[00:00:00] Jackie Ferguson: Welcome to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox podcast. I'm joined today by Aiko Bethea. Aiko is an executive coach, renowned speaker and thought partner, consulting for various companies and organizations across the country, including Bristol Meyers Squibb, Intuit, Starbucks, Uber, and more. Aiko also created and implemented the first organization wide DEI strategy, and developed the first diversity and inclusion department at Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center.
[00:00:30] In addition to her work as principal and founder of RARE Coaching and Consulting, a leadership development firm. Aiko is senior Director of The Daring Way and the Dare to Lead Global Facilitator Communities of Brené Brown Education and Research Group. She is also a senior director at Frontline Solutions, a black owned consulting firm.
[00:00:51] Previously, Aiko worked as a grassroots community organizer, deputy director at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and an attorney and litigator for the City of Atlanta. Aiko, thank you for joining us.
[00:01:05] Aiko Bethea: Thank you for having me Jackie.
[00:01:06] Jackie Ferguson: Of course, I always like to start with asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, your family, uh, your identity, whatever you'd like to share.
[00:01:18] Aiko Bethea: Okay, well, I would start with saying that I am certainly a southerner. I am from South Carolina, and I currently live in Atlanta, although I did high school and some other stints in New York, Massachusetts, and was in Seattle for about 11 years. I am certainly a southerner. Uh, I am a child of, um, an immigrant household.
[00:01:38] So my mother is Japanese and moved here when she was about 28, and that made for an interesting upbringing in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And I have two sons, two teenage boys who are ages 13 and 14. And some of the things that I love doing include writing, reading, eating, maybe eating too much... (laughing)
[00:02:01] Jackie Ferguson: I
[00:02:01] Aiko Bethea: And I
[00:02:02] Jackie Ferguson: And I have the same, uh, hobby, there Aiko.
[00:02:04] Aiko Bethea: There's never, there's no such thing as eating too much, there's no such thing. And I love coffee and I also love, um, meeting new folks, especially folks who are interested in the wellbeing of others.
[00:02:18] Jackie Ferguson: That's awesome. Thank you for sharing that.
[00:02:21] Aiko, will you tell us a little bit about your early career and your journey to what you're doing now?
[00:02:28] Aiko Bethea: Sure. Let's see the, uh, career journey. I would say that, uh, I started in compliance as an auditor at Bank of America. I went to, um, law school, at Chapel Hill, and that was after being at Smith and all women's college. I often tell people that between Smith and going to Chapel Hill for law school, I went to the Marines twice for Officer Candidacy School and most of the decisions in my early years were, um, dictated by income level.
[00:02:58] So, I actually went to the Marines wanting to be in JAG, so I could have law school paid for. I was injured. I ended up going to a Chapel Hill, which was a state school that was more affordable. I deferred a year from outta state, so that I could get in state tuition....
[00:03:12] Jackie Ferguson: That makes a difference, right?
[00:03:14] Aiko Bethea: Absolutely. I worked at a large litigation law firm before I went to the city of Atlanta. And, all of these decisions were dictated by income level, even going to Smith, it gave me the most school, most money in terms of going to college. So, I talked to people a lot about those decisions and, uh, after leaving Atlanta, I did go to Seattle, to work at the Gates Foundation.
[00:03:39] And one of my goals was to do more for other people, cuz I realized I was doing a lot of work, as many of us do in the community, which was important to me. So, I decided to go into philanthropy. It was very different than what I expected, in terms of more elitist than a lot of the other states I've been in.
[00:03:57] And, it was great though because it allowed me to cut my teeth in a lot of other aspects of, that sector partners impact of philanthropy on communities elevated my recognition about why equity was so important to me. And after that, as you mentioned, I went to Fred Hutch and stood up their first, uh, diversity inclusion group and body of work.
[00:04:20] And from there went on to be an executive coach. And, a lot of that had to do with wanting to do more work on my own terms, wanting to define success in my own terms. I think later in life many of us start deciding and recognizing that we're, been living someone else's agenda. In terms of, I always say moving from their agenda that there in quotes, be it your family of origin, community of orin, your parents' society.
[00:04:46] And then we moved to recognizing our own agenda. Hopefully, I will say that many people don't get there, and they realize later, wow, I've been living my life for everyone else's expectations and standards. So, now being at [00:05:00] this point in my life, living in Atlanta, raising my kids, having my own company, being able to employ a lot of people who look like me, um, people of color who are in leadership development to support other leaders who look like us.
[00:05:14] And people who actually want to have higher emotional intelligence, in their leadership journey. That's what we want to support healthy organizations and healthy people. So, I feel like I just scored in terms of the best of both worlds or all worlds and love what I do.
[00:05:31] Jackie Ferguson: That's amazing. Thank you for sharing that.
[00:05:34] You know, I always like to start that because I, I feel like the journey. To where you are, to where you found your passion is something that a lot of, you know, I have a 20-year-old and a lot of young people feel like they have to have figured out really early. But sometimes it takes some time to work through some different jobs, different experiences, to really find yourself, and find your passion.
[00:06:00] So I, I'm, I appreciate your sharing that. Aiko
[00:06:03] Aiko Bethea: Absolutely.
