MoFo Perspectives Podcast
In the first episode of our new Diversity in Practice podcast series, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Natalie Kernisant sits down with Terra Winston of Next Step Partners to discuss what steps we can take toward being an effective ally and how allyship differs from mentorship and other forms of advocacy.
Speaker: Welcome to MoFo Perspectives, a podcast by Morrison & Foerster, where we share the perspectives of our clients, colleagues, subject matter experts, and lawyers.
Natalie Kernisant: Welcome to the Diversity in Practice podcast, a part of MoFo Perspectives. My name is Natalie Kernisant, and I am the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Morrison & Foerster. This podcast series is designed to provide a space to discuss a wide variety of issues related to diversity in the law and to introduce you to some of our talented, diverse attorneys, their areas of legal expertise, and the work that they and their MoFo allies do in furtherance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s our hope that by sharing D&I best practices, wherever possible, we can help make the legal industry a more inclusive place for those who are, in the words of MoFo’s former chair, Bob Raven, just a little bit different.
Natalie Kernisant: We have with us today Terra Winston, a coach and facilitator from Next Step Partners. By way of background, I was introduced to Terra by a colleague while searching for a facilitator who could help our MoFo professionals confront, process, and share their thoughts and emotions in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident. So I asked Terra to lead a series of discussion sessions. The first was with, and for, our black professionals. The next three were for the broader MoFo community. These follow-up sessions were called how to be an effective ally. And during each of them, not only were we, I think, able to help members of the MoFo community discuss how to be more compassionate, engaged, and resilient allies, but we were also able to help people begin to articulate and confront some of the fears that often stand in the way of being a truly effective ally. And Terra was an integral part of all of this work. With that as our context, I’m really happy to say, Terra, welcome to the podcast.
Terra Winston: Hi, Natalie. I’m so excited to be here!
Natalie Kernisant: We are very excited to have you. I have to say that even though it was only a few sessions, I’m really proud of the work we did together at MoFo.
Terra Winston: Yes.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah. It was really impactful. I think people really enjoyed it, but before we get into all of that, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and the work that you do for law firms and other organizations?
Terra Winston: Sure. I like to categorize myself as a reformed engineer and MBA. I decided to use my powers for good and not evil. I get to help people and organizations break down the barriers that keep them from their highest potential. And so with individuals, I do executive coaching and group coaching. With teams, I facilitate meetings and help them get to decisions. I do training. And then for organizations, we get to talk about culture and all the things that kind of may be unconsciously there that kind of hold people back. And so across a broad spectrum, I see myself as someone that gets to knock things down so that people can keep building up.
Natalie Kernisant: That’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, you were very helpful in sort of knocking down some of the barriers around allyship with our MoFo community. So let’s turn to the work that you did with us on allyship. First, for those who may not know much about the topic, can you help us understand what allyship means and how you differentiate allyship from, say, things like mentorship, sponsorship, or just being a supportive friend?
Terra Winston: Oh, I love that question because people are really kind of using the term and throwing it around, and people don’t always know what it means. So, first of all, we need all those things. I want sponsors, I want supportive friends, I want mentors, and ally is a role that we critically need as well. So an ally is someone who advocates on the behalf of someone else. Usually that person is different from they are, right? So I can be a straight ally for LGBTQ+ people. I can be a white ally for Asian people. So usually there’s a difference. And my difference gives me a bit of position and power to be able to speak out, even though the issue doesn’t affect me. Now, the main difference between being an ally and being a mentor or sponsor or friend is about the nature of the relationship.
Terra Winston: So to be a mentor or a sponsor, I kind of know this person, right? I’m advocating for this individual. And I have a relationship with them. Allyship is the only one where I can be a broad ally to people, even strangers that I don’t know. And I think that’s what makes it so powerful. And so my challenge to all the mentors and sponsors and supportive friends out there is as your ally hat on top of what you’re doing. So what that may look like is I may be in a meeting, and my sponsor hat says, “you know what? I think Natalie would be a great person for this opportunity.” In that same meeting, when I wear my ally hat as well, I say, “And oh, by the way, I’m not sure we’re even talking about enough women as potential for this opportunity.” So both pieces work really well together.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah, no, it makes plenty of sense. So in your line of work, particularly in this moment, you have the opportunity to witness firsthand how difficult the work of allyship can really be. What are some of the common challenges you’ve encountered when working with people who want to be more effective allies, and what’s your advice for overcoming some of those obstacles?
