Category Archives: culture change

lessons learned from a leadership journeys #diversity #leadership

I’ve been asked to speak at a conference this summer.  It will probably be my last national presentation as a leader at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost nineteen years.  As a diversity leader, I can make a presentation and share insights, stories, and experiences with attendees around career development or business strategies.  That is bland and dry as over toasted Wonder Bread.  The sound of the teacher from “Peanuts” would be echoing in my own ears as I spoke on that topic.  Blah, blah, blah, diversity, blah, blah, blah, business impact, blah, blah, blah, leadership, blah, blah, blah.  Instead, I want to tell a story.  I want to share some thoughts on standout moments and lessons learned from my leadership journey as a small business owner, karate instructor and brand-new Shodan.

The conference is by far my favorite event of the year.  It is an event designed to bring together multicultural women from corporations all over the globe.  It takes place in NYC and it provides an outlet for high-achieving and high potential multicultural women to be confident, courageous and take the next steps in paving the way for a stronger, more inclusive, and more trusting environment. The theme for this year’s conference, Race to Trust, reflects an intention to create a conference that inspires higher cross-cultural understanding and explores concerns among women that trust in the workplace is on the decline due to the current cultural and social trends.   My favorite part of this conference is meeting powerful and inspirational women of color from different industries and I have made several friends at the event over the years.

If I think about this opportunity as my last, I have to consider what my legacy will be.  My biggest accomplishment at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost 19 years are employee resource groups.  We started with 2 in 2001, just as pilots, while I worked with HR, Legal, and senior leaders to craft a policy that made all levels of the organization comfortable.  Now there are over 60 chapters across North America, with new groups being created in offices in Canada, Baja, and Puerto Rico.  I was dubbed the “Godmother of Business Partnering Groups.”  Where’s my fairy dust and magic wand???

However, I think that a presentation about 2016 would be more interesting to me.  We discovered that our dojo was operating without a business license or insurance for years, as we were told that we were losing the lease to our old studio.  I elected to become the small business owner created the S-Corp, purchased all the insurance and licenses, found a location, and continue my quest to become an instructor.  During the Summer of 2016, we taught karate in my backyard, on the stiff grass.  It wasn’t until late July 2016 that we moved into the new studio.

Now I am processing all of the emotions that I experienced last year to get the business launched.  All of this happened while I faced the end of my tenure with the Japanese automotive company where I continued to work full time, my daughter started her senior year of high school, and my boyfriend finalized his divorce.  Stress on top of stress on top of change on top of stress.  2016 weighed heavily on my shoulders…  more to come

Cultural Humility

This is a piece released by my colleague, Janet Bennett.  I’ve been so depressed since the election that I’ve needed to take some time to rejuvenate and pull myself out of this funk. My career is founded on creating space for people to bring their full selves, all of their differences and all of their life experiences to the workplace.  Cultural Humility is a critical component of creating an inclusive workplace so I thought I would share this.

 

Cultural humility refers to respecting the validity of other peoples’ culture

 

It involves:

 

  • Recognizing that different, even conflicting, cultural perspectives can be equally legitimate

 

  • Suspending judgment

 

  • Questioning the primacy of our own perspective

 

  • Assuming we may not know what is really going on

 

  • Clarifying what is expected

 

  • Allowing others to direct us in appropriate behavior

 

  • Accepting the creative tension of holding two or more different perspectives

 

  • Seeking the “third culture” common ground for effective interactions

 

 

 

 

Adapted from “Cultural Humility: A Way of Being in the World” by Alan Guskin, Antioch Notes, Vol. 59, #1, Fall 1991, Antioch Publications Office, Yellow Springs, OH.

 

 

Janet M. Bennett, Ph.D, © 2006

Getting Published; A Forward for “Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will to Change” #diversity #inclusion

My colleague and friend, Jennifer Brown, asked me to write the Forward for her new book, “Inclusion:  Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will to Change.”  It has just been released and when I saw an advance copy of it in the bookstore at the 2016 Out & Equal Conference, it made me smile.  Hard copy books feel so official and important to me.  I love reading on my iPad or Kindle but the tactile feel of turning paper pages and even the scent of paper and printing ink add to my enjoyment when I read a hard copy book.  Seeing my name in print after something that I wrote was exciting.

