Returning to the Office – COVID, Gender, Women of Color – Part II

In Part II of Jeffery Tobias Halter and Amanda Hammett’s conversation with Tamika Curry Smith and Elba Pareja-Gallagher, two senior executives from the heart of corporate America, they continue the discussion on returning to the office in the wake of Covid. The conversation explores covering, remote work and why, for many women of color, remote work is preferable to returning to the office. Pour your favorite beverage and join the conversation.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

The Transcript - Returning to the Office - Part II

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Hi, I'm Jeffrey Tobias Halter. And I want to welcome you back to our Win(e)d Down Wednesday's episode, Winning the War for Talent in a Post Pandemic World. We're going to kick off part two of our session. Hopefully, you were able to listen to part one with our amazing guests. You it’s Win(e)d Down Wednesdays. And so we always celebrate with a beverage of our choice. And so I have a Rodney Strong cabernet that I'm enjoying today, taking advantage of this fall weather, to change things up. And so with that, I'm going to kick this over to my cohost, Amanda Hammett, real quickly, because we’ve got so much to cover.

Amanda Hammett: Oh, my gosh, we do have a lot to cover today. So before I introduce our lovely guests, I am, because it's been a week, I am drinking vodka and club soda with lots and lots of lime. So it's been that kind of week already. All right. But enough about me, let's get into our guests today. We have Tamika Curry Smith and Elba Pareja-Gallagher with us. Ladies, introduce yourselves.

Tamika Curry Smith: Elba, why don't you go first this time?

Elba Pareja-Gallagher: Hey, I am so happy to be here. I too have my drink of choice. My go-to blueberry pomegranate martini. Great to be with you to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion as we're coming back to work. My background is I've been a UPS team member for 24 years. All in finance, lots of different roles including, including investor relations. I worked in marketing. I've worked in Miami, but more recently in January year 2021, I joined the sustainability team at UPS. So I love that work. Also, you'll see, from my background here, I founded a nonprofit organization. ShowMe50 Our goal. Our vision is to achieve 50% women in senior leadership positions. And we do that by both helping women lean into their careers, as well as influencing companies to address the inequities in talent management systems. So thank you so much. For letting me be with you today. Wonderful.

Tamika Curry Smith: Hi everyone. I'm Tamika Curry Smith, and my drink of choice is a margarita. So I'm in a lime country with Amanda. I'm so excited to be here. And in terms of my background, I have been doing diversity equity and inclusion work for over 20 years, including previously leading DEI at Deloitte, Target Corporation. Mercedes-Benz USA and Nike, Inc. I'm also president of the TCS Group, Inc, which is a firm that does human resources and DEI consulting. And in that capacity, I've worked with nonprofits, colleges, and universities, and small, medium, and large businesses to help them start and elevate their DEI efforts. I'm also a recovering accountant. I started out my career out, outdoing accounting and management consulting. And that really is part of how our approach to DEI work is, is as a business imperative that will really unlock, both people and business outcomes. So thanks for having me so excited to be here and continue the conversation.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Tamika, Elba. Thank you so much for joining us. It's going to be a great conversation. So, for our listeners, I want to reference back, we are still examining a Future Forum study of almost 10,000 knowledge worker employees. Where 93% of knowledge workers want a flexible schedule and 76% want flexibility in where they work. But the article goes deeper and specifically talks about the challenges and barriers for women of color. And this just sits within a guiding principle that Amanda and have that we want to bring to you a lens of intersectionality. Because we know, not all women are having the same experience. And we certainly know that the challenges faced by women of color are often, far more challenging than the barriers faced by white women. And so I just want to pull out a couple of statistics from this and then get our guests to, to react to this. Flexible work is a game-changer for working women and women of color. Black respondents continue to have a higher sense of belonging when working remotely. Relative to work in the office compared to a weaker sense of belonging among white respondents. This also translates in their return to office preferences, 80% of Black, 78% Hispanic, 77% of Asian women want to flexible work experience either through hybrid or rework or remote only models. What they're actually saying is. We don't want to go back to work. We don't have to deal with the drama. And so I just want you to, to comment on what are some of these barriers that we're, most of us are totally unaware of that, that women of color face. If thinking about going back. Tamika, do you want to start?

