Positive outcomes should be the goal of organizational DEI efforts, says Aiko Bethea, founder of RARE Coaching and Consulting. Deeper questions need to be asked that will inform their approach. "Many of us are used to going into a workplace … and compartmentalizing things so I can get through the day and get my work done. So now, all of a sudden, because it's an imperative to you, you want to have a conversation about race that you're thoroughly ill-equipped to speak of." Bethea joins the podcast to discuss what companies need in order to embark on DEI efforts.

Camille Lloyd is the Director of the Gallup Center on Black Voices. Follow her at @policyresrchbuf
Dr. Ella F. Washington is the CEO of Ellavate Solutions and a Professor of Practice at Georgetown McDonough School of Business. Follow her at @EllaFWashington
Learn more about the Gallup Center on Black Voices at gallup.com.
Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.
Camille Lloyd 00:11

Hello, Dr. Ella. I am so glad for this week's episode of Cultural Competence, as we get down to the meat of it all. I really just wanted to pose this question to you really about, you know, is DEI work a program, an initiative or is it just straight up good leadership?

Ella Washington 00:28
Hi Camille. So good to see you. Of course, you're coming out the gate with the hard questions today. I love it. So DEI is not — I can tell you what it's not — DEI is not programs. There are so many more aspects to a successful diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and implementation and future success. And so I love how you framed the question, because you're starting off not assuming that, you know, it's just programming. And a lot of people, that's what they think, and they're wrong from the jump. But to the second part of your question, kind of that, that, the meat of it is, are we talking about something unique in the space of demographic diversity, you know, equity and policy inclusion in, in terms of culture — is that something unique from what we would tell people is good leadership?

Ella Washington 01:20
And I would say, No. I would say that at its core, you know, when you have an inclusive leader — specifically on that inclusion front — when you have an inclusive leader, because they are considering how the history of demographic groups plays a role, they're considering the lack of equity for certain groups or within the organization, when they're considering those things and leading with that knowledge in mind, they are likely good leaders in other aspects as well. Right? And so that leader, on the flip side, who can't have a courageous conversation about race because they're uncomfortable, they are likely the same person who can't tell someone when they're not doing a good job, and they need to be coached on their performance. Right? And so context certainly does matter, and you do need a lens that is different when you think about being appropriate around certain conversations and understanding the history of certain things. However, the core behaviors of being kind and empathetic, being a good listener, being vulnerable, being humble enough when you make mistakes to own them, those are core leadership behaviors. I mean, what do you think, Camille, would you agree or disagree?

Camille Lloyd 02:41
100%. And sometimes — I love the way you talk about it, saying that these are just attributes that we know good leaders have and should have in order to be successful. I think if you are remotely tangentially in charge of anyone leading anything, that these are some fundamental things that you should have that will make you successful. How can you be a leader that people are enthusiastic about following when you don't know how to empower others by giving space to someone else, right? So if you walk in the room and you automatically say, positionally, I'm the head, and that means there's no room for anyone else's ideas and their opinions, I don't see how you are successful as a leader. And I think that those are some of the fundamental attributes to what it requires to create inclusive environments. So I'm 100% with you, in terms of, if you want to be successful as a leader, these are things that you should be doing anyways.

Ella Washington 03:38
And in that vein of the conversation, I'm so excited for our guest, Aiko Bethea, today because hopefully she can give us some more insight on this. You know, can there be leaders who are strong in some ways, and they just are terrible at diversity, equity and inclusion, or vice versa? And how do we think about leadership coaching from the perspective of including DEI in the conversation?

Camille Lloyd 04:02
And that is why I'm excited about today's guest, Aiko Bethea. Aiko is a builder, learner and thought partner who focuses on scaling the impact of executives and teams by elevating emotional intelligence and learner resilience. Aiko is guided by her unique background as a Black and Asian American woman, along with her intrinsic values of justice and loyalty and her role as a mother raising two Black sons. This perspective helps inform Aiko's passion and drive to create conversations and change around race and equity in the communities and organizations that she serves. The founder of RARE Coaching and Consulting, Aiko guides leaders and organizations to remove barriers to inclusion. She serves as an executive coach to leaders and teams of Fortune 100 companies and global nonprofit organizations. She has been recognized by Forbes as one of the top seven anti-racism educators for companies, and by Culture Amp as a DEI influencer to follow.