Terra Winston: So the one—and we talked about the, this in our ally sessions, but it bears repeating for anyone who either didn’t go to those sessions or just everyone in general, the fear factor is by and large the biggest piece. We’re all so aware and afraid that we’re going to make a mistake, that we’re going to offend somebody, that we’re going to put our big old feet in our mouths. And people are going to judge us. They’re—I’m—they’re going to think I’m a racist. They’re going to think that I don’t care. I’m going to be embarrassed, either privately or publicly shamed on social media. That fear factor is massive. And it keeps people from speaking up and standing up. Now the key to balancing that fear factor is don’t be so invested in being right, because you’re going to be wrong.
Terra Winston: You’re going to make mistakes. There’s no other way that this works. If we all knew everything about every person at all times, we wouldn’t have time to do our day jobs. But on top of that, we wouldn’t have a world that had people of difference. So there’s a natural place. And so what I want allies to move to this idea of being comfortable with the fact that allyship is about evolution. I think I know a thing, I try something, I experiment, and then I learn from that reaction. So rather than being defensive, I learn about that. I don’t make the same mistakes twice or multiple times. I then have a new perspective, and I go into my work with something brand new. I do this for a living. I’m going to repeat this.
Terra Winston: People pay me to do this work. And I still learn things every single day and I make mistakes. And here’s the craziness. You would think that people will hold me to the highest regard, again, because I make my living doing some of this. And when I make mistakes, I say, “I’m sorry, I’ll correct that, and everyone’s fine.” So if they’re okay with it with me, trust me, they will get okay with it, with you, with the friends in their lives. I think the only other big thing that comes up for allies right now that makes it challenging is this balance between, I know I need to use my power or my privilege to say something or do something, but I don’t want to overstep my bounds. I don’t—I know I’m supposed to be centering the experiences of the people that are impacted by this, but how do I do that in a delicate way?
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah.
Terra Winston: And again, I refer to step number one, you’re going to make some mistakes. Absolutely, but something that can help you figure out where your lane lies. If you are observing something that you know is wrong or biased or on the margin, you are totally within your right to say, “Hey, I think that that policy may have a little bias in it. Hey, I think that instead of using that word, it makes more sense for us to use this word.” So you don’t have to get a silent vote from all the people impacted before you can say that. You were observing something that we have agreed is not—is a challenge for whatever reason. Now what you also want to partner that with is using your platform and privilege to give voice to—for the people that are impacted.
Terra Winston: So, how can you stop and say, “You know what? I think Lisa was trying to make a point. Lisa, what was that point?” So passing that back to them, how can you just say like one of one—something that we—most of us will never have the opportunity to do because we’re not celebrities, but one great example was right after George Floyd was murdered, there were two types of celebrities. There were the ones that were posting lots of things about their feelings, but some of the most effective ones were actually taking their big audience and then turning over for a day their social media accounts to activists that were actually in the battle. By doing that, they were showing—they were being allies, and people were very clear where those people stand, but they didn’t have to be their voice taking the front. So those are the two ways that you manage it.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. First of all, I love that the phrase allyship is evolution or is about evolution. I do think resilience is a key part of being an effective ally. And it’s funny because when we talk about fear, I think all too often, people believe that members of marginalized communities are they themselves either uniquely fearless or unaware of the potential consequences associated with speaking up for their own communities. But to the contrary, I think fear and anxiety are for many diverse people an everyday experience, whether it’s fear of violence and bodily harm or fear of being ostracized other or denied access to resources that can impact one’s professional development. So I hear you when you say that fear is sort of a really big challenge for allies. In fact, it’s funny. There is this eye opening study published a few years ago in the Harvard Business Review.
Natalie Kernisant: Entitled: Women and Minorities are Penalized for Promoting Diversity. The study was conducted by two professors. I think they were from the University of Colorado Boulder Business School. And it included a survey of 350 executives. Now in it, they found that when women and minorities engaged in behavior that promoted diversity within an organization, they, unlike their white and male counterparts, were often criticized and even suffered significant and ongoing reputational harm. That harm was measured by the—their employers ratings of their perceived competence and performance. Now, I bring that up just to highlight that the fear and anxiety associated with speaking up in these circumstances is real for everybody. And it’s actually, at least according to the study, more likely to negatively impact members of marginalized groups than their white allies. So with that said, I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about whether you’ve ever experienced any challenges around advancing diversity and inclusion or in practicing allyship as a result of being a woman yourself, or being a member of the black community, and if so, how did you overcome those barriers?
