Rebel Podcast: Life and Work on Your Terms

Redefining Language for Inclusive Communication with Dr. Suzanne Wertheim, PhD

December 20, 2023 Kyle Roed, The HR Guy Season 4 Episode 185
Rebel Podcast: Life and Work on Your Terms
Redefining Language for Inclusive Communication with Dr. Suzanne Wertheim, PhD
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Prepare to have your perception of language redefined as we journey through a rich discussion with our guest, Dr. Suzanne Wertheim, a linguistic anthropologist. Dr. Wertheim, renowned for her deep understanding of the power of language as a social tool, shares enlightening insights from her recently released book, The Inclusive Language Field Guide. She draws our attention to the often overlooked aspect of our communication - the underlying meanings we unintentionally encode - and initiates a call to action: pause, evaluate and adapt our words to create respectful and inclusive environments.

We unearth six research-backed principles for effective communication in the workplace, which Dr. Wertheim believes are the keys to fostering productive conversations. These principles are not just another set of rules but a guide that infuses respect, acknowledges other perspectives, and maintains sensitivity towards the pains of others. She further elaborates on the need to consider neurodiverse communication styles, shedding light on how language, when used carelessly, can inadvertently hurt others. 

In the final part of this engaging chat, we concentrate on enhancing inclusivity in our language and conversations. Dr. Wertheim emphasizes the importance of language that is universally comfortable and applicable, suggesting behavior as an organizing framework for inclusive language. The discussion also highlights the role of adaptability and attentiveness in defining organizational culture. We uncover the significance of HR leaders advocating for diversity initiatives and resources, and using language that aligns with the organisation's commitment to inclusivity. This conversation with Dr. Suzanne Wertheim is not just a fascinating exploration of language but a roadmap to inclusivity, respect, and understanding in our communication.

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Speaker 1:

This is the Rebel HR Podcast, the podcast about all things innovation in the people's space. I'm Kyle Rode. Let's start the show. Welcome back Rebel HR listeners Extremely excited for the conversation this week Week with us we have Dr Suzanne Werthime, phd. She is a linguistic anthropologist and she has written a book that has just recently been released, called the Inclusive Language Field Guide Six Simple Principles for Avoiding Painfulness, sates and Communicating Respectfully. Suzanne, welcome to the show.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm very happy to be here.

Speaker 1:

Well, we are extremely happy to have you and really, really excited about this conversation. I think this is going to be one of those conversations. It's a little bit of a different focus than we usually have and I'm really excited to dive into your background as well as the book. Before we get into that, I'd be curious for you to share a little bit with our listeners about your background and, ultimately, what motivated you to write this book.

Speaker 2:

Sure, I'm a former professor of something called linguistic anthropology. I'm used to being met with very blank faces. People are like what's that that's so esoteric? I'm like do you talk? They're like yeah, I'm like. Does your talk help you build and maintain relationships with other people? They're like yeah, I'm like. And does your talk demonstrate your relationship with power? They're like I think so. I'm like that's all I study.

Speaker 2:

It always sounded so, but my field has done the worst job of PR. Now here I am doing all kinds of PR for my book, but basically the intersection of language, culture and power is what I've been studying for now really almost 25 years. I left the university system in 2011 and I started my own company because I was tired of so much useful information being locked up behind academic doors. I would have former students write to me after one intro class Five years later. They're like hey, professor Wertheim, I'm using this idea of Bactinian flavor in my marketing and my boss thinks I'm so smart and I'm like. You still are. I mean, that's literally five years ago one intro class. So I realized that there was stuff that I was teaching undergrads about that was sticky and useful in the workplace, and I decided that what I should really do is, instead of studying how language goes wrong, try and move upstream and become a practitioner and try to stop problems and problematic language before it starts.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think that last part really resonated with all the HR professionals that have to deal with the language after it's left the mouth.

Speaker 2:

Or the fingers, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Or the body language and kind of dealing with the aftermath. So thank you for recognizing that challenge. I know that there's a lot of different directions that we could focus on as it relates to really kind of the inclusivity space and the DEI space. I'm curious to understand a little bit about the power of language and for you, obviously this is something you're very passionate about. What prompted you to really focus on the power of language and then, ultimately, how to help people craft that appropriately?

