Putting Action into DEI
About This Episode
Last year companies pledged over 50 billion dollars in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitments, showing they are ready to act and invest in change – yet only 250 million dollars has actually been spent. The message is clear; organizations are still not sure where to start. In part one of a special two-part episode featuring individuals from Skillsoft’s new DEI courses, TaChelle Lawson, Founder and President of FIG Strategy and Consulting, joins to share her perspective on where we go from here. Her answer? Awareness is only the first step. Next is accountability and process.
Interested in learning more?
- Explore Skillsoft’s new 5-course DEI curriculum, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Action.
- Visit our DEI page, where we offer free resources from videos to Leadercamps to blog posts to podcasts and more.
- Check out TaChelle’s empowering clothing brand, Sassmouth here.
- Below, find TaChelle’s two beautiful paintings mentioned during this episode – think you know the mystery artist? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Transcript for Part I
Michelle 00:00:07 Welcome to the edge, a Skillsoft podcast for learners and leaders alike. You know this in every episode we engage in candid thought provoking conversations on the topic of learning and growth in the workplace. I'm Michelle BB, your host, my pronouns are she her and hers on today's episode, we're going to be discussing a topic. And actually it's, it's so much more than that. It's a movement and it has been at the forefront for so many of us this past year, diversity, equity and inclusion. I think you'll agree. It's been a year and a half of massive change and disruption. And I would argue that the point at which we find ourselves now is beyond anything. We have a playbook for, we've been living through what could be called a perfect storm of change. Three seismic shifts have convened to disrupt business as usual, a global health crisis in COVID-19.
Michelle 00:01:02 And with that worldwide economic uncertainty, and then a widespread social justice movement that has in turn forced many companies to look at their DEI policies as they seek to advance meaningful change within the workplace. And today we are here to talk about that last point. Building a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense. And that building a culture of allyship and leading inclusively can help companies innovate while engaging and retaining their employees. And in fact, the data suggests that creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace is critical to attracting skilled individuals who can contribute to a company's success. But we also know that there are many companies that aren't where they want to be from a DEI perspective, aligning policies to the needs of employees and their changing views, and then updating those policies regularly. Well, it will engender trust and employee wellbeing.
Michelle 00:02:03 And so we must focus on it now, now at Skillsoft, we'd offered diversity equity and inclusion training for years, but last year in the face of a growing social justice movement, we knew that we needed to reevaluate and take a more impactful approach for our customers and our own team members alike. And so we worked quickly across disciplines, creating a series of live leader camps, featuring respected diversity experts who provided insight and actionable advice, but we didn't stop there. Skillsoft recently launched a new DEI curriculum, entitled diversity equity and inclusion in action. The five powerful courses approach DEI with a new level of authenticity. They revolve around real life interviews with individuals who share their personal stories and their experiences round table discussions, feature open dialogue that shows how people across a spectrum of backgrounds and identities and experiences and perspectives all see the same issues. These powerful courses educate and inspire today. I am so pleased that our guests are two of the individuals who recently shared their stories and help to make Skillsoft's new DEI courses. So personal and so powerful. Please join me in welcoming TaChelle Lawson, founder, and president of fig strategy and consulting. Welcome, and thank you for joining us on the edge TaChelle. It's great to have you here.
TaChelle 00:03:36 Thank you so much for having me. I'm really looking forward to today's discussion.
Michelle 00:03:41 I am too. I am too. And by the way, I should tell you TaChelle and I are having this conversation and what's so wonderful is that I get to see her. Unfortunately you don't, but, but you're going to go watch the courses and you will then, but I'm looking into her room and she's got this amazing artwork. I just, you have to tell me a little bit about the artist because I'm so drawn to the beautiful images behind you are these
TaChelle 00:04:02 It's gorgeous, gorgeous. So I wish I had a more impressive story behind this artwork, but I don't. I actually was in a Ross store of all places and was looking for knickknack stuff for my offices, for my employees. And I'm walking through the store and suddenly I'm stopped in my tracks because I see this beautiful piece of art in Ross. Oh my God, are you kidding me? So I have actually been digging, trying to find out who this artist is, and I have no idea, but it almost brought me to tears. It was so stunning. And then I happened to find the other one at a TJ max. So I, again, I wish I could tell you more about this incredible artist, but I just got really lucky and it really spoke to where I was with my own journey in embracing my, my natural beauty and embracing my blackness, so to speak. So I had to have it, it's funny, this piece of art, which you would think costs hundreds of dollars was $40 inside of Ross and everyone that walks by my office says, where did, where did you get this and same reaction? Tell me more about this piece of art.
Michelle 00:05:12 Yeah, it's stunning. So here's the thing we are gonna, we're gonna take pictures, we'll post them. Cause you have to, you have to see these and then anybody who can figure out more about this artist, you gotta let us know. Cause these are amazing. So, so, okay, well we'll now move into the topic, but I just I'm struck by that. So TaChelle, I look, we're going to talk about your role in the videos and we'll talk about that experience because I imagined that it was a really interesting and illuminating experience, but first we want to get to know you a little bit better. So, so tell us a little bit more about yourself and your professional background.
TaChelle 00:05:47 Okay. So, I am not as interesting as I sound I'll preface with that. Um, I love being introduced. I love being introduced because I'm like, wow, they make me sound a lot more impressive than I am like. Um, so I just, obviously I have a really big personality and my background is primarily in the hospitality world. I've been in hospitality for over 20 years, more than 20, but we don't need to go into specifics. So, then I start aging and that's not important. So, my focus, my love, my passion has always been in the food and beverage industry. I was born and raised in Las Vegas, grew up in, in a food culture. And that is essentially who, I don't want to say who I am. It's what I love. So, I've worked with some of the most incredible, amazing large brands that you can imagine.
TaChelle 00:06:34 Mercedes-Benz I believe the time red bull Huntington and the thing that I loved about each one of them was their commitment to brand and how important they took that promise to their customers and to the experience. And that's where I live in, in this really odd, unique space of hospitality, food and beverage is what's, what's your promise? Like, what are you, what are you telling people they're going to get? And how are you delivering on that? What's interesting is that in every role I've ever had, I've always been the only black executive, which it's hard enough being a woman, right. Um, you know, that Michelle, it's hard enough being a woman, especially in a leadership or an executive role, but out on top of that being the only black woman, that's definitely been, been a game changer in terms of identifying what some of those really unnecessary challenges are in terms of corporate identity, more importantly, just navigating through this world.
TaChelle 00:07:39 So how does Michelle make this mark when I'm feeling this need of constantly defending myself, right? Like how do I actually be seen as a true professional and taken seriously as an executive when I'm actually spending just as much of my time defending who I am as a person. So, what I do now in, in fig strategy and consulting has helped organizations one identify the power of diversity. It's we can look at each other and see that. Yeah, we're both women, we're both very different, but we also have a lot of similarities, and those differences really work to our advantage, right? The fact that I grew up in a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood that was both drug and gang infested, my ability to shift and maneuver comes really naturally just based on my experience. Right. And so how do I use that experience to help Michelle and the team grow, right?
