As a floating secretary for Ernst & Young, Tana Session found herself spending a lot of time in HR and soaking up every bit of knowledge she could. A boss saw potential in her, and she climbed the corporate ladder focusing on DEI and culture. She eventually decided it was time to step out on her own – she made the leap to entrepreneurship, where she now consults with brands such as Madison Reed, Carhartt, and Dolce & Gabanna.
Dr. Tana Session is a DEIB & HR Consultant, host of the Stop Being the Best Kept Secret Podcast, and author of Working While Black: A Woman’s Guide to Stop Being the Best Kept Secret.
Jackie Ferguson: Hello and thanks for joining me today. My guest today is Dr. Tana Session. Dr. Session is an award-winning consultant, international speaker, executive level performance coach, best-selling author, recognized inclusion diversity and multi-generational thought leader and media contributor.
Dr. Session is the official LinkedIn Learning expert for diversity and inclusion in recruiting and interviewing, and was also recognized by Forbes as a next 1000 and a top diversity and inclusion business leader, and a DEI champion by the National Diversity Council. Dr. Session, thank you so much for being with me today.
Dr. Tana Session: Thank you, Jackie honored to be here. Looking forward to it.
Jackie: Me too. So let’s start if we can, by just telling us a little about yourself, your family, your identity, your background, whatever you’d like to share.
Tana: Sure. So Dr. Tana Session, I identify as she, her. I am married. I have a 26-year-old son. I have a 31-year-old bonus son. We’ve been empty nesters since 2013, so it’s been a fabulous life of, you know, just myself and my husband doing what we want when we want. Professionally, I, have been in HR for over 30 years.
I’ve been head of HR for 10 of those years for different types of organizations, both for profit and not for profit. I’ve been in the diversity space since 2007. So I’ve been doing this work for quite some time. I just recently got accepted to law school. So I’m really looking forward to starting law school in the fall. And my focus is going to be civil rights law, which many people who know me are not surprised by that. So looking forward to taking my game and DEI up a notch,, from a legal aspect.
Jackie: I love that. Congratulations. That’s a big one.
Tana: Thank you. Thank you. Oh, and I live in Los Angeles, but I’m originally from New York.
Jackie: Got it. Got it. Got it. Dr. Session, will you tell us a little bit more about your early career? As you got started, how did you, you know, navigate corporate America? What was your experience? And then I’m also interested now, now I’m asking 30 questions at once, right? just shows I’m excited about the conversation,
Tana: I should be able to track it, but okay.
Jackie: but then how, how has the DEI landscape changed right from 2007 to today?
Tana: Yeah. I’ll start off by saying it has changed, you know, the work that I’m doing with clients now. So as I said, I’ve been in HR for over 30 years. I started my own consulting company back in 2014, and I’ve been able to work with different organizations, including federal and state agencies and municipalities on their cultural transformation work through the lens of organizational development and of course, DEIB.
And it’s changed over the years because when I first got started it, people were focused more so on., not only getting people of color, you know, into leadership roles, but they were focused on the multi-generational workforce because the millennials at that time were starting to come in. They were focused on getting women into leadership. So I would say the bulk of the work that I did prior to probably 2020, has been in those areas, like really looking at the multi-generational workforce, getting women into the, into leadership roles. There’s been a huge push and a huge focus on that, and there’s been some good traction.
So admittedly, it was the right thing to do, but we weren’t having the types of conversations that we’re having right now, as it relates to black indigenous people of color, other marginalized, underrepresented groups in the workforce and what their lived experiences have been. So 2020, summer 2020 really changed the game in terms of changing the types of conversations that were having in the workplace.
Jackie: Absolutely, and then Dr. Session, tell us about your early career. How did you get started and was its HR where you started or did you start somewhere else and then move into HR?
Tana: Yeah. I started as an administrative assistant in human resources., back then it was called personnel,, because I’m a woman of a certain age. And, I remember I came into Ernst and Young as what they call the floating secretary. And as a floating secretary, you would just fill in whenever another administrative assistant was out sick for the day or on medical leave or had to leave early.
And when you weren’t assigned to a desk, you would sit in HR. And so I sat in HR enough times where I started building a relationship with the team there and they started seeing my resourcefulness and, and how I was able to assist employees when they came in. And I, the director at that time said, hey, do you want to be my assistant, and then that way you’ll basically you’ll have a home. And I was like, okay.
And so I remember I only thought of it as a job. Like I just wanted to make enough money so that I could go and hang out with my friends on the weekend and, you know, pay my rent and leave work at work and go home and have a good time, and she saw something to me. I didn’t see in myself., she sought a way people engaged and interacted with me. She sought a way that, some of the other administrative assistants and in particular Black ones,, would share with me some of the experiences they were having.
