, right? Stepping in and stepping up. And, yeah, I think it’s time that we are all allies for each other.
DARALYSE LYONS: Yeah. Yeah.
MELINDA EPLER: Regardless of our backgrounds and identities. Just looking at some of the comments in the chat, fabian says I have been thinking this year more that if we move towards the conversations we were taught to steer away from, we can build a deeper understanding of personal lived experiences and knowledge.
DARALYSE LYONS: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s so key. And I think it is interesting that in the comment you spoke about being taught to steer away from these conversations and I think often one of the most impactful things that people can do is to have conversations like these within their families where often that elemental learning happened that we just don’t go here or this isn’t our fight or whatever it is because what we are seeing with cultural competency and racial literacy is the earlier the conversations can happen, the better equipped people are in order to deal with the current landscape whether that be from a space of like being a person who is marginalized or not. I think the more that we can engage in these conversations the better, so, yeah, I always encourage people to have these conversations with with their families and their loved ones and their friend and go to the places that are uncomfortable because I think the zone of discomfort is the zone of allyship. Like that voluntary discomfort. Being comfortable is a privilege. If you, you know, if you have the sense of like, oh, I don’t necessarily want to do this, or like, oh, you know, it is more comfortable not to, just take a step outside the comfort zone because I think that is true allyship. It is meaningful. It will deepen those relationships certainly.
MELINDA EPLER: Absolutely. There is another comment that I think is important. Stephanie says Alfonso Davis of the HRC talks about hierarchies and identities and that brings up intersectional identities.
DARALYSE LYONS: Yeah, and I think these imagined ladders of worth are really what’s keeping white supremacy alive and vibrant. This idea that somehow, you know, I think identities are meaningful but I also think they are all intersectional and I think we can’t subscribe like value to identity. It is just is an aspect of yourself and an important aspect of who you are but it doesn’t make you any more or less valuable. I think that this idea that we have to rank people and rank ourselves is so problematic. It really leads to — I think there is a phenomenal book called “dying of whiteness” and there is a lot of work out there that really shows it is not only alienating to rank someone below you but it is alienating to you. It leads to false separation and isolation. Nobody wins when we are ranking people according to a hierarchy.
MELINDA EPLER: I think that happens in diversity, equity, and inclusion work internally in companies where they say we are going to focus on women and not thinking about the intersection identities.
DARALYSE LYONS: I think that perspective leads to simmering resentiment. The idea that now these people are suddenly worthy of attention and respect and like, no, actually. I think that leads to more division. I know we will probably talk about it later in the interview but for me really shifting corporate paradigms around diversity and what diversity offers I think is so important because it prevents against some of that sort of like separation and like this idea that people can be easily slotted into boxes.
MELINDA EPLER: Interesting. I do want to come back to that. Could we, just going back to your experience as a biracial woman, and intersectional woman, thinking about it with intersectional identities and also thinking about the kind of different layers of racism that many Black and Brown people experience, colorism as well. Can you talk about that and why it is important to diversity, equity, and inclusion work?
DARALYSE LYONS: Absolutely. I think that I think is tragic that is happening in our society right now is there seems to be this mythology that a lot of Black individuals are being lifted up and being recognized for their achievements and accomplishments and I think all of those moments are very worthwhile and people do deserve to sort of be recognized and et cetera, but I think the idea that there is not this spectrum understanding of race in our country and that people are labeled as Black without like any regard to nuance or how someone self-identifies I think is highly problematic because there is still a lot of research that shows people who are dark-skinned individuals, dark-skinned Black individuals, tend to be far-less likely to be hired, tend to be far less likely to get married. There are a lot of studies that show that colorism is playing out in our society in such a way that if someone who happens to have a different level of pigmentation then someone who is lighter skin goes to a job interview and has a Master’s Degree they are less likely to get hired than their counterpart who has less experience and less degree because there seems to be this colorism that is rampant in American society. We look at people like Barack Obama, and not like I am not so excited we have Barack Obama as a president, but I think labeling him as the first Black president is like oh, great. Look at what people have achieved which I think is wonderful and beautiful but at the same time, you know, I don’t know if his skin color had been different if he would have taken office? There is a lot of colorism that is rampant in American society that goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. I think it’s really devastating to people and I think, yeah, it is harming all of us. It is not just in this country. We see see it worldwide, actually.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I was struck once, I was doing a workshop with a global population, and someone, I believe they were from South Africa and biracial and he said that in his country, he is biracial but considered white.
