Diversity & Inclusion

Our committee is responsible for championing initiatives throughout the Raymond A. Mason School of Business that are both diverse and inclusive to students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators, and partner organizations.

D&I Committee Goals

Our goals are to:

  1. Actively nurture an environment of diversity and inclusiveness where every individual is embraced, respected, and afforded the same opportunity to grow, to succeed, and to contribute to the Mason School's success.
  2. Actively engage with communities within the Mason School to promote educational efforts related to differences in race, religion, gender, ethnic origin, age, socioeconomic status, political preferences, physical abilities, sexual identity, and sexual orientation.
  3. Foster the individual's desire to lead a life of Principled Achievement within and external to the Mason School which includes a personal respect for diverse communities as well as an understanding of inclusiveness as it relates to the greater-Business community.
Principles of Community

We believe that in order to uphold the mission, vision and goals of the Mason School, it is our collective responsibility to create and foster an environment that is inclusive and respectful for all. As global citizens, we encourage everyone within the Mason School community to embrace our values which at the individual level demonstrates

  • Respect and responsibility for self and others
  • A spirit of generosity
  • A life dedicated to inquisitive learning and development
  • An acknowledgment that an individual's own words, actions, and relationships show a commitment to these values
Diversity & Inclusion at the Mason School

Diversity & Inclusion at the Mason School is not limited to the activities of our committee. Every day, our students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators, and partners are actively engaged in a range of initiatives that help our community grow, strengthen relationships, and better understand one another.

Explore our gallery to learn more about these efforts.

Diversity Goes To Work Podcast
 Sacha Thompson
Sacha ThompsonEpisode 23: September 12, 2022
Where's the Justice?

Sacha Thompson

Episode 23: September 12, 2022

Where's the Justice?

Today on the show, we welcome Sacha Thompson, founder of The Equity Equation, LLC, a diversity coaching and consulting firm based in the DC area. With nearly 20 years experience within education, nonprofits, and tech, Sacha has seen up close and personal the challenges executives face when they have good intentions, but don't fully know how to turn those intentions into good action in the diversity and inclusion space. She helps the executives and leaders have the important dialogue they need to have and coaches them towards the necessary long-term changes they need to make to develop a culture of inclusion and equality.

Podcast (audio)

Sacha Thompson: Where's the Justice? TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Podcast (platforms)

iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Amazon Music/Audible | Spotify | Google Podcasts

Show Notes
Show Notes
  • What it means to help organizations curate a culture of inclusion
  • The challenges involved with being a DEI coach during a culturally turbulent season
  • How to start difficult conversations without reinforcing trauma
  • The important difference between being a white savior and connecting on a human level
  • Why it's imperative to be mindful of social context when doing DEI work
  • What is the role of social justice in the context of organizational DEI work
  • How should DEI practitioners include social awareness into their strategy
  • The best way to offer socially relevant programming that's not traumatic or exploitative
  • How to hold organizations accountable to not co-opt significant cultural and social moments
Transcript

Sacha Thompson

What are these communities saying within your organization? Are you listening to them and their experiences?

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun. Welcome, listeners, to another episode of Diversity Goes to Work. Today, our featured guest is Sacha Thompson, who is the founder of the Equity Equation, LLC, a diversity coaching and consulting firm based in the DC area. With nearly 20 years of experience within education, and nonprofits, and tech, Sasha has seen up close and personal the challenges that executives face when they have good intentions but don't fully know how to turn those intentions into good action in the diversity and inclusion space. She helps executives and leaders have the important dialogue they need to have and coaches them towards the necessary long-term changes they need to make to develop a culture of inclusion and inequality. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Soul, Business Insider, the New York Times, and Bianchi is also the host of a dynamic series called DEI after Five that you have to check out.

Phil Wagner

Sacha, my friend, thank you for joining us today. It's always a pleasure to speak with you. I've been looking forward to this conversation for some time.

Sacha Thompson

Thank you, Phil, so much for having me. I'm super excited as well to be here.

Phil Wagner

All right, so before we get started, I've tried to give an appropriate bio, but you're one of the people I really struggle to, like, bring your bio in. You do so much. So anything you want to clarify? Can you tell our listeners maybe a little bit more about who you are, what you do, how you got there?

Sacha Thompson

Yeah. So right now, I have been calling myself the Inclusion Culture Curator. Right. And so what that is, is how do you help organizations curate a culture of inclusion? What does that look like? And so helping managers and leaders talk about psychological safety and make changes, small changes for themselves as people leaders, so that their employees feel that they're valued, seen, heard, and connected. Right. That's the work that I do. That's what I love doing.

Phil Wagner

I love that curated language, too, because it really shows the role that a consultant, I think, probably should play. Right. To come in and help move the pieces, but allow the pieces to shine, allow the culture to shine. If you're scared to work with a consultant, maybe don't. They're not going to come in and rewrite your whole organization. They're going to come in and help you arrange the pieces for maximum effectiveness. So I love what you do. Clearly a fan here. All right. So I know you. We've had some tough conversations in the past or conversations on tough things, and I'm hoping we can do that here today, too.

Sacha Thompson

Of course.

Phil Wagner

What I'm hoping we can talk about today is just the ongoing social context we find ourselves living in and doing DEI work in. So we're recording this right at the beginning of fall 22. The summer season has been a little bit nuts. It's been a social whirlwind, right? I mean, since the start of the year, gosh, we've got the war raging in Ukraine. There have been mass shootings carried out in the places we thought to be most safe, like the grocery store or Independence Day parades. The economy grew, then shrunk, then grew, then roared, then dove. Prices are through the roof. And then, like, sort of small little footnote. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and sort of changed the whole landscape of the nation as we've known it for decades. So kind of a lot going on, right?

Sacha Thompson

Yeah.

Phil Wagner

Perhaps it might be really helpful to park our conversations there. I don't think we ask each other enough, like, how you doing, but with all, that's going on, as a DEI coach, how do you grapple with the onslaught of just these dynamic events as they play out, these tragic events? What does that mean for you, your work, your self-care, and how you see your work as a DEI consultant?

Sacha Thompson

Yeah, I love that question. I think part of the challenge right now is something that we actually started seeing in 2020. For so long, corporations, organizations have left kind of the social stuff outside the door. Right. Once you come to work, you come into work. You make your widgets. You do whatever it is that you do that has all changed. And on top of that, what you didn't mention was, we're still in a pandemic.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. It's not over. We're getting there. We think it's over. But we've been there, too. Right? We know. Is there ever a post-COVID era? I know, I know.

Sacha Thompson

Right. So it's like this kind of new normal of there's a blurred line between what happens outside of those walls and what happens inside of those walls. And so what I've been doing a lot of work with, particularly with people managers, has been, how do we grapple with hybrid workplace? People have different expectations. There's all this conversation around the great resignation or quiet quitting.

Phil Wagner

Quiet quitting. Right.

Sacha Thompson

Quiet quitting has been going on for years, but that's a whole other conversation. And so, how do you prepare to have some of those conversations? Right? And so I had a conversation with a VP the other day, and he's like, okay, I have an employee who's moving to this part of the country, and I'm trying to think through everything. I'm trying to be proactive and set up all of these things. And I asked him, what have you asked her what does she need? And he was like. I hadn't thought about that. And so it's those little things that companies and organizations need to do with everything that's going on. With the shooting in Buffalo, there were so many folks that didn't even know how to have that conversation,

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

and so they didn't say anything. Right. And then the impact of that is, well, my company doesn't care, my manager doesn't care, my leader who says they care didn't even check on me. They don't care. And so it's one simple thing that you can do is say, I don't know what to say.

Phil Wagner

 Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

But all I can do is ask, how can I help you? How can I support you right now?

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I'm with you. Right. We have this idea, like, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. And so when those uncomfortable things play out, we're like, Haha. This is a negative space, a hard space, a potentially traumatic space. A space I don't understand because of my skin color, my lived background. Don't not say anything. Right. Say something. Open the conversation. Even if that sort of puts it into a vulnerable space to say, I don't really know how to support you right now. How can I support you right now? What do you need? I think that's such a simple question. If we just ask that, my gosh, how quickly could we change some organizational cultures that need shifting?

Sacha Thompson

Absolutely. One of the things that I often say is, just because we're in the same space at the same time doesn't mean that we got here at the same way.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Sacha Thompson

So just don't assume that people have the same journey. People are experiencing the same things. Because it may not impact you directly doesn't mean it's not impacting others, and vice versa. You might be very impacted as a manager about something that's going on, and your expectation is everyone should have the same angst that you do.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

And so it's how do you tie into the individuality of who we are?

Phil Wagner

Let's talk about that if you don't mind. So okay, let's go back to Buffalo. When Buffalo happened, I immediately reached out to sort of my circle of friends, people of color and had that sort of awkward conversation. And yet even I, as a DEI person, an inclusion-minded person, like, am I reinforcing trauma here? Right? Should I? And so I tried to do that, but I think there are some conflictions that also come from a good space. Right. I don't want to reinforce trauma. I don't want to tokenize you. And so not knowing your role, I think, can sometimes be confusing. Have you found best practices for when social events play out that impact historically underrepresented, minoritized, or exploited group? How do we reach out in ways that is supportive but doesn't reinforce trauma in that moment?

Sacha Thompson

Right. It's about opening the door, not forcing that door open.

Phil Wagner

That's good.

Sacha Thompson

Right. And so let me know how I can help because, in that way, I'm not forcing myself onto you. I'm just saying. I'm here if you need that support. I'm here. I may not know all the answers, but we can talk through that.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right. And so, again, it's the framing of that question and your intent behind asking it.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right. Because if your intention is just to say, yes, I asked.

Phil Wagner

I did it.

Sacha Thompson

I'm good.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Sacha Thompson

That comes across right. But if you genuinely care, you're not going to continue to push. You're not going to

Phil Wagner

I love that.

Sacha Thompson

continue to retraumatize people. Right. If you need support, if you need help, let me know. I'm here.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. It's an invitation. You don't have to RSVP if you don't want to. Totally.

Sacha Thompson

Exactly.

Phil Wagner

But I think it's that gentle, gracious place and doing it to people that you have a relationship with, so it doesn't seem exploitational or look at me. I'm the white savior. I feel good because I reached out. Right. No, we have a relationship. We're in covenant with each other. It's my duty. If something happened in your personal life, it's my duty as a friend, as a comrade, to come along and make sure you're okay. And I think that applies here, too.

Sacha Thompson

Phil, I think you just touched on something that is such a critical piece of this. And one of the things that I struggle, not that I struggle with, that a lot of my clients struggle with in trying to become more inclusive leaders, it's how do I connect with people at a human level.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right. Which requires trust, which requires time, and patience, which requires all of these things. But we're working in a world that is constantly on caffeine, that's constantly going. And so how do you step back and take that time to get to know someone so that when these tragedies happen, you can have that conversation or even know, oh, this is something that may be important to this person. Let me reach out.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I think that's so good. And those relationships, everything I do, I think comes back to relationship. I think that that's just a core foundation of effective communication and effective DEI work and certainly factors in here.

Sacha Thompson

Absolutely.

Phil Wagner

Sacha, you and I have talked quite at length about how DEI work is often regarded as something that sort of exists in a silo. You and I know that the best DEI work is socially informed DEI work. We've talked about this. We have to look at what's going on and infuse those current events or what's happening in the world around us into our work. Why do you think it is so important to be mindful of social context when we're doing DEI work, be it consulting or leading an ERG or just being about the business of inclusion-oriented leadership? Why do we have to have our eye on what's going on around us in society?

Sacha Thompson

Because that's what changes this work.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right. It's ever-evolving. It's ever-changing. And so, as someone that's in this space, you have to be aware. You have to be tied into kind of the social implications of this. So you mentioned Roe v. Wade, right? For so many organizations, they immediately said, oh, we're going to create travel reimbursement for anyone that they went through, and which was great. But I'm like, what are some other layers to this? Right? How is your EAP set up? Are you prepared? Do you have a system in place that has providers that can help support people? Because that's a level of trauma as well, too, to have to make some of those decisions? Are you talking about childcare options as a part of your benefits package? They said the number of vasectomies request or interest in vasectomies skyrocketed during that time. Right. So what are you doing to support the men in your organization that may be thinking about those things? So it's that's the impact as a DEI practitioner. It's understanding how what's happening in the world impacts the corporate space and vice versa.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right. And so being aware, being knowledgeable, it's not just about, let's talk about what does LGBTQ mean? Let's go beyond that. Right. What are the challenges that that community has that's impacted by your policies, your processes, all of those things?

Phil Wagner

Right because are you tired of doing the education that Google could do for you? Right.

Sacha Thompson

I don't do any.

Phil Wagner

Good, but often DEI practitioners are called in to do just the basic ABCs, sometimes quite literally. And that matters. We need an awareness. But you have a world of information at your fingertips. And so I think it's so important to go beyond that. It's something you said to really makes me think. I think a lot of people who are just getting their foot in the door and trying to increase the profile of their awareness around DEI work think this is stuff just like maybe for the West Coast, right? Like liberal woke hubs. Walmart has expanded their coverage for abortion access. I don't know of any more telling tale of how this impacts everybody everywhere. Every industry This isn't about woke-washing corporate America. These are realities. The social events are shaping organizational cultures, organizational structures. And so I think that's an important footnote as well. There's been a lot of buzz in our circles, in the DEI leadership circle. In some online spaces, people like us, you and me, are trying to draw a line between DEI and then that DEIJ, that justice works, saying the DEI work within organizations is just for organizations. There is no justice outcome. There is no sort of social mindedness here. Do you see it that way? How do you see justice or social justice in the context of organizational DEI work?

Sacha Thompson

For me, it falls under equity, which is an aspect of DEI that is very rarely talked about or discussed. What is equity? It's creating or providing opportunities for people by giving them what they need in order to succeed. Right. So how do you remove barriers or provide access? That's what justice is, right? How are you removing barriers? How are you creating access? How are you righting wrongs in your processes, policies, and procedures, right? So when I saw some of that conversation happening, I think what it did was it forced us to really look at why are we doing this work.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Are you doing this work just to say this is diversity and inclusion, or are you trying to move the needle and start to dismantle inequitable systems? Now, I think what's interesting is the language that's used is always up for different debate and conversation, right? If I go into an organization and say, I want to come in here and disrupt your systems of inequity, dismantle them and rebuild, they're going to look at me like I'm crazy, right? But if I say I want to help you create a culture of inclusion where everyone feels that they are valued, seen, heard, and connected. Everyone's like, oh yeah, I want that, right? Like, that's great. It's the same thing. And so it's funny. I call it sneaking in the vegetables.

Phil Wagner

I like that. Oh yeah, that resonates with me. I have kids. I get that.

Sacha Thompson

Right? So how do you do this work? What is the impact that you're trying to create? So justice is a part of that, but you can block off so many people just by that word. Even diversity, equity, and inclusion closes down so many doors, right? So it's like, okay, I'm not going to talk about that, but what is it that you want in the long run? Right? What are the results? And so the results of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, accessibility, belonging, all of those things, that's what we should be really focused on rather than what letters we're trying to support.

Phil Wagner

Terms change, understandings change. I love how you cut right down the middle there, and I think that's such a balanced approach in the larger conversations. Like you, I am nervous when we take justice completely out of the picture. And I love how you wrap it up in some of the other letters of the acronym that exist. Because if we take it out completely, this is just a compliance model, right?

Sacha Thompson

Yup.

Phil Wagner

That doesn't do anything for really anybody.

Sacha Thompson

It's checking a box.

Phil Wagner

It's checking a box, and that has its place. Or we need some boxes checked for our safety, for our wellbeing, but that is not enough. So I really appreciate your clarity here. Talk to me a little bit about how we make sort of a social awareness embedded into our DEI work, like, how might DEI practitioners build this sense of social awareness or pull on current events or what's going on outside in the world around us and slow bake it into a higher level DEI strategy?

Sacha Thompson

I think it helps you shape your policies, right? It helps you have conversations around accountability. It helps you think about, okay, what kind of culture do we want to create here? Right? So, for example, several years ago, there was the incident, the Starbucks incident, where the two guys were working, and I was working in an organization where they love to use that example of microaggressions. And then the director did a very similar thing to me where I was doing my job. She didn't like it, so she reported me to the head of HR. And so I'm like, okay, let's think about how this looks, right? Because you could regurgitate. This is what happened at Starbucks with the actual impact of how it shows up day to day. Those are the conversations that we need to have, right? Yes, this happened, but how do we mirror this in our organization? What does that look like? And if we are doing these things, how do we start to dismantle what that looks like?

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right? And so it's how do we start having conversations? How do we not escalate things to a higher authority without having conversation? Because then that creates a hostile work environment. How do you then hold people accountable for those types of actions as well too? And so, what's that policy look like for accountability? So it's really taking what happens in the world around us and bringing it into what does this look like in the corporate space? What does this look like within our organization? And how can we start to create rules, policies, procedures, accountability so that this is not what we're dealing with?

Phil Wagner

And you brought it all the way full circle there. You brought it all the way back to relationships yet again.

Sacha Thompson

Yeah.

Phil Wagner

So that when those accountability conversations, those tough moments, those let, you know, you drop the ball here happens that we are in community. It's on me to sort of guide you and on you to guide me. And I don't need to escalate because we've built our foundation on relationships. And that's a stronger foundation, I think too.

Sacha Thompson

Absolutely.

Phil Wagner

What about at a programmatic level? So how do we do programming in the D&I space? I'm thinking like L and D work without feeling exploitative. I'll give an example. I was teaching, oh my gosh, it was last summer, I think, on communicating with racial skeptics, like working with people who don't believe racism exists. Right. I teach in the communication and DEI space. And that played out at the exact same time that the shootings in Buffalo happened. And feelings were so raw. And we created time and space to talk about it, but also factored heavily into our content. And I was like, okay, I don't want to reinforce trauma on my black and brown students in this moment, but I can't ignore it. So what standards of maybe the word is like etiquette or propriety, like being proper about how to talk about current tough events while recognizing feelings are raw, emotions are high, these are painful, traumatic events. Do you have any insights on how we can offer programming that's socially relevant but not traumatic or exploitative?

Sacha Thompson

I think there is a process. I would call it not necessarily a process called caucusing. And what I have seen happen in those situations is you caucus. You separate people by their identity and have conversations because then now you're creating, let's say. We'll do this around race, right? So you'll have a group for your white students, a group for your students of color, or even more specifically, your black students, your Latino students, your Asian students, right, depending on your numbers. And you allow them to caucus within the safe space of that community around how can we bring this together? Right? What are the questions that you want to ask? What is it that you think the other groups need to know? Right? And so you allow them space to sometimes even just cry together. Sometimes it's just commune. Or I've been thinking this is somebody else thinking this, giving them that sense. But then it's like, okay, what questions do you have of your white classmates? Right? And then you facilitate that conversation.

Phil Wagner

So I have a question here because this comes up often when we see social events play out that reinforce some aspect of trauma in the D&I space. We often hold a variety of different things. There are sort of spaces where people of like-mindedness can come together. And we often make it a commitment to build spaces for any instance of Buffalo specifically. Since we've used that example of, like, if we're all on zoom, let's create a zoom room for particularly black students particularly. But black and brown folks to be in that space in and of their own accord without white people present. But then also, like you mentioned, bring people together. Can you speak to the importance of those sort of identity affinity safe spaces where you are with other folks of that identity and have the opportunity to safely discuss and group and organize and what that does for sort of then when we bring the whole group together? Because I think some skeptics might be like, aren't we sort of reinforcing segregation here? But those spaces really matter for safety, a psychological safety. Can you speak to that as a DEI practitioner?

Sacha Thompson

Absolutely. And I actually have a client where I'm a university that I'm doing this for now. One so many people from marginalized communities often feel that they're the only right? They may be the only on their team. And so, by creating these spaces, what starts to happen is they realize I'm not the only one experiencing this. I'm not in this by myself. And they start to share, build relationship, build community amongst themselves to realize, okay, this isn't just me. Right? And there's a sense of levity that comes with that, like a sense of freedom that comes with that, okay, this isn't in my mind. This isn't me thinking all of these thoughts. The other part is you start to see patterns. You start to understand, okay, this has happened to you. This has happened to you all from the same person or all from the same group. There's a problem here, right? So you can start to identify that. But then there's also the sense of empowerment that comes about from those groups too. Because now it's like when I go back, and I'm the only I know that this group has my back. I know that this is a safe space for me to share and to be able to brainstorm, and think. But it takes time for that group to build that trust and that psychological safety as well too. So there's definitely a need for it. But I also want to be cautious, and when organizations create these spaces, don't make that a check box and like, yes, we created this affinity group for this organization over here, so we're good.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, all good. Done.

Sacha Thompson

Right. But now think about it as not only have you created that space, but that's now on top of the job that they were hired to do.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Sacha Thompson

So this is an additional time that they have to deal with stuff and they are all pointing out the problem is with the other group who's going on with their merry way. Right? And so, how do you balance that out? Where you're getting learnings from this affinity group that can then help educate the other group so that we're not back in the space again.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, and that's where sponsorship can really come into right. Something like ERGs and create that conduit, create that bridge so that what happens in that space doesn't start and stop in that space, but it informs policies, procedures, actions, cultures. I think that's so important.

Sacha Thompson

Exactly.

Phil Wagner

Sort of bigger finalish question. I never want to stop talking to you, as you know, but I want to go back to our point on exploitation earlier because I think that's a real concern. And you and I have also talked about how corporations often swoop in on the heels of a significant cultural moment and co-op the messaging and use it to pat themselves on the back. So every time some act of police violence is committed against a black or brown individual, a tweet goes up. Right. We know that Instagram goes full-out rainbow for Pride Month. And when Roe v. Wade was overturned, organizations were tripping over themselves to show how woke they were in, quote-unquote, supporting women in a way that really just sort of looked good and patted themselves on the back. You and I have talked about this. Not all of that movement, while it looked good, was actually good in the end. So as DEI practitioners, like how do you call people on it? How do you hold organizations accountable to not coopt significant social moments but to actually work towards meaningful change?

Sacha Thompson

I think it's what's been happening, right? It's we see these commercialization of

Phil Wagner

Yeah, that's a good word.

Sacha Thompson

pain that's been happening so often, and it takes social media to call it out. I continue to call it out, but I also think it takes having the right people at the table making those decisions. And so one of the things that I realized, or one of the things that I recognized recently, I think it was around Juneteenth, there was the whole debacle with the Juneteenth ice cream. Right. There was a great opportunity for Walmart to do the right thing by highlighting black companies that were selling the same ice cream. How do you highlight and support those companies rather than try to capitalize on it? And so I think that that's this next level of understanding for a lot of these companies is continue to be called out on social media until you get it right.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

And getting it right is ensuring that the work that is being done is going to positively support and impact the communities that you are trying you supposedly are supporting.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right. So how are you bringing in for Pride Month? What are you doing other than going to a Pride parade? How are you supporting some of the organizations that are really helping those communities?

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right. Beyond Pride Month and not just in that month? Like, how are you doing it 365 days of the year, right? How are you supporting Asian Americans outside of Asian American Pacific Islander month?

Phil Wagner

Or when something happens? Right. I think, like, after the Spa shooting, we saw so much organizing in ways that I don't think organizations had seen the collective power of AAPI folks that now realize, oh, wait a minute, we have dropped the ball. Right. Like, these are valuable people, part of a very valuable invest community. And so those social moments, while painful, can also open up for a moment of realization and self-reflection. And I mean, look at the organizing that has come out of that too.

Sacha Thompson

Well, but I think it also speaks to these are communities that I have been yelling and screaming for years.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Sacha Thompson

Right. And it's like, now you're listening.

Phil Wagner

Now you're listening. Why? Because you have to.

Sacha Thompson

Right. But in you listening, listen to understand rather than listening to respond. And that's what we tell individuals. That's one on one communication. But from an organizational level, it's, what are these communities saying within your organization?

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Are you listening to them and their experiences? And that is on their way out the door. If they're saying that they're dealing with discrimination or harassment or microaggressions, don't just say, okay, yes, they're gone because others within that community that are still there are impacted by that too.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Sacha Thompson

Right. And so, how are you dealing with those types of things? And so, yes, I think there's this opportunity to take these social things that are happening outside, but really do some hard work with DEI across other departments because that's the other piece. It shouldn't just sit in DEI.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. Right.

Sacha Thompson

Across other departments, so that it impacts everyone.

Phil Wagner

So the recipe or model I'm hearing here is when that stuff happens. See it as an opportunity to step back, reflect, listen, hear what your employees need and want. Move forward towards action that is sustainable, beyond that passing social moment, and bake it into policies and procedures so that it's not just a response for a one-off but create systemic change. Is this our working model here today?

Sacha Thompson

Yes and.

Phil Wagner

Yes and, all right. Give me the and.

Sacha Thompson

Yes, and be proactive.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. So that you're not just waiting for those moments to happen.

Sacha Thompson

So that you're not just reacting in those moments. Right.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, that is so good. Proactive, not reactive.

Sacha Thompson

Take the information that you've been given for however long your company has been around, right? And start to think about what can we do now, proactively, so that when something happens.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Sacha Thompson

We're already prepared, and our employees know that we're coming from a good place.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. You've got the infrastructure in place because these events just copy and paste of each other, right? Unfortunately, but, like, systemic violence against black and brown folks, that's not a one-off. That will happen again. So do you have the infrastructure in place so that your response is meaningful and helpful and effective, and truly supportive? I really appreciate that, Sasha. I think that's a really good takeaway to build that ahead of those moments.

Sacha Thompson

Yeah.

Phil Wagner

All right, final final question, I promise. This one is so easy. Like, if our listeners can't tell already, you are a wealth of knowledge and just an incredible person doing incredible things.

Sacha Thompson

Thank you.

Phil Wagner

Tell our listeners how they can support you, find you, maybe share a little bit more about DEI After Five and all the exciting things you have ahead. How can we support you?

Sacha Thompson

Yeah. So you can always follow me on LinkedIn. Sacha Thompson. Pretty easy to find there. You can look up the equity equation; www.equityequationllc.com is my website. You can find me on Instagram as well. I'm all over the socials. I'm all over those things. DEI After Five is my podcast where we have conversations like this. Where we talk about the intersection of business and DEI. We talk about different aspects of the industry, the DEI industry. I like to talk about the things in the corner, and I'm like in the corner. Let's talk about those things. And where I bring on different practitioners. I also talk a lot about self-care and wellness. And so I have therapists on that talked about burnout and stress and all of those types of things, because that's a part of this work that we often forget about and we don't talk about enough. I do Feel your Cup Fridays, where it's everything is we talk about what do you do to take care of yourself. And I'm announcing it here first.

Phil Wagner

Oh, okay. I'm excited about this.

Sacha Thompson

I am coming out very soon with a 60-day journal of self-care for DEI practitioners.

Phil Wagner

So needed. We talk about those themes on nearly every single episode. So self, guided 60-day journal.

Sacha Thompson

60-Day Journal. So I have coaching questions in there. It helps you tap into emotional intelligence as well, too, but it really is focused on DEI practitioners and how you show up. It takes less than 10 minutes a day.

Phil Wagner

That's awesome.

Sacha Thompson

To do that, because I want people to be very intentional with how they take care of themselves. So every day is a different thing that you can do, and then from that, you just kind of start your day and do some reflection.

Phil Wagner

When does it drop? Where do we get it?

Sacha Thompson

So you will be able to get it off of my website. It will be dropping hopefully the end of October.

Phil Wagner

Awesome.

Sacha Thompson

So I'll be pushing out all the things on social again for that. But yeah, I'm really excited about that. And it will come out just in time for the holidays so if people are doing holiday shopping.

Phil Wagner

There you go.

Sacha Thompson

Perfect gift for your favorite DEI practitioner or your teams.

Phil Wagner

There you go.

Sacha Thompson

So, yeah, I'm really excited about it.

Phil Wagner

Listeners, please definitely go support Sacha. If you're in the DMV area, certainly look her up too. She speaks to our students up there. She's a wonderful person, doing great things. So definitely check out DEI After Five. Sacha, my friend. Oh, my gosh. Always a pleasure to speak with you, but thank you for joining me today to talk about some of the tougher things, the things in the corner, as you say. I really appreciate your time and all that you do for the DEI industry and who you are as a person.

Sacha Thompson

Thank you so much for having me. This was wonderful. Looking forward to continuing to work with you.

Phil Wagner

Many more conversations ahead.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives is here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Todd Mooradian
Todd MooradianEpisode 22: August 29, 2022
Beyond the Business Case for DEI

Todd Mooradian

Episode 22: August 29, 2022

Beyond the Business Case for DEI

Welcome back to Season 2 of Diversity Goes to Work! Our guest today is the new Dean of the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, Todd Mooradian. Todd was a fixture in the Mason School for nearly 30 years serving as both a faculty member and Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs. He left in 2017 to serve as the Dean of the College of Business at the University of Louisville. His commitment to DEI work runs deep and has had a huge impact on our own DEI efforts here at the Mason School.

Podcast (audio)

Todd Mooradian: Beyond the Business Case for DEI TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Podcast (platforms)

iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Amazon Music/Audible | Spotify | Google Podcasts

Show Notes
Show Notes
  • Where Dean Mooradian sees DEI issues factoring into the landscape of business education
  • Why DEI work is so important to Dean Mooradian
  • What are the business cases for DEI work
  • How Birmingham and Atlanta economically diverged in the 50s due to diversity acceptance
  • How best to gather people around a common initiative when there are so many competing viewpoints
  • The importance in finding joy in being part of an organization that embraces diversity
  • Why DEI is an integral part of a business education
  • What Dean Mooradian's vision is for the future of the Raymond A. Mason School of Business
Transcript

Todd Mooradian

I'm committed to making people better, but only some people.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Todd Mooradian

Who would that be? Who would say I'm committed to making people better, but I get to pick who I want to make better?

Phil Wagner

Right.

Todd Mooradian

We want to make everybody better.

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real, human-lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun. Hi, friends. Welcome to Diversity Goes to Work. It's a new season, both figuratively and literally. As the dog days of summer wane into beautiful autumn weather here in Williamsburg, we are excited to kick off season two of our podcast. Thanks for all your support in season one. Your likes, your listens, your shares, your communication. Keep it up, keep listening, because we've got a dynamic second season planned for you. And we knew exactly how we wanted to kick off that second season because, as it turns out, we're in the midst of a season's change here ourselves in the Mason School of Business. And our guest today is primarily the one responsible for all of that. Our own Dean Todd Mooradian, who began his time here as Dean in August, is certainly no stranger to the Mason School. Todd was a fixture in the business school in William & Mary for nearly 30 years, serving as both a faculty member and associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs. He left in 2017 to serve as Dean of the College of Business at the University of Louisville. And y'all, I simply cannot summarize his extensive bio. He has had an impressive career as an award-winning faculty member, researcher, and monumentally successful dean. His commitment to DEI runs deep, and he's had a huge impact on our own internal DEI efforts here in the Mason School. We are so excited to welcome him back to Miller Hall and exceptionally excited to welcome him to our podcast today. Dean Mooradian, thank you for making time in your very busy schedule to chat with us here. It's a true pleasure.

Todd Mooradian

Phil, it's great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Phil Wagner

So here's what I want to do today if you're willing. Again, I know you as someone who is deeply committed to DEI, so I thought instead of waxing poetic about the value of DEI, we might actually situate that idea on the crosshairs just a little bit. We often hear the conversation sort of start and stop at the business case for DEI. It's good for organizations to be diverse. It's good for group and team dynamics, for multiple stakeholder opinions to be represented. And I think that business case, while true and while valuable, only carries us so far. So today, I'd like to talk about taking our work beyond the business case for DEI. So first things first is a framing device as Dean of a top-ranked business school. Where do you see DEI issues factoring into the landscape of business or business education?

Todd Mooradian

I think one of the essential values we give to the 21st century is that we're preparing the future leaders to function and contribute to a diverse, multicultural world that is in every way a better world for those qualities. And honestly, I think it would be a great disservice to those young people if we did not invest in their preparation. It's really just table ante for our students to be able to function, contribute to, and thrive in a multicultural world. And it's going to make them happier people, to make them more fulfilled. If they can take joy from diverse people and take value from working with diverse people, I believe those things absolutely.

Phil Wagner

Excellent. So this is a little bit of a personal question. Feel free to rebuff completely, but I'm wondering where you found your passion for this work. You speak of this as sort of a love language, and I love that framing. When you were here at the Mason School during your first tenure, you were a mover, and you were a shaker. And so much of the work that faculty like me get to do now is because of the seeds you planted back then. How did you find yourself in this space? What's your why? Why is DEI so important to you personally and or professionally?

Todd Mooradian

Well, first of all, you're very generous. I appreciate those comments about my contributions here and the contributions I made at Louisville that you know about, we do what we can, and then we get up tomorrow and try again. I grew up in a family that was dedicated to higher education. My mother was a librarian and an artist at the University of New Hampshire. My father was a coach and then an athletic director and administrator. And so, for me, being part of a campus community, campus communities tend to be more diverse, and to celebrate diversity and new ideas just came naturally. But I think my father actually had a unique, especially for his generation. He had a unique commitment to embracing everyone that came forward to get an education and go on and change the world. He believed in that. He was born a few years, a couple of years after my grandparents arrived from Armenia. And he was a guy with the greatest generation. And I think it's probably true of a lot of them. They lived through some extraordinary challenges and came out more appreciative and able to find happiness and embrace other people and help them get ahead. I know that was true of my dad. He had been a great high school athlete, something that apparently skips a generation. But he was recruited to an Ivy League school nearby, where he grew up in Boston. And I heard him tell this story probably a hundred times, Phil. His father, who barely spoke English, put them on the light rail train to Cambridge and took him over for his day being recruited. And they took him to lunch at one of the dining clubs, and one of the brothers said, well, he's a good athlete. He can eat here, but we're not letting his father eat in the dining room. So he walked away from Harvard to get back on the train. And, of course, anybody in Boston in 1940 would have thought, what a great thing for my child to be able to go to Harvard. And my grandfather turned to my dad and said, Andy, this is going to be great. You get to go to Harvard, but try not to be one of those jerks. And my father picked the University of New Hampshire, which was a place that took all comers, meant to serve the greater good, and knew that they didn't think that their stuff didn't stink. And he told that story about his commitment at the University of New Hampshire, where he spent 50 years after that serving the greater good, embracing everyone who came and living through desegregation and strife and all sorts of things that happened in American society. And so I saw my father with a deep commitment to not being one of those jerks. By the way, my grandfather didn't use the word jerks, at least not as my father's full-blown story, but now I'm a dean, so I'll say, he said, don't be one of those jerks.

