Joerg Schmitz 0:08
Welcome to the inclusive leader podcast. The practice of inclusive leadership enables us to tackle the complex challenges of our times. This is the space for conversations about inclusive leadership. I am your host York Schmitz and I welcome you to this episode. When you look into the research and the science of insider outsider dynamics, and particularly the idea of the intersection with neuroscience, the social brain, in a sense, you will come across a name that you will see over and over in the literature and, and in on the speaking circuit around this, which is the name of Valerie Purdy Greenaway, Valerie has been a great friend, a collaborator on a number of different projects. And it's a great pleasure for me to share this conversation I've had with her as part of the inclusive leadership institute. Valerie is a social psychologist, she teaches at Columbia University has done speaking at tip conferences and so forth, and also runs the lab on intergroup collaboration and relations. So her expertise is incredibly powerful and relevant to the art and science, particularly the science of inclusive leadership. So here is my conversation with her. So thank you, Valerie for for making time for this conversation. And I always ask people first, what do they do? And so in other words, I'm going to ask you, what do you do?
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 1:49
Yes, yes. Well, first of all, I am absolutely delighted to be in conversation with you, you are one of my favorite people in the whole world. I am a professor of psychology. I've been a professor for about the past 18 years. And that actually encompasses many different roles. So first and foremost, I teach. So I teach a course diversity, equity and inclusion in organizations that I teach at Columbia Business School at Columbia University in the city of New York. I also teach a class called cultural psychology. And I teach that in the Department of Psychology at Columbia. So I spend a lot of time teaching about culture, diversity, intercultural processes, and how do people thrive in organizational contexts. As part of being a professor, I'm also a research scientist. So I have a research lab. And in that lab, we conduct empirical research, that is the underbelly of diversity and equity inclusion. So I do everything from research on diverse teams to implicit bias to looking at the functional anatomy and parts of the brain that are linked to empathy. You know, I have a whole nother program of research on philosophical thinkers, and how do you teach philosophical thought to a new young, diverse audience intersectionality identity. So we kind of cover just about as many topics as you can think of in the space of D and I using experiments and interviews. And then also, as part of being a professor, I do a little bit of consulting and helping companies and organizations think strategically about D and I when asked to do so. So as a professor, it sort of encompasses many, many pieces, I stay busy,
Joerg Schmitz 3:58
not only many pieces, but it's an incredibly rich, you know, spectrum that you cover, and especially a spectrum that I don't think many people can cover, you know, I mean, it there are people who can certainly teach courses in business schools, but but they're oftentimes disconnected from the research that underpins a lot of this and, or the psychological aspects that need to be considered. And so I think you're bringing a I mean, a wealth of experience, knowledge, expertise to, to this topic of DNI and certainly also that that whole idea of inclusive leadership, which is fantastic. Well, you
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 4:38
know, it's funny that you would say that I can appreciate it as you're saying it but the there's a longer story, but the shorter story of why my research is so broad is I was trained as a psychologist as a social psychologist. And so what that means is that I was trained in my PhD is in trying to under Stand, how the social context and social surroundings around us affect our behavior. And within that domain, my dissertation research was in the world of education. And I have spent a lot of time doing research on closing opportunity gaps between members of underrepresented groups and minority majority groups in education. I've done a lot of research on everything from what is the image that young people have of scientists? And how do we change those images? And so my research is very, very narrow and very, very focused in education, and cognitive performance, and test taking, and how do you improve the performance and sense of belonging for underrepresented students? And what happened was about maybe eight or nine years ago, I'm happily doing this, this research. And I started realizing from companies and organizations calling me saying, Well, can you tell us what you know about belonging in schools? And does it actually apply in organizations? And can you tell us about the images of that young people have of scientists? And how does that shape maybe stereotypes that people have of leaders, and it was really many companies and organizations that pushed me to say, hey, a lot of this research on how young people thrive, especially young people, who have some kind of identity that is marginalized or excluded in some way, that that holds relevant in organizations. So, and these days, I still have my fingers in the pie, if you will, in terms of research and education. But but it is really pivoted, also to looking at organizations because the processes are not identical, but they are similar. And there's a comparison that can be made.
