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Inclusive Leadership: Fostering Diversity, Equity, and Belonging in the Workplace-Mita Mallick


EPISODE SUMMARY


Mita Mallick, Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact is the daughter of Indian immigrants and was raised in the US, where she was subjected to physical and verbal bullying. These experiences shaped her passion for storytelling and her desire to ensure that all voices are heard and reflected in the products and services we use. She has dedicated her career to creating end-to-end inclusion ecosystems and reimagining inclusion in all aspects of work. Mita shares with us key insights on how to create a culture of inclusion, foster diversity of thought, and advocate for one another in the workplace. Tune in to hear her tips for finding safe spaces to have conversations about inclusion, reimagining how we approach pay equity and recognition, and the importance of having sponsors in our professional lives.

We will also be discussing the impact of gendered ageism in the workforce, challenges that women have faced during the pandemic, and the leaky pipeline phenomenon in the hiring process.

Whether you are a leader, manager, or individual contributor, this episode is for you.

Mita Mallick is a corporate change-maker with a track record of transforming businesses. She gives innovative ideas a voice and serves customers and communities with purpose. She has had an extensive career as a marketer in the beauty and consumer product goods space, being a fierce advocate of including and representing Black and Brown communities. Her passion for inclusive storytelling led her to become a Chief Diversity Officer, . Mallick has brought her talent and expertise to companies like Carta, Unilever, Pfizer, AVON, Johnson & Johnson and more. Mallick is a LinkedIn Top Voice, a contributor for Harvard Business Review, Adweek, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. Mallick has been featured in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Forbes, Axios, Essence, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and Business Insider.

Mita Mallick LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mita-mallick-2b165822/ Podcast: Listen to Brown Table Talk Pre-order Mita Mallick's new book today: Reimagine Inclusion:




PODCAST TRANSCRIPT OVERVIEW


[00:00] INTRO [Jump to section]

[02:50] "Debunking Myths and Reimagining Inclusion in Workplaces" [Jump to section]

[05:35] "Speak Up for Quietly Promoted Colleagues: Allies Needed" [Jump to section]

[10:19] Dispelling the myth: Women of color negotiate [Jump to section]

[12:12] "Why bias affects conversations and decision-making"[Jump to section]

[17:10] "Breaking Barriers: Overcoming Gender and Age Bias" [Jump to section]

[21:20] "Interrupting Biases: Navigating Difficult Conversations at Work" [Jump to section]

[26:01] "Speaking Up and Allyship: Advice from Experts" [Jump to section]

[28:34] "Podcast recounts experience of workplace name confusion"[Jump to section]

[32:12] "Sponsorship vs. Mentorship: The Game-Changer for Career Success" [Jump to section]

[38:09] "Manage workplace politics: How to find support" [Jump to section]





PODCAST DETAILED TRANSCRIPT


[00:00] INTRO

Sirisha

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Women Career and Life Podcast. I am so excited to have Mita Malik with me today. She is a transformational leader. If you are on LinkedIn, you cannot miss seeing Mita on this base. She's a change driver and really highlights and advocates for the black and brown communities. She does it through her own podcast, brown Table Talks, but she's just written a book called Reimagine Inclusions Debunking the 13 Myths to Transform Your Corporation and Your Workspace as well. Mita is a LinkedIn top boy. She writes articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harvard Business Review, and has worked in various organizations including Unilever. Johnson and Johnson. And she's a chief diversity officer now. Vita, thank you for being on the podcast.


Mita Mallick

Thank you so much for having me.


Sirisha

It's wonderful to have you. I've been watching your journey on LinkedIn and listening to your podcast as well. So how did you get here?


Mita Mallick

I'll start at the beginning. My journey is that I'm the proud daughter of Indian immigrant parents. My younger brother and I were raised here in the US, right outside of Boston, and I was the funny looking, dark skinned girl with the long, funny looking braid whose parents spoke funny English until it wasn't funny anymore. And in my community, for most of my upbringing, my peers made it very clear to me that I did not belong. I was physically and verbally bullied, and those experiences stayed with me. I also didn't grow up in an era where I saw myself reflected in a lot of products and services. And so I wondered whose voice matters and why? Who gets to choose these stories? And that always really stuck with me. And because I was so painfully shy growing up, which was exacerbated by the bullying, I just loved writing. I wrote a lot, and that really actually drove my passion into going into marketing and being a storyteller and then me transitioning into being a Chief Diversity officer. Really thinking about how you create end to end inclusion ecosystems, which I talk about and reimagine inclusion, but really that it's more than just about marketing. It's about everything that we do at work.


Sirisha

That sounds quite painful and traumatic. What you went through as a child, it's driven your advocacy, it's driven what you're doing today. And you're talking about end to end because there's a lot of products now, even if you look at, like, cosmetics, you worked in a lot of beauty products, a lot of discussion around even the crown act. There's spaces that are being verbalized now. It's even 20 years ago when I started the workspace, we didn't talk about most of it. We didn't strike us how it looks and different. I came for graduate school here and I'm originally from India, so my experiences are somewhat similar, but also quite different because of where I grew up. So how do you look at the whole ecosystem? How can organizations look at the whole ecosystem and they're transforming?


