#5 – Power structures, immigrant inclusion and the meritocracy myth

In episode 5 of ABCDEI, Gail Strachan – culture strategist, co-Founder and co-chair of the first-ever Antiracism in PR summit and all-around inspiring advocate – is in the studio! Gail’s journey of wokeness began as curiosity about Black history in high school and became confusion, hurt and anger. As a social justice advocate, Gail states that skirting around the topic of race is stifling our progress towards inclusion and equity. The trio discuss the foundation of disproportionate power structures holding BIPOC and break down the meritocracy myth once and for all.

Typecasting, tokenism, collective vision and cancel culture with Ali Kazmi

ABCDEI’s first-ever guest, actor-director Ali Kazmi, joined us for a no-holds-barred conversation about some of the issues faced by BIPOC and other marginalized talent in the entertainment industry. The conversation covered many themes that are just as relevant in workplaces as they are in show business. 

While talking about his role in Deepa Mehta’s Funny Boy, this year’s Canadian entry to the Oscars in the international feature category, Kazmi shared his disappointment with public sentiment around the cast not being fully Sri Lankan. The film depicted Shyam Selvadurai’s story of a young boy coming to terms with being gay amid a civil war in 1970s Sri Lanka. Cancelling the film because the cast was not entirely Sri Lankan is myopic when one considers the impact it is continuing to make with South Asian families, where the topics of gender, identity and homosexuality can still be considered taboo. 

Representation done right: Kim’s Convenience

Of course, as proud Torontonians, we gushed about Kim’s Convenience and what a good job that show did to represent Toronto (not masquerading as NYC, for a change), Koreans, Canadians and immigrants in general. And most importantly, on national, mainstream network television. The reality is that while we are seeing more marginalized talent in films and TV, the playing field is not level. The abrupt cancellation of a brilliant show such as Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj makes little sense, nor does the complete shut-out of Michaela Cole’s I May Destroy You from Golden Globes nominations. 

The diversity issue on screen and in workplaces

Hollywood and corporate workplaces alike have had a historic lack of diversity. For too long, the token actors of colour have been relegated to roles such as the awkward exchange student, the terrorist, the IT person or the blink-and-you-miss-it bit part. Thanks to the work of stars like Mindy Kaling, Issa Rae, Riz Ahmed and Kumail Nanjiani, to name just a few, we are finally seeing shows that feature BIPOC in leading roles and fully fleshed out characters.

As allies, we need to bring people from underrepresented communities out of the fringes. And as marginalized people, we need to build allyship with other marginalized communities so when one of us shines, it is a collective step forward for BIPOC.

And of course, we talked about cancel culture. 

While the concept of holding people accountable for their actions has some good, the immediate jump to negativity without the option for dialogue can do a lot of harm. We talked about reframing cancel culture as consequence culture, where organizations and people are accountable for their actions, without being cancelled altogether, immediately.

Since ABCDEI is all about learning and unlearning, this is how we have unpacked the concepts we shared in episode 4 into simple and actionable ideas:

  1. Paint the full picture. Whether on set or at work, give BIPOC space to be their full selves, so they don’t just check a box in a cast or workplace. The latter is tokenism. Being BIPOC or gay or in a wheelchair is only one aspect of someone’s identity. Do the work to complete the picture.
  2. Level the playing field. Marginalized talent often must work twice as hard for the same recognition that those with privilege receive. If you want to be an ally, sponsor those who haven’t had as much opportunity to have their moment. And advocate for equity so that the bar for participation can be scaled to accommodate and build up atypical talent. 
  3. Build allyship among the marginalized. BIPOC is not a monolith, just as LGBTQS2+ isn’t. As BIPOC, we  need to build community in the margins so we can lift each other up in the journey ahead to real change.

If you have found yourself wanting to unlearn but wondering where to even begin, or if you have a guest idea on the topic, get in touch. Drop us a line at hello@abcdei.ca.

Here in the fringes and the mainstream,

Rohini + Susan

Recollections may vary

Living in relative isolation over the past year has brought conversations around mental health into very sharp focus. Everyone’s experience has been a little different based on their circumstances, but moments of frustration, anxiety and deep sadness have been common. 