Speaker 2:

So the power of language is something I've been teaching about in the undergrad space for a long time and then I realized, you know, it's that thing that you do when you're a practitioner you throw things up against the wall and see what sticks. And so I think what people hadn't understood because they hadn't had the opportunity to take classes like mine in college is that language is social action. Language is social action. People will say things like sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. And I'm like oh no, I've been researching for decades about how language is action in and of itself and, what's more, every single thing we say and write affects our relationships with other people, like literally every single word, every single word. So the problem is that people, when we speak and when we write, we very often go on autopilot and we don't recognize the meaning that we're encoding in our language. It goes below the radar. In my book I talk about, I compare language to a fungus. A friend just wrote to me I'd given him a preview copy of the book and he finally got around to reading it and he's like oh, this is so helpful. I never thought about how language is like a fungus. But here I'll give you an example.

Speaker 2:

People are usually very focused on words and they'll use the dictionary as the ultimate example. They'll be as like the ultimate authority on words. They'll be like well, there's nothing wrong with that word, right? Like I had an HR person. I got brought in to help them because there was a harassment case and it was based on race and they couldn't find any racial slurs. So they couldn't see the harassment. And I got brought in and I said, oh, it's below the surface, I've got the toolkit to dig it up and show you right.

Speaker 2:

And so the kind of training that I was given myself in grad school and that I've been giving people over the years, I decided it was necessary to put into the book and train people to see things for themselves, because they'll look at the mushroom and be like the mushroom is the word. Oh, here's the whole word. The mushroom's fine, there's nothing wrong with it. I'm like, oh, there's this whole super complicated underground network that's connecting multiple species and multiple organisms, and I have the toolkit to dig it up for you and show you how it works in context.

Speaker 2:

And so, to basically sum it up, not only is language powerful, but the effects that it has are very variable based on context, and a lot of people come to me looking for a one size fits all solution or just a list of words what are some words I should avoid and what are some words I can use and I'm like, oh, it's so variable on context. What you need is people who understand how to evaluate what's going on and apply things, apply value judgments for themselves. You can't just have a list of good and bad. You have to have a toolkit that people know how to pull out and use Absolutely.

Speaker 1:

And I think one of the interesting things about being an HR practitioner is you're supposed to intuitively understand that, and I think some of us may not get it, but a lot of us are kind of flying blind, right, like where it's like? You know, I think this is kind or I think this is an inclusive you know word, but in a lot of times, in reality, so many of us are afraid to ask that question because we're supposed to be the experts in this realm within our organizations, and so if we don't know and we're cautious about it, then how are we supposed to educate our organizations, right?

Speaker 2:

It feels so unfair to me in a way that it feels unfair when somebody happens to belong to some kind of underrepresented group and then they're asked to be, like, a DEI expert. So I've had I've worked with Tech a lot. I'm in the Bay Area and I work with Tech a lot and I have people who are engineers and they've only ever taken engineering classes and worked as engineers and they're like well, just because I'm a black woman doesn't mean that I can analyze what's going on and explain it. And I feel it's similar with HR. Just because you have all this expertise with HR, you're supposed to also be a linguistic anthropologist. You're supposed to also suddenly have this background in the deep and nuanced understanding of how language really works and how to tease out meaning and how do you analyze a situation. It's so unfair. So I feel for you all a lot, you know. But before this we did a little pre-talk and you were like well, you know, we're going to talk about why you wrote the book and I'm like, very honestly, I reached a certain point where enough HR leaders said to me and not just HR leaders, but people in mid-range HR people dealing with a lot of frontline people managers said oh, can you please write this book? I need something, I need something for myself, I need something to hand off to my people managers, I need something to hand off to my hiring managers, like I need that thing that teams can work on and I'll tell you not to get ahead of wherever we're going. But that's why it's not just a book but it's actually a workbook.

Speaker 2:

I've got these six principles that you mentioned in the reading, the subtitle of my book, and I thought, well, it's not enough to just say to people do better. Right, I feel like that's a lot of what happens Do better. And then they're left feeling paralyzed and like you're going to look ignorant or like a bad person if you say the wrong thing. So when it comes to language, you can't just read a book about, like, let's say, you don't speak French. You can't read a book about French for two hours, close the book and be like, well, I can speak French now. Well, why would you think you can do that with other language skills? Again, such an unfair expectation.

