"Inclusion doesn't start at our conference room tables ; it starts at our kitchen tables"
We first discovered Mita Mallick on LinkedIn and we're enamoured with her content about making the workplace truly inclusive and inviting for all. Mita helps us realize that as workplace leaders, it is in fact our experiences at home (e.g. our upbringing and our backgrounds) that help inform, influence, and inspire how we show up at work. We talk about how when that sense of belonging, that makes someone truly feel like part of a team, is fostered that it actually makes good business sense - something we agree with wholeheartedly at Root & Seed. In this interview, we talked to her about her new book (launching the week this episode is launched), her career in corporate America, and how her early life experiences have helped her show up... as she learned to show up sometimes despite the best of intentions from our parents and society at the time.
Order Mita's book now: Amazon
About our guest: Mita Mallick is a corporate change-maker with a track record of transforming businesses. She gives innovative ideas a voice and serves customers and communities with purpose. She has had an extensive career as a marketer in the beauty and consumer product goods space, being a fierce advocate of including and representing Black and Brown communities. Her first book, “Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace,” being published by Wiley is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
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We spend billions of dollars globally on diversity, equity, inclusion, training and efforts. And I think to myself, wow. And in some ways we're doing this work backwards. It doesn't start at our conference room tables, at our boardroom tables, it starts at our kitchen room tables. It starts in our neighborhood and communities.
Welcome back to Root & Seed, a podcast about tradition seekers who are sparked to explore, define and celebrate their family and cultural identity. I'm your host, Anika Chabra. Season six is upon us and we don't know about you, but the brisk cooler air signals seasons of change, autumn invites in an opportunity to balance the introspective with the outward, the whimsy with the intentional and to reflect on the system and structures that we interact with every day.
Annually, we anticipate the excitement of back to school, feel the weight of going back to work after the summer holidays, and embrace the traditions that come with the harvest holiday season. What do these all have in common? They bring people together, the people and relationships in our lives. Truly impact who we are.
And so we wanted to explore that this season. Relationships with yourself, your workplace, your community, your marriage, your grief, and your life stage to add another layer to our relationships. Have you ever thought about how these relationships are impacted by the lens of your upbringing, culture, and lived experiences?
Too deep? Stick with us1 We have yet to steer you wrong, and we promise there's something for everyone this season. For episode one, we invited Meeta Malik, corporate changemaker with a track record of transforming businesses. Her passion for inclusive storytelling led her to become a chief diversity officer to build end to end inclusion ecosystems across big and small organizations.
We first discovered Mita on LinkedIn and we're enamored with her content about making the workplace inclusive and inviting for all. How as leaders, it is in fact our experiences at home, our upbringing, our backgrounds that help inform, influence, and inspire how we show up at work. How when a sense of belonging and truly feeling part of a team is fostered, that it actually makes good business sense - something we agree with wholeheartedly at Root & Seed. In this interview, we talked to her about her new book launching literally as we record and speak. Her career in corporate America and how her early life experiences have helped her show up as she learned to show up sometimes despite and inspite the best of intentions from our parents and society at the time.
Here's our interview.
So, what would you like our listeners to know about who Mita is?
Who is Mita? Well, most importantly, I'm a mom to Jay, who's 10 going on 11, and Priya who’s 8 going on 18 :) I am a business leader, a DE&I champion, and my story is still being written.
Oh, love that. Let's dive right into your most recent project, your book called Reimagining Inclusion, Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace. What a beautiful title. Tell us what led to the idea of the book and what that journey looked like.
Well, my mother reminds me ever since I could hold a crayon, I wanted to be a writer, and so I've had many false starts and stops on my writing journey. I'm not an overnight success. I've tried to write other books and novels that didn't get their way into the market.
But for this one in particular, as many of us do, I journal and I process through writing. I celebrate through writing. I heal through writing. I try to inspire through writing. And I had throughout my career off and on have been keeping career journals. I'd written things down that I had observed, things that I was struggling with, things that I was celebrating, things that I could learn from.
And so I had this idea for the book because I thought to myself, there's a lot of great books on inclusion and leadership in the marketplace, but if I'm going to put a book out there, I want it to be additive. What could I say that would be different? And I wanted to approach it from a place of myths and how do you debunk some of these things.
Reading to my 10 year old and 8 year old at night, like the bedtime stories we tell ourselves, and then the stories we tell ourselves at work that just aren't true, but we hold on to them, and it holds us back from making meaningful progress. So that was the inspiration for the book.
I'm slightly smiling because I've actually only started journaling about two and a half years ago, and I have about 20 Four journals now,.. I remember taking a picture of the stack of it.
And I'm like, there's a book in there somewhere. So I love that you have been writing about the observations that you've had in the workplace. I think that is such a smart idea because sometimes they're lost, right? Note to our listeners, there's a tip. There's a book in your journal somewhere.
I want to talk a little bit about the format of the book. You clearly had an intention with the format. It has actual tips and tools, which for us at Root Seed really aligns, right? Because we are about inspiring people to understand their histories and their culture and reclaim things and decide what they want to take forward and what they want to leave in the past and all those other things.
But we also give tips and tools to be able to do that. Tell me about why that was important to you.
It's how I learn. And I wanted this to be a resource guide, handbook that anyone could go back to when they're struggling with something in their own career, in their workplace. And so I took the approach of 13 myths.
Now people ask me why 13? 13 is my lucky number. This is 13 of the most commonly held myths I had heard during my career. Every myth opens with a powerful story that has happened somewhere in corporate America. I debunk the myth and I actually, at the end of every chapter, weave takeaways to remind people almost like a little cliff notes. I thought about how I like to learn, and we are inundated with so much information in our world today, and I thought if you read this book, and even at the end of it, you just get one or two things out of it, and that helps you show up differently to your company tomorrow, that's my hope. Because if we all just did one or two things differently tomorrow in our workplaces, we would have a ripple effect on how we could change our organizations.
That's great. So tell me, as a workforce today, as leaders, employees, entrepreneurs, how do you think we are uniquely positioned to reimagine inclusion? And why do you think now is the right time for this book?
Some people would say it's the right time for this book. Some people will say it's the wrong time for this book. As I'm sitting in the U.S. right now, there's a huge backlash happening against diversity, equity, and inclusion. We think about the overturning of the Supreme Court justice ruling, affirmative action. You think of Florida and Texas, where books are being banned. My book might be banned there, I don't know.Particularly in those two States, they've passed legislation where they don't want diversity, equity, inclusion being taught in public institutions, educational institutions. The government has said that is not going to impact workplaces, but the fear is still there. And so this work becomes more important now more than ever. The demographics are changing in the U.S. alone. We see that 40 percent of individuals today identify as non white. That number is going to change in the next 10 years. There's over 5 trillion dollars of spending power according to Procter & Gamble, with the multicultural consumer in the U. S. alone. And you start to think, well, wow, the demographics are changing, the workforce is changing, and then there continues to be this tension about what diversity, equity, and inclusion means.
And for me, I'll say, what does inclusion mean? Let's just start there. It means if I work for you, I feel valued. I feel seen. I feel recognized. My voice matters. My contributions matter at work. And I feel like I belong on your team. And how amazing is that? Because when I feel that way, I'm going to reach my potential and the company is going to reach its potential. And guess what? For anyone listening right now, inclusion is the biggest retention tool you have. It's that feeling. Wow. When you find that place. You start your own company. You're part of a company. It's really hard to move on because you're like, I found my place. And so that's what I really want people to go back to think about….Why is this work important? Why in the first place did we even start talking about it? It's because we want everyone to reach their full potential at work. That's really what it's about.
The little voice in my head was saying, preach, preach, preach. I love it. Oh, I do. Something that really resonated with me and I think will resonate with our community and our listeners was you really do link our professional selves, but also our personal selves.And you've been quoted as saying inclusion doesn't start at the conference room table. It starts in our kitchen table. Can you unpack that statement for me, please?
Yes. And I opened the book with this myth. The first myth is, of course, I support Black Lives Matter. Why are you asking if I have any Black friends?I'll let our listeners check out the book and listen to that first story that I share. We spend, I don't know how much the total is now, billions of dollars globally on diversity, equity, inclusion, training, and efforts. And I think to myself, wow. In some ways we're doing this work backwards. It doesn't start at our conference room tables, at our boardroom tables, it starts at our kitchen room tables.It starts in our neighborhood and communities. Because here's the question you should be asking. If I work for you and your organization is focused on increasing diversity of representation, and let's say has done a great job in my division, the next question you need to be asking is, is am i fit to lead that team? Am I fit to lead that team? If you are not thinking about, on your journey to be a more inclusive leader, how you are building relationships with individuals who don't have the same life experience as you, How are you then expected to come into work and lead teams of individuals from different communities? Because here's the thing, if I am the only Indian woman, or woman of South Asian descent, woman of color you've ever met, or you don't know a woman of color, and it's all based on film and media, that can be dangerous, and it can form a stereotype in your head that you bring to work with you. And so the real work starts outside of work. Actually, it really starts in our homes.
I love that. Oh, you got my mind churning, Mita.
I hope I didn't stump you.
I'm thinking about potential for Root Seed actually, which is great because as a leader with your platform yourself, you're inspiring other leaders like myself on other platforms. So there you go. You're doing your job.
How has your cultural background and lived experiences informed your work today?
I wouldn't be who I am and where I am without my lived experiences. The beginning of the book, I talk about how I've been chasing inclusion all of my life. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrant parents, born and raised in the U.S. with my younger brother. And I did not grow up in a time and a place where it was cool to be Indian. I was the funny looking, dark skinned girl with the long, funny looking braid whose parents spoke funny English until it wasn't funny anymore. I was bullied a lot growing up by my peers, and I didn't feel like I ever belonged.
I didn't expect those bullies from the classrooms to follow me into corporate America. Early in my career, as I look back at my resume, I job hopped a lot. Because, I'll evoke Taylor Swift for a moment. She has a song called Ant-ihero. And there's a line in it that says, “hi, it's me. I'm the problem. It's me.”
And I felt that way for a lot of my early career because I was passed up for promotions. I wasn't getting the feedback I deserved. I was in toxic places and spaces. And then I came to this recognition. Wow. I need to own part of how I'm showing up at work, but also part of it is that I am entering a world of work that was not built for someone who looked like me.
And my parents gave me many gifts we can talk about, but a lot of those gifts didn't serve me well in corporate America. My dad, rest in peace, would always say, keep your head down. Work hard, stay out of trouble and you'll be recognized. And that's not how it works in corporate America. So there's so many things that they instilled in me that culturally I'm so proud of and happy that that's part of me, but I've had to actually think about how I unfortunately show up differently in corporate America and corporate spaces and places, and how I have to shift and pivot some of the ways in which I show up and people receive me.
Oh my gosh, so much of your story just personally resonates with me. But I think about this a lot in the context of my children too, right? Our parents gave us so many things that I would never want to take away because they instilled in me this fire and drive and all the things that you have, but then you think about how we parent and how we want to decide what we want to take forward and decide how we want our children to be exposed to some parts, but not other parts.And how do we allow them to flourish in the new world? It's just an interesting time to be you and me.
It is, especially when you think about how we're raising the next generation of leaders. Some of the gifts my parents gave me was that I have an insane work ethic, I can outwork anybody. And at the same time I wasn't working very smart, I was just working hard. Also this idea of not being able to quit spaces, places, and people. We just don't quit, we don't give up. And part of that is generational trauma that's passed on. My dad was from a family of ten, my mom from a family of nine. They were the only ones that immigrated to the U.S. They had nobody. No support system.
Very different from how my children are being raised. So, it was just, you can't quit. You have to keep going. Survival mode. And then, this idea tied to not taking risks. Really looking for big brand name companies, like going for the stable job, the corporate ladder. There's a flip to everything. Those are all strengths of mine, but also corporate America saw them as weaknesses.
I struggled early on in my career. And now with my podcast, Brown Table Talk, my friend, DC Marshall, and I talk about on the podcast, but also in this book, how some of those things can be weaponized and used against you.
Oh, absolutely. Who did you write this book for?
I wrote this book for anyone who wants to see change in their organization. I believe we're all leaders. So if I say leaders, we all have a bias. Oh, this is for people who manage people. No. If you want to make an impact in your organization, there is something for everyone in this book. It's quite expansive. I don't care if you're an individual contributor, if you're early in your career, or if you're the CEO. You can benefit from this book. And so it's really thinking about anyone who is invested in this work and wants to see the world of work change for the next generation. And I think for people who are already bought in but trying to reach someone differently, handing this book to someone who's on the fence, doesn't understand why this work is important, I think will be eye opening for them as well.
What do you think our ancestors would have thought of this book?
Gosh, there's a famous quote that talks about how we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. My grandmothers were both child brides. My dad's mother was married when she was 12. My mother's mother was married when she was 10. They had large families and were remarkable women. And I stand on their shoulders. I wonder what they would think of their granddaughter having a book like this out there. We've come a long way since then and progress is still slow. I think there's a lot more to be done, which is why I know this book is so important right now.
Going back to background, is there something that really resonated with you growing up that you just wish your children would continue doing and future generations would?
