The Conference on Diversity in International Affairs brings together college and graduate students and young professionals from diverse backgrounds for plenaries on foreign policy topics, seminars on professional development, and opportunities to interact virtually with senior foreign policy professionals. The 2021 conference featured a keynote session with President of the Ford Foundation Darren Walker.
The 2021 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs is a collaborative effort by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Global Access Pipeline, and the International Career Advancement Program. For information about the conference in previous years, please click here.
The murder of George Floyd last summer catalyzed an anti-racism protest movement that echoed around the world. Global protests, mostly in support of Black Lives Matter, lasted for months and were reignited this year after increased attacks on Asian Americans and other communities of color. This panel discussed the direct relationship between race, racism, and U.S. policy; the role of protests and the media in prompting discourse about that relationship; and how racism at home affects U.S. credibility abroad.
Darren Walker discussed his experience spearheading organizational change in the field of philanthropy and foreign policy and the lessons he has learned along the way, including his work championing diversity at high levels, navigating the COVID-19 crisis, and his thoughts on the future of the workforce.
HAASS: Well, thank you, and welcome one and all. Welcome to today's meeting, which is the keynote session of this year's Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. This is our ninth annual conference. And planning has already begun for our tenth. Yesterday, you heard from my colleague, Jim Lindsay, about why diversity in this field matters so much. I won't repeat all that he said. But as someone who's worked in the U.S. government quite a bit in the course of my career—I worked at State, I've worked elsewhere—I really do think that it's important that our personnel reflect the country that they are representing. We need the perspectives. And I just think that it's who we are. And it's why we're doing so much to increase the pool, to build the pipeline of the next generation of foreign policy professionals. Let me just mention a few things we're up to.
One is our paid internship program, which allows students from all sorts of diverse backgrounds to spend time at the Council. We're also introducing a permanent remote element. We have about 110, 120 internships a year. When you think about it and then do the math over a decade, we're talking about 1000 plus young people having this opportunity. I wish we could do more of this. Last year alone, we got something like, I kid you not, 44,000 applications for the 100 plus spots. But we will do everything we can to make this a good experience for those who do it.
We have the international fellowship—international affairs fellowship program. It's been in place for about half a century now. And the whole idea is to take people who have had government backgrounds, give them a year out and take people from the outside, whether it's in academia, business, what have you, and give them a year of experience in government. For people like Condi Rice or Samantha Power that was their first experience inside government. And it worked out pretty well for the two of them. And increasingly what we're looking at are trying to recruit from a broader pool of individuals to have this experience.
We've got the term membership program. This is for people, five-year program for people who begin at the ages between thirty and thirty-six. We have close to what, eight hundred, nine hundred term members now of the Council on Foreign Relations. Again, an increasingly diverse pool. And one of them just so happens to be today's moderator. Kal Penn was a term member back when he was young.
We're also working hard to bring more diverse set of voices to our events, to our meetings, to our magazine, Foreign Affairs. And which by the way, if you don't read, I really hope you would and if you're not a regular frequenter of our website, cfr.org, I hope you I hope you give us a try.
And last, but far from least, we're trying to involve students and teachers, professors, high school level, college level, throughout the country, but also religious leaders, congregational leaders in our various outreach efforts. The whole idea is to broaden the conversation in this country, to expand the conversation in this country, about the world and about this country's, about the U.S. role in the world.
This conference is a collaborative effort in part by us, the Council on Foreign Relations, in part by the Global Access Pipeline, and also ICAP, the international career advancement program. And our thanks go to them for all they did to make this possible. You've got several sessions today and as well as a final networking session. I want to thank the in-house talent Teagan Judd, Shira Schwartz, Sarah Shah, and Krista Wessel for all they've done to make the conference happen, a lot of others.
We are pleased and then some to be joined today by Darren Walker. Darren, as you all know, is president of the Ford Foundation. And in addition to his day job, he does do a few other things. He's co-chair of New York City Census 2020, of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art Monuments and Markers. He's done, served on the independent commission on New York City criminal justice.
We have a slight conflict of interest here in two ways. One is Darren and I are long-term friends. Second of all, we have a second conflict of interest in that we accept, the Council every once in a while benefits from the grants of the Ford Foundation. I just want to say for the record that I'm sorry the conflict of interest is not larger than it is.
We're also joined by Kal Penn. Kal served as the associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement under President Obama, he co-chaired the Obama-Biden reelection campaign. He was national co-chair of that in 2012. I think that worked out pretty well. And he served on the President's Committee for the Arts and Humanities. You might also know him, perhaps from some roles on movies, television. I expect though most of you know him from the fact that he was one of the people who blurbed my most recent book. Darren, thank you for doing this. And over to you, Mr. Penn.
PENN: Thank you, Dr. Haass. And thanks, everybody, for joining. Thank you, Mr. Walker.
I'm very excited about this conversation today, especially because, for those of us who have worked in the foreign policy space, in public service space, having conversation with somebody like you who sort of, you know, built this incredible career, many of us look up to and also have learned from kind of comparing our own experiences. And I wanted to just sort of start with that, presuming that everybody's read the bio, and you're ready to ready to dive in. I will say, I know we have a lot of participants registered for this virtual meeting. I presume a lot of people have questions. We're going to do our best to get to as many of them as possible in the Q&A period. So I'll keep our conversation a little shorter than the Q&A but Mr. Walker, I just wanted to start with your, sort of just your path, starting from early career. I know that most folks, you know, kind of obviously know your work but may not know the nuances, especially as they navigate their own career path. So can you tell us a little bit about your background, sort of how you ended up where you are today? And I want to say not just some of the challenges, but also some of the triumphs along the way.
WALKER: Thank you, Kal. It's a great honor to be here. And of course, my friend Richard Haass extended this invitation. One never says no to Richard Haass. And even though he is ungrateful for the great generosity he receives at the Council from the Ford Foundation, we nonetheless will continue to support the Council at the appropriate level. I want to say it is such a privilege to speak to the assembled guests of this Council meeting. The reality of this moment is that the work of foreign policy, the work of being the ambassadors, narrators of the American story in the world is more critical and crucial than ever.
My own experience, as a professional, really began when I found myself working at a large Wall Street law firm. And I was miserable. I knew in law school that I didn't really want to be a lawyer as a career. But I also knew that I was the first in my family to have an opportunity to go to college, go to college to experience the American dream. And so I went to Wall Street and I was lucky while I was there to have the opportunity to work on a transaction with a firm, UBS, which ultimately became my home where I worked for seven years before leaving Wall Street. But I found myself after almost a decade on Wall Street really questioning my long-term trajectory, my career choice, my real passion and trying to imagine would it be possible to bring together my avocation, which was really about community service, these old-fashioned ideas of service to country and service to something that is a higher calling than just making money. And I was lucky enough to meet Reverend Calvin Butts at the Abyssinian church, who told me of his vision for Harlem in the early 1990s, which was a very different place than Harlem is today. It's hard to imagine that there was a time in the last three decades when it was very hard to get people to consider moving to Harlem. That's almost unthinkable today, of course, but it was the case in 1992 or ‘95, when I was really working there. But the lessons that I learned on the trajectory are a few that I will enumerate briefly.
One was, you need champions. You need people who are your advocates, people who will help walk you across the street, if you will, as we say down south, to ensure that you remain on the path and to also help pick you up, when you need to be picked up, to give you counsel and advice, to keep you on track. Those advocates, I learned, were not always people I necessarily assumed were my mentors. Because people often—our elders, our supervisors, our bosses, or people who may not be our direct boss, but who are in the same sort of trajectory, the same sort of space—they are watching you. I learned that, and I learned that because when I was being interviewed at the Rockefeller Foundation, I had no idea that a person who was behind the scenes, a very strong advocate for me was someone I worked very briefly with. I literally, at Cleary Gottlieb, wrote up a legal memorandum for this partner and had no other real connection with him. But he was married to the general counsel of the Rockefeller Foundation, which I did not know. And I learned after I was hired, that he played a critical role in advocating for me. So it's simply to say that there are people who are monitoring us. And I don't mean that in a kind of a menacing way. I mean it to say that we therefore have to be mindful of that. And I was very mindful of that, as a Black gay man working on Wall Street, I was very mindful, because I was the only one. And so it doesn't take much to know that you're being watched when those are your features. So I just say that to say, it is both a combination of champions, it's a combination of luck. But it's important to remember what Einstein said, luck favors the prepared mind.
PENN: I am very moved by that, because there's an aspect of you being watched—aside from like is big government watching a certain thing—yeah, do you have, are you being watched? Seems like it almost runs counter to what a lot of us feel in, especially in institutional spaces, which is a feeling of invisibility, oftentimes, when we're the only person of color, the only minority, the only other in the room. It sometimes feels like we're invisible, and what you're sharing is actually quite the opposite.
WALKER: Well, I think, I think we often come with our own baggage that comes—I mean, so in my case, growing up in a pretty racist community, and in the south, I had my own baggage around racism. And in the south, if you were Black, in a small town, you were always being watched. And so this notion of being watched and being monitored, but also being invisible, that duality that of course W.E.B. Du Bois wrote eloquently about is the reality that we often live if we are a person of color in this country. And so it's true. On the one hand, you stand out. On the other hand, you're invisible. And again, that's the contradiction of our reality.
PENN: That makes sense to me. And that actually ties into another thing I want to ask you, which is about the just the idea of justice or the idea of, of justice broadly. And I know you've said that the real rule of giving should be justice. And I'm curious how you re-thought philanthropy, especially at the foundation. How did you rethink the ideas to focus on what you're doing now?
WALKER: Well, I have been moved. First by Andrew Carnegie's seminal 1889 essay, "The Gospel of Wealth," which laid out the tenets of modern philanthropy in America. This essay was really very impactful to Rockefeller, Mellon, Frick, and many of the great industrialists of that era. What he talked about in that essay was generosity, charity, giving alms, giving back. I was more inspired, actually, by an essay that Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in 1968, just a few weeks before he was assassinated. And he wrote that the work of philanthropy, and he said specifically, that while philanthropy is commendable, it should not allow the philanthropist to overlook the economic injustice which makes philanthropy necessary.
So Dr. King was saying something different about philanthropy. Yes, generosity and charity are important. But we must do more, we must ask fundamental questions in order to seek not only generosity, but to seek justice. To look for the purpose of philanthropy, he believed, was to look for dignity, to look for justice. And that's a different imperative. That's a different paradigm.
And so when I wrote my book, From Generosity to Justice, it really was about an interrogation, of wealth, of privilege, of entitlement, of whiteness, because the reality of whiteness, of white supremacy, as difficult as that is to discuss, is real. It's real in American society. It's real in philanthropy. And so when I was lucky enough to be appointed president of Ford, I really took this on and made inequality, which I believe is an incredibly powerful negative force in our society. And the Ford Foundation's mission, as Henry Ford articulated, in part, is to support and strengthen democracy and democratic practice. The greatest threat to democracy, I believe, is hopelessness. Because hope is the oxygen of democracy. And so if our mission is to strengthen democracy, democratic practice, democratic institutions, then we have to work on the forces that are harming democracy, democratic institutions. And we believe inequality is one such harm. And so we're working on inequality and all of its forms and the drivers of inequality. So when we talk about inequality, we have to be really clear. Of course, the data and evidence are clear. Inequalities in part, and certainly economic inequalities in part, what is happening in the labor market, what is happening in terms of technology, trade, etc. But inequality is also driven by and a function of prejudice, bias, discrimination, cultural norms, and standards and expectations of women, of men, etc. So we're very busy at the Ford Foundation, Kal, as you can tell.
PENN: How does that tie into what government is doing? And in particular, you know, I'm curious about the contrasts. Obviously, you know, running such an impactful global foundation with leadership like you've just described is exciting. And I always think back to especially the last four years, whether you're working in the art space, philanthropy, foreign policy, many of us, you know, institutions felt attacked, sort of by the nontraditional approach to the previous administration took and it also was clear that diversity within the ranks, within the workforce, within foreign affairs officers was not as much of a priority as it had been in the past, especially at a time, you know, during a census here when America sort of reanalyzing who we are and what we're showing to the world, how we're participating. I'm curious if you've noticed, maybe it's a little too early to ask this question, but have you noticed any sort of a turning of the tide with the new administration when it comes to the future of diversity in the workforce or foreign affairs in general? And is there anything you're optimistic about?
WALKER: Well, we are not a partisan political organization. We believe that government has a critical role to play. And in the area of foreign affairs, as we reflect on these last few years, and particularly the last year, the racial reckoning in this country and the world, that was mobilized by what happened that day in Minneapolis to George Floyd. I think our work as a nation is that we must build a narrative that reflects our aspirations to be a multiracial, pluralistic democracy. That has never been attempted in the history of the world. So this experiment, and we have to talk about this experiment as a multiracial, not to say democracy, but to be very clear that in order for America to be a successful democracy, we must be a successful multiracial democracy that serves all Americans. And we must recognize now, regrettably, there were two famous Black men who everyone across every nation on this planet knew: Martin Luther King and Barack Obama were the two Black men whose names were synonymous with America. And so our foreign service professionals had to tell that story and reflect the promise and hope and aspiration of America as realized through those two individuals.
Well, now a third name has become a global name, representing part of the American narrative. And his name was George Floyd. That name last summer mobilized not just the United States, but mobilized people of all races, faiths, creeds all over the world. Mobilized people to recognize that anti-Blackness, that racism was not just a U.S. problem. It is a global problem. And it's, it is realized in countries as far away as India, and their treatment of Dalits, to South Africa, to Asia, where discrimination against people of color, and particularly Africans and people of the African diaspora, is very real. To the entire Western Hemisphere, where from the United States to Brazil, where most of the enslaved people went. Racism and anti-Blackness is a feature of our society. But there is a special expectation of the United States in this regard because we're the only nation among those nations that has a constitution that says all people are created equal. We have words that are more aspirational, more inspiring, more glorious, than the words in the constitutions of many of those other nations, some of whom actually don't even have constitutions. But therefore, I say we have work to do. And the world of government in this is critical to telling our story, to giving the world a view of America, and having to now address the reality of racism in America because the world has seen it.
PENN: Part of I think what was really remarkable, especially this past year, under COVID, was watching that coalition building that you're talking about happen in ways that I can't quite remember, you know, when those of us in communities of color are looking at our own inherent anti-Blackness and saying, we need to start showing up, we need to have these tough conversations about how we can come together, was incredible, especially during a COVID year when everybody was otherwise relatively distant and are distanced. And I'm curious what that distance and that COVID navigation was like, from your perspective as the head of a global institution. How has COVID been handled in different places, obviously, still, phenomenal disparities. You mentioned India and Brazil with regard to racial injustice, but obviously the disparity when it comes to tackling COVID is there as well. I know you you've worked in all these places. What has your perspective been over the last fifteen months or so?
WALKER: Well, in terms of the United States, there was very little that could not have been anticipated. Right? So we understood I mean, many of our peer institutions in the wake of COVID and the racial reckoning, we're sort of scrambling to figure out how to address this intersection of race and class and inequality and how it manifests in the healthcare and public health systems, and the carceral system and the policing system, etc. The Ford Foundation has had a racial justice program for a number of years and had and funded and through our work through all of the divisions, looking through a land of racial justice and racial equity. So the analysis that led to our doing those programs, I mean, last year, wasn't a surprise. I mean, right? It's, it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone who understands the analysis, the data on African Americans, and the comorbidities that drive poor health outcomes, and lower life expectancy and all of those indicators, well-being, it wasn't a surprise to us. And it wasn't a surprise to us that a Black man could be killed on the street with seeming impunity, at least his perpetrator thought so. So what it required though, was for us to lift up and to, in our own funding, double down on that work. So support for Black Lives Matter organizations, supporting the civil rights and racial justice organizations, those working on COVID emergency relief, our international programs.
However, as you say, Kal, it's so demonstrates the North-South divide. And I recently wrote a piece for the editorial page of The Washington Post about the reality now of vaccine nationalism: the way COVAX has been undermined, the slow start of the United States to really support COVAX, and to support what we need, which is basically a transfer of vaccine surplus from the North to the South, to ensure that people in these countries, who are desperate for vaccines, can get vaccines. So we have to ensure in the U.S. that distribution is flowing in a way that addresses racial equity, class, geography, and then in the South, ensure that first that we are having equity globally. And then, in those southern countries, we know that there is huge inequity there. So we know in a country like Brazil, that the cities of Rio and Sao Paulo will be privileged over Bahia and the states in the north that are the historically Black states or blackest states. So we are working through our offices, whether in Brazil, for example, on just that issue, ensuring that first that we increase the spigot of vaccines flowing to the country. And then secondly, that we ensure that the elites and the sort of civil class isn't siphoning off only for themselves the benefits of that.
PENN: I'm going open it up to our attendees for Q&A in a moment. But one last question before I do that is about workplace culture. And, you know, I think back to the times when I've been in leadership positions and have been able to hire, you know, in my case, whether it's a team of writers or people I'm producing something with, and that doing that in a way that makes me not have to explain myself when I show up to work and never have to have any qualifiers. I can just dive into what I'm doing and be myself is something that I think many of us in our communities are mindful of. And I'm curious how you've combated certain perceptions and biases that exist in the workplace, and especially given who our attendees are today, how can people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work as they've been encouraged to do especially recently?
WALKER: I think that's a great question, Kal, and I, of course, as a queer Black man have grappled with this issue, right? So there was a time when we believed that in order for us to be successful, we needed to leave some part of ourselves, our being, our identity, our humanity at the door. And that goes for women, that goes for people of color, for queer people, for people with disabilities, whatever it might be, to be accepted. And to be successful, we needed to leave that at the door. I don't believe that any longer. And I haven't believed it for decades, actually. And I behaved accordingly. I think it's really important. And what we know from the research is that organizations want success. They want people to be authentic in order to be successful. That you are more likely to be successful if your staff perceive you as authentic, as real, as vulnerable, as a human being. And so this has put new talent is on management so the old-fashioned idea that the sort of McNamara, top-down form of leadership is no longer a model for success. And the sort of closeted, I can't fully be myself, because if I tell people who I am, I won't get promoted, I won't get the right assignment. I believe those days too, are over.
That's not to say that there is not gender inequality, racism, homophobia, etc. But I do think we've made tremendous progress. And I've certainly seen it. I mean, I will tell you, when I was interviewed by the trustees during the recruiting process, I was explicitly clear what they would be getting. I mean when they said, well, what's going to be different? Well, there'll be some things different. If you choose me first, you will be choosing a gay Black man. That has never happened before. And there are things that are good, but there may be some blowback, and there may be issues that you have to deal with, that you wouldn't have to deal with, if you didn't choose someone like me. And I just think it was for me, that was very important, because I wanted them to know explicitly that if they made me president, I would not be willing to leave something at the door. And I can assure you that I'm very lucky because I do believe that I've worked for the most amazing foundation in the world. But I know there are foundations that would absolutely not be comfortable with me being president of their foundation. And in part because of that identity.
PENN: Yeah, look, the way things have changed, like you said, decades. I think back to when I first started out as an actor twenty years ago, I had to come up with a stage name Kal Penn. My real name, Kalpen Modi, was seen as like, no, that's the part you've got to check at the door, right? Today if I was starting out, that wouldn't necessarily be a thing, which is wonderful. So I'm with you on that.
Let's open it up to some questions. I will invite the participants to join our conversation. As a reminder, the meeting is on the record. The operator will queue up the first question.
STAFF: (Gives queuing instructions.) We will take our first question from Anisa Antonio.
Q: Hello, my name is Anisa Antonio, a recent graduate from Wheaton College. I'm currently going to serve for City Year via AmeriCorps. And my comment is I've read the book Detroit Resurrected by Nathan Bomey. And I understand that you served on the philanthropy committee that develop resolutions to Detroit's historic bankruptcy. So my question is, how did your team address the historic racial and political polarization in Detroit? Thank you.
WALKER: Thank you, Anisa. That's a great question. And I think it's important to name that history of Detroit and talk about that, as we problem solve for the future. And of course, the city of Detroit, in part, was in bankruptcy because of the white flight because after the civil unrest of the ‘60s, whites, who represented a significant part of the tax base, and because whites were disproportionately higher income, they paid a greater share of the taxes. And when they left, they took the tax base with them, which made it increasingly difficult for the city, who also took some actions in terms of mismanagement of municipal assets, that contributed to what became basically an untenable fiscal circumstance for the city. But at the end of the day, we talked about Detroit as a region because and to change the narrative and have people understand that Detroit is a region not just a city, and that people who live in Grosse Pointe or Bloomfield Hills, who think that they may be separate from Detroit, and seek to not be identified with Detroit, that their destiny is tied to Detroit's destiny, and that the region is the unit for economic analysis. That the region is going to flourish or fail. And so, what we were able to do with the bankruptcy, and to really resolve that was to mobilize literally about $800 million of public-private support that made it possible to buy the art collection and pay as well importantly, the pension commitments to those hard working retirees of the city of Detroit. So we have to talk about race, racism, and geography, which in the sort of Southeast Michigan corridor is very real.
PENN: Thank you, Mr. Walker. Teagan, I think we can take the next question.
STAFF: The next question will be a written submission from Amanda Long, who asks, "Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has said that what makes her a strong diplomat is that she's honest about America's weakness, specifically, our history of systematic racism and racial injustice. And as an example of what's possible, despite those weaknesses. What message do you think statesmen and diplomats should be communicating to the world about our own racist history and trajectory for change?"
WALKER: Well, I couldn't agree more with the great ambassador. First of all, we're from the same home state of Louisiana. And she is the embodiment of servant leader, of authentic leader who inspires, in part, not only because of her incredible intelligence, but because she is authentically who she is. And she is able to speak with authority on the very issues that are the most perplexing and challenging: race, class, and inequality. So I think, taking a cue from the ambassador, I too believe that the way in which we talk about America in the world is to remind people what America stands for in the world, the idea of a multiracial democracy, where equality for all is the aspiration, and that is a very noble, in some way, idealized paradigm around which to build a system of government. And that, while we certainly have not succeeded, we have not prevailed in achieving that, that we are committed.
And while yes, it is true that there is a plurality of people in this country who would probably not agree that we need to be a multiracial democracy in order to be a successful democracy, most of us do believe that most Americans don't wake up and say, I want to reinforce racism in the world today. I want America to become more unequal. I think most Americans want to do the very best they can for this country, and for themselves and their families. The challenge is that we have systems and structures that are imbued with that history. And we are part of those systems and structures, and we reinforce them, and validate and valorize them. And so what we have to do is deconstruct to reform those systems and structures, but we have to talk about ourselves in a way that is not from the perspective that I think sometimes we have in the past, which is we have the answer. We are the example; we are better than you. I don't think, I think we have to speak from a perspective of empathy, of vulnerability, of honesty, candor, but have a belief that what inspires us all is this idea of America. That is for me, my North Star.
PENN: Thank you. Teagan, we can move on to the next question. Getting chills from that answer there.
STAFF: We will take our next question from Chanel Adikuono.
Q: Hi, yes, thank you. My name is Chanel Adikuono. I am an alumna from UC Berkeley and American University School of International Service. And my question is that I thought it was fascinating, Darren, that you mentioned that the names that are synonymous with America are just men. What about Black women or other women BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color]? How do we encourage equality from the gender lens and to increase this respect of Black woman BIPOC that are often suppressed? Thank you?
WALKER: Absolutely, Chanel, that's a great question. And I think, again, there are many difficult truths that we have to acknowledge when we talk about history. And I deeply regret the gender inequality that is a part of the civil rights history. The movement for civil rights in this country where women, like Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height, so many more names are always second tier in the presentation and reflection of the civil rights movement. And there was real tension, as you probably know if you have studied, there was tension because the men of the Big Five, the big civil rights organizations really held the day and defined the agenda. And so we have seen that reality, and we have to talk about that. You have to talk about the fact that Bayard Rustin, was himself, the great architect of the historic August 1963 March on Washington. And yet, he had to be invisiblilized because Adam Clayton Powell Senior, the congressman from New York, who was an incredible homophobe, refused and indeed threatened Dr. King, if Bayard Rustin had a role that was visible. And so Bayard Rustin, was rendered invisible even though the documents are clear that he and his legal pads were the pads that these notes were taken about how to actually organize. And he wrote that that strategy, and yet because he was gay, he was rendered invisible. So this is a part of our history too. And so we can't romanticize and gloss over that reality of misogyny, of homophobia that has been a part of our community for far too long. And when I say our community, the Black community.
PENN: Thank you, Darren. Chanel that was a fantastic question. Appreciate it. Teagan, we can move on to the next question, please.
STAFF: The next question will be a written submission from Tom Rowe, who asks, "Considering how often periods of progress towards social justice and inclusion have been followed by reaction, and the present resurgence of white nationalism in the U.S., how can we continue to be both optimistic and continue to struggle for diversity and inclusion with hope for success?"
WALKER: Well, let's just say first, we are compelled and must be hopeful. There has been no population of Americans more committed to, deeper believers in this country, than African Americans. We have believed in this country when this country did not believe in us. And when I think about the shoulders that I stand on, I think about the names of people like Frederick Douglass, like Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, these were people who knew in their own lifetimes that they would never experience justice in America. And yet, they persevered, because they believed in this idea of America. And so when you say, how do we remain hopeful, I think about how Frederick Douglass remained hopeful, as he saw the potential of Reconstruction turned into a nightmare, and the backsliding that came after emancipation. I think of what happened in this country with the war on drugs coming after the war on poverty. And what that did, in terms of taking us back. Hope, optimism have been the defining feature of the Black experience in this country. So while I know it is difficult, on any given day, to be to not be depressed and dejected, I have to, I have to always come back to my own privilege, and how lucky I am to be in a position to now be able to have some impact, some small impact on this larger problem. And so, let's continue to be what we have always been.
I think about Langston Hughes's great poem. He was my favorite poet. But in 1932, he wrote a poem called "Let America Be America Again." And in it, the opening stanza, he writes, "Let America be America again / America never was America, to me." But by the last stanza, after some amazing poetic words, he says, "And yet, someday, America will be." Langston Hughes could not find a job when he wrote that great poem in 1932. But he believed in America. He knew that he would never see justice in America. But he persevered. So in 2021, as I sit comfortably in my apartment on the East Side of Manhattan, how can I be anything but hopeful and optimistic when I think about the lives, the experience, the blood, that was given in order for me to sit here today, and in order for all of you to be here today? So we are compelled, we are called to be hopeful and optimistic in this moment.
PENN: Darren, can I add one unsolicited thing?
PENN: Because this really reminded me of something when you and I first met, I think it was when I was still either on the President's Committee or working in staff at the White House. And I remember the words, so many instances, I mean, at that time, look, it was, the first and then going into the second Obama term, the most diverse, from what we heard from folks who had worked in DC for generations, you know, the most diverse administration that anybody had ever seen on the staff level as well. And I just remember, almost every week, there were a number of issues that were handled at the staff level. And I'm saying this because of, you know, the makeup of all of our attendees today, those issues that are handled at the staff level that never made it to a senior advisor or the president himself, that we were able to handle because we had the judgment and the background to know what we could do. Those were never stories that we're sexy enough for CNN, or Fox or MSNBC. Nobody wrote New Yorker articles about them. But they helped so many people in communities that were underrepresented, or never had a seat at the table in ways that maybe aren't as large but sort of really chipped away at institutionally what was wrong.
