ASK ME ANYTHING
Dear readers and community,
I'm often asked for career, writing and speaking advice... or even just my thoughts on certain subjects. Just like you, I take life as it comes and try to do the best I can, but I've also learned a lot through my career in journalism, as an author writing my books, my DEI practice and public speaking. While I wish I could respond to every email, DM, and social media comment individually, this community has so quickly grown beyond my wildest dreams. So this is the space where I will be answering my most frequently asked questions.
If there is a question you don't see on this page, please send me a message below. You can also seek out any topic on my new search page where you can easily filter through all of my newsletter archives, media and pages by keyword.
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Thank you for being here.
Q: How has addressing race and gender equity impacted your career?
A: Being told early in my career not to mention “racism” in my speaking and consulting around DEI actually helped me guide who I did want to work with and who I didn't. If you have something to say and really want to be heard, you have to be authentic. I believe the time is now to get really clear about what is your role in addressing systemic racism, and specifically the role of racism and gender equity and other forms of inequity. If it feels risky to do this work because you could face retaliation. You have to assess your risk tolerance (and the more privilege you have, the more you can likely afford to take the risk.) For me, there came a time when I couldn't stay quiet any longer.
Q: How did you build thought leadership?
A: Once you know what your message is, figure out what your medium is. Is it video? Audio or podcasts? Writing? It's great if you have a piece of audio content that can then be repurposed and packaged into a newsletter, for example. But start small, share information in a way that feels most like your happy place (for me, it’s writing) and then build from there. I do not recommend doing everything all at once (all platforms), but that is my approach and I know others have a different one.
Q: How can you get speaking gigs as an author?
A: Securing paid speaking gigs as a new author can be challenging. When you're a new author, you’re focused on getting as many people as possible to buy your book. So most places will say: I'm going to buy a number of books or I'm going to pay for your speaking, it's usually one or the other. So my advice would be as much as possible, especially if you want to continue writing more books, you do want to direct people to buying your books and find alternate ways of supplementing revenue. I started my speaking career doing panels for free so that people could get to know me and I would speak to K-12 and college classrooms as a guest speaker etc…and then built up from there.
Q: How do you choose what to say yes to?
A: I put a lot of expectations on myself early in my career. Now I’ve learned: success lies in being really strategic. You can't pour from an empty cup. Take time to reflect and figure out how to be strategic, write down the things that bring you joy and the things that have yielded opportunities. The intersection of this should be a roadmap for you. Whether you're an entrepreneur, or whether you're an intrapreneur within an organization, sit down and be really intentional at assessing: This is what yielded results, and here are tasks that made no sense for me. Take action once you’ve reflected and go back to that list when you’re stuck on making a decision.
Q: What tips would you give in evaluating new (consulting) clients?
A: I would recommend creating a form on your website, or sending prospective clients a simple questionnaire to find out what they’re looking for, what are the demographics of their employees? And what's their budget, how long do they want the engagement to be? It’s really important to be able to collect that information upfront. And as you do more often, you'll start to see connections between what types of clients and projections you want to take on.
Q: As the “only” in many workplaces, how did you battle the constant anxiety of doubting yourself?
A: Part of that confidence really does come with time. You can’t rush that. My doubts came from being the only early in my career…and over time, I became more sure about my value and what I brought to the table. But, also know that in systems that were designed without us in mind, it is very common to feel these feelings of not belonging. I co-wrote an article on the myth of imposter syndrome, with Jodi-Ann Burey. Many people feel self-doubt as they're forced to navigate in systems that weren't designed for them. If you never see role models like you, if you are constantly being put into a box, if you're facing microaggressions, it makes sense. So a bigger part of this is knowing, you worked twice as hard to get here. You belong here. Take up space!
Q: What approaches would you recommend for networking?
A: Definitely look for organizations and conferences and networking opportunities with people who carry the same identities and are in the same industry as you. I cannot overstate the importance of finding mentors who can understand you. Social media is a good place to start; follow them on Twitter, or LinkedIn. Comment on what they share, build dialogue that way. I found great networking opportunities by going to in-person events back in the day, and now I try to prioritize going to ones that are relevant to me, virtually. One of my favorite opening lines when I network (or am at a party where I don’t know anyone) is “what brought you to attend this event/conference and what are you hoping to learn?”
