Manage Smarter 170 — Dr. Jean Latting: Bridging The Race in the Workplace Divide

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Jean Latting, DrPH, LMSW-​IPR is President of Leading Consciously, LLC, and Professor Emerita at the Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW), University of Houston. Through her organization, Leading Consciously, Jean helps individuals and organizations create resilient, sustainable, multicultural, and diverse settings.

As a consultant, researcher, and educator, Jean focuses on leadership in multicultural and diverse organizations. While at GCSW, the Jean Kantambu Latting College Professorship of Leadership and Change endowment was established in her name by the renowned philanthropist, Maconda Brown O’Connor. Latting received her master’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina. She coauthored Reframing Change: How to Deal with Workplace Dynamics, Influence Others, and Bring People Together to Initiate Positive Change.

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Jean discuss:

  • The definition of the racial divide at work
  • How to open difficult conversations in the workplace
  • Best practices for initiating a diversity, equity and inclusion program in the workplace

If it doesn't work for everyone, it doesn't work for anyone.”

Dr. Jean Latting

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Bridging the Divide of Race in the Workplace

Manage Smarter 170 Length: 00:29:02

This Manage Smarter episode is brought to you by SalesFuels Coach feed your AI powered assistant sales coach. Improve your sales people with automated regular coaching in just two minutes a day with coach feed. For more information, visit coachfeed​.com. 

Welcome to the Managed Smarter Podcast with C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire develop and retain talent, improve results and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Manage Smarter Podcast.

Audrey Strong: Lee, we have a guest today. I am so excited that she's agreed to come on the show to teach everybody about the things that we all need to know more about diversity, equity and inclusion, and how to deal with it in the workplace and be better and do better with it in the workplace.

C. Lee Smith: And change is something that's happening in the workplace at a dizzying pace for multitude of reasons in a multitude of ways. So, I hope to hear a little bit more about how we're going to navigate that and actually how to initiate that and be an ally of that. 

Audrey Strong: Welcome to Manage Smarter everyone. This is a great topic for today. I'm Audrey Strong. I am the vice president of communications here at SalesFuel.

C. Lee Smith: And I'm C. Lee Smith. I'm the president and CEO of SalesFuel.

Audrey Strong: Today's guest, Dr. Jean Latting, president of Leading Consciously LLC and Professor Emerita at the Graduate College of Social Work University of Houston. She's in Texas like I am.

C. Lee Smith: She's a Cougar. 

Audrey Strong: Hi Jean. Thanks for coming.

Jean Latting: Hi there, thanks for having me.

Audrey Strong: Yeah, we're glad to have you, let me tell the people a little bit more about you. As a consultant researcher and educator, Jean focuses on leadership in multicultural and diverse organizations through her organization. As I said, it's leading consciously, Jean helps individuals and organizations create resilient, sustainable multicultural and diverse settings. Also the author of a book, you can pick it up on Amazon. I went and looked at it, Reframing Change, how to deal with workplace dynamics, influence others and bring people together to initiate positive change. So, welcome Dr. Latting. We're very glad to have you today.

Dr. Jean Latting: Well, thank you. I'm honored to be here.

Audrey Strong: So, talking about the racial divide, we are finding ourselves at a very interesting time culturally and in our history right now. Where do we start if we want to make a change?

Dr. Jean Latting: You start with recognizing that they divide really does exist. And that those that you consider to be your friends and colleagues, if you are white and they are of a different racial or ethnic identification, they may not be telling you things that you need to know. And if you are a person of color, a leader of color, and you are in an organization where you're not telling people what they need to know, then think about strategy. How can you approach this in a way that you can be heard? So, both groups can take action to improve that divide.

C. Lee Smith: Okay. So, I'm the white guy, obviously. And so I had to navigate that during the George Floyd, let's call it what it is, murder of the summer and the protest that followed. And so I reached out to many of my black friends and my Latina friends as well just to discuss this type of thing and it was uncomfortable, I tell you. I'm not totally sure that I did it right, but I did it, but it's like, you have any advice for people like me that want to learn more about understanding the other person's life through their eyes as best as we possibly can?

Dr. Jean Latting: Sure. So, when you say you reached out, what does that mean? What did you do?

