Diversity in the Workplace: An Empathetic Approach to Fostering Inclusion


Maria: Welcome. My name is Maria Melfa and I am the president and CEO of The Training Associates, otherwise known as TTA.

Jocelyn: And I’m Jocelyn Allen. I’m a talent recruitment manager here at TTA, and we’re very excited to have you with us again. We are very excited to have our special guest today. Kisha Dixon, Kisha has been a special partner with TTA for many years.

Maria: Kisha Dixon is a training leader, public speaker, culture change agent, and a TTA Senior Learning Consultant. Kisha has seen leadership defined in numerous ways over the years. With over two decades of experience designing and facilitating behavioral-based sales, coaching, and leadership solutions, Kisha’s approach is refreshingly unique.

Maria: She recognizes that identifying the specific rhythms in an organization’s culture is the key to creating visible and powering leadership and culture change never want to shy away from difficult conversations about the impact of race, culture, and diversity on expectations and performance, Kisha, prioritizes, keeping equity and inclusion top of her mind and our workshops and coaching sessions.

Maria: Kisha brings an innate ability to align an organization’s vision and its people to meet their bottom-line objectives. Clients have found her approach to building a high-performance and inclusive culture to be tangible. Transparent energizing and honest what a perfect touch of humor. Some of the organizations that her work has impacted include the Coca-Cola credit union Broadway bank, America, online Girl Scouts of America, and notably the Girl Scouts of Kentucky Wilderness Road.

Maria: Kisha played a significant role in helping the Girl Scouts of Kentucky Wilderness Road. When the coveted Brandon Hall Group gold award for the best results of a learning program for leadership, the award was for the transformation of the council’s antiquated legacy culture. What had started as a legacy culture with low morale, leaving accountability in chaos with Kisha’s help. She helped transform their council into a culture of collaboration and empowerment and transparency.

Jocelyn: Wow. That’s pretty powerful.

Maria: Kisha, welcome! And now we’re going to add podcasts to that list. So, your bio just got longer.

Kisha: Thank you, Maria.

Maria: We’re very excited to have you today. And as I mentioned, you’ve been one of our partners for many years and your work has always been absolutely stellar and we constantly get incredible reviews for Kisha. As we mentioned, your approach, people love your ability to keep it real, be down to earth, and most importantly, give them the results that they’re looking for in their training solutions.

Kisha: Wow. Thank you. Hearing it all read out like that is a little humbling and embarrassing, because I don’t know how to respond, but thank you. I like working hard and I like seeing the joy that comes when an organization realizes they actually have changed. So that’s really what it’s about for me.

Maria: Excellent. You’re fantastic at what you do here at TTA. We know your name the way that we know each other’s, I mean, you are a part of our team. We go to you for a lot of different things, but we’re trying to reach the family beyond TTA here on this podcast. So for those who have not yet been introduced to the myth, the legend Kisha, can you tell them a little bit more about you and what inspires you and a little bit more about your journey to the program of diversity and inclusion that you’ve created?

Kisha: Because it’s, it’s not really a direct route that people would normally expect, right? It really isn’t. Let’s see. Way back in 19. Now I’m just kidding. You know I come from a pretty interesting background. My father was air force, and so we moved around a lot as a kid, and I became the professional new kid pretty quickly.

Kisha: That’s hard enough, I think, as it is, but I’m also happening to be a woman of color or at the time, a girl of color and kind of smart and a little overconfident about how smart I was often put a spotlight on me that. What was this different? And I had to learn very quickly to read a room and acknowledge different cultures in different parts of the country, even in Japan, where I started school when I was young.

Kisha: And as I matured professionally, a lot of the lessons I learned about not believing in stereotypes and giving people a chance to show who they are really resonated with me as I started in sales and then teaching sales. Worked on coaching and leadership and it always comes down to, everybody wants to feel seen, heard, and valued with that.

Kisha: I got a lot of requests from your team, Maria asked me, when will you start doing diversity and inclusion training? You’re doing fine with coaching and leadership. And my answer was always no, no, not right now. No, I’m not interested. And I truly think the reason I wasn’t interested is I didn’t want to offer another check the box, HR mandated training that was lacking heart and lacking true application and how we work better together.

Kisha: Jocelyn, in answer to your question, how did I get here – to be perfectly frank George Floyd was murdered last year at the beginning of a very scary pandemic season. And up until then, I was still being asked to create a diversity training workshop.

Kisha: My answer was still no, and after he was killed, I just felt the urge to help calm things down and have an important conversation in a safe space where we could be candid and a little uncomfortable and try to offer a little joy and grace into the space as well. So, I said, yes. And the rest is history maybe yes are becoming quite a bit of history.

Jocelyn/Maria: Absolutely. I could see how that would definitely make you decide to want to get more involved in training these areas, these important areas, and topics. How would you define diversity?

Kisha: Ah, that’s a question I actually asked in my workshops. Almost every day. A lot of people think diversity looks like me – an African-American woman in America, or someone who has a different sexual orientation or physical disability, but in truth, diversity is all the things that all of our experiences, all of the things that make us authentically, who we are being brought into a space where those differences are embraced for me, diversity is representation, regardless of how you look, how you live, how you learn, how you love, you know, just bringing it all into one space and saying, you have worth here and you can be yourself.

Kisha: So, you can breathe. That to me is true diversity, which means it’s a lot more than skin. It just is so much more than skin deep.

