In order to maximize performance in the workplace, people need to thrive in it first. They can’t thrive if there is no diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Diversity in the workplace doesn’t only mean race. It can mean gender, sexuality, or anything that is a non-dominant social identity. Learn how to diversify your workplace as a leader with your hosts Sam Reeve, Char Miller, and Sumit Singla. Join them as they talk to Dr. Dena Samuels about diversity, implicit bias, microaggressions, and more. Dena is a mindfulness-based diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant that helps companies with workplace diversity. Learn what bias is and why people have it. Discover how to deal with microaggressions so that it doesn’t become a bigger issue. And learn how to make a diversity equity and inclusion strategic plan for your company. Learn all of that and more in today’s episode with Dr. Dena Samuels.
We are so excited to have you here. If you’re new, we hope you keep coming back. It is a mastermind of leaders that’s dedicated to creating workplaces where people thrive, employers reward and customers love. That’s a little bit about what we try to do here. We bring new speakers to give you some fresh perspectives and we’re sponsored by TMA. TMA is a great place to assess your talent and find out what you’re good at.
If you don’t know what you’re good at, it’s hard to find the right work for you that aligns with your skills and talents. If you stick around to the very end, we’re going to show you a way that you can get a free assessment and then you can hop in, do the quick assessment, find your talents and then it’ll help you know how you can leverage those to have a happier work life. Who doesn’t want that?
We’re very excited because we have an awesome panel. We have five awesome people, myself included. I like to break the ice. I’m very shy. I’m an on-camera host and coach. I help people show more competently on camera and I help host these discussions. We also have Char here. She’s going to us from Mexico, bought a house there. She has over twenty years of HR experience. She’s an HR expert and a People Strategist with CompTeam. She runs her own consulting firm and has for the past couple of years. She has a lot of skills especially in the areas of talent management, leadership training and development.
We also have Sumit, who we have missed. We’re so happy to have you back. He’s also a People Strategist with CompTeam. He is also an HR expert and has a lot of experience in the world of HR. He’s consulted for many large companies like Deloitte. I’m going to kick it off over to Sam as well. Sam is the Founder and CEO of CompTeam and he puts all of this together so that we can meet up weekly, which is fantastic. He’s got over twenty years of experience in total rewards strategies. He helps transform companies by optimizing their talent initiatives. We have a solid team here with all kinds of special skills and talents. Our special guest speaker is Dr. Dena Samuels. How are you doing?
I’m feeling great. Thank you.Your social identity makes up who you are and your experiences in the world. Click To Tweet
We are so happy to have you. I know I wasn’t there when you were here the first time. She is a returning speaker. She was so good the first time we had to bring her back. She’s a mindfulness-based diversity, equity and inclusion Author, Speaker, Leadership Trainer and Consultant. She does a little bit of everything.
She taught at the University of Colorado for twenty years and now consults full-time. We’re excited to have her here because we are talking about race at the workplace, which can be a bit of a sensitive topic. It’s important we consult with an expert to help us navigate this topic. I’m going to pass it over to Dr. Samuels. I can’t wait to know what you have to share with us.
Thanks so much. I’m honored to be here and honored to be back and thanks for the warm welcome and to all of you for being here and getting involved in this important conversation.
Thank you so much. Tell us how did you get involved in the work that you do? What was the spark that started all this in your career?
It started with my students. I was teaching at the University of Colorado. Back in the day, early in my career, I was teaching Race Theory. I’m a Sociologist. I had already done a lot of research around discrimination and those things. In fact, my White students started to ask me questions that I couldn’t answer.
It was stunning to me. I felt like I was coming to the classroom feeling sourced. I’ve got some expertise or whatever and they started asking questions that I was like, “Why has this never come up before in all of my schoolings? Why has nobody ever talked about my whiteness and what that means in a world?” When you asked about a spark, that was it.
I ended up pausing and I went back to school basically and got another Master’s. I didn’t get a degree but I started learning. I started soaking up the knowledge around what it means to be White in the United States. I already knew what it meant to be on the side of discrimination, not from my whiteness but from being Jewish and I identify as queer. I’m bisexual. I knew what that side of things looked like but I didn’t know what my whiteness meant in the world.
