Leading With Empathy & Allyship Show

Understanding & Supporting Intersectional Identities In The Workplace

In Episode 80, Melinda is joined by her amazing co-producers from the Leading With Empathy & Allyship show, Christina Swindlehurst Chan and Renzo Santos, to discuss helpful ways for organizations to understand and support intersectional identities at work. Christina and Renzo describe how intersectionality has shaped their own experiences within their communities and workplaces. They also suggest practical steps that allies can take to foster an empathetic and inclusive work culture that is mindful of intersectional experiences.

Additional Resources

This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.

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Quotes

  • “My identity as an immigrant is able to help Renzo as a gay man to be able to explore his identity more and to understand and realize a lot of things that he might otherwise not be able to understand if Renzo did not become an immigrant. But at the same time, Renzo as a gay man is helping Renzo as an immigrant [to] be able to have more confidence and trust in himself to overcome future obstacles that might come his way. I feel like a lot of these facets or dimensions of our identities actually do complement each other, not just helping ourselves, but also empathizing with others, and understanding perspectives and experiences that we might not necessarily have the opportunity to experience ourselves.”
  • “It wasn’t until the anti-Asian hate had started bubbling up when I really started having a hard time. I felt really sad because I was connected and disconnected at the same time. I am Asian and most of my family is Asian, so it felt really close to home in that way, but I felt very disconnected because I have pushed away that part of me for so long that I didn’t really know how to claim it anymore. And I think that helps, having a partner (she’s Afro-Latina, she’s from these multiple backgrounds) who’s always been encouraging me to explore more in our relationship. Since then I’ve felt sort of moved to embrace that part of myself and be proud of it because it is something to be proud of. My grandparents sacrificed a lot to be here and my dad worked really hard to be successful in the way that he is, and I want to honor that moving forward.”
  • “When my brain tells me to blend in, I would need an ally to tell me, ‘No, don’t. Go get the spotlight. It’s okay sometimes to get that spotlight and shine.’ Also, I would just appreciate [it] when people will sometimes go the extra mile and explain [to] me things that I might not understand culturally…, I really want to be corrected and I want to say the right things. And lastly, I want people to listen to me (even if I look and sound different) the same way that they would listen to a person that they look alike.”
  • “As an introvert and someone who’s always wanted to fit in, I do like to feel like I have a voice. I want to feel respected with my voice because I think a lot of the reason I am quiet (especially at first) is because I’ve been shut down before. And so I think when an ally can really listen to me and take in what I’m saying— that’s so valuable… You don’t have to agree with me or use my ideas, but just showing that you’re taking the time to take my thoughts into consideration and my thoughts are valuable to you— and if necessary, providing constructive feedback so I can grow… giving me credit… just listening really— that just makes all the difference for me.”

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Guest Speakers
Headshot of Christina Swindlehurst Chan, an Asian-White biracial woman with long wavy brown hair wearing an olive green dress with a beige cardigan smiling at the camera standing in front of green foliage.

Christina Swindlehurst Chan
Marketing Communications Coordinator & Podcast Co-Producer at Change Catalyst

Christina Swindlehurst Chan supports the marketing team at Change Catalyst through content creation, event coordination, and brand marketing & communications. She also serves as the co-producer for the “Leading With Empathy & Allyship” podcast. She previously worked in marketing for music and financial services organizations, where she became passionate about addressing systemic inequality and the need to improve diversity and inclusion across a wide range of industries. She also previously served as an event coordinator on the board of wayOUT LGBT, empowering LGBTQIA+ youth to feel safe as they are.

Christina holds a Master of Music and a Postgraduate Diploma in Voice from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She is an internationally trained opera singer but now prefers to spend her time painting, crafting, and exploring the world for the next best thing to eat.

Headshot of Renzo Santos, a Filipino man with black hair and white/gray striped button-down shirt smiling at the camera and standing in front of a red brick wall

Renzo Santos
Co-Producer of Leading With Empathy & Allyship at Change Catalyst

As the Finance & Operations Analyst at Change Catalyst, Renzo oversees the company’s finances across the planning, tracking, and evaluation stages. He also provides in-depth technical and data analysis support for research projects on diversity and inclusion.