Camille Lloyd 05:09

Aiko is a senior director of the Daring Way and Dare to Lead facilitator communities of the Brene Brown Education and Research Group. She oversees development and implementation of the overall strategy for the communities as well as the specific DEI and belonging strategy for the global 1600-plus-member facilitator community. Aiko's writing has been published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the upcoming anthology, You Are — You Are Your Best Thing. She's an executive coach and is certified by ICF and Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara. Aiko holds a law degree from UNC Chapel Hill and a bachelor's from Smith College.

Ella Washington 05:53
Welcome, Aiko! We're so happy to have you today on our podcast. We'd like to learn just a little bit more about you. How did you come to the work of RARE Coaching and Consulting?

Aiko Bethea 06:03
Sure. So I ended up creating RARE Coaching and Consulting because I realized, one, it was a path towards being freer, which meant that I didn't have to defer to a lot of the systems that you navigate in corporate America or even, I've been in philanthropic spaces, etcetera. Because a lot of the hallmark of success for us means that we end up being the only ones in the room, and "we" meaning being Black folks or Black women or even women. And that can be lonely, the higher you get up or the more you elevate, or you find that you have less room to actually be yourself.

Aiko Bethea 06:40
So RARE was a way, I think, for many of us, entrepreneurship is a great way for us to be able to define success on our own terms and allow me to do the work that I love, which is leadership work and being able to center many of us who don't ever get to have leadership development from somebody who looks like us or that actually takes in account our real-life experiences. And I think that's not only magical for people who look like me, but also for folks who might show up who are White, who are White CEOs who will never have a leadership development coach or somebody who's providing leadership to their organization, who brings this lens in. Because it's so rare for folks to actually see an expert in front of the room who's Black or Brown, who also is able to speak to leadership in a very traditional way.

Ella Washington 07:31

A lot of what we think about in the corporate space has, you know, foundations in White supremacy culture. Right? And so a lot of, especially for women and people of color, we come to the workplace having to understand the rules of the game so that we can get ahead. So in your coaching practice, to what extent are you helping people to navigate that labyrinth of those rules of the game, that, of the game that was not meant for them? Or are you challenging them to push back on some of those norms? How do you kind of create a balance when you're coaching an individual who wants to ascend, so they have to acquiesce in some ways, but also you're coaching them, you know, to lean into their own identities?

Aiko Bethea 08:19
That's such a good question, Ella. One, I always start with my client's goals and values, because a lot of everything that I'm doing should be in service to my clients. And so my client, in terms of who they really are and what they want most in life is what we're going to target. Not, "Oh, I just want this promotion"; I want to understand why do you want that and why is that important to you? And so oftentimes, what will happen is that folks will say, "This is important because I am still living in somebody else's agenda, but that's not actually what I want. I want A, B or C." So I'm constantly following my clients' lead. And I believe, in my coaching engagements all the time, is that my client knows themselves better than I ever will, and they are resourceful and able to come up with solutions of what will work for them and why. I'm just helping them elevate like what the intentionality is and sometimes for them to speak things for the first time that they didn't have space to speak in other places or may have had fear about saying.

Aiko Bethea 09:24
So I would say that I've had a couple of clients who are CEOs who ended up stepping down after our coaching engagements, recognizing this wasn't what they wanted. And it's not serving them, but it's what they realized that what they were thinking that other people wanted them to have, and something must be wrong with me if I don't want that. And what's the real tradeoff? And many of us won't say, "Oh my gosh, the tradeoff is that I feel like I can't ever be who I am, and it's killing me and I'm stressed. And if this job is supposed to bring this and this, and now I can say that this is what's killing me." They now, since they have permission to say that, to name it and to envision and say, well what wouldn't do that for you and still be fulfilling? So a lot of this is just, it — actually, all of it — is me following my client's lead, but creating space for them to express, have self-exploration, and come up with the solutions and the plan that's going to get them to become closer to who they want to be and live the lives that they want.

Ella Washington 10:23
That's awesome. So it sounds like your approach is different based on, if I say, "I really want to get promoted in this company because I have been working the last 20 years to do so," versus just to say, "I really want to be happier; I'm unhappy. I wish I could be more of my authentic self at work." It sounds like your approach for those clients would be different.

