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14. Finding a Voice in the Workplace

Marissa: In today's episode, I am extremely excited to introduce and talk with Shara Roman, a former chief human resources officer, as well as the founder and CEO of the Silverene Group, a boutique management and culture consulting group. Her firm helps organizations create more productive and engaged teams by removing toxic stressors in the workplace. She also helps business leaders through major changes, such as rapid growth, mergers, and acquisitions. Today, we will be talking about Shara's experience, implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion or DEI programs in the workplace, and what companies can do both at the individual and organizational level to prioritize accessibility in the workplace. Stay tuned, to learn more about how we can amplify the voices of disabled employees in the workplace.

*Intro Music*

Marissa: Welcome back to another episode of Legally Blonde & Blind. I am so excited to have a very special guest with us today. Share Roman, please introduce yourself.

Shaara: Hello. I am so excited to have you on today. Hi everyone. I'm Shara Roman, and I'm thrilled to be here today with Marissa.

Marissa: Yeah, no, this is, this is incredibly exciting. As I mentioned to you before, I think this will be a great opportunity to sort of bridge that gap because I'm a student, and most of my listeners are students. So I think you're really able to shed light on what it's going to be like for us as we begin to enter the workplace.

Shaara: Absolutely.

Marissa: So diving right in, I wanted to ask you what led you to pursue a career in human resources and management consulting.

Shaara: So I get asked this question a lot, and I guess I have a fairly typical answer in that I fell into HR. I really thought that my career path was going to be in finance or accounting. Mostly because I was good at math and I was interested in business and I thought it was just sort of, you know, just a good, common-sense route to go.

But I was also sort of a non-traditional student in that in my undergraduate, you know, pursuing my undergraduate studies and working at the same time. So I was quasi-part-time working part-time in school and it would vary depending on whatever was happening in my life. So I landed this job, in a part-time role doing accounting at a trade association and as the HR director. Literally relentlessly pursued me on a very regular basis for about six months telling me to come work in HR and that she thought I'd be a much better fit in that role. And she keeps walking by and going, are you bored yet? Are you bored yet? And finally, I was like, yes, I am really bored. This is not at all aligned with my interests.

And, you know, what I think really struck me about HR and why I sort of stuck with it is that when human resources are done strategically or when an organization sort of thinks about it in that strategic way, it can play a pivotal role in creating the right employment, a right environment for employees.

Right. And so, at that time, for me, it was helping the organization be inclusive of a workforce, right out of college, joining a very old school, traditional DC type organization. You know, your very typical nonprofit with a lot of folks that were, you know, mid to late career, but very old-school. And I don't even think, or, I mean, I know that we weren't using the words that of inclusion, but what I felt was this is like a really stodgy place. And I'm only here because it's a matter of convenience in the sense that I need a job and I'm working and they're being flexible with me, but it wasn't kind of the kind of place that was welcoming and tapped into the potential that younger people coming right out of college or, you know, in college, like I was that we're bringing to the table.

Marissa: No, that makes sense. And could you talk a little bit about how you founded and created the Silverene Group?

Shaara: Yeah, the consulting piece came later for me, as I realized that, you know, as I progressed through my career, I had always tapped into, I was always tapped in organizations to lead these increasingly complex and challenging problems. And so, I realized that I love to dive in and figure out what's really going on in an organization. You know, what sort of really the root cause of the, of the, of the problem or the, you know, the issue that people are facing. And then how do you really collaborate with others to develop a solution that sticks. That's really what is important to me as well.

So, I was a head of HR for a trade association in the DC area and, kind of just really came to this point in my career that I wanted to be able to make an impact with many more companies than I could working as the head of HR internally. And I felt that there was a gap really in helping organizations think strategically about their culture and about creating places where people could come to work as their full selves.

So, anyway, that's sort of what led me, led me to it. I thought, you know, there's an opportunity. I have the passion. I have the desire. I feel that I'm bringing this sort of robust skillset of working in so many different industries and organizations and solving a lot of these different types of problems that organizations face. And we can really help this niche market of the small to midsize organizations in the DC area, but also beyond, right? We're not limited right now to jobs in this region.