Speaker 2:

And so the book is secretly a six month course that teams can do together. And so I've got these six principles and for each chapter that has a principle. I have five quick wins. Hey, stop saying this and start saying this instead. And then I have three activities that you can practice for a month, and you can practice them quietly with people outside of work, so you can just get better and better. If you don't feel like being vulnerable with people at work, you can practice in private and then up level yourself. So I really had both HR people in mind and then the employees that HR people are dealing with all the time.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely, and I think it's one of those things where I think everybody agrees. I have yet to meet somebody who says we should be less inclusive. I mean, I think, for the most part, most people in our society, especially most people in HR, agree being inclusive is important, and subsequently, using the right language and terms and communication strategies is critical for that, but so often it doesn't necessarily mean that we have an understanding of how to do that, and so having some sort of a toolkit to help guide us and ultimately guide our teams on this is really, really critical. And I think you touched on something that I think a lot of this really stems from, and it's the fact that there's a lot of fear out there.

Speaker 1:

I think there's a lot of professionals that are afraid of being quote, canceled or saying the wrong thing to an individual where they're maybe not just not sure what the right language is, and they don't want to ask because they're afraid. If I ask now, I look like I don't know, which means I'm not curious enough, which means I'm not inclusive enough, which means I'm not good enough, like it's this whole self-worth question. So, as we think about some of these challenges and legitimate fears that we have as it relates to this work. What are some tactics or strategies or maybe a sneak peek of what you have in the book to help us overcome this fear of not understanding how to appropriately leverage inclusive language with our teams?

Speaker 2:

Well, I mean, I think I'll just start by giving you the six principles, because, rather than talking about them, let me just be very concrete and say what they are, because they're designed to be a framework that works in multiple ways. So the six principles are reflect reality, show respect, draw people in, incorporate other perspectives, prevent, erasure and recognize pain points. Thank you, that's it. Those are. They are very common sense and they're actually based on what we call cross linguistic and cross cultural research. In other words, this is a distillation of more than two decades of my looking at how people interact in multiple languages and multiple countries, or getting the data from my colleagues going to conferences, teaching things, teaching to grad students, to undergrads. It's this real distillation of many decades and I love that. They end up being very common sense, so they end up being populated differently.

Speaker 2:

What looks like respect for one person may be different for another person, from country to country and even within a country.

Speaker 2:

And the thing I talk about in the book a little bit, that I want us to be thinking about more in HR is allistic and autistic communications, because I feel like neurodivergent people have been pushed aside in a lot of ways and autistic ways of communicating are seen as abnormal and wrong. They're disrespectful because they're not doing eye contact. They're disrespectful because they're using they're knitting during the meeting. They're disrespectful because they just gave this very blunt response, right? So there are ways that you have to be able to have a conversation, and so, with these six principles, not only can you use them to set up guidelines, for here's how we should run a meeting, here's how we should write a job ad, here's how we should this like let's not have our corporate retreat at a plantation, right? Here's one example that I have in my book. That's a very real example. There was one black employee and then they had a period appropriate costume ball the night of the weekend of the retreat.

Speaker 2:

So dude shows up dressed as an enslaved person. And then they canceled the whole event, the whole, because they forgot to incorporate other perspectives and they forgot to prevent erasure. And for those people, a plantation was a romantic place where they could go around in the big dress and like it was meant to be, this fun, exciting event. And they completely forgot that if you're black, that's a concentration camp, right, that's like a site of atrocities. This is a bad, bad place. And so now I've said something that will maybe instill more fear, but here's a blanket one please don't hold your corporate retreats at plantations or other.

Speaker 1:

I feel like that one's okay.

Speaker 2:

No, but it still goes on.

Speaker 1:

Everybody get that one, write that one down.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, just like we're gonna skip the plantations. Don't romanticize Spanish missions. If you're on the West Coast of the US, those are also sites of atrocities and genocidal stuff, just to go for the harsh stuff. But backing away from that, what I wanna do is I don't wanna render myself useless, but my idea is that I can't be there holding everybody's hand all the time. So the six principles are designed to be a framework to allow people to have productive conversations and guardrails so they feel safe. So if somebody says let's go through and figure out and make sure that these comms are appropriate, or this person said this to another person that had come to me with a complaint, then we can go through and you can say if somebody brings a reports harassment or discrimination, I feel again, I work with employment lawyers so I definitely see what it's like when things go all the way to lawsuit and how expensive it is and painful for everybody. So my book is also designed to prevent discrimination and harassment lawsuits. So if you have to adjudicate a dispute, you can use the six principles to go through and see things that you might have missed.