I have to thank Noemie Iniguez, a young Black Belt from our brother dojo in South Carolina, for doing a quick edit to my draft before I sent it to the publisher. When I blog, I just write.  I don’t edit or even spellcheck.  But for this forward, I felt like I should send it over as close to final as I possibly could and a second pair of eyes reviewing a draft is always helpful.

So here is the Forward.  And if you’re interested in purchasing a book,

Get updates and download your free chapter here: http://jenniferbrownconsulting.com/inclusion-the-book

When Jennifer approached me with a request to contribute to the forward of
her book, I felt extremely honored. I consider Jennifer to be a trusted
thought leader and a dear friend. We easily move from holding deep,
strategic conversations about social justice and diversity to giggling over
silly events involving family and friends. But I felt pressure to write
comments on point with what is happening today in our country around
diversity and inclusion.  Honestly, my will to change has levelled up like
the obsessed Pokemon Go gamers wandering the streets across America. As our
country struggles with tension across groups, it feels like I have job
security because I get paid to create change. Our systems are broken, our
country is wounded and we must have the will to create change to heal.
By the time I received more details on Jennifer’s book, our country had
heard more reports of police officers shooting African Americans, woken up
to news of the Orlando nightclub attack, and just experienced the sniper’s
attack on police officers in Dallas. Putting this in context with the
concept of “Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change” made it easy
for me to craft my thoughts to this Forward. I am delighted and humbled to
be afforded this opportunity to put into writing my respect and admiration
for Jennifer and her work.
When I joined my company eighteen years ago to work in “Corporate
Diversity,” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My definition of
“diversity” was limited to race and gender. Like most people, my thoughts I
focused on protected classes; I saw this position as an opportunity to give
voice to the underdog. I joined Corporate America in the late 90’s and found
very few role models for me to emulate. Where would I find the Gen X,
Asian-Pacific American, LGBT Ally, single mother of a biracial child with
disabilities who were running companies and calling the shots? Diversity
became a concept I connected with immediately and revealed itself as one of
the only ways I felt that I could make an impact in my company and leave a
legacy, because of my will to create change.
The concept of “inclusion” hit me as very fresh and exciting, an opportunity
to bring straight white men over 40 into the work and really make the
culture change effort for everyone. After all, I quickly learned that
culture change is not about taking anything away from one group to give to
another, it isn’t a “fight the power” theory, it is about creating space for
all individuals to fully contribute and thrive. And corporate culture change
must be focused on the bottom line:  working towards keeping a competitive
advantage in these uncertain economic times, driven by a will to change.
Creating change is often a lonely place. Finding the will to change, and to
create real change requires passion and patience. One needs passion to
create change, passion for what is possible, and passion about seeing
results. If a person becomes involved with Diversity and Inclusion for
monetary rewards or recognition, it is doubtful that he or she will be
successful. This work is about service to the company and to others. The
ultimate goal is higher performance, which only comes about when people are
feeling valued, supported and respected for their individuality.
My mom once asked me to describe what I do for a living. I answered, “Well,
it feels like I bang my head against the wall of resistance to create
change. At times, the wall of resistance actually cracks, which gives me a
moment to rest and inspires me to continue.” The will to change requires a
lot of patience and a strong will to change. Patience is about realizing
that change happens when one convinces their constituents to slow down to
adjust behaviors so they can speed up the way they do business. Allow
yourself to see the signs of change, acknowledge the necessary work you put
in and celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

The will to change must come from deep inside the change agent. No one can
artificially manifest that sort of will.  Jennifer Brown has laid out real
time examples of how we must find our own voices to create change. Don’t be
your toughest critic and minimize your accomplishments, this work takes
time, this work takes dedication and this work takes patience. Keep that in
perspective when someone tells you that you haven’t been successful. It all
begins with understanding our own values and motivation to live life in
today’s turbulent and uncertain world.

Thumb-typed on my iPhone

How Brown Gets Down 2nd Kyu Karate

  
(I never know where my blog postings are going to go.  I wanted to write about my brown belt test and instead thoughts of my two divorces pounded out on my keyboard.  The idea of having two failed marriages sounds a bit humiliating but you know what, it is a part of my life story and I am ok sharing it.  I am definitely not the same person I was 20 years ago when I started karate, fourteen years ago when I got married the first time, or even two years ago when I went back to my martial arts training at Togisala Shorin Ryu.)

