Leading With Empathy & Allyship Show

Racial, Ethnic, & Gender Equity In The Global Workplace With Julia Taylor Kennedy

Leading With Empathy & Allyship promo and photos of Julia Taylor Kennedy, a White woman with short, curly brown hair, amber earrings, and teal blue shirt, and host Melinda Briana Epler, a White woman with red hair, glasses, and orange shirt holding a white mug behind a laptop.

In Episode 86, Julia Taylor Kennedy, Executive Vice President at Coqual, joins Melinda to discuss key insights from Coqual’s Equity Series that feature insights on racial, ethnic, and gender equity in the global workforce. Julia takes us through her findings on specific differences around workplace equity across various countries. She shares how professionals from underrepresented groups experience inequity in performance evaluations, promotions, and compensation. She also offers a strategic approach for employers, managers, and DEI practitioners to measure and improve equity in global workplaces by identifying marginalized groups, addressing systemic issues, and understanding where there might be gaps in inclusion initiatives.

Additional Resources

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  • “How do employers start to understand who’s marginalized in a market?… The first step is you have to understand your own limitations when it comes to your own lens: what do you understand to mean race and ethnicity? What do you understand about gender? And be ready to question that when you look at a new market. Then you need to do some work to identify the marginalized groups in that market: how can people on your team consult census data, look at research studies that have been conducted, and talk to partner organizations on the ground who can say this is the religious history…, migration history…, and colonial history in this country so that you can understand who are insiders and outsiders in that context?”
  • “If you’re driving inclusion, you’re also driving equity, which is very efficient. And so, for managers, a lot of this inclusive leadership stuff boils down to a good leadership period; it’s about setting speak-up culture on teams, creating an environment where people feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback, where feedback is specific, and actionable… So as a leader, giving feedback in a low-key, timely, specific manner to your team members so that it becomes normalized to be asking for feedback…; giving away credit for ideas to be empowering people to bring new ideas to make sure every voice around the table is heard, and if they’re not comfortable speaking up in a group setting— getting ideas outside of the meeting. Those are the kinds of things that promote fairness, produce great ideas, and cool down a sense of bias on teams.”
  • “If you’re a diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner, think about the resources that are being directed towards hiring vs those other processes we talked about: performance evaluations, promotions, and pay. And while you might not have direct control over those things, most DEI folks are tasked with advocating and steering the ship. And so, think about building the relationships you might need to build in order to reallocate some of those resources in order to… peel back the cover and even be tracking across both gender and race, as well as other marginalized identities.”
  • “Equity is a word that is so similar to the word equality, and yet it has a very different definition. So our definition of equity, which we pulled together from a few different sources, is the effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs to achieve fairness and outcomes… Equality is about treating everyone the same regardless of their background.”


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Guest Speakers
Headshot of Julia Taylor Kennedy, a White woman with short, curly brown hair, amber earrings, and teal blue shirt, smiling at the camera in front of a gray backdrop

Julia Taylor Kennedy
Executive Vice President of Coqual

Julia Taylor Kennedy is executive vice president at Coqual where she leads cutting-edge research on issues affecting today’s professional workforce with an eye toward solutions for a more inclusive and equitable global workplace and world. Julia holds a mirror to how workplaces work today—and gives companies a way forward.

Julia is a thought leader who has spoken at the United Nations, the Conference Board, the Executive Leadership Council, New York City Bar’s Associate Leadership Institute, and many companies. She’s been featured in Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Fortune, Scientific American, and The Washington Post; she also has appeared on Bloomberg TV, American Public Media’s Marketplace, Wharton Business Radio, and more.


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: Well, hello, everyone. Today we’ll be talking with Julia Taylor Kennedy, who is the Executive Vice President at Coqual, where she leads impactful research on Workforce Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It has definitely been impactful to us at Change Catalyst and in our work. I mentioned it in my book, How to Be An Ally. It has definitely made a difference, I think, in driving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion forward with research and really research-based decision making. 


So, today, we will focus specifically on her research about racial, ethnic and gender equity in the global workplace. So, Julia, I’m so glad to have this conversation with you today. Welcome.


JULIA: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.


MELINDA: Awesome. So, Julia, could you start by telling us a bit about your story—who you are, where did you grow up, and how you came to do the work you do?