Speaker 2:

If you can say to somebody well, in what way is your perspective not being incorporated. Well, it's actually very offensive, this word Like, if he keeps on calling me exotic, he thinks it's a compliment, but I have enough experience to know that it's really sexualizing and it's really othering and it makes me feel really bad. I'm just here as a teammate and to have him calling me exotic all the time, along with XYZ, it starts to become a case and you can tease it apart bit by bit, and so I've seen people, I've guided people to have these productive discussions. I've thrown this up against the wall in workshop after workshop and tweaked and tweaked, and so this seems to be the iteration, the framework that works the best for people to have good conversations on their own without feeling terribly nervous. Actually, let me jump in and say one more thing.

Speaker 2:

Some people will call out language and they're not actually correct. This is another problem that I see that people come in very enthusiastic and very upset about how unfair the world is and how unfair many workplaces still are, and so they'll say something, and this is actually kind of a show your work, six step framework. Sometimes people will say, well, it's racist to say this, and then you can have people break it down and say, well, I don't see how it's racist. So can you talk me through it? And then if you go through and it doesn't violate any of the six principles, then it's an okay word. Sometimes people are doing what we call hypercorrection and they overextend rules. Some people think that just mentioning race is racist, when actually it's reflecting reality and a necessary component, especially here in the US.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I think you touched on there's a couple of things that you touched on there that I think are really important for us to remember. You know, the first thing is like, yeah, I think that fear you know the just in general, the fear of saying the wrong thing, can actually prevent you from doing these six. You know these six appropriate steps that, yeah, yes, they're common sense. But I've always said, you know, just because something is simple does not mean it's easy. So I don't think you're gonna work yourself out of a job. Is what I'm saying? Like, there's still, like we all need this because we all suffer from not knowing what the right thing to say is sometimes, and sometimes the reality is there's not really a right thing to say. The only wrong thing to say is nothing and to just let something like faster and become this big, massive issue right. The reality is sometimes we don't always agree on what's appropriate and we have to work, you know, as adults, together to figure out. You know what that is, and so I think having a framework to do that in just makes a lot of sense. So I appreciate you putting that together. I'm curious, you know.

Speaker 1:

I'm curious on the last thing you mentioned, because I've had this discussion with a couple different people, primarily internationally, and that is the subject of race in general and just talking about race. I think some people are just very, very uncomfortable in general just having a dialogue about race. I think we're getting better at it, at least in the United States, where you can have an open dialogue about somebody's race and background, typically without having some inflammatory conversation. Sometimes that can be a risky conversation if you're uneducated or non-inclusive, but I do think in general it's maybe a little bit more acceptable than in other cultures around the world Because you take a global perspective on language. What is your perspective on the global approach as we think about having some of these difficult conversations? How do we approach that from the lens of making sure that we're using language that is comfortable, not just for somebody in the United States but somebody globally?

Speaker 2:

This is another reason why I have six principles, or the organizing framework for this inclusive language book, whereas most guides out there start from identity. They're like identity first. Here's a group of people. Here are bad things that have happened to them, here are words that you shouldn't say about them or to them. Here's the next group of people. Here's, in other ways that they're stigmatized, et cetera.

Speaker 2:

I find that that's not. You can't do localization work with that and you can't do. The other thing is that, in order to make it more universally applicable, I wanted things to be based on behavior. These are universals of human behavior that come from my study of linguistics and anthropology. To do the translation work rather than translating well, here we have this stigmatized group in the US and here are bad words used for them. What's your equivalent? Well, we don't have that. We are only pretty much homogenous racially in this country. Well, guess what? Human beings love to create hierarchies and love to have groups that they treat worse than other groups. I mean, it's just speaking of human universals. No matter where you are, there's always going to be a group that's stigmatized, that's marginalized, like it's guaranteed. I mean just gender is enough. I mean period. What you can do is for the localization work. You can say here's an example of someone not being sufficiently respectful. You can have local examples of someone not being sufficiently respectful. Then if there is a specific group who attracts that kind of behavior more, you can tie it to the group. I'm here to tell you also that a phrase that's out there is skin-ship isn't always kinship. It can be phrased in different ways. Just because two people are members of the same group doesn't mean that they're using the most inclusive language with each other. I have a huge examples database where a black person said problematic things that didn't show respect, that marginalized, that erased another black person. Where a white woman said problematic things to a woman of color. Where, just because you're a member of it and they were related to gender bias, I don't think that the identity is the best way to start. I think the best way to start is let me even go back a step.

