Tag Archives: inclusion

Mental Strength for Martial Artists

Mental strength for martial artists

and coping mechanisms

Poor Idris

this training video made me think a lot about strength and pain and mental health.

Repetition of exercises creates muscle memory. And being able to withstand pain absolutely make you stronger. And in some ways, it makes martial artists much dumber when it comes to taking care of ourselves physically and emotionally.

We strengthen our spirit but if we do so without balance, we sacrifice our emotional intelligence and health. And if we are under stress and have no coping mechanism, how do martial artists react? Do we yell? Do we drink? Do we over exercise? Do we cope in unhealthy ways?

My dojo mentor Sensei William Christopher Ford said very simply before we opened the doors of the new Togisala Shorin Ryu dojo, think longevity. And he was clear that as he approached 50, he needed to adjust his own physical health and training regimens. With all the change and stress in my life, I see I need to adjust my physical self care and my emotional health. One day at a time…

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.

Brain Drain and Pain – Why Inclusion Matters

When a human being is born, their brain weighs one pound. If you are reading this blog, your brain probably weighs about three pounds. Through normal human development and physical growth starting as a swaddled infant to toddling around as a toddler to tip-toeing through life as a tween/teen and eventually, achieving adult status, your brain gained two more pounds. Every life experience, jump rope jumped, schoolbook read and to a lesser extent, television show watched, has contributed to your brain’s development and weight gain. Every human being is unique because no one has had exactly the same life experiences. Even identical twins bring diversity to a conversation because genetic make-up aside, they are not exactly the same person.

That was the gist of the first two minutes of a presentation I heard this week by a woman who is a UCLA professor in the Psychology Department and the Anderson School of Management. Because my career has been focused on creating work environments where people can bring their full selves to work and contribute freely in a safe environment, I became intrigued with every word Dr. Iris Firstenberg spoke. Diversity is so much more than race and gender, that I understood and tried to communicate in all of my presentations and interactions at work. But to learn about how neuroscience creates diversity in each and every human being was truly a “mind blown’ moment. And I do not find myself shocked or surprised by much at this stage of my career. Pi’ilani’s mind went kaboom.

Here is what I learned about the brain.

 

 

Near the center of the brain exists the Limbic System. According to Wikipedia: “The limbic system was originally defined by Paul Broca as a series of cortical structures surrounding the limit between the cerebral hemispheres and the brainstem: the border, or limbus, of the brain. These structures were known together as the limbic lobe. Further studies began to associate these areas with emotional and motivational processes and linked them to subcortical components that were grouped into the limbic system. The existence of such a system as an isolated entity responsible for the neurological regulation of emotion has gone into disuse and currently it is considered as one of the many parts of the brain that regulate visceral, autonomic processes.”

So, what does that actually mean? The limbic system is responsible for both emotions and memory. Consider an experience from your life that was highly emotional, maybe you were PISSED at your best friend for borrowing your favorite sweater or perhaps your favorite pet passed away unexpectedly and you cried for days, aren’t those memories burned into your mind? In your brain (and every other human being’s brain), the emotional center is right next to the memory center. That means that highly emotional experiences are highly memorable experiences. Much to my delight, I also learned that food and alcohol directly impact the limbic system. That satisfaction and gratification can elicit an emotional reaction and create lasting memories. For an Asian Pacific Islander like me, every social gathering must revolve around food and drink. For example, holiday get-togethers in my family consist of multiple rounds of food starting with loads of appetizers, followed by a hearty meal with both ethnic and American dishes , ending with delightful desserts and all accompanied by fine wine, hand-crafted cocktails or fancy sodas for the kids and/or teetotalers.

Another thing to consider is that people need to constantly stimulate their brains. Because your brain is constantly sculpting itself and growing and changing through experiences such as traveling, reading, dancing or playing music. This sort of on-going learning stimulates growth in your brain and can help stave off Alzheimer’s, even if you have a genetic disposition for the disease. So encourage your elderly family and friends to read, do crosswords, play cards, exercise and stay social to keep that brain sculpting going.

But what about when people are experiencing stress? They are being driven by their emotional brain – fear, danger, nerves, anxiety. When there are lots of connections going up to that area and not enough connections coming down to placate that brain, the emotional brain is overwhelmed.  Emotion trumps logic every time. Human beings absolutely need to calm that brain down to think logically. Think about when you’re arguing with your partner or sibling or child and you’re both so sure that your point of view is the right answer. As you build your argument and elevate your voices and blood pressure, it becomes harder and harder to truly hear the other person’s point of view. If you are trying to end the argument or calm the situation down, remember this little tip. Louder is not better. The limbic system hears in a nonverbal manner. So take a breath and sit next to the person, not across from one another, to make it easier to calm them down. Feel free to give them a drink or some food. Because a sense of touch is calming, it may be appropriate for you to gently touch the other person, place a hand softly on their shoulder, or hold their hand in yours. This can all help calm down the limbic system and allow the disagreement to begin to dissipate.