Phil Wagner

All right, fair enough.

Todd Mooradian

And I think that my father is emblematic of the type of person who may not have naturally thought that they would be for diversity because they might not gladly say, oh, yeah, this is the kind of thing that I spend all my time committed to. But as a matter of fact, they're the kinds of people who believe deeply in fairness, in investing in other people, and they commit their lives to the idea that if we provide opportunities in education, the world will get better. You look here at William & Mary, there's lots of examples of that same kind of person, and I think they're the unusual person to say, oh, would this person be committed to diversity on campus and committed to that. Jim Kaplan has the basketball arena named after him. And I knew Mr. Kaplan. He passed away about a month ago. But Jim probably wasn't an active supporter of diversity, but he was a passionate supporter of fairness and opportunity. He came out of the coal mines, I believe, in western Pennsylvania, but it may have been West Virginia. And he talked about how William & Mary was the pathway to all that he was ever able to do, and he was committed to giving back. And what I'd like to do as a dean is to be able to find in all of our people, not just the people who naturally say, yeah, I'm for diversity. And then you look and sort of they're part of the new generation. But all people that are part of William & Mary, I think if they don't say, hey, I'm for diversity, if you push it a little, are you for fairness? Are you for opportunity? Do you think that the college can change the world by giving more people an opportunity to contribute? They'd be passionate support for that. So I think that my commitment to diversity and inclusion comes first from the idea that's just who we are. If you came into higher education and you are not for embracing everybody that comes across Ukrop way into the college of business, you made a mistake. You're not in the right place. This is a place that believes in embracing, celebrating, and nurturing everyone. And so I get passionate about it because I grew up around people. My mother was an artist. My father was a coach. And they gave everybody their full commitment to make them better. And they would never have imagined that their son would look at somebody and say, I'm committed to making people better, but only some people.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Todd Mooradian

Who would that be? Who would say I'm committed to making people better, but I get to pick who I want to make better?

Phil Wagner

Right.

Todd Mooradian

We want to make everyone better.

Phil Wagner

I love that framing. I love that framing. And thanks for allowing us to get to know you better through that story too. I love that human element. So, as dean of the business school, you're very familiar with the fact that we often take our conversations immediately to the business case for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And indeed, that's legitimate. There is a business case for it. Data tells us time and time again that an intentional focus on this is good for us. It's good for our culture. It's good for our productivity. It's good for our profit. So as someone who's worked in overseeing undergraduate and graduate business students at Louisville, can you frame that from the dean's lens, this business case, or the business value for an intentional focus on DEI?

Todd Mooradian

I can. I guess I'll try. My first reason for committing to diversity and inclusion is because of the people I love who are so diverse, and all of whom deserve to get that investment and to get that fair shot. And I think that's kind of a principle, not a practical perspective. It happens that I'm a Christian, and I believe there's a lot of rules in the world, but the Christian faith is based on a story about somebody who loved. And so I would like to say that the business case isn't the first thing that comes to my mind, and in fact, it's not the second. Have you ever been to New York City, Phil?

Phil Wagner

I have many times.

Todd Mooradian

What's wonderful about New York City?

Phil Wagner

Well, immediately I go to the food, but I think I probably should say the culture and the diversity of people, which I think those things maybe work together.

Todd Mooradian

Yeah, and even the food is better.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, the food is pretty good.

Todd Mooradian

I'm with you. I go to New York City. I think I could go out, get any type of cuisine.

Phil Wagner

Anything.

Todd Mooradian

And I can find any type of person, and I can find all sorts of art. It's the diversity. New York City is not apologizing for being a rich diversity of experience and cultures that come together into something wonderful. So if the first reason is principle that I'm passionate about diversity, inclusion, the second is probably joy. The joy of

Phil Wagner

I love it.

Todd Mooradian

It's just joyous to arrive in New York City. I met a student who traveled to South Asia this summer as I was walking across the parking lot and all the places they had been. Diversity across people and across cultures. Art, cuisine, music. That's joyous. So finally, we get to a practical argument, right? And you're right. Businesses and business schools fall to that practical argument too quickly because we should remember that we're passionate about it also because it reflects our values, whatever faith, and it reflects our joy. But if you get to a practical level, did you know that Birmingham and Atlanta were approximately the same as far as population and economic activity in the early 1950s?

Phil Wagner

Interesting.

Todd Mooradian

In Birmingham decided it would spend the 50s and the 60s hating. It became synonymous with segregation and exclusion. And Atlanta had a slogan too busy to hate.

Phil Wagner

I like that.

Todd Mooradian

And Atlanta exploded. And Atlanta is a global hub, and Birmingham is kind of not. And I'm not hating on Birmingham. I don't mean to do that. What I mean to do is to contrast very similar communities that are not far apart. And one chose to exclude and hate, and one chose to be too busy for that, and one prospered, and one didn't. I think there's a wonderful project that's called the Einstein Project. I actually Googled it, so I would sound smart. Raj Chetty is a Harvard-trained economist who's at Stanford. And that project looks at who gets patents as kind of an outcome variable of people's ability to contribute to the creative economy. And it's a good proxy variable for that. And it took, I think, third graders who got in the top 10% on their math exam, so it was controlling for aptitude. These were all smart, mathematically inclined third graders. And it looked ahead. I haven't read the article in a few years, but maybe 30 years, and it said, how many patents did the different demographics get? The white males got, I think, seven and a half or eight patents per thousand on average. And white females got something less than that, but still a significant number. And then, if you looked across people who have been disadvantaged and not given the privilege of participating in our economy as fully. You had numbers like one and two, and three. There was a New York Times article called The Lost Einsteins, which is worth looking at. It had good graphics, and I won't make up the numbers. But you know what? If we can get seven and a half patents out of one group and we only get two or three out of another, that's outrageous because society is leaving behind four patents per thousand. We're missing the opportunity for the social benefits, the medical benefits, the scientific benefits that that creativity reflects. And it's not a matter of penalizing the people who have had the opportunity to get their seven and a half or eight patents. It's a matter of how do we possibly think we're going to get ahead if we're leaving behind four or five or six patents to some of these demographic groups because we don't include them in the progress and education and opportunity. So, to me, the practical part is not that it predicts profitability or Tobin's or anything like that. That's great. So it predicts profitability and productivity to have a more diverse organization. That's something a manager can think about. But you and I are educators. We're thinking at a little bit higher level. And I think the college of business has to commit itself every day to getting those four darn patents we're missing, to getting all of those people engaged. They'll be having more fun. They'll be having personal prosperity. But you know what? Even from a purely selfish perspective, as a leader in the economy, we should be saying we want the darn four patents we've been missing.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I think there's such a formula embedded into that, too, that shows us that this has to go beyond diversity. It's not just about bringing diverse people together. This is about cultivating an environment of equity and inclusion and belonging so that that work can then funnel up, can then bubble out. There's a bigger thing at play beyond just bringing diversity into your organization.

Todd Mooradian

It's not about penalizing the people who have had the opportunity to get those patents or to get through. Nobody loses if everybody has a chance to bring their information to the table.

Phil Wagner

Absolutely. I was going to ask you, how do you do that? How do you go beyond the business case that you gave us that answer? And I really like the very human things that you return to, to finding love in this work, to finding joy in this work. I think those are very important values. So I won't repeat that question, but going to sort of higher order thinking. As a dean, you're very much a broker. You're a broker of buy-in. And you are, in so many ways, I think, charged with the seemingly impossible task of aligning the competing views of diverse stakeholders. And in the case of DEI, those competing views often map onto conflicting value structures and worldviews, and ideologies. I know you as someone who is widely respected by people from all walks of life. So how have you developed such a great ability to gather people around a common initiative like this, where there are so many different or competing viewpoints?

Todd Mooradian

Well, again, I'm going to repeat that you're very generous. I hope I made a contribution. Most importantly, I feel challenged to make a significant contribution as the Mason School moves forward. And that's yet to be seen. That chapter is yet to be written, but I'm committed to it. I also think you were generous in saying I brought people together with different values. But that's our task, right? Bringing people together with consonant values is easy. So we'll go get everybody that thinks alike, and we'll be the expression preaching to the choir. But I do think that there's a way to do it, and I hope that lots of people will join me in this. And that way is to recognize. I started out with the story about my father and about Jim Kaplan deliberately. I'm a big sports fan. They were both deeply involved in athletics. My father was a coach and athletic director. Jim Kaplan built the arena named after him. I like that story. In sports, we find a fundamental idea about fairness. Nobody wants to win a game on a tilted field. It has to be profoundly dissatisfying if you find out you had an advantage because the court wasn't level. Everybody believes in fairness. And what I'd like to do moving forward, regardless of whether we've been successful doing it in the past, I want people like Phil Wagner and everybody else in the Mason School, all the students, all the staff, all the faculty to commit to finding the higher level values that we do share about fairness and opportunity, about giving everybody a chance to find their patent or their passion. And I want everybody to take joy from it. And if we are finding that, we may not believe in a specific policy about diversity, but, gosh, we are all committed to a level playing field, and we may not feel like that we are the advocate for one group or another, but we really believe in fairness, and everybody getting a full investment from society. Then we can come together. And actually, the story about New York is important, too. I'd like everybody in the Mason School of Business to find joy in being part of a place that embraces people. There's a campaign for LGBTQ teenagers that says it gets better. Don't you want the Mason School to be a part of that better? A place that young people come who haven't felt fully embraced by their society and find out that they're great and they're at home. And I don't know anybody in our building who wouldn't commit to that.

Phil Wagner

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And I think our value structure really calls us to that at William & Mary. Those values of excellence, flourishing, belonging, curiosity, those really help us corral around those initiatives. I think those things work hand in hand. Dean Mooradian, I'm wondering if you can speak directly to our students. As you know, we're kicking off the fall semester. I'm getting ready to work with some 200 graduate students who are coming in as part of their soft skills and communications courses, getting training in inclusive leadership. Can you challenge them to think about DEI in the way that you think they ought to think about it? Why is DEI such an important part of their education and our curriculum, and our initiatives here? How do you recommend our students see DEI as part of their scope of leadership?

Todd Mooradian

It's principle. It aligns with the core values that I think are more broadly shared. I think we lose some of that when we wrap it up in particular language or recommending particular policies. Everybody has a principle of fairness. We talked about the practicality of it. We need those four or five patents that are lost when different groups don't get the privilege to grow into their potential. There's a joy of being in a diverse world. These are young leaders. They're going to be in a world that's diverse. Todd Mooradian didn't make that happen, nor did Phil Wagner. The world of the 21st century for professionals is going to be multicultural and diverse. Economic activity is going to be entwined at a global level, and they better learn to thrive in it. But most importantly, they come to us. They're wonderful. The young people that are joining us, I've spoken with four groups already this week. They're terrific. What I've told them is to make sure that while they're so busy getting these educations and doing their assignments and taking their tests and interviewing and working on their resume, that they also take a chance to step back and decide because we're giving them the tools to change the world. In fact, it's really inevitable that they will change the world.

Phil Wagner

And they do.

Todd Mooradian

They do. And what's important is, right from the get, they think about what changes do they want to be part of. And I think they want to be part of making a place that embraces everyone. I think that I've used the example in four speeches this week about the eulogy exercise that people do in leadership training. But at some point, and the earlier you do it, the better off you'll be. Think about the mark you want to leave because someday somebody's going to stand up and say, this is what this person was. This is how they made me feel. This is how they invested in me. And I think that by giving them the tools and the understanding to recognize their core values about fairness and embracing people and inclusion, their ethical commitment to it, and the joy they can take from it, we're going to help them. When they get to the end of that line, say, I'm proud of the mark I made.

Phil Wagner

Absolutely. All right, so final question for you. I'm a vision guy. We're all excited for the next season of the Mason School of Business, a place we know and love, even if you're an external listener. Clearly, you know, we're doing big things here. This is an exciting place to be. As dean, I'm wondering if you'd be willing to briefly lay out your vision for the Mason School of Business's future, a future that definitely is one defined by diversity of thought and identity and equity and inclusion and belonging. What do you think is on the horizon for us here?

Todd Mooradian

You said earlier that diversity and inclusion is consonant. It resonates with people at William & Mary cause it's a place that's been about ideas and about a breadth of perspectives for over three centuries. And fairly recently, we had Larry Pulley as our dean for 24 years, and I knew him for a good part of that 24 years. One of the most decent people that anyone is ever going to meet and one of the most dedicated to the College of William & Mary. I don't think the next generation is revolutionary as a break from any of that past 300 years of being a place, a Renaissance place, a place where polymaths thrive, and diverse perspectives are valued. I don't think we're going to be revolutionizing what we are from the last 25 years. We're going to build on a place that's dedicated to principled achievement, to use Larry Pulley's phrase. But I do think that what we want to be is a place that comes into the 21st century ready to make a renewed impact, be more relevant, and diversity, inclusion, along with an educational model that's based on breadth of perspective and multiple problem-solving paradigms, and a place dedicated to excellence in everything it does. A new vision will emerge. I didn't arrive with a vision, by the way. I'm more committed to listening right now than to telling people what my vision is. But I think that I know that I never lace them up to come in second. I've been an athlete, I've been a coach, I've been around coaching. Take the field as if you're going to be the very best. And I think that the next vision for Mason School should be that we find a way to be the very best in the world at what we do. And I think there's a white space for a business school to be extraordinary at teaching. A lot of higher education institutions take teaching for granted. So give people a book and put them in the classroom. We can invest deliberately in being a great place for teaching. I think there's room in the world for a place that takes impactful research seriously because too much research has drifted off into incremental knowledge that only your colleagues around the academy read. I think there's a place in the world for a business school that's dedicated to this model of a Renaissance person who is broadly educated and deeply educated, kind of the T-shaped person. I don't see anybody else doing that. But William & Mary is better than anyone at the world at that. And we can take a lead and define ourselves. And I think there's a place in the world for a business school that says we prepare people for a diverse and changing world where they learn to thrive, they learn to express their values, and they learn to take joy from the diversity of other people.

Phil Wagner

Love it. That's inclusive leadership in action. Dean Mooradian, thank you for your time, for your insights, for all you do and are going to do in partnership with us in the years ahead. It's truly been a pleasure speaking with you here. Thanks so much for kicking off season two of our podcast with us.

Todd Mooradian

I have a feeling you got a lot of editing to do, Phil.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Student Takeover Part 3
Student Takeover Part 3Episode 21: August 15, 2022
Disability Accommodations

Student Takeover Part 3

Episode 21: August 15, 2022

Summer Student Takeover Part 3 - Disability Accommodations

Today on our third and final Summer Student Takeover episode, Alicia Scott, Maddie George, and Bella Easton cover disability accommodation in the workplace. They’ll be covering three major areas: Disability legislation, the administrative realm of disability, and what the future holds for disability accommodations. They’ll also be joined by Debbie Howe, the Deputy Chief Human Resources Officer at William & Mary to discuss administration in regards to disability accommodations in the workplace.

Podcast (audio)

Summer Student Takeover Part 3: Disability Accommodations TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Podcast (platforms)

iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Amazon Music/Audible | Spotify | Google Podcasts

Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • What disability accommodations existed before the passage of the ADA
  • What challenges led up to the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • What is the Americans with Disabilities Act and what does it accomplish
  • How the ADA has impacted students' lives
  • How the ADA has evolved over the years
  • How William & Mary works with staff and faculty to determine what accommodations are necessary
  • The challenges working in Human Resources for a large university
  • What have been the biggest challenges as the ADA has continued to expand
  • How COVID has affected disability accommodations in the workplace
Transcript

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun.

Phil Wagner

Friends. Happy summer. By now, I hope you've gone back and listened to our other two specially featured summer Student Takeover episodes. If you missed them, we're releasing the work of some of our students from our spring 22 Diversity in the Workplace course, and we wanted to give you something to listen to as we plan for our own season two here, which drops in just a few weeks. The third episode that we'll feature today. Features Alicia Scott, Maddie George, and Bella Easton talking to us just a little bit more about disability accommodations. Again, we've got some exciting episodes planned for next season with topics spanning from natural hair to dignity to whiteness, not settling for status quo in the DEI space and beyond. We're going to really go there, but until then, buckle up. I hope you've enjoyed the Summer Student Takeover episodes as much as I have. Thanks for listening. Without further ado, here's Alicia, Maddie, and Bella.

Alicia Scott

On today's podcast, we are going to be discussing disability accommodations. Your hosts today are myself, Alicia Scott.

Bella Easton

Bella Easton,

Maddie George

and Maddie George.

Alicia Scott

All of us are taking the course Diversity in the Workplace, and because of that, we were incredibly interested in this topic. During our podcast, we're going to be hitting on three main topics. The first being disability legislation. The second administrative realm of disability. And third, looking towards the future with disability accommodations. We hope that from this podcast and the conversations and interview that we have. That you're able to walk away after listening, being able to identify key issues facing legislation regarding disability accommodations. To have a better understanding of how the conversation of disability accommodation fits into both administrative and a little bit into personal spaces within the workplace. And then in addition to that, we hope that you have a better understanding of the future outlook of disability accommodations through current debates after the ADA was passed and how the interpretation of the ADA has changed over time. So we're going to be hitting on quite a few things today, so we hope that you're able to come along with us and learn as we do throughout this podcast. So to hit on that first topic. Of disability legislation, we felt that it was really important to go ahead and take a look at what existed prior to today's circumstances.

Maddie George

Yeah, so I know that I am talking about the ADA, which was passed for disability accommodations, but Alicia, what did that look like? Was there any legislation before the ADA that I didn't see, or what was life like before that was passed?

Alicia Scott

Yeah, that's a great question. So I was looking into what existed before the ADA, and there was something it was called Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. What this act did, it was actually the first disability civil rights law that was enacted in our country here in the United States. And what that did is it prohibited the discrimination against people with disabilities and programs that specifically received federal financial assistance. So there's that kind of, like, big disclaimer there as a part of that act.

Maddie George

Oh, man. Well, okay. Before we get into any more legislation and stuff, can we just take a second to think about what it would be like to have no accommodations at all for your life? If you're somebody with a disability and you're going in for a job, or you're going in just to do normal, everyday activities, and there's nothing for you to do that, is that not crazy?

Alicia Scott

It definitely is. Also, as you're saying that, I'm thinking about the name, and it's literally in the title. It's 1973 was not that long ago either. There was nothing before that. That is honestly quite frightening, truly.

Bella Easton

Well, in speaking of before, were there any challenges leading up to the implementation of Section 504?

Alicia Scott

Yes, absolutely. That's probably why it took so long. And why it only started in 1973 that we had this section added. I did a lot of digging into that, and I think the kind of most interesting information I found came from the article from The New York Times titled before the ADA, there was Section 504, and it was published July 22 of, 2020, by Julia Carmel. In this article, they really talked about kind of what it meant to have this section passed and enacted and how much they struggled to have it passed. So just to kind of touch on that a little bit, it's incredible to have the section at that time, and it's actually quoted in the article that Section 504 operated on a social model of disability that focuses not on a person's impairment, but on the ways in which their surroundings could better accommodate their needs. So I just thought that was very powerful, and I wanted to share that from the very start before I kind of get further into the specifics. But honestly, reading that, it's just crazy how long it took for this to become enacted. The action to have this pass was delayed for years, and even though it seems so successful afterwards, we really have to appreciate what it took to get that passed. Individuals were protesting around the country because this had just been sitting around. No one was pushing or moving it forward. And I want to share specifically about the protests that were occurring in San Francisco to get this pushed forward because what they actually did was they protested and they stayed inside one of the federal buildings, and they were in there and lived there, not expecting to have to do this, but they were there for almost an entire month. And that ended up being one of the longest occupations of a federal building in U.S. History. and the reason this came to be was because when they went, and they started their protests, the individuals that were working in the spaces, one specifically being Mr. Califano, and when they went to discuss this issue with him, they were met with reasoning along the lines of, we've never heard of this. We didn't know about this. So they wanted to make sure that everyone knew about it. So they stuck around, and it ended up being an entire month. It was insane. The federal government tried to really get them out and deter protesters by cutting off the building phone lines, their water supply. But luckily, other people in the community were incredibly supportive of these protests. To help push this along, the city's mayor was actually sending over mattresses and trying to arrange portable showers for the protesters. Also, other members of different organizations were supporting them. One kind of large group, actually two, included the Black Panther Party and the Gray Panthers. And they would bring the protesters supplies, and they've cooked meals for them. So even though the federal government was trying to shut down the protests, other organizations were really supporting these protesters, helping them to get recognition for Section 504 that they were trying to push through. And after a ton of work and a ton of effort, and a ton of grit on the people's part for being there protesting for so long, on April 28 of, 1977, the regulation was implemented, and this was such a huge win for not only the protesters but our entire nation. And this then applied to federally funded buildings. And while that doesn't seem like a lot, there really wasn't much there before. And we just talked about how crazy that is, that there wasn't anything before that. So this was such a huge win. On their part, because it then laid the groundwork for the ADA to come after it.

Maddie George

Yeah, and that's crazy. Just touching again on just appreciating everything that went into it and everything that still goes into it now. And we'll touch on that in a minute, but we should all just take a second and appreciate our history. But going into the ADA, first off, I'm going to just start off with a definition of what the ADA is. And it stands for Americans with Disabilities Act. In an overall broad definition, it prevents discrimination against those with disabilities. And when it first came out, it basically advances questions related to disabilities on job applications, provides for greater accessibility to public buildings and transportation, and requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees and job applicants. It also made requiring medical examinations before a job offer, unlawful and limited disability-related questions, and medical examinations on employees. So that was a broad overview of what it did initially, which was a huge step, and the Rehabilitation Act was also a huge step, but going just a step further in accommodations was super important. A little story, there is a female. I read an article on a lot of the information that I looked up. It was the ADA at 30 Looking Back and Ahead, published May 27 of, 2020, by SHRM.org, and basically, a story was Amy Shearer. She was the first attendee of Furman University in a wheelchair, and accommodations were made. She said that she could live in a dorm resulting from accommodation requirements by the ADA, and that wouldn't have been a thing if it wasn't passed, and she wouldn't have been able to go to school and feel more like a normal student beforehand, which is awesome. Kind of looking back at it and taking a second to think about she is the first student who there's a disability accommodation for. It must have been so scary and nerve-wracking. And for the other students being there, I just think that that's a really interesting point to kind of take a second on.

Alicia Scott

That is one that's really worth taking a second on. I think also just thinking about all of us being college students and understanding the importance of just even sharing a living space and living in a dorm with one another. How many friendships and how many relationships do we build from that? I'm living with friends from my freshman hall, and I'm a senior now, so I have accommodations. They're creating for a more inclusive space where everyone can build those relationships. So it's crazy to think that that didn't exist before. And I'm glad that she fought it, and the ADA was there to back it up.

Maddie George

Yeah. And moving forward kind of into her life after she graduated. She stated that going into the workplace. Which is what we're talking about right now. She felt that she was focused less on her disability and more on her work abilities and she used provided public transportation to get to her work, and she was just she stated many of these things again. Like, could not happen without the ADA and without our history. So that was super cool. And again, we'll touch on this, but there is such a great area in there has been so much that has been done, and there still needs to be so much more that needs to be done. And so it's cool, as I was reading her story and a couple of others, just how wild it is that it has been possible over the years. But another thing that the ADA did, you know, it created more of a voice for people with disabilities to have a say in what accommodations are needed. There's a big broad spectrum, and we're still discovering it and looking through it and going back the 1990s and early 2000s, and again, this isn't that long ago, but due to the broad ruling of the original ADA, people with prosthetics were not considered for accommodations. Just as an example, which to me is crazy because they do need accommodations. So just kind of like one hold back. I guess over the years where people have been trying to decide under the realm of administration. You are, or you aren't disabled. And what does that really look like? Just looking at the broad spectrum of what is a disability. What isn't? And I really don't think that's our place to say it's more so what do you need and what does that look like for you? So I think that we made a lot of progress from the 1990s and 2000s with being more open to what that looks like for individuals, which I think is awesome. And legislation-wise, the ADAA mended this problem a little bit. And there was an emphasis on reasonable accommodations centering the broad definition to the needs of people with disability, which, again, is the most important thing, in my opinion.

Bella Easton

So, yeah, touching on the ADAA a little bit. Its name is the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act. And one of the things that it also touches on is temporary impairments. So whether someone is sick or if they break a limb, or if they're going through any sort of problem, there's currently a debate as to whether or not these temporary impairments are qualified as a disability and if they should be protected by the ADA. And so, it's expanded the definition of a disability to include temporary impairments if they're sufficiently severe, but its guidelines have been somewhat unhelpful. Some courts, however, ultimately protect even episodic impairments. Since the purpose of the ADA is to protect disabled workers, there is inherently subjective reasoning necessary to decide whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity. So whether you have the flu or again, if you break something, if you can't lift anything heavy, if you can't walk or be on your feet for extended periods of time, this is something that's really important to help employees in their day to day life.

Maddie George

Yeah. And so that's super interesting. Just, again, like the advancements that we've made under the realms of legislation, but again, kind of going into the fact that it's difficult to make universal accommodations for people whenever you're in administration because every disability is different. And so with that, joining us is Debbie Howe, who works in this realm of accommodations in the workplace for administration.

Bella Easton

Okay. Hello, everybody. Today, right now, we are interviewing with Ms. Howe is the Deputy Chief Human Resources Officer at the school. Ms. Howe, thank you so much for being here with us to discuss administration in the realm of disability accommodations in the workplace. We're excited to have you.

Debbie Howe

My pleasure. Glad to be here.

Alicia Scott

Thank you so much again. And we kind of wanted to start off by chatting from a more kind of general standpoint first, and we wanted to know what it looks like from the lens of administration to run, advise, and coordinate with accommodations in your position specifically.

Debbie Howe

Basically, we work with all the employees. So that includes faculty members, staff members. And if anybody needs accommodations, they can start off by having a conversation with us. And then we'll work with their doctor. We'll get information from their doctor for exactly what they need. But we try to be creative. We try to give people the kind of accommodations that will help them continue in their jobs. And we do have some options, particularly with the university, with some things that we can do that might not be available at other places. Basically, it's working with people and getting them what they need. I guess that's repeating the same thing over and over. But that's basically, and they can be a variety of accommodations. It doesn't have to be just there can be we have a golf cart service, so if people have trouble moving around campus, we have that option. We do have some people that work remotely occasionally or teach remotely due to accommodations. We can get people equipment that is really easy to do. We can also do different schedules for people. So there are different types of things based on need.

Bella Easton

Awesome. And what does that look like kind of day to day? What is your schedule like? Meetings and meeting with people to accommodate and all of that?

Debbie Howe

Well, I actually do the accommodations in addition to my job is to I manage the day-to-day functions in the HR office, the university HR. So I actually do employee relations, performance management. I'm over the talent acquisition, the recruitment, the benefits, and the ADA. So we do not have like every day, I don't have a whole bunch of people coming and asking for accommodations. Sometimes it comes in like it comes in groups or it's individually, but I will get an email, or we have an online system that we use that people can put a request in. I get that. Then I make sure that people give us the medical information. Then I try to have a conversation with people about what they need. Sometimes it's easy if it's simply just the golf cart service or if it's the piece of equipment. I can go ahead and buy that and take care of that for them. But if they need something that would be changed, a modification to their job, the hours they work or something like that, then I'll have a conversation with the supervisor, and if they're able to meet the accommodation, then we can go ahead and approve it. Otherwise, we'll have a meeting between myself, the supervisor, and the employee. And we'll kind of negotiate and see what we can do and what accommodation we can give the person and come up with something that works for all parties.

Bella Easton

Okay, awesome. So a lot of stuff under one day. You got a lot going on. So moving it back a little bit, what motivated you to do this work in the first place and in this position? How did you get here? What upbringing did you have or any background stories, or anything like that?

Debbie Howe

I've actually been in human resources for 33 years now, so I was in human resources when the ADA became a law. So I've been with it the whole time, actually longer than you guys have been alive, which is scary. But basically, it was actually interesting. I had gone to college and got my associates because I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I was taking community college classes and took an HR class and loved it. So then I started, I went back and got my Masters, I'm sorry, and then my Bachelor's, and then my Masters in HR. And then, I've had the opportunity to work in different areas of HR. And along the way, I've worked with ADA accommodations for most of my career, the different jobs that I've done, and I've had that. And I really enjoy with the ADA helping people and making sure that we can keep people working and keep them working productively. Because sometimes people, they just need a little bit of help in order to do the job or some accommodations or piece of equipment, otherwise they might have to quit, or they might have to go somewhere else. So that's the part I really enjoy, is helping the people and keeping them employed.

Alicia Scott

That's wonderful. That sounds great. And I also am curious, kind of on the flip side of that. So while there are these great benefits And you're able to help a lot of people and help them stay employed. Are there challenges that you also face on a daily basis and also things just in the general realm of HR, working with accommodations that you think has the largest room to grow?

Debbie Howe

The one challenge is that sometimes there are physical or mental issues that occur. And sometimes people, when they think of disabilities, they're thinking of people in wheelchairs or people with the white cane, and there are a number of disabilities that you just can't see. Mental health is a big area now, too, with that kind of disability. And sometimes it's really difficult because the person does not want to accept or acknowledge that physically, they cannot do things anymore, they really can't do the work, or they're having cognitive issues or things like that. So that is really hard when you kind of have to have those difficult conversations with people, and it's like this may not be the right job for you anymore, but then you can kind of talk about what might be other options. Is there something else they can do here? Is it more that they're going to have to go somewhere else? Or sometimes we've had people that just because of the decline physically, they've had to retire. And those are just hard. And it's hard just admitting to yourself sometimes that you can't, particularly if you worked your whole life or if financially you need to work, or you need to work to have the benefits. And that can be a catch-22 also, because if you stop working, then you don't have your health insurance. And if you do have medical issues, you need your health insurance. So some of that and also when people first give their accommodation request in the medical documentation, the first thing we have to do is determine if they're a qualified person with a disability. So we have to determine because you have to be able to do the essential functions with or without accommodation. And sometimes people don't quite understand that, but they're not able to do the essential functions, and so, therefore, we're just not able to accommodate them. So those are some of the challenges with it. It's not always easy.

Alicia Scott

No, it doesn't sound easy at all. Those definitely sound very challenging. And I also wasn't aware about making sure that you have to be able to do like, certain functions. I just kind of thought it was a catch-all. So that's really great to know. Thank you.

Bella Easton

Yeah, and it's definitely interesting because a lot of it seems like a big gray area, and working through that is definitely a challenge. But where have you seen the most growth and success over the years? You said 33 years. Did you say you've been in this work? And from the beginning of the introduction of the ADA to now, what have processes look like? Kind of an administration, but also with those personal kind of stories that you've had, what does that look like? Where's the growth and challenges?

Debbie Howe

It did get amended. I can't remember the year right now that the ADA was amended. So it actually has been expanded since it was originally put out in 1990. The law was signed in 1990. There are some that it was hard because, at first, you had, particularly when you didn't have disabilities that people could see. Then you had people that were thinking the person was faking it, or they were getting a doctor to write up something for them, or they were trying to get something solely in order to make the job easier or to have an easier time. So the mindset shift. That has shifted a lot over the years. There is more respect and understanding of disabilities, particularly mental health, mental disabilities. It's also kind of interesting because sometimes there is kind of a tension in the disabled community between the more visible disabilities and the less visible, and sometimes that's kind of interesting to see. But I think that the biggest growth is the fact of people understanding and more respecting people with disabilities and seeing beyond the disabilities. It's still hard. There are certain disabilities where it's still, I think, harder for them to find jobs or to have employment. But I've been lucky with the employers I've had. They've all been very supportive of doing accommodations, and we've never had anything where we're trying to get around it, which is very good.

Bella Easton

I just have one more little follow-up question because we heard a story in class where there was a man, and he was in a wheelchair, and of course, just the stigma behind that is always challenging in the workplace. But then COVID Zoom calls, and everything were all that we did, and so everybody saw chest up, and so that kind of went away for a little bit. Have you seen like a lot of that in your work or anything like that or anything similar?

Debbie Howe

Not so much with COVID. The one thing COVID did is we had some people that prefer to work remotely, and it's easier for them. Just mobility issues. Sometimes it's easier if you don't have to leave the house. So I know those individuals appreciated that, and some of them do not want to come back into the office, which is hard. I didn't notice that as much. But it's funny, we're still doing some meetings and things remotely, so there could be people with disabilities. You don't see them, so you don't know, like wheelchair or something like that. You wouldn't know. Or even if you can't see, you would notice that as much on a Zoom call, you might think the person's just looking up at something else.

Alicia Scott

As many people happened to do when you're on Zoom calls. Yeah. I also had an additional follow-up question, but I think it's interesting our minds like went in different directions with sharing how things have kind of changed and adapted, especially with people being more understanding and not thinking of it as someone trying to use it as an advantage, but somebody that's actually just making experience equitable. So I was wondering with that, what do you think has driven that change? Is it a matter of people learning more about personal stories and narratives, or do you think there's something else that's kind of pushed that along to grow over time?

Debbie Howe

I do think it's more people listening. And sometimes, some of these employment laws, I don't necessarily think people have bad intent. I think people are just kind of oblivious or don't think about it sometimes. And so when you have these laws, and you have to follow them, you look more at it, and you consider it more. But I also think just overall. I've seen more with people that are disabled are talking about it more. They're coming out and discussing, and they're actually using different words like ableism or different things like that, that they're taking away a lot of the stigmas by coming out and talking about them. And as you have some people that are celebrities or things like that, that are doing things even if they have these disabilities, that also helps too. But I think a lot of it is it's just people are noticing more and talking more about it. And that's a good thing.

Maddie George

Yeah, definitely, absolutely.

Alicia Scott

Well, we wish we could stay and chat for a whole hour about all of this. We are a little restricted for time when it comes to a podcast, and now long listeners are willing to keep listening. So before we end today, is there any final thought that you would like listeners to know about how accommodations for disability work in the workplace? And especially with diversity, equity, and inclusion work, is there kind of one thing you wish that more people would know?

Debbie Howe

I think one of the biggest things is you can't make assumptions. You can look at a person, and just because they're in a wheelchair, you can't make assumptions about what they can and cannot do.

Maddie George

Absolutely.

Debbie Howe

And sometimes people try to be super helpful, and that person really wants to do it themselves. So it's more you need to ask people and listen to them. If they say, no, I've got it, listen and let them be. So I think that's part of it too, is don't make assumptions about people.