Jocelyn/Maria: Yeah, I think that was a point that even in not preparation, but as we were discussing this podcast and how we wanted to bring light to the program that you’ve created because it is so different for all of the reasons that you just mentioned, but also how we can broaden the scope a little bit to what like diversity is because there are so many levels to it. And you know it’s important. It’s difficult. It does make you uncomfortable but recognizing what makes people different is what makes inclusive environments and how we can at least take those steps to allow every single walk of life to feel just like they, I don’t want to say just like they are everybody else, but you, you have such a much more eloquent, eloquent way of speaking to this key child.

Maria/Jocelyn: I love how you word everything, but you’re right. It’s important to recognize that diversity is why people are different and why that is a wonderful thing.

Kisha: Yes. Not about what restricts people from being different and that can include race, gender, disability, learning differences, or, you know sexual orientation, gender, all of the things.

Maria/Jocelyn: So I thank you for mentioning that because, uh, I recognize that that makes you a much different training professional from others.

Kisha: Thank you. I just think that we all walk around with the proverbial comic book thought bubble over our head with the things that make us feel that we’re disqualified through life. It could be our weight, our age, how we communicate, introvert versus extrovert, as well as cultural differences through ethnicity and sexual orientation, and gender identity. My daughter has dyslexia Maria, as you know, and even that is a layer of diversity. And if we have to hide a part of who we are, how can we ever really share our gifts in an authentic way, we should be able to walk through life, roll through life with our head up without feeling like there’s a target on our back for something that we really don’t have very much control over at all.

Jocelyn: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. Do you feel the definition of diversity evolved over the years, Maria?

Maria: I do. I feel like it is evolving. I think there used to be such a thing and I hope it’s becoming a thing of the past of a diversity hire. Where that meant you need a black person, an Asian person, a person in a wheelchair, or differently-abled in some way.

Maria: And that’s so limiting to the real existences that, that people are living with every day. These days, you know, a young person coming out of grad school looks at a company and wants to see where your layers of diversity are in an organization to become a part of it. They want to make sure that they have a place where they can belong as their authentic selves.

And I think that that’s, we’re on the right track. We’re just on the right track. I believe.

Jocelyn: I agree. Unconscious or implicit bias is something we hear a lot about. Can you talk more about what that means to you?

Kisha: I think it’s just an opportunity for education because I often feel like people don’t know, people interchange those two terms, like in front of bias, not realizing that they are two different things.

Maria/Jocelyn: So Kisha, unconscious or implicit bias is something we hear a lot about today. Can you talk more about what this is and what are the ways that leaders can address this within the workplace?

Kisha: That’s a big ask. I will do my very best. I think that we often use the term unconscious and implicit bias as though they’re synonyms and they’re not fully synonyms, unconscious biases, any thought or assignment of meaning. That you may not be consciously thinking about that can tell you to lean in or back up in a situation.

Kisha: I have biases. We all have biases – all day long, that’s our brain it’s just trying to help us make quick decisions, but they’re not really based on any real logic. So I don’t think I’m going to sit at that table. Those people seem, blah, blah, blah, fill in the blank. Our unconscious bias just kind of guides us through life.

Kisha: It tells us that people who went to our college or pledged our fraternity or sorority are better people than those who didn’t. Where the distinction between favorite sports teams might make a disparate difference in who you want to work with or who you want on your team. Those are the everyday cognitive things that kind of our little imprints about people or situations that are guiding us to make decisions that we may not even be aware of.

Kisha: We’re most likely not aware of in the background, implicit bias is a little bit different. It kind of goes more towards stereotypes and groups of people and having feelings about groups of people that may not fully be on the surface for us. Imagine going to a doctor’s appointment for something very serious, like I don’t know, cancer, for example, and your doctor walks in and they’re very young-looking – that gut feeling that says, go get a grownup.

Kisha: That’s a stereotype based on age that probably would fall more into implicit bias. I’m thinking somebody must be great at mathematics or engineering because they’re of Asian Pacific Islander parentage, or assuming that if someone’s African American, they must have grown up in an impoverished part of town and had a struggle financially.

Kisha: Those are the things that we might think about people, but not necessarily always say because we have a picture of what their life should be or what their experiences are in our mind. Knowing that helps us be better leaders being aware of that helps us make better decisions when it comes to people.

Kisha: So, when someone says something like, I don’t know, I don’t think he’s a good fit. We can’t let things like that go by because there might be an unconscious bias at play or even worse than implicit bias at the place. So, we just need to say like, Hey, when you say good fit, what do you mean? What specifically are you talking about?

Kisha: And the moment we can be candid amongst our teams in our leadership circles, uh, the way we communicate, the better we are at making good decisions about people that are based on their own attributes instead of prescribed ideas, for lack of a better, right?

Maria: Yes. Thank you very much. That was very helpful.

Jocelyn: You don’t realize, like, this is something that you started thinking maybe at a younger age and then it just like happens automatically without you taking a step back, which is kind of unconscious. But I see what you’re saying. Yeah. It’s about groups of people based on stereotypes.

Maria: Exactly. I know. It’s funny because you know, not funny, but, the Asian and math, my daughter, who is 15 and Asian, she says she and her friends have laughed and said, oh, everybody thinks we’re so good in math because we’re Asian people want to copy off my homework. So, and you’ll get a C right? Your best subject is history. Well, the ironic thing, her best subject actually is math, but yeah.

Maria: Is deep-rooted. Yes. And what is then developed? Yes. Overtime. Yes. Right. Because what, because yeah. There’s an innocent way of thinking that, you know, people who went to UMass Amherst are better than those who went to UMass Lowell were there for five years, right? Yes. that’s like innocent right.

Maria: But when you mistake your implicit bias for a certain amount of pride based on your experiences, is that when things get a little bit absolutely. It’s why it’s important to talk about it.