He is passionate about supporting communities, especially underrepresented groups, to create safe spaces to pursue excellence. Through his expertise and love for data and numbers, he hopes to build more equitable opportunities for everybody. He is committed to bring valuable and visible impact in identifying solutions for diversity and inclusion.

Growing up in the Philippines, his values were honed by his parents’ humble beginnings in the Northern provinces of the country.

Transcript

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 we have two special guests who are normally working behind the scenes to make our live events and podcasts run smoothly. Our co-producers, Renzo Santos and Christina Swindlehurst Chan. We’ll be talking today about intersectional identities, the ways that they shape our experiences both inside and outside of work, and how we can create more inclusive workplaces for people with intersectional identities. So welcome, Christina and Renzo.

 

CHRISTINA: Thank you for having us.

 

RENZO: Thank you for having us. It’s a great honor to be here.

 

MELINDA: Yeah. How does it feel to be on the other side of the camera, as they say?

 

RENZO: Very different.

 

CHRISTINA: Yeah, very different.

 

MELINDA: Okay, so let’s start by talking a little bit about your stories, where you grew up, and how you came to do the work you do today. And maybe I’ll start with you, Renzo.

 

RENZO: Yeah, thank you for that question. It’s always a question that is hard to answer, but I’m just going to try to make it as quickly as I can. So, I’m Renzo. I was born and raised in the Philippines in a city called Quezon City. 

 

However, I wouldn’t say that my upbringing is similar to a lot of people who live in cities. My early values are honed by the humble beginnings of my parents from the northern provinces of the Philippines. So, I really saw the value of hard work at the beginning. 

 

Growing up, it was quite difficult for me because I wasn’t out as a gay man to my parents. At a very young age, I’ve also realized that I’m good with numbers. I love numbers. I love finance. So, it’s really something that I want to hone my expertise on. I haven’t seen a lot of gay Filipino men thriving in the finance industry locally or internationally. 

 

So, I really try to compensate for me embracing my identity just by being your typical Type A personality going all out from school to my early career. And then, I really hit rock bottom because there were weeks that I was working up until 4 am at the start of my career because I was having struggles and raising my identity as a gay man and trying to thrive in the industry that I wanted to thrive in. 

 

And my mental health was at its lowest. I needed a clean slate. Luckily, I was able to get a scholarship to study here in the United States. I’m in San Francisco at Holt International Business School with a master’s in international business. And luckily, on that journey, I met you. I got introduced to Change Catalyst. I really found a good intersection of doing what I’m good at, which is finance. 

 

I’m currently the Finance and Operations Analyst of Change Catalyst as well and doing something about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which has been a big passion of mine. But I haven’t really just quite understood that up until I started working for you, Melinda. I think that’s a good summary of my story so far. 

 

MELINDA: Awesome. And we met because of our internship program, actually, not that you were an intern, but that we had an intern who then recommended you for an open role. So, Hien. Yeah, we still keep in touch with you. So, very, very cool. I’m glad. And I think that that is key that as we’re working on diversity and inclusion that those internship programs are essential for really widening where we’re finding candidates. Yeah.

 

RENZO: 100% I owe it a lot to Hien. So, hi!

 

MELINDA: I’m glad that we connected, and I’ve really appreciated you. So, Christina, how about you? Tell us a bit about your story.

 

CHRISTINA: Okay. Well, I grew up in San Diego. My dad is Chinese. He immigrated here from Hong Kong when he was nine. And my mom is White, of Hungarian and English descent. I grew up in a pretty affluent community with mostly White and Asian as well. It was pretty progressive but not racially diverse. I was kind of in this bubble. 

 

And so, my parents had told me stories about the challenges they had faced in a mixed-race marriage, but I think you’ve talked about this. Like, I also kind of believed that I was in this post-racial society. I was taught not to see color like a lot of my peers were. 

 

It wasn’t really until college. I am a trained opera singer. I studied music in college and then did voice and opera for my master’s. And so, taking all these history classes in college, I had a real understanding for the first time how deeply ingrained a lot of sexist and racist things are in all parts of our history, including music history. 

