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George Floyd’s murder sparked increased attention toward Black liberation and by extension, racial discrimination. Institutions raced to check boxes for workplace diversity, equity and inclusion, but how do we know whether real work has been done?
In this episode, two thought leaders around race and belonging, Ruchika Tulshyan and Ijeoma Oluo, discuss the finer points of how to create equity in the workplace. This conversation takes place at Town Hall Seattle and center’s Tulshyan’s book Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work.
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Featuring Ruchika Tulshyan – Inclusion strategist, speaker and author of the bestseller Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work. Ijeoma Oluo – Speaker and writer, author of the New York Times bestseller, So You Want to Talk About Race. Music:
Joyful Ride via Descript stock music
Trap Future Base, Royalty Free Music, via Pixabay Credits Making Contact Team:
Ruchika Tulshyan – Inclusion strategist, speaker and author of the bestseller Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work.
Ijeoma Oluo – Speaker and writer, author of the New York Times bestseller, So You Want to Talk About Race.
Music: Joyful Ride via Descript stock music Trap Future Base, Royalty Free Music, via Pixabay
Making Contact Team:
Making, making contact, making, making, making contact.
Amy Gastelum: I’m Amy Gastelum. Today on Making Contact, I am so excited to bring you a conversation between two thought leaders in our nationwide conversation about race and diversity. Ijeoma Oluo is a speaker and the author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller, So You Want to Talk About Race.
Ruchika Tulshyan is a writer and an expert on inclusive leadership. The two women are longtime friends and colleagues, so this chat is warm and it’s funny and it’s familiar, but it also invites the listener in as if to say, come on over here, sit by us. This conversation happened at a public event at Town Hall Seattle.
It’s about Tulshyan’s bestselling book, Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work. To get us started, here’s Ijeoma Oluo. Enjoy.
[00:01:15] Ijeoma Oluo: I would just love to know, like, why this book, you know, what kind of brought you into this space, and what was your thinking as you were engaging, you know, in your research and writing for it?
[00:01:31] Ruchika Tulshyan: This book is me making up for my follies and, in some ways, my sins of talking about gender diversity just as an issue, um, that faced women. And when I said women, what I really meant, or whom I was centering by just saying women, were white women. And so, this is my book. This is my, learning in public, correct myself in public and say, actually, if we really want to create an inclusive workplace, it’s not good enough just to say women need to progress in the workplace. It’s women of color and centering Black, Indigenous and Latinx women. And I, I, so, so that is, that is really at the highest level what this book is about. The other thing that I, that I want to talk about is how this statistic I read which I think was life changing for me, which is three quarters of white people in America don’t have a single friend of color and 91 percent of the average white person’s social network is white. And I think when I read that statistic, suddenly it’s as if all the puzzle pieces of my life as an immigrant in America suddenly made sense. I was like, oh, that’s why the majority of people I meet, don’t know what to do with me. They’re like, okay, so you have a funny name and you say you’re, you grew up outside this country, but your English is very normal. I’ve been told that. And you can communicate with us. But you’re also different like there’s this whole this mental calculation that goes on and it makes sense. It’s because for a lot of especially white people they have never met someone who was different than them or really materially connected with someone who’s different than them. And then the same study that I read at that time said that the first time for a lot of white people that they really interact meaningfully with someone who’s different than them racially is in the workplace.
And it’s literally like all the puzzle pieces fell together because, or fit together for me because I’ve always been interested in the workplace. I’ve always been interested in leadership and management. I know that, especially in capitalist societies, sadly, you know, businesses have an outsized impact on what happens, right, in our social lives.
You know, even when we think about parental leave, I speak to women who get 20, 30, 40 weeks of paid, you know, maternity leave because they work for a high-tech firm. And then I speak to women who go back, you know, one in four mothers in America go back to work 10 days after giving birth.
Right? And they’re not the ones working in the high-tech industry. And so we know that corporate employers have an outsized influence in how society operates in the experience of people. And so, for me, those, all those pieces really fell together. And as I started researching the book, uh, researching for the book, speaking to women of color on their stories, on, um, the deep pain and trauma, I started finding healing within myself.
