Melinda Briana Epler, Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst, talks with TDo, Senior Solutions Engineer at Gladly, for “Influencing Your Company To Address Racism.” TDo describes her work to address racism and violence against the AAPI community in her workplace, as well as building coalitions, influencing leaders, and the role allies have in this work.
- TDo’s Tech Inclusion Talk: My Journey In Tech As A Triple Minority – Then & Now
- Resources Supporting the AAPI Community
- Dare to Lead with Brené Brown and Aiko Bethea on Inclusivity at Work: “The Heart of Hard Conversations” & “Creating Transformative Cultures”
- Leading With Empathy & Allyship Episode 28: “Empathic Leadership & Emotional Tax In The Workplace With Andrea G. Tatum”
The live show is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now and White Coat Captioning.
- “In terms of anti-racism, literally ask people how they are doing first and foremost. I can only speak from an Asian background – but any minority group should ask how they are doing. As an Asian, we are raised to be quiet and not cause trouble or cause issues. ‘Keep your head down, do your work, and don’t cause any trouble.’ With that, it becomes ingrained in us to not say anything even if it is painful. Some people might just be bearing the pain, fear or anxiety – and if you don’t ask, you don’t know.”
- “It has been hard to balance the anxiety and also my real work and also the emotional labor that is required to continue these conversations all in any single second of the day. That is just what goes on in my body and mind. If you think about it, most folks don’t have to worry about, ‘hey, is my mom safe going for a walk? Is someone going to hit her over the head with a brick?’ But I am constantly thinking about it…. I just want to reiterate that the fear and anxiety about anti-racism or just racism is really real and it affects your nervous system.”
- “A lot of people want to be allies and they think they have all the answers – and that’s OK if you don’t. Ask how you can help. It is different for each person, quite frankly. For me, you know, what’s helpful is hearing outcry, outrage. The donation part is secondary for me. My colleague who might be Asian, maybe donations for organizations might be a priority for her or him.”
Senior Solutions Engineer at Gladly
TDo (Theresa Do) is a Sr. Solutions Engineer at Gladly based in San Francisco, CA. She has over 10+ yrs of pre-sales experience in SaaS based companies. Providing insight and offering consulting on how to deliver radically personal customer service is a long-held passion. TDo is well-versed in helping companies of all sizes – from start-ups that are building their name – all the way to established Fortune 100 brands. TDo is deeply passionate about racial equity, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, martial arts and any dog that crosses her path. Ask her about Dozer, her dog that is the same size and weight as her!
MELINDA: Welcome, everyone, to Leading With Empathy & Allyship. Here we have deep, real conversations about how we can be more inclusive leaders in our workplaces and in our communities. I am Melinda Briana Epler, your host and Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. This is a safe space to learn, to build empathy for each other, and to understand tangible actions we can all take to make a difference in the world.
So we have been on air for one year, everyone, as of tomorrow! Our audience has been steadily growing. We are excited to see you tune in each week and listen to the podcast. A year ago on our first episode, I spoke with Michelle Kim about countering anti-Asian xenophobia in the workplace. A year ago. It was a few months in the pandemic and anti-Asian hate and violence was growing. Here we are one year later still talking about this as it grows and anti-Asian racism continues. Fortunately there are more allies getting behind this now. I am excited to talk about that and talk with TDo today about influencing your company to address racism. TDo is Senior Solutions Engineer at Gladly. Welcome, TDo.
TDo: It is good to be back and happy anniversary, Melinda. That’s quite a feat. It is so good to have something out there that’s consistent for the more marginalized groups to have access to.
MELINDA: Hopefully it is creating change. We are seeing a lot of people tune in around the world. TDo, the first thing we started doing is just describing ourselves for anybody who is Blind, Low Vision, on the phone, on the podcast who can’t see us. Yeah. If you join me in that. I will start. I am a White woman with long hair wearing a red shirt and black and white glasses.
TDo: Thank you for making this accessible for everyone and giving great thought into this. I am TDo. I am Asian-American, short black hair, V-neck black shirt, and no glasses.
MELINDA: [Laughter] Cool. A few things before we jump into conversation. One is, please, thank you all for starting to introduce yourselves. Please do. And please use the chat. Let us know what you are thinking about. Let us know who you are, where you are. Let us know what you are thinking about and anything you want to say in the chat, please. Feel free to do so, obviously inclusively. If you have specific questions, use the Q&A function down at the bottom of the screen so we can find them more easily.