DARALYSE LYONS: Yes.
MELINDA EPLER: And he came to the United States and was struck by the fact everybody said he was Black. They argued with him no, you are obviously Black. There is this interesting thing that I think has happened here, and it probably has its roots in slavery, and enslavement —
DARALYSE LYONS: Oh, well, it absolutely does. It stems from the one-drop rule which was all about keeping people as property and really it had to do with the fact white slave owners would rape their Black slaves and they wanted those children to belong to them as property. It is rooted in slavery. There are very important reasons why a person would still want to identify with their minority race and I think if it is a choice someone is making, or a way a person identifies for themselves, I think that’s really important that we honor that but I think that, again, it really comes back to labels should be labels that people get to define for themselves and get to sort of choose what their called and how the world sort of receives them. I don’t know. I love that you have on your title she/her, your preferred pronouns. I think it is important you get to say that and how would it feel walking out in the world and have people misgender you. That doesn’t feel good. It is the same thing with race. Sometimes diversity seems like it might be visible but it’s not always and I think the assumptions are really problematic.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. We have a question from Stephanie. Just wanted to clarify colorism — is it the same as racism and different and how?
DARALYSE LYONS: If you think about it as a rectangle and a square, every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square. Colorism is a form of racism and stems from racism but not all racism is colorism. Just to give a little definition of what colorism is, I think the idea of the hierarchy that was put in the chat earlier is fitting but it tends to be the belief that people who are lighter skinned get concern privileges, certain rights, maybe like there are — I don’t even want to say them out loud but the are certainly believes that people who have a lighter skin are superior and so there is this spectrum wherein the darker a person is the more strict of their privileges they become and the lighter a person is sort of the more privileges they become open to or that are like granted to them or the more rights they have to be in certain spaces. So it is really just this disgusting and ugly practice of ranking people according to skin color but we see it. We see it in our society and it is happening every day. I think sometimes this idea that we have, in America, that oh, yeah, if someone is a light-skinned Black person and they achieve something, they will be recognized as such but nobody is talking about the fact that their darker-skinned siblings are not having access to the same things. There is a very powerful shirt that came out in the midst of this pandemic when the Black Lives Matter marches were happening more and more. It is a shirt and it has a person who is a — like a white person and it says — I think it a police officer and it says like, oh, he gets off. He doesn’t get charged at all and then it is like a light skinned person and he gets 5-10 years and a dark-skinned Black person and it is like he gets live without parole and there is a lot of validity to that and how that is doled out to people along the color lines. It is really a problem in our society. I think it is important. I know years ago there was a movement where people would say I don’t see color and I think that’s a huge problem. I think we have to see color and we have to recognize these things and we have to acknowledge that they are playing out in our society.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, and I think that, you know, several layers of damage that this does to our society and to people’s self-perception. There is a whole skin care line dedicated to skin bleaching. It can be really damaging internally for somebody. It is something we don’t talk about very much and it is really important to address.
DARALYSE LYONS: It is really, really important to address. I think it also is very hard to — like a lot of these things are very hard to address because how do we address them, and with whom, and what’s an appropriate thing to say? And so, you know, I don’t necessarily fault people for not having these conversations but I think once you become aware of the importance of the conversation, that is when it is up to you to take that agency and do the work.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, let’s talk about that. [Laughter] So you talk about, you know, we need to go from bystander to up stander. What do I yoyou mybio — what do you mean? What is an up stander?