Marissa: No, I, I think that's, I think that's amazing that you were able to find that sort of passion that you had and be able to start your own corporation where you can help businesses really dive into the sort of organizational problems that they're facing. And I think you really explained what consulting is very well. I run into a lot of people, especially those who aren't in the business bubble at the Georgetown McDonough School of business who are like, what is consulting, but you explained it perfectly. It's trying to help these organizations and figure out how they can, like, and especially what you do, help figure out how they can create a more inclusive culture.

I wanted to ask you based on your experiences, I know you've worked for, and you've consulted for several different organizations. What do you think are some of the biggest diversity, equity, and, inclusion, issues facing us right now, especially for disabled employees?

Shaara: So, first of all, I think if we think about diversity equity inclusion in general, I think there's a, there's a lack of understanding around kind of what it is and why it's important. But I think if we think about just, disabled employees sort of specifically because they are often overlooked, right in kind of the DEI conversation, there is stigma and discomfort because people don't understand. What, you know, what it means, and they worry about what it means to make an accommodation. You know, we have these sorts of policies under the ADA and these sorts of rules and regulations. And so that feels very onerous to a lot of organizations and a lot of managers, right? They hear the word accommodation and they kind of freak out. And I think ultimately it sort of just goes to the overall kind of problem or sort of underlying issue around sort of DEI. As people we've been programmed, I think for so many years, the last 20, 30 years, maybe even longer to not think of people as unique.

So this lack of flexibility and managers recognizing that we're all human beings, that everyone is unique. And of course, you can't create, you know, 10,000 different solutions for people in organizations, but you sort of have to find that right balance with consistency and, there is sort of equity in your treatment yet also recognizing that everyone needs to be, you need to sort of bringing in the persons that have unique attributes and needs and desires as you think about things in a holistic and sort of, concerted way.

So. I think that when I think about what conversations I've had with manner managers, it's sort of really those sort of three things around kind of the stigma and discomfort. Right. They don't want to look at a person who's in a wheelchair because it makes them so uncomfortable. Right? They don't want to ask questions. So yeah, so I think those are the big issues.

Marissa: I think even, even when people are, even when people are in elementary school, they're taught almost not to ask questions about these types of things and not to bring it up. You’ll see responses like, “oh, I don't see race, or I don't see disability,” but ultimately it's going to be a part of this person's life and how they experience and how they experience different things in the workplace.

Shaara You have to break that barrier and talk about it. It makes people uncomfortable at first, for sure. I completely agree. And you know, it's funny that you bring that up like, “I don't see race or I don't see disability” because that was very much sort of the thing is I was in the workforce right early on in the eighties and the nineties. And that was sort of our way of dealing with DEI. It was sort of our way of saying our way. I'm talking about sort of society's way of saying, oh, but I'm not a racist or, you know, I think everyone's sort of the same, right? I'm looking at everybody with the same lens or I don't see color. And that's why I'm not going to make a bad decision. When I don't promote somebody or I don't see gender because I'm only promoting these, these guys.

But at the end of the day, the philosophy that we were guided by rightly or wrongly. I think mostly wrongly was, has sort of, um, tried to sort of just homogenize everybody.

Marissa: No, I agree. And before we dive into a bit more about what DEI programs can look like, could you explain what diversity equity, and inclusion is? There's so much confusion around these words. Are they the same thing? Are they different?

Marissa: No, they're different. They're different. And it's, it's really good. I love that you asked that question because it's so important to actually ensure that we're all, um, you know, kind of starting from the same place. Right? And all grounded in a common language. So if we think about diversity in its simplest form, it's essentially any dimension that differentiates one person from another, right?

And diversity can be where you grew up, whether your parents were divorced, whether you, you, you know what your race is, what your gender is, what your sexual orientation is. There are hundreds and hundreds of different diversity dimensions that we need to consider. So diversity is essentially the representation of those traits.

Now, of course, there are some diversity traits that are more important for us to focus on and, and to feel, to pay attention to, to ensure that they're included and, you know, and sort of the equity around it. Right? So inclusion is essentially the degree to which people feel that their that they're valued, that they're respected, that they're accepted, that they're encouraged to fully be a part of their organization or their community, or, you know, whatever group that they're in.