This is being live captioned by Maggie at White Coat Captioning. Down at the bottom of your screen, just click on ‘closed caption’ and you will be able to adjust the settings there if you would like. We also have interpreters sponsored by Interpreter-Now. ASL interpreters. They will be taking turns on the screen today. Also, thank you to our team, Juliette, Renzo, Sally, Ariyah, Emilie, and Darlene who are all doing things behind the scenes to make this magic happen.
Today we are going to be talking about TDo’s experience helping people in leadership and across the company to understand the issues and influencing them to take action. We will talk a little bit about the issues but if you want to know more, if you want to go deeper into the issues that are happening now around anti-Asian hate, please listen to episode 37. We talked about how we can collectively address anti-Asian hate with Tammy Cho. Lots of details there. In this episode, we are going to get more into the tactical and practical ways you can make a difference and create change. Let’s start, TDo, with a bit about your story and how you came to do the work that you do.
TDo: Yeah, so, as Melinda mentioned, I am a Senior Solutions Engineer. Most people don’t know what that is. To be quite honest, I didn’t know what it was when I applied for the position about 10 years ago. How I actually got started is I was a tech support person in a startup and part of my passion is really helping people and solving problems. Tech support – I have a passion for technology. Bridging those two things, tech support sounded like a great option for me. I really loved it. But after three years of sitting behind a screen and people being really upset at you because they are coming at you when they are already frustrated. I needed something a little bit more in terms of being able to solve the problems but also being able to help customers that aren’t already upset.
There was a position open called a Junior Solutions Engineer. Had no idea what it was but went for it. That’s how I got my foot in the door and I learned quickly it was exactly what I wanted to do; to have interactions, build relationships but also have the technical chops to help solve problems for customers. That’s how I got started. I have been doing that for the last 10 years or so and now I am at Gladly today.
MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. Let me dive into a couple of things. One is you gave a talk at Tech Inclusion last year about being a triple minority. Can you talk about what that means to you?
TDo: Essentially, first, thank you for the invitation for that presentation. It was really important for me to highlight that and the experience of a triple minority or even any minority. By definition of a triple minority and how I present is: I am a masculine person of center. In the world I am a woman, but I present masculine. I am Asian and I am also queer. I fall into those three major buckets. The experience a triple minority has is vastly different from someone that is not, someone who is White or cis presenting, so it was important to have that conservation with you a few months ago.
MELINDA: How is that playing out for you now that is in that experience playing out for you in this moment?
TDo: I am not going to lie, it has been really hard. It is hard but it is also rewarding in a sense that the world at a macro seems a little bit more aggressive and violent specifically around minorities and Asian hate and anti-Asian lately. The plus side to that of being a triple minority is I feel that because of the experiences that I have had, I have learned empathy and understanding. I have also had the privilege of experiencing support from folks that I never would think. White cis presenting males at work are probably the loudest speakers on my behalf and that has been huge. It is really heartwarming.
But in terms of the world itself, it is a little scary. To give you background, Melinda, I am normally from the Bay Area and I am cross-country traveling right now. One of the concerns while planning the trip is not only my presentation in terms of gender but now with this rhetoric of ‘kung flu’ and all that anti-Asian language and violence, I now have to think of further what’s safe and when can I go to the bathroom, who do I need to bring with me? Actually, my partner had to be the face of our communication throughout the entire trip, especially in the South, because it hasn’t been safe.
Even during this trip, I have already got looks in the bathroom because of presentation, but also exiting a gas station there was a man in the South. We will just keep it at that. He said things under his breath and he thought I couldn’t hear him, but I actually heard what he said. It wasn’t kind and it had to do with my ethnicity. It’s been hard because these are things that are getting brought up to life and people think they have permission to behave this way. It has been challenging in that sense lately more so than it has before. Growing up Asian, you always get these types of comments but it hasn’t felt threatening physically up until lately.
MELINDA: I am sorry.
MELINDA: Yeah. I understand a bit about that, just that experience of having – my husband is Black and there are times where we don’t feel safe and there are times when I have to be the one, that presenting person of our couple. It sucks.
