Ep #29: A Courageous Conversation About Race with Trudy Bourgeois
Only 3.2% of senior leadership positions are held by black men or women in Corporate America. That number is so low it made me do a double-take even though I know that it is true.
Yet statistics show that diversity at the senior leadership level is not just the right thing to do, it's also good for the bottom line. But how do we get there?
In today's conversation with diversity and inclusion expert, founder of The Center for Workforce Excellence and author of the book "Equality: Courageous Conversations About Women, Men, and Race to Spark a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough", Trudy Bourgeois shows us how to get there and that the path begins with doing the work on ourselves first.
Equality at the senior leadership level starts with corporate managers claiming our seat at the table, finding our voice and learning how to speak up for what is right in a way that can actually be heard.
This humbling and powerful conversation paints a picture of what it's like to be a woman or man of color in Corporate America. Trudy shares vulnerable first hand accounts of when she had to stand up and claim her ideas in the face of microagressions. And she did it with grace and dignity.
If you are someone who strives to make a difference at your workplace and rise to the top while still being true to yourself, this episode is for you.
I'm offering a free Live webinar series on "How the Biggest Career Jumps are Made During Times of Crisis." If you want to develop the skills I teach you on my podcast so that you can finally get the recognition you deserve, sign up at stacymayer.com/crisiswebinar and learn how. There are limited spots, so don't hesitate to sign up.
What You'll Learn:
- Ways you can begin a courageous conversation at work and talk about about what matters most to you
- How to identify and speak up against microaggressions in the workplace and actually be heard
- Why it's so important that we don't leave the challenges of race in leadership to the diversity and inclusion department
- What you can do for yourself to become a champion of change and influence your organization
- And a reminder that while there is hope that things will change, we aren't there yet...so it's important that we keep the conversation going
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
Stacy Mayer: Welcome to episode number 29. I am so grateful to be bringing you today's episode today, I am interviewing Trudy Bourgeois. She is the CEO and founder of the Center of Workforce Excellence, and she is a champion of diversity and inclusion in the workforce. And in particular, we're talking about how we can get more people of color into senior leadership positions and why it is so important.
It is such an incredibly courageous conversation. And she shares actual stories about her life and adversity that she has faced in her life and how she got through it. So if you are a person of color and you are listening to this podcast, you will greatly benefit through her stories and ways that she learned specifically to do the work on herself and to stand up for what is right and change the workplace around her.
If you are not a person of color, you will get so much out of this episode learning ways that you can be an ally to bringing more diversity in the workplace and not leaving it up to the Diversity and Inclusion Department.
She talks about how it's so important to do the work on yourself first, to get yourself in that place of power and influence so that you can truly impact the work culture.
It is such an incredibly inspiring and humbling conversation, and I know you're going to want to just listen to every single minute of it. Enjoy.
Narrator: Welcome to Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer, a podcast about achieving your career goals while also being yourself.
Stacy Mayer: Hello, everyone, welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer. I have a really exciting guest for you guys today. She goes by Trudy B, also known as Trudy Bourgeoise. And I want to tell you a little story before we get into the interview.
So, there are those people that you you meet, and it might be in person, it might be on stage. You've heard them speak. It could be you came across their path on Facebook at some point in your life. Trudy is one of those people for me. She actually led a panel discussion at Watermark, which is one of the larger women's leadership conferences, and it takes place every year out in San Jose.
And I remember she was on this panel, actually, she was leading the discussion. There were five powerhouse executive women. And all I could do was watch Trudy. She was amazing. And just her way, not only of leadership in the way that she led that panel, but her ideas and her influence and her storytelling. She has been on my mind for, I think she was telling me is like, five years ago or something. So it's been it's been a while. And to have somebody that impactful and that powerful to kind of stick with you, this is really one of those dream come true to get her on my podcast, to have a deeper level conversation.
We're going to talk about this today. But Trudy is also the author of a really incredible book called Equality: Courageous Conversations About Women, Men and Race to Spark a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough at your organization. She is, in fact, a diversity and inclusion expert. She is the founder and CEO of the Center of Workforce Excellence, where she has been for over 20 years. And prior to that, she was a sales and marketing executive. So we're going to have so much to talk about in today's conversation. But first of all, let me just say: Hi, Trudy. How are you doing today?
