The DEI conversation is being pushed in every organization and industry today to promote fairness at all levels. But this concept is deeply rooted in systemic historical patterns, and real change cannot happen in just a blink of an eye. Wade Forbes and Angela Chiraza partner up to come up with a different approach to DEI to make it deeply inspirational and meaningful. Speaking to the People Strategy Forum panel, they present PAUSE journaling to help people be quiet with their thoughts and discover positive ways to deal with DEI. Wade and Angela also break down the most common problems leaders face when embracing the DEI concept, particularly in transforming cultures that have been existing for many decades.
Our topic is to join the DEI conversation and we have the PAUSE Journal. We’re going to learn all about the PAUSE Journal. I’m excited. It’s going to be a great discussion. Every week we bring different guest speakers and in this episode, we have Wade Forbes and Angela Chiarenza joining us. They created the PAUSE Journal. What better way to go through the journal than with the creators? We have had a few different discussions around journaling. We’re going to go deeper into that conversation now and also, discuss how it can help support the DEI journey in companies.
In general, the show is here to help engage, energize, and elevate your employees and your company as well. Be sure to take notes maybe in your journal. Before I introduce our speakers, I’ll introduce all our hosts. This is our general lineup here. We get together each and every week. There’s a lot of expertise amongst our panel of hosts.
I’ll get started with Char who is in Mexico right now working on her tan. She is an entrepreneur who has a large background in human resources. She’s co-founded many businesses in her time. She’s working on a new one right now, which is exciting. She’s also worked as a career coach as well. We also have Howard, who is an expert when it comes to compensation and compensation software. He’s helped many companies over the years improve their compensation department.
We also have Wendy. She is a talent management expert. She is trained in the TMA method and works with the team at CompTeam. Sumit isn’t able to join us now, but he’s normally here as well. That’s our panel. We also have Sam who brings us the show. He is the Founder and CEO of CompTeam. He’s also an expert in all things talent initiatives and compensation as well.
That brings us to our guest speakers. You might remember this person because we’ve had him here before. Welcome back to Wade Forbes, who is the Founder of RedTale Communications. He has a very special talent. He’s a skilled artist who brings conversations to life with his sketches. He illustrates. He was telling us about the illustrations that he did for Nick Offerman’s new book, which is very cool. He has a lot of great stories to share with us.
The other speaker that we have is Angela Chiarenza, who partnered with Wade on this fabulous journal. I’m excited to hear all about this journal. She is an executive coach who has also consulted for a lot of companies in industries such as gaming, entertainment, and healthcare. Welcome to you both. Welcome back, Wade. We’re excited to dive in and hear all about this fabulous new journal.
It’s wonderful to have both of you. Can you tell us a little bit about how this came to be? How did the journal come into existence? What was the spark that created this journal?
I want to hear Angela’s version of this story because mine is rather disjointed as an artist would be. Artists are horrible project managers.
It sounds good. Thanks, Wade. I have a tendency to be more of a linear thinker. We work well together in that capacity. Wade and I met circa 2014. We were both working together in a professional consulting firm as a government contractor. Wade was in a leadership development program that I was responsible for. We started having coaching conversations about the work that Wade was doing.
All I kept thinking was this guy doesn’t belong behind a desk in a room without windows. We had a lot of conversations about that. There’s more to that story that we could go on for hours about, but we built a friendship and a relationship over coaching, learning, and development leadership. Out of that, Wade, I’m going to turn it over to you for where you went next after we first met there.
Angela and I kept in touch over the years as our roles changed. At the beginning of the pandemic, I started drawing all these tiny little Post-it Notes and posting them on social media to spread hope and shift the narrative from fear and all the ways things could go wrong to hope, joy, and the other emotions on all the ways things could go right.
As a professional listener, I draw for conversations and I hear people wrestling with various things. Sometimes an organization is wrestling with strategies. Sometimes they’re wrestling with the vision, but a lot of them were wrestling with DEI topics and they didn’t know where to start. I said, “What if I could draw these quotes and help people start to see their journey unfolding by thinking through these things?” All of a sudden, I realized I’ve amassed a lot of quotes on DEI.
Angela and I got in touch. I said, “Angela, could you help me curate these quotes so that we could create a journal that helps the DEI facilitators and professionals that are trying to further these conversations and improve the outcomes not only for themselves but for the people that they’re facilitating?” Angela went through hundreds of these Post-it Notes that I had created and started to pull out the ones that struck a chord.
