Crazy F'in Retail

Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matters w/ Sabrina Meherally

March 23, 2020 Brennan Decker / Alice Fontanos Season 1 Episode 8
Crazy F'in Retail
Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matters w/ Sabrina Meherally
Crazy F'in Retail
Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matters w/ Sabrina Meherally
Mar 23, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Brennan Decker / Alice Fontanos

Sabrina Meherally joins us to discuss why diversity, equity, and inclusion matters in retail and what you can do about it. We discuss what drove Sabrina into D&I, what it means, and dig into our bias'. This is an episode that you do not want to miss.

Connect with Sabrina on Linkedin and via her Website, both are linked below. 

Support the show (

Show Notes Transcript

Sabrina Meherally joins us to discuss why diversity, equity, and inclusion matters in retail and what you can do about it. We discuss what drove Sabrina into D&I, what it means, and dig into our bias'. This is an episode that you do not want to miss.

Connect with Sabrina on Linkedin and via her Website, both are linked below. 

Support the show (

spk_0:   0:02
retail is crazy. Your leadership doesn't have to be. This'll is crazy f in retail with Brennan and Alice.

spk_1:   0:20
Good evening. So tonight I'm very excited to bring a special guest to crazy fuckin retail. Sabrina Murali. I met her through LinkedIn, and she has so much experience and knowledge around the DNA space that I know that she's gonna share some gems with everyone tonight. So make sure you get your notes ready because you're gonna want to take some notes on and take some actionable items back to your stores. Sabrina, what I missed You wanna introduce yourself a little bit?

spk_2:   0:53
Yeah, So thanks, Brennan and Alice. I'm really excited to be on this show today, so thank you so much for having me a little bit about me. I am a equity diversity and inclusion consultant. I'm extremely passionate about the intersection between hr diversity and inclusion and product. So I have a bit of a unique background. I have about 10 plus years combined in hr and diversity and inclusion initiatives. And I have a couple of years as well in product design and product management. And so this introduced me to ah, unique perspective. Where I'm able to bring the world of business product and people together to really drive results. Um, I don't see profit and people on two sides of the spectrum. I actually believe that those can work together. And, um, we could create employees experiences that all individuals from all different backgrounds love and that produce profitability, drives innovation and enhances a customer experience. So that's a bit about me. I run a consulting practice called Designing For Inclusion. And it's all about applying a human centered design approach to, ah, human resources and product development with an equity mindset.

spk_1:   2:24
Nice. Well, I know that we're really excited. Thio here. You on the podcast to have you on the podcast tonight.

spk_2:   2:31
Thank you. Me too.

spk_1:   2:33
You have an amazing why? I know that we talked and we've talked about in the past, but can you start off with sharing a little bit of a little bit of your story with our listeners? And why you? Why you got into Deanna?

spk_2:   2:45
Yeah, sure, Brennan. So I'm actually, um, extremely passionate about social justice and social inclusion because of my own lived experiences. So I'm the daughter of immigrant parents. My mom came from Uganda. She was a refugee during the media mean exodus, and my dad is an immigrant from Pakistan. So growing up, I, um, really understood the resilience that ran through my family's history. My mom's my my mom's side of the family particularly is one that had to constantly build and rebuild and face adversity over and over again. Um, when I was born, I was born in Canada and I grew up in a diverse neighborhood. But despite that, I actually rejected my own identity for a large portion of my life. Um, I came to realize afterwards that it was the media, and it was the messages that I was getting growing up that enforced the fact that being a racialized individual in our society was something to be afraid of, showing to the public in a way that I felt embarrassed about my own identity. So I grew up trying to be and and believing that I was essentially white. Obviously I am a woman of color, so we knew that my skin wasn't we hate, but I really tried to project this Eurocentric whiteness. Um, in my very existence, I would do things so far as, um try to lighten my skin in high school, Um, staying out of the sun. Ah, and and constantly straightening my hair, which is actually quite curly. So those were just a couple of examples. So it was interesting, because in my, um, my youth growing up, I not on lee reject did my own identity. But I was bullied for my appearance for 10 years in school. And what that experience taught me was what it felt like to be on the outside. I was excluded for a large portion of my life, and it felt horrible. It felt horrible to be left out, felt horrible to never be picked. And, um and I was basically ostracized for something that was ah, no fault of my own. It was entirely solely based on my appearance and had nothing to do with my who I was is an individual on the inside with my intelligence, with my heart with my, um, compassion for others. And so all of Huai waas felt very rejected, Um, because of the way that I appeared. So it really put me in this position to want to make a difference and help other folks who were socially excluded, who were economically excluded and sort of just anybody who was really on the margins. And so my entire life since a very young age has been dedicated to helping underserved or underrepresented communities. So that's kind of how I entered into this diversity and inclusion space.

