In Episode 82, Doc Jana, CEO & Founder of Doc Jana LLC and TMI Consulting Inc, joins Melinda in a conversation that gives individuals and organizations a clear approach to interrupting what Doc calls “subtle acts of exclusion,” also known as microaggressions, at work. They guide us through the steps in addressing our own biases, which are often the root of these subtle acts of exclusion. Doc also shares their latest work and their participation in pleasure activism as a way to reclaim joy and find liberation and healing from the pain of trauma.
- Learn more about Doc Jana
- Learn more about Doc Jana’s work at TMI Consulting
- Read Doc Jana and Michael Baran’s book, “Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions”
- Read Doc Jana and Ryan Honeyman’s book, “The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business As a Force for Good”
- Read Doc Jana and Matthew Freeman’s book, “Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences”
- Read Doc Jana and Ashley Diaz Mejias’s book, “Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion”
- Read the book, “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good” by Adrienne Maree Brown
- Read Doc Jana’s article, “The Sincere Kindness of White Women”
- Listen to Doc Jana’s podcast, “Seeking Equanimity”
- Get a copy of the book, “How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace” by Melinda Briana Epler
- Download the infographic report on “The State Of Allyship Part 1: What People Want From Allies”
- Watch or listen to EP51: “Recognizing & Overcoming Microaggressions – Part 1 With Melinda Briana Epler”
- Watch or listen to EP52: “Recognizing & Overcoming Microaggressions – Part 2 With Melinda Briana Epler”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “It is the operating on autopilot that is most likely to get you in the very trouble that you’re trying to avoid. So if you’re busy just for busy’s sake and you find yourself… multitasking, understand that you’re more likely to slip into subtle acts of exclusion, microaggressions, etc. So, one thing that you can do is you can take even 5 minutes a day—even one minute a day is better than zero—to just slow down, be present with yourself, be present with your breath.”
- “This is why we advocate for the SAE [subtle acts of exclusion] accountability system: the leadership at the organization needs to make a commitment to interrupting subtle acts of exclusion when they happen—acknowledging and making appropriate apologies for things that have happened in the past, understanding that they can’t make that go away for what already happened but agreeing to move forward in an intentional way.”
- “That is a really important thing: being able to say thank you for making me aware… as opposed to getting defensive, and running away and allowing the relationship to be damaged… If someone is brave enough to put themselves on the line and make you aware of yourself, that means they believe in you… They believe that you are better and capable of more than your current behavior may have exhibited.”
- “I was gifted with an overwhelming amount of joy and passion. I’ve always been just energetic and on fire alive. And so, for me, it’s about sharing that energy…, taking the myriad lessons that we’ve learned. Anyone can be a pleasure activist. It’s just literally about identifying which brings you joy and breathing more life into that space. So, liberating people— when we say— [their] hearts, minds, and bodies, it starts with the heart. If you are surrounding yourself with people, places, and things that are heavy on your heart…, we’ve got to fix that. [With] minds: knowledge, books, accessing information that allows you to have more choices. And then bodies… If you are incarcerated, they can lock up your body but… I actually have some friends who are able to get their bodies out of prison because they were able to realign their minds and hearts, so magic is possible here.”
CEO and Founder of Doc Jana LLC and TMI Consulting Inc
Dr. Jana (they/them) is a non-binary Awareness Artist and Pleasure Activist. They use their work and art to create a loving embrace of people and culture expansive enough to exclude no one. Their mission at Doc Jana LLC is to liberate hearts, minds, and bodies through joy, love, and knowledge.
As a certified meditation and yoga instructor, Doc Jana is also the author of several best-selling books, four on inclusion and one book of poetry. They are the founder of TMI Consulting Inc, the world’s first diversity focused Certified Benefit Corporation. Doc Jana has been featured in numerous publications and media including Fast Company, NY Times, and Forbes for their work on diversity, equity, empowerment, and inclusion. They’ve done a TEDx on privilege and were named one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc.com.
MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship, where we have deep real conversations to build empathy for one another and to take action to be more inclusive and to lead the change in our workplaces and communities.
I’m Melinda Briana Epler, founder, and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker, advocate, and advisor. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
All right, let’s dive in.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. Today our guest is Dr. Tiffany Jana, also known as Doc Jana, CEO and founder of Doc Jana LLC and TMI Consulting Inc. I’m so excited to have you join us. Welcome.
DOC JANA: Thank you. So glad to be here.
MELINDA: Yeah. We’ve known each other for a long time through the B Corp community. Both our companies are B Corps. That’s one of your several published books, the B Corp Handbook, too, right?
DOC JANA: Yes!