Mita Mallick

Sure. One of the things I talk about in Reimagine Inclusion debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace is really about debunking the myth that this work starts in our conference rooms. This work actually starts in our kitchen tables, in our communities. When you think about inclusive leadership and how you show up so there's this piece of I was just having this conversation with someone earlier, oh, but it's the company, it's the organization, it's the corporate structures. We all are the company. Those two things are not separate. So imagine if each of us tomorrow decided to show up in one different way. What sort of tipping point and what sort of impact that could have. And so for each of us to really think about, how can I be showing up differently and what should I be doing, I think that's really important. The other piece that I really talk about is you talked about my passion point. I'm a beauty obsessive now, being in a world where there's so many products and services offered for my skin tone and my hair. You don't get that without ensuring that you have diversity of representation at the table. And that all voices matter and heard. So you can be scrambling to serve communities. Right now in the US. We know there's over $3.2 trillion of spending power with the multicultural consumer. The question is, how are you diversifying your workforce to reach those communities? And then as I talk about and reimagine inclusion, this idea of workforce but also products and services and how racism and sexism show up in content and how we're holding ourselves accountable and responsible, and then also this idea of values. You can say that you are ready to speak about values, but are you ready to stand up for them? You can say black Lives matter. You could put it on Instagram Square. But what, as a company, are you really doing to show your support and advocacy of the black community?


Sirisha

So two things that kind of resonated with me, really, was how the conversation starts at every juncture. You said at home and everywhere else that we're talking about this because even in a little space, like at my workplace, where I used to work for The Valley, we would all dress up. So it became a conversation piece. Like people were expecting it at work. They would actually even dress up with us and look at it. So the conversations can be little tipping points that you bring your culture in. So I totally agree with you that you cannot rest it on the organization because the organization is us.


Mita Mallick

Yes.


Sirisha

Plus, we are the ones who can change it from different levels.


Mita Mallick

Absolutely.


Sirisha

You talk about speaking up in the workplace very often and looking at promotions and raises. And oftentimes we are asked to do roles that are way beyond our scope, but not being compensated for it. So how do we bring that conversation to the table?


Mita Mallick

It's called being quietly promoted, right? Being quietly promoted without the title or the money. I would say to you that I am tired of speaking up. I continue to do it because it's important. I want allies to speak up on my behalf. Speak up on your behalf. Speak up on all of our behalf. We are all an ally for someone. Just remember that everybody is an ally for somebody. And so if you see Mita is all of a sudden being quietly promoted. Her team size is doubled now. She has two more scopes of work under her, and yet she doesn't have the title, money, or promotion. And if you're in a position of influence or power, or even if you're just a peer who has some sort of privilege, start asking those questions. Why are we asking me to do all this work without the title and the money? What's the path to recognize, value and retainer? Because I promise you, as you've seen me talk about public on LinkedIn, I'm not staying for that. I won't. No one will. And so I really want others to speak up on her behalf. And I want anyone listening today, whether you're in an individual contributor role, whether you are leading teams, particularly, let's say if you're leading teams, you don't have to wait for women's pay equity day or whatever these days that we have that we've all been focusing on. Check the pay today. Don't wait for HR. Go and see if the women on your team are being paid fairly and equitably. And if they're not, do something about it. Don't wait for HR to come to you. And if you're an IC, there are other ways you can support making sure that I'm getting credit for my work, that I'm being included in meetings where I'm actually it's my project, right? Making sure that my work's not being stolen or that someone else isn't being taken credit for it. There's so many ways. Also, as an individual contributor, particularly, let's say if you're early in your career, you can still be helping. And then I will say, because I had this conversation with someone earlier today, I'm not naive in thinking that organizations aren't political. There's a cost to speak up, right? There's a cost to speak up. You could worry about making a mistake, damaging your pride, your reputation. Does it cost you social capital? Does it cost you political capital? But imagine if each of us were speaking up. Because if we're all speaking up, then it doesn't matter if it's just one person speaking up. Because then it becomes really a movement where people are really just advocating for each other in their organizations.


Sirisha

The allyship shows up. Even if you look at it in meetings, you are speaking up. If someone has spoken over yes. How do you highlight them? How do you give them credit for the idea. And that's where all the allyship comes in. To your point, when you're getting quietly promoted, so many spaces watching for it. And I think it's important to note to your point, it doesn't have to be within your circle of influence.


Mita Mallick

Yes.


Sirisha

It can be outside your circle of influence where you see something else in another group or an opportunity for growth, for someone else to go highlight it to that leader saying, I think they need to be promoted.


Mita Mallick

Absolutely.


Sirisha

Are you having these conversations or even stepping in? I know in sometimes I've gone and said, can I have that conversation with them and talk about getting promoted? Because I think they're ready for the next level and really highlighting that fact, because then if their manager or their boss is not looking at them through that lens, someone else can highlight that and say, hey, they have the potential to do this. We need to be talking about this individual.


