Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown and this is Dare to Lead. I have two Dare to Lead favorites back with us today. Two people who are co-creators with me. They are teachers of mine, they are mentors, they are I think co-conspirators, really important people to me in terms of my own personal and professional growth. And I consider them both good friends. I’m here today with Aiko Bethea and Ruchika Tulshyan. Ruchika was on Dare to Lead in October of 2021 with Jodi Ann Burey to talk about imposter syndrome. I think they had the most, Barrett, is that right? The most downloaded HBR article of the year?
Barrett Guillen: Yes.
BB: Yeah. And just like it was called, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome” and it was bad assery. And then Ruchika was back on in April of 2022 of this year to talk about her book Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work.
BB: Aiko was on Dare to Lead for the first time in November of 2020 talking about inclusivity at work and an article she wrote entitled “An Open Letter to Corporate America Philanthropy, and Academia: What Now?” And this was really in response to organizations and brands after George Floyd’s murder saying, “Okay, we get it. We have to do something we don’t know what to do.” And she wrote a very prescriptive and helpful open letter about what we can do. She was again on Dare to Lead in February of ’21 digging into how to create transformative cultures. Now they’re here together and I wanted to talk to them because their perspectives are very important to me. And I wanted to ask about belonging work, diversity, inclusion, equity work. What do we think is at the heart of it? What have they seen? What are we getting right? What are we still not doing well?
BB: And it became one of the most maybe important conversations we’ve had on Dare to Lead that I think is fundamental to this idea that equity, inclusion, diversity, and belonging work is actually the heart of real leadership of daring leadership. It’s not a bolt-on or an add-on or if you’re really good you will also do this work. It’s the heart, it’s the lifeblood, it’s the marrow. And there is an emotional toll of facilitating that work and doing that work. It’s interesting to me that belonging work is the heart and it’s pumping and it’s messy and a lot of blood in and a lot of blood out. And I think that’s a really appropriate metaphor for this conversation. I’m glad you’re here.
BB: So before we jump into the conversation, let me tell you a little bit about our guests. Aiko Bethea is the founder of Rare Coaching and Consulting. She is an innovative leader. Through her work, she coaches leaders in organizations to remove the internal and external barriers to inclusion, allowing them to understand each other as people, colleagues, and teams in more connected ways. During her childhood and throughout her career, Aiko has been in places where people who looked like her were underrepresented. She believes that when you anchor into your values and discover your voice, you can begin to live the life you want to live and be exactly who you want to be. She’s also a certified Dare to Lead facilitator, does a lot of mentoring with Brené Brown Education Research Group, just an essential person in my life. So, so glad to have her back on. And uh, Ruchika Tulshyan, just fire. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work from MIT Press. The book has sold just many, many copies within its first six months of publication. She is the founder of Candor and Inclusion Strategy Practice. A former international business journalist. She’s a regular contributor to the New York Times and Harvard Business Review. We are frickin’ so lucky to have them here and to be in conversation. Welcome.
BB: Hi y’all.
Aiko Bethea: Howdy. Howdy.
Ruchika Tulshyan: I really don’t know what we’re talking about. And I was going to text Aiko, I was going to text Aiko. I was like “Aiko, do you know what’s going on?” And then the day went away from me, and I’ve come here completely unprepared.
AB: I think that makes two of us so neither one of us knows what we’re doing.
BB: That’s perfect. I just have to say that seeing your faces makes me happy.
AB: Same here. I actually, coming on Ruchika and I were the first ones on here and I just realized how much I miss community in a lot of different ways. So I have to like hold it together at moments.
BB: For sure.
RT: Me too. Me too.
BB: Okay, I’m going to ask y’all, Ruchika first, two-word check in. How are you?
RT: Tired and excited at the same time?
BB: Both things can be true as the three of us probably say a thousand times a day. Aiko?
AB: Nostalgic and anticipatory.
