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Transcript: No-Fluff Workpace Inclusion (EP68)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.

Voiceover: To all of our loyal listeners, The Culture of Things podcast will now also have specific episodes produced for YouTube. To ensure you don’t miss out on this exclusive YouTube content, head on over to YouTube, click the subscribe button and hit the notification bell. Now, let’s get into the episode...

Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers. This is episode 68. Today I'm talking with Gloria Tabi. Gloria, how are you?

Gloria: I'm very good, Brendan. Thank you.

Brendan: Coming to us from the beautiful Blue Mountains.

Gloria: Yes. Yes, I am.

Brendan: Gloria, I'm going to give our listeners a little bit of a background check for you. This is what you've done and a little bit of your biography and then we'll get into our topic. Gloria is an author, researcher, and the Managing Director at Everyday Inclusion. Gloria's research specializes in social analysis on race, social inequalities, and anti-racism. As a black African-Australian woman, Gloria brings well-grounded knowledge and experience of the impacts presented in race and gender identities.

With over 30 years of experience in project management, employment services, professional mentorship, and business coaching, Gloria's ability to engage, negotiate, and build worthwhile relationships across diversity, clients, and demographics are her greatest skills. Gloria provides proactive, relevant, and impactful training frameworks that are tailored to your business for a safe, productive, and sustainable future. Gloria is also a founder of the Voice Everyday Racism podcast. 

Today, we're focused on exploring a no-fluff approach to inclusion. Gloria, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.

Gloria: Thank you, Brendan and your team, for having me at The Culture of Things podcast.

Brendan: Gloria, it's an absolute pleasure to have you. You are an inclusion expert, I understand. You've got a book out. I'm about halfway through the book. I'm loving it. It's always helping me understand much, much better about these situations. How about you set the scene? Give us a little bit about maybe just your personal background where you originally grew up and what brought you to Australia?

Gloria: Hi, listeners. I, Gloria, am from Ghana. That's where I was born. Ghana is on the West Coast of Africa. I came to Australia after, I guess, equivalent to high school because I wanted to be somewhere I could go to university. Since young, we've been drummed into our minds that education is everything. I had the opportunity to come to Australia to study and I've never looked back. It's been a really lovely experience—beautiful country and beautiful to be here. 

While at university, I met my husband and they say the rest is history. So I've been here ever since.

Brendan: You've got four beautiful children, I understand as well, various ages?

Gloria: Yes, I have from. From 30 to 16. Two stepkids and two of my own.

Brendan: Well done.

Gloria: Yeah. We live in the Blue Mountains, which is the direct nation of First Nations people.

Brendan: You're obviously a very, very busy woman. Four kids of various ages, you shared, and running this business, Everyday Inclusion. How about you tell us a little bit about Everyday Inclusion? What is this business that you've created?

Gloria: Everyday Inclusion is to provide a space, a one-stop-shop for businesses to come to for all the inclusion that needs to be helped. I help them to cultivate a workplace where everyone feels that they belong and they can perform and be their very best self. That's what we are. We work with organizations from the time they decide to be more inclusive to the time that they can say that they are truly inclusive.

Brendan: Gloria, I know that we're talking today about our topic of no-fluff inclusion and we'll go into that phrase, I'll get you to explain it a little bit later. How about you give us some understanding experiences around what exclusion actually looks like?

Gloria: That is a great question, Brendan. For years I served in community organizations as a volunteer, in schools, reading, and so forth to children. The work I did saw me become the President of the Parent and Citizen Association [...] P&C. In that time, I came across people from all walks of life.

The school that I'm a president at has had four presidents in the life of the school. Two of them are currently serving as a federal member and the other one is serving as a state member. It gives you an idea of the type of caliber of people that are selected for this appointment.

Throughout my involvement in the community, I've felt very included, very wanted, and you feel like you are part of something, and that's really important. However, the opposite occurred in my places of work. The sense of feeling included and belonging was at odds completely. I felt very alienated as a professional employee and as a black woman.

This constant surveillance and dismissiveness that I received were quite daunting. Naturally, it baffled me because having your very identity and your abilities scrutinized because of who you are, it is quite [...] and it makes you feel very unsafe in the workplace. But what I noticed is that the treatment didn't cease no matter where I worked.

It became clear to me that this disconnect with organizations having very shiny brochures to say that they're inclusive, but very different in reality to what was happening on the ground. It made me think that if an educated black woman like myself could be traumatized in a work environment due to lack of inclusion, then there must be other people out there that were worse off than me. That's actually what caused me to start my organization, Everyday Inclusion.

Brendan: Gloria, I know that we have to be very mindful and not be able to go into your own personal experiences, but can you just give our listeners a bit of understanding of some of the stories that you are aware of that people have experienced in the workplace that falls into this exclusion category?

Gloria: It comes in the form of something called micro-aggression. Being made to not have a voice in meetings, for example, being ignored in a meeting, or things like that is often a feeling that one knows that they are being made to feel excluded and there's absolutely nothing they can do. This comes about where people are actually afraid to go to work because of that feeling.

