Today, Sean Li and guest co-host Kellie McElhaney, a popular Haas lecturer and founding Director of the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership (EGAL), chat with our special guest, Monica Stevens. Monica is a full-time MBA class of 1996 and currently the Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo Merchant Services. She is the first black woman on the Haas board and the Chair and Founder of the Haas Alumni Diversity Council.
Monica takes us back to her early years growing up in a middle-class family, her exposure to many different cultures and mindsets, and her involvement in many international activities and government, particularly in school.
She also narrates her time at the Navy, her early career path, and why she joined and quit Haas the first time before coming back years later. She then became the first African-American to win the Raymond E. Miles Alumni Service Award for her community service to Haas.
Monica shares her thoughts on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and the community and across different cultures.
“When you’re younger, go with what you need or what you want and not create this large, unwieldy construct of the why the how, or I’m not worthy. Just do it.”
“Sometimes, women who get into the role of power opportunity forget that there are others around, behind, next, that are just like them and deserve the same opportunity.”
“If we just let ourselves have that curiosity and ask from our hearts, you know, with good intentions and some education, but God, don’t feel like you got to read a thousand books before you can be equity fluent.”
“Do one thing different tomorrow and see how it feels. If it’s uncomfortable, I would say push into that discomfort. But then, if it’s comfortable and pleasing, do more of that. Either way, do more and then talk about it and see how it feels and try it on. If it doesn’t feel right to you, that’s okay. Decide whether you want to adopt it, but do something different, and that’s outside and beyond yourself. That’s what we’re really asking people to do; go beyond.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today we’re joined by Kellie McElhaney. She is a popular Haas lecture and a leading expert on equity fluent leadership, valley creating strategies of diversity inclusion, and corporate social responsibility. We’re also joined by our special guest Monica Stevens, Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo merchant services, and above all, a Haas full-time MBA class of 96. Welcome to the podcast, both of you.
[00:00:37] Kellie: Thank you so much for having us.
[00:00:39] Monica: Thank you, Sean. And it is wonderful to be here.
[00:00:42] Sean: Love to hear how you guys met.
[00:00:44] Kellie: I think I’m going to take Monica’s lead on all of these great stories. So, Monica?
[00:00:49] Monica: I’m sure it was one of two things; either at a women in leadership event at a hotel in San Francisco or in having conversations with Kellie around diversity and inclusion long before equity was in the middle as I formed the Haas Alumni Diversity Council, gosh, probably 11 years ago. And we were trying to address issues of comfort diversity numbers mostly at the full-time MBA program but really for all the programs at Haas. And Kellie has always had a strong voice, has been a straight shooter. And then certainly with the founding of EGAL, leaned on her as an expert in this space. So, that’s my wonderful recollection of meeting Kellie.
[00:01:33] Kellie: You know, in all seriousness, Sean, I think straight-shooting women gravitate towards other straight-shooting women because it’s hard to be a straight-shooting woman in the world.
[00:01:43] Sean: So, Monica, how did you come to be a straight-shooting woman? Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from, where you grew up?
[00:01:52] Monica: Sure. I’m going to make this story a lot shorter than the earlier one but born to parents who were raised in the segregated South who realized quickly there was nothing there for them, at least when they met and had me in Southern California where they realize that there’d probably be more opportunities for culture for me up here.
[00:02:13] So we moved to Berkeley when I was two and moved into a neighborhood where we were the second black family. And actually, my mom and dad didn’t buy the house directly. We bought it through her principal. The neighborhood had CCNRs but I had a lovely, middle-class upbringing. My mother was a teacher and then a principal and my father worked for the post office.
[00:02:34] She was the stern black mom and he was the funny black guy. And they had a group of very international friends in lots of different occupations and with lots of different mindsets. My mom’s friend was second-generation Italian and taught me how to read English. And then her best friend taught me French when I was a little girl so had lots of different types of folks in our household.
[00:02:59] And so I was exposed to a lot of different mindsets when I was growing up here in Oakland. I was a freedom fighter, second generation. My mom was the first in doing many things in her life. And then I recounted the story of organizing a sit-in in the third grade when my little private school had fired my favorite professor for smoking pot on campus.
[00:03:20] And I thought that was just unfair because he was summarily fired. So, I got together with my friends. First, we staged to sit in and they were probably like a hundred kids at the school. So, it wasn’t like, you know, this mad gang of hooligans trying to destroy the school but we did the sit-in. Called my mom, asked if I could take a day off or two of school to protest.