Mental health is often an overlooked or sometimes taboo topic among marginalized communities. In the struggle to compete for the same opportunities as those with privilege, there is a push to “shake it off” and just get on with it. Often – and we are both guilty of this – we can turn to humour to hide the pain we feel in situations that impact our mental health and confidence. Hannah Gadsby tackled this difficult topic so powerfully in her Netflix special, Nanette. If you haven’t watched it, please add it to your weekend essential-viewing list. 

What not to do

It is important to create space for people in your life to share their pain if they choose to do so. And when they do so, resist the urge to

1) swoop in with advice unless they ask for it,

2) compare it to something you know from your own experience,

3) minimize their pain, or

4) resort to platitudes like “call me any time.” 

Now that sounds like a long list of no-nos, so let’s get to what we can do. It might sound oversimplistic, but just ask how you can help. Shifting the “reach out if you need support” to “how can I support you right now?” 

Spilling the Royal tea

The world recently watched Meghan Markle’s brave account of her fragile mental health while she was carrying out her royal duties as the Duchess of Sussex, as told to Oprah Winfrey. For that to be minimized in a statement issued by Buckingham Palace that contained the painful phrase “recollections may vary” was a deep blow that was acutely felt by racialized communities. The statement effectively minimized Meghan’s pain and the validity of her account of why she and Prince Harry left the UK and gave up being working members of the Royal Family. 

The monarchy had the opportunity to provide Meghan the support she needed and bravely asked for. Instead, the Firm/HR chose to ignore her plea in the interest of an antiquated view of royal optics. Even if for selfish, image-rehabilitation reasons, the Firm could have stood to gain public favour if they had lent her the support she needed. Brownie points for being modern, caring and inclusive of the first person of colour in the Royal Family. But no, status quo prevailed. As marketers, we are baffled by the absence of logic and empathy in that move.

Since ABCDEI is all about learning and unlearning, this is how we have unpacked the concepts we shared in episode 4 into simple and actionable ideas:

  1. Mental health struggles are real. Yes, someone’s pain might be in their head, but that doesn’t make it less real. Our feelings are connected to identity and how we process the world.  Shaking it off is not always an option one can afford.
  2. Someone’s truth is THE truth. The other golden rule of mental health support, especially for BIPOC: understand that there is no difference between “someone’s truth” and “the truth.” Someone’s lived experience IS a fact and not open to interpretation or drive-by commentary. It can be tempting to step in and wave a magic wand to wish someone’s pain away but understand that some wounds run deeper than words or gestures can fix in an instant.
  3. Ask how you can help. Don’t offer platitudes. Ask how you can support your person going through something. And when they do ask for help, recognize that as a privilege you now have and show up for them. Help can take many forms: space, coffee, a walk, a mental health expert referral or a meal drop-off. It all matters.

If you have found yourself wanting to unlearn but wondering where to even begin, or if you have a guest idea on the topic, get in touch. Drop us a line at hello@abcdei.ca.

Here in good times and bad,

Rohini + Susan

#4 – Typecasting, tokenism, collective vision and cancel culture with Ali Kazmi

Celebrity alert! In episode 4 of ABCDEI, actor-director Ali Kazmi joins Susan and Rohini to chat about the challenge of tackling the intersectionality of homosexuality and South Asian culture in Funny Boy, Canada’s Oscar entry this year. He also shares his candid views on typecasting in the entertainment business, the importance of allyship within marginalized communities and the need for more fulsome roles for BIPOC talent. The trio also talked about what Kim’s Convenience did in terms of representation of Korean, Canadian and immigrant identities.

About Ali






Ali is a trained multilingual, multifaceted and experienced, professional creative powerhouse of an Actor/Director & Producer. He was born in Karachi, Pakistan and he now lives in Toronto, Canada where he went to Film School and Drama school and started his career again from scratch. Hailing from a family of Creative juggernauts, he has been working successfully both on and off camera, in the industry in Pakistan, India, Canada & USA for 17 years in the creative fields of theater, television & film. Working on projects from conception to completion is his strong suit. Ali has a penchant for languages and can speak English, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Persian, Pashto/Dari, French(basic) and Arabic.

