Leading With Empathy & Allyship Show

Developing An Inclusion Mindset With A Lens Of Intersectionality With Ruchika Tulshyan

Leading With Empathy & Allyship promo with the Change Catalyst logo and photos of Ruchika Tulshyan, a South Asian woman with medium-length dark brown hair, a blue necklace, and a colorful red jacket. She is smiling at the camera and is accompanied by the multicolored cover of her book “Inclusion on Purpose.” Next to Ruchika is host Melinda Briana Epler, a White woman with red hair, glasses, and an orange shirt holding a white mug behind a laptop.

In Episode 77, Ruchika Tulshyan, Founder of Candour and author of “Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work”, joins Melinda to discuss how we develop an inclusion mindset that centers women of color, build empathy for people from a broad range of cultures and backgrounds, and focus on the importance of intersectionality and anti-racism in our work as allies and advocates.

Additional Resources

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  • “Diversity and inclusion isn’t transactional, it’s relational.”
  • “When we think about creating and taking an anti-racist lens from an individual level, this often means taking a good look around. Who is your social network today? Who are the people that you interact with? Who are the people you talk with? Who are the people you consider your friends?… The majority of the time, it’s going to be people who look like you, who’ve had similar backgrounds and similar experiences as you. One of the most meaningful and, I think, transformative ways to take an anti-racist approach to your day-to-day life and your individual lives is to cultivate diversity of viewpoints, of backgrounds, of races, certainly ethnicities, you know, immigrant stories, etc. Just truly think deeply about who’s missing. Which perspectives are missing in your life today? And how can you, not transactionally, but relationally… How can you cultivate meaningful diversity?
  • “Inclusion doesn’t just happen when you leave it to chance. It really takes intention. It takes being purposeful, meaningful, and knowing that it’s not just going to happen if you’re left to your own devices.”
  • “One [step] that I found very powerful in my own life as a young child [is] from reading fiction from a diversity of authors writing about their own communities, their own voices…. When authors write about: This is what it’s like to be a person of color, this is what it’s like to have characters with all sorts of various tensions and challenges. When you read fiction, the way that our brain is wired, we truly are able to take on and have greater empathy for people who are different from us if we seek out a diversity of voices in the fiction that we read.”
  • “Instead of being defensive, how could we be a more active listener, how could we cultivate empathy for experiences that are different to our own, and I think that’s key and central to an inclusion mindset.”


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Guest Speakers
Headshot of Ruchika Tulshyan, a South Asian woman with medium-length dark brown hair, a blue necklace, a colorful red jacket, and a black shirt smiling in front of greenery with bright red flowers on it.

Ruchika Tulshyan
Speaker at Candour LLC

Ruchika Tulshyan is the founder of Candour, a global inclusion strategy firm. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times and Harvard Business Review, and as a keynote speaker, Ruchika has addressed audiences at organizations like NASA, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and U.S. Congress.

Ruchika is the author of “The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace.” Her forthcoming book “Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work” is available for pre-order now (MIT Press, March 2022.)

Ruchika is on the Thinkers50 Radar list and named among Hive Learning’s Most Influential D&I Professionals for the past two years. She is a former international business journalist who is now regularly quoted as a media expert in outlets like NPR, The New York Times, and Bloomberg.


MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship, where we have deep real conversations to build empathy for one another, and to take action to be more inclusive, and to lead the change in our workplaces and communities. 


I’m Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker, advocate, and advisor. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc. 


All right, let’s dive in. 


MELINDA: Hello everyone. Today, I’m talking with Ruchika Tulshyan, a speaker at Candour LLC. Ruchika is also the author of Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work. We’ll be discussing together how we develop an inclusive mindset, build empathy, and center women of color in our individual and organizational work as allies and advocates. 


