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Dec. 9, 2021

The CATK Interview: Plantation Theory Author, John Graham, Part Two

The CATK Interview: Plantation Theory Author, John Graham, Part Two

Part two of the CATK Interview with John Graham.


Join Torin and Julie in welcoming HBCU grad, author, and employer brand guru, John Graham to the show in part one of a two part interview you will not want to miss.

John Graham’s professional passion is helping global companies uncover who they are at their core. Through award winning employer brand and employee value proposition development, Graham has discovered innovative ways to bring the humanity of employee stories to life. As a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practitioner and culture transformation consultant, his work centers on improving the lived experiences of marginalized employee populations through bleeding-edge approaches that disrupt the status quo and create equitable and inclusive environments. Graham earned a bachelor’s degree in African Studies and a Master's degree in Education from Lincoln University. He also holds an executive certificate in Fostering Diversity and Inclusion from the Yale School of Management.

Accolades include:

- Double alumnus of Lincoln University - 1854 (Oldest degree-granting HBCU in the U.S.)

- Fostering Diversity & Inclusion certification from Yale School of Management

- Published author of Plantation Theory: The Black Professional’s Struggle Between Freedom & Security

- Named to the 2020 Comparably List of Inspiring Employer Brand Leaders

- Launched global employer brands for Fortune 50 Pharma & Biotech companies

- Award-Winning culture marketing and talent attraction strategist

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Cred:

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Transcript

Announcer:       We've been about this work, diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, shared through the voices of a white woman and a black man. We bring lived experiences. We have pursued DEI progress for most of our professional lives. We use Crazy and The King to cover news, tips from colleagues, and host incredible guests. Listeners, count on Julie and I to transparently drive the conversation. We thank you [00:00:30] for rocking with us. Check it, check it. Julie, kick off the show. Check.

Julie:                    Welcome to Crazy and The King.

Torin:                  Who am I to delay an incredible conversation like we... We promised you all a part two with John. What did you like most last week when we had part one?

Julie:                    I think I just enjoyed the conversation that you two had so much. I told you both I felt a little bit like a voyeur, but it was such a natural [00:01:00] and authentic conversation that I got to learn and reap the benefit from. So I thank you guys for letting me do that.

                             Getting into meritocracy and understanding, for me, I think it's always hard for a white person to understand and grasp that we are one generation away from that Jim Crow era. Not that far historically from a slave era. That is hard for me to understand, and so much of [00:01:30] what I read in John's book kept bringing me back to that place, and resetting me and our history. And I think that was really important.

                             And the piece that I loved where we left off is we started to get into what does plantation theory look like and how does it manifest itself in the workplace. And I think that's where we should pick back up today.

Torin:                  Yeah, so why don't we do this? Let's slip a commercial in. We got to have [00:02:00] them, so let's slip a commercial in, and then let's just reintroduce John, because we may have picked up some folks that hadn't listened to last week's episode. We'll reintroduce John, who he is, the role that he's playing right now inside of a special corporate corridor, and then we'll just hop back into our conversation.

Julie:                    Sounds like a plan.

Torin:                  Real quick commercial break, and we'll be right back.

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Julie:                    All right. So let's re-welcome John Graham, VP of employer brand, [00:03:00] culture, and diversity at Shaker Recruitment Marketing. He is the author of Plantation Theory, not... Plantation Theory. Let me try that again. He identifies as he/him. He is a black man, a husband, a father, a spiritualist, a creative, and a fraternal brother. Welcome back, John.

Torin:                  Yeah. A book that's 150 or so pages. What I love about his introduction is he starts to hit on the dimensions of diversity. [00:03:30] Because I think so many times, we pause at race and gender. We don't really get beyond and get into the other dimensions of diversity. I think if we really are honest with ourselves, employee engagement would be even better if we knew the multiple dimensions of who people are. So John, we appreciate you for being here with us again.

John:                   Thank you so much for having me back. It was a great conversation, and we can always talk at length, but I know you have a format. [00:04:00] So yeah, happy to pick up on round two.