Yeah. Like when we, oh, I don’t know, isolate a group of people as a whole. Right. Then that often means that you see them separate from cells. Okay. So we have a better opportunity to care.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Yeah. I just love the way you say things when you’re not even looking for it. Do you know what I mean? Cause somebody could walk into this and be like, you know, what “Got Bias” would be a great program for me to look into because this is important and I know that there’s a need for it. And you know, there’s a trend.

Jocelyn: I want to go along with this and make sure that I, my organization aren’t behind the ball on this.

Maria: Right. Everything you say has a way of resonating with an individual, just from your natural speech. And that’s why you’re so good at what you do a hundred percent.

Jocelyn: a million percent agree with that.

Maria: I really do because it’s – obviously we don’t want people to make this a one and done. Right, right. You get nothing done that way. Even with anything. I mean, I don’t think any training can come without sufficient follow-up.

Jocelyn: Okay. We’re doing a lot of talks here, Kisha, about why we feel that you are successful in what you do. And I think it would go a long way for, from your expert perspective to talk about what you feel makes a successful program, species diversity, and inclusion. What’s important to you to include, to make sure that this has the outcome that it should.

Kisha: Ooh, that’s a huge question. Thank you for putting me on the spot for that. I think there are many elements and there are a lot simpler. Then we think one is that one person or small group of people can’t affect organizational change. There has to be a grassroots desire or interest across the organization.

Kisha: I think that’s super important or it feels like it’s being forced instead of an opportunity to build a stronger culture. Another thing that I think really makes a successful program is for whoever’s leading the diversity and inclusion efforts to take their time and really dig deep on a little, self-awareness using a little focus on emotional intelligence to start some tough conversations and understand that not everybody’s going to come into the conversation from the same perspective.

Kisha: So we have to offer grace because we can’t make mistakes and learn without knowing there’s a space to be forgiven so we can learn. So I think – don’t go in too hard, too fast. It is definitely not a sprint, it’s a marathon and there are stops and starts because we’re talking about cultivating a different way of thinking and communicating.

Kisha: And a lot of us come from places where we haven’t had a lot of opportunity or a lot of exposure to some differences, which makes it kind of scary to talk about. Your heart might be there, but it takes a while to catch up with the learning and everything. For me, the organizations that are willing to take it slow, to have the difficult conversations and have leadership all the way down participate in those conversations are the ones that I think are doing a lot more than checking off the box to say, we talked about this year, you know, we’re done now let’s move on to other important things.

Kisha: Another thing that’s really helpful is having a really strong set of organizational values that you can tie your diversity effort to. It’s kind of funny if we show respect, if we’re courteous, if we are good listeners, if we communicate with empathy, you guys know what I’m saying, ask open-ended questions to let people tell their stories.

Kisha: And if we did that across the board, then more people would be safe to be themselves. I really hope that in the next couple of generations, we don’t need diversity and inclusion training, because it’s just a part of how we engage internally and externally in organizations that everyone is seen as an individual that deserves respect and whose differences are appreciated.

Kisha: That might be a little lofty thinking on my part, but, it’s really about having a heart for people, and wanting to do the best for your people in your community is what’s going to help you get to success.

Maria: I believe that’s all right. Do you find that the biggest contributor to a lack of success when clients are taking on a program like this is that they move too quickly, or are there other factors that you’ve seen that make something unsuccessful beyond that?

Kisha: Yes and yes, all of the things trying to do too much, too fast, alienate people, it isolates, it puts walls of defense up, not preparing a good communication plan to get people prepared for some changes that are coming, obviously will undermine the best-intended efforts. Um, but more importantly understanding that an organizational space is not going to cure all the world’s ills.

Kisha: It’s just going to help shape how we treat one another, our clients, and our partners. And if we can do that and focus on that instead of trying to shove every traumatic, offensive, discriminatory, prejudice, hateful event, and targeted at an audience to force an indoctrination. I don’t know if we’re going to keep this or not y’all, but I’m just telling you what I think when we try to force people to believe something we’re not giving them right – instead of right. Why not offer different perspectives that can be used in future situations because we can’t change the past. And that’s important.

Kisha: One of the things I’ve really started saying in my own personal workshops is that I can promise you three things. My goal is not to make you feel guilty about where you’re from or what skin you were born in.

Kisha: Cause that’s super important. There will be no finger-pointing and there will be no blame game because not a single person in this room can do anything about what happened 400 years ago, four days ago, or five minutes ago, we can only have choices about where we go going forward. And if you’re okay with that, I think we’re going to have a great dialogue today and I can just see like all the shoulders go down and all the anxiety leaves because that’s the fear is that I’m going to have to sit in a class and somebody tell me what’s wrong with me.

Kisha: So I think that if you have the heart for helping people see they’re part of inclusion, it just makes things go so much better.

Maria: Brilliant. Right. So that’s exactly why Kisha your programs are very effective and why our clients always want you back because of your approach.

Kisha: Thanks.

Jocelyn: I’ve seen other approaches and I can say, I have respect for other approaches. They just don’t suit me, but that goes back to what you said too. What is very important is how we not forcing the information and how we filter the information, how we’re providing it because people learn in different ways. So with a sensitive subject matter, I think it speaks volumes about your passion to drive a change.

Jocelyn: Forgive me if, and keep me honest here, if this is not right, but I think that your instructional design experience relates a lot to how you resonate with your end learners because you’ve clearly thought about how the end-user of e-learning filters, their information, how they’re learning and how you’ve got bias program, how the information needs to be filtered in the different types of information that people might recognize as, oh, wait a second. That’s actually me or that’s actually this person and now they’re going to hear it. And now we can have a conversation and do better together. It’s brilliant. It’s refreshing.