Q: How do you find what to build a platform talking or writing about?
A: I can’t overstate the importance of collaborating and having a much more globally minded approach as you build out your public profile. It's also very important to know what unique perspective you bring to the world, your Onlyness, a concept defined by Nilofer Merchant. What is it about you–of all the experiences that you've had, and are going to have based on your identity, based on your upbringing, based on where you live, that have shaped you and moved you? If you were to write about the three to five biggest experiences and identities in your life that shaped you…What would they be and what would it look like to really tell that story? Well, I think that's key to creating community online and building leadership.
Q: How has the pandemic affected women of color in the workplace?
A: I think the pandemic revealed—especially to people who didn’t have it on their radar—how challenging the workplace is for women, and especially women of color and people with other intersectional identities. Currently the data just from last year is that thirteen million women as a whole left the workforce, versus male employment returning to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021. That was really concerning data and showed just how precarious current working conditions are for women, people who are caregivers, and people who have mental health challenges. This is an excerpt from an interview with Public Libraries Online. Find the full answer here.
Q: What systems are in operation and what needs to be done to make them more inclusive?
A: What’s interesting about this book is there’s this tension between how much change comes down to an individual, right? I don’t know if you’ve been following this viral thing that happened where a travel writer tweeted her salary, and she said, “For the person coming after me, this is what you should ask for.” People applauded her and were very excited about it. When I was interviewed about this, my take was that it’s amazing what she did, but expecting individuals to solve the systemic issue—where the job [listing] should ideally have had a salary posting on it—is only going to take us so far. One individual will go to another and say, “Here’s what I was paid, here’s how I was hired, and here’s how the system works.” That’s tricky, because then we’re not going to solve the systemic issues at large. So there’s this tension between how much of it comes down to the individual and how much of it is the systemic change to make. What I always argue is that these are systemic issues and as individuals we need to take responsibility for creating better systems, so it’s not just a one-to-one change on the individual level. This is an excerpt from an interview with Public Libraries Online. Find the full answer here.
Q: When it comes to hiring for a culture add instead of a culture fit, how does that shift in thinking benefit the workplace?
A: Again words matter and vocabulary matters. I think what often happens is we think of culture fit as being a very benign and even benevolent way of thinking about the workplace: “We all come from the same culture, we all connect with each other.” It’s an approach that isn’t rooted in reality, when there’s a system where a culture is exclusionary and we continue trying to fit for it. What that inadvertently means is essentially back to that idea of hiring for sameness. Often what that means is hiring people of the same race, gender, and background of what’s already represented. We’ve seen this in industries and corporations and organizations across this country where there’s a very specific fit. Sometimes people don’t even articulate that. This is an excerpt from an interview with Public Libraries Online. Find the full answer here.
Q: How is Inclusion on Purpose structured?
A: The structure of the book really came from my own experience in advising companies around creating inclusive cultures and with my own research that I’ve done over the years. What I’ve found time and again is that sometimes the biggest barriers and challenges that needed to be overcome were the internal defensiveness and the internal biases that the leaders were grappling with. Conversely, where I would see huge change, or where I would see those interventions that were being put in place on a systemic level making change, was when individual leaders had taken responsibility and accountability for creating change. So I structured the book learning from my experiences in the over ten years that I’ve been advising leaders on creating inclusive cultures. The first step is really to understand, identify, and give language to how bias shows up, how it sounds, and how we want to make change to be more inclusive, and what that actually looks like on an individual level. This is an excerpt from an interview with Public Libraries Online. Find the full answer here.
Q: Why is that a dangerous assumption that inclusion is solely a Human Resources responsibility and how can others in the workplace take on the responsibility of having an inclusion mindset?
A: It’s tricky, because I think what has happened–and I think the reason why in a lot of organizations there’s so much room for improvement around inclusion, diversity and equity–is that it has been seen as the sole mandate of HR to put policies in place and that’s it. [There’s the thought,] “Beyond that, it’s not my responsibility, because my day to day job is in accounting or finance,” or whatever it is. The change that needs to be made, and hopefully that this book can inspire, is actually we all need to take responsibility. We all have an opportunity to do that, whether it’s thinking about how we’re interviewing candidates—and it could be for a role completely unrelated to diversity and inclusion—it could be asking, “How do we ensure that we have a diverse candidate pool?” This is an excerpt from an interview with Public Libraries Online. Find the full answer here.