And then I would be able to then talk to her about it and say, hey, what are we going to do about this? And so that really was my, my entry point into human resources. So she would have me sit in with her when she was having employee relations discussions to take. She would have me, you know, work with new hires coming in in regards of getting their paperwork, that type of thing.
And I just really started getting interested in that. And what I realized was that if you’re a nosy person, HR is the best department to be in because you learn everything that’s going on inside of a company, if you are plugged into the HR team. Now you have to have a high level of confidentiality, of course, but it’s, you know, it’s always some drama going on.
Jackie: That’s right. Absolutely. Dr. Session, how can we get more underrepresented women in executive roles? You talked about that being an earlier focus. So what are your recommendations? What’s your advice there?
Tana: One, you should look at a talent you already have in house because talent is hidden in plain view or in plain sight, we are already there. So I think it’s a matter of understanding,, why they haven’t been selected for these opportunities. And what’s been holding them back in their career and having those conversations early on.
So, you know, when you get to the first level of management, that’s when they immediately start seeing a dip or a dive, if you will, in terms of people of color, Black, indigenous people, women, even moving up to the next couple levels, up to the executive level. And that’s why even on the fortune 500, you see, so few of us represented there because the funnel is so tight and small and lean.
Then on the recruiting side, you need to diversify where you’re recruiting from. So if you’re going to the same pond, you’ll get the same fish. If you’re relying on your network, you’re going to get the same people who look like you, think like you and probably have the same background as you. So there’s going to be lack of diversity of thought and lack of diversity on so many other levels, including social categories.
So if you’re not widen the lens or the, the, the net, if you will, in terms of where you’re casting to bring people into your funnel of recruiting, then ultimately you’re going to get the same results.
Jackie: Absolutely. And, you know, you said something earlier about your manager, she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. So what’s our responsibility, right? As leaders to identify that talent and to give them opportunities to rise within the organization. I think that advice is great.
Tana: Definitely. And it’s also up to the individuals too. So I can’t put it all on the company or all on the managers. The individuals need to be able to express what their desires are because we can’t read your minds. So if you’re not telling us, I want to be in your job one day. And I remember I told my boss that I was like, one day I want to be in your job.
And she’s like, I’m going to help you get there because she ultimately said, I’m failing if I’m not, you know, grooming or growing my replacement. And when I was head of HR, I did the exact same thing. I said, I’m failing if I’m not grooming and growing my replacement, but I, I won’t be here forever.
Jackie: mm-hmm, absolutely. And Dr. Session, how did you move from corporate America? Right. Make that move from corporate America into consulting and speaking.
Tana: Well, I was conscious about it. You know, I hit a point in my career where I felt like I hit a wall. I kind of felt like no matter what company I went to; I was doing the same thing over and over and over again. And at the beginning, it’s always fun because you’re changing things. You’re getting used to the people. You know, you’re the new shiny toy., but then after a while it just starts to become day to day. Right.
And I wanted more of a variety of those type of work and the types of people I was working with. And it happened where people started reaching out to me, either on LinkedIn or through different, networks that I was involved in or associations rather asking me to do speaking engagements or be on panels.
And through that, I realized this is something I think I like doing. And I started doing it and saying yes, more and more without realizing that my CEO was not a fan of me doing this. And I thought that’s odd, because this is not only helping me, but it’s also making the company look good that you have your top HR executive sitting on this panel or being involved in this, you know, interview process.
So ultimately I had to reach a decision. I told my husband, at the time I was 47 and I said, I don’t want to wake up at 50 and hate my life. Like I said, I’m looking around this office and I see people in their fifties, mid-fifties, and they don’t look happy. I don’t want that to be me. And my husband said, I want you to be happy, do what you need to do to make that happen.
Now, luckily he’s an entrepreneur. He’s always has been he’s in the entertainment industry, so it was good to have that support at home, but it was scary. What I did was I, I gave myself three months. I said, I’m giving myself three months. If I don’t land my first speaking engagement, my first client, or finish my first book, then I will go back to work.
I was able to do all three and I felt like that was just a universe responding to my desires. And as a result, I said, now I have to take the leap. Right. Because I put it out there, it manifested, now I have a responsibility to see it through. And so That’s what I did. And I haven’t looked back, which has been great.
Jackie: That is so fantastic. And one thing just to point out is you made that shift at 47, right? So for those of us who think we have to have it all figured out at a young age, we don’t. And for those of us who are finding themselves in those positions where we’re not happy or we’re, we’re not feeling fulfilled, it’s never too late to make that change for yourself and make that shift and take that leap. So I love that you shared that.
Tana: Hey, Jackie, I’m 53 years old. I’m going back to school. Okay. I haven’t been, I, I finished my MBA back in 2008, so know, so 14 years, you know, to be back in formal school structure as an adult learner, is never too late.
Jackie: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. We all have to keep us updated on the learning path to get that law degree. that’s amazing.
