Wei Zheng: Welcome everyone, thank you for joining us. So today’s the second panel discussion of our Inclusive Leadership Panel Discussion Series. This panel will be focusing on how to build high quality relationships with diverse individuals from diverse communities.
So let me introduce the four panelists we have today. The first one is Mimi Yeh. She’s the Vice President of Human Capital of Connected DMV which is a regional collaboration in Washington DC consisting of local jurisdictions, federal agencies, industry, community, and academia. She also served as Managing Director at Accenture in her prior role. Our second guest is Michael Miller. He is a Senior Managing Director of Civilian Financial Services at Accenture. The third panelist is Sara Taylor and she’s the President of deepSEE Consulting. She specializes in diversity and inclusion trainings, comprehensive leadership development programs, and cultural competence development. Last but not least, we have Theresa Torres. Theresa is the Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. So a big welcome to all of our panelists. Thank you so much for spending the time to share with us your insights and stories.
So let’s get started. Let’s start with a question on cultural competence. So how do you define cultural competence? Could you give an example of your experience or practice of cultural competence?
Sara Taylor: I think there’s a lot of misperceptions actually as to how to define cultural competence. Cultural competence is the ability to see how your unconscious is making decisions for you, how your unconscious is creating your perceptions and your preferences, and the ability to get in front of that in order to be more effective in your interactions.
We can actually connect that level of effectiveness of your cultural competence with performance in the workplace and particularly the performance of teams and so that’s why it’s so important. It’s the leading indicator to create inclusion, the leading indicator to create those inclusive leadership behaviors, the leading indicator to create higher engagement, and even the leading indicator to attract and retain diverse talent.
That’s why it’s so critical to develop that skill yet unfortunately very, very few folks have that level of competence in a typical population. Less than 2% of folks have that high level of effectiveness, but anyone can develop it, so that’s my quick answer of defining cultural competence.
Wei Zheng: Thank you, Sara. Michael, would you like to talk about cultural competence from your experience?
Michael Miller: I’m going to come in from a slightly different way. I think most people have what I call awareness and that’s sort of an understanding that there are different groups and entities and those entities may align around religion, cultural identity, and gender identity. Different communities and different cultures will come together and have different definitions and different constructs that help define that, but there’s an intersection of those groups as well.
What I usually find in that is most people are struggling with just cultural awareness, the idea that everybody in a room may represent different cultures and different cultural sort of identities at different points in time. I think once you have that awareness, for most people, cultural competence is a journey that they’re constantly working on to better understand the people that they’re working with. Whether it be your teammates or coworkers, by having that awareness and then having those types of discussion points, you’re going to constantly be working on your cultural competence, you’re going to constantly be working and trying to evolve how you get those things you know moving forward.
There are people who will sit down and they can walk through a model and say look if you give me a model for cultural competence, I will go through and I will work through that moment, and I think that works for some people, but for other people it is more of a dry touch. You have to understand a little bit about yourself, how you interact in your own cultural identity, and how you approach stuff to really sort of understand how you’re going to best experience that journey to cultural competence.
Wei Zheng: Thank you, Michael. Theresa, would you like to weigh in? Do you have an example of somebody showing cultural competence? What does that look like?
Theresa Torres: I wanted to just comment on something that Sara said around unconscious bias and when people hear that term, often you’re like, no, no, I have no bias, I’m not biased, but what we all have to feel comfortable about is we all have bias, it’s equally across every single one of us. Research has shown that we receive about 11 million pieces of data every second and can only process about 40. And so what our brains are doing is shortcutting based on past experiences and things that we’ve learned or seen.
And you know part of what Sara said in regards to that awareness is knowing that that’s happening and knowing when you meet someone that those shortcuts are happening without you even knowing it. You have got to figure out how to stop those shortcuts, how you can become aware and say I’m already painting in my head a picture of this person and I haven’t even spoken to them yet.
Also, something that Michael said really resonated around just having the awareness and I think often we think about awareness in regards to dimensions of gender identity and ethnicity and there’s really so much more, so there’s a model of having an iceberg and all the things you can see above the level of the water and then all the things that you can’t see that are below. So someone can look at me and say or think woman and Latina, but they may not know I’m a mother, cross fitter, what I like to do, the music I listen to, the education I’ve had, my socioeconomic background, etc. and all of those pieces come into play when we are building our cultural competence so I just wanted to add that to both what Sara and Michael had already talked about.
Wei Zheng: Thank you. Mimi, would you like to add your perspective?