C. Lee Smith: Started with a couple messages, text messages and then there was lunch and conversation.

Dr. Jean Latting: Words. Yeah. Words. Do you mind if I ask…?

C. Lee Smith: Yeah, I remember saying stuff like I'm shocked at appalled what I witnessed this week. I realized then that it's not enough anymore for me just to not be racist, but also I have to be more active and helping to change things more as a business leader. And so, but I don't know how to do that.

Dr. Jean Latting: Beautiful. That was a great start. You said that you are shocked and what you could have added, but a lot of people don't, is I'm sure you person of color are not shocked because this has been your lived reality all of this time. But I'm glad I got shocked into awareness. So, that's a perfect thing. The second perfect thing that you did was to say, I don't know. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I don't know how to do it. I don't know. I don't know. And so acknowledging that you're beginning is wonderful. The third thing is to read. So, asking your person of color, your friend of color, colleague of color to educate you from scratch is not smart in any field. If someone were to come to you and say, I want to know about sales, tell me, you would throw up your hands with that question. 

C. Lee Smith: Where do I start? [Crosstalk 00:05:27] And I don't know what you don't know. 

Dr. Jean Latting: Yeah, but you start with Google. If you go Google, I bet if you Google, we could almost try that. If you Google, I'm a white guy and I don't know how to start being anti-​racist. Google will give you places to start. So, one of my mottoes is Google knows everything and what Google doesn't know, YouTube knows.

Audrey Strong: That's true. 

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. That drives me nuts when people will actually, they will ask questions or whatever, when it's like, okay, you should already know the answer to that question. 

Dr. Jean Latting: Yeah. So, you start with learning something and then you go in. I taught my daughter this in third grade with her teacher. You don't say, tell me, I don't understand, you pick out anything you don't understand and ask about that. So, you Google, you find anything and you go and say, can you help me understand this? Or I've read I'm supposed to do this about that and I don't understand that. So, you give them information to work with as opposed to just starting off with a blank slate, I don't know. So, that's the other thing. People are willing to tell you, but you have to realize we get hit up on a lot for folks to tell us, for us to tell them. So, if you narrow it down and ask a precise question, even saying, I don't know if this is a smart question to ask, but give it a start so that the person can then respond.

C. Lee Smith: I think that they are willing to take you on as more genuine if you've shown that you've made an effort first. 

Dr. Jean Latting: You got it. 

C. Lee Smith: Sort of like trying to speak French in France, even though you stink at it. If you make the effort, at least it's like they'll be a little bit more forgiving about you mangling their language.

Dr. Jean Latting: Yeah. When I went to France and tried to talk from my college French, phrases kept coming back to me and people kept encouraging me. They were so excited that I knew something.

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. I had to save experience.

Dr. Jean Latting: Yes. 

Audrey Strong: So, in the workplace, how do you start to have the talking across the racial divide? Is that everybody going into a conference room? What do you recommend in your certification courses for implementing?

Dr. Jean Latting: Yeah. So, we are implementing a certification program on leadership and multicultural organizations. I would encourage anyone – I get a part of what motivated me to do this is, I get calls from my former students saying, my organization wants me, the IT person, or me the nurse, the social or me the person who has nothing to do with any of this. And never wants me to lead a diversity and inclusion initiative. So, they pick the one person whose job has nothing to do with this and say, will you lead it? That's fine. I don't know. None of the people I talk, reject the offer because they want to see change. So, they're very glad, but they call me up and say, now what? The thing is the organization, if they're serious, has to be willing to pay for expertise. They would not hire someone in IT to run the sales initiative and to improve the sales of the company. They wouldn't get the IT person to head up the accounting and to do the accounting work. So, this is a specialized field just like all these other specialized fields, even though it seems like all you have to do is be nice and be respectful and everybody should be happy. Even though you believe that the divide is so severe. And the silence of what's not being said is so strong that you need expertise.

C. Lee Smith: Jean. What kind of traits do you have to have to be good at that?

Dr. Jean Latting: To be good at that? 

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. To be good. 

