In Episode 116, David Glasgow, Executive Director of the New York University Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, joins Melinda in an enlightening discussion on how to have inclusive conversations about identity in the workplace. They explore key skills for having identity conversations, such as adopting a growth mindset and acknowledging where we are on the controversy scale when we disagree with others’ perspectives. They also discuss why it’s important to recognize unproductive forms of communication, which David refers to as avoid, deflect, deny, and attack (ADDA). They also touch on how leaders can create an inclusive culture by showing empathy to team members who make mistakes in these conversations.
- Learn more about David Glasgow
- Learn more about David’s work at Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging
- Read Kenji Yoshino and David Glasgow’s book, Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice
- Read the book, Mindset: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS by Carol S. Dweck
- Read the book, The Person You Mean To Be by Dolly Chugh
- Watch or listen to EP84: “The Radical Act Of Choosing Common Ground To Create Change With Nisha Anand”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “A big [action people could take] is to do a bit of an inventory about those behaviors: avoid, deflect, deny, and attack; avoidance is where you run away from conversations or stay silent; deflect is where you pick a different topic to talk about, you change the subject; deny is where you just reflexively shut people down and say that they’re wrong about whatever it is that they’re telling you; then attack is where you really make it personal, so you use insults, sarcasm, eye-rolling…. A real starting point for people is to just do an honest self-examination or self-inventory about, ‘When I have these uncomfortable conversations about identity in my life, what forms of behavior might I be engaging in that are not really the most productive ways to be engaging in these conversations?’”
- “It’s very important, when having these disagreements, to recognize that where you are on the scale might be very different to where your conversation partner is on the scale, and look for opportunities to just make that simple acknowledgement. You don’t necessarily need to move over to the scale and see the issue exactly the same way that the other person sees the issue, but you can show the other person that you recognize that; you can say to them, ‘Look, to me, this is an issue of policy that we’re talking about. I see that for you, this may have much deeper implications, and I want to do my best to honor and respect that while we’re having this conversation. So you tell me if I am not doing that in this conversation, and we can recalibrate.’”
- “When we’re entering these conversations as allies, there’s a lot of information that we don’t know…. For example, I can go about my life without being aware of where the curb cuts and ramps are in my neighborhood, or which areas are easy or difficult to navigate, or what kinds of biases and barriers people with disabilities encounter as they go about their life, or what kinds of assumptions and expectations non-disabled people apply to people with disabilities. My conversation partner is going to know a lot of that information, I’m not going to know a lot of that information. So it’s extremely important then that I enter the conversation from a place of humility, recognizing that there is a lot that I need to learn, and I shouldn’t be charging in and insisting that I hold the truth in that conversation because often, there’s a lot of truth that the other person holds rather than me.”
David Glasgow (he/him)
Executive Director at New York University Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
David Glasgow is the executive director of the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. He has written for a range of publications including the Harvard Business Review, HuffPost, and Slate, and served as an Associate Director of the Public Interest Law Center at NYU School of Law. He’s the co-author of SAY THE RIGHT THING: How to Talk about Identity, Diversity, and Justice (Atria Books).
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How to Be an Ally. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. Welcome!
Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
Let’s get started.
Today we are speaking with David Glasgow, who is the Executive Director of the New York University Meltzer Centre for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, and the co-author of Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice. Today, we’ll be discussing how to have inclusive conversations about identity in the workplace.
Well, welcome, David. I’m glad to have you here with us having this discussion.
DAVID: Thank you for having me.
MELINDA: Yeah. So will you start by telling us a bit about your own story and how you came to do the work that you do around diversity, inclusion, and belonging?
DAVID: Absolutely. So my background professionally is actually as a lawyer, and so I practiced in my home country of Australia in employment and anti-discrimination law. But legal practice wasn’t really for me. I was always much more interested in the kind of values-driving anti-discrimination law. So I was always very passionate about social justice, equality, inclusion, all the kinds of values that lead to civil rights and anti-discrimination laws in the first place. So when I came to the United States and I did a Master’s program, I studied under my co-author actually, Kenji Yoshino, in the program at NYU Law. I got introduced to work that he was doing in this field of diversity, equity, and inclusion in that program, and immediately fell in love with this field of diversity, equity, and inclusion, for both professional and personal reasons.