[00:03:40] She said, yes. And we stayed out of school a couple of days until they agreed to rehire him. That was my early exposure to speaking your mind and using what little power you have to get your point across.
[00:03:52] I went to a public middle school and I joined the Asian Club because I was interested in Asian culture, knew nothing about it. So, I wanted to learn more. So that was another example of doing something different or unexpected. And then when I was in high school, I was involved in a lot of international activities and government just because it was just more interesting to learn about people other than myself and my family. Just knowing early on that, you know, to live in a culture like the United States, particularly as we have grown into being something way more than just our founding fathers could have imagined. We would need to understand lots of cross-cultural history, influences, language, culture, food, et cetera.
[00:04:32] Went away to a Military Academy, go Navy, beat Army. And that was an interesting experience to go from a pretty strict upbringing and environment to the military, which was even more strict. And it was bittersweet. And if I were 17, I’d do it all over again.
[00:04:49] Sean: I do have to ask you, what made you go into the Navy?
[00:04:52] Monica: Two simple things; when you’re 17 is far away and it was free. And my mom was a very strict mom. I played the piano since I was three. And I was sort of on track, at least in her mind to be a famous concert pianist which was not my path or preference. So, I had to get out of that.
[00:05:09] Probably the same thing my daughter’s going to do to me when she leaves in two years is I got to get away from that woman. And they had two other things I knew in the Navy, I would never be stationed like in Kansas or Missouri. I always am on the water on the coast. And then the other thing is they had a crew team and I rowed crew in high school. So, you know, when you’re 17, your needs are simple and you react more to I want, I need.
[00:05:36] Kellie: I was just, I was comparatively thinking about me at 17. I wanted a school in a pretty place with a football team and football Saturday. So that wasn’t, I was on a totally different wavelength. I took the easy path on that one.
[00:05:49] Monica: But the simplicity and the beauty that reminds me of when you’re younger to go with what you need or what you want and not create this large unwieldy construct of the why or the how or I’m not worthy or Oh My God, it’s like just bleep. Just do it.
[00:06:04] Kellie: Yeah, there’s no decision tree analysis. That’s for sure, Monica.
[00:06:07] Monica: No.
[00:06:08] Sean: What did you do before Haas and why did you come to Haas?
[00:06:12] Monica: So, I parted ways with the Navy. I resigned because our values just didn’t align and it was more around how they treated people who were different. So, in the Navy’s case, anyone who turned up positive with HIV they were instructing me to discharge them with a dishonorable discharge, which is a big deal.
[00:06:31] And basically says that they are traitors to the nation which is absolutely ridiculous. It is a disease that has nothing to do with their sexual orientation but that was the Navy’s view. And that was just at the beginning of don’t ask don’t tell. So, for me an unsavory experience that I couldn’t support.
[00:06:48] So, I left the Navy and I went to work at Warner Brothers records for a little bit. And that’s an interesting story for another podcast but I ended up landing a job as a lobbyist in San Francisco for real estate issues. And that has other unsavory tones to it. And I learned that I loved real estate but not the process of politics.
[00:07:07] So, I knew nothing about finance. So, I figured I’d better go back and get some finance learning. And I did a little research and I said, Oh gosh, right here in my backyard is this wonderful school called Haas and they have an amazing real estate program and it’s a public school. So, I did something really stupid.
[00:07:28] I applied and I quit before I got in. And luckily, I was not smart enough to have a plan B. So, kind of like 17 year old, they just, you know, going with my feelings and it was a great experience. I did have a wonderful experience at Haas small class, small environment. Great cohorts. And I feel like it was lucky because I live here and I grew up here, so I didn’t need that on-campus environment or support that maybe other students needed. I had my parents here. I had my friends here. I had my little apartment in the city, so I didn’t have the experience that some others may have had because I just, I wasn’t on campus enough to really participate or know. And after going to a Military Academy, everything’s easier.
