Welcome to the HR Leadership Podcast.
Joseph’s guest in this episode is Bianca Torres.
She is a champion of safe psychological spaces at work for people of color, having spearheaded action-based initiatives to help people feel seen and heard at work.
Bianca’s background is in healthcare, and she’s always valued her compassion and human-centered approach to the medical journey.
Now, she’s combining her vocation and her personal passion as a Recruiter for Rune Labs, creators of a revolutionary medical data analysis platform.
Bianca and Joseph discuss the experiences of Black people and people of color, specifically in the corporate world, and try to dissect the psychological challenges of self-regulation in a workplace that carries different expectations of different people.
Bianca dives straight into the deepest of topics – with the warmth and emotional intelligence of someone who truly understands what compassion is. Her contribution has made this one of the most profound and satisfying conversations we’ve had on the show so far.
Before you listen in, take a moment to get to know a little more about Bianca, and get some context for the conversation.
Born and raised in the Bronx, and now a resident of Brooklyn, Bianca is a child of New York City in every sense.
Born to Black and Puerto Rican parents, she has the experience of a mixed heritage, and navigating life as a biracial person. Her stories of the corporate world, travel, and simply “existing” are likely to resonate with people of color.
Most of Bianca’s working life has been in healthcare, as a compassionate medical professional and lab technician.
She’s worked with people in their most vulnerable states, and has a deeper understanding than most of what the human experience entails. And it was during her time at One Medical that she became the organization’s DEI Coordinator, and Head of the DEIJ Committee.
Culture and belonging are what define Bianca’s most important work. Her desire to support an inclusive work environment is what drove her to deliver cultural awareness training to her peers, senior leadership, and stakeholders – driving the change at a company of over 2,000 employees. She founded the first Black Employee Resource Group (BERG) at One Medical, too.
Now, Bianca is a Recruiter at Rune Labs, a medical technology company that specializes in collecting, analyzing, and making use of brain data to treat a huge range of neurological diseases.
She brings her healthcare experience, her life experience, and her people skills to the role – enabling the organization’s success by giving people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to share their skills.
We’re so glad to have Bianca on the show, and hope you enjoy listening to our chat.
Here are some of the big points we discussed during this episode:
- Psychological safety at work for people of color
- How strong is the need for allyship at work?
- Working twice as hard to get half as far
- If you had unlimited resources, how would you improve work for people of color?
It’s hard to express quite how exhausting it can be, mentally and emotionally, to be the sole person of color (or “the token hire”) at work.
Masking yourself, adapting, becoming someone you’re not – or “toning it down” in order to appease a cultural expectation – these are typical experiences for so many people at work.
Detachment from your own culture in order to fit into corporate culture has become normalized as to not be shocking anymore.
“I think our people for many years have found the art of doing that, but not realizing the psychological effects of shrinking yourself, and not feeling like you are living, and walking, and speaking your truth”
She calls it code switching; changing your voice and mannerisms around certain people, dressing differently, or changing your hair. She’s passionate about changing that, and showing people that they can be their genuine selves without sacrificing their professional status.
Allies in the workplace
Joseph asks Bianca about how strong the need is within companies to have allies.
“It's extremely strong. Especially when a lot of companies nowadays – and emphasis on the nowadays – advertise, and try and recruit and promote inclusivity in the workplace.”
Equal opportunities in employment are often bandied around as an outward projection of what a company hopes to be. But many new hires land on the other side with a very different experience – finding a culture led by people who are totally out of touch.
“It's just harmful. And even though it's not outright physical harm that you see, we all know when it comes to like, mental health for example – a lot of people suffer in silence.”
There’s a real need for allyship, and a gap at some level in most organizations.
Bianca elaborates on how this “othering” impacts self-esteem, self-worth, and self-limiting behaviors, with fascinating takes on “surviving” at work. How can we move past that mindset, and support our people to succeed, flourish, and thrive as their genuine selves?
Working twice as hard to get half as far
“It’s no exaggeration to say that Black people have to work twice as hard to get half as far.”
This is one of the hardest truths; working at an organization where you’re in a minority group, or the sole person from a specific ethnic group – you tend to become the de facto ambassador of your entire people.
“When you're a black person or a person of color, you don't have the privilege of being seen as an individual – you are a representative of your race, whether you want to be or not.”
If you respond to events at work in ways that align with cultural stereotypes, or reinforce negative connotations – you’re immediately labeled. You represent a group that has, by proxy, been labeled. The chances of opportunity are diminished, and not just for you, but for anyone else from your ethnic group, based on one bad day.
And people aren’t just fighting this at work; media portrayal is as responsible now as it’s ever been.
Limiting your emotions, frustrations, and reactions is dehumanizing – and it’s hard work. It builds an invisible wall, holding in mounting pressure. Eventually, that wall can break, and the personal costs of that are high.
How can we improve work for people of color?
Joseph asks Bianca what she would do, with unlimited resources, to change or to improve the experiences of people of color at work. And her response is broadly similar to so many other people we’ve spoken to: education.
She believes the biggest benefit can come from communities coming together to share their knowledge and experiences – in a context where they can genuinely be themselves, in an environment where their culture is reflected back at them. Where they feel safe.
“We can bring, you know, a bunch of black working professionals together… just to really learn from one another, relate, network, make connections, share information…”
Community building and fostering trust is one element she believes in – and the other is actionable, meaningful training; real mentorship, demonstrable progression, and delivering on the promises that so many organizations fall behind on.
Learning from Bianca’s story and her insight was so valuable, and the conversation was enjoyable. Getting into the realness of DEI topics is only possible when you’ve got a guest like Bianca on board; with lived experience, unique experience, and the passion to make a change.
This episode was a pleasure to record, and it serves as a reminder to us that what we’re doing is important. Validating people, enabling people – allowing them to become the best versions of themselves at work. It’s good for business, sure, but when we retire, we’ll be focusing on how good it was for the world at large.
So, one last thank you to Bianca for helping us on that journey. And make sure you follow Bianca on LinkedIn to get the latest from her, as her journey unfolds.
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