In episode 40 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guests, Monique Meadows and Terrill Thompson, discuss:
Monique and Terrill are long-time friends and co-owners of Banyan Coaching and Consulting, where they partner with clients to create healthy, vibrant, and sustainable cultures through holistic coaching and facilitation. Our love for the natural world is integrated into all that we do. We invite you to tap into your inner knowing as we together transform and expand in ways that are electrifying, unpredictable and imperative. Monique is a lifelong student of energy healing, channeling and a Reiki Master. Terrill lives in a community on a permaculture farm where they draw energy and joy from producing food, nurturing healthy ecosystems, and offering respite to activists, artists, and organizational leaders. Both earned Master’s degrees in Organization Development from American University, where they were awarded Segal-Seashore Fellowships for their commitment to social justice.
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Carol Hamilton: My guests today on Mission Impact Are Terrill Thompson and Monique Meadows. Terrill, Monique and I talk about what organizational culture is and why it so often trumps any policies and procedures that you may write, what it really takes to shift organizational culture, and what are some signs that an organization is really ready to engage in culture change? Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome. Welcome Terrell. Welcome Monique. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Terrill Thompson: Thank you.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with a question of what drew you to this work? What motivates you and what would you describe as your, why Terrell, why don't you tackle that one first?
Terrill: My story of how I got into this work was I started as an Executive Director of a nonprofit and I was one of those ED's that really never should have been an ED. Right out of college I got hired as an administrative assistant and then the ED quit. And so the board promoted me to be the ED. And in that experience, I learned a lot on the job and really loved the nonprofit sector. But what I was really passionate about was figuring out how to create and shift the culture within the organization. And so that landed me in graduate school getting a degree in organizational development, which is where I met Monique. And then we have been, even though our degree in organizational development is much more of a for profit oriented degree, most of our colleagues work in the for profit world. Both of us have always been in the nonprofit sector and passionate about social change. And so we have just applied all of that learning, translated it into non-profit language and have been applying it in a nonprofit.
Monique Meadows: Yeah. So, similarly, I come to this, having worked for social justice organizations for about 25 years now. And initially I was a development director, so I was responsible for raising the money and all that, which is not what I'm oriented for. And we, I was part of a management team that was really struggling, we brought in a consultant to help us figure out what was going on and why everything was breaking down. And there was a moment where I thought, I wonder what he's doing. I was like, that's what I'm wired for. Right? Like how do we heal relationships? And how do we make sure that we're working together in ways that really foster collaboration and so, I went to graduate school, met Terrell and yeah, I've been really loving it ever since.
Carol: Yeah. And, full disclosure: I went to the same graduate program, not in the same cohort as the both of you, and it's somewhat of a similar thing that instigated you two. Moving into organizational development was, yeah, working at a number of different nonprofits where they had incredible missions, incredible work that they were doing in the world. And, yet there was this gap between. How, what the change that they wanted to see outside themselves, but then how they were treating, how we were treating each other, how the culture of the organization was. And so I didn't actually, I don't know when I finally, just started getting intrigued with. Why, why is there that gap and how could we work more effectively together and finally stumbled upon, oh, there's a field where people do things about this and I can learn more too. Your work really focuses a lot on that organizational culture change. Just to begin, how would you, I mean, and we've talked, I've talked a lot about organizational culture on this podcast, but I'm curious how the two of you define organizational culture. What are, what are the kinds of things that you're talking about and thinking about when you're looking at an organization's culture.
Terrill: We define culture really broadly. Right? It's really, I mean, the essence of it is what does it feel like to work there? Right. Every organization has a different call. And the people who can most clearly see the culture are often the new folks, because once we're in it, we're just, it's like the fish in water that doesn't know they're in water. It's, it's all around us all the time. And so, newer people who are coming into organizations can often tell you a little bit more about the culture. The other thing is that oftentimes our practices and policies are really something that should define a cartoon culture, often contradict the culture. So for example, we'll see policies that say things like everybody takes an hour for lunch, but then when we look around the office, everyone's sitting at their desks, cramming food in their face while they're typing emails, right. And culture often trumps everything else. And so when we're looking at culture, we're really looking holistically, how are people behaving in the organization? How do they treat each other? What are the relationships like the level of trust? What is the culture around, what do we do about birthdays or holidays, all of that. Even how we dress is part of it. Okay. And so we're really taking a broad approach. And when we enter organizations to learn about the culture, our processes, predominantly observation and talking with people, because while we do read all the policies and procedures, that's not going to tell us about that culture, right. It's really about the people. The people make up the culture. Do you want to add anything to that Monique?
Monique: Yeah. And so once we've done some of that observation, like we reflect back to the organization, like here's what we see. Right. Here's how you're relating to each other. Here's how you're sharing information. Here's how collaboration is or is not happening. And it's fascinating to see how just the reflecting back, what we see, how that in and of itself. The culture, right? Because as Terrel said, there's the ideal that they hold and then there's what's actually happening. And so we're coming in and assessing that and reflecting back, really. So we start talking about energy, right? Really shifts the energy in the group and work with it, they're like, oh yeah, okay. This, this looks like us. And this isn't quite where we want to go. And so they're ready to make some of those changes in some of the groups that we work with. And so our work is to, to meet them where they're at, so that we can help guide them through a process that turns their culture into the one that reflects their values and who they say they want to be.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's, that's where, I don't know there was, there was a point at which there are these cynical posters that came out when we, with the values thing and the worst of what it could be. And, that's all a joke because so many organizations have gone through that process of, or maybe articulating values, but then, there can be that gap between what we think we are, but what's, what's really happening day-to-day.
Monique: And part of the thing that we've seen, that's such a challenge is that groups say they want to do the organizational culture work. Right. And so they bring in folks and when they realize that the depths of time, like the amount of time, like the commitment and the vulnerability that is really present, they shut down. Right. And so groups also don't always have the resources to really invest the time. Right. Folks are pulled in a thousand different directions. And so we found that to be one of the challenges. Are you really able to commit the time and the resources, the people power to be able to dig in and do this. And so some groups are like, yes, and some aren't able to, but that's where I think some of that cynicism comes, right, because there's so many starts and stops to this type of work, but it really does require just like really diving in deeply.