Tamika Curry Smith: Sure. This is such an important issue, and I appreciate both of you taking this lens to this work because not to your point, not all people are the same, and not all women are the same. And when you think about women of color and, they have almost felt liberated by remote working and not having to go to the office every day and not having to cover and face the exhaustion of, continuously adapting, who they are to survive in the workplace that we know has particular ideas around, around what is professional? What does success look like? What does a leader look like? And for women of color to not have to face that has been game-changing for them. I also want you to even think about the concept of what Zoom has done or, or whatever, you know, virtual meeting platform you're using. Everyone is on the same playing field. We're all in a square. Right. So there's, there's equity and equality there. We also have the ability to, um, put thumbs up or clap in the color of our skin tone. We also can. Decide to speak up and come up microphone, or we can put something in the chat. So depending on how we feel that day, we can do that. And so there have been some innate things that come with remote working that have actually driven inclusion. And so when you talk about. The fact that women of color feel more belonging, not in the workplace. It's because that playing field is more level and a lot of the kind of noise and the politics and the weight of expectations of others is minimized when you're working remotely.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Wow, this is fascinating Elba.

Elba Pareja-Gallagher: Yeah. And so, you know, I'll tag along just a little bit on, on how in this case, black women are feeling less than in the old way we used to work, right. There was a recent Gallup poll that said that black women were less likely than other demographics to feel that they were valued members of their team and that they were treated with respect, and that their coworkers treated everyone fairly. And so, you know, to Tamika makes some great points. I love those examples of how the technology has really enabled us to be. Working in the ways we feel comfortable actually back to our first conversation around flexibility, right? Even this offers flexibility. The fact that we can either chat or mute or be on camera or not be on camera. Right. And you can't do those kinds of things when you're in person. So, that is a plus. You know, I'm going to go back to something you asked specifically Jeff, and you said, Hey, what are the things that may be leaders aren't aware of? Well, I'll speak a little bit about the Hispanic community. I was born outside the country. I'm an immigrant. I came as an infant, which is why I have no accent, but, um, I came from Latin America. I was born in Venezuela and I think in our culture. What women face at home is that many Hispanic men are not as embracing of doing more of their share at home. And so as a Hispanic woman with a family, you may not have that support system as much at home. And so, you know, keep that in mind. And again, back to what I've talked about, communication, how are you communicating with your employees to ensure that they can feel comfortable telling you about what they need and what support they need from you? You know, I want to talk about another word, which is psychological safety. I think one thing we can do as leaders is to make sure that our own leaders and managers. Are able to communicate in a way that creates psychological safety for employees, meaning that, We listened to them that we take in their input that we acknowledge what they're contributing and that we really think through what they said, and then come back to them with follow-up and not, you know, make them feel like they're going to be embarrassed. You know, penalized for speaking their mind on any type of sensitive topic. So psychological safety, I think is important too, as we think about coming back to work, um, for, especially for women of color that are having to face these difficult situations.

Amanda Hammett: All of it, all of those things. I love it. Elba, would you mind diving a little bit deeper into psychological safety? What are the implications of a leader doing that or not doing that in the workplace for a team specifically?

Elba Pareja-Gallagher: I think it does a lot for engagement. You know, there's a huge war for talent. And we talked a little bit about what's happening in the, the talent space. Really, it's kind of like, I've heard the term great, the great resignation, right? As people are reevaluating, what they really want out of work. And so I think the benefits of, of creating a workplace of psychological safety is number one back to the data that Tamika is referencing right. You're going to save money from not having to recruit people all the time. Right. Improve your retention, attract that kind of talent. We've got to have places where people feel like they are included and, and valued as that Gallup poll said. A lot of employees don't feel that way. I'm part of another organization and other groups where we contribute our ideas around creating more love and less and fear in the workplace. And so that's another thing that creating psychological safety creates that feeling of love, right? You feel like, okay, I feel valued here. I want to come back to work here. I want to grow with this company. But it takes, it takes effort. And so as the example I gave earlier, right. Asking your employees, input, listening to them, really thinking through it and then having to come back and say, Hey, I liked what you said, this is why I did this, or I did not do this, that takes time. And so it's an investment in our people to create that environment.