DARALYSE LYONS: The first time I heard that, I was fortunate enough to interview a bunch of Holocaust survivors and students who were doing work on the Holocaust and some of these were Jewish students who were learning oh, my goodness, had I been alive at that time I might not have lived through this, so I think it was deeply personal for them, for obvious reasons. We talk about personalizing things and so, yeah, I had the opportunity to be able to interview these sets of people who had like this very real connection to the Holocaust and to the generational trauma that ensued and that was when I first became aware that really the vast majority of people who were alive in Nazi-occupied Germany and were living during the time of the mass atrocities that happened during the Holocaust and the annihilation of more than 11 million people most were not involved in persecuting members of the Jewish faith or people of color or people with disabilities because a lot of people were annihilated under the Nazi rule but most of the people were just citizens like you and me. Or not me, because I wouldn’t have lived through it, but most of the people were just like ordinary citizens going about their lives who just said, you know, what? That’s not my thing. I am a bystander. I am not culpable but I am also not going to do anything or get involved. There is a whole body of writing and research that talks about how these people, the bystanders, are actually the ones who tend to make up the majority of the social collective and tend to be the ones who have to ability, if they will step into that upstander role, these atrocities don’t happen or at least we could stop them a lot sooner. We could get involved in a more meaningful way and we could make change in society and I think one of the things we saw this summer with the Black Lives Matter movement, because that movement had been happening years and years before, like, you know, I mean, I remember marches and movements and watching TV and seeing people die but suddenly in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, people who had been bystanders suddenly became upstandards and then we saw the actual change start to happening. I think it is important for people to ask themselves am I the victim? A victimizer? A bystander? Or an upstander? Because there are really only four options.
MELINDA EPLER: And when you are a bystander you are complicit in what is happening.
DARALYSE LYONS: Absolutely. And being an upstander looks different, right? I think sometimes people tend to think oh, my God, I wouldn’t want to put myself or life at-risk and there are different schools of thoughts about that and stepping in the allyship zone and being willing to do that but being an upstander can look like just saying this isn’t OK or if you are at a company and the hiring practices are discriminatory it could be saying something. It could be being in a meeting and you notice the voices aren’t being heard and saying let’s take a moment to listen to what this person is saying. It could be subtle or it could be heroic. I think it is important we take some action in the direction of allyship and empathy.
MELINDA EPLER: Agreed. You mentioned our workplaces and thinking differently about diversity, equity, and inclusion and the work we do inside our workplaces. What are you thinking about?
DARALYSE LYONS: Yeah, absolutely. So, my project, the Demystifying Diversity Podcast, that I created, one of the things I did very intentionally was it looks at the season and looks at 10 different topics pertaining to diversity. It is really a macrocosm of the microcosm. One thing I appreciate about your work, Melinda, is I notice this podcast in and of itself, there is a recognition of the need for radical inclusion. It is not just — I interviewed someone and she said diversity is more than just teaching white people how to treat Black people. It is so much more than that. Your question was like how do I talk to people about thinking about corporate cultural and about diversity and the first step, I think, is to recognize that diversity is so much broader than I think we are taught to think about it. We tend to think about it as just like still this wave of where identity is categorical instead of intersectional so the first step is to understand most of us have a number of different intersecting identities. The other thing to understand beyond that is the richness of our identity supports us in supporting our end user so whether you are selling an idea or a technology or a product or whatever it is, whoever your consumers are, there is going to be a broader case of consumption if you have a number of people, with a number of intersecting identities thinking about your end users with a number of intersecting identities. So first, I think it is about thinking about how can I be better at serving the community at large? Well, suddenly, it becomes very obvious that well, we need to really see what the community at-large needs. And if I just have my own narrow viewpoint and surround myself with people who think like I do, I am not going do a very effective job of serving a broader community, a broader contingent. Once people start to see that it becomes the more diversity the better because if we can get people who have had different lived experiences and think in different ways and have different physical and mental and emotional needs and requirements then suddenly all of the people making decisions are going to do a better job of seeing those things that are in our blind spot that we can’t necessarily see. Once you start to think about diversity as — well, think about your corporation as a holistic entity that has a number of needs and you want to support as many people as possible. Diversity suddenly becomes essential. It is not just something you have to do to check any boxes. I think once people can have that level of investment and like the more people we have thinking differently and sharing differently with different identities the better, suddenly corporations get really, really hungry to hire diverse candidates and retain a very rich and multi-faceted set of employees.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. Christina says yes, you need diverse perspectives to be truly innovative. When you are working to build the most innovative, the most profitable products, and services, then, yeah, you know, having diverse people working together to solve problems is key.
