Take The Lead’s annual Power Up Conference tackled Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) virtually this year. Pointing out the fact that we had a double pandemic in 2020-2021, Gloria Feldt, co-founder and President of Take The Lead, reminded us that four million women left their jobs last year, causing a second crisis. She set the tone for the virtual conference by asserting that Take The Lead is about action, not talk, and the focus of the conference was to be what we could all do to change leadership into a culture of inclusion. Emphasizing the intersection of race and gender bias, discrimination and inequity, each speaker addressed different aspects of the inequality pandemic from company actions to personal feelings that can overcome the impact of this pandemic and create momentum toward Take The Lead’s mission to prepare, develop, inspire and propel leadership parity by 2025.
Gloria interviewed the first speaker, John Yang, President and Executive Director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), who identified himself as “an accidental civil rights lawyer” because he is an immigrant and “was undocumented for a time.” Gloria’s interview with John highlighted the work of AAAJ, which has five offices in different cities. In Washington, D.C., where John Yang works, they litigate policy that might harm Asian Americans – like fighting against the requirement for checking citizenship status on the most recent census form, which didn’t get enacted. John said what we need most of all to stop violence and prejudice against Asian Americans is to change the narrative and make sure that the Asian story gets told correctly. He listed two stereotypes that Americans possess that hurt Asian Americans: 1. They are treated as foreigners and 2. They are thought to be a model minority. He explained that while most of them are doing well overall, many are suffering and they get lost in the stereotypes. Asian American women suffer from the “bamboo ceiling” that keeps them from advancing. In general, they are less likely to fight back, because if they do, they are viewed as the “Dragon Lady,” but if they don’t, they are viewed as the meek Asian woman stereotype. John said employers must recognize people’s strengths regardless of their race or background and view diversity as a “tossed salad” instead of a melting pot that blends the differences and creates one standard. Companies do better with diverse leadership and need to recognize and engage the differences that make us work better together.
Pardis Mahdavi, Dean of Social Sciences, Professor and Director of the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, urged everyone to become a JEDI and explained how “Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Makes Diversity Work.” JEDI thinking moves beyond traditional diversity and inclusion work by putting justice out front and making everyone in an organization responsible for becoming a JEDI, not just Human Resources or the DEI officer. Her JEDI project is an action framework that provides structure for enacting JEDI and creating an ecosystem where change can succeed and take root. Pardis outlined ways to create that ecosystem by requiring diversity statements from everyone as part of their job descriptions, job applications, and for promotions, and getting everyone in the company on the same anti-racist page through reading and discussion groups, etc. She also included checklists to keep companies accountable throughout the JEDI process with three and five year checkups to make sure they stay on track and apply it to the metrics of the companies’ success. As with the “Star Wars” Jedis, JEDI engages a force and inspires a movement with specific actions to make change to benefit everyone, change the company culture at its root and “create a society where we all thrive.”
Our own Dr. Nancy O’Reilly discussed “Racial Healing” with Felica Davis, CEO of Joyful Transformations. Felicia explained that bias and discrimination is communicated in several ways including “vibes, images, meaning, behavior, aspect, and sensory.” Years of receiving these negative messages create race-based trauma and it has a cumulative effect that gets trapped in the body and causes illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Dr. Nancy described her own experience as a victim of gender discrimination when she pursued her college degrees and was accused of stepping out of the accepted mother-wife role with comments like, “Who do you think you are?” The experience propelled her to get her degrees and eventually found her organization, Women Connect4Good, Inc., with the specific mission of supporting other women. Both she and Felicia emphasized the need to treat your own bias-induced trauma with self-care. Felicia faced so much trauma in 2020 with the loss of her father and almost losing her husband that she took a sabbatical to heal herself. As a psychologist, Dr. Nancy advised turning off the negative messages, like TV and social media, and focusing on what is really important in your life, then practicing meditation as a neurologic component of healing. Felicia said that racial healing is for all of us. White people feel shame and denial and Black people suffer from a system that traumatizes them from birth. The key to igniting positive change is awareness and education on the effects of biases and discrimination, how these attitudes and behaviors cause trauma, and how we can combat it to heal ourselves and others. Dr. Nancy referenced the title of her recent book, In This Together, which says it all. We are ALL in this together. Focusing on our relationships with one another and respecting our unique gifts will help us heal racial trauma and create a culture of inclusion.
So “What’s Next?” A panel that addressed the issue for “how to build DEI intentionally into work” followed, and five diversity and inclusion experts added their perspectives about the need for listening, not being deaf and blind to any one voice, and bringing everyone to the table, especially the under-represented. And most of all, Marc McKenna-Coles of Spotify said, “We need inclusion and belonging first before we can get diversity.”
Other presentations outlined specifics required to “Power Up” and ignite the intentional leader for DEI. Stefanie Francis and Jose Delgado from Hootology gave statistics to support “The Business Case for Supplier Diversity.” While most people value companies supporting diversity, few know anything about supplier diversity. However, there are a few companies that have incorporated supplier diversity and have used it to cultivate marketing in brand favorability and lift perceived value. Brielle Elise Valle, who consults for middle management, focused on the women’s plight during COVID-19, citing that loss of women in the workforce put us back at 1988 levels of employment. Her solution for reaching equality requires women to stop defaulting to responsibility. Husbands and partners are not helping enough with child-care and household work. The “stark divide between men and women” has conditioned women to believe that these tasks are their responsibility as women. Brielle invited us to read her book, Default to Responsibility, for details on how to undo this conditioning and move ourselves to equity.
Take The Lead produces the Power Up conference annually. Each year people who attend agree that these conferences excel in inspiring and informing on time-sensitive issues that can transform the way we do business, access our power to make change and define which changes will create the most momentum for equity in the workplace. Watch for the Power Up conference in 2022 and check out more offerings from Take The Lead at their website, TakeTheLeadWomen.com.