A very good example that I can share with your listeners, at the end of the year, there was a photo taken of a team that I was involved in and there was a big write-up about it. Now, during that time, there were bushfires. I live in the Blue Mountains and I couldn't be there that day, but I have worked with the team for many years and completed a really huge project that year for the business.

It was annoying to have missed that end-of-year celebration, but there was a write-up about the photo. I remember my leader at that time said, this was the team, and there was no mention of me that, in fact, I was part of the team and that there were bushfires. I lived in a bushfire-prone area and that Gloria couldn't be there, there was no mention at all. That, to me, is a good example of exclusion because when I wasn’t named in that write-up, it's almost like I didn't exist. Yeah, that's an example of exclusion.

Brendan: Gloria, what would you say to people with that example? Thank you for sharing that. I know, from my own personal experience, I've left people off a list or forgot to say thank you to them in a presentation or whatever because they've not been there, sort of out of sight, out of mind. What would you say to people that say, well, maybe that was just an honest mistake?

Gloria: It’s a really good point. Even talking to you now, we can get nervous and forget things. But when you're writing an article, you get time to go over it and it was a big showcase of the department that we were working in. I guess, in that situation, it's a little bit different. But also, there were many things that have happened that caused you to think that this is a deliberate action. That's why it makes it a little bit different than speaking and forgetting to mention someone's name.

Brendan: I also just want to touch on, you gave an example about meetings as well. Again, I think it's a fantastic example. But what I will also say is that there are people that are not part of minority groups that aren't comfortable speaking up in meetings or they might say something that is dismissed. Again, what is it that makes it something that becomes a little bit more racial or that person feeling excluded as opposed to it just happening with anybody in a meeting? Because I've seen it happen in meetings with anybody of any color.

Gloria: I think it's about being mindful of your staff. This is actually where the problem lies. Because we don't understand the issues that a black woman faces in the professional work environment, that's actually where the problem is. Because we are not aware of the issues, we can overlook these things. The issue that I'm talking about is historical and has to do with racism.

A black woman in a professional environment is viewed differently, not because we want to view them differently, but because society has created this culture for us to think about black women that way. Instinctively, that's how we behave around them. What I'm trying to do with my business is let’s understand these historical facts about how black people are viewed in those spaces. Why a black man, for example, can be killed on the street or public street, for example? These are true facts of history, and thus, what we need to become aware of in order to cultivate inclusion.

That's why I use the phrase, we need to create inclusion not fluff inclusion because the fact is that, we can't all like each other in the workplace. Inclusion is not about that, it is a business strategy. We need to have that in place, whether the person is black, white, LGBTQ, inclusion is just a strategy for a business, just like you will have a financial strategy. You have a process in cultivating that and that's where I want to move the business into.

Brendan: Let's unpack that term. As we said, you've just mentioned, again, the no fluff inclusion. I love that, Gloria. Fantastic. What does your definition of no-fluff inclusion look like?

Gloria: When we talk about inclusion, we are thinking that it's something that, in the workplace, we all have to get along and we all need to like each other. Don't get me wrong, when we get along with people we work with, that is a really beautiful thing. But in reality, we don't all have to get along to cultivate inclusion. Inclusion is a strategy that a business decides that they are going to cultivate and then get along and do that.

When I talk about fluff inclusion, I'm talking about inclusion where all of a sudden, the business decides, let's have a harmony day once a year. That's fantastic, but what about all the other days of the year? How do you cultivate inclusion? That is what I'm talking about.

We need to make sure that we actually have processes in place to make inclusion happen for people to feel belonging, for people's voices to be heard, for people to really feel happy to come to work. That work is hard work. It's a process that we need to cultivate and have that strategize in a workplace.

Brendan: If I'm understanding you, what you're saying is that, I guess, I'd term it as a tick box exercise. Some organizations out there, it's a bit of a cool thing. They're ticking a box and saying, hey, we do a harmony day, we do an inclusion day, or whatever you want to call it. I'm not too sure of the terms. Is that, in your experience, more of a common thing that organizations are doing as opposed to being more deliberate about having inclusion strategies?

Gloria: That's exactly right because having a harmony day, per se, is not a bad thing. I'm more interested in what happens 364 days of the year. What are we doing to cultivate inclusion? We need to actually define inclusion for our business because every business is different. What is inclusion for you? What is inclusion for The Culture of Things, your business, and defining that, by becoming aware of where the gaps are in cultivating inclusion and then deciding on how you're going to go about doing something about it? That's the type of inclusion I want us to do.

Brendan: I know that you've got a framework and you use the acronym DIET. Again, fantastic, very simple to remember. But is that a framework that helps us understand, maybe, what would be a leader's first step in taking? They've already made a deliberate decision that we need to be more deliberate about inclusion within our organization. What do they do next?

Gloria: I'm going to actually go a little back with that. Stay with me because we will get to the DIET process in a minute.

Brendan: You're just keeping me in suspense now, aren't you?