Aiko Bethea 10:41
So, Ella, the approach is actually the same. I'm gonna ask you when you say, "Hey, it's been 20 years and I want to get a promotion," I'm gonna ask you, "Why is that important to you?" And "Hey, what would that mean for you? What will be different?" As we go down that, you might realize, holy cow, this is like, this promotion is like a pie-eating contest; I win and I get more pie. Versus, oh, man, it's not actually going to make me happier, and why am I doing this? You might end up in the same place, in terms of your next steps forward, because you're still the same Ella with the same values, regardless of which scenario; it's just, the framing is different, and I'm going to make sure we're centering you, and you understand your "Why." Versus the other, just taking it on face value of "I want this promotion," I want to understand why. What is that gonna do for you, Ella? Why is that important to you? And you might, at the same time, still want the value of living a happier, more fulfilled life. And I'm gonna say, "What does that look like for you?"

Aiko Bethea 11:37
And we could still get there, and you end up having the same steps as when you said you want the promotion, but that promotion may be less important. Or you might say, "Financial security is so important to who I am, that even these tradeoffs of how I show up, they're OK for me to make right now. Because I need financial security, and I want to, you know, maybe I have a mom or kids or whatever that's really important to me, that I want to make sure that they're going to this $40,000-a-year school," whatever it is. You know, we're gonna go through values, but you're gonna be intentional and know why you're doing everything. And that is actually the secret to not having a life of regret, because now whenever you think back, "Why did I do that?" You're gonna know exactly why you did it, and why it was important, instead of us kind of falling into these default ways because this is what people say we're supposed to do and this is just some values that are out there, and I figure that's the blueprint for me too.

Camille Lloyd 12:27
So Aiko, that's the part of your work that, you know, all of it is fascinating for me, but that, that is most fascinating, in terms of, when you talk about DEI work and how the systems that they operate in are set up for those who are part of that dominant culture and by, sometimes with good intentions, focusing on DEI work can also lead to perpetuating the ills of those systems on, you know, those who are from minoritized groups. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, and how with all good intentions, things can go sideways?

Aiko Bethea 13:04
I feel like there's a premise there that you made, which is that when we do talk about inequity, it can be harmful for the people who are already marginalized. Is that what you're saying? Can you tell me a little bit more about how you see that showing up?

Camille Lloyd 13:20
So one of the things that's where we're, particularly how we are thrust into conversations now, as Black women, to talk about the way we are experiencing our environment. And everybody is going into those spaces about, let's have some conversations, let's get real. And how, while it's well intentioned, don't always have the impact or the outcome that is intended and can perpetuate some of those, you know, mistreatment or negative experiences that we have.

Aiko Bethea 13:48
Yeah, got you. Thank you for clarifying that, Camille. So I would say the issue there isn't that there's a focus on being more diverse, equitable and inclusive; the issue is that people are positioning it so that we're the ones who are the teachers, and we're the ones who are carrying the weight. And also, there's no consideration of how these conversations will land on us or whether or not an organization's even equipped to carry these conversations. So there's a little bit of a difference there. So I think it is important that organizations be mindful of diversity, equity, inclusion, starting from, why do we even care, and why are you doing it in the first place? To what does a positive outcome look like, and what's motivating us? So if a company says, what's motivating us is that everybody is saying that we should do it, now we got an issue, because you're not seeing why you should be doing it. Or if it's, we feel bad and we feel like we should be doing something about it, but you really don't understand why do you feel bad? Should you feel bad, and do you think it's your responsibility and why?

Aiko Bethea 14:51
So those deeper conver-, questions have to happen, and that will inform your approach. So I'll say that after George Floyd was murdered, one of the things that happened was that a lot of companies were running around, wanting to have these conversations — crucial conversations, courageous conversations, whatever you want to call it. And I rejected all of those engagements, because it was clear to me that these companies were not equipped to have these conversations without harming people. So I am used to, many of us are used to going into a workplace, in terms of Black folks, and compartmentalizing things so I can get through the day and get my work done. So now, all of a sudden, because it's an imperative to you, you want to have a conversation about race that you're thoroughly in, ill-equipped to speak of, which means that you're not gonna be accountable for the impact you have and you're not being mindful of the impact on me.

Aiko Bethea 15:43
So for me, I just made sure that, hey, I told people, do you feel like you're really equipped to do this? What happens if? So what happens if Susie is saying, "Well, I don't think that that's a legitimate excuse," or "I think that the police officer was right." Or, like, you're not equipped to handle and navigate that conversation, especially if your company hasn't even taken a clear position on a lot of these issues. And so that means that other people who watched that video over and over again — or it's just a part of our reality in our lives — and George Floyd could have been our brother, uncle, spouse, father, I've got to be subjected to the ignorance. Because Susie doesn't know, Susie just doesn't know. I'm not mad at her, but I'm upset that the company hasn't taken the steps that it should be mindful about the impact it can have and really intentional about why do you even, why are you even having these conversations? And what do you want to happen from this? So having an idea, and how might it impact people in different ways?