Alicia Scott

True. I think that's great advice for this space specifically, but also just great advice in general. So that's a fantastic note for us to end on today. Thank you again so much, Ms. Howe, for being here with us today. We really appreciate your time and perspectives.

Debbie Howe

Thank you. Anytime.

Bella Easton

Yes, thank you so much.

Alicia Scott

It was so fantastic to hear from Ms. Howe's perspective of actually working in the administrative space herself.

Maddie George

Yes.

Alicia Scott

Honestly, I think it's so easy for us to kind of assume what that would be like, but to actually hear from a first-hand perspective, I think it helps me to really better understand. What it's like and what challenges someone faces in the workplace when working from the administrative side with this legislation in place.

Maddie George

Yes, it was very nice just to get some insight on all of that and kind of go into the future with it in mind.

Alicia Scott

Absolutely. So we've heard from now the administrative side. So I'm kind of wondering, do you guys have any ideas from more the personal side when you're requesting accommodations? What barriers exist there for the individuals?

Bella Easton

Yeah, so Frank and Beline did a study on people requesting accommodation, specifically people who are blind, and they said that common barriers that they found were broken trust, the fact that there are so many barriers, fear of retaliation, problems with technology, and the fact that they are blind people. There's so much paperwork involved with accommodations anyways, and they fear that negative responses to accommodation would inhibit further requests. And so, according to the ADA, failure to provide accommodations is a form of disability discrimination. But despite that, there's little benefit for those who file a complaint against their employer for failing to provide accommodations. And also, it's common for the clients to be blamed for their lack of accommodations rather than as a result of their work environment. This hostile attitude towards people with disabilities can be very harmful, not only for those with disabilities but for people in the future who are trying to create more legislation supporting them. There's also something known as a direct threat concept, which entails that the employee has a medical condition that poses too much of a safety risk for the employee to work in a particular position. And there exists a debate as to whether it's an affirmative defense that the employer must prove or whether a qualified employee with a disability must prove that they can safely perform all job functions and that they're not a threat. This perceived threat is required to be correct but should be objectively reasonable. It's common for employers to consult with doctors to determine whether these accommodations can be feasible to limit dangers that people with disabilities and people without disabilities may face. In addition, there's been a study about people with disabilities in the hiring process, and when hiring, there seems to be a lack of discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas except for their wage. In fact, less than 33% of people with disabilities are employed, compared to the 73.5% of people the same age without disabilities. An empirical evidence shows that despite ambivalent views of employees with disabilities, they earn a starting salary that is significantly lower than their non-disabled peers.

Maddie George

Man, that is so crazy. And it's very interesting just to see the differences between people with disability and not. And even though accommodations have been put in place, there's still a lot of ways to go. But I know this is going into all conversations now, I feel like, in our lives. But I'm going to ask the question, what impact did COVID-19 have on all of this under the realm of accommodations for disabilities in the workplace?

Bella Easton

Yeah, so great question. Obviously, the ADA was passed in the 90s, and the internet wasn't as big of a part of our life as it is now. And so because of this and the fact that so many things have moved online from school to shopping to even eating. Now there are different interpretations of the ADA scope. Some people believe that the ADA applies to physical entities only, like when you go to the store or sit down in a restaurant. The ADA could also apply to a website or mobile app that has a sufficient nexus to a physical place, things like DoorDash or Uber eats. And others think that the ADA should apply to everything beyond physical spaces into online technology. And due to societal changes stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, ADA protections should finally adapt and apply to website accessibility discrimination so that people with any sort of disability are able to access life just like everyone else.

Maddie George

All right. Wow. Well, that is awesome. It's so interesting, again, to see the gray area. There's so much of it. And figuring that out, what does that look like? And I hope that you guys, as listeners, were able to get a little bit of insight on what it may look like identifying key issues facing legislations regarding disability accommodations. Better understanding the conversation of accommodations in the workplace and how that fits into administrative spaces. Then lastly again, just better understanding the future outlook of disability accommodations through current debates after the ADA has passed and how that interpretation has changed over time. And just one last thought. And if you guys have anything. You're welcome to input it. But we hope that you now go into your day and look around and see what accommodations there are and have been put in place and just kind of take a second to appreciate what all has gone and happened under legislation and under just people protesting and whatever that may look like. But also what's missing in accommodations in the workplace and life just all around us. There's so much. And just one last thought how do you think that we can make our workplaces more inclusive and equitable for all individuals?

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives is here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Student Takeover Part 2
Student Takeover Part 2Episode 20: August 15, 2022
Trans Sports

Student Takeover Part 2

Episode 20: August 15, 2022

Summer Student Takeover Part 2 - Trans Sports

Today on the second episode of our mini Summer Student Takeover series, Junior Katie Stevenson and Sophomore Mohammad Ali and Eugenio Masari explore issues of gender identity within athletics. Beginning with Lia Thomas - a transgender woman - finishing first in a Division 1 National Championship in Woman’s Swimming, our hosts look at other issues around gender identity in the world of sport. They also welcome Isaac Henning to discuss his experiences as a trans athlete.

Podcast (audio)

Summer Student Takeover Part 2: Trans Sports TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Podcast (platforms)

iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Amazon Music/Audible | Spotify | Google Podcasts

Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • What it means to be transgendered
  • Why Lia Thomas's victory has been so controversial
  • Isaac Henning's experiences as a trans athlete
  • The view Michael Phelps has on transgendered athletics
  • How integration is not equal to inclusion in the workplace
Transcript

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun.

Phil Wagner

Hi all. Welcome to episode two of our mini Summer Student Takeover arc. If you missed my tee-up last time, go back and listen to the last special Student Takeover episode on the gender pay gap from Will Casale, Tasia Ricks, and Katherine Davis. But if you missed the note, we're taking a little bit of a summer sabbatical step-back plan and record season two. Keep an eye out for exciting updates soon. In the meantime, I wanted to give you something to chew on. So we've released three special episodes as part of a Student Takeover. These episodes stem from work completed in our spring 22 Diversity in the Workplace course. And in this second episode, you'll hear from Katie Stevenson, Mohammad Ali, and Eugenio Masari as they explore issues of gender identity within athletics. They're joined by a special guest and offer some really interesting insight. We have given them full control, and all perspectives expressed in the episode are theirs and theirs alone, but we hope you enjoy the discussion. So, without further ado, summer Student Takeover Episode Two Katie, Eugenio. Mohammad, take it over.

Katie Stevenson

Hi, everyone, what is up? Welcome back to Over Sit, where we break down our understanding and talk about controversial topics that foster so many polarizing opinions from people that tend to stand and talk before they sit down and listen. My name is Katie Stevenson, I'm one of your hosts, and I'm a junior here at William & Mary on the swim team.

Mohammad Ali

And my name is Mohammad Ali, and I'm a sophomore currently here at William & Mary.

Eugenio Masari

Hello. My name is Eugenio. I am one of the other cohosts. I'm also a sophomore here at William & Mary, and I'm on the varsity swim team.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah, guys. So we're sitting here today because this past March, we witnessed one of the most controversial sporting finishes in recent memory. When an individual, Lia Thomas, captured a Division One national championship in women's swimming. But she did so as the first openly transgender athlete to do so.

Eugenio Masari

Before we dive in swimming pond, pun intended, we should make sure to define for audience what it means to be a transgender. A transgender woman is a woman who was assigned a male gender at birth. This constant internal struggle of having to prove your own gender to yourself and to societal standards is something that transgender individuals constantly have to battle with. Actually, we know that one in every 250 people come out as transgender in the U.S. But that number is likely to be much higher with how many individuals decide to conceal their identity in fear of not opening up to others and being rejected.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah, and Lia Thomas is actually not the first trans swimmer to compete in the NCAA. So it's very interesting to me. Why is it that her story is blowing up? We know of over two dozen trans athletes that have competed in college sports, but Lia Thomas's story has been propelled into the public eye as a result of her dominance and victories in women's swimming.

Mohammad Ali

Right, I totally agree. I think that if you look at Lia Thomas's success like in a vacuum, you would think that she should be celebrated and she should be applauded. But instead, she's met with incredible amounts of scrutiny and hostility from the media, from people and family attending the competitions, from her competitors, and even from her own peers and teammates.

Katie Stevenson

Scrutiny from her own teammates. As a swimmer myself, that must be so hard to compete confidently because team dynamic is so important in a team sport. We learned, if you guys remember, in our diversity and inclusion class, that when individuals seemingly possess undesirable traits quote, such as larger bodies or a gluten allergy, it becomes difficult for individuals to be productive because they're rejected by their peers, which can affect their productivity and which impacts the company.

Mohammad Ali

Yes, I totally agree. And if we look at the scrutiny itself that Lia's facing, it's rooted in the perception that Lia Thomas possesses an unfair advantage that stems from the hormone balance and testosterone differences between male and females that people believe present benefits to individuals that simply can't be erased through treatment. And so we've seen that the perspectives from credible individuals out in the world, such as Michael Phelps, someone who's a decorated athlete, who has sided against Lia and argues that there needs to be an even playing field within the sport. So clearly, the sports world has completely erupted, and with so many people expressing their opinions on Lia and her decision and speculating on what she should and should not be doing, but we believe it's important to provide a forgotten perspective in this whole story, which is the perspective, Lia Thomas.

Eugenio Masari

Yeah. I was actually currently reading a Sport Illustrated article, and when asked about the situation, Lia said, I'm a woman just like anybody else on the team. I've always viewed myself as just a swimmer. It's what I've done for so long. It's what I love. I want to swim and compete as who I am. Lia's early struggle to maintain her identity while pursuing her passion led her to pursue hormone replacement therapy for a year, which was required by the NCAA prior to competing against other women.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah. And so clearly, you see that she was abiding by the stipulations that had already been provided by the NCAA to allow athletes to change their gender identity or their gender categories. So just to be clear, Lia was doing everything right, but because of the COVID sort of outbreak in 2020, it derailed her whole 2020 to 2021 season, and she found herself on HRP again. Hormone replacement treatment for more than two years when only one is required.

Eugenio Masari

Yeah. Lia clearly overly abided by the oldest stipulation provided by the NCAA. However, she's still faced with this constant scrutiny about her decision to participate against other female athletes. Although she attempted to remain optimistic about the situation and effort to pave a path for future young trans athletes, there is little doubt on the impact of the constant negative attention on the young athletes mental health. An obstacle day to day routine, unlike any other collegiate athletes.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah, and I've seen, along with the occasional social media threats and negativity, which Lia has forced to limit her participation in social media. The negativity is especially prevalent in actual competitions and among Lia's own team. This disapproval of a few teammate parents started in the early 2021 to 2022 season, the season in which she was able to return after transitioning, like we mentioned, having two and a half years of the hormone, which is more than the one that was required. And when letters of Penn Swim parents were sent to the NCAA to remove Thomas from women's competitions, this must have been horrible for Lia. These letters were fueled with arguments about her puberty as a male, giving her, quote, larger hands, feet, greater bone density, and a greater lung capacity.

Eugenio Masari

Right. And just to think about how your teammates think about you must be an extraordinarily uncomfortable situation. An example of their discontent was proved by 16 of her teammates, which kept sending letters to Ivy League officials requesting Thomas to be ineligible from competing in the conference championship because they said she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA women's swimming records. Feats that she could not have done as a male athlete.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah, and if you look at the sentiments from her teammates that sort of circulated the whole season, they jeopardize the chemistry, the camaraderie of the team. They jeopardize the chemistry and the camaraderie of the team itself. And we've actually heard from Lia's own teammates, such as Hadley DeBruyn, saying that sometimes it doesn't even feel like a team. So these actions are against Lia. We're just a few examples of many that we just wanted to point out, but it doesn't tell the whole story. But what we wanted to do was just simply highlight the perspective of Lia Thomas so viewers can come to a more holistic view in interpreting and judging the situation.

Katie Stevenson

Right, Mohammed. That leads me into a very exciting time. I'm so excited to introduce Isaac Henning, a Yale swimmer who is currently transitioning from female to male and has swam with Lia multiple times at Ivy League championships and NCAA Championship. Isaac is here to share his experience in the swimming world and will leave us with such valuable insight into how we can best support him and other transgender athletes. All right, Isaac, thank you so much for taking the time out of your crazy final schedule to meet with us briefly. How are finals in school going?

Isaac Henning

Thanks for having me. Finals are going alright. We start at the end of the week, so hopefully, looking good.

Katie Stevenson

Well, best of luck.

Isaac Henning

Thanks.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah. So thank you for coming on today. Would you like to do a quick introduction on who you are, hometown, things like that?

Isaac Henning

Yeah, absolutely. My name is Isaac Henning. I'm a junior at Yale. I use him pronouns. I'm also on the swim team. I do some work on campus around communication and consent, and I also am an Earth and planetary science major.

Katie Stevenson

Oh, very cool.

Isaac Henning

I'm in California. So I'm super excited to be here today to talk to you guys.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah, awesome. So I guess just to start off, we'll give you a little insight into what we've been doing this semester. So we've been talking a lot about how important inclusion is to a successful, functioning group. So we're in like a business class of how the workplace, in order for it to be successful, everyone needs to be working together and feeling included. There's an example in a case study about how a coworker was gluten-free, and the allergy options were much worse than the pasta and pizza. They felt like the nonallergy people, and the coworker felt really unwelcoming and not wanting to be part of this group anymore. So are you able to speak at this at all? And has there been a time in your own life where you didn't feel comfortable or the welcoming environment which may have hindered your ability to perform? Or like, on the flip side, if you had a really welcoming environment and that really positively affected your ability, whether that's like workplace or school or job?

Isaac Henning

Yeah, definitely. I've been super lucky in that a lot of the spaces that I am in on campus have been super supportive of me. My team especially has been wonderful. The coaches were great. At this point, I came out to them over a year ago, and they were super supportive at the time. One of my coaches even cried on the call. I won't tell you which one it is because they'll get embarrassed, but just like super supportive. And so that really allowed me to have the season of my life. This last year. I was super grateful for how it went and for how my team responded, and I think them going out of their way to respect me and how I am, it was really lovely.

Katie Stevenson

That's so great to hear. Yeah, you crushed it. That was so awesome.

Isaac Henning

Thank you.

Katie Stevenson

I saw a picture, and you had written on your arm with like sharpie because there was a rule against you. I forget what it was about. Political something, and you found a way around it, the article said. Can you talk about that at all? That was awesome.

Isaac Henning

Yeah, for sure. The background as to why it was written on my skin is because the NCAA has pretty specific messaging around things that could be political or policy-related on uniforms, but absolutely nothing at all about what you can have on your skin. For me, the idea of, because there was so much media coverage coming into N.C.s, having the opportunity to just share a message of inclusivity, it doesn't need to be political. It's just kids are kids. They should play sports. They should have community. I think you guys, as athletes, understand, you need that. You need a group of people who's going to stick by you. You're going to learn how to work as a team and all of those important skills. Every single kid should be able to access those in a way that makes them feel comfortable. And so it was a no-brainer for me to write that and have it.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah, What you said about having like I feel like in sports, we learned so much from our teams, and we carry that into like I carry into school all the time. And in professional work, is there like, a skill from your sport that you feel you use the most or like, you will use the most, like, soft skill?

Isaac Henning

Yeah. No, it's a good question. I think, honestly, not to be too topical, but kind of finding connections with people no matter what, sometimes someone walks in, and you're like, wow, I just can't stand this person. They're breathing, and it annoys me. But finding ways to connect with them, you go from feeling that way to being someone's friend, and I think that's really powerful and really cool to foster connections across disagreements or differences in belief.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah. I was just curious, how are the reactions to let trans kids play? Like, the message you wrote on your arm? Was it positively surprising, or like there's some people that gave you weird stares at all?

Isaac Henning

No, I wish I could answer that question. It was sort of one of those things where I'm notorious for being completely in my own world, especially at some meets. So if people were looking at me weirdly, I didn't really know, but the people who came up to me, for the most part, were really supportive.

Katie Stevenson

That's so great to hear.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah. Isaac, kind of going back to your point. You said you came out a year ago to your, like, your coaches and your team. So from my understanding, you sort of went through this transition during COVID, right? You said you took a year off, and you had a lot of time on your hands to sort of come to groups with your identity. And so, if you don't mind, could you talk about that journey that you went on to come to accept your identity? And you talk about if it was difficult growing up in a body that didn't necessarily coincide with how you actually felt.

Isaac Henning

Yeah, absolutely. It's a good amount there. I could probably talk about that for a while, but the sort of short summary of it is like, I came home because of COVID. I decided to take a year because I wanted to be able to swim all four years of college. And then I was in a really bad place. I'm not going to lie to you. And so having just a therapist who I love and adore, and having the time to be able to sort of reflect and understand why like things felt so hard was really powerful. And there was a moment where are you guys familiar with the idea of a binder? So it's an article of clothing that sort of compresses your chest, and so that is used to combat dysphoria in a lot of FTM trans people. And I put one on for the first time, and I tried on every single piece of clothing in my wardrobe, and I was like, am I allowed to curse?

Katie Stevenson

Go for it.

Isaac Henning

I was like, holy shit. This is exactly how I imagined all of my clothes fitting, right? And so that was a moment for me. I was like, okay, I'm starting to understand how much this affects me, how deeply I hold this. It was not the first time that I had voiced even this feeling. I had had similar feelings in 8th grade but wasn't really ready to accept that reality, especially given the cultural opinions at the time. I think it's easier to come out when I have more confidence in myself and when there's been more trans people just in general, in the media and then public sort of view. Yeah. I don't know if that answers your question.

Mohammad Ali

Thank you.

Katie Stevenson

I love that story. That's awesome.

Eugenio Masari

Yeah. I also want to ask about maybe like an uncomfortable topic, but how are you able to deal with adversity in the past and deal with adversity is probably going to come face you in the future. I feel like everyone goes through adversity, but definitely. I believe in your place you might have to face more. But yeah, I just wanted to ask simple question like that.

Isaac Henning

Yeah, it's a good question, and it's definitely something that I am still figuring out. I'm super lucky to have really great friends, supportive family and coaches, and team, and so leaning on them has been wonderful. And then I also am lucky enough to have a level of comfort with myself where it gets easier to deal with adversary because I feel very secure.

Katie Stevenson

Okay, this is kind of a random question, but if there was one character trait that you wish every single person in the entire world had, what would it be?

Isaac Henning

Self-Confidence.

Katie Stevenson

Good answer.

Isaac Henning

I think it's more powerful than we sometimes give it credit for. I think that it lets people feel more comfortable. And when people are more comfortable, they're more able to hear. They're more able to listen and hear things that might challenge their held beliefs. I like to believe that no one in this world sets out to be hateful. And so I think if people felt more confident in themselves and in their knowledge and might open the door for open discussions, open mind, rather than feeling a need to cling to belief so tightly that you can't hear anything that might challenge them.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah. Wow, that's great. Mohammed and Eugenio, what would you guys say? Do you have any thoughts?

Mohammad Ali

No, I agree. I definitely agree. Self-confidence is really important characteristic for people to have.

Katie Stevenson

I was thinking also, like, empathy was a good one. We talked a lot about that in the workplace too.

Eugenio Masari

Compassion as well, I would say. We don't like each other enough. I think humanity just doesn't really collide. I also wanted to ask you a question regarding I don't know if you know like Michael Phelps perspective on the topic of transition. Especially in the swimming world. But obviously, he was rather against it. Which for me, it's quite unbelievable, and it shouldn't be the case. But I think he claimed that there should be like an even playing of field for people to be in the same sport. But at the same time, he was genuinely gifted because he had to say but like longer arms. Like shorts. Longer torso or stuff like that. How would you perceive it's kind of like a hypocrite perspective? If we really think about it.

Isaac Henning

Yeah, it's a good question. And I think that it's always hard because you want to be able to turn to experts when you're forming opinions. I think you identified it and that we're much more able to, like, as a society, accept, like, genetic differences when it comes along with things that we are used to. Don't feel as so foreign, but being born taller, being born with a longer arm span, you know, those are genetic advantages. And like, no matter how you come to have that advantage over your competitors, there's no such thing as even playing fields in sport. Right. We are all college athletes. We're all taller, stronger, more able to do something than someone else that we raced in high school, someone else that we raced when we were younger. And so, for me, I think it's much more about understanding that trans people are people and they should be able to come to their sports in the same ways and we should celebrate them just as much and we should have just as much understanding and willingness to be like. Wow. That's a phenomenal athlete. And just be able to respect athleticism when it comes to us, regardless of what form.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah, if you don't mind Eugenio, if I could ask mine now. So, sort of going back to Eugenio's first question. Yesterday, Isaac, we actually talked a lot about the perception of Lia's transformation on her own team, how people felt about it. So, like, we know that you sort of competed alongside Lia in a competition, and sort of could you just talk about the environment, the atmosphere, in terms of the fans, and if you hear the heckling and how that impacts maybe your ability to compete or do you think it takes a toll on you? What would you say about the atmosphere of these competitions?

Isaac Henning

Yeah, I can't comment on Lia's experience. She's a great friend of mine. I love her to death. I'm not sure what her team looks like internally, but for me personally, yeah, it's tough where you always have in the back of your mind, like, oh, these people don't want to support me. But then it's like, that's not really that different. Like, there are always going to be people who are cheering for the opposing team, for someone else who you're racing. And at the end of the day, it's just swimming. Right. We're just out here to have a good time, go fast, see what we can do. It doesn't need to be so heavy. And I think that's how I sort of found my way through it.

Katie Stevenson

You're so mature.

Mohammad Ali

I think probably his experience also helped him with that, having to deal with diversity. So you have to mature. A lot of people don't have to deal with this.

Katie Stevenson

But it's not that it's a sport. We're all just here to play. I was going to ask about the hecklers that maybe have never been involved with swimming until they see one article in a newspaper. I personally find that a little bit frustrating to the swimming community.

Isaac Henning

Yeah. As swimmers, I'm sure you're familiar with this whole joke that once every four years for about a week, everyone becomes the biggest swimming fan for the Olympics and then just kind of fads to the background.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah.

Isaac Henning

And I think there's something to be said for like, anyone should be able to come and enjoy a sport and have opinions about it and feel like they are able to engage, but at the same time, recognizing that news headlines are written to be inflammatory. They don't always tell the whole story, and they don't always do every side the justice that it deserves. And so recognizing that, yeah, you should probably read more than one article. Yeah. You should probably take a deep breath and just say, okay, what am I actually feeling about this? Is this feeling like I am engaged with this, or am I feeling upset because this article that was written to sort of provoke this very visceral reaction has done exactly that? And so, I think I would just say it's okay to feel certain things, but it's also okay to gather more information and have your opinion change over time. And coming to things with an open mind is far more important than, like, knowing something right away.

Katie Stevenson

Right. Yeah. I feel like that we've been talking about that a lot, about how important it is before you say something to maybe like, sit down and take a deep breath.

Mohammad Ali

Sorry. So for my understanding, you sort of took this transition. You said that you wanted to take this transition slowly, and you talked about how you haven't taken the male hormones, and you decided to stay on the woman's swimming team this year. So for next year, I just wanted to ask you in your senior year, I believe next year, when you compete in the male category, I'm assuming, is that something that you're anxious about or excited about moving forward? What are your thoughts about that next year?

Isaac Henning

Yes. It's not something I discussed publicly yet, but I am going to be competing on the men's team next year, which I'm incredibly excited about. Yeah. So far, it's just been kind of fun to be able to race people that are faster than me in practice, and so I feel like that makes me a better swimmer, and that's great. I'm excited. I have no expectations. It's kind of this very liberating feeling of, like, I was supposed to graduate this spring anyway, originally, and so I really just am considering next year a little bit like a victory lap of, like, let's just go around and see what happens and enjoy ourselves, you know.

Katie Stevenson

That's awesome. Do you guys have a combined program, like, coaches-wise?

Isaac Henning

Yeah.

Katie Stevenson

Oh, cool. We have that here at William & Mary. I kind of love it. It's nice to be able to race Eugenio in practice.

Isaac Henning

What do you guys swim?

Katie Stevenson

I swim 50, 100, 200 free.

Eugenio Masari

I swim 100, 200 freestyle. Supposedly also swim the five free, but it's been a little rough lately. I don't know. Aerobic capacity is not there, and I'm getting too old for that. Recovery-wise, it's just not as quickly as 17 year old.

Katie Stevenson

Eugenio has been tiptoeing his way out of the factory.

Isaac Henning

I respect that. Joins the group the best.

Katie Stevenson

I'm so glad that your team is like, you guys are so close. That's, like, the key to a successful team, in my opinion.

Isaac Henning

Totally. Happy swimmer is a fast swimmer.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah. I think this is one final question. I think we could wrap this up because the whole sort of point of looking at this is, like, in our classes. How does this relate to diversity, inclusion in the workplace? I think. Katie, your last question. So just to end the podcast, I think it's a good point is what are you interested in pursuing after graduation, and what do you think? What life experiences and lessons have you learned, and during the experience, will you take with you into the real world?

Isaac Henning

Yes. I think I'm not exactly sure what I'll be up to directly out of college, but I would love to be a teacher. I want to teach high school science, probably. And I think for me, just recognizing that students come from so many different places, they have so many different experiences, and that changes the way that they perceive things. And so doing a little bit of work on the front end to anticipate that. Right. Kind of like the example you guys gave of the food options. Right?

Katie Stevenson

Right.

Isaac Henning

Making sure that people are feeling catered to. People are feeling like they are being heard, that their concerns are listened to. I think I would love to create a classroom environment where students feel comfortable showing up as 100% themselves.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah. That's so awesome. I would definitely take your class.

Isaac Henning

Thank you.

Katie Stevenson

All right, well, thank you so much for joining us on our podcast today. This was such a cool experience.

Isaac Henning

Thank you for having me. Great to meet you all.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah, nice to meet you too. Good luck with finals, by the way.

Isaac Henning

Yeah, thank you. You guys as well.

Katie Stevenson

We're almost done.

Mohammad Ali

Welcome back. Wow, that was a great interview. And Isaac brought in a really great insight into trans athletes and their perception on this whole situation.

Katie Stevenson

I totally agree. That was such a cool experience. I'm so glad that he was able to take out the time of his finals. I've never learned more from a zoom call before.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah. So as we conclude, we believe it's important to wrap up the podcast with tying our focus on the experience of transgender athletes and its relevance in bringing about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Eugenio Masari

So let's talk about a couple of questions that we have been exploring. Why do people feel excluded in the workplace? How can experiences of exclusion influence employee attitudes, behavior, and performance? And why are there conflicts between groups in the workplace?

Mohammad Ali

Yeah, so these are questions that we've actually been exploring throughout the course, and it's clear that these feelings of exclusion are high indicators that companies will not be successful. And so, as we've heard from Isaac, he had one of his best seasons, and he attributed part of that to his close and tight-knit team and support network. And as he decided to come out.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah, it was so cute when he said his coach even cried. That just shows how supportive and respectful and kind his environment must be. And I think a lot of times, companies in society as a whole misinterpret the term integration as inclusion when in reality, they're quite different. I learned this in my education class, but integration in the business world is hiring or competing with someone who is different than the majority. And while, yes, they are inside the same circle, it's as if there's this bubble preventing them from feeling part of the community. So if you're picturing it on as a picture, it's like a big circle. And within the big circle, there's a minority circle that's smaller. So while it may look like an inclusive environment, it's really not. And in order to feel the senses of the conclusion and get that internal bubble that's holding this, like, minority group captive is tricky sometimes.

Eugenio Masari

Right. And I think the conflicts arise on a daily basis in the workplace. Because of this butting of heads, colleagues have differences in opinion between the management and his employees. There are divergences. There are a variety of reasons why situation like these arise amongst groups inside of an organization. Ultimately, diversity is the main reason for conflicts in the workplace. People tend to not enjoy being with others that do not align with them.

Mohammad Ali

Yes. And this is actually a major issue. And we've seen some research done at the Pew Research Center that they calculated that in 2021, 57% of people said that part of the reason they left their field of employment was because they felt disrespected or excluded. Even more interesting is that 35% of those people said that that was the main reason or the major reason that they left. And actually, according to Research Society for Human Resource Management, it's reported that it costs, on average, six to nine months of the employee salary to replace them. And so what this really means is that looking at this subject, even from just a strictly business standpoint, it's still not in the best interest of the companies to not accommodate the needs of people working under them and having an environment that is not inclusive because it's going to result in losses for the company.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah, so I like what you said about the business standpoint, and I think in order to achieve this, you need to kind of work on those softer skills, like, quote, which is more like feelings of empathy and kindness towards your employees. And I think it's important that these feelings are being taken into account of everyone that's working at an organization or business. And while, yes, regulations and rules that may mandate more diversity in the workplace may seem like a positive and end all be all, but in reality, it comes down to the internal feelings of someone. And people need to feel welcomed and have self-confidence, which is one of the words that Isaac said that everyone should have, are a critical piece to this puzzle.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah. So Isaac mentioned how in the future, he wants to be a teacher, and his goal for his students is for them to feel like they can be whoever they want, which ties into how we want people to feel in the workplace, which is DEI work.

Eugenio Masari

Yeah. And as Isaac said himself, it is so important from a young age to practice this inclusion and equity, even just in simple life and work and in the workplace as well.

Katie Stevenson

So, audience, we hope that you have come to a more holistic perspective on a situation like transgender athletes in sports. And I've come to really value inclusion and what that can do for an individual and for a team in a sport or workplace.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah. And although we haven't solved the problem of exclusion, like Katie said, we hope that, like you said mentioned, the audience understands the value and the need of inclusion and being accepted in the workplace and what that means for each individual person.

Katie Stevenson

Yeah. This is a great final project.

Mohammad Ali

Yeah. Who knew a final project would be so valuable?

Katie Stevenson

I agree. Okay, folks, that wraps up today's episode of Over Sit. We hope that you sat down and over-listened so that your understanding is better. Have a great day.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

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Student Takeover Part 1Episode 19: August 15, 2022
Gender Pay Gap

Student Takeover Part 1

Episode 19: August 15, 2022

Summer Student Takeover Part 1 - Gender Pay Gap

Today on a special show, we start our Summer Student Takeover series with an episode about the gender pay gap. Join hosts Tasia Ricks, a Junior at William & Mary, Senior Will Casale, and Senior Katherine Davis as they discuss historical events that have contributed to the gender pay gap, current issues surrounding inequality in pay, and what to do to help ensure women get equal pay in the workforce. They also welcome Dr. Nicole Pyer and Professor Phil Wagner to discuss gender pay disparity.

Podcast (audio)

Student Takeover Part 1: Gender Pay Gap TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Podcast (platforms)

iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Amazon Music/Audible | Spotify | Google Podcasts

Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • What factors contribute to the gender pay gap
  • The flaws contained within the Equal Pay Act of 1963
  • The significance of the Ledbetter vs Goodyear decision
  • How the modern pay gap discrepancy is measured
  • Why maternity is a major factor in the gender pay gap
  • How prior compensation history contributes to systemic discrimination for women
  • Phil Wagner speaks on how Social Comparison Theory plays a role in workplace gender discrimination
  • Dr. Nicole Pyer's experience on being a woman in the professional world
  • Best practices for countering pay discrepancies in the workplace
  • They many benefits of ending gender pay inequality
Transcript

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun.

Phil Wagner

Dear friends of our podcast, thanks for tuning in over your summer. As you can likely surmise, things are a little bit slow here. We've taken a little bit of a summer sabbatical to give us space to think about, plan for, and record season two, which, by the way, is going to be dynamic. Stay tuned. It drops this fall. But in the meantime, we didn't want to keep you wanting, so we've decided to release three special bonus episodes. And lucky for you, I'm not the host. That's right. We put our students in front of the mic. During this mini-summer student takeover, you'll get to hear from three student groups from our Spring 2022 Diversity in the Workplace course here in the Mason School of Business. These episodes were specially selected as they build on some important themes and give our students a chance to showcase their work. We've selected three to keep you engaged as we wait for season two to drop. In this first episode, Will Casale, Tasia Ricks, and Katherine Davis will be sharing just a bit more on the gender pay gap. They've got some interesting insights, though it does bear noting that the perspectives shared in this podcast episode are the students and the students alone. They have guided the conversation, and I'm glad you can learn from their insights. So, without further ado, here's episode one of our summer student takeover with Will, Tasia, and Katherine.

Tasia Ricks

Hello, friends. Welcome back to Diversity Goes to Work. In this episode, we have myself, Tasia Ricks, a junior at the college, majoring in government with the minor in sociology.

Will Casale

We also have myself, William Casale, a senior here at the College of William & Mary. I'm an economics major and a business management minor.

Katherine Davis

And then myself, Katherine Davis. I am a senior marketing major with a concentration in management and organizational leadership.

Will Casale

And today, we are going to be talking about the gender pay gap. Guys, what are your thoughts on the gender pay gap right off the bat? What were some of the reasons you guys wanted to talk about this topic?

Tasia Ricks

Maybe because it's not real.

Will Casale

Tasia, come on. That joke was not funny, Tasia.

Tasia Ricks

Well, before we got into the heavy material, I had to do a little test practice run, you know. That's why we're here, right?

Will Casale

That was the test you guys all failed. That's the reason we're talking about this.

Katherine Davis

All right, guys, it's because of skeptics like Tasia that we need to have this conversation about the gender pay gap. So I'm going to start off with a timeline of historical events that have contributed to the gender pay gap. And then Will is going to talk to you guys a little bit more about some current issues that contribute to this gender pay gap. And then, we'll hear some thoughts from Professor Phil Wagner of the College of William & Mary. And then, we'll finish it off with Tasia, who is going to share some thoughts from a pharmacist Nicole Pryor and her experiences with the gender pay gap in her workplace. And then she's going to give you guys some recommendations on things that you can do to support the fight in getting equal pay for women in the workforce.

Tasia Ricks

By the end of this podcast, you should have every moral obligation to get up and join us in this fight to equal pay.

Will Casale

Yes. And now we're going to move it on over to Katherine for her section talking about history of the gender pay gap. Katherine, what do you have to say?