I did a deep dive and then started to notice things around me. That’s when things changed for me. When I came back to the university, rather than focusing on the Department of Sociology, I ended up in Women’s and Ethnic Studies. I was teaching there and I taught there for almost the rest of my career. That was very early on in my understanding.
In the meantime, I’ve been very involved in not only learning but also teaching, doing the trainer programs and working with organizations across the country. Someone will have read one of my books and said, “Can you come and speak?” or, “Come and do a book club,” or, “Can you help us with our strategic plan?” That happens to be what my Doctorate is, in Leadership Development and also Research and Policy, creating policy and all of those things.
What ended up happening was between organizations, corporations, nonprofits and campuses. I left the university. I left my tenured position to consult full-time because I felt like I was being drawn and invited whether it be organizations like NASA, the military or Facebook. These are some of my extensive list of clients. I feel so honored to be able to do this work in many different places, in many different venues and organizations.
You mentioned a few other topics. When I was a former traditional HR person, it used to always be about sexual harassment, gender and disability as the three primaries. You mentioned multiple other topics around discrimination. It sounds like you realized that you had to go back to school to go, “This is expanding.” Do you think that’s a real trend particularly in the United States?
Two things. My brain goes in two different directions when you ask that question. I want to honor both in the sense that the work that I do is all intersectional. For those who are less familiar with the word, it means that we’re talking about not just race but also gender, sexualities, all these different social identities, class, age, ability and all of those pieces. These social identities make up who we are and what our experience is in the world.
I’m received as a White woman but my experience as a White woman who identifies as Jewish might be different from a White woman who identifies as Christian. That’s a religious difference. We need to think about all of these pieces coming together and the ways in which sometimes we get benefits from those social identities and sometimes we might be on the discrimination and on the receiving end of things like microaggressions, stereotype threat and those pieces.
Both of those are important. What I’m seeing as a trend, most organizations are looking at intersectionality. They want to know, “What language do I use around, for example, transgender? What does that mean? Maybe I haven’t had experience with transgender communities. I want to do that and I don’t know how.” I can come in and talk about that. Overwhelmingly especially in 2020, most organizations are looking at race in their organizations.
Why we’re here is because it’s such a hot topic. It’s not to say that this struggle has not been going on for hundreds of years. It’s not like George Floyd’s murder was the first, last or any of that but something shifted at that moment in our history. More and more organizations, corporations and all of that are saying, “I know I need to be doing something but I’m not quite sure what it is I need to be doing.” That’s where I come in and I can help figure out how do we have those conversations in the workplace, which I think we need to be doing.
As a younger HR person and a Chief HR Officer of a grocery distributor, we had a transgender employee. I reflect back and I did my best as a junior HR person. Now, I think I would have handled that whole circumstance extremely differently after learning from you. I greatly appreciate that there are many topics.
That intersectional piece is key. Even when we talk about race, we can’t just talk about race. There’s a system in place that’s benefiting some and discriminating against others. We have to look at that and thinking about, for example, White supremacy, White supremacist ideology. That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s a deep dive. When I come into an organization, I don’t do Diversity 101 because we don’t have time for that.
There’s a change that needs to happen in all of our organizations and all our institutions. We don’t want to keep it light. We need to take a deep dive. That said, we don’t want to come in and beat anybody up or make them feel blamed or shamed either. The work that I do is trying to come with some compassion because we did not create the system that exists. It’s not our fault that it is the way it is but now that we know that it exists the way it does, we need to do something about it. What does that look like?
What I hear from you is that you actually have some overlapping aspects. Your Jewish background, you said you’re bisexual, your gender affiliation. In my experience as an HR person, I also experienced that because, at one point, I had 3,000 employees because we had a turnover in HR, surprisingly. They would come in and they would say, “I have a disability. I’m Black. This is my religion,” and it’s all overlapping. I have to admit, we used to have a former panelist who indicated as an expert in culture. She admitted that she made some faux pas in some of the languages she was using. Luckily, they gave her some feedback and said, “That’s offensive to our predominantly Black workforce.”