Carol: What are some things that can help? Yeah, I mean, I think realizing how long a process like that takes and how, how challenging it can be to shift culture, even when you want to, what are some things that help that process move forward and go more smoothly?
Monique: Well, the first piece mentioned a minute ago was that, we do the data collection, right? So we go in, we talk to folks, have focus groups, interviews, and really pull together what summarizes who they are. Right. And then we reflect back to them. What our work is, is to introduce concepts and models that resonate with them. Right. And use language, because we know when we're talking about culture, like there's some groups we can go in and work with. And they automatically, when we start talking about how our organizations reflect the natural world and they're like, yes, Instant resonance and we're able to do the work. Other groups were like, what the heck are they talking about? These hippies are crazy. Right? So, so we have that. Right? So, part of it is finding specific activities that resonate with the group and help them to connect in new ways and create a safe enough container where people are willing to take some risks with each other, because they're often we find there's a lot of injured feelings, right. A lot of hurt feelings, right. And a lot of old narratives. Become concretized and some of the systems. Right? So, what we do is let's surface this and find where the opening is, right? That's the piece like where the opening is so that we can go in and help shift. So it's really about making sure that we have exercises and activities that they're willing to engage in, right. That matches their culture and, and just moves them through the process. And I think part of it too, is at the beginning, like making it really clear. This is a process that is particularly long sometimes. Right. And so, are you already, and cause so gauging organizational readiness is a big piece of that.
Terrill: I'd love to jump in with a little bit about gaging the readiness because a lot of our work is in racial equity and equity more broadly. And we often get organized. Well, we get a lot of organizations reaching out to us. So we're in a really fortunate position of being able to be really selective about who we work with, which is nice. But a big piece of that is really figuring out is the client ready to do the work that they say they want to do? Because oftentimes there's a belief that, well, we can bring in someone and do a few training sessions and that's going to shift our culture. And training is great as educational tools. They do not change culture on their own. They have to be embedded in a whole culture change process. And so we do a whole assessment process in our interview process to decide if we want to work with a client. And some of the things that we're looking for is do they have leadership who's really invested in an equity change process and are they willing to learn? And both of those things. And that means that they're going to make mistakes. And so are they able to handle making a mistake and learning publicly in front of their staff and are they willing to invest time and resources into this? And that includes staff time. And so most of our clients we've been able to work with set aside a portion of their time each week for every staff member to do equity-based. Right. And that ranges and the clients who our clients are doing 10%. So if you're 40 hours, four hours a week is going into really learning and engaging in an equity way that gets self-defined on what their learning curve is. We also know that we need to have access to the full organization. So any organization that says yes, but you can't work with us. That's a flag for us, because if you want to create culture change, it has to be organization wide or else. The default is to pull back to where you've been. So if you have any group that's not moving, it can pull the whole organization back. That's not to say that we can't do work with staff and board, just oftentimes we have to do it separately at first, because they're in two really different places, but we've gotta be moving. And the whole organization, and that can include volunteers depending on how engaged volunteers are in the organization. So those are a couple of the things that we look for. We also talk very directly about clients, about the need for transparency with us. So we need to know that clients are going to tell us for real what's going on when it's happening, not a month later, right? Because we, by definition of the work we do, we come in and stir the pot. Right. Which means that things are going to come up and if we're not informed, because we're not there day to day, we're not going to hear it at the water cooler, which I realize is different in zoom world, but we're not going to pick it up in that same way. And we need to know that information is coming to us so that we can address things in the moment. It's really important to us, to not be the consultant that comes in, stirs everything up and then leaves. We have seen that happen so many times and it's really, really damaging to organizations. So we take a slow and steady long-term approach with our clients. We would much rather have you move like an organization, move an inch and stay there. Then move three inches and go back to where you were. It's really about that slow and steady progress. Always moving in the direction of equity.
Carol: Yeah. A couple of points there. I thank you for going to the point of readiness, because that's exactly what I was going to ask you about. Like, what are those signals or what are the things that you're looking for to know that an organization is ready to, to engage in the type of work and type of culture change that you're talking about? And one of the things I really appreciated is when I think when. We're talking about culture, people, it can feel very amorphous for folks, but the fact that you get as concrete as we're going to need, X percentage of staff, time to be dedicated to this over a period of time is it. I think that that's what makes it, that makes it real for folks we're not going to, it's not just an add on, it's not an extra, it's not a special thing. And, and your point around, training obviously is important and education is important. And yet it's not sufficient to change culture. Can you say more about what you've seen in terms of stirring the pot? And then I think it's, sometimes it's even just opening things up and not having enough time for some closure that can also give people just, either hurt or confused, or just like, what was that all about? So lots of different things that some negative impacts that consultants can have, if they're not careful or haven't had to really help the client understand, help the organization, understand what partnership is needed to really make the change that they're looking for.
Terrill: To clarify a little bit about what we regularly see coming into organizations is that oftentimes we very often are the second, third, fourth consultant group that a client has worked with. And the pattern that we see is consultants coming in, asking a lot of questions, getting folks to bare their souls about what's really going on there. And then moving without real change happening. And so we're finding people are really discouraged, particularly folks of color who have just put themselves out on the line to say, this is how racism is impacting me in our organization. And then it falls on like it just falls. It doesn't get held. And so part of what our approach is that the trust building has to happen. At, in par with the level of racial equity work that we're doing, if that makes sense. So we can't, we can't go in and do like racism when trust is not present. Right. We've got to have the trust to hold what comes up so that when the group is ready to actually hold the experience, then we can bring that in and start to make those shifts. But it's really, really damaged. To open it all up, bring people's hope up and then nothing changes.
