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I So Appreciate You! is an honest, raw, funny, and uniquely insightful account of two leaders sharing behind-the-scenes work conversations on both office and cultural topics.

Nadege and Pahoua in studio

This isn’t just office talk.

From discussions laced with their love of food, travel and fashion to heartfelt conversations about leading as women of color, Nadege Souvenir and Pahoua Yang Hoffman seek input from each other and their guests as they examine how the workplace can best respond to today’s challenges while raising questions that few are comfortable asking out loud.

Together, their perspective covers myriad issues and opportunities faced by values-based organizations and leaders during this time.

Join Nadege and Pahoua as they take on the questions and see why appreciation is at the core of their friendship.

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Ep. 7: Inclusive Workplaces: How Do We Really Get There?

I So Appreciate You! co-hosts Nadege and Pahoua, along with special guest Christophe Beck, President and CEO of Ecolab, explain the concepts of “mirroring” and “bridging” and discuss how leaders, particularly white leaders, can create more inclusive workplaces.

Show Notes

Trailer

"I So Appreciate You!" is an honest, raw and sometimes funny podcast about work, community, life and more. Meet co-hosts Nadege Souvenir and Pahoua Yang Hoffman.

[Music]

Pahoua [P]: Hello everyone, I am Pahoua Yang Hoffman.

Nadege [N]: And I'm Nadege Souvenir.

P: And we are the co-hosts of this new podcast called I So Appreciate You! To start off before we launch into our first ever episode, we want to take a moment to welcome everyone who is listening and tell you a little bit about this podcast.

N: Maybe we should start with who we are.

P: I suppose that's a good idea.

N: Well first off, we're colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, a community foundation that serves Minnesota. So the idea for the podcast wasn't actually ours. Other colleagues notice the way that we work with each other and connect outside of work and that sparked an idea for a podcast.

P: Does that make you feel good?

N: It does actually, it does. But here's the thing. We still thought really long and hard about what we wanted to cover and if we even wanted to do a podcast because there are like, what, hundreds, thousands...

P: Millions

N: Millions of podcasts by people and organizations and we wanted to make sure we're bringing something different to the space.

P: Right.

N: And so you know while we talk about work and life sort of all day long, we wanted to figure out how to do it a little different, and so maybe get to the root of the why and the how we do our work, and you know, what's happening in our lives and in our community that kind of informs how we show up.

P: And that just felt more like us.

N: It really did.

P: I think I can safely say that one reason you and I are drawn to the work at the Foundation, in addition to partnering with and supporting communities, we talk a lot about our values, you and I, and how we're going to live up to our values, especially around equity. For example, how are two women navigating life and work?

N: Absolutely. But equity. I'm kind of stuck on that because it almost doesn't mean anything anymore 'cause it's getting thrown around so much.

P: It is.

N: And so I think what we really wanted to do is rather than say equity and keep parroting all of those phrases, is really get into it and really have conversations about...

P: Real conversations.

N: Like, super deep conversations about how sometimes, you know, we totally get it and actually, sometimes we don't get it at all, whatever ‘it’ happens to be.

P: And these are the conversations that I think you and I are already having at happy hour and brunches when we get together, where we raise difficult issues, look at how to live our values at work and at home, and you know, try to cover complicated topics that, by the way, we may not always have the answers to.

N: OK but I don't want people to think that we're sitting there at brunch having deep talks...

P: about work

N: every single time.

P: No.

N: That's not true at all. We run the gamut.

P: We can't, right? We can’t always talk about the heavy stuff and I think we all need a break, especially coming out of last year and still this year, we need some levity. So I love that you and I can still talk about, in addition to work, food...

N: Yeah.

P: Love that topic. Fashion, shoes, music and ridiculous things we hear and read and what it's like to be us in our families and among our friends.

N: Absolutely. I mean we talk a lot, and about a lot of different things because the reality is, it all meshes together. There isn't a work side and a personal side, and a like, where'd you get those cute shoes side. It's the Pahoua or the Nadege side and it all flows in one.

P: And those are the best conversations though, the ones that you know we're already having where we get lost in our own conversations and laughter and people might look over to us in the corner and go what are they talking about and want to pull up a seat.

N: [laughing] Or tell us to be quiet.

P: Or tell us to be quiet. So while we have topics lined up, you know, from exploring professionalism to navigating a health crisis, this podcast is really where the conversation will lead us and being open to that.

N: Maybe we should say something about the name.

P: The name of the podcast?

N: Yeah.

P: Well, you actually came up with that so you should probably tell them.

N: Well, it kind of jumped out at me when I was thinking about all of the conversations we had. And even though they can be all over the map, like literally we talk about anything and everything, there is the craziest consistent theme, which I've never observed before in conversations with a colleague/friend, is that we're always being really open about sharing our appreciation for each other.

P: God that's super sappy.

N: It's really corny actually.

P: But it's true! So for those who know Nadege or are about to get to know her through this podcast, I really do so appreciate so many things about you, Nadege, as a leader and as a friend, your calm and insightful presence, your ability to tap your love background, which you've been tapping into a lot lately at work, and apply where necessary, and you’re also so good at synthesizing problems and boiling it down so that we can get quickly to the, you know, get to the, get to the solution quicker. I love your fantastic earrings too, so we always talk about those, and the glasses that match your outfit on a daily basis, basically your entire aesthetic, and you're also beautiful writer. I'm gonna stop there before your head gets big.

N: Well you're making me blush over here. My goodness. Well, here's the thing. I get to make you blush right now.

P: I'm ready for it.

P: If you don't know Pahoua, and honestly, I don't know who doesn't because you are just everywhere doing all the things. You know there's so many things to appreciate about you. You just, you have this way when people are with you of really making everybody feel valued and heard and you have this gift for convening many perspectives and voices. Probably good that you lead our community impact work. And you know, finding a path forward and you're super kind, really approachable, and also funny sometimes.

P: Oh, thank you.

N: And you know, I’m going to, you know, give you back those comments about aesthetic, because seriously, both your fashion and your, like, space and architectural aesthetic - I covet a little bit.

P: Same, same about you. OK, I love this lovefest. I love it. Thank you for those kind words but let's move on before our listeners get tired of us.

N: Yeah, we probably better. So I think I can speak for both of us when I say thank you all, thank you, thank you for listening. We're just super excited to embark on this journey with you, our listeners.

[Music]

Episode 1

Co-hosts Nadege and Pahoua discuss professionalism and its unwritten rules on dress code, hygiene, hairstyles, and why it doesn’t matter that you are wearing sweatpants under your desk right now.

[Music]

Pahoua [P]: Welcome everyone to I So Appreciate You! An honest, raw and sometimes funny podcast about work, community, life and all the other stuff we juggle. Hi, I'm Pahoua.

Nadege [N]: And I'm Nadege. And we’re colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. In addition to that, we're friends. And so when we talk, our conversations can run the gamut. We can start talking about board meetings and governance procedures. We can get into mother-daughter dynamics, and then we can be like, “Where are we going for dinner tonight?”

P: I prefer that conversation. And so we thought that maybe some of you would like to join us in conversation, so here we are with I So Appreciate You!

N: Why this podcast and why now? I mean if I'm honest...

P: Yeah?

N: I’m kinda wondering that too. Pahoua, you're kind of the one who dragged me into this. So how did we get here?

P: And since I didn't want to do a podcast alone I asked you to join me because we were already having a bunch of conversations about work, family and life and it just seemed like a natural thing that you and I might do and that we might want to share these conversations more broadly. And guess what! You didn't say no!

N: I really need to work on that, I think. But you know, you talk about work and it makes me think of our Foundation values and one of my favourites actually is we innovate and learn. And my favorite part of that is we take risks, embrace innovation and commit to learning from both mistakes and successes.

P: I love the mistake part.

N: So do I. And I'd like to kind of lean in on that and say, so here we are. Like, if this works, amazing. And if it doesn't work, I think we're definitely going to learn some things.

P: That's why I'm here. So while there are a million podcasts, we thought a conversation between two women, two women of color, navigating work and life in Minnesota and the ever-elusive finding of balance was not being had enough. Plus we just wanted to be us. We plan on having some of the guests that we've been long wanting to talk to and we've been wanting to meet and have them join us in conversation too.

N: Okay, but before we start talking about guests, maybe we should talk about ourselves a little bit since you know we’re the co hosts and they're going to get to hear our voice every week.

P: I suppose that's a good place to start.

N: Okay, so I thought about this. Like what do I say about myself that doesn't make me feel all cringey. So I'm actually just going to focus on my Twitter bio because it's nice and short and it gets to the point. So it says, “Ops & Learning SVP. Plus former lawyer. Plus performing arts enthusiast. Plus occasional fashionista…”

P: More than occasional actually.

N: (Nadege laughs) “...Plus gluten free foodie. Plus changing narratives. She/her/hers.” And you know, for like whatever the number of characters that is, you know, it's mostly right. Like, I was a college dance major who then worked in arts administration and then decided to be a lawyer and now I'm in philanthropy. So I've got this crazy background that sometimes makes absolutely no sense and I think one of the things that people might learn as they keep listening is I'm lowkey one of the silliest people you will ever meet.

P: You are that. And I hope that comes through in this podcast. So first of all, I'm impressed that you got all this in, in the character limit that Twitter allows for your bio. I suppose I can go a little bit there too, myself. And in my Twitter bio you'll see that I have community up there. I have sports up there because I think what people might not know is that I'm a huge Twins fan. I'm also a Boston Red Sox fan. That’s where I went for my honeymoon, yes indeed.

N: Oh wow. Okay, I did not know that.

P: Yeah, my husband and my name were up in lights in center field at Fenway. So you'll see in my Twitter feed and in my Twitter bio that you'll see things come in through about sports right now. We're almost going to go into World Series season. And I'm also in a women's fantasy football league. But okay, enough about that. I've been in nonprofit my entire career. I've worked in nonprofits of all sizes. Most recently at a very small public policy organization based in Saint Paul. And I'm fairly new to the Foundation. So it's only been a year and a half, currently, and I've been loving working there and working alongside you, Nadege.

N: It’s crazy that we've only been colleagues for about a year and a half because I feel like I've known you forever.

P: For a long time.

N: Well, in addition to talking about ourselves, we're also going to explore many topics relevant to work and life. For example, we're going to talk about leadership, health and wellness, crazy things we've read.

P: Lots.

N: Yeah. Local events, people who are in the news, people who we think should be in the news.

P: And maybe people who shouldn't be in the news.

N: Well yeah there's that too. And you know maybe I can get you to share some recipes with folks

P: Yeah if we could swap.

(Nadege and Pahoua laugh)

N: And did we mention that we're going to invite a lot of, like, awesome people to join us?

P: And I I think you did, but it's worth mentioning again. I'm really excited about our future episodes where, yeah, we'll have a special guest joining us.

Pause for Transition

P: Hey Nadege, what's with the name “I So Appreciate You”?

N: I mean, why do you act like I'm the one responsible for it?

P: Because you actually did come up with it.

N: (Nadege laughs) Okay, fair fair fair. So when we were starting to think about this, we actually, you and I went back and forth about a bunch of names and it was super hard because, real talk, all the good names were already taken.

P: Every name we wanted was already taken.

N: It was already a podcast that already seemed great. And some of the ideas were, like, a little too cute for us. I mean like you know we're cute, but we're not cutesy.

P: No, not cutesy.

N: Right, and then other things just didn't feel right, like didn't feel like us at all. So one night, it was actually late at night because some of the best, random thoughts come to me late at night, I started searching through our text history and I noticed a pattern.

P: She does this you guys.

N: Yeah, I’m a weirdo. But the search function is very useful. And what I noticed is that we express genuine appreciation for each other on a pretty routine basis.

P: Okay, so I'm gonna pull up this screenshot of this text.

N: (Nadege laughs) You do not have the actual text I sent you.

P: Yes. I actually have the text. So it's like 10:46 and a text comes through from you and it says “Hey Pahoua, I actually went through our...you know we've been struggling to find a name for this podcast” and you're like “I just went back into the history and one phrase that kept coming up in our text history was that ‘yeah, I appreciate you’” and then I would say it and you would say it and it just show up a bunch of times and you said “why not.”

N: I so appreciate you. And I feel like as soon as I said that you were like, “yes,” or the exclamation point.

P: And it just felt right. It just felt like oh that actually encompassed not only the work that we do at the Foundation, our appreciation for each other, but it's how...it's the tone we wanted to strike with this podcast. We wanted it to be hopeful and we wanted it to be open enough in the name that we can talk about anything under the sun.

[Music comes in]

N: Absolutely. Well I mean I think that's enough about us for now. We're going to go ahead and take a quick break and when we come back we're going to dive into what we're going to talk about today, which is professionalism.

[Music]

N: I So Appreciate You! is brought to you by the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. With roots in Saint Paul, we are Minnesota's largest community foundation and the partner of choice for thousands of donors, nonprofits and community organizations. The Foundation aspires to create an equitable, just and vibrant Minnesota where all communities and people thrive, by inspiring generosity, advocating for equity and investing in community-led solutions. Visit spmcf.org to learn more.

[Music]

N: Welcome back everyone. Hey Pahoua.

P: Yeah.

N: One of the first conversations we had as colleagues was about professionalism. Do you remember that?

P: I do remember that. I think we were... I can't remember if you brought it up or if I brought it up, but I think that where we kind of went in that conversation was how have you and I shown up in a professional way at work and how has that evolved when we are now working with and supervising younger people who are coming up. And they're actually trying to break away from what we traditionally viewed as professional. I think I remember that being the conversation.

N: Yeah, and I think it was at a happy hour too. See all the questions.

P: All the questions.

N: But I remembered that we recently talked about this again because of this nonsense that we have encountered in the social media universe.

P: It's a story that just won't die.

N: It will not die.

P: So what you're referring to is earlier this summer there was a really ridiculous thread. I think, I think it was on Twitter, but I think it was everywhere on social media about the bathing habits or actually lack of bathing habits by celebrities like Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Jake Gyllenhaal also got in the mix. And it was about how they were proud or at least not embarrassed to admit that they don't bathe. Something about waiting for the stink to happen, and I remember seeing this and thinking OK, this is super silly. Why am I even reading this tweet? And I really didn't think much more about it and I certainly wasn't going to bring it up with you.

N: Well, OK. I just want to point out that as ridiculous as it was, then other celebrities started tweeting about or talking on Instagram about how many showers they take a day. Like that's how crazy this conversation got.

P: Well OK. So now you're gonna know who's, you know, what celebrities I follow and don't follow, or appreciate don't appreciate, because when they were talking about like ‘yeah OK good for you that you don't wanna take a bath.’ But I'm a fan and you're a fan of Dwayne Johnson, The Rock.

N: Absolutely.

P: And then he got in the mix. So then he tweeted that ‘Hey, I'm not like those folks. I actually bathe, and not only bathe but I shower multiple times today,’ 'cause he works out all the time.

N: Yeah, at least three times a day I think he said. And it just makes me wonder, this is a fun fact about me because I've been a fan of his for a very long time; how many times he bathed when he was an active wrestler in the WWE. Like for instance, the time I actually went to see him live.

P: You've seen him live?

N: I have.

P: I have not been in the same room with him.

N: I mean, it was an arena and I was, you know, in the nosebleeds.

P: But you were breathing the same air. Pre-COVID, guys.

N: But I did get to see him jump out in the rings and say, “Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?”

P: Yeah. Oh my God. OK, so then he got in the mix, and I was like, wait, why are we continuing to talk about this? And then you know right after that I remember seeing an essay by Roxane Gay, and she weighed in on this. And I believe that the headline of her essay was “Who Gets to be Dirty?,” and at first I thought OK, this topic was silly, but as I read her essay, it occurred to me that while showering per se wasn't something I thought a lot about, it was actually something that came up often in my household. So as a refugee, as an immigrant, as wanting to show up at church or at school or at work, I mean my mom and my parents raised us to look a certain way so that we could, I don't know, these weren't the words they use, but maybe counter the narrative of what refugees look like. And so while it wasn't something I thought about, I kind of reflected on just how I was brought up and thinking there is no way my family, my mom, my dad, my brothers, sisters would have been proud today or then about how we didn't bathe.

N: Absolutely. I mean my family would be mortified if I was, you know, blasting all over social media that I felt super comfortable not taking a shower because that certainly is not presentable.

P: Yeah. So that raised the question, to you know Roxane Gay's point, who gets to be dirty? And I think that also plays into this professionalism conversation that you and I have had because we've talked about the ways in which we need to present ourselves. And this has to do with the word choices we use, knowing, you know, Robert's Rules, but it's also about the clothes we wear, the hair we keep.

N: Absolutely.

P: And I know that, you know, in the conversation that we had way back when you talked about your experience working in a law firm, from when you were a practicing attorney, and you know I think you should share that story about how you felt or maybe the, the requirement you felt was needed there in that space.

N: Yeah. So you know way back when, when I was not even yet a baby lawyer, I was just a lawyer in training, a baby lawyer in training. You know, I was starting to do my interviews to try to get a summer internship and I remember our career services office gave tips and tricks about what to do to be successful and some of them included attire. And so the professional attire was a black or navy suit. And I don't remember if it was written on the paper or said aloud, skirts for women.

P: Yeah.

N: And I just thought, first of all I don't know why I was becoming a lawyer 'cause I literally hate suits but...

P: I love suits.

N: That wasn't my vibe. If I gotta go sit in these interviews which were, by the way, like, 4-hour events 'cause you met with six partners and then you went to lunch, I was like, I need to be comfortable. And so I had stumbled on to this really super cute black and pink pinstripe suit with three quarter sleeves.

P: I like it.

N: Very much not a traditional suit. But I decided, you know, I'm just going to do it. Like what are they going to do? Not hire me? Like that's, that's the alternative.

P: Right.

N: I get the job, or I don't get the job. And so I went to these interviews, and interview after interview I got so many compliments on the suit by other female attorneys, and I think that it made me show up in a kind of way. But the reality is if somebody from my career services had probably seen me on the way out they would have been like, ‘Is that what you're wearing?’

P: Yeah.

N: And why did it matter? Like, I looked fine. I looked appropriate. But apparently...

P: Why do you think they were worried? Why would they pull you aside?

N: Well, I mean, it kind of goes back to that professionalism thing. And I actually want to stop at this moment and unpack that a little bit.

P: Yeah.

N: So, you know me. I'm kind of a dork. So I actually looked up professionalism.

P: Okay.

N: Because we keep kind of talking about it, and I was trying to decide, is this one of those you know it when you see it? Or is there actually a definition? And so I'm going to read what Merriam-Webster says about professionalism.

P: She is a dork, guys. Okay, go ahead.

N: It is the conduct, aims or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or professional person. Now...

P: Okay, that's real clear.

N: Yeah, really I mean, I kind of want to WTF this moment right here because you are defining professionalism by saying that it's stuff that characterizes a profession or a professional person. Okay, but like what stuff? Who gets to decide this stuff? Who's in charge? Like who decides what's professional?

P: And this is...so I've come up against this so many times. About, that definition doesn't really tell you anything. And even when we, let's say, prescribe something like ‘Hey, show up in business casual’ or show up in like in, like, business or business casual, what does that actually mean? So, you know, a couple of years ago I remember being in the audience listening to former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick speak. And he, for those of you who don't know, he grew up on the South Side of Chicago. And I think it was around age 14 that he got this amazing opportunity to go and study at Milton Academy. Fancy, I think it's a boarding school, in Massachusetts. And he shared this story about getting the clothing list, right? So I think, you know, we're all kind of, well families are going back to school, they’re already in school now, but you know you get the supply list, you get the clothing list.

N: Right, absolutely.

P: And you make sure that you have what you need.

N: You check everything off. You buy things on the list.

P: That's right. And one of the items was a blue jacket. And so his grandparents, who he’s living with or were raising him, like they splurged and got his blue jacket. So he shows up at school, at Milton Academy, and everyone is in their blue blazer. But, you guys, in South Side Chicago a blue jacket means windbreaker. So he's in this windbreaker, blue windbreaker, amongst the sea of blue blazers. So this is what I'm talking about. Sometimes we are not prescriptive enough and we assume that people know what we're talking about. And this is the kind of stuff that I think really takes up space in my head at one time. And in the heads of young people who are trying to break into their first jobs. Or when I was mentoring students who are working up at the Capitol, they would come to me and say hey I know that you've spelled out that these are the things that we need well but, what does that actually mean? And to not know that to show up in a windbreaker may cause people to think that you don't know...well, obviously, it outs you, right, that you don't know.

N: You don't know the unspoken code.

P: That’s right.

N: You don't know the language. I mean I think that, you know, I stumbled across an article about bias in professionalism in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and it was really fascinating as they kind of walk through all of these unspoken categories that make up what is or isn't professional. You know, we've got speech. Your accents. Your word choice might be something that deems you professional or not. Your hairstyle. Your attire. I’m gonna get back to hair style in a minute. You know how you’re scrutinized, and you know, your attitude. But kind of like that definition I read,

P: Yeah.

N: There is no clear ruling. Nobody has ever walked into a job, gotten a piece of paper that has said ‘Here we arrive promptly at 7:31. And you sit at your desk for the next three hours. And while you're sitting at the desk you are wearing a three-piece blobbity blah with...like nobody gets that prescriptive with detail. You're just supposed to somehow show up on your first day with no experience and know all of these unspoken rules.

P: That's right. I think this is why it's come up again now, as we are supervisors, to say do we perpetuate that? Should we keep that going? Or are we in a position to be more open? And then, how do we even feel about that, right?

N: Well, how do we even know the difference? I mean the reality is we've both had long professional careers to this point, so it's almost like it's in our blood.

P: Yeah.

N: I mean I think about the fact that there have to be, in certain states, Crown Acts to protect like Black women's ability to have natural hair in the workplace. And first of all that's insane.

P: Yeah.

N: But then I think back to the start of my professional career. It was always straight. It was always pressed. And it never occurred to me to show up in the office natural, because natural would not have been professional.

P: That's crazy.

N: It feels crazy, but the reality is it's only now that we actually even have to make laws about this, so some people don't have to go put products and chemicals and damage their natural hair state, just to show up in a way that is quote unquote professional and actually have the chances for advancement and movement that their expertise and their education ought to demand. But their perceived ability, because of how they look or how they dress, doesn't allow.

P: So, I mean, where should we take this? I mean how do we help the listeners? What do we do with this? Because I think that you and I are in positions where we are hiring people and I would like to think that given the conversations we have had, and are having today, that hopefully listeners are listening and those who are in positions where you're hiring, like just think about that. Just think about the space that people might be reserving for, you know, just the quiet worry about how they need to show up at the place where you, you know, work. And as you think about new hires coming in, or mentoring younger people like how do you just proactively put that out there so that we don't have to so they don't have to guess?

N: You know, I think it's really about thinking about what is actually important for this job?

P: Yes.

N: And I think the crazy thing is, I think COVID has opened up a little bit of that for us, because...

P: People wearing sweatpants now underneath their desks.

N: Well we don't even know, and it goes to show it probably didn't matter before.

P: Maybe the lessons that we learned during the pandemic is that, you know, sometimes I’ll wear the same thing a couple of times a week and no one notices.

N: I mean, honestly, it seems less important in general. I mean, we think about what we know now is all of the work time pressures that were previously built into our regular day. And I think that we can take advantage of this and not build them all back. I'd rather have people at the office doing great work, feeling efficient and feeling comfortable than making sure that they're rocking a pencil skirt and some ridiculous heels and pantyhose.

P: I may want to wear those though, but that's up to me!

N: But that's your choice. You can totally wear that! And I don't think that it takes away or it diminishes or elevates anyone's competence, you know, what they're wearing.

P: So should companies? Well, I think, take a closer look at your dress code. Do you need it for the work that you're doing?

N: Right. Is it specific to, you know, safety? Is it specific to temperature? Is there a reason that you are requiring people to show up in a certain way? And if there isn't, maybe re-evaluate where you're coming from with that.