It’s not typecasted into one category. It’s understanding all of it. I don’t know if you can call it, it, understanding all the dimensions and I think it’s getting stronger and stronger. In Puerto Vallarta, I happen to live next to what’s called the Romantic Zone or close to the Romantic Zone, which is predominantly a gay community. I love that community by the way.
I’ve had a lot of friendships made, such as my hairstylist. It’s interesting. I’ve talked to him as a hairstylist because hairstylists see constant clients all day long. He did explain to me how he’s treated so differently by different clients. Granted, he owns his own company. As an HR and tele-management person, I was very curious, “How different are your clients treating you? What language are they using?” It’s funny that you’re on. This is perfect.
He was trying to describe to me the confusion and the offensiveness when they don’t know that they’re being offensive. There’s so much information to teach. How are you aligning it so that an executive can understand? I’ve worked with many executives and, no offense, they don’t understand the complexities of this. How are you doing that?
When they call me, it’s usually they understand that there’s something they need to know that they don’t know. That’s what I do. I would say if there was one thing to describe how I show up and what I do, it’s teaching people what they don’t know they don’t know. We’re all in this together. I am considered an expert but I’m also learning all the time.
There’s no way that I’m going to, in my lifetime, be able to learn everything there is to know about every culture. I’m always having a learning curve myself. It’s a lifelong journey. It’s because it is a lifelong journey doesn’t mean we don’t need to start it if we’re not on that journey already. What I try to do when I come into an organization is trying to assess and asking a lot of questions. I have a blog on this in particular on my website that is 5 Things to Consider When You’re Hiring a Diversity and Inclusiveness Consultant. Whether it’s me or someone else, these are things that the consultants should be asking. One of the things I do is I try to say, “Where are you? Where is the organization right now?”
By the way, the person that I’m speaking to typically has a little bit of a broader view but knows their organization well enough to say they don’t understand this piece or they don’t understand that piece. That’s helpful to me because then I can come in and meet people where they are rather than dumping some information on their lap and saying, “Do with it what you will.” I want to meet them where they are because otherwise, it’s a waste of time.Teach people what they don't know, they don't know. Click To Tweet
In fact, the studies show it can do more harm than good. If I were to come and speak either above them, below them or whatever, that they’re not going to relate. They’re not going to connect with me. Therefore, we’re not going to be able to be as effective as we would otherwise. That piece is important to understand. Coming in and saying, “Here’s what I recommend,” usually to your point, Char, it’s not a one and done. It’s got to be a series and ongoing.
I’ve done all the risk research on this because it’s in one of my books as well, thinking about what diversity training, what bad diversity training can look like and what we need to be doing. Also, some of the reflective questions that we need to be asking especially in leadership and HR folks, to think about for themselves and then they can come at their work a little bit more from a broader perspective and an understanding. That’s all very important.
Thinking about social identities, thinking about the inequalities that exist, looking at implicit bias, looking at microaggressions and how to handle microaggressions when they come up. Microaggressions, some people call them micro-inequities. The idea is that when those comments or behaviors happen, what do you do at that moment? How do you intervene? How do you challenge them?
What happens in our culture often is they go unchallenged. When they go unchallenged, people think it’s okay to say what they’re saying or do what they’re doing. As we all know, when you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten and that will lead to more inequalities. We need to do it differently.
We can define some of these things, microaggressions, implicit bias and so forth. Let’s start with microaggressions. What is it and what are some examples of that?
I’m going to, if it’s okay, flip those around and start with implicit bias only because I always believe that we need to begin with it. One of the things I’m sure I’ve said on here before but I’m going to repeat it because I think it’s worth repeating. Oftentimes we hold up a window. We point out the window and say, we have to change that policy and that policy and that’s all true. We do need to do that.
What I do when I come into an organization is transform the window into a mirror. We say it’s a gentle reflection with a big heart and compassion. It’s not our harsh glare staring at ourselves but more like meeting ourselves where we are and with compassion that, “I learned some things I didn’t even know were a problem. What do I do next?”
To me, once you get that idea that we all need to take a little bit of personal responsibility for shifting then it’s a matter of understanding these biases that we all have. If you have a brain, you’re biased. Every human being has biases. All bias means is preference. We have a bias for this color over that color. We have a bias over what we like to eat versus what we don’t. We have lots of biases.
