In episode 69 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Jeanne Bell discuss:
Jeanne Bell is co-founder of JustOrg Design. She has consulted on nonprofit strategy and organizational change for over 20 years. Jeanne curates Nonprofit Quarterly's Leading Edge Program, recruiting and presenting nonprofit practitioners advancing more equitable nonprofit leadership practices. Previously, Jeanne led CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, one of the country's premier leadership and capacity-building organizations. While serving as CEO, Jeanne also chaired the board of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, a national association of nonprofit capacity builders and academics. She currently serves on the boards of Community Works and Borealis Philanthropy. She has a Masters in Nonprofit Management from the University of San Francisco. Jeanne loves living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Jeanne Bell. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Jeanne and I talk about how to integrate strategy and strategy implementation effectively into the structure of your organization. We explore how organizational systems, leadership, and structures can support or get in the way of implementing a strategy, why strategy isn’t just about what the organization does externally, and why having crisp and clear strategies help you be more agile, not less.
Welcome, Jean. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Jeanne Bell: Thank you. It's so great to be here.
Carol: I'd like to start out all my interviews with a question around what drew you to the work that you do. What would you say motivates you and what, what's your why?
Jeanne: My experience is that my why becomes clearer and clearer the older I get and the, and the early connections I can make to why that why was formed and how it was formed. I think I'm more conscious of them now in terms of the effect of my parents and the effect of growing up in San Francisco and the effect of doing a lot. Like class travel across class and different parts of my youth journey that I don't think I would've initially in my twenties or thirties associated with my why or my how, but now I do. But, I think the short answer is I, I grew up in a Jesuit tradition, my dad was in that. He obviously left, but was a teacher around a lot of teachers and, and around liberal arts. And by the time I got to Cal, I majored in ethnic studies and so there was something pulling me towards a justice lens and I immediately entered the nonprofit sector after college. And it just sort of organically unfolded from there. But I think the combination of growing up and growing up around. I don't wanna overstate it. I've had to unlearn a lot and learn a lot more, but, generally a justice orientation and a lot around education and teaching. And so I quickly found my way through nonprofits to capacity building and leadership development, which really feeds me. And now I do that pretty much exclusively in a justice framework.
Carol: Moving into that capacity building realm. if you then have the opportunity to combine that perspective of justice. And as you said, we're all having to unlearn a lot of things, a lot of unpack, a lot of assumptions that we might have come up with, but it enables you to combine that with that education perspective and helping people build their skills and their capacity to that ripple effect that that can have.
Jeanne: Exactly. I'm just, innately interested in organizational systems and processes and leadership and I'm committed to the end cause, but what feeds me in the day-to-day is helping the people who are working towards that.
Carol: That was for me an interesting thing that I had to realize that, cuz so many people are coming into the sector, it's because they're really passionate about a particular cause.. And what I started to learn over time was that a lot of what interested me was. What helps people be more effective as they try to work towards that? All the things that go into making an organization work well, making a group work well together. How they're creating their strategy, how they're creating, how they're making, doing decision making, all those kinds of things. And unfortunately, probably more from all the ways in which I saw it not working, yeah, that spurred a curiosity around.
Jeanne: Yeah, and I think what's especially exciting and also challenging now is that I think there's much more recognition, or at least there's a school of thought of which I'm a part, that the what we practice inside organizations really matters and that it's, it's difficult to be credible or even necessarily effective if we can't practice what it is that we're advocating for externally. So I think that. Mandate to leadership, development and capacity building, I think has emerged more crisply in the last, say 10 years or so, changed our work as leaders and capacity builders because the wall between the inside and the outside came down and, and the organization as a laboratory for personal practice, for interpersonal practice, for exploring how we can do the work differently and more consistently with our quote unquote external values and strategies. I raised the bar for all of us.
Carol: That's exactly where that rub between the mission organizations that I worked for that had really ambitious and, and wonderful missions for what they wanted, the change they wanted to see out there. But then we were not at all practicing those things internally or even sometimes the exact opposite. And, the disconnect between those two is what led me down the path that I've been on for sure. I'm curious to hear from you how you're seeing those two, those two perspectives come together a little bit more.
Jeanne: I've been thinking a lot in my work with clients, which includes a lot of work on strategy development. That kind of, the distinction between internal practice and external strategy is, is less and less sharp. And what I've been, honestly, I, what I've been encouraging my clients to do is not worry about that distinction and actually embrace that again, our internal practices should at least be in a through line to our external strategies, if not pretty much part and parcel of the same. I've been integrating different schools or different practices. I think people in our sector, particularly in the social justice space, really emphasize personal practice, the way in. I, I, I borrow from that and I agree with that, and I think it's important to have very crisp and clear-eyed, quote unquote, external strategies that understand the larger ecosystem and the financial resources and all those pieces. I, I pretty much call it all strategy and I think it's okay to have a list of organizational strategies, core strategies, whatever, 4, 6, 8 of 'em, where some of them may appear a little bit more internal or more about how we work. Internally, but to me, the likelihood that you're gonna be able to execute one of those bold external strategies without that internal practice is very low. So I'm not that interested anymore in sorting them out, but in looking at them as a set of strategies that, are interconnected and that make or interdependent, and make each other possible,
Carol: I'm thinking about all the processes that I've supported over the last couple years and The goals, strategies, initiative, whatever you wanna call them that emerged as the big areas to pay attention to and put focus or put energy into for the organization. They were a combination of something that moved the mission forward in a specific way. depending on where the organization was or what was happening and maybe it's lifecycle stage or whatnot. There might be more on the internal that they needed to really take care of To be able to be effective externally and sometimes, other way or an, even balance. But definitely it's interesting that you're saying traditionally there's, there's been a, and I, and I did get a question recently around that from a client. I guess I didn't realize where it came from, of this notion that strategy has to be all for the outside and well, no. to me at least, it's what are you paying attention to? What are you putting energy into? I mean, there's been a lot of shift towards the notion of emergent strategy. And, and, and sometimes I feel like that ends up being an excuse to just throw all strategy discussions out the window and say, well, we just can't do that. Mm-hmm. and I feel like there's some middle ground between. This is the document that we created. We can never change it once. It's, once we vote on it and, and, and agree that this is where we're going, this is the map. And, and there's no, I mean, even when you use a G P s it, and you take a wrong turn, it tells you to, it's recalculating like that should be built in or no framework at all. And I'm curious about what you've been experiencing.
Jeanne: I appreciate that a lot. And I think there is a little bit of recognition in the sector. Again, I tend to work more with organizations, even if they're service organizations who have some sort of change orientation. So I don't wanna blanket the whole sector. But I think there is some recognition that we do need to be crisp. I think the external environment, I mean, we, we can no longer keep talking about, Oh, this is particularly complex or particularly challenging, whether it's the loss of the Supreme Court or whatever. It just keeps happening, right? And so I, I think we, we recognize, or I'm seeing people recognize that actually strategy. is extremely important and, and understanding what we're trying to do to quote unquote win again, even if that's in service, right? Because service is also political. I think. I mean, taking care of people that have been structurally marginalized is, in my view, a political act, right? We can do that in a way that is quite neutral, or we can do that in a way. Cognizant of how it's connected to all the systems and structures. So I'm, I don't mean to only be talking about advocacy organizations, but I, I think in this context, we have to be clear-eyed that certain kinds of strategies have not worked. To me that means being clear on what you're attempting to do. I love your language around what we're paying attention to. That might sound soft to some people. I don't hear it as soft. I hear that as, This is the combination of ecosystem issues, cultural issues, whatever, whatever we're working on that we have to be so on top of in order to choose our four or five working strategies, they're adaptable. Of course they're agile, of course, they turn up and down. But I think the crispness is very important. And, and really what's there to be agile about if you're not crisp, right? I mean, there's nothing to even know that you're changing or testing if you don't define something. Right.
Carol: Can you give me an example? So cuz we're, we're talking a bit, right. High level here. I'm, I'm curious if you could, give an example or a story that might bring that to.
Jeanne: I’m thinking about and I don't wanna disclose, individual clients, but, but what I'm thinking about is, actually the Supreme Court is a great example, if you were in an organization that was thinking of the, classic legal approach to social change, You have had to think differently about that. if the Supreme Court was, was part of the solution, if getting things up to that level and changed that way was part of your solution. And I do have a client in that space. We're in a different environment, for quite some time now, potentially. And so that's what I mean about, that strategy has to now be unpacked and, and reconceived of in a very crisp way, it can't just be, we'll wait and see what happens here.
This is a different environment and, and what does our legal work, what does our advocacy work mean in this context? And what I find is that, Not just that example, but what I find is that what's happening is that we're in a larger context of systems and structures not delivering the way we historically thought they would or were. Right. And so that's an example to me of a macro issue that should be affecting the way nonprofits craft strategy. That's an example of something that to continue on as if that's not the macro context would be an example to me of weak strategy..
Carol: And you've used the word crisp several times. Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that
Jeanne: is, is specific, right? I think a lot of times, again, strategy is written in very sort of neutral, ? Positive terms. And I think what, what I'm suggesting is that strategy actually has to be responsive and specific to the operating context, right? It has to be specific to the political reality, to our internal capacity, reality, to the financial realities, right? So I get excited more about strategies that are very specific to our environment, our capacities, our resources, right? Rather than just sort of global statements of. Right. Aspiration.
Carol: I think there's, there's room for both, right? But labeling, which, normally I don't try to get caught up on, on what we're labeling each thing, but, but just working with a, a client recently where, for each of their strategic pillars we, we had them do a, a vision statement, which was that, what, what do we, if we succeeded, what would the world look like? Sure. And, acknowledging we. you may never get there.. But then that, that at least says where we're aiming towards and then being able to get specific and more in the here and now of what we need to do, over the next couple years to, to get closer to what we've envisioned.
Jeanne: There are some things that, that, people who. in the more sort of radical part of social change are starting to open their minds to I would use abolition as an example,? Even if you are not an abolitionist organization, the work that's happened over the last 10 years and the continued violence perpetrated by police, even if you're not in the criminal justice reform space, I would argue that something like. That widening out and that that questioning of systems, that that's affecting you if you're in domestic violence, if you're in housing, if you're in, it's gotta be starting to sort of seep in that are working assumptions about these systems and structures may not be where we're gonna be as a culture or as a society in 10, 15, 20 years. So that's an example of something. You might say, well, our board's not ready to talk about abolition, and that's not even what we do. But there's a pressure coming about challenging those systems and structures that actually potentially affects, certainly NextGen thinkers,? People coming up. Young people have a very different set of assumptions. Your next program assistant or program director, may be coming in with. many different assumptions about how change is gonna happen,? And that's what I mean about are our strategies sensitive to these more, to these shifts, these seismic underlying shifts to systems and structures and policies, that all of our nonprofits really sit on top of.
Carol: I'm just thinking I definitely have. experienced and witnessed and then started myself that, that sense of really questioning all those underpinnings that's up for discussion and out in the open and, anything that starts in the margins and then it eventually moves more to the center. That's, it's more centered in conversations now, than any time in my career. I was going to college during the Reagan era and so it was all from the progressive point of view, like, How, how do we survive and what's possible? Now there's just a whole different kind of, why are we taking all, all of those things as givens. what's underneath that and, and how do we start questioning that? And, and so one of the things that I, that you're working on is also just looking at different ways to work internally with organizations around decision making, around structure, around strategy and. To really create, to try to build more equity and inclusion in how the organization operates. And I'm, if you could just say a little bit about that model and what you're learning as you're working with I, I think you're in the stage of working with some different pilots around that.
Jeanne: Well, thanks for asking. The process and, and, and software is called just org design and really it's responding to, to what we've just been talking about in many ways, which is that the strategy that I think is necessary, again, even for service organizations who are gonna be. honest about what's going on in the ecosystem that makes those services necessary. I'm not only talking about advocacy organizations, but I think it's, that's all of it. Strategy is inherently interdisciplinary, right? And, organizational strategy is inherently interdisciplinary. I, I think, and we are still working in very siloed departmental structures that assume that individual senior managers are taking those strategies, the real meaning and nuance and soul of those strategies in some consistent way into their silos, right? I think what we all experience is that that's not the. Right, that management teams actually spend a ton of time talking about HR challenges. At least the ones I've been on. They're not actually talking about how we stitch strategy together across multiple departments and silos. It's, it's very rare that that's what the, the driving And when you say, what are we paying attention to? Most management teams are paying attention to budget and hr, in my experience, they're not actually paying attention to how. Get a strategy to seep into everything we do, right? we need a different structural response to that rather than just saying, management teams are always putting out fires.
I think we have to recognize that we need to configure people around strategy. And so what just org designed does, is say, departments are fine. Project teams are fine, but they're insufficient and we need to have not committees, not task forces. Not every five year strategic planning, but recurring existing places that are cross-functional and interdisciplinary. To really explore and advance what we mean by these organizational strategies, what we're learning, how they're seeping into the work or not, how we're developing people to accelerate those strategies to really take that seriously. So in a nutshell, it, it. It calls for and supports configuring people around compelling strategies and empowering those people to make choices. Not the little ch, not the day-to-day choices that are people's individual jobs, but the kinds of choices that get deferred because we don't have strategy tables. The kinds of strat, the choices that get deferred until strategic planning. if even then to move those and accelerate those with this, these cross-functional groups that are really tending to strategy and who are
Carol: Some of the people that would be around those tables? Because I think one of the, the orthodoxies that is certainly being questioned is the idea that, Boards are the ones who have the strategic lens or leadership teams and or the executive director, that somehow by having ascended to that position or being appointed on that group, you suddenly are anointed with, with strategic talent and You can tell by the way I just said that, that I don't believe hasn't been your experience. Are you noticing different patterns? I actually, I actually find that, I find, it seems to me that people. at all levels struggle with being strategic. Mm-hmm. and, and, there's always, there's a lot of rhetoric about being strategic. But when it comes right down to it actually staying at that out of the day-to-day is really hard for folks.
Jeanne: It's incredibly hard and there's some debate going on about whether structure really matters. is it more about personal practice that that makes us, and I, I think structure. Is extremely important. And I, and I think leadership's job actually, is to use structure as a lever to help people become more strategic together. I saw a blog recently called Strategy is a Conversation by a guy named Andrew Blum, and I really agree with that. The words are just words. They're our best current articulation of what we're trying to do. as you've said, and what we're paying attention to. The only way they really matter is if people are in constant conversation about them. And, and the reality is, really almost ubiquitously, they're not. They're really not, strategies are not used as decision screens, as agenda drivers, as they're not, people are using job descriptions to evaluate people. Right. I mean, I, I feel like there's so much emphasis on job descriptions and titles and as if that is going to get us to, as you say, as if that's a proxy four. Strategic, activity or thinking or alignment, and I, that just is not my experience. The reality is that we need to be in daily, weekly, ongoing conversation about what these strategies actually mean and how they're playing out and are they making our work better. So I feel strongly that you are correct, that everybody who works at the organization should be able to understand these words. The reason that they don't is cuz there's no space to discuss them. Right. So who's at the table? My current pilot client, who's a smaller organization, only has about 25 staff. What they're doing is they've put everybody at one of their key tables, right? So, they wanna have, if they're gonna have a table around one of their core strategies, They are gonna have a cross section of people there, not only the people who are quote unquote, responsible for the delivery of that strategy, but somebody from communications, somebody from develop, from development, somebody from finance even who's helping to reimagine the budget to reflect those core strategies, not just these. Old departments. Right. We've been saying all this for a long time, right, Carol? That strategy needs to be agile. It needs to live and breathe. It has to come off the shelf. But we haven't done anything structurally to enable that. So
Carol: Can you, can you say a little bit more about how those tables work and how that does, how to, how they do or how you're seeing them enable people to, to really. I don't know. Work, work the strategy, if you will.
Jeanne: Yeah. Yeah. And we're early, actually just yesterday. Sure. I facilitated a, a, a table meet. We call them tables. Because they're not departments and they're not even teams. Right. I mean, again, we, those are other tools. Right. This is a place. To explore and advance strategy. Right? And so what I'm seeing in the, in the buildup to these, and I'm just using yesterday's meeting as an example that lives in my mind is people feeling a sense of relief. A sense of relief. In fact, we had a one word checkout and multiple people said, I feel relieved. I feel relieved that this space now exists where I can come and say, Wait a second. We're talking about centering a certain leadership, but I don't know how to make that happen over here. Right? I don't, I keep hearing everyone say that, but we're not doing that here or, and the development person saying, I, I don't know how to position that in the marketplace for resources. I'm sure it is fundable, but people have a space. It's not just with their direct supervisor, right? Who may or may not know, but with the group of people committed to advancing that work, how do we advance this work? How do we take it off the page and make it central to all of our work? Right?
Carol: And it may be that, they don't know, but they'll find a way . Right? I mean, the notion that someone knows someone there knows how to do all of this.
Jeanne: No, exactly. And, and I mean, I think this is where, honestly, this is where the collective wisdom really is valuable. It's not just performative. It's not just to get buy-in, all that. Right. Where we actually need a cross-functional group of people who are seeing the work relating to different stakeholders, and, and are able to come together and say, and get a 360 on this issue. how this strategy is actually playing out,
Carol: Right? Yeah. And, and two, frequently what I've seen in organizations where they bring those cross-functional groups together. The meetings, all they are are updates and they, and somehow they think that by everybody knowing what I'm doing, that somehow they'll be a through, somebody will figure out a through line on all of it. Yeah, yeah. No, this is, instead really, if I understand what you're saying. The issue, the strategy, the, whatever it is, in the, in the center. And then having lots of people to have a conversation about how we do, how do we make this real together? .
Jeanne: That's right. And I found myself as a facilitator, and this takes good facilitation and, and this is a skillset, right, that we need to build inside organizations that shouldn't only be consultants every two years or three years. And, and what I'm realizing, another thing I'm realizing as we roll this out, Carol, is that that's part of what we're doing is teaching people how to host good meetings, how to have strategic conversations, right? How not to. Fall back into project updates and departmental updates, right? We have staff meetings and other devices for that. This is a space not so, I mean, it is for information sharing, but to the extent that it's in service of an ambitious prompt. Like where are the gaps now between this language on the page and what we're doing in presenting to the world, right? That's an important prompt. it's not an indictment of anybody. These strategies are supposed to be pulling us towards our best work. Where are we? Right? And people having the space, the safe or brave space to talk about that. The other thing I wanna say about it is I think that in the move to share power more to distribute decision making, more to focus on race equity more. I think a lot of executives and senior leaders are giving spaces away rather than showing up to those spaces differently. And what just org design is saying is, I want you in the room. in a 25 person organization, the executive director often is the person. with the most, at least, certain kinds of visibility into the larger market, the ecosystem, the partnerships, right? So instead of that executive director saying, what, I, I know everyone hates the management team, and I, I've been hoarding power and blah, blah, blah. So here, create a pod called, strategic vision or something. No, I, what I want you to do is show up to that table differently. I want you to show up to that table. as a strategic collaborator and hopefully a mentor and as someone who can share information, but also hear feedback from other roles and have discussions. Right. So I, I say all that to say that I think this is also about how we hold power in organizations. As you say, it is about creating more equity and giving more people proximity to strategy, which is really giving people proximity to. right? And it's creating accountability for those leaders. So rather than sending a bunch of junior people off and hoping they come up with a valid recommendation, which is what we see so much, right? No. You create a different space. You invite them to the table and educate, edify, engage, and create that strategic capacity beyond your management
Carol: team. And when you're coaching leaders to help them show up differently as you're describing. What are some of the behaviors that they need to unleash?
Jeanne: Well, I think there's, we can frame these as caretaking or we can frame these as more nefarious. Right. But I, I think, and it's, it's a mixture of both, as . Right. But I think that executive directors, even in social justice spaces, even people who profess to be on the journey do struggle with not being the expert all the time and not quickly. and definitively correcting things that aren't right. , there's a, there's a, a 10 a tendency, I think in executives to be, and I was this too, to be activators to be No, no, no. It's not that it's this, right? No, no, no. I just met with them yesterday. It's not this, it's that Right. To try to constantly correct the record. And, and, and I think that's part of it is, let the conversation happen. But again, bring your knowledge. but I think there's a difference between bringing your knowledge and trying to get everything in line with how it should go. Right.
Carol: And that's, well, I would say the difference. Yeah. From, from groups that I've observed one of the simplest things would be for the leader at, whether they're executive director, co-director, or head of the department, or whatever it is, or, yep. Chair of the board or whatever. Just to not be the first person who talks
Jeanne: some real simple tactics there. Wait.
Carol: Yeah. Wait and listen. Wait. Because as soon as you've put your thing in, well, everyone's gonna glom onto it and I don't think, I don't. I think especially if you've been in a leadership role for a long time, you may forget what that position brings and the impact it has on the people around you. That's right. And, and you've gotten so used to them behaving that way. You think that you're acting as a peer when No, you're. That's right, that's right.
Jeanne: And really the truth is you don't know everything. you don't know everything about, you might know everything about, who's gonna be the next board chair. , there's things that no one else knows about the organization perhaps. But these conversations are about strategy. And if your strategies are truly compelling, if they are truly pulling the organization forward, there is a lot you don't know about how to get there. Right? And if you're telling me that there's nobody on your team who can participate in a conversation about that gap, about that, unknown, about that, what's next? Well then you have a hiring problem. I mean, then, then you haven't recruited people to where the work is going. And that may very well, sometimes be the case. Part of what happens when we, when we are willing to organize conversations around strategy, is we may realize that we haven't even recruited to those strategies or those strategies are evolving. And again, our departments are stuck in sort of functional definitions of success. Did we get the donor mailing out? Did we retain 30 per, what did that mailer say ? Right. Or does it reflect where the work is going? Right. That is not always, there isn't a place always to create that accountability. And that's the accountability I'm looking for is are we all moving towards where the work needs to be going? Right.
Carol: And I think that could be a recruiting issue, but I also think it can be, a, just a willingness. Develop folks. That's it. And I also think at least what I've observed is, and, and well, one, I wish I knew as much as I knew when I was 18 and 22, right? Because I knew everything then. and you were gonna forever, which I learned no less . But, but I, I also, but I've also heard a lot of folks and I've experienced this myself, of, they've been in a leadership role for X amount of time. They look out and they're like, no one's ready to be where I am forgetting. When they stepped into that role, whatever number of years ago that was, did they feel ready? That's right. Were they quote unquote ready and no, they've, they've, they're now benefiting from all that experience, all the mistakes they've made, all the wins they've had, and then somehow expecting the people that they're, that are not in those roles to somehow have that same experience. And if not, then they're not ready. That's it. That's right.
Jeanne: Well, and I, I, I said a few minutes ago that I think structure matters a lot. I mean, I, I actually believe that organizational design is now a leader, I think should be an explicit executive responsibility. Our traditional structures, they don't serve. Young people, very well. They are not promoting enough people of color. They are not inherently strategic. So to me, this is a leadership problem, right? And we can't just say, oh, I'm just gonna, tweak around the edges or create some task forces now. And then I think we have a structural problem, right? So obviously that's why, that's why I'm addressing this. And I think we have to get serious about what structure we should be accomplishing. And there's a few things I think it should accomplish. I think it should literally be accomplished, getting people proximate to. So, you don't necessarily have to use my process of tables, but if your structure has 70 or 80% or more of your people not proximate to strategy, then it's not a sufficient structure in my view. Right. It should be accomplishing leadership development. If you are not able to promote from within and promote diversity from within, then people are not getting, as you just said, what they need. Which is proximate to strategy, proximate to expertise, proximate to key relationships, internally and externally. And if your structure is not delivering that to people, then it's not working right. And certainly race equity and d e i in general, if your structure is not working for people of color, right? If it's not working for young people, if it's not working for trans people, that's on you . there's something not working. And so to me, we wanna sit down and say, okay, well here's this org chart. What is it accomplishing in terms of the goals I just said, right? Is it designed just because that's what I inherited? Is it designed for efficiency? Is it designed for functional expertise, as you said a few minutes ago? Just because I'm a good marketing officer, does that mean I should be. Respect, what is on the management team? Like what does that get us? Right? What is it delivering for us? So I, that's what I want to see people do is say, what is this structure delivering for us and what feedback are we getting at? Do people like this? Is this invigorating ? Right? Do our younger people like it? Do our people of color like it? Do we feel strategically aligned and is our structure helping us get there?
Carol: Yeah. And one thing with structures, I mean, I feel like over the years I, I, I can't think of an organization that hasn't had somebody say, oh, we're so siloed. Yeah. And the fix for that has to. Has been to reshuffle everyone into new teams, but my experience is usually they just end up in new silos. So how, what, with this idea of bringing multidisciplinary groups together around focused on a strategy, how often are you then thinking about, do we have the right tables? Do we continue with these tables as you're calling them? These, these groups, right. Or. Do we need a new set? Given our circumstances now, and this I can
Jeanne: only predict and hope. Okay. Because I don't have enough . I'm only a year in, but my, the way we're setting them up is with an assumption of evolution. Right. Okay. That this is our best understanding of the strategic conversations we need to be having now. , just as we've been talking about, we want strategies that are clear and, and discerning. We also want them to be agile, right? And we also may realize that certain people have come to a table and they've participated and it's been productive, but maybe their time is better used. , somewhere else. Again, it's not a job to be on the table, right? You're bringing your work and your perspective to a cross-functional conversation. It's possible that people will wanna step out of that at certain periods because something else is consuming them or, so we want the table space. We want tables to be permanent. There are always tables, but not the specific tables themselves, right? There should always be. cross-functional spaces that are dedicated to understanding and advancing strategy, but what they are and who's on them, I think will be more, more agile, more dynamic. And
Carol: how are, how are the groups finding the time and space to, to even dedicate to those? Because I think so. The unfortunate situation that too many organizations are in is that they feel like they're over, they're overwhelmed by what they're trying to do right now. That's so then to, to, to be doing something like this or doing it differently, really feels impossible.
Jeanne: Well, you've hit on one of our, one of our major resistance sort of threads. And of course what we're trying to do here is prove a negative, right? We cannot quantify the amount of conflict and waste of time. Mm-hmm. that exists because people are not strategically aligned. Right. In fact, probably, a great deal of what people are doing when they're not doing the work is trying to clear a path for the work or figure out if they're doing the right work or figure out why that. Project is happening when they thought they were doing this, and, and we can't even quantify it. It's so much the water we're swimming in. But the hypothesis of course is that investing a few hours, every two weeks or three weeks in resetting on what we are doing? Why are we doing it? How it manifests in our key bodies of work is going to pay. exponentially in that being smoother work between meetings. Right. Again, I think we put so much emphasis on one-on-one supervision and sort of traditional HR structures that and I don't care how great your supervisor is, they cannot approximate hearing. 10 people unpack, explore, advance strategy. I mean that, that's like a masterclass every couple of weeks. That's what we're looking for, right? It has to be pr, it has to save time. How we end up measuring that is something that I'm very interested in. Right? And it'll initially be qualitative, right? Asking the table participants has this. provided more clarity, more smoothness. Has it facilitated better collaboration? have you gotten in front of things that used to blow up a lot, that's the stuff we wanna see, right?
Carol: Yeah. I, I, I imagine that as, and soon this analogy won't work anymore because people won't remember having to actually turn a dial on a radio to get the signal to come in. Mm-hmm. But if you're just all static, if there's so much static in the organization, you're wasting a huge amount of time and effort just trying to. get a clear signal through all of that static. And, and I feel like when I'm, I'm typically working with groups that are a little bit more traditional, once every couple years. Big process. Mm-hmm. But the thing that they talk about as being energizing and exciting is how much they learn from other people. That's it. The kinds of conversations that they get to have in that, that they don't typically have, the connections that they see. By being in, in, in, in cross-functional groups and different groups through the whole process. So, to be able to build that into more of a regular pattern instead of just every three years for a, for a big momentous thing. I mean, there's probably a need for a little bit of both, but um, oh, certainly. Mm-hmm. Yeah, that, to, to be able to bring some of that in. to me. Yeah. I can, I can intuitively see the benefit and then it's mm-hmm. right, as you're saying, like, how, how do we help people? How do we start measuring it in a way that is compelling? Yeah, that's right. And
Jeanne: I, I mean, one other thing I would add, there's a beautiful free resource actually that you can find online. Came out last year called Turning Towards Each Other, a Conflict Workbook or and I, I think we are at a time where there is heightened conflict inside organizations, and one of the points that. Workbook makes it that some of that is actually conflict about strategy. It's not named that. Hmm. But it's actually people in conflict about what we're doing, why we're doing it, whether it's credible, whether it's consistent with what we're, if we're walking our talk. That's a lot of the conflict that's going on in organizations right now, and there isn't, again, one-on-one supervision is not gonna solve that. Right. We need a space to say, Hey, there's a gap. or I'm not feeling, this communication strategy is consistent with what we're saying over here. Like there needs to be a place that's cross-functional where we can explore that. And so another thing that we hope is, is, that this is not preventing conflict, but creating a productive space for people to debate how these strategies get expressed.
