In this episode of The Forum Podcast, Minal Bopaiah (Brevity & Wit) discusses key insights from social science, particularly psychology, on how audiences hear our messages and why they need to see the system if we really want things to change.
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If data and logic was enough to change people’s minds, we wouldn’t be arguing about climate change.
There’s a lot behavioral science can tell us about how we can communicate diversity, equity, and inclusion in a way that gets past people’s defenses and really moves the needle on this issue. Unfortunately, most DEI practitioners are unaware of the power of framing and strategic communications. Find out what works and what doesn’t. This episode will make you question your assumptions about the power of storytelling and the importance of communications in creating inclusive cultures.
- Understand what framing and strategic communications are and how it relates to advancing DEI
- Learn the biggest obstacle to getting audiences to get on board with racial equity work
- Discover how you can frame your DEI initiative for greater adoption
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
The Forum on Workplace Inclusion 00:00
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Ben Rue 01:34
Hello, and thank you for tuning in to The Forum on Workplace Inclusion podcast series brought to you by Best Buy. I’m Ben Rue, Program Manager here at The Forum. We’re really looking forward to today’s podcast How to Communicate so People See The System with Minal Bopaiah of Brevity & Wit. If data and logic was enough to change people’s minds, we wouldn’t be arguing about climate change. There’s a lot that behavioral science can tell us about how we can communicate about diversity equity inclusion in a way that gets past people’s defenses and really moves the needle on the issue. Unfortunately, most dei practitioners are unaware of the power of framing and strategic communications. In this podcast Minal Bopaiah founder of strategy and design firm Brevity & Wit will discuss key insights from social science, particularly psychology, on how audiences hear our messages, and why they need to see the system if we really wanted things to change. Find out what works and what doesn’t. This episode will make you question your assumptions about the power of storytelling and the importance of communications in creating inclusive cultures. The podcast will help you understand what framing and strategic communications are, and how it relates to advancing DEI. Learn the biggest obstacle to getting audiences to get on board with racial equity and discover how you can frame your DEI initiative for great adoption. Minal Bopaiah is a strategic consultant with nearly 20 years of professional experience. Her areas of expertise include Human Centered Design, behavior change, psychology and principles of diversity equity inclusion, as they relate to media, marketing and communications. As the founder and principal consultant of Brevity & Wit, Minal is passionate about designing for equity. Her work includes a holistic rebranding of Evans Consulting a human centered management consulting firm, and working with NPR news’ managers to design a system of diversifying news sources. As a marketing strategist. She is responsible for a 1,450% increase in website traffic and 50% increase in event revenues for Koch Ross, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm. Her clients also include PBS Kids, the International Center for Research of women and engender health. Minal. has a BA in English from Bowden college, a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Fordham University and was formally trained in organizational development and change leadership at Georgetown University. In 2016, she was selected as a digital production fellow by Organizing for Action, the nonprofit advocacy group started by President Barack Obama. She is an advisory board member for Bring Change to Mind. The nonprofit started by actress Glenn Close and her sister Jessie Close to end mental health stigma. She lives with her family in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Ben Rue 04:34
Hi, Minal. It is such a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much for being part of our 2021 podcast series and talking about this very, very important subject.
Minal Bopaiah 04:45
It’s my pleasure band. Thank you for having me.
Ben Rue 04:47
Yes, it’s, it’s our pleasure, really. And yeah, equity is so important. It’s funny how like the industry is constantly changing. When I started at The Forum here a couple years ago, we it was just about D&I, just diversity inclusion. And it’s just recently been, where equity has been added. And there is this debate on what’s the most important and also seen, accessibility added as well and belonging. So there’s just a lot for people to learn. And even for people in the industry, there’s so much that’s constantly moving. So I really appreciate you coming here and taking the time to really explain all of this to us.
Minal Bopaiah 05:35
It’s my pleasure, I, as I say, in my book, you know, equity has often been the middle child of DEI concept, we all skip over to get to those warm, fuzzy feelings of inclusion. And I get it because equity is really about systems and structures and policies and things that make our head hurt. But it’s actually really fundamental and critical. And and what I’m most passionate about, obviously, as my book title says,
Ben Rue 05:59
Yes, I was gonna say congratulations on the new book.