Gloria: We can't cultivate inclusion, Brendan, without understanding racism. This is what makes my business different from all the other businesses out there that are trying to do inclusion. We really need to understand what racism is without understanding that we can't, for example in Australia right now as I talk to you, over 80% of us say that there's a lot of racism in this country.

This report came about through this Scanlon Social Cohesion Survey last year. Another recent research has also said the data research was done primarily within workplaces. That also told us that one in three Australians experienced racism at work. For our First Nations people, they experience 46% of discrimination, harassment, and racism.

In March 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner announced plans to develop a national anti-racism framework to deal with a lot of racism in this country. What I'm actually trying to get at is that we cannot cultivate inclusion. There's no company that can put their hands on their hats and say that they're inclusive if they don't understand what racism is. We need to go back and learn that.

Once we have learned that, then the process that I talked to you on my website works for your business. To just go a little bit about what is racism and why is it important for us to learn that as a society, we've created divisions and categorized people. It's just the way things are. We have gender, we have sexuality, we have race and racism. That's just how things are.

Out of all that category, race and racism—racism is derived from race—is the major category and the strongest signifier of all the categories in society. When we struggle, for example, to establish gender equality, we're still going in circles because we haven't invested in understanding what racism is. Like I have said, research tells us that race and racism is the strongest category of all the differences that we have in society.

My challenge to the business assessor, we need to go back and understand what racism is to help us to do with all the other categories that we have. Once we can understand racism, we'll be able to pinpoint and cultivate inclusion accordingly. Another example I will say to your listeners is that because racism is a major category, when we are able to resolve racism issues, all the other problems will be resolved.

For example, as a black woman, when we look at societal structures in the hierarchy, I'm actually at the bottom of the hierarchy, which I don't like very much. If businesses are able to cultivate inclusion to support me, a black woman, then guess what, everyone else in society will benefit from that because everyone else will be catered for. I hope those analogies are making sense because I can talk about these things for a long time. That's where we are lacking. We lack an understanding of racism.

Brendan: It does make sense, Gloria. My opportunity to challenge through this interview is not a point where I'm disagreeing with you. But one of the things that I want you to give an answer to is that, if we look at some of the stats you've shared, I think it was 80 odd percent, you said, that there's racism in the workplace. Okay, I understand that. That's very large and not great, but then one in three people have actually experienced racism.

That's also not good. But when you compare it to 80%, it's 33%. Is the rest of the percentage of 50 odd or so that they're saying racism in the workplace because they're told racism in the workplace because I haven't actually experienced it? What would you say to that?

Gloria: It could be that they haven't experienced racism, or like I have said, we lack understanding actually what racism is. What we have been taught about what racism is, is that we think about racism as what happens between two people. What language people are using on the street to describe other people is really what we think racism is, but racism is not what happens between you and me.

Racism is a system issue. Let me say that again, racism is a system issue, it's not a relational issue. For example, people can say the N-word to me on the street, and it’s not very nice and I really don't want anyone to say that to me. It's annoying, it's upsetting, but that's not what causes me as a black woman disadvantaged in the workplace.

What causes me disadvantaged in a workplace when it comes to racism is the systems in place, which stop me from getting access to employment to start with because someone can't pronounce my name and I can't even get a job interview. That's what keeps me at a disadvantage. Or when I managed to get a job, because of historical reasons of how black people are viewed, my voice is not heard and people don't even pay attention to my skills because I'm black. Those are the things that put me at a disadvantage, not the bad language that is said on the street. Does that make sense?

We lack understanding of racism, and this is what I'm trying to help businesses to get over. You can be very nice to me and kind to me, Brendan, and you can still perpetuate racism to me in the workplace. This is the situation that we find ourselves in because we actually don't have the language or the understanding of what racism is.

We've reduced racism to the meanest or the relational issues between two people when the issue is actually bigger than us. Racism is a systemic issue. Unless we deal with that, we can't cultivate inclusion, basically. That's what I'm trying to say.

Brendan: I certainly want to go into that term—systemic racism—and help you help me understand that even more, but it's fascinating how you've just explained that relational versus system. And also the fact that we can be pleasant and nice, and I think you're a lovely person. We had a fantastic conversation before we hit the record button and then we've had some conversations on email and stuff before this, but what would make me, in that context, say, okay, we've got a relationship and that side that you referred to, but what would then make me racist or act in a racist way towards you?

Gloria: We can all relax. What you do to me personally does not cause me a disadvantage or racism. In fact, talking or saying the wrong thing—and we need to really relax about this—is not about what you do or not do. What you can cause racism to me is what you enact in a workplace. When you decide that you're not going to interview that person because their name sounds like a Middle Eastern and you can't pronounce it so then you don't even call them for a job interview. That's what racism is. Can you see the difference?

It's a system issue where policies and procedures are set up in a workplace that actually routinely disadvantage anyone who isn't white or anyone who does not have European-sounding names. Those are the things I'm going after and saying, let's look at this. Let's change our policies. Let's change our behavior around these systems. That's why you can be nice to me, kind, and still perpetuate racism if you are not looking at your systems and your processes in the workplace.

