The Fundamental Pillars of Successful DEI Practices Part: 2

Brave Spaces Roundtable
Brave Spaces Roundtable
The Fundamental Pillars of Successful DEI Practices Part: 2
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Dédé Tetsubayashi
Hello again, and welcome to another episode of Brave Spaces Roundtable brought to you by incluu. I’m Dr. Dédé Tetsubayashi, your host for today. And here with me is Lia James. Lia, I would love to invite you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what to do.

Lia James
Thank you so much for having me Dede. It’s really great to be with you here today. And as you said, I’m Lia James, and I work with folks on how to create more inclusive spaces, generating conversation and building those bridges between folks who maybe have different backgrounds, different experiences… And, what I’m probably most often known for is helping people make really big changes in their careers and finding spaces where they can show up fully.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Can you tell us a bit more about what drew you to this kind of work and why you continue to do it, and how it shows up?

Lia James
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think… Oh, gosh, my whole life I was a connector. I was known as someone who brought people together who wouldn’t have maybe spent time together or wouldn’t have naturally gravitated towards one another. I love people. And I mean, I remember when I was younger, someone telling me I needed a hobby and my hobby was, “But people are my hobby!” And, and I do genuinely believe that like that is part of it. But the way that it has shown up in my work over time, is that I kept seeing instances where different folks were not included in conversations or their voices weren’t heard, or assumptions were made about people that weren’t in the space. Rather than, just inviting them in and having those conversations or creating space for folks to all contribute to the conversation. And no matter where I’ve gone in my career– because it’s taken some wild leaps and bounds– those sorts of have threaded throughout my entire career.

So like, for instance, helping people find spaces where they can show up fully, that kept coming up, because I kept finding myself connecting with folks who could not get a job. And a lot of times that was happening because of discrimination. That was continuously showing up. And so I committed to helping them figure out how to find places where they could show up and not have to worry about discrimination, rather than trying to fit into the box so that they would remove the things that were discriminating or being discriminated against; find places where they could show up and not be discriminated. Like, that’s a very different experience. And then that led to companies then hiring me to help them build more inclusive hiring practices, so that they weren’t pushing these folks out that I was traditionally working with. So I think that answers your question, but happy to elaborate.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Yes. And it also it reminds me of how we met originally, like if you got into the work because you connect people, you and I met through Tech Ladies. And you reached out. I was looking for someone to help connect me, you helped me in my job search at the time and connected me to a bunch of people in California (where I’d never been) in the event that I’d, finally you know, follow through on the plan that we were putting together.

Lia James
I love that memory because I do actually forget that often because we’ve, you know… our relationship has evolved so much from like, work and collaboration experiences that I love going back to that moment in memory. Because you and I never met in person, right? All the years that we’ve known each other, until just a few months ago…

Dédé Tetsubayashi
A few months ago. Yeah…

Lia James
But you’ve met so many people and befriended and deepened friendships more than my friendships were with folks that I knew in California, that I did originally connect you with. But yeah, I love that memory. And I just remember meeting you virtually for the first time and going, “Oh, you need to know this person and this person. And I don’t knowi if they have jobs. But let me tell you what, they will help you with that job search .”

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Yes. It’s been an amazing journey between the two of us. I mean, seriously, we haven’t had the opportunity to actually meet in person until literally a couple of months ago. And our work has intertwined, we’ve connected, we’ve leaned on one another, we’ve supported one another in all of our endeavors and we just bounce ideas off of one another, especially when it came to equity and inclusion work. So I think it’s just fascinating that this continues. And one of the reasons we actually were able to connect most recently was because of the direction that you’re taking some of your work, which is related to the table talks and I’d love for you to tell us a little bit about that.

Lia James
Yeah. So I’ve had this dream for years that I would have a dinner series where I physically created a table–literally, physically built a table, that I configure to fully embrace building a table, right? Like, the idea of, you have to have a seat at the table to make change happen, has always stood out within my career and like, directed me, right? And, I felt like I was always fighting to have a voice at the table. And I felt like I was always trying to fit into a space that I didn’t really fit into. And that’s discouraging.

So a few years ago, I think I was sitting around the table with a few different friends. And they’re talking about all these different, really like high profile projects, and we’re all collaborating with each other and, and at like making really wild changing projects or impact changing projects. And I had this realization, I was like, “Oh, this is what it means to be at the table.” Like, we’re all hanging out on a Saturday night talking about business and things that we want to do and care about. But like, that’s also going to make all of us like money to be able to pay our bills, and also fulfill dreams that we have. And, and that’s where I got the idea. So I’m going to physically create a table– because that’s what I do for fun; I build furniture. And then originally, before the pandemic, it was supposed to just be in my home. I was gonna set up audio and video and bring people in to have conversations that have maybe a different perspectives, different lived experiences, different background, and create a safe space or a brave space to have really hard conversations.

I was raised in a small town where I was exposed to very different socio-economic classes, racial profiles, people who are transient, people that were there that lived there their full lives. And I think, because of that, I have a lot of different empathy for like, conversations, like I can sit with someone who I don’t agree with and listen and, like, have a conversation about it. So my hope is that I can help facilitate those conversations, because that’s what I do in my everyday life. So fast forward to after the pandemic–slash, we’re still in a pandemic–I needed personally, to not be still anymore, and I personally needed to be on the road, traveling as safely as possible, where I’m not harming other communities. And that in that way, so I packed up my table, I packed up all my woodworking tools into a trailer. And I hit the road. And I made it out to you, from all the way from Baltimore, Maryland, to Oakland, California, with a lot of stops in between. And we pulled the table out at your house, put it in your in your kitchen, and or your dining space. And we had some really beautiful conversations around that table.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Yeah.