Trudy Bourgeois: I'm doing great, Stacy. Thank you so much for remembering me and thank you for reaching out and for the opportunity to chat with you today.
Stacy Mayer: So let's start out with that. I mean, we don't all come out of the womb as powerhouse women leaders. And so what are some of your secrets to success? Can we start with that question? And what are your values and what has really gotten you to this place where you are a person that really sticks in people's minds and has something to share with the world?
Trudy Bourgeois: That's such a great question. So many ways to respond. But first, I want to say that we all have in our own vault of life's experiences what we need to be powerhouses. And it's up to us to sort of unleash that. I grew up in the Deep South. I was born in '59. And so I was a part of segregation and desegregation and Jim Crow and had lots of really horrific experiences and had a defining moment where I said: 'This energy is going to be used to my greater good, or it's going to be used to my demise.'.
And there are experiences where being spat on and not allowed to go into people's houses because of my color. But I'll tell you, one of the things that I would love for your audience to do is to go back and do an exercise that we do. It's the 10 most defining moments in your life. You go back and look at your 10 most defining moments, you're going to find that you're resilient. You're going to find that you're creative. You're going to find that you're tenacious. You're going to find that you're strategic. And what happened to me is that as the experience, this experience of life, started to unfold. Each time I just said: 'OK, so how can learn from this? What can I do that's going to help me to achieve my goals?'.
I, like many of the other people who are listening to you, grew up at a time when I said: 'I want to be president of a company,' and people patted me on my head and said: 'Trade school.'
And so I think it's about knowing yourself. And that's the first thing that I really offer. Most of us, particularly as women, and sometimes as men, too, we're just so in full blown service to others, which I absolutely commend. But I know for me, I certainly over rotated at the expense of not knowing who I was. And I was driven. I've always been driven. Because I wanted to get out of poverty, I wanted to never be poor again. I wanted to not ever be able to say I can't do something. And so segregation and that whole experience sort of fueled this quest in my heart. And then life then built on that and gave me a framework that could bring me to where I am today.
Stacy Mayer: Wow. Would you be willing... You talked about some of the challenges that you faced growing up, but as a black woman, a woman of color in the workplace who's striving to do something more, to be a leader, to be seen that way, would you be willing to share with us a story or a time when you really had to just step up and to be strong and to speak up and and advocate for yourself? She's nodding her head. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Trudy Bourgeois: Yes. And this is why in my writings I tell people: 'Yes, you need sponsors, but you need to sponsor yourself. You need to recognize that corporate America has a love language, and that language is relationships on one end, profitability or money on the other end, and in-between value and impact. But as a woman of color, I was in corporate and even now as an entrepreneur, subjected to all the stereotypes. And I grew up working in the tobacco industry. So I started at the bottom as a sales rep and then climbed my way up to become vice president of national accounts and had a big business unit that I managed. But I had so many experiences that caused me to feel excluded, that ended up that I left. And perhaps one of the tipping point experiences was that my husband and I, we went to the Kentucky Derby with my colleagues and a couple of customers, and at the time a couple of senators. Senator Trent Lott, that's how long ago that was.
But we all went to the Kentucky Derby. We went to a private club beforehand and we had just grand plans for the day. And I tend to be a planner, so I want to know what's happening and where. And We had gone to the Derby in a beautifully decorated van. This bus that had the company colors and balloons and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And so, my husband don't gamble, and so when it came time for the race, we were like: 'We're just going to go right now and get some trinkets and trash for our kids.' There's some hats and stuff, stuff like that.
I said to the meeting planner, we're going to call her Brenda because her name was Brenda. And I said: 'Brenda, what time are we definitely going to leave?'.
And she said: 'Three o'clock.'
And I said: 'OK, no problem. I'll be there. Mike and I will be back.'
And my mother, her philosophy was: 'If you're on time, you're late.' So I'm always fifteen minutes early wherever I'm going if I can control it.
So the day was over after a beautiful day of the Kentucky Derby, and during the course of the Derby, the CEO had invited myself and my husband up to meet a couple of his friends. And I had built a relationship with his wife. But the people who were my colleagues, including my boss, didn't like that. And so a quarter to three, when I got back to the location where the bus was supposed to be.
And I thought: 'OK, come on. This is the Coliseum. I said to my husband: 'Babe, I've made a mistake. Let's go to the other side.'.