DARALYSE LYONS: The other thing is this like the negative downside of not having it but there are a lot of corporate products that really alienate a lot of people, right? I think there was a lot of stuff written and this isn’t my world so I am probably good — going to get a bit wrong but a lot of video games and there is a lot of research out there about the way certain minorities were being depicted in video games in ways that were not at all inclusive or representative but if someone was sitting at that decision-making table who had the perspective of a member of that community, the end product, I think, I would have been way more inclusive and suddenly would have appealed to members of that community and some of these shifts are subtle but I think it is really important to invite diversity because, yeah, you are going to be more innovative and expansive and you are going to apply to a broader contingent of people and also, there is a lot less of having to say like oops, our bad. Sorry we did that because sometimes I think these things are a by product of not thinking and why would you if that hasn’t been your experience and you don’t have a frame of reference. I think that’s why I think it is important to bolster corporations in advance so they are not realizing these things after the fact.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. I am jumping into a couple questions. We kind of went into this but maybe you have additional thoughts. What advice do you have for leaders to lean into training besides the traditional DEI work but into impactful change that creates equitable leadership and support communities.
DARALYSE LYONS: Can I see that question? I am a huge fan of servant leadership first and foremost. I think we need to look at the way leaders lead first and foremost because if people think as a leader my job is to tell other people what to do then you are really not creating an environment for true diversity even if all those diversity boxes are checked. It is really more important, I think, to foster a community where people feel heard and feel valued. I get that your question was about well, how do we do that and create equitable and inclusive leadership and I think the first thing is to give people the sense that you are truly in their corner and that, if you are in a position of leadership, you truly want what is best for them. Them personally, professionally. I have had people work for me and I have actually gotten them jobs at other companies because I knew that their ability to move up with me because going to be less than their ability to grow in another corporate setting. I think when people feel like you, as a leader, you as an employer, want what’s best for them and you truly do want to hear them, I think that’s very, very important. I think also you asked about supporting marginalized communities within organizations. I think one of the things is for leaders to be very proactive about assessing the needs of people and when people come to them with stated needs to just always make it clear that it is your honor to be able to support that person and so, for example, when I worked in corporations in the past where, you know, I will always suggest why don’t we have a designated, if it is available, possible, have a designated maybe meditation space or something so that a member of a certain faith tradition who needs to go and pray during the day doesn’t feel like suddenly they are singled out as a result of that or let’s build in, you know, spaces in between meetings so that people who maybe have a disability don’t feel like they have to hurry or are being late and let’s create that prior to people stating that need so we have that as a company culture so it isn’t suddenly so and so comes in and gets hired and then we make all this special accommodations for this specific person but I think that is very, very problematic and sometimes companies say I am being so supportive but really you are making that person feel othereded. Imagine if a person who is a member of a minority community comes in for an interview or a person who is not a member of a minority community comes in for an interview and you as a hiring manager are able to say we offer this, this and this for our employees and they are able to be like, wow, so I can avail myself of what’s already there and already in existence and I don’t have to fight to take up space. I don’t have to fight for what I need. I think those things really go a long way in terms of retention and just supporting a very inclusive corporate culture.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. And just as an example, something we learned after our very first conference in 2015 is that, you know, an inclusive environment is not putting on your website that somebody who is Deaf can ask for an interpreter. It is to have an interpreter there so if they join they don’t have to think about it. They have an interpreter or closed captioning or CART captioning and thinking ahead of time how you can create an inclusive environment where somebody, because it is like time consuming, it’s emotionally consuming to always have to ask.
