If you're anything like us, you might feel overwhelmed by the inequality in the world, but feel unsure of how to take action. We invite you to join us as we take off on a journey to become better allies. Listen in to get to know your hosts Gaby and Jenelle as they learn practical strategies from real-world leaders to actively advocate for underrepresented and marginalized groups.
Check out S1E1 episode notes for full speaker bios, episode highlights, links to references, and for a fully accessible interview transcript.
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It starts with what we do have control over— and that's the direct communities that w e're involved in and that's leveraging our own power to help lift other people up in the way that we have access to. Hola Hola, it's Gaby Acosta.Jenelle:
And I’m Jenelle Acosta. We're high school sweethearts on a journey to be better allies.Gaby:
You're listening to The Way We Lead where we talk about inclusive leadership, allyship , and advocacy with folks across identities, industries ,and experiences.Jenelle:
If you're new here, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the handle @thewaywelead .Gaby:
We're glad you're here. Let's jump in. Hello, lovely listeners. It's Gaby and welcome to episode zero. I am here to talk to you a little bit about what we're all about and share with you what you can expect at The Way We Lead podcast. I decided to create this podcast to feature real world stories of inclusive leadership, allyship and highlight folks who use their influence to raise others up. Diversity, inclusion, and issues of equity and social justice have always been a huge part of who I am. It's really close to my heart and I've always known that I wanted to work in this field in some capacity. During College., at Smith I was involved with several identity based organizations and their leadership orgs and I also got to be a part of working for the multicultural affairs department. Then after college I got involved with several public service organizations where I facilitated diversity and inclusion workshops for Americorps or international partners and I spent some time working for several nonprofits, focused on empowering the Latinx community and I thought that was really where I was going to build my career. But for my first truly salaried job out of college, I ended up working for an education technology company where I got to develop social justice focused campaigns for big name institutions of higher education. And it was at this company that I had the opportunity to join a diversity and inclusion committee where I helped to launch their first ever identity-based employer resource networks (ERGs). Almost a decade later with seven promotions and a master's degree in communications under my belt, I realized that as I was moving up, I was also getting further and further away from the topic that brought me to the company in the first place. I eventually got to a moment in my career where I had to take a pause and reflect upon really what it was that I wanted to do. It was at that point that I realized that I just didn't want to wait for somebody to give me permission to follow my passion to talk about the things that really mattered to me. And so with the support from my incredible wife, I left my job at this May to start a business at the intersection of storytelling and inclusion. I asked Jenelle to join me as my cohost because we both cared deeply about these topics, and to be honest, we talk about them almost every day. And so in this episode zero, we decided to give you a little bit of a peek behind the curtain to witness our journey firsthand and see what it looks like when two people make an intention to become better allies. Here it goes.Jenelle:
One of the main reasons that I'm doing this podcast is because people are really fascinating, confusing, complex creatures to me. And I'm interested in how people's perspectives and their upbringing and their traumas and their experiences have created what they believe, what they do and what they think. You and I have these conversations a lot. You and I are both very heady. Uh , I grew up with a philosopher of a father and a lawyer of a mother. And so I have learned my entire life to think critically and know that what is in front of me isn't necessarily black and white. Right? There's usually a story behind something. And you and I have these conversations all the time. And so I'm excited to take these conversations that you and I have and take them outside of this house. Yeah.Gaby:
And personally I come from parents who are also sociologists and a lot of my family line is in education and it feels very much like, not only did I want to learn how to be a better ally myself, but I want it to be able to share that with others through pulling the curtain. You know, understanding what it looks like to strive to be a better ally because we are not perfect.Jenelle:
We have very positive intentions and we have always wanted to be good allies and I think we do our best, but we can always do better.Jenelle:
Yeah. In our experience growing up and learning about these things, I became more aware of other people rather than myself. I think we all grow up as egocentric. Egomaniac is that you believe the world revolves around you. Egocentric is means that you're paying attention to yourself and every single person is egocentric, is growing up, right? I'm looking at what do I need, what's my wants, what , um, what are my desires and less of what other people think. And I think as we grow up, hopefully we can learn to be less egocentric and more empathetic. In my experience, I have learned how to be more empathetic towards other people, not only because of my own trauma in my childhood, but also from our experience of learning through other people. And so when I look at things like racism, sexism, homophobia, I'm so confused why people have a hard time being supportive, right? So it's, it's really hard for me to understand somebody who believes that you and I should not be married. Why they have that belief where that comes from. And I want to understand more why that might be happening. But the other side of that is how do we help people and how do we support people? And in order to to do that, I, I think I know what it means to be a nice person, to be a kind person. Um, but I can only live that world from my perspective and what I believe is nice and k ind. And so I want to understand what other people would define as allyship . Um, because what I, allyship looks to me does not look like allyship to other people. And so I need to understand what that is and why, why is really important to me? Why is that the belief? Where does that come from? And also I think tied into that is, I know I can do better. I am not a good ally to communities that are other than me. I know that I know I can be better. And so I'm really excited to have this opportunity to listen to people who have , I mean experts in this, people who have been in situations where they have to navigate this, their own personal situations, people who have done research on these types of topics just to understand not only their perspective of the situation, but a broader understanding of what's going on. Not only for me to have ways that I can be a better ally to communities that I'm not a part of, but also to help our audience learn how to do that as well. Because I don't think that these conversations happen enough and I'm really excited to be cultivating these conversations for other people.Gaby:
Yeah. And talking to folks who are everyday leaders who demonstrate what it looks like to create change at their own fingertips. Right. This is , um , something that my mentor at Smith College, The Dean of Students, Dean Ohotnicky, when I felt overwhelmed with all of the strife in the world, this was back when Occupy Wall Street was going on and Arab spring, and there were several incidents on campus. And I was feeling all of the world's pressures on my shoulders at that point. Like suddenly I was like there's so much wrong in the world, how can we possibly make a difference? And she reminded me that it starts with what we do have control over and that's the direct communities that we're involved in. And that's leveraging our own power to help lift other people up in the way that we have access to. And we all have different types of power. All of us do, no matter who we are, while also having our own types of marginalization and underrepresentation . And it's important to me that through this conversation and the subsequent conversations that are going to come from this, that we start to understand that those dynamics mean that even though I'm marginalized in one way, that I'm a daughter of an immigrant and an immigrant myself and we have a same sex marriage. That to me is, that's my marginalization. That's something that others look to and potentially feel threatened by. However, I also have privileges and I think we discussed this all the time. We all have privilege. It's about acknowledging that privilege and the power and the access to resources that we have and figuring out how we can leverage those to make sure that others can move forward and up.Jenelle:
Yeah. I think I struggle a lot with my own privilege and trying to understand how I can use my privilege to support other communities and I think I try really hard to do that, but there's a lot of , uh, I'm scared. That's the honest answer. I'm scared that I'm not going to do it right or I'm going to be rejected. Um, and so I am really interested to learn what people believe is the way to do that so I can feel more confident in taking those steps. And even already in starting to have these conversations, I've noticed myself start to feel more confident in having these conversations outside of this house. I mean I already always have, but I feel more confident in doing that and in identifying spaces where I need to speak up and I need to be an ally and identifying opportunities for me to apply that. Whether it's community service in the community that I work in or whether it's signing a petition for something that I normally wouldn't sign cause I'm not paying attention to it. So this, this is forcing me to have to pay attention to what's going on around me and make sure that I'm an active participant in it rather than just a watcher of the world around me.Gaby:
Yeah. I think a goal for me is if we can create a community of our listeners and guests of folks who feel comfortable and confident having challenging conversations around these topics around diversity and inclusion, and belonging, and social justice. That's huge for me. Just being able to encourage others to start participating in the conversation a and then be confident in taking action. That means a lot to me and we both say if just one person comes out of these conversations with us, these these episodes with us and this journey that we're on, and is willing to take just one more step closer to being a good ally and advocate, that's all worth it for me.Speaker 3:
Yeah. I don't think it's a realistic expectation for us to believe that we're going to change the world, but if we can change some then I'd be a pretty happy camper.Gaby:
Yeah. I'm , I really just want to inspire others to join us on our journey.Jenelle:
Yeah, and I think, I'm really knowing the guests that we're gonna have. I'm really excited.Gaby:
Yeah I'm so excited!Jenelle:
And I think that there's going to be some cool things out of this.Gaby:
We've got an amazing lineup of guests from local leaders to national leaders and folks who identify on a full spectrum of diversity and different identities and also who have heady conversations around this really theoretical and also really practical. And that's really what I want to do with this podcast. The Way We Lead is practical to me it's about taking what could be challenging to interpret and understanding how to make it actionable and how to make it applicable to our everyday lives so that we can be and become the allies that we want to be.Jenelle:
So one of the things that I say to you, I think every morning after I'm scrolling through and reading the news is like, what do we do? Like the world seems so fucked up right now. And like, what do I do? And you and I in particular can get really heady about these things because we've, I mean, you more so than me have studied this, but I also studied this in school as well. And being a psychology major, I also studied what trauma does to individuals. And so sometimes it gets really, let's talk about the problem, but let's not talk about steps to solutions. And not saying that we're going to be able to solve the world's problems, but I'm really excited to listen to other people and just get those tangibles of what does support look like? What does allyship look like? And being able to to give ourselves something to do, but also something that our audience can take with them as well.Gaby:
Absolutely. I want to hear from all of our guests what a tangible step for us to take would mean to them, when, what that look like for them and understanding what allyship looks like to each of them. I think that will help us start to narrow down the scope of something that could be really overwhelming and scary and take it and understand it on a more practical level. Like from an empathetic space, having so many hearing from someone directly say, you can be a good ally to me just by doing this, doing more of whatever it is. That's helpful to me because it starts to narrow the picture of, okay, if I want to be a good ally to someone in this community or this individual that we had on, then I can try to be more like this. But I really want to encourage, because we're not trying to tokenize anybody, no one's here to represent their entire community. I want to socialize and train folks to just start asking the question when they're overwhelmed and feeling like they're not sure how to be a good ally, to just start asking the question of other people and say, how can I be a good ally to you in this? Like you're going through a struggle. I want to understand how I can help.Jenelle:
I have a really silly example of this. I am a director at my job. I run a team of, I don't know , maybe 15 people and uh, the job that they do is hard. It's stressful. It is draining. Burnout is real. I had an employee, this week I think it was, who was really struggling and I could see on their face just how draining that week was. Uh , they had a lot that they had to do a lot to manage. And so I remember almost every day when I saw this face of like, "oh, I can't, I don't want to anymore. I can't do this. This is tough. I just want to go home". I would stand up and go, I see that this is hard for you today. How can I support you? And they were very cute and being like, you are supporting me just by asking that question. But I mean, it's goes to show that you need to be able to ask it. And it's not just in times of need, it's all the time, right? Like we don't just need help in times of need. We need help every day and we need to know that somebody's there for us every day. So how can we do that?Gaby:
I love that. That's a perfect example. Like allyship. It doesn't have to be in involved in these narratives that we overemphasize in the media. It can be as simple as asking someone we know and love or support or work with, "How can I help you? How can I be better? A better friend, a better family member, a better ally to you?"Jenelle:
Yeah. Cause it's, I think another thing for me is making this, I want to look at this from a humanistic perspective. It's not just we're talking so much about how the guests here are going to be talking from their own personal experiences. They cannot speak for everybody. They can only speak for themselves. And so what that really does mean is that we need in your own life, in my own life, to my own friends and the people that I work with, the people I look up to, the my family members to ask them, how can I best support you? Because if I just make the assumption that this person fits in this box and so I can always support that type of person in this way is just wrong. And so I need it . This is a lesson in practicing having conversations with individuals about how to be supportive of the individual.Gaby:
Yeah. And I also want to point out something that we're not, we are not a radical group, you know, we're not going to be tearing down entire systems through this podcast. No, I don't have that kind of power . But I think if we can inspire individuals to start acting as a community towards a goal which is being a better allies to other people and identify for you what that looks like and feels like and what space, what cause you care about. There's not one cause necessarily that we're trying to promote other than being better to each other as humans. And Yeah, like we will share personally, Jenelle and I have a lot of causes and areas that we care about, but they don't have to be your causes. They don't have to be what you care about. I just want you to understand as listeners that you are here as part of our community of understanding allyship and that should be applied to whatever world you live in, whatever causes you care about. And hopefully by doing so more people will be active. More people will call their senators and their representatives and um, their local politicians or stand up, participate in their own , um, community activism in whatever way that looks like for you. That's really what we care about.Jenelle:
My last thought is that I, I want to make the statement that I do not feel like I know what I'm doing. And that's a weird thing to say. Um, but I , I don't define myself as an expert. I don't define myself as a perfect ally. These conversations will be scary for me. Um, I as a person who, who really seeks the approval of others, I'm constantly, even when we're going over this little stuff, so focused on, am I saying the right thing and I'm going to try to work on kind of letting that go a little bit more because I want to show that you don't have to always know the right things to say or have the right words to start to have these conversations. I think you and I have some more of the language than others might have just because we have lived in this world and had these types of conversations for so long, but I all the time don't feel like I know the right words to say and I don't know the right way to approach things. And so I'm gonna stumble over myself a lot and I'm working on being okay with that because I'm also a little bit of a perfectionist. But I'm going to fuck up and I want, if you are a listener who is also saying like these two women seem to know what they're talking about and how am I supposed to have these conversations if I don't know what I'm talking about? That's not the point, right? The point is to help you start to understand what's going on. So maybe you can take at least some of this into your own everyday world and have some of these conversations as well. And I hope that I'll talk and I statements. Again, I'm hoping that I can be an example to you of somebody who does not know the right thing to do, say all the time and how you can still work through having these conversations if you're in that space.Gaby:
I would argue that the most important piece when when discussing diversity inclusion is that none of us know all the answers. I don't feel like an expert. I think you're an expert a lot of the time, but I would argue I have spent a lot of time invested in learning about this stuff, but I don't think anyone can know everything. And I would argue that a part of it is learning how to listen, learning how to empathize and learning that policy formalization of rules and action in work in your community and your life is directly going to impact how we lift other people up. And I don't know the answers. I don't know exactly how to apply all policy, but that's why we look to the experts. That's why we talk to our guests. That's why we call upon researchers. And that's why we call upon theorists, but we are not theorist . We are not researchers and we are not academics. We're here to have conversations that will hopefully help us be in practice good allies to other people who look and experience the world differently than we do. Thank you for joining us here , uh , on our episode zero to get to know us a little bit better. Next week you'll get to hear us talk about our agreements or what we're calling community ground rules moving forward, you'll get to join us here every other week to hear from our awesome lineup of guests who will be joining us to talk about their perspective on allyship. Help us get started by sharing your thoughts with us. We'd love to hear from you, share your topic ideas or guests referrals by submitting a voice memo or a note on our contact us page on thewaywelead.com. This episode was written and produced by me, Gab y Acosta , thanks to the best cohost in the world, Jenelle Acosta. Our music was written and produced by the phenomenal Emily Henry. And starting next week, listen to the end to hear Jenelle sing the names of our seed fund sponsors in our credit , so stay tuned for that. We can't wait to see you then.