LCW Consultant and host Larry Baker continues our Courageous Conversation series with a discussion on the Black community’s experience in the time since the murder of George Floyd, what this moment has meant in the context of the Black experience in America, and what can continue to be done to move towards a more equitable society.
Larry is joined by guests, Bernard C. Coleman III (Chief Diversity and Engagement Officer, Gusto), Judith Harrison (Executive Vice President, Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Weber Shandwick), and Amberley Smith (Diversity and Inclusion Program Lead, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation) for a rich conversation reflecting on their personal, professional, and societal experiences and insights.
Listen to the conversation below (Run time – 47:16) or scroll down for the full transcript.
Show Notes & Highlights
9:32: Bernard speaks on the unique societal moment that surrounded the murder of George Floyd
13:27: Amberley discusses the dual identities she balances as both a DEI practitioner and a Black woman
23:57: Judith names the power in letting others know it’s okay not to be okay
18:35: Bernard reflects on how the pendulum of history has swayed over time
21:31: Judith discusses why society is primed in this moment to move the “arc of the moral universe” towards justice
33:21: Amberley talks about what it means to foster connection across communities
40:00: Judith speaks on the duality of optimism and hopelessness that is felt in this moment
42:30: Bernard tells us what it means to provide grace and space
44:10: Amberley explains how DEI work necessitates a top-down approach
Larry Baker: Hello everyone. And welcome to the Culture Moments podcast. I’m your host, Larry Baker. And I’m thrilled to have you join us for our second season called Courageous Conversations with LCW in these episodes, you’ll hear from a panel of guests, from specific communities offering a range of perspectives on the past year, we’ll hear about their own experiences as well as their insights on what’s changed and more importantly, what needs to change to move equity forward.
As we all know so much has shifted and changed over the past year and a half. And for many of us, we’re still in recovery from a very rough 2020.
We have a special session today that includes a panel of guests. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get everyone together, but in the age of COVID, everyone must learn to adapt, to accommodate each other. Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have two excellent guests, Judith Harrison, and Bernard Coleman on the call together.
Our team at LCW has conducted a separate interview with Amberly Smith, and we will add her thoughts into this conversation to provide us with better insights into the following questions: What’s changed since the murder of George Floyd and the conviction of Derrick Chauvin? And then we’ll dig into what the Black community believes needs to change to make sure that true justice happens.
Judith. I will begin with you.
Judith Harrison: Thank you so much, Larry. I am delighted to be here. I’m Judith Harrison, Executive Vice President of Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Weber Shandwick, which is a leading communications firm. I have been there for 16 years or so, and our mission at the firm at this point and going forward is to become the most anti-racist and inclusive agency in our industry.
And in the broader marketing communications industry as a whole. And so everything that I do in terms of my work with employees in terms of our reputation management, as we do it with DE&I is all about trying to reach those goals so that we really can be the organization that we aspire to be.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much for that Judith and Bernard, you have the floor.
Bernard C. Coleman III: Thanks, Larry. I’m glad to be here with you all today. My name is Bernard Coleman. I’m the chief diversity and engagement officer at Gusto. Gusto is a – basically, we’re here to empower a better life. And what we mean by that is helping small business and medium medium-sized businesses win by providing payroll services, HR services, and connecting small businesses with the things they need to be successful. So that way they can focus on building their business.
I’ve been at Gusto about almost two years. And part of my role is employee engagement and thinking about the full entire employee life cycle. That’s – how do we invite someone attracted to our organization, onboard them, engage them, help them progress in, and hopefully have an enhanced experience while they’re at Gusto.
And the way we look at us through this, what would we call the RISE perspective. And that stands for representation, inclusion, social impact. And I think that touches on every part of the employee life cycle. Impact the totality of that experience inside and out. So I’m glad to be here with you all
Larry Baker: And last, but certainly not least, Amberley, please introduce you.