And one thing I like to sort of say is that diversity is essentially a fact. So diversity is about representation. It's about numbers. Inclusion is an act and that's what the behavioral component is. So diversity without inclusion is ultimately ineffective. So you have to have the inclusion component and, you know, an example of this as a small business, we worked with some time ago and they were so thrilled that they were able to recruit a very talented black female engineer.

And they were predominantly a male-dominated organization, a white male-dominated organization, and she was excited about the opportunity. She, so, you know, from a diversity perspective, there was small advancements. So, you know, they've made some sort of advances, right in terms of the representation, but she left within a year because she essentially felt, she felt tokenized. Her ideas were shut down. You know, she was sort of labeled as being pushy and being criticized for being pushy. And she wasn't able to do the job that she was hired to do. You know, if you do that at scale, right. And you bring in, whether it's people of color or whether it's more women or people with disabilities or, you know, different sexual orientation, whatever, whatever those diverse traits are, if you don't make them feel welcomed and included and that their voices heard. It's really inconsequential and you've wasted a lot of time and effort.

And then equity is important too. And equity is actually something I feel gets most confused with equality and people sort of getting quite heated about that. But essentially equity is saying it's, it's fair treatment. It's fair access and opportunity. And advancement for all people, right? So we want to be equitable, but that, or that sort of more like really the equality component, but then the equity component is we have to strive to identify and sort of remove the barriers, mitigate the barriers that have prevented the full participation for some groups.

So the equity piece is recognizing that we've not all had a fair shake in this world. And that is when we bring an equity lens into our workplace. But we can take an equity lens across the board, right? Even like funding of businesses as an example, um, that allows you to consider that some people might need more help. And that is not a handout, right? That is actually helping everybody get to the same place.

Marissa: No, 100%. I think that's a great point you bring up because I think it's easiest to look at the numbers or to look at the pamphlets when you're considering DEI, but there really is so much more that goes into it, because like you said, if you recruit a bunch of people from an underrepresented group and they don't feel like they, they belong, they don't feel like they can contribute, then there's no point.

Shaara: Yeah. It's only the surface. I was just going to add to that. Like, you know, if you, if you bring in underrepresented people and they're in a community, whether it's a college or a, or an organization, but then they all stick together and they're not really a part of the bigger pie. That's not helpful either. Right? Like you, the whole point is to bring everyone together so that you can have all of those cool benefits around, innovation and, and things like that.

Marissa: That makes sense. And so what do you think are some of the most common misconceptions you've seen around DEI programs?

Shaara: I think building on what we've sort of just talked about, that they only benefit people of color, that they only benefit women or people with disabilities and other marginalized groups. Just not true, right? Like if you think about inclusion, everybody wants to see their thoughts and actions being heard. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger. It's that old adage that rising tides lifts all boats.

The other thing that I hear is that people feel like, “oh, it's so expensive. It's a waste of time. It's a waste of money. Leaders have more important work to focus on, and I don't really have time for this.” And, you know, it's one of those things that you have to make time for sort of like your own wellness and wellbeing, right? And sort of eating well and kind of getting fresh air and exercise. If you look at the data, these are studies that are conducted by very reputable mainstream organizations like Deloitte, PWC, McKinsey, etc. Study after study will show you that you, you know, you'll get an eight times return on every dollar you spend on DEI. And that return comes in, in the way of sort of being innovative and agile, right? So you're six times more likely to be innovative. You’re eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

And then when it comes to talent retention, you're three times more likely to retain millennials. Now, this study. I was looking at millennials, but I'm a hundred percent certain of the data would show the same thing for gen Z is right. If not, it would probably even be higher than you'll be able to retain talent. And when you're in a situation like we are now with the great resignation and this, you know, huge sort of war for talent, you want to create a place where people can come and thrive and that ultimately it impacts your business because you'll be able to come up with new products and services faster, right?

And you'll be ahead of the curve and you'll be able to serve your clients and your employees and your, you know, your constituents in a more effective and exciting way. So, it's this, this belief that it only benefits a certain, it only benefits the population they think it's targeting, and that it's not a good investment. And both of those are not true.