BB: My two words are ready and curious. Okay, I’m going to jump in. So let me just lay a foundation in case you’ve missed any of my Dare to Lead podcasts that I’ve done individually with Ruchika or with Aiko, I want to just lay a little bit of foundation. So I’ve studied belonging for 25 years. It’s always been a part of my work. Probably 5 years ago I think we made the decision in our organization we’re not going to talk about equity and inclusion and diversity without saying belonging with it, because we’re neurobiologically hardwired for belonging. When we don’t have it, there’s suffering and people are keenly aware of it. I guess another foundational piece, two other foundational pieces is I don’t believe that there are courageous leaders who are not doing effective work around belonging. It is not a bolt-on. It is a core part of the DNA of courageous leadership and that’s tied to everything from creating a sense of belonging, to performance, to trust, everything. So I wanted to invite y’all on because Aiko, do you know that it has been 28 months since you wrote your article, “An Open Letter to Corporate America, Philanthropy, and Academia: What Now?”
AB: No. Two years. No, I can’t believe it. In some of the ways it feels like yesterday and other ways it feels like it was a really long time ago.
BB: Yes, it’s been 28 months. Ruchika, you and I talked about on this podcast, Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work. I don’t have a single teacher more important than the two of you when it comes to belonging work. So I want us to spend two episodes looking back and looking forward. And I have questions for y’all and I would just like to get your opinions. I don’t want prepared answers. I want, what are you seeing? What are you feeling? Y’all are both in this work like making meatloaf with your hands in this work. So that’s why I’ve invited you on for these two episodes. I just really want to get your thoughts and opinions and perspectives.
AB: Got it. We’re here. Present.
RT: I’m still a bit shell shocked honestly. What? We’re here, we’re ready. We’re present.
BB: Okay. I’m going to start with Aiko’s article. And I’m going to start with a couple of things that you put forth in this article and I want to know how you think it’s going both of you and have you changed your perspective on it and what are we getting right and what do we still need to work on? And I just want to start with number one because this one pisses me off the most, but number one, stop demanding the business case for investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Just do it. Have we gotten better? Is it changing? Do you still stand by this directive, Aiko?
AB: I do in terms of stop demanding a business case. But I feel like what I’m learning now is that people don’t understand what the non-business case means.
BB: Ooh, ooh. Say more.
AB: So when I think about why would you need the business cases, kind of trying to justify why do people deserve to belong in a room? Why do they deserve to be seen? Why do they deserve equitable treatment? Why do they deserve to be included? Why are you accountable for creating space for other people? Why are you accountable for holding yourself accountable when you don’t? And that is work that many of us have not done. And so it can be very baffling for someone to say, Why would I do this otherwise?
AB: So that’s a heavier different type of work to do a bigger lift. Brené, I think that your work is kind of in the core crux of that is that there’s not an intentionality around true connection. Not connection with other people and not connection with yourself. Understanding things like emotional literacy, which you’ve talked about and how many of us don’t have the language nor have we had the experience with embodiment to slow down to even know what a feeling feels like much less, what’s the root cause of that feeling? So it’s a lot more complicated than I think where I started at. Like of course everybody should understand this other aspect. And that was really naive of me to think that.
BB: Wow, I want to play back what I think you’re saying because I’m having a jolty moment. So the directive was, “Stop demanding the business case for investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Just do it.” And it sounds like you’ve taken a deep breath and watched and seen that we’re facing an even greater hurdle because people don’t deeply understand in a soulful, meaningful way what the case is for the non-business reasons, for the humanity reasons, for the connection reasons, for the respect reasons, for the trust reasons.
AB: For the be a better version of myself, reasons, for the make the world a better place reason, for all of those. And what I appreciate now with organizational work in terms of company just doing the work is that now I just see that as a pathway for people to reconnect with themselves and with other people. And you can do it on an institutional level, but you’re right, it’s this bigger deeper issue that we have to address.
BB: Do you think people were defaulting looking for the business case because they didn’t understand the human calling to be better human beings to each other?
AB: Some of us for sure.
BB: Got it.
