Podcast Ep. 77: Interlocking Inequities: White Supremacy and Ableism

Oct 12, 2021

In this episode of The Forum Podcast, Alli Strong-Martin (Lifeworks Services, Inc.) and Ashley Oolman (Lifeworks Services, Inc.) lead listeners through a discussion about how ableism and white supremacy interlock to hinder inclusion.

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Though one of the most intersectional protected classes, people with disabilities are often kept from full participation in communities and workplaces due to lingering bias and unaddressed discrimination. For disabled people who carry additional marginalized identities, these gaps become even more vast. This leads to disproportionate rates of unemployment and poverty amongst 61 million people living in the US who have a disability. In this podcast, we uncover the ways in which white, non-disabled bodies and minds have hoarded power in organizations for decades, and how we can advocate for universal policies and practices that increase workplace inclusion for all, ending the cycle of white supremacy and ableism at work.

Learning Outcomes
  • Confront complacency in ableism and begin to dismantle personal bias contributing to disability exclusion
  • Learn to recognize the intersection of multiple systems of oppression
  • Discover opportunities to advance intersectional inclusion in the workplace

Sponsored by

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The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Speaker 1: [00:00:00] The Forum on Workplace Inclusions, 2021 Podcast series is sponsored by Best Buy. More diversity in tech means more ideas that can change the world. Learn more at bestbuy.com/moreofthis.


We’re excited to announce a brand new forum learning opportunity called Forum Professional Development Labs. Our Professional Development Labs or PDL for short are half day interactive learning experiences intended to develop professional competencies that support leaders in reaching the next level in their DEI leadership. Unlike traditional workshop sessions, PDLs are goal oriented and include personal and professional action and accountability planning for next level leadership. Unique to the PDL learning experience, each PDL includes action planning breakout sessions.

The action planning breakout sessions give individuals a chance to participate in small group work, that results in having their own goal oriented action plan to take what they learned at the PDL, and apply it in their workplace or organization. We’re are kicking off this brand new exciting learning opportunity with our first PDL called Engaging Religious Diversity in the Workplace, Building Your Interfaith Strategy and Skillset. Join keynote speaker Eboo Patel of InterFaith Youth Core and other special guests for this brand new action oriented half day learning experience. The PDL will be held on November 8th, 2021, and will be offered as a virtual conference format, complete with breakout sessions.

If you’ve enjoyed the formal workplace inclusion annual conference, or you’ve always been interested in attending it, then you don’t want to miss this new opportunity. For more information, visit forumworkplaceinclusion.org, that’s forumworkplaceinclusion.org. Donate to the forum. We get to engage people, advance ideas, and ignite change because of the generous support from our community. If you find our resources meaningful or valuable, please consider supporting the forum today. Visit forumworkplaceinclusion.org/donate, that’s forumworkplaceinclusion.org/donate. Thank you very [00:02:00] much for your support and generosity.

With that, I’d like to say thank you to all our listeners and subscribers. You help support the growth of the podcast and reach new listeners. If you like what you’re hearing on the forum podcast, please consider writing a review on Apple podcast, or wherever you listen to your podcast. If you’ve already written a review, thank you. Please consider sharing our podcast with a friend, family member or a colleague you think might find value in the content. Word of mouth is the best way the forum growth. Thank you very much for listening and sharing. Thanks again. Enjoy the show.

Ben: Hello. Thank you for tuning into 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, interlocking inequities, white supremacy enablism with Alli Strong-Martin and Ashley Oman of LifeWorksk. This podcast will lead listeners through a discussion about how ableism and white supremacy interlock to hinder inclusion. Though one of the most intersectional protect classes, people with disabilities are often kept from full participation in communities and workplaces due to lingering bias and unaddressed discrimination.

For disabled people who carry additional marginalized identities, these gaps become even more vast. This leads to disproportionate rates of unemployment and poverty amongst the 61 million people living in the US who have a disability. In this podcast, we uncover the ways in which white nondisabled bodies and minds have hoarded power in organizations for decades, and how we can advocate for universal policies and practices that increase workplace inclusion for all, ending the cycle of white supremacy enablism at work. In this podcast, listeners will learn to confront complacency enablism and begin to dismantle personal bias, contributing to disability and exclusion, learn to recognize the intersection of multiple systems of oppression, and discover opportunities to [00:04:00] advance intersectional inclusion in the workplace.

Alli Strong-Martin, she, her pronouns, business development and innovation assistant at LifeWorks is a 2019 alumni of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where she earned her master’s degree in Human Rights with a focus in gender, disability, and international development. She also holds bachelor’s degrees in nonprofit leadership and international studies. Additionally, Alli serves on the board of directors for the Minnesota based nonprofit Disability Support International. She serves on the leadership team of the critical disability studies collective at the University of Minnesota.

