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May 6, 2016

Carolyn and Courtney totally geek out about offices with cereal bars before diving into what perks really say -or don’t - say about workplace culture. Then we hear from Dr. Sasha Wright, a professor of ecology at FIT. She shares some incredible theories about gender in the workplace and why science tells us diverse teams accomplish more.

Show notes:

5:40: Disrupted by Dan Lyons. Here's an excerpt: http://fortune.com/disrupted-excerpt-hubspot-startup-dan-lyons/

10:53: Google's death benefits policy is amazing: http://money.cnn.com/2012/08/09/technology/google-death-benefits/

14:40: More on Dr. Sasha Wright: https://sashajwright.wordpress.com/

15:00: http://www.fitnyc.edu/

18:00: Here's Sasha's incredible Medium post: https://medium.com/athena-talks/mentoring-young-women-in-the-classroom-you-don-t-need-to-act-more-masculine-we-should-be-making-5439ec6844f0#.aarikbfid

18:55: Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Transgress-Education-Practice-Translation/dp/0415908086

34:30 Marshmallow Challenge! http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/resource/challenging-the-process-with-the-marshmallow-challenge.aspx 

42:10: More about Sasha!

Check out her Google Scholar Profile: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=6T_SUMcAAAAJ&hl=en

Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sashajwright 

Find her on the Public Library of Science Ecology blog: http://blogs.plos.org/

Follow her on Medium: https://medium.com/@sashajwright

Email us at hello@buffer.com or tweet us at @buffer (or tweet me at @courtneyseiter)

 

 

Show transcript:

 

Courtney Seiter:

Hi, I'm Courtney Seiter.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... And I'm Carolyn Koppraschch.

Courtney Seiter:

This is the Buffer CultureLab podcast.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Where we're slightly obsessed with creating happier, more human work.

Courtney Seiter:

In episode 3, Carolyn and I talk about workplace perks, and totally geek out about offices with cereal bars before diving into what perks really say, or don't say about workplace culture.

 

Then you're gonna hear from someone a little different, Dr. Sasha Wright. She's a professor of ecology at FIT. She shares some incredible theories about gender in the workplace, and why science tells us diverse teams accomplish more.

 

One fun topic that I thought might be neat to get your thoughts on is startup perks.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Courtney Seiter:

We've got some specific ones at Buffer because we are remote and distributed. But I also love the experience of going into like a fancy tech start-up office, and gawking at all the cool stuff they have. Have you ever had the chance to do that?

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Gawking at the cereal bar.

Courtney Seiter:

Yes, the cereal bar is specifically what I'm talking about!

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Really?

Courtney Seiter:

Yes, where have you seen one?

Carolyn Kopprasch:

You and I are too similar. I can't remember, but I remember being ... I'm not gonna be able to think of the name of the company, but an agency in San Francisco had a bomb cereal bar.

Courtney Seiter:

Yes, I saw one at Moz. They've got like a whole wall of candy, and like a whole wall of cereal. I was very, inordinately impressed with this. Like the amount of money it cost to do that, compared to the amount of impressed I was, was way out of proportion.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Hey, that's why you have multiple perks. Some things mean more to some people than others.

Courtney Seiter:

Yes ... So I often wonder, and we don't have the answer to this; it's probably like some historical thing. How did it come to be that start-ups are the ones that ushered in the era of all these crazy perks? I guess maybe it's just that they had the freedom to do it.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

I do think ... On the one hand, maybe start-ups have more money.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Or are more comfortable burning through money on things that aren't necessarily scalable or profitable.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah ... No, that makes sense.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

More than that, I think potentially an interesting question about perks in general, and especially start-up perks, is like what the point is.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

I mean, it's a little bit controversial, I think, to talk about perks. You know, there's some things that are there for your comfort or convenience or happiness.

Courtney Seiter:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carolyn Kopprasch:

And how many of those are also sort of designed to keep you at your desk.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

You know, like having lunch prepared and available is incredibly generous ...

Courtney Seiter:

Definitely.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... And amazing, and super helpful on people for hassle and money, and all these things ... But it also means that you don't leave the building, and you potentially go back to your desk in 25 minutes instead of 55 minutes.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

I think some of the bigger ones, like Facebook and Google, and things like that have like breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Courtney Seiter:

Oh wow.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

They'll do your laundry, and they will like send someone over to walk you dog ...