AB: Some of us for sure. And when we go back to that idea about transactional versus transformational, I can just do it if it’s a lot of boxes to check and actions to take, but transformation, you can’t just do it if you haven’t done the within work.
BB: That’s it.
AB: And if you haven’t seen people like really be able to see people and to do that, you have to have done the within work.
BB: Ruchika, what are you thinking?
RT: So many things. Actually, Aiko, I have a quick question for you. You know, you said you were naive regarding the business case. I’m curious because I’ve failed in public on this where I really tried, I began my career in this work focusing on the business case, which was my, if I’m being really vulnerable and open, it was my desire to conform to whiteness. It was my desire to connect with ideals of professionalism, which are essentially ideals of, in many ways, white dominance culture. And I’ve really had to dive deep into that and rethink that, in many ways, I came to the place of “I’m not going to make the business case for you anymore” much later because I was naive. I really thought, “Oh you know, I’ll make the business case. I’ll throw these numbers at you. You ask for research, here it is. Here’s a book full of research.” And now I’m like, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen anymore.” But I was naive to think that the business case alone would change minds and hearts. What do you think, Aiko?
AB: What’s the question on that one?
RT: The question is, what do you feel that you were naive about?
AB: I think I was naive to know that people would know why to do this work absent a business case and for whatever reason they just didn’t want to. And I do think there is a not want to part, but not for the reasons of people being malicious or feeling like I don’t want to treat people equitably or even that I don’t think some people are worth it. I think it was more so that there’s ignorance in a lot of ways. I mean, one, what we were just talking about in terms of our own emotional intelligence, but also not understanding what other people carry. Not taking the time to even learn things as more concrete. Like when we talk about history, not questioning our stories around that we’ve gotten from our families of origin or our communities of origin that have just been default ways for us to show up and react without unpacking them and the truth of them.
AB: And you know, when people talk about the adult journey, we talk about in the beginning part where you talk about living their agenda and then we get to the point where we have our agenda, and we realize there’s conflict there and dissonance. And then you get to the part of a soul free of roles, which is where I want to be and I want to support other people to be so that we can be intentional with, I’m showing up this way because, and I want to be like this, and this aligns with it. I didn’t do this right and I want to go back. So, I was naive in that. And honestly, Ruchika hearing you talk, I’m like, all of this is me constantly doing my work too and trying to figure out and realizing, “Gosh, there’s so many ways, you know, I need to be better, can be better.” But moment by moment I have to be present to figure out why’d I just do that? Why’d I say that? Why did I think that? Why’d I not hold somebody accountable? Why did I not hold myself? But it’s a learning and a unlearning I guess.
RT: But Aiko as your friend, can I just say that firstly the way you model the way for so many of us, it’s just incredible. And here in the Seattle area, your name comes up all the time. The other part is we sometimes don’t say things and we don’t hold people accountable because we don’t feel safe. And of course, we have to forgive ourselves for that. Even part of this work is trying to figure out where we got conditioned to believe that we weren’t safe. I mean we were shown that it was not safe. And then as we claimed our power and started to become more seen, for me a big part of, I know we talk a lot about therapy on this show. A lot of the, [laughter] a lot of the work that I’ve had to do is to try and really unlearn those ideas of like, it’s not safe for you to say anything. You’re not valuable, you don’t belong both personally and professionally. And so now in this phase, in this season, if we’re thinking of the future, it’s how do we forgive ourselves for all those moments where we didn’t feel safe to speak up and then create safety for ourselves and others in the future?
AB: Yes. I would just say “Yes,” a hundred times; when we think about why people don’t speak up, you’re right. One is about not feeling safe and there’s this other part about not having space to consider what’s really my thought and who I want to be, versus what I’m being told and what’s been default. And a lot of us feel like we don’t have permission or choice, We’re just on this racist, of course I’m supposed to get married and have kids and go to college and make this much money and do this of course I’m supposed to. Versus this intentional disruption about, wait, why do I believe this about these people? Why do I believe this about myself? Wait a minute. And when, what I’ve noticed is, and this is my story too, is that when I ask about beliefs that maybe I don’t feel proud of or behaviors I’ve had, it makes me have to think about my own family of origin differently.