Now, the last four years was some of that undone, of course. But in hearing you talk and knowing who our participants are today, I just couldn't help but wonder so many people who are on this meeting today are responsible for decisions like that. And that's inspiring. You know, I'm not in government anymore. But that's inspiring to many of us on the outside, who we know, don't know, because it's never going to be on the news that night. But you know, so many of the things that folks are working on so I just sort of wanted to say obviously, thanks to you, but thanks to the people on the meeting today who are working in that capacity.
WALKER: So true. And we saw that last summer, Kal. I saw it when many institutions in our society, including some facets of government, particularly in these last few years, were not capacitated with the skills, capability, know-how, and lived experience to be able to respond to last summer.
I had conversations with CEOs of Fortune 100 companies who were like men, because they were all men, in the wilderness because they had nobody standing behind them who could help guide them, who could help prevent the blow ups, who, had they had them on their staff, had they had them in the review process of whatever the problem had become, it could have been diffused. It never had to reach the board room. It never had to reach the CEO’s desk. It never had to reach the president's desk. But because the people weren't there, in many of these places who themselves were people of color, women, people who could speak to, sure, this is how this is what "the talk" is about is. You know, you recall, when President Obama talked about "the talk," white people were like, "what is he talking about 'the talk' that Black people have with their kids?" They didn't know what that was. There was no cultural translator for many white people. Well, today, those leaders, whether they are leaders in government, government agencies, in civil service, and in the private sector, those are skills that are highly valued, are highly valuable, because they have a direct impact on the bottom line, whether it's the bottom line in government or the bottom line in corporate America. These the understanding of what it is like to be Black, to be a person of color, to be Asian in a moment when we're seeing all of this hate, and to be able to talk about it, translate it, transmit it, turn it into policy, turn it into policy in the private sector, policy in terms of legislation, etc., is just a critical skill.
PENN: Incredible. Teagan, I think we have time for one, maybe two more questions.
STAFF: We will take our next question from Chloe Nwangwu.
Q: Hi, there. My name is Nmadinobi Chloé Nwangwu. I'm a conflict mediator, digital diplomacy advisor, and a brand scientist with a firm called Nobiworks. Apologies ahead of time because this question is kind of general. But it's this: I think most of us are here because we're looking to shape the future beyond our current social status quo. But there are gatekeepers and there are systemic barriers to becoming the kinds of people who have the power to shape that change. So how might both of you suggest we work towards overcoming those barriers in our daily lives?
WALKER: Well, I think one of the things that people like me have to do is to acknowledge what you say is so true, Chloé. First, the challenge among challenges is that we have had gatekeepers, who have, for the most part been, committed to the status quo, even good progressive, we want to change, it is often—and I look at my sector, philanthropy, which generally prides itself on being progressive, seeking change—when we really break it down, we're not, we're not that radical. I mean, for the most part, we have not been able to muster the energy to actually imagine a different world in a profound way in which I believe, we believe it's necessary. So I think the gatekeepers have to change. And it's, and we're starting to see that, and I'll just speak again, in my sector, in philanthropy, which is what I know and have some authority to speak to, we are seeing for the first time, maybe four of the top ten foundations are led by African Americans. The way in which those the grant-making and programming I mean, we changed our grant making at the Ford Foundation to have an explicit, explicit racial equity lens. And so that means that when we gave our arts grants last year, the Whitney Museum got $500,000 and the Studio Museum got $5 million. Lincoln Center got $1 million, and the Apollo got $7 million. That, the Apollo never would have been able to achieve that kind of a proposal support from Ford under the old paradigm.
WALKER: And so, I as a gatekeeper, Elizabeth Alexander at the Mellon Foundation as a gatekeeper, Helene Gayle at the at the Chicago Community Trust, and on and on, we will bring a perspective to our leadership that I think will redound to the benefit of change, real, profound, fundamental change. I also think that you should be pushing and demanding that gatekeepers respond in a different way, and calling out gatekeeping, for what it is often—an affirmation of the status quo. And we have to talk about it as eloquently as you did, Chloé, to put it in the terms of gatekeeping. And what the role of gatekeeping, gatekeepers is. Is it to actually keep people out? Or is it to be the kind of gatekeeper that looks expansively, and even questions the role of a gatekeeper? Why do we need gatekeepers in the first place, right?
So that's the conversation we need to have and be comfortable getting uncomfortable in that because without that kind of conversation, and without the gatekeepers changing without in art criticism, there's a reason we're seeing Black culture be assessed in different ways than it was. There's a reason Alma Thomas, the great abstract painter from Washington, DC, who was teaching at Dunbar High School and in anonymity and couldn't get anyone to pay attention to her work has now been rediscovered—why, I should say discovered—after she's gone. Because the white gatekeepers, art critics wouldn't acknowledge her talent, ignored her, invisiblized her. Well now, the gatekeepers of art criticism at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Art-Form magazine have all changed. And they are reassessing the canon of modern art. And that's what happens when the gatekeepers change. And so your question is spot on. Thank you for asking that.
PENN: The only thing I would add to that is, is the idea of setting folks up to succeed versus setting them up to fail. I also work in an industry that thinks of itself as progressive and from my experience is far from it, particularly when it comes to issues of representation and identity. And it's just that notion of when you're in that middle level, or that entry level position and you're seeing folks around you. Hollywood is notorious for let's greenlight this one script or hire this one brown or Black executive, but not give her any of the support to thrive, and then say, well, we tried it, it didn't work. So we can't hire anybody like that again. Having more folks within the ranks to provide that support has done wonders, especially for the streaming outlets like a Netflix or Hulu as technology changes, as the institutions themselves change there. And as you mentioned, there's a lot more opportunity and hope there.
We're at one o'clock. So Mr. Walker, any anything you want to wrap up with?
WALKER: Just a big thank you to you, Kal, my friend, Richard Haass. It's been a great honor. Thank you.
PENN: Thank you, everyone. Thank you, Mr. Walker. Thanks for joining today's virtual meeting. We hope you can join us for the concurrent sessions beginning at 1:30 p.m. and please note that the audio and transcript today's meetings be posted on the CFR website. Thanks, everybody. Have a great day.
This panel focused on the rise of global nationalism and its effects on marginalized populations around the world who are often excluded from a popular national identity, including nationalist movements in England, Germany, Spain, France, and India, as well as campaigns elsewhere against religious and ethnic minorities. This meeting discussed the popularity of these movements and how their political success has exacerbated racial, religious, and cultural divides within these countries.
STAFF: This event is presented by the Council on Foreign Relations.
PANDITH: Well, good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the second plenary session for the Council on Foreign Relations 2021 Program on Diversity in International Affairs. I want to welcome our distinguished panel to our session on nationalism around the world, a very small topic. And the four experts that are with us, we're really honored to have here at the Council, so I want to thank them for taking part. Arturo Valenzuela is at Georgetown. Heather Conley is at CSIS. Kanchan Chandra is at NYU. And Kehinde Togun is at Humanity United. You have all of their bios in your packets. My name is Farah Pandith, and I'm an adjunct senior fellow at the Council and I'll be presiding over the session today. Our hope is to have an engaged conversation with the panelists, but also engage you in the conversation through the questions at about the twenty-five, thirty-minute mark. So be thinking about that and I'll give you instructions on how to take part at that time. Let's begin with a definition of what a nation is and what a state is, so that we're all on the same page. Arturo, would you be kind enough to give us your thoughts on that?
VALENZUELA: We'll look, thanks very much, I really appreciate it participating with you and everybody else, and all of the folks that are signing in with us. One thing to remember is that state sovereignty is a relatively recent phenomenon in world history. You know, it really wasn't until the United Nations was founded that states around the world were able to get the validation for their as a sort of sovereignty. And, of course, that took place in 1945 in San Francisco. And, you know, there were not that many countries signed up in San Francisco to become members, the United Nations. In fact, the first group was 50. Of those 50, 21 were from the Americas, including Canada, the rest of them were Latin American countries. So this is a relatively new phenomena. Today, of course, we know that there are 193 members of the UN, although 99 of those 93 members hadn't become members of the United Nation, until after the 1960s. So this is a relatively new phenomenon. Now let me go to more to your questions. It's clear that nationalist tendencies have been very, very important in bringing about sovereign states. But in many states, and this is what I want to try to emphasize. In many states not all of the population feels united or feels kindred spirit with the rest of the folks in the country. So this is one of those situations where the Italians call irredenta and that is where sub-alternate loyalties become more important than the overall national loyalty.
And what if you have differing sub-alternate loyalties, then there really is a significant problem with that. Particularly, of course, when the states are coming out of large empires or they're legacies of wars, etc., etc., etc. You know, so it's not just a matter of linguistics, it's also a matter of ethnic divisions, it's a matter of religious divisions, and so on and so forth. So one has to ask oneself, what is then is the definition of the nation state. And here's where I would like to sort of make a precision and I'm happy to give credit to my mentor, Juan Linz at Yale University with whom I wrote many different works over the years, who with Al Stepan came out with a book in which they made a distinction between what they call nation states and state nations. Now what is a nation state? A nation state is that entity where the population as a whole feels a kindred commonality with the rest, even if there may be some differences in linguistic backgrounds, and so on, so forth, they come together, and that happens much more than a country with rule of law and democracy and so on, so forth. But in state nations, you have the problem that that many of the constituent units within that particular nation may in fact, prefer to ally with some of their ethnic groups, or geographical groups or linguistic groups that might be in other boundaries and therefore, are rebelling against that. And one of the real problems that we have with nationalism today is to what degree is nationalism then something that is tearing a country asunder? You know, or to what extent is nationalism is something that's bringing us together? And so again, let's make the distinction between nation states where everybody can agree to disagree, you know, and democracy rule of law is very important for that to happen, but also between state nations where it's not clear at all that you have that commonality that's very important to avoid the Italian phenomenon, irredenta, sub-alternate loyalties trumping the national loyalty. So I'll stop with that.
PANDITH: I really appreciate that explanation want to make sure that everybody on the panel has a chance to comment on this, or can we proceed? Does anybody want? Okay, then, Arturo, since we have you live, why don't we start with the Western Hemisphere. And if you could just talk us through a little bit about what's happening with nationalism in that part of the world
VALENZUELA: Well look, as I already anticipated in my previous remark, the countries of the Western Hemisphere are the not only the oldest sort of nation states. And I use the word nation state with some confidence, because there really are no irredentist movements in the Western Hemisphere. Canada, of course, came closest to that. And I'm talking about Latin America primarily. And there is a phenomenon in the Caribbean that, of course, cuts much closer to that. So in Latin America, what you have essentially are fairly constituted nation states, where there has been some irredentist movements, again, in Canada, it's (inaudible) as de Gaulle famously put it, you know, when he was trying to egg on Quebec. But Canada today, everybody's recognizes a nation state, because there's an acceptance, essentially, of this division. That is both historical as well as linguistic and in cultural, and so on and so forth, that goes back.
Now, with the rest of, of Latin America, let me let me remind you that there was a very important event, I happen to have to manage it, because at the time I was in the State Department in charge of the relationship with Mexico. On the first of January of 1994, Subcomandante Marcos, Under Commander Marcos in Mexico, had an uprising in southern Mexico. And he demanded immediately—but he was not demanding that, in fact, that the Mayan people of southern Mexico together with Mayans in Central America, and others, constitute themselves into a different nation state or a different sovereign state. They weren't asking for permission to get into the United Nations, as South Sudan recently did, which was the last country ever to join the UN. And that happened in 2011.
So these are relatively constituted nation states. Nationalism is not something that's tearing countries asunder. Now, I'll finish with this, however, because I'm mindful of the time, and that is that that does not mean that there aren't really significant problems that stemmed from historical realities. And one of the most important problems, of course, is the fact that many indigenous groups in countries with large indigenous populations feel in fact that they are mistreated, that they're not participating equally within the society. They're not asking to secede from the country or to create and to separate nation state. It's not an issue of nationalism. It's an issue much more of equity, equality, fair treatment, rule of law, and that sort of thing. And that is something not to be dismissed lightly. There's a really serious crisis of we can see from the protests in the region, that are similar to protests and other places in the world, where people are asking for is essentially to be treated with dignity.
PANDITH: Well, this issue of—thank you—this issue of dignity and being heard is a really important one that we I know, we will come back to. I'm curious candidate as you think about the growth of nationalism in Sub Saharan Africa, how you see the trends that have changed and what's actually taking place, one of the things that we see on TV is the impact of some of these trends with COVID. And how it affects minorities. So could you speak to the issues of what how you see things in that part of the world at this moment?
TOGUN: Sure. Thanks for and I will begin where Arturo started, sort of began his talk in terms of African countries, many of whom had boundaries drawn for them, right. So the idea that these countries were not in silos like they were created from something else. And I think sort of them moving on to the independence movement. And I think a lot of the independence activists that we had on the African continent were folks who used nationalism as a cause celeb and said we need to be our own country. So the colonizers need to go away. So I think that there's a core sense of nationalism at the very beginning of many African countries' founding in the 1960s, for most of them, right. And I think that within them because many of them are at the same time as a pan Africanism, and the idea that all of us are of the same ilk, and all of us are in coalition in concert with each other. So I think that there's a nationalism of Pan Africanism, for me sort of run in similar trends or in similar streams. And then I think, even within civil society today, or like within political leadership, there's still a lot of that pan Africanist sense that that exists. I will say, though, that I think in many African countries, nationalism has become a tool for authoritarians. So the idea that you have folks like President Museveni in Uganda, or the late President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or the late President in Tanzania, who sort of use this idea of nationalism as a way to squash opposition as a way to sort of dismiss dissent, and say, these are Western values.
So like these, the things that we are doing here is what we want to be doing, and in what in reality, what's happening is like these outsiders are coming to pollute our country, our country, or countries. I do think that there is a nationalism as it becomes a tool, or a cudgel for to stem opposition, right. And I think we've seen this, some of this during the COVID pandemic, in terms of like how countries have said, we're responding to COVID as a national crisis. So the best thing to do is trust us as your leaders to do what's best. But what that has often meant is, we're not going to let you gather for protests, because we don't want you to get COVID. Or we are going to scapegoat marginalized populations, like LGBT populations, or women's groups. And we're going to squash dissent in that way. So I do think that they're in the 2020-2021, year, or mostly 2020, at the height of COVID, or at the beginning of COVID, there was a lot of over securitized responses that we saw that were unfortunate, and that we've done so in the name of protecting one's country.
I will say, though, just coming back to this idea of like the pan Africanism that I continue to be inspired by or motivated, or great to see is the idea that they're still, even in spite of that attempt to squash that you still see civil society organizations who are mobilizing activists. Who are actively mobilizing and sort of using their own version of nationalism of like, it's our country first, right? So like you had Mugabe using country first to squash opposition, and you now have leaders who are saying we need to make our country better. So country first means we are going to continue to mobilize and activate and get people to get out and do things right, then we sort of saw the Solidarity Movement that's happening. If you think of the Zimbabwe Lives Matter, and SARS movement that happened in Nigeria and sort of seeing these cross currents, where there is like an active group of folks who are saying we will, our country matters to us. And we're going to do what it takes to protect. It's sort of interesting to see the ways to define nationalism and how that's played across from civil society through government responses.
PANDITH: It's really fascinating. And I'm interested in the terminology that these countries are using, it's very reflective of some of the rhetoric that's happening here in the United States. And I hope we can talk about that, on how things are ricocheting around the world. I am interested because we talked definition now. Kanchan, as we think about democracy, and we think about nationalism, what is the overlap, what is the connection. And then also, if you can be, if you could go deep a little bit on one particular country in Asia, India, and talk to us about what you are seeing there, and the new sort of nationalistic waves that have affected not just what's happening COVID, but more broadly,
CHANDRA: Of course, of course. I want to say, first of all, I'm just so happy to be here and to meet the panelists, but also all of you who are here, at least in spirit, we can't meet physically, but at we can see you but very happy to be in the same space. I want to just say maybe some maybe something first on democracy. With nationalism, Arturo defined the state nation. But I also wanted to say, when it comes to the nation, I think of the nation in Benedict Anderson's terms as an imagined community. This is an imagined community of equals that is limited and sovereign. Limited in the sense there are always insiders and outsiders, and sovereign in the sense that there is a territory with the governments that controls it. And nationalism, you know, even when you have a nation state formed, I think one important aspect of nationalism is that it is perennially fluid. It is never a finished project. And so if we think of it in renounced terms as something of a daily plebiscite, and I think what we see is happening in the world now is the emergence of second and third nationalisms, and I'll say something about that in a moment. So you know, it is interesting, as Arturo pointed out, nations are a very recent phenomenon, really, from say the 1950s and 1960s onwards. And what is interesting to me is that democracy is a very recent phenomenon as well. And the two really grew up together.
Democracy arrived in the world earlier, but it's really sort of post-World War Two that you really see the age of democracy. Including in the democracies, we think of as the oldest or the prototypical ones. In England and the U.S., to the UK and the U.S., democracy, really liberal democracy, as we know, it really settled down after the Second World War. And you know, one of the things I see is I think there is this absolutely sort of close link between the two, because we think of democracy as a rule by the people. And anytime we think of the people, there are two things that are important. There's always this notion, democracy is a limited community too. There are rights for those who are the people, and all bets are off for those who are not the people. And that coincides very easily with the idea of a nation too as a limited community. The second aspect of democracy as we understand. There have been all these ways to define it away. But it is a stubborn idea, the idea of democracy as majority rule. And even when we have different ways of imagining democracy, the idea of the majority as being the legitimate decision maker in a democracy sooner or later creeps in. And this is essential to I think what we we're sort of seeing in nationalism today. I think after the Second World War, there were two kinds of nationalisms that were predominant. One was this idea of sort of a nation states, the idea that you had an imagined community among the nation that coincided with the territory of the state. And the second, as Arturo pointed out, was minority nationalisms, you know, looking for either rights or dignity within the same state offers a session or autonomy. But what you see now, what is new about the world in the twenty-first century, is the emergence of majority nationalisms and they are not looking for sort of just dignity or better treatment, or secession or autonomy, majority nationalisms are looking to remake the state in their own image. And these are one would say, the three countries I'm thinking of particularly, India, certainly, which is what I study, and the U.S., and the UK. You see the emergence of majority nationalisms.
These are in each case, they are the second or third nationalism, you could say the United States' first nationalism was civic nationalism. And now you see an ethnic racial nationalism. With Britain, I think it's hard to tell whether it's race or whether it's a broader idea of Britishness, but again, one nationalism earlier around the idea of the state, and a new one now around the notion of an ethnic community. Similarly, in India, with Hindu nationalism. This nationalism is, I think, particularly hard. The consequences are quite pernicious. But I think the thing that really strikes me is, we read so much about nationalism as being a perversion of democracy. And of course, as Kehinde pointed out nationalism can also be used to justify authoritarian policies. But the thing that strikes me is how much nationalism is a culmination. It is a product of the inherent fragility within the notion of democracy. And I think until we address the inherently exclusive nature of democracy, and the idea that the people there, there are chosen people, but those who are outside the chosen people, there's sort of no clear rights within the regimes governing them. Essentially, what happens to those who are not the people. And I think what we see in all of these nationalisms, certainly with Hindu nationalism in India, and with majority nationalisms elsewhere, is this constant "othering" of those who are not the majority. And sort of the abolition of the line between those who are minorities, and those who are simply outsiders. Knowing this is something I think, which is kind of unique to the 21st century, and I think particularly dangerous. Let me stop here.
PANDITH: Thank you so much, that was very, really wonderful to hear, because it just sort of helped unpack some of the complexity around these terms and how they're related. So thank you very much for that. Heather, we're going to turn to Europe now. And so much is going on over there. I want to just start with asking you, you know, in the most modern recent times the shift that's taking place, and if you can unpack that a little bit for us, and then if you have some time, can you talk to us about some parallels that you might see between Europe and the United States.
CONLEY: Well Farah, thank you so much. I always say I studied Europe to understand the United States. So perhaps we can have that discussion. I want to just start with sort of a really modern and positive nationalism that occurred, you think about this as a modern phenomenon. The first time that it was really acceptable to fly the German flag very publicly was actually in 2006 during the World Cup. That was the first time. Really it was a way that you could show German nationalism in a very positive way. And I think all of us think about positive nationalism in sporting events, the Olympics USA or you're rooting for your team. There's something that's as positive and confident about healthy nationalism, but of course, here we're talking about destructive or negative nationalism. So I just want to raise I think three important trends that are helping to drive a variety of nationalistic sentiments in Europe today. The first I think this is the one that's going to have the resonance with most of us, particularly in the United States, is really globalization. If you feel as if you are losing power, if things are changing so fast, so dramatically, what you understood is your culture, your traditions, your religion, your place in society. If all of that is changing, you cling to something that has power, and that power is the nation you sort of transfer or you transfer that power. So if I am making America great again, or Europe, great again, in my country, I'm making myself great again. So there's this this connectiveness, about identity and power, what makes you unique, where are you from? And that's that source of identity.
Of course, this was absolutely crystallized in the French presidential election in 2017. When Marine Le Pen, who is the leader of the far-right Rassemblement National party, she posed a question to the French people. Are you a globalist? Or are you a patriot? You cannot be both. If you're a patriot, your country is the most important thing. And you will defend that country from all the migration and terrorism and this change that is coming. If you're a globalist, you support all of this change. So globalization in some ways, is really driving this negative nationalism that's trying to cling to the past and prevent that change. Because many benefited from globalization, many did not benefit. The second trend, I would argue, is really Europe is still dealing with the traumas of the 20th century. There is a reason why the Germans didn't wave their flag until really 2006. Because German nationalism destroyed Europe twice in the 20th century. But we're also seeing a very unique form of ethnonationalism appear in Central Europe, Poland, Hungary, in the Western Balkans, in particular. And these are peoples now dealing with trauma. They were unable to when they regain their independence, the countries of Central Europe focus singularly on NATO enlargement, European Union enlargement, and they knew they needed to put that history aside in order to achieve those objectives. they achieved those objectives.
And now, they have to begin to rectify with a very traumatic past, you add demographic decline and migration, and you have someone feeling very under assault, that their identity, their survivability of their population, and their language is under attack. So what did they cling to? A religion, the Christian values, and the state then protects those. So in part, you're seeing where those traumas are being replayed. And nationalism, modern nationalism is forming that very much a political tool. Absolutely, this is a political tool of government control to eliminate opposition, but it's a very, very strong tool.
The last trend you might be surprised by because it's a positive thing. I think the European Union contributes to nationalism and what I would call fragmentation. This is particularly the case in Catalonia in Spain, or even Scotland in the United Kingdom. If Catalonia and Scotland can be part of something bigger, like the European Union, do they still have to be a member of Spain, of the United Kingdom, and this is actually giving license to encourage that separate identity. And this is something that the European Union is struggling with greatly, because on the one hand, they of course, respect the sovereignty of their member states. But at the same time, these forces of fragmentation, you still see in Italy today between North and South, Belgium is a perfect example of that fragmentation. So in some ways, the European Union allows or encourages that fragmentation for some. So these are powerful trends that aren't going away anytime soon. And they're certainly feeding elements of destructive nationalism. And we hope that future nationalism can be much more of a positive, unified approach. Farah, back over to you.
PANDITH: Thanks so much, Heather. And that was really helpful, obviously, some of what you said made bells go off because I was thinking about what was happening in our own country. I do want to ask the whole panel to answer this question for me. Should America care about what's happening with nationalism on the rise around the world and in the areas that you've just described? Is this something that is a concern or is it just part of human history? Arturo, you are on mute for some reason.
VALENZUELA: United States you mean or America?
PANDITH: Yes, excuse me. I'm in the United States. Exactly.
VALENZUELA: Because some of the rest of us are Americans too. Whether we're from Argentina or some other place. But look, let me just, a couple of comments. One to how wrong Fukuyama was when he said that, in fact, with the end of the Cold War, we will be facing, you know, the flowering of liberal democracy. You know, he's amended his views and so on and so forth. That the truth of the matter is that the Cold War, in some ways froze history, froze history. And the end of the Cold War, instead of leading to this flowering of liberal democracy actually, very much along the lines of what Kehinde said and others have said, it made it possible then, for the Pandora's box of all these horrible things that were sort of frozen during this time to come out again, including the bitterness of some of the ethnic nationalisms and in the corruption and the authoritarianism that we are seeing right now. Now, to get to the United States. I don't want to lose that trend. There's no question that what we saw here in the United States was an effort on the part of the United States to retreat really from the world. To retreat from the architecture really.
We talked about 1945, the founding of the United Nations that was Dean Acheson. That was the Truman administration. That was before Bretton Woods. That was the creation of the creation as Dean Acheson's book itself says, you know, Present at the Creation, all of that is, it was something that the previous administration in the United States decided that they were going to get rid of. And appealing to a reactionary nationalism. I'm going to emphasize the word reactionary, because it's a reactionary nationalism, in the sense that it represents only a very small percentage of the population. You know, a percentage, and the hardliners are really a small percentage of the population and where they're concerned about, they're concerned about the fact that we're losing in this world and we're going to define ourselves in terms of the stark nationalism of you have to be from Northern Europe, you have to be white, you have to be this, that and the other. Completely rejecting the notion that the United States is a nation of immigrants. The United States is a nation that thrived as a nation of immigrants. The United States, in fact if anything, has a promising future, if it continues to be a nation of immigrants. It's got a real problem if in fact, it winds up like some other nations in restricting immigration and you have the aging population and all those sorts of trends that are taking place right now. But there's just simply no question.
Now, why did it happen in the United States? In some ways, it goes back to the Nixon strategy, it goes back to, oh, well, look, how do we bring the Republican party to equal the Democratic party, which was three to two larger than that Republican party, Nixon came up with the idea of the southern strategy, and the southern strategy was to pull, you know, the racist south in some ways into the Republican party, and that then set the stage for this sort of thing. I wrote my own honors thesis as an undergraduate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States, and one of my heroes was Everett McKinley Dirksen. I was on the Hill every day interviewing all these people. And if it hadn't been for the Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate, a Republican, Everett McKinley Dirksen, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, would not have been approved, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would not have been approved. Anyway, we're living the consequences of that. And this is a nation of immigrants. It's a nation where we've always been proud of what the immigrants have contributed. And that's the future of the country. And some people have a reactionary view of the future, and they want to blame others for the problems of the world. And that's the thing. It's the politics of blame. It's the politics of blame and the use of authoritarian instruments in order to support the politics of blame.
PANDITH: Many of the themes that you're talking about, Heather sort of echoed in how she was describing what was happening in Europe, and we're seeing it here in the United States play out. But I want to go back to what I asked. Because I am curious, I mean, we're, we're looking at the beginning of a new administration as they are building their priorities and the way they're positioning themselves around the world. How should the United States be thinking about the trends of nationalism as we look at things? Kanchan, Kehinde, Heather?