Amberley Smith: Thank you so much, Larry. My name is Amberley Smith. I was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. Its nick named the rocket city. I moved to New York about 10 years ago to pursue my childhood dream of working in the fashion industry. I worked in the fashion industry for about seven years, doing a myriad of different things, including sales to licensing to PR.
And then I finally settled with doing production. I worked in fashion jewelry production for about five years. And then after that, I decided that I really wanted to devote the next chapter in my life to helping people and trying to make a difference in the world. So then I decided to pursue a career in diversity and inclusion, and I’ve been loving it ever since.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for that introduction, Amberley. And where do you work at again, if you want to share with the audience, let them know that as well.
Amberley Smith: Sure thing. I am the Diversity and Inclusion program lead at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.
Larry Baker: That is a mouthful. I just wanted to sure I didn’t have to say that.I wanted to make sure that I passed that over to you. So thank you so much for doing that.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter. My first question to you is, and you could take it from a personal perspective, and then maybe if you want to transition it into your work environment, that is absolutely fine as well.
But I want to know, what is the past year been like for you?
Judith Harrison: It has deep sigh. It has been a rollercoaster emotionally to be quite honest. You know, the murder of the George Floyd was something that I think was particularly difficult because we saw someone being lynched in front of our eyes. That is exactly what it was for nine and a half minutes. I have never, in my life seen that level of cruelty.
I’ve read about things, but to see it struck me in a way that nothing has before. And it struck my entire organization in that same way. There was a shock and a heaviness that came about because of that. And in the wake of that murder, which as you recall, closely followed the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
And there were so many in the news at roughly that same time that it was that sort of cumulative impact that really got us. And so in the wake of that, that particular murder, I did a series of 21 town hall meetings with Weber Shandwick folks, mostly in North America, but I did Amia as well because I wanted to see how people were processing, what had happened and what we could do to support them, because I knew it was incredibly difficult.
And I will tell you one of the things that came out of that, that was so hopeful as far as I was concerned… and that is that people started to share things that were incredibly personal, that I did not anticipate sharing their experiences, their fears, and that started to create an incredibly connected community – the likes of which I had not seen and certainly had not anticipated.
So in that way, there was this horrific horrific piece of news that was the kernal of the beginning of a transformation for us. So from that perspective, it was something that we could build on, but horrifying, nonetheless.
I will also say that one of the things that came out of it was that I wanted to be really sure that we were taking care of our Black employees in particular at that time, because I felt that people were suffering from collective trauma because there was no way not to. So I created, a series of EAP sessions specifically for Black employees, with EAP specialists who were trained in dealing with collective trauma, because I wanted to make that available to people so that they could really not only express themselves, but figure out how to sort of grow and to get to a better state mentally than they might have been at. So I think that that was really helpful also. And that was just the beginning.
Larry Baker: Thank you so much for that Judith. So Bernard, I’m going to give you the opportunity to respond to the same question. Tell me what’s the past year been like for you.
Bernard C. Coleman III: My sentiment is going to sound very much the same. It has been a roller coaster. I think what’s been difficult is when you are of a historically excluded group, there’s the personal impact, but then you have to have the professionalism to show up at work.
And I always find that having to carry those two could be difficult, particularly, as Judith pointed out, seeing George Floyd murdered, I’ve never seen anything like that either. And, you know, you might, you almost lose hope and you’re like, I can’t believe this is happening for the world to see.
But I think from that moment, and because of COVID, we’re locked in our houses for quarantining, we’re doing all these things. You couldn’t turn away like you could before, where you could be… well, I’m going to go on vacation and not have to look at that. And I think it may be. The us the world look and see what was actually going on and focus for once.
And so of that terrible moment and of all the Black murders of last year that it continued to happen, there was a moment for us to truly reflect. And I, as a practitioner, this is the first time I think I’ve ever seen this level of conversation. And I think to that point, it allowed us for a moment of opportunity at Gusto.