Mimi Yeh: I could not agree more with all of the great points that Sara, Michael, and Theresa have brought up. I’ll try to add to not repeat, but maybe enhance some of the concepts and topics that have come up. There are a couple of tools that you can use to get a sense of the biases that you may have, but you might not know that they exist. Just like Teresa was saying, we all have biases and we also all have things that I will call getting strengths and things that are blind spots and when you are sitting in your shoes and you’re in the moment, it can be hard to recognize that. They’re called hidden for a reason, it’s because you’re not aware of them. They’re called blind spots for a reason, it’s because you don’t know that those are out there.
A way that you can start to better understand those things and Harvard University has a lot of implicit association tests, you can Google it, but there’s a lot of different implicit association tests that Harvard has put together and it’s on a variety of those different dimensions that Theresa mentioned. There’s an age bias, there can be a race bias, there can be a gender bias, but there’s a lot of biases that you can have, so really trying to pull together a lot of the great ideas that my other panelists have brought up, it’s understanding where you’re coming from, understanding why you look at the world through the lenses that you do, and understanding where different things have kind of shaped how you think and how you perceive other people. It’s a great first step because once you know that, then you can consciously think about how you might do things a little differently.
When I think about cultural competence and demonstrating that, I will say that my personal experience really kind of came to a forefront in the very recent past, with the Black Lives Matters movement and I’ll just speak personally because it’s got to be authentic.
For me and for my family, race relations between Asians and black people is an area of tension and there’s some areas where I would like to think that there’s alignment and working together, but when the Black Lives Matter movements and protests were happening, I distinctly remember talking to a neighbor of mine who is not black and that person said well, I don’t see what the issue is. They said something like I don’t see color, I see people. And that person said that she said that to a black person and the black person was not happy with that statement. She didn’t understand why it was a bad thing to say. She said they should be glad that she doesn’t see color. Part of that is that whole journey of cultural competence is understanding that you may see it that way, but saying that I don’t see that element of a person’s identity can be diminishing to who that person is, and those are the kinds of conversations that I think help to improve the dialogue. It sometimes goes into an uncomfortable space and sometimes we will make mistakes, but you just have to apologize and let them know you are really seeking to understand and learn.
The last thing I’ll say is that in those conversations, a different friend said well you know I asked somebody a lot about how I should address and think about Black Lives Matter, and the other lesson was don’t expect other people to do that homework for you. If you can’t find the answer and if it’s something that you want to know personally from that other person, then sure I think it’s totally okay to ask that question, but if it’s information or a perspective that you could find through a little bit of extra work and research on your own, it’s maybe a more graceful way to do that because individuals who are in a minority position or individuals who are going through stressors and violent events like that already have enough pressure and anxiety to deal with, so adding on that extra work and taking on the work of explaining it to you and to others is something that isn’t needed.
Wei Zheng: Thank you Mimi. So it sounds like self-awareness and especially the acute awareness of the difference with a gap between our intention and our impact on other people is something we can develop. I really like Michael’s analogy of this journey rather than a destination or a milestone that we try to achieve in terms of cultural competence.
So let’s stay on the topic of identity. Sometimes we call out people’s identity right like you’re black and Asian and other things, and then, sometimes we sort of don’t want to bring that up. And so, for example in our previous panel, there was one panelist who gave the example that while in one of his meetings he pointed out that there was only one woman in the room and so something was wrong and they weren’t not doing something right. But as a result, that woman felt embarrassed because she was suddenly pointed out for her identity. So when do we sort of address, relate, and call out people’s identities, and when we try to avoid that? Sara, would you mind sharing your story of your husband and share with us when it would be appropriate to do what?
Sara Taylor: Oh, I have lots of stories related to that. I identify as a white woman, and I am married to someone who identifies as a black, Latino man. We often are in situations where we are confronted with folks that are very uncomfortable with pointing out our differences or when we point out our differences and that’s a real key piece. It’s who’s doing the pointing out, what position of power they have, and what kind of explanation and evaluation they are attaching to it.
Years and years ago, and we’ve experienced it many times, but the first time that I remember this kind of discomfort that other folks have was a number of years ago and I’m based in Minneapolis and I was at diversity conference in the convention center here in Minneapolis and my husband happened to be here, the same day, even though that doesn’t typically happen because he’s a civil engineer. So he was at the convention center doing continuing education credits for his civil engineering and it was break time and I was out in the hallway networking with some folks that I just met and he started walking down the hall with three of his colleagues, they were other Civil Engineers from a suburban civil engineering firm, and I said to the folks that I just met oh look there comes my husband and they said which one. Now you can imagine my black, Latino husband was walking down the hall with three other civil engineers and you can imagine their identities, they were three white guys. So when they asked which was my husband, there was that Sesame Street aspect of one of these things is not like the other and it became a question of how do you respond.