So I’m a gay man myself, and growing up in an Evangelical household where I felt a lack of belonging, I would say, through a lot of my formative years. So that really drove me to be interested in what makes for inclusive cultures, what makes for a society where everyone feels like they can truly belong, because I felt that lack of belonging myself. Then as I said, professionally, I also wanted to pivot away from the law, to think more deeply about how to create inclusive cultures and inclusive societies outside of the structures imposed by the law. So this area just seemed like such a great fit for both my personal and professional interests.
MELINDA: Excellent. So what brought you specifically to write the book, what led you there?
DAVID: So Kenji and I worked together for many years, with organizations outside of the law school, and also with students and administrators and faculty within the law school, on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. But we kept encountering a barrier in our work, which is, a lot of people who want to be good allies and want to participate in diversity and inclusion efforts were terrified of saying the wrong thing, and so often, they would withdraw in fear. So we didn’t like that, because we felt that there’s a whole pool of people who really should be part of these conversations within their respective organizations. So we wanted to give people some practical tools for overcoming that fear of saying the wrong thing, and hence the title of the book, Say the Right Thing, which is that we wanted to just write a very practical toolkit for people for how to navigate conversations about the full range of identity issues that they might encounter, whether it’s in the workplace or beyond, and whether it’s about race issues, gender, LGBTQ issues, disability, socioeconomic status, really the whole spectrum. That’s what led us to this work is that we really wanted to help allies get better in a domain in which they’re currently experiencing a lot of fear.
MELINDA: Yeah, that sounds very familiar. I wrote my book, How to Be an Ally, because I saw so many people that were afraid to do the wrong thing or just didn’t know what to do. So that’s fantastic.
So maybe we could talk a bit first about what kind of identity conversations are you talking about here in the book? What does an identity conversation look like? What does an inclusive conversation look like?
DAVID: Yeah. So we define identity conversations, really broadly, as any conversation that’s about the important social identities that make us who we are. So any of the things that I was saying before, around race, gender, LGBTQ issues, etc. But just to make that more concrete, in the workplace, there’s a lot of conversations happening in workplaces these days around issues of bias, of privilege, of allyship. Any conversation about diversifying the workplace. Or any conversation around whether people feel included or not, whether people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace or not. All of those cluster of conversations, we define as identity conversations.
Also, anything that’s in the public arena. You only have to look at a newspaper, click on a headline, and you’ll see there’s constant identity conversations happening in the media around controversies, like critical race theory so-called, or a lot of the debates around LGBTQ issues. So all of that as well, we define as identity conversations. Of course, it’s not just the media having these conversations, but it’s all of us, in our family barbecues or around the dinner table or with colleagues. Conversations happening in school. So these conversations are happening younger and younger, of course, with people, even in elementary school or preschool now, getting exposed to ideas of diversity and inclusion. So any conversations around whether or not classrooms are LGBTQ inclusive, or any conversations about accommodations for students with disabilities. Any of that we also would define as an identity conversation. So I hope you get the sense from that, that we really tried to tackle a universe of conversations that’s really quite big in this book.
MELINDA: Yeah. I would say, maybe you touched on it, but explicitly calling out that for a lot of leaders and managers, people leaders, working with their teams, having a conversation is about what’s going on in the world that might affect people with different identities on their teams. Whether that’s anti-trans legislation, or that is injustice and police brutality against Black, Asian, Indigenous People, and much more. I suspect all that is included as well.
DAVID: Exactly. The specific lens that we bring to this is really focusing on the ally side of the conversation. So we didn’t want to write a book for members of marginalized groups on what they can do to stand up for themselves and advocate for themselves, we really wanted to write a book for people who are entering these conversations from a higher power position. So that might be an organizational power position, like a manager, or a teacher, or a professor, or what have you. But it could also be entering from a higher power position because of your social identity. So I as a Man entering conversations about gender, or as a White person entering conversations about race, we really wanted to write a book intended for that audience. Of course, because all of us have some baskets of advantage and disadvantage in our lives, all of us have the opportunity in some of these conversations to enter as an ally.