Alli is currently based in Minneapolis and works on the innovation and an inclusion team of a Twin Cities, disability service provider. She provides critical support to efforts to educate and train employers, disability organizations, and community members on disability rights and disability inclusion in the workplace and in the community at large. Alli believes that in order to advance true disability and inclusion, organizations must be willing to learn about topics such as ableism, intersectionality, disability, identity/culture, and principles of radical disability justice.

Ashley Oman, disability inclusion consultant at LifeWorks guides partners through evidence-based best practices products, development, and progressive thought leadership. From large corporations to individual allies, she transforms strategic business initiatives and advances equitable community spaces. With more than a decade of leadership experience in advocacy, employment, and workplace culture, she understands how to navigate complex environments and provide actionable insights for growth.

Ashley strives to advance community equity through her contributions on a collective impact task force and serves on a coalition of providers supporting transracially adopted youth to reinforce the development of positive black identity. [00:06:00] In her free time, she enjoys creating space to coach local parents on inclusive parenting, including children in critical conversations. Ashley earned an MBA with a concentration on Human Resource Management, a BA in psychology with a minor in human development in family studies and a certification in organizational diversity and inclusion.

Most recently, Ashley was selected as a Josie R. Johnson leadership academy fellow and accepted into the YWCA’s racial justice facilitator program. She’s committed to inclusion as a means to advance human rights for all people in all walks of life.

Ashley: Thank you so much for that introduction Ben. We are so excited to be here today. As Ben mentioned, my colleague and I are here to present today on interlocking inequities, which is all about ableism and white supremacy. We’re here because we believe that intersectional action is necessary to unlock liberation and a couple of things that we wanted to do before we really started to dive in. First, we wanted folks to acknowledge our own contributions. The need for DEI work essentially exists because of historical and modern inequity that our society reproduces.

As we work through some of the topics today, the big takeaway that we want folks to leave with is just the fact that our work essentially is relevant because things need to change. With that, I wanted to kick us off with a little bit of a reflection. I’m going to ask you all a question. Just take a moment to think about this individually. Pause and think. Do you talk about oppression or intersectionality in a consistent and meaningful way at work?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but essentially it’s important for us to really think about when we do equity work in our workplaces, and when we try to promote inclusion, [00:08:00] it’s really, really important for us to be talking about the root causes, the core of the issues that we’re trying to solve. When Alli and I have been doing research and work and presenting on this topic, we really try to get at the core of the topics, in this case, oppression and intersectionality. I’m going to make a couple of promises to you all about what we are planning on accomplishing for this podcast today.

First, what we want to do is confront complacency and ableism, and begin to dismantle personal bias that’s contributing to disability exclusion. Next, we plan on recognizing multiple systems of oppression and how they work together. Then hopefully by the end of this, everyone will be able to plan at least one concrete action that you can take to advance intersectional inclusion in the workplace. With all of that being said, I just wanted to say, hey on my own. My name is Ashley. I identify with she, her pronouns. I’m joined here today with my amazing colleague Alli, who will introduce herself in just a moment.

This topic is really, really important to Alli and I, because I also identify as a Black neuro-divergent woman. Alli will talk a little bit more about her relationship with disability, but she’s coming from a different perspective regarding race. We’ve had tons of conversations just about the way that our disabilities show up, the way that our race overlaps with that, the way, um, that we’ve been treated, the way that we’ve been supported. That’s really how we wanted to start this session is just talking a little bit more about how our lives have contrasted in similar and different ways.

I will start off with just sharing that as I mentioned, am a neuro divergent. [00:10:00] black woman. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 21. Part of my story that really stands out to me is that we’re essentially– what I reflect back on is lower expectations for me, as an individual. As I mentioned, I was 21, when I finally went and got myself assessed because I was finally in college and just starting to really recognize the things, the way that the classes that I was in, or the assignments that I was given, were just structured in a way that was not working for me.

The thing about the lower expectations is there were signs of possible support needed, or some type of intervention, or even just a conversation about the ways that I was learning differently, or showing up in the classroom differently. I’ve wondered often if I was of a different race, if my predominantly white educators would have invested in my education or in my potential in a different way. For example, I would sometimes get report cards, just saying like, “Ashley has a lot of potential, but,” and it’d be really open-ended without any plans, or action steps, or ways that I could be supported differently, et cetera, et cetera.