Torin:                  Yeah. So Julie mentioned something as we were exiting out of the conversation last week. She had a phrase. I think she called it whitelash. I'm not sure if that's exactly what she said, and I don't know many pods where you get to talk about whitelash, voyeurism, slavery.

John:                   Thisis an interesting word cloud.

Torin:                  It's an incredible concoction of words, language, but it's riveting. And so Julie, did I get it right? Is it whitelash?

Julie:                    It is, and you talk about whitelash, and it stood out to me. I actually will tell you, John, I took a picture of this particular paragraph that you had in the book and sent it to a peer who is helping me with a diversity program that I'm building. And I said, "Oh, this feels familiar." And so [00:05:00] in my experience, let me just give you the setup, we're starting to have conversations in workplaces that I'm supporting that are creating uncomfortable-ness, go figure, for white people, because they don't quite understand why work is forcing me to see things that I didn't want to see before. And I feel like that is the definition of whitelash, [00:05:30] but please talk to us about whitelash.

John:                   Yeah, no, that's excellent. What you just described is a catalyst for whitelash, whitelash being the repercussion for that discomfort, for that uncomfortable feeling that you have forced me to have. Now I'm going to respond in a way that takes my agency and power back. And so whitelash can be expressed in ways like managers giving very unobjective [00:06:00] performance reviews, or it could be individual contributors reaching out and filing complaints for reverse racism. It could be, again, just the shutting down or non-participation, the opting out. "This doesn't apply to me. I'm good. I know I'm a good person, so I'm sidestepping." And that becomes sort of this... Again, you have to really get into the [00:06:30] crux of this construct, where everything was designed around white comfort, specifically cisgendered able-bodied white male content. So anything that deviates from that, offends that, you're going to see a repercussion and a quick reversion back to a state of comfort.

Julie:                    I know we have systemic change that has to happen. I want to spend the latter half of our conversation this week talking about that, [00:07:00] but what is a white person to do? What is a white ally to do when we start to see that reversion happen? I generally react angrily. That's probably not my best way to go about influencing people and things. So give an angry white girl some good tips.

John:                   Yeah. So I always say, "We don't need allies. We need abolitionists." [00:07:30] We need people that have skin in the game that will take the power, and the privilege, and the entitlement, and status, and leverage that for the benefit of those without, or at best, don't impede those same things for others. So what can you do tactically, tangibly? It becomes a conversation of, "Well, I hear you. I know that you feel uncomfortable, but let's talk about historical context. Let's talk about why you're [00:08:00] being exposed to things that you never had to be exposed to. Why is it that your age, as an adult, these are the first times you're hearing at? What have you done to educate yourself or really step into other people's shoe?" These are the questions that you who have taken a longer journey down this road can challenge people who are feeling these insurmountable feelings of discomfort, and open up broader dialogues [00:08:30] from a common place.

Torin:                  I'm looking, and I don't have it next to me right now, but when I think about what you and how defined whitelash, I so appreciate that. The other phrase that is similar is white fragility, and a lot of people have divorced themselves or distanced themselves from white fragility. They don't like it, and so it becomes yet [00:09:00] another cog in that wheel of uncomfort or discomfort. Discomfort. It becomes another cog in that wheel of discomfort. So I appreciate how you defined the whitelash. And just for a moment, I want listeners to just take a second to get outside of the company, and to think about how that whitelash shows up in community. To think about how that whitelash shows up in the circumstances [00:09:30] of other individuals.

                             And then come back to that familiar phrase of bring your whole self to work. And why is that the single mother may have a slight attitude? Or why is it that the person that's often been overlooked, and under-represented, and under-resourced in particular roles is a little bit angry around whatever decision was made last week? Or they've been passed over for promotion, after promotion, after promotion. I want you [00:10:00] to think about what John has said in that definition. Think about where you sit in these comfort and/or times of discomfort, and then how you are responding. Are you like Julie? Julie's being angry for a different reason. Are you angry because you are being forced to face what we are talking about? That's the reason why we wanted to have you on and to continue the conversation. It's not just in the corporate corridor. It's in community and in circumstance as well.

John:                   Absolutely.