Monique: And it's really, I mean, just the level of hurt that we encounter and some of these organizations, post multiple groups of consultants, and this is not to, in any way, like denigrate the consultants. Right. Because, they may have only been able to come in and there was only a certain amount of time that they were given right there and constraints that they're working with. Right. But it's remarkable. Like how many tears there are, that's present right in these groups and for both the folks of color. And then of course the white folks have a lot of fear right around, am I going to say the wrong thing? It's just okay. Like, what, what are the, what are the lines. They do feel like they're constantly changing. Right. And so, so our work is, like I said earlier, it's like, we really do see it in a lot of ways as healing work and, and really creating a space for folks where they are willing to take the risks with each other. But first it means acknowledging that there's been injury. And whether that injury. Intentional or unintentional it's there. Right. And, and we've worked with some groups where they're ready to acknowledge that and release it. Like we even sometimes have done work activities that are like release rituals, right. For people to really name it and let it go. And as long as it works, what the heck are these people talking about, but again, where we're exploring and experimenting too. And then we have those groups where it's like, they hold on so tightly to the injury. And so we move even more slowly. Right. But, but as we're doing. We're naming, like, here's what we're seeing. And here's what, so we're constantly reflecting back to them so that they first don't feel like they're crazy, right? Like this is actually happening. And what agency do you have? What power do you have within the system to make the changes? That's also a part of our work is to see at all levels within the hierarchy that there's some power there. And so how. With the role that you have, how can you move this along so that you can move closer to fulfilling your mission? And I think the other piece is around talking about culture in general, because it's so invisible. Often we find that folks can dismiss its significance, right? Like how much it really impacts, how far you're getting along in your work and how you're able to. Really fulfill your mission. And so naming it and, and really identifying this is why it's so important, and there are moments where you see the light bulbs go off and you're like, oh, okay. This is why we do this work. Right.
Carol: And I can imagine coming in after multiple attempts with different consultants to, to move the needle and having things, not, move forward. I can imagine that for some organizations, and clearly as you're, as you're describing, it really ends up creating harm in the organization. And at the same time, I'm guessing that it's also part of what unfortunately helps organizations be ready to receive. Commit in a way that they perhaps weren't in the first or second or third try. Yeah, I just, I mean, that's the story I'm making up, but
Monique: They're like, okay, we gotta do it,
Carol: Or they thought, well, if we just have these trainings, then we'll be good. And well, no, that wasn't, that isn't quite it.
Monique: Yeah, we're very clear with organizations that we don't come in and only do training, but that's just not our style. We really want to go in and build the relationships and, and help folks see how the training applies to their work. Because sometimes there's this disconnect, like, why are, why am I getting this training, on equity? When we're doing something that's completely separate. So we work to really show how it's integrated in.
Carol: And you talked about the process of building trust and going slow. I'm curious, especially with organizations that have gone through a couple of these processes, probably, multiple people have already asked them many questions, had those focus groups and had those interviews talk to people. They're like, oh my goodness, are we doing this again? Do I have to tell that story again? I'm curious how you approach that in terms of helping people open up again. Or to, to really build that trust.
Monique: Well one of the things we do is just first put it out there. Like, we know you have been asked these questions multiple times. And so sometimes depending, particularly on the length of time, that's it? This is between when the last group of consultants came and when we were coming in. Sometimes we take the reports to the other consultants. And really put that upfront. Like here's what we already know about you. Right. And we want to build on that. Sometimes there's been a good chunk of time. And so we do have to ask those questions over, but again, it's just putting it out there and being really transparent about it. And one of the things that Terrell and I do Is that we're working with the groups so that the groups are willing and able to make mistakes, like we demonstrate that like, we are very in the moment with our groups and particularly, oh yeah. I was going to say virtually, but just across the board, we're very present. And so in the moment, there are times when we're making mistakes with each other or stepping on each other and we just put it out there, right. Just show, Hey folks, we are going to make mistakes together. Right. You've done this before. You'll keep doing it. And, and we, we can do that and move forward. Right. So it shows them that we're not coming in assuming that they're all wrong and we have all the answers. Right. We're making sure that they don't have that perspective. Cause we, cause we demonstrate it. But, we really. We, I think I keep going back to things and things, but we just, we can, we name like here's what's happened already. Here's where we're going to go. And here's where we'd like to go with y'all. So I feel like I might've been repeating yourself.
Terrill: No, I'm going to repeat what you said too. Then, to not say again, it's like a big chunk of our work is showing up and being really present with people and being really transparent. And that alone builds a lot of trust. So when we come in and say, we've heard all of this, we know we're the fourth consulting group to come in. We know the other ones haven't been successful and we don't want to leave you in that place. So help us figure out how we can be successful here. People. They shift their tone. And when we show up as full human beings who make mistakes, who are learning along with the client, people trust us more because we're not robots and neither are they. Right. And so we need to be all in it together. I think another important thing is that we move because we move slowly. I think that helps build trust. And that includes in the interview process. So we have had, multiple months before we've ever signed a contract where we're meeting with different groups of staff to make sure that they're comfortable with the decision to work with us because that's, especially if staff have been really burned in the past, that's an important process because we want them to be comfortable with the decision to hire us. And if they're more comfortable with another group, then they should go with another group. We know we are not the best consultants for every organization out there. No consultant is, right. It's about finding the right fit. And so we encourage organizations. In fact, we push really hard. If people reach out and say, someone referred you, we'd like to hire you. I didn't say you should really talk to a couple of groups and make sure that we're right. We have the right approach for your organization and where you are, and we can help with that assessment. But ultimately clients got to make the decision when more staff are involved in that, I think the better.
Carol: Yeah. And so you're, you're almost starting the process by, by having that lengthy kind of, pre discovery, if you will. As, as you're working through, should we even be working together? Right.