Yes, I’ve oftentimes wondered if I was a white male student, would there have been more effort put into my potential? I oftentimes reflect and wonder if my identity groups were different, if I would have been diagnosed sooner, if my potential would have been seen as more valuable to society, if folks would have been more concerned with or invested in the [00:12:00] outcome of my education, and especially most importantly, if the setting and the environment that I was a part of would have been seen as the problem versus my lack of ability to assimilate to it. With that, I’ll kick it over to Alli, so she can finally get some airtime and talk a little bit about herself too.

Alli: Thanks, Ashley. Hello, everyone. I’m really happy to be here with you today. Like Ashley said, my name is Alli. My pronouns are she, her. I do work with Ashley at LifeWorks, where I have worked since 2019 since I graduated with my master’s from the University of Minnesota. I want to kick off my introduction by saying that I’m entering this space with you today with considerable privilege.

One facet of my personal privilege is as I just mentioned that I hold multiple post-secondary educational degrees. I also come into this space as a white cisgender woman with a non-apparent or invisible disability. My race and gender identity afford me privilege because of racism and cisgenderism. Also, the nature of my disabilities afford me privilege because of ableism in our society, and because I can quote pass for being non-disabled in most spaces as I get to choose whether or not I disclose my disability.

Similar to Ashley in her adult life diagnosis, I had lived with a anxiety disorder for over a decade before I was ever officially diagnosed [00:14:00] as an adult at age 22 when I learned that it was something that could actually be addressed or that I didn’t have to hide in shame about or that I wasn’t the only person in the world with- what I had been taught my whole childhood was a “Problem.”

Also at age 22, in addition to that anxiety disorder, I received a co-occurring diagnosis of depression, while I was in graduate school. Looking back to when I first sought out professional support, I know that and I can see now that my race and my class privilege had a lot to do with the treatment I received and how I was received myself, I think, when I went to access that treatment. First of all, my whiteness was definitely centered.

Layla F. Saad in her book Me and White Supremacy, she talks about white centering as the reality that white feelings, just like white people, white values, and white norms are pretty much always centered over everyone and everything else. As a white woman, I have been taught both implicitly and explicitly throughout my entire life that my comfort and my psychological and physical safety is to always be centered.

BIPOC women and even BIPOC men are not taught that same message, typically. In fact, white women’s perceived comfort and safety and the power of white men whom we are close to has historically been centered to the point that violence has even been perpetrated against [00:16:00] BIPOC individuals in order to uphold that comfort and further center that safety of white people.

Secondly, in my experience, when my racial identity of whiteness combined with my socio-economic status of middle class that contributed to a real generational wealth and educational privilege that I mentioned earlier. When I needed access to professional support, I did have access to many resources without many questions asked. I had access to insurance, which I see as an example, or an extension of generational wealth, as I personally at age 22, was still on my parent’s insurance plan. I also had access to pretty high-quality therapy on my university’s campus, which again, I see as an extension of my educational privilege.

Access to therapy itself is not cheap. If you are uninsured, that’s especially true. People of color are statistically uninsured at higher rates than white people like myself. Furthermore, unlike the experience of many BIPOC individuals, I had access to a mental health provider with whom I shared a similar racial or cultural background. We know as of 2016, only about 4% of all practicing psychologists in the US were black. I guess in summary, we really wanted to talk about this because, on the surface, Ashley’s experience and my own experience don’t seem to be all that different.

That we were both diagnosed at age 21 for Ashley, and 22 for myself, [00:18:00] with invisible or non-apparent disabilities, but when we go deeper, and look at different aspects of our identities, like our race, and socioeconomic class, when we were young, these experiences start to really diverge from one another. Like Ashley wondered, if she would have been treated differently, if she was a white male student, I wonder and when I think about it, if I was a black woman like Ashley is, I am not convinced that my dignity would have been upheld in the same way that it did for me as a white woman when I did see treatment for my mental health.

I’m not convinced that I would have been believed in the same way as I was. A lot of this is because I have not as a white woman been forced to live with stereotypes, like the “strong black woman,” or the caretaker caricature that tries to convince black women and women of color that asking for help with their mental health is not a luxury that’s afforded to them. I will link an article in the show notes that talks more about that phenomenon, if you’re interested in reading it.

We did want to talk and introduce ourselves in that way, but before we keep going, we did want to pause and offer another chance for you, the listener, for personal reflection on some important questions that came up for each of us as we were unpacking our own individual experiences that we just went through. These are some questions. I’m going to ask a couple of [00:20:00] questions and then Ashley’s going to also ask a few. These are questions that you might reflect on now or after we leave this time together. The first questions that came up for me that would’ve been impactful in the workplace is asking yourself, do your colleagues at your workplace talk openly about their disabilities and then taking it a step further and asking yourself, have you ever had a supervisor with a disability?