Carol: Yeah. So they can engage in it. I was listening to something recently about, different levels of conflict and, and when it gets to what the person termed high conflict, then people are just dug in and they're, they're in those polarizing my way or your way. I'm right. you're not right. But when you can. so then it's, it's probably the conflict that most people think of, and the one that they shy away from. And that feels very unproductive cuz it is unproductive. Right. But there is, there are, if you can create spaces for people to be able to. Not necessarily be in positions yet around one way or the other. Exactly. And explore it together. I think that's exactly, that's
Jeanne: the difference. I, when I was an executive director, I, it, it was a time at the organization where we were intentionally going through a lot of change. But, what happens in change management is what you just said, is that unless there are spaces for people to debate and, and vent a little bit about the strategic dissonance they're feeling people get put into camp. right? In people's minds. There's the people who get it. There's the people who don't get it. Oh, don't even go to her. She doesn't get it. she doesn't, well, get it. There's no space to get it, and then it be, as you say, then people get labeled as either old guard, new guard, get it, don't get it. And then there's, there's so little that's possible in terms of collaborative change work.
Carol: Yeah. Well, none of this is easy but inviting people in is just, just think about it and experiment with it a little bit. So I end each conversation with a random icebreaker question that I pull from a box. So one I'm gonna ask you is if you were stranded on a desert island and you could choose one person to keep you company, who would it be? The, so
Jeanne: This is supposed to be like a famous person. Doesn't matter. It could be anyone. I mean, obviously I would choose my partner . And I'm not just saying that in case they listen to this. But if you want a more sort of global answer that's not a personal relationship. I would pick A poet, and I was just thinking about the poet who I always bring up, it seems like in the last few months Natalie Diaz. Yeah. I would pick somebody who could keep the world magical through their language.
Carol: Mm. Okay. All right. Thank you. Well, what's coming up? We've been talking about what's emerging in your work, but what, what are you seeing over the next year or so? What, in terms of all this new work that you're, that you're doing and the, the Yeah. Projects you're working with. Yeah, I'm, you
Jeanne: Now, what I'm really excited about is different. Organizational profiles, right? So it's called just org design. So it's clearly designed with organizations who think of their work as in some way in service of justice. And so, that's the large catchment that we're in. But what I'm really interested in, Carol Carol, is different profiles of that. and we also think that tables may in fact work across organizations and, and really support coalitions and collaboration across organizations because this is a software that can track who's at that table, what choices are we making, what are the agendas for future meetings, which is such a lot of work. Keeps people from doing collaboration externally well too. So, I'm, we've got a pilot client who's more of an organizing group who I think may go in that direction where it's internal, but then can also create a bridge to some of their key partnerships. So, looking for different client profiles that are under the large umbrella of justice work but have different. Existing configurations and different kinds of strategies that will benefit from really well structured and, and software supported consistency around really centering strategy.
Carol: Yeah. Cuz I, there's only so much any one organization can do in any of these fields, right. So that's supporting those larger collaborative initiatives coalitions. It's where so much of the work is now happening, so that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. All right. Well thank you so much. It was great. Just enjoyed the conversation. I definitely could talk to you about this stuff all day, so we won't do that.
Jeanne: Thank you so much for this. I really appreciate it.
Carol: I appreciated Jeanne’s emphasis on the interconnection between your organization’s strategy for the external environment that supports your mission and the internal – that in fact – also supports your mission. That it is all interwoven and once amplifies the other and both sides and intentions are needed. I also appreciated her description of crisp strategy. There is a lot of emphasis on being emergent and agile in today’s environment – and rightly so. Yet by clearly defining and crisply setting your intentions, you know what you are pivoting from if you need to pivot. That the strategy is specific and clear – not vaguely neutral, not trying to offend anyone. And that they are specific within the capacity and financial realities of your situation – not just about wishful thinking. Without it you are not really pivoting and being agile – you are just spinning in circles.
Another point that I really appreciated was her description of the work she is doing to help organizations integrate their strategy into their day to day work through an interdisciplinary approach. When I am working with clients and in the process of discovery, when I interview and listen to staff, board and other key stakeholders – so often the issue of silos between departments comes up. And by creating spaces for cross-functional teams to discuss specific strategies and how to show up in their daily work, it can also become more real for everyone – instead of strategy just being something we do at a retreat every couple years. That departments or project teams are fine but insufficient. And creating spaces – or tables as she calls them – to talk about how day to day choices that are constantly being made reflect and integrate the larger strategy of the organization.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Jeanne Bell, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Natasha Devoise of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 56 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Danielle Marshall discuss:
Danielle is an inclusive leader focused on strengthening collaboration among teams, leaders, and stakeholders to foster problem-solving, create solutions, and improve culture. She finds inspiration in leading systemic change work that promotes equity and inclusion. Danielle has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20+ years most recently having served as the Executive Director for Playworks Mid-Atlantic. Danielle went on to found Culture Principles in response to a persistent need to move organizations beyond DEI statements to develop strategic and actionable equity goals.
Danielle holds a Master's degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Louisiana Tech University and draws on her background as an I/O psychologist in applying a racial equity lens to organizational policies, practices, and programs. She is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP)/Executive Coach.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Danielle Marshall. Danielle and I talk about why it is so important for groups to be clear about their why on pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion – both at the group or organizational level as well as the individual level, how organizations can work both at the systems level of policy change and at the service level and have that work complement each other, and why applying an equity lens to your work helps integrate DEI work beyond a stand alone training series.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome. Welcome, Danielle. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Danielle Marshall: Thanks for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with this question. What drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Danielle: Yeah. It's funny that you start with the question. What is my, why? Cause I definitely wanna talk about that today as well. I think I have been engaged in this work. Before I knew there was a term for it. So, I come from the world of nonprofits and spent over 20 years working in a variety of nonprofits, usually youth serving organizations. And I worked around the country in a variety of different states from DC to New York, Maryland, Louisiana. Even Washington DC, so forth. And there was something that was happening that I found to be very interesting because I am serving youth and particularly what they focus on black and brown youth. I kept hearing this really persistent narrative about who these children were and what their outcomes in life would be. And then potentially like, even who their families were and the narrative was not a positive one. And I'm thinking to myself, I'm working on the ground with these individuals. I see them every day. I see how hard their families are striving to provide for them and, and help uplift them as the next generation. And I realize pretty early on it isn't the actual families that are the problems here, right? It's something systemic. That's leading to particular outcomes. And that's where I began to shift my thinking around, addressing the systems. Now my background is in industrial organizational psychology , which is a fancy way of saying, I tend to look at the whole world as a case study. Right. And so I'm looking at these systems, I'm looking at people's behaviors at the moment and I'm really working to figure out again, how do I use my strategy, knowledge? To create a space where we can start addressing these systems themselves, as opposed to looking at people as if they were the deficit. So that's sort of the Genesis of how I got to the place that I am now. , but in 2020 there really was this emphasis. And, and I started my business a month before George Floyd's murder. I had been on this path already. I knew it was time. What I didn't anticipate though, was the outcry, from the community that came in, I just mass numbers. So I really was beginning to now target specifically organizations that were interested in moving beyond this performative. We care about DEI. We care about racial equity to groups that actually wanted to do something that was tangible, measurable, and resulted in.
Carol: And in thinking about those organizations that really wanna move beyond just, making a statement or maybe having training and checking the box. What do you see them doing differently than that surface approach to equity and inclusion?
Danielle: Yeah. I think that's a great question. What feels like is at the heart of it is these groups. So just going back to the question you asked me in the beginning, what's my. They're clear on their, why they know why they are leaning into this work and that allows them to set again, very clear goals to get there. Right? So if it is happening for a variety of reasons, people can approach their why from the business case for our organization. , some of them are thinking about the bottom line for their organization. They're thinking about diverse workforces, et cetera. , some of them are thinking about values. This aligns with my moral values. This is what I want to see in the world. And others are thinking about it from an inter or intrapersonal level. And so what does this mean to me as an individual? And so, what does it mean for the quality of relationships that I am seeking to have with people? The changes I wanna see in the world, but then even sometimes it is on that, that, outward sort of facing way. I'd like a promotion. And in order to get a promotion in my organization, I need to have skills that are gonna allow me to connect with as many people as possible from diverse backgrounds. And so I would say there, why being clear feels like a really amazing starting place, in the grand scheme of things. Because once we have that, why in place now we can talk about the next step, which is the, what do we want to. , what changes do we want to see if we're talking about equity? What does equity even mean in our organization? What should we be looking for? And then, and only then can we get to the how?
Carol: Yeah. Cause I feel like most, most groups they wanna move to, they skip over that. Why phase? Yes. And, or, between the different whys it might become. We have to choose one or the other, right? We have to choose working at the system level or working at the individual level where they all interrelate.
Danielle: Yeah I - oh my goodness. I feel so strongly about that because there are two, it feels like distinct schools of thought that people approach this work from. So, they'll talk about the organization as if it was alive, a living, breathing entity, and I'm forever telling people like the organization is a brick and mortar building. It is not alive. The people within the organization are alive and there's nothing wrong with having strong goals for the organization. We actually need them. , but for me, this feels like a both end moment because you can enact policies. , you can go and do an equity review, make changes that are going to mandate. If you will DEI at the organizational level. But again, if there is no personal connection to that on the individual level, if I don't have a personal reason, or even a belief in an organization, why as soon as there's a change in leadership, maybe the budget decreases, it causes policies to falter. So you have put the right sets of things in place, but there's no commitment to completing. And so I think that we can't necessarily just say, Hey, I wanna work on the individuals and I just wanna change hearts and minds, or I just wanna work on the policies within the organizations. My approach again is both. And, and it's really a blending of those two worlds.
Carol: And it goes back to what you were saying at the beginning of the, the youth work that you were doing and that, that the discrepancy between the narrative that you heard and your experience of folks, of, their families, and then thinking about the systems. And I feel like people have often in the nonprofit sector put those two things at a, at a, an either or. Well, don't just work on the direct service, move up the, move back the chain of events to work on the systems. And again, it's , to me, I feel like that's a, that's an unhelpful, argument to be stuck in of both needs to be dealt with. For change to happen. Yeah. Like people have immediate needs and, working with individuals, but also, thinking about those bigger systems.
Danielle: Absolutely. I just was with a client earlier today and one of the activities we were focused on was, something around opposite thinking, ? So I can't do both of these things at once. Right. So what's the opposite of that? Both the community that we serve and the systems need to be addressed. So we're, we're tackling it from that perspective. But then the third piece of that is asking if that is to be true, what are the things that need to happen in order for us to be able to address both? So instead of stopping immediately with this, either it is going to be right, or it's going to be left that we're moving. There's so much space in between, right? Where is our middle ground, where we can begin to really think about multiple things, at one time and hold them both as true. Yes. The community needs services. There are deficits that may be there today. Existing needs that they have. And we also need to be able to say we are driving some of those problems in those communities because of the systems that we have.
Carol: Yeah. Cause I feel like if you think about the whole nonprofit sector as a whole, and I mean, not, not the entire sector because, but much of it in essence is set up to address. These needs that don't necessarily need to be needed. Right? Like that's like a triple negative, but, if we didn't have a system that caused homelessness, we wouldn't need homeless shelters. Right. So yeah, I just think about it at the, at the bigger picture level of like, Why is our nonprofit sector so big?
Danielle: Yeah, I, oh my gosh. I struggle with that so much because I have a heart for nonprofits. I probably always will, and oftentimes it still feels like we're putting a bandaid on a much bigger problem. And so I have to say that, where there are cases of homelessness, where there are cases of food insecurity or lower literacy rates. Absolutely. These communities need support right now that are gonna help them achieve better outcomes. No doubt. And we will continue to kick the can down the road if we don't get at the underlying systems that are, as you mentioned, like they're really driving this. Yeah, absolutely. So that's the place that I feel like we have to focus a little bit more at, attention and time, but yet not take our foot off the gas when it comes to also being able to support people simultaneously.
Carol: Right. Right. How do you see, do you, can you gimme some examples of places where you've seen folks be able to do that?
Danielle: I mean, I think some people are doing it every day. They don't necessarily stop to think about it. , if, if I'm working with a group that is dealing with food insecurities, and they're also trying to tackle, let's say racial equity systems, they're not stopping the feeding of people. That work continues, but they are allocating time to sit down as a team to review the policies, to begin to look at data, who works in this organization. What's our retention rate based on the disaggregated data, are there certain demographics that are promoted at higher rates to, maybe leaving the organization? Or even hired into the organization at that point. So they're doing both sets of things and I, by no means, would say it is easy because it is an intentional carving out of time. But the people that are able to hold those two things as truthful and important in the moment, those are the groups that I see having the most success.
Carol: So what are some of those steps that you see organizations taking to move things along and, and shift their cultures?
Danielle: Yeah, I'm gonna go back to 2020 for a second because I feel like so many things shifted at this point. And I, I will absolutely say there have been people doing this work and committed to it for longer than I've even been around sure. On this planet. , but what felt like shifted in that moment to me is in 2020, it sounded like people really got for the first time that, Hey, we need to sit and talk about this. We need to be able to. Understand that we are not all seeing the world. Similarly, we are not all having the same experiences. There is this really interesting thing in the US where we, we're, we're the melting pot everybody's supposed to blend together. Therefore we all have to be the same. I don't even know if I agree first off with matter of fact, I can say pretty clearly. I don't agree with the fact that we should all be the same , but beyond that, it was never true to begin. Right. There are different cultures. There are values, there are different beliefs that people bring to the table. There's just simply different understandings of the world. And to not look at that is sort of a detriment to us because yes, we may have gone through the same situation, but how we experienced it is vastly different, ? So we've all gone through this period of COVID right now. And depending on who you were. So did you live in an urban environment? Did you live in a more rural environment? Did you have a stable job or were you one of the first people to go on furlough or lose your job? Right. Like these are going to force different outcomes. Were you someone who didn't have a choice, but to go into work? And so as we look at it, yes, again, we all went through the same period and still continue to go through it. But how it's impacting us is very different. And so when people say, well, it's, it's as simple as you just need to go apply for jobs. I did it, it was easy for me. Great. I'm glad that you had that experience or the next person they may have put in 50 resumes, but because their name is an ethnic sounding name, they're never even called in for the first interview. We're having different experiences. And so I think in watching people begin to realize that it was the first time, at least in my lifetime, that I saw so many people saying, Hey, I wanna understand this on a deeper level. I wanna dig a little bit deeper into this. And for many people, I think they made some great strides. It feels like there's a pulling back right now that is happening for many folks. And I don't know if you see that in your work as well. , but it seems like the attention given to it. Felt like it was ripe for that moment. We were all home. We were watching TV on a loop. We could see all the devastation occurring across not only our nation, but across the world. So it felt prime to dig deeper into some root causes, but as things have begun to open back up and I, I don't say this from a pessimistic standpoint either. , But more so from a reality check, like we need to be able to continue to sit in these conversations so that it's not just talking about it and I'm not just talking about, Hey, I'm learning something new, but what is the strategy that I'm now going to use? Because I have invested in this knowledge, you can have a ton of information at the ready, but if you're not doing anything with it, you're also part of the problem.
Carol: And I think there was, certainly for white people, who delved into this, there was a huge remedial education essentially that we had to go through, to catch up and, and get a lot of perspective. And then, but then again, as you're saying, how, how to actually put that, the stack of books that I've read over the last, whatever number of years, and then put it into action, is a different thing. Can you, can you gimme some examples? Organizations where you see them being able to integrate it. And it's becoming more of a way of thinking or more of the culture, then we went, we had these conversations, we did these training sessions.
Danielle: Yeah. One of the things that I have found to be incredibly helpful, within organizations. And I see them normalizing this into their practices are groups that are using an equity lens when it's time to make decisions. So those decisions could be, where we choose to hold our conference, this year. Is it going to be in person? Is it going to be virtual? It could be a decision around a particular policy now that we're returning to the world reopening what's our telework policy. Right. And so to apply an equity lens means we're asking some pretty fundamental questions around, like what are the assumptions that we're bringing to this issue? Are we ensuring that multiple voices are heard and included in this discussion? And not just from the standpoint of like collecting feedback, but that we're actually listening to the dynamics that are emerging for people. We wanna think about it again, like, what are those outcomes. We are not necessarily predicting. They might be potential outcomes. There's always someone in one group who is like, sort of the negative Nancy, they're the naysayer. And they're like, but wait, but this thing might happen. And our tendency is when that person speaks up, we're like, Ugh, Nancy beat, please be quiet. Like we, we don't need this right now. We need to move the project ahead. But I actually think that person at times can be a real asset for us because what they're doing is poking holes in the plan as a whole. But they're helping us uncover things that we may have a potential blind spot towards. And so being able to listen at least to, Hey, what, that might be something that could occur. Here's what we now can plan for, because we're aware this may be a potential barrier that we come up against, things like that feel like they are. Really helpful for me. And it's a simple strategy. There are a variety of equity lenses that exist out there. But nonetheless, like if I am thinking about my policy, if I'm thinking about a decision. I can now start thinking about who my stakeholders are, how this decision will impact them, if I'm collecting feedback from a broader group, right? So we often do this, especially in the nonprofit sector. I wanna know everything that you've experienced. Are you satisfied with our program? Are the kids reading at a higher level? Did we plant more trees? Whatever it happens to be, we ask all of these questions. And then where does the data go? Sometimes it literally sits on someone's shelf in the old days or now, in the cloud somewhere, but we're not using it effectively. And I really have a problem with that because it almost feels a little disrespectful, quite frankly, that you've asked me in a very transactional way to give you my insight on something unpaid, right. Free labor. And now you're not even gonna tell me what you've done with it. And sometimes you haven't done anything with it. So, when I think about that, these are tools that we can use. If I want to have partnerships that are transformational, it means that there's a constant dialogue going on between us, where it is less about the transaction. You provide your feedback, you provide this resource for me. And I go about my business, but like, how do I take that in partnership with. And grow it to the next level. Like, based on the feedback that you offered here are the things that we've done differently. Here are the changes on the horizon. Like people are not necessarily asking for EV everything to be different like today, but they would like to know where you're headed. So that's one, I think a solid example of where I'm seeing people make a difference is by intentionally using equity lenses, building those into staff meetings, into leadership team meetings, like on a regular basis. I often tell my clients, like, Hey, post it above your desk, right. It should be whether it's a bulletin board, some people have it as screensavers. Like you should know these questions well enough. That at any given time, even if you're not looking at it, you should be able to say, Hey, what are those assumptions we're making right now? Like, am I biased in my thinking? Like, how do I test that assumption?
Carol: Yeah. And I think we can start with the assumption that we always have some bias.
Danielle: A hundred percent.
Carol: But I love, I love because I feel like I've heard that term bandied around a lot -- equity lens, but like, what is it practically? The thing that you're describing seems so grounded in, okay. Here's a set of questions that we're asking. Each major decision and how it's impacting folks, and I also really appreciate the point you make around all the data that nonprofits tend to collect and how the assumptions have been built into that process. In the past that asked that one have assumed a complete access to folks and, and their willingness to just show up and, and provide input and, and provide perspectives, but also, forgetting to close that loop of, how are you, you've taken the information in, how are you sharing it back out? I mean, I'm at the midst of a strategic planning process right now, and I'm just, as you're talking, I'm thinking, okay, I know I've mentioned this to the client. We've gotta make sure that we do some type of feedback that goes back out to everybody that we've asked information from, not just board and staff, which is the typical group. Mm-hmm, we'll hear those findings, but who are all the people that you've asked, for input and, and how are they gonna see what was said? What are some themes and, and how it's gonna be actually used, in the work that the organization's doing at that moment and the purpose that it collected the information.
Carol: Absolutely. And like can, but yeah, it's only for funders, that's not the right audience,
Danielle: Oftentimes that's who we're focused on. Right. The funder said we have to deliver a report in one year's time and therefore I'm gonna collect feedback on it. And. I don't want to belittle nonprofits, because I think there are some really amazing groups out there that are taking that feedback and they are sharing it with their teams to strengthen their program quality. I see that every day, but what is that further step, right? To go back to your partners in the community and say, we really appreciated this. Here are some of the changes. And, or, we got some initial feedback from you and we're still really noodling on this. We're not sure what's next, would you like to be a co-creator in the next steps of this process? Because that, that's the other thing that really concerns me sometimes is that we believe, as nonprofit leaders, that we have the answers to whatever ails the community. And we often don't go back to the community itself and say, what do you need? Years ago, I worked at a nonprofit that built playgrounds, and I remember going to a community meeting and we had given the kids an opportunity to actually say, Hey, here's some of the design elements we want in our playground. And if you've been on a playground lately or sometime in your life, they have these really cool tool tubes where kids can climb through. And we were talking to the parents after the kids said, we want one of these climbing tubes. And the parents said, absolutely not now, I'm, I'm an early professional. I'm in my twenties at the time. And I'm wondering, what is the big deal about this? Why are the parents putting up such resistance? The question in that moment though, was not so much about what they were saying. But tell me more. What is the context? What is the why behind that? Well, as we began to dig deeper, we understood that the families didn't want the tubes only for one reason: when people crawled through them, they couldn't see what was happening within that tube. And this was a community where there were some, they were experiencing homelessness. There was some drug abuse, there are things that are happening. And they said for us to feel comfortable with our kids playing in this space, we need to just be able to put our eyes on it. Right. And as soon as we said, we have a tube that has a glass bubble or a plastic bubble, they were like, oh, that's great. So, we're jumping to conclusions about what the community needs at times without actually asking them what is a value to you and tell, tell me more about it. What is going to make this possible for you? Because in terms of the resistance they put up, they had every right to put up that resistance. That was a safety issue for them. Sure. As soon as we understood it, the dynamics were completely different. They're like, great. We've solved that problem. Let's talk about some other stuff. Now we love this idea.
Carol: Yeah, and part of that is just, having the opportunity to slow down a little bit and be able to ask the next question.
Danielle: That is exactly it, ? And so when we are faced with time pressure, when we're distracted, when we're even tired,
Carol: Which feels like everybody these days.
Danielle: Well, yeah, it certainly does. Right. So what does that mean to us in the grand scheme of things? If we're facing this every single day where you go to work and that you're, every project you had was due yesterday, there's constant time pressure to get to the next thing. You're distracted because we're multitasking. If your desktop looks anything like mine, you have like 11 billion tabs open at any given time. There's a lot that can stop us from being able to ask quality questions, and just sit with people because sometimes just the act of sitting and listening tells you so much about where people are and what their needs are at this moment.
Carol: Absolutely. When I'm doing meetings with groups now, and it's often virtual, online, one of the things that I will say at the beginning is, literally, if you have a ton of tabs open, I invite you to close them. just so you can be in the here and now for this meeting right at this moment. I love it. So what are some wider trends that you're seeing in the nonprofit sector, around these issues? We've talked about some of them, but what are some other ones that you're, you're noticing talked about a slow down in terms of interest in the, in the, work around equity? , what other things are you noticing?
Danielle: Yeah, I, I would say yes, there, it feels like there's a slow down of people, but when I say that I'm, I'm thinking more sort of on a national level, lots of different sectors. What I am personally experiencing is that the people who are stepping into this moment are more committed than they ever have been before. Mm-hmm . And so I think that, while I would love for everyone to get behind this particular effort, the reality is not everyone's ready. Not everyone desires to. , but what I am seeing is with the people who have made this commitment, there are some things that are shifting they're understanding they need to, we just talked about time. They need to allocate time in order to really embed this work in their, in their staff, their teams, their training, their onboarding processes, et cetera, how they're interacting with the community. So they're setting aside time for that. They're also setting aside resources. And that's something that in the past, if you ask someone what their DEI budget was, oh, we don't actually have a budget for that. We have a budget for professional development or maybe there's a training budget, but that was sort of a catchall for everything, right. It could have been for Excel. It didn't even matter. They did not have that set aside. And so I think that is useful. The other thing that I'm really seeing, move forward and. This one can be tricky at times. And I see a lot more boards getting involved. Mm. Right. And, and as a governing body, they need to be involved in this work. , because again, we can't just be in service to communities because it makes us feel good. How are we actually being of service, meaning helping as opposed to helping in the way we think is.
Carol: Right. Helping that’s helpful. Not helping that's patronizing.
Danielle: That’s exactly it. Yeah. So like, how are we driving that board? , and I'm really enjoying the board work in particular right now, because I have an opportunity to talk to people who. This is not something that they've been thinking about, right? Boards tend to be a little bit older. At least they have been in the past, right? Older, white male, et cetera. And this has not been something that's necessarily on their radar. And so we are challenging a ton of assumptions on a daily basis about how one we approach this work. Audre Lord has a quote that says ‘the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house,’ right. The way that we've gotten to the point that we are at today. Will not be the way that we get to the next phase of our evolution. And so we have to think about, yes, there are some strategies that we have used that feel like they may be tried and true, but what else is out there? What else could we be utilizing? And again, this is where those multiple perspectives come in. And I always wanna hear from the community. These are people that live there every day, right? They're raising their families. They work there, they have homes. They're seeing things that we don't necessarily get to see as the outsiders bringing services in. I'm hearing more conversations around working with boards on equity and inclusion issues. And I've definitely seen, with different boards that I've worked with, that there's often a big gap between where the staff is and where the board is. And then, Yeah. Some, some, and oftentimes some, some resistance, from older, whiter mailer folks, to how does this connect to our issue, not seeing those intersections. , and I think, that can feel all, I don't know what, I don't know what the right word is. Maybe. Like dismissive and I'm also curious, like, okay, so how can we like, maybe I, how can I draw the breadcrumbs from one to the other, yeah. This issue that you work on and, and these, these. To me, these issues permeate everything, but it's not, they're not necessarily seen that way. Yeah. From everybody.
Danielle: One of the things that I utilize a lot with boards is, the intercultural development inventory or IDI. And this is a tool that's been used in nonprofits, corporations, education, government, et cetera. What I really appreciate about it is it doesn't tell you who you are. , but it does provide based on self assessment. A snapshot in time of how you relate to similarities and differences when it comes to culture. Right. And we can talk about culture in sort of sweeping terms, right? So it might be your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, so forth, right? So like these big groupings of people that we have some type of social identity and connection to. And so, as people are starting to think about how they relate to groups that are similar to them, versus people that are, are different from them. Like it's really interesting to see, literally see, I, I mean, sitting on zoom calls and I can see people, the light bulb going on in their hip. Like I hadn't considered that. So this really feels like that issue of time constantly comes back to the forefront for me, because why don't we see certain things because we, we don't even allow the space for us to explore it. , and that feels really important to me because it's almost like a paramount to driving that new car off the lot. You go out, you find your favorite car, you buy this car, you haven't seen anybody. And you're like, I'm gonna be the first one to have this. You drive it off on your way home. You see 30 cars that look exactly like yours, even the same color. Right. And all of a sudden it is there. It is salient. It is right in front of you and you hadn't noticed it before. And to that end, what are we not noticing on a regular basis? Because it is not something we allow time for. We do not put intentionality. So with this IDI assessment, it's an opportunity to just really sit there and, and one explore how we're viewing these similarities and differences, but secondary to this. And I think probably the most important, cuz this connects back to the why, what do you wanna do with this information? Like why does this even matter to you? right. So if I know that there's a particular group that I may feel a little disconnected to, I don't know them as well as I'd like, but I have a goal, I wanna be able to connect my nonprofit services. Right. We wanna expand who we're reaching. I've heard a lot of groups recently say, Hey, we may serve the black community, but we're not really, and, and Latino community, but we're not doing well with reaching out to people in the Asian popul. Okay, great. I now have a goal in mind, right. So knowing how to increase my cultural competency is gonna actually help get me there. Right? So there's, there's this idea for me of like the knowledge building piece, who is it that I want to engage? What do I need to understand about them? So before I come in with my best ideas and like, Hey, this is the path forward. What do they do? Do they even want my help? Are they requesting it right? Or am I a burden to them? Because I've brought in this thing for them, it's not actually useful for them in building all of this, right? So I may have some motivation. I understand why. I'm beginning to build a knowledge base about the particular community that I wish to serve in this case. Now I tie this back into strategy, right?