MELINDA: Yeah. So we work with a lot of clients and leaders who are struggling to have those identity conversations due to that fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, and also because the work environments, like environments across the US, have become more polarized in a lot of ways. So within our workplaces, there are opponents of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They have already always been there. But lately, they’re more empowered and more vocal, and as a result, I think a lot of leaders are struggling with: “Well, do I have the conversation? Because I’m going to get this pushback. What does that look like to have that conversation? How do I enroll everybody in being a part of it?” So I know, in your book, you have some recommendations for how leaders have those inclusive conversations about identity with your teams. What are some ways to get started?
DAVID: Yeah, it’s a great question. Because as you say, it is becoming much more polarized and politicized right now. So we structure the book around seven principles for how to have these conversations effectively, and so happy to go down any path that’s of most interest to you. But as a starting point, what we encourage readers to do is think about what mistakes they might currently be making in these conversations. So we categorize those as: avoid, deflect, deny, and attack. So we shorten that to ADDA. In describing what various forms that those can take, I think every reader, including certainly me and my co-author, Kenji, will recognize some of the behaviors that they themselves can slip into sometimes. Personally, avoidance is a big one for me. I think a lot of leaders are in that position as well, of struggling with the idea that maybe it’s just easier if I say nothing, if I just don’t talk about this at all. That, we argue in the book, is increasingly not the safest option for people. Because silence is being called out a lot more these days, not as staying neutral, but actually being complicit with injustice.
We give the example of the Black Lives Matter movement, and we cite a senior corporate leader at that time who said that he was struggling with whether or not he ought to have a conversation about this heated topic in the workplace, when a lot of people felt like “This doesn’t really belong in the workplace, why are we talking about this at all?” But he ultimately concluded that it was really important for him to say something about what was going on, because there isn’t this strict boundary between the outside world and the workplace. So we really encourage people, in the book, to lean against that instinct to engage in avoidance. All of us have that instinct, and I think trying to push firmly against it is really important. But there are certain skills that you have to cultivate to be able to do that. Because often, avoidance comes from deep discomfort that we feel. We are, as I said, terrified that we’ll say the wrong thing, or we’re scared of getting canceled, or we’re scared of hurting someone that we care about. So we have a couple of chapters after that talking about the really important skills of resilience and curiosity. I think those two are what I would recommend as a starting point for leaders to think about “How do I overcome my tendency to engage in avoidance or deflection or denial and attack?” It’s to build those qualities of resilience and curiosity so that I can engage in these conversations without shutting down.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s take those two, then. First, around curiosity, what does that look like to really engage people with curiosity?
DAVID: So we point out in the book that often when we’re entering these conversations as allies, there’s a lot of information that we don’t know. So just to take as an example of someone, I don’t have a disability, but let’s say I’m having a conversation with a wheelchair user about disability issues. Now, that person I’m speaking with is going to know a lot more about disability issues than I am likely to know entering that conversation. For example, I can go about my life without being aware of where the curb cuts and ramps are in my neighborhood, or which areas are easy or difficult to navigate, or what kinds of biases and barriers people with disabilities encounter as they go about their life, or what kinds of assumptions and expectations non-disabled people apply to people with disabilities. My conversation partner is going to know a lot of that information, I’m not going to know a lot of that information. So it’s extremely important then, that I enter the conversation from a place of humility, recognizing that there is a lot that I need to learn, and I shouldn’t be charging in and insisting that I hold the truth in that conversation. Because often, there’s a lot of truth that the other person holds rather than me.
But we also point out that sometimes in these conversations, there’s information where we don’t even know that we don’t know it. So one of the mistakes people make in these conversations is to think that they know all that there is to know, even when there’s a whole universe of information they don’t. So for example, let’s say on trans issues, now I might know that there’s a difference between the terms: transgender, non-binary, gender queer, gender fluid, a-gender. But maybe I don’t know exactly what the difference is between those five terms. But I could use Google and find out the answer to that. So it’s a form of ignorance where I know that I don’t know. But there are also forms of ignorance where perhaps I’m not even aware of my lack of knowledge. So let’s say I think that I know what it means to be transgender, but I don’t realize that you can be trans even if you haven’t undergone gender confirmation surgery, or you’re not taking hormones and you can still be trans. So that’s an area where I might not even be aware of my own ignorance.