Courtney Seiter:

What?

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... All these things that feel like they're incredibly beneficial to you, and helping you out.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah ... At what level are you outsourcing your life so you can be at work all the time?

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Exactly, yeah ... So I think there is probably a balance there. I remember, I think it's Facebook, has dinner, but only at a certain hour. Like you can't just squeeze in at 5. Dinner doesn't start until kind of late. I don't know, I think there's some question around like where the right line is there. For sure, some people would rather be at their desk and working ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... But potentially, that's a bit of a question mark on how much of a decision you get to make on that front.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, I'm just thinking about dinners. You know, people with families might want to spend dinner with their family. Or you might want to, you know, go on a date. I don't know, just do something that is more indicative of some sort of work-life balance.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Right, and I think the fact that, I mean, if they said you have to stay for dinner, that's totally a different story.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Even making it available does potentially send the message that, you know, some people are here working late. You know, does that potentially cause you to feel like an outsider if you're not doing that? I don't know.

Courtney Seiter:

Definitely, yeah. I just finished this book called "Disrupted". It's a little bit controversial, I'm guessing, but it's by a gentleman who spent some time at Hubspot as one of the older people there, then wrote like a little bit of a tell-all about it.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yes, I saw an article about it.

Courtney Seiter:

Really?

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yeah.

Courtney Seiter:

He had quite the response to the candy wall, in specific. I think his thought process was this can be like a little bit of a panacea for people. Like instead of getting more money, they're getting the candy wall, and like what kind of trade-off is that.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yeah, I think you just hit the nail on the head. Like I think, probably, what matters more than what perks there are, is how well aligned are the perks that are available ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... Aligned with what people in the organization want out of them.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, and perks can't mask a culture that has issues. They can enhance a culture that feels healthy.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yeah, totally. I don't know. There's a little bit of a question of making the decisions for people. Like Buffer, for example, covers healthcare for full time teammates. I love that, and I would rather have ...

Courtney Seiter:

Me too.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... Buffer do that than pay me that extra money. I potentially would not get the same level of care. I can't actually make that decision about what I would or would not do, because I'm not in that situation.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

I personally prefer that, because then it's one less thing I have to think about. I don't have to find my own healthcare. I don't have to deal with all that stuff. Some people might not feel that way. You know, where does that ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... Fall in the, you know, making decisions for people. How optimized do you allow it to be. I mean, do you just offer some things across the board? If that's not interesting to you, too bad, that's an expense that comes out of the company, and that impacts you anyway.

Courtney Seiter:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Versus, you know, if you don't participate, do you get more salary in other ways.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, that's a good one. Especially with things like, you know, kegs in the office. Not everyone is interested in that. Not everyone wants to drink, or is able to drink.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yes..

Courtney Seiter:

Can they fully participate in a culture where that is one of the bigger perks? I don't know if that's one of the bigger perks anywhere, but it does seem to come up a lot.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

It does ... I think that's kind of the quintessential example of the like Silicon Valley bro type start-up culture.

   
   
   

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Then like a ping-pong table.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah ... So I've worked in an office where like we had a little bit of that going on.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Me too.

Courtney Seiter:

Like you could sort of, you know, drink ... Not like any time during work. You probably couldn't roll in at 8 am and  crack a beer. That might be weird ... But it was very lax in that regard. At first, I was very blown away by it in a great way. I was like oh my gosh, this is so cool. I can't believe we get to work this way. Then, the longer you're there, you see the ways that it can become weird, and the ways people can get themselves into a lot of trouble with it. You start to realize oh, this is why, you know, HR exists. This is why corporate companies have really strict policies about these things. Stuff happens, and it's bit of a slippery slope, I guess, with that one in particular.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yeah, I have also been in an organization where there was like, you know, very encouraged Friday afternoon beer time.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

I personally never saw that ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... Put into anything that made me or anyone else uncomfortable, to my knowledge. I do definitely hear you on the front of like, you know, I personally drove home from that job ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... So I didn't usually participate. I don't know, that was such a small expense in a big picture that it wasn't something that I spent any energy on.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

That's a good example of one where, you know, is that really the best thing for the teammates, and is that your decision to make. Or is it, if they want it, should you provide it even if it's not necessarily the healthier, or more productive, or more beneficial thing?

