e018. Rethinking Accountability with Sophia Lewis

Sophia Lewis is the CEO of Tinted Glass BIPOC careers. It’s a new employment platform where people can review employers and get information about potential employers. Tinted Glass BIPOC careers employs 15 people in New York, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, and Canada. In this episode, Lewis shares the impetus behind her new startup and how employers can embrace accountability.


#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Sophia Lewis

Interview Transcript

Amy: Welcome back to including you. I’m your host, Amy C Waninger. My guest today is Sophia Lewis. She’s the CEO of Tinted-Glass Bipoc careers. It’s a new employment platform where people can review employers and get information about potential employers. But I’m gonna let her tell you more about that. Tinted-Glass Bipoc careers, employees, 15 employees in New York, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, and Canada.

Amy: And I am so excited to welcome to the show. Sophia Lewis, Sophia. Welcome.

Sophia: Thank you, Amy. I’m so excited to be here this morning. Really appreciated. Hello to everyone out there. Like you said, I’m the CEO of tinted glass bipoc careers. We’re so excited to bring this new platform to life where you can jump on as a member and just let us know everything that’s going on in your world from a career standpoint, your employer the goal there is

For us to listen, it’s really your platform, and we wanna hear the best and maybe not so great experiences that you’re having. Like I said, it’s free for folks to join and we will be working with companies, tinted glass is all about accountability and action, so what you can expect once you jump on the platform is getting year over year annual reports, understanding, which are the companies that are taking diversity and inclusion efforts seriously.

And so, we’re working with companies to reshape workplace culture for everyone, but with the emphasis on bipoc employees.

Amy: This is so fantastic, and so tell me a little bit about why this product, why this platform and why now.

Sophia: Wow. That’s such a great loaded question.

Amy:I know that’s why I asked it.

Sophia: So me and my partner, Armella worked in a fortune 10 company together.

And then as a lot of people experienced during COVID, I moved back to my hometown of Chicago. But we obviously kept in touch and I think no matter what your background is. The George Floyd murder just shook everyone and I’m sure everyone has a different story about what took place at their place of work.

We weren’t so lucky and so I think, that conversation without giving away too many of the details basically went down the road of everyone’s talking as if this isn’t happening. Everyone is moving forward with business as usual and not just the fact that I am a black woman and she’s a black woman, but that we’re humans.

And this was a horrific event caught on camera. And the same companies that we are employed by are doing these wonderful press releases about the billions of dollars that they’re putting in the communities, and here we are in the skin that we are in feeling completely disregarded, completely alienated.

Like not only do we not belong, but we are not being seen. How can we change this? And that was a four-hour conversation, which I hope Armella doesn’t mind. At one point included her laying down on the floors as we tried to figure out just how to place, what was happening and just feel human again, and we were just both in a place of this is not okay.

But how do we change it? How do we go about changing it? And I’m sure there’s others that don’t look like us and look like us and everything in between who are also feeling this way, and so that’s how tinted glass bipoc careers was born essentially.

Amy: And what I like about this platform and thank you for sharing that, by the way it you’re right.

Everybody experienced that event, the media storm around it, the very, the coverage was pro right? Every, every piece of it was awful. The fact that it happened at all was awful. The fact that some people said, yeah, this is right, this isn’t just how life is yes is really awful. The fact that other people still didn’t believe that it was true was awful that people wanted to ignore it or brush it under the rug.

The fact that the police tried to cover it up and lie about what happened, the fact that it was on video, the fact that everybody’s. Saw the video, the fact that the video was even required for people to take it seriously. When we know this stuff happens all the time, not captured on video, and then there’s no accountability.

Sophia: Absolutely.

Amy: And it’s this notion that you have, that we have to have a collective trauma for there to be any accountability, and the trauma has to be public and publicly consumed and publicly experienced, and then there are still people who will say, okay, yeah, but that was Tuesday, can we get back to work?