I want to say upfront this episode builds off the conversations we’ve had with several women of color: Minda Harts, Y-Vonne Hutchinson this season, as well as episodes in previous sessions with Megan O’Reilly, Sonja Gittens Ottley, TDo, Frieda McAlear, Andrea G. Tatum, Daralyse Lyons, Brenda Darden Wilkerson, Tonya Ladipo, Najeeba Syeed, Rachel Williams, Michelle Kim, Vanessa Roanhorse, Daisy Auger-Domínguez, and Tiffany Yu, as well as Ritu Bhasin. 


We’ve heard from so many powerful women of color sharing their stories about how to create change in the workplace. If you haven’t listened to those episodes, please go back, and listen to those as well. 


So, let’s start at the beginning. Can you please share a bit about your own story? How you grew up, where you grew up, and how you come to do the work that you do?


RUCHIKA: Thanks so much, Melinda. I’m just so honored to be in the company of such amazing women of color that you just described. I see them as my mentors, as my peers, as women that I have learned so much from personally. 


I think where my sort of experience is different from many of the women of color whom I’ve worked with is I grew up in a very small country outside the United States called Singapore. It’s a country of less than six million people. When I was growing up, it was not on many people’s radars.


One of the most sort of formative experiences of my life is I’ve always been a racial and ethnic minority in every country that I’ve lived in, and certainly the one that I grew up in. And so, having very early experiences with being “the other,” being different, had to go the extra mile to explain, you know, why my name is Ruchika, what it means, what’s my culture was both a very formative experience early in my life and sort of a thread line with every experience I’ve had in my life since including to this day as an Indian Singaporean immigrant woman to the United States. 


And so, early experiences in my life also that I think were very informative into moving into diversity, equity, and inclusion work, which I did not know or have any plans for but early experiences that I think really shaped me in growing up in Singapore is it is a very racially diverse country. It’s very hard to live your life never interacting with people who are different than you: your neighbors, your schools, friends whom you meet later on in the workplace. Racial diversity is very much a part of life. 


Inclusion is another story but racial diversity, for sure, is very much part of your life. What was very surprising, and I’d say truly challenging for me, is moving to the United States as an immigrant about a decade ago and realizing that, actually, diversity isn’t the experience of many Americans and especially many White Americans. Research finds three-quarters of White Americans don’t have a single friend of color. 


So for me, that I would say were the early experience of just being around diversity, in some ways, really taking it for granted that of course, I’m going to have friends and co-workers and people around me who are of all different sorts of backgrounds, and then moving to the United States and seeing that actually, no, that’s not the experience for many people. And that, I would say, has given me the sort of fuel and fire in my belly to make a change.


MELINDA: Thank you for sharing that. And so, my next question is kind of what led you to write this book? Why this book? You kind of started in on that. If you could just share a little bit there.


RUCHIKA: Yeah, and actually, again, my professional experience is as a business journalist. I covered companies and markets around the world, which was really exciting. Also, in many ways, it gave me pause to think at that time, you know, much shorter pauses than where I’m at right now. But at that time, short pauses, like, “Hmm. I wonder why I’m not covering the stories of women? Why am I not covering the stories of leaders who are people of color?” 


I remember having to go the extra mile to really discuss with my editors why the story about a woman of color leader mattered, and why it would matter to the audience, which now, with all the knowledge I have now, obviously, that meant, why would it matter to our White audience to read about a woman of color doing trailblazing work, which my journalist friends tell me is still quite a challenge today. 


I made a transition into the technology industry from journalism, and that was really a very rude wake-up call for me of how sexism, racism, all sorts of biases run large and, at the same time, within an industry that’s supposed to be very innovative. It is, in many ways. It is very innovative. It is very lucrative for sure in how I was really in my daily interactions, recognizing that as a woman of color, both my race and gender, but more my race played a big part in how co-workers interpreted who I was, their perceptions of me and my competence and my leadership abilities and how I should show up in the workplace. 


So, that’s a bit of a long-winded answer to your question, but really recognizing that actually taking an intersectional approach to creating a more inclusive environment is the way that we can really include more people really. I would go as far as saying, include all because when the experiences of women of color in an organization are, you know, they experience exclusion, they experience bias and discrimination, that often gives you a very, very strong perspective of what inclusion really is like at an organization. 