I couldn’t have done it without her because the stuff that she has learned in her experience as a coach was invaluable to me. It’s stuff that I didn’t have and things that I couldn’t have as a White male trying to help in a place where I’m sometimes part of the problem. Angela brought a perspective that was out of this world for me in this project, and we got the quotes together. Angela, you were asked to write.
I’m going to add two more things to the now non-linear story, which one, in that leadership development program that I talked about. At the graduation dinner for that program, Wade had started sketching out on napkins salient pieces of learning that had come out of that program. That’s where I first remember this side gig starting. Fast forward to lots of conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, at that point, Wade and I started talking about this.
I attended a program and studied to add more rigor to the conversation to add more research so that I was more informed. What we were doing with that journal was identifying patterns and looking at what are we seeing in the journal and what are we not seeing in the journal. What we weren’t seeing is what we honed in on to add a more diverse set of drawings to the conversation so that there was more representation.
All of us have sat through workshops where people had good intentions and wanted to help us. It’s like, “I’m going to put you through an eight-hour Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion course, and at the end, you’re going to be more inclusive, less racist, and you’re going to understand people that are not like you. That’s just not the case. You need lots of exposure and understanding. You need to have an open heart.
The idea was, “What if we could give them a place where they could pause and be quiet with their thoughts?” The PAUSE Journal was an opportunity when you turn to a page and say, “The only thing that should ever be sorted by color is your laundry,” where does your mind go? Where do you start to think about how that idea was ever introduced into your mind? Did it happen in your childhood? Did it happen the way your friends joked? Is it happening at the water cooler with your coworkers? How do you start to unpack that thought?
What’s fascinating is my mind goes to certain places, but when people start to interact with this, you hear all the different places people’s minds go and it’s a chance to just be quiet. For me, I needed a place to be clumsy. I needed a place to wrestle with my thoughts. I needed a place to maybe not get it right the first time. Maybe not the 3rd or the 4th or the 5th, but on the 6th try, I had something that was filled with growth and with genuine intentions. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be 100% and it was easier to do it in a quiet place. I’m curious, Angela, is there a quote that jumps out at you in this? Is there any particular quote that you recall that was like, “That’s the one?”
The honest answer is no because of the number of quotes that we went through. What’s also been interesting about this particular journal is the introduction that we wrote together for me in facilitating conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. One of the things that can be helpful with this journal and with guiding conversations as a result of it is that the notion of pausing requires presence.
There are stories and quotes that run throughout the journal that come from people from a long time ago and from people that are still with us now. There are stories in here that are also by their nature because they were written down and then printed in our history. There are still things happening now that impact people.
I was in a cab not too long ago in New York and was called some pretty awful things because of how I look. For me, it’s about all of that. It’s about bringing everything together and again, taking a minute to take a deep breath to reflect on things. One of the things Wade and I had talked about too with this journal is this notion of having an opportunity to try again and this being a safe space to do that as opposed to trying to try again with an individual where there might be damage that’s occurring in the relationship or in the conversation. Taking a minute to pause and think through that all the way here and then make another run at it or work to do better in the conversation moving forward.
Angela shared that story of her time in a cab and the very first quote in the journal is by Maya Angelou. I want your readers to know that these are little Post-it Notes on a page where you can doodle or draw beneath it and then a place for you to gather your thoughts. The very first quote in the journal is by Maya Angelou which says, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it hasn’t solved one yet.”
Your mind can go in 1,000 directions. I imagine what it would be like for an individual to pause, as Angela stated a moment ago, and be present, but what happens when teams start doing it? What happens when groups of people start doing it, families, or parents and their children and they start to trace back where has hate taken over or been the first thing that was part of the conversation when it shouldn’t have been involved at all? What if we made it the last part of the conversation and we realized, ‘Look at all these other outcomes that could have transpired?'”
It was an emotional project to put this together. I’m not going to lie. Angela and I had to do a lot of soul-searching ourselves when we partnered on this. Emmanuel Acho said it best in his Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man book when he said, “You have to look at what you’ve been fed.” You start to look at what you’ve been fed as an individual and you think about what other people have been fed and it gives you that moment of grace. However, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to say, “This happened to me when I was a kid I was fed those things,” or are you going to say, “I’m going to eat something else? I’m going to take in more information.” That’s what keeps coming back we’re all on a journey.
Angela, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s a DEI coach or facilitator out there that raises their hand and says, “I’m looking forward when everybody arrives to where I am because I have it all straightened out.” Before Sam goes, how did you experience that in your own DEI coaching program that you were in? Did you have a lot of individuals that were healing? I think I know the answer. I’m not trying to make it a leading question.