Sophia: Exactly, not only that, but to your point just the way you said it beautifully, this trauma, the fact that it had to be on camera for us to take it seriously, and then for those of us who work in media and marketing, then being, like I said, swept under the rug, like you said, okay. It’s Tuesday let’s move on.

But then, oh tap by the way, so we’re putting out some commentary as a black person, can you read this and tell us that this is on point, okay, without really connecting with your employees. I think a lot of folks myself included just felt wow, we didn’t need all the warm and fuzzies, but in something like this, it just felt really weird.

And off that you weren’t talking about it at work and simultaneously putting out, like I said, the PR messaging that, we’re standing up, we’re putting all this money into the community and while we’re being overlooked, and then there’s the larger conversation, and as we develop tinted glass and put all the different aspects into the platform of wait a minute, Okay.

Let’s step away from the George Floyd it’s incident, but we are also being overlooked just generally, being mentored promotions, being coached, just feeling like we belong, being able to show up as ourselves, all of those things.

Amy: Yeah, and I think when you talk about this platform it’s interesting cause I see everybody wants the cookies, right?

The companies want the cookies, they want the bad, the, and I don’t wanna call out any specific surveys or, workplace measurement tools. But a lot of them are not about measuring the culture and finding out who feels included and who doesn’t and why. And then fixing those things. It’s about what bar do we have to cross to get the badge for our website.

Sophia: Exactly.

Amy: And the accountability to the people whose voices get lost anyway, get lost in the survey because clearly if you had a plurality of people who were marginalized in the company, then those results wouldn’t look so rosy.

Sophia: Exactly.

Amy: But when you’ve got a predominantly white company, predominantly white employee base, predominantly white executives, and you do these broad strokes surveys.

The voices of people who have been historically excluded and are continuing to be marginalized and excluded, get drowned out by the overwhelming, oh, this is a great place to work because there’s beer on tap in the break room or I got, there’s a great spa, right? Or whatever the thing is, right.

Where people who are really hurt. Their voices get lost in all of that overwhelming, glowing, PR campaign that the employees engage in and then they get the bad and they think they’re done because they got the bad, but they don’t go in and find out like, who didn’t say that.

Sophia: Exactly.

Amy: And why were they saying, why were they not saying it was great? And by the way, who didn’t even get in the door to take the survey in the first place, which is a whole other piece of this, right? If so, sorry, I get off on a foot box on this.

Sophia: No I touched on so many things that we looked at because I said, I want students to use this as well.

So we’ll have a whole separate student outreach. I want entrepreneurs. So again, doesn’t matter your background as an entrepreneur, a lot of entrepreneurs want to know how these companies are faring as well before they engage in business with them, and as a student, just think being able in, in your second year of college or what have you and saying before I accept this internship or accept this job offer, let me go to tinted glass and see how folks like me, who maybe have a funny name.

That people don’t wanna take the time and respect to just one of our members is Sri Lankan, and so we talked about that when he joined, he was like, oh, you can just call me this shortened version of my name, and we’re like, no, we’re going to call you your name. So, we wanna make sure from an inclusion standpoint, that also includes folks that aren’t sitting in an office necessarily.

And also, another point that you hit on with regards to the badge and things like that. We noticed after, we set up our social accounts, we’ve been going at this for a couple of years now that some of our would-be competitors started asking folks to self-identify. From what I can see, not many people are comfortable with that and you can guess why, right?

Because it wasn’t intentionally set up for that purpose myself and the rest of the team, we are living this reality, and so we are creating this platform so that we can measure this, but also because we are invested, it’s intentional, we didn’t create a cool, Silicon Valley based employer platform.

And then, oh, by the way, we should probably ask folks of color what their experience is like. This is the intent at the outset.

Amy: Yeah. And for, I think it’s interesting because a lot of people, especially in the executive role, because not only do they have positional power, but they have a lot of power in their identities as well.

I don’t think they always realize that the employee experience is not the same for everyone. The employee experience is way different, depending, first of all, on your, the position that you hold in the company and the department that you work in, and whether you’re even something as small as are you in a revenue generating department, or are you in a cost center.