CHANDRA: I can jump in on that. You know, I think one of the interesting things is what's happening in the U.S., I would say particularly around sort of in the last few years, is I think the emergence of the mass nationalism, which is very new to the U.S. I mean, there has been sort of an idea of a majority Aryan identity, sometimes that came in, through state institutions through the court system and legal codes, but the mass nationalism is new. And now here's one reason to pay attention to the rest of the world is in many other parts of the world, and certainly in South Asia, also, I think, in parts of Europe, mass nationalism is a much older phenomenon. And so there are two things, I think that say, particularly the South Asian phenomenon, which I think are very instructive for the U.S. One is majoritarian nationalisms, always, always, at their heart, represent the interests of a minority, you know, and sometimes many minorities. So I think it's very dangerous, even when we think about the U.S. to think about a majority. I think it makes more sense to think of the many minorities who are included within that label. I think it is actually not always a popular idea. But I think it makes sense to think of those minorities within that larger majoritarian label with some sense of empathy. I think there's too much demonization in the world of nationalism.
And as a result, you end up not being able to understand each other at all. And I think majoritarian nationalisms become in a way, less threatening, easy to understand and easier to respond if we look beyond the majoritarian curtain and look at the minorities back behind that curtain. And I think the second thing which the U.S. needs to learn from the course of nationalisms elsewhere, is precisely because the idea of a majority is such a fragile idea, it never lasts. And I think if we look at South Asia, we had the emergence of Muslim nationalism that produced Pakistan. And then we had the emergence of a Bengali nationalism that produced Bangladesh. And now we have sectarian differences within the idea of Islam. And so even to those who seek a home within the comfort of a majoritarian identity, there is no such thing. And so even in the pursuit of that kind of comfort, it's not clear that majoritarian nationalism is the route to go. And so here, I think the U.S. has a lot to learn, not just to care about but a lot to learn from the trajectory of mass nationalisms in other parts of the world.
PANDITH: I really, I really appreciate you saying what you did. I'm going to let Heather and Kehinde come in, in any way you would like before we turn to questions. And I'm going to say to the participants, in the next five minutes, we will open it up to you. So please do raise your hand if you have a question. Kehinde please go ahead. I see you unmute.
TOGUN: Yes. And I would just echo Kanchan's point greatly. I think, for me the last I think for many of us, the last four years, were a reminder that the U.S., the idea of U.S. exceptionalism, really is a flawed concept. If it ever was real, given, like the history of slavery and everything else in this country, and who was American to begin with, right? I think there's lots of questions we had about that. But having said that, I think the last four years really just drove home that we have these problems at home, and we perhaps have underscored, we've not explored them enough, or we've not focused on them enough, right? So I think in terms of how the U.S. can engage or should engage, for me, it's the concept of humility, and realizing that we have a lot to learn ourselves. And we have our own concerns and issues of who is part of our nationalism, who is an American? And who are we? Who are marginalized and who are not part of the national conversation? So how do we join others in creating identities that are whole and that are inclusive of other folks? Or I think, for me, similar to Kanchan that's where I would love for us to focus of not, how do we support the rest of the world to like stamp out authoritarianism or stamp out nationalism, but how do we learn from other folks and join in this movement of, we can all we all have our own concerns, and we need to do better at home and abroad.
PANDITH: Well said, I completely agree. Really well. Nice. Heather, would you want to comment?
CONLEY: Let's very briefly, I mean, nationalism destabilizes countries, and that is why from an American foreign security policy standpoint, we don't want more instability. If you think about in the twentieth century, European nationalism required the United States to intervene militarily twice, well, actually three times if you consider when the former Yugoslavia collapsed, and there was ethnonationalism and genocide, ethnic cleansing. So this is a destabilizing element, which is why you want to use your tools, your foreign policy tools, your diplomacy, to make sure that that nationalism particularly in Europe, we see the very destructive nationalism from NATO allies, such as Hungary, such as Poland, such as Turkey, that's we have to have a very strong conversation with our allies and partners who we have a very sacred security and defense relationship, to say, this has to stop and those allies have to look into our eyes and say you have to stop when your nationalism destabilizes my country. So you know that's the message, destructive nationalism destabilizes.
PANDITH: I think that's so important. And we often don't think about the impact of what's happening in our country to other parts of the world. And that's what I was getting at earlier, when Kehinde was talking about the terminology that was being used in Africa and India and other parts of the world actually, were they're reflecting on the success of the Trump model and how identity and belonging was described and what can move the emotional forces that began to peel apart a nation. So there's a lot to unpack here and I'm sure that our participants have many questions. I'm going to turn to Teagan, who is on the other side of this CFR 100 slide, to go to the questions and answers and please let our guests know how to ask a question.
STAFF: (Gives queueing instructions). Our first question will be a written submission from Saúl Ulloa, who asks, how does white nationalism in the U.S. and its international counterparts fit into the definitions provided at the beginning of this conversation? Is the term a misnomer?
PANDITH: I'm going to throw that to Arturo since he was referring to your definition. So I'll let you go first, and then the others can join in.
VALENZUELA: Right, I think that it's a good question. And, unfortunately, for a small sector of the population, because I still continue to believe that, that the really hard card hardcore is a disappearing hardcore within the United States. Now, that doesn't mean that the electoral turnout wasn't very high for President Trump. And that kind of thing. I don't want to belittle that in any way. But clearly you have that kind of a situation. But I'm fairly optimistic that we're moving in the right direction right now with that. We have not gotten into a situation where, where we are a state nation, we are still a nation state. And we are still a nation state because I think so many people did come to see the protection of American democracy. American democracy did not collapse. Quite the contrary, what happened was essentially, it was touch and go, it was extremely scary for those of us who were hoping that, in fact, the previous government would leave office. They still have the big lie out there, and so on so forth. But the judiciary came through at the state level, all the people who are working on elections that came through, and then fundamentally, the future of the country really is with a very diverse country. It's a diverse country, it's a diverse country. And we need to embrace that diversity, we need to sort of benefit from the diversity. And as even as I said earlier, the country will simply continue to be great if in fact, it opens its doors to more immigrants in the future, rather than the reverse. And then just let me say one other thing. International organizations are absolutely critical in all this sort of thing. We need to continue to strengthen international organizations that we move forward. I just wanted to throw that in as a small tidbit.
PANDITH: I'm glad you did. I'm glad you raised them. Thank you. Kanchan, you have your—
CHANDRA: I could jump in on that. You know, it is interesting, I think I have a different way of looking at the U.S. perhaps than Arturo. I don't think the U.S. has ever been a nation state. I think if we look at the exclusions on a racial basis, the fact that until the Voting Rights Act, African Americans, the majority of African Americans were not registered to vote. Similarly, with Native Americans, I feel that what you have had in the U.S. is sort of a history of exclusions that lasted until very late. And so here, but where it fits into the definition, if I think of a nation as an imagined community, I think what you had in the U.S. until sort of the early part of the twenty-first century, is white privilege without white nationalism. You can have a set majoritarian privilege without a sense of communal identity. But now what is emerging is also a sense of an imagined community. But also what is very interesting is that that what counts as white in the U.S. now is not the same thing as what counted is in as white in the U.S. in the '50s. And so a book by Eric Kaufmann called Whiteshift is also talking about how that notion of white is being expanded in many cases to include migrants. So I think it's a complex reality. But the sense of an imagined community in the U.S. is a recent phenomenon.
PANDITH: Thank you for that. Does anybody else want to comment on the question? Before we go to the next one?
CONLEY: I'll just jump in and just for a second because I think we did see some attempt, it didn't succeed, at organizing sort of a far right International. Sort of like-minded groups, particularly those that were against migration. Holding to traditional or Christian values. There was an attempt, Steve Bannon was sort of the leading face of trying to create a transatlantic, far-right International. It didn't work, in part because these leaders use nationalism as a political tool. And what works for one leader in Italy won't work in France, they have to pick those fear factors that help, again, that drive that nationalism, there's commonalities but there are these great international linkages. We've seen this, obviously, with the identarian movement, the great replacement, this spans the globe. And this is where social networks really do amplify this. But as I said, from looking at the U.S.-European efforts to create a broader international movement, it did fail, because political leaders do use very bespoke policies to advance their own political survival in their own countries.
PANDITH: Excellent. Teagan, let's go to the next question. So we can move we only have 15 minutes. I'm just looking at the clock. Sorry.
STAFF: Certainly, we'll take our next question from Sarah Hunaidi.
CONLEY: So sorry, for the speakers. I am Sarah Hunaidi. I am affiliated currently with Syria Campaign, and I'm a political asylee here in the United States from Syria. And I wanted to ask, it's interesting, no one mentioned the Middle East, especially, you know, a lot of things are happening at the moment, and they've always been happening. But as Professor Kanchan Chandra mentioned that nationalism is an imagined community and of course, there's a lot of books about that. It fascinates me as someone who grew up in Assad's Syria, how their imagined community is different than, for example, people who called in the streets for their own imagined community. So it's about like creation of a shared nation. But I'm wondering how important it is, or like, I believe that currently we are, or I hope that we are beyond these leaders that we grew up with, and we are trying to reimagine our own communities. So for people who are, with PhDs, and did a lot of research on that, anything that can be useful in this regard of how do we imagine community in 2021? Especially if we are, for example, exiled? How can we imagine a pluralistic community? Pluralistic nation? Yeah, I know, hard, big question, but I would appreciate anything. Thank you.
PANDITH: Thank you very much, Sarah. Who wants to jump in?
VALENZUELA: I'll jump in. Look, I have a lot of faith that the younger generations are in a different mindset, there is a greater degree of tolerance, there's a greater degree of universalism, of internationalism, and this kind of thing. So I have this, this faith that the younger people are on a different wavelength with regard to some of these sorts of issues and did not go through the same sorts of narratives that we've described earlier. You know, I couldn't, when I first came into this to this country, a long time, I was very active in the civil rights movements we take very seriously though, the comments that the United States as a nation, deeply failed to even hold up to the ideals of its own constitution, so to speak. But you know, young people today are not there, generally speaking. And I think that that is something that is promising for the future of the world. And the fact is, if two world wars were fought over who owned Alsace-Lorraine, nobody really cares anymore or shouldn't care anymore about who owns Alsace-Lorraine, even if the Japanese buy it.
PANDITH: Appreciate that and since we're talking about sort of the younger generations, I do want to sort of piggyback on that and just ask if you're seeing significant change on the demographic side and what that means for your regions. I mean, I think what Arturo mentioned is a key point. Heather also talked about the impact of technology, which we hadn't raised before. But I mean, obviously, it's happening in every part of the world. Does anybody want to comment on the youth demographic? Sure, please, Heather.
CONLEY: I'm happy to jump in. I think we are seeing again; we will see the resonance here in the United States. This is becoming geographic. Urban areas, where again, the benefits of globalization, young people coming for opportunities, more accepting, looking for those opportunities, wanting to travel, wanting to educate oneself. In some of the rural areas, which are depopulating, elderly voters, this is where there is great resistance, obviously to change. Change is frightening. They're seeing their children and their grandchildren, leaving the villages, trying to seek opportunity, and that's creating a desperation. So you see that divide. I will say that the next generation, absolutely, there is incredible, positive potential there. But I would just have a cautionary note. And again, this is my observation in Europe, there is radicalization occurring in young people because they don't see a positive future for themselves. They cannot get a job, high youth unemployment, they feel the system is working against them. They are following these narratives and the social media networks that are amplifying neo-Nazi sentiment, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, that is on the rise as well. So I think we can be very encouraged. But we also have to be very cautious that some of the same young people are also being radicalized.
PANDITH: I appreciate you saying that, Heather. It's obviously you know that this is something that I study and work on, and it's alarming to me to see that. I'm going to ask Teagan if we can have the next question, please.
STAFF: Certainly, our next question will be a written submission from Diego Garcia, who thanks you all very much for your insight, and asks, what is a book or selection of books you recommend all international affairs scholars to look into to best understand today's global order or lack thereof?
PANDITH: What a great question. I love that. Well, I'm going to go across my screen in the order that I see you to ask for your opinion. Kehinde, you're on my right. So we're going to start with you.
TOGUN: It's less of a book and more sort of thinkers, I guess, is where my mind went. Partially because I'm not an academic like my peers on the panel, but somebody that I sort of read a lot is Anne Marie Slaughter. So both in terms of her written pieces and her short pieces, but also the books that she's written is that something that comes to mind as somebody every international affairs person should be reading. I think Annette Gordon Reed, who's a Jefferson historian at Harvard is another person that I think in terms of thinking of the founding fathers and how one reimagines who they are or sort of contextualize who they are actually is how I would frame it, is another person that I would say, is worth thinking about in the U.S. context.
PANDITH: Awesome. Thank you, Kanchan, you're next on my on my screen.
CHANDRA: Sure and I can actually address that and Sarah, who made this question a moment sort of related. On the book, I think the one book that I'm thinking of is [Kwame] Anthony Appiah's The Lies that Bind. And I think it's not always sort of an easy book to read. But it gives you a framework for thinking about identity that I think gets at Sarah's question. Also, what can you do, I think it's very important not to take nationalism on its own terms. In other words, not to think of people in terms of groups and group categories, to always put the individual front and center. And to always be aware of the diversity within these categories of both majority and minority. when I think focusing on the individual gives you sort of a certain ethical position, and I think Appiah, that book, and the body of writing also helps develop that idea. I think one of the great scholarly missteps has been this idea that in order to respond to ethnic identity, that the idea of responding to ethnic sort of issues, has been to sort of focus on groups and not individuals. I think the reason we take questions of ethnic diversity seriously is because we care about individuals at bottom. And so I think that's sort of an ethical position, and I think that book might is one of the many things that I found helpful.
PANDITH: Really helpful. Thank you so much, Heather, you're next on my screen.
CONLEY: So a very short book that I love is called The Light That Failed: A Reckoning. It's from my favorite person in the whole wide world, Ivan Krastev, one of the best intellectuals, Central European intellectuals, and Stephen Holmes, and what it gets, was Arturo's question about what happened. We thought at the end of the Cold War, victory was ours, the victory of liberal democracies. Why is that not the case? Why are we in a democratic recession right now? What happened? It's very, it does have very specific sense about Central Europe, which I think is the most interesting case study. And one of the most memorable sentences from Ivan and if you follow him, he does wonderful writing in the New York Times. He's just a great intellect. He said, for young people, it is easier to change your country than your illiberal government. And I thought that was just a powerful message. So, The Light that Failed.
PANDITH: Wonderful. Arturo, you're next.
VALENZUELA: Oh, well, look, when I was asked whether I'd participate in this wonderful panel, and I really appreciate the opportunity, I had to go down to my bookcases downstairs in the basement. I'm on my roof right now, practically. And the first book I read was Nationalism by Tagore, and this is one of the real classics in the field, no question about it. This is a—the publication date is 1961. You know, the (inaudible), self-determination, state, and individual excellence of diversity, national (inaudible) determination. But then, you know, the real classic is Reinhard Bendix's book. It's called Nation-Building and Citizenship, which is, again, another classic that I, as you can see, I've marked it over in the past, and I but I hadn't gotten (inaudible) find it. More recently, studies and social change, nation building, and so on. I recommend that strongly. However, the book that, in fact, I turn to most today was one of my coauthors on very many adventures, and that's Juan Linz and Al Stephan, and this book is a much newer book is Crafting State-Nations. India and other multinational democracies, in which they make this distinction between nation, state, and state nation. And I recommend that to you. And this particular book is Johns Hopkins University Press. And this is 2011. So we're talking about jumping across the various different timeframes. I'm a critic of democracy, as I did with this book, that was with Juan Linz, The Failure of Presidential Democracy. I much prefer parliamentary forms of government because, Kehinde, it's much more difficult for that to happen. When you don't have presidents. All you need to do is to take a look and see what happens when presidents start going after the prime ministers and so on and so forth. And then that also leads to this book, Democracies Divided which is one of the problems that we have.
PANDITH: Thank you very, very much. I will say you can find all of these wonderful panelists in places where you can actually reach out to them and get longer list of books and articles. Arturo's at Georgetown. Heather's at CSIS Kanchan is at NYU. Kehinde is at Humanity United. So I urge you to reach out to them if you have more questions. Speaking of questions, we have a lot of questions. So I'm going to ask our panelists in the next six minutes, we're not going to go across the board. Just jump in with short responses so we can get to as many questions as possible. Teagan, please jump in.
STAFF: We will take our next question from Danielle Obisie-Orlu.
Q: Good evening. My name is Danielle Obisie-Orlu. I am a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh and thank you to all the panelists. A part of my research focuses on the different expressions of xenophobia in France, and one of the central facets are the distinctive othering that takes place when French citizens have linked to the former French colonial empire such that national groups, nationalist groups, will make the distinction between (speaking French), which is French from the roots and (speaking French), which is French from citizenship. How does the emergence of nationalist and youth identarian movements across France or Europe, who say that they're acting in the name of keeping France French or protecting European values emphasize who is deemed to belong and who does not? Thank you.
PANDITH: Danielle, a beautiful question. Heather, I want to ask you to answer that quickly.
CONLEY: Well, fascinating topic. Thank you. I'm so glad you're studying it. And this is exactly, you have now teed up the French presidential election for 2022. Exactly that. What makes you French? And can others be included? And I think this is a major cleavage in France right now. It has no good answers to it. And it has the risk of really deeply dividing the society, so I don't have a good answer for you. But it will be a major political topic and I do worry it's going to start pulling at the very fabric of French society. It already has.
PANDITH: You know obviously Heather, this is not just happening in France. This question of how can you prove who you are. I remember a conversation in 2007 or 2008 in Oslo with a Norwegian of Pakistani descent, who said to me, how do you expect me to be Norwegian? Look at my skin, look at my eyes, look at my hair color. So it's across the board. Teagan, please give us another question.
STAFF: We will take our next question from Anisa Antonio.
Hello, my name is Anisa Antonio. Recent college graduate from Wheaton College in Massachusetts. And I'm also familiar with the work of Benedict Anderson and him discussing the role of literature. So my question is, can you be a nation or a nation state without national literature? What is kind of the role of literature when establishing or maintaining a nation? And with that, what are the limitations of national literature? As we have seen in many cases, where literature is biased and or amidst the narratives of contributions of marginalized communities? Thank you.
PANDITH: What a great question. Who would like to take it?
CHANDRA: I can take a stab at it. But, you know, we get a terrific question. It's a really good thing to think but in a new light. The short answer is I think you can. If you look at nationalisms across the board, some of them are deeply rooted in a literary or linguistic movement. I think Serbian nationalism in the former Yugoslavia is an example. And I think other nationalism sort of are rooted primarily in political ideas, or sometimes in a sense of history, but not necessarily literature. Literature often emerges as a product, rather than a precondition of those sorts of nationalisms. I think the nationalism that produced Pakistan is one example. I think Hindu nationalism in India is another. That there are sort of there are works of literature that are emerging in service of that nationalist movement. But they've not, you know, the nationalist movement itself, did not sort of primarily make use of literature to start with and I think sort of the basis in literature can produce very different trajectories for the nationalist movement. But I think the short answer is, there are many nationalisms that are not necessarily literary, perhaps to their cost, perhaps not.
PANDITH: Thank you so much. We have time for one last question. Teagan, if you could?
STAFF: Certainly, we'll take our last question from Jean Ulysse.
Q: Hi, thank you so much for having me. It does seem like the term nationalism when we think about it, the idea of it never died down. And should we be embracing more of a globalism term? And for example, when we look at the U.S. and what happened on January six, right? An attempted coup. And we have most of the people that are attempting that, where they believe in this nationalist country where we're like, okay, we've got to determine this is who we are. This is Trump country, this is a white country, this is what we want the country to be. Should we be like, okay, let's focus more on a global term than nationalist terms since it's not as a diverse framework as it is?
PANDITH: Thank you for the comment. I appreciate that. Is there any response from any of the panelists?
VALENZUELA: I might jump in and just simply say, quickly, if you go to the Roosevelt Memorial, you know, and you go walk through the Roosevelt Memorial here in Washington, FDR Memorial. And you see all the various different themes. We just need to sort of remember what we went through in those periods and learn from that. Ultimately, this is really about being able to come together as an as a country. This is about, you speak Catalan, I speak Spanish. But look, we're both part of the same country and because of that, that's important. So ultimately, it's democracy working, despite the differences that we may have.
PANDITH: That is an excellent note to end on. And I know that other panelists wanted to comment on Jean's question. And I'm sorry, we have to close out our day today with all of you, I want to thank you so much for the time that you spent with us today. I want to thank the panelists with a clap. But I also want to ask the participants to join in in the networking session that is available right after this. And there's a link I think in the chat that gets you there and there should be in the participant pamphlet that you have. But finally, I just want to remind you that you can get the audio of this on the CFR website that will be available. It's been a great conversation today on a really important topic. To Sarah's point, we didn't include the Middle East and I'm very sorry. We didn't have every region of the globe and the Middle East wasn't the only one that was missing. But we did our best. And I want to thank our panelists very much for taking the time and for your extraordinary insights. Have a really good afternoon everyone stay healthy and stay safe. Thank you.
ENG: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. This session is on making the transition between the public and private sectors. I'm Catherine Eng and I'll be presiding over today's discussion. We're very excited today to have three well-respected professionals who are inspirational leaders in their roles and communities. They’re each going to discuss their backgrounds and how they got to where they are today. We hope to shed some light and guidance on how to navigate transitioning between the public and private sector as well as the importance for diversity in foreign affairs. Firstly, let me briefly introduce our speakers.
Dr. Dominique Carter is an award-winning scientist, science diplomat, and entrepreneur, recently named among 1,000 inspiring Black scientists in America by Cell Mentor. Dr. Carter currently serves as an agricultural science advisor for the Department of Agriculture, Office of the Chief Scientist, where she supports operational planning and policy development pertaining to agricultural research and education. Dr. Carter was awarded the prestigious AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship at the National Science Foundation and is the founder of Global STEM Solutions, a boutique-consulting firm that provides thought leadership and counsel for developing international partnerships in STEM education and research. Dr. Carter is passionate about the recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. And she's also an active and leading member in the community in the National Society for Black Engineers, the American Society for Microbiology, Harvard Business Review, and SIA-Africa.
Ms. Rashida Petersen is the East regional director at the Global Fund for Women. Her career has been built on expertise gained from leading major fundraising and development initiatives in developing countries, as well as expanding U.S.-Africa trade and investment working within the development departments of international nonprofits. She's been responsible for annual funding goals of over $16 million in institutional funding, and over $1.3 million cumulative in unrestricted donations. Ms. Petersen also established consulting firm 1847 Philanthropic, and technology startup, DIA-Fund, a hybrid microphilanthropy platform that connected members of the Diaspora in the U.S. with vetted community-based organizations in their home country. She began her career at the Department of Commerce as the East Africa desk officer and served as the acting senior commercial officer with the African Development Bank. Ms. Petersen is also a noted speaker on topics related to international development, organizational development, and local impact, as well as diversity and international affairs.
Ms. Macani Toungara has fourteen plus years of international economic development and management consulting experience in the private and nonprofit sectors. She recently joined the U.S. Agency for International Development as a senior advisor in the Bureau for Africa and in that role serves as the senior technical expert in developing strategies for major agency programs of national scope and impact. Previously, she was the manager of international programs, Africa, for the Obama Foundation, where she managed programming across the African continent. The flagship program, Leaders Africa, inspires, empowers, and connects two hundred emerging African leaders through a yearlong program of capacity building. And prior to that, Ms. Toungara was the senior director for program development at TechnoServe, an international economic development nonprofit. Before joining, she was a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group where she worked on projects in consumer goods and financial services.
Thank you all for joining today. To start, I was very inspired learning about your extensive backgrounds as we were preparing for the session today. Each of you has your own unique experiences that have shaped who you are today and led to your current role. I know I just briefly introduced you, but your backgrounds are so rich in experiences. Can you share with the audience a little more detail on the path that carried you here? And since the session is on the transition between the public and private sector, if you could also focus on that? What was the catalyst that led you to some of these transitions? What was your role prior to the transitions and why did you decide to move at that point in your career? And, if you'd like to touch on some factors you were considering as you made that decision. Perhaps I could start with Dominique.
CARTER: Sure, thanks, Catherine. Hi, everyone. So as Catherine mentioned, from my bio, I am a biomedical scientist by training. And I would say in my last year of graduate school I recognized that I had developed the skillset just because of who I am as a person, as well as some of my main skills that would take me outside of the lab eventually. And I didn't know at the time when that would be. But I became more interested in policy as it related to science, education in particular, as well as access to specific demographics, which have been overwhelmingly underrepresented in STEM fields. So immediately following my completion of my PhD program, I actually went into industry. I worked for a molecular diagnostics startup called Exact Sciences, based out of Madison, Wisconsin. And that move was strategic. I specifically planned to leverage that opportunity to make me competitive for the AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellowship. At the time, I had very little experience in the policy world. And that was kind of my introduction to science policy, specifically health policy. So fast-forward to the AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellowship. That was the transition from industry to the public sector of government. And it was there where I was introduced to science diplomacy, specifically, international relations in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. How do you go about developing partnerships with countries based on synergistic science priorities? How do you go about even identifying what science priorities are in some countries? And what does that look like on the federal level? So those are some skills that I learned during that time. And that has transitioned and helped me in my current position, where one of the aspects of my portfolio is science and research security. So as science becomes increasingly International and interdependent, how can we protect the U.S. scientific enterprise, while also continuing to collaborate abroad as we start to face more global challenges? And I'm happy to answer more questions about that journey as they come up. Thank you.
PETERSEN: I don't know how to go after that. I would just like to thank CFR and all of my colleagues on the panel for the invitation today. And, as Dr. Carter mentioned, I think a couple of things that sort of stood out in her journey. I started at the Department of Commerce and then flipped to the private sector. But I think what she mentioned what I would add on to that is this, this idea of being very strategic, and looking and seeing where you want to go and setting yourself up in those positions that you're choosing to make sure that you can continue along that pathway, and seeing every position as a stepping stone along that pathway. And I think that kind of explains my story, where I started off at the Department of Commerce, right out of undergraduate school and happened to fall into the East Africa portfolio for market access and compliance. So was in a policy role. And having not had any other experience, other than the U.S. government, I actually wanted to get more technical skills. And so, having that policy experience gave me an idea of the macro. And then I decided in transitioning to the private sector, I went to a consulting firm after the Department of Commerce. I wanted to get very specific in terms of the skill sets that I needed to make sure that I understood the industry that I was actually doing policies for at the Department of Commerce. So I did it a little bit of the reverse. But I was very strategic and what I wanted to go into, and I've always in my career looked at where I can attach myself to revenue generation, just because that tends to be where I excel, so most of my other positions after that first transition to the private sector have been related to revenue in different ways. So institutional foundations, U.S. government, also individuals, etc. I'll stop there and can answer any other questions as well. Okay.