AB: It makes me have to really question a lot of things about who I am and what I’ve learned in my community that I love too. And that’s hard and there’s shame associated with it and there’s definitely grief, loss, and disappointment, and what it’s allowed is for me to move forward and to belong to myself and belong many places. And it’s helped me to have empathy for people and it’s easier to be angry and to throw people away honestly than to do this type of hard to kind of look in the mirror work. I think Ruchika and trying to find language. So that’s been hard. Like something feels weird, but I don’t have words around it. And Ruchika, I could say the same thing about your work and how you’ve showed up and how you show up too, in terms of an earnestness and wanting just for almost sounds like a platitude, wanting for to be better for a lot of reasons.
BB: I think it’s so… Kind of what I told my org… Well, you were there, Aiko, when I told everybody that I was going off and I kinda went out horizontally versus vertically. But the whole thing was around… So much of it for me was that quote between stimulus and response, there is a space, and in that space is choice, and in choice is our power and our learning. And I just got to the point in my life where something would happen, there’d be some stimulus on social media or in person or when I was working with leaders or in organizations, and I just responded and I’d get home and be lying in bed that night and say, “Shit, do I even believe that?” I mean, I know what I’m programmed to say, I know where I’m programmed to feel rage, I know where I’m programmed to be furious, but what am I actually feeling? And it just started going like, stimulus response, stimulus response, stimulus response, and I couldn’t pull out that space. I lost the strength to do that. And I don’t know what y’all think, but to me, in the heart of belonging work is space-making.
BB: Aiko, you’re making a face.
AB: When Ruchika and I were talking earlier, we were just talking about… There’s so much going on and she and I needed to catch up and things, and while speaking to a client earlier today, a group, many of them were saying, “We don’t have time to do X, Y and Z. We don’t have time to do X, Y, Z because actually we’re doing Dare to Lead.” And it was this pause, and this was this morning, of knowing that this is a disruption in our life, and it is an invitation. Don’t think about this is a must-do, but this is an invitation to you to disrupt not only your organizational system but also disrupt some things that we’re on this hamster wheel, or we’re saying, “We don’t have time, we don’t have time.” When do you invite the space for the disruption if you don’t like the way it is that you can’t get to the bathroom all day because you have meetings? How do you get off of it and how do you create the space and how do you disrupt it? And Ruchika and I were having a similar conversation about it and people can’t see, but Brené, when you just did your hands like that, like make the space, it is like this, having to pull it apart…
RT: Push apart.
AB: By force.
BB: Yeah, I write it, there’s a behavioral psychology way of writing that quote, kind of which is stimulus, and then two parentheses with space in front of them, and then the R for response. So, stimulus, parentheses, response. And I constantly have to consider myself… Think about putting my hands in there and literally pulling apart the space. And I just don’t know if any of the work that any of us do… I think all the work is disruptive. And I think… What is the opposite of space? The stimulus on top of response is somehow a function of structural problems and oppression. Like the inability to access space serves existing systems.
BB: Does that make sense to y’all?
AB: What are you thinking Ruchika?
RT: Oh, 100%. It’s exactly that. It’s exactly why, without the space, we can’t turn to a colleague, and I’m using small examples, but you can’t turn to a colleague and say, “Hey, that was wrong, or that didn’t feel right,” or even to your own self, “Why am I doing it this way than that way?” And then you look at it from the institutional level, we need to hire for a hundred roles yesterday, so we’re going to default to the practices we’ve always had rather than look back and say, “How do we create space?” Because we wanted to be more intentional. We say we deeply believe in DEIB, but we don’t have the space and we don’t have the time. And it’s those conflicting priorities that get pushed up against each other. And that’s why when I talk to clients, I always say, “When you tell me I need to hire for a hundred roles and you needed to do it yesterday, and therefore, that’s the reason why you can’t get a diverse state of candidates, you made a choice. You chose speed over creating a diverse and inclusive culture. You made the choice. I know you didn’t hire me to tell you that you made the choice, but you made the choice. So now, are you going to make different choices next time, or are you going to do the same thing?”