Tana: I sure Hang in there with me. Three years.
Jackie: That is so great. Dr. Session, can you share with us some of the corporations that you work with and some of the common challenges that those organizations face that you can assist them with?
Tana: Sure., so I’ll speak about some of the ones that I’m, you know, actively engaged with? right now., Madison Reed, which is the, the hair color company, Berkshire residential investment, which is an REIT firm. They also own properties throughout the nation. LT Apparel is the company I’ve been with for the last couple of years.
And they make the school uniform French toast, for many of you who may know that, or they work with Adidas, they work with Carhartt., so they’re a fashion manufacturer from that perspective, I’ve worked with Dolce and Gabbnana. I’ve worked with Creed, like many, many names that you, you know, would readily recognize, Lands’ End even.
And I’ve done everything from, you know, doing facilitated trainings because that’s what they were focused on at the time to developing a full blown out diversity strategy for them, right. To help change and transform that culture and that involved doing cultural assessments and focus groups and you know, creating diversity councils or advisory councils or committees, or sub-committees like helping ’em put in the infrastructure to be able to do the work. Um cause I tell, ’em look at the end of the day, this is your company, this is your strategy. You know, I’m not going to be here to hold your hand along the way.
So you need to, my job is to make sure you’re prepared to do this work once I step back, and I had another consultant say, you know, we have a sunrise and a sunset with our clients by design. And by that sunset, I want them to feel that they’re in a good place and they can continue to work that it won’t, you know, fall by the wayside.
Jackie: Absolutely. That’s, you know, and that goes back to what you said earlier about, you know, training your, your replacement, right? It’s the same thing, you know, you want to give them the tools to empower their organization, but ultimately they have to do the work. I think that’s great.
Tana: Yeah. After two years, I start getting a little itchy. So I’m like, I think, I think they think I’m an employee at that point and I’m like, oh, it’s time to start cutting the cord.
Jackie: Now Dr. Session, one of the things that you say is your employees are not okay. So what do leaders need to know about their employees in this climate?
Tana: You know, I wish we could, in some ways, I don’t think it is the best thing to do, but if in some ways we can go back to the feeling that we had back in March, 2020, when we all had to run for our lives from the workplace, those of us who were privileged to be able to work from home. We had such a high level of empathy and caring and humanizing in the workplace that had never, ever happened before. At least not in so many companies at the same time, I’m sure there were many companies out there that that’s just their culture and that’s a good thing.
But when you look at it, we were all going through this for the very first time together. We were hand in hand and we were all in this together and I feel like we’re starting to get further and further and further away from that, especially with the return to office momentum.
Tana: My concern is that we’re not taken into account the mental wellbeing of employees in terms of what this has been like for them for the last two years. What is it going to be like to transition, to come back into the office so much so to change their schedule, get back into commuting, whatever that looks like for them?
You know, getting back into a routine, you know, packing your lunch, doing meal preps, like all of the things we’ve kind of moved away from for almost, you know, two and a half years. And I know leaders have wanting to save their culture, and I know that they feel that we need to have bodies back in this office.
We’re paying this astronomical rent or taxes or whatever they’re paying for their office space. And that’s all fine. And I understand that bottom line effect. But I also understand that the culture that you had in 2019 is never going to be the same again. So it’s time for us to really wrap our heads around that and understand we need to develop a new culture, a future of work culture, and understand that the way we were working before is not how we’re going to work anymore.
Like those younger millennials and those gen Zers who got that taste of freedom, you’re going to be pulling them, dragging them into the office, many of them now. Some of them want to have the interactivity they want to be involved with, you know, sitting on teams, having that interface time with their leaders, which is important.
And I think there should be pieces of that, but I think the flexibility that we’ve had for the last two and a half years needs to continue to be part of your culture. That’s going to help you retain your employees. It’s going to help them feel that they can have true work. Balance, even though that’s a lie, but they’ll have some work life balance in theory.
And also they won’t be penalized just because they’re not in the office in terms of not having that face forward time with their managers and being forgotten about when promotional opportunities are available or new projects come up because they’re not in the office, you know, five days a week. I think we need to think about this hybrid model as this is the way work is going to be from now.
Jackie: Absolutely, such good advice. You’ve won many awards, right? One of which is the Forbes next 1000. Can you tell us a bit about that award and what it means?
Tana: You know, my, my team nominated me for it. I’d heard about it. I’d seen like a couple emails and, you know, reading the description. I thought, eh, you know, it’s not for me, but my team submitted me for it. And the next day I know emails started coming in where they were requesting additional information that my team didn’t necessarily have as it relates to my business.
And I was like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you nominated me. Okay. So let me, you know, provide this information to see what happens. And I remember my husband and I, we were on vacation, well, I call it a sabbatical. We took four months and did a tour of Africa and I was just leaving the red sea, and we were in the car on our way back to our hotel and I was scrolling through email and this email came from Forbes and it said congratulations.