TOUNGARA: Building on sort of what's been said about being strategic, I completely agree that you really have to think about your career in terms of not only what institutions you aspire to be a part of, but what skill sets you need to build to be able to get there and be in a position to be able to run things and to be able to do what you want to do, whether that's in an institution, or whether that's working for yourself and building your own business along the way. I started my career in the private sector working as a management consultant. And that was an excellent foundational career training for me because it gave me training on how to manage clients, how to deliver presentations, how to do analysis, how to present analysis. It really gave me a set of skills and a broad sort of base from which I could build a career further on. Now, when I got an undergrad, I wasn't quite that strategic about it, taking the job. I was at a point where I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted a career in international affairs. I knew at that time that I wanted to be able to straddle the private and public sectors. I studied economics. So I had a bunch of these data points. And so I took the job that basically gave me the widest number of options as a starting point.
I was like, let me get experience in multiple sectors, which consulting lets you do, and I was like, if there's one I don't like after maybe I spend max six months doing it, I can move to a different sector. And that proved to be very much true. But I left management consulting, because ultimately, in looking at the folks who were at the top of the field, career-wise, I saw that I didn't want to be like them. It's a very unique lifestyle. It's very intensive. It's not being a lawyer, whereas you become a more senior lawyer, you get more relaxed. Senior folks in management consulting still have incredibly grueling lives, throughout their career. And, because in client services, your clients are always your priority. Moreover, I was looking for more mission-focused work and work that I could really believe in. And so that's why I switched to development and did that shift from the private to the nonprofit sector and joined TechnoServe, which is an organization that was very aligned with my mission orientation at the time, which was how to figure out how to do good by doing business, especially coming from a business profession. I stayed in that base for a long time before moving into the Obama Foundation and sort of more than foundation space, which was a strategic move on my part because I wanted to, number one, run my own program. I've done a lot of fundraising, institutional fundraising for TechnoServe, and their business development team, and was designing economic development programs.
I decided I wanted to run one myself, which is what I was doing when I received the opportunity to join the Biden-Harris administration as a political appointee last fall. The decision to move into the private-public sector is one that I've been wanting to do for a while. I've been trying to position myself to do it. I'd worked on the campaign that was very strategic in terms of trying to position myself for an opportunity to join the administration and was lucky enough to be chosen early to join. But it wasn't by happenstance. I've worked at it. I've worked since previous elections. I had invested. And this was the time when this opportunity became available to me. I'm happy to talk about any of those transitions in the course of this discussion, but I think that the name of the game is planning, and really looking ahead a few years to think about what you need to put in your life now in order for those opportunities to really come through over time because it doesn't necessarily happen when you want it to. Thank you.
ENG: Great, thank you so much. Now, transition can be challenging due to different working environments between, let's say, commercially driven organizations and public sector institutions that candidates often need to alter their mindset in terms of embracing a new workplace culture or management culture when making a successful move. Can you speak a bit about your own experiences in that regard? Post transition, acclimating, surprises, or some frictions you experienced, and what resources you then turned to? Ms. Toungara, would you like to start first?
TOUNGARA: I would say the biggest surprise is coming into the federal government. The bureaucracy is real. And having spent my entire career in the business and nonprofit sector for the most part, it's been a whole new world to be part of the federal government. I would say that, particularly in the private sector, they're just your rules, in terms of how you can get things done. If you have an idea, you can run with it. If you have a team that is supportive of what you're trying to do, and there's just a lot more flexibility to bend and flow, and brainstorm, and all these things. When you're in the federal government, for a reason, I think for very good reasons, there are just a lot of rules, and there's a lot of paperwork. And these are things that protect the individual and protect the institution. And so, it’s not something to be taken lightly. But it's definitely been an exercise in, I've had to very much take a learning approach to joining and asking people, okay, what do I need to do? How do I go about this? What is the process? What is the procedure, and really, be humble, in terms of learning, and adapting to how things are done, and every agency is unique.
I'm at USAID, so I'm learning how USAID operates. But every agency has its processes. And it's cultures as well. Some cultures are very formal in terms of chain of command. You would never go outside the chain of command to do certain things. You have to go through your supervisor who then goes through their supervisor, etc. Other cultures are a little more collaborative. I would say USAID is a little more collaborative, in that respect, in terms of, conversations you can have without necessarily having to follow very rigid protocol, in terms of informal dialogues and such. So I mean, those are all the kinds of things you have to be aware of when you come into an institution, is really get a sense of, particularly from your peers, I think they're the best advisors for you people who've been in the organization a long time and can give you a sense of what the culture is, how formal or rigid is it? What are the procedures to be able to get things done? Where do other people get stuck in the system so that you don't have to hit up against those walls as you're trying to do your work and work collaboratively with your colleagues and be seen as a team player. And so those are all factors that I think should be considered in advance of actually doing a job transition. Because depending on what's happening in the organization, whether public or private, those may be things that may not be a good fit with your working style, and how you get things done and could be a source of tremendous frustration. But where you've done your homework and your research, you've talked to peers, you've talked to senior management, and have a sense of the operating environment in the culture. I think, it's a good way to then get prepared for how to be able to engage effectively.
PETERSEN: It’s so funny. I was smiling as Macani was talking about the U.S. government because, just as a quick story. When I left the Department of Commerce, I realized that all of my invitations to embassy events, and to basically, no one knew who I was after that. I was dead to everyone. And then I realized I was like, oh, that's because when I was an official, people saw me as the U.S. government, right. And so you're writing an email, or you're doing a communication, you are representing basically, the American people. And so people, see that as like, okay, you're the desk officer for Tanzania, what you're saying is coming down from, the Secretary of Commerce, basically. And I didn't really realize the gravity of that until I left Commerce. And then I was like, oh, wow, no one listens to what I say anymore. That's funny because I guess, it just makes it so real. It's just funny in listening to her say that that's part of the reason why it's so important that you follow the protocols that are in place because, really, people do see you as the representative.
So in terms of transition, I totally agree with Macani in that you have to see where you fit in. Because I think that any, you know anything is possible. You just have to figure out how to navigate and how to get along. And how to get your check at the end of the day. So I think you can figure it out if you want to figure it out. But it is as you kind of continue to progress along your career. The question is, do I want to be doing this, right? Because I think that you spend a lot of your time, as Macani was mentioning. I was in the consulting space for a while. And basically, there was no period of time that I wouldn't respond. During the weekend, I would quickly send out emails, and I just think, what kind of lifestyle do you want to have? And, what matters to you? And also, how do you want to spend the majority of your time at certain levels? I think that that becomes the conversation and that becomes less about shifting your personality and your work style to navigate. Because we can all do that. It's more, do you want to do that? And I think that for me, that has really led a lot of my transitions in deciding, like, okay, I can raise money. I can always find something because I can raise money. But do I want to go this way? Do I want to go this way? What kind of work-life balance do I want to have? Am I really attached to this mission? Does this really speak to me? Those types of things are what I think, as you continue to move on, you start to put more weight into, as you've had your experiences, and I think that that's what kind of makes those transitions, makes you want to go for those different positions as you go along.
CARTER: I will third everything that has been said by Rashida and Macani. Following a transition, you want to be in the mind space of learning as much as you can. And, when I say learning, I mean, learning the needs that are specific to the office that you're serving in, but also learning the organization and how they operate. And one of the things that I found that was most useful for me was relationship building. At the time, when you're transitioning, you kind of have a little bit of time on your hands, not necessarily, you have a lot of free time. But I feel like you're given more room and flexibility in the beginning. Because folks understand that you're learning and adapting to a new environment. Be strategic and use that time to your benefit. And one way in which you can do that is by building relationships. Building relationships, inside and outside of your office. You never know who can be of use to you. And maybe you can be of service to someone else later down the line. You need to get something done, and you need to get information quickly. You never know who may have that information, or who may have access to somebody that has that information. And it's those types of things that can seem very small in the beginning. But once you've hit the ground running with your work, those are things that can be vital in opening new doors and opportunities for you. But also, showing your use, and value to your office and organization early on.
ENG: Thanks so much. I'd like to pivot a bit because this conference at its core is about diversity and international affairs. Talk about how diversity in the workplace has changed. Studies do say that the representation of diverse communities in the overall workforce has been slowly increasing, especially among women and senior management. At the same time, though, we're currently dealing with disturbing racial justice issues domestically. And in the international affairs workplace, there's been a lot of discussion about the lack of diversity in places like for instance, the State Department, and in the private sector, at least in certain studies. Where while there might be more diversity at the mid-level stage, the higher up the ladder you go, the more thinned out it can become. So how has diversity in the workplace changed since you entered the workforce? What has improved what hasn't? What has perhaps made it worse or better, and how does that affect the way that you operate at work? Ms. Petersen, would you like to start this time?
PETERSEN: So I can just speak to, I guess, maybe the fundraising industry. Unfortunately, there really hasn't been a lot of diversity in terms of people of color, particularly in many of the international development organizations at the senior levels and has actually gone down. I think about when I actually first moved from Commerce. And then I was at the Corporate Council on Africa, and then I moved again. But when I went into USAID contracting, there were a number of powerhouses at FHI 360, which was AED before. There were people that were known that were very senior, people of color, that would actually help support younger staff people, I could think of a few off the top of my head. And that has actually thinned out quite a bit. And so I think that, I mean, I have so many thoughts on this, but I'll try and make sure that I keep it somewhat PG. So I think that the challenge is that people are getting frustrated, and they are leaving.
And I've seen this on both the public sector side, a number of my colleagues who I started out at the Department of Commerce with who were exceptional attorneys, just brilliant, have are no longer there. They have a very, there's an issue with retention, there's an issue with being able to, for people to see the pathway and continue to grow and develop and people are getting tired. I think that battling your organization to try and prove. I mean, how many studies do we have to have that say that diverse workforces actually make decisions better? Increased revenue? There are so many things like when you're talking about different industries from Silicon Valley all the way to the dairy industry in Arkansas. I'm not sure what the answer is. But I think that we just got to continue to talk about the issues and continue to almost force the issue when we can. In my position, now I continuously raise, raise the opportunity to make sure that in our contracting, we have a procurement policy. I'm constantly pushing things back if I don't see diverse candidates if I don't see diversity and contracting. I'm like, what's going on with that? So, I think it's a continuous struggle. I wouldn't say that, at least in my field, that it has gotten better because I actually see the numbers, in particularly at the senior levels, dwindling, on the international development side, on the contracting and the nonprofit side.
TOUNGARA: So I agree with Rashida that at the senior levels, the numbers aren't good. And even where you have organizations that have a decent number of junior staff, they're not making it to the top. In the nonprofit sector, I think there's particularly a structural problem in which there's very little budget for middle management. And so people, oftentimes, a lot of organizations just don't have upward mobility. And so even folks who are committed to an organization, very mission-oriented, come in doing good work. By the time they've been in there for years and they get around to asking, oh, by the way, when can I get promoted, and the message is like, you can't get promoted, they’re shot, and then have to leave and go to another organization in order to get a promotion. So I think particularly in the nonprofit sector, it's a challenging space in which to have a career that is upwardly mobile, towards senior management. And where you can just continuously keep making those steps up. There's a lot of zigging and zagging that it takes. And I think for people of color in particular, because upper management is white, the boards are mostly white, with some sprinkling of color. In between, it's been also very difficult to model your career off of those very few people that you see, and have people who can say, this is how you do it, because the pathways have been so eclectic in terms of how any one person stuck with it long enough to get to the top and stay at the top.
And so I would say for those folks who are in the nonprofit space and are trying to figure it out, my advice is very much to, number one, if you're applying for a job, ask about what their promotion policies are. I know of organizations that literally have a policy that they just will not promote you. They have the number of staff that they want. And when you get in you will do the job you're assigned. And maybe you'll get an annual, a little bonus cost of living, but you will not be promoted. You will not be able to move up in terms of shifting your scope of work. And I think it's a shock when people realize that. But part of doing your homework in advance, before you join the organization, is knowing what you're getting yourself into. And that job can still be very much worth it. But at least you know the terms under which you are doing that role. And you understand once you get into that role that you are now negotiating for your next job outside of that organization and networking accordingly. You can impress your team and the people around you with the great work that you do. But that's not the thing that's going to get you that next job. The thing that's going to get you the next job is communicating those accomplishments and the great work that you're doing to other folks in your sector so that when you're ready to go, and you feel that you've hit that plateau, in terms of learning what you need to learn, you're executing at a really high level, you're ready for your next challenge. There are people you've been talking to you the whole time, who've been able to see your professional development and hear about your professional development and can say, hey, I have a job here, or I know the job there that would be perfect for you based on what you said you wanted. And the growth and development that you've demonstrated while at the seven jobs that gave you what you needed at that particular point in your career. So that's my sort of career advice and career advice day.
But to speak to larger diversity issues? Well, conversations are better. I've had conversations about racial issues in the past year that I never thought I would have in the workplace. Talking about race in the workplace is a good way to get labeled as someone who's problematic back in the day, not to date myself. But that's how it's been up until recently. And it's great, but things seem to have changed. And I hope that that change persists. I think we're all in our own ways, trying to be agents of change and our different ways in terms of trying to figure out how we incorporate greater diversity into things that we can touch, and we're doing our best. But it's still, I think, a very fraught trajectory that we're on. And I'm hoping the progress that's been made with the protests and everything that has happened will continue. But I'm not particularly optimistic. And it's an ongoing, probably lifetime process, frankly.
ENG: Dr. Carter, your thoughts?
CARTER: Sure. I would say, diversity in STEM fields, in particular, was a major impetus and driving me into policy, or at least burgeoning my interest in policy. So whether or not you're in a STEM field, I think everyone may have heard or known that there's a large diversity problem at every level and that women and people of color at very young ages kind of dropped out of that STEM pipeline very early. And many of us who go on to obtain terminal degrees, we are creating our own blueprint. I myself am a first-generation college student. I had no idea at the time that this is the type of career that I would end up in. And I very much enjoy it. But I wouldn't say that I've necessarily had anybody that I can see, that looks like me, going to where I see myself going, right. So this goes back to the simple phrase that representation matters, and you can't be what you can't see. So just like many of us, I am very passionate and heavily involved in the community as it relates to recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities, particularly in STEM fields. I just so happened to transition into international relations as it relates to science. But that opened up so many doors for me that I didn't even know in terms of science, career trajectories. And as I continue to work in this area, more and more, I do see more diversity.
And I am, I would say, very proud and encouraged to be serving in the office where the director of my Office of the Chief Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a Black woman. And the acting chief scientist, who also serves as the administration minister or the Agricultural Research Service, is also a Black woman. So being fortunate enough to work in a position where I see women of color and serving in these positions is inspiring to me. And I know that that is not an experience shared by many people of color in different organizations. I can go on and on about this also, but I'll just I'll stop there.
ENG: Well, let's continue the conversation but get the audience members involved. At this time, I would like to invite participants to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder that this meeting is on the record. The operator will also remind you how to join the question queue. And if you could speak your full name and affiliation, please.
Q: Good afternoon and thank you all so much for being here. And for your incredible insight. My name is Melina Dunham. I'm a professional currently looking for new opportunities. My background is in the nonprofit and UN space, and I'm either looking to stay in that space or transition to the private sector. And my question to all of you is, for those of us who could be considered generalists, but who have a commitment to social impact work, what advice do you have as we are looking to either transition spaces or seek new opportunities? Thank you.
PETERSEN: I can take that. I'm the queen of generalists. So, I would say, to print out your CV, and to take a look at like. What experiences that you've had and map out where you want to go in the private sector. Because I think sometimes where there are challenges with making transitions is actually just communicating what you did that then actually has the link to the industry that you're trying to go to. And I think that role is on you and less about that hiring manager to be looking through your CV and thinking, oh, well wait, they did this and like, oh, and here, they did this, and this and this and this. And so I think you have to make that story for people. And it's all in how you communicate what you did that can translate into. Let's say you want to go to agriculture like I did. When I left doing USAID contracting, I decided that I was really interested in, I wanted to go deeper into AG. And I took my CV and was like, okay, how can I translate what I did into the agriculture industry? Like, how does this match up? What is going to be of interest to them? What skills can I bring to the table that are going to progress what they're trying to do? And I think that we have to make that link because sometimes, as generalists, we speak in general terms, but there's so much there. And then you just never actually get to specifics. And so then, people kind of throw you out. Because it's not like a, you don't fit into a box, you could do anything, but you want to do this, but you're really not communicating exactly how you get there for people. So that would be my recommendation.
TOUNGARA: I had this same challenge coming out of management consulting and trying to go into development. And, as a consultant, I was a generalist. I had done a lot of work in a lot of different sectors. And I had a strong set of skills to bring to the table. But I knew nothing about agriculture, for example, and I remember distinctly a conversation. I think it was with someone at Commodity X. I was interviewing for something and they're like, are you a specialist in pineapples? We need a pineapple specialist. And I was like, oh, and then they were like, you have a law degree? Do you want to be a junior contractor? And I was like, no. I was a mid-career professional by then and I was being offered, because I had a lot of junior contractor jobs in these nonprofits, because I didn't have that specialization either in USA procurement or in a specific agricultural field where I could check the box for a specific position for a specific project that they need. So I just say that to say that I've hit that wall and it's very painful. And I ended up at TechnoServe, in part because they actually valued my generalist skillset. They like management consultants, culturally, and organizationally. They appreciated my private sector background because it was also aligned with their mission in terms of business solutions to poverty, which was their tagline at the time. So in making that sort of generalist transition, and mapping it to the type of social impact, you want to have to reshoot this point, you have to tell the story, right in terms of how your skillsets fit into this new sector, and then why you don't want to be there, right. Because if you don't have a good idea, in terms of the social impact you want to have, you won't be able to convince others of it either. So yes, it's nice to want to have social impact. Pretty much. Most jobs in the world can have a social impact somewhere, depending on your interpretation. But you have to be able to narrow that zone significantly. And that's by talking to people who have interesting careers and getting straight in your own mind, the sector and then, within that, then you do the sort of skills matching that gets you in the door, and then might get you to the job you really want. It might take a couple of steps in and won't always be direct. But if you're clear on the nature of the social impact that can help to make this a less fraught process for you.
CARTER: Hi, I just wanted to, I feel like everything that I would contribute has been said already. But I did want to recommend this book that I'm currently reading called Range. And it's by David Epstein. And it talks about how generalists kind of can thrive or excel or something like that in a specialized world. And the reason why that book is so key and so important is because, on average, I'm a millennial, right, and on average, we are expected, based on a report recently released by McKinsey and Company, to switch jobs every two to three years. Right? Those jobs may not be in the same sector or field. So how do we adapt? I feel books like that can really help you in terms of framing your career trajectory and your story. And really kind of help you see how everything you've done up to this point is a lie. I wasn't trained in agriculture. And somehow, I'm here. I'm trained as a microbiologist, and I'm not even working in microbiology, but my skillsets, nevertheless, are very essential to the work that I do here. So I just wanted to first recommend that book and just say that Melina that you are, where many of us are or will be. So I think we all need to be comfortable with becoming generalists over the course of our career. That's just what it is. We can no longer afford, I feel, to be very focused and centralizing in something that we do. Our challenges are multifaceted. So our skill sets need to be also.
TOUNGARA: I think it's hilarious that all three of us have done AG. We do not start in AG. So just putting that out there.
CARTER: Food security is an issue and will be an issue for some time to come. So I feel like I and everybody may have crossed paths with AG in their lifetime. That's just what I think now.
STAFF: We'll take the next question from Koran Howard. And a reminder, we welcome all participants to turn your video on should you wish.
Q: Well, my name is Koran. Nice to be with you today. My question really goes to Dr. Carter's response to the other question, I guess. I'm a first-generation college student. I'm from Miami Dade College. And about an hour ago, I didn't really know your jobs existed. So it really goes to how do I find the jobs that are out there that I don't know that are out there?
CARTER: That is a great question. And this goes back to a larger systemic and structural issue that is a culprit of racism, which is access. Access to information, access to resources. Being first-generation and having to create your own blueprint comes with its own set of challenges. One of which you just mentioned in your question, and something that I've found to be very helpful to me, is starting by creating a mini network of your own right. So, how do you do that? How do you go about that? When I was an undergrad, one of the ways that I did that was by being very active as a part of professional societies that are related to your interests and or related to your training. And you want to go ahead and join those now before you graduate or still have access to your student email because those prices for those memberships go up. After that, I just want to drop that gem right there. And then specifically within those professional organizations, you can find they usually have themed focus groups in different areas. So for example, I was a chemistry major and undergrad. I joined the American Chemical Society. It wasn't until later that I learned of NOBCChE, the National Organization for Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, I was already on my way out. And that was because I went to a predominantly white institution, right. But each of those organizations have specific theme groups that you can join based on your interest of business, clinical chemistry, for example, policy, education, etc. So I will start there, I would also recommend that you speak to some of your professors, former professors about some of your aspirations. While you're building your network, it's really kind of critical that you leverage or work with people who can provide you access to relevant people in their networks. I feel like that is a good way to start. But the reason why earlier on I said relationships are currency is for this very reason. You don't know what you don't know. But as you continue to engage and talk to more people in the field that you're interested in going to, that's where that information gap can begin to close. And I'll just stop there. I'm happy to chat more offline about that. Thanks so much for your question.
STAFF: We'll take the next question from Jamila White.
Q: Hi everyone. Thank you so much for this wonderful panel today. It’s such a pleasure to see so many wonderful faces of people I admire. One of the questions I do have for you all today is as we see development, in particular, becoming more local, there's a bigger call for decolonizing development, empowering, more choices, more funding, more decision-making at the country level, and looking at the relationship we have with countries. As young people are coming out of college and entering in this career, what advice would you give them as we are having this reckoning because, at the same time, we're looking at how our roles as development practitioners need to change? Instead of looking at us as experts, which most of us are not, I think that expert term means more academia less of an expert because we know there's so much lived experience where we have that expertise. I’d just be interested in what guidance and advice would you have to young people as the industry is making the shift and career and they're trying to start their industries. I've had a lot of young people ask me, I can't get a job overseas, I can't get a job overseas. And I say, well, I'm not hiring you because I'm hiring a local. So look, there are so many more roles, and so many more opportunities, whether it's FDA, Foreign Service, working for the government, where you can have these opportunities, because there is a big push to really change development and have those resources at the national level to be making decisions. So what's the role? What do you see as a role going forward in the next few years for folks on this side working to support that work?
TOUNGARA: All right, I will bite. Hey, Jamila. And I can't come on camera because I just finished working out. It's a good question. Right. So as the capacity, the global capacity to determine one's national outcomes grows, across countries around the world, how do countries that used to provide expert guidance adjust to that new reality? And I think that the truth is that people all have this as a shared experience, even as we see that their development needs abroad, their development needs at home. Right now, I'm working a lot in the digital sector, and thinking about the digital economy on the African continent. And, as I'm doing my research and trying to understand what the needs are and such, I'm also real. What was obvious is that we haven't solved access to the internet. In our rural economy, it's a challenge that has not been solved. Industry and the private sector and government do not have good solutions for rural access. Even in our more populated urban areas, or even smaller towns, access is still a challenge. And so as we talk about access on the African continent, there are things that have not been solved. But that doesn't mean that we can't be in conversation with colleagues on the other side of the continent to together identify solutions that can ultimately be shared for their rural populations and our rural populations. And so, my feeling on this is that it's not about coming at it as the expert. But it's about coming to these issues with the expertise that you have, and the expertise that can be mutually shared in order to come up with solutions and pilots and experimentation that can happen both in developing and developed economies so that those who do not have access and do not have opportunities can benefit from the learning that is happening and the potential for that learning in both developed and developing economies. So I think it's really a question of attitude. And I think that, where this stuff works best, is in international spaces where you have experts from all kinds of areas who are coming together and bringing the best thinking from all of their continents and regions, to develop standards, international standards that can meet the needs of a wide variety of countries and those kinds of things. And where, just because you happen to be born in one country, doesn't mean you have necessarily the best ideas. But you're bringing that expertise to a table that is crowded with folks who also are bringing theirs, and there has to be some humility in that process. So I think it's a mind shift. But encourage those who are interested in development. Figure out, yes, be a generalist. But if you have an area of expertise, if you're a scientist or something like that, I mean, that's a real opening for communicating with colleagues overseas and finding those spaces for conversation and dialogue that can lead to really fascinating collaborations and really interesting experiences.
PETERSEN: Can I add in on this? Jamila, I think it's also a really, really awesome question. Because you need that entry point to get into that entry-level job to be able then to again, have that pathway to continue to get program level experience, to get monitoring and evaluation experience, to get program design experience, which, you need to be able to maybe be on a capture team or so you have to have these experiences. You have to have the access in order to be even competitive in the development space. But I've been thinking about this recently, and I've been thinking, if I were coming out right now, with my degree, so I went to the University of Maryland and my degrees are in international business and Spanish. I would probably double down on languages. And I would also double down on the startup space. So I think the private sector has a little bit more opportunity, particularly for folks that may not necessarily want to take two years out to do Peace Corps. Maybe they weren't able to study abroad. I know I wasn't able to study abroad. I had two jobs when I was in undergrad. So I think looking at it differently, and maybe backing into the development space, based on again, doubling down on languages and looking at, could you join a really interesting team that is doing a startup in Kenya, but needs a person that has a particular skill set x, y, and z? Or could you join an organization that then you could find a group. Your tribe or a group of folks that are looking to start up a nonprofit and go that way and then take that experience and back into the development space and say like, hey, look, I did, I have two languages, three languages. And I did this startup project here and these different places because I think the private sector is always going to go with the individuals that can, I think they look at things more globally and I think that there may be more opportunity in going that way rather than going the traditional DC, you get a Peace Corps, you go for two years, shout out to Peace Corps, I love Peace Corps, but I'm just saying if you don't go that way, you know if you don't have the ability to do those things, I think you have got to get creative with how you back into a development position.
TOUNGARA: And I would just say in response to Rashida’s point, Rashida’s right. And all these things are hard. If you don't have the networks to get into them. And if you have not started your career in a way that gives you access to your international spaces, the longer you wait, the more difficult it actually is to make that transition from domestic to international. So I just want to make that acknowledgment, that for folks who do not have the networks and the relationships, even finding a friend who's doing a startup in Kenya can be impossible. Because you don't know anybody who's starting startups in Kenya. And this is where, and then that's the structural barrier. And that's where privilege comes in. And economic opportunity and racism and all the things that we've talked about. The societal problems are very much knotted up. And in a way that prevents first-gen students and minorities and such from having that friend who’s doing a startup in Kenya and being like, hey, join my team, I can't pay you much, but I'll give you some stock. I can't eat stock, or, I have to help pay my mama's whatever, maybe I can't afford to do that right now and take the risk on a startup. So startups can have money, they have opportunity, maybe, but sometimes they don't, and the people who go into that have a financial cushion, so they can afford to join a startup and wait for the stock options to vest later. And so there's privilege that comes with being able to take those kinds of financial risks, even in the private sector. And I just want to acknowledge that, for the folks in the room, because none of this stuff is easy. And that's where spaces like conferences like this are so important because they allow you to meet the people who do have those relationships even if you don't. And by cultivating relationships and communities like this one, it's that entry point that you may not have had and other networks that you belong to, that can help you to even know that these opportunities are out there and be able to get your foot in the door. So it's a hard process, it's a hard thing. I don't want to undercount it. And I just want to build off of Rashida’s statement to make that acknowledgment.