Terra Winston: Wow, absolutely. And before I answer that specifically, I want to highlight that everything that you just said is why allyship is so important. The people affected by it when they advocate for their own on their own behalf is they tend to get more of a retribution than other people advocating for them. Like that’s actually the definition of why allyship is so important and why it’s a key conversation to have. So now, back that to me. Absolutely, I have felt the impact of advocating. And I have people that I coach that have felt it too. I tell you a story specifically to me. When I was working at PepsiCo at the time, internally, and I was doing diversity training, and it was my very first diversity training for that when I was in PepsiCo.
Terra Winston: And what they do is they pair you as an internal person with one of the external diversity trainers. And we went into training in Atlanta for a sales team. And I was so excited and happy to talk about using examples and stories from your life. And when we got to the end of the day, when the reviews came in, my reviews were scathing.
Natalie Kernisant: Wow.
Terra Winston: And Terra was an angry black woman. She talks about all this black stuff. She had all these issues. She has a chip on her shoulders. All these things. And my co-facilitator, white, male, and gay, he said to me—he said, “Terra, one of the mistakes that you have is that people will all—because of what they see of you, they will always hear the advocacy or talking about black things louder than anyone else.” He said, “You can talk about gay issues.”
Terra Winston: “You can talk about other things, but if you talk about gender issues, because you are very visibly a woman in people’s minds or you talk about race issues, they dial up in people’s minds, they hear it. It sticks stronger.” And so what—and the habit that we had to form is I would always pound the table and go to the mat for the gay issues. And then he would go to the ones that are race issues when we work together. And people—and that little shift changed the way people perceived it. So it’s real. And it’s there. So how do you manage that when you are trying to be an advocate for yourself or for others? And again, I’m speaking right now to people who are advocating for their issue that they are part of that group.
Terra Winston: What’s really key is oftentimes we get pigeon holed and stereotyped by that single issue. We know that you’re the diversity person and you’re always going to talk about that, but then they lose the thread that you’re also an amazing litigator. They lose the thread that you’re a strong leader. So your reputation starts to build around a single issue, which then at times will—when someone says, “You know what, we’re looking for the next practice leader. We’re looking for the next whatever. Your brand is not aligned with those types of things anymore.” And so the key is how do you continue to create visibility discussion around your capabilities, as well as the fact that you’re doing this work, when the best ways to do that is to really look at who your sponsors are within an organization and make sure they’re fully armed with the multitude of what you’re doing.
Terra Winston: So that that conversation is not only about you as a person that pushes for women’s issues, you as the person that leads on LGBTQ+ rights, you as the person that is so focused on Asian rights or black rights. So by changing that narrative and making sure that your people have the ammunition, that will sometimes reduce the impact of them.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah.
Terra Winston: The honest answer though is, if you are doing this work, there’s still going to be a little bit of what I see most in organizations, this question of, if you have time to do all of this other stuff, are you really doing your work as well as you could be? And that’s something that we culturally can fight internally to remind people that if we look at how the work is done, the quality of the work, then looking at whether or not someone is taking additional personal discretionary time to forward some of these challenges, or if I’m taking my personal discretionary time to be with my child, or to enjoy my life, or sleep, or any of the other things that I could be doing with my personal discretionary time.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah. No. That resonates with me. And in fact, it brings me to another question that I had for you. So as a diversity professional, we often talk about how allyship is action. But in your session, you advised us not to confuse activity for progress. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that?
Terra Winston: Yes, I’m going to put that on my tombstone. I’m going to write—I’m going to make a jacket and put it on the back. Want everyone to have this t-shirt. Don’t confuse activity with impact. There’s so much—there’s so many things that we can be doing. In the middle of all the supposed boredom that we’re supposed to be having with this work-from-home COVID stuff, which I don’t know about y’all, I am not bored. There’s so many things to do. Usually things that I don’t want to do. There’s a lot of cleaning I could be doing. But in the midst of this, so now one of the really eye-opening things about systemic racism is once you are aware that it exists, you realize it is everywhere. And that by definition is why it’s called systemic.