TDo: It is hard. But the allyship that you and others bring forward helps us stay safe. My partner is White-presenting. She is actually Jewish, but she is White-presenting. If it was not for her, it sounds funny, but I probably wouldn’t be going to the bathroom, to be honest. Not by myself. That wouldn’t happen.
MELINDA: I want to point out to everybody that when you described your role it had nothing to do with diversity and inclusion. That is not your role in the company. Having said that, can we talk a little bit about what you have done inside your company over the last, has it been a couple months?
TDo: Yeah, first, I want to acknowledge Black Lives Matter because we are having this conversation and I definitely want this to stay in the forefront in parallel with other things we are talking about. Secondly, I absolutely did not do this alone. I have been lucky to connect with you Melinda and having this conversation but there were a whole bunch of people at Gladly that had very strong voices, thoughts and insights into how we got the company going forward to help support anti-racism.
That being said, the most important thing I have learned is there has to be intent. We are really lucky at Gladly that there is leadership intent on making things better and easier. Just to give context, we know there is a lot of anti-Asian violence happening and that has gotten worse and worse. A lot of my colleagues and myself started to see more of these reports happening. We took it really personally because any one of these people could have been our moms, aunts, sisters. I have had colleagues that were of Asian ethnicity that were scared to leave their house for the first time ever.
There is a dedicated Slack channel at Gladly about DEI. It started off with sharing stories and diversity hiring. That’s actually one of our goals. It is something we are very focused on. That quickly turned into focus on the anti-Asian hate and also Black Lives Matter leading before this. Our C-suite, our CEO, our co founders are very active in understanding what’s happening and how they can better support us. So there is a lot of support about Black Lives Matter and I am so grateful for that.
The second part to be really honest was and this is not just Gladly specifically, just generally speaking, but the lack of outcry when it came to anti-Asian hate. That was hard and frustrating. There were a handful of us at Gladly that would converse in this public DEI channel talking about how much it hurts, how scary it is, how it could have been our families. And that led into our VP of People leaning in and saying what can we do to help? We had allies also start to speak up which always kind of tugs at my heart. It is because the collaborative voices that were brought up to the surface that we are able to take a step.
From that conversation, we are able to dedicate an entire company meeting sharing our individual stories and we were able to humanize that experience. I think there were about 3-4 of us that shared our stories to the company of 120 people. Really just pulling from the heart. I think we were able to humanize the process which started huge conversations within Gladly and from there we are able to get resources and donations and different organizations and different training groups are now in conversations. We have been doing a lot and that’s kind of how that all started.
MELINDA: Awesome. Can you walk through the steps that – for somebody – because I think there are a lot of people in companies feeling frustrated, angry and like their companies aren’t doing enough. I think over the last year we were seeing when George Floyd was murdered and so much of Black people having to push for their companies to do something. Asian people now as well. I think it would be helpful for people to learn more about exactly how you did it. What did you do? How did you make it happen?
TDo: I will say it was definitely ad hoc and not planned and really ebb and flow. Again, I can’t reiterate enough. I sit in a privileged place in terms of working for a company that has every intention to support minorities and people of color. That itself made it easy to start this conversation with Gladly. So I can only speak from that lens.
The first step was literally sharing stories and humanizing the process. When I say sharing stories I mean it in two-fold. One is sharing stories of what’s in the media now – the brutality of it and making it real. Then pairing that up with the reality that my mom texts me every night to make sure I got home OK meaning are you alive and OK? You know, things like humanizing it. My mom could be going for a walk and she could have been one of those women that got beaten down. I think being authentic in that approach. The first step was bringing stories to light. Second was humanizing the process.
And also having – there is another colleague of mine that was having back end conversations with management on our behalf. There are some of us that were having front-facing [conversations] in Slack channel: ‘this is what’s happening.’ There is another colleague that took it upon herself to talk to management to say we need to do something about this: ‘Go check out all these things in the Slack channel.’ Got their attention and then basically just asked. Actually, I don’t think we asked for the hour meeting. It was given to us by management because they wanted to hear from us. That all goes to show the company’s intent is really important. I can’t speak for companies that don’t have it on their radar or might not want or care. But I can say if the company really wants to hear, they just might need guidance in understanding what’s happening now.
Kind of coming from a growth mindset, people want to help. You have to assume they want to help. I know it takes labor and I have internal struggles with this, sometimes it does take emotional labor to bring it to light first and foremost. That’s kind of the first initial approach. Then just dedicating time or asking for time to speak I think is the next step. You can’t go into a conversation sharing without potential solutions. At least that’s my take on it. You can’t go in and say everything is awful and not have any suggestions of how to ask for help.