TaChelle 00:08:36 Like why does that have to be negative instead? It's a, it's a matter of, hey, we think very differently. Gen-Z is our customers think very differently. So, what I do now is help organizations. First of all, acknowledge that diversity is powerful. Having people that come from different backgrounds, different education levels, just different experiences works to your advantage, right? Like just by acknowledging that everyone is different. And then taking that a step further, how do you communicate with these diverse audiences authentically? How do we remove the tokenism? How do we remove the, oh yeah, let's just, you know, throw another black person into an ad campaign and call this diversity? How do you actually start creating intentional messages? So,
Michelle 00:09:20 So I love this because we're talking about a certified minority, black owned and woman owned strategy firm, which I think is tremendous. And there's a lot that you are doing for a very diverse portfolio of clients. But I also know that that's not the only thing that you are invested in and that you've got this wonderful organization called SAS mouth. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
TaChelle 00:09:48 I can, and I'm going to preface this Michelle with, if I get emotional, just bear with me. Cause Sass is definitely an emotional one for me. So, in December of 2018, there was a young man by the name of Andrew Johnson, drew Johnson, who was a forced to cut his dreadlocks off in order to compete in a wrestling match. I'm not sure if you've heard that story, but I came across the story in the spring of 2019 and watching that clip brought up so many emotions for me, I was literally in tears because it was so clueless. And so thoughtless what they were doing to this young man without understanding very much about black culture and the connection to hair. The referee actually referred to this young man's hair as unnatural, which is insane. So, I had also just began my own natural journey and I'll get into that in a second, but I'm watching this and I'm getting incredibly upset.
TaChelle 00:10:55 I'm very emotional. And the only thing I was focused on was the woman that was cutting his hair and the satisfaction she had on his space. And I remember thinking, I certainly hope his mom is nothing like my mom, because my mom would have raised holy hell, that you cut her child's hair without picking up the phone to call them. They actually made this young man choose between his hair and something else you love, which was wrestling. So he was, he was not going to be able to participate in this match. He was 16. What would you have done? So, I followed the story and I'm watching a news anchor cover it. And it was very tone deaf. This, this was someone that did not understand why this was a big deal. Like why, why are we making such a big deal about this boy's hair?
TaChelle 00:11:50 And it was, it came across very, very cold and that was, it was frustrating and hurtful as well. And at some point, I could only focus on this woman's lips and how fake they were. They were so full of him, of college. And so injected, actually obnoxious and offensive to me. And I remember thinking, how can this young man's hair that is natural. It's also a big part of a spiritual journey in the black community. It's not just hair. How could that be unnatural and need to be removed? But I actually am looking at this woman with these incredibly unnatural lips that look very much like mine, and it set a whole movement in place for me personally, because it took me back to being this young girl that lived in an environment where we were constantly as, as young black girls constantly reminded of all the things that were too much about us.
TaChelle 00:12:52 Our lips are too big. Our noses are too wide. Our skin is too dark. Everything was just too much, but how could that be true? When we see women that don't look like us tanning their skin to be darker and calling it confidence. And then we see, we see women that are injecting their lips and being named top model of the year and the most beautiful one. It doesn't make sense. And the impact that it has on young black girls is huge. So, so we actually grow up needing to fit in. So, I would spend thousands of dollars, Michelle, thousands of dollars on hair extensions to fit into this Euro style of beauty. That was my hair will never look like that. It'll never grow that way, but I was so much more excepted. Would that look? And so, when I started fig, I was in business for maybe nine months and I decided that it was time for me to, first of all, I just started a business.
TaChelle 00:13:56 I need to start saving money. So, it was the craziest thing, Michelle, I did this style, it's called Mambo twists. And it's just these long, big twist of hair. My hair is really thick. It's, it's really kinky. It's curly. It's it's wild. I have this big hair. It's absolutely gorgeous. And so, I finally had had enough of trying to fit into this, this different ideal of beauty. And that was also my commitment to drew Johnson, who I don't know, but to stand in solidarity with him about how serious this hair situation is and how beautiful it is. And no one has the right to make it any less than that. And so, I'm wearing these long twists and I kid you not within the first week, I tell my sister, I don't know what the hell is going on. Maybe I have like more pheromones, who's an off of me or whatever, but everywhere I went, someone stopped me and said, oh my gosh, your hair is beautiful.
TaChelle 00:14:55 You have the most beautiful eyes you have. I actually felt and make no mistakes. Confidence is not something I suffer. Like I have no lack of confidence, but something shifted. I now felt my most beautiful. I now felt my most natural self because I was just embracing who I really am and what I really look like. And that journey has just evolved. So, when I started Sass, now, it was designed to say, look, girl, if you want to wear the extensions, go for it. If you want to wear your hair, natural, go for it. But what you don't need to do is adhere to someone else's standard of beauty anymore. And we know that you're beautiful, so beautiful that there is a tanning salon and like per every three miles in Las Vegas, right? I'm not going to a tanning salon. Women are injecting their lips on a regular basis. That look the way that mine look naturally. I have nothing to feel too much about or inadequate about I'm beautiful and black women are beautiful. And it's time to acknowledge that a lot of the features that we are born with are literally borrowed by other cultures and never acknowledged that black women are beautiful. And so that's what Sassmouth is about is about reinforcing our natural beauty, taking complete ownership of it. That's Sass. I love that.
Michelle 00:16:20 I love that this idea of commanding respect, where it's deserved and then also not being silenced by others, right? It really is your ability to be who you are, the way you are and the way you want to be, and also to serve as a role model to others, which I just adore. So, thank you so much TaChelle for sharing that. I want to switch gears just a little bit. I think we have to acknowledge, you know, when I opened this podcast, I talked a little bit about the year that it's been and it's been, whoa, it's been it's more than a year. It's been a year and a half of, wow. We've seen a lot of change in this past year. How has it impacted in your, from your perspective, the perception of the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the organizations with which you work and along with that is how has it changed the way you're leading this work on behalf of some of these companies?
TaChelle 00:17:17 Such a great question. And it's crazy to think that it's been 18 months now, right? W we actually look back and we're like, wait, no, it's, it's been a while. Yeah. So, couple of things, we all saw the enormous wave of press releases and public commitments and big statements from corporations that I say twofold. But those, those commitments were twofold. There were organizations that truly got it and said, okay, we need, we need to do better. And then there were that jumped on the bandwagon and had no intentions of really following through. And then somewhere in the middle, there's a group that wants to do better, but really doesn't know what to do. And so, they kind of just pass the buck where, where I stand is accountability. Okay. That's my position TaChelle's position, fixed position, sass mouth's position is accountability. This is, this has gone on long enough for everyone to acknowledge.
TaChelle 00:18:20 Yes, we need to do better. But what does that actually look like in terms of action? So, we've had enough, enough promises. Now we need processes, right? So now where are we in terms of next steps? So, what I do primarily with leadership is starting with the basics. What exactly do you expect for diversity equity and inclusion to do for your organization? The flip side of that coin is what happens to your organization without a diversity equity and inclusion strategy. It really is about acknowledging you only have two choices. There, there is no middle here. And luckily, I have worked with some smaller, medium sized organizations that the leadership who for the most part are white men say, I want to be inclusive. I want employees to feel welcomed, but I don't know what I'm doing. And that I think is the most honest, right?
TaChelle 00:19:21 It is. It's honestly how we move forward by saying, look, I want to do better, but I don't know what it is that I'm doing. I've had organizations say to me, well, I mean, we could just do this work ourselves. And I'm like, right. So, I'm assuming that you're also a certified by Cornell university in diversity, equity and inclusion. And you can go and speak to this work intelligently. Probably not. So, it's not about being dismissive and we're going to just do this work ourselves, by hiring more people of color. It is about developing a strategy and understanding what those experiences are, what equity truly means and how it's defined within your organization, what you do need to do in order to create an inclusive environment and culture. That's where I think we are right now, is the accountability portion. We've got the promise. Now I want to see your process.
