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. In this podcast, it's a great pleasure of mine to introduce you to my colleague and friend, Malini Janakiraman. Molly, nice work is exceptional. And it spans so many different facets in leadership development, and particularly unlocking the capabilities of inclusive leadership. Now, in this work, she has focused for the reasons that you will uncover in this podcast on the idea of multi dimensionality and truly making a multi dimensional view of ourselves and of others, a cornerstone of the abilities of inclusive leaders, which is different from let's say, emphasizing intersectional identities that has become an important focus for DNI work of late now, here's my conversation with Malini I'm sure you will enjoy it. So Malini, I guess I'll ask you the question that I ask everyone on this podcast Angley. What do you do when it and we know each other? So well over the years that it's it feels an odd question to ask you.
Malini Janakiraman 1:33
Thank you, York. And thanks for inviting me to be part of this podcast series. So you know, sometimes I have a hard time answering that question myself. Because I have done so many things in my life. I started off in finance, if you can believe that. But over time, as I worked in Fortune 500 companies and I kept asking myself, What is my passion? What do I really like to do? I have moved from the area of finance and m&a and compensation into the realm of leadership development. And as I kept working with leadership development, and kept thinking about my focus, and where I'd really enjoy working, it was in the space of D and I, and inclusiveness when it comes to helping leaders understand how they can get better at managing leading people, and helping people who are being led, such as you know, multicultural women learn how to get better at being let you know, sharing of themselves. So that's my focus, if you will, and I continue to do work in that space. I also coach executive coaching, which also lends itself very well into this notion of helping people become more inclusive.
Joerg Schmitz 3:03
And I think what what intrigues me about your work, and I know that in, you know, across so many different facets of activity, whether it's as a facilitator or consultant or coach, like you said, you've been really focused on getting people to embrace the multifaceted or multi dimensional aspects of their identity of who they are and how they view others as well. You know, I think you call it a, a moving from a two dimensional view to a three dimensional view of who we are.
Malini Janakiraman 3:34
Yes. So, you know, this all happened to actually because of my own personal experiences, right? Imagine this, I was born and raised in India, I landed in Elkhart, Indiana, I went to work in South Bend, Indiana, back in the 80s. And here I was not only the only woman very often in leadership roles, but the only minority woman in leadership roles, right. And when I realized you're in all my interactions with folks, people saw me as this woman from India, four foot 11 and a half inches tall with a CPA, period. They never got to know me beyond that. So you can kind of see that lens of just to D if you will, right. And here I was, you know, a mother, immigrant, deeply spiritual, because I was raised with this notion of Dharma or loyalty and duty. And I could speak and read and many, many other languages, but nobody, nobody asked me about it and neither did I share because I wasn't comfortable talking about my right. So you can kind of see that's what kind of prompted me to ask the question. Do you really know you to people as a leader, because no one ever tapped into Malini and all her capabilities, because they have this flat looking at me from A to D perspective. Whereas, if someone had even asked me, what what shapes you, how did you grow up? Where did you grow up, they would have learned so much more about the resilience, I had to develop as an immigrant, going back to school while raising children, you know, so all these things that they could have tapped my potential more if they had gotten to know me.
Joerg Schmitz 5:37
And it's so interesting. I mean, it just, there is such simplicity in in what you just shared, because it's just about asking sometimes, right? People today are very afraid to ask, right also, because, you know, when you think about the it's become treacherous, sometimes for people risky to show curiosity and just ask questions, because people struggle with all kinds of messages, should I ask, Am I being biased? And, and if I ask it this way, this is not a delay or friend, I find a lot of people really struggle with these questions, especially in a corporate context where this has become so much harder.
Malini Janakiraman 6:24
I completely agree with you. And I think with all the metoo movements, and everything else coming on board, it's even becoming even more heightened that awareness of of am I am I stepping over my bounds? Right. But I think you're, it's precisely now that we need to do it. Right. That's exactly what my thought here is, right? Human beings are multi dimensional, that's just part of our nature, right? Part of our nature. And if if you don't ask others, what do you bring to the table beyond what I know what I can see, or what I assume I can see, then you are missing out on so many other things that as I said, problem solving, being able to conceptualize, because, you know, research tells us where you are born and how you are raised determines how you solve problems, the heuristics, right, cognitive frameworks. So I think to your point, is that you raise Yes, it's more difficult, and you're worried, are you overstepping your bounds? But here's what I will say to you. If with genuine, compassionate curiosity, you ask the question, open ended question. What shaped you? Where did you grow up? And what were some of those experiences like those open ended questions help you to learn so much more about what that individual brings to the table? I'll give you a quick example. Right? I was doing work. And by the way, this is international, what I'm talking about, it has applicability anywhere in the world. I was doing work in India, and a gentleman who works for a professional services organization pretty high up in the organization. In that session, it was a session on inclusive leadership. And of course, I was talking about multi dimensionality. And do you really know your people? And he said to me, you know, this is the first time that anyone's really asked me that question. He was pretty high up in the organization, I grew up dirt poor, dirt poor in the Philippines. And I have been hesitant to talk about that, because of how I will be viewed. But do you know what I bring to the table now, because of those experiences? That is what shaped me to become the leader I am today. Right? But nobody asked me that question to make me comfortable enough to talk about it. So to your point, yes, it may be more difficult, but you gotta try it.