[00:08:14] So, left Haas, met Wells Fargo there. And I have had a 20 plus year experience at Wells, which I’m either crazy for, or every time I make a change, they say yes. And I’ve had lots of roles there. And one of my most favorite jobs that Wells was coming back to recruit MBAs at Haas. And I did that nationally and looking at lots of other competing programs, Haas always produced the best MBA student ever. And the only problem with Haas is that it was not a good place to shop for diversity. And I told Rich that one day he married one of my classmates and he saw me on campus and he said Monica, what can we do to get you back on campus and more involved? And I said, Rich, rejoin the consortium then we can talk. So that was the post 209 reality for Haas and gosh, a few months later, he did, he contacted me and that’s when I got more involved in Haas again. I had been involved when Tom Campbell was the Dean and when Prop 209 passed. And that was an interesting and frustrating experience which caused me really to step away from Haas.
[00:09:30] Because I was angry, disappointed, particularly, given that it’s the jewel, the crown, and public schools across the world that we couldn’t find a way to do better. But Rich brought me back and it has been wonderful ever since, and there’s still more to do. And I’m really thrilled to be on the advisory board.
[00:09:47] Dean Harris asked me to join a couple of months ago. We had our first meeting last Friday and I am thrilled beyond belief.
[00:09:54] Sean: We’re glad to have you.
[00:09:56] Kellie: Trust me when you’re in the business of trying to push forward equity, you couldn’t be more excited to have Monica on the Haas board. And Monica, tell me about the racial makeup of the Haas board.
[00:10:06] Monica: As far as I’m aware, I’m the only black woman who’s not on staff. And there is another African-American alum from the undergrad program who just joined with me. And it is my belief, I could be wrong, I’d love to hear a different data point, that we may be the first two black folks on the board. Another thing that was stunning is when I got the Miles award for my community service to Haas.
[00:10:30] I was the first African-American person let alone a woman to win that award. And I do believe Berkeley was founded in the 1800s,
[00:10:38] Kellie: And you won that award in what year was that? 2017?
[00:10:42] Monica: or 17 this century. And, knowing that I’m the probably double descendant of slaves. And my parents were raised in segregated South and could not go to a public school to have that happen at the best public school in the world. It was very meaningful to me. And it’s also interesting to have a 16-year-old daughter.
[00:11:00] My husband is white, she’s biracial, and she presents as a black girl. And it’s been wonderful to share these experiences with her. But also to let her know where it is, at least this part of her family comes from what we’ve been through and sort of the legacy, but the opportunity as well.
[00:11:27] Kellie: We are all of us, Sean, you, I, the listeners all here because of Haas that’s our commonality. That’s a common thread.
[00:11:34] I love Haas and I was struggling in my mind to think we’re just putting our first black woman on the board in 2020, we just gave our first Miles service award, which by the way, anybody who knew it actually gives me chills.
[00:11:45] Anybody who knew Ray Miles knows that he was a man who deeply cared about values and things like equity. I just, I’m trying to get my head around that. We have a lot of work to do.
[00:11:57] Monica: And I go to sort of, the topic of our talk is, you know, women as allies and this particular series focuses on, I’m black and you’re white. And I think what happens is people make it or they get an opportunity and they forget that there’s others still waiting next to them behind them.
[00:12:15] I’ve gotten into the room where it happens. I remember when Haas had 40% women in their first class and everybody was jubilant and I don’t know, maybe a half of those women was African-American or non-white. That is something to be happy about but we aren’t done. The Turkey’s done, but we have all these fabulous sides that we need and should be serving at Thanksgiving. We are not done. And we can do more because this is not hard.
[00:12:43] Kellie: I guess what I’m taking away from just what you just said is any white woman who was in that room being jubilant about 40% women. And I think you’re being highly gracious. It was not, I couldn’t have it. What was the percentage you said of that 40% who would have been a black or brown woman? To my mind, it could have, it had to be maybe 3%, 4%.
[00:13:03] Monica: In particular I know that was post 209 and the percentage of African-Americans at Haas to one year, one and a half. As in one person and a half person who would be like my daughter, half African American. So that’s
[00:13:16] Kellie: It’s a good wake-up call. It’s a good wake-up call Monica for me as a white woman who looks at a single lens woman, I look at gender. To have participated in and we all I did, we all did celebrate, Haas reaching that 40% threshold of women. How blind was I? Am I still and how, what am I going to do con to not rely on you to wake me up, but to consistently try to keep my eyes open and that’s kind of the point of this podcast is how do we recognize open our aperture, particularly when it relates to issues around gender and equity to not just look at it from a white woman’s lens. I mean, I just am interested to hear some stories that you have come across in your lifetime or some experiences you’ve had. Of course, we’re speaking from the perspective of one black woman, about an experience with one or two white women. But I would love to hear some experiences that you have had with white women throughout your career trajectory and your life.