Michelle 00:20:10 I think that's fascinating. My guess would be that it's those organizations that are holding themselves accountable, whether it's through impact reporting or, or something of that ilk and acknowledging where they still have to go, are the, you know, they're the ones that are successful, but where companies falling short, is it when, to your point they don't acknowledge that they need external help or is it that what they're doing is still in the realm of performative or it's still that, well, we have a diversity equity inclusion program training, and every year you have to take it again. So, it's, you know, we're doing our job kind of status quo or
TaChelle 00:20:53 All the above. It's all of the above. I truly believe that in order for us to move forward and make major, major strides, diversity actually needs to be tied to performance, right? And it has to be tied to performance and leadership. It needs to be tied to your bonus. There needs to be some sort of real action that is going to motivate this individual, this leader, to, to take this serious because essentially what we, what we're seeing is that, hey, we have a diversity equity and inclusion department. Okay, great. You're one of those companies that pledged to a total of $50 billion in diversity equity and inclusion commitments last year, yet only 250 million has actually been spent. That's less than one half of 1%. So, what's the plan for your diversity equity and inclusion department, because if it is the same old, same old training that you go through to your point once a year, if it is saying, Hey, we need to make sure that we have, you know, 12% minorities, but 10% of them are represented in labor positions or entry-level positions.
TaChelle 00:22:04 They're not represented in leadership or councils or board positions. Then how effective is, is that truly, if we are saying, look, this is a matter of, we're going to create this internal board and we're going to get together and we're going to talk about diversity. Okay, great. Again, where's the process. What happens after you have that conversation? Where does diversity make the most sense within your organization? That's number one, where is the equity, the lowest in your organization, right? Where, where does that equity investment need to really be made within your organization? That would be number two and then inclusion. What we're also seeing, or what I'm also seeing is, you know, we have some organizations, one that I'm currently working with that has focused so much on trying to make their employees of color, feel included, that they're now excluding their employees that are not a color, that's not inclusion, right? So, you can't include TaChelle at the expense of Michelle. That's not how this works. So there needs to be a process. There needs to be strategy. There needs to be goals that organizations need to actually adhere to and understand that this is not a sprint. This is not a sprint. We are not going to reach this in a year. We're not going to reach this in two years. This is long term investment.
Michelle 00:23:28 I think your point about organizations pledging billions of dollars to DEI, not knowing necessarily what to do with that, how to spend it, how to make the most of it. Does it signal TaChelle that we have so much work yet to do. We've only just begun. And so, with that, we have the awareness. I think, I think we're at the awareness stage. And I think we all acknowledge that it's real, that it's important that we need to commit, but where do we go from here? How do we signal change? Okay.
TaChelle 00:24:05 So it's such, it's such a big question. No, I'm sorry. No, no, it's fine because it's such a big question. I think that you're right. We are in the awareness phase, the challenge is the awareness phase is probably longer and it will be longer than most of us realize, right? Because it's, it's a lot of work where we are literally not just saying, hey, we recognize that there is a problem. We also have to undo bad behavior. We also have to undo biased thinking. And that's where I feel those financial commitments should be spent on the training and the education of understanding what we've been doing, why it's not working and what we need to do in order to, to change that behavior. Right. Because that's the biggest thing. It's like, I use the text and drive analogy all the time. How many times have we seen the don't text and don't drive Michelle, but we still text and drive, even though we know the impact?
TaChelle 00:25:06 So we need to truly get into this habit of acknowledging that the awareness phase is we know, but then there's like an awareness point, like 2 0 1, the 2 0 1 is we need to start acknowledging that, hey, I do have unconscious bias. And instead of me trying to defend and explain to you that I don't have it, it's about taking ownership and saying, okay, how do I make sure that, that doesn't show up in the workplace? How do I make sure that I am giving a fair shot to Michelle? How do I make sure that my challenges, my issues, that I am keeping those in check, that's the next step? Right? So, this, this awareness is huge. And it's a matter of acknowledging, not just that. It's a leadership responsibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Isn't everyone responsibility. This is an everyone problem. When you hear someone like that, coach referred to that young man's hair is unnatural.
TaChelle 00:26:02 That shouldn't just upset a black woman that should have set anyone who hears it because it's obnoxious, it's rude, it's unacceptable. It's completely unacceptable. And anyone can actually say, Hey, that's not acceptable. Here's why, but until we get into this mindset of acknowledging that it's not just about black or white, this is about acknowledging that we want to be in a better place. We want to live in a place where it's fair, it's equitable. And my goal, my big, big, big goal is that one day we don't need diversity and equity inclusion departments. It becomes normal. We don't need to have someone's focusing on making sure equity is taking place. It becomes the norm. I love that.
Michelle 00:26:44 And until then, I think it's absolutely critical that we invest heavily in these areas because it's going to take a while. And I think we recognize that, but I do believe, and this is just sort of, maybe I'm the optimist, but I do believe that there are a lot of people who are willing to put in the hard work, because that's what it is. It is a lot of hard work. And you know, the, the thing to, to Sean, I'm interested in your take on this, but maybe it's because we've all been sort of housebound and there's not been, you know, only recently have we sort of, you know, seen, I think the start of, of perhaps what a newer normal, a different normal will be like, but look, you know, we have this dialogue around diversity equity inclusion. I feel like it's broadened in the past year and a half. I feel like the pandemic has tested us. I feel like it's challenged us and it's not just here in the United States, but all around the world. And you know, I talk about this all the time, but man, have I learned a lot about myself during this pandemic? And so, I'd love to ask you what, what have you learned this year? I mean, is it a single thing? Is it a collection of things that you've learned and what are you inspired to do as a result?
TaChelle 00:28:02 Gosh, I have learned so much as well, Michelle and I think one of the hardest lessons I learned, which has also been a big part of my inspiration is that I was a little bit complicit in a lot of the situations because I didn't want to rock the boat necessarily and call out the fact that I had been treated differently or the fact that there was a different experience in the companies that I worked for my counterparts and myself. And so now that has motivated me to speak up and to also share that experience with both leadership and just organizations in general, I'm now using my experience to help organizations be better because you are absolutely right. There are plenty out there that are truly, truly committed. They just don't know where to go. They also don't know what some of these experiences look like.
TaChelle 00:28:57 Microaggressions are no joke, right? They come across very innocent tone. Policing comes across as no big deal, but without knowing how those can actually show up, they continue to create very toxic, very unhealthy work environments. And so, what's inspired me has been the fact that there are so many organizations, there are so many leaders that have said, okay, I don't know, but I want to, I don't know how to fix this. I need help. And I'm committed one of my clients who one of the first things I ask is, you know, what does diversity look like for you? What would success be? His response was, I want to be one of the top 100 companies to work for. And I am only going to achieve that by taking diversity, equity and inclusion serious. And it's leaders like that, that I think get it. And so, I'm incredibly motivated.
TaChelle 00:29:50 I'm incredibly inspired by that. And you know, I go really hard on the corporations that are not making good on their promises. And often I'm not as good about giving kudos to the ones that are, but here's why, because growing up, my grandmother would always say, you don't get high fives for doing what you're supposed to do. You're doing the right thing. You don't get high fives for that. You do it because it's right. And that's how I feel about this. It's this isn't a high five or a pat on the back. This is like, good. That's what you should be doing. But for the ones that are not here, here's how we're going to help you. We're holding you accountable. And to me, that's no different than anyone that I know that is committed to success, right? So, you were my friend, Michelle and I am falling short. My expectation of you is to tell me the truth, not tell me all the things that I'm doing. Great. Hey Michelle, you're awesome. You know, I love you, but dot.dot that to me is, is the commitment here is holding, holding each other accountable that doesn't necessarily have to be about.