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

I don't know.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, I was gonna say maybe these perks are easier to put together than like, you know, a family leave plan, or a vacation plan, because they're just like a little bit simpler. Now that we're getting into this one, it seems really complex. I guess maybe you could just say there's a keg and that's the end of the policy. Like not really seeing it through to its potential conclusions.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yeah, I feel like every topic that you and I talk about, all we do is phrase like so many more questions. I guess that's why, to your point, HR exists because these things are not simple.

Courtney Seiter:

This is the podcast with no answers, only questions.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

I know, I know. I will say, of all the perks that I've ever heard, one of the ones that impressed me the very most is Google's ... Oh gosh, I don't know what they call it. It's basically like if you pass away while you are working there, then they take care of your family. I should have looked it up. I don't remember the specifics, but they take care of your family in an incredible way, if you ...

Courtney Seiter:

Wow. Like pay the salary, or pay benefits?

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Something like that, yeah, for a surprising amount of time.

Courtney Seiter:

Oh wow.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Like years.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, wow that's incredible.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yeah, and that one, that's really different to me. That is a perk that is a game changer.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah ... Yeah, I think that and maybe some of the more like inventive family leave policies that are coming online. I've read that now that millennials are getting a little bit older, having kids, facing different life issues; maybe that's like where perks will go from here. We've gone in our lifespan from being like, “Oh cool. There's a keg and cereal!” to “Huh, what's gonna happen when I have kids? How will my family be provided for?” Maybe it's just a natural progression as start-ups get older, and their work forces get a little bit older.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

That's an interesting question. Are you suggesting that millennials were the ones making decisions when it was beer and cereal, and now we're the ones making the decisions ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, my broad stroke implication there is that millennials tend to be the ones running these companies. Like I'm thinking of Mark Zuckerberg, who is quite young, and started Facebook so early.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... But now has a baby.

Courtney Seiter:

Exactly, yeah. It's like the natural progression of life leads to sort of think about different things as you get a little bit older. ... Maybe.

   

Courtney Seiter:

But I think that we can all agree: Candy bar, yay.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yeah, I'm all for the candy bar.

Courtney Seiter:

I think we were really lucky that we were distributed, and had to be really thoughtful and deliberate about the perks. We couldn't just sort of say like oh, whatever everyone else does is what we'll do also. We had to say, what works for a distributed company? What will make us feel connected and make us feel good even though we're all really far apart and living different lives? It's really cool to see the way they've progressed. I love our perks. I read so many free Kindle books, thank you Buffer.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

Yeah, me too. Thank you, Buffer. Yeah, to your point about being distributed, it's almost more like you have to be more intentional about it ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Carolyn Kopprasch:

... Because we can't ... We had opportunity to say okay, what perks are actually relevant to our values, as opposed to what's sort of thing that comes to mind, and is the most obvious. We have a value of focusing on self improvements, so we designed perks around that. Reading, and exercise, and health and wellness. You know, for a while we issued everybody a Jawbone app to track sleep and steps, and that I think is catching on a little bit more. I think especially because it was such an obvious choice in relation to our values. As opposed to perks being mostly around what's cool, or what makes the office look cooll when you walk in.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, yeah, it makes a huge difference.


[music]

 

In this next segment, we're talking with Dr. Sasha Wright, and I'm super excited about this.

 

She's a plant biologist and a theoretical ecologist, so a little bit outside of our normal tech circle. She's committed to addressing ecological problems through research and education. She's conducted field research from the Serengeti National Park, to tropical dry forests in Panama. She currently ecology and biology at FIT, a fashion school in Manhattan. Welcome, Sasha.

Sasha Wright:

Thanks, Courtney.

Courtney Seiter:

So excited you're here. You've got quite the varied background. FIT is a long way from the Serengeti National Park, bit of a different make-up.

 

I read that FIT has an 85% female student body. What is that like in your day to day work there? What's the culture like in that environment?

Sasha Wright:

It's really about the relationships I have with the students. The students, you know ... Let's see, I was kind of looking back at my course rosters for the semester to get a sense of really what are the numbers in my classroom.

