YAPClassic: Vernā Myers on Overcoming Bias and Promoting Equity

YAPClassic: Vernā Myers on Overcoming Bias and Promoting Equity

YAPClassic: Vernā Myers on Overcoming Bias and Promoting Equity

When Vernā Myers started her law degree at Harvard Law School, there were more people of color than she had ever gone to school with. So, it was disheartening when she became the first and only Black person at the corporate law firm that hired her. Dissatisfied with the status quo, she joined forces with others who wanted to increase representation for people of color. Since the ’80s, she has been promoting diversity and inclusion, becoming a cultural thought leader and catalyst. In this episode of YAPClassic, she breaks down the importance of diversity and inclusion for both businesses and individuals. She also shares her wisdom about overcoming the intrinsic, unconscious biases present in all of us.

Vernā Myers is the VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix. She is the founder of The Vernā Myers Company, which helps organizations embrace and advance a culture of inclusion. She is the bestselling author of Moving Diversity Forward and What if I Say the Wrong Thing?


In this episode, Hala and Vernā will discuss:

– Her career transition from law to inclusion and diversity

– Her definition of diversity and inclusion

– Systemic barriers to success

– The counter to imposter syndrome

– Systemic bias as the root cause of unconscious bias

– How to improve our unconscious bias

– The true meaning of equity

– Her one-up and one-down framework for understanding social hierarchy

– The difference between sympathy and empathy

– How to support marginalized groups with empathy

– How to raise empathetic children

– Taking action with micro-affirmations

– Counteracting microaggression with humility

– The impact of diversity and inclusion on a business’s bottom line

– And other topics…


Vernā Myers is a Harvard-trained lawyer who transitioned from a decade-long legal career to become a cultural thought leader in diversity and inclusion. As the founder of The Vernā Myers Company, she is known for her impactful consulting work and bestselling books like Moving Diversity Forward and What if I Say the Wrong Thing? In 2018, she became the VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix. Vernā has been featured on CNN and referenced in publications such as The Atlantic, Bloomberg BNA, Business Insider, Forbes, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, Refinery29, and TED NPR Radio.


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Resources Mentioned:

Vernā’s Website: https://www.vernamyers.com/

Vernā’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/VernaMyers

Vernā’s Book, What if I Say the Wrong Thing?: 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People: https://www.amazon.com/What-Say-Wrong-Thing-Culturally/dp/


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[00:00:00] Hala Taha: Young and profiters, welcome to the show. As you probably know, it's women's history month. So today we wanted to replay an episode that focuses on diversity and representation. Our guest is Verna Myers. She formerly served as the VP of inclusion strategy at Netflix. She's also the author of two bestselling books and has a viral TED talk on the topic of diversity and bias.

In this yap classic, Verna will teach us all about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We'll learn the difference between those terms. We talk about how to improve your unconscious bias, how to platform marginalized groups, how to overcome imposter syndrome, and we'll also learn the positive financial impacts of a diverse workplace, which is super important to know for all of us entrepreneurs.

So I'm really excited to play this episode. It's chock full of actionable tips. It is totally relevant. So let's dive right in. Here's my interview with the brilliant Verna Myers.

[00:01:11] Hala Taha: You know, we do a lot of research here at young and profiting podcast. So I found out that. previous to this role at Netflix and before you had a consultant agency on D& I, you were a lawyer and you graduated from Harvard Law and you practiced law for over 10 years.

So talk to us about how you made that shift from law into diversity and inclusion and what first sparked that passion. 

[00:01:34] Vernā Myers: I arrived at Harvard Law School where there were more people of color than I'd ever gone to school with, right? Because prior to that, I was at Barnard College, Columbia University. So it was really, really positive.

But then I got a job in a corporate law firm and I was the first and only Black person they'd ever had. And they had no one who was like, Latin, Latinx. Asian, you name it. I was kind of like breaking the color line, which kind of blew my mind because even though I'm old, it was still the 80s. And I'm like, what?

So what happened is I started to recognize that there was just this paucity of black lawyers, especially in the Boston area. Cause you know, Boston had still that reputation of being inhospitable to people of color, in particular, black folks, you know, you had the busing thing, it was all bad. And so I started really with, It's just a project with a bunch of other Black lawyers, um, trying to think about what it is that we could do to increase the representation.

And ultimately, after practicing for a while, we went and created an organization with a bunch of other people who were concerned about this issue, including many white leaders in those law firms. And we started a group that was a consortium of all of these different law firms, and we trying to work on the issue of representation when it came to race.

And then it started to expand from Black, to Asian, to Hispanic, Indigenous, you know, Latinx, however back there we were calling it Hispanic, whatever, we moved back and forth on these words. So that's how it all started. started, and I became the executive director of that organization. Then I went to the attorney general's office and really spearheaded a, an initiative there.

Then I decided to go out on my own. 

[00:03:33] Hala Taha: That's so cool. And so I often talk about something called skill stacking, where from all your different experiences, you take these skills and then, you know, one day you can Put them all together and then offer something unique to the world, which is what it sounds like you did.

