Understanding intersectionality

June 18, 2020

Ashantè Fray, Team Lead of Inside Sales and Co-Chair of iPride at Indeed, talks about ways Indeed is celebrating Pride, the importance of intersectionality and how education is the key to unlocking empathy — along with how being part of an organization that leads with compassion is supporting others to be their authentic selves.

Welcome, everyone. I'm Chris Evans, CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next installment of here to help our look at how India has been navigating the global impact of COVID 19. Today's June 15th, we are on day 104 of global work from home. And in last week's episode, I spoke with Lafond Davis, indeed VP of Diversity Inclusion and Belonging.

And Lafond summed up the world by saying that we are living today through the equivalent of the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Great Depression of 1929, and the U.S. race riots of 1968. The impact of COVID 19 has gone far beyond just the impact on global health and the global economy. It has touched every aspect of our lives, and in particular it has shined a light on historical inequities and bias around the world.

June is Pride Month commemorating the Stonewall riots, which took place in June of 1969 in response to police violence against patrons of lesbian and gay bars in New York City. Today's episode will focus, among other things, on pride and the pandemic. But before we get started, I want to acknowledge that we just received news a few minutes ago that the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a victory for LGBTQIA plus rights, ruling that a federal law forbidding workplace discrimination also protects gay and transgender employees.

According to Reuters, the six three ruling represents the biggest moment for LGBT rights in the United States since the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide in 2015. Now, at the same time of this positive news, I'd like to also recognize a major disappointment in the announcement last Friday of the administration's rollback of protections against transgender discrimination in health care.

We recognize the fear and concerns that employers have with these changes. So I want to be clear, regardless of federal policy, indeed remains steadfastly committed to providing our transgender employees the best health care coverage possible. So today, I am delighted to be joined by Ashanti Frey, who was client success to team lead here, and indeed and also regional co-chair for I Pride, which you'll hear more about.

Finally, before we start, I'd like to offer a content warning. The following discussion will address issues of racism, brutality and sexual assault and may be triggering. So with that. Welcome, Ashanti. And thanks for joining us.

Thank you so much for having me, Chris.

So let's start. The way that we always start here with an honest and sincere question of how are you doing right now?

I'm feeling a lot. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, a little numb, a little fragile. But I really wanted to start off by taking this time to not only introduce myself, but to introduce my pronouns. So to start off, I wanted to say my name is Ashanti Frey, and my pronouns are she, her and hers. And the reason why I wanted to start the discussion off by that is really by using my privilege, by being cis gendered to lend some support and taking a stand with not only the transgendered community, but also gender non-conforming community as well.

So thank you.

So tell us a little bit about your background.

Of course. To start off, I really wanted to follow the lead of Lafond and really introduce myself by introducing my intersectional identities. So to start off, I'm a black female. I'm bisexual, 25 years old. I'm the second generation Canadian, but my background is Jamaican. I grew up Christian, but I identify as very spiritual right now. I did my master's degrees in English literature.

I'm a survivor of sexual abuse, and I'm also living with PTSD.

Wow. Well, thank you for sharing all of that. That's that's helpful for the conversation going forward. Now, tell us a little bit about your role at indeed and in particular role with eye pride.

Of course, I wanted to start off by really just going through my journey in client success. So to start off, when I did join, indeed, I joined about two years ago as a client success specialist. Since then, I continued my journey and I was promoted to senior client success specialist in February of last year and then team lead in September of last year.

Really, what my day to day entails is really helping my client success team in my manager, figuring out ways that we can succeed. So I help with bi weekly one on ones conducting quality support audits to make sure that our quality is up to par and also just helping with any technical questions that may arise. In addition to that, I do spend a lot of my time strategizing with sales reps.

My specific sales reps are Richard Yellen and Peter Lee out of the Toronto office where I'm located, and I'm very, very proud and honored to work with them because they make my job so easy. A lot of our day to day is just trying to find ways for us to deliver that best client success experience, but also to figure out a way to deliver that return on investment.

With my job as I Pride Regional Co-Chair, I started off that site lead, but I was appointed to the regional co-chair by the Diversity Inclusion and Belonging Team in August of last year. And a lot of my job with that is managing my Pride Leadership Executive team with Shannon Banks. So we helped manage five people, but also managing our site leads, which holds different chapters, which would be, I guess you could say groups or clubs which is the pride group across the offices as well.