And I was like, wait, what? And then I was like, I kind of screamed a little bit. And I think I cried. And the driver was like, is everything okay? And we were like, you know, we’re in,, in Egypt. And I said, I said, yes. I said, I just. I just won this award from Forbes, I said, this is, this is big. And my husband’s like, oh, wow, congratulations.
You know, you know, I’m so proud of you and you know, it just meant a lot. It meant a lot that, you know, such a big entity would recognize me in the work that I do and the difference that I’ve made for these companies and different clients that I’ve worked with over the last few years, as a consultant,, to transform their culture and to be able to have that type of impact and be recognized for it.
To me, it just speaks to I’m doing the right thing. I’m working in my purpose. That’s why I don’t feel like it’s work. And ultimately, you know, having this brand behind me, of course, that’s another letter level of credibility in terms of new clients that may be, you know, looking for other consultants to work with, which is fine.
They should, they should vet multiple consultants before they decide who to work with. But hopefully this also says that, you know, she really knows what she’s doing. She’s going to cause more good than harm. And this is someone that we can use as a partner in our work.
Jackie: That’s so fantastic. Congratulations on that. Well, you mentioned a four-month sabbatical, so I really want to dig into that. I, you know, I think more and more people are taking sabbaticals. So can you talk to us a little about what that is and, and what the benefit of a sabbatical is? And then if you want to share a couple of pieces of your trip and, and what the highlights were that’s okay, too.
Tana: Absolutely. So you know, my team and I, we work really, really hard. Especially, as I said, since 2020, as you can imagine the volume of work that was coming at us, it was really like drinking through a fire hose. And, and we, you know, we, we stood up and we accomplished everything that we set out to do. And we were able to successfully, you know, partner with our clients and give them what they were looking for and set them on their journey.
And network continued all the way through 2021, which was a good thing. The business grew and, you know, we had more consultants. We were able to bring in to help with some of the initiatives. I felt burnt out, you know, as the head of the company and as the, the face of the company, the one who was doing a lot of the client you know, business development and, and the first point of contact with these clients, I knew in order for me to show up as my best self for this year, I needed to take some time off.
And so I took off for four weeks. My team took off two weeks and we just did not answer emails, you know, every occasional one now and then, but for the most part, luckily our clients will close as well, very slow in that time of the year. And so I took off from mid-December through mid-January and my husband and I did a tour five countries in Africa.
We started with Egypt and then we went to Kenya and then we went to Tanzania and then we went to Ghana and Senegal, and then we spent some time in Dubai and then we came back home. And after I came home, I still had another week just to get my body acclimated to the different time zones again, get back on, on Pacific coast time.
And it was the best thing I could have done for myself and my business and for my team, as well, as I said, they were able to take the, you know, two weeks outta the, last two weeks of the year off too. And now this year we’re doing eight weeks. So
Tana: Yep. We’re going to take off mid-November and we’ll come back mid-January.
Jackie: That’s awesome. And Dr. Session, what are some of the benefits of that? So right. Obviously rest right, and, and recovery, but tell me some of the other benefits to not only doing that for yourself, but allowing your team to do that as well.
Tana: Well first and foremost mental wellbeing. I think we were all burnt out. We were so in the moment, and so present with the amount of work that we were doing, that we didn’t allow ourselves time to have downtime. Like my office is closed on Fridays, but we were still even working on Fridays in some cases, just to keep up with the volume of work that was coming through.
And so, you know, we kind of robbed ourselves of our four-day, week, many weeks and I felt if I was feeling this, I knew my team must be feeling it too, because I’m only great because of what they do to support me. And so the mental wellbeing was a benefit,, being present with our family and friends, especially again, many of us probably traveling for the first-time last year,, after, you know, not being able to do so since 2019.
So having that time to just be present. And for those who are us, who were able to travel to be able to get out of our homes and break up the monotony of, you know, those four walls that were have been closing in on us. Again, I consider that part of our mental wellbeing. and then just experiencing and having new experiences.
So, you know, somewhat normal life, if you will, you know, still being amassed and you know, all that stuff with traveling and everything, but just being able to get out and meet new people and have new experiences, you know, just gave me the energy, as I said, that I needed to come back and, and show up as my best self for, for this year.
Jackie: That’s such good advice. And, you know, certainly we can all think about when it’s time for us to take that break, right. And recovery is so important to the work we do, but especially in this space, because it’s so emotional. Right, not only are the people that we’re working with, you know, having those, those challenges and those emotional reactions to, to this work, but we are human, and so we are having those, those reactions as well. So I think that’s fantastic that you prioritize that.