Ashley: My questions are, is there validation of black culture in your organization and also, is there actual evidence of equitable progress at work?

Alli: Great. Thank you, Ashley. Again, these are just some things to be thinking about and to get us transitioning into, as we’ll discuss further the intersections of race and disability. I’m going to kick us off with talking a little bit about oppression as systems, and we know that oppression is multiple systems that maintain both advantage and disadvantage based on social group memberships. Oppression privileges some groups while hurting others, and it is both historically rooted and maintained at the present moment as we speak. An oppression can be understood as a larger umbrella term for the many isms in our society.

Some of these, just to name a few are ableism, ageism, classism, cisgenderism, [00:22:00] heterosexism, racism, sexism sizeism and I’m sure you can add multiple more examples to that list. Today, we’re diving deep into just two of these forms of oppression and as ableism and racism as manifested in white supremacy. We know that we can’t get rid of just one isms and that that will dismantle oppression. What we’re going to be talking about today is that all of these combinations of social power and discrimination are interlocked, and they really depend on each other for their continued maintenance and survival.

I’m going to take us through a couple quick definitions to frame our discussion and to name what exactly we’re talking about. I do also want to say that I’m not the expert to really be talking about this. I’ve been deeply impacted by the work of many disability, justice activists especially those of color in the past two years. I have a lot more to learn from them. If I have already learned from them, I’ll be citing their names verbally, and we will also put any links to resources created by these folks in the show notes you can access as well, if you’re interested.

Definitions. Disability justice activists Talila A Lewis in 2020 defined ableism as a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence excellence and [00:24:00] productivity. This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on a person’s appearance and or their ability to satisfactorily reproduce, excel and behave. Ableism also can be defined individuals as superior and as the standard of “normal living”. Similarly, white supremacy treats whiteness as the standard of normal living.

I already mentioned author Layla F. Saad. She also in 2020 defined white supremacy as a racist ideology or a system based on the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and therefore that white people should be dominant over other races. These concepts that are coming up in these definitions like productivity, superiority, normalcy, conformity value, and worth are some recurring themes that Ashley and I will continue to touch on throughout this podcast. Right now, we’re going to switch gears for just a few minutes and take a pause and think about what we think about.

I’m sure by now, many of you have heard thing like white supremacy is the air we breathe, and the same is really true about ableism and many of these systems of oppression. We don’t talk about it as much, or it hasn’t been as popular maybe in recent years [00:26:00] as white supremacy has. Ashley mentioned earlier that the need for DE&I work exists because of oppression and because of both historical and modern inequity. We want to offer another couple of questions to reflect on and I’ll just pause for a moment and then we will keep going.

These questions to reflect on is what would your community look like if there was true racial equity, what would your community look like if there was true disability inclusion? In your day to day life, what would actually be different? I think some people sometimes have a hard time answering that question because the ways in which dominant groups have historically been socialized and taught to think about both disability and race have not been equitable or inclusive.

If we can’t answer that question easily, I think it is still an opportunity to dream big, but there’s a reason why we aren’t able to answer that question very quickly or easily sometimes. Ashley and I have talked a lot about how important it is to be mindful of the way in which we think about the people and groups who are most impacted by our work and how our mindsets can either contribute to oppressive systems, or we can choose to contribute to liberation and equal rights. A lot of mine and Ashley’s research centers around different models, different conceptual models of disability.

We’re not going to get into them here in this podcast, but [00:28:00] we wanted to share one of the resources that we found on this topic and on the intersections of ableism and racism an organization called the national black disability coalition, or the NBDC and in their original work that NBC came up with a framework that talks about there’s two underlying philosophies for how society thinks about disability. They say that people with disabilities are either perceived as being dependent on society or perceived as equal members of society. Ashley and I soon realized when we were talking about this, that we could also extrapolate this to apply to other marginalized people groups.

We just think that- and Ashley will talk more to this in a second, but our mindset specifically how that mindset translates into policies and actions, we really can make the choice to further contribute to oppression. The national black disability coalition describes the as resulting in real outcomes like paternalism, segregation, and discrimination. On the other hand, our mindsets and actions can work towards liberation and equality. The NBDC describes this as resulting in choice, empowerment, and equality of rights. Ashley, I think you might have wanted to add something here.

Ashley: Yes. Thanks Alli. The big thing for me when it comes to reflecting on the work of the National Black Disability Coalition and just framing our mindset as either oppressive or liberating is just that like deliberate. [00:30:00] framework that I think is so critical to the work that we all do. I’m sure we’ve all heard people around us saying, or questioning like, but it’s not always about race. It’s not because this person has a disability it’s because I’m looking for the best candidate.