So talk to us about your skills as a lawyer and how that relates to what you do now and how you use those skills today. 

[00:03:54] Vernā Myers: Yeah, you know, it's so interesting because I was talking to one of my colleagues from Harvard Law School yesterday and I was talking about sort of what the good and the bad. training.

So the nice thing about legal training is that you're constantly looking for your you've got a critical mindset, right? Which is not to say negative, but it means that you're asking questions. You're looking for what isn't there. You're also trying to figure out what are all the arguments. What are all the perspectives?

And that's like really good training for how to examine issues, how to problem solve, et cetera. The downside for me was that so much of it is adversarial and so much of it is critical that, and it's so much of it is in the head and it's rational and it doesn't allow for. for some of the other skills that are about empathy, listening, inviting difference, you know, all of those things are sort of like not what you do in law school.

And one of the upsets I had in law school, as well as practicing law was, where is the compassion? Where is the, the ability to see? see yourself and someone else rather than see yourself as against someone else, right? And certainly the work of inclusion requires you to develop many skills that are not just about your intellect and not just about your head.

And so ultimately I could take all the sort of critical thinking that I had been schooled in. And I could also add what comes actually much more naturally to me, which is collaboration and listening and building things together and looking for commonalities, that kind of thing. I 

[00:05:40] Hala Taha: love that. I think that's great that you were able to kind of take some of your experiences from law and then add onto them those soft skills that you were talking about.

So let's lay some foundational context for our listeners. You have a unique experience. Thank you definition of diversity and inclusion. I've heard you say before that diversity is being asked to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance. So tell us about that. Expand on that more in your definition of a DNI.

[00:06:08] Vernā Myers: Yeah, I would go into these companies and they would be so happy to see me initially. And then I would tell them what I discovered by talking to their employees. And then they would say something like, So, yeah, so the black people, they're not having fun, really. The gay folks are upset. The women, the women, really?

We thought they were doing so well. You know, Barbara seems to be enjoying it here, right? And I would say, yeah, but what they're saying is, They're here, but they're not in the lifeblood of the organization. They're not on the sexy projects. They're not at the highest levels. They aren't feeling a sense of belonging.

And the response would always be ultimately, well, thank you so much, but, uh, we're not going to change anything, right? Because I was dealing with very, very successful companies. And there was a real fear that if they were to do something differently, that they wouldn't be as successful. Somehow they thought they were going to invite difference and stay the same, right?

So I thought to them, I kept saying to them, look, you know, if you're serious about this, you're going to have to do something different. You're going to have to get folks off the wall. It's like a bad middle school. cool dance. You remember those mixers where you would like, just hope someone would invite you to dance.

You just like lingering around the bathroom with your girlfriends or whatever or the punch bowl or whatever. But the leaders are in the position, right. To really create True opportunity, not tokenism, not having one. Barbara, who is more like them than anyone else, right? Not just looking for themselves and trying to duplicate and replicate themselves, but really, really leaning into the power of difference and inviting that difference onto the dance floor.

So somehow we came up with that particular analogy and it resonates across the world. And now that we're talking more about equity, I'm thinking about adding another piece which is equity is kind of leveling that playing field, right? Because ultimately we want to share that power. We want to, we want to all together say, what's the music going to be?

You know, where is it going to be right for folks who have disabilities, special physical disability? Can I even get into the party? Right. So there's still a lot of work to be done to get everybody on the floor and to get the value and the power of that fabulous cocktail of difference. 

[00:08:44] Hala Taha: See, it's so interesting how this space like keeps expanding and expanding because to your point now everyone's talking about equity, equity.

Help us understand this concept of equity even further. You alluded to it, but I'd love for you to expand on that. 

[00:08:58] Vernā Myers: Yeah. I mean, equity is like the, finally we are going to tell the truth about the playing field and it's not level. And I'm not the one who says there's no meritocracy, but I am the one that says, some folks are in the meritocracy for sure, but a whole bunch of people don't even get to play in the meritocracy.

So this is about an acknowledgement of a lot of institutional and systemic barriers. to success for people who are super capable, but they just haven't had exposure or opportunity, or they've run into bias or discrimination, or they don't even know a job exists. That is what blows my mind that, especially like now in the entertainment industry, there are so many fabulous opportunities and jobs out there.

But folks don't even know, like, or they haven't seen themselves behind a camera or they haven't seen themselves as a director or they haven't seen themselves as, um, their story represented. And so their understanding about what's possible is very limited because of seriously long term exclusion. And in many cases, Purposeful exclusion, not just unconscious bias, which I talk a lot about, but consciously trying to maintain dominance and power in a set of a group of people.

[00:10:25] Hala Taha: So what you're talking about now really just worked my Recollection of imposter syndrome, right? So a lot of people in this world, a lot of people who are often, you know, discriminated against, we're the first ones to have imposter syndrome and think we're not even qualified to have these jobs that you're talking about.

So tell us about imposter syndrome and how it actually relates to diversity. 