CARTER: Really quickly, if I can, I just want to plug two things that I found to be of use to me and to some friends of mine, to help gain experiences in the international space. So one, there is a website called ProFellow.com. I don't want you to get that wrong idea. Like I'm just one of these fellowshiping people that just plan to fellowship my whole career. I will tell you that fellowships provide a lot of opportunities at every career stage. And this website, in particular, called ProFellow.com. They even have what they call the International Fellows Network that you can join. But they have and they list all of the fellowships, you can set up a free profile. Say I'm interested in international affairs, business development, venture capital, whatever the case, and they will curate lists, with fellowships in this area at every career stage. Again, and they will send you those lists, hey, this deadline is coming up two weeks or a month from now maybe you'll be interested in this. You can check it out. They update it daily. And then another one I want to plug for this demographic group, in particular, is something I don't even know how I found out about this, but it was during my AAAS Fellowship, called Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. WPFP. And they have chapters in random places, like London chapter, Paris chapter, a New York chapter, a DC chapter. You don't necessarily have to be in those areas to join. But they also pose jobs and fellowship opportunities. They provide opportunities to network within that organization. You can gain experience even serving in volunteer capacity for that organization. And so those were just two things off the top of my head that I know can provide opportunities in the international space. Oh, yes. And I see people dropping fellowships in the chat. Awesome. Let’s inform each other. Okay. This is what this is about.
ENG: Thanks so much. And we do have a question in the chat from Sandra Rivera. When did you get to the point where you felt I have to leave in a job? Whoever would like to take that first.
CARTER: I would like to just start and what I'm going to say is going to be very short. But I knew that I had to leave academia. As I was exiting academia with my degree, and the reason why I knew that is because I know that the environment in which I got my degree was so strenuous on me, not only because of the rigor of my program, but almost more because of the environment in which I had to work in to get that. It was very repressive for me and not encouraging and just not the best experience. And so I knew in my mind, my skills won't be best utilized if I continue down this path. And so when I left, it was to the dismay of my PhD advisor, and my thesis committee. They were very encouraging and all, but guess who gets emails from them almost weekly now? Me. So it was just like, when you know, you know. And sometimes it's hard to be your own advocate when you are early on in your career, or you're just starting, but I just want to say that, to encourage you all, if you have a gut feeling, or no, I need to go follow that feeling. Okay. And, I also want to say that, early in your career, you can feel, not necessarily that you have to go, but maybe that I have reached the capacity in which I can grow and learn in this position. It's time for me to move on. Right? So those are two different types of impetus in which I've experienced personally, which I knew it was time for me to go. So yeah, just want to say that. And when I kind of start having that inkling, that's the time to start reaching out to your network, starting to see what's available. Hey, do you have any opportunities going on at the organization I'm interested in? Start setting up informational interviews, these things that you guys have heard from many people, I'm sure by now. So I just wanted to say that. Thanks.
TOUNGARA: Yeah, cosign on the gut check. I mean, the other sign for me too was when I looked at the most elite members of my profession and was like, I don't want to be like you. That's generally a sign that you're not in it for the long term to do the sacrifices it takes to get to the peak of that profession. And so I think that's also an important sign. But I would say, don't actually wait until you're disgusted to begin to look. Yes, follow that gut feeling. But I think looking for career opportunities should be a continuous process. You can give yourself a break when you first enter a job, but you have to keep that eye on, what’s my strategy, and what's my next step and be continuously talking to people about what those next steps can look like? Because that's how you learn about things and opportunities that you may not have even known existed at whatever stage of your career that you're in. I see in the chat that there's a question about seasoned professionals making this transition.
I've done it, like, twice now. I did it from the private sector to development as a career person, and then from development to leadership, and now leadership to government. And it's tough, and actually making the transition from TechnoServe to the Obama Foundation took me about two years because I didn't want to do fundraising anymore. I had reached a point where I was not learning anything new. And that's another sign you feel like you're at the point where there's really nothing more for you to learn in that position, and you're kind of on autopilot. And you can do everything. You don't have to work as hard to get it all done. That's a sign it's probably time to move on. But it took me a long time to find a job that wasn't institutional fundraising, which was my area of expertise because everybody wants fundraisers. Everybody wants to give you a job. It's critical for a lot of organizations. And I didn't want to be pigeonholed for me and my career development as a fundraising professional. I was interested in policy and other things. And I felt that it was important given how long I've been in that role for me to specifically do something different so that I could open up a wider variety of opportunities professionally.
And it really came down to, I think, what Rashida said earlier, of looking at my CV and being able to tell a different story. Even with the sector expertise that I had that was deep in fundraising, that I had a set of skills that could potentially match other things, and then, very deliberately having conversations with folks outside of the fundraising field to try to figure out how to tell that story and what that narrative and next step could be. It was a process that evolved with time. It evolved with bidding on different types of jobs. I looked at opportunities in corporate social responsibility, especially coming out of the nonprofit sector. I definitely explored a lot of different sectors, practiced writing different cover letters to say, is this convincing, right? Can I tell this story, even if I'm coming from A and trying to go to B.? But I would say, if you're thinking about it, start early because the more exhausted you are in your day job, the more difficult it is to have the confidence and the energy that it takes to invest in the conversations and in the iterations to finally find that space that is the right fit for you.
PETERSEN: Agree with all of those things but just want to do a plug for the entrepreneurs. Don't be afraid to jump out there and make your own pathway. And even if you don't make it, that’s a story in itself. And that's one that you can always spin, like you’re looking at market fit, you’re trying to raise money, and trying to get clients or, or put out a product. And so, don't be afraid to, if you're transitioning, and you have a lot of skill sets, and you feel like you can, there's a gap in the market, just saying that there's always right now, there's a lot of money for, for entrepreneurs, so don't be afraid to do that either.
ENG: Now, I actually wanted to unpack leadership a little bit as well. The three of you are seasoned veterans in your fields. You've been in and are serving in leadership roles. But different leaders have different styles. And oftentimes one type of leader is promoted, maybe the person who's the loudest, maybe the person who exudes the most confidence, or so on. And there are studies that show, just focusing on gender for a moment, that women don't necessarily act on opportunities as much as men do. They often face a double-edged sword where if you're too quiet, you're not noticed. But if you speak up and you're confident, sometimes you're labeled or perceived too assertive, or aggressive, maybe. What's been your experience? Do you think people recognize the strengths that you and others bring as a diverse individual with unique experiences? And then, how can we seek to better understand each other and get people to see our strengths for leadership roles?
CARTER: I want to start because I feel like I probably am the most junior person on this panel. So, I wouldn’t necessarily say I'm a veteran in this. I'm five years out of school this year. And what I will say is, I'm being enabled to contribute early on. And being humble and nimble and willing to help. Even if you feel maybe it's below your skillset, or your skill level, like oh, I can do more than this, I don't have to do this little thing. I feel kind of like changing your mindset. And helping with projects early on can put you in a position that will enable you to showcase your skills. And when you do that, you show again, value to your office, value to your organization. And it's those times when you have people who sit in rooms that you're not yet a part of that can speak on the work on your behalf, right? And it's those types of opportunities that begin to open up doors for you. That's what I have found. And when, again, you are humble, and people can see that you're eager and willing to help. A lot of times, they will put you in a position. And you show that you can do good work and are efficient, they'll put you in a position where you can lead a team or lead a project. And then, when you have to, it's your turn to then, for example, present to leadership and speak on the work that you've done, how the value translates across the organization, or is cross functional across multiple departments. That is really your opportunity to shine and make yourself visible in terms of demonstrating that, yes, you are in a capacity and you are ready to leave and maybe have more responsibility. So that's just what I found thus far in my career, and I'll stop there.
TOUNGARA: I think Dominique's advice is great and very important. It is important to make a distinction between being gamed to do projects and a willingness to jump in and support. There's a fine line between that and doing. I wouldn't say I would say sort of filling in to do things that may not be adding to your professional development. I think it's important when you volunteer for all those projects that may be tied to your professional development. And so you might be that person that loves to organize the sports league or loves to go get coffee for everyone, and everyone thinks you're so friendly, and so nice and so wonderful. But that's not always the thing that you'll get credit for. I think it is important to do some of that stuff and show that you're willing to do some of the social stuff for your organization, but you have to really balance that against your day job, and special opportunities to actually help to develop your skills and help you prove yourself to upper management. If you're in an institution and can help, also advance you professionally, as well as socially. And those two things matter. You can be excellent, but if you don't have social capital, you will not advance.
And so I don't want to underplay some of the social things. But it's important to be aware that there are a lot of mediocre people who get promoted because people like them. And it's really annoying, especially if you're better at the job than they were. So it's important to also, I think, as you think about your leadership, and I think, for me, too, I still think about that, well, what’s the work, but what's also the social work? Who should I be talking to who needs to know that I exist so that I can get some runway for the next professional opportunity? Because there are people in decision-making roles who may not even know that I'm in my job right now. And I should be doing that proactive outreach to them. So I think that that's just as critical, especially as you're playing the long game and thinking about where you want to be. And if you want to be an executive director, or a boss running an organization, your skillset, and all of that is as important as your social capital, within the spaces that you're operating in, and you have to run both. This can be more difficult if you're an introvert than an extrovert because it might mean extra work, to do the networking and put yourself out there, send emails to people you don't know. And that can be very energy-consuming. But it's work that everyone needs to do, I think, especially in the DC area. It's considered part of the process. Other countries, other states have different cultures. So I just want to acknowledge that I'm very much speaking from a DC-centric culture. And that there are other cultures that are different, and you have to figure out which culture you're operating in. But that's the one that that I've been in and experienced. I think there's anything else. Rashida, you go. That's all I have to say.
PETERSEN: No, I think you've covered it really well, Macani. I knew of Macani even before we met because of her being kind of a leader, and also a very senior Black woman in the agriculture space when she was at TechnoServe. So I think that there's also how people perceive you and how you present yourself to your peers and colleagues around you. And so, I think that that's the one thing that I would add. I think that Macani, you've done a great job on that. I'm sure a lot of other people, I see a lot of my peeps in the in the crowd. I think it's also how people speak about you and how people view you outside of just your management structure, and do they view you as a leader in your field, and I think that that's important to that social capital piece. Thanks so much.
ENG: It looks like we're just about out of time. I think our speakers’ experiences and advice will be quite valuable to our young audience as they navigate their own professional environments. Thank you again to everyone who joined today's virtual meeting. Thanks to our panelists and thanks to CFR for hosting.
ASHOOH: Thank you so much. Welcome, everybody to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting Conference on Diversity in International Affairs concurrent session on building your brand. I'm Jessica Ashooh and I'll be presiding over today's discussion. We're joined today by two fascinating women. Hagar Chemali is founder and CEO of Greenwich Media Strategies, which she founded after a twelve-year career in the U.S. government that included stints in the White House National Security Council, the U.S. delegation to the UN, and the Department of the Treasury. Latoya Peterson is cofounder and chief experience officer at Glow Up Games. A storytelling technologist, she's also the founder and editor of racialicious.com, a Technorati top 5000 blog. She's also worked in numerous traditional media roles, including at ESPN fusion and Al Jazeera English. Warm welcome to both of you.
Now we've got a relatively younger audience today, including many who are just starting out in the workforce or earlier in their careers and they're facing the notion of having to brand themselves for the first time. Hagar, I'll direct this one to you first, and then turn to you, Latoya. How do you go about starting a new personal brand? This is something that you've done recently with your transition from government, and could you speak to what are the key questions you need to ask yourself at the beginning of this endeavor?
CHEMALI: Sure, thank you. Thank you, Jessica, and it's great to be on this panel with Latoya, and I'm a huge fan of the Council on Foreign Relations and I'm just so happy to be here. This is a great question, because building a personal brand is very different than building a business brand, right? But both actually come with similar questions, which is ultimately identifying and answering who it is you are, what are you authentic to, and what is it that you want to achieve? And so I'll give you an example. When I left the U.S. government after twelve years—and that's all I knew, I left grad school, I went straight to the U.S. government, I was there for twelve years working in national security positions and public affairs positions—and I left, I had specific goals in mind. And that's really more career related, obviously. I had specific goals. I knew I wanted to do foreign policy commentary on the major networks and I knew I wanted to continue in my field, which was national security, public affairs, and so on.
So okay, identifying that was great but I what I needed to actually answer was, who am I? Who am I now? And what do I want to project to everybody else? And the things I wanted everybody to know, I wanted them to know that I was a foreign policy expert, I wanted people to understand that I had a unique voice, and that that voice was informed by not only my twelve years in government and the professional experience I had, but also my personal background as an American of Lebanese descent. So I wanted to make sure to carry that through and I wanted to make sure that in my business that I launched at that time, that the clients I wanted to help had a specific story to tell in the fields that I was an expert in, but that these were stories that were worth covering that weren't getting shared, so clients that I could be proud to work with and so on is what I mean.
My point is, I had to sit and try and ask myself, in order for me to position myself from somebody who was fighting for a mission and fighting for a cause, how do I transition myself to the private sector, where I'm not really that typical private sector run for the money type of gal? I still wanted to make sure I had a certain mission, but what was that mission? So I had to ask myself that question. And over time, I have found I that evolved, right, it doesn't mean that when you figure that out that you had to stick to it. I've done career switches since I launched a world news show a year ago, and that really required me to ask a lot of questions about, really about my personal brand and about the brand of my show, which was, who am I? And what do I want to give to the world? And what do I want people to understand from me?
ASHOOH: Thank you so much. Latoya, you have been building a brand in a very different space from Hagar. What's been your experience in that and what might be important for young people to know who maybe want to get more into the technology side of things?
PETERSON: Yeah, absolutely. So at this point, my career I've built a brand twice. So the first time I was more a journalist and policy expert and did a lot of stuff on race and gender in particular and how things work globally, and that was a very different world. Twitter was new when I got off that platform like these are new things. WordPress was new when we were doing blogging. So yeah, he's a top Technorati blogger, I don't think I've talked about Technorati in 10 years, I forgot that that was the thing that we used to look look at. But it's been ages and ages. And so back then it was all about if you were a person [inaudible], if you were a news professional, media professional, if you're doing foreign policy, the main platform was Twitter. You could have presence other places like Facebook and things like that but the main platforms will be Twitter, and a lot of it was around you as a curator, can I be the go to person when someone's looking for a good take on the news of the day? A smart opinion?
What goes on, and is filtering out all these different things. And so I built that brand then I kind of pivoted for a while sorting things out, started a game studio, very different world, and then had to rebrand, right, because suddenly it's like, oh, okay, well, yes, I still do these other things, too and I still care a lot about [inaudible] and I still talk a lot about foreign policy, especially in the game space, but there's all this disinformation running around and like people were recruiting and it's just it's a lot going on. So what we ended up doing was going okay, well, we need to rebrand for this space. But the world has both changed, right? Everything's a lot more visual now. So I came up in the time of blogs, Twitter, and things like that, and I think the foreign policy world is still more printed word focused and then also major broadcast focused and like, how do I get on [inaudible], how do I get on ABCs? The week? How do I get on 60 minutes, those types of places? Whereas now, in gaming, it's all about are you on Twitch? Are you on TikTok? Do you stream?
Everything is extremely video focused in a way that I never had to think about before and the attitude that you approach as someone on social media is very different. So even in the beginning of my time, it still seemed a little bit weird to kind of self disclose all the time, about your own personal stuff, it was very easy to maintain a separate professional brand. And now what you see is this definite push people want to get to know you and they want to see all the different sides of you, TikTok in particular is this whole other space of everybody's got their lace front off and you can just be whoever you are, and just prop up your TikTok and start getting this huge following and start working with big brands. It's a very different world. And it's a really tricky world, particularly for those of us who are in public service and for those of us who work on platforms. Like the things that you say and post on social media really do come back to bite you and come back to haunt you in many different ways. We're seeing Chrissy Teigan get dragged right now for stuff she said ten years ago, right, and so there's no one that's immune to this.
And so I think it's a lot tougher road to walk now because one, the level of visual literacy is so much higher, people are so much more curated, there's so much more branding that you have to do. Whereas before I was sitting behind [inaudible], whatever, and it's fine and now people expect you to almost have like a graphics package for yourself of what your brand looks like? What your Instagram grid looks like, making sure you're on all the different social channels. So it's very stressful. And then also when you deal with sensitive information and sensitive behaviors, being sure that what you're doing on social media is not, one, jeopardizing the future career prospects, the big one, and then two, jeopardizing your personal safety. I spent a lot of my career fighting white supremacy and online white supremacists, and so in gaming, we had GamerGate, there's [inaudible], and there's a lot that goes on around how people find you.
Good friends of mine, including Melissa Chan is also a term member here at CFR, she's been stalked by the Chinese government. There's a lot of stuff in terms of digital surveillance that everything you do on social media feeds into that bread crumb of information that people are gathering about you. So it's definitely something that you want to pursue, and you want to be authentic, you want to be yourself, but also, always keep in mind the goal that you have of how you're engaging and realizing that you are the only person that sets the terms of how you want to engage on social media. There's a bunch of recommendations, but you have to do with you feel comfortable with because you're the person that lives with all the consequences.
ASHOOH: Thanks, that really great, and I want to kind of pick up on that thread, because I think, as you mentioned, the wall between the personal brand and the professional brand is in many ways breaking down and I think a lot of more privacy oriented people might be uncomfortable with that. How do you navigate needing to have a presence and own your presence for career purposes, while avoiding kind of some of those more privacy oriented pitfalls, or avoiding putting so much of yourself out there that, as you said, it comes back to bite you later when kind of social contexts have moved on and things aren't appropriate anymore?
PETERSON: Yeah, I mean, a lot of it is just, you know, figuring out what you want, at any given time, right? If your biggest thing is that I want to be a brand, regardless of—my brand is me, it's whatever I'm going to do. You're also going to accept the consequences that not everyone's going to really like my brand, that I might lose opportunities, because it's more important for me to speak up. You're seeing this right now with the Israel Palestine conflict, as soon as anyone speaks up there are immediate repercussions of what's happening, and you just choose to accept those things. So I think that's just part of what you're understanding, what you're stepping into. And you're also just thinking about again, am I doing something for clout? Or am I doing something because it's advancing my strategy of who I want to be online. But a lot of it is about that internal kind of self check in.
So even with me, there's a very popular way to do game streaming and again, I'm not knocking the folks who view it this way, where it's definitely all about making sure that your makeup is perfect, make sure your outfits are perfect, running your stream, teasing your followers, being very cute, things like that. I'm a business owner, I do business, I run a company. There's not much information out there about that. That is my brand online and that is the brand that we're now focusing and working on building now that our first game is going to launch and things like that, really coming forward and being like, oh, no, there's other ways to be a woman in this space besides eye candy. If you want to be eye candy, that's fine, too, it just depends on what the space is. Women in STEM, we always kind of go back and forth about this, in a lot of ways, because there's this idea of what will women in STEM looks like and particularly for both me and my partner, we don't fit the paradigm of when somebody is like, oh, these are girls who build video games, or these are, you know, women who work in artificial intelligence, things like that.
We don't fit the look that anyone thinks and that is now a part of our brand that, yeah, you can wear cute clothes and have fun with your outfits, or I can dress like a professional and be—(laughs)—your head and not, I don't have to wear gamer tshirts and hoodies [inaudible] all of these things have become parts of the things that we're thinking about in terms of what we put for personal brand. But you know, I'm also a mother, I'm also a parent. Those are things I don't talk about as much. Even back in the blog days, when this was very popular, I never talked about my personal relationships, my relationship with my husband online. You set your boundaries and so things that become popular, you can see people just kind of like being as self disclosing as they want to be, you have to think about for the career and path that you want and the opportunities you want in the future, how do you want to present yourself?
ASHOOH: Great. We've talked a lot thus far about social media but both of you have worked in traditional media and that still very much in the mix. So Hagar, could you speak to how you think about using traditional media, publishing op eds, publishing longer pieces, appearing on—making television appearances? How do those fit into a branding strategy and how are you strategic about thinking about the mix between social and traditional?
CHEMALI: Sure. Latoya actually touched a little bit on this at the beginning. And by the way, everything she said, it's like she's speaking to my soul because all of the things she said are things that I have learned along the way in launching my own show, which is video based and it also sums up the path that I took. So when I left government, and toward the end of my government career, I was watching—cable news was everything—and, by the way, that was not the case for the rest of the world. That was the case just for Washington, DC, which is a very tiny microcosm, but when you're there, it doesn't feel like that. So when I was in DC, whomever was on Andrea Mitchell's show that day was like, it was the most important thing and I watched all these hosts and knowing my own love of talking foreign policy and how I talk about it, and I talk about it in a very colloquial and I try to make it funny, way I kept telling myself, I really would love to host a show, I could be good at it I know, I could, I think people would like it, and so on.
So it was something I had identified early on and when I left government a lot of people advised me in order for me to get from point A to point B, if point B was hosting a show that I should try and pitch myself as commentator as Latoya said, as the go to expert on certain issues and I was able to do that. So after a while of working it and making friends with the producers, doing some TV hits, I became the go to person for sanctions in particular and Middle East, for some time for some channels and shows it was just on foreign policy in general. And I thought I was living the dream, like I'm getting all gussied up and going into the city and you know, it's lights and camera and makeup and I just I loved and relished every minute of it. And it was for me at least two years ago, where a mentor of mine, Gretchen Carlson, I'm sure you all know her, she's the one who was with Fox News who sued Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, and she's a friend and mentor and she sat me down and she was like, listen, you are doing all this effort to give these networks these huge networks all this commentating and you're not getting paid for it, which, by the way, those jobs are not paid gigs, very rarely are they paid.
And, by the way, they are even less so paid for a woman, a woman of color, especially in foreign policy, it is painful to watch how few women and women of color are asked to be commentators or paid contributors on these networks. And so something to say she's telling me you're not getting paid and this has to stop. It's not helping you. It's not helping you advance your career, what is it you want to do, and let's help you get there. And I told her, I was like at the end of the day I want to host a show, and I know that sounds crazy because that's not my background but that's really what I want to do. She was like so just go do it. Like, who cares about the major networks, those are not the center of the world anymore, and having worked in when I left government, and I started working on the outside and advising clients on the outside, that was very obvious to me.
The example that I always give to people is the most watched show at the time, and it's still highly ranked, I don't know if it's the most watched show anymore, but Rachel Maddow Show, on a good night, is 900,000 viewers. And you hear the cable networks constantly saying oh, you know, increase this quarter and we're the most watched and blah, blah, blah, and I see Latoya nodding her head. For the same network, Savannah Sellers who had a show on Snapchat, as of a year ago because I haven't checked in a year, was 13 million subscribers and the downloads were four to five million downloads per show. So the comparison is there is no comparison, and in my view it's a matter of time before the advertisers catch on—and I think they already catching on—that they don't need to be paying as much as they pay for TV ads when they could pay way less for digital marketing to squeeze into these shows on the social media platforms of which there are many, and YouTube of course, for way less and achieve a much broader reach and a much larger audience.
So I factored that in when I was pursuing my own show, but it is also something that I advise clients all the time because I tell them, you know what, they feel that getting that hit on CNN is the biggest and best thing but I can tell you from my own experience that if I do a hit on CNN or MSNBC or Cheddar or any of them, and I enjoy doing it, obviously, I'll get like a few people who tweet at me maybe one or two subscribers to my YouTube channel, which is called "Oh my World," by the way, for any of you who want to go look at it, but it's when I get real people who follow it's when I post an Instagram reel that goes viral. That's what gets me the subscribers. If I post a TikTok video, and I'm a big fan of TikTok, I know I shouldn't say that as a national security—
PETERSON: —I love TikTok, but there's a lot. There's so there's a TikTok for everybody.
CHEMALI: I'm a big fan. The majority of Gen Z gets their news on TikTok and when I first saw that in an article on this a year ago, I was like, how could that be? That's 15 seconds, 60 seconds. Okay, well, I'm doing it now. Like, it's an when—those those videos will again, get me more followers. But the cable news networks to tell you the truth, they just ended up—they feel like a lot of pomp and circumstance. They are important for a brand but they really are only part and parcel. Op eds can take you farther, I would say an op ed is better in terms of taking your brand and getting noticed noticed and getting activity on Twitter like people to engage with you, I would say that, because they live a bit longe and people just feel more empowered to engage with the author. And so those can be really helpful but I tell people that social media is here to stay, first of all, and it is ever changing. I mean, every six months, there's something new, there's something new to learn, something new to get used to and jump on, so that you're not behind. And I think that that trend is only going to grow further and that digital marketing will be really where the center is. And I have to be honest with you—and last point because I know I've spoken for a while—but every day, I am grateful that I launched my brand because I am transitioning myself from my consulting business to doing my brand full time and I'm grateful for it because I actually think people like me who worked in getting people coverage in traditional media, I think that that's going to be in less demand aand that people who have digital marketing experience and social media savvy that that's the most in demand and for obvious reasons.
PETERSON: Yeah, you brought in so much knowledge. I would love to just quickly touch on a couple of the points that you made, just because I saw some questions that popped up in the chat around cash and cash flow and how all this stuff actually like manages out and I'm like, oh, that's important to actually know, I wish somebody told me at the beginning of our career what that is. So with one on those unpaid spots for you to be an expert, absolutely, and they're unpaid, frequently to, again, women of color and people of color. Whereas white men will get paid and so, frequently, that is their compensation associated with this, sometimes it's as little as 100 bucks. But some people, like I used to do NPR, I did all these other places radio hits, and you would just find consistently the people who asked, we're always getting paid. And so we could all be on the same section and two people were unpaid, and two people were like, "oh, no, I normally have $500 rate to be coming on and doing this 20 minute hit," and they would get a check.
So just being careful about what you need to ask—and you always need to ask what's going on. It gets more interesting to become a personal brand on social media, because of the way that advertisers certainly look at campaigns. So when I worked at Nu Skin, I tried to hire a bunch of people from Vine, which was a hot network at the time pre-TikTok blowing up, hired a bunch of people from Vine and I talked to these young Viners and they were like, "my rate starts at $20,000 for a campaign," and I was like, "oh, our day rate is seven hundred." Like, we have a disconnect here. Now, half of them do not have careers anymore. The other half didn't make it. But it's a very difficult thing to parse. And then second, like the traditional media route is really helpful for establishing your credibility in certain spaces. So if you think about what space you want to be in, if you're talking to other youth or you're trying to figure out what's going on, like a lot of the stuff that was happening to the Rohingya was playing out on WhatsApp.
If you are not there, if you're not paying attention to what's going on there, you are not going to be credible, you're not in that space. As opposed to, you know, a lot of times [inaudible] you would go and you would look at a traditional news broadcast and it would be seven older white guys talking about China who haven't worked in the last 25 years and have no idea how the country functions anymore, but those guys are also getting paid. Quite a few of my friends, so like Wadjha Ali who wass the host of the show that I produced [inaudible], Maria Teresa Kumar of Voto Latino, let me think—Joshua Johnson, he used to host One A, all of them have parlayed all of those freebies and commentaries into these paid gigs that at their top, or their peak, are like a quarter million, $300,000 exclusive contracts and they can be something that you can grow into.