Courtney Seiter:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sasha Wright:

I have 98 students this semester in four classes, which is a lot. That's a heavy teaching load ...

Courtney Seiter:

Man.

Sasha Wright:

But 10 are men.

Courtney Seiter:

Oh wow.

Sasha Wright:

Which is nothing. I've never had that before. Other than that, the diversity is also just incredibly high at FIT. I think that's a Manhattan thing. I also hadn't ever taught in Manhattan before. I have, let's see, I have 20% of my students are Black, and 25% of my students weren't born in this country. You know, so they're not international. They're mostly not international students who are kind of studying abroad. Instead, they just weren't born in this country. Their families have come here since then. It's just super diverse. It's incredibly diverse and it's not necessarily diverse in terms of gender. You know, with only 10 males students in four classes, it's homogeneous in terms of gender. Just not homogeneous in the way that you usually see in most classrooms. It comes up in lots of different ways. All of that diversity comes up in lots of different ways.

 

You know, another thing that I do to try to integrate all of this diversity of backgrounds is I don't lecture in a traditional way at all. I will often ... Really, the way all of my class time is I'll present maybe three to five slides of information about something.

Courtney Seiter:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sasha Wright:

Then I'll probe them with a question, or I'll probe them with a conversation that they need to have in smaller groups. Then, I'll come around the room. My classrooms only have about 25 students in them, which is great. I'll come around the room and I'll talk to all of them. There's really no way to check out ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

... Because I'm gonna be there talking to you, asking you what you think in a couple minutes.

Courtney Seiter:

That's smart.

Sasha Wright:

Which is great because they don't check out. They are sometimes, while possible reluctant to get excited about the material right off the bat, often super surprised by how interesting it is. It is, biology is so interesting.

Courtney Seiter:

You make me want to learn more about biology. I have no doubt that you would be an amazing professor. Just reading your bio and background, all that enthusiasm really comes across.

 

Then there's this other piece I read of yours that I honestly have not been able to get out of my head since I read it. This is a Medium post that you wrote, that I will be sure to link to in the show notes very prominently. In this post, you write about kind of why it felt really important to you to be a science professor at a predominantly female school. Why you do that work. You write that you took the job to model a new way of being professional. I'd love for you to explain what you mean by that.

Sasha Wright:

The modeling being a different type of professional, for me, is about you know ... So have you ever read the book "Teaching to Transgress"? It's by Bell Hooks.

Courtney Seiter:

Yes.

Sasha Wright:

She talks about this completely different style of classroom as like a revolution.

   

Sasha Wright:

I was lucky enough that when I was an undergrad, that was just the way it was done. I went to a school called Beloit College in Wisconsin. Every class I was in  was, you know, like this. It was a place where I was given some information, and then given space to explore ideas. My own ideas, through little experiments, or through conversations, or through, you know, student led discussions, or whatever it was. It was very student led. Only recently, actually a student from mine, from Bard College, recommended "Teaching to Transgress" to me. I read it and I was like, it resonated with me so hard because these were the things that I just was lucky enough ... In my mind, that's just the way a classroom was supposed to be.

   

Sasha Wright:

When she talks about it, she's like this is a revolution. Changing from being a individual at the front of the classroom who delivers content to a bunch of, you know, hierarchically lower recipients ...

   

Sasha Wright:

... Is the patriarchal way to teach. Anything other than that is a revolution. I find that obviously very empowering. Also, just better, it's so much better.

Courtney Seiter:

It sounds like more fun, also, in addition to being revolutionary.

Sasha Wright:

It's so much more fun. That's another thing that I think people underestimate. Is that once the students are saying their own ideas, their own versions of the ideas. Even chipping the surface of taking ideas about biology and ecology, and rehashing them. Or rephrasing them in their own words, with their own spin on it. The second a student is doing that, teaching is fun. It turns into like the most stimulating thing you can be doing.

Courtney Seiter:

A lot of your Medium piece goes into gender. How male students speak to each other, and maybe to you, versus how female students do that. I read a lot of varying advice there, a lot of blog posts and think pieces on the internet these days, around how women should speak in the workplace. Specifically words like “sorry”, and “just”, exclamation points, probably smiley faces and emojis. Your post goes into that, and you have a very unique take on how women should speak. Or how people should tell women to speak in the workplace. I'd love to hear you speak about that a little bit.

