In this week's episode, Billy and Brian talk to Global Inclusion and Diversity Business Leader Ericka Jones about:
--what inclusion, diversity, and equity training looks like and how it makes us more aware of our blind spots
--how we NEED to use our privilege to ensure people have equitable experiences
--how conversations around inclusion, diversity, and equity have evolved over the course of the last year
--how her yoga and meditation practices help her have difficult conversations around inclusion, diversity, and equity with others
--the consequences of code-switching
--the importance of representation and allyship
--the role representation has played in her life as a sorority sister at the University of Nebraska and as a Lululemon ambassador
--taking action by creating a space to have conversations around inclusion, diversity, and equity through Pause to Ground
--why it's been hard for her to say she's a "proud" Nebraska Cornhusker
Like what you heard from Ericka Jones? Contact her at:
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Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches as we share our life experiences, both the good and the bad, in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I’m your host, Billy, and, as always, I’m joined by my good friend, Brian on the Bass. Brian, how you doing over there, man?
Brian: I’m stupendous today.
Billy: Why are you stupendous today?
Brian: Well, it’s a dreary day but it’s a holiday weekend, it’s a Friday, there’s lots of great — we have a wonderful guest today. I’m really excited about everything. So I’m stupendous.
Billy: Excellent. This is actually — so we record our episodes out of order so this is actually the last episode we’re recording for this season but is not the last episode of the season and it is the first episode that I am recording in a closet that is not my own because I am now I guess homeless because I moved out of my condo on Sunday and I’m not homeless, I am without home right now, so I am crashing couches for the next week until I head to Portugal on Tuesday so I’m very excited about that.
Brian: You’re a homeowner without a home, right?
Billy: Yeah, there we go. Exactly. It was weird —
Brian: That’s what I would say, yeah.
Billy: Yeah. It’s weird handing over my keys to the lovely couple who was renting my place because I’m the only person who has ever lived in my condo so it was uncomfortable for me to hand those keys over but they’re a very lovely couple and I’m very happy that they’re going to love my place as much as I loved my place, but I’m definitely getting out of my comfort zone here and I feel like today’s guest is going to help us have a conversation that gets us out of our comfort zone a little bit. Today’s guest is Ericka Jones and Ericka Jones is a global inclusion and diversity business leader at Cargill. In her role, she’s responsible for supporting Cargill’s global enterprises and businesses to develop comprehensive strategies that increase diversity as well as build and sustain inclusive behaviors. Ericka also teaches yoga and meditation part time and is a Lululemon ambassador and this experience helps her intersect yoga philosophy and DEI business acumen. She is here today to talk to us about the importance of representation, gender and racial equity, inclusivity, and diversity, and how they work together to make us a better society. Let’s welcome Ericka Jones. Thank you for being here.
Ericka: Oh, thank you so much for having me. That is a mouthful that you shared and thank you.
Billy: Yeah, that’s why we type it out so I don’t have to memorize it all.
Ericka: Yeah. I want to hear a little bit before we dive in. So you’re renting out your condo, right?
Billy: Correct, yes.
Ericka: And how long are you going to be in Portugal?
Billy: So I’m going to be in Portugal for two months. I do not have a return ticket and I only know as far as October 26th. After October 26th, I have no idea where I’m going to be in the world, like literally I could be anywhere in the world I so choose that I can afford so that’s kind of my plan for the next year is to just travel around and see the world as much as I can.
Ericka: What part of Portugal?
Billy: I am going to fly to Lisbon and then immediately take a train and head up to Aveiro, which is they call it the Venice of Portugal because there are all these canals and stuff like that. And then I’m going to go up to Porto and I’m going to spend about two weeks in Porto, come back down to Lisbon for a month, and then go down to the Algarve region, which is southern Portugal, for two weeks and then we’ll see where I go. I’d like to go to the Cinque Terre in Italy after that, and greatly looking forward to this adventure. Taken a year leave from work and getting ready to try on this new adventure. I’m very much somebody who likes stability so this is very new for me. So, to be sleeping on people’s couches, it kind of reminds me back to my early 20s when I would drive up to the Twin Cities every weekend and get drunk and crash on people’s couches, just minus the getting drunk part now.
Ericka: Yeah, yeah. Portugal’s one of my favorite areas in Lisbon and Algarve, like it’s beautiful so you’re going to enjoy it.
Billy: I want —
Brian: I had a suspicion you’d been there when I heard your response, you’re like which parts, that implied to me that you knew it and loved it so that’s great.
Ericka: Yeah, and what a really great time that you really bring up, it’s interesting this title, of course, when I see the title, Mindful Midlife Crisis, I was like aren’t we too young to be having midlife crisis? And I really think that there’s something about a mindful midlife shift —
Billy: I like that.
Ericka: — and choice, a mindful midlife choice. And, before, like it was this crisis, like I don’t know what to do, and everything that we’ve experienced over the past year and having remote work accessible to us and that being normalized more that we do have some individuals have privileges to choose to give their home up and go travel and embrace culture and really step out of their culture, their comfort zone, to have an international experience, but you’ll realize that something that I’ve really learned in my work is that the US isn’t the center of all things that are happening right now and the US definitely has so many privileges that, and not to diminish what’s happening within the US, and so it’s really good that you get to have the time to laser out and see things from a macro level.
Billy: Yeah, I’m really excited to just to try on new experiences. Originally, the plan was to go to Asia for five and a half months and I was going to start in Thailand, spend a month there, make my way to Malaysia to Singapore, over to Japan and South Korea, but none of those countries are open right now to tourists. I’m hoping that by 2022, before this leave is over, I’m able to hit that. And, if not, then maybe I just need to extend the leave and find a new career path which involves traveling or doing this podcast from overseas, from Japan or South Korea or what have you. I can literally teach English in any country I wanted so I don’t know that I need to continue to do that in Metro Minnesota.
Billy: So one thing that we like to do is we like to have our guests talk about the 10 roles that they play in their life so can you share with us what your 10 roles are?
Ericka: Yeah, I think, well, that that was a loaded question, I was like 10 roles? And I would say the ones without thinking, the ones that I jotted down immediately, were daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin, friend, yogi advocate, champion, and a compassionate servant leader.
