Awareness of Bias and Systemic Racism
In this episode, herdacious host Lorelei chats with Kirya Francis about addressing bias and racism in the workplace. When we hear the words “bias” and “racism,” our minds often conjure up offensive scenarios reflective of other people’s presumptions; however, the subtle separation of marginalized communities from higher-level organizational involvement all too frequently goes unaddressed. Kirya teaches us that despite the gaps placed between those in habitual positions of power and folks of color, we can begin to bridge the gap when we become more aware of our actions and correct our prejudices. From assessing our assumptions to advancing opportunities that are often deprived of others, Kirya helps us realize that fostering DEI practices in the workplace need not be a complete overhaul of institutional racism. We can start by asking a questions like "Would you like my seat?" Through this approach , we can slowly and surely chip away at the old-school walls that keep minorities from participating at the table.
Host: Lorelei Gonzalez
Co-host: Kirya Francis, MSTC
Kirya Francis is the Chief Diversity Officer at Omnicom Advertising Collective, where she merges her passion for inclusive workplaces with her purpose to give a diverse talent pool an equitable chance at excelling in advertising. Kirya has earned three degrees from the University of Texas at Austin in Radio-TV-Film, Broadcast Journalism, as well as a master’s degree from McCombs School of Business.
Things you will learn in this episode (chapter markers available):
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Looking for additional resources on this topic? Check out our blog “Racism vs. Bias” by Frances Leigh Jordan
Loved what you heard on herdacious and want to share with friends? Tag us and connect with HERdacity on social media:
Email: [email protected](dot)org
For up to date information on HERdacity events, webinars, podcasts, and community activities, join our newsletter here.
Disclaimer: While we appreciate our sponsors' support in making this show possible, herdacious content is curated with integrity and honesty.Support the show (http://herdacity.org/donate/)
Sponsor: Today's episode is brought to you by HERdacity. HERdacity is a non-profit inspiring confidence in women to achieve their professional goals. For resources, networking opportunities, and a strong community of women, visit herdacity.org to learn more.
Lorelei: Welcome to HERdacious, a podcast for audacious women. Welcome, welcome to HERdacious, the podcast for audacious women looking to make some career moves on their professional journeys, and HERdacious is one of the podcasts there to support you in that journey. My name's Lorelei, the happy host of the show, and today we have an epic topic for you, we're gonna be discussing awareness of bias and systemic racism. To lead this incredible conversation, I have a former Disney intern, the past president of the Austin Chapter for the American Advertising Federation, and the Chief Diversity Officer of Omnicom advertising collective, Kirya Francis.
Kirya: Hi Lorelei, how are you?
Lorelei: I am most fabulous. How are you?
Kirya: I'm doing well, it's 100 degrees here in Austin, Texas today. So keeping it hot.
Lorelei: That's right, we haven't quite melted yet, but we're working on it, so let's lay some ground work for the rest of this in-depth conversation. We need a basic understanding and common knowledge of the words and themes that we're gonna be discussing around bias and systemic racism, so help us out with them.
Kirya: Yeah, I think it's really interesting because as we have gone into about a year and a half or so of social justice, people are at a point where they feel like they may know or they may not know, and so I think it's part of my job. And I know sometimes people say, this is just the basics, that I bring comfort for those who are enlightened and enlighten those people who are a little bit uncomfortable, and so that's why it is so important to lay the ground work. I first wanna talk about actually the words diversity, equity, inclusion, because a lot of people just see those as being synonymous, to be perfectly honest.
Lorelei: Yeah, yeah, that's exactly right.
Kirya: So really, diversity means difference, and what I think is most fascinating is that people think of it as a non-white Hispanic person, maybe a female, maybe someone who's part of the LGBTQIA community, but really it just means bringing a different perspective into the room. Whether it is your ethnicity, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, these are things that create differences. The next one is equity, and I think a lot of people think about their houses...
Kirya: How much equity do I have in my house? And how does that even relate to what happens in the workplace? And I always tell people that it's about understanding people's needs and fulfilling them, it is about creating the right opportunities and meeting people where they are. And then, of course, the last one is inclusion, and I think a lot of people think that it means... I have to like everybody. Sure, I shouldn't say this out loud, I don't like everybody, but... That's not part of the gig. What it really means is, if you know that person should be in a meeting, or if you know that person should be a part of that team that's building a new program or new initiative, and you're choosing not to include them because maybe you don't like them, maybe they are part of a certain gender or race, or whatever reason, you don't want to include them, that is where inclusion comes in a play. It's not about liking people, it's about creating an environment where they are valued for their talents.