Monique: I remember in our program, one of the classes said that. Every point of contact with the organization as an intervention. Right. And so like, I keep that in mind, when we're doing the interviews and when we're doing the interviews to be hired in the interviews with the staff and look at each step, I remember that, right. So that we know that we're impacting the system right. Each time, each time.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just the, the part that I think for any consulting project that thinks, oftentimes at least in my experience, organizations think, well, I'm just gonna hire a facilitator and you're going to come in and help us have a good conversation. And don't realize there's that whole process of talking to a lot of people getting a sense of where you are. And then, being able to reflect back to them, This is what I'm hearing. This is the snapshot of your organization now, so that, so that there is a common ground of that naming that you're talking about of and, and being able to just that act of being able to describe the organization to itself, to be so that it can say, or the folks in it can say, Yeah, that resonates or that piece doesn't, but I could see, just to be able to start that conversation.
Terrill: So we try to engage staff at every step of the entire process. Depending on the size of the staff, that has to look different, right? A four-person organization or 400 person organization looks really different when we're talking about staff engagement, but that's also part of it. It's leadership does not have the answers, right? The answers need to come from the entire organization. And so we try to engage staff as much as possible, along the way to get a lot of feedback. What is their vision? What do they want to see? How do they want to shift themselves? And what, what training and education work do they most feel like they need? Right. So we can build all of that. And we really deeply trust that the folks in the organization are the ones who know best what's needed. And our work is really to help synthesize that and open the door for them to be able to do that work.
Carol: And how does that show up in terms of equity work? Because sometimes I feel like there's a stance in that work that doesn't necessarily have that trust that the organization knows what it needs.
Monique: Well, in terms of how we approach equity work to kinda build the trust that we've been talking about and to really open the minds and hearts of the folks that we're working with, we generally have the philosophy that well, one. Equity work, we don't only focus it on race. Right. We look at the multiple aspects of identities. And so as we do that, we invite people to look at the places where they have identities that are privileged identities and the places where they have identities oppressed. Right. And so in terms of the modeling and the transparency and that Terrell, and I do, like, we share like our full selves with folks. Right. And acknowledging that, I have certain identities that are very privileged. I'm U.S. born, English speaking. I live a middle-class life. Right. And I have identities that are oppressed, right. I'm black, I'm a woman. I have a disability. So, what we do is we invite people to look at their whole selves, not just through a single, a single lens. And that really shifts how the conversation happens for groups. Right? So you've got, white folks who are used to being in the conversation where they are the oppressor, right. I mean, that's, that's what we're working with here. And we're saying, well, actually, you're more than that. Right. like you have many identities that you're holding where you're impacted by systems that take power away from you too. So, we bring that conversation into a group when we're talking about equity and we find that for the folks of color, for the trans folks, for the LGBT folks, It's a, it's a new way of looking at ourselves. Right. And that is, I mean, it's, it's really powerful to be part of those moments where the group's like, oh right. Because there's so much fear going into conversations around equity. And so we've found that that type of approach that's what causes the fear goes away, but it definitely just creates compassion for each other. Right. That's one of our values that we really work with, but like, how do we create more compassion within these systems so that folks can see each other as whole beings and not just, you are the oppressor. I am the oppressed, like, that we're more than that.
Terrill: That's great Monique. I would, I also would add that to your question, Carol, about like, do we trust that the organizations have the knowledge internally? Right. And, and what we have found is that yes, because they know enough to know what they don't know, or to know that they don't know at all, if that makes sense. Like, no, I mean, none of us, none of us have that knowledge that we need to. Right. Right. But we hear a number of our clients are predominantly white organizations that are really early in their learning journey. And we can absolutely work with them to help equitable culture when they come to us and say, we're early in our learning, when they have a knowledge that they're early in their learning and they have a lot to learn and they can help us figure out what is it that they need to learn to be able to create this culture. Right. That is, that is actually a lot easier to work with in the organizations that come to us and sort of say, well, we already know everything.
Carol: Might be one of your red flags.
Terrill: Right. Cause we're all learning. There is no end point to an absolute journey, right? We are all on the journey. The organizations, individuals, teams, all of us consultants as well are on a learning journey. And so I think when we really open up and tap in, we do know what we need to learn and where we need to.
Carol: Yeah. I love that that compassion piece is key in the work, ultimately it's about being a better human being and that's certainly a lifelong should be, hopefully it's a lifelong, if you're like check I'm good. I'm a good person. I'm missing out on what you might be learning. Right. So at the end of each episode, just to very much shift the focus here a little bit, I do ask an icebreaker question as a facilitator. Everyone looks to you and says, well, what are your icebreakers? And, and I say, well, they're in a box. I have, I have a box of cards that I use. So to, to, to go pretty opposite of where our conversation has been, I'm going to ask you this one. If you could arm wrestle any historical figure, who would you choose and why
Monique: I'm like, who am I willing to lose to?
Terrill: Okay. I have a response. Also, you can keep these to give you some time, Monique. So my answer would be Bayard Rustin, and because I would love to be able to be in his presence so that I could do anything arm, wrestling, shake his hand, whatever, but he has, he has been a role model for me forever. I mean, I think I was first exposed to his work when I was probably 18 or 19. I actually worked at a summer program for kids from LGBT families and one of our tent circles where the kids lived was the Baird rest. Circle. And so just to know, like he was such, he was the brain behind so much of what Martin Luther king was able to do, but yet he wasn't recognized for it because he was gay. And the fact that at one point Martin Luther king basically kicked him out of the movement and then said to him, nevermind, come back. I can't do this without you. I just think that the amount of adversity he experienced that kept fighting for the rights of his folks, of people, of color, of black people in this country, even as he was facing homophobia within his group is really. So much of what we're dealing with today as well, and that we have to bring that stick to it even though we are not perfect in any of our movements there isms all over the place in our movements. We have to both be addressing those and continuing to move the work forward. It's not an, it's not an either or, and I feel like he held that and balanced that so well, thanks.
