[ RECORDING & MODERATOR INSIGHTS ] Part One of the Inclusive Leadership in Action Webinar Series
It all starts with awareness.
Being intentional about how inclusive your actions are can benefit you as a leader, and empower your team and your organization. If you’re unsure of where to begin or how to move forward, you’re not alone.
Becoming Aware is the first session in our free, three-part webinar series Inclusive Leadership in Action. Our panelists offer concrete steps you can take to get clear on your own values and blind-spots, and allow you to tune in better to the experiences, needs and concerns of others.
Three Key Takeaways:
Awareness isn’t just about doing, it’s also about being.
- Curiosity – Curiosity is the secret sauce, and it begins with the motivation to be great at something. You can build your curiosity by setting goals for what you want to learn, and what you want to be more curious about.
- Grace – Becoming aware can be hard. You may have to face some truths about yourself, the people around you, and our historical context that bring up feelings of sadness, shame or guilt.
- Commitment – This learning process will never end, so it requires a commitment to keep moving forward, especially when it’s challenging. You don’t have to go it alone.
Watch the recording below and keep scrolling for moderator Elisa van Dam’s insights from Becoming Aware, including actions that can help YOU become a more inclusive leader today.
I know you want to ‘do’, but first you have to ‘be’
From Elisa van Dam, Vice President, Allyship & Inclusion
When I talk with people about being a more inclusive leader, they immediately want to know what to do. They are looking for specific actions they can take. So during our webinar on Becoming Aware I asked our panelists and our participants to share lots of great ideas for actions you can take. You’ll find them below. You can find even more in The Inclusive Leader’s Playbook.
But before you jump into “doing,” it’s important to think about “being.” Being is how you show up in the world – your attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives. How you approach this work has a major impact on your ability to “do” successfully, and to recover and learn when you aren’t as successful. And although it may not feel as immediately satisfying as taking action, cultivating your approach to the work is even more important than the actions you take.
Live from Boston, Massachusetts, Please welcome your host, Vice President of Allyship and Inclusion for The Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership, Elisa van Dam.
Elisa van Dam:
Hi Everybody. We are so delighted to have you with us today for what is going to be a really high impact, very engaging conversation around “Becoming Aware.” In our time today, I’m going to talk a little bit about our Model of the Work of the Inclusive Leader, just to give some context for why we’re talking about becoming aware. And then I’m going to ask you a couple of questions and then bring on our fantastic panelists. We’re going to have a bit of a conversation. We’re going to give some time for your questions. I really want to make sure that you have an opportunity to ask those things that you most want to know about becoming aware.
And then I’m going to ask you to do a little bit of work, to think about one action that you can take in the next 10 to 14 days to improve your awareness around your own biases and the systems that we all live in that create systems of advantage and disadvantage depending on people’s social identity, since that is our topic for today. And my goal is to end us a couple of minutes before the hour, because I really believe that we need to give ourselves time to transition.
So with that, I do want to walk us through The Work of the Inclusive Leader.
The model that we built is focused on three levels of activity. So the first level is what we’re going to be talking about today. And it’s all about Becoming Aware, how you understand your own unconscious biases, what impact those may be having without your intention on your decision-making. And also, as I mentioned, how the systems that we all live in – the water that we swim in the air, that we breathe – how those actually provide advantages to some people and disadvantages to other people based, not on merit, but on social identity. So that’s where we’re going to focus today.
In our next webinar, we’re going to be focusing on the second level of our model, and that is the level of becoming an ally and upstander. And the two actions in this level are first around individual support. How can I be an ally for the people around me to help amplify their voices, to make sure that they are heard, that they have access, that they are engaged and able to bring their whole selves to work. And that then leads to this idea of becoming an advocate for belonging. What is it that we can do together to make sure that everyone shows up fully, they’re able to be themselves, they’re really valued for what they bring to the table, and they have that sense of belonging. Not that you have to fit in, that you have to kind of squeeze yourself into the mold of what it means to fit in around here, but that you can be yourself, and that that self is seen and valued.
Our third level of the model is about becoming a change agent. And in this level you can take action as a sponsor. You can use your political capital, put your reputation on the line to provide an opportunity or to speak up for someone from an underrepresented group. And you can make change. That can be really small. It can be having a particular system for making sure that everyone in your meeting gets their voice heard, or it can be on a much more global level, changing all of the way that your organization does talent management, performance reviews, and all of the other ways that people move up and aspire to leadership positions. So we’re going to be talking about that piece of the model in our session in November.
So before I bring our panelists in, I do want to say a couple of things about this model. First of all, really critically you’ll see that underneath all of this is learning and self-reflection, and that’s because the process of becoming a more inclusive leader, like building any other leadership muscle, depends on trying something, looking at what happened, reflecting on it, asking for input, and then continuing the cycle of learning experimentation and doing better.