Speaker 2:

A lot of my data comes from employee experience or post-exit interviews. I've done a lot of anthropological interviews with people where I would never, ever, use the word bias ever. I had very granular questions. I would ask is there a time you felt like someone was marking you lower than your actual place at work? Is there a time that you felt like someone was pushing you out at work? Is there a time I have very granular behaviors to describe? Then the stories would come pouring out of them. Then I would analyze what aspects of their identity did I think was most relevant and then I would give a report to the executives and say I think you've got a gender bias problem which is very common at tech companies. What I'm hearing is that people are treating your female tech employees on the technical side as if they aren't technically competent. It was more believable to my execs because I had a lot of quotes and I'd never come in with bias.

Speaker 2:

If we start with these principles, which are designed to be very they're reasonably granular, is there a time that you felt like you just have stay interviews or however it is, that you're gathering data from people? You know your local HR people know who the stigmatized groups are. You can ask these granular questions. Are there times you felt like your perspective was left out? Are there times you felt like your group was erased? Then you can pull out the specific stuff and then you can localize your policies and your protocols to be appropriate and it became Scene 9,터는 substitutionRa, s0boards and a.

Speaker 1:

So this is for me, I think, a really important, really important topic to talk about, and I don't know that we talk about it enough, but it's the fact that a lot of this work is based upon identity. So much of it is, and in many cases it's really reasonable why. But I do think that there's this is a great example of changing the language or changing the perspective of how you ask the questions. To understand what has actually happened to somebody is really important. So I want to dig into that a little bit.

Speaker 1:

So you talked about the anthropological data being exit interviews, which many people listening to this podcast are like yeah, do a lot of those if we're lucky and somebody gives us the courtesy of one. But I think so often we can get into this headspace of here's the form. Let's just read the questions on the form how was your training? Did you have any concerns at work? And most of the time it's like a it's a nothing burger, right, Like it's like oh, this is, you know, it's an exit interview.

Speaker 1:

Nobody wants to say anything bad, there's not really any actionable feedback, they don't want to burn a bridge, so the exit interviews kind of like well, I just wasted 35 minutes in my life and in their life and but I checked the box, so, as we think about it, you use. You specifically said you did not use the word bias, you used other types of words. So, as you think about these six principles, how can we apply these to the way that we interact with people and the types of questions that we ask them in the workplace, so that we actually identify some of these route uninclusive situations that we need to address or, potentially, areas where the organization is inclusive and we need to kind of you know, kind of cascade that further?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So just to clarify, I was brought, I've been brought in for a few projects where I'm doing post exit interview interviews. Right, if there's no, there's no clean way to say it, because the problem is that the data that you're getting as, for all the reasons you mentioned, the data that you get in an exit interview is between garbage and not that useful, right, like it just isn't. And also people who are really angry, angry enough to the point where they leave, like that's a big transition, like it's hard to leave a workplace, like it's hard to leave your bank, like it's hard to leave your phone company, like it's hard if they got motivated enough and it wasn't just that they were poached, like they probably are so angry or disengaged or a combo that they're like why am I going to waste more energy? Like I took it to my manager or you know, like this stuff was so obvious. Why am I going to waste my time? Why am I going to talk about something painful, like I'm going to put my head down and I'm going to say the things and I'm going to leave.

Speaker 2:

But with me, a couple of companies were like, ooh, we're losing people from these groups at too high a rate too high a rate, and they were being asked to report on diversity numbers, right. And so these were people who, mostly at the top, cared about the numbers. But then people who had some money found me and they're like, oh, can you come in and find out why? And so, really, rather than I'm never going to say here's how to do a better exit interview, everything I'm going to say is much more proactive Like, please, like, everything has to be early, early, early. I would even go as early as onboarding and gather data about why somebody left a previous company, or say something like you know. Like, have an onboarding space for. Like, is there a thing or two at your old company where you felt disrespected or marginalized? Can you tell us about it so we can make sure we avoid repeating that experience with you? Right, like, you can get them. And if I'm being onboarded, how much does that improve? Like, how much does that improve my loyalty for the company? Like, think about all the decisions people are making in what their first 30 or 60 days about if they're going to stay at a company. Right, like those, those intro discussions are so highlighted, and so the power of language. Like people, two words can be enough for them to be like, oh, I'm not going to stay here, and then they're already backing up.