Katherine Davis

So historically, the gender wage gap refers to disparity in incomes between men and women from doing the same work, although, during our research, we discover that there are many more factors than just sex that contribute to the wage gap. Some other contributing factors include race, class status, and education. There are roots of the gender pay gap that goes all the way back to the beginnings of industrial capitalism, where we saw men working outside of the home for wages, while women whose unpaid work in the home that was equally as valuable to societies was always undervalued because there was no wage associated with their role as the family caretaker. To fast forward about two decades to the 1940s, Winifred Stanley, a Republican member of Congress from New York, introduced a bill titled Prohibiting Discrimination and Pay on Account of Sex that would have amended the list of unfair labor practices in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 to include discriminating against any employee in the rate of compensation paid on account of sex. However, this bill did not make it through Congress, and we did not see much progress for equal pay for women until the sixties when the JFK administration took office. Specifically, in 1963 on June 10, when the Equal Pay Act was put into effect. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandates that employers cannot award unequal pay or benefits to women and men who are working jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility and which are performed under similar working conditions. While this was a pivotal event for women's rights, there were still flaws in the bill that resulted in the continuation of the gender wage gap. However, in 1964 there was an addition to this bill called the Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, not just those in 1963 of sex. And then we'll fast forward to the 70s when the concept of comparable worth and pay equity entered the national conversation. In the 1970s, we saw many women and people of color still segregated into small number of jobs, such as clerical, service workers, nurses, and teachers. An advocacy group, the National Committee on Pay Equity, explained that these jobs have historically been undervalued and continue to be underpaid to a large extent because of the gender and race of people who hold them. We then hear from Eleanor Holmes Norton, chair of the Equal Opportunity Commission during the Carter administration, who singled out comparable worth as the issue of the 1980s. However, the Reagan administration that came next firmly opposed this idea, resulting in little to no change in the laws surrounding the gender pay gap in the 90s. Fast forward nearly a decade to 2007. U.S. Supreme Court Ledbetter versus Goodyear, which was a case where Ledbetter sued her employer under the Civil Rights Act, alleging that it had underpaid her for 19 years, and a jury awarded her more than $3.5 million dollars. However, Goodyear appealed, arguing that she failed to file the suit within 180 days while the discrimination first occurred. An appeals court reversed the original decision, and the Supreme Court also ruled against Ledbetter in a five to four vote. However, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and dissenting suggested that this was now a matter for Congress to take up. Which they did, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed in 2009. It expanded the period for filing a discrimination claim, making it easier for other women to sue employers that they believe had discriminated against them. It was also the first piece of legislation signed into law by then-President Barack Obama just nine days after his inauguration. I'm now going to pass it over to Will to talk to you guys a little bit more about some current issues surrounding the gender pay gap.

Will Casale

Thank you, Katherine. Now that we have established the historical foundation of how women's pay in the workplace has evolved, let us move on to the modern-day United States. Woman's participation rate in the labor force has increased dramatically, and policy actively opposing discrimination in the workplace has never been stronger. However, the wage gap has not progressed at all, as there is still a clear and persistent discrepancy in compensation. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women, on average, earn $0.82 for every dollar that the average man earns. This $0.82 on the dollar stat is one of the more famous accompli reference statistics in our modern society. Statistics, though, can often be vague in their implications, and sometimes they can be flat-out misleading. When we're analyzing stats involving groups of hundreds of millions of people, such as this measure, the full story can be left untold. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to this measure of pay difference in the workplace, and breaking them down can help us better understand what fully accounts for this discrepancy. First of all, we must break down how exactly this $0.82 on the dollar statistic was calculated in the first place. This measurement of the gender wage gap is determined by finding the ratio of women's to men's earnings for full-time, year-round workers across the entire United States and taking the difference between those earnings. Contrary to popular belief, this metric does not reflect a direct comparison between men and women performing identical occupations in the workplace. There seems to be some intentionality behind this, though, as not doing direct comparisons allow the stat to encompass a variety of other factors contributing to the wage gap. Race is another very heavy influencer of how much women will make in the workplace. As the wage gap is much larger for most women of color, who earn $0.62 for every dollar a white male earns. Hispanic women earn even less at a mere $0.54 on the dollar, meaning men earn nearly twice as much as the average Hispanic woman. On the other hand, Asian women fare much better, earning about $0.90 on the dollar. White females earn about $0.79 per white male dollar. The role that race plays in the wage gap is often obscured by gender differences, but it is clearly a comparable factor in terms of its impact. Differing industries is also a contributing factor to the pay gap. Gender norms and expectations can tend to funnel men and women into different kinds of careers. Some of these female majority industries, such as home health aides, childcare workers, and other things of that sort. On average pay much less than male-dominated industries. Differing hours worked and years of experience are major factors in why women earn less on average, and they can be predominantly attributed to one thing, maternity. Women are disproportionately driven out of the workforce to accommodate caregiving, and it gives them a severe disadvantage in both hours worked a week and total experience over the course of their careers. Access to paid family and medical leave makes women much more likely to return to work and more likely to return sooner at that. However, as of March 2019, only 19% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave through their employers. This means lower hourly wages and fewer benefits compared with full-time workers. Make no mistake about it, though. The fact that maternity has a good chunk of the impact does not change the fact that this is still a clear gender-related issue. Women are forced to bear the brunt of the responsibility when it comes to pregnancy and early caregiving for a child. Company policy is simply lagging behind in terms of supporting women who become pregnant and trying to prevent their careers from being completely derailed. There is no overarching federal legislation requiring employers to offer paid maternity leave. The average amount of paid maternity leave given by companies is eight weeks, but this isn't mandated by the law. Federal law only requires twelve weeks of unpaid leave. 40% of employers offered paid maternity leave in some form. Under these conditions, it is nearly impossible for a woman's career trajectory to stay on track once they become mothers. Last but certainly not least is plain flat-out discrimination. Gender-based discrimination pay has not been legal in the United States since the early 60s, as Katherine previously referenced, but it still remains a widespread practice today. This extends beyond explicit decisions to pay women less than men. As the discrimination is not just a service level issue, but it is a systemic issue. Employers often discriminate in pay when they rely on prior salary history in hiring and compensation decisions. This can enable pay decisions that could have been influenced by discrimination to follow women from job to job. Given the variety of different factors at play with gender discrimination in the workplace, what sort of psychological theories can we use to account for these dynamics? To discuss these various phenomena, we've decided to bring on Dr. Phil Wagner, a professor at the College of William & Mary who specializes in organizational communication, social support, and diversity and inclusion.

Will Casale

Well, we are here with Dr. Phil Wagner. How are you doing today, sir?

Phil Wagner

You know, I am busy but good. And I know that's probably how you feel, too. It's like a crazy time in the semester but excited to be chatting with you, my friend.

Will Casale

Yes, thank you very much for making the time. It's that time of the year. It's very busy for everybody. So I wanted to ask you just a couple of questions to see what your thoughts are on this gender pay gap dynamic in the workplace. I first wanted to ask you about social comparison theory. I wanted to know if you think that plays a role in gender discrimination in the workplace.

Phil Wagner

So there are, for lack of a better term, a bucket of theories that we can use to address issues of workplace inequity workplace performance that relates to DEI issues and exclusion, group conflicts. I would first frame and say I'll pull from my lecture notes, Will, so just a heads up. It'll be a little bit repetitive here, and just anybody listening, those notes come from Michelle Mebarak's work. Great, prolific scholar that has sort of synthesized those theories. But for me, the idea of social comparison playing out in gender discrimination in the workplace. Yeah, I think so because this relates to one of the three questions that we ask about DEI work, which is, first and foremost, why do employees feel excluded in the first place? And this is sort of riffing off of that theme. So for me, to contextualize the theory coming from Leon Festinger from the 50s, theory says we have this innate sort of, like, internal driving force that compels us to just evaluate ourselves in relation to others. And that's natural. We're constantly self-reflective beings thinking about ways to benchmark our success. And we do that quite simply by using sort of observation and how we relate to others as a kind of data-driven change management strategy. We do this in all areas of life, right? I played piano growing up, and I had this arch enemy, Benji. We were kind of at the same level, but to be honest, he was just a little better than me, no matter how much I practiced. So I compared myself to Benji. That's how I knew I met the mark. We would sort of grow together. Even if he was a little bit ahead of me, I knew and judged my own status by my relation to him. So I think in the world of work, there are a lot of different ways that something like that might play out. Probably one that sticks out to me related to this conversation is an area of access and how that impacts opportunities for that sort of benchmarking we talked about. A caveat this is a little bit of a note on simplicity. I will definitely keep my answers like high-level public, not super deep, so don't judge me for it. But I think the first thing I think of is that the context of the world of work is not necessarily like, well established for successful comparison for women to benchmark their performance. Quite simply, because we know that data has told us consistently time and time again, women have consistent barriers towards upward mobility and particularly access to the C suite. So if you're a female with C suite expectations and aspirations, how do you benchmark that? Who do you compare that against? It's likely going to be a male colleague. So how do you do that? We're not arguing that women and men can't learn from each other, but I do think that there are different obstacles faced which complicates how that theory might be applied. We talked about this in class, but you can't really be what you can't see, and I would say you can't really benchmark yourself against others that aren't there. So this is about acknowledging that the world of work is kind of an unbalanced power system. And researchers argue back and forth about the gendered or sex function of social comparison that didn't originally factor into Festinger's work. Other research that followed off of that kind of left it off too. We do now collectively sort of understand that the comparison process underneath the lens of social comparison looks differently for men and women. Early research, I think from the early 2000s, like Shelley Taylor's work, looks at the desire to affiliate with others. And that research notes that that's a more marked desire among females than males. So it's hard not to see how this might factor into representation issues. I also think it maps out the other theories, some that we talked about in class, some that go beyond some communication theory, things like uncertainty reduction theory. We always try to reduce the amount of uncertainty or anxiety we face in any situation. And people want to compare themselves to each other in part to sort of reduce that anxiety that might come along with imposter syndrome or assessing whether they're where they should be or not. Other theories like social identity theory or self-categorization theory, I think, also give us a good foundation here too. But I do think that this theory might be helpful. But we have to contextualize it with the realities of the world of work. And I think access complicates that reality as it relates to application of this theory. Does that answer your question? Will, I told you. I'm super verbose.

Will Casale

That was as complete of an answer as I could have hoped for.

Phil Wagner

All right, good.

Will Casale

One of the other things you were discussing all these objective barriers that are clearly there in the workplace for women who are trying to achieve certain opportunities. And those are objective regardless of how they perform. But one of the psychological consequences associated with this could be a lack of motivation, knowing those obstacles are there in the first place. So do you get the sense that identity-based motivation theory plays a role in the workplace as well?

Phil Wagner

Okay, so this is a good question, and I see where you're going here. So I'm kind of one trick pony, and I always go back in my own DE&I work. I did another podcast today where we talked about these three things. So apologies for the repeat, but my own work in the space goes back to three central questions. Why do employees feel excluded? What are the consequences of that exclusion on their motivations and behaviors, and performance? And then three, why do groups experience conflict in the workplace? And so, question number two, this clearly relates to that. I think there are a few different theories that might relate here. The socio-meter model of self-esteem or interaction model of cultural diversity, or a handful of identity theories, might also explain this too. I've studied identity theory a lot. I use identity theories in my work. I have to tell you, identity-based motivation is not my particular forte, but it is pretty simple. So it's easy to understand. I haven't utilized it in research, but it's very easy to apply. IBM really just looks at human motivation and the ways in which that motivation kind of drives us towards specific or outline goals. So the premise of the theory is that people just prefer to act in ways that align or feel congruent with their identity or identities. And I say identities because we, of course, have to take an intersectional perspective. I know we're talking about men and women, but I want to be mindful here that no one has just one identity. They overlap and compete and converge, complicate each other. But for sake of conversation, let's boil it down to just like a binary gender identity. What we're talking about with wage gap is really just about exclusion writ large. So, sure, it has specific outcomes, but it's primarily about exclusion. So then we can back up and recognize two things that that theory probably would tell us pretty specifically. First, workplace exclusion is going to shape which identities are more present or more salient in specific situations. So maybe your employee identity, your identity as a woman, your identity as a Latino might factor in differently given the context of workplace exclusion. So in the context of wage discrimination, it's hard not to see how gender identity factors in. Data tells us that race does, too, because black women make even fewer cents on the dollar than white women do, so those identities matter, but an intersectional lens is likely to be the most impactful. And then, I think the theory would also remind us that workplace exclusion shapes specific norms and values, and behaviors. And so the theory tells us that exclusion in the workplace can affect employees motivation to undertake or complete tasks, right? I mean, if you're feeling those, it is going to impact what you want to do and why. And I think our readings that we've talked about in our own course will sort of set this up, Will. Mebarak, in her work, gives an example, I believe, of how gender might impact wage-related issues. So she talks about if a woman sees an ad vacancy for a really challenging but advantageous opportunity, her desire or motivation to even move forward and think about competing for that position would likely be impacted by multiple different intersecting elements of her identity or multiple intersecting identities. So gender, of course, but also work identity for that specific woman, those identities might intersect to send messages about the likelihood of her success. We have to sort of look at organizational culture. Do her identity experiences support this idea in her head that she would fit in, that she would be valued, would be taken seriously? Has she overheard conversations from male executives commenting that female leaders maybe aren't as successful? Or has she heard other women share experiences where they have had a really tough time changing organizational culture or achieving the outcomes they need to be successful in that position? We have to look at organizational culture writ large to ask questions about motivation. So I think these really are issues of culture. But I think the theory is probably most helpful in helping us understand the relationship between exclusionary work environments and the ways in which they impact employee motivations and behaviors. So I think even the small, like slight changes in organizational culture, those can drastically shift motivations and experiences. And we have to think about how that might play out for other people too. LGBTQ folks, folks with a disability, BIPOC, folks who don't see themselves represented. I think this goes beyond just the gender and wage conversation alone, but I think it's a theory that could help us understand more about that topic writ large.

Will Casale

So clearly, the gender wage gap is still a very big and very real problem in the United States today. Now that we've discussed all of the problems associated with unequal compensation in the workplace. We'd like to give our best efforts to find some solutions that you, our listener, can get involved in. And for that, I'm going to move it on to our good friend Tasia.

Tasia Ricks

Before I get into ways to combat the gender pay gap, I would love for you all to hear from an individual who has experienced this. All right, everyone. Today I would like to introduce Dr. Nicole Pyer, whom is a pharmacist, has been practicing pharmacy for the past twelve years, as well as navigating through business roles and other aspects. And she has information to share about gender inequalities. Okay, so I just have a few questions for you today. I'm going to start by asking what is your experience in this space and how did you approach the issue?

Nicole Pyer

Okay, first, I would like to speak about being a woman in the professional world is something that can be intimidating. But in addition to that, a lot of times, what happens is that women in these spaces typically don't talk about pay rates or salary positions. Most of the times, when you accept the offer from these from large companies, you negotiate your salary. And especially when you negotiate, you definitely believe or have a perception that you're advocating for yourself. And so, a lot of times, what happens is people end up lowballing themselves in positions like this, surprisingly. I think that sometimes a lot of women in power or in higher ranking or powerful positions tend to go or negotiate lower pay grade salaries. Being in the professional world and being a pharmacist, particularly. One of the sayings back in school, like six years, six figures, so you always think like, oh, when you get out, you graduate, you'll be able to make six figures, and everything will be great. Well, I did have the advantage of being able to have a six-figure salary, but it wasn't until that I got into the professional world, from intern, from intern to grad intern, to actually practicing, that I realized that I wasn't being paid the same amount as my counterparts. And it just so happened to be a conversation about another male pharmacist who was actually leaving the company. And it was a discussion about why would he be leaving the company when he made x amount of dollars per hour. And it raised an eyebrow for everybody who overheard that conversation. Because, as I stated, when you're negotiating a salary in certain positions, companies tend to go on the lower pay grade. If you have experience and you've been in avenues where you can negotiate your pay grade, it's not as intimidating. But in this situation, I was freshly graduated, and I was willing to take anything at that time. So when I realized that my male counterpart, who had maybe about ten years more experience than me, was making almost 20 to 30, almost 40,000 more than I was, it was kind of like, wow, what happened? What happened to me that why was I given a lower pay grade? But, you know, what happens a lot of times is that it's swept under the rug. Employers encourage their employees to not discuss their pay rate with their colleagues, and I think a lot of times, it's because of the inequality that you see between genders, race, and disabilities. I think those are the reasons a lot of employers tend to encourage their employees to not speak about their pay rate.

Tasia Ricks

Wow, that's a lot of information. Yes, that's a lot of information to take in. Thank you. Sorry that you experienced that. Being that you have experienced this, do you have any advice for anyone who is currently facing these issues?

Nicole Pyer

Absolutely. Once I was faced with this, I definitely encouraged my counterparts to talk about their pay with their colleagues. If we're doing the same job, we should be having the same equal pay. And I understand that experience may be a factor or certain credentialing, but if our base pay is all the same across the board, then when we're going up for our annual review, it shouldn't be that my male counterpart is almost $15 over what I'm being paid. If we have the same amount of time and experience, and you see that to this day, and it's an unfortunate situation, but I think in spaces like this, I heavily encourage it. Even if you don't want to specify exactly how much you make on an annual basis, I think that if you could just get a figure and kind of say, okay, where you are in this median, then I think that will kind of encourage people to have conversations. And if they do realize that they are being lowballed, I think that you should go to your employer, and you should address it because they're breaking the law. There is an equal pay act that was implemented into law to discourage and stop employers from paying certain employees a lesser income due to their race or their gender. So I definitely encourage women, men, black, white, Asian of any gender or race to talk to their colleagues. Like I said, if you want to be discreet, talk about a figure, even if you talk about certain incentives, like vacation time, things of that sort, and just kind of talk about it in order to see where they stand. And if you realize that you're being lowballed, I definitely think you should take that information, go to the employer, and they should be able to explain you why you're making less than your counterpart, especially if you have the same experience and the same education.

Tasia Ricks

Okay, thank you for that answer. I just have one last question for you. Rather, do you know of any misconceptions about the gender pay gap? And if you do, what factors do you think contribute to these misconceptions?

Nicole Pyer

As I stated previously, most employers when you receive an offer letter, or you receive an offer. A lot of times, they say, hey, don't discuss this information with your colleagues about your pay rate. And a lot of times, they try to insinuate that maybe you're being paid higher than your colleagues. But what if it's like reverse psychology, and it's the complete opposite? What if it's that your employer is actually lowballing you compared to your other counterparts who have the same education, the same experience, and the same time vested into your career? So as I stated previously, I think it's really important to talk about this. Don't be afraid to talk about it with your counterparts. And I think what encourages that is that people are afraid to. Because I know at one time it was considered against company policy to discuss your pay rate with one another, but now you don't hear about that as much. But growing up and being an intern and applying for different positions, every time that I received a new job, it was documented in like the new colleague orientation to not discuss your pay rate with your colleagues. And if they found out, you would be either terminated, or it was some type of it would be something against you for the company. I'm trying to think of the word. It's like almost like a demerit. If they found out about it like I said, you can either be terminated or you could be demoted, which I think is totally absurd. And it's like, why would you want to discourage your colleagues from talking about something that this gender inequality affects people across the board, it affects level of education, it affects social economics. If women are able to be paid more, that means that it's more income coming into the household for families, and it also allows for women to be more confident to apply for positions of power because they know that they will be getting paid. And as well as for other companies to encourage people to apply for different positions to receive higher education because they know that they will be compensated for the time and the investment that they put in themselves to be an asset to the company. I hope that answered all of your questions.

Tasia Ricks

Yes, that was a lot, but a lot of great information. I really do appreciate you for doing this interview today. Do you have any other remarks or anything else to add?

Nicole Pyer

No, I just encourage people to continue to advocate for yourself and your colleagues. If you feel like you are being wronged by a company that you're investing your time and effort into. I think you should take it to H.R., get the facts, and hopefully, we can all stand together to close this gender inequality pay because all those laws are put in place. It is very much still a real thing that is happening, and I'm glad that we're having a conversation around this, but it takes courage for people to stand up for themselves or maybe even their colleagues.

Tasia Ricks

Ending the gender pay gap is about making sure women and men are paid fairly and equitably for the work they do. According to the globalcitizen.org, improving gender equality and pay will, in turn, help with other things, like improving women's health, ending domestic violence, and even enabling female entrepreneurship. I will discuss ways to combat the gender pay gap and advocate for equal pay through four different lenses at the federal level, corporation level, individual level, and as a coworker or colleague. At the federal level, laws and bills should be put into place. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which promotes pay equity, has passed in the House but continues to fail in the Senate. One way the gender pay gap can be narrowed is by members of Congress and other politically powerful people vocally supporting legislative measures to strengthen equal pay. This can include voting yes for bills like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which, if passed, will launch pay transparency initiatives. These transparency initiatives will hold employers accountable for pay practices by mandating that they disclose wages and overall compensation. These actions will also work to reduce pay secrecy. Additionally, an increased wage floor or minimum wage is another potential way to compact the gender pay gap. Minimum wages vary from state to state, and although they may have been increased over time, it is quite obviously still not enough to close the gap. Especially when women are making less than their male counterparts worldwide. Universal social protection and economic security policies to keep women in the workforce is another way to narrow the gap. For women being in a job and being able to come back to the job in cases of maternal leave or other situations is important. Women's work needs to be valued through legal and collective regulation. Creating these laws and policies would not be enough, though let's not forget these laws must be enforced. For ensured enforcement of federal laws, compliance reviews should be conducted regularly. As a corporation, gender pay audits and action plans can be used to tackle the gender pay gap. Once employers acknowledge the data that proves this gap, the action plans can be implemented to combat this issue. Another tactic could be improving employment opportunities for women by developing promotion opportunities. The first step, though, would be to equalize performance reviews. It is pertinent that men and women are evaluated by the same standards. To ensure there are women equally available for promotion, companies should ensure diversity in every job level. Jobs that are not diverse exasperate the issue of equal pay as occupational segregation, and the opportunity gap are drivers of the gender pay gap. With that said, recruiting and promoting women to leadership roles will place women in spaces to influence company culture and decision-making. Lastly, in the corporate world, many companies are outright pledging commitment to pay equity. A company can be made more in charge of its employees if they take this pledge. Now at the individual level, I strongly believe that you are your best advocate, so advocate for yourself first of all. Don't be afraid to ask for a raise or negotiate your salary after doing research. Make sure to research the salary for your job position in your geographical area, and do not forget to talk about your strengths in regards to your role in the company. Another way to advocate for yourself is to join advocate groups such as the Equal Pay Advocates. This group challenges the legal, policy, and cultural barriers that allow the gender wage gap to persist. Their advocacy campaign, Equal Pay Today, suggests action through calling, tweeting, and even write into legislatives for policy reform. This brings me to another point. Advocate for yourself through social media. Don't just use those for cute pictures. Use your social media platform to discuss equal pay or even tell your story if you have ever experienced this. Share campaigns on your feed and follow activists. Basically, use your platform to educate, learn, and advocate. If you are a person experiencing the gender pay gap at work, talk to others that may be experiencing this too. This will create a sense of community, security, and confidence for everyone. Even if others are not experiencing this grievance, discussing it with them could possibly put pressure on them to do something about it. After all, pay and equity affects the entire workplace. Finally, if you want to see change, you have to get out and vote. Every vote counts. Do not ever be discouraged by the thought that your one vote does not matter. As a coworker or colleague, if you're in a position that can promote more equitable pay, advocate for those who are underpaid. As a team lead supervisor or manager. If you have the power to ensure internal equity, conduct regular compensation reviews. If this is not within your power, make a case to eliminate gaps in your team when in meetings with H.R. or your boss. Teamwork and productivity lies within how one feels about their position in the company, among other factors. Those who are not satisfied in their position will not always show up as their best self at work. It is extremely important to take the initiative when you are in a higher position than those who are suffering. Because if you stand by and you watch, you are indirectly contributing to the persistence of the gap. All right, guys, do you have any other recommendations for combating the gender pay gap?

Will Casale

Yeah, well, I think that's all good, Tasia. I think you touched on a lot of good topics. One of the things I was thinking that doesn't really get at the root of the systemic issues, but sort of the best way that you personally can give yourself the best opportunity if you're affected by the gender pay gap. There's a couple of ways. One, I think, is valuing education. The statistics show that fully educated women don't suffer anywhere near as much as those who don't have a full college diploma or high school diploma or anything of that sort. I think another good way to sort of fight for change is to get involved in jobs that allow you to unionize, just because the more numbers you can kind of get behind a movement, the more likely the workplace is to change their policies. So those are sort of a couple of suggestions I might have, but yes, and that's our podcast. Katherine, you want to close it off for us?

Katherine Davis

Yeah. We really hope that this podcast was as informative for you as it was for us. And just to end us off, Tasia's going to give us a little bit of a call to action to get you guys excited about combating this issue in your everyday lives.

Tasia Ricks

Thanks again for listening. I just want to say that the time is now to have these uncomfortable conversations. The time is now to advocate for those who can't advocate for themselves. We have stood by long enough, but now it's time to get up and advocate. Thank you.

Will Casale

Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Kathy Black
Kathy BlackEpisode 18: June 6, 2022
Age/ing Part 2

Kathy Black

Episode 18: June 6, 2022

Age/ing Part 2

Today we're continuing our conversation on aging and age diversity in the world of work with a true expert, Dr. Kathy Black. She is a professor of aging studies at the University of South Florida, a Next Avenue Top-50 National Influencer in Aging, Hartford Geriatric Social Work Factory Scholar, and an advisor for Age Friendly Sarasota. She joins host Phil Wagner to discuss aging in the workplace, what drives her personal interest in creating age-friendly spaces, what makes an "age-friendly" workspace, and so much more.

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Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • How does dignity factor into age in the world of work
  • How autonomy relates to dignity
  • What role soft skills play in an age friendly environment
  • What are the benefits of an age diversified workforce
  • How the pandemic has affected the older workforce
  • How best to navigate communication differences between and among generations
  • How does the older workforce keep relevant in a world where wisdom has been replaced by data
Transcript

Kathy Black

The nowhere for retirement fills work, and many people will find themselves having to financially support themselves. We can talk about some of the macro policies surrounding that, but the reality is people will be in the workforce longer.

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun. Welcome listeners to yet another episode of Diversity Goes to Work. This week, we're continuing our conversation on aging and age diversity in the world of work. And we are joined by a true expert. Dr. Kathy Black is a professor of aging studies at the University of South Florida. She's a Next Avenue Top 50 National Influencer in Aging, a Hartford Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholar, a fellow in the Gerontological Society of America, and an advisor for age-friendly Sarasota. Dr. Black has more than 40 years of experience working in the field of aging. She's been a practitioner, an educator, a researcher, and she's worked directly with older adults and their families as a geriatric case manager, a medical social worker, and a geriatric nurse in long-term care, hospital, nursing home, and community-based settings. She's got experience at every single level. She has conducted over 200 presentations in the field of health and aging at local, state, national, and global venues. She's been the principal investigator on more than a dozen grants in aging. She's authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications in top-tier journals. She's widely cited. She's a phenomenal expert. She is a dear friend and someone I am delighted to be able to host on today's episode. Kathy, thanks so much for joining us today on another episode of Diversity Goes to Work. I'm delighted to speak with you. I'm very familiar with your work. I'm very familiar with you, given that we were once colleagues, and I could not be more excited to hear your insight on age diversity in the world of work. Kathy, you spent your very impressive professional career really focusing on age. What drives your personal interest in creating age-friendly spaces?

Kathy Black

Well, Phil, it's an honor to be with you, and you are just an esteemed colleague. So truly, this is my privilege to be with you today. As you know, Phil, I have a passion for aging, as other people have a passion for what they do. And I just, from a very early age on, enjoyed older adults, love the stories, love the people, and literally have made a career caring about how people age. And of course, as society has continued age, it's more about how do we live fully across our life course, at every life stage and ability.

Phil Wagner

And that's what sticks out to me about your work, Kathy is that a lot of your work focuses on dignity, dignity among aging adults. From your perspective, how does dignity factor into age in the world of work specifically?

Kathy Black

Well, Phil, I'm glad you asked about that. And we did a study about a decade ago, and we asked the community, older adults in the community what dignity and independence meant to them. And Phil, as you know, I can take your blood pressure, I can get a blood value. But there is no barometer reading on dignity. It's very subjective. And what we found was that three main concepts and they really do apply to work as well. And that is this concept of autonomy, which is people's dignity is part of feeling that they have self-direction, self-choice. They can rely on themselves self-sufficiency. So that's very important. Again, it's subjective. People have different balance on these aspects. But autonomy was very closely related. There was a very strong relational component with dignity. That is, my dignity is also impacted on how I'm treated. So your recognition of me is part of my dignity. So respectful treatment. And by the way, it's also respectful treatment of others because you can't be in a dignified space if others are being treated without dignity.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Kathy Black

And again, there's a persona aspect here. I don't want to say that it's all embodiment, but for example, you do hear people say that they feel invisible or that they are judged as feeble, perhaps because of some changes. So that's a very important component of this sort of interpersonal relational angle. And then lastly, we also heard from people that it's highly intertwined with their identity. People have a sense of self-pride, acceptance, self-appreciation, self-worth. And that's an inherent worth. After all, we all have inherent dignity from birth, but also an earned worth. And so, again, it's a highly subjective construct but very important to all of us. Very much plays out in the work world.

Phil Wagner

It does, and it plays out in the pragmatic recommendations that you make based off of your work, too. Cathy, some of our listeners may not know that you've really spent a lot of your professional career cultivating age-friendly spaces, and you've been recognized for that work. Can you share with us from your perspective what is an age-friendly organizational space even look like?

Kathy Black

Excellent question. There is a certified age-friendly employer website now, and I'm quite impressed with it. They're professionals who have really pulled together, and people can be identified as age-friendly businesses. And I'll tell you what they're looking for. First of all, you do a self-study, and then you can do more to promote yourself. But they're looking really the entire gamut of the work world, from organization management HR. So, for example, that there's a commitment in workforce policies, organizational culture, employee relations, workforce planning, and composition, retention, candidate recruiting, management style, training and development, the content of the job, the process, work schedules, arrangement, compensation, healthcare benefits matter, a lot and savings and retirement benefits. So that's sort of some of the structural elements I also want to share with you. I was very impressed with this model that just was I think it was one of the last issues of the Gerontologist, which is the leading journal in my field. And they looked at age-friendly workplaces, and they really scoured what is out there in the work world. And so, an age-friendly work organizational culture. And so, by the way, that's a distinction. We could look at this from a societal level. We could look at this from an organizational level, from an industry level. We could look at this from a personal level. But what is an organizational and age-friendly workplace? Well, there's recognition and respect goes right back to those points and dignity that we talked about, that there's fairness and equality. People feel that they're being treated not because of age, which, by the way, is really chronological. And I'm going to come back to that in a moment that there's awareness phrasing. Phil, something we haven't talked about is there's an enormous diversity of age, and it's almost a joke to talk about age as a homogeneous, monolithic group. Phil, there are six generations alive today. Gen X is in their fifty's. The millennials are going to hit 50 in 2030.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for that note, Kathy. As a millennial, I appreciate the reminder.

Kathy Black

But the reality is we are so different. Now there are some normative changes with aging that are real, and there are some life circumstances that can just hit us that impact our ability to perform in a work environment. I mean, Phil, not all of us can stand on our feet all day. We can't do those twelve-hour shifts sometimes. Some of us have eyesight or vision issues affecting our ability to do tedious work with our hands, our eyesight, or even perhaps even driving in at different times of the shift. So, there's a lot of considerations when we listen to people in our community. We heard people talk about caregiving responsibilities. They want to work, but they've got people that are counting on them. Again, people have their own health issues, and so there's a whole bunch of circumstances. I'll just tell you a very famous study that was done in Germany with BMW. They found that there was a lot of errors in the various plants, and so they artificially populated one of their plants with older workers. And what they determined was that by changing the workplace, productivity increased. So, to not automatically assume there's nothing inherently wrong with the older worker, but the workplace can be adapted. So just getting back to that, there is this sense of awareness-raising because Phil look aging, and being older it's social construction. It tends to very negative connotation. It is learned you weren't born associating older with anything negative, but it has been learned. And so, it's going to take some relearning. The truth is we're living longer than ever before. We have much to contribute in social, economic, civic life. And so, we'll have longer working lives as well. And by the way, people need to keep working more, as many people are really unprepared for their extended longevity. And honestly, if you look across many industries, many organizations and industries are really gray, and they are really struggling with how do they encourage more people coming in? So, some of the things that organizations can do, Phil, again, in addition to helping change those attitudes and supporting those relationships. At the level of working with the employee, it's all about growth and development. We need to continue investing in people at all ages. And so, I'm sure you're familiar with the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes. So, we want to utilize those and continue to build on those. Lifelong learning is very important. Phil, our entire educational structure, you and I know this well, is quite linear. And it was built for a different time and space where there was demarcated points in life. You went to school. You worked. You're retired. Well, the nowhere for retirement fills work, and many people will find themselves having to financially support themselves. We can talk about some of the macro policies surrounding that, but the reality is people will be in the workforce longer, and many people want to continue contributing. So how do we invest and support their personal development, career development, manage their mobility across stages, and job enrichment? And remember, because health issues do become increasingly more common with age, how do we continue to work with people to work with their changing health? I was at a career Sun Coast meeting with an older 58 support group. They all were looking for work, and it was unbelievable to be there. And it broke my heart. I wanted to leave there, giving everybody a job. And I remember one woman so desperate and saying to me as I was leaving, I really desperately need to work. And I start dialysis next week.

Phil Wagner

Oh, wow.

Kathy Black

The issues are so real. So how do we help people stay healthy as well and keep them at the level that they want to continue to contribute? And when changes do occur, how can the workforce be redesigned? We heard about nursing stations again, nurses. The nurses are aging. The nursing workforce is continuing to get older. And so again, those twelve-hour shifts are hard on the feet, hard on endurance. And so, how do we redesign those workspaces? So, you're not walking as much, for example, recrafting roles, redeploying. Again, retention is going to be increasingly important. Even the front page of today's New York Times Phil was about China increasing their retirement age because their recognition, and this is very true in the United States as well. We need to continue to utilize older adults in labor because of the changing demographics. And the skilled workforce is not going to be there, and so part of that accommodation, Phil, is flexibility. And by the way, that works for all ages, flexible working, work-life balance, reduced workload. And I also want to share with you, Phil. I know that you will greatly appreciate this. Your listeners may not know this, but you are just such a gift in so many ways. But you were also very strong in critical thinking. You were all over that because your sense was people don't just learn things and get a degree, but it's the way they think and the value they add. Well, you should know that nearly every top ten list of future important work skills. And again, this is from the World Economic Forum. The Institute for the Future online learning platforms refer to what is needed today as soft skills, hard to quantify abilities, traits, mindsets, empathy, social, emotional intelligence, judgment, sense-making, communication. And, Phil, guess what? These things come with experience, and that's where we're at today. This is a highly prized and valued attribute that only you get with age. So, in fact, older adults add a lot of value to the workforce. And it's very important that organizations wrap their arms around that and really leverage that.