Monique: I would say Harriet Tubman. Yeah. I mean, there's so many reasons why I would be more than happy to lose to her, but the main thing is that I found out maybe about five years ago that she had seizures and I have epilepsy. Right. And so whenever I start to feel afraid of facilitating in front of a group. Am I going to have a seizure? I've got like those tapes start going. I remember her. And I'm like she, 17, 18, 19 times went back and forth and freed people, right. Led them to freedom with the, without meds, without comfort, without all the things that I have. And so I'm like Monique. Get over yourself like you, that the blood that she has, you have to, like, you're made of the same thing. And so like, I would love to just be in her presence and just soak up some of that power.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome, two very powerful people that yes, we're willing to, willing to lose our arm wrestling match with. So for the two of you, what, what are you excited about? What's coming up? What's emerging in your work these days?
Monique: Well, we were just starting in the second phase with an organization that is a very nature based organization. And we have the privilege of being able to work with them for like a year and a half. So we're really able to dive in deep with them and we can integrate all of our things like when we talk about the natural world and how that reflects what's happening within the organization, it's like we can do this in a really direct and explicit way with this group in a way that we can't with some others. So I'm so excited about where we get to go with them and, and how we'll get to go out and hug trees together.
Terrill: I'm also excited for the ability to have in-person retreats again, like I, I thought it was here and then it wasn't. And so I'm holding onto the hope that it will be here. Again. One of the things that we've learned over the last year and a half is that we can do really deep work remotely. And it really surprised me. I will completely acknowledge, I didn't think we could do it. And we have, and. It doesn't feed me as the facilitator in the same way, because we put people into breakout rooms on zoom and they just disappear and we have no idea what's happening. Right. And then they come back. And so to be in the room where we can feel the energy of the group in a completely different way and be fed by that, I'm really looking forward to being able to do that and cross my fingers. It will be relatively soon. Yeah.
Carol: Yeah. Although I do, I do love being able to hit a button and have everyone come back. Well, thank you so much. It was great talking to both of you. I really appreciate the time you spent with me and my wireless.
Terrill: Thank you. Thank you, Carol. It's been really, really fun and I'm really appreciative of the work you're doing and this podcast.
Monique: Yep. Fantastic. Thank you so much. Awesome.
Carol: I appreciated the unique perspective that Terrill and Monique brought to our conversation about organizational culture change. Especially that so often they are coming in after 2 or 3 or 4 attempts have already been made to shift culture. Those may have started with doing a few training sessions, perhaps a few facilitated conversations. And then wondering – why haven’t things changed yet. They underscore what it really takes – the full investment that is needed to change your culture and create a healthier, more intentional, more equitable culture. And why so often after several rounds of attempts, slowing down and attending to relationships – building in time for healing is so important. And showing up as full human beings who also have made and will continue to make mistakes is so key.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Terrill and Monique as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Izzy Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
Equity highlights from 2020 and 2021
In episode 39, Carol Hamilton looks back at the last year and a half of Mission Impact. Using clips from interviews with Tip Fallon, Nyacko Perry, Carlyn Madden, Kristin Bradley-Bull, Keisha Sitney, Rosalind Spigel, Stephen Graves and Nathaniel Benjamin, she examines:
Learn more about my featured guests:
Carol Hamilton: For this first episode of 2022, I am looking back. Over the past year and a half I have released 38 episodes. And I started interviewing for the podcast just as the pandemic started in March 2020. I also started another brief project that was going to be the podcast Culture Fit which I am fitting into Mission: Impact instead. Over those interviews issues of equity – diversity, equity and inclusion – and how these issues show up in organizations – especially nonprofit organizations have emerged frequently in our conversations. For this episode I am featuring some of the highlights from those conversations. I loved the chance to look back and listen to those episodes and look for some gems. While there was a lot more great stuff I could have included, I try to focus on a few themes that went across interviews. These themes included:
Tip Fallon: That's my belief in an underpinning, even in nonprofit organizations who may be providing social services or direct support in the community, in one sense, like those are still a, maybe not a microcosm, but they sit within a larger society in this larger society. If we talk about whether it's patriarchy or the racism or xenophobia or any of those things, but even sometimes just the, the capitalist mindset when the individualistic mindset that promotes a belief of scarcity, organizations and cultures are not things that fell from the sky. So we need to remember that people, maybe not us people, maybe generations ago made some decisions. Many of them very. oppressive decisions towards entire groups of races, of people that created a lot of these structures and organizations and hierarchies that we're living in then for today, what are our decisions and what are. The ramifications, not just today, but to borrow from indigenous mindsets and ideology, multiple generations down the line because we're creating cultures today that will last well beyond the 5:00 PM or 6:00 PM or 10:00 PM that a lot of people work
Carol: Nyacko Perry comments. On how the ways we work and measure productivity and accomplishment. Spring from roots. That would most likely surprise most of us
Nyacko Perry: Our structures in general in terms of business are based on white supremacy. All the way from our educational systems, our business structures, I was listening to the 1619 project. An amazing piece by the New York Times, that really looks into our history of slavery and also just the legacy of slavery. And one major piece is that a lot of our business structures are based on how the plantations were run. They had very complex systems, they had middle management and ideas about productivity and reports about productivity, of how. Feed a slave and have them be as efficient as possible. And we're extremely successful in that. So much of our. And America is based on that piece of our history in our life. So when I think about just structures in general, I'm like, yeah, like the whole thing, everything, which does make it difficult, I guess, to just live in society and to work in any system. I guess the rationale that I give myself is that I'm here to dismantle and to support in the transition and the change. But I think it's very important to just acknowledge where our structures come from.
Carol: The nonprofit sector certainly mirrors the rest of the culture in terms of who shows up in what levels of leaders. And on boards, there have been calls from major institutions in the sector for years to work on the issue. And yet the needle hasn't really moved much in terms of diversifying. I think a lot of it has to do with this notion, especially in predominantly white organizations of what's just about diversity and it's about numbers. Let's get at least one person, one person of color, one person with some diversity factor beyond a white and men and women. But then that underlying factor of how is the culture supporting that person to be able to be successful and really contribute in a meaningful way. Carlyn Madden sites. The study that I was referring to.
