MINAL: Every use of power should be looked at through that lens of like, is this a use of power that is connecting, repairing, and healing? Or is this a use of power that is controlling, extracting, or exploiting?
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ALIDA: Welcome to the Care Work Podcast. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff. This podcast is for anyone in the business of providing care, whether you’re being paid for it or not. You’ll discover what it means to offer care and how to take care of yourself in the process. For the last ten years, as a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging practitioner, a care worker myself, I’ve focused on providing care to other people for a living. Now with this podcast, I’m hoping to create a culture of care in my community and help you do the same in yours.
ALIDA: When we build our organizations, our societies, our systems to be all things to all people, we end up minimizing the importance of differences and the strengths that so many bring to a collective. And so we have an opportunity to think differently about how we fit together as a collective unit. That is at the heart of my discussion with Minal Bopaiah, an author who recently published the book Equity, an award winning book which focuses on how to blend diversity, equity, and inclusion into organizational design. Minal is also the founder of Brevity and Wit, which is a unique firm that combines strategy and design with the principles of DEI. Listen to our conversation to understand how we can move away from a system that unfairly relies on the often uncompensated efforts of dedicated care workers to something fundamentally more equitable.
ALIDA: Welcome Minal to the Care Work podcast. I am really excited to be here with you today, and I would love to just start us off with sentence or two from you, in your own words, of what you do.
MINAL: So, as a DEI practitioner, I think at the most high level, what I do and what most DEI practitioners do is basically planting seeds for trees we’re not going to sit under. The changes that we’re looking for are, particularly if they’re large at the systems level, work on a very long timeline. And so I think the work that we do is really stewardship for future generations and for people that come after me to have an easier time.
ALIDA: What strikes me about your response is it’s aligned to something we talk a lot about on this podcast, which is that care work is really trying to help people meet their needs. And I wonder how you characterize care.
MINAL: So, it’s interesting that you’re, like, talking about care work because I’m the first person to say I’m not a natural caretaker. I’m not even particularly interested in caretaking. So, I don’t have children. I’m not going to have children. I have a lot of caretaking responsibilities, and while I do them out of my love for other people, I don’t feel fed by care work, right? And it’s interesting when I say that, because frequently women, and I’ve even had Indian aunties older than me be like, wait, are we allowed to say that? Are we allowed to say that we don’t get anything out of this? Like, and that we’re just doing it right? I think women are shamed into thinking we have to actually get something out of it. And so, because I also identify as a feminist and a systems thinker. You know, I’m the first person to recognize that the large percentage of care work falls on women. And so, for me, what care actually is, is a system that supports people without expecting a gender to pick up the slack, right? Like, there was a great headline during the pandemic that said, most countries have a social safety net, the US has women. Right? And so, in my mind, my form of care is, how can we shift this system where it is not reliant on individuals to stick their fingers in the dam to keep things moving, right? How do we actually strengthen the dam or the net, or you know, so that it is more dispersed, and it is not on a single individual, either in a family, in a company, in a community, whatever it may be.
ALIDA: I am interested in this idea of cause, because I think that that’s really integrated, right? So you’d been through many different non-profits, and you’d sort of been looking for a cause. And with writing your book, Equity, with running your organization, Brevity and Wit, you found that cause. What calls you to this cause?
MINAL: You know, I grew up on Staten Island, which is one of the boroughs of New York City, which is a very unusual subculture to grow up in for anybody who’s been there. I often describe it as all of the aggression of New York with none of the arts and culture, so very little upside. Uh, and because my parents were immigrants, they didn’t understand that Staten Island has their own subculture. They just thought all of America was like that for a long time, until I went to college or something. And so growing up there as, like, a sensitive, clever brown girl, I think I intuitively had an understanding that the world wasn’t rooting for me, but I had no language to describe it, right? Like, I was intuiting, something is wrong here, right? And this isn’t fair, but I had no way to explain it. And I think also, growing up cross culturally and seeing people that I was close to have interracial and cross cultural marriages. I think I had sort of an anthropologist mindset before I even really knew what that was. When I went for a graduate degree in psychology, like, I was really interested in emotional development, like, feelings in general, right? Because I was so intuitive.