My thing is ‘Everything is awful, but this is what I need.’ There were a lot of resources that were shared organically internally, in the Slack channel, that we brought up to the entire company. These are training organizations you can be a part of. These are organizations that could use donations. Here are news articles that you can post. The question always comes up: what can your company do? We have great examples of resources and also ask yourself: who is at the table? What representation is here?
MELINDA: Given that, what should companies be doing now? What are some good solutions, some good things for companies to be doing right now at this moment?
TDo: In terms of anti-racism, literally ask people how they are doing first and foremost. I can only speak from an Asian background but any minority group should ask how they are doing first and foremost. As an Asian, we are raised to be quiet and not cause trouble or cause issue. Keep your head down, do your work, and don’t cause any trouble. With that, it becomes ingrained in us to not say anything even if it is painful. So some people might just be bearing the pain, or the fear or anxiety. If you don’t ask, you don’t know.
A lot of people want to be allies and they think they have all the answers and that’s OK if you don’t. Ask how you can help. It is different for each person quite frankly. For me what’s helpful is hearing outcry, outrage. The donation part is secondary for me. My colleague who might be Asian, maybe donations for organizations might be a priority for her or him. I think literally asking: how can I help? Are you OK? I think that’s fair to ask and what companies can start doing.
Also, dedicate time to lift up these minority voices. We kind of go about our day day to day and don’t really think about what voices aren’t heard? Who is not at the table and who needs to be heard? The quiet one, what do you have to say? I think everyone has something to offer but sometimes you just need to pull it from them a little bit.
MELINDA: Yeah. Can you talk more about, in addition to that, you want to see outcry and outrage from your allies – is that what you mean?
TDo: I do, for me personally. This might not resonate with others but for me if there is empathy and sympathy in the things that are happening that is so impactful because I feel from empathy and sympathy comes action. It is easy to throw money at things and there is nothing wrong with that either. Don’t get me wrong. For me personally, if your actions are driven by empathy and sympathy, that is huge because it is authentic and it is important. It is just really important especially with White-presenting folks and having those voices lift up the minority voices.
I will give you a really great example. There was a period of time where in Slack channel I shared a lot of stories and this is no fault of anyone’s. I was just really frustrated that there wasn’t outcry and attention to this particular story about anti-Asian violence. And we had a colleague of mine who is White-presenting cis male, he reposted what I posted and said hey, listen to this. He used his privilege to uplift my voice and it got the traction needed. We can sit here and just have an ego conversation about why didn’t anybody listen to me? Why did they listen when he posted? To me it doesn’t matter so long as the voice is heard and I am so grateful he used his privilege to uplift our voice. It is a huge reason why we are able to have hour-long meetings at Gladly about this is because he was able to help bring that to the forefront.
MELINDA: And that gets to another question I had around what do you wish leadership had done to begin with?
TDo: It is hard because I think they have done such a great job to date. I have always felt supported. If I am being really, really transparent and getting into the weeds of things, I wish it didn’t take – it didn’t take a long time, but I just wish maybe after the first posting of the story someone would have reached out and said, hey, is there anything we can do? Part of that is my own impatience too. When I see something that isn’t right whether that is anti-Asian, BLM, or an old woman walking across the street and no one is helping. I like quick action when it comes to helping others. Maybe my expectations aren’t realistic in terms of this thing is happening and give me the attention I need. If I could change it , that would probably be the only thing I would change is getting support a little bit sooner. I will caveat and say Gladly did not take a long time. I am just impatient.
MELINDA: Yeah, well, I mean I think you are not alone in being impatient and people wanting brands, companies, people to step up and do something right away.
TDo: It is hard though, right? If you are coming from a growth mindset, we have expectations in what we want but people don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t know what you need if you don’t bring it up. I can tell you as soon as we brought it up – we want our CEO to post something about this. Immediately it happened. We have to understand and come from a growth mindset that yes, this is the thing I want, but if they don’t know and don’t have the guidance, it would be helpful to ask for what you need specifically versus sitting there brooding and being angry that something isn’t happening.