Billy: Now one thing I noticed that you didn’t put on here, Ericka, is proud Nebraska Cornhusker.
Ericka: Yeah. I would say — gosh, that’s — well, to say I’m a proud Nebraska Cornhusker, I am a Nebraskan definitely and I’m a Cornhusker, definitely. Nebraska, Nebraskan is like a through line of me and all of this deep in my roots, Midwestern in Nebraska. Right now, when we talk about proud Cornhusker, it’s a struggle. I mean, to be real. I mean, I went to — and, of course, I can’t like go back into the museum time box of Nebraska and the glory days but I went to college during that and I know it will never be the same. However, this is like just plain. I’m trying to be optimistically hopeful. I don’t know if I would say proud, it’s like that thing right now, because we’re not winning games.
Billy: So that begs the question then, I noticed that you started a new — is it a master’s program?
Ericka: Yeah, yeah, online.
Billy: And I think if people knew where you were taking this online master’s program, they would turn their eyebrow up at you a little bit or scoff at where you’re going, particularly your Nebraska Cornhusker faithful, because where are you doing that?
Ericka: University of Oklahoma. Yeah. So it’s really interesting —
Billy: Cornhusker nation’s heart just broke right there.
Ericka: I know, which, once again, it’s like, well, all of my friends from college and high school, obviously, were like, “What?” card slams, I’m like, “Listen, we are in no position to be rivals with any school right now so I think that, just like we’re hoping for a national championship, we can hope for the Nebraska-Oklahoma rival to come back and the reality is, it’s like we just may lose this game.” But, of course, when it comes down to it, they play each other this year, I will be optimistically hopeful for Nebraska. I’m not going to lose sleep over it, like I would some games, because it’s a wrecking ball right now.
Billy: I can empathize because Brian is a Green Bay Packers fan and I am a long suffering Vikings fan so I have no delusions that the Vikings are going to be good anytime soon so I 100 percent empathize with you on that one. If we take a look at the three roles you’re most looking forward to in the second half of your life, you included one from your list of 10 but then you added two, so I’m curious, I want to start with soul filled. So you added soul filled to this list. Talk about why you’re looking forward to being soul filled for the second half of your life.
Ericka: Yeah. When I think about soul filled, I really think about all things in balance and really having it come from my soul and a lot of the things that I already do and I feel like there’s deeper layers to go into and that’s because of experiences that I haven’t yet had, so there are people that I haven’t met, there are things that I feel can keep having my soul crack open and getting really closer to that so I want them to be where I can have things like enter and exit my soul for the lessons that they are and not needing to be scurried around them. There’s still that scurriness around it or I’m caught off guard by something and it’s this visualization of sitting underneath a tree or in nature and, literally, the restlessness of the world is at peace and I feel peace within it and I’m filled by my soul because everything around me, the people that around me, the conversations that I have, everyone is living from their soul and their pure being without this need of proving anything or needing to be right or needing to be wrong or I imagine just like this commune of people living with purpose and impact and wanting to talk about their soul and who their soul is and so that’s what I mean by soul filled.
Billy: I would agree. I think we’re all — I think a lot of people, if they are introspective, they really want to find a way to seek out experiences that fill their soul and I imagine for you being a yogi is part of that journey and is part of the reason you’re looking to fill your soul.
Ericka: Yeah. To fill my soul and have my soul fill other things too so it’s a little bit of both, it’s like where I feel I don’t need things to fill my soul because it is naturally filled by the experiences that I do have and then I’m able to pour that over into other things.
Billy: Does that connect them to you listed partner here as well so what you just said there about your soul being filled but then being able to fill other souls, does that connect to that role as well of being a partner down the line?
Ericka: No. So, that one is personal, like partnership and romantically. I’m single so I’m like, “Well, I listed all these other roles and titles,” daughter, sister, whatever, and that’s like one that’s not there, and I love love and I love the element of partnership and the definition of partnership has really shifted so much for me in my, quote, unquote, “midlife age,” and so that to me, I want like soul in the partnership and having that be soul filled in the partnership. So that’s why that is added.
Billy: I like that. And then a big reason why you’re here today on the show is because you are a compassionate servant leader and that’s something that you’re looking forward to in the second half of your life. So talk about why is that important for you in the second half.
Ericka: I mean, we need more of it. When I think about servant leadership, it’s really about serving others and bringing the best skills and bringing the purpose out of people and really leading it in a way from compassion. We need more of it right now more than ever. There’s a myriad of things that are happening, you can just turn on the news like in workspaces and what I really sense is a level of compassion that needs to have within it and I’ve just really seen a lot of leaders over the past year shift more into that, more into being compassionate leaders, particularly through the pandemic and situational experiences and the way that they’ve led people, like the way that they led people two years ago wasn’t applicable last year and, really, mind, body, spirit all really connected into how we lead people so that we can take care of others and when we’re taking care of others, we don’t have to worry about, “Am I being taken care of?” because someone will then take care of you and through you taking care of someone else, you naturally are taking care of yourself and so in a way that’s really serving and that’s what I’m really trying to learn, like what does that mean and it’s like not the servant leadership that is consistently giving, it’s who and how I’m being for others.
Billy: Yeah, and I imagine that your role at Cargill where you are doing inclusion and diversity work as a leader there is a big part of this so we’re going to take a quick break and then when we come back, we’re going to continue talking to Ericka about her role as an inclusion, diversity, and equity leader. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with inclusion, diversity, and equity leader Ericka Jones and she is here talking to us today about how inclusion, diversity, and equity just makes for a better society and we would firmly agree with that. We’ve had great guests on talking about this so far. This is Ericka’s work right here at a Fortune 500 company, we thought who better to have on to have this conversation with than Ericka. So, Ericka, can you tell us a little bit more about your work as an inclusion, diversity, and equity leader and how do you develop comprehensive strategies that increase diversity as well as build and sustain inclusive behaviors?