[00:06:04] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. Tell us about RARE Consulting, share some of the ways that your organization helps clients in what you do.
[00:06:13] Aiko Bethea: Wow, that's been a journey as well. Being an entrepreneur, which I know you can relate to. You think you're going to do one thing and that there's one way to do it, and then you realize just like in terms of deciding who you wanna be and how you wanna live, it's a journey.
[00:06:28] Jackie Ferguson: That's right.
[00:06:28] Aiko Bethea: And right now, the way that we support organizations is really about leadership development, helping people in terms of how they navigate conflict, helping them to show up intentionally, helping them to recognize what their aspirational self looks like and to pursue that.
[00:06:46] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm
[00:06:46] Aiko Bethea: We realize now, uh, more than ever, that you don't just shed who you are when you go into the workplace or the workplace, also, itself isn't in a vacuum. And recognizing that what's happening in the world and society impacts people and the workplace. So, a lot of the work I do one on one with clients, if I'm an executive coach or somebody in my affiliate mentions, coaching someone, is that we are trying to create space for people to be intentional about how they're living their life. And what that means in terms of closing the gap between who they are and what to be. And how they show up most hours of the day, which is at the workplace.
[00:07:24] And for them to also recognize the types of workplaces they want to be in and how do they create that. So, a lot of systems work and a lot of individual development work. The work that we also center is working with, um, people who find themselves being the only in a workplace.
[00:07:41] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah
[00:07:41] Aiko Bethea: So, it's really rare for people to receive leadership development from somebody who looks like them, in terms of people of color. It is really rare to have leadership development from somebody who is black or brown. Super, ra, rare to find somebody at who's an executive coach, who also is brown or black. And so, my organization, we provide our facilitators are all people of color, many are black, or black and brown.
[00:08:11] Our bench of executive coaches, are people of color, many who are black and brown, all high caliber talent, of course. And when organizations say we can't find anybody, or we couldn't find anybody who looks like us, or we don't have those, um, options for employees who want to get leadership development or executive coaching from somebody who looks like them. We want to make sure that we're a one stop shop and we're providing that. The part that might not be as obvious for folks is, this part of people, um, being able to find places where they can thrive.
[00:08:45] So, part of me having employees or affiliates is, I wanna actually make sure that folks are working in spaces where they feel valued, they don't have to code switch or cover. It's the same type of experience that we want our clients to have.
[00:09:00] And paying people well, having them be able to work in, um, spaces that they feel where they feel validated. So, a big part of my mission too, is even when you think about the entrepreneurial engine and making it accessible to other folks, like financial freedom is important for us. Many of us stay in jobs in toxic workplaces because we feel like that's our only choice.
[00:09:22] Um, so one is serving people who are in workplaces, not only black and brown people, or just people of color, but also leaders who may be from dominant culture, and they want to elevate their emotional intelligence. They want their workplaces to be more impactful and more innovative. They want those performative statements that their organizations put out to actually be true and real, and not just empty statements.
[00:09:46] So we do everything from helping folks through executive coaching to also helping organizations to understand how to conduct equitable performance management, or performance reviews. We do everything in terms of running focus groups for their employer resource groups to make sure that voices are elevated.
[00:10:07] We help them to assess the systems that they're working in, in terms of how they can be better, how to hold leaders and themselves accountable, in terms of the workplace. So, it's a range of work, that we do, but all anchored squarely in having the best leaders we can, the workforce of yesterday is not the same as a workforce of today, and many of our, many of our leaders are not equipped to be a leader for today, so we're here, here to support that.
[00:10:34] Jackie Ferguson: Aiko, thanks for sharing that. It, it's so important, you know, when the work that you're doing is so valuable. I have so many conversations with people, who have high aspirations in their organization for what they want to do. But the higher you get up that rung, the, the less diversity you see, right. You, and, and for so many organizations, those new employees, those employees that are aspiring to do more and, and reach new heights in their career, they don't see people that look like them.
[00:11:09] And so how can you really mentor someone or sponsor someone that you don't understand how they navigate the world differently than you, right? And there, there is a place for that to an extent, but there's a lot that can't be shared. There's a lot that can't be understood unless you've walked in those shoes in some way from a culturally diverse perspective, right?
[00:11:36] Because the way we navigate. You know, a professional environment is different from the way others navigate a professional environment, and you have to understand that, so.
[00:11:47] Aiko Bethea: Yeah, Jackie, I started smiling when you asked that because that has been the topic of a conversation just this very week with three different clients who are trying to stand up mentorship or sponsorship programs specifically in order to increase retention and to support employees of color. And also, some are targeting not only employees of color, but women, um, to elevate folks into leadership.
[00:12:13] And that's part of the question is, wow, we have all of these leaders, but none of them look like the people we're trying to elevate. How do we make this work? So, one of the things that I share with them is that mentorship is a two-way street. It is actually of great value for mentors to have mentees who are cross-cultural, who don't look like them, who don't have the same lived experience, if the mentor is willing to be a learner.
[00:12:40] And actually to ask questions, to be curious and to learn from the mentee. And the mentee feels like they have permission because that is a great way to elevate the emotional intelligence of your leaders, even when you think about intergenerationally in terms of age, but also cross-culturally in terms of [00:13:00] race, ethnicity, and gender.