So informed by those challenges, I knew that I had to at least put them down on paper. And a lot of my sort of training as a journalist came in handy as I started thinking deeply about how those experiences were shaping how other women of color were experiencing the workplace. And so, that’s what led to writing the book.


MELINDA: Before we dive into some of the key pieces in the book and the subject we want to talk about today, can you just share a little bit about what the reader can expect to learn from your book? What is it about?


RUCHIKA: Right. Great question. So, Inclusion on Purpose is a book about how to create a more inclusive, equitable workplace environment. It talks about both individual actions that we can take on a day-to-day basis to be more inclusive. This idea that actually, you know, as many people here will know, inclusion doesn’t just happen when you leave it to chance. It really takes intention. It really takes being purposeful, meaningful. And knowing that it’s not just going to happen if you just left to your own devices. 


It also centers on the experience of women of color, who, as we look into intersectional theory, we now experience both race and gender marginalization, and by centering on the experiences of women of color, that again gives us so much insight into how to be more inclusive, how to create a workplace of belonging for all.


MELINDA: You have, as you say, really focused on intersectionality, particularly for women of color and also centering anti-racism, in our D&I work, diversity and inclusion work. So, what does it look like to center anti-racism in work?


RUCHIKA: It’s so important to center anti-racism. I really think of that as the fulcrum from where we need to focus our energies to again create meaningful change. For folks listening in and watching, we know that a lot of corporate D&I today where we’re at has focused on elevating White women, generally with educational and socioeconomic privilege. 


That’s why we find that a lot of corporate diversity and inclusion efforts still have a long way to go to include everyone. And a big part of that is the refusal or the hesitation or, you know, fill in the blank here, but essentially, the inability to engage meaningfully with anti-racism work and think about centering anti-racism in policies and in all sorts of actions, actually, not just interventions at an organizational level, but even individuals. 


And so, I think there’s a huge opportunity here to center. There’s a huge need. There’s a huge opportunity and urgency to center anti-racism in both corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as well as individual efforts to be a more inclusive human being, a manager, a leader in all facets of our lives.


MELINDA: Can you talk about maybe what are some of the steps to do that on an individual level?


RUCHIKA: Yeah. One of the statistics that I shared from PRI research, which finds, you know, three-quarters of White people don’t have a single friend of color, also finds that the average White American social network is 91% White, and the first time that for the average White American that they would actually interact with someone who’s from a different racial background is actually in the workplace. 


So, one of the reasons why I want to center and focus on the workplace, and I really admire Change Catalyst for doing this, is because we know that for a lot of people, that might actually be the first time they’ve interacted with someone who speaks a different language or has an unfamiliar name or meaningfully had any interactions with someone who’s different. 


So, when we think about creating and taking an anti-racist lens from an individual level, this often means taking a good look around who is your social network today? Who are the people that you interact with? Who are the people who you talk with? Who are the people you consider your friends? Who do you invite to dinner back in the pre-pandemic days, or maybe meet now outdoors for a socially distant walk or coffee? 


The majority of the time, it’s going to be people who look like you who’ve had similar backgrounds and similar experiences as you. One of the most meaningful and, I think, transformative ways to take an anti-racist approach to your day-to-day life and your individual lives is to cultivate diversity and cultivate diversity of viewpoints, of backgrounds, of races, certainly ethnicities, you know, immigrant stories, etc. Just truly think deeply about who’s missing, which perspectives are missing in your life today, and how can you not transactionally but relationally, which is something my friend Aiko Bethia says, you know, “Diversity and inclusion aren’t transactional, it’s relational.” How can you cultivate meaningful diversity, right? 


