In Episode 71, Minda Harts, Speaker & Author at Memo LLC, joins us to discuss the trauma that women of color experience in the workplace, the role allies can play in the healing process, and how managers can reduce workplace trauma.
- Read Minda’s book Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace.
- Read Minda’s book The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.
- Learn more about Minda and her work.
- Read more information on How to cope with traumatic stress.
- Find out more about Melinda’s book How to Be an Ally.
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “The first step to healing is acknowledging that we have been harmed.”
- “I was so excited to be the first person in my family to go into a corporate role. I didn’t always know what I didn’t know, and I was greeted with a lot of those biases, micro/macroaggressions, inequalities that no one had prepared me for. I did not expect a lot of the things I experienced in the workplace but I started to settle into them.”
- “I needed to have courageous conversations with people. I needed to let people know what good looked like to me. I had to give myself permission to say, ‘Okay, maybe they didn’t mean harm, maybe they didn’t know what they said is wrong, but now we need to let them know that this wasn’t ok.’”
- “Do something. So, the next time you see an inequity, an inequality taking place, you don’t have to save the day, but you have to do something.”
- “We all have biases, every single one of us. But first, are we willing to do the work to acknowledge it, are we willing to have the courageous conversations?”
Speaker & Author at The Memo LLC
Minda Harts is the CEO of The Memo LLC and an award-winning and best-selling author of The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table and Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace.
Minda is a Professor at NYU Wagner and hosts a live weekly podcast called Secure The Seat. In 2020, Minda was named the #1 Top Voice for Equity in the workplace by Linkedin.
She is an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar and has been featured on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Fast Company, The NY Times, and Time Magazine. Minda frequently speaks at companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Nike, and Bloomberg on topics such as Managing Diverse Teams, Courageous Leadership, and Advancing women of color in the workplace.
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.
Alright, let’s dive in.
MELINDA: Welcome, everyone. Today we are talking with Minda Harts, who is a speaker and author. She’s the CEO at The Memo LLC and a professor at NYU Wagner. We’ll be discussing how to heal from racial trauma in the workplace. The work I do focuses mostly on stopping harm and preventing harm in the workplace by addressing biases, interrupting microaggressions, creating systemic change that eliminates inequity, and building allyship and advocacy.
The other really important, really necessary work of this is healing from the harm that is created in workplaces. And so, Minda has just released a beautiful second book about this. Please check out both her first book, which is The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at The Table and her new book Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in The Workplace. They’re intimately connected, as Minda writes in her book.
If you have spent any time in the workplace as a woman of color, then healing will be required if you want to secure a seat at the table. This episode is for women of color and allies because all of us need to understand and be a part of the process of healing from racial trauma. So, hi! Minda, welcome.
MINDA: Hi, Melinda. Happy to be here with you. Thanks for having me.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. So, Minda, will you tell us a bit about your story, where you grew up, and how you came to do the work you do?
MINDA: Yeah. Melinda, thank you. Sometimes I wake up, and I’m like, “How did I get here?”
MINDA: Did you ever have that moment? You’re like, how did this happen?
MELINDA: Yes! Yes. Often. Too often.
MINDA: I’m one of three children, the oldest. I’m a first-generation college student. I thought that my path would be to just go to college, get a good job, do my best work, and retire with a gold watch and a little money in the bank. That was the plan.
What I realized was, when I entered into corporate America, I was always the only one. The only Black woman, the only woman of color, and sometimes the only woman in the room. I was so excited to be the first person in my family to go into a corporate role. I didn’t always know what I didn’t know. Right? I was greeted with a lot of those biases, micro or macro aggressions, any qualities that no one had prepared me for. I did not expect a lot of the things I experienced in the workplace, but I started to settle into them.
I thought this must just be how it is for Black women in the workplace. Everyone I know who ever worked in the workplace as a Black woman has experienced any quality, and so just add me to the list. Right? And so, I thought that this was just what I had to deal with. What I realized was that equity, dignity, respect—that should be given to every employee. It shouldn’t be just for the dominant culture or just for someone who identifies this way.