Carol: You mentioned the IDI and it really focuses on how people can develop their personal cultural competence. What are some steps you see that folks can take once they get a little bit more aware around how they're interacting with differences or how they're seeing them or not seeing them?
Danielle: Yeah. I think that very much ties to the stage that they come back, at, within the IDI. But one thing that I do wanna clarify is certainly about being able to develop individual cultural competencies. But I also work with a lot of organizations who are, they're basically getting their team aggregated results. And we can say, as an organization, Here's where we sit and I'll give you an example. Many organizations will come back to the stage of minimization. So if we're in minimization, there is a tendency to seek out similarity. And so people are constantly looking for the ways that we are, like one another. , and so, well, of course we all think that we wanna be happy. We wanna be healthy. We wanna be respected. Great. Seems on the surface, like a pretty safe state. But it is more nuanced than that. So like, as someone is thinking about organizational work, what does that actually mean? So what does respect mean at the organizational level? And what does respect mean for you Carol, versus how I view respect? Because that's where I think things get a little tricky. We use words, just assuming that everyone is behind the definition, they're seeing it in the same context, because again, we're minimizing right differences without digging into. How we are seeing and, or experiencing the world differently. And that matters so much. , I can't even put enough emphasis behind that particular point. It matters greatly. , and when we ignore those factors, We end up with people that are unhappy, right? They're disgruntled. I don't feel seen. You're just sort of glossing over this issue. That is greatly important to me. I'm not included in your organization. I don't feel a sense of belonging. , it also is the very thing that in some cases, has organizations pushing people to assimilate to be more like them. Right? So we talk about culture fit. You hear this all the time when people are hiring, oh, we need someone who fits our culture. Let's break that down. What does that mean? Oh, well, they have to be professional. What does it mean to be a professional? And I am by no means saying that we shouldn't have some guard rails that we use within our work. So like, as you define as an organization professional, okay. We're gonna have an understanding of what professional means, but is it one that is inclusive of the team members you presently have and then also future thinking? Is it something that is inclusive of the people you wish to have on your own? Like, you're never gonna get to the fit if you're not acknowledging, identifying what this means and how we are allowing people to show up as authentic versions of themselves within the workplace.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. I've literally had. Conversations with teams where, the first round of doing well, what do we want, what are, what do we want as our team values and big words, like respect get pulled up, professionalism, whatever it might be. And then you actually take them to the next step of, So, what does that look like? How does that actually show up? What are the behaviors that are gonna mean respect to you and have people say diametrically opposing things where respect is. You never interrupt me. Respect is we can have an engaging conversation where everyone jps in and we're all talking depending on, cuz not every culture interprets that particular thing. For example, interrupting the same. Yeah, and I was actually on a call this morning where the whole conversation around, being business-like, or professional. Just using that as a catch raise, but then again, right. You can create those guardrails, but have a conversation about, well, what are the behaviors that we agree mean professional. Yeah.
Danielle: And which are the behaviors that we're using. Sort of we're using unconsciously to keep people who are different out. Right. That I think that for me, feels like probably, one of the hardest conversations to have with people cuz they don't wanna admit it, but it's there it's present. Right. So we, if we carry these biases with us, but we just use a word like professionalism as a catchall. It allows us to continue to be biased without ever having to have this conversation about what a professional actually looks like.
Carol: Like, yeah. And I think beyond also I'm thinking about this right now, just beyond the behaviors. It's also like what's actually necessary for the work. Yes. I mean, I think that's being reexamined across job descriptions, qualifications. Yeah. Requirements, the need to have versus the nice to have, like, does everyone actually have to have bachelor's degree, et cetera, et cetera. So reexamining all those assumptions. Absolutely.
Danielle: You make me think about a position description I had years ago that one of the criteria for qualifications is must be able to lift 50 pounds. Okay, that would be great. If I had a job where I needed to lift 50 pounds worth of anything, I sat at the desk all day. What am I lifting? Here's the other thing about it. If we're moving towards this place where we wanna be equitable, we wanna be inclusive. What you're saying to me is if I am not an able bodied person, who can, if needed, lift this 50 pounds. Then I shouldn't even bother to apply for this job. It's not said explicitly like that, but that's certainly the undertone of it when it was not actually anything that I needed to be concerned about because I had a desk job. Yeah. And what are the accommodations we're willing to make for people they're like, oh, we're, we're totally open to making accommodations. Great, but your language presented a barrier before this person even applied for the job. Because if I read that and I'm, especially as a woman, cuz , women have a tendency to look at it and are like, oh I don't meet these qualifications. Whereas men are like, oh, I'm gonna apply. Anyway, women will pull back from it. But if I'm reading that and saying, Hey, what, I can lift 25. Can't do 50, this, this isn't the job for me. Mm-hmm and it's a silly example, but yet it's not silly because there are so many things embedded in position descriptions along those lines that you just miss.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. So really digging into what, what, what is actually required for this job? What is actually embedded? Thank you so much. This has been such a rich conversation and I'm just gonna shift gears a little bit here at the end.
Ad Carol: We’ll be back after this quick break.
Mission: Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector Consulting helps nonprofits and associations become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. Download free resources on strategic planning, program portfolio review, design thinking, and more at gracesocialsector.com/resources.
We’re back on Mission: Impact.
Carol: At the end of each episode, I play a game where I ask. You, one random icebreaker question. And, for listeners, if you've been listening to all these icebreaker questions, these are great ones to think about starting meetings with, to help get to know groups better. But when, when you talked about your journey to the work that you're doing now, when you were younger, what did you wanna be when you grew up?
Danielle: When I was younger, I thought I was gonna be a veterinarian.
Carol: All right. How, why, what, what brought you to
Danielle: That path? My mother told me I was gonna be a veterinarian oh, okay. Well, I mean, she had expectations for me. She thought I was going to move into something medical related. , and I tease her like, so my background now is in psychology, so I'm like, I am sort of a medical person, but not quite. I was like, I focus on the organization side, but it wasn't necessarily my dream. Fast forward a couple of years, I thought I was going into television and that was really the job that I thought I was going to have. And I was gonna love until I had an internship in television. Okay. And I said, this isn't the particular path for me because what I knew even in college is I needed to be sitting in service, uplifting others, giving, Giving support to people who are learning sometimes to use their verse, their voice for the first time. Like that is my space to be in. I am an introverted person who has an extroverted personality. When you put me in front of an audience, like I love to engage people and just really help bring out threads of wisdom that we're always there for them, but like that they can do something meaningful with.
Carol: Awesome. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Danielle: Hmm. That's a good question. I'm just fresh off of vacation. I'm thinking about that. I think what is emerging for me right now that feels incredibly important is, is this leaning into cultural competencies? So we talked a little bit about that already, but like, if you understand that there. A goal ahead of you again, whether it is to diversify your board, if it is to be more inclusive of a variety of vendors, like I don't even care what your goal is. Like, how do we begin to shift the mindset? How do we institutionalize these practices in organizations? And I'm really trying to work a lot more, I think with organizational mindsets on that, because. The policy reviews the use of the equity lens. Those are simply, those are tools. Those are things that we can do there. I want to get to a place where you don't need to look at the tool. I want you to just be able to think naturally like, Hey, someone's voice and perspective was not included here. Here are the places where I know that I'm being biased. Here's how I'm gonna move differently. So like, those are the spaces I think I am really excited about moving into with the organizations I'm supporting, but more importantly, once we have this strategy on the table, How are you implementing it? Cause I hear a lot of folks talk about a good game. They may even have so many people out here right now doing DEI plans, racial equity plans. How are you creating a feedback loop? To say, Hey, this worked really well. Or, what? We missed the mark with this. We left something, someone, a perspective out of this, how do we incorporate that learning back in? So that the next time that we do this, we emerge even smarter, stronger, better positioned to do this work than we were when we got started. And so I think those are the things that excite me because when I think about what stops people from continuing this work, it's often the fear that I'm gonna get it. Guess what you are, right. That is what we do. We mess up royally all the time. The question is, are you committed enough to get it wrong? Pick yourself back up and do it again because for us to achieve a world that is equitable, that is inclusive, where people really feel like they authentically belong. We're going to misstep. So. But getting back up and continuing to try continuing to advance this work is the only way we will ever see that level of success.
Carol: And building that in, as you're saying to the mindset of how do we learn from mistakes yes. At an end and normalizing that and normalizing it, normalizing that we will make mistakes. The project won't go forward perfectly with all of these different things. How are we, how are we taking again, taking the time to stop and think and, and consider. How, what did we learn from that experience?
Danielle: Yeah. And being willing to admit that there isn't one right way to do things, right. There are a multitude of perspectives and ways that we can begin to embark on this. Are all of them gonna work? Probably not, but can we at least hear them out before we say, oh, that's not gonna be the path for us, or we've done it this way, as long as I can remember. So that's the way we're gonna stick to it. I want to figure out what could be. How we might approach this, that really, if, if there is one thing that excites me, it is the, how might we, mm.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll end it there. Thank you so much. It was great having this conversation. I really appreciated all of your perspectives and, I'm gonna hope that you send me at least one link to an equity lens. So I can put that in the show notes for people as a tool. , cuz I think, as when groups are getting started, It is helpful to have a couple concrete things. And then like, as you said, once you use it over and over again, then it becomes it. It just becomes infused with how you see things.
Danielle: Absolutely. Carol, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for the invitation to join you today. I've loved having this conversation.
Carol: I appreciated Danielle’s point about doing a better job of listening to the ‘negative Nancy’s’ in your organization. Instead of just seeing resistance as something to overcome, slow down and listen to the challenges – what can you learn from their perspective – and what blind spots are they helping reveal. I also appreciated our conversation about an equity lens. I have heard people use this term for quite a while – but was not necessarily sure what they meant or how to implement this and integrate it from a concrete point of view. Danielle shared her lens – a set of key questions to consider each time you are engaging in a new initiative or policy or process update or revision. These questions help you and your group think through the equity implications of any proposed action. Whose voices will be included? How will input be gathered? Will the change favor one group over another? You can find a link to Danielle’s equity lens resource in the show notes. And in addition to using this type of tool – Danielle went on further to point out that it is really about shifting organizational mindsets and having equity integrated into everything the organization is doing. Having it really embedded in the culture vs. something we happen to be working on this year. Building in feedback loops for learning is a key way to work towards that integration. That is the end goal – an equitable culture.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Danielle Marshall, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out.
I am about to go on vacation so we are going to have a slight pause in releasing podcast episodes. We normally release an episode every two weeks. There will be a slightly longer gap between episodes.
In the meantime, until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 55 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guests, Dr. Renee Rubin Ross and Christal Cherry discuss:
Dr. Renee Rubin Ross is a nationally recognized strategic planning and board development consultant. Committed to racial equity in the nonprofit sector, Dr. Ross supports organizations and individuals in practices that celebrate and amplify diverse voices and perspectives.
Christal M. Cherry is a nationally recognized nonprofit executive and professionally trained fundraiser. With over 20 years in the nonprofit sector, she has supported higher education institutions, human services organizations and faith-based missions. Her career portfolio, as a full time professional and consultant includes American University, the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College, Nicholas House, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Florida A & M University, Action Ministries, and the GA Center for Nonprofits.
In each role, Christal has interfaced, guided and collaborated with diverse boards made up of college presidents, ministers and bishops, politicians, corporate CEO's, civic leaders, consultants, attorneys, stay at home moms and students.
With passion and a wide breadth of experience, Christal works today with clients to help them mark a clear path to success in board development. Her style is electrifying, inspiring, and energizing.
Christal earned a MA in Counseling from Hampton University, a BA in Liberal Arts from Hofstra University and professional development certifications in nonprofit leadership, social media fundraising, and nonprofit management.
She currently serves on the board of the Greater Atlanta chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Villages of Carver YMCA. She is regular presenter with CANDID, Qgiv, Network for Good, Bloomerang, and the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy where she facilitates webinars and teaches courses in fundraising, board development and equity and inclusion. Christal has been a guest on multiple podcasts and enjoy serving as a requested expert on board matters. She is contributing author in Collecting Courage, a documenting of racism and survival by 14 accomplished Black fundraisers working across North America. She also enjoys her membership in the African American Development Officers Network, Toastmasters, and F3, Fabulous Female Fundraisers which she founded.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guests today on Mission Impact are Renee Rubin Ross and Christal Cherry. We talk about how nonprofit boards can work towards becoming more inclusive and more diverse. We explore why it is so important to not just name the challenges boards have with diversifying, but also identify some possible solutions and positive actions to take to create movement, why it is important for groups to unpack and own history, including their group’s history, how white people need to accept being uncomfortable during conversations around race.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Renee and Christal to the mission impact podcast.
Christal Cherry: Thank you.
Renee Rubin Ross: Thank you so much. Good to be here.
Carol: So I'd love to hear from each of you on this question, I'd love to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you do and what motivates you, what would you describe as your, why?
Christal: Go for it, Renee
Renee: Hi. So I'm Dr. Renee Rubin Ross. And a lot of my work is really focused on inclusion and bringing out the wisdom in the room, bringing out all voices. And I would say that some of this comes from, from my experiences as a kid who, and a geeky kid in the back of the library, not feeling included and really observing and thinking about who. Part of the group who has power and how do I change things? And then more recently, I, one of the things that I do is I run the Cal state east bay nonprofit management certificate program. Our students are a rainbow of people of all races and in teaching board development for the program, our students have asked me. Not just to share the problem of board composition, which we're gonna be talking about, but what are some paths to solutions? And that's what, that's, what started to motivate my work. And also then connected me with Christal actually.
Christal: And I'm Christal M Cherry. And I wanna say, as I started doing this work group, and then we encourage each other to, to share our race autobiographies. And that's something that we do in the work that we do with our boards. And as I started to really think about mine, I realized that there were many times when I was the only in many cases I was bused out as a small child. Out of the neighborhood that we lived in and I went to school were predominantly white children from elementary school, all the way to high school. So there were many times. When I was the only in the classroom and then graduated from high school and went to a predominantly white Jewish college Hoff street university in Long Island, New York and was part of a small program called the new college at Hoff street university. And I was the only one there. And then in many cases after graduation from college, I worked on teams. I remember I worked at the Bank of New York in New York City. And was only for a short period of time. They did eventually hire others. So I've always been the only in, in, in many instances and because of my personality, I'm a type, a personality, outgoing, not shy, not afraid. To enter groups and introduce myself, but there were still times where I felt like, ah, do I really belong here? Do they really get me? Do they really understand? What my lived experience is like I remember in college, my peers during the summertime were backpacking, of course, Europe and I was working at Macy's, so I couldn't afford the backpack. I didn't know anything about Europe. I was like, that's not part of my reality. So because I've always been the only. I think this work is about inclusion and belonging. Resonates with me. And particularly as we talk about boards, because I've been on boards, I've, I've sat in a room with boards and I know how uncomfortable it can be just for board members, periods that don't know each other. But then when you throw in race and culture and background then it gets weird. And if people don't get it, then people might not feel comfortable speaking up and you will find sometimes that people of color on boards are quiet because they're not sure whether or not their voices are gonna be heard. They feel like the only, and they're not sure whether or not it's okay to speak up. If what they're gonna say is gonna really be heard. And respected if, if, if they can weigh in it'll matter, all of those things. So that's why I got started in this work and in particular working with Renee. She's awesome. And, even though we're very different we have this thing in common and we have synergy and we respect one another and we work well together. So here we are.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you. Yeah. And you've named a couple different things there. This extra kind of challenge that hasn't happened, there hasn't been a lot of movement in terms of diversifying boards. Having them folks will recruit people, but not necessarily create a culture that really builds that inclusion. And I love how you talked about not just stating the problem. We, we, many. Many people have done lots of research around, around the problem, but love that you guys are working towards a solution. And, and just to name what it is, is really working towards helping nonprofit boards become more equitable and, and inclusive and create a culture of belonging. So what would you say are some common challenges? That nonprofit.
Renee: Carol. I just wanted to just appreciate what you just said, which was, you said equitable because sometimes we say we hear people when we start working with people, we hear them say, oh, you're trying to make boards more diverse. And I truly wanna call that out and say from everything, we know, and we've heard and all that without the pieces around culture and around Understanding how boards are connected and how all of us are connected to the larger inequities in our society. You're not gonna make much progress. So we do talk about inclusion and equity a lot too. Yeah. So thank you for that.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate it. I appreciate you calling that out. And I was reading recently and, and I'm sure others knew this way before me, but how the whole language around diversity came about was basically white or dominant entities wanting to avoid the whole conversation around race and wanting to call it something different. So I appreciate you calling that out. So what would you say are some common- I mean, I appreciate that you don't just name the problem, but let's just say, what are some of the common challenges the boards have in working to be more equitable and inclusive?
Renee: Well, we talk about knowledge gaps. So often things happen and then some people, and it is often the white people don't really understand what just happened. So very concretely, we had a board that brought us in and they had some contentious conversations. There were several women of color who left the board. And, and when they, when the organization reached out to us, they didn't say, this is what happened. They just said, well, we need some, we need some consulting. What do you say? You talk to us, you support us. And then as we got into our interviews and all of that, we started to learn. There had been some really hard conversations and, and interactions. And even after this happened, the people who were involved still didn't understand why this is that they never really went back to those people and said, Hey, is there something we could do to bring you back? You know? So it's just like this real lack of understanding. What had happened with these women, which, we, we didn't interview them ourselves, but we're guessing that they experienced this. We know that there was some aggressive behavior towards them. And certainly that there were most likely microaggressions that happened over time. And they truly just felt like I'm not being respected. I don't wanna do this anymore. Who would? And, and so, so, but, but from the perspective of some of the white people on the board, it was like, Oh, why can't we just talk this all out and not understand the larger dynamics Christal?
Christal: What do, what do you say? Yeah. And we received some resistance when we started talking about white supremacy culture and what that looks like. I remember the board chair pushing back and he was one of the main reasons why the women left because they went to him with their concerns and he threw them off. And it wasn't until we worked with him for a couple months that he really started to realize maybe his, how he was being complicit in this and that he was also a part of the reason why these women left. But it took a while for us and he did come around. But initially he was Kurt with them and dismissive. And so it's with this deep dive work where we really ask people to take a good long look at themselves and we have them do the race autobiographies. As I mentioned earlier, we do some race caucusing where we separate the board by race and Renee talks to the white people. And I talk to the black people, the people of color and and some really, really greeting conversations come out of that experience. And essentially what happens. What I've learned is that people of color are angry and white people are fearful. And so when we come back in the room, we've realized that, unless we start having these conversations where white people really can UN they're confused, they're fearful. They don't know what, what, what they, they don't know what to do. They don't know how to fix it. They, they, they feel shameful. They feel like we're trying to put them on blast and make them embarra. And, and they're like, I wasn't there, I'm not responsible for what happened. I wasn't there during slavery. And that's one of the things I tell people to disarm them. None of us were here were in slavery happened. Right. So, no one's pointing the finger at you and you and you, what we're just asking you to do is to own the history. And to accept the fact that because of what happened, some people live a certain way and some people don't, and that still has ramifications hundreds of years later. And while neither of us were there I still struggle with some of the disadvantages of what's happened to my people and maybe Renee. Some, some perks and bennies, some privileges that she got because of her background and because of the color of her skin. So we just wanna call people out and say, listen, we're not trying to make you feel bad individually. We just want you to see it and not ignore it anymore.
Carol: Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate that. You mentioned something that you do with boards, a race autobiography. Can you say a little bit more about what that is and what comes out of that conversation?
Renee: Yeah. So we got this, this exercise originally from this, or organization called rise, where they teach about facilitating racially dust spaces and what it is is we, first of all, we, we give people some questions ahead of time. Think about when, when did you first notice race? When did you talk about race? How, how was it discussed in your family? So that they're thinking about ahead of time, then the two of us model this together, and it is active listening. So whatever I'm sharing Christal says, Christal doesn't say, oh my gosh, I can't believe that really happened. You know it, but it's actually just wow. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you opened up and, and shared that. And then Christal shares. Same active listening. And then we send people off into breakout rooms and let them for, three or four people talk and, and listen to one another in the same way and people just really love this. I think that it's so interesting. There are certainly statistics now about our society becoming. More segregated and that it's harder to have these conversations across honest conversations across race. And yet I do think that people are really interested in understanding the perspective of somebody who's different from themselves. And it really has deepened, deepened connection, deepened empathy. And that we believe is the way to start making progress in terms of breaking down all the other hard stuff that is happening, because like I care about this person. And so I want them, I care about the more I understand their story. And so I, now I want them to feel like they're part of this group and I want them to feel like we value what they are bringing because it's, it is needed in this setting.
Carol: Christal. I wanted to follow up on one of the things that you talked about. It's the different experiences that folks have based on racial background. And the shame that you talked about, a lot of white people are sitting in and then acting out of. And I think, white fragility has been well described, but I think that, that, that oftentimes I know when I. Myself and them working with other white people is that initial reaction is they're saying I did something bad and perhaps they did do something that was harmful that they need to own up to and, and take accountability for. But that shame can be so paralyzing.
Christal: Yeah. And so, you know what we've learned is, some white people, they don't wanna feel uncom. They don't, they don't want to feel that wiggly feeling when you're in the room and you're just like, something feels itchy on my back and you're just feeling uncomfortable. And so they opt out and so , so, which is what happened to us when we were working with a client in Montgomery, Alabama. We had a client where we were doing Renee and I were doing some deep DEI training with, and it was a large group and it started out with, I don't know, 32 people or something like that. And then at, by the end we realized the group had dwindled down and who was like blaringly? Absent were white men. We had, we had white women, we had black men, we had black women. But we looked around and we were like, we're the five or six white men that we started this training with. They just opt it out. They didn't wanna deal with it. They didn't wanna talk about it. He just didn't come. And, that board talked about having some accountability for them. you can't just not come because it's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable for all of us. But if we're really serious about trying to change our culture, then we all have to sit here and deal with this discomfort and they just opted out. And so I think that's why. people of color are so angry because white people wanna just opt out. They don't wanna teach their kids about it. They don't want their kids to feel uncomfortable. They don't wanna feel uncomfortable. And we are just saying, you have to look at it. You have to look at it in the face. You have to own it. And not own it. Like you, you are personally responsible, but own it, that this is just a reality of what's happened to. Yeah, I just,
Carol: I mean, definitely that, that white privilege of just being able to opt out and being able to say, oh, I'll worry about that tomorrow. And obviously it's not the experience of most people in the United States, so yeah, really appreciate that. And, and yeah, it's, I, it's just seeing that as an unfortunate dynamic. Yes.
Renee: I, I was gonna just add onto that, that, that many of us believe that our society is better when people of all races can thrive and really understand, like that's the vision. And so it's like, well, what needs to happen? In order to move towards that vision. And one of the great books on this is the sum of us by Heather McGee. And, and it's funny because we just did a webinar for the network for good. And we were talking about this and it was all about building belonging. Right. And we talked about it a lot in terms of race and how people of all races should feel like they belong. On a board and belonging is very specifically, I am part of the circle. And then someone, a colleague of mine just listened to this webinar and said, oh wow. This really applies to, to the people who feel left out to the white people who feel left out.
And I was like, yeah, that's exactly right. Because what this is saying is when we think about all the people in our society and everybody's feelings. There's a sense of belonging. You're thriving. It's actually good for everyone. Right? So that's the, I mean, that's the, I know that there's so much fear around this as if something is getting taken away and, and that's the, the white people's fear, but at the same time, it's like, well, what, what is the positive vision? And I, for myself and in this work and what we talk about, how do we keep holding that positive? And, and for, for, for ourselves, for our clients, for, for these boards, I I'm gonna, I could go on this longer ,
Christal: but our society perpetuates us and we have this capitalist society. We have this patriarchal society and this whole thing about if, if you gain, I lose. Right. It's not like we can both get there. I can't, I can't have it. Nice things. And you can have nice things, right. If I have nice things, that means that you are gonna have less nice things. And, and, and that's what that really is what the bottom line is, is that, we we're, it is this competition. I have to maintain power. I have to maintain influence. I'm the one that has the money and I'm pulling the strings. And if I give. The opportunity to pull the strings. That means I'm gonna have less power. And that's essentially what this book that some of us talk about, but that's really the root of what's going on with this whole diversity equity and inclusion thing. Boards have been historically white male, right? They have been the ones that have been making the, there's 64 million board members in this country. They have been the ones that have been calling the shots about how nonprofits have been operated, how the monies are being spent, decisions on what happens to black and brown children. What happens to women who are pregnant, what happens to, and all of the things that we know, all the missions, the causes are out there in a nonprofit space. These boards who have been historically white male have been the ones that have been making the decisions about what happens to millions of people. And now what we're saying is, Hey, wait a minute. The world doesn't look like it used to. And there are more brown people in the world than it's ever been. And how dare you make decisions? Hello? Does this sound familiar? How dare you make decisions about me without allowing me to weigh in on those decisions? And so now we're saying move over and let other people who actually come from the communities that you're working with, have a say in what happens to them and, and the white folks who have had that power saying. I don't wanna move over. I mean, I know, right? It's, it's politically correct to say you should have a, you should have a seat at the table, but I've always had the seat. I don't wanna make room for you. I don't wanna make room for you. Mm-hmm mm-hmm and so that's basically what's going on. And so people will come to us and say, yes, we wanna, we wanna change our culture, that we wanna change the composition and wrap up. But then as we start working with them, we realize when it really comes down to doing the real hard work. They may not, they may not really mean it.
Carol: Yeah. And I feel like a lot of organizations and, and boards fall in the trap of the diversity piece. So if we wanna recruit people beyond white men or white men and white women to be on this board and they actually don't think about how it's gonna, how they need to shift in terms of their culture. And be more open. I'm a hundred percent with you, Renee on the, that's the vision of where we want to go. And I'm sometimes a little fearful that that can fall. That white people just wanna say, okay, let's get there. How do we do that? We're just all the same, like I don't see color pieces. So, so as a whole fan,
Renee: Oppos and we thank you for saying that, Carol, we, we each talk about this as this is, you're, you're on, we are gonna help. What we're gonna do with your board is unfreeze. Because, and by, by starting to deepen conversations around race, I, another thing that we wanna mention is like, everything, from research is you need to talk about race because if you do not talk about race, if you're not able to talk about race, then anyone who experience race experiences, race is those experiences are made in. And so it's not enough to say, oh, we serve diverse communities. I mean, you, you really need to be specific. And, and only by doing that, can you start to really pull out in equities in the society and do something about them? But you're right. It's like, do you want to do this work of building belonging and, and, very simple. Do you feel like people who are equity is defined as people who are closest to the problems should be weighing in on the solutions? It's either a yes or no. Either you believe that, or you don't, or you believe that someone else who's really far away somehow knows. What should happen, which sounds very, patronizing to me, but ,
Christal: Carol, while we focus primarily on race, I mean, we talk about diversity. We talk about all the isms. I mean, not only just color and, and background ethnicity, but able body versus disabled, right. cis straight white heterosexual against, people of color who are LGBTQ+ I right. You know? And so when we talk about diversity, we are just talking about difference. Right. Coming to the table, being different from what has normally been at the table. So Renee and I focused a lot on color and race and background and ethnic, background, but we are really talking about it all. So I don't want us to just be pigeonholed to talk specifically about race, which is our focus. And which we think is really, really, of course, obviously important. But when we start talking about belonging, we're talking about all those isms, right. And all those individuals who are historically left out to be at the table in the boardroom.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I just think it's a hundred percent in what you're saying, the language around belonging. Probably EV I would guess I could go out on a limb and guess that almost everybody has had an experience of feeling left out or feeling not like they didn't belong. They didn't feel included. And so being able to connect into that just as a, at a basic human level is really helpful. And I think starting with race, it's kind of, it's so deep in our history in terms of the US specific context, but I, but I think, I think there are folks around the world who actually listened to this podcast. And so I always make a point of saying, we're talking about this from a us perspective, but at the same time, I don't think it's a uniquely us problem either. So, what would you say are some first steps you've taken about some work that you've done with different clients? What are some first steps that boards can take in terms of becoming more inclusive?
Renee: So we, I mean, we, so again, one of them is deepening one's ability to talk about race. And that might mean Understanding who is on the board. One of the really other things is getting a sense of whether people feel, feel belonging. And I, I told this story, not, not long ago about, we had this conversation with this man named Carl, this white man named Carl. And we said, well, do the people on your board feel belonging? And he said, oh yeah, of course they do. Of course they, everybody feels so much belonging. And then I said, well, how do you know? And, and he was like, well, I don't know. I mean, I asked my three friends, and they all said that they feel belonging. Like, well, there's another 20 people on the board. Do you know anything about oh, no, but I'm sure they feel belonging, like, so, so, so what we do when we come in, we do some assessment that is interviews and a survey. And this, we're a cross race team. Sometimes people feel more comfortable talking to one or the other of us about what's going on. And we're listening and then we share everything back and it, and one of the principles is even if there's one person who has some information that person might be, might feel like, wow, this is, this is a super welcoming board if you're white, but I am, I am black. I'm a Latino, I'm Asian American. I don't feel welcome here. You gotta listen to every single voice and really understand what's going on. So first just getting a sense of what's happening.
Carol: Yeah, I think that, that, that Taking that step to really gather some good information, qualitative quantitative, and then mirroring that back to the organization so that they have that fuller sense. So it's not just the four people that I happen to be friends with on the board. Right. And talk to them on a regular basis. And so I think I know what everybody the, the, the bad phrase of, well, I think I'm speaking for everyone here. Well, no, you're. Whatever. Right. Even paying attention to who's speaking up in the meetings and who isn't who you are hearing from? And I think some people are, are pretty attuned to that and others just don't, don't notice it at all. And so that can be so helpful.
Christal: And Carol, I'm a big proponent of doing self work. Right? And so I always tell the board that before we could start collectively working as a group, you really need to do a selfie. You really need to take a selfie and, and look at yourself in the mirror. This is all part of that whole race, autobiography stuff. It's like really starting thinking about who you are and how you feel and where you fit in. Why do you feel the way you feel about others? How do you feel about yourself? Like where do, where do you fit in, in this whole thing as, so Renee and I, during our, our training, we will, we will show videos, we will encourage art reading articles and we, we copy chapters out of books. Right. And we send them to the board members and we ask them to read, and then we come back and we talk about those things. And so I think, doing your own self work so that you can look at your mirror yourself in the mirror and say, you know what I do have Biase. I do feel this way about this group of people. I have heard certain things and I believe that, and so really breaking that down to see where you stand in this space and then come back to, is that really how I wanna be? Is that really how I wanna navigate through this world? And maybe there are some stereotypes that I've bought into that are not. And so I think when we start to really take a really hardcore look about who we are and how we are behaving and how we may be contributing to what the perceptions are about groups if we can really get people to really see that and start breaking that down, I think that that is another next step. To come back together in, in the room as a group and saying, okay, I looked at myself, I've had the conversations. I'm ready to come and talk to you all about what's happening with me and then how we can work together as a group to maybe make some change.
Renee: I just, I just wanted to add, I mean, going on to that, that, that we model that ourselves, like as a, as a white person, I feel like I need to keep learning. I need to keep listening. I need to keep stepping back. I have my own communities of, of, places where I learn as a facilitator and trainer, and that are centering. By, black indigenous people of color in this work. And, and so that's really a suggestion that we make for, for the white people in the group too, is, yeah. We're gonna give you some resources and we're gonna share some, some great information, but there is, there is such a, there is often a lack of awareness about bias, about racism and, There's some real catching up that the white people in the group need to do. And, and so, we support them as much as we can, but this is where we do say, all right, we're gonna UN we're gonna unfreeze your group. Mm-hmm and you're gonna need to keep talking about this. And it is if we took 400 years to get to this. It's gonna take a long time to untangle this. Right.
Christal: And I always say, give yourself a little grace, there's no fixed endpoint to this work. Like I, as much as Renee and I talk about it and read about it and write about it, we're still learning. She's always sending me information. I'm like, oh my God, Renee. That was so good. That was good stuff, you know? And so give yourself some grace, it's gonna take a long time. You're not gonna be able to undo everything that you've learned in your 55 years in, in, in, in three hours. Right. And so give yourself some grace, but start. Start and keep and keep it moving. Right. And then we also talk about finding some champions, finding people who may be a little further along than you are. And I did a lot of that. I interviewed people on LinkedIn, like cold calling people who either wrote an article or blog, or I saw they did something amazing. And I was like, can we do a virtual coffee? Can I get, can I get your ear for 30 minutes? I just wanna learn a little bit about you and your experience and why you wrote that blog. And so find some champions and people who are actually doing the work, who may be a little further along than you. And see if you can get some perspective, Renee, you wanna add anything?
Renee: About that? Well, I will say that I think one of the unique features of this training that we do is this race caucus work because sometimes, I mean, so I lead the white caucus and this is, we come together. We say, we are. Sent we are, our goal is to build an anti-racist organization. And we are what is doing this and an organization where all people feel a sense of belonging, but we, what is, what, what do we, as white people need to work out in order to get to the place where we can come to the table with the rest of the group and. It was really interesting. I mean, people talk about can, can go through some of that shame and powerlessness without wasting the time of the BIPOC people in, in the group. So we, we, we did this with a group and then, we had the caucus meetings, we came back together and then one of the. people, people were looking at each other. The, it had been pretty emotional, some of these conversations. And so, one of the BIPOC men looked at the group and said, what'd you guys talk about? And we had this woman, we’ll call her Emily, she raised her hand. She said, I just, what we talked about was the, the, the shame and sadness that we are feeling about racism and about the impact of racism. And then this man in the bipo caucus said, well, that's what we talked about too. And it was really this, this amazing moment of like, okay, maybe we're not as different because we're, or, how do we, we can find these, these places to bridge what we're trying to, what we're trying to do. And not all problems were solved. But, we started to, to get to some understanding. What, what do you say, Christal?
Christal: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. And, and when there's anger that comes out of it, we had a black male stand up and said, I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of trying to convince white people to wanna be on this board with me, you know? And if they don't want me here, I can go back to my community where I'm wanted and I can work on and on other things I don't have to be here. I'm tired of fighting. And, we applauded him for having the courage to stand up and, and really share how he, how he was really feeling. And we were all taken aback. But it was definitely a moment. And so we're glad that we are providing space for people to feel comfortable doing that. We round out our training after we do all of this work as we try to come together. If we can come together in person, we can cause a lot of the training is done virtually, but we try to end the training with all of us in the room. And it's really nice after having seen each other in these little boxes for all these months, Renee and I can actually shake hands with people and the first 10, 15 minutes of the training, we're just all sitting around kicking it. And it's just nice. We're just talking, getting to know each other. But we do do some more work and, and we end the training by inviting them to come up with some priorities and goals that they're gonna work on. ‘Cause our time with them is finite. Right? And so we wanna make sure that once we leave that their work continues. And so we realize sometimes it seems so overwhelming. There's so many things I didn't wanna work on, but we tell you to pick three things. Three things that you're gonna work on this year. And then each group comes up with what those things are. And then once we decide, they decide what they are, then we put some timeline and benchmarks and who's gonna do what to it, but we wanna leave them with a plan so that they continue to do the work past Renee and I.
Carol: Yeah, that's so important. And I appreciate what you said about the caucus. And I feel like white people sometimes will be like, what, why will we do that? This is supposed to be diversity trading. And, but I really appreciate how it creates a space for right. The white folks work through that shame, have all those emotions and are not burdened. The people of color, not just waste their time, but also stress them out, from an emotional labor point of view of having to listen to all that. Like, no . And so I think one thing that I would say, Christal, you said you did a lot of reaching out to people who were one step ahead of you. And I would say for the white people listening. Try to find other white people are a little further ahead versus reaching out to the people of color that who are already like, have had it with telling white people about this stuff.
Christal: yeah. And what's interesting about my caucus is that I have people of color, so it's not just black people. So I, we have black people, we have Asians, we have Hispanics we have, and even in our group, we can't call people, people of color together and think that they even all. The same experience, cuz their experiences are all very different. And even in the group, you'll find that a lot of the black folks are speaking up, they're angry and then the Asian folks are quiet. Right. They're not saying even in the group where they're supposed to feel comfortable with all of us, cuz we're people of color, they still feel like it. So we have those conversations about why is it that black people always feel like they get all of the attention? Why are we adored? Why can't we ever talk? And so, and they're like, we just have been told our culture tells us to be quiet and stay, stay in the background, stay small, and then Latinos have their issues. So we have very interesting dialogue, even in the people of color caucus. It's very different.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Because I mean that, that black, white dot binary is certainly something embedded in our culture, in the US. And then we've lumped this enormous group of like the, the most people in the world into one group as if they all had common experience and they all come with different cultures. Different norms. And so, yeah, that's, that's for sure. Gonna, gonna come up. I would love it. You talked about modeling a couple different times and if you indulge me, I wonder if you guys might model the racial autobiography exercise that you do when you do the training. I wonder if you just would do that for a few minutes.
Renee: All right. Woo. You're putting us on the spot here. so, what I do is so interesting in terms of reflecting on what, on the conversations in race about race in my home as a white Jewish person. And what I noticed when I thought more about this is that we didn't talk about race and we never talked about race. It is rare. It was almost impolite to notice someone's race or to refer to it. So there was something bad about, bad about mentioning race. And, but the funny thing is I personally was so curious about different people's experiences, but there wasn't even really any space because it was sort of like it was the wrong thing to do. And the only thing that I and I feel so sad about is this. Talking about it. But the only thing that I remember was hearing about a black neighborhood as an unsafe place. And so that was all that, that was most of what I had in my, my mind, in my images. It was this fear and boundaries. And I mean, I've, I've done a lot of work over the last five years to shift all of these images, but they are powerful and yeah, I, I mean, that's, I guess I'll leave that here and,
Christal: well, thank you for Renee for having the courage to share your personal history and your personal story. We really appreciate hearing it.
Renee: You're welcome. What about you Christal?
Christal: Yeah. So I had quite the opposite experience in my family. And so race was talked about all the time. And I always share the story about me being a little kid playing on the, on the floor with my dolls and, and hearing my father and my uncles stand around the bar, having drinks, talking about the white. And the white man is not gonna let us do this. And the white man is gonna do this and the white man, he has his foot on our neck and the white man. And I remember as a little kid thinking, who is this white man? And why is he so mean and is he coming to our house? And so I grew up hearing that we should be fearful of white people. And there were times and instances where we would be out in public. And I bring up the instance where we were in the mall one time and we were about to go down the escalator and we got there first, me and my family, but a white family was coming and they got there maybe just a minute or two behind us. And I was just about to step onto the escalator. And my mom pulled me back and pulled me aside. To let the white family get on the escal first. And she said something like, oh, sorry, sorry, come on. Then she said to me, get outta the way. Come on. I can get outta the way. And I remember thinking to myself, Why couldn't we get on the escalator first? And why were we being a nuisance just by being present? The white folks didn't ask to get on first, but my mom felt like it was the right thing to do to push us outta their way to let them go on first. And so I was constantly being fed that white people were superior. And that we were inferior and that we should be fearful. And so I didn't even realize that. And then I was bused out of my neighborhood, which was the message that my neighborhood was not good enough. Right. And so I was constantly fed that black people were not the same as white people. And so I didn't even realize all of that Carol, until we started having these conversations that Renee and I are having about how much that was ingrained in me as a child. And so it has taken me a long time. For me to come around to my own feeling of self love and self acceptance and self-worth and particularly in doing this work.
Carol: Yeah, no, I appreciate you sharing.
Renee: Thank you so much. You appreciate so much your story
Carol: Then since I put you guys on the spot, I guess I'll have to reflect on my own. I mean, I think yes, mine has in common with Renee's that race was invisible to me. I grew up in very segregated areas here in the greater Washington DC area. And then my dad was in the foreign service, so we were overseas in Europe. So it was primarily European, although the country's demographics were changing as I was growing up in two different places. And so when I've had these conversations before, and it's been reflected back to me that the, the time that I noticed race was when there was a black kid in my class, in, in first grade. Right. And so that's when it was an awareness for me or when I was on the London tube and I first saw somebody with dreadlocks and he was like, what is that? And I was a kid, you know? And so I, I think, I think I had that experience of a lot of white people. Since I was part of the dominant culture and had so many boxes that checked off the privilege boxes that that race to me was pretty invisible and, and not, and not spoken about. And so yes, to have to unpack and UN I think we all are untangling all these messages, all these things that we've internalized and, and just need to keep doing that to, to, free ourselves from all of this as much as we can.
Christal: Wow. Well, thank you, Carol, for sharing that it's very brave. We appreciate you for sharing.
Carol: So you talked about some steps that, and obviously every organization's gonna have different steps that they're gonna be taking as they move along in this journey. What are some examples of success? I know Renee wants us to, to look on the brighter side and not just focus on the problem and think that there can be solutions and we can move in, in a direction of helping more people have a sense of belonging. What are some successes that you've seen?
Renee: We, we have gone through the process with a couple of organizations and got, again, we haven't solved all problems. Sure. No, but we have, we have worked with them too, to foster conversation and build a plan. And can, and and that they would continue the work going forward. And also we have gotten them to make connections between their work on the board and why this, why it matters to build belonging and talk about race. So, for example, we worked with an arts institution and we started talking about. Well, who needs to be served, who is served now? what, what, where is the organization located? Where are you creating events? And, and why does this matter in terms of even the future of your organization? Right? So it's like this isn't just about us in the room. It starts with us in the room, but it really radiates out. In terms of the future of your organization, if you're ever gonna survive, because it's like, are you only gonna be an organization that's gonna serve white people in this white neighborhood? Or are you gonna be something that belongs to the people of all races and get them to think about that. And so really deepening what is at stake here?
Christal: And Renee suggested that, because I think one of the issues that we found with that group was that the black people in the community felt like the museum was not located in their community. It wasn't, they didn't have access to it. And so we talked about maybe having a pop-up exhibit and taking the exhibit to them, to their community, maybe in their community center, maybe at their library, maybe in a place where they can walk to it, as opposed to having to take three buses and two. To get to it. And I know that that is something that has been considered. So we're praying and hopeful that they will take some of the things that we said into consideration and maybe try to reach across the lines and, and give access to the artwork. And, and, and also, there weren't many pieces of artwork in that museum that represented those communities. Right. And so Renee and I actually pulled out one of them and had them talk about it. And, while it was that one, I actually went and visited that museum and that piece of artwork, which was absolutely beautiful. It's on the back wall behind like four or five different walls. You gotta walk in and out. You have to walk in and out of the, and then on the very back wall, that one piece of artwork representing a, a, a church scene of people of color. But if you don't make it to that back wall, if you cut your visit short and you decide you're gonna go get some ice cream or something and, and not make it to that back wall, you're gonna miss that piece. Mm-hmm . And so why is that piece on the back wall? Right. And so all of these things, , all of these things are things that we, we, we, we brought to their attention and so practically they've moved that piece and we'll, we'll see what. And
Carol: Those looking for those glimmers of hope. And I think it's, it's taking away those blinders. So, I talked about how, for me, it was so invisible and now, I can't look anywhere without seeing the implications. And. and I think also just like everyone has biases, it's built into the way our brains work. So the shame that people have about those, yes, those are the stories you were told. Those are the stereotypes that are in the culture, but how can you start, questioning those, thinking about it differently. And it's still in the stem, right? The way back to a part of our brain that's always just looking for. Foe or friend the foe or friend. And we have to have all those shortcuts or we wouldn't be able to manage in the day, but then it's like slowing down, taking the time, questioning, like taking a pause saying, Ooh, no, that's not how I wanna show up. How can I do it differently? Moving forward? Mm-hmm .
Renee: Absolutely. Oops. I wanted to mention Reesma Menakem and who we just really love his work and a black man who talks about black bodies and white bodies and what we're carrying around in our bodies in terms of love and fear and hate and all of this, because this is very much, sadly, and, and men, other people have done work in. Also, it can be very much on an emotional level. And that's where, again, we're, we're trying to foster these conversations across race to try to get people to rewire a little bit, because this is not just intellectual work.
Carol: Absolutely. Absolutely. Christal, any, any final thoughts? And then I'm gonna shift gears a little bit.
Christal: No, I just wanna encourage those, those organizations whose boards have not really thought about this, or have not delved into this work to really just begin, it, you have to. Start, what do we say? A journey of a thousand steps begins with just one small step. So you have to just start, and if you're not sure where to start, you could certainly reach out to Renee and I, but find someone who could help facilitate the conversations because it needs to happen and it's no longer an option. The world looks different than it did a hundred years ago, 50 years ago, 10 years ago. Right. And so it's time. It's time for you to, to, to do the work. And Renee and I are certainly here to help. If, if you need us.
Carol: Yeah. There is definitely magic in getting started. Well, like I said, I will shift gears a little bit. At the end of every episode, I play a game with folks where I ask them a random icebreaker question that I pull out of a box of icebreakers. So I'm gonna ask you both the same question: who had the most influence on you growing up since we talked about growing up.
Renee: Well, I can, I probably can start. I was part of a Jewish youth group. It was actually called Hannah Szenes. And so Hannah Szenes was a paratrooper who was also a writer who died in the second world war. And I just really appreciated her writing her thoughts. Community and connection and the challenge of, of all of that and, and her desire for a better world, a better and more just world. So if someone just, comes to mind at the, at this moment,
Christal: Yeah. And what immediately came to mind to me was my dad. He just while he's deceased now, but, and and certainly while he was not perfect, he had a high moral compass and he just really just taught us the difference between right and wrong. We used to say there's a right way to do things and there's a wrong way to do things. We laughed at my sisters and I laughed about that today. Cuz we, we always say, people don't care, we're always the ones trying to do the right thing and other people don't care, but he was just a, a man who believed in hard work. He believed that, if you, if you worked hard, you, you, you got, you got success. And if you're treating people right, then even if they don't treat you right. If you treat people right, then you're doing the right thing. And so I think that's probably stuck with me the most. I can always hear his voice in my head. And so that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to do the right thing,
Carol: Carol. Excellent. Excellent. I'm trying to do the right thing each day, too. So what are you guys excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work you're doing?
Christal: we gotta talk. We were in the middle of trying to write this book. All right. Well, not even in the middle. We're at the beginning.
Renee: We have been interviewing people about this and we have our own work and we have some, a framework that we have created about this work. So we're really trying to write it down. So, yeah. So we're writing a book. We still are offering the training for boards. We'd love to hear from people who are interested and, and yeah.
Carol: Yeah. That's exciting. Well, let us know when the book comes out and we can add something to the show notes and we'll, we'll put links to your bios and the links that you've talked about and how to get in touch with you. All of that'll be in the show notes. So, but appreciate both of you. Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you so much for the work that you're doing.
Christal: Thank you. Yeah. Thanks for that invite. Yes, we appreciate you as well.
Carol: I appreciated Christal’s point that we need to give ourselves and each other grace when engaging in these difficult conversations. It took us 4-500 years to get where we are and we are not going to dismantle these systems and ways of thinking overnight. Yet this also doesn’t let folks off the hook- especially white people – from continuing to examine themselves, their thinking and how they show. And to keep stepping into growth and learning. And for white people to reach out to other white people who are a little further ahead of them on their equity journey rather than defaulting to reaching out to people of color in their network. That is part of doing your own homework as a white person. I was also struck by the differences in each of our racial autobiographies. Of how within white families – Renee and mine – there was little or no conversation about race and how in many, but not all ways, it was invisible. And for Christal the experience was the opposite. It was a topic of conversation frequently. And in both Renee and Christal’s story there was an element of being taught to fear the other. So it is an uncomfortable conversation – especially if you are white and you are not used to talking about race. Or even if you were taught it is impolite to talk about or a taboo subject. Christal’s observation that white people come into the conversation with fear and people of color with anger – strong emotions to handle and uncomfortable emotions to have in the workplace. As a fellow white person, I invite white people to step in and manage their fear and be in the conversation, knowing that you will make mistakes and screw things up. For people of color I appreciate the grace, generosity and patience I have observed over the years – all in many ways probably undeserved.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Renee and Christal, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 39, Carol Hamilton looks back at the last year and a half of Mission Impact. Using clips from interviews with Tip Fallon, Nyacko Perry, Carlyn Madden, Kristin Bradley-Bull, Keisha Sitney, Rosalind Spigel, Stephen Graves and Nathaniel Benjamin, she examines:
Learn more about my featured guests:
Carol Hamilton: For this first episode of 2022, I am looking back. Over the past year and a half I have released 38 episodes. And I started interviewing for the podcast just as the pandemic started in March 2020. I also started another brief project that was going to be the podcast Culture Fit which I am fitting into Mission: Impact instead. Over those interviews issues of equity – diversity, equity and inclusion – and how these issues show up in organizations – especially nonprofit organizations have emerged frequently in our conversations. For this episode I am featuring some of the highlights from those conversations. I loved the chance to look back and listen to those episodes and look for some gems. While there was a lot more great stuff I could have included, I try to focus on a few themes that went across interviews. These themes included:
Tip Fallon: That's my belief in an underpinning, even in nonprofit organizations who may be providing social services or direct support in the community, in one sense, like those are still a, maybe not a microcosm, but they sit within a larger society in this larger society. If we talk about whether it's patriarchy or the racism or xenophobia or any of those things, but even sometimes just the, the capitalist mindset when the individualistic mindset that promotes a belief of scarcity, organizations and cultures are not things that fell from the sky. So we need to remember that people, maybe not us people, maybe generations ago made some decisions. Many of them very. oppressive decisions towards entire groups of races, of people that created a lot of these structures and organizations and hierarchies that we're living in then for today, what are our decisions and what are. The ramifications, not just today, but to borrow from indigenous mindsets and ideology, multiple generations down the line because we're creating cultures today that will last well beyond the 5:00 PM or 6:00 PM or 10:00 PM that a lot of people work
Carol: Nyacko Perry comments. On how the ways we work and measure productivity and accomplishment. Spring from roots. That would most likely surprise most of us
Nyacko Perry: Our structures in general in terms of business are based on white supremacy. All the way from our educational systems, our business structures, I was listening to the 1619 project. An amazing piece by the New York Times, that really looks into our history of slavery and also just the legacy of slavery. And one major piece is that a lot of our business structures are based on how the plantations were run. They had very complex systems, they had middle management and ideas about productivity and reports about productivity, of how. Feed a slave and have them be as efficient as possible. And we're extremely successful in that. So much of our. And America is based on that piece of our history in our life. So when I think about just structures in general, I'm like, yeah, like the whole thing, everything, which does make it difficult, I guess, to just live in society and to work in any system. I guess the rationale that I give myself is that I'm here to dismantle and to support in the transition and the change. But I think it's very important to just acknowledge where our structures come from.
Carol: The nonprofit sector certainly mirrors the rest of the culture in terms of who shows up in what levels of leaders. And on boards, there have been calls from major institutions in the sector for years to work on the issue. And yet the needle hasn't really moved much in terms of diversifying. I think a lot of it has to do with this notion, especially in predominantly white organizations of what's just about diversity and it's about numbers. Let's get at least one person, one person of color, one person with some diversity factor beyond a white and men and women. But then that underlying factor of how is the culture supporting that person to be able to be successful and really contribute in a meaningful way. Carlyn Madden sites. The study that I was referring to.
Carlyn Madden: Jean Bell, who talks about, I think it's called hire by higher and talks about some of the survey data on executive leadership in the nonprofit sector has not changed in the last 20 years. The demographics do not actually change.
Carol: Given the context that we live in and the stubbornness of the challenge. What can people do to move the needle? Kristin Bradley-Bull offers one possibility
Kristin Bradley-Bull: History is written by the so-called winner. Think that's all wrapped up in what you're talking about and one, certainly, of the primary opportunities for so many nonprofits is too. And especially ones that are white led is to really. Start listening a lot more to listen more deeply to stories from the communities that they are a part of, or not as much a part of it as they wish that they were because that's where so much wisdom rests. And it is in storytelling that many learnings, many examples of resilience and creativity and perseverance. Live and live actively, certainly in the nonprofit sector, how are we, how are we supporting? How are we supporting a system that, how are we supporting the larger system that isn't serving a lot of our community members? So I think there are lots and lots of questions and all of that. And some of what I take hope from is that piece around. We have activists and movements who are pushing. And so when the more traditional nonprofit sector is in good dialogue with movement folks, there's lots of zest. There, there are lots of aha moments. And so I think we just have to continue again. It's that porousness, it's that sharing of stories that. That helps others in the non-profits sphere or grassroots activists and people in the non-profit and the formal nonprofit sphere, as well as grassroots groups that are not , there's a lot of possibility and bringing all those folks into conversation, storytelling, deep, deep consideration of comments. Common interests, which is not necessarily the first thing that people recognize, but we have common interests in what I would call collective liberation.
Carol: Nyacko Perry speaks to this as well and goes beyond storytelling. To how it shows up with frontline staff. As well as leadership. And the connection. Or rather the frequent lack of connection to the community that is being served
Nyacko: People that are doing the really direct service are having. A real challenging time, especially around their income, more often than not, they're the least paid person, but they're the people that are really dealing with the direct work. And then there's a whole disconnect between the direct service people and the people that are really high up. And the other disconnect in that area is. Race. It's like direct service. That's where all the people of color work. And then as you go up, it's just all white. And that, to me, like, I think symbolically, I find disturbing I'm like, what is that about? And then also in terms of who they serve more often than not, it's people of color, people that we've represented with disenfranchised identities, and that's not reflected in the leadership of non-pro. And so for me, there's just this huge disparity and disconnect that I don't understand. And I feel troubled by more often than not the people who need help are people that represent disenfranchised identities. And why is it that we don't have those that represent those identities in leadership? I mean, that's where I see there's just a huge problem in that, but I mean, honestly, my friends that are a nonprofit when I've worked in non-profit, it's just, it's almost like it's normalized where yeah. The whole board is white. The whole leadership is white. They don't know what's happening. Like they're not connected to the actual experience of the people that they're serving, but they get to make the most important, most drastic. And, fundamentally for me, it's the people that are closest to the pain should be closest to the access and closest to helping to make decisions, and I'm pulling from my Congressmember, Ayanna Presley, but that's the thing we need to people who are representing that identities should be part of. The solution should be part of making those major decisions. And I don't see that. I rarely see that. And I think we know statistically, it's not there. It's like at all, we think it's like 0.05%.
Carol: Another theme I heard in our conversations was about assimilation. One of the challenges that I think few white people realize is the extent to which black indigenous and people of color BIPOC may feel pressured to assimilate. Into the white dominant culture to succeed. And the emotional toll that that assimilation takes every day. Tip describes this phenomenon.
Tip: It is internalized in us. We default to let me wear the mask because I know at least I may be able to survive in this space and maybe be able to foster some relationships with that and get my agenda across. And what I find sometimes is sometimes that math. There is a permeable boundary between the mask and us. Sometimes it seeps into us, I think at an unconscious level. I mean, we end up with ourselves and others unintentionally sometimes perpetuating some of the mask wearing in our organizations, but there's a generational divide as well. So even there, there is a little bit of tension just generationally. I mean, this is again a big generalization, but sometimes younger people are coming into the workforce. Now that I have a little bit more latitude and say, Hey, I want to wear my hair or even my clothing and appearance, or even my language in a style that seems authentic and natural to me. And we shouldn't be afraid to talk about this. So, Hey supervisor, like, can you call some of this stuff out? Because I don't really feel included. Supervisors might say, Hey, I've got to negotiate my boundaries with these funders or these community partners or X, Y, Z. And I'm trying to sort of toe that line and we're going to get more, what is it? Get more bees with. If you will. So like let's sort of not rock the boat or whatever the averages are. That's a little bit, a little bit much for the appetite and the culture of that organization. And so what we see in that situation is, is someone who says, Hey, this is what being authentic means to me. And because I don't feel I can be authentic. You, the organization, are not getting my best thinking. You're not getting my ideas about what's happening within this organization that I only have a purview about. And the system is losing out. The clients and beneficiaries are losing out as well. And then you have others in the organization who are essentially, I think, trying to survive in a way that looks like these masks are also a survival tool.
Carol: Keisha Sitney also comments on her experience, including how this approach is too often actually embedded. In leadership development programs designed for people of color. To help them succeed
Keisha Sitney: I led multicultural leadership development efforts at a national level for our organization. And there's sometimes where I felt like we were just teaching the diverse leader, how to be within this larger structure that is not necessarily welcomed. So teach you as a person of color to straighten your hair, to get in, get the interview, say the right things and do all those things. But how do we change the system? So that it doesn't expect me to conform in order to be successful, that I can be valued for. However, I look, if I choose to wear my hair this way, and I know that sometimes it seems like a small thing, but those small things, they just add up and there just seems to be many ways where as a woman of color, I felt like I haven't always been able to bring my whole self to work. So I do think that it's important that we allow folks to bring. Themselves and their culture and their beliefs to work and not have to hide who they are. those conversations is, is a key part of it,
Carol: That leadership development that you're talking about, it's essentially what, like refining, refining code switching, or basically teaching. With these realities, many organizations are trying to take steps to address the current situation. And there are many pitfalls and mistakes and traps that white led organizations fall into. I'm trying to take steps to diversify as well as become more inclusive and equitable. One of those mistakes is recruiting for diversity first, instead of attending to the culture that you're asking people of color to step into. Rosalind Spiegel speaks to this.
Rosalind Spiegel: They're white-led boards. And they want to have BIPOC folks as part of their leadership, which is great. And the. Depth that they skip is how do we prepare ourselves to welcome others into our board? And so you don't just start doing equity when you've got a BiPAP person sitting on your board, because then they leave in a year. And you wonder why Robert Gass, who does the art of transformational consulting. He's got a lot of great resources on the website, the social transformation project website it's called and educate. And it's basically a feedback loop. It's basically when you said X, I felt why, because. So this out and education is a way that organizations and boards serving staff can begin to practice what they preach. So let's say you, Carol and I are at our board meeting with a bunch of other white people and, or mostly white men say, and you say something and nobody pays much attention to it. And then like three minutes later, Charles says the same thing and people go, Hmm, that's good. Now I might, I'm sure you've never experienced that. Right. Never, never, never happened. So I might not catch it. Right. Cause I'm just as, as sort of susceptible to sexism as everybody else. Right. And white. Can tend to be a little competitive. So I may or may not. I may even notice it and not know what to say. Right. But if you've got something like a, a commitment in place for collaboration, engagement, respect, equity, whatever, and a mechanism like out and educating them, you could say, Hey Charles, when I said that three minutes ago, nobody paid any attention to it. And, and now when you said something, I noticed that people thought it was a great idea. And because of that, I'm feeling invisible or at that made me feel invisible and, or I might have the wherewithal to say, Hey, Charles I noticed Carol said that a few minutes ago, and I'm really glad you amplified it, but I'd kinda like to hear Carol's original thinking around that. The trick here is that, and here's sort of the thing about this ouch and education process is like the trick is for Charles to get. Oh, wow. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Right. I'm sorry. I missed that. I know we have a commitment to this and I'm going to try and do better next time. That's the right answer. The wrong answer is for Charles to go, oh, I didn't mean to you're misinterpreting me that wasn't my intention because that's a showstopper. So if the commitment is, let's practice these values. Then there's also commitment to learning from. I said, this thing, thank you for telling me this thing felt off to you and I'm going to try and do better next time, because we're all part of this team and we all want to make sure that whoever's part of the team feels heard.
Carol: The example that you were starting to talk about in terms of the social justice organization that you mentioned. And, then the black board member said, yeah, and we have all these values. We have this mission. We do this work and I'm still experiencing this. So I'm curious then what came out of that conversation? I don't want to guess what might've happened. So how does that become an education? Yeah. Yeah. And that gap, I'm sure people would just work. I could imagine how chagrin they felt. Wow.
Rosalind: I mean, it was a real gift. I mean, and that's the thing, for someone to say, Hey, like when you said X, I felt why it is such a gift that that person has given you. I mean, really it's just such, I mean, how else are we doing? I mean, we've all got our work to do. And so we're not going to be able to get any better unless someone is generous enough to point out where we're sticking our foot in it.
Carol: At the same time, taking the risk to point out the ouch and educate those around, around you takes a toll. Keisha Sitney describes the exhaustion of constantly being expected to speak up. And how she decides when and when not to take on that emotional labor
Keisha: It's exhausting to share. And there've been times when I'm like, I'm not, I'm tired of educating everyone else. I'm just going to do it. I've got to preserve myself. Diversity. Fatigue is a real thing, but I found relationships that are important to me. And I've found, I've really tried to develop those. Professionally personally, but by sharing, this is the impact of this. When I hear of another police killing of a black person, I think: that could be my son who's six foot four, and it could be my daughter who's 17 and just a black, young woman. It could be me. It could be my husband. Sharing conversations with folks. One of my colleagues said that really hit me when you talked about your kids and my kids, because it's always that family over there, but it's like, no, And you know that we have these things in common, but yet our kids can be doing the same exact thing and mine will be killed and yours will not. I can't speak for every person who I met who's like me, but I can tell you how this impacts me. I can tell you how this impacts my children. I can tell you how this impacted my family. I think that that's one way that I've tried to personally just make connections with folks and help them just see things in a different light.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate that. And I appreciate also you're saying there just sometimes when I'm not, I'm not going to engage. I need to, I need to preserve myself.
Keisha: Yeah. Can't always, I can't always engage in conversations. It's not always fruitful. And there are some folks who it doesn't matter what you think, and I'm not willing to sacrifice myself for those types of conversations, we need to teach white people to be okay with people who are different. And, I know that there's a lot of, there are a lot of books and things talking about being anti-racist, but we have to continue to just work. Dismantling the systems. It's not just teaching one group how to be, or how to respond. It's educating ourselves on how things got to be the way they are. And we, they didn't just start with us here, here's the impact of those things. Here's how this group might've benefited from these laws and we systems. And then here's how this group may not have benefited
Carol: Another theme I heard was moving beyond the interpersonal. Looking at how things are done in particular, how hiring is done. How searches, especially executive searches are done. Impacts what the sector looks like. Carolyn Madden talks about how they are approaching. Executive search differently to address some of these issues.
Carlyn: What is required or that the conditions of executive search have to change. And so while the model that you're talking about, sort of the last 20 years, it's called executive transition management and they talk about. Prepare pivot and thrive. Don Tevye and Tom Adams and any Casey foundation. And all of these organizations came together to design this model, which is an effective model at the base of it. But the conditions around the model haven't changed. And so things that we do that are a little bit different, or a lot of my colleagues are starting to do the same, but we're very firm in that color transparency for all of our client, actually building out networks, multi-racial network, leveraging affinity group. Open exchange with clients, recognizing that often leaders of color don't have those sponsors, or we are reaching out to folks saying, who do in this space, that would be a good executive director, because there are so many white people in the sector in top leadership roles. Our networks are very homogenous. We know that I'm a white lady, you know where this is. But I'm a white lady, two white ladies talking to each other. but our networks are very homogenous. And so we have an open door policy that anybody that has questions about a search can call and talk to one of our associates about their interest in the role so that they can really prepare their. To be successful in front of that transition committee, also coaching transition committees on what are some best practices. So if a transition committee is hiring an executive director and says only executive directors can apply for this. Well, what we know to be true about the field is that there are fewer executive directors of color than white executive directors. And so we're already starting to limit the pool, like even just subtle things, right? How are we, how are we gender coding, job description? The studies say, not just in the nonprofit sector, but at large, Women are less likely to apply to a job that is masculine coded. So if your job description says things like aggressive goal achievements, women or women read that as like, well, can I aggressively achieve goals? So we use words like collaborate, not compete, thinking really about gender coding there. So boards often think that they can do it themselves. But again, what do we know about board? Many of them are predominantly white. So we look again at the some-odd network,
Carol: So given all these challenges internally in our mindsets. Implicit bias in her personally, culturally. Working organizations start to make changes. Tip offers thoughts about how we can manage and use ourselves in the situations that we find ourselves in.
Tip: I'd offer a couple of things first and foremost is compassion and understanding the system. And I think offering compassion to ourselves shows that we live in a very oppressive hierarchical system where we have to do a lot of things to survive and keep some of the basic needs met. So AEs is offering compassion to ourselves that, yet we don't have. I have ideal choice sets in front of us.
Carol: As we give ourselves and others, grace and compassion. Steven Graves talks about the importance of commitment. From the top of the organizations. The leaders of the organizations need to be committed to the work for change to happen
Stephen Graves: For shifts to be made in order for real change, transformational change to happen, you've got to have senior leadership commitment. Weber is at the top of the organization and has the most power. They have the most impact. Oftentimes they can control where energy is being in place, where resources are being placed.
Carol: Well, so much of anti-racism work focuses on the individual and interpersonal level. Stephen also talks about the importance of having good data to support your efforts.
Stephen: So a lot of times the mistake that people make in this particular aspect of diversity equity inclusion is because there's such an emotional tie and pull to it with feelings. And, I can trigger a lot of. People don't take a logical, maybe rational and evidence-based approach. And I think whether you're in the nonprofit space, whether you're in the corporate America space, whether you're in healthcare, like I said, You still need to be driven by data, collecting what we call real data, race, ethnicity, and language, data, collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data. Using that data to sit and drive real goals in terms of what are going to be some realistic goals that we can manage. And they can help us chart our path forward.
Carol: Focusing on equity. We'll most likely create some resistance. Stephen talks to this resistance and why it is an illusion to think of dei as somethings as separate and apart
Stephen: The advice that I would give to leaders when it comes to that resistance in terms of saying, okay, we've got to put this off because there's other priorities. It's saying, Hey, they, these are priorities within priorities. So wherever the conversation is, whether it's around COVID, whether it's around your EHR, electronic health care. There's going to be a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion within all of those priorities. Maybe you're building and expanding your practices, expanding a wind, getting your hospital. You've got to have some consideration for, okay, how are we going to make this accessible right, for a person with disability? How are we going to make sure that language at signage is translated in a way that folks can understand who don't speak English as a first language. So these D and D pains are going to be embedded.
Carol: To that point, Nathaniel Benjamin addresses the question of where responsibility for DEI should live within your organization.
Nathaniel Benjamin: DNI should be aligned directly to your senior leader, CEO or operator diversity is about your people. And it's about the experiences that these people leverage. So for me, if I were to create like the perfect organization, I always figure human capital in terms of your process. And you look at culture, you look at engagement and belonging, and then you look at diverse and all of those areas together. Is the strongest framework to create a human centric culture.
Carol: Keisha Sitney describes the brain spot. She sees in her organization. And what is giving her hope for the future?
Keisha: Might've encountered quite a few bright spots. I know we have a movement of leaders of color. Throughout the National Y we call it our multicultural leadership development group. And we have mentors and coaches and support, and we've created a safe space, similar to the employee resource group models, where you have groups of people that may be able to come together, work on policies, and you've got the affinity groups, those types of. But ours is more of a mixture of not just African-Americans with African-Americans. So you might see African-Americans Hispanic, Latinos, Asian, Pacific Islanders. You might have indigenous folks of which we need to improve our numbers nationally as an organization with regards to leadership or flooded communities. But for those of us who are members of those communities, finding the commonalities and being able to support one another and educate one another and develop our own cultural competence, just because you're a person of color doesn't mean that you're going to be culturally competent as well. And the things that we're asking from other groups that we should be able to model those things as well. So it's definitely a great support system. And we've seen a lot of folks who've been able to engage and advance their careers within our organism.
Carol: And with a final thought Tip Fallon reminds us that while we live in a culture. And with the history that we didn't necessarily make. And we are also making today's history. In small and large ways we can impact. And have ripple effects. That might mean a lot to the person across from you or in that zoom call you attend today.
Tip: Like we are products of history in a way of what we're living in, but we are also the creators of history. We're creating the history that those people will live in, in the future. That, that makes sense. So it's an invitation as well, to be intentional about. What are the cultures that we're creating both actively, but also passively, , when, when we show up and just where, where those choice points. And I think at the end of the day, the day to just hoping to find peace for me in a so for me media, a big piece of work is in some of our training, we use the term self, but just inquiring. How am I showing up? Not just what are my intentions, but what are my, what are the impacts that I'm having on my peers, my colleagues, those who might come to my nonprofit for services on funders, on the community at large, For others who have to make a lot of compromises in terms of their values and how they'd like to show up, it's just, what's in our locus of control that we can change. Sometimes we talk. About culture and it's our systems and it's big, it's complex. Like how could ever change this stuff. And for me, like the micro stuff matters a lot to those moments where we feel seen and heard and validated by a colleague. And I think those things really fill the tank. I think they give people hope and humanity that no matter what happens during the day, if you've got a really good connection with someone that can keep our tank full.
This episode is part of the Culture Fit project that Carol recorded with her son-in-law Peter Cruz. In this episode, Carol, her cohost Peter Cruz, and their guest Ariel Salome discuss:
Ariel Salomé thrives on challenging assumptions and limiting beliefs, reframing challenges into opportunities. She possesses the uncanny ability to constructively disturb the status quo to the point where it opens the floodgates of possibilities, leading to transformation. For the past 18 years, Ariel has served as a training & curriculum designer, DE&I practitioner and group process facilitator. She just returned to California from Washington D.C. where she managed National Science Foundation grant-funded projects in STEM higher education reform, supporting the development of STEM faculty leaders across the nation. Ariel is now known as the “Corporate Healer” as she coaches and develops the next generation of leaders in tech as the PM for Leadership Development at Lyft. Ariel is also the founder and space holder for METANOIA, a spiritual community of practice. Ariel received her BA in Sociology and dialogue facilitation training at Occidental College. She completed ICF comprehensive coaching certification and doctoral-level training in human and organizational development at Fielding Graduate University. Her research and practice include transformative learning, ontological coaching, and the somatic release of intergenerational and racialized trauma. She believes that the world’s greatest problems can find solutions when we show up as fully human and fully divine.
Important Links and Resources:
Ariel Salomé thrives on challenging assumptions and limiting beliefs, reframing challenges into opportunities. She possesses the uncanny ability to constructively disturb the status quo to the point where it opens the floodgates of possibilities, leading to transformation. For the past 18 years, Ariel has served as a training & curriculum designer, DE&I practitioner and group process facilitator. She just returned to California from Washington D.C. where she managed National Science Foundation grant-funded projects in STEM higher education reform, supporting the development of STEM faculty leaders across the nation. Ariel is now known as the “Corporate Healer” as she coaches and develops the next generation of leaders in tech as the PM for Leadership Development at Lyft. Ariel is also the founder and space holder for METANOIA, a spiritual community of practice. Ariel received her BA in Sociology and dialogue facilitation training at Occidental College. She completed ICF comprehensive coaching certification and doctoral-level training in human and organizational development at Fielding Graduate University. Her research and practice include transformative learning, ontological coaching, and the somatic release of intergenerational and racialized trauma. She believes that the world’s greatest problems can find solutions when we show up as fully human and fully divine.
Important Links and Resources:
I am Peter Cruz and with all as always with me is
Carol Hamilton: Carol Hamilton, or you want to be here with you Peter and Ariel.
Ariel Salome: Great to have.
Peter: So just as an introduction, Carol has already mentioned our guests' names. So Ariel, tell us a little bit about.
Ariel: Hi, everyone. Thank you for having me. My name is Ariel Salome, and I always liked to lead with who I am, what I love, what lights me up and what I have to offer to the world. So I eliminate pathways for leaders to embrace their full humanity. Which in turn gives them the permission to give others around them to do the same thing. I craft experiences that turn on light bulbs and produce aha moments, but ultimately I'm a healer. So leaders are no longer called to be on blockers and closers, but the holders and the keepers of the mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of their teams. And I believe that the world's greatest problems, including systemic oppression can find those healing solutions. When we show up for each other as fully human and fully divine.
Peter: Wonderful. How I guess to start us off is how it sounds like it's going to be a very lengthy answer and response, but how has 2020 impacted you.
Ariel: Well, 2020 has actually been good for me. Yeah. I, I, anytime I interact with my team, anyone that I have contact with is as you can tell from my introduction, fully human and fully divine, I advocate that we always show up in our full awareness of who we are as creators and as human beings. And so I just see this as an opportunity for consciousness and the expansion of consciousness. And what that means is that there are so many things that have been beneath the surface, just kind of bubbling, almost like a volcano. So 2020 was that push to get all of the lava to kind of pop out. Scary, right. Nobody wants to be overtaken by the hot magma coming from the center of the Earth's core. However, it's a natural process. It's a cleansing process and. The study, all climates are environments that have volcanoes such as Hawaii. there's a really, there's a beauty that really evolves after the cooling of the magma. There are particular plants, floral, and fauna that thrive in that environment. And I see this as a kind of evolution. So for me, I've landed in my career at a tech company. I worked for Lyft. I am the program manager for inclusive leadership. I also have my own coaching and consulting firm amid a NOAA experience. And I've had this kind of transformation of my own. So 2020 has been great. And I just see it as a healing opportunity for us as individuals and as a collective.
Peter: Yeah. It's certainly there, there certainly has been instilled, like, I think this is one of the first. Like I guess I've only been alive for like 31 years, but like in the mind, short time, just seeing how you're actually witnessing a lot of change and you're like in the action, you're actually being a part of it. Like, these are the things that people will read about, decades from now. So it's interesting, but also very foreign and unique and uncomfortable at times to be a part of it, like trying to question what you can do as an individual who may not be working in some of these professional spaces or, if you are a kind of a quote, unquote cog in a wheel at an organization. Like what can I do to try to steal the change? For those people, we will talk about like, I think leaders in those spaces. But for people who are kind of. Active members of the change, but may not have the power to instill it. What has been your experience with them? Like what are some words of wisdom for those people?
Ariel: Yeah. So let me clarify this. I actually think that everyone is a leader, so it's not just about where you sit in an organization, but you're the leader of yourself first. You're the leader of your family? You're the leader. Non-positional leadership is just as important as positional leadership. We all have a part to play in this kind of evolution. I love Benjamin Zander. He's an orchestra conductor, and he talks about leading. Any seat bets are in. So we know that in the symphony, those who are in the first chair I played the violin as a child. And so, being that first string is what you are in, in the first seat is what you aspire to.
But everyone in the orchestra has a part to play that is very critical and important. So it's really, I like to say, if you, if you bolster your own. Of self first, right? Where do I fit into this macrocosm of society and all of the societal ills and the structure that exists, where is my place? And I say that it just starts with education, educating yourself, enlightening yourself, and then. Spreading your own personal gospel after. Yeah.
Carol: And I loved how you described it. Kind of 2020 is the metaphor of the volcano and what's been bubbling underneath for a long time. And for some folks that. The question for 2020, why's why now? Why, why did it take y'all so long to have some awareness of what's been going on for a very long time. But there've been folks trying to do education and trying, building kind of a I don't know it's in some ways, like getting people ready to then this outside, I don't know. It's not really outside, but all these forces coming together in a particular moment, allowing company difference. Whoops. They want my pen allowing something different to happen. But yeah, it's been building for a long time.
Ariel: Yeah, there's a, there's a concept part, the law of diffusion of innovation.
And I believe Daniel Pink's book is the tipping point, or is that Malcolm Gladwell? I'm not sure it's one of them, but the whole point, the whole point is there's a scale by which people you have early adopters, and then you have the great majority. And I think we've just reached that majority. And so we're starting, we've seen the tipping point.
And now the rest is kind of like waiting for people's old ways to kind of die out. And with this, the oncoming generations to really carry these messages forward, because I think that the whole, the next generation of. And just like beings are gonna, Ooh, I do not feel like the amount of I guess I think because people who are, I guess, a little more resistant to the change will just feel like they're just overwhelmed with this wave and this rush.
Of change because I think the generation below me, like generation Z, like they are far more with it than I ever was at their age. And, they have the vocabulary, they have the quote unquote arsenal and, and I think, with millennials and gen X, so like as they're, I guess we're moving up in these organizations as well. So, and if we're trying to, I guess, More receptive to feedback. I think that's always something that I faced when I was an employee talking to someone much more senior. It's just that open door, that flexibility, that, that, that kind of desire to change and leave something better. Wow. I'm going to do my best to like, try to instill that change. Probably going to feel at a place because of what I've been used to in the professional landscape versus what everyone who's going to be coming up in their workforce. You mentioned how we all have different roles in this for people in regards to diversity equity inclusion, who may be part of the majority. And I think allyship and co-conspirator ship or terms that have been thrown out there. How, how can they act on their desire to be one of those people, but not knowing where to start?
Ariel: Yeah. Yeah. I like to say that it begins with cultivating courage. There's this level of like a zero F's that you have to give. And I like to consider myself to be a status quo disruptor. And I think if we take on that persona, if you will, to be a status quo disruptor, and just be like, you know what? This is. And it comes down to meetings. When you hear, interrupting emails, I've done that at previous employers, I've seen, I've been CC'd on emails and I've interrupted language that wasn't inclusive. I've been in meetings and I'm like, Hey, I haven't heard from so-and-so. Let's make sure everyone has. When I do leadership trainings for lifts and we do a word cloud in the beginning of our inclusive leaders training is where who's in the room and who's not in the room. So yes, of course, I'm going to keep referencing leadership because my personal philosophy is everyone is a leader and I do leadership development. However, Just for the everyday individual contributor. Who's not a people manager, just that, like I said, taken on that persona of like, if I see something I'm going to say something and, and it's, it's safer to do so now than it ever has been before. And learn. Go ahead.
Carol: What were you saying about stepping into courage and building those muscles for courage, because I think one of the I mean, one of the cultural values in, in white culture is being polite and, being conflict avoidant and skirting around the issue. And so you, you're having to step into something that's kind of counter cultural and, and. But I think it is in those small moments, right? I mean, there's so much culture. We talk about culture is kind of this big thing, but it's really made up in all of those small moments, interactions between people. How are you showing up? And so it goes back to that, each person can be a leader if they're thinking about how they're showing up and, and it may not be calling people out, it may be asking, asking that disruptive. It interrupts the kind of just status quo, normal, how we might go about.
Ariel: Yeah, absolutely. And we've witnessed that this week as a country, as a global community, when Meghan [Markle] and Prince Harry came forth to share their story, it took a lot of courage and it also showed like, this is real, you know? Yes. And everywhere. We have this culture of silence, because that's just the way it's been. I mean, if that wasn't one of the top themes of Megan's experience was this is how it is, everybody's gone through it, you know? And it's like, Does it really have to be that way, especially for those who like pledged awardees and fraternities I've always thought like, well, why do we have to keep doing it?
Carol: Just because it was done that you can't, we have the hazing and sororities and fraternities hazing in professions.
Ariel: Exactly. Yeah. Well, I had the, I had to do that. XYZ entry level person. So you got to do a hazing theory. Yeah. I just came from five years working in academia and higher education. The process of obtaining a PhD and becoming a tenure faculty member is just as fraught with hazing as ever. So with all of these, right. That's a theme that we're seeing. So why can we just ask ourselves why? And is there room for something else?
Peter: Yeah. And what's, it's like this history of modesty within like kind of like white supremacy culture, like. What do you, what are some, I guess, I guess maybe I'm asking for like a free lesson here, a pro bono lesson, but like for, for younger people of color who had to assimilate into these like institutions, how, like, what are some recommendations for them to like, kind of shake it off and, have, I guess the courage and build that stuff when they've kind of been beaten down.
Ariel: Yeah, I would say that. One tip, I would say, is find community and find your safe space. I have been fortunate to land in a place at Lyft that values people being their authentic selves and being able to bring their full selves encouraging, if you're in a position of leadership or an influencer in any culture, can you. Can you create a space or a safe for everyone to be themselves, to disagree on something and to move forward? I also, I also would suggest, imposter syndrome, I just came out of a lovely with Dr. Chayla white Ramsey taught. She taught imposter syndrome for the forum. Great, great group in a network of women who are teaching career development. And it's, it's a pastor syndrome is a really high experienced psychological experience for people of color. And then we also in whistling Vivaldi, the author talks about what it means to have a stereotype threat. They kind of all fit in the same category of what it means when this perception of who you are, because you're a member of this group that's underrepresented or that's melanated, or that's clear that, this. Somehow going to impact how you're able to show up, but how can you challenge even those internal narratives that because you don't quote unquote fit in one way that I did this for myself personally, because I am a spiritual mystic. And so I infuse that in everything that I do. So it's really hard to give an answer that does not have some type of spiritual undertone.
So I'm really big with affirmation. And one thing in my early twenties, when I was having a difficult time finding my place in my work style, and how to lead and how to build teams. I said, I bring value wherever I go. And I just kept saying that to myself because I was receiving these messages. Like you're not valuable, you're creating problems, there's chaos around you. And I was just like, you know what? That's not true. I'm not going to receive that near. I'm going to receive this narrative. I am going to create a narrative that I create value wherever I go. Another message that's pervasive. I don't know how this shows up in other ethnic groups, but from those particularly who are descendants of the enslaved Africans who were brought to America is this notion of you have to work 10 times harder to get half of what, the predominant group. I challenged that narrative. I was like, that's not true.
If I show up and do my best, I'm going to be rewarded. Now, a lot of people would be like, oh, you can't say that you're disregarding the experiences. Yes, they are very real experiences. But in our process of acknowledging that we are also divine beings and we have the power to create and shape our world, our world through our thoughts, actions and our. If I continue to tell myself, I don't have to have this pressure of doing 10 times the work of someone else to get half the recognition. I'm just going to be the best at being me and people are going to see it, the period. And that's, that's how I live.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, I remember like just some still, I guess, relatively new and relatively young and just like the workspace. Cause I'm probably going to work for another 50 years, but I mean, in words of affirmation are a big thing that I think we all struggle with, especially like when you are part of a minority because you're getting that culturally from your family, like you shouldn't, you need to do this and that and this and that. So you're like, okay, I need to confine that way. You get into the workforce and like, whoa, you're you only have so few doors open to you and your, your comments about your tone about like,
Ariel: Oh yeah. I had a conversation with someone and, and about tone. I was like, oh, I am an African indigenous woman. Yeah. Like that's the story of our life. They're like black women are sassy, they have a chip on their shoulder. I'm just like, that's your narrative. And I don't subscribe to that narrative. And I've had instances where I've been penalized because of someone's perception of being this tall five foot, 10, 200 plus. black women and I'm just like, this is just not the place for me.
Peter: Yeah, exactly. I definitely felt that as well. They're just by your appearance, just like how you, like, what role you'll play within the organization and whether or not you're serious. Like, I, there have been like, cause I'm like six, two was two 50 and like a Puerto Rican man. So, in the summer I get darker. So it was like, people would just, I think I'm a very intimidating presence or, maybe I'm authoritative or maybe like, people don't even want to ask me questions or do anything Slightly, but then it's like my whole professional career has been to dismantle that that's a burden that we have to live with. It's like, no, like all judgements that you may have are just like, no, no, that's not, that's not true.
Carol: I wanted to follow up on one thing you mentioned, you've mentioned stereo threat, a stereotype threat. And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more about what that is and how that shows up.
Ariel: Yeah. So stereotype third is a concept that was developed in, illuminated in the book whistling Vivaldi, and the author studied what occurs for underrepresented groups. I believe he was, excuse me. I believe the author was studying African Americans. I'm not a hundred percent sure. But what happens when they sit down to take a test? So if there's a stereotype, let's use the model minority myth. So Asian Americans are told like, oh, they're good at math. So if someone keeps telling you you're good at math, you're good at math, your brain will actually trick you into believing like, Hey, I'm good at math. So the converse of - and let's clarify, we know that that is a myth and that is not for everyone, but the way that our brains work psychologically, we tend to internalize those messages that have been fed to us from the time that we pop out of our mother's womb, and we enter into the world. These messages subconsciously fit with us. So if the message that women or other minority groups are not good at. That way, or if the, even if the teacher, if the student has perceived that the teacher doesn't even think that they have capability, that impacts testing scores. So that's a stereotype threat. So it has nothing to do with someone's actual innate capability, but those subconscious, the subconscious reception of those stereotypes can hinder academic performance.