Can drastically impact, right? Two people who look the same, have the same background, have the same, every other experience in those two different departments will experience the company differently. But then when you add in all of the politics around identity that exist, whether we want to talk about them or not.

And most white people don’t wanna talk about someone be , if once, once you layer all of that in there’s a lot of disparity in how people are experiencing the workplace. One of the things that I always talk to my clients about. If you’ll indulge me for just a second, is you have on one hand, the people that you say you wanna include, right?

This is who needs, who should feel included in our organization, and then you also have, who actually feels included and very rarely do companies know how much overlap is there between those two groups and why, but the people who don’t feel included like the people who are outside of this group, of the, who feels included group, they’re talking, and they’re talking a lot.

Sophia: Oh yes.

Amy: Because they have to, it’s a survival mechanism, and so not only does your platform give them a place to, to talk and to give everybody, what’s the real experience here, but it’s also an opportunity for companies to listen to those voices that get silenced to listen to the people who don’t have.

The safety to speak, to walk into an executive’s office and say, look, we’ve got a problem here. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit more about how companies can use this data and what companies can get out of it?

Sophia: Oh, yes. It’s such an incentive, and as we, we talk about this, obviously we are members first and individuals first,

But you have every incentive as a company, like you said to listen, because this is anonymous and folks are leaving in droves, all folks, white folks included, but black people and people of color are really going out and starting their own businesses, or just saying, I, this is just not for me. Let’s also remember gen Z.

And let’s also remember to your point, this is actually harmful, the current workplace culture is literally harmful to people’s mental, physical health, because when you feel like, I think I’m being discriminated against, and that’s always the last resort, by the way, I just wanna say to everyone who doesn’t know that.

You don’t wanna think that you come up with every other until it becomes blatant until your white coworker taps you on the shoulder and says, hey, I saw what happened in that meeting. So, when you feel isolated like that, your mental health declines, you feel like you’re out there alone, and some of us sometimes are the only people that look like us in the room or on a team.

And then that has physical effects too, and then gen Z love them. I feel like I’m an honorary gen Z, cuz I’ve been ringing this bell for a long time saying this is not how our lives are supposed to be set up. This is not how working should feel. So, you have every incentive to join, to listen to your point and to say I’m part of history.

I was part of reshaping workplace culture for everyone, this is for an intentional space, like I said, for BIPOCs, for bipocs.

Amy: Absolutely. I’m so glad that communities like this exist and that platforms like this exist. So that voice is given to people who would otherwise be drowned out.

And I think that should so important, and it’s also an opportunity for competitors of these companies, and I wanna put a really fine point on that because here’s the deal, if you’re sitting there as an executive right now, thinking, it’s okay, we’re what, we can keep going like we’ve been going and you need to realize number one, we’re in a time of extreme turmoil and really, the job market the talent market is tight.

Right now, it’s only getting worse, I think, although we are seeing, I think we’re seeing them shift the pendulum swinging a little bit, but realize that people who don’t see themselves represented in executive leadership, people who don’t see themselves represented in senior management are twice as likely to leave.

Sophia: Oh yes.

Amy: So if you’re not listening, they’re probably already looking well, now your competitors, people who are looking for that same talent can go find out, you know what we know, because we can see the data, that, black women, for example, are not happy at this company. They can have their recruiters go on LinkedIn find who worked for that company, target the black women, poach them right out.

Sophia: Yes.

Amy: And they should, let’s be clear. They should, if they can provide a better experience and make better use of people’s time and talents, then they absolutely should be doing that. So, I think there’s going to be some competitive pressure that companies are gonna start feeling when their people are jumping to their competitors’ companies.

Sophia: We’re definitely hoping. So that’s part of the larger vision, and I love the fact that because of the way we’re collecting the data, like you said, it’s black women or it’s, oh black folks at this particular company actually seem to be pretty happy, but the Asians at this company are saying else.