Marissa: I think another example of a misconception that I see, and this is, this was especially prominent when I was in the college applications process. And there are a lot of initiatives to reach underrepresented groups in terms of college applications and admissions. And there was this idea. These programs that are seeking to reach out to these groups are somehow going to harm the majority. That it's going to be a situation where like, it, like helping these groups advance is going to harm us. And that's just, that's just really not the case. Right? Like I remember, or who would say, “oh, I should change my name. So it sounds more ethnic.” Or I should put this ethnicity down in my college application. I think that is such a narrow way of looking at it, because like you said when you have a more diverse environment, it benefits everybody within the organization.

Shaara: Exactly.

Marissa: And so, as you've been helping organizations, I know you helped with a lot of different issues relating to culture. What are some of the most common barriers you see to implementing these programs? Like what do you think are some of the most pressing challenges for businesses as they try to do this?

Shaara: Well, I think the sort of the most common thing we see and actually we, we beat it out when we talk with a client, like right in the beginning is that they're not in it for the long haul. So a lot of, and it's kind of funny to me, not funny “haha” just sort of strange that leaders still to this in this day and age often will think that it's a check the box activity. You know, tell me the three things I need to do and I'll go off and do them. And. It's, it's not about that.

As we talked about sort of the inclusion part, it's the act. So it's really sort of behaviorally based and it really is about your mindset and your beliefs and your values and how you're going to show up differently. And we actually had a client that really struggled with this and, and we thought we had vetted the client well, and that we had sort of really understood the issues that they were facing and sort of what they wanted to, to achieve. And we believe that they were fully bought in. And I think at one level they were when they sort of thought that, oh, we're going to do this work. We're going to get the answers. And it's going to tell us what we need to do. And that it'll be easy. Like just like coins and the coin slot, and, you know, I'll go pull the lever, and boom it'll happen. And, you know, we, the assessment essentially showed that the leadership team needed to be different. They needed to let, they didn't let more people share their thoughts and opinions without being shut down. So it was a very kind of type of animated team that was super smart. And so they were the ones that thought that their thoughts and opinions needed to, to outweigh everybody else. And, they were also incredibly, incredibly high standard sort of those perfectionist standards where you could just never. You could just never be done, which is exhausting. They needed to communicate more transparently and, um, they would, they would do things like drop a pile of work on someone like, you know, at 4:55 on a Friday. And it was more because they had forgotten or they had done poor planning. And so this was sort of this feedback that sort of came back and they struggled with it because they wanted a more tactical sort of check the box list of things to do.

Marissa: I bet they were expecting like, oh, bring in this guest speaker, have them talk for an hour. And all of your DEI problems will be solved.

Shaara: Yeah, right. They were like, oh, we should do training. Or, you know, we should bring in this guest speaker or we'll redesign processes, but then they never followed their process. Right? That’s why it sort of, one of the big things that we do along with the culture and the DUI assessments is there's coaching that’s involved because it's so much about understanding how you're showing up and how you need to show up differently. And to really, for some people really going deep and exploring sort of what are some of the things that. Get in the way of really leading in an inclusive way. And sometimes, or a lot of times, really, you know, if you think about people who are in management, who are in their, you know, late-forties, mid-forties, fifties, sixties, it's sort of what has been passed down as sort of the way to manage and the way to sort of success in corporate America.

And that's, you know, quite candidly that's old school. Those management techniques and principles came out of sort of the labor era when we were on assembly lines and you had managers supervising the work and making sure that things were getting done. And, you know, people were checking things and management was right in the worker, you know, just had to sort of follow the process and do what they were told.

That doesn't fly today. We're knowledge workers, right? And we're hiring people for the intellect that they have and the skills and their critical thinking and their ability to be creative. And you can't sort of manage that in this way that we used to do 50, 60 years ago. I think you've got to be open to flip that, flip that on its head.

The idea that the in-person workplace has to be at the center. After working virtually for two years, that begs the question, like, should people be working in the office? Full-time should they be working flexibly? Like, can we accommodate somebody by having them work at home? And, and that really impacted people who are disabled, right. It gives them a lot more flexibility and gives them a lot more ability to contribute without having to sort of navigate public transportation or, you know, sort of the agonies of whatever else they have to do to get to work.