That leads to the emotional labor part in my mind. I have personal internal struggles with emotional labor. My emotional labor struggle comes like between – it is an internal fight between what is needed and my ego. How can people help me if they don’t understand? Takes my labor to help educate. At the same time, Melinda, I am going to be really honest, the past two weeks I have been tired.
I went into this burst into our company Slack channel and then I just went quiet. I was just so tired. I wasn’t mad but exhausted and retraumatizing stuff posting stories and sharing which is all necessary, but I was literally spent. Not even just spent in the Slack channel. I went to bed every night at 7:00 or 8:00 because I was exhausted. It is an internal struggle between me in terms of emotional labor and my ego saying you should already know and don’t count on me to help educate you. I see a need for it sometimes. I also very much see the reality of being exhausted by it too.
MELINDA: Yeah, that makes sense. When we retell our own stories we are also going through that retraumatizing every single time. I think sometimes people don’t understand that. It is not healthy. You have to re-energize, you have to refocus, you have to recharge and work through that memory each time.
TDo: I don’t want this to be a concept. If we are having a conversation about emotional labor and trauma it is not just a concept. For any minority listening, we have to relive the fact people call us ‘gooks’ and all these derogatory terms since childhood. We have to relive that to tell the stories so people understand and can humanize the struggles or traumas we are going through. It is really exhausting. If I had not asked, it would just, you know, I just hope people understood it is not just this term ‘trauma’ and just using that loosely. We are literally reliving crap by having to retell these stories and it is hard. I also understand that it is necessary sometimes.
MELINDA: We talked, I think it was last season, with Andrea Tatum about the emotional tax people of color face in the workplace and the discrimination you face in the workplace. Then on top of it you are adding this emotional labor of educating people and then, of course, you have your work. Your actual work on top of it. It is a lot. It is a lot.
TDo: It is hard to compartmentalize too, especially the past couple of weeks. Being just really exhausted and also just trying to do my best at my actual job. I try not to bring it up much. Again, this is maybe a cultural thing to stay silent and keep your head down and keep going, but taking this opportunity to acknowledge it has been very exhausting.
MELINDA: Yeah. We are going to jump to Q&A not too long from now so if you all have any questions, please, put them in the Q&A function. I am noticing a comment from Shelly. It is the difference between ask culture and guess culture which I think is interesting.
TDo: Oh, my gosh. That just hits home. There is a question there, sorry. Oh, there’s not. I think that’s right though. A lot of people, thinking back about the experience I had at Gladly. What they did really well was ask instead of guess. They asked us what we needed. They asked for the time to share our stories. They asked us: what can I do to help? They shared resources and organizations and talked about DEI training. Our VP of People deemed it DEEI – diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion – and I think that was really important. And it is actually frustrating when people guess in terms of what we might need. Now there is the labor to correct that or course correct to get people to actually meet the needs of the needs we are asking for. That was a really good point to Shelly that pointed out that so thank you.
MELINDA: Yeah, yeah. Any ideas for how we can change this so that the heavy labor, the emotional labor isn’t always on people who are experiencing racism, sexism, ableism, ageism and other discrimination?
TDo: If I had a magic formula of can’t people be more aware and empathetic, but that’s not the case for everyone and we all wear different lenses and different hats. That is a really good question because it goes back to: we have to give emotional labor to explain empathy or just asking questions. I think that’s a good start, though. Ask questions from a place where you are not guessing what we want. How can I help? Are there resources? And maybe try doing the research yourself before asking us the question. I think that’s pretty key and a really good kind of baseline. If you are curious about something before asking, Google’s awesome. The internet is huge. Awesome. Go research. And then come back and check with us is this the right path? Is this what you need? This is what I have read. That would be really helpful.
MELINDA: Gina says in the comments use allies to answer the painful questions. Yeah, 100%.
MELINDA: Allies should be able to do that no problem. Allies look it up so you can do that.
TDo: We have had some of those experiences within the company I work for now. I have to say it just strikes me. It just tugs at my heartstrings when it happens because sometimes as a minority you feel like you are alone on this island. Yes, you have other people of color supporting you, but then when there is an educated and curious White cis presenting person that steps up and says: hey, look, here are the resources that I found, what do you think? Amazing. We have had that at Gladly. A lot of resources I sent you in prep for this podcast came from colleagues that are not of the minority demographic. It has been amazing. I am thinking of two people in particular that I am just so grateful for.