We tend to lean into that minimizing of identity or minimizing different parts of people and who they are and who they show up as. What I really liked as Alli and I were just gobbling up this information and starting to apply it to the places, and the spaces that we were being a part of is making it really black and white, making it really this or that. Obviously, we know that life and work exist in gray.

That call to being accountable essentially to making a decision, like how can we ensure that the act that we’re taking or the way that we’re planning, or the way that we’re talking or the way that we’re advertising, it can be applied to so many different business areas. Essentially, it’s like, how can we make decisions and take actions to make sure that every little, tiny thing we do falls under what is going to result in liberal versus oppression?

I just wanted to share that little bit just because I don’t think we necessarily think like, is the way that I’m sending this email supporting the liberation of my co-, or like is the way that I’m structuring this training or whatever it is. I don’t think we necessarily think about our day to day tasks as liberating or oppressive but when we do take a second to do that, I think it helps us to really be more critical of how we’re showing up and how we’re creating space and whether or not we are. [00:32:00] That’s all I wanted to share.

Alli: Great. Thank, thank you, Ashley. I’m really happy that you added that. That’s great. We did want to take just a minute and I’m going to before handing it back over to Ashley to finish our discussion off, we did want to take a minute and be really explicit about how ableism and white supremacy really interlock and connect. We see that when we say the phrase white non-disabled supremacy in our podcast description. What do we mean when we say white nondisabled supremacy? I first heard the following definition of ableism last year from disability justice activist, Asa [unintelligible 00:32:55].

Asa defined ableism as a system that is designed at its core to categorize and rank bodies and minds as either normative or deviant as valuable or disposable and as productive or burdensome. White supreme we know also ranks bodies and minds using similar categories as either white and therefore superior, therefore deserving of dominant status or as non-white and inferior, therefore deserving of subjugation.

If this sounds familiar, I think that there are multiple parallels here, and Ashley and I’ve talked about this, to the characteristics of white supremacy culture that you may have been talking about in organization or in different social circles, especially recently but these conversations have been happening [00:34:01] for many, many decades. If it sounds recently familiar, I think there’s a reason why. Just a few of the characteristics of white supremacy culture that I see really tying in deeply to ableism specifically are perfectionism, the idea that there’s only one right way and the right to comfort.

I’ll just really quickly tie these in. Perfectionism, we see this as relating to ableism in the aspect of conformity. Disability is often seen as a deviation from “normal”. Perfectionism also ties into this idea under white supremacy culture, that there’s only one right way. That ties into ableism because ableism tells us that there’s only one right way to look. There’s only one right way to act, to think, behave, or to move our bodies. That’s not the case at all but we’ve been sold these lies by both white supremacy culture and ableism that this is the case.

The last thing that we see really tying in between white supremacy culture and ableism is the right to comfort. We’ve seen this really, unfortunately, play out in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to surge, and we’ve really seen ableist approaches and responses to the pandemic. We’ve seen the ease in which- [00:36:00] I think we’ve seen non-disabled people have really clearly and easily demonstrated their view of disabled and elder people as disposable in this pandemic. We just really wanted to investigate and connect these realities.

There’s many more connections that I think that we can make and that I hope that you can make on your own between white supremacy and ableism but we thought that by providing just a couple of these examples, is just one way in which we can begin to confront our own complacency and to really be challenging our own preconceived biases. Again, this complacency and ableism and that this is one way to confront and both dismantle this personal bias that may be contributing to overall disability exclusion. What is the big deal about ableism and why do we care about talking about white non-disabled supremacy?

In ways paralleled to other systems of oppression, such as racism and sexism, ableism is a really huge barrier to the capacity of the 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide, and the 61 million people with disabilities in the US to live really, truly fully included lives in fully inclusive, accessible, and equitable communities. I could go on and talk for many more minutes about the importance of this topic but Ashley [00:38:00] actually already has talked about it.

For a more in-depth look at how both ableism and discrimination impact the lives of people with disabilities, I would really recommend listening to Ashley’s previous forum on workplace inclusion podcast that she recorded last year. I believe that’s episode number 45. On that note, I will hand it back over to Ashley to finish out our discussion today as she leads us through some opportunities to advance intersectional inclusion in the workplace.

Ashley: Thanks, Alli. As she mentioned, this last bit of time that we have together is going to be more focused on taking action. We’ve talked about things that hopefully you’ve been vigorously nodding too and giving snaps too but now, we want to just make sure that as we’re closing, we’re talking about some things that can actually be done like effective immediately. To start that off, I do want to demystify the system and make this topic a little bit more personal.

