Racism in the Workplace is Real with Y-Vonne Hutchinson

DEI consultant, former attorney and author Y-Vonne Hutchinson wants us to cut the bullshit and talk about racism openly and honestly.
Racism in the Workplace is Real with Y-Vonne Hutchinson
Published July 5, 2022

Y-Vonne Hutchinson wants us to cut the bullshit and talk openly and honestly about racism.

That’s why she wrote her new book, How to Talk to Your Boss About Race: Speaking Up Without Getting Shut Down, which equips readers with a framework to think about race at work and prepares them to have frank and effective conversations with leaders.

Y-Vonne is the CEO and founder of ReadySet, one of the country’s biggest diversity, equity, and inclusion training firms that helps tech giants, political leaders, media outlets, and Fortune 500 companies speak more productively about racism, and turn talk about change into real action.

A graduate of Harvard Law, Y-Vonne worked as an international labor and human rights lawyer for nearly a decade in places like Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and along the Thai/Burmese border in Southeast Asia, before founding her company in 2015, which was inspired by her own experiences with racism in the workforce as a Black woman.

In this interview, Y-Vonne joins us to discuss…

  • The insidious ways in which racist policies, attitudes, and cultures can make BIPOC people internalize marginalization
  • How a former employer tried to silence Y-Vonne’s new book—by attempting to enlist her attorney to turn against her
  • The overlaps between historical exploitation of labor and modern-day racism in the workplace
  • Considering The Great Resignation as The Great Renegotiation (Planet Money)

Y-Vonne’s work has been featured across CNBC, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Wired Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and beyond. She has spoken at Harvard Law, Yale School of Management, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and MIT Sloan.

Thank you to Y-Vonne for joining us on the podcast!

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Episode Transcript

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Dave Ursillo  00:14

Hello and welcome to The New Story Is my name is Dave Ursillo. I am the founder of The New Story Company and the host of this podcast. You know, one of the ironic aspects about hosting a show called The New Story Is, is that implies a lot of things it implies that we need new stories, it implies that new is necessarily better, which raises the question. According to who is any story new? What if the story at hand is not so new? after all? What if it’s an old story? What if it’s a story as old as humankind itself, one that’s been forgotten or minimized or deliberately marginalized through systems of oppression that lift some up and keep others held down? What if the story at hand is one that’s been swallowed up by bigotry, by ignorance by naivete or by privilege? What if the story at hand is not so new? After all, my guest today is an expert thinker. She’s a thought leader, and a powerful voice in helping those who feel marginalized and whose experiences among some big, oppressive and complex systems of power have subjugated them to feeling less than whole in the workplace in everyday life or even in war zones. I’m joined today by y Y-Vonne. Hutchinson, y Y-Vonne is the founder and CEO of ReadySet, one of the country’s biggest diversity, equity and inclusion training firms that helps tech giants, political leaders, media outlets and fortune 500 companies speak more productively about racism and turn talk about change into real action. As a graduate of Harvard Law. Well, Y-Vonne once worked as an international labor and human rights lawyer for nearly a decade, and in places as far away as Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and along the Thai Burmese border in Southeast Asia before founding her company in 2015, which was inspired in part by our own experiences with racism in the workplace as a Black woman. Y-Vonne’s book is How to Talk to Your Boss About Race, speaking up without getting shut down, which equips readers with a framework to think about race at work, and prepare them to have frank and effective conversations with leaders. Well, Yvonne, welcome to The New Story Is thank you so much for making time to speak about your important work, and I really loved your book.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  02:30

Well, thank you for having me. I’m super excited for this conversation.

Dave Ursillo  02:33

You know, I feel like the best place for us to start is with the opening line, literally the first line, the first four words of your preface of your book, in which you say, let’s cut the bullshit, right? So to get our conversation off, and I’m wondering if we could start by not only agreeing with one another to cut the bullshit in the course of our conversation today, but maybe talking a little bit about some of the proverbial or literal bullshit that surrounds discussions of race and racism today? What are folks from marginalized groups or marginalized identities, really sick of having to either like talk around or try to break through regarding their lived experiences in the modern day workplace?

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  03:18

Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, for me, the first thing that sort of sticks out, and this is such a great opening question, what is the bullshit, you know, is the fact that there are some people who aren’t even willing to say the word racism. So, you know, you can’t have a conversation, if you’re not going to talk directly about the thing that you want to talk about. Right. And, you know, in my experience, it can be so hard for people just to call and action racist. You know, there’s a saying that sometimes it feels like it’s more insulting or damaging to be called a racist than to actually do a racist action. And we see that all the time we see the news when something’s called racially motivated, or racially tinged, you know, we see it at work, and it’s just a sort of fear of actually naming something racist, and not only the fear of naming it, but placing more of an emphasis on what we call an action than what impact that harmful action actually has. So I would say that that’s that’s probably the most profound way I think that it shows up and I think that the other ask aspects of the conversation that can feel tricky, or like people aren’t really like talking about it kind of flow from that right so just the fact that you know, people might not necessarily want to have the uncomfortable conversation. People want to sort of rely on easy narratives around racism going away people you know may get defensive and feel like you are calling them racist when you when you name racism. I think I think all A lot of that stuff is just related to the fact that we’re afraid to talk about race, racism itself, and being called or Well, being called a racist is still considered taboo. And we often aren’t focusing on the harm that racism causes and the impact that has on marginalized people.

Dave Ursillo  05:18

Yeah, well, I’m sure we’re gonna get into the difference between intention and impact, which, which features pretty predominantly in your book, and how important it is to distinguish those two things and how, you know, trying to give white people who are are explicitly or implicitly racist are engaging in racist behaviors, centers them in the story, as opposed to centering the person who’s being impacted in the groups who are being impacted historically. Because and let’s just like zoom out for a second and set up, where we’re coming from in this in this conversation. You know, I know throughout your book, you’re writing your book, in 2020, into 2021. So the backdrop of our conversation today, as we’re recording this is almost two years, two years, in a few days past the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. Can you characterize or describe summarize, I should say our time, this is a quote from your book, at a time in which we see the rise of the whistleblower, a surge in interest in system in systemic racism, accelerated an economic inequality, on equal trauma of the pandemic that has hurt people of color disproportionately, and arise, a global rise in racist violence, and the quote, and yet, of course, you know, racism is not new. In fact, when you obviously go back and scrutinize History of the United States, and understand that slavery really built the country, that its legacy is bound up in racist and discriminatory laws and policies, from housing policies and redlining to systems like mass incarceration, movements and policies like militarized policing, and the war on drugs and so on. Race, it is really becoming more I should say, the racial issues, at least from from my perspective, as like as a, you know, middle upper class like white man. That’s how I was born and raised. It’s the only perspective I’ll ever have, I see more public awareness and more shared language, in more popular concepts floating around in the ether, at least the circles in which I swim in my corners of modern America, pertaining to racism and discrimination. And so my question is, is it fair in the work that you’re doing today? Does it feel any easier given the not only like, the fever pitch of terrible things that continues to happen, that we’re all subjected to and see on the news and not Not to mention that affect, you know, some of our listeners, and so many people directly every day? Is it getting any easier to engage people in the work that you’ve been doing, especially in the last seven years since you founded your company? Or does it feel in some ways harder than ever? Or harder as it has, it has been historically to break through? And to do this important work? What do you think?

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  08:24

Um, I don’t think I can characterize it as easier or harder, I think it feels different. And I do think, though, what’s most important about that sort of differences, a lot of the artifice is stripped away, right. So I can talk a little bit about what it felt like doing this work when I started my company in 2015, which actually wasn’t that long ago, and what it feels like today, when I when I started ReadySet, you know, there was this kind of focus on unconscious bias, this sort of idea that racism was still happening, but it was isolated, there was more like a few bad apples, and that it wasn’t necessarily overt. And we were sort of on this path to progress, you know, and that was during the Obama years. And so there was this sort of kind of like optimism, that the trajectory of the country was headed in a certain direction. And then, you know, obviously, what happened is we saw the election of Trump and 2017. And this kind of platforming of very regressive, racist harmful ideas and the sort of like acceptance of them in the mainstream. And it was like this, it felt like this huge sort of like unmasking of, you know, what was really sort of bubbling beneath the surface. And in 2017, we also saw the rise of the metoo movement, and I think it’s no coincidence that you had this person in power, who was you know, I’m accused of sexual harassment, who had a history of sexual harassment. And then you sort of have these women who feel like empowered to come forward and tell their stories and sort of really kind of disillusioned by the election of that person. And then after the me to movement,

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  10:16

a few years later, you have the, you know, the killing of George Floyd. And, you know, on the positive side, now, we now have people who can say, who say, like, yes, let’s talk about systemic racism, or at least especially in 2012, let’s talk about white supremacy. Let’s talk about complicity. Let’s talk about what we can do. But now in 2022, I feel like the pendulum swinging back a little bit, you know, we’re feeling some backlash and spaces, that doesn’t mean we’re going all the way back to where we were in 2017. It doesn’t mean we’re going back to where we were in 2015. Right. But we’re getting some pushback, I think people are tired. They’re tired of talking about racism. They’re feeling like, you know, maybe they had these big ideas that they were going to have more of an impact than they were, or they thought they were going to get more credit or rewards for what they’re doing. You know, you’re seeing these push backs against things like canceled culture, and, well, culture, you’re seeing a lot of weaponization of concepts that used to be widely accepted, or that people were embracing and 2020. Now being weaponized by the right, or people who are against equity, inclusion, diversity, to be something bad, right? You know, my favorite thing is, it’s not my favorite thing. But, but the most salient example of this is critical race theory. Now, all the right had to do is say, we’re going to use this term, we’re going to steal this term, and use it weaponize this language to refer to things that we don’t like, I’d say it’s this, and then people are going to, you know, obviously, either deny that what they’re doing is this or try to, you know, not be seen as doing that, that bad thing or whatever. And I went to law school, you know, I went to Harvard Law where there were critical race theorists, but that was at Harvard Law, right? Not in our elementary schools. And, and, and what we’re also seeing is critical race theory is actually a sort of Trojan horse for things like American history teaching, you know, about the history of racism, etc. And it doesn’t stop there, you know. So I think that there’s definitely been some of this pushback and that opposition is more savvy, right? Because they are taking our language and sort of using it against us or saying, canceled culture is wrong, we don’t want that kind of accountability. Being woke is bad, you know, woke culture is killing did edited it. And it’s, it’s just sort of a simple rhetorical play, that sort of, you know, centers and amplifies green grievance and leverages our language against us, and it’s just catchy enough to, to work. So in that way, it’s, it’s, it’s harder to, and I think we’re also kind of seeing this disconnect, I think, from and I would say a thorough, it’s always been there. But to me, it’s quite profound, from what’s happening in the workplace and with employees in general, and the overlap between of that with diversity, equity, inclusion, anti racism, anti sexism, etc. You know, at this point, ReadySet is one of the largest di firms in the country. And, you know, I feel like we still have to go in and make the case even when the great resignations happening, that you know, companies who are scared about retention, who are scared about losing employees, that this is something they need to invest in, even though it’s the reason why employees are leaving, right. It’s a reason why people are having a hard time keeping their talent. But the narrative around D is that it’s this sort of siloed thing, the narrow around and the narrative around antiracism is that it’s very limited, that it’s an add on, it’s an optional, it’s nice to have. And what we’re actually seeing this, like driving the labor market is quite the opposite, right, is that these sort of initiatives are vital to retaining employees and attracting new talent. And we just don’t see I just feel like there’s sometimes a disconnect between those two things. So I think, you know, I think the the challenge has always been evolving. And this is the latest sort of iteration of that. Is it easier or harder hard for me to say is different.

Dave Ursillo  14:25

What’s fascinating as I’m listening to you is the speed at which the conversation of like around the work the public perception, how the language the terms the public, like the the discourse is changing is so it’s almost it’s dizzying, how quickly it all it all happens. I mean, in the court, we’re just we just we just shrunk history down to seven years, which feels like a long time. And just in the course of two years or 18 months. We mentioned how how quickly everything changes how language gets co opted how, you know, historically A black term like woke, which was rooted in the civil rights movement, yet has years later been co opted, twisted, and used to then like insult and denigrate people who are some, in some cases, it’s deservingly. So right when it’s born, it becomes a hollow term to refer to, like social media activism or something or hollow non activism. But how how the language of of woke specifically how critical race theory you mentioned, has been twisted, by the far right by Fox News to imply that children are being taught that they’re racist, and all these different things. It must be dizzying. And I’m wondering, from your perspective, as the CEO, as the founder of a company like ReadySet, a really popular dei consulting firm. How much of your work, would you say like institutionally is just in keeping in touch with what’s actually happening and being discussed in the culture? Obviously, we weren’t talking about your book. And your book is beautiful for the word nerd in me because it’s it gives like very concrete strategies and tools and tips and advice about language about manipulation and gaslighting how to enlist. Allies through conversation like all these are really beautiful, and important, and difficult tactics to start to create change in the workplace. But I’m wondering from the from your point of view, as the leader of this organization, how, how is it that you all keep up with the rapidly changing nature of the times and the language? Is it just a matter of like a quote unquote, paying attention to things as they unfold? How much of it is actually invested in? How your messaging and sharing your work with the world? How much of it is on the receiving end of trying to keep up with new cycles?

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  16:53

Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think, you know, in the book, I say, I talk about how quickly things change. And we’ve highlighted this in this interview, and then how, in some ways, it’s still the same. I think, history, I talk about this in my book a lot. But I think we are done a disservice and the way that we’re taught our history, right. And I think we’re sort of taught that rights are gained by individuals. And, you know, we’re really sort of taught that, that Martin Luther King Jr, quote, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice, is how we should think about the history of this country in the history of you know, and that’s not necessarily true. And in the book, I try to reframe that, where instead, I think a lot of what we see is sort of like, huge leaps in progress, and then roll back sleeps in progress, and then roll back. So if you go, you know, I like to start at radical reconstruction. If you look at some of the gains that were made, during radical reconstruction, you look at the political representation of African Americans, you look at the number of African Americans who are voting, you look at the economic growth that you saw in those communities. And then you see the intentional rollback and extraction of resources from black America during the Jim Crow movement, right. And then if you think about the rollbacks that came sort of, after the civil rights movement during the Civil Rights Movement, you know, we had desegregation, we had affirmative action. And, you know, we like to sort of frame those policies, it’s an effective when, in actuality, they had quite a positive impact, right, like, you know, even, you know, desegregation, like there were there was a short period where schools were more integrated, affirmative action, you know, a lot of the black middle class that was in place in the 80s. And 90s, got to where they were, in part because of affirmative action, right. And we sort of saw though, how the, the rollback of those things with the Reagan era, and this sort of the dismantling of that structure, and then even in modern times with the limitations that were placed on the Voting Rights Act, and the and now today, you know, the advancements that we’ve made during 2020 2017. And, you know, restrictions on voting rights at the state level, the spate of anti trans bills, the, you know, overturning of Roe v Wade, just this sort of plethora of new bills and push us to bring us, you know, back to sort of where we were, and as we talk, the most recent thing is sort of the Amber Heard Johnny Depp trial and verdict where we’re now sort of seeing a chilling effect on victims of domestic abuse.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  19:41