[00:14:11] Monica: Well, the experiences I’ve had in my personal life have all been positive. My mother’s best friend was white and she taught me how to read. And she was my mom’s closest friend. And she was very dear like an aunt or almost an older sister because she was younger than my mom, but she was always there for me.
[00:14:32] When I think of some of the teachers that I’ve had or the people who have influenced me, many of them have been white. But when I think of the workplace, that’s where I think things change. And that’s where I noticed it, particularly given my upbringing and exposure. I had a boss who was known to ask inappropriate questions and we were interviewing some Haas alums.
[00:14:54] And the first question out of her mouth, which was very insensitive was where are you from? And the young lady said Arkansas. And the first question out of her mouth was what was it like to grow up black in Arkansas? And then at the end of the day, we were going over the candidates and 50% of whom were African-American.
[00:15:13] And she says, you know, black men just don’t have good analytical skills. And then she looked up in the air as if to ponder more deeply. She goes and you know what, black women don’t either. And then she spun her head around and looked right at me and she goes. Oh, but except for you, Monica. So that she felt comfortable enough to express a ridiculous and small-minded thought out loud, A, and then B, there was no consequence and see that she was a senior woman in corporate America who started in the eighties and had some horror stories about her experience.
[00:15:49] She couldn’t see that she was repurposing her negative experiences on me. It’s I liken it to being she’s a terrible overseer. And I think sometimes women who get into a role of power opportunity forget that there are others around, behind, next, and that are just like them and deserve the same opportunity.
[00:16:11] I mean, imagine you’re in Houston right now where it’s freezing, you get into a warm room. You don’t forget to look around and see who else you can bring in with you. And I would ask white women that they consider when they interact with other women that they were outside in the freezing cold. And when they get into the room where it’s warm and cozy, that they look around before closing the door and bring as many women into that warm, comforting room as they possibly can. Or else we will remain out in the cold freezing, disregarded, irrelevant, and without a voice.
[00:16:45] Kellie: It’s such a poignant message. Now, because of the tragedy that’s happening in Texas. And of course, the disproportionate burden on black and brown communities of what’s happening in Texas. So, I have two sorts of thoughts around what you just said. If there had been another white woman in the room when your previous boss, and I certainly hope there were repercussions. What would have been the right move for another white woman who might’ve heard that exchange happen?
[00:17:06] Monica: Well, there was a gay white man in the room and so allyship can come in many ways, but so let, I’m just going to pretend he was a woman. And if he or she would have said that was inappropriate, what you said is based is founded on, you know, ignorance and it’s just not acceptable here in the workforce. And I think that would have been enough because I know I was so shocked. I didn’t say anything during the moment and I have never gone home and cried behind nonsense at work.
[00:17:39] And it was the only time I did. And I called my boss over the weekend and I, he was in the room. And he’s Filipino American, and we had a long talk most of the weekend and decided that we would both go into her office that Monday. And I would share how I felt and I didn’t care about the consequence.
[00:18:00] I didn’t care if I would be fired or she would retaliate against me. And he went in there with me and I told her how it made me feel. She started crying. And then here I am in the role, am I supposed to help her with her ridiculous emotions? So that was an interesting experience. But what I take away from that is I had an ally who was willing to stand with me so I could speak my truth around how her words hurt me and made me feel.
[00:18:32] Kellie: What strikes me also about that story is that you said your boss was Filipino American?
[00:18:36] Monica: Yeah. So, she was his boss, so she was sort of the group head and, but he was my direct leader and he was Filipino American. And we were sitting in this room and it was the three of us, a white gay man out a Filipino American man, out, me, African-American, and a white woman who was the group head of a group whose job it was to recruit and bring people into Wells Fargo with that mindset.
[00:19:06] Kellie: What I also think about when you tell that story is one of my good friends. We had an event with her for EGAL. So, this is on our website, but she described in one of the webinars, we had Tara J Frank, the corporate underground railroad that exists. That white people and specifically white leaders do not know exists in corporations, such that black leaders like yourself are triaging black employees who are having these experiences like that Haas applicant had.
[00:19:32] So I can only imagine how you immediately, and also just knowing you, Monica turned at that moment, when that ignorant white boss said that to her and then tried to triage it and make her feel better all the while you weren’t having somebody who was serving as that support structure for yourself. And it makes me think about that sort of underground railroad that black leaders are running in corporate America to handle situations like this.
[00:19:55] Monica: I started my own underground railroad at Wells Fargo with several friends who were actually also consortium poems and we would see each other on Montgomery street. We knew of each other through the consortium. And we had MBAs from great schools. We had good jobs, we’d gone through a training program.
[00:20:15] So we knew we were a little more on our way than the average Bear. But we also knew that they were people in other parts of the bank who didn’t have a voice, who didn’t have access. And we decided to start what became the first team member resource group at Wells Fargo. And we called it Checkpoint and we were purposeful and not calling it the Black African-American what have you because we wanted it to be a place where everybody could check-in.
[00:20:39] And we also want to bring in other folks who didn’t have access to the types of senior leaders and training programs that we did. So, we started off and it was very underground and there were people, even senior black leaders who were resistant to the notion of having that kind of group because they were afraid. They had been raised in a different era in a different time. So, I would guess that’s another freedom fighter moment where it’s like, I don’t care what happens. We’re going to start this group. It’s going to benefit a bunch of people.
[00:21:09] And one of the most memorable moments of that experience was having a Black History Celebration in the penthouse at Wells Fargo Bank which was founded in the 1850s. And my church choir came and did a show and we had then mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown, come in. We had a big old party and it was fantastic.
[00:21:33] And the bank underwrote it, although we had to really work hard to make that happen. And it was like, it felt wonderful to be seen and to be heard and to be able to celebrate who we are at the penthouse of one of the top five banks in the country.
[00:21:49] Kellie: You know what I was thinking about Monica when you were talking about, was it called Checkpoint? An observation and I’m going to be an absolute non-faculty member because I don’t have any data other than observational data, but I’m going to say it anyway. My observation about the black community is that it’s exactly what you just talked about with Checkpoint. It wasn’t just to serve other black members of your community but it was to serve other people who were in need in the community. And I remember Rhonda Mims as a friend of mine and at one stage she was the president of the executive leadership council.
[00:22:20] And when she was passing on the Baton to the next leader. She invited me to the ball in Washington, DC. So, there I go. And I walk into the after-party and it was so like, I know the president, I know the president like so proud and they walked into this room and it was all black people. No big surprise, executive leadership council.
[00:22:37] I didn’t know anyone. And I have that moment of, I don’t know anyone, let me find Rhonda. And of course, she was the Belle of the ball. So, I wasn’t going to get closer to Rhonda for a while. And I’ve never had, I’ve never had a more phenomenal experience of immediately everybody turning around. Hi, my name is hi.
[00:22:52] Who are you? Hi, who do you know here? And at some stage an hour into it, I just turned to somebody who said, I’ve just never had an experience like this. Like the minute I walked in the room, I’m so different than everybody else, but I feel so welcomed and this man turned to me and he said, it’s because of what we’ve had to navigate, that we will never let somebody feel like an outsider when they walk in this room. And that just seems to be very unique about the black community.
[00:23:18] Monica: What comes up for me too and this may be an unpopular, uncomfortable view though, is that many African-Americans were raised to accommodate white culture. And certainly, when, you know, we sit in school, public or private, and we learn about history, there’s very little time devoted to our own history. You’ve got to learn that at home. And so, from eight to five subsidized by the government in public schools, we learned of European culture.
[00:23:47] We learned how to and generationally, particularly from the South, there is a notion of fear and be accommodation for white culture. But there’s also the notion of perseverance overcoming and certainly, it’s something like the ELC. What’s the point I’m making somebody uncomfortable. There is no point to that ever.
[00:24:06] And so, having been the recipient of being made uncomfortable, force-fed, other cultures, denied knowledge and experience of our own cultures for many years. I think that’s also part of it too.
[00:24:19] Kellie: But see, that’s what I want our listeners to know that exchange right there where you just super eloquently shifted my thinking on that was white privilege. That was my white privilege of walking into a black room and the need to accommodate the one, there maybe were two white people in that room just wouldn’t have ever occurred to me unless we had frank candid conversations like this.
[00:24:39] Why don’t people have frank and candid conversations like this more often, because you just made me more equity fluent by listening to you give me that perspective that I would have never had. How can we make this happen more?