Lia James
And I mean, you curated the group. And it was just incredible, I think to be exposed to all the different ways of thinking. And I think there are a lot of similarities. And there were also a lot of us in different spaces in our life and experiences that helped create a really beautiful conversation.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
And what was amazing about that was that it was we had planned to meet up and we planned to bring the table out at some point. But we hadn’t actually planned down to the granular level, what that conversation or what those conversations would look like. And the folks that we’d invited over to join us, mirrored us, but also contrasted each of our experiences in really interesting and unique ways. Right. And each of the people at the table work to some extent, with a focus on equity, even if that’s not their specific title. One of the people at the table having the conversations with us was Masheika Allgood who is the founder and CEO of AllAI Consulting, and she’s also been hosted on our podcast before. So really good friends–basically, we all are, to tell you the truth. We’re all just really trying to figure out how to support one another in this work.

Lia James
What made that so interesting, though, is like, yes, we all work in some form of equity, but our backgrounds are so vastly different. I remember at one point just sitting at the table listening to some of the different conversations that were happening at the same time and feeling a little bit in awe; right? Going two years without having a lot of in person connections, for me, none beyond my immediate family, to being in a room with this group of people who just had really wildly interesting backgrounds that led them to equity in very different ways. Which means we all came to it or are coming to it with different perspectives, different ways of thinking. And it was sort of beautiful to see how we built off of each other. Right? Like, there was a statement, and then we would all add on it. We would, ‘Yes, and” each other.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Yeah.

Lia James
And if there was a little bit of a, “I don’t know if I agree with that”. It wasn’t an attack, it wasn’t a put-down like, “No, you’re wrong.” It was more of a, “I see you. And then, “here’s my experience with that”. Right. Right, which was–which I thought was well, incredible.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
And I think what we were able to emulate. So naturally, is what we try to do in the work with other folks, when we create safe spaces, and brave spaces. It’s about building those relationships, and it’s about building connections so that you can have those hard conversations compassionately. You know, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it’s painful, even when it’s really difficult knowing that on the other side is someone who’s actually listening and taking into consideration your emotions and handling that with care with care. And…

Lia James
Your key word, right, there was compassionate and care. Right? I think that’s where we get in trouble is when we don’t approach those conversations with compassion and care.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Mm hmm. And I think that leads me to one of the questions that I have is like, when you create a strategy for doing this work for a partner, a customer, however, you name, the people that you work with–what do you consider to be signs of a good strategy? And then what are signs when…if you think that strategy is doomed to fail?

Lia James
Hmm, that’s such a good question. I am actually kind of dealing with this right now. I’m muscling through it a little bit. So I think the things that I’m looking for is that the leadership that is leading the path, right, you have to have leadership bought in and truly, deeply understand why they’re making this shift. That it’s not just for looks or for to check a box; it’s a genuine understanding of why they need to do it, and commitment to it, no matter how hard it gets, or uncomfortable it gets. And they also have to be building with the rest of the team, right?

Like, it has to be done in a participatory-centered process. So the problem that I’m having right now, I’ll just say that, but it’ll help as I’m like, slowly trying to share the story and not like, say it. So the story that I’m dealing with right now is I’m helping a group of people rearrange a process within their organization, in reorganizing that process, their solution was ‘just build it and will make everyone use it’. And it doesn’t, work that way. Right? If they’re saying that they want their team to be more engaged, and they want to feel like they’re attracting new candidates to come and be a part of this team, and they want to stop bleeding their team members so much, well, then we can’t just build it and force them to use it. That’s not the answer, that can’t be the answer. So in order to do that, instead, they need to bring everyone to the table. And if you have a large company that’s like 1000s upon 1000s of 1000s, you can’t have everyone at the table. But you do need representation at the table in order to build it appropriately. And in a way that people can engage with it. So yeah, that was a really long roundabout answer is but basically like, I’m looking for, is the leadership fully genuinely bought-in? Do they have people at every level of a company represented and all of the different demographics that they are serving represented, as well as does their team reflect the people that they’re serving? Right, like those are other things that they do have to take into consideration. And I often see that piece missed up or missing in it.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
That’s a, that’s a great point. Because we often focus on internally, we look internally at what’s happening in the house, so to speak, like we have to fix our house or get our house in order in order to then be able to support others. And that’s critical when we’re working with organizations that are building things and putting them out into the world or creating something that is actually touching and impacting folks around the world. But so many programs focus only onhiring.

Lia James
Yep. And they don’t fully like…

Dédé Tetsubayashi
And they don’t connect to the rest of the organization, overall organizational goals, and it doesn’t connect to the relationships that that organization is relying on building to that be able to impact those communities. And none of the communities that they’re impacting, usually are represented in the program

Lia James
100%, I’ve two really good examples for you. One client I have is a product that serves internationally. And they do hire internationally, but everything is centered around the US. So they do all of their trainings on US time they do any event on us time, they do a lot of things that reference US pop culture, or US norms. And I was actually coaching one of their employees, that’s not US based. And what she shared with me was, we had an internal event that we were doing like a dry run for that would eventually be an external event. And in doing that, they were trying to make these like inclusive games, and we’re testing them and so that, like it also flows with their product. And she said, and it was so hard, because everything that they did was US pop culture. And so any of us who did not grow up in the US didn’t get it like we didn’t even we couldn’t even laugh at the jokes because we didn’t get it like so overhead. And so like a large population of the team members couldn’t participate. And so then imagine what happens then when they go external, they’re supposed to be an international product, and they’re not framing it for international engagement. It’s it’s mind blowing, but it happens all the time. So that’s one example.