MELINDA: Awesome. So, Doc Jana is the author of several best-selling books also, including Overcoming Bias, Erasing Institutional Bias, and Subtle Acts of Exclusion
So, Doc Jana, can you tell us a bit about you, where you grew up, and how you came to do the work you do today?
DOC JANA: Oh, yes. Where and how I grew up are exactly how I got to the work. I was actually an army brat. So, born in El Paso, Texas, where I learned Spanish before I learned English just because of proximity, not because of ethnicity. And then, when I was seven, we moved to Germany. My parents put me in a German school, so I promptly learned German. I was thinking and dreaming in German as a young person.
And then, I went to middle school and high school in New York. New York is usually the short answer because that was coming of age for me. My mom is from Queens, New York. So, while we were in Germany, we traveled all over the world.
By the time I was 10, I was exposed to so many different people, cultures, and languages, that I quickly understood that we may live differently, we may speak differently, we may eat different foods, and have different cultural expressions. But at the end of the day, we’re so much more similar, right?
When we’re sad, we cry. When we’re joyful, we celebrate. We just want to belong and find family and comfort and friends. That embrace of a kind of a global mindset really young led me to this work. And also, my mother does this work. So, I was a shoo-in.
MELINDA: I didn’t know that.
DOC JANA: The pioneer in the field. She was early in the field. But as diversity, equity and inclusion were becoming an industry, she was standing up for offices of Multicultural Affairs at universities across the country. She was developing some of the foundational things that, you know, sort of baseline diversity training is made up. She was working with the National Institutes of Health, and yeah, that’s pretty cool.
MELINDA: Wow, awesome. So, when did you start doing this work? It’s been a long time, right?
DOC JANA: I mean, I was following around mom doing assessments when I was in high school. So, I was exposed to the family business in high school, and it just kind of persisted its way through college and then into my adult vocation. So really, this has been my whole career in one form or another. I took a couple of left turns here and had some side projects, but this is what stuck.
MELINDA: Awesome. And so, can you say a little bit about what you do now?
DOC JANA: Yeah, so what I do now and what my companies do, it’s a little bit different. Yeah, right. So I’m very excited and proud that my oldest company turns 20 in 2023. So one more year, we’ll be 20 years old. TMI consulting does organizational development strategy through a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lens for organizations all over the world. So full-service DEI assessments, diagnostics, training. You name it. We do it all.
And then, through Doc Jana LLC, which is, you know, kind of a personal brand, I had to differentiate myself from the brand because I’m not the lead consultant anymore. I’m not the lead salesperson anymore. I’m still CEO. So I oversee the operations over there, but I’m focusing now more on writing the books on really getting that methodology that has been developed over the decades into a form that people can consume and access.
I do a lot of keynotes. I’m also a meditation and yoga instructor and a death doula, but I focus on really freeing people. The pandemic was such an awakening moment for us. And so, the institutional stuff is really great through the organization if companies need that kind of support. But more and more individuals need help freeing themselves, either extricating from institutions that are hurting them or freeing themselves to live their best life, become who they want to become, and start the businesses that they want to start. So I’ve got a kind of a coaching side, as well as the organizational side.
MELINDA: Awesome. Amazing. We’ll get into several of those things, I think, throughout this conversation. I do want to start with biases. That’s where your first, not your first two books, but two of your books are really based on biases.
I meet so many managers and individuals who want to raise awareness around biases. In our research, we also found that the number one way that Black people in the US want their allies to show up for them is to learn about their biases. So as individuals are working to start their own work, how do you recommend the base? Where do you recommend they start? How do you recommend they start really learning about biases?
DOC JANA: Definitely read Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences. That was my first book for a reason. It’s a really soft entry point, right? In order to really get to the perspective of having deep compassion for other people and showing up in a good way, the introspection has to happen. You’ve got to look inside and figure out how you are getting in your own way.
It’s a difficult journey. How do you find your biases? Well, oftentimes, we’re getting clues. We just don’t want to hear those clues. Because those clues come in the form of what people call, you know, calling in if no one else is around, but calling out if anyone else bears witness to it. When you are called in or called out about an aspect of your behavior, or perhaps an unconscious bias, our initial response is just defensiveness and incredulity, right.
We don’t want to believe that that is us, but we have to pay attention to the signals we’re getting from other people. The whole purpose of being in a relationship, whether it’s in a deeply intimate partner relationship or it’s a colleague relationship, and it’s a little more surface. The reason that we exist in the context of each other is to reflect each other back at each other, right?
I don’t know who I am, but from what you tell me, I have some ideas. But when you say, “Hey, Doc Jana, you tell me that you’re trying to be this really inclusive person, this really thoughtful person, but you’ve been misgendering me for hours.” That’s going to feel awful. I’m a diversity practitioner. I’m like you. It feels awful, but I do the same thing.
I am just as prone to bias, and I’m just as likely to fail in terms of inclusion as anyone else. It’s part of the human condition. But being honest with ourselves about who we are and being willing to listen to the feedback we’re getting, no matter where it comes from.
We can’t just listen to it from the people we like. And we can’t just listen to it from the people we want to agree with. The ones that we really need to pay attention to are the ones that rub us the wrong way. Or the ones that make us question them and then ourselves.
MELINDA: Yeah. And then we’re more likely to get that feedback if we open ourselves up to our feedback and show that we’re open to that feedback, too, right?
DOC JANA: Yes, that is a really important thing. Being able to say thank you for making me aware of this blind spot, as opposed to getting defensive and running away and allowing the relationship to be damaged. What I like to always tell people is if someone is brave enough to put themselves on the line and make you aware of yourself, that means they believe in you.
That means that they believe that you are better and capable of more than your current behavior may have exhibited because otherwise, they wouldn’t say anything. If they thought you were irredeemable. They would just let you go on being who you are.
MELINDA: Oh, I love that. I love that. Yeah. So then, there are a lot of managers who are interested in really reducing biases across their teams as well. How would you recommend that managers start to do that? What can we do to reduce bias at the team level?
DOC JANA: Obviously, we’ve got books. There are also trainings that are associated with my company, and probably your company and lots of others have training that’s available, right? You cannot expect people to move and behave in a new way if you haven’t provided them with the resources to do so. Because it may seem obvious when you say, “Well, just put your biases away when you do that next hiring.” Well, what does that look like?
MELINDA: What are those biases even mean? What are they? That’s a key piece, right?
DOC JANA: Exactly. So, you have to provide people with the tools. And when you provide people with those kinds of tools, if you think about the implications of people not mitigating their bias in a workplace situation, that is very dangerous. That’s high-risk exposure. That’s the kind of stuff that can get you sued.
And so, when you offer support, training, book clubs, etc., some of that needs to be mandatory because everyone needs to understand what it means for us to move our bias aside and then move forward behaving in the ways that the organization expects.
Where people get wrapped around the axle with this is they feel like, well, we don’t have the right to tell people that they can’t be biassed. No, leaders don’t get to tell people what to think and believe. That’s none of our business, but how to behave in the workplace, that is absolutely our business. And so, keep your hands off my thoughts and beliefs but please clearly define what the behavioral expectation in this workplace is.
When you make that aspect mandatory, you tell people because the biggest excuse people want to say around diversity work is, “Well, that’s not my job. I got hired to do accounting. This warm and fuzzy, you know, kumbaya, whatever, that’s a microaggression is not an acceptable part of the work. I don’t have to do this.”
Well, yes, you do because how we treat our colleagues, how we treat our teammates, how we treat our vendors, and how we treat our clients are all going to be affected by how we show up in the world.
And at this workplace, we have clear definitions around our standards of behavior, and that includes moving your unconscious biases to the back and making a fair hiring decision, and having interactions that are as free from microaggressions and subtle acts of exclusion as possible.
MELINDA: Earlier, you started by saying that you have biases too and that we all have biases. I do, too, right? I’m consistently learning about it.
DOC JANA: I just initiated an SAE, a subtle act of exclusion. I said kumbaya in the way we used to. That’s cultural appropriation. That’s inappropriate. So, I correct myself at the moment and say, “Oops, find something else to say.”
MELINDA: Something came up in an event that we were doing last year around blind spot, by the way. It’s another one where you know, what do we say when we say blind spot?
DOC JANA: Oh, yes, that’s right. Oh, I said that earlier, that’s it. Thank you.
MELINDA: You’re welcome. Somebody brought it up to me. Yeah. It is something that happens when we do this work within companies is there’s some resistance often to people who have marginalized identities, who have been marginalized too. This work is not about me. This work is about the White people, the White men, and so on, right? But really, all of us have this. All of us do. We all have to do the work.
DOC JANA: Five times intersectional person. So, I am the diversity check box that so many companies are looking forward to. And still, I step in hot, steamy piles of diversity dung every single day because if you are a people trying to people in 2020, whatever it happens to be, who knows at this point, it’s just hard. It’s darn near impossible to get it perfect, right? You can’t get it right.
What you can do is the best you can. It’s to try to be intentional with your words and actions and be quick to accept correction and/or to correct yourself, recognizing that you’re flawed and that you’re going to keep messing up. That’s okay because when you make those mistakes, whether you catch it or someone else does, you’re not going to make that same mistake a thousand times over, right? You’re going to grow, and that’s going to allow you to level up, level up, level up, but these things are incremental.
