Dr. Zabina Bhasin: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society

Understand the problem: Our world is only increasing in diversity, so we need to prioritize fostering inclusivity so that the next generation can thrive.We need more kindness, empathy and tolerance, but we can only get there if we acknowledge the histories and transitions that have led us to this inequitable world. We need to talk about […]

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Understand the problem: Our world is only increasing in diversity, so we need to prioritize fostering inclusivity so that the next generation can thrive.

We need more kindness, empathy and tolerance, but we can only get there if we acknowledge the histories and transitions that have led us to this inequitable world. We need to talk about it and ask questions.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’, I enjoyed interviewing Dr. Zabina ‘Zee’ Bhasin.

Dr. Zabina Bhasin is an entrepreneur, child psychiatrist, and mother of two. Founder of In KidZ subscription box, she has a passion for children and teaching them how to be culturally competent in today’s society. The InKidZ subscription box delivers the world’s cultures every other month to families to raise global citizens’ next generation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Yes, thank you so much for having me. My family is South Asian (East Indian), and I grew up in Orange County, CA. Surrounded by extended family, the neighborhood was culturally diverse and a unique blend of my father’s quiet strength and my mother’s determination to make her home in the US.

As a child, I was bullied throughout elementary and high school for my curry lunches, my large nose and darker skin among much more. My older brothers were also bullied for their long hair and Sikh turbans. This was before the PSA era and before anyone really knew the impact of bullying. Of course, my childhood wasn’t just bullying and negative experiences, but when I look back on that time I still feel the sting of hurtful comments and actions. However, those moments shaped the rest of my life.

In 2nd grade, my mother asked the teacher if she could teach the students about Sikh culture. She was a professional educator. By sharing the traditions and stories behind our clothes, food, and hair, she allowed them to experience life in someone else’s shoes. This lesson sparked something beautiful — other parents began to do it too — Korean parents, Pakistani parents, Chinese parents, began coming in and sharing the stories behind their food, and cultures. I experienced first hand how understanding different cultures cultivated empathy and curiosity — which evolved into an “International Week,” celebrating culture throughout the entire school.

Students still get bullied today for their culture. Since it’s impossible to walk into every school in the country and teach about multiculturalism, I created In KidZ xx With Love, to deliver the world’s cultures to families every other month. I saw first hand how learning more about culture helps kids to appreciate and respect differences. And studies show kids who learn about culture are kinder, more empathetic, and are more adaptable.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Untamed by Glennon Dolye. Undoubtedly a book that has made and is continuing to make an impact on my life. Her story of identifying herself, accepting herself, and living her truth resonates so well with women today.

While the journey to self-love is an individual one, it does help support along the way. We all need “a person,” even if the person shows up later in life. While it doesn’t have to be a partner or spouse, having a partner in your journey — one who uplifts you, supports you, and shows you your successes — is one of the greatest joys in life.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Success is not the key to happiness; happiness is the key to success. If you love what you’re doing, you will be successful.” Although there is no one specific story, everything I experienced led me here.

I wanted to work with kids as a physician, but pediatrics did not suit me, so I decided to become a child therapist. But I wasn’t happy doing that, so I transitioned to a hospital administrator, which not only brought me joy; it satisfied me to be making a difference in healthcare on a broader level. After I had my kids, I found my happiness was in being a mother and not in my work anymore. But as time went on and they got older, I was looking for something that gave me bliss and that’s how In KidZ was derived.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is often thought of as an individual telling others what to do, barking orders, making executive decisions, and accomplishing specific goals. That does not define the kind of leadership I aspire to.

First and foremost, a leader is an inspiration, a motivation, a person for others to come to for support and growth. I believe that a leader should be a person others choose to follow because they have demonstrated an awareness of others and can lead by bringing a team together to accomplish a specific goal. Being a leader means setting aside your ego.

As an entrepreneur, I make sure I involve all the employees and listen to their needs or ideas. I am clear in my communication, vision, support, and self-belief to create an atmosphere for growth and honesty. I work collaboratively with those who are experts in their field. We share, collaborate, and adapt to work towards my vision for the company.

The most significant part of leadership is learning every day from others and persevering through the hard days.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Big meetings still scare me, to this day. Having struggled with dyslexia my entire life, it makes public speaking difficult. There were no outlets as a child to help, but I have since controlled my thoughts and breathing through meditation and it helps immensely. Now, before a major meeting or even speaking with someone in an interview, my meditation and breathing exercises help me control my thoughts and communicate clearly in large and small moments.

The first time I saw the value of meditation in times of stress was when I decided I did not want to go back to medicine after maternity leave. While making the decision was something I was able to do, I found it to be more stressful to communicate that decision and my new vision to others. My first “hurdle” was discussing this with my husband, an efficient communicator, not emotional. I had to find a way to tell him I was not going back to work, and that I was going to start a business. I knew he would be supportive of whatever I chose to do, but this was, in essence, my very first pitch. I sat in my meditation room, cleared my head and concentrated on my ideas and thoughts.

Taking these moments for ourselves as leaders might seem a little “self indulgent” or unnecessary, but the clarity of mind we receive from these little check ins with ourselves goes a long way in relieving the pressures that come with responsible leadership, and really, only makes us stronger.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Our country is socially, culturally, racially, and ethnically insensitive. America is a melting pot of cultures, but if we don’t teach the next generation about all the cultures of the world — including the people who have built our country — then we will be not giving them the full knowledge they deserve.

More often than not, people can be seen adopting an element or elements of one culture and identity by members of another. This is called cultural appropriation, or cultural misappropriation, and is detrimental to our society when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.