December 6, 2015

Today, I passed a test.  It wasn’t a test written on paper.  It wasn’t a compliance eLearning module from work.  And I certainly have no need to take a pregnancy test.  The test I passed consisted of challenging physical exercises, open hand kata, weapons kata, and sparring against two dudes at once.  At my vintage age of 45, I went through a grueling physical challenge to earn my 2nd kyu rank in Shorin Ryu karate, better known by lay people as a brown belt.

You might ask why an old lady like me would want to train in martial arts. My dojo classmates are between the ages of 6 and 35.  I am fairly certain I am the oldest colored belt ranked student on the dojo floor.  Even my Sensei is a year younger than me.  I started training in my 20s, I worked out diligently for a few years, four days a week.  But when birth control failed and I found myself pregnant, I had to stop training.   Unfortunately, even though I was about to test for my green belt, Sensei Rabago had me stop at purple because it would be a huge liability for him to test me while I was hapai (pregnant).  I still trained four days a week until my belly started to show at four months, just like I played softball with my co-ed work team until I hit five months preggo.  They all yelled at me every time I ran the bases because my favorite way to slide was face first.  “Run!  Don’t slide!  Don’t slide!  Don’t’ slide!!!” they yelled at me as I turned toward second base.  Ha.  I still slid feet first for a couple of games.

So why now?  Why am I back on the dojo floor after twenty years?  Simply put, I love karate.  Lessons from my Sensei, the late Richard Rabago, gave me more tips about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar, book, or MBA could have.  Unfortunately, despite trying to go back to Rabago Shorin Ryu intermittently, raising my daughter alone and having a demanding career trumped the hobbies in my life.  While my daughter was very young, dancing in halau gave both of us a sense of ohana.  As she got older and I earned a better salary, I could afford to pay for childcare while I went to outrigger practice.  Now, she is almost out of high school and becoming more independent.  We both dance hula and I feel comfortable and confident going to the dojo three times a week to train now, without feeling guilty about doing something without my daughter.  The best part is, she gets along with the students and parents at the dojo so sometimes she comes to hang out and talk story with everyone while I practice.

Today, I sit in a very different position in life and at work.  Personally, I haven’t had much success with personal relationships, as I’m twice divorced.  Both relationships were based on strong friendships but not much romance or heat.  The first marriage ended when he decided that drinking the boys was more fun than spending time with his wife and stepdaughter.  He wasn’t going to stop drinking and I wasn’t ‘going to let him hurt me or my daughter.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to let him abuse me in any way in front of my daughter.  But he left without ever looking back so we both knew the marriage wasn’t meant to be.

In my experience, it is pretty much impossible to have a serious relationship while holding down a demanding corporate job as a single mom.  I never had a problem being asked out on a date but having a significant long lasting relationship became an elusive thing for me.  Because of the nature of my work, I am on the road about 25% of my time.  Planning dates and building a foundation of a relationship takes quality time, face to face.  The whole “free time” thing has felt like a luxury to me for most of my life.  Dating without a lot of free time doesn’t work out very well.  And, most of all, being a mother surpasses anything else in my life.

My second marriage looked perfect on paper.   Once we walked down the aisle and signed the actual papers, it all fizzled into complacency and a wonderful roommate situation.  He was neat and kept to himself.  He even bought his own groceries and laundry detergent separately from us.  Has anyone heard of a marriage like that?  Sad.  We had shared friends, and grew up with a common culture.  It should have been an easy relationship to nurture.  But he kept himself separate in so many ways, it was easy to say goodbye.

Why do I bring those failed relationships up?  I learned after my recent divorce that I needed to focus on my own happiness as an individual.  Tying my happiness to someone else or something else wasn’t going to bring lasting contentment or love.  And karate is an individual sport.  Karate taught me discipline as well as self-defense.  In my opinion, karate fueled my independence and nurtured my self-confidence.

When I started training 20 years ago, I worked out four nights a week and would  often stay late with Sensei Travis when his friends would come in to spar or work grappling or just do my kata.  I am quite certain I was in the best physical condition of my life.   I felt great.  Karate became the perfect supplement to hula and the values I learned through both reinforced all the lessons I learned from my parents and grandparents.  Family first.  Be humble.  Work hard.   Help others.  Give back.  Your actions represent your family, your halau, your dojo so act accordingly and don’t be a douchebag (ok, maybe I adjusted that last one a bit).