Michelle 00:30:55 I love that. And thank you for that. I mean, look, I think that you've offered incredible insight here on the podcast, but also in listening to your story as part of this new course in this new curriculum, it was really amazing. And I have to ask you as one of the participants, what was it like not only sharing your story, but hearing the stories of other people, how did that experience change your perspective? I have
TaChelle 00:31:22 Always been non-emotional in the workplace. My first mentor at 20 years old told me as a woman, you can't afford to be. So, you keep everything about what is factual, because that's the easiest way for a man to discredit you, right. Is bringing your emotion to the table. And so that was something that has stayed with me my entire career. This was the exact opposite. It was impossible not to share that experience without the emotion. And I think that's why for so long, I really did it. So being able to talk about my experiences and not be worried about the fact that I was crying, the fact that I was literally taking myself back into these experiences and sitting across from this woman who was constantly, constantly creating tension and negativity and putting me down and the fact that I had no one that had my back in this environment that was clearly wrong.
TaChelle 00:32:27 Yeah. That's incredibly hard. It's very emotional hearing the stories of others. It's very emotional because it makes it so much more real. When we talk about diversity and inclusion. When we talk about training, when we talk about education, that's one thing to hear it from someone's experience to know that someone has gone through this makes that very, very real. And now you can actually see what microaggressions look like in terms of someone's experience. You understand what isolation does the damage of labeling of tone policing intersection out. Like when you actually hear someone explain how that terminology has affected them personally, that's a game changer. And I think it's honestly the most effective way to learn. I had no idea it was going to come out as great as it did watching the clip made me very emotional again, because you're talking about something that is happening to people, for reasons beyond their control.
TaChelle 00:33:30 You didn't do anything to be born a white woman any more than I did anything to be born a black woman. So why are our experiences so vastly different simply based on things that neither of us had any control over, it makes no sense. So yeah, I get emotional thinking about it now and what I will say. And I will think Skillsoft and I will think fire started for as well is I'm now not afraid to have that emotion come up. I'm not concerned with not being taken seriously as, as a leader and as an executive, by being emotional about something that was very hurtful. That is very hurtful.
Michelle 00:34:07 Look, I watched it. It was hard not to get emotional and it wasn't my experience, but, but here's the thing that I think that amazing course has done. It has helped us all reflect on a shared experience on others' experiences, no matter which side we were on, because let's face it. There are people who have bias, who are utilizing microaggressions and they may not even know it, or they may not understand the impact. And perhaps in some way, we've been able to help by bringing this course to bear for so many people. And so I really want to thank you for not only participating, but being so vulnerable and for sharing all that you did and look, you know, so much of effective and meaningful DEI learning revolves around listening. And so it's been great to hear you today, share with us to continue this theme.
Michelle 00:35:01 I have one final question for you and it's something. Look, I asked all our guests, since I started the edge, this was my means of coping at the beginning of the pandemic and spending because it's a three-part, but you already answered part one. So it starting with you it's, you know, what have you learned about yourself through the pandemic? I love this. Be better, speak up, share your experiences. But I guess the thing that I would then go on, because it's, again, three part or the second part is how are you applying what you've learned in the flow of your work in life. And then that third part is what advice would you give to others based on what you've been, what you've learned and what you've applied. So again, it's, it's what have you learned about yourself? And, and you were kind enough to share that with us, but how are you applying and what advice would you give to others right now?
TaChelle 00:35:50 DEI. I am applying this to my life. Look, I believe that we all have different things that affect us differently. So right now of the DEI, I am more focused on inclusion. Like that is, that is where my focus is and how I do that is one by showing up and making sure that one, my team knows that no matter what happens, my door is open that I celebrate the fact that they all come from different areas. I have an employee who's turning 75 next, next month. And I have an employee who just turned 21 and everything in between there. Right? So you can imagine what these, what these meetings are like. And it is important for me that we all respect each other's experience, each other's journey, and that we learned from one another. So how I'm applying it is through action. It's through making sure that my team knows that I see them, that I respect them, that I care about them beyond what they do for me at fake beyond what they do for me.
TaChelle 00:36:53 It's that's. And the second part of that is also making sure that my clients making sure that they know, and this is going to sound really tough, but that's who I am. You don't hire me because I'm a black woman. You hire me because I am the best at helping you solve this problem. That's inclusion. And so that's why I'm applying it to my life right now. And my advice for anyone would be diversity, equity and inclusion has it has changed business. It really has. And I think the most solid piece of advice is understanding which part speaks the most to you. Is it digging into diversity and understanding that more? Or is it the equity part or the inclusion part? Because trying to take it all at one time can be very overwhelming. So focusing on what actually speaks and connects with you the most right now, and invest in educating yourself, ask questions, read books, join webinars, listened to podcasts. Don't try to take it all on at one time. It's too deep, right? So set yourself up and just pay attention to what's currently speaking to you the most, you know, for the logs of diversity has become a major part of what I do with fate, right? We are a diversity strategy firm, but inclusion is the area that I feel the most passionate about. And so that would be my advice.
Michelle 00:38:18 But TaChelle, thank you so much. What an incredible, powerful, and, and frankly, enlightening conversation I just had with Michelle. And, and I want to pause here for a moment because there is much more to come as we pick up next time when I'll be speaking with Stephanie Wade, a political organizer, transgender advocate, educator speaker, and former field representative, and veterans liaison to us, congressmen, Gilbert, our Cisneros Jr. I'm Michelle BB. This is the edge. And until next time be well.
About This Episode
Over the past year, we’ve seen that organizations and people are hungry for change – a change that shifts our work environments to one that exemplifies Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) inside and out. But with this transformation comes work and new challenges. On part two of this special episode, featuring individuals from Skillsoft’s new DEI courses, Stephanie Wade, a Political Organizer, Transgender Advocate, Educator, Speaker, and Former Field Representative and Veteran's Liaison to U.S. Congressmen Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. joins to share her perspective on what needs to be changed and nurtured to create a more inclusive work environment. In short, she states that a true and authentic work environment committed to DEI starts with shifting company culture.
Interested in learning more?
- Explore Skillsoft’s new 5-course DEI curriculum, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Action.
- Visit our DEI page, where we offer free resources from videos to Leadercamps to blog posts to podcasts and more.
The views expressed by guests are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Skillsoft.
Read Transcript for Part II
Michelle BB 00:00:00 Welcome to the edge, a Skillsoft podcast for learners and leaders alike. You know, this and every episode we are engaging in candid thought provoking conversation on the topic of learning and growth in the workplace. Now, this is a two-parter on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion, featuring conversations with two guests who recently shared their stories as part of Skillsoft's new DEI curriculum. In part one, you listen to my discussion with guests, to shell loss and founder and president of fig strategy and consulting. And now in part two, we'll move on to my conversation with Stephanie Wade, a political organizer, transgender advocate, educator speaker, and former field representative, and veterans liaison to us, congressmen, Gilbert, our Cisneros Jr. Welcome Stephanie, and thank you for joining us on the edge.
Stephanie 00:00:55 Hi Michelle. It's so nice to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Michelle BB 00:01:00 Well, Stephanie, first and foremost, I want to thank you for your service to our country. You were one of the first transgender women to serve openly on a congressional staff. You have a deep and long term interest in military law enforcement, our veteran community, something I feel very strongly about as well. And LGBTQ plus policy. Could you just share a little bit more about your background with our audience? I think they're going to find it really insightful.
Stephanie 00:01:30 Sure. I mean, I grew up the most masculine person that anybody I met probably ever knew, um, cause I did, what's called hyper masculinizing. Um, and, and that wasn't entirely a strategy to hide my gender dysphoria and it was certainly not really a conscious thing, even though I knew I had these feelings that I repressed. It's just, it really was who I was. Um, and so I lived this very macho life and uh, my joined the Marines at 17, I enlisted, uh, graduated a year early from high school to do it and I was a combat engineer and I thought that was great. And then I decided to go to college and I was like captain of the rugby team. I mean, I had boxed and high school in college. Um, and I'm really glad I did all those things. It was a wonderful experience, but in a way it's kind of like having two lives because I live this one life.
