Minal Bopaiah, Author and Founder of Brevity & Wit | How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives
Minal is the author of “Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives.”
She is a speaker and a strategist committed to designing a more equitable world. With degrees in English, Psychology, and Organizational Development, and a lifelong passion for diversity and inclusion, she has spent her career cross-pollinating ideas in service of greater social justice for all.
Minal believes that equality is when everyone has the same thing. Equity is when everyone has what they need to thrive and participate fully. Equity does not fault people for being different; it makes room for difference and then leverages it.”
So in this edition of the Workplace wellbeing podcast, Ian and Minal discuss Equity and organizations where everyone thrives.
Minal and Ian discuss:
- What is Equity, and how does it differ from Equality
- How does inequity manifest itself at work
- What to do about it in your workplace
- Cost and responsibility for making an equitable workspace
What is inspiring Minal:
Julie diamond – Power, a user’s guide
How to contact Minal:
Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives.
The Workplace Wellbeing Podcast is supported by The WorkTech Group, which owns ShopWorks, FastPAYE and Solvedby.ai
Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Podcast, the podcast for wellbeing professionals that looks at best practices in organisations that care about their people, and which keeps an eye on the growing number of suppliers in the wellbeing space.
The workplace wellbeing podcast is sponsored by fastP.A.Y.E a financial wellbeing solution that facilitates flexible salary advances. It also provides access to financial education, a benefits assessment calculator, and a host of other financial wellbeing tools. fastP.A.Y.E is part of the WorkTech Group that includes ShopWorks Workforce Solutions, and SolvedBy.Ai.
ShopWorks offers Scheduling and Time and Attendance tools that improve your workforce management processes. Whilst SolvedBy.Ai provides unique artificial intelligence products that deliver optimum staffing levels and improve employee retention.
Ian Hogg 0:59
Hi, and welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Podcast. I’m Ian Hogg Chairman of fastP.A.Y.E, and today I’m very pleased to be joined by Minal Bopaiah. Minal is the author of ‘Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives. She’s a speaker and a strategist committed to designing a more equitable world with degrees in English psychology and organisational development and a lifelong passion for diversity and inclusion. She has spent her career cross-pollinating ideas in the service of greater social justice for all. Minal believes that equality is when everyone has the same thing. Whilst equity is when everyone has what they need to thrive and participate fully. Equity does not fault people for being different. It makes room for difference and then leverages it. So in this edition of the Workplace Wellbeing Podcast, we discuss equity and organisations where everyone thrives. Hi, Minal.
Minal Bopaiah 1:52
Hi, Ian, thank you so much for having me on your podcast.
Ian Hogg 1:55
No, listen, really pleased to have you on and looking forward to learning more about equity. Why don’t we start as we always do with you give the listeners a bit about your background, and maybe expand on some of your experiences that led you to where you are now?
Minal Bopaiah 2:09
Sure. So I do have a very eclectic career, like you said, I’ve been in English, I’ve been in psychology, I have worked in journalism and publishing and nonprofits, and eventually landed up in diversity and inclusion, which felt like I was coming home. And I, you know, my parents are Indian immigrants who came to the United States in 1976. They came during the height of a very racist war on crime going on in New York. And were physicians that were working, you know, my father has stories of doing triage by fire engine headlights, and somehow found their way out of that area in Brooklyn, to the greener suburbs of Staten Island, and were able to provide a pretty good middle-class life for me and my brother, send us to private school and college debt-free. And by all, you know, sort of external trappings have that American dream. But as you know, that’s not the full story that they, you know, when I was able to sort of spending more time thinking about their immigration story, I realised that they were really able to come here because of the Immigration Act of 1965, which was a result of the black civil rights movement that changed the immigration laws in the US from just allowing people of European descent or anyone who would preserve the homogeneity of North America, as it was called to prioritise and giving visas according to labour needs or family ties. And because my parents had medical degrees from India, because it has a socialised education system. They were able to come here because there was a perceived doctor shortage in the States. And what’s really interesting to me is that they came from very humble backgrounds. They were pretty poor, both of them. But they were able to do well because India had a socialised education system. And so sometimes people like myself, or my parents get held up as a model minority. But it’s really a false argument because the education that they had access to that equality of opportunity is not available here for most people of marginalised backgrounds. And so it is in sort of understanding my own background more than I was able to come into this work of diversity and inclusion and write this book that comes from a desire to be more honest about my family success and my own success and be able to sort of unmask the system for other people who want to repeat that success.