And now my heart's racing because it's ten minutes to three and I'm already late in my mind. And we get on the other side and we look for the bus, and no bus.
And whipped out this little laminated card that had the emergency numbers to call if you needed anything, and I called Brenda, and I said: 'Brenda?'
And she said: 'Hey Trudy.'
And I said: 'Brenda.'
And she goes: 'Trudy.'
And then I go: 'Yes, it's Trudy.'
And she goes: 'Well, hold on. Mark wants to talk to you. And Mark was the SVP that I reported to at the time.
And he said: 'Oh, gosh, I don't know how this happened.'
And I said: 'What? Where are you guys, you OK?'
He goes: 'Well, we're about five miles out already from the Coliseum.'
And I stood there and it was a very expensive outfit because, of course, you have to dress the part. My husband was furious and tears just started rolling down my face. And I still feel the pain of being made to feel invisible. I wasn't enough for anybody to care.
Now, some people might say: 'Well, you know, they easily missed you. We were two black people on the bus. How could you miss us?'
Stacy Mayer: So this story is so, so important. So this is interesting about what is happening in our world right now and the idea that it's so important just to have these conversations and share these stories. Because as a white woman, I am appalled at this. This doesn't actually make sense. It's not a part of my framework. It's not a part of my history.
But one thing, speaking of the Kentucky Derby, and this is maybe a side note. But I grew up in Louisville. I grew up with the Kentucky Derby right down the street from the track, actually. And I married a Korean man. So my husband is Korean. I took him home to Kentucky. He goes along with the flow. I'm like: 'We're going to do our thing. Let's go to the Derby. Oh, it'll be fun.'
And in my naiveté, he's like: 'You realize everybody here is white, don't you?'
And I was like, What?
And it's like our eyes need to be opened. And I honestly had never seen it before. In that moment when he said that comment, and it's not that anything happened to him or that he was treated differently, but it was important for him to point out that my background, my culture, what I had grown up in and what felt so familiar to me, was all white.
And I was like: 'Oh.'
And so I think it's just so important to share these stories now and and to just have this dialogue. It's always important to share these stories. But because of what is happening and the willingness for people to speak up right now, and it's I really see a huge benefit to that.
Now, to that point, I have a follow up question. So what you just described to me feels very much like blatant racism, right? Even if they deny it, whatever it was, right in your heart, your clearly your husband understood what had just happened, right. It's super obvious. And as leaders in corporate America, there are times when I'm sure that people have experienced blatant racism. But would you be willing to talk about the, I don't know what the word is, the un-blatant racism.
Trudy Bourgeois: Right. The micro aggressions?
Stacy Mayer: Yes, exactly. And so you feel it, you know that it's happening to you, and but yet it's not quite clear. You think: 'Oh, I just need to work harder or I need to prove myself.' So if you don't mind speaking to that a little bit.
Trudy Bourgeois: Yeah, absolutely. And if you don't mind before I answer, I want to pick up on something that you just shared.
First of all, that was very courageous for you to be vulnerable and say: 'This is what I finally was awakened to.' And the thing that as a woman of color, African American Creole, that I would ask of all white women is to recognize that you as a cohort are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action. And the relationship between us, it needs to be addressed. There's a huge divide of mistrust and sometimes that expresses itself in a negative way in the work environment, unintentionally, of course. And so microaggressions are, I call them death by a thousand cuts.
Microaggression send the signal without it being said overtly, but I don't see you as my equal. I don't value you as a person who can bring value to the table. I actually don't see you as an executive. I don't see you as a leader. So a form of that might be, when a woman says something, and this particular example is a mansplaining example. But, you know if a woman says something and then a man will say: 'Well, I think what she's trying to say is...' That's a microaggression.
Or for a woman of color, someone might be talking to you in the workplace and they may say: 'Well, you're really angry all the time. Why are you so angry?' That's a microaggression.
And micro aggressions sometimes are rooted in stereotypes. And what is important for us as leaders today to to understand is that we're all biased, OK? Every one of us. That's the way god wired our brains, right? Originally, it was for self protection. But racism and prejudice and all the other isms, that's learned behavior.
So if you are delivering a microaggression, that is because somewhere in your upbringing, someone said something negative about a person who didn't look like you or act like you. And it could be just a male to female microaggression of: 'Oh, you're not strong enough to do that. Let me get it.' It happens all the time.