 

These operas and pieces that we’re still performing today have a lot of really racist themes and sexist themes and characters. These were composers who were shaping the musical worlds at the time and also the societal worlds. And so, I just became a lot more aware of racial inequity, injustice. 

 

I also went to UC Berkeley, which is very progressive, and I was exposed to a lot of protests and rallies that just got me asking a lot of questions. And so, I started consuming a lot more stories through music and theatre and art and books, and I did a lot of self-work and started taking a look at the spaces I was in and what they looked like, and my own privilege but also where I was the minority as being an Asian woman in the entertainment industry. 

 

And then, out of grad school, I ended up getting a job doing marketing for a mortgage insurance company. We had this newsletter that I was the copy editor and copywriter for, and it really focused on talking about the cultural disparities in housing. And so, then I became really attuned to the issues in our housing systems and just this whole other branch, where there were inequities happening. 

 

Yeah, and then like everyone else, George Floyd’s murder really kind of shook me at that point, but the door had kind of been open to this work, but it really encouraged me to go deeper. At that point, I’d also been in a serious relationship, still am with a Black woman. And so, it felt like it was hitting closer to home for me, and it became a reality that, like, my children will probably be Black. And so, since then, I’ve just been on a constant learning journey. 

 

Ruchika mentioned a couple of episodes ago that I think about reading fiction and the impact that it had on her. I wholeheartedly agree. I love reading and learning about other people’s stories. And so yeah, when I saw this opportunity to work here doing the work that you’re doing, I just really was aligned with what was becoming very important to me for my parents and for myself and my partner, and you know, just kind of everyone around me. 

 

MELINDA: Thank you for sharing that. I was thinking the other day that you are a part of the great resignation. 

 

CHRISTINA: Yes! Absolutely. 

 

MELINDA: That we benefited from. 

 

CHRISTINA: Yeah. 

 

MELINDA: Yeah. So, thank you both for sharing your stories. I appreciate that. I am learning too. I think in preparing for this episode, and then, in this episode, I think I will learn more about you two, and so I’m excited about that. So, both of you have intersectional identities. I want to just stop for a second. Can you just share how you describe your own identity? Because I think that that is really interesting and sometimes surprising when people describe their own identity.

 

CHRISTINA: I identify as a biracial, Asian and White queer woman.

 

RENZO: I identify as a Filipino, gay, cisgender man. I’m also an immigrant. I also have an invisible disability.

 

MELINDA: Do you mind my asking, like, which of those is most important to you? Is it the thing that you say first? So, biracial for you, Filipino?

 

CHRISTINA: I would say, you know, I think this is an interesting, challenging question. I think that up until now, and growing up biracial/Asian, mixed Asian has been the most important part of my identity because it’s the thing that people first see when they look at me. And the thing that people comment on and ask questions about and that I’ve always kind of been forced to process like, more complex feelings around. 

 

My environment was progressive and queer allied. I have also been to an art high school. We’re very stereotypically queer. And so, that part of my identity was something I didn’t seriously have to face, and then I am also very cis-gendered, and I don’t appear gay, which is kind of silly to have to say because that’s what being queer looks like but because of that, I didn’t really have to deal with that head-on. But now, I’m at a point in my life where I’m in a serious relationship. 

 

We’re talking about marriage and kids. I think doing all these things that are typically reserved for more straight presenting couples. And so, that’s when queerness becomes more threatening to people and when other supportive voices tend to get louder. And so, I kind of fully anticipate that going forward, my queerness will become the most important part of my identity, which is a little scary, but it’s also very exciting that I’m at that point in my life.

 

MELINDA: Yeah, interesting. Yeah, Renzo.

 

RENZO: I definitely resonate a lot with that. I describe my identity as a Filipino. I think that’s the first word that I said. Primarily because I’m an immigrant and Asia is a big continent. So, it wasn’t really natural for me to say, up until now, that I’m Asian, primarily because Asia is big through Southeast Asian, South Asian, East Asian, so even in the Philippines itself, no one says in the culture that we have as Filipinos. So, in general, I’m just very accustomed to, or it’s natural for me to just identify as Filipino. 