The question I’m hearing Wade is, what was that experience like? What I’d offer is that everybody came to the conversation wanting to do better in some capacity. Also, I think similar to me looking for rigor and research to put behind it so that when you get into conversations, how people feel is important and it’s also important to have the data behind it. Both have been useful conversations to have because the discussions and the conversation about the impact have been important in addition to the historical context and what’s true now in different parts of the world.When inviting people to get into important conversations such as DEI, always offer the right data behind it backed by rigor and research. Click To Tweet
I was struck by what you said there, Wade, about everybody coming from a different diet, what they were influenced by when they were being raised, or the culture that they were in. More and more now, we’re being brought together in a more globally diverse community. More than ever, we’re learning about other cultures and different types of people and their backgrounds.
What I want to point out is the importance of the medium of this journal and how it’s different and then other types of mediums that we’ve used in the past. Typically, companies say, “We need to educate our people about diversity, equity, and inclusion.” They think it was put on a workshop or maybe we’ll have some self-serve videos that they can watch or something like this.
Angela, I know you have deep expertise here. I’d love to hear your thoughts. The thing that the journal does in the visual representations of this and the cadence of revisiting this over time delivers a much more meaningful impact on making a true behavioral change in understanding what are their perceptions through our daily work lives and our lives in general. A lot of times, when we go to a class, we put on a hat. We’re going to learn for that period of time, and then we switch roles at other moments. We’re focused on other things and some of that goes to the wayside. What are your thoughts, Angela, on the importance of having this medium?
Sam, one of the things that you mentioned that struck a chord with me is the notion of putting on a hat in class and going in with a learner’s mindset in some capacity, but being open and willing to engage in the conversation. What pings for me with that is that this medium gives you the ability to do this concept of the use of self.
Yes, we all grow up in a variety of different environments with different factors and influences that shape our thinking and how we view the world. This medium gives me an opportunity to use my own self to increase my understanding of where those ideas come from and to pick those apart. I also think there’s a huge value in engaging in conversation.
Pair up with a friend. Have conversations with a friend about a particular quote, and that’s another way to do this but to take a minute to reflect back on, “Where does that thought come from? Where did I first have that idea, that notion, or that judgment? What’s the source of it? Where does it come from? Why do I believe that? Conversely, when was the first time I pushed back on that thought and why? Who encouraged me to think about that?
I was raised Catholic. I went to a Catholic university and I’ll never forget my junior year, for example. Dr. DeLaurentis is a professor who taught in the basement of the building and she taught the Origins of Christianity. That was the first time I started to ask questions about religion. I’m super grateful to her for that. It’s those kinds of things to start to click back through and to think through, “Where does that come from? Where did I start to ask questions? Where did I dig into what it means to be a part of any religion? What did that look like?” This medium can give you an opportunity to do that.
What do you think Wade? The talent and the skillset of graphic recording and how it’s being applied to business now are making things a lot more meaningful. It’s easier to learn, remember, and so forth. What impact can graphic recording have on the important topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Angela mentioned in this conversation that she did some coaching with me when we first met in the leadership development program that I was in. She taught me the value of holding space. That has different meanings to a lot of people, but to a coach, when you hear holding space, they are holding the space to make sure that whatever needs to be dealt with, discussed, or heavy is part of the conversation. What’s also great about working with the right people is it doesn’t have to stay in that particular form. You can hold space and move beyond.
Angela would probably be able to say that in a much more articulate way but I’ll tell you what happened in a workshop I was in. I was drawing for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and what does that acronym spell? JEDI. I’m drawing the concepts of what these folks are working through in their JEDI program and people kept wanting me to make Star Wars references and I refused. I said, “When you do that, you’re decreasing the meaning of what we’re trying to do for the people that are relying on us to change the outcomes for the people that are not feeling like they are getting the voice and the attention that they deserve, especially when you deduce it to a movie.”
As a graphic recorder, I’m drawing these concepts and helping to see what programs I have, but then I had to make sure that I avoided those topics on purpose in many ways. I didn’t want to take away from the space that was being held for those particular conversations because there are so many conversations we can have. One can be about Star Wars, but this one, this particular day was about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. I felt that it was important to make sure that I lived the values that I wanted to bring to it.
What was great is that everybody at the end of that workshop got one of these journals and now they can turn to page 62 and they can read this quote. “If the universe didn’t need you, you wouldn’t be here. Let’s talk about that as a group and we’ll see you on Thursday in our JEDI meeting.” There are so many opportunities now that go from listening. I’m a professional listener. I listen to groups for hundreds of hours a year. I hear what’s said, but I also hear what’s not said.