Tana: Yeah. I told everyone, this is head and hard work at the end of the day, right? It’s about empathy, it’s about emotions. It’s about even some cases, even sympathy. And so, you know, if you’re leading this type of work, it can be overwhelming. It can be exhausting. It can be emotionally draining. I have all of those same feelings, even though I love what I do. And you have to give yourself that time to recover. So, you know, people talk about self-care and, and that to me was part of it was to be able to get out, get away, step away from the computer. I had my laptop with me, but, you know, I barely opened it again, time difference was a help, right.
Because when I was sleeping, they were awake when they were awake, I was asleep. So, and again, just, you know, having that time with my husband, as I said, we’re empty nesters. And you know, he barely saw me outside of my office except for dinner, because I was just in there just plowing away with work, having conferences, doing meetings, doing trainings, talking to new clients and taking clients off, off boarding clients.
And it was a lot and we didn’t have that connection as a, as a married couple, you know, in many cases because the volume of work was just so, so busy.
Jackie: Well, Dr. Session, let’s talk about your LinkedIn Learning. What kinds of topics do you discuss there?
So I have a course right now and it’s doing really well over a quarter of a million people have taken it, which is just to me, mind blowing. And it’s called uncovering unconscious bias and recruiting and interviewing. And I recorded the course back in November, 2019. It launched in January of 2020.
And now I’m in the process of developing my second course, and that course, the reason why I wanted to do that one was. One of the things that a lot of clients were asking me about was how do we actually make certain that we are removing our own bias when we are looking at resumes or applications, or, you know, interviewing candidates that are different than what we are used to and not letting that be a determining factor. And so I thought that the advice I was given them would make a great. course for LinkedIn. And so luckily they agreed and we were able to get it recorded and, and get it launched. And it’s done really well and continues to do so.
and now the next one is about the now what phase of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging work. So without giving too much away, you know, you’ve done all the trainings. They have tons of trainings out there. They have great instructors who have put a lot of material out there around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and kind of, you know, how to get it started, what to do, what it should look like.
Well, what happens once you’ve done all that, and you’re now, you know, you don’t have your consultant anymore and you need to know as a leader or a manager or even an employee, what’s the ‘now what’ part? Well that what the next course is.
Jackie: That’s great, when Dr. Session has left the building, then what happens?
Tana: Exactly. Exactly. So, and I’m, I’m approaching it as a conversation. So even though the first one was somewhat conversational, but instructional, this one’s going to be much more conversational because I want to talk to them and say, When I talk to my clients, when we are getting ready to off board, like here are the things you need to look out here.
Has it, how are you going to measure your return on investment? This is what success could look like, here’s how you set goals and KPIs and why it’s important to do so and giving some, you know, some theoretical examples of it, of course, but kind of walking them through the steps of continuing this work, because it is nonstop. It doesn’t end. There’s no end point. Right. It’s truly a journey,
Jackie: That’s. exactly right. And, you know, I think that’s one of the things that people have to wrap their head around. It’s not a, a checkbox approach, right. Where you get to the end of it. This is a continual practice, a continual journey, as you said. And, you know, what are the tools that, that you need to continue that, that process of DEIB.
Dr session, what do you make of this great resignation? Why is this happening? And what can companies do better to make sure they’re retaining employees?
Tana: Well I’ll first say, I think it’s a long time overdue., again, 2020 was a catalyst. Of course, a lot of people had time to sit home and they didn’t have to interact with people in the office. And they had time to think, do I really like this job? Do I really like this boss, do I really like these coworkers?
I’m not happy. I’m just the happiest I’ve ever been. And I’ve never had, you know, I’ve never had this experience before where I get to sit at home and I don’t have to interact with these individuals or deal with, you know, these microaggressions or this bias or discrimination or racism, all the other things that people have been dealing with in the workplace.
And they dealt with because they felt they had no other choice. they would go from one company to the next hoping for a different experience. And they had over time, had the same experience and I can speak to that from my own personal experience as well in corporate America. So what does that mean? Well, people have choices now, so luckily, not only was there a great race to hire Black, Indigenous, People of Color, so now they have been poached. They have been pursued and wooed by different companies in ways that they never have before. And I say, Bravo, Bravo, they’re getting their just rewards. They’re getting paid equitably., many of them have seen huge increases in pay.
I’ve read a study where some people are seeing 30 and 40% increases in pay cause of their, their move to a new job. and that just means that you were underpaid all the time, right. You underpaid all the time. they’re getting new titles; they’re getting promoted within their organization. so again, reaching back and looking at the talent you already have and saying, how do we overlook, obtain all these years? Wow.
That was a mistake. You know what? We should promote her. And now all of a sudden you’re realizing how talented she is, how gifted she is, what a value she is to your organization. Will it continue, don’t know, starting to slow down a little bit, but there’s still for every one person. There’s about 2.3 jobs available.
