Join Change Catalyst Founder & CEO Melinda Briana Epler interview with Muna Hussaini, Chief of staff to Indeed CTO in conversation about how to navigate parenthood during the pandemic.
We talked about Muna’s own story as an American Muslim of building more inclusive workplaces. the impact of Black Live Matters on her kids and family and the new norm of handling Zoom calls with kids.
- The opportunity to redefine success in this tumultuous time.
- The fact that it is ok not to handle everything.
- The need for companies to walk the talk when they say that their employees are their most important assets.
Listen to Muna’s new podcast, 3 Righteous Mamas on Apple Podcasts.
“We have an opportunity to redefine what success looks like so that the costs that were incurred by the few are now shared collectively and I think if we can redefine what that looks like, we win together.”
“People have to know that if they share something that maybe makes them vulnerable that they have the psychological safety to share and that they won’t be penalized for it and it can be really hard.”
“I have always struggled with is guilt from being away from my kids.”
Chief of Staff to the CTO at Indeed
Muna Hussaini is a mother, techie, and community activist. She currently serves as the Chief of Staff to the CTO at Indeed and has worked in tech for almost 20 years. She is most proud of launching the Recharge program at PayPal, a program designed to help technologists who have taken a career break return to work. As a visible Muslim after 9/11, Muna was the victim of several hate crimes. She now uses her personal time to reclaim the Muslim American narrative and eradicate hate. Muna is one of 3 Righteous Mamas, a podcast at the intersection of motherhood and politics with a vision to build a better future for all of our children. She is a founder of Muslim Space, serves on the board of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, is a member of the City of Austin’s Hate Crimes Taskforce, and has recently joined the advisory board of Path Forward. Muna is married, has a 12 yo daughter and a 4 yo monster. T’Challa, their new covid pet, is a domestic long hair black cat that is getting used to his new kingdom. Muna enjoys hiking, playing volleyball, and finding the best queso around Austin. Last, but not least, Muna attended the University of Texas at Austin and is a proud Longhorn. Hook ’em!
MELINDA EPLER: Welcome to Leading with Empathy & Allyship. I am Melinda Briana Epler the Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting and events. In this series, we go deep and get real, we build empathy and explore tangible, actionable steps we can all take to be better allies and advocates for each other. We do have a new link as you all have discovered. It is the same link every week now. You don’t have to search for the new link. You can go online and find out again who is coming up, what conversations are coming up at changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries. Today we are here with Muna Hussaini Chief of Staff to the CEO at Indeed.
MUNA HUSSAINI: Thank you for having me and thank you for everyone who is joining and listening in.
MELINDA EPLER: Love your balloons. They feel very festive right now in this moment.
MUNA HUSSAINI: Sometimes you just have to set an intention.
MELINDA EPLER: Behind Muna, for tose that can’t see, is a backdrop of maybe 20 different colors of balloons in the background. I am just going to talk about a few logistics and then we will jump into a conversation. On screen, we have an ASL interpreter, Kalina and they are sponsored by Interpreter Now now which is a Deaf-owned company we are proud to partner with. We also have live captioning by Maggie from White Coat Captioning so you can giving on the bottom of the screen. If you are listening on YouTube, then the captions should be just coming up. Thanks to our team, Renzo, Sally, Antonia and Juliet who are monitoring the chat and we have a code of conduct at tcin.co/COC. But just be inclusive which you always are. I appreciate you. Please share what you are learning and your aha moments. There will be time for Q&A so if you have questions or thoughts you want us to discuss just use the Q&A function. I see Liz Vivian who is an old high school friend. Good to see you. And thank you all for introducing yourselves. I see Stephanie here as well. Muna, let’s start with you just telling a bit about your story and how you came to be where you are doing what you do today.