Funnily enough, I was with a friend last night, and we went out to dinner at a concert and she was like, yeah, I went through COVID. I had foot surgery, I was incapacitated for months. I wore this boot, you know, and she said, nobody at work knew I was out for, you know, a couple of hours for my surgery. And then I didn't have to leave my house and nobody knew. And now imagine if she had to go to work, right. She wouldn't have been able to work because if she had to be in the office, She wouldn't be, she was supposed to be like, elevating her leg and doing all those things and she had that big clunky boot with her.

So, for sure. Like, I mean, that's a whole other podcast conversation because the sort of the way we think about work is really quite outdated. But the other thing I want to quickly say is that the other barrier quite candidly is that, DEI programs. Our thought of exactly as programs. And so they're quite disconnected from strategy and culture. And at the end of the day, culture and DEI are integrated. It's ultimately how we do things around here. And so DEI is not a, it's not a program or an initiative or a thing. It has to be how you do your work. It has to be integrated into. your strategy, right? And how you think about your clients and your vendors and your supplier is in your pricing and all of it. And it can be a check box like you said. And that's, and that's hard, right? Because it means we have to think differently about what we've been doing and how we've been doing it.

Marissa: And so how do you think we can ensure that disabled employees are included in these efforts? Because I think that the tendency when you hear DEI is to think about race and gender because those are some of the most common issues discussed. But as you were saying in the beginning of this podcast, diversity includes so many different identities and circumstances. So how do we make sure that disability is included in these conversations?

Shaara: Yeah. I mean, I hate to go to sort of education and training because that is definitely not the only solution, but I do think that there is an education component. You know, whether it's through making sure people are reading or listening to podcasts or whatever, but people need to be educated on what diversity is and the fact that it is much broader than race and gender. And it's also not a cop-out with a diversity of thought, because I've certainly heard that, right. That, oh, well, yeah. We have a diversity of thought initiative, which quite candidly I see as an excuse that, well, we'll just now get a bunch of white men from different parts of the country who went to different schools or have different socioeconomic backgrounds.

But at the end of the day, we're not really diversifying in the way that we should diversify, right. But, in all seriousness, l think in a workplace, employee resource groups are a really great way to galvanize employees and give voice to a group of people.

Marissa: Can you explain what that is?

Shaara: So an employee resource group is essentially a group that's funded by the organization. So the funding component is definitely important. And, it's sort of sanctioned and hopefully, you have more than one, right? That you have several organizations, in your company where people who identify with that group can come and be a part of the group.

So that. a community of people that can work together and ideally they're being brought business problems as well to solve, right. So they can have multiple roles of helping to give voice to a group of people, for them to help educate and do, you know, webinars or brown bags or whatever. But also be brought, you know, a marketing problem and say, “Hey, you know, we want to tap into people with disabilities, right. To sell this product or whatever, help us think about an advertising campaign or a marketing campaign. What would you want to hear?” Right. So you're actually focus grouping and you ask them for their perspective. Yeah. But it's a way of just supporting financially and, you know, in, in other ways with time. Right. And kind of giving people the time to go do the work. A group of people who identify in a particular way in your organization at its simplest level.

So, you know, using an ERG as an example to provide a forum for reducing the stigma of people with disabilities and helping them showcase what they are contributing to the organization. Right, and, for example, I'm on the board of an organization called enabled intelligence. They do work for the government mainly. But they have made a deliberate and conscious strategy to employ a large percentage of people with differing abilities, both physical and cognitive, and, you know, because of the work that they do, where they are getting people to sort of go through piles and piles of data and labeling it. Then use it like artificial intelligence. They know that people with these, with these sort of cognitive different, different cognitive abilities can actually focus and do the work to a greater extent at a very high-quality way than people who don't have that. Right. They also employ veterans. So veterans are sort of a diverse group and they have a whole kind of strategy around.

So when you have organizations like them, you know, you really want to be able to sort of tell those stories and showcase them. But you know, those are kind of just a couple of, a couple of ways, I think, to sort of start to sort of shift organizations and how they ensure that disabled people are included in, in DEI efforts.