So there’s still a lot of open positions. A lot of my clients have open positions right now that they can’t fail. They’re trying feverously to find talent and they just can’t. I think it’s also empowering the employees to have different conversations during the recruitment process. So they’re asking questions now. Why isn’t your leadership team diverse? What are you doing about diversity? I don’t see anyone who looks like me on your website. Why is that? Right.
So they’re having different conversations about that now. And they’re also thinking more intentionally around what type of work they want to do. They want to do work that has a purpose. They want to do work, where they feel that they’re being valued. They have a voice, their voice is appreciated and sought out. And that they’re in a relation with their manager, where it’s more consultative not directive. So asking different questions now, and I’m telling you, Gen Y, Gen Z is changing the game. They really are. I admire that generation, even though we laid the foundation for them. I’m a Gen X-er
Tana: They’re able to take advantage of the work that we put in., but they’re taking it to the next level which they should do. Right. I think each generation should lead the workplace better for the next, and That’s what we’re starting to see as the ripple effect of.
Jackie: I think that’s, that’s so true. And you know, the thing about it is just to remember, those, you know, potential employees and candidates are interviewing us as employers the same way that we’re interviewing them. Right. They’re doing lots of research. They’re looking at our website, they’re contacting employees through LinkedIn, right.
That, you know, to gauge their experience. And so, you know, gone are the days of opening show up with your resume, take the job if you’re offered, you know, and there’s, there’s a lot of research that’s being done. So you need to understand what your outward brand is because it, it factors into the, the top talent that you want to recruit.
Tana: Oh Yeah. I mean, Glass Door is like the go-to place for Gen Y, Gen Z. And I remember, I think it was in 2020 when they added the diversity component. So now you can rate your company on diversity. And again, they’re asking those questions, they’re going there and they’re doing their research. They’re going through your social media.
And they’re asking questions about decisions that you made around different posts and different things that you supported or did not support. They want to know what you feel about different social justice issues that are happening, that impact them as an employee outside of the workplace. So yes, the conversations are different. I’m excited to see what happens over the next, you know, let’s see what happens when we get to 2025.
Jackie: Absolutely. Well, Dr. Session, let’s talk about your latest book, which is fantastic by the way, working while Black, A Woman’s Guide to Stop Being the Best Kept Secret. What will readers learn from reading this book?
Tana: What I hope they learn first and foremost is about the true experiences of black women in the workplace. I know there’s been a lot of talk about it. As I said, the conversations have changed in terms of having these types of open, transparent, courageous conversations over the last couple of years, but really hearing it through the lens of those individuals who had those experience myself included.
Um, so I shared my journey through corporate. I shared the journey of, several other phenomenal, Black women who are either in corporate or on their own business. I was even able to fortunately interview, Miss Mandela. She is actually the granddaughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Swati is her name.
I wanted to get a global perspective of what’s it like for Black women and other parts of the world as it relates to their experience as Black women, but not only did we share our experiences, Jackie, we also shared the strategies for how we navigated through systems that weren’t necessarily. And designed for us to be successful.
And we talked about what it took for us to learn how to own our power in those situations, our truth, our healing, worth, and then ultimately our true destiny. And I hope what people get away from there is those that identify as Black women to not only see themselves in these stories, but hopefully be able to find some strategies for themselves that they’re experiencing some of these things.
And they just don’t know where to go because each of us, what I realize through interviewing these women is at the time you think you’re the only one that’s having that experience, where I realizing there’s a whole community of us out here having this experience. We just don’t talk about. It. right. We may talk about it with our immediate friends or family, but we’re not talking about it to the woman down the street at the next office building.
And she’s having these same experiences. Well, let’s talk about this, right? And then for our allies, what I want them to see is what can you do to help minimize the likelihood that these types of situations are happening in your workplace? Show up as an ally, ask questions, be with one that’s a sponsor for a black woman when you’re in a room and she’s not to say, hey, I think Tina would be great for this project.
You haven’t mentioned her name. Here’s some things I know about her. So those small hinges can open big doors for people. That’s what I hope people get from it, because I feel like in some ways with Black women I’m preaching to the choir, we kind of know our story. That’s. a good thing, right. To say, oh yeah, that’s my community. That’s my group. I, I, I can identify here’s some great nuggets in terms of things I haven’t thought about doing that I can put into practice, but it’s really for our allies.
Jackie: One of the things that resonated with me in the book was the number of personal stories. So it, you know, what I expected to read was more of like a, how to navigate guide, right. But really seeing those stories and being able to read those stories and, and identify for me personally, with those stories, it, it helps people to understand and helps allies and, and potential allies to understand that, wow, there are things that are pervasive, right. Things that they’re experiencing. It’s not just one experience. It’s not, you know, a one-off experience. This is, you know, we’re seeing threads like, right. And, and what can we do? Mm-hmm
Tana: Yeah, I mean, that’s the epitome of systemic, right. And a lot of it was, and again, even just, you know, interviewing these women, I spent hours and hours. I mean, it took me almost two years to write this book, spent hours talking to them and even re-interviewing them and going back and vetting even further.