Ericka: Yeah, so the work that I do, I’ve been in this space now for, I don’t know, a long time, like 14, I can’t even tell you, a long time, years, double digits. And, at Cargill right now in my current role, we are in our center of excellence team and we help consult — I mean, Cargill is a beast and we help consult all of our businesses and enterprises. The biggest function is, throughout our whole role, anyone in this field is all about representation, that’s where the diversity comes from, how can we make organizations more diverse through talent, hiring, through promotion, etc., especially as the demographics in the US and around the world change, the customers are changing, and, internally, we are reflecting exactly what the customer is on the outside. And really taking look at the intersectionality of it, so most organizations, especially from top down, are primarily men, how can we get more women, more people of color, more women of color in leadership roles? And then across the entire organization so that we don’t have the — it’s like the senior executives and you have the mid-level managers and then you have the entry-level managers, that’s typically where you see most of the diversity, and how do we really retain talent in order to move them into the pipeline to be leaders because representation does matter. I mean, it’s proven fact, with regards to not only race and gender, it’s how organizations can make more equitable decisions when they have others who do not look like them at the table and also when it comes to diversity of thought. And so it’s so amazing doing this work and watching decisions being made and conversations being made by individuals where the room is pretty homogeneous and they’re making decisions that impact other people. The previous company that I worked at, oh, gosh, it was the most wild conversation and it was around parental leave and, in parental leave, they were specifically talking about maternity leave and that is something that lights me up. I don’t even have children of my own, however, I am a feminist and women’s rights are something that is number one for me and in the United States, there are no federal laws that are enacted for maternity leave. It’s something that we need to change. The US is in the bottom four of countries and we need to change this and be more advocates about it. Anyway, there were leaders, my manager, we are all in this room and this organization had, I don’t know, it was probably 80 percent men, and they were talking about maternity leave and making decisions on how women can take maternity leave and whether it’s either broken up or it can be all taken at once and there are different tiered level managers in the organization of operations, some are on the frontlines and then others were like in a corporate setting, and they’re making all these decisions and I’m listening and it’s like, “No, we’re going to make them take it all at one time and it has to be in this like one swoop thing.” I’m like this is so interesting and I just said it, that every person in this room that’s making a decision about maternity leave or having this conversation is a man and not one of you are asking any women on both sides, in the corporate setting or on the frontline, who had delivered and had a child and different experiences within women having children so if you’re going off of testimonies of your wives, it could be different than someone else. No one’s asked. And so here we’re making these decisions and that is not okay. So it was like — so the conversation ended abruptly. I think I just like stuck socks in everyone’s mouth and we moved on to the next thing. And then two months later, we came back and the decision I felt was the right decision by letting women have the choice and how they need to take it because they could feel comfortable coming back after three months and if they needed to go back, then let them do that, so they were making this decision based on the unions and I was like, “I could have just told you that just sitting here from a female.” It was like this opening and when we talked about equity, I’m like that that could have led to the most inequitable decision based on a lack of representation of women. That’s where when we talk about diversity, there is this fatigue and fragility around men and organizations and it’s because people of color and women are really fatigued with individuals making decisions who do not look like them. And it’s really important that we have the right people in the room and we’re making and talking about equitable decisions, policies, meaning when we talk about equity, it’s like what are the policies and the barriers that prevent people that really liberate people and allow them to have access to what it is that they need to have access to so they can perform in the way that they need to perform. I truly believe that performance management would minimize if we gave people the tools, the resources, and removed the barriers they needed to if we eliminated those. And so that’s why we see a lot of organizations over the past few years really talk, especially last year, talking about the barriers that are in the way. In my grad school program right now, we’re reading the book by Ibram Kendi and talking about, and it was so phenomenal, about, and I’m paraphrasing here, but a lot of people like to go into arguments about black on black crime, etc., and all this and, really, what it’s attributed to is unemployment and when people are unemployed, and what is the biggest barrier for unemployment? There are a lot of requirements in organizations where you need college degrees, you can’t have any petty crimes or you can’t have any of these. And if organizations removed those as barriers, we would have more people employed, we would then see crime rate go down. However, people want to manage people and not the policy and not the actual barrier and so it’s really looking behind that and so that’s really what’s really great is like challenging policies that prevent people from having access. And then the last part of this is inclusion, which I really love, and it’s the behaviors of individuals and really leading with heart and this work, whatever is measured is managed and we’re not managers in this work because once you hit your targets or goals, then it’s like, “Okay, we’ve checked the box, we’ve done that,” and really what makes it sustainable is about the behaviors of the individuals and the way that it’s led by heart. Because at the end of the day, no one wants to be hired because they’re the woman or they’re the black woman or they’re the black person. They want to be hired because it’s the right thing to do and because leaders are open, they’re curious, they’re honest, compassionate, they’re optimistic about the people that they hire. And when you dive into the behaviors of individuals, that is a lot of individual work and that’s how I really hone in on myself as a yogi and doing the deep inquiry work and leverage the resources like meditation and yoga to dive into self so that when you’re able to dive into self, you’re then able to be more of an inclusive leader of others. And a lot of work in this space, and I’m definitely not an expert in this, around, kind of veer off a little bit, but when we talk about antiracism, it is a lot of individual work that is unlearned and that needs to be relearned. And I’m like, whoa, even myself, I am an antiracist in learning and anyone, regardless of race can be racist, and so it’s this continuous journey and it really requires looking at self. I mean, I can barely get through this book because I cry every minute, like thinking about, “Wow, whoa, here’s my childhood right here in front of me,” and unpacking that and unlearning it and then really moving through all of the feelings through it. So that’s a lot of what I do. It’s a lot of holding space for people. It’s a lot of tough conversations. It is a lot of relentless work. Yeah. It’s also like really learning how to take care of yourself because, obviously, as we know, this conversation has accelerated quite a bit.
Billy: I wonder sometimes, as business leaders, they’re looking at statistics, they’re looking at figures, and for them to have conversations around this, I wonder if it’s difficult for them because it’s not a statistical thing that you can look at that, I mean, you can take a look and say, “Yes, we have X percentage of people of color on our staff,” and that sort of thing but experiences cannot be measured, experiences aren’t quantifiable, and we have to, like you said, create a space to listen to experiences so that when we make policies, when we make guidelines that we take into consideration a diverse perspective. And I imagine that when you’re sitting in a room trying to hold space for people to have those conversations, it does get frustrating and it probably gets frustrating for people who are like, “I’m so sick of talking about this,” and it gets frustrating for you because you’re like, “No, we need to talk about this.” So, I’m wondering, what do people get wrong about inclusion and diversity and equity training? What do you find to be the big pushbacks during those meetings? And what’s your biggest frustration during those meetings?