Jocelyn: I’d love to talk a little bit more about that program because we’re talking so much about where your background is, where it came from, but we haven’t gotten to the meat and potatoes of what got bias is.

Jocelyn: So you have the class “Got Bias: How to Develop a Mindset of Inclusion in the Workplace” where you talk about your own personal biases and the ways to build on the skills of self-awareness. And self-management can you tell us a little bit more about this program and what the first step listeners can take to become more self-aware and more prepared to start this journey with you?

Kisha: Got Bias is kind of funny ’cause it’s literally a question like got milk, right? Got bias. The answer is yes. And I think the most important thing is foundationally to set the tone that every one of us walks around with biases all day long every day.

Kisha: And they’re talking to us all day long every day and often they’re just. It’s really wrong. They’re not based on anything but gut feelings. And I like to talk about it from a humorous standpoint. Like how much I hate cottage cheese – have my whole life, because my brain and my gut tell me, but I’ve never actually eaten it. And you can try all day long to convince me, but look at it. It’s disgusting to me. That’s how bias works. I actually haven’t had it yet. Somehow I raised my kids and they never had it. And now I can call them and say, Sierra, do you eat cottage cheese? And they’re both like, no – because, wow. Wow. What are the chances of them feeding it to their kids in the future?

Kisha: Right. So sometimes we get these ideas and we hold on to them in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense. And so by neutralizing the conversation around bias is something as ridiculous as cottage cheese – it kind of allows us to enter into a broader conversation. That’s really about it, we have lots, lots of thoughts about lots of things that don’t make sense.

Kisha: And the only way we will change our mind is exposure or proximity or experiences. So, once we recognize that we have more power over it, we can choose not to hear it. We can choose to challenge it. We can choose to call each other out on it in a candid and friendly and respectful way. So really what “Got Bias” is about is taking a deeper dive into looking at the kind of, where your influence comes from.

Kisha: What levels of diversity are not represented in your circle of influence and being very intentional about where we get information about the lives of people we don’t have proximity to because we can’t rely on a specific media source or that one thing your grandma told you 20 times or any of those things because the truth is for a long time to marry a Jewish person into the family was considered a taboo.

Kisha: If you were not Jewish, that’s very rarely the case anymore because proximity created a caring community that says, well, welcome to the family because you love my daughter or you love my son. There was a time where my parents couldn’t drink out of certain water fountains. Couldn’t swim at certain swimming pools because they grew up in the fifties and the sixties.

Kisha: That time has passed, but they still have feelings about that. And some of those feelings got passed on to their kids. And unless we have experiences that show us other ways, we might still harbor the same feelings, the generation before harbors. And the truth is the world’s moving so fast. We don’t have time for all that, just come on, get with it.

Kisha: So my approach is one of just taking very neutral examples and then drilling down to how we apply it to how we interact with people. We don’t know very well. And we have a little fun and sometimes a little tears and a lot of shocking moments, but it’s all done. I hope and pray every time in love and grace.

Jocelyn: Well, well sad again. You’re funny.

Jocelyn: So how does an organization make sure that these programs have lasting effects and it’s just not compliance training or a one and done training? What are some ways that an organization can implement to make these programs truly stick and be successful? Oh, so many ways. And from a training standpoint, especially making sure we’re having reminders about implicit and unconscious bias.

Kisha: When we train how to coach when we talk about performance reviews, that’s really important to always keep equity of experience top of mind. Also just involve the grassroots in your organization. They have a lot to say, so creating avenues for them to speak out and kind of. Communicate their needs will always feed more engagement and more inclusive programming and just like keep learning.

Kisha: I don’t know. It’s not a one-and-done. If it was a one-and-done, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. So what do you exactly mean by performance reviews by having an open, candid conversation with your employee or something? I think also just by having calibrations from a leadership perspective, that challenges things like, well, they’re not a good fit or whatever.

Jocelyn/Kisha: Well, what do we mean by that? Like what skills and behaviors are we expecting and what are we seeing or not seeing. So that those implicit biases don’t get in the way of someone’s career track. Also just making sure we’re aware of cognitive biases. Like there’s a Halo’s I think they call it halos and horns.

Jocelyn/Kisha: You know, that person who did that one great thing back in 1997 and they were a rockstar. So they get the prime projects and they get the spotlight all the time. They may be actually doing other things that are detrimental to the team or to the culture, but from a leadership perspective, they’re your go-to person.

Kisha: And so they have a halo and you can’t see any other areas to critique or develop, but all their colleagues can see them. That’s a blind spot that can really hurt team morale. The other side is literally the other side. That one time you did that unfortunate thing in front of the wrong people at the wrong time, that big mistake.

Kisha: And it was seven years ago, five years ago. And there’s nothing you can do to move past it. Those things create a non-inclusive environment where people feel isolated, and they feel unseen and unvalued. So just making sure we’re having real conversations about why we say yes and why we say no, and that they’re built on something that’s observable.

Kisha: That’s, that’s more objective than subjective. At the end of the day, diversity inclusion is just a method methods to get to creating a community of belonging in the workplace. That’s what it is. We want to create a place where our employees feel like they belong. They have a voice they’re seen, and they can be their authentic selves.

Kisha: Anything that doesn’t allow that needs to be addressed, I believe.

Maria: Yeah, I agree. So I know when COVID hit at, at the same time we started getting a lot more requirements for diversity training and I know initially we were concerned and some of our clients were concerned about having diversity training and a virtual environment.