Ella Washington 16:45
Yeah, I think that thoughtfulness piece on the front end is what a lot of companies missed, especially when they were just reacting instead of being able to have a thoughtful response or even a thoughtful strategy before, you know, the murder of Floyd. So for those companies that come back to you and say, OK, we heard your feedback, but we really want to have this conversation. What do we need to be equipped to actually have this conversation in a way that will not cause harm?

Aiko Bethea 17:16
Yeah. For one, I don't think you can ever guarantee that you're not gonna cause harm. But one thing, first of all, do you understand your "Why"? Why are you doing this in the first place, and does it even make sense? And from there I can gauge, is it worth it or is it going to be fruitful for everybody? Whose voice is centered and whose experience is centered? If it's more perpetuating the same, which is that, it wouldn't be, Black people are underrepresented folks at all, then what's the point? You do that every day, so why have this specific conversation? But one thing that's really important is, are you willing to open this dialog and, one, believe what's being told to you by the folks who are receiving it and usually on the disempowered end and receiving the harm or experiencing the harm? Are you willing to believe their narratives, even if, in that narrative, you're the villain? So one thing is people being able to walk into a story and recognize in this person's story and in their reality, I'm the villain. Versus you coming in and wanting to be defensive — "That's not me; that's those. Not all White people, not all men," or what have you, but you're willing to just sit and listen to Ella and Camille's story. And recognizing in their story, I actually am the villain, because of this identity I carry in history. And that's usually benefited me, but now I understand that, wow, it is impactful and has harmed other people. So if you can't do that, be willing to be the villain in somebody else's story and listen actively, you're probably not going to be ready.

Aiko Bethea 18:44
Two, if you're willing to name that you're a learner, which means that you don't have all the answers. And so that allows me to stay present and engaged and to be a learner and recognize that someone who doesn't look like me, who may not have the same tenure, title or compensation as me, they're actually the teacher here, and I'm the learner. If I can't be the learner, then I probably don't need to have that conversation. The other part is being able to just own my part, period. And part of the owning my part might be me saying, "You know what, I did not know this, and I'm glad I know it now." Or "Wow, I realized that I learned this — A, B or C — and I recognize the harm that it has on other people." So there's a few components there which have a lot to do with just walking in vulnerability. But one, I would just say being willing to be a learner. Two, being willing to believe other people's truths and understand there's multiple narratives. Three, be an active listener and being able to own — one, I don't know everything, but yeah, I'm willing to own my part in this, not in terms of me as an individual, but me within the different community groups and identity markers I have. Does that make sense? Are you all with me?

Ella Washington 19:52
Oh yeah.

Camille Lloyd 19:53
I was gonna do two snaps of, definitely makes sense. But how do you counter some, you know, for those listening who are saying, I'm faced with this choice. You know, I want to be an ally, but it means giving up the privileges that I, that I have. How do you kind of, you know, address, deal with, what have you, that, that thought that for me to be an ally, I have to sacrifice my career for someone else. Right? So it's this, you know, I have to give something up in order for those that have not had to get? Or this thought — not that it's a reality, but there is some of that thinking is that, that's there's this choice that I am left to, to make.

Aiko Bethea 20:42
Yeah, I think that's a real binary way of thinking about things. And sometimes, if you think about it in terms of, actually it's because of your privilege that you're even in a situation to be an ally, right? And are you willing to, it's not, am I willing to give up my privilege? Is am I willing to give up comfort? Am I willing to choose courage over comfort, and use my voice because I do have privilege and it is going to be impactful? So that's really different. I know it's a nuance there, but it's really different. Now if you're defining privilege as a right to be able to exercise power over people, now we got a problem. Because now you're just saying, I want to be able to exercise my power over people. And that's a different issue. And if you're not willing to actually say, I want to treat other people equitably, now you probably have some issues you need to unpack with your therapist. And also you probably don't have any reason or space that you should be engaging with people who would be subjected to power by you. Because you're saying, hey, I want to exercise power over you, not with you. So that's a problem.