Carol: Internalizing those oppressive messages. And I guess one, one kind of slight window of hope that I think about is that given that, that all of these cultures and all of these messages, all of these systems were made by people. Then they can be made into new things and that, so I think starting to uncover that, actually this isn't just, it isn't, it doesn't just exist kind of beyond us, where we're either helping to perpetuate or trying to dismantle any of these systems, any of these ways of thinking in everything we do.
Ariel: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Peter: I think I only have one more question. So the question we ask every guest is: as the workforce had to shift in response to COVID and that vaccinations are being rolled out, so they can only have one, it's only safe to assume that there will be a return to normalcy, so to speak. What are you most looking forward to and optimistic about the post lockdown world?
Ariel: Hmm. That's a loaded question. That's a lot. I actually want to add something to a question you said. When you talked about what can people who are allies and co-conspirators do take another step. So here we go. Another step that allies can take is to normalize, calling out social identity, because what Carol has illuminated earlier around, what is the culture of whiteness? And what are some of them? Old ways that have been passed down from generation to generation are the silence or the hushing because as Carol said, it's being polite. It's not polite to talk about racism, not polite to talk about identity. So if we, I am Irish American. My family has been in this country for X, Y, Z numbers of generations. Or my family comes from Russia. My family comes from Italy. Right. And to embrace that within yourself. So call out like, okay there's this thing called whiteness. And I am a part of it because I don't call white people, white people. Just philosophically, fundamentally, I like to tie people to a land into a nation because that's who we really are. Whiteness is a social construction and it just so happens that people who do not have melanated skin get swept up into this construct of what it means to be white.
But we, there are European Americans. There are people who have. Just as there are people who have origins here in the Americas, the indigenous people, the tribes of those who are also nameless. So if we normalize, I am and I am X, Y, Z, queer black differently. Et cetera, et cetera. I'm Muslim, I'm Jewish, I am, all of these things; because colorblindness is at the root of it is an eraser. You're just erasing people's identity to say, oh, I don't see you because you're just a human. I was like, well, our brains are not set up to work like that. So normalizing calling out an isolating social identity is one thing that you. Find comfort with, and then celebrate, celebrate the differences because diversity is an excellent thing. Diversity is a beautiful thing. And some studies show scientific studies, mathematical studies show that when there are people from different groups who are together, you're going to find different solutions.
Peter: So it's like step one, normalized difference, and then go on to the next.
Carol: All right. Well, and I think it's beyond that, because what I've observed is: it's very easy for someone who is not white, just to name their identity first and foremost, as whatever group they are. Part of that is not white. It is not typical for white people to say I'm a European American. First it says, I don't know something that you can't see. I'm someone who grew up in this place or I'm the sister of a person with a disability, I'm many things that I have to tell you about that. I do not name the first thing that you can say, which is that I'm white. Absolutely. And I think that is what would be different if white people, also people of European descent in America started saying that first.
Ariel: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because we tend to that and that's the function of whiteness is that you don't have to think about what's your right. So you start looking and searching for all these other things. Like when we do this activity people are like, I'm a hiker, I'm a cook. I'm like, yeah. Right. Well, that's not really a social identity, but. Cool. Hey, you know so yeah, you start searching for all these other identities because it's invisible and privileges are invisible. That's what is created to do,
Peter: I think that's it.
Ariel: What was your closing question?
Peter: Oh, I'm just looking forward to the graft or mystic about anything. If there's something to look forward to, if not, then that's also fine.
Ariel: Well, one what I'm looking forward to moving forward, moving on from this point. The evolution and expansion of our consciousness as a collective. So go back to the volcano metaphor, or actually to use a metaphor of the purification of gold. Gold has to be heated so that all of the impurities can rise to the top and to be swept up. And so we're seeing, the, the, what has been impure in our thinking has been impure in our culture, our ways of living, how we're treating one another based on socially constructed identifiers. Like it doesn't mean. So I'm looking forward to the next generation's innovation. I'm a part of a conference that's coming up and this conference, or, and I shouldn't even call it.
It should be called an unconference, but the organizers of this event, the innovation that's coming out. We're not going to be virtual. We're going to be virtual, but we're not just going to sit in a zoom meeting and listen to people talk all day. I mean, the innovation that's coming from these ladies shouting out facets is absolutely amazing. I am so excited just to see what Springs forth from the collective, life is not going to be the same. So it is the beautiful and perfect time for innovation and evolution. If you, anyone who studies any astrologers, are telling us in terms of where the heavens and the stars and the planets are aligned. We're in the same position as the world was when we came out of the dark ages and went into the Renaissance.
Carol: Well, let's hope that this brings around a sauce.
Ariel: Pretty good.
Peter: But really the roaring twenties again. Well, thank you so much, Ariel. It was a pleasure having you. Thank you for having me hope to have you on sometime in the future. I think things are ever-changing so hopefully there'll be another new perspective that you could have, or a new thing that we could have your perspective on later.
Ariel: Yeah. Alright. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Peter: So again, thank you to Ariel. I think one of the things that I took away from that conversation was how, regardless of your position with an organization or company, you are a leader and you play an active role in. And installing change whether it's voicing up from, responding to an email, seeing some, it's kinda like that, that subway attitude, if you see something say something. So that was a very big takeaway from me. What about you?
Carol: And I think building on that, it's just thinking about for each person kind of what's their sphere of influence. So it could be with their coworkers, could be on their team. And write either you're kind of playing along with the system or you're, you're asking questions and, and helping people, perhaps he sees things a little bit differently questioning, the kind of commonly accepted norms that maybe aren't even that are so, so normalized that people don't even see them. So by asking some questions, you can help, help lift those things to the, to the surface from under the.
Peter: Yeah. It's like a, if, if you're naturally inquisitive, then the current work landscape is keen for like, it's just ideal for you though, because people get tired of people asking too many questions.
Peter: That's true, but that's not gonna just be like the old regime trying to instill its power, just like. Be quiet. Yeah. But yeah, for our audience and our listeners, if you have any questions that you'd like to send us for Carol and myself to answer and our guests of the week please feel free to send those to culture fit firstname.lastname@example.org.
And that's it, have a good rest of your day.
Carol: All right. Thank you so much. Thanks for listening.
In episode 35 of Mission: Impact, Carol, her cohost, Peter Cruz, and their guest, Nathaniel Benjamin discuss diversity, equity and inclusion and its intersection with human capital management. This episode is a release of a podcast Carol planned to start with her son-in-law and has many transferrable ideas and concepts to the nonprofit sector. We talk about:
Nathaniel Benjamin approaches the space of Diversity and Inclusion as not only a profession, but as a passion that’s taken hold of his life’s work. As a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, his educational endeavors led him into a marketable career in Human Resources -- working in the C-suite level --managing workforce planning, strategy, policy and talent management. But to “really” understand how an organization works, he later found that you must understand its people… the diversity of those who make an organization thrive. He brings 17 years of experience as an organizational Change Agent and a D&I Strategist, ready to exceed your organizational needs.
Nathaniel Benjamin:Peter J. Cruz:
Carol Hamilton: Today’s episode of Mission Impact is a little different. As with episode 33 where I had on Stephen Graves and Peter Cruz – this is another of the series of interviews I did with Peter on diversity equity and inclusion. I worked on a short project with my son in law Peter Cruz and New family obligations in the form of his son, my grandson and new career directions meant that we just did 5 interviews and 5 episodes. I am going to feature those episodes on my podcast feed. While each of the people that we talk to in this series do not necessarily focus on the nonprofit sector, there is a lot to learn from each conversation. Today Peter and I talk to Nathaniel Benjamin. Nathaniel is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, His career has been in Human Resources -- working in the C-suite level --managing workforce planning, strategy, policy and talent management. With a special focus on diversity equity and inclusion
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Peter Cruz: So this week we have Nate Benjamin. How are you doing Nate? I am. Well, how are you, Peter?
Nathaniel Benjamin: I'm doing well. I'm doing really well. I'm halfway there halfway to feeling very well.
Peter: So for our audience, could you introduce yourself and your professional background?
Nathaniel: Absolutely. So I'm Nate Benjamin. I am, I have been in the industry for about 17 years. worked in the space of human capital as well as inclusion, equity, and diversity. I do small projects with my business Benjamin and associates consulting group. But from a full-time perspective, I am a senior executive for a federal agency.
Peter: The industry that you're talking about is diversity equity inclusion, right. And hence your presence here. I think one, the first question that we want to start off with is, So I've been recently unemployed, due to budgetary cuts as a result of COVID and have been trying to make the switch over to becoming a diversity equity, inclusion professional, and having that be like my main function. but in my search, I found that these roles exist in different departments, whether in the for-profit space, government space or nonprofit space, but mostly they require some human resource experience. So, from your perspective, do you think that DEI strategies and their rollout and that whole part of their infancy belongs or should be responsible for human resources are probably living in different departments.
Nathaniel: Yeah, that's a good question. So I think part of it is, I do think it depends on your organization, right? So, I do think that based on organization, there are times where it should be aligned with your human capital or human resources program, but then depending on the organization, maybe things that are going on, culture as well, there are times where I think that DEI should be aligned directly direct report to your, to your senior leaders, to your CEO or your, your team operating officer, if you will. So I do think that they belong somewhere together. We'll tell you where I don't think it belongs if I can go there. Against it being within the equal employment opportunity space because this organization that is focused, oftentimes in EEO is, is a needed function, but it's very compliance for, and I am very, this is a part of the organization its culture, it's what we're supposed to be doing. And so it impacts your human capital. So you have to be able to take it out of a compliance exercise and put it in a place where it can stand on. and if it's within human capital, it should still be a function that's supporting your overall human capital strategy because diversity is about your people. And it's about the experiences that these people leverage. So for me, if I were to create the perfect organization, your human capital in terms of your processes, then you look at culture, you look at engagement and belonging, and then you look at diversity. And all of those areas together to me is the, the, the strongest framework to create a human capital, centric culture.
Peter: That makes a lot of sense. I think from some of my personal experiences that the human resources staff at an organization is very minimal. and they are responsible for a multitude of different things and to add on diversity equity inclusion on top of that just doesn't seem to work at all. So in, in like, yeah, going backtracking, Is it more of a development and training type of function that they should live just so it promotes that internal exercises and then builds those internal muscles that we should have?
Nathaniel: So, I think there needs to be partnership with your learning and development group. It should live there at all. generally I always look at learning and development as a part still as a subset. I mean, And then if you diversity and inclusion under learning and development, you are devaluing the actual program because you're saying that it belongs under two layers under your human capital strategy. So me, I would want to see either diversity and inclusion equal to your human capital or infused into your human. But to put it lower in the organization, it sets a tone, even if that's not beaten. And then going back to something you said in terms of the human resources, generally being understaffed, which is a common theme across the industry. But if an organization is committed to diversity and inclusion, then they have to be able to. Find the resources, the best support, because DEI should not be an ad hoc responsibility. It should be of your organization. And so when you have your, whatever, your mission is, your human capital strategy is going to align to your overall organization. A DEI is missing from that. Then you're missing the opportunity to hit the mark when it comes to whatever your mission is focused it's as well. So we can't put it in like a backroom activity. It needs to be on the forefront and it needs to have the exposure.
Carol: Yeah. In terms of. To really have it infused throughout the organization, not just throughout the human capital strategy really is talking about, in, in most cases I would guess, some sort of culture change and, and that, that's a, that's a huge endeavor. I was listening to another podcast where the person talked about, I'm always listening to Brene Brown's podcasts. So it was probably one of hers. And, she was saying the, how, if, if they're going into an organization and working with an organization, if DEI is not infused, and if the HR folks are not on the leadership team, they're not working with the organization because that structure alone just shows how it's either valued or not.
Nathaniel: Correct. And, and even adding into the human capital stress. Diversity and inclusion needs to be a part of every segment that you have in human capital, bouncy your management. if you break out the layers of human capital, you have things that are dealing with your executive space, your culture, engagement and belonging. You have your performance management, your employee relations, or labor relations, all of these subsets of HR. And you have to use the DEI in that. So. You have supervisors who don't necessarily know how to manage a diverse workforce, right? So how are you holding them accountable, but then how are you also giving them the tools to be successful? So just that sentence alone, you talk, we've talked about diversity and inclusion, learning and development and performance management all in the same breath. So if you start with diversity and inclusion and separate from human capital things are disconnected.
Peter: Yeah. And I think speaking for myself and I probably Carol as well, like being, an entry level brown man and really experienced about when you have. People who don't share your perspective or from a different generation or from a different workforce generation, or you could say, just have a difficult time connecting and, and not really, I guess, being so open with feedback in general, which and I think we'll talk about this in a future episode, but forces you to assimilate in different ways that. Would be a detriment, not only to your career, but also to their progress and furthering themselves and trying to become a better leader or et cetera, et cetera, whatever they're looking for. the question, my next question, cause it seems like we're, we're leaning towards that now. For organizations or for-profits that may be starting this work and a response to 2020 in general. and the previous administration, they're starting to establish DEI, an entity at their organization where it's going to live. And I think that's, we touched on that already, but we're not to put it, whether where, what are some signs. that you would recommend or not signs that you would share that, they are on the right path, that the work that they're starting out to do seems to be working. and what are some things that they would probably want to avoid, when beginning this work?
Nathaniel: Yeah. So, good question. I think it still goes back to the culture of the organization and I think a way to be able to know where you're going and your progress is to incorporate your feedback mechanisms. Right? So what are ways that you are assessing your org? Because what works for organization A might not work for B, but you have to put, to truly do some type of feedback mechanisms and assessments. And so for instance, there are activities that people use that I've used such as stay interviews, right? Stay interviews are a great way to know what's going on in the pulse of your organization and ensure that questions that you have within your stay interview. Are aligned with the segments of, either areas that you want to see growth in or areas that you have concern. And so if you have a view that has 10 questions, how are those questions linked back within your organizational strategy, right? Looking back into your organization. So if you're looking to see, how, how competitive are we with pay? You want to ask questions that are compensation. If you're looking for clues and questions, then you want to make sure that you're asking questions that can best measure, the, the, the inclusion response of those within your org as well. So I think stay interviews are a great way. They're, they're super easy. And they also show that you as an organization have a commitment to your human cap. And you're not asking the questions when people are walking out the door, hear about you now, and I want to see your success. And so give us feedback to tell us what we can then do.
Carol: Go ahead. I think people are very familiar with the exit interview. Can you say a little bit more about what the stay interview is?
Nathaniel: So the stay interview, it's really a pulse check and you can decide at what point you want to have it. So for instance, if you want to do a stay interview at six months, you joined the organization in January and now it's June. I want to do a pulse check with you to see how things are going. And then I want to be able to assess this data based on this information. And that information is what you're seeking. Now what you also have to do, which is extremely important, is not just to do the state interviews, but what are you going to do with the data? Right? Because if people don't trust that anything will be done, then they're not going to be receptive in providing the feedback. So it's going to be able to say, this is the information that we've captured over X amount of time. And so from this amount of time, this is information that you've told them. We've heard you, these are actions that we put into place as a result of what you said and what that does is it fosters, it fosters buy-in and more people will be prone to be responsive because people know that their words help result in changing or at least shifting organizational [culture]. But human capital space if you lose someone, right? If you're losing your employees the amount of time to be able to backfill the position with a fuse, then with the amount of time that it takes to train someone up to the proficiency level of the person that was in the organization before that's. Right. So you can look at what those dollars and what those costs are, and that can range from anywhere from 30 to 60%. And so if an organization wants to be able to best keep their knowledge management within the organization and to be a talent, then the best way to be able to do this is to be able to, leverage your people, keep your retention low and be able to foster an organization that is inclusive. And here's the needs of the organization.
Peter: And this is different from a three month probationary period where your supervisor just brings you in just to see how, whether or not you're sufficiently getting used to everything. It's really getting a deeper knowledge and understanding of that. It's like a, it's like a reverse evaluation of the 360 evaluation at that point. Right. It's like how they are looking back at you if I'm not mistaken, right?
Nathaniel: Yeah. That's a little bit of. looking at it from, from the organization. So it's more macro than mine. And so from a 360, you're looking at it where, what is the feedback from my peers? What's the feedback from, my, my boss and maybe what's the feedback of someone that's one level below. This is looking at the organization in March. And so if this is Peter Cruz enterprises, how does Peter Cruz enterprises? Because there might be 10 different offices or sub organizations, but how does the organization work? And so you're not just doing this bay interview just for your boss and for your staff. You're doing it in, you're trying to measure this across the organization. What also happens with. Is that you're able to then get the data so that you can do comparison breakouts as well. And so for instance, if you have 10 organizations and nine of those organizations have, let's say, let's stay interviews because the attrition is low and then you have one office where the state interviews, we're doing more of them because there's a revolving door. And then we're getting data that shows that these are some of the same issues that we are reporting. Every time someone comes in the door, we now may be able to use the data. Well, we will be able to use the identity, the data to identify things in particular problems that may exist. There may be, it may not be the result of a supervisor. It may be. It may be, we're not really using the smart use of technology. There may be different reasons why people are staying or going, but you're taking the time out on the front end to diagnose what issues you have so that you're treating the disease. And not this.
Peter: So well, first I want to say like, now I need to get a Squarespace or something for Peter Cruz enterprise and before someone else takes that. How regularly should these types of stay interviews?
Nathaniel: So I'm going to go back to the, it depends because you really want to look at organization, right? If you have a turnover of, the average FTE stays within the organization for 18 months and you probably want to do it sooner. Yeah. If you have an organization where the normal turn is five years, maybe you don't want to do it in the first three months. But I would say that that's where human capital and diversity inclusion have to come together because you have to look at the data from the human capital systems perspective to understand like, okay, attrition is telling me this, right? So that's the human capital folks. Now as a diversity expert, what is this data system? And so now that I have this data and it's suggesting perhaps. When we look at our state interviews that this demographic is unhappy in XYZ and the third, well, why are they unhappy with XYZ third? So at that point, the next step may be okay. I'm seeing that this demographic is experiencing these challenges and is likely to look for a new job within the next six to 12 months. So maybe I then do a deeper dive and focus. And that focus group comprises everyone because we're inclusive. But in that focus group, let's kinda like to hear a little bit more and maybe it's bringing in that third party or that outside facilitator where people will be more candid and open and not have the feelings of, there's any type of retribution should they say? And then that information is then taken and synthesized and then leaders can now say, okay, I have, it's not just anecdotal. I have this information that shares that this is what's going on within my organization. So as your diversity leader, how are you now championing your senior leaders to invoke change? And then that helps you drive your strategy. So that's why going back to what I said before, human capital and diversity have to be. Because there's so much overlap. Can't do it by itself. We can't use diversity as a way where, okay, we're coming up with programs that we're coming up with ideas, but what is your strategy? Because if you don't have the connection to your human capital programs, then you're doing activities for the sake of doing activities without ensuring that there is a clear strategy for your organization.
Peter: And this probably echoes why this type of work should not exist within the compliance driven role, because it requires so much flexibility.
Nathaniel: Correct. And I will tell you, I have lots of friends that have it in their compliance role and, and, and I appreciate it, but if you're asking me for my opinion. I think that that's the wrong place I think is wrong. Is the graveyard for organizations.
Peter: I think we have just one more question. Carol, do you have anything to add?
Carol: No. I mean, I think it's, my experience has been with much smaller organizations, so HR, if there's even an HR person, unfortunately they've been, up to their eyeballs with just the compliance stuff. So, any looking at culture has had to be in a whole organization thing, just because the numbers are so much smaller than I think what you're talking about. but really moving over time it could be that the wording changes around calling it human capital or calling it human resources. Since that in many ways, objectifies people, it makes them objects just like machines and software and all the other things, rather than who they are people and what we want as a healthy culture in an organization. So it'll be interesting to see how those things shift over the next couple of [years].
Nathaniel: Yeah, I agree. If I've seen titles now shifting to more like chief people, officers, and I just think that. I mean, it's snazzy, a little cool if you will, but it's really encompassing what we do in this space. Like everything is about the people and if we don't have the people, you don't have your mission and you're not going to get your bottom line. So, I agree with you. I think that, and, and in an ideal world, I love titles. When I see chief people, engagement, inclusion, belonging. Those are the things that we really are assigned to do. Not necessarily look at, transactional, just resources and capital, because again, you objectify people to just being, a bottom line.
Carol: Yeah. And it probably feels maybe, I don't know, hip or whatever right now, but I'm, I'm my, my hope is that, over time it will just become.
Peter: speaking of overtime and becoming normal. The last question I have is ingrained with educational non-profits and educational institutions. what have, being that we've seen. And have become more and more increasingly aware of how COVID specifically has impacted disproportionally neighborhoods of color, public schools of color or predominantly. And what do you see from your experience and from your expertise may be long lasting effects from COVID in regards to facilitation and, and delivery of, lessons, et cetera. we'll start there.
Nathaniel: Yeah, it's scary. It's scary. my concern and I see it and, I have, I have children as well, and they're going through the pandemic and, interestingly enough, my, my wife was able to start working and she became a full term, homeschooling, parents last year. And so I sit in education, I sit in a seat of privilege, right? We were educated, we could give up one income and be fine, and our children are thriving, but that's one story out of probably a hundred where we're watching particularly, particularly black and brown people who have to not only still work during the pandemic, but are working with. And so when they're working on site, many of their kids are sitting home and they're left to their own devices. It doesn't matter how good their kids are, they're left to their own devices. And so when you look at the one, the lack of resources within black and brown, And then two, when you look at the absenteeism that's occurring, because parents are at work and children have to stay at home. The long-term effects of this is going to be crucial because one who's going to fail children during a pandemic. No one. So you're going to have children that are past the long, and that are going through the system that are inadequately equipped. And so what then happens. You create a pipeline of children that are missing the functional and technical skills that they need in order to succeed. And so then what happens when we get to the 11th and 12th grade SATs COVID is behind us, but the educational gaps are not. And so then you have people. Are ill prepared to go to college might, may not go to college. families are disproportionately impacted. They may not be able to afford college. and then when they get in college, you're systematically taking on some of those challenges. And so what ends up happening is you create a gap really between the haves and have nots. But those that are mostly impacted are those that are on the lower end of the financial total. And unfortunately we see that black and brown people are more represented in that space. So it's not whether or not they can. A pandemic has completely stretched the uneven playing field that already existed. And so what then happened? 10 years from now, 15 years from now, we look at the workforce and do we see people who are more diverse in equal playing fields? Or do we see that there are less people who had less opportunities during this time? So, I say that, all that, to say that I'm nervous. I am, I've seen it before the pandemic. I worked for an organization where we had, and I'll give you this quick example. We had an unpaid internship. And it was a very reputable organization, but most people that were black and brown did not come into the organization. Not because they weren't qualified. Well, it was because who is going to be able to give up for four months of their summer, not making any money only for an experience in Washington, DC where rent and everything else is, above the national average. So there was this ration of who got the opportunities at that point, who got the connections, who could be able to bridge into opportunities once they graduate versus those that couldn't. So now you couple COVID on top of that. You couple that, black and brown people will be disproportionately impacted by that. And you see a system that is not. If you see a system that's so there are organizations that are trying to mitigate that. Of course people are coming up with businesses, of course, where there's more, educational, tutoring and things like that. But like, when we go back to that, who's going to then be able to pay for it?
Carol: Yeah, the ripple effects as you lay them out. I mean, it's just, it could be, and obviously those gaps and impacts were happening before the pandemic. And of course it's just, it just made it so much worse. and yeah, we'll be, we'll be seeing the ripple effects and, and unfortunately, The U S is not very good at history. We're very good at forgetting real quickly, what happened.
Peter: Yeah, because the second part of that question was like, if there are any positive things that have come from it, like, what do you think will like, we'll. moving forward, like, well, being, accessibility is important. Like maybe remote learning, like blended models still exist in 2024, like who? but being that, like what Carol just said, we don't tend to forget about the immediate CMI go back to normal. Cause that's always like what we're seeking. but normal, as you mentioned, wasn't great to begin with.
Nathaniel: Even with the hybrid learning and the different forms of doing that. there may be educational advances that occur, but there's still the, it's the ripple effect. So with the future of work and the future of education, things may be more digital, but then what happens to the businesses that thrive on those, either schools or anything else that is close to that location. I mean, we look at DC right now, DC is half of DC's. And why is it boarded up? Because small businesses especially can't make any money because everyone is in the future of work, if you will. And so then what happens to school? The same exact thing, and who's impacted if you have less schools because you have a virtual model, you have those, the cafeteria workers and the janitors and all of those different people who now they don't have a job or a place to clean because you shut down buildings and impacts your real estate as well. So, I could go on and on and on about it, but it impacts everyone, but we've got to look at the data to see who. Even the greatest impact, and we know what the data is going to show.
Carol: Well, that, that is all true. And we try to, we try to end on a positive note. So I'm curious what, what, you're, what you're looking forward to, what you're, what you're hopeful about, as we move forward in this next year.
Nathaniel: Yeah. So I'm going to flip it because I do actually like to be half-full. I am excited about the future. I am excited about the smart use of technology. I think technology is going to do something for this, for this world in, in, in something that we have never seen. the fact that we can have this podcast and we're doing an interview at 11 o'clock and I have a briefing at 12 o'clock and I have a meeting with clients at one o'clock and I'm able to do all of this, literally from my home. I mean, before. We're literally driving from or flying from or going all of these places and really extending and burning ourselves out. Right. So I think that organizations have the opportunity to, if you seize the smart use of technology in the correct way, and you also are focusing on the culture and the health of your organization. I do think that there are going to be extremely positive, ramifications and impacts from. I'm excited. I'm absolutely excited.
Peter: That's what I mean. I am as well. I mean, if it seems like it's a great time to progress and the cause there's like, I think with a lot of change, that's been instilled over the past couple of months and there's sort of like a whole, like everyone's optimistic at this point, right? We've just been so severely impacted from last year that it's hard to be a pessimist at this point. you just got it just to motivate you. You have to be optimistic. I think that's it for today. So thank you so much, Nate, for joining us. like you mentioned being in a couple of minutes, we are not as important, but thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule, to speak with us and share your perspective and your insight.
Nathaniel: Thank you. This was a pleasure. I appreciate you so much.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with our guest Nathaniel Benjamin as well as my co-host for this episode Peter Cruz as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Nora Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback.
There is a brief discussion of police brutality in this episode around 16 minutes in.
In episode 14 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Keisha Sitney, discussed include:
- Why leaders need to be role models for their staff and lead by example
Keisha Sitney is the Chief People Officer for The Y in Central Maryland and the founder of Golden Key Coaching. She works to ensure the people strategies and resources support and match the strategic priorities of the organization. Keisha is an executive leader who has been with the Y for 30 years, both at the national and regional levels. With in-depth experience in coaching, talent management, strategic visioning and planning, and facilitation, Keisha has served in operational roles at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, led the national multicultural leadership development movement as well as served as an internal consultant for C-Suite leaders from Ys across the United States. She holds a Master's Degree in Organization Development from American University and a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Howard University.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Keisha, great to have you on the podcast.
Keisha Sitney: Thank you. Thanks for having me, I’m really honored to be here.
Carol: I want to start out by asking, just to give people some context, what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and how would you describe your work?
Keisha: Well, I have worked for Y the organization for [30 years and I’m] celebrating my 30th year there. And being only 35, it's hard to fathom that I've been in that place 30 years. But in all seriousness, I really enjoy helping people to reach their potential. I think that I started off working with young people, and directing childcare centers, and doing team programs and things, and after decades of operations, I really found that my passion is for the people, the associates, the leaders that are doing the work and helping them make sure that they feel equipped, that they feel energized, that they have all the tools and resources, that they have the confidence to do the work that they're supposed to do. Nonprofit work can be grueling, and sometimes we may give and forget that we have to also pour in to ourselves. So that's a part of my why is making sure that people are able to pour into themselves?
Carol: Yeah. What are some ways that you help people do that?