That could be in doing an audit of what are the restaurants that you visit? Or what are the coffee shops that you frequent? Who owns them? What are the stories behind them? Now that book season is upon me with my book release from the corner, really doing a deep dive into what are women of color owned bookstores? I’ve been curating a list, and I’ll be sending those out soon, but really thinking about how do we intentionally and meaningfully choose diversity in our lives. I mean, we’d be so much richer for it. 


I have more tips. I’ll just say one more so that we can continue. The other one for me, which has been transformative, is consuming media, books, podcasts, stories, especially as well as actual articles. My news is coming from a diversity of sources, right. And that means that created by people of color, communities of color for communities of color, and for me to get a deeper look into not just defaulting to, you know, largely, we know, certainly, again, my journalist lens always reminds me the media is very much run by and owned by a White majority. And so, really seeking stories, community newspapers, community newsletters, community websites, and blogs to get my news rather than again defaulting to the large circulation media.


MELINDA: Yeah, I think it’s important. What you said is important, really important. I’m just going to call it out. It’s by and for communities of color. I mean, I do think that is key because if you’re consuming things only created for you, you’re still not getting that experience, that expansion of your understanding and deepening of empathy. 


In my work with leaders, I have worked with them to develop an inclusive mindset. So, when I saw you have a whole chapter on that, I was really excited because I also build on Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. I also build on Carol Dweck’s growth mindset in that work. I must start redefining it. What is an inclusion mindset to you?


RUCHIKA: Yeah, and again, for me, an inclusion mindset. And I’m so glad, Melinda, that we are in solidarity on this. I think this work cannot be done in a silo. So, I love that there are different people approaching it with similar sorts of ideas. And so, what I love about Carol Dweck’s work and what I even talk about in the book is this idea that we may come pre-conditioned with certain notions. 


We know society, unfortunately, is racist, and many of us have been conditioned. I can speak for myself. We have been conditioned with racist ideas and stereotypes and notions and biases of what people are capable of, unfortunately, based on their skin color. And where I think the growth mindset idea is very powerful is knowing that you can overcome that, that you can change that. It takes intentional action, but you can overcome those stereotypes and those ideas and those biases, those racist ideas, but it takes intention. And that’s what an inclusion mindset is. It understands that you might be pre-conditioned.


An example which I find that people find more palatable is how we’re all conditioned with the gender schema and the gender norms. I have a five-year-old, it’s very clear. I have a five-year-old cis Brown boy. So, what people are very clear about is, hey, these colors are okay for this boy. And these colors pink, for example, like my shirt, is not okay for this boy to wear and to take on. And so for me, as a mother, as someone who comes in trying to challenge the gender schema, that means taking intentional action, having a growth mindset, because I certainly was conditioned with these ideas as well about what do cis boys and girls, what do they wear, what colors are appropriate and what is not. 


And so, going the extra mile understanding that you can change, that you have an opportunity to grow from that. You don’t have to be fixed with the mindset that you were conditioned with or that you saw growing up or even around you in society. I think that’s very key when it comes to inclusion because a lot of the earlier defensiveness impact even till today with a lot of the defensiveness I heard from leaders was, “Well, I just grew up this way. In my day, we didn’t have to worry about diversity. We didn’t have to think about inclusion.” So it’s just, you know, I’m a product of my times. 


And the inclusion mindset says, “Absolutely not.” You may be. That may be factual that you grew up with certain ideas, but you can grow from that. You can develop empathy. You can learn from experiences different than yours, but you have to seek them out. Kind of like the growth mindset, right?


MELINDA: Absolutely. You talk specifically about leaders here. How do you develop that as a leader? How do you develop that inclusion mindset? I actually call it the inclusive mindset. It’s so similar, so if I slip up, that’s what it is.