JULIA: What a lovely way to start a conversation with the personal. We so often just dive right into the professional. So, I appreciate the question. It’s hard to boil yourself down to one essence. But maybe I’ll tell you a little bit about my life story. And then, people can derive their answers from there. 


I grew up in Suburban, DC, Northern Virginia. I’m the daughter of two parents who are both attorneys, very politically progressive, and members of the LDS church. I grew up with a lot of tension around identity and political perspective and sort of living in tension with politics in a very political city, between politics and religious beliefs. I grew up kind of feeling like an outsider, both when I went to church with my family and when I went to school because everybody knew my religion. 


That outsider perspective has actually really shaped a lot of what I do as an adult professionally. I went to school and majored in journalism, which really gave me a lot of tools to understand other stories and observe the world as I had spent a lot of time as an observer growing up and then became a public radio host. The last show that I hosted on public radio was called 51%, looking at gender and mostly at women’s experiences. And so, it was just a really fun job for me because I got to pull together a lot of things I thought about my whole life, the role that women play in society, and how that’s really shaped by the norms that were in rather than anything innate. I got to think a lot about that in this radio show. 


And so, it was fun to think, oh, something I’m really passionate about and ideas that I’m really passionate about, that actually be the way that I make money in this world. I went back to graduate school and focused on gender and economic empowerment globally, women’s sort of migration pathways and how they can move up the economic ladder through migration.


And then, after graduation sort of entered the world of research think tanks because it allowed me to dive deeper into topics than I was able to as a radio host but not commit to 10 years of a Ph.D. study. I was thrilled when I found Coqual. It used to be called Center for Talent Innovation when I joined, and it’s really been my professional home for nine years now. Looking at different identities in the workplace. So, not just gender but also race, disability, and veterans.


I’ve led many different research reports there. And today, I head up our research arm as well as our leadership development arm. So, I’ve moved from just observing the world around me to actually shaping it within companies and thinking about how we can be more intentional and inclusive, so there aren’t so many outsiders anymore in the workplace.


MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. You recently have released a number of resources around equity in particular, including the Black Equity Index and then also a series of reports. Those reports, for those of you who are interested, Equity and Ethnicity At Work, which is a global exploration. Equity calls on everyone’s equity at work. And then there’s also a report that was meaningful for a lot of folks that came out during the pandemic, Being Black In Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration. So, before we dive into some of the research there, let’s define equity first. So what is equity as you define it?



Great question. Because I think many people struggle with this definition. Equity is a word that is so similar to the word equality, and yet it has a very different definition. So, our definition of equity, which we pulled together from a few different sources, is the effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual or group’s needs to achieve fairness and outcomes. 


What’s embedded in that sort of based on different needs means that we’re acknowledging individuals start from different places, and we have a responsibility to correct the imbalance. Equality is about treating everyone the same regardless of their background. And many of us heard as we were growing up, “You should really strive to be colorblind. You should really strive to treat everyone the same.” 


Even the golden rule that so many of us learn is to treat others as we would like to be treated. What’s problematic about that is some of what I was saying earlier about how we are socialized in a society that isn’t equal. And so, we grow up being treated differently due to different identities we might hold or treating others differently based on what we absorb and observe in the world around us. 


We actually are incapable of treating everyone equally. And even if we weren’t capable of it, people come to us with a different bundle of experiences and treatment from others that have shaped them. So, if we really want to say we want to create a better future, where everyone, regardless of whether they’re Black, female, or LatinX can attain the same opportunities, we have to take into account the context. And so, we have to think about how do I provide different support to this person based on their background? How do I think about, you know, they might be the first from their family to have graduated from college. So, they may not know as much about how networks work, as someone who grew up watching their parents navigate corporate America, for example,


MELINDA: Or even have the same networks.


JULIA: Exactly. Don’t have the uncle or the cousin to call. That’s really what we’re talking about when we talk about equity.


MELINDA: And so, really taking into account inequity when you’re looking at practice. Yeah, absolutely. When you’re looking to measure equity, what indicators are you looking for?


JULIA: We took a targeted approach because equity is an enormous concept. Inequities begin really from day one, the healthcare of the mother. So, there’s so much to take on in this field. We took a step back and said, “Okay, at Coqual, our mission is to focus on the workplace, to think about how to drive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at work. And more specifically, we focus on the professional workplace. 