The biases that I talk about are the ones that actually affect our interactions with others especially when we’re hiring or making life-changing decisions about another human being. That’s when it’s critically important that we start thinking, “What is this bias? Where did it come from? What am I going to do now that I know it’s there?”
I always suggest folks look into the Implicit Association Test. That’s Harvard University’s Project Implicit. At least get a baseline for understanding what biases you have. The beauty of that resource, because that’s what it is, is in five minutes, you get a score right away that tells you what’s going on in your brain. It’s a phenomenal resource and well-cited in the academy, in particular.
Could you tell us the source once more time?
Implicit.Harvard.Edu is the website. If you look it up, it’s Harvard University’s Project Implicit.
Thank you. Is it also on your website?
On my website, I have resources and yes, you can get them there. I have handouts that folks can download as well but on the Resources page, you can see there’s one on Implicit Bias and it gives a little bit of background on what implicit bias is and then it gives the source. You can click right there and go and take a test.
There are tests on race. There are tests on gender, sexuality and all of these different social identities. My recommendation for everyone is to take as many different ones as you possibly can. I always say, start with the race one so you know, but also keep looking and saying, “I didn’t even know I had a bias here, a bias there.” It’s a great starting place.
We have a question here. Can you give some examples of how to best challenge microaggression?
I will. We’re going to get there. I want to finish up with implicit bias because it’s important. I promise to answer that one. The implicit bias, we begin within so we understand what’s happening in our brains and understand that process. We can’t stop there. We can’t take a test and go, “Now, I know so I’m good to go.” We have to actually do some learning about what do we do to minimize bias and what our bias triggers are. That’s what we call them, bias triggers.
In our organization, it might be our hiring processes and things like that. It’s important that we do an audit of what our processes are and where the biases might show up that we might need to challenge. That’s a whole training in and of itself but I strongly recommend folks do that. Taking the test first and then figuring out, “What do I do? How do we minimize the biases that we have?”
If I could quickly say a short little example of my personal experience. You are seeing a person has changed a lot even since you were on last time. Also, I own a company that has up to six locations each and predominantly in malls. Each mall is in a very different section of town. For example, one of our malls is in Aurora, Colorado.
If any of you are paying attention to what’s happening in Aurora, there is a lot of social unrest there. Even to the point where the mall has to close early because of gang violence. We’re looking out for the safety of our staff. What’s challenging is we have a gentleman that works there that also works in a wheelchair.
He’s a gem. He even says, “I fly under the radar a little bit.” He’s worked out ways, like with his face shield. He wears a face shield and a face mask. He’s put Black Lives Matter stickers and equality stickers on his face mask to show 1) I’m in a wheelchair and 2) I am open to diversity and I’m open to all cultures. He even said to me that he’s even had to change his mindset.
His original mindset was all about disability discrimination and now that he works in this location, he’s like, “There is a lot more gender bias, racial, the LGBT community.” That particular mall has a high Hispanic population. We have found that our female Hispanic employees have been the most successful in our company. Meanwhile, we have other locations wherein, believe it or not. We’re in Rocky Flats, Park Meadows, Colorado Mills and also in Montana. I know I’m forgetting one.
All of those locations, from a leadership perspective, have had to acknowledge that this particular topic is very unique and also affects their productivity of how they relate with their local communities. We have had to be more open and authentic and talk about it. It’s not an easy topic to talk about not only because we’re a very diverse company but also the fact that they relate with a very diverse community.
When I was a traditional HR leader and I wasn’t in charge of running a company, we had a diversity person and he was all about race. No offense to that individual but looking back, I wonder why we only focused on race. We didn’t focus on all the other topics. As a company owner, I’m truly in the face of realizing this truly affects business and that you do need to do some analysis or discussion. That particular link, is that free?
It’s free. Good point.
We hire a professional, such as you, that could help us look at that situation, help our leaders excel and be more agile in adapting to the environmental factors around diversity and inclusion. I wanted to make that point because I’m a fairly new business owner and I opened my eyes to that particular topic.