We tend to talk about we, meaning we as humans in society but even as professionals who work in DE&I. We talk often about things like ableism and racism as things that are happening versus things or actions that we’re doing minute by minute that are upholding these systems. Like I mentioned, what I want to do is just demystify all of that and weed through the ways in which the system is effectively working to do what it was intended to do, but more importantly, what we can be doing about that. All right. When it comes to oppression at the systemic level, we [00:40:00] essentially know that systems uphold the values or privileges that they were built to support and protect. This happens, in part, because we as individuals, fail to think past those systems that could be radically different from what we’ve always known.

I oftentimes tend to think about why and then why some more and why some more. Stating that, again, we fail to think past systems that are radically different from what we’ve always known and when I asked myself why, one hunch that I have is because there’s a sense of security in what we’ve always known or what we’ve done, even if we know and recognize it’s not working for everyone. When I continued to ask myself and pick apart why are we stalled out or stuck trying to recreate a system that continues to perpetuate harm and what can we do about that?

I really believe that part of that is shedding the comfort of the way that things have already been, which then means that we have to embrace the idea of discomfort and unknowns. All right, the next step, when it comes to just individuals, we sometimes struggle, like we were talking about with that breakdown of liberating versus oppressive. We don’t tend to think about the things that we do as liberating or oppressive, we don’t tend to recognize the patterns that we contribute to that absolutely support the systems and the policies and the practices that are continuing to perpetuate that harm.

Essentially, what I’m saying is, we will, as individuals, be oppressive if we don’t acknowledge and unlearn untrue, and problematic beliefs. Also, we have to take responsibility for the actions that we take. This means moving beyond good intentions or moving beyond the things that are going to be the fastest maybe, [00:42:00] or maybe even be the most efficient. Sometimes, we have to let go of the things that we’ve always done because the reasons why we’re acting are different now.

I do have a spoiler alert, especially when it comes to white able-bodied supremacy, to come up with solutions and to find answers in the space, you’re never going to be able to come up with the answers as a white non-disabled person but the spoiler alert is you’re not supposed to and that’s the point. If you’re sitting or standing, or wherever, however, you are getting this information through our podcast episode, and all along, you’ve been like, “Yes, this makes sense” and Yes, I want to do something about it, ” Alli and I definitely recommend that you start digging into the work that’s already been done.

The best thing that any of us can do, especially when it comes to a group of folks that we’re not a part of, is listen to what folks have been saying all along, and start to use what folks have been saying to have an impact and truly influence the decisions that you’re making. All right, now I want to talk about a section called Truth Hurts, I always tend to bring these four topics to almost any conversation or presentation that Alli and I do. Just because people who are marginalized live in a society that’s filled with stereotypes and prejudice, that are intertwined within our day-to-day life.

Really what we need to do, especially as DE & I professionals and practitioners, we have to confront these realities of how we show up if we want to uproot and move our organizations forward. My Truth Hurts topics of today are stigma, privilege, tokenism, and savior complex. Stigma is essentially just entrenched ideas and concepts [00:44:00] that negatively impact policies and decisions and impedes people’s ability to participate fully in whatever it is that we’re doing in this casework.

We also have privilege, which is Latin for a law for just one. It essentially is a special right advantage or immunity granted, that’s only available to a particular group. Tokenism, if you don’t know, is making only a symbolic effort to do a particular thing. It could be including people, it could be adjusting marketing materials, whatever it might be. This especially shows up when we’re talking about representation and wanting to give an appearance of what people have lovingly been saying “A seat at the table” lately.

Then the last one is savior complex. This truth refers to a state of mind or actions in which an individual believes they are responsible for saving or assisting others. Often the help, in some context, is perceived to be self-serving as well. What does that mean for us? What can we do about all those things? The ultimate goal of me sharing all those things because I’m sure you’ve heard the words before is more to just take a beat, maybe rewind and think back. When it comes to those entrenched ideas, stigma, how is that showing up in your day-to-day interactions?

How is that showing up possibly in different patterns within different groups at the organization that you work at? When it comes to privilege, I think we all know generally what privilege is, but how is privilege showing its face at work? Where’s the evidence of how privilege plays a role in the way that you all work together? When it comes to tokenism, just don’t do it. Identify effective immediately [00:46:00] the ways in which tokenism is happening. If you haven’t thought about it or you haven’t literally done a tokenism inventory, I guarantee you it’s happening and that’s something that is so harmful and absolutely can not only halt the work that you’re wanting to do when it comes to intersectional inclusion, but it also can literally take you backwards and cause harm.