[00:13:02] And that's why one of the things I often recommend is that mentors, also get a prep one-on-one in terms of how to be a good, impactful mentor, and also someone who's not going to perpetuate harm. Because although you can never understand exactly what someone else, is experiencing and feeling, you can learn and connect and recognize, hey, what might you do differently to be supportive and to create a certain type of environment?
[00:13:32] The other thing that I offer is, tapping into external resources. So, say that you have employees, um, who are of Asian descent, or Asian ethnicity or black, and you have very few folks in representation of the organization. So, the organization can fund folks to have, uh, memberships and outside organizations so that when they don't feel so isolated, they don't feel alone, and they're also getting mentorship and community outside of the organization.
[00:14:04] So, that might look like an accounting firm, having a membership with a National Black Accountants, it might look like a foundation, having a relationship and membership at AAPI Foundation or organizations or memberships. So, investing in that so that you are retaining and serving your talent as well. Um, and even learning, because at the end of the day, we really want people to just to recruit differently so that we don't have to have these workarounds.
[00:14:31] But of course that also takes a, amount of time to. And also, when people are hired, one of the things that we ask, or we think about is we look around, Is there anyone who looks like me? Then why should I join this place? So, you can at least show the efforts and the investment that you're making as well.
[00:14:46] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:47] Aiko Bethea: But I love your question in terms of how do we make sure that we're mentoring and sponsoring, and it is up to leaders and those who are mentors to up their own skills to make sure that they are serving and closing the gap Because we know why the gap is there.
[00:15:04] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:05] Aiko Bethea: Yeah. Right. And we, and part of it is that these leaders have to be able to meet folks more than halfway. If you wanna have retention, if you wanna have change, and if they themselves want to up their own competency as a leader, right.
[00:15:21] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, Aiko, one of the things that, that you described, or that I was hearing throughout this latest answer was, there are ways to support your culturally diverse employees, even if, your company is not as diverse as you'd like or aspire for it to be. And so, what a lot of leaders fall into the trap of, well, this is the way it is, I don't know what to do.
[00:15:49] There are ways to support those employees, if you're willing to put in the time and the energy to make sure that your kind of shoring up around, your [00:16:00] employee base while you're creating, um, levels of diversity within it. It's really about those, those external partnerships.
[00:16:07] And I think that's such an important part of the conversation that can be used for mentorship, that can be used for recruiting, that can be used for marketing review. So, use those external resources to support your organization while you're, cuz you're right Aiko, it takes time to move your company to, you know, include more diversity.
[00:16:31] You can't do it all at once. Um, but there are ways that you can, you can create, uh, support for those employees, um, while you're, you're doing that work.
[00:16:43] Aiko Bethea: Yes, and, something else as you were talking and made me think of this, is that even if you do have a large percentage of, or percentage, let's just say, of people of color are women, it shouldn't be incumbent upon them, to mentor all the people who look like them anyway. Because we often see that inequity perpetuated because once you hire a handful or a few people, now you want them to do all things DEI, you want them to run the employer resource groups, you want them oftentimes, sometimes without pay.
[00:17:13] But you expect them to do all of these things they never asked for that.
[00:17:18] While the folks who are already get, reaping the benefits and privilege of not being either a person of color or the only, they get to go on with their happy life and skip along without taking accountability and ownership of making the workplace a better place.
[00:17:34] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. You know, Aiko, I, I loved seeing in your RARE Confidence workshop, um, some of your offerings there and, and there was one, um, piece about the imposter syndrome and overcoming the inner critic, right? We all have that inner critic and I love that you just called that right out. Let's talk about, um, that workshop and then, how do we work through those feelings of insecurity?
[00:18:03] I've had this conversation with so many amazing, amazing professionals over the seasons of this podcast, and certainly outside in the workplace, and that inner critic is there and, and it comes back, and it rears its head. What are, what are some of your tips in that RARE Confidence Workshop for us to work through, um, that inner critic?
[00:18:28] Aiko Bethea: Yeah. Uh, first of all, Jackie, shout out first of all for you to be anchor into saying it's an inner critic and it's not this thing, this imposter syndrome because, uh, one of my friends,
[00:18:39] Aiko Bethea: Ruechika, Tolson, and Jody and Brewery, they both wrote this great article in HBR about stop telling women they have imposter syndrome.
[00:18:46] Jackie Ferguson: Mmmm.
[00:18:47] Aiko Bethea: So, the basis of the workshop you're talking about, which is RARE confidence, overcoming irrational belief in the inner critic. That workshop, which came out we created many years ago is actually about, you know what? When you're the only, you kind of, and you're in these systems, you really are created to be the imposter in a lot of ways because the systems aren't there to serve you default beliefs and ways of doing things aren't there to serve, serve you.
[00:19:13] And it's actually absolutely okay and to own, I'm different from everybody else here. But the part about the inner critic is that I'm different and it doesn't mean that I'm less worthy, less capable, don't belong, can't be successful here.
[00:19:27] So, a lot of it does have to do with our mind trash that we have. But the other part that's critical is understanding and being able to see the system that you're navigating and divorcing the messages that you get from systems, from what you believe about yourself. What I say gets really dangerous is when a system is actually saying and doing things that tell you, Jackie, you shouldn't be here, you're the only woman, you're the only black person, you don't even belong here, you're the affirmative action hire.