Mita Mallick

Absolutely.


Sirisha

We want to feel acknowledged, we want to feel valued, we want to feel heard for what we are doing. And in some ways, I think we're talking about power in our own individual hands and power that lies within the organization and how it can go back and forth.


Mita Mallick

Yes.


Sirisha

And in some ways you can go and ask your manager, and I've done it in the past, if I was being paid, if I was being paid equally. And it's something that you can ask to your point, you have to I think the caution for us is we're always wondering what blowback we will see from this, how we will be perceived, the political capital, everything that we lose. So it is a bit hard, but you have to think whether it's something that you want to do. Interestingly, I quit my corporate job a few months ago and one of the first calls I got after that was somebody who I worked with who was asking me, who wanted to talk about their salary and if they were paying paid equitably and what they thought, what their compensation looked like. And it was an interesting conversation because obviously I didn't talk about this when I was working with them, but they felt comfortable when I had stepped out to have this conversation saying, hey, this was my raise. Does it make sense? And so it was a good opening to discussion to have. And I think it's also a generational difference. First, it's a culture. We don't talk about money, most of us, where we come from, but I think it's also a generational difference because all the people who are entering the workforce now are very open about how much they get paid. They talk about it to each other, but we are not conditioned to talk about how much we get paid.


Mita Mallick

Taboo. Yeah. One of the myths in Reimagine inclusion is the following why are you asking for a raise? Your husband makes more than enough money. And in that story, what I'm trying to tackle is the two sides of what you were talking about. Oftentimes we are still learning ourselves how to negotiate, how to talk about money, how to ask for more. But there's also this myth out there that individuals from historically marginalized communities, let's say, particularly women of color, don't negotiate. And that's not true. Oftentimes we do negotiate and we're gaslit, we're minimized, we're dismissed. In that example, I share with the former boss who, when I went and did all the work to ask to get paid more, the analysis, my accomplishments, what the market was offering for that job, that was his response. Why are you asking for ways your husband makes more than enough money? He had somehow found out what my husband did for work. And so I wish I had the courage to say, what does my husband's job have anything to do with this? But in those moments, sometimes you're stunned and you're silenced. And so that's also my question for leaders is what kind of bias comes up for you when someone approaches you to ask for a raise? And are we paying people fairly inequitably or are there biases at play that we don't even recognize?


Sirisha

So how can leaders get trained or think about this intentionally? How do they come to this conclusion? Because we don't see the biases we have. And rarely do people come back and ask. These conversations we're talking about allyships, speaking up, talking about pay raise. These are uncomfortable topics, topics for people to approach and ask and topics that leaders don't often see someone approaching them and ask. So how do they, I guess, prepare themselves to respond properly to this conversation?


Mita Mallick

I think it depends on the situation. What I will say to you, though, is that we all have bias. If you're a living, breathing, you're a human, you have bias. And so even in a conversation with you, you might ask a question. I might have a first thought in response. And I encourage people to hold that thought and interrogate it and then think about how your response might be different. So when we go back to pay, for example, if, you know, my husband makes more than enough money or that he makes quite a bit or whatever you've decided the story is in your head. Stop before you think and ask yourself, why is that relevant to this conversation? And if Mita was a man, would I be asking that? Because statistically, we know the motherhood penalty for me, the price I've paid in my career for being a mother is very different than my husband. Where there's a fatherhood premium, he's seen as more capable, more dependable, more ambitious. I'm seen as less ambitious, less capable, less reliable, all those things. So one of the things I do is ask leaders to really do self reflective exercises. And from the lens of gender, as one example, if you are asking all these questions about women candidates and women talent, would you interrogate men in the same way? Stop and ask yourself, would you interrogate men in the same way? Mita overly ambitious. John determined. John thoughtful. Mita overly detailed. In The Weeds, john really rallies his team magnetic personality. And guess what? Even cries when he gets emotional. Mita, overly emotional, can't rely on her team. People can't rely on her. And, oh, by the way, as I've heard, and I'm sure you've heard, oh, it must be her time of the month, right? Those microaggressions. Oh, that's why she's emotional. So stop to think about, like, when you use those labels, how they might flip depending on who the person is and how they identify.


Sirisha

Yeah, it's a lens. It's a double edged sword. I think we struggle with you cannot win either side of it because you're either too aggressive or too assertive. So there's this cartoon someone sent me which I thought was very representative. It showed two women looking away from each other, typing on their computer. And one asked the other one, what's the difference between assertive and aggressive? And the other one says, gender. And I thought, oh my gosh, there it is. Such a perfect way of captioning it. Because I always and I say this often in the podcast, damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you're not aggressive enough, you're not valued.


Mita Mallick

Yeah, a tightrope we walk.