And the fact that it was so authentic and transparent with me,, said a lot about, they wanted to share this story. They’re like, oh my gosh, I’ve never told anyone this before. And a lot of ’em said that, like, I’ve never talked about this before. And I was like, wow, thank you for honoring me and trust me with your story, but more so willing to share it with the world, because once it’s out there is out there, and it also humanizes us. Right.
And I think in regards to allyship to understand that you could probably identify with some of these experiences. It may not be exactly the same, but when you think about some of the personal things that they dealt with, while also showing up and being their best phenomenal self in the workplace, many of us probably have struggles that we’re dealing with at home.
And we have to think, well, I got to leave that at home. I’ll deal with it. When I get back, let me go here and shine and, you know, act like everything’s okay, and put an S on my chest and then go home and cry on my pillow. Like understanding those types of things really helps to humanize us. I said, that humanizing experience we had back in 2020, hopefully to help bring it back, you know, especially as we’re starting to return into the.
Jackie: Absolutely again, Working While Black: A Woman’s Guide to Stop Being the Best Kept Secret. Great book.
Tana: Thank you
Jackie: that with me.
For DEI practitioners, and we talked about this just a little bit, this is hard work for a number of reasons. One making these corporate shifts in culture, right? And then two navigating our own emotions and our own bias and frustrations.
What advice would you give to practitioners in this space about, you know, once they can take that break, right? How do you go back into the workplace and kind of manage that for yourself so that you don’t experience the burnout and you don’t experience a situation where it’s too much, right? How do we navigate that? And it’s so important to, to go back into this, because this is something that I hear from practitioners all the time. It’s hard work.
Tana: It And, and, and many of them, especially those that have been doing this work over the last two years, because it has been such high volume have actually tapped out. They were like, I quit. Right. Whether they were hired into an organization or they were consulting, they were like, I’m taking a break. I just, I can’t do it anymore.
One of the things I had to do for myself was learn how to compartmentalize the work. So, yes, it’s personal. Right. When I think about George Floyd, I see my sons. I see my husband. I see my uncles. You know, when I think about, you know, Briana, I, I, I see cousins of mines. Right. And so all of these things are personal to especially the Black community.
There’s no way I can say it. Doesn’t touch us in some way, and to be able to show up in the workplace that either as a consultant or a DEI practitioner in house, and to be able to help your organization, mostly people who probably don’t look like you don’t have these same experiences.
Understand what it means to truly be inclusive, understands what it means when they have bias. When you know, they say something or do something that’s a microaggression, giving them those teachable moments, giving them space safe space to be vulnerable and ask questions where you sometimes scratch ahead and think, how can you not notice?
Well, I see that as a, a space to have those teachable moments. I also see it as a space of someone wanting to learn. So there’s got to be a bit of grace there and, and on both sides. But also understand that this is ultimately a change management work that we’re doing. We’re changing cultures. So any change management process, you will go through, whether it’s building, rolling out a new its system, you know, or, you know, whatever project you’re going through, that’s changing within the organization, you’re doing the same thing when you’re shifting the culture, you, you, it is a change management. So if you can think about it from a methodical, theoretical perspective, as you know, such as that.
Putting into buy size pieces, creating a project plan for yourself, bringing in stakeholders and executive sponsors, making sure that you have resources, people, time and money, to do the work because that’s where a lot of the frustration comes in at, and then your own time, having some healthy boundaries.
So yes, gimme yourself that time to step away from it. Yes to compartmentalize it, giving yourself time to be angry, to be upset, be hurt, be concerned, but then you got to come back and do it again. So I think it’s, it’s cyclical, but it can be manageable, but it’s also good. When again, you have the resources that you need because struggling, trying to do this all by yourself with no team, no budget, sometimes no real power, that’s why a lot of people started leaving the, the, the feel over the last couple years.
Jackie: Absolutely such great advice. Now, Dr. Session about 80% of organizations have made some progress in diversity, equity and inclusion, which is great, but for organizations that are still not sure if DEI is a trend they can bypass, what do you want to share with them?
Tana: That they’re going to lose employees continually. They won’t be able to recruit for the next generation because they have zero tolerance for this, and they have an expectation of this work is being done and that this true commitment is not performative. And they’re again, as I said, asking those questions from the very beginning, from the recruiting standpoint, and when they get in there, they’re still asking the questions and then they have a level of accountability that, you know, many of us aren’t used to it, they’re saying, well, you say you were going to do this, but you didn’t why. right. And then they go to social media.