MUNA HUSSAINI: Well, we will take it way back. Both of my parents are Indian and they came in the U.S. in the late ’60s, maybe early ’70s, but basically our laws in the U.S. changed due to the Civil Rights Movement and immigration from Asia was opened up and so my family is here and any success and privilege that we have is in part due to all of the work from the Civil Rights Movement. My parents did not come from well-to-do families. They had to work quite hard to make it. My father got a petroleum engineering degree. They were both immigrants. Didn’t know anyone. Came here at a time when there was no Google. You had to send snail mail and wait a couple months to hear back from your family, so if you think about switching cultures, it was a lot to navigate without having any sort of anchor here. They worked hard and they made it. My father is a petroleum engineer and we were living overseas when the Gulf War broke out and came back to the U.S. and got sort of stranded here because there were no flights going back home. It was just interesting sort of going back and forth between different cultures and not necessarily knowing where I fit though when you are 12 or 15 you don’t quite understand what you are going through. So, anyhow, I did my undergrad at uT and started working in Boulder, Colorado in tech. Sometimes I think how I got that job because I never remember dropping my resume for that role but whoever it was who saw my resume must have seen something. I remember going out there. I say all of this to say I have always felt very untethered in my journey of not really knowing what I was doing, or how I got there but putting one foot in front of the other and making things through. I interviewed, got a job there, and started working two weeks before September 11th happened. I had moved to Boulder, Colorado and I had no friends or family there and just went. In a sense, I felt very stuck and scared after 9/11 happened because I didn’t have friends or family in Colorado. You know, planes were grounded. It was a scary thing going to work because I remember that day I was driving into work and I came into the office and everybody was crowded around this TV and then I am visibly Muslim wearing my scarf and they all looked at me and I literally went to my office, shut the door and was too scared to come out. I think within days where was threatened at York. — I was threatened at work. Someone came and told me basically go back home because I am going to, you know, join the air force and bomb you and kill everybody in your family and I just thought you don’t even know me and over the next couple of weeks and months I was a victim of several hate crimes when I was living there by myself. This is how I started my career very tentively if you will. I was lucky I had a supportive manager and I had friends to take care of me and I was able to navigate through that. I think since then it has been a journey because in most of the places I have worked while I have made friends and had success I have definitely felt like an only in the room. That can be hard. You struggle with like am I supposed to be here? Do I actually know what I am doing? It is something that has stayed with me through every step of my career. You know, I think there is this theme of you keep going and put one foot in front of the other and stick to what you know and build and move forward. You know, I have worked at several different tech companies. I actually moved when I got married and I ended up working remote and that was kind of hard. Recently, switched again. I am at Indeed. That by itself was kind of a scary change because, like, in my previous role at PayPal I had been there 10 years. I knew a lot of folks and I had an established brand and I felt very comfortable in my role, so to give up all of the relationships I had and that safety and comfort and jump into a completely new company where I don’t know anyone, starting a very different role, was scary but I did it. Three months later, COVID hit and we are all sort of navigating this new way of working together whether you are established or not, so hopefully that’s a little bit of background about me, Melinda.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think what you didn’t touch on was all of the things you do outside of work. The many things you do outside of work.
MUNA HUSSAINI: How much time do we have?
MELINDA EPLER: [Laughter] I would say Muna is a great ally in a lot of ways including that I have asked her to recommend several speakers to our tech inclusion conferences and to Nagiba who we talked with earlier in season one and she is just an amazing human doing lots of work. Do you want to touch on a couple of the things that you are doing and have done? I mentioned I was a victim of a hate crime. They do work that is reactive and I try to do support and do a lot of public speaking there. I care a lot about building inclusion and if I had to put it in the most basic terms, I know what it is like to be attacked for literally just being. I don’t want anyone to go through that. I care about building the world I want to live in and so I serve on the board of an organization called I act, interfaith action of central Texas, where with a you could say faith perspective bringing people together, modeling what dialogue looks like, building a future through service, and providing support to the community. We do a lot of work there. And recently started a Muslim organization called Muslim Space which is also inclusive. Doesn’t matter what denomination you are or how you practice or doesn’t matter. Come as you are is really what our motto is. It is also very gender inclusive. It is not one type of person is on the board or in a position of leadership which sometimes isn’t the case in many mosques here in the U.S. And then I am on the advisory board for Path Forward which is an organization helping people come back to work who have taken a career break and I will just stop there.
