Category Archives: culture change

Closing Career Chapters – Cheers to New Beginnings and Endless Opportunities 

In October 2017, I felt exhausted, both physically and emotionally.  The last three and a half years weighed on my heart and my mind.  My calendar was filled with “good luck on your next chapter” appointments.  Work felt like a succession of good-bye and/or good luck lunches strung together on a ragged piece of twine.  It hurt and it stung every time a friend left the company, regardless of whether they relocated to Texas or left the company altogether.  I lived in a perpetual state of mourning – losing so many friends in my immediate circle, one happy hour or one bon voyage cake at a time – hurt.  And the weight gain that accompanies bon voyages cakes and lunches slowly began to show on my hips.

Because of my role, I spent hours upon hours listening to team members cry as they wrestled with the decision of whether or not to move to Texas.  Some had family considerations to take into account. Would my spouse/partner be able to find a job?  What are the schools like in North Texas?  Others were just shocked with the idea of moving.  How can I go from Kentucky or Ohio into an area with a higher cost of living?  I just finished remodeling my kitchen and bought a snow blower for the winter.  Will I be able to find a barber/hair dresser/church/supermarket to meet my personal needs?  I took on a little bit of everyone’s pain when they vented to me.  It ate away at my heart and soul, one teardrop at a time.

Although I felt exhausted, I knew it was my duty to help the company.  My focus sharpened to support diversity and inclusion, especially from a talent retention and development standpoint, to create a new culture for the company.  I also kept my decision about my relocation a huge secret.  I didn’t want to influence anyone’s personal decision based on what I decided to do.  So I didn’t tell anyone that I had elected to NOT move until the company required a public commitment.  I told my boss and my friends at the very last minute.  Keeping that secret was a struggle and it added to the heavy burden on my shoulders.

In late August, I heard about an open position at a long-standing Southern California company for their Head of Diversity role.  Rather than working with a headhunter or placement agency, I decided to take on the recruiting process alone.  I knew a few people who had strong connections inside the company and the company did good work in the community.  My resume and application made its way to the hiring manager and a recruiter called me right away.  By the end of September, I had a day set to speak with four executives from this company.  The day went well, I felt confident that I would receive a job offer but I still had two more weeks with my current company.

As one of my last tasks for my former company, I spoke at an African American employee resource group event in San Diego County.  It was the day before my last day of employment. Unbeknownst to me, at least two of the attendees worked for the long-standing Southern California company I mentioned earlier.  At the end of my presentation, they both asked what my next career move might be and if I would consider working for their company.  All of that felt fantastic.

When I spoke with the hiring manager, whom I really respected and looked forward to working for, I mentioned that I definitely felt interested in taking the position and I was exhausted.  So exhausted in fact that I needed two months off.   My brain felt tired and out of smart juice.  I needed to spend some time with my family, my loved ones and my dojo to recharge.  That meant that I would not entertain starting a new position until January 2018.  To my surprise, he supported my decision and said that the company wants someone to start right away but they also want the right person in the position so they would wait for me.  We discussed a start date in January 2018 and would check in with each other when the date grew closer.

I felt lighter and a bit happier with the prospect of having time off to close out 2017 and refresh my mind and soul.  Knowing that I would be able to go to a new job with a company that had a strong commitment and strategy for diversity and inclusion allowed me to breathe easily.  Then came the second conversation with the recruiter about little details like compensation and benefits.

When I received a verbal offer, my mood changed from a cheerful Snow White princess to a dark and Evil Queen.  All those good feelings dissipated and I felt insulted by the compensation offer.  In addition, I received information regarding other parts of the package that turned out to me incorrect but did not make me want to even take the time to negotiate.  When I declined the offer the next day, I did not even want to waste my time with asking for more money.  All I said was that the offer that was presented to me was less than my minimum salary requirement.  Why would I want to go to a company that didn’t make me feel valued or appreciated?  Actually, I felt like I didn’t even want to speak to the hiring manager about the situation.  They did offer me more money and a sign-on bonus but it was too little, too late.  The hiring manager felt horrible, especially since the recruiter reports to him.  It may have been a case of miscommunication but when a company is trying to bring in talent, mistakes like this can cost a lot.  We wasted time with the interview process, they willingly waited for almost two months to finalize my offer, and I wound up feeling undervalued while they wound up not filling the position.  Lose-Lose.

By then the year 2017 was almost over.  Most companies did not do much hiring in December.  I didn’t fully engage with the job search firm that my former company had contracted with for all of us who elected not to move to Texas.  My initial meetings with them told me that they had no idea what I did for a living, how could they find me a job?

As I began to explore possible open positions, I grew keenly aware of issues around diversity and inclusion that had begun to populate the headlines in social media, newspapers, and magazines.  Having worked in entertainment heightened my awareness of #metoo and discrimination along lines of gender, age, sexual orientation, race, and other social identities.  And living in the United States as a diversity professional pains me to read headlines from our current President and his administration, particularly when he mocks people with disabilities or makes a racist comment about another country or acts like a sexist misogynistic pig.  My own family members experienced the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 concert.  Mass shootings at schools across America continue to plague our nation and our teenagers are leading the charge to call for policy reform and change.  There are so many issues that involve diversity and inclusion.  Actually, I suppose any issue that impacts human beings involves diversity and inclusion.