I mentioned earlier that we, we operate on the what we call RISE – representation, inclusion, social impact, and equity. That conversation began in earnest in 2019. And by having that conversation, I think we were better equipped to grapple with what we saw, as opposed to you know we saw lots of organizations – and I’m not naming and blaming anyone, everyone processes things differently – but you know, you saw performative actions.
You saw organizations take a lot of actions, but were they the meaningful ones? It allowed us to, because our leaders are further along and we’d already talked about RISE and then we have something called the rise and shine learning journeys, where we have them read certain books, like say, you want to talk about race and mental hearts the memo… We had read these books first. And so they were further along, which made it easier when we had the larger conversation as a leadership team about what are, what are we going to do and organize and much, like you said, like we did, you know, we did put out the EAPs, we use a vendor called modern health that has helped people through those sessions.
We increased the amount of our sessions because we realized people were dealing with emotional trauma and just seeing so much in grappling with so much. And along with the courageous conversations. Now we, along that line of thinking, we create a subject called RISE Conversations. Actually, they’re called RISE Bites.
So we have four different journeys for our RISE journeys. So, you know, like this more intensive three-month journey where we talk and read the books, we have a lighter weight version, which is like you’re doing one each month. And then you have RISE circles where you can self-study that the RISE bites.
We’ve been instrumental in some programing we’re running still today. So every Tuesday we have a conversation on things related to the spectrum of DE&I. And what we’ve found is it creates greater community and connection and greater conversation on the things that we just didn’t learn about, we didn’t talk about and we’re actually bringing to the forefront at work.
And I think it’s our way of creating more education and awareness for our staff. I think has been incredibly important in terms of acknowledging what happens outside your doors will naturally come inside. You just can’t expect like, you know, if I were walking outside and my shoes are dirty, that I’m not going to track that into my house and the way we’ve approached this as having these deeper conversations.
And I think that the response that we’ve heard from our staff is like, I’ve never talked about this at work. I think that makes people feel more connected. And I think when you’re working in a remote fashion, that community connection is incredibly important that people are going to feel that bond to that organization.
So on the personal level was, it was painful, but on the larger level, it was a teaching moment of epic proportion.
Larry Baker: Amberly, can you share your thoughts next?
Amberley Smith: That’s a really good question, Larry. And it’s a little hard for me to answer just because I always consider the both, the two hats. On one hand, I am a DE&I practitioner working to make sustainable changes in my company.
And then on the other hand, I am a Black woman experiencing some of the things that I’m working hard to change. So whenever questions. Yes. So, you know, whenever questions like these come up, I like to try to answer with both sides. I like to think of it as kind of like my left brain and my right brain are having a debate with each other in real time.
So I’ll say on the Black woman side, last year, you know, we saw a lot of Black IG squares. There were a lot of protests. There were a lot of promises being made by a lot of different companies and I’m not sure if they followed up on it as aggressively as they spoke out about it last year. And so, you know, I feel like on that side, there’s a little bit of skepticism, because you know, with the Black community, we’ve been given a lot of promises that have not… they’ve been pretty fruitless in a sense.
But then on the D&I side, I have to say I also understand the protocol that you have to follow when you’re trying to implement change. And there’s so many different things to consider. And you know, there’s a lot of kind of legal red tape, because a lot of HR things that you have to think about. And then on top of that, we’re basically trying to undo something that has been ingrained into a system.
So that’s something that just takes so long. And when I try to give people an example, I think of you know, growing up being right-handed your whole. And then all of a sudden, someone tells you, okay, now are you have to start using your left hand. And you know, that’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort and work in order to change and a lot of, you know, concerted effort to change.
So that’s just something that’s very difficult. So now that I am on the other side of really trying to work to make a change, I understand how much patience you have to have and how you are not going to have overnight success. Right? So I would have to say like, you know, as a full answer, I don’t see tangible change just yet, but I do see a lot of concerted effort.
I do consider that to be at least progress where people are really trying. So, you know, I’m just trying to make sure that I maintain my patience with that as well as do the work on my side.