Angela and I have created something where people can go and say, “That whole JEDI thing was a great session, but I don’t want it to be about Star Wars either because I need the conversation to pause and be focused on the right things for that time.” In this journal, you can write about a lot of things, but what if you could write about the things that are elusive, have been difficult, or hard for you to remain focused on for a long time and change your mindset of the conversation? That’s something I try to do with my art.
I’ve also focused on flesh. As a White man, my whole life has been White man’s hands. How do I start to draw a different flesh tone? I’ve focused a huge amount of time on making sure that there’s representation. It’s very emotional when somebody comes to me from another cultural background and says, “I see myself in your chart. I’ve never seen myself before. No one’s ever drawn me before like that. Thank you.”
Some tears have slipped out between me and the participants because I took the time to learn that. Some people think I’m coloring it in to make it a variety, but I’m coloring it in because I know it matters now. I have Angela to thank for that because to reveal these things and what we’ve been taught in the way that we’ve been doesn’t have to be awful. You have to start.
That’s one of the reasons I’m glad I picked the right person to go through this experience with because I’m not a horrible human being because I didn’t know. I feel like a horrible human being if I know and I keep doing the thing that’s causing pain and discomfort again and again. Graphic recording is about listening for hours and then hoping that you might do something that is a ripple that causes the next wave.
When we tell stories and think back about all the injustices that have happened throughout history, it can be a pretty dark story. When we talk about these things in forums like this, in training sessions, or even in graphing and journals, there’s a balance to be struck there. We have to learn from history, but we also need to turn this into a positive discussion because a lot of people that are going to these trainings have felt injustices in the past. They have gone through the pain. It’s important not to wallow there. How do we take this conversation, learn from the past, and take a positive direction going forward so people are looking at this with a positive attitude?
I’ll jump in on this one, Sam. I’d like to respectfully push back on the notion of working to pivot this to a positive discussion only from the perspective that there are folks that have been hurt or harmed in the process. To Wade’s point as well, to the extent that we create space to have these conversations and to have dialogue. It may not always be positive and that’s okay.
There’s a phrase that keeps coming up for me that I heard from Irshad Manji. She’s an author. I attended a webinar that she hosted around diversity, equity, and inclusion. One of the phrases that she used that I think resonates with this particular conversation is this notion, “We can’t just switch jerseys if we want to change the game.” I don’t know if that resonates, but let me work a little bit more on connecting that.
It’s this notion that in order to make an actual change and to shift the dynamics in society and our systems, in our organizations, our teams, and our families, creating that space to engage in the conversation and to be willing to ask hard questions is not always going to feel like a positive experience necessarily. The outcome in retrospect can be a very positive experience. I want to join you back in that conversation to think through how we create those environments and conversations so that it creates the environment for healing and for understanding. Also, for simply a space to engage in the conversation and to understand a little bit more about the person, the groups, or the marginalized communities that we’re trying to learn more about.You must be willing to ask the hard questions if you want to make an actual change in society. Click To Tweet
What are some techniques that we can do to improve that level of safety to have those meaningful conversations?
Assume nothing would be my number one. It sounds very simple and maybe it’s a two-part. One is to not assume and two is to ask questions from a place of kindness and curiosity because I think that conveys. Asking a question when it comes from a deep desire to understand and from a kind place can go a long way.
That’s a fear that a lot of people have in their minds. They’re afraid to ask questions because they’re afraid of offense and how to dig in.
Let me join you on that too, Sam, and offer not to ask leading questions. Don’t ask the question with a period at the end of it. Again, the converse, don’t assume can be helpful. The format of the question being open-ended is important. “Help me understand what that’s like,” or even calling out, “My intention is not to offend. I want to understand. Can we have a conversation about this?” Also, leading with, “I’ve done some reading and research. Here’s what I believe to be true and I’d like to understand what your experience is like because it could be very different depending on where you grew up,” just like the lens we all bring to this conversation now. It varies by person.
One of the things Angela and I experienced together was a Trusted Advisor course taught by a woman named Andrea Howe. There’s this brilliant chapter in her journey about caveats. How you can use caveats to enter into these conversations or to make sure people know that this is something delicate or something that’s coming from a kind and curious perspective? Every time I talk to Angela, I feel I’m getting this repetition and how to enter into this environment in the right mindset and in the right way.