Brendan: Gloria, I have to ask you this question because it's just coming into my head. I've heard a term as well or a phrase that says something along the lines that because I'm white I'm racist. What would you say to that?

Gloria: I find that really problematic. Half of my family is white. I wouldn't like my husband walking down the street and someone saying to him he's racist or patriarchal because he's a white male. That's the wrong way of doing that. Being white, you have to also acknowledge the privileges that come with your white skin. This is why we need to understand what racism is. When we understand that, that becomes very clear.

Being born white, historically, has placed you superior to every other race. That's a fact of life, but that doesn't make you, Brenan or my husband, a racist walking down the street. No. What can constitute racism is having policies and procedures in the workplace that are racist, that does not support the recruitment of First Nation people, that routinely does not pick a First Nation people for mentorship or sponsorship, that routinely refuse to interview someone because you can't pronounce their names, or routinely stop someone assessing a scholarship because they didn't have the right name.

Those are the things that cause disadvantages to people. But yeah, obviously, we can say very offensive things on the street to people. We need to learn to be civil with one another. We don't need education about how to be civil with one another. But in terms of racism, that happens in systems.

Brendan: The obvious question is, how do we change that? Let me preface that with I think I've been in many organizations, both as an employee and as a consultant, and they've got many policies in place around equality, fairness, and DEI sort of stuff that we're touching on. I hesitate using the word leader if they're thinking along the lines that you've shared with us, but it's individual responses, it's individual feelings. How do you move from closing that gap between policy versus individuals making decisions like the ones that you've shared with me today?

Hey, Gloria Tabi. I think I can pronounce it okay. It doesn't seem difficult to pronounce, but how do you stop that individual decision? Because it really sounds like conscious bias. We'll talk a bit about unconscious bias, but it sounds like conscious bias. People are making a deliberate decision to say, Gloria Tabi, well, that sounds a bit African or whatever the mindset is, I'm not sure I'll even bother interviewing her. How do we close this gap, Gloria?

Gloria: It's a really important question, Brendan. I will go back to say that inclusion is a leader's issue rather than an individual issue. A good leader will care about inclusion in their workplace. They would take the time to learn about structural barriers that exist and how to remove them for all of their employees. This can only happen when the leader equips themselves with what causes structural inequalities in systems, which is within all spaces of organizations.

I'm not being fastidious when I said for a leader to actually cultivate inclusion, harmony, belonging, and all those things that we like, they need to go back and learn to understand racism. We just cannot do this work without understanding racism because I'm kind of giving a framework of looking at all the different categories of society, race, and racism being a major category. It’s through racism why we have gender issues. It’s through racism why we have sexism. It’s through racism we have issues with disability. It’s through racism we have issues with a host of societal ills.

Yeah, I'm not being fastidious at all. We cannot achieve any of those things until we go back to learn about what racism is and remove it from personal issues into a system issue, and we need to break down. Probably, some of your listeners have heard dismantle. We need to dismantle the systems that have been created a very long time ago and continue to perpetrate these inequalities. That's why we go around in circles.

I have, through a few years, been studying and researching about this. I'm so, now, convinced that we cannot move on really as a society without understanding that. I'll say something that last year, the Australian of the Year Grace Tame said, and it has stuck with me because Grace Tame talks a lot about sexual abuse cases in Australia. She said that talking about sexual abuse is quite uncomfortable. No one wants to talk about that at dinner tables and so forth.

She also said, without talking about it, we will never be able to deal with it and resolve it. She's so right about that. Racism is exactly the same thing. How does it relate to inclusion? If we can't talk about racism and really dissect what it is in systems that continue to perpetrate, then we can't resolve inclusion issues at all.

Brendan: Let's do that some more, Gloria. What is that? You share with us so that we've got some really good understanding of that racism, and what you are doing and what you can do for organizations that need to embrace this?

Gloria: The way I've broken it down for leaders is that when they come to our company, Everyday Inclusion, is that we take them through a process, a step-by-step approach to get them into inclusivity. The process, actually, I call it the three A’s. The three A’s.

The first step is to assess, so assessment. We assess your current organization. We have almost a look at systemic issues within your organization. Don't tell me we've all got one in our organization because the way the society is structured and systemic issues are embedded in every fabric of society. We look at that and it's not intentional, Brendan. You don't wake up and you think, I'm going to embed inequalities in my organization. It's just there because of the way society is structured.

We look at that and we produce a plan as to how we are going to deal with it. That's one, we assess it. Then step two, we announce it. We make a public announcement to your staff about where your organization is going to be heading. This is where change happens. This is where the shift happens. Also, you get buy-in from your organizations and different organizations that you deal with to come on board with you because you have made a decision to do something about inequalities.

You assess, announce, and act. That's the third. Now you can do all those things, but if you don't put action into place, then that's not going to happen. This is where you walk through the challenges of the issues that you have identified and the gaps, and you then make it happen.

Once you've done that, it's a long process. We won’t be able to detail it all on this call, but once you do that, you will reap the benefit as an organization. Your purpose becomes clear, your people will come on board, and your profile will also be quite notified. People will become aware that you are a brand that cares about inclusion and that will also result in your profit. People post profiles and profits.