Lorelei: Alright, let's move on to bias... There are a few types.
Kirya: Yeah, there are a lot of types of bias out there, and the one thing I always wanna let people know is that everybody's biased... What happens where bias is damaging is when you are picking and choosing people based on attributes that they sometimes don't have control over. I should say I'm a Gen X-er, I'll share my generation. So I started working in the workforce in the 90s, and when you saw sales people, they were usually nice-looking, thin, athletic, and there's nothing wrong with that because I think people should be healthy and take care of themselves and bring their best foot forward. What it really is saying for most of these situations is this sales person is perfect, so therefore my product is perfect, there is what they call the beauty bias, and saying that if you have people who look good, who endorse this particular product, then basically, this product is also good. There's also what they call the halo effect and the horns effect. What it is, is just basically using something about that person to make a decision that has nothing to do with the talents and the merits that they bring to the table.
Lorelei: Here's the big one. What is systemic racism?
Kirya: Yeah, so it's really interesting. And I always say everyone comes to a point where they learn something a little new in life, and growing up, to be perfectly honest, I envisioned racism or a racist person as being someone who was a member of the KKK or someone who was a white supremacist. Peggy McIntosh has this very, very short article about how racism really happens in moments, and it's not an entire person. When you look at racism as an act versus as a person, then I think people can understand what systemic and internalized and interpersonal racism actually is. Many people probably remember, hopefully, the Flint water crisis that happened a few years ago, where I think everybody was watching it and President Obama drank the water, and everyone was upset. And all this other stuff. A lot of people don't know that they finally finished getting rid of all the lead pipes in November of last year, so all those shows that we saw people drinking out water bottles and having filtration systems and all that stuff in their homes. Trying to counteract the lead that's in the water that unfortunately is very difficult to remove and actually permanently in your system lasted for several years. A lot of people talk about red lining and maybe how monies are loaned out and things like that, but I use this example because I think most people remember the big topic... And everybody was all about it, and then all of a sudden it went away. What a lot of people don't know is that Detroit, Michigan, in our minds is predominant Black, but actually it's predominantly white. It's about 70% white. Flint, however, has a much higher amount of Black people in their community, and so when they had to make a choice of where this water was gonna go, they chose to send it to the Black community, so that is the reason where systemic racism comes in. And I always tell people, you make decisions that are best for your family, so if there's no one on the board or no one in sitting at the table, as we all like to talk about sitting at the table, there's no one representing those communities...
Lorelei: Those families...
Kirya: And those families, guess what? You're sending it over there because it's not gonna affect your family or your community. I think that as things progress in the social justice realm, we're gonna see more and more like, why did that happen? And the reason why it did happen is because they didn't create an inclusive environment where they brought in people who said, "Okay, we don't have anybody here from Flint, and we're about to send water their way, maybe we need to bring somebody in Flint, so we can get a different perspective." And it doesn't happen. So that's institutionalized racism, and then interpersonal is what most people think when they think about racism, which is one-on-one, I call you a name, you might call me a name, I don't talk to you when you come into my neighborhood. I put a sign out of my business saying I don't want you to patronize my business, all of that is interpersonal.
Lorelei: Insert-wedding cake here.
Kirya: Yes, exactly, right, exactly right.
Lorelei: Alright, so how does systemic racism affect us as a society, the good, the bad, and the ugly, because some people benefit from it.
Kirya Absolutely. A good friend of mine once said, "racism is like the virus," and now that we all know what a virus and how it pervades society, we don't know when we catch it, we don't know sometimes when we give it, we don't know when we're in the presence of it, but it's always there. A great example that happens to a lot of people of color in the workplace is that when they hire someone from their community in the workplace, and there's not that many of that particular community. So for example, where I worked, at one point, there wasn't that many Black people, so someone would come up to you and say, "Hey, did you hear they hired someone new in account leadership," and you're like, "Okay, great." And then two hours later, someone else says, "Hey, did you hear they hired someone new in account leadership... " The question I have here is, and I'm not saying it's racist, I just wanna make sure people understand that they would not have the need to tell me that someone new is in account leadership if that person was of a different community. So when I try to get people to understand racist behavior, and that it's an act and that it is part of our whole ecosystem of life, it is about looking at your actions. 'Cause remember it's an action, not a person. And saying, "Would my action be slightly different if this person were of a different community?"
Lorelei: On that note, how can racism affect women of color at work?