Phil Wagner

You knocked that out of the park, and you covered many of my questions in one because that's where we were going to go next is what are the benefits of having age diversity? And I think you've laid that point well. So, I want to go back to something else that you said, Kathy. Could you talk about changing times? And I think that story of the woman who's getting ready to go on dialysis and seeking a job really reveals the fractured world in which we live right now. Obviously, we're still in the midst of COVID-19. We're conducting this via Zoom, and all the complexities that come with that aside, we know that the world has certainly changed with COVID-19 changing everything we know about the world and the world of work. What changes for older or aging adults do you foresee coming?

Kathy Black

It's already happened. It's already happened. We saw it really during the recession. And it's also happening now. And that is older adults are those who do lose their jobs are far more likely to not return to that level of income or get a job. Again, we're seeing record numbers of people taking early Social Security, claiming disability. And we also have people reinventing themselves and entering into entrepreneur opportunities, really tapping into other ways to and again. Phil, it's about making money and surviving, but it's also about finding a sense of purpose and meaning. You look at the American ethos, and it is very much a very strong work ethic, particularly among boomers and the older age groups as well. And so, people's identities are heavily wrapped up into their ability to contribute and add. And so we want to have a work environments that are conducive to that.

Phil Wagner

That's excellent. I want to shift directions a little bit more and sort of harken back to the dignity framework that you laid out for us earlier. I work with multiple generations across our programs here, and that's one of the great things about our University, and our business school is that we get them from Gen Z to Boomers who come into our executive MBA program. What are some of the things or what are some of the most important things rather than younger employees Gen Z's, maybe young millennials should keep in mind when they're communicating with older employees. It's not just that ethic of respect. There has to be fundamental communication differences. That's why. Ok, Boomer sort of took off a few years ago. Right. Like, how do we navigate the communication differences between and among generations?

Kathy Black

In some ways, it's useful to look at cohort differences. After all, people were shaped differently. Certainly, Gen Z has grown up quite technologically literate and experienced major life events that have shaped who they are. Every generation has that. But sometimes, generations can be a barrier, and it really comes down to individuals. And some of the most effective things happening out there are really individualizing, personalizing, and pairing people. I'll give you an example. I have students write self-reflection essays what they learned constantly in my course. And I was teaching a sociology of aging course. And of course, we cover everything in their work, etc. And the student wrote that he said, it's because of your class. He must have worked in some environment. There was shift work that every week. I guess there was some shift opportunities that were more prized than others. But he said, Kathy, it's your class that helped me realize there's this older guy that they all didn't like. And it's your class that helped me realize he needed to work because he needed the money, he needed to take the day shift because he couldn't drive at night and that he needed to get out of the house because it was socialization for him and he had something to do. And that level of empathy, by the way, Phil goes both ways. It is not just about, oh, all of these things about the older adult. The older adult needs to also have empathy for that younger worker who's raising a family, who's struggling to put food on the table. So, it's respect. It all goes back to respect Phil and Phil. It doesn't just happen. I mean, sometimes workers just sort of connect, as you know. But what we know is that intentional design is really the way to go with that. And it has to be reciprocal that both are learning from each other. And the gifts are not always apparent. They're really sometimes special insights, but it speaks to our soul Phil when we connect with each other in those ways. And again, I will say that some jobs are just that. They're just a gig for somebody furthers their career. For others, they're a passion. So, again, so much depends on where people are at and what they're wanting in that work environment. But we can all make a difference in the sphere which we interact.

Phil Wagner

I love that. I think intentional design is key here in the Mason School of Business at William & Mary. We recognize sort of what can happen when you bring multiple generations together. And so, we've got a great program that some of our listeners might be familiar with called the Executive Partner Program, where we brought people in back to William & Mary, some alum, some who are just affiliated with the local Williamsburg community who come after serving sometimes decades in the world of work. And they come, mentor, our students work with them, and we create some great synergies across age boundaries. So, we asked some of those executive partners here in the Mason School of Business to provide a question for today, and they all sort of echoed the same themes. But this one was probably the most pointed. And so I want to ask you, one of our executive partners asks, how does the older workforce keep relevant in a world where wisdom has been replaced by data? And by data, they mean Google. Do you have any insight?

Kathy Black

So, we tend to glamorize technology. We are in a technological age. We are the Internet of things, driverless cars, 3D printing, AI. We glamorize technology. And unfortunately, we idolize youth. And I know that the median age at Google and Apple, and Amazon is quite young. But as you know, Phil, there are plenty of people at every age group who can be really great with technology. So, it is just a number. And part of the problem is we are focused on that. And there are some implicit assumptions, even in a statement like that, Phil. And look, Phil, there are no faults here. Technology changes are real. They are in the workflow. And I have a daughter who was working at a hotel, and I stopped in one day to see her, and she was working with an older woman. I said, oh, that's great, Alyssa. How are you doing? And she liked her. And then, a week later, she didn't care for so much. I said, why? She said she can't figure out the computer system, and it's taking her a lot of time to do her work for my daughter to do her work. So, there's an assumption that older people cannot learn. However, that's not really true. And part of it is older adults are sometimes their own worst enemy by being resistant to learning. But the reality is everybody brings gifts. We need to look at how to optimize those gifts and really question those assumptions because there are plenty of listen. There are 20-year-olds who aren't very tech-savvy. So, part of that is really, I think part of the mindset change that does have to occur.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I love that. And I think that's sort of what I'm hearing in your answer is that relevance doesn't mean going out and learning Snapchat or ticktock, right. I think relevance is sharing the insight you have from your experience and fostering meaningful relationships across the generational span because that's what's going to really get us to the humanity. That's what's going to develop that empathy. That's what's going to get us to dignity. So that's super profound. I've got one more question for you, Kathy. It's like the one we ask everybody on this podcast. And in D&I work, I think we often wish that we just had a magic wand that we could wave and fix all of the problems related to those areas of D&I that we care most about. What is one thing that you'd like to see the world of work do to make itself a more inclusive place for aging and aging individuals?

Kathy Black

Well, I think I would probably say if organizations were able to recognize and promote these are little gems where we have businesses where older employees are valued, nobody really knows about them, or you happen to come upon them. But the more we share that and promote that externally as well, the more we start to change and counter some of those stereotypes that are out there. Remember, stereotypes are the beliefs. Wow. How could that be? I thought that I was starting to challenge that, and then it will affect prejudice it will affect discrimination down the road. And so, I think promoting that and recognizing that it's leadership and changing the narrative.

Phil Wagner

I love that changing the narrative. And that's exactly what we're trying to do through this podcast series, change the narrative by refocusing our D&I efforts back on those real, human-lived experiences. So, Kathy Black, thank you so much for joining and sharing some of your research and your insight. So profound. We so appreciate your time. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.

Kathy Black

Great to speak with you, Phil.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Kathleen Slevin
Kathleen SlevinEpisode 17: May 23, 2022
Age/ing Part 1

Kathleen Slevin

Episode 17: May 23, 2022

Age/ing Part 1

Today we are delighted to be joined by Kathleen Slevin, the Chancellor Professor Emeritus of Sociology at William & Mary. Kate is an award-winning researcher, teacher, and thought leader. She has served in a variety of administrative capacities at William & Mary, including Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Kate studies the intersections of age and other mechanisms of social inequality, and joins us today to talk about ageism in the world of work and what we can do to combat it.

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Kathleen Slevin: Age/ing Part 1 TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

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Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • How ageism is openly accepted in the U.S.
  • What implications the gender discrepancy of ageism has on the world of work
  • Chronological age vs. functional age
  • What Kathleen learned about the intersection of age, race, and gender while writing her book "From Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones"
  • What are tensions between inequalities and privileges that are brought about by age in the workplace
  • How unpaid labor, like childcare, shapes the role of women in the workforce
  • How does the nature of retirement shift among race and gender roles
  • How has COVID impacted the planned retirement of older workers
Transcript

Kathleen Slevin

I'll always argue that if you want to understand people in the labor force, you really need a life course perspective. You need to see where they started. You need to see how they progress through the labor force.

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun. Welcome, listeners, to another episode of Diversity Goes to Work. Thanks, as always, for joining us. It truly is an honor to welcome today's guest to this episode. This episode is really exciting, not just because of the content but because of the prolific nature of our guest. Again, it's an honor to welcome Kate Slevin, who is Chancellor Professor Emeritus of sociology here at William & Mary. Kate is an award-winning researcher and teacher. She's a thought leader. She has served in a variety of administrative capacities here at William & Mary, including as Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. And Kate studies the intersections of age and other mechanisms of social inequality. You are in for a true treat. So, Kate, thank you so much for joining us. Before we begin, why don't you go ahead, introduce yourself, tell us who you are, what you do, and then we'll kick off our conversation?

Kathleen Slevin

My name is Kathleen Slevin. I grew up in Northern Ireland as a member of the Catholic minority. I went to a Catholic boarding school in Northern Ireland, and then I went to University in Dublin. I studied sociology, and I came to the United States as a young woman after undergraduate school to the University of Georgia, where I did my degree in sociology. My area of concentration then was gender and gender inequality. And as I progressed in my career, I added an emphasis on age and studying age. And that became a very interesting segue into studying retirement and particularly women in retirement because there was almost in my discipline nothing written about women in retirement. What was written was really quite biased because the assumption was women retire much more easily than men because they go back to being housewives. Well, I said to myself, well, you know what? As a woman in the workforce, I never wanted to be a housewife. So it doesn't really make much sense that, as a retired woman, that would be the attraction to retirement. So that started a series of studies specifically on women in retirement and issues surrounding age and age inequality. And that's really. I have three books, two of them co-author, no all of them co authored, and I have a slew of articles, but they've all concentrated on basically gender and age. And of course, as a woman who is now in an old age myself, I find this kind of even more interesting as I now live what I have been writing about. So that's the short version of my life.

Phil Wagner

A short version, we'll take it. Part of what we try to do in these podcast episodes is do a deep dive in individual areas with the full recognition that, number one, that's impossible. And number two is not best practice. We know that there are so many identity intersections. And one of your books, though, Stumbling Blocks to Stepping really strong book on this issue, looks at the lives and stories of 50 professional African American women. What did you learn about intersections like between age and gender, and race in that project? Can you speak to that?

Kathleen Slevin

Okay, can I go back a little bit just to lay a foundation, because I think it'll make our lives much easier, as we discussed? So I want to first just talk about age and ageism just as a foundation because that kind of covers the ground for everything we'll talk about. So if you think about age, it's an identity, just like race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, and all of these identities really serve as critical locations that shape our lives. And all of them are embedded, as sociologists would say, into social structure. So if you want to look at the workplace, the workforce, all of these entities are embedded into the social structure, and our jobs really are to expose the ways in which they're embedded. And when we do that, one of the things that we see is that age takes on a very unique and special place, especially in the United States. And in general, I will be talking about the United States but because there's a glorification of youthfulness in the United States, and there's a very strong ageism, not just in the workplace but in the society in general. Now, unlike racism and sexism, ageism is openly accepted. People make jokes about old people. Old people make jokes about themselves. So even among the old, it's the one identity, one might say, certainly one contrasted with gender and with race, where those who are occupying this stage of life really make fun of themselves. And we don't find that with race. We don't find that people of color denigrate themselves. We don't find that women, in general, denigrate themselves, but we do find with age that we have such a pervasive emphasis on being youthful in this culture that we do denigrate old age. And so if we look at ageism as a systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old, what happens is then we start to treat them as other, and that becomes a problem. And of course, that starts to intersect with other identities, whether it's gender being one of the most powerful ones because we know that women experience ageism earlier than men, and we know that in general, women experience more ageism than men. Part of that has to do with the fact that we live in a culture of youthfulness and we emphasize looking young. And so we put that onus on women more than men, so that when men start to age, we say, oh, to you, for example, you look so distinguished. Oh, don't you look such a lovely grey-haired man? He looks so distinguished. Women of the same age, we say, yes, they're really past their prime. So that becomes a problem that has all sorts of implications for the world of work. So we know, and I'm almost finished, that being old and the notion of old carries a very unique stigma with it. And we know that bodies, our bodies are the sites of the judgment about age. We live in a culture that where age is being biomedicalized. And so if you, Philip or me, decide, you know what, I don't like to look old. I really am going to do things to make myself look more youthful. I'm going to dye my hair. I'm going to Botox my face. I'm going to get cosmetic surgery. We now know that age a lot. We can't change our race. We can increasingly maybe play with gender, but we certainly can't change our race, but we can do things biomedically to make ourselves look younger. That presents its own set of challenges. And I'm going to make two other points about age. If we look at age, particularly as we are sociologists, we talk about chronological age, and that is obviously, I am 40, I am 50, I am 60, the chronology of age. And we know that people can be seen as old at different stages. And I'll give some examples, and it's important for employment. A woman model at 30 could be considered old. A professional football player at 40 is usually considered old, but a Senator who is 70 is considered an appropriate age to be in that role. So chronological age is a complicated and often not particularly useful way to look at people in the labor force. So that's number one. Secondly, we have functional age, and functional age is really about an individual's physical and mental capabilities. So are you Phil at your age? Are you physically and mentally? Do you have disabilities? How is your eyesight, how's your body strength, and so forth? So functional age is a much different thing. But the one thing that we know is that, unlike functional age, chronological age is a very poor predictor of many things, including what happens in the labor force. So I wanted to kind of lay that foundation.

Phil Wagner

No, that's such a good foundation because I think that it's so important to distinguish those avenues. And we just got done recording an episode for this series on size diversity and thinking about the Biomedicalization of weight and size configurations. So it really shows how malleable some of these are, while they're also permeable, such a good foundation. Let's talk about age, then, as an intersecting concept. So again, in that book, Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones, you really look at the lives and stories of African American women who are professionals and working through the intersections of age, gender, race, three really complicated intersecting variables. What did you find out in that project? What does that do to shape your understanding of the topic we're talking about?

Kathleen Slevin

Fascinating. Well, first of all, it's provided me with my own role model. These women provided me with my own role model for retirement. Why don't we look at these women? We looked at these women for a very pragmatic reason. They were part of a cohort where their white counterparts were typically not in the labor force or if they had been in the labor force. So these women, when I interviewed them, their average age was 69. They were highly educated. Twenty-four of them had master's degrees. Nine of them had PhDs. They were not typical, but they were women who had always been in the labor force, unlike their white contemporaries, because white privileged women, educated women at the time these women were coming up, dropped out when they had children. So to see these women through their life course in the labor force and then to see them in retirement presented us as sociologists with a very interesting way of seeing a group of women who had never exited the labor force and they had come through the labor force through tremendous systemic racism and tremendous systemic sexism. And so the intersection of those created for them life opportunities that had they been white and had they been male, many of them probably would have ended up being President of the United States or some of them. I mean, they were just so well qualified, but they worked in segregated they were almost all in education because that's all that was available to them. We have one lawyer. We have one MD. The rest were in education. That's what was available in the 1950s and 60s to educated women. So they went through their work lives in a very, very segregated system. We took a life course perspective. And I think I'll always argue that if you want to understand people in the labor force, you really need a life course perspective. You need to see where they started. You need to see how they progressed through the labor force. And so these women, in many ways, they were very successful, certainly compared to they were very successful they didn't have peers, let's put it that way. But race and gender very powerfully shaped their work lives. As I said, they experienced a lot of very blatant discrimination. Promotions they didn't get. Salaries they were in school systems. Once the school systems integrated, they were actually in school systems where they could demonstrate they could look at the statistics and find that they were getting paid several thousand dollars a year and less than some white women with less qualifications than they had. So the discrimination that they faced was really pervasive. But they were very resilient, strong women. So they were; also, I think one of the things that fascinates us about them, certainly compared to their white cohorts, if you look at white people, even today in the labor force, white people tend to take a very individualistic notion of success. My success is my success, and what I do is about me. Whereas African Americans and particularly women of the generation we interviewed, very much saw their role as race uplift. They saw that as educators, their job was not just to educate kids. It was to take particularly black kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and to give them the advantages and the education that they needed in order to succeed. They were conscious of that. They spent time with these kids outside school. They mentored these kids. They did what in the sociology literature is called race work. They were very conscious of doing race work. And then finally, I would say that when we talk to them as we were talking to them in retirement, we find that they engaged in tremendous unpaid labor in retirement. Unlike their white counterparts, who, for example, privileged white women would tend to go to museums and work as dolcents in museums, or they would work in garden clubs or whatever affluent white women do. These women spent their time working in the black community to advantage or to minimize the disadvantage, particularly young people in the black community were experiencing. So just one little example, when I would try to get on their calendars now, these are retired. Remember when I tried to get on their calendars, it often took me three to four weeks to get on their calendars. They were like, oh, no, I have three things to do this day, and I have to go to the school system, and I'm tutoring kids. It was unbelievable. So I think it underscored the way that race and gender intersected throughout their lives, the discrimination, the race work that they did, the unpaid labor that they did in retirement to really better their communities.

Phil Wagner

That unpaid labor is something we definitely want to talk through as well. We're going to run a podcast episode later in the series on the role that particularly people of color, and now I think Asian American people as well are carrying into the world of workplace from the trauma that exists outside. That doesn't go away when you clock into your nine to five, right.

Kathleen Slevin

Exactly.

Phil Wagner

All of the extra responsibilities that are carried along, and certainly want to explore that. But you've also written on age as a sort of prime space for social inequality. What are the tensions between inequalities that are brought about by age in the workplace? And then what about the privileges brought about by age, things like security and longevity, and all the things that come with tenure in the workplace?

Kathleen Slevin

Right. I think the most useful concept to help us explore that is the notion of cumulative advantage and cumulative disadvantage because if you look at cumulative advantage and you take a life course perspective, a man or woman, and let's say a white man, just for the sake of argument, a white man who in his earlier life has been very advantaged, has gone to the right schools, has been mentored by other powerful white men who have taken them along, who has played golf, who has had all of the unseen advantages that come with being a privileged person and being surrounded by privileged persons, then I think you see how cumulative advantage really works. And as that man goes up the hierarchy and then becomes an older man, you often find he is turning backward, and he is doing the same thing typically to other white men because that's who remind him of himself. So we know those stories of cumulative advantage, and then the other side of that coin is cumulative disadvantage. So you start off on the wrong side of the tracks. You don't go to the schools where you have the contacts. You get into the workforce. You're kind of marginalized in the workforce. Promotions come along, and for a variety of reasons, you don't get the promotion. Then you have how all of these issues play out of privilege and disadvantage. We know that men of color don't have the same advantages that white men have. We know that white women have advantages. And I would be a very good example of that myself. Even though I came as an immigrant, nobody stopped ever in my career. Nobody stopped and said, you know what? You talk weird. Where are you from? They would say, oh, I love your accent. Where are you from? Ireland. I love Ireland. And so they would love me. I had Turkish friends who were colleagues. And when they went into the classroom, for example, they had a hard time. Students were like. I don't understand you. Why don't you speak English the way the rest of us speak English? So there you see kind of cumulative disadvantage, even if you look, say, at white women.

Phil Wagner

But doesn't that change who then or how we teach? So thinking as educators, so often, we reduce this to a simple upward trajectory based on merit. Right. Like based on cumulative achievements. And I think fundamentally rewrites our pedagogical responsibility to prepare students with diverse experiences for the realities that may not be necessarily how it works.

Kathleen Slevin

Yes. Well, let's even talk a little bit there, Phil, about diversity within groups, and that's kind of what I was hinting at. But one of the things that we do when we stereotype is that we homogenized members of the group. We treat them all the same. All old people are the same. All Latinos are the same. All Asians are the same. And we know that that is such a false way, whether we're in the labor force or not, to homogenize people. For example, if you look at immigrants, somebody could be a recent arrival. They could be a fifth-generation American. Hispanic or Latinx are very diverse. You have Mexican Americans who are mostly seen as Brown. You have Puerto Ricans who are mostly seen as black. You have Cubans who are often seen as white. You have Asians who are also very diverse. You have Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean. So the extent to which, whether in the workplace or the real world, that we homogenize a group and say, oh, they're all immigrants, or they're all Asians, or they're all whatever, we're doing an enormous disservice to diversity. Does that make sense?

Phil Wagner

That makes total sense. I couldn't even respond because I'm really trying to process because there's such nuance here. For as much as we're talking about age simultaneously, we aren't. Because we can't, right. That goes back. You cannot reduce down to just the simplest root of it all because those roots are so intersectional. It's so strong. So there seems to be another layer of inequality here. And you hinted at this just a bit ago that your work really touches on. And then, when we think of the labor force, the labor market, when we think about labor, we think of paid labor. Right. Can you speak to the issue of unpaid labor, particularly for women, and how that shapes their role?

Kathleen Slevin

Yeah, there's a huge amount written in sociology about unpaid labor, and I've always loved that literature. And, of course, when we talk about unpaid labor, it's not exclusively the labor of women, although it is certainly predominantly the labor of women. And when we look at it in the case of women, we need to look at women who are working outside the home. So we know, for example, that working mothers, full-time working mothers spend 50% more time each day caring for kids than fathers. That's unpaid labor. We know in this century, and we know in the last certainly 30 to 40 years, that men have been much more engaged in household work than their fathers or grandfathers were. But still, women still carry the burden. And I'll give you a very personal example. When we talk about, we're going to talk more about COVID. I have a daughter who's in her 30s, married, with two young children, very privileged. She's a fertility nurse. Her husband is a Vice President of a start-up. They have two little kids under four and six. COVID hit and the nanny. So they were privileged enough to have a nanny. The nanny got freaked out, and she said, I'm out of here. And the five-year-old was starting kindergarten online. So my daughter had to quit her job. Now, why did they decide that? They decided that because her husband made more money than her. Again, the unpaid labor by default came to the woman in the family, and she was the one who has to. She is the one. It's not that he doesn't help, but she carries the burden of the unpaid labor of childcare. So childcare is a very important part of unpaid labor. But throughout the life course, another very important part of unpaid labor is looking after older members of the family, or if you're at my stage, looking after grandkids. And those are the jobs that fall predominantly to women, particularly in the United States. And, of course, the pandemic absolutely ratcheted up the pressure on women to do that unpaid labor, even more than they had been doing, for they were working two jobs.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. We're going to have the pandemic for sure because I want to set it up. But you raise this notion of this sort of mythical ideal of empowerment that comes from being a woman and being active in the workforce. And there's this other mythical ideal we have surrounding much later in life, which is retirement.

Kathleen Slevin

The golden years.

Phil Wagner

The golden years, right. Like the very idea of retirement that varies greatly by demographic. That's mythical, too, that there's this automatic dream that we think after a 40-year work career, we're just going to settle in and play golf forever, right.

Kathleen Slevin

Look at the ads on television, Phil. You see a very good-looking, predominantly white, sometimes upper-class Blacks. They're standing on a dock. They have a glass of wine in their hand. The sun is setting, and they're just like, what will we do tomorrow? We've reached the good life and so forth. That's such an anathema to what most people experience. That's the life of white affluence. That is not the life that working-class men experience because many of them have to re-enter the labor force in order to make enough money to survive retirement. And, of course, it most certainly is not the life that women, unless they're extremely affluent, have.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. So how does the nature of retirement from the perspective of your work, how does that shift than by those demographic intersections? Can you observe that in any way?

Kathleen Slevin

Yeah. Well, I mean, if you look at social class, you certainly can see that blue-collar. Let me backtrack a little bit. So you have a situation where you have bodies that are not stressed on a daily basis in terms of your physicality. If there's stresses because you go to the gym or because you go running or whatever, you do not have a job that debilitates your body. Blue-collar men of all races have jobs. And women, whether they're waitresses carrying heavy trays or they're working for Amazon, and they're on their feet 14 hours a day, and their legs are killing them. Their bodies, for lack of a better word, disintegrate much earlier in their lives than people of privilege, like all of us who sit at desks, men and women who work in the fields and are the laborers who are providing our food for us, the same thing, back-breaking work without adequate health benefits. So there's the other part, adequate health benefits. So I used to always say to my students, look at me, a privileged woman who has had excellent health care all of her life, who has had nothing but the best, who exercises for pleasure, who keeps fit. I'm 73 now, and I say this is what 73 and privilege looks like. Take somebody who's 73 who's been working in the fields. Their bodies are going to be in much worse shape. And the way in which they enter and exit the labor force is going to be shaped by their bodily, the way that their bodies have been disintegrating, for lack of a better word. Does that make sense?

Phil Wagner

It makes total sense. And this is not a planned question. So sorry for any surprises, but you keep using this word, that it's the P-word, right. And that's privilege and even teaching diversity courses among students and certainly working among faculty and business professionals. That word is a bad word. I mean, that is a word that elicits so much emotion. Is that just sociological lingo, or how do you make that term palatable?

Kathleen Slevin

How else can you describe the advantages? Call it an advantage. In sociology, it's not a bad word. It's just a descriptive term. It's a non-pejorative descriptive term to describe the lives and the work experiences, but the lives in general of people who have been advantaged by health care, by education, by choices of jobs in the labor force, by availability of childcare, name all of the aspects that create advantage.

Phil Wagner

And the work that you do is so helpful in illuminating that conversation because I think when we work with students to simply recognize privilege as not something to fear or be ashamed of but as a catalyst to produce change, you get those knee jerk reactions to say, well, I had a tough go of it. I didn't grow up rich, and it's so much deeper than that. And it's those intersections again that I think thank you for the work that you do. You talked about COVID earlier, and we want to ask about that as well. So we're certainly still in the midst of COVID-19. As we record this, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Not sure what the other side will look like, but we see another perspective or change coming, we think. So. How has COVID impacted the planned post-professional or retirement life of older workers? Do you have any insight on what COVID did?

Kathleen Slevin

I don't think we know yet, but what do we know, or what can we conjecture? Well, we know that age and older age makes workers much more vulnerable to the virus, and so we know that many had to quit work unwillingly in order to minimize the risk of dying or getting infected. Now, that's if they could afford to. But if they couldn't afford to, and many millions could not afford to, whether they were on the front line, they were essential workers, and so forth. They had no option but to go to work and expose themselves. And many, particularly minorities and people of color, have died at much higher rates because they did not have a choice. The three of us had a choice to sit in our lovely houses and work online. And that is not a choice that everybody has had. And let me give you an example of again of age. I listened early on in the pandemic. I listened to the school Superintendent of Virginia Beach talking about how the teachers her supply of teachers had changed. And she said typically, in a summer, I would get 20 unexpected retirements. And she said last year, in one month, I got 200.

Phil Wagner

Whoa.

Kathleen Slevin

I got 200. Now, teachers, certainly they're not, on the scheme of things, well paid, but they do have advantages that blue-collar people do not have. They have pensions or some form of financial security that allows them to withdraw from the labor force. They may re-enter at another time, but they can withdraw in a way that a blue-collar person can't afford to withdraw. They have to pay the rent, and they don't have a pension, and they don't have a 401K, or there's not enough in their 401K to cover everything. So I think in that way, age and privilege intersect in very interesting ways. And, of course, the ways in which everybody's retirement income has been affected by COVID remains to be seen. People may have to work longer. They probably will have to work longer, particularly those in the service sector. And those in nonunionized jobs because they're going to have to make up for loss. They're going to have to make up for lost time. And many of them have been in tremendous and are in tremendous debt. That's going to take them years to get out of. So their retirements are going to be well. They will not retire. That's my prediction. They will die with their boots on because they won't be able to retire. But as opposed to again, I use that term, not pejoratively privileged, particularly privileged white men, when they exit the labor force, sometimes they re-enter by choice, and they become consultants.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Kathleen Slevin

That's a choice. Most blue-collar people who exit and re-enter the labor force do not do so as a choice. They do so because they need the income. So I think COVID, of course, everything you read about women have said that COVID has knocked working women back ten years, and I believe it. And certainly the example I gave you of my daughter, she's lost a year of income. She's lost a year of contributions to her 401K. She's lost a promotion that she could have had. That's going to be the story for many women. Now, on the other side of that coin, she could afford to only do the unpaid labor.

Phil Wagner

There's so many again, I keep using the term, but complicated intersections for as dire as the situation is, the goal of our podcast, the goal of our teaching, I think the goal of our day to day work is recognizing that we don't have a magic wand to just wave and fix everything. But by creating awareness and a sense of personal responsibility and ownership, we can start to address some of the systemic inequality as it relates to these issues. But let's assume that we did have a magic wand because I sit and think about that often. If you had a magic wand and you could just wave it, what is one thing you would waive it, and you'd wish that the world of work would do to become a more inclusive place for the people that you've worked with and what your work has revealed.

Kathleen Slevin

I have thought about this so much since you raised it. It's not one answer.

Phil Wagner

Okay. That's all right.

Kathleen Slevin

Okay. So I would say if I were to take the absolutely global big picture, what would it be? It would be, again, taking a life history perspective. And I would say we need to begin by reducing inequities and disrupting all of the ways that needs to be disruptive so that we can get a fairer and more level playing field. So that we would realign labor market policies with schools, with daycare systems, with the modern realities of working parents. Then we would have a permanent federal paid parental leave policy that we would have subsidized daycare, that we would enter the 21st century, for God's sake, like most of the Scandinavian countries, and say, you know, this is the reality. We have fathers and mothers in the workforce, and we cannot ignore that. We cannot leave them on their own. So it would be to create a world of work that reflects the real world. And of course, you know this, work in the United States, people are obsessed by work. It takes a dominance in their lives. Now you say, well, it has to because I have to make a living. But if you look at vacations in other Western, quote, developed economies, you find that when my husband goes with me to Ireland or to France, he's like, oh, my God, they're on vacation all the time because people do not work. They don't live to work. So I think that the United States, I don't see it coming in my lifetime, but I think that we've got to improve wage equality. We have got to decrease the gender-race gap. We've got to be realistic and say we've got to realign or align our policies with the real world. Does that make sense?

Phil Wagner

It makes such sense. And I'm just sitting here so inspired. For as important as the work is that you do, you're also just a delight to speak with. So if you ever lecture, count me in as a student in the front row because I think we're both here to learn, too. We've committed our lives to this. Our research focuses on this. But for every element, you know, there are some elements that you do not or areas that can continue to grow. I really appreciate you taking the time to educate us. I look forward to reading more of your work, but this means so much to us. I think it's going to just take this conversation in such a powerful direction. So now that we greatly appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Kathleen Slevin

It is my pleasure.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives is here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Amalhin Shek
Amalhin ShekEpisode 16: May 9, 2022
Advocacy as a Professional Endeavor

Amalhin Shek

Episode 16: May 9, 2022

Advocacy as a Professional Endeavor

Today on the show we're joined by an alum of William & Mary, Amalhin Shek. She has spent the last 8 years working for US Aid in a variety of different capacities; from COVID-19 response to Malaria response in Latin America and the Caribbean. She brings an impressive background in research, planning, and strategy, and today discusses what it's like to work in the field of advocacy in various different countries around the globe.

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Amalhin Shek: Advocacy as a Professional Endeavor TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

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Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • Amalhin's career journey through William & Mary to US Aid
  • What drives Amalhin to do the work that she does
  • What Amahlin has learned about DEI in her work
  • How the global picture of diversity, equity, and inclusion informs the modern landscape of DEI work
  • What it means to be a professional activist
  • Reconciling the pursuit of foreign aid with the threat of colonialism
  • Best practices for those who want to enter the professional world of advocacy
Transcript

Amahlin Shek

Solutions cannot be made and designed in our little Ivory towers of the agency and headquarters. The solutions have to be local because, at the end of the day, problems, yes, are local, but they do not respect boundaries. They're generally regional in nature.

Phil Wagner

Hello, from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun. Welcome listeners again to another episode of Diversity Goes to Work, the podcast where we center real, human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity, equity, and inclusion work. I'm joined today by an alum of the College, somebody who's doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work in a different way than what you might suspect. Amalhin Shek has spent the last eight years working for U.S. aid in a variety of different capacities, working on everything from COVID-19 response to Malaria response in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is her current role. She was a student at William & Mary, and she got her B.S. in public health here. Along with an MPH at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. She brings an impressive background in research, in planning, in strategy. Amelia, welcome to our podcast and thank you for joining us.

Amalhin Shek

Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.

Phil Wagner

So my first question is probably a little bit simplistic to you, but you bring such impressive experience. Can you break down for us a little bit more of who you are and the work you do day-to-day?

Amalhin Shek

Yes, absolutely. So I finished up at college with a degree in public health. I really dove into that by virtue of being a member of SOMOS, a Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability, where I had the opportunity of traveling to the Dominican Republic at least once or twice a year and really getting a sense for what fieldwork in the global health field actually entailed. That led me to decide maybe I don't want to stay on the pre-med route, maybe I don't want to be domestic and do just the clinical work, and drove me really in the direction of global health programming, design, and management, which is where I am now. And so I will caveat that I am here in my own capacity as an alumna of the College, and any of the opinions or views that I express are my own and not necessarily those of USA. So that brings me to where I am now, which is currently where I serve as a Malaria advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development. And so, in my current role, I work with a range of our implementing partners, foundations, other U.S. government agencies, including the CDC, truly design and implement activities that are aimed at controlling and eliminating malaria in the Americas. As a member of our Bureau health team, I also backstop our South America regional health programs with a primary focus on our work in Bolivia and Venezuela. And so we are a tiny team. So as an umbrella over each of our scopes is really the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before moving into this role, I worked on our Emerging Pandemic Threats program, where we were implementing the president's global health security agenda and our Bureau for Global Health and doing everything from Ebola, Yellow Fever, and obviously, most recently, COVID response to also really instilling a sense of a one health, a planetary approach to emerging stenotic disease prevention, detection, and response.

Phil Wagner

Just such an impressive background, and Amalhin, I know that you bring experience in research and in policy. I mean, you worked in research here at William & Mary. That was one of your professional roles. I'm curious what drove you to do this work? You know, today, we're thinking about casting a much wider net on what diversity, equity, and inclusion work looks like. And of course, of course, this isn't you being a D&I officer, but what you do certainly has an inclusion-focused, that planetary approach. I'm wondering if you can speak to what drives you to do this work.

Amalhin Shek

Yeah. So I could say; personally, I'm the child of two professionals who, in their roles in the U.S., were primarily educators, but also my dad worked in the health field as a clinical psychologist for a public school system. My mom's first career was an optometrist. I think that both education and health are kind of just in my blood. As a child of immigrants, however, though, I also just have this desire to learn, meet, understand, and interact with as many different cultures and backgrounds as possible. And just by virtue of the experiences I've had in traveling in my William & Mary experience, meeting so many peers from just all over the world and really learning about just the diversity of backgrounds, not just ethnic and cultural, but also in terms of just lived experiences, I would say a lot of that just kind of drove that desire to make sure that in my career I could work globally, and I could address the moments in situations where I saw issues of inequity and where I could really say what I felt needed to be said about social injustices. And by virtue of having this interest in health and a science background at the College, have been able to more or less combine those two interests when it comes to designing our programs and really working with the array of implementing partners, but also multilateral agencies and donors that are, in essence, trying to collaborate to solve a lot of these big challenges in global health.