Brendan: Have you got an example of, I guess, what a good organization is doing? Where are they on this journey? Even potentially relating back to the three A’s, where do they sit in this process if you're a decent organization about being deliberate with inclusiveness?

Gloria: It's interesting. In a book I've written recently, I have got quite a lot of case studies in that book, Inclusive Teams and Workplaces. They are organizations that, from the very get-go, they've decided that they wanted to be inclusive on the world stage and they decided to walk the talk. These organizations are recognizable. We know them.

I hope you know them. I can mention one to you, Ben and Jerry. They are one of them. They made it their point of being part of solving some of the societal issues. They embedded having equality into their own processes in how they do business. In my current book, you will be able to read some of those examples in the case studies. It happens and some businesses are doing that very well.

Brendan: Yeah, I did read that Ben and Jerry. I had no idea about that in the background, so it was certainly fascinating. From an organizational perspective and a workplace perspective, you've talked many times about systemic and systemic racism focusing on the systems. What is an area where an organization, a leadership team, for example, of an organization can focus on? Because it's not good to be saying, well, okay, inclusiveness and let's just get everything happening. Where do you suggest they start target first?

Gloria: First will be to do analysis of your own organization. The way that our business works, we don't have a list of tick boxes, do this and do that because every organization is different. That hard work of assessment needs to be done for your own organization. You will do that by doing an analysis of your recruitment processes, for example.

If you use the command and [...] to find inclusion in your mission statement would you be able to find that? If you don't, then you actually don't have anything to show that inclusion is something that is important to you as an organization. So even putting that into your vision statement is a good way to start. That tells you as an organization that that's actually something that you want to work towards.

It's a bit like your financial goals. If you want sales to be different, you have a goal for sales. If you want your organization to be inclusive, then you will have an inclusive goal. You will have a strategy to go about achieving that. That's the process that we help you to do at Everyday Inclusion.

Brendan: Let's assess that first A of the three A’s. It makes sense. It starts to give you some perspective on where the journey needs to take you next. Gloria, in the organizations you've worked with, in your experience, what does a leader or leadership team look like, or what are some of the signs that you get when organizations are saying they want to focus on inclusivity and bringing someone like you in to help that journey versus ones that bring you in and it is more of that tick box?

What do you see? What's that feel, if it is a feel, look like for you versus somebody in a team that's really focused and deliberate about it versus someone in a team who are, again, just checking some boxes?

Gloria: It gives me the greatest joy when an organization gets to that point of wanting to really do something about inclusion. They have concerns. There's a discussion happening, and that catalyst moment of, wow, we really care about inclusion. Let's get Everyday Inclusion in to help us cultivate these ideas so they consult. Then through consultation, changes happen. You come up with some ideas where real changes are happening. It is the best thing to ever witness.

If the organization is not prepared to do the work and really look at the three A’s that we've talked about—assessing, announcing, and then acting, then there's a problem because then, it's not going to be a long-lasting effect. It's going to be, like I described earlier, having a harmony day and then forgetting the rest of the year.

Inclusion is not an initiative. It's not something that we do, we have a start and a finish date. It's a strategy, it's a business goal, so it's ongoing. It's something that you revisit, you analyze, you implement, you review. Evaluation is ongoing. There's no end date. It becomes the very fabric of your organization. That's what we are trying to get at.

It's very different, Brendan, to things like unconscious bias training, which is a training that you do once a year or once every six months. You tick that box and you go on. Inclusion is embedded to become the very DNA of your organization and is ongoing. There's no end date.

Brendan: Gloria, I can really resonate with that through my own lens and my own space around leadership and particularly teamwork and that famous term, team building. I call it a team building day. It's almost like a harmony day for some organizations. They think that we've got to get our team, we've got to get a culture really good. How about we have a team building day and everything will be fine and perfect? Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that very well at all, does it?

Gloria: No, not at all. On that topic of unconscious bias training, I'm not against it or anything, but we know that becoming more aware of our biases as individual organizations are important because it helps us to see people as they are, but that in itself does not create inclusion for us. We just become aware that we have got bias. Guess what, we all have biases.

Black people have biases. First Nation people have biases. We all have biases. Knowing more about biases doesn't actually create inclusion for organizations. It makes me question why organizations spend money doing that? For what purpose I really don't know.

Research tells us that we can change the way people feel about their behavior or habit by giving them more information about it. For example, excessive information about how smoking will kill you doesn't automatically stop people from smoking, does it? No. A better way of achieving or helping people stop smoking is educating them about good choices based on historical evidence of smoking-related illnesses and then systems that create addiction. That's what moves people into action.

A few years ago, to achieve this, what they did was to have the packaging of cigarettes become very plain. In the same way, through biases and awareness of biases, we can become more aware, and the potential of how our biases can create difficulty for other people. All of these are well and good, but it doesn't make a difference at all towards making systemic changes, and that's where the problem is.