The other example is, I worked on a nonprofit, early in 2020, where we were building programs for youth employment, so like state-based youth employment programs, where it helps people get exposed to career opportunities at a young age, especially young kids who might not go on to college, or might not go on to a trade school or something like that. We actually hired youth to help us build out our programs. So we worked with– I mean, it’s the most young people I’ve ever worked with ever, I usually do adult programs. So it was really educational for me. And cool, because they led projects, we hired them to test curriculum, help us write curriculum, give us feedback, and we paid them to also learn, right? We paid them for R&D, because adults make space for like getting paid for R&D. So we gave them space to do research and development, and play, play with technology, play with different equipment, play with different concepts. And we used that and credited them in everything that we build. So like that was a really cool experience. It was probably my very first experience doing something that inclusive. But yeah, those are my two examples that came to mind as you brought that up.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
And I love those two examples, because they indicate how you’re involving different group members or different–if we’re being technical like functionalities,–making sure that everyone is represented and providing some feedback as to how a program can be built to actually meet their needs. You’re getting their input directly from them. It’s not second degree, it’s not third degree research. It’s first degree communication. Right?

Lia James
Yeah.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
And that also makes me wonder in what other aspects have you had the opportunity to help people find their place in doing their work? So for example, like grouping them by decision-makers versus doers or change-makers, leadership, volunteers, of course, like when change is happening from the ground up, or differently by functionalities or by experience as you were saying before; is this one of the first few times that you’ve been able to see that actually in play?

Lia James
I wouldn’t say it is. So I would say it’s the first time it was that inclusive, meaning that I think at every stage of a game, we were everyone on the team was being very mindful of how we built, and being very mindful of how we centered our problem-solving. But it wasn’t necessarily the first time I’ve seen that happen. It was just by far the most inclusive version of it. I mean, I think what’s interesting is almost every group that I’ve ever worked with struggles with identifying who goes into the leadership position, versus who is, you know, a change-maker and a doer and like, where those assumptions come in. And one of the most common threads that I’ve seen is that when I go into work with teams on “Okay, how did you set up this team? How do you get these people in place?” The person who’s the loudest often gets put into a leadership role. And the person that’s loudest is the person that usually feels the most comfortable being loud, because also loud can be mistaken as you are rude, you are disrespectful, you are and those usually, from my experience, from what I’ve seen firsthand, those usually fall “genderly” [along gender-lines] and racially, right, like I know, “genderly” is not a word, but I totally just made that up, and I’m okay with it. So, you know, I see that happen, and it really disappoints me, but it has been a constant in every group that I’ve worked with. I remember this one group I worked with back in late 2017. They were trying to reorganize their team, because they were bringing some new folks on and letting some other people off. And as I sat and I observed their team, they had these two people who identified as men in leadership roles. And then you had this one person who identified as a woman sitting in the back, like the back left corner, and then there was this other person who identified as a man who was like sketching and doodling. But not like, actively contributing until certain points now there are other people around. But these are the four people that stayed very true in my mind, because they were key players. So the two people who were identified as leaders, they definitely facilitated, but they also facilitated a lot of tension, and they facilitated a lot of frustration. And they were really good about stirring up drama and chaos. Whereas the other two who I mentioned, again, not the only people around but these are the four that stood out, the person that I identify as a woman who’s in the back corner, I remember her like very carefully at the end of each section, where she felt comfortable and safe to speak, she would recount certain things and she would like acknowledge, “Hey, I noticed when this happened, this, this also happened. And hey, I noticed when this happened, this also happened.” And she started to bring everyone else into the room, or that was in the room into the conversation. She wasn’t the only speaker, she just facilitated some of the conversation. And then the gentleman who was doodling, similarly, when he spoke, everyone listened, like it was really interesting to feel the energy in the space, sort of like, diffuse as he smoke. Because again, he was able to, like bring everyone in to focus on what they’re doing, as opposed to in the chaos that was happening by the two folks that were identified as the leaders. So it was really interesting. And I give that example, because I see that type of thing show up pretty constantly. We gravitate towards a certain kind of person that we identify as a leader. Those mannerisms or those characteristics aren’t given the same value when you look at people who aren’t showing up the same way that those two gentlemen were. And so they were white-passing, they were men from like middle class. They had come from a very prestigious college. So they had all this studious experience or perception of experience. And so we trust them. We inherently trust them, because society has told us to, but they weren’t the right people for the leaders for the leadership position. So we did reorganize. Those two other folks that I mentioned did end up moving up. One of them was a person of color. One was white, or white-presenting and soit was just interesting how the whole team completely shaped, the dynamics changed drastically, their outputs were better, their customer engagement was better there. team dynamics were better. But I had the owner of the company deeply committed to this work. And that that was part of what made it possible.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
That’s an amazing experience to share. And I something we were talking about before, and I feel like this is brought us actually quite naturally to that is weere the two people who were identified originally as leaders and facilitators, white-presenting or white?

Lia James
Yes, yeah.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
So then how, how can we speak a bit more to how changing the placement, the focus… and decentering their experiences, can be an act of divesting from whiteness?

Lia James
Yeah, I mean, that was a really hard experience to do that part of the process, because it was met with very combative reactions as we tried to do the decentering. We also, at that point, didn’t necessarily use those terms. But it was very clear that that’s what we were doing. Right? And because they weren’t used to that, that discomfort came out in aggression. It came out in a very, like attacking way. It came out in a very, like victimized way. And it was challenging because that then damaged the the rest of the team’s experience through that process. Because you have some folks who are like, “Yeah, okay, this needs to happen”. And then you have other folks that are like, “Why are you hurting my friend? What are we doing here?” And like their fear overcame them and blocked their ability to also decenter. What had to happen for us in that experience was the founder of the company is a white identifying, a white, identifying male. And he had to lead a lot of that process. And also, like, by leading I don’t mean like he was front and center. And like the focus, I mean, that he stepped back. And he created space, that was not white-focused. And he created space to talk about other experiences, like they brought in actually…I thought this was really interesting, that might not be unique, but it was really interesting to watch. They brought in case studies of companies that they had performed well on had not performed well on, or missed opportunities. And they talked about they gave people space to say, if you were running this project, how would you run it and why? And by doing that, it allowed, it to see how to reframe, and I haven’t told the story in a long time. So they allowed, they allowed for people to share their perspective and their lens that they would have problem solved with, by sharing their lived experiences by sharing, like the way that they showed up in their in the world. But not putting them in an uncomfortable spot to be like, This is how all Black people handle this, or this is how all women handle this, or this is how, you know, like it allowed or like, how do you feel in this situation? It was, hey, here’s where I would have handled this. And this is why and this is the impact that I think would have had, and then they’re able to dissect it that way. So I don’t know if that fully achieves what, you know, the full decentering and the full remove… like decentering around whiteness. But I do know that what it did was, I noticed a few people kind of sit back and go, “I would have never thought of that.” And it was a way that they could safely share their opinion and their experience and feel empowered to do that and feel like they weren’t going to be punished by having a different perspective. And I remember one of the questions towards the end of that exercise. One of the white presenting men asked, “Well, why didn’t you show that when we were doing the project?” And I remember, the woman of color said, “Because when I did try to give my perspective, I was shut out immediately.” And like it wasn’t done and like she said that and it wasn’t done in like a a way where it created a battle. It was more like “Yeah, yeah, this”…

Dédé Tetsubayashi
I tried it happened. This was my experience. And yeah, you actually thought deeply enough to ask why did this happen.

Lia James
Yeah. And I mean, like, I can’t say that that’s happened, and multiple my other experiences that was a really beautiful experience where the founder knew there like this needed to change and the Like he was committed to being really uncomfortable, needed, he was put in some uncomfortable situations do like he definitely realized his the role that he played in it as well. But that doesn’t always happen, right? Because not every leader is actually committed to that. Some leaders think they’re just doing it just to be nice. And they don’t really get the value out of that, except out of that, that process. Right.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
And that that makes me also want to ask, what what type of leader do we need in place to be able to do this kind of work to do to do equity work? Well? And is there an organizational structure that is fundamental to doing this work with certain types of leadership?

Lia James
That’s a really good question. I’ve been struggling with this question a lot recently, actually, because I feel like I’ve had some conversations recently that are a bit discouraging, right. Like, I think that the reality of capitalism, the reality of the way that business is structured, it’s designed in a way where we care about the profits. And so if we don’t see the immediate impact on profits, why are we going to slow down to speed up, right? So my whole thing is around, like, let’s slow down to speed up, let’s slow down to speed up. And if they can’t see the direct path from A to B, then they’re not going to do it. And that like narrow sighted, very tunnel vision leader, is incredibly challenging. And I, I’ll jump in a tangent for just a second. But I sent you a tic toc the other day, from a woman who I will look up because I do not remember her name. But I hope we can put her in the in the comments just because she should she deserves this credit. But so she talked about how leaders at a certain level should all have therapist, and as a leadership coach, she makes sure that they have therapist because if they don’t, it’s a red flag to her. Because her line that I think was the most impactful to this question that you’re asking is that she said, “when we’re in really stressful situations are in burnout, we don’t show up how we’re supposed to we show up how we are at our core.” So if you have someone who is in a leadership position, who has never been in a situation of oppression, or has never been in a situation where they have the like personally care about, about making these changes, they’re going to react in their default to your question about what leaders we need in place in order to make this equity work actually happen, it actually stick. I think we need more folks who are more directly tied to the work. We need folks that understand actually how that changes if we’re going to stay in this capitalist world, which is a whole different conversation that we can talk about another time. But if we’re going to stay in that, then you need leaders who understand that that actually can change profits, it actually can meet the bottom line, they can produce the thing that they want. And they can do it so much better. Because they’re poking holes at their product. This is the part that like I love about having equitable environments, is that you you can safely and comfortably like disagree with people, right? You can say, here’s my concern with this problem. And you don’t have to worry that you’re going to be demoted or fired or anything else is going to happen. Because you disagreed with something. Wow, that was a really long, roundabout wayto answer that question.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
And you’re you’re creating the environment within which you’re inviting different experiences, whether that learned experience or lived experience, or acquired experience or or lived experience. You’re inviting the space to actually work with all of the people who usually our second thought or third thought, right? And I’m not even sure if that’s a term but…. They’re not the primary concern. Yeah. When they should be their experiences should be centered, because when we work with them, we’re actually asking the hard questions like, “Well, how do you actually make this thing available to as many people as possible in the ways that they will use it right? In the ways that it actually solves a problem for them?” And if it does, if it’s not solving a problem, why is it on the market in the first place? Why creating it? Right?