spk_0:   6:13
Sabrina, I just want to say I think sharing your story is one of the hardest things to do in this platform. So I want to commend you for being able to share your story. And I hope a lot of our list I'm sure a lot of our listener or would be able to relate to your story. So I just want to say thank you for sharing that with us and our listeners. Thank you, Alice. Yeah, so I'm just gonna go to jump right in. And so what is diversity in conclusion, and why does it matter?

spk_2:   6:41
It's a really great question, and I think, especially today, diversity and inclusion are becoming these buzzwords that people are just sort of slapping onto everything, thinking that it's, you know, it's also used as a marketing tool. It and its losing the essence of what it truly means So I'm glad that you asked that when we talk about diversity, diversity is a presence of difference. So often or it oftentimes organizations stop it. That place, they think. Okay, we need to focus on our diversity efforts and make sure that we're getting, um, people of different backgrounds, different mindsets into our organization and checking off the box. Um, that's where diversity ends. It's a quantifiable metric. When we talk about inclusion, it's more qualitative. It's a feeling of belonging, and it's a way of really valuing and leveraging your talent. Um, it's really also creating the spaces that enable it individuals to showcase their differences and to feel safe enough to just be themselves. So that's what I would, how I would categorize inclusion. And then when we talk about equity, which is something that is, um, I think taking all of this to the next level is looking at the way that organizations are. It's a constant process. It's not something that you just measure once, and you check it off. But it's a constant process of adapting and modifying. Your process is your practice is so that you can create equitable, fair opportunities for people based on their current situation. So understanding that we all don't start on the same level playing field, we all have our different histories and experiences behind us and and so understanding that just giving sort of the same amount or same thing to everybody won't fit all. So that's the way that I look. Att. Diversity, inclusion and equity.

spk_1:   8:44
Thank you for those definitions and thank you for helping us better understand that you have a line on your website that says research has shown that diversity enhances our ability to innovate. I mean, that's a powerful line. Can you kind of talk about that in the framework of an organization? I think that that's what people miss from my from my experiences. You know, I've seen a lot of check boxes, and we're doing this to meet it, to meet a quota, to have having this group because everyone else has it. But at the end of the day, you know, diversity enhances our ability to innovate. Can you expand on that a little bit?

spk_2:   9:22
Yeah, absolutely. Diversity includes enhances our ability to innovate If we do it, if we do it correctly, which means if we're including people correctly. And I think that, um what what the numbers say is that and this is interesting that there's a lot of research that supports that diversity, um, contributes to profitability and innovative solutions. Um, the research says that that that diversity needs to be present in senior leadership. Um, throughout hierarchy and not just on the bottom, where you often see diverse individuals represented in the front lions. So, um, that's that's one aspect of it. But what I mean by how how it actually creates innovative solutions is that it's the leveraging of different perspectives different lived experiences and and using that understanding building on diverse voices to create solutions, products, offerings for the world that art tailored and catered to represent the diversity of our communities. Go

spk_0:   10:28
ahead. Oh, okay. So I have a question, and I know you know, I'm reading that line where says research has shown that divers and has says our ability to innovate. Why do you think they're such a resistance behind it? Um, I know we talked earlier about the check box and stuff like that boat. Why is it so difficult to break that habit? And why do you think there's resistance behind it,