I started finding healing for all those experiences, both in the workplace and outside the workplace where I had really experienced marginalization, being overlooked, being underestimated. And I found healing in, in connecting with other women of color, centering as much as I possibly could, underestimated women of color, um, and writing this book, knowing that there is a power in sharing our stories and moving the needle in the workplace and hopefully beyond.
[00:05:27] Ijeoma Oluo: It’s beautiful. It’s lovely. And to, to stay in kind of a personal space, when you were talking about, you know, how your earlier work kind of centered white women, I was imagining people looking at you and going, wait, what? How? What? Because you’re not white. Visibly, you are not white. Um, but I think that that’s interesting because this is a thing we have talked about in the past, which is, um, the immigrant experience as a person of color, especially a privileged immigrant experience, has layers that can often stop you from seeing your experience as a racialized one. Because there are so many other things. One, it can be your class that brought you here, that put you in a, in a space where you never had to consider the possibility of being seen outside of gender norms.
But also all of the xenophobia and all of the other, you know, things that you do experience that everyone, especially people of color, experience when they come here that can seem like its own thing, not really related to race, even though I would say, uh, white men coming from France do not experience the same issues in a workspace that a woman of color would.
And then there’s also the ways in which we are not able to always keep in mind the ways in which our lives were shaped by white supremacy, even if we grew up in a majority place of color. Right. So I’m a black woman who grew up, you know, born and raised in the U.S., but also my father was a Nigerian immigrant, and I have siblings who have just been here a few years, and I can see the difference in it and that disconnect. And a lot of it, when people talk to me and say, I don’t feel connected to this struggle, I don’t understand where my space is in it, a lot of it is because the ways in which white supremacy has shaped your life through colonialism, through capitalism, has not been made as readily apparent, and the connections to how people of color are treated in this country haven’t been made.
And so, it was interesting to watch as you became more aware of that. And we talked about your kind of understanding as not only you are a woman of color and you are treated as a woman of color, but still you have an abundance of privilege that shapes how you walk through the world. And I’m glad that you were coming to that awareness before you started writing this book because I can see in how you centered people.
Were there things in the researching of this book, in your conversations with women who, and other people of color who have less privilege, that still continue to educate or surprise you in these discussions?
[00:08:32] Ruchika Tulshyan: My gosh, so much. And firstly, I just want to say that there is not an immigrant who comes to, to the United States and isn’t in many subtle and overt ways told that your key to success is by upholding white supremacy and also upholding anti-Blackness.
There’s not an immigrant. I mean, there is research that’s shown that even immigrants who, appear and present as Black are told, in subtle and overt ways, you know, the, the, the more you distance yourself from the Black African American community, the more you, the more you’re going to be able to succeed and rise, right?
And so I, I do want to name that because that is, that is a big failing I think that a lot of immigrants with privilege in this country, that we have, that we really have done quite a lot of damage in upholding a white supremacy and anti-Blackness. And especially in our, from our positions of privilege.
So I, I absolutely want to name that. Um, there was, I mean, there wasn’t a moment when I was writing this book, or that I was interviewing someone for this book, or studying the research, that I wasn’t, not only educated, but deeply moved. You know, ‘women of color’ is an incomplete term, and we’re certainly not a monolith.We have many, many different experiences, but the one commonality that researching and writing this book taught me is that there’s this thread of being underestimated, of being overlooked, and the degrees to which and how quickly you come to that realization very much differs based on your identity.
In fact, when I interviewed you for the book, what clicked into place for me is you said something along the lines of, there was not a moment that I came into the workplace and thought that I would belong or be treated properly or equally, right?
Like, Black women and Black children are taught from a really young age, ‘you live in a racist society, and this is how you navigate.’ And something shifted in me because I was like, wow, because for me, as an educated college-educated Brown woman, what I was taught is as long as you get all the education, you get all the experience, you start making money, of course people are going to treat you properly.
Of course, they’re going to treat you equally. Race doesn’t matter. And then that slow burn realization, um, no, it actually really does. Race and gender, that intersection, really does matter. And that was a profound shift for me when I spoke with you and then I interviewed other Black women. You know, they didn’t have that luxury.
You know, you don’t have that luxury of thinking you can do anything. You can achieve anything you want. And then to realize, no, actually, you know, that’s not the case. You know it from day one.
[00:11:31] Ijeoma Oluo: Mm hmm. That’s, that’s so interesting. Yeah, I’ve, I’ve seen that, you know. I used to have paid interns, and they were always young women of color, and a lot of them ended up being women of color who weren’t
Black. And it was, they were always at that age where I would get this call a few months in and they would be in tears because something profoundly racist happened in a space where they thought it would never happen. And recognizing, oh, you’re at that age, you know, because it’s not a thing that, I mean, uh, for me, it’s my whole life, I don’t know if, I mean, I would say there’s a real toll for the ways in which we are robbed of developmental stages, even, right? You’re robbed of part of your childhood if your expressions of childhood are punished and you don’t get to go back at 30 and be a five-year-old learning risk and reward, right?
But also, it’s always been really weird for me to watch someone try to, you know, integrate an entire shift in, in how the world works at 25, 30, 40. Um, you know, because white supremacy does a good job of hiding its animus and its exploitation of people of color who aren’t Black or, or Native.
And I would say part of it, they use the animus towards Black and Native populations in order to do that. Because as long as you’re not treated like that, you kind of feel safe in this middle space. Uh, but it’s always been interesting for me to watch. And, and, and I’m always curious about it because there’s so much of, of the experience I can say I know. That’s not one. And then I wonder further, like because the funny parts are the emails I get from white women, just devastated, you know, uh, because they are 42, and they discovered racism is bad, and it exists, and they don’t know what to do with themselves, and I’m just like,oh, you poor thing, but also I wonder like, oh, you know, you’re going to have to make a choice now. Do you sit down your, your partner and your friends and have new expectations of them, uh, and set up all new relationships and give up watching those television shows you loved and stop participating in the same harmful activities when everyone is expecting this of you. Or do you pretend like you never learned this lesson?
[00:14:20] Salima: We are just jumping in to remind you that you’re listening to Making Contact. If you like today’s show and want more information, or if you’d like to leave us a comment, visit us at radioproject.org, where you can access today’s show and all of our prior episodes. And now, back to the show.
[00:14:38] Ijeoma: One thing I really like about this book is it’s a piece that is so rooted in the direct words of women of color in a way that is very unambiguous. And it removes that option of people to pretend like maybe they didn’t hear a thing. And I think in work environments, um, it’s very easy to have someone come in and talk about race and racism, leave, and you can kind of pretend like you didn’t hear anything they said. And especially the way they’re set up because they’re often set up so that someone external comes in, talks about things that never fully connect to what’s actually happening in the space, gives some surface level recommendations that really just reduce HR complaints and leaves and then People can be like, oh, yeah. And this book has a lot of very first-hand experience and practical advice in it that makes it hard for people to go, well, okay, but you know, what if we all just had a chat instead, you know, and, and didn’t do these things. Um, and, and, and I’m grateful for that. And I wanted to ask, cause I, I, I do see some questions coming up around this too, and it’s just such a hot topic, right? Everyone talks about DEI right now. And before people became scared of critical race theory. They were terrified of DEI, um, and, and I will say, you have a lot more to be afraid of from critical race theory than DEI, uh, DEI can’t even scare racists. But in the critique there’s a lot that is very valid, and I think there’s a lot that people don’t understand, and a lot of anger around it is very misplaced, some of it purposefully so, um, but I was curious if like, in looking at, you know, the work, work you’ve done and trying to be I’m saying practical, not in a sense of void of emotion, because I actually think the lived experience and understanding lived experience of people of color is one of the most practical things you can do, Um, but practical in the sense of actionable. In trying to do actionable work, while also having been in many spaces that are seeking to do what people know as DEI work, what, what gaps do you hope that this book can fill?