Sasha Wright:

... And also how men should speak.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, good point, can't forget the men.

Sasha Wright:

I want to boss the men around (laughs). To be perfectly honest, I'm totally all over the place on this. On the one hand, when I was talking about it in my piece, I was really explicitly talking about email.

   

Sasha Wright:

On the one hand, I definitely go back and re-read all of my emails. Say them to myself in my head. I say them like out loud in my head before I send them.

   

Sasha Wright:

I try to say them the way I would read them, if someone else was sending them to me, right.

Courtney Seiter:

Sure.

Sasha Wright:

I try to evaluate whether or not I'm actually communicating the amount of emotion I'm trying to communicate ...

Courtney Seiter:

It's hard.

Sasha Wright:

... Because sometimes I just like put in way too many exclamation points. I do, and it's not that I shouldn't, or I should. It's that when I go back and I re-read that, I'm like whoa, I didn't mean to be yelling. Then, if i re-read it, it feels like maybe I was yelling.

Courtney Seiter:

Oh, good point, yeah.

Sasha Wright:

I think probably that's the first thing, right, is that we all should re-reading our emails. I honestly, you know, I see this from colleagues across the board, you know collaborations at other schools, and other research projects I'm working on. Where it's like two exclamation points and two question marks. If you think about that ...

Courtney Seiter:

Whoa, that seems like a lot. I would be frightened.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah, if you re-read that and you saw what that sounds like in my head, I don't think you meant to do that.

Courtney Seiter:

Unless something's on fire.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah, right. You know, honestly, I learned to do that in grad school. I learned to re-read my emails, and make sure I wasn't ... And I initially learned it because someone told me, you know, you're a woman, don't put so many exclamation points in your emails.

Courtney Seiter:

Oh wow.

Sasha Wright:

It communicates something that's too ... Loose isn’t the right word ... Too cheery, or like too cheerleader-y.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

That you aren't, and you want to be taken seriously. I learned how to do that in this one context. I don't agree that I don't want to be a cheerleader sometimes. Sometimes I do.

Courtney Seiter:

Sure.

Sasha Wright:

I do agree that I don't want to be yelling at someone, like accidentally. Of course, every category of email also is going to be slightly different. When a student's asking for a letter of recommendation. They're like “Sasha, I just wanted to give you another reminder, I thank you so much for doing this ...

   

Sasha Wright:

... Like it's coming up, it's one week from now it's due. If you need anything else from me, let me know.” Versus: “You haven't turned in my letter of recommendation yet. Please do it as soon as possible.” It's like whoa, that's just not working for me.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, that letter of recommendation is gonna take a drastic turn now.

Sasha Wright:

Right ... So I definitely side on the side of more enthusiasm, and just more nice. Just be nice.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah ... And your overarching kind of point in the Medium piece, which I loved, was the idea that we tend to do things in the traditional, masculine fashion. Maybe because we think that's what get things done. Your point is there's no causation.

Sasha Wright:

Right.

Courtney Seiter:

There's only, this is the background we've experienced. This is what we perceive to be normal. Maybe the "feminine" way will get much better results.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah.

Courtney Seiter:

We just don't know yet.

Sasha Wright:

Right, totally. You know, that's just generation to generation. Like your mentors teach you how to do, your mentors and you experience teach you how to act in the workplace. If all your mentors are men, it's just a sampling error.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

That doesn't mean that's the only way to be.

Courtney Seiter:

I love that. Reading that was very revolutionary for me. I think about this a lot. At Buffer, where I work, we talk about how we communicate. We're big users of just, and sorry, and thank you, and many exclamation points.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah.

Courtney Seiter:

We've had some people say you're really doing women a little bit of a disservice. When they leave this company, they will have a way of speaking that isn't in accord with the rest of the world. I don't know what to say to that. I feel like it does work for us, and it is a way to get things done. We've only seen good things come out of communicating with kindness and positivity, so I don't want to stop.

Sasha Wright:

I have maybe something that might hopefully be helpful. I went to school at a super liberal, very feminist liberal arts college, Beloit.

   

Sasha Wright:

I remember when I graduated, I was mad. I was like ... So the social atmosphere at Beloit was very female dominated, but also a place for everyone to explore their ideas. If you were being kind of old fashioned, even, in your interpretation of gender, or diversity of any kind ...