Aiko Bethea 21:48
But I'm not asking you to give up your privilege because you can't take off your White skin. There's a lot of things that you can't do. But what I'm saying is that I expect you to use it in such a way that you're promoting equity, which then means that you're willing to share power with me but not exercise power over me. And that has a lot to do with people deciding, who do I want to be and what kind of person am I? And what are my values? That's not about you being charitable towards me or helping me; it's about you realizing who do I want to be in this world, and who am I? What are my values? It's really different.

Aiko Bethea 22:29
And that's why I think, I don't really talk so much about diversity equity, inclusion work. I talk a lot about this is leadership work and a great output of leadership, which has a lot to do with your integrity and type of person you are, not necessarily your title and tenure and things. But an output of leadership work is that you get more diversity, you get more equity, and you get more inclusion. Diversity, equity, inclusion are not a skill set. They are the outputs of being healthy, balanced humans, and in the workplace, being strong leaders.

Ella Washington 23:03
So if a leader says to you, yes, that sounds great. Equity is a value that I have. How do you help them to bring that to life and demonstrate what equity, especially at that individual level, what does that look like? Because a lot of times when we think about equity, we're thinking about the processes in place, right, within an organization. But there is this sense of, you know, the contribution to an equitable environment from the individual perspective, especially if that person is a leader. So how do you coach someone, once they say yes, equity is a value of mine.

Aiko Bethea 23:40
So one of the starting places or points I have for people when they tell me, they profess whatever their values are, I usually ask people what are their top two values, is that I ask them, what are the behaviors that go with them? So if a leader says, "Equity is my value," first thing I'm gonna ask them is, "What are the behaviors that exude that?" So what would this leader say are the behaviors that go with equity? Just make it, pull something out of your neck, Ella — what might they say?

Ella Washington 24:06
I believe that, you know, everyone should be paid and promoted based off of how hard they work, because that's equity.

Aiko Bethea 24:15
So I would probably come back and tell them, hey, you know what, why don't we talk more about — that value sounds more like meritocracy. Or it sounds more about, and who gets to say how hard somebody is working or not? And I might introduce the idea of equity as being talking about sharing power and thinking about it in the context of history and systems. So now we're gonna align right then about what do you even mean when you're saying equity? So we're talking the same language. And so if they're saying, based on how hard somebody works or blah, blah, I'm like, I'll say, well let's talk about your value is meritocracy, in terms of does a person merit it by how hard they work? And let's unpack, how are you gauging how hard somebody's working? Now, we're gonna get to processes and systems, but that's not gonna lead me to equity, right? So that's the first thing I'm gonna do is hold somebody accountable for the words are using around values and making sure we're aligned. It's totally OK if your value is not equity, but let's just be aligned on are we saying the same thing? And now I can support you with that.

Ella Washington 25:19
I think it's a really powerful point that you bring up around clarity on what we're even talking about. And, you know, in my experience, I've found that a lot of times, leadership teams are not on the same place when they are even talking about, even just to use the words diversity, equity and inclusion. They're not on the same page. They don't have all the same idea of what that even means and what that means to them individually. So how do you help leaders and leadership teams, you know, have some alignment? Because we know that you can't enter into a space of doing the work if we're not on the same page about what it is, what it's at work that we're aiming to do.

Aiko Bethea 25:57
So the first thing we do is make sure we're talking about the same thing. So I use the definitions that I bring. If they use other definitions, I'm going to work around and allow them to understand the pros and cons and where there is not clarity and say, so let's align there. So sometimes people say diversity in terms of a wide range in different ways of seeing the world or everybody presents some type of diversity based on their lived experiences. Right? So to me that means a lot of, it's so diluted that it almost means nothing. OK. Because that, sometimes when you say diversity, that's when people are saying diversity thought, well, gosh, everybody has diversity of thought, why are we talking about this? So I will talk about it in the sense of saying yes, that's generally what diversity means. But if we're going to pair it with diversity, equity and inclusion, especially equity, I'll talk about it from that context.

Aiko Bethea 26:45
And I also bring in the history of why do workplaces even use the word diversity now? And it's because of laws that were made in the past around integration, around antidiscrimination, all these other shoots, and what, where did that come from? It didn't come from the women's rights movement. OK. That came from the civil rights movement. And guess what was mainly at, and, at the point? It was race. And it wasn't just any race; it was really about anti-Blackness. So I'll go back and talk historically about this is why we even talk about diversity. So my point would be to get to the idea of, you can't be talking about diversity if you're ever excluding protected classes. So if we're talking about diversity, and you're just saying diversity of thought or you're saying introvert, extrovert or Republican, Democrat, whatever, I'm gonna say, "Wow, that's really interesting. That doesn't touch on even why diversity started becoming a conversation the workplace at all. So can we make sure that we're bringing in all the protected classes?" Because that's one thing that at least within this nation we have a handshake on of why do we even have laws around these protected classes? Because we understand there's been a historic and systemic barrier for these groups.