MELINDA: Absolutely. Okay. I want to go into the subtle acts of exclusion or microaggressions, what many of us know as microaggressions. Biases are often the foundation of those, right? We ought to learn about our biases, and that helps us with reducing those subtle acts of exclusion. Can you first just say for a moment why you chose to focus on subtle acts of exclusion versus microaggressions?
DOC JANA: Dr. Michael Baran and I, my co-author, neither of us was particularly enthralled with that nomenclature. You’ve got “aggression” in the word. And as soon as that is put out there, someone becomes instantaneously defensive. And as we all know, the defensive stance is not one from points we can learn, right? So, no one gets defensive and is immediately like, “Oh, thank you for correcting me. I cannot wait to grow from this moment.”
No. They hunker down. They bristle up, and they get upset. We wanted to rebrand it. And we’re so excited to see more and more people using the term subtle acts of exclusion or SAE for short. But we wanted to rebrand the term to be something that is just a little bit more descriptive and more kinds of values neutral. These acts tend to be subtle, right? It’s a microaggression.
It’s not a felony, okay? They tend to be subtle. They often fly under the radar. A lot of people get bent out of shape because they feel like, oh, it’s really not that big of a deal when in fact, when you’re on the receiving end, it may be subtle but stacked on top of each other, they hurt deeply. They are acts, words, and behaviors that push people further to the margins.
I love that you linked them to the unconscious biases because oftentimes, microaggressions or SAEs are overlaid very neatly on top of whatever our biases are. We push people to the margins based on what we think we know or what we’re assuming about this particular group of people.
So, we wanted to rebrand it with something that was a little bit more neutral. And then empower people with specific tools and guidelines for breaking them down and understanding what they are, where they come from, what they mean, and then what to do based on whether you are the one who initiated it. We didn’t call it a perpetrator, right. We call it an initiator.
MELINDA: Or aggressor.
DOC JANA: Exactly, the aggressor. Or whether you’re on the receiving end or an observer, right? Because how many of us have been in that meeting where someone said something that just made you go, “Arghh.” Cringe-worthy, but very rarely do people actually speak up. So we wanted to empower bystanders, as well as everyone else, to know what to do when they happen.
MELINDA: Okay. So, let’s talk about that. There’s a real emphasis on that right now, too, that allies have to step up and be upstanders and interrupt microaggressions or SAEs. From our research, by the way, this is the top way that indigenous people want their allies who show up for them. It’s a close second for many other people with systemically marginalized identities. Something a lot of people also have a fear and a significant discomfort about.
I actually wrote about microaggressions for a couple of different chapters in my book. We’ve also dedicated a couple of podcast episodes to microaggressions. You wrote an entire book on it. I actually refer to some of your work in my own book because it’s really important. I don’t know if you know that. Yeah.
DOC JANA: I didn’t know that. How awesome. Thank you.
MELINDA: Yeah. So, let’s break it down. We want to interrupt in that moment. You break this down really well in your book. The pause was a big one for me. It’s just that pause. Can you talk about the pause? What does the pause look or sound like? What does that mean?
DOC JANA: Yeah, so pause and reaction is so important because the nature of SAEs, again, they’re so subtle that they can slip underneath the radar. And oftentimes, with subtle acts of exclusion, people don’t speak up because it’s like, “Did I just hear what I thought I heard?” And then everything keeps moving so fast that you don’t even have time. You haven’t even processed what happened.
It seems so small, and who are you to raise your hand and make a big deal out of something that has already gone by, and the person who was affected maybe didn’t even respond? We got to pause the action, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re the person who was offended or whether you’re a bystander. If you have the opportunity, or the authority is even better, right? If you have seniority in the room, for you to pause the action.
I’ll give you an example that happened just this past year, which was interesting. It was in a senior executive leadership meeting. Somebody used the term slave driver in terms of talking about somebody’s behavior. They’re just, “Ah, they were such a slave driver.” And this was a meeting that included African American leaders. Nobody said anything in that instance.
And so, in that instance, that would have been a great opportunity for anyone around that table because everyone had seniority. There was only one person who had the most seniority. Otherwise, people were pretty parallel. Somebody should have stopped and said, “Hold on for a second. A term was just used that is definitely seen as problematic and offensive to some folks. And we just want to stop and just say we don’t want to use terms like that here, whatever the case may be. But pausing the action gives people the opportunity to acknowledge that it happened because that’s the first thing. That just happened so fast.
So, we’re acknowledging that it happened. And we are giving whoever may have been injured and recognize, sometimes the person who’s injured is not even in the room. Right? If the term slave driver is used in a room full of White people, there are probably enough allies in that room that understand that we shouldn’t be using this language, even when we’re not in mixed company, because it’s just inappropriate. Right? So, it gives you the opportunity to honor those who have been harmed or might have been harmed and to collectively grow from that place, right?