Maria: And it’s interesting because at first, you know, talking to our group here, We shared similar concerns, but then as we started looking at some of the classes and some of the feedback, it seemed like this virtual environment actually brought a lot of positive experience to the diversity class because of some of the reasons that you touched upon, you know, at the beginning of our conversation where people feel less vulnerable if they’re in person and in a group.

Maria/Jocelyn: So I know some of the classes do involve breakout sessions and sometimes the participants feel more comfortable. You ask questions in a breakout session asking questions anonymously because if you’re in the middle of a class, you might not have that opportunity where a participant or AKA a student could, you know, chat a question to, to you or to the presenter and, and, you know, ask, you know, I don’t feel comfortable about talking about this. Can you bring it up? So I don’t know if you have had some similar experiences or your thoughts on that.

Kisha: I have. I’ve really enjoyed the virtual environment for lots of reasons.

Kisha: One it’s more relaxed and a lot of ways, especially with people working from home. Cause you get to see kids, uh, cats and dogs and create a space. That’s welcome. You have to acknowledge and validate like, no, let your son say hi, you know, what’s your cat’s name, really engage people where they can relax.

Kisha: One of my favorite participants ever with the client sat in his big wingback chair in his library, in his house. And he smoked out pipe the whole three-hour session. And it was amazing because he was himself, you know, and just chilled out and very cool. Sometimes people look like they’re in witness protection.

Kisha: No, that’s okay, but also allowing space for your introverts not to be on the spot and they can type in a question or a comment and get acknowledged without having to speak out in front of a group of people has been really nice. And I do get a lot, so many private messages, Maria, sometimes they’re just encouraging like, oh my gosh, thank you for making that point yet.

Kisha: They’re also private, which is kind of cute. It means it meant something to them. And other times people share their stories and their own experiences. And I can’t fully watch everything, but every time we have a break or a little breakout session, I’m literally going back in getting to respond to those private messages to make sure everybody knows that they’re heard and, um, you know, get their questions answered.

Kisha: And I often try my best to ask. Do you mind if we share this out with the class? Because maybe it’s a little easier for them. If I just said, you know, someone sent a private chat and asked this and let them be anonymous in their space. I think that’s been fun. Also, people get emotional, allowing them to be able to turn off their camera and have a minute is so different than being locked in a physical space where you’re kind of just stuck sitting in your emotions in front of a full group of people.

Kisha: And that I think has been really important as well.

Maria: Yes, absolutely. I can see all of those happening. I know when you did a class for us, a lot of us were, you know, at home and, and I think that was it, it felt, you know, comfortable for a lot of people. It was a thing. A lot of us came out of it thinking it was one of the best training we had been to two for a number of reasons that we’ve already talked about.

Maria: But I think, you know, recognizing that, that modality of the virtual or, you know, training world didn’t change, its efficacy was huge. I felt very comfortable asking questions. Cause I did have a lot of questions and I know I talked to Kisha about a lot of different things and they come up when you don’t realize how many different layers there are to this topic.

Jocelyn: And then you’re like, oh wow. Like I do have an unconscious bias about this. And I’m not realizing that this comes from this place and things like that. It’s an eye-opening experience. And I think it catches people off guard when they realize that internally, that their initial reaction sometimes when they hear things like that is, oh my God, I’m part of the problem.

Jocelyn: But the way that you approach it is that no, I’m not here to play the blame game, but isn’t it nice to fully realize what could actually be going on here? And let me tell you how we’re going to fix it. It’s sometimes it’s only the only comfortable way, to realize something brand new, right. That like that is to go, Hey, Kisha smaller here in front of a message.

Kisha: Yes. Yeah. Jocelyn to one of the questions you had earlier about my background is an instructional designer. One of the strengths of knowing how to design a program from the bottom-up is to really map out where you want it to go and what your end result is. So for example, not everything has to be an example built on ethnicity right. Or sexual identity. Let’s share stories about people with cerebral palsy to illustrate a point let’s share stories about, um, I love, I have a little activity where I show a picture of two people and ask, you know, where’s the diversity in this picture. And they often go to skin color.

Kisha: Right. And then I’ll say, well, you know which one speaks six languages out of a young black man in a young white man. And they’re like, oh, we don’t know. Oh, well, which one’s an immigrant. Oh, we don’t know which one has a prosthetic limb. We don’t know. How do you get to know where the true diversity lies?

Kisha: You have to talk to people. You have to engage with people. And I think that the aha moment is a big one. You know, it’s just like, oh, Yeah, we can assume a lot of things, but we don’t know the truth until we invite someone to share their own experiences with us. And so what I try to do when I map out a program is to find neutral ways to make really big points that are not always culturally or racially charged, because if it’s race, race, race all day long, then we’re missing out on all the other layers of diversity.

Kisha: And they’re important. Yes. Well, right. Cause if you talk about inclusion, but it’s not to exclude all of those layers of diversity that we’re talking about. Well, you’ve been talking about parents with autistic children. You know, that an inclusive environment is when your local movie theater chain or your movie, whatever the local movie theater might have sensory screenings for children and families films so that all the kids in the family can go and enjoy the movie without the worry about flashing lights in 3d surround sound and all the things that could trigger a neuro-diverse child. So the whole family can go together and instead, instead of leaving the one child behind, like, where’s there, there’s such a value in that that is not really known to people who are not living that experience.