This model also is linear in the way that it’s laid out. You start with action number one, and you end up with action number six. But the reality is that although they build on each other, you’re going to move through the model in different ways. You can’t stop learning about your own biases, even as you’re acting as a sponsor. And you’re also going to be in different places likely when it comes to different social identities and the intersection of those social identities. So for myself, I have spent 10 years or more working in the gender equity space. I feel pretty good about my understanding of what’s going on around gender equity. I am still on my learning journey when it comes to for example, people in the deaf community and that’s okay. I do both give myself grace for the things that I don’t know and for when I inevitably mess up, but I also try to hold myself to a high standard. And I invite you to do the same – to balance that learning and knowing that this is an ongoing process and also to really strive for doing the best that you can, as you are in this journey.
So with that, I want to ask you, where are you in your journey? So you’ll see a poll question. And there’s one that’s about how aware you are of your own biases and blind spots and how aware you are about systemic biases. So I’m going to ask you if you would go ahead and just click the button that represents where you think you are in your journey right now this minute, and then I’m going to share the answers to that as we move into our panel.
So while I give you some time to do that, I’m going to ask our panelists to join us. And I’m going to ask each of them to introduce themselves and share a little bit about how they think of the journey of becoming aware. So I am thrilled with this amazing group of people who are going to talk with me and with you for the rest of our time together. And the first person I’m going to ask to introduce herself is the wonderful Dawn Frazier-Bohnert. Dawn?
Thank you so much, Elisa. I’m so happy to be with all of you. I’m Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, and I’m the global Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer for Liberty Mutual, headquartered right here in Boston. And I’m also outside of Boston in Watertown coming to you today. I would say this, this whole journey as Elisa talked about is just that – it’s a journey. And it, for me, started a long time ago.
I’m an air force brat. So born into a military family, which means that my father moved every two years of my life up until the age of 15. And so for those of you who have a similar background, you know what that’s like. That means you’re always going into a new environment. For me, that was a new school system, new neighborhood. And if you think back to your early childhood, think about those times when you were trying to fit in, you know, you didn’t know who were the cool kids, who were the kids that they weren’t as cool. What did you wear that would make you feel like you were a part of the group? What was the food, the language, the culture. All of those things happened for me and my brother and sister over and over and over again. And I realized, although I didn’t have a label or name for it at the time, that what I was doing and what would serve me later in life was developing my cultural dexterity, my ability to be able to work effectively across differences. Regardless if I was in Boise, Idaho, the middle of Michigan, Kalamazoo for a matter of fact, or, or here in Massachusetts, there was something I needed to learn in order to be able to work well.
And honestly, there were times when, as Elisa talked about, I messed up or I missed out. I remember many days walking into a big cafeteria and not knowing where to sit, not knowing who would be friendly,unot knowing my place and not feeling like I belonged. And I also watched other kids be, if you will, sort of discarded or put aside, not included in the kickball games, not included in being picked for going to a sleepover with a friend. So early on that feeling of not connecting and not being a part of was very, very strong. Again, not having the label or the language to understand it. But knowing that that was something really important for me and that I wanted to do something that would help others make those connections. So it started then, and I’m grateful to be in this work. That’s helped me grow. And as you said, Elisa helped all of us continue to grow because you’re never finished. And I come to this work really from that starting place and look forward to sharing with you what I’ve been doing at Liberty to help others develop that awareness as well.
Elisa van Dam:
Thank you so much. I didn’t know that you were traveling so much in your earlier years. Thank you for telling us about that. I’m going to turn now to the president of Simmons University, Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten.
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
Thank you. And greetings from my office on the Simmons University campus. I did not know she was a military brat because I’m married to one. So your experiences really speak to me and I can talk about raising what we call academic brats and my children moving and living in various college towns. And it is a similar experience. Like Dawn, you know, I really learned about the work of inclusive leadership early on. And I liked the metaphor of it’s a journey because my parents always created field trip experiences. You know, I grew up in Philadelphia. So no matter what it was, everything was a field trip to expose you to different cultures. It could have been going to the Philadelphia art museum or the Franklin Institute or going to what we used to call the Dutch or the Amish country, but it was those field trips and the library – I love to read – that really started to make me develop my culture intelligence, this emerging into different cultures, learning from the arts, learning from field trips, and learning from books.
Then when I left Philadelphia at 18 and went to college and spent my entire career in higher education, what I did is every time I moved, I tried to learn something new about the people, the culture, and the systems, and really to understand one who feels included, who feels excluded and what I could do as an everyday leader to level that playing field. When you think about having self-awareness, I often think about it being a 360 degree awareness. There’s the Greek god Janus and Janus says we have to constantly look back and look forward. So it’s important that we understand our history, that we understand the systems of oppression and that the systems that are working and we can dismantle them and that we can be visionary leaders and have that self-awareness to look forward.
The other part is the self-awareness for me has been doing the inner work and the outer work. I’m constantly making self sense of my identity and our identities change over time. You know, African-American woman, parent, a leader, I’m a Bostonian now. I’m learning how to make sense of that identity. You know, before that I was in Ithaca, New York. And the other one is the outer work. What roles can I bring to systems change? And I know that’s a future webinar. And how does my worldview really make me have biases, and understanding those biases and making sure I’m checking them. So that that’s been my journey, but the field trip metaphor sums it up.