Natalie Kernisant: Right.
Terra Winston: The best corollary is if anyone has ever had a kid with has crafts with glitter.
Natalie Kernisant: Yes, it gets everywhere!
Terra Winston: It’s everywhere and you clean up and like six weeks later, you’re like, “Why is there glitter in this weird corner?” That’s racism. So every—so as you start to get more aware, you start to realize that we’ve got police brutality, and there’s an undercurrent of racism there. And then you go, “Oh my goodness, the pancakes and the rice too. The brands have this weird racism built into them and there are statues.” And then I go into work and people with different names get hired differently. Like it is everywhere. And it’s very easy either to be overwhelmed because I don’t know where to start or what’s happening is there’s sometimes there are things that just get, they garner momentum. Things that tend to be more symbolic. So things like team names or statues or flags, like all those things are actually important. What you often hear from whether it’s activists or even when I talk to my black clients about kind of where the energy lies, there’s so much out there, you could choose any lane.
Terra Winston: I would prefer for you to choose the areas that have the most impact on people’s lives, their quality of life, their ability to make a living, their ability to really achieve at the same level as other people. And so while no one is saying don’t fix the—all the things—we need to clean up all the glitter, eventually. Focus where you may have the most impact. Now what that—it kind of does two sneaky things. One, it gives a chance for us to put energy into the things that matter. So you will hear people say, “Let’s wait a few minutes on statues and let’s make sure that voter suppression doesn’t happen.” So impacts versus activity.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah.
Terra Winston: Then all—but it also does for my allies, this work is long. This work is about resilience. We’re not going to fix all of this in a matter of months. It’s going to take us time. And so as we unravel and reweave this American dream and this global change that we’re trying to put in place, you’ve got to maintain your energy. And unless you’re a full-time activist, which something tells me, if you listen to this podcast, you’re not. Unless you’re a full-time activist, you have to pace yourself. Rather you put your energy into the high impact things and that will help your stamina in the long run.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, in the work that I do, I often have conversations with folks who are very well-meaning, well-intentioned, and very passionate allies. And the number one complaint is that progress isn’t being made fast enough, but it is, like you say, a marathon rather than a sprint. This is work that’s been, that people have been doing for quite some time. And that will continue unfortunately for quite some time. So stamina and resilience and conserving that energy is super important in this time and in this moment. So if we switch gears a little bit, I mean, you talked a little bit about talking to your black clients. I wonder if we can delve a little bit more deeply into sort of the perspective of your black clients and what you’re hearing from them about allyship. Obviously, in this moment, allyship is taking on new meaning and new life. And so I wonder in your experience, what are you hearing from black people about what they expect from their non-black allies in this moment?
Terra Winston: Yeah. Well, so if I can speak on behalf of all black people for a moment—no person can. No one can! So, but what I’m hearing from my clients is number one, that they’re so appreciative. So appreciative of all this energy that has come from allies in this moment. Now you have to remember these battles have been going on for a very long time, with people dying, with the same frustration, with the same injustice. And it’s refreshing to finally have your experience be acknowledged when these issues have been downplayed for a very long time or even denied. And so there’s this—kind of this vast appreciation. At the same time, there’s a tentative trust. People really want to believe that this is the time it’ll be different. That the allies are really in it to make a difference. That they want to—that they really want to help.
Terra Winston: But there’s a concern—we talked about resilience and stamina. There’s a concern that the allies don’t have the stamina. Now, part of that just comes from when you haven’t been a battle that is this big, it can be overwhelming. There’s actually a natural kind of emotional arc that allies are going through. And this is Terra’s where it’s not theirs, but that we all have to acknowledge when you’ve had your entire life to live within the knowledge of this love of injustice to see these things. You get acclimated to it. It doesn’t mean that you accept it, but it’s not as jarring when you see it. And so allies, many allies are just discovering this for the first time. And so that initial emotional hit is jarring. The world has shifted in a lot of ways when your eyes open to some of these things.
Terra Winston: And so we have had to give people space to feel those emotions and kind of deal with that shock factor. Now what the—what my black clients are saying from a trust area is there’s a concern that when that shock wears off, when that interest wears off, when sports starts all over again, that people will lose interest in it. And so all that allyship will not be sustainable over the long term. So there’s that one fear. I think the other thing that the black people are saying that they need from their allies is the combined focus on both individual and systemic racism. There is so much importance and value in kind of that internal assessment, right? Where are my biases? Well, how do I influence not just mine, but the people around me? Like that individual racism is really potent and powerful.
Terra Winston: And it’s where we need in the long term to go. That can be all consuming. Like, have you seen how many books there are on anti-racism? You can spend your entire life reading, Ted—watching Ted Talks and reading—seeing movies and all that kind of stuff, having book clubs. And so what your black friends, colleagues, and citizens are asking is while you do the internal work, don’t skimp on the systemic pieces. Don’t forget to look at the fact that this conversation is not strictly about police brutality or the justice system. That’s just a symptom to the disease that is racism. And so, again, just like glitter, if you look at the workplace, there are things that are there. If you look in the healthcare system, if you look at the way food is distributed, if you look at real estate, right, there’s enough to go around that wherever you want to apply your energy, you can do really good things and just make sure that they’re happening internally for individual racism and externally for systemic racism.
Natalie Kernisant: So you that strikes me because we talked a little bit about the resilience factor and this tentative trust that black people today have in allies: hopeful, but sort of apprehensive a little bit. I wonder, in my role, and for folks who focus on talent management and diversity and inclusion, it’s really important to develop that trust with the organization. So between employees and their employer. And so I’m fortunate because I personally think, and you know through our conversations, that MoFo puts a lot of thought into how we approach diversity and inclusion. We care deeply. I think, at all levels of the organization about meeting members of the MoFo family, where they are in the moment, and we try very hard to respond to and provide support that deals directly with the issues and the real concerns our people are grappling with in real time.
Natalie Kernisant: And so, in the midst of the pandemic and the social justice movements, it’s—we’ve been challenged to sort of be innovative and creative and respond in the moment to many of the challenges or to the many challenges that our employees are facing. And that’s why I think rather than simply adopting policies and practices that are based solely on trends and benchmarking, we as a firm really rely heavily on qualitative feedback from our associates to guide our strategies and our initiatives. In fact, I remember during one of our prep conversations, I think you said something to the effect of diversity is all about the details. And I immediately thought you perfectly summed up MoFo’s general approach to D&I. We believe our D&I efforts ought to be formed by the lived experiences of our people on the ground, wherever we are.
Natalie Kernisant: And so in our current environment, we knew our people were dealing with a lot, first as a result of the pandemic, and then as we tried to digest the televised killing of an unarmed black man at the hands of a police officer. And everything that follows from that. We couldn’t just ignore the impact of these things on our people, obviously. So it was important I think for us to provide a space, first to reflect and process the flood of conflicting emotions we were all having, all of us, but then also to begin providing some guidance around how to effectively engage in the pursuit of greater justice. Talking about allyship, as you know, was for us a natural component of that guidance. So having worked closely with us to design and execute our sessions, and with the benefit of hindsight, which is always 20/20, I’m curious to get your honest feedback on sort of how we approached this critically important moment. And more importantly, honestly, I’d like to learn a little bit more about what organizations should consider as they begin to develop an organizational awareness for allyship that instills trust, not tentative trust, but trust from not only black employees, but it’s employees generally.
Terra Winston: Okay. So I know it’s going to sound like I’m biased, but honestly I think MoFo handled this moment better than so many organizations. When I talk to my other diversity and equity and inclusion consultant friends, you all did amazing. And I think the key piece that put you head and shoulders above a lot of other organizations is you recognize the need to process emotions. We spend a lot of time in workplaces trying to engineer emotions out of decisions, out of responses. So, we naturally are actually very uncomfortable with emotions, but the weird thing is, is that we keep hiring humans in our robots and they have these things calling emotions. And so in this moment, moving people too quickly to action or forward, or even when it’s well intentioned, would’ve been the wrong moment.
Terra Winston: And so MoFo did a really great job at saying like, pause, reflect, process. You as a human are allowed to do that. And we support you in doing that. And now, how can we as a community move forward past this? So I actually think that you all did really, really well with that. I think it speaks a lot to the fact that you’ve already built a culture where there is trust in order to even do that, because honestly, cultures that are low in trust don’t have enough safety to even have that group processing happen. Yeah.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah. Psychological safety is really important.
