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raceAhead: Pull Up A Chair For Others

Senior director of global equality programs, Salesforce, Molly Q. Ford speaks at the Watermark Conference for Women 2018.Senior director of global equality programs, Salesforce, Molly Q. Ford speaks at the Watermark Conference for Women 2018.
Inclusion is the tough part of the work, making sure people feel welcome after you've invited them in.Marla Aufmuth / Getty Images for Watermark Confe

Years ago, I interviewed a woman named Joanne Bland, then the founder of a small voting rights museum in Selma, Alabama. She was eleven years old in 1965 when she marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the march for voting rights that became known as Bloody Sunday. “I remember the first time I drank at a white water fountain. I was disappointed,” she told me. Is this what they were trying to keep from us? “I believed that it must have been sugar water coming from it.”

I was reminded of that conversation this morning when I watched Molly Ford, a senior director of global equality programs at Salesforce, bring a blue folding chair with her on stage for her short Dreamforce presentation about her own leadership journey.

Behind her was a slide with a quote from Shirley Chisolm, the first African–American Congresswoman, and first black woman to run for president. “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Ford plopped the chair down like a prop pro and said, “let me tell you about some of the people who pulled up a chair for me.”

One example was simple, and something everyone can do. When a more senior employee named Leyla Seka championed an idea of Ford’s, she made sure to keep her name firmly attached. You know it’s real “when they don’t erase you,” said Ford.

She also talked about how she had been able to pay it forward when the organization decided to recruit Marcus Stevenson, an extraordinary young man who had been discovered by her boss, Tony Prophet, at a workforce development initiative called YearUp. Stevenson was a key interview in a Fortune story last year on how employers are finding “diverse” talent by identifying non-traditional markers of strength and potential.

Stevenson had felt disconnected in high school but had earned an associate’s degree. He wanted more, so jumped at the chance when a techie pal introduced him to YearUp:

“It was one of the greatest, hardest experiences of my life,” he says. His performance earned him an invitation to a Salesforce networking event, where, amid canapés and chitchat, he “got [his] smile on” and introduced himself to Prophet, the equality officer. Stevenson’s story of disappointment and determination won Prophet over—the 23-year-old was a case study in life complexity, with strengths a résumé would only hint at. “He put himself on a different path and wanted to be a role model,” says Prophet.

Salesforce pulled up a chair for him, and he’s still here.

Inclusion, when it happens, can be disorienting. There may not be sugar water waiting for you on the other side, but it’s easy to underestimate, or miss entirely, the unique barriers that people continue to face once they’re in the room.

One raceAhead reader shared that she was mocked by her new boss at her first business lunch when she didn’t know to press the beans out of the unfamiliar edamame pods. “I ate the whole thing,” she said, still feeling the sting. Others have fretted about navigating casual Friday attire or side eye directed at their natural hair; others worry about business travel, when to speak up in meetings, or the pressure of being “the only one” in the room. And yesterday, I met a young Muslim woman who had become so worried about being judged or scrutinized for taking her daily prayers at work, that she needed to find a “prayer guard” to watch the door so she wouldn’t be observed. I’ll have more about her story in another dispatch.

All of this is a long way of saying that the human component of inclusion, understanding what people need to feel welcome, is nuanced and hard. I admire all of you who are doing the work of pulling up chairs for others, even if it’s not part of your job description, and even if you didn’t mean to – like the millions of chairs Dr. Christine Blasey Ford pulled up for so many of us with her extraordinary testimony today.

It’s always a gift. I appreciate you.