We walk into a dealership. This is like my pet peeve. When we go to buy new car, and the dealer representative says to my husband, his name is Mike: 'I'm Paul.
And Mike says: 'I'm Mike.' And then Mike says: 'This is my wife, Trudy.'
And then he goes: 'Well, Mike, tell me what you're looking for today.'
That's a microaggression. So it happens. It happens not just in corporate America. If you're a black person, you know that micro aggressions happen every day of your life, every angle that you turn.
Stacy Mayer: So one of the things that I was just thinking is that, OK, we know that this happens. And so there is this feeling that it's just part of the system. And there's not really anything I can do about it. So what would you coach somebody, a leader who's experiencing the micro aggressions, is a little bit nervous about speaking up, doesn't know how to address the situation directly. Also might be aware that we all have leadership qualities that we could exhibit more. I mean, this is a thing. They could have actual challenges and want to work on themselves, have genuine desire for growth as a leader. And but they also want to be treated fairly. And they want to succeed in their career. What would you say to somebody like that?
Trudy Bourgeois: Well, I'd say the first thing and the most important thing is to know your value. There are two critical words to me for anybody who wants to experience success in corporate America, and that's value and impact. And when you know how what you do on a daily basis contributes to the bottom line, I'm talking about the strategic imperatives of the organization and the PNL, then your confidence in being able to articulate your experiences is going to shift.
Now, that does not mean that we call people out on the carpet. Because if you do that, then we've got to fight and somebody is going to go into a defensive position and it's not going to be pretty. What I really encourage people to do is to be able to speak the love language that we talked about earlier. And when you experiencing micro aggressions, to challenge them with grace.
I can just tell you so many stories. I'm sure your audience could, too. But I'll tell you another story of a microaggression that I had to really speak to because my identity was being challenged. And so Creole. But what people will see is an African-American female and I definitely identify as being black. But I'm also very proud of the fact that I have Spanish and French and Caucasian and African. That's my bloodlines.
So one of my colleagues, her mother, we were at a function and she turned to me. She says, Where are you from? And I said: 'I'm from Mobile, Alabama.'
And she said: 'No, where are you from?'
I said: 'Well, I really am from Mobile, Alabama.'
And so then she says: 'Well, where are your people from?'
And I started to tell her the story of my grandmother being the product of a slave in a slave master. And before I could say another word, she blurted out and she said: 'I knew you were too pretty to be all black.'
I think I think I looked at this lady like: 'You are out of your freaking mind.' And instead, I think what we have to do is to use them as teachable moments. And so I said to her: 'Are you familiar with with the the Creole heritage?'
And she said: 'No.'
And so I just said; 'You know, if you go back in history, you'll look at the migration, how the French and Spanish and others settled in the ports of the country. And actually Creoles at one time were very affluent before they were oppressed. And so really, if you understand the history of it, you can appreciate the value of it. And then I just gently reminded her there's really only one race and that's the human race. And my faith is a big part of my life. So we're all God's children. And you're not the beholder of the beauty. I didn't slap her around. You can't do that.
Stacy Mayer: Well, and what I'm also hearing is that you had such clear certainty about your own worth and your own value. And so when we can speak to that in the moment, which says that this is not OK. I mean, I work with a lot of both women leaders and men of color who are often being pushed aside, being talked over, having men in the meeting take their words out of their mouth. And the biggest and most effective response is really just like: 'Oh, I'm not finished. Which is sort of what you're talking about. It's not being aggressive. It's like, oh, thank you, but I'm going to share something more. Right? I mean, using this as a teachable moment.
Trudy Bourgeois: That's right. Another thing that I learned in corporate that was to have the meeting before the meeting. Because the example that you just used of somebody take the words out of your mouth, they borrowed them, but they forget to tell you that they were going to take them.
Stacy Mayer: Thank you. I really appreciate that.
Trudy Bourgeois: But I also learned that the hard way, because at one of the first times I went to an executive meeting, I went prepared with an idea like I wanted to prove my worth right. And I went prepared with research and just a crafted pitch that I thought: 'Jeez, people are going to like this.'
And one of my colleagues, we're going to call him Ron. His name was Ron. He says: 'That's the dumbest f-ing idea I've ever heard.'
Stacy Mayer: In front of the whole room?
Trudy Bourgeois: Yes.