   

Sasha Wright:

... People would pretty quickly like call you on it.

Courtney Seiter:

You got schooled.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah, and when I left, you know, I had a job. I took two years before I went back to grad school. I remember being mad. I remember getting out into the workplace and thinking oh wait, sexism still exists.

Courtney Seiter:

What a day that was.

Sasha Wright:

I was like, you know, again, it's sampling bias. As I went through my four years of college, I thought the world changed.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

... But it was just that I was in a place that was different.

Courtney Seiter:

... But you were in college.

Sasha Wright:

I got back out into the world, and I was like oh shoot, okay. This sexism thing still exists. I remember being mad. Why would they at Belloy trick us all into thinking that this is the way that the world works, and then just dump us out into the world. It's not like that, and now I have to deal with that ...

Courtney Seiter:

Oh my gosh.

Sasha Wright:

... With the kind of like loss of empowerment, and loss of that culture.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

Which I think is really similar to what you're describing with these women who leave Buffer, right?

Courtney Seiter:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sasha Wright:

Who leave Buffer and are like, “oh the world doesn't appreciate my sorries and justs.” Here's what I came to. It's actually awesome, because what you do is you seed the world with a whole bunch of people who know what they want to fight for.

   

Sasha Wright:

They might be alone in a community now, instead of surrounded by a whole bunch of people who are exactly the same as them, but once you've modeled it for them for four years, and shown them how awesome it can be ...

   

Sasha Wright:

... They're gonna go out and actually fight for that. That's gonna change the world.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, it has to start somewhere.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah.

Courtney Seiter:

I hope that we'll be seed planters. All the students of your class maybe will be, too.

Sasha Wright:

I hope so.

Courtney Seiter:

You also talk about in this piece, one of my favorite topics to discuss, which is crying at work.

Sasha Wright:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Courtney Seiter:

Let's talk about crying at work. It's often seen as very feminine behavior, and a lot of workplaces frown upon crying at work. I've cried at every single job I've ever had. I imagine I will continue to do so (laughs).

Sasha Wright:

Yeah.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, I'd love to hear your thoughts about crying at work. I would love for you to share a little bit on that.

Sasha Wright:

You know, if you're a person who's cried at work, you're like yeah. We've got to talk about this, because it's so ... You know, usually when I've cried at work, I don't think I've ever, well ... I don't think I've ever cried at work because I was sad. I cried at work because I was frustrated.

Courtney Seiter:

Yes, yes, 100% yes.

Sasha Wright:

There's that side of that, which is like the person who's crying. Then, you know, I also empathize with the person who is standing there with the person crying.

Courtney Seiter:

Can be awkward.

Sasha Wright:

I think what I've struggled with, in terms of actually doing this differently, is actually two parts. Often, it's a student crying in my office because of something, whatever it is. There's, you know, I first struggle with like, the first step is how can I communicate that this is totally fine, and it's normal. I cry a lot, too, and there's really nothing to be ashamed of.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

That's like the first thing, is like just saying that. Then, the second thing is kind if like very, you know, efficiency related. Which is like how and when can we move on to the next step ... And get back to what we were working on?

Courtney Seiter:

This is totally normal, but approximately when will it be over?

Sasha Wright:

I think that's what people are thinking, right.

Courtney Seiter:

Oh yeah.

Sasha Wright:

You know what, if that's what people are thinking, then we're in good shape.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, yeah. That's healthy.

Sasha Wright:

Like it's totally okay with me that you're crying, right. Then just like how do I communicate to you that it's okay for you to walk away, but it's also okay for you to stay.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

Like whatever you want to do next is fine. We can continue with the conversation, and then you can re-join whenever you like. Or if it's a one-on-one conversation ... Like, for me, it's usually this one-on-one conversation in my office. It's so hard to recover for that. Usually a young woman, it's usually so hard for her to recover, and feel like the conversation can still actually keep happening.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

Instead of just like now she's sitting there listening to me ...

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

... Instead of feeling comfortable exchanging with me again.