Carlyn Madden: Jean Bell, who talks about, I think it's called hire by higher and talks about some of the survey data on executive leadership in the nonprofit sector has not changed in the last 20 years. The demographics do not actually change.
Carol: Given the context that we live in and the stubbornness of the challenge. What can people do to move the needle? Kristin Bradley-Bull offers one possibility
Kristin Bradley-Bull: History is written by the so-called winner. Think that's all wrapped up in what you're talking about and one, certainly, of the primary opportunities for so many nonprofits is too. And especially ones that are white led is to really. Start listening a lot more to listen more deeply to stories from the communities that they are a part of, or not as much a part of it as they wish that they were because that's where so much wisdom rests. And it is in storytelling that many learnings, many examples of resilience and creativity and perseverance. Live and live actively, certainly in the nonprofit sector, how are we, how are we supporting? How are we supporting a system that, how are we supporting the larger system that isn't serving a lot of our community members? So I think there are lots and lots of questions and all of that. And some of what I take hope from is that piece around. We have activists and movements who are pushing. And so when the more traditional nonprofit sector is in good dialogue with movement folks, there's lots of zest. There, there are lots of aha moments. And so I think we just have to continue again. It's that porousness, it's that sharing of stories that. That helps others in the non-profits sphere or grassroots activists and people in the non-profit and the formal nonprofit sphere, as well as grassroots groups that are not , there's a lot of possibility and bringing all those folks into conversation, storytelling, deep, deep consideration of comments. Common interests, which is not necessarily the first thing that people recognize, but we have common interests in what I would call collective liberation.
Carol: Nyacko Perry speaks to this as well and goes beyond storytelling. To how it shows up with frontline staff. As well as leadership. And the connection. Or rather the frequent lack of connection to the community that is being served
Nyacko: People that are doing the really direct service are having. A real challenging time, especially around their income, more often than not, they're the least paid person, but they're the people that are really dealing with the direct work. And then there's a whole disconnect between the direct service people and the people that are really high up. And the other disconnect in that area is. Race. It's like direct service. That's where all the people of color work. And then as you go up, it's just all white. And that, to me, like, I think symbolically, I find disturbing I'm like, what is that about? And then also in terms of who they serve more often than not, it's people of color, people that we've represented with disenfranchised identities, and that's not reflected in the leadership of non-pro. And so for me, there's just this huge disparity and disconnect that I don't understand. And I feel troubled by more often than not the people who need help are people that represent disenfranchised identities. And why is it that we don't have those that represent those identities in leadership? I mean, that's where I see there's just a huge problem in that, but I mean, honestly, my friends that are a nonprofit when I've worked in non-profit, it's just, it's almost like it's normalized where yeah. The whole board is white. The whole leadership is white. They don't know what's happening. Like they're not connected to the actual experience of the people that they're serving, but they get to make the most important, most drastic. And, fundamentally for me, it's the people that are closest to the pain should be closest to the access and closest to helping to make decisions, and I'm pulling from my Congressmember, Ayanna Presley, but that's the thing we need to people who are representing that identities should be part of. The solution should be part of making those major decisions. And I don't see that. I rarely see that. And I think we know statistically, it's not there. It's like at all, we think it's like 0.05%.
Carol: Another theme I heard in our conversations was about assimilation. One of the challenges that I think few white people realize is the extent to which black indigenous and people of color BIPOC may feel pressured to assimilate. Into the white dominant culture to succeed. And the emotional toll that that assimilation takes every day. Tip describes this phenomenon.
Tip: It is internalized in us. We default to let me wear the mask because I know at least I may be able to survive in this space and maybe be able to foster some relationships with that and get my agenda across. And what I find sometimes is sometimes that math. There is a permeable boundary between the mask and us. Sometimes it seeps into us, I think at an unconscious level. I mean, we end up with ourselves and others unintentionally sometimes perpetuating some of the mask wearing in our organizations, but there's a generational divide as well. So even there, there is a little bit of tension just generationally. I mean, this is again a big generalization, but sometimes younger people are coming into the workforce. Now that I have a little bit more latitude and say, Hey, I want to wear my hair or even my clothing and appearance, or even my language in a style that seems authentic and natural to me. And we shouldn't be afraid to talk about this. So, Hey supervisor, like, can you call some of this stuff out? Because I don't really feel included. Supervisors might say, Hey, I've got to negotiate my boundaries with these funders or these community partners or X, Y, Z. And I'm trying to sort of toe that line and we're going to get more, what is it? Get more bees with. If you will. So like let's sort of not rock the boat or whatever the averages are. That's a little bit, a little bit much for the appetite and the culture of that organization. And so what we see in that situation is, is someone who says, Hey, this is what being authentic means to me. And because I don't feel I can be authentic. You, the organization, are not getting my best thinking. You're not getting my ideas about what's happening within this organization that I only have a purview about. And the system is losing out. The clients and beneficiaries are losing out as well. And then you have others in the organization who are essentially, I think, trying to survive in a way that looks like these masks are also a survival tool.
Carol: Keisha Sitney also comments on her experience, including how this approach is too often actually embedded. In leadership development programs designed for people of color. To help them succeed
Keisha Sitney: I led multicultural leadership development efforts at a national level for our organization. And there's sometimes where I felt like we were just teaching the diverse leader, how to be within this larger structure that is not necessarily welcomed. So teach you as a person of color to straighten your hair, to get in, get the interview, say the right things and do all those things. But how do we change the system? So that it doesn't expect me to conform in order to be successful, that I can be valued for. However, I look, if I choose to wear my hair this way, and I know that sometimes it seems like a small thing, but those small things, they just add up and there just seems to be many ways where as a woman of color, I felt like I haven't always been able to bring my whole self to work. So I do think that it's important that we allow folks to bring. Themselves and their culture and their beliefs to work and not have to hide who they are. those conversations is, is a key part of it,
Carol: That leadership development that you're talking about, it's essentially what, like refining, refining code switching, or basically teaching. With these realities, many organizations are trying to take steps to address the current situation. And there are many pitfalls and mistakes and traps that white led organizations fall into. I'm trying to take steps to diversify as well as become more inclusive and equitable. One of those mistakes is recruiting for diversity first, instead of attending to the culture that you're asking people of color to step into. Rosalind Spiegel speaks to this.