[00:19:59] It's for us to actually say, it's unfortunate that this system has failed so many people. But why I'm here for it to serve me is for this reason. I need it to serve me like a, b, or c. When folks are working at places and they're no longer able to see how it's serving them, we've gotta reconsider boundaries.
[00:20:20] We've got to reconsider our intentionality of being there. What is the story that we're telling ourselves that we don't have choice? Now, everyone doesn't have the privilege to just be able to leave a job or what have you. But we can be very intentional if I know, hey, I have to stay at this job because right now I need these insurance benefits or this, that, or the other.
[00:20:40] I know that I'm not staying in this job because I feel like this is all that I deserve.
[00:20:46] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:20:46] Aiko Bethea: Really different messages, so, in that workshop we go through 12 irrational beliefs. And the two that are the ones that resonate with people the most in those irrational beliefs, is this idea of people find out who I am and that I really don't deserve to be here.
[00:21:05] Jackie Ferguson: Mm.
[00:21:06] Aiko Bethea: That I'm really not good enough, smart enough to be here.
[00:21:09] And in unpacking that, we're always going back to reaffirming that I'm worthy regardless of, you know, what anyone else thinks, I am worthy, regardless of how I perform on this job, I am worthy. And being able to recognize not only always constantly your own self-worth and value, but also this other part is, none of us are such great actors or chameleons that people aren't gonna see who we are.
[00:21:34] Jackie Ferguson: That's true.
[00:21:36] Aiko Bethea: And the amount of burnout you experience when you are constantly having to have a different face on. You're constantly having to try to show up and be somebody different, and coming back to who's my aspirational self and who am I trying to be, and who am I living this life for? That comes up a lot.
[00:21:53] The other one has a lot to do with, you know, this idea that you're going, I have to get everything done. And I have to get everything, be an expert in all of these things. So, that goes to this idea of toxic productivity and perfectionism. So, we often have this idea of, you know, the to-do list, we actually measure our worth or how much we deserve rest based on how much we get done on the to-do list versus the to-do list can be ridiculous, right?
[00:22:26] And then we go to bed thinking, oh my gosh, I didn't do this, I didn't do that. And it's like, your worth is anchored into, how much I did or didn't get done. Which is just a, uh, just a recipe for disappointment and ridiculous inner criticism. Or when I don't know something, and I feel like I should know it, it's gonna be harder for me to ask for help.
[00:22:48] It's going to be harder for me to actually give myself grace and have self-compassion. And one thing that we know is that those of us who give ourselves the least grace, guess what? We're harder on the people around us too. That perfectionism.
[00:23:03] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah
[00:23:03] Aiko Bethea: Another straight path towards, uh, burnout and being demoralized as well.
[00:23:09] So we all have these, there are these, um, these ridiculous, or what we call irrational beliefs that actually are infiltrated as a bedrock of workplace society. And the idea of that workshop is going through each one of them and unpacking them, so that you can actually address them when the inner critic comes up, or even when a system demands something of you that's ridiculous.
[00:23:30] And for you to be able to ask for what you need and feel like you have the permission to do that. That workshop actually leverages the work of, um, Sonya Renee Taylor, who wrote, Um, The Body is Not an, um, excuse me. Oh my gosh. Not An Apology, yes. And then also, um, we'll leverage work from the uh, NAP Ministry as well.
[00:23:55] Jackie Ferguson: Ok.
[00:23:55] Aiko Bethea: And, so, there's a series of other just amazing folks who we just anchor into a lot of their work, a lot of their research as well, because it's not something that these aren't first time conversations or experiences, but I feel like this is the first time we've gotten this amount of space to be able to talk about these issues.
[00:24:14] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely.
[00:24:17] Something you said that I just wanna call out because people need to hear it again, and again, and again. You do not have to earn rest. So, for somebody that needs to hear that today, you do not have to earn rest. You are entitled to rest.
[00:24:34] Aiko Bethea: Yes.
[00:24:35] Jackie Ferguson: You need to rest.
[00:24:36] Aiko Bethea: Yes.
[00:24:37] Jackie Ferguson: I just wanted to say that because you said that, and I wanted to make sure to call that out.
[00:24:42] Another thing, Aiko, is, is the system. So, there are probably people questioning, what is the system. And from my perspective, and I want yours as well on this, the system is being in the workplace and watching time and time again, not asking for my, thought, opinion, even when I'm contributing to a project or, or department and just passing over me again and again. And you see that as an employee, especially an employee from, you know, that's culturally diverse women, um, people from, you know, with aspects of diversity and intersectionality especially, you see how, your higher ups managers, leaders in your organization treat people that look like you. And you start to question, am I good enough?
[00:25:40] No one asks my opinion, even though I'm doing this work. Am I not good enough? And, and that's the system that is, is in place. And, and one of the reasons why we question ourselves is because throughout our career, we're watching this type of thing occur. Not getting the promotion, not, you know, being passed over for those stretch projects that give us opportunities to grow within our, our organization.