Larry Baker: So I want to stick with a thing that you talked about towards the end, when you were specifically talking about the role that you play as a DE&I practitioner, and you were talking about companies.
So let’s expound on that a little bit. We know that many companies, they have made these promises towards greater racial equity last year. And you touched upon something that was going towards some of the tangible changes that you’ve observed, but I want to get, from your opinion, what do you really think needs to be done, from your perspective?
Amberley Smith: From my perspective? Well, I will say that I do have to kind of go back and say that I have seen some tangible changes such as even though I don’t work in the fashion industry anymore. I do tend to still keep tabs on it. And as we know, you know, the fashion industry has had some of the biggest mishaps when it comes to D&I.
But, one thing that I’ve seen lately is a designer named Aurora James created an organization called the 15% Pledge. And since Black people make up about 15% of the U S population, her organization is calling on retailers to commit to at least 15% of shelf space for Black owned businesses.
And so, you know, I think that that is something that is really great and something that is tangible and something that can continue because you know, it kind of holds companies accountable for the things that they promise. So I do feel like that is something that is really good.
As far as other things that companies can do…I think that companies just really need to work on learning from other’s mistakes. Sometimes when I look at some of the things that companies do, it’s basically a broken record of something that some other company did. So, you know, I’m just kind of looking at it, like, why didn’t you learn from, from their mistakes?
You know, why weren’t you paying attention? And I feel like sometimes when that happens, it can come off as you just, you were careless. You weren’t really that committed to this because you allowed that to happen, even though this happened before. So, I definitely think that that’s something that companies need to start working on a little better.
Larry Baker: I’ll toss it over to you. Bernard. What do you have to say about this same time?
Bernard C. Coleman III: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, that pendulum definitely does swing. You know, we saw that after the civil war there’s reconstruction and Jim Crow, and that was a long, a long period of time. Now we’re at an interesting point where we’ve already talked about how this has been the greatest inflection point that I’ve ever seen in my years of people actually having a real conversation about what’s going on and not kicking the can or sweeping it under the rug.
So I’m hopeful in the sense that we can keep and sustain this level of conversation. Some of the structural constraints that we have before as Black folks, aren’t there. Like we have greater opportunity to express and share so people can see.
Before, a camera man or something had to capture that a moment to even prove that that was true. So the evidence is there and you could say, you know, that’s not real that and that argument doesn’t fly anymore. So I think we have greater tools to be advocates for ourselves and for others.
Also I think, you know there’s that Martin Luther king Jr. quote… in the arc of history and the arc of time, we are arguably in a better place, have worked 50 years ago. And I’m going to assume we’re going to be in a better place 50 years from this point, it’s just managing our expectations. That change does not happen quickly.
So what I see is by having this level of conversation, I would think that a younger generation that was coming up are having these conversations, having these realities versus flattening out, perhaps in college or when they get to the workforce, but I would argue it’s too late.
By having those conversations earlier, we can have more honest conversations. And I think that allows us not to waste the time that we lose. And we pretend that this does not happen. So I’m hopeful because I think that you can’t unsee what you’ve seen.
And I think about my three daughters, they’re going to be better equipped to deal with it. They’re gonna be better equipped to advocate for themselves and be better equipped to advocate for others. And that would help that I would see that in the workplace and that we would see positive movement.
And even though that pendulum will try to swing back the other way, I don’t think it will be as severe as it has been in the past because we have better tools, better conversation. We’re better equipped to handle these conversations in the future. So I’m hopeful for my kids. I don’t think that I’ll see it immediately, but I’m glad that I can play a part in trying to influence a better.
Larry Baker: Absolutely. Judith, same question to you.
And, you know, I interact with you almost on a weekly basis, so I know that you have that hope and that inspiration. So I’m going to give you an opportunity. What hope or what insights can you offer about the future?
Judith Harrison: I want to build on something that Bernard said that I think is so true and, and sort of add something to it.