Phil Wagner

You set up perfectly for where we're going next. You've been on sort of the front lines of some strategy and planning on really important global health initiatives. Of course, we're talking about COVID-19, but also malaria, other global health crises that have fleshed out. I'm wondering in that capacity, science background, research background, policy background. But what have you learned about diversity, equity, and inclusion in your work?

Amalhin Shek

Yeah. So one of the biggest pieces and something that I would say all international development and donor agencies are still grappling with and will continue to grapple with for at least a little bit longer is that solutions cannot be made and designed in our little Ivory towers of the agency and headquarters. The solutions have to be local because, at the end of the day, problems, yes, are local, but they do not respect boundaries. They're generally regional in nature. And so you need to one learn from the local experts, learn from the lived experiences of the communities that you're serving, and making sure that you have that multitude of voices at the table so that you can both learn from colleagues from across different regions, but also help promote, again, that trans boundary. I don't want to call it south to south, which is what we say generally, but country to country and partner to partner collaboration, teaching, and learning. One big example of this from my partner portfolio, the president's initiative, is that recently a group of African scientists wrote an open letter to PMI, essentially calling us out on an approach to just the way that a program was designed in a manner that it did not really tap into the voices of local leaders, local experts. And the response was one of acknowledgment, one of humility, and one of ensuring that we moving forward, can create those equitable and dignified partnerships and really making sure that we really tap into the ideas of those who share these lived experiences of the communities that are most affected by the diseases that will strengthen all of our collective work.

Phil Wagner

This is so good because it speaks to so many of the themes that we've explored with our other guests. I love how you talk about the Ivory tower solution, and I think so much of D&I work, even in sort of the Western organizational frame, follows that approach. Right. A bunch of academics or consultants got together, pull up a plan or a blueprint, make an acronym, send it out as the package to be adopted. But this is contextual. And certainly, on the global framework, there's context, there's humility. There are so many great themes on the list. I appreciate you really speaking to those as well. And to that point, I think so much of our D&I work specifically is really Western-centric. And I think I'm guilty of that even on this podcast or sometimes even in the way that I teach because we work with so many students here in Williamsburg. We're going to go out to typically organizations in North America. But your work has taken you global. What I love about our programs here is there's a strong global footprint. I'm wondering from your perspective what that global picture of inclusion tells us about the modern landscape of diversity and inclusion work. Can you speak to the global clarification that might come from your work?

Amalhin Shek

Yeah, I would say kind of following this theme of really decolonizing development and global health. And just again, that Western approach to our problem solving, it does have to be grounded in a bit of self-reflection and introspection in terms of our role in problem creation. And so one piece of it really is taking that step back and thinking about the power dynamics when we're thinking about the development of the solutions, considering who the experts are and how we view that, but then also really becoming aware of our biases, admitting them and making sure that we are inviting the local experts who for generations in most places have been the ones doing the biodiversity conservation work, have been working on matters of land rights and really protecting their environments. But I think the other piece of it is making sure that in our own Western coordination of the work, making sure that we are inclusive, that we're flexible of the different lived experiences, the different types of degrees that people come with, and making sure that we're not limiting these dialogues to just the folks with the Ph.D. or the bench research experience, and that we are including folks from all countries of origin, from all walks of life and levels of experience. It doesn't just have to be the person with the multiple titles, multiple degrees. You can learn as much from somebody who has been a community organizer as you can obviously from somebody who has been in the research mix for a long time. And I think really, at the end of the day, we do have to consider who it is that's in control of the design of implementation and who's getting credit and take into account that this Western-centric approach won't work everywhere. It's not the most sustainable approach either. And really, ultimately, what we need is that community-based understanding of the power dynamics. And it's not just at the international level. It's really sub-national levels, even just the household levels in our work. We have to consider that sexism, racism, classism, the just caste systems playing out differently across different regions of the world has to be considered. And again, really, at the end of the day, acknowledging our own role as the Western world in all of this and really reconciling with the fact that many of the inequities we see, for example, right now in my current role, a lot of the inequities we see across Latin America and the Caribbean are rooted in colonialism and both in that original Spanish conquistadores but also recent interventionism. We do have to kind of consider what are the ramifications of these efforts and how we move forward from that, and again, are humble in admitting and reconcile and improve our work moving forward.

Phil Wagner

I'd think that you speak to so many things, again, that many of our past guests have spoken to as well, particularly as it relates to taking up space or dominating space in this conversation. These problems are complex, multifaceted, and span the entire globe. So there's room for everybody. But it's about being mindful of role and power and space and voice. It's really powerful, Amalhin. Part of our goal in this episode, as I mentioned to you, is to really cast a wider net on what it means to do D&I work. I teach a lot of students at the College, but I teach a lot of graduate students across almost all of our graduate programs. And I'm seeing a real hunger, a professional hunger, to do diversity and inclusion work. These are deeply held convictions that students have. And so, I think your work is a great sort of snapshot as to where inclusion passions can drive you towards professional endeavors. And so, I want to toe that fine line between employment and advocacy. You work in a field where your professional experience is, at least in some capacity to me, activism. Right. I mean, you're active on behalf of communities who need assistance. Do you see this as activism? Does USAID see this as activism? I'm just wondering what your sort of lens is as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion, and activism as it relates to the work that you do. Can you clarify for us?

Amalhin Shek

Yeah. So again, that personal capacity, and I guess just thinking about the definition of the word activism and something in considering this, is that at its root and in the most basic of senses, you can look at activism as campaigning for some kind of social change. And when we think about USAID versus, obviously, the personal perspective of the agency's employees and why those of us who go into development go into it. I think we kind of find this middle ground because we might have on one end of it, the technical advocacy, and then on the other piece of it, professionals who are, like, extremely passionate about their technical roles to a point of being activists on them. At the end of the day, as an agency, we're working on this ongoing social change. And so that's obviously something that is both internal to the place of work within our agency. We have employee resource groups. We have our Hispanic employee Council and foreign affairs agencies, where part of our work really is looking at how we shift policies to make sure that we are recruiting, retaining, and promoting members of the Latinx community within the agency. Our women at aid group does the same for making a workplace that is more women supportive, friendly. And so, there is quite a bit of that inside of the workplace. I think that it's something obviously that 2020 drove home for so many industries and for so many workplaces. But I guess when we think about it externally facing in terms of the work that USAID as a technical agency does, is that we, at the end of the day, have a role in implementing U.S. foreign assistance using that sound technical evidence. So we have experts in fields ranging from agriculture and biodiversity conservation to HIV AIDS to veterinary science, to world-renowned economists who are working in their respective technical areas and in their regional bureaus and missions to essentially design programs that are addressing the key development challenges of our partner countries. And so because we have this technical approach, I don't think that we can call it direct activism, but rather the fact that we are motivating social change by enabling citizens of our partner countries to not just come to us and tell us and help us identify the problems, but ultimately collaborating with them and our host country governments to really create those enabling environments to address those challenges.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I think that fits perfectly with the interest of many of our students. Right. That there is, again, this deep-seated hunger to drive forward positive social change and to marry that with a professional skill set. And I think your work is a great example of how that can be done to truly impressive and impactful professional endeavors. So thanks for toiling with the nuances of language there for us. Amalhin, we talked about this a little bit earlier, and I want to circle back because I think it's an important question. You talked about being mindful in your approach and how even USAID and development as a whole very mindful of context and location sell to sell. I'm wondering how you reconcile working in foreign assistance with an understanding of the colonial impacts that foreign policy can have, sometimes in well-intentioned but unhelpful ways. How does that play out, particularly the personal level, somebody involved in those development efforts?

Amalhin Shek

I will be totally honest. It's difficult. There are days when I may be hearing a conversation, hearing an anecdote, and really have to go through the mental gymnastics of understanding the history and the rationale from one perspective while considering the foreign policy piece of it. Right. And kind of the various ethos of agency of where I'm working. And so I think that for anybody who is again, a child of immigrants and our parents came to the U.S. for opportunity and for whatever reason, parents and family leave their countries of origin, I think that we do have to and have to take advantage and get the opportunity and take advantage of the privilege that we have in having had the experience of going to a University that allowed us to explore what we were interested in and that really developed those technical skill sets that then in our professional lives, empower us to think critically about these issues and also come to solutions, whether it is in the specific way the project is designed or the way in which we're empowered to ask our implementing partners or ask the folks on the ground to do the work in a way that is inclusive and in a way that is responsive of those potential unintended consequences as I speak to just our role in admitting our wrongs or failures and reconciling those. One example of that is through our current environmental and natural resources management frameworks efforts, where we're really looking at addressing environmental justice as a social justice issue. And so this means inviting diverse voices that we haven't traditionally brought into these discussions and making sure that those voices are included in the hiring decisions for our technical leadership roles, for our implementation roles, and really making sure that when we are thinking about the design of these initiatives, the design of these programs, we're making sure that all voices are at the table. I think it does take a lot of self-reflection. It can take an emotional toll. And so I think that is a place where for folks wanting to do activism and wanting to enact social change, I think we do have to remember to take care of ourselves and to really establish our boundaries so that we are able to play the long game because it is, I think, a multi-generational set of challenges that we are going to be working to change and turn around. So a lot of self-reflection. A lot of self-care.

Phil Wagner

For sure, and the same holds true in even Western extensions of D&I work, albeit to a significantly different capacity. Right. That you have to always be mindful that what once worked or what was well-intentioned may not play out as we had intended. You've got to pivot in the moment. Such great advice there, Amalhin. I have one more question for you, and I really appreciate you being willing to come on and share. One of the true benefits, I think, of this podcast is to get the opportunity to speak directly to leaders in the making. We hope to develop them, so they become people like you. And so, I'm wondering what advice you might have for those who are coming through their undergraduate or graduate experience, even just getting started in the world of work listening to this podcast. What advice do you have to those folks who want to dedicate their future to advocacy in some way? Any lessons learned from your journey?

Amalhin Shek

Yeah, I definitely would say try as many different things as possible and become exposed to as many different disciplines as possible because it is in that ability to think multi-sectorally interdisciplinarily, which is something that we get at William & Mary, but something that you don't want to lose. A skill that is going to be so critical to being able to empathize with folks of different types of industries from different sectors. Because half of this is, I would say, getting in the head of your audience and communicating to your audience in a way that emotes with them, obviously, while still remaining true to yourself. And so I definitely say don't say no to new opportunities once you get into the workforce, attend as many of the brown bags side sessions and meetings on topics different from the one that you work on so that you have at least that exposure and can speak to different thematic areas in their languages. And I would say the other piece too is really don't be afraid of reaching back both to those students that are younger than you because, within the College itself, things are changing every year. The research is evolving. And so I think staying in touch with what's happening in higher education is super helpful, just as much as reaching back to those peers and colleagues that are older than you and really getting a sense of the different opportunities that are available and obviously the different paths required to get to those. And at the end of the day, I think making sure that you take that time to slow down and not let yourself be burnt out because there are so many issues to solve, so many issues to address. And really, again, it is a long game. I don't know if we can go into if you want more development specific.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. I mean, I would love to go there, at least in part because, again, we try to mint our students with a significant focus on the global experience. And so we have many who come from sustainability, who are interested in development. So if you have any takeaways, that'd be great.

Amalhin Shek

Yeah, for sure. And so I'd say when it comes to the international development sphere, we are so grounded and mired in like, oh my gosh, I need to have the international experience, I need to have volunteered or done like students helping under some of us or what have you. But at the end of the day, working in international development, it's less about where have you lived and can you handle living in a resource-limited setting? And more about how effective are you at that cross-cultural communication and dialogue? How effective are you at understanding the real situation on the ground and, where needed, communicating on behalf of your partner on the ground? And so, if it is AmeriCorps Vista or whatever domestic resource-limited setting, volunteering, or work experience, you can apply that to an international career. Obviously, having a second, third, or fourth language is really helpful. Myself I'm bilingual. I grew up speaking Spanish in my household, and having that kind of ability to dialogue with partners and ministries of health in a second language is really helpful. So if you are able to learn a second language, definitely do recommend that. But I think really, at the end of the day when we think about the international development sphere, it is just how can you speak to multiple cultures? How can you speak to different backgrounds, socioeconomic, neurodiverse backgrounds? I don't want to say be a chameleon, but really your ability to be a person for all and really drive obviously your technical understanding with your just being a human of the world.

Phil Wagner

Yes, I love that. And humanity is sort of the central theme and core value of this podcast. We're trying to cut past all of noise and get right back to those real human, lived experiences. Thank you, Amalhin, for sharing yours and for doing the work that you do. It's always so inspiring to follow our alum, but what a great example you are, and thank you for coming on and making time. Such a pleasure to speak with you.

Amahlin Shek

Thank you. Likewise.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Michael John Carley
Michael John CarleyEpisode 15: April 25, 2022
Identity Development and Resilience

Michael John Carley

Episode 15: April 25, 2022

Identity Development and Resilience

On today's episode we take a deep dive into neurodiversity. Our guest is Michael John Carley, an author, school and business consultant, and the former Executive Director in the autism, neurodiversity, mental health, disability, and DE&I worlds. He joins Phil Wagner to discuss the world of work through the lens of neurodiversity.

Podcast (audio)

Michael John Carley: Identity Development and Resilience TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Podcast (platforms)

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Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • What terminology is appropriate when speaking about neurologically diverse people
  • Does neurodiversity still fall under the disability umbrella in the world of work
  • How Michael came to understand what it's like to be on the autism spectrum
  • What are some challenges people on the spectrum face in the modern world
  • What Michael's work has revealed about being employed and unemployed while on the spectrum
  • How can the world of work make itself more inclusive to the neurodivergent
  • How COVID has changed the world of work for neurodiverse people
Transcript

Michael John Carley

One of the things that doesn't get talked about enough is that behavioral differences sometimes do not mesh with what we think of quote-unquote professional behavior. And that's a big elephant in the bathtub that nobody seems to want to address.

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun. Hi, friends. Welcome to yet another episode of Diversity Goes to Work. Today's episode is a quick and deep dive into neurological diversity, a topic that really hits home for me. There's a long-standing joke in academic circles that the best research is, quote, unquote me, search. Indeed, so much of my own journey in the D&I landscape happened because my own quirks. I shared in an earlier size diversity episode that I had some attachment there, but one of the other on-ramps I have personally to doing DE&I work happens sort of underneath the umbrella of this topic. I was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome in my prepubescent years, and to this day, if you see me walking, talking, teaching, or even just eating lunch, you'll likely notice that I twitch sometimes my face contorts. It's the whole thing. It's fine. I'm not embarrassed about it. Who knows, maybe one day we'll talk about it on a future episode. But recently, Forbes put out an article that noted that Tourette syndrome is just about as common as autism. An autism or autism spectrum disorder, as we largely talk about it now, is the conversation that we're going to have today. So today, we're focusing on that spectrum. The spectrum as we know it is sort of this neurological continuum upon which a broad range of social skills and speech patterns, and nonverbal communication behaviors and beyond exist. And we've changed a lot about how we talk about the spectrum. And today's guest has a lot to offer as it relates to this topic. He himself identifies as someone with ASD after being diagnosed in 2000 at the exact same time as his four-year-old son, which came as a big shock to him. Michael John Carley is an author, school and business consultant, and the former executive director in the autism, neurodiversity, mental health, disability, and DE&I world. He has published or spoken at length in a variety of outlets, including for the New York Times, The Washington Post, The London Times, HuffPost, Newsweek, ABC News, BBC, Fox, The Chronicle of Higher Ed Psychology Today. Oh my gosh and beyond. He is everywhere. In 2012, he was one of two people on the spectrum to address the United States Congress and their first-ever hearings on autism. He's addressed the United Nations, he's written books, and he was kind enough to join us for today's episode. Michael, my friend, it's a delight to welcome you. Thank you for joining us. Before we begin, I want to ask something that we've asked on a few other episodes as well, and I think it's important. It's related to language. As we have our conversation today, are there words or phrases that we should or should not say as we talk about living life on the spectrum today?

Michael John Carley

That's a great and very large first question there, Phil. I would say that there's no real short answer because I think when any marginalized community is suddenly liberated to the extent where they're actually convinced that they can start having conversations amongst themselves about the words they like or dislike that are used to reference to themselves, that conversation takes a while to progress. And I think with the word neurodiversity, we're still sort of trying to figure it out ourselves. There was, I think, an initial reaction of, oh, well, it's just the brilliant Aspies. And then I think we all quickly realized how not inclusive that was. And now I think we're starting to realize that if we are really going to be inclusive, that we have to start looking at really all neurologies or all diagnoses that present with behavioral differences and understand that much more heavily stigmatized diagnoses like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder. If we're going to be true to the concept of inclusivity on this, we have to invite them as a seat to the table. And that shouldn't be so threatening because those of us that have been working so hard to improve the iconography of words like autism or before that Asperger syndrome, they know that you can improve the stigma on all of these diagnoses. And it's time for, I think, a lot of those folks. But I would go even further that at the end of the day, if we are looking at behavioral differences that, let's say, poverty-induced trauma or financial anxieties. Qualify you as neurodiverse and from an intersectional capacity, as far as, especially race is concerned that makes the word neurodiverse ever more inclusive. So great question.

Phil Wagner

And this is not in the pre-slotted questions. So sorry to throw one out here. You talk about a seat at the table. Until recently, neurodiversity has really been scaffolded, particularly in a lot of diversity and inclusion work under disabilities. Are we seeing that change? Do you think that that still scaffolds underneath that larger domain, or is this something inherently different?

Michael John Carley

No, I think it's still under the umbrella of disability, especially if we're talking about the world of work because the world of work has to compartmentalize things. That's how they bridge. That's how they learn. However, I think the definition of disability at least has been, at least in my mind, redefined from the old days of looking at it in two ways, which was physical disabilities and non-apparent disabilities, another not apparent. You could break that down even further into psychological disabilities. Neurological disabilities like the autism that I have, learning disabilities, and all that jazz. Now, I think we've, or at least I certainly subscribe over the last at least seven years, to a three-way look, which is accessibility, neurodiversity, and health. And I think that if we're going to have to do the Darwinist thing of compartmentalizing, that this is kind of the way to go, especially because if you don't break it down this way, you get so many different contradictions and disability. The main problem with disability in the workforce has been that out of all the elements of D&I. It is by far the more intimidating to those corporate cultures that need to incorporate us. And we got to remember most of those are for profits. They don't care about doing the right thing. They're beholden to their shareholders. And so they got to cut it right. And if you have this giant contradiction that needs to be explained between neurodiverse populations that will fare so much better in this world and help each other out when they're more open about their diagnoses and proud of it and can talk about it without shame. And yet, from the health space, if you're open about your HIV diagnosis, your cancer diagnosis, you're exposing yourself to civil rights violations up the wazoo. And so, therefore, that need for privacy goes in direct contrast to the neurodiversity needs. And therefore, that's why that separation, I think, really helps to frame overall disability. But I will say to close the question that anything with a prefix of dis is bound to have a psychologically negative effect.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, that's so good. That's such a great perspective. You've teed us up perfectly. And I'm really excited to hear more on this next question. But how you personally, Michael, have come to experience the terminology they're talking about today has likely changed over your life. Do you mind sharing just a little bit about your story with how you came to understand what it means to be on the spectrum in your own life?

Michael John Carley

Sure. Absolutely. I was one of those weird kids in growing up that, luckily, once I found my way to a wonderful high school run by hippies who just loved everybody and they accepted me for who I was, even though they didn't understand who I was, they just assumed positives in the unknown as opposed to negatives, like the school I'd gone to prior and that I was one of the lucky ones because I was thought of as being really inherently talented, especially in the arts. And I can look back on those days now and with just as much self-love as I've ever had in my life, tell you that I wasn't anywhere near as talented as people thought I was. But I'm certainly grateful for that because it opened up the door to opportunities. And I found myself in a community in the arts, which it's okay to be weird in the arts. And I had a really great stupid day job as this minor league diplomat doing work in romantic places like Bosnia and Iraq. And when there's lives that are at stake, it's okay if you offend the boss with what you said every once in a while because the work is just that urgent, and not everybody can do your job. So it was another atmosphere that I had luckily found myself in, which it was okay for me to be a little weird and a little rude. And I'd always known that there was this sense of confusion about who I was to other people. The people that didn't really like me just thought I was. Can I say the A word on your podcast?

Phil Wagner

You can absolutely.

Michael John Carley

Okay, thought I was an asshole. And the people who liked me thought, oh, Carley is tell it like it is, guy. And I'm thinking both sides are equally wrong. But I'm going to go hang out with the tell it like it Is crowd because why would I hang out with people that don't like me? That just doesn't make any sense. And then comes that day when and in my case, it was one week apart from my then four-year-old son that you find out through a diagnosis that you're not an asshole. And I don't have the words to be able to tell you what a biblical weight that is that's lifted off your shoulders because suddenly now all of your differences with the rest of humanity can be lumped into the idea of different wiring and not about your character. It explains so many things, but it also sometimes explains things in which ways in which I didn't want. I took a month after I got the diagnosis, I took my kid. We lived very close to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens at the time, and we went for a walk every day for a month after that. And he was four years old. He would trace the stream that runs through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. And what I would do is I would basically look over every incident that had happened in my life prior with this new lens and with this new prism. And it was quite a revelation because I would think back to all those people that I thought really liked me. And sometimes they did like me. But other times, I had to realize now they were keeping me at arm's distance because they didn't want anything to do with me. They were being polite to me because they didn't want anything to do with me. And then I would think of the people that I thought had been mean to me, and some of them had been mean to me, but others, I had to realize, oh, my God, they were the ones that believed in me. They were the ones that were saying. You can do this. I'm challenging you to do this. So it's a world rocker. But I would also say that as I think we were talking about before we hit the record button is that 20 years ago, when I was diagnosed, you were mud even with Asperger's syndrome. And suddenly, we started changing the dialogue about how that looks. And suddenly, the iconography surrounding Asperger's syndrome got a lot better quick. But autism was still negatively thought of. And then, we started to get to work on the iconography surrounding that word, and we improved the iconography about that one as well. So it has been quite the journey, which is where we now are starting to see those other diagnoses of neurodiversity finally having an opportunity to improve the iconography surrounding those words. And I will share with you, just to close on the subject of personality, I mean, there's one story that I did have to realize, however, which was when a couple of days after I had gotten diagnosed, I was at work, and I took an elevator with a colleague, and I was sharing with her my son's diagnosis, but I wasn't going to share mine. No way. And she threw me because she knew more about this stuff than I thought she did. And she said, well, isn't that genetic? And I was just caught. Caught dead. And I'm sputtering out words like, well, no, I don't really think so, no. Elevator reaches the ground floor. She gets out of the elevator in front of me, and the image of her back just as I'm exiting the elevator and she's a few feet outside the elevator in the lobby is emblazoned in my memory because I knew that at that very second I had stabbed my son in the back. What garbage would it be for me to ever say to him, you should be proud of who you are if I was going to be such a coward?

Phil Wagner

Wow, that's huge. I'm riveted by your story. I'm riveted also, not just from the professional angle but from the parenthood angle as well. Fascinating. So you mentioned this briefly in your last answer, but how we've come to understand what it means to be on the spectrum has changed a lot, even in the last 20 years, even in the last ten years. When you think about the challenges associated with the definition in the here and now, what are some of the challenges people on the spectrum face in the modern world? 2020 and beyond?

Michael John Carley

I would say that we're still figuring out the right paths to take, but we don't know necessarily how to walk on those paths or how fast to run on those paths. We have all these concepts like neurodiversity, like inclusion, like even the subject of things like emotional intelligence and microaggressions, all of these catchphrases and these pseudosciences sometimes, dare I say it, that kind of gets in our way. And I'll talk to especially the concept of emotional intelligence, which is something I've written about and not in a very favorable way more than once. And this is an element in which I think; obviously, people are under the impression that they're helping people who are neurodiverse by embracing. But honestly, if your career track is going to be influenced or you're hiring by this particular unrecognized, quote, unquote science, I find that to be actually a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is a very diagnostic staple to be behind in your emotional development if you have many different non-apparent disabilities, including autism. Like what I have. A lot of times, I think that people think that I've learned to adopt a lot of neurotypical ways, and sometimes they're right. But at other times, I'm just brilliant at hiding my cluelessness, and that's a very different animal. But again, emotional intelligence is literally penalizing you for your behavioral and your emotional developmental differences. And so it's just stuff like that that we're just not thinking straight about and that we're not being clear-headed enough about. I've spent a large part of my career, not the biggest part, but a large part as the school consultant. And I can tell you that, especially when we did a little bit of a stopover to take care of some in-laws in the Midwest where you see these hey, come see our inclusive classroom, the inclusion buzzword. Okay, great. Wow, you've got an inclusion classroom. So ergo, the rest of your school is exclusive?

Phil Wagner

Right.

Michael John Carley

How is that inclusive? And it's going back to the old euphemism of 70% of the people that are broadcasting that they're inclusive. They're holding a dance where they've invited people, let's say, on the spectrum, to the dance. But in 70% of those situations, the person goes to the dance, and they stand against the wall, and nobody asks them to dance. That's not inclusion. We've got stuff to work out. I think that we get what the road should look like right now, but how we figure out what the rules of the road are, we're still figuring that out.

Phil Wagner

And it really goes to show the necessity of conversations like this. For instance, I teach communication and soft skills when we talk about emotional intelligence all the time. I will never see that word the same way. And I've been doing D&I work for the better half of a decade. And so I think that's what can be so frustrating about inclusion work, and I mean frustration in a good way, is that it's iterative it's constantly moving forward. We're constantly tweaking our thinking, and that's beneficial for us. But I think it burns so many people out. That's why we wanted to have a podcast like this where we can do those deep dives. It's so fascinating. So we've done some extensive work on being employed and also unemployed while on the spectrum. Can you share some of that work with us? What is that work revealed?

Michael John Carley

Yeah, I think that. Well, it's so tough because one of the things that I have to keep in mind sometimes is that none of us, whether we're on the spectrum, whether we're part of any marginalized community or not, that we're not experiencing a world like my uncle who spent his whole career at IBM, or my stepfather who taught geology at the same college for his entire career. This is now a community of people that constantly shift and constantly change jobs and the turnover rates. We know what if you're a good HR department. You know exactly how much it costs to have a turnover in the mailroom or have a turnover in senior management. It's always been helpful to me to make sure that when we start talking about the employment question that, we do frame it within a larger employment versus unemployment dilemma that we've been having in this country off and on. And part of the issue also, I think, is that it's really tough for us to get a really accurate picture on where we're at when our unemployment statistics lie like no other statistics on the planet. If you have, for instance, that person that has finished their six months of unemployment benefits and they're still unemployed, but they're not taken into consideration in the unemployment numbers. If you have somebody who, let's say, was disabled but had a good gig and was able to work it in an able-bodied position, and then because of, let's say, the housing crisis, they lost their job or financial reasons, they had to get some insurance, so they went on disability, those folks are often not taken into consideration of the statistics either. And it's just very hard to track when there's so much movement going on. So that's kind of a long-winded prelude to your question. But for me personally, I've just had to accept the fact that no one is ever going to give me credit for how willing I was to sell out to the man all my life. I've just been kind of forced into either creating things for myself or taking on temporary assignments just because the nature of the work that I do is so all over the place. And I'm not complaining, but it's just a different work situation when you have these diverse incomes coming in from, at least for me personally, either from consulting, the old days when I ran non-profits, speaking gigs. I won't say book sales because I don't really think any of us make money off our books. We make money off speaking gigs that come from the books. But that's sort of a halfway around the question. I will say this, though. I always worked. When I was ten years old, I was getting up at 04:00 in the morning to deliver papers, and when I was 13 years old, I was working for two and a half hours in a jewelry shop polishing jewelry. I've worked at a bunch of different jobs, and the subject of labor fascinated me during those years in the Midwest because we were in Wisconsin, which, if you know, the situation that was happening there with Scott Walker, where they've destroyed public education and organized labor at the same time. And I made all my money out of state. I would get paid infinitely more than I was worth as either a speaker or a consultant outside. And so, I had a lot of time on my hands in Wisconsin. And just because the whole place was confusing, me and New Yorkers with autism diagnoses who don't drink probably should never move to the Midwest anyway. It's just going to be a bad fit. And it was just all confusing. I couldn't get it. It was Trump country, too. So the whole Trump thing is, and I'm taking on the state's educational apparatus and getting my ass kicked every day. And I'm saying to my wife, who grew up there, what's going on here? I can't figure this out. And what I would do that gave me actually much more of a sense of what that place was like was that nobody checks because everybody is so desperate for labor in certain aspects. I created a completely BS resume which just had the most minute and small accomplishments possible on there, like mowing lawns like fudging everything I've ever done into the most blatant lie, high school diploma. That's all that's on the resume and everything like that. And I'm Mike, and I submit that so that I can work all these horrible jobs that everyday Americans, we just saw Nomad land. I was working all those jobs, maybe two days a week. But just as a way to educate myself, not undercover boss or anything that silly or dramatic, but it really helped for me to frame just the sort of employment troubles that all of us are in this country. Back in the day, you could graduate with just a high school degree and have health insurance and have a pool in the backyard of the home that you owned. Nothing but gone. Absolutely gone.

Phil Wagner

So your story speaks a lot to the power of personal resilience, and I think that's very inspiring. But I question whether there's opportunities unmet opportunities that the world of work is not yielding or presenting to employees who are on the spectrum. So do you have any thoughts on ways in which the world of work can make itself more inclusive to people like you who share your experience framework?

Michael John Carley

Well, number one, they should be motivated. And I think that they don't actually understand that yet. I don't think they read enough Harvard Business Review statistics that prove that the more diversified your company is, the more that you will outperform your peers. And that's a culture change. That's a culture change. That is an issue that is getting completely in the way of the success of the company. So at the end of the day, I'm sure they're going to realize because they do have to report to their shareholders that they are going to have to diversify, and they're going to have to get better at the onboarding process. They're going to have to teach their managers better about how to handle emotional regulation challenges in the workplace. And right now, they're still very much intimidated by those factors. I will say this, though. It's not because they don't want to. It's not because they're bad people. It's just because they don't have the confidence. And the reason why they don't have the confidence is because they don't have the training. And two of the reasons why they don't have the training is that number one, I find that in the employment consulting I've done, and when I was running ASTEP all those years ago, the hardest thing was to get them to make their managers commit to training time because they just wanted them doing all the things. Any break like that was going to be a productivity halt of some kind or interpreted that way. And that was the real minutiae of where I think a lot of the inability stemmed from. But it's also any kind of cultural change is also always going to be hard. And I also think that especially when we're talking about neurodiversity, we're talking about those behavioral differences. And one of the things that doesn't get talked about enough is that behavioral differences sometimes do not mesh with what we think of as quote-unquote professional behavior. And that's a big elephant in the bathtub that nobody seems to want to address. Everybody wants to be able to talk in corporate-speak terms. In corporate speak terms. I'm sorry, corporate people. It is not transparent. You talk around issues. You do not talk directly to issues. And one of the aspects that in the most successful neurodiversity onboarded companies, where they have a large population of folks like us, I guarantee you that in every single one of those companies that those neurotypical employees are communicating ten times better than they ever did amongst themselves, thanks to being forced to not use the soliloquies, the euphemisms, the sarcasm, the corporate speak language, and to actually have to deal directly with people and talk directly to people in a transparent and humane and non-way.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I get it. Cutting technicalities and not resting in the nuance. I think if your story shows anything, Michael, is that you can go through a million microaggressive trainings, you can go through a million inclusion trainings. But there's so much at the intersections of nuance here that's so important to slow those trainings down and really cut through and speak to the humanity behind it all.

Michael John Carley

Amen. You say the word microaggressions right now. I mean, we have very lively conversations at NYU sometimes about the concept of microaggressions, that if they're not based in race, that really needs some reframing, because sometimes I think everybody's getting the idea that the concept of microaggressions mean that if you were offended by somebody else's behavioral difference, then you're absolutely right to have been offended. And no, that's not the case. In the case of different neurologies, there may be emotional regulation challenges happening with that individual that caused them to overstep or be more dramatic in their language, and therefore, the intent to offend you was not there. You're wrong. So this is the sudden nuance to exactly what you're talking about, and you couldn't be more right?

Phil Wagner

Yeah, it's uncomfortable. That's the thing because there's no black and white, right or wrong. It's everything gray right in the middle.

Michael John Carley

I think the solution, too, that's really helpful for everybody to understand is you can acknowledge the impact that that person's statement had on you and how it felt. You can't deny that, but don't trust your instincts. We're just not smart. Yeah.

Phil Wagner

That's good. I have one more question for you, and it's like a super hypothetical. Right. We don't have a magic wand to give you, but if we did and we handed you a magic wand that you could wave and fix the most pressing issue facing neurodiverse people in the world of work right now, what would you waive that magic wand to do.

Michael John Carley

Phil, it's not one thing. There's one thing that's a wonderful problem to have, which is there's now such a glut of unqualified and just really inept, quote, unquote neurodiversity consultants that are just capitalizing on the popularity. I wouldn't have any other way. We both know what it was like ten years ago. We didn't have that problem. We had the opposite problem. But oh, my gosh, it's pretender land out there. That would be one thing. But it's really taking the absolute top shelf viewpoint of everything that's been going on, you know, getting rid of the whole interview concept. If you have to work so hard to get through an interview with somebody at a company because of all the traditional the eye contacts, the shaking hands, and stuff like that, you're not going to last very long at that company if it really took you that much to get through, if that kind of culture permeates in the interview if you look at how people write their job descriptions and I can show you examples that are hysterical, where a company has written will do data input in a cellar with no windows, no human contact for pretty much all of their day and at the bottom, it says strong leadership skills required.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Michael John Carley

People just don't think sometimes. And it's because of the obligation to the cultures that existed 30 years ago that just do not work really for anyone today.

Phil Wagner

Has COVID changed that at all for neurodiverse people, or has it made it better? Has it made it worse? Has it changed it at all?