RUCHIKA: That’s totally fine. And both sort of, you know, interpretations absolutely are valid. Right? And we know that it takes work to develop an inclusive mindset, for sure, an inclusion mindset. I have several ways that I recommend in my book. The one that I think that I really look to is making sure that we don’t get defensive. There are a lot of different threads that I like to pull, but I think in an individualistic, hyper-capitalist society, like the one that we operate in, what we often find is there’s this focus on “I’m always right. I have all the answers. If I said something that upset someone else, that was offensive, or it was racist, it’s not my problem, and it’s not my fault to fix. My intention matters more.” That defensiveness can often be really, really harmful and can be the biggest blocker to an inclusion mindset. 


So, where I like to focus a lot of my energy, especially for leaders focusing on creating an inclusion mindset, is thinking about why am I defensive in this situation? Is it going to help? I talk about defensiveness. It doesn’t help. Then, instead of being defensive, how could we be a more active listener? How can we cultivate empathy for experiences that are different than our own? I think that’s key and central to an inclusion mindset.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. I think when you’re defensive like that, there’s an intellectual piece of it. You can feel in your body as well. I think that the first step is noticing, “Oh, wait a minute. I’m tensing up. My brain is tensing up. My body is tensing up. I’m holding on to something. What am I holding on to? I’m really investigating that and going deeper. Yeah.


RUCHIKA: That’s so powerful, Melinda, what you just said because I think we don’t talk about how it shows up in our bodies. And what you just said is so powerful because it really does. There’s obviously a very physiological reaction to defensiveness. There’s a reason why we were conditioned to be defensive in situations, but now we need to kind of rise above that back to the growth mindset and inclusion mindset. 


The other thing I wanted to also say is the flip side for the person who is encountering defensiveness in someone else. It takes a lot of risk for a woman of color to speak up, especially in situations where there might be a big power differential. If you want to talk to your boss or you want to talk to your boss’s boss, or you want to talk for me in the work I do with a client and offer feedback, like hey, this situation happened, and it really put me in a tough place. I experience racism or experience bias. 


Experiencing defensiveness from other people can be very demoralizing as the person who raises the fore issues of facing bias and discrimination. And so, that defensiveness really doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the person who’s delivering that feedback and hopefully offering it from a place of safety and feeling like they can raise the issues and challenges that they face. And it certainly doesn’t help the person who is trying to develop an inclusion mindset too.


MELINDA: One of the things that I think is so powerful in your book is the reflection questions that you ask people to do the work, right. I do this in my book, too, because it’s so important. It’s not enough to read the book. You actually have to do the work to change yourself and change, hopefully, the organization around you as well. So, could you just share a couple of questions that leaders should be asking themselves as they work to build an inclusive mindset?


RUCHIKA: Yeah. It’s so important, and you know, these might be different from the book, but I think checking in again, very, very constantly. Do I have a diversity of perspectives around me when I make decisions when I’m launching something really big? Or it could be something big or small. Do I have a diversity of perspectives, and that truly means racial diversity and ethnic diversity and gender diversity is at the core for me. That intersection of race and gender is really important. 


Are women of color, are Black women present in the decisions I’m making in whose perspectives I’m seeking, in who’s being represented in the audience that I’m trying to engage with? I think leaders need to think about the importance of women of color and reflect upon how much women of color are present and are a very powerful but unfortunately overlooked and underutilized audience and resource. 


And this is true no matter who you are, right? I use the example of like, where you buy your coffee from or where you go, have your meals from or whatever it is, where you order takeout from. It’s also present in every other facet of our lives as well, right? Like when I’m thinking of redesigning my website, like who do I call, right? Who do I ask for referrals from? “Hey, do you know a good website designer?” Right? Like, who do I ask referrals from? Whom do I trust? 


There are a lot of these reflections that we need to do, I would say, in our everyday lives in every situation that we’re in. I want to center the fact that for women of color, for people of color, but specifically women of color, these calculations happen on a daily. Right? And they are calculations, like, “I can afford to live in a neighborhood.” I’m seeing it from my own experience. I can afford to live in a neighborhood which everyone says is really good, but it’s majority White. 