What we wanted to see was when an employee enters the door of the workplace, where are the greatest points of unfairness in the way they’re treated? How can we think about that? In our first study, we thought, how can we think about that from the systems and processes? So, HR, top leadership, leadership and development, talent management, those kinds of operations that really shape an individual employee’s experience. What are the policies? 


And within that, what we heard were companies who made amazing commitments to racial equity, mostly in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. At those companies, the easiest way to place/focus equity efforts is on hiring. The easiest way to switch your numbers, your representation numbers, people think.


MELINDA: At least at first.


JULIA: At first, right. It’s who you’re bringing in the door. And, of course, that matters. You want to hire people from a lot of different backgrounds. But then, if you think about their equity over the course of their time at your company, there are a lot of different points in which inequities can come in. 


So, we asked our community because we have a membership base of 80 large companies. Where do you think you need the most resources when it comes to providing equity to employees? They told us it was about promotions. It wasn’t necessarily about hiring. Hiring is important. But then, once an employee comes in, there’s a lot of inequity that they experience over the course of their career path. 


And so, that’s where we first looked when we wanted to understand inequity and equity within a company. Those key decision moments are shaped by HR and what managers are kind of trained to do and how they’re trained to behave. So, we looked at performance evaluations, promotions, and pay because this is where things really start to diverge for employees of different backgrounds.


MELINDA: Yeah. And you can see that in some of the data they shared as you go up in the organization that organizations get less diverse, and there’s this growing divide. It starts even in the hiring, but it’s embedded, then it continues all the way through the leadership level, where it’s severely inequitable.


JULIA: Exactly, exactly. There are so many different ways that we’ve depicted that representation drops off over the years and that many have, and there’s a share of White representation that grows as you go up. And then this sliver of Black representation, LatinX representation, and Asian representation at those upper levels is really breathtaking.


MELINDA: And especially as you also look across the intersections of gender, too. Yeah. You recently released this global study, and I think a lot of global companies are looking for what we do in this global world with offices in many parts of the world to really address diversity, equity and inclusion, and it does look different. It feels different. There are different indicators there as well, I think, in different areas. Can you talk about just a few differences that you’re finding globally around equity in the workplace?


JULIA: Absolutely. I mean, it’s incredibly complex. And actually, when we undertook that global part of our inquiry, we had to take a step back because, in the US, companies have been thinking about race and ethnicity, in particular, for several years now. They’ve added that and are starting to think about intersectionality and sort of the dual penalty that Black women experience and even some unique experiences they have because they are both Black and female, and unique othering and marginalization that they experience. 


However, globally, because different countries have different racial and ethnic histories, it gets incredibly complicated as global heads of diversity are overseeing 60-70 markets of operation for their companies. And so, it’s almost been this kind of avoidance. In some nations, you can’t even ask because of complicated histories. In Germany, for example, because of historical issues around tracking people’s ethnic heritage, there’s a cultural aversion to asking about someone’s ethnic background. 


And so, a lot of companies have said, “We’re not going there.” And now, they must because, again, in the past couple of years, as there’s been more of a focused trend on race in the US, employees around the world are saying, “Listen, I’m from a marginalized ethnic group. What are you doing to support me?” And so, we saw that global diversity, equity, and inclusion officers were starting to want to support people of different races and ethnicities around the globe but didn’t really know how to understand the nuances on the ground. 


And so, sometimes, companies would have a conversation about race in China that talked about the roots of slavery in the US. And it really came across this by tone-deaf to the folks that were in the room. And so, what we did with this study was we took a step back and said, “Okay, first, you have to understand what groups need your support in a given country?” What groups experience inequity? It will vary from country to country. 


What we did was we broke down a process. How do employers start to understand who’s marginalized in a market? And what we said is, the first step is you have to understand your own limitations when it comes to your own lens, right? What do you understand to mean race and ethnicity? What do you understand around gender? And be ready to question that when you look at a new market, and then you need to do some work to identify the marginalized groups in that market. 


How can people on your team consult census data, look at research studies that have been conducted, and talk to partner organizations on the ground who can say this is the religious history. Right? This is the migration history. This is the colonial history in this country so that you can understand who are insiders and outsiders in that context. 


Then, you want to understand the experience of employees. How are those differences showing up? Where are the real points of pain for employees today in their experience at your organization? Before you can fix it, right? Because you have to understand what the current state is. Then, you can partner and collaborate with other organizations and other companies to understand what they’re doing. 