But it's not a path—tt's a shrinking path, I should say, because again, as Hagar was mentioning, the influence of mainstream media is really waning. And media in general, has been in the state of contraction for the last 10 years. It's one of the reasons why a lot of us have broken out and gone other places just because there's not the opportunities to be there. At the same time, like especially if you mean gaming, you start realizing that people who are getting clout and influence and making hundreds of millions of dollars off their YouTube channels, or their Twitch channels, their streams, were frequently like these radicalized, horrific or horrificly racist, and there were no answers on this side because most of us who were in policy, aren't engaging on those platforms. We're on Twitter. We are not doing four hour long Twitch streams about anything that comes to our minds around all these things. And so when you get something like we just had another video games competition about Six Days in Fallujah, which is a game that was around, again, the bloodiest conflict of the Iraq War. There are almost no scholars talking about this.
There's a whole bunch people in games, and they're like, "well we interviewed 20 Iraqis and we're putting them in the interstitials between the like tactical shooter part, should be great. No problem." And so, there's a lot of work that could be done. I was like, let me just make some phone calls and make this Twitch stream because this cannot stand. But it really starts to focus on where do you want to focus your work. In the beginning, I was fighting online misinformation around race, in particular racism and the alt right, which we now call them the alt right but before it was just white supremacy, and now with the ways in which they started to migrate and equally target people in these different regions, what we saw with the fifty named different Corporation, aka ISO, like all of these different folks having their own media brand, part like they were vice, like thinking about the ways in which the national security realm and the global security realm has changed, and making sure that we're also adapting.
So yes, if you want a book deal, you need to be writing an op ed, if you want to make sure that the Washington chatter class knows who you are, then you're on Meet the Press and you're on NPR, you're doing those things. And if you're in the trenches, trying to fight and figure out what people are, you are where they are, you are on the social media platforms that they're using. You are figuring out where they're getting the information from that is where you have your base.
ASHOOH: Great. It's about time to turn to audience questions, and there are a lot of rich ones just in the chat. So, Sara, operator, could I please ask you to remind the participants how to ask their questions?
STAFF: (Gives queuing instructions)
We will take the first question from Ethan Rab.
Q: Hello, thank you for having me. My name is Ethan Rab, I'm a junior at Carnegie Mellon University, pursuing majors in Policy Management and Master's in Public Policy Management. Thank you for having me. I wrote my question in the chat before and I said, Do you often face misinformation and/or disinformation regarding your brand personally? How do you actively combat it? Or do you even go out of your way to combat it at all?
ASHOOH: Great one. Do you feed the trolls? Tell us.
PETERSON: I don't even know if you can say that anymore honestly, because everybody's a troll. There's incentives. There's a whole bunch of money in being a troll. What is Fox News at this point, but a bunch of trolling? Let's just be real. (Laughs.) Okay. So I was like, wow, I guess we're not worried about journalism no more. (Laughs.) You have to be concerned about—good luck, Dominion voting systems. Anyway. So it's a how do you face it regarding your brand, it's probably going to happen. Other countries have stricter laws around this. So like, South Korea has a lot of cyber stalking laws and things that you can't say, Responsible Medicine type laws, and so folks who do eSports, which is part of an offshoot of gaming where I tend to look at people who do eSports, if you're in South Korea and you're being harassed like that, there's actually more avenues for restitution than you'll find the United States—the United States is like, pfft, they don't care. This is the wild, wild west, you call FBI cybercrime, which we've had to do a few times about stalking and things like that and they're just like it didn't happen yet so like, you know, call us back if it kills you, I guess.
That is what you get. So a lot of this is really, one, figuring out who's worth engaging with, because a lot of people again they're making their reputation on being a jerk. Again, if you look at a lot of the media personalities that are working now, they're making their reputation on being competitive and on provoking. They don't care about truth. They don't care about getting to a solution. They don't care about justice, they don't care about facts, information, or the corporate state, they only care about their own personal brands, sort of the toxic part of this that has taken over and as a result, engaging with those people I find is almost like more harm than good. Because you're legitimizing them by saying, "Okay, I'm going to fight with you about this." Obviously, untrue things are said about me and again, it happens to everyone across the spectrum, it just is What you can do to combat is, one, making sure that you are in control of your own online reputation and self.
And there's places you can pay, which is, you know, when you get bigger and bigger, but let's say it's just like a small smear campaign or something, making sure people can see clearly from you, your body of work, how it was presented, what happened so that when it comes down to "Oh, they said this, oh hold on, wait, the tweet is still up." I said this, you doctored that you can't—don't come and meet with this stuff. So there's a lot that I guess you learn, one, to have a very thick skin especially if you were on the internet in early days, like you just, there's people are gonna say a lot of stuff, who want to say stuff about just how your eyebrows look, how your face looks that day. What they feel like you should look like to be in a certain space. Don't worry about that stuff, making sure the records are clear on the stuff that you care about, and making sure that you have the documentation. I at this point have a fifteen plus year online reputation, you're going to go through some archives if you're trying to dig up some dirt on me, and you probably won't find much because I was thinking about these things the whole time. What am I doing? My brain is antiracist, dealing with my brain and now they're moving to the [inaudible].
I don't use social media as the place where I like to pop off, which a lot of people like to do. That's the thing that tends to get you the most trouble. Much better to just kind of be like, you know what, my lane is here. This is what I want to talk about. This is what I want to hold accountable. That's what I'm doing. And as long as you're consistent with that, public opinion tides will change. I mean, like, look at Monica Lewinsky's come up, okay. I remember that first trial, I was in middle school. They were dragging that woman through the mud and she has been able to reinvent herself. She's not the villain no more. (Laughs.) Everything changed in twenty years, and you see this over—I'm looking forward to the Mike Tyson documentary because I wanna see what they do, what is this brand now? (Laughs.) What happens? So things will change and a lot of times, it's better to take just a meditative breath when stuff is happening, because it's probably going to pass. And if it doesn't pass, if it's something that you can't get over, it's probably a good indication that there was something that was too unresolved in the way you were presenting yourself online, that allowed that vulnerability to be exploited. So I would think about it in terms of metrics. What are the vulnerabilities I need to make sure are controlled? What are things that could possibly come out? And then again, knowing that public opinion will change over time. Don't sweat it.
CHEMALI: I love how Latoya broke it down because this is exactly my experience. And when I was in government as a spokesperson, it was very different because we were pummeled with articles that were wrong, and still the training that we were given was, "Don't legitimize that with a response, because it's so outrageous that it doesn't deserve a response, and it's going to die down." And that is the case for a lot of them, but then there are moments where as Latoya said it ended up—I remember when I was a Treasury spokesperson, in particular, because of sanctions and the misinformation around sanctions. That was the thing that I remember I kept thinking, I was like, no, it means that we're not communicating this properly for people to think this. It means that we're not out there enough.
And so we have to pick and choose and be very smart about like, okay, you know, what, this person we're gonna come out and say, you know what, they came out with this and we're gonna explain this, and then for these others, they're basically like trolls and we're not going to waste our time. For social media, you can't almost in this day and age, you can't have a public social media presence and not receive trolls, some kind of harassment, direct messages as well that are really inappropriate, a wide range of things. So I, as a rule, I never respond, ever, to haters and my categories, if I can dump them into categories, if people will do a one off like, you know, "hey, Miss Piggy, you know, whatever," Okay, you ignore. If they come off with like—like I did a breakdown on Israel and Gaza, I actually really didn't want to do the breakdown on Israel Gaza, for the reasons that Latoya talked about before (Laughs) because you literally cannot talk about that topic.—
PETERSON: No. No.
CHEMALI: —People are throwing tomatoes at you. And I made a joke about it on my show. I literally said, I was like, people will throw tomatoes at you and then I had a scene where people were throwing tomatoes at me. And because it's just such a wildly controversial topic now, but I had no choice I work in world news, it would be crazy if I didn't address it. Okay, so some dude called me a Zionist islamophobe because of what he heard and I'm sitting there reading this being like, no one has been louder against the genocide, against the Uighers but me, like how can you call me this? (Laughs.) But it wasn't worth it because, you know, you think in your mind like this cool response that you're going to have. And you can at most draft it and then delete it. Those comments are not worth responding to ever. If I get direct messages that are inappropriate, which happens a lot unfortunately as a woman, it says my internet connection is unstable. I hope you can—oh my God, my son is here.—
PETERSON: —We're all going through the same thing. (Laughs.) Hey, are you are good.
CHEMALI: —He's like on Zoom. (Laughs.) So this is Benjamin.—So, if I get inappropriate messages in my direct messages, again, I ignore it. When I start getting—if I get like a real troll that's harassing where they start just spewing racist vitriol or, you know, and it's repeated, and it's in every—it's like, on my Twitter and it's multiple posts, then I block them because then I worry that I just don't want them to see me. I don't want them to get fired up about me. Or, if if people start, like people will disagree with my opinion, totally fair. But if it gets ugly, like really ugly, and people will start—it just turns into an awkward conversation, then I mute it, because I'm like, okay, I don't want to block you, you're entitled to your opinion, but like, you're kind of upsetting me and distracting me so I'm just going to mute you. So I've been fortunate—knock on wood—that I have not had to deal with anything worse than that because I too have heard that, like the FBI and the police are really pretty much not helpful, and I hope that the U.S. figures that out because that's pretty concerning. But the bottom line, as Latoya said, is you really should never respond to a hater. Haters gonna hate. It's just part of the game. And what I tell people is this, when the haters come out it means you're doing something right. It means that you're fighting for something that you believe in, that's true to your authenticity, that's authentic to your brand and yourself and it will harm you if you respond because that's what the hater wants. They want you to respond. You not responding irks them and then they move on. It's better that way. But then move on. You don't want them in your hair.
ASHOOH: Great. Operator next question, please.
STAFF: Alright, we will take the next question from Sarah Hunady.
Q: Thank you. Hi, my name is Sarah Hunady, I am from Syria and I'm also half Lebanese, but you know, from my mom's side, so—
CHEMALI: Me too!
Q: —[inaudible] give us citizenship! (Laughs.) But, yeah, I am a former refugee and currently a political asylee here in the U.S. I'm a writer and communications professional, and I'm here on affiliation with the Syria campaign. I wanted to ask about well, branding can be a bit confusing, but when you have a cause that you're fighting for, things get easier. But what about the logistics? It's really hard sometimes to do everything on your own and, for example, like I know Hajar did her own show, but how can you be like the camera man, the scriptwriter, the person in front of the camera and everything? So I really just want to understand a little bit of logistics behind the scenes and yeah, any tips on practical steps that one can take. Thank you.
CHEMALI: Sure, okay, so I'll start first, if you don't mind. This is such a good question because I am not, I was not, an expert at all in producing or posting a show. In fact, when I had the concept for my show, I was pitching it to a bunch of different platforms and networks and they kind of all said the same thing—and this should be of interest to you—they literally all loved the show, they loved me, and they all said, they were like, you got to grow your following, you don't have a big enough following and they were right and I understood that. A lot of people encouraged me to do it on my own on YouTube because the argument—in fact, my entertainment attorney she only has female clients, she's all about empowering and making sure that we get the best deal possible.
And she told me, she was like, it's not worth wasting your time pitching yourself where people are going to control the content of the IP and they're going to own it, and you're going to be on salary, and you're not going to be happy with it, you go out and do your thing and let them pitch you in two years. And she was right, only nine episodes in is when I had the first request for syndication. So I had to kind of figure it out. So my point is that anybody can do this because I literally knew nothing and it is a total bootstrap operation. The only paid person on my team is my video editor. Otherwise what I did, in case it's helpful to you, I was very fortunate to have the help of my husband. They say that picking your spouse is one of the most important business decisions you can make and that is very true. (Laughs.) So he watched YouTube shows to research the best equipment to buy. If you're interested, Sean Cannell on YouTube, he is great at this. So first, we bought the equipment, which was cheaper than me renting a studio and going to the studio. And it's also great, because then I can use it as often as I want, it's like right here in my house, which as a mom of three kids—you saw one of them—especially during a pandemic, was really great. A lot of times I'm gonna blow my brains out, but you know, hopefully these will return to normal soon. (Laughs.) So we bought the equipment, that's the first and he watched YouTube videos on lighting, on how to operate everything. So that's the first.
The video editor is necessary because that was just not a skill that I was going to learn. I didn't have time to learn it and I just really wanted someone great for this, and to be perfectly honest with you, I hired somebody in Lebanon, this just really young talented kid, and it was great. Now, I'm fortunate to be able to do that because I have family there who can pay him so otherwise it can be a bit difficult. So that is my video editor, and I paid for help for some graphics. So for the graphics of my show, for example, that was like a one time payment to a branding firm and so that was me just investing in it. But, logistically, I taped the show, I write and research the show, I have some interns who are researchers who help me research, I write it, my camera man is my husband again who I want to fire every week.
But you know, that's life. So he's free so he tapes it, I download it on my computer, I send it to the editor, and then after that I tell the editor like, okay, paste in this photograph and here's an article that you should show and hey, can you do sound effects for this? I mean, he's really the guy who kind of makes it into magic. And that's it, he sends it back to me and I'm the one who posts it. I upload it on YouTube. And I again, watched videos on that, on how to work YouTube, how to optimize the search function on YouTube, and things like that. And there you go, and that's it. So if you watch it, it looks like nicely produced—I hope you think it looks nicely produced—but it really is a bootstrap operation that is at the lowest budget I can think of because I'm paying for it out of pocket now.
But I will tell you, as my entertainment attorney told me, it is already paying off because now people want me for paid speaking engagements. I have somebody interested in a paid podcast. Like putting myself out there, really, and on my own where I own IP really did help. Logistically, it can seem daunting, but you can do it and reach out to me, find me on Instagram and reach out to me, I'd be happy to help because it took navigating. But it's not difficult. If I can do it—trust me because I'm not tech savvy—if I can do it, you could do it.
ASHOOH: Latoya, how about you? What type of resources do you have to help you logistically and how did you build to that point when you didn't have resources?
PETERSON: Oh, yeah, Jesus. (Laughs.) I think the biggest thing is being focused. So like everything that Hagar said is true. And, again, don't forget these influencers, the people who are doing this, they have teams of people behind the scenes making everything look good. People hire makeup artists before they're getting paid—at somebody else's fun—so before they're getting paid, they're hiring videographers, hiring makeup artists, they're having photoshoots. One of my homegirls Carmen Sognonvi, who was actually the founder of Racialicious—I was the editor owner, but she's the founder of Racialicious—and her partner, Jen Chau, she is now a luxury lifestyle blogger for kids. So part of her ongoing expenses is that she has two photographers on retainer, just following them around and make sure that the best photos of them doing all kinds of activities as a family are there and that's part of her business expenses, because she's so in her lifestyle. So, like, you did not teach yourself all this other stuff I mean you can hack stuff together, I can definitely DIY, and then like phones have come so far in the tech where you can just replace so many things you used to do in a studio with like a phone setup.
I say this as a person, again, worked with ESPN, where they're like, do you want this $400,000 studio system, and then everybody sees a file. We're all on iPhone now, so I can get these accessories and these things, it's more nimble so we're good to go. It's just starting to change in a very dramatic way. So I think one is you're not going to be everything to everyone on every platform. Give that up. Don't worry about it. Where are the people that you want to talk to? So again, like I said, I'm in gaming, I could be on Twitter, there's people there, but it's not really where a lot of the competitions are happening, it's not really where younger people are. For that I had to go outside to Twitch and I had to get over all of my old person hang ups about like how I look in photos. I came of age before this was like really normal, where you take 25 million pictures of yourself just to post one. So I'm like, okay, I just have to get over it and get on camera and start talking. (Laughs.)
I would say too if you have limited resources, particularly if like your brand, in a lot of ways for a lot of people is their main job, and so they spend a lot of time maintaining themselves, because you are your brand and you spend a lot of time being like this is you need to build it, I need more followers and [inaudible]. There's a lot you do on that. I have a business, and so am I a brand? Kind of. Yeah, I want to make sure I can get a book deal and nobody's like playing me, you 20 years from now they're like, "Well, you know, you don't have 500,000 people on you know, whatever the new network sort of events I show or whatever. You don't have 500,000 followers on [inaudible] to sign this book deal. So just making sure that I have that maintenance going but for the most part I have a business to run, and there's just only so many hours in the day. So one of the reasons why we haven't started all of our official blow up video channels is because I have to go business manage.
So a lot of this is around figuring out for me, I've always been a writer and editor that's always been my heart. People do still read blogs surprisingly, especially if you're writing about topics that don't normally get covered like the business of video games. So it's like okay, so blogging is easy for me and writing is easy for me so I write pieces, I still blog. Short form video is a lot of work but also very rewarding in a lot of ways and it helps to get your message out more quickly. So I've been spending a lot more time on TikTok and playing around with that. I haven't put a lot of stuff public yet, but just building out and looking at do I want to be the person who does trends? Do I just want to have my little channel and keep rolling? And then I always remember, again on TikTok, one of my favorite people is this guy who talks in a monotone who does machine learning tests of makeup brands. (Laughs.) It's just the weirdest, it is absolutely not influencer bait content, but it's super poppin, bro. (Laughs.)
Like, wait, so Maybelline really does work better than this—(Laughs.)—he's using machine learning to detect like your face, this whole thing, but like, you can be yourself on certain types of platforms and other ones maybe don't feel as normal to you and you don't need to keep investing. Honestly, you don't need to do it. Instagram, I'm kind of like I hate it. It's just way too stained. It's way too big. I have a very bare minimal presence on that, just not squatting on my screen name and doing crazy stuff. But for the most part, I leave that alone. And I look at Okay, what am I going to invest in? Invest in Twitch channel, invest in the YouTube channel because it's an archive, invest in writing because, again, how people search is still very much text based. So you look at like, again, how the internet actually works. They're still indexing your text more than anything else. So thinking about what are those things that are important to you and again, who do you want to talk to, and trying to just have fun with it as well. Because the problem is anything that becomes a chore, just like blogging did back in the day, you get to burnout and then you don't want to do it anymore. You go silent. I had five years off basically from actively trying to maintain social media because I was so burnt out from an opinion all the time.
Like I don't want to have an opinion anymore. I'm done having opinions about things, just don't ask me anything. I will just be in the background. (Laughs.) And so now it's like, oh, okay, well, there's a message, there's something else I want to do, let's build toward that, but building it again. I can have fun with this, I'm going to do this, I bought a little TikTokker ring light, because we are all here now where we're going to be and that's what I'm going to hang out with. So, blogs, TikTok for me, video platforms, and then that's where I will stay. Some folks SoundCloud is where they stay, some folks it's imager, some folks are like giving magnates and I have no idea how that even works, but it's whatever you feel like you could express yourself and that you can keep doing for some time to build up the following. So I would just say, look at it as an investment of time and it's an investment against everything else you could be doing in your life, including writing a book, including raising your kids, all this other stuff. So make sure it's something that you want to actually invest in, that you're not just trying to keep up because someone else told you to do so.
ASHOOH: Operator, next question, please.
STAFF: We will take the next question from Tina Singleton.
Q: Hi. So my name is Tina Singleton. I am the director of programs at YWCA greater Charleston and I also am the founder of Transformation Table. I think, Latoya, you kind of already started answering my question. I'm a writer as well and I've been trying to figure out what—because there's so much social media out there—I've been trying to figure out, are blogs still relevant? You know, I have a couple of books in me. So I guess I one of my questions is where do you put this material out there? Like, do I do a blog? Do I just go ahead and write my book? I guess I'm just a little confused about where I should put my put my writing focus?
PETERSON: Yeah, that's a really good question. The shift from textual to visual and the modern Internet has been a really big boon to folks who are more visually oriented and a tougher thing for writers. So before, like, witty tweets, crafted tweets, long blog posts, those kind of took the internet, and now that's changed, but not fully. So some of the like more popular Instagram accounts, and I said I don't do it, but you have people everyone is [inaudible] gets controversial. But yet, a young poet was able to carve out a big space for herself by just taking photos of her poems and putting that journal on Instagram and letting them go viral. Same thing with that person that now has a book "Notes From Your Therapist," and literally, this is just like a therapist just writing out like a little reminder and posting it every single day and having that be the main representation of their work.
On TikTok, you see a lot of things from BookTok, where authors are both illuminating how they write books, but then also like acting out or pretending to be characters from their own work to showcase and get more ideas and more traction around the things that they're writing, particularly romance novelists. So I find that really fascinating. So what I would suggest is finding five or six writers you really look up to, like people that you're just like their work is just fantastic, and see where they are online. Who is finding them? Where are you following them? How is this working? How are we promoting these things? What are their main platforms that they're the most accurate on? And see how that goes. There's all these ways to adapt your favorite platform for the thing that you're trying to do, but I would look at that in terms of just trying to find ideas. Blogs are hard to discover these days. There's not the built in virality the way there used to be, RSS readers are pretty much dead, they're a very difficult thing to try to get to go pop. If not, you're just like your personal media, or substack, or wherever. But, if you can find other unique ways to put parts of your work out, to do stages, to do readings, figure out where is the place that you're communicating the most with people who are the most interested in your work. That's the big spot.
ASHOOH: Right, next question, please operator.
STAFF: We will take the next question from Danielle Obisi Orly.
Q: Hi, my name is Daniela Obisi Orly. I am an undergraduate student, a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh and I study international and area studies, political science, all the jazz. My question was to both the panelists and once you find your niche or your area of expertise, whether it's through research or it's personal experience, my research particularly being the different expressions of xenophobia, depending on your region, how do people of color especially women of color combat the imposter syndrome that they might feel when they inevitably start to develop their brand in a predominantly white or male space and start to establish the truth through their story? Thank you.
PETERSON: Hagar, you want to start with that one? Because I feel—
CHEMALI: Sure! That's a good question and I'll give you some examples. So one of the things I tell people all the time is that you always feel, and by you I mean the general you, women suffer from this the most, where women tend to feel like they're never really the expert in something even if they are or that they have to cross their T's and dot their I's before launching something or before even speaking up and raising their hands. Whereas men generally, as a rule, they tend to be more comfortable winging it, or just kind of faking it till they make it. And this plays out everywhere. This isn't just for a brand. I know I'm over generalizing here, but it happens in business a lot. It happens in fighting for jobs, and in interviews, and it happens—it's just kind of across the board and it's something that women have to be aware of so that they can tackle. And imposter syndrome is not something that's really tied to age because it happens at every age and it happens at every level of experience.
One of the things I learned, I will say, when I was in government, I didn't suffer from it at all and I don't know why. Maybe that's because it was like I was in this bubble and I had a very unique experience in government, in part because of starting out at the Treasury Department, and the Treasury Department tended to be very flat organization. When I got there, it was majority men, men leaders, but they were very empowering and they very much wanted to empower the women there, hire more women, and promote the women into leadership positions. And they were very supportive of that. I really benefited from that, from the male leaders I had there who consistently pushed me to be at the table, consistently pushed me to be at a meeting and to speak up or to present my ideas. And that lives with me. By the way, I think I also benefited I had gone to all girl schools growing up, and I'm sure that played a role in that, but not everybody. I think I'm the exception that way. My point is, so I had this in government, and this was the world I lived in and when I left government is suddenly when I was really surprised. I left Washington—not that Washington is great on that, just the government experience I had—when I went to New York, and I really found that that was really not the case, writ large at all.
I have numerous stories of sometimes I was told this where I would be placed on a panel on television only because they needed a woman, not because they actually thought what I had to say was very interesting. And by the way, it was very obvious because then the anchor would not really call on me in any way. I'd have to really try and find a way to interject and fight to say something. Or there were many times that I would be on air, especially in foreign policy and national security, this is the world that you're entering and so you'll see this and I think this is changing, but nine out of ten times I'm on a panel of older white men, and those older white men think they know better than me. There were so many times when I would let them think that and I would let them manterrupt or I would let them mansplain to me. I'm not trying to hate on them, by the way, because I know there are a lot of men here, but this would happen and I would just kind of sit there kind of stunned especially when you're on air live and what I found I had to do is remind myself that, no, I am the expert.
I'm not trying to sound overconfident here, but you do have to tell yourself that like, no, I studied this, no, I worked in this, no, I spent twelve years doing this, no, I just did this, you haven't done it for thirty years. If you have this in the back of your mind, it's really all about mindset, to give yourself the public confidence you need and certainly internal confidence. But if you don't have the internal confidence in the moment, you at least want to project confidence and remind yourself it is very unlikely that what you have to think and say that someone else has the same. I'm not saying that there aren't other experts out there, but what you have to say has value always at every age and every experience, and you just have to remind yourself to combat that because it is inevitable, you will always face it and I find there really there are ways to do it in a way that isn't combative. Those times that I was manterrupted on air, I think I probably should have been a bit more combative, but, you know, there are ways to say so.
For example, one of the tips that one of my former bosses gave to me that I always tell people is you can always give a little bit of context to prove your credibility. So I'll always say for example, "when I was in the White House, blah blah blah blah blah blah," or, "when I worked in sanctions, blah blah, blah, blah, whatever," or, "as an American of Lebanese descent," so all these people already hear a tiny bit of your resume to understand why what you're saying has credibility, why you're the expert in what you're saying, or why you feel your opinion should be valued. And that helps enormously and I know, for me, when I'm putting a panel on television, or in general, it helps me set myself apart and say, like, wait a minute, I have something to say here that's really important, given my experience, and you can say it with just like a half sentence. But a lot of it is mindset. Don't forget that you have value, that you bring value, and if you sense the imposter syndrome coming, because it will, just try and knock it out. Identify it and be like, "No, no, I can do this. If that person can do this, I can."
ASHOOH: Latoya, anything to add before we move on to the next question?
PETERSON: I mean, all excellent points, Hagar, and I love it because all of your advice is spot on. And he had the exact opposite way of dealing with this. That's what I love. Because there's nothing you said that is wrong. Everything's right. It's just the way they want you to feel that okay. My favorite quote on "This is Jessica Williams." She's doing the Daily Show and she was giving an interview one time, I think it's on The Cut, and she's just like looking down at the camera and she's like, "Yeah, I know, so many brilliant, talented women who just continue to doubt themselves as he goes. And I know so many people who think they're brilliant. And they have no reason to think that and I like that." I was like, "Yes, girl." Because when you work regularly in medium to these high levels, you start realizing that wait a minute, nobody has this figured out. No one has any of this figured out. I walked into a machine learning conference and I'm like, a bachelor's degree. I don't do any better. It's like, wow, I have a Bachelors of a PhD. I have never done but as an academic poster, even why did they take me for this.
And a lot of times what it was I went to the blacks in the workshop at juris in case for anybody who's in science aside, that's a super prestigious continent like Yan Lake, who was doing all this stuff, Facebook around machine learning. So in this space, the videos like all those people go and sit and have a little Kiki and it will take time. And when I come back, a lot of times what happens is you can get very intimidated by looking at everybody else's credentials. Why am I bringing to the table here, or you can realize that if you're in this space, something brought you there. And all you need to do is really just show up. And that'll be fine. So all of these guys who have all of these amazing PhDs and stuff like that doesn't understand how the real world works don't understand how like pattern matching work, stuff like that, which is how they define a space today, I was good at figuring out why these things were happening in the way that they were right. I'm never going to be a top computer scientist.