Courtney Seiter:

I'm so inspired by all the things that you are trying to change in your classroom. I love the idea of performing that, “Teaching to Transgress,” making that real, creating that collaborative environment. I wonder if you could talk about how more of us could do that. You have a really unique opportunity since you are in a position to teach in that new way. If we are working at desk jobs, and communicating with people every day, are there things we can do to create a more collaborative environment where we are?

Sasha Wright:

Yeah, get to know each other.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

Like number one, and maybe even nothing else is important.

Courtney Seiter:

One tip.

Sasha Wright:

Get to know each other, recognize each other's strengths so that when someone else is talking, instead of thinking, “when's this yahoo gonna be done?” You're like “Oh, interesting.” Or “Yeah, I know about Sally's stuff that's going on in her life right now. That's an interesting take on what we are all talking about here in this room.”

   

Sasha Wright:

It's exactly the same as in the classroom. That first few weeks in the classroom, I put ... And I'm still working on exactly the best way to do this, you know both quickly, but also right. Which is getting the students, you know, again because it's not a super residential community, because everyone lives in different places. There's not necessarily as much kind of cohesive FIT specific culture. We're part of Manhattan culture.

Courtney Seiter:

Sure.

Sasha Wright:

... Because of that, a lot of the students don't know each other when they walk in the first day. It's also a big school. I put a lot of time into getting them to get to know each other. Just like, at first, like you know, like little tricks. Like putting them in a new group every time, so they're starting to get to know multiple people in the classroom. One of the things I tried this year was having them introduce themselves with a story about how they got their name. Not necessarily everyone has a story about how they got their name, but it's a personal thing when you do.

Courtney Seiter:

I like that.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah, I like that one. I did that this year and I really liked it. I also like the marshmallow challenge. It's kind of cheesy, but it's like way-

Courtney Seiter:

What's that?

Sasha Wright:

Oh, you have to look it up.

Courtney Seiter:

Okay.

Sasha Wright:

The marshmallow challenge is where you have to build a structure with a marshmallow and a bunch of dry pieces of pasta, and try to make it as tall as possible.

Courtney Seiter:

Oh my gosh.

Sasha Wright:

It's like totally silly.

Courtney Seiter:

That sounds hard.

Sasha Wright:

It's also hands on, right.

   

Sasha Wright:

You can elect different roles, right. You know, you're the person who's gonna be in charge of time.

   

Sasha Wright:

You know, some silly things. Like you're the person who's gonna write things down. Like make sure everyone feels like they have permission to be in charge of something.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

You know, one of the insights I had in the last couple of years is that some students, they have a lot to say, but they're so nervous that they're not supposed to be talking.

Courtney Seiter:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), wow.

Sasha Wright:

That they just need permission to take ... And I was that student. I actually had that insight while sitting in on one of my colleague's art history classes. She was asking all these questions, and I kept thinking like I have an answer, I have an answer, I have answer. I want to say it, but I don't want to. I'm nervous to raise my hand, and I don't want to ...

   

Sasha Wright:

... Step on anyone else's toes.

Courtney Seiter:

Is that what kept you from raising your hand in that circumstance? You thought someone else had the answer maybe?

Sasha Wright:

I thought someone else had the answer. I thought my idea's just an idea. There's a million other ideas, too, so maybe I shouldn't. Like I don't want to be taking the space of someone else getting to share. I'm not an art historian, my answer's probably not "right".

Courtney Seiter:

Oh wow.

Sasha Wright:

Right? Like I walked from my classroom to her classroom and sat down, and thought all those things.

Courtney Seiter:

That's amazing, wow. Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I feel like I identify with that experience. I bet maybe a lot of people do.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah ... So anyway, get to know each other. You know, in class, the way it comes up is, you know, students will raise their hand, or we'll be having a discussion ... And over and over and over again, they'll direct their answer to me.

   

Sasha Wright:

I'll be like, you know, look at Sarah. Or what really happens is I'm thinking like oh shoot, I didn't do a good enough job. We're gonna have to do some more getting to know each other.

Courtney Seiter:

It's awesome that you're so dedicated to creating that kind of environment. I find that really inspiring. I am going to learn everything about the marshmallow challenge, and do it with some group based thing. That sounds like a lot of fun.

Sasha Wright:

It is, it is.