DARALYSE LYONS: Yeah. And sometimes people just don’t — yeah. Right. And sometimes I think people don’t necessarily want to show up sometimes because it can be so draining in advance to even feel like you have to ask and what if there is a no or it isn’t available and making people feel like this is such a burden. You know, I think for me, any time that someone makes me aware of an area for growth, as a leader, my first response, whatever my first response is internally, my first response externally ought to be thank you. Thank you for making me aware of this. You are not always going to be woke to what you are not aware of in advance but I think if someone does ask, or if someone does make a suggestion, it is saying wow, thank you so much for making me aware of this, now what can I do? What can we do to innovate possible solutions? I think that encourages a whole lot more participation and something else that I know, you know, I have thought a lot about is in corporations there has been a lot of work that states that there are certain voices that tend to often, because of a history of not feeling heard, or because of a history of subjugation or the way leadership reacts tends to not always speak up because of being shutdown again, and again, and again. So I think, notice if you are at a company that is really striving towards diversity, and that thinks you are diverse, also notice who are the voices that are actually speaking up and which ideas do you tend to run with and support and who, within your organization, are you really up lifting and I am not saying you should stop up lifting those people and listening to those people but I am saying maybe think about why you have not as attuned to other people or why certain people might not be speaking up and think about what can you do to create those opportunities.
MELINDA EPLER: That’s a great point. Christina asks how would you recommend getting a leader of a company onboard with diversity and inclusion? And how do you get them to commit if they truly don’t care about Black and Brown people?
DARALYSE LYONS: I think that’s why I tend to believe in the power of selfish investment. I want to be an Alturistic person and I have a big heart but not everyone feels that way. Something I feel is important and we talked about earlier is making that person aware that even — I wouldn’t put it as even if you don’t care about Black and Brown people but making that person aware that the corporation will do better. Corporations that I work with tend to be way more profitable in the long-term because what I find is that if a corporation starts to appeal to a wider demographic, you know, they are just going to do better even in times of recession. If you are appealing to a wider demographic, if you have different product lines, if you within your company have more diversity, like, you are actually creating a sense of safety for that company and that company is going to do better and be more profitable. I think if you can get someone to see that, once they start to see the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion work, the hope is that then maybe their hearts and minds will shift and they will become a little more empathetic but even if they don’t, I think it is still possible to create a corporate cultural where it is more profitable to be invested in diversity than to not.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, and there is other data you can use as well in terms of turnover, and the cost of turnover, the cost of lack of engagement in your company, and there are other data that could really help show the business case for it. I guess — I believe that everybody has some kind of an access point whether that’s the business case, whether that’s, you know, a daughter or a partner, or a colleague, or something else. There is always some entry point and you just have to find that entry point.
DARALYSE LYONS: It is really interesting. I sat down with Dr. Howard Stephenson who is the head of the racial empowerment collaborative in Philadelphia and he was talking about the de-escalation work he does police officers in Black and Brown communities. One of the things that was really impactful was he told a story about doing this diversity, equity, and inclusion work within a police department that was very hostile. People were being forced to take the training and didn’t want to be there and it was very clear they didn’t want to be there. Then he asked what would you do, or sort of like if it was your nephew, like in these neighborhoods, or these communities, or your child, like what would you do? And suddenly people were crying and people who had sort of had this stoic attachment to their identity as police officer suddenly started to be vulnerable and really talk and share and that sort of culture was stripped away and they got to an honest conversation. In my podcast we look at different topics related to diversity, and I found something that’s really beautiful about that is people tend to be focused on sort of their niche, and not see the intersectionality, and not just of identity but also of oppression. Suddenly if you start to see if we make this a safer more inclusive space for people of all genders, body types, sexual orientations, all racial identities, all levels of physical ability. If we really start to make this a more inclusive space it is actually going to uplift people where maybe I do see myself in that community or maybe I am not personally in that community but I have a brother or a sister or a nephew or niece or child or whatever it is. I think that can be really important too when the borders of these definitions about what constitutes diversity work are sort of expanded.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. Another question from the audience. I love the idea of an upstander. It is a great way to communicate how people can get involved and the impact. Do you have recommendations for resources to share the concept with others?