People don’t realize that blind spot is problematic until you say it, and then we’re all learning together. So it gives us all a chance to learn and grow together. It gives us a chance to make those momentary reparations if they’re needed, and then it allows us to move forward in a good way, as opposed to everyone feeling just a little icky until the meeting is over, and then we go talk about it with our spouse.
MELINDA: Yeah. I think sometimes when something happens in the moment, we’re so shocked, and it goes right past us. Our amygdala response can kick in too. We’re all kind of in shock. Right? And so, I also think it’s important that even if you don’t pause in that moment, you can pause two minutes later. I want to go back. I want to go back. I want to pause and go back.
DOC JANA: You can leave it to the end of the meeting. But there’s always an opportunity to just, and that’s the same thing. This one is important. Also, we get a lot of questions about, well, what happens to me? If I’m the systemically marginalized person and this thing happened, that pause is important for you, just as much as it is for anybody else who’s learning and growing, because when you’re the person who’s been micro aggressed, you can’t move past that space. Right?
This person cut me off for the 900th time in a meeting. And now, I can’t even be present anymore. If you don’t feel safe in that environment, sometimes the pause is excusing yourself and just going into the restroom.
MELINDA: That’s a great point. Okay. So, what do we do after the pause, after we’ve paused? How do we handle it from there?
DOC JANA: So then we have our open conversation, right? We give the thing the light of day. We give ourselves the opportunity to talk about it, to process it, and to find out if there is an aggrieved party, if there’s anything that they need, right. And so, we create that space for them. So we’ve processed that. And I apologize I don’t have all of the steps memorized.
MELINDA: It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. Yeah. And actually, I think that’s important, too. I mean, I kind of have steps in my book too. And I don’t remember all the steps, and it’s not about that, right. You do go through a process. Everybody has to go through a process. Stop and pause is the first step. And then it is that like, Okay, we have this conversation, we have this moment to really educate. That’s a part of it.
DOC JANA: And in that process of educating, I know that we lay out a taxonomy, which I think is one of the most valuable parts of the book. It just talks about it because not everyone can understand how someone was hurt by a subtle act of exclusion. Usually, the initiator has no idea, right? Oftentimes, it’s even a compliment, right? It’s calling a Black person articulate. I’m giving them a compliment. Why are they upset about that?
And so, the taxonomy talks about all the different types of SAE or microaggression. So like you don’t belong, or you’re a curiosity, and we’ve got, I think, five or six of them that just kind of lay out all of the different nuances to how these things are pushing people to the margin. And if you’re able to connect and identify what and where it falls in the taxonomy, it can help you explain to someone how it is you feel or how someone may have been made to feel.
When you make a negative comment about my blue Afro, or you reach out and you touch my blue Afro, it makes me feel like I’m curiosity to you, like I don’t belong. And so, being able to name those things is helpful for your own mental health and can be helpful for shaking people out of their biased place where they can understand that thing that was said or done actually did cause harm, and here’s how.
MELINDA: And the other part that you said earlier, I want to make sure to call attention to who’s also like creating that space for recognizing that impact. That impact is crucial. Yeah, anything else that we didn’t cover there that is really important in terms of interrupting?
DOC JANA: Not in terms of interrupting. I mean, moving forward in the book, I think that the perspectives that we offer individually for whether you are, you know, if you’re leading a meeting, you have a different level of responsibility versus if you are an individual contributor.
Leadership has an outsized responsibility. So if it happens on your watch, it’s going to be easiest for you as a leader to pause that action. It’s going to be easiest for you to check in with everyone and see how they’re doing. And as a leader, modeling that behavior is a critical thing to do.
People aren’t going to feel like it’s really okay or really safe to do this until they see their leadership engaging in that kind of behavior. So, if leadership is who causes the action, regardless of who said it, right, even amongst leadership, you know, peers at senior levels don’t want to call each other in or out. They don’t want to do that. So, we need to have that model from the highest level of the organization.
And then the SAE accountability system is one of my favorite things. And that is when leadership agrees that this is how we’re going to engage. We recognize that subtle acts of exclusion are going to happen. They have happened in the past, and we’re not going to allow the future SAE to break our organization. We’re going to put steps in place to make sure that we know how to respond when they happen. And we know to the best of our ability how to prevent them in the first place.
MELINDA: Okay. Fear of making a mistake often leads to people doing nothing at all, right? I guess the first question is, what do we do if we make a mistake? What do we do if we are called in or called out for an act of exclusion ourselves? And then the second half of it is, you know it’s coming. What do we do? There’s often shame and guilt that comes from this. I think that is something that we don’t talk about very much and we don’t recognize very much. You can answer them both, or we can do one and then the other.