Dr. Jean Latting: Well, everybody has their definition of good. So, I'm going to give you my definition of good. My definition of good is that you leave the place where people feel better than they did before you start. So, you don't leave the place where everybody mad at each other, you leave with everybody feeling better and better equipped to move forward together. So, what do you need for that? You need the ability to listen. You need some subject matter expertise about differences in communication styles. So for an example, I'm a highly expressive black female and I'm in the south with white women who were raised to be nice and polite and don't say anything if it's not nice, don't say anything. I'm from a tell it like it is culture. So, now you put us together and you can guess what happens. So, you have to have somebody who understands those cultural differences and can embolden both groups to talk to one another in a way that could be heard.

Audrey Strong: What do you do with the employee that just simply cannot grasp that there is an alternate reality. We're all living in the same world but it's not living the same experiences. How do you get that person on board with a diversity initiative?

Dr. Jean Latting: You go in through pain. The person who does not get it, even though it's abundantly clear, they're embroiled in their own pain. They have their own set of grievances. They have their own fear of being left out. The number of white men in corporate America, who feel terrified and/​or resigned they could never make it as far as they made it, wanted to make it, it's astounding. And so now you take that guy and then here's the company's going to push anti-​black initiatives or women or whatever and he thinks, but I never had my shot. When was I supposed to get my shot? So, he has pain. Usually with those folks when I'm doing in it, I talk to them. I just go talk, let's understand where you're coming from. And people have to know you understand their pain before they're willing to listen to yours. Now the people of color saying I don't have time for this. He needs to grow up and get real. So, everybody has to say, if this doesn't work for everybody, it will work for nobody.

Audrey Strong: Right. You said that the divide is deeper than it's ever been right now. It's like snapshot in time. What are some of the [crosstalk 00:12:50].

Dr. Jean Latting: Well, I don't know. The civil war was pretty bad. 

C. Lee Smith: This is true.

Audrey Strong: Yeah. 1864 was not good. But what are some of the qualities that we need to be aware of as you see it as for the state of consciousness in society right now, and the workplace? Things to look out for, things to be aware of?

Dr. Jean Latting: The main thing is, and I've been saying this for 20 years, the main thing is what Lee did, saying, I don't know. The workplace you're rewarded for knowing, you are rewarded and you’re penalized for asking questions and you're particularly penalized for asking superficial, dumb questions that everybody should know the answer to. If that culture remains, then it would be hard to ever bridge the divide because the way to bridge it is by asking question and saying, I don't know, and being willing to learn about an alternate reality.

C. Lee Smith: One chapter in your book that I was reading you talk a lot about the myths of workplace change. One of the things that was remarkable about the past year is that a lot of people banded together and said enough's enough. Okay, some of us were really surprised that after all these years that we're still in this place and frustrated by that. But the thing is, so now we have to change. And one of the phrases that I saw kept coming up in the book was the word assumed. 

Dr. Jean Latting: Yes.

C. Lee Smith: And it seems to me that we make an awful lot of assumptions about each other. And how do you encourage people then to suspend judgment and not assume? I think that's a great place to start, on all sides of an issue.

Dr. Jean Latting: Yeah. On my online workshops and in my person to person training program, I literally take people through the steps of that, because most people can't do it. They walk up and say, I don't want to assume you're stupid, but what you did was stupid. And then they come back to me and say, that didn't work. You told me the [crosstalk 00:15:17] I went and I got laid out. So, people literally have to learn how to voice an assumption, how to recognize an assumption and how to voice an assumption. I'm a social worker. So, I've heard many a clinician who's been trained in non-​verbal skills. And to recognize non-​verbals to say, I know what they're thinking, I've been trained to recognize it. Well, yeah, but you are looking at that person through your cultural lens of what that means. And so you can't of assume you can interpret nonverbals, cross culturally and even cross generationally. 

C. Lee Smith: So, what are some of the tips that you teach during your program on that?

Dr. Jean Latting: First of all, how to recognize an assumption from a fact. He is stupid, is that a fact or is that assumption? 

C. Lee Smith: Based on what?

Audrey Strong: We don't know.

Dr. Jean Latting: Exactly. So, that's why we start there. In my world, he is stupid is an assumption. It's an assumption on two counts. One, the word stupid hasn't been defined. We don't have a factual basis for that. And two, you don't know if what he is doing is stupid in the moment or…

Audrey Strong: In general.

Dr. Jean Latting: He generally has something going on here. So, for those of you who are concerned about mental disabilities, I'm using an example. I'm not trying to be pejorative. So, I had to do that disclaimer. So, that's an example. So, step one is to differentiate between assumption and a fact. And it's amazing how many people, how hard that really can be. Secondly, once you've made at distinction, then you have to say, okay, I have an assumption. So, now you got to figure out how you going to ask the person to check out the assumption. If I have an assumption that the reason I did not get my promotion was because you favored Jane, because she's your daughter's best friend or what have you and you hired her. She had no redeeming skills. You hired her because she was a friend of your daughters. And now I'm not getting promotion. She's promoted over me and I know that. So, what do I do with that information? How do I even go and ask my boss what an insulting thing to say to my boss? So, I have an assumption. It's going to sour the rest of my time there. What do I do with that? So, y'all want know the answer, correct? 

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. I would say you'd want to check it out, if you'd want to get curious and ask questions about it rather than just voice an assumption. 

Dr. Jean Latting: Yes. It's easy for me to make all kinds of assumptions about why Jane got the promotion and not me. It's very easy for me to do that. What I want is for you, Mr. Boss, to tell me forthrightly what I did and did not do that I was not considered for the position. I want you to be straight with me. I want you to hurt my feelings as necessary because I want to grow and learn and I won’t if you tippy toe around it. 

C. Lee Smith: And do you see that sometimes if the boss is white, you are not white, that the boss has more of a tendency to want a tippy toe around or whatever because there might be a third rail that or whatever that I'm afraid to touch.

Dr. Jean Latting: They have so much research on what you just said, that cross-​culturally white to person of color. The people of color don't get developed like whites do because a one white assumes the next white will be able to take it. But if I go cross-​cultural, I'm not going I'm scared to tell them the full truth, because they will then might use it against me or they might think I'm racist. Or I don't know if they're going to HR. So, I don't even get the information I need to succeed. And then when promotion time comes, I'm evaluated against the person who's been mentored all along.

C. Lee Smith: And then the assumption is made then that, you didn't get the job because of, and you don't have any facts then to dispute that. And now we have bad feelings that continue.

Dr. Jean Latting: There we go. 

C. Lee Smith: So, how do we bridge that gap? How do we make that white boss feel more comfortable in that situation than to be real with his team members of color [crosstalk 00:20:25].

Dr. Jean Latting: White boss has to say to the person of color and it can happen with across gender too. Can say to the person of color, I want to mentor you, but to do that I'm going to have to say some tough things. I do it with all my others. I want the freedom to do it with you also, do we have a deal? And if I say something and you think I'm doing it because I'm white or I'm holding something against you because I'm white. I grew up white. This is my reality. And the only way I'm going to learn if I offend is if you tell me. I've had friends, tell me Jean, white friends, Jean, if you don't tell me nobody else will. So, if I put my foot in the mouth, please let me know. And sure enough, you'll discover on the blog, one person, Amy who's the daughter of a close friend. So, she was raised with me and all of that. She said something on Facebook that was not right. I called her up immediately and told her. But I did that because I knew permission. I had knew I had her permission. I've had other white friends put their foot, their mouth on Facebook and said nothing.

C. Lee Smith: But you did it in private though it sounded like?

Dr. Jean Latting: Like anything you pick your battles. I can't go around there too many white people in the world for me to go around educating all.

C. Lee Smith: Well, I mean, she's a friend of yours, right? 

Audrey Strong: Truth bombs everywhere.

C. Lee Smith: So, you didn't call her out and start a big thing on Facebook on that. That sounded to me like you were polite. You took her aside and said, “Hey, you know, I know this is not who you are, but that’s not cool.”

Dr. Jean Latting: Yeah, you need to fix it. And she fixed it. So yes, sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't, but most of the time I let it go.

Audrey Strong: [Crosstalk 00:22:25] the girl that's in the video, on your website, right? 

Dr. Jean Latting: Yes. 

Audrey Strong: Yeah. And she said she was really glad that you told her that because she was not aware how it came across, she said at all, just completely had no idea. And there's a video of…

C. Lee Smith: I would've been thrilled. I mean, if I were her, I would've been totally thrilled. I mean, just like I would've felt horrible that I said something insensitive, but it's like, I would've felt much better that you felt comfortable telling me that I screwed up.