[00:24:50] Monica: For people to understand and I realized we got to meet people where they are, right. Not everybody is you or me, or Sean, are ready to have a frank conversation. But I think people can be aware of where they are and think can I be two 20, a hundred degrees more comfortable or uncomfortable so I can do a little more.
[00:25:13] Yeah. I think we often come home at the end of the day, wherever we are, and think about maybe opportunities we could have had a greater positive impact.
And when we choose not to. I’m not blaming, but a reflection, it could have been an opportunity to do something more. So, you don’t have to give the homeless man your whole paycheck but maybe give him a smile if you never have before.
[00:25:37] And then you can take that into the office, into the classroom, into wherever you are. And when you see something say something. And as a culture and as a country, we need a lot of help, particularly now. So that’s my view.
[00:25:52] Kellie: It’s so interesting that you just ended with that because as you were talking am a big visual learner. So, I’m constantly taking screenshots of quotes that I really like are aligned in a book or not very often a research article because they’re not so inspiring, but I was reading blind spot again.
[00:26:14] Cause I have my students read it. And Dr. Banaji, the author says something in that book and it goes right to what we’re saying. The quote is of the many blind spots we have among the most subtle is this. You do not harm people who are different from us. Rather, we help those who are like us.
[00:26:30] This is harmful but we don’t recognize it as such because helping seems like such a good thing to do. The solution is not to stop helping but to ask consciously, who am I helping? And that really it, that just, you just drove it home.
[00:26:41] I’m often struck by how blind we are as human beings, all of us, but obviously, I just have my white female, cisgender, and straight blends to look through it.
[00:26:51] And our definition of equity, fluent leadership has to understand different lived experiences. And when I talk about when we designed that definition and I was so proud of it, it took about 10 minutes into the first class to realize the epic fail that we jumped right to understanding different lived experiences and we don’t understand our own lived experience and that’s just come alive in this podcast. I just, don’t know our own lived experience, particularly if you’re in the dominant group. Cause we didn’t have to understand it.
[00:27:14] Monica: Well, we don’t have to understand it. And there are so many distractions to not. But if we were taught to pay attention in our species would be different. And we are taught to not, and it is comfortable and easy to not. Because sometimes when you do something different, you have that you, there may be some judgment that you were wrong in the past, and maybe it was let that go. Just try something on different.
[00:27:38] Kellie: And it’s hard that white guilt, that white shame it’s real. It’s just, you just gotta move forward, made a lot of mistakes, but there’s a lot of time ahead of us. And how do we just construct a new path forward?
[00:27:48] Kellie: When I think about a leader who understands equity or diversity or inclusion has to understand that there are different lived experiences out there. The way I unpack it Sean is during the Central Park birdwatching debacle. We all watched that unfold and it was already in this tragic lens of all that was unfolding at that moment.
[00:28:05] But until I watched Terry Cooper show on every TV screen, iPad screen, computer screen holding her iPhone. It never occurred to me that I, as a privileged white woman have in my hand, when I carry out an iPhone, a weapon that by dialing three quick numbers, I can put a black man’s life in jeopardy. That never occurred to me. Like I actually have a weapon in my hand. We just don’t take time.
[00:28:29] I’m going to be harsh, Monica. We don’t take time to understand our own lived experiences. And so, I can’t understand somebody else’s if I don’t understand my own privilege in that moment.
[00:28:38] Monica: I think the privilege and the freedom are just overhangs of Jim Crow. I think you tell your story and you know, the phone is a tool or a weapon. My mom tells stories about growing up in Texas and you better not be caught at night out alone as a young black girl because anyone could do anything they wanted to and there would be no consequence.
[00:29:03] And she was actually a maid working her way through college. And her boss happened to be the mayor of Austin who did a lot of entertaining and she would stay and serve but they would always give her a ride home because even they were aware of the risks they were putting her at to be a victim to anything.
[00:29:20] And the cell phone is just an extension of that. And that you have to do what I say there should be no consequence or question around that. That is a privilege that people carry just because I’m a) skin color and b) gender.
[00:29:37] Kellie: We have so much work to do as a species, Monica, but let’s be positive. I want to just say something because I’m on a show as a white person with an Asian person and a black person. It really hit me early on Monica, that given where we are today in the Bay area, that you joined the Asian club.
[00:29:52] And I’m listening to Sean talk about his upbringing and wow with what’s talk about the broader picture of allyship with what’s going on in the Asian community. How do we start these incredibly uncomfortable and difficult conversations around drawing down the walls between the various different communities and how we can stand out from one another?