Rosalind Spiegel: They're white-led boards. And they want to have BIPOC folks as part of their leadership, which is great. And the. Depth that they skip is how do we prepare ourselves to welcome others into our board? And so you don't just start doing equity when you've got a BiPAP person sitting on your board, because then they leave in a year. And you wonder why Robert Gass, who does the art of transformational consulting. He's got a lot of great resources on the website, the social transformation project website it's called and educate. And it's basically a feedback loop. It's basically when you said X, I felt why, because. So this out and education is a way that organizations and boards serving staff can begin to practice what they preach. So let's say you, Carol and I are at our board meeting with a bunch of other white people and, or mostly white men say, and you say something and nobody pays much attention to it. And then like three minutes later, Charles says the same thing and people go, Hmm, that's good. Now I might, I'm sure you've never experienced that. Right. Never, never, never happened. So I might not catch it. Right. Cause I'm just as, as sort of susceptible to sexism as everybody else. Right. And white. Can tend to be a little competitive. So I may or may not. I may even notice it and not know what to say. Right. But if you've got something like a, a commitment in place for collaboration, engagement, respect, equity, whatever, and a mechanism like out and educating them, you could say, Hey Charles, when I said that three minutes ago, nobody paid any attention to it. And, and now when you said something, I noticed that people thought it was a great idea. And because of that, I'm feeling invisible or at that made me feel invisible and, or I might have the wherewithal to say, Hey, Charles I noticed Carol said that a few minutes ago, and I'm really glad you amplified it, but I'd kinda like to hear Carol's original thinking around that. The trick here is that, and here's sort of the thing about this ouch and education process is like the trick is for Charles to get. Oh, wow. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Right. I'm sorry. I missed that. I know we have a commitment to this and I'm going to try and do better next time. That's the right answer. The wrong answer is for Charles to go, oh, I didn't mean to you're misinterpreting me that wasn't my intention because that's a showstopper. So if the commitment is, let's practice these values. Then there's also commitment to learning from. I said, this thing, thank you for telling me this thing felt off to you and I'm going to try and do better next time, because we're all part of this team and we all want to make sure that whoever's part of the team feels heard.
Carol: The example that you were starting to talk about in terms of the social justice organization that you mentioned. And, then the black board member said, yeah, and we have all these values. We have this mission. We do this work and I'm still experiencing this. So I'm curious then what came out of that conversation? I don't want to guess what might've happened. So how does that become an education? Yeah. Yeah. And that gap, I'm sure people would just work. I could imagine how chagrin they felt. Wow.
Rosalind: I mean, it was a real gift. I mean, and that's the thing, for someone to say, Hey, like when you said X, I felt why it is such a gift that that person has given you. I mean, really it's just such, I mean, how else are we doing? I mean, we've all got our work to do. And so we're not going to be able to get any better unless someone is generous enough to point out where we're sticking our foot in it.
Carol: At the same time, taking the risk to point out the ouch and educate those around, around you takes a toll. Keisha Sitney describes the exhaustion of constantly being expected to speak up. And how she decides when and when not to take on that emotional labor
Keisha: It's exhausting to share. And there've been times when I'm like, I'm not, I'm tired of educating everyone else. I'm just going to do it. I've got to preserve myself. Diversity. Fatigue is a real thing, but I found relationships that are important to me. And I've found, I've really tried to develop those. Professionally personally, but by sharing, this is the impact of this. When I hear of another police killing of a black person, I think: that could be my son who's six foot four, and it could be my daughter who's 17 and just a black, young woman. It could be me. It could be my husband. Sharing conversations with folks. One of my colleagues said that really hit me when you talked about your kids and my kids, because it's always that family over there, but it's like, no, And you know that we have these things in common, but yet our kids can be doing the same exact thing and mine will be killed and yours will not. I can't speak for every person who I met who's like me, but I can tell you how this impacts me. I can tell you how this impacts my children. I can tell you how this impacted my family. I think that that's one way that I've tried to personally just make connections with folks and help them just see things in a different light.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate that. And I appreciate also you're saying there just sometimes when I'm not, I'm not going to engage. I need to, I need to preserve myself.
Keisha: Yeah. Can't always, I can't always engage in conversations. It's not always fruitful. And there are some folks who it doesn't matter what you think, and I'm not willing to sacrifice myself for those types of conversations, we need to teach white people to be okay with people who are different. And, I know that there's a lot of, there are a lot of books and things talking about being anti-racist, but we have to continue to just work. Dismantling the systems. It's not just teaching one group how to be, or how to respond. It's educating ourselves on how things got to be the way they are. And we, they didn't just start with us here, here's the impact of those things. Here's how this group might've benefited from these laws and we systems. And then here's how this group may not have benefited
Carol: Another theme I heard was moving beyond the interpersonal. Looking at how things are done in particular, how hiring is done. How searches, especially executive searches are done. Impacts what the sector looks like. Carolyn Madden talks about how they are approaching. Executive search differently to address some of these issues.