So I could have said as he’s third from the left, one with a light blue shirt or lighter khaki pants, but that kind of a response sort of avoids the obvious when I have been asked to differentiate. That’s a key piece there; I have been asked to differentiate and I am avoiding the obvious, so I’m skirting around this and this is what the vast majority of folks would do because the vast majority of folks are in the middle stage of competence, so almost 70% of us want to minimize differences.
So when I say the black guy, the typical response I get is all kinds of nervous laughter and it’s because folks are really uncomfortable with that difference being pointed out. The reason why is because the preceding stage of cultural competence. When differences are identified, they’re identified together with a judgment and so when we move into this third stage, our brains are thinking okay I don’t want to do this good, bad, us, them, so I’m just going to pretend there isn’t a difference, I’m going to shove all those differences under the rug, and I’m going to be really uncomfortable when somebody points it out. Now if you think about that and in relationship to other differences, would I be uncomfortable pointing out purple flowers versus red flowers? Nope, I won’t be uncomfortable at all, because we haven’t as a society and in our shared unconscious, we haven’t collected a pattern of meaning and judgments around red vs purple flowers as we have around white versus black.
A story of a very different kind of situation from again from my personal experience was when my mom was still alive and was taken to the emergency room, my brother was there with her and he’s sending us text messages as to how things are going, and he says to the to the family yeah this cute little Asian nurse just came to take her blood, now what relevance does that person’s external frame and identity have in that situation? It’s not relevant, it does not make sense to point out that difference because it’s not a difference, it’s making a difference. Now having said that, if earlier in the day he would have said yep a nurse came and took mom’s blood and she was so fabulous, she was so kind, she made mom feel so at ease, and it was such a great experience, and then later in the day I was there and saw three nurses at the nurse’s station and asked ask my brother which one when I ask for differentiation, that’s when it makes a difference because we’re being asked to differentiate.
The final piece is who is doing the differentiation. When we come from a dominant cultural perspective, it’s difficult for us to separate that. Once we are comfortable identifying the difference, then it’s the sense of oh it’s not my duty as a dominant culture to identify for someone in a non-dominant group. It is for them to identify as they want to be identified, so there’s so much to unpack in all of that.
Wei Zheng: Thank you for sharing those stories, Sara, they’re really helpful. Michael, can we come to you? I’m assuming you will identify as a white man, so what’s your experience like in terms of calling out somebody’s identity, minority identity or not, and how do you navigate situations like that?
Michael Miller: Sometimes what happens in these situations, and they’ll say it may become a teachable moment because the intent may have been a different intent, but it’s misaligned to the relevance of the conversation. So from a leadership perspective I always try to make sure the intent clear about what meetings are for, what topics are for, what the discussions are, and when it does come to relevance, calling out that information and that extremely extraneous information may call for a question of what’s the intent.
If we’re having a discussion about gender representation on our teams, I still may not call out that difference without first having discussions with the individuals in the room of what they are comfortable with so even though it may have been relevant, even though it may have had the right intent, you still have to understand the dynamic and the situation that you’re put into because I do go back to the one thing I do, I think this is where people also misstep, there’s a phrase I use and I use phrases, analogies, and metaphors all the time with my team, and one of the things I always say, which is the summation of the first thing that the first section that we had is we say things not as they are, but as we are, so that’s a natural thing.
When you start calling out things, so as a white male when I start calling out things different from myself to other people who see themselves in there, but don’t see themselves sort as me, it does create some attention to some of that conflict is and as Sara wonderfully put it, it creates those dynamics so you will be sure in a situation like that, if it’s not relevant, if it’s not the right intent, we won’t delve into that area. If it doesn’t further the discussion, but even before that and I can’t stress this enough, but just because it may be relevant doesn’t mean that you have a free pass to go in if it’s not done in the right way. If it’s not done in a social contract, if you put somebody into a bad position because you want to put up sexual identity or you want to talk about ethnicity, and all this kind of stuff and they’re not prepared for it, all of a sudden, from where they are, they’re going to see that as all of a sudden isolation and because again they see things as they are and they didn’t understand intent, it wasn’t relevant, and we didn’t have that discussion in advance. So I think I think there needs to be sort of prep even in certain discussions about when is it appropriate to have those discussions.