DOC JANA: Fear is the mind-killer, right? Fear really does stifle people’s ability to move forward. And right now, we see it so much. Right? There’s just so much to learn and so much to be cautious about that people are just, you know, “Maybe I just shouldn’t talk to people of different backgrounds because it’s just too perilous.” Right? And that’s the worst thing.
So, the first thing I would say is if you are going to allow fear to prevent you from acting, then I’m going to take away your ally card. If you fancy yourself an ally and you’re trying to be an ally, then you cannot back away because you’ve been called out or called in, or because it’s embarrassing, or because you fell flat on your face, or because you’re just scared because when you are occupying the body of an equity-seeking person, you don’t ever get to opt-out.
We may be able to cover some of our identities. But for those of us who have any systemically marginalized identities sitting on the outside, visible or audible, we don’t get to run away. And so, if you’re an ally, we need you to push through that fear. What is good to know is that each time you fall, and you will fall, you will grow from that place. Right? And when it is you that makes a mistake, you’ve got to have some cultural humility and be willing to say, “Oh, no. Oh, no, I did it. It was me. I messed up.” Right? Apologize quickly, but not too often.
My favorite example of this done right and done wrong or not done well is the misgendering and the misuse of pronouns. It happens all the time. Right? So, you get introduced, you know somebody’s pronouns. You heard them. You forget. You use he/him pronouns on somebody who’s a they/them person.
The instinct when you realize the mistake is to trip over yourself and say, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean that. I mean, I know I respect you.” Now, you’re making it about you. Right? And now you’re actually embarrassing the non-binary person or the trans person because you’re putting all of this attention in a place where people don’t want to have all that attention.
So, move yourself and your ego and pride out of the way, apologize one time, say thank you for calling me in, for bringing it to my attention, and you go do your processing and your emotional stuff by yourself. You go do that somewhere else, but try to get that out of the way. If you have an instinct or opportunity to ask how or what you can do better next time, if it’s appropriate, do that.
But just understand, like, the best thing to do with the fear is to recognize that you’re going to mess up. And you’re going to do it over and over again until you’re 99 years old. And that’s okay. That doesn’t make you a bad person. That doesn’t make you a broken person. That doesn’t mean you’re not an ally. In fact, that means you probably are because you keep trying.
The people who are saying, “You know what, there are men out here that are saying I’m not going to talk to women at work because #MeToo is dangerous.” I’m not going to talk to women at work! That’s not okay. And then the shame piece. More and more of us are starting. I just actually wrote a piece called, The Sincere Kindness of White Women. I write a lot on medium.com.
So, I wrote something about the sincere kindness of white women. And what we’re seeing is we’re seeing this uptick in people across all demographics, but White women in America is a particular demographic that has taken on this responsibility to try to learn the most to not be a Karen, to try to get it right. And there is shame associated with getting the thing wrong with that, you know, again, the fear of being called out. And, again, it’s okay. It is okay to fail in this place.
Hopefully, it’s not too big. Hopefully, it’s not too egregious. But even if it is, it’s okay to fail in this place. I would say, surround yourself. You’ve got to keep doing the work, right? We’re seeing more and more allies showing up who are doing the work. I really wish that I could say that if everyone reads my book and your book, then they’re done. Get your certification, your gold star, and you are finished. That doesn’t work that way.
MELINDA: Your allyship badge is permanent.
DOC JANA: Exactly! It has to be buffed up and renewed.
MELINDA: Yeah, that’s right.
DOC JANA: We’re trying to create a better world. And if you’re an empathetic person that genuinely wants people to feel safe in your presence, that genuinely wants to foster an aura of belonging everywhere that you go, it means that you’re just going to have to try. It means that you’re going to have to try to do better to be better tomorrow than you were yesterday.
And that tomorrow, those tomorrows go into infinity. It is work. I’m sorry that it is work. But I would say that it is some of the most worthwhile work that we’ll ever do. So, don’t be ashamed. Don’t be fearful. Those are traps that will keep you in a little tunnel and prevent you from connecting to humanity.
At the end of the day, this is about connecting to other people. If you want to live like a hermit all by yourself and go and be spiritual, that’s fine. But if you want to live in community and expand your boundaries, and allow your heart to connect with the hearts of people all over the world, then this work is worthwhile.
MELINDA: One last question I have here is at the organization or the team level. Again, what are your recommendations for ways to prevent those subtle acts of exclusion from occurring across the team level and the systemic level as well?
DOC JANA: This is why we advocate for the SAE accountability system. The leadership at the organization needs to make a commitment to interrupting subtle acts of exclusion when they happen, acknowledging and making appropriate apologies for things that have happened in the past, understanding that they can’t make that go away from what already happened, but agreeing to move forward in an intentional way. And so, that’s when we provide people with the skills and the tools required to be able to handle that.