MELINDA: I have another question about looking back. Is there anything you would do differently? Anything you would do – anything you would do differently to kind of push the company forward?
TDo: I think I could have helped support my colleague in having the internal conversation with C-level executives. I feel that she took the really heavy lifting. She did it without taking credit . She just saw it was needed and that’s where I could practice the asking versus guessing. I assumed everything was fine. In retrospect looking back at it, there was probably a lot of lifting she had to do navigating conversations. I could have helped her and backed her up to get the ball rolling sooner.
That’s the only thing I would change in terms of Gladly and addressing anti-racism. Again, it is more because I am impatient and want things to happen and change to happen immediately. One I could have helped her with the direct conversations on the back end. I think it could have also helped highlight other minority voices who were more silent. The representation I have at Gladly is that I am very vocal about this stuff. I think I could have done that to help move the ball along also.
MELINDA: Can you say a bit more about that? What do you mean?
TDo: I think there are minority groups – and this goes back to guess culture. I think there are sometimes voices that want to be heard and aren’t necessarily heard. Because I am one of the more vocal people within the company, I could reach out to them directly to see: one, how are they doing? If there was anything they wanted to bring to light and help facilitate that conversation. Or at least get that on the radar so they are heard and their voices are heard and their needs and worries and anxieties are heard. I think that would be helpful in terms of the levity of what’s happening and how that affects our colleagues and our friends.
MELINDA: You would be an ally as well.
TDO: Yeah, exactly.
MELINDA: Any tips for – I know you said it kind of happened ad hoc. But, any tips for – I think it is really important that the people don’t do this work alone and that you build that coalition. Any tips for how to do that?
TDo: Yeah, there is no way anyone could do this alone I don’t think. Again, I get to be the face of this conversation but I can tell you I have a ton of colleagues that built a coalition. I think it starts, hey let’s get together, share the frustration and get it out of our system. And next, have a plan of action. For a safe place, dump it all out. Now what do we want from it? Going in with not the world is awful and that’s it ,but the world is awful and what do we want and need. Coming together and making that plan and that’s what we actually did organically. There are a few that started and shared the story and came together and expanded that together to the DEI channel and was able to build that coalition just by personalizing and humanizing the experiences.
MELINDA: Awesome. If you all have questions, please, put them in the Q&A. I see a hand raised if you want to put your question in the Q&A if you have a question, please, do. So, you know, what are the next steps? What will you do from here if anything?
TDo: A colleague of mine shared some training resources which I think are super valuable. We think about organizations and how we can donate, but there is nothing that really changes behavior until you start understanding experiences and going through training. So a colleague of mine shared resources in terms of training and what we are doing as the company. We are taking a look at these training courses and implementing that into our culture and for us, I think that’s the next step and I am so, so thrilled about it.
Quite frankly, it didn’t come to mind. All I thought was I need outrage, outcry, and I need people to understand this but change does not happen until actions take place above and beyond donations. So this is where we are changing behavior with training courses. I think that’s the next thing for us. I would like to think we are continuing these types of conversations within Gladly. I am confident that anything that comes up whether it is BLM or anti-Asian hate or whatever it is that we have the platform to continue conversations internally.
MELINDA: Awesome. I think the training and helping people to practice and put things into practice. Practice is really important. We have a question asking if there are training courses on LinkedIn? There are some training courses on LinkedIn.
TDo: I think Jessica is on the call, who is a colleague of mine – Hollaback!. That’s a training course that we are looking at, I believe. There are a few other resources as well. In terms of LinkedIn I don’t have any personal insight on that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did have courses there.
MELINDA: We have shared. There is Hollaback! and a couple other organizations too that we shared when talking with Tammy Cho. It is on our website now if you go to changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries and under that episode you will see more resources we have shared there too. I have taken a Hollaback! course. I highly recommend it to everyone, not just in your workplace but in general.
TDo: Absolutely. I have heard great things and I am signed up for the 23rd or something like that.
MELINDA: Awesome. We have a question from Angel asking if you feel comfortable, can you share how your company responded during the unrest last summer and I would say the Black Lives Matter movement, protest, murder of George Floyd?