Wei Zheng: Thank you, Michael. Teresa or Mimi, would you like to go next?
Theresa Torres: I just wanted to comment on something that was said earlier in the conversation around people having a real discomfort with people having different identities and saying I don’t see color, we’re all the same, and what we have to think about is everyone has a different life experience, so saying that we’re all the same, maybe we’re all analysts coming into an organization so yeah we’re all analysts and we’re all the same, but the expectation of feeling included or not is going to depend on someone’s life experience, so I always try to help people understand that even though you’re saying I’m colorblind and don’t see race, what you have to understand is that can be received as you’re dismissing the navigation one had to have to get to the same place you are. I think it’s really important that as we’re talking about cultural competence. It’s really understanding that every single person in any room you’re in in any organization you’re in has navigated this world differently, and all of those experiences are contributing to what they’re bringing to the table.
Wei Zheng: Wonderful, thank you. Mimi, would you like to add your perspective?
Mimi Yeh: To the point about identifying and calling out a person’s identity or you know specific characteristics, I agree with everything that the other panelists have said. I totally agree and my point of view aligns with what Michael said with not really calling out and separating out a person’s identity without first getting permission. And if that was not explicitly given to you, you can still get a point across using your own prior experience, you can use data, you could use research to get a point across.
And then the other thing I would say, and I’m guilty of this all the time, but I keep working on it because these types of conversations can be tense, uncomfortable, and difficult for me and there’s a tendency to use humor or to try to sprinkle in a little bit of levity and I think it can be okay to use it at times, it will help to defuse a tense situation, but it shouldn’t be at somebody else’s expense and even to a large degree, it shouldn’t be at your own expense.
People will use self-deprecating humor to try to ease a moment and like I said I do it and I’ve realized that I shouldn’t do that, it minimizes my value and it minimizes how people might see me, so I’m really trying not to do that and I’m trying to be okay and live in the uncomfortableness of moments that can come up because there is value to it. Those are the moments that people will remember and hopefully those are the moments that we all learn from so we can figure out how to do things differently, and maybe have a different outcome the next time around.
Wei Zheng: Thank you very much. Let’s look at some specific examples with tension. It’s not an easy topic. For example, you have a new employee and you’re not sure of this person’s gender identity and this person hasn’t been participating in group activities or hasn’t been hasn’t been speaking up during the meetings, so you wanted to involve this person more. So it’s task relevant, in a sense, but you’re not sure. How would you approach this person or try to bring out more from this person?
Mimi Yeh: Gender identity I feel is a topic where a lot of people have a lot of different points of view on it and from my observation, some of it is a generational point of view, some of it is definitely cultural, but some of it is tendencies for different generations to come to sway into. I think it is impossible to anticipate every cultural belief or identity and it’s impossible to know a person’s gender identity by sight alone, so I definitely really work to go into every situation with no upfront expectation and bias, yet I still have them and I work on them.
The other part that I want to bring up and I’ve thought about this and how it is related to other characteristics but gender identity is not a preference, it is an identity. People will sometimes use the term preference and that’s also rough because preference gives us impression that oh I really like to use these words but it’s okay if you use these other words. It would be kind of like if I said hey let me introduce you to Michael Miller. Michael prefers to be referred to as he/him/his but you could also use she, her, and hers. It’s not his first choice, but that’s okay, it’ll do, and I don’t think that’s what any of us would actually mean to say, but when we apply that little word preferred on top of it, I think that’s what creates this perspective and unintended consequence and impact.
As far as the other question on how to include people in conversations, identity is one thing, culture is one thing, but the real thing I think is different modes of working as a team, different ways that we approach projects, problems, assignments, and things like that. A lot of it for me starts with communication and really being able to effectively communicate and understand that it’s okay if people are going to use different words than you’re going to use. It’s important when they do that to understand it and it’s important if you are the leader or even if you’re not the team leader, if you’re just a team member, to speak in a way that other people can understand, maybe switching out certain words, maybe shifting a bit away from the shorthand term and alternating it with other words that have the same meaning in an effort to clarify.
And then one thing I will note and I’ve seen this a couple of times and I’ve witnessed it myself and been on the receiving end of it is when I tell somebody that I don’t understand what they’re saying, sometimes they will say the same thing but slow it down and say it a lot more slowly, sometimes more loudly and I want to be like I didn’t say that I didn’t hear you, I said I didn’t understand you, so that’s the only other like short tidbit I would say is try not to do that since it can come across as patronizing.