So how does this relate to one’s work environment? You risk charges of sexual harassment if you place your hand on a work colleague. And it is rare that a disagreement would escalate to a yelling match at the office. But what happens when you don’t include people at work. Maybe you walk around and look at your shoes or your phone because you’re a bit of an introvert like me. Or perhaps you really are so busy that you forget to say Hello to someone in the hall or people who sit near your desk. Exclusion, even when it is not done with any intention of hurting someone, can directly impact morale and productivity. In fact, neuroscience has proven that being excluded or rejected can be as painful as being socked in the stomach, people elicit the exact same brainwave patterns in each case. Whether it is a person who never gets invited to lunch or a person who just got dumped by the love of their life, it all hurts the same in their brainwaves.

Consider a time when you felt social rejection as a tween or teenager. We all have stories of being rejected or excluded and we probably all remember how much it hurt, despite our well-intended parents telling us that “you’ll get over it” or “this too shall pass”. These rejections stay with us as adults and definitely impact our decision making and socialization.

I grew up in a fantastic neighborhood where I could walk to my elementary school and all of our neighbors were very friendly. I was lucky to have kids across the street who were close to my age, who cares if they were mostly boys, I learned how to throw a tight spiral in 5th grade. Around the corner, my best friends lived and we roller skated and played together all the time. But one thing was missing, there were no other Filipino kids in my neighborhood. My besties were also children of Asian immigrant parents but none were Pinoy. At around 12 years of age, I wanted to learn more about Filipino culture and asked if my mom would take me someplace so I could learn Filipino folk dancing.

The national dance of the Philippines is called the Tinikling, which pays homage to the movements of a much-loved bird, and is a graceful and athletic challenge of dancing and jumping in between bamboo poles that are being struck together to keep rhythm. It looks similar to playing jump rope, except that the dancers perform the steps around and between the bamboo poles, and the dance becomes faster until someone makes a mistake and the next set of dancers takes a turn. It looked like fun and I really wanted to connect with my culture so my mother took me to the Filipino Community Club across town so I could join their youth group.

I walked in wearing my Izod polo shirt, jeans, and Birkenstocks. The other kids from this neighborhood were in baggies, MaryJanes and Chucks. All of girls wore lipstick and used hairspray and looked so much more feminine than me. They were polite to me when the supervisor walked me around to let them know I was going to join their dance classes. However, as soon as we were left alone, one of the girls stage whispered to her friend, “What IS she wearing? Hippie shoes, ugh, gross.” At that moment, I decided that I wouldn’t come back and I never told my mom why. It became really hard for me to make friends with other Pinay girls after that because I thought they would all reject me in that way. Thankfully I had awesome cousins who were like my best friends so I did get large doses of my culture that way. But unfortunately, I never learned about Filipino folk dancing until college.

Inclusion is fundamental to all human interaction. When you include people and treat them with respect, they feel engaged and trusted. People need to be welcoming and honest to build friendships. Leaders have to be vulnerable for employees feel trusted. When someone feels excluded, the brain reacts to it in the same way as when the body is kicked in the stomach. Do your best to behave inclusively in all of your relationships. And keep in mind that logic cannot be achieved if emotions are running high.

Mentoring & Sponsorship @WMConferences

Last week, I spent time at Working Mother Media’s annual “Multicultural Women’s National Conference.” This event has provided me more personal development than any other conference that I have attended. I’ve even made a couple of new friends because of my participation and that is an extra special bonus. Imagine being in a room with 500 ambitious, driven, and successful women. The invitation to this conference is especially targeted towards women of color and Working Mother takes this opportunity to create a safe and honest dialogue about what is really going on with women in the workplace.

This year’s theme was powerful: “Vision and Impact: Charting What’s Next.” A brief website description read: “Together through collaborative conversation and vision planning we can launch real progress and ignite action in our careers and in our lives – thus positively impacting the future for the advancement of multicultural women in the workplace.

Our vision, values and goals shape the way we work, along with the expectations we have for our careers, and our lives. Knowing what we want – and being able to articulate that – is vital to live lives and build careers that have impact.”

Given the circumstances that my company has thrust upon the employees, it seems more than fitting. What is next in my career and my life? This conference presented me with time and space to evaluate my current professional career path. I set out very deliberate intentions to consider all the possibilities ahead of me, in the back of my mind. Externally, I agreed to play the role of a “Thought Leader” in the same race and cross race discussion groups.