Stacy Mayer: Oh my God, my mouth is on the floor.
Trudy Bourgeois: And the first time that it happened, I did not know how to advocate for myself. I stumbled. In fact, I couldn't concentrate on what was happening. I was so emotionally distraught. But then I learned that I needed to build coalitions and to have support.
And so six weeks later, the same similar kind of scenario. I put an idea out there, what does Ron say? The same thing that he said the time before. But this time I said: 'Ron, let me slow down. Because I want to make sure that you're on the same page with what I think everybody else is hearing. When I spoke to Nick, the CEO, about the idea, he thought it was really brilliant.' And then I looked at my colleague and I said: 'Tom, you know, when you and I were chatting about the other day, you thought it was really valuable too. Do you want to speak to that?
And then so Tom says something, and I just turned around and I go: "Let me help you, please, because we want you to be a part of believing in this and we don't want to leave you behind. So tell me what I can inform you of that you're not getting so that you can be a part of what we're trying to create as well.'
Stacy Mayer: Trudy, this is why I still remember you five years later. That is amazing.
So you were talking about the the love languages and also what you just described is, there is a political system in corporate America. And so, if we want to fight it with more aggression, if we want to fight it with more emotion and the baggage that kind of comes along with it, that's the first thing that's going to turn people away from us. Even if we're right. It's almost like you you showed compassion, but then you also had power and you went and got out what you needed and you solved the problem ahead of time.
Trudy Bourgeois: That's it. And I think that we have to convince people not to be afraid to use their voice. But you can't you can't be bold and have the attitude and the confidence and the courage to use your voice if you don't know your values.
Stacy Mayer: Yes, exactly. It starts with you. You have to understand that. Yes, exactly.
So I want to be a leader. I want to make a change. I want to be at the top and really be a person. Imagine if you're a person of color and you get into these leadership positions, all of the people that you can bring up, all the change that you can make at the top. But if we're just fighting the battle that everyone around us is out to get us and it'll never happen, then that is not understanding your own value.
Trudy Bourgeois: That's right. But that's absolutely right. Then you actually get sucked into the vortex. And the way to stay in a position where you can be an agent of influence is to, yes, know your value, but you've got to build relationships. What I talk about is likable confidence. You're not so confident that you're cocky. You're not so self-deprecating that they don't see you as being equal. But you have to be able to recognize and appreciate the politics. I don't suggest that anybody gets involved in the politics. That was part of the reason why I left corporate America, because I've gotten too doggone good at the politics.
I mean, we could slice each other up, right, and you wouldn't know it until it was over, but that doesn't align with with who I am and what I believe. But I do also say that nothing changes until you change yourself. You're listening today and you're not satisfied with wherever you are. You want to, as you said, climb to that next ladder, do your own work, create your own development plan. And all the work that I do, every book I write, I talk about people. You got to own your own development plan. Like nobody would just come and give you the secrets.
I remember I wanted to be a manager. I left a management position and I went to my then manager, and his name was Rick, so we're going to call him Rick. And Rick. I want to be back in management. And he said he said: 'Well, I'm grooming two guys that I've been working on for a while, and once I'm done with them, then I can turn and help you.'.
And that was not a good answer, but it was a game changer for me. Because in that moment, I was like: 'OK Trudy. If something's going to happen, you need to get out there, you make it happen..'
So I just totally took personal ownership for my own career. I built my own development plan. If I wanted to go from point A to point B, created a document that I still use of my coaching and teaching practice called a blueprint. You have to work on you.
And I always tell people that it's important to have an internal plan and an external plan. That will give you more mojo than you ever imagined. When you know that, you know what? Every day you wake up, you choose to give your gifts and talents to that organization.
Stacy Mayer: Oh, yes, I choose to do. Oh, so good. This is why I started my business helping people advocate for themselves, Build their own professional development plan, not wait for the company and also not wait for the promotion. Not wait for the senior executive position to really start to do that work that can be done in the management level.
So I have a question for you, because I've been thinking a lot and contemplating, because that's one of the the questions that the Black Lives Matter and what is being asked of us as individuals is to read more, to have more conversations, to look within. So here is something that came up for me. And I think that as an expert in diversity and inclusion, you might have something to add to this.