Stephanie 00:02:20 And, um, you know, I was a teacher for many years, but I was also, you know, a coach rugby coach, a basketball coach. I was a bit of a fraud as basketball coach, but you know, so I did all these macho things, but I had this, this gender dysphoria that in my midlife just finally demanded it had been there always, but it was just, it had to be answered. And that was right about the time that, um, I decided to get very political, that I had always been political and interested in politics and an activist, but 2016 was really it for me. And so I left a long teaching career and um, went into full-time organizing first with swing left and then a group called groundworks. And then I wound up working for, um, a guy who was running for Congress who not only supported, you know, the equality act and a lot of things that were going to help LGBT people.
Stephanie 00:03:11 But in particular, he was a veteran. Like I was a veteran, I'd spent nine years in the Marines. I've been enlisted, I'd been an infantry officer. This is very core to my identity. And it was really difficult to watch what was happening at the time with the, the assault on transgender troops in particular. And this guy was fighting for transgender group troops and actually as a veteran, as a former Navy officer campaigning for it. So that was a really easy decision for me to go to work for him. And when we won, I looked for a job and was warmly embraced by the, by the Congo then congressmen and went to work in his office for two years until he didn't win reelection, which is what,
Michelle BB 00:03:48 So what an amazing background and, and life experience. And, you know, I was, I spent some time watching and listening to some of the work that you've done. And in particular, in preparation for this discussion, I listened to your very open letter to us Supreme court, justice, Sonia Sotomayor. And you mentioned before that you've become a very vocal political organizer and advocate transgender rights, but I'd love to know a little bit more about your advocacy work and what that means to you.
Stephanie 00:04:22 Um, you know, that that's just always been what my life has been about. Um, public service. I mean, I, I was, uh, I was a public school teacher. I was an infantry officer. I was always an activist. I was a, an activist with the Surfrider foundation for a long time. Um, and I do a great deal of work around veterans. I think, you know, one of the areas that I'm particularly passionate about is, is very close to home and it's about what happens to LGBT people, especially LGBT veterans, but you mentioned the Sotomayor thing. The thing that incensed me in that case, that was the case that ultimately wound up the Supreme court in a decision that allowed transgender people to be protected under title IX or the civil rights act so that we have equal rights and employment, and we can't be fired simply for being transgender or gay.
Stephanie 00:05:05 Right. And, um, that really th the, the thing that set me off in particular besides there is that it wasn't a sure bet that sorta my Yara was going to vote with us. And she was obsessed with in her questioning that the real legal issue for her was. But what about the bathrooms? And the other thing that struck me was that the person who technically was probably putting on a very capable case in favor of our rights was the gentlemen from the ACLU who, um, assists who's gender conforming, you know, and, um, uh, and straight not gay. And, um, a man who's married to a woman. So here's this person, you know, nice guy from the ACLU, I'm sure his heart's in the right place, but the questions that were asked about bathrooms and the obsession that these jurists had about the bathrooms, what struck me is change.
Stephanie 00:05:59 Gender people have to speak for themselves and be out front, which is hard to do. And I don't criticize my, my brothers and sisters, but if, if the attorney who had argued that case had been transgender, nobody would have, would have gone to the bathrooms. And, and if they had, they would have done it delicately because they would realize, of course, this is a person who looks like a woman and she's going to use the women's restroom or who looks like a man is going to use the men's restroom. And they're a professional purse person, and they're clearly skilled in their field. And that's what needs to be seen. People don't get their rights because they're given to them, they get the rights because they stand up for them. They stand up for themselves. Nobody nobody's going to give you something you don't demand. That's part of the lesson here too. And I think the, the thing for allies to do, especially in the workplace setting is to make sure that there's a level playing field where people don't feel the decks completely stacked against them. And they feel forced into silence.
Michelle BB 00:06:54 In some ways I agree completely, you know, people need to stand up for their rights, but in other ways, we need to make sure that allies and others are supportive of transgender rights that they are supportive of or understanding of why this is something that we need to understand and respect. I, it seems, it, it seems so easy. And yet the fact that you and others have to stand up for what we all know is right, is a challenge.
Stephanie 00:07:28 And that's one of the things I try to make in that video, um, that was addressed to sorta my, your, you know, I I've led, I think, um, a very good life. I've actually done a lot of good in the world. Um, but I didn't have a choice in being transgender. In fact, well, I take that back. I had a choice whether or not to suppress my gender dysphoria or, um, or to come out and that's really the choice faced by anybody who's trans. And it's a really hard choice. And for almost 50 years, I made the choice of suppressing it until I got to midlife. And then it, that, that gender dysphoria that had been with me my whole life, you know, I knew that I had had not only these feelings, but then when I was assured of absolute privacy, I, you know, there were times in my life going back to my childhood when I dressed, dressed in women's clothes, because it was, it was this overwhelming urge to express that side of myself.
Stephanie 00:08:22 And so my choice by midlife was either come out or I was literally getting suicidal. This is the thing that people should also understand the kind of path that most of us go through and coming out. I mean, when I made the decision finally to come out, um, I really believed that I was going to wind up living under the, the Venice 4 0 5 overpass, which was near where I was currently living that my then wife was going to, you know, fight and take every asset we had together that I would lose every relationship I'd been, I had ever built in particular because I'd led this hyper-masculine life. But I think this is an honest fear and not an unrealistic one I might add. And at the time I was working as a public school teacher and I was at a district that I probably couldn't leave because I was too senior to get probably hired anywhere else.
Stephanie 00:09:16 And it was an extremely homophobic and homophobic and transphobic environment. So even though I probably had the job protections to stay, I basically knew there was no way I could teach them. Right. So this is the number one issue for, you know, this, I think this is mostly about how we help people in the workplace. And boy, transgender people need an opportunity to work. I mean, it's, it's not just a nice to have it's the whole thing, right? And most of the problems that transgender people face are related to employment. Since I came out my transition when I talked to my transgender friends and peers in the community is so much easier than most people, most people have horror stories. I've been very privileged. You know, I have Ivy league degrees and I was able because I had skills and luckily my, my ex wife, she, she didn't want to stay married.
Stephanie 00:10:04 Luckily has been incredibly supportive in this lifetime. And so that made things entirely different. And so I felt lucky in a lot of ways, but even so I will tell you that, um, that I, you know, I faced a lot of, um, a lot of discrimination. It happens on a daily basis. I've had housing problems. It's very difficult to find housing often when you're not making a lot of money as a transgender person, you're in an expensive rental market. You're forced into rooming situations, which were all often extremely disadvantageous for us and homelessness. Isn't one single event. It's a, it's a path. And this is something that happens to a lot of transgender people. And then finally, I'll say in healthcare, mental health care housing, those things are all tied to work. And while I was really fortunate to have a job, I loved working for Congress for a Congressman that was really affirming and gave me lots of opportunities to, without even having to say it, to be in important public spaces, representing the transgender community in a really positive way that job came to an end.
Stephanie 00:11:10 Not because of anything on tour, just because of an election, right, right. Almost a year now. And I'm unemployed. And I will tell you that I've applied to probably 30 jobs, all of which have been really extremely cool. You know, maybe not all highly qualified, but certainly qualified for every one of them. And most of them highly qualified and I'm still employed now. I never had any problem with employment. Um, before I came out and unemployment is twice as high among the transgender community. And I think a lot of people who think that they would support a trans person when it comes to maybe hiring one would be like, they might not say it because they know it's illegal, especially now that the Supreme court has ruled the right way, but they're thinking, oh, well, this person's appearance, you know, this is a very forward facing job. I don't know. Or is this going to upset the team? Or so even people who might think that they're, you know, in their own self-conception are allies, um, or friendly to transgender people are often, I think, in matters of employment and in matters around children quite bigoted often without knowing it. And that's not to blame those people as much as it is to understand that's what systemic means. You know, that's what systemic transphobia means. And it's just like with racist.