[00:30:16] Monica: I think for me one way is realizing that the pie is not fixed. It can be ever-expanding, but it’s all based on your mindset.
[00:30:25] When you have no hope and opportunity, sometimes you’re looking to give a beat down to somebody else because maybe that’s the only way you can feel powerful and feel like you have more opportunity than that person.
[00:30:39] And that’s where I think we all feel an otherness that allows us to do that to anybody who walks on two legs and speaks. Our own particular species. That’s how I see that as a fear and loathing given limited opportunities. And that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that’s motivating that horrific behavior. It could just be a bad person, but it, yeah that’s my view on that. Sean, I’d love to hear your perspective.
[00:31:06] Sean: I grew up in a pretty sheltered white suburbia neighborhood and city and it’s one of these things where it’s so crazy. I’m I moved here when I was seven but I was still pretty young where my belief systems and things like that hadn’t been established yet. And so, growing up in Southeast Michigan I think for me it was just the kindness that I received coming here to this country as an immigrant, as a kid. People were just so nice to me and my family.
[00:31:34] And I don’t know why it’s that it’s not like we did anything special to people or anything like that, but that kindness, I think just was very pervasive in my life. And education was a huge factor. Like I said, my parents are teachers are, you know, they are, my dad came here to do his Ph.D. in reading language arts.
[00:31:53] And so his colleagues were all teachers. And so, education was a huge focus. And so, I do think education is the light to ignorance. Because it just teaches you to think and be patient and kinder to each other and to ourselves as well.
[00:32:09] Monica: I remember a story and I remember this, my mom, me, you would tell the story a lot, but I was probably five or six and with my parents. And that was a time where you got dressed up to go over to San Francisco and it was a big deal and go shopping, have a nice dinner, and just be fancy. And we were in the elevator at the St. Francis hotel, which is in Union Square, very fancy. And we got into the elevator and there was an Asian family with a little girl. Probably the same age as me and everybody smiled and nodded and the little girl reached out and touched my skin and she was curious and I looked at her and I touched her face and her eyes.
[00:32:58] And I was curious. And we did that for, I don’t know, a couple of stops and then they got off and we stayed on and went on. And my mom told me later that, as she was experiencing that, her first reaction was, Oh my God, but then she looked at the mom and they both met eyes and they just smiled and they let us explore and figure it out.
[00:33:20] And with no fear or judgment or. Oh, my God don’t do that. Oh my God, don’t touch her or all that. That’s so rude or inappropriate. And I think sometimes if we just let ourselves have that curiosity and ask from our hearts, you know, with good intentions and some education, but God don’t feel like you got to read a thousand books before you can be equity fluent.
[00:33:41] Kellie: To your point about curiosity, it’s one of my favorite words in the English language, Monica, not only just because I think curious people are interesting. But there was a study that came out was on the cover of Harvard
Business Review last year there where they looked at, they looked at 1200 of the most successful business leaders, and they tried to understand any cross-cutting characteristics of those successful business leaders.
[00:34:02] And they determined that curiosity was the one cross-cutting characteristics that successful business leaders shared and what I see in that elevator moment is just curiosity. And at the end of the day, that’s really what equity fluency is about, is being curious about your own lived experience.
[00:34:18] It’s being curious about Monica’s lived experience, Sean’s lived experience, the person who works with you who is LGBTQ while the rest of the team is straight. What is their experience like? It’s just to be curious to approach life with curiosity and people with curiosity, as opposed to judgment.
[00:34:35] Sean: It just came to mind what I was trying to say earlier and it follows up on the curiosity point. And then I think curiosity leads to humanity.
[00:34:43] Kellie: That’s
[00:34:44] Sean: Because if you’re not curious, you’re just in defense mode. You’re in fear, right. When you’re curious, you’re open.
[00:34:50] Monica: And I think the other part of that, I think of my hats off to the parents in the elevator who let the curiosity unfold. So maybe your comfort level isn’t to be as curious to touch somebody or ask them about their skin or their eyes or their worship or their garb. But maybe the extra step is just to be there and observe and listen. It’s still a level of curiosity but if you’re not comfortable being the one who is curious, lean into letting curiosity unfold around you, and at some point, you’re going to realize that water is warm and inviting and then step in.