I often think of this as, I guess "this" as being bringing people of color into leadership positions, as being the responsibility of the diversity and inclusion department. And one of the questions that I asked myself as a white woman, and you spoke about this, Is how can we as leaders, as white women who are who have experienced gender bias, who have experienced these challenges, just in very different ways, be a part of the solution? Not wait for the Diversity and Inclusion department to set an initiative for the company?
So where does it begin on an individual level? And maybe even, I'm curious for my own perspective and also as I coach and lead other white women, what can we do? What do you think is is useful at this time?
Trudy Bourgeois: Well, acknowledging first and foremost that you have the power seats, right.
Secondly, finding your own voice. Most white women have not developed the capacity to speak truth to power because they know how to interface with white men who hold the majority of the power seats. And so when I think about who ultimately owns this, it's a CEO. Because people talk about diversity and inclusion as a business imperative. And it's bunk. It is total bunk. Because, I often say, I don't know what problem would go unresolved for decades and decades and anybody would have a job. The chief diversity officers aren't even set up with the authority to create the cultural transformation that is needed.
Stacy Mayer: Exactly.
Trudy Bourgeois: That whole thing has to be wrapped. But anybody who is sitting at the table with a seat has to have a responsibility to understand that when you have a workforce on the inside that mirrors the face of the consumer on the outside, you're more innovative, you're more productive. Look, it's a win, win, win. It's not that freakin hard. But if you don't have your voice and if you don't know where you stand on equality, then you'll a waiver. It's like being in those talent succession meetings, and some somebody's name comes up and let's say it's a woman of color and somebody will say: 'Well, I just don't think she has "it". "It" is code for "I'm not comfortable with her."
Well, we don't want to throw the person who said that out the door. Rather, what you can do is say: "Turn out. What is "it"? Talk to me about it.
Stacy Mayer: Let's have a conversation about "it."
Trudy Bourgeois: Yeah, let me understand. So it's this notion of being curious and asking high value questions. You don't have to beat people up. Once you make that pass to have the conversation, then all of a sudden that person who doesn't know how to express that they're not comfortable, they have to come clean. So the other thing that women who are in power or people who are in power, you can require that any time you're going to promote somebody, that the slate be at least 50 percent diverse. Don't continue to hire the same people. And this bullcrap that the recruiting teams offer you, of 'I can't find them.' reject it.
It's like, seriously. Then maybe you're not the right person for the job. OK. Maybe that's what we need to be thinking about. But these are the kinds of things that we haven't dealt with. None of it in a real open, courageous, authentic way. And so now is the moment to put all that out there on the table and call it what it is. It's depression in corporate America.
Stacy Mayer: So this is a great segue into your book. Your book offers resources. We can go out and buy your book. How can we use your book as a way to start this conversation?
Trudy Bourgeois: Well, when I was writing the book, this book actually took me two years longer than any of the other three books. But I wanted to really get this right. And I wanted to be a tool. So at the back of every chapter, there are start questions to get conversation started. Whether we're talking about enrolling members of the dominant group who right now are growing daily in their resentment of attention that is being paid to women and people of color.
And so the questions are going to challenge you to do what you said you were you were doing before, which is reflecting. Like really not allowing yourself off the hook by saying: 'I'm not a racist, I'm not a bigot, I'm not a whatever.' But really, really saying: 'OK, then what are you?' Because if you're not standing for equality, if you don't challenge yourself, just like one of the questions is, do you believe in the power of equality? And if you do, why?
So you can't you can't stand up and be a part of this conversation until you check your heart and your soul and your beliefs and your values. You start it right there. So I've been really thinking about all of these components.
And if you were raised, if you're listening and you were raised in a family where people used disparaging language to describe others across differences: 'OK, well you're not a child anymore. You can make the frickin choice, right?'.
I just think that all of us are works in progress, myself included. I don't have all the answers, but we've got to learn and then we've got to really feel the emotional pain of rejection and exclusion. And a lot of times the work that I do is so tough.
Perhaps I'll end with this one other story that will help to bring this home.
I was doing some work along with a couple of other consulting firms for a large pharmaceutical company, and we did focus groups. And we then took the focus group themes and we had actors act them out. And there was this one black gentleman who was acting out one of the themes. And you know how you said some things just stick with you? This has stuck with me. And this has been like five years ago that we were doing this.