Julie:                    [00:10:30] So we've talked a lot about, and you mentioned in the last show the ever-moving goalpost. Low expectations, higher expectations. And one thing that I think you framed really nicely and I think is important for abolitionists to understand is that so much of what we see that holds black professionals back [00:11:00] is microaggressions. It is subtle, in terms of it's not overtly racist. It's not overt, and sometimes it is. Maybe that's an overstatement, but people don't catch it because it happens as part of the systems that are developed within a company's organizational structure.

                             And the last part that I wanted to bring together today was the accountability conundrum. [00:11:30] It's one of the chapters. And we started this conversation last week, and Torin asked me, "What irritates you about 2021?" And I said it's that we're not moving. And I think the accountability conundrum is really the root cause, right? That's where we are. And so I'd love for you to talk about, one, why has DEI failed? [00:12:00] And make sure that we also talk about trickle-down DEI.

John:                   A lot to unpack there. I'll say first, when we talk about accountability, and you actually said this just a moment ago, what can you do? I think we're passed a point of capability. It's really about a willingness issue. When we talk about accountability, we've seen models move [00:12:30] when COVID hit. Companies changed their entire operating model in six weeks. Multi-billion-dollar, multinational companies moved forward IT projects that were 12 months, 18 months out, and knocked them out in six weeks to 10 weeks. So I know what we're capable of. What are we willing to do? That's one.

                             Additionally, when we talk about DEI and its failures, DEI has not failed. It's doing exactly what it was designed to do. The reason I say that [00:13:00] is because of who DEI centers. Diversity, equity, and inclusion have a centering premise. It's, what is the standard for diverse? Let's start with that, because you have to have something to compare to to say it's diverse. Well, the standard's always been cisgendered able-bodied white men, so diverse is anything other than that. Equity means those people giving something up, and inclusion meaning them accepting you.

                             Now, if we're talking about the comfort and the [00:13:30] pace of change, well, some people would say, "A lot's been done." Okay, but I guarantee if you ask any black employee at any company that's made commitments since May of 2020, has their daily lived experience changed, the resounding answer is no. And so DEI as a compliance-based commitment to activity is doing exactly what it's supposed to do. What we're trying to do [00:14:00] is move it forward to a solutions-based, humanity-centered work.

                             And when we talk about humanity, that gets into a lot of the historical references of how the construct was set up. So I'll say, without going too deep into the history lesson, let's just agree that in order for business to run, there has to be some decisions that exclude humanity. Let's be honest. Whether it's riffing 6,000 employees [00:14:30] at once, whether it's setting up shop in a country because of the reduced labor restrictions, whether it's unfair lending practices, whatever the case may be, there's a disconnect of humanity that's baked into the system.

                             Well, now we're asking people that have been rewarded to the highest levels of organizations by making some of these decisions to now be more human, to now put humanity back into consideration. And there's a huge [00:15:00] gap in how to do that. Why? That's not taught in B-school. That's not taught or rewarded. You don't get performance reviews on how well you showcased humanity as an executive leader or a manager. So DEI work in a 3.0 era looks like how do we teach people to be humane again. How do we have them tap into something that they haven't had to in an emotional way, to cross bridges that they haven't crossed before? [00:15:30] Everybody likes to use, "Let's build bridges." Well, the expectation is that both sides meet in the middle, but let's keep in mind that one side's had to travel across the bridge the entire time. One side's never crossed the bridge. So to meet in the middle is still inequitable. We need to get one side of the bridge over to the other and exposure to different cultural realities and understanding.

Torin:                  Yeah. So let me tell you I'm actually thinking about something over here, and if I can find [00:16:00] what I'm looking for, I'm going to come back to that. You said something. The centering of cisgender, able-body white men, and then everything outside of that falls under the category of diversity forces the conversation of equity and/or inclusion.

John:                   That's right.

Torin:                  How do we bring it back so that it's not heard as being... [00:16:30] I'm going to use offensive because I can't think of a better word in this moment. How do we continue to keep white men in the conversation, and how do we bring more white women into the conversation? Because let's be honest, Julie's going to fight for her husband-

Julie:                    No.

