Episode 388: Finding the Purpose in Your Organization’s DEI Efforts With Benjamin McCall
Jessica Miller-Merrell | Podcast| By
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I feel like the economy, like all the focus on reductions and layoffs and different shifts that are happening has put DEI on the back burner. And I want to make sure that we continue having conversations because your employees are thinking about it. They are noticing if you’ve done a restructure, what people are no longer there. Twitter has had a class action lawsuit related to their layoffs because the majority of those who were laid off were women. Meta, there’s a woman that I follow on TikTok that was laid off, and she is, I think, in process of a lawsuit with the group saying that minorities were impacted in larger percentages. So employees are watching.
Episode 388: Finding the Purpose in Your Organization’s DEI Efforts With Benjamin McCall (@BenjaminMcCall)
Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:13.32] Diversity, equity and inclusion are not new ideas in HR in corporate arenas, but in recent months and, well, years, the importance and significance of DEI in the workplace has gotten leaders throughout corporate America to think about what the right thing, doing the right thing in our community looks like. And frankly, we’re still falling short. It’s important to amplify inclusivity and hold corporate leaders accountable for that or their lack of inclusivity. There are so many ways to do this. And today’s podcast guest has set the bar pretty high. This podcast is powered by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. These are two of the courses that we, Workology, offer for certification prep and recertification for HR leaders. Now, before I introduce today’s guests, I want to hear from you. Please text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. So today I’m so excited to be joined by Benjamin McCall. He is an Organizational Development and HR Strategy Consultant with his company, Focus Consulting. Ben has over 15 years of practical experience as a Human Resources Business Partner, Organizational Development Partner within HR, learning, business strategy, and project management. As a consultant, Ben partners with all levels of leadership, from the C-suite to the ground floor, to define and implement initiatives and programs that increase business productivity. He focuses on four primary areas: People Development, Strategic Planning and Execution, DEI, that’s number three, and Team Collaboration. Ben, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Benjamin McCall: [00:03:03.81] Hey Jessica, thanks for having me. Appreciate being here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:07.41] Ben and I have known each other for, I think like 14 or 15 years.
Benjamin McCall: [00:03:12.00] At least.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:13.05] A long stinking time. So I’m so excited to have you on the podcast. Let’s talk a bit about your career path and what led you to working in HR.
Benjamin McCall: [00:03:24.09] Yeah, so when I started in the work world, I started out in sales, mainly manufacturing business to business, commercial. So everything I did was of the eyes aspect of that sales mentality, even though I have never necessarily been a salesperson, but was in that starting out the first two years of my career and got another job in human resources actually happened by accident. I met a person, I was getting my second degree going to school while I was working and met a couple of people, took an HR class, and then ended up getting with a company of one of the people that was in my class. So mainly HR generalist, recruiting, and a lot of compliance and advanced my career at that same company in training and development, organizational development. And really that’s kind of what started my career within HR and that facet of training and development, executive coaching, leadership development and whatever companies call it nowadays, because it’s definitely evolved over the years, over the last 5 to 6 years or actually since 2007, on and off, I’ve been consulting and more so over the last four or five years. I kind of put that all in the aspects of consulting from succession planning to organizational culture, whether you’re doing audits or having conversations or focus groups of people to then the second piece of training, that’s physical training, leadership development, training on a tactical or technical basis to personal and career development, all different areas to the coaching side which can come in between feed in as a result of the others or start there and then go on to the rest.
Benjamin McCall: [00:05:10.53] So my mindset around organization development is not necessarily the IO psychology side of it, assessments or anything like that. It’s more along the lines from the time an employee starts with your organization or you identify them to the time they come in their onboarding, they advance in their career, they have the ups and downs. They hate it, they love it, they leave and they potentially come back. And all the systems, practices, relationships, and the work of the business and the person that happens in that. That’s my idea of organizational development. And I think as human resources professionals, we always have to think about that as a large piece of what we’re thinking about when we’re doing the work. So that’s been mostly my career. I have a family, two kids. They take up a lot of my time, especially this spring, with sports, and love traveling, love being able to have these conversations, especially when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, because it’s a popular topic, topic now, but it hasn’t, nor will it always be. Try to take advantage and build up the moment as much as you can. So that’s a little bit about my background and my career and my passions.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:20.39] Well, if you know me or you’ve listened to this podcast for a while, you might probably understand why Ben and I are friends. We’re very passionate about HR. We’re kind of nerds, work nerds, if you will. I definitely think that. And the DEI side of it, for me, the conversations need to continue. When we were talking about doing this podcast, I was like, I am a white woman over 40. I am the typical demographic. I mean, for the most part, minus the nose ring and those and maybe the hair color today. But I am the typical demographic of an HR professional. But it’s really important for us to discuss this topic because if you are a white woman over 40 or, you know, a majority versus a minority, it’s important for us to really think about DEI initiatives, not from our point of view, but from the other individuals in our organization, or that we want to come to our organization or stay at our organizations point of view. So I wanted to ask you, before we get into more on DEI, just kind of broadly, what has been your approach to consulting and how you work with business leaders specifically in regards to DEI efforts?
Benjamin McCall: [00:07:38.69] Well, oftentimes for me, it’s always whether someone comes to me, I was referred or someone was referred to me or I’m already working with someone on something completely separate and this gets brought in or someone has a need in this specific area, Hey, we want to be able to be more open. We want to create an environment of belonging or we just want to understand and we realize that we’re not probably not doing the things we need to, whether it’s systematically or relationally across our groups, because typically work is work. People treat workers work. They don’t necessarily talk about personal side. And DEI is all about, foundationally, what happens through our life experiences and how we bring that to the relationships we have in the work that we do. So whenever I, whenever I work with individuals and we start to touch this topic, first of all, it’s not always really the first thing people are delving into. I think over the last three years it’s definitely more pronounced and more discussed and more focused on. But we’re getting out of that moment from I hear you, I see you, I’m with you to these moments and receding of, Well, no, I was just playing. It feels like people aren’t putting the time into it. So part of it I always start foundationally, foundationally as human beings when I’m working with individuals, when I’m working with companies, okay, what is the purpose for you wanting to do this? Because everything’s with the end in mind. You are coming to this and talking about it, or wanting to address DEI in a certain way for a reason, whether it’s drive to your people, whether it’s drive because of a business initiative, because, hey, I realized we need to do better in this area or you’re being pushed to change, adjust, or do better in that area.
Benjamin McCall: [00:09:24.95] So ultimately, I want to find out the reason first end in mind. And then secondly, once I find that out, regardless of the reason you came to me, then we got to talk about, okay, well, you want to address these efforts, you want to do unconscious bias training, you want to start building relationships across. Do you want to build your recruiting platform or build your brand initiatives around recruiting more to be more inclusive and have an organization that looks like your community rather than just looks like you? What do you, what are you doing now? What are the things you’re doing now? What are the systems you have in place and what are the pitfalls, challenges, or opportunities that you see that will make things easier or tougher? Because ultimately, especially when it comes to this work around DEI, how easy it is in your organization is going to drive or allow you to do it better or to degrade from it to, to pull back or to,, to drive forward. So I want to know those challenges. I want to know the things that you think are easy or not. And then we can start to think about, okay, well, how does that work within your industry, within this type of stuff you do, Where are you willing to pull back and start to do this work and realize that it’s not going to be an overnight thing? It may take a couple of years, more than just next week to where the areas you know what we, we’re not going to be able to do that. That’s not us.
Benjamin McCall: [00:10:46.85] In making those balanced decisions and using that third as a communication piece, because people are watching, your community is watching, your customers are watching and your employees are watching. So if you just try to advertise that we are an anti-racist organization or that we are all for LGBTQ employees or, hey, we want to employ more people with disabilities, but you don’t create an environment, put in systems, policies, practices before you start to advertise, everyone coming in, anyone being affected by that, it’s going to see the real dog food and they’re going to see your marketing ploys versus what you’re really living by. And I think that’s what a lot of employers have trouble with, is because they want to advertise to get individuals to show that they’re an inclusive organization or to prove to the world we’re better than people think we are, when in reality they’re not ready for the thing that they’re advertising or marketing. So usually in summary, I try to, Hey, what is the end goal? Two, why are you coming to me? And what are the ease, challenges, and opportunities you have? And three, what currently are you dealing with in regards to, Hey, we’re trying to push this in a certain way for certain reason and what’s the reality of that? So.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:05.50] I feel like the economy, like all the focus on reductions and layoffs and different shifts that are happening has put DEI on the back burner.
Benjamin McCall: [00:12:15.95] Oh yeah.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:16.27] And I want to make sure that we continue having conversations because your employees are thinking about it. They are noticing if you’ve done a restructure, what people are no longer there. Twitter has had a class action lawsuit related to their layoffs because the majority of those who were laid off were women. Meta, there’s a woman that I follow on TikTok that was laid off, and she is, I think, in process of a lawsuit with the group saying that minorities were impacted in larger percentages. So employees are watching and they’re talking and they’re going out there and sharing sometimes outside the organization. Let’s, let’s talk about maybe some biggest mistakes that you see from companies when it comes to the DEI initiatives. What’s, what are you seeing?
Benjamin McCall: [00:13:09.67] Well, I think first kind of the last thing I said in regards to eating your own dog food, there’s, there’s this push to build up the brand or to talk about all the good when you haven’t taken stock and really diagnosed, okay, well, there’s, things been brought up and we’re trying to address it, but we’re trying to look at it from a rose-colored glasses view versus let’s take a real look at it. So not really identifying and, and auditing what you do, how you do it towards that effort. I think another thing to your point of and I’ve thought this for years in a number of different areas, the employers are always all about the employee and tough, in tough times when they need employees and always about the business and the stuff we need to do when it’s all things that affect the business. So I care. I’m here for you. I want to, you know, we want great benefits, we want a great environment. We are best places to work until an economy hits. And the conversations and the way those done kind of like with Meta, with Twitter these now you’re being let go by emails, when the crap hits the fan no one’s thinking about how it’s affecting. Because I think of employees are not only your employees, their friends, family members, cousins of your customers, and people remember how their friends, family members were treated. And if I’m a customer, that will influence my decision.