Ericka: Yeah. So, what you shared is exactly right. You do need the statistics, the data, the numbers, and then experiences can be measured, like when you do look at like poll surveys, when you look at engagement surveys, when you do see that there is not women in leadership, when you do see that there’s not people of color, when you begin asking the question why, then you start hearing what the experiences are. And so, when you don’t see it, you have to ask yourself why and then everyone will be able to tell their story. Where people get it wrong and where some of the behaviors are is a lack of listening and humility. And at the end of the day, it’s really letting go of ego because people want to do the right thing, people don’t want to be bad people, and so if you can let go like, “Oh, I’m not a bad person, I’m inclusive,” well, consider there’s areas of growth. There’s areas of growth, we all have blind spots, accept them for what they are, and when you can just put on that hat and take it on, then that’s how we can get it right. But when we’re not willing to listen and we discount the experiences of others, minimize the experiences of others, because we’re so in our self and ego, of like, “I’m discounting this experience so that I can be right because if I am right, then that doesn’t make me bad,” and it’s like, well, it’s not about any of that. It’s not about you at all. It’s really about listening to this experience of this individual, learn something from it and grow from it. And I’ve seen this led in a way where it can turn people off, where it does make people feel bad and guilty and that’s not the way that I approach this work, especially when you’re talking about privilege, great, you have it, everyone has it, we have different dimensions of privilege, use it for something. Where you will not, where I will hold you accountable is if you don’t use it for something and then that’s when you’re doing something wrong because then you’re just being neutral.
Billy: I liked that you said that we all have privilege but we have different dimensions of privilege. That hit me like a ton of bricks right there, your explanation of that so I really appreciate you putting that into a framework that makes way more sense to me as I’m even trying to explain it to myself when I’m having those kinds of conversations with myself so thank you for that.
Ericka: Yeah. And if you know what it is, then you’re required to do something. And that is your accountability playing a role and you not playing a role is still playing a role. So if you know, like I know that here’s a privilege that I have and this is how I’m going to use it in allyship or advocacy, that is a responsibility that I have. And we all have that, we just need to figure out what it is and stop ruminating and like, “Well, I don’t know what it is,” or making myself feel bad, like use it and like create the space for others. And that is what it really is about servant leadership. It’s like less you, more others, and you being like a vessel for others.
Billy: That’s what we’re really trying to work on on this podcast is creating the space and elevating people’s voices and we know we can do a better job of creating a more diverse guest list, that kind of thing. I know we’re just getting started but that’s something that weighs heavily on my mind every time when we’re outlining a season, like, all right, whose voices are we elevating here? Whose experiences are we elevating? So I like that you said there should be a burden of privilege in the sense that if you have it, you should do something with it. What’s Spider Man, that saying, with great power comes great responsibility, right? And with great privilege comes great responsibility so what are you doing with that privilege? Are you doing something to make the world, even if what we mean by a world is local, just are you doing something locally, just within your small section, are you doing something to make that better? Are you doing something to amplify that?
Ericka: Yeah. And when you say, like I’m so big on words where like, yes, if you do know your privileges, you should. I would take out “should” and say you need, like you need to do something. We didn’t just go through like the whole last year of reckoning on both fronts and two pandemics really to not do anything. I think it was real revealing. I call last year the year that’s revealing. I think it called our generation to really wake up and to do something and so it’s not about you should, it’s you need to, period. That’s where I’m like very black or white, it’s like you’re either doing it or you’re not and it doesn’t matter how big or small, it’s like you need to do something. And, otherwise, that is the responsibility that we do have now that we are at the age and in leadership and positions of opportunity that we have to in our community, in our workspaces, with our friends, with our family. I removed the should because should keeps us stuck, the need gets us in the action and accountability.
Billy: I actually started sweating when you said “need” because I’m like, shit, am I doing enough?
Ericka: And it doesn’t, right? And it’s like, yeah, ’cause we take need and it’s like we think about these grandiose things and it doesn’t need to be these like grandiose things, it’s like find what your thing is and do that. Like last year, for example, my thing was not protesting. That wasn’t my thing. And my own PTSD from mass shooting, so that’s just all I saw, like that’s just — I wasn’t going to do that and I just couldn’t do that because I’m also doing this for work so I needed like balance to like take care of myself. Where I can do this is I can lend myself into leading these conversations more, helping people have tough conversations where we can meet in the middle and we can do that. That is what I can do, that is like the small thing that I can offer, and that is a privilege that I have of like being a skillful person on both ends. And the people that felt like they needed to do that, like great, that’s your thing. Pick a lane, drive in it, and take up the lane. There’s not like one lane on a highway, there’s four, five, six, seven, whatever. We all need to be in a lane doing something.
Billy: How have you seen these conversations evolve then over the last year? Are you seeing more and more people recognize the need for inclusion, diversity and equity conversations in their lives and in the workplace? Are you seeing more and more resistance? Or is it a split? You said something that actually I found interesting that you thought the leaders are doing a better job with it and I was like, at the national level? I don’t feel like they’re doing a very good job of it. But you’re probably seeing it more on a local level, and so I’m curious how you would respond to that.
Ericka: Since I’ve been doing this for a really long time, I always like to celebrate small wins, especially in this work, because it can feel like you’re never doing enough and it can create burnout quite a bit when you feel like you’re not doing enough. And I would have to say, there are a lot of leaders that were very vulnerable and very candid and very open about what they weren’t doing in their organization and about what they were doing. I mean, think about Nike, they had this huge campaign last year and it was like, for once, don’t do it. To flip that was like amazing. Lululemon, where I’m an ambassador, was like, “You wanna know what? We haven’t been doing this and we’re committed to doing better.” We saw Ben and Jerry’s just blatantly come out and like it was just, “Here it is.” Cargill, our CEO, broke down in tears on employees after visiting George Floyd Square. And that takes a lot for leaders to do that and like the commitments of CEOs to do that. So I would say that that is great. I lost your question so can you re-ask it?