BB: It takes me back to the part of your book that I have written down on every piece of paper where you and I were talking about your book, again, Inclusion on Purpose, I’ll link to everything, but what are the individual behaviors driving inclusion, but also what are the organizational behaviors driving inclusion? So when we talk about stimulus response and the space in-between is power, choice, and learning, we’re not just talking about the individual creation of space, but organizational creating of space, which is so hard. I want to share something with y’all and I want to get your response. So what a beautiful answer to the question around, number one on your list in your June 2020 article, Aiko, was stop demanding the business case for investing in diversity and inclusion, equity, belonging, just do it. We’ve had a really, for me, a profound, I can be like, “Thank y’all for joining the podcast, and I’ve already learned a shit-ton,” a very profound conversation about, man, there is a hidden case, not just a business case, a hidden case. It’s about being better humans that we don’t talk about very much and talking about having to create space to get people on board for that.
BB: I want to ask you this, so since we’ve all talked, Don and Charlie Sull have put out an MIT Sloan Management Review article, two of them, a pair of articles, and there is an interesting business case that has emerged. So, they found in the research, and these are millions of pieces of data, people, that a toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry adjusted attrition, 10 times more important than compensation in predicting people leaving. And in the follow-on research to that, we know… Of course, my first question was, “How are you defining toxic culture?” And we know that number one and two on that list, nationally, disrespectful, and non-inclusive. It goes on, three, unethical, four, cut-throat, five, abusive.
BB: So, the great resignation, real. Millions of people left. Number one reason, toxic corporate culture. Number… First two definitions of that culture are what I think, definitely the two of you have maintained since I’ve known you, disrespect and a lack of inclusivity. Tell me your responses to this. Are y’all familiar with the research? And tell me what your responses are.
AB: I’ve definitely been talking about those articles a lot with clients, and I think that they may be… If we had a Venn diagram, the same thing about business case and being good humans, it’s a clear overlap, they’re not separate and apart. And I don’t know if any of us could say that we’re surprised people would leave a company when they’re being disrespected or they feel excluded. I mean people may be surprised about the droves in which it’s happening, and now people are explicitly saying it. I think before, maybe this last, definitely last decade, if not more recently, people are so familiar with being able to say, “I know what it means to be included and I’m not being included. This isn’t inclusive.” That language alone. And if there’s anything that’s changed since this pandemic, it’s been that people have more language because we’re talking more about things that we weren’t allowed to talk about in the workplace.
AB: And then we’re making choices about it too, because no one was talking about… No one would have talked about Michael Brown at their workplace in corporate America, and then George Floyd was murdered, very similar type of context, and then organizations felt they needed to have conversations at work about it. So now we have so much more language, and wow, look at the New York Times best sellers, look at even the conversations happening in publications that we never thought about, like, New York Times and Washington [Post]… All these people are using this language. And now you give me a survey, I can tell you what I don’t like about this workplace and why I’m leaving. Maybe before I said it was because I wasn’t getting paid enough, but really, it’s because I’m getting paid way less than all these other people, it’s inequitable and I see it as being exclusive and it’s disrespectful too. I don’t think we had that language, but I don’t think the reasons are as different. I don’t know. Ruchika?
BB: Yeah, it’s such a good analysis, Aiko. Yeah, Ruchika, tell us what you think.
RT: You know, if there was something I could do where we could remove… It’s such a tough thing. And Aiko, I’m sure I know on the internetx, we… There was this thing about like, should even justice… Can we even call our… Like the whole justice… You have the whole thought on whether DEI should even include justice in the framing because where we are right now in terms of corporate, is there a capitalist solution to all of this? And for me, one of the big struggles has been that for too long, just to show the disrespect for DEI; in itself, it’s been sort of siloed in a corner, it’s not considered a core tenant of leadership. In my mind, it is the number one leadership trait, right? Speaking about belonging, speaking about… Literally, whose perspectives… Are you influencing and motivating every single person who you directly and indirectly influence through your leadership? Are you allowing each of them to be their best selves, right? If we really think about the core definition of leadership.