P: Well, how about listen to your employees, see what they would like. Start by listening. Alright. We could probably keep going talking about this for hours but we've got to do something for our next episode.

N: Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You! You can find us on Facebook at I So Appreciate You Podcast and on Twitter and Instagram at @soappreciateyou.

P: We'd also appreciate you taking a moment to leave us a review and if you like our show, be sure to follow I So Appreciate You! on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you're listening to us right now.

N: Have a question or a topic suggestion? Email us at podcast@spmcf.org. Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You!

[Music]

Lyrics: I have a dream that one day we will live in a world where they don't judge you by the color of your skin.

N: Every year the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation recognizes anti-racism activists in Minnesota who challenge absent and harmful narratives on race and push for justice and equity through the Facing Race Awards. The story of this year's winners, Victoria McWane-Creek, KingDemetrius Pendleton, Valerie Shirley and Wokie Weah premiered just last week and is available to watch on FacingRace.org. Go check it out at FacingRace.org.

Lyrics: At the end of the day.

Episode 2

Co-hosts Nadege and Pahoua share personal experiences with giving and receiving care, including Nadege’s recent experience with breast cancer. Special guest Liwanag Ojala, former CEO of CaringBridge, joins to discuss the emotional weight of being a caregiver and what employers can do to better support their employees.

Episode References:

Managing the Future of Work, Harvard Business School

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande

[Music]

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Welcome, everyone to I So Appreciate You!, an honest, raw and sometimes funny podcast about work, community, life and all the other stuff we juggle. Hi, I'm Pahoua.

Nadege Souvenir:

And I'm Nadege, and we're colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota foundation. In addition to that, we're friends. And so when we talk, our conversations can run the gamut. We can start talking about board meetings and governance procedures, we can get into mother-daughter dynamics, and then we can be like, "Where are we going to dinner tonight?"

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I prefer that conversation. And so we thought that maybe some of you would like to join us in conversations, so here we are with I So Appreciate You! Welcome to I So Appreciate You! I'm Pahoua Yang Hoffman.

Nadege Souvenir:

And I'm Nadege Souvenir. In this week's episode, we are merging the personal with the professional. We'll be exploring health and work, specifically talking about the two sides of caregiving, giving the care and also receiving it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes. And we're also excited, so excited to welcome our first guest to the show, Liwanag Ojala, an attorney, caregiver, and community leader. So Nadege, one statistic that I read was that 66% of caregivers are women and that this statistic actually hasn't changed over a number of years. So my question to you and the question to our listeners is what happens when it's one of us who needs the care?

Nadege Souvenir:

It's a good question. And even though I'm going through it literally right now, I still don't know if I actually have the answer to it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

To accepting the care?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah. Maybe accepting the care feeling that I need the care. And actually, I should probably back up a little bit, because our listeners are probably like, "What on earth is she talking about? And what care does she need?" So not that long ago, really not that long ago, I was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ. Wait, before I keep going on. Red flag here. I am not a doctor. I am not a medical professional. I will probably say something wrong. And you might be listening and be like, "Wait a minute. That's not what it is." Listen, I'm a person going through some stuff. So I will tell you what I know or what I think I know. But if it's totally wrong, just ignore me and then come back when I'm saying something that doesn't sound remotely medical.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I think everybody will understand.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Nadege Souvenir:

All right. But yes, ductal carcinoma in situ, DCIS, basically means cancer inside the duct of the breast. And apparently, this is what Vicki, who was the one who called me and informed me about this, said that years ago, they didn't even actually consider this breast cancer. It was so far in the beginning of the process and maybe screening, I don't know what, but this wouldn't have been something that they considered cancer. Obviously, that's not the case now. And that's probably why it's stage zero, because stage one was already claimed. And yeah, it was just a few months ago. And so what I decided to do as a result of that, for a number of reasons, which I can share or not share, is I ultimately ended up having a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. And just in case those words don't mean anything, I basically removed both my breasts.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes. I want to talk about that because, because you've been-

Nadege Souvenir:

Do you want to talk about it?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah, I do. I do want to talk about it. And I know you've been already talking about this because if you follow Nadege on social media, Instagram in particular, she's sharing a whole lot there. And I want to talk about, what was that thought process? Because it also doesn't surprise me because you're such a methodical person and you are so intentional about every decision you make that when you came to this decision that you were going to have this double mastectomy, I thought, "Well, in one hand, yes, that sounds very Nadege. But on the other hand, this is huge." So walk us through that.

Nadege Souvenir:

Walk us through the decision. It's an interesting thing when somebody says to you, "You have a cancer." I think that's the quote. And so right away, my brain's like, "All right, well, then get it out of my body. Just take it all. Take whatever you need, so we won't have to revisit this conversation again."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Especially when it's stage zero. You're like, "Okay-"

Nadege Souvenir:

Good. I don't want it to come back. Excellent. Perfect. But the reality is, had lots of conversations. There were really a lot of options available to me. That's the privilege I have is that I found it super early, and so I had a number of choices. But the choice I made, which I think somebody referred to as the nuclear option.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes. That's why it was just so jarring to me, how we got there so quickly.

Nadege Souvenir:

Was really based on knowing myself and knowing what I needed to be the most me on the other side of that surgery. And so one of the very first things I said to my surgeon was, "It is important for me to factor in the cosmetic appearance on the other side of this as we think about what's going to happen to me." Because in my mind, I couldn't conceive... And every woman is different. So there's going to be people listening here who have made different choices. But in my mind, I was like, "I can't..." I know how stress I get during hormonal shifts and sometimes one is just doing a thing and the other one's not doing the same thing. And I just thought, "Nope, I can't have that be a permanent state."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So that's how we know you came to that decision. But tell me about the decision to make it public, so public.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah. I knew you were going to ask me this, so I actually really thought about it, and it actually turns out it was kind of a three-step process.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I love that you have a three-step process about this.

Nadege Souvenir:

I didn't know it was three steps until I went back and revisited what the heck I was thinking over the weeks. But the day after I got my diagnosis, I posted, I think, on social media a, "Here's some stats about breast cancer, and unfortunately I've now joined the ranks. I had my first mammogram this year. Ladies, people, go get your mammograms." It was really just like, "Go get yourselves checked out."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And was this a routine mammogram for you?

Nadege Souvenir:

It was routine and it was literally the first one I'd ever done.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

What? Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

So I was just like, "Please go. Don't stop. Don't look at what you're doing. Just get the girls checked and figure it out." And so that was the first share that I had. And I didn't know at that moment that I was going to continue to talk about the experience. I hadn't planned on that. And it was in a conversation with a colleague and a colleague who had gone through a breast cancer experience that what I realized was, and this was this weird... I was wearing my leader hat.

Nadege Souvenir:

If somebody on my team was going through something that is this emotionally heavy and physically taxing and all of this, I would want to know enough to be able to do everything I could do to support them. And so I realized, "Wait a second. If I would want them to tell me so that I could help them, then I have to model the behavior that I think is the behavior I want to see." And so that's when I started telling people at work really, in some ways casually... I'm sure some people were like, "Did you just drop it the top of this meeting?"

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, you kind of did. You kind of did.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. But the reality, it's not a stigma. It happens.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And I don't know why that is. Why don't we talk about this more freely? Well, we don't. So when you did, it felt odd, but at the same time, I think welcomed.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. Because if I had been playing basketball and broke my leg and said, "Hey, guys, I got to go get some whatever and get my leg in a cast and I'll be rolling in with the little cart thing," nobody would've thought that was weird. Nobody would've thought me talking about that particular medical experience was bizarre. And so I just was like, "All right, I got to make this not bizarre, because it's just happening to me." And then I got to the third point. So that as being public with colleagues and-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So go back. One was...

Nadege Souvenir:

One was get your mammograms, do it. Two was being really open in a professional setting very quickly.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. To create that culture where we can talk about this and model it. Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

And then I think the third thing that you're talking about, sending folks to my Instagram, is really chronicling my experience. And the reason I did that is because, well, you know that when I'm trying to find something, I'm all over the Google. And I can pretty much, if it exists, I will find it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I know this about you, yes.

Nadege Souvenir:

And it was really difficult for me to find somebody who looked like me, who felt like me going through this experience. I would pull up searches. I would be like, "Bilateral mastectomy scars. What do they look like?" And the images were all white women. And I was like, "Well, that's not informative to me because my skin doesn't bruise that way or do that thing or whatever."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Right. Our scars show up differently.

Nadege Souvenir:

Correct. And then I would actually put it in the search and then say "Black" and it still wouldn't fundamentally change the results. And then I stumbled cross blogs and other people sharing their journeys. But still, I didn't see me. Yeah. And so I just thought, "Okay. Maybe I'm the me that I'm supposed to be and I'm supposed to be out there."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Maybe you're the one you're looking for.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. Maybe I'm looking myself. And so I just tiptoed into it with, I think it was an Instagram post where I was like, "On this date, I'm going to lose my boobs." I said it more articulate and was probably pretty or something, and kept going from that point and started by mostly top talking about feelings, but getting to the point where now my boobs exist on the interwebs, in the universe, forever and ever ever.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

How did it feel? Because to us, as someone who was following and still following you on Instagram in this journey, it felt very real, very raw. Because like you said, you talked about not only the procedure, but you talked about-

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:11:04]

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

You said you talked about not only the procedure, but you talked about your feelings about it and you also expanded on your thoughts about the loss, right? The loss of a feeling, the loss of just who... Not who you were, but just your physical self, but walk us through that. How did it feel to share?

Nadege Souvenir:

In some ways, it's super cathartic.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

I always say that word wrong, but I think I said it right then.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

No, I think you said it-

Nadege Souvenir:

You know how we all have those words?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Nadege Souvenir:

That's one of my words.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Nadege Souvenir:

So is mastectomy. I always have to think about that word when I say it, which is really difficult given what I'm going through right now. But anyway, there's a release that comes with sharing it and being open and not sort of internalizing it. At least for me.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

It's almost like I've released it out in the universe. So the power that it has over me is not as heavy and unsupported.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

And the other thing that happened almost immediately is so many people I know reached out to me and shared their experiences.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Which they probably weren't as public about?

Nadege Souvenir:

I don't know [crosstalk 00:12:19] that I necessarily knew all of them when they went through it, but I didn't know that they had been through breast cancer in any way.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Right.

Nadege Souvenir:

Until I said it out loud. And then I was getting these messages and they were sharing. And including a couple of people who are basically going through this experience more or less simultaneously with me.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Wow.

Nadege Souvenir:

Which just-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Which they wouldn't have talked to you about if they hadn't known because how would they know, right?

Nadege Souvenir:

I would imagine not. I don't know, but what I just really realized is there's that stat, I think it's one in eight women or women have a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer. The average woman provided you don't have... That's a lot of women.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That's a lot of women.

Nadege Souvenir:

If you actually think about that, if we're standing in a group of folks and that doesn't even include... Anyone can get breast cancer, but we're really talking about women in this moment, you could be standing in a room and not know that half the women in that room have had an experience.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Why do you think we don't talk about it?

Nadege Souvenir:

So many reasons,. I think this was one of the things I alluded to in one of my posts. There is such a... Women's bodies, the things that make us female and recognizing the different genders and I recognize I'm being super binary but this is the experience I'm living right now, have always been super taboo.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

Think about the fact that I now have two or three posts on Instagram with my bare breast now, but it's okay because I don't have any nipples.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Wow.

Nadege Souvenir:

How messed up is that?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. That's okay now?

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. Because-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

It doesn't get flagged.

Nadege Souvenir:

It doesn't get flagged because I am missing the scandalous part of being a lady.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

What? And so I think that that's part of it. I also think that there are cultural norms about what you do and you don't say. "That's a family, we don't talk about that here." Or expectations of how you're supposed to show up. If you're supposed to be a strong woman.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Right.

Nadege Souvenir:

If you are supposed to be the caregiver.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

You can't need the help and you can't be weak and... Right. You can compare it in some ways to when somebody's got a pregnancy announcement and some people they wait so long. Not because they're concerned about the pregnancy. Because they're like, "I don't want people at work to stop giving me work."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

To treat us different.

Nadege Souvenir:

"Or treat me different or take me off that really great project that I want to be on." And like-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Which does happen, has happened.

Nadege Souvenir:

It absolutely has happened. And I won't pretend that despite the fact that we work at a really great place some of those thoughts didn't cross my... They absolutely crossed my mind that like, "Oh, goodness, I've got to be gone for a while, totally gone. What if they notice that they can do it without me? Then what?"

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, we couldn't. And we'll talk about you reentering... Coming back to work, but let's go back to the original... That stat that I mentioned at the top of this segment of about women being more say the caregivers and how do we allow ourselves to receive care? And I know you have an amazing husband.

Nadege Souvenir:

He's pretty great.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. And you have your daughter and I just... What was that like to be the one receiving care? What were some of the surprises for you?

Nadege Souvenir:

That it's really hard when you fancy yourself a relatively independent person who can-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I know. That's why I ask because you are a take charge and get things done person.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah. It's hard and at moments it can truly be demoralizing. And and I also felt like a burden.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nadege Souvenir:

I felt like an active burden. Like, "Well, you can't go do that because you need to be around if I need some help." And it's a thing you have to get over. Yeah. But it's still a hard thing.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. I'm going to switch gears a little bit and talk about the black box. Tell people what that means.

Nadege Souvenir:

I think this is what I said to people in my first week back. So I was out after my surgery for four weeks. And this is a thank you and also urgh to my colleagues, because everybody was super great about keeping me disconnected because everybody knew that I wouldn't be able to resist popping into my email. They didn't send me emails. So for four weeks-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

We did not, we [crosstalk 00:17:12]-

Nadege Souvenir:

The world of the foundation went back and forth and I had no idea. And then I came back on my first day and I had to check in with someone and they said, "Well, what can I tell you?" And I said, "I literally don't know. I don't know what has been happening for four weeks." And so it's not the same as being a new person.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

And it's not the same as stepping into a new project or anything. It's normally, I know so much and all of a sudden I've been fully untethered.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Right.

Nadege Souvenir:

And just have to somehow figure out how to get back on the train that is moving at full speed.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And for those who don't know, the nature of Nadege's job is she's got her hands and everything. You basically are our chief operating officer so you were involved in everything. And I think it must have felt weird to just all of a sudden have communication get cut off. And then you coming back in and going, "Where is everything?"

Nadege Souvenir:

It absolutely was. But I'm thankful for it because the reality is, had I seen an email, had I whatever, my instinct would've been to try to call somebody or do something. And the reality is my body needed me to be watching all those episodes of Top Chef or America's Next Top Model. Because I just didn't have the mental wherewithal to be my best self. And I actually super appreciate that everybody knew that for me.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Forced you-

Nadege Souvenir:

You forced me-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

... to slow down.

Nadege Souvenir:

... to take that time.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Nadege, thank you again for sharing your story. I know your vulnerability means a lot to me and I know to everyone who's been following your Instagram and listeners right now who might be experiencing something similar with cells or with someone they know. Whether you're experiencing a health event or caring for someone who is, it's important to take care of yourself and find support. And I think that's a lesson from what I heard from you today. Today's guest has a personal and professional experience doing just that. When we get back, we'll introduce you to Liwanag Ojala, the former CEO of CaringBridge and hear what she has to say on the topic.

Nadege Souvenir:

I So Appreciate You is brought to you by the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation. With [inaudible 00:19:28] Saint Paul, we are Minnesota's largest community foundation and the partner of choice for thousands of donors, nonprofits and community organization. The foundation aspires to create an equitable, just and vibrant Minnesota, where all communities and people thrive by inspiring generosity, advocating for equity and investing in community led solutions. Visit spmcf.org to learn more.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And we are back and excited to welcome Liwanag Ojala. Before we get started though, Liwanag, we have three quick questions for you. You ready?

Liwanag Ojala:

Okay. Yeah. Thanks for having me by the way.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. Thank you for joining us. All right. So we have three quick questions for you. These are our icebreaker questions. Dress shoes or hiking boots?

Liwanag Ojala:

Ooh, dress shoes.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay. More appetizers or another dessert?

Liwanag Ojala:

Appetizers.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. You're my girl. All right. Movies or books?

Liwanag Ojala:

That's a tough one. I would say movies.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. Now you're Nadege's girl.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, exactly. We are three for three on those. So before we dive into our conversation about navigating health, caregiving work and life, we want all our listeners to just know a little bit more about you. And so you are a fantastic community leader who has passionately served others. I am not going to list all of your accolades-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So long.

Nadege Souvenir:

... because it's so long and you're just so impressive. We're fan girling over here. But I'm just going to name a few. You were a top 500 executive by Minnesota Monthly. The Minneapolis Saint Paul Business Journal named you one of the most admired CEOs and Twin cities Business Magazine listed you as one of their are top 100 people to know in 2020. And seriously folks, if you don't know, this is just barely the tip of the iceberg. So thank you so much for joining us today and being our first guest.

Liwanag Ojala:

Well, thank you so much for having me and right back at you to two fantastic women who also serve our community. And I'm also very grateful to be invited. So, thank you.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So, in addition to everything that Nadege just read, you've also held the important role of a caregiver. And Nadege and I have this belief Liwanag that we end up doing what we do because of what we may experience growing up. Can you let us know what led you here?

Liwanag Ojala:

Yeah. And I do want to reflect on what you just said too because part of it is I think...

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:22:04]

Liwanag Ojala:

And I do want to reflect on what you just said too, because part of it is, I think, women in particular are just good at doing what needs to be done.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Liwanag Ojala:

So I'll just add that on top of what you said. But my parents were immigrants from the Philippines, and in our culture, as you age your family cares for you in your home. And so that was just what I always knew. I experienced that growing up when my grandmother got Alzheimer's, and lived in our house with our family until it was not safe for her to do it, and she needed other care. But even though I'm first-generation American-born, I've always understood that is an expectation in the family, to care for your parents as they age. So I would say that's probably the number one thing growing up that was in my mind. Not as it was an expectation, but it didn't feel like a burden because that's what I knew.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I always thought that was an oldest child thing.

Nadege Souvenir:

Like a firstborn expectation.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah, because I wear that badge of honor of ... You and I actually have similar backgrounds, [Liwanag 00:23:02], because I grew up in a multi-generational household, saw my mother be a caregiver to my grandparents who lived with us, and definitely influenced, I think, the work that I do now in communities. So thank you for taking a moment and sharing that story with us.

Liwanag Ojala:

Yeah. And I'll also just give a shout-out to the first-borns because I think that-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Thank you.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yes.

Liwanag Ojala:

My mother was first born, and then my sister who was first born really missed her calling as a professional caregiver. Just seeing her and interacting with her as we cared for my dad, which I know we're going to talk about. She was just a star. And the first born does have a special quality of just knowing how to just get it done, and rallying the troops to make sure it happens too. At least in my family, that was true for sure.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Thank you. I feel seen.

Nadege Souvenir:

I know. So do I.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes. Well, let's talk about that caregiving experience.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, absolutely.

Liwanag Ojala:

Well, first of all, the context of it was that my mother passed away when I was 25, at the age of 59. So she had been gone from our lives, at least here, for a long time.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

She was young. You were young.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah.

Liwanag Ojala:

I was young. And so now I'm almost 50. And about two years ago, in the summer of 2019, my father was diagnosed with late stage four prostate cancer. He was told he had four to six months to live. So after that he came home from the Philippines where he lived part of the time and spent his remaining time in the United States, where me and my three siblings live. And he lived with us, and he lived with my sister, and he lived with my brother for a while. But we really just all shared that expectation growing up that that's what was going to go down. And we were really, really lucky because he had much longer than months. It was more like two years. And in that time, we tried very hard to ensure we made decisions as a family that gave him the highest quality of life, based on his terms, which we didn't always agree with. Yeah. But trying to let him guide, and I have to say that some of the examples of that included, we certainly wanted to manage the pain, but he did not want to be medicated all day and sleeping. He wanted to be able to eat with us. He wanted to be able to travel still. He wanted to be able to do the things that he still enjoys. So a lot of our decisions were around that priority of the highest quality of life.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So you said- [crosstalk 00:25:33] Oh sorry Liwanag. You said something there that I want to get back to. That you were going to let him guide you. And I'm curious as to who made this decision, and was he fully on board to move here to United States to be with all of your siblings?

Liwanag Ojala:

The gift that we received of losing our mom earlier in our lives as siblings was that it became much more open to talk about death and dying and what was going to happen next.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Liwanag Ojala:

I recall that a few Christmases after my mom passed away, my father decided to declare between courses at Christmas dinner that he only wanted to live until he was 80. And it was a very blunt-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Wow.

Liwanag Ojala:

[crosstalk 00:26:19] And of course when he turned 80, "We thought you were done now." But he lived to be 83. It made it more open to discuss because we had had that experience. But I certainly know a lot of caregivers who go through this process where there hasn't been that and communication, which makes it much more difficult. We were able to have that because we had a previous experience where it was very surprising when my mom passed away at that age, and it was a very short time between the time she was in a coma and past. And we were all not expecting that to happen for a long time. But I hear that pain in some care voices when they go through that experience, because the communication about what the expectations are are not clear, and frankly there's not a lot of comfort in discussing it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

No, there isn't.

Nadege Souvenir:

Well, you know what I find really fascinating about what you're saying is you grew up with a culture of sort of knowing that caregiving was going to be inherent. But when I think about American culture, it's not necessarily clearly inherent. Multi-generational families aren't necessarily the norm. Did you ever feel being here, a tension between that? Between the American culture of, "Well, why don't you just hire someone or do something?" And the choices you all are making it as a family.

Liwanag Ojala:

Yeah. So you're highlighting one thing I should definitely say, which is important to say. That I do come from a position of several privileges in my life. One is that I can afford healthcare and we were able to afford healthcare and the very crazy medical costs in this country. But that's for a different, probably, segment.

Nadege Souvenir:

That could be a whole season of shows.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Liwanag Ojala:

I think the other privilege I had is that I was married to someone who really was aligned in my thinking, and he is a white male. So to be able to have those discussions about what I understood growing up was an expectation, and then the reality being faced with it, well we're both Generation X, sandwich generation taking care of two teens at home at the same time. We were very aligned, and he was very willing to take on the cultural expectations I had, which is not always the case in interracial couples. So those were two pieces of the pie that I think have given me the perspective I've had. But very, very difficult in a lot of relationships. Because I recall talking to my husband about that, we've been married 20 years, very early on in our marriage, and before our marriage, that this is what was going to happen. My mom never met my husband, but he knew I had a father who had lost his wife, so there were a lot of conversations very early on before marriage. And I think that was critical, because the communication was very open.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay. You can't see me, but I'm nodding profusely-

Nadege Souvenir:

Yes, she is.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Because I had that same conversation with my now husband when we started dating, because this was a role that I had in my family, and it just was not going to go away, and I didn't want it to go away. So providing care to my mother, she's so young and fit, but they're just responsibilities that you don't want to have to explain that you need to go and take care of.

Liwanag Ojala:

Yeah. And to my husband's credit, it was not an argument. It was a conversation about what was important to me, how he could support that, and what could he do and was capable of doing, or how could he learn? And in the end my father basically loved my husband I think probably more than the rest of us.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Oh my God, this is how I think I feel about my mother and my husband. So my husband sees my mother every day.

Liwanag Ojala:

Yes.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Every day.

Liwanag Ojala:

Yeah.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So I could do this.

Liwanag Ojala:

And the other third privilege I had is that my husband is also a stay-at-home father. So while I was working full-time during this very intense caregiving experience the last few years, he was the one home. So my father actually saw my husband more than me during the day. Of course, pandemic life changed the whole dynamic with both health and responsibilities and so many things.

