In Episode 111, Pabel Martinez, Founder and CEO of Plurawl, joins Melinda in a discussion on redefining professionalism so people can bring their authentic selves to the workplace. They explore how biases around professionalism move individuals to mask their identities and “code-switch”’ to assimilate into another culture. They look into the difference between uncomfortable and unprofessional and how we can mitigate the impact of biases around professionalism. They also discuss how managers can promote authenticity at work by building trust in teams and leading honest conversations.
- Learn more about Pabel’s work at Plurawl
- Listen to Pabel’s podcast, “¿Quién Tú Eres?”
- Read McKinsey’s report, “LGBTQ+ voices: Learning from lived experiences”
- Read Pew Research Center’s article, “Younger, college-educated Black Americans are most likely to feel need to ‘code-switch’”
- Read Harvard Business Review’s article, “U.S. Latinos Feel They Can’t Be Themselves at Work”
- Read Harvard Business School’s article, “WHY EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE IS IMPORTANT IN LEADERSHIP”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “Because of that pressure [to succeed], a lot of us are comfortable giving up parts of ourselves in order to get to that point of success…. But what I want people to realize is that you’re not going to do your best work until you stop faking it. But we don’t realize that; we just keep telling ourselves, ‘No, we have to do that.’ Because it’s that cycle of ‘All right, nobody looks like me? Assimilate. Then I get tired, then I realize it’s a waste of time.’”
- “If you look at the four components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management…, mastering those four components is key. But for me, it starts with self-awareness, which is why… I literally ask people, ‘what does the word authenticity mean to you?’ It means something different to everybody, and it’s a very unique individual answer…. Figuring that out for oneself is… the first step in being able to do that because once you know what you want to project to the world, then you can do things like look for the representation that you need.”
- “I actually love the current definition [of professionalism], I just don’t think we use it in practice…. It takes a lot of education, and it’s education for everybody…. There’s so much education that comes within our own communities…; it starts at home, and eventually, just gets reiterated in places like schools and organizations.”
Founder and CEO of Plurawl
Pabel Martinez is a native New Yorker, storyteller, and former Tech executive.
Throughout his career, Pabel struggled balancing two jobs…Tech Employee and Actor. As an Actor, he would focus on assimilation because he was trained to believe that many parts of his identity were unprofessional.
Pabel would dedicate days out of the week to study “white popular American culture” and memorize scripts he would later use for work conversations. He knew that talking about Bad Bunny and shows like Insecure, would not make him relatable. Instead, he would binge-watch seasons of Riverdale since it would help him build relationships with colleagues and senior leaders.
The assimilation became overwhelming, and it was at the expense of his identity & mental health.
As a result, Pabel’s mission in life became redefining professionalism by empowering authenticity. In 2020, he launched Plurawl to bring this mission to life.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How to Be an Ally. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. Welcome!
Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
Let’s get started.
Welcome, everyone. Today, our guest is Pabel Martinez, Founder and CEO of Plurawl. He’s a native New Yorker, a storyteller, and a former tech executive. Our discussion today will focus on redefining professionalism. Pabel and I will challenge your beliefs about professionalism. We’ll talk about how biases about professionalism move people to cover their identity, to reduce authenticity, and ultimately, to reduce our ability to do our work well. Then we’ll talk about how we can redefine professionalism; ways to create happier, healthier, more innovative, and more productive teams, humans, selves.
So welcome, Pabel. How are you?
PABEL: Thank you. I’m feeling excited to just have this very important conversation.
MELINDA: Fantastic. Me too. So to begin, tell us a bit about your story. Where did your journey start? How did you end up here during the work that you do around professionalism and authenticity?
PABEL: For sure. For me, it started in New York City where I was born and raised. It’s interesting because when people talk about New York City, they often talk about it or refer to it as a melting pot. It’s a phrase that’s thrown out there pretty often. But when referring to the melting pot, people often refer to it from a cultural standpoint. But I think New York City is one of the rare places where it’s also a melting pot of incomes. To give you perspective, I grew up in public housing, but in one of the wealthiest zip codes in America in the Upper West Side. My mom never made more than $30,000, but I lived down the street from Macaulay Culkin. So it was an interesting dynamic where, in this huge 18-floor building, everybody around me was in poverty, but I’d go down the street, and it’s like: “Shit, I want to live where they live.” So I never really knew what I wanted to do growing up, but I knew I wanted to make money, and I was willing to do anything to get there, almost anything.