Minal Bopaiah 06:05
Thank you. Thank you. I know, I’m very excited for it.
Ben Rue 06:08
Yeah. As are we. And yeah, and you mentioned the quote, on the back of the new book, how even the most passionate advocates of diversity equity inclusion have been known to treat equity as the the middle child, the you know, the skip over to get to the warm fuzzies, which is, which is the diversity and inclusion. But, but why? So let’s start there. Why do you think equity is, is so ignored in the DEI space?
Minal Bopaiah 06:36
I think that it is a bit of a hard concept to grasp, it is very abstract. And it is not really feelings based. You know, I think, I think most DEI consultants are exceptionally emotionally intelligent, and, and seem to like existing in that feeling space, which is really critical for the work and you know, on one side, but you know, the equity, part of it is really looking at systems. And I don’t think that most of us were raised or were educated in a way to be able to see the system. And actually, the research has even borne this out, you know, Brevity & Wit, the company that I founded, we do a lot of work in communications. And the communications research has found that one of the biggest obstacles to diversity, equity and inclusion is this belief in rugged individualism. And so when people are presented with disparities between two groups, whether it’s racial, or otherwise, people tend to attribute those differences, those disparities to individual effort or agency, because people don’t understand how the system is working, and how it leads to those disparities, because we have been raised to believe that somehow the system is neutral. And it’s all based on our effort, which is not really the full story.
Ben Rue 08:03
Definitely. And I mean, that makes me think of all the hoopla or all the issue being brought up over critical race theory. It’s like, people getting so upset just about just just talking about how the systems are different. And like set up to benefit others more than you know, some more than others.
Minal Bopaiah 08:22
Yeah, I mean, I don’t think we communicate that very well. And so what the research has shown is, if you start by talking about disparities, people first get their defences up and attribute those differences, like I said, to individual effort. So what you really need to do when you’re framing diversity, equity, inclusion, or issues around diversity, equity inclusion, either in your organization or in society at large, is to start by showing people the system. You can’t start with a narrative of how often this happens in journalism, of this narrative of this one individual that embodies the injustice either because they’re working so hard and not getting anywhere, or they’ve worked really hard and overcome all these obstacles in order to get somewhere. Neither like starting your narrative with any of those individual stories does not help this effort. What you really need to start with is showing people the system, and then people can start to deduce, oh, well, there’s probably some places where the system isn’t working really well or breaking down. And then you can bring in, you know, how the system is disproportionately affecting marginalized groups, and how it may not be serving them. Well.
Ben Rue 09:44
What’s leadership role in that?
Minal Bopaiah 09:47
Yeah, so leadership has two roles when it comes to shaping the narrative around equity. There’s a role you play when you’re talking about yourself and there’s a role When you play when you’re talking about issues that are external to you. So what I just described is what leaders should do when they’re talking about issues external to them. If you want to frame your dei work in your organization, you need to start usually actually start by shared values. And then start by explaining how this organization works. And where it is sort of breaking down and not working well for some people, and then how you’re going to address that. Right? And so that gets into actually knowing how your organization works, or knowing how the system works, which sometimes people don’t spend enough time really digging into that, right. Like, it’s really easy to get outraged about disparities, without doing the deep work of figuring out why those disparities are happening. You know, yeah. So organizations and leaders particularly need to do that deep study of their own systems and organizations in order to be able to communicate that to their employees. On the on the other side of the coin is how leaders talk about themselves, and how they talk about and even how they talk about the organization’s success. And one of the things that I’ve started really working with leaders on is being able to reframe your story of success in a way that unmasks the system for others. So what do I mean by this? So I often tell the story about how my parents came to this country with $20, one suitcase, and my mother was pregnant with me. And they ended up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, working during the height of the racist war on crime in New York, where my father who had previously done a residency in England, where most of the emergency room admissions were appendicitis when he came to New York, most of them are gunshot wounds, which was real culture shock for him.
Ben Rue 11:53
Yeah, I bet.
