If you want to meet diverse people, go where the diverse people are. I once had someone ask me how they were supposed to “find” a gay or Black or Hispanic friend. Did you know anyone can join the NAACP? Also, your state and/or city probably has organizations that help the LGBTQ+ community and more than likely, they can always use some volunteers. If you widen your circles, you’re bound to find diverse people who will bring a rainbow of beautifully different perspectives to your life. Marginalized communities need allies from all walks of life. As Brené Brown wrote in Braving the Wilderness, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil. Hold hands. With strangers. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.”
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Stacy Bernal.
Author and TEDx speaker Stacy Bernal is a Change Instigator, inspiring and empowering audiences around the world. A vocal proponent for diversity, equity, inclusion, and representation, she believes everyone is capable of creating positive, lasting change in their lives, communities and ultimately the world. She earned a BA in Communication from Weber State University, a Diversity & Inclusion certificate from Cornell University, and is the founder of Awesome Autistic Ogden and the Bernal Badassery Foundation 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
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?
My dad was in the US Navy, so we grew up moving around a lot. I am bi-racial — my dad is Filipino and my mom is White — so I grew up experiencing lots of different states’ cultures, from the west coast to all along the north and south of the east coast. When I was 13, my parents got divorced and my mom had to move us — meaning her and five kids — into a single-wide trailer while she put herself through nursing school. In a nutshell, I grew up somewhat poor in many different diverse places.
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?
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Really anything by her. I stumbled upon her a few years ago and her research in shame and trauma spoke to my soul. I’ve followed her ever since and now she resonates with me even more since I see my trajectory is similar to hers in a lot of ways and it keeps me motivated. We’re both authors and part of the TED talks community and we share common principles about how we believe we can make the world a better place.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“You are not for everyone.” We all crave belongingness and to be loved. When I first started my speaking career, I expected everyone to be happy for me and to love my message and think I was wonderful and amazing. Then, I lost a few friends who didn’t like my newfound boldness. And then I got my first (and second and third) critical and harsh feedback after a keynote address. It was devastating. I felt myself retracting and second-guessing my every move. Until I faced the reality that, of course, I was going to miss the mark with some people because they are not my people. I am not for everyone and that is more than okay.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe leadership is doing what you do so well that people naturally gravitate to follow. When I created an autism appreciation event in my community, I did it from a place of love as a mom to an autistic son. I saw a need for something like this and no one else was doing it so I figured, “Why not me?” I was shocked by how much support and help I got. All these individuals and organizations wanted to be involved and all of a sudden, all eyes were on me when they asked what they could do to help. It was pretty powerful seeing it come to fruition and to realize I created something where there had been nothing.
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?
I love yoga, mindfulness, and breathing exercises. When I was backstage about to enter the red carpet circle of the TEDx stage, I was the most nervous and excited I had ever been in my life. I put one hand on my heart and the other on my abdomen, I closed my eyes, and I breathed deeply and slowly. I grounded myself in that space in time and mentally told myself all the ways I was going to own that moment. I also highly recommend holding a power pose for one to two minutes before going into a stressful or high stakes situation.
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?
I feel like the pairing of the Coronavirus pandemic with an extremely divisive political election year created this perfect storm we’re now facing. Honestly, our country has had these issues festering below the surface for decades and 2020 was the year the proverbial Bandaid was ripped off to expose just how deep the wound was. We’ve seen so many unjust tragedies like the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Elijah McClain, just to name a select few. It’s been an emotional year of fearing the unknown of the pandemic, having to distance and isolate from family and friends, and feeling like our worlds have been upended. I’ve had many people admit to me that this past year has been an awakening for them, that they hadn’t realized how bad things were. In that regard, it’s good because they’re learning, listening, and ready to help create change.
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?