Benjamin McCall: [00:14:40.66] So that’s a mistake I think a lot of people make. And it’s very easy to in this new environment, new and context, which over the last three or four years COVID social justice aspects, this upliftment of DEI has changed the way people look, remote work. Many people who thought no way would be able to work remotely or be effective, they have changed their minds or looked at it in a different way. Mind you, less than 30% of the population have the ability to work remotely. So we have this grand conversation around remote work as if it’s the entire workforce when there are 70% of the workforce has been working since within that same month of March of 2021. So with that in mind, there’s there’s that, and with this new dynamic, we’re still applying a lot of old ideas and practices over the last 20 or 30 years to now. That’s why you have right now this nobody wants to work when there’s so many other factors. Immigration, population growth, or lack thereof. The fact that the employees are in more powerful positions because at least up until recently outside of the tech world, of being able to demand certain things because we were, we didn’t get to demand those things. So that all takes place in the life experiences of employees and the managers and the executives. And that fuses itself and plays out within the work world. If organizations don’t take time to really take stock of what’s happening, not only for their company, but what’s happening in their industry, how it’s impacted and what they do, then they often don’t necessarily understand how, okay, this is, this is a part of DEI.
Benjamin McCall: [00:16:29.95] You know, but thinking about what’s the moment, the reason this came about, the main reason why we’re talking about DEI now is because a black man was murdered. And I don’t think we can discount that fact, but also recognizing all the other things disabilities, LGBTQ, race, gender, all of these things that play into DEI. But the reason why we’re talking about it is because a black man was murdered, and that’s what brought it out into the forefront. So within DEI, whether it’s around social justice issues that pour that into your organization or years from now when we’ve gone past that or revisit certain things, thinking about what’s the moment that’s bringing all this conversation about? Is it social justice? And we need to pay attention to that. Is it pay equity? And we’re paying attention to that? Is it, ,is it the things that are happening with our workforce? As long as people focus on that, it helps. But you have to pay attention to the moment. And I think the last 2 to 3 years people have used the moment to prop up other issues that may not be as important as the moment and why it was brought up. I think organizations need to pay attention to that a little bit more and not forget that.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:44.38] I feel like we’re being really reactive. And as you were talking, I was thinking like the beginning of the pandemic, people were getting furloughed. It was happening all the time. And then many people went returned back to work. I haven’t seen any conversations about furloughs. It’s been all focused on layoffs.
Benjamin McCall: [00:18:05.56] As a result of poor planning by executives that are still being paid high salaries and still making decisions around. And as a result of their own poor decisions and lack of forecasting.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:17.68] It’s interesting because I’m sure that our HR professionals who are listening to the podcast and I get it, we often do not, we’re not the CEO in most cases. We don’t have that kind of decision-making ability. We can only influence, and I don’t mean only in a bad way, but that’s our job. So if the leadership team, executive leadership team, CEO decides that layoffs are the way to go, that’s, all we can do is is recommend. But I find it interesting, like, I wrote a blog post and a resource guide to layoffs in 2020. I mean to furloughs, but there hasn’t been any conversations where that to me, if this, if executives really felt like it was a correction, a short-term correction, like we’re going to be in a different space in 3 to 6 months in the tech space and they didn’t over hire then furloughs would have happened, but they didn’t because we over hired in some departments. I don’t know for the life of me why we aren’t thinking about the reskilling, like maybe transitioning people over because it’s hard as heck to hire these people. Every HR person that is listening here probably has positions that they’re hiring for in other departments, tech included, like Meta is still hiring even though they made a huge, a large layoff, substantial. They’re still hiring in, in specific positions. So I think that we really have to think about less reactive and more like strategy if we can. And maybe that’s a conversation for the executives that we need to have a strong conversation because we can’t keep treating our employees like crap.
Benjamin McCall: [00:19:55.24] And if risk is one of those aspects of , okay, well, we have financial risk, we have risk of and thoughts around a recession and we also risk around customer drive and revenue, which is driving the decisions in part for layoffs. So that risk is one of those things. Your risk doesn’t decrease. It only increases when you lay off 10,000 employees and you’re still hiring a lot of people. That brings more risk around questions and gives employees who feel like they have a valid concern around lawsuits more, more, more power in that. So even the risk on the business side is thinking about, if you forecast it correctly, one of the things you could have done is instead of mass hiring, you could have done temp and contract work to level off for those things. So there’s so many different tools, but there’s got to be an evaluation and a really deep stock on that and how it applies. And especially when you talk about we talk about DEI and those who are being impacted, that’s a huge concern.
Break: [00:21:05.26] Let’s take a reset. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you are listening to the Workology Podcast powered by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. Today we’re talking with my friend Ben McCall, Organizational Development and HR Strategy Consultant with Focus Consulting. Before we get back to the podcast, I want to hear from you. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you.
Break: [00:21:33.07] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access life training, community, and over 100 on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
Unconscious Bias and Code-Switching
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:55.31] Let’s talk about unconscious bias. What is your experience? How do you help leaders identify areas of weakness in not just recruiting and hiring, but any part of like the employment life cycle?
Benjamin McCall: [00:22:10.82] Yeah. Yeah. So, so with Focus Consulting, my consulting firm, primarily, we’re definitely about relationships before tactics because bottom line is, what you want to be able to do is build all those relationships, and then when you get to the tactics, you have better conversations versus we’re starting with the tactics and we don’t know the circumstances, we don’t know the environment, nor do we know the individuals and the relationships that are involved in what, what creates problems, issues, or opportunities in the good way. So on the unconscious bias, then, bottom line, foundationally, I think all of us have an unconscious bias and it’s tagged a lot with DEI, but separating that for a moment, unconscious bias is a part of our brain. When we are thinking about brain science, the biggest thing is we have our amygdala, which is our lizard brain, and it goes to fight or flight. Do I feel safe in environment or do I feel uncomfortable environment? If I feel safe, I can stay and have discussions. I can start to meet people. If I feel unsafe, I will flee. Amygdala tells me if I’m safe and I’m, if I’m not, do I need to be in that environment anymore? But our neocortex gives us a logic based on our life experiences, the people that we know how when we walk into that room or we have a conversation or we’re sitting with a manager, how safe I feel and what I’m going to do next. Like a choose your own way based off the logic in the life experience I have.