Minal Bopaiah 11:54
My mother tells stories about, you know, they had to have a security guard walk the residence from one building to another because out of 120 residents 60 had been mugged by people living with addiction, who were forced out onto the streets instead of invited into the hospital for treatment. And so my parents and incredible feats of resourcefulness, were able to, you know, leave Brooklyn moved to the greener suburbs of Staten Island. They put me in my brother through school without any debt they provided for their families for their community. My father made New York magazine’s list of best doctor eight years, not in a row, but eight years. Overall.
Ben Rue 12:33
I mean, that’s still pretty good.
Minal Bopaiah 12:35
That’s still pretty good. Yeah, he, you know, he was he was really beloved amongst the people who knew him. And, and still is, I mean, he’s retired now, but he still is very admired. And so that sounds like the proverbial American dream. But that’s not the full story. Because the fact of the matter is, the reason why my parents were able to come here was because in 1967, the civil rights movement, which was really built on, you know, the shoulders of black men and black women, advocated for a change to the immigration laws and pass in 1967 Immigration Act. And previous to 1967, the US actually had a law on the books that said that visas and green cards would be handed out in a way that preserve the homogeneity of North America, meaning the white majority. And yeah, yeah, it’s a nice way of encoding white supremacy, right. And after that, they decided to grant visas and green cards based on the labor needs of the country and family ties to existing immigrants. And so in the 60s and 70s, there was this fear of a doctor shortage in America. And so my parents who came from very humble beginnings, who did not have a lot of wealth, were able to get their medical degrees in India, because India has a socialized education system. And for people as poor as them, it cost the family lore is about $50 a semester to go to medical school.
Ben Rue 14:11
Insane. Yeah, think about I mean, it’s great. It’s great. It’s just awful how much it cost to go to school here.
Minal Bopaiah 14:20
Well, and that’s what leads to the systemic racism and systemic oppression of people because the US immigration system. Through that act of inclusion, that eradicated white supremacy, began to take advantage of socialized education and other countries to fill their labor needs. And so and then, when immigrants like my parents come here, Indians and Asians are often held up as a model minority and used as a straw man in an argument of white supremacy and anti blackness to sort of point to black and Latin x people and say, Why can’t you be more like these Asian Americans? But I believe that if the US educated their population, the way other countries educate theirs, you would see just as many brown, black and brown and Latinx doctors and engineers and lawyers in this country as you do in the Indian diaspora. And so when we’re talking about the system, we need to be able to, you know, and being able to unmask the system for people, when we tell our stories of success, this is what we need to do. We need to say, yes, these things happen where I worked hard, and I had access to these opportunities. And that’s all that also contributed to my success. It was hard work plus access to opportunity.
Ben Rue 15:46
Yeah, exactly. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have bootstraps.
Minal Bopaiah 15:51
Yeah, and, and we say that like, Okay, well, but the problem with the bootstrap analogy is that it makes it sound like, like an individual wasn’t given something, hmm, instead of how the system was designed to support certain individuals, or certain types of people over others. And so the other example I often give is the fact that, you know, as a woman, I run a business, and I have a book coming out. And people have congratulated me on that and said, it must be you must be working all the time. And I do work really hard. But the fact of the matter is, I could not have started my business unless I had gotten married, not because my husband was independently wealthy, but because I was able to get on his health insurance. And having a second income, gave us that little bit of a buffer that I needed to make this work. And then on top of it, you know, I don’t have children. So during the pandemic, I wasn’t spending my days homeschooling. And my husband has been supportive enough to do you know, most or all of the housework. Yeah, super, I mean, super lucky. But also, so many men enjoy that. Well, like so many straight men who have wives enjoy that. And it is considered so lucky when a woman gets it, which, yes, both all of us who get that are lucky. Yeah. But that’s also how the system like the system is not really designed to support women being able to achieve at the level that men do.
Ben Rue 17:21
Is a leaders ability to retell their own or tell their story of success enough, though.
Minal Bopaiah 17:29
So I don’t… enough for what?
Ben Rue 17:34
Advance equity, to get us over to make equity as important as diversity and inclusion.
Minal Bopaiah 17:42
Um, I think it is the first step in getting there because it allows the leader to really understand their relationship to the system, because that’s often the connection that’s missing for most people. They’re like you’re talking about the system, but how does this affect my life? And so this ability to reframe your story allows readers to connect to the system on a very personal level. But in order to advance it in the organization, we have to go back to what I was talking about before, what is understanding how your organization works, what opportunities are available for which people and how do you open up those doors for more people.