Speaker 2:

You know like a lot of people get misgendered, for example, who are non binary. The pandemic has led a lot of people have quiet and space to get in better touch with the gender identity that isn't the one they were assigned at birth. And then they go into a workplace and they can be. It can be so raw and new. And then people come in and, just based on how they look, just assume their gender and say things and they can be like, oh, this isn't safe, right, this isn't a safe place for me.

Speaker 2:

So I recommend I don't love surveys. Sometimes you have to do surveys. Surveys, if they don't have the right questions, can make people feel disengaged, right? Because you've got a closed set of questions, unless you've got a survey where people are writing in answers. And then how do you look at that survey? Right? That's too hard. So I always recommend doing a little data gathering on your own and asking people if they're willing to volunteer. You know who's going to volunteer.

Speaker 2:

A lot of people have been treated badly and want this workplace to do better. People are very happy to spend an hour if they think it's productive. I'd like to spend an hour with you, or half an hour, and hear about your experiences and you literally go through and look at the opposite and you know so in my book. You don't even have to come up with the phrasing yourself. I have the principles and I have the principle and the positive and the negative.

Speaker 2:

Inclusive language shows respect. Classic language expresses disrespect and it does XYZ. So you can just look at those principles and then create questions that are like, literally have there been times that you felt disrespected? Can you tell me about it? Have there times that you felt like you were pushed away? Can you tell me about it? Have there times that your perspective? I'm about to run a series of workshops for a very large global tech company, so I'm going to be running from 9 to 11 to make it to APAC, and then I get up and I've got one that's 7 to 9 am to reach EMEA. You know like I have to. I don't love it.

Speaker 1:

Global schedule. Yeah, I know that schedule.

Speaker 2:

I love reaching the people. I hate that I have to be like coiffed and groomed and lit and jovial and you know all the stuff that has to happen very later, very early. But you know, I have examples that people don't expect. Like. One example is all my examples are real world in my workshops and in my book. I don't have to make anything up because all I just have to do is you know, I or in LinkedIn, I just put up a newsletter in LinkedIn and two people like oh my God. And I'm like can I? And like I have a story. And I'm like, okay, I'll call you, I'll call you and get the story. Like I'm always getting new data.

Speaker 2:

But anyway, my example is a VP who comes into a company and says, okay, we got to have a mandatory meeting first Wednesday of the month at 4.30 pm. Most people are local and the satellite office. It would only be earlier. But guess what? There's a lot of people who have a daycare pickup and they can't have an hour meeting at 4.30. And, by the way, everyone involved is white in this particular company because they they're in a location where they think it's very hard to hire people who aren't white, whatever it is.

Speaker 1:

But so there's another podcast.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure, sure. My point is that this is people don't think of parental status as a thing that can make people feel alienated. But if you've got a VP who didn't bother you know, he didn't really have to do pickup because his wife didn't work right and who isn't thinking about and during the pandemic there was a lot of that stuff you would see people being like well, now that we're working from home and have so much more time on our hands and I'm like, oh my God, the people who I know are parents of young children are tearing out their hair Like they're, they're losing their minds because it's so hard. So that can make it doesn't have to be about Like, if you ask open-quendant questions that are based on behavior, you pull out the things for identity categories you might not have been thinking about, like parental status, right.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely.

Speaker 2:

And so that's why I'm recommending that we have behavior-based and then you just ask an open-ended question and people and you can even give them the questions in advance so people can think about it and Then they come in and they're like, oh my god, I remember this thing. That happened so. I'm really early, early, early early in the employee life cycle.

Speaker 1:

I think it, yeah, and I think you know the parental ones are great. Yeah, I was one pulling my hair out with three little kids. I'm like this is awful, can I please get back in the office? I hate everything about this. This is not free time, this is. This is the hell on earth. But, but but I do think, like you know, that the organizations that figured that out early and realized like, oh, you know, the most offensive time to schedule a meeting is like before, like from like 730 to 830 in the morning or from like 4 to 5 in the evening, but they're wide open after 8 pm or before or like before 7 am, right, like, and that, and I think you know the Organizations that were were flexible and able to adapt to that, at least during that situation. You know, I think we're showed that that worked.