So the advice we give in situations like that, again, it’s that posture of radical humility that you enter these conversations with that’s extremely important. So what we want people to do is to listen generously and share tentatively. Often, we do the opposite of that. Often, we share our own perspective very openly and want everyone to hear what we think, and then when it comes to listening time, we just half pay attention to what the person is saying, and prepare our own response to what we’re hearing. We want people to flip that a little bit, and so focus very much on listening generously to the perspective of the other person, so that you’re recognizing that they’re bringing information to the table that you might not have.
Then also, share your own perspective tentatively. So flip definitive statements into I statements. So instead of saying something, let’s say I’m having a conversation with you, Melinda, and we’re talking about gender issues. I might say: “Oh, don’t make this about gender, this isn’t about gender.” Now, that’s not a very curious way of engaging in the conversation. Another way that we would recommend flipping that would be, let’s say, I don’t think that what we’re talking about is gender-related. The way I would communicate that would be to say something like, “I’m having difficulty seeing the gender dimensions of this issue, what am I missing? Can you tell me what you’re seeing in this conversation?” So again, I’m still sharing my perspective. But I’m doing it in a way that is not definitive, and is leaving space for the possibility that I might be wrong, and inviting your perspective into the conversation.
MELINDA: So there’s some humility and vulnerability in there as well.
DAVID: Absolutely, yes.
MELINDA: You write about shame and fear, and I think guilt is in there as well, which I talk about a lot in my work too. I wonder if you could share some of your thoughts about how shame and fear play a role in conversations about identity, and how we can check those emotions?
DAVID: Absolutely. So a lot of the fear comes from, you know the wonderful social psychologist, Dolly Chugh, in her book, The Person You Mean to Be, talks about how when we have conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we often get stuck in a fixed mindset. So I’m sure many of your listeners are aware of the basic distinction between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. This is from the psychologist Carol Dweck’s work, where a fixed mindset is, I assume that if I’m not good at something, that it’s because I’m innately bad at it and I can’t get better with effort. If I’m not good at it, I may as well give up. Whereas, a growth mindset is the idea that if I apply effort to something, I can learn and grow. So I don’t see mistakes as reflections of my innate deficiencies as a human being. Now, Dolly Chugh points out that in this arena, even if we normally apply a growth mindset to other areas of our life, like learning a musical instrument, or learning a language, when it comes to these conversations, we often get stuck in a fixed mindset, because it seems like the consequences of getting it wrong are quite catastrophic. It’s not just I’ve made a mistake, it’s “I’m a racist, I’m a sexist, I’m a homophobe, I’m a trans folk.” So the mistake comes to define us as human beings, and that’s where I think a lot of this fear is coming from.
So one of the things that we encourage people to do is to focus on trying to carry over that growth mindset from other areas of your life into this arena as well. So if you’re thinking, if you’ve got self-talk like “I just am not good at pronouns. I don’t understand pronouns, I’m not good at that.” That’s a very fixed mindset kind of self-talk. Whereas, just by adding the word “yet” to the end of that and saying, “I’m not good at pronouns yet, but I can learn them” is more of a growth mindset oriented way of thinking about that issue.