TDo: It was high on our radar. It was directly addressed internally as a company. Every Friday we have company meetings and it is usually business-related, you know, product and sales and things like that. It was at that time that we had direct discussions about BLM and also shared resources. We also had a period in time in which we shared history of people of color in history and why this is important to not only George Floyd but everything leading up to that. And then I believe, as a company, there were donations made as well in support of BLM. I can say the conversations were not a one-off. We continued to have these dedicated conversations and resources were shared throughout the company. Not sure if that was helpful but we absolutely did address it in a way that made me feel that we care and it is absolutely always on our radar.
MELINDA: I think maybe that is it. If there is a pattern in companies of that emotional labor having to happen when any kind of incident occurs, I think something as a company and leaders in a company you need to reflect on that. How can we change that so that doesn’t happen every single time so the emotional labor doesn’t have to happen in that same way. I think that is an important piece of this.
TDo: That’s what felt great at the time. There was proactiveness in leadership saying, ‘OK. This is what’s happening. We are going to address it not only from a donation-support perspective but internally in our own culture to make sure everyone understands our stance on it and how we can help our own culture in facilitating support for BLM.’
MELINDA: That’s awesome. We have a comment from a colleague I think. Jessica says, ‘Please thank TDo for her vulnerability! As her co-worker, she is an amazing advocate for all BIPOC and underrepresented groups. She makes us proud everyday.’
TDO: Thanks, Jessica. Since she put me on the spot, she is absolutely crucial to our company’s conversations in anti-racism. And we could not have gotten the support we had and the time that we had without her so thank you, Jessica.
MELINDA: If anybody else has questions, I will give you a few more minutes to put them in the Q&A while I ask my last question here which is a general question. You have been traveling for how long?
TDo: Since mid-December.
MELINDA: What have you been doing in your travels and what have you learned?
TDo: Travelling from San Francisco and currently sitting in D.C. We stopped in Texas. Drove through Alabama and stopped in New Orleans and stayed in North Carolina for a month and Florida for two months. Now I am in D.C.
I will fast forward to what I absolutely loved: we were visiting my partner’s family in Florida. I love Florida because of her family. Would I move there? Probably not. North Carolina has been great. I loved the mountains there. We were in the more diverse Asheville area and a town called Brevard. And D.C., I can tell you D.C. is really underrated. Politics aside, the culture, the people, the diversity has been so wonderful. What have I learned? I love D.C. They don’t believe in garages. Alabama has a lot of camouflage, which is fine. Florida is very muggy and has weird rain weather. And North Carolina has great, great hiking.
MELINDA: [Laughter] awesome. And where are you going next?
TDo: We are going to Cape Cod next, and then Maine, and probably head back West. That part of the trip hasn’t been planned out yet. Two of us and our dogs.
MELINDA: We have more questions here. Sharina asks if your company participates in implicit bias training or unconscious bias training?
TDo: We do. We absolutely do. That’s been there before I even joined. We have training. If you need resources on that, I am more than happy to ask our head of people about the training courses we have taken and more than happy to share that.
MELINDA: Awesome. Maybe we can sync after this and put it on our website.
MELINDA: Awesome. We have, let’s see, reading through the questions here. Poppy asks, ‘how to measure success or progress of change within your organization, as well as the country in general?’ That’s a big question. Maybe what does success look like to you? We have put a lot of effort and time into these conversations and addressing the challenges and how do you measure the impact and changes that these conversations have?
TDo: I think I measure impact, and this might be different for others, by the level of conversations had and the empathy and sympathy and curiosity that comes from those conversations. For me, that’s a measure of success if people are continuously asking and are continuously curious and continuously sharing. That’s a measure of success for me. Globally, that’s a hard question when people stop beating each other up and being violent and using language that is not supportive. That is maybe when we can see the measure of success globally which feels far away to be honest. In terms of my micro world, I think to reiterate, if conversations continue to happen and there is empathy involved and curiosity involved that would be my own personal measure of success.
MELINDA: Awesome. You know, we do have to remember, like you said earlier, it does take time. Behavior change takes time. Building empathy sometimes takes time as well. And, yeah, we also need a critical mass of allies to really be there and step up and know how to do that effectively as well.
TDo: I can’t emphasize that enough. I am going through this experience of having allyship now in terms of White cis-presenting folks so it is still, to be quite frank, a new experience to me but I can tell you it means so, so much. To this day, if I see a post somewhere from a colleague in support of sharing resources that’s not of the minority group it is huge because it is coming from a place of, again, curiosity and care. If there is one important thing to help your minority demographic, it would be to be curious and elevate voices on their behalf.