Joerg Schmitz 9:14
It's actually really interesting how, you know, our fear of stereotypes or the labels that others may carry, or the biases that others might carry inhibits us, right. And it's so interesting to me in the diversity conversation or in you know, where there is all this attention on bias awareness, right. And, and all the attention to self, you know, what are my biases and but How would others know that I'm actually aware of my biases, and that I'm trying to mitigate them? Right. I mean, it's a it's actually a dilemma I can I can be extremely bias aware, and self reflective and How would others know and how will this help me actually then build the relation Ships. And that's what I, what I find intriguing about what you're focusing on, namely, that relational quality, right? How can we hold the energy that I'm bringing into a relationship into an interaction? And how how can I stand? You know, in that multifaceted or multi dimensional sense of identity that we all have, as you point out?
Malini Janakiraman 10:23
Yes, you see, and this is precisely why it all comes together. When you think about the world of D and I inclusive leadership, and leadership development, which is my space, right where I work, and it plays out in so many different ways. For instance, if you're a multicultural woman, and I do work with a lot of multicultural woman, and I do sessions for them in a corporate world where people don't know you, if you are asked to speak about yourself, what do you share? And where where do you hold back, and I've been encouraging people to add color, just don't be black and white. Let people know the dimensions you bring to the table. Right? A lot of people talk about belonging these days, right, and belonging as a function of being inclusive. But you cannot belong unless you feel comfortable talking about everything that you bring to the table, right? That you've come in with, because you don't leave them at the door. That's why this is becoming such an important focus for me. Because when you ask the words, do you really know your people comes with that this notion of bias? And where when I hear someone say something to me, how am I going to react to it? Am I stepping through and my own thought processes around? Yeah,
Joerg Schmitz 11:51
and I think it's such an important question, especially in this virtual or hybrid reality that we're creating right now for for work, right? Where work is less in a in an office space, and more perhaps in mediated contexts, right on Zoom more in on teams, and virtually and in a global context. And it's, it's a really interesting question, do you really know your people in that context? Right, and how will we get to know each other in that context?
Malini Janakiraman 12:26
Right, right. And so, and I think the advantages of really knowing your people is not just creating a sense of belonging, it's beyond that, right? So let's just say that you have, and this has happened to me, I mean, real life examples, I've heard so much of this, someone speaks with an accent. And let's just say all you hear is the accent. Right? And you can't get beyond that. And you're worried only about communication, what if you flip it, and say, if this person speaks with an accent, that means they've had experiences that I am not aware of, and I don't focus just on the accent, but on the individual and what they bring to the table, let's just flip that. And as leader, if you can ask the person the pertinent questions to get to know them and their experiences, maybe you would put them on a team that can really problem solve for the client. Unlike others, you may have on your team, right? So it's, it gets you to the skill sets of people.
Joerg Schmitz 13:37
And to me, that seems to be the whole essence of of focusing on diversity in the workplace context, at least, if not, if not much, much more broadly, you know, if we want to solve any big problems that we're facing, we better tap into the different modes of understanding a problem and solving it so that we can actually, you know, be innovative in the process. And sometimes innovation is exactly what we don't expect innovation to be. That's the real innovation. Right? So it's, it's I think, that it's very deep and very, very important. And I asked everybody on the these podcasts, why they do what they do, and I feel that you have partially answered this already. But you know, your personal experience of taking your identity from India to Indiana, right, this and also recognizing the importance of certain things we all bring to our workplaces based on the social context that shaped us, right, that shaped our own sense of identity. You talked about a Dharma for example, right as a, as a driving force that holds a lot of value for you and I and I think exploring and discovering these elements, about one another. It's actually such a powerful connector. All right. So I'm just curious. I mean, I mean, you know, Yeah, but why do you do this work? I mean, increasingly, what are other aspects to your motivation?
Malini Janakiraman 15:10
You know? Yes, I think you get a good sense of why I got in here and what, what stirred me, but I will tell you, there is one of the pieces to why I do it, it actually comes from dealing with my own biases. That's why I really become I realized a lot of times, let me give you an example. Right? So you talked about religion, and what I bring to the table. Now, I've had conversations in my work with people who are not from my own religion, and with people from other religions that I have not always spent a lot of time thinking about, or made assumptions about. So what I realized in doing this work is that this kind of stopping, pausing, asking questions, open ended questions. Not only does it help me as a leader to lead people better, it works in mitigating my own biases, because now I'm moving from single loop learning to double loop learning, right, which is another important thing in my, in my work is, is to stop and say, How can you reduce risks of basic errors? Now, you know, six sigma, you you take a process, you make sure there are no risks? What about in the human interaction? Right? What are the risks of seeing people as 2d versus 3d? So the why, therefore is, can I not help people in their human interactions, stop, pause, and do the same kind of thinking that you would do with other work processes?