Elisa van Dam:
Thank you so much. And, and I’m speaking as a Simmons employee, how appreciative we are of the lens that you’re bringing to this work for the university. And we’re going to talk about that in a little bit, but first I want to ask Stuart Kliman to tell us a little bit about himself and his journey around awareness.
Great to be with you and for everyone who’s out there in the webinar today. Again, my name is Stuart Kliman. I am a partner and the head of the Center of Excellence at a small private equity firm called Building Industry Partners, which is focused on the lower middle market of the building industry. But I spent 25 or so years as the founder and one of the leaders at a midsize consulting and training organization called Vantage Partners. And so for me, really my journey started being a young leader, someone who was called upon to run a firm. And as I did that, I started to talk to people more and more and find that the people with whom I work, the people who work for me and with me, tended to report to me dramatically different experiences of the work that they were doing for my firm, interactions with me, interactions with my partners conversations with clients et cetera.
And that really struck me as kind of interesting and piqued my personal curiosity to find out a little bit more. And as I did that, I kept learning that people were extraordinarily different in their experiences of everything around them. The data or the information which was thrown at them was different than mine in a way that was just extraordinarily surprising, the things that they attended to. So even when we had some of the same kind of experience sets around us, the data or the information that they attended to and felt was important and therefore had impact on them and how they saw themselves in the world around them and how they understood what others were doing, was very different than the things that I kind of attended to. Or the things that they didn’t attend to that maybe they discarded as around what I sort of learned was sort of, they decided it was non-conforming data, not worth taking a look at was different than the things that I thought were less important.
And so their experience of everything around them was just dramatically different and that kind of surprised me. It regularly surprised me. It dramatically surprised me. And a little bit, Elisa, to your point that caused me to reflect a little bit on what’s going on here. Why am I so surprised? What’s going on within these circumstances where I can be in one set of in one context and others are experiencing it dramatically different than I am, reporting it out in dramatically different ways.
I was lucky enough to have spent a fair amount of time at a think tank at Harvard called the Harvard Negotiation Project. So I had a few key tools for thinking some of that through and some language and some frameworks like Simmons is providing folks today and elsewhere. And from there, it’s really just been that journey, that journey of reflection and learning, and kind of trying to attend to all the surprises that I get about the ways that other people are experiencing the world.
Elisa van Dam:
Thank you. You know, you bring up this idea for reflection and learning and it is so critical. And I think it’s hard to do. I’m wondering what all of you use as a way of doing that reflection. What kind of tools and advice do you have for people who want to build more reflection and thinking into their lives? And I’m going to start with Lynn, what would you suggest?
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
So I try to do reflection on two levels that – I previewed this – I love books, and books really put me into reflection mode. Even my summer reading, I wanted to learn more about the Boston beach community and that culture. And so I read books, read a lot of historical fiction. So when I’m reading books, they take me to reflective mode, whether it be fiction or even non-fiction to improve my leadership practice. And I’m constantly asking myself, what’s the story of inclusion and culture in these books? What can I learn from it? How is this culture similar to my culture? What do I want to bring into the culture that I lead? So books really guide me as individual time going into the deep reflection. And then there’s interpersonal collective reflection. I love to come together with a group of people and make sense of the environment, the systems, and how we can be more inclusive. So lots of group meetings, lots of provocative conversations and really encouraging the collective learning.
Elisa van Dam:
Yeah. I love that because there is a piece around helping each other to reflect, and it’s not all on me as a fellow bookworm. It hadn’t occurred to me to think with that lens. So I really appreciate that.
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
Right. Because you don’t want it to be a solo journey. You captured it. It can’t all be on me and I can learn from other people. I can get feedback when I can make mistakes. I can benchmark best practices and it’s therapeutic in some ways.
Elisa van Dam:
Yeah, absolutely. Dawn, it looked like you had something that you wanted to add. I’m wondering what you’re thinking.
I’m just, I’m taking everything in. I’m learning from my colleagues here. One of the things that we’ve done at Liberty has been really helpful. And we all know, especially as adults, we need prompts sometimes with learning. We went out with a campaign as we were doing our early work in this space and really starting to try to create more awareness. We also were talking about, you know, our biases. We say, if you have a brain, you have bias and we’re trying to find ways to help people really move forward, without shame, but with the recognition that when you stay open, that’s when you learn. So I’m wearing one of the things that we use, we call it our DEI lens, which is red. As you can see, (it’s) little tiny glasses that I think we got off of Etsy or something, but we also created some other kinds of little stickers or prompts that people could put on their monitors.
And it was a way to pause – that’s why it’s red – stop and reflect. And I have to say very practical. So, you know, if you’re in the middle of a meeting and you’re not feeling like it’s going well, or you’re thinking about, you know a meeting to come or some kind of interaction, to really think about the fact that regardless of whether or not you’re acknowledging DEI happening, it is. And so it’s a way to stop and think about what am I missing? What don’t I know? How am I? What’s going on in maybe my belly that’s really confusing me because something is triggering me. So reflection. Absolutely. And this is one of the ways, one of the simple tools. I was thinking, how could you make it your own? Just put a little sticker up on your monitor and put like “my DEI lens” or something that says, do I know all that I need to know to be making this decision or making this assumption? So I thought it would help sort of connect the two in a practical way around how you could reflect, in an interaction or in a daily way.