Billy: Yeah, yeah, I asked how have you seen these conversations evolve over the last year and are you seeing more and more people recognize the need for these conversations in their lives and in their workplace or is it more of a resistance? Is it more of a split?
Ericka: Yeah, it’s everything. I think that it’s really opened up a lot of conversations, in the best of ways. It’s really interesting I think that one of the things that we learned growing up is like you don’t talk about money, religion, or politics. Well, if you can’t talk about it, you can’t do anything about it so I always broke those rules. I talk about everything. Every topic is on the table for me because, like, why? Like if we’re not talking about these things, then they boil underneath the surface. However, I never talked about them because people around me were never comfortable talking about them so I always had them privately, like with close friends. Anyway, these conversations really generated so much about privilege, about where they weren’t doing enough, like how to support other people, even in my own family. I’m from Nebraska, my parents are from DC, so all of my extended family and cousins and everyone are in DC and my sister brother and I, our lived experience of growing up in the Midwest is completely different than my cousins, like they went to predominantly HBCUs, meaning historically black colleges and universities, they went to schools where it was predominantly black. Ours was completely the opposite except for like the high school that I went to was extremely diverse, which I’m so proud of. So even like conversations with my cousins, having discussions about our experience differently, like while our family life was the same, our experiences based on culture was different. I’m black in white culture. My cousins are black in black culture. It’s totally different experiences. And last year, there was just so much of monolithic grouping everyone black together and it’s like, whoa, now, it’s we’re not asking about people’s experience and like what is your experience, so what I’m still processing and working through is really understanding and learning more black culture, a lot of black history. While I know the surface of some things, thankfully, because of my mom, like Juneteenth and like those things I know about, I really don’t deeply know about them and grew up in an education system that is really not the true American view. And so there are just so many things and a lot of my healing was through black community and a couple of girlfriends or friends from high school, my high school was extremely diverse in Nebraska, which is wild, I’m so grateful for the school in the formative years in the 90s, like we had a gay and lesbian homecoming and prom, we were taught to be feminist and antiracist, like it was just remarkable. However, there was this dual culture and this double consciousness of living in a black and white world and which one were you going to be in and there were a couple of girls from high school that reached out to me and they apologized. They just said, “I’m sorry for being —” and they’re black and they’re like, “I’m sorry for being so rude,” because they had called me like a sellout. And at the time, I was like I don’t understand this, we both were on the track team, we’re doing this, and what I knew at that time is that they were also trying to assimilate and fit in to black culture, not be black enough but not be white enough, and I just did whatever the hell I wanted to do and whatever so I didn’t care. So, I say that because it began opening up conversations that I never even had. And girls that I went to high school with that I haven’t even talked to in 20 some years brought that up, and conversations with my sister that I never had with my sister, and then conversations around dating and interracial dating and a fourth of my family is white and my brother-in-law is white and my sister-in-law is Hispanic so like hearing how they’re experiencing it, it just really — conversations were very rich and really dynamic and if there was any resistance in the conversation, it was because of a lack of awareness or where an individual may have felt some sort of guilt or shame and they didn’t know what to do. And so that’s I would say like the resistance was probably more so in needing to grow more and being able to digest the thought process of it all.
Billy: When you would have these conversations, would you ever be hearing somebody respond back to you and just be like, “Oh, damn, this person is just outright racist,” and then feel like I don’t know who or what would ever get this person to shift their mindset around what we are talking about here in this conversation?
Ericka: Yes. And, yeah, and it didn’t happen. I think it was more politically, actually. So all of that was like entangled in this. There’s an individual and it was like after, what, January 6th or whatever, and this individual had — gosh, there’s so many layers to this, had during, especially in Minneapolis, like when everything was happening with George Floyd, had the audacity and nerve to show me alternative ways of how it was his fault and then defend what was happening in DC. And, to me, that — I was like, “Whoa, dude.” I tried to listening to this, to like understand, because when people are like, to that end, like we’re talking about human life. I don’t care what a person does, no one deserves any sort of thing. So, showing me the alternatives, I was like, “This is inappropriate,” and then after January 6th with my own political views of being happy that the presidency was ending and then blaming other — I was like this is so far gone that I now know that what I experienced having these conversations with that person was very racist. When you really look at the definition of racism and allowing injustices and policies to happen, yeah, absolutely.
Brian: Wow. That’s going to be a lot for me to unpack. I can’t wait to go back and listen to this episode because, I mean, I have to admit as a person with a lot of privilege, I have a lot to learn about all this stuff and you really have an excellent way of putting it all together. It’s really quite amazing so thank you for that. Wow.
Billy: Yeah, I’m trying to unpack a lot of this too and I don’t know if you saw the wave of privilege wash over me as you were explaining some of that stuff because, like I said, it hits me hard as I’m trying to process through this. And I imagine your yoga and your meditation practice helped you during these conversations when they get intense like that.
Ericka: Yeah. Meditation and breath are such a huge part because when I’m in these conversations, a lot of times, I have to remind myself to listen. And when I do respond, a lot of the times, I hear myself like, “This doesn’t make sense. You sound stupid,” because it’s very easy to get caught in that, “You’re not smart enough,” or there’s someone that is always out there, especially in this day in the world, there’s internet and Google and everyone thinks they’re the expert in something. So I tried to speak from what I know to be true and also from what I believe that’s in my soul on where the conversations need to go. So, yeah, those tools are really useful in so many ways. I want to hear in the dialogue what did you hear in what I shared. What resonated with you? What landed with you?
Brian: I think mostly when you said how you connected the dots within the company and how decisions were being made without representation. When you say representation, representation can be a threatening word to white males, you know what I mean? To hear why it’s important and connect the decisions being made without representation, that made total sense, that example was like — that almost sounds silly to me, now, like why would people who haven’t experienced these things be making these decisions? It sounds silly almost, but to connect the dots like that is really, like I said, it’s going to be a lot for me to think of. There’s so much that we could talk about, it’s really great.