After about 13 years of my career, I realized that a change needed to be made, and I realized that I had the power to make that change. I was waiting on other people to change the system, but I realized that I had the power to do that. It really started from the point of pain, saying, “I wonder if others are experiencing the same things that I’m experiencing.” and “I want to make the workplace better than I found it for women who look like me and our managers who manage us.”
And so, I set out on this work to really highlight the experiences of Black and Brown women in the workplace. Through my company, The Memo, then my book, and then my second book that’s out right now right within when you experience all those traumas, they really require some healing.
MELINDA: Yeah, no kidding. Nobody teaches how to heal from racial trauma in the workplace when you’re going to school in the beginning. And so, super important the work you’re doing. Can you talk about what it feels like to be right within? What’s that feeling?
MINDA: It’s a journey, I’ll say. I know that in many circles, people will say, “Oh, healing, healing, healing.” It’s very much a buzzword right now, but it takes a lot of work and a lot of courage to heal. One definition of courage is the ability to do something that frightens one. And if you never knew that you could heal, you don’t know that it’s possible. If you’ve never seen anybody in your life who has a little healing in their bones or has created boundaries in their workspace or in their life, then you don’t know what’s possible.
And so, I often say that healing is not a one-time event. It’s a lifestyle. I spent 15 years in corporate America. I can’t heal overnight by clicking my feet together. It takes a lot of intentionalities but what I realized is if I talk about what my journey was like like I did in Right Within, I’m still on it, but I love myself enough to say I’m going to create the right boundaries so that I know that this is the type of behavior that I have to endure. That I can find spaces where they celebrate me, not tolerate me. I can find spaces where I’m paid equitably.
I think just reminding ourselves that we do deserve that. That’s what healing looks like—first acknowledging that you have been harmed. And I think as women, regardless of racial trauma, sexism, ageism, or homophobia, we all experience some type of trauma in the workplace but so many times people have dismissed our experiences that we start to believe that too. “Well, maybe that didn’t happen.” And so, the first step to healing is acknowledging that we have been harmed.
MELINDA: Yeah. And the other piece that you talked about in the book, too, is the normalization and acceptance almost that that is what it is. That is the way it’s going to be in the workplace. I encountered so many people in the workplace, too, in my life when I was trying to create change from within workplaces. “Just deal with it.” “Just suck it up.” “That’s the way it is.” Yeah.
So, we have talked on Leading With Empathy & Allyship about trauma that people with underrepresented identities, people who have systemically marginalized experience. So, people who are listening or watching will be somewhat familiar with it. We’ve talked about microaggressions. We’ve talked about systemic exclusion in different ways. Can you give us some examples to really ground us in what women of color experience in particular? What is the trauma that we’re talking about? What does that look like?
MINDA: Yeah, that’s a great question. And again, I just appreciate the work that you do, Melinda, in highlighting this because for so long, we have normalized it that we just accept that this is the way the workplace works. Deal with it. And it’s like, well, why? Why does it work that way? I think it’s important to no longer feel like we’re silenced.
A lot of the book that I talk about is essentially freedom, freedom to express ourselves, freedom to tell the truth, tell our truths the way we are experiencing it. Oftentimes, a lot of people in the dominant culture tend to say that that isn’t racism or that it isn’t sexism or whatever we’re experiencing. The first thing that I want to acknowledge is how unfortunate that someone would have so much privilege to tell somebody else what they’re experiencing isn’t that. Right?
If you’re in that situation, for example, making it more humanized to the experience. When I was in corporate America, I had a manager who noticed that I had a burnt orange fingernail polish on, and he made a comment, “you people love your bright colors,” and he joked around for 15 minutes about how Black people like bright colors.