Michael Miller: I think the integration of team members is a constant battle and construct that we all have to constantly go through and so it’s important to be proactive. One of the things I do with my team is model the behavior we want so before we do stuff I will meet with them in advance and say hey here’s the team, here’s the structure, and here are some of the cultural aspects and so coming in if you struggle or you have issues or questions, make sure that you put up your hand, but also, I may be checking in with you just to make sure all is going well because I want this to be an open and free sort of discussion kind of situation. And I don’t always get to do that, but I try to do that when we have new people coming on.
Second thing I do is I look for opportunities to make sure that they are engaged because if they’re brought onto the team let’s say we just recently added a new legal counsel but came from outside and we had this meeting, they were coming in to do stuff, I made sure that this person had part of the agenda to cover some of the stuff they want to do so I didn’t leave it up to them to try to interject themselves or legitimize themselves into that situation, but it wasn’t like in the meeting I went let me call on that person and put them on the spot to do it, I tried to structure it to avoid that.
And then I think the third thing is, this is not just for your team right, I cannot tell you how often that I will reach out to individuals who are new to the company and new to roles to see how it’s going because they may not feel comfortable enough talking to people in their stack, but I know that people understand, I know the environment, and I know it can be difficult, so I think it’s important because when we think of leadership we think of the stack, we think of span of control, we think of all the stuff, but you’ve got to model that behavior the behavior you want to see and try to put those things in place to try to structure it.
Wei Zheng: Thank you.
Theresa Torres: When you meet someone, it’s really important to make an effort to understand the pronunciation of their name and make sure that you’re asking them and practicing if you need to, but really showing that you care enough to pronounce someone’s name correctly is one thing that I think is really important. I think we all have to meet people where they are and so the support that one new colleague will need is not necessarily the support that another colleague will need and so really helping them to have a discussion of what is it that they need to feel successful, what is it that they need to feel supported and it will be different for any individual that you speak with.
I have a team where some really feel comfortable being in presentations and being on video and others who do not put themselves on video at all and that’s their comfort level, so really understanding what their preferences are and what the supporting actions that each individual needs is important. What one person needs is not necessarily going to be what another one needs, and there’s a visual that talks about equality and there’s five different individuals and everyone gets the same bike and so you can have someone that’s six foot tall, someone that is a four year old child, someone that needs assistance from a disability standpoint, and so if you give them all the same bike yeah that’s equal, but then the next visual is you’re giving them the bike they need and you’re giving them the same tools but in a way that is going to be effective and successful for them. So I think for team members it’s about finding what the unique bicycle they need is and not assuming that it’s the same for everyone.
Sara Taylor: That makes me think of the situational leadership model and it helps us to build our cultural competence as an inclusive leader and that notion that many of us as leaders say, well, this is my style, this is my approach, this is the way I build teams versus the more effective way of what do you need, how do I adjust to you, how do I give you what you need to be successful and so that’s a very, very different approach that’s also more effective and inclusive.
I want to go back to also to the original question and in many ways, it is kind of more about prevention versus addressing an issue after it’s already arose. So if we’re already on a team and we’re already noticing that this person is interacting differently and then we’re trying to figure out what to do, we have already kind of set up a difficult situation and think about the difference that it would have been in that situation if when that person first came in they weren’t put out as the different and instead everyone was put out as different. Many times, when someone new comes into a team, what we do is we say okay introduce yourself, tell us about you, so who’s the different, new person versus I need to acknowledge that I’m different, I need to acknowledge that I have unconscious filters, patterns, and preferences and we all share that. We all share as a team our differences that make a difference and so when this person hears from all of their new colleagues before they introduce themselves, they already hear from all of their new colleagues that that’s the norm, the norm is that we are different, and let me tell you about my differences, instead of just starting to operate with each other as if we’re all the same. So building that inclusive environment and really paying attention to that onboarding from a perspective of acknowledging the differences in a nonjudgmental way and being very comfortable with pointing them out is important.
Wei Zheng: Wonderful. So I have a follow up question about managing teams and how we encourage other team members to develop their cultural competence. Michael, you mentioned this, serving as a role model you do these things and people see what you do and then they will are more likely to do that. Are there any other additional ways you can create this culture so people are being inclusive of each other?
Michael Miller: Yeah so for the past 10 years I worked in one specific area and when you look at the team from the day that I took over to the day I left, it is a vastly different team, it is structurally different, it has different representation, it is more inclusive across the board, and when we went through and made these changes over time, what you see is by adjusting the team over time, it took on a momentum of itself in a way that by me running the leadership team and bringing more people to the table and then changing the composition of the table, it really changed the dynamic of how we reviewed. When I sit down and I look at my career when I retire, I definitely was a consultant and I did all this kind of stuff so I could talk about big jobs and stuff like this, but when I talk about the things that that get me excited, these are some of the biggest successes I hadn’t made me the proudest.