Torin:                  It's not you. It's not that you [inaudible 00:16:55]. In this example, Julie's going to fight for her husband more than [00:17:00] she's going to fight for people outside of her family, and that's just natural. And so I don't want people to feel like humanity means that you have to absolutely just go counter to what I think makes sense. I'm going to fight for my family before I begin to fight outside of my family. So how do we bring more white men and women into the conversation so that that's not heard [00:17:30] as being offensive and/or exclusionary?

John:                   Yeah, I appreciate that, and I think one of the reasons why I do what I do in the approach that I do it is to educate rather than implicate. When you hear what I just said, it may sound offensive, but when I say, "When's the last time you saw a white male ERG?" It should click that, "Oh wait, I haven't seen a white male ERG." Well, why is that? Again, that's the default [00:18:00] standard. So I don't want to indict. I'm simply creating a common language or level of understanding so we're all operating on the same page. You don't have to like it. I hope you hate that I'm saying these things because they're still true, not because you feel in some way implicated. I want you to be charged up to address and ask better questions.

                             That is what I believe will push us to better solutions. So yes, I think it takes [00:18:30] consciously creative, compassionate white men, white women, black men, black women, all of the diverse dimensions really to be honest with each other and really push ourselves to ask better questions, and be okay with discomfort. This doesn't get solved by continuously coddling the feelings. [00:19:00] That's one of the ways that I approach this, is I tell people right off the bat, "My job is to push you to better questions, which are going to have to help you to face some harder truths." If we're in the game of finding solutions for this, than these are requirements. If we're just talking about what activities will check the box performatively, that's a different conversation, and probably one that's not going to be best served by me. And so I don't meet too [00:19:30] many people that want to just focus on performative, at least in theory, but sometimes you do have to ask these harder questions.

Julie:                    I think that that's where we get to the question of accountability. Just to round out this conversation, when we're talking about... And as a woman with a disability that's hidden, I can say that I've had these conversations with my own community, [00:20:00] is that everything... We've always said everything needs to come top-down. Everything in our DEI commitment needs to come top-down. What that results in, in my opinion, is white male executives having rewards and incentives for the people in the middle and at the bottom for doing the work, [00:20:30] doing the hiring, doing the retention, identifying new ways to do internal mobility, or the people at the bottom who fail to do these things facing the repercussions of that failing and never seeing the white power structure as it exists today pay any repercussions for failure to implement the things that are coming from the top down.

John:                   That's right. [00:21:00] You nailed it. The question I ask is, who gets fired if DEI doesn't work? Because everybody, when you ask accountability, it usually defaults to roles, responsibilities, and metrics. Now, those are measures, and those are assignment of tasks, but who gets fired? What's the consequence? If you don't meet your sales numbers as a sales leader for three quarters straight, guess what? There's a consequence. In fact, DEI is one of the only functions where, if it's successful, [00:21:30] you work yourself out of a job, but if you fail... If you fail as the individual, you can be fired, but if the strategy is not embraced, if people don't activate, if they don't put it into practice, there's no repercussion.

                             Because again, it's all about who are the intended beneficiaries of the work. That's a question that I ask at the beginning. If we do everything right and [00:22:00] fully funded, fully resourced, executed, who are the intended beneficiaries of this work? And there's a pause, most times, and people say, "Well, everybody will benefit." I say, "But if everybody's not marginalized." So if we're going into this with an everybody benefits, then you're going to create an everybody solution that doesn't solve anything for anybody, except the organization that benefits from the reputation play that it... All of that to say, accountability, what does that look like? It looks like people asking very strong questions.

                             To your point, Julie, in the last chapter, I pose a ton of questions, but first and foremost an executive checklist, as it were. Questions that need to be asked, and they're honest questions. Are we committed to being anti-racist or ending systemically racist practices and processes? That's a starter. [00:23:00] Are we committed to that? If we're not, then we shouldn't even go any further yet. Let's really be honest about what we're trying to achieve. When we talk about accountability, it looks like consequence or incentive. Those are the only two things that change behavior in human nature. Carrot or stick.