Participants were asked to choose two topics related to a professional area that they needed to strengthen. My role became “facilitator” and I helped the guide a discussion to explore how the participants approach this area, how the power of their belief system shapes and influences that behavior, impacting career decisions and possibly impeding advancement.

We used a technique loosely based on Open Space Technology. No formal structured agenda existed in the beginning, each group had a topic area and began the conversation from there. The desired outcomes were simple: to raise issues that were most important to the participants in the group, engage everyone in the discussion, and share the findings in the cross-race discussions on the same topic. The six topics were based on six critical components for the career advancement of women:

EXECUTIVE PRESENCE
BRANDING
MENTORING
NEGOTIATIONS
WORK LIFE BALANCE
OFFICE POLITICS

What I want to share came out of my same race conversation circle on the topic of Mentoring and Sponsorship.

We were given a few questions to begin our discussion:
Do you have a personal board of directors? A mentor? If so, what is the value add? If not, what are the barriers to enablement? Do you believe someone in your organization is your sponsor—someone who is telling others about your value to the organization?

Questions:
Do you have a broad range and influential level of mentors and sponsors?
In what ways are you – or are you not – sponsorable?

Goal 1: Ensure race is part of the conversation—how does this group uniquely experience the topic at hand?

Goal 2: Encourage timely and actionable focus—is this something they’re dealing with right now and can impact in the near-term?

Goal 3: Avoid redundancy—seek to build on others’ thoughts, in the same conversation and from the session prior.

Goal 4: Go beneath the surface—use probing questions to uncover the “why”, “who” and “how” of the experience.

As always, I elected to start our dialogue with brief introductions: name, company and why they selected this topic. I find that this helps the participants hear their own voice in the room and therefore, “warm them up” to participate more fully. As an Introvert, I know this tiny step helps me. If I had more time, I would have asked each participant to share one thing they are excited about this summer. Having people talk about something they are excited about helps to elevate their levels of engagement. Adults really enjoy talking about themselves. Little touches like using an adult’s first name when addressing a question to them or following up a comment they made does wonders for an individual’s enthusiasm. This isn’t an ego thing, it is a human thing. Also, I’ve found that the higher one moves up in the organization, the less “human” their interactions become. People seem to lose their minds when speaking to high ranking executives and don’t give them honest and candid feedback for fear of harming one’s career progression. Also, people don’t treat high ranking executives the same way they would treat a person who doesn’t sit in the corner office. This is a ridiculous way to function in corporate America. The world is shrinking and communication needs to be transparent. We do not have time for politicking anymore. Work needs to get done through authentic and meaningful dialogue. Everyone adds value to the workplace -regardless of title, age, race, level of education, sexual orientation, gender and any other aspect of being a human being that people use to divide us into groups. Just keep it real and cut out the bullshit, people. We will all get a lot more accomplished.

Back to my Thought Leader same race discussion group…

We, as a group, decided to define “mentoring” and “sponsorship” before we went any further, I offered two very brief definitions: Mentoring is talking TO someone about career development and that someone is NOT in your direct reporting chain of command. Anyone can find a mentor or a mentor. Sponsorship is when someone is talking ABOUT you when you are not in the room. This usually happens during talent review or when leaders work to identify participants for stretch assignments. Sponsorship is usually earned through showing consistently strong performance and building a reputation for delivering solid business results. Interestingly enough, participants in both of my small groups said that they had never had a problem with finding mentors. However, only a handful of them knew whether they had a sponsor or not. In my mind, that is data worth exploring further. Why don’t Asian women know if they have sponsors? Or do they not have sponsors? Is there a cultural component to this? Is it because across corporate America, most of the key decision makers are still straight, white men? These are things to consider in the future.

The same race groups who were discussing Mentoring and Sponsorship had five key points to share with the cross race groups. This is what the Asian women wanted the other groups to realize about us, as a collective group. I own these findings, as an Asian American woman.

1. We are usually the only woman, the only Asian, and the youngest looking person in the room. Because we look younger, we need to build credibility early in the meeting to establish that we are NOT the junior person on the team. Many of the women reported wearing glasses or very professional attire to look older. And everyone said it was critical to note their tenure with their company so we aren’t ignored or overlooked in the workplace.

2. Being Asian may get in the way of our own self-promotion. Bragging or at least talking about our achievements is very counter cultural to Asians. However, this skill is a critical one when finding a sponsor.

3. As we move up in our careers, it becomes more difficult to find mentors and sponsors who are key decision makers. In numbers, most organizations have less women and less women of color and even less Asian women at the top.

4. In order to be promoted, we must build cross-functional skills. It seems that we Asians are very skilled at being individual contributors and are not usually tapped on the shoulder for key assignments in the sexy departments like marketing and sales. Most of us received messages from our well-intended parents that hard work pays off and the nail that stands up gets hammered down. Well, in corporate America, one needs to learn how to stretch outside one’s comfort zone, take risks and stand out. We must be intentional in asking for coaching and career development.