spk_2:   10:51
so that's a great question. And I think the biggest part of that is that people are uncomfortable with change. People say they want diversity but aren't willing to put in the work. Thio, um make those changes happen in an organization. And also, I think, even more importantly, is the fact that what equity inclusion and diversity actually require is that individuals who are in privileged positions need to give up a little bit in order to enable other individuals with diverse backgrounds to thrive. And that makes people who hold the privilege and the power uncomfortable because they have to let go of something that's come easier to them then Ah, then two other individuals. And so that fundamental shift. I think it's something that, um, companies really wrestle with from a cultural standpoint,

spk_0:   11:49
you know, I'm gonna agree with you, as you are saying, being uncomfortable in the control. My hand started sweating because I have a very, uh, I have a big problem with controlling and making sure I control the narrative. O r. I've seen the successes and the routines that I have, so I get it. But you know in previous episodes that we've had to talk about being okay with being uncomfortable. It's okay to be scared, because it's the fear of the unknown, but it's something that we have to push forward to. So, Sabrina, you know it's true. A lot of people are very scared because they've never seen, you know, they've never done it before. They don't know the results, but they want to control the narrative, and they're so used to what we've been able to d'oh. So I get it. I'm getting goose bumps thinking about it. You know, being uncomfortable is hard. It's definitely hard.

spk_2:   12:40
Yeah, it is. And and there's another aspect to this is well, which is being able to confront your biases and be open to that, which also makes people uncomfortable. And I think when we talk about biases, we see that play out in, um in so many ways, I'll give I'll give an example for your audience. So I want you to close your eyes for a minute, and I want youto picture yourself going to a giant corporation for an interview. So you pull up to the front of the building, go through the doors turn to your right hand side and speak to the receptionist. Let them know that you're here for an interview. They take you to the elevator, you go up to the 12th floor. It's the top floor and you're having an interview with the CEO and their executive counterpart. You meet the CEO, shake their hand, you meet the executive. You're in the meeting for about an hour and then you head back down the elevator, say goodbye to the receptionist and go out the door. So I want you to think about the identities that you saw as you entered the building. What did the receptionist look like? What did the CEO look like? And what did the executive look like? What if I told you that the executive was actually a black man in a wheelchair? And I told you that the CEO was a trans female? And what if I told you that the receptionist was a white male? Now, if those pictures air in any bit counter to what you pictured, oftentimes people picture the receptionist as a female. The picture, the CEO and the executive as straight white men, able bodied, there's this will challenge some of the the vision visual images that came into your brain. What this highlights is that there are there's programming that comes from what we see in our world and the media and just our common knowledge of how the way how the world works and those images that we get from our world will influence the way it the way that we feel when we see something that's different.

spk_1:   15:10
Well, thank you for that visual visualization. Um, you know, just let me ask you a follow up questions to bring up. You know, that's a That's a great visual ization. Um, and you get some great detail there, but I just gotta ask, you know, is it possible that I don't visualize the CEO and the receptionist and the executives being who they are in the visualization? Because I haven't seen that. And, like, you know, I feel bad because obviously there's definitely scope people in all those positions that could do those positions. Um I mean, what? Your thoughts there?

spk_2:   15:49
Well, I think that's exactly it. And it isn't. You haven't. You haven't seen it, which is why you didn't visualize it. But what that says is that when those individuals come into an interview where they come into the room toe, Um, you know, to speak to you about a particular role that also might feel foreign to you when you see them, because you might think, Oh, well, this doesn't fit the profile that I have in my head. This doesn't look familiar to me. And so, without having that self awareness, people often just choose to neglect that type of a candidate, or that the candidate who has a new identity that's different from what they is familiar. So that's my point is that, um, you know, if you are, if you are finding that that visualization exercise highlighted the fact that, yeah, I don't see those identities in companies. So of course I wouldn't picture that. That's the point, though, right? It's that we don't see those identities and companies, but we can. Why can't we What? How do those identity is, what what a person looks like on the outside or what their physical disability might be, Um, speak to their capability of performing a particular role. It doesn't.

spk_1:   17:11
I mean, I 100% agree with what you're saying, you know, so, but just being transparent. Like if you told me that I Brennan, you've got biases like I might perceive that, like maybe being attacked. Or, you know, does that make sense? Like, I don't know, Maybe maybe my perception around biases needs to be corrected. Does that make because I look at bias, like, Brennan, you're You have biases, like I look at that the same way as if someone said I was racist. And maybe I'm just in perceiving it wrong.