Liwanag Ojala:

But anyway, I hear what you're saying and I completely understand. It's really difficult for families to have these discussion and then complicate that with the dynamics that go on in a marriage, that are also really difficult for people.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, absolutely. And what you're saying is almost a little bit opposite than I think some of the norms. I've seen a figure, it's like two thirds of caregivers are usually women. And I'm not saying that you aren't, but that your husband can be so involved as well. And often the women do more personal care, they put in more hours, and obviously that's going to affect you professionally. That's going to affect how you're able to show up in your opportunities. And it sounds like you had the privilege to still be able to maintain those things. But in your work have you encountered, or in your experiences, other caregivers who really are challenged by balancing the emotional weight and labor of caregiving with having to show up-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Nadege Souvenir:

In other places.

Liwanag Ojala:

Yeah, for sure. For sure. I've got lots of thoughts on how employers can do this better, but I think what I'd also say is, this is a huge generalization, but it's been true in my experience with knowing other women who are also caregivers. I've always encouraged people to ask for the thing that they need help with.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So hard though. It's so hard.

Liwanag Ojala:

We create our own situation by not asking for help.

Nadege Souvenir:

You're absolutely right.

Liwanag Ojala:

And I'm going to give you like a very specific example. My son is 17 years old, and there were things I asked him and my daughter, who's 13, to do with their grandpa that a lot of teens don't do. But guess what? I needed to be in a meeting, I needed to be somewhere, I had to get something done, and I can't be in two places at once. So there were times I would ask my teenager, "Can you do this thing for Lolo, who's downstairs, because I don't want him to alone, and he is going to try to do himself and it's dangerous." And so explaining to them was helpful to me, but also a really-

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:33:04]

Liwanag Ojala:

... Explaining to them was helpful to me, but also a really gift for them. And I'm going to say, especially my son...

Nadege Souvenir:

Absolutely.

Liwanag Ojala:

... Who is learning at this age, the importance of being part of the caregiving support that is going on all around him. It was a gift. The whole experience was really a gift to our whole family...

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Liwanag Ojala:

... About what it's like to come together and support each other, because it wasn't just supporting his grandfather. It was also supporting me as the one who's still working full time while I'm also doing this work. Sorry. I felt it was really important to talk about the role that kids can play, and the gift, and the benefit that they can get of being part of that experience as well.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

No, I'm glad that you brought that in because I think that when we talk about caregiving, we talk about it as if it's going to be this thing in the future. And we often aren't good at caregiving because we don't start. Right? We don't model it. And we don't see that in front of us enough. And the fact that you bring in your kids, and that they can see how you and your husband are also modeling and supporting each other in supporting your father, I think is probably a lesson we don't talk about enough. We don't see enough.

Nadege Souvenir:

No.

Liwanag Ojala:

I also want him as a young man to normalize that women, although they're capable of doing a lot of things around here...

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Liwanag Ojala:

... Are not going to be the ones that can do it just because they can.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Liwanag Ojala:

But they need help. Anyway, back to your question, which I do want to answer about how are employers doing this? What could they do? There's a fantastic study that came out of Harvard Business School, a Harvard Business School project called, "Managing the Future of Work." And it was published in early 2019 by Joseph Fuller and Manjari Raman. And I had a chance to meet Manjari and hear her speak about this study at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving in Atlanta. This is back in the fall of 2018, which of course in this world we live in now feels like a million years ago.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Nadege Souvenir:

Indeed.

Liwanag Ojala:

The study was exactly understanding this question, "What can employers do to help employees manage their caregiving responsibilities?" And I largely agree with what the study says. And there's four key things that came out of that study. They studied organizations across industries, size of revenue, geography, women led, men led, the four things are, one is to have a supportive culture. Two was to have a framework for balancing career and life paths. Three is completely be aware of the hidden cost for caregivers...

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Oh, absolutely.

Liwanag Ojala:

... When you think about benefits and compensation and things like that. And then finally boost your caregiver productivity by supporting them in different ways. And the bad news is nobody was doing it really well.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Liwanag Ojala:

But the good news is I think the study was really encouraging to read, which it's pretty short. It's 22 pages. And I encourage you both, and anyone listening to read this thing, because it just gives a lot of good ideas about things companies can do, like look at their benefits packages and think about what's their caregiving need? Is there maximum flexibility in PTO?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Liwanag Ojala:

What are they doing to give mental health support? Which is so much apart of this caregiving experience. And what are they doing for childcare support, specifically for caregivers? I think there was some really good findings there. And I bring it up because I think it really jolts the way we might think about how we support them beyond saying you can take extra time off, because there's just so much more to it than that.

Nadege Souvenir:

Absolutely. It's not enough to just doll out a few benefits because the reality is there are negative health impacts to the caregiver.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Liwanag Ojala:

The mental and emotional strain and toll, and that's going to impact how you show up at work, and what your productivity looks like. And when you need space. And I think in some way, we all got some visibility on that during COVID because all of a sudden our lives were turned upside down, and people who had outlets of daycare and school, all of a sudden were being active caregivers during the nine to five. And do you think that all of us collectively going through that experience might help employers see a little bit better what they ought to be doing as to those four points that you mentioned?

Liwanag Ojala:

I think if you're an employer, and you are not doing that right now in the moment of where we are in the world with this pandemic, when employees are really starting to think differently about what is the relationship they both desire, and will tolerate from employers.

Liwanag Ojala:

There's been a lot of talk about this great resignation and people reevaluating is this the employer of choice for me. If you're not thinking about these things, then you're going to continue to have these issues with the retention of employees, which so many employers are experiencing right now. And candidly in a virtual world, the development of trust with employees is critical to get right.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Liwanag Ojala:

And the things you used to do when people were in the office, aren't going to work as well.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Right.

Liwanag Ojala:

You better find other ways to make sure that your programs, and your benefits, and your culture is supporting people in ways that they're going to continue to expect, regardless of whether we're back in the office or not. I think it's a mistake for employers to miss out on this opportunity. And of course, I'm very hopeful that this is making organizations reevaluate, "What can we do to keep talent working on the things that are really important for the business."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Go ahead.

Liwanag Ojala:

I was going to add one other resource that I found personally very helpful when I was going through it. It was before my dad was diagnosed with late stage cancer. I had read this book that was very influential in how I thought about caregiving. I didn't know it at the time, of course you both probably know this book. It's, "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande. And what the book taught me is how to manage... He writes about his relationship with his father, and being the caregiver for his father, and as a medical doctor, how did he approach that very clinically, versus really asking the right questions of the patient, which is, "What is important to you? What does quality of life mean?" It was a very influential book for me. I just wanted to mention that as well.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I have a question for you, Alana. In the four items from the article that you highlighted, I think the fourth one was boost care for caregivers. Is that right?

Liwanag Ojala:

Boost caregiver productivity.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Oh, okay.

Liwanag Ojala:

What can you do to make them more productive? Is it resources? Is it technology?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Liwanag Ojala:

Is it flexibility with hours? There's all sorts of things that fall into that category.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Mm.

Liwanag Ojala:

But specifically looking at it for somebody who is managing caregiving, it's both kids and older adults as well.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Liwanag Ojala:

Or whoever in your family that's important to you that you want to make sure they get great care.

Nadege Souvenir:

Well, thank you. Thank you for joining us today. This was a really deep conversation.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. Thank you, Alana.

Liwanag Ojala:

Thank you. I really appreciate it as well.

Nadege Souvenir:

Thank you for listening to, "I so Appreciate You." You can find us on Facebook at, "I So Appreciate You" podcast. And on Twitter and Instagram at, "So Appreciate You."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

We'd also appreciate you taking a moment to leave us a review. And if you like our show be sure to follow, "I So Appreciate You" on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you're listening to us right now.

Nadege Souvenir:

Have a question or a topic suggestion? Email us at podcast@spmcf.org.

Nadege Souvenir:

Thank you for listening to, "I So Appreciate You."

PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [00:41:17]

Episode 3

Alex West Steinman, Co-founder and CEO of The Coven, and Melissa Muro LaMere, Partner at Maslon LLP, join ISAY co-hosts Nadege and Pahoua to discuss their respective evolving workplaces during the pandemic, some unexpected silver linings, and how showing up as yourself at work is a game-changer.

Episode References:

A new era of workplace inclusion: moving from retrofit to redesign, Future Forum

Pahoua Hoffman:

Hey, welcome everyone, to I So Appreciate You!, an honest, raw and sometimes funny podcast about work, community, life and all the other stuff we juggle.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Hi, I'm Pahoua.

Nadege Souvenir:

And I'm Nadege, and we're colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. In addition to that, we're friends, and so when we talk, our conversations can run the gamut. We can start talking about board meetings and governance procedures, We can get into mother/daughter dynamics, and then we can be like, where are we going to dinner tonight?

Pahoua Hoffman:

I prefer that conversation. And so we thought that maybe some of you would like to join us in conversations, so here we are with I So Appreciate You. Welcome to today's episode where we're going to talk about re-imagining work.

Nadege Souvenir:

And so much to reimagine because it's so very different than it was, I don't know, 18 months ago, or ...

Pahoua Hoffman:

It's been the same for me.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, I was just going to say. You started at the Foundation literally in the like heart of COVID.

Pahoua Hoffman:

I interviewed during COVID, got the job during COVID. I've only been to the office for four days, and not in a row.

Nadege Souvenir:

That's fully ridiculous, but okay. We could talk about the office, which is a lot of fun, but what I really want to ask you about is your current office, that home office. So for months you've been working from home, there have got to be some good stories about that experience.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Well, my home office is right now my TV room, so I never had a home office, and here's what I'm going to tell you that people don't tell you in the design magazines, open concept does not work for work from home. Okay? I know my husband is going to listen to this show because he he's been listening to the podcast, so I will just say this, there's some keyboards that are very loud.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay, say more.

Pahoua Hoffman:

No, I can't. I really can't. Don't put me in that spot. I just didn't realize I was living with a loud typer.

Nadege Souvenir:

Aha, I see, I see.

Pahoua Hoffman:

I say that with love.

Nadege Souvenir:

Of course, all the love.

Pahoua Hoffman:

And so I can't work in the open environment space, even though it gives me a prettier backdrop, so I've relegated myself to the TV room, which is the only room in my house, besides the bathrooms, where there are full walls and a door.

Nadege Souvenir:

Oh my goodness. Well, what I'm going to say is at least it sounds like once you found that room, you had separate spaces to work. You didn't share an office.

Pahoua Hoffman:

No, that's true. I did not share an office, but you're looking at me like you do.

Nadege Souvenir:

Oh. Well, not anymore, thankfully.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

But during the part where we were all locked down, my husband and I did in fact, physically share an office. People did not understand how close we were, but if we both stretched our arms, our fingertips would've touched. And what I learned about the way that he works is when he takes a phone call, he paces. So all of a sudden I was seeing somebody in the back of my Zoom backgrounds and realized we had to make a little bit of an edit to how we shared that space.

Pahoua Hoffman:

You guys are doing Zoom meetings together in the same room?

Nadege Souvenir:

We were.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

I am confident that there are days where he could have been done hearing my voice.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

And I also feel like I know the precise moment that he shifts into full on lawyer mode because I can hear the tonal shift.

Pahoua Hoffman:

The lawyer voice.

Nadege Souvenir:

It's a serious voice.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Did you have a lawyer voice?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, probably.

Pahoua Hoffman:

I want to know that lawyer voice. I hope it comes out at some point.

Nadege Souvenir:

Hopefully not on the show, but when I think about what we've done, we have these ridiculous moments with our spouses in our space, but the reality is all of us have been trying to figure this out from top to bottom, how we do this in our offices, out of our offices, kind of in our offices, in a hybrid way. And I don't know about you, but I have heard so many times in the last little bit so, "Hey, what are you guys? What's the Foundation doing?

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yes.

Nadege Souvenir:

"In the next stage?"

Pahoua Hoffman:

That's right. That's kind of your job. I mean, you head our operations and so you have to come up with the plan for the plans for us to come back.

Nadege Souvenir:

Absolutely. But here's the crazy thing it's always iterative.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

So when COVID started, we all got sort of pushed out of our workplaces at the same time, and so that was in some ways kind of easy. It was a panic and a crisis.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

But in retrospect, kind of easy because everybody had the same facts at their disposal. But as we sort of go on and things change and some people have started going back and some people haven't, it really has forced us, and forced is probably the wrong word, but it really has pressed us to make decisions that are consistent with our values.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

Because if we make a decision because company B did something or company Q did something, that might work for them and it might be great, but it might not work for us and our staff and our staff size and our culture and the way that we need to get our work done as a Foundation. And so it's a lot of moving pieces. You would think that it's about operations, but it's as much operations as it is culture and feeling and how people are going to adapt to the way that we work.

Pahoua Hoffman:

And I think you're absolutely right about living out our values. So one of the things that happened on my team was we are the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, yet on my grants team and my community impact team, we did not have a team member that represented Greater Minnesota. And this opportunity of working from home, I think allowed us, or like you said, encouraged us to think differently, and so when we had a vacancy on the team and we were looking for a new team member, we were open, I think more open than maybe we might have been if we were all reporting to the office. And so we, in fact, did hire someone from of the metro, and I think it served not only our team, but I think it better serves the mission of being the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.

Nadege Souvenir:

What I really love, and love is going to sound like a weird word associated with COVID, is that this crisis forced us all to think differently. It forced us all to figure out how to do old things in new ways and sort of shed some of the processes that we didn't need. And I'll acknowledge that we have a lot of privileges, and by we, I mean, the fact that the foundations are office jobs.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Right.

Nadege Souvenir:

And the fact that we had the tools that allowed us to go remote. And then even more specifically, you and I have privileges in the fact that we have the spaces to carve out to work from home. We don't necessarily have households full of people or small people distracting us.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Right. I have a TV room I can convert.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, that's totally right. And I just think that I'm really excited to dig into this conversation in a little bit with our guests, because they come at it from a different perspective. And so after the break, we're going to come back with Alex West Steinman and Melissa Muro LaMere, and they're going to share their perspective on the work, the life, the balance, and how COVID maybe screwed that all up.

Pahoua Hoffman:

I So Appreciate You! is just one of many initiatives we're working on at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. Want to learn more about how we aim to create an equitable, just and vibrant Minnesota? Join our email list by visiting us at spmcf.org. While you're there, make sure to check out our blog and follow us on social media.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Welcome back. We are excited to welcome two guests today. First we'll be joined by Alex West Steinman, in a little bit, we'll be joined by Melissa Muro LaMere. For those who don't know Alex or Melissa, here are few things they have in common. They are badass female leaders, they were 40 Under 40 honorees, they've both worked in politics, and they both have adorable small humans that call them mom.

Pahoua Hoffman:

So Alex, to kick off our interview with you, we do one thing with all of our guests. We ask them three quick questions and Nadege is going to have that honor today.

Nadege Souvenir:

All right, Alex, are you ready?

Alex West Steinman:

Yeah, I'm ready.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay. So the first question is spring or fall?

Alex West Steinman:

Ooh. Well, my birthday is in the spring, but I do love the beautiful colors of fall, so maybe both. Right?

Nadege Souvenir:

I feel like that's the cop out answer, but we'll let it slide this time. Okay. Number two, Harry Styles or Harry Belafonte?

Alex West Steinman:

Oh my gosh. This is so hilarious. Maybe neither.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay. All right, last one, Pahoua and I are old school so hopefully the abbreviations mean something to you, MOA or MIA?

Alex West Steinman:

Well, I have two little kids, five and seven years old, and they would kill me if I didn't say the Mall of America. So MOA for sure.

Nadege Souvenir:

Oh, perfect. All right. Well, thank you for indulging us in that. So before we kind of jump into this conversation, I wanted to share this meme, I think I saw it on Facebook first, but I've since seen it like 17 more times because everybody keeps sharing it. So I'm going to read it to you and just see how that hits you. And it goes like this, "You are totally replaceable at work. You are not replaceable at home. Home is your real life. Keep that perspective always."

Alex West Steinman:

Wow. It speaks to how much stock we put into our workplace being such a strong part of our identities, and so much so maybe that we forget about the other pieces of our lives. I've certainly been there as a working parent, as an entrepreneur, and previously, having worked in advertising and in corporate settings. So yeah, it resonates deeply. I think we do. It's a good reminder that we're more than our paycheck, we're more than our job.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Alex, for those who don't know you, other than the quick bio snaps that I've already spoke about, you are the co- founder and CEO of The Coven.

Alex West Steinman:

Yes.

Pahoua Hoffman:

And I wanted to ask ...

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:10:04]

Pahoua Hoffman:

... co-founder and CEO of The Coven. I wanted to ask you, what was it already like at the Coven pre-COVID?

Alex West Steinman:

So when we started The Coven, we did it because we knew that women, non-binary and trans folks, needed the physical and psychological safety that it takes to develop a bias for risk taking and action. And that's really what The Coven has been all about. It's about gathering in communities, being together, and supporting one another. And so not only do we have the physical coworking space where people gather and connect, but we offer a number of events, they used to be in person, around personal and professional development to really help you take that next step in your career or launch your business baby. And so really, what it was like there was just this bustling community of, it was at the time, about 500 people.

Pahoua Hoffman:

I didn't realize it was so many, 500.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, that's a lot.

Alex West Steinman:

Well now we're at about 1,000 members, so we've done better coming out of the pandemic, I'll tell you now that people are, we gathering, I'm sure we'll talk a little bit more about that too. But really before it was all about being in person and gathering and connecting with one another.

Nadege Souvenir:

So, I'd love to touch a little bit about how COVID fundamentally changed, I think, some of the core, because you talked about gathering and you talked about space and The Coven spaces are physically gorgeous. When COVID hit, what changed? How did you have to pivot the way that you worked?

Alex West Steinman:

Yeah, it's a great question and a good story. I think. It shows the resilience of our business. We opened the St. Paul location, which is our second location, just six weeks before COVID hit really strongly and caused a lot of people to close their doors, either temporarily or permanently. And so we had a celebration of about 300 people in our St. Paul Location, which is wild to think about all of those other humans in one spot. But it was such an amazing celebration. So many folks from both cities and across the state came to see what is this business all about and what does this expansion mean for the community? And when we had to close our doors just six weeks later, it wasn't even a question to us that we had to keep our community connected.

Alex West Steinman:

Within 24 hours of temporarily shutting our doors for safety of our community, we launched a digital option for folks to engage with us virtually. And so, we started hosting Zoom events, two to three a day, what maybe it was a coffee check-in in the morning, a lunch work session where people could co-work together virtually and then maybe an evening, either happy hour or a learning opportunity where we would tap a expert in a specific topic to come and speak on how do you ask for more money when you're now stuck at home? How do you start a business in this new economy? And it was a lot of learning for the first handful of months. I'd say we're still learning how to engage and how people want to learn.

Alex West Steinman:

It was so incredible. We partnered with many different organizations, Lunar Startups for one, to host entrepreneurial events to make sure that our community had the resources that they needed because there were so many grant opportunities and things that resources and survival strategies that were coming out that not everybody had access to. And so that was really where we focused our energy and we doubled our membership in four months because people were so interested in needing to belong and needing to stay connected to one another.

Nadege Souvenir:

That's really fantastic. But I'm not going to pretend that I didn't catch that you said within 24 hours we-

Pahoua Hoffman:

That's what I want to know.

Nadege Souvenir:

And I'm thinking back to you have small humans, you have the family to take care of. Tell me how you managed and navigated this fundamental shift and how you balance the everything of it all.

Alex West Steinman:

First of all, my husband is also an entrepreneur and works a corporate job. And so we both have an understanding that we're going to figure it out together. And we've been together since high school, so we've pretty much grown up together and know when one needs to step up and the other needs to do what they need to do to keep the business running. And when I think about balance, I think about it as an action. It's not something that it's not the destination. It's not somewhere that I'm constantly aspiring to be. It's when you balance on a one foot, all the muscles in your foot are moving. All the muscles in your body are pivoting and changing. And that's really what I think of balance as. There are days where I get to put my kids to bed and there are days where I get to make sure that my business is still running. And they don't have to be mutually exclusive, but I find that taking the pressure off of seeking balance really helps as an entrepreneur and knowing that there's other people who are going through the same thing. You know you're not alone in this. I think our community is what really keeps me going in those moments of, "Holy crap."

Pahoua Hoffman:

I love that image of balance. I like it that you describe it not as a static position. You are engaging many different aspects of your life to find that balance. I love that. Thanks Alex.

Alex West Steinman:

Yeah. Well, and it's not easy. I think when you have kids, they have expectations of you and they're not static either. They're constantly changing,

Nadege Souvenir:

They are definitely not static.

Pahoua Hoffman:

No.

Alex West Steinman:

Yeah, yeah. They're constantly changing and their needs are changing. And my kids went to elementary school for the first time this year, which brings on a whole other slew of activities and parent obligations that I've never done before. So, I take those things in stride of always learning and new things don't scare me.

Pahoua Hoffman:

So when you did flip the switch and started a virtual community for your members, what were some of the things you learned? What were people in need of? And certainly they were already in need of a community, but what else in that virtual space? What were some things that surprised you?

Alex West Steinman:

I think one thing that surprised me was the continued need of belonging. I think you can't undervalue that. I think community is one thing like being in proximity to one another, but really feeling like you belong in that space is different. When we opened our physical spaces, that was key for us was how do you create a space where marginalized communities feel welcome? And the spaces for them, folks who traditionally are left out of room, see themselves in the room. And I think it's harder to translate that virtually because you can't feel people's energy through the internet. And so that was something that we had to learn how to do, and maybe it was a few check-ins before we started programming, where we would check in with folks and say, "Hey, how are you doing? Before we talk about this really complex subject, like finance, let's talk about how you're doing mentally and emotionally and opening it up for people to be vulnerable in this space."

Alex West Steinman:

Us as founders being really vulnerable in this space really gives of that opportunity and space to step into belonging. And I think our community in general has just been so incredible with one another. But that was a real surprising thing for me was that it wasn't just flipping the switch. It wasn't literal. It wasn't like just we could immediately make what we did physically digitally. And it took some time to navigate how do we do that? But I think our community told us what to do. People opened up about what they wanted to see. And I think that's the key here. It's consistent listening. I think that's what a lot of organizations are trying to do now is, how do we listen and then hold ourselves accountable to our people?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. What you're saying I'm hearing all over from folks in all sorts of industries. So we all pivoted and jumped into new things. And I think we all learned some things that we didn't need to do anymore that we were doing all the time before COVID.

Pahoua Hoffman:

That we thought-

Nadege Souvenir:

That we thought were critical and important and that you couldn't undo them. Did you have any of those ahas? Do you have any things that you're like, "I'm not going back to that. We're not going back to that. It's unnecessary."

Alex West Steinman:

I think there's this notion of boundary setting that's really important. When you're an entrepreneur, you shed all your boundaries, because you're just hell bent on keeping this thing alive. It's like when you have a baby, it's like, "Well, the baby needs to eat, so there's no sleep for me." And I think that's one of the things that I think I learned throughout COVID was I got to have some kind of boundaries because I do have actual babies who need to eat and they need my attention in this really uncertain time. And it was hard to do that when I'm working long hours into the night because there is no separation from work and home physically anymore.

Alex West Steinman:

And so I had to consistently remind myself to check those boundaries, to turn off the computer, to turn off my phone, to leave my devices in another room and really engage with my kids and my family at home. And it made me much more healthy mentally doing that. And I think that practice is something that I'll continue to work on. There is no going back to normal, but we've certainly stepped into whatever this new phase of a pandemic is where people are seeing each other in person, my kids are going to school, I get to work from wherever I want. But it's still easy to just plow through and keep working when they come home. So I think that's one thing that I definitely learned, and that I think all of us as co-founders, and as a team have imparted with our staff as, "You got to turn it off and this is an okay time to turn it off.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Thank you, Alex. Any advice that you would give businesses, employers, employees on how to take COVID learnings into the future?