DARALYSE LYONS: That’s a such a great question. I wish I had a resource at the tip of my fingers. I know there was some work that the Philadelphia Liberty Museum put out — the National Liberty museum in Philadelphia put out. I gave my information and my email and if you will shoot me an email or a message I will happily send you a whole list of resources because I have them. I just don’t have them at the tip of my memory.
MELINDA EPLER: What we can do is we can add a few resources to the podcast link and on our website as well.
DARALYSE LYONS: OK. Great. Let’s do that. I want to think before putting things out there in the either.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. Awesome. We have a couple minutes and I was going ask people how to learn more about your work.
DARALYSE LYONS: Daralyselyons.com is my personal/professional website and if you go want to go to demystifyingdiversitypodcast.com or search for Demystifying Diversity Podcast anywhere you get podcasts that’s also a space you can connect and engage. I always love to hear from listeners. I wrote a book called Demystifying Diversity Embracing our Shared Humanity and there is a workbook attached with that so people looking for tangible skills and there is a guide for how to adapt that to a corporate training so people can actually engage in that way and you can connect with me but I am really just excited that anyone is here and listening and learning and doing the work because I think the more we can do that the better off our society will be.
MELINDA EPLER: Yes, 100%. We checked in at the beginning about how you are feeling. What are two words to describe what you are thinking about for 2021?
DARALYSE LYONS: Oh!
Well, it is so hard because after this conversation I feel uplifted and optimistic but I would say for 2021, I am cautiously optimistic. I have a lot of hope for where I think we are headed but also a lot of caution because it is not lost on me that things really are pretty dire and that I think we all need to tread lightly and softly and with love.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you for joining me and having the discussion. Appreciate you and all your work.
DARALYSE LYONS: Thank you so much. The feeling is mutual. Thank you for everyone who intended and thank you to our interpreter and all of the people supporting behind the scenes. I think it is wonderful the work you are doing.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. Thank you all for your questions and conversation. I want to ask you all what action will you take today as an ally and advocate? Join us for each week with Leading with Empathy & Allyship. You can RSVP for future sections and sign up for our newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast and YouTube channel and give us a review or thumbs up and share this with friends and colleagues that could use it. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate. I am seeing all of the comments. I appreciate all of you saying these words. Thank you so much. All right. Thanks, everybody. Have a good rest of your day and week and month and year. See you 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.
The show shaped my scope of reasoning on the dynamics in the corporate world, brand building, harmony across board with team mates. Your series has helped me feel less alone and less daunted by the challenges I face as a leader at a company that is used to moving fast with decisions and making swift progress across the board. I so earnestly want to grow and deepen my perspective when it comes to diversity and allyship; it’s not always clear how to do it. This series has felt like a path I can follow and revisit and draw strength and insight from. Thank you.
This show has given me clear opportunities to learn in the midst of 2020’s numerous social and personal challenges, including engaging remote content. I’ve learned new terms, heard new voices, diversified my interests and internalized personal narratives that have inspired me to get more active.
I watched many of your live shows in 2020, and I learned something from every discussion. They were inspiring on many levels. Early on during the pandemic (especially), the show also provided me with a sense of community that I was sorely needing. Thank you.