Courtney Seiter:

A lot of the things that we're talking about, we haven't framed in an entirely gendered perspective, but in the piece you do talk a lot about how some of these ideas ... collaborative environment, being able to express emotions, to express those hedging words ... are perceived as slightly more feminine. If our perfect world comes to pass, and we're able to use these words, and cry at work and feel great about it, what happens to men? Does anything change for men in this kind of different environment that we're discussing?

Sasha Wright:

Yeah, I mean, I think some men will celebrate it just like women.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

... Because some men were left out before, too. Then, you know, honestly, like some men might lose some of their social high grounds, to be honest. Like if you're a person who doesn't believe that like diversity and adaptability will ultimately lead to the most creative, fast moving business, or fast moving idea generation factory, or whatever it is that you're doing ... That can deal with a rapidly changing environment, then I'm sure this will feel like a loss. Your one strategy which was consistently working in the past is now being questioned. People are starting to value the idea of many strategies, right. You know, this is great, because this intersects perfectly with my actual research.

 

You know, ecological research would say that single strategy's never gonna work, right. In a rapidly changing environment, the only way to deal with a change, and even sometimes benefit, is if you include a greater diversity of different strategies. Like in a flood, or in a drought, or if you're dealing with some plant community in some set of ecological conditions ... If you are only growing a monoculture, a single species, or a single business strategy, or whatever it is in that system ... And that single species doesn't happen to be good at dealing with the new environmental stress ... The drought, or the flood, or the you know, fire, or whatever it is ... Then you only had once chance at handling it. If you had 16 species there, then you had 16 chances. There was a higher probability that overall, the system might be okay because somebody can handle it, and therefore, compensate for some of the other things that the other strategies that didn't thrive under those new conditions.

Courtney Seiter:

Sure.

Sasha Wright:

I think there's plenty of theory to suggest that. In ecology, and economics, and elsewhere, to suggest that, you know, a single strategy for anything is not the most robust.

Courtney Seiter:

Wow, oh my gosh. I love the way you tied all that together. That makes absolute perfect sense. Would say that right now, most of us are working in a world where there's a single system?

Sasha Wright:

No, I don't ... Well, I'm so biased, right. Like I work in academia.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah.

Sasha Wright:

Then my partner also works in like business consulting. He actually used to be at this strategy firm called Undercurrent. They're young, and they're very you know, experimental.

   

Sasha Wright:

I think in these young, as far as I can tell ... Again, I'm a total outsider in that. In both academia and young kind of strategy firms in New York City, you have very ... These are much more experimental places than other places.

   

Sasha Wright:

I think in both of those contexts, no, it's not a single strategy. It's at the very least, an acceptance that diversity must be good if sometimes maybe people being like ... I don't really know quite why it must be good, but it definitely must be good. Let's keep with it.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, that's been my experience. In the tech world, it feels like there is a dawning realization of oh, diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives give us greater insight into how to build a product.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah.

Courtney Seiter:

How to make it better for a variety of people. Oh, diverse teams work together more creatively, because you have to consider viewpoints that are different than your own. Then, it's exciting. It's a cool time to sort of see those traditional structures break apart a little bit, and maybe something new emerge.

Sasha Wright:

Yeah, that's so cool.

Courtney Seiter:

I'm more excited now to think about it from this larger sort of ecological perspective. It kind of feels like we're on the right track.

Sasha Wright:

Yes ... That's cool.

Courtney Seiter:

This has been so awesome, Sasha. Where can people find you and your work if they want to learn more about you?

Sasha Wright:

Yeah, so I, as most academics these days, I have a Google Scholar profile. You can see all of my actual academic work there. I have a website, www.sashajwright.wordpress.com. I am on Twitter. I actually co-run the Public Library of Science Ecology blog. I have a couple things I have written on Medium.

Courtney Seiter:

Awesome, I will make sure we link to all of that so people can find out about all the cool stuff you're doing.

Sasha Wright:

Cool.

Courtney Seiter:

Yeah, this was fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Sasha Wright:

It was so fun. Thank you. It's been really great, Courtney.

Courtney Seiter:

That's it for episode 3. We really hope you're enjoying the podcast, and we really, truly would love to hear from you on ways to make it better. You can tweet to us at @Buffer, email us at hello@buffer.com, rate or review us wherever you're listening to this. Shout at us anytime. We would love to hear from you. Thanks so much for listening.

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