Dr. Jean Latting: So, what you just said is key, Lee, everybody has to be willing to feel uncomfortable, temporarily horrible, temporarily embarrassed and willing to move forward from there. If what I say is you will get a hit. If you are growing, if you are truly growing, you will get a hit. And what I've tell my people in my workshops and my talks, embarrass me, speak up publicly. If I put my foot in mouth, if I say the wrong thing, embarrass me. I'd much rather you embarrass me publicly where I can redeem myself than you go talk about me in the hallways, in the bathroom and nothing. And I never know and I'm harmed in the long run. So, give me the temporary hit.

Audrey Strong: So, leadingconsciously​.com is your website. We got just about a minute left. Do you want to talk a little bit about the Pathfinders group that you have on there, through the website as well?

Dr. Jean Latting: Yes, it's an online monthly membership program that I established for people who wanted to learn how to move forward in the racial and social justice arena in their workplace, their communities, their homes, their personal lives, wherever. And we focus on how to produce racism, promote inclusion. People will read a blog, post commented on it. A community is forming exciting dialogue. And we also give the people, a practice exercise for them to try out, and then they can come back and talk about it in their discussion group or come to a coaching call. It's low cost because I want it particularly appeal to those who don't have access to the high pollutant corporate exotic training programs. This is for your everyday person who wants to learn doesn't have much time. So, it's an hour and a half a week right now it's $36 per month. If you join, you get locked in at that cost. We will raise the cost. We've already raised it once and we will raise the cost again. Maybe I'm not sure how many times we'll see, but right now, if you sign up at 36, you keep it. As long as you stay active.

Audrey Strong: And that's just ongoing. And then my last question for you is, so if I want to implement a program, what is your best practice recommendation for how long it should take to start a diversity and inclusion and equity program in my company? And then it needs to be just an ongoing commitment of activity and perpetuity, correct? It's not like a one off, oh, I did it. I'm done.

Dr. Jean Latting: It's not like a one off. It's like exercise. Its like exercise. Once you build in the habit, the momentum muscle memory will keep you getting out on the trail or whatever it is you are doing. But getting from there to here to there, you have to do a lot of forgiveness because there'll be many and more, you'll get up and say, I can't move. I ain't doing it. And so you slowly build up. Organizational change experts say it takes three to seven years.

Audrey Strong: There you go. There it is.

Dr. Jean Latting: For change to take home.

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. And we got to stick with it. It can't be just be, we're all inflamed at the events of the day or of the summer of the past year or something like that because that's happened repeatedly. I mean my entire life. And that's why we're at where we're at. But I will say this Jean, like the more I have conversations like this one, the thing that keeps coming back to me over and over again is like good people are good people. It's like, other people want what you want, dignity, respect, honesty, authenticity. It's like, I think that those are some of the similarities that give me hope that things can get better. Things can change for the best. I hope you see the feel the same way too, Jean.

Dr. Jean Latting: I absolutely believe, I call it I believe in the goodness of the human spirit. I absolutely positively believe in that person. You show me somebody on death row and tell me how many murders he's committed. And I think inside that person is someone who wanted the same things I want and who want to be good. The trick is the road from where I am now to the goodness of the person is a treacherous road. And it is the source of the divide. So, what looks like a good person to me, this may not look like a good person to you. What actions that show me respect that I would regard is showing me respect are not the same things. May not be the same things as what you will regard is showing you respect. 

C. Lee Smith: So, we have to get on the same page.

Dr. Jean Latting: Well, we have to learn each other's language. You know the love languages for couples? You have to learn the love languages for different individual cultural differences in your organization.

Audrey Strong: Well, it's a tall order and we’re lucky to learn. 

C. Lee Smith: We've got a lot of learning to do. 

Audrey Strong: Dr. Latting, this has been such a privilege. I loved having you on the show and we hope you'll come back and talk to us some more later in the year. We'll see where we are six months from now. How about that?

Dr. Jean Latting: Oh, sounds good to me. And I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed your questions very much. 

C. Lee Smith: We loved having you. 

Dr. Jean Latting: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Thanks for listening to this episode on bridging the divide of race in the workplace. If you enjoyed the show, please rate and recommend on iTunes, overcast, or wherever you get your podcast. You can also get more great information at salesfuel​.com.

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