Sharing personal values with the values that I learned on the dojo floor made it very easy for me to train.  And, the more I studied and developed as a martial artist, the more I felt an obligation to give back.  Quite often, I would train as the only woman on the floor.  It was a rare occasion when I saw a female black belt.  Today, things are different but 20 years ago, I did not see many as many women at tournaments or teaching.

My rank test for 2nd kyu symbolized much more than just improvement in my training and/or martial arts skills.  It brings a large obligation to my life as I learn to be an instructor.  Although Sensei Rabago always emphasized that the color of someone’s belt is less important than their integrity and commitment, the average person will make judgments on the basis of what color a karate-ka wears.  And, research shows that people base 90% of their judgments on others based on the 10% that they see.  So, to gain credibility from one glance, a black belt earns it more quickly than a colored belt.

The rank test I passed on December 6, 2015 symbolizes one tiny step in my training.  My physical condition is excellent because I had trained to run 19.3 miles over a weekend for the RunDisney Infinity Gauntlet Challenge.  My mental condition stays strong and focused.  Much of that must be related to the miles and miles of running that I invested to prepare for both the races and my belt test.  But the best part is, my spiritual condition feels grounded and secure.  And that means my body is healthy, my heart is at peace and the possibilities ahead of me are endless.

 

 

People Don’t Fear Change, We Fear Loss

The title of this blog comes from the work of Ronald Heifetz: “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.”

In my work, our partners Jennifer Brown Consulting brought in the Kubler-Ross Model to discuss how people deal with change. Most people are familiar with this model when grieving a death, you may recognize this model as the five stages of grief. Kubler-Ross outlines a series of emotional stages when one is facing a loss or death.

They are:

Denial
Anger
Bargaining
Depression
Acceptance

This is not a linear process. A person may start in Anger and move to Denial and wallow in Depression before they attempt to Bargain and fall back into Anger before hopefully making it to Acceptance. And even when we accept the change, we make continue to feel Depression and Anger. I’ve written about cancer in my blog, so let me share a workplace example that everyone has experienced, getting a new manager.

Talking the five stages in order, here is what an individual may be experiencing and thinking.

A New Manager
Denial – “No way are we getting a new boss. I will believe it when they show up in the office.”
Anger – “I just got used to the way my old boss manages things! Now we all have to start over again.”
Bargaining – “Maybe this new boss won’t last long and they will bring back the boss who I liked so much. I’m going to just skate by and not get too involved at work or with this unknown boss.”
Depression – “I am not going to listen to this new boss and her stupid new ideas. I’m not going to even try at work. Why should I bother?”
Acceptance – “I’m watching my colleagues acting happy at work, maybe this new boss is all right after all.”

What is to fear in this case? It is a loss or facing an unknown. Losing what is comfortable for you at work, a familiar person in charge can be nerve-wracking. No one knows the new boss or what she or he expects in terms of performance. The new person may come in and change everyone’s job. Or she or he may create a new organizational structure that means you have new job responsibilities and lose what is comfortable and easy to you.

If you think about any life change, you can probably apply these five stages to your own experiences. Maybe you’ve been asked to take a new position in a different department. Or, perhaps your life partner or spouse has been offered a promotion in a new city and you need to move. Some changes are more personal, having a baby is a life experience that may throw you into the Kubler-Ross Model.

Having a Baby
Denial – “No way, we only did it that one time.”
Anger – “I spent my entire 20s trying not to get pregnant!”
Bargaining – “Ok, if I can get my debt paid down, I won’t need to go back to work and I can be a stay at home Mom for a while.”
Depression – “My whole life is going to be different. I’m not ready to be a mom. Why me? Why now?”
Acceptance – “Ok. Let’s do this. I’m going to be an awesome mom.”

When I discovered that I was pregnant, the shock overwhelmed me. My relationship had hit about the two and half year mark. Unfortunately, it had just become clear that he was not going to be a good husband and my plan was to break things off. Birth control failed and I found myself in Denial that I was pregnant. I spent many month Angry at myself for creating a less than ideal home situation to raise a child in, alone. But I made a choice to stay unmarried because the father of my child cheated on my before I was pregnant and while I was pregnant. The Bargaining I did was with myself, to bust my ass in my career to be able to provide a stable home for my child, as a single mom. Depression and sadness and even loneliness would come and go but Accepting my responsibilities to be a mom came very quickly.

I did fear losing my independence and waistline. My pregnancy came in my late 20s, during the stage of life where I had a job, good benefits and access to all the dance clubs in LA and Hollywood. I hadn’t planned on shifting my priorities to being a mom. The loss of that independence did not impact my happiness once my daughter arrived. I haven’t quite caught my breath yet but being blessed to be her mom is the best change that has ever happened to me.

And now, at work, the organization faces a change of zip code times four. Consolidating four separate headquarters locations on to one property is a change and may feel like a loss. People at work are moving in and out of the five stages of loss at a frenetic pace. Hopefully, talking through the Kubler-Ross Model provides support, clarity, and comfort to my fellow employees. People don’t fear change, they fear loss.

Colorism Crosses Racial Lines

Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong’o delivered a speech at the Essence “Black Women in Hollywood Awards” and thanks to the Internet, I saw and heard her inspiration and powerful message about beauty.  Her words spoke to me, an Asian Pacific Islander woman who is the mother to a biracial (Filipino and African American) daughter.  Ms. Nyong’o reminded me that I have an obligation and responsibility to shape my daughter’s self-esteem and her point of view on beauty.  But her speech also reminded me of the mixed messages I received growing up as a child of immigrants and a young person of color in the United States.  (You can watch the speech via YouTube link here or read the transcript at the end of this entry.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPCkfARH2eE

Just to reiterate this point, I am not African American.  I do not have black skin.  However, as a young girl, I often asked myself if my skin was light enough to be considered pretty.  I even asked myself if I was White enough to be beautiful.  Well, I realized at about age 12 that I wasn’t White, never would be, and somehow that meant that I could never be beautiful. 

There is a book entitled, “Is Lighter Better?  Skin-tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans” written by Joanne L. Rondilla and Paul R. Spickard.  Yes, you read that correctly.  “Skin-tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans.”  People may find it hard to believe that the color of one’s skin comes with value in the currency known as beauty, even amongst Asian Americans.  We also have to fight against the self-hate that leads us to want to have surgery to alter our eyelids, dye our hair auburn or blonde, or to never consider dating an Asian man.   Let’s look a little more closely at the concept of “colorism.”  

Wikipedia provides this definition for “colorism”:  “Discrimination based on skin color, or colorism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which human beings are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

The abundance of colorism is a result of the global prevalence of “pigmentocracy,” a term recently adopted by social scientists to describe societies in which wealth and social status are determined by skin color. Throughout the numerous pigmentocracies across the world, the lightest-skinned peoples have the highest social status, followed by the brown-skinned, and finally the black-skinned who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This form of prejudice often results in reduced opportunities for those who are discriminated against on the basis of skin color.”

According to Rondilla and Spickard, “Colorism is defined as discriminatory treatment of individuals falling within the same ‘racial’ group on the basis of skin color.  In other words, some people, particularly women, are treated better or worse on account of the color of their skin relative to other people who share their same racial category. Colorism affects Asian Americans from many different backgrounds and who live in different parts of the United States….Do they reflect a desire to look like White people, or is some other motive at work?  Including numerous stories about and by people who have faced discrimination in their own lives, this book is an invaluable resource for people interested in colorism among Asian Americans.”

I don’t have to read a book to understand discrimination based on the color of my skin.  I don’t need to read a book to know that women are treated differently based on the shade of their skin.  I heard these sorts of messages at the tender age of only three, which is as far back as I can remember.  One aunty would say that flat noses were not pretty and Filipinos are known to have flat noses or at least to have no bridges.  (For my Asian brothers and sisters, have you ever tried to buy stylist plastic framed glasses but you couldn’t because they kept sliding down your nose?  The cute frames never come with nose rests, right?)  Another aunty would point to a beautiful brown-skinned young woman, she may have even been a cousin of mine and say, “She is very pretty.  Too bad she’s so dark.”  Or, my most favorite and most confusing messages were around food.  Many Asian cultures, especially Filipinos, show their love through cooking food for their families and friends.  There is a certain pride in being a good cook and having parties where people enjoyed a dish that you made.  But sometimes an aunty would scold you for getting fat, which usually led the poor girl to eat more, out of stress.  She would spiral down into the never-ending cycle of eating for comfort and then hating yourself for not being rail thin.  Or, that same aunty might shove her index finger into your chest and say that you are getting too skinny.  What the hell are we supposed to do with that feedback?

Margaret Cho, award-winning comedian, actress, musician, and LGBT advocate talked about her very specific experience being an Asian woman in Hollywood.  She found herself the star of her very own sit-com, “All American Girl,” which was the first primetime TV show centered around an Asian American family.  During her one-woman stand-up routine, Margaret recounted the experience of how the producers said she was “too Asian” and then they said that she wasn’t “Asian enough” and finally, the network felt compelled to provide the show and Margaret an “Asian consultant” to help her act more “Asian.”   Ironically, there was a great deal of backlash about the show from the Asian American community.  Asian Pacific Islander Americans are not one size fits all.  We do not fit into a neat little origami folded box.  “All American Girl” was touted as the example of what Asian Americans are like in the United States.  There is so much diversity within the Asian American community, a blanket statement as such feels extremely marginalizing. So, even the target market who should have been the biggest fans of the show weren’t rushing home to watch “All American Girl.” 

Asian Americans are often touted as the Model Minority.  The stereotypes that Asians are hard-workers, very good at math, very poor at driving, the subject of sexual fantasies, quiet IT professionals, eaters of stinky food, etc. cannot be changed overnight.  And we also do things to our own communities that sabotage our success.  For example, we drag down our young people when it comes to standards of beauty.  Beauty has a value in this country, particularly for women.  What are we doing to our young women when we tell them that they are too fat, too dark, too short, or too Asian-looking? My inner circle of friends from elementary school are all Asian American.  We are either first or second generation immigrants.  This circle has representation from the Philippines, China, Japan and Vietnam.  We definitely had friends who were Latino, African American and White, most of whom we played varsity sports with in high school.  However, these women are “my crew.”  We hold each other secrets, wrapped with love inside our hearts.  We saw each other through first crushes, first loves, first heartbreaks, and those big arguments with our parents over academic endeavors, extracurricular activities and Asian culture clashes with our American experience.

One of my closest friends was always the prettiest one of the group, in my opinion.  She was tall, about 5’6,” which may as well be 6’ for an Asian woman.  I always thought she was so lucky to be tall and elegant looking.  Clothes hung better on her and her limbs were graceful and long, unlike my short, muscular, and stocky legs.  We were talking one day in college, probably over a Bartles & Jaymes tropical wine cooler or some classy Andre Cold Duck, about how our parents get so mad that we don’t date Asian men.  I remember my friend saying that Asian guys are like her brothers, not like men to date.  She couldn’t imagine kissing an Asian guy.  Now that I think about it, I’ve never heard my White girlfriends say they couldn’t imagine dating a White guy.  It feels like a bit of self-loathing and self-hatred to not want to date men who are our own ethnicity and/or race.  But what struck me as a shock was when she said her mom wanted her to have eyelid surgery, or more specifically, surgery to create an upper eyelid with a crease, or a double eyelid.  It made me mad to hear that and I told her that she didn’t need to have surgery.  She agreed that surgery was an extreme and unnecessary choice to make for the sake of beauty but we both sort of yearned for bigger boobs.

Thankfully, my mom never suggested that I should have surgery.   But I do remember her stroking the bridge of my nose and saying that she used to do that to me as a baby so I wouldn’t have a flat one.  It makes me giggle now, a bit, but my impressionable young brain internalized that message.  Flat nose = unattractive.  Add that to dark skin = unattractive.  I used to spend my summers playing tennis and swimming so I had lovely dark brown sun-kissed skin throughout my youth.  But by the time I cared about boys, I had given up on thinking that I could ever be beautiful so I didn’t think anyone would ever like me.  That sure did f*ck me up for a while.

But this issue of colorism isn’t just because of my aunties and my mom making these comments.  I rarely saw Asian men or women on television in significant roles.  I never saw them in strong, leading roles.  Long Duck Dong was in “Sixteen Candles” and that overly stereotyped image of an Asian man did not help with my perspective that Asian men were sexy.  Margaret Cho joked that she aspired to be an extra on M*A*S*H* when she was young.  At one point in my life, I would go out on commercial and television auditions and the roles represented two different opportunities:  trashy hooker or Chinese restaurant waitress.  Or, to add to the mix, I might be called to pose with a beer bottle rocking a skimpy bikini for a beer commercial.  I had purchased the silicone chicken cutlets to lift my B-cups into full C-cups.  My agent sent me out fairly often, I had enough call-backs to know I had talent but I never felt beautiful.