I’d love to move on to thinking. I know that was a cursory look at implicit bias but at least we got the basics in. I’d like to talk also about microaggressions. Microaggressions are basically invalidations that happen throughout the day. There can be racial microaggressions. There can be ones based on gender, sexuality, ability and all of those. They’re basically the comments, behaviors or slights that happen typically against somebody who has a non-dominant social identity.
The way to know it’s microaggression is you didn’t mean it. You didn’t say it out of harm. If you said it or did it, whatever the behavior is, to harm someone, that’s no longer a microaggression. That is a whole different category. You’re talking about safety issues, physical safety issues and all of that. When we think about microaggressions, we have to consider that, first and foremost, is the person meaning harm when they said what they said? If it’s pretty obvious the person had no clue, had no idea that they said something, that’s when we would call it a microaggression.When things go unchallenged. People will think that it's okay to do what they're doing even if it's wrong. Click To Tweet
What I do in my training is teach folks how to unpack a microaggression. What is the underlying message? What’s the intent? Primarily, what’s the impact? That’s important to think about. What’s the impact? Not only on the person who was on the receiving end but anyone else who heard the comment. If it’s not challenged, it will be continued. If it goes unchallenged, people don’t realize. People aren’t learning anything. They’re not going to be able to do anything different.
Unfortunately, most of the time, we leave it to the person who has been on the receiving end of the microaggression to stand up for themselves or their social identity group. That’s a lot of work. Dr. Derald Wing Sue wrote a book called Microaggressions in Everyday Life. That’s probably my favorite one. There are a bunch of books out on microaggressions but he exploded the idea of the concept. The fact that most people know what microaggressions are is mostly due to him and his work.
What he says is that microaggressions are like paper cuts. You get one at the beginning of the day. You roll your eyes, shrug your shoulders and go, “Do I have time to challenge this or not?” You get another one and another one and by the end of the day, you’re bleeding. We know from the research that over the course of a lifetime, that we’re talking about higher mortality rates for people who get more microaggressions, who are on the receiving end.
We’re talking about life for death here. It’s not a minimal thing or, “I’ll let that one go.” The person who’s on the receiving end has to, every time it happens, think about, “Do I have the mental capacity? Do I even have the time to engage in this?” To flip that paradigm, what if the people around who were bystanders so to speak, I call them going from bystanders to upstanders if they were trained and they knew what to do to step in and say, “That’s not okay,” in a gentle way.
You’re calling the person who microaggressed in rather than calling them out. I heard the idea of calling on. I shift from calling out to calling in but also calling on. We want folks to feel like they are called on to engage in this work and that they’re going to step up and do the right thing. That’s how change will happen in an organization and a culture.
Are you speaking verbal microaggression or non-verbal microaggression?
It could be either. When you say non-verbal, it could be an expression on your face. It could be something as subtle as somebody comes into your space, you’re engaged and rather than opening up to invite the new person in, you don’t. You don’t even shift your body. Granted, in COVID, it’s all on-screen and all of that but hopefully, we’ll be in person again. Literally, that shifting or smiling at somebody or not smiling at them could be received as a microaggression like, “I’m not welcome here.” That’s the underlying message of most microaggressions. “You are not welcome here.”
Speaking of not welcome or inviting in, Sumit, did you have some thoughts about this topic?
Thank you. The concept of race isn’t as prevalent in my country but I’ve done a little bit of work with folks in other geographies. Would it be fair to say that because you’re from a particular race or you seem to be from a certain social-economic background, somebody in supermarket security following you around the aisle would be a microaggression? Somebody is assuming that you’re there to steal. No gestures, no words exchanged but they’re following you around.
That could turn into something different than a microaggression. I want to be very clear. That could be a very serious safety issue for the person who’s being followed. What’s happening in the brain of the person who’s following? There’s some bias going on, automatic, unconscious, implicit bias. We need to be thinking about that in terms of our employers.
What we oftentimes hear as well, “I followed or I stopped that person,” if it were police because, “I did some racial profiling but I should be because that’s who commits the crimes.” I’ve heard those kinds of sentiments in the past. That is the biggest misnomer. When you unpack all of that, you realize that the reason that BIPOC folks, Black, Indigenous and other People Of Color are overrepresented in the prison system, the legal system.