In December, I sent applications to two different companies from two very different industries:  entertainment/tech/video games and research/science.  Both posted positions that were brand new to their organizations.  One had no diversity and inclusion strategy developed while the other company had a strong foundation but needed experienced leaders who could both execute and design new plans.  The second company called me before New Year’s Eve to schedule an initial phone screen for January 2, 2018.  I felt good knowing that I would start the year off with a deliberate launch of my search for new employment. Or, the planning the death of FUNemployment.

January 2nd arrived after a rather quiet New Year’s Eve celebration.  My puppy and I took a walk at dusk in Hermosa Beach, before all of the parties began.  We returned home to watch movies and snuggle on the couch.  A quiet night was all I required to say “Adios” to 2017.  On the morning of January 2nd, I had an initial conversation with one of the Directors of Talent Acquisition from the research/science company.  She convinced me that the company’s Mission drove all their business decisions:  Enable customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer.  I definitely wanted to speak with others from the organization.  From January 3rd on, the process progressed rapidly.  The next interview was scheduled for less than a week later, via video conference, with the hiring manager.  I hardly had time to reach out to my network to get the scoop on the company’s efforts and the hiring manager’s reputation.  Our conversation started out with his puppy barking in his office, the pup was vying for attention from his human.  I knew that we would definitely have puppy ownership to bond over while we discussed diversity and inclusion philosophies and strategies.  After that conversation, an in-person interview with his boss was scheduled.  The night before my interview, I posted a snippet of a slide that I reviewed as part of my research on the company on social media.  My hula sister reached out to me the next morning on my drive to my interview and said, “Call me asap.”  Turns out she recently took a job with this same company and could not help but gush about how great her experience has been.  That conversation made me even more excited to continue through the interview process.  This interview was with my boss’s boss who had attended UCLA at the same time as me.  He also knew of a fantastic restaurant in Pacific Grove so we talked a bit about food and wine.  We spoke for over an hour and I left feeling confident that the conversation went well.  Soon thereafter had two more video interviews with other leaders from the organization.  The last conversation I had struck the tone of “we would be lucky to have you on the team.”  What a refreshing feeling compared to the last company I considered.

Of course, the director of talent acquisition from the entertainment/tech/video game company scheduled a call with me for the same day as my video interviews.  I felt obligated to speak with him, even though I felt like the other company would be a great fit and a wonderful place to make a difference.  At the end of our call, he said that he had quite a few more phone screens and would probably be back to me in a couple of weeks.  I mentioned that I had spoken with another company and would no doubt be receiving an offer within that timeframe.  He understood and asked that I keep him abreast of my situation.  During that call, a voicemail from the first company popped up.  I felt too tired to check it so I plopped on my bed for a nap.

The next day, I had an email wanting to set up a phone call with the hiring manager from the entertainment company.  So my day started off with good news.  I threw on some warm clothes and sneakers so I could take Kihon for a long walk.  She’s trained to poop once in the morning and once in the evening, if we break that schedule Kihon will poop on her pad but it is always in our bedroom for some reason.  She freely pees on the other pads when necessary but poop is always deposited on the pads left in our bedroom.  Is she trying to tell us something?

On our walk, I took a few snaps of her playing and dialed up the first recruiter I spoke with in January.  I apologized for not returning her call the day before and explained that I felt exhausted from the cold I kept trying to shake.  She understood and simply said, “We just wanted to make you an offer of employment with us.  Everyone felt impressed by your accomplishments and enjoyed speaking with you.  Here is what we want to offer you…”  Not only did the compensation match my expectations but they also offered to make my position remote.  I would not have to commute to the closest office:  90 miles south of me.  Even with carpool stickers and my Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, that commute would suck eggs.  The formal offer letter arrived via email, as did a request to meet with the hiring manager from the other company.  What a delightful problem to have.  I agreed to speak with the hiring manager, to alleviate any risk of doubt in my mind about accepting an offer from the first company.

It felt like I interviewed the hiring manager from the entertainment/tech/video game company about “why diversity now”?  She stated her case and her vision and noted the support of her senior leaders and peers.  Her big question for me, “What diversity issues should we be addressing?”  I brought up #metoo as a huge diversity issue for women, people of color and people who are LGBT.  I noted the inequities in diversity across both above the line and below the line production teams.  In addition, I stated that people with disabilities have capabilities when it comes to working in tech that are often overlooked because of the hiring manager’s unconscious biases.  And, I briefly mentioned that I had popped onto Reddit to read what the players had to say to each other while they played the companies games as well as what they were saying about each other and the company.  None of my comments brought up specifics about the employee life cycle around recruiting, retaining, and developing talent.  There are just so many opportunities for improvement by leveraging diversity and building a more inclusive work environment for companies who cross the industries of entertainment, technology and video games.  That job would be a huge one.  We said our polite goodbyes and I hung up the phone, excited that this woman wanted to create a new culture at her company but knowing it would have to be without me.

My decision all came down to what I felt in my piko (gut) and my personal connection to the company’s mission.  My last job felt like an ideal situation, a CEO as champion, supported by executives and leaders who genuinely “get it.”  And the employees backed up our work through volunteerism, charitable donations, taking on assignments outside of their job description, and pushing on us to keep charging ahead.  This new company is poised to accelerate their progress exponentially.  Their CEO supports the work on a personal and professional level.  His commitment shines through authentically.  I feel confident that our department will make a difference and push the company’s mission forward:  “We enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner, and safer.”  My next chapter will be focused on that mission.  Not a bad gig at all.

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.