Twenty years later, I work in a corporate position with a mission to create culture change that respects all people and includes diverse insights and backgrounds to add value to the organization’s success.  I have had impact at the organizational, group and individual levels.  My work provides me validation and joy.  I feel like my spirit of feeling like the underdog and the unbeautiful has sparked a drive inside of me to leave the world in a better place.  It has taken a lifetime for me to truly feel beautiful.  Logically, I realize that the color of my skin may be extremely attractive to some people and it may turn others off completely.  The size of my okole may be labelled obscene by someone and been seen as kryptonite by another.  When all is said and done, beauty is all about how much we give to the world, not about how much we get.

Borrowed from another website, here is a transcript of Lupita Nyong’o’s speech from the Essence “Black Women in Hollywood Awards” with quotes that particularly struck me highlighted in bold type.

I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you:  “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”

My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.

And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.

And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. That, there is no shade in that beauty.

 

Pi’ilani’s P’s for Diversity and Inclusion

When I joined my company fifteen years ago to work in a group called “Corporate Diversity,” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My definition of “diversity” was limited to race and gender. Like most people, I focused on protected classes; I saw this new position as an opportunity to give voice to the underdog. Since I joined the workforce in the mid 90’s, there were very few role models for me to emulate. Where were the Gen X Asian-Pacific American single mothers of biracial children with disabilities that were running companies and calling the shots? Diversity was a concept I connected with immediately and was one of the only ways I thought I could make an impact and leave a legacy.

The word “inclusion” hit me as very fresh and exciting, an opportunity to bring straight white men over 40 into the work and really meant the effort was for everyone. After all, I quickly learned that culture change is not about taking anything away from one group to give to another, it isn’t a “fight the power” theory, it is about creating space for all individuals to fully contribute and thrive. And corporate culture change must be focused on the bottom line, working towards keeping a competitive advantage in these uncertain economic times.

So I write this as an attempt to support my fellow Diversity and Inclusion Champions and share some lessons learned. I suggest that you keep five things in mind, dubbed: “Pi’ilani’s Ps”. These are tips, guidelines; a compass to help direct your work

P1 = Positioning

Who are your greatest advocates for culture change? Who do you need to “woo” early on in the process? If you have a key thought leader in your executive team, pull on their knowledge, experience and reputation to Position your effort. Diversity and Inclusion must be integrated into the business objectives across your organization. Ask yourself, “How does Diversity and Inclusion help us sell cars?” It must be an integrated part of the business strategy. Diversity and inclusion is not “one-off” or a “nice thing to do,” it is about achieving business objectives through people’s inclusive actions.

Be cautioned, Diversity and Inclusion is not about the picking items off a list, “If I give education, establish employee resource groups, celebrate cultural awareness months, create mentoring programs and change my performance management system, we will have an inclusive environment that leverages diversity.” Do not liken corporate culture change to ordering three items from a fast food restaurant to build your own meal. You must have stakeholders across the organization that embrace and communicate the business case for change. Real change occurs when this work is tied to the core of your company’s business. Behaviors, systems and processes must support an inclusive environment and the business case for making these changes must be communicated. And communicated. And communicated again. Employees will assume the initiative has passed if they don’t hear about it more than once every six months. If you think you have communicated the business case for Diversity and Inclusion, I assure you that you have only just begun.

P2 = Passion

As a Champion, you may find your belief and Passion will carry you through the most challenging days. Keep your eye on the vision that positive change will create a windfall of activity. Associates will be free to break the bonds of “corporate think.” Creativity will surface. Communication will be clear, concise, direct and supportive at the same time. Teams will become higher performing, working together to achieve company objectives. Remember this, because you will run into many roadblocks and challenges.

One needs passion to create change, passion for what is possible, passion about seeing results and passion for the prospect of creating lasting change. If a person becomes involved with Diversity and Inclusion for monetary rewards or recognition from others, it is doubtful that he or she will be successful. This work is about service to the company and to others.  The ultimate goal is higher performance, which only comes about when people are feeling valued, supported and respected for their individuality.