Speaker 1:

But but so much of it goes back to what you said. It's about respect, it's about listening, asking that question early and and and Actually asking a question to understand the answer right, not not check the box like so many. I'm just gonna call it out. So many of us do that on an X interview, even, even the organizations that call it. You know, calls, quote, stay interviews and and and have the state like. You still have to ask the right questions, you still have to want to know the answers and if you're gonna do a survey, by God Do something with that survey data, or you might as well not do the survey at all. That's it's. That's. That's the worst thing you can do is ask for feedback and then do nothing with it.

Speaker 2:

I mean, it's so, it's so painful and irritating, and I Mean I think it's worse to do a survey and then do nothing then to not do it. I agree, but, as opposed to with language, I think it's better to say something that's good-hearted, even if it doesn't come out as well as you would like, and I have a caveat. Well, I you know, I don't really know how to phrase this the best way, but I just wanted to say, like I have some data that I use. I just was talking to some execs the other day and I was like silence isn't the answer, and I was on a channel where a black woman was posting, probably June of 2020, and she's saying I feel so left down, let down by my executives, by my colleagues, and and like this is when in the US, like cities are on fire, people are in the streets every night and they're saying things like oh, how was your weekend? You go out and party, like people were, literally, and so she feels so Dropped and she feels so, and so what I'm saying to these executives is Sure, you're probably uncomfortable talking about racial stuff, but the silence made her think that you don't care. You don't care, so saying something that says I'm still learning. I want to express to you you know you can caveat it, it's okay and say I'm thinking about this. I understand this is painful. I want to express to you that I'm very upset and unhappy and I'd like to be able to support you, like these kinds of coming in a little vulnerable and saying I don't have the perfect language.

Speaker 2:

I think that people have a mistrust of people who come in glossy and very Verbal and verbally adept, but especially if they're not going to follow through, like if people are coming in saying all the right things People from affected groups are going to watch and if you never come through with an action, I think coming in with humility and vulnerability and saying or saying you know, I welcome feedback, or there are so many ways that we can come in and ask these questions and listen, yeah, and and listen and figure out our categories. I in fact, I think I think I want to say is we talked about simple doesn't mean easy. I want to talk about the difference between like a reactive kind of a hack again, I work with them Tech, so hack doesn't necessarily mean a bad thing. It just means like oh no, let me like quickly patch together with duct tape and two staples right, as opposed to building a system, and I think it takes time and so many HR people, especially with the changing landscape which is always changing. There's so much happening right now, but you got to carve out some space to create systems, rather than these reactive things that are hacks, because if you've got the systems, then things are going to start to run better, right as opposed to.

Speaker 2:

So, if you have, you take the time to read, read the book or whatever and then Set up. You, you don't have to read the like, you don't have to read the book. You can literally just take this six principles I told you and devise questions. See, like you don't even have to wait, like you can just start thinking of questions based on your own experience and then start thinking about system, like systematic ways to bring people in and get information from them already. That's gonna be so much better than your exit interview. Yeah, which should be like what? 15 minutes of like? Here's the form, here's your Cobra, here's your whatever. Thank you so much. If you want to tell me stuff, please do, but like, right, what? Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely, I think, really powerful concept. You know I the book again I would encourage you to check it out is the inclusive language field guide six simple Principles for avoiding painful mistakes and communicating Respectfully. With that we are gonna shift gears. We're gonna go into the rebel HR flash round. Are you ready? I am ready. Alright, question number one when does HR need to rebel?

Speaker 2:

Get more money, more money. You're so underfunded when it comes to employee retention and cultivation of work culture and there it the like. Executives don't seem to connect the dots and understand how Expensive it is to lose people or get brand reputation hits or all these other things there's. It's so expensive and and I see where the money gets distributed and I feel really bad for my HR people. So rebel, like you know, as safely as you can and get. Get more dollars, get more dogs.

Speaker 1:

You deserve it. I love that answer because that's a real answer. That is a real answer. Like you know I Do. You care about diversity? Yes, how much do you put away for diversity in your budgeting every year? And you know crickets a lot of times, right, so it's like okay, do we actually care?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I'm not people watching. That's what I mean. Yeah, like a company can have a website and then they do nothing and they look at the executive team and they're like I'm not gonna bother to apply. So there's all your kinds of recruiting efforts down the drain.

Speaker 1:

I've had that discussion with candidates. You know, and it's, I think you know the reality is that this change happens at HR level, right? So if you're an organizational leader, if you own a budget for HR, you have to advocate for it, right, and you need to be able to articulate why. So, again, use some of that inclusive language to do that. Question number two who should we be listening to?