Joerg Schmitz 6:58
Absolutely. And I love I love this actually, because it is is transportable, but not exactly the same, as you said, and but in the focus in organizations is is interesting as well, because very often, it's the organizational context, or the corporate context within which that behavior takes place. And, you know, and I think that's what fascinates me about what you do is that, you know, you take that that core idea that behavior is contextual. And, and then we need to learn about how, what is that interaction between behavior and context? And then apply it in different contexts?
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 7:37
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, I have learned so much I have a lot to offer when I when I engage with with organizations, but I've also learned so much that, you know, just because you have some scientific discovery that you think is going to change the world, if you can't figure out how to share it in a way that's digestible to others. It's not going to help people you have to meet people where they're at, you can't just say, Well, I'm a scientist, and therefore, you know, the burden is on the organization to learn what I do. It really is much more synergistic. And I and I've come to appreciate that and value that all. Just much more over time.
Joerg Schmitz 8:23
Yeah, that's great. And I am really excited that you're bringing all of that to our institute here. But what I also ask everybody is, you know, what is it in your biography in your background, that that actually drew you into doing what you're doing? Yes, that's, that's really the question.
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 8:42
I just turned 50 years old. So that's a very long biography.
Joerg Schmitz 8:49
No, not that long.
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 8:52
But I think there are a few I say inflection points in my life. I mean, one is that my mother was a schoolteacher, she's now retired happily at the age of, of 86. But um, she was a cool school teacher, here in the United States. In New York on Long Island. She was a third grade school teacher and so I grew up going to school, but also in her classroom. So I always wanted to be a teacher. And I learned how to teach at a very young age. And I have very distinct recollections of putting together lesson plans when I was in first grade. I'm doing little lessons with my friends and, and so and so that the teacher part I think, comes from my my mother, but but also, you know, I identify as you know, she her in terms of pronouns, I'm African American, but but my background is, as always made me feel a little bit on the on the outside in multiple different dimensions. So we were one of the first African American families that integrated a neighborhood I'm on Long Island in New York. And it was 100% Italian neighborhood. So I grew up in an Italian neighborhood. And that comes with its own complexities of being an African American family and Italian neighborhood. I also am very tall, which, which now is wonderful because as it turns out, as you get older, you start to shrink. So it's good to start off on the taller side, as your spine starts to shrink a little bit, but I'm very tall. And then so I've always, I remember learning at a really young age, I grew up in the era of Madonna, when everyone had ruffles. And when you're, you know, five feet tall ruffles are very cute when you're six feet tall. ruffles don't work so well. And I learned in a very early age that things that worked for, for me don't work for other people. And vice versa, I had to figure out my own style. And then, you know, intellectually, I've always cared about inequality and, and I grew up going to a public school. And literally, you know, they didn't call it tracking. But the students were trapped were the students that were college bound literally took classes on the third floor, which is the top floor of the school students that had a more vocational focus were in the middle floor. And and students that were really trapped to either not even graduate from high school, were on the first floor. And, and so very early on, because of the sports that I always enjoyed, I played basketball, I did volleyball, I always was mixed with all of the other kids after school. During the day, we were all on our separate floors. And all of these experiences being a teacher growing up in an Italian neighborhood, but being a black family, like just really seeing inequality and not only inequality,
each floor had a different hadn't had a skin color
to it. So most of the kids on the third floor were white American, and most of the kids on the on the second floor were Latinx and African American, and then the third floor was almost all African American and and you know, and then you start to ask yourself, your why is that? And so why is that a and b? It doesn't have to be this way. You know, it's not us kids. It's something about the school that is sorting us into these into these categories. And then the last thing which which has endlessly frustrated my mother is that I just happen to be nosy. And when I teach research methods and I teach psychological methods. What makes a good scientist is someone who is endlessly curious. And they just ask why, why why. And so I was that kid who was like, Why? Why am I why, why, why. And now I have a daughter who does that, and I was reading that is. But if you want me to get intrigued, just say because I said so and then I'm off to the races. Well, why, why why? And, and that's what a scientist is. So I bring all of those experiences has always made me feel a little bit like an outsider myself. And it's always made me want to kind of understand those experiences, but also, in a structural way, in a way to try to say, Are my experiences unique to myself? Or do people in other countries, other cultural contexts and have other spirits? Does that same kind of outsider Ness? Do we share something in common and that's all of psychology. So it's interesting that I'm a psychologist. But when I look back, those sets of experiences, I think, put me in a position where I just I think understanding the human mind, in the context that we find ourselves is mostly fascinating.
Joerg Schmitz 13:58
What I find fascinating is that you've retained all of these qualities, right? Because many people lose them, you know, or they're literally trained out of you, right or educated out of you. But not only did you retain them, you made a profession out of it, which I love.
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 14:15
What is so that is so true that that is so true. And we're having this conversation now at the end of July, beginning of August. And so for a professor, this is our what I call expansive intellectual time, where you can literally read and think whatever you want. And one of my favorite subscriptions is the London Review of Books because you open it up and you just, you literally never know what is going to be in there. And so I love to think expansively. But I also love to think about, you know, what is it that that people share in common, even whether it's in their suffering or in their joy, and how do we bring structure and make sense of it? And that's what a A psychologist does.
Joerg Schmitz 15:01
And what I've seen you do, you make it very practical as well. And that's, I think when we when we are tackling these complex, really complicated things of diversity, belonging, equity, inclusiveness, and how we lead through this, you know, it's at the end, what people really want is practicality in a way. I mean, that not everybody is that scientists, not everybody is that intellectually curious, but everybody is struggling somehow in their lives with these challenges?
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 15:36
Oh, that's interest. I think that that that sort of comes back to the, you know, I grew up in you categorize economically as disadvantaged. But but we never thought of ourselves in that way. But But one thing that you do learn is about, you know, you have to be practical and pragmatic. And if you want to help people, help people, there's a way in which I do work hard to take concepts that could be complicated and sometimes esoteric, and say, how do we boil it, boil it down to it to make it practical and useful? I'm not always successful, but I try.
Joerg Schmitz 16:16
Well, and this is the point, right? I mean, we are dealing in an area that is extremely human, but it's also very much at the frontier of what it means to be human, right? When when we think about transcending, divisive, pneus, or categories that around which we have organized and what you describe around your school, right, these these different levels, you know, it reminded me actually of going to school here in Germany, where you didn't have all of that in one building, where at age of 11, your parents essentially decide, are you the university track, you go to one type of school, are you more of a vocational person, you go to another school and you're more in the middle, then there is another school, but they're not in the same building. So you, you grow up blissfully ignorant of that there are very different realities and structures that force this inequality on you.
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 17:14
That is, and you know, you and I talk about this all of all of the time, but you know, I think what, what continues to intrigue me, but also worry me is how important the structure of a given situation guides and organizes how people think and feel a and b, how little people appreciate that. And what I remember, one of my earliest, earliest classes, we spent an awful lot of time talking about where people sit in a movie theater. And I remember thinking, this could not be sillier, but but the point of the exercise was to talk about the organization of the seats, and how it makes you sit up front and face forward and minimize this conversation and how, you know, when people like each other, they sit next to each other, but when they're, like new friends, they might sit a seat apart, and, you know, but it's all about how the structure of the seating organizes what you're supposed to do there. And just like the levels in high school, or actually going to different schools, you now have a structure in place that says, who you're going to be in 40 and 50 years from now, that's extraordinary. I mean, that's extraordinary to think that that young people have it all worked out at at 11. But yet, many organizations are designed that way. And, and we now see, companies are reckoning with that, in some ways, you know, with with respect to COVID, you know, can you really work productively from home, but but also in the context of D and I? How do you get different ethnic groups, cultural groups, you know, people that that may historically have thought of each other as on opposite sides of different ideas, to actually work together. It is the question of our lifetime, and I suspect it'll continue to be so
Joerg Schmitz 19:14
beyond our lifetime, I think if we, if we want to also tackle the really big challenges we face as a as humankind in a sense, right. That's that that's a that's a key capability. Yeah.