Unfortunately, people who lead and manage other people need the most support because they’re going to have to manage the most in terms of challenges. People are going to come to them with their SAE concerns, and managers are going to need to be able to have the language, the empathy, the emotional intelligence, and the skills to be able to navigate that, and that’s not easy work.
I think the days of people being promoted because of their technical competence alone are numbered. We need more emotionally intelligent, culturally competent people who can really create that sense of belonging. We want to start privileging that in the hiring process and the promoting process. We cannot focus on technical competency alone. We will need to look for those people who can handle those conversations.
And the tone is really set at the management and leadership level. So, if managers and leaders are open and empathetic and willing to model themselves as humans and catch themselves when they slip up, then that’s going to be something that is more likely to spread through the organization, through teams, but we’ve got to empower individual contributors.
Individual contributors are also very fearful that if they say and do the wrong thing, that it’s going to cost them their promotion, and their careers. Equity-seeking people don’t want to raise their hands and point out flaws in their peers or flaws in the organization because they don’t want to be seen as problematic and not promotable.
So, we have to make a safe environment for people to speak up. They have to make sure that people know that they’re not going to be downgraded for standing up for each other, for actually being allies.
DOC JANA: Normalize talking about it, normalize pausing the action, normalize this behavior. And then, we have to do it with grace. And that was the other thing I wanted to say during the shame conversation is the more we educate ourselves on these topics, the more of a repository of knowledge we have. It is very tempting to be a social justice warrior. It is very tempting to be the first one to say, “Aha, Catherine, you used that term. And that term is bad, and you’re bad.”
When you call someone in, you’ve got to take a position of humility, and you must recognize each and every time that that’s going to be you next time. Next time you’re the one that’s going to step in. And so, you need to speak to and address people the way that you would want to be addressed when you’re called in because we’ve got way too many people out here who are just taking potshots and really enjoying calling people out.
And that is troublesome. We’re shaming people for fun because we know better, and we’re so involved. No, we’re not. We are all guilty. It’s just a matter of who was watching and whether we got caught.
MELINDA: I love that you said that. I think that’s really important. It’s really important. Yeah. Okay, so I want to switch gears and talk about joy. I think that that is really important that this work, you know, it’s hard. This is hard work. It’s important work. We have to keep doing it. And we have to find moments of joy too. So, I want to talk a little bit about your work at Doc Jana LLC. The mission is to liberate hearts, minds, and bodies through joy, love, and knowledge. And you talk about liberation through joy. Will you share a little bit about what that means and what that looks like?
DOC JANA: Yeah, so this comes from Adrian Marie Brown, one of my favorite authors, and she is a pleasure activist. She wrote a book called Pleasure Activism. I identify as a pleasure activist, yay. And that is precisely what it’s about, liberation through joy.
I mean, especially right now, right? We’re still in a pandemic whether we choose to be out and about or not. We are seeing this crescendo of pain, of suffering, of mental health challenges. So many things are just coming to the forefront. I personally can’t watch that without responding in some way.
I was gifted with an overwhelming amount of joy and passion. I’ve always been just energetic and on fire alive. And so, for me, it’s about sharing that energy. It’s about taking the myriad lessons that we’ve learned. Anyone can be a pleasure activist. It’s just literally about identifying that which brings you joy and breathing more life into that space.
For me, if I focus on the laundry list of failures, like three failed marriages, I’m a domestic violence survivor. I’ve had seven miscarriages. So many terrible things have happened, but I’m a joyful person almost all the time, except for when I’m not. I’m able to take those lessons and transmute them into superpowers that allow me to share my story to help other people.
I’m a death doula now. I’m like, “Why did I lose seven babies?” So that I can help other women and people and families who have lost children and babies. And so, what I try to do is help people find the joy in their lives, amplify that joy, and in many times monetize it because we live in this crazy digital era where if you’ve got something that you’re passionate about and something that you absolutely love, and you can throw a little bit of time and skill and maybe a video camera behind it, you can actually make a living wage, and you don’t have to be suffering inside of an institution where microaggressions are bringing it full circle is tormenting you day in and day out.
So, liberating people. When we say hearts, minds, and bodies, it starts with the heart. If you are surrounding yourself with people and places and things that are heavy on your heart that makes you feel small and miserable, we’ve got to fix that. Mind is, you know, knowledge, books, accessing information that allows you to have more choices, and embodies.
I mean, all the way down to if you are incarcerated, they can lock up your body. But if you are able to access your joy, if you’re able to access the heart and mind connection. I actually have some friends who were able to get their bodies out of prison because they were able to realign their minds and hearts. So magic is possible here.