[00:10:49] Vernā Myers: You know what? I was like new to this concept because I kept saying to people, what are y'all talking about? You know how you feel like you're a. Like not supposed to be there. And I was like, Oh yeah. In fact, I just did a piece on this where I do remember like arriving at Harvard law school and thinking that it was just a matter of time before someone was going to be knocking on my door and say, Oh, sorry, that was actually a mistake.

You're not supposed to be here. Right. Because you're each time, and this is the truth. Each time you go to another level in your life, every time you're courageous enough. to say, I'm going to try something you are going to have to reckon with the fact that you are in a place you've never been before you with people who are good and maybe even better.

But you have actually done the work to get there. So one of the things that I realized is no, nobody made a mistake. You're here. You worked to get here. Now, do what you know how to do, so that you can go to the next level. So that's one thing I really want people to recognize. The second thing is, it's a whole bunch of people suffering from this.

White men suffer from this. depending on your personality, your background, background you lived experience. It doesn't just visit folks who have like traditionally excluded groups or whatever. However, however, there is a way that racism and sexism and other forms of bias.

and institutionalized kind of systemic bias that suggests that maybe we're not as good, right? So then we start internalizing that. We start internalizing that, and then we don't even need racism because we already put ourselves in a position of not being able to be our best selves. We have our own limitations.

So much of the work we have to do is to take the limitations off of ourselves, right? And to not believe that we're not as good. good. I mean, the counter to the imposter syndrome is to stand up in your fullness. And I think sometimes people don't realize that. 

[00:12:58] Hala Taha: That is extremely powerful because a lot of the times, like you said, we think that everything is just like against us and it's external when really, sometimes, it's not.

Part of the problem is internal, but it's because of these external experiences and environments that we've been in in the past. And we just have to always kind of start with a clean slate, I think. Yeah. It's not that, you know, 

[00:13:18] Vernā Myers: it's not that we, it isn't out there. It's not that people haven't tried to box us in.

It's just that they don't have to try if we box ourselves in, right? So we got to just keep pushing it, pushing it. There are ways that we cope, really important. So we don't, you know, have to deal with a lot of nonsense and trauma and stuff, but then there are ways that we can keep pushing. We got to keep testing.

How much space is it? Right. Cause folks talk about like the, the dog that's chained up in a yard for a while. And then all you have to do is do that for a while. And then you can take the chain off of the dog and they'll stay in the yard. Right. And it's just because they're accustomed to that. And so I want to encourage people to take the limits off, no matter who you are, no matter what your identity is.

No matter what your lived experience is, like really think possibilities because that's the thing that motivates us to be our best selves. 

  That's very inspirational. So thank you for sharing that. Let's move on to unconscious bias. So this is something that a lot of people think that maybe only racists have unconscious bias.

[00:14:28] Hala Taha: But you told a story during your TED talk that you in fact also suffer from this from time to time. And you told a story about you being on a plane and having a female pilot and how you realize. that you have your own unconscious bias. Would you share that example with us? 

[00:14:43] Vernā Myers: Oh my goodness. Yeah. So on a plane and initially being thrilled to hear a female voice come over out of the cockpit and thinking, Oh my God, women are moving up and feeling all excited.

And then it started getting turbulent and bumpy and I was like, Ooh, I hope she can drive. And I have to say how I didn't even know that that was a problem until I came back on the leg that night. And it was a male pilot. It's always a male pilot. It is. often turbulent and bumpy. And I'm like, Oh no, I have never questioned the competence of the pilot.

Right? I mean, you might be over there praying, but you're not saying, is he qualified? I wonder how many years he's had. And you know, you don't do that. And so I was like, Oh my God, I'm a woman. And I am biased against women. That's a thing and like I said in the talk, it's because all of us have been out here getting the corrupted message, the misinformation, the ways of looking at who's better than and who's supreme.

So it filters. out on top of all of us. And then we have to be rejecting it consciously. So the solution to unconscious bias is to know that everybody has it because the science is saying, basically, it's just how our brain has to work. It couldn't possibly deal with every piece of stimuli. So it's got to take shortcuts.

It's got to do associations, quick associations. And when things are a high risk, you go way into your. What you think you already know, like big tube in the sky. I want a guy like that, like your brain has that pattern. Like men drive the way, you know, men who can't drive and you know, women who can. And even those different experiences still doesn't check the bias sometimes because it's so embedded.

So you got to go looking for it. You got to get out of denial. And nobody who has a brain, everybody's got this issue. And then you need to go and say, how do I get conscious about these areas in my life that need attention so that I'm not just constantly, unconsciously doing this work? 

[00:17:00] Hala Taha: Do you think that that gets better?

Over time, like you're basically saying like, it's gonna happen and you've got to catch yourself and kind of tell yourself, Oh, this is unconscious bias. What am I doing? And kind of like walk backwards from there. Does it ever get better in terms of like getting better at not having unconscious bias? 

[00:17:19] Vernā Myers: It's a good question.

You work on it, right? So you sort of say, okay, who are my out groups? Who are the folks who just go immediately into the less than pile for me or I have some stereotype? Because then you start focusing on that. But here's the thing, Holla, which is so like good and bad, which you can get good on race. and be incompetent on disability, right?

