What does it mean to be a white ally? What are microaggressions exactly? What can I do to help create an inclusive culture? To get deeper insights into these questions and more, check out this episode of Breaking the Bias with Mita Mallick, co-host of the Brown Table Talk podcast, author of the upcoming book, Reimagine Inclusion and head of equity, impact and inclusion at Carta. Mita is saying all the quiet parts out loud of what holds us back from building real inclusion at work. Mita’s candid conversation with Holly Corbett, VP of Content for Consciously Unbiased, dives into:
- How being bullied as a child led to her lifelong search for inclusion.
- The most common myths about inclusion we tell ourselves that stop us from making meaningful progress.
- How to meet people with kindness and grace when they make mistakes.
DEI Myth: “My voice as a white man doesn’t count anymore.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion is about helping all voices to be heard rather than only some voices. While this may mean amplifying voices that have been traditionally underrepresented, it does not mean ignoring the voices of white men.
“I’ve heard this [myth] too often from many white men who are friends who have been supporters of my career, and I think there’s two sides to this conversation,” says Mita. “The first side is for [white] men to understand the power and privilege they have. For example, if you are the CEO of a company and everyone else looks like you, ask yourself what your legacy is that you’re going to leave behind, and how you can help change the composition of that C-suite as you’re leading over the next three to 10 years.”
Another consideration is that diversity is a big growth opportunity. “If we’re sitting in the U.S. right now, Nielsen alone says that there’s over $3.3 trillion of spending power with the multicultural consumer,” says Mita. “The question you have to ask yourself is do you have the diversity of representation on your teams to go and serve those markets authentically, because if not, you are going to be left behind.”
Mita says the other side of the conversation is that many white men she has worked with over the course of her career feel shamed, named and blamed. “It is really difficult and appropriate when you see Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer in the news, because they do deserve to be named and to move on and to seek redemption outside of their workplaces. And those men don’t represent all men.”
While it’s important to meet people with kindness and grace when they make mistakes and when they ask questions, Mita is not saying that someone can make the same mistake over and over again. “I’m saying if someone comes and asks me a question that they might not understand, such as, ‘Why is it Mita seems really upset that this person keeps mispronouncing her name—I don’t think they’re doing it intentionally? Why do you think that’s so important to her?’ Mita says. “You have to have a safe space to educate someone on that.’
DEI Myth: “I’m all for diverse talent—as long as they are good.
This myth shows an unconscious bias that we lower the bar for diverse talent because there aren’t enough Black and Brown candidates in the pipeline. What this reveals, Mita says, is that you don’t know enough diverse candidates because you may not be intentionally diversifying your networks.
“The research I included in Reimagined Inclusion shows that more than two thirds of white Americans are still self-segregating, and the numbers are similar for Black Americans,” says Mita. “The question is, how do you expect people to show up at work differently if they don’t have meaningful cross-cultural relationships? If they’re not thinking about how they’re spending their time outside of work and not carrying stereotypes. That’s the whole reason why we try to understand lived experiences that aren’t our own, because if I am the only Indian person you’ve ever known, I don’t represent all South Asian women. I don’t represent all women of color. The real work that has to be done is to really think about how you are trying to build meaningful relationships with people who are outside of your community.”
DEI Myth: “Microaggressions aren’t a big deal.”
“As a woman of color, I hate the word microaggressions. What’s the opposite? Macroaggressions,” says Mita. “The everyday aggressions that we face become really burdensome. It’s the emotional labor tax that is mentally draining and impacts mental health.”
Mita shared an example early in her career that she says is all to0 common when there is a lack of representation at work where she was mistaken for another Brown woman who she says looked nothing like her. “She is tall and I’m only five one and a half. She has short hair and glasses and I have long hair. We look very, very different,” says Mita. Yet the two women often were mistaken for each other and invited to the wrong meetings. This happened often enough that, after being mistaken for the other woman and invited to the wrong meeting again, one of Mita’s white male colleagues announced that it was not funny to keep mixing up two different people who work in two different areas of the businesses. After her colleague spoke up, other co-workers apologized to her and the mistaken meeting invites happened less often.
“I know that there’s politics, there’s power in the room, there’s bureaucracy,” says Mita. “It could be hard to speak up and to interrupt in the moment, but it’s never too late. You can always go back after the moment. You can either go to the person who did or said something who intentionally or unintentionally caused harm. You could find a peer, you could find someone else to help navigate that situation.”
Mita believes we are all an ally for someone. “Imagine if we all showed up at work tomorrow thinking, ‘Who are we standing up for other than ourselves?’”
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