It’s not because they’re committing more crimes. It’s because of racial profiling that they’re the ones who are more likely to get into the system whereas a White person who did the same crime is much more likely to get away with it. That, in and of itself, is how our society has perpetuated what I call White supremacists. It’s called by many scholars too as White supremacist ideology. If you’re White, you’re trustworthy. This is one of the biggest problems and biggest myths we have in our society. A lot of White folks are getting away with a lot of stuff because of it and taking advantage of that. I hope that answers that.
I have to say, the reason why this whole Mexico experience has opened my eyes to it is that although the gringos and the White Americans are valued because of our economy and the fact that we buy a lot of products down here. I noticed that when my fiancé Bruce was out of town, I was treated extremely differently by the Mexican male community. I was talked to differently. I was downgraded and it was because I had a male around me.All bias means is preference. Click To Tweet
Not to get into a long story about that but that was the first time in my life that I went, “I need to get a tan.” I started paying attention to the females in the community. No offense to the Mexican community but the females are very quiet, docile and don’t say a lot. I’m very strong, outgoing and opinionated. It’s hard to change my personality to fit in. That opened my eyes.
I am going back to the United States. I do plan to have a leadership discussion because my perspective about diversity inclusion and having that awareness needs to be even deeper than ever. It’s not because of how I was treated for a few weeks down here but I think that now I see it. I see it differently. You’re not going to see it by taking a class, taking an online class or having a leadership meeting. It needs heart-to-heart conversation and deep discussion with your employees about this topic unless you have other ideas.
I do. As you were talking about your own experience, I don’t know if folks could pull apart all of the different social identities you were talking about. You were talking about race, gender and socioeconomic status. That’s the way intersectionality comes together. We could have a whole other conversation about that but I want to instead focus on your last question about what do we do. How do we do this? I do believe that those conversations around race need to be facilitated by people who have had the training and the experience to do so.
It’s what I do but there are plenty of other great facilitators out there. The reason for that is that I think people think, “I want to dig in and I’m going to jump in and do this,” and then they get in and they get into a lot of trouble. They don’t realize that they might even be microaggressing and causing more harm than good in an organization. Whether it’s me or someone else, another great facilitator, that’s up to folks but unless you have somebody who’s skilled, I would not.
My strategy is I focus on my company. I have a very small company. We’re getting closer to 30 employees. We were at twenty. I would like to invite those employees that perceived themselves voluntarily because I don’t want to pick and choose. Are you Black? Are you Hispanic? Are you disabled? Are you a lesbian? I would like to have those volunteers have a subgroup and then we strategize about a team meeting. I would like those individuals to lead the discussion and have the psychological safety to be able to talk about it. Do you think that’s a good idea?
It’s a good starting point but do you have a diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan of any sort?
We are starting to work on that. We do what’s called this TMA that we talked about. I am developing our brand new talent management strategy. It was very different than what I did in my old life as a former HR person. I’d like to add a whole new section so I’d like to create a whole new diversity inclusion strategy. Your advice is awesome.
You’re not alone but I do think that that’s an important starting place. I always talk to my clients about it doesn’t have to be this 30-page document because it sits on a shelf. It’s got to be a working document and it needs to include a vision, a mission and objectives of what it is you are planning to do, what are the benchmarks and who’s going to be held accountable. It could be a few pages. What I help my clients do as well is to create that. If you have a team of folks, I would sit with your group of people who are engaged and excited about doing this work and we come up with a plan of short-term, medium-term and long-term.
How do you know you’ve succeeded? Without benchmarks along the way, how do you know you’re headed in a good direction? Part of those benchmarks might be training like implicit bias training or microaggressions training. What if you’re the micro aggressor and somebody approaches you, what do you do? Those are all incorporated into what I do. It’s me or others. There are plenty of other great folks out there. I do think it takes somebody with the expertise specifically in this area if you want to do it well.
Jules, did you have a comment?
We have two questions. This one’s a couple of parts so bear with me. How does identifying microaggressions and recognizing them in others help overcome teaming issues? Beyond accepting diversity in the workplace, what is the next step to help a team prosper and grow above a moment of microaggression? Do we acknowledge situations like this and call out team members?
Is this a good approach or do we try to understand where these statements are coming from? Basically, how does identifying these microaggressions help overcome teaming issues and what would be the next step once we know that this is going on? How do we grow above it? What is the next step to help the team prosper?
First, I would say that microaggressions are happening everywhere in every organization every day. If folks are thinking, “It doesn’t happen here, whatever,” it’s because you don’t notice it. It is happening. I can guarantee it. I’ve never been in an organization that I haven’t seen anything. That’s not to put blame or shame or anything. It’s doing what we don’t know is problematic. We don’t know what we don’t know.
I love what you said in terms of the person who asked the question saying, “Should we find out where they’re coming from? Should we acknowledge?” Absolutely. We want to bring these things to the surface. When we bring them to the surface, if they’re done in a constructive way, what it does is it allows people to know, “We’re actually making progress in this. We’re not doing lip service,” as we say.
It’s not about sugarcoating or any of that. After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, there were a lot of organizations writing letters to their teams and sending them out to all their employees. I’m thinking, “This is great that you’re sending a letter out. I think that’s appropriate. What’s the next step?” You can’t send a letter out saying, “This is a terrible tragedy. This is horrible and whatever. We’re committed to whatever,” without doing something about it. What’s the next step for you? How are you engaging?
Ultimately, I love the concept of belongingness. We want people to feel that your organization is their home away from home. We can’t do that across the board. We know diversity works. We want a diverse workforce. We want diverse customers too. We can’t have that unless we’re doing our own work. It’s hard work. It’s challenging work. I’m not going to say there’s an easy fix or take this pill and you’re done.
It is a journey. If you’re not on the journey, you are behind the times. The organizations that are doing well and that will continue to succeed as we move through the century are going to become more diverse. We know they’re going to be filled more with Millennials and Millennials want diversity in their workforce. We want diversity to be foundational to the organization. If you’re not doing it, you’re missing out. You’re not going to be on the leading edge of this and you’re not going to get the best talents.
Thank you so much for saying that because I think a great place to practice is in your own personal life. My example was right after the George Floyd incident. I was going to the grocery store, going to Home Depot and everybody was behind their masks. In Colorado, I happened to live in a Black community. I have a nice house in a Black community. A house was burned down in this community. A family of five Black people was killed if you heard about that story. In the Home Depot, we have masks on so it’s all about the eyes. When you talk about that microaggression, are you making eye contact? Are you making friendly eyes?Microaggressions are like paper cuts. You get so many that by the end of the day, you start actually bleeding. Click To Tweet
One day I was walking in a parking lot and this Black man and his wife gave me a beautiful smile in their eyes. They said, “Hello, how are you doing?” I went, “I’m great. How are you?” That was in a Home Depot parking lot. That had happened after all those tragic events. I think a good way to practice is in your life, in the grocery stores, in your schools and talk about it in your companies. I think that’s a fantastic idea. Thank you, Dr. Samuels.
Someone is asking and wondering what you have to say about companies who are supporting training regarding White privilege and telling employees to be less White, specifically Coke, who has had a backlash for such training. They’re wondering if you teach and train about reverse discrimination.
Statistically speaking, reverse discrimination is not a thing. Research shows that it’s the media that has put out this concept of reverse discrimination. Not that it’s 0% of the time but it’s pretty close. When you look at the lawsuits and all of that, it’s very rare. Usually, when somebody says it’s been reverse discrimination, when they look a little deeper, they find out, “This person wasn’t as qualified as the person who got the job.” Reverse discrimination for folks who are unaware or don’t understand what it is, it’s a concept. It’s a myth that white folks are losing out because of being discriminated against as a White person.
To answer the question about white privilege, we need to be talking about whiteness. We need to because that’s a system and again, it’s not to blame or shame White people. If we’re blaming or shaming, White people, we’re never going to get anywhere on equality or equity. What we need to be doing instead is looking at the way whiteness in our culture over our history has benefited some at the expense of others.