MELINDA EPLER: [Laughter] You can go and look her up and see all the other amazing things that she does. Awesome. Cool. And so just so everybody knows, we are going to talk a little bit about parenthood today and we are going to talk about kind of what individuals are going through, what parents are going through, what you might do to support each other across your teams and then what you might do to support parents across companies just so you know what’s coming up.
Let’s start, Muna, can you tell us about your kids first?
MUNA HUSSAINI: I have a 12 year old daughter and I fondly refer to my 4 year old as a monster. He is super special. COVID is not — my 4 year old is not doing well with COVID and being at home and we recently adopted a COVID pet but yes, I actually had my first and then was part of a layoff. It was interesting when I had her because I wouldn’t have chosen to stay home but in hindsight it was a blessing in disguise to be home because while I was totally ready to continue to work through her infancy, I felt lucky to have been forced to stay home because your littles are only little for so long. Then I happened to change fields, if you will. I went from IT support and software development at that time and started a new job and I didn’t realize it but I was a returner because I had taken time off and I had a gap on my resume and I was trying to go back to work and working in tech doing project management support for software development and it was a lot to balance because I am not a very structured person. I am not that person that wakes up every day and does all the things on time and, you know, gets all the things done. So when you have way near balance and what feels like less time you really have to learn how to prioritize and I think, for me, there was also a struggle to admit that I couldn’t do everything by myself. Being able to ask for help and that’s in a personal capacity as well as in a professional capacity or learning how to say no, I can’t do that because I would usually be like OK, I will do that. I had the disease of saying yes and I think as I have gotten older, I think I would put it that I value my own time and I am able to say this is important and I am going to spend time on it but when I was younger, and especially when I was a young mother, it was really hard for me to draw the lines and discern where I needed to spend my time and I needed to say no. I talk about the experience of being a returner because unbeknownst to me I will build a program at PayPal to help figure what out it supports to help people coming back to work and the managers that are hiring them so you can have a sort of ecosystem of support and it is not just the person who is returning to work and not just their responsibility to make everything work. And then when you have two kids the game changes a little bit. I think it is still easier than, you know, having only one especially if you are in a two-parent setup at home because you still have one parent per child. I think it gets more complicated when you have more than that. But, yeah. We have two kids. I will also talk about my husband. I have to give him a lot of credit. I have been able to have the success in my relationship because I have had forget even equal support and I think in any marriage nothing is 50/50 but he has been there for me no matter what. When I first started working and my daughter was, I think, 18 months at the time, I was nursing. I nursed both my kids until they were almost three. When I was traveling for work, my husband would travel with me and take time off from this work so that I could continue to nurse my kids. That’s the level of dedication and support that I have enjoyed from my husband when I have never felt like I had to pick and choose between my family and work and I don’t know that most people can easily say that in my position.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, I want to ask the audience, too, how are you all doing right now? If you are a parent, how are you coping? How are you handling work and parenting? And then maybe, Muna, can you talk a little bit about some of the ways that you have kind of made sure to take care of yourself in all of this?
MUNA HUSSAINI: Well, it’s been really hard, I will start with that. I am actually immune compromised so when the pandemic hit, I am lucky and we are very privileged at Indeed to have a transitioned from a work from home setup. I made the choice to keep my family home and my son home and I was able to over time find a nanny but those first couple weeks were impossible trying to work and by the way our jobs are not 8-5. Work and have a 4 year old hanging on you and make sure a 12 year old is able to like do whatever they need to at school. I think the first week or two we had spring break so at least there was some respite there but it was just impossible. Then OK. How do we get groceries and how do I do all of the things I need to for my family to survive? It was just too much to handle. And then over time, as my kids went back to school, and I was able to hire a nanny, that’s not stuff everyone can do but it has still been hard because I am still helping my kid trying to navigate school all day long, and tech issues, and there is my 4 year old. I have a setup where I don’t have my doors lock at home and he will come in and I am in meetings and he will literally come in and be riding me like a pony or he just comes in and starts sniffing me. It is the stuff that you sit there and think like OK. I can’t laugh about it now but maybe later. And then there is the emotional aspect as well. Like my daughter just switched schools. She is in 7th grade. She hasn’t made any friends at school and I don’t think she is going to be making friends over Zoom and it makes me worry about her mental state. How much fun can you have when you are stuck on a computer all day and then you have your 4 year old brother bothering you and your parents are free after work and what does that social life look like and what does that do for her mental state? And I have spent 12 hours on Zoom and she is coming to plug into me and I have nothing to give and you can imagine how our afternoons divulge. Lots of fun.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah at different life stages kids are going through different things. Especially in those transition moments when you are going to a new school, or a school for the first time or going from middle school to high school. Whew.