Now, someone might say that he’s not racist, and that might be true, but the impact of that on a 23-year-old Black woman in the workplace being the only one there, that impacted how I saw myself. I never wore burnt orange fingernail polish ever again in the office because I was acutely aware of what he was really saying. He was trying to “other” me. He was trying to ostracise me. And yes, he might have just been playing around, but the impact of that started to seep into my mind. And Melinda, I didn’t want to be too Black or too anything because I felt like that wasn’t accepted in my environment.
So, when people say, bring your authentic pieces of yourself to work, what they’re really saying is bring the most authentic pieces that we are comfortable with. And so, the trauma that I carried from that day, and he would go on to say other things like that each and every day, but I started to internalize that trauma, right? I started to see myself through the eyes of everyone else. And so, I was always in this box. I was always walking on eggshells.
And if you walk on eggshells in any type of relationship, be it a professional or intimate relationship or platonic, eventually, the best pieces of yourself start to diminish, and your mental health starts to deteriorate because you’re always wondering and questioning, is this racial? Or is this sexist? Or, is this this? And you can never do your best work because you’re constantly in a state of paranoia. And so, I think it’s important for people to understand that that might not be your experience, but someone you work with might experience that feeling each and every day.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah. Those are stereotype threats. That feeling that you might play into a stereotype that people have about you is covering workload switching, right? Covering PSVR identity, code-switching, and all that takes extra work and extra effort too on top of it. And, of course, you’re not able to show up and be your best self if you’re not able to show up and be your best self and feel safe doing so. Right? Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’m sorry that you had those experiences.
MINDA: Well, I appreciate you saying that. I just again appreciate us being able to talk about these things out loud because some of our colleagues might say, “Oh, well, she’s always smiling.” Right? Or they’re always smiling. That can’t possibly. She’s performing at a high level. But these things do affect us. You may not be able to see, just like sometimes we talk about certain invisible things that others cannot see. You might not be able to see that this is affecting me, but it is affecting my mental health.
And again, many of us can go and do our best work and never be exposed to that. And then others will experience that every single moment of their workday. And that’s not even part of the job description. Right? So, I think it’s important to be able to say, you know, let us be aware. It’s not about saying somebody’s racist or this. It’s saying, how do we get to the point where we create this safe space so that everybody can do the best work of their career?
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to talk about some of the impacts of this. We’re getting there. We have had episodes where we talked about intergenerational trauma to the long-term effects of this on long-term biological effects/career effects. You talked about that in your book, too. Maybe we could talk a little bit about how that impacts your career over time.
MINDA: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll put myself back in the situation. I was in a very toxic workplace for many years. And eventually, I was the one that had to leave the dream job. It was a job I’d worked very hard to secure. I was making really great money. I was doing well in my job function, but because it was so racialized, it started to impede upon my mental health. I started to get depressed, anxiety, and panic attacks.
I realized that I could no longer stay in this environment if I wanted to continue being my best self or figuring out what that looked like. I thought that maybe I could change the environment, but I realized that I couldn’t do it alone, right? Some environments are not going to change, especially if you don’t have other change agents to help you. It’s very hard to change the systems, and so I had to leave, right? And the people causing the trauma, they got to stay and continue on creating the harm. That really does a lot to your psyche, knowing that you’ve worked so hard.
I think about myself going from the first person in my family to graduate from college to help my family go from low income to middle class, upper-middle-class, and then to have all of that stripped away because of the color of my skin, right? Nothing that I did wrong. It wasn’t a job performance issue. It was the system, right?
And so think about how many Black and Brown women or women of color or people of color or LGBTQ or those with disabilities end up having to leave their dreams for bad characters. Right? And what if we normalize that it’s not that the people being harmed don’t belong in that space, but the people causing the harm. This isn’t a space they belong in, right? They need to find a place where they can’t be harmed, and it’s okay.
MELINDA: Or cure themselves of the harm.
MINDA: Right. But if they don’t get there, then we want them to find some other place to go, right.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yes.