MELINDA: I love it. I love it. Thank you for that. Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I do. I think it’s really important. As we’re doing this work, people who have been marginalized continue to experience that marginalization. We have to liberate our hearts and minds, and bodies. I love that.
DOC JANA: I mean, I’m deeply concerned. What I’m trying to do right now is actually marry the pleasure activism side and the organizational inclusion side because what we saw through the pandemic was we have all these people who are hurting. They can’t leave that pain at home or leave it in the other room while they zoom over here.
And so, there’s a duty of care that institutions, I believe, have for the people who are making their missions possible. Beyond the mindfulness movement, there’s so much that we can do. I’m always experimenting with that at TMI. Our teams have so much time off and a lot of freedom to create the sort of wellness plans that work for them because the way that we work right now is dangerous. What we expect from people for a paycheck is unacceptable. And I would very much like to break that status quo and realign folks with their own passions. And if they want to work for people, they should be able to consciously co-create in a way that’s regenerative for them, not one that depletes them all the time.
MELINDA: Agreed. Agreed. So, I’m going to squeeze in this question, and I don’t know if it’s related to what you just talked about or not. You’ve been doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work for a long time, right? You’ve kind of seen it move. You’ve pushed it. It’s evolved. Where do you see it going moving forward?
DOC JANA: You’re exactly right. You did it. You found the connection. I honestly think that there are multiple revolutions underway. And one of them is a spiritual revolution. Spiritual is a big word that encompasses a lot of things. But at the core of it, we are not just flesh and bones. We breathe air. We are animated by something.
I happen to believe so many things. Again, having been exposed to the world. The prophets of all of the major world religions were on to something similar. They are sayings the same things, just using different language. And so, I believe that that that is part of the next revolution. I think that we are, as a species, going to come to terms with the fact that we are more than just matter, that we are energy, that there are rules around how energy works, and that we have some control.
Major religions talk to us about being made in the image and likeness of some creator. That’s not because of our two eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s because of our power to create. We are often living the lives of our creation based on the choices that we’ve made and the thoughts that we’ve thought over time. I think that we’re going to get more intentional about that and more cognizant of that.
And diversity, equity, and inclusion is going to honestly be kind of a key that unlocks the human potential that exists within organizations and their capacity, not only to live into their mission, and this is why we choose B Corp. B Corp is looking at things a whole lot differently. We’re not just looking at profit. We’re looking at really living in concert and cohesion in lockstep with our planet and care for our planet.
We’re also thinking very deeply about people and how and their well-being. So, I think that diversity, equity, and inclusion is going to be the key that unlocks the well-being of the people in the context of the work that they do. We have a long way to go, but I see something beautiful on the horizon.
MELINDA: Okay. So, two more questions. The show is about giving people the information they need to take action, right? Allyship is not just about learning. It’s about taking action. So, what is one action that you would like people to take after our conversation?
DOC JANA: I personally would like for people to slow down and get mindful. I would like for people to get quiet. It is operating on autopilot that is most likely to get you in the very trouble that you’re trying to avoid. So, if you’re busy just for busy sake, and you find yourself go go go go go and multitasking, understand that you’re more likely to slip into subtle acts of exclusion, microaggressions, etc.
So, if one thing that you can do is you can take even five minutes a day, even one minute a day is better than zero, to just slow down. Be present with yourself. Be present with your breath. And if you need help with that, I have a new podcast called Seeking Equanimity.
MELINDA: Ah, I love it. I love it.
DOC JANA: That’s exactly what we do is we go through a little bit of a reflection. Sometimes we touch on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics, but it always closes with a short meditation. Meditation and mindfulness is the key to unlocking your happiness, your productivity, your manifestation, your joy, your connection to humanity, your connection to the earth. It doesn’t matter what your spiritual orientation is. Get mindful. Slow down, and breathe, beloved, breathe.
MELINDA: Yes. Where can people learn more about your work? We’ll share the link to your podcast. Where else can people learn about your work?
DOC JANA: TiffanyJana.com has everything on it, so you can go there. I’m Tiffany Jana on all social media.
MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. Cool. Please go buy their incredible books, and listen to their podcast. There’s so much work that you have done. I really appreciate you and all the decades of experience you’ve put into this. Yeah, I really appreciate you. Thank you so much for this conversation.
DOC JANA: Thank you for inviting me. Yay.
MELINDA: To learn more about this episode’s topic, visit ally.cc.
Allyship is a journey. It’s a journey of self-exploration, learning, unlearning, healing, and taking consistent action. And the more we take action, the more we grow as leaders and transform our communities. So, what action will you take today? Please share your actions and learning with us by emailing podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or on social media because we’d love to hear from you.
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Leading With Empathy & Allyship is an original show by Change Catalyst where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. Appreciate you listening to our show and taking action as an ally. 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.
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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.