That’s something that I pledged I wanted to do for myself so that I wouldn’t avoid the environment, the question, or these things, but I could feel more comfortable over time. As you were talking Angela, I was thinking about repetitions where I hold the space. I’m more curious and coming from a kind perspective and even now, I still ask these leading questions, but how do I focus on the ways that I ask questions in these topics because I pause?
I’m going to compliment you here in our own show. You just have such a good way of making this go from a very daunting thing to a very manageable, “I can do it” thing. There’s nothing you said that makes me feel like I can’t participate, can’t have successes, or can’t make progress every single time I enter into something like this. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to partner with you on this and I’m so glad that you said yes.
I’d also say if you have to apologize, say I’m sorry and keep it short. Don’t elaborate.
We all have a problem with letting it all spill out and sometimes it spills too much. That’s great advice. In trying to initialize change in institutions, organizations, and companies, one of the places to start is with is leadership. When you engage with leaders and these projects for training and development around diversity, equity, inclusion, and so forth, what are some of the common problems that you see in ensuring that it gains hold?
I hear two questions there, Sam. If I miss anything, circle back. Wade, you’re also in these conversations so I want to make space for you as well. By and large, the notion that inequity exists is common knowledge in pockets where it’s talked about or it’s accepted. The research is there. There’s no shortage of it or lack of validity within it.
With regard to it taking hold, the biggest friction that I notice is the willingness to make changes. It is the willingness to pause in order to do the right thing, to make the right decision, or to wait for a hire that adds to a more diverse workforce. To make a little bit more investment of time in order to shift what an organization looks like or how it creates inclusive programs. Wade?The biggest friction among leaders is the willingness to make changes but linger to wait for the right time to make the right decision. Click To Tweet
I have a little sign on my head that says, “If you have this deep dark secret or you’re struggling with something, share it with me.” As a more sensitive male, that’s part of what I bring to the table when people engage with me. It’s happened throughout my life and career. What I find is when I talk to people, as Angela said, they don’t necessarily know where to begin and they sometimes make it a lot more complicated. They’re like, “Where do I start?” You could say, “There is a lot of research. There are a lot of programs. There are a lot of people that can help you,” versus feeling like it’s all on your shoulders.
What I try to do is spread hope. Hope is an action. What action could take right now that can help you? I have a dear friend who is shadowing a boss at an automation company and it was predominantly White males. He has done everything that could possibly be done to make it a more diverse organization. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, but it’s also been heavily laborious at times. He knows what he wants to do and what he has to do, but he has to change the culture and do other things at the same time.
Sometimes, I see two types of leaders. I see the ones that have given themselves permission to do something about it, and the ones that are paralyzed by the fear that they’re going to do something wrong and they never begin. There are other types of leaders, but the ones that I see most are two types. What I try to do with my art is to get people to feel like, “You don’t have to wait for somebody to come and help you. You can make a decision right now and do something amazing.”
It doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to have a pre-qualifier. It can be something great. That research and those programs are there. Those people are there that can help you. My fear a lot of times is people isolate themselves when they’re going through something difficult. They’re like, “I guess I’m the only leader who’s going through this. I’m the only company that’s going through this. I’m going to hold on tight to everything that’s comfortable versus opening up to everything that’s possible.”You don’t have to wait for somebody to come and help you. You can make a decision right now and do something amazing. It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Click To Tweet
It’s a very intimate conversation a lot of the time. You have to raise the levels of intimacy in order to find what Angela’s been talking about that those kind and curious questions on where you can start and how you can start to unpack them. Angela, what are your thoughts? As I’m trying to be charitable with what I’m hearing because what I told myself when I prepared for those conversations is I didn’t want to throw stones. I didn’t want to make it worse. I wanted to make it actionable. I wanted to make people feel that they could be part of something immediately if they wanted to. Not like they’ve done something wrong and they’re making it worse.
The only thing I’d add to that piece, Wade, is the whole concept of where to start can be helpful. Again, I know we’re referencing the journal and I’m not referencing the journal overly intentionally. It’s only to offer that working to identify examples or instances in life where you have been the other or you have not been within the majority group or you’ve been the only one in the room, no matter what that looks like for you.
If you can tap into what that experience is like, that is another avenue to open up yourself for the conversation to get an understanding of what someone else’s experience might be like. Even to start to imagine, and again, not to assume, but to maybe get curious and wonder what that experience is like. That again connects them to a bit more empathy with regard to anything. If someone is the only person in a room representing any number of things, whether they be a member of a marginalized community or a country that’s at war, getting an understanding of what it might feel like can help enter into the conversation.