That's why I say, if we want systemic change that will create inclusion, then we need to go back to learning about what racism is. I keep going back to that. I cannot stress the importance of that. We need to understand what racism is in order to change systems to change it in a way that will actually stick.

Brendan: We both mentioned unconscious bias, can you just give us your understanding or your definition of what is unconscious bias?

Gloria: Unconscious bias is feelings, tendencies, or opinions that we have told other people. Obviously, if we have feelings towards other people and it’s unreasonable, it could affect how we view them in public or in our workplaces because it can determine whether our organization will even consider them for a job.

Becoming aware of our biases is important because it helps us to act, I guess, more consciously. That in itself isn't enough to shift or change any systemic issues. That's really what I'm trying to let people know. We need to go beyond that because learning about biases doesn't make your workplaces more safer or more inclusive.

I've actually got a series of questions for leaders who go on the path of unconscious bias training. Why do we run to unconscious bias training when we know it has very little ability to fix systems? That's one. Why is it, as a society, we continue to take that road to nowhere? Another question I want to ask is, why is society continuing to spend hard-earned money on unconscious bias training when we know that it doesn't want to create a safe work environment or it doesn't make your workplaces safe?

I've got something else to add about that and it could get me into a lot of trouble. In Australia, unconscious bias training is predominantly offered by the same dominant group of people, which is white people, who have never ever faced marginalization, exclusion, or stigmatization, and they have access. White people have got access to organizations, institutions, and workplaces to drive these simplified agendas on unconscious bias training, capitalizing on marginalized people. I find that really shocking because unconscious bias, like I have explained, does not do anything at all to create anything.

These dominant people can walk in, get the contracts, and draw out unconscious bias training days on end. We know that it does not do anything fundamentally to help society in any way. The only thing unconscious bias training does is to keep the status quo very, very intact. My question to leaders is, why do you spend money doing this? I'll be very happy to hear your thoughts on that.

Brendan: I have some thoughts, Gloria, and I will share a couple of those things you mentioned. But I'm very interested to know, what answers do you get from leaders when you're asking these three or four questions you've mentioned?

Gloria: Because it's the easiest thing to do. One, it's the easiest thing to do, and two, this training is all about white people. When we go back to the discussion earlier, racism is what’s at work. Because of racism, we were overlooked.

A black woman coming in with a program that will actually deliver the right changes that the organization is looking for to be more inclusive, but they will rather settle on unconscious bias training because a white person is delivering their training. I can almost put my hand in my heart that you will not find a black woman participating or doing unconscious bias training because they know they don't work.

Brendan: The irony of that, isn't it Gloria, is that the decision around who delivers training for the chosen organization and who makes a decision is biased in itself, by the sound of what you're saying, if I'm understanding what you're saying.

Gloria: Yeah, and it's a real problem. We really hope leaders can hear that because if inclusion is what you want for your business, then you need to look beyond unconscious bias and look at something with substance that would deliver the changes that you actually require for your business. We all need to learn about unconscious bias and we all have unconscious bias. It's almost like civility training, to be able to be civil with one another. Those are the things that elementarily, we learned with our parents how to behave, that kind of thing.

This is what organizations are paying money to do instead of doing systemic changes that will bring about the change that they want. They can't keep going around the circles because guess what, because of social media. If an organization decided to stay stuck in the past, they're going to be caught out. People are going to use social media to say, you have got inclusion, shiny brushes written down, but you're actually not walking the talk, and people are going to find out.

You can build your business over the years and have it completely destroyed in a second because of the power of social media. They need to be very careful about these issues. Gone are the days when issues of racism, gender issues, sexuality stayed outside the bounds of organizations. These are changing. Times are changing.

People are saying now to their leaders, we want you to participate in resolving these social issues. We don't want this. We can't keep a blind eye. It's actually for your own organization good to come to speed with what inclusion is and actually start cultivating.

Brendan: Gloria, just to help me be clear on the unconscious bias side of things, and I know we're moving into some other areas, but do you have a problem or a challenge with some of the information within unconscious bias training or is it the fact that people who don't have lived experience like yourself are heavily involved in monetizing and delivering that?

Gloria: I don't have a problem with unconscious bias training, per se. The problem I have is if the organization is after cultivating inclusion, then unconscious bias is not the answer. That's the difference, the organization. At the end of the day, it's your money. They decide what they want to do with it.

If they want to cultivate inclusion, then what I'm proposing is you need someone who's qualified and understands the specificities of racism to help you cultivate inclusion. Doing unconscious bias training is a nice thing to do. It makes us feel good. It's about civility. It's about being kind and polite with people. Like I said to you, kindness and politeness are not going to move your organization into an inclusive organization.

If that's what you want, then it's your choice. You need to decide what type of training you should be giving. That's something that I'm not able to answer. Each individual organization will have to make that choice.

Brendan: Gloria, going back to a point you made about people delivering that training, as an example, that doesn't have that lived experience. The fantastic thing around this conversation, what I was super excited about in this conversation was, I had the opportunity to talk to someone like you who has lived experience. I'm not talking to a person who may have the same color skin as me. That is virtue signaling in my view if I want to use that term.