Martin Luther King said something like the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. Absolutely true. But we have to work day and night to push that arc, to bend the little faster than it would ordinarily. And I think that we are in a moment right now where people are primed to do that more than ever before.
So I find that, I find that extraordinarily hopeful in this time. Going back to the conversations that I’ve had with people, and I’m talking about group conversations with 200 and 300 people at a time where, you know, they are just crying and talking about these things that are so difficult. They’re forging bonds that would never have happened before.
We have had DEI committees in our organization, in every office, in North America, for years. I can’t even remember how many, but that is spreading worldwide because, people around the world saw what happened with George Ford and so interest in making sure that there was justice for people of color, Black people in many places, people of color generally around the world has definitely ticked up.
The problem or the watch out I see, is that we cannot allow this to be just a moment in time. You know, where everybody puts a little square on Instagram and says, wallah, my work is done. It is not done. You know, this is it’s going to take more than conversations. It’s going to take, making sure that we are doing what has to be done to diversify our workforce. To measure what we’re doing, because if we don’t measure, we’re not going to move forward. And to make sure that we are building environments that are not only inclusive, but go to the next level, which is making sure that people feel a sense of belonging, which is sort of past inclusion. And then that means that people will be able to bring their, their authentic selves to work. Right?
And they will be able to feel more at home in who they are – everywhere they are. And that enables, uh, a better life in every single way. And it improves one’s personal life and improves contributions at work as well. And I also want to go back to something that you said Larry, and that was about Black people being so incredibly resilient.
We’re sort of going… the arc of history has been sort of moving back and forth and back and forth for years, but you know, always going for… I think one of the most important things that has come out of this is the admission for Black people to understand that we don’t have to be breathtakingly strong every minute of every day. Because we are human.
And so we are allowed to not be strong. Sometimes we are allowed to not be okay. And I think that taking that pressure off of ourselves to always be strong, to always be resilient, to always be perfect… That is one of the most important things that we can do, you know? And so I have had countless conversations with our BRGs, our business resource groups, and with groups in general, saying that it is okay to not be okay, you know, and we will support you in that. So not to worry.
So that to me is another positive thing that has, has come out of it is changed the way we walk in the world, you know, and I think that that has to continue to progress.
Larry Baker: Yeah, I thank you so much for that add Judith because you know, there is an aspect to this Black experience that for many people has been pretty traumatic, right.
And always being expected to be strong and continue to keep on keeping on that is such a wonderful release. To allow us to say no, it’s okay to not to be okay. It’s okay that you feel that this burden is a little bit too heavy to carry today, this week, this month. And we’re going to allow you to have space to process that.
So, absolutely appreciate that add. And it was extremely timely.
So back to that comment that you made Judith about adding on the fact that it’s okay not to be okay. I really do appreciate how. That has been incorporated into the conversation within the Black experience, but it also leads me to one more question that I want to ask each of you. And because of your unique positions within your organization, and you have the ability to ensure that this isn’t a moment in time… I imagine that there are some specific asks that you would have as DE&I leaders and practitioners of your organization.
So, Judith, I’m going to ask that you kick us off. What is, what are those specific asks that you have in your wish list, if you will, that you would like for not only your organization to do for our non-Black colleagues and peers. What, what is a specific ask that you might have with them?
Judith Harrison: I have a couple of asks. One is don’t be afraid to make people accountable. Meaning that I don’t want any organization to feel that D&I is an HR initiative and those folks over there we’ll take care of it while I go ahead and do the work that is important.
DEI is not something that is off to the side. It is embedded in the business. It has to be embedded into the business, which means then that expectations about behavior and learning has to be built into every level of the organization and at a certain level, there needs to be some sort of tie between people’s compensation and how they are doing in terms of meeting certain inclusion goals.
So people need to.. it needs to be an organization wide initiative for everyone, to make sure that managers are managing inclusively leaders, understand how to lead inclusively, that that knowledge and that sort of ethos goes everywhere from the top to the bottom and the bottom up, you know, people learn a lot from the entry-level and the junior folks because they have different experiences and expectations coming into the organization.