Billy: I think, for me, what hit was when you talked about navigating being black in white culture and your friends navigating being black in black culture and I wouldn’t even think of it like that, like I just think I’m just navigating being a white dude in this world, that sort of thing. So that hit me when you were talking about that. And when I said that a wave of privilege washed over me, that’s what it was. And I know I get frustrated sitting in inclusion, diversity, and equity meetings because I’m like, “How is everybody not on board with this?” That’s kind of where I go, like that’s where my frustration comes from and I’m not necessarily living the experience, as other people are, like I’ve seen this before. If you’re tired of talking about racism, imagine what it’s like living with it. That’s kind of where my mind goes to a little bit as I’m listening to you have these conversations and what you’re saying during this conversation.
Ericka: What I hear and that is, like you said, I’m a white dude navigating in my world and when I talked about servant leadership, there’s the element of being curious and we are only looking at experiences through our own eyes, that is like a limited view. And so, for me, I was a journalism major and so I love being on this with you all because I wanted to be like the next Oprah or having the show and the reason that I loved that was I was always such a curious kid and still so curious about people and about their experiences, who they are, their backgrounds, like what made them who they are, and I never think about myself navigating the world. I don’t really think about it in that way because I’m so interested in how other people are experiencing and navigating in the world. And that’s where a lot of ego comes, of letting ego go. And when you said like, “I don’t know why people are on board with this,” because people may not see themselves a part of it. Because when you do hear diversity, equity, and inclusion, they immediately think women and people of color. And I can tell you, white men have a role and it’s through allyship, it’s through advocacy, it’s through open compassion, it’s through creating spaces. Every single person has a role in it. And the role that you can also play is if you stay stuck in it and are not willing to shift your own behavior in order to evolve and transform organizations, corporations in where it needs to go. So I think people, it’s like, yeah, we need to get on board, you have to get on board. The demographics tell you, the majority will be the minority by 2030, period. White will no longer be the majority. So you have to get on that board from the sense of representation, where people need to figure out where they fit in the equation is from behaviorally and what role do I need to play and begin playing that role.
Billy: Well, I’m glad you brought up representation and allyship because that’s where I want to go to next so what we’re going to do is we’re going to take a quick break and then when we come back, we can continue talking to Ericka Jones. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with inclusion, diversity, and equity business leader Ericka Jones. Ericka, once again, thank you for being here today. When we talked to Teresa Sande last week about impostor syndrome, she mentioned that diversity is inviting someone to the party but inclusion is asking them to dance and she said she wants companies to go a step further and said we need to go beyond just diversity and inclusion and we need to make people feel comfortable enough to keep showing up to the party day in and day out and allow them to be their authentic selves. And we talked about a friend of mine who is biracial who used to straighten her hair and wear blue contacts because she felt like students responded to her better when she did that, but for the past few years, she’s done more and more work with students of color in her building, she stopped doing that and has just showed up more as her true self. So, I’m curious, how do you and how does your work with inclusion, diversity, and equity help businesses and individuals embrace their colleagues and friends as their true selves?
Ericka: Yeah, so the analogy that you, the thing that you talked about with the person who was talking about impostor syndrome, which that is real, note on that. What she’s talking about is going a step further of inclusion and really creating sustainability for belongingness. And that is really what it is. When a person comes back, they feel like, “I belong, this is a community, I see myself here, I can grow here, I can perform here,” so diversity and inclusion is not enough in organizations, it’s actually getting to the step of sustainability to create a sense of belongingness. That’s when the richness of it all begins to happen. And there’s a lot of work into the belongingness. It’s building high trust teams, it’s being honest in performance, it’s being able to be optimistic about a person’s performance. Getting them to come back is a part of belongingness, because you want to go back to something, you’re going to get included but it’s like, “Do I really belong here?” And when he talked about your friend who used to straighten their hair and wear blue contacts, that really gets into a whole can of worms about code switching and the cost of code switching and the impact of code switching, particularly when you talk about biracial or black individuals in corporate environments. So when you talked earlier about it’s really about the experience, and when you do look at representation and you do see a lack of representation amongst people of color in leadership roles, a lot of that could come from the impact of code switching where they have to change parts of who they are in order to fit in a white culture. And we see it happen all the time. So we see, for example, you may see someone straighten their hair, especially, it’s a huge conversation around women and, actually, in the state of California, they are passing the CROWN Act and they just did this so that black women don’t have to change their hair and get performance or let go because of their hairstyles. That’s a real thing. There’s a lot of airlines that still do have in their policies about the style of hair for black women where they may not be able to wear it natural or they were unable to wear it with braids so there are those barriers that are there and talking about code switching and where black individuals are avoiding stereotypes associated with identities of black culture in order to fit in and accelerate. And when you’re talking about the implications of that, you’re talking about mental health, so the undue stress of consistently changing yourself in order to fit in, feeling like that you are this halo and horns effect, that you cannot move forward in an organization because you don’t look like this person or you don’t speak like this individual. And when you look at performances of — actually, I just posted this on my LinkedIn, when you take a look at bias in performance reviews, I think it’s like 47 percent of performance reviews at this one organization did with like individuals of color, it was really around how they communicated and about their tone in communication, 47 percent more individuals of color have that in their performance review than they did with white men. And it’s like, whoa, so I have to change how I speak, change my tone, where it was like, “Your tone is more aggressive.” Well, that’s not okay. And we’ve seen that play out as well in sports, like with Serena Williams, when she was on the court and she was really upset, this was a couple of years ago, and like got fined and all these other men athletes came out and they’re like, “I’ve never gotten fined. I’ve broken rackets on the court,” and so there’s this double standard that happens when it comes to code switching. So why and implications of that and there’s a really great article in the Harvard Business Review that talks about the cost of code switching and what that looks like and so when you talk about she stopped straightening her hair and to show up as herself, that took a lot of courage and it took a lot of bold leadership. And you see it all the time. I get that it was something that was there, I felt so sad about it, but I led a talent acquisition team at my organization at Abercrombie and we went to the largest, it was called the Boston Career Forum and it’s the largest career fair for expats in Asia and here and all over from Asia flying into Boston to get interviews and girls were wearing, Asian women wearing blue contacts, fake eyelashes, heels, all this stuff, in order to fit into the western culture. And I understand it because that is like an aspiration and, literally, it was like show up as you are. And we let people show up authentically as they are who they are. That is correlation to a person’s performance where it doesn’t cause undue stress. So that is, like those examples, their code switching and belongingness that Teresa and your friend spoke about.