Who am I to challenge what your experiences are? You've lived through these experiences. You're walking the talk. You're helping do something about it, and you're very passionate about that. I've seen that through today and obviously the conversations we've had earlier.

To me, going back to that unconscious bias and saying somebody who hasn't had those lived experiences, but they're delivering training, it's just not congruent at all. As you know, I think I had a conversation with Martin Stark and that episode was released post-Christmas, in between Christmas and New Year.

There's a chap who is openly gay. He's been married to his male partner for many, many years, but he's got lived experience in this and he's doing something about it. I know Martin talks strongly about allyship and allies, and that's super important. Things like me, people like me on this platform can be an ally, but there's nothing more powerful than people with lived experience sharing that from the heart. That's why I really appreciate you and appreciate what you've done today so far. Thank you very much.

Gloria: It's a pleasure. If I can just say a couple of things about that comment is that lived experience is important. You really give us a window into the issues that we are trying to deal with, whatever it is. Whether it's LGBTQ issues, racism, or disability. Personally, I wouldn't feel comfortable championing or leading an organization in changes around LGBTQ issues because I will not be familiar. I can spend a lot of time learning about it to leave effective change processes without issue.

Disability is the same thing. To champion disability that way, I think we are better off with people with lived experiences and the same with race. But lived experience alone isn't enough either to leave the organization through that change. We can share our experiences of lived experience, but we also need something more than lived experience. That is understanding racism or having taken the time to learn about the inequalities of society.

That's really important because then, you're coming in with lived experience, but also backed up with research and understanding of what inequality actually is. Because lived experience can be quite hard talking about it, especially if you've been through something. Halfway through your training, you could be quite traumatized, but you need to be able to also have a training background behind you with the topic, the subject matter in order to really move the organization into shifting mindset in the changes that are needed. They just need to be a little bit more with the lived experience. Together, then you have a very strong package, which is what Everyday Inclusion delivers.

Brendan: Gloria, I want you to help me with something else. I'm pretty active on LinkedIn, as you know and as our listeners know. I get a lot of requests for connections, as a lot of people do. When I'm looking through who I'm preferring to connect with and accept that connection request, a lot of people get a number from, say, Nigeria comes to mind.

I get a profile. Sometimes it has a photo. If it doesn't have a photo, I never accept it. But what mindset am I in in the fact that I'm actually more deliberate about assessing that profile from, say, Nigeria, as the example because of my bias, I guess, around some of the criminal activity that seems to come from that area and false profile? Now I've connected with some fantastic people. I've done some checking, have some voice messages, and checking out that way. But what am I doing?

Gloria: That is a really interesting question. I don't connect with anyone without a photo either. But in saying that, I do connect within a request, as soon as there's a photo, I often don't even look at the profile. I just think if someone's taking the time to ask to be connected with, I just do. What can go wrong on LinkedIn? Even if they have a criminal record, I don't know what they can do with your profile. If they want to do something with your profile in a criminal way, they can, whether you connect with them or not. I don't use that criteria, but then that's me.

In terms of why we have their view about Nigerians and pausing before even acting on a request from them, it comes with a number of reasons. It's not just bias. It's a systemic issue. We have got a system that says anyone that looks black or from Africa, we need to be cautious about them. It actually goes beyond bias. If you go down that path of bias, then there's prejudice, stereotype, and a whole host of things.

Doing a bias training can't just fix that issue. It's a system problem. We've been conditioned or socialized for a very long period of time, and this socialization keeps perpetrating and reinforcing in so many media forms that we've come to behave and condition that way. To break that down, it's not an easy task. What I can assure you will help is by understanding racism will go a long way.

I've had training in understanding racism where people have even designed their own antiracism for the organization because they're armed with knowledge to actually go out there and do something about it themselves. That's what is so powerful about it. We don't want to be handheld. We have training and training that does not actually yield the type of shift that we want.

We want to be able to do a training course and be armed with skills because we are all fairly intelligent. We can read and write to be able to set right. This is what racism looks like. This is what I can do in my organization, in my life from now on because now I have this knowledge. That's the difference.

Brendan: Gloria, you raise the issue of training. Actually, the organizations wouldn't be such a bad place if the majority of their training actually meant something and delivered something. It's not just unconscious bias training that's probably a little bit ineffective around training. I think it seems to be the first tool that people go to fix a problem rather than look at the root cause. Anyway, that's also the topic of another podcast at another stage, I think.

Gloria: I love that root cause that you've just said. In fact, this whole drumming of going back to understanding racism is understanding the root cause. How come there are inequalities in our system? We need to answer that question. How come there's exclusion?

How come people who are saying that they don't feel included in a workplace? When we look at the root cause, we can only learn that effectively by going back to understanding racism. Yeah, thanks for saying that word because that's actually what it is.

Brendan: Absolute pleasure. I think it's in my mind because it came through loud and clear. Even though you haven't said the root cause, but it came through loud and clear that racism really, like anything, is understanding what sits behind something and then it actually helps you create better solutions when you really understand what the problem is.