You could be great on Latinx, but terrible on Asian Americans, You could be one of the people who are, like, mimicking People who have accents, right? You don't even know that you're doing that.

So, it's a journey. Your brain's gonna do what it's gonna do. And be much more conscious. You gotta slow down. You gotta ask yourself questions. You gotta invite folks to tell you. Cause all of us have friends who are like, You're just like, I know you didn't just say that. That's not right. You know that's not right.

And so we have to sort of tell each other when we see it. Cause We just haven't gotten so used to trafficking in this kind of bias. So 

[00:18:28] Hala Taha: I want to move on to a really cool concept that I read about in your book. What if I say the wrong thing, 25 habits for culturally effective people. It was a fantastic book and you break down all the different isms and then you also classify it.

each group of isms into a one up group and a one down group. And I thought this was so cool. And I'd love for you to share this framework with our listeners and how we can use it. 

[00:18:53] Vernā Myers: Thank you. Thank you. I actually got this really great framework from Visions Inc. Org. They're really great. They do this work, but it's all about how do we think about the social hierarchies that are existing constantly and how does something move from like a prejudice to an ism.

Like, how do you go from, you know, for example, racial prejudice to racism? Because people are always like, I'm not a racist. I'm not a racist. And I'm like, you know, all the races could stay home and we would still have racism because the ism is that there have been years and years of privileging one group over another.

And therefore we know their history or better, or were there more opportunities available at some point? And when you have that year after year over and over again, that privilege, that benefit of the doubt and all the benefits that go with it gets systematized and repeated and embedded in everything we do and how our organizations are shaped, et cetera.

That's how you get to the ism. And so we have heterosexism. We have cissexism, right? Where we're just, always centering the norm around cisgender people, right? Or we might have people who have English as their first language. And if you're in the United States, that's going to just privilege you in a particular way.

Now, let me just say that most people don't believe in this. structure anymore, but it doesn't matter because it's on automatic. And so that's why people keep talking about anti racism, anti sexism, right? Because you've acted, got to be proactive to get rid of the status quo, because the status quo is racism.

And so in this, you know, chart, you say, which is the group that has been targeted as not as good, less than, and which are the groups that have been given the benefit of the doubt and the privilege. And that group is called the up group. And then the group that has been excluded, marginalized is called the down group.

And the reason we say that is to talk about power, because these positionings make a difference from dominance, representation, and power, including the power not to pay attention to the inequity, right? And to maintain the dominance. So that is a framework that I think helps people pay attention to where folks might be experiencing Less opportunity, even though you personally love those people.

Right. And I put it in quotes, right? I love those people. It's really fun, but where are they positioned? Right. The one other thing I wanted to say about that is that this is low guilt. Because for the most part, people don't believe it and we didn't create it, but it's high responsibility to try to level these things out.


[00:21:57] Hala Taha: and so Justify listeners really understand this. Like, let's just take an example. Let's take a 60 year old black woman. So, ageism, she's got a one down, right? Sexism, she's a female, another one down. She's black, so racism, another one down, right? And if you're a 30 year old white male, you've got three ups.

So it's like, you've got to treat people differently because people are facing different circumstances. And like Vernet said, it's not the same. Because somebody's mean or bad. It's just the reality right of the 

[00:22:29] Vernā Myers: world. Absolutely. I mean, you know, you just described me by the way. So that's interesting. Um, and I also came from a working class background.

So a number of one downs, but Okay. The cool thing about this awareness is that you start realizing what your one ups are, right? Because we all have multiple identities. So I was educated in the most, you know, one of the most prestigious schools. I don't have any disabilities. I make a good amount of money.

So I have, you know, I was, I'm English, uh, first language, U S born. I work a lot in the U S that works real well, even around the world that works real well. So the other really awesome part about this, you get to see your privileges and your lack of privileges. And by the way, most of us have both. Most of us have both.

So even though you're like, Oh, I know what it's like to be a marginalized, pay attention to the areas that come easily for you because that's where your privileges and that's where your power is. 

[00:23:35] Hala Taha: Yeah. And I'm definitely going to stick a link to this chart in my show notes because I think it is so powerful and so useful for everyone.

So let's talk about like, as leaders, and I think that everyone is a leader in their own capacity, whether they lead teams or not. How are we supposed to kind of challenge this idea and support people who are in the one down groups, you know, as a manager or a coworker? 

[00:23:57] Vernā Myers: one thing is I would say all of us have an area where we can be allies, right? And I want to make sure I said also when up is where the power is, it is because that's where you can be an ally, but I don't want to misrepresent.

There's a lot of power in the one down group too, right? Or we wouldn't be where we are right now. Lot of brilliance.A lot of resilience, a lot of creativity and innovation, community, all very powerful on both sides. That is why as an ally, you don't approach helping around equity from like a pity position or sympathy position.

It's really empathy, yeah? Understanding what it's like to be in someone else's shoes and what their lived experiences are and where the barriers are. so much. so you can help remove them, but you're doing it not because you feel sorry for them or you feel guilty. It's because you know that their success, their freedom, their opportunity to show up as full human beings has everything to do with your opportunity to show up as a human being, a caring human being, because these systems that we have are contorting our own hearts, our own understandings.

I mean, think about what we don't have in our society because we pushed certain voices and perspectives down. I mean, just look at Netflix now where we're like working so hard to get more stories. It's just more interesting. It's a more interesting life. It's a more interesting product. It's more accessible to people.

And I think that's what we're missing. So allyship. Is a big deal. Find the group that you want to help and then let them lead you because that's the other major issues. Like folks are like, I'm here to save. No, we don't need you saving. We just need you to move the barriers out of the way. So we can show up like in whatever capacity we have.

And often that capacity is quite amazing. 

[00:25:59] Hala Taha: I'd love to stick on this point on sympathy versus empathy, because I think that as people like myself, I am like a big proponent of black lives matter and I want to support, but sometimes I feel like I don't know how to like do it without overstepping. And I feel like a lot of other people feel that way.

So it's like I support and I post about it and like, but I don't like go too far because I don't want to overstep my boundaries because I'm not. black. And so I just don't want to overstep. So help us understand that balance and how we can do it in a tactful 

[00:26:30] Vernā Myers: way. Yeah, it's a bit of a journey. I'm not going to lie.

You know, I've made mistakes like with some trans folks and non binary folks, just like, you know, from that dominant group mindset where you're just like, well, why don't you try this? And why don't you do that? You know, like, they're like, you go tell us. Like, please don't, right? So, or what would work, right?

So I think once you've been used to taking up a lot of space, you do have to pull yourself back, but, and be led, and yield, and be in solidarity. However, there's a lot of work you can do on your own to have a better understanding of what they're, approach should be and when you should fall back. And a lot of that work is obviously understanding since we're talking about black lives matter, understanding history and black, the experience of black folks.

And by the way, they're not a monolith. So there's a lot of studying about just the complexity and the intersectionality within the group. However, I will also say so much of the work also needs to be almost starting with who am I as a non black person? What did I learn about whiteness? What, how has it shaped me and my perspectives?

Cause you know, you, so you got a lot of work to do with yourself first, and I think people skip that a lot of self reflection, a lot of awareness, like, what did I get told? And when did I get that message? And from whom did I get that message? And why doesn't it sit right with me now? And then what more do I need to do?

And a lot of times it's you're in your own group. Talking to folks in your own group about what works and what doesn't work and also the frustrations and also the fear and also like the worry, because those are real too. 

[00:28:23] Hala Taha: So like when you're talking right now, it's making me think back to your TED talk again when I believe you said something about we need people to stare at black people.

And I think it was about basically teaching our children about history. So talk to us about that. Like how can we kind of start to reverse this? from when our children are growing up. 

[00:28:42] Vernā Myers: Oh my goodness, it's all about the children. People say all the time, I don't know why this isn't better. I'm like, really?

Really? You don't know why it's not better? Cause you, the thing is in the atmosphere. I remember my kid, he was like five or something. And he, my kid was like, yeah, mom, I want to be white. A lot of black kids say that when they're young. And you're like, oh, how do I tell you this is 

[00:29:06] Hala Taha: not a choice? I used to say that as an Arabic person.

I used to wish I would be white, you know, I was, or had a white 

[00:29:12] Vernā Myers: name, you know? Yeah, that's not because they got it from us. We're like rolling black people through the house on the regular. But on the outside, you don't have to be at school to look at the messaging that tells you who's better, who's prettier, who's more valuable.

So what that means is. The only way your children are going to be anti racist is if you do proactive work they need to spot it, they need to see it. When you're in the marginalized group, you're like, oh, you can see the systems, you can see all of it. fake. You can see it because your life is not what everyone says the norm is.

So you're like, there's obviously a system here. But if you are in the norm and things have been going well for you and you're like a fish in water, you're like what water. So what you have to do is you have to tell your children, when you see your child, when you see unhoused people living on the street, your kid has been taught in America, at least that that's that person's fault.

Even if they are. Sympathetic, you know, there, but for the grace of God, go I is what a lot of people say. And what it really should be is there I am. That is a human being just like me. I'm not better. They didn't do something wrong. It's wrong that people have to live on the streets. It's wrong. And so it's like you've got to point it out to your kids.

Or like I do say in the talk, like, you know how you go for like holidays? We used to go for holidays before COVID anyway, with your family. And there's always that grandmother or that uncle or that aunt who taught you how to make cake or fish and they straight up bigot. You know, you're like, you're like, I love grandma, but she's terrible, but we never correct them.

And they were like, well, you know, folks are old. They can't change. A, we don't know who can change, but B, if you can't, I mean, you know, I don't want you to wipe grandma. I don't want you to take them out. You know, you can't do it with compassion, but you can say at the table, cause the kids are at the table.

You can say, Oh, grandma, we don't actually talk about people like that anymore. You know, I mean, or if you can't do that in the car on the way home, you got to say to your kids, you know, how uncle blah was saying blah. Yeah. We don't believe that in that, in our family. We don't believe in that. That's wrong.

I don't want to ever hear you. And a lot of us who are parents, We've heard comments in the backseat size. People talk about size, say, oh, that person is so big, or I don't, they're so ugly. That's the moment. What? What are y'all saying back there? What's up? Tell me what you mean. Yeah, that kind of. Focus is so important.

There's all this great material now. There are all these great museums now. Like, you should not let your kid just be exposed to what the norm is, the mainstream. You sometimes have to go digging. And I love parents that do that. Get the books. Watch the films. Go to the museums. 

[00:32:36] Hala Taha: So something else you just alluded to was microaggressions, right? So calling somebody ugly or maybe that's not even micro. Tell us what a microaggression is, why it's important to know about. 

[00:32:48] Vernā Myers: It's so funny you should say that because sometimes I'm talking about micro inequities and folks are like, why is that micro, right?

I feel like that's really bad. And so, but really what it's trying to speak to is those sort of like slights, they happen pretty quickly. You tell somebody you have a PhD at whatever, and they say, really? You, you know, or they say, I'm here to talk to the leader and they are looking past the woman or they're looking past the person of color.

They're looking past the person who is in a wheelchair because somehow they have a descriptive bias that suggests to them that none of the folks in front of them could possibly be the leader. That's a slight. And the reason why, I mean, what are you going to do? You're going to report that it's hard to get your.

hands around it. It usually is happening before you even expect it. And it's happening constantly, but not by one person, but by lots of folks making the same mistake. So it then starts to have this cumulative effect as if it were an egregious act, right? So small acts over and over again by different people feel extremely burdensome.

Frustrating upsetting and also just makes you feel like I can't even be seen for who I am like Why is that presumption going against me, you know, constantly? Or, you know, my Asian friends who are from the US, they're always saying like, oh, people are constantly congratulating them about their English.

And they're like, oh thanks, I grew up in Kansas, appreciate it. Do you know what I'm saying? It's like Oh my gosh. How long have Asian folks been in the United States? I mean, seriously? That they're always perceived as foreign. Yeah. So that is the thing that I think is really important to recognize that even though something might be small, and this is what happens when people speak up and say, Hey, actually, that's not my name, or I appreciate you not making fun of it or, renaming me, which is also annoying where people are like, you know, I don't know.

That's kind of hard to say. Why don't we call you JC? No, I didn't say you could call me JC. But what happens is When someone says, I appreciate if you just call me by my name, you're like, Oh, I'm not racist. I'm, I'm not sexist. Like you misunderstood that. Aren't you a little sensitive? I was just joking, right?

How we come back is so important because none of us are going to be perfect. All of us are going to step in it. So you've got to, when people are kind enough to come out of their frustration, their anger, their sadness, whatever, to give you some feedback, You need to see it as a gift, thank you, because I don't want to keep making these mistakes, you know, so you got to really, you got to say to yourself, humility is just such an important part of this walk, because you're going to be wrong a lot if you are serious about getting it right.

It's a contact sport. 

[00:35:48] Hala Taha: Oh my gosh. Everything you're saying is like so relatable. And I'm sure everyone listening is like, oh my gosh, that's happened to me. Or, oh my gosh, I've done that before. And it's not pointing the fingers at anyone. Like you said, it's like, everyone is guilty and everyone has experienced this.

So how do we. Make it better. You also talk about something called micro affirmations, and this is something I've never heard before, and I thought it was super interesting. So tell us about that. 

[00:36:12] Vernā Myers: It goes a long way. Small stuff can be painful, but small stuff can actually also be incredibly beautiful, which is to say that you can say things like, thank you.

Right? So hierarchically, sometimes we see, Oh, certain people get thanked. Other people don't. You can say things like you can acknowledge where people have had great. success, especially when you know there is a negative stereotype about them. You can learn how to pronounce people's names, right. And get them right.

Right. Because, you know, when my name is mispronounced, I'm not mad, but boy, when someone gets it, right. I feel like I love you, you know, um, there are just things where also you can, when you're in a meeting, you can actually keep a list of people. Of who you called on because a lot of times our biases like show up in that like we, you know, I'm a very gregarious person.

I'm looking for the gregarious person. So I'm calling on there or people who are very expressive, right? But sometimes if you keep a list, you can check to see like who have I been calling on and who haven't I been calling on, right? It's a small thing, but it makes a huge difference. You could actually, if you're talking to people who are remote and maybe they're also of a different language or whatever.

You can ask a question soliciting people's opinions and you can just decide to wait 10 to 12 seconds instead of only choosing on the person who's on the ready right away. You know, they're just small things, especially leaders, because people look at what leaders do. They model. themselves after leaders.

So when leaders are saying thank you, when leaders are being transparent, when leaders are saying, Oh, shoot, did I just step in it? What's the right way to say that? You know, that is what makes a difference because people start adopting that and They get better. It creates a better environment for everyone.