spk_2:   17:46
Yeah, and I think that is a common misconception is that to say that you have a bias is a bad thing. We all have biases. I have biases. You have biases. If you have a brain, you have a bias. Our brains like to categorize things, and it likes to create patterns and patterns of familiarity. And that's just how our brains work. So when something different sort of comes into the mix, it feels weird to us, or it feels strange to us. And and that highlights that there is a bit of a bias, you know, our our bodies, our brains, might instinctively want to reject something that's different from what we are used to. So a big important question in this work around diversity and inclusion is being able to ask yourself why it's being able to get deep into your self awareness and understanding. You know, why did I feel that way, or why do we really think that that candidate isn't skilled for the job when their resume looks like they are? What is it about that person that's bothering me like I can't put my finger on it? But what is it? Why does that bother me? That I think being able to get into that, having that dialogue with yourself in a kind way, because we all have biases but understanding that we all do. And if you're really on this journey authentically to want to create a space, a workplace, a culture that embraces diversity and that respects difference, then we all have to do the work

spk_1:   19:22
awesome. I love the two, said self awareness, like my entire framework has been changed just these last five minutes. So, like what I'm hearing you say is, Well, first of all, I love that if you have a brain young bias, I love that and not just accept the bias and be aware of it. And make sure that you acknowledge the bias with yourself when you're making decisions around people. Um, we're really just making decisions. Uh, you know, great feedback there, Sabrina.

spk_2:   19:52
Yeah, And it Zab, salute. Lee not just making decisions about people, but it's also making decisions around products. Right. How our products designed How does our store layout look? What is the door like, Is it Does it Is it accessible? What is our online experience like, who are we testing our products on?

spk_1:   20:10
Let me ask you this. How do you have that by, like, who would be from your mind? Would that be a conversation that Alice and I have? So if Alice and I are doing, let's say, succession planning. So that's where we look at. Like, who? All of our leaders are within our areas. And then, Okay. You know who's gonna be next for promotion? Where is this person going to be promoted to? Ah, succession planning. Would that be? Do we talk about our biases there or like like, what actions can I take to create these conversations with my peers and with my team? I guess I'm asking you?

spk_2:   20:45
Yeah, I think there is. There are so many different types of biases. And so I think, um, starting to reflect on your own even before you enter into these succession planning conversations is really important. So let's say you take a take a sample of your previous hires or you take a sample of you look at your team objectively. You look at the ah, the racial diversity. You look at the gender diversity, you look at the age diversity you look at, um, all of the different factors that you can ability and and you think about, OK, what do my hires look like? Right. How have I How have I Who have I brought into my team? And you look at your recent promotions for succession planning purposes, development plans? Look at who has been promoted. So I think a big part of it is, is looking at your, um, your recruitment side of things when you're looking at the recruitment side of things. It's looking at the diversity on your team and looking at the diversity and promotions. Then there's the other side of it. Is the sentiment right? What do people actually feel? That's the inclusion part of it so you could have bodies that air there. But if you're not using them correctly, if you're not understanding what their capabilities are, what their desires are in truly looking at, how you can support them. If you're not understanding how they feel or the micro aggressions that they might experience in the work place, then you're missing a lot of the pieces there. So it's about collecting that type of data, both quantitative and qualitative, to get a good assessment of what's actually happening in the landscape and then questioning yourself. Why is this happening? Why why are these experiences the way they are? Why are the numbers the way they are and trying to peel back? Wow,

spk_1:   22:38
really cool just to go back a little bit, you talked about like inclusion being around microaggressions and how people feel, you know? Is it possible to hold host those conversations like, could I go to a director port and have a conversation? I mean, am I going to get honest feedback? I guess I'm asking without doing like an organizational strategy around around this, you know? How can I, as a manager, have a conversation Is there any tips that you have for me?