Benjamin McCall: [00:23:34.49] So bottom line, foundationally, every one of us has prejudices. We are not going to get rid of it. And on the amygdala side of it we do not like as human levels. We don’t like to, to box. We don’t like to be boxed in to certain modes or people thinking of us in a certain way. But we will box in everybody and everything. We categorize everything. Our brain does that to make sense of the world. Because bottom line, amygdala, if there’s an emergency, if I’m fight or flight, I have to know if I’m safe or if I need to flee. So I categorize that builds into my life experiences and all those life experiences based off the way our brain fundamentally operates, regardless of who we are, it pushes us in a certain direction for fight or flight comfort, discomfort. So when we talk about unconscious bias, putting it back in the category of diversity, equity inclusion is how do we lean in certain directions and how do our prejudices lean into our power? So I could care less if somebody racist disagrees with me? Deeply prejudice or hates a lot of people. If they have no power or control over the life I live, power over legislation, power over the role or the pay that I have, I could care less because people have a way to be there if they’re not hurting people, if they don’t have power or control over what they’re doing, people can be racist, people can be prejudiced, and we all are. We’re prejudiced against shoes. Some people are racist against people’s lived experiences and who they are.
Benjamin McCall: [00:25:07.13] But when it comes to experiences, oftentimes the systems we live in, when you, when you think about the way just in the US and even if you think overseas class systems, people are boxed into certain categories based off their, based off their families, based off their race, based off skin tone, based off color, cultures. So within that, our unconscious bias, that’s our lens through our life experiences. So I will always have an unconscious bias based off my life experience with individuals, but it’s how I use that knowingly or unknowingly, making choices, well, unconscious becomes conscious, but I make a choice on how I move forward with my conscious biases. I can’t necessarily control my unconscious until someone brings that up. So if we’re having a conversation, Jessica, and you start to tell me, you know, like, this is the way I like my hair and I’ve been making comments around your hair negatively that impact you and land like rocks. But for me, I’ve been throwing them as feathers. I think of them as compliments. But to you, it feels like I’m hitting you. That’s painful for you. So if you let me know, I have a decision to be like, Oh, I wasn’t aware of that. So in the workplace and dealing with leaders, it’s about, okay, starting out relationships before tactics.
Benjamin McCall: [00:26:27.41] I’m not going to tell you what you need to change or what behavior new to adjust because it feels like I’m telling you what to do and not everybody likes to be told what to do. I want to get to know you, understand what your views are, what your perspectives are, and then why are you behaving that way? Because for us, any of us, just to judge a person, be like, that’s hateful, that’s racist, that’s prejudice, or you shouldn’t be doing that. That’s wrong. I don’t know why they unconsciously or knowingly think it’s right to do. So, I want to understand that first. So, when I’m working with organizations, it’s always starting with relationships, understanding the environment, what creates or impacts that and why they do the tactics they do. And then working with, okay, why do we want to change this behavior? What is it going to make this better? What’s going to make it easier for you? So that’s kind of the way I kind of look at it, work with it, and starting with, Hey, how do we operate as just people versus what’s our lived experiences and how does that move into changes we make knowing we have to build a relationship in order for someone to build that new routine in versus feeling like they’re just being told that they need to change. And no one likes to just feel that way. Like they’re getting hit on in that way.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:38.91] No. Yeah, no, I mean, your reaction is going to be just like any time you get maybe feedback, it’s not necessarily you’re receiving it in a positive way. So I feel like the unconscious bias piece is really important for us to talk about because we don’t know it’s happening. We, I might not know, but if you, there’s some ways to help become more aware of the unconscious bias. I think working with like a coach that specializes in this area or diversifying your friends group or the group of people that you hang with and having a relationship where if something is shared or you make a statement, somebody would be like, What the F is this? And I have had people say that to me, and you know what? I might use a word. For example, I mentioned that I wanted to host like a retreat, and I was really excited and I wanted to do it in Jamaica at a plantation house. I didn’t even think about what plantation houses mean. And a friend of me said, Hey, no, this is not the right word. And then I was like, Oh, crap, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. Now, sometimes unconscious bias is meant like it becomes passive-aggressive, right? But in general, I like to think that human beings, most human beings are good people and they don’t have ill intentions. They just don’t have the same lived experience as the person that they’re engaging. And so unconsciously they do something or say something or make a comment or an act that is treating them in a different way, right? Any thoughts on that?
Benjamin McCall: [00:29:22.35] Well, I think I think that’s true. And 98% of people in the world don’t want to cause trouble for anybody else. And when I think about the workplace and I’ve had plenty of conversations at all levels with people like, you know, people around this topic of, you know, our main goal, primarily, we are all selfish human beings. We are selfish when we come, me and you were talking last week, we had a project and then I see you on Monday morning. I may say good morning, but my first thought is you come to me, I see you, and you’re a reminder for the things that we needed to do. So selfishly, I’m going to start asking you about the things that you got done around the things that we needed to do. And I may miss saying good morning, but I may say it, but it comes across as you don’t care, you just want to get this thing done. So ultimately, all of us are selfish and we’re thinking about our own interests or things we need to do now intentionally. We don’t have an intent to disregard people and 98% of the world doesn’t. But also, in order to get the 2%, or people don’t realize, part of it is understanding how am I going to make my day easier. Because we all want to make our days easier.