Amanda Hammett: And I will just say, just to add onto this as someone who spends a lot of time studying and researching and interviewing early in career talent. So your millennials and your Gen Z's psychological safety is something they have been talking about. For a long time. However, now it is becoming front and center. It is more important of a conversation for them than ever. And so I, I thank you for even bringing it up and bringing it up in this context. I think that this experience of the pandemic has really made us reevaluate and reassess everything about what we've been doing. So thank you.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: So I want to jump in, and, and ask Tamika a question. You mentioned that term called, covering, in your statement. And I don't know that all of our listeners know what that is. Can you define that? And then give us an example and also the impact of covering on companies and what it costs them.

Tamika Curry Smith: Yes. So covering is downplaying a known, stigmatized identity in order to fit in, in the workplace. You, there are other terms you may hear things like code-switching. This is an example of covering. People may change, what they're talking about and their, their vernacular, to come to an organization, an example of covering would be right now you see my hair is curly. Covering would be wearing my hair straight all the time because my workplace thinks that, natural hair is not professional. And unfortunately, that's the truth. We see that it happens all around the country. There actually is. A law that's trying to be passed that would make, discriminating against someone due to their hair illegal because it happens every day now. So those are a couple of examples of covering and, and basically what happens is that we all covered to some degree and covering is, is, is a bit of this. Well, I won't talk about that at work, or I won't bring my full self to work because. We were almost raised not to talk about certain things in the office or don't let everyone see who we fully are, but all the data and statistics showed that women of color, people of color and even more, so women of color who then have both gender and race and ethnicity to contend with, they cover more, they cover more because they're now faced with the double whammy of what is considered, normal, when it comes to race, ethnicity, and gender. And so. The, the impact of women of color. For example, in this space is there's less of a need to cover. You know, I, if I am at home, I don't need to worry about some of those same things that I would be worrying about before we talked about, uh, what zoom allows us to do. I could even guess what I can even. Take a walking meeting and be not on camera at all and say, Hey, do you mind if we talk on the phone and, and still have a very productive meeting. So back to the point around flexibility and giving people choice, this is so important when we think about this return to work, I've heard a number of leaders say, oh, I can't wait to get back into the office. Well guess what not everybody feels that way and it, and it's incumbent upon you to understand why is that? And going back to the point we made earlier, rather than going back to normal. How do you create a new normal whereas women of color, they feel more comfortable coming into the office. And how do you create an environment that's more inclusive that has less microaggressions, where I feel the need to cover less because some of those things that I had to address and deal with before I no longer have to worry about because we're now more aware and are being more intentional in creating that environment of belonging in our companies.

Elba Pareja-Gallagher: You know what I have to step in here because this just occurred to me, this conversation that we're having right now, um, you know, you have a Hispanic woman and a Black woman, and we're really telling you what it's like. I want to ask can this type of conversation happened in the workplace? You know, I can't imagine that we have a small team meeting where, you know, there's, let's just say there's just one Black woman or maybe one Hispanic woman in the room. Would they feel comfortable having this conversation and, and saying all these things about why we preferred working from home. Why it made us feel better? Why we felt more empowered. Why we didn't like being on camera or having to cover. You know, I don't know. That's kind of like an open question, right. You know, to everybody could this happen at work and why not? And that goes back to psychological safety and creating an environment when we really could have this conversation. And that would be a breakthrough. Right. How many people could hear this directly and say, wow, I never thought of that. Right. Because I didn't have to experience that. I've never had to cover. I don't know. What do you all think? Could this happen in a conversation at work?