5. Different Asian cultures have varying levels of comfort with speaking out. We enjoyed a lively discussion about how Indian women seem to have a lot less challenges in asking for coaching and feedback. Many of the participants were not U.S.-born and that adds a layer of complexity to the discussion. The long and the short of it was, not all Asians are alike. One size does not fit all.

The discussions did not bring any new revelations to my mind about being Asian in corporate America and trying to find a mentor or sponsor. The value I gleaned from this conversation was just in being surrounded by people like me. We all shared very openly and freely, things that came easy to us in the workplace and a few things that are barriers to our success. I feel like my course is still uncharted in terms of what’s next but I do feel like I own my responsibility to continue to help other women be successful.

Lt. Dan Choi, Opening Keynote at #LinkageInc Diversity & Inclusion Institute

May 2014

Lt. Dan Choi. I said his name out loud and my boyfriend laughed. It made him think of “Forrest Gump” and the character that Gary Sinise played. That was Lt. Dan Taylor, a proud soldier from a long lineage of soldiers who had died in battle. Lt. Dan was a leader and fully expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. When Lt. Dan and his platoon fell under attack, he protected many of his soldiers, like a true leader. While under a bombing attack, he lost both legs and was waiting to die a hero’s death. However, Forrest Gump saved him.

This blog isn’t about a fictional hero named Lt. Dan, I’m going to write about Lt. Dan Choi, an American hero and leader.

Dan Choi grew up in Southern California, the son of a Korean-American Baptist Minister. That fact was evident when I heard Lt. Dan Choi address a room of 500 or 600 people for the opening keynote at the Linkage Diversity and Inclusion Institute. Even though it was 8:15am, the room was at attention to hear this speech. Lt. Dan Choi commanded the room, not like an officer in the US military but more like a preacher. He told a story that felt authentic and compelling, with more than a few life lessons weaved throughout. I didn’t want to miss a single word.

His opening words included a photograph of Afghanistan, from the mid 2000’s. Choi had graduated from West Point with degrees in Arabic and environmental engineering. There were only a handful of military officers who spoke Arabic. Choi became a highly valued member of the army and quickly aided in sorting through bad intelligence by translating conversations of insurgents and locals alike, real time. That, in and of itself, is leadership.

But Choi didn’t expect what was to come. He told the room what changed for him. He shared what had happened that gave him so much courage to speak his truth. It wasn’t a message from above. It wasn’t a life or death event. The simple truth was that Lt. Dan Choi fell in love. He stated that when he finally experienced what it felt like to put someone else ahead of himself, it changed him. Falling in love and having so much emotion and care for another human being sparked a new fire of courage and leadership. Choi realized that he could no longer hide from the fact that he was a gay man. This led to Choi coming out, in a rather public manner. He came out on TV, on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and began a fight against the questionable morality and wisdom of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In a letter to Congress and President Barack Obama, Choi wrote that the policy is a “slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated than an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.”

Because Lt. Choi showed such courage in standing up for what he believed in and not disparaging the US military,
I think he is a leader. Love is a force that brings bravery to the forefront. It helped Lt. Choi fight for what he deemed right. He attended the very prestigious military academy, West Point. He served proudly in the US Army. He didn’t find it fair that he had to cover up or “not tell” the military that he was gay. And eventually, the US government would agree.

What really struck me as I listened to Lt. Choi centered around his love and commitment to his faith. Choi continuously quoted the Bible. He spoke of his father’s service and commitment to his congregation with respect. My favorite moment was when Choi mentioned that his father was specifically a Southern Baptist minister (the ballroom in Atlanta did catch it’s collective breath.). When he asked his father why Southern Baptist was his denomination of choice, Choi lovingly imitated his father’s Korean accept with the reply, “because we are from South Korea, of course.” That drew quite a laugh from me. I think I almost snorted.

Despite his authenticity and candor, Choi seemed tired of the speaking circuit. He mentioned a desire to find a job and to live a quiet, settled life. Living in the public eye for so long, fighting against the system for what he believed in, these were both completely counter culture to his upbringing. Although he never directly came out and said it, I also got the feeling that his parents did not appreciate his activism. I understand that. Most Asian cultures place high value on protecting the family and saving face. And being gay is frowned upon by many Christians, including Southern Baptists. For Choi to step out in such a public way, it really must have felt like a threat to his family.

But the nugget of wisdom that struck me the hardest was a simple statement that Choi said. He said he listened to his father’s sermons growing up. Choi learned about the concept of unconditional love. He said that regardless of the conditions that his father might put on it, Choi will always love his father. That is both courage and leadership.

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.