MELINDA: Heidi asks, ‘if you feel comfortable, how would you keep the conversation alive over time? We have had wonderful safe space conversations and discussions and matched donations but don’t know how to expand the conversation to becoming regular ongoing conversations?’ And then the secondary question is, ‘we are a global company so wondering how to include people globally in the conversation, if you have any thoughts.’
TDo: That’s a good one. In terms of keeping the conversation going, I can only give you my experience. I mentioned there was a time when I had a lull because I was exhausted emotionally and I was quiet. Today, I peppered another article with the recent things happening in Minnesota again. Peppered that up there. I think, again, it comes back to the emotional. I have such a struggle. If it is silent and things are happening someone has to bring it up. Even if it is something as simple as posting a link to an article or hey did you hear about this to start the conversation going, as much as I hate to say it, sometimes that’s necessary.
Again, if we come at it with a growth mindset: people don’t know. If you are aware you can share that awareness to keep the conversation going, ask people what they think of what’s happening. Did you know this thing was happening? What are your thoughts? Things like that. I think that continues to get the ball rolling with the conversation. It is exhausting but I think it is necessary.
From a global perspective, that’s a really interesting question. I don’t have insight just because cultures are very different around the world. I don’t know how to best approach that to be honest, just culturally some things are more important than others. The objective is to have the most efficient and meaningful conversation that you can but then you have to understand how each culture approaches a specific topic.
MELINDA: Jessica says, ‘we have heard what helped our White colleagues better understand the reach and reality of racism is hearing the lived experiences with racism of our BIPOC coworkers. TDo, would you share more about your experience or stories?’
TDo: I think you are talking about the stories we shared with our colleagues. I think it goes back to humanizing the process. What I shared with the company and we had several people share was I was and I still am very worried about the safety of my mom given everyone has been brazen with the attacks. I am really close to my mom. I’m an only child, a mother of an immigrant, and she is the only family I have here and my father passed away when I was younger. She is all the family I have so if anything happened to her I don’t think I would be OK to be honest. I worry about her all of the time.
She likes to go for walks in the park and I always ask her to text me when I know she is home and OK and she is in southern California. But to have this anxiety that the reality someone can go to her and punch her in the face or take a pipe to her is real. Sounds dramatic but that is what has been happening.
It has been hard to balance the anxiety and also my real work and also the emotional labor that is required to continue these conversations all in any single second of the day. That is just what goes on in my body and my mind. If you think about it, most folks don’t have to worry about, hey, is my mom safe going for a walk? Is someone going to hit her over the head with a brick? But I am constantly thinking about it. It is hard being really far from her too.
That’s just kind of the cliff notes of what I shared in the company. But I will say it is very real. We are having these talks and I appreciate them very much. I just want to reiterate that the fear and anxiety about anti-racism or just racism is really real and it affects your nervous system.
MELINDA: Yeah, no kidding. What do you do to take care of yourself?
TDo: What do I do to take care of myself? I have been taking baths lately. But on the other side too, I have had to give myself boundaries not to retraumatize myself in reading articles and setting boundaries and giving myself permission to sit down and actually not actively look at articles. I am starting to try meditation again and doing a little yoga too and just having conversations with my partner at home. She has been a good resource for me and taking the weight and anxiety I have. She gives me a safe place to break down and dump it all after a long day and going for walks. That’s been what’s helpful.
MELINDA: I highly recommend continuing meditation. I have meditated every day for several years and it makes a big difference for me. Thank you for being vulnerable, for sharing your story and your experiences. Really appreciate this.
TDo: Thank you for the platform and thank you to the entire team for making this successful and creating such a great platform. It is absolutely valuable and appreciated.
MELINDA: Thank you everybody for continuing to do the work of change – for listening in. My question to you today is what will you do? How will you take a moment as an ally to share what’s happening? How will you share that you are what TDo said, outcry, outrage? How will you share your own outcry and outrage? I think that’s really important.
Join us each week. Please share this with your colleagues. You can find the previous podcasts at changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries. When the podcast goes live, we will share resources on our website there. Additional resources where you can tune in to continue to learn. Please find this on your favorite podcast platform or YouTube and like it or subscribe. Thank you, all. See you next week.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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.