And finally, you can really, and we think this is very iterative, be distilling in disseminating the information to leaders at headquarters and on the ground so that they are starting to get this nuance to understanding as well.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think that’s going to be super helpful for a lot of folks that are just kind of grappling with this to begin, especially since there are a lot of companies that are new to diversity, equity, and inclusion right now. And also, companies that have been working on this for a while are looking for different approaches that are more regionally specific. 


Are there some examples you can give us about some of the different things that you found? I guess we should start with what countries did you look at in particular? And then, were there any specific differences across those different countries?


JULIA: Yes, of course. In this study, we looked at Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and the UK. One of the things that we found cropping up in a few of the countries was a lot of exclusion and marginalization according to religion. We found in a few different countries in India and in the UK, for example, the experience of Muslim professionals really popped out from the data. 


We followed this process ourselves in terms of understanding which groups to feature in each country, and in the report, we lifted up two groups from each country just to illustrate how much variation there is when it comes to marginalization around ethnicity in different countries around the world. 


So, for example, in India, nearly two in five Muslim professionals surveyed said they fear physical harm if they disclose their ethnicity at work. That’s a really huge finding because you wouldn’t run a self ID campaign in India around religion the same way you would in the US, given this fear of physical harm. So, in India, where we also found some really interesting nuance around caste, we looked at caste in India as well. 


One of our recommendations for companies looking to drive the inclusion of these groups is to start with acknowledging that they exist, right? Not to ask anything risky of the members of their groups, but just for leaders to say we know that there are experiences of exclusion based on whether you are from a certain caste or a certain religion.


MELINDA: Yeah, I think that safety and even providing the information is really important and crucial. And so, you’re saying that even just starting with that conversation and saying that this does, there is a difference in experience to begin?


JULIA: To acknowledge it. And, of course, there are many others. I could go on and on about the things that we found. It is amazing how things vary from country to country. And when we just asked respondents what identity is salient when you think about their ethnicity, the response that we got around race, for example, varied really widely from country to country. 


In India, the one reason we didn’t feature race, we focused on caste and religion, is because only 22% of professionals in India say race is part of how they define their ethnicity. It’s only one in five. Whereas, in South Africa, it’s three and five who say race is part of how I define my ethnicity.


MELINDA: Yeah, it’s very interesting. That even in the UK, people were reluctant to discuss race as well, which we have found in different countries around the world that there is also, interestingly, the more White-majority countries are, the less likely they are to want to talk about race which is interesting. 


And so, there’s a perception issue there, I think, as well. That there isn’t a problem, because there are more people around like you or like me. Are there any other surprises you want to share about what you found either on this report or the other pieces that you have recently released over the last couple of years?


JULIA: Yeah. One of the things that we’ve been looking into more is parenting. That’s kind of in our roots as an organization. We were started by an economist who looked a lot at Family Policy, and then we stepped away from it for a few years. But we brought it back as a theme. Of course, during the pandemic, it’s been so important in people’s lives. 


Parenting is an incredible challenge and really hard to balance with work. So, we wanted to look at it in our belonging study. And so, this was two years ago. First, we looked at belonging, which is really all about how you feel a part of a community. And whereas equity is more about the actual sort of nuts and bolts rules and processes that companies put in place to treat people fairly. 


With belonging, we wanted to understand who felt like an insider or an outsider and why. We looked at parenthood in a couple of ways. One way was to look at who was actually doing the work of parenting and caregiving of children between women and men. And then, we also wanted to understand what their sense of belonging was, whether they were parents or not. 


And so what we found with women and men was not surprising. We found that women are doing more of the work of parenting than men. We did find that men are contributing more under the pandemic than they were pre-pandemic. So that’s interesting and also kind of to be expected. But what we were surprised by was we were measuring people’s sense of belonging on a zero to the 10-point scale, and we found that those who were parents actually had higher belonging scores than those who were not parents.


At first, this really surprised me. And then, upon reflection and conversation with a lot of experts, it made more sense. So, I am a parent now of a 14-month-old, so I’m a later parent. For much of my working life, I’ve experienced as a non-parent. There is something about building bonds, parent to parent, that is just different in our society and in the workplace. 


Once you ask people about their kids and start to share stories about how you’re raising your kids, how you’re making decisions, and even what brand of diapers you’re using, there’s a whole world that people can enter as a point of commonality that non-parents don’t have the same access to. And so, I think it makes sense that belonging scores for parents were higher. It’s a way to kind of enter into people’s more intimate lives if you’re able to connect on parenting. That was a surprise.