So I think that’s what’s going to happen. I think they; they will be left behind. I think they will see revenues drop because for every 10% increase in diversity, there’s a 0.8% increase in earnings., that was based on a recent study. Now that 0.8% may seem small, but if you have a multimillion dollar multi-billion-dollar company, It’s significant. You know, if you think about companies like what’s happening over at Tesla, with all of the complaints from their Black employees and Black consultants, they just had that big settlement that, you know, went out last October.
There’s more cases now that, you know, California’s investigating, like they’re going to get sued, you know, all of these things are going to happen. So those 80% that are thinking that, okay, I just, I won’t talk about this is going to go away. You know, you think it’s like the new cycle where it just starts to fade and then eventually we’ll onto the next cycle.
I don’t think so. I think you’re looking at it wrong now before 2020, you could have got away with that, but not anymore. The game and the conversations have changed.
Jackie: That’s right. Absolutely. Dr. Session. What do you think is next in DEI?
Tana: What do I think is next? I think we will start seeing more Black senior executives, hopefully, especially women, and I think we’re going to see more Hispanic leaders as well. And hopefully within the fortune 500, we’ll start seeing that start to shift too.
Right now there are a total of five Black CEOs on the fortune 500, 2 of them are women. So I want to see, and I’m hoping that we’ll start seeing that happen, but that’s going to have to happen lower down in the pipeline. right. So that first level manager doing the grooming, doing the succession, planning, the training, the mentoring, the sponsoring, and then grooming them up to that level, because they’re talented and they can do the work. They just need to have the sponsorship and the recognition and the opportunity. So That’s
what I see happening next. I also see people thinking more about the neural divergency of diversity. And of course still the multi-generational because again, as we see more gen Xers leaving, we have more Y’s growing up in the organizations and then here come to Zs, right. And then we have Gen alpha down the road, right. So in the next 10 years they’ll be here. So I think thinking more holistically about the multi-generational workforce, what that looks like Gen Y and Gen Z are the most socially, culturally, and ethnically diverse workforce to ever enter the workplace, which is why these conversations are not going anywhere anytime soon.
So that’s where I see diversity. I see those individuals starting to lead the work. I see them really starting to take the Baton and really pushing it across the finish line, I see a very,, multicultural workforce that’s much more representative of the world we live in.
Jackie: Absolutely now, Dr. Session, what is the best advice? And I love asking this question. I ask it of all my guests. What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Tana: Be yourself, someone will like you anyway. And I had to learn how to do that. I had to learn how to show up as my true, authentic self, because I, I thought there was a. Perception of what people wanted from Tana. And once I realized I could just show up as my true, authentic self, not only did I feel empowered and was much more productive, but I created much more real relationships, you know, in the workplace and even as a consultant and I realized that.
I was enough, and that to me was a game changer. So, you know, I didn’t, I could, you know, take off any facade or any mask or anything like that. And just show up as my true, authentic self and to tell people, the person you see on social media is the exact same person you’re going to get in person like that. I don’t have, you know, filters and different aspects of, oh, well, this is who I am on social. But when you meet me, I’m different. No, I’m the exact same person, same energy and everything.
Jackie: Love that. Love that. So doctor session, what is the message that you want to leave our listeners with today?
Tana: First, this work is not going anywhere. I know we’re tired. I know it’s overwhelming. I know it feels like every month there’s a new thing that comes out that we have to address. But that’s just part of the work and if you’re really doing the work and you’re doing it for the right. reasons,, you’ll have fulfillment in the change that you’re making. And I think that’s what we have to stay focused on is what do you want your legacy to be in this work? And that’s, that’s what I focus on every single day., because one day I’ll be retired and one day I won’t be doing this work anymore, but I want to be able to look back. And see the impact of the years and the effort and the tears and the sweat equity that I put into this work and know that I made a change.
So that way, the next generation that’s in the workforce, they’re not dealing with the things that I dealt with, that I shared in my book or these, these other women did. And they’re not dealing with some of the things that people are worried about dealing with once they go back into the office. Now that stuff hopefully will be far behind us. And I keep saying 2025, because I feel like that’s a, a magic year, you know, is midyear of the, the new decade midpoint rather the new decade. And I feel like, you know, we really got to put on our big pants on and say, who are we as, as a nation? Who are we as, a workplace, as you know, leaders in organizations?
If we don’t have a right by 2025, they should seem so far away. Right. That was like the Jetson’s era. it’s here now. So, so who do we want to be in the., decade, we just got to start thinking about it now.
Jackie: Oh, what a great way to end it. Dr. Session. Thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. You’re such an inspiration. Thank you for the work that you’re doing. And, I look forward to staying in touch and seeing how you progress through that law degree.
Tana: Thank you, me too. Thank you. Just wish me luck. Send good energy and good vibes my way.
Jackie: Absolutely. Thank you, Dr. Session.
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The Inclusive Language Handbook: A Guide to Better Communication and Transformational Leadership, by Jackie Ferguson and Roxanne Bellamy