Ian Hogg 4:44
Okay. And what you know, you’ve sort of told us why you’d be inspired to write the book. What are you trying to achieve with it? What are your objectives?
Minal Bopaiah 4:52
Yeah, yeah, so I think my main objective was to make diversity, equity and inclusion, pragmatic and practical for people. I think these are sometimes big words and very conceptual and abstract. And they come from academia. And academia is great, but they’re not always great at like application and making things practical for those of us without PhDs. And so that was really my goal was to use design thinking and what I know about behaviour, science and communications, to translate all of these really conceptual ideas that people seem to abstractly embrace, into something concrete that people can implement in their organisations, and also observable behaviours that we can start to see and people.
Ian Hogg 5:40
Now that’s excellent. I, one of the things I think, you know, certainly in the UK, and I think probably in other places outside the US equities, a term that is probably limited to the HR departments, you know, and it’s probably not widely understood by people in business. Or as you know, it’s a relatively new term, I would suggest, in business. Could you talk to us about, you know, almost like a 101? On, you know, what’s the difference between equity and equality? Yeah, and what do we what do you mean by equity?
Minal Bopaiah 6:13
Yeah, so I want to say that, like, we, we need both, we need equality and equity, but whether we need which one we need in any given situation is up for discussion. So equality, like you said, in your intro, is when everybody gets the same thing. So sometimes that’s great like everybody should have the right to vote in a democracy, right? That that access to voting should be equally distributed, right? No, people don’t certain people shouldn’t get to vote easier than other people. However, the ability to get to that equal rights requires equity, meaning, the obstacles that are in the way for some people to vote, are different from the obstacles that are in the way for other people. So if you live in a town where there’s only one voting booth, and it’s only open from nine to five, and you work seven to eight and nine, then, you know, even though you have an equal, right, it is not equitable access. Right, they need to expand the voting hours and maybe have more voting booths that are closer to you in order for you to be able to exercise your equal right to vote, right. So that’s what we’re getting at is that there are that equity is about understanding that there are different circumstances for people’s lives. And they’re also just inherently different according to people, and what their needs are. And so, you know, everybody should have equal opportunity to contribute to accompany. But if you are vision-impaired or blind, and you need accommodations, like a larger computer screen, the company should be able to pay for that, in order for you to have an equitable opportunity to contribute your strengths to the company. Does that make sense?
Ian Hogg 8:00
Yeah, no, no, it does. And actually, I was going to come on to, you know, what, what it means in the workplace. So that was a good example, what, you know, what if you could sort of if you’ve got any other examples that help us sort of, you know, hammer this point home?
Minal Bopaiah 8:14
Yeah, so the one that will really kind of trip some people’s brains up. mentioned it is the head. You know, most of our or most of our organisations and most of our business practices were designed in like the night for like the 1950s prototypical guy, right. So like a straight white, able-bodied male who had a wife at home, who was doing all of the emotional and manual labour for free. And he got to drive in from the suburbs, go to his job, and then come home to a home-cooked meal. Now, very few people have that life today, including most straight white men who are able-bodied. And yet we continue to act as if that is the way work should be designed. Right. And so there are certain other practices that have come out of that time. So in that time, like sort of the, you know, the Mad Men era, if you are a salesperson, and you had to go on a sales call, you were able to expense, you know, not just your travel, but like food and alcohol in order to close a deal with a client or even to entertain a deal with a client. If you know that was designed for that particular person, where they had somebody else doing all of the childcare for them for free. If you have a single mother, who is really great at sales, what is the most important thing that she needs to get her job done?
Ian Hogg 9:42
Minal Bopaiah 9:45
Exactly. And yet, we cannot expense childcare as a business expense in order to get our jobs done. And so when we’re talking about equitable access, we’re taught when we’re talking about equity, we’re talking about creating a system where people get the support, they need to contribute their strengths. Right? That That woman, that single mother, who is an exceptional saleswoman could do more for the company if we created a system that said that we’re going to make it possible for you to get your needs met in order to do this job.
Ian Hogg 10:19
Okay, now listen, I suppose. And I, you know, I can see there that you’ve got that single mother, she would be unable to take some sales jobs in, you know, certainly, in the 50s or 60s where they, you know, the person would be expected to travel and stay overnight, you know, take their child with them, which is probably not what they want to do anyway. Yeah. Okay, so there’s some, yeah, this is a well being podcast. So what’s sort of, you know, if there is a lack of equity at work, how do we know that you know, manifest itself? How do we spot the signs? And what sort of implications does it have on human well being? Yeah.