MELINDA: So what did you do then, how did you start your career?
PABEL: So I studied economics in college with the idea that I ultimately wanted to study investment banking. Not that I was particularly interested in the banking field, but something about seeing people dressed up, like men in suits, for example, I think I just really respected them, I looked up to them. For a couple of reasons. One, I was like: “Oh my God, this person is well-dressed,” and I think society trained me to believe that how you dress equates to a certain level of status. But also, I’m like, “Banking? They make money, right? Cool, let me go into that.”
MELINDA: In New York, yeah, you see this huge wealth gap.
PABEL: Exactly. It used to be a big finance capital. It still is. So that’s just where my mind was, it was just based on representation that I saw in movies and whatnot.
MELINDA: So how did you end up from there to doing the work that you do now?
PABEL: Yeah, a few things. I remember one time I was going on an interview after college, in a suit, and it was like 100 degrees. New York City Subway, it is hot! So I’m there glistening, and I was just like, “I hate wearing suits, why am I doing this?” Also, for perspective, I went to Catholic school my entire life. So even in high school, all-boys Catholic high school, we had to wear khakis, and dress shoes, and a blazer and a tie, all of that. So I’m just like, I’ve done this for too long. But also, I remember being in college and thinking about where I wanted to study, and I just looked at my phone and the apps that I had. I was just like, “Hmm, I use Facebook every day, why not try to work there?” The appealing thing for tech was this, what I would call illusion, or what they would call a promise of the idea that anyone could be their most authentic self. It’s often even touted in one of their values. So I was like, “All right, finance, I’m going to try it because I want to make money. But ultimately, I don’t even know if I’m going to be comfortable rocking suits every day. So at least, maybe long-term, tech is the place for me.” So eventually, I landed a role at Facebook just a while ago.
MELINDA: Awesome. So from there, you worked at Facebook for a while. Then what made you do the work that you do now, how did you get there?
PABEL: Yeah. So earlier when I mentioned like, I’ll do anything it takes to get the job that I’ve always dreamed of, in college, my dream was to go to Facebook. I applied in college, I didn’t get it. But I looked at the job description as like a goal. I was like: “Oh, no wonder I didn’t get it. They want five years of experience in Excel. They want five years of experience doing this.” I was like, “Every job I’m going to get is going to be a stepping stone until I get that job at Facebook.” So when I got to Facebook, I was like, “Yo, whatever y’all need, y’all gonna have to drag me out of here, because I’m going to retire here. This place is amazing!” I’m talking about free breakfasts, lunch, dinner, perks, galore. Like, the headquarters, they got a nail salon, they got gyms everywhere. I mean, they do your laundry for you, it’s crazy! So for me, part of the idea of doing whatever it takes is just like, I started to lose part of myself in the process. You walk into a place. Like I said, I’m Black, I’m Hispanic Latino. Tech industry is like 3% Black, another 3% Latino, there’s not that many people that look like me. So the story that I told myself was, in order to fit in, I wasn’t going to be accepted being myself. So I did a lot of assimilation, and in that assimilation process, I started losing myself and who I was, and it just became overwhelming.
MELINDA: You moved from there to TikTok?
PABEL: I do, yeah. At TikTok, it was an interesting point. Because at TikTok, I was past that assimilation phase, and I was very comfortable being my most authentic self. But in some of the decisions that I made in how to display my authenticity, it was met with some resistance, and I’m happy to get into some examples. But that was at a point where again, I was really comfortable in my skin and in my authenticity, which was very different from where I was before, which is like, I’ll do anything it takes to stay here. I didn’t care about getting fired. Not that I wanted to get fired, but I was comfortable. I was so comfortable in myself that if they didn’t accept me, I was comfortable stepping away from it.
MELINDA: Oh, wow! So that’s a big jump, that’s a big change over time.
PABEL: It is, and it is something that I often tell people. Like, somebody reached out to me this week, it was like, “Yo, if I want to start my content creation journey, what advice would you give me? I told them, you’ve got to let go of the fear of being fired if you truly want to be authentic. Because somewhere, somebody at work is going to have a problem with you creating content, no matter what it’s about.
MELINDA: Yeah, if you’re truly authentic. Can you share a bit about what you do now, what does that look like? What does Plurawl do?
PABEL: So I launched Plurawl in 2020, as a lifestyle company selling art and apparel, with the mission of redefining professionalism. Since then, we’ve launched an award-winning podcast that’s in the top 2% of all podcasts globally. It’s because some of these unspoken stories are finally being spoken about publicly. So what we’re in the process of doing now is really taking what we’ve learned in the podcast and using it as validation for the technology that we’re going to be launching this year. So I’ve been working with various companies last year. I was working with like Salesforce, and Google, and Spotify, and Amazon, a bunch of different companies, and teaching them about authenticity in the workplace. Now we’re launching technology to really scale that impact, because I’m just one person.
MELINDA: Awesome! Well, let’s talk about, maybe we can start with defining professionalism. What is professionalism?
PABEL: So professionalism is funny, because it has a definition. Yeah, I think all of us have this idea of what it means in our head. Growing up my grandfather, he would tell me like, “Do you see presidents and CEOs with beards and tattoos and durags and earrings?” So I could dress accordingly. You know what I mean? But what he was also telling me indirectly was that if I wanted to be successful, I needed to be more like an older White man, based on the representation he was showing me. So when I say that I was assimilating in corporate, I was trying to do my best version of a White man. I was trying to act, dress, and do my best version of being a White man. But when you look at the definition of professionalism, which is what I’m trying to educate the world on, is that it just means the skill or competence expected of a professional. That’s it, it has nothing to do with how you look.
MELINDA: So the skills. It’s really about the skills, not how you look. Professionalism, I think when you were walking through the streets in New York and saw the financial, the bankers, the investment bankers, and you saw the suits, you saw success.
PABEL: Exactly, and I do a lot of speaking engagements around this very topic. You’d be just surprised. Like, what I found is that everyone has their own definition of professionalism. It’s because we all have our bias because of our lived experiences, which is fine. I’m just trying to help people realize that we all have bias.
MELINDA: So let’s talk about the consequences to you, and in general too, what are the consequences of us having those biases around professionalism, internalizing them? When we internalize them, that’s when we start to cover aspects of our identity, or code-switch, or other ways that we can internalize, and also externalize, as a result. That assimilation, there’s a lot of ways that that can take hold on us.
PABEL: Yeah, I’ll give you a perfect example. Like, I love going to cafes, coffee shops. I’m biased when it comes to baristas. It’s a bias that I’m working on. But I prefer my barista to look like a hipster from Brooklyn. I’m talking about just looking homeless, like tattoos, piercings, the more the better. If I walk into a cafe and the barista looks like my mom, I used to walk out. This person doesn’t look like they’re going to make a latte. I’m accustomed to people that look like my mom making coffee a certain way, drip-style coffee, with a mocha pot, or a greca as we call it in Dominican Republic. I’m not used to her making lattes. But who says that how you look has anything to do with how well you make a latte? If anything, the machine does most of the work. But I used to literally turn around. That’s what happens in a lot of these employment situations. We make split decisions based on how people look, instead of giving them an opportunity to make a latte.
MELINDA: So how did that impact as you got to Facebook, your dream job? Going to live there forever, going to work there and live there forever, because you can pretty much do all that at Facebook. How did that show up for you?
PABEL: Well, what I tried to tell people is that assimilating and co-switching, people think it’s so simple. But it’s a very time-consuming activity. I’ll give you an example as well. I was assimilating to the point where I was literally studying White popular American culture. Like, instead of watching TV shows that I cared about or was interested in, I would literally binge-watch shows like Riverdale. It’s ridiculous, right?
MELINDA: To learn how to assimilate.
PABEL: What I try to tell people is that there’s nothing wrong with expanding your preferences. Like, White people have put me onto some of my favorite shit in the world. Brussels sprouts, love brussels sprouts! Sushi, love sushi. This isn’t White people shit, but I’m just saying what White people put me onto. Seinfeld, love it! The Office, love it! But there comes a point where you try something you don’t enjoy, and you continue to do it for the sole purpose of being accepted. What I do on the weekends, which is nothing illegal, I go off salsa dancing, I go out to certain clubs and pop bottles and smoke hookah. But it’s things and activities that other people don’t do, so it becomes an end of a conversation. Versus if I tried to assimilate, it will continue the conversation. But that faking it only lasts so long, and it was at the detriment of my performance. So I was pretty close to either quitting my dream job or being fired in that first year. So after when I stopped assimilating, I did not get a performance review that wasn’t exceeding expectations.
MELINDA: This is not you alone. Just for those of you listening or watching, that almost half of LGBTQIA+ folks cover pieces of the aspects of their identity at work, two-thirds of people with disabilities cover at work. Code-switching, there was a study that showed that 48% of Black college students feel the need to code-switch regularly. I learned from you that Latinos also, I think you said 76% of Latinos or Latinx folk suppress parts of their identity at work. So this is something that happens a lot to people with underrepresented identities; there’s a pressure. I think you said also, when you were applying, even in that application process, kind of proving that you can be successful, that you can do the role, there’s a huge amount of pressure to assimilate or cover or code-switch.
PABEL: Oh, for sure. Like I said, there’s not a lot of people in the office that looked like me. So the story that I tell myself is like: “Well, I have to do all I can to be successful, because if I’m not, then they’re not going to hire someone else that looks like me.” Because back to that association that I make of people that look like my mom, only being able to make drip-coffee and not being able to make a latte, that’s what I tell myself about. Like: “Oh well, damn, all salespeople that we hire Black are from this school or from this neighbor.” Whatever it is, they’re not capable or they’re not worthy. So it is, it’s a tonne of pressure, and I know I’m not alone.
MELINDA: Yeah. The other thing that you said in there, that people might recognize, that tokenism. That feeling of not just being the only, but also feeling the weight of being the only, and feeling like you have to succeed so that other people like you can have that opportunity and are able to do have that opportunity,
PABEL: Because of that pressure to succeed, but you’ve got to think about what success means. Success means like, you get money; money for yourself and your family. I was at a point at TikTok where I was supporting myself and my mom, not because she needs it, but because I wanted to. So because of that pressure, a lot of us are comfortable giving up parts of ourselves, in order to get to that point of success, whatever it is for anybody. We all have different metrics for success. But what I want people to realize is that you’re not going to do your best work until you stop faking it. But we don’t realize that, we just keep telling ourselves: “No, we have to do that.” Because it’s that cycle of: “All right, nobody looks like me? Assimilate. Then I get tired, then I realize it’s a waste of time.”
MELINDA: Yeah, the consequences are burnout, lower engagement, lower productivity. Because it’s extra work. It’s extra cognitive work, emotional work. If you’re not able to be your authentic self, it’s working against yourself in some way. There’s that friction against yourself that is internally not easy, emotionally.
PABEL: It’s not. Then there’s the piece of, maybe eventually you do build the confidence to be yourself. Then it’s like: “Well, how are people going to receive me though?” That’s when you get into… The unfortunate stories honestly often don’t get told, and these are the stories that I’m really passionate about telling. It’s like, a lot of the stories of the racism, the sexism, that microaggressions, they go untold, or where they are told, they’re told anonymously out of fear, for things like retaliation. So I’m proud of being one of the only platforms where there is a face and a name to each story of these instances.
MELINDA: So once you overcome that fear, you can be more authentic and more courageous, and tell those stories, and it ultimately benefits us all to do that. So we talked a little bit of what professionalism is, and how we perceive it and the biases that we have around it, as well as the impacts of it. How do we change it? What is the new definition, or how do we redefine?
PABEL: Yeah. I actually love the current definition. I just don’t think we use it in practice. So I think it takes a lot of education, and it’s education for everybody. I think when people talk about bias and education around discrimination, all these kinds of things, people automatically assume it’s only White people that need to be educated. It couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s so much education that comes within our own communities, probably even more at start. Because this idea of the need to assimilate, I didn’t learn at work, my family taught me. Like, my family taught me, in order to be successful, I need to fake it. Every day, my mom getting ready for work, she would straighten her curls to the point now where they don’t curl anymore. My grandfather and the advice that he would give me. So it starts at home, and eventually, just gets reiterated in places like schools and organizations. But it takes a lot of education. I’ll give you an example as well. A lot of speaking engagements that I do, one of the first slides that I have is, I put up a picture of the musician, the entrepreneur, Little Wayne. There he is with face tattoos all over his face, his neck, these huge chains, and he has locks, dreads. I ask a simple question. I’m like, is anything about how he looks unprofessional? There are Black women in the crowd that would say, “Yes, I would never hire someone that looks like him.” So to say that it’s only a certain group of people, I think, would be unfair. I think everyone needs to really reevaluate their biases.
MELINDA: Yeah, I think we have collectively internalized and made normal, a lot of things around a lot of biases, a lot of sexist, racist ways of thinking and being, as we navigate the world. Yeah, there’s a lot that we all have to undo. Even when we’re internalizing it, that’s a piece of that. That’s a piece of believing it fundamentally, and needing to unlearn and relearn, and then recreate ourselves. How did you get out of it? How did you get through it?
PABEL: I think education coupled with representation. You often hear the quote of “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Yeah, sometimes people need to see people that look like them being their most authentic self, to be like: “Oh, wait, that’s possible?” For example, there’s so many unspoken rules when it comes to professionalism. There’s not like a signed law or an internal policy that says you can’t do certain things, we’ve just been made to believe that that’s the case. I’ll give you an example. At my previous job, there was one day where I posted my salary transparently on LinkedIn. It was my whole compensation package, from my base to my bonus, my signing bonus, my stock options, everything. People were like: “Oh, you could do that? Like, isn’t that illegal? Are you going to get fired?” All these sort of like, what are you doing, why would you do that? All these sorts of things. No, it’s against the law to fire somebody for that. Obama passed a law or policy to protect employees from having those type of conversations. The only reason that employers have been telling us not to do is because it benefits them. If we don’t talk about it openly, they’re allowed, by nature, to pay us different rates, which is why we have a lot of things like the wage gaps with different groups. So I think it takes that representation to then create that education as well.
MELINDA: I will say that I have covered, or I have internalized in lots of different ways, Imposter syndrome, I think is a level of this as well. Not feeling like I reflect that professionalism to the full extent that I should, or whatever that is. So for me, it’s been therapy, it’s been a lot of that internal work, a lot of meditation and a lot of leadership coaching, and so on. I think it still percolates up in different ways. When you’re working with folks, how do you help move them through that? What are some of the ways?
PABEL: Yeah, it’s a difficult process. Like you said, it takes a lot of internal work, it takes a lot of emotional intelligence as well, which is something that I think in certain communities is frowned upon, discouraged, and not necessarily seen for the benefit that it really is. But a lot of the skills, most valuable skills, when it comes to emotional intelligence, which Harvard Business Review recently put out a study and said, 90% of what sets high-performers apart from their peers with similar technical experience is emotional intelligence, which is crazy. 90%! And with a skill that seems so necessary for success, it’s rarely taught within institutions I learned in therapy. So if you look at the four components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management, I think mastering those four components is key. But for me, it starts with self-awareness, which is why it’s the first question that I actually ask everyone on the podcast. I literally ask people, what does the word authenticity mean to you? It means something different to everybody, and it’s a very unique individual answer. So it’s not like I can tell you what your most authentic self looks like, acts like, speaks like. Figuring that out for oneself is, I think, the first step in being able to do that. Because once you know what you want to project to the world, then you can do things like look for the representation that you need, for the permission, etc., and work on some of those other steps. But I’ve learned some interesting things and asking people that question over a hundred times.
MELINDA: I would also say, you talked about acting earlier, and a part of mindfulness training is to notice when things come up. So to notice, you can use that in terms of walking into your authentic self or walking more authentically, is to notice when are you acting? Notice to even take the time to stop and notice those moments where you’re incongruent in some way or it doesn’t feel quite like you.
PABEL: Yes! In some episodes, I’ve actually heard people, I was like, what was that moment for you where you were finally like, “Forget all of this acting, I’m going to be myself?” Some people were like, it took someone else to call it out for me, because I didn’t see it in myself. In fact, I remember when I was at Facebook during that first year, having a really tough time, I cried to my aunt in her shoulder one time in my mom’s apartment. She’s asking, “What’s wrong, why are you having such a difficult time?” I was talking about assimilation and code-switching. And she asked me such a simple question that I couldn’t even answer. She was like, “Okay, it’s overwhelming. So why are you doing it?” All I could say was, I thought I had to. I thought I had to act. I thought I had to do all this to be accepted. Many of us don’t recognize that we’re even wasting this much time and how much of an impact it’s having on us, because we just think we have to; we think it’s part of the process of becoming successful.
MELINDA: So there are multiple components to redefining professionalism or rethinking professionalism. Getting back to the definition of professionalism, one is that internal work for those of us who have internalized, so that we can become more authentic at work and outside of work. Also, there’s a role that managers and leaders have, too. What are some things that, if you’re a people manager, that you can do to redefine it yourself so that you can help your team; create a safe space for people to become their more authentic selves?
PABEL: Yeah. I’m glad you brought that up, because I think there’s two sides of that equation of the solution. There’s the individual and empowering them to be their most authentic self and unlearning and relearning all those things. For the institution, if you will, a lot of these companies or organizations, I think they have an opportunity to create policies to help their employees feel more comfortable in whatever that authenticity is. I think there’s a lot of policies that are already being worked on, that have been instituted within some organizations are some states that others can just adopt.
But I think a great starting point is simply asking your team that question of, what does authenticity mean to you? In that simple question, they’ll start sharing a very personalized viewpoint on what it is. Then ask them when you feel most comfortable, and then when do you feel uncomfortable being that person? In some of these speaking engagements, I’ll give you an example, there have been employees that said: “This is what my authenticity means. I feel really comfortable bringing that person to the office, but I feel uncomfortable in front of clients.” That’s an insight. “Okay, well, is it something about the client? Is it because you feel additional pressure in these external-facing meetings?” But you get to really start understanding your employees and building policies around that.
That said, there’s a tonne of policies right now that I think would make people feel safe. If you think about LGBTQ+ community, the fact that I had to go to the Supreme Court, what, a couple years ago. Even these days, there’s still a lot of uncomfortableness around that. There are policies these days that still force many Black individuals to cut their hair, change their hair, change their appearance, just because it’s not deemed “neat” or “professional.” There was even, I posted a video this week of, I think it was a representative from Missouri, how they just passed a new policy that women have to wear blazers when entering; they have to essentially cover their arms. It’s a fascinating thing, but there’s a tonne of policies like this. But I think starting with authenticity, and then creating policies around that, I think would be helpful as well.
MELINDA: Yeah. When we were talking earlier once before, you mentioned the difference between uncomfortable versus unprofessional. Can you talk about that a little bit?
PABEL: Yeah. I’m trying to think of an example that comes to mind. I’ve seen in the news a lot lately, teachers, sometimes middle-school, high school, being fired over the fact that they have an Only Fans account. For people that don’t know what Only Fans is, it’s essentially this subscription service where you subscribe directly to a creator, like a monthly fee. It could be $5, could be $25, whatever the creator decides. Now, what you receive most often on this website is pornography. There’s this idea of, is it unprofessional for a teacher to be creating pornography content on his or her free time? Again, based on definition, I don’t think that takes away from the skills or the competence needed for that teacher to go on with a lesson and teach math or science, whatever the hell they’re teaching to their students. Now, does it make some people uncomfortable, the fact that their son or daughter’s teacher or professor is making that type of content offline? Yeah, maybe. But why is all the blame being put on that individual, why don’t you blame your son or daughter for watching it? You know what I mean? So I think that’s the difference between being unprofessional versus just being uncomfortable about someone’s appearance or what they do on the weekends.
MELINDA: Even your example was Lil Wayne too, the tattoos. Does that make you uncomfortable, or is that unprofessional?
PABEL: Here’s one. Whenever I put up a picture of Little Wayne and I give the reference of like: “Oh well, imagine this person is in sales,” the response that I typically get is very deflective. Like, the people in the audience will say: “Oh well, I don’t care. I’m so open-minded. I’m worried about my clients or what they would think.” Okay, so in that case, you’re not saying it’s unprofessional, what you’re saying is that you’re uncomfortable about the idea of him presenting to your clients because you’re not sure what their reaction is going to be. At the end of the day, if you’re telling me that Little Wayne is unprofessional, what you’re telling me is that you don’t think that someone that looks like him, has the needed skill or competence expected for that role, which goes back to the problem, again, of us making decisions based on how someone looks.
MELINDA: If you could tell a leader, three things that they should do or could do to create safe spaces for their teams, to really be their most authentic selves, what would those three things be?
PABEL: Maybe it’s work on your own emotional intelligence first, so that you can work on skills like empathy, self-awareness, social awareness, all of those things. Step one, work on your own emotional intelligence first. Two, start building trust with your team by being that representation that they’re looking for. I think by you starting to be vulnerable, starting to stand up for the causes that they care about, then you start having conversations with them around what does authenticity mean to you? Maybe they’ll start opening up to you.