Ben Rue 18:20
is a leaders ability to retell their story of success Enough. Enough for advancing equity, making it as important as diversity and inclusion.
Minal Bopaiah 18:35
So I think it’s the first step, because so often we are, you know, we talk about the system. And I think people and particularly leaders have trouble understanding how this system connects to their personal narrative. And so it allows them to sort of embody this quote, this concept of equity in a much more reified way for themselves. But and also what it does is one of the most harmful things I think we’re doing is sort of the gaslighting around bootstrapping theory or rugged individualism. And by reframing your success, what you are doing is you are ceasing to participate in this sort of, you know, universal practice of gaslighting that we all do when we say that it was just my hard work that got me here. You are, you are at least in some way, changing your behavior in a way that does advance equity, or at least the knowledge and the awareness of equity. And then after that, I think we need to go to the other points that I made about digging into how your organization works, and creating communications that explain how the organization works for some and not for others and what you’re going to do to remedy that. So it’s it’s a first step. It’s you know, but you know, and equity, I think is lifelong goal, you know, when people say that they want to solve their equity and inclusion problems, I’m like, that’s like telling me you want to solve crime or accounting.
Ben Rue 20:09
Yeah. It’s like, I feel like everyone in DEI, it’s like, we would love to not have to work on these things. But we’re just being realistic. It’s one of the things that we’re constantly going to have to be working on. It’s like, you know, you don’t want to wish yourself out of a job, but it is something you know, it’s like, Wow, it would be great not to be have to work on this. But it is, ever evolving, ever growing and changing thing.
Minal Bopaiah 20:36
Yeah, I mean, you we shouldn’t see it as like, I mean, you can work yourself out of a job in terms of a specific problem that a company may have. But to say that a company or is going to adopt diversity, equity inclusion, is really to say that you’re trying to stand up a core business function, it is like saying that you’re going to adopt digital transformation. You don’t just throw up a website and be like, Alright, then we’re done, right? Like, you’re like, Oh, no, we need to hire people, this is something that needs to be stewarded, this is something that will continue to evolve, yes, this is something that will continue to have threats against it. And we need to continue to like, steward it, as well as predict protect against any threats to our digital transformation in order to be competitive in this marketplace. It’s the same thing with equity and inclusion. You know, and so this idea that we should be working ourselves out of a job is, is also I think, something that needs to be corrected, because, um, you know, it, it’s, it’s like saying to somebody, like, you know, their financial books are a mess, you can hire somebody to fix your books, but that doesn’t mean you’re done with accounting. You know, like, that’s definitely, that’s something that you need to continue to steward. And maybe you have a specialist that comes and fixes your book. And then you hire somebody else to steward it, that’s reasonable, but it is, it is never going to be something that is just a, you know, a checklist of readiness, and then you’re done.
Ben Rue 22:04
Yeah, it’s definitely not a one and done, it is something that you have to keep working at and keep, yeah, like you said, it just keeps evolving. You know, I think of how back not too long ago, it was just HR was all that we really had, and this was all lumped under HR before the whole concept of DEI or D&I came out, and now adding equity as well. So it’s the ever evolving constantly needs to be worked on to be maintained. So what you mentioned that, you know, in this effort, the, you know, there’s gonna be constantly, you know, evolving and advancements, but also going to be obstacles. What are what’s the biggest obstacle designing more equitable organizations?
Minal Bopaiah 22:54
Yeah, I mean, I think that it probably comes down to two things. One, which I mentioned, which is this really hard core belief, particularly in America around rugged individualism.
Ben Rue 23:04
Could you explain expand on what rugged individualism is?