Q: Why was it crucial for Inclusion on Purpose to have a list of other resources on undoing anti-Black racism for readers to explore?
A: My experience that really shapes my perspective is living in different countries around the world. I’ve also been really fortunate to travel quite extensively from a young age. What I’ve found again and again is that anti-Black racism is a huge issue that we see around the world. Linked with that is this nuance of colorism, where people with darker skin are largely disadvantaged and lighter skin is preferred. When I think about the biggest opportunity for meaningful change from an intersectional lens, it really is ensuring that Black women are put in the forefront of any sort of major effort to be inclusive. I really wanted to make sure that everyone who reads this book, no matter where in the world you are, [understands] that the legacy of the experience of Black people in America really has a huge part to play in the way the whole world has unfortunately been structured around anti-Black racism. I think that’s something very hard to say and sometimes it’s hard to name. Without confronting that, I don’t think we can make meaningful change. This is an excerpt from an interview with Public Libraries Online. Find the full answer here.
Q: I grew up in an environment that shared advice about working hard and making good grades being the only factors that count toward achieving your goals. How do you think that advice (which is a myth) needs to change?
A: Advice about meritocracy and hard work alone being the indicator of progress and success is harmful to everyone. For people who grew up with privilege and access, they may wrongly believe that others with less privilege and access (typically people from historically underestimated backgrounds) aren’t able to progress due to a lack of their efforts, when in reality, some face systemic barriers while others benefit from privileges that help us progress. For people who are from historically underestimated identities, they may reach a ceiling no matter how hard they work or how much education and experience they amass, which can cause cognitive dissonance, mental health issues, questioning of self-worth, and other harmful consequences. That’s why my focus is on educating and building awareness of systemic barriers that can hamper growth. When people are armed with the reality of bias existing, they can navigate these issues by naming them, building coalitions and communities, and most of all, preserving their own sanity and sense of self. I never say “don’t work hard.” My focus is: “hard work alone won’t get you there. Understand how to navigate systemic barriers that are very much in existence today until we all own up to them to dismantle them.”
Q: In your book, you mention limiting your use of the term unconscious bias. Can you please talk about your point of view?
A: Just because an action wasn’t intentional, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t an impact on the person harmed. “Unconscious bias” is too often used to justify repeated harmful behaviors or prejudices because they were (apparently) not perpetuated consciously. Consider this example: I once worked with a team that practiced what felt like an egalitarian decision-making process. We would meet, discuss challenges, and collectively come up with strategies to move forward. But over time, I noticed something odd: a few days after our team meetings, I would return to work to find the decisions that we made were moot, and the manager was moving in a different direction. At first, I had no idea what initiated these changes, but eventually, I solved the puzzle: Turns out, my male manager and certain members of our department were having additional, informal get-togethers after work at a local bar. There, they would talk shop and new decisions were made about who to hire, promote, and assign to important projects. Though I was never invited, I learned that it wasn’t gender-based. White women at all levels in our department were invited, but I never scored an invitation. Later, I figured it had something to do with being the only woman of color in my department. I don’t believe they excluded me because they disliked me, per se, but I do know it was because I was different from the “in-group.” While I don’t believe they were being discriminatory on purpose, I hesitate to put my missing invitations down to “unconscious bias.” When we chalk biased behavior and actions down to being “unconscious,” those in positions to change these behaviors often feel less responsible for identifying and correcting it. That’s why I now call these behaviors exclusionary or biased, rather than “unconscious.”
Q: How can we build cohesive teams while also eliminating affinity bias and cultural fit?
A: I have a chapter in my book dedicated to inclusion and psychological safety, but essentially, we have to create teams where people have each other's backs, regardless of their position, status or identity. (Please see Dr. Amy Edmondson’s fantastic book The Fearless Organization for more on psychological safety.) I like to see leaders model vulnerability and honesty about barriers to inclusion and take personal responsibility for creating a more inclusive work environment. Better feedback mechanisms are also key to this (which I write about in my book!) as well as naming that you’re specifically hiring for culture add, not culture fit.