Gloria, I want to wrap this up now and just close down. We've been speaking for a little bit of time. You're a very courageous woman, absolutely. There's no doubt about that. That courage has come from somewhere. I'm very interested in your answer to this question, which I like to ask all my guests is, what's had the greatest impact on your own leadership journey?

Gloria: I came to a point in my life when this word was said so loud. I remember my young child saying to me, mum, what do you mean by enough is enough? Because actually, I was thinking it and then I said it aloud. I've heard enough of racism impacting my life, in my career. It has been going on for so long that I made a conscious decision and I said, enough is enough. I'm not going to allow racism to define or ruin my life anymore.

I was in a situation where it became quite pronounced that racism was going to determine the outcome. It was an extremely difficult thing and I had to walk away from it. It was excruciating. In fact, saying this now, I'm feeling a sensation in my body. However, I'm not an isolated case.

This situation of racism is experienced by many, many people in workplaces. Focusing on the event itself doesn't add any value to the conversation, but understanding the cause and effect helps us to move forward and to effect changes that we need. Also many of us, and I think I've said this earlier, are also gagged by the system and not able to talk about it. It's also a good illustration where organizations are at odds with their own maturity in racial issues of the world, and they put profit above people's well-being and inclusion. But I don't look back, I walked away.

Fast forward today, three main developments emerged in my life. You mentioned one of them before—courage, compassion, and confidence. All of these three things have guided my work, my leadership in everything I do. Courage to do with my own trauma of workplace racism and harassment. Moving on from there and actually establishing voice everyday racism because I figured that if a strong person, resourceful, and educated black woman like myself could be derailed by racism, micro-aggression in the workplace, then surely, there will be other people who are worse off than me.

That's what prepares me to do what I do because I want to be able to help and really create the changes. But also being a researcher and love solving problems, I also realized that people weren't able to share their experiences readily because of fear of losing their job or fear of being labeled as troublemakers. 

That's how Everyday Inclusion also started because I figured that if people can't talk about their racism experiences, surely, I can use my experience and my research to support businesses, to create and cultivate inclusion so people can feel safe at work. That's how inclusion has come about in my life. I just love to support businesses to create an environment where everyone can thrive and feel safe at work.

Brendan: I love the three C’s, Gloria. It reminds me of an episode we did a little while ago with a professional footballer called Michael Thwaite. He has his three C’s as well. Different to your three C’s, but they really guide what he does. Courage. I love that you've chosen compassion. You certainly come across as a very compassionate person.

The other word that could come in, unfortunately, from time to time in this topic we've spoken about today is competitiveness and being competitive. I think there are people out there that take a far more competitive approach. Maybe you can help them be more compassionate, which will help the understanding side and the confidence to do. You've certainly shown a great level of confidence coming on our show today and sharing your story, your lived experiences, and actually what you're doing to grab things by the hands and try and make some good change.

Well done on what you're doing. Keep up the great work. Thank you very much for spending time with us today on The Culture of Things podcast. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Gloria: It's been great, Brendan. Some of the things I've never actually shared with anyone. It's been a real healing talking to you. You have beautiful listeners and I thank you very much.

Brendan: Thank you, Gloria. 

Gloria said something at the start of the interview that in hindsight I found intriguing. She mentioned how she felt included at a children’s school and particularly with her involvement with the P&C. But her experience in the workplace was very different. I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on this point during the interview. I needed to find out more, so I gave Gloria a call. I learned Gloria has done specific research on this very point. So what did her research reveal? That it comes down to one word—competition.

In a competitive environment like the workplace, people are looking to put others down to raise themselves up, and race is an easy target. I’m going to unpack the conversation I had with Gloria in a separate behind the key takeaways interview to be released exclusively on The Culture of Things YouTube channel. Head on over to YouTube and subscribe so you don’t miss it.

But for now, these were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Gloria. My first key takeaway: Leaders unite people. Uniting people means we embrace our differences. These differences could be related to physical abilities, mental abilities, personality, and character traits. Or they could be related to more complex matters like race, religion, political beliefs, or sexuality. Inclusion is about treating all human beings as equals. Doing this will unite people, which is what the best leaders do.

My second key takeaway: Leaders seek real solutions. As far as inclusion goes, there are organizations and leaders out there who are just 'ticking boxes'. They know that society and shareholders expect companies to have DEI policies and to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. What they also know is that society and shareholders don’t necessarily care that real solutions are being sought. The best leader won’t just 'tick boxes', they will seek real solutions.

My third key takeaway: Leaders have genuine conversations. What’s the best way to seek real solutions? By having genuine conversations. How can you even think about finding solutions when you aren’t always clear on the problem or you are making assumptions about what the problem is? To me, that’s absolutely insane. To seek real solutions, leaders must start with genuine conversations

So in summary, my three key takeaways were: Leaders unite people, leaders seek real solutions, and leaders have genuine conversations.

If you want to talk culture, leadership, or teamwork, or have any questions or feedback about the episode, message me on the socials or at thecultureofthings.com. Thanks for joining me, and remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation!


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.