Minal Bopaiah 10:59
Yeah. So I mean, the way to spot equity or inequity is to look at the outcomes, I think, you know, most di consultants are of the belief that talent is equally distributed amongst race and gender and any other sort of identity, but opportunity is not. So if you have a company where all of your managers happen to be, you know, straight men, then you need to ask yourself, How is the system set up to advantage those people because, um, because there have got to be women and people from the LGBT community, who would also be great managers. Right. But clearly, the system is not designed to support them in that access. So looking at the outcomes can help you decipher where is the bias in the system, and then redesign the system to support people who have different needs. So that’s what we want to do. And that means having really good data management. And you know, the first step, often for most companies, in order to spot inequity is to start to track data. And to track it according to different identities, which in itself can be somewhat of an impediment because so many people have been led to believe that being colourblind and not tracking demographic data is a good thing. But it can definitely vary, I want to be mindful that in Europe, the conversation around this is different than it is in the United States, on some level because of World War Two and sort of the history around that. But there are ways to do it for both the European context and the American context. That is because when you track data, according to, you know, well informed demographic information, you can start to spot patterns. If you don’t have the data, you can’t see the pattern.
Ian Hogg 12:48
But if you just you suggested we just track the data of people’s differences of gender and race and ability. Or are we looking for outcomes where we actually ask people, whether they you know, like survey staff, whether they’ve actually, yeah, everything they need, you know,
Minal Bopaiah 13:04
yeah, both? Yeah. Because also, like, you know, tracking data is most beneficial if you’re in a very large company. Also, if we’re, if we’re being candid about it, if you’re in a smaller company, then being able to really listen to people’s lived experiences is also really important. And that’s true in large companies, you want to have a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures, right? Good. Social Science is willing to reconcile quantitative and qualitative, and really great social scientists, people who really understand how to apply social science, understand that it’s never an either-or it’s always a both and around, you know, quantitative and qualitative information.
Ian Hogg 13:40
Okay. One of the things that are, comes up regularly on this podcast is, we’re two things really one is the cost of implementing wellbeing programmes and solving some of these problems. And the other one is responsibility. So if we go back to the example of healthcare, I could absolutely, you if you’re an employee, and you’re trying to do the right thing, you can absolutely have a debate of, is it my responsibility to pay for health care? And, you know, if I, if I can get a salesperson, I think that was the example that I don’t have to pay to healthcare for, compared with what I do. You know, there’s almost you can see, yeah, am I getting the return on investment? Now? Often, what comes up in this debate is actually employees should be doing the right thing, looking at, you know, investing in the long term, and you don’t have an agenda for the AI. But, you know, I just like to hear your slant of it. So I’m being a bit provocative there, but I’d be keen. Your thoughts on responsibility? And the cost?
Minal Bopaiah 14:48
Yeah, yeah. So um, what is so it’s really important that before we even get to like, should we pay for health care or not? Is that the question organisation has a clear vision that integrates dei with it. So the question is, what is your organisation trying to do? Like D, I should tie to your strategic goals as a company, they do not exist independent of it. Like we’re just trying to be nice and do a social services campaign. That’s not the point of DEI if you’re, you know, so do we take that sales situation, again, if you are trying to break into markets, with women, and with women who might also be single mothers, then having a saleswoman who understands that lived experience is really critical to being able to break into that market. Right? So like sending a bunch of like, you know, married men who have never had to do childcare, to make that sale is not going to work. Right? So then the question becomes, well, then what would it take for people that were trying to serve, ultimately to also work within this organisation, right, so paying for childcare or health care, or whatever makes sense, because they’re trying to your vision of your company, you’re not going to be and I’ve had to tell the number of clients is, you are not going to be able to solve every social problem. So you have to get very specific about what is the problem that your company is trying to solve? And doing that with a diverse and inclusive lunch. So stop trying to solve problems just for white moms, make sure that you’re solving problems for all moms, if that’s what your company’s mission is, right. And so, when you get clear about your vision, and you may, and understand how di ties to that vision, it becomes easier to make these decisions about what are things that are going to have a good ROI, what are expenses that are necessary in order to accomplish that vision, rather than thinking that like, Oh, now we have to do this, just to be fair, so we have to provide all services to all people. And that’s putting too much of a burden on companies to fix systemic societal problems.