[00:26:09] And then again, as we talked about going up, you know, you can see so many organizational, you know, wrongs based on, you know, on someone's website. And the higher up you get, the less diverse it is, and we see that over and over again. And that is the system that that ha, you know, that really pushes forward that inner critic, I think Aiko, anything to add to that?
[00:26:34] Aiko Bethea: Yeah, I think that what I would add is, um, you know, the system being one that values some clear, uh, identities over others, experiences over others. And when you have certain value, you know, if you're valuing being male over any other gender, if you're valuing whiteness over any other, you know, race or ethnicity, if you're valuing a western world, um, accent over any other accent or faith, or what have you.
[00:27:05] Then you're navigating the same system, which is not just American, it's the global north, it's western. It's in so many spaces and you see it replicated in other countries that as well, that have a history of being colonized. And I don't really know anywhere that doesn't have a history of colonialism, whether it's, you know, well anyway.
[00:27:30] So, whatever that proxy for power and value is, that's in your, uh, that, that rewards folks. That's where you can immediately get to recognizing what a system is saying is okay and good and what's not. And to the example that you gave Jackie, that wow, when I look at the website and the leadership, they all are white.
[00:27:50] Wow. I'm understanding that this workplace values this, or everybody's male, or what have you. I'm, I realize, Oh, this is what the system values. Otherwise, I'm going to believe this fallacy that this is better than and smarter than any identity that's not represented there. And this is the majority of what's represented here, we have this false narrative that, we talk about of meritocracy as if nepotism doesn't exist.
[00:28:18] As if, there's a reason why there is greater ownership and opportunity for companies that, for some people to have startups and develop the, what's large corporations now.
[00:28:28] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:28:28] Aiko Bethea: So, we tell these fairy tales and exclude large parts of history and the, and stories to validate, this is why the leadership team looks like this, because these are the people who are deserving, who worked harder, who are more intelligent, and ultimately it ends up being this idea of better than.
[00:28:46] So, what is the story that everyone else is supposed to tell and believe about themselves? I'm less than, I don't belong here, of course I don't cuz there aren't other people who look like me. And so, when the reality of these narratives in history aren't included, which I just call all this, decontextualization happens. And we, we believe things on this bedrock of, um, false meritocracy. It is hard for anybody else to find space of validation for themselves.
[00:29:15] When everything is telling you otherwise.
[00:29:18] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely.
[00:29:20] Aiko, let's talk a little about your work with Brené Brown. What got you involved with her education and research?
[00:29:28] Aiko Bethea: So, uh, I will tell you, once upon a time, I decided um, I wanted to do work that was just in community for people who look like us, our people who are the only. And I realized there was so much more to it than just skills, but also the ways that we view ourselves. And a lot of that has to do with, um, with the work that we have around even therapeutic communities.
[00:29:54] Right? And when I heard her worker listen to it and her work is wholly about emotions. And emotional literacy. And it is about emotional literacy in the sense of being human. And one of the things that I think that we rarely have, um, permission to do is be human.
[00:30:12] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:13] Aiko Bethea: Um, we are usually having to be, say, superwoman.
[00:30:16] We're usually invisible. We are usually, um, worth less. So, I think emotions is actually what makes people human,
[00:29:18] Jackie Ferguson: Right.
[00:29:18] Aiko Bethea: but we don't get a chance. We don't have space to acknowledge our emotions.
[00:30:33] Jackie Ferguson: That's right.
[00:30:34] Aiko Bethea: Um, so, and this idea of being armored up and I'm like, gosh, it's, we have to do this in order to even survive. So, what can I do?
[00:30:42] What do I need to learn in order for me to create, um, create an invitation, our permission where we are able to see our own humanity, even if nobody else does. And part of that is going to a space for me, which is very scary sometimes, which is delving into our emotions. Yes, many of us have survived and coped by not having to address our own needs, by not recognizing what we need, that we've never gotten.
[00:31:15] How do you do that? And so, I went to her, her, um, her training to learn that. And I thought, man, holy shit, this is exactly what we need, but we need to deliver it to each other. And that is why her work was so, um, important to me. Even the conversations around shame around what it means to be vulnerable, cuz it's different for us in terms of, us having the permission to be vulnerable.
[00:31:43] We have all the things that everybody else has about not being, you know, being able to be vulnerable. And many of us have the same things in terms of what women don't have in terms of permission to be vulnerable. But then we also have the history around what blackness means and what you have permission to or, not to do.
[00:32:01] And I was like, we need this from people who look like us, who can actually under, who understand what this language means to us. So, when I'm teaching her work around Dare to Lead. This idea of vulnerability, I'm really clear with people that's not always apples to apples. That when you're a leader and you're showing up, and we want you to be vulnerable, you can't think that you're entitled to the vulnerability of the people on your team.
[00:32:28] Also, if you have people on your team who can't even exist in society and vulnerability, because it actually may have to do with our very survival. You need to understand that. Like why am I armored up? Why am I not gonna trust you? Well, guess what? I had to be nervous getting all the way to work because there was even a police officer following me, and I thought about, oh god, what could this mean for me when I get pulled over it's different from you.
[00:32:51] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:32:52] Aiko Bethea: When I walked through a grocery store or any kind of store it's different for me. I am always in a state of vulnerability in terms of risk and uncertainty. So, by me teaching this idea about, um, courageous leadership and what vulnerability is. It is also a thorough throughway for leaders to have more heightened emotional intelligence and empathy to understand what this means for other people, on their team.