So a lot of our day to day is just trying to figure out ways that we can be in alignment with our business goals, but also in alignment with the strategies that diversity, inclusion and belonging are bringing to the table.

So I Pride is one of our inclusion resource groups here, and indeed it's actually the first group that got started and membership in the ERGs is open to everyone. And so obviously we want to have allies, but it really is a very personal thing for a lot of people. Can you talk a little bit about how your experiences before coming to indeed helped shape your role both had indeed and in your work with I Pride.

When I first joined and did, I was quite scared. Definitely heard the word inclusion and diversity and what it was that the company represented, but just identifying as being black but also bisexual and a survivor of sexual assault and living with PTSD. It felt like a lot of intersex to kind of throw into one. So when I joined I Pride, I originally joined as an ally and that was because I wasn't ready to come out.

I didn't tell my parents about me being bisexual at that time either. But it wasn't until I started feeling a sense of security that I felt the freedom to kind of learn about myself to to to actually take the time to figure out myself. And that really just comes with stability. And I think that's a lot of think that's something that a lot of people take for granted is having a stable income, having access to go to conferences, access to go to business trips, access to technology, the ability to actually have insurance so that you have access to support.

So really just having the ability to do all of that really allowed me to figure out myself and really develop myself personally and professionally, which is something that Matthew Mershon loves to say. And I think that that's something that we do very, very well in the Toronto office, is making sure that it's not just about our professional development, but also our personal.

And it wasn't until Paul Wolfe came to the Toronto office and started talking about authenticity on a panel that I decided that I was going to come out. So I actually called my mom sitting on a table in the office, and I called her knowing that she was at work. And I was like, Mom, I have something to tell you.

I like guys and I like girls. And that was that. And I was out, I was out of the closet and it was so nice to just feel like myself, to to bring myself authentically, to work every day. And I'm really just honored to be part of an organization, but also part of a company that allows us to lead with compassion and to allows us to educate not only allies but ourselves so that we can figure out us.

Yeah, it's a it's really moving to me to hear that. Indeed. I got to play a part in that story there. And I know that coming out stories are always really touching. And I, I had the same exact conversation with my daughter a handful of years back. And so I know what that means to a parent. So thank you for sharing that story.

June is Pride Month, which is a time of celebration. It's also a time of education and awareness for the entire LGBTQ i a plus community. Can you tell us what makes this month so special?

A lot of people consider Pride Month and they associate it with Pride parades, but I really wanted to establish the fact that it's still referred to as marches in a lot of places, especially in New York. And that's the reason. The reason why is because we're still fighting for equality. We're still in direct opposition with discrimination and injustice, which means it's not a parade for all.

It really is a privilege to get to that that point where we can call it a parade, but we're really still in a fight. We're still in a march. So with that in mind, I think pride is special because it really does allow people to feel like themselves, allows them to be comfortable being themselves. And I think and in addition to that, it really allows a place for people to feel like themselves no matter who they are, no matter where they are.

And I think that's really what we're fighting for, is that safety all over the world. But something that pride means for me specifically is that fight against stereotypes. This is what a bisexual woman looks like. This is it. We're human. I think there's a lot of stereotypes that are associated with being bisexual or being black or being a female.

And at the end of the day, we're human and we all come in different shapes, sizes and faces and colors. And I think that that's something that I love to be a part of, is knowing that every month I can show up being myself in various different ways, and I know that it's still authentically me.

So part of the context for these conversations that we're having is around the impact of COVID 19, and we're in the middle of Pride Month, but we're in the middle of Pride Month, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of everything else going on in the world. So this pride month will be different as well as being the same from from what we are used to.

Can you talk a little bit about how the pandemic has changed the month of pride for everyone today?

Of course, to start off, I think the most drastic change has been the shift to remote events. The fact that we're having this conversation over Zoom and that we have access to the technology to do so is absolutely amazing. But it also has allowed us to kind of shift from an office wide event to global events. And I think this conversation is a testament to that.

I don't know when or if I would have had the pleasure of being able to meet you in the Toronto office. But the fact that we're able to have this conversation and I don't have to worry about your schedule or flying you in or what it would look like and how long you would have me for, I think is is an amazing opportunity to continue off of that.

Also, the fact that we have Lafond and Paul work both hosting and facilitating events this month is fantastic. It's fantastic. I can't. It's like a dream come true. When do we get three major players? In one month, knowing that we can also broadcast that across the globe, not only to the America region, but also to India, to also have access to that in Ipac.

But also, I think one of the biggest shifts in India has been that shift to intersectionality is the fact that we're really opening up that discussion to make it more complex and to make it more messy and to have those difficult conversations because we know that nothing is binary. And I think that this month is a testament to that.

But in addition, with everything that's happening in the world, I think it's just kind of grown in importance.

So we'll come back to intersectional ality in a in a second because it's a it's a really obviously important topic. But can you talk a little bit about what work is being done right now? And indeed and and around the world to help bridge some of these gaps?

Of course, one of the first things that comes to mind really is that education and awareness piece with everything that's happening with Black Lives Matter and really focusing on that education and focusing on getting yourself self-aware and removing those biases that you may have either conscious or unconscious, is really that first step. But the second thing is really that focus on allyship, but more importantly, as we're saying, intersectional allyship and really finding ways that we can use our privilege in other ways to shed light on other communities.

So something that Chan and myself have been talking about is how do we use our privilege as this gendered individuals to help the transgendered community or to help the non-conforming community? How do we use our privilege in that light? So really focusing on empowering allies so that they feel comfortable advocating, but also bringing awareness not only to themselves but to their family or friends or communities or so be it.

So can you talk a little bit more about intersectionality and why it is so important?

Yeah. Intersectionality holds a very dear place in my heart. It was something that I learned about back in 2006 when I was doing my thesis and I entitled it The Search for Agency in the Beloved in the Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison. And we were talking earlier about Toni Morrison and that specific book Beloved, and how important it is.

But that idea of intersectionality is really talking about the fact that our social identity, such as gender, race, age, national identity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, they all intersect to create these unique experiences for that specific individ individual. And based on those experiences, it really does lead to those power structures that goes into whether you're given opportunities or barriers, whether you're faced with discrimination or privilege, something that I really like to talk about is the fact that all identities are intersectional.

We are multifaceted by nature. No person is one dimensional. I think we tend to categorize and to put stereotypes because it's easier to process, it's easier to put things into categories, but it's also easier to other. If we do put things in that binary stance. For me, specifically, intersectionality in Canada specifically comes in the fact that there is racism in Canada.

And I think that that's been a very big topic of discussion, especially with everything that's happening in America. But there's microaggressions that we face every day. And I think in Canada specifically, we're very politically correct, which means you might not address it head on. But for me specifically being being raised in Canada meant that I was called an Oreo because I liked literature or whitewashed or articulate.

I was told a lot growing up that I wasn't black enough because of the fact that I liked reading novels. It also didn't occur to me for a very long time that I could be bisexual just because, based on representation in the media, a lot of the people that were part of the LGBTQ community were white facing and just by skin color alone.

I don't I don't meet that requirement, which means I couldn't be bisexual. I think there's also a lot of discrimination in the LGBT community, especially to black bodies were overly sexualized, especially if you throw in the fact that you somebody identifies as bisexual, then the connotation is that you're promiscuous. There's also not a lot of voice or space for the transgendered community.

I think Canada on a whole has a lot of things that we need to address as well and forms of discrimination. I think one of the most prominent thing that comes to mind right now is just the indigenous population in their land. The fact that that hasn't been something that's been addressed. We also don't talk about Africville in Nova Scotia and the fact that we forced a lot of free slaves off of their land and also built in infectious diseases and hospitals and prisons and a dump around them to force them to leave.

Another thing that we don't address is British Columbia and the railroads and the fact that a lot of them were built by Chinese Americans, Chinese Canadians. My apologies. I think there's a lot in Canadian history that acknowledges that we are racist in that we have been we have a passive discrimination and injustice. But it's not something that we talk about.

And I hope that this is the first conversation that we start having so that we can start having these difficult conversations and to bring them to light.

So how do these pervasive societal issues, how do they show up in the workplace?

I think they show up in different ways. For me, specifically, when when you're discriminated against because of your identities, you either internalize them and you assume that that's the way that the world is, is looking at you or you kind of just wait for it to happen. For me, specifically when I joined, indeed I did not wear wigs like this color at all.

I made sure that they were black, that my natural hair was not out because I didn't want to be seen as unkempt or unprofessional. I didn't want somebody touching my hair without asking. I could switch a lot, which means just to explain a little bit, it means that I express myself in different ways depending on the type of racial community that I'm presented in front of.

So I'm very cognizant of my tone to make sure that I'm not coming across as aggressive or emotional of my facial expressions of what color my wig is and what connotations that might be. Just also being hyper diligent in the workplace as well. So being working from home has been a lot has been freeing because I haven't had to think about those day to day interactions.

But if I was in the office, I would worry about how many black people are sitting at a table or how many black people are sitting on the couch, and what is the connotations of that? If I'm speaking to a black male, to my coworkers, think that we're slacking off too. They think that we're not working or I'm speaking to a black female.

Do they think that we're gossiping and that we're not being productive? What are the connotations of that interaction? So it really is hard navigating a world where you feel like you have to put on different mask and different faces depending on the the situation that you're in or the people that you're surrounded with. And it really doesn't give you a sense of belonging being told that you're not black enough, that you're not gay enough, that you're pretty for a black girl, that you're too pretty to be into girls.

There's all of these binaries and things that are so limiting when you that doesn't allow you to be free, especially when you take into consideration that, as I said, like we all have intersectional identities, so why should I have to stuff myself into a box and be that person when I'm one of many things?

What are some of the things that we can do in a workplace to help raise awareness and to help change the way that we work together and interact?

I think that's a great question and it's a really hard question to answer. I think anybody would give you a different answer depending on who you're speaking to. But me specifically, the way that I see that we move forward is by having these difficult conversations. It's by recognizing that humans are complex and that it's not either or. It's that we're complicated and we're messy, and that the same person that has the capacity to love also has the capacity to hate.

And it's a hard realization to come to terms with. But that is the world that we live in is that we're capable of both. The other thing I would love to see is really just recognizing that intersectional allyship is really trying to figure out how you can use your privilege and your oppression to show up and really how you show up is up to you.

I can't tell anybody how to be an ally. I can give them the information. I can speak about my experiences, which frankly isn't something that I necessarily have to do because it's not my responsibility to educate. I think it's everybody's responsibility to decide how they're going to show up and how they're going to educate themselves and remove those biases, whether they're conscious or unconscious.

Another thing that I talk about a lot are feelings. I love feelings, and I really do think that feelings are the way forward. I've spent a lot of time talking about my identity, but a lot of people aren't going to be able to understand, really understand what I'm talking about or what it means to be Ashanti. But you will understand the feeling of being small or the feeling of being anxious, that feeling of being stressed, the feeling of not feeling like you can show up and being yourself.

And I really think that emotions and those emotions are really going to be the way that we help people understand where we're coming from, because those emotions can be a way for you to find your call of action. If you lead with that compassion and empathy, you can find what it is that you're supposed to be doing to help.

I just want to dove in for a second on that. You you led a conversation with your team recently, and you decided to actually record this difficult conversation. And and I know that it was meant initially just for the people on the team maybe that couldn't make that conversation, but I heard Lafond mentioned it and Aden and mentioned it, so I got a chance to watch it as well.

And I think for so many people right now, every conversation feels difficult to some degree and there's so many people. So I've been I've been hearing from a lot of people one of one of, you know, a couple of different things. But one of them is that for for people who are particularly impact but impacted by everything going on in the world that they feel like no one wants to say anything because they don't know what to say.

And then there's a whole bunch of other people who feel like they want to say something, but they don't know what to say and you just came out and said, Let's just have a difficult conversation. Can you can you talk a little bit about just what inspired you to do that? And and what, if any, impact what have you heard from people since then?

Because it was really powerful to get a chance to witness it. And having been part of a handful of difficult conversations over the last month, it's been it's been really inspiring to see how people, especially people who work together, who don't normally talk about what's really going on, how what's happening in the world and the fact that we're all kind of on our own over video.

And you're processing it. So it just feels like a very different time at work than certainly anything I've experienced in my career. So I just love to hear some of your thoughts on on that.

Curveball for the win for us. OC Yes, I did decide to leave that conversation of having a difficult conversation. And for me, the reason why I did it was because I think that it's important for my team that I show up as I am a lot of the time during that week I had to cancel one on ones because I was crying.

I cried with my manager and I canceled that one on one because I wasn't ready to have that conversation then. But it really was affecting my day to day, and I didn't want them to feel like they weren't valued or that I didn't respect their time. So I thought that the only way to really start the conversation is for me to be honest with them is to not lie and say that I have a meeting or that I'm running 5 minutes late.

But to be honest and tell them that I'm having a bad day or that I'm crying between meetings. So I had the opportunity to leave that huddle. And once I led the huddle, I didn't plan anything that I was going to say. I didn't know that I was going to be that vulnerable or that open. But it really is about creating a safe space.