Is this the type of life that I want to build? Is this the type of home that I want to build? Do I make other calculations and say, “No, the importance for me is diversity even in racial diversity and socioeconomic diversity.” And that might mean making choices and being meaningful about investing and under-invested and under-resourced areas because that’s what’s important to me.


MELINDA: Yeah, it is a product of somebody who grew up in very diverse neighborhoods going to very diverse schools and public schools. I can say that I thought it was normal. And it wasn’t until much later that I realized it was not. It makes such a difference in building empathy within your children and understanding, and so much more. I mean, our childhood sculpts our worldview. It is so important. So, I love that. 


You have a chapter focused on empathy as well. It’s near and dear to my heart. Allyship is empathy in action. And so, can you talk about how leaders can develop empathy? What are some practical steps that people can take?


RUCHIKA: Yeah, I think there are so many research-backed ways. I talked about the research from Berkeley’s Greater Good Center for science. I just think where we need to focus our energy on empathy is recognizing how transformative it’s going to be for our lives, and it really will. It really will be. And Melinda, your fantastic and very important body of work is extremely pertinent to this, the reality that without empathy, without really taking action from the empathy that we developed, without taking responsibility for the issues that we see around us, we aren’t going to make a change, right? 


The importance of empathy can’t be overstated. The two big things that I’d like to highlight, one I’d say, harder to do but the biggest change. And then, the second is, or maybe I’ll start with the second. The second is more practical, and that’s reading fiction. One of the steps from Berkeley, when it comes to developing empathy, truly, like research back way to develop empathy, and one that I found very powerful in my own life as a young child from reading fiction from really a diversity of authors writing about their own communities, their own voices, not necessarily people with privilege and power writing about communities and interpreting communities of color and marginalized communities with their own lens. But really, when authors write about this is what it’s like to be a person of color. This is what it’s like to have characters with all sorts of various tensions and challenges. And when you read fiction, the way that our brain is wired, we truly are able to take on and have greater empathy from people who are different than us if we seek out a diversity of voices in the fiction that we read. So, that’s a very “easy way.” 


Sometimes that actually means going against the bestseller list. That means seeking out perspectives from smaller presses, not the large presses. I can go on and on about the lack of access and equity in the publishing industry. But one of the most transformative books that I read, and I recommend it in my own book, is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi on how the intergenerational effects of slavery and trauma impact the characters in her book for generations and how that has such a material impact. I remember reading the book and being so moved by it. I think, for me, it had even more meaning because, again, I grew up outside the United States. So, my interactions with Black American people were very cursory. It was almost non-existent until I was an adult. 


And so, what was very meaningful for me is that the empathy that I had built over the years of reading fiction from a variety of Black American authors really helped me put a lot of situations in perspective. I’m very, very fortunate that since I’ve lived in the United States for the last decade, I really had a true racial diversity of friends. I have many friends who do represent the Black American community, but what I found is that early perspective of being able to read fiction from authors who could really describe what it felt like, what is that real experience. 


And again, there’s something about fiction, apparently, which makes it less defensive, or makes you less defensive than if you read a memoir, where again, there could be a little bit of both sightings, which is both sightings which I really try not to do, but I’ve seen it a lot in the media, you know, this sort of like, “Oh, that was your experience, but that’s not factual.” Fiction gives us a lot more creativity and the ability sort of to really develop that empathy. So, that’s a little more sort of tactical. 


MELINDA: Actually, before you go on, I just want to say, you know, it’s not something that I’ve really thought about, like, how have I been sculpted by my reading, but I have quite a bit indeed. It was fiction. And also, I just want to say poetry. When I was younger, my grandmother lived in Albuquerque, and there was this amazing bookstore across the street from the University of New Mexico. It had a huge section of both fiction and nonfiction and also poetry of Native Americans or indigenous people. I just dove into that. Every time we went over the summer, I would grab a few books and take them home with me. I learned so much. I mean, there can be so much history present in one poem that can also take you there. It can be a very different world and proteges who explore deeper.