Po’okela (Excellence) Ahuwale ka po’okela i kau hana ia ha’i
“It is through the way you serve others that your greatness will be felt.” 

P3 = Patience 

My mom asked me to describe what I do for a living. I answered, I bang my head against the wall of resistance to create change. At times, the wall of resistance actually cracks, which gives me a moment to rest and inspires me to continue. 

Patience is about realizing that change happens when one convinces their constituents to slow down to adjust behaviors so they can speed up the way they do business. That is not an easy feat in a sales environment. Allow yourself to see the signs of change, acknowledge the necessary work you put in and celebrate the victories, no matter how small. Don’t be your toughest critic and minimize your accomplishments, this work takes time, this work takes dedication and this work takes patience. Keep that in perspective when someone tells you that you haven’t been successful.

Because change is slow and sometimes painful, an internal practitioner must spend a great deal of time explaining and re-explaining why change is necessary. Communication is key and one can never over-communicate these three things 1) why change is necessary 2) what progress is being made and 3) the successes to date. When change is occurring slowly, it is easy to overlook the small wins along the way. These celebrations will keep an internal practitioner sustained and provide case studies to prove that Diversity and Inclusion has impact. Whatever metrics one uses for success, movement on a large scale takes years.

Have Ho’omanawanui (patience) – patience with change, patience with your leaders, patience with your fellow Champions/associates/team members and most of all, patience with yourself.

P4 = Partnership

Partnership is a critical step in positioning an organization for change. Who are your key stakeholders? Change does not happen in a vacuum, change does not happen because the D&I Department says we have to change and change does not happen through even the best laid plans. Change begins at a local level, through people working together.

Keep your eye on all three levels: organization/system, department/division, and individual. Which partners do you need at each level to influence change? What key executive must “have your back”? Which thought leaders within each division will take the baton and direct, lead and support the change? Spread the change by encouraging ownership and accountability in each business unit.

Partnership is about being deliberate and strategic about who you align yourself with to create change. A company is better off having a small core department that reaches out and creates ambassadors – Diversity and Inclusion Champions, advocates, partners – who can be the arms and legs and customize the work to each division. One size does not fit all in diversity and inclusion. The Diversity and Inclusion strategy must be over-arching for the company and flexible for each business unit as well.

P5 = Pay-off

What gets measured, gets done. We have heard it time and time again. What is the burning platform for your organization to change? How will Diversity and Inclusion help sell more cars? Or move more parts?  Or bring more customers back to the service department? Or better serve my customers? How will Diversity and Inclusion help retain top talent, saving dollars and time? Answer the WIIFM for your audience and your audience will be more likely to come around and support this change.

Pay-off is the key to impacting the middle manager. These are the supervisors and managers who are called upon to implement the big projects, the same supervisors and managers who are striving to become the next executive in the corner office. These individuals are integral to your success as a Champion. A large challenge is the balance between leading strategy through design and recommendations and allowing business units to own and operationalize their own change work. These Ps may help you convince your stakeholders and larger organization that they are accountable and responsible for creating lasting change.

After over 15 years of work, our company is at various stages of growth and progress. Some groups live the change, others dance around the level of commitment necessary and some hold their breaths, waiting for Diversity and Inclusion to fizzle out, like many business initiatives relating to culture change. I often wonder how long it takes for people to understand that this work is not a flavor of the month, my company a is truly committed to higher performance through Diversity and Inclusion. We have been recognized for our Diversity and Inclusion work by external organizations such as DiversityInc., Black Enterprise, Hispanic Magazine, Billion Dollar Roundtable, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and others. This recognition forces us to continue to raise the bar on Diversity and Inclusion and to strive for continuous improvement.

Finally, a few other “Ps” that come to mind are: People. Culture change is all about people, customers, associates, executive and you. Remember supporting your company’s culture change effort is about creating a space where all associates can thrive and find a healthy and supportive work environment for their mind, body and spirit. Happy people lead to another P, Profit, which we are all working towards today. For you, don’t forget to set aside time to Play and take care of yourself.

Creating change is often a lonely place. Always remember that the objective is to find a win-win-win pay-off: the company, the associates and You – all benefit from Diversity and Inclusion.