MINDA: As a company establishing and normalizing that, no. We don’t want that type of behavior here. We don’t subscribe to opting into equity. Equity is mandatory. Right? So, that’s what I am hopeful that this conversation will spark inside of people to think, okay, how do we weed out bad behavior. Right? Because when we weed out bad behavior, then that creates a more safe space for everyone. And so, if racism exists, then sexism exists. Then, other -isms exist. Right? It’s not a one-issue thing that I think a lot of people try to box it into.
MELINDA: Yeah. I think that the intersectional -isms is also a big piece of all of this. I have talked in the past about my own experience. I had a dream job too. I was an executive, and I was the only woman on a leadership team of 19. I left because of the trauma I experienced as a woman, as an outsider. And so, on top of that, Black women, indigenous women, women of color, people of color experience that additional racialized trauma.
You talk about it in your book. Mourning a career deferred that really impacts our careers in so many different ways. I mean, here you and I, as a result of all of that, there’s beauty in everything. You can find beauty in everything that we are now working to change that and with our careers, and that is powerful, too.
MINDA: We are role modeling what’s possible after. Right? Once we have healing take place, but I’m sure you would probably even say too. When we were in those situations, we never maybe saw ourselves where we were sitting tonight.
MELINDA: Oh, now. Probably not. Definitely not.
MINDA: If somebody would have told me in the pit of my trauma where I’m crying in my car, you know, like, I don’t know what to do next. If they would have told me, “Well, just in a few years, things may look a little bit different than this.” But it’s the reason I believe the work that we do is so important because we want to make the workplace better. We don’t want people to experience these traumas. We don’t want dreams deferred, right.
One of the things that I realized was I had to mourn that career. It was a loss. But I think as women, sometimes we just sweep things under the rug, and we just keep moving forward, right? We never get a chance to process that. And that’s something that I had to go back and do in my quiet time, on my healing journey, to mourn it because I used to just say, “Oh, it’s fine.” Right? Moving on. Finding something else. But I didn’t realize how much damage it had done to my confidence, to my self-esteem, those sorts of things. And wondering what I did wrong when it was nothing that I did wrong. It was the system again.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I personally am still going through some of that mourning, and still, it comes back, and it gets triggered from time to time, too. One of the things that you wrote is with each racialized experience, it was like salt being poured on reopened wounds, and there’s no bandaid big enough to heal the pain. You talk about coping mechanisms. What are some of those coping mechanisms at the individual level that you used when experiencing trauma?
MINDA: Yeah, you mentioned the word triggers. I think that when we’re going through this journey of understanding what our triggers are, and because I wasn’t as attuned with myself to understand that there were some patterns taking place inside of some of the workplaces I was in. And so, for example, one of my trigger areas, I would get a lot of it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would have a lot of anxiety around team meetings. And when I pulled and kind of backfilled the onion a bit, I realized that some of my most traumatic experiences were happening inside of team meetings, where people would say certain things, my manager would not address it, I’m waiting on somebody else to show up as an ally.
I’m thinking, isn’t everybody outraged like I am just hearing someone say this? And I realized that was a trigger area for me. I started to think about what is it that I need to do. What’s within my control to be able to let maybe the person who’s causing the trauma or my manager know this is what I need to be supported so that XYZ doesn’t continue happening, because I have to go to these team meetings, but I can’t be experiencing them in this way, where it isn’t affecting me negatively.
And so, once you kind of understand where your triggers are, or you realize that every time you engage with this person on your team, you always feel this way at the end of it. So, what conversations need to be had? I realized that a lot of this for me was that I needed to have courageous conversations with people. I needed to let people know what good looks like to me. I had to give myself permission to say, okay, maybe they didn’t mean harm. Maybe they didn’t know what they said was wrong, but now I need to let them know that this wasn’t okay. This is how it landed on me.