I would never say to somebody be less White. I don’t even know what that means to be honest with you. To minimize your whiteness, none of that makes any sense to me. What matters to me is that everyone has a sense of belonging so when they come into the organization, they feel like they’re welcomed, they feel included and all of that. That includes White folks too. This is not any challenge, bashing or whatever against White folks. It’s more like seeing what the system is doing.
I identify as White myself. I’m within a system and I see, “I didn’t even realize before I knew, before I was educated,” which, Char, to your point from before, we need training because it’s not going to be having a conversation with that. People are still within the context of this hierarchy that we have in our society. If you don’t look at that society and unpack it or look at the hierarchy and unpack it, you may end up feeling shamed or blamed or whatever. Doing that in a way that calls folks into the conversation is what’s most important, what’s critical.
I also think it’s what’s going to be most effective in the long run in terms of having these conversations. What’s most important to me is building relationships across social differences, which we’re not doing because we don’t know how and we’re afraid to in our society. That’s a huge, sweeping overgeneralization but when you look at the statistics, it’s true. We’re more segregated at this time than we were during the civil rights era. In terms of housing and everything else, we are not building relationships across differences overwhelmingly and we need to be.
I am very surprised that we’re getting worse. I completely agree with you. Thank you so much. I think what you’re saying is spot on and it’s a very important topic that we’re talking about. It takes bravery and trust to be able to do that, to be vulnerable as a leader and to be able to talk about it. Thank you so much for bringing up this very important topic.
Jules, do we have some more questions that we should bring up for our guest?
We have one last one here. Diversity and inclusion have been a popular topic for many years but it’s programmatic, not consistent. Do you think it’s here to stay?
There’s not a question in my mind. In fact, what we call diversity training back in the day continues to morph and change. As we talked about in the conversation, intersectionality is becoming more and more the case. The people are talking across differences. When you see the changes that have happened, when we say diversity and inclusion, work or training or education or whatever language we want to use to talk about this work in general, it will continue to change.
Even our language has changed. We used to say, “People of color,” now, more people are using the term BIPOC, Black, Indigenous People of Color, to show that it’s not one monolith of experience if you’re not White. A Black person’s experience might be different than a Latinx person’s experience or an indigenous person’s experience. It will continue to change and grow. It’s absolutely here to stay. There’s no question.
I have a final question for you, Dr. Samuels. As a company or leadership looking, they know that they have a problem. They know that they need to address these issues in their organization and get in front of that issue. There are a lot of people out there as far as experts on this topic and you yourself being a white female and talking about the concept of diversity, how should a leader take that into consideration when selecting a person for their demographic?
I do think it’s important. What I usually ask my clients and my clients could be heads of company leadership and they could be HR leadership, those are the people that I’m speaking to who are hiring me directly. I say to them to please consider, if I’m going to come in and be talking to your entire leadership team or your entire organization and employees, maybe from 5 to 50,000 people or more, to think about who will speak this information that your organization will receive the best.
For example, if you’ve got a lot of folks of color in your organization, you might think about hiring a consultant who is a person of color, that they may automatically have a little bit more buy-in. There are differences in styles and all of that but at the end of the day, if your organization is primarily white, you might want to think about hiring a White consultant.
The reason I say that is because my colleagues of color, we may have different styles and all of that but we are pretty much giving the same information. We all have our differences in our expertise and how we deliver the information but at the end of the day, who is going to be leading the discussion where the people in your organization are going to be able to receive it? It’s an important question to consider. You want to hire the best person for the job but thinking about what does that look like for you and your organization.
Thank you so much. How can our readers learn more about you and your services?
The easiest is to go to my website, which is DenaSamuels.com.
Thank you so much for the discussion. It has been wonderful. Thank you, Dr. Samuels.
Thanks for having me. I wish everyone psychological, emotional and physical safety as you proceed. I hope that we are all able to continue to maintain more health as time goes on.
We appreciate you. Thank you so much.
Dena is experienced Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness Consultant with a focus on mindful leadership and a demonstrated history of working in higher education, K12 schools, nonprofit organizations, and corporations. She is skilled in Inclusive Leadership, Building Culturally Inclusive Environments, Strategic Planning, Organizational Development, and Executive Coaching. She also has a strong consulting professional with a PhD focused in Educational Leadership, Research, and Policy from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.