Terra Winston: It’s huge. And so you’ve already laid the foundation so that you can have these conversations and for anyone who manages teams, that’s exactly a big part of this allyship conversation. Lay the foundation of trust in your teams and the things that you do every day. And then when I need to call someone out, then when I need to correct something, it hits totally differently. It’s less painful. Like that is the big secret, like someone once said diversity is massively simple and incredibly hard.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah.
Terra Winston: Because the basics of what it’s about. And it’s very hard to do the basics sometimes.
Natalie Kernisant: Right.
Terra Winston: I think my advice for organizations trying to really develop more awareness of allyship. So what we ask of the allies is to put themselves at a bit of personal risk by stepping up on behalf of someone around something that doesn’t specifically benefit them.
Terra Winston: They’re using social capital, they’re leaning in a bit. What we as organizations, our responsibility when we ask them to step in that kind of way, we have a responsibility too. And so our responsibility is around creating a culture that actually diminishes the punishment for speaking up. So the—making it more common for people a) to, back to my original point, make mistakes at times. But also when the mistakes are made, that someone’s saying, “Hey, I think there’s another way, Hey, I think that maybe an impact. Hey, can we reconsider this thing? Maybe this process is not bringing everyone along.” That is something that is supported and celebrated in an organization. And again, it happens in little ways. How—what are the processes that we have to do that? So there’s a great diversity class that’s taught a company that I work with, and the facilitator, they came up with this concept of OUCH, O-U-C-H, OUCH.
Terra Winston: And what they teach in the organization is if someone says something or does something that feels a little bit uncomfortable, like it could be slightly offensive, it could be on the line. So it doesn’t have to be super serious. What you say is ouch. And that ouch just makes the person aware there’s something that they just said just didn’t sit right. It’s such a little word, but just in creating this culture where like, I get to say, “ouch,” and then you say, “Oh, I did a thing?” And you go, “Okay, I’m sorry.” And I don’t do that anymore. It completely deflated some of that fear. Like how do I call this person out? What do I say? Is it going to be a big deal? And so creating a culture where you can have more ouches and meaning, I get to say ouch, we can get past this and move on, that culture will make it much easier for allies to step up and easier for people who are right now on the fence about whether or not to be allies.
Terra Winston: They can lean into it if they know that it’s managed.
Natalie Kernisant: Yeah.
Terra Winston: The other side of that too, so often the impact of allyship is quiet. Because trust me, nobody wants anyone to walk into the middle of the room and scream, “You’re doing this all wrong!” Allyship is about pulling someone to the side, advocating in little ways. So sometimes it’s actually hard for people or allies to know that allyship works. And so what organizations can do is often—there are some more visible, not all of things, but there are at times more visible things that happen as a result of allyship where the organization can start to call things out and let people know, like we have people that were advocating for this. And therefore, that’s how we got here. That actually will embolden allies to know that they actually do make a difference.
Natalie Kernisant: So it’s interesting, because the ouch and oops paradigm that you shared with us and the work that we did and that you’ve just shared, we’ve actually employed that in a series of sessions that we’re doing. So we’re doing the 21-day challenge that I think many people at this point are aware of what that is, but for those who aren’t, it’s a challenge that for 21 consecutive days, you’d engage in some learning, whether it’s reading an article or watching a YouTube video, or listening to a podcast and there’s a curated syllabus to learn a little bit more about the black experience. And so as a firm, we’ve engaged in sort of—or we’ve committed to participating in this 21-day challenge. And as part of the discussion sessions that we run around that challenge, I’ve started telling people that they should be using the ouch oops sort of paradigm so that they can talk honestly and openly about the reading and their response to the reading, without fear of saying the wrong thing and not knowing how to confront someone who may have said something that was hurtful.
Natalie Kernisant: And I think that our MoFo family has taken to that quite well. And I hope to continue to use that in other contexts, but that is just an example of some of the many concrete ways that you helped us learn to use as we begin to understand our own privilege and the spheres in which we carry influence and how to be an effective ally. So during your session with us, you talked about this exercise you called 10 trusted advisors. I’d love for you to share with our listeners a little bit about what that exercise is designed to do and how people can use it as they begin to diversify their social and professional networks.