Then when it comes to the savior complex, again we all do this work for a reason. I’m sure you’ve heard of savior complex before. It tends to be– we’re in these roles, and we’re doing this work because we believe in it, we’re doing this work because we want things to be different and because we believe that that that’s all possible. When it comes to savior complex, though, again, we just have to make sure that our intentions and the way that we’re approaching our work, again, isn’t getting in the way of people being able to exist in space as themselves and be authentic and that the work that we’re doing and the efforts and the initiatives that we’re leading isn’t about what we want to get out of it or what the business needs out of it but more so the folks that it’s intended to be supporting in the first place.

All right, all right, so you survived my Truth Hurts section. Now, I want to just talk about the ways that we can actually start to unlock some transformation in our workplace culture. First up, as I slightly just mentioned, we have to say bye to our business case, which I know for some of you, you’re probably thinking, “What? We’re not going to lead with the ways that this is solely going to benefit the business?”

Yes, that’s exactly what you’re going to do, you can write it down, and then crumple it up and put it in a recycling bin because we want to be effective in intersectional inclusion at work. [00:48:00] We have to recognize that first and foremost, this is counter-culture action, this is counter-culture behavior, this is not the norm at all, and absolutely going against the grain of the way that we work, especially here in the US. I’m not saying that you could never think about how intersectional inclusion can and likely will benefit the business but what I am saying is that we cannot lead with the ways that this is going to benefit us or how we are going to get something out of it. Because then that’s what we’re doing it for, and we’re inevitably going to fall short.

What are some actual tangible things that you can be doing to start to be more counter-culture? First up is addressing dominant mindset and language. When I say dominant, I mean dominant groups. That could be dominant racial groups, that could be dominant gender groups, that can be dominant– whatever it is, no matter what identity you’re thinking about, there are people that are in a larger group, and there are people that are in a smaller group. The ways that dominant groups are controlling language or mindset, or even unspoken or unwritten rules, is one way that we can make sure if we really want people to feel they belong, what are the ways that we are adjusting to make that happen?

Next is leverage on earned benefits and resources. We were talking a little bit about privilege. Alli talked a ton in her beginning intro about the ways that her identity has just granted her some certainty of being less vulnerable. Granted her some certainty on the degree of dignity that she can expect when she goes places or accesses resources or whatever it is. Privilege is not just something that applies to individuals, [00:50:00] it also absolutely applies to groups and organizations, especially when we’re talking about groups and organizations that are essentially run by, led by, owned by dominant homogenous groups.

Think about the organization that you work for, who owns it? Who operates it? Who are your stakeholders? Who is your clientele? Either way it goes, no matter who you are, there are likely going to be some benefits, especially if your company is owned or operated by folks from dominant groups. There’s likely going to be some unearned benefits or resources, such as– we know that white folks have an easier time accessing capital. We just know that, we know that because folks from dominant groups don’t have to face the degrees of diversity and intentional barriers. There are just certain things that are smoother or easier or less of a challenge or less of a burden for dominant groups to address.

One way that Alli and I have been working with businesses to think about this and to put this to action is what are some things in your infrastructure that you have in abundance that you could be sharing with either the community? Maybe it’s even competitors. It’s competitors from marginalized groups that are, let’s be certain, serving the population of folks that they are a part of, better than folks from outside that group code.

Another couple of examples are things like compliance and policy. We all work in different industries, but one thing is the same. Industry loves documentation and we all have some degree of licensing standard or some type of mandated documentation that we have to do. Those are things that lots of organizations that have been around for a [00:52:00] long time just have. We’ve done the work, we’ve got relationships with licensors or whoever it is that’s making the rules. If you’re able to package that stuff up and share it with community members or share it with people so that they can better understand how to compete, that can be a really great way to start to enhance the ways that you think about being counter-culture.

A couple more, set the bar higher than slight improvements. I know that’s a little bit sassy, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. We tend to make goals that are things that we can achieve. I’ve done that before, I’m like, “Okay, self, I’m going to exercise and my goal in the next six months is to lose two pounds.” Why did I say two pounds? Because I know I could do it, but if I really wanted to change my healthy habits, I’d be like, “I’m going to really be more effective at making better healthy choices every day for the next year.” This type of work in the workplace is the same thing. It’s a marathon.

By measuring the things that– again, we’re going to get in the short-term or by measuring the things that we think we can achieve in the short-term, especially if they’re surface level, is not going to have the same type of impact. As if we say, “Listen, we want to do this relatively challenging thing” or “This thing that people haven’t been able to do.” We want to make sure that our leadership positions are representative of all of these different populations, that it doesn’t [inaudible 00:53:36] Setting your goals in a way that is more aspirational versus rapidly attainable is definitely the way to go.