Alex West Steinman:

I think there's this idea that your identity is wrapped in your workplace and that's certainly true. So many people feel like their careers are a definer of their lives. What we're seeing with this great resignation or great reset or whatever we want to call it, where people are leaving their organizations because they-

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:20:04]

Alex West Steinman:

... reset or whatever we want to call it, where people are leaving their organizations because they don't feel connected to them. They don't feel valued. They don't feel like they belong there anymore. That is something to think about. It might be that they're not getting paid enough, but it might also be that they don't feel like they belong in that space. We just recently did a study about identity in the workplace, and it happened to be pre-COVID and it really resonates with post-COVID notions of especially women, non-binary, trans folks, people of color and black women who are saying hey, this isn't where I want to be because I don't see myself here, I don't belong here.

Alex West Steinman:

If organizations are not going to take the actions needed to make belonging a part of their values, a part of their mission and really put action towards it and then hold themselves accountable to it, they're going to continue to see people leave. We've been working with a lot of different organizations to help them build more inclusive workspaces and that's something that we're really passionate about, because we certainly don't want to hold to chest whatever magic we have in our space, we think that everyone deserves a better future of work. I think it's important for employers to recognize that they don't have to have all of the answers, but they do need to do something, and that involves listening, taking action and holding themselves accountable.

Nadege Souvenir:

That is perfect advice, so all of you listening take it and run with it. Alex thank you so much for spending some time with us today and chatting about work and COVID and life. We want to let you get back to those small humans because they deserve as much of your time as you make available to them.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Thank you Alex.

Alex West Steinman:

Thank you so much it's been a pleasure.

Pahoua Hoffman:

All right, and now we are joined by Melissa Muro LaMere Melissa. Hi Melissa thank you for joining us.

Nadege Souvenir:

Hi Melissa.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Thank you so much, I'm so happy to be with you.

Pahoua Hoffman:

All right Melissa so before we kick off every conversation, every interview, we do this thing where we ask our guests three quick questions. You ready?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

I am.

Pahoua Hoffman:

First question, spring or fall?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Fall no doubt.

Pahoua Hoffman:

All right you're-

Nadege Souvenir:

That was really assertive and definitive.

Pahoua Hoffman:

This is a lawyer talking. Harry Styles or Harry Belafonte?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Belafonte.

Pahoua Hoffman:

All right. MOA or MIA?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Oh, that's tough. I love to shop I'm not going to pretend, but I have to go MIA.

Pahoua Hoffman:

All right awesome, thank you.

Nadege Souvenir:

All right. Man I love that you were just on it with those answers.

Pahoua Hoffman:

The most decisive guest we've had so far.

Nadege Souvenir:

I would say so. Melissa before we started talking with you we had a chance to talk to Alex West Steinman about her work, life and experiences during COVID, and some of the learnings she picked up, and her perspective as founder of The Coven. A very interesting and maybe different space than a partner at a law firm at Maslon LLP. We'd really love to talk to you about that same experience but from your vantage point because you came at it very differently. I'm just going to kick it off and say before COVID, if you can remember, can you remember?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

I think so. I have to try but yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

When you think about work and life and balance, what was that for you?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

There was very little balance involved certainly. Oh, okay actually no, we're talking pre-COVID, right? Pre-COVID that looked a lot like, well it looked pretty similar to now I guess what I'll say is, because I think as a lawyer and maybe especially as you progress through the ranks at a law firm, you are on call all the time. It's not like I can shut off at 5:00 or 6:00 and spend hours upon hours with my family and then clock back in, in the morning. With phones and remote access even when you were working primarily in an office, I was on all the time. But my kids were in school, like physically in school, my husband went to work. So there would definitely be days when I could choose to work from home and catch up on laundry or throw dinner in a little early. If I could do that once or twice a week it would feel like I could achieve something resembling balance, but it was always sort of haphazard I will say.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Okay. So you've said pre-COVID and post-COVID there might not been a lot of difference for you. But post-COVID now, so we've been in COVID almost two years. What are some of the differences?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

The biggest differences are that things blend together. When you primarily work in an office, you can leave some things behind and you can plan what work you're taking home for the day, you can map out how much time you're going to spend logged in and really engaged with your work from home. That's a lot harder to do when the lines become really blurry and you're just working all the time. My schedule has really changed because I can no longer control it. A big part of that frankly is childcare. My kids, I've got three kids, a nine-year-old and twins that are five. When the world shut down they were just home. I'm an employment lawyer and so I was at my very busiest because my clients were in crisis. They were in crisis, they needed help.

Nadege Souvenir:

Absolutely.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Oh my gosh. The whole blending thing that you just mentioned, the jury's still out with me. I don't know whether I like that. What about you? Was it nice to have your kids with you? Because as someone who's been on Zoom and you've been on Zoom, it was such a nice break to see the kids in the background in the middle of the meeting, but I'm guessing it might not be all that fun for you or the parents that I know.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

There wasn't a lot of sleep involved, so that part got old really fast. I am one of those people who tries to look for silver linings, I think probably most of us do. There was I think an increased closeness among my kids. I did like getting to see them and their relationship grow as siblings, that's something that I really enjoy. There's like a real a lot of diminishing returns, like it kicked in pretty quickly. I very much would have liked to send them to a safe and competent facility for several hours a day pretty quickly there.

Nadege Souvenir:

I suppose that makes sense. I certainly had the luxury of a college aged daughter, so I didn't have to worry about that, but I completely understand. Melissa thinking about law firms and my vague memory of what that life was like, how are you seeing changes being implemented as a result of COVID? Obviously everyone went home and figured out how to work remotely, but now we're creeping back in. What are you seeing that's different than it was before?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

You know this Nadege, we are a single office law firm in Minneapolis, downtown Minneapolis. We've always had a not just primary work from the office model, but a basically exclusive work from the office model. As we've been remote for the last more than a year and a half now, and seen that we can do it, our people can get the work done and do it really well, and we have to get creative about building culture and maintaining culture and connecting teams. We can achieve the goals of our clients and of our firm in a remote environment, has caused us to evaluate who we're willing to hire and where from. We've actually just hired two or three attorneys who are out of state and do not intend to relocate here.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

That is a big change for us, and I know that other firms are doing something similar. I think it's especially important for firms that are in places like Minnesota, that may not be the most diverse. All of a sudden you realize holy cow, I can recruit people from anywhere, I'm not limited to the pool of applicants that are physically located here. You can really reach a different segment of pool of candidates than you could otherwise. It has allowed us to recruit some really fabulous attorneys from historically excluded communities that we couldn't have hired if we had remained very stuck in that primarily office environment.

Pahoua Hoffman:

That is a silver lining for sure.

Nadege Souvenir:

I think that's like the big gold star, that's amazing. Just thinking about all of the challenges that all industries but it's the legal industry thinking about recruiting. I love that you all are doing that now.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

You know I think it takes... There are some firms that are primarily remote and always have been, and so there was very little adjustment for them involved in this as a result of the pandemic. But it took seeing this really work out for a while for us to believe that it could work. The next challenge of course is figuring out now how do you help those new attorneys or those new employees feel like they are connected to you and they have some meaningful role on the team? How do you build culture or replicate your culture or evolve your culture in a way that really includes them?

Pahoua Hoffman:

Thank you. What about, well when we talked with Alex she mentioned that sense of belonging was really important too. So it's good that you're thinking about ways in which you might do that with these new employees that will be joining you. Certainly that's something that you're going to keep. Are there any things you would get rid of?

Melissa Muro LaMere:

I listened to your first episode I loved it.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Oh, thank you so much.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

One of-

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:30:04]

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Your first episode, I loved it.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Oh, thank you so much. [crosstalk]

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Yeah.

Pahoua Hoffman:

You might be the first guest who's told us that.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Well, and you were talking a lot about dress codes and how we've seen how that stuff doesn't matter anymore.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yes.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Or at least shouldn't. I think that the legal profession is probably going to be fairly slow to adapt that mindset. But I hope that we do. I hope that we can recognize that these people that we have seen in action, we know to be really talented professionals for the last year and a half, two years, that they are still those same competent people when they show up in jeans and a T-shirt. Right?

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yeah.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

So I hope that we do away with these stodgy ideas about what a professional looks like. And I have to offer a quick story there.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Please.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Because, so Nadege and I go way back.

Nadege Souvenir:

We do.

Pahoua Hoffman:

It's what I've heard.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

In fact, when I was not, I had not yet worked a day at this law firm, but I knew Nadege and knew, I had met her through the interview process and I knew that she worked here and she was the only person that I felt comfortable asking, "What do I do about my tattoo?

Pahoua Hoffman:

Hmm.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Do I have to keep my tattoo covered? You know? She gave me some good advice and it was based on what, how things would be perceived here and how it wouldn't be. And I was very appreciative of that. Very appreciative that she made me feel comfortable enough to ask that question. So now I'm really enjoying seeing attorneys show up when we do have in-person events, openly showing their tattoos and having no qualms about it. And nobody else has any qualms about it either. Right?

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yeah.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

We are evolving. And so I hope we can take that to the next level, and just really embrace that when people feel comfortable showing up authentically, that's a retention tool.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Right.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

This is not, we're not flipping in our standards. We are allowing people to be themselves and bring their A-game to the work. And that's important.

Pahoua Hoffman:

I love that. I love that because that really gets to it. And I love the fact that if somebody asked me that same question now, Melissa, as good as I thought my advice was to you then based on current standards, I would give them totally different advice now.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

You would?

Pahoua Hoffman:

And I'm so glad we're at that point. It's always so great to talk you and to reminisce down memory lane a little bit. And before we wrap up, we just want to give you one last opportunity to share anything that really maybe stuck with you from the last 18 months, two years, that you're really going to take with you as you think about the future of work and the future of life, and the commingling of the two.

Nadege Souvenir:

Absolutely. I have the great privilege of meeting a lot of different clients, business owners, and business leaders in my job. I've learned a lot about what makes a successful enterprise and what can hold organizations back.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Melissa Muro LaMere:

The thing that I really hope those successful entrepreneurial organizations think about right now is that the remote environment is a real opportunity for you to evaluate what it is about your in-person environment that has made it difficult to achieve your diversity, equity and inclusion objective. I think in particular about this study that came out earlier this year, early 2021, by Slack, it was the Future Forum, I think, is what it's called.

Pahoua Hoffman:

All right.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

But it's an organization put together by Slack, that found that only 3% of black knowledge workers were willing to go back to the office full-time. But seven times that many white knowledge workers were.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Wow.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

What is it? What is it that makes the in-person workplace so untenable for black workers and how does that extend to other workers of color? And what can we do right now to change our culture so that our employees are no longer feeling so excluded that they can only work if they don't have to be around us? So I hope that employers are thinking about that. I hope that organizations are thinking about that, and that they're really making and a genuine commitment to that vulnerable reflection that's required to build a sense of belonging and inclusion for employees.

Pahoua Hoffman:

That is a powerful message to leave absolutely with us.

Nadege Souvenir:

Absolutely.

Pahoua Hoffman:

And to our listeners. So thank you for that.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Thank you. Such a pleasure to be with you.

Pahoua Hoffman:

It was great talking to you, Melissa.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah.

Melissa Muro LaMere:

Great talking to you. Bye-bye.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Bye. Okay. Wow, Nadege. Those were amazing conversations. First with Alex and then with Melissa.

Nadege Souvenir:

I can't agree any more. It was just so fascinating how different they are in the work that they do and how they show up, at how similar they are in that, that core value.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

That core value of making sure we carry forward the belonging and letting people show up as they really are, was part of both conversations.

Pahoua Hoffman:

Creating that space for people. You're absolutely right, so that they can show up as their full selves.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah. Always thankful when we get to have smart people tell us things to give us things to chew on.

Nadege Souvenir:

Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You. You can find us on Facebook at: I So Appreciate You Podcast and on Twitter and Instagram at So Appreciate You.

Pahoua Hoffman:

We'd also appreciate you taking a moment to leave us a review. And if you like our show, be sure to follow I So Appreciate You on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you're listening to us right now.

Nadege Souvenir:

Have a question or a topic suggestion, email us at: podcast@spmcf.org. Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You.

PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [00:36:17]



Episode 4

ISAY co-hosts Nadege and Pahoua, along with special guest Philomena Morrissey Satre, Director of Diversity & Inclusion and External Strategic Partnerships at Land O'Lakes, explore aging in the workplace and how this unaddressed diversity and inclusion issue affects employees.

Episode References:

Yet another hurdle for women at work: Their age, Employee Benefit News

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Hey welcome everyone to I So Appreciate You! An honest, raw and sometimes funny podcast about work, community, life and all the other stuff we juggle. Hi, I'm Pahoua.

Nadege Souvenir:

And I'm Nadege, and we're colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. In addition to that, we're friends. And so when we talk, our conversations can run the gamut. We can start talking about board meetings and governments procedures. We can get into mother/daughter dynamics, and then we can be like, where are we going to dinner tonight?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I prefer that conversation. And so we thought that maybe some of you would like to join us in conversations. So here we are with I So Appreciate You! Welcome everybody. Today we are talking about aging. Today we'll be joined by Philomena Morrissey Satre, Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Strategic Partnerships at Land O'Lakes. So I'm really excited to have on a bit.

Nadege Souvenir:

How are you doing today?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I'm okay today. How about you?

Nadege Souvenir:

Not bad. Pretty good. But I was getting ready for the episode doing a little research and I found this quote and I don't love it. So I'm about to share it with you so you cannot love it with me.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay. Ready?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay. "As women show visible signs of aging, they are viewed as less competent and less marketable."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

You're right. I don't love it.

Nadege Souvenir:

I mean, what?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That doesn't make any sense.

Nadege Souvenir:

It absolutely doesn't make any sense and I hate it. And then at the same time, I started thinking about what I do in my life and I thought, oh-oh, I might actually be living out this quote. Like I might actually be doing things to make myself seem more youthful maybe for this reason. I don't know. Do you do anything you think might be relevant to this quote?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I can't say I don't do anything.

Nadege Souvenir:

We're going to tell everyone right now.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay. What do I do to stave off aging is what you're asking me?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay. Oh my gosh. Now the whole world's going to know.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I color my hair.

Nadege Souvenir:

What?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Grays are coming in, but I'm just not ready for it. And until I can have a full head of silver hair, which I find beautiful, I just can't do the one here, two there. I'm just not ready.

Nadege Souvenir:

So you're looking at me and I'm like, I feel attacked because that's what's happening to me. The one there, two there, this little patch in the corner. I hate it. I hate it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So in addition to hair, I probably spent too much on skincare.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

You look at me like you don't do that and you probably don't do it.

Nadege Souvenir:

I mean, let's be honest. There's a massive industry on that. We're probably not alone.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I hope we're not alone because they're really good at marketing to me. I'm a sucker for good packaging. All right, what about you?

Nadege Souvenir:

I don't know. Maybe clothing because there was a time, no lie, when I was at the beginning of my career, there used to be stores that I would walk by and be like, "I can't shop there. That's too matronly." I know that that's not even supposed to be [crosstalk 00:02:58].

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I want to ask you what those stores are-

Nadege Souvenir:

No, I'm not going to do that.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

... maybe they don't exist anymore.

Nadege Souvenir:

Or maybe I shop there now and I'm horrified.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. Okay. Clothing.

Nadege Souvenir:

The thing is, I still see some of those stores and think that, so I don't know if I'm ignoring where I ought to be or just trying to avoid the reality.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

Let's see. Lashes. So I get lashes extensions. So I can have the fluttery eyes.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I've been admiring those, wondering if I too should, but I don't know that I can, I rub my eyes. That's not going to work for me.

Nadege Souvenir:

That would actually not be worth the cost of that. Okay, so here's the thing we are talking about this, we're doing all of this stuff. Are our male counterparts having this conversation?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I want to say I hope they are, but I doubt they are as often as women do.

Nadege Souvenir:

I mean, I feel like we award the salt and pepper hair.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I'm trying to think of actors right now who have that salt and pepper hair and we think amazing.

Nadege Souvenir:

I mean, don't we swoon over the George Clooney and whomever else and they're just amazing and great. And especially when they're in movies where their co-star is 30 years younger than them and we're supposed to believe that [crosstalk 00:04:10].

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And that happens a lot by the way.

Nadege Souvenir:

Al the time.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

It happens a lot.

Nadege Souvenir:

Where are the mature, amazing and phenomenal women having these lead roles and I don't know, having their male partners?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Having a younger love interest.

Nadege Souvenir:

I know.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. So let's talk about that some more. What are some of those?

Nadege Souvenir:

Some of those movies.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir:

Oh good Lord. I feel like it's so many of them. Well, there's Lost in Translation.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I love that movie and that's what I thought of when you mention actors, because I think here's Bill Murray. So if you've not seen Lost in Translation, Lost in Translation, I just got lost in translation there, but this is a movie, she and Bill Murray meet up, they're staying in the same hotel. Her husband is away and he's a photographer. They're in Tokyo.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So big energy.

Nadege Souvenir:

But they're like peers, they're set up like they're equals. And they're like that's the relationship. And I'm going to contrast that with, okay, so there's that movie then you have Carrie-Anne Moss from The Matrix. Okay. First of all, bow down, she looked amazing in those movies, it was great. And I remember an article or an interview where she said basically the day she turned 40, she got offered a grandmother role.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Oh my God. We're over 40.

Nadege Souvenir:

I know.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right Nadege. Enough about the movie examples. Let's talk about real life workplaces.

Nadege Souvenir:

Like the fact that there are surveys and studies that say are careers peak at 45. You mean that real world?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I know. That's like right now. I'm peaking.

Nadege Souvenir:

I know. I've almost peaked. I don't know. I think about that and that seems crazy to me because it feels like not that long ago I was looking at people like me.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, we were looking up to people our age now.

Nadege Souvenir:

We were asking for their time and their experience and wisdom. And we were like, we're going to be like them. We're going to be amazing. And here we are and now we're-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

We're there.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And we're at the peak, which means it's downhill from here.

Nadege Souvenir:

No.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I mean, I don't want to think that, but that's what gives me that image in my head.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay. But here's the thing, we know it can't be downhill.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

No.

Nadege Souvenir:

Because those women that we were looking at they're still crushing it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

We're still looking up to them.

Nadege Souvenir:

We're still looking up to them. We still want their advice and we still need to know how to navigate the universe or the road ahead of us, right?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Probably more so now.

Nadege Souvenir:

I think that's absolutely right. So it feels like instead of guessing, I mean our guest today, I think it's going to be the perfect person to have this conversation with us.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I can't wait for our conversation when we get back, we'll be joined by Philomena Morrissey Satre to get her candid wisdom.

Nadege Souvenir:

Art in this present moment is an initiative of the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation that supports the work of BIPOC artists throughout Minnesota. Through their craft, these artists honor their communities and aim to challenge and change dominant narrative, Meet this year's artists and view their work in our digital art gallery at www.spmcf.org/art. Welcome back. We are so excited to welcome our guest, Philomena Morrissey Satre. Philomena, before we dive in with any guest, we ask everyone three quick questions.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

All right.

Nadege Souvenir:

Are you ready?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I am ready.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay. Are you an early riser or a night owl?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Okay. Totally a Lark. Lark is my favorite time of the day.

Nadege Souvenir:

Amazing. Not me, but mountains or the desert?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Mountains for sure.

Nadege Souvenir:

Oh, that was quick.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. Decisive.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay. Soda or pop?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I don't drink either. So I would say I grew up with pop.

Nadege Souvenir:

All right.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

All right. There we go.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. Well, we received your bio Philomena and we could spend the whole episode talking about all of your experiences in the twin cities. So much great stuff, but we're going to highlight a few things for our listeners. You are a genuinely fun person.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Thank you.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

You were named the inaugural AARP Minnesota and Pollen 50 over 50 list. You've been involved with corporate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts since way back when.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Way back when.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And you are currently Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Strategic Partnerships at Land O'Lakes, did I get any of that wrong?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

You have it all right.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So much fabulousness. All right, I'm going to get right into our conversation. So piece of advice Philomena that I received earlier in my career from a female friend who at the time was over 60. She advised me not to stay in the same job or company too long. That women were treated differently for their loyalty. And that I may have a harder time later when trying to make a career move. And she was speaking to me from her own experience as someone who devoted nearly 25 years to an organization. She's been told that she didn't have enough different experience. Has had trouble reinventing herself. Something she did not see men having as much of a challenge with, even when they've only been in one job. What gives?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yes, Philomena solve all of our problems.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Well, we're going to talk about world peace today, right?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That's right.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

And so I'll speak for my own experience first. I had worked in financial services for 29 years at the same organization. I had nine different roles while I was there. And so I didn't have that experience myself, but I have seen that with others. But I think a piece of it is, especially as a woman, how do I continue to build my network in my organization and outside of my organization? And so whether that means you're on a community board or you volunteer, or you're in a professional association, whatever, so that you continue to build your network. So if you ever get to that point where you're like, I don't love what I do where I do anymore, which happened to me, then at least I had opportunities to talk with people and network and say, now I'm ready.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, I know you have kids.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Right.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

How did you do all that?

Nadege Souvenir:

It's hard.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

It is hard being really intentional. Okay. And I had really good advice. I had a fabulous manager back in the day when our kids were little, I was in grad school and working.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Oh my goodness.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

And what she said to me at that point in time when I was in her office, she's like, "You look tired." And I was like, "I am." And we just cried in her office. And she's like, "Okay." And in her kindest voice, she said to me, "Philomena, when you say yes to something, you say no to something else." And that was like a powerful defining moment in my career because then I was like, I think, especially as women, we have the tendency to say yes to everything.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Guilty.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Right?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

And so then how do we better differentiate what aligns with my values? What do I have to do when I have a choice? What do I choose to do? And that was really helpful for me just to be able to think about being more intentional.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That is awesome. And by the way, shout out to the managers who lets us cry in the office with them.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. That's real. Sometimes you need a good cry.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

My mom is from Ireland so a 100% Irish on both sides, we embrace crying, the Irish do. And so I always tell people that if you have to cry, you can cry with me.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. Got my crying buddy.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right, exactly. So you talked about making moves at your first organization, but I wonder now or later in your career, do you see that same pathway for making moves? Because I hear women. I've had this conversation with a friend who actually scoped out for me, "Well, I will be 56 in this many years and that'll be my window where I can be a leader and people will look at me and seriously consider me for this job." She literally had a age bracket situation mapped out. Do you see you that? Have you heard that?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Absolutely. And Pahoua and I served on the aging commission for the State of Minnesota.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

We did.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Right. And we traveled the state and heard different stories and things like that.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Also got stuck in an airport trying to get to our location.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Yes, for many hours.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Nadege Souvenir:

And never got to the location.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Never did we get to the location. I think this is presumed. Do you remember that?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Yes. It was presumed. It was presumed. I do a lot of career workshops and many times I will have people asking me that same question. Like should I dye my hair? Do I have to wear a different outfit? Do I have to do things so I look younger, feel younger? And I say, take a step back and when you're looking for opportunity, find organizations that value experience, right? Because there's organizations you can go to where they value young, fast and friendly, right? Like that's it, you hit that wall. But what if instead you're like, hey, where are organizations that really do value this? And that's where I'm going to spend my energy.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

How do you know though? Does there big sciences we value?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

No. You have to do your research and talk with people who work there, right?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

So when I was 28 years in my former role, then I was like, okay, I'm going to start networking. I'm going to start talking with people and I'm to get insider information, because if you're talking with a recruiter, will you be able to assess that or the hiring manager? Maybe or not, but when you talk about culture, right? Those are some questions to really learn more about. But the organizations that I was interviewing with, I tried to find out who do I know, who someone who might work there so I can validate that, right? Because if I pretend to be who I am, and then I get hired based on that I'm not authentic then what happens when I get into that organization, right?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Versus I'm like, hey, this is who I am. Take me for my skills and abilities. Then if I don't get hired, then I don't get hired.

Nadege Souvenir:

So thinking about this, that's really good advice to look for places that value experience. But I'm also thinking about this advice and Pahoua and I chatted about this, are our male colleagues worried about this? Are they having these same conversations?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I have had these same conversations with men as well.

