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Encourage Employees to be "Fearlessly Authentic"
Episode 39th February 2023 • Absence Management Perspectives • DMEC
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Hear how employers can encourage employees to show up as their "whole selves" at work, create supportive environments, and recognize the value of lived experience. One key: Be honest about failures, share details about goals, and always be transparent, advises Jamira Burley, an award-winning social impact advisor and strategic initiatives lead for worldwide education at a large technology company. Burley is the keynote speaker for the 2023 DMEC FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference. Her presentation "Fearlessly Authentic: The Story of Self" is scheduled for March 28 in Orlando, Fla.



DMEC: Welcome to absence. Management perspectives. A DMEC podcast. The Disability Management Employer Coalition, or DMEC, as we're known by most people, provides focused education, knowledge and networking opportunities for absence and disability management professionals. DMEC has become a leading voice in the industry and represents more than 18,000 professionals from organizations of all sizes across the United States and Canada. This podcast series will focus on industry perspectives and provide the opportunity to delve more deeply into issues that affect DMEC members and the community as a whole. We're thrilled to have you with us and hope you'll visit to get a full picture of what we have to offer. From webinars and publications to conferences, certifications and much more. Let's get started and meet the people behind the processes.

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Jamira Burley: Yeah, that's a great question. And so it's so funny. I came up with that phrase very much when I was 17 years old and by no means I was not an expert at that moment. But as I've learned along the way, I think what I've centered what it means to be an expert of your own experience is really centering yourself in your lived experience and the things you've learned along the way. It's oftentimes told to us that if we don't work somewhere, if we don't have these amount of degrees or these accolades behind our name, that we can't consider ourselves to be an expert. But really our expertise lies in the things we've learned along the way and how we've been able to really use those skills and that knowledge to inform the work we do to better the world in which we live and work in. And I think when I think about the role that managers play is really homing in on everyone's unique experience and being able to create space for people to be their authentic self, to show up as their whole self without leaving parts of themselves behind in order to accommodate or to make people feel more comfortable with the uncomfortable. And I think that enables for people to really explore the depths of themselves that they've hidden away from society and from other people to be able to help inform a more prosperous world, but also one that is rooted in differences. Right? We're all different in small and large ways and how can we use those differences as a way to inform us how we should be showing up for ourselves and for other people?

Heather Grimshaw: I like that a lot. And it's interesting that so many people struggle with that concept of being authentic. And I like what you said about creating space and also being comfortable with the uncomfortable. That's a concept that we've heard a little bit about with conversations about belonging and I think a lot of people struggle with that.

Jamira Burley: Yeah. And I think rightfully so. Right. We very much live in a society where we're segmented and told certain things about each other that are not true. And so when we're forced to kind of deal with the true identity and the holisticness of individual people, it makes us question who we are and what we've been told about ourselves. And I also think it's very easy for us to villainize people who don't show up as their full self, who oftentimes feel the need to code switch or to be a public version of who they are internally. And I think it's oftentimes rooted in the fact that we've all been taught that we're not welcomed as our whole self. That in order for us to show up in the corporate world or in the activist space, we have to bring parts of ourselves that are not going to make people uncomfortable and that are not going to make people question what they've been told, oftentimes by loved ones and by institutions that they've trusted their entire lives. And so I think it's a great opportunity for us to sit with the fact that uncomfortable conversations lead to innovation. As someone who comes from a very large family, I bask in un-comfortability. I'm one of those people that can ask a question and sit in silence for a very long period of time. What people kind of squirm. And I think it's just because I'm curious. I'm curious about people, I'm curious about culture, I'm curious about myself. I tell people all the time one of the greatest ways to kind of understand who you are is to travel outside the place that you grew up in because you find yourself while learning about other people.

Heather Grimshaw: Oh, well said. And I love what you said about curiosity. I have frequently been told that I'm too curious and I don't think there's any such thing. Really?

Jamira Burley: No, there's never anything about being too curious. That's funny, someone said that.

Heather Grimshaw: I know. As you'll see, I have a tendency to ask a lot of questions. So as a follow up question, would you share a little bit about your path with us and what led you to where you are today?

. I just turned:

Heather Grimshaw: That's such a powerful story and I'm so sorry to hear about that terrible loss, which I did read about on your wonderful website, IAmHereTo. And it's amazingly impressive that you've been able to, as you just said, turn that pain into such meaningful work which affects and improves the lives of so many.

Jamira Burley: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Heather Grimshaw: And after reading through the website, which is for IAmHereToo, which is such a powerful and personal initiative for positive change, I'm hoping you'll share some information about the tools that help people move. And I'm using air quotes because I'm quoting from your website, move from breakdowns to breakthroughs. Discuss burnout, anxiety, and questions of self-worth.

Jamira Burley: So it's so interesting that you say that part of because Ariella and I, while our brothers were the kind of catalyst for how we got engaged in this work, we actually took very different paths. She went into the fashion industry, working with former gang members in El Salvador to make jewelry and fashion items to be sold that then goes back to invest in the communities that they live and work in. Versus I went into the advocacy and policy space in the social impact room and it was an opportunity for us to think through. Everyone has experienced trauma, everyone experiences pain. It may not all be at the same level of pain and tragedy, but the question is society oftentimes does not give us the tools, especially women of color, the tools to be able to navigate those emotions in a way that lead us to changing, ensuring that that never happens to someone else, or at the very least, being able to ensure that we don't allow what has happened to us to be the defining factor of who we are. And so when we thought about creating this curriculum around moving pain to power breakdown, I mean, breakdowns to break throughs, it really was an understanding of how can we help people heal within themselves, how can we help people educate themselves on the issues that they care about? How can we help people build those bridges between where they've been hurt the most and where there's opportunities to transform that into a way that can really change their communities in their lives and the trajectory of their lives. And that means one seeking what is harm you. Being able to talk through those processes, being able to identify those drivers, being able to confront the people who have hurt you. And even if that is not verbally in your head, in your emotions, confronting those who have harmed you, being able to reckon with your role and how you've been able to heal since that trauma, and then thinking through how do you want to show up in the space? Do you want to be a person who is just an informed citizen, right? Do you just want to be able to make better conscious decisions about the way you vote? Do you want to invest your money in an organization that is helping folks who have experienced similar trauma? Do you want to create your own organization? Or do you want to advocate helping people find the pathways that is most beneficial to their own selves, but also to the larger communities that it's trying to advocate and then helping them hone into their individual skills? As a way to supply the communities and the organizations with the desire need that needs to be met in order to move that work forward. And so we do trainings both for community members who have experienced trauma, so young men and women who have experienced direct trauma, but also with corporations, we work with a lot of their staff who have experienced trauma. And it's not always direct personal trauma, right? It could be the fact that you live in a society where every day you turn on the news and you see people killed or you live in a community where there was a school shooting, and you may not have children that go there, but you live in a community that is directly impacted. So really helping people kind of grapple with the fact that trauma is going to continue to happen. Unfortunately, we don't live in a utopia, but there are ways in which that we can help to alleviate that harm and ensuring people have the skills and tools to be able to manage that pain.

Heather Grimshaw: I think it's really important that you talk about the different types of trauma because so often people will say, well, I haven't experienced trauma directly, so I'm not sure what's quote unquote wrong. And I think to open that purview is really valuable and I'm sure meaningful for a lot of the people who experience or participate in those trainings.

Jamira Burley: Yes. And I think also a lot of times people forget about trauma that has happened so long ago, right? They've suppressed it or they didn't realize it was trauma in the moment. Because who teaches us this? Right? No one really teaches us this. No one really helps us to navigate these things until it's too late or until there's drastic measures that are required. And so we're trying to help people identify what are those micro traumas that you've experienced? What are those indirect traumas you've experienced? What are the traumas you've inflicted on other people? Right? Because we also forget that we play a role, too, in other people's lives. And how have we allowed our pain to harm other people in the process of us trying to heal?

Heather Grimshaw: Right. It's a really important point. So, moving into that a little bit differently, too. Can you talk a little bit about what you describe as the art of engagement?

Jamira Burley: Yes, so the art of engagement is really centered around a number of areas. One, starting with identifying your chosen audience. I think oftentimes people assume that everyone is their chosen audience, and in some instances, that may be true. Right. There are diversity in the places that you speak, in the places that you engage, and the people you work with. But in all reality, in different messages or in different activations that you want to happen, you have a specific target audience or you need to have a specific target audience that you want to engage. Because then that enables for you to identify what is the personas of these individuals? What are the things they care about? Where do they show up? What tools do they use in order to engage them? Are they on Twitter? Are they on TikTok? Are they on Instagram? Do they mostly read paper books? Or do they read on their Kindle? Right. It really helps you to create a persona of the person that you want to engage because then you can create a strategy that enables for you to meet that person where they are. And for me, meeting them where they are enables for you to create a bridge where you're not asking people, particularly impacted people to come out of their comfort zone to oftentimes incur costs. That mostly benefits you, right? In order for you to do something or also putting them in a situation where they don't feel like the relationship is mutually beneficial, there's that. And then it also requires you to think about [the question], how is this relationship mutually beneficial? So what are you gaining? But what are you offering to the community, to the individuals that you're trying to engage to ensure that they don't walk away from that experience feeling like they've been used or feeling like there's nothing that they were able to gain to take back to their communities. No one wants to feel like a token, no one wants to feel like a tool that was used in a process of someone else becoming rich or someone else becoming famous. And then also thinking through how do you move from just listening to what people have to say to actually using that information to create actionable change and providing people with detailed responses about how you use what they've shared with you in an actionable way. For instance, a lot of times young people get very frustrated with policymakers because it's like you've created all these policies, these practices, you never really listen to us and really oftentimes policymakers did listen to young people. The problem is they don't make the connection between the policy they created, what young people actually said they want it and need it. And like, how do you bring those bridges together? And the art of engagement also leads with ensuring that people have an active role in what you collectively want to do. So that's not just helping with designing the initiative or designing the activation. It also requires providing shared leadership with that person, allowing them to be able to be responsible for some aspect of the initiative, project or activation, and then working with them to also review and use that information to evaluate whether or not what you completed, implemented, worked. Because I think that creates a mutually beneficial relationship and also allows for community members to feel like they have an active role in the work that's happening. So for me, it goes far beyond just like hosting a town hall and listening to feedback. It's a lot of homework leading up to the engagement and it's a lot of collaboration leading after the initial engagement.

Heather Grimshaw: You gave the example of policymakers and frequently younger people feeling frustrated that someone didn't hear them. I think that's probably really common in the workplace as well, that someone says something, there's a disconnect and both parties leave that interaction frustrated. So I'm hoping that you can maybe talk a little bit about how managers and employers encourage and support a different type of interaction that leads people to feel more connected and maybe to know how to create some of those bridges that you described.

Jamira Burley: Yeah, that's a great question. And I will say it definitely varies depending on the structure of the organization. And I say that in relationship to the pre homework, right? Because it's very easy to say, okay, we're going to take a survey or we're going to host this town hall because we want to hear feedback from folks. But if you look across your organization, there's only three people of color or two people with a disability, and you expect those people to be the vocal points for advocating on behalf of their lived identity. It puts them at a disadvantage, and oftentimes it puts a target on their backs if they don't have the internal support to be able to verbalize with their experience in a way that doesn't create a blowback against them on their career path. So in regard to the homework, is one ensuring that there is ensuring that you are creating multiple layers of places where folks can provide feedback. So whether that's anonymous, whether that's in person, whether that's written form, ensuring that people have a range of different ways in which they can verbalize and create conversation. Also, I did a workshop once with the company, and what we did is that we actually broke the groups. We did like a training session with a number of employees, and we tried to break the groups up in a diverse way where we had folks from different lived experiences on each of the group. And through that, they collectively created recommendations that was then projected out by a population that was more representative within the company. So if it was a group of individuals that wanted to put forth questions around diversity and inclusion, one of the White members who used their privilege and power verbalize what those recommendations were as a way to kind of alleviate the concerns coming back on their coworkers, I say all of that to say again have multiple ways for people to provide feedback. Create a safe space for folks to be able to collaborate with each other in order to elevate that feedback to management. Also providing a transparent process of how you're going to utilize that feedback and that engagement. Create committees. Make sure that those committees or those employee engagement groups are well compensated and well resourced. Very easy to say we have all these employee networks. So whether that's women's, whether that's LGBTQ, whether that's African American, whether that's indigenous, whether that's people with disabilities, you can have all these different groups. But if the leadership is not well compensated, if they don't have the resources, we're asking them to do even more work. That is only hindering their ability to show up accurately in their work and it's taking advantage of them. That's why I'm always raising my eyebrows when people are like, well, we have all of these groups. And I'm like, yeah, but you're not compensating. You don't have any funding to actually host any events. So it's like what really is the factor here and how is that reflective in leadership? So, yeah, it's definitely a collaborative process. And you have to be transparent. You have to include people along the way. You have to be honest about when you're failing and accomplishing the goals or the agreements that you said you would do based off the feedback from your employees, it can't just be a one off thing. Right? So whether that's quarterly, whether that's twice a year, a lot of companies host these town halls, a lot of feedback is given. There's no transparency about what happens after that. There's no timeline on when any of these implementations or changes will come. And so just being conscious that employees are just as important as your shareholders, right. They are the engine behind your company to keep it moving, to keep it operating, to bring in the innovation. And so we want to ensure that there are safe spaces for them to show up without feeling like them. Voicing their concerns and ideas will create a hostile work environment for them.

Heather Grimshaw: Do you have suggestions on how managers and employers can demonstrate that they not only encourage but support authenticity in the workplace? I think the comment that you just made about funding to compensate the groups, as well as also being transparent is really important. So I'm kind of answering the question I just posed, I think, potentially. But I'm hoping that you might have some examples or some specifics to share with folks who do want to encourage this but find themselves frustrated or maybe not sure how.

Jamira Burley: Yeah. And again, it's not a silver bullet to any of this, right. It requires intentionality and active participation along the way. And no company is going to get it right overnight. But I think what's really important is trying to lead with trust and trying to lead slowly. You don't have to get there quickly in order to accomplish what you need to accomplish. Because I think people appreciate when they feel like something is happening, right. That it is moving, and that we have a clear understanding of the timeline. So for employees who are trying to do something like this, the three things that I definitely think should be included is based on the feedback people are giving you, what are you agreeing to do? Based off that? What are you actually agreeing we've heard all this feedback. This is what we can say that we collectively have the ability to do. We have the finances to do over the next six months, what we like to do over the next twelve months, what we like to do over the next 24 months so people have something to track, and also who is responsible for each of these aspects. Right? We don't want folks, a company to make these grand statements about what they plan to accomplish. And there's no point of contact of who's managing each of these aspects for people to hold them accountable. And then also where are the opportunities for shared leadership, right? So whether that's working with the employee engagement groups, making sure that we're providing them compensation for that extra work and then celebrating that extra work that they're doing right, maybe that's a part of their review process, maybe that is part of their bonus process. But ensuring that these folks are putting in extra work to ensure that your workspace, your company is doing well, right, that people feel welcome, that people feel like is being heard. So I definitely think those three needs to be included. Timeline to ensure accountability. Who is the point of contact? What are you agreeing to actually do? Working shared leadership and accountability along with the employees that they feel like they're a part of the process and being transparent along the way. If you're messing up or you don't have it all together, tell people that. So that way they can feel like, I never want a politician to lie to me. I never want my boss to lie to me. I would rather they'd be like, we're trying to get this done. We can't because of this and we're working through it, we're trying to push through it this way and this is our plan B. If we're not able to accomplish that because then people feel like they have their back and they feel just as committed to the work as they are.

Heather Grimshaw: It's nice to almost have permission to hear you say no company is going to get it right the first time. So that the executive or the person who is leading this charge knows that he or she is in good company and there's a little bit more grace there.

Jamira Burley: Yeah, I mean, any company that got it right the first time, I would always question, well, what took you so long? Right? If you had all the answers and all the resources, what took you so long? But yeah, no one's going to get it right because no one's perfect. Very true.

Heather Grimshaw: So you have also been called a youth whisperer. Can you talk a little bit more about that and what your advice is for managers and colleagues of different generations to interact more successfully and supportively?

pany like our parents did for:

Heather Grimshaw: That is is really heartwarming and inspiring. So hopefully, as you know, people can turn the way they approach this to really embrace it.

Jamira Burley: Exactly. I mean, don't see it as a negative thing, especially with many companies are now seeing that doing the right thing is not against their bottom line. It's actually it can increase their bottom line when they do it correctly. So doing good also can be good for your bottom line.

Heather Grimshaw: I love that, and I have to say I'm really looking forward to your presentation in March and to hopefully meeting you in person. Thank you so much for your time today and for the work that you do. It is very inspiring.

Jamira Burley: Thank you. I'm super honored and looking forward to the conference and hope to meet you soon.



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