MUNA HUSSAINI: And I think it is hard for the littles because they are used to being out and doing stuff and seeing people and now they are stuck inside in a sense. I will say I have been lucky to be able to do some problem solving. Like, for example, I was having blow ups every day around lunch time where my son just wanted me to eat lunch with him and put him down for his nap and I would struggle because he would come in and just interrupt my meeting like predictably. You know, I was able to just finally call it and adjust my calendar and say look, at this time, I just can’t work. I have to be able to be home and that has reduced so much of our stress for me to flex my calendar. I will also say at the same time, it has been really — I don’t know if validating is the right word, but being in a position of leadership, and we have our all-hands calls for our organization and when my son is coming in and running his dump trucks over my head in his meeting and playing I have people in my org and team that will message me and say thank you so much for modeling what it looks like to be parenting in this pandemic. Certain folks are like I am on a team where no one else has kids or I feel all this pressure to do everything and make sure everything looks perfect except we don’t live in a magazine. We have to like acknowledge that we are in this moment and this reality and it makes me think about, Melinda, do you remember that BBC interview a couple years ago where there was a professor doing an interview live and his kids walked in and then his wife came in and grabbed the kids? That’s all of us right now, right?
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, in all different kinds of ways too whether you are a parent or not. Our households are not meant for work to be the workplace in most cases. And yeah, I think that we are all struggling in different ways to make that work. And I love that. I love that. I agree with you when I am on a call with clients, and I do a lot of executive trainings and the executives will let their kids come in and say hello and it is really cool. To me that shows they are being more inclusive in modeling that and that it is OK. It is OK that is your life or your work.
MUNA HUSSAINI: I think it is super important to model that because it is one thing to be able to say it is OK. Do what you need to for your time but for leaders to actually show what that looks like is super meaningful and it is kind of that difference between sympathy and empathy and my team has seen me struggling with my kids and me getting interrupted. Melinda will tell you I have a scarf that actually has holes in it because my child ripped it off my head and this is why we are in a meeting with the CTO and others and they were all enjoying it. I don’t think anyone — not I don’t think. No one has said a single negative thing to me and I feel very supported and I am very lucky for that. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some anxiety over it because we do know that perceptions matter, how you show up matters and I do worry and wonder hmm. I am interrupted a lot. I don’t have the same focus because sometimes I am like look, I have to go. While I have actively made a choice to not apologize for my family. I don’t say I am sorry I have to go. I say thank you for waiting. I will be back because I am not going to apologize for being stuck at home in a pandemic with my kids. I actually try to center them more because I think how horrible. They are stuck inside. They don’t have any friends. And mom and dad can’t give them. See. Here he is. I am also ready for him. Go take that. Go eat it. I knew he was coming. But like, you almost saw that. He started hitting my monitor and camera and you would have seen him go into hulk mode but I was ready and prepared because I knew we would be recording. I worry and wonder how much of my capacity is going to be impacted or projects I am working on will bow interrupted. It can be a — we will just use the word annoying interaction for the people I am working with but I think it kind of makes me wonder like who defined what success looks like? Our industry, if you think about, historically, how were factories setup? They were setup to run efficiently with certain times and rolling out as many widgets as possible and the thing that was maximized was output. We have an opportunity to redefine what does success look like so that the costs that were incured by the few are now shared collectively and I think if we can redefine what that looks like, we win together. I am going to give an example. At Indeed one of the things we care about is the environment. We have compostable cups and spoons and napkins. I don’t even think we have regular garbage cans in the office