So I would say don’t be afraid to make people accountable. And listen to your people. That is extraordinarily important because that’s how you find out what they need, more than anything, you know? Those decisions can’t just be from, the C-suite deciding what everybody needs. There has to be some sort of input from folks about that as well.
Oh, and my third ask. Is, about differentiated development, which I believe in very strongly. And that is simply that when you look at talent development, you know, the average talent development program just kind of is very general, right? It is for a kind of a mass market. The fact of the matter is that Black people and other people of color face sort of headwinds based on diversity, right, in their careers that other people do not face.
And so I think it’s important for organizations to recognize that and do what they can to create development programs or work with partners to create development programs that help people of color, in general, to face those headwinds and advance and be the best that they can be and go into the world with as much confidence as they can.
So those are some of the important things to me.
Larry Baker: Thank you Judith.
Same to you Bernard, you know, being able to influence the initiatives the way that you can within your position in your organization… What are some specific asks that you have for your colleagues, other leaders in your organization?
Bernard C. Coleman III: Yeah, that’s a great question.
Very similar goals. We have aspirational goals that are our Gusto leaders have that way it’s actionable because we know that if you don’t measure it, it does not get done as we already said. And so we have aspirational goals for across the dimensions of hiring progression, engagement, and retention.
So that’s really important so that when people don’t look into the hiring trap, because I think a lot of times people just focus on hiring in isolation as if it’s going to fix everything. So that’s why it’s been hiring progression, engagement, retention, and getting them to ask why.
So forget about almost the hiring piece. Why are certain people not progressing? Because we are all human beings… we should be moving at the same clip. Right? So, you know, why aren’t people being engaged the same, they should be having a similar experience. And why is a certain group leaving faster than other? It shouldn’t be one group leaving in droves and when the other group is thriving.
So it’s really thinking about not only the goals, but why. What drives those goals? I think that would be my first thing, in terms of accountability.
The second thing would be finding your why, and trying. As Judith pointed out, people are engaged and they’re ready to have a conversation. A lot of times they don’t know where to start. So I always say start with yourself. Find your why. Like what, what gets you going on this work? Because otherwise it can look like the cheesecake menu where you’re like at cheesecake factory in many ways – a million things. And I don’t know what to eat.
Pick the one thing and start there. And then once you do that well, then starting something else. So I think it’s really about finding your why, and then continuously finding your why.
And I think the third call to action is education and awareness. That’s the most important thing. It requires the most time.
But I think it’s the most enriching and most fruitful is when I’m more educated and I understand I become more empathetic. I become more goals driven and trying to be that champion and advocate for others and really taking ownership as opposed to do a performance things, but not understanding what the impact could be.
So it’s really education and awareness. It’s realizing it never stops and having that growth mindset. So, I think when you do those three things well, the pendulum keeps moving in your favor for longer.
Larry Baker: Being in the work that we’re in, this whole diversity equity and inclusion umbrella, over the past year, year and a half or so many of our Latinx and Asian friends, as well as women’s groups, the LGBTQ plus community and people with disabilities, they’ve shown a lot of solidarity with a focus on BLM and the need to actually address racial inequities… specifically for Black people. So my question to you is this, what do you think we can do to avoid falling into this trap of competing with one another.
Amberley Smith: So that is a great question. And I think that there are a couple of different components that can be very helpful with that. And I think some of those components are education, empathy, and collaboration.
So starting off with education, I’d like to give a little shameless plug to LCW. At my company, we hired LCW to facilitate a course called the Black cultural immersion experience. And the reason why I really enjoyed this course is because it touches on so many of the things that have been such hurdles for the Black community throughout history, starting with slavery.
So, we hired LCW to do that, and we had an illustrious facilitator named Larry Baker, who was amazing…
But I would have to say that, you know, one thing that we did is we made a concerted effort to make sure that we invited, people of all backgrounds. So we had women, men, we had people of all ages, all different backgrounds, people from all over the world, all over the country.
And we also had different ranks. So we had people at the top and we had you know, assistants and associates. So because of that, we made sure that we picked a very diverse group to come and learn about the Black cultural immersion experience. And after a lot of the sessions that we had, we would have people who, you know, maybe grew up in Korea and had never actually met a Black person, but with so many of the things that they learned about the history of Black people in this country.
They were able to relate in some ways, because there were things that happened in Korea that, you know, maybe it happened to this subset of people here in Korea. So they were able to connect at least, you know, so by giving them that education, they were able to see, okay, we actually have a little more in common than we initially thought.
And, just to give another example of that. You know, I’m from Huntsville, Alabama, and I moved to New York. And for a lot of people, I am the first person that they’ve ever met from Alabama. Now, you know, we think of some of the stereotypes of Alabama, you know, I might not be the first thing that comes to mind, you know?
I mean, I’m, I’m beautiful and brilliant, and I’m basically a genius and clearly I’m very modest and humble as well.
But, you know, because I’m the first person that they’re meeting I challenged a lot of those stereotypes that they had. So I liked the fact that because of who I am, I can open their minds and to thinking like, oh, well, you know, if I was wrong about who she might’ve been, then what else could I be wrong about, let me go do some research on that.
And then also can go back to the connection point, you know, with me coming from Alabama and, you know, connecting with people all over the world here in NYC, I also see that there are so many similarities that we have, even though we grew up in different places. We have different cultures. There are so many ways to connect.
So I think that could go back to your question. I think that the best thing that we can all do as a group is understand that we are all connected in some ways. That we have a lot of similarities and that we’re fighting a lot of similar fights. And I think that we have to understand the strength in numbers and what we can do to help each other and collaborate. You know, in my company, we’re always trying to implement D&I into every single thing every single day.
So when I think of all these groups and you know, how we can work together and make sure we don’t compete, let’s think of what we often do to help each other. Like if I get this thing, I want to make sure you get this thing too. If you get this thing, come back and make sure that I have it too. So I don’t think that that’s something that we could definitely do.
Larry Baker: Absolutely. I love that whole statement about the connectivity and finding this common agenda because it’s just like you said, we all being these underrepresented groups in this particular country, we all have a responsibility if you will, to find what our role is as people of color to dismantle the bias systems that hold all of us back. Right?
So when you start with understanding our struggle, and the fact that as a Black community, we were the ones who really paved the way for a lot of these opportunities that the other groups are able to enjoy. So it’s never a thing about us not willing to share the spotlight. I think it’s just that we wanted to make sure that the emphasis was placed upon the culture or the community that actually started the fight. Right?
So I appreciate how your organization specifically decided to take on the Black experience first and then brought it out to potentially all of the other groups as well.
And, I will close our session, but I did want to give you a moment to, maybe if you had any closing thoughts that you wanted to share about, you know, how things are looking within our community.
And again, I know that we are not a monolith and there are so many different aspects to this Black experience, but maybe a word, in regards to, you know, your outlook, your perspective.
Judith Harrison: I can start. I think, I think it is a very complex time in which there is so much energy on the side of right, the side of optimism, the side of moving forward. But I think that people are fighting a sense of hopelessness as well. Right?
And so, you know, there is that, that sense that yes, this could be a really good time. It’s an inflection point and we want to move forward, but I’m also hearing disappointment in what is going on in our civic life. I am hearing disappointment in the fact that, that there was a very great moment, last year, you know, for that inflection point we talked about, but some of the attention has died down. So some people are feeling a little bit cynical about how real the commitment is.
So it’s a sort of, it’s very much a two-sided coin that I am hearing. I am hearing different ideas and interpretations of what justice means and what it will take for us to get that, because that of course was the big conversation right after George Floyd. And to the point that you made earlier on, Larry, after the, well, nobody expected the Derrick children verdict, to be quite honest, I don’t know a single person who expected that verdict to come out the way it did.