Minal Bopaiah 23:08
Sure. So rugged individualism is really the belief that one success or failure is solely constructed by one’s own effort. And to stop believing in that can be very threatening for Americans. Because, you know, a lot of times we talk about empowerment and agency and not having a victim mindset. And so we’d like to believe that everything is in our control. And to really let go of rugged individualism means that you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that not everything is in your control in life. And we don’t like that. And this even gets to the equity thing, because really equity is in pursuit of justice. And you know, I write about this in the book at one point that there is a theory in psychology called the just world theory, which is the the way in which people explain why bad things happen. And often they use religion. Yeah, to do this, and I’ve seen this, particularly as a Hindu. I’ve seen a lot of people misuse the concept of karma to explain why bad things happen.
Ben Rue 24:23
That must drive you insane.
Minal Bopaiah 24:24
Yeah. And so it bugs me because they’re not understanding why the the intention behind the doctrine of karma. And then, because the doctrine of karma is saying that the effort that you put forward today can affect your future. It does not mean that the corollary is true meaning it does not mean that the circumstances that you are in now are a direct result of any past actions, whether in this life or in other lives, if you believe in reincarnation. And so, the just world theory is saying that, like this is how people try to explain what’s happening. They want to believe we live in a just world and people get what they deserve. The problem with believing in a just world is that if you really start to, like pull on that thread, what you realize is that in a just world, there can be no innocent victim.
Ben Rue 25:18
And there’s plenty of that in this world.
Minal Bopaiah 25:20
And there’s plenty that. So to admit that somebody is an innocent victim is to admit that the world is not just. And that is very complicated for people. And people don’t like to do that. And so we come up with lots of different ways to get around this. And this, and why that’s so dangerous, is because if we can’t see an innocent victim, then we end up blaming the victim for whatever happens to them.
Ben Rue 25:47
Yes. Which is way too common.
Minal Bopaiah 25:50
Yeah. But it, but it happens because of this belief in a just world and what we really need to believe what we really need to understand is that even if we eradicated all the manmade in justices in this world, life would still be unjust. Because people die early. People get incurable diseases. You know, most people don’t get what they deserve, either good or bad. And when you can admit to that, first, it’ll break your heart. But when it breaks your heart, it’ll break it open. And you will start to have far more compassion for people and understand, oh, we need to design a system that allows people to experience injustice, and still thrive. You know, there’s a there’s a saying by Hafiz, who is Middle Eastern, I believe, poet. And it’s a thing that I have on my desktop screen. That, you know, the small man builds cages for everyone he knows, while the sage who has to duck his head when the moon is low, keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners.
Ben Rue 27:12
Minal Bopaiah 27:14
And for me, that’s, that’s equity. That’s the pursuit of equity. You know.
Ben Rue 27:21
Yeah. I’m just I’m just still thinking about the quote and the imagery. It’s so beautiful. And it does, it does sum it up really? Just beautifully.
Minal Bopaiah 27:33
Yeah. And so when we’re so to give up rugged individualism is to give up this belief and adjust world, the second obstacle in organizations, I think, and well in our society at large. And this is going to be probably a really radical thought, even for some DEI consultants.
Ben Rue 27:57
We love radical thought. Its how we learn and how we grow.
Minal Bopaiah 28:03
Yeah, you know, we have a real tendency to think that either when we employ someone, or when we are employed by somebody, that the employer owns the employee. And that is not true. Like, when an employer pays you a salary, they are renting your talent for 40 hours a week?
Ben Rue 28:36
Minal Bopaiah 28:37
And if they pay you more, it doesn’t mean they get more time. Because really, what we need to understand is time is the most limited and fundamental resource, nobody, no matter how rich or powerful, they are, can actually make more time. It is the most finite resource.
Ben Rue 28:54
I think Jeff Bezos is working on that though.
Minal Bopaiah 28:56
Yeah, sure. But like, but you know, if you read the 1619 project by Nicole Hannah Jones, she talks about or I don’t think it was her that she edited the piece. I think it was another writer who writes about how, you know, we tend to believe that management manuals came out of the Industrial Revolution and the assembly line, but actually, the first management manuals came out of slavery. And this idea of how to squeeze the most productivity out of a human being at the lowest cost. And that is such a fundamental belief to how we design our organizations. That belief and assumption needs to be challenged and innovated on we need to find a way that says no, we’re not going to try it because, you know, there are two types of power really in the world. There’s supremises power and there’s liberatory power. Supremises power, in the most concise way is taking more than one share. It is extraction and die. domination and oppression. Liberatory power is a form of power that exists in relationships on mutual trust and respect. And the belief that by working together, you know, sort of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, right? Like we could do something really amazing here if everybody felt respected and trusted and valued. And so if we really want to design equitable organizations, we really need to rethink this concept of employment. The way we write jobs, you know, like, if this job requires more than 40 hours a week, then it is more than one person’s job.