Ian Hogg 17:08
So, so in your view, I’m just checking what I understand this means, also, if I did a survey, and I found that I had quite a few single mothers that, you know, needed childcare support. But I didn’t have too many, I don’t know, some other criteria, but it was a smaller problem. You would you think it would be fair to prioritise the single mother issue, and the childcare support, and then have the other issues as a lower priority, which you might come to later. Do you think that’s fair? Or do you think you have to solve all these problems?
Minal Bopaiah 17:45
I think No, I, you know when you’re working in business, there are our biggest impediments are time and money, right? Yeah. So how, and this is every CEO thing? How are we going to use our time and money, so you have to make priorities? Now you have to be mindful and how you message that and say, you know, it’s not that your experience isn’t important. It’s not that you shouldn’t, you don’t have a right to that. But these are the priorities of the company. And change takes time, we can’t like you’re not going to be able to transform your entire company for all individuals to feel equally welcome in a year. Right? This is like slow work. So what are the demographics that you have present and that make the most sense to attend to first, and then yeah, and then we’re going to start building our muscles for how to change because the muscle that needs to be built, is how to do behaviour, adoption, right how to do behaviour change adoption, I have, you know, I recently was speaking with a client who they want to do a lot of racial equity stuff, but they’re struggling to get their, their employees to use Slack. And I was like, if you can’t get your people to use Slack, I don’t know why you think you’re going to get them to like, like, consistently engage in more inclusive behaviours. Like, you need to build your muscle in terms of behaviour change, adoption, and every company needs to build that in because the world is changing too much and too fast. That if you don’t have behaviour change, adoption is one of your, the characteristics of your culture, you’re not going to last in this like the very volatile world that we live in. And part of behaviour change. Adoption means understanding pace, like how long would it take for this to actually change, which means you have to have priorities. And so the long answer to your question is like, yeah, you have to make decisions and prioritise things. But you have to also do it in a way where when you communicate that you don’t make anybody feel like their needs are less important because they’re not. Yeah, I
Ian Hogg 19:45
suppose. It sounds like it’s a journey. And at the start of the journey, I suppose if one explained that, we’re going to try and solve all these problems over a period of time. We’re going to start here because we feel this is the highest priority that that would be an acceptable approach for an employer to take? Yeah, in your book can refer to it as a guidebook for change. Can you outline where I would start to implement change, you know, to I come in as a new manager? And I think that you know, I think there’s not much equity, I suspect that there isn’t. Where do I start on day one?
Minal Bopaiah 20:20
Yeah. Um, I mean, really, where we start is leadership development. Because if you are not the type of leader who is good, who understands how change happens, then your ability to change things is compromised, right? So we need to start with getting you to understand what these words mean, what would this look like? How can you be a more emotionally intelligent leader? Are you able, if people come and bring problems to you? Are you able to hear them and be open and curious? Or are you defensive, and you shut down that type of feedback, right, you’re not going to get the best out of your people unless you have those skills. Once you have those skills, though, I think the next thing is to be able to actually do a listening tour with your team and start to listen to like, what are the inequitable problems that they’re having? When do you decide when you’re able to sort of put that together? The second step would be to really get clear about what’s the change you want to see? And then what are the behaviours that would take you there? What are the observable behaviours that lead to that change? Because this work is not about, you know, propaganda, and getting everybody to believe a certain thing. You’re never going to be able to control what people value or what their thing, what they think what you can do as a manager is asking for very specific observable behaviours. And that makes it really clear what the expectations are around behaviours, regardless of what people’s beliefs may be.
Ian Hogg 21:53
Okay, no, that sounds good. And is there a step by step guide? Or is it would you consider your book to be that, you know, is there an industry-standard process for people to follow to sort of implement these sort of changes, particularly around equity?
Minal Bopaiah 22:08
Yeah, so my book is probably as close as we’re going to get. But what I will say is that this work is a little bit. So I have a, I have a degree in clinical psychology, I have a master’s degree, and I was a therapist when I was studying before I left. And I think this work is a little bit like therapy where there are best practices. But what your treatment plan depends on the problem you present me with. Because different companies have different obstacles to this work. So for that company that I was talking about that like can’t get people on Slack, I was like, Oh, so you have no muscle around behaviour, change adoption, and how to do it in your organisation. For another company that we’re working with, you know, the problem is often that they’re a nonprofit, and they have no funding for it. So like, how do we get the funding for this work to take place? You know, for other companies, it’s that, like, their leadership team is in complete disarray. So then there’s a treatment plan for that, right. So there are best practices. And there is sort of an order of operations, you do need to start with leadership because organisations are not democracies, you don’t vote out your CEO. So if the leadership team is not fully bought in, then your change is not going to stick. But then what how you address things past the leadership changes depending on like, what the actual presenting problem is.