Jocelyn: But I have friends with autistic kids and it means everything to them to take all their kids to the latest Disney movie when the world opens back up. Right. But that, that, that matters. Yeah. It’s like, it just goes back to your program. Cause you just bring so many examples that are eye-opening to people that they think of this one stream of consciousness not to make a play on words. And in what diversity includes, and you don’t think like, can you imagine that just having, having a child who is neuro-diverse that needs just something a little extra in order to enjoy the same activities that his family is, and because this organization hasn’t gotten ahead of the game you now either have to exclude a family member or not do anything at all. That is that’s, that’s, that’s horrible. It’s heartbreaking. Like you hear these things sometimes and you think it’s, uh, you know, I’m learning, I’m educating myself, but there are these moments that really wrench at your heart, um, because there are not enough people thinking about it.

And that’s the problem. These organizations aren’t prepared because not enough people are thinking about those steps.

Maria: Yes, absolutely. In one of our earlier episodes, Jocelyn, we were talking about other areas where we would like to get involved in or provide training, and one of the areas I mentioned was neurodiversity because, from both a personal and a professional point of view, I think it’s something that we need more awareness on. I do have two children with learning disabilities, and I know from being a parent, I have been very much involved and advocating for them.

Maria: And you know, now my son being 21 years old and being at college, and as I mentioned earlier, after 18 years old, you, you can’t be involved anymore. But yet the challenges of him trying to pick out his classes and his schedule that took three of us, about 10, 15 hours. That’s no exaggeration because everything kept on changing and because he transferred and there were so many different prerequisites.

Maria: So it is interesting, even though the school has an incredible program for the learning diversity – they have accommodations, they can have extra time taking tasks, but it doesn’t really look at the practical examples or the practical help that these children need.

Maria: So, yes, I mean, it’s quite a huge topic and it is, as far as diversity – I’m certainly glad that you are bringing out all of these points.

Jocelyn: I love that example too, Maria, that it’s just, there’s a missing piece, you know, that picking your classes on average takes two to three hours, right? You’re like, oh great. This is just a portion of my day, but there’s 10% of the school’s population that blows that learning curve away. It’s taking them 10 to 15 because the processes don’t work for how they’re learning. It’s just an interesting point. There are so many layers to this. Didn’t you say too?

Maria: I’m thinking about Charlotte. She has dyslexia, auditory processing disorders. I have dyslexia as well. I don’t know if you know that, but I have a pretty extreme case and I always felt stupid because numbers especially I would flip-flop with the simplest things and when it’s numbered, that’s a big deal.

Maria: So that’s why I’m not in the accounting department.

Jocelyn: Didn’t you find out that there was a specific company that only hires dyslexic individuals? It was just really interesting to hear, because while you, as a dyslexic person may think this separates me and makes me less capable – there was a company that recognized that there was something very special about this group of people. And I mean, I think it’s a really interesting thing to talk about.

Maria: They say that. Children that have dyslexia often have more or higher visual-spatial awareness. And they’re actually more intuitive.

Maria: I was at a workshop at my daughter’s previous school, shout out to Bancroft that had a great program for children with dyslexia, but they had a gentleman who was speaking and he said that there was an architect firm in New York City. That was a very successful firm and they only hired kids or graduates, that were dyslexic because they felt that they made the best architects. So, I found that very interesting. And you hear a lot of famous people that had dyslexia, so way more common.

Jocelyn: There’s just so much to talk about, but, and I think we’re going to become more aware as we have more proximity, more information shared, not just about working well with newer neurodivergent persons, but also championing mental health as part of diversity and inclusion because there are things that can be said to persons who are really struggling every day to just fully functional and provide a great support system for their families, et cetera. And we just can’t let those things fall through the cracks.

Kisha: I had a lady actually say to me, in a private chat, on training, you know, I get all of this about race and gender and sexual orientation and disability, but you know, I have a boss who said, wow, your husband must really be a Saint to deal with all your bipolar disorder and issues during a performance review.

Kisha: And why are we not showing empathy and respect? Considering most of us have probably had anxiety in the last year with this whole COVID thing. Right? We have this is like, change is hard. And mental health is just health. The brain operates all the systems.

Jocelyn: Yes. Yes. I agree with every single thing you’ve said, Kisha, so make this harder on us next time. Let’s just be – let’s just be better-having respect and empathy for other people’s experiences. We have no idea what other people are, are experiencing and what happens in their brains at home.

Maria: You know, everything, they can hear the same things and interpret it in a completely different way. Absolutely. It has nothing to do with right or wrong. It’s. Absolutely people being people diversity is the strength, not the weakness. Yeah. Write it down, write it down. I see you.

Jocelyn: How would you advocate for diversity equity and inclusion with colleagues who maybe don’t understand its importance?

Kisha: Ooh, that’s a good one. I would say very carefully. Again, we don’t want to isolate and we don’t want to create conflict for the sake of conflict. However, most people see the world from a very limited viewpoint.

Kisha: Most of us, our circle of influence is very much like ourselves and we can kind of get stuck in little echo chambers and like almost like a funhouse effect, like seeing distorted reflections of self, right in our own personal circle. And I think the best way is to appeal to the fact that, you know, they’re a good person and that, you know, that they don’t actually have hate in their hearts because most people don’t, most people just know what they were told they should believe, and those are not the same thing.

Kisha: So I think that the best way to advocate is just to share by proximity to help people see that they have a choice to care. There’s a video. I share a lot about the young man with cerebral palsy. He has a little video where he’s traveling from Manhattan to Brooklyn to try a bagel, but it takes him an hour to leave the hotel because the people in the elevator don’t step out to let the kid in the wheelchair in, but all it takes is even hearing that story. Most of the time, the people in the workshops are like, oh my gosh, that will never be me just by seeing it play out from that young man’s perspective allows people to say, oh wow, I’ve been trained not to see certain people. And I ask at the end, like how many of you would ever, ever, ever see a person in a wheelchair trying to get on an elevator and not step off. Like no, we’re stepping off the elevator to let the person with the wheelchair on. Sometimes it’s just exposure to someone else’s lived existence and you can see it in the way the country has made great strides when it comes to LGBTQ, how the way the country has made great strides when it comes to interracial marriage way, the countries make great strides with trying in general, there is always the French who’s very loud and obnoxious and gets all the spotlight.