On Point

Women of color discuss barriers and microaggressions at work, tension with white womenThis lengthy piece from the Seattle Times profiles a group of professional women of color, including immigrants, who explore via their own stories, the barriers they or others have faced.  “[I]t’s been hard to ignore the mounting evidence — the friends who were pushed out of jobs, or never hired in the first place, even if they were eminently overqualified, or those passed by for promotions, often at the hands of white women,” writes Singapore native Ruchika Tulshyan. Seattle-born university instructor Kimberly Harden talked about the exhaustion she feels as a black woman in the workplace. “We are expected to be a feminist and to support the women’s movement. But white feminism is different from black womanism,” she says.Seattle Times

It looks like Russian bots helped amplify the Nike/Colin Kaepernick protests online
Anti-Nike sentiment peaked after the sports merchandiser tapped Kaepernick to be the face of the Just Do It anniversary campaign. While there were plenty of actual people heading online to hashtag their discontent, pro-Trump groups and accounts linked to Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaign clearly helped drive the message home. Graphika, a social media analysis firm, conducted two scans of Nike protest-related hashtags and found that while Russian accounts targeted and amplified the protest, they did not create it. “Our understanding of how the Russians work…is they embed these sock puppet assets into the natural political landscape of the country they are trying to influence,” said Graphika’s CEO. It’s almost like they know who we are.

Kerry Washington has some powerful friends
Kerry Washington is returning to the Broadway stage this fall in American Son, a tense four-character play set in a Florida police station about two estranged parents desperately searching for their biracial son. The work, from newcomer Christopher Demos-Brown, explores love, identity, and systemic racism – and has earned some pre-debut love of its own. Shonda Rhimes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gabrielle Union-Wade and her husband, NBA star Dwyane Wade are among the luminaries who have signed on to produce the new play, a move that has already driven buzz to the new production. Previews begin in October, and a limited run starts November 4 through January 27.
Hollywood Reporter

Restoring voting rights in Florida
More than six million people in the U.S. have lost their right to vote because of their criminal records. Incredibly, more than 1.5 million of them live in Florida. A referendum on the upcoming November ballot aims to remedy that; if successful, it could change the state’s electorate in a profound way. But beyond the politics, which I concede are top of mind, it’s also about finding a way to allow formerly incarcerated people to fully participate in the communities in which they live. And, as this piece in the New York Times effectively argues, voter restriction efforts have a long and ugly history in the U.S., and specifically target low-income and voters of color. Florida’s Amendment 4 is currently polling around 70 % and has largely bipartisan support. Go figure.
New York Times


The Woke Leader

Why we sympathize with powerful men
Kate Manne, the author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, explores the cultural impulse to protect powerful men when they stand accused. The president, she points out, has publicly said he felt sorry for the men who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct or other crimes, like Brett Kavanaugh, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. “Mr. Trump is manifesting what I call “himpathy” — the inappropriate and disproportionate sympathy powerful men often enjoy in cases of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, homicide and other misogynistic behavior,” she writes. Once you see it, you find it everywhere and the implications are profound. For one, girls and women suffer in silence. “[L]ike many women, Dr. Blasey needed a long time to break a silence born out of society’s entrenched deference to privileged men.”
New York Times

Did you love “Island of The Blue Dolphin”?
It has long been a childhood staple, the tender tale of a girl surviving alone on San Nicolas Island, a small island off the coast of Santa Barbara California. But Scott O’Dell’s award-winning novel is based on a story of a real woman who actually lived there from 1835 to 1853. She died six weeks after her rescue; and because nobody knew her language, we don’t even know her true name. This analysis from American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) offers rich details of the life of the real woman, the context in which she lived, and helps illuminate what is lost when indigenous stories are repackaged for a mainstream audience.
AICL blog

The history of black women doctors in comic books
Darnel Degand has written an excellent essay exploring the long history of discrimination black women have experienced when they’ve pursued careers in medicine, and the media’s role in perpetuating specific stereotypes. Even W.E.B. Du Bois tackled the subject in a 1933 article, “Can a Colored Woman be a Physician?” (Yes, was his answer.) “The inability to see black women as doctors extends into the world of comic book superheroes,” he writes, with one notable exception: Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who appeared in Marvel’s X-Men in 1997. Degand is clearly a comic book fan and X-Men readers will geek out at his analysis of her plot line. Others will understand how much of an outlier she was. As her narrative grew, she became bolder, changed her bobbed hair to long locs, and was not there for any discrimination. “To the contrary, she was portrayed as a confident doctor who was in command of her operating room.”


You are not on trial… I want to thank you for your courage and I want to tell you I believe you.
Senator Kamala Harris