Billy: Yeah, and I feel like what you talked about there also connects to representation where if people are able to see others show up as their true selves, as who they are, then it creates a confidence in others to be like, “hey, then I’m gonna show up as who I am too,” and it reminds me, I’m listening to a podcast called Summer of Gold which is about how the 1996 Summer Olympics was a big awakening for women’s sports because that’s the year that women won the gymnastics gold, when Kerri Strug did her one-legged flip and our women’s softball team was just absolutely crushing everyone and their popularity exploded and so did women’s national soccer at that time during those Olympics. The women’s basketball team, people were getting more and more popular through that, the WNBA launched around that time. And the women that they’re interviewing in that talked about how important that year was for being seen as female athletes. They talked about them being the Title Ix generation and like in hearing that representation, it reminded me of an interview I saw with Awkwafina, I love everything Awkwafina does, she was talking about how important it was for her career to see Asian American women like Margaret Cho on TV and for her to see Lucy Liu host SNL. So, I’m just curious, in your life, what role has representation played and do you see this play out particularly as an ambassador for Lululemon and a yogi and a practitioner of meditation where much of the image we see portrayed of those are of young white females?
Ericka: Yeah. So, I do have to make a comment on like, because I have such a different view on the Kerri Strug thing, I mean, I remember watching that, Shannon Miller, Kerri Strug. She just didn’t do a flip. She was borderline abused and forced into doing it, like she was injured and shouldn’t have done the flip and now, this year, Simone Biles opted out of doing that to take care of her mental health and so many people went back and compared that to Kerri Strug and was like why was that acceptable? Why were we celebrating Kerri Strug? It’s what ended her career as a gymnast, shat moment, she sacrificed that. And the controversy around Simone Biles where people were like, “Oh, you’re a quitter,” and all of that, again, you’re not an Olympian out there flipping so who are you to say? And so I read this piece that went pretty viral and this man was like, “My daughter was nine years old and she was watching and she’s like, ‘Why are they making her do this when she’s crying and she’s hurt?’” And I’m like, right. There’s still inequities in women’s sports. We just saw it happened last year. While there’s a WNBA and the NCAA tournament, we saw what happened with the female locker room —
Billy: That was pitiful.
Ericka: Yeah, so while that was an opening, there’s still so much room. It’s great that we make headway and it’s not enough when it’s not equitable. So, while women’s sports got on the map, do it right from the first time. Make it equitable, make it safe for women to perform at the level that they need, and that’s where there needs to be more men athletes and men, in general, be allies for women. And it doesn’t matter what racial background you’re in, that’s what’s needed for women’s sports to accelerate. And representation does matter. I mean, if you look at Serena, if you look at Simone Biles, if you look at, oh my gosh, hello, just escaped me right now, right here many up in Minnesota, hello, just won —
Billy: Oh, Suni Lee.
Ericka: Suni Lee, gosh, yes, and being the first Hmong woman. Representation solely matters and representation has meant a lot to me in so many ways. I talked about Oprah, like, of course, I mean, she’s Oprah, everyone resonates with her. But, to me, what I really love is here was this woman, this black woman that had elegance and grace and that’s how I saw it. In yoga, particularly, being that I’ve been in diversity, equity, and inclusion for so long, I always had this vision of wanting to teach yoga and I never did. I never really pursued it. Most spaces that I went into, the teachers were white. And I didn’t consciously realize that that was — I wasn’t aware that I was aware that that mattered until I met Chelsea Jackson, who was a global Lululemon ambassador and now she is on Peloton and she’s black and became friends with her through a couple of events and we went to lunch and she was just sharing her story. She has her doctorate from Columbia and her whole research is around women and health and the disparities of women in health, particularly in yoga with black women. Because yoga saved her life. And tears just ran down my face, because she’s like, “I never saw anyone that looked like me,” and when I had to think about it, I was like, “Wow, me neither. That’s why I’ve never really done it.” I didn’t even know. I was so whitewashed myself that I didn’t even know. So, gosh, there’s too many examples. So I’ll give this yoga example then I’ll go back to one from college. I was like, “I have to do this,” so when I moved to Minneapolis, I did yoga teacher training and the more and more that I’ve been in this space, I hear it more often, a Lululemon ambassador, when I was approached to be an ambassador, the first thing was like I haven’t seen one ambassador of color in Minnesota and I don’t even know if I’m the first or if I’m not, I just never had seen it. And, for me, this year going into my third year, thankfully, as an ambassador, I was like, “Enough was enough, I can’t be the only one,” and there are some amazing community leaders in the sweat industry that lead and trained run and yoga and they have to be ambassadors, like I can’t be the only one. So, for me, my privilege was being in the role of an ambassador and then creating space for other people, advocacy for other people. And that’s what I think that is really important that individuals, not to say that not all people do it, it’s a lot easier when you are a person of color. I see it happen more then they create spaces for other people. And that needs to happen more from everyone. And for yourselves and for anyone listening to this podcast, look in the room and if you say. “Does everyone look the same?” then ask who is missing and then that is your role and responsibility to say, “We need to put someone in this room that doesn’t look like us.” It’s that simple, period. The second example, when I went to Nebraska in college, I was in a sorority, and I grew up in Nebraska, universities were in my backyard, I’m in a lot of white spaces. I don’t care about that. That doesn’t bother me. And I was going through a rush and I remember like the University of Nebraska was completely opposite of my high school in the sense that it was very homogeneous and I had to really grapple with feeling like the only one and in my high school, I didn’t feel that at all, because diversity was celebrated, that’s the legacy of the school. And going through rush, I was the only one and I joined my sorority, predominantly all white sorority, and was the very first person, out of years of composite photos, hundreds of photos, and a year after, this girl, her name’s Ericka, coincidentally, went to my high school, year younger than me, went through rush because she asked me about it so she went through and then I went back with my pledge class to our pledge class reunion, we go to our sorority, it was the 100th year of our sorority on campus or something, and we go and this girl opens the door, this woman opens the door, and she’s like, “You’re Ericka Jones. I’m Brittany Jones Cooper, I know who you are. You’re in row, blah, blah, blah, in the 1996 composite photo,” and I was like, whoa. I mean, she was like a mini me and she’s like, “I joined the sorority because of you,” and she was black. She’s like, “I literally went through every single sorority and I only put this one here.” And I was like, whoa. So, ever since then, there has been women of color in that sorority and I’m really proud of that. And, for me, for so long, I’ve shied away from it because I don’t like to — that’s not my thing of like being the poster child. And now I’ve gotten more comfortable with knowing that if I want to see representation, sometimes I have to be that representation, and that doesn’t feel comfortable to me. It’s not comfortable for me. I always like to be the person behind the scene so opposite of what people might think. So, yeah, I’m more comfortable with that, that’s like my radical way of being an advocate and disrupting status quo.