Ben Rue 30:46
That’s a really good point. I’ve never thought about it that way.
Minal Bopaiah 30:49
You know, and so, that is such a fundamental concept that that rubs against sort of the more predatory form of capitalism. Now, I’m not an anti-capitalist, I believe that some fields should be should not be affected by capitalism, like health care and education, I believe in, you know, like, obviously, my parents benefited from socialized education, my parents, as physicians are advocates for universal health care. But I don’t think that anti-capitalism works for every field, right? Like, because the reason I don’t believe that is because of reason my parents left India is because India had a socialized economy when they left, and there was no opportunity for them. America offered something through its capitalist structure that India could not. And so I really believe that we need both that we need to understand which fields should be guard can be fields that generate revenue and profits, and which fields should have other measurements such as societal impact, and, and be able to have some wisdom and how we design these organizations like not everything should be run by an MBA. Right? So but that being said, I think we do need to fundamentally think about within this capitalist structure, how can we practice like a, you know, a capitalism that is based on actually valuing human beings and human lives and human creativity, something that cannot be outsourced to computers, rather than a capitalism that is predatory, and based really on either slavery or colonialism and the desire to extract resources?
Ben Rue 32:29
Definitely, I was just thinking of back in when I when that I mean, it’s, it’s not a comparison at all, like, I just think of one I like the idea of getting modern free labor from capitalism, like the internship I did in New York after, after college doing an unpaid internship in New York City is just like the most, yeah, and the like, you’re doing it to get your feet, get your foot in the door, and like, you know, make these connections that will eventually get you a job, but you’re going to work, you’re still going to work 40 hours a week for free. And it’s like, and you’re going to be happy for it. You competed for that. It’s just such a weird thing to think about now. And I completely agree with you about the mix of you know, what should do it, capitalism and then socialized things, because I’ve had friends who, whose family is like yours who are doctors, physicians in like, a lot of Scandinavian countries or things are more socialized to do come here for those opportunities. So, in my opinion, anything that’s the basic human right, like health care and education, that should be, you know, that should be more socialized that should be available to everybody.
Minal Bopaiah 33:55
Well, and those are also cost centers that then benefit the workforce, right? Like those have long term impacts that allow for a healthier, more like productive workforce and more talented workforce and more educated workforce, like those eventually end up benefiting companies. And so and really, what this gets, like, and this is sort of the problem with rugged individualism too, is that we then don’t understand interdependence, like all of these fields are interdependent. You know, and so what we do when one affects the other, and that doesn’t mean that the economic model that we adopt for one should then be, you know, dictated as being adopted for the other ones, right. Like, it is possible to say that, you know, what, healthcare and education are going to be socialized. But these other fields, like, you know, technological development are going to be, you know, capitalized fields, right? And it’s not going to be a predatory form of capitalism, but it’s going to be, you know, a marketplace competition based form of capitalism. Right. And so like, yeah, we need that that combination to really, because really what we’re talking about here in DEI is balancing out sovereignty and interdependence. Right? How do we, how do we designed for the collective good, while still preserving an individual’s right to self govern themselves and make decisions that are in their own best interest?
Ben Rue 35:29
Definitely, yeah. Still acknowledging everyone’s, yeah, individuality and differences.
Minal Bopaiah 35:38
Yeah, that’s like what you may need and what I may need may differ. And I should have the right to pursue what I need, and you should have the right to pursue what you need. And yet at the same time, we need to be mindful about how those decisions affect one another.
Ben Rue 35:51
Yes, I think that I’m sure you’ve seen the cartoon with the three boys watch trying to watch baseball over a fence. And the first one is just like, yeah, this is what happens. And they’re different heights. And, you know, this is like, you know, with, you know, if you give them all the same, and be like, Hey, we’re good, you know, the tallest one will still be able to see, you know, a lot better than the shortest one who’s still can’t see, but it’s a little bit closer. So yeah, definitely acknowledging different people’s different needs is so important. And speaking, like you just mentioned, tech companies, you work with a lot of media companies, like, what’s the role the media plays in DEI?