Sirisha

Exactly. You cannot express your feelings a certain way, so we all come very often. I struggle with it. In the beginning, I came a certain persona to work because I thought that was what I had to do to be taken seriously. I realized that's not exactly what helped. And then slowly, over time, figuring it out. And I exactly had the same conversation with someone this week about how we show up at work is very dependent on thinking how we want to be perceived and very hard to do that.


Mita Mallick

What you just mentioned about how you thought people wanted you to show up at work. The emotional tax and the burden of constantly thinking about how you think you should show up for people. Imagine the loss of productivity for companies. If I can just show up and bring the best version of me and be comfortable, I'm not worried about everything else. I'm worried about the work. I'm worried about making impact. I'm worried about my contributions, making sure I'm valued and recognized. I'm not worried about did I say the wrong thing? I'm not worried about my tone. Did I take up too much space? Did I say this the wrong way? I don't have to worry about any of that.


Sirisha

Yes. And for me, it was also the cultural being immigrant, the experience, because I wasn't quite sure how to fit in, how to occupy that space, how to show up. So that was compounded by this fact of trying to understand cultural differences, because Asian culture is also about being incredibly humble, not being very loud. And then you realize that does not work in the workplace. How to use your voice is a whole different discussion. So it's very hard to transcend that line. And it takes a lot of work to think about it and practice it and go about it. I'm sure a lot of people, when they're doing that, are struggling with that same space as well.


Mita Mallick

Yes, absolutely.


Sirisha

So some of the other myths you talk about are when people think they're supporting women, you talk about maternity, you talk about other policies, what can they do and the way they show up to support. And it's not just men, it's even women supporting other women. How do we show up as doing the right things?


Mita Mallick

I think too often we look for company policies and programs to guide us, which is true. We should we need policies and structures in place. You should be looking at paid leave. You should be looking at policies where you're helping parents ramp back into work, meaning three days, four days, five days as you're coming back from a leave of absence. And how you should define culture is, are individuals doing the right thing by their teams when no one is looking, when no one is looking, when there's no playbook, how are you showing up and treating your teams? I have two children, seven and ten for each of those leaves when I came back. Who's watching your children? You're having a nanny raise them. How was the vaccine patient? You already came back. Why are you asking about a promotion? You shouldn't be worried. Focus on raising your kids. They're really young right now. I remember being up for a really big promotion, and all these leaders in the organization came to me and said, this is your time, this is your role. Go talk to your manager. And when many large organizations there's politics, your manager has to sign off before you move off the team. And I was ready. His response was, Mita, that role requires so much travel. Your kids are so young. You're not going to be able to do that job. And so the assumptions we make about the ecosystem I have to support my family. If it was my husband, there never would have been a question again. And so I think you have to look at policies and structures in place, but you also have to look up how you're showing up as a leader and fellow leaders. I think the other thing that we don't talk enough about, which I bring up in Reimagined inclusion, is gendered, ageism. So there's a lot of focus, as there should be from the pandemic. Women have dropped out of the workforce at an alarming rate, and I've almost lost my voice, as you can tell, like, screaming about it. Why are we not talking about how many women have left the workforce, they had no choice but to care for their families. The other thing we're not talking about is how many women are out of the workforce because they are considered too old. And the bias that women face, particularly studies, will show after 40 versus men. And it goes both ways, right? It might be that today I seem young, I'm dressed young, I sound young, I'm professionally immature, I can't be put up in front of clients, or I didn't wear enough makeup. I look old. My resume shows that I've worked at a company for 20 years. Oh, Mita could never work at the startup. She couldn't keep up with the pace here. I'm concerned she doesn't have the energy. And so I think so much of this comes down to how the day to day interactions of the biases and labels we put on people. And I think gendered, ageism is one that we're not talking enough about in our workplaces, both from she's too young and she's too old perspective. And I have rarely heard that in my career. I could be wrong men spoken about that way.


Sirisha

If that is a conversation going on, definitely it needs to be highlighted, because we hear that conversation usually with respect to the movie industry and those kind of entertainment spaces, because it's very obvious when you look at movies and things, if you ever watch regional language movies, you can see that differential very clearly. But at the workplace, yes, because do I take them seriously or do I not take them seriously? I've had conversations where in various workplaces, in different organizations, different companies, where I've gone to the workspace. And this is not organization, right? This is individual, where people asked me if I reported into someone when they might have reported into me. And the assumption was because of probably how I looked, I don't know, the way I spoke. And then sometimes they've come back to me after ten minutes and realize saying, oh, I didn't realize this was your role. I'm like, yes, I introduced myself as that, but I guess it didn't register. So they come back and slightly apologetic, trying to correct that space. And in some ways, I find it's not funny, but I find it amusing that you even thought that when it wouldn't have even entered your mind to ask the gentleman the question.


Mita Mallick

Yes, of course.


Sirisha

And I have to walk back on this conversation every single time and have this reset. And it's a hard thing to do.