Lia James
So a good example of that, when I was talking about earlier than nonprofit where we hired you to be a part of our team. We were working in a market where access to internet is like, the digital divide is very high. Sorry, I want to make sure I said that correctly, the digital divide is really high. And so I think where we were, it’s like 40% of families or households did not have access to the internet. Okay, so when we’re building this product, it had to be built in a way that they could go somewhere to download it. And then they could work offline, and still, like, get all of the features. And so we had a lot of assumptions on how that would happen, or could happen. But it was by way of having the young people who had that experience, and who are in those situations that really changed the way that we built it. And we built it alongside them about how would you engage with us? What would you do? And how would you do it. And I think that lends itself to what you’re saying to, like, in order for, I think, for businesses to be more successful and be more equitable, you have to like, level the playing field. And that doesn’t mean reducing your expectations or your standards, it means like change the way that you’re looking at them. That’s part of why I started doing a lot around skills-based hiring, to reduce credential barriers, to reduce past experience barriers, there’s a lot of transferable skills that come out of a lot of different experiences. Like I worked for a long time with a woman who did work at her local church. And she ran a bunch of community events and did a lot of project management. And she was in a position where she needed something a lot more substantial. She couldn’t do, kind of like piecing together her career anymore, she needed something, but she kept getting rejected from stuff. And when we reorganized the way that she was presenting herself, and like really talk through the tasks and talk through the skill set. She got a job in the tech industry like that, and like doing something she loves with the team that appreciates her, right. But they had to be willing to look past the fact that her last job didn’t say that she was a project manager, but she had all the skills for it. So yeah, you need those people in those leadership positions that that get it and want to get it and want to make these changes.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
And that also connects to to not only a leader who is willing to create the space for that opportunity to happen, they need to create the space so that those that are part of the ecosystem of the organization also understand why this is important. And that, for example, if it’s if it’s around hiring candidates to do a particular role, we have to look at the way that job description is written in the first place. We write it in such a way that it is very, we like to say American-focused and merit-based and it’s not like that system is made specifically for benefiting white men–no one else. Yes. And we continue to do it. Use these criteria that are actually barriers to entry.

Lia James
Absolutely, absolutely. So the way we write those, I say that they’re unicorn posts, right where we write it, because it’s okay for someone that doesn’t exist. And then the person that applies is typically, like you said, though, the white man who has been encouraged to do things that are outside of their comfort zone or like be a stretch for them. And I used to think that stuff was not true. Right. I used to think that wasn’t, that’s not feel until I became a career coach. And then I had stats that you just can’t deny, like I had stats on nine stats on what they were getting offered. And I was blown away. Now that was back in like 2014 When I started doing that work, but it’s still pretty similar. Yeah, it’s really sad. It’s sad, because because there’s so much proof that this needs to change. And there’s so many avenues to make the differences. And so what I started doing, this is a little bit against practice, and that I’ll tell you some cases where it actually is. It’s interesting how different ways it’s shown up. But I started teaching people how to get around the system. I started teaching people how to job search by way of making friends, which obviously doesn’t remove the processes in place, even though I’m working with other companies on doing that. In the meantime, because it’s going to be a long time before those things change. I talk to you How to get around 80 S’s and how to get around the hiring system and make friends with people who are going to make jobs for you. Right, that has its own barriers, right. I also know that that’s not super inclusive. But what happened was because I generally work with women and people of color, is that they do get opportunities with people that they actually want to work with. Right, because they can weed off the people that are being rude to them, people that are being dismissive people that don’t give them the time of day. And then they find people who they vibe with. Now, that also has other implications, because then you get people, generally speaking, who have the same mindset or same, like way of working in the same space. And then we we have another issue internally. But if it’s not happening in massives, which it’s not because I don’t have that big of a range. I wish they did.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
We also we also already have data on the number of women and people of color who are in leadership positions, like who’ve actually been able to make it to that level to have significant enough power to hire others who look and resemble them to match the rates at which it’s already been happening for…. three hundred years? How many of hundreds of years?

Lia James
Hundreds of years…What was interesting was I had a couple of folks reach out to companies that are actually doing hiring, right. And their response was, I’m sorry, we don’t meet the candidates before they apply, because we want to give everyone a fair chance at application. And I don’t know the full inside scoop of those processes. But I’ve heard that they’re really good hiring processes like that they’ve done a really good job of removing as many biases as they can, or recognizing them, right, and like calling attention to that process. So I really, maybe this is my call out to companies that are doing that. I would love to research them. And I’d love to understand how they’re working. Because I look at their teams and they look like they’re they have great representation of different different racial communities on on staff, gender presentation, maybe different backgrounds from like past careers, because yes, I look at people’s LinkedIn for sure. So I mean, I something’s working, but I’m curious if it’s really working internally. But yeah, that’s how I teach people how to get around the system. That’s that’s

Dédé Tetsubayashi
a great call out. And I’d be interested in finding out if you know if we can connect with any of these companies that seem to be getting it right. And yeah, have a conversation, see, what happens? What are they doing that may be working and could work long term? And something that could be sustainable? And if it’s not sustainable? What can we do to actually support them to to get to a sustainable place? Yeah. But that that is also leads me to another question, like, when we’re talking about how to make changes, and the type of structure that you need in place, the type of leadership, at least leadership mindset that you need in place. What other topics of barriers have you experienced? And in particular, for example, what who have you found to be the hardest to convince or get on bar board?