I don't have the background. It's not going to happen. But the place that I want to make the impact is making sure that your racist bias thing that you built because you have no life experience. And you have never had a sensor fail to read your skin. And you have never had to sit there and explain why a VR headset get stuck in your natural hair. Never had to do those things. Let me tell you how this is actually going to work right? That is more important, because normally all the big problems in society have not been solved yet. Right? They were solved. It was it was solvable to go to LSE or go to Oxford, it would have been solved. It's not that I don't worry about it, ESPN really beat that out of me. Because I would just be surrounded by men and they had no frame of reference for anybody remotely like me, there weren't that many black female managers, there weren't any that were doing technology. I didn't like sports. So that was a whole really weird job to do. And if you don't like sports, I was in video games, it was a mess.
And so when I showed up, they were just like, okay, a lot going on here. We're all just gonna have to make this work, we all showed up, you got a job to do, let's get it done. And I don't really spend a lot of time entertaining or even trying to explain myself to other people anymore. So there used to be a time where it was both like the credibility part where you're like, when I worked, or when I did this, and the benefit, because again, you guys started your career. So it's tough, right? Because you're like, I'm trying to prove myself here like, mistakes, oh, my God, there will come a point, when you are sitting back like, the first you need to impresses me, my friend is not you, you are not the future I am. So you know, go ahead and having a party over there. That's okay. We will be over here. And things will tend to work out, it's very hard, because people will try to tell you in your face, your research isn't worth it, what you're doing isn't worth it. You just don't you don't fit the type, which we know, we know the type was racist, I'm sorry, I'm not.
I'm not a white dude, it's not going to happen for me in that way. You haven't seen somebody like because I was supposed to be here. But surprise. We are all together. And so now, this is your problem. And if you choose to let your bias miss out on what I can offer, my my problem is always other rooms, there's always another way to get to what you want. So it's not a thing I stress about anymore. I say that with the position of privilege of having fought through that part of the career having a lot of expertise. And now again, when I was at ESPN, I was a boss with a budget and money and that beautiful purple card, they give you a Disney, and I had two male employees as in loaners who I've worked with since they were like 24 years old love and most men would routinely come to us and be like, oh, what's going on? And Ozzy would always come back and be like, that's the boss over there. You guys talk to her? I don't know. Let them be embarrassed for their behavior, because it's unacceptable. It's a new world.
You could come, you could not come. We're already seeing the last gasps, but there's old dead races Empire. Hhold on to that as long as you can. Because you don't have anything else beyond that to offer. And then we need to remember what Toni Morrison always said is that racism is a distraction from your real work. So distraction, the whole function is to distract you from what you're supposed to be doing. Those people will always be there, they will always be hating, they will always be backing them from the sideline. Let them be on their way, because it has nothing to do with how people remember your work with EG what is supposed to happen. As long as you are taking those steps, you're gonna be okay.
ASHOOH: Right. And before we move on to the next question, just because we've got a young audience here, many of them will be entering the workforce for the first time. I think it's important to point out a statistic from a famous Hewlett Packard study that demonstrated that men will apply to a job if they meet 60% of the qualifications. Women don't apply unless they meet 100% of the qualifications. So don't take yourself out of the running before someone else does. I think it's really important to just go for things.
PETERSON: There's a flip side to that, though, I'm gonna put that out because that is absolutely true. Women tend to judge ourselves harshly, but it's because we are judged more harshly when we get somewhere. And so that's one of those. I love that phrase, "Oh, don't take yourself out of the running." But then you're sitting there and you're like, no, I am qualified. I could tell you the amount of venture capitalists that have sat and listened to my cofounder with her PhD in VR, AR, and circle technology, and me with my years of career designing go, you guys are so impressive, amazing, we haven't refused this will work, we just kind of don't see the need for this. And then we'll go off in front five white guys who have a screen and no nothing, no degrees, no pre-launch, anything. It's not about that a lot of times, it's a lot about how people perceive you, in a lot of ways. So, yeah, don't take yourself out of the running for any given thing, always just go shoot your shot.
You try to prepare as much as you can but it's much better to give it a shot instead of not trying to take it. But, on the flip side, just remember that some of us are going to be judged more harshly than others. That's why we say we have to be twice as good to go half as far. It's why we feel like we need to show up on point for all these different things. Every time I've been on a panel at CFR I make sure that I'm going to bring something to the table, that I'm not trying to compete with anybody else, especially as I'm bringing my own way to this so that we're not having that conversation. Just figuring those things out because we will be judged differently and we are just different. We see it in funding gaps, in the promotions gap. You see it in what they call the glass cliff where they will hire a riskier hire like a person of color or a woman when everything else has failed, they have let seven other people drop the ball, and then if you don't clean it up, well, it was failing anyway. You have to watch for those kinds of things. So sometimes some of us are going to be held with different standards. Does it suck? Yes. Let it make you better and just move on.
ASHOOH: Next question please, operator.
STAFF: We will take the next question from Caroline Preston.
Q: Hi, thank you both so much for your time. My name is Caroline Preston and I am a senior policy associate at Business Executives for National Security. My question is in more of a personal lens, how do you build or what are some tips that we can use to build an effective elevator elevator pitch or first introduction that effectively complements our personal brand?
CHEMALI: I can start with this because I've done this twice in particular for my own personal—well, elevator pitches are important for anything, like whether it's an interview or even if you're pitching a story to a reporter, whatever it is, an elevator pitch is really important. I remember the process I went through actually to hone in the elevator pitch for my consulting business first and then my show was a real process that I went through. And the way I got to it was really—so okay, I'll give you both and so hopefully it helps. I know CFR has rules against advertising your business, I'm trying to take this for examples. So my business I honed in like, okay, well, what is it I want to do? Who are the clients I'm trying to achieve? What is the work I'm trying to do? I asked myself all these questions and then when I did—an elevator pitch really should be one sentence that summarizes what it is you're doing and who the audience is, or who the intended audience is, so that people can see that and know whatever it is, is for them.
So for my business I said, okay, well, we won't do business because maybe business is not good for for my show. I said, in ten minutes once a week I cover the top world news stories in a fun and easy way, in an approach that explains to an American viewer why this matters. So automatically in one sentence you know exactly what it is I do, how the show should look, and who the audience should be. I actually say young American viewers, it's targeted for Gen Z and young millennials. And getting to that was just a process of figuring out—it took a long time, what I did was not just like, okay, when I refined the concept over and over again, when I got to how long should it be, how do I want to explain these issues, what type of stories am I going to do, but a lot of it was actually thinking about the intended user. When I thought about who is the ideal end user and what's their story? What or who do they look like? What are they working in? Are they working? Are they a student? Where geographically are they based? And starting backwards is when I was able to kind of hone the concept of my show and get that one elevator pitch.
And an elevator pitch is so important in, like I said, in anything, whether you're going into an interview and you're saying I worked in government for twelve years in national security and public affairs positions and that I know that I can handle whatever it is, commentating on China, I mean, whatever it is. Knowing that and preparing that is so important, but the way to get to it is thinking, first, who's receiving this information, and then what is it I'm trying to communicate or achieve and then how can I hone that into one sentence that's fun and exciting. And taglines help too by the way, like that's a piece of advice I got when I launched my show was people were like, what's your tagline? And I was like, I don't know...and that took a while. I came up with a bunch and then I polled all my friends. So my tagline is—and the show's called, "Oh my World," like, oh my god—so it's "Oh my World, your weekly world news quick and dirty." Again, that's not an elevator pitch, but the short sentence is meant for you to understand without reading the description exactly what it is you're getting. It's weekly. It's world news. It's quick and dirty probably assumes that it's not formal, or not snob speak like most of the time foreign policy can be. So yeah, Latoya, what do you think? And by the way, can I just add this is a tangent, Latoya, if you ever think of changing your brand, you should be a motivational speaker.
ASHOOH: I'm sitting here like nodding yes.
PETERSON: (Laughs.) I do this for like burnt out journalists all the time, that's my secret. So people who know they'll call me and be like what's going on out newsroom? I'm like [inaudible] who you are, who pats you back for that? (Laughs.) Anyway, so to Hagar's point, excellent, like taglines are super helpful. I think the two tools that have helped me the most when developing with these brands, one I learned from journalism, and particularly the Women's Media Center, because their goal is to get more women into areas of expertise, essentially, to be on the cable shows, to be writing op eds, and things like that. So these have a program called progressive women's voices that would teach you how to do media training and they really hammered on the messaging triangle. What are the three points no matter where you are, no matter what you're trying to do, that you want someone to take from your message when you're on there?
I still do that when I do interviews like this. What are the three main points that they take if nothing else, if they can't remember anything else that I said, what are the three things I want them to remember? And that's a really helpful exercise you need to tone it down. Because I mean, again you pick a topic, Israel, Palestine, white supremacy, like you could talk for days but you're not going to be able to if you only have a five minute spot. So what are the three things that you want somebody to make sure they get out of that, and that'll help you with the tag line. The flip side in the new career. So we are one of the few games companies that went to the TechStars accelerator, which is a startup accelerator program, which just went along with Y Combinator, and so they make you do your elevator pitch at the beginning of every single meeting for weeks, by the end you can do it in your sleep. I think one time my son was like beating the dog up and I got called on and I was just like running through the house giving my elevator pitch while I'm trying to like pull them apart. (Laughs.)
Just because they make you do it so much and to the point you hate it, you're refining it over and over again to the 32nd version, 62nd version, the 92nd version, the core is always, again, checking in with what is the heart of your message that you need people to know. The more you practice it on people, the more you start realizing where they're asking questions, what makes us different than anybody else. We're like, well, you know, Mitzi and I were both gamers and when we grew up, we never saw stories like ourselves, we never saw faces like ours as protagonists, we wanted a world where everyone can play. That became the genesis for how we talk about Glow Up Games and how we actually frame anything that we're doing in the business.
But it came back from that one personal story of why did we want to do this in the first place? What was the point of founding this company? Right? And why be in this competitive industry that nobody wants to fund you in anyway? So figuring out kind of like that heart, and then looking at it and relentlessly practicing it and then hearing what other people are telling you, because wherever they have questions, and if you keep hearing the same questions over and over again, that helps. We had to add in, hey, we're creative technologists. Why? Because people looked at two women of color and did not assume that we had computer chops, did not assume—Mitzi's the technical cofounder—did not assume that I've been working in AR and VR. They assumed that we did not know what we were doing just two cute girls propping this thing up and there was some white engineer in the back.
We always joke now we have [inaudible] and we always joke a woman's put in the front of you like [inaudible] because we're not dealing with this anymore. (Laughs.) We went through this so many times you realize, okay, creative technologists is the new tagline. Games has to be in the tagline because people are like, well you guys get the early media brand and you do this, you can do that. So when you start hearing that pushback from the people around your message, that is actually really useful feedback on how you need to hone it to have people understand what you [inaudble].
ASHOOH: Great. And I think we'll have to leave it there with the last word as we're at time. I'm sorry we couldn't get to all of the questions. Thank you so much for such a rich discussion. This was really, really valuable. So please, thank you to Hagar and Latoya. Please note that the audio and transcript of today's meeting will be posted on the CFR website. And thank you everybody for joining us.
MARTINEZ: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting here at the Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. This is a concurrent session on pandemics and the new way of working. I'm David Martinez and I'll be presiding over today's discussion. Let me say first of all, it's fantastic to be back here with all of you. And I want to express a particular gratitude for those who may be working from home, as it's particularly pertinent to the topic we're facing today. Half a century ago, science fiction author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke presciently said, "Trying to predict the future is a discouraging, hazardous occupation." It's safe to say that most of us sitting here today probably did not predict the COVID-19 pandemic and, if we're being honest, most of us probably could not have predicted how it would have affected our work so profoundly. And yet, the nature of work has often been deeply impacted by both slower developing processes, think of the Industrial Revolution, and by sudden impactful events such as wars, famines, and, yes, pandemics. Such will be the focus of today's discussion and with such a broad and complex topic, it would be easy to get lost in it. So given today's conference theme, our focus here and now will be on the pandemic's impact on ways of work in the United States, what it means going forward, and, in particular, what it means for younger and diverse professionals working in foreign affairs, much like many joining us today.
We have two fantastic panelists with us that I'd love to introduce to you now. Emerita Torres and Nayyera Haq. You can see their full bios at the end of the program but I wanted to give a brief introduction before I turn it over to them and we dive right in to the conversation. Emerita Torres is a national security and domestic policy expert with over a decade of progressive experience in government and nonprofit sectors. Ms. Torres serves as the vice president of policy, research and advocacy for the Community Service Society of New York, where she is responsible for directing data-driven public policy and research to address the economic inequities facing low-income communities, working in tandem with grassroots coalitions, academics, and government leaders. Previously, Emerita was the director of policy research and programs at the Soufan center, and she spent a decade as a U.S. foreign service officer. She's a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Truman National Security Fellow, and was recognized by New America as a Latin-x national security and foreign policy leader. Nayyera Haq is the chief foreign affairs correspondent for the Black News Channel, and a Sirius XM talk show host, popular television commentator, and an international public affairs consultant. She leads AM and PM drive time talk conversations in response to breaking news, helping listeners around the country understand the political and social currency of the moment. Nayerra previously served as a senior director in the White House and senior advisor at the State Department, advising our nation's top leaders on issues of international security and diplomacy. Nayyera and Emerita, thank you and welcome, we are thrilled to have you with us. I want to jump right in by setting the framework and helping us understand, if you could share from your perspective, what given this pandemic has happened to the nature of work? Who was hit hardest? And what have been your personal experiences of working through this pandemic?
TORRES: Great, thank you. I can start us off. First of all, it's a pleasure to be with CFR, pleasure to be with all of you. And what an important topic to discuss. Thank you, David, for the framing. So what we're seeing now, several forces are happening concurrently and they're converging. We have a pandemic, with incredible health repercussions, we have the economic recession, we have the fight for racial equity across multiple fronts. We have all of that coupled with accelerated automation and digitalization that the pandemic has accelerated. In my role at the Community Service Society of New York, I've had a front row seat in experiencing and watching and attempting to serve. When we see this devastation, the devastation of these forces on communities of color, immigrants, low wage workers, essential workers, women of color, mothers, and families with children. Automation and digitalization, in particular, according to the World Economic Forum is expected to eliminate over eighty-five million jobs in the next five years. So as automation sheds jobs, it's going to create new ones, but the question is really for who? And we've seen, over the course of the pandemic, millions of largely white-collar workers, mainly in the private sector, were able to quickly adapt to the virtual world because they had the resources, the capital, human and physical, to do this. And so I see this trend, you know, certainly continuing, but there's going to be a lot of displacement. There's predictions about close to half of the workforce being displaced because they won't be able to get into some of these technology related jobs and changes. The greatest burdens, as I mentioned, will fall upon those who face the most economic insecurity. Upwards of a hundred million people who won't be able to fully engage in remote work because of the lack of opportunity. And those are, again, face-to-face workers in retail, hospitality, restaurants, those who are our neighbors in our communities, women with children, and the like. And so we're going to see this really uphill battle and uphill climb continue.
And I will say that the U.S. workforce is also rapidly changing and rapidly becoming more diverse. The working age population is expected to become majority people of color by 2040 and those who do not have a college degree, in particular, will become a majority of the workforce by 2030. So what does this all mean? It really means that it's critical that communities of color, and those who lack a college degree, we need to do more so that they're not left out of the future of work that's being created right now. So I'll say that and then quickly, personally, I changed jobs during the pandemic, I've had to step in a leadership role very quickly and understanding the new landscape. I am somewhere, I guess, I've been called the geriatric millennial, if you will, which is a little tough to hear. But I was onboarded virtually. I manage an entire staff that I haven't physically met in person, so that's been really difficult in terms of creating some of the interpersonal relationships that are so crucial in the workplace, I'm living in an one bedroom apartment, I've had to set up all of my own space, as well as taking care of aging parents. So my nine-to-five is already critically difficult to manage but I also have a five-to-nine in caring for my family, setting up doctor's appointments, and the like. One thing I'll say quickly is, one thing that's been a benefit for me in working from home, if you will, remotely, is I was able to step-up in my community, particularly in the Bronx, we've been once the epicenter of the pandemic and I was able to run for office and do some really good work in my community. I'll stop there
MARTINEZ: I think you've got us beat between running for office doing a nine-to-five and five-to-nine. It makes me feel like my own personal challenges are an ant in the mouth of a furnace here. Nayyera, we'd love to hear your thoughts on what's happened, where it's going, and anything you want to share about your experience during this pandemic.
HAQ: I want to pick up on the themes that Emerita just laid out. Particularly as we look at 2040, right the majority minority, and at 2030, which is majority non-college educated. Those of us who have worked in foreign policy often use income inequality and employment gaps and education gaps in the foreign context and look at the stat that 60 percent of the population in Africa is under the age of twenty-five. What are you going to do about this youth boom? We're going to be looking at some of these challenges here in the United States and it just continues this trend of big gaps between the haves and the have-nots. Many opportunities, I think, to apply the lessons that those of us in the foreign policy community have seen elsewhere and start to analyze and understand what the struggles have been here on the home front for many people who've been involved in local domestic movements and find commonality there.
My two things that I experienced, I think, personally, and also in just watching the pandemic as it unfolded. It clearly exacerbated the problems we already have in American culture and society, in our systems, but they just became more stark. There was already an issue of women and women of color serving in leadership positions, and their advancement in the workplace, and the conversation about how women just don't get picked up for these leadership positions. Well, the pandemic had an immediate impact on women in the workplace with one out of four women now having permanently left working. It's largely women, or parents, with kids under the age of ten. It exposed that our care infrastructure has been pieced together on an individual basis and there has not been a systemic answer to that, as there have been in other parts of the developed world. We've heard that term "bandied about" in terms of domestic politics, should it be part of an infrastructure bill or not? These are all ways that people are trying to answer a very real problem that we feel in that the care infrastructure is not reliable.
And I felt that deeply because my husband is a vaccine researcher, so he was full-time, right, this was like his White House tour. That's what he was doing starting February and I was pregnant with a kid at home. Consulting was not something that would work based on those circumstances with schools shutdown and not having any childcare access. So, yes, I was one of those women who had to step out of the workforce for several months. I had to piece together a way to take care of my kids as I pivoted careers. I started as a journalist just this past January, full-time journalism, which is something that I've been hoping to do. So there was a helpful flattening, in that I was now in a pandemic, able to do remote studio work, right? I don't have to be in New York to start this new career. All of my colleagues are in remote studios. I was able to interview with different networks and opportunities because of this digital technology. So the nature of the industry fundamentally changed, it is likely to be a permanent change, I think.
That brings me to the second point of the gaps in healthcare that we've noticed. Emerita talked about who has to go to work and who cannot have the luxury of being able to stay at home. And consistently, it's Black and brown people in service industries, who are heralded as heroes because they're bagging groceries, or continuing the bus driving, and all of that, but right now, in DC, the latest stats show that eight out of ten people who are getting COVID right now are Black people. It is a community that is first to serve, and first to call upon, and the last to be taken care of. How do we change this idea of healthcare inequity, knowing that these were not communities that were able to stop working from home, and those are not communities that had the care infrastructure either. So if it feels bad for one of us, it's even worse for the person who has kids at home and has to go to a different community to be a grocery store clerk. So I think about that very much in this context of how we come out of this, and the lessons that we learn, and how we just do better by everybody in the society.
And so the two things the care infrastructure and the healthcare infrastructure. Now, the benefit, I think we've seen in the healthcare infrastructure is our ability to access telehealth and that's, I think, a permanent change in the healthcare industry as well. It forced healthcare insurance and practices to figure out how do you convert everything to this uncomfortable technology that people didn't want to use but has been a gift? I did not have to drive thirty minutes, find parking, wait, and then do the whole thing come back to go see my OB-GYN. I went in for sonograms, obviously, but every other random visit, I'm taking my blood pressure at home, we're just doing this. It has also allowed people to access mental health care in a much more easily accessible way and you remove these barriers to healthcare, technology can be a benefit. So pluses and minuses. Happy to dig into it more.
MARTINEZ: I think we've got a fantastic number of issues that we can dive into here and I particularly a little bit later want to get into some of the solutions and the advice--what you've seen work, what you've seen be less effective, I mean, in particular for younger professionals. But Nayyera, you said something that really, I thought, was fascinating. Going back to the individual I quoted at the start, Arthur C. Clarke, who was a futurist. In 1964, he predicted people will no longer commute to work by the year 2014, they're just going to communicate and figure it out. He also predicted telemedicine, bioengineering, wireless communications, but included with all his prescient predictions, he thought that by this time we'd also have bioengineered super chimpanzees to be our servants. Which I think most of us would laugh at now but, at that time, people laughed at the idea of a cell phone, they laughed at the idea that somehow we would be divorced, in large part, from being physically collocated with our workspace. So my question for both of you is, I think we all have a good sense that remote work, in some form, in many industries, is probably more of a trend that's here to stay, at least in part. What have we seen during this pandemic, do we think is not here to stay? That's going to go the way of the cubicle or something else that's now viewed as what would have been a permanent fixture in the way we work but is a part of the past?
HAQ: Arthur C. Clarke also predicted in The Sands of Mars that there would be Martians that became our friends, it was a tiny creature called Squid, and if anybody knows what that references, kudos to you, but its old school science fiction. Some of what people have predicted about the nature of work is just the natural extension of how we've already progressed. What I'm hearing in the conversations now as we talk about remote work--you can get rid of leases and those are expensive, and you don't necessarily need to be seeing people, and the productivity didn't change. The way we did work and the challenges we have felt in the home space or elsewhere as we do this work. We have not only had to be the idea of employers thinking like, "Okay, well, now you're home this is easier, you can do more," and we've all met that. Like productivity has only increased but that continues a trend in which productivity is increased, income has not, time off has not, and we are this elder, whatever we are, geriatric millennials, we're the first generation that's not going to outearn or be able to buy a home compared to previous generations that were able to do that. So we are not economically really advancing where we are, we are just working harder to do that. So I do hope that this is an opportunity we all take, as we look at how we work, to build some boundaries. And I know Emerita talked about boundaries prior to this call, but those boundaries of how do you navigate what is work and what is not? At the same time you have the founder of Virgin everything talking about "we need to move to a four day workweek", right? We also work very differently here in the United States than people in Europe do, where there was a culture of holidays, and there's a culture of taking time off. So our relationship to work is very different and is tied up with our mythology in America of raising yourself up by your bootstraps, you can just do it alone. And we're starting to recognize that it's not healthy, it's also not doable, and that there needs to be societal, systemic answers to that.
TORRES: I completely agree with Nayyera and I actually don't have too much to add because I think she covered it so comprehensively. So I have nothing to add to that.
MARTINEZ: Just to double down on something that you mentioned about what executives are saying. In a recent poll, nearly three quarters of executives said they're planning to adopt some form of permanent remote working models and 70 percent of employees surveyed said that being able to work at least part of the week remotely is a top priority for them. So it seems, at least, that the expectations, both for employers and employees, in the U.S. are shifting. And given that uncertainty--I really here I want to dial in on younger professionals, people maybe who are entering the workforce for the first time, are making an early, mid-career shift, or are looking at moving from early to mid-level professionals. I hear a lot of this, at Facebook, in my own company through formal mentorship, through people coming onboard, that things like onboarding, mentorship, team cohesion, sensitive negotiations are much harder for them when they may not have met anyone. They don't have a physical office to go to, they're learning a new industry, or they're learning a new company or entity. So what does this mean for, I think, particularly those in that cohort? If they're coming into a job, if they're going into a new one given this uncertainty, what do they need to be on the lookout for?
TORRES: David this is a great point. I was onboarded, myself, during the pandemic and it was really hard to make connections with people on a personal level. Something that I did was I tried to organize Zooms that were outside of work to get to know people better, but it was still incredibly difficult. I think one thing that is so hard to gauge through Zoom, or any other virtual platform, are things like tone, interpersonal communication, some of the sensitivities, or even things like editing documents. If you're doing track changes in a document and you put a comment in there and someone receives it, the tone could be interpreted as entirely different from what you meant and you can't explain it, you're not in person at the time. So it's really difficult to kind of gauge where people are on that front. And I think interpersonal skills, honing in on some of the softer, intangible skills are harder but they're highly valued. And the cultural understanding that I know a lot of people in this group have because of our diverse backgrounds is going to be critical for tapping into that. Crucial.
HAQ: It's a different type of code-switching that you have to do, right. Like as communicators, in particular, we're very sensitive to delivering a message in a way people need to receive it and how they will hear you and that's very difficult to figure out when you can't just pop into someone's office and be like, "Hey, so what do you think about this?" I find I deeply miss that. And it's also understanding yourself and how you work, I do need the social interaction, I need to be able to spitball and talk with somebody, I absolutely feel Zoom fatigue. So it's knowing your own way of working and figuring that out. I think that makes a big difference when you're jumping from staffer, to mid-career, to leadership because then you are able to structure your work and how you interact with other people accordingly to play to your strengths. And you know, like, "You know what, that's just not a good time for me to schedule this thing" because for whatever reasons may be it's just not going to go well. That's, I think the piece that we don't get trained on when we were younger because we are catering up, we don't really look introspectively, now that we have this opportunity to rethink how and where we work. To really look at, what is it that you need to perform your best and figure out how you can work that. You may be one of the few people who doesn't want to be in a remote work situation, right? Or remote work is a godsend but you just need to make sure you're not working all the time
MARTINEZ: We used to tell my negotiation students when I was a trainer, "Message sent is not always message received," and I think we see that exacerbated during work from home. And as you mentioned, Emerita coediting of documents, using Zoom, overreliance on chat, which I know I do. Something that normally would have been a meeting or a formal email becomes much more informal. Those are what some consider impoverished mediums--nonverbal communication, emotion does not convey well. And so being subject to misinterpretation or misunderstanding, particularly when you don't have a prior in-person experience with your colleagues. I think it makes it much more challenging and because we're forced into these roles, we're forced into these modes of communication, as a measure of necessity because of work from home, I often find we're not reflecting on what that means. We're just doing all the extra chat but we're not having the assessment, nor do I find that institutions are doing a good job of explaining this. "Hi friends, have more patience with your colleagues. Do not over index on something being an offensive or angry comment because somebody added an exclamation mark. We are all trying to work in this together." So I think what you've shared is very helpful because I certainly know I hear this a lot from many people that I work with and even outside of my industry.
I wanted to come back to something that you had addressed earlier Nayyera and that was about how we adjust and what solutions might exist that have the opportunity to be more equitable. Particularly as compared to previous interventions, either from the government or civil society, in adjusting to the workforce. What solutions, what other opportunities are there to be able to help employers and employees adjust in a way that is more equitable, more broad-based, and more inclusive? And I would leave that open, however you define that whether that's geographic, whether that's socio-economic, ethnic, whether it's the differently abled community. This is impacting people across so many areas and, as we know, the impacts for intersectionality when you have an A, B, C, and D, it feels like those groups aren't even being addressed in a systematic way. How do we start that?
