For most people, the future of work lies in technological advancements and AI-powered machinery. But for LaShawn Davis, these things are all for naught without workplace equity. Joining Dr. Kevin Sansberry, the Founder of The HR Plug presents radical ideas to address systemic racism, discrimination, white male leadership, and toxic stereotypes incorporate. LaShawn also explains why judging people who want to take some time off must never be tolerated and what the government should do to stop workplace managers from taking advantage of minorities.
The Toxic Leadership Podcast
Dr. Kevin Sansberry II is a behavioral scientist and executive coach with expertise in toxic leadership, human capital strategy, and creating inclusive cultures of belonging to enhance organization performance. Over the years, Kevin has focused on providing research-informed solutions in various settings such as higher education, nonprofit, sales, and corporate environments.
Follow KEVRA: The Culture Company on Linkedin to keep up with your favorite behavioral scientist, Dr. Sansberry. At KEVRA: The Culture Company, we partner to effectively evolve your organizational culture by focusing on competency development, best practices, and leading research to deliver systemic and innovative solutions for company success.
Have a question for Dr. Sansberry? Visit askdrkev.com to send your leadership and organizational-related questions.
Listen to the podcast here
Equity And The Future Of Work With LaShawn Davis
This episode is with LaShawn Davis. LaShawn is a mastermind in transforming dysfunctional workplace cultures and creating ideal places to work, or strategies to create a profitable business, produce productive employees, and build strong leaders and engage teams. As the host of The HR Plug on YouTube, she provides viewers with support and resources that do a really good job of demystifying the HR function. Our conversation was impactful as we discussed the future of work, and specifically related to how we’re receiving equity. Further, we discussed LaShawn’s thoughts about policy shifts needed to truly make equity a reality. Let’s get to it.
I’m excited. We have LaShawn Davis here from The HR Plug. How are you?
I am well. How are you, Kevin?
I’m doing excellent. I’m excited to talk about the future of work with you. I know that’s a perspective that a lot of people talk about in the workplace. To be honest, I don’t want to perpetuate the toxicity that we have going on. I want to dig into what that means and what are some things to think about. Before we jump into that, tell the readers a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what you bring to the work.
First, thank you for giving me an opportunity to be here. I am the Founder and CEO of The HR Plug. We are somewhat of a platform that serves to support people who might be encountering struggles or workplace challenges. We try to provide guidance, tools, and resources to help them navigate through corporate politics, toxic leaders, or things like that. I’m here as a community service to help people who cannot find refuge in their own places of work to survive.
How long have you been doing the work with The HR Plug?
The HR Plug will be three years old this 2022. We are still in our infancy stage. We have grown so much more than I expected because there’s such a need. I’m excited to see what’s to come in the future.
Your background is in human resources.
I’ve been in human resources pretty much since I graduated from school. I fell into it accidentally. I wanted to do PR, but then I learned PR is somewhat of HR anyway because I’m helping the employees try to angle their own experience in a sense. It all worked out. I’ve been in it for over ten years.
From your perspective of being an HR woman of color, what are some of the things that you see as it relates to areas that don’t get enough airtime or areas that we need to look into a little more as it relates to the HR perspective? Since you are The HR Plug, I’m curious.
HR is vast. You have benefits, payroll, some acquisition and recruiting. None of that is my wheelhouse. I’m not interested in any of that. What doesn’t get enough attention in the HR world from my perspective are labor relations and employee relations. People tend to stay away from those areas because it has to do with a lot of conflicts.
Especially, as a Black woman, it’s positioned in Corporate America to have to tell a White leader, “You can’t do that. You shouldn’t do that. Here’s why you can’t do that.” It’s challenging. A lot of people don’t want to put themselves in that situation because they think it’s going to stifle their opportunity to grow because they won’t be liked.You cannot be imitated or duplicated. You lose the moment you allow others to take that power away from you. Take ownership of who you are, and do not settle for anything less. Click To Tweet
For me, it’s not about being liked because you’re going to respect me at the end of the day. What I say is what I know to be true based on my experiences. It’s overshadowed. It’s not a popular piece of HR. It’s rare you’ll find any Black people outside of women in labor relations. It’s an area I tap into. It’s an area I thrive in. I’m going to keep pushing because I believe in advocating for employee rights.