Billy: I think that’s another privilege that we take for granted that there is a burden of representation, and we talked about this with Teresa last week that she was talking about how, when you move up the corporate ladder, you see fewer women, you see fewer people of color there in those leadership positions and there is a burden that if you get into those positions and you don’t do well, then do you slam the door shut for those 10, 15, 20, 50, 100 people coming up behind you who could elevate into those positions? So, as you were talking about that, you could kind of hear how uncomfortable you are in that position yet embracing it at the same time.
Ericka: Yeah, and I think that comes with like my own maturity, my own emotional maturity, who am I to like be in this, and that’s just like my own personal, like that’s where yoga and meditation, all the different practices and tools. I’m in a year-long leadership coaching program which is phenomenal. Those are all tools to help me be able to step into that and it’s very uncomfortable.
Billy: So I was actually having a conversation with a couple different people the other day around the importance of representation and the importance of allyship and I posted it this way, what they felt was more important, representation or allyship or should we not view them as mutually exclusive, and they were both very adamant allyship is more important because, in the current situation that we are in, we see more males and we see more white people in leadership roles and so they need to be allies now so that we have representation on down the road, and so I was kind of curious what your thoughts were on that.
Ericka: I mean, what we do now is what will impact 5, 10, 20 years from now. So being mentors, being coaches — and mentors, I think, is kind of like an overused word and probably an overused role. Really where we need are people who are champions and championing for people, speaking for people who are in the rooms when you’re not there and really like your hype person and that’s what we need more. When we’re saying that a person is a mentor, when I hear it, like, yeah, they might need a little bit of guidance and finessing and mentoring but I think it means that there’s something missing that they need from you. And I innately believe that people have everything that they need within themselves, we just have to pull it out of them and champion them and they will rise to that.
Billy: When you’re talking about champions, I liked that idea because, oftentimes, the word “action” is included when we talk about inclusion, diversity, and equity and it forms the acronym IDEA. And, over the summer, I know that you went into action by hosting something called Pause to Ground and I was hoping you could talk about what your vision was for that project, what you did with it, and what action you’re hoping Pause to Ground will inspire people to take?
Ericka: Yeah. So, for Pause to Ground, so I had a couple of iterations of that conversation before which was like Move the Middle and this one was really around Pause to Ground where I wanted to be able to create a safe space for people to have conversations that were hard conversations. Like I said, I like to have hard conversations, I like to have conversations in depth and I don’t want what we went through last year as a collective, particularly in Minnesota, to fall away to the wayside and I have really sensed that we needed to pause and rebalance our nervous system and it’s very yoga, ground, like we build each pose from the ground up. How do we re-ground our footing after being on shaky ground? And how can we build up, be in tough conversations, talk about how we’re going to lead this in a new way? What I mean leading in a new way, leading the conversations about social injustice, racism, pandemic, sexism, all of the things that are creating inequities for people. How can we communicate and talk about them in a way that comes from a place of equanimity? And equanimity is steady, it’s calm. We allow discord to happen. We allow for disagreements to happen without it being disagreeable and we’re able to walk away from a conversation where I learned something, I felt held, I felt inspired, I left more curious, and I felt empowered and loved regardless of what I said, what I asked, and I also felt challenged, challenged in my beliefs. And so, to me, where it was like, “Let’s just pause.” Honestly, I thought about Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell where he’d be like, “That’s like a timeout,” let’s just pause and let’s take a breath in and have a conversation that’s more compassionate, more equanimous and, because all of our nervous systems are really elevated, and a place that’s like from a place that’s healing and not harmful in that way. That was the intention of my conversation of hosting Pause to Ground, pause to ground and rise up to create something new, to create conversations in a new way, because the way that we’re having conversations aren’t working, talking at people, spewing things that we don’t even know, like, “I saw this poster, I saw this,” and those conversations will continue. We’ll keep doing series of those conversations. It takes everything out of me when I do them. I literally feel like it’s a whole different person in me and then it just like pulls out and then I get inspired and picked up and then I need to refill the tank, but we’re going to do another one in October. It is going to be around, there is an election in Minnesota in November so it’s all going to be about Pause to Ground and like being responsible citizens who vote to really create equitable outcomes in Minnesota. So, we’ll have like a bipartisan panel of speakers to educate around bills that are on the ballot that we really need to focus on to do the right thing, like what we saw happen in Minnesota is because of bills and policies that were passed from years ago and so the buck stops here. As Oprah would say, it’s a new day, and like we’re going to pause, ground, and revote and vote in a way that creates equitable outcomes for all people so that we don’t have to keep living in a world with injustices, particularly in the state that has some of the worst inequities in the nation.
Billy: Well, Ericka, we want to thank you for the exhaustive work that you do around inclusion and diversity and equity. We want to thank you for challenging us to do more with our privilege and I imagine that this conversation with us was exhausting in more ways than one because we had a lot of technical issues with it but, again, we want to thank you so much for being part of our show today. We will put information for this upcoming Pause to Ground meeting in our show notes so you can check that out and if you want to attend or be part of that in some way, please check that out. So, for Ericka, for Brian, this is Billy, thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care, friends.