Joerg Schmitz 16:54
It's powerful when you look at it from that angle? Right? Yeah, there is a very practical desire mixed in with a deep, spiritual sense of calling, right?
Malini Janakiraman 17:04
Yes. And I have learned so much personally from it, which I feel like I'd like to share as part of this learning.
Joerg Schmitz 17:14
Are you worried sometimes that diversity work or diversity, equity and inclusion work? I mean, inadvertently and unintentionally creates a two dimensional view of people, rather than what you would what you describe as a three dimensional view?
Malini Janakiraman 17:32
That is a very good question. I think there is a propensity for that to happen, right? Because we are starting to put people into categories, if you will, right? What categories are we looking at, in the in the space of, of differences and so on? Right? Yes, I do worry about that. I do worry about that. And so to me, therefore, the worry is, is not to dismiss D and I, but to add to it, and that's what this will do you take those dimensions and say, Yes, that's a starting point. Now, what happens if there are intersections of these dimensions, which then becomes part of the leadership challenge to say, let me understand these intersections, and even more, so take advantage of them? For the benefit of both, because you can talk all day about belonging and, and those kinds of notions. But if you're not genuinely interested in knowing your people, and what they bring, and offer, you're not gonna get anywhere. So it's to me, that's a fundamental way of moving DNI with a multi dimensional lens, if you will.
Joerg Schmitz 18:51
I like this idea of moving DNI because I think the intention oftentimes is to do exactly what you described, you know, to to connect people deeper. But then oftentimes, the impression maybe the unintended consequence of the NI work is to tell the rest of the organization that really people fall into two specific categories and, and buckets. And then then there are certain beliefs around those buckets. And, and oftentimes, we make the interactions, or people get the feeling that interacting across those buckets is fraught with risk. So they stay away.
Malini Janakiraman 19:30
Right. And, you know, I feel also just as passionate about inclusiveness is about everybody. And so sometimes people who are even of the majority feel marginalized, I feel very strongly that that should not happen, right? So if you start approaching this with a multi dimensional lens, then you're not putting people just into categories. You're seeing them as human beings. And you're also kind of extending In that notion of the Eni, it
Joerg Schmitz 20:02
counteracts polarization, you know, and polarization doesn't help make progress, right? It may feel good, especially for people who feel not seen perpetually not seen or marginalized. But it ultimately doesn't lead to progress, right? It just creates this polarizing energies and forces.
Malini Janakiraman 20:24
And that is, so much of it is going on these days in the world, you know? And so are there ways in which we can step it is what I'm saying. And one other thing that I think I should tell you is that, you know, my deep sense of spirituality within myself, and what drives me, for family and work, etc, right? This, I found this space to be for me, it lends itself into being able to bring that to the fore. Because it there is a little bit of this notion of servant leadership, when you're teaching people around this notion of you really know your people, you know, think as they would think. So in other words, you're, you're putting them sell yourself so much in their world. There's an element of servant leadership here, which taps into what I have been honing in over the years, from my perspective, as to my own spirituality, right? And so that's another why, if you
Joerg Schmitz 21:25
will, it's a great example of how that the personal, why and the professional, why can meet. And that's a beautiful space. So I'm just wondering out of all of this, and first of all, I'm so excited to bring this perspective, your perspective and your experience into this institute, you know, the inclusive leadership institute, and for people to benefit. And I've seen this over the years, as we've worked on client engagements and so forth, of how deeply clients benefit from, from your experience, your wisdom, your observations, your coaching, and I'm so excited for you to bring this into this, this community here. And take it a little bit out of specific client contexts as well. But I'm just curious, if you were to say, here's one or two actionable insights, you know, for anybody who's listening, to start embodying or start, you know, you know, infusing their leadership with, what would you tell them? What would be your advice?
Malini Janakiraman 22:31
I would say, it starts with genuine curiosity, interest, about learning about your people, you know, starting with it, and then the word I cannot emphasize that word genuine, genuine curiosity, to learn about your own people. That's where it starts. Right. And I think the second thing is to double loop your thinking. So what I mean by that is, if you know how quickly we all come to decisions, especially in the world of work, is to stop and ask yourself, Am I making some assumptions here and judgments too quickly, which can lead to errors, and which if it was a process at work, I would say this does not work. Let's stop, let's think about it. Apply the same logic to your own thinking about people that you interact with. That's what I would say two things right. Start with genuine curiosity and check in to your own quick decision making that stops you from seeing people you know, with deep dimensionality.
Joerg Schmitz 23:47
Thank you so much, Malini. This was was fabulous, what a great introduction of you and your work and your your, your rich experience to this community. And I'm looking forward to more.
Malini Janakiraman 23:59
Thank you YARGH. Me too. I'm also looking forward to working with the Institute.
Joerg Schmitz 24:12
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