[00:33:16] This may be like the one time someone says something to you or me, Jackie, that we go all the way to a hundred. And it's because all day people have been treating us like a pet. So, by the time someone asked me to touch my hair, you think it's a little thing, but let me tell you what's been happening for me throughout not only my life, but even for me to get to work.
[00:33:35] Jackie Ferguson: Yes.
[00:33:36] Aiko Bethea: And so that emotional literacy and emotional intelligence that she does work on in Dare to Lead, and now most recently in Atlas of the Heart, is something that we have to take ownership of for ourselves. In order to anchor into our own humanity and, um, recognize what we are worth and have this language.
[00:33:55] But it's also really important for all these other people in the system that we are talking about, who it benefits to understand where they lack emotional intelligence, and where they are not understanding our humanity are actually recognizing it. We shouldn't be in a workplace having to constantly prove that we're human, or what our worth is, or the only time you want to see our humanity is when someone who looks like us was killed and you want us to talk about it?
[00:34:20] Who was murdered.
[00:34:21] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:34:22] Aiko Bethea: So, I know I went on a rant there, but the idea of, of anchoring into emotional intelligence, which is such a core part of humanity, is something that I find we're often denied. So, we need a space to be able to revalidate ourselves in one another, and that research really helps with that.
[00:34:41] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And you know what I found Aiko in, in working on with organizations and organizational leaders on inclusive leadership is that is now the expectation of employees, that leaders be vulnerable. That they be human, that they are okay saying, I don't know, or I've made a mistake that is expected to build trust, right?
[00:35:08] Gone are the days of, you know, I, I'm the, the boss, right, so I know everything, everything I think is smart, everything I think is right, everything I do is right, and it's okay to be human. And, and that is the expectation of today's employees. That they have managers that are human, that prioritize humanity and that, and that bring in and understand that it, it's not sep, you know, work is not separate, from the personal.
[00:35:42] And you know, certainly when I started my career, you know, many, many years ago that was separate, right. You didn't talk about these set of things in the workplace. How was your weekend? Great, no matter how it was, you know, and, and that was the expectation, but now there's this, you know, I, I guess emotional merge cuz you, you always took with you what happened at home or what happened on the way to work, or what you're going through, or what you're feeling like that day.
[00:36:14] But you just couldn't talk about it, and now, it's the expectation for employees is that, that it's okay to bring who you are to work your whole self to work. And that's such an important part of, of leadership. And again, what the expectation is of, of today's employees.
[00:36:32] Aiko Bethea: Yeah. I think that you're right on so many fronts about leader, uh, employees. The employee of today is not the same as employee of yesterday. And it's not only based on age, it's also based on just, even if we think more immediately what's happened in the last few years and this pandemic that we're in, you know, people are not the same as society's, not the same.
[00:36:52] And I hope that, we remain this way in which we see and have permission to talk about things that we didn't before. I do still think that the idea of bringing your whole self to work is not, um, as permissive for everybody. Right? There's still so much work that has to be done. I actually think that so many of us, we don't, we are ne, we are not naive enough to think that bring your whole self to work actually applies to us...
[00:37:22] And we recognize that, that permission is not necessarily there. And, I also think that for many of us, there is a degree of separation that helps us to stay healthy because if we have too much of an expectation of the workplace, we've witnessed so much disappointment after disappointment.
[00:37:40] So, this idea of even what does it take for me to be able to serve myself, which I think is absolutely fair for people to need to survive, like the idea of everyone coming to work are workplaces now all of a sudden wanting to talk about, anti, um, blackness or, um, people wanting to be anti-racist.
[00:38:00] I mean, a lot of those conversations were super harmful for us. Because other people didn't know how to navigate those conversations, or it was the first time they woke up out of bed and wondered what it was like to exist as a black person. And there, um, pontification and baseline one on one queries were harmful for us because we live this every day.
[00:38:19] Jackie Ferguson: Right.
[00:38:20] Aiko Bethea: So, there is this idea of the responsibility of organizations to do their work and really decide who are they going to be. And understand that the commitment isn't something that's based on one year. It's a commitment of, you know, if you're gonna see people's humanity, you're gonna see their humanity, and you're going to also create the changes and the processes, and most importantly, accountability to create that culture that you say that you want and become that organizations that you say you aspire to be.
[00:38:49] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely.
[00:38:50] Aiko, as a black woman doing equity work, what advice do you give to other black women that are navigating the workplace?
[00:38:59] Aiko Bethea: The advice to other black women who are navigating the workplace. So, I am very clear on who I am... I am very clear, um, in terms of when people see me, I present. I present, I'm a black woman. You know, if people get to know me, they'll say, oh, she's black and her mom's Japanese and she's Japanese. They might get that far.
[00:39:19] But if a police officer's pulling me over, guess what? How am I gonna be treated?... So, I think part of it is knowing who we are in our relationship with who we want to be.
[00:39:28] Jackie Ferguson: Mm.
[00:39:29] Aiko Bethea: And so, part of that also means what are the boundaries of what's okay and what's not okay for me.
[00:39:34] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.