Lia James
You know, no surprise here. But I’m going to do a different direction. Less of like, who is the hardest to get on board, because that I think there’s a lot of articles about that. There’s a lot of profiles on that, that are pretty consistent with what I find too. But what I find the most damaging are usually the most well intentioned people who are like, I’m here for this, I’m doing this. And a lot of times they’re the block. And I’ve been that person, I’ve definitely been that person. And I found out the hard way, like, there were some certain things that I said in the hiring process. And I was really grateful that a colleague called me out on it and said, Hey, you realize like, this was the impact of your words, this was the impact of your actions. And that gave me an opportunity to adjust right now, that doesn’t always happen. Because what I have found is sometimes with the most well intentioned person, and I’ll be specific when I say well intentioned person, more times than not, it’s a white woman or a white man, when they have good intentions and they want to diversify their team or they want to build a more equitable team. Their emotions do often get in the way. And when you correct it, it’s usually met with some sort of reaction like you’re accusing me of that, like that’s what I felt my whole career and life around. And so that makes it really challenging to adjust behaviors or to influence a team to make these adjustments because they’re so emotional about their character being put into question because they believe they’re doing all these things that are actually going to make a big difference. And in reality, they’re, they’re really harmful. I see it happen a lot, where people in those positions, talk about groups of people very like broadly. And like, we’re here to help them. And it’s like, hold on, hold it back, roll it back, please. Like, do you know anyone from these from these groups that you are broadly stereotyping? And do you actually know, what you like, what the impact of your work is? Or what you try to do? Like? How about, it’s not about you and what you’re trying to do? And open it up for other people to design the system? I don’t know, that just kind of makes me icky. Sometimes, when people talk about other groups, in ways and like, give them characteristics or experiences, and you’re like, I don’t, you don’t actually know that to be true.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Right. My favorite is those who are well intentioned, and as you clearly call it out, who are also either white presenting, or white men and women, well intentioned, have enough of a background to to actually have a conversation and around what it would mean to build for equity or equitable outcomes. And yet, and yet, because a lot of their experience is learned or acquired, they can make some really, really big blunders around what the experiences of other people who actually have lived through the work are coming to the table with I absolutely love it when people tell me Oh, I don’t understand what liberatory design is, or like the concept behind it. I’m just, I’m like, I’m blown away. And I’m like, wait, truly, truly like, because right now you’re coming off as a missionary, rather than someone who has all the intentions of having a conversation and listening deeply about what it is that these communities need that I need that my communities need, instead of listening to me, or anyone who is a representative of that community.

Lia James
I’m so glad that you gave that example, I was hoping that that would come up. I really was because it’s so it’s, it’s so important. And I remember, you know, you, you, you helped me understand that just recently, right, like, I was using the word, the phrase human-centered design, and you’re like, hang on, is that really what you mean? And like, can I break it down for you? And, and like, I mean, just the the learning that happened there, and also the realization, and I am not surprised by what I learned. The fact that you are being corrected on something is like, “What?!” I’m sorry. No, I don’t know, it just, it’s so frustrating to hear that happen.

Um, so I’ve been trying to think about this story the whole time, we’ve been talking because I think it’s so relevant. So growing up, I had a group of friends where I was the only white person in the group. I’m still really good friends with this group of friends from home. And back before the pandemic, I was sitting in our living room. And we’re talking about different ways to do this table series. Before it like came to fruition for I built the table before, whatever. And I was talking about how all these different things that I wanted to create. And you know, like my business ideas, they just come out of a hat like this. Right? So we’re just horsing around. We’re talking about the table series and kind of having a table series script, except for the fact that we’re all friends. And I was saying how one of my dreams was to create a tiny home community where it was specifically for women coming out of domestic situations. And I said, you know the concept it takes a village to take care for a family. And I was like, this is a great way for people to have ownership and part of them can be Airbnb-able and like they can own them. And this whole thing had this whole vision, right? And one of the women stopped me and she was in a domestic abuse situation years ago, and her kids are a product of that situation, and she lives in mid to low income neighborhood. And I mean, she is one of the hardest working people I know. And like actually just recently opened a coffee shop that’s like pace, like sliding scale, like the whole thing. She’s incredible. And she says to me, she goes, I don’t agree with that, and I have a lot of concern with what you’re trying to create, like you have good intentions, you have very good intentions in that, like, you want to do something kind for people that for whatever reason you’re feeling your heart strings are tied to. But what I would love to see instead is if you can put houses together that are a mixture of women coming out of these situations with high net worth folks with low income folks with, you know, like the old concept of like a mixed income neighborhood, but like, she took it whole new level–whole new level. And she was explaining all these things. And she was like, and I said, like a mixed income neighborhood. And like, I went on to say as if if she didn’t know, this was like, the very rude moment of me, I was like, you know, like, in theory, they sound great, but like they don’t actually work because you have this, like, very big gap of people from high net worth, that don’t want to be in a low income neighborhood in a low income neighborhood, then or the mixed income becomes low income and and then what if you have people who are coming out of domestic abuse situations, and they’re around other people who are abusive, and like, there’s all these problems, and she was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Here’s another way to think about it.