[00:35:28] Kellie: It’s true. I mean, not ever, curiosity means something different to everybody but it is like Sean said, just to be open to the fact that there are different perspectives, different possibilities, different things about somebody that you just don’t know, even though you assume that. Even when you read headlines in the newspaper, obviously, just knowing that there’s a whole lot more to the story.
[00:35:47] There’s this visual. See where it’s a circle that says what you think you know about somebody’s life and then somebody’s life. And they barely intersect. And I just, he gotta be so much more open to the fact that you just don’t know. I remember telling my girls to college if there’s anything I can tell you, just go with an open mind because the more open your mind is, the more knowledge is going to fit in there. But if you go out there with a closed mind, it’s not worth day one on the campus.
[00:36:14] Monica: The other thing I would ask, you know, we were talking about what can white women do. And I don’t mean to be cliche and say, one of my closest friends is white. She’s one of my closest friends and she happens to be white. And we’ve gotten closer over the last few years because we’ve had better, deeper conversations about race than we’ve ever had.
[00:36:35] And I’ve known her since I was a junior in high school and yes, that was last century. And now she finds ways to express that she’s listening to me like, you know, suggesting a book she read or seeing an article about black artists. And I don’t think it’s condescending or pandering at all. What I love is that she’s thinking about me, who I am as a black woman, not just her friend from high school.
[00:37:00] And I really appreciate and value that and we’ve been friends 20 plus years, so it is never too late, I think, to re-position or look at a, even a long-term relationship from a different lens. So, you can get to know people more deeply and more honestly and just continue to learn and evolve even with someone who has been a part of your life forever.
[00:37:26] Kellie: I’m the faculty advisor for the GEI teams the gender equity initiative, as well as the race inclusion initiative. But we had our GEI meeting. I was telling Monica this on email today, Sean, that they were trying to spec out their work for the year. So, they look at how gender is playing out across Haas and they picked topics or pillars and career services or in admissions.
[00:37:54] And one of the things we touched on yesterday is what is the female experience at Haas and why do we think it is as this monolith? So, I was telling them about this podcast. I’m so excited and it’s the black and the white and then smack in front of me on the screen is a Southeast Asian woman.
[00:38:09] And she looked at me and I was like, Oh, shoot. How about black, brown, and white? And then we thought there was this need to be so many iterations. And I think our hope is that we can continue to both go deep on these conversations but also broaden it too to just women’s experience and then man’s experience. And then people who identify as women experience and just open up the aperture, like life is so much more beautiful when that aperture is wide open.
[00:38:35] Monica: And what comes up for me is that’s really important that I don’t feel like we have to do it all at once. I think the ability to have the one-on-one discussions is very powerful but I also think that group but I wouldn’t prefer one or the other. I think sometimes we get caught up in everybody has to be included and I think that is important where it counts, but sometimes I do want to listen to just two voices, articulate how they’re feeling and interacting, and knowing that it doesn’t speak for everybody. But particularly if it’s two voices, I, that don’t come across personally often, then I think that is instructive or at least I feel like I can have some personal takeaways.
[00:39:12] And the other thing I would ask for you as we talk wrapping this up is just an invitation for people to do one thing different tomorrow and see how it feels. And if it’s uncomfortable, I would say push into that discomfort. But then if it’s comfortable and pleasing, then do more of that.
[00:39:30] So, either way, do more. And then talk about it and see how it feels and try it on. And if it doesn’t feel right to you, that’s okay. Have a conversation about it. Decide whether you want to adopt it but do something different and that’s outside and beyond yourself. That’s what we’re really asking people to do is go beyond. So, I don’t know how the heck I tied it into that, that just happened.
[00:39:50] Kellie: Boom, mic drop.
[00:39:53] Sean: That’s a beautiful message to end on. I just want to thank you both for coming on today, Kellie and Monica, and I look forward for us to have other conversations.
[00:40:04] Kellie: I do too. Sean, thank you so much. And Monica, I really wish we were having a wine right after this but….
[00:40:10] Monica: And Sean, if come up here soon, I’d love to break bread and have some wine with you as well. Good to hear more about your story.
[00:40:18] Sean: Absolutely.
[00:40:22] Sean: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas podcast. Enjoyed our show today? Please remember to hit that subscribe or follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review. If you’re looking for more content, please check out our website at Haas.fm. There you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts. And until next time, go bears.