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 19:28
I see being a scientist as a incredible privilege. And I see it as an incredible responsibility to do something to to just, you know, to do something to bring some some organized organizational thought and ideas into those are really, really those conversations of our lifetime. And so, this is why I continue to do what it is that I do.
Joerg Schmitz 19:56
I mean, thank you for for giving us a little peek in So what motivates you because I've always found this is really important to understand, you know, what drives people, what motivates them to do what they do. Because there's so much information, important information that is revealed in that as well. So as we're bringing at least this part of the conversation, you know, to a close, I'm just wondering out of your research, or out of your practical experience, are there like one or two things that you think are really practical that, that anybody who's listening could apply and, and make a difference with that?
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 20:36
I think that there's a, there's a few things. So in the world of Diversity and Equity and Inclusion in organizations, I think I'll sort of continue along the thread that that we were talking about, which is that it is if you really want to understand why someone is behaving the way they're behaving in your organization, look at the context first, and then look at their personality features and characteristics. Second, I find it endlessly fascinating that companies spend millions and billions of dollars with all sorts of personality tests to try to understand what is it about the person that motivates them? And what we know from the science that I do, but for instance, the implicit incentive structure that you put in place, not just not just how you pay people, but But again, what are the drivers? What are the assumptions that you're making that, that make people want to work every day, looking at how your organization is set up, to incentivize people, to motivate people to drive people or not, is a much more important factor in understanding why people do what they do. And, and I know I've been in hundreds of, of companies, many, many of them with you your end. And people say, Oh, that's too hard to tackle. But you cannot have a conversation about diversifying your organization without rethinking about what your organization is, and what you're trying to, to do there. And, and so that the synergy between your processes and structures and policies, that is the driver of what motivates people. And and I think that that's, that is something that I cannot emphasize. And the reason why it's practical, is because we're oftentimes looking at the wrong end of the telescope.
Joerg Schmitz 22:45
Yeah, we've seen this a number of times, right. But it's such good advice, you know, context first. And it's so hard, right? Because it feels so elusive to many people. But it is it is actually phenomenal advice. Yeah,
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 23:01
it feels elusive. But it's actually not because you can because another piece of advice is, you know, you can start small. I mean, I've worked with companies that said, Okay, we're just going to work on reimagining our promotion structure. We're going to reimagine our, when people leave, you know, how do we coach them out all of those things are contextual features of an organization. You know, you don't have to boil the ocean, you can start small and focus on one thing for a sustained period of time. But we're really not going to make progress on the the AI part of inclusion or the E part of equity. If we don't really think seriously about the D, the diversity who is there? And then who was that organization built for? You know, that is the question of the decade. Who was your company designed for? And and how do we need to redesign it?
Joerg Schmitz 24:08
Valerie, I am so excited, you know to work with you in this institute. And thank you for spending these minutes here, you know, to just explore your work and introduce your work to everybody else as well. So thank you. That's all I can say.
Valerie Purdie-Greenaway 24:26
You are so welcome. I it is my absolute. Anytime you call. I say there's going to be an exciting and impactful adventure. And I want to be you didn't know this but you have a York train. I want to be
thrilled and honored to be to be part of the inclusive leadership institute. So thank you so much.
Joerg Schmitz 24:53
The honor is certainly mine. Thank you for listening. You can sign up for more wherever you get your podcasts. Just look for the inclusive leader podcast. To find out more about the inclusive leadership institute, visit us at www the inclusive leadership institute.com