Kisha: But most people don’t care how you worship, people don’t care who you love. And those who do – usually just don’t know anybody who is different. It’s truly about proximity.

So if someone doesn’t understand the importance, it’s okay.

Let’s talk about areas where we can agree and keep being inclusive of them, to show them that they matter too. As long as they’re not being offensive or rude or belittling someone else, let them be. The only person we can change is ourselves.

So don’t kick grandma out of the family. Cause she has an older way of thinking. Just let her know. You don’t have to hear everything she has to say. Grandma, my grandma would be like, screw you anyway.

Jocelyn/Maria: Kisha. I think that our discussion today is going to hit home for a lot of people who recognize this as a need and are looking to implement it. Some, if not all, might be ready to pick up the phone and dial one 800 Kisha right now.

Jocelyn/Maria: What would you say to those who have obviously gotten a really good taste of what this could do and what this might look like? What’s their first step to getting something implemented, getting something started at their organization.

Kisha: I think just to open up to the organization. Maybe honestly, do a little cultural assessment, hire a consultant to come in, and just take a look at like, what’s the appetite for this conversation. There are things that need to come from the top-down, but so much of this has to be driven from the bottom up, right.

Kisha: There has to be an appetite for it. So, I would say that whatever group you start with before you start implementing strategy and setting up things, do some exercises within your small group, what do cultural assessments look like? Um, and a cultural aside might be just a way of getting a sense of, is there a sense of belonging and inclusion in your culture?

Kisha: Do people based on their demographics feel equally heard and seen and validated. Show you where your blind spots are when it comes to the diversity in the organization. And it helps guide us to make better decisions. Are we recruiting for a truly diverse talent pool? If we’re recruiting for a diverse talent pool, are we turning to many of those people?

Are they not staying very long? If not, if they’re not staying very long, why not? Are our leaders supporting and upholding our organizational values on how we treat one another? Are we giving a fair shake to everyone? And I think kind of one of the other things is practice listening without interruption or contradiction or comparison when somebody is sharing their lived experience.

Kisha: Cause they’re trying to tell you something important and oftentimes it’s dismissed as, oh, well that doesn’t happen here. Or that’s not really a problem, but I can say that you know, as a person of color, there are things that happened to me in my life. Every day things remind me that other people don’t see me as equal.

Kisha: And it’s hard to explain those things to managers or bosses, or I might be a little more irritated or my colleagues are making comments that clearly make me feel like I don’t belong. If there’s no place for me to go, I’m leaving your organization. If there’s no one willing to hear me. So, I think really having deep candid conversations internally in a small group to just say, okay, what’s the truth about our culture and what can we change?

Kisha: And often it’s just the way we listen, the way we ask questions, there are simple things we can do. The problem is simple, is rarely easy. It’s not easy. Another really easy thing to do is just be a better human. I know that sounds funny, but I do believe that’s what it’s about when big things happen, that impact people who are generally marginalized, like, and I mean big things, George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, you guys know what I’m talking about.

Kisha: The big things happen. You can check in with your people without actually giving your opinion. Hey, you know, I’ve been watching this on the news, and I’ve thought about you and your family. How are you all doing? Do you have everything you need? How are your kids doing? How are your mom and dad doing? I don’t fully understand, and you don’t have to fully understand, but I know you and I support you and I respect you and I care about you.

Kisha: So let me check in with you and we’re not doing it to be performative. We’re doing it because we’re leaders who care and it doesn’t matter what our opinion is. It just matters what their experiences, those are simple things we can do while we figure out the big stuff – just be present and be genuine and be willing and courageous to say you care without having to feel like you have to have a solution.

Kisha: Because in truth, if I can share a very personal thing with TTA, um, in my personal life, after George Floyd was killed, there were people that I spent time with every week, for years who never once mentioned that the world was on fire because of the murder of this man. And all of them were not, none of them were people of color, but these are women I love and care about very much.

Kisha: And after about three or four weeks, I realized, oh, they’re going to pretend this isn’t happening. I can’t be around them anymore, but here’s, what’s funny. I work with Christine and Nicole every day at TTA. And I was just like, okay, we need to look at dates for something. And it was like “Kisha, how are you?” “How’s your family doing?” Put the work aside and address the human being. And for that, the loyalty I have for working with your organization is just astronomical because the people act, the people I work with every day, talk to me, like they knew me and knew that what was happening in the world had an impact on me and my daughters that like Maria, you know, my daughter, Sierra, you know what I mean?

Kisha: Marlene knows my daughter and, and Christine knows all about my kids. And to have someone I thought was just a colleague take the time that my friends wouldn’t show me very much what was important. Yes. Very much what mattered to me in that situation. And sometimes we just skip the easy stuff – out of fear.

Kisha: I still love my friends pushed out to another store. I know, I know it. That’s definitely a tough one.

Jocelyn: As you mentioned and you know, I, I do believe everybody has good intentions, but I do believe that sometimes people do avoid it because they just don’t know what to say. I, you know, not, I mean, obviously those examples you’re talking about are absolutely horrific.

Maria: It’s just, people don’t always know what to say.