[00:38:11] Hala Taha: Wow. I think we went through so many great actionable tips in terms of how we can all improve our unconscious bias, how we can counteract these microaggressions. We went through so much different stuff. I want to talk about the benefit of having a diverse and inclusive environment in terms of like revenue.

you know, an ROI. What is the financial impact? Because a lot of people only do make changes if it really impacts the bottom line. So what's the bottom line impact? 

[00:38:38] Vernā Myers: Yeah. The bottom line pretty much is like, you don't want to be a company going into the future unless you have diversity and inclusion, because you've got to find a way constantly towards innovation.

And you've got to find a way to satisfy your customers or your clients, whatever it is. And that group is only getting more and more diverse and more conscious, right? And you have to actually create new things and break up old thing called groupthink, right? So what the science is suggesting is that if you have diverse perspectives, and that often is correlated with diverse identities and life experiences, You have sort of the ingredients for having much more innovation and a better opportunity to predict what the needs will be.

And so that translates into, for example, if I use our company, like our company's ability to produce more. More and more innovative content and to do it on a service that's more and more accessible to lots of people all over the world. We have dubbing. We have, you know, all sorts of languages. We figured out how, if you can't see, we can narrate a show for you.

You just have to select that particular thing. That means we just have more people who want to join our service, right? And so it outpaces. Innovation can take you to the next level. And quite frankly, Hala, we've never even seen true competition. We don't even know what it looks like to have people from all sorts of backgrounds, not have to contend with barriers that shouldn't be there.

So we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of creativity and innovation. I think about the movie Parasite. I remember watching that and thinking, Oh, this is fresh. This is new. This is interesting that we have. So we haven't even scratched the surface. And so I think there's some bottom line things, but I also think about bottom line is how well you're internally, your employees are humming, how well they're working together, team efficiency.

Um, How much you can keep people in your environment instead of having them leave and having to hire new people and get them up to speed. That's money too, right? But it's also sort of what kind of environment you are creating to foster the kind of innovation that you want and need to be not just profitable, but relevant, you know, relevant.

And the one other thing I wanted to say that I didn't answer, which is that whole idea between the. Sympathy. I didn't mention that the sympathy. Yeah. Yeah. Let's talk about because because I do believe that initially a lot of people come in with the sympathy like all those poor people, the people are not poor and it's not their inadequacy.

It's the fact that we've had this exclusion. And in many cases, it's been a direct impact on marginalized groups, but it has also made a difference and an unfortunate difference for the people in the norm because they don't have certain skills. They're guilty. They feel guilty about certain things. They get stuck in a one mindset, right?

So they've also suffered. the result of this exclusion. So it's not about sympathy for other people. It's like, how do we build a more humane, dignified way of living with one another through all of our differences. But then you go to empathy to figure that out, to understand what is happening that I haven't experienced.

experience that if I did, I could build a bridge. I could understand. I could be more open and I could actually benefit from it. The last piece for me is compassion because compassion goes beyond empathy. It says. Now that I know, what am I prepared to do? Compassion is the spirit of, I am going to, to alleviate the pain, to alleviate the trauma, the, and the unfairness and the injustice.

And that is what we need more than anything, is that level of compassion. 

[00:42:56] Hala Taha: So let's take everyone through like an example, if we could, an example of somebody being sympathetic, which is what you shouldn't do, and then reversing that into empathy and compassion. So walk us through 

[00:43:08] Vernā Myers: that. So, for example, like what I said, This was sort of alluding to, which is the xenophobia that we're seeing right now, right?

So one thing, for example, is that, you know, sympathetically, you're looking at the news and you're like, Oh my gosh, that's so sad. They killed that old man. That is terrible. Right? That's sympathetic. Empathy is actually remembering that you may actually have some Asian friends and you might actually have some Asian colleagues and you might open Google and put the word xenophobia or anti Asian racism in and you start reading.

You start hearing people's stories. You start saying to your colleagues, Hey, I hear this is happening. I am with you. I am sad to see this. I'm here for you, right? Compassion looks like you're at Trader Joe's and you see somebody push in front of an older Asian woman. They don't have, she doesn't have to be older, whatever.

And you say, excuse me, I think she was first. Or if you see some violence headed towards someone, you go over to them. And this is what I learned actually during 9 11 and all of the horrible violence against anybody who wasn't American, but especially Arabs, especially folks who were Muslim, right? And people don't know the difference.

But, you know, it was even happening in Sikh folks because they were wrapping their heads what they said is you don't even necessarily have to go at the person who's committing that atrocity or that violence. You can just go to the person who is the victim and say, Hey girl, what's up?

I'm so glad to see you. You just interrupted. Or you might say something like, Hey, you know, I need directions. I'm wondering, do you, you want to walk with me? Because I'm trying to figure out where we're going. Yeah. So trying to learn how to interrupt the bias because it's not enough to be conscious, you then have to put it into action.

And that is what compassion looks like. It's also when people are telling your story, you're not trying to take up the space with your emotions. You're really trying to hold that space for them. And that's another thing that allies are learning. You can't center yourself with all of your emotions. You got to be there for other people because they're the direct, they're bearing the direct impact.