Marissa: That's great. I think it goes back to your point, too, of moving beyond just the numbers and just the representative, like making sure their perspectives are heard and that they feel a sense of belonging. So they don't leave after a year like that one employee that you told us about. And I think even in the groups that I've currently, I haven't had a full, like a full-time job yet, obviously, but even in the groups I've worked with where like I've interned or even like in group projects or extracurricular activities, I found that just trying to like break down that barrier, like the initial reaction to sort of shy away, anytime disability comes up, like, “no, You can talk about it. You can ask me about it. It's going to help us work better together if you know what kinds of things I might need and what kinds of things I can do. So you don't have to waste your time asking me, like, if I need help a million times, and then I also get what I need from you.” So I think breaking down that barrier is a huge part of it.

And moving out a bit more on like a macro scale, I wanted to ask you, how do you think we can get organizations to move beyond viewing DEI and accommodations as something that they have to comply with? That's something that many have to get over because I had a guest speaker for another one of my classes who was talking about the legal context of HRM. And it really shocked me the way that they talked about workplace accommodations, because the way they put it was like, “oh, like, you know, it has to be a reasonable accommodation. You don't have to give them everything they want. “ Like you, you know, “you don't have to do all this for them.” And it just shocked me.

Like, why would you go into these types of discussions with that kind of combative mindset that I just feel like that everyone's life is more difficult, right? Yeah. Like why not try to be open and say, “Hey, what can we do for you? So, how do you think you can kind of get that sort of shift?

Shaara: That’s a million-dollar question, right? And it sort of goes back a little bit to what we were talking about earlier about just the whole mindset around work and the fact that workers and employees are obligated to their employer because they should be grateful they have a job. And that's not a mindset that I subscribe to. I don’t have a brilliant answer here.

I would hope that people do it because it's the right thing to do. I know that sadly, it's not the case. I do think that some of the change is going to come from pressure from employees. I think it's going to come from the, you know the great resignation is sort of a good thing on that level, because I think it will be a forcing factor for some employers to reflect. I also think that your generation is entering the workforce. You're, you're coming in larger numbers. So you're going to have an impact. I also think you are, you know, I know I'm totally generalizing and stereotyping an entire generation of 70 million or 80 million people, but I think because of your upbringing and your access to social media and sort of just the way you think and act. That is going to drive some of these changes, because you're going to be asking these questions when you go into an interview, right. Or when you're sort of working there, you're going to start to push. And what I love about the gen Zs is that you're not afraid to ask a smart question and to keep persisting about it. And sort of demanding action. And I don't mean demanding in a bad way, but just sort of saying, “Hey, wait a second. Why are you, why are you, why are you thinking that accommodation has to be sort of so, so rigid and thinking that it's like a burden And, and to be honest like that's how you talk to me and portray to me in the organization.” It’s like, yeah, we have to do this thing because the law is making us do it.

Marissa: And honestly, it's like, why do we need, and I know this is like a dumb thing to say, but why do we need laws to like, just do the right thing and behave like proper human beings. We do not require that much work even like, going online. For instance, it was something that before the pandemic would have been unthinkable. Oh, you can't do this online. You can't work online and then yeah. Well then the captains, boom, we all shift online rather seamlessly.

Shaara: Exactly. Yeah. No, it's. I think, is going to come with some sort of churn, but I also think that organizations are starting. And I know more and more organizations are actually doing culture and DEI assessments of the organizations and understanding where they are, sharing stories of people's experiences, right. Having people, you know, just talk about how they are experiencing their work environment that, you know, while we've certainly had a couple of instances, as I shared earlier where, you know, the leaders weren't sorted of really ready to take it in and make the change that needed to. Oftentimes it actually has proven to be a wake-up call for many clients because they will hear in the voices of their employees, what they're experiencing. Right. And the fact that a simple accommodation couldn't be made or that they weren't, you know, they weren't, their voices weren’t heard, they weren't taken care of and their sort of time of stress and distress. So I think it’ll start to shift.