Kisha: But the reality is, is that oftentimes I care so much that it’s my detriment, that I care so much, that I worry so much more, that my words are going to hurt and be the wrong thing. That it’s better to just sit back and at least still be a friend and let you know that I’m here so that when you’re ready, you can maybe come to me, but there, they could have the same feelings on the opposite end.

Kisha: I don’t want to talk to this person because they don’t understand. And they’re not, we have a different relationship. Absolutely. I see that struggle. So my dad, cause I have to throw a skip-ism and my dad’s name was Skip. Um, my dad was the king of all the quotes and cliches, but one of the things I remember him telling me when I was very young was it’s not your job to fix it. It’s just your job to show you care. And I think that really is the heart of it. Right. Is I know you’re hurting. I can’t possibly understand to what depth, but I do want to let you know that you’re on my mind, you’re on my heart. And if there’s anything I can do, just know I’m here for you, period. Like you just, that’s all people want to hear.

Kisha: Yeah. My best friend is Filipina and I somehow forgot to ask her how her family was doing with all this anti-Asian sentiment, because I’ve known her my whole life. She shares all kinds of things with me. And then one day I just happened to ask her and I was just like, you know, how’s your mom handling this? Is she having any negative interactions with folks? She’s like, my mom is not going out because of COVID, but you know, yeah. There’s some stuff, there’s some stuff we’re just dealing with it. Cause it’s not as bad as what happens, you know, to blacks. And I was just like, oh my gosh, no, no, no, no, no. There’s no trauma Olympics here.

Kisha: Your experiences are just as valid as my experiences. And we had a good talk about what was going on with her and her family. She felt like she couldn’t say anything or complained because of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor. And that’s just not the way it is. Like we’re not comparing or competing. I just want, you to be my friend. I love you. I want to know you’re okay. You’re my colleague. I respect you. And I want to know if you need time or space or if you’re okay. I think that’s all we have to do and we just try to make it so much more than that. Just make it more than that.

Kisha: Maria, I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be the parent of an adopted Asian child with all the messaging and some of the sentiments that get tossed around, I’d be scared. And I can’t imagine how hard that is for you and Justin, especially letting Charlotte back out into the world.

Maria: I think it’s interesting because there are a lot of Chinese adoption groups, we still stay close with a group that Justin went to China with, to adopt Charlotte. And, you know, back when Charlotte was little, they had a bunch of different Chinese culture classes.

Maria: Some of the families were doing a lot of the culture classes, you know, so starting little, they had Chinese culture classes and the kids would learn the language. And we knew for Charlotte that it was late – speaking and everything. So it wasn’t advised for her to start taking Chinese language classes because she didn’t need to learn how to speak English and it could be confusing, but we never felt like we wanted to push it.

Maria: So, we didn’t go that way, but I feel maybe we did like too little, you know, it’s really interesting because I think I told you all growing up, she had all white friends, but over the last two or three years, 90% of her friends are black and Asian.

Kisha: She matures, she’s finding ways to get the proximity. She needs to figure out who she is. And that’s the wonderful thing about life. As long as we’re still breathing, we’re still learning and we’re still growing. And you know, she’s old enough now to ask for what she needs and there’s nothing wrong with what you did because she has a lifetime for more experiences that she gets to choose.

Maria: Absolutely.

Kisha: Give yourself grace girl, give yourself grace.

Maria: Oh, I know. I mean, I say to my children all the time, like with Thomas I’m, like, I have never been a mother to a 21-year-old son before and Charlotte – I have never been a mother until a 15-year-old daughter, you know? So, it’s like, I’m learning with you.

Maria: They have had good conversations at school, which has been good. And you know, so it’s given us the opportunity to be able to come home and talk and address it. I think that’s really the best – is just to have good communication, you know?

Kisha: I would really like it to end a session with a really powerful quote and Maya Angelo’s one of my favorite authors ever in life. And one of the things that she’s always talked about is her regrets, the things she learned through mistakes in her life. And one of my favorite quotes, and she said it a lot of ways over many years, “but at the time I did what I could with what I had and then when I learned better, I did better.” And I think she just sums up life. In such a hopeful and grace-filled way we can only do what we can with what we have in any given moment. And we don’t get reduced. We just get to learn and keep doing better going forward. And that’s how we call this stuff down.

Kisha: That’s how we see one another. That’s how we can make an impact by doing little things. And those little things add up to big things and they’re happening. I have hope.

Maria: I do too.

Jocelyn: I do too. Absolutely. I have hope. Well, Kisha, this was absolutely fantastic. I felt like out of all of our podcasts that we have recorded so far, this has been one of the hardest ones to.

Maria: Everything that you said was spot on that I really felt like I had absolutely nothing to add to them.

Jocelyn: Oh no, no, no. Not at all. Y’all uh, it just, you know, it, my mind is spinning 90 miles an hour right now. Um, just with so many thoughts, which is a great thing. It is you’ve provided so much insight in such a delicate yet profound way that I always leave. You know, this Kisha. I tell you this all the time. No matter if it’s a quick phone call checking in or a new opportunity or follows up on something else, any time we talk, I feel like I am coming out of it motivated to be a better person. And thank you for sharing that with our listeners.

Jocelyn: I think that you are a huge part of the start to a more inclusive and better world.

Kisha: Thank you for inviting me. I’ve enjoyed this discussion and I love being a member of the TTA family. Thank you for making me feel very welcome. Like I belong.

Maria: We can’t wait for you to come to visit us!

Jocelyn: For more information on today’s podcast guests and how they can help your organization, please visit www.thetrainingassociates.com. Bring out the talent is a MuddHouse Media production.