And once I started to realize that I could normalize those types of conversations, that I didn’t have to be concerned about how somebody else was receiving what I was saying because this was my experience, right? But that takes time to get to because I didn’t think I could say those things or should without any backlash or what have you. But I realized that I want to be able to normalize these types of conversations so that the next person that joins me at the table or the next woman of color that comes doesn’t have to inherit the same type of issues. So, I wasn’t just doing it for me. I’m doing it for others, but I think it’s important for us to understand what those trigger areas are because then we can solve for them. Right? We don’t just have to accept them.
And so in the book, I do talk about different frameworks that we can work through. You might want to address it now. You might want to address it later. And you might want to address it never, but first to ourselves, what does good look like? And I think asking ourselves that question. And also too, the last thing that I’ll say is every room you deserve to be in, but not every room deserves to have you. And I had to come to terms with that in my own right. Trying to force myself in a room that was never going to treat me with dignity and respect no matter how well I performed. And at some point, I had to say, okay, well, why am I staying here? Why am I doing this? Because this is not adding to my healing. This is creating more trauma.
Or if I can’t leave right now, what can I get out of this? How can I make it work for me? I am no longer worried about how it’s working for those causing the problem. Reframing the situation and taking back our power is one area that we can cope with. Right? Because I do believe you can still heal and find your healing even in a toxic environment with boundaries.
MELINDA: Can you give an example? Because I think so many people are still in that fear of making that other person uncomfortable or putting your own job in jeopardy when you have a hard conversation, a candid conversation with someone about what’s happening? Can you give an example of how somebody might do that?
MINDA: It’s tough. I’ll go back to the definition of courage that I used earlier. Doing something that frightens one, right? If you’re not used to having certain conversations, then it feels like you’re climbing Mount Everest, right? I’m watching those people. I very much do not like conflict of any sort, but what I realize is how do I have “courageous conversations” and have them in a way where I’m humanizing my experience?
I’m centering myself because what I found in the majority of my career was that I was centering everybody else. I was more concerned with everybody else’s feelings but my own. I suffered at the expense of my own well-being because let’s be honest. We’ve all worked with people who will raise heck if the coffee pot doesn’t have coffee in it after the last person drink it, there’s no more printer paper. They will send emails out. They’ll cc everybody. They make a big deal of it.
Now, why can’t I have a conversation about something more, in my opinion, damaging to the work environment and wondering if somebody is going to call me angry or feisty or docile. Right? But creating boundaries. And again, it’s normalizing, so the more that we normalize these conversations, and people can say what they want, but at least they know where you stand.
I talked about one framework called the racial mosaic framework in Right Within, and I talked about drawing the line, letting people know where your boundary is, right? If they don’t receive what you said, as long as you say what you mean without saying it mean, then they can’t say that you’re angry or feisty. They can say it, but that’s not who you are. Right?
And so, I realized that I could show up for myself. I don’t have to wait for an ally to show up for me. It would be great if they did, but I can also have the conversation. And the last thing I’ll say is when you’re having that conversation rooted in the fact that you are in your truth, so for example, in the example that I gave with my manager saying that you know, you people love bright colors. If I had to jump in my DeLorean and go back to the future and have that conversation with him at that moment, I might have said something to the effect of, “You know, John, I realized that you were just having fun when you said that, but I wanted to let you know that that really bothered me when you said it. And I would just appreciate it if you wouldn’t say comments about color because that’s a little sensitive. I know that’s not what you meant, but I just don’t want to engage in that way anymore. Would that be okay?” Or something along that lines, right? Even if I’m scared to say it, putting it out there.
And then he could say something like, “Well, I didn’t mean any harm.” I know that you didn’t, but it still made me feel uncomfortable. I know that wasn’t your intent, so that’s why I’m telling you, right? I knew that you would understand. And then walk away from this situation. Then, here’s the thing. The thing that we tend to do is we have those conversations when we do, and then we go back to our desk or go back to our couch, and then we ruminate on it. I wonder what he’s thinking. I wonder what they’re thinking about what I’ve said. This is where you just have to kind of divorce yourself from that because you’ve drawn your line, right? And it’s up to them to be emotionally intelligent to say, “You know what, thank you for telling me that. That wasn’t my intent. Now I know.” Right?