Aiko Bethea 28:00
And then equity has to do with, of course, the power dynamic, and we have to remember history and systems, because you can't talk about any of these and decontextualize them. And then the last thing about inclusion, inclusion is the ingredient that allows us to harness the values of diversity and equity. Because diversity without the inclusion part just means that I'm collecting a lot of different people. I got women, I've got Black people, Asian people, gay folks, disability, disabled folks or whatever. And now I've collected a lot of people. But they if they don't feel that they can even bring their voices to the table, all you did was collect a whole bunch of people.

Aiko Bethea 28:39
Now if you're going to create, add inclusion, that's when you start getting that output of innovation. That's when you start getting the output of more rigor to your ideology and ideas and your products and all these other things. So people get a lot of, they say D&I, D&I, and put them together without understanding what do these words mean when you stand, when you put them on your, on their own? And now you hear more companies, right, saying, hey now we're wanting to add the "E" to it. And I'm really clear about do you know what equity means? And equity is the thing that actually gives people permission to recognize, this is why we're going to have a sponsorship program that hits just women. That's about Black people. Because now I understand historically and systemically there's been this barrier and there's not shared power. And there are things that keep people back that I want to tap into directly and counter.

Aiko Bethea 29:35
Otherwise you get this like, well, why do women get that? You know why do Black people get that? So you have to make sure you're starting from this shared idea about where the words we're talking about. And whenever you're talking about the words you're bringing in, Ella, you have got to be talking about your "Why." Why are we defining diversity like that? Why are we excluding this? Why are we meaning A, B or C? And then that's gonna make you unpack a lot about what are you doing and how are you doing it? And who is it impacting?

Camille Lloyd 30:07
Some … ago, we have this thing called "unpopular opinion" on Cultural Competence. And I'm gonna say, so an executive that is, it, might be a little bit timid related to that very point, Aiko, which is, how do I create the thing and live up to all of these values that include these protected groups without, you know, isolating a particular segment of my workforce? And so I think the question essentially is, how can we be successful in our efforts, knowing that we're gonna buck up against this resistance to that historical system and structure that exists within our organizations? How do we do that successfully? Because I think that that's an underlying fear that some leaders have by, you know, going all in and being intentional to naming groups to, you know, creating programs that help groups that have been historically marginalized in our environments. How do you, you know, be successful with that resistance?

Aiko Bethea 31:10
So one thing is going back to the idea of why are you doing it in the first place? I just keep coming back to the "why." The other part is some folks say, hey, to Ella's point, this is part of our company's values. So when you're in a company, especially a private company — we're not talking about government necessarily in this, at this moment — is that you need to expect everybody's not gonna agree with, with things, right? So if part of our values is excellence — I'll just say that's our value — and Ella's coming up to work every day, rolling in late or providing incomplete work or dealing with customers in a certain way, is she living up to our values? Does she, does she get to stay here? OK. So what does she need to do to be able to stay? She needs to get with the program. So if part of this stuff that we espouse about inclusion and people being able to come here to thrive or what have you, and yet we have a leader who's scared to make people mad or that people are gonna be uncomfortable or people aren't gonna like me or that I'm going to actually come against resistance, is that person a leader that you need to lead your company?

Aiko Bethea 32:26
OK. So why is it any different? And more importantly, when I think about, if I put my legal hat on, in terms of being an attorney, a litigation attorney, I definitely don't want a leader who's gonna expose us to risk, who doesn't have the backbone to be able to stand up in integrity. And when we say integrity, we say choosing courage over comfort and to do what's right. So my thing is, my bigger question about this leader, who may be hesitant or afraid or feel like, oh, this is too dicey or this is blah, blah, are you a leader, period? And are you the leader who should be leading my company? Because that tells me there's probably gonna be some integrity problems that come up in other places, which is disallowing you, precluding you, preventing you from actually doing what might be unpopular.