Michael John Carley

That's a great question, and I think the answer is only going to come after COVID.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Michael John Carley

When we see whether or not if we're approaching this from an all-over disability field, I can relate you to so many people that will, especially for accessibility and transportation needs, have said I've been waiting for this all my life. All my life. And yet, at the same point, are we going to be allowed to record Zoom lectures if we have, let's say, processing difficulty and need to hear the material over and over again. But there's an intellectual rights issue with the person that gave the presentation. So all of this stuff, that's a question that I think is yet to be answered afterwards.

Phil Wagner

More to come. More to come. Well, Michael John Carley, it's an incredible pleasure speaking with you. I really appreciate you taking your time to inform our approach to diversity and inclusion work, making sure it's really inclusive for all. Thanks so much for your time and your energy today.

Michael John Carley

Thank you, Phil. I really had a great time, and your questions were fabulous. So anytime.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Dr. Jessica Grosholz
Dr. Jessica GrosholzEpisode 14: April 11, 2022
Entrepreneurship as Justice

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

Episode 14: April 11, 2022

Entrepreneurship as Justice

Dr. Jessica Grosholz is an Associate Professor of Criminology and the Campus Chair and Director of the Masters in Criminal Justice Program at the University of South Florida. She joins host Phil Wagner today to discuss how her work with incarcerated individuals folds into the larger diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation, the different challenges women face post-incarceration, what the best practices are for working alongside or leading post-incarcerated people, and much more.

Podcast (audio)

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Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • How Dr. Grosholz got involved with entrepreneurial work
  • Why its important to avoid certain words when talking about incarcerated or formerly incarcerated folks
  • How the post-incarcerated experience differs between white people and people of color
  • What is the mission of the Florida Coalition for Higher Education in Prison
  • What the phrase "banning the box" means
  • The benefits of teaching an entrepreneurial mindset to incarcerated folks
  • What has been the biggest takeaway from teaching in prisons
Transcript

Dr. Jessica Grosholz: Entrepreneurship as Justice TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

There are all sorts of contexts in which people commit crime. And so, without having a full understanding of that context, it becomes really problematic to judge people.

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real, human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun. Welcome to yet another episode of Diversity Goes to Work, the podcast where we center real, human lived experiences that can help us inform our approach and the strategies we use to make the world of work more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place for all. I'm particularly excited about today's episode. I'm joined by a true expert, but also a dear, dear friend and colleague who I've known for quite some time. Dr. Jessica Grosholz is an Associate Professor of Criminology and the campus chair and director of the Masters in Criminal Justice program at the University of South Florida and the University of South Florida Sarasota campus. She's a research administration fellow. She's an award-winning faculty member. She's actively involved in community-engaged work and service-learning. So we are truly in for a real treat today. Jess, welcome to our podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

Thank you so much for having me, Phil. I'm excited to be here. I'm excited to speak with you and see you. It's been too long, and I'm just excited to put the word out about diversity and inclusion in terms of my research, in terms of the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated population.

Phil Wagner

So, Jess, I feel like this is sort of this episode is a little bit like a bad joke set up like a criminologist and a communications guy walk into a podcast at a business school, and everybody turns and says, what are you all doing here? So, Jesse, you're a criminologist by trade. Tell me, how does a criminologist get involved in entrepreneurial work?

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

That's a really good question, Phil. So I did my graduate work at Emory University, and while I was there doing my dissertation work, I interviewed formerly incarcerated men in the Atlanta area and really just to understand their experiences with incarceration and then how those incarceration experiences shaped their reentry experiences. So did their time in prison make it harder? Did it ease the transition? How did it impact housing, family reunification, and employment in particular? And as I was speaking to the men, really that employment piece became a sort of focus. Right? We know they're not able to find employment. The research really suggests that a year after being released, about 75% still cannot find stable employment. And as they were talking to me and as we were having these discussions, I started to realize that they were sort of taking their employment into their own hands, so to speak. They were starting their own businesses. They were taking nontraditional routes to find employment and by nontraditional routes, meaning sort of those legal avenues. Right. They want to be prosocial contributing members of society. So they were becoming Reverends, pastors, starting barbershops, starting lawn services. And I started realizing that entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial training was really important for this population. Fast forward a few years. When I started at USF Sarasota Manatee, I met a colleague, Dr. Jean Kabongo, in the College of Business, and I realized his area of expertise was entrepreneurship. And we started talking, and light bulbs went off in both of our heads. We realized we could be providing entrepreneurial training to incarcerated populations, both in prisons and in jails, to sort of provide them with the tools, skills, and what we call sort of that entrepreneurial mindset for when they are eventually released because, as we know, 95% of incarcerated individuals are eventually released.

Phil Wagner

All right. So this is a lot to unpack, and I really want to get to that work with Jean Kabongo. I'm familiar with that work, and I think it's incredibly powerful. But there's an important sort of off-ramp here that I want to take before we really settle into our conversation. And it's an off-ramp focused on language. So I hear you, Jess, and I hear you using very specific terminology, and I hear you not using terminology that I might suspect. So we're talking about you use the term formerly incarcerated folks or incarcerated folks. Is that the language we should use here today? Do we say, prisoners? What do we say? What do we not say as we're talking about this population?

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

So we really want to avoid those traditional words that we hear all the time. Right. Prisoners and inmates, those are really dehumanizing. They're sort of derogatory. There's a lot of stigma that comes with those phrases, those words. Right. We want to refer to individuals as individuals first. They are human beings. We want to make sure that we use that humanizing language. They are individuals who just so happen to be incarcerated at the time, or they just so happen to be formally incarcerated at the time, or they're individuals caught within our criminal justice system.

Phil Wagner

I love that. And I think that people-first language is an approach that we utilize across sort of the gamut of diversity and inclusion work. And maybe that's where we should go next. Jess, our focus here is, of course, on diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I'm wondering how you see your work folding into the sort of larger framework of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Do you have any thoughts?

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

Yeah. So I think my work fits very well into this diversity, equity, and inclusion sort of framework. We can't have a fully thriving society without including the formerly incarcerated population. As I mentioned before, 95% return home if they're not included as a contributing member of society. Our society in and of itself isn't successful. Our society can't thrive. Our economy can't thrive. We can talk about all those economic issues in a little bit. But having a fully equitable society means including formerly incarcerated individuals within all institutions in all aspects of our society.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I love that. And there's so many takeaways, I think, for the organizational sphere because that primary mechanism of equitability and inclusion has a significant organizational component, right. Plugging in employees into meaningful and gainful employment to create that sort of ongoing engagement in our democratic society. I think a lot of us would think about the idea of inclusion and the idea of criminal justice and really draw our attention to sort of the mess that the criminal justice system sort of is right now as a whole. And that system has been critiqued and held to increase scrutiny over the recent years, following multiple instances of recorded violence against communities of color and beyond. I'm curious if your work explores how the post-incarceration experience specifically plays out differently for people of color versus white people and maybe also for men and women. That diversity piece, how does that follow the post-incarceration experience?

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

Great question, Phil. So we know that people of color minorities are disproportionately affected by our criminal justice system, so it should not be surprising that those that come out for reentry. Reentry is a more difficult experience for people of color and minorities. They are significantly less likely to find employment. They're less likely to find stable housing bouncing around from house to house. They're returning to communities that are under-resourced performer incarcerated individuals. So my work really does focus on those on diverse groups, on men and women in particular as well. So we know that women go to prison or go to jail for very different reasons than men likely to have been involved in some sort of domestic violence situation prior to going to prison or jail. And so, coming home is a very different experience for women and black women in particular. They may not feel safe returning to the environment that they came from prior to going to prison or jail. So that housing plan is up in the air, they're more likely to be full custody parents. And so going to prison or jail means that their kids are likely to be with relatives, whereas when a male goes to prisoner or jail, it's likely that the mother takes care of the children. And so, returning home is a big issue for females. For women where they need to find stable housing, they're more likely to, as some of the research refers to that as ping pong, from short term housing to short term housing without finding stable long term housing. And they are often, while being reunified with their children is really important, less than half, or about half, aren't actually reunited with their children. And then I'm working on a new project, actually, with Dr. Sandra Stone and Dr. Sandra Fogle on the Tampa campus to investigate how the reentry experiences are different for older formerly incarcerated individuals. So a lot of the work really talks about reentry in general, talks about reentry in terms of usually ages up until about 40, 45. We get a lot of information about reentry for that age, very little, not as much, I should say, on the older incarcerated population that's returning home. And we know that those individuals face significantly greater challenges. They are in worse health, more likely to have chronic conditions, have a harder time reunifying with family, especially if they've been incarcerated for a long period of time. The family may not be around anymore. They may have, in a sense, burned bridges. The family may not want to talk with them anymore, or the family may have simply passed on. So they may not have people to go home to. And then, in terms of finding employment, bringing it sort of back to this employment workpiece, older formerly incarcerated individuals, they don't just face the stigma of having a criminal record, but they also face that ageism stigma as well. So you've got employers that already might have some ageist tendencies, and then you've got someone that's, in a sense, tristigmatized, is that a phrase? I'm going to make that a phrase if it's not.

Phil Wagner

We'll make it a phrase that's good. I love that. And really invokes that framework of intersectionality. Right. That there's not just one monolith of experience of what it means to be incarcerated or post incarcerated, and then it's complicated and that even that post-incarceration experience is not just glorious sunny days. Right. There are still obstacles to be addressed as you move on. I think part of your work, Jess, really seeks to sort of bring about better education about the entire timeline, for lack of a better term of that experience. And you've done a lot of work just bringing awareness of the role of education and what education can do to make that post-incarceration experience better. I know that you're part of the Florida Coalition of Higher Education in Prison, and your goal is to improve our understanding of what access to education can do for those who are currently incarcerated. Can you speak to that work just a little bit and what that work seeks to do?

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

Yeah. So the Florida Coalition for Higher Education in Prison is really about bringing higher education to our state prison system and giving access to those who are incarcerated, giving them access to higher education potentially credits potentially being able for them to succeed when they get out. Right. They need some sort of education while they're incarcerated. One of my colleagues in this organization or two of my colleagues in this organization at Miami Dade College, they received second chance Pell and have been working to provide classes at one of the state prisons down in the Miami area. But they run into huge obstacles. Right. The state has their state you need residency requirements trying to get individuals who are incarcerated knowing that they were residents prior might be a year or so prior to being incarcerated. Their time in prison doesn't count as a Florida residency requirement. It's very, very difficult. But they have stayed the course. And I think bringing higher education to incarcerated populations is vitally important for success when they get out. And it's vitally important for our institutions to begin to, in a sense, we talk about banning the box for employment, but starting to potentially think about banning the box when it comes to applications for higher education.

Phil Wagner

And talk to us about banning the box. So for some of our listeners who may not know what that refers to, what are you talking about here?

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

So banning the box means that you're not asked that question. Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Right. So you don't have that stigma that. Oh, no. They're going to ask me this question on the first page of this application. I'm never going to make it any further, whether it's a college application or a job application. And getting to the next round of interviews is vitally important for formerly incarcerated individuals because they might be able to explain what had happened, or they might be able to show that they are valuable members of society that they are willing to they're ready to make a difference.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, that's good. I want to go back to what we talked about at the beginning, which is some of your real seminal work, Jess, to spawned some of those awards and all the accolades that you've gotten, which is your work with Dr. Jean Kabongo in the College of Business on equipping those who are currently in prison or incarcerated with entrepreneurial skills. Talk to us about how you specifically have brought education into that space and what it's done.

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

So we began our class. Well, let me take a step back. We started talking about this project in 2015. I guess it was. And it took us a good year before we were able to get everything working with the Florida Department of Corrections with USF and our particular institution, which was Hardy Correctional Institution. It took us until September 2016 before we had our very first class at the prison. We have since taught eight classes, seven full classes. We were in the middle of our 8th class when COVID hit, and we couldn't finish the 8th class. So we have taught 118 men at the state prison. We then brought a different sort of entrepreneurship class to our local Sarasota County Correctional Facility. Instead of the eleven-week course that it is at the state prison, it can't be eleven weeks at a jail because of the transcendency of that population. Right. They're in and out in much shorter times. So we made it a four-day workshop, and we've completed two of those workshops before COVID hit. But to back up, it's sort of a overview of entrepreneurship. Dr. Kabongo teaches the class, and I'm there as sort of that researcher program evaluator side of things to ensure that every class we offer is roughly the same. We're covering the same topics and to really get a sense of what the men are learning how they're transforming during the semester. And Dr. Kabongo teaches them all about developing an idea, finding the opportunities, feasibility analysis, target markets, developing a business model, writing a business plan, the whole gamut of entrepreneurship with the overarching theme of developing this mindset. Right. And we want them to have this mindset that even if they don't start their own business when they get out, they are able to handle failure, handle adversity and move on to the next challenges and move on and realize that one failure doesn't mean an entire failure. Right. It doesn't mean you're a failure. It means that it might not be the right opportunity at that time, but the next one is going to come along. We hold that mindset. I should say, really strongly. And I think one of the biggest things that we do in this class is that it's not just for individuals who are going to eventually be released from prison. We want individuals who are incarcerated for potentially life to also have this mindset because improving that mindset while incarcerated can also improve behavior while incarcerated. And so, as I mentioned before, 118 men have completed our class at the prison. Of those who are eligible for release, 31 have already been released, and only three have returned. So while we obviously cannot say that it is due to our class, we take some pride in knowing that only three have returned. And I keep my list updated. I check that list. I just checked it on Monday, wanting to make sure that I have the most up-to-date numbers of the people who have been released and those who have very few who have returned. We take a lot of pride in that.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. That's so good. And I sit here, and I come at this from a very different perspective from the perspective of communications and diversity work. What I love about what you do, Jess is that you are giving these folks space to rewrite their participation in the narrative. Right. And so, instead of seeing themselves through one lens, you're inviting them and giving them permission to rewrite who it is that they are both for the here and now and both for their future. And I think that's incredibly powerful stories playing powerful role in how we see the world and how we see ourselves. So I love your work. I'm a big fan, and not just because we're friends, but I really do believe in the value of it. And coming at this from the lens of sort of program manager, researcher, taking this all in from a justice perspective, you work with incarcerated individuals, many of whom hope to reenter the world and the world of work if it's possible. Can you share with us some of the recommendations that you have for those who are eligible and able to then reenter the workforce after being incarcerated? Any big tips or takeaways from your bird's eye view?

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

I think the biggest takeaway is to not give up hope after one failure. Right? They're going to experience hardships. They're going to experience challenges. We know this. There are upwards of 44,000 state and federal barriers in place individuals who are returning from prisons or jails, things from the inability to volunteer at your child's school, accessing affordable housing, accessing student loans, receiving public assistance, serving on a jury. But I think one of the biggest ones is this inability to become licensed for certain types of jobs. And that includes like Cosmetology. I was just reading or listening to a podcast that they said it's harder. There's more training in place for cosmetology than to become an EMT or a paramedic. And so, there are a lot of barriers that don't necessarily make a lot of logical sense. They're not necessarily set up to improve public safety, but for those who are reentering and want to rejoin the workforce and they want to be contributing members of society, it's finding those employers that are formerly incarcerated friendly. There are employers in all communities. You have to sort of be in the know, although we shouldn't have to be in that situation. But find those employers that are formally incarcerated friendly and do not take your first no as you give up because everyone hears no it's being able to handle that, handle that adversity, handle that failure and move forward and find the next opportunity because it is out there.

Phil Wagner

Love that. I'm sort of teed up well to go where I want to take the conversation next because you're talking about creating friendly work environments for post-incarcerated folks. And I have sort of two more finalized questions as we get to the end of our recording. And they both deal with the same issue, which is creating that friendly workspace, for lack of a better term. And the first really deals with colleagues. So I'm wondering if you have any advice or thoughts to normal, everyday lay people, people who are in the world of work doing their nine to five and find themselves working with or maybe alongside formerly incarcerated folks. I'm reminded that there's a lot of media lately in the last decade or so that's really maybe shaped our narrative of how we feel about incarcerated people. Everything from Orange Is the New Black to Scared Straight. Very different than the 1980s and 1990s cops, right? So I'm wondering if our ideas have changed or what ideas you have for how people working alongside formerly incarcerated folks can and should treat those individuals.

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

I think we need to realize that there are so many people caught up in our criminal justice system in the U.S. that it is likely you have been working with or have found yourself a customer of someone who has been formally incarcerated without even knowing it. And so I think it's important to sort of take that stigma away, to take that sort of fear of the unknown. We have these stereotypical views of certain groups of people that must be formally if they're in public and they're not in prison. They must be formally incarcerated based on how they look. But I think it's important to, in my opinion, it's not a lot of people's business to know your history. If you're doing your job well, then that should be what matters the most. There are going to be people who say, well, what about it's important to know if they've been convicted of certain offenses. There are all sorts of context in which people commit crime. And so, without having a full understanding of that context, it becomes really problematic to judge people, to judge people on past experiences, past poor behavior, past situations that they might have found themselves. And it's one of those things that I think about every time I go and teach the class at the prison or the jail or any time I bring my students with my service-learning class to the jail. I always have a list of the names of the people who are incarcerated that we're going to be working with. I never look them up ahead of time. I don't want to prejudge someone before I get to know them. I want to be able to have sort of they have a clean slate for me. While they may be in a different circumstance, they might be incarcerated. They might be in prison. They might be in jail. I don't need to know why they're in there. I'm there to teach them, to help them be successful when they get out, or to help my students experience and learn what being incarcerated means and what leaving prison or jail means, those challenges that they face.

Phil Wagner

That's good. Thanks for sharing all that. And then my final question for you, Jess, is we prepare a lot of leaders. A lot of people listening to this podcast, we hope, are those of our MBA students, our graduate students, those who are going to go out and make a change in the world of work. And we are actively trying to prepare leaders for the world of tomorrow. I'm wondering what advice you have specifically for leaders, people in positions of power, people in positions that are able to create and cultivate change. I'm wondering what advice do you have for how they can cultivate a work environment that is truly supportive and a space that will lead to fulfilling and gainful employment for formerly incarcerated individuals? Any thoughts for leaders?

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

Yeah. So I think it's important for leaders, business leaders, to really understand the importance of this population and the importance of including this population in employment and in work without including the formerly incarcerated population, you're losing out on diversity. You're losing out on those sort of diverse viewpoints, creative individuals, innovative individuals, a whole population that is deserving of employment. The research actually shows that they're more loyal to the company when they're hired. There is a higher retention rate, lower turnover when they're employed. And that by not including this population, the GDP is actually reduced between 78 and 87 billion dollars by not putting these individuals in the workforce because many return home during the prime working age. Right. We want to be able to include them in the population or in the workforce, I should say. So it's vitally important to not miss out on this population.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, Jess, that's so insightful. I think particularly now as we gear towards sort of mid-COVID post-COVID referent space where I think employers are really struggling to fill many positions, it seems like a prime opportunity and then, of course, beyond. Again, I think your humanity and people-focused approach here is not only refreshing, but I think it gives us a lot of good food for thought as leaders, as managers, as change agents to rewrite the narrative to be more inclusive and also further our approach and our insight as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. So Jess, my friend, thank you so much for taking time to chat with us on our podcast. It has truly been a pleasure. Lots of stuff to unpack. Thank you so much for your insight.

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

Thank you so much for having me, Phil. I really appreciate it, and I am blessed.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time. I next time.

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 Crystal Morrison Joseph
Crystal Morrison JosephEpisode 13: March 28, 2022
Race and Trauma

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Episode 13: March 28, 2022

Race and Trauma

Today we welcome Crystal Morrison Joseph - an alum of William & Mary. She's a licensed clinical professional counselor, a licensed professional counselor, and an approved clinical supervisor in Virginia and Maryland. She specializes in anxiety, depression, psycho-oncology, racial identity formation, and cultural trauma within the Black community. She is the author of two books: "Conversations with a Clinician of Color" and "Poundcake & Private Practice." She speaks with us today to discuss trauma, Black professionalism, and how we can all better ensure the world of work is truly an inclusive place.

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Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • What the link is between trauma and systematic racism
  • How do microagressions contribute to trauma
  • The importance of recognizing microagressions in everyday speech
  • How psychological trauma, stress, and coping impact Black lived experiences in the organizational sphere
  • What is the difference between direct and indirect trauma
  • How trauma and chronic stress permeate Black professional lives
  • How microagressions can have a macro impact
  • What are some actionable items that allies can do to meaningfully support Black lives
  • What are good self-care practices people can do to combat trauma
  • How can learning institutions best support students of color
Transcript

Crystal Morrison Joseph: Race and Trauma TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Fear drives behavior, good or bad or indifferent. I cannot swim. I grew up around water. I'm from Tidewater, but I know what my limits are. So I don't completely avoid water. But I know that I can't go but so far out with so much capacity of life jacket and deep-sea fishing and scuba diving and all that. I avoid those things, but I think we have to have a conversation about what can we unlearn, what can we relearn, and then what just needs to go in the trash.

Phil Wagner

Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun. Welcome friends to another episode of Diversity Goes to Work. Thank you for continuously tuning in, for engaging with us. Keep sharing with friends. If you wouldn't mind, drop us a review. Five stars would be nice. But regardless, keep coming back for more. We're so thankful for you. I'm excited for today's conversation as we take things in a little bit of a different direction from where we went last time. I'm joined today by Crystal Morrison Joseph. And together, we are going to have a conversation on mental health. So Crystal is an alum of the College, and she specializes in anxiety, depression, psycho-oncology, racial identity formation, and cultural trauma within the black community. She has over 16 years of experience working with persons affected by mental health challenges, systemic barriers, and culturally traumatic experiences. Like I said, she's an alum here at William & Mary. She got her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Black studies and her Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Washington, DC. You won't find Crystal just in her office. She'll allude to her couch, I'm sure, in this interview, but she's out there doing the work. She's a prominent figure. She's the author of two books, Conversation with a Clinician of Color, Likeness, Lucy and Lemonade, and also Pound Cake and Private Practice, Five Things I Learned During My First Year. Crystal has given so much of her time coming to speak with our students, engaging with us. I'm so thankful again to hold space for this conversation. Thank you so much, Crystal, for joining us. It is a pleasure. As always, to speak with you.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Hi. Yes, thanks for having me. I totally appreciate the read of my bio. I hate for it to sound dry, so I try to go a little bit off the beaten path when I describe myself. Thanks for providing the synopsis of me. Cheers to the community. I'm here being a part of a community that I hold near and dear to my heart, which is William & Mary. So I appreciate you all having me. COVID, unfortunately, has jacked up a little bit of my on-the-ground initiative, so podcasts have been the safest way for me to do that. I also have an internship and residency program. And so, this fall will be the fourth cycle of that.

Phil Wagner

Congrats.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

That's just to teach people to be better than I am. And a little bit on the entrepreneurship role grad school. And our role doesn't really teach you those things. Hence the book. The book two copies actually are in the swim library. If anybody the pound cake one, the other one is on just public domain or people can reach out to me. Thanks for having me.

Phil Wagner

Hey, thanks for filling in some of the gaps of that bio. You're clearly someone on the move, and I'm thankful that you made time to chat with us today. Today's conversation, I think, is going to be a little thick, particularly given some of the other conversations that we tend to have when we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Now, as a licensed mental health counselor, I know that you're comfortable with those thick conversations. So just a little of a note to our listeners. We're going to go there today in this episode. So take the time to step back and pause if you need to if we get to places that are a little rough. But I really want to center in this conversation the experiences of trauma and specifically how our diversity, equity, and inclusion work can be trauma-informed. I think that it's so important that we really step back and talk about the trauma that comes along with systemic racism. And I know that BIPOC folk face daily onslaughts of racism. But if you don't live those experiences, I think it's really easy for people to think that racism is just about a few ignorant comments. And if we're just nice, all that will go away. But can you help us understand a little bit more, Crystal, the trauma of racism as it exists in sort of the day-to-day rhythms of life?

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Sure. Absolutely. So I have to kind of separate it out. So a little bit didactic here. So with trauma, trauma includes your personal perceived reaction to an event. So initially, it's the visceral reaction you have. So in psychological and theological terms, that reaction is either acute but then also can go into long term. So once the acuity and the frequency of said reaction or the ripple effects of that reaction continue to occur, you get into the long-term effects, such as what people like to call shell shock, PTSD, which is post-traumatic stress disorder. And so, when you look at the perceived notions of how someone operates in their environment, that can mean they come in contact with traumatic events almost daily, depending on where the stimulus occurs. And the stimulus can be a person, place, thing, situation, some words that you may hear that are pinging right now, like triggers. So that's typically what we identify. So the trauma of racism is the repeated presence of racism in someone's life, which we know includes prejudice, discrimination, overt, covert actions, but also microaggressions. So to answer your question regarding the day-to-day rhythms, they typically occur with microaggressions. The things that people do and or say that to the person doing or saying it's like, oh, this is no big deal, I'm just going to do it. But they don't realize how it infringes, and it becomes patronizing, discriminatory, and hurtful to the other person. And so, I think we should be mindful before we speak and to just listen and understand why someone's point of view is that way. To give you an example, the best example I can give from a self-disclosure standpoint I remember putting together Ikea furniture years ago with a previous employer small team of staff, and one of the nuts and bolts were missing. And I said, oh, gosh, Ikea gypped us. And someone in the room was a descendant of Eastern European family where the word Gypsy was a derogatory term. And then that's how you get the word gypped.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

And so it means to steal or procure something without purchasing. Right. And so it caught me completely off guard when she pulled me to the side to the point where I was in tears because I didn't mean to offend, not knowing that that word had so much charge to it. And it had been a part of my vocabulary for almost 30 years at the time. And so that's just one way I like to kind of explain to people. It could be day-to-day things you're doing and saying that never are met with any sort of pushback or challenge. But then you say it to the wrong person, or you do it to the wrong person, and they're going to be like, wait a minute, not today. We're not doing this. So day to day, our vocabulary, our semantics, how we go about how we entreat business. When you look cultural differences or reading the room, everyone reads the room differently. So, yeah, I guess that's the best.

Phil Wagner

It's super, super helpful. And in your work, it's like your mind. I know that as you sort of break apart the work that you do there, that psych piece is about like preparing your mind to see things differently. Right.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Correct.

Phil Wagner

Seeing things different and what I love about what you just said, Crystal, is I think that that personal reaction is key. And it's very telling because that tells us, as DEI advocates, that you have to listen. Right. You don't get to decide if something is traumatic or not. I think that goes both ways. Don't make someone a victim. Don't look at marginalized communities through a victim lens solely.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Right.

Phil Wagner

Also, step back and listen. Whether you perceive something to be offensive or delegitimizing or not, you don't ultimately get to decide. Right. Your job is to listen and respond accordingly.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Right. So, yeah, there's a recent conversation about the professionalism. Well, professionalism is that word is interesting because of how it's used to categorize people, but what it means to have your nose pierced or a different color hair than you're naturally born with. And then who is to be taken seriously? Or does that cause a distraction in the workplace? And so certain communities like color. I like color. I've dyed my hair red and purple and blue, black and all these things. But I also understand that I work for myself, and I can make certain rules. And so the conversation is who gets to decide what is appropriate? And so, to your point in trauma, you have to understand, okay, you've offended someone. You're traumatizing and or re-traumatizing someone. How do we make it stop? And it doesn't happen overnight, especially with trauma. The lingering effects of who the person that is experiencing these nightmares or in social media, we call it trauma porn, where you're positioned over and over again to these events and these visuals.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. And I want to be mindful that we don't go there today talking about trauma so that we sort of get, like, that emotional high. And it's a really delicate balance to walk that like. I think often we don't talk about things that are deep in DEI work, particularly in the professional sphere. Right. Like, we stick to high-level definitions and stuff that makes us feel good. And I think there is a time where we need to sort of go there. So I'm glad that we're doing that with you. And I think it's easier to understand the trauma when we connect it to systemic inequity and perhaps even more so to the violence that BIPOC folks face every day. I know the last few years have given us literally video snapshots into some of the encounters that people of color have been facing since long before cell phone videos and social media existed. Right. While we continue to fight for justice, people of color continue to grapple with the collective trauma of Trayvon and Eric and Michael and Ahmaud, Breonna and George, and all the other lives that sort of go on that have been snuffed too early. As a woman of color and a mental health counselor, that's a unique intersection gives you a great insight, a great bird's eye view here. I'm wondering if you can offer some insight into how the intersections of specifically police violence, psychological trauma, stress, and coping impact black lived experiences in maybe even the organizational sphere.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

It's rough out here. Let's position it this way from a timeline with Treyvon Martin. I was in grad school still, and that was a force to be reckoned with, the ignition or igniting of protests nation and worldwide. And then now you fast forward to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery so you can imagine what I possibly see in here on my couch. But prior to that point, as a black woman, I've lived some of these things. I've seen some of these things. I've been followed in stores by security. I had people mistake me for someone else because, quote-unquote, all black people look alike, things like that. And it's frustrating. So you combine that with not being able to unzip your skin to social injustices, racial injustices, about black bodies being expendable. And so that's the phrasing that I typically use with my clients and those that I supervise is the expendability of black bodies. It's almost like, well, if you can't be procured for capital gain, then, oh, you don't mean anything.

Phil Wagner

Oh, wow.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

And God forbid you speak up and say, let me get my bike out of your yard, or I'm just walking home with my hoodie on because it's cold outside, and I want my skittles. You're looked at as a threat. You're seen as a threat. And so, something I have to explain to people is my bio doesn't really matter to an ignorant person. My papyrus from William & Mary in Latin doesn't mean anything to an ignorant person. And sometimes people see you coming, and they assume stereotypes back to ingrained prejudice and exploitation of racism outward, it's like, oh, well, that's just a black woman, and she doesn't mean anything. Or to Sha'Carri, who beat out Flo-Jo's record. She has orange hair, eyelashes, and people are kind of going at her from my community. And those outward about this isn't okay. And it's like, well, can we cheer for those people and those women who don't look like what you say should fit in your box? And so, with the police brutality, it's been difficult because of how our systems are structured and to see how our bills are still sitting on the table regarding George Floyd and the anti-policing bill and stuff like that. They haven't been signed in the law. They haven't been pushed. It tells you on a federal level how people view black people or those who identify as black. And it's been hard. I have people who come in, and all they can do is just breathe for the first five to ten minutes discussion because they can't even verbalize how they're feeling.

Phil Wagner

And this is an important point. Right. Because I think if you're a white person or white presenting person, or in any majority group, it's easy to look to be like, well, that's not you, right. You're not George Floyd. You haven't had those interactions with the police. And that's a really ignorant and reductive framework because we're not talking about those who have just had violent interactions. There's a lot of research to suggest that just indirect exposure to that violence, it can cause trauma and chronic stress. Right.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Yup, and thank you for saying chronic stress. So diagnosing, obviously, is a part of my day-to-day job. And for Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, and other people of color, I try not to put them in this huge medical box. Right. And you go down the list, and you're doing the differential. And it's like none of this fits. None of this fits. And it's because of chronic stress, or it's because of psychosocial stressors that are seen as environmental in how they originate versus the organic, which imbalance of chemicals in the brain. So the WHO and the American Psychological Association are in conversation about the terms such as burnout and other psychosocial stressors, racial trauma because they're trying to determine how to classify it on a psychological standpoint. But also everybody, 90% of my practice, they have experienced racial trauma or some sort of trauma secondary to psychosocial stressors in their environment. How can you expect someone to be okay when they're paid $0.63 to the dollar? How can you expect someone to be okay when they don't have child care, and they're penalized for leaving their children in a hotel overnight just so they can go to work? It's that, but it's also those who have reached a pinnacle of success, so to speak, who have the degrees, who have the education, and who still can't get ahead quote-unquote or still can't be respected because they're black or they embody a perceived threat, and it's frustrating.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. I'm wondering if you can speak to how trauma and that chronic stress seep into black professional lives because it's not just like folks of color get to clock in nine to five and put aside the collective fear and anxiety and systemic racism. Right. You don't just get to lose that because you're at work. So what are the professional consequences of violence and trauma against communities of color in the professional world?

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Yeah, so the phrase we all love hostile working environment, which then sometimes activates an EOC suit and things of that nature, it's hard. So for me, I'm siloed. I'm isolated. It's just me. As far as me and another person in the room, I don't have a huge practice. And our work as solo practitioners can be highly isolating. But when you look at larger systems or even like campuses, universities, prior to COVID, we were intersecting with a lot of people. I think with the onset of COVID, it's increased, or well, it's increased our isolation from each other, but it has decreased what our communicative skills are going to be. So I do feel like the hostility, perceived hostility, and microaggressions can increase because you can't read the room as well. And I want to say that of the things that I've seen, microaggressions still tend to be at the top of the list. Corporations assuming that certain employees that identify as Black, Indigenous, Brown, Asian, Pacific Islander, and other people of color that they have certain resources. Right. So the best example I can give is when the school said, okay, no more children in the buildings. We're going to do virtual, go home with your parents. So most of us have, like, WiFi at home, but we have a generic speed. We don't have this extreme business speed. So if you live in a two-parent household, mom and dad or caregiver otherwise are trying to take care of business on their laptop, streaming over WiFi. But then little Johnny and Susie have to also do their homework and school work. So now we're fighting over bandwidth. Whereas, say, a parent who doesn't have the same resources or there's a grandmother, multiple generations living in the home, maybe WiFi wasn't even a thing because you didn't have a job where you needed WiFi. You may have been I call them beautification specialist, but a housekeeper. And then your child gets sent home, and now you're scrambling for even the hardware, a laptop, or what have you for them to participate in school. And my brother told me a story. My brother is in North Carolina, and I have a nephew who's five, just turned six, and they're doing virtual school. And so because of the age group, they have the teacher and then they have the teacher's assistant. And this classmate of my nephew was kind of hot dogging and being the class clown. And there was a lot of women trying to get his attention. And the little boy just wasn't listening. So my brother was home and kind of peeped around the screen, and he intervened, and he said, please sit down and listen. You're disrupting the class. But my brother noted that when he looked at the screen, the young boy was in his mother's bedroom during class, and mom was knocked out in the bed behind him. And so it was later found out that mom worked the third shift and was also pregnant. And so she's tired, but she's trying to get him to engage in school. But you can't watch over him and get your sleep and work on third shift all in a 24 hour period. So I think the assumption of resources and allocation of time needs to be reconsidered. When you're looking at corporations and how trauma and chronic stress during this time has affected people and will affect people. I mean, these things have been going on prior to COVID, but now it's like it's in the forefront, and the layers have been pulled back.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. And I think that's so important to take that intersectional lens. Right. It is so reductive to just make it all about race because there's an intersection of race and class and then resources and gender, and there's so many configurations. And then that intersectional domain is going to impact generational curses, for lack of better term. Right.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Yes.