spk_2:   23:09
It depends so much, Brennan. On on the culture that you have the trust you have the way that your employees feel about your ability to listen the way they see you as an ally. So e I think that, you know, um I would say in my case that if I don't really have strong trust with this Ah, white male, um, I'm, ah, woman of color. If I don't have trust with a white male superior in my organization who asks me about my experience as a person of color And if I've had any microaggression experience, I would not share that. I would not feel comfortable to share that because I don't trust him. I don't see how he's advocating for women of color. I don't I don't know if he, um, is really an ally and a supporter and how he's and it's really about how he's demonstrated his ally ship to me. So I think I think in your case, it really depends on the trust that you've been able to establish. Ah, lot of these insights that that are, are the quantity started the qualitative insights that you want to gather around employees. Sentiment has to be done through a proper audit where you're using, um or were you having your employees communicate with people who they feel safe or entrust or you're using some sort of anonymous ized? Um, reporting process.

spk_1:   24:40
Got it. A lot of great. Thank you so much for that feed back there.

spk_2:   24:44
No problem.

spk_0:   24:46
Um, So, Sabrina, I have a follow up question for that. You know, as you're talking, it kind of ties in all our podcast together, cause Brennan, I talk a lot about the culture that you create. I know you said that It's hard if I'm gonna If you're gonna go to an executive because you don't know what he's been able to do or you don't You don't have that trust. But do you think that if we want to change the culture within our organization that it starts with us and understanding that we do have a bias? Maybe it's just ingrained our head because, as we're doing that visualization earlier, it's you know, I thought of the white male as a CEO and the executives and the receptionist, I thought of a female So it's understanding maybe that I do have a bias and maybe accepting that and then understanding that we have to be the catalyst to change that culture. Do you think it just start with us?

spk_2:   25:41
It 100% starts with you. It does it. So from my my response to Brennan was about specifically getting into the details right, understanding the micro aggression experiences and that type of stuff that that you might need a new outsider or somebody else who's not directly in that relationship. Thio to ask those questions. But when it comes to the buy in that you need in order to start to change the culture and the will to look at those biases that you have objectively with with courage, really it is, is every individual's responsibility in the organization, and, uh, the most important is executive leadership, you know, ultimately, at the end of the day, people look up to the top of the organization, and they they look to see how are how are our executives acting around these topics? What's what biases do they have. And, um, you know, are they doing work to acknowledge those and correct those biases how diverse is the executive leadership? And so I think there's so many factors that contribute to the culture, but it all starts at the top.

spk_0:   27:01
So, Sabrina, I have a follow up question for you. So can you explain as too wide diversity inclusion is so important in the retail landscape, and how leaders can really take the steps forward to really embrace it within their businesses.

spk_2:   27:17
Yes, that's a really great question, Alice and I think that, you know, oftentimes, when we think about diversity and inclusion in the retail space, we think about the storefront, and that's only a very small part of diversity and inclusion. And unfortunately, I think the bias here is that it will. What it does is it creates diverse people on the front lines on Lee in an organization, because if you're putting diversity in the front, t be in the frontline storefront customer facing rolls that's traditionally and typically where all the marginalized people go. And so that's not, in my opinion, true diversity. Yes, it is important to have representation in your stores. You want your stores to reflect the customer base you want, and when we talk about customer base nowadays. Ah, lot of retail businesses going online. So it's not just about who's in this small community around your retail store, but it's also about the broader population that you now have access to by creating an online retail store. So thinking about diversity in the sense of, yes, your front line, but also those who are behind the scenes, those air who are working in corporate. And so, um, representation in that space is important all over the organization in retail and and the inclusion part and why it matters to retail is about your products, your marketing, your risk, your finance. So diversity and inclusion typically is seen as Justin HR Initiative. But it isn't. I think there's also a huge part around accessibility so often times when we talk about diversity, the first thought goes to either gender or race conversation. But there's also a huge piece around disability inclusion, and there's research that actually says that shopping is one of the most is me top, most difficult experience for people with disabilities, and the disability population is about 1/5 of our population. So if you think about if you think about shopping being the most difficult experience for folks with disabilities were essentially excluding 1/5 of the population. People with disabilities say that they have trouble with over crowned overcrowding of stores that there I think it was. 75% of the disability population is likely to leave a store because of poor disability awareness or understanding that comes through campaigns that comes through the type of product that you offer. And then when it comes to the online experience as well, there's the accessibility component of How does your text look online? Is it readable ledge a ble by individuals that might be low vision is it? Does it have features so that it can be navigated by people who perhaps cannot hear or cannot see, um, by people with different physical disabilities? So it's looking at your platforms and looking at your store experience in a different way, and the only way you will be able to add that diverse perspective into the way that you design your products the way that you design your marketing campaigns is by leveraging diverse talent. So that's why I'm saying having diversity on Lee on the front line won't do you well it's it's it will attract customers in the perhaps that look like the, um, the individuals in your store. I'm sure that if I went into a store where there were only straight white males, I might not feel as included in there were like the stories for me. And so same with if I saw a store with just white women working there. So I think there is a component to that. But there's an even bigger piece, which is How are you leveraging the voices of diverse people to drive your business forward and on Lee Way you can do that is by creating an inclusive culture where employees of diverse backgrounds feel safe enough to voice their opinions, and they feel like they belong because they actually care about your organization.