That’s what brings you and me together. My area of expertise in HR was employee labor relations, too. What you stated was true about those inherent power differences that occur in the workplace based on race and gender doesn’t make you and I immune because we’re an HR. I try to tell people, “It still happens even to us as practitioners.” With that being said, what do you think or what do you see as it relates to people owning that base of power that we have?
As people of color, as African-Americans, we have to own and walk confidently into who we are. What I honestly can say, Kevin, a lot of times when we get into Corporate America, it’s the first time we’ve made this much money. It’s the first time we’ve seen this much money because our parents didn’t have it or what have you. We get paralyzed out of fear of losing what we’ve never had before. We allow that to entrap us and confine us into a system that was not designed for us.
What I try to do is say own your stuff. Know who you are. You are an answer and you cannot be imitated or duplicated. The moment you allow them to take that power away from you and give them the impression that they can control your outcome is a moment that you’re already losing. You have to take ownership of who you are and not settle for what you know you don’t rightfully deserve. That’s what we try to teach leaders and employees so that they can both do well. The relationship can thrive if they know how to treat people and value them for who they are.
Awareness of what you said is important for both people of color and non-people of color. We talk about inclusion but sometimes, we don’t even know what we’re asking for. What you described is what we’re asking for. I want to be able to be welcomed into this position and this organization without trying to emulate anybody else. I want to be who I am and not have any fear of repercussions, “I’m less intelligent for being myself.” If I require you to be something different in your role to succeed, that’s when the inclusion concept goes out the window.
You said a whole word right there. Oftentimes, in this role, I cannot be myself. Sometimes being myself honestly is being exactly like the White man that’s a VP. Because the White man is a VP, he gets certain privileges and gets to speak certain ways. He can have a tone. He can be disrespectful. He can be rude and condescending. The moment there is an elevation in my voice, now I’m aggressive and angry.
You get all the labels.
It’s not the same liberty. We automatically got to work harder coming in the door because of what we look like, and it’s unfair. To your point, it’s not inclusive. Know that I have enough sense not to be unprofessional in that regard.
To that point, even the word professional is anchored to men, and it’s also anchored to White people as it relates to the norms. I hope that’s not a surprise for folks. I hope people have been paying attention to what’s going on in the workplace related to these elephants in the room. With that being said, for us to make this a workplace that we all can thrive in, we have to be able to truly know what we’re saying when we say belonging and inclusivity. What that means is your DEI and all of that will be a mosaic of different people, and not a monolith. That’s scary to some folks.
I have pink hair. I have tattoos. I’ve got these pink frames on my face. People will judge me but I don’t let that stop me. I’m still corporate. I’m still professional. I still can out-rock any other HR professional in the labor relations space because I know my stuff. We’ve got to get to a point where you don’t define what professionalism is for me. I define what that looks like for me. As a part of inclusivity, you will accept or should accept that.
What the short-sightedness of fear prevents us from seeing is in the long run, that will make the workplace better. That will make the organization better by having people like you, “I care about this organization but I’m going to care about it more if I’m myself in this organization. If you want engagement, here’s how you’re going to get my engagement.”
Accept me. We talk about Impostor syndrome. Be yourself. You all don’t want me to be myself. You have this policy that says, “Natural color hair.” You have this policy that says, “You can’t have dreads. That’s unprofessional.”
“Your hair is well-kempt.” I don’t like those words.
It’s what you want me to be. I’m not a cookie-cutter.
When we think about the future of work, a lot of people think about AI. We think about technology being this catalyst for scalability, we think about the technology is going to make things better, and all that stuff. That’s what people think about when you hear about the future of work. I want to hear from you, what’s that human perspective as it relates to the future of work that you think about? What perspective do you have there?
First, let me say that the artificial intelligence stuff, we’re here now. That future of work mindset was back in ‘97. To get to where we are now, when you walk into McDonald’s, you can go to this machine, and put in your order. We’re there now. That is not the future of work. Will technology advance? Probably yes. It’s already something we are accustomed to and expect. Therefore, it’s no longer futuristic. It’s an enhancement of what it is now.
When you think about the future of work, from my perspective, it’s becoming where the employee is who the employer has to show loyalty to in order for their organization to survive. Before, you had people who were at organizations for 40 years, retiring from there, taking pride in where they worked, and things like that. These companies abused that. They took advantage of that loyalty perspective.