Minal Bopaiah 36:37
Yeah, I mean, first, I love working with media companies. They’re like, some of my favorite clients. And, you know, Mahzarin Banaji, who is one of the researchers who the original researchers on implicit bias has this saying that bias is the thumbprint of culture on the brain. And I found myself writing in the book that if bias is a thumbprint of culture on the brain, then media are the inkpad. Media is how many, if not most of our biases are coded. And so the reason I love working with media companies is because when you can get a media organization to really commit to DEI and start to embed an equity lens in their content creation, then the impact is above and beyond the organization, because that that affects how society sees the world.
Ben Rue 37:32
Yes, you have a lot of influence.
Minal Bopaiah 37:35
Yeah, they have a lot of influence and power. And they and the reason, you know, like, I worked actually at Sesame Workshop, which is the nonprofit behind Sesame Street.
Ben Rue 37:44
Yeah, that’s adorable.
Minal Bopaiah 37:45
Yeah, it was, it was adorable. And it was some of the most intelligent social scientists I had ever met. You know, like, they really take social science and embed it into the programming. And they were able to do remarkable things, they created an HIV positive Muppet in South Africa called Cammy. In order to so in order to help kids understand that you’re not going to catch HIV by playing with another child with HIV. Like they changed the way a generation sees an illness. Right? And that’s what media can do is it can change the way a generation sees something, it can help us all to develop a more inclusive and equitable lens on how we see our fellow American or our fellow countrymen. And so I think media is exceptionally powerful in what we’re doing here.
Ben Rue 38:38
I couldn’t agree more. And I think that’s so amazing. Working with Sesame Workshop. And yeah, the amount of they do such amazing work in getting children to understand dei. And like, to the point where they’re, you know, no, like they’re more comfortable than their adult parents. Because, yeah, because of things like the the various Muppets that they’ve introduced in the the amount of social science that must go into that, as I never thought about it, but it must be staggering.
Minal Bopaiah 39:13
Yeah. And I also think they demonstrate how to sort of model also learning and changing because in the early days, Jim Henson was very, it was I mean, it wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but he wasn’t really in favor of having Muppets that had like skin tone colors. And so when, you know, the show would be, you know, built in these other countries and Sesame Workshop had a great model where they didn’t believe in cultural imperialism and just taking Elmo and Big Bird everywhere. They would actually work with production teams in country to develop, you know, characters that were native and representative of that culture and could address the issues in that culture. But they would still sort of tell this line that Jim Henson Like let’s, you know, usually we don’t use skin tones as the Muppet color. And then Recently, there was announcement that Sesame Workshop has introduced to Muppets, a black man and his son. Yes. Yeah, that are clearly supposed to be black. And so you know that the show was willing to evolve and learn and understand that like, what was true back in the 70s, and 80s, is not good policy now. And that we need to be able to actually address more address race more directly. And then they had a recent show where Amanda Gorman was the host of I think it’s called race and racism. And it was just so fabulous. It was so well done. I think I watched maybe half of it, but it was, I was just so impressed and how they were able to get kids to talk about, well, this is my skin color and talking to their parents about their skin color. And mixed families and, you know, separating out race and racism, and what it really means. And, you know, when I see that I’m like, Yeah, okay, well, if we can do that with children’s television, then we can do something much more impactful with adult television.
Ben Rue 41:15
Definitely. I mean, I think about, like, how, like a show like Will and Grace made such an impact on the LGBTQ community. And even I mean, if you go back and look at it now, yeah, there were problematic things just like everything from the 90s. Or from that time period, but it did make such a huge impact on people’s views on LGBTQ+ people. And it’s really like a, like, kind of not sped up, but really increase people’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ people just seeing them as just like normal people, just like, you know.
Minal Bopaiah 41:56
Yeah. I think that it does a lot for acceptance. And yeah, there’s always problems with it. But I’m reminded of, you know, Laverne Cox produced this documentary called transparent about. It was a cool, transparent transparency as a show No, no, it was called disclosure. Okay. I think I can’t remember Google Laverne Cox documentary.