Tamika Curry Smith: I mean, I think that's, that's what we're trying to create as environment where we can talk about these. And now I'll bring another point that I don't know that we've addressed, is the financial component of why women of color have embraced working from home. Um, we know that women of color make 60% or less per for every dollar that a white man makes. So if you also think about it, I don't have to worry about gas. I don't have to worry about, you know, other expenses, parking, and, and other expenses that I would typically have to incur to go to a work environment. So by working from home, it actually also creates more pay equity because women of color who are already at the bottom of the financial wrong in terms of an equity perspective, are now able to keep more of that income in their pockets. And so I I think that's another example where leaders may not even be thinking about something like that, that has a real impact to the people on their teams and in their organization. That is so wonderful

Jeffery Tobias Halter: And I want to build on something Elba said, and it's really the whole purpose of this podcast. And that is, you know, my work focuses on engaging men, listen to these podcasts. Share them with your team. If you don't feel comfortable sharing with them, your team, take them to your business resource group. There is no greater time for BRGs to demonstrate their value then right now. Where leaders need to know your collective opinions. And so I hate to say this, but we're really, really close to being out of time. And so we're going to do a 30 second per person wrap up. I'm actually going to kick this to my cohost, Amanda, from the millennial expert perspective and go to the other amazing women on the call, just close out with the 30 seconds each one thing you wish companies would do around either millennials, women, women of color. What would that be? Amanda, do you want to start?

Amanda Hammett: Yeah, I mean, I will start in this has been something that has been said throughout both episodes that as millennials and Gen Zs, as senior leaders, we need to be listening to, and re evaluating our plans. We need to be taking into account everybody's at a different life stage and things that are important to us, whether it's childcare or what is my pension gonna look like. Those things need to be taken into account. Senior leaders really need to be tuning in and listening to others outside of themselves. Thank you.

Elba Pareja-Gallagher: Okay. So I'm living in my dream world. So what I would love to see it's all about executive accountability. I would love to see executives be required to hold meetings. Even an example of this right here, like you said, Jeffery is to show this podcast, right. Have a team meeting and show a communication from an outsider who can talk about a challenging, difficult subject. And then the team has a discussion about it. And that the executive leaders have these discussions. And then itfilters back all the way up to the top. Hey, we've met three times this quarter, et cetera. So really, executive accountability so that it flows downward about these issues are important.

Tamika Curry Smith: I would say, really making sure organizations are not stuck in this desire or yearning for the good old days or going back to what we used to do. I'm still hearing that as very pervasive. What got us here is not what's going to get us there. People are reevaluating, what's important to them. And competition, uh, is also recognizing that they need to change. So for organizations, if you don't If you don't change, if you don't listen, if you're not proactive, if you don't build flexibility and choice into what you offer, someone else will, and people have options now. And when you think about losing your top talent, no one wants to do that. And then also if you want to
attract talent, it's a new day. The game has changed and we all have to play by a new set of rules. So make sure those rules are flexible and inclusive to give yourself a fighting chance.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. What a great segment. I want to close out with one story. I heard, I got the privilege to work with a company when Asian when Asian hate crimes were really in the headlines and they still are to some degree, uh, this organization did a panel and, and talk about. Asian Pacific leaders and the microphone was handed to a woman and asked, you know, how do you feel? And she said, look at work. I feel totally fine. I don't see any issue. This it's a great company. She said for the first time in my life, I'm worried about my children going to school and what is happening to them. And I know that same story could be told by women of color everywhere. And it's only through the stories that you start to get. I'm sorry, men to sit up and go, oh my gosh, this is a really, really big deal. So take these stories back, take them back to your organization. Host a staff meeting around these podcasts are absolutely free, uh, on behalf of Amanda, Tamika and Elba. Thank you so much for joining us on Win(e)d Down Wednesdays. And we look forward to talking to you again sometime soon. So cheers everybody.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.