Now, the future of work will require you to respect me, or else I will leave and you’ll forever struggle because no one will stay here. Now, we recognize our value and we will no longer put up with your mediocrity. We’re not going to put up with you devaluing us. The organizations need to get it together because if not, the future of work is doomed. There will be no work. Everybody will be an entrepreneur or a freelancer. They will be running their own organizations because no one is going to want to work for you if you can’t get a line to where we are now as people.
That’s what the future of work is. Honestly, it’s all about relationships. It’s all about your ability to establish relationships with the people who you’re depending on to keep your business running. Also, seeing and valuing them as people and not as a product pusher, a product mover or a seller. Stop valuing customers more than you value them. It’s a mindset shift. The leadership needs to change. That’s part of the problem.
We can’t evolve because we’re still looking at people who have been regarded as leaders years ago like Peter Drucker. If you go and google it, you’ll see in leadership that the top 50 people that come up are all White. We don’t even recognize, as a society, the evolution that has already happened and representation. We still look at the same people with the same outdated, antiquated quotes about what leadership is and all of that. Until we change that, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
To that point, the representation sounds like it needs to be not only on the boards, not only in the workplaces, but also in the research we look at as well, and the history. I love that. It sounds like with that future work perspective, “If the organization doesn’t work for me, I’m not going to work for it.”
As opposed to before, “I work for it and that’s because I have to.” We’re not there anymore.The future of work is all about relationships. The longevity of your business depends on the people you work with. Click To Tweet
To your point, the technology and fusion that we’re seeing, we’re already on that road. The gig economy has already been growing anyway. That’s been a thing too where people are starting their own companies and doing freelance work. That’s been on the way too. Seeing all those things converge together will be something interesting to see.
I no longer have to depend on you for my livelihood and well-being. I’ve tapped into my own creative talents and my own gifts. I’m able to leverage that to sustain myself if I want to. It’s my choice. The government doesn’t help. I’m going to say this and then I will leave it alone. We have these high expectations for these employers to value employees, care about their well-being, care about their health, and our government doesn’t even care about the health of everyday working people. They offer no type of sick leave.
I then have to sacrifice my health for a paycheck, and make a decision about what I want to do. How can we be a leading country in this world and not offer paid sick leave? The most disgusting part about it is the Democratic team believes the answer to all of these workplace woes that we have is our unions. It’s mind-boggling to me because while I’m not anti-union, I do believe in unions being effective where it’s needed.
I do believe toxic leaders exist and are allowed to dwell in the workplace, but I don’t think that our government should be co-signing on companies not adhering to their obligation to take care of their people. Instead, they’re making it easier for unions to come in and take over. The employee shouldn’t have to pay for representation. Our country should be holding these organizations accountable for taking care of employees. We’ve got it all backwards.
It’s like a Band-aid. We let Band-aids fix everything and not deal with the root cause. One of the things that you reminded me of is I had a call with somebody from the UK, and I was providing them with some resources. They had government resources against workplace grieving and bullying and stuff like that. The same token with somebody from the United States. The same question, “I’m dealing with this.”
There are not any resources here unless it’s protected class discrimination and unless it’s illegal with the Civil Rights Act and all that kind of stuff. We don’t have any guidance or standards related to, “I’m going to treat my people with dignity and respect.” We don’t have that here in this country as a baseline to your point. If we never won, that’s ridiculous as you think about that.
We don’t even value people because we have no legislature. There are no anti-bullying laws in the workplace here.
We need to link up and do that. We need to talk.
If I have a leader who only bullies Black people, it’s a problem. If you can prove that your bullying is less favorable than other people, why not have something that says you can’t bully anybody?
Bullying is wrong.
Abuse is wrong.
Why can’t we just have that? It’s a hard stop. Instead, you’ve got to have all these conditions. The onus is on you to prove it as an employee. It has to be legally discriminatory based on a protected class. It has to be pervasive and severe pervasive. We know how it works. You’ve got to go through all those hoops to prove a case with the law. That’s crazy.
I’ve got to put myself in some more distress. What kind of support is that?
We want you to meditate because that will solve it. Do some meditation and self-care.