Mita Mallick

It is a very hard thing to do. One of the things our listeners might ask is, okay, great, you're bringing these things up. So what do you do about it? And I think in those moments, sometimes it's hard in a public space because it could cost you your, again, political capital, social capital. You could always it's never too late, right, to interrupt. You can always pull someone aside afterwards and say you made this comment about Mita being a new mom and not being able to take a travel role, but have we asked her or do we make an assumption? If somebody says, I don't think Mita can keep up with the pace here, I spent time interviewing. I don't think she kept with the pace here. So you might say, okay, tell me more, tell me more about that. What in the interview indicated that she can't keep up with the pace here? And so oftentimes all it takes is open ended questions because no one wants to feel like they're attacking someone else. That can be very comfortable. But if you can ask open ended questions and let the person actually start to go through the thought process, as Dee and I say on our podcast, Brown Table Talk, focus on the facts and not the feelings. So the feeling of professional, maturity, energy, not dependable, not committed. Oh, I don't know if Mita would be capable of taking on that lead role. It's going to require a lot of hours. Okay, so tell me more. Is there something that she indicated to you that said she wouldn't be up for that assignment? And so that's the way in which anyone listening to think about in those moments. How can you ask open ended questions and coach people? And depending on where you are in your journey and this is my role as a chief Diversity officer, I will ask the question. Okay. Do you think if Mita was a man, we'd be holding her the same standard? Let's think about that. And this is the job that we have to do as we try to think about building more inclusive cultures and organizations, we're all going to make mistakes. I've been called on things I've said, I'm human, I'm learning. And so also, just to sit with the feedback and say, I think that was valid feedback, and thank you for bringing that up, and I'm going to digest and process it and come back to you on what I'm going to do next. And differently.


Sirisha

I think if you continue the conversation like you said, thinking about it, continuing it and revisiting it, I think helps us have a discussion because oftentimes these are high stress situations, high spotlight situations, so you can't always do them in that ecosystem. To your point, you step out and have the discussion and talk about it. There's this Harvard Review study. We've all probably heard about it and seen it, where they talk about the resume. The name has changed, but exactly. The credentials are exactly the same. And there's already an inbuilt bias on how we look at the application. It's sad to say it's so ingrained. I won't say natural reaction, but there's a sort of ingrained reaction. But you have to stop and think. Think, why did you say it? Or even if you made a mistake and said it, you can always step back and say, hey, that's probably what I said about Mita. I thought she might not be ready. Let me ask her if she is ready, what is she thinking of? What support can we give her to accommodate her travel arrangements as she has a new family? That's a way to transform the conversation. Maybe you made a misstep, maybe you want to recorrect the conversation. So you open that door and say, nita, I know we asked you these questions, but we also wanted to be supportive of your change in life situation. So we wanted to see how we can support you with this travel accommodations, if that was the case, or how else can we change the organization? That may be one way to tackle it. But to your point, asking them when they are reviewing the job descriptions is to see which one, because that's that leaky faucet, that leaky pipeline that happens. People start with 40% women, then you keep losing them along the way because when you're making hiring decisions and stuff kind of tapers off as well. So it's hard to deal with that.


Mita Mallick

Absolutely. I love that advice. I love that advice.


Sirisha

We are talking about diversity and inclusion in the workforce and enabling more women into leadership roles. We talked about pay raise and highlighting and making sure that everyone gets credit, gets the value, gets the spotlight for everything that they do. We talk about organization. So what can I, as a person do to make sure I'm having the conversation without giving up my space? Still creating some safety net around me because I want to talk about it from both aspects, where I'm not worried about my social capital or political capital and I'm willing to go all out. Some people might be willing to do that and some people who are a bit more they're newer to the space. They are still thinking about how do you establish their footprint, how do they approach a lot of these conversations with their managers and things.


Mita Mallick

So I think when we talk about speaking up and being an ally, I think we said, depends. In my role. It's important to me to do it publicly with kindness and grace when I can. And I see it happening in action. Oftentimes, though it might be one on one conversations. I am this person who always rewinds things in her head. So I might be in a meeting and something was said or something happened and I didn't say anything. And I've done that too many times in my career. And now what I say to my younger self is, go back and have that conversation. It's not too late to say, I wanted to talk to you about Friday's meeting last week. It was a great meeting and I did observe this one thing that happened and wanted to get your feedback and reactions right. And so I recently that happened recently where I went to a leader and I. Said, I'd love your advice on this situation. Here's what happened. And it was actually something that happened in her organization. And she took accountability very quickly. But I didn't go in saying, I know you did this, and this is what happened. I actually said, here's what I heard, and help me understand, right? Help me understand what the situation was. And so I think those are the ways in which you can do it. The other thing is, if you are not in a position to speak up yourself about something, find someone else who you trust who can help you do that. Find someone who isn't a position like you said, who's more comfortable, who's more senior, who has more political or social capital, who will do that. And I always say everyone's an ally for somebody. And so, depending on your organization, it depends on who holds the power cards, the power chips in the organization. In many of our organization and in boardrooms, it's still white men who are leading our organizations. And so to the white men in my career, in my life, who have helped me, there's so many of them who have been great allies, who have spoken up. And so I hope, and I know that more men will do that on behalf of all of us.