Terra Winston: That exercise is such an oldie but goodie. Like I absolutely love it. And every once in a while I sit my own self down and kind of see where I’m going with it. So here’s the exercise if you weren’t in one of the sessions. So write down 10 of the people that are your trusted advisors, you trust the most, excluding family members. Like no spouses, no parents, no uncles. So when you get that list down, sit back and analyze it. How much are the people the same as you? Are they all in the same industry? Do you have—is religion the common thread? How many people have a different gender identification than you do? What about race? We tend to cluster with people that are very similar to us, not surprising because we all have a lot of things in common, of course, right?
Terra Winston: You may find that all yours all came from the same high school that you went to, or you all play intramural soccer, whatever it is. So understand that and get a sense for your perspective on things on issues, the way you go about work is influenced by the fact that diversity or lack of diversity that you have on this list. Now this is not necessarily me telling you to go out and now you have to have to go and find a rainbow coalition of advisors. Do not go into the next meeting saying Terra has demanded that I have to find five of you people that have different abilities than I do. I will deny this. But what that does do, it builds some awareness that there are parts of the story that you’re missing. There are perspectives that aren’t there.
Terra Winston: How can you then cultivate in a natural way a broader network that will only benefit you? So the best way to start is start looking at the social and professional circles that you’re operating in, because whatever is on your trusted advisor list came from the spaces that you’ve been occupying. And so maybe you need to add some groups that are less homogenous. I’m not saying don’t go to the ones you always go to, but maybe you need to add groups or, and I will tell you, this happens a lot. You go into those groups and those groups do have more diversity than you expect, but we tend to cluster with certain people. So we go back in the day when you actually had to see people and have drinks with them. We go to a happy hour, but then talk to the same people we know all the time,
Terra Winston: How can you create more organic connections with different people? Are there committees that you can join that may get you out of the normal group that you’re in? Are there different areas you can move to? Do it within work. So find organic and natural ways to connect with new people. Now I will say the only space where that I don’t mind if you be a bit more intentional around diversity is when you are trying to give platforms to people,. So if you are in charge of creating a panel or you’re getting guest bloggers or you are Natalie trying to find podcast guests? Those are the times when you can say, “You know what, we’ve had a lot of women. I would love to have a male voice involved.” And then you can start going to, now we’re saying, I’m looking for some wonderful man that I can highlight on in my podcast. So that’s probably the only time when being intentional makes a difference. The rest of the time, what you want to do is create a space where you can get out and connect with more people. Because the honest answer is someone that feels very different than you. There’s always a thread of connection. We just never get to it.
Natalie Kernisant: So Terra, in closing, I have one last question for you. We’ve talked a lot about what it means to be an ally and sort of the emotions and fears that come with doing the hard work of allyship. I’m wondering if you have any advice on the flip side for how we all might begin to actively engage and leverage allies at work?
Terra Winston: Man, I know there’s a trademark on this, but just do it, like just do it. Like don’t wait for invitation. Between when the protest started and now, we all have listed probably 15 of things in our lives around us that are part of the problem. Oh, I now realize I’m always in certain meetings and certain voices always get heard and other ones never do. Oh, I go to my grocery store and I realize that there’s certain foods you can’t get anymore. Like what? I don’t care, whatever it is. You’ve got a list already of things that you know are a challenge. So start there. Don’t wait to be invited because there’s no one to invite you. There’s like—there is no moment. Like the idea of that there’s going to be this shining perfect moment for you to raise your voice and step into your greatness.
Terra Winston: Like that’s not coming. It’s, in the little things. The number of times—and I see this now, particularly with millennial and younger men. This idea of what used to be locker room talk. Oh, all boys say those things, and now, you’re more likely in a friend group for someone like, “Come on, man. That’s not cool.” Like it’s in those—remember? Diversity in the details. So lean into your moment now, and don’t wait. And if you remember that it’s about evolution and not perfection, you don’t have the room—doesn’t have to be perfect. Just do. Do, learn.
Natalie Kernisant: Right.
Terra Winston: Repeat.
Natalie Kernisant: Well, Terra, as I have come to expect, it was a pleasure talking with you today and working with you over the last few weeks. I appreciate the great work that you and your organization have done and continue to do in support of progress on these important issues and hope that this won’t be the last time that you and I speak and get to work together.
Terra Winston: Not at all. It’s been so great getting to know the MoFo family, and I just have high expectations of y’all now.
Natalie Kernisant: Well, hopefully we can live up to those, but I have faith in my MoFo family that we wouldn’t drop the ball at this moment. So thank you again.
Terra Winston: Thank you.
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