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 email@example.com.
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.