As a white man married to an Indian woman and raising bi-racial children in Boston, Ryan Hayden, partner at PwC, says, “Diversity and inclusion isn’t ‘an initiative’ or some ‘corporate mandate; it’s my way of life.”
In this episode of BREAK THE BIAS, Ryan talks about how to create space to have conscious conversations at work and address larger cultural issues surrounding racism, politics and other taboo topics. Listen to the full conversation and read on for some of Ryan’s advice.
HOW CAN WE CREATE SPACES IN OUR WORKPLACE THAT ALLOW PEOPLE TO SPEAK UP, SHARE THEIR STORIES AND HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS?
“The first thing that comes to mind is not shying away from when a [traditionally off limits] topic becomes headlines. Saying, ‘Hey, we’re all aware that there’s something going on in this world, so let’s take an opportunity to address it.
For me, this all started about four years ago when Martin Luther King Day in Boston coincided with the BOSTON GLOBE’S Spotlight team finding that Boston is basicly the most racist city in the United States. (The Spotlight team earlier exposed the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal).
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Leaders at PwC said we’re going to convene in our Northeast offices for a two-hour session to discuss the findings. Employees saw the issue was being taken seriously. About 500 employees—from partners on down to associates—gathered in an auditorium. We started sharing and asking, ‘Hey, what does this mean to you? What is your experience in Boston and what can we do to start addressing this in our own way?’”
HOW WAS THE GATHERING OF 500 PEOPLE IN YOUR WORKPLACE ORGANIZED SO QUICKLY? WAS THERE AN AGENDA?
“It was too big of a crowd for everyone to speak up, so a few people shared their own personal stories to the group. Then we said, ‘Take 10 minutes to talk about what you just heard and what it means for you with the five people you’re sitting around.’ We wanted everybody to be able to share.
The stories were moving and eye-opening. We heard incidents of racism and of people being marginalized that you can’t believe happened in the 2000s. At the end, a few partners, including myself, asked people to commit to creating ways to continue the conversation.”
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU TOOK AWAY FROM THAT DAY?
“I saw that, if given the space and the support, people WILL share. I think people want to share. It is a burden that people carry around [keeping it inside]. After the gathering, you could physically see [the relief] when people told their stories and let it out, and the reaction of others giving them support and affirmations, hugs, saying, ‘yes, me too.’
I saw the strength that comes from knowing you are not alone. There is just such an amazing immediate response on someone’s overall mental health.
Also, another thing that came from that experience is it’s given me a chance to not shy away from conversations I’ve wanted to have [about race and bias] as the prototypical, alpha, wealthy, white male. For me as the one who is least susceptible to all of this I was able to say, ‘Okay, let’s talk about [these issues].’”
ANY ADVICE ON HOW OTHER COMPANIES CAN HAVE MORE CONSCIOUS CONVERSATIONS IN THEIR OWN WORKPLACES?
“My advice would be to not worry about the framework for the first one and let it be natural. Just offer the space to be open without an agenda or even a timeline. Bring in food, play some music, allow people to dress down—make it as comfortable as possible.
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You also need to have confidence that there will be someone who will go first, so there’s a little bit of what I call stacking the deck. If top leaders share, others will tend to open up.
So that day I raised my hand and told my story about racism being a big concern for me personally, especially as the dad to mix-raced children growing up in Boston. My son looks white, but his name is Taj. That will confuse people. My [Indian] wife jokes when we’re walking down the street with my mom and my sisters and myself that people would probably mistake her for the nanny. Just telling that story that day made me the most approachable partner for the rest of my life. Whatever story you share, it has to be authentic.”
How are YOU creating space to have conscious conversations in your own workplace? We’d love to hear from you. DM us at @consciouslyunb.
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