Another strategy that we encourage people to do is to name and reframe their emotions. So you mentioned guilt, that’s one of four primary emotions that we talk about in the book that people feel when they’re having these conversations. So let’s say I confuse two people who belong to the same racial or ethnic group with each other, I call them each other’s names, which is something that happens a lot. Sometimes if you make a mistake like that, you could feel incredibly guilty about it, like “I’m a horrible person, am I racist? Why did I do something? Why did I make that kind of mistake?” What we encourage people to do is notice the emotion that they’re feeling. Sometimes we’re so incredibly uncomfortable that we fail to actually stop and pause and think: “Am I feeling fear, anger, guilt, hopelessness, what is the specific emotion that I’m feeling? Then is there a way that I might be able to reframe this emotional experience in a more growth mindset oriented way?” So in the case of confusing two people with each other, the fixed mindset thought would be, “I’m a terrible person for doing this.” The growth mindset way would be to reflect on that and say, “Everyone makes mistakes. I will apologize, learn their names, and do better next time.” Again, still taking accountability for the mistake that you made, that you did something wrong. But it’s using the opportunity to learn from the mistake by seeing it in that more growth mindset frame.
MELINDA: Fantastic. I was thinking that in Episode 84, with Nisha Anand, we talked about the importance of finding common ground. Often, we have conversations with people, and we can feel that we’re so polarized that there’s nothing in between where we have that common ground. So in that episode, we explored what it looked like to use our curiosity to find areas where we do agree, even when we think we’re on opposing sides of the issue, there’s often some common ground. At the same time, I think it’s really important, too, to note that we don’t always have to agree either, and there are going to be points where we disagree. I think one of the key chapters in your book talks about disagreeing respectfully. So what does that look like? Can you share a bit about what that looks like?
DAVID: Absolutely. So yes, I agree with you, we need to look for that common ground, and we talk about that in that chapter, the importance of particularly trying to find what we call uncommon commonalities. So when you’re disagreeing with someone, sometimes people try to find some very surface-level commonality that they might have with the other person, and it doesn’t really help to build that bond. Whereas, if you look for areas where there’s a deeper commonality or something that the other person might not be expecting that you would agree with them on, that can help the disagreement go more smoothly. So if we’re having a disagreement over some DEI policy in the workplace, you might think that I oppose all diversity and inclusion efforts. So you might immediately have your guard up, like, “Oh no, I’m engaging with this person who believes in all the backlash.” Whereas, what if I just have some smaller issue with the way that the policy has been framed, and I can put your mind at ease a bit by telling you about all of the diversity and inclusion initiatives that I do agree with. So again, that’s the common ground that you’re describing.
One of the topics that we talk about in a chapter when you are stuck with a disagreement, like a real disagreement where you can’t just focus only on the commonalities, is what we call the controversy scale. So if you imagine a scale that’s drawn from left to right, not political left to right, but just left to right, and on the left of the scale are the subjects that are easiest to have disagreements over. So on the far left, we have tastes. So if you and I are disagreeing over what flavor of ice cream we like, or what Netflix shows we like, that’s a very easy disagreement to have, and we’re probably not going to be deeply uncomfortable with it. But as you move over on the scale, the next point on the scale are disagreements over facts. So here we’re thinking purely journalistic facts, so who, what, when, how kind of facts. Then the next one that becomes harder still is when you disagree about policies, and then again, it gets harder if you disagree about values. Then over on the far-right end of the scale is when you disagree over someone’s equal humanity, those are obviously extremely difficult disagreements to navigate.
So one of the biggest problems in this arena that we notice is that allies are often at a very different point on that controversy scale than the person that they’re speaking to. So if I’m talking with, say, a parent at my kids’ school, about the diversity and inclusion curriculum at the school, I might think that I’m just having a conversation about policy. Whereas, if I’m speaking to, let’s say, someone who has a child of color at the school, they might see that conversation as about their equal humanity. Like, do I and does my child even belong in this school? So they hear my disagreement on that subject as implicating their equal humanity.
So it’s very, very important, when having these disagreements, to recognize that where you are on the scale might be very different to where your conversation partner is on the scale, and look for opportunities to just make that simple acknowledgement. You don’t necessarily need to move over to the scale and see the issue exactly the same way that the other person sees the issue. But you can show the other person that you recognize that. You can say to them, “Look, to me, this is an issue of policy that we’re talking about. I see that for you, this may have much deeper implications, and I want to do my best to honor and respect that while we’re having this conversation. So you tell me if I am not doing that in this conversation, and we can recalibrate.” I think just even a simple acknowledgement like that, it’s not going to make the conversation go magically better just by doing that. But I do think it shows that you’ve built in some empathy in the conversation, where they realize that you see them for how this issue might be affecting them personally.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk about privilege, too, speaking of ways and words that can feel polarizing. I know that privilege is one, it can produce all kinds of emotions in people. I’ve seen a lot of avoidance, so a lot of deflection, a lot of denial and attacks when this concept comes up. How would you suggest we think of privilege differently when we’re having inclusive conversations?