Kirya: As someone who is part of two marginalized communities, you have to not only navigate the Black community, you have to navigate the female identifying community, and then you have to navigate the community, whatever it is at your company, that holds the keys to the kingdom, if you will. And so what happens is comfort levels and assumptions and biases, all of that comes into play, because most times people, if they don't have it in their personal life, they are very uncomfortable about it in the professional life. So me as a Black woman, I have to navigate the Black world, I have to navigate the female world, and I also have a navigate the world of the folks who actually control what happens in that business, and so to be perfectly honest, the further you are away from the controlling group, the harder and the bigger hurdles you have in order to succeed.
Lorelei: Help us clarify the difference between racism and bias, 'cause we've been having a lot of these social justice conversations for over a year now, and I think a lot of these words are getting conflated, they're getting confused with one another... Shine some light on the difference.
Kirya: Bias is really more about not having a power dynamic involved, so I know that's gonna be hard to separate for people, but going back to my initial example of sales people being mistreated on...
Lorelei: And that being part of the overall product.
Kirya: Yes, yes. That person could be Asian, that person could be Hispanic, that person could be Black, that person can be white, what they're trying to do is create an image that you would associate with the product that they're selling. Where racism comes in, in that same example is... I don't think that a person of maybe a Hispanic or Black or Native American background is the type of person that would bring value or I would wanna associate with my product. That's where the difference lies. It is about, I am bringing a power dynamic and a race component that says that "My race is better than yours, and it'll sell better and it will sell better if I make sure that members of this race are associated with it" versus members of... Maybe in this case, a marginalized community. So the bias is, we don't want any fat people, and I'm gonna say I'm curvy, so don't send me any notes, we don't want any fat people who are endorsing our product, that's bias. We don't want any people of these marginalized communities because I'm part of a non-marginalized community or the controlling class, and I don't want my product associated with those who are part of marginalized communities 'cause they're not as valued to this society as I am. That's the difference between the two. I hope that helps.
Lorelei: It does. Well, to continue selling this product, we're gonna take a quick sponsor break.
Sponsor: Hi, Barbie here from Moonray, husband and wife indie pop duo. If you enjoy the intro music, we invite you to listen to our debut EP Honeymoon. Streaming now on all platforms. Visit www.moonray-music.com for more.
Lorelei: And we're back talking with Kirya Francis about systemic racism, and awareness of bias. Kirya, how do we know if we are acting out of bias, how can we catch ourselves... What can we do to see that in ourselves?
Kirya: It's really interesting, sometimes you don't even know, and that's why unconscious bias is what it's called, and sometimes we do know, and those are things that we can correct. I think it's so important for people to understand that cancel culture is something that is online and shouldn't be taken offline in real life, and what I mean by that is, if you make a mistake or you fumble... The best thing you can do is take that person aside that you think that you have may be offended or embarrassed or whatever the situation was, taking them away and apologizing to them one-on-one and saying, "How can I correct it?" That goes a long way. I think what happens is people get caught up. And sometimes a person doesn't realize that they might have been biased or marginalized in some way, and I know we're gonna talk a little bit about actions on how to do that, but if you do catch yourself, it is okay. Very quickly take them aside and say, "Hey, I just wanna tell you that I felt uncomfortable with what I did, and I want to apologize and I want to know how I can correct it." Because one size doesn't fit all. Another example of bias in the workplace is recruiting, when people start talking about diverse recruiting, the first thing they say is, and I used to say, I have this count down in my head, it's like "Three, two... You know what? We should go to an HBCU." It's like, "Okay." Believe it or not, there are... Texas State for those of us in the Austin area. And other schools have a high indexing population amongst the diverse community, people of color, so you can go to universities that might seem to be traditionally white and find students of color there. The other challenge is that hiring at the entry level is no longer a problem, to be perfectly honest for most people.
Lorelei: It's the executive level...
Kirya: It's the mid-level and the executive level... And so I know the focus can be about recruitment, but really it's about retention, there's been the age of the resignation that I'm sure a lot of people are experiencing right now, and a lot of our employees of color are going to where they have leadership that's either a woman or another employee of color, because they feel like that's where they'll get mentorship and the skills you need to succeed.
Lorelei: I think by now that we know how important having these conversations are, not just in the workplace, but as a society, as a culture, we know it's difficult to have these conversations... Why are these conversations so difficult?
Kirya: I think one of the main reasons why these conversations are difficult is 'cause people don't take the time to know another person for themselves as an individual, they don't take the time to say, I've got kids and you've got kids. Let's talk about that. What tends to happen is, and this comes from sometimes people wanting to make them feel inclusive, is that the only conversation they have with them is about their community, whether it be race, ethnicity, or even sexual orientation, that's the only thing they wanna talk about with that person and the person on the receiving is thinking, "Oh my god, there's so much more to me than this one item." And so what happens is if they have a bad experience and someone says, "You know what... Don't ask me that question." Then people start becoming afraid, and what I tell people is you don't start off with the hard question, you start off with things you have in common. If you talk about what you focus on from an inclusive standpoint, before you focus on what is different about you, then that difference conversation can be so much easier. And then there's the "afraid of the outcome."
Lorelei: What do you mean? Like the come of the conversation?
Kirya: Well, no, I wish it was the outcome of the conversation. It's the outcome of if there is a shift in power. Obviously, low performers should go no matter what color, what sexual orientation, what race, whatever, female identifying, you should be gone if you're not bringing the best that you can to the position. But if you are... Then you have every right to be there, you have every right to have a career path, every right to pay your mortgage and take care of your kids. That is the reason why I think a lot of people use microaggressions against diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. It's because they don't want the dynamic or the power dynamic to change and see that person as being more than them.
Lorelei: To help us wrap this conversation, how can professional women be anti-racist at work?
Kirya: In a work situation, look around at your power dynamic and places that you have power, you can use that power to put other people who should be there in those spaces. So if you have a meeting and you feel that another person who's at your same level should be in that meeting as well, you could send them in as your proxy the next time and say, "Hey, I'm gonna send them in in my place." That's maybe the power you have... Or if you actually lead the meeting and you realize whoever put the meeting together, it doesn't look very inclusive, whatever that means, then you can go in and say, "I'm gonna go in and change the way this room works because I have the power to do that." So those are anti-racism activities, which is taking the power you have and using it to dismantle whatever culture system that's happening in your workplace.
Lorelei: Excellent. Now, to help us lean into more of that power that we all have, give us some more avenues of discovery as we continue our professional growth.
Kirya: A brand that is making a lot of change in this topic, and it's Procter and Gamble. They have a website called Talk About Bias, and if you go to that website, it's very easy, at the very bottom, they update the what to watch, what to listen to, what to read constantly when it comes to this topic. So I say that's kind of your one-stop shop, if you will, if you wanna learn more about it, that is probably a great one. And then another one is... I mentioned it before, which is Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege and Male Privilege, it is an easy, easy read. It's like a page and a half. It's about unpacking the knapsack and what I found out about it, I was like, "Oh, this is gonna be a hard one." And it was a page and a half, so it's a really, really easy read, so if you have 15 minutes, you can definitely get that done. And Isabel Wilkerson's "Caste." Actually Oprah sent this to a lot of the CEOS a few years ago, and she talks about how the hierarchy within our country mimics that of the South Asian community, and how we are all affected by that, those are probably some good places to start.
Lorelei: Wonderful. Thank you for that.
Kirya: You're welcome.
Lorelei: Now to transition us to our femme fact... Kirya, no pressure. But what's your favorite all time girl band or boy band?
Kirya: Oh, you know what, look at me, I'm gonna be diverse and talk about a couple of different ones. My absolute favorite boy band is New Addition, but if I go to the pop side of it, it's going to be in NSYNC, and if I go to the... This is gonna be 80's. No, but like the 80s, I have to say, probably En Vogue, and this is gonna tell people how old I am, I think that they just had great talent and... That was a good one. And then I like The Go-Go's. You know what, I don't have a Hispanic girl group, but I'll say Selena, if that's okay.
Lorelei: That's okay.
Kirya: I love her.
Lorelei: Excellent. Well, female girl groups came largely to the music scene in the 40s and the 50s. With the rising popularity of women in rhythm and blues, small groups of women singers collaborating as one entity became a lot easier, but pitching the music industry, the first big girl groups like The Fontane Sisters, The Chordettes, or The Shirelles were composed of folk jazz and blues singers who had the musical ability to harmonize well together. Now, the general make-up of gal groups back in the day consisted of a lead vocalist with the other members harmonizing with her. This fresh girl power really resonated with music lovers internationally and girl groups were constantly landing on the Billboard Music charts in the 60s, but girl groups and bands fizzled out of the popular music industry shortly thereafter. Both by their own will and that of the public. And in the eyes of the public, girl groups have historically been portrayed as some type of scandalous, generally receiving criticism relating to their being a woman. You know, the press would refer to them with some unsavory names, would accuse them of being less talented for not playing instruments specifically, they'd be overly sexualized and of course, they were definitely picked apart for their physical appearance. Now, despite some girl groups being short-lived, most of us are familiar with the big ones, and I'm talking like the Supremes... Later named Diana Ross and The Supremes. And the most successful American vocal group of all time, with 12 number one singles on the billboard Hot 100, you've heard of TLC.
Now they became role models for young girls and women who felt so empowered by seeing women defy the odds and expectations set for female artists in the pop industry. Instead of writing music about sex appeal or men, which was the norm for girl groups, TLC focused on a more feminist theme, like sexual agency, self-worth, self-love, and most notably Black womanhood. It wasn't just a unique sound of blended R and B rap and hip-hop that made them the best selling American girl group of all time. It was the far-reaching influence that TLC had over young girls in the 90s to live according to their own standards, and for young women of color in particular, TLC exemplified a declaration of pride for their own identities. Now, staying in the 90s, we saw the emergence of the world's best selling girl group of all time, The Spice Girls. Coming out during third wave feminism, The Spice Girls took the world by storm in '96 and lasted through three platinum albums and a movie, until the group broke up in 2000. And they're ever-present musical theme? Girl power. That's right, they talked openly about sex, they were body positive, they advocated to never settle and of course, female solidarity.
Now, we cannot talk about girl groups without talking about the biggest girl group of the last 20 years, say their name, say their name... Destiny's Child.
Kirya: That's right. And they're from Houston.
Lorelei: Goodness gracious, yes. Now, Destiny's Child was not only revolutionary in the conversation on women empowerment, they were incredibly important as role models for women of color as well. Seeking to imitate the influence their predecessors like TLC or En Vogue had on young women of color, the members of Destiny's Child became role models that young girls and women could look up to and see themselves in where they never have been able to imagine themselves before. Destiny's child's catalog was filled with lessons to be learned, and I highly recommend you check them out. Now, there's one group you probably haven't heard of, I have an entourage of tough rockers who made a unique impression back in the 70s. Now, this four woman ensemble named Fanny was a 1970s rock and roll band. They were the OG girl power group before we all started identifying with our favorite Spice Girl. They were the first all female rock band to produce an album on a major record label. Fanny broke from the traditional image set for girl bands by being one of the first groups whose members were all immigrant women of color, and they ditched the sex appeal expectation of gal groups at the time, and chose their own performance apparel, which consisted of baggy worn-in t-shirts choosing comfort over sexualization.
Now, their label constantly took issue with the image that Fanny was presenting to the world since it was doing the exact opposite of attracting the male gaze, but Fanny didn't care. Insisting that their music be their trademark, but it was unfortunately being forced to fit inside all of those female rocker boxes that was too much for them. They broke up after seven years. Now, fun fact, they had a big fan in famous rock and roller David Bowie, who once said in a 1999 interview, "they were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time, they are as important as anybody else who's ever been, ever... It just wasn't their time." Well, in 2018, three original members of Fanny got back together and started making music again, renaming the group, "Fanny Walked the Earth." Welcome back, ladies. And despite the rough treatment the girl groups have endured throughout the decades, we are glad that some of these pioneers have paved the way for women and girls all over the world to break out of the molds that were made for them, and we're confident that there are more girls out there who will continue to redefine social norms through their music. Like The Linda Lindas. And if you hadn't heard their song "Racist, Sexist boy," go check it out. We'll add a link in our show notes. Kirya, it has been an absolute pleasure.
Kirya: Thank you for having me, this has really been a true honor because I know HERdacity has been a great organization for a very long time, and seeing this podcast grow and be able to empower women is just a brilliant thing. So thank you for the hard work that you're putting into this.
Kirya: Oh, my gracious. Stop it. Now, if you wanna check out more of the work that Kirya's doing, we will be sure to add her bio and contact information in the show notes, as well as all the amazing resources that she brought for this episode today. If you like this episode, please subscribe or follow this podcast, we would love to have your support and do share with a friend. So this was HERdacious, and my name's Lorelei. Until next time, remember to keep saying no to all the scrubs out there trying to stop your time and your energy and your self worth, their game's weak, and you, my friend, are strong.
Kirya: I gotta tell you off-air now, I met Shelly.
Lorelei: You did? !
Kirya: Yeah ran into her at the mall. I lived in Atlanta at the time, I worked in a radio station, and a friend of mine, I was with the friend of mine, and her son was in the stroller, and she came up and she was like, "Oh, what a cute baby." You don't really look at people when they say that until after they say it, and then we looked and we're like, "Oh my god." And she was just the nicest, most down-to earth person.
Lorelei: That's amazing.
Kirya: Yes, yes. Yeah, so just random run-ins.
Lorelei: I love that. Jonray, I hope you're still recording that. That's going at the end. Yes! Let's go!