#17 – Identity, inviting feedback and influencing through persuasion with Romesh Hettiarachchi

Romesh Hettiarachchi, commercial lawyer at B&I Legal Counsel, has a wonderful way of breaking down identity into a conversation between the individual and community. And so, the formation of an authentic identity does require being open to and even inviting input from a diverse set of external advisors. In sharing his decision to exclude his last name from the name of his firm, Romesh shares some really important insights that leaders would be wise to honestly consider when building an inclusive business. If you’ve ever wondered, “what’s in a name?” then you definitely should tune into this episode.

#16 – Ageism, assumptions and asking with kindness with Jacqui D’Eon

Jacqui D’Eon, founder and owner of Jade Communications, and the author of stuff happens, joins us for an honest conversation around ageism in the workplace. As an educator and a professional with over three decades of experience, Jacqui sees both ends of the age spectrum everyday. Jacqui’s message is clear: move past the assumptions already. We all stand to gain a lot from multi-generational workplaces. The opportunities for two-way learning, more diverse and well-informed perspectives, and of course, true inclusion far outweighs any bumps and awkwardness along the journey. If you’re in a workplace that has representation across multiple generations, you are going to want to tune in.

#15 – Colonialism, co-creation and courageous action with Ben Borne

In light of the horrific recent discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves in Kamloops, we wanted to focus our learning on the Indigenous experience. We were joined by Ben Borne, a descendant of yellow quill First Nation and co-founder of Symmetry PR. Ben shared how he came to understand his Indigenous identity and his own privilege while discovering first-hand the realities and barriers that indigenous people face in Canada. His message to well-intentioned leaders is clear: don’t just say sorry, find a way to rebuild systems. Take it a step further and invite those in the margins to co-create new frameworks with you.

#14 – Radical ignorance – not radical Islam – is a serious problem

Rant alert. The past few weeks have brought so much pain to different marginalized groups in Canada. In today’s episode, Rohini and Susan share their anguish at the hate-fueled killing of a multigenerational Pakistani family out for a walk in London, ON. They reflect on their time spent living in the Middle East and the warmth and acceptance of the Muslim people that made Oman and the UAE feel like home. Finally, they share some advice for leaders about how to create real change to address and end Islamophobia once and for all.

#13 – Playgrounds to power structures: Lessons in DEI from Gen Z

Episode 13 was incredibly special, because it featured one of our own. Susan’s not-so-little-anymore kid, Yara, joined us for an enlightening discussion on leading with empathy, the importance of education and meeting in the middle. What really stayed with us was this: lessons from the playground translate surprisingly well into breaking down traditional workplace power structures. Yara’s precociousness reinforced the origin story of ABCDEI – specifically the focus on learning/unlearning like a child.  If Yara represents the voice of the next generation, we are going to be just fine, people. 

#12 – The new language of racism with Sherhara Downing

In episode 12, we were lucky enough to chat with Sherhara Downing, the livewire founder of Level Comm. She helps business leaders speak confidently and concisely to build their personal brand. Sherhara shared several personal experiences that have informed her commitment to anti-racism training. Her generosity in sharing gave us serious unlearning fodder during the conversation and thereafter.

We focused on some of the barriers to doing the work to dismantle systemic racism, with ways to overcome the 3 Is of inaction: indifference, ignorance and intention. Tune into our most high-energy episode yet!

#11 – Policies and not prayers with the Milkshake Sisters

And just like that, we’re kicking off Season 2 of ABCDEI!

In episode 1, Susan and Rohini are joined in studio by another dynamic duo – the Milkshake Sisters. Marianna and Angel are activists and educators with a focus on trans rights, with an intersectional lens given their immigrant roots. This episode tackles some tricky unlearning territory: for marginalized folx, it’s resisting the urge to “exhale anger” and for cis-normative/white folx, it’s the need to self-educate and to stop approaching any marginalized group as a monolith.

The powerhouse duo leaves us with a serious call to action: change policies, don’t send prayers. Make sure to take notes as you tune into this supercharged lesson on equity.

Title: Build inclusion into your foundation, not the façade with Mohit Rajhans

Mohit Rajhans is not afraid of blazing a path. Today he is the co-founder of Think Start Inc. and author of Rethinking Your Content and Growth Beyond Your Personal Brand. But he started his career in media, in a way that was confusing because it involved flourishing and a struggle simultaneously.

Mohit joined us on ABCDEI to break down the lessons he took from living in this conflicting duality between diaspora and mainstream news media. Through the conversation with Mohit, we identified many transferable lessons of unlearning for workplaces of all sizes.

Bollywood is not the Indian film industry

If you tuned into the podcast, you’ll recall Mohit regaling us with stories of his red-carpet interviews with the likes of Bollywood megastars Shahrukh Khan or the late Sridevi. He even told us about his own Bollywood cameo alongside former Miss India and superstar Juhi Chawla. Through those stories, one thing became worth emphasizing is that Bollywood is not Indian cinema. For the uninitiated, India has several regional language film industries; Bollywood is just the biggest and arguably most famous overseas. Why are we pointing this out? Because it reaffirms the fact that marginalized groups are not monoliths. The Black experience isn’t singular, nor is every trans person’s journey or every story of living with a disability. 

An honest look at blind spots

When Mohit was coming up in the media industry, he became well-acquainted with the media industry’s expectations – and failings. For instance, he found a direct facade with leadership. The leadership in the late 90s wanted to create front-facing diversity programming and content for the market for the halo effect. However, the reality was not consistent with the picture being painted in front. There were beautiful and diverse teams on billboards in front, but behind the scenes, management was still making the same mistakes by treating marginalized talent differently.

Going back to the monolith concept, Mohit pointed out how the fight for the one person of colour sportscaster or entertainment reporter seat, was tough. And once the seat was won, the person felt the need to take the whole burden of diversity on themselves in order to fulfill that gap. Being a mascot for diversity is unfair, inaccurate and a very heavy load to take on oneself. 

Setting the next generation up for better

Mohit made the decision to shift his 2.0 career into consulting with the goal of helping the younger generation avoid making the same mistakes that were made in the first round, when he was growing up in this business. As a father, he grapples with what his children see in the world today. On one hand, they have friends who are from many different countries, speak different languages and have different ideologies and it’s no big deal. On the other hand, they come home and watch the news and wonder about how someone’s last name can work against them in terms of employment and acceptance in society. It’s a huge contradiction. 

If Gen Z is resentful because we should have figured this out by now, that’s fair. We need to expedite conversations that matter – especially in organizations that have commitments to the communities they serve. We need to talk about representation, inclusive leadership, training manuals, customer service bias, client relationships and counsel. We need to get specific and get over our aversion to change. Let’s just acknowledge that it will get bad (for us) before it becomes good (for everyone). But the journey will be worth it, for future leaders.

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:

  1. Embrace systemic change is possible. That is the silver lining of the global pandemic: almost overnight, we changed the way we work, live, educate and broadcast mainstream news, all from the safety of our homes. Let’s use that lens to champion other changes that are necessary in the journey to building equity.
  2. Seek feedback differently. Stop seeking feedback unilaterally. No one is looking to the 50-something CEO to roll out the TikTok strategy. For that, we’re looking at the youngest in the corporate ranks or even our teenage kids. Let’s learn to seek other types of feedback differently too. We need to look at DEI topics like that, because we stand to learn a lot from the next generation of “inclusion natives.”
  3. Look beyond the reason for change. As Mohit pointed out, some leaders today are motivated to drive change by a fear of shame. Shame for being old-fashioned, rigid or stuck in stereotypical ways for their respective industries. Whatever the reason may be, positive change is still worth fighting for. For us, personally, that has meant sometimes saying yes to the token seat. It isn’t ideal, but if it means we have a seat at the table and equal share of voice in the conversation, we are willing to overlook the reason that got us there. Change has to start from somewhere.

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 hello@abcdei.ca.

Here for being seen and heard,

Rohini + Susan

#10 – Season 1 wrap: Unlearning out loud

As we come to the end of Season 1 of ABCDEI, co-hosts Susan and Rohini reflect on the lessons they have taken away from the last 10 weeks. The origin story of ABCDEI lies in the deep discomfort of staying silent in the face of inequity and the desire to unlearn out loud through conversations with people with different lived experience. The pair’s reflections touch on topics including self-worth, sponsorship, supportive networks and silence as a privilege in and of itself. Tune in for an actionable look back at some of the powerful and inspirational conversations from season 1. 

#9 – Build inclusion into your foundation, not the façade with Mohit Rajhans

This week, we chatted with Mohit Rajhans, one of the first South Asians working in mainstream media in Toronto. His curiosity about the lack of diversity in media when he was coming up in his career led him down a path that included Bollywood coverage, red carpet reporting and ultimately, morning news. But living in this duality between diaspora and mainstream media gave Mohit a first-hand view of the blind spots in the industry and Canada as a whole. Mohit shares insightful advice on how leaders need to understand the deep value of true representation, so they are building inclusive foundations and not resorting to tokenism and fake facades.