DAVID: Yeah. So we’re certainly not the first people to make this point. But often, when people hear privilege, I think what they interpret that to mean is a suggestion that their life has been easy, or that they’ve never encountered any hardship in their life, or they’ve never worked hard for anything that they’ve achieved in their life. Often, that’s not the way that people using the term actually intend for it to be used. So we tend to think of it much more as a kind of multi-dimensional factor where everyone has, as I mentioned at the outset, baskets of advantage and disadvantage. So I have privilege as a Man, I have privilege as a White person, and I lack privilege on the grounds of sexual orientation. So I think if everyone goes through the exercise of thinking about the different parts of their identity, they’re going to find that there are some areas where they do have privilege or advantage relative to other folks, and then where they may lack that privilege or advantage in other ways. So I think thinking about it in that multi-dimensional way can help bring people’s guards down a little bit.
I also think, just recognizing that it doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard or that you’ve never encountered any hardship in your life. Again, Dolly Chugh and various others have likened privilege to experiencing a tailwind on a flight, it’s something that you have, giving you an invisible boost as you move along through life. But it doesn’t mean that the plane flies all on its own and there’s no pilot, and no one has ever actually done any work to fly the plane. It just means that you’re getting that extra boost as you go along. So I think it’s just important for people to really stop and question whether or not the interpretation that they’re applying to the word privilege is what the other person means when they’re using the term. Again, I think this goes back to curiosity. If someone uses the term privilege in a conversation with you, and you automatically find those defenses going up, and you find yourself deflecting and denying and attacking, I think just pausing and taking a moment. Just ask the other person, what do you mean by that term privilege? I think you’re going to find in most instances that the way that they’re thinking about it is not as accusatory as the way that you might be interpreting and applying it.
MELINDA: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So what you’re saying uses a combination of that internal work of checking herself, what is my reaction to this word, and also just asking, what do you mean by that, what does that mean to you? That is a conversation that can flow in a positive direction.
DAVID: Exactly. So often in these conversations, I feel like people make a lot of assumptions about what people might mean, what they might be thinking, because people are scared to engage. I mean, it sounds so simple, and yet, it’s also so hard as well. It’s actually to check those assumptions and actually go back to “We are having a conversation here, so I’m allowed to ask questions about what you mean with something or what you mean to contribute. Rather than just plowing ahead with the voice that’s going on in my head.”
MELINDA: Yeah. Well, as our listeners, who are people leaders, are working to have conversations about identity, maybe for the first time on their teams, maybe they haven’t done it a lot. Is there anything else that you would recommend they keep in mind? We’ve talked about a lot. Is there anything else that we missed that you think is important?
DAVID: Yeah. I think one of the important principles that we have in the book is the very last chapter, where we talk about the importance of being generous to sources of non-inclusive behavior. So we point out that all of us at times are going to make mistakes in these conversations. If you think about allyship as a relationship — like a triangle: with an ally, the affected person who’s the target of the bias, and then the source of non-inclusive behavior who’s the person who originated the bias — all of us are going to be at each of those points on the triangle from time to time. We can’t always be in the ally position or the affected person position, because everyone makes mistakes.
I think once you realize that everyone makes mistakes, it’s not just that there is some small group of terrible people who are saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, I think that ought to lead people to be generous to each other to try to trigger that growth mindset that I was talking about earlier. Obviously, there are cases where people do deserve to be canceled if they’ve done extremely terrible things, so I’m excluding really egregious cases from this. But in the ordinary kind of run of the mill piece, what we want people to do is, separate the behavior from the person. So focus on the action that the person did and the impact that their action might have had on someone, rather than immediately jumping down their throat and accusing them of being malicious in whatever it is that they did.