[00:45:44] Hala Taha: So everybody listening out there, this is not like a once and done type of episode.

So I do a lot of episodes where, you know, you could just listen to it for this hour and you're good and you learned about this topic, but this is something deep that you need to look inside. This is something that you might want to take a course about unconscious bias and really start to understand it and figure out how you can work through your own unconscious bias.

Vernet, is there any reading material that you suggest in terms of next steps for folks who want to learn more? 

[00:46:14] Vernā Myers: Yeah, so one of the things that I've been doing, uh, first of all, Ibrahim Kendi has a great book, including a book for parents who want to raise anti racist babies. you really go to the bestseller list in non fiction, you will see like a million books, all of them are good.

We also have a lot of good videos and a lot of good, for example, LinkedIn, I did a course with them on unconscious bias. That's actually, it's quick, it's mini, so you can do that work. You know, my company, my, because actually when I came to Netflix, I held on to my company and we do learning videos. But pretty much.

Everywhere they are available. And lots of people, especially after the tragic killing of George Floyd created a lot of great content, Amazon, Netflix, et cetera, have incredible pieces of information that you can look at that will really help you with the empathy piece. Actually, I would say there is no excuse.

You know, because we got the Google, and they're very accessible pieces of information. Also, look around your own community. There are people doing work and have been doing work forever on these issues. Join the movement. groups. And the neat thing about being virtual these days is it's not as awkward.

You can like, things are virtual and you can just be on and just listening like a fly on the wall. And you can up your acumen and your awareness very quickly with a lot, with not as much risk of being in person. But when we do get to be in person, right, you're looking to expand your social and professional circles.

You're trying to get out of that network. You're asking yourself, who are my friends and who is missing from this list of friends, right? So you might do yourself a personal inventory. Leaders in particular, who have I hired in the last five years? Who have I promoted in the last five years? Who have I mentored in the last five years?

You see any patterns? Is it just like, are these people just like you? What could you do to expand it? Where could you go looking for talent that you're not looking at right now? All of those are action moves that will make a difference in this work. 

[00:48:36] Hala Taha: And if you guys noticed, I didn't really ask too much questions about hiring because I did that on purpose because I think the conversation is always about hiring, but it goes beyond just hiring.

It's getting invited to dance. Like you said, it's getting the promotions, the mentorships, even just going out to lunch and getting the companionship at work. And so it's also about being invited to dance, which is why I didn't talk about hiring at all in this conversation. So The last question I ask all my guests is what is your secret to profiting in life?

[00:49:05] Vernā Myers: I have several, but the one I'm going to go with is alignment. And what I mean by alignment is really looking for the messages in your life. To sit down, what has my life been saying to me about what the purpose is that I can serve on behalf of others? And you know, when you do it, you start to say, Oh, there, there was that.

And then there was that. And there was a, and you start to see that commonality and you start to say, how do I align all of that? I am doing to that purpose in my personal life, in my work life, in my friend life. in the ways that I volunteer when you've got all sorts of things going on, you're often at cross purposes.

You're like canceling out sometimes the good that you're doing. And so I have learned to align, which means you also have to say no to stuff. Because you're like, that doesn't actually go. But once you realize, you know, and you try to say where your vision is and you understand your purpose, opportunities come by and you're like, Oh, grab that one.

Cause that's part of the flow. And that's the other piece I would say. Alignment helps you. Get into flow. What it also does is it helps you to say no to things that might be great. They may be great, but they're not in the flow. When you get in the flow, there's a certain kind of efficiency. There's a certain kind of profitability, and then it just keeps feeding on itself.

You feel good inside. You're projecting clarity to folks. You are attracting more opportunities, and you're letting go. So much the secret is, let go as quickly as you can. Like, stay with reality. We spend so much time saying, why isn't it like this? Can't believe this happened to me. I don't know why she treated me like, there's a lot of that going on that takes up a lot of energy.

It is what it is. You don't have control over everybody. You have control over nobody except yourself. So what's your flow? What's your purpose? How you giving back? Why were you brought here? And then how are you going to keep unfolding and evolving? 

[00:51:23] Hala Taha: That is super, super inspirational and powerful stuff.

Thank you so much for sharing your secret to profiting in life. And where can our listeners go to learn more about you and everything that you do? Holla, 

[00:51:35] Vernā Myers: you are the sweetest. I'm so glad to be here. So I'm on Insta at Vernee Myers. I'm also on Twitter that way, and I'm on LinkedIn. It's all at Vernee Myers, O V E R N A Myers, M Y E R S.

And you can also go over to my company's site over, um, my, uh, it's called It's called Rene Meyers Company, TVMC, lots of possibilities there, but I hope this has been helpful. 

[00:52:02] Hala Taha: It has been. I think everyone's going to really enjoy this episode and I can't wait to put out the micro content. Thank you so much.

[00:52:09] Vernā Myers: Thank you, Hala. Bye. Much, much blessings to you. 


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