Speaker 2:

Some of them we've already had on your podcast, but there are a lot of good, really really good thinkers in the DEI space In particular. I'm gonna name some people who have very practical things to say, because here we're talking about being practitioners and putting things into action, not just lecturing. So I know you've had Cindy Oh-Yung on. I recommend her book all the time to my executives Super useful.

Speaker 2:

Karen Catlin's Better Allies is fantastic all of her Better Allies and her newsletter fantastic. Terry Givens has some really interesting stuff on radical empathy that I think people can benefit from reading. And Jared Carroll talks about from the perspective of a white man doing this work. What's his learning been? And then I would like to recommend I'm talking about lawsuit prevention, right, Getting up to speed better on disability stuff and accommodations, not books. But I recommend Sherry Byrne Haber on LinkedIn for disability stuff, and then Amani Babaran on any platform. Twitter is in this downward spiral, so I think a lot of people who have had big Twitter followings are trying to figure out where to go next. But she's also got a website called Crutches and Spice and she just tells it like it is and it's in little bite-sized pieces. She's fantastic.

Speaker 1:

There you go. Yeah, I don't know if it's Spaces, I don't know that it's Twitter that's, so maybe it's LinkedIn for this.

Speaker 2:

I'm still waiting.

Speaker 1:

Work on all over.

Speaker 2:

You should do TikTok as an author. I'm like I don't have time because everyone I know who started doing TikTok then spends three hours just scrolling.

Speaker 1:

Yes, that's the problem. I did that. I tried, I got TikTok and then I just sat on TikTok for like two hours on end and I'm like I just got dumber. I can't do this. This is not a good investment, but I do have a Twitter account If anyone wants to follow or Twitter. I can't even say the right thing now yeah, anyways.

Speaker 2:

Wait, what's your? Oh, you do want people to see you on.

Speaker 1:

TikTok. I do have a TikTok account, but it's like, yeah, well, I don't. I don't yeah. I don't dance, I don't do that, I will not do that, but maybe that's a thing to incorporate.

Speaker 2:

Interpretive Dance is. You know, you're at a global company and there's definitely interpretive dance of many kinds in many countries. Now I really want to see that. I really want to see it.

Speaker 1:

I'm going to put that on the list. All right, rebel HR Publishing Team. There you go. There's your challenge.

Speaker 2:

for the first one, it's not great for an audio only format, but still.

Speaker 1:

All right. Last question Thank you so much for spending some time with us today. It's been an absolutely wonderful conversation. Where can people connect with you? Where can people get the book? How can people continue to learn more from you All?

Speaker 2:

right. If you're interested in my book and you want to learn more about my speaking, like keynote speaking, come to susanworthheimcom. If you're interested in consulting services and workshops, go to my company website, worthwellconsultingcom, and they have contact forms. You can sign up for my newsletter. Twice a month. I give away free tips and tricks. I have an advice column. You can write and get free advice.

Speaker 2:

I've been explaining all kinds of things and people like to follow me on LinkedIn, not TikTok. I don't do any interpretive dance, but when things happen out in the world that are topical and of interest, I'll write a little mini article explaining them using my framework, and people find it very useful. So, like chatGPD secretly has a lot of bias in it, so you can't just let it run on its own, or just there's a lot. Why were people so upset about Christian Bell's dinner party or what was going on? Why were all these sportscasters on Twitter going after this one women's basketball player, ncaa player, and so I lay it out clearly. So people email me because a lot of people find me from LinkedIn and they find that really useful. So those are the ways and you can buy the book anywhere books are sold. It is an audio book, it is an e-book and it is a print book.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely, and strong. Encourage everybody to check it out. Suzanne, thank you so much for spending some time with us. We will also have all that information in the show notes. Open up your podcast player. Click in Wonderful content. Thank you for helping us all be a little bit better.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for having me here. I'm rooting for you all. Thanks All right.

Speaker 1:

That does it for the Rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at Rebel HR podcast, twitter at rebelhrguy, or see our website at rebelhumanresourcescom. The views and opinions expressed by Rebel HR podcast are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast.

Speaker 2:

Baby.

The Power of Language
Six Principles for Effective Communication
Improving Inclusive Language and Conversations
Adaptability and Listening in Organizational Culture
Inclusive Language and Rebel HR Principles