Navigating Culture in a Crisis

Mandy Bynum
CEO, Co-Founder

Our less-melanated allies who spoke and sat on panels brought their absolute best “I-know-I’m-not-doing-this-right-yet-but-here’s-what-I’ve-been-learning” game faces and we’re simply amazing examples of how allyship looks in practice. 

The pleasure was all mine when I closed  out the conference with three amazingly brilliant Black Women leaders to discuss Navigating Culture in a Crisis. My guests were Christina Shareef; Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Reddit, Inc, Tiffany Stevenson; Chief Talent & Inclusion Officer & Global Head of Communities at Box, and Kiessé Lamour; Head of Industry UK for Pinterest. 

To begin our session, we  the exact definition of “crisis”.. Christina was pretty clear with her response, “We have to recognize when we’re in the middle of a phenomenon. We have to understand that what we’re experiencing is NOT normal. Although it may seem dire, a crisis brings us great opportunities.” That “not only can we talk about our vulnerabilities now, but white people are starting to listen,.”

We all know that “fixing the fruit on the tree will never yield results if you don’t fix the ROOT first. Now, people are starting to pay attention to the actual journey.. 

Kiesse Lamour mapped out the three ways leaders in Tech have been responding to this new opportunity throughout the year.

In group one you had the performative, and sometimes tone deaf, responses to the killing of unarmed black people. We saw a lot of black squares on social media platforms. But if you ask those same leaders today what they have done since the protests, they would not have much to say. 

The second group decided to reevaluate everything. They asked the tough questions to find a path forward in how they portray themselves and how they communicate. These brands have pivoted in their communications to address the needs that people are facing right now. 

This second group has sincerely focused on race disparity and developed a renewed sense of urgency, an acceleration of innovation and diversity along brands and products. The effort put into their inward evaluation is clearly shown. 

The third bucket of companies are still trying to figure this whole thing out. For some, it may be denial. However, we can’t pass too much judgement, we still have to enable companies to have their own journey. 

In whatever category a company or brand falls, there has to be space to grow. However, 2020 has provided the fuel for the flame to demand some sort of recognition of these issues. 

For Tiffany at Box, they made it clear that growth and development through this time is an absolute responsibility to not only their teams, but themselves. It’s this understanding that has created a huge shift for their learning and organizational development. 

Box rolled out training and resources for leaders to engage in proper behaviors for every aspect of their team in order to adapt and acknowledge our heightened awareness and sense of humanity. Employees are not okay, which means that interactions like 1-on-1 meetings need to look different. Box leaders are now taking a look at what their past philosophies and if they match the type of leadership they now want to see in their organization. 

Part of that success derives from our leaders being role models in the way they balance work, family, and community. Kiesse says that we have to “enable our leaders to keep giving. In order to do that, they need to know when to take a break and refresh.” Christina gave examples of this practice at Reddit. She says, “Some leaders are not dialing in after 6pm so they can take their kids on a bike ride,” and doing this shows how everyone at the company should be aware of “how and when they’re leaning in, and whether it's for the right reasons. 

As much as we’re talking about the effect of 2020 on our employees, Christina touched on the “huge burden on our kids, as well, and the overall effect on family units.” 

To close out, each panelist provided a true sense of hope for our society. 

Tiffany has been finding more space to help bring others into the conversation around race and equity and has developed new ways to leverage them to drive the agenda over time. 

For Kiesse, this year has made us human again. We spent years being blind and emotionless. It has gotten to a point where we have become desensitized to the things that plagued our communities and societies. The veil of privilege has been torn down, giving us the ability to feel again.

While Christina knows that it seems we’ve been having this conversation for way too long, she's confident people are listening like never before. 

We ended the panel with the acknowledgment of our own privilege, which Kiesse reminds us is not a dirty work. It's what you do with it that matters. We have the power to band together to make real change. We simply can’t be afraid to do so. 

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