Instagram: @thealikazmi
Twitter: @thealikazmi
Facebook: Ali Kazmi

How to fight the good fight

Conflict is not all bad. Hear us out: addressing conflict has the potential to improve relationships, deepen understanding, boost confidence and enhance trust. 

Conflict can be more intuitive to embrace when it’s someone else’s cause. We do this as parents, friends or managers. That’s what makes conflict the good fight. 

But we are often more reluctant about standing up for ourselves. That has to change. It is important to stand your ground, especially if you’re part of a marginalized group. 

The three types of conflict

Every fight is not the same size, so pick your armour accordingly. If you don’t find a way to distribute your attention, you risk burning out. We defined the three broad categories of verbal conflict within the realm of DEI:

  1. Aggression

This could be a slur, a judgement or any type of harassment based entirely on one’s identity. Anything in the “go back to your country” vein is an example of this category.

It can be hard to respond in the moment because of disbelief someone could say such a thing, but it’s important to shut it down right away. An effective way to respond is to call the aggressor out for their words and disengage from the conversation. 

  1. Ignorance

This is where the offender might feel they get a free pass because they feel “times are changing too fast.”  An example: “I just don’t know what <you people> call yourselves these days.” 

This statement may not be as aggressive as the slur, but it is still lazy and offensive. It’s 2021, most of us have the internet 24/7. If you have time to binge watch streaming shows, you probably have time to educate yourself.

Another  relevant workplace example: “I don’t see colour. [Insert company name] functions as a true meritocracy.”

There are two questions to reflect on before making blanket statements like that. One: do the qualifications to move up in the organization necessarily subordinate certain groups that are just not well represented? Two: are you balancing everybody’s chances to get that promotion, that leadership opportunity or that bonus? That is where equal has to give way to equitable in order to be fair. 

Don’t make an MBA a necessary qualification for a job. It takes someone with privilege to be able to afford the $200,000 MBA, so if you go this route, you’re automatically confining your meritocracy to a very small percentage. 

  1. Microaggressions

This is probably the most common occurrence of conflict, especially in workplaces today. Often based on judgements or bias, microaggressions are the paper cuts of conflict. One or two may be easy enough to brush off, but let it continue and the cumulative effect of those repetitive cuts could really sting. An example: asking the clichéd, “Got a chicken tikka recipe?” when you meet an Indian person. Just don’t do it. Wait until you’ve developed a relationship and established if they cook, eat meat or want to share recipes. 

Saying something can be uncomfortable, but if you make it a teachable moment, you might prevent the same ignorant comment being directed at someone else. 

Since ABCDEI is all about learning and unlearning, this is how we have unpacked the concepts we shared on our first episode into simple and actionable ideas:

  1. All conflict isn’t aggression. Conflict can sometimes be a necessary means to a desirable end state. So say something – quickly – before you are stinging from a thousand paper cuts. Preparing before addressing conflict is critical to make the conversation productive.
  2. Drop the defence. If someone gets offended by your words, just apologize. Don’t get defensive or try to justify what you said. Try to approach a micgroaggression or ignorant statement with empathy: put yourself into the other person’s shoes – even if you are the person who is not the aggressor. Use the moment to teach or reflect, depending on which side you are.  
  1. Assumptions have consequences. We chatted in episode 1 about how mental shortcuts are human nature, but that they also lead to or perpetuate bias. So if your assumption or judgement about someone ends up offending them, take it in stride. Listen, reflect and unlearn, so you do better the next time around.

If you have found yourself wanting to unlearn but wondering where to even begin, or if you have a guest idea on the topic, get in touch. Drop us a line at hello@abcdei.ca.

Yours in conflict and resolution,

Rohini + Susan

Same, same but different.

The two of us get mistaken for each other more often than we should. 

Yes, we have similar stories (tl;dr: we are Indian women in marketing, who immigrated to Canada via a few years spent in Oman, where we met). But let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just lazy. 