Keisha: Well, I think that a lot of it is in coaching and reflecting and going through and finding ways to reflect on situations: ‘how did I respond to this, how am I going to do this differently in the future?’ I think that that emotional intelligence and self-awareness is really key. We can get so caught up in the doing of the work, and I find myself telling leaders all the time through our organization: the work is not just the work, it's not just the tactics and the processes. It's how we get things done. It's who we work with in order to move things forward. I think that a part of that is how we are aware of our own selves and how we impact that. So it's important, that critical part of leadership, in my opinion.
Carol: I don't know if leaders are always aware that the folks around them, their staff, are paying very close attention to everything that they're doing. And oftentimes, leaders are relying on what they're saying or what they're communicating in an email, but what they're doing, that is always more powerful, for people to watch behavior and, start to unpack, and doing that reflection so that you can think about, ‘okay, well, these are the things that happened.’ someone's telling me what they saw and that they made some interpretation and it maybe wasn’t what I intended, but that was the impact it had. So it's really key to always remember that, as a leader, you're in the spotlight
Keisha: Yeah, you're accountable, regardless of your intent. Maybe the impact is still being impacted. When you're mentioning leaders and people looking up to you or watching, how do we take off? How do we use it, how do we sharpen the saw? How do we develop ourselves? We tend to say, ‘Oh, we're going to send them to training or we're going to make sure you use your leave,’ but then, ‘Oh, well, no, I'm so important, I've got to work. I've got to be here’ or, ‘call me, I know I'm on vacation, but I'll still be a participant in that meeting.’ And it's risky to, to be the person that says ‘I'm scheduled for leave during that time. Can we reschedule that? I really want to be a part of the conversation, but I've scheduled this time and it's really important to my family.’ Not to say that as a leader, sometimes you don't need to just be there. If it's something that's come up, that's an emergency, but every emergency isn't an emergency. So I think that leading by example and taking care of ourselves and our families is really critical. And it's something that I constantly work on. I can't say I've got it down pat, but it's something that I strive to improve every year.
Carol: Yeah, those are hard boundaries to keep, even when we know that's in our belief, I know that's certainly what I believe and I try to do for myself and then to demonstrate to others. And I have the luxury of being an independent consultant. I used to give the explanation of why I'm on leave. Now I simply say that I'm not available. It's a little easier for me to do that without someone having access to my calendar, et cetera, but it's still hard to maintain those boundaries, and even if you're working, just keep some time for thinking and for analysis, for stepping back and not being in meeting after meeting after meeting as leaders are so often in. Especially now, in COVID, the day can never end sometimes. But I think being aware of what really is an emergency, when is it really critical, and when is it not so that you have those reserves when those emergencies come up.
Keisha: And one thing that I try to remember is, as women, and leaders, and moms, sometimes there's a thought you're supposed to be super-woman or super-mom, and I don't try to ascribe to that. I try to remember that, I'm juggling a lot of balls, but. Every ball is not a glass wall. So, there might be some things that I can let drop and they're going to bounce back and I'll just pick them up wherever they are. Or maybe I can pass it to someone on my team or something like that. But things like my children, or my husband, or my health, those are glass balls that I can't get back. If I drop them, they're shattered. That's been helpful for me to prioritize those things that'll be fine until next week, but this is the priority and takes precedent, so I need to calm myself.
Carol: I love that image because we so often hear ‘I'm juggling a lot of things,’ but remembering that all of those balls that you're juggling don't have the same impact and are not all precious in the same way. You don’t have to be the one juggling all of those things, and you can pull other people in, help them grow by giving them a stretch assignment that you may be in charge of, and maybe it can really help their development.
Keisha: Exactly and people want to help. They want to come through for you. So I think it isn't for us to share those opportunities with others and prioritize for ourselves.
Carol: So, part of your work has been working on building a more multicultural increasing equity within the Y. What would you say has been missing in past efforts to address equity in the nonprofit sector? I mean, there are a lot of organizations that are trying to address that in the outside of their organizations, but I'm talking about inside organizations.
Keisha: We have to start with ourselves internally. If it can't be just a process or a policy, or procedures, we have to start as individuals. We come to work with our own beliefs, the way that we are raised and how we see things. And we are all born with biases and it impacts how we show up and impact how we treat others at work. What we value, who we value. Knowing where people's ideals come from and why they make the decisions they make, or the way they behave. It's helpful in us being more empathetic to one another. I feel like the conversations that are being had nowadays, with the pandemic of coronavirus and COVID-19, and the epidemic of racism, people aren't able to ignore it. I think having these uncomfortable conversations, leaning into the discomfort, and committing to doing it again and again, is what's going to make the difference.
I've led multicultural leadership-development efforts at a national level for our organization. And there were some times where I felt like we were just teaching the diverse leader how to be within this larger structure that is not necessarily welcome. So, teach you - as a person of color - to straighten your hair, to get in, get the interview, say the right things, and do all those things. But how do we change the system so that it doesn't expect me to conform in order to be successful, that I can be valued for. However, if I choose to wear my hair this way, and I know that sometimes it seems like a small thing, but those small things, they just add up and there seem to be many ways where, as a woman of color, I felt like I haven't always been able to bring my whole self to work. So I do think that it's important that we allow folks to bring themselves, and their culture, and their beliefs, to work and not have to hide who they are.
Those conversations are key. And in that leadership development that you're talking about, it's essentially like we're refining code switching or refining, basically teaching whiteness. I feel like that's probably replicated across not only programs within organizations, but many, many programs that are offered as not capacity-building, but just different levels. So that's essentially what the program is about. How is that really helping us get to equity. We need to teach white people to be okay with people who are different. I know that there's a lot of books and things talking about being anti-racist. But we have to continue to just work on dismantling the systems. It's not just teaching one group how to be, or how to respond. It's educating ourselves on how things got to be the way they are. And they didn't just start with us here. Here's the impact of those things, here's how this group might've benefited from these laws and these systems. And then here's how this group may not have benefited or how they might've been kept back as a result of those. And then getting people to make change, how do we bring it to the forefront and then start to dismantle it. But it's in the long haul. It was built over time and it won't be dismantled overnight either.
Carol: Yeah. And it's interesting. I was listening to one of Brené Brown's podcasts, she now has two, and I'm not remembering who the person that she was talking to was, but the person she was interviewing was talking about how, when organizations try to start working on diversity, equity, and inclusion. They'll often go to the policies, the practices, and she described that, as the transactional part of the work. And that was interesting to me - because so often it ends up being posed as somewhat of an either/or of either you're doing transactional, or you're doing transformational and what she was saying, which I found so interesting was you have to have both. So you have to deal with all those practices and systems and how that's all embedded in the code of how we work. That's not enough, it's not sufficient. You also have to work at the relational level and then other work. We're trying to come at this from a conscious part of the brain that actually is not triggering a lot of this. That so much is about the unconscious bias that we've been taught over years. And how that's embedded in our limbic system.
Keisha: It is. We have to do something to consciously stop it and be aware that, ‘okay, this is what I'm thinking.’ This is what I'm hearing. This is what I'm saying, what I'm replicated. I found that one-on-one conversations have also been very, very helpful with - and I can't speak for every person who's like me - but I can tell you how this impacts me. I can tell you how this impacts my children. I can tell you how this impacts my family, and it's exhausting to share. There have been times when I'm like, ‘I'm tired of educating everyone else. I'm just going to do me.’ I've got to preserve myself.
Diversity fatigue is a real thing. I’ve found relationships that are important to me and I've really tried to develop those, whether it's professionally or personally, but by sharing, this is the impact of this. When I hear of another police killing a black person, I think about how that could be my son who is 17 now, who's 6’ 4” and it could be my daughter, who's 17 and just a black, young woman. It could be me, it could be my husband. And sharing conversations with folks. One of my colleagues said, that really hit me when you talked about your kids and my kids, because it's always, that's that family over there, but it's like, we have these things in common, but yet our kids can be doing the same exact thing and mine will be killed and Rose’s will not. So I think that that's one way that I've tried to personally make connections with folks and help them to see things in a different light.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate that. And I appreciate what you're saying, that there are just sometimes when I'm not going to engage. I need to preserve myself.
Keisha: Yeah. I can't always engage in conversations, and it's not always fruitful. There are some folks who, it doesn't matter what you say, and I'm not willing to sacrifice myself for those types of conversations.
Carol: Yeah. And sometimes I find it can be helpful to identify some bright spots, or people who are operating under those same circumstances or constraints, within the same context, but somehow are having better results. In your work, have you encountered some of those bright spots because I think that that's a place to start working from.
Keisha: Yeah. I mean, I've encountered quite a few bright spots. We have a movement of leaders of color throughout the national Y and we call it our multicultural leadership development. It's mentors, coaches, and supports. And we've created safe spaces, similar to the employee resource group models where you have groups of people who may be able to come together and work on policies. You've got the affinity groups, those types of things, but ours is more of a mixture. Not just African-Americans with African-Americans. So you might see African-Americans, Hispanic, Latinos, and Asian Pacific Islanders. There you might have indigenous folks of which we need to improve our numbers versus nationally as an organization with regards to leadership, reflecting the communities we serve. But for those of us who are members of those communities, finding the commonalities and being able to support one another, educate one another, and to be with one another, and developing our own cultural competence, just because you're a person of color doesn't mean that you're going to be culturally competent as well.
The things that we're asking from other groups that we should be able to model those things as well. So it's definitely been a great support system. And we've seen a lot of folks who've been able to engage and advance their careers within our organization. In connecting the dots where they're not just at one small organization, that they can be connected to our larger network of organization. So really a lot of success there. We have seen some increases in our numbers nationally of leaders that are at the top level, in the C-suite CEO position that are of color. But then we've also had some challenges that go on the other side of it. We've done a lot more work on bias and undoing institutional racism. Anti-racism work, a lot more equity work and looking at the systems. And I don't think that that's something that, as national non-profits, a lot of us do. Recognizing that we are a part of those systems that we talk about, a part of this country. We have the same kind of history as we've evolved in these 175 years that our country has evolved. So, I think we're doing a lot and there are a lot of folks who are committed to it. There's much more to be done.
Carol: Sure. Sure. And for the Y particularly, you're a federated system and that can - I'm guessing - make it particularly challenging, but there are many other national organizations that are set up that same way. Can you just briefly say what a federated system is, and then maybe talk about how some of this work has either been able to move forward or, or been challenging.
Keisha: Sure. We're federated meaning each organization, each Y, is its own independent 501 c3. You're all members of the national YMCA, and there are some guidelines that we need to adhere to in order to be a member. But we each have our own boards of directors, our own financial leaders, those kinds of things. And we can make our own decisions. There are a lot of benefits to that because the work that's happening in each community is different. So we don't have to be bound by some national perspective or priorities that are not appropriate for our community. The benefits of being a larger, federated organization, our brand is something that's recognizable that we work hard to have some things that we say are in common and that when you go to a Y, no matter where you are, that there should be these types of things. For us, that healthy, living youth development and social responsibility are three of our big core areas that we do our work.
Carol: So there was a second part to that question. I'm just also wondering, with that federated system, there's also the autonomy of each organization. So, trying to move forward, something at the national level may take longer because you essentially have to persuade or pull in every organization within the system.
Keisha: We're a very diverse country. We have, in some ways, a lot of division and something that we all believe in. And then there are some areas where we're not all on the same side and our organization is not any different from that. so for us to all rally around the same thing, it is not always very easy. It can be painstaking, but I know that there are some things we do believe in equity and inclusion as a national organization. We believe in the safety of children and young people. And there's just certain things that are no-brainers for us. But how that gets implemented in each area is sometimes very different and can be difficult. I'm not speaking on behalf of our organization nationally. It is an area that I've seen that, when we’ve pulled together, it's very impactful.
Carol: You've actually developed your own leadership model. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you've found wanting and other models that spurred you to create your own?
Keisha: Sure! Thank you for asking about it. It's interesting because I've coached leaders for many, many years, and also had a lot of focus on learning and development. I feel like we tend to highlight leaders who seem as if they arrived; as if they just showed up and they were perfect, these flawless leaders and I've done presentations, and I've done a little riff on Beyonce’s flawless music. We don't really highlight leaders who mess things up or who are learning. When I see someone who's in a position that's at a high level I think, ‘man, how do I get there?’ I don't hear about the times that they failed four times, that they were rejected for six other positions that they've gone for, you just get to see where they've shown up. So I really try to encourage my colleagues to share some of their failures, some of their flaws so to speak. The model is that leaders are flawed and they are not perfect, but we do learn from things. So the [idea is that] we're failing forward. Everyone makes mistakes. And how do we utilize those to propel ourselves and our learning, or whatever it is that we learned from those failures. Then maybe we prevent some of the failures in the future, or maybe they'll be a little smaller. But recognizing that all of us will fail at some point and how we fail forward? the lesson for lifelong learners that we constantly have to sharpen that saw, we have to learn more. Part of it is reflecting and getting better, learning about what we do and how we can improve, learning about our field, our craft, just continuing to [learn]. There's no point where you've just arrived so we need to always be lifelong learners. The A is for authentic! I think authenticity in leadership is very important for us. If you want people to follow you, you want them to trust you. People don't want to follow someone who doesn't seem genuine. And a part of that authenticity is [admitting] that, you’re not always right. I may not be perfect, but sharing more of our why, our story, why we do things or what's motivating our decisions and things like that. Sharing a little bit of a vulnerability. So if we were to talk about Brenè Brown, vulnerability is just super important. So I think that that's all tied to authenticity. And then the W is for work. You can't be a leader without doing the work. You’ve gotta roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty. I do believe in working smarter, not harder. I'm not going to try and take the hard way, but in leadership, you definitely have to put in the work wherever it's needed. That's my model: leaders of LAW.
Carol: I love it. I think it was one thing - I don't think much goes viral on LinkedIn - but this one probably did where someone actually wrote their failure resume. Yeah, so when you write your bio for when you're speaking or whatnot, you rarely include: “and right before I got that job, I was the runner-up for four of them.” [You don’t include] where you were laid off here, or where you got restructured out of that job at that. We're resilient. Those are the things that we need to reiterate that, especially with this generation coming up and I hate to sound like the old person in the room, but you want folks to know it's okay, you gotta be resilient. We don't know what's going to happen next, then COVID, and what this next iteration will be, but we will band together. We will be resilient. We'll make it through and figure it out.
Keisha: Yeah. And I think folks have a lot more resilience than they realize, and it's part of it. It's looking back and seeing, ‘that kind of sucked at that time, but I picked myself back up and got back on the horse’ or whatever and [you need to] try it again. And I think just the way our brains are wired, we learn so much more from those failures than we do from all those successes. So, we have such a negativity bias that those are definitely more memorable. But then not only keep it as our own private learning, but I think what you're saying is, for leaders to actually share those with the folks that they're working with so that folks really know that it is okay. We don't want to make a lot of mistakes. Nobody wants to make mistakes. But on the other hand, if there's a culture where making mistakes is punished, then it just has so much impact on folks willing to take risks. That has to be there for innovation [so it] can really have a chilling effect. So yeah, pretending that you're perfect, it's exhausting for the person who wants to work with that anyway. It's not realistic. It doesn't have to be perfect. We're not expecting it to be our final product, but you're going to put this bad boy out, see how it works, and we'll fix it. We'll continue to hone in on it.
Carol: So, you allow people to be okay with, like you said, innovating and we don't want to make huge mistakes, but we know that's a part of the process. Then we can build our confidence in knowing that it's a part of the process that I may stumble.
Keisha: Yeah. And I think, also for organizations to look at who's allowed to make those mistakes within the organization and who it has higher consequences for. And I'm sure in most cases there's probably already research that shows this, but the more male and white you are, probably the more you can get away with. Yup. Very much so. And I didn't necessarily see it myself. Being in HR, coming from operations in so many places that I'm really drawn to making sure that we're consistent with how we handle those situations. Like you said, are we doing the same thing if the person is white and male that we would have done if they were young and female, or a person of color, or something like that. It’s super important that we have that consistency.
Carol: Yeah, well I want to shift focus a little bit. At the end of every episode, I do a little game where I ask a random icebreaker question. So, what is one family tradition that you'd like to carry on in the future?
Keisha: I created a family tradition of cookie baking for the holidays, and I'm not a person who cooks nor bakes. So it was interesting for me to come up with that, but I just love the idea of my children coming together, and having other cousins over, and us getting flour all over the place and making cookies from scratch. It's just a great way to set the holiday season off. It's a big mess, and every year I say, ‘why am I doing this?’ but I'm really trying to figure out how to do it during COVID. I'm like, ‘okay, pass out flour and it could be making an idea, or you do something via zoom. It's definitely one of the traditions that I hope my children pass on and that they continue to do it.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much. I hope I get a box of cookies.
Keisha: You may not want them! They've gotten better over the years. Like I said, I'm not a baker but, fail forward! I've gotten much better, but I've been failing forward for some years.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much.
Keisha: Thank you. Appreciate you, Carol. Good to talk to you.
Episode 09: This week we’re talking to Carol Vernon.
We talked about:
Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters, an executive coaching firm that helps leaders and teams elevate their executive presence and communication skills in order to grow their impact. Carol was inspired to start Communication Matters after years of observing that doing your job well isn’t enough. Without executive presence and the ability to communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, leaders can’t achieve their full potential or achieve the results they seek. Previously, Carol was the senior communications director at the National Cable and Television Association, as well as acting executive director of the cable industry’s education foundation, with both people management and budget responsibilities. Prior to that she worked on Capitol Hill and on more than a dozen political campaigns.
Welcome to Mission impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I'm Carol Hamilton, your host, the nonprofit consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures, where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, all for the purpose of creating greater mission impact. Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters. An executive coaching firm that helps leaders and teams elevate their executive presence and communication skills in order to grow their impact. Carol was inspired to start Communication Matters after years of observing that doing your job well isn't enough without executive presence and the ability to communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, leaders cannot achieve their full potential or achieve the results they seek. Previously, Carol was the senior communications director at the National Cable and Television Association as well as acting executive director of the cable industry's Education Foundation, with both people management, and budget responsibilities. Prior to that, she worked on Capitol Hill and on more than a dozen political campaigns. Welcome to episode nine of the Mission Impact podcast.
Carol Vernon and I have a great conversation about communication, something so key to how organizations and teams operate. She explains four typical communication styles and why leaders need to be mindful of each when they communicate with others. We touch on what shows up in communications now that so many teams are working remotely, why it is so key to avoid assumptions as you work remotely and why having a conversation with your teammates, colleagues and volunteers about your communication norms is even more important now than it was in the past. We also consider how people can keep networking even while face to face events are canceled. So welcome, Carol.
Thank you, glad to be here.
So just to get started and to give people some context, what drew you to this work? How would you describe your journey?
I've worked in associations, nonprofits, and in the political world for quite some time, I always loved the work I did. I always felt very much focused on getting it done and eventually observed how you get it done matters oftentimes, just as much as getting it done. I started looking at how leaders were focusing on the how.
When did you start working with other leaders on that? And in that how, do you focus particularly on communication? Often when something isn't working in an organization, as an organization development consultant, I often hear people say, well, you know, communications just aren't working. What would you say makes communications challenging within an organization?
Yeah, absolutely. We are all different people. We as a society thrive on and could celebrate differences on many levels. But we forget the fact that communication is a big part of who we are. And we communicate differently. Each of us has preferences, and we have the ability to play with our preferences a bit if you will adapt them to other people's styles, but we often don't do it with teams. We have gender differences, cultural differences, all kinds of differences in terms of how we show up and it impacts the way we communicate with each other, which impacts our ability to work together.
Can you say a little bit more about those communication preferences? Are there some common things that you see show up in terms of the way people approach communications and they're probably not even thinking about it? It's not necessarily something that they're particularly aware of?
Absolutely. Again, communication preferences are something to some degree, they're hardwired, we're born with them just like we're born with a certain personality preference, right? We’re different. Some of us are more introverted, some of us are more extroverted. We have a communication preference, some of us tend to be very direct, very to the point and we don't need to meet face to face, we're fine right now and in the remote work world we're pretty comfortable with that. Sometimes we'll say that's more a masculine communication style, not that it's only for men, lots of us are very much a masculine, to the point, communication style. So there's some people who have a very direct to the point style, can they shift it? You bet they can. They can adapt it to talk to somebody who has a more traditional, when you use the word feminine again, does not mean that you know, speaking to you as a woman, but we tend to be more people focused, we're listening for how's that going to impact somebody, a real direct communication might not meet our needs, because we're going to listen more for how's that going to impact me or how that is going to impact my colleagues or my team or my organization. We're listening more for the people part. There's some of us who have more of a preference for the details. We're listening for the real detailed piece. So there is a communication style here, neither a feminine or masculine style, rather just a preference for more detailed, more systematic, more how kind of communication style. And then there's some of us who have more of that dialogue, I call it a why style. We're listening for the big picture. Why are we doing it this way? Not because we don't think it's a good way. We just want to hear different things. We communicate differently. And some of us are very much right to the point. Some of us are how, give me all the details systematic. Some of us are who, how does it impact me? Who's involved? Who's going to be impacted by what happens here? And some of us are, why, why are we doing it this way, not to derail it, but just want to step back, want to look at the big picture, give them time to process.
And it's interesting thinking about those as individual communication preferences and some are really more preferred in our culture, in the American culture than others. I think the direct communication style is definitely preferred. And getting to the point, just do it, all those kinds of things. And in other cultures, you know, it's the exact opposite where you know, it's people first. And if you haven't taken the time to do some small talk, ask me about my family, ask me about how my weekend went, that's considered rude.
Every organization has its own culture also, because obviously, every society has, all these pieces lay on top of the crucial part of communicating, which in the world we're living in today this is how we're collaborating. It's all about how we're, how are we communicating?
And as we're working now, remotely, what do you think is really important for leaders to consider as they consider their executive presence in a virtual world?
Well, we're using that term right now, the idea of sort of digital body language or digital communications, really being able to, to step back and it's not just about camera angles, hey, we're on zoom, and we got to make sure our camera angle looks good. It's really so much more than that. Digital communications in the remote world is just ripe for misunderstanding. There's so much here that we're not going to see, where if I were sitting across from you, I get a better sense of your mindset, I would know what you're thinking. I'd be able to pick up more on it. In fact, even, what could ultimately lead to conflict between individual leaders, between teams between whole organizations,
In the virtual world, or doing online meetings, working collaboratively, working remotely I think sometimes when we were face to face, people could assume that they knew kind of what the other person was thinking or they might pick up on a vibe from them. And they might be right about that, and they might be wrong. And so in some ways, now that we're forced to work remotely, one of the things that could invite people to do is to actually slow down, check their assumptions, ask more questions, check in with people more often so that they are getting a fuller picture of how folks are feeling, how's it going for them their work, etc?
Carol, that's a great point. There's a lot of opportunity right now, in terms of the world we're in, the world we're in in terms of digital communications, yes, the question around the idea of presence. And I think having a strong presence in the digital space is a lot about respect, a lot about trust, how do we show that in the digital space, it'll kind of have to do with the speed in which we respond to something. It could be everything from, you know, who do we see on that communication, there's so many pieces about having a strong presence offers a lot of opportunities for us to build more trust. To be more clear, in this case, some sort of short messages are not always the clearest messages, brevity could lead to a lot of confusion. Having a strong presence in the digital space is about, again, so much more than how we're showing up on camera. It's all the parts of communication, it's our words, it's our voice. And we have to think about those coming through in the different ways in which we are communicating right now.
Yeah. And it could be that people are paying even more attention to, you know, tone of voice, etc. Because that's what they're limited to, mid range up in terms of what they can see on video if people have video on and then and I do think that actually taking the time to think about some of those things you didn't have to think about before, which is, how is your computer positioned? How are you showing up on that video screen? What are people seeing, what's behind you, what messages do you want to convey in terms of that presence is something that we probably never had to consider in terms of our home offices or our home spaces before.
Absolutely, there's no question. Everything we do is communicating something and I go back to that idea of trust. And I almost want to say grace, Carol, this word in your company's name, Grace, Social, we need to give people a little bit of grace here, we need to assume good intent is there in the way we're communicating right now. There's a lot more opportunity for misunderstanding, somebody doesn't have their camera on, oh, they must not be engaged. Maybe they don't have their camera on because something's going on in their home or wherever they're working from. From that moment, we need to assume good intent, we need to create a little space for one another. I think the strongest leaders are communicating by showing we care. And I know with my coaching clients, right now, I'm noticing those who are taking the time, I don't want to say they're, you know, taking time to find out how the weekend went. But they're taking time just to slow down and to show that they care. They're really being very intentional in terms of their presence, how they're showing up, you know, they're getting to the point, but they're not, it doesn't mean that they're not taking the time, it doesn't mean that they're over relying on that very direct, very bottom line communication style, they're flexing, they're adapting their styles. They're creating space for others right now.
And you also focus in particular on women's leadership, what are some of the things that that women in particular can do to enhance their leadership?
Oh, terrific question. I think right now, women, just like men have, like many of our male colleagues have a lot of competing priorities. And I think, again, that opportunity to just to be a little bit vulnerable here, it'd be a little bit more authentic given I don't know if it'd be more authentic, but I believe women have that, women leaders have another opportunity to really think about how they're communicating authentically, to this point, this isn't the time to sugarcoat things, this isn't the time to be sort of stepping back, and I've got to protect my team, we need to really think about, and I know some terrific women leaders who are being very much focused on being direct and to the point.
What are you seeing in terms of hearing from your coaching clients of how they're seeing the current situation that we're in, remote working, the pandemic, the protests, all of the things that are going on? How are they seeing that show up on their teams?
I think the world we're living in is causing stress for many people, and we all experience stress in different ways. Again, we're all you know, we're all so different and we're experiencing it in very different ways. We experienced it as a whole society, but each of us is doing it differently. And what I'm seeing, again, from my leaders who are challenged right now is to look at how to communicate, how to shift and adapt their communications, to get the most out of their team. A coach and client said to me the other day, I'm walking a fine line between trying to motivate my team and help them move forward and not burn out my team. And I thought, how interesting to see, he said I'm just totally intrigued by all the opportunities that are in front of us, this sort of the opportunity to do things in different ways. And he said, but I'm finding that I'm having trouble getting other people to look at those. I'm finding some of that also that my clients are challenged by how to flex that and then we're also dealing with just the realities of there are some of us who are digital natives and some of us generationally have different levels of adaptation and a learning curve with technology. So we're seeing leaders need to really not just show up, so this presence is not like just let's fake it till we make it, they genuinely are looking for ways to be to be empathetic, to show up authentically, and to recognize we're different. We're all different. So communicating the goals, they're slowing down, they're probably spending more time communicating than if we were sitting across from each other in the office.
Yeah, because I think in the office, there's sometimes an assumption that word is getting around or communicated and once you're remote, and folks are not right there, you have to think a little more deliberately about it, rather than just kind of assuming that communication will flow through the organization. In terms of that burnout, I've seen some articles recently about how with more and more folks working from home, especially in the association world, certain types of nonprofits that folks are working longer hours since it's all one thing now work, home, everything together. It's all bleeding together and how are you seeing leaders manage that? And keeping work life balance?
I agree with everything you've said, Carol, and I'm observing the same thing. And in talking with some of my clients, in fact, just this morning, I had a coaching call with a terrific leader. As we were talking through the idea of boundaries, we were noting the fact that she's had to step back and create new quote unquote norms, new communication norms around her availability. So this idea, we're so used to you sending me a message, I'm gonna respond, oh, he texts, it's even more important, I'm going to get right back to you. We need to, we need to clarify those communication norms for the world we're in right now. The opportunities here are terrific for teams to be even more effective, more flexible, more adaptive, but without communication norms to help guide them again, right from misunderstanding. My coaching client was talking about the fact that it feels like 24/7, and in this case, this particular terrific leader has young children, and 24/7, she's always sort of split between one or the other, is it the family? Or am I at work? And she said, they're totally integrated. And I think a lot of us are experiencing that crossover. So creating communication norms for our teams is key for this world. And these are norms that may have a long term impact on the way organizations work and are going to work in the future.
Yeah, for sure. And one of the other things that you do is help people be more strategic about their career progression and network. What are some of the things that people can do now, without those more traditional networking events to move their career forward in this interesting time?
