Stacy Lee Kong – writer, editor and creator of one of our favourite newsletters, Friday Things – joined us for a seriously fun conversation. And by that, I mean a serious conversation layered under a really fun conversation.
Stacy has built a successful personal brand by using celebrity stories to bring the discussion around serious issues, be it mental health, racial injustice, body positivity or hustle culture. As a racialized woman in media, she recognized that stories about race are most often heavy and deflating. So, she created a space where people can understand someone else’s experiences a little bit better, while having a little bit of fun doing it. Celebrity culture provided the perfect construct.
Our conversation covered many topics, but we centered our unlearning around the topic of racial inclusion on the sharp contrast between two Meghans: Markle and McCain.
Lived experience over credentials candy
We talked about the Duke of Sussex’s latest corporate title: Chief Impact Officer for BetterUp, an organization that provides certified coaches to help individuals with performance, mentorship and mental health counseling through video chats or over the phone.
In our view, this was a really smart move by BetterUp’s leadership. Prince Harry, for his part, has been open about his struggles with grief and mental health. So, when he started using BetterUp’s services, it was a match made in Silicon-Valley-Romcom heaven.
What Prince Harry may lack in corporate ladder-climbing he makes up for in spades through his lived experience in public in the years following his mother’s untimely passing.
The princely hire has also accelerated the mainstreaming of mental health discussions. If you listened to episode 3, you know we’re big fans of this.
Buck tradition when it stifles progress
In Buckingham Palace’s statement in response to the Sussexes’ interview with Oprah, “the firm” bit the proverbial hand that fed it a gift-wrapped opportunity (in the form of an interracial love story for the ages) to modernize an institution that has faced vast amounts of criticism for decades. Instead, the statement appeared to challenge recollections of the events that led to the Sussexes’ eventual exit from the UK.
And that’s a lesson to all of us – whether in the corporate workplace, in academic institutions or public sector organizations. The status quo is meant to be challenged and updated with the passage of time, especially when following it necessarily means keeping some people out.
Representation matters, especially at the top
From Meghan Markle to Meghan McCain. [Quick sidebar: On an episode of The View that aired in March, Meghan expressed concerns about the “slippery slope” resulting from prioritizing minority candidates with less experience over qualified, straight white people.] McCain questioned if one of the co-hosts should leave to make room for more representation from the Asian-American community.
To answer Meghan’s partially rhetorical question: yes. We have to find ways to make room for diverse communities at the top if we want to reap the multitude of benefits that come from representative leadership. It doesn’t mean C-suites have to be dismantled overnight. But when looking for new talent, it does mean being very focused on recruiting from specific marginalized groups.
Since ABCDEI is all about learning and unlearning, this is how we have unpacked the concepts shared in episode 6 into simple and actionable ideas:
- Put a value on lived experience. When you’re looking for your next hire, think critically about the lived experience that will add value to the role before you start the interview process. Don’t fixate on 15 years of experience or a degree from a specific university. Instead, break it down into what the role entails: people management, the ability to negotiate strategic partnerships and a solid understanding of the industry you’re in. Prioritizing lived experience over credentials candy will rarely lead you astray.
- Challenge the “way things have always been done.” Marginalization of certain communities is unfortunately baked into our systems and processes that were built with white-cis-Christian-able-bodied men in mind. We now need to overhaul parts of those systems that exclude those that are different from entering and moving up, without being precious about what bringing others in means for those already “in.” There’s plenty of opportunity for all of us.
- Build BIPOC up, while creating space for them at the top. One major parallel from the conversation about the two Meghans to workplaces is this: we have to find ways to set up those who are “not the norm” for success –through upskilling, creating equitable opportunities for advancement and mining for transferrable skills. On the other hand, we also need to make space at the top to ensure leadership is well-represented. For this, we have to forego antiquated notions of candidacy based on apples-to-apples experience. I would argue that experience at an after-school program or managing a quick service restaurant is the perfect launchpad to a career in customer relations or client service.
If you have found yourself wanting to unlearn but wondering where to even begin, or if you have a guest idea, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here in fun and serious conversations,
Rohini + Susan