If indeed your goal is essentially to be making a difference in the way that your company works. Then, last step is ending cycles of violence internally. I use that word violence very intentionally. [00:54:00] I’ll use violence and harm pretty interchangeably. Again, we don’t necessarily think of the way that we [inaudible 00:54:09] back in an email as violent or the way that we lean into our power stifling people’s ability to participate as violent when indeed it is. If you haven’t ever thought about little interactions, day-to-day interactions at work and how indeed they could show up as violence, I would definitely encourage you to start, to just do some digging to better understand how can I or we unintentionally perpetuate racial violence or ableist violence when I’m doing like typical regular things?

Then I’m just going to move us into a little bit of policies and practices, because again, we all love our rules. Rules are rules, but how do we apply an intersectional lens so that our work actually works for everyone? As Alli and I have been talking about all along, we’ve got to get at the root causes of oppression that have permeated even our own organizations.

Four little takeaways for you all, first is that we have to center on expanding collective power. I’m going to go on a limb here and make an assumption that you likely work in an organization that is very structured. Everybody has their role, people at the top make decisions, people at the bottom don’t. If we, especially because we know that workplaces reflect the same oppression and harmful cycles that our communities do, so we don’t have enough diversity in positions of power, AKA making decisions.

If we really want to be counterculture and if we really want to uproot those root causes of oppression within our workplace, [00:56:00] we have to start doing things like being okay with people from any level of an organization contributing to decision making. Having a say in major decisions that are happening. We also need to make sure that we are mandating access to information. Again, there’s certain things of course that we can’t just share with everyone and that’s fair enough due to privacy or whatever it is. Then we start to apply those rules in ways that aren’t necessarily mandatory or necessary.

An example of that is like, “Oh, only people at this level of the organization can have access to that folder.” It’s like, “Well, if there’s [inaudible 00:56:44] information as possible so that people are able to better understand what happens in different departments or what happens at different levels. Again, just having that transparency of information is critical. One other little way that just came to mind where that shows up is like when a big decision is coming out or we have to communicate about something difficult. We all went through that in 2020 with COVID and hard decisions that had to be made, closures and openings and mask deployments, and things like that.

We worry, I think, sometimes a little bit too much about like, “What are people going to think or say?” and don’t give people the opportunity to just receive information in a way that’s timely and relevant and unfiltered. That is a huge way that we can make sure that we’re not giving people the parts of information or the pieces that we think are relevant, but rather they’re able to have access to all the information and make decisions that are important for themselves.

Then lastly, when it comes to policies and practices and uprooting [inaudible 00:57:58] [00:58:00] is same as the last area that we were talking about, but it’s ending cycles of violence but now this time externally. Not just thinking about the ways that we perpetuate violence with our day-to-day interactions, but now taking it a step further and making sure that the way that we structure our rules or the ways that we interact with our clients or stakeholders or community. Whoever it is that your work supports.

Just making sure that yet again, we don’t unintentionally leave things that are barriers or that are harmful in the rules that govern how we handle what we do. The last thing that I wanted to share before we closed is what Alli and I have been lovingly calling our intersectional roadmap. It’s just four areas to be focusing on, but if you want to start this today, we would recommend that you work on confronting complacency, adjusting folks’ mindset, taking ownership of your actions, and then shifting power. If you had to do only four things, those would be the four things that we recommend that you do.

Then the last little closing thought that we wanted to share is that there’s always another path forward. Even if and when you come up against resistance or you feel like things are sputtering out, you’re maybe losing momentum, there’s always another path forward, meaning that there’s always a way that we can shift and pivot together and we just encourage you to do that. Thank you so much for your time today. We’re excited to hear from listeners about what they might be doing moving forward. Feel free to get in touch with us, we will have our contact information in the show notes.

One of our favorite things is essentially just hearing the thoughts that folks had and the ways that they [01:00:00] do incorporate some of these thoughts and ideas. Goodbye.

Ben: Thank you so much, Alli and Ashley, for this wonderful podcast and thank you to our listeners for joining us, and a special thank you to our sponsor Best Buy. To learn more, you can email Alli and Ashley directly at astrongmartin@lifeworks.org and aoolman@lifeworks.org. New episodes of the forum podcasts are available at forumworkplaceinclusion.org/podcast. You can also find our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening and have a great day.

Speaker 1: Thank you again for listening to The Forum and 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 and Workplace Inclusion Podcast is recorded at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of the most diverse private colleges in the Midwest, Augsburg University offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and nine graduate degrees to 3,400 foreign students of diverse backgrounds at its campus in the vibrant center of the twin cities in nearby Rochester, Minnesota location. Augsburg educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. Augsburg education is defined by excellence in the liberal arts and professional studies guided by the faith and values of the Lutheran church and shaped by its urban and global settings. Learn more @augsburg.edu

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