And yet, when I went for a degree in psychology, it was shocking how much they were blaming the individual for their problems, right? And I was like you’re not accounting for environmental the impact of the environment. Right? I think what drew me to DEI is that ability to articulate the impact of the environment or the system on the individual. Because I think most other care work focuses squarely on the individual. Whether it’s medicine, psychotherapy, coaching, body work. It’s mainly about the individual. It rarely gets to be about how do we shift the system. And I gave a talk when my book won an award. It won the Terry McAdam Book Award. And I remember saying that there are some countries where doctors and teachers are the highest paid professionals because what they do is caring for other people, right? That’s building up the strength of the community. And one thing I definitely got from my parents and their professions in medicine is this idea of alleviating suffering through your career. But I said during this talk that we need to now shift that as much as we value people who care for individuals, people who care for our systems and steward healthier systems also need to be highly paid professionals. And there should be a professionalizing of that practice and that work. Like, what are the skill sets needed to be able to do systems level care work? Can you see the system? Do you understand how power works? Do you understand how to influence power? Do you understand what actually leads to outcomes as opposed to what you would like to lead to outcomes? Like that stuff should, in my opinion, should now be professionalized and highly compensated. The way we would compensate doctors and the ways teachers should be compensated if we paid them what they deserve.
ALIDA: It reminds me of something that we talked about when we were together in person, which was we started talking about pay equity. And you were mentioning that when people ask you how to do pay equity right, you would in the DC community say something along the lines of well, your employee should be able to have a 30 minute commute and live in a neighborhood that they feel safe in and not have to decide between whether they drive to work or the grocery store, and they should be able to support a ah dependent a child. And what I thought was interesting about it is, that’s a very different way of thinking about pay equity, because it’s very focused on what does a good life look like? Not necessarily what does the market say is fair? And I was hoping that we could talk a little bit more about how that relates to treating the system. How that very specific concrete example, which seems like it’s to serve the individual employee, is actually a way of looking at the kind of repair or healing the system needs.
MINAL: Yeah, I mean, I think one of it is at Brevity and Wit, we talk a lot of we’ve borrowed Edgar Villanueva’s phrase of like, money is medicine. Those of us who are cause driven who work in either DEI or the non profit space. I think sometimes we treat money like it’s a bad word, but money is fundamentally neutral and we can use it to repair or we can use it to oppress. So, how do companies want to use their money? And then the other level, that’s a systems level on that, is fundamentally questioning this accounting practice we have of treating salaries as an expense, instead of an investment. It’s the same thing with education and healthcare. We should be treating those as investments and assets that are going to build up human capital, but we don’t have a way of valuing human capital or care work. And, um, Riane Eisler, who I imagine you’ve heard of, has done some really great work around like, if we actually compensated women for care work, it would make more than the GDP. Like, It would generate more income than the GDP, right? So we have schemas for what we think is work that is worth getting paid for and work that is right? And like, that fundamentally needs to shift.
ALIDA: What Matt Bruenig at the People’s Policy Project has written about, specifically in thinking about parents in the United States, is that we have a system, specifically a capitalist system, that values what you are able to produce, the labor that you provide within the system, and nothing else. So if you’re a parent, there’s no consideration that I am an employee who is also providing for a family. And so I am going to see that I am going to not have enough. But, when I try to argue or negotiate for it, I can’t speak to it as a performance issue because the idea is it’s one to one. But we have so many people who can’t participate in the current version of our economy, people who exist outside of the workforce. We are trying to fit into a system that we made but are not willing to change. And so my question to you is, when you were writing Equity and when you imagine a more equitable future, what is it that you propose?
MINAL: So I think at the very fundamental level, what I’m proposing is a diversity of options because we can’t be all things to all people. And that’s really important to acknowledge because I think sometimes in the DEI space, there’s this idea that every company can, like, how are we going to meet everybody’s needs? And if you’re a small company, that’s not sustainable. If you’re a medium sized company, that’s not always sustainable. Right? So like, how can we be more transparent about like, who we’re really designing for and who this company has been designed for and who we want to design for? Because all of us, you know, if we really are willing to embrace equity, what we’re saying is that we’re willing to embrace differences, right? And we’re not going to judge differences. You can be different. And that doesn’t mean you’re better or worse than me. But the flip side of that is then that we also have to acknowledge that through differences, people have strengths and weaknesses. Like some people are stronger at some things than others.
And so what equity, I think, if you’re willing to really embrace differences, what it also allows you to do is be humble enough to not try to be all things to all people. Because you’re willing to say, that’s not my strength. But look, we have this big, huge community and you know, Sally over here, she’s great at this thing that I’m not good at. So why don’t you step in and take care of Sally, right? Like, we’re allowed to like, be in community and in relationship where everybody gets to contribute their strengths. And so therefore, it is not beholden upon one person to be perfect. You know, and so I think that’s really at the heart of what I’m proposing is that we need to set up society to reflect the fact, not the belief, but the fact of human diversity. That some of us are good at some things and some of us are good at other things. And how can we leverage all of those differences instead of saying we’ve designed society for this prototypical human and you all have to fit into that mold to be successful.