because everything is compostable. We have decided to focus on a value and live it. I think during this pandemic, I encourage all of us to think about what does success look like. Do we need to be working 8-5? Do we need to be strapped to our desk to do our jobs and what are the outcomes we are trying to drive that are successful but also the way we interact, right? Like can I work and include my kids in life if that’s what I need to be successful? What does taking time off mean? And another thing I worry about a lot is the amount of stress that many people have been sustaining is at such a high level, for such a long time, I worry people will be burning out. I know my patience runs low and I have been trying to remind myself for example bed time. I am just trying to get it done. Brush your teeth. Brush your teeth. All right. Brush your teeth. Let’s go. Put your pajamas on and I have to stop myself and be like what are you trying to get done? Why are you in such a rush? Is there a deadline for bedtime or can we just be and move through and it give myself that grace along with my kids and to allow that at work as well. Are we pushing deadlines that are arbitrary? Or are those actual deadlines and where can we adjust? And so I think it requires, yes, I am in a position of leadership, and it is easier were me have to have these conversations but that’s where we have to have courage and understand those conversations at the team level. Have we built trust with each other to be able to ask for what we need? Or conversely, to reach out and say hey, what do you need so that that person can tell you with trust, what does success look like, or how can I be successful and this is what I need and if you take it out further, team to work to company to where do you have focus of control and what can you be doing? I think starting the conversation is probably the hardest and most important part.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. There is is some interesting comments happening in the chat. Fabian talks about this is a very new experience and really hard but there are beautiful glimmers to be there every day and anchor what it means to be family. Liz says love to redefine success and we have a powerful opportunity. I have a colleague who works between Austin and Japan and the amount of traveling she was doing before used to stress me out and now she is able to do her job completely remotely and she thinks I am never going back to traveling again but like who set the norm? It wasn’t someone had little kids or familiar responsibilities. It was someone who was nicely able to hand it over in a package and do the things they had to do and now we have this norm we are stuck with and we have an opportunity to reassess that and I am loving that you can have lunch with my kids every day and spend unrushed time with them every day and eat. I am a child of the ’80s. We used to hop on our bikes and ride through the neighborhood and play with friends and we have a little bit of that opportunity right now with our neighbors and building those relationships and playing together and I am very grateful for it. I actually want to keep that. I hope that we stay connected. I think it was way too much before. I am grateful for that opportunity. In a sense because people are more open to connecting over Zoom, I have this opportunity to connect with friends more than I always did. You heard me say I am part of a lot of community stuff and y let a lot of friendships go by the wayside. In a sense, it has been nice to reconnect with friends and realize I need that in order to be OK and that I have to prioritize myself and I think that’s another hard one as far as being a parent because you never put yourself first. So many of us are running on empty and at some point, just like a car, the gas tank is on empty and it isn’t going to keep running. We are
MELINDA EPLER: We are seeing several reports that women, especially Black women, are being more affected by both the pandemic and also the economic crisis. 1-4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving and also we are staying at higher rates of women being laid off at higher rates too. Parenting is a piece of this. It is not the whole piece. It is a big piece for many people and that same report shows that women are bearing more of the time and there are things we can do so the exhaustion and the burnout doesn’t hit. Then there are are things we have to do in our companies and let’s talk a little — and I think this is a reality that companies need to come to terms with it. We can’t just continue to go on as if the old normal is the new normal. What are some of the things that you are doing across your team that kind of support each other, support parents in particular?