Something else, that’s the beauty of it, right? And then you have every incentive to be as transparent as possible because we’re not saying, hey, we’re holding your feet to the fire, and next year, everything should be fixed. We’re literally saying, we’re gonna bring you this data, we’re gonna work with you from a consulting standpoint.

And we are going to help you announce to the public at larger employees that, hey, this is a success we’ve made year over year. Yeah, it’s definitely competitive, as it should. And it’s just a win for everyone, and it’s good to say, we’re not there yet, but this is what we’re trying to accomplish in the next 12 months, year over year.

Amy: Yeah. I think this is important too. It’s the intentionality around just improving matters, you don’t have to go from zero to a hundred overnight. I think employees in general understand that change, change can take while to ripple, especially through a large organization.

And, but if progress isn’t being made, nothing ever changes.

Sophia: Yeah.

Amy: And that just that focus on progress, I know that you have it, the other thing I really like about what you said before, I lost my train and came back to it, but the other thing that you said in that, “we have something to celebrate along the way”

Sophia: Yes.

Amy: Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Sophia: It’s like any other relationship? I know there’s a lot, a billion metaphors, right? For romantic relationships and the relationship you have with your employee, you have to interview and there’s a courting process, and then we see the real person or the real organization after the first 90 days or something like that.

So back to my point about mental health and to your point about progress, if you are struggling or maybe you’re not in the greatest, department situation or manager situation, and you can see, okay, they’re making strides, right? They’re making progress, and tinted glass is helping us get there.

We’re bringing that together, that does so much, it’s just when you haven’t you and your spouse haven’t been connecting and just that little note in the morning or those surprise flowers it’s really important to just help cultivate those relationships and we will, we’ll work with ERGs and CRGs as well.

And for those who don’t know, that’s employee resource group that usually are set up across, ethnicities and backgrounds and things like that. But yeah, that’s extremely important to be able to celebrate along the way, and if there’s God forbid there’s any situation where it’s getting worse.

We wanna highlight that as well and come to those, come to the table, have to companies come to our table and talk about what exactly is going on here. They have every incentive, like you said, not just from a standpoint of workplace retention, but if it’s getting worse, it’s probably gonna make its way out into the public.

Or the news cycle.

Amy: Yes, and I love this notion of “let’s fix what’s going on before we celebrate how great we are” let’s do the work inside of our company before we check the box with the press release and claim victory over the issues of the day, and I think that’s the part that, that is so frustrating for me as a fellow practitioner is we wanna know what to say in our marketing and in our press releases and on our webpage, what do we say?

Like, start with what you’re doing, and let that guide you. If you don’t know what to say that’s an indicator that you’ve got a lot more work to do before you say a word publicly.

So, how can people get involved in this platform? What’s required?  I know you said it’s free to join for employees, but talk a little bit about how people can access this and how they can get more involved.

Sophia: Sure. Definitely follow us on social, we are on Twitter, we’re on Instagram, Facebook, and of course we’re on LinkedIn.

You can sign up on the website for our newsletter, you can sign up to join as a member and any questions you can send directly to info@tintedglass. All of our social handles are BIPOC career so should be pretty easy to find, if there’s questions, if there’s thoughts, suggestions we’re open to them. We may not implement all of them or implement all of them right away, but this is really not our platform. This is your platform for it’s a vehicle for change, and like I said, workplace culture, shifting, just from a human standpoint is extremely important. So, we do want, this was one of the questions we got right away, especially from our Canadian contingent.

What if I’m not a person of color? you have, we have every incentive for you to join, and so do you know why? Because then we’ll see the disparities at an even greater rate and more visibility. Can you say, hey, our non BIPOCs are seeing this versus everyone else, and so shifting workplace culture, just for humanity, for everyone in a way that you can show up as yourself and feel comfortable is to everyone’s benefit.

Amy: Absolutely, Sophia, I wish you all the success in this endeavor, I’m excited for you, I’m excited for your members and I’m excited for the companies that are gonna benefit from the insights you provide them. Thank you.

Sophia: Thank you so much, Amy. I love everything you’re doing and I look forward to keeping in touch.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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