 

But going back to the question, what is the most important thing. I think up to this date, a lot of the challenges that I’ve faced or internalized heterosexism that I faced really gave me the passion and the fuel that led me to conquer more obstacles in the other aspects of my identity. So, I think what really made me more resilient and what made me stronger right now is my overcoming some of my obstacles as a gay man in a place where it wasn’t that accepted quite fully yet.

 

MELINDA: Yeah. So, I think we’ll talk about that. Well, yeah. Let’s talk first about your experience as an immigrant. We haven’t talked about it a lot on this show. I think that’s important. How does that experience as an immigrant in the US shape your experience overall and your experiences at work?

 

RENZO: I think the most obvious answers would be the cultural differences and the language barriers. My accent is so different. So sometimes, there are biases and microaggressions just because I sound different or I look different. There’s also sometimes difficulty understanding situations, difficulty understanding context, difficulty understanding the humor. So, I really appreciate it when somebody in the team asks me if I understand something that is very typically American that an international person might not be able to understand that quickly. 

 

I think because of all of those combined, my confidence sometimes isn’t at the highest as well because I feel like I’m very different. I sound different. And sometimes, I don’t understand things that are typically understood by general people who have lived here for a long time. That could somehow also affect small things at work. Like sometimes, I would have to Google things in order for me to better understand if that word is the right word that I want to use in an email, for instance. 

 

So, like small things, like what you do, Melinda, like telling me the tips, especially at the beginning of my career, really helped me a lot, and understanding the cultural differences and language barriers that I might have faced at the beginning. I think, yeah.

 

MELINDA: We’ll circle back on kind of ways that allies can show up. I mean, for you, in a bit. I want to talk a little bit too about, if it’s okay with you, about our work together to sponsor—For listeners and watchers, Change Catalyst sponsored Renzo’s H-1B visa. I have learned a ton about doing that. We’re a small business. So, it was me and Renzo navigating that together. It’s an anxiety-producing and confusing journey. We actually didn’t win the first time. We had to go do it again. So, we did twice basically, right, which was difficult for both of us. 

 

I think that the anxiety-producing kind of aspect of being an immigrant is a piece of all of this that we don’t really talk about very much, that kind of uncertainty, and also the constraints that you experienced, in particular within the pandemic and not being able to travel and stuff, I think is also a piece of that too. Do you mind talking about it a little bit?

 

RENZO: 100%. And just to give a little bit of context, I moved here primarily because I feel like I wouldn’t be able to embrace my queer identity more if I went to a space where I feel safe to explore it. So, when I was doing my post-grad degree here, I’ve learned about H-1B, and for those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a work visa that is given to people who apply for it. 

 

The number one hindrance or difficulty is getting a company to sponsor an H-1B for you because, as Melinda mentioned, it goes through a very long, tedious paperwork, where resources and energy are taken from not just the sponsor but also the one is being sponsored. Not counting the legal fees associated to be able to make this happen. So, getting that yes from somebody is one form of just allyship already, and that is a lot of difficulty for international students or anybody who might want to migrate here to the United States. 

 

Second, after filing all those paperwork, the United States has this law that only 85,000 H-1B can be given out in a year. So, for example, I think last year there were 300,000 estimated unique applicants. Out of those 300,000, they will be filtered for those who have filed correctly. And out of those who have filed correctly, only 85,000 would be winning the H-1B lottery, which is basically a random way for USCIS for the United States to choose the H-1B  workers. 

 

So, it doesn’t necessarily mean that even if you’re the most competent, or if you check all the boxes and are an excellent worker, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you would get an H-1B. So, I’m not indicating all the anxiety that is involved in the entire application process. So yeah, there are a lot of things to think about this entire process and why it is still like this to this day. But at the same time, the level of support and allyship that one can create in this immigration journey is a lot, non just as colleagues but also as friends.

 

MELINDA: Nice. And then, can you also talk a little bit about the constraints within the pandemic that are added? We all have had different difficulties. We all had stress during the pandemic. And on top of that, you also, as an immigrant.