And so, we hope that those on the other end will be just as courageous that I’m not telling you to hurt your feelings, but I’m telling you so that you’re aware of it. And that’s a gift, in my opinion, but I know a lot of us are not emotionally intelligent enough to receive it as a gift.
MELINDA: Yeah. Or, you know, I have noticed that sometimes people will change right away. Sometimes it will take it in and kind of realize it right away. Sometimes it’s a month later. Sometimes it’s years later until people really understand. And maybe it’s multiple people telling them over time before they get it. Yeah. And so, maybe not being too attached to the outcome in that moment too is important, because otherwise, again, we start ruminating, and that takes away our power and our ability to innovate, our ability to be creative in our workplace.
MINDA: All of that. I totally agree because part of this, again, is what can we solve? That particular person may never stop saying those sorts of things. I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what that man is doing, but I’m certain that he’s probably still talking that way. Right? But because oftentimes, nobody’s ever held them accountable. And even if we’re the only ones holding people accountable, at least they know what good looks like to us. And I often think about those situations where I wish that I would have said something because maybe that person wouldn’t have gone on to harm somebody else. Right?
And again, when I think about do I want to say it or not, I think about who could this potentially benefit? Could someone be a beneficiary of this courageous conversation? Right? So, maybe it’s about me in the moment, but it’s actually about the people who come behind me so that they aren’t getting harmed. And I realize again, this is difficult, but what you can do is what you can control. You said what you said, and you can document it afterward. Like on, you know, January 30th, I told Tom. If you ever needed to revisit those. Well, actually, I did have a conversation with him, and nothing happened after that. Right? And then, I had it again.
And all of this is good for you because nobody could ever say, well, I didn’t know that that offended Minda, which oftentimes, people who are harming will say, you never told me. Okay, well, I probably did tell you in some way, shape, or form about this thing, but actually, I did have a conversation with you, and I think if we just start to normalize these types of conversations, then they become the norm in the workplace.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. We’ve hinted at allyship. In The Memo, you have a whole chapter on allyship. How do allies play a role? We don’t talk very often about how do allies play a role in the healing process and that side of things.
MINDA: Yeah. Well, you know, I hope everyone has bought your book because that is a place where you’re going to get your blueprint. But what I will say is, I think a lot of us see ourselves as allies. We definitely see ourselves that way. We want to believe that we are an ally, but the question that I posed to those watching us today is, when was the last time you’ve demonstrated allyship? When was the last time someone’s benefited from you being an ally? Right? And if that is a question that you can’t answer, then I would start to think about how can people be a beneficiary of your allyship?
I often think about the times that I’ve experienced racial trauma in the workplace, and if I just had one person that showed up, right? So recently, I had a woman reach out to me a few months ago, and she was on a virtual all-staff meeting. She’s a Black executive. She’s the only Black woman on the leadership team. There were hundreds of people on the Zoom call. She hadn’t been to a salon to get her hair professionally done, so she had been wearing her hair in a protective style. I’m guessing twist or braid something to that effect.
When she returned the following weekend, so the Monday meeting, her CEO stopped the call and said so and so. “I see you finally got your hair done.” which her hair had always been done. Right? And so, I give that example because two things could have happened where allyship could have been the thing here. She reached out to me maybe a couple of months after it happened because she was still ruminating on it. The trauma that she now feels every time she gets on to an all-staff meeting. She feels that. That’s real because she’s wondering if somebody’s going to say something thing about her hair that has nothing to do with the business agenda. And no one from her organization, hundreds of employees, no one reached out to her after that happened and checked in with her, showed up for her.