spk_1:   31:47
Wow, thank you so much. I mean, there is so much knowledge there. Um, that's actually a perfect segue. Way to my next question. You and I. We talked about a website that for a store that my wife was actually going to work at, she loves the clothing line. Unfortunately, she went to the store and there was no one that looked like her and you know, she was more like. Okay, well, you know, maybe I could still fit in. I love the I love the clothing and I love the customers. I've shopped there before. Everyone's super helpful. Then we go to the website to apply. And again, no one that looks like her. Like when we talk about products, Sabrina and we talk about Dee and I within products. I mean, is this attention that, like, is this intentional like our organizations, or are they just, like, ignorant to it? What? Your thoughts.

spk_2:   32:48
I You know, I I don't know if it's intentional or not intentional. Some stores see that as and I have had clients in the past that have said, Oh, well, you know, this is our customers, and, um, this is kind of who we want to go after, So we're gonna market this way. Um, and that's there. That's their motive, I guess. And then there are other stories that don't have the line of sight into that. They're not thinking objectively about who's excluded. And I would say to both individuals that there is such a large market of individuals who will want to spend money at your store if you target that group correctly. And the way to target that group correctly isn't by slapping a token, ah, person of color or token person with disabilities on your team, or to sit in the front line or in your marketing campaign. But it's really about having a thoughtful understanding of these communities, understanding their particular needs, understanding the different challenges they face in their own lived experiences. And with that deep understanding, you can then create marketing campaigns. Website experiences, products and service is that are thoughtful and designed inclusively so that people from diverse backgrounds will want to use that and will trust that your organization is authentic about it.

spk_1:   34:20
Perfect. Thank you so much. I'm Alice. Do you have any other questions for Sabrina?

spk_0:   34:26
I don't, um But, Sabrina, I just want to say, coming into this podcast today, I felt like, you know, because you know, I'm a female. I'm Asian. I am, ah, technically considered a minority, that I felt like I knew a lot about diversity, inclusion and just spending some time listening to what you have to say. I learned so much, and I think the biggest thing I've taken away from here is just always be a learner and have an open mind and understand that we do have an unconscious bias, and it's it's been embedded into our lives, and I think, just understand, But it's okay, Um, that, Well, it's not okay, but just having an open mind and getting to know that you're always going toe learn from different people. I think that's the biggest thing I'm gonna take away from our conversation today. So I just want to say thank you.

spk_2:   35:17
Thank you. I'm really glad that it was. It resonated with you, and it was valuable.

spk_1:   35:22
Nice. Well, uh, thank you so much, Sabrina. You know, where can our listeners find you if they have follow up questions that they want to connect if they want you to come by their organization?

spk_2:   35:33
Sure. I'm happy to be found on linked in, Um, my name is Sabrina Morelli. I'm sure that Brennan will include the spelling of my last name. Um, they're also, uh, w w w dot Sabrina morelli dot com.

spk_1:   35:48
Awesome. Yes. I will definitely link your link din and your website and your website in the show notes. So thank you. So much for coming on tonight. Sabrina, this has been another episode of crazy fucking retail. The podcast.

spk_0:   36:03
Thank you for listening to another episode of crazy F in retail. Like what you heard today. Subscribe and leave us a review on the podcast platform of your choice.