                             So we're starting to see some incentivization through bonuses and tying DEI goals to performance outcomes and so forth, and that's cool. But what happens [00:23:30] when somebody's filed multiple complaints about a microaggressive manager or a work environment that's just completely toxic, and there's no repercussion? There's not even tools for your HR team to deal with that, honestly, unless it meets a certain standard of legal statute. So there's a very deep discussion talk and a very hard question to answer about if in fact these accountability measures are put in place, where there are consequences. Well, everybody's held [00:24:00] accountable to that now, including the top. And I don't know too many people from a human nature perspective that willingly put themselves into positions of discomfort or harm, or perceived harm. So it's a layered onion. I'm sorry to the listeners that I didn't come with that answer, because they were like, "I was waiting for it," but I'm like, "This is 600 years worth of layered conversation." Not going to be solved by Q2 of next year.

Torin:                  [00:24:30] John Graham, VP of employer brand and everything else over at Shaker Marketing, because with that type of thinking, I know that they are tapping you to support, to contribute, to be a part of a number of other conversations outside of your role.

John:                   That's right.

Torin:                  You are a jewel inside of the organization. I am absolutely, absolutely happy that Shaker has this type of firepower in that seat. Not soft firepower. You are strong and challenging organizations. Listeners, you can find John on Twitter @instagraham1906. That's insta G-R-A-H-A-M one nine zero six. On Twitter @instagraham1906. And again, John, where can they find your book?

John:                   Yes, anywhere books are sold. Preferably though plantationtheory.com. As I tell people, we'd like to send my children to space, not Mr. Bezos.

Torin:                  How about that?

John:                   Yes. Yes, indeed.

Torin:                  How about that? And real quick, we want to just give a couple of shout-outs to some women that made history in 2021. Our [inaudible 00:25:45] but thanks again, John. We really appreciate you, man. 2022, next year. Some new coins are dropping. Let me tell you, Maya Angelou is going to be on a coin. Sally Ride, who was an astronaut, is going to be a coin. Actress Anna May Wong is going to be [00:26:00] on a coin. Suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren is going to be on a coin, and Wilma Mankiller. Uh-oh. Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, is going to be on a coin. So we are looking forward to that.

Julie:                    As we wrap up, just to every woman who has been burnt out, stepped on, looked over, and those who haven't, those who've been cared for but still have been under the stress of an amazingly stressful two years of our lives. Thank you for everything that you've done, and we'll continue to look out for your voices in 2022.

Torin:                  Yeah. It's probably a good time for you to read McKinsey's report from September of 2021, Women in the Workplace. We'll drop the link in the show notes. Make sure you take a read of that particular book. Julie and I absolutely appreciate you all. Listen, we're enjoying the month of December. We're not here, but we're here. We made sure we brought some incredible voices, voices that you should research, voices that you should follow, voices that you should tell others about. And so make sure to share Crazy and the King on your digital and your social tribes. And now, J and I are ghost.

Julie:                    See ya.

 

John Graham, Jr. Profile Photo

John Graham, Jr.

NYT & Forbes Featured Author, VP, Employer Brand, Diversity & Culture - Shaker Recruitment Marketing

John Graham’s professional passion is helping global companies uncover who they are at their core. Through award winning employer brand and employee value proposition development, Graham has discovered innovative ways to bring the humanity of employee stories to life. As a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practitioner and culture transformation consultant, his work centers on improving the lived experiences of marginalized employee populations through bleeding-edge approaches that disrupt the status quo and create equitable and inclusive environments. Graham earned a bachelor’s degree in African Studies and a Master's degree in Education from Lincoln University. He also holds an executive certificate in Fostering Diversity and Inclusion from the Yale School of Management.

Accolades include:
- Double alumnus of Lincoln University - 1854 (Oldest degree-granting HBCU in the U.S.)
- Fostering Diversity & Inclusion certification from Yale School of Management
- Published author of Plantation Theory: The Black Professional’s Struggle Between Freedom & Security
- Named to the 2020 Comparably List of Inspiring Employer Brand Leaders
- Launched global employer brands for Fortune 50 Pharma & Biotech companies
- Award-Winning culture marketing and talent attraction strategist