HAQ: One of the things I've noticed, particularly as we move to digital communications, for many people it's been a very invasive experience, right? Like, if you can find the blank wall, that's great. I have a job that set this up for me but prior to that I was hiding the fact that there was a playpen sitting next to me because there's a baby in it. But that's the reality and it exposes the socio-economic differences. Anecdotally, there's children in Zoom school who have not shown up for school because they felt too embarrassed, as you do, you know, every junior high kid is awkward, because they don't want people to see what their home life is like. So that blurring of the boundaries between home and professional life, I think is actually problematic because it also then extends to if you're looking to advance or you're a hard driver, you continue to blow through those boundaries. I don't know what the answer is to that, to be honest, because there is that gift of being able to go somewhere else and be a different version of yourself. That for young people and adults can be a gift and necessary for many people's mental health. And I know that's, again, particularly acute for certain communities that are dealing with economic challenges. So I wish I had an answer for that. It's something I would love to hear more about and keep an eye out for. But even as digital tools can be equalizing they also expose the stark differences that we have.
TORRES: Yeah, I agree with that. I think also the invasiveness, I just want to underscore that. Because we're all told at work, "show up as your authentic self," and then you're judged by your background, you're judged by do you have your camera on or not? Why not? Like all of these things that are happening in the background that people don't know about. One thing, for example, with the differently abled, you don't know the level of skill or what's happening when you just see someone show up. I think it's really important that for those who are differently abled, you know, providing the supports that are necessary, technical equipment. Employers needs to be really thinking about what kind of supports they need to be providing for their employees. And even in terms of hiring, there's an evolving, more broadly speaking, evolving towards more skills and less so towards, I would think in this in this new labor market, towards degrees. It's so hard to attain a higher education. Higher education is more expensive. And the education gap is only going to widen as we see the workforce inequities remain unresolved. I think to the point on human infrastructure that Nayyera mentioned, critical. I think employers need to take into account what that means, how to support the human infrastructure that we all need, governments have a role to play, education institutions, community development organizations all have a role to play in this.
HAQ: I do think one of the things from the employer perspective that can be done, Emerita that that you've mentioned, is providing the resources and not assuming any one person has, or even making your hiring decisions based on the resources a person may or may not have. So if the person literally just doesn't have Microsoft Word and can't send a Word document that should not be "okay, I can't hire this person." We don't know what the back end of it is. I'm now in an organization that's effectively building from the start up. It's just, yes, they invested in making sure everyone had the same type of laptop, the same type of communications equipment, and the same standard background that we could all use, even if it was a Zoom backdrop for people who aren't on air, just to make it more equitable in that way. That investment, then if you're going to be going digital, that investment then needs to be done on the tech infrastructure and that becomes a much bigger thing than just, "Oh, is there a person who can help me hack into email?" That needs to be built out as its own understanding of how tech and office culture intersect.
MARTINEZ: As somebody who has tried to shoo my five- and seven-year-old outside of my conference calls more often than not, the image of your playpen at your feet while you are on air really resonates with me, Nayyera. I really wanted to dive into what advice you have. But I am going to hold on that because I imagine we're going to have plenty of great questions given the fantastic insights you've shared with us. And I want to now transition us over to the question period. I'd like to now invite participants to join our conversation with your questions.
STAFF: (Gives queuing instructions.) Our first question is from Nate Rosenblatt.
Q: Hi, everyone. My name is Nate Rosenblatt. I'm a doctoral student at the University of Oxford. I really appreciated your comments about sort of the blurring of work life. And I think one of the experiences of the pandemic, that I think many have also shared, is that it hasn't created as many new problems so much as it's just exacerbated problems that always existed and it's just put a microscope on them. I think this idea of a work-life balance, or maybe the fiction of it, is one of those things that the pandemic has sort of exposed. It's difficult for parents to raise kids, the cost of childcare is astronomical in the United States. And it's also difficult for parents to take care of their parents' who are aging as well, I know, you guys have mentioned this too in your remarks. I would love to hear what you think about what we can do as community activists or just to be politically engaged, to start to turn the tide of what feels like insurmountable barriers to just raising a family and having two working parents in the United States? Thank you.
HAQ: I'll take that one first because we just expanded our family in the pandemic. We already had a four-year-old and then delivered the second one. I had always been, I'm a planner, right, like planner by nature and there was no plan. There's no plan. There was actually technically really no plan for the first one either other than "let's have a baby." Bringing another person into your life whether it's as a one-on-one adult relationship or bringing in a new person who is growing in the world. Listen, learn whatever you can expose yourself to as much as you can with friends and colleagues and their various situations and just know that the common thread is everyone's circumstances are different. I ultimately just had to fly without net. That's it. It was a day-to-day thing and fly without net. Wherever I could find a resource, I grabbed it. The need for those resources changed also on a day-to-day basis. That's the only mental space that I have found that is universal and can help people because everything else is just deeply personal.
In terms of being an ally and supportive of people who are going through these massive life changes. I mean, it's recognizing that these are life events, right? Like this is all part of a cycle--we are all born, we all eventually die. I'm getting very metaphysical here because that's what the pandemic has done to me. I give grace where I can to people in a way I probably never would have when I was at the State Department, to be frank. The intimacy of all of this now has exposed that everybody is genuinely just trying to figure it out and show up every day. If someone's not cut out for the thing, okay, I'm like much more forgiving. I'm like, "Maybe we should find you a thing that works better for you. Let's find you that thing. Let's do this." So that's changed also my hiring mentality also, let's fit people in where they can work best.
TORRES: Great points. If I can just quickly add--Nate, great question, great to see you. I think on the activism front, we need to certainly start sharing our experiences and our stories. There are millions of people who I would think share some level of your experience in terms of the barriers and in terms of working from home with a family. And I think things like workplace benefits, paid family sick leave. What we can do at the city, state, and federal level, to be fighting for the human infrastructure that we need to do our jobs well. I think it's critical. There are bills out there at the federal level, from increasing benefits for unionization, to things like paid family sick leave across the board, and paid family leave. These sorts of workplace protections and benefits that, we know, through the pandemic are absolutely necessary because we've been suffering through it. So I think the more people can write about it, talk about it, advocate to their legislators, the better off we'll be in fighting for some of those wins at the federal, state, and local level
HAQ: Yeah, I would not wait until you have kids in school to start caring about public schools, right? Don't wait to be a parent to actually care about paid leave, because you're not going to solve the problem when you're in it.
MARTINEZ: I would just add to that. I fully endorse what both Nayyera and Emerita said. But I really subscribe to the maxim and I ask my staff and my colleagues to meet people where they're at, not where you want them to be. What does that mean? This pandemic has affected us, as both persons and professionals, profoundly but in often very differentiated ways. Some people wear it on their sleeve, some people do everything they can to hide it, some people don't know what's there until they have a bad meeting or something doesn't go well and then it comes out. And so what I tell people is I say, "First off, get involved and if you can't do it outside of work, do what you can in work." One of the practical ways that I've seen people do it is getting involved in employee resource groups or in helping to onboard new colleagues. If there's an opportunity to do more to make it less frightening, less confusing for somebody joining your organization, do it. Be a hand, offer to meet with them one-on-one. Say I will be totally confidential with whatever you want to share. My job here is not to get you promoted to moving on. It's to help you understand how we do things because otherwise we'd be having this as a one-on-one.
I think, secondly to that is being supportive of people in the way that they want to communicate that. Zoom fatigue, I think, one of the secondary impacts here is that we spend so much time doing this face-to-face in a virtual setting with many other people where we're hyper-conscious about how we look, what we say, what we do, what's in the background, that somebody may need support but they don't want to jump on another call and have this face-to-face confidential. Maybe they just want to text. Maybe they need somebody to just show up at their house and say "hey" one-on-one. Maybe they prefer doing it as a group. Whatever that is, I don't think we can assume people A) know how they want this. So being flexible. I really, really love what Nayyera said about having grace. The way I was brought up in a Catholic family grace has multiple meanings but one of them really is bite your tongue when you feel like reacting or responding to something because you have no idea where this person is coming from, you have no idea what they're going through. And I can tell you having talked with a number of more junior colleagues and mentoring people to have people open up, it is stunning, what people are grappling with while they're trying to be professionals--multiple COVID illnesses, deaths, unemployment, catastrophic changes to socio-economic fabric in their home, in their lives, and their neighborhood. So having that grace and giving people a lot of latitude, I think is more important now than it probably ever was.
STAFF: Great. We actually do not have any questions in the queue right now so if people have questions please feel free to raise your hands and I'll turn it—oh, we've got one from Kali Robinson.
Q: Hi, my name is Kali. I'm from CFR. I know that in some ways, remote work has actually made certain jobs more accessible to people, like disabled people with transportation needs low, income students maybe who want to work as an intern in an expensive city and could never actually go there physically. So how can workplaces when they're trying to get back to this idea of normal or a new normal also make sure they're not leaving out these groups who have actually been benefited by this new way of working?
HAQ: How do we maintain the benefits that we've gotten is what you're saying? Is that--
I'm trying to figure out the difference between that being a structural employer answer and then what, as workers, what we can do and what the two different things are in that answer. That's the look on this face, FYI. Anyone?
TORRES: Well, I think part of it is, again, I think similar to what I said before, is talking about what those benefits are and how they've impacted you. I think from the employee to employer perspective, you know, there's been a lot of talk, especially in my organization, about the return to work. What the return to work is going to look like. We've been doing surveys. We've been trying to get a sense for what the impact has been and getting information from employees on that. And so I think it'll be crucial to engage with your employer, I'm talking at the local level, less so nationally. Engaging and seeing what's worked well, what hasn't worked well, and speaking out, so that that can be part of whatever, I say return to work, whatever that looks like. In terms of when we get back to a new level of normal because I think a lot of organizations--and I've already seen some of them going completely to remote work entirely. Others that are going to a more hybrid model, and then others that are saying, "No, we're going to go full time in person." So I think now is actually a critical time to provide those inputs so that becomes part of whatever plan is going to be moving forward.
HAQ: Picking up on that, and then what at the micro-level to be done. I'm starting also to see chatter and there's a Forbes article or Fortune, one of those business magazines, about how employers are realizing that when people were working for home, they were doing dah, dah, dah, dah, things that were not related to work! Oh my god, panic! it's like, guys, first of all, we all used to do watercooler talk at the office too, like it's a thing. I think the employer mentality, as a manager, hire adults and then treat them like adults. So get the work done that needs to get done. The idea of FaceTime is valuable for actual communication, that interpersonal connections and communication, but FaceTime to just be sitting in a cubicle box that could also be your cubicle box at home is a terrible organizational management strategy and I think will only exacerbate the stresses that people are feeling right now when they've experienced an alternative to doing work. And I have seen and heard different types of managers in organizations in the last year where the ones that suffered most were the ones who really tried to micromanage how employees use their time. Micromanagement is a challenge writ large as a manager and then you add in the remote scenario. That's, I think, a manager skill to be learned is how to be able to understand and appreciate the value of who you've hired and either you trust them to do the job or you don't.
MARTINEZ: We've talked a lot about strategic issues but I want to get more into this kind of micro-tactical. Companies and organizations, as we're seeing from the same chatter from the McKinsey studies and the like, many are trying to lean into this pandemic and work from home as a competitive advantage in terms of recruiting talent. "Hey, come work for us and you no longer have to be in New York or San Francisco. We will let you stay in Duluth, we'll let you stay in Des Moines. Wherever home is for you, stay there and we can do it." And it sounds very alluring and I think we can debate like—
HAQ: Do you remember when it used to be, "Come work for us. We'll give you free lunch and all the snacks you want."
MARTINEZ: I remember that, and I miss those free snacks every day, although my COVID physique probably doesn't. But yes, to the point, we see companies and organizations and C-suites are discussing this. It's literally how do we compete for talent now and how do we use whether it's work from home or reallocating one previous benefit that no longer is so applicable to a new area to bring it in. But I want to flip that a little bit. What advice do we have for young professionals who either may be entering the workforce or in a role that they don't think is a great fit, they want to transition. How do they position themselves to be competitive to organizations that may be fundamentally shifting the way that they do business?
TORRES: I can start with that one, I think, first off, it'll be really important to know the technology to the extent that you can, whatever technology. Understanding the changes in technology, how to access them, how to work with them. The other thing going back to my earlier point around the softer intangible skills. I think they are crucial in this environment. So I think touting those skills, those intangibles, empathy, communication, written and verbal. Like all of those core skills that carry you along in whatever profession that you're in are critical.
And the other thing I think that's important, generally speaking, is if you're changing roles or jobs, is asking the right questions. What is this new virtual workplace going to look like at a particular organization? Is it going to be hybrid? What is it going to look like? How is the employer going to build rapport among the staff? What are some ways that will happen? Because I think also, in some cases, remote work can be isolating if you're working in a team. So how do you build that in an organization? I think those are some of the crucial questions to ask.
STAFF: (Gives queueing instructions.) Our next question will be from Jessica Thomas.
Q: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for this conversation. Hi to my ICAP 2017 Fellow cohort. David, it's really great to be here and to hear all of you. So my question is about work-life balance. Now, you all talked a little bit about issues related to your work-life balance. Emerita, you mentioned, you've been taking care of your aging parents. Nayyera, you talked about having birthed your second child, and, David, you've got two school-age children. So I'm curious, I mean, I don't have any of those going in my life right now, but I did find challenges with transitioning to working from home. I can only imagine it was times a 1000 for each of your experiences. What I'm curious about is in what ways were your workplaces supportive of your very reality going into this virtual environment? And how could or how can your colleagues be more supportive? I'm curious, for myself, how can I be more supportive of some of my colleagues who are going through those very things? And also how can your workplace support? Thanks!
HAQ: Well, I was like Emerita in that I totally changed jobs in the course of this pandemic. I mean, the first thing that people get rid of when they're looking to downsize in economic distressed times is consultants. Like chopping off easy line items. So I was out of work for a while. I was freelancing and that's its own hustle. Freelancing is very difficult when you can't build a personal connection and so it was hard. Again, like I said, it was not at all part of the plan. And now, because of virtual work, I've been able to have this opportunity at a time when previously I might have had to move cities to do this, so that's huge and been a very big gift.
But really the lesson there is, you can try to plan for work-life balance but it's not a day-to-day thing. It is an over the course of time thing, if that makes sense? So the analogy I learned as a parent is don't freak out about one meal for your kid, if over the course of a week they haven't eaten anything that they need to eat then that's the trend. So I have really bad weeks where I see my kids for maybe thirty minutes a day and I mean kids plural. And then I have really great weeks.
Upfront in looking at this, I do think there are certain industries and careers and jobs, where you do have to recognize what the sacrifice and trade-off will be, right? It is there and you figure out as yourself or your unit when you're going to make that trade-off. My trade-off was I had kids later. I did not think I'd have this high-profile, gunning for a job at this point. Like I thought some of that, like my White House days were behind me. But it's an opportunity and we talked very frankly about what it meant and it's hard, but we decided to go for it. So yeah, that's all I can say is that you can think that there's a plan for more support, but it's really the reality of it is very different. I would give yourself some grace and kindness and not necessarily only worry about other employers, I think we're our own hardest critic. The idea of being super-dad, super-mom, and amazing at all things is false. It's over the course of a longer period of time. Like those are how you judge anybody in a workplace anyways, they are longer term metrics, it's not the day-to-day. So give yourself that too, as you explore what it is you're trying to do and how you try to build out your quality of life.
TORRES: Yeah, I agree with all of that. I think as a manager who's come in to this pandemic managing staff, it was really important for me to sit down and—I don't know everyone's managers different or supervisor--but I think it's really important to have a sit down and understanding. And again going back to the point on how invasive it's become working from home and understanding what's your background, what's happening in the background. It's important for supervisors, to an extent, to know what's happening in your background, so that they can assist you and support you, and you can ask for the appropriate accommodations that you need. Whether it's you have to pick up your kid from school at 2:15. I have a staff member who's told me like every day at 2:15. I said, "Okay, I know that now. That's on the books." Like we have mutual expectations where we know certain things are coming up, so I think that's really important.
Also with work-life balance there are certain times that I have personally that are untouchable for people, like my 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. I'm up every morning at 4:30 a.m. because I work out, I write, like there's certain things I do at a certain time that's my time, that no one infringes on that time. I know that's difficult for a lot of people but if there's a way that you can carve out, whether it's in your days or your weeks, some level of boundary, between work and home, and what's your personal time. That's helped me tremendously especially during the pandemic of having sort of this me time people call it self-care, or whatever, but carving out that time for you makes you better at work.
MARTINEZ: I know we have a question, so I'll be brief, but I think this is such a profound question and I'm glad you asked it, Jessica. I loved comic books as a kid. I used to have like Marvel trading cards. I remember the series of cards, like in the early 90s, where it had the superhero or the villain and then on the back, it had all their stats with a bar chart, like strength, stamina, intelligence, all of this. And I feel like working from home during this pandemic has been very much a daily check-in on like, where am I at on these? How's my strength today? How good am I as being a dad? How good am I as a professional? As a manager? And it changes so frequently.
But I think finding those signals, it's important for you, and if you have a partner or key members of your family or friend group who depend on you, ensuring that you're talking with them. It's totally shifted, right? Like it took me overhearing my five-year-old at night in his room saying a prayer saying, "God, please don't let my dad have so much work tomorrow so he can play with me," for me to step back and say, "My balance still isn't right." I am way too deep into focusing on work and what can I do to get that balance back into shape? So that leads to necessarily a conversation with my wife, and figuring out how we trade-off. Going back to my colleagues and my boss and saying, here's what I need. Going to my staff and telling them what I need. And as a manager, I don't think it comes naturally for most people, certainly didn't for me to say, "Hey, I need more time with my children," because I see that fraying and I literally am watching them being sad about not having time because they see me but I'm not really there because I'm in meetings. It's bizarre. How does a five and seven-year-old mind process this?
But again, I think going back to that issue of having grace and being candid in a way. Like Emerita said, as a manager, relying on my staff to the extent that they trust sharing what's going on. I have been able to do more and, I hope, be a better manager to them when they confide in me. "Hey, I've got something going on personally. I can't do this here," or "I'm going to regularly need to have this time blocked out." And I find it hard to give that to them. Because I know what it's like being in that situation. I think if we cannot draw back and if, nothing more, come out of this with greater empathy for what people are going through. Recognize that we never fully know what they're going through. Then we as a community, however you define your community, your friends, your peer group, your socio-economic partners, your ethnic group, your religious, coreligionist, whatever that is. If we can't learn to empathize better and incorporate that, then I think we're going to be at a loss when we're looking to the government or civil society or others to come in with the perfect policy to make this work because it's inevitably going to be an incomplete solution if we're looking for a better balance between our work and our personal lives.
HAQ: I like what you said there about sharing that as a manager because I do, now that I'm thinking about it. I had a manager when I was at the State Department, she ended up being a high-profile ambassador to multiple countries, but she was very frank, she was like, "Okay, this is the time that I got to be. I got to go there. I got to be there for my kids. This is what I'm doing. Here's how I work it." Seeing that, as a younger person, clearly had an impact on me because I'm now that type of manager also, but I recognized, and I saw it work. You see it work. Emerita is right, you've got to share the stories as a manager and show it, and lead by example, and give people space to do that, but also then pick up. I mean, look at your manager, do you want to be that person one day? Do you want to live their life? And if not, maybe we can learn some lessons from that, good or bad, right? You'll have so many different examples as you go through your career. Principals that you like or don't like and how they do their job. When you get that opportunity, those are the lessons to carry forward and implement.
STAFF: Great, our next question will be from Hunter Hallman.
Q: I just want to thank you guys for an awesome panel. My name is Hunter. As Sam said, I am also a Council on Foreign Relations employee. I just kind of wanted to pivot off of Jessica's great question and talk a little bit about—I know we've all seen the high-profile op-eds about return to work and how employees are not engaged if they don't want to come back to the office. A lot of those authors of those op-eds have gotten in trouble for that with their employees. I just want to know, as managers yourselves, how you would recommend your employees, or employees generally, talk to their managers about that issue. In a way that's not just like here's a list of everything I've accomplished over the past year to kind of prove that even if we want to have a flexible, remote work policy, we're still engaged, still at the top of our game, that kind of thing.
HAQ: I'm glad you mentioned that because what I was thinking of, and it just didn't translate from brain to mouth, was I think there also is a coming change in employer mindsets. It was always the scarcity mindset of like, "Oh my god is something getting done?" And really to switch to an empathy mindset of, again, trust that your staff are adults. Like you are hired adults and if they are not functioning like adults, then that's a different problem, but trust a little bit your team and have them feel out. I believe in regular check-ins. If you don't make a regular check-in, we should know why and that's okay because like you should still be able to keep some sort of schedule. But those are you create the environment for people to update you on what they're going on --there's like the long-term and short-term check-ins, you have those conversations. So I just don't give any latitude or excuse for managers who think that they need to dot every I and cross every T for their employees and if they're not in front of them then nothing is going on. That is an entirely different issue that is on the manager. If you've got that kind of manager, I don't know that you can change them. That's the thing. There's only so much you can say when it's just not the right fit and not the right work environment. That manager is out there and there's a reason that exists and that is an older version of how to do work.
MARTINEZ: Yeah and just to complement that. I think it's knowing your manager but also knowing your organization. I've worked for organizations where, the hard way more often than not, I learned that I wasn't going to be able to ask that question because I knew what the answer would be and then I'd have the mark of "this person is not going to give what it takes to get to where we want them to go." And then I've been fortunate to be part of organizations where that answer will not only be well received but will also broach a dialogue that helps me and, hopefully, other people become better professionals, bosses understand that.
But it really does come down to directness. I mean, the sad fact of it is we can't give one-size-fits-all solutions. Because I know and I've given this advice to people before based on my own experience and they said, "Yeah, I went and tried that and now my boss gives all the work to somebody else and I don't have the kind of stresses that I did, but I also have no advancement potential because I got painted as the person who needs a little bit more. Whereas Joe or Jennifer is willing to take on all the extra work, they will work day, night, and I don't have that opportunity."
HAQ: But I will also say this, I think we've moved away from the company person who's at the same place for twenty years, right? Like I was an intern and I had to leave to be taken seriously as something other than the intern or the press assistant, so that is often now a thing that we do. If you look at my resume versus my parents, dramatically different. I clearly did not work in the same place for twenty years and have that. But my husband, in the medical industry, like he's been at that same place and there's a pathway. The place of the industries where they tend to be professional apprenticeship types, they have those broader pathways of like, this is how you advance, it's very systemic, and this, and that, and you know that. I think a lot of the kind of work that we talk about in policy and politics it varies like year-to-year, personality-to-personality. Very principal-down of what that culture is. And so I would say if you are in a place where it is challenging, you know, check the box for however long you need it, but also that's not the end of a career because that one way of doing that job didn't work for you. And on that note, I have to apologize, I have to jump off. For work actually, guys for work, not for the baby under my table. No, don't worry that.
MARTINEZ: I think I heard the baby rattling under the table but again, as we have said, don't ask, we don't need to. You're a professional, we trust you as a professional. Thank you so much Nayyera for joining.
HAQ: Listen, folks, I am happy to continue one-on-one conversations too. Like these are important, we need to create these spaces. So you can always hit me up on Twitter, I keep my DMs open or find my email from the CFR list. Seriously, I would love to continue the conversations of what it's like to be diverse and grow up in this environment because like I said, I was that intern at one point.
TORRES: Thank you.
MARTINEZ: Thank you, Nayyera.
TORRES: I wanted to just add one quick thing to Hunter's question, as a manager. I underscore regular check-ins, but really setting up expectations mutually agreed expectations is important especially in this environment. Understanding, again, how to manage your manager. Like what does your manager care about? How does your manager communicate? Or prefer to communicate? And building some balance there. For me, I'll say, one thing that initially I was concerned about in the pandemic was communication. How are we going to communicate? What are the modes of communication? Can I call on you if a crisis happens? If I'm put at ease, knowing that there are channels and vectors of which I can do that, I feel good as a manager. So understanding what that looks like for your manager is important.
MARTINEZ: I have a list of about fifteen questions that whenever I have a new manager, I ask them at our first sync. And whenever I have a new employee, I ask those same questions of them, I just flip it. It's not rocket science but it's very much what Emerita is saying. How do you prefer we communicate? Should I ping you? Should I send an email? Do you want things written in advance or is it okay if we just have a free-flowing discussion when we talk? What are your pet peeves? What do you expect of me? How can I help you do your job better? Which is really often a backhand way of hearing what their priorities are and also seeing how they respond to that, right? Are they interested in getting their career built on the good work you're doing? Do they view this more as collective and it's a tide that's going to raise all boats?
Again, it's not rocket science, but if it was ever important before work from home and what the pandemic has done to us, I think those conversations are now vital. Because not having those, we end up starting here and just diverging out. Then again, going back to that message sent, not being message received. We don't understand why we're working at cross purposes, or the communication is falling apart. Whereas if we have that alignment, if we at least see that you're doing your due diligence to say, "Hey, I'm trying to find ways to work effectively and efficiently with these challenges and I'm asking you to share with me your view, your thoughts on how you want to see this done."
STAFF: Excellent. Our next question comes from Byron Williams.
Q: Yes, my question is for Mr. Martinez. Byron L. Williams, United States Department of Agriculture. I love what you just contributed there about the questions that you ask your supervisor as well as question to ask employees. I want to know if you would be okay to share those fifteen questions that you ask like your manager, your supervisor above you, as well as maybe employees that you may be managing?
MARTINEZ: Absolutely. If you bear with me, and maybe if somebody has a great question for Emerita. I will literally pull those up and I will drop them in the chat. I take no ownership, I literally have crowdsourced these from internet sites. I found that there are questions that I just came up with, in some cases, because I thought it was really important. But again, there's no ownership here. It's not rocket science. It's just having that early basis by which you can work so that when things go off, you say, "Okay, you want me to send everything by email but you told me earlier you wanted everything to come in this way. I just want to understand if something has changed so that I can make sure I'm adapting."
TORRES: And if I can—
Q: Thank you very much.
TORRES: That's a great question. I just want to add. One of my mentors when I was first getting into management, she shared with me something very similar to David and it was a slide of those questions. I don't think it was fifteen, but it was something like four or five or six questions on work style. And these are things for your manager but also for your colleagues, especially in the virtual world. Like how do you work with me? What's my work style? Like all of those things are really important when you're working in teams and working for your supervisors in any organization.
STAFF: Excellent. Well we are getting close to the end. Does anyone have any final questions while David shares that in the chat so we'll have that in a second. But does anyone have any final questions for our panelists?
I think we have gone through all of them. David or Emerita any final words for us?
TORRES: No, I think this was really fantastic. I learned a lot. Great questions. Feel free--I can share my information and stay in contact. I'm on LinkedIn and all the social media handles so happy to be in touch.
MARTINEZ: Likewise, this really was a pleasure. And I know, again, everybody has so many competing demands on their time. We hope this was helpful. I'm finding that chat is not allowing me to send this through but I can connect with Sam and perhaps we can email this out to all of the attendees to make sure that you got that. Worst case scenario, look me up, find me on LinkedIn. If you're in CFR, in the directory. I will happily share this and find time for virtual coffee when is easiest for you.