MUNA HUSSAINI: Well, like as I mentioned earlier, here we are really lucky, and fortunate to be in a business where folks are able to go remote and Indeed was one of the first companies to go fully remote. We have that opportunity in a lot of roles to have that flex time, if you will. That opportunity to be working remote and to be able to manage based on outcomes and projects and for people to say hey, this is what I need and so at a company level, we actually did a survey to see what people needed and they came back with options around how can we provide flexibility whether it is reduced work schedules or pay or did people want to take on paid leave and did people just want to have a voluntary severance and what does that look like? As far as my own team goes, we have had conversations about this, and also been able to say who needs help and how do we support each other and try to proactively manage so that when you need to tap someone in the backup plan is there so no balls get dropped and being able to setup that sort of proactive support plan but, you know, we are only project managers so I think it comes in line with like what we do trying to plan and manage risks, if you will. I think one of the things that was interesting that came up for me, and thinking about parenting, and this isn’t specific to my team per se but there were articles I was reading where, for the first time, both partners are home with kids and trying to work equally and that responsibility is being shared by both and some of the conversation was around well, if men are finally being impacted by this, is there going to be more consideration for changing what benefits packages look like? Even when it comes to maternity leave, companies are starting to provide paternity leave but I am not sure it is being used the same way and what does that mean and what does support look like whether it is for daycare or covering the costs of childcare and in this situation does that extend to school? Because it is impossible. This is why many women laughed. You can’t do home school and manage your full-time job at the same time. With so many women having left the workforce, are they even going to be able to enter back? There are a lot of considerations and long-term economic implications of what is happening right now.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, I think that’s an important piece of this that companies may not be thinking about and that is what to do if a parent drops out now and how do you make space for them to drop back in because this is not a long-term — we are in it for a bit but not forever. There are, you know, I worry about, you know, that McKenzie report, again, said and I am not sure if I can find the quote easily, but essentially, we are setting ourselves back in terms of diversity considerably and so many Black and Latinx folks are being furloughed and being laid off and dropping out of the workforce. If you are furloughing or playing people off, first, consider diversity before you do it. I don’t think many companies are thinking about it but also, how do you make that space when people are ready to return?
MUNA HUSSAINI: Yeah, if we think about that report you compare men’s representation to women’s representation, for example, I think if I remember correctly, the report talks about a broken rung where even at a management level, women aren’t able to climb the ladder and their representation drops off and so then if we further look at that lens, and then slice by, you know, Black women, or Latino women, then the representation goes down further and if you want to talk about impacts, if women are leaving the workforce that’s one thing but then I think burnout for Black women was also mentioned in that report because on top of being impacted because of the pandemic there is also all of this stress around the Black Lives Matter movement and not being acknowledged at work, or having to deal with not being seen and then if you have your kids on top of that, I mean, it is a very real thing. How much are people supposed to hold together and make sure that you can do everything? I think very much in line with your podcast intersectionally there is so much to look at. It is not just while we might have been talking about parenthood, speaking very frankly, like my husband is Black, my kids are biracial and we have been navigating all of this together and talking through how to be dealing with everything and granted we are in a position of privilege but it is a lot to manage. If you want to just talk about one of those weights and not just all of these things, right?
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. 100%. Absolutely. If you all have questions put them in the Q&A and we will just keep talking if not. Please feel free to put your questions in the Q&A or thought discussion points. Mental health, as Stephanie says, mental health and wellness is critical and we need to work to destigmatize mental health. We will be talking about that more in our next episode, particularly mental health as it relates to racism for Black boys and men next week. So, fabian said the little glimmers. The little positive things in the pandemic and I think — or in life and in this moment, I think we do need to remember those and hold on to those and allow ourselves to have those too. Are there positive moments that really stand out for you? Hopefully there are. [Laughter] But things that really — and all of you please, share, as well.
MUNA HUSSAINI: I am getting a little emotional because one of the things like I have always struggled with is guilt from being away from my kids. Like I said, I feel really lucky that my husband is such an amazing partner in taking care of everything and we share everything and I wouldn’t call him an equal parent but at the end of the day, when I wasn’t home and this first happened or whatnot it hurts. One of things my four year old does is he will come and he will sit behind me and just hug me during my calls and like he does this thing where he sucks his fingers and I have just come to love that so much and here he goes. But he will just sit behind me and hug me and I just think I am going to miss this, you know? I am going to miss this and it is actually quite comforting to me even though it looks funny. You want to say hi. Say hi, friends. And you know, there are things like, for example, I was trying to figure out how to show one of my team members how to do something and my 12-year-old was here and she came in and went mommy, I made a video for you and you can send it to our teammate. And I thought oh, my goodness. First of all, I didn’t even know she could do that kind of stuff but just like the interactions during the day that I wouldn’t ever have if I was at work or traveling and I get be apart of my kid’s lives. Kind of just integrally. Just being able to sit on there classes and like listen to what is going on and seeing how my child interacts and what kind of human she is. I will do a little humble brag but I walked by my daughter’s room and she had a pile of plates in there and I went to go pick it up and I looked and she had her video on and she was the only person in her class that had their video on for the teacher and I just thought why do you have it on and she goes mommy, the teachers are working so hard, the least I can let them know is I am paying attention. Maybe that feels uncomfortable when you are the only person. Middle school is the best day of your life. She gave that like respect and empathy to her teachers and I loved it. I thought OK. Something good is happening here.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Are there other things that we didn’t cover at the company level that people can do to advocate for parents and if you have the ability to create policy, to look at policy changes?
