40: An Imperfect Conversation About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

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Erica Courdae knows most people shut down when they hear words like privilege, oppression, and racism. The root of it? Waiting to say anything until we’re sure we’ve got it right. She’s here to talk about how you can show up today as an imperfect ally--in business and life.

A lot of the time I spent working for nonprofits over the last decade I was convinced I had it right. I was working for progressive causes. I was the voice for the voiceless. I was committing my life to change.

But what I didn’t see clearly is how my own upbringing, assumptions, and position in the world has shaped my perspective as a privileged, straight, white woman. As a leader embarking on my own journey toward stronger allyship, I know I don’t have it all figured out. This episode explores that process--one which many of us are navigating but may not completely know how to do so best.

On this episode, Erica and I chat about:

  • How to ask about what you don’t know;

  • What shame has to do with our ability to have hard conversations;

  • The tokenization of diversity, equity, and inclusion in business; and

  • The role of values and ethics in your brand.

MEET ERICA COURDAE

Erica is an entrepreneur, coach, and consultant. She’s dedicated to expanding how multicultural professionals, managers, lawyers, coaches, and creative small business owners interact with the world.

Through powerful conversations meant to create dialogue and connection, Erica seamlessly challenges them to perceive their reality through a different lens.

Erica speaks on topics like diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion to create awareness and mindset shifts needed for impact in life and business.

She believes talking about important and necessary topics in a safe space creates change and helps people feel comfortable, open, honest, and forward focused.

UNDERSTANDING PRIVILEGE

Erica’s first business is a beauty business. And we all know, things get real when you’re in the chair. Our stylists act as our confidants, therapists, and coaches.

But as a stylist, Erica always felt like she had to stay behind the veil a little bit. She was grounded in the principles that guided her life, but she didn’t have a way to talk about important things that kept coming up like white privilege, the diversity of diversity, and standing up for equity.

That’s how her consulting business came to life.

When topics like privilege are brought up, Erica sees most people shut down. Others are silent because they don’t know what to say. But with silence comes complicity. 

Erica believes many of us are afraid of getting it wrong. The idea that you can’t ever come back from something--that you’ll be branded for life.

Rather, she thinks we can recognize that we might have been given a set of beliefs, ethics, or standards that no longer work for us and we have the opportunity to shift those. We can say these things no longer work for me.

But we can’t ignore it. It’s easy to say something doesn’t apply to us or people are just too sensitive. That’s what privilege is. 

And even if you have privilege, it doesn’t mean you haven’t had touch circumstances that you’ve had to overcome in your life. It just means that the system, the world, is set up to benefit you and give you the benefit of the doubt more often than not. You’re able to walk through the world with fewer barriers than many other people.

DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION IN BUSINESS

Diversity has become a buzzword these days--an initiative businesses take on to check off a box and improve their optics.

But if we’re committing dollars and time to these topics, we need to make sure we have the right people leading the conversation.

Unfortunately most leaders are missing the mark. They’re having conversations about equity but not including voices that are most impacted by it. They’re naming someone’s experience as they see it. And they’re focused on keeping the conversation comfortable and “appropriate” for business.

We aren’t going to get anywhere by being comfortable.

Erica says that a lot of people don’t think about what it means to be categorized by their sexual orientation or their race before anything else. “The black girl who’s so well spoken” or “The gay guy.”

We must open our eyes to view the world from a different lens, one in which we may never have seen managing our day-to-day lives.

IMPACT MATTERS MORE THAN INTENT

She knows this work can feel heavy. And while her goal isn’t comfort, Erica doesn’t want us to feel guilt or shame for not having it figured out.

But she is committed to interrupted excuses for not confronting our own biases. These tend to come up when people say things like:

  • I don’t see color.

  • I’m a good person. I can’t be a racist.

  • I have friends of color.

  • I’ve experienced reverse racism.

These comments take away someone’s experience--they take away from the whole of who they are. And that’s not equality. Equality comes from a place of understanding that we’re different and that’s okay, not trying to pretend we’re all the same.

IMPERFECT ALLYSHIP

If we, as business owners, aren’t willing to confront these issues, nothing will change. In fact, the very issues we’re facing today are cyclical. And it’s up to us be break the chain.

Erica says that if you want to utilize your platform and your brand for change, you’ve got to start by addressing where you are, what you want to learn, and what you can start doing differently.

It’s not about knowing all the things to do right away. It’s about committing to doing the work and censoring how it might make you feel. 

Imperfect allyship is saying, “I can see where things need to shift, I want to be part of that change, and I’m going to do it now imperfectly because the people I want to support don’t have the luxury of waiting.”

And, yes, sometimes you’re going to put your foot in your mouth. Nobody is immune from that because nobody is perfect. But we can’t use that as an excuse not to move forward.

Change is the result of small shifts over time.

As business owners, the first step is awareness.

The second step is acknowledging what it is you want to do differently. Maybe that means following women of color business owners online. Maybe it’s reaching out and having coffee dates with entrepreneurs of different backgrounds. Or maybe it’s going to more diverse networking events.

It’s being open to saying, “I want to know more than I currently know.”

And if you’re looking for better support than Googling can provide, Erica’s ready to support your vision.

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