Sirisha

We need allies from everywhere.


Mita Mallick

Yes.


Sirisha

Otherwise we won't be able to move ahead. And how can you continue to support someone else and make sure that others are supporting you as well? And sometimes going and asking for the help, people may not realize that a situation occurred. Maybe you frame it and say, this is what I thought I heard, or this is what I experienced. I wanted your perspective on it, or what can I do to change it? What can we do to change it? Because people may not be privy to all conversations. It's like passing the parcel, this game, by the time the message is conveyed to the last person, it's been transformed. So if you are the one experiencing it, it helps to go and have this conversation with someone.


Mita Mallick

I'll give you a real practical yeah, I'll give you a real practical example. I talk about it on the brown table. Talk? Podcast. Early in my career, in one division, it was my friend and myself. We were the two Indian women. And I always was I'm going to just make the name up. I was always mistaken for Shilpa. We looked nothing alike. And so, after a while, how almost dehumanizing, dismissive, almost erasing you like you don't even respect me enough to know my name correctly. And we also would be included in the wrong invites. And it became this department joke, but it wasn't funny. And I remember one day sitting down in a meeting and one of my peers said to me, oh, you look upset. What's wrong? He was a white man. And I said, oh, this happened again. And so the next time we were together in a meeting and it happened, he actually said, hey, this is enough. This isn't funny anymore, guys. It's Mita. Her name is Mita. And so that's an example of I was upset in the moment and I was junior in my career. This is easy for me to say now. Some of you might be thinking, still not easy, but I have more power and privilege than I did back then. And so I expressed it to someone who felt really comfortable standing up for me. And those are the moments that are tipping points that add up. If each of us could do that every day for someone else, we would work in drastically different organizations.


Sirisha

And it's all of us who hold that power and hold that voice. Anyone at any point can do it. You could be the junior person in your organization who sees it from a senior person, but you could do it in such a way that it does not call someone else, because obviously that's the fear you have. But you could do it in a sort of gracious way. And sometimes, maybe to your point, you said you rewind the conversations, maybe even practice some of these conversations ahead. Like we do it for asking for a raise, so practice them. I think oftentimes we are caught in these situations, and this happens to all of us. We wish, oh my God, I wish I had said this then. And you're thinking about it three days later, six months later, or many years later. I'm like, certain conversations are stuck in my head. I'm like, I wish I had said this then, but I did not. Too late to revisit. They don't remember it anymore.


Mita Mallick

And to your point, in that situation that I just shared with you all, that was a white man who was a peer. He was just as junior as I was. We were only very early in our career. And so you don't have to be the CEO, right. And too much of us are waiting for the corporation, the CEO, to make change. This is all of our companies, right? We spent too much time at work, and we work too hard at work not to protect the cultures that we're trying to build.


Sirisha

Exactly. And you work with your colleagues and they understand it. They probably see it, and they're not sure how you feel about it. So express your feelings to someone you trust, and then they can step into the right spot for you.


Mita Mallick

Absolutely.


Sirisha

Because now that they know you, it does make you feel uncomfortable or unheard, then that's the right place to do it. So one of the other things is when we talk about mentorship, there is a lot of mentoring programs or a need for mentoring programs, but not a lot of sponsorship. How do we tackle this? Because I know that sponsors are often not known because it happens behind closed doors. And I've had amazing sponsors. Obviously we have people who help us grow. Sometimes we may know who they are, sometimes we may not know who they are. But also getting access. I always feel like access is the hardest part because you don't know who is talking about it. So how do you get access? What can you do? I mean, there's organization, but I think what we are trying to always circle back is organizations have a space, but we also own our space. So how do we continue to take up more of it? So what can we do to make sure we're getting sponsored and heard?


Mita Mallick

I love this question. One of the myths I debunk and reimagine inclusion is we need more people of color in leadership. Let's launch a mentorship program. And I think all of us can relate to, no matter what's happening in an organization, sometimes launch a mentorship program. That's the solution. And here's what I will say. I have been over mentored and under sponsored in my career, and I'll say it again, over mentored and under sponsored. And some people take offense to that. But what I will say is I would not be here, I wouldn't have been invited to be on your podcast if I didn't have so many amazing mentors to support me. But here's the difference. A sponsor is someone who actually has the power to advocate and play an active role in influence in your career. Mentors come in all different shapes and sizes. They're inside your organization, they're outside your organization. A sponsor is typically someone who's two levels above. They have pretty large PNL budget. They're sitting in the room when talent decisions are happen, and they're someone who has political capital and social capital and is willing to use it for you. One of the most game changing pieces of advice I was ever given by my career sponsor, Gail Tifford. She said to me, Mita, do you know who's talking about you when the doors are closed? I said, People are talking about me when the doors are closed. Right. And so I actually never thought, when you have annual talent planning or reviews, do you actually know? And this gets uncomfortable because people are talking about me. Who's sitting at that table other than your boss? Especially if you don't have a good relationship with your boss, who else is going to be vouching for your career? Because ideally your boss should be sponsoring your career. We know that's not always going to happen. So what I would say is, I started to think about my career in this way because a lot of companies and I talk about this in reimagine inclusion, you can actually form sponsorship programs, right? You can do that. And diversity, equity and inclusion, HR is involved in that. But what if, to your point, you're looking for a sponsor, really think about what key initiatives you're working on and who else might be interested in. So let me give you an example. Let's say you're a senior marketing manager and you have been tasked with looking at the spend you've had on media investments over the last year and what the ROI has been. Okay? So you're going to go and do that now. Here's really interesting. What if you went and met with the division CFO and shared with them that you're working on this and asked for feedback? So you start to attract attention to initiatives you're working on and you start to gain interest. I might have a meeting with you the first time and you'll say, oh, this is really interesting. You give me some feedback and then you say I said, do you mind if I incorporate this feedback and come back to you? You'll probably say, yes, do it again and again. Then when you're in a meeting and someone brings up my project, you'll be like, I've been meeting with Mita. Because here's the thing, and particularly when I talk about for white men who feel like their voice doesn't count in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, it absolutely does. Because you are going to be looked at as a more inclusive, cutting edge, innovative leader if you are developing leaders and bringing them along with you, particularly women of color. Right. I always say with teams, you shine, I shine. Right? So you want to find projects that are mutually beneficial because you, as a sponsor, you're only going to invest in me if you're going to get a benefit out of it. And so I could give you example after example of where you can look at someone's project and you could think about who else in the organization might be interested other than the boss and the immediate team. And so I started thinking about, how could I draw these people in? Now, you don't need ten sponsors, right? You only need two or three, because you want people who are going to be vocal and active. You want people who are going to be invested in your work. They're going to say your name when you're not in the room. They're going to open the door for you to meet with the C suite executive. They're going to put your name on a list for a job you didn't even know is open. So that's what sponsorship looks like. And that's the difference between sponsorship and mentorship.


Sirisha

Yeah, because mentorship is not opening the doors. It's opening doors in your mind for what you can achieve, but it's opening the doors in the workplace for what to get done.


Mita Mallick

Yes.


Sirisha

And when I think of sponsorship, it's a conversation I have with a lot of people at work and when I was even outside, is you need to be having skip level conversations. You need to be talking to your boss's peer, you need to be talking to their boss's peers. Because, think about it this way, if you're getting promoted, you're going to be your boss's peer. He cannot actually give you the job. The person above has to give you the job.


Mita Mallick

And levels above skip level. Exactly.


Sirisha

And then when you're in the room and they're doing your talent review, you want others, people speak because your boss is going to advocate. Everybody's going to advocate, often for their team. So you need other voices to support you. And then you go and like you said, have these conversations or work on a project and they may have nothing directly related seeking their feedback or taking your project idea to them, maybe they can implement some of it. Those little sparks of ideas really resonates because then people, even from your own experience in mine, that's when they speak up and say, oh, I've heard that. And I always find it interesting that when I've gotten roles and found out through conversations who's advocated, sure, it's always surprising to see who's advocated, because sometimes, often it's not the people you expect to be advocating for you. Yes, and sometimes I've had other colleagues tell me, oh, I didn't necessarily have a great relationship with them, but that has nothing to do with your work. You might not have got along because you had strong opinions that differed, but sometimes the diversity of thought is probably what they appreciated about you and were willing to vouch for you because you were willing to stand up for yourself. So you never know who the advocates or sponsors are in a room. And oftentimes it's interesting to find out. But it's just good to have a conversation and sometimes even ask, what is that conversation going on? Like I said, uncomfortable. If you feel comfortable with your boss or someone else, start having this little discussion saying, how do I show up? What is that feedback? Because I think the feedback helps us to know how we show up at work, because oftentimes our perception of how we show up is quite different from how they perceive us in having that discussion.


Mita Mallick

One of the things I would add to what you're saying is I haven't always had the best relationships with bosses. I've had some really great bosses and some bosses that they haven't looked out for me or advocated for me. And I've gotten pretty good at managing politics over the years. So in that case, if you're listening and you're trying to find a sponsor, but you don't think your boss would be supportive, you can always in my example of the media investment, say, oh, by the way, I bumped. Into Mark in the kitchen, and he was asking me how things were going. And I mentioned this project, and he wanted to see it so you can diffuse the situation. Because the other thing I've had happen is bosses who get threatened or intimidated, why are you meeting with the division CFO? And you'd just lightly be like, oh, because you know what, when they go to Mark. Mark isn't going to say, Mita approached me. Mark's going to be like, yeah, I'm really excited about Mita's project. He's going to want to be in on the win. Right. And so he's not going to say, oh, she came to me. He'll be like, oh, I love this project she's working on and I'm going to be helping and coach her. And so then if your boss is threatened by you, that's how I've worked to try to minimize it.