MELINDA: Yeah, very interesting. Yeah. I will say I also was struck by a couple of things, but one in particular, random visualization of that feeling of being invisible at work, which, definitely, you’ve seen research showing that Black women often feel invisibilized. And then also, what you shared in your research is that depending on your castes, in India in particular, the invisibilization can be very high or not very high. It’s very interesting. Do you want to share a little bit about invisiblization and what’s behind that question of invisible at work?


JULIA: Absolutely. It connects to our belonging work, too. We talk about belonging as being seen, supported, connected, and proud. And being seen by those around you is really important to knowing you are part of a community, have a future in a community, have your accomplishments recognized, and your contributions recognized by others. 


You mentioned Black women, for example. There is a long history of research, including ours, that looks at how Black women’s contributions are overlooked, and their experience is discounted. They’re asked to prove themselves over and over again. So, it’s not just that they physically are invisible, although that also happens in meetings. But that their worth isn’t seen by others. 


So, with caste, you know, so that’s some of what’s underneath that feeling of Invisibility is not being recognized, even if you’re sort of physically present that your whole self isn’t necessarily seen, which leads to stunted growth and advancement in one’s career, getting less feedback, getting fewer stretch opportunities, and being something else that we have documented for those of lower castes or unscheduled castes who are not Hindu, for example, is being excluded from meetings. 


People often don’t talk about caste, but there are signals that might show that they might be from a different caste, such as last name or religion. This is something else that we see with employees with disabilities. This comes up a lot with employees with disabilities who may be excluded from meetings. If they have a physical disability, they’re more likely to experience people not looking them in the eye and things like that.


MELINDA: And then the other piece, which I think you’re increasingly going into more, is intersectionality. We measure race. We measure ethnicity. We measure gender, but it is the intersections as well that are really, really important. 


A few things that stood out for me are we talked about colorism, and in particular, we talked about colorism as it relates to Black people. And also, when you look across LatinX folks, that also comes into play, whether somebody who has a light, medium, or dark skin makes a big difference in whether or not their fueled performance views reflect fairness, for example. 


So, colorism was something that stood out for me that is doubly intersectional. Right. And then also, Black professionals from lower-class backgrounds are more than one and a half times as likely as those from higher class backgrounds to say their pay is lower than that of their peers. That also struck me. We don’t often think about classes. We talk about it, but not we don’t really look at the data around that. 


And then, of course, when you look at Black women, Latinx women, indigenous women, pay equity, of course, is lowered as well. One of the things I think you were really intentional about is being Black in corporate America. It’s that intersectionality. Can you share how you explore intersectionality? What are some of the findings that have really resonated or stood out for you?


JULIA: Sure. Yeah. Intersectionality is one of those concepts that was pioneered by Kimberlé Crenshaw of Columbia University. She has a legal background. What she really found was that when it came to discrimination, Black women were experiencing different and deeper discrimination than White women or Black men. 


And so, she spoke at actually one of our events around the being Black in corporate America research. And one of the things that she keeps redefining for us in the space is that intersectionality isn’t just about holding to outsider identities. It’s about how the intersection of those identities leads to a different experience from if you’ve just held one or the other and the penalty of that different experience. Which, you know, she’s made very clear when it comes to Black women, and we’ve documented too, so we try to hold that as we do our intersectional research. 


It can be so easy to sort of slip into the territory of saying, “Oh, well, they’re women with disability. So that means they’re having an intersectional experience.” You actually kind of have to dig through and say, “Okay, what is different for them because they hold and carry these two identities?” 


For Black women, specifically, something that we’ve seen is when we did a piece of research on women in STEM, which actually you and I talked about early days, you helped us think about some of the themes for that work. We were very specifically looking at company programs because companies were putting in place and still are all kinds of targeted programs to support women in STEM roles. 


And so, we were trying to understand what’s most impactful when it comes to sort of retaining and advancing women in STEM. We looked at women, White women, Asian women, Latinx women, and Black women. We had a really interesting finding around employee resource groups in that study because we found that employee resource groups gave a huge boost to women’s retention and advancement overall, especially for White women. But Black women specifically, it may not be a lick difference. No difference in their likelihood. 