Talking about the fact that the abuse happened and outlets being willing to report on abuse, out of fear of, you know, claims that they may be engaging in defamation. And so it is within this context, I say all of this because it can feel like oh, I’ve got to keep up with the news. This feels so dizzying. But what centers me is that this is part Have a broader pattern. And when I recognize that, hey, their pattern is push pull is a tug of war. It’s not, you know, a moral arc. And for all of the progress we’re going to make people are going to try and push us back. I think that centering. And when we think about, okay, well, what do we need to be thinking about today? I think some of the things are new, but some of the things hasn’t changed, like, I’m black anti blackness has been around for ever, right? Like, I’m glad we’re talking about systemic racism now, but let me tell you, it existed, you know, 10 years ago, when I came out of law school, you know, and existed for my parents, you know, anti Asian violence has been around for a very long time. And so some of these things, while the conversations talking about them may be new, you know, homophobia is not new. transphobia is not new. I’m glad people, a lot of the conversations are people who have privilege, recognizing that it’s happening and saying we should do something about it. But the underlying issues are not new issues. And so like at ReadySet, and just, you know, in life, I always try to encourage people, yes, to stay abreast of these movements. So we can figure out like, where the hotspots are, and who’s most in need, but understand that all of this is reflective of the underlying history and culture of white supremacy, and patriarchy, and exclusion, political, economic, social, that we have, you know, in this country and globally, you know, and so that we, you know, when we keep that in mind, we’re not just hopping from issue to issue, we’re really looking at root causes. And that’s what we’re trying to solve, right? When we go into an organization. We’re not just trying to speak to LGBTQIA plus employees, because there’s a new bill that’s come up, we’re not trying to just say, Oh, hey, it’s June 18, let’s talk about it. You know, we want to say, Okay, what parts of these these root causes are embedded into your particular systems? And how do we address those first. So that’s how I tend to think about it.

Dave Ursillo  22:08

Yeah, and I really appreciate you mentioning this idea that a lot of the so called issues that seem new are not new at all. And I want to kind of call call myself in the name of this show into the conversation not to make it all about me. But because one of the one of the things that strikes me as funny or ironic or even potentially ignorant, is to over ascribe value onto something being new, like at best, there can be a romance to thinking like this is the new XYZ, whether we’re talking about, like a product that’s being launched in Silicon Valley, or a conversation or an idea that can like fix everything. And so the question that gets bagged is like to whom is the story new in first? And in what in what cases in what ways is the story that we’re discussing, not new at all, especially from from different perspectives from a marginalized, historically marginalized identity group who has been subjected to systemic racism. Like you say, racism is not new homophobia is not new, different forms of discrimination, violence and stereotyping. These are not new subjects. If if an individual is experiencing as new for the first time, that’s probably a call in themselves into examining the history, the roots of this and how it is part of a larger narrative, a much larger narrative than the individual experience. I would love to ask you a little bit about your own personal experiences. Because you mentioned in your book, you have some really interesting anecdotes, not only about your career and law, but one of your first workplace experiences, which was, which sounded terrible, but was at a theme park and I’m wondering if you could set up this this introduction for us into the working world since your book is so much about the modern place, the modern workplace, and I think importantly, you mentioned in the book that the modern workplace is so deeply entrenched in issues of racism and discrimination, it may be the biggest so called Battle flow Battlefront for people and experiencing racism is in the workplace. And we’ll we’ll come back around to the great resignation and COVID-19 everything but you took an aptitude test for job placement when you were 15 years old, I think and at a at a park in Texas. Yeah. What happened with with this test?

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  24:25

Okay, so yeah, this is you know, so first let me just set the stage I’m writing this book and you know, a lot of writing a book is kind of like I’ve described it and describe it in one talk where it’s like, it’s feels like opening a wound than digging around and and closing it back up and sometimes you find wounds you didn’t even know you had or you forgot you had. And and I included the story when I was writing the book. It was one of the last stories I included because it was so sort of buried in my mind. I talk a lot in the book about Hmm, coming to terms with my identity and the marginalization I faced. And part of that journey was just that plausible deniability of every interaction being ascribed to something other than racism. So I was like, in denial for a huge part of my life that, you know, some of the interactions I was experiencing issues I was experiencing were in part, racism, particularly those when I was younger. I think it’s just really disconcerting to think about people who are racist against young people. I’m a mom now. So it really breaks my heart that somebody could be racist against a child, yet plenty of people are. And, and I think those are sort of the experiences that came up later, as I was writing the book, the recent ones were easy to sort of those ones are easy to find open up and seal up again, the other ones, you know, we’re buried kind of deep in my memory. But yes, this is the memory of my first job. And you know, it wasn’t terrible. I did learn the value of $1. I say that in the book. It’s true. I took this job. I wanted to so backstory, this is very privileged reason to take a job. I wasn’t trying to feed my family or anything. We were middle class, I talked about my socio economic privilege quite a bit. But I wanted to go to Europe and my mom, she was still a single mom, she couldn’t afford it. So she said, Well, you’re going to have to get a job save up for the summer to help pay for this trip that you want to take with all of your bougie white friends and this little white school you go to so I said, Yes, ma’am. So I go to I’m not supposed to name say the name of the lake. So I’m gonna you think we’re gonna be big. Thank you. So I go to a theme park. And it’s kind of like a job fair. And I think there’s like interviews and you like fill out application. I think there’s a little bit of a test. And I just remember feeling like I aced it. You know, I was like, I was a nerd. I was a drama nerd. honor student, very extroverted, gregarious. So I just am a charmer. According to myself, I was a charmer. So I just had no doubt that I had charmed the people who I spoke to, I knew I did well at that test, because I did well at every other test. You know. I’m not saying that this is like a rational thought. I’m just saying this is how I Vons teenage brain worked. And so I was like really just gearing up to leverage my theater training and be a prominent face of the theme park, you know, working costume, maybe get on stage, you know, maybe be a greeter. And it should be said that there is a theme park hierarchy in terms of roles. You know, I would say at the top for theme park, located in Dallas, Texas, Arlington, Texas, is, is places that are air conditioned. You know, those circles on top, and then you had like, Yeah, you had like greeters, they were at, you know, ticket takers. Then you had people who, like, I would say, the food service. And actually the people were in costume, kind of like we’re parody because the costume work was really hard, it was so hot in this costumes, you would like pass out and you couldn’t breathe, but you got to like, perform and be under in front of people. And then in food service, you know, you just kind of got to be in a bath, and then some food and you know, whatever. In any case, and then at the bottom, sorry, I forgot the bottom because that’s where I was. At the bottom were like park services. And that was a, you know, euphemism for janitorial services and

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  28:52

kind of people who cleaned up the park full time. Now there’s nothing wrong inherently wrong with turning on Torial services at all. You know, my mother was a cleaner. But my grandmother I mean, was a cleaner. But, you know, I say in the book, what I noticed is that the people that were in park services tended to look more like me my first day and then people who had jobs at the top of the hierarchy were a lot paler, shall we say. And you know, the thing about park services you weren’t allowed to not move is really fascinating kind of way of thinking about it. You always had to be cleaning, picking up looking like you were doing something. Some of those other jobs, you could like sit behind the counter chat talk to you always had to be working in park services. And when you sort of look at some of the like, I you know, follow things like the Tesla black workers lawsuit or whatever the class action lawsuit and thinking about how they were constantly needed to be working. You know, that image that you’re always engaging in manual labor, as a person of color visibly for The purposes of this brand or whatever, like, that was very much part of it too. And, you know, I remember thinking when I got the assignment and my first damage, I remember thinking, Hmm, what am I like? Did I, what did I get? Right? Maybe I just gotta like, work my way up the ladder, maybe like, you know, I just got to prove myself. And none of that mattered, right? In the end, of course, it was like first summer. So like, what was it? It’s not like I was gonna get a magical promotion. But that was never moved. I was never recognized for my work. And, you know, now, you know, so many years later, I look back on that moment. And I go, huh. And I say in my book, maybe it was something maybe it was nothing. But that’s usually the way racism functions in the workplace. Yeah, maybe it’s nothing that all of the people who work in janitorial services are black and brown. And all the people who are taking tickets and sitting in air conditioned offices are white, maybe there’s nothing. But maybe that’s something.

Dave Ursillo  31:01

Right? So we’re more insidious. I’m sorry to interrupt you. But one of the more insidious elements that seems to recur in conversations about experiences of racism is this internalization of it, and how it seems to like, be placed on an individual who’s experiencing this discrimination, to assume that they are the problem. And to assume that it’s their fault. Assume that they haven’t like all the gatekeeping and gaslighting and manipulation at places somebody that isolates somebody like psychologically and emotionally, which, you know, I’ve never experienced but is, is as I tried to imagine it, a level of, you know, psychological and emotional loneliness that I have a hard time even imagining how it feels. And yet, and maybe we can take this to transition to talk about the book. This is a common experience. And you actually mentioned in your book, that individuals who are trying to confront racism or discuss racist policies and trying to work on dei or diversity, equity and inclusivity efforts within their workplace, have to be equipped and expect a level of like backlash, if it’s backlash or just resistance on the more innocuous like side of the scale. And that gaslighting occurs in which they are marginalize within themselves and made to doubt that these things were happening. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  32:41