RT: And it really bothers me that people really like to… I don’t swear professionally, but it like really gets my goat when people say, “Oh, we have this DEI department over here. We have a DEI leader there, and our C-suite is not kind of… Yes, we care about inclusion, but it’s not part of our core structures.” And that’s why I’m really glad that the work on toxic cultures and why people are leaving and all of that is coming to the fore. I’m glad we can name inclusion and the lack of inclusion as a core reason why so many people are leaving. But for anyone who’s been doing this work for a long time, it’s very clear that the people who are leaving, who have been the most disrespected, the ones who have dealt with all of that, whether it’s lack of being paid equitably, whether it’s truly dealing with workplace abuse, I wrote one of the most vulnerable articles I’ve written for HBR on true mental health struggles I had due to a lost job.
RT: Aiko, I think I met you shortly after or a few years after that. And how much it took out of me versus I look at former co-workers, they’re doing really well with their lucrative salaries and all of that, and the big difference between us really is our identities. So, if you look at those people who are most impacted by the toxic workplace, it is people of color, it is women, it is people with other marginalized identities.
BB: I’m listening to what you’re saying and I’m seeing a disconnect that I need… I mean I’m feeling a disconnect, not even seeing or hearing a disconnect. I’m feeling a disconnect. When both of you comment on the Sull research, which is like, “Great, we have the language,” I absolutely believe that the combination of COVID with George Floyd’s murder, with even going back and retelling narratives about Breonna Taylor and applying new language retrospectively, you saw a lot of that happening. I had a white manager call me and say, “My team’s going to come tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock. I think I need to say something about Breonna Taylor, but I probably shouldn’t. Should I ask a Black person to talk about it?” And I was like, “No. Why do you think you should say something?” And he said, “Because maybe it’s on the hearts and minds of the three or four Black people in this group, and if I don’t say anything, that just seems like that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing, right?” And I was like, “What do you think you’re supposed to be doing?”
BB: “Well, I just think I’m supposed to be making everyone feel like they belong, right?” And I said, “Yes, that’s it. So if all you want to do is make people feel like they belong, what could you say?” “I guess I could say Breonna Taylor’s really been in the news for the last 24 hours, and I know it’s a heartbreaking story for me, and if you’re Black woman or a Black man, it must feel really different. Let’s talk about it for a minute.” And I was like, “That’s it.” He said, “But I don’t have any way to resolve it.” And I was like, “If you can resolve that, then I’ve got a big job for you. You could go you could go rule the world or something, you know?” You just have to put it on the table and be honest about it. That’s it. You don’t have to tee up things that you can’t solve.
BB: The thing that I’m frustrated about are that I’m hearing we all talk is, why do we say Project Aristotle from Google? This is not the teams who love each other the most. These are the most high-performing teams. Number one thing, trust, psychological safety, vulnerability. We know trust in teams, completely related to performance. So why is it that people don’t understand that embedded in these things that they do believe in, like trust, psychological safety, shared vulnerability, empathy? I don’t understand how we talk about those things without talking about belonging. How are people making sense of, “Hey, I think trust is the most important thing we can do, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with belonging or equity or inclusion. I think psychological safety is super important, the data are there, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with equity or inclusivity.” What’s happening?
RT: Can I just quickly jump in and then Aiko, I really want to hear what you have to say? When you were talking about Breonna Taylor, I think what is hard and what bothers me as someone who is an outsider in this country, I’ve lived here for, it’s going to be 11 years, but I’m still an immigrant, and what bothers me is when people read… When white people and Asian people and non-Black people read news like that, I want to say whiteness doesn’t allow so many people to let us feel that in our hearts as if it’s one of our own. And I’m not talking about hijacking the story. What I wouldn’t want is for the white manager to stand there and be like, “I’m so like, this is how I feel and lots and lots of whatever.” I don’t want them to center themselves. But it really is, frankly, modern day segregation that most people don’t have friends who look different than them.