Benjamin McCall: [00:30:34.97] So my behavior, my biases, the way I talk, the way I interact, the, the way I manage, how I communicate or lack thereof in a workplace is going to make my day easier or harder. I’m contributing to the toughness of my day or the toughness of others days. So whenever I deal with the 2% or the people that care so much and are so selfish around their own things, usually I say, okay, I understand you don’t want to change or people are giving you a hard time. But let me, let me ask you this, what is, what is your value to drive your day? What is going to make your day easier? Some have told me, like, you know, I just want to be left alone. Others would be like, hey, if these people could get this stuff done. Okay, so what can you do to help those people get this stuff done? Or what can you do to be left alone? But it may be outside of your comfort zone. It’s kind of like assessments when someone, especially if I’m doing assessment-based coaching, if I talk through, there’s been plenty of people that don’t like the results of an assessment.
Benjamin McCall: [00:31:38.30] They don’t think it truly represents who they are or how they work or how their relationships are. And I was like, okay, that’s understandable and that could be valid for you. So let me ask this. Is there anything in this assessment that you or the people closest to you would say, You know what, There’s probably a little bit of truth to that. And if they say, well, yeah or yes, yeah, there’s probably a few things. Okay, let’s start there. I know you don’t like this thing. I know you don’t like the way you’re being instructed. I know you don’t like the direction of what people are trying to guide you to do, but is there any truth to help your behavior change where this could be important to you? And usually that helps people adjust. So if we know that all of us are selfish and we know that we’re going towards our own intentions and we’re driving towards that, how do we have conversations with people who are like this and others to understand and build that empathy, but also see, Hey, how can I make your day easier? And at the same time create a better environment for everybody. And when we’re talking about diversity, equity, inclusion, foundationally, that’s belonging.
Benjamin McCall: [00:32:44.89] Can I bring my whole self to, to this environment, to these people, to this meeting, or do I need to steal back for the benefit of everyone in this room? I ask a question and introductions when I’m doing facilitation and people will ask, I’ll ask, Hey, what’s your name? What do you love about your job? And the third thing I’ll ask for them to think about when they’re doing introduction is something interesting about yourself that you wouldn’t mind sharing and others would not mind hearing because the things that we think are great, but others are like, Whoa, don’t share that. And that question forces them to think something that’s interesting about myself that I wouldn’t mind sharing, but others would not mind hearing. So I’m not telling them not to say something. I’m asking them to think about what they say, but still share something interesting about themselves. So we still need to bring our whole selves to work. But how is it impacting and landing as a rock or a feather to others? How is it bringing pain, discomfort, or comfort and ease? And that’s what usually the foundational when we’re having those reactions, discussions, diversity work is starting there, and then we can start talking about the hard subjects.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:33:59.53] Speaking of belonging, because I feel like that piece is so important, the being you’re bringing your whole self to work. So, so key. I want to ask you about code-switching because I think that this is still a new concept for a lot of people. But let’s talk about code-switching and how do you see this playing out in maybe different social and professional contexts?
Benjamin McCall: [00:34:26.47] Well, for, for those who may or may not know about code-switching at a very simple basis, it’s from how you switch your style, your personality, your communication for the environment that you’re in, and often at a cost to you. At base, we all code switch and, and I’ll say, if you think about language, we’re all lingual. We all speak our language and we’re all in some ways bilingual. So if I’m with my family, I may talk and interact and have relationships in a certain way versus at work. I may show the same or a little bit different, or the requirement of my work requires me to act in a certain way. So I’m at least at a minimal, I’m bilingual. Not as many people are multilingual or monolingual where they speak multiple languages with many different people. And it’s not just language, it’s more the language of behavior and discussion. So when you think about code-switching, how often do you feel pressure, comfort to change the way you interact? You know, when you think about Facebook and during COVID and the, and the individuals that were being recorded and going off on each other, they were definitely not thinking about others and the impact of others. They’re coming from a selfish perspective and they live in a world or lived in a world where they felt like this is comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with the way I’m interacting.
Benjamin McCall: [00:35:45.70] Whereas anyone, if you think underrepresented in their work, underrepresented by society, anyone who’s a minority, they will know what code-switching is, because we don’t live in a world of hundreds of years that was built, created, reinforced systems that support us. We don’t live in that world. We live in your world. We live in another world. And we have resilience. We have calluses, we have scars from living in that world. So I often use the idea of when it comes to code-switching or living in the world and understanding is let’s say you have a play down the street and everyone goes to see this play every single week. It’s your favorite play. You’re sitting in the audience, you’re watching the play, and all of a sudden the curtain for the first time this one week you’re going draws back and you’re able to see all the players, all the actors, all the people doing all the work behind. And you’re like, Oh, I never knew that happened before. Picture people who are underrepresented, they’re doing, they do and at times, at times they’re putting on an act, at times they’re showing a different face that translates well to you in certain environments so you’ll feel comfortable or they won’t feel uncomfortable. Whereas you’re like, I never knew this. And I think the aspect of video and social media, more people are starting to realize some of those things.