There are a couple of ways that could have happened. An ally could have been active by reaching out to her and saying, “Hey, I just want to check in with you what the CEO said. I just want to let you know that was not appropriate. How are you feeling?” right? At best, let’s humanize her experience. Right? Number two, an ally could have maybe had a conversation. I realize the power dynamics with the CEO but could have reached out to them and said, “I know you were just giving Minda compliments on the call. But think about how, as a Black woman, how that might have landed on her. I just want to make you aware that that’s a very sensitive subject and probably not appropriate for an all-staff meeting.” Making that person aware, right. And then lastly, for those who really want to climb the allyship ladder, going to HR and saying, “I noticed that this was said in the last all-staff meeting. I just wanted to document it.”
How powerful could that be if someone who was observing the behavior goes and makes a concern about that? Right? Again, the intention might not have been harm, but the impact was that. And so, as allies, how can we show up for people? How would you want someone to show up for you? And so again, allyship to me is that active part of the solution. If we have a bunch of allies not doing anything, then maybe we shouldn’t use that word anymore.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. That word is reserved for people who are actually doing the work. Yeah. So, you also talk about managers quite a bit. You even asked managers to take a pledge. Can you talk a little bit about how managers can reduce workplace trauma?
MINDA: Yes, I love this part of it because I know that as managers, we have a lot on our plate. But it’s really important that we’re creating that safe space for everyone on the team. Not just our favorites. Not just the people who remind us of our younger selves, right? We want to make sure that we’re invested in everybody’s success on the team. That means committing to everyday acts of equity. Right? What are we doing to make sure that we’re not saying things like my former manager did? What are we doing if we have a woman of color on our team that you have maybe another protest or death of a person of color? How do you show up for them when those situations have occurred?
I have so many past managers that I’ve heard say, “Oh, I’m not comfortable talking about race.” Well, maybe you shouldn’t be comfortable being a manager anymore. You’re going to have to talk about things that you may not be comfortable with. And again, we can no longer have managers opt-in to equity, but it has to be mandatory. So, what tools are we providing managers so that they are comfortable talking about race, so they are comfortable talking to mothers when certain things arise, or if biases aren’t there? Oh, well, she’s a mother. She can’t do this role. We’re not thinking about her for this promotion. We need people who understand and have competency skills. People often say soft skills, but these are leadership skills.
MELINDA: Leadership skills. Exactly. Exactly.
MINDA: To be able to retain and advance everyone on their team. And so, I realized that when I wrote my first book, The Memo, I reviewed over a hundred women of color, and 70% of them said that they felt like their managers were not invested in their success. And when you look at some of the statistics of women of color advancing to the C-suite, I would definitely say there’s some correlation because I know whenever I was promoted, it was because I had a manager who was invested in my success.
MELINDA: Right. Right! That’s pretty much the case for anybody who’s promoted. Yeah.
MINDA: So, if women of color, in particular, are not having that same success partner in the workplace, then where do we go? And so, I think it’s important for us to make sure that we’re talking about those things. I’m not saying managers aren’t doing the best they can with what they have, but what does better look like in asking everybody to commit to being better managers each and every day. Even when we make a mistake, we’re committed to the equitable process.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah. What is the pledge that you asked managers to take?
MINDA: Yes. It’s kind of a long pledge. I haven’t memorized the whole thing. Forgive me. But one of the things that I do have here that I want to read is that “I will acknowledge that I have biases that I need to understand and reconcile.” And we all have a bias—every single one of us. But first, are we willing to do the work to acknowledge it? Are we willing to have courageous conversations when a team member comes and says, “Hey, you said something about my hair last week. I really don’t like when you mention that in the meetings.” And then you say, “You know what, thank you for telling me. I apologize.” Now, we don’t see that person as hard to work with or any of these other labels. That we’re both into this process. I just think, as managers, it’s so important if we really want to get the best out of our employees, and we have to be invested in their success and building relationships.