Aiko Bethea 33:14
So that courage over comfort, in terms of having a leader who has integrity, is critical. And it is not just pertinent to you when we're talking about equity issues. I promise you that somebody who cannot choose courage over comfort when it has to do with something in terms of equity or demographic issues is going to be somebody who's a jellyback in other issues too. It doesn't, it just doesn't happen in one little vacuum, in one component. When you have class action lawsuits about racism, guess what? When you're doing discovery, you also find things about sexism; you find things about homophobia, ableism. They travel in packs. It's not like you just find one thing. So if you have a place that has a lack of courage and integrity, it's gonna seep out in a lot of places.

Ella Washington 34:05
I think it's really fascinating how you bring up the points that, you know, most organizations, like you said, don't just have a one-vein problem, when it comes to how their employees are being treated. And by the way, you know, if women are feeling this way or your Black employees are feeling that way, you probably have some White employees that feel that way too. You know, issues of exclusion don't just draw a hard line at demographics. And, you know, additionally, you know, I'm wondering though how we get beyond even how we think about diversity and inclusion, protected classes in the United States, as you think about international and global and virtual teams. So what are some of the elements that you kind of shift into the conversation as you work with global teams and teams that may have virtual and hybrid components?

Aiko Bethea 34:57
Yeah really good question, Ella. I actually, if you look at my site and the work we do at RARE Coaching and Consulting, I usually focus on the fact that we're leadership firm; we're not a DEI firm — diversity, equity and inclusion firm — we're a leadership firm. So I talk a lot about the competencies it takes to be a good leader. Part of that is emotional intelligence, which means, includes components of empathy, includes relationship management, self-awareness, self-regulation, things like that. So if we're leaning into these components, like I said, you're gonna get great outputs on diversity, equity and inclusion, period. So I usually focus on leadership competencies and capacity and ability, because that also has to do with accountability — helps us with accountability, helps us with sustainability, and helps us with the fact that we know folks are gonna get sick, are probably already sick of talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, but I'm talking about who are you as a leader?

Aiko Bethea 35:55
So how that shows up in the global context is that, one, it actually isn't just global, but I will say that many times, we're talking about still leadership competencies. How well are you able to lead without authority, lead others and influence them? It usually means you have to build trust and credibility, which means that you have to, have to have a degree of how people perceive you and biases of ways in, ways of how you perceive others. You have to be an effective communicator, which means you have to be aware of how people are translating your body language, the words you use, your expressions. So that means that if I'm from the U.S., but I lead an organization, I lead a team that is based somewhere else, like in different, say, different countries in Southeast Asia or maybe different countries in Africa, for me to be a good leader, I need to be able to understand that wow, it's not that this person, it's not that Camille is incompetent or disrespectful; she doesn't have eye contact because in this culture, it's actually disrespectful to be staring somebody in the face like that.

Aiko Bethea
So I need to understand for effective communication, how might it show up differently in other places? That's me being an effective leader and being aware of EQ — being, having social awareness and relationship management. And that should translate, no matter where I am, is that degree of awareness, how people perceive me, how am I perceiving them in ways that might be flawed? And if I remain curious in a learner mindset, I always expect that I probably don't have it 100% nailed. I hope that answers your question, Ella.

Ella Washington 37:31
You know, it does. And I often, you know, I don't like to say this, but it's the, it's the truth, you know: Good diversity, equity and inclusion work at its core is good management and leadership work. And people don't like to hear that, because they want, you know, to change the name, put a new banner on it and have a magic fix to things. But at the end of the day, it really is about being a good leader, connecting with your people. As you connect with your team members, you're gonna learn more about them. You're gonna be able to be more inclusive. You're going to pay attention to those cultural nuances, right? And so, you know, having the lens of diversity, equity, inclusion can help us with the language and the history and the context, right? But when we get down to your point, those core behaviors, they really are leadership behaviors. And I think, you know, people usually reject that idea because they want it to be something magical or, you know, special. And that gives them the permission not to do the hard work that is leadership.

Aiko Bethea 38:36
I like that.

Camille Lloyd 38:37
The question I have is really so, I'm a leader. I have the courage. I'm doing the work. I'm doing the learning. What can I do to sustain the efforts that, either my individual efforts but my organization's effort? Like how can I make this sustainable, in terms of creating an inclusive environment for the long term? And that's one of the things that I think a lot of leaders, that question is on their mind is, how do I sustain beyond this current moment, right? What does that look like for the long term? How do I, you know, model these behaviors or get it throughout my organization?