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
So I was admiring your pin. I, and I just thought, oh, that’s a cool hip piece of you know lapel that she has on her black top today. But I really do like this notion of thinking about the lens. You’re looking at a situation realizing we all have biases and stopping, pausing, and reflecting so that you can advance the work of inclusive leadership. So I need to get some of those red eyeglasses.
We’ll get some to you, Lynn and I love what you were saying. It doesn’t then have to be a solo effort because you can help each other. You know, colleagues can sort of say, hey, we need to kind of maybe slow down and think about this differently. So you can engage with others. It doesn’t just have to be on your own. So I love what you were sharing and I’ll get you a pin.
Elisa I was just going to add two quick thoughts. One is, I think sometimes when people hear about reflection and sort of this notion of reflection, they think that it’s a concept, which is kind of solely related to some of the kinds of topics that we’re talking about here, right? Personal growth and things like that. I think one of the things that’s really important is that folks need to understand reflection is the key to getting better at anything. So if I am trying to learn to get good at tennis I don’t actually get better by swinging the racket. I get better when I evaluate the outcome that I got. Right? So I swung the racket in a particular way. And the ball either went where I thought it was going to go, or it didn’t go where I thought it was going to go. And it is upon asking the question, “So what worked and how do I need to change my swing?” That learning happened, right? That’s the reflection process. So if we want to be better leaders just like, if we want to be better tennis players, we need to reflect.
And I guess maybe the only other thing I would say is to, to Lynn’s point for me, at least the trigger for reflection is surprise because if I am surprised, it means that I’ve missed something along the way. Right? There’s something going on that was not what I expected. And that’s a great opportunity for reflection.
Elisa van Dam:
Yeah. I love that point. Sort of watching for when you have that feeling of, oh, and having that as being the thing that gets you going. It reminds me a little bit of our conversation about curiosity. And I’m wondering, how did you cultivate curiosity? How do you think about curiosity and how does it relate to that idea of being surprised? Stuart, what would you say?
Yeah. Well, Elisa, you, you know, me, I love the concept of curiosity. I think curiosity is the secret sauce that kind of sits underneath virtually everything, right? It sits underneath our ability to innovate with our customers. I think it sits underneath our ability to have strong interpersonal relationships. I believe it sits underneath the ability to manage conflict and deal with difference and certainly to become a more inclusive leader. You need to have significant curiosity. I think it starts with the motivation to be great at whatever it is that you are trying to do. And it ties back to what I said before. You can’t be great at something without curiosity, because curiosity is learning, right? It’s how you get better at things over time. And so, you know, just like with tennis, just like with piano, any other skill that you’re trying to do, you need to sort of take a first step of just deciding that I am going to learn.
And if curiosity is the key to learning, you need to get systematic about it. You sit down at the piano and you decide to practice, you actually need to practice curiosity. You need to be attending to the question of, you know, well, what should I try to learn about today, should I try to learn a little bit more about Elisa? Should I try to learn a little bit more about Lynn? Should I try to learn a little bit more about my colleagues who are around me and their experiences? I remember once as a young leader, I was pretty frustrated with my administrative assistant in terms of her responsiveness. And I decided to get a little bit curious to ask about, you know, what her day sort of feels like on a regular basis, particularly the first couple of hours of the day. And she sat me through and she walked me through what she sat down to her desk to experience in her first couple of hours. And that was just an extraordinary amount of learning right there. And I think it made me better and I think it gave us the ability to interact better. So I think it just all starts with motivation and kind of seriousness of purpose, you know, being curious doesn’t just happen. It’s an active decision.
Elisa van Dam:
Yeah. I love that. Thank you. I want to switch topics a little bit and talk about how organizations can help support the process of becoming aware. And Dawn, you shared a little bit about your wonderful red lapel pin. Lynn, I know that Simmons has done a lot of work that you’re leading in this area. What things have you found to be most important or ideas that you can share with the people that are listening today?
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
You know, it starts with the organization having a value for the work of inclusive leadership. And part of that value has to be that you value humanity, that you value learning and that you have that curiosity that Stuart talked about. So at Simmons by definition, we are a learning community and at the individual level, encouraging people to think about how they can learn about inclusive leadership. We do that through our “community read”, we offer what I call action-based learning experiences. One of our exemplar ones is on undoing racism and having students out in the field, looking at and working with organizations and systems to undo racism. We think about it in our coursework. We think about it in how we develop our staff and faculty. So it’s that continuous learning and Stuart, what you said is that if you’re on the pursuit of excellence or what I call creating continuous cycles of good to great, then, you know inclusion has to be there.
And you have to be curious about doing the work. Another powerful form is storytelling. When I first started out as a young faculty member, I wanted to always have a community of learners in my classroom and encourage people to learn. Not only the subject matter, I was teaching corporate strategy, but to learn about each other. And I remember that I had a student who had missed class and in a case-based class that is pretty much of a no-no. And I said, well, why did you miss class? He said, why I missed class is because I made the pilgrimage to Mecca. And you know, this is something really amazing that this person, you know, the week after spring break, made the pilgrimage to Mecca. And I took time to pause – so going back to Dawn’s point of pausing – and let the student share his experience, because no one else was making a pilgrimage to Mecca in the class, and why it was important to him and how we could all learn. So at the end of the day, it is really creating organizations that are curious and care about humanity.