Go take PTO. I want to be treated right. Treat me like you treat your mama.
You probably saw some of the new legislatures that are coming out of Europe where they talk about how your workplace can’t contact you on the weekend or after hours.
I did see that, on the cell phone and all of that. The fact that it even has to be legislation is mind-blowing to me. Thank you, Europe, for recognizing that there are crazy leaders out here who do not understand boundaries. They definitely exist in the US. Unless you’re an hourly worker who has to clock in and out, there’s no protection against you from telling your leader, “You’re going to respect my time. When I’m on vacation, don’t contact me.”
I’ve talked to so many people who bring their laptops on vacation. It’s that fear of, “I’m going to be missing out.” Why do we create conditions that even promote that behavior? Why do we allow those mindsets to creep in? I know some people might be thinking, “That’s my company culture.” Let’s use that excuse. I hear it but then let’s go into your mindset. Why do we judge people when they want time off? They want to go out of the country with their children. They want to go on a cruise or something. We judge them, “They’re not hard workers. They don’t care about the company.” That’s the judgment that I’m sure you’ve heard before in the workplace.
As Black people, we are so scared or fearful of losing our jobs. I don’t even know how to even dispel that myth because you should not get fired because you are on PTO and you don’t answer your phone. We have such a fear of losing our jobs. It’s this fear of, “I’ve got to prove myself.” That’s because of the systemic racism that exists anyway. I already have to prove myself and I’ve got to be better than you. Bobby is not worried about him getting in trouble because he’s on PTO. He’s chilling. We have struggles doing that to the sacrifice of our families, sanity, our free time, and our relationships.
The personal leader has almost like guilt when you’re talking about Impostor syndrome. If I’m the only one in the room who looks like me, I don’t want to lose it. I’m like, “I should be grateful for the opportunity so I’m going to let them treat me how they are going to treat me.” I’ve dealt with that personally because I am. I’m happy that I got here and I don’t see people like me, for the most part. There’s that guilt that creeps in, and that goes back to that personal power we have to recognize that we have. We need to flip the balance a little bit. We are fortunate but they’re lucky to have us. That’s what I think about from a self-care standpoint.
That’s not an uncommon subconscious privilege that I talk about. You recognize that it’s a privilege for you to not have to prove yourself when you walk in, not to have to worry about, “Am I going to get in trouble when I get back because I didn’t respond to this email on time?” It’s all of those things that people worry about. People get concerned about it because they feel like they have something to prove.
When you think about these toxic workplace cultures and leaders, that’s the elephant in the room. That is in the way of true future work. When we’re talking about the future work, we have to do something about that current state. This current state that we described it’s both at the individual level and also at the systemic level too. What radical ideas have you thought about, as you think about what we could do next as it relates to eradicating toxic workplace culture?If you hate where you are working, that's not your why. Click To Tweet
There should be some type of database that is housed by the government because they care so much. In it, I should be able to look up any public company. They should be mandated to have to do engagement culture surveys and things like that. That data can be housed and made public. They’re already moving in a direction with this whole arbitration thing. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that. When you get your handbook, you sign this whole thing. I won’t sue you. I’ll go to arbitration and not for sexual harassment issues. You can now be public and you don’t have to keep it quiet.
Why not be transparent? We talk about pay transparency and all of that, but get beyond that. How many of your leaders have been written up? How many of them have you fired? How many of them have EEOC cases filed against them? If we own it and be public with it, let me make a decision if I want to put myself in this boat. I think about Tesla. Tesla is all over the news for all the discrimination and all the lawsuits. The State of California is suing them for a hostile work environment.
The article that was published by the Los Angeles Times is descriptive and talks about all of these things that happen. They were horrible things. That was allowed. I was in an HR group on social media like Facebook and they had posted an internship opportunity with Tesla. Somebody was like, “Why would you work there, especially as a Black person?” all of these things. “Why would you want to be attached to a company like that?”
There were Black people who worked for Tesla on that same post saying, “I work for Tesla and I love it. This has not been my experience.” How do I make a decision? Do I want to work for Tesla? Who’s lying to me? I can’t go by what they say on their website. I always can’t trust the press. Shouldn’t I be able to rely on my government to have my well-being and my safety at first glance to publicize this? We publicize financial records and all this other stuff, but we don’t do it for our behavior and treatment. That is my radical idea of what we need to do in the future so people can know what they’re walking into.