I'm really focused with my children on gratitude. There's no success without gratitude. And so whether it was US Thanksgiving, which we celebrated growing up and going around the table and saying what we were grateful for, interestingly, my husband and his family also have the same tradition. And so with my children, we try to have a gratitude box around the month of November where every day they're just writing notes on what they're thankful for.We live in such an on demand culture where we have access to so much that sometimes we lose sight of just being grateful for the moment. And I think especially. With the generation we're raising, that's going to be so important.
I'm struck by something that might resonate with you. My 16 year old told us on the weekend that five years ago, he wrote himself an email and it was meant to come into his inbox this morning, maybe giving some gratitude, maybe giving some wishes for the year.And I just thought, hopefully he feels a sense of gratitude that he actually did that.
So our community is incredibly diverse in age, ethnicity, geographies. We truly believe that we can learn from one another. That's why we are cross cultural. Given your relationship with your lived experiences and how it's informed your identity, what's an important lesson or piece of advice that you would like our Root Seed community to know?
Unlock the power and potential of your community. When we think about how we can become a more inclusive leader, there's a lot of pressure in that. Well, there's no destination. It's a journey. There's no scorecard. And part of that is you have to have access to lived experiences that aren't your own to gain more empathy and understanding. I'll never know what it's like to walk in your shoes. I can get a glimpse into it. I can have an understanding of it. Someone said to me the other day, gosh, you're so empathetic. And I said, I don't know if I was born this way, it's because of so many life experiences that I had where I feel like I didn't belong, I wasn't included.
And so because of that, I just always have an eye out for who's not being seen, valued, and included, and what can we do to change that? And I think if we actually started from a place of, let's actually talk about exclusion, like what does it feel like to be excluded? Everyone has a memory. I talk about in the book how much I hate kickball because of my elementary school days of always being picked last for the team.It's either that or a workplace event you weren't invited to. Something that happened with a friend circle. It's like such a horrible feeling, right? So you would never want anyone to feel that way. And part of why that happens is we get scared that we don't know someone else's experience and we start to create distance or other.
And so that's what I would say to the community. You have access to some amazing people and you just haven't even met them yet. We spend so much time in our workplaces not to protect the cultures we're creating. So just think about how your workplace could be different if each of us showed up differently tomorrow in a positive way.
So simple, yet so complex.
Yes, it is. Absolutely. Easier said than done. Hopefully the book helps with that.
Okay, great. Well, I'm going to ask you a couple of questions if you're okay from our Conversation Cards
Yes, let's do it.
Alright. You know what? I'm going to shuffle. I feel like I might...
Ooh, she shuffled.
It's happening. Game time.. Okay. Under the category of traditions, are there any traditions that may have been lost with a departed family member?
That's a really hard one. I lost my dad suddenly. In 2017, he had such an amazing love of books and would always gift books to us in the holidays. And so we do that with our kids now, but I also think living in a digital world, it's really interesting.I love an old school journal. I love reading actual book and touching and feeling it. And so I hope that we continue to keep that tradition alive.
It's no wonder that Mita is an author herself, what a beautiful reminder that it was in fact her father who instilled a love of written word in her and how she continues that now with her own children.
It's hard to distill this remarkable interview into one sentiment, but perhaps one of the most significant parts was Mita's invitation for us to hold up a mirror to our own lives at home, to really understand how we foster inclusivity in our personal lives. So why not start embracing your unique family heritage and community experiences and grow, learn, and expand from there.
Mita's book, Reimagining Inclusion, Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace is coming out this week. Perfect timing for the release of this episode. Be sure to check out our show notes for the direct link to purchase. Speaking of launches, did you know that Root Seed has launched a new set of products?
Because we were talking about relationships this season, we thought we'd mention the first in a series of expansion prompts. 17 questions all about the people in our lives. Those cards can be added to your family deck and the storytelling can grow and continue. Available now at rootandseed.com Next episode we meet the wonderful and talented Darius Bashur, the ultimate inquisitive question asker amongst other talents and pursuits.
He speaks about his relationship with identity as well, and approaches it from the perspective that we all have. We all need to live into our authentic selves all the while respecting the stories of those who came before us, acknowledging that those are their stories, not necessarily ours. Stay tuned for next time.
Root & Seed is hosted by me, Anika Chhabra, executive produced by Jenn Siripong Mandel and edited by Emily Groleau and Camille Blais. Bye for now.
Hosted by: Anika Chabra
Brought to you by: Root & Seed
Executive Producer: Jennifer Siripong Mandel
Editing by: Emily Groleau
Sound Editing by: Camille Blais
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