Elisa van Dam:
Okay. So easy. We’ll get that figured out by next week. But what I love is that every step brings us closer to having that ideal organization, that world we’re looking for.
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
It’s continuous. Yeah, exactly. Always taking steps, as you said, and redefining what we need to learn to do the work of inclusive leader. I’ve been to Kalamazoo, Dawn, so I know what you had to do when you lived in Kalamazoo.
Elisa van Dam:
No shade to Kalamazoo. However,
It’s a wonderful place. Thank you, Elisa. You’re going to ask me a question, I think.
Elisa van Dam:
Yes. So I wanted to check in with you. Are there other things that you are doing and your colleagues at Liberty Mutual are doing around supporting your employees in terms of their becoming more aware?
Absolutely. You know, I’ll step back a little bit and say that we started with, and I love what Stuart was saying around, you know, it’s an action that you really do have to make a decision that you want to be better. And so we spent a lot of time, in the early days, really helping people understand why that was so important. And it really began with talking about diversity as being something that was about all of us. When I arrived, Diversity had been really made, unfortunately very narrow given what was, how it was talked about externally. And so really helping people get grounded with diversity was about all of us, which meant all of us have responsibility for it. It wasn’t just for some people and not for others, but collectively, if we wanted to really live the values of our company – Lynn, I love that you are making that connection – then all of us had a part to play in helping make this happen. And we all had work to do.
So we mentioned unconscious bias awareness. That is a great way to help people understand themselves, but it is not where you stop. It’s a place where you start. So we made that kind of programming available. So people can really begin to understand themselves. And we did a number of other things. We launched employee resource groups or affinity groups, many organizations have them, which was a wonderful way for people to step outside of their own lived experience and learn about others. So a lot of programming there, a lot of opportunity for people to not only create community, but to build allyship and also learn more about themselves. So we knew it was so important just to continue, as we’ve been saying, to find ways, and people learn in different ways, to help people really understand that for many who perhaps didn’t grow up as I did and have some of the challenging experiences that I did early, was an opportunity for people to think about their own growth. What did they learn? What were they taught? What did they catch from media or another places that they might want to revisit? Because it wasn’t really helping them as they were thinking about their, you know, their own growth and development.
And we’ve continued to just help people recognize that wherever you are, you know, the fact that you’re willing to participate again, going back Stuart, to your focus on motivation is so key. And that we all run our own races in different ways, you know, to move forward. I know we’re not going to talk about action for us, as we move through awareness, it was really helping people recognize that you don’t stay in awareness. You really do have to move towards action behavior. But the awareness piece was a big place to focus because for many people, it was really lighting them up in ways that they had not experienced before.
Can I just add in an additional bit of concepts or language here? Just as I listened to both Dawn and Lynn, maybe a different bit of language that I hear sometimes, but I think maybe not enough out there when we’re talking about these notions, is empathy. And,you know, as I sit and reflect on my own journey and kind of how I sit in the world and how I try to work in our portfolio firms, and as I try to work with other people, I find the concept of empathy ever more interesting and important and connected to some of the things that Dawn and Lynn, were talking about. It’s really, really hard to be empathetic, to really understand what others are experiencing, the world in which they are sitting, the ways they are understanding the world. It’s super hard, but I think a lot of people kind of get the importance of empathy, it’s grounded in many, many, many different traditions and moral frameworks.
And I think there’s something to that to really think about in terms of, you know, what is it that we are trying to become aware of? You know, we’re trying to become aware of how different people experience the world and the ways in which as Lynn and Dawn said, and you said the systems create those experiences. So I don’t know, I don’t know if that is kind of a worthy addition to the dialogue, but for me, I’m kind of intrigued by that as an important notion that maybe is sort of underdeveloped in all of our thinking.
Elisa van Dam:
Yeah. I think your point is really well taken. I’m about to turn to the audience for questions. So now’s a great opportunity for folks to put their questions in the Q and A box, not in the chat, but in the Q and A, but first I want to build a little bit on what you just said, Stuart, and pick up on something that Dawn mentioned in our preparation call, which is, you know, sometimes this work can be painful and we can have realizations about ourselves that wow, I really didn’t handle that situation well, or, you know, there might be shame or guilt or, you know, learning about some really, truly terrible historical things that have happened. And how do you kind of live in that and build that empathy. And so I’m wondering what advice you all have for kind of managing those negative emotions without running away from them, but also without drowning in them? What thoughts do you have?
I’ll jump in first and to share, I think you’re absolutely right. And there, oftentimes people don’t want to look at things because they know that they will be painful. So they really do shy away from that self-examination. We have one of our inclusion guidelines, and we have a few at Liberty, and that is no shame, blame, or attack of self or of others. And it really is a good reminder that in this work we’re going to make mistakes. We may even learn about things that we don’t think are very attractive about ourselves or are very good. Perhaps something that, you know, unbeknownst to us, we learned from others and carried forward. I like to think about, I think you used a word early on, Elisa about grace, having an ability to be gentle with ourselves as we do this exploratory work and recognize that the process of growth sometimes is uncomfortable. But it is part of the process to moving forward.