Carlyn: What is required or that the conditions of executive search have to change. And so while the model that you're talking about, sort of the last 20 years, it's called executive transition management and they talk about. Prepare pivot and thrive. Don Tevye and Tom Adams and any Casey foundation. And all of these organizations came together to design this model, which is an effective model at the base of it. But the conditions around the model haven't changed. And so things that we do that are a little bit different, or a lot of my colleagues are starting to do the same, but we're very firm in that color transparency for all of our client, actually building out networks, multi-racial network, leveraging affinity group. Open exchange with clients, recognizing that often leaders of color don't have those sponsors, or we are reaching out to folks saying, who do in this space, that would be a good executive director, because there are so many white people in the sector in top leadership roles. Our networks are very homogenous. We know that I'm a white lady, you know where this is. But I'm a white lady, two white ladies talking to each other. but our networks are very homogenous. And so we have an open door policy that anybody that has questions about a search can call and talk to one of our associates about their interest in the role so that they can really prepare their. To be successful in front of that transition committee, also coaching transition committees on what are some best practices. So if a transition committee is hiring an executive director and says only executive directors can apply for this. Well, what we know to be true about the field is that there are fewer executive directors of color than white executive directors. And so we're already starting to limit the pool, like even just subtle things, right? How are we, how are we gender coding, job description? The studies say, not just in the nonprofit sector, but at large, Women are less likely to apply to a job that is masculine coded. So if your job description says things like aggressive goal achievements, women or women read that as like, well, can I aggressively achieve goals? So we use words like collaborate, not compete, thinking really about gender coding there. So boards often think that they can do it themselves. But again, what do we know about board? Many of them are predominantly white. So we look again at the some-odd network,
Carol: So given all these challenges internally in our mindsets. Implicit bias in her personally, culturally. Working organizations start to make changes. Tip offers thoughts about how we can manage and use ourselves in the situations that we find ourselves in.
Tip: I'd offer a couple of things first and foremost is compassion and understanding the system. And I think offering compassion to ourselves shows that we live in a very oppressive hierarchical system where we have to do a lot of things to survive and keep some of the basic needs met. So AEs is offering compassion to ourselves that, yet we don't have. I have ideal choice sets in front of us.
Carol: As we give ourselves and others, grace and compassion. Steven Graves talks about the importance of commitment. From the top of the organizations. The leaders of the organizations need to be committed to the work for change to happen
Stephen Graves: For shifts to be made in order for real change, transformational change to happen, you've got to have senior leadership commitment. Weber is at the top of the organization and has the most power. They have the most impact. Oftentimes they can control where energy is being in place, where resources are being placed.
Carol: Well, so much of anti-racism work focuses on the individual and interpersonal level. Stephen also talks about the importance of having good data to support your efforts.
Stephen: So a lot of times the mistake that people make in this particular aspect of diversity equity inclusion is because there's such an emotional tie and pull to it with feelings. And, I can trigger a lot of. People don't take a logical, maybe rational and evidence-based approach. And I think whether you're in the nonprofit space, whether you're in the corporate America space, whether you're in healthcare, like I said, You still need to be driven by data, collecting what we call real data, race, ethnicity, and language, data, collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data. Using that data to sit and drive real goals in terms of what are going to be some realistic goals that we can manage. And they can help us chart our path forward.
Carol: Focusing on equity. We'll most likely create some resistance. Stephen talks to this resistance and why it is an illusion to think of dei as somethings as separate and apart
Stephen: The advice that I would give to leaders when it comes to that resistance in terms of saying, okay, we've got to put this off because there's other priorities. It's saying, Hey, they, these are priorities within priorities. So wherever the conversation is, whether it's around COVID, whether it's around your EHR, electronic health care. There's going to be a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion within all of those priorities. Maybe you're building and expanding your practices, expanding a wind, getting your hospital. You've got to have some consideration for, okay, how are we going to make this accessible right, for a person with disability? How are we going to make sure that language at signage is translated in a way that folks can understand who don't speak English as a first language. So these D and D pains are going to be embedded.
Carol: To that point, Nathaniel Benjamin addresses the question of where responsibility for DEI should live within your organization.
Nathaniel Benjamin: DNI should be aligned directly to your senior leader, CEO or operator diversity is about your people. And it's about the experiences that these people leverage. So for me, if I were to create like the perfect organization, I always figure human capital in terms of your process. And you look at culture, you look at engagement and belonging, and then you look at diverse and all of those areas together. Is the strongest framework to create a human centric culture.
Carol: Keisha Sitney describes the brain spot. She sees in her organization. And what is giving her hope for the future?
Keisha: Might've encountered quite a few bright spots. I know we have a movement of leaders of color. Throughout the National Y we call it our multicultural leadership development group. And we have mentors and coaches and support, and we've created a safe space, similar to the employee resource group models, where you have groups of people that may be able to come together, work on policies, and you've got the affinity groups, those types of. But ours is more of a mixture of not just African-Americans with African-Americans. So you might see African-Americans Hispanic, Latinos, Asian, Pacific Islanders. You might have indigenous folks of which we need to improve our numbers nationally as an organization with regards to leadership or flooded communities. But for those of us who are members of those communities, finding the commonalities and being able to support one another and educate one another and develop our own cultural competence, just because you're a person of color doesn't mean that you're going to be culturally competent as well. And the things that we're asking from other groups that we should be able to model those things as well. So it's definitely a great support system. And we've seen a lot of folks who've been able to engage and advance their careers within our organism.
Carol: And with a final thought Tip Fallon reminds us that while we live in a culture. And with the history that we didn't necessarily make. And we are also making today's history. In small and large ways we can impact. And have ripple effects. That might mean a lot to the person across from you or in that zoom call you attend today.
Tip: Like we are products of history in a way of what we're living in, but we are also the creators of history. We're creating the history that those people will live in, in the future. That, that makes sense. So it's an invitation as well, to be intentional about. What are the cultures that we're creating both actively, but also passively, , when, when we show up and just where, where those choice points. And I think at the end of the day, the day to just hoping to find peace for me in a so for me media, a big piece of work is in some of our training, we use the term self, but just inquiring. How am I showing up? Not just what are my intentions, but what are my, what are the impacts that I'm having on my peers, my colleagues, those who might come to my nonprofit for services on funders, on the community at large, For others who have to make a lot of compromises in terms of their values and how they'd like to show up, it's just, what's in our locus of control that we can change. Sometimes we talk. About culture and it's our systems and it's big, it's complex. Like how could ever change this stuff. And for me, like the micro stuff matters a lot to those moments where we feel seen and heard and validated by a colleague. And I think those things really fill the tank. I think they give people hope and humanity that no matter what happens during the day, if you've got a really good connection with someone that can keep our tank full.
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