But he was standing in the front of the mirror. He was getting dressed for work. He had his pants on, his belt on, his undershirt on. But with each piece of the clothing that he was putting on that day, he started talking to himself: 'You can do it. You can do it another day. Remember to smile and remember, don't take up too much space. And be really articulate because you don't want to scare them. And wait until everybody else has said what they need to say before you say anything, because you don't want to come across as being too aggressive. And make sure you do talk about sports, even though you might not be a sports advocate because they see you as an athlete. Or make sure you can talk about this and talk about that. And he ends with pushing up his tie and the man has tears in his eyes. And he's like, time to go to war one more day.'
Stacy Mayer: Oh, my gosh.
Trudy Bourgeois: Can you imagine waking up and every day that's what you have to go through?
So when you say, let's have conversations, I don't want to have any more politically correct conversations. I want to talk about the fact that corporate America is a reflection of society. And you've got everything in corporate America that you have in society, including white supremacists.
And until a company takes a firm stand and says: 'We have zero tolerance. You will be fired.'
Not: 'Oh, OK. Next time be...' No. Bull.
If it is a core value of your organization. If integrity is a core value of your organization, if I steal from you, I promise you, you will fire me. Promise you. I don't think that there's going to be any second or third chances. So we've got to apply that same rigor to bias and oppression and systemic racism. And we have to say, and it starts with the CEO: 'This is my organization. I'm in charge. Under my watch, this is not acceptable. And then you've got to train people up so that they understand. Most people don't want to be racist, don't want to be bad, but they don't know what they don't know. And they want the black person or the brown person to teach them for free. Open the work, do your own work. Listen to your podcast. I mean, go dig deep. And then come back and be honest with yourself. Do you understand your white privilege? Are you doing anything good with that white privilege? These are the conversation that scare the crap out of people. But these are the courageous conversations that I am convicted to have, as scary as they are and as emotional as they are. I just feel like this is my calling. And so I've got to put out the real brutal truth. Because as leaders, we all know: you can't solve a problem that you don't understand.
Stacy Mayer: Are you hopeful? Are we changing? I mean, I know it's been a month or so. Yeah, I don't know. I guess it remains to be seen.
Trudy Bourgeois: And I'm hopeful in that, when I look at the protesters, I see the young, white, brown, Black, Asian people walking together, standing for something. But I've been here before. Lived through Jim Crow and the death of Martin Luther King King Jr. and we thought that was going to be a pivot for change. I lived in California when Rodney King's situation happened and we thought that was going to be a pivot for a change. And now I lived through this and I hope and pray, but unless we have these kinds of conversations and we all remember the power to vote and not just for the Pennsylvania Avenue people, but vote for people in all levels of government, then I don't know. I pray so. I really do pray so. I have a biracial granddaughter who, like her cousins, will struggle to be accepted. And what I don't want, is I don't want my little Gracie girl, when she is my age to be telling stories like I'm telling right now.
Stacy Mayer: You know what? Thank you for that. Because I think that there is this... I went to the protest. I did the work. We are changing. And what you're challenging us to do is to keep going. It hasn't changed yet.
Trudy Bourgeois: No, no. Did you see what happened to the NASCAR race driver this week?
Stacy Mayer: No.
Trudy Bourgeois: Only black driver in the league. A noose was found in his locker. What what does give me the hope... then a couple of days later, some all, marched with them around the track in full support of them.
And so, we've got to really get into the game and stop making ourselves comfortable by staying on the sidelines and going: 'Well, it's not that bad.' Or: 'I'm not a racist.' Or: 'I treat everybody fairly.'
No. You got to get into the fight. And you have to be an ally, a public champion day in, day out.
Stacy Mayer: Yeah. Trudy. Thank you so much for your wisdom today and your voice and being a being a real champion for change. And it's it's really an amazing conversation. Thank you.
Trudy Bourgeois: Well, you're a champion for change too Stacy, because you're having the conversation. So congratulations on all your hard work. I hope that your listeners get lots of benefits from it, and I hope our paths crossed again.
Stacy Mayer: So, yes, absolutely. Thank you.
About Your Host
Hi, I’m Stacy Mayer, a Leadership Coach for emerging executives who are ready to take their career to the next level or seeking more fulfillment in their current organizational roles.
I help corporate managers reposition themselves to advance their careers, build confidence in their ability to solve problems in real-time, and step into their higher leadership potential so they can make a bigger impact in their organizations.
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