Michelle BB 00:12:28 So Stephanie, I have to ask you this because I think you've hit on what really is one of the biggest and core challenges that transgender people face. And that is the discrimination that comes, especially when they're seeking employment or perhaps in the workplace when it becomes untenable. Right. And so the question is, look, education plays a role. We know that, right. We can educate populations of people within the workplace, but what more can, and should we be doing? And, and what role specifically, can allies play in helping us address these challenges? Because we it's clear. We need to do more.
Stephanie 00:13:08 Yeah. So the first thing I want to do is I want to give a little vignette about something that happened that I think will shock. Most people. I actually had a meeting with a local city council person and the chief of police here in Southern California, where there have been an incident where, um, a very troubling trans, uh, transphobic incident that had occurred two transgender women who were assaulted. And so I was there representing them with a couple of other activists an hour. After that meeting, I happened to be taking care of some personal busy business at city hall, where I live in Anaheim. And I walked out of the city hall and went across the street yelling, hurry up, hurry up. As I crossed the street at a red light at the crosswalk, and then this individual in the must have noticed something about me and started screaming into the, his PA system on the car at the red light.
Stephanie 00:13:59 I can see your balls trigger warning. I'm sorry. I hope that's not a little off color, but that sort of thing happens to all transgender women, including me quite a lot. But what really struck me about it is the juxtaposition of having just been in this meeting where I was smelling. And the thing that occurs to me is that I would venture to say that most people are horrified by that. And that's what we think of as transphobic, right? That bothered me so much less than things I've encountered in the workplace from people who think they're allies and what I would, what I would challenge people who are listening to think of is that most Americans have just as much transphobia as, as the man, I just described the differences. They wouldn't act the same way. Most people aren't going to get on a PA system and start shouting at, you know, insults of people.
Stephanie 00:14:49 Right. But I think most people have just as much, you know, and it's not because they're terribly bad people it's because just about every representation you've ever seen them, transgender people in the media, especially if you're, you know, over 30 years old, is that we're the butter jokes that were sex workers, that the proper way to respond. If you find out that you've, you know, been romantically attracted to some, to a transgender person is revulsion or even violence, um, that these, these are archetypes that are played out over and over again. It's very rare. You interact with somebody. And, you know, when I speak to a group, how many, uh, of, you know, uh, somebody who's trans and very few hands will go up and then I'll say, all right. If, if I asked you to pull out your cell phone, I bet, you know, more than, you know, a hundred people probably there are a couple hundred contacts in there.
Stephanie 00:15:36 Well, you know, about, you know, a half a percent of the general population are transgender or gender nonconforming. So, you know, transgender people, they just haven't chosen to reveal themselves to you. And so that's an indication that you're not doing the right thing. So I know this has been a long-winded answer, but you asked what, what can we do in a workplace? Well, the first thing you can do is don't wait till somebody comes out. You know, don't wait until you have that first transgender interview. So I'll give you one quick, like thing that everybody can do right now. If you want to make it more, more welcoming workplace, you got an email go to your signature line and add your pronouns. And most people who are gender conforming, who've never had any of these issues find that they, you know, often they find that a little off putting, I will be Frank.
Stephanie 00:16:23 I had enough trans transphobia, internalized that even as I was coming out, I felt a little awkward about announcing my pronouns. Um, it seemed sort of unusual and pushy, but it's not. Let me explain to you why, how important it is. It's really powerful because, um, if you're a transgender person, maybe you won't even come out at that workplace. When you see that on somebody's email, you know, that's a person who's making conscious effort to try and be inclusive and friendly and open to people like myself who go through a very rough time. Right. And I would also say it extends beyond that to any LGBT person that sees that somebody who may be gender conforming, but they're gay or lesbian, or they're bisexual is going to say, ah, that's like a signal that this person is, you know, kind of, you know, trying to be inclusive.
Stephanie 00:17:15 Um, and I will say that I've spoken to friends of mine who are African-American, um, who feel the same way. They say that's a signal that you can send. Um, the other thing is don't wait, you know, especially if you're a manager, do not wait until you hire your first African-American or your first, um, we'll wheelchair bound, differently abled person, or your first transgender person to start having these discussions that's way too late, have them beforehand prepare the office first, because if you wait until that person comes in, you put them in an incredibly difficult position. And you also put a lot more stress on your, on your team and your staff, because now they're suddenly reacting to something that you haven't discussed, and you don't know what the company's values are. It's your responsibility as a leader to do that long before to address these kinds of issues long before they obviously affect one individual in the office.
Michelle BB 00:18:12 I think that's so key and candidly, it's one of the reasons why we built this new diversity equity and inclusion curriculum, and you took, you took part in that, right? You provided both perspective and insight along with a number of other people, because if we're not addressing it now, then we've got individuals who are coming in, who yes, they may see more diversity. They may see some equity, but they may not feel as included. They may not feel as if they belong. And so we've got to do better and do more. And so this curriculum is designed, I think, to really help people, not only understand the challenges, but identify to your point, what are the things that I can do, not just in the future, but what can I do right now to make people feel more welcome to make people feel like they belong. And so thank you again for your perspective and insight there, but I have to ask. And when you did this, what also sort of prompted you to take part?
Stephanie 00:19:15 I have experienced in an office where I was subjected to a great deal of Harrison and administration did not handle it. Well, in fact, there was a mounted really, um, you know, retribution for my co coming forward. Um, and I will say that I take some ownership in this and that, um, I now know how to handle this better. Nobody, nobody hands you a manual that says here, you're trans. Now this is what you need to know and how you need to act. Um, so when I came out in this particular office, I said, all right, it's really important for me to, you know, win people over. Especially when I started to feel that people were uncomfortable with my transition. And when I started to get microaggressions, little things that people let me know that made me uncomfortable, or I felt like I was being put in my place, or I was being mis-gendered and slight of hand ways, my initial response was to not, I don't want to make waves.
Stephanie 00:20:15 And I said, well, let me just be hyper competent. And let me be a super colleague and let me win them over and make friends with these people. And really that strategy was the exact worst thing I could have done, right. Because what I did by not standing up and saying something and then trying to befriend this same people as they were treating me really badly was they learned that the way they were treating me was just fine. And remember that's their bias anyways. Right, right, right. Right. Eventually when things got worse and worse and worse, and I couldn't take it anymore. And I went to management, these people when they had to be investigated, felt this tremendous sense of betrayal and whiplash, because they'd been doing this for months and how dare I endangered their job. Um, but you know, you see it was endangering more than, you know, more than my job.
Stephanie 00:21:05 It was endangering myself. I didn't sleep for a period of a year. I had to get on antidepressants just to deal with the environment in this job. Um, and I will also say that when I went to management about it, um, the, especially the first time, you know, the supervisor said, oh, that's not true staff. Everybody here loves you. And by the way, I point out that many people who love you can abuse you. You know what I mean? Like I mentioned earlier in the conversation, I was talking about somebody who, you know, had arrest me in the street in a very obvious and nasty way that didn't bother me nearly as much as my coworkers who put me down, didn't treat me the same way, criticized me unfairly. Um, mis-gendered me gave me work assignments based on my gender that are based on my, uh, male gender that I did not have or express over and over again, that was far more painful and threatening to, you know, my, my own employment in my job.