Then also, trying to approach people by showing that you’re also learning. Nobody likes to be approached by someone they perceive as a smug do-gooder who’s coming up to them and wagging their finger at them and telling them about all the terrible things that they’ve done, because it creates this sense that the other person is judging them from on high. What we think is better to do is to approach someone as a peer. So say, “Look, when you said that earlier, here’s the impact that I perceived, or here’s why I didn’t think that that was the best way of approaching it. I’ve said very similar things before, I’ve done very similar things before. Here’s how I learned from those mistakes. I know I’m going to mess up again. If I do that, I hope you’ll come to me and talk to me about what I’ve done.” That kind of a conversation, the other person is going to be much more receptive to hearing my feedback, than if I go and wag my finger at them when I’m approaching them.
So from a people leader perspective, you’re really responsible for creating the culture on your team and in your workgroup. I think displaying to people a kind of generosity, so that they don’t think a mistake automatically is going to make them into a terrible person. They realize that they’re allowed to own up to their mistakes, and that the culture is going to actually help them learn and grow from those mistakes. I think that’s a really important thing that leaders can do to set the tone on their team, so that people don’t feel like one mistake is automatically going to get them canceled.
MELINDA: Yeah, I agree. That calling people in instead of calling them out, bringing people in, sharing that you are all on this growth journey. That having a growth mindset that’s embedded is not just about them, but also about yourself, and really sharing that vulnerability. All of that, I think, also reduces those feelings of shame and guilt that can come from this inner work of change.
DAVID: Absolutely, yeah.
MELINDA: Yeah, wonderful! Well, this is a show about actions. So we learn, and then we take action as allies. So what action would you like people to take coming away from our conversation today?
DAVID: Well, a big one, I think, is to do a bit of an inventory about those behaviors that I said before, about: avoid, deflect, deny, and attack. So avoidance is where you run away from conversations or stay silent. Deflect is where you pick a different topic to talk about, you change the subject. Deny is where you just reflexively shut people down and say that they’re wrong about whatever it is that they’re telling you. Then attack is where you really make it personal, so you use insults, sarcasm, eye-rolling, that kind of behavior. I think a real starting point for people is to just do an honest self-examination or self-inventory about, “When I have these uncomfortable conversations about identity in my life, what forms of behavior might I be engaging in that are not really the most productive ways to be engaging in these conversations?” So as I mentioned, I’m definitely an avoidance guy. I’m someone who sees an awkward conversation and runs away screaming in the other direction, and I think a lot of people do. But we all have sort of go-to behaviors. So I think, as a starting point, identifying what is it that I might be doing unhelpfully now, can then prompt you to reflect on what you might be able to do to fix that in the next conversation that you’re in?
MELINDA: Excellent. So I want to give you a moment to share how people can learn more about your book, and you and your work, too. Where can people learn more?
DAVID: So the book is called Say the Right Thing, you can just plug that into Google, or it’s really available at all major retailers. If you want to learn about our work, we’re called the Meltzer Centre. We have a very long name. But if you just type Meltzer Centre into Google, you’ll see our work on there, as well on our website, and you can also follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.
MELINDA: Fantastic! We will share links in our show notes as well, which you can find at ally.cc. I’ll also include that episode I mentioned with Nisha Anand, because I think these two conversations go well together. So I hope you listen to that if you haven’t already. Thank you. Thank you, David, appreciate you for having this conversation.
DAVID: Well, thank you so much. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
MELINDA: Yeah, likewise. All right, everyone, go take action. See you next week.
We’ll share resources and a transcript from this discussion at ally.cc. And please make sure to subscribe to our channel and rate this show, it makes a difference for us. Thank you for being part of our community.
Remember, the more we take action, the more we grow as humans and as leaders, and the more we transform our communities. So what action will you take today? Let us know your actions by emailing podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or reaching out on social media.
Leading With Empathy & AllyShip is a show by Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. You can learn more about us at change catalyst.co. So let’s keep building allyship across our communities and around the world.
Thank you for listening.
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.