Our society is more polarized than ever, and we seem to have lost the ability to see things from a different point of view. Our world will only increase in diversity, so we need to prioritize fostering inclusivity so that this next generation can thrive. We need to focus on understanding and respecting other cultures without capitalizing it for gain.

We can make this change by being conscious of what we say or do about another culture. Our focus should be to educate ourselves and the next generation without stealing and laying claim to another culture. What does that mean in today’s times? My culture is not a trend; it is not a prop; it is not something for you to “make cool.”

For a long time, the accepted norm was to avoid talking about race, diversity, culture, equality, and inclusion. We, as a society, have become blind to these topics. We are now only recognizing publicly that these topics perpetuate privilege and prejudice. This is our “boiling point.” The place where there is no more room for justifications or explanations. It’s a time for true change, tolerance, and acceptance.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

Because my own family and experiences are multicultural, I find that my own work to promote diversity and inclusion is a little more “grassroots.”

When I created the In KidZ America Culture Box Black History Edition, it explored the traditions and individuals that made invaluable contributions to the US. The idea behind this box started the day after the first BLM protests in LA. I called my sister-in-law and asked her about my half black and half Indian nephews. They were safe, but they were asking questions. These young boys didn’t understand why people were rioting in the streets; why there was so much anger, hurt, and frustration. It was right then that I realized that I wanted to do something. I want every child to go beyond the classroom and learn about Black History.

I immediately reached out to my friend Nikita, a friend and an educator of black history. We spent much time talking about diversity and the ways we can promote it. We realized it has to start at home. We then conceived the InKidZ America Box, which would authentically represent aspects of the African American community. She worked step by step with me, as we chose the materials for the box.

When I told my team that I wanted to create this box a few weeks later, they were all taken back. Most of them expressed concerns about making a culture box that was authentic and respectful during such a politically charged time. I heard things like, “Zee, what are you thinking? In KidZ is a company that teaches about country, culture, and diversity.” Hearing these concerns about it would be “too controversial” was precisely the point. I wanted to promote diversity actively.

I spent nearly 40 years not realizing some of my gaps in racial and cultural education. I want to do better for my kids. I want them to learn about their own and other races and cultures in the US. Recognizing the value in culture together by receiving permission from those we represent creates and shows the next generation how we are working together and creating a better tomorrow for them.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

The importance of having a diverse executive team and board has been recognized but still a long way from being accomplished. We know that diverse teams produce better solutions to problems. Diverse leadership can help in retention of staff, and diverse leadership can be mentors and build multi-cultural competency within leadership and organizations. Diversity in leadership needs to be intentional; it can not be avoided in today’s world.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

  • Understand the problem: Our world is only increasing in diversity, so we need to prioritize fostering inclusivity so that the next generation can thrive.

We need more kindness, empathy and tolerance, but we can only get there if we acknowledge the histories and transitions that have led us to this inequitable world. We need to talk about it and ask questions.

  • Educate ourselves and others: We have to create a better school system to educate the young. Once older, it directly translates into a group of more empathetic and educated adults who will enter our workforce.

We put a lot on the school systems to teach our children but let’s not forget it is our responsibility as parents to help navigate our children to be more accepting of others. At home I have introduced books, food, clothes and games that help them understand diversity. This will lead them to understand and shift their behavior towards making sure they evolve and create more significant opportunities.

  • Ambassadors/Experts: Leaning on excerpts and ambassadors who have written and created resources for us to speak with our children and employees about and how we should converse or even react to discussing diversity inclusion.

I am not talking about racial prejudice but rather the opposite, actively teaching and learning about how to accept one another. Specifically the psychology behind how to react.

  • Systems: Creating systems in the workplace to step forward and feel an employee can suggest and implement change. Have employees bring up questions in team meetings or as team leaders, you bring them up to make sure we can understand the problem.

Let them take these ideas home to work in their homes to implement change. We change within ourselves when we have a system in place, and then it trickles down in all parts of our lives.

  • Building for the Future: Inclusive and diverse organizations need to make sure all the pieces are in place to achieve and sustain an inclusive, representative, and equitable society.

To do this we need to think forward and be more active in change. Committing to the right partnerships, staying authentic to your vision and staying open to opportunities will advance your organization. Building towards a large inclusive culture will ensure the heart of your organization.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

This is not easy to answer, but many companies before mine are already addressing this issue, it helps if every person around the world and their homes begin by educating themselves and their children. This doesn’t mean all hope is lost for us adults, but I see the most potential for change in children. They are open, loving, and eager to learn.

In today’s world with social media, the younger generation will have more insecurities, misinformation, and uncertainty than we did. It will attack them every day. Open up to the younger generation, talk to them, sit with them, and explain what you went through. Have the conversation you wish your parents had with you.

Let’s rise up and give the next generation tools, not only to be empathetic and kind but to work through the difficulties and insecurities. Let’s not let them suffer inside; let them open up and talk to us. Am I optimistic? Of course I am, but the human race is always known to rise above, and today we collectively want a better future for the next generation.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Yes, Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the US. As a mother, wife, career woman, and author, she has not only fought for, but is actively uplifting diversity education in schools. Her focus on educating girls to be thought leaders of the world is inspiring. As an advocate for children’s education, she has led in creating many initiatives for kids to succeed in school, beating all odds, advocating for girls education and outreach for all minorities. Beyond the classroom, she teaches companies to recruit diverse talent beyond college degrees and test scores.

Also, the former PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi. As a business leader, she has become a role model in the diversity and inclusion space for many years for her confidence and bold statements as a minority business leader, woman, and mother.

How can our readers follow you online? (PR people)

To stay in touch with us, visit our website www.inkidzco.com

Follow us on social media @inkidzco or mine personally @zabina_bhasin

Follow my philanthropy work @Chaimommasxhappyher

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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