[00:17:04] Ruchika Tulshyan: Great question. And you know, Ijeoma, one of the, one of the difficulties actually in conceptualizing this book in my head, you know, at least five years ago, before actually the murder of George Floyd, at a time where diversity, equity and inclusion, essentially meant gender diversity, white women’s progress, et cetera and my hope was, you know, I can, I can hopefully change the conversation around that, you know, say there’s, there’s extreme value in using the words diversity, equity, and inclusion correctly and centering that work correctly and taking it out of this check the box idea. And not that many people are talking about it in a very meaningful way.
And I was really, you know, I was very hopeful that, okay, this book, the timing is right and it’s going to come out and hopefully people will, will engage with it. And then the, the movement for racial justice happened, um, certainly sparked off by George Floyd’s murder. Very, very important movement. And suddenly…
Everyone was talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. It was, like, overnight I saw LinkedIn profiles change to inclusion strategist and diversity guru and equity, whatever it is. Um, and I fear that in many ways, and, you know, I think hearing your question, in many ways I worry that the work has really been diluted, right? Of what it actually, what the essence of it is, like, what does it actually mean to have a workforce that is made up of people who have largely been underestimated and underrepresented and overlooked? Not how many, you know, different types of white men do you have, right?
What does it mean to center equity, which you’re not, it’s, it’ll always be a process. It’s not an outcome. You’re looking at barriers and how to remove them. You’re looking at inclusion, again, of people who have been excluded and so my hope with this book is, even though it’s become a hot topic my hope is that people will also see the other side of how profound and meaningful this work can be if we do it together and we do it correctly. If we center anti-racism in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
What gives me hope and what makes me optimistic is until two years ago, when I was asked to speak at an organization, I was told, could you please not talk about race? And can you please not mention, you know, racism? When you talk about, we just want to talk about diversity. And of course, I would say no, but I would get those requests.
And now, you know, I don’t know whether it’s just because people feel scared to say that to me anymore or something has shifted, but I feel like at least there’s some acknowledgement much more than ever before of the way that racism is really built into all of our systems and how we’re navigating it.
[00:20:21] Ijeoma Oluo: I’m going to give you a tip that you didn’t ask for, which is, because I get things like this all the time, um, absolutely take those gigs. Because once that contract’s signed,
Ruchika Tulshyan: and the money’s wired in
Ijeoma Oluo: it doesn’t even matter if the money’s wired in. It’s actually better if they try to not pay you. Um, very few companies, racist as they may be, are foolish enough to say, you talked about racism, we’re not going to pay the Brown person that we came in to talk about inclusion.
I, I have literally had this happen. I actually had a talk that people still walk up to me about, um, for, for a certain government organization that wanted me to speak for Dr. Martin Luther King day and asked me not to bring up a certain youth jail. And I was like, cool. So now I’m only talking about a youth jail. And what are you going to do? That was silly. You should have never said anything because it was only going to be a sentence before. And now it’s like paragraphs. Um, so always take it. They will pay you. They weren’t going to ask you back anyways. Um, and then you get to say the thing, um, that the white person they would have moved on to wasn’t going to say. So take, take the money. And then do the thing anyway. That’s my tip.
[00:22:03] Ruchika Tulshyan: I’m getting so much out of this. This is so good.
[00:22:07] Ijeoma Oluo: You know, it’s so funny too, because people are like, you probably shouldn’t say that out loud, people won’t call you.
No, they don’t listen to my talks. If you’re going to call me and be like, ‘don’t talk about this thing,’ you’ve never heard of me before in your life. Somebody who hates you told you to call me. And, uh, that’s on you, because you didn’t Google it. Um,
[00:22:30] Ruchika Tulshyan: Which, by the way, happens all the time. And, and, and, with the levity, I want to acknowledge, like, as women of color, like, you could be a New York Times bestseller, right, and you could be on Trevor Noah. I mean, you don’t need, you don’t need a list of Ijeoma’s accomplishments. And yet there will always be those moments that remind you, you know, don’t dream too high, you know, remember you’re still working in our system, you should be more grateful we gave you this opportunity.