This is fascinating when you’re talking about where to start. I have been reflecting on this dialogue because it’s interesting. I want to remind us all. Our society was extremely uncomfortable with these types of topics. Over the last many decades, we started utilizing humor to talk about these kinds of topics. I took a communication course about humor in one of my communication classes because humor is oftentimes things that are uncomfortable.
If you think about it, Eddie Murphy did Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood on Saturday Night Live. Archie Bunker talked about these issues on the comedy show, Movin’ On Up, and Golden Girls. Another movie called White Chicks and Shallow Hal dealt with obesity. Even the first openly gay character on TV was in 1982 in All My Children, which was the soap opera.
In my career, in the ’90s and 2000s, we were writing up people for joking about these types of topics. We were writing up people for making a joke or comedy because of the uncomfortableness of having these dialogues. HR implemented these DEI programs to train diversity and inclusion but what was missing was pulling all these individuals together and having an open, honest, and transparent dialogue. We can laugh a little bit, but it’s not using comedy to have these authentic and crucial conversations.
Going back to where Angela says where to start, we need to acknowledge that there’s a history in our culture where we struggled with where to start. We need to take an honest perspective of our own companies and cultures in companies where we were a decade ago because we could barely talk about it, write up people, or fire people for these things to now having these crucial conversations. That was my comment about where we start.
I was sitting here thinking about where to start and sometimes why you’re starting. Are you coming from a place of guilt or sometimes from a place of new understanding? Angela, when you were bringing up the point about starting quietly once you’ve had a chance to reflect. I had a lot of guilt when I started to unpack my White privilege and the things that I’ve benefited from my whole life when I finally found out that these things are not because I was wildly successful. In many cases, it was sometimes because of my disposition and where I began when I was born.
I started with a lot of guilt and fear that I wasn’t allowed to participate in the conversation because of that. That was one of the things that I’ve learned from Angela on ways I can participate where I don’t have to feel like I should be the quietest or that I shouldn’t have anything to say, but how do I participate? Having reflected, I can get a lot more out of that participation. Having been quiet about it first versus blurting out the things that may have not made progress helped in the past.
It’s very true in the boardroom as well as in many meetings. I feel that I also am a White woman, but unable to openly talk about it without being concerned about being rejected or perceived as not understanding. “You don’t understand. You have not been in my shoes. You have no right to speak.” It’s important to focus on how we create a culture that psychological safety and having these open and honest dialogues without consequence is a leader’s or an executive’s role to set the stage. Also, having professionals such as yourselves and Angela, facilitate that is very crucial in any organization so people are not afraid to openly talk about these very challenging discussions.
Companies have been talking about DEI initiatives now for years, but it feels like the needle hasn’t moved much in the course of that time. Any insight as to what’s going on and why things aren’t changing? I know it’s not like putting in a new benefits program overnight. It takes time, but it seems like to employ populations, companies aren’t moving fast enough or doing enough.
Howard, I’ll jump in with you on that. A systemic historical pattern is the short answer. As far as making it go faster, it requires that more individuals that are part of dominant groups show up and represent marginalized communities. By that, I don’t mean speaking for them, but I mean creating this space so that they too can show up in the conversation. They can join the conversation, the organization, the team, or the community group. That’s so much harder because we have so much historical context that is contrary to that.
I am not saying it’s impossible. Again, go back to that quote about changing the game as opposed to swapping jerseys. Char, to your point about psychological safety. It’s creating that environment and acknowledging too that for marginalized communities, for hundreds of thousands of years, psychological safety has been absent. When a marginalized community comes to a conversation where there’s a dominant community, there’s a power construct. It’s all very complicated. None of this is easy and it’s encouraging to see people showing up for the conversation.
A lot of what we talk about in our People’s Strategy Forums is how you create a psychologically safe environment for our talent and talent management strategies. As an HR professional myself in charge of some of these programs and partnering with my colleagues around DEI and etc., it was very complicated because we thought it was about the numbers of diverse hires, for example.
“We hired X number of hires,” but culturally, we never were moving the needle and creating the psychological safety to have these crucial discussions. Instead, we were disciplining people and making it hard for anyone to talk about it. That is a very interesting conversation about making it safe for people to discuss and that’s not always easy.
Also, representation matters. If you have a senior leadership team that doesn’t look like the rest of the world, then we have people in the organization that doesn’t see themselves in leadership and then we’re back in the whole cycle.