 

RENZO: Yeah, and there’s one word that really hit close to my heart. It’s been a lot. So, we knew that during the lockdown, a lot of embassies closed. So for us, we’re with an H-1B Visa. We’re not even allowed to move out of the country because we’re not going to be able to get the stamp anywhere to get back inside the country. 

 

And during the lockdown, I lost my grandmother. And I wasn’t able to get out of the United States, even if I wanted to. I mean, it’s been a lot. But yeah, and just the idea of not being there with my father to help him go through the pain, and not being with my family, not being given that chance or that opportunity, and the sacrifices I have to make to be able to stay here is a lot. Ah, yeah. 

 

And I’m grateful for my team, Christina, Melinda, Araya, and everybody who was there on that journey because my mental health also was at its lowest during those times. I was able to get enough support from my colleagues to be able to continue working in those hard situations, in those hard parts of my life.

 

MELINDA: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Yeah.

 

RENZO: There’s a lot, and yeah, thank you. Thank you as well.

 

MELINDA: Yeah. Christina, maybe we’ll go to you next here and talk a little bit about—so, as a daughter of an immigrant. On one side, you’re a second-generation. On the other side, it’s longer. How has that shaped your own experience?

 

CHRISTINA: My dad was very young when he came here. He was nine. And so, he assimilated very easily, culturally. He married a White woman. And so, my household was pretty kind of American, I guess. But I did struggle with my mixed-race identity. I felt a lot of pressure from society to lean into my whiteness because that’s the part of me that felt desired by society. There are a lot of microaggressions that were directed my way that, at the time, people think are complements, but I always like felt really kind of gross afterward. 

 

And like some of the things people, they’re like, “I want my babies to be mixed because mixed babies are always the prettiest.” Oh, you look so exotic. I got some comments from Asian people saying, like, “Oh, you’re so lucky to be half White.” It made me feel like my value was within the part of me that was half White or ambiguous somehow and how that was connected to my physical desirability within society. 

 

So I think, because of that, I’ve never really embraced my Asianess. It’s unfortunate because of my dad and his family. I heard stories, and I know that they sacrificed a lot. But I think I just I, I felt, you know, I was also told by society that like, Chinese people were less attractive and kind of less. They didn’t care as much about the environment, which is something I really cared about. 

 

And, you know, they were the people that were, you know, people with, like, the accents were picked on stereotypically in school. And so I just, I struggled with that. And I kind of was in this place where I felt like I wasn’t white enough because I also wasn’t Asian enough because I didn’t have as many of the, like, Chinese traditions in my household. My cousin did. And we kind of experienced some sort of like tangentially, but not, I wasn’t as immersed in them. 

 

And so it wasn’t really until the anti-Asian hate has started bubbling up. Like, what was it a year or two ago that I really, that’s when I really started having a hard time. I felt really sad because I was connected and disconnected at the same time. Like, I am Asian, and most of my family is Asian. And so, it felt really close to home in that way. But it was also—I felt very disconnected because I had pushed away that part of me for so long that I didn’t really know how to claim it anymore. 

 

And so since then, I’ve really been trying to my partner is also from, she’s Afro Latina, so she’s also kind of from these multiple backgrounds. So that’s something we really bonded over. And so, she’s only she’s always been encouraging me to explore more our relationship, but it wasn’t really like, since then, and I felt very sort of moved to like, embrace that part of myself and really be proud of it because it is something to be proud of. And, you know, my grandparents sacrificed a lot to be here. And my dad worked really hard to be successful in the way that he is. I want to honor that moving forward.

 

MELINDA: Thank you for sharing that. Renzo talks a little bit about his own intersectionality between his being an immigrant and being a gay man. How does your biracial identity intersect with your queer identity? Or does it?

 

CHRISTINA: Yeah, I think it does. I think it intersects kind of in the way that my mixed-race identity always made me feel like I had this desire to fit in. I didn’t know if nowhere I fit in. But I think because I was trying to fit in in that way, I kind of put my queer identity on the backburner. I really worked hard to feel accepted. I mentioned earlier that I came from an environment where queerness was already accepted. 

 

I was taught from a young age that sexuality is on the spectrum and that we’re all probably on that spectrum. I didn’t really openly come to terms with it until I was in early college. And at that point, I was in a straight presenting relationship with a White man. I think that relation to whiteness also made me feel like I fit in more. And so, for more reasons than that, I think I stayed longer than I should have in that relationship. 

 

And then, by the time that relationship ended, I was in college, I was in grad school, and I hadn’t really embraced my queerness very loudly or made an effort to engage in queer spaces besides being in theatre and music. And I’ve always been very introverted, so it felt hard to enter those spaces by myself. And I was also like, privileged in that I didn’t feel like I needed to in order to gain acceptance. 

 

But because of that, I didn’t really have a strong queer community. So, that’s something I’m working to change for myself now. But kind of back to the intersection, it feels like there are a lot of spaces where White queer people dominate. And although they can be amazing resources and amazing allies and all that, it can also be harder for them to understand specific challenges that my partner and I will face as a mixed-race queer couple. 

 

Every queer couple who wants to have kids will need help and just small things, like, you know. A few of our friends are in the process of having kids and talking about sperm donors and all that, and we kind of started looking into it, just to see what was available to us. And the options for donors to represent my partner and I are significantly less than for our friends, who, for the most part, have been looking for White donors. 

 

And especially with my partner, not just being black, but being, you know, Afro Latina, and then me being not just Asian, but like, mixed Asian. And so it’s just like, in little ways, where we will experience that much more of a challenge.

 

MELINDA: Yeah. Wow. Renzo, did you have anything? Do you have anything more to add about those intersections that you experienced?

 

RENZO: Yeah. It’s just fascinating to realize that—because I’ve always believed that we are a larger multitude. We contain a multitude. So, my identity as an immigrant is able to help Renzo as a gay man to be able to explore his identity more and to understand and realize a lot of things that he might otherwise not be able to understand if Renzo did not become an immigrant. But at the same time, Renzo as a gay man is helping Renzo as an immigrant, be able to have more confidence and trust in himself to overcome future obstacles that might come his way. 

 

I feel like a lot of these facets or dimensions of our identities actually do complement each other. Not just helping ourselves but also empathizing with others, as well. And understanding perspectives and experiences that we might not necessarily have the opportunity to experience ourselves. 

 

So yeah, a lot of these intersections, for me, feel like a big pathway for me to overcome more obstacles in the future and to just embrace my identity more.

 

MELINDA: How do these experiences impact how you show up at work? Either one of you to join in.

 

CHRISTINA: I mentioned my introversion and desire to fit in, which I think are very strongly correlated. And this desire to, like, feel safe and feel accepted. So, kind of just being in situations where you have to really think about, can I share about my partner? Or, like, how do I bring up that I have a partner who’s a woman, or how are current events are affecting me, and that’s something I can bring to the space and feel safe. 

 

Also like, extraversion is something that’s really prized in our work environments as to who are the leaders, and they’re always the extroverts. I felt like that wasn’t really the case in school growing up. Brene Brown talks about creativity scars, and I feel like growing up to the few times that I was outgoing, and I did kind of like, show myself a little bit more loudly. I was pretty forcefully shut down and made to feel less. 

 

And so, because I want to fit in because I have all these experiences that I’m less vocal now, so then when I am in this work environment where, not this one but in previous ones, where I had an experience where I was on a team of extroverts, and I was kind of asked to conform to their way of communicating and processing. 

 

That’s not how I feel safe. They would talk on top of each other and like, I didn’t ever feel like I hadn’t, and they were processed quickly. And that’s not me. I need time. 

 

The biggest feedback that I got from my managers at the time was, “You need to speak up more. You need to contribute more in meetings because that’s how you’re going to get noticed. And that’s how you’re going to get promoted.” 

 

And so, kind of knowing that, you know, this is already something I’m uncomfortable doing, and now you’re making me feel uncomfortable at me. I’m uncomfortable doing this, like, it just added this to this pressure and not really feeling. There wasn’t kind of a sense that they were trying to accommodate me or meet me where I was in any way. 