And so she started talking about like, the idea that the way that it’s approached right now, as you’re thinking very much is like what certain folks can do for other people, rather than how it’s a mutually beneficial situation, and how like you can learn, everyone has something to learn from each other. And the way she went on to describe it was so beautiful. And I use it often when I think about teams. And I use that often when I think about products. And I think about how we’re bringing everyone to the table to have these conversations. Like when you have someone who is like I did, speaking very broadly about a group of people that they’re not a part of building for that population, people think you’re doing something really good for them. And obviously, good intentions. But the impact of that was not helpful, the impact of that actually, was probably could have been harmful if I didn’t have the right people around me. And the way that she was able to speak to her personal experience and what she wished she had been around and what she wished she’d been exposed to and she wish she had had access to. And then also what she could contribute to the situation was incredible. And like, I mean, just changed the way that I thought about all areas that I show up in and learning how to stop talking when I shouldn’t be talking and like, let like not let that’s not fair. But like back off when other people should be the ones building.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Do the deep listening. Yeah, Mm hmm. Yeah. And be the partner when it’s time to be the partner.

Lia James
Exactly like support, be the ally be like, “What can I contribute to, to help out? Or is it nothing? Like, is it just me just sitting here like listening and processing? And having your back? Okay, or are there other skills that I can contribute to? What you’re working on?”

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Correct. I love that example. Um, and I don’t think it’s as cringe as you thought it was, especially since you know, you actually listen to your friends. And thank goodness that you had a friend who felt safe enough to be able to share that with you, and that you received it well. And hopefully, this is something that can come to fruition at some point, but at least you’re able to have a conversation and come to an understanding of Oh, you’re right. Like I don’t actually know how to do this. I haven’t been in this situation maybe. And I should probably listen to somebody who has been in a similar situation. You know that that is such an important story. And I love it because it is exactly what I try to showcase in the work that I do with incluu. When we work with teams who are building again, like products that impact people around the world, we don’t think about people who don’t have accessibility to that product, we don’t think about people who have differential access to that product and how that access is different. And in what ways fundamentally that can hurt or harm them. We don’t think about how we can bring them into the conversation. And we already have such amazing use cases or case studies of building for people with the least amount of access like if we use the ADA, which is coming up on what the 30th anniversary, I want to say 31st.

Lia James
Yeah, something like that, it’s an offical adult.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
The changes that we’ve been able to make because of that the ADA are useful for everyone. Everyone, not just people with disabilities. And yet, when we do center, people with disabilities with differential access with lower socio economic ability to access, whatever it is we’re putting out to the world. And when we center those who are experiencing the most harm, or inequity, then we’re getting closer to building with everyone for everybody, right? Like, there’s just no way that we can ever build something from a place. That’s a silo, as though humans are lone wolves are their own individual islands, everything we do, everything that makes us who we are, is dependent on other people, other cultures, other languages. And without that collaboration, like Who are we? And what are we doing? What are we doing?

Lia James
100%? Oh, my gosh, that was so beautifully said. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes, yes. Plus One, two, all of that. That’s, I mean, remember the talk that you and I both have done around like being coated out. Like that’s, that speaks to that, completely. The more high tech we’re getting, the more exclusive it’s getting, the more people are being eliminated from the conversation, the experience, and I hope that we’ll see that shift. I hope we’ll see. Some people make some really drastic moves around technology and how they’re building and centering people who are often pushed out of the experience. I think, I think we have a lot of work to do to get there. But it’s people like you, you’re doing a good work that.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Bring it on, bring it forth, we need a table. Another table? Yes. So in all, in all of that work, what we haven’t actually talked about as much is data and how important data is how, what it is that we’re trying to achieve, like we create numbers around we use numbers to determine whether we’re successful, but we don’t necessarily use numbers from the get-go to determine what is it that we’re actually trying to do in terms of effecting change? Yeah, whose information are we gathering? Are we gathering everyone’s information equally, equitably? With privacy in mind, you know, of course, making sure that we’re keeping people safe. But of course, when we’re trying to hire when we’re trying to create a product, when we’re launching our product, when we’re increasing our inclusion and diversity in our ecosystem, we are starting from a place of lack or null, we know that we recognize that, and yet, we don’t actually have enough information about who we’re leaving behind, because we’ve left them behind, right. And yet, we don’t think about how to actually start to bring in those folks. Yeah, not where they are, like, if they’ve reached out to us in the past, at which point have we let them down? Or have they lost trust in us? Because we haven’t responded? That information we are not capturing? So for me, I think capturing all that data is fundamental to having successful DEI practices. But I’d love to invite you to talk more about that, like how has your vision your experience been with that?