Those are the suits walking down the hall and behind the scenes. Many employees say, “The suits left,” but there’s no conversation with the suits. How do we open up that bridge of authenticity and communication? Even to a senior executive, you made this comment and I found it extremely offensive and quite frankly, I feel that in many of my colleagues. How do we coach each other and manage up?
I call it managing up to our senior leaders so that we can be brutally honest and say, “This culture is affecting us as a company. It’s affecting our productivity and ultimately, our survival as an organization.” I would tell you that in our society now, employees looking to work for companies expect companies that value diversity and inclusion. If that company can’t represent that, they’re going to go to another company. It’s a big part of the talent management strategy program.
I want to take a risk. I know this is shocking to a lot of you that have gotten to know me a little bit that I want to take a risk. In the journal workshops that I’ve done, I ask people to look at a quote and take a moment, reflect, and see where their head goes. I’m curious if we could practice what we’re talking about here now with journaling, look at a quote together, and maybe see where it takes us.
This quote is on page 30 of the journal and the quote is, “There are no birds in last year’s nest,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The people that are out there reading could think about what that means to them in regards to this conversation. A younger version of me would’ve said, “This is what it means to me.”
I am very curious to think, “Where does that quote take us when we hear there are no birds in last year’s nest after we’ve been talking about some of the challenges that we’ve encountered as individuals?” In some of the places where we’ve started and where we want to go, where does our head take us on DEI if we think about that? Maybe we can take 30 or 45 seconds and come up with something to honor this.
I would hope we think of this as a positive context because last year’s nest is not the same as this year’s nest. Every year, we create new nests. To me, as baby birds fly the nest, it means the baby birds have learned to fly. That’s career mobility, and if we are a positive organization, those baby birds are now flying. That’s one little thought I come up with. I’d be interested in what other people think.Last year’s nest is not the same as this year’s nest. Every year, we create new nests with new baby birds. A positive organization must help them learn how to fly. Click To Tweet
I was thinking about how your world is small when you’re young and there’s that comfort and perceived safety and security, but then as you grow up, you need to leave that nest, fly and expand your vision of what the world is. That’s where it was taking me.
My thoughts are that a nest is a spot that we consider a safe place. As we grow or expand, we create those new nests to what Char mentioned and a new safe place. The one that’s evolved has a new place for us to develop our families, cultures, and people.
We have some comments I wanted to be sure to share. Andre says that for him, it brings up to live your life, you have to realize our context is time, space, and relationships. Everything moves forward. Megan said, “It makes me think that even nature sees that balance requires new growth.” What I was thinking was when we hang on to the past, it doesn’t help us move forward. What was coming up for me? Wade, you were saying, “Do we come from this place of guilt?” That doesn’t necessarily help us if we’re still holding onto last year’s birds and last year’s nest.
I’m a grown man and I had to realize I’m a baby on some topics. I’m a baby bird in some of these conversations because I haven’t spent enough time or I don’t have enough life experience. I haven’t been marginalized for very long, so I feel a lot younger versus older and wiser in certain topics. I was humbled by that thought of where I would be in nature. If I consider myself small enough to be in that nest as a baby bird, that was what my thoughts were. Can we put you on the spot, Jules? Are we allowed to ask you? Is that all right? Am I breaking all the rules?
Of course, but I’m like Wendy. I’m like, “You guys covered it so well,” but I was also thinking leaving that nest is also taking that leap of faith to expand. It was coming back to what Sam said about safety. You have the safety of your nest, but by leaving that nest, you are taking that leap of faith. You have maybe no idea what’s out there in the world, but you are willing to explore it. That can also be applied to so many areas of life, career, and relationships. That’s my two cents.
Thank you, Wade, for that wonderful example of how we can use art and a journal like that to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion in this type of environment in a safe and very productive way. I’d love to hear a little bit more about these workshops you mentioned going through this process. What does that look like?
The journal workshops are as simple as getting together and sharing how we created these things, why we created them, and a lot of what we’ve talked about in this episode. However, it’s getting the repetitions in on what it’s like when you reflect. It’s allowing there to be silence in the room. Angela can attest to that. As a facilitator, when you ask a question, you let people sit there for seven minutes and think about it.
It feels like an eternity after COVID because we’re so used to this immediate response in these virtual environments. The journal workshops are designed to give people a chance to reflect and start to see their potential. You look at the progress we made. We all had something happen and all we did was look at one quote. To me, it’s starting that momentum. Angela?
I agree. Again, I feel like we’re a little bit full circle to the point of starting, trying, and giving it a go. The larger conversation around what a workshop can look like can also vary depending on who we’re working with. It can be an hour or a week. It’s an interesting conversation, Sam, on what this looks like. I think too, in some capacity, it often depends on the group in front of us to determine what is a good fit.