MELINDA: I like that, I think that is really important. That part of that trust, I think, is showing empathy and also modeling authenticity. You have to model that authenticity yourself as a leader, and vulnerability is a part of authenticity. At the end of each of our episodes, I always ask our guests, this is a podcast where people learn, they unlearn, they relearn, and they take action. It’s focused on solutions, focused on taking action one step at a time. So from our conversation today, what action would you like people to take, whether they’re listening or watching?
PABEL: My gut reaction is telling people to listen to the podcast. It’s not for self-promotion, it’s more so just people have told me that they’ve learned a lot from it. Either you see yourself in the episodes, or you don’t and you learn something from it. So it’s either an opportunity to feel seen, or it’s an opportunity to learn and be like: “Oh, I didn’t know that people hid those kinds of things.”
MELINDA: Where can people find it?
PABEL: It’s everywhere, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, as well as YouTube.
MELINDA: They’ll need to search for Plurawl, correct?
PABEL: Yes, it’s called Quién Tú Eres, and despite the name, it’s all in English.
MELINDA: Got it. Okay, awesome. How many episodes have you done?
PABEL: 100. 101 or something.
MELINDA: Awesome. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
PABEL: The most surprising thing that I’ve learned is the differences in what we hide. I walked into a situation knowing that I had a lot of cultural aspects about myself. But a lot of what people hide has nothing to do with their cultural background, it’s just human things. For example, I had a mom on the podcast that said that she hid the fact that she’s a mom from her clients. I didn’t understand that at first. I was like, why would you hide that? But it’s this perception of like, “Moms aren’t fun. If I say I’m a mom, they’re not going to invite me out for that beer. If I don’t get invited out for the beer, then I can’t build relationships, and that’s how you get promoted.” Anything from that to like, me being a straight man, I don’t know what it’s like to self-identify as queer. So for people to come on the podcast and say, I had a hard time finding a job after college. Because most of my experience came from these school clubs. You know how there’s a finance club, people were wearing the LGBTQ+ club, and especially, it was like a treasure. They didn’t feel comfortable putting that on their resume, because it outed them, which is scary. There’s just things that just because of the many, yet small number of identities that I hold, I can’t have all these perspectives. So it’s a learning experience for me in every episode even finding out, either the things that people hide, or the things that they’re met with resistance about when they finally are comfortable being themselves.
MELINDA: Yeah, wow. I have learned a lot too, about covering and code-switching and different ways that people assimilate too over the years. We’ve been doing tech inclusion conferences and career fairs, which we did for a number of years to bring the tech industry together, to focus on solutions to diversity and inclusion. I think in 2016, I had learned a lot about inclusion for deaf people, mostly because somebody who was deaf came to our very first conference and said: “Hey, you need to bring ASL interpreters here, and you need to pay for them.” Then from there, we became friends, I learned a lot about him, and we even created an ability in tech conference to really focus on solutions to diversity, equity, and inclusion, specifically for people with disabilities in tech.
One of the things that I found is, as I was trying to create a deaf in tech panel, is how many deaf people are covering their identity at work, I had no idea. It seemed to be that the people who had different intersectional identities tended to cover more. So women who are deaf, women of color who are deaf, and so on. I met a man who ended up coming out as deaf and Latino on stage for the first time, who had been covering both of those aspects of who he is. So I think it was surprising to me over the years as well, how many different people cover different aspects of who they are. I suspect it will be surprising to some listeners and watchers of this episode too. Just there are people who navigate the world and don’t really cover very much at all about who they are, and those are the people that we tend to imagine when we think of professional. Not always. Often, folks, White men too are covering pieces of who they are as well. There are a lot of people with traditionally marginalized, systemically marginalized identities that cover a lot of who they are. Imagine how different the world would be without that covering.
PABEL: Agreed with everything.
MELINDA: Yeah. Where can people learn more about you and your work?
PABEL: So you can find me on all the social media handles are @Plurawl. To find me on LinkedIn @PabelMartinez, I post a lot of daily content there.
MELINDA: Awesome, thank you! Thank you for this conversation, and for being you and doing the work that you do.
PABEL: Thank you. Appreciate your time.
MELINDA: All right, everybody. Take care. Please do take at least one action after listening or watching. And we will see you next week.
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Remember, the more we take action, the more we grow as humans and as leaders, and the more we transform our communities. So what action will you take today? Let us know your actions by emailing podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or reaching out on social media.
Leading With Empathy & AllyShip is a show by Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. You can learn more about us at change catalyst.co. So let’s keep building allyship across our communities and around the world.
Thank you for listening.
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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