Phil Wagner

Main systemic if we just put Band-aids on the surface level issues, I'm wondering, we've talked about microaggressions, and I think, again, if you're in a majority community, it's easy to say, well, they're micro for a reason. Right. Like they're small and inconsequential. But those microaggressions have some macro consequences. And I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit to either how those or even just again, that systemic racism impact how folks of color see themselves. Right? I mean, does it have an impact on identity and how they see value and their ability to contribute meaningfully in the world?

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Yeah, I agree. I think because of the injection of these comments or micro and macro aggressions. I agree with you. So I use the term injected based on it not being present prior to. Right. Think about a child who hasn't seen the world around them, and then it then turns into generational curses as you discuss. And then you end up interacting with each other and yourself in that fashion. So now you have in-group fighting or within-group fighting. Right. So now we're crabs in the barrel outside of our traditional environment trying to keep each other in check when, in reality, what we should be fighting together collectively as a larger system to dismantle. And so there's a lot of various theories and arguments about it. But given what I've seen personally and professionally, it might not happen before I close my eyes for the last time. That's how much of how much work and how much of a fight we have to do. And fear drives behavior, good or bad or indifferent. I cannot swim. I grew up around water. I'm from Tidewater, but I know what my limits are. So I don't completely avoid water. But I know that I can't go but so far out with so much capacity or life jacket and deep-sea fishing and scuba diving and all that. I avoid those things. But I think we have to have a conversation about what can we unlearn, what can we relearn, and then what just needs to go in the trash? Because for those who consider themselves allies and co-conspirators, we really need you to step up and do the work continuously because we're tired, and we're faced day to day every day with these intricacies. And as much as some people want to sit in the house all day, we can't avoid it. And so even though, like, I've carved my own path and tried to avoid certain things from a corporate level or other things, there are still people I have to answer to. There are still powers greater than me, and there are still a lot of macro microaggressions I can't even avoid, even though I'm my own boss and things of that nature. So it's not easy.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. And I think the learning piece is an important piece, unlearning relearning. But there's also a doing piece. And I think it's okay to be skeptical of the DEI industry. And I think sometimes we try to do as a sort of like cheap and plastic effort to show that we're getting stuff done. That said, social support is vitally important. So I'm wondering what steps BIPOC allies or Sarah Ahmed calls them accomplices. Right. Because accomplice means we are truly in it together. We are bound to the hip. What are those actionable things or do items that those allies, activists, co-conspirators can do to actually meaningfully support black lives? Like actually do it, not just say it.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Yeah. I mean, I would say call folk out. Call them out. You know, in D.C., if you see something, say something like if you hear something that's not going well in a meeting or, you know, your colleagues had an idea, but then it gets usurped in a meeting and then positioned as someone else's, call them out. I also think a redistribution of resources is necessary. And I don't always mean money when I say that. That can be your time. That could be your hobby or talent and then also giving grace to yourself and to other people that maybe today is your day off and you don't have it in you to call people out or what have you. And also, I would say do the work there's that whole I can't think of the mean. But like Google is your friend, consistently calling upon Black, Brown, Indigenous, people of color, Asian, Pacific Islanders always show up and do the work for you. Please leave us alone. That's just how we feel. It's like you don't want us until we can be used for gain. And then an issue that I was finding is people were calling as soon as the pandemic onset and all these things. And then you'd say, okay, well, this is my speaker sheet. This is my contract. This is my invoice. And it's oh, we don't have the budget for that. And I'm thinking, okay, but six months ago you had so and so on your day is, and I know what they got paid. So it's like, okay, here we go with the expendability part again. So I would just say for people that we have relationships with, we're going to bend for, we're going to move for. We're going to do things with. But other than that, please make sure you pay people what they're perceived. I can't even say what they're worth is. But what they're asking for, what their perceived value is, what value they're bringing. And then also a one and done is not okay. It needs to be a continued lifelong effort. That includes teaching your elders in your life who may be ignorant. That includes teaching your children. That includes having conversations with the person who services your vehicle or what have you and just really flipping things on their head and saying, this is not right. And this is why or these are the facts here, or this has recently been uncovered, and this is the history that I'm going to teach and not what was taught 20 years ago. Read the books. There's so much information out here that has been downplayed and or put on the banned books list or whatever. But storytelling in my community is very important, whether it's written and or spoken, more so spoken than anything. And it means a lot. So just listen to the stories, whether you agree, validate, or not. But just all of those things just do the work continuously show up. And then maybe we could see some change because we can't continue to work ourselves into the ground when the system around us wasn't even you could say we built it, so to speak, but it wasn't built for us to thrive in. So we need other people to help show that, like, okay, this is wrong. This is wrong. You're wrong. You're wrong. Do this over.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. I love how you brought that full circle. We started the conversation by talking about the expendability of black bodies, particularly through acts of violence. But there's a professional expendability, too, right? Like a one and done. I'm not going to pay you. I just expect you to show up and give us insight. And there's a difference, I think, between highlighting Black and Brown voices versus using Black and Brown voices as a substitute for Google because it makes you feel better, you know?

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Right.

Phil Wagner

I think that there's a profound difference there. And thinking about my own lens, I always want to be careful not to victim cast. Right. It's important for me not to just look through a victim lens towards marginalized communities because that takes empowerment away, too. However, just realistically, right. That's what your mind is all about. Let's check the realistic things. Realistically. This trauma, these experiences, this expendability it, has to impact identity today. And I would imagine that self-compassion and self-care have to factor in heavily as Black and Brown people try to navigate a world that increasingly situates them as expendable. So as a mental health professional, can you share maybe a little bit about your own self-care or the self-care practices that you recommend for any of our listeners who are maybe grappling with that same experience of expendability?

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Yeah, no, absolutely. I would say I'll go high-level wellness. So walking outside, getting your vitamin D, I know summer is here now, but 30 minutes outside absorbing it. You don't have to be out there too long. Vitamin D does help with your neurotransmitter cascade and how you process your dopamine your serotonin, which means possibly a happier you. I would also say check in with all of your medical providers. And I'll get to mental health in a second. But I say that because a lot of people, of course, had to forego visiting certain physicians because of COVID. And that's okay. But your full body needs to check up. And I'm definitely about holistic mental health, so definitely mental health. Now, I don't bite. Most myself and my colleagues, we don't bite, I promise. And just because you sit on my couch doesn't mean that you're crazy. And so I know some of the media, the shows that are coming out in treatment and things like that, there are some ethical concerns that we have as a community. It is entertainment, folks. We will never tell your secrets anything like that. I die with my secrets and your own. I promise. For those of you who are religious or believe in a higher power, you can do both. You can pray, and you can sit on my couch. It's okay. And then self-care for the women or those I identify as women that I'm speaking to, we think it's oh let me get my pedicure. Let me get my hair done. The men let me get my beard oil. Let me get my head wax. All of that, I consider that grooming. So just like a cat licks itself to clean itself, that's more grooming. Self-care is not always cute and fancy. It can be doing the hard work. So even like hot yoga, I can't stand it. It's suffocating to me. But some people enjoy it. And sometimes, showing up for yourself in those ways are difficult. So sometimes, it's changing behavior. Sometimes it's setting a boundary with a loved one that you never thought you'd have to put a wall between. Sometimes it's facing something that makes you extremely anxious. So self-care and compassion include those things as well. Getting a good night's sleep and unplugging from your phone. So all of those things. And I'm human, too. I live life, and I don't want people to think that I'm holier than thou. These things are not the easiest to do. I have a therapist. I like getting my hair nails done, but I know it's different. I have to force myself to get up and walk in the morning. So those are very real things for me. So I don't say that just sitting in my Ivory tower.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. I think it's so important, right? Isn't it amazing how self-care has been commodified for capitalist gain? Right. A lot like the DEI enterprise, we've made it go out and buy a $2,000 bag, go out and spend money, and that's fine. All of that has its place. But that's not inherently self-care, right? Self-care is not always comfortable and frivolity. It can be a deeply profound and sometimes uncomfortable experience, but important for the end goal. I would be remiss, Crystal, if I didn't ask as an educator, not as a podcast host. Here at the College, our mission is to support all of our students, and I'm wondering if you have any advice for how we can best support our students of color as they work through what's a really rigorous curriculum.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

It is.

Phil Wagner

Can be traumatic in and of itself. While also navigating the world in Black or Brown skin. Are there any extensions of support that you received that were helpful or ones that you wish would have existed? Like speaking to the educators here at the College? Sorry, listeners, we're making this internal conversation. Is there anything that might be helpful for us to consider?

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Yes. So when I was coming through, William & Mary had Office of Multicultural Affairs, which is now shifted into the larger Diversity office, and it's moved to another side of the campus center. That was a godsend for me. I was there maybe three times a week during business hours, and that was when Dr. Brennan Hurt and Dr. Sean Glover headed it. Let me see. And then we shift back to the academia side. So I really enjoyed all my professors. I made sure to go to office hours when I could, and I just appreciated how personable they were. And so, I did have a tragedy that I experienced while I was in school. And the way that the campus came together for me, from professors to the Dean's office to the counseling center, was absolutely phenomenal. I couldn't have asked for a better foundation during that time. And even when I came back to school, it was just nice to see that no one pitied me or anything like that. They still said, okay, these are your assignments or whatever. But I had different benchmarks that I knew I could meet. And so, I think the school has done a really nice job of progressing and assessing and moving forward by establishing Office of University Advancement to keep up with their alumni. Here I am, but also the relationship that transmits between those who matriculate and the professors. And I know we didn't really have homecoming last year, but just the activities during homecoming. And so I think campus is on the right path also with the renaming of buildings and just certain festivities and hallmarks that I had when I was there, but that I still see being done. I read my magazines. I keep up with my newsletters. So you seem like a truly personable professor. So I could see students popping into your office hours, or I could view you teaching, say, a certain way. I think also, I know academia is not easy both on your end but also us as students with such a rigorous campus. But I think also pausing curriculum for the sake of honoring the students' presence in world events is important because to continuously teach to a book or to the Queen's taste, so to speak. I think it would dismiss what the students experience when they walk off-campus or when they leave your classroom. And so, I think a lot of students over the past year have appreciated some flexibility because people aren't on Eastern time zone anymore. They're all across the nation trying to tune into class, or the assignment might not go over well because it's just different now. So those things. But I had a great experience. There were some things that popped up, and we came together as students and addressed them, and we had a voice. I felt like we had a voice.

Phil Wagner

I'm encouraged to see how the College is being so proactive and ensuring that the next 400 years are truly centered on the right motivations. And I went back to this past year. We saw particularly some profound instances of violence against Asian Americans not too far south in Atlanta, being a great example, and to see how the William & Mary community paused and really supported all of our students and even opened up the conversation for a larger conversation on violence against minority communities. To really make this a holistic community effort, I think, shows some really just true intent, really good intent that is centered again on the right foundations. And so, I appreciate that insight for how we can adjust our pedagogy. I think that's always an important conversation. Crystal, really, just one final question for you today. And as a mental health therapist, I'm just wondering, are there any final words that you have leaving this in a truly open-ended way? If we're all collectively metaphorically sitting or laying on your couch, final words might you have to offer us?

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Where there's breath, there's hope. You belong here. You deserve to be here. What you're experiencing or how you feel is valid. Don't let anyone tell you differently. And then, if you need help, there is help. There are resources. There are several directories that are positioned specifically for Black and Brown and Indigenous people. Therapy for blackgirls.com. Therapy for blackmen.org. Therapy that liberates is another directory I'm part of. I really like it, though, because the community is strong. There's Indigenous practitioners listed LGBTQIA plus. And then Melanin mental health is another podcast they're run out of Texas by Afro Latinas. One is a sex therapist. So we're here. Google can sometimes derive information that might not be helpful. But if you need anything, feel free to reach out. I try to leave people with resources if nothing else.

Phil Wagner

Well, thank you for the resource that is you.

Crystal Morrison Joseph

Thank you.

Phil Wagner

It's so open, and I really appreciate that. I always try to be very mindful not to overly center those interpersonal experiences and exploit your experiences, but you've provided so much good insight today that I hope will be helpful. I know will be helpful to those listening. So Crystal, thank you so much for taking your time to come and speak with us on trauma, black professionalism, and how we can all better ensure that the world of work is truly an inclusive place for those Black, Brown, and Indigenous employees. Wonderful insight. Thank you for joining us.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to diversity goes to work. If you like what you heard. Share the show with a friend. Leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

More Podcast Episodes

 Rita Sampson
Rita SampsonEpisode 12: March 14, 2022
The Day-to-Day Work of DIEO

Rita Sampson

Episode 12: March 14, 2022

The Day-to-Day Work of DIEO

Today on the show we welcome Rita Sampson, the former Chief of Equal Employment Opportunity within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She is currently the Director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. She joins us today to discuss her career journey into the D&I space, what gives her her energy and passion for the work, and the importance of self-care for D&I officers.

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Show Notes and Transcript
Show Notes
  • What are the Three C's of being a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer
  • Is there one aspect of D&I work that is more important than the others
  • How D&I work is a team sport
  • How the pandemic shaped the D&I space
  • How the percentages of employee diversity in the intelligence community have changed in the past five years
  • How best to forge a D&I future in the face of competing demands
  • What should students do to best prepare for a career in the D&I space
Transcript

Rita Sampson: The Day-to-Day Work of DIEO TRANSCRIPT DOWNLOAD (PDF)

Phil Wagner

Hi friends. There are a few moments in life where the right paths just cross, and everything makes sense. Today's conversation happened because of one of those moments in my life. In Fall 2020, I had the opportunity to meet Rita Sampson, today's guest, in a talk about setting diversity and inclusion KPIs. At that time, Rita was working in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, serving as the U.S. Intelligence Community's Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Equal Employment Opportunity. It's a position she held for over a decade. She brings so much legal and leadership experience to conversations on DE&I, having held numerous attorney leadership roles as well within the Department of Justice, the FBI, and beyond. But full disclosure, we recorded this episode some time ago in early 2021. We had been saving it because we wanted to release it for Women's History Month because Rita is both a powerful female leader and someone whose leadership has made an impact on our nation's future and, thus, its history. Yet, true to Rita being Rita, her gift has made room for her. So while you'll be hearing a conversation recorded while Rita was still at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, she has since moved into a new role, and we couldn't be more excited for her. As of February 2022, Rita now serves as the Director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. That office is a neutral and independent office within the SEC that creates and applies best practices to achieve equality in the workplace and compliance with anti-discrimination laws. That office also gives us a lot of expertise in legal and social science analysis, proactive prevention of workplace discrimination and harassment, conflict management investigation techniques, federal sector equal employment opportunity roles and processes, so much. And as you'll hear today in our episode, they could not have possibly picked a more qualified leader to help helm those efforts. So without further ado, let's step back in time just a little bit to spring 2021 and kick off a conversation with our guest. A beloved, appreciated impactful leader of DEI, someone who has made a monumental impact in my own DEI leadership journey. Rita Sampson. Hello from the halls of the Mason School of Business here at William & Mary. I'm Phil, and this is Diversity Goes to Work. Buckle up because we're getting ready to take a deep dive into the real human lived experiences that shape and guide our diversity work in the world of work. Should be fun.

Phil Wagner

Rita, welcome to our podcast. You have had such an impressive career. As we just heard. But tell us in everyday terms, what do you do every day in your D&I role?

Rita Sampson

Awesome. Thank you, Phil. Thank you for inviting me because this is something that's very near and dear to me. And I don't know this whole impressive career thing, but it certainly is what I've done over the course of many years. And diversity and inclusion is sort of, for me, the culmination of that career. And what do I do on a daily basis in leading diversity and inclusion and leading equal employment opportunity? I kind of break it down into three C's, and let's see if we can get these three C's going. The first one, of course, is conversation. So being a diversity and inclusion officer means that you are the one that is driving internal conversations around diversity and inclusion. You're creating a space where people in the workforce can come and should come to feel connected. So we don't just hire people and leave them at their desk doing nothing. You want those people to be at their very best, feeling fully sparked, safe, secure. We talk about psychological safety, but this doesn't just happen naturally. You have to help create the conditions for that. And so, sparking these conversations is one thing that happens in the diversity and inclusion space. I think the other part is understanding connecting to the mission. And so diversity and inclusion in the air is all well and good, but what we're doing is tying it to our actual business outcomes by being a more diverse and inclusive organization. You're a more high-performing organization. Not because that just sounds good, but it's empirically proven. You have to be able to understand, first of all, what happens over here when we're talking about analysts, what happens in the space when we're talking about rocket scientists. What do we know about covert operations? The diversity and inclusion officer has to know a little bit about every part of the mission and then be able to explain how getting the diversity and inclusion right advances that mission. And then I guess the final C that I'll talk about is continual learning. If you want to stay static, then this is not the area for you.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Rita Sampson

This is a space that is always evolving, always growing. You want to make sure that you are growing as a person in terms of your competencies, that you're able to be a communicator, that you understand and have peeled back the onion off of just superficial, nice to be diversity, but to really understand every aspect of how humans operate in an organization, how they operate in relation to one another, and that takes continual learning. What I do on a daily basis is try to make those conditions all happen because it is not just the right thing to do, but it makes us a safer nation when we do that.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. I love so much about those three C's. Number one, I'm a communications professor, and there's sort of a communication underpinning to all of those in that we think of diversity and inclusion as big, bold initiatives, and indeed they are. But really, that work happens in those small interpersonal encounters most often. That's where people feel included, and they feel safe, and they feel valued. So I think that tells us a little bit about strategy and then the final note you made on continual learning. I think that's so important because what that also requires is a lack of ego in your D&I work because you're always learning somewhere along the way you're going to be wrong. And you have to check that ego and recognize it's for the greater good, not just morally speaking, but in terms of the business outcomes as well. It's a great foundation.

Rita Sampson

Right. We don't go in saying, I know all the answers. That's definitely not the way to go because you don't know all the answers, and you are learning. So you should have that creative space.

Phil Wagner

And sometimes, there are no answers. Right. You just rest in the discomfort and say, well, what do we do with what we have to get to some semblance of a solution that may never work in its totality? There's such good advice. So tell me, Rita, did you always plan to do diversity and inclusion work? Did you find yourself here on purpose? How did you find yourself where you are doing this work day-to-day?

Rita Sampson

Well, if you went back in time to where I won't tell you what year I graduated from this place. But no, that wasn't a part of the game plan. I knew I wanted to go to law school. I wanted to practice. I ended up practicing in the area of employment law employment litigation, which meant I saw a lot of things happen inside of organizations where conflicts are completely broken down. And it was around that time where I started asking the question, how can we avoid some of these types of encounters within the workplace? How can we get upstream and make sure that our actual culture is healthy, that our leaders and our managers know how to engage with people, and that some of these conflicts that we see could be avoided? And that's when I started understanding that there's a whole new space called diversity and inclusion. And that's when I said, okay, this sounds like it is, right for me. It has some of the aspects of law because there are familiarity with civil rights, but it's more than compliance. It's more than just getting people in a room and talking about issues. It really is being very deliberate and strategic in how you position your organization to succeed. So that to me was very attractive. And then this opportunity came up, and voila, here I am.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, voila, here you are. In that answer, there's this sort of embedded notion that a lot of D&I work is either proactive or reactive. Right. Like, you either react to a crisis, a situation, a discrimination suit, something happens, and then you react, or you're proactive you get upstream, as you know, and that sort of relates to the next question, which is like, which part of D&I enterprise is the easiest to do? I would imagine it's probably easier to be a little bit more proactive. But in your day-to-day position, I know that your goals are to help the intelligence community attract, hire, promote, retain a highly skilled and, diverse and inclusive workforce. That's a goal that I think many organizations have in their D&I work. And this is probably a tough question, but which one of those is easiest or most difficult? Attracting, hiring, promoting, retaining diverse talent where are the easy wins in D&I work, and which ones are a little bit tougher?

Rita Sampson

Wow. So I was asked a very similar question at a congressional testimony, like, what is the most important thing to focus on in order to be successful? And I couldn't answer the one thing because it's all-important. It's creating the conditions for success. From my own personal perspective, when you're talking about attracting the new workforce, that to me just resonates because I love to help people understand what we do in the intelligence community. I came at it just mid-career, had no idea all that happened behind that secret closed door. And therefore, I know that there are really super bright people out there who also is given the opportunity to understand what we do. Would jump right on that, and those are the people that we need, the talent, because of course we're competing with the private sector, we're competing with other government agencies. We're just out here in this competition for talent. And I think that if there's anything that really gets me excited is when I have the opportunity to speak to colleges and to professional organizations and share with them what happens and why the intelligence community is so important. It's because we're looking for people to bring their diverse perspectives to solve hard problems. And when you start shaping it like that, we don't actually want you to think like the person who sits in the cubicle next to you. We need you to think differently. We want you to think differently. And then I start talking about, hey, did you know if you come into the intelligence community, you could go to some of our internal universities and have a master's degree and learn a foreign language and just travel the world? And so it is in that energy space where I start talking about attracting the workforce of the future that I get really super psyched about. I think on the flip side. The hard part is when we have people when we bring people on board, how do we promote, retain, and advance them? Over the course of years, we've shown that we don't do half bad we're making great progress in hiring. But when it comes to our senior leaders, we're not as diverse as we should be. So those are the challenges that keep me awake at night. How do we make sure that we're positioning people to advance in their chosen careers and that they have the support and the mentoring that they need to see themselves, first of all, as future leaders of the organization and that they get the experiences along the way to do just that. And that's where our strategic partners come in. Diversity and inclusion officers is not a one-man show. Right. It is not an individual sport. We'd like to say it's a team sport. You must get in it to win it and being able to attract more people to understand what we're doing and to help one another succeed. That's what gives me a lot of energy, but at the same time, never-ending continual work.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. That energy space is something I want to speak to as well. I totally agree. Effective D&I work is certainly teamwork, but even on the team, the quarterback might need a little bit of extra rest in prep for the big game. Right. Because it's a little bit of a situation where all eyes are on them. So doing this work as somebody who maybe holds the title or is designated as a D&I officer, that, of course, takes a lot of energy, and it has to come along with some high points and low points because that's your professional career. Right. So can you share with us maybe some of the D&I high points you've had along your journey, and then maybe from a more vulnerable space, the tougher moments to move through, the ones that required resilience and perseverance? You've been at this work for quite some time through multiple social iterations in the D&I conversation. So we'd love to hear the high points and the low points if you're willing to share.

Rita Sampson

Okay. Can I start low first?

Phil Wagner

Start low.

Rita Sampson

Low has got to be known as 2020, right?

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Rita Sampson

There's all things in at that moment. I think many of the years of the work that we have done in this space came to a testing in 2020 because we sat in the midst, and we're still in a global pandemic. We saw extreme disparities in health outcomes for underrepresented groups, minorities, persons who are poverty. We saw with our own eyes the disparity. We also, in that same year, saw what we call a reckoning and social justice issues, and we had to not be able to segregate those social justice issues from the workplace because each of us was impacted by that. And there was a real call for the diversity officers to lead the response on these issues. But at the same time, the diversity officers were also exhausted.

Phil Wagner

Right.

Rita Sampson

And the emails, the phone calls, what should we do? How do we lead our people from this? What do we do first? Do we listen? Do we come up with a plan? So that was a very difficult space to be in as an executive. But I think on the same or the flip side of that same coin, we saw people making bold moves and making declarations that we are ready for a fundamental change and that we must embrace the imperative around diversity, around equity, to ensure that we're actually getting measurable outcomes. And we're holding ourselves accountable for the changes that we know we need to have. And just seeing the number of allies that stepped up into this space and kind of held our arms up and held us up while we were pushing along, that to me gave a lot of optimism and help to refuel, totally help refuel us. But this is not easy work. It is very rewarding, but it is not easy work. And sometimes, when you think about, oh, I have a passion for diversity and inclusion, just keep in mind that a passion is not going to do it. At the end of the day, you have to have that passion. But at the same time, it's passion plus more.

Phil Wagner

There is so much more. It's a textured journey. Right. For every up, there is often a down. Victories often come from challenges, but those are challenging to work through, particularly when people I think are looking to you to maybe set the stage or set the agenda in that moment of social shifting. Where do we go? That's a precarious place to stand, I think, as a leader, to direct the story, direct the narrative where it's going next. So, yeah, I appreciate you sharing a little bit more about those challenges and moments of, I think, victory as well. To that point, about energy and energy spaces. What energizes you to do this work? Obviously, we get that energy when things go well, and we've led some great initiatives. But what gets you out of bed every day to do this work? Where do you draw that energy source from?

Rita Sampson

Well, I certainly am a person of faith, so that always is a source of my energy. But I think fundamentally understanding that everybody has a gift. And when you recognize you have that gift, it's your responsibility to use it. And I think I know that I must use the gift that I've been given. My father would say, I'm the youngest of five kids. It's the power of influence that she has. She can make people do things that they didn't think that they were going to do, and just persuading and building coalitions is something that I really enjoy. You wouldn't know, but I am totally an introvert, but I love people. And just being able to connect people one with another, some of that is, hey, listen, I'm going to connect you, and then I'm going to take my introverted self over here and let you all do your magic. Right. But that's one thing that connects me is knowing that I have a gift, and I enjoy being able to pay that gift forward and to create conditions where other people are able to use their gifts as well. And the diversity and inclusion work can be a little exhausting. So we have to refuel at times.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I want to talk about that at the end. The necessity of self-care is really part of the job description and duties to tend to ourself. But you talk about your gift, and I fully believe that your gift will make room for you. And you've found a place of, I think, significant influence, obviously, with what you do in the office of the Director of National Intelligence. Many matters in that office, I'm sure, are not something that we can discuss on a public podcast. But to the extent that you can, we've talked to a lot of D&I officers on this podcast thus far, and you're situated in a very different space. Can you speak to the role of some of the diversity and inclusion issues that you see as they relate to national intelligence?

Rita Sampson

You're absolutely right. There's a lot of things that cannot be shared with the public, and that does make it difficult when we're in this diversity and inclusion space. But for the last five years or so, I've made sure that we publish our diversity numbers so that the public will know where we stand and how we're progressing in that space. The balance comes. We won't actually tell you the number of employees we have, but we are giving you an optic of the percentages and how those percentages have changed over time. And we're looking specifically at minorities, women, and persons with disabilities. We're looking at the core mission roles that form the intelligence community. So analyst positions and science, technology, engineering, and math positions. And seeing are we having a more diverse impact of our underrepresented groups in that space. And so that's part of the transparency story. Another part is that we've recently undergone this journey where we're being a lot more intentional about sharing. And that's a cultural shift in the intelligence community because there are certain things that are not classified, and we should and can. It's our responsibility to put that out to the public because we serve the public. We have intel.gov. It's a really great source for understanding our people and getting a sense of what kind of people work in the intel community. So that website has barrier breakers. So you get a sense of wow, they're actually normal people cool people that work here in the IC.

Phil Wagner

Okay. So to that point about transparency, I mean, that's especially difficult given where you are positioned. And you've noted in a past session that I was able to attend that you can't always be fully transparent like you give the percentages. And I think that's a great buy-in. I would imagine there are other people who don't work in the intelligence community who at times find it tough to balance that need for transparency with doing their due diligence. So do you have any advice on steps forward when you can't just put out the company laundry, for instance? How do you work to make the public and your employees and everybody in that relationship aware while also recognizing, again, you can't just let it all out there?

Rita Sampson

Wow. So one of the things that we followed industry practices. So not just staying within the intelligence community for our discussions, because if we're just one big Echo Chamber and we're just talking to ourselves, then we don't get better. And that's part of the whole business case around diversity and inclusion in the national security arena is that we have to have diverse voices around the table and include different viewpoints. Otherwise, we have things like groupthink. Groupthink is bad when you are trying to make a decision for the President, for Congress, or for the military. That's not going to work well. If you haven't looked at the vulnerabilities or the blind spots. We intentionally create relationships with the private sector and with University partners and bring them in and Red Cell and Red Team so that we know that we've gotten all of those viewpoints together. I think another part of that is understanding that if we provide more information to the public, then the public will come in and give us suggestions for how we can do better. Part of that is the strategy framework that we just adopted this past year, and it's build intentional partnerships. That's one of our four pillars of that strategy is we're building intentional partnerships to increase access to diverse talent. And the whole notion of intentionality and transparency are part and parcel to that.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, I think that's so key, too, is listening to not only the suggestions but sometimes the critiques of the public. Right. When you find yourself doing D&I work, you're often subject to a lot of criticism or skepticism from a variety of different angles, too. So I think there's a fine balance there to figuring out how do we respond in a meaningful way and not just sort of all over the place. Let me be willy nilly with the wind because the winds of this conversation, I think, develop over time. So do you have any thoughts on how to best tune your energy on the path forward when you have maybe competing demands from different constituents or different segments of the public?

Rita Sampson

Oh, absolutely. Different segments of the public, different segments of the workforce. Sometimes you can get caught into a reactive mode. And I think what that tells us is that we always have to have a strategy. We always have to have very clearly stated goals and then hold ourselves accountable. Periodically we check in to see how are we doing on that? What additional resources do we need to actually accomplish the things we say that we're going to do, and then being patient and understanding that it does take time to lead organizational change. Now, we shouldn't be looking at decades from now, but sometimes it won't be the overnight change. And sometimes there are some bold overnight moves that we can make, but just always being very deliberate and moving forward. And I always like to say we are going to disrupt the status quo. As long as you're disrupting the status quo, then you're making progress. One other thing, because with you being an expert in communications. You know, also that how you communicate what you're doing is very important. And in the diversity and inclusion space, it is very important to communicate that this is not a zero-sum game. That this is an effort that will lift all boats, that what we are doing is focused on merit, and it is focused on what is best for the organization. And sometimes, that is a discussion that has to happen. It has to be led by the diversity officer because not everybody understands what we are doing in the diversity and inclusion space.

Phil Wagner

Yeah, that's so good. One of the things I love about you, Rita is that I think in the realm of D&I work, it's easy for some people to become disenfranchised and say, that's a little too touchy-feely for me, a little too like human. Right. I'm a data analyst, and you always come back to one thing, which is key performance indicators. And I've heard you speak on this at sort of a corporate level, but I hear that embedded in your answers here, too, that you've set those KPIs for yourself. Right. So that when the work does get tiring or when you're dealing with competing demands, you come back to that central why that central focus. Those results that you as a professional with a line item to do D&I work have set or established for yourself to do. And I love that because I think it gives a buy-in framework for even those who are technically minded data-minded, that this is still a results-driven effort. And so it's not just that interpersonal stuff, and that's certainly a part of it. But there are real anchor points to strategy, to data, to logic that I think we can come back to. So those KPIs are fantastic. I want to go back a little bit to where we started here, which is the starting point of your career and how it's iterated over time. I get to work with a lot of very bright, very talented, engaged students here at William & Mary in the Mason School of Business. And I'm really heartened because I see a hunger and a thirst for diversity and inclusion leadership among some of our students. As someone who's been engaged in this work for a lengthy career, what advice do you have for those students who are hoping to sort of break entry into the D&I sphere as a full-time employment opportunity, as a professional area of focus? Any advice for them?

Rita Sampson

Yeah. So I think that in any career field that you endeavor, you need to have good mentors. So you need to identify some people who are doing this work and have some conversations with them because you really want to go in eyes wide open to the greatest extent that you can and understand that you're really now a corporate C suite executive. So you have to understand the mission of whatever organization that you're in. You have to understand the business drivers what is important to the organization because then you can shape your strategy to have a resonance with that. Yes, there is a social aspect to it, and there is a business aspect to it. So you have to be able to do that. I think you absolutely and William & Mary students are great at this, but you have to be a great writer.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Rita Sampson

You have to be able to communicate both in writing and orally. You have to be persuasive and, most of all, resilient. And I think definitely if I got nothing else from my years at William & Mary, it was a great sense of resilience. I got it together by the senior year.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. It's a community right of passage. That great resilience is necessary. I think that's really good. I love the idea of mentorship, and I think that that's so important. You need social support, no matter your professional endeavors. But I think in this space specifically, it can be lonely at times as you disrupt the status quo. That can be an uncomfortable place to be. So my final question for you, Rita, really centers on that as well as you disrupt the status quo. As you get into the business of doing the work of D&I, I think we often focus on action, action, action. And indeed, some of D&I work is never done right. It's ever ongoing as the conversation shifts. And I know that that requires some self-care as a necessary part of the D&I professional sphere. So tell me, over your career, what have you learned about self-care, and how do you practice it?

Rita Sampson

Probably one of the more important parts as people begin their careers. When you're young, you can just keep driving and driving, and eventually, you realize, I'm driving on empty.

Phil Wagner

Yeah.

Rita Sampson

And so you can't allow yourself to ever get into that space. And so always embedding health and wellness, whether it's physical wellness rather or mental wellness as well. It's very important to always have a check-in. Am I eating right? Am I getting enough rest? Am I surrounding myself with people who are positive and therefore bring me positive energy because you need that? And on those times when my tank is completely empty, am I investing in getting the help that I need? Am I having these conversations, and I'm a big proponent of employee assistance programs. Call them up and tell them what you're going through because it's going to make you a more effective person for the long term. You're not in it for a series of quick wins. You're really trying to play the long game and to do that. You have to be at your best at all times.

Phil Wagner

Yeah. And that long game is going to necessarily come with challenges along the way. That's how you grow. That's how you learn. And I think some of the most helpful paths forward often come in those moments where things aren't working out. We learn, and we strategize and repurpose, so self-care super important.

Rita Sampson

I will admit that 2020 I ate a lot of brownies.

Phil Wagner

You and me both.

Rita Sampson

But to regroup, being graceful to yourself, and being able to put yourself back on track when you do go off track. Those are critical for long-term success.

Phil Wagner

Viewing yourself in that same compassionate light that you sort of preached as the gospel message of D&I. Right? That central message of inclusion, I think, needs to be directed at ourselves sometimes too.

Rita Sampson

That's right. So I've got a new treadmill, and I'm walking, and I limit my brownie intake as much as possible.

Phil Wagner

All right. I'm still working on that last piece. Rita, it is such a pleasure always to speak with you. You have been so impactful to my own D&I leadership, and I so appreciate that you are willing to come on and share with our listeners. Thank you so much.

Rita Sampson

Thank you. Thank you for having me. I can't wait for us to get together again.

Phil Wagner

Thanks for taking a second to listen to Diversity Goes to Work. If you like what you heard, share the show with a friend, leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts, and reach out because we're always looking for new friends. And if you'd like to learn more about any of our programs or initiatives here in the business school at William & Mary, be sure to visit us at mason.wm.edu. Until next time.

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