 

MELINDA: Yeah, be open to your own particular way or method of leadership. And yeah, how you can show up because I’ve seen it. Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead, Renzo.

 

RENZO: Yeah. I very, very resonate with that a lot. As an Asian immigrant man, I’ve always been trying to challenge our idea of what is an amazing employee, what an amazing employee is, or what an amazing student is. I came from a very collectivist mindset. 

 

Growing up, my entire upbringing has always been all about community rhythm, all about community, making sure not to challenge the status quo but to just blend in and not get the spotlight. I feel like growing up or even just moving here in the United States, I have to combat again and forget a lot of those things in my subconscious to be able to prove that I am worthy enough of the position that I am at or to be worthy of being listened to as opposed to or like vis-a-vis the individualist mindset that a typical American might have. 

 

So, I feel like what really is an efficient, amazing employee? Is it just when somebody is always trying to challenge the status quo? Is it always just trying to get the spotlight? Are there other means of being a good employee that is more inclusive in nature and not just specifically is catering to one specific personality type?

 

MELINDA: Yeah, I think it’s a really good point that there are so many work cultures that do prioritize. I mean, we work a lot in the tech industry, and then the entertainment industry is similar to, that both Christina and I kind of came from is very, both are very kind of, they reward the Type A. They reward people who can talk well about themselves and can talk and speak at the moment, even if they don’t have the knowledge behind it. Right. 

 

Whereas, being introverts, I’m an introvert. And yeah, it’s difficult to navigate that space and still show your worth. Yeah. So, we need to create those workplaces where you have that opening for people to thrive and show their worth in different ways. Yeah. 

 

So, as a small team, I think one other intersection is that you mentioned, Renzo, it’s mental health. And as a small team, we’ve all had moments where mental health was not 100% during the pandemic. One of the things I really appreciate about our team is that we do check-in. We do have those moments to check-in. 

 

We are transparent and open with each other about it. We hold space for each other to be open and honest about it. Do you have any thoughts about how that intersection works within the workplace?

 

RENZO: Yeah, I can start. And this will be like just a big thank you to you, Melinda, and also to the team. You really taught me that sometimes it’s okay not to be okay. Just to be transparent and be able to give me that flexibility to still be able to live amidst all the things that are happening outside my workspace, and go to work and feel safe, that even if I’m not operating at my 100%, it’s okay. Everything will still be okay in the end. I just try to be transparent about it. 

 

And the support that you and the team were able to provide me to be able to survive whatever has happened for the last few years is something that I’ll be like, forever grateful for. So yeah, I think the idea of it’s okay not to be okay is something that we can even think more about and do more as human beings.

 

MELINDA: Awesome. 

 

CHRISTINA: Yeah, I completely agree. I think, like most people, I spent a lot of the pandemic really processing a lot of who I am and what I care about. Most of us have, as I’ve heard so far. Mental health was important to me, but I think, in workplaces, I always felt like, “Oh, you have to be like, strong, and you have to show up and be valuable to your company.” 

 

And so I came kind of from an environment where mental health was kind of talked about, but it wasn’t prioritized. I kind of found out after leaving that, like me not—because I did have a hard time. And me not operating at 100% was kind of used against me after I left. 

 

And so, I think that’s something I’m still kind of getting used to here is that like, I know that you say take time when you need it and that everyone here is very encouraging of taking care of our mental health. But I think that like, I’m still getting used to that for myself because I have come from environments where it’s like, they kind of say that, but they don’t mean it. Yeah, I think that’s something I’m still working on.

 

MELINDA: Yeah, well, I am too. I think we’re all a work in progress. Yeah, absolutely. So, given all these intersections in different aspects of your identity and experiences, how do you most want allies to show up for you and in your workplace? You can talk more broadly than just about our current workplace. 

 

CHRISTINA: I think that I’ve kind of expressed it as an introvert and as someone who has always wanted to fit in. I do still like to feel like I have a voice and like, I want to feel respected with my voice. Because I think a lot of the reason I am quiet, especially at first, is because I have been shut down before. 