MUNA HUSSAINI: I think that it is important to start asking — I think we talked about having the conversation and I would say that this is where culture and inclusion matters a lot and what type of culture have you set, and are you even thinking about inclusion, right? We talk about our people being our greatest asset if they really are then the work that we do to ensure our people are taken care of becomes obvious and you have to start with the conversation and trust has to be there as well. People have to know that if they share something that maybe makes them vulnerable that they have the psychological safety to share and that they won’t be penalized for it and it can be really hard, if, for example, you are working on a team or with a manager that doesn’t care. How are you supposed to ask for the support you need or an accommodation if you can’t even raise the question? And so like, you know, I guess take the time to look at the brutal facts and kind of acknowledge where you stand and start doing the work. I think a lot of companies probably had to do some of this work because of COVID and just folks are looking for comfort or trying to figure it out because if you are like oh, my goodness, do I have a job? What’s going to happen? I give a lot of points, for example, I will just talk about what we have done here. We have had company-wide calls with our CEO and COO talking about the pandemic and, you know, for example, after George Floyd was murdered, we actually had, I think, a psychologist come and talk to us with our Black employee group, and we had a company all-hands call that was one of the orgs canceled their call to join the call with the psychologist. Your leadership setting a tone and creating opportunities for creating a conversation makes a difference. That modeling makes a difference. You can’t just say oh, yeah, tell us what you need and there is no backup and people can sniff that out quickly. Just being able to have the microconversations but it has to be modelled at leadership so that people have that safety. Then there has to be follow-up, right? People need to know that their feedback was given and heard and that something is happening. I don’t know if everyone expects, you know, changes overnight but like, one step at a time, right? Let’s move in the right direction.
MELINDA EPLER: And keep taking steps. Yeah. Yeah. Alona asks a question. When you had your second little how did you navigate career growth and transitions and overcome challenges?
MUNA HUSSAINI: You know, I had this realization that I wanted to be able to dedicate certain focus to my kids and so then as I was saying, as I got older, I was able to sharpen what my priorities were and because of that, while it feels uncomfortable — at first it used to make me feel uncomfortable to opportunities but when I realized I said no it was in service because of the things I wanted to do. When you have — I am saying this in theory when you have less to do you can focus more on the smaller things on your plate. I will say when I had my second, I was at a job and I chose not to take a new job. I chose to stay somewhere where I knew what I was doing and would be able to manage and reduced the mount of transition or change I was in. In today’s time, I don’t know that that would follow because there is too much change on a day to day basis and I think the lesson there is really just like simplify and get clear on what do you actually need and I think the second time around I had learned to ask for help, whether it was from my spouse, or friends, or my family, or even people at work, where it was like I can or can’t do this. One of my rules at work has been I am not a big fan of surprises. I just told people up front this is what I think I can do and what I can’t do. I would be worried about if I have to step out or whatever, I do this thing sometimes, where I know I have a deadline on Thursday but I will give myself the deadline on Wednesday in case I don’t miss that, I still have a day. It is just something I have done for myself because I know things get unpredictable. The other thing that I think I got smarter with with my second was getting better about utilizing my mentors and not trying to do everything by myself. Just really shortening the learning curve by leveraging other folks which, if I have to relate it become today, is still relevant. As I talk to my other colleagues who are struggling with parenting issues, or like I was talking to one of my friends who is a COO at another startup and she was saying, listen, this is what you need to do and how you do it and how you navigate. I thought why didn’t I talk to you before? Why am I struggling through stuff by myself? We have to be taking care of each other. I hope I answered your question.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. There is great comments in the chat here. Thank you, all, for sharing your thoughts. You just launched a podcast. Can you tell us about it?