Aiko Bethea 39:15
Yeah, Camille I think that if you start with saying, these are leadership competencies around like emotional intelligence, effective communication, things like that, it's always gonna be in everyone's performance management; it's gonna be something that you're gauging. Of course, you'd be disaggregating data, in terms of what's the difference between the feedback that they get from women or people of color or different categories of folks that you understand where are they hitting it and where are they not? But I think that hook of leadership is something we can never get away from in the workplace, period.

Aiko Bethea 39:47
The other part is just that operational component of making sure that, one, we're always creating budget for leadership development. And part of leadership development means ways that you're becoming more self-aware. And a lot of self-awareness comes from, how do different people perceive me, and how do I perceive them? It has to do with what are people's experience with me, in terms of 360s and making sure that there are more people who are less represented who are part of that? It looks at the metrics around who gets promoted and who doesn't. Looks like, it looks at pay equity, it looks like, how are we hiring folks? So there's just some hard operational measurements that can tell us a story.

Aiko Bethea 40:30
It's not just about what percentage are women or, you know, Black women or what have you. It's like, people look at just that percentage and realize, Oh, we're really hitting our goal because we've been steady at 15%, or we went up to 16%. But if we start looking at the story and the trend, we realize, oh yeah, we're still at 15%. We went up to 20%, but we actually lost 15% and rehired 15%. Why are all those people leaving, and what's the attrition rate? So it's constantly looking at the data in a lot of different slices, not our standard way, and it's also about not deferring to quantitative supremacy, in terms of data, and thinking about qualitative data and stories and anecdotes of people's real experiences and valuing that more than what a single number and percentage can tell us.

Ella Washington 41:20
Absolutely. So, you know, we ask all our guests before we wrap about thinking about what does a better future look like, in our workplaces specifically? And we have this idea of workplace utopia. And it's not that we can have a perfect workplace of course, but what is it that we are working hard for? You know, doing this work is difficult. It's challenging. And I know there are days you're probably frustrated, as we are as well. But when you think about what a workplace utopia would look like in the space of your work, what does that look like to you?

Aiko Bethea 41:56
Yeah. I think it would depend on a lot of my, you know, different identities. You know, is it me as mom showing up, or is it me as a Black woman or immigrant? So I think a lot of times it's like, oh, we don't even need to have these conversations because we're coming up, and I can presume, based on actions, that people are going to be giving me a fair shake, in terms of being aware of their language towards me, their biases towards me, and they're going to manage them appropriately or they're going to be held accountable. Or that my voice is going to be invited in and expected to be in the room, versus me having a fight to say, oh, but wait a minute and blah, blah, blah. So there's a lot of things, in terms of the, I think a lot that we carry innately. Like we don't go to work expecting that someone is not going to, if I have a new hairstyle, that someone is not going to say, "Oh your hair," whatever, or that someone's not going to, if I give direct feedback, think, oh, angry Black woman. I don't think we ever have that assumption. We always realize and we have to weigh and filter 60 different ways past Sunday of wait, how will something be perceived or received?

Aiko Bethea 43:03
So many of us are always, already doing the heavy lifting way before we even got into the room. And then for other people, it's like, oh my gosh, now I have to think about the word that I use. Is that going to be an offensive word? Well, most of us have been thinking about that ever since. We thought about what does it mean to navigate the society and, one, survive — so just stay alive, and how I act when a police officer or anybody else asks me a question, whether I think they're right or wrong. And then, two is a whole different level, is how do I thrive? So now how can I get promoted, have financially secure, security and all these other things? So if we didn't have to run through all those hoops and loops, I think that's what would be utopic for us.

Camille Lloyd 43:42
One of the things we get asked a lot, Aiko, is just where can we see more about your work, but also how can listeners learn more about what you do coaching and your consulting work? Where can they find that information?

Aiko Bethea 43:55
rarecoaching.net — N-E-T — or on Instagram @rare_coach.

Ella Washington 44:02
Thank you so much for joining us today. We are so happy to have you. We learned a lot. And so we look forward to our next conversation.

Aiko Bethea 44:10
Thank you. Thank you for having me, Camille and Ella.

Camille Lloyd 44:15
That's our podcast. To subscribe to Cultural Competence from any podcast app, just search "Cultural Competence." You can learn more about the Gallup Center on Black Voices by visiting gallup.com. Cultural Competence is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Camille Lloyd.

Ella Washington 44:32
And I'm Dr. Ella Washington.

Camille Lloyd 44:33
Thanks for tuning in to Cultural Competence — a diversity and inclusion podcast.

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