And I'm honored to work with the team that allows me to show up as myself every day when I was in the office, I could take off my wig the end of the day and it wouldn't matter and nobody would blink. They wouldn't think twice because they knew at the end of the day it was my it was me.

And that's really what I wanted them to see. And that's really what I wanted to show, is that I'm having a hard time and that I still have to show up and be a team lead. I still have to show up and be there for my manager, for my team, for my sales reps, for my clients, for indeed.

And it's a difficult time, but we're doing it because it's important. And this is the way that I show up and this is my call to action. And being vulnerable is scary. I think it's always scary to have a conversation. It's always scary to figure out how it might be received or what somebody else might think. But what I try to do is remember that it's for me, like me, being vulnerable in that moment was for me.

I needed to do that and I needed to show them who I was. And however they reacted was really a reflection of what they were going through or how they felt at that time. But not a reflection of me. But I did get really good feedback afterwards, which is really nice. I was inspired myself, so I actually shared it on my Instagram page, which isn't something that I thought I was going to do.

But I did share a little snippet of my story so that people who weren't ready to share their stories or to to have these conversations that maybe they could see part of themselves in me, that they can see part of themselves in one of my identities and use that as a voice if they can voice it themselves.

Well, thank you very much for sharing that. And yeah, it was it was very powerful experience. And I have I have been really moved to see how many people just in the last in the last few weeks, let alone the last few months, have been willing to let down their guard. And how that does actually change the experience of working with someone when you can see them as a a little bit more of a complete human being than just a job title and a set of work product.

So thank you for that. So to wrap things up here, one of the things that we have been talking about in these episodes is that the what we've been going through over the last few months has been a, you know, a ground shifting experience and certainly not something that anyone expected or planned for. There's a whole big chunk of that that we all just can't wait to be over with and get back to something else.

But those ground shifting moments for most people give you an opportunity to look at the things that you've been staring at day to day in a new light. And so I guess my question for you is, is what do you see coming out of the experiences of the last few months that that might be different for you and for the LGBTQ plus community?

I think one thing that's going to be different is just being our authentic selves, if anything, especially that conversation with my team, it should be that I can be myself with them and that there's nothing wrong with crying, there's nothing wrong with being vulnerable, there's nothing wrong with having emotions. It doesn't make me any less professional because I'm having a hard time or because I am crying that day.

But it really is about leading with respect. And we know that a lot of questions, especially in the LGBTQ community that's around sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity. So it's really about being respectful when asking questions about not asking inappropriate questions, about doing your research and really taking the time to Google it before you ask so that we know that you're coming from a place of understanding and not a place of just curiosity, coming from a place of you wanting to do better.

Another thing that I would love, especially for me to accept, is just that life is cyclical. There's ups and downs and there's there's really is a balance. Something that I like to say is that like after a forest fire, there's new growth. And that new growth in the ashes is just as important as the destruction that took place.

And I think that there's a lot we know there's a lot going on right now and it's hard to see through all of the fog, through all of the noise, but it will get better, as cliche as it sounds, it will get better. And one step back, I know multiple sounds like ten steps back, but we will take one step forward.

And I think that's important, is that we're always taking that step forward. And last thing is that people are mirrors and I hope that people learn to recognize piece of themselves in other people that they see somebody and don't just automatically see those differences. Whether that would be difference in skin color, difference in gender, difference in sexuality. But you see something of yourself in them.

You see some form of understanding in them, especially being from a literature background, I like to look at it like foil characters. In literature we have Dr. Holmes and we got Sherlock both important. They're very different, but they're really are complementary to each other. And if you meet somebody and you have a strong reaction to them, love or hate, I really think it's up to you to try to figure out why are you feeling that way and what can you do about that feeling.

It's not what is the feeling, but why? Why do you have such a strong reaction to them? And what can you do in yourself to heal yourself or grow or to remove that unconscious bias so that you're not passing it on to the next generation? Our job is to do better than the generation that came before, and I strongly believe that that I am put on this earth so that I can make sure that I left it a little bit better, a little bit more hole, a little bit more healed.

Thank you so much, Ashanti, for sharing everything that you have and for bringing your whole self to this conversation and to indeed every day. And thank you for everything that you do for for I pride for the Canadian market and for India as a whole. It's just been such a such a delight talking to you. Thank you.

Thank you.