Nadege Souvenir:

Really?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I have, yes. How I've seen it, being involved in this work especially from a diversity perspective, there are so many dimensions of diversity where maybe we have made progress or there's been more attention to it, age is not one. And so I think people freely make disparaging comments, whether you're too young or you're too old or what is the right age then?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Right. And so I think the question is how do we better, and this is what I talk about at Land O'Lakes, how do we better value age align the continuum. And how do we better understand and appreciate that I may be different from you, but there are some things that experience or someone who's just starting have, right? And what if we work together versus against, or have these stereotypes and bias that pull us apart.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So if men are also having these conversations. What are similarities between the conversations you're having or been having with women and the ones you're having with men? What are the similarities and differences?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Okay. I think a big difference from my experience is that women will ask for help.

Nadege Souvenir:

Interesting.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Women talk about these things with other, right? And share what am I really feeling? And for men that I've met with who have been in career transition, and they're looking for something different, it takes a while to get to that place, right? Where there is trust or they feel like I can talk about these things because they're much more guarded.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That rings true to me. I can't remember Philomena, if we heard this together, when we were in a shift meeting or maybe we were part of that coalition, but I heard that women we talk about these things eye to eye, at a coffee shop with each other. And Nadege and I are often in a happy hour talking about these work things, but that men are shoulder to shoulder. They'll talk about while they're fishing, while they're doing stuff, but that it's not an eye to eye conversation like the way women have it. Do you remember that?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I do remember that. And I think there's a lot of truth to that. I've even found that with our boys, I would have the best conversations when we were driving someplace when they didn't have to look at me or riding our bikes or hiking or whatever, right?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I'm going to try that tonight up with my husband, just have this deep conversation while we're in a car.

Nadege Souvenir:

I thought that with like middle school students, I had the best conversations with my daughter or actually to be fair, the best overhearing of her conversations with her friends in the car. They forget you're driving.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Exactly. That's the best place to hear.

Nadege Souvenir:

Not to get us like totally off track. But what I think is fascinating about you saying that this experience is very much shared, is I think that there's a perspective or maybe I know, I sometimes see it where in certain roles you can see men grooming other men for the succession path.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Right.

Nadege Souvenir:

And I can't say that I have seen that as clearly woman to woman or a man to woman. And how can we create those pipelines? Because they're really important, particularly at some of those key leadership levels.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

They are. And I love that you said that because I think what can be powerful too, is when we can have these cross gender relationships, right?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yes. Agreed.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Because throughout my career, especially working in HR, a lot of my mentors have been women. And when I was looking to transition, it was just a miracle because I had a male leader who stepped in and I just had been talking about my transition. And what was really powerful about it is I do have positivity in my top five strengths and I would try to put a positive spin on the work conditions, the relationship with my manager that I was struggling with, and he's like cut the bull.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

And it was powerful for me because I was trying to put on this face, right? That everything was okay. And it gave me the freedom to be like, okay, I don't have to pretend, this is the reality that I'm in. And I don't know would I have gotten that same advice from a female leader, she probably would've been super empathetic with me and understanding.

Nadege Souvenir:

Interesting.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

But be real. Okay. Tell me what's really happening. I was like, okay. But so I think that that can be really helpful for us to think about is having a mentor or being a mentor to someone who is different from us. Whether that's culture, whether that's gender, whatever the difference is because we all have such perspectives that we can share with each other.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That is amazing.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. I'm like sitting with that a little bit.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, what I'm thinking, I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, maybe I've not been that assertive with my guidance of people who come to me, young people who come to me now, maybe I've just been over the empathetic." Not that that's not bad.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. No, it's necessary sometimes.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

But maybe I need to sometimes cut through that.

Nadege Souvenir:

I have so many things rolling through my head right now. So my brain is trying to get there.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, I want to know if positivity is a top five, I want to know what the other four are. So I'm not going to let us go beyond that until we figure this part out.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Okay. Strategic.

Nadege Souvenir:

I've got that one too.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

So I love to look into the future, right? Maximizer. So how do I bring the most to whatever situation I'm in. Positivity arranger. So with all my friends I plan what's going on. And just to let you know that I alter all my college friends and I turned 60. So you'll have to ask me about summer of 60 and now fall of 60, but I've been arranging things with that. And then I never can remember the last one. I think that was four.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Thank you for sharing that. I like the arranger. I'm the arranger in my group. How about you?

Nadege Souvenir:

Sometimes. Not always. It's not always fun. Sometimes you don't want to be the arranger.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I know you want to just sit back and have someone else plan.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. Absolutely. I'm thinking about what you just said about mentoring or being mentored by someone different than you, but then also thinking about the reality that we still face, you work in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts is that we still have a supremacist culture that we're still trying to break and unpack. And so have you ever found a challenge in mentoring someone or working with somebody who maybe isn't naturally aligned with that culture and feeling like you have conflicting advice to give them? Like I want to say this, but I can see that if you do that, that will be the better path for you.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I think a piece of it is having that trust with the other person having built that, right?

Nadege Souvenir:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Because once you have that trust with that other person, then you can more freely give that advice or ask those powerful questions maybe for them to be able to get at that point versus telling, right? And especially certain personalities, I have a couple at my household. They don't like the telling so I have to think about powerful questions that I can ask that might get them thinking about, right?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I like that. What's an example of a powerful question for our listeners. Like that sounds right Philomena but what does that mean?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

What type of careers?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah. So I'm going to come to you for some advice. So I'm looking at my career trajectory and I want to be a... I'm just making some stuff up, a CEO.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

You do want to be a CEO though. Nadege wants to be a CEO someday, she's coming to you.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah, I'm coming to you. That's what I want to do. And what are things that I can do in my current role that can help expand my skillset outside of my role?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Yeah. So I would probably start with, why do you want to become a CEO? What's your why? Right? So then once I better understand that, is it the leading, is it the strategy, is it whatever, whatever, then digging deeper into what skills do you have right now. And then where might you need to develop and can you develop in your current role or maybe it's through a volunteer experience, right? Or maybe is something outside of work that's going to be able to help you do that, or is it additional education maybe, or a certification. What is it that might help you put that package together?

Nadege Souvenir:

Now this is just me probing, have you ever been in a position where you might be mentoring somebody and having those conversations and maybe going through that analysis and you perceive, this might be the way you should do it, but you Philomena being as thoughtful as you are, you haven't told them. You've asked all the guiding questions and they totally go backwards and around the corner from where you were hoping to guide them. Have you ever experienced that? And I'm curious did it work out for them or did you feel like, oh, if you'd only done what I was hoping you would do.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

But sometimes I think if someone does go around the block the other way, then maybe that wasn't the right place to go, right?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Because a lot of times you might think like my eye was a public in poli sci major, I thought I wanted to have amazing career in the government, did an internship, one experience, bad internship changed my whole trajectory. Now what if that would've been an amazing experience? Would I be where I am today? I might be on a totally different path. And so that's how I look at it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, I Want to go back to this topic that we're talking earlier about finding organizations who value experience. We hire at the foundation. What are the things that we should do as hiring managers, at the places where we work? Our listeners are probably hiring managers. What are those things that we should be doing or doing better to make the workplace more I don't know if accessible is the right word, but more welcoming of people with experience?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Well, I think a piece of it is looking at your position description or job description or whatever you call it. What are you looking for? And do you unintentionally exclude by the language that's in there, right? Like someone early in their career, right? Or why couldn't someone who maybe had more experience apply for that. So what does that look like? Does the hiring manager have certain organizations that they only want to recruit from? What if you recruited more broadly and sent it out to different organizations where you're going to have more difference, right? So I think some of those sorts of things, I think really trying to make your hiring managers become more culturally competent. All these different dimensions so they are not asking questions about that, right? About things that they shouldn't be asking about rather than what does this person bring to the job?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And on the flip side for the job seekers who are 60 plus. And you mentioned earlier about doing extra curricular activities outside of work to increase your network. But what else? Let's say I'm 60 plus and I want to put my resume together. There's this job that I want, how can you help me show up better?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

So I think a piece is that self-reflection first, right? What is it? Because when I was looking to change, I was like, do I want to stay in what I'm doing? Do I want to go to nonprofit? Do I want to take a different path? So taking that moment. It's probably different if you have a job versus you've been displaced, right? Because if have a current job, you have the luxury, right? At least you have income coming in, versus if you're unemployed. So that self-reflection to figure out what is it that I want to do? Where is it like large, small, nonprofit, government, corporate. Right? Some of those different things.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

And then who do I know? Who's in my network that may know of people or put the word out like, "Hey, I'm looking for work so if you hear of anything, let me know." Or if let's say that I'm interested and I know Pahoua might know someone, you could put in a word like, Hey Philomena is applying for this job. Often I think we forget to ask others to help. And then I always say to people who are hesitant to that, if I asked you for help, what would you say?

Nadege Souvenir:

Well, yes, of course.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, it's you Philomena. We never say no to you.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

But I think the piece is often we want to help others, but it is more difficult for us to ask each other. And then I also think about a great organization for people over 60 and Pahoua you mentioned it earlier is the organization called Shift Online. And so it's focused on people in midlife and beyond, and don't define midlife. And then you have a community of people who have similar experiences whether it's career, whether it's elder care whatever that is. But then they have some shift circles on the weekend for people who are looking to just be able to provide more support to one another. Because what I will say is looking for a job in this time is much different, right?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Back in the day you filled out an application, you had an interview with HR, you met with hiring manager. Boom. Okay. When I was interviewing at one company, I had nine interviews and a psychological assessment. And I'm like, do you think you really are getting a much better candidate than the previous times? For someone who maybe has worked at the same organization for a while, they may not know like, okay, this might take longer. This process is different. What I put on my resume is different than 25 years ago, right? Or however long it's been. So I think learning current practices is really important as well.

Nadege Souvenir:

Speaking of resumes. So a piece of advice I've given a lot of people and have not been super diligent about lately is check your resume every year. Look at it, refresh it. You've probably picked up a skill or an activity or done something. And I think that's easy to see at the beginning and beginning age wide of your career, because things maybe move a little faster, right? Those first few positions. But I think that's something we should continue to do indefinitely. What do you think?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I agree because then it's not so hard because, or else you're trying to remember like, okay, what were the dates of that? And what was the name of that organization? I think all that, I think that does make a difference. And whether you have a bio that's what I try to do is update my bio every year. So I'm adding in new things or you have some document where you can capture that. I think that's great advice.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I don't do that, but maybe...

Nadege Souvenir:

Well, you better get on it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I won't do my LinkedIn because I found out that when I did that, it alarmed people. I send signals.

Nadege Souvenir:

There's a little button you have to click that says, notify my network and you can unclick it and then you can change things without freaking people out.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right. Or you notify them because you want them to know, you want to announce the big, bold changes. Philomena this conversation has really been great. And I think that our listeners are definitely appreciating some of your advice about what they can be doing, what they should be thinking about as they make transitions. Frankly, if they're in the 20s of their career or their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s, and I just want to give you a chance to give a last word about how do you think when people think about careers and aging and maybe especially women, because here we are sitting at a table having this conversation, what's the last piece of advice you would give people as they think about aging in their career?

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

I think a lot of it has to do with your perspective, how I individually look at aging, right? So do I have a positive perception about that or not? Am I limiting myself or not? I'm 60 now, so I've got all these amazing ideas of what I want to do in my future, right? But what if I don't look at aging positively for myself, then my choices are probably going to be different. So I think that individual perspective is helpful, especially when we know societally, there is not as much acceptance. And then I think with that then, especially for women, how do you build that support system to be able to help you accomplish what it is. And so whether that's work, whether that's volunteerism, whatever it is, because it's going to be different for everyone. But ultimately what gives you purpose and what fulfills your passion? And that's going to be different for everyone.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, thank you Philomena for joining us today. Great conversation with you.

Philomena Morrissey Satre:

Thank you for inviting me.

Nadege Souvenir:

That was a fantastic conversation. Wow.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Again, one of these conversations we don't have enough of.

Nadege Souvenir:

No, not at all. Just young, fast and friendly, valuing experience. There's so many terms and things that I've put in my back pocket for future conversations with folks.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. The mentors to look out for and look out for experience employers.

Nadege Souvenir:

It matters. And I think that what we learned and maybe we already knew it is, we come at this as women but the reality is, as Philomena mentioned age is that factor that we haven't figured out in a great way everywhere.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Age-ism cuts across all the differences. So it is one of these that, it was right for her to mention that men are also having this conversation.

Nadege Souvenir:

It was absolutely right. And I don't love that we're all bonded by it, but the reality is we all age, so let's age positively and let's think positively.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I want to carry Philomena's positivity into aging well.

Nadege Souvenir:

I think that's how we should end it. We are just from here on now, you and I Pahoua we are going to age well.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Age well.

Nadege Souvenir:

Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You! You can find us on Facebook at I So Appreciate You Podcast and on Twitter and Instagram at So Appreciate You.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

We'd also appreciate you taking a moment to leave us a review. And if you'd like our show, be sure to follow I So Appreciate You! on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you're listening to us right.

Nadege Souvenir:

Have a question or a topic suggestion, email us at podcast@spmcf.org. Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You!

Episode 5

I So Appreciate You! co-hosts Nadege and Pahoua discuss the importance of intentionally creating learning opportunities and pathways that allow people to build knowledge and skills for roles that haven't been accessible to everyone. They are joined by Meredith Leigh Moore and Brandon Williams, who share their career journeys and discuss how people can own their career narrative and gain experience to ladder up into new roles.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Hey, welcome everyone to I So Appreciate You! An honest, raw, and sometimes funny podcast about work, community, life and all the other stuff we juggle. Hi, I'm Pahoua.

Nadege Souvenir:

And I'm Nadege, and we're colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. In addition to that, we're friends. And so when we talk, our conversations can run the gamut. We can start talking about board meetings and governance procedures. We can get into mother daughter dynamics, and then we can be like, where are we going to dinner tonight?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I prefer that conversation. And so we thought that maybe some of you would let like to join us in conversations. So here we are with I So Appreciate You! Welcome everybody. I'm so excited about this episode, where we're going to talk about how we can better cultivate talent. We'll be joined by executive coach and author Meredith Leigh Moore and rising leader, Brandon Williams. Nadege are you excited about this topic?

Nadege Souvenir:

I mean, obviously. Cultivating talent is super, super important, but I'd actually like to take us back a little bit. Because when we talk about cultivating talent, we're already in that career pipeline sort of thing. But before the career pipeline, we had those first jobs. We had that first entry where you got the paycheck and you were so excited about the $37 that you made or however much it was. I feel like my first paycheck was tiny. So what was your first job?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

My first job was a youth co-leader for Twin Cities Tree Trust, where I worked at parks and I put down mulch and I build park benches, and I think I made $3.75 an hour.

Nadege Souvenir:

Okay. That job sounds like super productive and good for community.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

It was fun though.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah. I mean, it sounds like it. My job was super different. I worked at warehouse of fashion. It's a discount fashion store.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

If you know Nadege, this does not surprise me at all.

Nadege Souvenir:

I mean, it was a really great job, but the thing I remember the most about this job is, I mean, we actually had to take a test. You had to memorize all the category codes. I think there were like 50 of them for all of the items of clothing so that you could tell if somebody had tried to like swap the like price ticket on an item.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Wow. And I bet you did memorize everything.

Nadege Souvenir:

I mean, I did. I'm still pretty sure 50-1 was women's related separates.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay. Well, I don't know that I've had a crazier job than that. I did work for a Y2K solution, but that which turned out not to be a big deal after all. But that probably is as crazy as it's going to get. But the reason why we're talking about this topic is I think I brought it. I can't remember who brought it to whom, but I think we were talking about how did we started in our careers? How does one get started? And then even if you're in your career now, how do you reinvent yourself? And I think the cultivating talent, or how do we better cultivate talent started with some of the conversations I've been having with young people where they show me a job description and they say, "Hey, I really think I could be good for this job, but here in the requirements, it says they need three to five years of experience."

Nadege Souvenir:

The magical years of experience.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. And how do we ever get it if no one ever creates an opportunity or we can learn, in order to get those three to five years.

Nadege Souvenir:

You know, there are so many stories about how people do this individually, but I would love you to share how we did it as the foundation. I mean, I think philanthropy has been talking about this for ages. It's tough to get in. And once people get in, they don't leave. So how do you get that sort of entry experience to build the skills and the knowledge to be in this space? And I mean, you kind of had an inspiration and we ran with it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, I mean, it was also based on what I knew or the stories that were told around philanthropy that people never leave.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yes.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So once you get in and you work for a foundation, you work in philanthropy. People never leave. They're there for 20 plus years. These jobs never open up, and I thought, as I got into the foundation within the year, within the month, I learned that one of our program officer was going to retire and I thought, this is it. This was an opportunity to rethink that role instead of just creating a job description for the position that was left empty by her departure, how do we actually think differently about it? Like crazy different. So we decided to split that position into two. Give it a new title, a relationship managers. And we, by design said, you don't have to have any experience.

Nadege Souvenir:

I remember because was it 400 plus people applied for that class?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yes. And the other thing, which I think makes it unique, especially in philanthropy is no experience. We were going to train you. And it wasn't just, my department was going to train you, but we had the full commitment across the foundation that they were potentially going to rotate around the foundation so that when they left and here's the kicker, it had a time limit. This position was going to be for six years. And after that time, we were going to help them find their next job. But we were going to then open up these two roles again, for two new people to learn. And in fact, we called them a learning cohort of two.

Nadege Souvenir:

I really love that because in a way that's us institutionalizing what happens when you talk to people who've been successful in their careers, who are on the path that they want to be on, that's fundamentally what happens. Somebody picked them up-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That's right.

Nadege Souvenir:

They opened up a space.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That's right.

Nadege Souvenir:

And then they sort of help them walk down that lane. And that's why I'm super excited about our conversation today with our two guests, because we're kind of seeing it from both perspectives. On one hand we have Brandon Williams. He's there, he's in it. He is literally driving the car down the lane right now. And then we've got Meredith Moore who, I mean, she's written a book that's in this space, she's an executive coach and she's done this herself.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Done seen it, maybe done seen it all. I don't know. But she's really good at her job at advising seasoned leaders-

Nadege Souvenir:

Seasoned. Yeah.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

On how do they pivot. But I think that her advice would be just as well received by Brandon as an executive. So really excited about the conversation we're about to have with them after the break.

Nadege Souvenir:

All right.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Are you looking to make a larger impact on the causes you care about? Not everyone realizes that cash isn't the only way to give. There are many advantages to donating other assets such as real estate, stock, or even farm equipment. Want to learn more? Call 651-224-5463. Or email the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation gift planning team at philanthropy@spmcf.org. Welcome back today. We are joined by two guests, Meredith Leigh Moore and Brandon Williams. Meredith, Brandon.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Hi.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Hi.

Brandon Williams:

Hi. Hey.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. So before we dive in, we always start with three quick questions. Okay. You ready?

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Yeah.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I'm going to start with you Meredith. I'm going to move to Brandon. Same question. Meredith, cats or dogs?

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Oh, I guess dogs.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay. Brandon.

Brandon Williams:

Dogs.

Nadege Souvenir:

Oh, that was quick. [crosstalk 00:07:04] You're on it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, he heard it second. You know, he was able to study a little bit for that. All right.

Brandon Williams:

Thank you.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I'm going to now stick with Brandon. Brandon chocolate or vanilla?

Brandon Williams:

Chocolate.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Meredith.

Brandon Williams:

Chocolate.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay. All right. Meredith-

Nadege Souvenir:

Wait, wait.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

What?

Nadege Souvenir:

This is the controversial one?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. We thought long hard and we're like, oh, what are you guys going to do? Meredith duck, duck.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Goose.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay. Brandon duck, duck?

Brandon Williams:

Goose.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Okay.

Nadege Souvenir:

That was the right answer. [crosstalk 00:07:35]

Brandon Williams:

We're not saying [crosstalk 00:07:37].

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

No, I've never said a duck.

Nadege Souvenir:

No. Never heard of that until I got here in Minnesota.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Very, very controversial.

Nadege Souvenir:

Right absolutely. Well, I mean, no controversy here. We all agree.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Thank goodness.

Nadege Souvenir:

You have fantastic bios and live full and complete lives. So I'm about to do like four bullet points.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

It's too long.

Nadege Souvenir:

So real talk, you are far more than what I'm about to say. But Brandon is sitting here with us and he's a political science alum from Augsburg University if I could speak. He's an intern at the Minnesota Department of Commerce. You enjoy basketball. Are you good or are you just like a viewer?

Brandon Williams:

I'm better than average. Let's go there. Let’s just start there.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

He's also humble.

Nadege Souvenir:

And now works as at the Minneapolis Foundation as a criminal justice and safe communities fellow. And Meredith was once a top 30 young leaders by Ebony Magazine, 40 under 40 from the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal. You are the author of Getting Unstuck: A Guide to Moving Your Career Forward, which makes you a totally appropriate guest for today's conversation.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Absolutely.

Nadege Souvenir:

And now the president of Leverette Weekes leadership development and communications company. Welcome to both of you.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Yeah. Thank you for joining us.

Brandon Williams:

Thank you for having us.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. I think I have the first question. I'm going to get us going into our conversation. I'm going to start with you, Meredith, and then I'm going to move to Brandon. There are countless leadership programs. Everywhere I turn, there's a new leadership program, but what do people really need?

Meredith Leigh Moore:

It's so interesting because there are, I feel like not only a lot of leadership programs, but what there aren't a lot are two things. One, leadership programs that are led by people who are living in the margins and who can identify with the folks that we see the greatest gaps in leadership. And two, leadership programs that really address the causes of imposter syndrome. So that allow people to gain their confidence and really understand and build new skills.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Absolutely. That rings true to me. Brandon, you've been a part of leadership programs. What have you got out of them and what do people really need now that you're a working man?

Brandon Williams:

Yeah. I think the most amazing thing to me is seeing innovation within the leadership space. So I've been a part of Capitol Pathways in which, who I know very well. And I think for that, I mean, I think leadership is a calling sometimes. And with Capitol Pathways, there were so many people that were saying, you should do this, you're great at speaking, you're great at representation. You have this niche for understanding complex systems and you should do it. And they actually encouraged me to apply. I would've never applied.

And from there I was at the Department of Commerce. Then I went from there. I mean, I've interned at Dorsey & Whitney. I've been to so many places, and finally getting to where I was, it was about having people really push me saying, "Hey, although you may not see yourself in this role, you should try it. Give it a try. We're not going to settle it until you do it." So for me, it's this aspect of being called to do something more than yourself.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

What I'm hearing from you is not just about the leadership program, but it's actually having those people sponsor you and say, "Hey, I think this will be great for you," is what I'm hearing.

Brandon Williams:

Exactly.

Nadege Souvenir:

Meredith does that ring true in your experience that a sponsor can be pivotal in somebody's leadership path?

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Yeah. I mean, when I think about even my career, I wouldn't have been able to make the shift. It's one thing for you to identify here's what I want to do. It's another thing to speak to the people who are in a position to help you do those things. And to speak on your behalf about a skill that maybe you haven't demonstrated yet, or an experience you haven't had yet. And to say, not only do I believe she can do it, but I'm going to personally commit to helping her close any gaps that she needs to be successful. I think it's almost impossible to really have a career trajectory that you want if you don't have access to somebody who can open the doors that you can't open just on being good and showing up and being on time.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. And let's talk about that opening doors piece, or like setting yourself on that path. Because the number one question that I get from, let's say emerging leaders, younger leaders, like you, Brandon. You take a look at a job description and it says it requires three to five years of experience. And you're like, how am I ever going to get those three to five years if I can't even get through the door. Get that first interview or get that experience to accumulate to get those three to five years. What advice do you Meredith and Brandon have when you encounter that maybe you've even encountered yourself, like what does one do? I

Brandon Williams:

I can take this one to start off. I think for me a big thing that I've learned from someone I look up to a lot, TD Jakes. He said that leadership is about information, insulation and inspiration. And for me the biggest piece of that has been around this informing part where these mentors around me. I look at it, it says, you need about three to five years of experience. And I go, well, I just graduated college. How could I possibly have that?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

That's what I'm saying.

Brandon Williams:

But I've interned. So Meredith your father Cornell Moore, he was one of the biggest mentors for me where I would walk into a space and he say Brandon just be yourself, be who you are. Or someone having someone like Shonda on my team who say, well, you're new to this space, just be who you are and let people see that for what it is. And also don't downplay who you are and what you've seen. So I've worked at Pace Analytical. I've interned there, my freshman year of high school. Just having these different experiences that I don't see that for myself, but having other people see that for me, it works wonder. So just trusting in the people around you.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

So that's the information part?

Brandon Williams:

Yes. That's the information part where you trust in people to be around you. And then once you step into that insulation is that next step to have people say, well you're going to learn. I'm going to be here while you learn. I'll protect you from more so a protection. But a lot of it's [crosstalk 00:13:19].

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I'm going to start using that term.

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I'm going to insulate you.

Brandon Williams:

So insulation is a bigger piece and obviously inspiration is being willing to empower you. So after moving forward from that, you see yourself in these positions, you see yourself taking charge and really moving forward from this ability or this mindset of safety to acknowledgement and being feisty in different situations that you need to be.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I love that. Thank you, Brandon. Meredith, anything to add there?

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Yeah. I think it's two things I would add. And Brandon hit on one of them, which is really seeing the fullness of your experience and not discounting if you've served in the community. Maybe it was a volunteer role. I know when I was between college in my first job, I went back to being a camp counselor, but that's a leadership role, right?

Nadege Souvenir:

Absolutely.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

So I think being able to position all that you've done. One of the things we used to say at McDonald's was like the people who would really be able to sell that experience and be like, I managed a million dollar PNL as opposed just being like I was on fries. So you learning how to position your experience in a way that it aligns with what you want to do next. And then for me personally I am notorious. Brandon, my dad gives other people such like nice and gracious advice. His advice to me is not so nice.

So when I decided I wanted to make a career pivot from a real job in finance to going back to being an intern, because I wanted to shift into PR and it was $50 an hour. He was like, good luck. You can't keep starting over at the bottom. But I think if you really believe, and you're doing something that you're passionate about really looking at, if I don't have that three to five years of experience, where else in the organization can I start? Because this is an organization where I want to continue.

Nadege Souvenir:

Meredith, can I pull on that thread a little bit? You know, what you said is kind of starting at the beginning in a new lane. And I think sometimes people are afraid to do that because you send that resume and they look at it and they go, well, why would you want this job? You have seven years of experience doing X and you've never done public relations or whatever it is you want to switch to. How do you sort of kick that door open and help people really understand, no, no, I'm here and I'm starting again, kind of at the beginning because I want to be here.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Yeah. I mean, I think you have to be really clear about what value you add and where you're trying to go and how that's going to support the organization. Like when I took that internship in PR, I definitely got the same thing. And my whole business case for them was that I had this background in finance, but I knew I was missing this piece in agency work. And so I wanted to get that. And I knew that what I knew in finance would be of value, but I knew that's not what they wanted to compensate somebody for yet. And so I think really being able to position to whoever the employer is, the value of you learning and what you can provide to them even while you're learning a new skill.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

What about you, Brandon? You're at the Minneapolis Foundation now. You've certainly held other roles before. Talk about how do you plan on, for example, laddering up? Are you thinking about that right now?

Brandon Williams:

I think that's a big thing for me, especially with having my trajectory. Like I had my goals planned out after graduating college, I wanted to go to law school. I wanted to be this lawyer. I wanted to do criminal defense work. And after that I had a big kind of pivot, this big pivot for me, where it was like, okay, law school isn't that option right now. You need to work. I applied, ended up not getting in. I realized that I needed to take more time to be serious about that study for the LSAT. And during that time I worked for the city attorney and that was just experiencing that there's so many ways to change and impact the system than what I originally had planned.

And it was such a learning curve. And this process once you have that cognitive dissonance moment where you're like, oh wow, this is, I always thought it was kind of linear where I'm going to do this work, but there's so many ways to impact the community. There's so many ways to represent the community and be involved in the legal space. And even now with the work that I do at the foundation, a lot of that is around community building criminal justice reform. Say for communities, working with lawyers, judges to what I think is a much bigger scale than what I could have done at that moment in a legal field. So gaining that experience and doing that work. I see pivots as if you have a goal, what do you see that's valuable from that goal? What's one of those values that you have? And what are other ways you can do that if you don't get exactly what you want?

And it's okay to learn, it's okay to be patient. I mean, I was 21 at the time. It's okay to not get exactly what you want, but trusting the people around you to move along those levels. And I think when you talk about next steps. So moving up from my role right now as a fellow to maybe I'm an associate to maybe a director of community safety work. I see that as trusting the people around me and learning. A lot of it is learning and moving forward from that learning space to more of a, I have this under control. I feel safe. I feel insulated. Let's call that term. I feel insulated, but now it's time to be inspirational and move forward from that.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I love that. So if you're listening listeners and you're feeling frustrated, it's not a straight line and sometimes what you want and what you had been planning for sometimes takes to left for a right turn and be open to it.

Nadege Souvenir:

Sometimes it doubles back.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Sometimes it comes back.

Nadege Souvenir:

And you get to where you're going. You know, I'm hearing something from both of your conversations that I'm finding really fascinating is that you're really both talking about owning your own narrative. And in some ways you're lifting up that sometimes other people help you see it, but then once you see it, you really have to own it and you get to tell your story. And I'd love to hear, Meredith I'll start with you. I'd love to hear once you sort of hit that moment where you're like, this is me and this is what I'm doing, how did you share that with the world?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

First, how did you know and then how did you share it?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah. Okay, fine. Take it back.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

I had the privilege of supporting Don Thompson at McDonald's when he was first, the US chief operating officer and then became the first and the highest ranking African American officer when he became president of the US business. At the time I was just in management communications, which still in communications, executive communications is a unique space. But I didn't really know that I just knew I had this job. And I was working at McDonald's. I didn't really get it. And it was thanks to a lot of the operators and other folks that would tell me, this is really unique to be a speech writer, to be working for this person and the influence that you have.

And once I started to pay attention and like noticed that I was being invited into these rooms, I started to be able to position that value of I was a millennial, I was all of these things. I was a black woman. I was from Minnesota. I had all of these points of difference that I didn't recognize as strength. But then I started to realize not only was it a strength for me, but when I was in the room with people, I was able to help them see their points of difference as strengths. And as a communicator, I started to understand the value of articulating that to people not only to build trust, but also to just separate, like this is why I'm valuable. And I think once I started to realize that own my own story and see how me sharing that helped other people feel comfortable to share what was unique for them. Then it was kind of like, you're not really going to get rid of me.

Nadege Souvenir:

I love it. Brandon, do you feel like you're at the point where you're sort of owning your story and sort of shouting it out to the world?

Brandon Williams:

I'm not. And I think that that's okay. It has taken me a long time to get there where I realize that life is a journey and where I'm at kind of starting this position. I mean, I'm in a philanthropic space, but wanting to be in the legal world and wanting to be in politics when going to run for mayor or governor at some point in my career.

Nadege Souvenir:

Oh, listen, here, we heard it here first. All right.

Brandon Williams:

Every time I say it, somebody hold me to it, but I'll say it just because there's so much power in that, but there's certain pieces along the way that reassures me, that you're on the right path. And part of that is just the connections and networks, but it's also a part of this vocation that I feel, or when I'm in spaces and I have opportunities to grow and develop a lot of things align with themselves. So when I started in a philanthropic space, I'll give a quick example. Chanda was my boss. I didn't know who she was. I didn't know what she was known for, but in the community, so many people respected her. I mean, having conversations, bringing up her name so many people would say to have that leader, you have so much potential to see her invest in you, to see her create a position for you. You're very blessed.

And then from that, I heard that there was another position that was established at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, I was kind of linear to that. And I was thinking, who is this person? And then I heard PA who was it there. And Eric Jolly was the president who I knew from Augsburg. There was just so many pieces of me working from being student body president and getting to meet Eric Jolly, who I had a few meetings with and talk with him and just having these people inspire me. A lot of that is just realizing I'm in the right place. It might be the wrong time, but I trust in the people that I'm in the right place and that this will all come together from that. So in terms of where I want to be, where I feel comfortable and I'm building this reputation for myself, I feel like I'm getting there, but I'm not there yet. And I'm okay with that.

Nadege Souvenir:

You're writing your story. You're writing it in real time. Yeah. That's powerful.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I have follow up for Brandon just real quick here. You obviously, there's a culture there at the Minneapolis Foundation yet an amazing possible agenda. What are you getting there that is allowing you to grow in the way that you have? And what could others, especially those listening, maybe hiring managers right now who are listening to the show, what should they know? How should they think differently about the environment they're creating?

Brandon Williams:

That's a great question. I think for me, it's environment. And I keep going back to these three Is that I talk about, but insulation is that most powerful thing for me because being someone that's younger, there's almost like I get... There's this feeling that I get to go down two avenues. There's a fear avenue where I just feel fearful for everything and that'll like dictate who I am and what decisions I make and establish this person that I am. And then there's also the learning process where it's okay. You know, I failed, I've grown from that. I didn't respond to an email within three hours or there's this organization that wants money from us and they've wanted it for so long. And I got to realize how to build that network and learn from it. But being at the foundation, they really encourage me to learn for myself.

Not to say, hey, figure out these things and if they don't fit that, then say no automatically. It's more so have conversations. It's cultivating this idea of relationship building. And in philanthropy space, it's really difficult because you have these big names and you deal with people from foundations that have known each other for so long. And I'm so young where for me, it's just, I take everything for what it is and what I see. But I love an RT who's our president and Chanda and even my boss, who's our director of collective giving. For me, it's just really big to realize how they give me a platform and say, you know what, you're young, you're new to this space. So take those fresh eyes. Take that leadership mindset you have that you're known for. I mean, really do something with that.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Love that.

Nadege Souvenir:

And Meredith, it really sounds like you had kind of that similar experience that there was that space and folks told you that you had this opportunity that helped you see it.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

My first shot I had a career was in experience of learning that you can be good at something and hate it. And just like in an environment that I was good in finance, it was a very competitive role. It's a very competitive industry and I was good at it, but when people say soul crushing, I'm like, I know what that is. And I think there's a benefit though. In having that experience earlier in life, because I remember having this experience going to my HR person, Vania we were still connected to this day. And she said, "Meredith talented people push back." And for me early in my career, having somebody I respected, tell me, it's not your job to just suck it up and be unhappy. You're going to spend 90,000 hours of your life at work.

Like if you don't like it here, have the confidence in yourself to do something different. And so I'm very great that my first experience, like I had this vision that I was going to have a job in public service or somewhere where I was going to start and end there. I just had this vision I was going to have one employer for my whole life. And in reality, I've grown by shifting and being in different industries, working with different cultures and environments. And so I'm very grateful that the first job didn't work out the way I wanted it to.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

And clearly that's made you a really effective executive coach given all of those experiences. Okay. Well, we could be sitting here talking all night. We're at the end of our time. And so I want to give the two of you Meredith and Brandon, the last word. So what advice, what things do you want our listeners to know, given the topic of the conversation today, about how we can better cultivate talent? Brandon I'm going to start with you.

Brandon Williams:

For me, number one, I'm very appreciative of this time. I think Pahoua you're a hero. A hero to me for what you've done-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I did not tell him to say that.

Brandon Williams:

No, you did. You did. But when I bragged to people, it makes sense. For me I think the biggest thing is just trust. Trust is such a difficult thing when you're entering a new space. And even when I heard Meredith talk about is that when you're making this pivot, sometimes you may feel like you don't belong or it's not the right space or you may hear advice that's saying no stick to what you know, stick to what we know that you're good at. But I think in that process, it's really trusting in the people around you. And there's obvious times where your own experiences take over that trust and your own experiences kind of guide your way. But for me, a big piece of that is trusting that pieces would fall into this puzzle that I don't know how to put together.

And a lot of people, that's kind of helping me figure out how to put together this puzzle of my career path and my career goal, what I should do, it's in a sense of respect, but it's also in a sense of admiration for what they do. And understanding that leadership is tough. Nobody wants to be the leader. Everybody admire the leader and wonder how do they do it. But in my space and with the things I've seen, a lot of that is truly trusting in what they're doing and that if I'm meant to be there, if it's my calling to be there, I'll get there at a time. But right now, just taking in and soaking up everything I can.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Well, thank you Brandon. Know that you're my hero too. Meredith, last word from you.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Yeah. I just hope everybody listening knows that you are worth your time. Like if you have an opportunity to learn and to frame life as just a chance each day to get up and develop a new skill, to see something, a new way to meet a new person, to see a challenge as a new opportunity, it's worth your time to gain that experience. And don't rush yourself, just be present with where you are at this point in your career and know that whatever it is you want to do, there's space for you to do. You need to take the time to define what is that path and what do you want?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

An amazing last word.

Nadege Souvenir:

Thank you guys so much. Thank you both for your time today.

Brandon Williams:

Thank you.

Nadege Souvenir:

It's been a pleasure.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Thank you, Brandon. Thank you, Meredith.

Meredith Leigh Moore:

Thank you.

Nadege Souvenir:

Wow. There was so much in there. I saw you-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I was writing. I couldn't write fast enough.

Nadege Souvenir:

I know, and I think we were writing the same things down. So I think how about we just each say like one thing that stuck with us.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

All right. What's yours?

Nadege Souvenir:

For me, it was the information, insulation and inspiration.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

The three I's.

Nadege Souvenir:

The three I's. It makes me think of a butterfly.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Really?

Nadege Souvenir:

Yeah. The cocoon, the holes, the metamorphosis. I loved it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

I see it. Okay. For me when Meredith said talented people push back, I'm like, oh.

Nadege Souvenir:

I was snapping. Like you couldn't hear, [crosstalk 00:28:54] you couldn't see it. Yes, yes, yes.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Going to do more of that folks, talented people push back.

Nadege Souvenir:

And talented people we had today. We are so lucky to have had Meredith and Brandon on our show today.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

Yeah. What an awesome conversation we had.

Nadege Souvenir:

Thank you for listening to, I So Appreciate You! You can find us on Facebook at I So Appreciate You! Podcast. And on Twitter and Instagram at I So Appreciate You!

Pahoua Yang Hoffman:

We'd also appreciate you taking a moment to leave us a review. And if you like our show, be sure to follow. I So Appreciate You! on apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you are listening to us.

Nadege Souvenir:

Have a question or a topic suggestion, email us at podcast, at spmcf.org. Thank you for listening to, I So Appreciate You!

Episode 6

I So Appreciate You! co-hosts Nadege and Pahoua explore what happens when organizations transition from white leaders to leaders of color in a thoughtful dialogue with special guest Duchesne Drew, President of Minnesota Public Radio.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Hey welcome everyone to I So Appreciate You, an honest, raw and sometimes funny podcast about work, community, life and all the other stuff we juggle. Hi, I'm Pahoua.

Nadege Souvenir: And I'm Nadege and we're colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. In addition to that, we're friends. And so when we talk, our conversations can run the gamut. We can start talking about board meetings and governance procedures, we can get into mother daughter dynamics and then we can be like, where are we going to dinner tonight?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I prefer that conversation. And so we thought that maybe some of you would let like to join us in conversation so here we are with I So Appreciate You.

Welcome everyone. Today, we are going to dive into what happens when an organization transitions from a white leader to leaders of color. Our guest, Duchesne Drew, president of MPR, will share his thoughts with us. But before that.

Nadege Souvenir: Well before that, we have talk about Beyoncé.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Let's talk about her.

Nadege Souvenir: Because why wouldn't you start every conversation talking about Beyoncé?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: This is why you're my co-host.

Nadege Souvenir: Well, earlier in this year, maybe it's not that long ago, my sense of time means nothing these days or actually we're in 2022 now. Last year, Beyoncé made fashion history by being the first Black woman to wear that iconic Tiffany diamond, some obscene number of carats.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: 128. After 50 carats, I lose count.

Nadege Souvenir: Honestly after two or three, I don't know what I'm doing. And I saw that and I saw everybody was talking about it. And I just thought, why is this such a big deal? Why it a big deal that Beyoncé who is like, I mean come on, she's Beyoncé.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: She's fancy.

Nadege Souvenir: Is wearing a Tiffany diamond. And it kind of hit me, here we are still highlighting the first and only to do something and the reason that stuck with me is because of our topic today, it's about leadership and the weight that comes with kind of being the first and the only. And we're going to chat a little bit about that. Your experience specifically, Pahoua.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah. In that Beyoncé article, that Beyoncé instance, it was a what? Benign example, but it also brought a lot of emotions though. Should she? Shouldn't she? Anyway.

Nadege Souvenir: What did her pictures look like? Blah, blah, blah. Too much.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Well, I forwarded you an article that popped in my Twitter feed a while back and the title of the report is, Making or Taking Space: Initial Themes on Nonprofit Transitions from white to BIPOC Leaders. This is specific to nonprofits but I think that it will read and feel true to a lot of people, no matter what industry you're in. This is a report that was written by the Building Movement Project on behalf of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. And it's a long report but what I gathered from it, from the themes that they lifted up, was that there is an expectation placed on leaders of color who step into the roles left by white leaders.

Nadege Souvenir: There's absolutely an expectation.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And maybe any time but especially this time that we're living in.

Nadege Souvenir: Well, you've had that experience, you've specifically had that experience.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I've had that experience and I think that is what the things I felt when I stepped into the executive director role, after my amazing boss, who is probably listening, Sean Kershaw left the Citizens League. This is a very long standing organization in Minnesota. It started in 1952 and it was all is led by white men and each white man led it with a very long tenure. It being almost 70 years old and only having seven executive directors by the time I said yes to the role. I remember being excited to take it on but as soon as I did, this feeling settled in for me or, I was the first and that was the headline. Every press release was, first woman, first woman of color, first person of color to take this role.

Nadege Souvenir: Okay. When that happens, regardless of, obviously you're qualified. I know you're talented.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I've been there.

Nadege Souvenir: Obviously.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I told Sean what to do, so I figure I could do it.

Nadege Souvenir: But does it make you doubt yourself a little bit in that is this the only reason I'm here?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Well, I think I had I not had spent time there and felt comfortable already doing the work, I would've because there is a movement to place leaders of color in roles. And we are not always successful in those roles.

Nadege Souvenir: No, we are not.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Because we have not been trained or groomed, there's not been an intentional pathway for us. And that environment has not been created for us to be well received.

Nadege Souvenir: When you found, here you are in this role, what were some of the biggest challenges, whether they were real or perceived by you as you are stepping into this role that has previously been held by white men?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Here's the kicker. It wasn't the work policy comfortable going to a hearing room at the capital comfortable. It was the other stuff. It was nearing year end, will my predominantly white, wealthy donors support this organization now that I was leading it?

Nadege Souvenir: Okay, I'm going to call you on that. Why is that not the work? Isn't that the work?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That is the work. To be fair, every executive director has to fundraise. That is a large part of the work. When I think about the work, I think about the mission that the Citizens League is charged with is to involve people in good government, good governance, government and policy making. And that's to me was the work. Of course fundraising is the work but it was how will people react to me? Is the piece I'm talking about.

Nadege Souvenir: No, and I hear you but I want to push you and I want to name that that work that you're doing, that emotional labor, the figuring out how to be.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Oh, I see what you mean.

Nadege Souvenir: How to be you.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yes, of course that is the work.

Nadege Souvenir: In that space. That's the work.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: We don't value that work though.

Nadege Souvenir: No, we don't.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Then I don't value that work.

Nadege Souvenir: I want to value it for you. I'm not going to let you slide past it. That's part of the work.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Thank you. That's where you're going with that. Yes. This is also the work that all of us, all leaders of color, we have this emotional burden, this emotional work that we're doing that does not get recognized. This is not on my performance evaluation. I don't get a raise based on how well I do here but I've got to do it. And I do it. I can't bring attention to it. I've just got to do it. I will commiserate with folks like you, with girlfriends, other leaders of color. Oh my gosh.

And sometimes we're so tired we don't even talk about it, we just nod knowingly because there's a lot to, especially again, what this article points out is other leaders who are not leaders of color are probably not going to feel the way that we do stepping in following let's say a charismatic white leader because they don't have to. They don't have that emotional of why am I here? Am I the right person? I'm the first woman, first person of color. If I fail, if this organization of 70 years dies on my watch, it will be remembered. That is what I carried every day into work on top of.

Nadege Souvenir: The work.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Just doing the capital W work. But you're right. And this is why you hear about burnout. This is why when I hear, and I'm not one for rumor mills if you know me, but if I hear someone talk about a leader of color saying, "Oh, why don't they?" I'm like, what have you done to support them? Because we can't lose another person. And I know how difficult, you know how difficult it is to step in any role but to step into a leadership role where there's just seemingly more demands on you.

Nadege Souvenir: Right. And they come from all sides.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: All sides.

Nadege Souvenir: They come from the fact of your role. They come from external constituents. They come from.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Your staff.

Nadege Souvenir: They come from your staff. Questions are being asked that sat dormant for years but all of a sudden because you're here, there's a ticking time clock. Oh, we've now got a leader of color in place and therefore we should solve this equity problem that has been with the organization its entire duration.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That's right. It's your job to solve for it now because we hired you. Isn't that great? And you're here now, so you're going to solve for it. Whereas I think our white counterparts may be involved in the same conversations and this is my interpretation. It might be a thought exercise for them. I feel a real sense of urgency and a deep sense of responsibility to at least make progress. No one's going to solve for racism.

Nadege Souvenir: No. Because if we could, we would've done it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah, we would've done that already.

Nadege Souvenir: I'll do it right now. Snap my fingers if I could.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: But what is the tangible difference that you're going to make while you're here? I feel that and I've always felt that at every job, especially when race comes up, when equity comes up, what are you going to do? Because you look the part, what are you going to do to earn your spot here?

Nadege Souvenir: These are the really deep questions and conversations that I think you and I have variations on this theme all the time. But I think as we see organizations being really intentional about their leadership choices that they're making both locally and nationally, I think that this article that you've shared and that certainly will make available is really something people should stop and think about, which is why I'm super excited, super excited, for the rest of this conversation with Duchesne Drew, because he has experienced this, I think, throughout his career.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yes. And most recently stepping in as the president of MPR.

Nadege Souvenir: Yeah. I think we've got a really great conversation ahead of us and we'll be right back after the break.

Nadege Souvenir: At the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, we partner with hundreds of nonprofits to support their endowment funds. An endowment is a great way to provide your organization with stable income for generations to come. If you are interested in learning more about starting an endowment, contact a member of our team by visiting spmcf.org/endowment.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Welcome back. We are delighted to welcome Duchesne Drew to our show today. Before we get started, Duchesne, we have three quick questions. It's a tradition here to get us warmed up. You ready?

Duchesne Drew: Let's do it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: All right. Red or white wine?

Duchesne Drew: Red.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Solo trip or group tour?

Duchesne Drew: Group tour.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Sweet tooth or salty snacks?

Duchesne Drew: Salty snacks.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Ah, I would have totally pegged you for a solo trip.

Nadege Souvenir: Really?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Kind of guy.

Nadege Souvenir: I feel like you've got the group biking and the other things that you do. See, that didn't surprise me at all.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Well, it's because he does all of those that he just needs to get away. Well, anyway, I'm going to believe you.

Nadege Souvenir: All right, before we dive in, we want to give our listeners just kind of a quick snapshot of your bio. You're a veteran newspaper reporter, editor and manager and now president of Minnesota Public Radio. Previously the community network VP at the Bush Foundation. And congratulations on recently being named a new trustee to the Columbia University Board.

Duchesne Drew: Thank you.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah. Congrats on that.

Nadege Souvenir: Earlier in our show, Pahoua and I were chatting about leadership. We do that a lot, don't we?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yes.

Nadege Souvenir: Yeah. Okay. Well, it's important. It's a big topic. But more specifically, we were chatting about this article that Pahoua sent me some weeks ago about BIPOC leaders making or taking space basically in that transition from white leadership. And I know you've had a chance to dig into that article a little bit and we're going to really chew on it. But just curious, any initial reactions after reading it?

Duchesne Drew: I thought it was really thoughtful. I could relate personally to elements of it. And then there are other pieces that weren't my experience but they still seemed familiar to me just living in this world. And I think it really spoke to how much more intentional we need to be as we not just hire people into leadership roles but how we really position them to succeed and position the organizations to make the most of what they have to offer.

Nadege Souvenir: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think, we can see in our community, all you have to do is look around, there have been a lot of leadership transitions as of late and some really great new BIPOC leaders stepping to the helm of organizations. And so it is clear that there's an intentionality around that but is it enough just to hire someone into the job? Or is there a little bit more that we need to be doing?

Duchesne Drew: Yeah. Hiring is critical, but it's not sufficient. And I think about how with most hires, black, white, or green, the real work begins once they're there. And I think a lot of organizations should be more intentional about the whole arc of someone getting off on the right foot but also having support and opportunities to stop and sort of pause and talk about how it's really going and what would make it better. And what are the things that maybe were a little surprising or different than what either had been discussed or had been hoped for?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And what I appreciate about this report is that it's specific to the nonprofit sector. The report again, the title of the report is, Making or Taking Space: Initial Themes on Nonprofit Transitions from White to BIPOC Leaders. And this is work being done by the Building Movement Project on behalf of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. And I think that in the last couple of months, we've been here a lot about the great resignation, which is creating space for people to come in. And I think just the growing diversity of not just Minnesota but the country, is I think providing an opportunity for organizations to think about hiring leaders of color. But to Nadege's point, I think hiring is we're not done after that.

Duchesne Drew: So far from being done.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And there's a lot to be done to create an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging but certainly those leaders of color who are stepping into maybe predominantly white spaces, especially following let's say a white leader who might be well liked, charismatic or not. And you mentioned Duchesne that there were some pieces in the report that resonated with you and some that were familiar but not your experience. Can you touch on what some of those were for you?

Duchesne Drew: Sure. I stepped into my role at MPR last May, May of 2020.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: You and I started at the same time.

Duchesne Drew: Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir: Oh, that's right.

Duchesne Drew: We were on the same schedule. About three weeks before George Floyd was murdered. And so, I came into the role knowing that there would be some challenges and knowing that there'd be a ton of upside once I got my arms around all the things but it was more challenging financially because of the pandemic to be frank. We had, this is one of the issues raised in this think piece, which is that sometimes you come in and it wasn't that anyone lied to me, things changed. And we still had to react to it. We were having the best year ever until we weren't. Bringing that up just because I think just this sense of you think it's going to be one deal and you get in and it's another deal.

And that's before we even begin to talk about George Floyd's murder leading to racial reckoning all over the globe and leading to a lot of organizations having to screw up with their own shortcomings when it comes to equity issues. We had our issues and still have issues around that at MPR and American Public Media Group. None of those were secrets. That was part of the interview process. It wasn't like no one knew or was thinking about how we could do better on that front. But it was almost like the fuse was lit and we were running out time. You had to say, "Oh, we're going to come in and do X, Y, and Z." And it's like, no, you're doing it now, And so I definitely felt like a lot of the issues raised in this piece were present for me as I was starting.

A lot of the internal cultural and culture sort of stressors that were there, they were always there on some level, they're in many organizations, just became a lot more acute with all the stress people were carrying, living through a pandemic. In many instances for our organization, people on the streets covering the racial unrest issues and then living it as well. This is our home. And so there was just a lot more tension and stress. And so there was no honeymoon. You think oftentimes as when you start in a role you have the first few months, to just sort of like, let's do lunch.

Nadege Souvenir: To meet and greet.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Enjoy inbox with just three emails in there.

Duchesne Drew: There was none of that. My first day, once again, this is the nature of the times, my first day I was handed the list of people taking buyouts and handed financial targets for additional layoffs to make the budget work.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Oh my gosh, Duchesne.

Duchesne Drew: And that wasn't because people were trying to be callous. It's like, if we get that wrong, then we cease to exist. If we get that wrong, then we're laying off a lot more people than if we make strategic cuts. But that was literally day one. Here's a list of people you're not going to get to work with for very long. And then here's a number or numbers that become names of real people in time. And in a short time. I had to have that figured out within the first couple of weeks.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Wow.

Nadege Souvenir: Do you have any sense, certainly the time, the pandemic, the racial reckoning would've made any leader stepping into your role, would've challenged any leader but did you ever get the sense that you were being pushed a little bit faster because you were now a Black man in the space at a time of racial reckoning, at a time when an organization, as you've commented, you know there are things to work on. Did you ever feel, would I be pushed quite this fast if I weren't me?

Duchesne Drew: I don't know if I felt if I was being pushed or if I was being pulled by events and I get the nature of the question. I think I probably came in to be frank, more equipped to deal with many of these issues than most of my peers or my boss just because I'd had experience dealing with these issues. Not just because I'm a Black man but because of the nature of the leadership roles I played both in workplace and in community over time. And that was part of what made me an attractive candidate for the role. I think it's worth saying again, they were aware that we had some cultural issues that we have not been as successful in holding onto and elevating women and people of color over time. Certainly not the only reason I was hired but it was part of the discussion as I went through the process. And so I think what happened was this sense of, okay, we're going to step into these issues thoughtfully and tackle them over the coming months became no, we're dealing with this right now. Now now.

Nadege Souvenir: Coming hours. 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM.

Duchesne Drew: It's happening. I can smell the smoke. It's literally there's no warm up, ramp up. It's like, let's begin as best we can accelerating and leaning into this in a more meaningful way than I think otherwise would've been the case.

Nadege Souvenir: You talked about the culture and internal dynamics and then also talked about previously how you saw yourself as more equipped or well equipped for the role at hand, given where the organization was and given all of your background experience, not just your personal lived experience. And I wonder when you think about other leadership roles like that, do you think that as a sector or as organizations, we value that experience around, there's a lot of emotional labor in that experience around culture and internal dynamics. There's no ROI for that. But there's a lot of heavy, heavy work. Do you think we place enough value on that skill?

Duchesne Drew: I don't think many places do. And I think it bites them. I think a lot of the places that have unhealthy cultures have unhealthy cultures because they haven't made it a priority.

Nadege Souvenir: I want to circle us back to something you said kind of at the top of our conversation about hiring is not just enough. You have to be intentional about the arc and I'd just love to get your thoughts on what does that intentionality look like? Have you had some really great experiences? Have you heard of some things that would be really good in shaping that arc?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And what have you put into place already?

Duchesne Drew: Yeah, I've got examples both in terms of my own experience, what I've seen. I think back, I'll start with, when I started at the Bush Foundation back in March of 2015, Jen Ford Reedy who's the president there was my boss. She spent four hours on each of the first two days I was there and she had just a map. Here's the things you need to know. And it wasn't all stuff I had to do. I didn't have to memorize it, it was just, here's how we got to now, here's where we're going. Here's how you fit in. Here's kind of a sense of where we are as an organization because it was huge at that point still sort of ship turning in terms of change management was underway. I was coming in, if it was a baseball game, probably in the third or fourth inning or something. I wasn't there at the beginning but we hadn't got to the seventh inning stretch yet.

And so I just appreciated that because I think she was anticipating that my head would be spinning for a bunch of reasons but even just an understanding what journey we were on as an organization. On a board where we were hiring a co-executive director to partner with the founding ED. We were really intentional on the front end of thinking about what's person A's role? What's person B's role? What dimensions is it they're going to share? How are we going to make sure that they are developing healthy, respectful, trusting relationships? How are we going to make sure the staff that reports to them feels like? We kind of mapped it all out and we talked about it over and over again. We hired a consultant to work with the two of them to make sure there was kind of somebody who was available and thoughtful and skilled in this arena who could help them sort of surface discuss, resolve any differences that might pop up. I'm thinking about even in my role here at MPR, Jon McTaggart was my initial boss, the CEO of APMG, assigned one of the SVPs Mike Reszler to kind be my body person. If you have any questions about anything large or small.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I never got a body person.

Duchesne Drew: Right? Call Mike anytime day or night.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I suppose you are.

Nadege Souvenir: We got to build that into our onboarding, I guess.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah. Call it a body person.

Duchesne Drew: He's my guy. I could text him in the middle of a meeting going, what was that? What just happened here? And he was really clear. He was like, nothing's out of bounds, nothing's silly. If I don't know, I'll tell you. But I recognize there's a lot spinning and he'd been in that role a long time, at the company a long time in a various roles actually. And so I think just having somebody beyond the boss in that regard, who's available to help and somebody who is really at that point, just invested in you kind of getting off to a solid start. And who can be real with you about stuff including saying, "I don't know but here's the questions I might ask."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Well, this is somewhat connected to the creating the environment, I think. One I didn't expect but I was really appreciative of. When I entered the foundation, obviously people who know me, you know I'm a Hmong woman and we have a lot of Hmong staff at the foundation. There was a group of us that got together and we still communicate as a group now and that sense of we have someone new, we're going to wrap ourselves this new person. We're also, especially during last year with anti-Asian hate, it was good to have that support. Curious whether staff at MPR with your arrival was there a, ah, he just gets me. I won't have to explain these things because he and I might have the same lived experience or at least will get some of the things that maybe they were going through or have been through. Any of that for you?

Duchesne Drew: Oh, my wife, certain. My wife was like, "Yeah, I think he gets me."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I hope so.

Nadege Souvenir: I Would hope so.

Duchesne Drew: It was welcoming but it was once again, it was kind of this somewhat distant and there actually aren't, there aren't that many Black folks at MPR. Think about, we've got the current classical in the newsroom.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Which is why it's even more important.

Duchesne Drew: Yeah. Oh, for certain. It's not that people weren't warm. It was just, they're just scattered.

Nadege Souvenir: Scattered.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Scattered.

Duchesne Drew: They are siloed. They are very siloed. And so it wasn't like there was I think as much of a sense of community there as I've experienced in some other places. We're working on that. There's a BIPOC ERG that I think has really.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That's employee resource, listeners.

Duchesne Drew: Yes, employee resource group. All the Black, indigenous and other people of color in the org are invited to participate in kind of a monthly get together. And we've done in addition to the Zoom meetings. We've also actually done stuff in person, which has been wonderful.

Nadege Souvenir: Oh, that's nice.

Duchesne Drew: I think that that's one of the positive things in terms of really trying to just, we're not going to talk about work work. Who are you? What makes you tick? We actually, every meeting the monthly meetings, every meeting somebody, oftentimes two people, will go and kind of tell their life stories. And sometimes they'll even do PowerPoints. Here's a picture of me when I was five on a pony or whatever but it's just, we're getting to know each other as people.

Nadege Souvenir: I kind of love that actually a little bit.

Duchesne Drew: It's been nice. It's been really nice because then you're logging in for the next month and you know something about this person beyond what they do and where they sit.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah. Yeah. We've done that in our staff meeting.

Nadege Souvenir: Yeah. We've done, but I'd love to see pictures of five year old versions.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: We've done some pictures but this is also how I found out that one of my team members had auditioned for, oh, what's the singing show. Why am I blanking right now?

Nadege Souvenir: American Idol?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yes.

Duchesne Drew: Ooh, nice.

Nadege Souvenir: Oh, wow.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: She had gone to Chicago. Anyway.

Nadege Souvenir: We have a lot of talented staff.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: We do.

Nadege Souvenir: You'd be surprised when you start asking around. Well, maybe not this role, maybe other roles because the reality is this article really focused on leadership, that top role but frankly this happens kind of at all leadership levels. Have you ever found or as I try to unwind this question as it's rolling itself in my brain, are there just the things that you should just not do, don't ever do that again? Have you encountered some things that if you could put together a list proactively and say to folks, "Don't do this."

Duchesne Drew: When you're bringing people on?

Nadege Souvenir: When you're bringing a new BIPOC leader in a role that probably is historically been held by a white person.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That is such a good question. Dying to know.

Nadege Souvenir: See, I'm so glad I got to a good question.

Duchesne Drew: Yeah. I think they're all great questions. I think on a high level, just be really clear on the front end that it's going to look and feel and be different. That's why you hired that person. The truth of the matter is if nothing meaningful changes at all, they're probably not being themself or you probably hired somebody who's different than you thought you were going to get. It's not just a paint job we're talking about. You're trying to bring in people who have different perspectives and have different experiences and have different ways of moving in the world and to have that shape all the things and to create really not just for people of color within and beyond an organization but just to be an example.

There are lots of ways to lead. There are lots of ways to build and to create the work that you're charged with creating and building together, whatever that may be. It doesn't have to look one way. And so I think the thing that's most important is to encourage leaders to be you their authentic selves. And as you encourage that, to be prepared for that to make you uncomfortable at times. If you're a board member or if you're another staff member, this is what you actually asked for, here it is.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And I think that's key. Because there are some people I work with now who say, "I keep hearing that, but are you ready for it?"

Nadege Souvenir: Right. Right. It's not enough to open the spot, you actually have to make that space. And I just, I really love you saying that if nothing meaningful changes, they probably aren't being themselves. Because that's probably the reality. They're probably following the script that you've written for them. And if that's the case, you didn't need me. You didn't need you, didn't need Pahoua, you could have put anyone in there.

Duchesne Drew: And were probably be dying. That's the other thing too.

Nadege Souvenir: A little bit inside every day.

Duchesne Drew: They were showing up and were reading somebody else's lines. That's probably killing us little bit every day. And so I will tell you that I was very clear from the moment I applied for this job that I was not going to be that person. And once again, not elbows out but really clear in my own mind about what kind of person I am and so should be in all the spaces I inhabit. And how that shapes the leadership walk that I'm on. And so I try to be reflective and try to take feedback and try to make sure that things I'm doing and saying landing effectively. I'm not trying to be like, of course I'm perfect. But I'm also generally unapologetic about how I roll.

And I think particularly if you're clear upfront about what you're trying to accomplish and inviting feedback and inviting ongoing dialogue, it gives you more leeway to just be yourself. I know I'm very different than people who led in the organization previously. And it's not just because of the melanin count. But I think people, whether they like what I'm doing, all of what I'm doing or not, I think they know it's coming from a place of sincerity and that it's coming from a place of really wanting to drive us to a different level of excellence. And to create a more inclusive and more equitable and more successful organization. If we were better, this is true of all of our organizations.

If we were really, really good, excellent at bringing in a wide range of people and not only having them kind of be their best selves but be their best selves together to create things that they couldn't create absent the other person bring their A game, that'd be amazing. Most of us don't get to see that or work in that space or breathe that kind of air. And so that's what I'm driving toward every day. And that's what I'm excited about. And that's why I don't mind disrupting things along the way because what we're doing now actually isn't working for lots of people.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That's right. It reminds me of a piece of advice that I heard is, or an observation, we hire for difference but we onboard for sameness so we end up back where we started. And then those of us who are trying to show up authentically, we do die a little bit every day. Well then why don't you just tell me what you want? And we could be working so much harder, more creatively for the organization if we're given that space. Thank you for saying that.

Nadege Souvenir: Yeah, thank you. I think this is as good a place of any to stop because we could spend the next few hours sort of chewing on this. We'd have to get that red wine though to make it worth our while.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And the salty snacks.

Nadege Souvenir: And the salty snacks.

Duchesne Drew: Don't forget the snacks.

Nadege Souvenir: But before we wrap up, I want to give you a chance for a last word. If there's any sort of parting thought or comment that this conversation has elicited for you.

Duchesne Drew: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I just think that, and I touched on it earlier. I think leadership comes in different forms. Good leadership comes in different forms. There are some consistencies along the way. Communication, for example, listening. But I think that we have to be more comfortable with and more committed to investing in and supporting different kinds of leadership. Being excited about what that can bring us. And we should think about what are we missing out on right now? Because it's such a narrow bandwidth. One of the things that when I got this job, what I recognized, I knew it from the time I applied but it really hit me once I got it. What I was hearing from friends and strangers, it was like, there aren't that many roles in this community where people of color are driving, where what we're driving is something that white folks are heavily invested in.

Nadege Souvenir: Wow.

Duchesne Drew: That's not meant to denigrate the people of color running organizations that are serving people color. It's not at all where I'm going. But so often that stuff I think can seem peripheral to our white friends and neighbors because it's not their deal. MPR is Minnesota. It's at the heart. It's Lake Wobegon and more. But it is Lake Wobegon. I just remember a lot of people were just really happy about it but just like, oh wow. They did that. Because it doesn't happen often enough.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That's why we thought of you when we thought about this article and thought you are driving this very Minnesota, white Minnesota institution.

Duchesne Drew: Yeah. And I love it. I've been an MPR member since six months after I moved here. That shouldn't be such a big deal in 2020, 2021 now. It should just be, well of course. This talent from all parts of our community and we are hearing big numbers. We are 30% people of color, 30% of the metro area now. But our leadership cadre doesn't look anything like that, nothing like that. I think that more organizations need to decide that they're going to not take some big R risk, capital R risk. I was not a risky hire. Just to say that. I was not a risky hire.

Nadege Souvenir: Not at all.

Duchesne Drew: And I think the guy who hired me would say that, "This was not a risky hire. We're really glad to have him." But I think we need to see that happen more and more and more in this market, in this community. It'll be part of what I think helps us walk the talk and part of what will help us attract and keep more diverse talent in the market. It's still too much of a rarity for the day and time that we're living in.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Absolutely. Thank you Duchesne for joining us.

Nadege Souvenir: Thank you so much.

Duchesne Drew: My pleasure.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: What a great conversation.

Nadege Souvenir: Wow. This has been a really fantastic conversation. First, your experience and then hearing Duchesne talk about his leadership and how he's really stepped into it. What, Pahoua, has stood out to you about today's chat?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Two things. How, if we don't embrace the change that we hired for, that the people you just hired were different are like slowly dying every day. You are nodding your head.

Nadege Souvenir: I am nodding in my head.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: We've been there.

Nadege Souvenir: I've got the Fujees Killing Me Softly, running in the background.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yes. And then the other thing which he put into words, a feeling I've had. And I didn't think about it the way that he did, which was he is leading a very Minnesota institution, MPR. These weren't his words but had he led an organization that was known to be serving majority people of color, people might have went, "Oh yeah, that makes sense." But because he was now leading, a Black man leading MPR, it was different. It felt different. People noticed. And I think that's a little bit of how I felt stepping into the role of being the executive director for the Citizens League. And I didn't think about it in the way that he just talked about it today. He named it.

Nadege Souvenir: He named it. We've all heard it and it's time for it to be not so special anymore.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yes. We don't want to be that special in that way.

Nadege Souvenir: Right. It's time for it to be regular and it's time for change. Change is change and I think that's what we learned today. With that, everyone, thanks so much for listening.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Thanks for listening.

Nadege Souvenir: Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You. You can find us on Facebook at I So Appreciate You Podcast and on Twitter and Instagram @soappreciateyou.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: We'd also appreciate you taking a moment to leave us a review. And if you like our show, be sure to follow I So Appreciate You on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you're listening to us right now.

Nadege Souvenir: Have a question or a topic suggestion? Email us at podcast@spmcf.org. Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You.

Episode 7

I So Appreciate You! co-hosts Nadege and Pahoua, along with special guest Christophe Beck, President and CEO of Ecolab, explain the concepts of “mirroring” and “bridging” and discuss how leaders, particularly white leaders, can create more inclusive workplaces.

Episode References:

How Inclusive is Your Leadership? by Salwa Rahim-Dillard in the Harvard Business Review

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Welcome everyone to I So Appreciate You!, an honest, raw and sometimes funny podcast about work, community, life and all the other stuff we juggle. Hi, I'm Pahoua.

Nadege Souvenir: And I'm Nadege, and we're colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. In addition to that, we're friends. And so when we talk, our conversations can run the gamut. We can start talking about board meetings and governance procedures, we can get into mother-daughter dynamics, and then we can be like, "Where are we going to dinner tonight?"

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I prefer that conversation. And so we thought that maybe some of you would like to join us in conversations so here we're with I So Appreciate You! Welcome everybody. In this week's episode, we're talking about inclusive leadership. There is so much, Nadege, for us to dig into around this topic. From how white colleagues and leaders can find better ways to work with people who are different from them, to how people of color often feel the pressure to mirror their white colleagues to fit in. We'll be joined by Christophe Beck, the president and CEO of Ecolab.

Nadege Souvenir: Now, Pahoua, we've got another article here, you and your articles.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: We love to read.

Nadege Souvenir: I know, I know. And so that's going to be the catalyst for our conversation. And the article is How Inclusive is your Leadership? by Salwa Rahim-Dillard, available at Harvard Business Review. Why don't you go ahead and tell our listeners what this article's about?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Now, I want to say that Nadege and I likely would have come upon this article, but it was assigned reading for work.

Nadege Souvenir: It was assigned reading, which is a rare, rare thing.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And also a good thing, right?

Nadege Souvenir: Yes.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I think it's good that we take the time at work, because this is also part of the work, right? Making sure that we're constantly learning. And what this article essentially is about, is about how many managers are ill-equipped. I'm going to pause here and say leaders of color as well. So white leaders and leaders of color. We're ill-equipped sometimes to lead and connect with Black, Indigenous and employees of color.

And until white leaders become more skilled at bridging, and what that means is connecting with people who are different from them and how BIPOC leaders, leaders of color, we need to become more skilled at bonding, connecting with people who are similar to us. And this article, the way it was framed was there have been a lot of socially conscious CEOs making big declarations, especially following the murder of George Floyd.

And so one of the reasons why we asked Christophe Beck, president and CEO of Ecolab to join us is, what's his journey? What did he think of this article when we shared it with him? And what are the things they are doing differently, if anything, at Ecolab around making their workplace more inclusive?

Nadege Souvenir: This is such a meaty topic. And you know, I want to circle back because we told folks it was required reading and they're probably thinking, "Required for what?" Well, actually this was part of a journey our leadership team was going on.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That's right.

Nadege Souvenir: And so we spent several months really working together on our equitable leadership as a collective, as well as individually. And so I'm really excited to dig into this conversation with Christophe. And actually, we're going to take a tiny, tiny departure from our usual format, because right about now we'd start joking about celebrities and saying something.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: What'd you eat, what'd you wear.

Nadege Souvenir: All of the important things in life, but actually we're going to jump right into our conversation with Christophe. Sound good?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Sounds good.

Nadege Souvenir: All right. We'll be right back. Thank you for tuning in today. If you've not yet had a chance to listen to past episodes of I So Appreciate You!, visit spmcf.org/podcast to catch up. You can also find us on Apple Podcast, Google, Spotify or wherever you're listening to us right now. And we're back and super excited to welcome our guest Christophe Beck. Christophe?

Christophe Beck: Great to be here.

Nadege Souvenir: Happy to have you here. So before we get started, before we dive in, we do one thing with every guest.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Every guest.

Nadege Souvenir: We call it three quick questions. Are you ready?

Christophe Beck: I am. I think so. I hope so and let's try.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: You've been, you've been ready. All right.

Nadege Souvenir: Yeah. You got this, you got this. So when you go to the movies, popcorn or candy?

Christophe Beck: Popcorn.

Nadege Souvenir: That's the right answer. Actually, both of them are the right answers. Let me be really honest, they're both the right answer.

Christophe Beck: Candies are too complicated. I love those popcorns and you can pass them to your kids and you drop them, it makes it much more fun.

Nadege Souvenir: It does. It does. Okay. If you need a snack, would you go for a salad or would you go for fries?

Christophe Beck: I would go for fries, but my mom would prefer I went for salad.

Nadege Souvenir: Fair enough. And the final question, are you a cat person or a dog person?

Christophe Beck: You know what? I've become a dog person. I love cats and I've fall in love with my current dog called Maxi. And we have a great relationship and I've become a dog person.

Nadege Souvenir: That's fair.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That sounds like you weren't a dog person before.

Christophe Beck: That's what my kids are saying. And saying now I didn't really like dogs, but now I have to admit, I'm a totally dog person.

Nadege Souvenir: Okay. All Right. Well, thanks for that. Let's tell our listeners a little bit more about you and why we thought you'd be a great guest on the podcast. So first, you are president and chief executive officer of Ecolab. Prior to joining Ecolab in 2007, which you've held several roles, you were also senior executive at Nestle for 16 years. And before that even you worked on a space shuttle project for the European Space Agency.

Christophe Beck: That's right.

Nadege Souvenir: Whoa. That sounds really cool.

Christophe Beck: A so called rocket scientist.

Nadege Souvenir: No. How are you today?

Christophe Beck: I'm doing great. This is so cool to see real people. That's a big difference.

Nadege Souvenir: I know. So we're in studio, we're appropriately distanced.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Absolutely.

Nadege Souvenir: We're still in the middle of pandemic, unfortunately. And glad that you could be here with us in person, because I've only seen you via Zoom. And the reason why I've gotten to seeing you quite a bit recently is because you are on our community impact committee and you are on the Saint Paul Minnesota Foundation Board. And so I've seen you interact, not only with me, but with our staff and with community members because what people might not know is for our community impact committee meetings we have these learning sessions where the committees bring in our nonprofit leaders and we hear directly from them about their work, the impact that they're making out in community.

And one thing that always happens after these meetings, especially with you is they'll go, "Hey, who's that guy who said he's the CEO of Ecolab? Is he really the CEO of Ecolab because that guy was funny. He was making jokes? And it made me think, why is it that they think a CEO can't show up in that way. And I also think that it's important for them because you are relatable and they have a connection with you enough that they reach out to me afterwards to A, to see if you are real and you are who you say you are.

But also that it was a breath of fresh air, right? Do our CEOs show up in these ways? And according to them, based on what they've said, maybe they don't know as many folks like you who show up in that way. So what are your impressions on that? Why do you show up in this way?

Christophe Beck: It's a great question. I'm not exactly sure why. It's not scripted. It's not that I'm trying to pretend. It's not that I'm trying to fake anything. It's a bit thinking about my own childhood. My kid's dream was to become a car mechanic. And I was working in a garage when I was 12 or 13 years old, and that was what I wanted to do. My mom didn't see it that way. And the rest is a bit history.

So anything that went beyond being a car mechanic was a plus. So it's not that I was looking for becoming this big leader, this personality, celebrity, CEO, whatever that is. No, I wanted to have fun in life. I wanted to do cool things. I wanted to be with people and I love people. I can't live just by myself, which is driving my family nuts sometimes because I can't eat by myself at home. I can't have room service. I need to be with people. I go to a restaurant, which is why COVID has been terrible for me. And that's why I love being together with you.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: You are off the charts extrovert like me.

Christophe Beck: Might well be.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Check on your friends who are extroverts. We're dying.

Nadege Souvenir: You think the extroverts are struggling?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yes.

Nadege Souvenir: The introverts are too.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I need hugs. I need live music. I need a room full of people. Yes.

Christophe Beck: Same here. Doesn't happen much with COVID unfortunately.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: No.

Christophe Beck: But when you're like that, when you need people, it's because you love people. You want to be with people. You want to relate to people. And for me, the only thing that matters is making sure that people around me are successful and happy.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: So one of the things you said, sorry, Nadege. I'll get to you in a second.

Nadege Souvenir: No, go for it.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: One of the things you said in an earlier conversation that you and I had is that as you move up in your career, it becomes less about you. Expand on that.

Christophe Beck: Which is a very difficult thing to do because that goes against everything that you've seen, everything that you've read, everything that you've learned and thinking when you think about athletes who became famous or leaders or musicians or whoever. You have the feeling it's about that person and you think it needs to be about you intimately, you end up on the last floor in the corner office and what's important is how you feel. What you earn, what you get, how people behave around you.

And I've learned that early on my journey, and I have to admit that someone who's been a mentor to me for many, many years warn me about that and said, "When you grow as a leader, you need to clearly understand that the more you grow, the less it's going to be about you." And this is something that I thought would be easy. When I listened to him said, "Yeah. Okay. I get that."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah. Sounds good.

Christophe Beck: Sounds great.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah.

Christophe Beck: You think it's the right thing to do to make that shift because when you start in a organization on a team or in a garage, as I did as a kid, well, it's about you because it's what you do. You're doing your work. You're helping others while you do your job, right. But when you grow as a leader, there's a moment where it's not about you anymore. And nobody cares how I feel and nobody should care how I feel. How is my life? What matters is truly how is the team doing? How is the team performing? How is the community around you also feeling what you do? And that's a really hard shift to make in your life.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And I think that's a refreshing to hear from CEO that it's still hard for you. That it is hard. And I think that's where the self awareness comes in, right? And I think that it's you being aware that I think does affect the way that you show up. Okay, Nadege, you wanted to get in on this conversation.

Nadege Souvenir: I did. I did. So I want to say to our listeners, we did not prep Christophe to lead into this article as beautifully as he just did. But when you grow, it's less about you. It's not about you. I think flows really nicely into this article that Pahoua and I talked about at the top of the show, and I know you've had a chance to read How Inclusive is your Leadership.

And it feels to me that in some ways before you probably went through any training or whatever, this feels a little organic. It feels like this was always a little bit of your personality being inclusive in others and your love of people. So I want to ask this is going to be the big, super unfair question. You read the article, how did it hit you? Did you relate to it? Was there anything surprising in there for you?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: It's okay if you didn't like it.

Christophe Beck: I liked it. Sometimes when we ask that question how inclusive are you? How inclusive your leadership, how inclusive your organization. It's not a question that gets answered by your yes or a no, right? Or it's good or it's bad. It's never enough. And you never there and you can always get better. And the concept of mirroring that I've learned about in the article, I was not familiar with, but I could relate to it. It was one of those aha moments of saying, "Well, it's a new perspective. I've never used that word either." So I've learned something and made me think.

Nadege Souvenir: That's really fascinating. And we probably should explain for those listening who don't have the article in front of them, what mirroring is.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And you know, Nadege, even though you and I have mirrored, I don't know that we have used that term to describe that.

Nadege Souvenir: I don't think so. I think that actually this article named something that I was like, "Oh, that's what I was doing."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Named a bunch of things, which we've actually talked about in this podcast before.

Nadege Souvenir: We have.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And so mirroring listeners. What that it means is the things that leaders of color, employees of color feel they need to do, the things we mimic, the things we mirror in order to get noticed, in order to get appreciated and in order to be incentivized, because these are the things that we see our white colleagues doing or our white doing. And so we are mirroring those in order to be seen and perceived as professional. So that is what Christophe is talking about.

Christophe Beck: And I can't imagine how hard that must be.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: It's exhausting.

Christophe Beck: Exhausting is the word I wanted to use as well, and if you need to do that over and over again all your life, I can't imagine how you must feel.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: So what do we do? You now know that, we now know this.

Christophe Beck: The best is to talk about it. And it's to be aware of it. And knowing that there's a lot of people around us, around me who need to behave differently than who they truly are, that when they cross the door of the building, join the team, they can't be their full selves. They need to be different. They need to behave differently. This is not only extremely hard, but it's extremely unfortunate because the beauty of diversity is the fact that people are different, that people behave differently, that people have different ideas that, that people want to contribute differently.

The essence of creativity innovation, of entrepreneurship and especially in the business world where everyone is talking about growth, there is no growth without innovation. There is no innovation without creativity. There is no creativity without diversity. So why are we missing step one?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I don't know. And I think I might even said it on the podcast before we often look for and hire for difference and will onboard for sameness. Why do we keep doing that? And I think that maybe it is the not wanting to talk about it, the not wanting to bridge, which is another piece in this article about how even leaders of color, we need to figure out a way that we bond within the workplace, which we found you and I here at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. And also in this podcast

Nadege Souvenir: Right, we did. We did, but it makes a lot of sense that if I as a leader of color I'm mirroring a White leader that mirroring, I'm going to treat other staff of color the same way I'm being treated.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: So we keep perpetuating it.

Nadege Souvenir: And so it's a perpetuating cycle that happens that you sometimes don't even realize is happening until you have that moment, someone calls you out on it or you read the article and you're like, "Oh, that's what is. Or that's what I'm doing." And I wonder, now that you know that, and you've got a team, you've got differences. Do you imagine that there might be different ways that you interact with folks in hopes of letting them know they don't have to mirror as much as they might.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Letting them know you know.

Nadege Souvenir: You Know that they might be doing that and they don't have to.

Christophe Beck: Without knowing the term of mirroring which I've learned in the article, it's a topic that has run in my mind for many, many years, but probably unconsciously. And I was thinking the other day, after reading the article, "How do I deal with it myself?" And I've usually asked that question with leaders of colors, with women, with people who are very different than me.

I've continuously asked them, how does it feel to be a woman in our organization? How does it feel to be a person of color? And working with me, because I was trying to understand and break through that wall of this mirroring, which I was not aware of, but it's really trying to understand how do you feel, how do you live? How real is it for you? Are you pretending, are you faking? Are you mirroring to use that new term, which is something I hate?

I want to have people around me feeling they can be and behave the way they are, the way that's driving them. And that's why I'm asking those questions. And I've learned many years ago that one of the key things in leadership is followership. And I, it was a new concept as well for me, which at the core is really understanding how do people feel about themselves when they interact with me? And it's important how they feel about themselves, not just about how they feel. And it's pretty close to this perspective of mirroring. You can't feel great about yourself. If you can't behave like yourself.

Nadege Souvenir: Like yourself. That totally makes sense.

Christophe Beck: So pieces are a bit coming together and it's really part of that understanding that diversity, inclusion, equity is a journey. You never there, you always learn. And hopefully you understand, you adjust, you grow, you get better and you discover new things as mirroring for me when I read this article.

Nadege Souvenir: I love, and I'm like sitting with it. I love that you have been having conversations like this before, before somebody gave you names and a toolkit. You were just, and I think it goes to your point where you said you love people. So I think it's organic for you.

I'd love to ask you if you feel comfortable sharing, because I think it would be really helpful to our listeners. Have you ever had one of those conversations where somebody admitted that they were challenged or that they didn't feel comfortable. And how did you help that relationship grow or help them feel like themselves in the workplace?

Christophe Beck: One of the thoughts and I have to be very careful here because I want to make a very clear difference between how that happens for people of color and for White people. But there is one moment in my own career that was 10 years ago that that struck me about people not being able to behave the way they truly are.

When I joined the company, I got a year later the chance to run one of our large businesses with a very strong culture, very common in control, very white male driven. Really, let's put it in good terms at the of the whole journey that I truly wanted to lead. And it was after six months working with the leadership team, and we got together 50 people together in a room here in Eagan, and we made one of those psychological tests. And one of the question was around introvert and extrovert.

And the results were 98% of the 50 people in the room were extrovert. And I looked at the team and said, "That cannot be true. It can't be 98% extrovert in this room." And I made something I shouldn't have done, I picked on someone, one of the senior leaders and I said, "You John." And his name was John. "You're not an extrovert. You're an introvert, and an exceptionally effective introvert. And he looks at me and he said, "You're right. But in order to be successful in this company, you have to behave like an extrovert."

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Wow.

Christophe Beck: And again, this is no comparison with what people of color are experiencing, but it was one of those small moments that was ringing a major bell in my mind of saying, "My God, people have to behave differently than who they truly are in the company. This is just wrong." And that was a game changing moment of saying, "Show up as you are every single day, be respectful. Respect our values. Obviously don't behave like a jerk. That's not what I'm saying. It's be yourself." And as a company, as an organization, cherish that, leverage that, nurture that and will become better. And when I think 10 years ago where we were and where we're today, we've made an unbelievable progress in the meantime. But there are those moments that are so essential to create the turn that I truly needed.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: That's a great example, another kind of mirror.

Nadege Souvenir: That's really crystal clear.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir: Absolutely.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And I think kind of my thoughts on that story is, and maybe some of our listeners might be thinking saying to themselves right at this moment, "Are you ready for my authentic self? Right? Are you ready to accept me in the way that I really actually want to show up?" And we had a guest here a couple of podcasts ago where they said, "It's not being able to show up authentically, it's having to mirror that actually is the thing that kills us slowly every day, because we can't be ourselves, right."

And so one of the, and I should for our listeners go back to the reason why we were assigned this article was following George Floyd's murder. Many companies made big statements condemning the death, of course, but also declaring we were going to do things differently. We did the same thing at the foundation. We made a statement and we're doing a bunch of things, but one of the things was we as a senior leadership team read this piece, but I wanted our White senior leadership counterparts to know what you have now discovered too, Christophe, by having read the piece about what we have to do, what Nadege and I have to do that they might not have to not even be aware of, right. That affects the way that we show up.

And so I think it does start by just awareness, having those conversations and that piece allowed us to have that conversation. And I think for you, I don't know that I have an expectation of what you will do with this piece. And we mentioned that this was just a jumping off point for our conversation, but I think to have that learning spirit, right. To have that long life learner in us to come into anything that we do, especially in a leadership role with humility to say, "We don't know everything."

And the discoveries are often not the rocket scientist discoveries. Sometimes the discoveries are just these little moments where it has such a huge impact. And it sounds like for you 10 years ago, that made an impact on your leadership and how you go about leading your folks.

Christophe Beck: It's those defining moments that are important to capture. And you mentioned George Floyd's murder. When that happened, there was this initial thought of saying, "We need to communicate and make big statements and what we think about it and what we will do." This is not what we did.

I talked to our Eco Essence, it's our African American community in the company is called Eco Essence. And I reached out to many of them and I realized it was not the moment of making big statements and commitments. It was the moment to pause and listen. And I remember it was just the day after we organized a call because we were in the pandemic. We were all remote at home, as we now still.

And I was sitting outside on the porch, because my family, they were all on the bench as well together with me. And we had hundreds of people on the call and we just listen and everyone could speak up, what was running on their mind, what that meant for them. We just listened. We've taken a lot of time listening during that call other listening sessions, making sure people could express themselves. This thing was more important than talking at that time.

Nadege Souvenir: I think that's really powerful because I think everything we've been talking about is a little bit about the historical failure to listen. We haven't been listening, right in our corporate spaces, in our office spaces. An environment was created, we brought new people in, but we didn't hear them when they said to us either verbally or non-verbally in their discomfort, in their displeasure that this isn't working for us. And instead, historically, what we said is, "They're not a good fit."

And we kept hiring and instead of hiring for difference and onboarding for sameness, we hired for sameness and onboarded for safeness. And what I really value about what you're saying is, and the distinction you're making between even White folks and folks of color is there are so many layers to that that you have to stop and listen, because otherwise you won't really hear what somebody is trying in their own way to tell you.

And I just think that, I imagine the team appreciated that. And frankly, I think folks listening to this call will appreciate hearing that that was kind of where you came from, that listening was important. And so there's a question here I promise I'm not just going to keep rambling at you, but so now that we've gone through that, it's not over, but that moment, that catalyst moment is behind us, but we're still living in it. How do you keep that listening and that engagement and that letting people feel authentic at the forefront of the work while doing the everyday important work of running a major business?

Christophe Beck: It's a to be bit disciplined and it's to avoid the shortcuts saying, "Well, I need to go about my business." And asking how you've feel, how is it to interact with me? How is it to live in the company? You might choose to say, "Okay, I don't have time for that." It's a crazy world out there. It's been difficult for everyone. Everyone is exhausted. It's the third year getting into the pandemic. It's resisting to the temptation of taking the shortcut.

And when I took the job as CEO a year ago, one of my big focus was listening. And I've said, "I'm going to listen to our frontline people. I'm going to listen to our leaders. I'm going to listen to our customers. And I'm going to listen to our ERGs, our community groups in the company." And I've talked to hundreds of people, that was the beauty of the virtual meetings in a way, if there is something positive into that whole pandemic.

We could have people from around the world. And we spent hours with hundreds of people. And I even did it a few weeks ago. So it was every couple of weeks that I had a chance to interact with people. And it didn't only help me listening to the team, but the team was listening to each other. So you had people from Brazil, from South Africa, from Australia, from the US listening to others who didn't know each other. Which is the beauty and the challenge of large organization as well.

So it's to get organized around this listening. It's not just hoping and doing that by coincidences. Plan for it. Take the time to truly listen and do something as well about it. Because that was the next question. I had many people saying, "What have you heard?"

Nadege Souvenir: Fair question.

Christophe Beck: Which is a fair question saying, it's great you're listening but if you don't do anything about it, well, that was nice. But it's not truly helpful.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And I'll add what have you heard? And then how did it change your behavior?

Christophe Beck: This is a loaded question, Pahoua.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yes, sorry. But I think all of our listeners want to know.

Christophe Beck: I've heard so many things. The thing that was the most inspiring to me was that the organization loved the purpose of the company. We're a company that's not just producing stuff. Our purpose is protect people and the resources vital to life. When we think about COVID, well, it's about protecting people from infections. When we talk about preserving natural resources, this is climate change. This is water scarcity. This is all what nature is making a face because of everything we've done against her, obviously so over the last few years or centuries.

And people are truly moved, inspired, driven by this mission, this purpose we have that's relevant everywhere around the world and especially the new generation. And when I was hearing I'd say, "Wow, it's not just a purpose that's written at the entrance of the building, people believe in it and people want to really live it and do something about it." That's really on the positive side.

Then there is the less positive side, obviously talking to woman, talking to pregnant women, talking to people of colors and saying, "We've made progress, but could we move faster?" When we talk about our objectives as a company for 2030, where I've made the commitment, we will have full representation by 2030. I thought 2030 is pretty quick. Well, this is not what the team felt.

It's saying, "It's 10 years or eight years." Now, this is a long time. Can we go quicker? And for me, the answer is, yes, we should go quicker. I want to make sure as well at same time to your question, Pahoua, how did it change my behavior? I had to resist of just saying, "Yes, we can just go quicker." And not having a plan to go quicker. That's faking it.

This is not who I am. This is not the right thing to do. So it's stepping back and saying, "Yes, you have a point. Let's do that together. Let's go faster, but let's have a plan." It can't just be a commitment out there that you can't reach and you don't know how to get there.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And I think that that leads to part of the exhaustion that we feel out in the community is after those declarations, after those big statements and words matter of course, but words have to follow up with action, right? And so it's really great to hear, "Let's start with the plan." The goal isn't just to go faster, but go faster with what and go faster with whom, right? And for what reason.

Christophe Beck: And who does it?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And who does it, who gets to lead?

Christophe Beck: And I had a chance to talk to investors this morning who were really focused on ESG and especially on the social component. And I didn't have to rehearse because I know the facts very well. So it doesn't last five years. In the company we have 50% more women in the executive ranks. We have 30% more people of colors. We've made progress, and still it's not fast enough. But the most important thing is it can't be the company. We say okay, "Who is the company?" It's like saying-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: You mean the legal entity of the company is not enough?

Christophe Beck: No. It's the city, the state, the federal government. You say, "Okay, who is it?" We a need name for that. And that's why we translated that 18 months ago into accountability for leaders and managers. And to say, "You're going to have an objective. By 2030, that's where you are." And by the way, every year, we're going to give you your objective in terms of representation on your own team.

The first year was really rough because suddenly for everyone thinking yeah it's about the companies and now it's about me, it's about what am I doing with my team. And how much progress am I making? First year was really rough. Second year was last year. We've reached our objectives, which is great. And that's what's important. And now we can accelerate because we demonstrating that it's real and it's personal.

Nadege Souvenir: That's really fantastic. And I think a fantastic way to close out this conversation because here I sit with two extroverts as the lone introvert. And so we could probably be here for another few hours if I don't interrupt-

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: You mirror well in that, by the way.

Nadege Souvenir: I do.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: You've mirror extrovert well.

Nadege Souvenir: I am an introvert with extrovert tendencies when I'm comfortable. But Christophe, we'd like to give our guests a chance to just have a final reflection on our conversation. And we've talked about a lot here and just wanted, is there anything else you want to leave our listeners with about this topic or your experience as a leader?

Christophe Beck: It's coming back where we were a few minutes ago, which is being driven by how much good you're making around you should be what's driving you and not what's good for you, yourself as an individual, as a leader, as a community, partner. No, it's thinking how much impact you have on the team around you? How much impact do you have on the community around you? How much impact do you have on the nature?

And it's really keeping in mind as well how much do you help people around you feel good about themselves when they interact with me, with you and being in the company or the organization that you are in. And it's a very different way to look at people interaction at families, at communities and at leadership. It's been game changing for me, and I hope it's going to be game changing for many.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Thank you, Christophe. I certainly feel good about myself when I interact with you. And I think that is the feeling that my staff and community members who've been in your presence feel when they get the opportunity to interact with you. So I want to thank you for joining us today.

Christophe Beck: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Nadege, Pahoua, thank you so much.

Nadege Souvenir: Thank you. Pahoua?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Yeah.

Nadege Souvenir: How lucky have we been with the guests on this podcast?

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Extremely lucky. I feel like some of them we knew, but not in the way that we got to know them through this podcast, through our conversations with them.

Nadege Souvenir: I know. I have taken at least one thing, usually like five or six sings from every episode. And I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate them into the way I show up.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: And I think you and I started this podcast because we thought we would have fun, but I think we ended up having way more fun and they had fun, hopefully with us.

Nadege Souvenir: And I hope our listeners are having fun too.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: I hope you are having fun, this is for you.

Nadege Souvenir: We joke, we laugh, but we also learn, and this has just been such a great experience.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: Has been a great experience. Thank you for listening to us.

Nadege Souvenir: We so appreciate you. Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You. You can find us on Facebook at I So Appreciate You podcast and on Twitter and instant at I So Appreciate You.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman: We'd also appreciate you taking a moment to leave us a review. And if you like our show, be sure to follow I So Appreciate You on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you're listening to us right now.

Nadege Souvenir: Have a question or a topic suggestion? Email us at podcastatspmcf.org. Thank you for listening to I So Appreciate You.

About Our Co-Hosts

Nadege and Pahoua, both transplants to Minnesota, are colleagues at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. Whether connecting on a work issue, comparing notes on a new restaurant or discussing pressing issues in our community, they found that they always closed their conversations with, "I so appreciate you." This is the sentiment they extend to their listeners and guests as they explore topics together in this new show.

Nadege Souvenir headshot web
Nadege Souvenir

Nadege (she/her) serves as Chief Operating Officer for the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. In her role, she oversees Grants Administration, Human Resources and IT. Nadege also leads the Foundation’s learning and evaluation efforts, including the East Metro Pulse community vitality survey. Nadege joined the Foundation in 2016. She has a background in dance, arts administration and law.

Twitter: @NadegeJoseph

Instagram: @NadegeJoseph

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Pahoua Yang Hoffman headshot web
Pahoua Yang Hoffman

Pahoua Yang Hoffman (she/her) serves as Senior Vice President of Community Impact. In her role, she serves as chief strategist for grantmaking and community impact at the Foundation. In addition to managing relationships with the organization’s two client foundations, F. R. Bigelow Foundation and Mardag Foundation, she also assists the Foundation in areas of public policy and community engagement, and advises the CEO on statewide strategic leadership.

Twitter: @Pahoua

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About the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation


The Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation believes in the best of Minnesota and the power of its communities.

With roots in Saint Paul and partners across the state, it is Minnesota’s largest community foundation and the partner of choice for thousands of donors, nonprofits and community organizations.

The Foundation aspires to create an equitable, just and vibrant Minnesota where all communities and people thrive by inspiring generosity, advocating for equity and investing in community-led solutions.

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