Ian Hogg 23:33
Okay. And I suppose I should have asked this question earlier. But, you know, how how, you know, certainly your sounds like your expenses largely in the US of implementing with companies. How widespread if you walked into 10 companies, you know, how many are likely to have recognised this as an issue, started to deal with it and started down that journey? What’s the state of the market? And how big is the problem? What do you think?
Minal Bopaiah 23:59
Wow, what a good question. And I don’t feel qualified to answer that entirely. I can say sort of anecdotally, what I’ve seen. So before George Floyd was murdered, most of the DEI work was confined to the fortune 500, to companies that were very large, because the equal employment laws in the US require certain levels of reporting once you hit a certain number of employees. And to that point, the fortune 100 were known to spend about six figures a year on dei work. Since George Floyd that has really shifted, you know, revenue and with the company that I founded, we work with medium-sized companies, so anywhere, you know, like usually anywhere from like 200 to maybe a couple of 1000 of employees. I have even had people who were as small as startups are like four or five, six-person nonprofits come and ask for this work. Now doing this work in small companies is a bit of a challenge. Because, you know, if you don’t, if you’re not actually in a hiring phase, then representation is not, you’re not going to fire people in order to make your company more representative that’s wholly unethical and doesn’t make sense. So what I will say, anecdotally is that the interest has now spread from just large companies, and just from a compliance mindset to a huge swath of companies of any size. And really doing this, I think in reaction to sort of the political atmosphere right now and the degradation of democracy in our country. And so, you know, Americans, I think, primarily, I think, Americans primarily experience civics through the economy, and also sort of thorough work, which is odd. And not really what civic should be, but that is the American way. And so I think there has been a greater emphasis as an expression of the American people’s desire to sort of make their society better.
Ian Hogg 26:11
Okay. And so that’s very interesting. So it’s been accelerated by in America, by the sort of Black Lives Matter movement, and I think it has in the UK and Europe as well, you know, that’s definitely spread globally, or certainly in the Anglo Saxon world and the Western world. Yeah. So yeah, I think it’s definitely accelerated. You’re here. But I think, you know, there, there was certainly I think we could probably identify in UK other trends like the Disability Law. And, you know, I think there’s definitely been progress over a number of years on, you know, but yeah, I can see these probably accelerated in the last probably 18 months. Really, I think there’s probably now
Minal Bopaiah 26:58
yeah, really exploded in the last 18 months.
Ian Hogg 27:02
Okay. But definitely put a link to your, your book in the podcast notes. But one of the things I always do is ask everybody that comes on a, for a recommendation of what book or media is giving them the most inspiration. So middle, you can’t give us your own book. What what, what other books could you recommend readers to? books or podcasts or any media? Really?
Minal Bopaiah 27:24
Yeah, um, yeah, I’ve been reading so much over the break. What I will say is that I’m reading something right now by another consultant, Julie diamond called power a user’s manual, which is phenomenal. Really, you know, I started talking about how equity really gets down to power, money and time. And Julie diamond, who leads the diamond leadership group, has this assessment called the diamond power index that we have used with some of our clients, to assess how they use power. But this book, power users manual is one of the smartest discussions of power I’ve ever seen. It’s really pretty, accessible in terms of language, even though Julie has a PhD. And is really, really smart in terms of understanding that what we, what we wouldn’t, most people don’t know is that abuses of power happen, because people don’t feel their own personal power. They feel weak, and then they start to abuse their positional power to compensate for that internal weakness. And that when we talk about the importance of power and Dei, and if you really want to transform your organisation, then strengthening your own sense of personal power is the most important thing you can do to actually lead a transformative organisation. So I’d highly recommend that.
Ian Hogg 28:53
Yeah, no, that sounds good. Yeah, as an ex-military man, that that is so evident in the military, I bad leaders, you generally know they’re not confident or lacks, like skill or ability. And, and, you know, cuz it’s, you can definitely his power is quite absolute sometimes in the military so that it really shows out in the military, I would definitely I can definitely recommend recognising that. There’s a minimum. This has been an excellent conversation and has really helped me understand a lot more about equity and where it fits and how you know how it’s part of a well being for the programme in any organisation. We will definitely put the link to your book in the notes. I think if the listeners want to get in touch, can I put your LinkedIn profile on there as well? Absolutely, please do find this great conversation. Thank you very much.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai