Anyone would love to be part of an organization that welcomes and supports every single person within the team. That’s why leaders, if they truly want to be effective and inspiring, should know how to implement inclusive practices in the most holistic ways. Joining Darrin Tulley is Yvonne Alston, who talks about helping organizations cultivate healthy cultures and make a positive impact through her consulting business, Indelible Impressions. She explains the power of leading with unapologetic authenticity, gaining clarity with your intentions, and bringing the best out of other people. Yvonne also discusses the right way to wield power and privilege, as well as the incredible impact of embracing vulnerability in leadership.
Listen to the podcast here
Cultivating Inclusive Practices With Yvonne Alston
Connecting Hearts And Minds With Unapologetic Authenticity
Yvonne Alston is an unapologetically authentic amplifier and an advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. She established Indelible Impressions Consulting to advance important conversations, education, and competencies to help organizations to understand the importance of culture and its impact on the human experience. Her firm and team focus on centering the employee experience, amplifying personal and professional value, inspiring hearts and minds as they challenge systems of inequity, champion dimensions of diversity, and drive inclusive practices holistically.
Yvonne is widely recognized for her courageous work. I admire how she shows up in this work with unapologetic authenticity. On the show, Yvonne talks about Indelible Impressions and the vulnerable stories from her childhood, which she used as motivation to learn from. She openly honors her mom and legacy with emotional care and connection. We even talked about privilege and how to think about it, not as a dirty word, but how to use it honorably. Yvonne, I’m beyond excited to have you join the show.
Welcome, Yvonne. I’m excited to have you here. We met a little while ago with some mutual friends and we were talking about culture transformation and human ecosystems. We were sharing our backgrounds. I remember looking at you in awe, saying, “Yvonne is amazing. I’m honored to be friends with her. She’s being recognized all over the place for being a Top Woman of Color in Business and Entrepreneur of the Year.” You’re an admired woman in business. These are amazing things. Congratulations. I’d love to hear what stands out about those recognitions to you.
First of all, I’m excited to be here and having this conversation with you. I am a big fan of your book and work. I am a true fan of your authenticity. I love that about you and how we can dish authentically. Let me say that upfront. One, I didn’t see the recognitions coming at all. They were nice surprises. 2022 was a very interesting year for me in many respects. In terms of what they mean, the Top 25 Women in Business, I remember some folks in my career path saying, “I don’t think that you are CEO material.” Surprise.
Two, Top 100 Women Of Color. That one is particularly special to me because I have watched women that were in my sphere of influence, women that I knew personally, and even family members who had gotten the recognition. I’ve known June Archer for many years. He’s the person who has organized and created The Top 100 Women of Color as well as the Top 100 Men Of Color in the state. I was excited about that.
When I got valedictorian and I was going to be given this space to stand there on stage in front of this huge crowd of family, friends, and 99 other women of color who are doing amazing things and to talk to them authentically from my heart about what it means and takes to lead, that was super special to me. That was the first time that I was very authentic and open about some of the things that challenged me in my life that have brought me to this very moment like domestic violence in my home, challenges with anxiety, going to get mental health support and things like that.
There were many women who came up to me afterward, hug me, and were like, “Thank you.” Some of them were thanking me with tears. Some of them were hugging and saying, “Your story is my story. It’s our story.” Some of them were saying, “You gave me permission to talk about some of the challenges I had growing up and how that became an impediment at certain points in life, but also for me to rise above and push past.” That one amongst the other accolades, although they’re great, to me is very special.
I appreciate you sharing all of that in particular some of the challenges that you’ve had to work through and gave permission for others to say, “We are here together. We are one. We are struggling with different things, and we could overcome the challenges we had.” We’ll dig into those in a little bit. You mentioned another word about authenticity. When I was reading through all the recognitions, I noticed that there’s a common theme about unapologetic authenticity. It was streaming through all of that. You’ve mentioned authenticity a few times. Tell me what that means to you. How’s that showing up? Why is that important to you?
I’ve been on this journey for quite some time about authenticity. It wasn’t until I left Corporate America and was on the cusp of launching Indelible that I thought, “What is the impact of authenticity in terms of being yourself and bringing your whole self to every environment?” What was important to me, especially as a Black woman, is being unapologetic about that. What does that mean? To your question, it doesn’t mean that I come in, kick down the door, and want to kick my feet up on the table, smoke a cigar, and start cursing left and right. To me, that is not unapologetically authentic. It might be for someone else, but not for me.
What it means is that I show up to every environment as I am with all my layers of intersectionality and all of the things that make me authentic. I no longer apologize for it. I don’t take down who I am or what I believe. I don’t code-switch, assimilate, or try to make my presence more palatable for others who might be uncomfortable with my presence for one reason or another. I am me with a shaved side of my head and with how I love and the deep wealth of compassion and empathy that run through me and, hopefully, pour out into others. That’s what I mean by being unapologetically authentic.
It sounds like a very positive and amazing you, uplifting you and trying to bring out the best in other people. I’ve seen you in some of the interactions we’ve been in, giving ideas, and tips and trying to help people realize that they can do many amazing things. They can do better. I love how you dove into the word love. You have a care for different people and humans. Equally, I’ve seen you in action, which is special and cool.
I love that about you because you have that same energy and intentionality. That’s key. At the same time, although you and I are both very intentional about it, it’s very intuitive for us. I dare say you are very unapologetically authentic yourself.
I work on it every day. We have to be aware and conscious about what we’re doing, truly what our intentions are, how we’re impacting others, if people are smiling, opening their eyes, and if they are present. Are we walking by not noticing each other? We need to slow down. We’re both doing that. I appreciate that much about you. You started this business called Indelible Impressions. I’d love to learn a little bit more about what you’re doing there. How’d you come up with a name? I love the name.
In a true unapologetically authentic way, I am a woman of faith and I make no bones about that. I don’t try to push religion on anyone. As a matter of fact, I’m not confined by religion. I focus on the relationship that I have with God. As such, I was in prayer about moving from having this many years corporate career to launching my own business, wanting to make an impact from the outside in, understanding and being hams stream and limited of when you’re inside organizations trying to do the work that Indelible does, and being very led towards making an indelible mark.
I’ve always loved the term indelible because it’s such an elegant term and it also has much power and strength. Indelible means not easily removed or erased. What is essentially what I feel called to do is to make an indelible impression upon people’s hearts and minds. Not just so that myself and my team can do the work of employing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to various types of organizations, but so that individuals can also go and make their own indelible impressions. That’s how we galvanize as a society and we can make systemic change for the better. It is both spiritual and natural for me in terms of the name of the business.
It’s truly authentic as well.
One of the coolest things that I have heard since inception is that when folks work with us, we have oftentimes, if not one, multiple people coming back saying, “You lived out your namesake. What an indelible impression you have made. You did this thing.” Having done marketing, communications, and brand background is like, “You did the thing.” It’s like when you ignite happiness. You do that. It’s the ultimate compliment in certain respects. I’ve done the thing. My soul feels good about it as much as my head and my heart do.
It’s a lasting impression. Happiness is also viewed as one of those things that can come and go. It’s having those impressions and these feelings that can be part of our every day, being present, authentic, and understanding the impacts we could have. I’m interested to learn more too about the impact you’re having. I know you talk about being an amplifier, DE&I plus B. I’d love to know what you’re taking on how are companies receiving nowadays’ needs around DE&I plus B. The plus B is something that’s interesting because I always feel the B or Belonging should be first, yet it is feeling like it’s an ad-on at the end. How are people embracing this work? What are you noticing out there, and how’s this all fit together?
The reason why it’s at the end is that we see it as an outcome of when diversity, equity, and inclusion work together synergistically and successfully, you get belonging. That is the outcome we should be driving towards. You have to employ the former three. People have to understand it. Understand the impact upon themselves where they’re in the workplace, their colleagues, in a broader sense, their communities, and understanding that people will feel a greater sense of belonging when that’s done in a good, intentional, and impactful way.
What I see for some of the Indelible clients and a lot of folks that I’m tied to who are in this space as well is not looking at 2023 from an economic impact standpoint because everybody’s talking about the recession and how that’s impacting DE&I commitments in the space. I feel like that’s a whole other conversation. From a 10,000-foot view, there’s more openness to it with the racial recognitions and reckonings that we saw in our country going back to 2020 with George Floyd and even prior to.
As topics have been brought to the forefront, and I dare say right up under people’s noses, I think that people are much more aware. We are seeing movements toward some of the performative statements and actions by organizations instead of understanding why this is important, why diversity, equity, and inclusion matters to people from all walks of life, all spectrums of diversity, as well as people who are on the fringes who don’t think that they’re impacted by it. We have plenty of data that demonstrates everyone in society is impacted by DEI or the lack of it when it’s not present, certainly.
We’re seeing a movement away from what seemed fake. The proper word would be performative versus real intentionality. CEOs are going, “I get it. I’m starting to understand why I need to have a personal commitment to this that transcends even the organization. I need to understand my why for saying that this is important to my organization and making those steps myself as we deploy it throughout the organization and try to ensure that it is not just a moral imperative but a cultural imperative for everyone.” It’s been nice to see that movement.CEOs must understand their why and take careful steps to deploy it throughout the organization. It is not just a moral but a cultural imperative as well. Click To Tweet
At least for myself and my team, not just intellectualizing it, but cracking open the heart to say, “We could talk DE&IB all day long and give you a head knowledge of it, but that’s not the place of sustainable change. The place of sustainable change is the heart because if I can change your heart, I can not only help change the way that you think. We can help change the way that you feel and how you behave as a result.” There’s another level of accountability that’s there, then it goes from something people learn and do habitually to who they are.
That is beautiful to witness and to see people employing it and taking it even outside of the workplace, taking it into all their other areas of life. People are even coming back to us and being like, “My relationships have been better.” We had a CEO come back to us at one point and was like, “My kid finally felt comfortable coming out to me and my spouse because I was employing the work. She was seeing me doing the work on myself even here at home. It built a bridge to her that was failing or didn’t exist prior to.” That, to me, is the epitome of the success of Indelible Impressions.
That’s beautiful. I have chills. These types of outcomes impact our full lives. It’s not just our work lives when we embrace the work, whether we embrace how we care for people differently. That’s what we’re doing. You talk about empathy and collaboration all the time using head and heart as an approach. I love how you connect to that. What I heard you say is it’s not about the words or seeing what’s going on. It helps to recognize that there are inequalities or there’s a need for a better sense of belonging like how we opened the show, and how we’re seeing each other. We’re being heard and we’re present, yet it’s that level of feeling. When you feel it, your heart pings.
I feel like that’s the difference where people will act and they could see other people’s eyes shipped, get bigger, maybe even sit in or step into our conversation, maybe share something that might maybe have done in the past. It sounds like that’s what you’re seeing when leaders step in, do the work, and genuinely believe in this work. Not ask people to do, “Go out and do these initiatives and let it be the flavor of the month or the year.” It is, “Step in because this is not only the right thing to do. It’s the best thing for ourselves, our people, and our business for long-term prosperity, results,” or whatever it is that’s important to these leaders and their people.
Personal success is critical in the workplace. That’s part of it. When we think about personal success, if we’re not looking at it on the level of financial gain or title, climbing into some type of hierarchy, but you can look around at the people that have chosen your organization to be a part of, chosen to fall under your leadership, and to be guided by you. What greater success is there than to have people say, “This person’s not successful because of a title or because of the numbers,” but to look at that individual and say, “That person is successful because of their content of character?” It is because of how they lead and not just what they lead and the quantifications of that.
I would follow that person anywhere. I would follow that person into the fire through turbulent economic times. There will be loyalty, satisfaction, retention, and all of these great things. Not just because this person pays a top dollar or I’ve been able to ascend the ranks. There’s been an opportunity, yet all that matters. How they see, engage, and care for their people, is incredibly powerful. As a leader of my own team, that’s what brings me the greatest joy. It’s not just the opportunities that we get so that there’s that economic value to them, but more of like, “We get to galvanize together. We get to use the best parts of our heads and hearts every day to bring out the best parts of others’ heads and hearts every day.” For us, that’s the epitome of success for me as a leader. That’s where it’s at.
You could tell you’re into this. You’re energized. It’s contagious. I love it. You care for your people. You’re not just asking and showing people how to do this. You’re doing this hard work. It is naturally who you are. It comes back to your level of authenticity. That’s how you’re wired. It’s amazing. It’s coming through even here in this discussion, which is cool. How did you get to this point? You said 22 years at Corporate America, a lot of marketing in your background, and then a pandemic hits, and all of a sudden you’re starting a company. It’s a courageous move. How did you get here? Were there any triggers, or did you have a lifelong dream that you wanted to kind of step into? What happened?
I believe that this was always in the making. As a woman of faith, every experience that we have, even the hardest moments are always purposeful. One of the greatest quotes that I love from John Lewis was he mentioned one time about talking to his children. One of them was lamenting over something that had occurred and said, “Why is this happening to me?” He told the child, “That’s not the best question. The better question to ask is, ‘Why is this happening for me?’” That is something that before even hearing that, I had come to realize everything is purposeful under the sun.
When I say, “This was always in the making,” I had gone through a rough childhood. I have a mom who battled with substance addiction for a good majority of my life. I grew up in public housing, a lot of financial insecurity and violence in those settings. I witnessed and saw a lot that was hard. Ironically, while that could have made me very bitter, I believe in many ways. It’s only one letter. It made me better, the difference between the E and the I in the outcome. I could have allowed all of it to make me bitter, but instead, I used it to make me better. As a result, I was still able to move past those challenges and not be angry and frustrated, lashing out at life and people. Instead, it developed into these great wells of empathy and compassion for others.
It took me a long time to feel that for myself. I felt it much more for others before I ever felt it for myself. That played a key role. Also, wanting to come out of those situations and not be necessarily a negative product of my environment. I worked hard. I was able to get a full academic scholarship to Quinnipiac University, which was Quinnipiac College back when I went. I do that and then go on to have this great career but still never feeling like I could be myself. There are a lot of individuals who identify as Black people, regardless of how you identify gender-wise or gender expression or orientation that have been socialized to believe that we had to leave parts of themselves outside of the workplace, outside of the room.
If we ever were able to get into decision-making rooms, we had to leave parts of ourselves outside the door. We had to code-switch or assimilate into the environment in order to survive, thrive, and close economic gaps from perhaps where we began to where we wanted to be. I felt like there was always this part of me that was warring against that. I never felt truly successful. I couldn’t figure out what that was because I’m looking at myself going to different organizations, climbing the ladder, being financially secure, going from public housing to the burbs, having the ability to have economic stability, and all of those things that should be making me happy, great bonus, 401(k), and all these things. I’m putting my head on a pillow at night but not feeling whole.When inside decision-making rooms, you leave parts of yourself outside the door. In order to survive, thrive, and get to where we want to be, you have to assimilate yourself into a specific environment. Click To Tweet
I believe earnestly it was because I wasn’t functioning to my purpose. I wasn’t aligning my life with my purpose. I was aligning it with societal expectations, expectations of myself, wanting to leave the past in the past, even though understanding it was all purposeful, but leaving it over there, being separate from it, even though I realized it was a building block of whom I had become as a Black woman, wife, mother, and human being. It wasn’t until there was a series of losses as well as that wake-up call that happened very early in the pandemic that I was like, “We don’t know how much time we have left on this Earth unless someone decides to take their own life.”
With whatever time I have left, it can’t be this. What it was. I want there to be a legacy. I want to do something that has meaning that leaves the world a slightly better place, at least a corner of it. In what I’m doing, this isn’t it. This is why I’m unhappy. I’m not functioning on purpose. It was like, “What would that look like if I did that? What would it look like if I shook off all the societal expectations and trappings of how we define success? Will I be fully successful in a way that regardless of title, economics, and all these things that I could feel that and that I could put head to pillow every night and breathe out this sense of peace that comes with functioning in purpose?” In prayer, it spoke clearly to me like, “If you give me this thing, there will be no lack.”
There has been no lack. My husband was on board immediately. He was like, “We’ll sell the house, cut the cable, and do whatever we need to do. I see and feel you. I feel like this is your purpose and calling.” One of my personal board of directors looks me dead in the eye. She’s an SVP at Viacom and said, “We’ve been waiting for you.” You talk about having chills. That was such a moment of validation, and then that was it. I resigned. In a month’s time, I stood up Indelible, and sometimes it was duct tape and bubble gum, like building the plane while flying it. Now we’re a team of nine across the US supporting for-profit, nonprofit, paramilitary, and school systems.
It’s not because I have the best business brain. I don’t. I don’t have an MBA. I didn’t go to business school. There’s no Wharton in my background, but there’s a purpose. As a result of purpose, there’s passion, perseverance, and all these things that undergird success. Most of all, I dare to say purpose because when you tap into purpose, there’s nothing like it. I’ve never been more creative, effective, innovative, more me, and felt doggone good or successful in my entire life as much as I feel now.
What a beautiful set of events and your willingness to go to places that aren’t light and maybe times of darkness. There’s learning and darkness at times. I applaud you for working through that and dreaming bigger or seeing that there are other people that are struggling with those similar elements and struggles. It sounded to me that you wanted to break through it and not only help yourself. You wanted to help out other people and so they can dream and take action as you did, do wonderful things, and give back. I love that you used the word legacy and how you want to make the world a better part, even if it’s a smaller part even though you’re making a pretty big impression around the world.
I’m in awe of you sharing your story. It’s amazing. I adore it. I love what you’re doing. I kept saying this to myself that you’re unapologetically authentic. It’s coming through over and over again in your sense of thinking and beliefs in how these have shaped over time. I’m sure these lessons have been growing inside you. You’ve been seeing and making connections. Are there any other life connections that you’ve seen to get to where you are? I know you talked about purpose as well. That ties into that. I’d love to know a little bit more because I can’t get enough. I got goosebumps when you were talking about, “We’ve been waiting for you.” That’s perfect.
There have been people along the journey way. My mom passed away in 2021, very untimely, not from any addiction or anything else, but from the convergence of health issues. She made the decision of like, “It’s been enough for me. No DNR or DNI. I’m ready to go. Can you support that?” It was like, “Yes,” because she used to always say, “You get one life.” I felt like I could support her decision because we had gotten to this beautiful place of forgiveness.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech, The Man in the Arena. Brené Brown uses parts of it for her series on Daring Greatly. Even before that, I heard Teddy Roosevelt’s speech way back when I was in college. It does talk about the person who is in the arena of life, fighting, marred, bloody beat up by life, but isn’t afraid to stay in the arena and fight, isn’t looking for the quickest door of escape that says, “I’m going to fight for the life that I want.” I was able to not just forgive my mom but also see a legacy of strength in her that I couldn’t realize or appreciate as a youth. Her mom passed away when she was seven. She dealt with having a father who became a single parent to her and her sister and had an alcohol addiction himself and physical violence in that setting.
One thing begot the other. Talk about native legacy, which we want to stop generational traumas, but then also her fight through it all. I was able to look back and held her body as she transitioned and took her last breath of life. I never thought that I would be in bed holding her. That’s a good thing. I never thought of holding her and saying, “It’s okay to go. You were an amazing mother. To things that you taught me, you have no idea what you’ve taught me. I’m proud to be your daughter.” I never thought I could see that because I spent so much time in a good chunk of my life being ashamed of her.
I saw her differently and beautifully. I saw all this strength in her. I couldn’t be who I am now for being her daughter and burst into those circumstances. Her still seeing me and saying, “We only get one life. Live it to the best. You’ve got a chance to go to college, create a better life for yourself, travel, and see the world, do that,” all the things she couldn’t do, she wanted for me. When I think about my bonus dad that I grew up with and how we didn’t have next to anything, but he’d give a shirt off the back to anybody who needed it, how our community coalesced around each other and made sure that we supported others who didn’t have, even though we ourselves had very little, we would give to each other. We would barter in our physical community.
I think about Les Saunders, who was my Middletown High School guidance counselor. He is well-known and prolific in that community that he looked at me and said, “You don’t have to function and be determined by your surroundings. You are in this, but you are not of this. This doesn’t have to be all you see for yourself.” There are people that pour into me and created foundations in me for the woman that I am now who is not perfect, who is filled with purpose, and who wants to give back and make those indelible marks because these people all made indelible Impressions upon me, every single one of them.
At one point here, I felt my whole body go numb. I’m like, “This is beautiful.” You’re carrying your mom’s legacy forward. She saw the beauty in you and you got to see the beauty in her. What a gift that you’re giving back and your bonus dad giving to others, it was phenomenal. The actions you’re taking, you’re a leader by example. You’re a changemaker. You’re showing that anything good is possible when we put our minds, hearts, and authentic selves together.
That’s the best thing we could do for ourselves. It will have an effect on others around you. I could have let a lot of different circumstances in life make me bitter, but I chose the E. I chose the better over and over again. It wasn’t a single choice. It was making that choice over and over again, which is hard to do in the face of some dark and challenging circumstances. It doesn’t mean that I respond to everything perfectly. I’m human.
I don’t know if you just came up with the e making things from bitter to better. That’s fun. It’s simple things like that. It’s a simple choice of a word we choose or the letter we want to have. I’ll often talk about, since I love talking about possibilities, the word impossible like if you add one little mark and a space, it turns into I’m possible. It’s a shift. It’s a matter of, “What can I do differently to grow from this, not beat myself up, yet I could break through instead of into pieces?”
Can we pause on that, “I could break through instead of into pieces?” It’s a mind shift, and then it becomes a heart shift. That is important. People always think that, “There are these big things that I have to do to make a difference in my life or the lives of others.” Sometimes we are called to do those big things, but that is born out of doing the smaller things like you said, “Instead of the impossible, I’m possible. What does that look like? I’m possible in this setting and in this way. I’m possible in this area of life. My intelligence, where I can go, I’m possible.”
To the better versus the bitter, I didn’t come up with that. It was a woman named Marsha who spoke into my life when I was going through a divorce from my daughter’s father. She said to me, “You can’t control what has happened and what was done, but here’s what you do get a choice in. Are you going to be bitter or better? It’s a single letter but it will make all the difference for your trajectory in how you go through this and how you come out on the other side.”
I didn’t phrase it, but I have carried that through at the hardest moment saying, “What am I going to decide? What am I going to do? Is it going to be this? Am I going to be bitter or be better? Maybe I want to be bitter for a moment. I’m going to be bitter about this, but I’m going to get to that E really fast. I’m going to get to the E immediately.” What are you thinking about that?
It’s a great point that it’s okay to be bitter for a minute. Life isn’t perfect. We have darkness and points where we’re frustrated. We’re angry. It’s how we work through it and how we handle it. That’s how we get measured most of the time. How do we address these levels of moments where, “Are handling it with grace or with the right intentions? Are we being our happy authentic selves?” These are the places where we work through things. This is why I love the phrase breaking wide open. We’ve all had moments where we don’t think we’re worthy or we have anxiety and self-doubt and we break into pieces or we have failed. We perceive that we failed and we can’t get through it.
Your messages help us understand that we can break through these components about how we listen to it, how we look inside, and how we invite the world in and move forward. It doesn’t mean ignoring the past or pretending you’re somebody different. It’s about taking the steps you can be and who you’re born to be. You’re living it out loud. You are a living example. I applaud you. I also want to give you a virtual hug for the moment you shared earlier. I’m here for you.
I appreciate that. You touched on failure, and I’ve been asked in podcast interviews, magazines, or whatever. Even at some of the workshops and speaking gigs, people have said to me, “How do you define failure?” I’ve always said this. I believe there is only failure when we don’t learn, not that something didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, whether that’s if you are in business and there’s a failed product launch, you failed to make the numbers, or some people’s kids go up and do things that you couldn’t possibly conceive of and you feel a failure as a parent.
Those are two examples. I don’t think failure is not achieving the outcome that you would hope for. The only failure there is in not learning from the experience. If you brush it off and you keep moving like, “That had no impact. I’m not going to take any lessons learned from that,” that’s the failure. As long as you learn from the thing, no matter what it is, no matter if that’s a small learning or something magnanimous that changes your life, that for me is the only failure. It is if we don’t learn.Even if you do not achieve the outcome you are hoping for, it cannot be considered a failure. The only time you fail is if you do not learn anything from your experience. Click To Tweet
Have you heard of Garry Ridge? He coined the term Learning Moment. It’s diving into what we can gain from any situation. It’s beautiful. He was our previous podcast guest. I should introduce you both. He’s fabulous. The thing is I had a moment where I had an awakening and I recognized I had some level of unconscious biases. I was terrified and I could’ve pushed it away. I could’ve remained with self-preservation and fear of what I would’ve been giving up or acknowledging that I had failed people or pushed people away.
The things that were there in my head, I could’ve pushed them aside, yet my heart took over and said, “I’m not being my best self or the best human being I can be.” I needed to learn the moment, even though it was painful and awful. I cried in the workplace in front of 24 colleagues and a very diverse group of people. That is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It is to see the world differently. I learned what I was failing and not doing. I didn’t personally break into pieces because I felt like my bubble burst and I thought I was suffocating when I realized the bubble expanded.
You broke open.
I was able to welcome the world in and realized I wasn’t using the privilege that I had responsibly and honorably. I know these words are on your LinkedIn page. Power and privilege.
I’m totally leaned in.
You say this on your LinkedIn page about, “These aren’t dirty words.” I’d love to know a little bit more about why you say that.
I have to applaud earnestly because the more people understand we weren’t born in a suit, so we need to be human with one another, especially for leaders to be vulnerable and say, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” We see this a lot in the DE&IB space, especially with White male leaders like yourself to say, “I have certain privileges and power ascribed to me. I’m not using those things well in this space that I’m not being as equitable and inclusive as I could be. I’m having my own reckoning. I’m willing to hold myself accountable to that.” I’m willing to hold up the mirror and say, “Come on, home. You can do better. This isn’t the best version of you, not just for yourself but for everyone else that you’re leading.”
That’s beautiful. If more leaders did that that. I will at least speak across the dimensions of the diversity of Black and White, which is not the only dimension of diversity by a long shot, but juxtaposing those two things. That would build such a bridge to people of difference, whether that’s Black and then the intersectionality aspects of Black people. That’s huge.
Privilege and power. The majority of the time when people talk in the space of DE&I and DEI&B, and they start talking about privilege, often the conversations say that White privilege. That has a tendency to elicit a lot of defensiveness and frustration, “What does that mean? I’m a White person. I didn’t grow up privileged, with wealth and multiple cars in the driveway. Maybe I grew up in public housing. Maybe I grew up in an environment of drug addiction and family violence. I’m not privileged.”
It creates this combativeness in the environment, which I don’t think is very helpful to the larger conversation. It pits us against one another. It’s not to say that White privilege is not a thing. It is because of our history and colonialism. Things that people in the room today didn’t create and build. That’s why there’s that initial defensiveness that’s often there. When we talk about privilege and power, my indelible perspective is that privilege and power don’t need to be dirty words. It’s about how we use it. Every single one of us who is alive today has certain levels of privilege and power.
We might not all define it the same way and it might look different for people from different walks of life. I will use myself as an example. I consider myself as a Black woman. Where I am in life now is extremely privileged. I do have certain powers. I am privileged because I now live in the burbs. I don’t have the same economic persecutions that I had before. I was able to go and get a formal education at Quinnipiac. That’s a privilege to me. I have a credit card and access to disposable income and wealth. That’s a privilege.
I am able-bodied. I don’t need a wheelchair at this point in time or anything else in order to care for myself and my family. That’s a privilege. How I use my privilege, whether it’s economic power or power now as having CEO in my title for whatever power that yields me, I think it’s about how we use it that makes all the difference. It is coming to understand what you said about how I was showing up, “How I was using my power and privilege?” Coming to know you, I don’t think that you were using it in elitist ways or to persecute others. I do think as you’ve conveyed to me, you were using it to build and create power and privilege for others. That’s the kicker. That’s the thing with power and privilege. Are we using our power and privilege for others who don’t have power and privilege?
I love how you broke that down. You make it safe for us to talk about these words. It’s important that we step in to understand what these words mean for each of us individually and where we are on the spectrum of these words because I have a feeling the readers have a level of privilege. There are times when maybe we didn’t or they didn’t and we broke through, or there are elements where we know there are people on either side. Some people have more. Some people have less. Do not get caught up in the words. What’s interesting as you’re talking through this is I have many feelings and emotions thinking about what you’re sharing. I recently did a keynote talk. I was asked not to use the word privilege.
We had a discussion about it, and I said, “Fine, I’ll use a different word. I’ll use the word platform.” I used the platform because my voice was heard differently because of who I am. I needed to move. What I used as a metaphor was a megaphone. I needed to move my megaphone away from my voice being heard to someone else’s. That’s sharing a platform. It’s not about having to say the word privilege. It’s about doing the best for other people. What’s our intention? Are we trying to help people break through? Are we helping people to be their best selves as their authentic selves? Yes and yes. I would also say that when I was going through this myself, I was pushing people away. I had a purpose before I went into this event where I had my awakening, where I was going to bring out the best in people all around me everyday.
You are reading me in the correct way. However, I wasn’t doing that for everybody. I was doing that in my bubble of saying this to people that were like me. That was my a-ha where I said, “I’m pushing people away that I shouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here.” Had I not put my arm around the world to say, “No, I need to expand that bubble,” and see the light that’s inside of all of us because there’s a beautiful light inside of all of us. We need to not let our privilege or the items and areas we’ve been taught to blind or hide us from what beauty is sitting there in front of us. I admittedly would not be here with you had I not gone through that awakening.
I see the beauty and the amazingness in you. I see how you’re paying it forward every day. You’re sharing all these stories. You’re part of many different panels. NASA has you on their board. I know you’re working with different boards that reflect back to your past. You’re taking your lessons. You’re sharing this and making people better with the panels you’re joining and with the work you’re doing.
I’m a product of the work that you’re doing. I know what can happen. I’ve seen companies turn around. I adore you. I love what you’re doing and the impact you have on the world. I’m honored to be your friend. I’m here to support you in any way I can. I hope we get to work together in different ways because we can make some great impacts. Thank you for being on the show. I have a feeling we’ll be back at this again at some point in the future.
I am always moved by your humility, transparency, and vulnerability. That’s what’s needed in the world more than ever. We are so polarized in society and across communities. It requires us to build and break down the barriers that separate us to see that you as a White male leader and me as a Black woman leader can bridge the gap of difference and have found so much beautiful commonality between us not just in how we think, but how we feel and the impact that we want to have on the world that most people would not assume that we could overcome certain things easily. I don’t necessarily think that they’re easy, but when you have purpose and intention leading the way and you let your heart lead more than your head, the challenges and the barriers become that much easier to hurdle.
We keep laying track over the hurdle, bridging closer and closer to one another so that we’re walking up and down that bridge. You’re able to walk over to my side, and I’m able to walk over to your side without speed bumps and stumbling blocks because our hearts are leading the way. I want to thank you for that. I would gladly be back on any platform anywhere with you. As long as the schedule permits, I will be there. I know that you’ll be the same as me.
I know we’re talking about doing some cool impactful stuff together. You and I bring some other voices to these important conversations and giving others permission to use their lived and professional experiences for the education, edification, and building up of others while breaking down barriers. I say heck yes all day long. Let’s get it. I’m glad to be on this show anytime you ask. It’s been a great way to kick off the week. Thank you for the space and for honoring my truth and my experience, both lived and professional. Thank you for your contributions to the world because it’s beautiful.
That means the world. Thank you so much. Your level of transparency and willingness to share is amazing. You are a leader by example. You’re helping to show people that it’s safe to do the same thing. I’m with you. Let’s make an impact together. Show people what is possible when we open up our hearts and connect them to our minds and share emotions with care, empathy, and compassion, the right emotions for us to make a big difference. Everything you said is spot on. You are a living bridge for our world. Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you for having me. To all your readers, this is the guy. Get the book. He talks about transparency and experience. He divulged a lot of his career as an executive to what he does now. It is a beautiful journey. You want to get this book. You want to get connected with this guy to live and grow, learn, and do better.
Thank you very much.
My heart grew a little bit. Yvonne is as genuine as it gets, thriving with a purpose to amplify each of us to new heights. It is fascinating that we are different on the surface and where we come from. However, we are both on a similar path to using our hearts to explore better ways for all people and to put us all on an equal playing field where endless possibilities thrive. I love her story and how she boldly shares her learnings for us to reflect on coupled with ideas we can implement to experience personal and societal growth.
Here are a few ideas from our talk to consider experimenting with for yourself. Number one, being authentic is a gift. You are all born with it. Yvonne is a living example of what is possible when we do. Pause during the day to reflect on whether you are being fake and someone else or your happy, authentic self, and notice where you want to change and reconnect back into.
Two, delve into your struggles, memories, or areas holding you back. Learn from Yvonne and how she was able to find the positive learnings and take the small steps to overcome these to live more freely in the future and live out your legacy.
Three, think about the privilege you may have and look at it, not as a word that creates divisiveness, yet it’s something you can honorably share with others. It is not about giving something up. It’s about sharing what others may not have for the greater good. Experiment with some small steps you could take to better others. I promise you will beam too.
After the show, our conversation continued as I remained in awe as I was listening to Yvonne speak and share more about her story. She mentioned the word shame, which sparked an interesting discussion. I was surprised that she had shame at all about anything she was doing because she is amazing. We agreed we needed to dig into that as a follow-up to this show. Stay tuned for that show coming up as part two in a continuation of this wonderful discussion. In the meantime, gain comfort and learn from our more harrowing moments to help you ignite your happy, authentic self and live your possible.
- Indelible Impressions Consulting
- Daring Greatly
- LinkedIn – Yvonne Alston
About Yvonne Alston
Yvonne Alston is an unapologetically authentic amplifier and advocate for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. She established Indelible Impressions Consulting to advance important conversations, education and competencies to help organizations understand the importance of culture and its impact on the human experience. Her firm and team focus on centering the employee experience, amplifying personal and professional value, and inspiring hearts and minds as they challenge systems of inequity, champion dimensions of diversity, and drive inclusive practices holistically.