RUCHIKA: Absolutely, Melinda. The other part of this is the more work we do in our private spaces, especially around this. I think it can be very powerful when we then go out into the world and in our interactions with people who are different than us, especially in the workplace. 


One of the very important things I found from reading fiction and developing more empathy, I would say is, it would safeguard me from then having to ask my co-workers of color from different backgrounds like, “Hey, can you explain to me why we shouldn’t be saying this thing or like, why I shouldn’t be doing that thing?” It already gave me empathy. 


I remember reading about characters and thinking more of African American characters who express sort of stressful situations with having their hair touched, for example, and reading that in fiction and reading that in books. I don’t think it’s okay to touch anyone’s hair, for the record, but it kind of gave me that context again, especially as someone who grew up outside this country. And so, I think it should be required reading for everyone to look for fiction that’s, again, from a diversity of authors. 


The second part that I was going to say, which is, again, takes harder work, is less sort of like tactical at that moment. Like, oh, here’s this easy, so you shouldn’t just go get a book from someone who’s different than you and read it. It is really active listening to hear, not listening to respond, and really stopping and processing and thinking. 


Sometimes, I think in our rush to action, and in our rush to, you know, again, research backs us up, but in our rush to not feel uncomfortable, right back to the inclusion and growth mindset. In our rush to, oh, I feel uncomfortable that someone has brought up a situation where I behaved in a way that I feel ashamed. And so, rather than sitting with that and actively listening, every time they say something, I’m already formulating my response to challenge them or be defensive. 


And so, active listening is really one of those ways that I think we can develop empathy. Research-backed away, as Berkeley recommends, as well. And so, I think we have a lot of work to be done. And yet the opportunity, again, could be transformational. That empathy can be so powerful in relationships outside the workplace, as well, with our family, with our friends, with people who we love as well. Having greater empathy can be so transformational.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, I 100% agree—1,000% agree. We have time, so I want to ask you this one other question, which is just, is there anything else that you really want people to know? I do have a couple of questions, but we do have a little bit of time. So, if there’s anything else that is really on your mind that you want to say a bit about. 


RUCHIKA: I want to say that this work really requires all of us to take responsibility to be accountable. I love that Melinda, you, and I are building on this together. I’m so proud and excited that there is a cacophony of voices, you know, a symphony of voices, I would say even doing this work. And so, sometimes in a very individualistic culture, like the one I see here in the United States, there’s a lot of focus on, “Oh, I should be the one who stands out.” or “It’s my voice that matters the most.” or “My perspective has to be the one that changes everyone’s minds.” 


And, for me, I really see my work as building upon foundations that were laid for me decades, even centuries ago. I think of the amazing work done by Stella M. Nkomo and Ella Belle Smith really focused on 30 plus years ago writing about the different experiences of Black women and White women in the workplace, not getting at that time the recognition that they deserved. And now, all these years later, their book has been re-released by Harvard Business Press. I just think we need to do this work together, right? There has to be solidarity. 


In many ways, I think in other areas of leadership and management, and even development, like self-development, there have been people building upon each other, but you may not feel like you need to do it in community. Of course, the work is done together, but you don’t feel like you need to really call out other people in a positive way of calling people and say, you know, “I’m so glad I’m building on your work here.” But I think for diversity, equity, and inclusion work to be transformational, we do have to do that. We do have to pay homage. We do have to pass the ball. We do have to pass the mic in a way that I think can again also change the paradigms around what we think a leader is. A leader doesn’t have to be this lone wolf, like, “I have all the answers. I did everything.” But really, a community and a tribe of people lifting each other up.


MELINDA: I love that. Agreed so much. So, Ruchika, where can people learn more about your work?


RUCHIKA: Well, probably the best way right now. All effort is to the book, as you can see. Or you might be able to hear from my voice that I’m a little, you know, I don’t like to promote myself, but.


MELINDA: We’ve discussed that on social media together. It’s tough. It’s tough.