And so we remind ourselves as we go through this, this is not about perfection and everyone’s journey will be different, but there is a need to really, to be, to give ourselves some space and care, that going through the process is courageous. And that sometimes you just have to take it in bite size amounts as well. You know, we don’t want to overwhelm at time, but just to go through the process, maybe do it with a partner or some folks who can support you as well as also very helpful.
Elisa van Dam:
Oh, I think that’s so important. Thank you. Lynn or Stuart, anything you would add to that?
Yeah. I mean, so I think what I have learned and what I try to help other people learn is that being unaware is part of the natural human condition. And, you know, it is not surprising at all that, you know, Stu Kliman is dramatically unaware and is un-empathetic of all sorts of experiences of most people in the world. I mean, it is, it ought not to be in any way surprising. I’ve got my little world. I’ve experienced that little world, I’ve grown up in it in a particular way. I’ve read certain books and not other books. I’ve, you know, met certain people and not other kinds of people I’ve walked down certain streets and not others. And, you know, the notion that I would be anything other than dramatically unaware of all sorts of different things is just, I mean, it would be arrogant in the extreme, right?
And so I’ve just, you know, it’s a little bit of, Dawn, your point around grace. I mean, how could it be anything other than unaware, right? There’s just it. And so I guess that’s my message to folks around some of these questions. Well, of course we’re all unaware, you’re, you know, you’re not a bad person because you’re unaware, it’s just sort of a natural way. It is right? And now the question is, how do you learn? So for me, that’s been very helpful. And I think as I’ve worked for people, that’s been a framing that I think people have appreciated. And that’s sort of opened them up to the possibility that there’s more.
Elisa van Dam:
I appreciate that. And I’ve gotten some really great questions from the audience, so I’m going to turn us to them. And they are actually two that I’m going to kind of balance because they’re sort of two sides of the same coin. So one is from a person who says that they have unearned privilege and they want to learn more. And they want to ask someone who doesn’t benefit from that same unearned privilege about their experience, but they don’t want to ask it in the wrong way. And the flip side is from someone who is in an underrepresented group, who says, how do you balance, like being aware with also not being kind of put on the spot to speak to your experience if you’re not in a place where you want to do that. And so I’m wondering how you navigate the two sides of that very challenging coin.
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
I can take one side of the coin and I’ll take the latter one about when you are in an underrepresented group and you want your voice heard and you want to make systems better. You know, I often start with saying from my perspective, so growing up African-American or growing up as a working woman or growing up in some things, and this is what I’ve learned from my perspective, and it’s only one perspective, but it’s the world view that I have and that many have. And so what can we do about this perspective and how can we make systems better? So I often say, you know, as an African-American, this is my worldview, this is my lived experiences, and this is the impact it may have on a system. And then to really, and to say it gently and then seek feedback from how others in different groups experience it, but it is getting it out there and making sure people understand your viewpoint. Another one that Dawn spoke about, is the power of affinity groups and looking for affinity groups within your organization or across organizations. So at Simmons, we have a number of affinity groups, but we also partner with the Colleges of the Fenway’s. And if you have a partner sometime, and you’re from an underrepresented background, there is power in partnerships. And so that’s what I do. Okay.
Elisa van Dam:
And if I may ask Lynn, have you found yourself in situations – well, I don’t want to put you on the spot – but what advice do you have for someone who is sort of like, you know, if you’re the one in the room and people want to know, and they like turn to you and say, please now speak for everybody who shares your social identity. Like, how do you navigate that?
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
Yeah. And, and it happens, it’s happened all of my life, especially in a career in higher education. And you have to decide what you feel comfortable with. I have felt comfortable with it, and I have owned my multiple identities and have served as a spokesperson, but I’ve been very clear that I’m only one person, but try to document it with data, try to give it historical context and then try to say, how do we move the system forward. But data, historical context, and the caveat that I’m one person representing a viewpoint.
Elisa van Dam:
Dawn, what would you say to this?
Yeah, I was just thinking, especially when I think about 2020 and some of the just enormous challenges, there are a number of people who were just asked by others for their feedback. How are you feeling about what’s happening with George Floyd and the murders and how are you feeling about or what’s happening with the, you know, the anti-Asian violence. There are a number of people who just felt really over tapped. So the one thing I would say for people who are reaching out is that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to reach out. I sometimes think timing is everything, and there’s nothing about perfection in this space. You might ask someone if they would be interested in having a mutual conversation, you want to think about something that’s beneficial to both. And they say no, and that’s okay, then move on and ask someone else.