Sirisha

Yeah. Tell them that you're working on it together and you're bringing the division together. It's a spotlight on the organization and the teamwork as well so that they don't feel left behind. Absolutely. That's such a great point to think about because it's hard to navigate this and I think it's good for you, for those of you listening, if you're thinking about how to navigate these conversations, practice. Think of some of the stories that we've been sharing that Mita has been talking about and find some people in your space, in your work space, in your work environment that you feel like are trust and safe spaces to have these conversations in little bits and see how to work it out or even outside of it. Because that's the only way we are going to figure out how to do it. It's hard enough to do it on your own. So this has been really good. So just I wanted to quickly sum up before I ask Mita these final two questions that I ask every guest. So Mita has been talking about advocacy, about being allies. We are all allies of each other. Very important to remember, we all use political and social capital when we show up at work for ourselves or for others. Think about how you want to use it and how to leverage it in a safe space. We understand there is potential fallout that you can face from it. So think about how you want to do it and you can do it in various ways. So I think that practice of the conversation helps and we will make mistakes. We will rewind conversations, hoping we could replay it and do it again. And sometimes you can revisit them, go back and revisit them with the people so that the next time that incident happens, because obviously, if it's not fixed the first time, it is going to happen again. Now you can diffuse it and tackle it at that point. So there are so many ways and I think Reimagining inclusion is very much a start to finish. Don't leave it to the organization to make the change. You are the organization, so remember, you have the power as well and hold that space.


Mita Mallick

Couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you.


Sirisha

Thanks, Mita. So this is a question I ask every guest. What advice would you give your 21 year old self?


Mita Mallick

Do it afraid. Take more risks. I really was raised to be risk averse. I'm trying to raise my children differently, but I wish I had taken more risks early on and not be so afraid of what other people would think of me or my decisions.


Sirisha

Yeah, I think that almost always holds us back. Some of it is our upbringing, some of it is what we're told, and it is a transformation to go. I just wanted to say this because you brought up your children, so I have teenage boys and this is a struggle and it's a challenge, but I actually appreciate it because giving them space to express their opinion is something they're teenagers, let's be clear. So it's a challenging space sometimes, but I feel like if they don't have it at home, how are they going to show up tomorrow at work and suddenly transform themselves and speak up? I'm like, it's a fine line. I walk there. That tightrope. I'm walking at home sometimes. But they need to have that express space to do that. Yes, as well. And what is the one word you'd use to describe yourself?


Mita Mallick

My word of the year is unstoppable. Wonderful. Unstoppable. That's the word I'm sticking with. It unstoppable.


Sirisha

And I think that's exactly how you're showing up, so that's amazing.


Mita Mallick

Oh, thank you very much. Thank you.


Sirisha

I see you on LinkedIn. So I know you've written the book. How has that journey been? It must be a lot of heavy lifting, I bet.


Mita Mallick

So my journey to write this book was I wrote the book four years ago and I received so many rejections and no's, people said, her writing is really great, but she doesn't have enough followers. There are too many people like her writing books like this. Someone said, Come back when she's written a book more like Cheryl Sandberg. And so I received every rejection possible. And at my lowest point, my good friend Land Fan, who runs Community of Seven, also go check her out on LinkedIn. She said to me, Just keep doing what you're doing. Create content, create community, create conversation, and the book deal will happen. And I talked about this in a recent episode of Roundtable Talk. My good friend DC Marshall has a book deal with Wiley, and after we launched Roundtable Talk a few seasons in, Wiley asked her about me. And there's an email that says, meet a Malik in the subject and it says, Your co host sounds amazing. Does she have a book deal? And so I didn't let the dream die. Don't let your dreams die. I've been writing ever since I could and I've always wanted to publish a book and my first book, hopefully many to come. And so rejection, my friends, is redirection. So you will end up there, just maybe not in the way you expected.


Sirisha

Yeah, be unstoppable, like Mita said, and congratulations. I'm sure it's one of many books and it will transform not only people and organizations, and I wish you the.


Mita Mallick

Best thank you so much for having me. And thanks for the impact you're having with this podcast. I appreciate you.


Sirisha

Thank you. And so how can people reach you? How can they order your book? Where can they find it? Yeah.


Mita Mallick

Please go to Amazon. There is a preorder link now. Please place a preorder. Preorders mean a lot to the author and indicates to the publishing house how much they should be printing. And also because this book is for anybody who is committed to creating a more resilient, inclusive organization. And I know, as you said, it's going to help a lot of people on their journey to be more inclusive leaders. And you can also follow me on LinkedIn.


Sirisha

Yes. So definitely follow the conversation, because you will learn a lot from Mita and all the ecosystem around her and the conversation that goes on even in her feed. So thank you, Mita, for being here. This was wonderful. I'm so glad we got to chat as well.


Mita Mallick

Thank you.


Guest: Mita Mallick

Podcast: Listen to Brown Table Talk

Pre-order Mita Mallick's new book today: Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace


Host: Sirisha

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