And the thing that is so interesting about it is that even when it happened, it was great, but there was still tremendous sadness because of the reason for the trial and because of the outlook for this being able to happen again. So I think we’re, we’re in a time that is emotionally complex and I don’t see sort of one path to justice and one sort of way that people are feeling it’s just such a wide range.
And to me, the most important thing is to be able to listen empathetically and to really try and help people to move toward that. The more hopeful, optimistic side, because that is where the work gets done. The work doesn’t get done when we’re hopeless. The work gets done when we feel that there’s a purpose and a reason, and that it’s going to do that.
Larry Baker: Absolutely. So Bernard again, a closing thought that inspiration, adoration, whatever you want, I’m going to give you that space to express yourself. Go ahead.
Bernard C. Coleman III: Yeah, the closing thought would be something we say Gusto is giving grace and space. Recognizing that people are carrying a lot of the COVID… you had this COVID whiplash where like, things are looking better then things are looking worse and all the things we’re struggling personally. And recognizing that things aren’t feeling like they are moving fast enough for some folks. Some people want the easy button and change now and not recognizing this as a marathon instead of this is a marathon as opposed to a sprint.
So I really think it’s about giving people the grace in space to reconcile all their feelings and emotions and really trying to meet people where they are. So that when they are ready to show back up, step up for the space and not being too harsh on them when they maybe can’t carry so much.
And I think that goes to this greater community and connection, making sure people feel that sharedsense of purpose, but also know that they can count on one another to take a step back for a minute. And then I think also as the mental health piece. I think a lot of people are hitting a wall encouraging mental health, telling people that mental health is important. Encourage to them to talk to somebody.
I think that’s really important for our Black community in particular, just because I think sometimes it’s not as welcomed, but I think if you go and put your oxygen mask on, you get right back in the game and continue to fight as opposed to wearing ourselves out so we’re not as impactful as we want to be.
So I think it’s given each giving people grace and space, but also ourselves. So that way we can do those things and make those commitments and show up the way we want to show up
Larry Baker: Amberley, what do you think about all of this?
Amberley Smith: Sure thing. So I think that the best question to ask yourself as the leader, if you’re looking to see how we can expand racial equity globally is what are you doing locally? You know, the very, the very first day of my career in DE&I, I heard, and I’ve heard this endlessly, that diversity and inclusion starts from the top down.
The executive board sets the tone. What diversity inclusion is going to be, how it’s going to be implemented, how aggressive it’s going to be and how fruitful it will be. So as an executive, you have to make sure that you’re really working to impact change in that space by holding yourselves accountable.
And I have to say that at our company, you know, we’re very fortunate to have a CEO who has a weekly newsletter and every week he sends messages to that aligned to D&I and his consistency, you know, it sends a very powerful message that, that he cares and that he’s paying attention and that he is serious about this.
And that’s something that is extremely important to have. So, you know, for leaders, I think that the best thing you can do is to really check on, on what, on what your organization is doing locally. And I think that, you know, you really need to pay attention to everyone at every level. You know, what are the people who are at the lowest level thing about your diversity and inclusion initiatives?
When you have interns coming in, can they see it themselves? You know, they’re coming in for the first time to a lot of companies. Is it kind of visible to them and are people in the company, do they feel comfortable with even speaking out on if they don’t see it. You know, so, I think that the best thing to do first is to really evaluate yourself and to be very honest about where you are, because that’s the only way that you can move forward.
And if you really get to a point where everyone in the organization feels really good about the things that you’ve done. And you can get them on your side and get them ready to help it, you know, help spread racial equity globally. Then you have a team, you know, you have a network, you have a unit who’s ready to work with you.
And that spreads volumes.
Larry Baker: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, so much for your engagement and your participation on this subject that is timely and needed. I love the grace and space. Have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you.
Judith Harrison: Thanks so much, Larry.
Larry Baker: And to all of you that are listening, we want to know what were your biggest takeaways from this conversation?
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