I mean, you have to realize that in this process, there will be people who say, I’ve actually said enough. I don’t want to say more. Don’t ask me again, because you know, maybe there isn’t enough in the well, they have been asked by so many people. So I think we need to recognize that in this process, you’re going to find people who aren’t interested for whatever the reasons. And they may have very good reasons why they just can’t share, but that doesn’t mean you stop. And it doesn’t mean you take it necessarily personally. It means that you continue to look for others to be able to have that conversation. So being one of those people, and again, it was my job, but I heard from a lot of folks who felt like – I can’t talk about this one more time, Dawn, how do I, you know, how do I stop that? So I just want to throw that out, that there is a lot of interest, but sometimes people are just not able to – given their own tanks of energy – to be able to provide any kind of feedback to you in that space. And that’s okay.
Elisa van Dam:
And when you were having those conversations with people who were saying, like, I just can’t answer another question, what kind of advice do you have for them on how to push back and say, you know, no, not right now or no period.
I think just as you were saying, it is okay. That you do not have to be the teacher for everyone all the time, and it’s actually better for you to take care of yourself. And for some people that meant I’m not going on the circuit, I’m not going to ERG events to talk about it. And that is okay. I think a lot of people were feeling the burden given – here’s my opportunity, someone’s asking, shouldn’t I take advantage of that? But I think it’s more important for you to take care of yourself and there will always be another opportunity.
Elisa van Dam:
And on the flip side, if you’re the person who is in the privileged place, do you have any thoughts, any of you on how to ask that question in a way that makes it clear that you’re not trying to like put that person where they have to feel, they feel like they have to respond or is there a better way or a, like,
I guess I’ll jump in. I mean that authentically I’ll jump in because I think there’s a bit of “I’ll jump in” that I think is just kind of important. You know, there are no perfect ways. There are no perfect answers. I hope that if I am motivated by an authentic set of learning interests, that folks will understand that that’s what I’m motivated by. That they will feel, to Dawn’s point, total agency to tell me this isn’t a good time, or it’s not a good conversation and I’ll try to make clear that’s of course, totally okay. That it’s, you know, not my intent to ask people to do things that they’re unwilling or uninterested in doing. But you know, I think we’re all kind of in this together and that’s sort of my point of view. And if people want to give it a go, they should give it a go and you certainly should not let the fear of running into the kinds of concerns that Dawn and Lynn mentioned, undermine your interest in learning. And so you’ve got to sort of give it a go and if it doesn’t go well, that’s just another opportunity to learn and to reflect. So, you know, that feels a whole lot better to me as an outcome than not learning. Then I guess maybe that’s that that’s the motivating force.
Elisa van Dam:
Yeah. Yeah. And to, and to leave space for the person to say, you know, no, and that’s okay. Yeah. All right. I’m going to take one more question. And this is a challenging one. If you notice that someone else’s awareness doesn’t seem to be quite where it needs to be, especially if that is someone who is maybe in a hierarchal system above you, is there a way that you can try and kind of open their eyes about the need to become more aware? Has anybody had any success in having that conversation? Yeah, go ahead.
I’m happy to jump in as well. And while my colleagues are also thinking of, of suggestions, I mean, of course I think that’s very natural. You know, we focused on a number of ways to really drive the message that inclusive leadership is a core value of ours, as we all talk about living values. And there are lots of ways that we continue to reinforce that, but of course there are some people who perhaps are greater skilled than others are demonstrating that. You know, so there are lots of different ways, I think within different organizations. I know some organizations have skip levels where you have an opportunity to talk to a leader above your leader. There are ways to with an employee opinion survey share what you’d like to see as some perhaps greater emphasis on training or conversation or even behavior.
So I think it really depends on your organization in terms of your structure you know, talking with HR, talking with perhaps a mentor or sponsor. I think sometimes leaders even open themselves up to hear, you know, “what would you like to hear? What could – ask me anything, what can I talk about? What could I do differently?” And I think it really depends on your ability to, you know, develop a confidence and trust to be able to put that out there. But, we certainly experienced that everywhere and probably in every organization. And I think you just don’t want to stop doing the work that you can do because there’s always work that we need to focus on, that we can control and that we can influence, and hope that and recognize that there are lots of other things in a system that can address people who don’t seem to be moving forward in the way in which they should be. I don’t know if that’s helpful, but I throw that out as a way to kind of just share. I’m always focusing on what can I do. It’s really hard to actually focus on what other people can be doing, even if I would like to.
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
You know, when you’re managing up, every person has a language that speaks to them. Some people it’s data, some people it’s allyship, other people, storytelling, power, and influence. So try to assess what the language is that will speak to that person about understanding the diversity equity or inclusion issue. Once you understand that language, what we call we talk about issue selling, think about how you can package and sell the issue so that you’re heard and that the person comprehends it. And then building upon what Dawn said is also be solution centric. So not only present problems to this person, issues, but maybe pathways to action and solutions – that has worked for me.