ALIDA: So if we think about that practically in this system that you imagine, what are some tangible changes that would be taking place?
MINAL: So, the area where I work most is with organizations. And um, in my opinion, DEI is meant for organizations. I think social justice in communities is done a little bit differently than the way DEI is done in organizations. So when we’re looking at DEI in organizations, the raw materials that we’re designing with, if we’re talking about systems redesign, is power, money and time, right? How are we using those things? So the first resource to really get real about for organizations is time. We all only have 24 hours a day and 168 hours in a week. Now, hustle culture likes to say, oh, but we all have the same 24 hours as Beyonce. But Beyonce is not like doing her own taxes, or making her own dinners every night, or trying to eat healthy. You know, like, she’s got an entourage because money buys you time, by outsourcing a lot of labor to other people, right? So when we think of time, what we have to realize that if we only have 24 hours a day and 168 a week, and if, as is proven again and again, most women have 20 hours of unpaid labor at home regardless of whether they have children or not. Then we need to design work that is respectful of people’s time. And we need to understand that if we say that you will get promoted by putting in extra hours, we are advantaging men in that organization because men tend to not pick up all of that extra labor at home or they pick up far less even if, when they do pick it up, right? So the minute a job expects more than 40 hours of work from an employee, it is a sexist expectation. It is an expectation that allows men to win more than women. So we have to use that resource of time in a much more just way, which means scoping jobs for 40 hours, not making promotions dependent on putting on more than 40 hours. If you have a job that requires more than 40 hours, then you need two people. Or you need to readjust your strategic goals and understand that you don’t have the resources to get there. Because this idea of squeezing the most productivity out of a human being at the cheapest cost is fundamentally a legacy of slavery in our organizations. So that’s one.
Money is about, how do we use money as medicine? How do we compensate people fairly, how do we distribute money in a fair way? And so a lot of women get told that like, they don’t get paid as well because they don’t know how to negotiate, or they lack confidence, or they have imposter syndrome. None of that is true. What research has found is that when women negotiate their salary, they are perceived as less desirable to work with. And men don’t have to pay that social cost. And every time I mention this story, there’s somebody who comes up to me with some version of a story that I’ve heard over and over again about a woman who, um, not a woman, but, like, women who have been offered a job, asked for more money, and had the job offer rescinded. So the reason women aren’t negotiating is actually because they have an accurate read of the social environment. So then the question becomes, okay, so then how do we use our money? By having salary negotiations. We’re again advantaging men who don’t pay a social cost and also tend to enjoy negotiations. Most women, if you ask them, don’t enjoy negotiations, right? So the way around that is to structure your organization, where every time you post a job, you post a non negotiable salary. And in doing that, you also save people time because they’re not applying for jobs that they can’t afford to take because it doesn’t meet their living needs.
And then the last resource we need to think about in our organizations and designing for care is power. And I use power sort of in a different way. I’m not talking about just who has power, but how is it being used, because everybody has some form of power. And Cyndi Suarez, who wrote The Power Manual, talks about supremacist and liberatory uses of power. Are you using your power to dominate, oppress, control, extract, or exploit? Or are you using your power in a more liberatory way to connect and repair and heal and to empower all members of a society or a company? And so, when an organization starts posting non-negotiable salary pay on job descriptions. They’re moving from a supremacist use of power, which is by salary negotiations, you’re trying to extract the most work at the lowest cost, to a liberatory use of power, where they’re trying to repair for inequitable pay and empower all employees to live good lives. Every use of power should be looked at through that lens of like, is this a use of power that is connecting, repairing, and healing, or is this a use of power that is controlling, extracting, or exploiting?
ALIDA: So, a lot of what you’re saying resonates with me, and I want to go back to this question of time, because I want to ask about your time. And this is from one business owner and author to another, because at Ethos, we say something very similar. So if you’re full time, you work 35 to 42 hours, and that’s it. And the minute that you’re over 42 hours, your manager gets a notification and you have to resource, something has to change. And we have that pretty rigidly set. And looking at team members, they’re almost always between 35 and 42 hours a week. Not me, though. And I’ve tried to think about that for myself. But going back to your point about being an employee in an organization, what do you do when you run that organization? How do you manage your time to make sure that you are able to account for those 20 hours of unpaid labor that you, as a woman, are taking on outside of work?