I sat across from our retiring client, somebody who literally about 12 years ago tried to get rid of us as a company, and now we are one of their critical partners and the thing that she told me that was most important when she was leaving is when I asked for advice and she said I have never seen a company change so much to better align and reflect who we are.
Even though I say that story, I could not have done that alone. I am a firm believer of the idea that you’ve got to try to model the behavior you want to see and when I look at those types of things as I stepped into my new role recently, I looked at now running a sector that still has good representation, but I also looked at the things we’re going to do, and I’m not going to do the same thing I did before, I have to do it differently. And so some of the stuff that I’m doing is I’m going to the people who helped make that successful here and at other places and saying what can we do, what do we need to think of, how do we do this, how can I learn, how can I evolve.
And then I’m also starting another journey, my own journey of how do we sort of bring some of the best types of those things to the table and go through it, so I think when you go through all this kind of stuff, and the reason I just sort of come down to this is I think you should expect a lot from your leaders, I think you should be able to go to your leaders and say I want an inclusive environment, I want to be represented, I want to do this, and if you don’t have that environment, then you should work to make that environment.
So I do think modeling the behavior and trying to make sure people know this is the intent, this is the direction we want to go in, these are the things that we want to do, it helps create a momentum that I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to, and if I left the next person coming in can’t fundamentally change the direction. Sure they can influence the direction, but they’re not going to be able to stop what we’re trying to do. Of course, no one gets it all right, but do we do make a lot of also good change.
At the end of the day, we’re all just people, we don’t produce widgets, we don’t produce things, we produce people. If you’re not interested in people and helping people, it is a pretty hard job because your clients will get mad at you about things and if you can’t look around and say I’ve tried to build a team that’s high performing, representational, inclusive, and brings a lot to the table, then why are you doing what you’re doing. So I think the idea of modeling behavior is just critical because too often than not leaders say they want something, but they don’t model the behaviors they say they want.
Wei Zheng: Thank you. Would anyone else like to share their perspectives?
Mimi Yeh: Yeah, I would add just a couple of quick things. I think the things that Michael mentioned are both adding diversity and adding inclusion and it’s that distinction of diversity being bringing the people from different backgrounds and different perspectives both of the visible and invisible parts of the iceberg to the table, so that’s the diversity part. The inclusive part comes when you’re creating a climate and a setting where each of those individuals feels like they’re in a comfortable space to be authentic, to be themselves, to be part of the solution without necessarily feeling like they have to conform in a certain way that’s going to detract from who they are, and that part is super hard to do. It’s hard to create diversity and it’s really hard to create inclusivity, and I think Michael brought up some great examples of what to do.
One thing that I did on a project team that I worked on that was pretty diverse is back to that idea of running different assessments and filling out different third-party objective surveys to understand your own individual strengths, weaknesses, and biases. Sometimes at Accenture we would do these strength finders assessment and there’s a ton of them out there, but the one we used I particularly liked because everybody would get a result of hey you have a lot of strengths in certain areas and your team member sitting to the left of you has certain strengths in different areas, so it provided that view and it provided a view of all of you as a team, so now it’s not just about you as an individual, it is about you as a distinct and very specific piece of a bigger broader community and what you are bringing to the table that is unique, valued, and is essential which then helps to create the conversation of okay if that’s the unique thing that I bring to the table, how might we maximize and optimize that value in a way that’s going to really help turbocharge whatever it is that we’re working on.
You might not know those things until the conversation comes around and most people might not know it unless there is an objective way of presenting who they are so I have found that those types of assessments are helpful and being able to discuss the results of those assessments and then being able to say okay, now that we’ve had this discussion, how do we want to proceed forward, what are the things that we would agree to as a group, what might we stack hands on and say this is how we want to operate, this is how this person is contributing, this is how this other person is contributing, this is how we’re all going to come together and help each other out is also important.
Wei Zheng: Thank you. Theresa or Sara?
Theresa Torres: I will say you know Michael listening to you I’m blessed with a very diverse team as well, so they just operate in a very inclusive way, but you know some of the things that we coach others within the organization on are just basic things like when you’re in a meeting are you making sure you’re not interrupting individuals, are you making sure that you’re including everyone that’s in that meeting, if someone says an idea and people didn’t recognize it but then a man comes in and relays the same idea, interjecting and bringing it back to the original person that part of the idea and saying you know what that’s a great echoing of the idea that Nancy just brought up.
I think the other thing that is really important and we talked a lot about is all of us make mistakes and instead of calling people out, calling them in and helping them to understand you know hey after a meeting when you said this, you know that may have been taken this way, for example in there’s a lot of terms in the English language that are used but people don’t understand what the historical context of those terms are, for example, grandfathered, and helping people understand after a meeting hey you know I just want to mention to you, you may not have known, but this is what that term actually historically came from, and helping people grow, helping them to understand how to be more inclusive is really important, and trying to assume positive intent and make sure that were exhibiting those inclusive behaviors as Michael said.
Wei Zheng: Thank you. Sara would you like to add anything?
Sara Taylor: I think where you asked how do you encourage folks to be more inclusive and there’s so much involved with that. First of all, the leading indicator of higher inclusion behaviors is developing cultural competence. We know from research that you have to develop your cultural competence and so the real question then is how do you encourage someone to develop their cultural competence and the piece of that is that many folks in, and again I would suggest if any of you are going to utilize cultural competence to only utilize research based models, don’t use oh this is what I think cultural competence is or folks that just kind of use cultural competence as a term, but use actual research based models like the intercultural development continuum, the assessment, the intercultural development inventory that are really based on solid research, and what that assessment tells us from millions of folks that have taken it is that almost every single one of us before doing development work has a significant gap between our perception of our abilities and the actual reality of our level of ability, so if you have a teammate that you’re wanting to be more inclusive, we know already they will need to develop their cultural competence, but then add that other data point to it, they’re going to perceive themselves as more competent than they actually are so we have to be able to give folks time to step take a step back to learn what cultural competence really is, learn that there are stages of development and see that from a nonjudgmental way and actually identify the level that they are at and the level that they want to be at so that you’re actually just unveiling to them hey the results of your assessment show that you want to be so much more effective than you actually are, you want to be in a stage of cultural competence that is more effective than the stage you’re actually in, so what can we do to help you get there. That’s a very different approach than coworker, I see you messed up there, coworker you said the wrong thing, coworker you’ve got unconscious bias. You have to unveil it for them in a way that is much more accessible and approachable for them so that they’re entering into it willingly without shame and blame which is so critical for them to enter into that first step, which is self-awareness as we’ve been saying over and over again.
Wei Zheng: Excellent, thank you.
Mimi Yeh: I think along the lines of what Sara just shared and what Theresa mentioned earlier, I’ve tried to use an approach that is called the green lens and it’s this idea of going into a conversation with a perspective that this individual that you’re talking to is the best version of themselves, and to what Theresa was saying earlier, is coming into this with good intention and with the intention of doing the best that they can. It’s statements like I’m not going to get them all perfect, but it’s things like this is a person who has goals and wants to make a difference, this is a person who is actively contributing with me and is here and wants to make a difference with me, that is positive and going into that with that perspective, especially if you are the leader is huge to creating a tone and creating a setting where that other person is going to reply, respond, and react in a way that’s in a much more positive light, and even if there are misunderstandings or you know slips along the way, it’s still coming back to ultimately we all have the same goal and ultimately we’re trying to achieve the same thing so let’s figure out how we’re going to navigate that journey together with all of our respective strengths and capabilities.
Michael Miller: I’d like to like to throw one other thing and since this is supposed to be on leadership and all that kind of stuff I think the one thing we would be remiss to say, and I agree with everything the panelists have said, but I think sometimes you can’t fix it. Sometimes you have problems in the organization where you are trying to do cultural competence and all this kind of stuff and sometimes you just have to act and remove individuals from situations in order to protect the greater good of the team.
So I do think we’d be remiss to say sometimes you have individuals that just don’t want to be taught and think they are the best version of themselves even though that version is not exactly a version that’s conducive to the environment. Sometimes as a leader one of the hard decisions you may want to make is you may not want to be judging the person saying whether they’re a bad person and sometimes you have to make those tough decisions as a leader for the greater good of the team to drive inclusion. You can try to teach but you might not be able to fix everything, so I do want at least throw out that that some point you do also just have to do organizational movements to address those situations, sometimes HR needs to be involved depending on where they are.
Wei Zheng: Thank you for the perspective. I want to ask one more question to our panelists. Did you have any mistakes, setbacks, or lessons learned in your own journey? What got you interested in the first place in developing the level of sensitivity that you have?