Elisa van Dam:
I love that. Thank you. All right. I’m looking as we’re coming up towards the top of the hour, and I want to share the results of the polls that we did at the beginning of our time together and add one more poll as we start to move towards action, and what things can we do. So it’s really nice to see actually the very strong bell curve for both of the questions about how aware people are feeling. 81% say that they’re somewhat aware of their blind spots. And 70% are somewhat aware of systemic bias. Only a couple of folks are not aware of systemic bias. Some are very aware and everybody has some awareness of their own blind spots, which I think is really impressive and wonderful to see. So I’m going to ask one more poll question, which is about what things the folks in the audience are doing, what they find most helpful in becoming aware of their own blind spots. And while that’s happening, I’m going to ask our panel for their advice. One thing that you suggest people can do, one action they can try out in the next 10 to 14 days to help them on their journey of becoming more aware. And I’m going to start with Stuart.
I guess I go back to what I said before and, you know, it’s easier to say than to do, but I think in some way, try to empathize with someone else’s experience. And that doesn’t have to be to the question that was raised before. That doesn’t mean you need to ask them about it. I think, just imagine it, right? You know, try to imagine different people walking down the street or different people who you read about. And just try to imagine how different the, and I’ll continue to use this term, how sort of different the data that they are experiencing is – the environment, the inputs that they have – and the impacts that those experiences might have on them. And just try to imagine that a little bit. And if you’re a little bit kind of surprised by that, maybe ask yourself, well, why would I be surprised by that? And how can I maybe become a little bit more attendant to some of those things over time?
Elisa van Dam:
Alright, thank you, Lynn, what’s an action that you think people might consider taking.
Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten:
So in honor of my parents and how I started, I’m going to challenge everyone to take a field trip. And this doesn’t mean in this pandemic era that you have to leave your house. There are multiple ways where you can learn about different cultures. So it might be reading a book, watching a new TV show, listening to a podcast, or I was listening to public radio on my way in. It could be spending time having that intimate conversation with someone from a different culture to understand their perspectives. I like the example that Stuart gave when he spent time with his administrative assistant, that’s a field trip. You went to her desk, you learned about her day and experiences, or it could be leaving your house or office to go to a museum or historic site or something new in your neighborhood, but go on a field trip and learn about a different culture and spend some time
Elisa van Dam:
A field trip. Fantastic. All right, Dawn, what would you suggest?
So my suggestion is to do a little inventory. So without judgment, so again, be kind to yourself as you’re doing it, you really want to start to think about who you are in the world. And what I mean by that is what does your network look like? So by inventory, what I’d ask you to do is to think about, you know, what were you taught? What did you catch? How do you think about yourself in relationship to others in the world and start to make a little list, you know, who do you spend time with, socializing? Think about perhaps your community, where do you live? Where do your children go to school, if you have children. If you worship, what does your worship community look like? What movies do you tend to like? What books do you tend to look at?
What you’re trying to do is start to really map out and understand sort of how you’ve kind of shaped or architected your life. And that’s why I said this is without judgment, because you may learn some things that may surprise you. May surprise you about perhaps how you’ve limited yourself in ways to be able to explore other differences. So the opportunity is not to look at this and then to feel bad but to say, I have an opportunity to expand my network, to expand my world. Maybe I want to explore in this way. And then I think it would be really great to think about, again, those field trips that Lynn’s talking about and that Stuart is talking about. I want to learn more about this particular dimension of diversity or these particular people or this particular culture. It really does give you the opportunity to see where you can grow.
Elisa van Dam:
I love that. Take an inventory. All right. So folks on the line, this is where I turn to you and I ask you to put in the chat what’s the thing that you would like to do in the next 10 to 14 days. I’m going to ask you to type it in there for two reasons. Number one, for accountability. We know that just having written down the goal makes it more likely that it’s something that you’ll do. More importantly it’s to encourage other folks and to give them more ideas and to spread the learning of actions that we can all take to become aware. So please do that in the chat. And while you’re doing that, I am going to say a huge thank you to our panelists today. They have been so wonderful and sharing their experiences, and I just really appreciate all of the wisdom that you brought to the table. So from me and from the virtual audience that you can’t hear clapping, a huge round of applause. Thank you.
The other thing I want to do is share with you the results of the poll and a few more things to think about. So folks said 37% learn from attending educational programs, which is not surprising because here you are, 22% said, books and news and other media and 40% feedback from other people. So I think those are all areas to think about as you continue your learning journey in becoming more aware.
So now I want to ask a couple of more things. You’ll find on the webpage two links, one to our survey on belonging. That’s a research survey that we’re doing this fall to learn more about your experiences of belonging at work. Please take that survey. It really helps us be able to work with individuals and organizations on creating more cultures of belonging. Number two, please do the evaluation survey. It’s literally three questions. It won’t take you any time at all, but that feedback is really valuable to us as we prepare for the next two webinars.
And I hope to see you on October 14th to talk about Becoming an Ally and Upstander and on November 16th to talk about becoming a change agent. The last thing I’ll note is that there is a playbook available on Amazon. It’s called The Work of the Inclusive Leader, and that talks about this model in much more depth. It is a quick and easy read. And if you want more information on this model and the work that we think is involved I recommend that to you. All right, with that, I’m going to sign off for today. I really look forward to seeing you all in October and to learning about the steps that you’ve taken on your journey to becoming more aware. Thank you so much.
EVP, Global DE&I Officer, Liberty Mutual Insurance
Partner & Head of the Center for Excellence, Building Industry Partners
President, Simmons University
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