MINAL: Yeah, this is a good question and one that I’m having in real time with my business partner, Jakob Wolf-Barnett, who is wonderful. Um, and we are having some real come to Jesus conversations about this, because my goal with Brevity and Wit is like, that I get to do my most creative work, and creativity requires breathing room. And so I basically had to say to him, I was like, I’m not that interested in being productive. I’m interested in being creative, which is different. And that was like, a huge moment for him. And Jakob and I have been really talking about, how do we structure the company? Not simply for the consultants that we work with, but then for ourselves, right? And I think having a business partner who’s like your accountability partner in that, and who can have those conversations is really helpful. And one of the things I do is like, really putting everything on my calendar, including like, self care. I have a block from four to six p.m. Every day for self care and or exercise, and it is blocked off. People like, you got to give me a really good excuse to put a meeting between that block.
I’m putting other things too, whether it’s a hike or therapy, appointments, everything’s on that calendar, so that at least I know, okay, like, we’re hitting some goals on this, right? And that there’s time that’s been carved out. But I also think, in my opinion, I’m not interested in growth for growth’s sake. I’m interested in some amount of sustainability, but really in creativity. I’m a very reluctant entrepreneur and reluctant business owner. I’m doing this so that it allows me to express something about myself and what I care about and create a community that’s nurturing for others. I’m not doing this to make the most money possible. And so that means we grow at a slower pace and I’m very okay with that. I don’t feel this need to grow to get the biggest projects, to work with the biggest companies and the most prestigious brands. I don’t mind keeping us a little bit small, but engaging in really high quality work. And that helps level set some of the expectations and some of what gets on my to do list, because there’s never going to be a shortage of things I could be doing. You know, it’s sort of like the big rocks analogy, like, what are the most important things? And am I carving out time for that? And then, okay, if I have time left over, I’ll do those other things, but if not, it’s not on my to do list.
ALIDA: I also want to ask a little bit about something that I think loops back into this idea of care, because you talked about time and you also talked about your business partner and the conversations you’re having. And it seems like, of course, we have time, money and power, which you articulated so clearly earlier. But time keeps coming up as sort of this magic that allows for you to have the space to be creative, to watch a system change and help a system change to create greater equity among others. So I would love to ask you, Minal, who takes care of you?
MINAL: [LAUGHTER] It’s a very good question, um, without a very good answer and something I am very consciously working on right now. I do have a therapist and I do have a mentor who I’m very close with, um, Jeanette Bobechko, who taught me everything I know in this space. And those have been my two primary sources. You know, I think the pandemic I am trying to get up the practice again of hanging out with friends. It’s actually really hard after the pandemic. It feels weird to make plans and like, just go do things. I’m still getting used to that. And then I think, you know, I’m actually an introvert by nature. And so I think a lot of it is also just finding time to myself, you know, like, having a room of my own. The room that I’m in now that your audience can’t see is like, we painted it yellow because I was like, I want like, a sunny, bright, happy room to like, work from right or to live in. And so I will admit that I don’t think I have enough people. And I’m not sure how to get them because it feels very needy to ask. I don’t know how to start and maintain a relationship where I’m fundamentally asking to receive more than I give. Rewiring that is, that’s a really deep shift that I’m still working on and a worthwhile way to spend your time, because that has to be shifted, you know?
ALIDA: This seems like a good opportunity before we close out today’s session to just ask for people listening to this conversation. If there’s one thing you want them to take away, what is it?
MINAL: You have the right to do whatever the hell you want. I don’t think people engaged in care hear that often enough. I think we say we’re doing it out of love, sometimes it’s out of obligation. And like, fundamentally, you have the right to do whatever the hell you want, even if it’s saying, I don’t get much out of caretaking. You may or may not be able to opt out of it, but you have the right to not like it.
ALIDA: Thank you so much for that. So I am very excited to continue to promote your book Equity. I would love to ask you to share where people can find you if they’d like to stay connected after today’s conversation.
MINAL: Yeah, the company’s name is Brevity and Wit, and you can go to Brevityandwit.com to find all of the things and to contact me directly. Uh, I am also very active on LinkedIn. I am the only Minal Bopaiah on the Internet, so I’m very easy to find. And, um, the name of the book is Equity how to Design Organizations where Everyone Thrives. And you can find that on Amazon and wherever books are sold. But there’s also a website called theequitybook.com where you can not just purchase the book, but also download other additional resources.
ALIDA: Thank you so much, Minal. It’s been a pleasure to have you.
MINAL: Thank you, Alita. This was a real treat. Thank you.
ALIDA: Thank you for listening to Care Work. Please share this podcast with other care workers in your community so that we can collectively create a culture of care.
This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Your host is me, Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Theme music “Vibing Introspectively” was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass.
Production assistance was provided by Ivana Savic-Grubisich.
Audio editing and podcast post-production were provided by Organized Sound Productions.