 

And so, I think when an ally can really listen to me, and like, take in what I’m saying, that’s so valuable. I don’t speak loudly or as often as others, but when I do, I tend to be very thoughtful about it. And so, when people kind of brush away my ideas without really thinking about them, it feels very hurtful. It’s just another way that I’m not like fitting in. Right? 

 

And so, you don’t have to agree with me or use my ideas. But I think just like showing that you’re taking the time to take my thoughts into consideration and that my thoughts are valuable to you. And you know, if necessary, providing constructive feedback so I can grow. And if you do take my idea, like giving me credit. I think just listening, really. That just makes all the difference for me.

 

RENZO: Yeah, I definitely would like to echo that. For me, when my brain tells me to blend in, maybe I would need an ally to tell me, “No! Don’t. Go get the spotlight. It’s okay sometimes to get that spotlight and shine.” But also, like, I would just also appreciate it when people will sometimes go the extra mile to explain to me things that I might not understand culturally. 

 

Or if I, for example, use a word or a phrase that should be accepted or like that has some historical burden on it, and I am not aware of that just because I came from a different culture, I really want to be corrected, and I want to say the right things. And maybe lastly, I want people to listen to me, even if I look different, even if I sound different, the same way that they would listen to a person that they look like.

 

MELINDA: Awesome. Yeah. Renzo, there’s a lot that you said that was important. One thing that stuck out for me that I don’t think we talk about very much is the idioms and the kind of phrases that we use. It’s not just about English, it’s also about culture. It’s those two things together sometimes. 

 

And that’s, I think, the anthropologist in me. I’m kind of more maybe heightened and aware of that, which is why you mentioned earlier that I do try to point those things out. “Have you heard of this before? If not, we can explain it.” Right. It’s just a way to really open the conversation and allow you to fully participate.

 

RENZO: Yeah. So that when I laugh, I’m genuinely laughing because I understand the humor and not because I felt the need to laugh because everybody was laughing.

 

MELINDA: Right. I love that. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So, as you both know, the last question that I have been asking guests lately is that we want to make sure that our listeners and watchers are taking action as a result of these conversations. So, what action would you like people to take coming out of this conversation? 

 

CHRISTINA: Go ahead, Renzo.

 

RENZO: Okay. I can start. For me, just a simple “how are you” goes a long way. So, don’t be afraid to say how are you to as many friends, as many colleagues as you can, and just check in because a simple check-in really gives us a space for everybody to share when they’re ready to share.

 

CHRISTINA: I like that. I’d say mine is to learn about people. And just people in general, like just learn about humans, including yourself. I think one of the ways that I’ve most built empathy is through a couple of things. One, studying the Enneagram. I highly recommend the wisdom of the Enneagram to anyone who’s interested. And also reading books like Childhood Distracted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. 

 

They approached them kind of differently, but at the root there, they’re both trying to reveal like, why we are how we are and how our trauma and our early experiences really shaped us. And they shape our nervous systems and our responses to things. 

 

It’s not to use it as an excuse for poor behavior by any means. I think it’s more like when we understand ourselves and each other and why we respond the way we do, I think we can work to better ourselves and really create powerful connections and empathy with the people around us.

 

MELINDA: I love it. I love that. For our watchers and listeners, we did mention a few different resources that we’ll add in our show notes that will be on our website ally.cc. Thank you. Thank you both, Renzo and Christina. Thanks for having this conversation. I appreciate all you bring, of course, to our team, and thank you for sharing your stories and your experiences. 

 

RENZO: Thank you. 

 

CHRISTINA: Thank you. 

 

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. And thank you for listening. 

 

Please subscribe to the podcast and the YouTube channel and share this. Let’s keep building allies around the world. Leading With Empathy and Allyship is an original show by Change Catalyst where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. I appreciate you listening to our show and taking action as an ally. See you next week.

About the Host

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

Speaking Engagements

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.

Testimonials

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.

Virtual Training, Consulting & Coaching Solutions
If you’re looking for a way for remote teams to continue their learning and professional development, we’re now offering virtual allyship, inclusion and leadership trainings. We’ve also continued our consulting practice virtually. AND we now offer hourly coaching. Let us know if you’re interested in learning more!
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