Yeah, I will say just like hearing you say, you’ve never experienced that my mind just went walk? Well, what would life be like, if I had never had that weight? Because it’s a weight, right? Like, what would it be like if my brain didn’t have that drag? That cognitive drag around how I was perceived? And if I was all making it up? And if I was too sensitive? And maybe there’s a different way to say the thing I’m thinking about? And how is it that like, other people can say stuff, and it’s perfectly fine. But when it comes out of my mouth, it’s not your like, like, if I just like that all that noise? Is what? Like, if I could just live in a world where that static? Wasn’t there for a day? What would that feel like? That’s what I was thinking about when you asked that question. But then at the same time, this is not to make you feel weird or put on the spot. I also think there’s kind of liberate lip, like there’s some sort of something liberatory about having lived with that, and then being able to call it what it is and choosing to turn it off. And I think like that’s important as well, I don’t know, I always feel like though it is in the back of your mind, it does needle you. And then retaliation is real. I don’t tell the story often, but I will today because I’m feeling saucy. They I you know, after I published the book, I swear to God, this person did this. You know, I sort of talked about my experiences, leading up to writing the book, what made me want to start ReadySet. And, like what I wanted other people to never to experience, former employer read the book, and got very upset, and we did not have an amicable separation to begin with. And they contacted my lawyer. I can say this because it’s not covered by NDA. They contacted my lawyer to try to get my lawyer to join them and like trying to silence me, but I know this because my lawyer called me and shared a recording of the message that this person left for them. And, you know, I say this because the retaliation didn’t stop like it just didn’t stop. And there’s a sort of like, you know, We’re gonna get you for speaking out. And also it was so validating because I was like, Yo, this dude really is an asshole. Like this dude was a total jerk. It was not me. Because who does that? Right? Like, who calls somebody’s learned says, you know, like, I really think we should turn against her. What does she think she’s doing? She’s, she’s giving other good people who are fighting against racism a bad name, right? Like, if it is just so stereotypical, and like, right there, and, you know, but for so long, even in my relationship with this particular individual, I thought, maybe it’s just me like, maybe I’m just too sensitive. Maybe I need to be doing my job differently. Maybe I need to be doing it better. Like, you know, like, running myself ragged. Oh, bullshit. It was all like just navigating somebody else’s neuroses. And I think, you know, we talk in the book I talk, we talk a lot about how the thing that racism does so well is it raised wastes our time and that’s in some ways a bastardization of a Toni Morrison quote, that’s sort of about the kind of collective tax of navigating in a racist society, what it does to people how and how much energy we spend on it. And it’s just such a, it’s such a common experience. And I think the thing that that I also have to acknowledge is that I escaped it, at least in part, I still in some ways beholden to that system, because I have the privilege of starting my own business and being able to grow it and having the economic security to do this whilst not not everybody does that. There are still a lot of people who are beholden to the constant gaslighting, constant manipulation constant microaggressions that have a very real and negative impact on their mental health and then retaliation both pressure like pressure like do something to improve the culture and then retaliation if they don’t do it in the right way. Yeah.

Dave Ursillo  37:03

I’m, I’m really cute this is this is kind of like a half baked thought. But so so I will say to set up my next question as like a straight white man, upper upper middle class born and raised to an attorney, shout out dad. In modern America, I I would never venture to even conjecture and say that I’ve experienced like that kind of marginalization on the basis of, of what you in the book call social identity, right like the construct the complexities of nuance that comprises a person’s sense of self through their associations with with groups and identities like race, gender, class, country of origin, age, religion, and so forth. But I have been in different workplace scenarios, I was actually just reading the news before interview and saw that the White House is now paying their their interns I was a White House intern once upon a time I thought I bet they’re probably not going to retroactively pay me for that for that labor. But what there have been scenarios though, there have been scenarios in the world, in workplaces in which I definitely felt in my labor exploited felt my my, you know, my place, really marginalized, manipulated, like tests being used to, to gauge my loyalty to the cause, or to the group in ways that would kind of fucked me up like, as a young person. Yeah. And even in seemingly, like, innocent like, new agey, like, like yoga community kind of environments, power dynamics, and really poor boundaries being like being exploited to to exact weird dynamics, like mentally emotionally and psychologically. So my question obviously, I don’t want to minimize the direct deliberate like racism, patriarchy, misogyny, that that are, you know, governing our conversation about your book and having such a big impact on so many people nonstop. I wonder, though, if, if there’s a connection between these forces, these systems of discrimination and racism and repression, and just like power and money and authority or in a culture in America about like deferral of responsibility and like egotism like, because why else would these things in my unique circumstance I might ask you to please to like therapists or figure this out for me, but I am trying to connect the dots even loosely, perhaps irresponsibly, please please say so if I am there, you know, is is like the the abuse of power that people have is the power that is held in workplaces, something that just just is so likely to get exploited and be used and like held over people? Is that part of the conversation that we’re having? That’s like some sort of, like insidious, twisted abuse of power in workplaces in modern America hasn’t always been the case? I don’t know. But it seems like there’s something there regarding power and the responsibility that we all have more dealing with people in their minds and their hearts. That isn’t being tended to perhaps in the best ways, given the kinds of stories that so many of us can share. There’s a lot there to take of that that statement. Yeah. What comes up for you?