Our experiences, specifically around our respective Canadian identities, are distinct (tune into episode 1 for more banter on that). 

But let’s break this phenomenon of mistaken identity down. Detecting patterns is an important part of how we learn and make decisions. In the process of learning, our brains create mental short cuts to problem solve and make choices quickly and efficiently. While rule-of-thumb strategies enable us to fast-track decision-making, they can also create or perpetuate bias. 

But when we, in the spirit of unlearning, look past shortcuts and patterns and see people for who they are – individually – that’s when we really let that person be their whole self. 

How do you do that? We can’t think of a better way than tapping into your inner-child curiosity.  Asking questions without starting to guess or assume the answer is the best way to start. And when you hear a response, resist the urge to compare it to something else you have heard before. Because as soon as you start saying your comparisons out loud, you run the risk of minimizing someone’s lived experience or belief system before you even have the chance to know them. 

Marketing is all about connection, between brands and people, among people and with the institutions around us. And in a growingly diverse world, if you don’t invest in getting to know the people around you, you run the risk of being out of touch, quickly. 

But learning can be hard. Change is even harder. So we’ve got to pace ourselves and check-in with those around us. Doing the work to create inclusion and equity is a marathon, not a sprint. But 1% change, consistently, is still growth in the right direction. 

So let’s do this. Mistakes and all. It will make us all better friends, leaders and humans.

Since ABCDEI is all about learning and unlearning, this is how we have unpacked the concepts we shared on our first episode into simple and actionable ideas:

  1. Dig a little deeper. When you start to think of people in groups as being homogenous, it’s a cue to dig a little deeper. The cost to participate in conversations about equity and inclusion isn’t too high. Just do it. Ask questions. Make yourself vulnerable. Be open to learning – or teaching – without judgement. 
  2. If you see something, say something. Silence isn’t golden when it comes to the hard work around creating inclusion and equity. Whether you have privilege – in fact, especially if you have any level of privilege – you cannot afford to turn a blind eye when you see people from underrepresented groups be overlooked, discriminated against or shut out of inner circles, just for being who they are. Silence is complicity.
  3. Don’t make one person represent a whole community. When it comes to our own needs, we often crowdsource opinions from a group. Commit to doing the same with any situation where there is unequal representation across groups. And for goodness’ sake, don’t put the weight of representation on one person’s shoulders. Neither of us can or should speak for all Indians, all women or even all South Asian immigrant women in marketing in Canada. (We’re same, same but different).

If you have found yourself wanting to unlearn but wondering where to even begin, or if you have a guest idea on the topic, get in touch. Drop us a line at hello@abcdei.ca.

Yours in similarity and dissimilarity,

Rohini + Susan

#3 – Recollections may vary

In the last episode of the launch-time binge, Susan and Rohini tackle another topic that has a lot of baggage, especially in the South Asian community. And that is mental health. Susan shares her journey to getting comfortable with the subject. The last year has taught us many things, but a deeper appreciation for mental health is the silver lining we’re choosing to focus on.

The hosts also share their take on the #MeghanandHarryonOprah interview with some learnings that anyone – manager, entrepreneur or political leader – can apply in their own lives.

#2 – The good fight

In this episode, Susan and Rohini get real about an important and uncomfortable topic: conflict. Is conflict always bad? No. Is it inevitable in the process of creating systemic change? Yes.

Getting comfortable with confrontation can come more naturally when you’re taking on someone else’s cause, but advocating for yourself can be hard. But fight the good fight we must, if equity is the ultimate goal. In this episode, Susan and Rohini talk about the three types of racism and what we can – all – do better when confronted with them. 

#1 – Same, same but different

ABCDEI co-hosts Susan Diaz and Rohini Mukherji have a lot in common – South Asian women who came to Toronto via Oman and work in marketing – OK, yes, that’s a lot of common ground, we hear it. But they also have distinct aspects of their identities, especially when it comes to being Canadian immigrants and their differing views on entrepreneurship.

In this episode, get to know what makes their journeys so different and what drives them to ask deep questions, be true to themselves and always lead with empathy on this journey of unlearning.