[00:39:35] Aiko Bethea: Um, so there's one thing about setting boundaries and there's another part about, there's one part about establishing boundaries, and there's another part about setting them. Right?
[00:39:44] So, am I gonna hold to them, so Jackie, you might know, hey, this is unacceptable for me. But if you don't actually hold anybody accountable for that, you know that's your boundary, but you let it totally be diminished.
[00:39:55] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm. Mm-hm.
[00:39:56] Aiko Bethea: So, this idea of one, knowing what's okay and what's not okay, and how you're going to live by that. Knowing what's important to you in terms of your true north, and we call this maybe our top values. And what are the behaviors to honor that? And are you able, are you living a life that allows you to honor that?
[00:40:09] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:40:12] Aiko Bethea: And so, this isn't just in our personal relationships, but it's also in the workplace.
[00:40:16] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.
[00:40:17] Aiko Bethea: And I also understand very much that, you know, sometimes what I want, I have to make sure that what I want now doesn't get in the way of what I want most. So, sometimes I'm making an intentional decision that this battle right here, I'm not gonna fight right now because I have this actual bigger war that I wanna win that may not even have to do with society but may have to be with who I wanna be as my aspirational self.
[00:40:39] So, I give myself permission not to take up every battle. Right. And the thing that you said earlier, Jackie, is just like gold. We deserve to rest. I don't need to earn rest of, okay, once I get all the 600 million things to do, done, then I get to rest.
[00:40:57] Nope, I am going to rest now. And that's what I need for my engine to run. So, and it's okay to get the supports you need, whether that be therapy, whether that be just that time to break, to think, you don't even have the space to think or to breathe and god, ask for help.
[00:41:16] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:41:17] Aiko Bethea: Ask for support. So, those are some of the things.
[00:41:20] I mean, those, uh, sound like they're not specific to the workplace, but they're just specific to our sustainability as people.
[00:41:27] Jackie Ferguson: Definitely, definitely. Thank you for that.
[00:41:30] Aiko, let's talk about your new book, which is not a business leadership book, and I love that (laughing) it's a cozy comfort series book. So, what is it about and why did you write it?
[00:41:43] Aiko Bethea: Oh man. So, one Jackie, I'm smiling all of a sudden when you start talking about it and I see you smiling. So, that just gives me joy right there. (laughing) And it actually anchors into exactly why I wrote this book, which is one, I'll just tell you that I'm a big fan of cozy comfort mysteries cuz I use them almost as escapism, over COVID, just listening to cozy comfort while I was walking was my relief.
[00:42:09] Um, but one thing I was like, gosh, I just wish that there were more protagonists who looked like me or had a life like me. And I am very anti the stories that are always about us that are steeped in trauma or steeped in hardship. And, I think that we deserve more and better.
[00:42:28] And I know that part of our freedom and liberation, many of us, we've never seen it before. What does it look like to be truly a free black person, in this world or in this country, or a black woman or what have you? Um, and so we have to engage in this thing called world building. So, we have to start building worlds for ourselves, not going to the movies for things that are written by other people about us.
[00:41:51] Jackie Ferguson: Right.
[00:42:52] Aiko Bethea: Written about our current state and past state, this steeped in trauma where there's, "12 Years of Slave," or whatever... But actually, building images of the lives that we wanna live. So, this book, which is part of the series, it's a series called Magnolia Murder Series, which of course takes place in the south in different parts of the south, but the first one's like the Tybee Island area.
[00:43:15] And it's about a protagonist called Tamika who is a what, Jackie, she's an entrepreneur.
[00:43:20] Jackie Ferguson: Yes
[00:43:21] Aiko Bethea: And she is a recovering attorney and she makes a big bet on herself. And one of the things that we believe for all of our clients at RARE is we want them to define success on their own terms, and that is what Tamika does.
[00:43:36] And in it we find out about her community. We find out about her, um, friendships, and many of us have framlies. We call them
[00:43:44] Jackie Ferguson: Right.
[00:43:44] Aiko Bethea: friends who are like family or chosen family. We talk about stories about our, that our families of origin have told us, which can tell us, don't leave that good job,
[00:43:54] Jackie Ferguson: Um-hmm.
[00:43:54] Aiko Bethea: don't leave that insurance, stay there. Um, and also our own dreams about what love looks like and what does it look like to, um, own yourself to have full agency. So, you get all of these, uh, glimmers into her life. And I think when people glean this, they're going to, for many people who look like us or who are people of color, what have you, that idea of getting that courage to.
[00:44:23] To find success on my own terms, to bet on me that I understand this is everyone else's agenda, but I want this to be my agenda.
[00:44:29] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.
[00:44:30] Aiko Bethea: For us to pause and think about the joy we have in community, and the love that we have in community. Um, I think there's a lot of love in terms of geography in place. So, even the community she's in and being in the south is a big part, is a character in the narrative basically.
[00:44:48] And there are just these, and we know based on, um, research that fiction literature is a way for people to grow their muscle of empathy. So, cozy comforts are usually like beach reads and cozy comfort, the market in terms of who the characters are, the stories, who's in the stories, who the authors are, and who's buying these books are mainly white women.