RUCHIKA: So thank you for this opportunity, Melinda. But my website is basically InclusionOnPurpose.co. It will give you more information about my book. I do have a newsletter mailing list called Inclusion is Leadership. And again, I deeply believe that inclusion is a leadership trait, and we all have the opportunity to cultivate and practice it. That’s probably the best sort of way. 


I’m also very, very proud I co-authored an article called Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome with Jodi-Ann Burey, which was Harvard Business Review’s top three articles of 2021. So, please do check that out. Let me know your feedback on social media. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn. My name is spelled Rtulshyan on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, actually, so you should be able to find me.


MELINDA: Awesome. And I always end by asking listeners and watchers to take one action. So, what action would you like people to take after listening to this conversation? 


RUCHIKA: That is so hard. One action. Okay, here’s one sort of building upon what we did and talked about. Either write down a list of the five people outside your immediate family, whom you’re closest to and whom you seek advice from and mentorship from, or audit the five people who you’re most sort of in touch with on social media and observe what are their backgrounds, what are their racial, ethnic, gender identity, you know, any other demographic data that you have as much sort of intersectionality as you possibly can get. 


It is really important to do that because what many people don’t realize is we do operate in an echo chamber, right? Many of us do only interact with people who look like us both online and offline. And when there’s a chance to make a change, when we audit that, when we take a look at that, when we’re really intentional about it, that’s when we can say, either, “Hey, we’re doing great, and I’m so glad, and we’re going to do more of this.” or “Actually, no. There’s room for improvement. Here’s what we’re going to do.”


MELINDA: Awesome. And I want to offer a second action you can take is to go check out Ruchika’s new book Inclusion on Purpose. And she also has another book, The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace. So, go check out both of those. 


And one final ask would be because now you’ve heard that Ruchika has a hard time amplifying her own voice. And really, self-promotion can be hard. And especially hard when people have marginalized identities, right? It is because it is the history of people telling you you’re not good enough. And so, then you have to push through that in order to do this. And so, please amplify her. Amplify her work. Share it on social media if you’re active on social media. Tell people about her book. Do the work as an ally to amplify. Thank you so much.


RUCHIKA: Melinda, thank you so much. Thank you for showing allyship in action. That’s very powerful. Thank you. 


MELINDA: Yeah. Likewise, I appreciate you so much and all the work that you do. Thank you for the conversation. 


RUCHIKA: Thank you. 


MELINDA: To learn more about this episode’s topic, visit ally.cc. 


Allyship is a journey. It’s a journey of self-exploration, learning, unlearning, healing, and taking consistent action. And the more we take action, the more we grow as leaders and transform our communities. So, what action will you take today? 


Please share your actions and learning with us by emailing podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or on social media because we’d love to hear from you. And thank you for listening. Please subscribe to the podcast and the YouTube channel and share this. Let’s keep building allies around the world. 


Leading With Empathy & Allyship is an original show by Change Catalyst where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. Appreciate you listening to our show and taking action as an ally. See you next week.

About the Host

Host: Melinda Briana Epler

Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.

As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.

Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.

Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.

In The Press

Watch Melinda’s TED Talk

Speaking Engagements

Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.


This show has given me clear opportunities to learn in the midst of 2020’s numerous social and personal challenges, including engaging remote content. I’ve learned new terms, heard new voices, diversified my interests and internalized personal narratives that have inspired me to get more active.

The show shaped my scope of reasoning on the dynamics in the corporate world, brand building, harmony across board with team mates. Your series has helped me feel less alone and less daunted by the challenges I face as a leader at a company that is used to moving fast with decisions and making swift progress across the board. I so earnestly want to grow and deepen my perspective when it comes to diversity and allyship; it’s not always clear how to do it. This series has felt like a path I can follow and revisit and draw strength and insight from. Thank you.

I watched many of your live shows in 2020, and I learned something from every discussion. They were inspiring on many levels. Early on during the pandemic (especially), the show also provided me with a sense of community that I was sorely needing. Thank you.

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