I might add to it because it would also be beneficial. Let’s say you see what happened in your past or whatever you had happened. I also want to see how you remediated it. We’re not trying to vilify anybody. Have you changed? Things make mistakes. I want to see somebody’s behavior records, good and bad. I want to see if they’ve taken discrimination courses. I want to see all of that because that will help me make an informed decision.
I’m not trying to negatively frame anybody. I just want the truth. That’s it. I love that idea. We’ve got on that. As we transition, one of the things I’m thinking about is what can I walk away with as an employee? This is the WOW moment that stands for Words Of Wisdom. What would you share with anybody who’s currently dealing with anything we talked about or have more questions? What would you share?
Three words come to mind when you ask me that question. It’s remember your why. If you can’t say why you’re working where you work and you hate it, then that’s not your why. You need to explore what it is that you want to be an answer for or solution for because everybody has an answer and solution for something with the gifts that are inside of them. Tap into that. Get into your purpose, and start working on your why. When your why becomes dominant, you can drive and push harder. You don’t get workplace PTSD or the mental anguish that comes from being in bad environments.
You remember your why. Your why is because, “I’m driving change and so I’m able and strong enough to overcome some of these injustices that we experienced. I know that experience will help me drive change through it.” That’s your why. Remember your why. If your why isn’t aligned to where you are, then soul seek. Get into where your purpose is because that’s when you will find gratification. That’s when you’ll find your experience fulfilling for you.
When you’re working someplace and it feels like, “It’s what I’ve got to do because I’ve got to pay the bills. I hate it and my boss is horrible. I can’t wait to get home. I don’t want to wake up. I sit in the parking lot and I’m crying.” All of these are not normal. That means you’re not functioning in your why. Find your why, remember your why, and let that lead and guide you to fulfilling your purpose.
People should realize that they’re also not alone. They have resources like the HR Plug, as it relates to the work that you do. Tell us how people can reach you. How can we contact you?
There are a few ways. One, my website is www.TheHRPlug.com. There, you can book a free 30-minute consultation with me if you want to talk about your current situation and figure out where you’re supposed to be because you know this isn’t your why. Let’s chat about that, and then we can get you going and see if there are other services that work for you as an individual. We also offer services for you as an organization.
If you recognize, “I need my policies overhauled. I might not be as inclusive as I like to be. I don’t even know how my workplace feels about me or my work culture. How can I find out if I’m meeting their needs?” We can help you with that as well. We are all about making sure that everyone understands their role in contributing to a healthy workplace culture.
Any service that aligns with that, whether it’s training, coaching, assessing or whatever it is, we can help with that. We’re also on social media. We have a YouTube channel, it’s YouTube.com/TheHRPlug. We air episodes of our podcast that Kevin will be a part of in the future as well. You can catch past episodes that launched in January 2022.
We only talk about things that will equip and empower you to push through. It’s topics like how to get unstuck from my 9:00 to 5:00 job, why did somebody after eight years who was Black, quit Google tech, and things like that. We touched on the untapped conversations. We’ll have a conversation about Black people, and how that doesn’t give you a pass because you’re White to say that and you have an affiliation with Black people. That doesn’t make you an anti-racist or an ally.
We have some deep conversations. We’re funny as well. If you want to enlighten, entertain, and educate yourself and be a part of a community that’s about driving change in our culture, our communities, and our workplace, definitely connect in some way. We’re also @TheHRPlug on all platforms, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. We’re out there. Come find us. Come connect. Let me know that you learned about me here. I’d love to connect with you.
Thank you, LaShawn. I appreciate this conversation.
I appreciate you doing what you’re doing and providing an avenue for these conversations.
Thank you all for reading.
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About LaShawn Davis
LaShawn Davis is a mastermind in transforming dysfunctional workplace cultures into ideal places to work. Her personalized strategies create profitable businesses, produce productive employees, and build strong leaders and engaged teams. LaShawn was born and raised in Miami, Florida and now lives in the South Atlanta, Georgia, area. She holds a Bachelor’s in Public Relations and a Master’s in Human Resources (HR) Management. LaShawn is also a recognized Senior Certified HR Professional from the Society of HR Management (SHRM).