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  40:47

Yeah, I think? I think so. I think it’s I think it’s an interesting column. I think it actually does that that observation does a really good job in sort of connecting what can feel like a limited fight, you know, a fight that only affects certain kinds of people to a sort of broader context. I think what you’re identifying the relationship of power and exploitation at work is absolutely there. And it’s historical, right, like, you look at who died in the Shirtwaist Fire, it wasn’t black people, you know, when you look at, like, who were, who was being utilized as child labor, it wasn’t just black people, right? When you think about, like, how the lifespan of the average factory worker during the Industrial Revolution, you know, like, that wasn’t, you know, but I think there is a sort of relationship between exploitation and capitalism. And I’m not the kind of person who will just off the page and say, like, you know, capitalism, is racism, all cap like, I don’t, I don’t like capitalism as an economic system. I also don’t like the fact that people talk about capitalism very broadly, when they’re identifying other social ills, and don’t necessarily do the work and unpacking what is social, what is economic, what is routed to a system or an ideology, etc, I say that big caveat, because I do think one of the features of capitalism in our country, particularly where there’s a decrease in social protections, is the increased exploitation of people. So to your example of the White House, not paying its interns, that’s unpaid labor, right. And whatever way you slice it, that is like exploitation, that’s unpaid labor, you know, in a body that can make very much afford to, like pay for that. And there are capitalist reasons why that body chooses not to write because you can get talent without paying for it, it’s legal. And we’ve like, you know, totally gutted our workforce regulation to make it really easy to exploit people. I think, though, that there is overlap between that and the issues that marginalized marginalized people face. And I think it can manifest a few ways, like sometimes marginalized peoples are canaries in the coal mine, right? The sort of institution that I was talking to you about for very toxic workplace culture, I think that marginalized people were more likely to feel it first, more likely to feel it more intensely, but everybody was impacted by that. And that happens at workplaces like, you know, across contexts, right? You can have a workplace that just has a really shitty happened throughout the pandemic to with, with from Exactly, exactly, you can sort of have these, like, underlying cultural dynamics that are really not good, but are enacted on marginalized folks first, or just most acutely felt by those folks, etc. And I also think there’s something about how, like, your opportunities out, right, like, I think that like, you know, there is a world in which you could have been the missing aspect on the White House, I although I do have beef with it. There’s like, there’s worlds where you could have been a White House intern, and then become a staffer, and then somebody saw potential, you know, what I mean? Like, I don’t know what the career path inside the White House looks like, for all of the positions. But you know, certain people have an option to navigate cultural dynamics in a way to achieve their way out of cultural dynamics, to take on positions of power and enact that power on other people that other people don’t. Right. And so that may be where the privilege comes into. But I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive. I think that they’re connected. And I but I also think like that being said, you can have workplaces that work really well for people from dominant groups, and don’t work so well for people from marginalized groups. And finally, I just want to acknowledge that like, we talk a lot about tech ReadySet started with the tech sector, but like, you see this everywhere. I came from nonprofit I came from government work As a lawyer and my career, as you can tell from the book is just that, that is a thread that weaves throughout my career. And quite often impact organizations, organizations that are for good are in my, in my experience can even be worse than organizations that are motivated by profit, because they sort of like, take these poisonous dynamics and, you know, wrap them up in the guise of like, doing well, or being part of a family or whatever, or doing some kind of social mission. And, and then they’re just as problematic, just with an extra layer of gas lighting on top of them. So yeah,

Dave Ursillo  45:43

I appreciate you saying I’ve on there that there’s like a connection between all these different systems and all these different ideas. And I and I don’t know if it’s the attorney in you that ever President attorney who, who adds the caveats and but brings definition and substance to ideas that can really easily become very binary. And very, either or, like black or white, yes or no, throughout your book, you you’re constantly calling our attention as readers to, to note the fact that racism tends to exist, especially in workplaces, but throughout throughout the world, I would venture to over over generalize and overstate on a spectrum, and not a binary. And I feel like the the common threads of our conversation that we’ve been having is to understand that there’s a lot of nuance and a lot of gray. And it’s the conversation about race racism, and the experience of discrimination, especially in workplaces is usually more nuanced than you are a racist, this place is racist, and if only for how that tends to shut people down, right, the people in positions of power, how it shuts them down, and how they get defensive, or they deflect, and and then in then do all of the things that we just talked about in terms of isolating somebody or mate or, you know, psychologically and emotionally putting it upon them or making it their fault. I want to be very conscious of our time, because you’ve been generous with it in just a couple of minutes. I wonder if we can maybe, like rip through some rapid fire questions, because I sure want to hear your opinion about the great resignation. We’ve talked about it a little bit. And it’s had a tremendous impact, of course, COVID, between COVID-19 and people feeling compelled or needing to leave the workplaces and that affecting, usually first, as you mentioned, the proverbial canary in the coal mine, historically marginalized groups. How are you making sense of the great resignation as a as a cultural phenomenon that that is in the headlines every month? Is the media getting anything wrong about the great resignation from your viewpoint as as the founder of ReadySet, and doing the work that you’re doing and Dei? Or is our is like, quote, unquote, our public perception of why people are migrating out of the workplace either because they have to rely on themselves for childcare because they have statistically lower pay. I’m thinking of women in the world who have statistically lower pay, women of color, people of color who have been marginalized, are switching jobs. How are you seeing the landscape in? And I know, this is a big question. But in In summary, how are you viewing the landscape as changing with regard to the great resignation?