If their company had a women’s ERG, there would be no difference in their likelihood to stay or advance. And the reason for that is when we again, what we do is we get the data, and then we go out and talk to a bunch of people if we have a surprising finding. What we heard was Black women said, “ERGs don’t help me. They’re built for White women. They’re built for Black men. I fall through the cracks. I don’t see myself in those communities. I don’t get community support. I don’t get the leadership development support. My unique experience is not being supported. 


And so, that was a really interesting finding for us as we were applying this more intersectional lens. And something else that we picked up on and has picked up on over the years, as you indicated for Latinx employees, is around colorism and around White-passing. Because whether they intend to or not, many Latinx employees who present as White are treated differently by their peers and are treated as though they’re White by their peers. And so, their name may not indicate their ethnicity, and their skin may not indicate their ethnicity. 


In our recent study on equity, the big finding there was they are more likely to say, “Yeah, my manager evaluates me fairly.” Whereas those Latinx professionals with darker skin, who are more sort of visibly Latino, are experiencing a performance evaluation that is not as fair.


MELINDA: Yeah. And then at the intersection of race and ethnicity, too, where there are Black Latinos/Latinas, Latinx folks, as well. We addressed belonging a bit, and maybe you could address a little bit the intersection of belonging and equity. The work to fit in comes at several different times within your research around equity. So, how do belonging and equity kind of interrelate here?


JULIA: I mean, this is the thing about our space is so many of the different things that we’re working on diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging interrelate and are overlapping. And I think that’s true of any change movement out there. These things can be separate. They can be reinforcing. 


When you think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is on par with love, right? So we have our basics. We have to be fed. We have to have shelter. And then, we have to have this sense of human connection and acceptance and belonging. And so that’s really what the belonging at work practice is rooted in. It’s rooted in what is our core need as humans that some of us in a white supremacist society have closer access to than others. 


And so, it’s connected to inequity because that closer access point is about equity and inequity, right? So there isn’t an equitable distribution of belonging, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. But in terms of the practice within our field, what we see is belonging is more about culture and movement building because all of us need belonging. And so, it’s a concept that can translate for White people and White men, specifically, a little bit easier than some of the other concepts. 


They can think, “What was the time I was excluded, or I was othered, whether I was traveling or not picked for a team? And that is by no means equivalent to the experience of being Black in America, for example, but it might be like, a tiny little gateway to empathy for me. So, that’s really the practice of belonging is building a movement, building empathy, sort of tapping into everyone’s need to belong in the knowledge that everyone needs to belong. 


The equity work is really about, “Okay, let’s unpack the systemic racism that’s built into our company and how we can adjust for it.” People are described differently in performance evaluations. Women are most more likely to be described based on their sort of emotions. Men are more likely to be described based on their core skills, for example. 


How can we correct for that or literally look at how people are paid and adjust and make sure that we’re paying people with equivalent skills and who are contributing equivalently the same amount? It’s much more kind of process-heavy when you’re thinking about equity work and the cultural piece of belonging.


MELINDA: Yeah, that makes sense. I want to get to solutions a bit. You shared some already earlier just in terms of like, acknowledge where you are, identify who is even marginalized. And then go to the data. Look at the data. And then collaborate on solutions, essentially. Right? 


Maybe we could talk a bit about there’s a lot of folks who are listening who are managers, who are leading teams, what are things that they can do to address belonging, but also to get at the equity, to get at the systemic issues that need to be solved, the inequities so that we can have more equitable workplaces?


JULIA: Yeah. There are a couple of ideas. Our second report in the belonging series actually focused on the day-to-day interactions with managers and colleagues because we know that that shapes what’s in your performance evaluation, whether you get the work assignment that will set you up to be seen as a top performer, for example. 


And what we found, and we didn’t even intend, this wasn’t even our hypothesis. We had a really long list of ways an individual’s manager could treat them. And then, we tested what manager behaviors lined up with perceptions of fairness on teams from employees. We found that in inclusive leadership, which we’ve been talking about for so many years, the same behaviors that make an inclusive leader correlate to perceptions of employee fairness on teams. 


If you’re driving inclusion, you’re also driving equity, which is very efficient. And so, for managers, a lot of this inclusive leadership stuff boils down to a good leadership period. It’s about setting speak-up culture on teams, creating an environment where people feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback, where feedback is specific and actionable. 