Stephanie 00:22:13 And so I went to this manager and I gave him several examples of how this, and I did it again. I'm trying to win friends and influence people. I was very respectful and deferential and I said, no, no, it really, people are extremely uncomfortable. That's the way I phrased it. Yeah. I was uncomfortable. They were being nasty and they didn't know it, you know? Um, and his response was to say, well, we could do some kind of a training, you know, which I just asked for it. He goes, but I don't know how many trust falls I can do. Right. Make wider the whole thing and gaslighting me. And then he said, you know, or, um, I can just have everybody in my office and tell them what my expectations are. Well, thing one, you should have done that right away. Right. When somebody comes out as transgender, or you hire your first, you know, African-American in a division or a company that's never had an African-American.
Stephanie 00:23:09 Yeah. You should already been having those conversations, but definitely, especially about somebody in the middle of a transition, which is very tough. You gotta have that, you set those expectations overtly and in those private conversations and have a training you're in way over your head, this is a big deal. Um, but any event. So again, I was polite and I said to him, I said, well, you know, I really would. I think it would be great if you speak, if you have that conversation and talk about expectations with everyone. But I also think we need the training and he was very upset and, or he was very annoyed and he fine. He said, you pick the, um, you find the vendors and then you go to the office manager. He goes, you go to the office manage. Well, I just described that the office manager who was treating me the worst.
Stephanie 00:23:57 So I had to work through the office manager to set up this training. And then by the way, it took months before the training actually occurred. And then it only occurred when I went to my bosses boss. And then when it did happen, the training was held via somebody who is in another city who literally dialed it in. So the facilitator made a phone call. Now, remember when I tried to set this up, I found local, highly qualified presenters who were willing to give a whole day. And they thought that's what was appropriate. And they, and one of the problems why they couldn't get it set up is they were, they were insistent that the three levels of management above me and above the rest of the office needed to participate in the training in part, because that's the only way people are going to see it as really important and mission focused. If it's not worth the CEO or, or, or the boss's time, it's not worth the subordinates time. And they know it, right. That's how employees assign value to something. And so if you, if they aren't there, what they see is this is a pain in the ass and they resent the person they blame for having taken them away from their, their, their valuable work to do the stupidity. That's the way they see it. So you've actually that kind of training can make things worse. You got to have leadership buy-in yeah.
Michelle BB 00:25:13 And it, you know, it sounds to me like, look, some companies they've already recognized the importance of DEI, but, you know, we, we hear from so many really good organizations that want to do the right thing stuff, but they're still grappling with what comes next. How, how do we ensure that the trainings we do that, the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, it's ingrained in the fabric of the way that we operate. And what I just heard you say is that it has to be pervasive throughout an organization. And it has to be recognized from the very top, all the way down and throughout. But is there anything more that that organizations need to be doing and thinking about as they evolve, because it's, this is a journey it's not just a one and done training to your point.
Stephanie 00:26:05 You're, you're really asking how you make the training meaningful and not just checking a box. That's exactly right. Counter, counter counterproductive. The first thing is obviously management buy-in and participation. You've got to show by voting with your feet and your presence that this is important to management, but, um, you know, then I would say another one is I mentioned, you know, using your pronouns in your subject line, if the boss does that, that sends a message across the organization and everybody sees it. And I think a nice way to do it is for the boss to just do it and let people see it and ripple it down, not say, oh, by the way, you know, not send out a memo that says, by the way, you can do this, if you want to, or we want everyone to do this, just build it into the culture.
Stephanie 00:26:46 It goes to a little bit of hiring and making sure that you have a diverse team before you hire somebody that's well outside the lack of diversity you create. So let me put it to you this way. First of all, we know that diversity works, that if you have true diversity, if no one group is dominant in an organization, um, that you get greater creativity and you get greater effort and you build stronger teams, right. But even when we're sometimes trying to practice or have kind of diversity, I think often miss the mark, it's something to be aware of at the very least that, you know, you think you're doing great with diversity, but if one, if there's one clique or group that becomes sort of too tight and close, that can often be a place where discrimination sort of begins. And so if nothing else sort of be aware of those things and look for ways to maybe mix that up a little, okay.
Michelle BB 00:27:45 I think that's really good and, and sounded by us, you know, there, I think there are so many lessons stuff, um, from both you and, and, and our other guests that we had, uh, on the first episode to shell, um, about what organizations can do to really create that sense of belonging. And some of them are very small. It doesn't have to always be a massive initiative, but I think the thoughtfulness and the care with which we take and as leaders, the importance of modeling the behavior that we need, everyone in the organization to see that sort of rose to the fore for me, as I, as I heard you speak,
Stephanie 00:28:29 I, yeah, I think it's gotta be a value right. Of value of the organization so that anybody that's hired knows that, that, all right, well, I have some strong anti transgender or anti homophobic views, or I've got, you know, they get re real fast that if I'm going to work in this organization, I got to check that at the door. And I gotta be very aware of how I behave because this organization has values that are different from my own. And so that's gotta be clear at the outset and, and, and it's not. And I think if you do it the right way, maybe there's some group, some outgroup, some marginalized group that you haven't directly included. But I think, you know, the, the process of demonstrating, especially from, with leadership that you're open and you're inclusive, is going to really help you when there's something you didn't anticipate, something you hadn't worked on and prevent preventing you from having big problems and make your team. And ultimately, I think the advantages you're going to have a stronger team that performs better. You know, I mean, not just because it's good to create havoc, if somebody has a lawsuit or, you know, you just have dissension in the ranks, you're just going to get better results. When, you know, people are not necessarily completely tied in together, but there, they have different thought processes and different ways and different experiences, but they all feel comfortable sharing equally. And nobody feels like they're disadvantaged.
Michelle BB 00:29:57 I love that. Steph, thank you so much for, you know, it was really powerful. I think we've, we've learned a lot from this conversation. And as we think about where organizations need to go, there, there's a lot that we need to contemplate. And I truly believe that in, you know, in having this conversation so much of effective and meaningful DEI learning revolves around listening and listening to the stories of others and, and being open and receptive to understanding. Um, so to continue this theme, I have one final question, and it's something that I've asked all my guests, it's a three parter. Uh, since I've asked, I've asked all my guests, you know, I started this, this podcast stuff back at the beginning of the pandemic. And I think it was a way for us to understand and be a part of this collective shared experience, which nobody had.
Michelle BB 00:30:55 We know what we, we hadn't had before. And so, as we reflect on this past year, you know, we've each had not only this collective shared experience, but our own unique take on it, right. The way that the pandemic has impacted our lives. So here's the question, it's a three parter. So, number one, what have you learned about yourself throughout the pandemic? Part two is how you applied what you've learned in the flow of work and the flow of life. And then looking ahead, what advice might you share with others? And so it's, what have you learned about yourself? What have you applied and what advice would you give based on what you've learned?
Stephanie 00:31:46 Hm, well, the first thing, um, is cats got to have cats before I came out. I was, um, I was a crazy cat man. Now I'm just a cliche. I think one of the things I learned is that working from home works really well. Yeah. I know a lot of people of color and gender non-conforming and LGBT people that I know personally really feel it's a much safer or, you know, it's just much better on our emotional health. Um, I'm in an extremely gregarious person. And when the lockdown first happened, I was like, this is, can be bad for me. Um, and I found that, um, through teleconferencing, uh, like we're doing now and, um, and phone calls, I pretty much got what I needed. You know, I'm not saying I, I want to stay this way forever, but I think a work environment where people can work from home is really terrific.