Lia James
Yeah. Oh, my gosh, I’m so glad that you’re asking about data because it’s so important. I mentioned earlier in our conversation that I didn’t used to believe that these gaps really existed, right? I talked about that. Because it’s it’s, it’s an important blind spot. And I’ve had this conversation with so many people since that they used to tell me, and I’ll talk about how I learned that I was wrong. But I’ve had conversation with people sense that say, Well, if they belonged at the table, they’d be there like they would have the interview or they would like if they have the credentials or they have the skills they would be in the interview. They’d have the job and it’s not true. And so helping people understand that does take data data is challenging because especially right now, so many people are questioning data, because you can make data tell the story you want to. And so I think we need to approach it with a different lens when we do data. I don’t know the answer to that. But I know there needs to be a different way. So I was talking about back in 2014, where I was doing a lot of this early career changing work, I was working with technical boot camps, helping people come from non technical backgrounds into tech. And I was helping them navigate getting the job. So before that job, I did not believe there were as large gaps as there were in hiring practices, large gaps in salary offerings, any of it, I just like, No way. And then I got into it. And the numbers are unreal, like, we tracked everything, because we just did. And this was before we had a requirement to track these things. So we tracked everything. And we found that like the, the number of men getting jobs after our program, versus the number of women, and then you add on any other like intersectionality, like with your race, or your education background, or your past experiences, your press jobs, etc, etc. And those numbers get smaller and smaller and the offers, I had a really hard time believing that someone would offer one person something, and then turn around and offer the same job, same thing for a much lower price. But it happened. And we tracked it because I looked at every single offer that came through to our students, because they had to come to me, we talked about it, and we’d like learn how to negotiate together. And if it weren’t for tracking that, like I noticed it, I noticed the trend. And I was like that’s weird. And then I pulled the numbers. And and I don’t remember them now because it’s been since 2014. But I mean, like large gaps, like there was like, I think men to women was like a 40 or 35% difference, like getting jobs overnight. And then I think black women, I think were our, our lowest for getting jobs. And then I remember I had a woman who was a black presenting, she identified as part of the LGBTQ community. And her background was in a part of town, like her address, and her her like work previously. So even if she took over address it still see where she’s worked was in a part of town that was seen as like a crime ridden part of town. So those biases came into play. But, you know, if again, like if it weren’t for the fact that we are tracking that information, I could have had these one off stories for you. But I wouldn’t understand how consistent it was, and how consistent that continued to be. And like when you report it, you don’t want it to look like it’s your fault. So I remember certain folks trying to tell the story differently or trying to find different ways to tell the story and trying to explain why it was this way. And I was like no, actually, we just need to report it because this is this is bad. And like, I’m not reporting it to point fingers, I’m pointing reporting it because we need to make a change. And we need to do something drastically in order to make sure that this isn’t continued. You know, why? Why do companies still not track their demographics and release their salary data? I don’t think there’s a surprise there. I think we all know why.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Yes, because they don’t look good.

Lia James
They don’t. f you follow the TIkTok or the Instagram or the Twitter threads where people are releasing their salaries, it’s pretty clear where the money is going and where it’s not going and why that data is super important. Yeah, I can change a system a situation or a process.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Mm hm. And of course, then how that data is used is so vitally important, who has access to that data is also really, really important. It’s, I believe, necessary for many companies if they’re not already collecting that data to be able to do so but hand it off to a third party person so that like you said, people aren’t trying to use the data to tell a story that’s not true. Or to tell a story that makes them look bad. are not necessarily because they’re at fault. It’s not that they’re at fault, but it indicates that changes need to be made. And if they’re not ready to, to reconcile with that, then they’ll play around with it to tell a different story. So I think it’s really important for for companies to have someone external, an external party, who is gathering this information, and also doing it in a manner that keeps the people whose information is being gathered safe. Yeah, we don’t want that information.

Lia James
Ah, yes, the safety piece is, I think, a really key part of it. So okay, so I’m primarily based in Baltimore. Baltimore is I think, reported 60%, black, I believe. And it was at a big industry event for advertising. And I remember afterwards, they were saying how much more diverse it was from the previous year, and how much work they had done and how great it was. And I remember thinking, for me at the same event, because it was definitely predominantly white. And I think like, it was a white presenting, I’m sorry. And I think I saw a handful of people of color. And it was predominantly women. And it was, I don’t think I saw anyone with a visible disability. Okay, so that doesn’t mean there weren’t people there with disabilities, but were the visible one. So I’m thinking, Where are we getting our information? Like, how are we? How are we like, like basing this this success? What does that look like? And I started asking these questions. And I remember them being like, well, it just, it felt like did you see this person or this person? Like, uh huh. But he was saying I was like, we need to start like, here’s where tracking and actually setting metrics of what success looks like, because they set out for this mission of diversifying this organization, diversifying the board and diversifying all these things. But they didn’t have any meaning behind it. And they didn’t have any metrics to track what that looked like they didn’t have like, nothing was like wrapped around it, in order to actually track that change. And in a city, where you have 60% black people and you you did not have that same turnout at your event, there’s an issue. And if you’re not tracking so that you can start making those steps forward, and so that you can start seeing that progress more than what your perspective thinks you’re seeing, right, then like, there’s not going to be changed, there never will be changed, because we’re going to stay in the same spot. You’re not forced to do anything,

Dédé Tetsubayashi
They’re not forced to do anything, they’re not forced to actually see that the way that they’re hiring is, is a manner that is just a repeating pattern recognition. Like they’re hiring folks who look and feel like them, who could have grown up with them, or who could be their neighbors or a brother or a sister, or a family member. We hire what looks and feels like us. To us. We pattern recognize that’s just who we are as humans, right? But yeah, being aware of that, and then taking the necessary steps to mitigate that propensity that we have as humans, because I mean, there’s no really any other option because we can’t 100% Get rid of any of our biases. We’re cultured beings. But being aware of that is critical. And then setting up the steps to mitigate what we would tend to do when we work in silos is absolutely necessary. Yeah.

Lia James
Cannot agree more. I love these conversations,

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Me too. Now, we just need a table in the middle. On the next podcast. Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining today. Is there anything that you would like to share with us before we sign off for today?

Lia James
No, I just I really appreciate you having me. And it was a pleasure talking with you as it always is. And I’m so grateful to be connected to you and being able to be a part of all the work that you do and the impact that you have. And thank you so much for having me.

Dédé Tetsubayashi
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure looking forward to the next time hopefully in person. And that concludes this episode of playspaces Roundtable. Thank you, everyone.

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