[00:45:13] And so my hope is that, um, not only more of us will be gra, will gravitate towards a series and we find joy and love and just a brief moment of happiness and escapism in it, and store maybe ways that we can live our life this differently and free. But I hope that white women also buy the, these books too, and it closes the gap of empathy for them.
[00:45:35] And they're able to see themselves in Tamika's life in her best friend Amina's life. They're able to see this idea of black people that many people don't know exists. So, her best friend, Amina is like fourth generation college educated.
[00:45:49] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:49] Aiko Bethea: You know, her father has been a CFO, at several companies. Many people don't think of us like that cuz we're from broken homes and we're first gen all the time.
[00:45:58] Jackie Ferguson: Right, and that's what the media portrays so often Aiko. And so, the issue that that we have so often is this idea of equity and this idea of safety even is conceptual.
[00:46:17] Aiko Bethea: Yes.
[00:46:18] Jackie Ferguson: And, and that's the problem. You, you don't know a person that goes through that because that's where empathy comes in, right?
[00:46:27] Proximity breeds empathy.
[00:46:29] Aiko Bethea: Yes.
[00:46:30] Jackie Ferguson: And so, through your books, I love that, and I love that that's a goal for you. As they get to know Tamika, you know, they will feel like, okay, there, there are people out here, that are not what I see on tv. Right. And, And I love that. I love that as a goal.
[00:46:53] Aiko Bethea: Right. We're smart, we're brilliant.
[00:46:54] Jackie Ferguson: Yes.
[00:46:56] Aiko Bethea: We are not all, you know, financially devastated or have, um, these we're not all first gen, but really being able to, to see this and experience it. And then there are just these one moments where in the book, you and I will totally get, like when Jackie gets to. Uh, she's parking her car and she looks, I'm sorry, not Jackie, but when Tamika, Jackie's a different character, when Tamika gets to this, um, parking lot and she looks in the rear-view mirror and she just has this moment where she says, Ugh, no more perms.
[00:47:29] No more braids, no more weaves. She just says that and she's padding her natural hair and she gets out carefree. We all know what that means for her to have been a big firm or corporate lawyer.
[00:47:39] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:47:40] Aiko Bethea: We know what that freedom means. So, for the book read, um, discussion and the curriculum, there's a curriculum that goes with the book.
[00:47:48] Someone else can actually look at that and say, what does that, what did that statement mean to you? And have you ever had to, um, felt like that your job depended on how you wore your hair. Your credibility in your [00:48:00] workplace had to do with how you wore your hair. And if you couldn't wear it the way it grows out of your head.
[00:48:05] And then the idea of someone going to the Shinon Act (Don’t know if this “Shinon” is spelled correctly), going to the Crown Act and educating themselves. And if groups of book reads, like for women's uh, groups or women ERG groups, which are predominantly white, they're reading this together and having the conversation with each other, that means doggone it Jackie.
[00:48:25] They're not gonna come to me and ask me about my hair and ask you they could do the work themselves. And there's lots of these moments about. You know, educate yourself and that learning about other people doesn't always have to be hard. It doesn't always have to be in those hard conversations of DEI and painful but do the work of learning in a different way.
[00:48:47] And I think this fiction book is a way to do that while at the same time inviting us to world build, and to also be brave with our own lives. And to validate us in terms who we are, because we're not people who are just steeped in trauma, but that in a lot of our history, there's also joy and beauty and love and community.
[00:49:09] Jackie Ferguson: I love that. And Aiko, tell us how we get our hands on this amazing series.
[00:49:15] Aiko Bethea: Well, follow me on, um, Instagram, because I'm actually doing a little bit of drips of parts of the book and narrative. Um, you can find it on me on RARE, I mean on Instagram at at RARE, rare_coach or at, on Instagram @aikobethea. Rights for us with the number 4,
[00:49:40] Jackie Ferguson: Perfect. Aiko, what is the message that you want to leave our listeners with today?
[00:49:46] Aiko Bethea: One for many of the people who look like us. I just want people to know that, you get to be the author of your own story. You get to define success on your own terms. You deserve [00:50:00] rest. You deserve validation. and you deserve it from yourself first. Versus the system in the world because we know they may never give it to you.
[00:50:09] And then for other people, in terms of doing the work to be, uh, to reach your aspirational selves, which hopefully has to do with having love, joy, and community beyond what looks like them.
[00:50:21] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Aiko, thank you so much for spending time with me today. I have enjoyed this conversation so much and learned a lot. And I'm so excited about getting to know Tamika Robinson in this new book. Uh, so thank you for spending time with me.
[00:50:40] Aiko Bethea: Thank you again for having me, Jackie.
[00:50:41] Jackie Ferguson: Of course.
Do you ever find yourself holding back on pursuing your dreams? Do you want that promotion but fear keeps you from taking the next step? Aiko Bethea, founder of RARE Coaching and Consulting and Senior Director for Brene Brown Education and Research Group, had achieved significant success in her roles as attorney for the city of Atlanta and later, deputy director for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Impacted by the social justice issues that plague our society, Aiko chose to shift her work to focus on helping organizations like Bristol Myers Squibb, Intuit, Starbucks, and Uber create more equitable and inclusive environments. In this episode, Aiko shares how to increase your confidence, begin the journey of rediscovery and select the right coach to help you along the way.
Listen to this episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts.
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