[00:23:04] Ijeoma Oluo: Yes. Right? Yeah, and we were sort of talking about this earlier because there’s a veneer to it. You know, part of the reason why I started doing this work, was the realization that there was no, you know, when I was working in corporate spaces, there was no promotion, no amount of financial security that was ever going to buy me the freedom to enter any, any mixed race space fully as a Black woman and be safe and seen and heard and appreciated. That was never going to happen. And in fact, the opposite was going to happen. Um, the more that people quote unquote gave me, no matter how hard I worked for it, the more I was going to be, expected to play along.
And the more I’d have to lose. And I just decided, well, I can either blow this up at 30, or I can blow this up at 60, it’s all about how much of my own time I want to waste. And, and I, and I just, you know, quit my job, said I don’t want to sell trucks anymore, and started writing full time.
But, the funny thing is, is even when you’re doing this work, even if your name is rising in doing this work, It still happens. It’s like, it’s not, you don’t actually…all the behind the scenes is just as toxic. It’s still just as exploitative. The only difference is, is I, you know, I don’t get fired for saying the things that I wanted to say for a long, but, but there’s still things you don’t say, right? You don’t talk about your publisher, you know, you don’t, you don’t talk about this unless you’re backstage. Um, and so it’s, it’s an interesting space and you don’t, you still don’t get comfortable. And part of how you navigate it is by the relationships you have. And, and how you get through even doing this work, and I think a lot of times there’s this idea that people of color who do any work around race or ethnicity, live in this space where one, we like talking about it all the time, which we don’t. But also, oh, well, I’m sure you don’t encounter the racism then. Like, who’s gonna be racist to you? They know who you are. And like, everyone. Everyone.
[00:25:18] Ruchika Tulshyan: Literally everyone.
[00:25:19] Ijeoma Oluo: Everyone. And it’s, it’s, it’s so ingrained in society. It really is. What keeps you going in that? Because I know that a lot of times, when I talk with other people, like, there’s, there are regular body blows of just like, oh, come on, here too? I just want to do this thing. That can be really discouraging when you’re doing the work. And you do a lot of work, right? So you’re not just the author of this book, you’re also a teacher, a speaker, an educator, and and what keeps you going in this work?
[00:25:53] Ruchika Tulshyan: I hope it doesn’t sound trite, but it’s because I have a five-year-old Brown boy who’s going to grow up in America. Oh, he is growing up in America and is American. And just the way, the experience I had when, I said to my mom during one, you know, birthday party where my friend called me the night before and she said, my mom said, I can’t come to your birthday party because you’re Indian. That’s going to happen to my son as well, and I don’t want that to continue on. I, I am, I’m truly fighting for a world where I know, I don’t know if I can prevent it, right? I don’t know if I can prevent it. He’s already five, but really for as much as I possibly can, um, you know, for our, for our kids, right? That’s really what keeps me motivated. That’s what keeps me going. Cause otherwise it is so hard to do this work.
[00:26:49] Ijeoma Oluo: That’s beautiful and I think a wonderful way to end this talk and I’m so proud of you and this is wonderful and I hope that, I know that y’all will love this book and I’m just really glad it’s out there in the world. Thank you so much.
Ruchika Tulshyan: Thank you so much. Thank you.
[00:27:15] Amy Gastelum: I’m Amy Gastelum. This is Making Contact. That was a conversation between Ijeoma Oluo and Ruchika Tulshyan for Town Hall, Seattle. I listened to Tulshyan’s book, Inclusion on Purpose, while I was working in my garden, and I did not use headphones. It was blasting through a speaker, so my neighbors heard it too. I have to tell you, the book includes real stories from women of color about their experiences of exclusion and bias in the workplace, but it also offers practical, actionable ideas for organizational leaders so that they can make change. Get into it. If you want to check out the book or listen to the unedited version of this talk, go to our website, radioproject.org. That’s it for now. We’ll see you next week.