RT: And so when you read something like that in the news, it’s easy not to feel it in your heart. Whereas when I read news like that, and again, this is not about me, but when I read news like that, I think of my son’s Black friends. I think of like what would it be like, or my Black friends, how did they feel? This affects me. So, it’s like kind of back to that diversity business case question, right? You’re not allowed to feel it in your core because you think it’s a zero-sum game, right? You don’t see diversity, equity, and inclusion and belonging work as human work, as how to be a better person. Right? Because you think of it as a zero-sum game. It’s either you’re on top or you’re on top. It’s either your community is being attacked or my community is being attacked. It’s not our collective community. I’m thinking through, it’s not a perfect answer, but this is what’s come to my mind. Aiko, what do you think?
AB: A lot of different thoughts here. One, I’ll just go back and start with, because I’m mulling on what you’re saying, Ruchika, but if I go back to the psychological safety question and how can people see them as different, is that, one, when I think about what safety means, especially in the U.S., I’ll talk specifically, but I think other places too, to me, safe means not being vulnerable. I feel absolutely unsafe when you’re asking me to be in uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. So shit, if I just start with psychological safety, safety to me means centering my comfort and being safe.
AB: But then if we break it down in terms of what that framework is, the framework doesn’t at any point inject the word about power, power over and power with.
BB: And that’s exactly the zero-sum piece, yeah.
AB: And if you don’t include that, by default, it’s going to center status quo.
AB: So that means yes, I might invite you all to give me feedback about what’s not working. Ask me what is failing, why doctors or whoever aren’t washing their hands. But I’m not asking you to come in and start talking about identity. And I’m not coming in and asking you about wanting you to necessarily talk about race and misogyny. I’m asking you about how the system works and the process. I’m not bringing in identity. And so I think that for us to disrupt something, we have to explicitly say, “And this is what is included in this around psychological…” I would say “psychological courage” versus safety. This is what’s included in order for us to get to that point where people are going to say the things, come forward with their own perspectives and viewpoints, counter the barriers that make me not want to talk.
AB: You’ve got a name that these kind of come into our workplace too, because they’re a society. The fact that I need a name, that you’re the only woman in the room and I do proactively want to hear from you, and I realize you’re the only woman in the room, but I want to hear your voice, and it’s important that we all do. You’re the only person of color in the room and I see this, and I know what the barriers are, but I want to hear the voice. You have to proactively create the space, name it so that people see it, and invite in, because psychological safety itself is still defaulting to a lot of other things. And so now I’ve got to, like what you said, create this space for something that was never invited in the workplace before, and give people a space of expectation around courage to be vulnerable, uncertain, and emotional exposure. I’ve got to say that and say I mean it and then I’ve got to model it and I’ve got to invite it in, even when I feel like it is holding me accountable…
AB: And making me self-interrogate. But if you look at the framework, it doesn’t do that by default. So we’ve got to push it in there and say, “And guess what, we actually mean this too.” And as leaders, you need to be equipped to be able to not have the answers and fix it, but to be able to have space and hold the space so we can grapple with this together and acknowledge it. So that’s what the psychological safety part I think about. And when you were talking earlier, Brené and Ruchika, about power, choice, and learning, choice and learning are the two things that can be disruptors, that actually put on the breaks. Because you said, what’s the opposite between having space and there not being space in-between? In this case and what we’re talking about with equity is default is status quo. That’s what it is.
BB: That’s right.
AB: That thing’s just going the way it’s always gone and gone and on, but if I inject choice like Ruchika did with the folks and said, “Hey, you actually made a choice,” whether it’s by default or not, I inject learning. You’re responsible to grow and to question what you think you know, and now that’s going to inform how you use power and show up. So, I think the difference, the opposite between creating space is default, doing a status quo.