Benjamin McCall: [00:37:08.15] So it’s, it’s about speaking in different languages, in your behavior, in the comfort of your interactions and that but there’s also how does that weight apply to certain people. So when I come to an environment am I automatically talked about in a certain way because of the way I look, I’ve worked in construction in my past, in manufacturing, and in leadership, oftentimes there’s no one that looks at me. There’s, there’s older white men. And to say that that’s, that’s the environment that I’ve worked in and I’ve had to make choices. I understand that this environment is not going to be as easy for me as it is for them. But in order to change moments, change lives, and also to change the work that you do, oftentimes you got to show up in places that you’re not always wanting to or willing to show up and to show a different representation of someone. So, those are some things I think about. But I also think about as you build that resilience and that comfort in the beginning, it feels like stress and you feel like you’re not being yourself, and some people will say, I’m not bringing my whole self to work. Whereas I’ve been in training and development, organization development, leadership development, where in HR, anyone who’s in HR knows that you have to show different faces to different people.
Benjamin McCall: [00:38:20.92] Some of it’s forced and others of it, it’s like, Hey, you’re just used to that. You’re used to that style. For me, it’s translating well to different individuals that I’m working with. If I showed up to this at a Fortune 500 company, an executive team like this, they would view me in a certain way. So for me, it’s not about coming to that environment, showing my true self. It’s about how do I translate well so I can get my message across. And also in the beginning when we’re first interacting and we just starting to get to know each other, they don’t use that as a crutch or a wall to judge or to question my experience or question the things that I’m telling them, just like a manufacturing flaw. I wouldn’t show up in a suit on a construction site or in a manufacturing floor when there’s lines going in a suit or tie to their meetings in the beginning. Like maybe if I’m already there coming from a meeting, but they’re going to view me in a certain way. So how do I translate better to get messages across, but also help them understand that I’m with them versus I’m above or separate from them? And I think code-switching can be for the person make you feel like, I have to be a different person. I’m not necessarily myself. Versus if you’ve been living that life and having to do that, there’s resilience that kind of breaks in to build and how am I translating in different environments and where do I feel comfortable and confident to where I can be this way? And after time you start to make a choice in a decision on, okay, My confidence, my comfort with this is the way I’m not going to allow people to tell me this is, I need to be in a certain way. Either people accept and there’s a cost and a price to that. So with code-switching, there’s always a cost and a price. And is it, is the person, especially early on, willing to pay that price? In the beginning it’s a lot more painful because you, you’re questioning, you’re wondering. Later on, it’s more of a part of the work that you’re doing and how you’re doing, especially for me, for others who don’t have that power or that permission or that comfort, code-switching means that means there’s a lot more weight to it, because now I don’t make a choice in the way, I’m being forced to act in a certain way. So there’s, there’s a lot of different facets to it, and it depends on the comfort, the confidence, and the power I have or do not have and the permission to exercise.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:40:45.10] Thank you. Thank you for, for sharing. I feel like there’s been a negative connotation attached to code-switching, but there’s also, in some instances a positive way to like build a relationship with someone. I want to share something personal about me, and when I think of code-switching, this is what I think of. So for those of you that don’t know, I was in a domestic violence situation. I was married to my first husband for seven years and I was super successful in human resources and I, I led teams. I was very good at what I did. I felt amazing. And I had this person of who I was. And then I would go home and I had to, I was a completely different person. And it is so, in that instance, it is so emotionally taxing. Every day felt like the longest day of my life. And I was scared and I was fearful. And I worried that if something that happened good in my job, when I came home, something bad was going to happen to me because of it. And, and it and just for context, like because I was actually talking to my daughter about this the other day, because I want her to understand and I want to be open, I think it’s important for her to be able to ask questions and have conversations. But it was physical. It was also mental and it was relentless. And I didn’t even know I was in it or how I could get out. So sometimes I feel like if I’m thinking about code-switching for people who are maybe not in a psychological safe place or situation, it is not healthy. I’m not necessarily comparing my situation to exactly what underrepresented minorities feel like, but when, experience, but when I think about my life, I felt like I was two different people and I was living two separate lives in order to be able to survive in the world that I had created for myself. So I wanted to ask you, when we think about code-switching, what does this mean for underrepresented employees in the workplace, specifically? Is this impacting their psychological safety?
Benjamin McCall: [00:42:58.21] Absolutely. And it’s to the point of confidence, comfort, and permission. How do, how do those things level off to where I feel comfortable in acting or interacting in a certain way? Like I would say that you’re not, your feeling of what you felt at work and then coming home and those differences are not too different of the stress and the biological feeling of what happens when, okay, I’ve got a boss and he’s prejudiced and he’s racist or I’m not getting promotions and, and I want to speak my mind. But every time I speak my mind, someone’s talking down to me or I’m in an interview and there’s comments and I know all my white counterparts or other counterparts are gaining in moving on, but I’m not. And those are things that are often unsaid. So if you think about your own experience, there’s things you could share at work and things you could do at work and you could excel it at work. But you also couldn’t share that same experience at home because of the pressures, the comfort, discomfort, the confidence or lack thereof, and the permission. And that’s the largest piece, is, is I can be who I am and I can interact. Or even when we’re talking about diversity, equity, inclusion, the world is giving more permission to do more DEI work and to have DEI positions and to talk about pay equity and to talk about how are we creating spaces for those who are underrepresented, those with disabilities, LGBTQ, and we’re creating a place that’s belonging and representative and people could do their work versus how much permission or organizations in the world not doing it.