I'm hearing all kinds of exciting things that I wouldn't naturally have a thought of, I enjoy the whole process of going out and networking, I've watched some terrific leaders, you know, create really terrific sort of connections with people. And in this space now there's also terrific ways of doing it. But it means doing it differently, being very intentional about perhaps some of the networking groups and opportunities that are out there to meet people in the virtual space to do one on one follow up. So in terms of career progression, and continuing to build out, build out our networks in a very strategic way. We need to think about who are some of the people we do need in our worlds? I don't believe networking is ever a quantity, it really has to be very strategic, and thinking about what do we have to give others? What kind of expertise can we be sharing with others? What kind of info do I have that might be helpful to others? And we need to think about what kind of info would help me continue to build a new sort of community? Is that sort of a traditional way of what I have to give here? And then what is it I want to get? What do I want to learn, though? I mean, what do I have? What do I want to learn about how online is offering all kinds of opportunities to connect with other people? I'm watching my association clients create unbelievably powerful ways of networking online. And then I think it's the one on one, I think it's the individual follow up. Again, it's not about quantity, we need to be incredibly mindful of who we need in our world right now. And I dare I say, we also need to be careful about what we built, who right now we need to protect ourselves from, you know, the key piece here is we need to think about our own control, ourselves, that may be one of the only things right now we have 100% control over and think about who we need and protect, again, possibly who we need to protect ourselves from.
Yeah, it's been interesting, since all the events are now going online. One thing I'm actually seeing is, in some instances, some local associations that I had been involved in, you know, now we're seeing participation from people across the country, internationally. And then another very interesting thing that I didn't really think about, until I started doing this as I would be on a zoom call, or whatever networking thing, you know, because each little box, the person usually has someone's name written there, have written all the names down, look the people up in LinkedIn, you know, follow up afterwards, if I wanted to connect and have a conversation, and I know that I am following up with and you talked about quality versus quantity. But in this case, I'm actually following up with more people from a zoom event than I would have if it had been an in person event because I know that I wouldn't, I mean, yes, if you can get someone's business card, that's great. But you know, I'm not going to go around, peering at their name tag and trying to remember what their name was and write it down and then and then do the follow up. And so it's actually made it for me, it's made it easier to be consistent about that.
Carol, I love that example. We're also different, and some of us are thriving in the online world in terms of creating those relationships. And the truth is it is definitely more challenging for some others. For those of us who are more extroverted, we need to step back and allow other people in the online world more opportunity to step up. For those of us who are more introverted, we need to make the time to be able to come to something very prepared and ready to contribute, it's not the time to step back online. When we step back, I can't tell you how many times I've heard my coaching clients say things, the team seems disengaged. And you know, we've kind of talked to is it truly disengagement? Or perhaps are people taking time to think about what we're building in ways so this idea of something we're building, a network in the virtual space, you bet, there's going to be some people who are going to thrive in it. And I love to hear that you are Carol. And I think you have a terrific practice there of identifying who, for instance, is in a zoom or any kind of networking event, and then doing the individual follow up.
Right. That's all individual conversations. I mean, the event itself is a jumping off point, but then you know that I'm taking the time to reach out one on one. And the other thing that I've been doing with that is we'll set something up and is there a zoom link? I'm like, no, let's just talk on the phone. Because we're spending so much time on video these days. For those one on one, it's not necessary to get on video. I mean sometimes it's nice, but I feel like folks are also experiencing fatigue being on so many video calls. So those one on ones, I'm definitely just just having a phone conversation. And it works just fine.
Funny to think that the phone call is becoming sort of like what was old is new again. Pick it up, picking up the phone becomes a differentiator, it really allows us to say I care, it's really different. In this world, when we all have lots and lots of emails, it tends to instead pick up the phone. And you know, something that's also pretty obvious within here that the meetings that you would set up, a coffee meeting, for instance, was getting yourself to the place sitting down there, ordering the coffee, all of the pieces that took 90 minutes to do all that. And now we don't need to be on a zoom meeting for an hour, what was an hour might look like a 22 minute meeting. This is part of the idea of communicating respect and trust and having good intent is this idea that we may not need all this time that we put into it. What I keep going to is the idea of what's the opportunity here that we want to think about in terms of communicating. We may have a whole lot more opportunity to be more strategic with how we're communicating. This isn't about quantity. This is about quality.
We'll be back after this quick break. Mission Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector Consulting helps nonprofits and associations become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. Download free resources on strategic planning, program, portfolio review, design, thinking and more at gracesocialsector.com/resources. We're back on Mission Impact. On each episode, I play a game asking one random icebreaker question. I have a couple here. So what is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think everyone at least once in their lifetime should go to a place that's on their bucket list. To make that happen in whatever way that is, to be able to experience how other people are living, that just can't be beat. So an opportunity to try some other place. See what it's like.
So what are some places on your bucket list?
I am absolutely fascinated right now by Vietnam. And what had been my hope this year to get to Vietnam at the end of the year, and we're going to postpone our trip probably another year. So that's what I've been reading a lot about, culture there and opportunities to travel through the country. I can't wait.
So what are you excited about? what's what's up next for you kind of what's emerging in your work?
Thanks so much for asking. And the biggest change for me is that with a lot of our executive coaching work I do with associations and organizations other than nonprofit and organizational leaders is going very virtual. So I miss the in person connection, but we're doing a lot more zoom. So trying to continue to, to build on that and find ways to work with teams in the virtual space. Again, I don't think that's going to be short term. I think when we move through this and of course we will, I think the way I'll work with teams will look different. And I'm really excited thinking about that. I've had a group of women leaders that gather over a four month training program focused on their executive presence as association, nonprofit leaders. And we're going to take that program virtually later this year. So I'm pretty excited about that as well. That's great.
Awesome. And how can people find more about you and get in touch?
Link in with me if we haven't LinkedIn, I'd love to connect with you. That way I post things there and check out my website, which is www.commmatters.com. I look forward to connecting with folks. All right.
Well, thank you so much, Carol.
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking with you.
Thank you for listening to this episode. You can find the links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/show-notes. We want to hear from you. Take a minute to give us some feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Thanks and see you next time.
Sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. http://www.gracesocialsector.com/
Learn about the Effective Online Facilitation, 4 week group coaching program.
Episode 01: This week we’re talking to Tip Fallon.
We talked about:
• the masks many people feel forced to wear or personas they assume in the workplace.
• Why we need to do some preventative work to make things easier for people with targeted identities.
• How we are the product of the history that has created systems of oppression, as well as creating history ourselves
Tip Fallon is a coach and consultant who is passionate about working with people to reach their potential. He integrates both a strategic and analytical approach to solving problems with a human-centered focus, tending to people's motivations, group dynamics, and organizational culture. He brings over 15 years of change leadership experience and a background in business and engineering, nonprofit management, and a decade of coaching and consulting to clients in US-based and global organizations. He has served projects with organizations such as Annie E. Casey Foundation, American Institutes for Research, and the Nature Conservancy.
The project that Tip was talking about at the end of the episode is now launched. Learn more about All In Consulting here.
Mission: Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting
Carol Hamilton: I’m very excited to welcome our guest today, Tip Fallon! Tip is a coach and consultant who is passionate about working with people to reach their potential. He integrates both a strategic, and an analytical approach to solving problems with a human centered focus, tending to people's motivations, group dynamics and organizational culture. He brings over 15 years of change leadership experience and a background in business and engineering, nonprofit management, and a decade of coaching and consulting clients in the US and abroad. Tip is also a passionate advocate for improving the organization development (OD) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) fields. He teaches in OD and DEI programs at American University and Georgetown University. He convenes nationwide groups of practitioners in both fields to collaborate and advance their practitioner skills. He also serves as an executive committee member on the board of the NTL Institute, a global network of organization development consultants and coaches committed to social justice. He holds a bachelor's in mechanical engineering and a master's in organization development and is also a certified professional diversity coach.
Welcome Tip, thank you for being a guest on the Mission: Impact podcast. We're excited to have a conversation today. Just so people have a little more sense of how you're coming to this work, what drew you to do the work that you do?
Tip Fallon: Oh, that's a great question. I'd say a few threads that come to mind. But one is just my personal experience of growing up in a community in a neighborhood where we observed those with more privilege and access and resources in the community versus those with less, both at the very local level but also at a global level. My mom and family on her side, the family lives in a more rural part of Thailand, so just at that global level, from a very early age I was really noticing the inequality that exists and how communities and people are really impacted by that. Not only that individual lack of access, but the loss to the greater society when such great talent and passion, those people don't have access to bring their fullest gifts to the rest of the world. So I'd say that's probably the underlying driving draw for me to be doing this work.
Carol: One of the things that you've written about is the sense that when you're working in a system - I have to stop myself and qualify some organization development jargon along the way - systems are, any human system when you're working in an organization, a network, a group of people coming together. You see effects, and one of the things that we've talked about before and you've talked about is the sense of people not being able to show up as their whole selves and what gets lost in organizations when people have to put on masks and and that's at so many different levels, but certainly when folks have targeted identities, identities that aren't accepted in the in the dominant culture, and I'm curious, how have you seen that show up?
Tip: One way it shows up in a pretty pervasive way - and by that I mean that so much of it is internalized in us - so just for example, even in nonprofit organizations who may be providing social services or direct support in the community in in one sense, but they sit within a larger society right? So in this larger society, if we talk about whether it's patriarchy, or racism, or xenophobia, or any of those things, but even sometimes just the capitalist mindset and the individualistic mindset that promotes a belief of scarcity, that there's only so many grants, only so many dollars, only so many resources to go around. Then when you layer that to the structural beliefs that there is one ‘white and right’ way to be successful, or smart, or have the best ideas, or whatever it is; it just gets very competitive. So I think a lot of times we default to 'let me wear the mask because, as I know, at least I may be able to survive in this space, and maybe be able to foster some relationships with that and get my agenda across,' and what I find is sometimes, that mask, there's a permeable boundary between the mask and us, sometimes it seeps into us at an unconscious level, and we end up - myself and others - sometimes perpetuating some of the mask wearing in our organizations. So for me, a big piece of work is in some of our training, we use the term use-of-self but just [asking], how am I showing up? Not just what are my intentions, but what are the impacts that I'm having on my peers, my colleagues, those who might come to my nonprofit for services, on funders, on the community at large?
Carol: Can you give me an example of when - you talked about how we internalize all of those beliefs, the cultural assumptions in how we're supposed to show up, you know, what the word professional means, all of those things. Can you give me an example of that?
Tip: I'll try to think of a very concise yet relatable example. so this one organization that I worked for, there was a black woman, and she just felt like she wanted more out of her role. She said, ‘I started in this position, but I've got these ideas about programming, about strategy,’ and she was in more of an admin or executive assistant role, and through some of the team development work there was, just a sense of, ‘well, she doesn't have the degrees,’ or just culturally and visually, how she showed up wearing her hair, with more natural styles. Even using age, there was still a little bit of othering that happened. So even in that culture - and this is just my assessment and analysis, some of the people in positions of decision-making power were people of color, or black women there as well - but there's a generational divide as well. So even there, there's a little bit of tension, just generationally.
This is a big generalization but sometimes those who are younger coming into the workforce now, have a little bit more latitude and say, ‘hey, I want to wear my hair or keep my skin, or even my clothing and appearance, or even my language in a style that seems authentic and natural to me.’ and it's 2020, like, we shouldn't be afraid to talk about this. So, ‘hey, supervisor, can you call some of this stuff out? Because I don't really feel included.’ Then in this example, but also I see this broadly, a supervisor - and sometimes they are the older generation - might say, ‘hey, I've gotta negotiate my boundaries with these funders or these community partners are XYZ and I'm trying to toe that line. And, we're going to get more bees with honey, if you will, so let's not rock the boat’ or whatever the addages are. So in that example there was some of that language of saying, ‘hey, that's that a little bit much for the appetite and the culture of that organization.’ so what we see in that situation is, is someone who says, ‘hey, this is what being authentic means to me, and because I don't feel I can be authentic, you the organization are not getting my best thinking, you're not getting my ideas about what's happening within this organization that I only have a purview about.’ and the system is losing out, the clients and beneficiaries are losing out as well.
Then you have others in the organization who are essentially, trying to survive in a way, are like, ‘these masks are also a survival tool.’ We need them to survive. So my sense is that if I were to go to the next question, my mind is: ‘what do we do with that?’ So another thing that draws me to the work is finding space of connection, of asking ‘what are our shared goals?’ and helping us to get out of either-or thinking. So for me, it's how do we soften for a second and talk about: what would an ideal look like with some of the best of both worlds in there?
Carol: I think one of the things that we bring as consultants - which is so hard for organizations to do in our ‘always urgent, hurry up, gotta be busy. Never enough time.’ culture is just that sense of slowing down and taking a step back and thinking about ‘where's that common ground,’ or ‘where's that middle ground?’ between, ‘you've got to totally code switch, and blend in with the white dominant culture’ or you're completely showing up in that authentic way. Is there a middle ground, or is it one or the other we need to do? Even having a chance to have that conversation and think about it differently can be so challenging, that time factor. How have you seen that show up in your work?
Tip: One thing that I'll share for the listeners - and I want to caveat that these are thoughts that sometimes I practice when I'm being my best self - but the inquiry that I offer to leaders, and to myself, is that we say we don't have time to to find a middle ground, we don't have time to do some deeper coaching, I don't have time to do one-on-ones, I don't have time to think about ‘how am I perpetuating a high quantity but low quality culture,’ we don't have time for all those things; but we have time to spend about 30, 40, 50, 60% of our week solving the problems that were created by our lack of thinking about those things. So, if that's how we're spending a lot of our time, then at least to me, I think the logical solution is to muster up some of that internal discipline and say, ‘I'm tired of this cycle,’ because it's not like this is a cycle. This is a process, or a pattern at this point. These are often not isolated incidents.
So I'd offer a couple things: first and foremost is compassion, and understanding the system, and I think admitting to ourselves that we live in a very oppressive hierarchical system where we have to do a lot of things to survive and keep some of our basic needs met. So A is just offering compassion to ourselves that we don't have an ideal choice set in front of us. Holding that compassion, but then also just thinking: where can we make a little bit of time to deepen the inquiry into what you and I sometimes call the double-loop learning. So not just solving the thing in front of us but trying to get to the root. Let's solve the pattern right after the fourth, I don't know, 20-something black woman leaves this position after 17, 18 months in a row. I'm like, ‘Okay, now it's clearly a pattern.’ Let's not just throw this position description back out there on the web, but let's look at the system. How did this happen, how did we get here? Then try to work upstream. How do we do the preventative work so we can actually reduce turnover, reduce burnout a little bit, and do better work and feel - like you said - more whole in the work.
Carol: The nonprofit sector certainly mirrors the rest of the culture in terms of who shows up in what levels of leadership and on boards and there have been calls from major institutions in the sector for years to work on the issue, and yet the needle hasn't really moved much in terms of diversifying and I think a lot of it has to do with this notion, especially in predominantly white organizations [that] it's just about diversity, it's about numbers, [the attitude is] let's get at least one person, one person of color, one person with some diversity factor beyond white and men and women, but then that underlying factor of how is the culture supporting that person to be able to be successful and really contribute in a meaningful way? Have you seen how organizations, any places where organizations have taken steps and been able to do some meaningful work in changing that dynamic?
Tip: Short answer, yes. So some pockets of that and, in short, they seem more like the exception than the norm when I think about the nonprofit sector in aggregate, so much of it is is down to the individual level, right, so much a bit of what I see is frontline managers, mid level managers, or EDIs/CEOs who, it's just in their blood, if you will, they just have a drive and they show up to work and say ‘I'm going to look out for my people, especially those with marginalized identities no matter what, and often that means a lot more labor for them, But that's where I see a lot of it. One of the trends, for example, of trying to challenge even the underlying ideologies of our current nonprofit sector is when we see foundations, they may have different terms for it, but doing the spin down strategies, so if we have a cycle where the very rich set up our endowments, foundations and give whatever it is 4% or something that a year out, where we're still perpetuating a very highly dependent relationship. So when we say, ‘hey, let's interrupt this entire cycle, and take ourselves out of that.’ What would that look like to me? That's a great model or symbol of just starting where you are, if you're adding a foundation, what structures and ideologies are you perpetuating? I think the bottom line question is just: what are you willing to give? What are you willing to commit to with respect to how you use your privilege in the system to interrupt the system?
Carol: Trying to do those things, any either organizational culture change, or - and we're talking organizations embedded in systems that have been built, not for millennia, just for the last couple hundred years - in terms of the nonprofit sector - certainly in terms of race, structural racism, etc. it goes way further back than that, but one thing that you wrote recently that I thought was such an interesting perspective is, ‘if you've ever thought an organization or culture is dysfunctional, I invite you to consider that it is functioning perfectly as it's designed.’ Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by that and how you’ve seen that show up?
Tip: My sense is when most folks hear that, even if they're hearing it for the first time - and I don't credit myself for that, I've heard that from a few different angles, from our OD training and so forth - but I think a lot of people, especially marginalized identities, just see more of a nod of acknowledgement, like ‘yes, that's good verbiage to describe what we're living in and existing in,’ and for people who can see the systems yet, I don't know what to say to elaborate on that, except I think for me, what's helpful is just a framing - not only of responsibility, but of opportunity, and in one of the posts I wrote a little bit later, [I said] that organizations and cultures are not things that fell from the sky, so we need to remember that people - maybe not us, but to your point, people maybe generations ago, made some decisions, and many of them very oppressive decisions towards entire groups of races of people that created a lot of these structures and organizations and hierarchies that we're living in. So then for today, what are our decisions? What are the ramifications, not just today, but to borrow from indigenous, mindsets and ideology, multiple generations down the line? Because we're creating cultures today that will last well beyond the 5, 6, 10pm that a lot of people work. So it's both I think, a comeback to compassion for ourselves that we didn't make a lot of choices like we are products of history in a way of what we're living in, but we are also the creators of history. We're creating the history that those people will live in in the future if that makes sense. So it's an invitation to be intentional about the cultures we're creating both actively, but also passively, when we show up. So where were those choice points, and I think at the end of the day, we’re just hoping to find peace, [at least] for me and I know for others who have to make a lot of compromises in terms of their values and how they'd like to show up. It's just what's in our locus of control that we can change, [and] sometimes we talk about culture or systems, and it's big, it's complex. [You think] ‘how could we ever change this stuff?’ For me, the micro stuff matters a lot to write those moments where we feel seen and heard and validated by a colleague, by a partner. I think those things really fill the tank. I think they give people hope in humanity, that no matter what happens during the day, if you've got a really good connection with someone, that can keep our tank full as well. So just being intentional from the very micro, how are we listening to one another, to the macro ‘what policies are we putting in place,’ ‘what are we not challenging,’ and what are the ramifications of those decisions?
Carol: What's one of those micro moments for you recently?
Tip: Good question. One micro moment for me that I try to practice when I'm being more intentional is this concept of ‘to whom do we give our time’ and as a consultant, and as somebody who - basically just go down the column of privileged identities - I hear sometimes from clients like, ‘oh, you must be so busy, I know your time is very valuable,’ all these things, and after I get my ego tickled, then there's this question of, ‘hey, so I don't want to take up a lot of your time.’ and I hear a lot of that, and not so many words. So for me, I was just chatting with a client and an ED about just being a thought partner and how to go about something on a piece of work that I may not even be bidding on or even be providing for them. So for me systematically, I know [that] as a woman of color, trying to navigate that space - how time is just such a luxury for me having a lot of privilege, like I know, that's one small thing. [I know that] I can give whatever it is two, three hours to to just make space for her really just to air out her thoughts and be heard and get some clarity. The feedback that I got was just like, ‘hey, I really appreciated that.’
Then working with her, I see that that’s a behavior that she manifests with her team - and just in a work-life balance or, for example, really holding to 40 hours. I know I’m elaborating a little bit on this, but as in how do I practice it, I think about ‘who do I give my time to?’ and trying to be more intentional with that, but then at the organizational level, how do we treat people's time as well. So this ED, who I'm thinking of, has a younger staff working for her and I think some of the mindset there is when you work for an organization like this doing a lot of direct support with their clientele. It can be really, really long, strenuous hours and sometimes there's an unspoken expectation that work is almost non-stop, and so for this ED having the courage and insight to say ‘Hey, no, if you're not being paid these times, I do not expect you to work. I expect you to have work life balance.’ They even structure things that are just team-building things. I forget how they bill or codify those hours, but they're structured as “non-productive” tasks to just tend to the human needs that we have. So I think that's also a great micro-way to show people that, hey, you can show up and yes, we have a lot of work to do. It's very, very important, and its deeply impacting people's lives and your life. Right, how are we treating each other in this journey? Like, can we slow down, listen, connect with one another, at least some of the time if we're going to be this busy and this hyper productive?
Carol: I think there's so much in the sector that you talked about, the scarcity mentality earlier, and that time scarcity, or it's such a huge cause. We have to martyr ourselves to the cause, or just give all and, the folks who were serving have it so much harder than us. But that sense of I think it's, as self care as a real thing, not self care, as going get a pedicure where people can, can start to put in those boundaries.
And what's so important is, as you said, is to make it explicit, and not have it be implied, and then, of course - [and this part] is even harder for many executive directors - to not only say it, but do it themselves and model it so that their staff knows that's really allowed. Those micro-moments, it just made me think about a conversation I had earlier today where I was doing, what in our work as a pretty simple thing of talking to a number of people getting ready to do a facilitation around a leadership transition; and the woman at the end of the call said, ‘oh, I feel better after talking to you.’ It wasn't like I did anything special, I asked her a couple questions that probably were out of her day-to-day and made her think about things in a different way. Just having the time to talk through them having the time, that full attention just makes a difference. It was interesting to hear her say that.
So, making changes in any of these things, and when you talked about where you've seen it being done well, it's embodied in an enlightened leader, which unfortunately isn't very replicable. It can be really overwhelming to think, how do we even start to make our cultures or organizational cultures healthier? You know, does it have to start at the top? Are there things that individual staff, and volunteer board members can do to start walking the organization towards a healthier, more inclusive culture?
Tip: I just see so many many examples of that. One of the caveats, if you will, is that even when I talk about nonprofits, that’s no monolith, right? There are so many sizes, types, cultures within nonprofits, large, small, based on the geographic region, and the demographics within the organization. So yeah, I've seen so many things. What excites me about the work is, to use some of your example, sometimes there's so much power in just asking different questions. Whether that comes from an external, or somebody who's internal. What if we did explore this? I think so much of why cultures feel stuck, like there's so much inertia in them, and sometimes it's just a function of time. Like, ‘well, it's always been this way, this is the way it is.’ all it takes is just a small thing like, ‘well, what if we tried this?’ some of my questions are, when someone has an idea like that, what's the best case scenario? What's the worst case scenario? What's a more likely middle ground that may emerge, and taking that small risk? So yeah, whether it's a small staff-level implementation of a leader who says, ‘hey, I want to spend an hour every other week just connecting,’ or [if it’s] more organic, if you will.
I've seen a lot of groups - organically or more fluidly - connect with one another based on shared interests. Sometimes those things get formalized, sometimes they don't. I think just talking about policy, for example, if you're on a board, if you're an ED, I really recommend a policy audit once in a while and looking - starting with your bylaws - to HR and employee manuals, and just looking at it from that lens of equity, like, who gets privileged in these processes? How do we make all of our decision-making processes more accessible?
So one example on a board I was working with around pay and they said, we want to hire this position. It's not going to be full time, but we wanted to negotiate the pay in this range. So we think about well, who are we excluding from that by default? I mean, even for volunteer-type boards and organizations, right? It's You know, we're usually talking about people who have some disposable or discretionary time or financial stability to step into these roles and different organizations, so if we have the assets, how can we use that to pay people for their labor, whether it's on a board or leading an internal initiative or an ERG (employee resource group) like that. So how do we make those structures and policies as equitable and accessible as possible? Look at those policies, look at who gets a privileged look at who gets implicitly excluded when you're searching for positions and things like that.
Carol: I think it can be challenging when you're in that dominant privileged position to even see how those things are impacting others because it works for you. Right, the system was built for you. And so then, that comment you made at the beginning or through that, that the cultures are all created by human decisions. When you're someone who benefits from that, and the culture is built for your person, it's hard to see that it’s just the way it is. So I think sometimes that's where the value of bringing an external person to help you walk through and point out how some of those policies might impact folks where you might have a blind spot.
Tip: it's a great example. One thing I see organizations doing, especially those that are working around racial justice or community organizing, if it's a white led organization, they'll find a black, indigenous, and POC-led organization as a source for accountability. So getting that feedback, seeing more of that in organizations, that puts a litmus test on some of our areas where we don't have that awareness. We're just not seeing the water that we're in. I heard a quote at a conference the other day that was, ‘organizations often talk about adding color to the water, [about] diversifying, but few people want to talk about the water itself.’ So well, why don't we actually talk about this toxic water that we're already in.
Carol: That we are all in and is toxic to all of us. I think it's what's important with that accountability and I think too often has been taken for granted as ‘let's have a partnership and let's do community engagement.’ and to not acknowledge that sometimes if folks aren't intentional or careful about it, those can really become extractive relationships. So how is that organization community-based, Organizations led by people of color indigenous people being adequately compensated for the labor, the emotional labor that they're doing to help that predominantly white organization be mindful of those blind spots. So I think that’s a huge growing edge for the field.
Tip: There's the saying that racism is white people's problem right? Like that's where it should be solved, sexism is actually a men's issue that men actually need to work on, so yeah, it's the privileged groups’ [problem].
Carol: I'm sure people have been saying that for years, but I feel like it's only beginning to become acknowledged. Just barely breaking through, people realizing that.
Tip: That's a very, very complex piece of work, it's like - and I've met black people who say, ‘I choose to work with white people because they need it.’ [I’ve met] a black person that says ‘I don't trust white people to do their own work.’ ‘I want to be in there,’ and vice versa. Some people of color, black people, indigenous [people] are like, ‘nope, no way.’ There is no adequate compensation that can be provided for that level of labor. Even equity seems like a word that we can toss around, but what would it take for real equity and justice? Yeah, I think just a much bigger question. I think those are really great points of ‘yeah, how do we really be mindful, really be intentional?’ and what are the external structures and what's the internal work we need to do when our egos get in our way, when we get defensive, when we get fragile in those times, that's where the hard work is.
Carol: We've been talking about some heavy topics but I want to change up the pace of things a little bit. I have a box of icebreaker questions, and I've got one for you. I'm gonna play this at the end of each episode, just to ask one of these questions somewhat randomly and not necessarily related to everything we've been talking about, but maybe it is, we'll see. So if you could create one holiday, what would you create?
Tip: Hmm, wow, if I could create one holiday off the top of my head, I'd say mindfulness day.
Carol: How would we celebrate mindfulness day?
Tip: It'd be a day to not be “productive,” spending a little bit of time and self reflection and connecting with others. Just surfacing what's inside of us, all the stuff we carry around and giving that some space to breathe. People's practices will be different of course, but for me, some of the hope is ‘how can we dream the type of life and communities and systems we want to live in.’ Whether that's in a group or individually. I think just a day to be mindful, not only embracing the current moment, but really envisioning the best type of future that we could live in.
Carol: With that in mind, what are you excited about what's coming up for you that you're working?
Tip: One of one of the big, bigger things I'm working on is A collective is what we're calling it now of practitioners, consultants, I guess generally people who are passionate about creating more inclusive cultures and organizations. So right now there's a group of about 10 folks from across the country soon to be international and we are exploring, like, why aren't cultures actually changing? Why isn't a representative token DEI enough? What does it really take to generate buy-in and to provide effective strategies and interventions across those levels of organizations to shift not only numbers, but also the tenor, the deeper culture in an organization. I'm very excited about bringing together people who are passionate about this, who see the issue and who recognize that we need a deeper approach to doing this work. So I'm excited about moving forward.
Carol: All right, awesome. How can people get in touch with you or find out about the work that you do?
Tip: Sure, [my] Linkedin is Tip Fallon, that’s one place to find and follow me. [My] Twitter is @TipFallon, and my website where you can contact me is fallonconsulting.net.
Carol: Thank you so much. I appreciate having you on and I really enjoyed our conversation.
Tip: Likewise. Thank you.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.