The other thing is rebuilding trust. I talked about restorative agreements in the workplace. Oftentimes, for people of color or anyone on the margins, there’s been a lack of trust because there’s been no demonstration of equity. And so, what would it look like to say, you know what, let’s commit to building trust so that people believe when we say that this is an equitable place to work, right? It’s not just this service, but we’re demonstrating that on a daily basis, and when we aren’t demonstrating it, we leave the door open for you to come and talk with us about it in a safe way. And so, I think it’s just important for us to talk about these things out loud because we don’t want to go back to normal. We want better.
MELINDA: Redefine that normal.
MELINDA: Yeah. How did you change as you were writing the book? I mean, I can tell you, when I wrote my book, I had no idea just how much it would unearth in myself, how much that I thought that I had healed, how much that I thought that I had grown. I even brought back my own imposter syndrome and all that stuff. But how did you change and grow as you wrote this book?
MINDA: Well, yeah, that’s a great question. As you know, or anybody who’s written books, or put their selves out there in a certain type of way, there’s a point of vulnerability. I wasn’t sure in The Memo if I was vulnerable, but in Right Within, I was extremely vulnerable. I kind of felt that imposter syndrome about, “Oh, do I want to tell these pieces of my story? Do I want to share these places where I hid from for so long?” I realized that my voice might be tied to someone else’s healing, so I had to tell the stories, and I had to talk about these things.
But I would say that I realized that healing was not a one-time event. Not for me anyway. Maybe someone else might experience that. When I was going to record the audiobook, there was a point that I was recording one of the stories, and I had to tell the engineers, I needed a minute because I felt myself tearing up. I felt like I was reliving that moment all over again. That moment hadn’t affected me in in years, you know, that I didn’t think, but something in that moment, telling that story out loud through my own voice, hit me, and I got really emotional. I needed a moment.
I realized that these things do affect us. And for so long, when you’re pushing so many things under the rug when we don’t allow ourselves that freedom, we don’t get the best of ourselves. And then those who love us don’t get the best versions of ourselves because we’re harmed, we’re hurt. And so, I realized that the healing wasn’t just for me. At first, I thought it was just for me, but I realized that it was a collective thing that we had to do.
MELINDA: Thanks for sharing that. I will say that in our work on allyship, we’ve done some research, and most people learn about the need for allyship through people’s stories. And so, the importance of telling our stories is so key both for healing and also for learning how we can show up better for each other. The combination, I think, is key. Right?
MELINDA: Yeah. So, I just have one more question, which is, at the end of each episode, I ask people to take specific action as a result of what they’ve learned so that allyship and all of this work is about listening and learning and taking action. And so, what action would you like people to take coming away from this conversation?
MINDA: I love that question. I would just ask everyone to do something. The next time you see inequity and equality taking place, you don’t have to save the day, but you have to do something. What is that thing that you’re going to do? And let’s be honest, we’re all going to be exposed to inequalities. We’re all going to see it. We’re all going to have an opportunity to be an ally for somebody. So, when that happens, what are you going to do? And so, I post it in this way: Who are you willing to be courageous for? I hope that you’ll take action of courage the next time that you are in the situation to make it better and someone benefits from it.
MELINDA: Awesome. I love that. Who are you going to be courageous for? Who are you willing to be courageous for? Take that courageous action. Thank you, Minda.
MINDA: Thank you. Thank you for having me. And thank you for the work that you do. I’m just such a fan. So, thank you so much.
MELINDA: I’m such a fan too. And I appreciate all you do to heal us, to support us in creating better workplaces for everybody. And especially for women of color. Yeah, I appreciate all you do.
MINDA: Thank you.
MELINDA: All right, everyone. Do take action. And if you want to learn more about this topic, we’ll add a link of additional resources in our show notes on our website at ally.cc. See you all 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.
I appreciate you listening to our show and taking action as an ally. See you next week.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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