Stephanie 00:32:43 And it's particularly terrific for people who are from marginalized groups. Um, for some reason, I think when we're on, uh, on, in two dimensions, on a screen, maybe we see people more. Three-dimensionally, it's sort of funny. I mean, yeah, it doesn't get as clique-ish, you know, and it's maybe a little bit more about the work, and I know that it's not always the best answer and it's hard to onboard, but if you can work in some significant, if you're fortunate enough to be in a business where you can work in some significant amount of telecommuting for people, a couple of days a week, you're doing great things for the environment. But I think you're also doing great things for people who probably have a tough time in an office environment and maybe the people in the east suite, they don't get that because the people who thrived in that environment, but I want to get the most out of their people. They should realize that a lot of people do a lot better work and can collaborate better often from home. And I know that seems counterintuitive, but I think it's often the case pandemic wise, I would say very much, you know, managers shouldn't be afraid to let people work from home. You know, I realized there's a value to the office and communal communal working at times, but a significant amount of, of work from home I think is actually quite healthy for an office culture.
Michelle BB 00:33:54 Yeah. I think we've learned a lot about the ways in which people work. And one of the things that we've talked often about and on this podcast is now that we've separated, in fact work and workplace, which we have done, what do they mean? Right. So work workplace is not necessarily the place where you get work done. It may be the place in which you go to have those social interactions that maybe you've missed to, um, collaborate, um, in, in more of a, a different way, a different type of environment where it's not about, I've got to get my day-to-day work done. So we've learned a lot about, I think this separation or this notion of divorcing work and workplace from each other.
Stephanie 00:34:35 Yeah. I really, I hope it's something managers are really thinking about and not too quick to say, I need to bring everybody back in. This is, what's always worked pandemics over and get back in here, you know, and then maybe they can all save on office space and, you know, they still need an office, but not as big of what you know,
Michelle BB 00:34:51 Well, we've done a lot of research. And what I will tell you stuff is that we know that most people that we surveyed at least one, at least one pandemic related policy, whether that's flexibility, whether that is, you know, adjustment and hours, whether that is working remotely, at least part of the time that, that, that people expect companies to put in place policies that reflect the way that we've been working, not necessarily the way that we were before the pandemic. And so I think it's, it's going to be interesting to see, but I, I would, um, you know, with every conversation that I've had, it seems as if we are moving down a path towards what is that balance and what's going to be best for our team members. And it's not necessarily being in an office five days a week.
Stephanie 00:35:38 Yeah. And I mean like the black death was sort of the catalyst, you know, people think for, for the Renaissance, right. Um, so you know, like a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Let's get some real lessons learned out of this. They're really meaningful and impactful and make things better than our office offices.
Michelle BB 00:35:57 Well, thank you so much stuff. This has been a great conversation. I really appreciate you sharing over the past year. We've talked a lot about DEI training, but I think we're discovering that the word training it's too limited and perhaps might even be a misnomer. And I think that's because DEI programs address situations that are so systemic and complex and require more than just this point in time, annual certification DEI, isn't a destination. It is a journey. One that amplifies diverse voices and perspectives speaks to heads. And hearts educates on facts and inspires through stories. As I said, when we started Skillsoft is on a journey to one where we strategically invested in DEI for our own organization and for our customers and partners. And that's why we're focused on creating impactful learning experiences that are representative and inclusive of diversity through real life stories that allow for reflection and long-term adoption of new skills and concepts to shell and stuff.
Michelle BB 00:37:07 I want to thank you for taking the time to be with us on the edge and for sharing your thoughts on the next steps. We all must take towards greater diversity, true equity and meaningful inclusion and to our listeners. Thank you for tuning into this into every episode. As we unleash our edge together on behalf of the entire Skillsoft team, we encourage you to keep learning and keep growing. And in light of our conversation today, consider the ways in which you personally can drive meaningful change from within your organization. I'm Michelle BB. This is the edge be well.
About Our Guest
Passion. Drive. Responsibility. Leadership. Integrity. These are the qualities that have cemented TaChelle Lawson’s reputation as a dominant force in the luxury service, hospitality, food & beverage, and fashion industries, for over two decades.
As Founder and President of FIG Strategy & Consulting, Lawson counsels a diverse and elite clientele who’ve come to rely on her brand-building and preservation prowess. Services include brand strategy, business management consulting, culture transformation, leadership training, diversity & inclusion, and strategic sourcing. As a strategic planner and business developer, Lawson has lent her expertise in business analysis, strategy, management, and media to multiple $100 million ARR companies looking to maximize the effectiveness of their outreach, brand-building, and marketing efforts.
To date, Lawson’s client brands include: Louis Vuitton, Lexus, NASCAR, Porsche, Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Nike, Sprint, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Tyson Foods, Heineken, Lamborghini, and Lancôme, to name several. She’s also worked with the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Sonoma Motor Speedway, the America’s Cup, the U.S. Open, and the James Beard Foundation. Lawson is also a strong believer in and champion of a diverse workforce; to wit, she is actively working to change the narrative of diversity and inclusion by challenging companies to go beyond agency-centric metrics to instead focus on creating lasting value for their clients.
Lawson is an active mentor to young women entering the workforce and has served on several boards and advisory councils throughout the course of her career, including Las Vegas Business Academy, Serenity Springs, and Project Real. She currently serves on the Business Development Advisory Council (BDAC) for Clark County, NV and the Entrepreneurship & Leadership Advisory Board for UNLV.
About Our Guest
Stephanie Wade is a former Marine Infantry officer, environmental activist and educator who left her public school teaching career in January of 2017 to take a leading role in organizing Swing Left in Los Angeles and then, as the Director of Volunteers for the Cisneros for Congress Campaign, was a part of Orange County's Blue wave. She followed Congressman Cisneros into office and for two years served as his Veterans Liaison and Field Representative in his district office. She was one of the first out-trans women to serve on a congressional staff and held a particularly prominent role in supporting the Congressman's legislative work on the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees. In addition to her work as a congressional aide, Stephanie has been quite active in Democratic and LGBT organizing, serving as a President of the Orange County Veterans Democratic Club, a Founding Member and Co-Chair for the lavender Democrats of OC, and as a Member of the Board of Advisors for the Equality of California Institute and as Supervisor Doug Chaffee’s appointee to the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council where she is proud to have lobbied the County Supervisors who took up her suggestion and have lobbied the county’s congressional delegation for reforms that will make it possible for veterans to upgrade and correct the bad conduct discharges that were given because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. She is currently pursuing jobs in law enforcement where she hopes to be able to contribute to a new wave of police reform and to help the law enforcement better understand the needs and rights of LGBT and other disenfranchised citizens. She is the proud mom of a 10 year old girl and a 25 year old son both of whom are staunch progressives, feminists and LGBT allies. She likes cats, surfing and equity!
About Our Host
As Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle leads a global marketing organization, focused on transforming today’s workforce for tomorrow’s economy. Since joining the company, she has been responsible for Skillsoft’s global marketing strategy, which includes generating awareness, driving preference, and building affinity for Skillsoft. Additionally – and perhaps most importantly – Michelle serves as the company's brand evangelist, helping to build a vibrant community of passionate learners.
With more than 25 years of marketing, branding, and strategy experience, Michelle has made it her personal mission to support the advancement of women in business. Prior to Skillsoft, she served as Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Watson, where she was instrumental in developing the first “Women Leaders in AI” program, which honors women who put AI to work across industries and around the globe. She also served as the global head of marketing for The Weather Company, an IBM Business, helping companies understand how to anticipate, plan for, and ultimately make better decisions – with greater confidence – in the face of weather.
Michelle is a prolific speaker on a range of topics, including the war for talent, digital transformation, and marketing in a post-pandemic world. She covers these topics and more as the host of Skillsoft's podcast, The Edge, now in its second season. She has authored countless papers covering a range of business and marketing topics, was at the center of Skillsoft’s leadership role in DEI through free “Leadercamps,” and has taught two Percipio courses on the Pink Pandemic and Public Speaking.
Michelle is also a founding member of CMO Huddles, a group dedicated to bringing together and empowering highly effective B2B CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Michelle holds a Master’s degree from Simmons University and sits on the pro side of the Oxford comma debate.