Mimi Yeh: One is a setback; you know one’s an error that I learned when I was a younger supervisor. I’m not going to say what year, but I had a team of three people underneath me and it was a hierarchy where there were two people who directly reported to me, and then a person who reported to them and I couldn’t always be there for the conversations and the work getting done, but I gave the team an assignment and I was in a different meeting so I came back to my team and found that one of the most junior team members left the premises, left the project, went home. It was not a scheduled time for that person to leave and the individual who was that person’s direct report was visibly upset and I asked what happened and the person that reported directly to me said, well, I gave this person an assignment and that person didn’t want to do it, and I said you had to do it and that person said why do I have to do it, why can’t you do it. And then person who reports directly to me said, well, you have to do it because you’re the low man on the totem pole and that’s the way it works around here. And again, this is not any kind of excuse or allowance for that to happen, it was like 20 years ago that that happened, but that caused a whole lot of blowbacks, a lot of implications, and a lot of issues that disrupted the team dynamic, the personal relationships, and the professional relationships.
The thing that I did not do well is that I did not immediately jump in and address why that was a bad thing to say, and why that was offensive, insulting, and hurtful. I think I did address the hurtful side of it, but I didn’t delve into the implications from a cultural standpoint. The thing that I think I did well on that one is because I did not feel appropriately equipped or mature enough, I will say, and that point to handle the situation I escalated it up and didn’t escalate it up to the very top, but just to my direct supervisor and to the HR organization and department that handles situations like this because I knew that I was outside of my abilities and I knew that I needed some guidance on how to handle this situation.
Ultimately HR did get involved, there were conversations, everybody was brought back to the table and there were ongoing discussions on how to prevent something like this from happening. Even though I was not present in the room and even though all of these things happened outside of my watch, it was in my performance review. So that was an example early in my career of the fact that situations like this will come up and then how to handle it and address it in the moment and not let it sit and fester.
Theresa Torres: One of the questions you asked was how did you get involved in this field, and just quickly for me, my background is I grew up in the Bronx, no one in my family was ever in a professional type of environment, and so when I started on Wall Street years ago, I was completely out of place and was wearing all the wrong things. My hair and nails were all wrong in a way that at that time was not the expectation on Wall Street and I remember just feeling such a distinct sense of not belonging and it was not a great feeling. So for me being able to impact organizations in a way that helps others not to feel that way when they come in was very important to me, so that’s really how I got involved in this field.
Wei Zheng: Thank you for sharing that. Michael, would you like to go?
Michael Miller: Yeah so there’s two parts. For the first question of how we sort of started our journey for the competence and stuff like that, I grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania, in a very rural area and everybody looked at me for the first generation to go to college and when I went to college a whole world was opened up. I was basically from a conservative area I am known as the bleeding-heart liberal of my family and all of my friends. When I became an RA and was responsible for the lives of individuals living on a floor, I learned everything from LGBT and we looked about people of color and the different natures of events going on in my life so a whole world opened up to me that just spoke to me that that was the world I wanted to live in.
So I wanted to see a world that was more inclusive and I never moved back home. I continued to do this and move to the bigger cities and when you move to larger cities you see more diverse communities so that was the start of my journey and I’m constantly on that journey. I don’t think that I’m ever going to get there because new cultural cultures form all the time and you’re still going to have to adapt. People talk about millennials and how they don’t want to work and I’m just like that’s a bunch of bs. I’ve never run into people that fit any of the stereotypical tropes that you hear today, so from that perspective that’s where I got my start.
As I said before and it sort of brings it back together, I think of myself as a fun, easy-going, lovable guy. I may be intense, but I just I think I’m approachable. But what I forgot neck down to recognize also being as part of the dominant culture white substandard male is I always understood that that put me in a different role, but as I worked out through different avenues of leadership, I misunderstood how much more effort I had to put and how much more I had to do to break down barriers because no matter who you are, when you become a member of leadership, you may have been a covert individually, but you know, then you’re part of that different organizational structure and you’ve got to understand that those differences, that because of the structural changes, some of those imbalances create problems and I can look at times in my career where I think I could have driven better results had better results for my people more satisfied results, if I understood that earlier in my career as the importance of how as you continue to work your way up to leadership change how much more important it is to put in the effort to help to make a difference and when you see the other side and the repercussions of difficult situations, it’s a heavy burden to bear. So that to me, is one of the most important lessons I keep trying to remind myself of as I continue to look at myself as an evolving leader.
Wei Zheng: Excellent well thank you so very much for a rich discussion. I’m sure everybody has learned a lot.