MUNA HUSSAINI: Our podcast is called three rightious mamas. There are three of us. We met after the 2016 election where being Muslim, Christina is Latina and Martha is gay. We felt us specifically, our communities and families, were under attacked and instead of our worlds getting smaller and focusing on fear, we happened to meet and become friends and have been working towards kind of the world that we want to build. Our podcast talks about three rightous mamas and it is northeast intersection of politics and motherhood. We feel like if motherhood was represented more and our politics were more mainstream than we think the world would be a better choice. We choose to occupy that and use this fierce mama bear energy and put it back out into the world and what that looks like.
MELINDA EPLER: Where can people find it?
MUNA HUSSAINI: I think it is everywhere podcasts can be found. Mune
MELINDA EPLER: Just search for it. I think we have time for one more question and fabian has a question. How are you talking to your kids about how to see themselves as children of color in a time where uncomfortable choices about truth and equity are taking place?
MUNA HUSSAINI: I am Indian and my husband is Ethiopian and my children look Puerto Rican. We actually talk about race quite a bit. My daughter started reading at a young age so when it was “The Wall Street Journal” or whatever we always have newspapers around so my daughter has been able to read headlines. We have to introduce her to the world and we try to explain things in an age-appropriate way but I don’t shy away from telling my daughter anything because I want her to understand and be able to manage and address what is happening. You know, I think, gosh, what was she? 6? 7? Seven when the 2016 election happened, when Trump won, and the Muslim ban happened. I thought I go to school with my kid, maybe kids can’t tell where she is from but they see me and how is she navigating. I had to sit down and talk to her because in addition to being Muslim she is also Black. OK. Like, if kids are being mean how do you deal with that and taking her through the steps of how do you respond if someone is mean to you and if you go to a teacher they could respond like this and this and if they respond and help you, great, but if they don’t, you don’t have to take it. You go to another grown up and if they don’t listen you go to the teacher. If they don’t listen, you get on the phone with mommy and don’t take no for an answer. My job is to keep your body safe and if mommy is not there your job is to get in touch with mommy to keep your body safe. Kind of helping her understand like in an age-appropriate way the reality of what could happen and what could somebody say but what could you do? I want my child to have agency and know how to navigate things. When I think about when I was a victim of hate crimes I was dependent on the people around me. I froze. I was lucky. My life was saved by strangers. I always sit there and think what could I have done differently and how could I have helped myself because one of the things I struggled with most was feeling victimized and like I couldn’t control my environment. That’s my experience and maybe people deal differently but I want her to be informed so she isn’t caught by surprised and let’s be honest, when something happens, she may be surprised but she knows she can come to me and other adults and if other adults don’t help her, that’s on them not on her. She knows where she stands. I will also say there is really great books out there. You know, like I love watching Hidden Figures with my daughter and not just for sort of being able to see what it is like in this particular movie. Like Black women who are navigating racism and finding paths forward and they were like acceling in their field. And not just for my daughter but also for my son to see what does excellence look like whether it is one gender or another and identity and exposing them to like all sorts of stories whether it is Black women acceling or Muslim women acceling or what does success look like and how do we achieve that together.
MELINDA EPLER: Thank you. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed the series and look forward to hearing all the other guests. I just want to take a moment to recognize parenthood comes in all shapes and sizes. Sending lots of love to parents who are struggling and, you know, whether that is struggling with your kids, or struggling not being able to see your kids, and so much more. Take your time to replenish. I love what luna said about if you need to tap out, tap out, and allow somebody else to tap in and really try to see that in your team and normalize that across your team. Take time to replenish even if it is micro moments of replenish. I think it is really important to remember the good things and be there within them. You are not alone. Join us each week for Leading with Empathy & Allyship. You can check out the latest updates on who is coming up at changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries and if you don’t mind, subscribe and give us a review or whatever platform you are on. Thanks for all your great comments and discussions. Really appreciate you all.
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.
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.
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.
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.