Benjamin McCall: [00:44:36.44] And that’s, that’s not too different from the feeling that you have. The emotional, the psychological, and the gaslighting. Even though it’s not necessarily direct. You’re questioning whether is what am I experiencing good or bad? Is what am I experiencing my fault or that person’s fault? And it’s very easy for people to say, well, you know, you should just speak up or you should just get out of that relationship, or if that boss or that company is that way, just leave. When the environment or other environments are very similar and what are you going to go jump, jump from the devil you know to the devil you don’t. And at the same time, it’s very easy for people who are at executive level positions or have always rode that, that line and been in that area to say all these things that other people, is that simple. It’s, it’s kind of like rich in celebrity saying, well, you know, I love my life. Well, you have a lot of comfort and privilege to prop that up and you don’t have a lot of people pushing you down and pressing you.
Benjamin McCall: [00:45:41.33] So it’s about the moments and the scenarios and how much equity, how much access people have to certain things versus others that don’t. And that’s, that’s where I weigh. So you can take underrepresented or, you know, woman versus male or cultures and classes and you can underlay that as a part. But the biggest piece, regardless of where you are in the world, is how much permission are you given to be who you are, to practice what you do and to talk about these issues versus how much are you being squelched or pushed to the side? And I think over the last couple of years, there’s a lot more permission. Some of that’s starting to recede. But also, what support group do you have around you to help pull you out of that situation? Because for me, I’ve dealt with so much within my work life that as long as I have 55 to 60% of what I enjoy doing, I can deal with whatever crap it is that, that I’m facing on the 40%. Whether it’s a crappy boss or, or tough to deal with employees or people that are just rude and prejudiced and unconscious around their biases, I can deal with a lot of that because I enjoy most of the stuff I do, and I find a path through that 55 to 60% where I could probably change their mindset too. Because also what I’m trying to do, and one of my pillars is to help people become better and how am I becoming better or helping others become better if I’m contributing to the chaos? You don’t make things better by contributing to the chaos.
Benjamin McCall: [00:47:15.44] So there may be chaos. There may be chaos that we start to write off really easily by letting go of an employee and not really understanding that the boss before them, before you was pushing them into that situation and created that person. They never wanted to be. They wanted to do all this stuff. And now we’re saying that they’re non-performing or all the stories I’ve heard about you, but I’m never talked to the person about their story. So it’s really important to understand how much permission people are giving and comfort. What does that creating for them mentally and physically? Because there’s definitely a physical reaction to the mental abuse and things that you’re going and how that makes you feel about any other relationship you have in work, in friendships, in colleagues. On a side note, the kind of connected I’m not a big believer in calling people work families because biologically and brain-wise, you have a family, you have kids, you have brothers, sisters. And, and, and especially now within the last year in the tech world, if you had a work family, you’re going through some mental physical pressure of like, these are the people I cared about. These are the people that I invest in my time in. And I spent 50, 60 hours with, especially in the tech world, a lot of time.
Benjamin McCall: [00:48:35.32] And all of a sudden you are cut from that family with no, no adequate reason or justification. There’s just a hole that’s been ripped up in your world and there’s a gap. And because they didn’t fill it, whether it’s by reason of telling you, hey, it’s, it’s not personal, Here are the reasons why we had to. It’s without that feeling of information from the employer, you have a gap that you are now trying to fill and justify and filling with, Was it me? Was it the work that I did? Was it the company? What? And you’re not getting answers. It’s just like when you, the typical practice of going through three or four interviews and you get to the final level and then you just get ghosted or they tell you they give you the standard email. They have not given you any feedback to tell you what can I adjust or change that’s like this? It’s just like, Oh no, we just decided to go with another person.
Benjamin McCall: [00:49:30.25] There’s no answer there. So it’s, it’s really a lot of the same feelings. It’s just a question of how much permission and also how much pressure and power do people have when they’re denying those rights or those abilities to, for a person to be who they are. Or to, to flow easily between life and work versus you are making constant adjustments and that swimming upstream constantly puts a, a, it takes a toll on your body. And your, your mental aspect is, is your body. So that is not easily, that is not easily taken away. That is a, that is a physical action you will have for a long time, depending on the senses that you have within that work environment. When you were cut, when you were let go, how your boss treats you. Every single boss you have, you’re going to be looking for that because amygdala, fight or flight, is this environment safe? Is it comfortable? Can I trust you? Can I talk to you? Well, everything you’ve displayed or nothing you displayed yet has told me that I can trust that. So I’m going to act in a way that protects me rather than protects the world around me.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:50:48.04] And, and all this, like, is, is true. And I will say in my own personal experience, like even it’s been 16, 17 years, maybe 18 years since I was with that person. But I still like still, if there is a man that looks remotely like him across the room, my body will stop. So and it’s not, it’s not anything like, logically, like I’m good. But you carry those life moments, those things with you when you have been hurt or you have experienced discrimination or violence or.
Benjamin McCall: [00:51:29.01] It’s a trigger.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:51:29.30] A layoff, like, it comes and it comes in weird places and so and unexpectedly, sometimes it’s the time of the year for me. So I say all this because everybody experiences their life a little bit different and something like code-switching can cause a lot of trauma and harm. It also can be a good thing in, in certain environments. I think like when you and I are on stage speaking, right? Like we have to go into professional mode where we’re the expert. But then when I’m with my best friend, having a cocktail on the couch, like I’m the best friend. So it’s, it’s part of human nature. But there are extreme versions that can cause extreme harm, which is why I think it’s important to talk about it. I will link to an article from HBR, and it’s interesting because we’re talking about code-switching and it’s good and bad. I feel like it’s part of who we are as humans, but the HBR article talks about the bad in it. So I think it’s, it’s important for us to be aware of and understand that employees who are, who are feeling like they’re being forced to live two lives in a way or be multiple people to, to when they show up in different ways, it can cause a lot of physical and psychological harm.