This is going to sound random. My experience, at least to date, of teachers is that they are very heart-based. I can drop into a conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we can go deep fast. Again, these are generalizations and I am not attempting to stereotype. I’m simply speaking about my experience with different groups. I’ll share the next story and then I’m going to add to it what I concluded.
I’ve worked in a room of engineers, and we may not get as deep as quickly, but we’ll get there. How we get there looks very different. I had a participant in one of the programs that I worked with Wade who approached me. He is a deep and excellent engineer. He came up to me on one of the first days of class and said, “My wife says I need to work on empathy. Are we going to talk about that?” “We’ll talk about that. We’ll get there.” Again, how we get to the conversation can look very different depending on the group. With that type of group, it may be more of a step-by-step process. It would be with teachers where we may start speaking about their experience first. It varies.
I know that’s not a baked response, Sam, to the question. In my mind, connects strongly to the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion in that we’re meeting the group or the person where they are, as opposed to starting with something that comes straight off the shelf and says, “Here, do this.” It’s more of getting a better understanding of where that client sits and what their challenges are to engage in the conversation and move from that point as opposed to wherever I am or wherever Wade is that day.
Angela and I would enter the room with elements of things that are possible. It is a very improvisational opportunity because if you scripted it, you’d miss out on a lot of things but if you say, “Where does a group need to go? How can we help them get there?” There are so many different possibilities with journaling that you’re basically finding a way to help them start. They’re all going to find a different reason. They’re all going to keep going for their own reason and that’s the beauty of it.
The people that come back to me with thoughts in their journals are no joke. These people have gone through the wilderness. They have wrestled with some things. It’s neat to see. However, the people that have the journal and haven’t filled it will start when they’re ready. There’s no right or wrong answer. They’re starting.
I know a lot of our readers are wondering, “How can I learn more? How can I contact Wade and utilize those artistic benefits on our next meeting or offsite? Angela, how can people get ahold of you and learn more about this topic?
I’m on LinkedIn. Find me. I can be reached on LinkedIn.
What about you Wade?
Angela and I made a conscious choice to print this locally. We self-published with a small company called Trembling Giant here in Maryland. They have been wonderful at helping us get this out into the world. We get this out into the world. We get to sign them as often as we can. I know Wendy has some signed copies and Sam, you were gracious enough to share this with your clients.
Angela and I love what we do. I can be reached on LinkedIn as well. I’m very active there. I do post a little time-lapse video every single weekday on LinkedIn when I’m not doing workshops to let people have a little glimpse into the process to be still, to take a moment, and take a deep breath. This is a process and I started to draw these little quotes. A lot of little things add up to something great.A lot of little things add up to something great. Click To Tweet
When I draw for the workshops, I am inserting hope wherever I go because I think it’s an action. It’s something that we have to do a little bit of each day so that we get used to it but it does start to feel good over time. You have to put yourself out there. On Instagram, I do the same thing. They’re shorter reels because of the algorithms. LinkedIn to me is where I’m most active. I write my reflections. This has been great. I’m thrilled with this panel and how interactive and how thoughtful you are. You make this such an easy format to participate in. Thank you again for hosting.
I love having both of you Wade and Angela. It’s such an important topic and I love to highlight the important medium. I love the fact that this is art mindfulness. We’re reflecting on this important topic because that’s where it makes all the difference in making this stick. It’s making people have behavior changes. Thank you so much both you, Wade and Angela, for putting this together and sharing it with the world.
Thank you very much. We appreciate you.
We’ll see you, everyone, on next week’s episode. Take care.
Wade Forbes is the Co-Founder and Owner of Red Tale Communications, which he founded in February 2020 to help people tell their stories through visuals and narration.
If you are in the same meetings repeatedly or stuck in a project that lacks the creative influence and flows you desire, contact Wade to hear more about how he can help. Throughout Wade’s life, he has always found that he would remember pictures better than words alone.
Now Wade spends his days bringing conversations to life and creating art for clients of all kinds.
Angela is an adjunct faculty for AU with 16+ years of success through work in talent development, corporate and executive education, as an ICF Certified Coach, and as a Division I rowing coach.
She is also an executive coach and consultant with experience in global organizations, leveraging skills in operations, diversity and inclusion, executive coaching, facilitation, and program design.
She has consulted to a variety of industries, including gaming and entertainment, start-ups, defense and aerospace, healthcare, international finance, education, and government.