And so, as a leader, to be giving feedback in a low-key, timely, specific manner to your team members so that it becomes normalized to be asking for feedback, to be also sort of saying, “Can giving away credit for ideas to be empowering people to bring new ideas to make sure every voice around the table is heard. And if they’re not comfortable speaking up in a group setting, getting ideas outside of the meeting.” 


Those are the kinds of things that promote fairness, produce great ideas, and cool down a sense of bias on teams. We have lots of research that was just one sentence, but we have lots of research to back that statement up.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve been at Coqual doing this work for nearly a decade. In that time, what has changed? What is continuing to change when it comes to equity in the workplace in particular? What do you see?


JULIA: Well, I can’t believe it’s been a decade. That made me feel really old. 


MELINDA: Sorry. The first time we ever talked to each other was about that. 


JULIA: That’s right. We both look exactly the same or better. 


MELINDA: But we’re smarter.


JULIA: Exactly, we’re wise. So, what has changed? Honestly, people weren’t talking about equity when I started. It was DNI. It was diversity and inclusion. Inclusion was people were talking about cutting through groupthink. People were making the business case over and over and over again. And for those who are team leaders who are less comfortable or familiar with the space, the business case is proving to companies that are actually drawing on talent from all corners of society is better than limiting your will to, you know, just as a smaller sliver of society. 


So an argument that you know, making the business case is arguing over and over again that it’s worthwhile to have a diverse employee base. We still have to make that argument sometimes, but it’s there and established, and we can draw on it. So, it is a bit of a relief not to continue to have to do that over and over again and say, “Okay, we can draw on our body of knowledge if we need to go there.” 


I think that in 2019 when we published Being Black In Corporate America, we made an enormous splash by saying we saw systemic racism at companies. That was, to us, we dug deep, took a deep breath, and made that statement. And then, seven months later, everyone was saying it. It was kind of like an accepted fact. And that’s been remarkable to watch and be a part of that sea change. 


One can argue we might be losing momentum. We need to keep the pressure up. That is true. That’s what I go back to when I get discouraged in this work is that quick, quick sort of education that many people underwent in a very short period of time. Now, we need to turn it into measurable progress. But the nuance that we can have in these conversations and the acceptance of some facts in this conversation is really energizing.


MELINDA: Yeah, I agree with you. And, of course, there is a lot of work to do to keep moving forward. And to keep that momentum as you say.


JULIA: Well, and you look at the news and the end. That’s when it becomes hard because you see behavior and actions that you just can’t imagine the depth of the racism and the hatred that still exists in our society.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. All of this is about kind of learning and then understanding and building empathy for each other, understanding how to create equity, and then taking action on that. So, what action would you like people to take coming away from this conversation today?


JULIA: I think it depends where you sit at work. We just ended up talking to managers. Are you a manager? Step back and think about what’s the composition of your team? Do you want to change it? When’s the last time you asked for feedback? Right? Do you hear all voices around the room? Really think about the inclusive behaviors I went through and what you’re doing well on, and what you think you could work on. 


If you’re a diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner, think about the resources that are being directed towards hiring versus those other processes we talked about. Performance evaluations, promotions, and pay. And while you might not have direct control over those things, most DNI folks are tasked with advocating and steering the ship. 


And so, think about building the relationships you might need to build in order to reallocate some of those resources in order to kind of peel back the cover and even be tracking across both gender and race as well as other marginalized identities. But starting with gender and race, people’s access to opportunities and how they’re being evaluated and how they’re being whether they’re being promoted equivalently across those different identities. 


MELINDA: Excellent. The last question is, where can people learn more? If they want to go deeper if they want to learn more about this work, where do they go?


JULIA: Well, start with our website. It’s Coqual.org. But the great news is today, there’s a proliferation of resources. I think some of the places I go first are HBr. It has wonderful, quick pieces to get smart on this. Of course, listen to Melinda’s podcast every single time.


MELINDA: Of course. Of course. Okay. Thank you.


JULIA: There are three places to start. Yeah.


MELINDA: Excellent. Excellent. Well, thank you, Julia. Thank you for having this conversation and for creating the research that really is. I do believe what you said earlier that it is helping drive change forward. So, I appreciate all the work that you do.


JULIA: Thank you, I so appreciate the work you’re doing too with allyship, and it’s just such a pleasure to reconnect with you. Thank you for having me.


MELINDA: Absolutely. My pleasure. All right, everyone. Make sure that you do take action and stay tuned next week. 


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 & 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.

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.

In The Press

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.


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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