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  48:36

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s like super, because it’s so so many employees have been impacted by the great resignation. I think it’s really important to like, think about how like what it actually is, to your point, I like to define things. I did an interview where somebody kind of reframed it as a great renegotiation. And I thought that was a really interesting slash good reframing. You know, I think what we’re seeing, we’re not seeing people just sort of like leave the workforce, although we have lost people were a lot of times of the great resignation, we’re just seeing people move on to other types of employment. And I think what’s driving it as just the fundamental changes that COVID Put on the social and economic contract? I think that prior to COVID, particularly workers who were in essential essential workers, you know, and that’s like, we’re seeing a lot of people in those fields choose to leave you know, there was a sort of narrative around Oh, you’re really appreciated. Oh, you know, like you’re doing this like your work at the beginning of the the pandemic, you’re a hero to really like let’s we’re gonna trade in your lives and service of commerce. Money, you know, like, you don’t really need to wear that mask. We’re not gonna give you PPE we expect you to show up to work every day, please. Don’t complain about it, you know, and it was just sort of came very clear. And particularly in late 2020, early 2021, we start to see these shifts that, you know, workers, workers, workers started to feel disposable, in a different way. So I think that would that drove a lot of it, particularly frontline workers, and especially lower wage workers who are also frontline because they were expected to sacrifice their lives for seven $8. Now, or who’s going to do that, right. And I think you also saw more broadly a renegotiation of a social contract and people and that people started to look at their relationships to work very differently. And I think remote work played a part but just to sort of idea that, like, you know, the pandemic was really traumatic socially. And work is like, but one relationship, one way we show up in our lives in general, and people start to realize, like, they’re more important things, or I want to do a different kind of work, or I’m not willing to be treated like this anymore to make money. You know, it puts things in perspective, it gave people literal distance from their offices, distance from their co workers, dismissed when they’re colleagues really sort of evaluate and isolation, to kind of evaluate what was meaningful and important to them. There’s a lot of overlap in what we see what drives workers to leave. And the work that we do and Dei, if you have a culture where people don’t think they can grow, if you have a culture where people feel shut down, if you have a culture where people don’t feel appreciated, if you have a culture where parents, like, are unrecognized and are just, you know, I gotta apologize, my baby’s crying while I’m in a meeting, well, you shouldn’t have scheduled me and back to back meetings in the first place. I have, you know, I mean, like, like, all of this stuff, where that’s not recognized, supported, where people don’t get what they need, they’re going to move on, they’re going to exercise their power as an employee to move on. Right. And I think there was a lot of sort of recognition of that power and recognition of the fact that hey, like, now’s the time to like, exercise it. So I think, you know, there’s a, there’s a lot of drivers that drive employee attrition, that kind of overlap with the work that we do. And I think there’s still, like I said, at the top of this sort of interview,

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  52:23

so slowness on behalf of the company of companies to sort of recognize that, and I don’t think like a real recognition of a cost to attrition is like, super expensive, like, we had attrition during COVID. And it was so very expensive for us as a company. And I had to make it a real huge priority to like, make sure our employees were taken care of, and make sure that they were compensated fairly, and keep them happy, and all this stuff. And, you know, in the end, it ended up being a huge advantage and cost saving measure. And I don’t think a lot of companies think they get that somewhat, but I still think they’re not connecting with what it takes. I think I’ll say this, I’ll stop. I think there’s an old school frame around employee retention, that has not caught up with the the new reality. So employee retention, maybe could have been solved with increased plant pay, increase promotion opportunities, etc. Now, what we’re really talking about is work life balance, benefits, culture, like that’s, you know, in office versus remote that’s like who’s really winning the talent war right now, you’re not just going to win the talent war on Comm. And I think it’s taking companies a while to catch up to that.

Dave Ursillo  53:43

I really appreciate you mentioning the overlaps and the like the synergy between what you see affecting companies who are going through their their dei initiatives. And what’s been affecting workers writ large in light of the COVID 19 pandemic, and we should call it the great renegotiation. Maybe instead of the great resignation. I like that reframe quite a bit. It’s

Y-Vonne Hutchinson  54:04

not my term I don’t want to take credit for and I wish I could remember his name. Who? Yeah, yeah, but this is not a Y-Vonne original!

Dave Ursillo  54:11

We’ll put it in the show notes. Just we get that proper attribution there. But yeah, and to understand more about what’s going on in the modern workplace, you’ll have to pick up Y-Vonne book, How to Talk to Your Boss About Race speaking up without getting shut down. Y-Vonne Thank you so much for joining us. You’ve been so generous and gracious with your time I could I want to keep asking you like 100 more questions, but we’ll wrap it up there for now. Thank you so much for joining us on The New Story Is thank you for having me. And thank you for listening to this episode of The New Story Is was back soon with a fresh interview for you. In the meantime, if you’re feeling generous, want to help support our show, please rate and review. The New Story Is wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps others to find the show. Until next time, I’m Dave Ursillo. This has been The New Story Is bye for Now


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