BB: This is so… I knew this was going to be great. I did not know it was going to be this great. [chuckle] Okay. When you were going through those questions about… First of all, I really struggle with psychological safety as you know, as a construct, Aiko, and I know you and I have had this conversation, yes, because the need for comfort is a great enemy for the work that all of us do. And the privilege of comfort is a great enemy to all the work we do. I used to have a sign in my faculty office at the University of Houston that said, “If you’re comfortable, I’m not teaching.” And so I love what you said. And then when you were asking these questions, when you were modeling that, I went straight to… What’s the page number here? Page 45 in Ruchika’s book. And all I have written down in my notes is, “Holy shit, tough questions.” That’s my note here. It says, “Do you feel like you belong here? Why or why not? Was there a time when I made you feel included? What did I do to foster that? Was there a time when I could have done more to make you feel included? How? How can I create a more inclusive environment on this team? What would you like to see me committing to in order to create a more inclusive team environment? What could I do differently right now? What about in the future?”
BB: These tough questions, I think Aiko, are what you’re talking about, that it’s asking questions that challenge power and hold yourself accountable. Which is probably why I wrote “Tough shit, tough questions.” These are good questions, Ruchika. These are in your book. I’m quoting you here.
RT: Thank you.
RT: I’m like, “What?” You know Aiko, I loved when… Was it on the phone or was it by email, that you and I talked about this around psychological safety and power? Who knows these last few years. It’s all the same. But it’s very profound because what we have found is these amazing, some of these really path-breaking ideas in organizational behavior, in leadership, in the way we show up, still do not… Still are not informed by what it’s like to be the only, to be the different, to be the one of the few, to be the person who does challenge status quo and really receives huge backlash and penalty. Psychological safety in Project Aristotle is about, “Does my team have my back?” That’s what we use, right? That’s how we describe psychological safety in sort of lay people’s terms. But it’s, yeah, like what Aiko, exactly what you said about… Like for me, often safety means not showing up as my full vulnerable self because I don’t feel safe.
RT: And I remember being in a job in tech where I was literally told like, “Why do you always dress up? We’re a casual work environment here.” And [chuckle] I said, “Because I don’t feel safe. Because if I show up in casual wear, I’m going to feel even more disrespected than I am today.” Do you know what I mean? And making that connection between, we’re doing things differently, but we’re going to do things… For example, the tech industry, we’re going to wear casual wear, we’re going to disrupt the, you show up in formal wear. I’m trying to use an easy example. That wasn’t made with us in mind. It wasn’t made with the thought of, what happens if you’re a Black and brown person and security doesn’t let you through because today you came in in your jeans or in your sweatpants, for example, which I know is sort of the fun order of the day today. But for a lot of us, we don’t have that luxury.
BB: I’m going right to Chad Sanders’ book, and him talking about his clothes and then his work, Google clothes that were khakis and whatever the order of the day was, because assimilation was the path to success for him, and also not getting in trouble. Alright, I want to stop it here, Part 1. So grateful to both of you for sharing what you’ve learned, sharing what you’re doing, sharing your insights. I can always count on both of you to keep it very honest. We’ll be back with Part 2. I’ve got a big starter question for Part 2. I had like seven questions for each one and I said I’ll get to one or two for each episode because we’re going to talk a lot. Alright. I’m so grateful to you and we’ll see you back for Part 2. Thank y’all.
AB: Thank you.
RT: Thank you.
BB: Thank you for listening. Such an important conversation. As always, you can find an episode page for Part 1 and Part 2 on brenebrown.com where you can get links to their work, their articles, to Ruchika’s book. Check it out, again, brenebrown.com, click on Podcast, Dare to Lead, and you’ll see it right there. Appreciate you’re here. Stay awkward, brave, and kind. And we talk about doing hard work here, life-changing, world-changing hard work. I don’t think we get there without a commitment to awkwardness, bravery, and deep kindness.
BB: The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil. And by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and Andy Waits. And the music is by The Suffers.
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