Ben Rue 42:19
Transparent did do a lot to increase trans visibility.
Minal Bopaiah 42:24
Yeah, well, that’s what this documentary by Laverne Cox did to it was, but it was a documentary about the representation of transgender people in media. And one common one person. I sort of very smartly said, She’s like, you know, when we talk about these sort of awkward or flawed representations, the, the answer to that is just more representation. If you have more representation of trans people, of people of color of you know, every marginalized community, then the occasional awkward one, or the one that gets it wrong, like the stakes are not so high, it doesn’t become such a big deal. One movie doesn’t have to do everything for everybody from that marginalized identity, then, you know, and so, that’s really, and that’s sort of also the growth in media is like, you know, there’s been this sort of like, thing that like, you know, all the stories have been told, and I was like, well, maybe all the, you know, cisgender white male stories I’ve been told, but there’s all these other stories that we haven’t told yet from all these other cultures. And so there’s so much, there’s so much more media to create and to consume and to enjoy. If we could just, you know, open our, you know, widen our aperture and see like humanity with all of its diversity, and be able to tell these stories from the perspective of the protagonists, and not with the white gaze or male gaze or heterosexual gaze.
Ben Rue 43:56
Yes, I couldn’t agree more and yeah, it’s like all that’s like, no, not all the stories have been told. That’s like, all the easily marketable ones. I’ve been told. There’s, there’s a lot more stories that you know, are being actively not told. Because of fear of like angering some group.
Minal Bopaiah 44:21
Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. So my, my most favorite author is Arundhati Roy, who wrote The God of Small Things and won the Booker Prize for it, and she has this quote that I love that says, maybe not verbatim, but it says, you know, there’s no such thing as the voiceless. There is only the intentionally silenced or the preferably unheard.
Ben Rue 44:46
Minal Bopaiah 44:47
And I’m like, all of those voices that are being ignored or silenced are the ones that that need a platform now.
Ben Rue 44:57
Thank you so much, Minal. all for coming. And having this conversation with me. I said, I have been in the industry, not for just about four years, so not super long, but learn so much from this conversation. So thank you so much. And I hope our listeners and I’m sure our listeners will learn. Learn just as much as I did. And, and I, again, thank you so much for coming in and having this conversation with me.
Minal Bopaiah 45:26
No, thank you, Ben, for inviting me into this space. I think The Forum on Workplace Inclusion has always been on the forefront of this work and is and has just been an incredible resource to me as a practitioner. And so I am grateful to be able to contribute to this community, and happy if anybody’s interested if they want to reach out. I’m happy to have a conversation with anybody.
Ben Rue 45:49
Great. And where can they find your book?
Minal Bopaiah 45:52
Yes, so the book is out. You can find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as bookshop.org, which is a site that works with independent bookstores. If you’re if your preference leans that way. You can also go to my website, theequitybook.com, which has buttons for you to click to go buy the book, but it also has an Equity Toolkit. It has my bookshelf with like recommendations, it has videos, it has lots of interactive stuff. So you can check that out as well.
Ben Rue 46:22
Awesome. Well, yeah, definitely check out those wonderful resources. And again, thank you Minal. And thank you to all our listeners.
Minal Bopaiah 46:31
Ben Rue 46:33
Thank you so much for Manal for that wonderful podcast and for being part of our 2021 series. And thank you to our listeners and a special thank you to our sponsor Best Buy to learn more about strategic communication and storytelling visit brevityandwit.com or reach Minal directly at Manali@brevityandwit.com. New episodes of The Forum podcast are available at ForumWorkplaceinclusion.org/podcast episodes can also be found on Apple podcasts, Spotify, anchor and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening and have a great day.
The Forum on Workplace Inclusion 47:05
Thank you again for listening to The Forum on Workplace Inclusion podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast to get updates and the latest episodes. Also, tell us what you think by reviewing our podcast we’d love to hear your feedback. For more information visit us at forumworkplaceinclusion.org or search workplace forum on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Thank you very much and have a great day.
The Forum on Workplace Inclusion 47:28
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