In addition to the advocacy work I do for neurodiversity and disability, in February of 2020 I applied to serve on my city’s Diversity Commission. I wanted to bring my expertise as a biracial woman and mom to a neurodiverse son to the table. By the time I had interviewed and been approved by the city council it was May and all meetings had switched to being virtual. Halfway through that first meeting, we were attacked by approximately 14 “Zoom Bombers” who screamed the N-word, posted pictures of lynchings, and one young boy who made the “Heil Hitler” sign. It was disgusting and it absolutely shook me to my core. We were targeted all because of the word ‘diversity’ in our public Zoom link. That’s when I knew there was so much work to be done in this area, even more than I had imagined. Hate will not win.
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?
Gallup research shows that businesses with diverse teams perform better, enjoy higher profits, and have happier employees. Especially in the upper echelons of an executive team, diversity matters because there needs to be a wide spectrum of perspectives sitting in the room where the decisions are made. And diversity at the top matters because, in the words of renowned children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” And our Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and disabled kids need to know they have a place there, too.
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.
- Listen. I cannot stress this enough as the first and most important step into this arena. Mindfully listen, listen to learn, listen wholeheartedly. You will experience feelings of discomfort and denial. Embrace those feelings and don’t take it personally because it truly isn’t about you. But if a friend, or even a stranger, of a marginalized demographic is willing to disclose to you, that means there’s a certain level of trust there. Don’t take that trust for granted. Just. Listen.
- Be willing to learn. Once you move through some of your discomfort from what may come as a huge shock to you about someone else’s lived experience, do more learning on your own. There’s no shortage of books, documentaries, and endless websites full of information. Follow diverse creators on different social media platforms. I may or may not have broken Tik Tok’s algorithms with all the different accounts I follow. You may feel overwhelmed once you open the floodgates. I like to balance my “heavy” learning with something lighthearted. Like, I’ll read a book about antiracism and then I’ll binge “Schitt’s Creek.” Pace yourself so you don’t burn out. DEI work is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.
- Remember that diversity isn’t just a Black and White issue. Literally. Often that’s the first thing that comes to people’s minds and they’ll say something like: “You just want me to feel bad for being White.” Not true at all. There are so many identities other than skin color, like gender, disability, age, and sexual orientation. In terms of creating inclusivity, equity, and representation there are a lot of marginalized groups to consider and, often, there’s intersectionality and overlap between them. There needs to be room for all these different voices to be heard “in the room where it happens.”
- Examine your own implicit biases. These are “the thoughts we don’t think we think.” And yes, we ALL have them. Scientists estimate that the brain is bombarded with 11 million bits of information at any given moment but it can only process 40 bits at a time. This leads to automatic associations in our brains, like if I say “peanut butter” you think “jelly.” Only, in the case of social justice issues, these biases become more nefarious and can lead to stereotypes, microaggressions, discrimination, and hate crimes. Check in with yourself to discover how your biases have impacted your life.
- If you want to meet diverse people, go where the diverse people are. I once had someone ask me how they were supposed to “find” a gay or Black or Hispanic friend. Did you know anyone can join the NAACP? Also, your state and/or city probably has organizations that help the LGBTQ+ community and more than likely, they can always use some volunteers. If you widen your circles, you’re bound to find diverse people who will bring a rainbow of beautifully different perspectives to your life. Marginalized communities need allies from all walks of life. As Brené Brown wrote in Braving the Wilderness, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil. Hold hands. With strangers. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.”
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I feel very hopeful about the momentum we have moving forward. I believe a lot of these efforts are grassroots and that so many people across the country, within their own communities, are creating massive ripple effects of change. Just look at what Stacey Abrams did in Georgia. If history has taught us anything, I think it’s that it will still be decades before we get to a point where racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and any other form of hate or discrimination will be even somewhat eradicated. But the fact that these topics are top-of-mind for many people and organizations means we are having the hard conversations and, hopefully, engaging in the necessary work to make positive change.
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. 🙂
Oh, my girl Brené Brown! I even mentioned her in my TEDx talk. I’m bound and determined to meet her someday. She has been my muse and inspiration in my own journey and I’d like to thank her firsthand.
How can our readers follow you online?
My social media handle on Facebook, Instagram, Clubhouse and Twitter is @seestacyspeak.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!