Benjamin McCall: [00:52:54.05] And to that point, Jessica, I think all of us can understand conflict and we’re triggered by the word conflict in a good or bad way. People will often lean towards negativity, like if I’m going to deal with conflict or address conflict, I feel like whatever’s going to happen is negative. But conflict in itself is a disagreement or a misalignment. It is not good or bad. It is what we bring to it that makes it good or bad. It is what the other person brings into it that makes it good or bad. So conflict, code-switching, the way we interact, these things, they’re things. They’re things that happen. It’s our life experiences and how we treat it and how we allow others to feel like they can treat it, that makes it good or bad. So we always have to ask this question of what am I bringing to the environment that makes it better or makes it worse? What am I owning and being, being accountable to myself about? And where am I allowing people to talk about their own accountabilities or to realize it as well? And that’s the foundation and building bridges, which is DEI, it’s what helps us understand, okay, the differences that we have in looks or nature or feel. Equity. What are we creating, creating an access for that. And inclusion. How are we including and allowing people to belong? But those are higher terms for the thing of leveling the playing field of what am I bringing to a situation and what are others, and is it good or bad? Are we creating a good or bad situation versus this thing? DEI, belonging, equity, inclusion. The situation you’re facing is bad. So all of them are things. It’s what are we bringing into it that makes it one of those things, which is important to think about.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:54:40.02] You know, Ben Sometimes I think this podcast is really just a version of therapy for me.
Benjamin McCall: [00:54:45.24] There’s nothing wrong with that.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:54:45.96] I’ve been doing this for ten years. I’m, like, thank you so much for, for coming and talking to us. I think that part of what it’s important for me is for us to be able to share our life experiences and then use that as a foundation to kind of be able to talk through like how things are working at work and a reminder that we’re human beings. Were people behind every thing that we’re doing. We have feelings and emotions and we care about certain things and have life experiences. So I appreciate you being willing to share. And particularly because when I think of you, and we’ve talked about this like your ethnicity, like you don’t, like you don’t fit into a box, like there’s not.
Benjamin McCall: [00:55:32.67] I’m racially ambiguous to me.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:55:33.57] Yes. Like there isn’t like a racially ambiguous box that you check when you fill out your identification information. Well, I guess there is. I guess, other, but.
Benjamin McCall: [00:55:43.20] I check a lot of boxes.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:55:45.87] You do. And, and I think that it’s, it’s important when to, to just be empathetic and I wish that more managers, and that’s why we’re talking about this, could come, come from that place when, when we’re engaging our employees and talking with our peers. So where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing?
Benjamin McCall: [00:56:10.89] So my firm is Focus Consulting. I’ve got a number of different platforms. LinkedIn is the best way. It’s got all my information there. FocusConsults on Twitter, Focus Consulting on Facebook. And if you were to look it up on LinkedIn, it’s Focus Consulting Partners or Focus Consulting. So you can always reach out to me there. And, you know, primarily we want to make people better. And we do that in relationships. We do that in transactions, we do that in interactions. And the only way to do that is to have those conversations in a world that is so politically charged. And over the last couple of years where people have stuck into their silos and built that routine, I think it’s important that we be willing to talk to each other because most of the problems have come about because we haven’t talked. So you can reach out to me on any one of those platforms. I’m always willing to have a conversation or if you need, need support in the work that you’re doing, always willing to have a discovery call, no forced entry into to work and it can come into a conversation. Thanks, Jessica. Thanks for having me.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:57:09.42] Yeah, Thank you. I really appreciate it.
Closing: [00:57:12.09] Conversations about leadership and culture are extremely important and we need to have more of them because these conversations spark change. As HR leaders, we can support our organizations with resources and training that can open up your DEI initiatives in a way that sets your company up for long-term success, while also setting an example of what doing the right thing looks like. I appreciate Ben’s insights and expertise here. Long time friend. I just love talking with him. Every time I get off a call with Ben, I feel so much smarter and I hope that you feel that way too.
Closing: [00:57:48.12] Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast, taking time with us today. The Workology Podcast is powered by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. Let’s change the workplace together. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Again, thank you so much for joining us. I want to hear from you. If you have a suggestion for a topic, a guest, or just want to chat, text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. This is my community text number. Thank you again for joining us. I hope you have a fabulous day and thank you for listening to the Workology Podcast. If you like what you’re hearing, please share it with your friends and let them know that the Workology Podcast is one that they need to add to their daily or weekly podcast regimen. Have a great day.
Connect with Benjamin McCall.
– Focus Consulting on LinkedIn
– Focus Consulting on Facebook
– Harvard Business Review | The Costs of Code-Switching
– Episode 384: ‘Is HR Your Friend?’ With Franky Rhodes, People Operations Partner at TravelPerk
– Episode 379: How to Create a Sense of Belonging With Jackye Clayton From Textio
– Episode 336: How AI Tech Can Support DEIA Initiatives With Psychology Researcher, Jeffrey Brown
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