I think it's going to come from real sort of that grassroots pressure, bottom-up. I also think the other good thing that is happening is that corporate boards are paying more attention to ESG issues, you know, environmental sustainability and governance issues. And that is encompassing culture and encompassing DEI. So I think that kind of bottom-up from gen Z instead of the top-down from the boards that are now sort of going like, oh, I've got to pay attention. I have to think about this now. Yeah. More than just the financial success, right? Like profits and, and sort of numbers are not the only measures of success, right. That has been proven over and over again. We’ve gotta be thinking in terms of the multiple bottom lines and that can only come, you know, really with the board pressuring that, but then when you have employees and prospective employees questioning these things, I think that will also start to change.

Marissa: I think what I see, especially a lot in my business classes, is like emphasizing the business case for DEI and environmental sustainability. And it's important to touch on those things, because like you were saying, we would hope that most people would do these things to be nice and decent human beings. And because it's right. But ultimately some people are pretty cold.

Shaara: So yeah, they are. And you know, I think that's a choice that we all can make, right. In the sense that we can, we can decide where we want to work and where we don't want to work and who we want to work with. I think that's important to look for even like the interview, the interview, you this, like you're interviewing the organization. They're not just interviewing you And to be confident and empowered in knowing that.

Marissa: And so to segue a bit more into talking about interviewing and hiring. I know a lot of my listeners are in the same position I am. We are current students who are thinking about entering the workforce in a few years. What advice do you have for us in terms of the interviewing and hiring process? Especially as many of us are disabled students.

Shaara: Yeah. Yeah. I think I would say to you, look, this is your time to sort of realize that, put your stake in the ground about what's really important to you. So do kind of a values exercise, right? Before you start, like, forget about the sort of, I mean, obviously the money, you know, we all need a certain amount of money to sort of meet our needs and all the rest of it. What is, what is, what is it that you're really looking for in a company? What is it you're really looking for in a manager and a team?

Because ultimately, you know, your manager is the one who's going to sort of creating that environment for you. Right? Obviously, they have to be, it has to be a priority in the organization as well, but you need to be looking at all of those elements, the company, the manager, the team, your coworkers. Is there a value alignment or not? That really, I think, needs to be the priority.

And I would recommend it be the priority as you sort of you and your listeners all think about navigating kind of the recruiting and interviewing and hiring process. And really. Like do your due diligence, ask a lot of questions, and ensure that what you see on the website and what you might be told in the interview matches the experiences of people in the organization. You know, so they might have lots of diverse pictures on their website, including people who are, who are disabled, but who shows up to your interview? Are you only interviewing with one or two people or do you have an opportunity to experience diversity in the organization? And I would ask, you know, how many people with disabilities do you have in your organization?

Can they answer that question? Do they know, are they going to be like, well, I can't really tell you, well, you know, if they're a public company, they probably have to file it in an affirmative action plan. Right. So that information. Is known and they should be able to share it. I would ask to speak with others, others in the organization, you know, that weren't part of the interview process. Once you have an offer to see what it's really like, they're checking references on you. You essentially want to check references on them. Right. It's a two-way process. It's absolutely a two-way process. Do your due diligence with alums, right? Like, tap into this, especially if people are Georgetown students or any place that you go to tap into that network, see people work there or have worked there. Look on social media, Glassdoor. And there are probably a million other places where you can sort of get the real scoop, ask them probing questions of what they do and how they've supported and advanced DEI initiatives and ask them how they have supported other people with disabilities in the organization.

And you know, what some of the challenges are that they faced, you know, you can ask, well, what's a recent accommodation that you've had to make? Like, those will give you sort of the sense that they said, “oh, well, we haven't had to make one in a while”, or “I don't know.” That might just tell you, well, do they really have people who are disabled working there or are people who are disabled not asking for accommodations? Cause they're fearful, right? Like what, what is that what's really going on? And you have a right to know and you don't have to be mean about it. Right. You just want to, you're curious about what it's really like to work there.

I just think by doing that and by talking about it, we sort of tend to normalize things as well. Right? It's just the same as asking about, well, what are your benefits or what am I opportunities for promotion? Right. We ask those questions, but we should also be asking all of these questions.

Marissa: That's a really good point because I know one of the things I struggle with. Like, as I was going through the college application process and beginning to do interviews, do I disclose my disability or not? And after starting the podcast, I realized this is a big part of my identity and something that I'm passionate about. So I now feel more confident than ever like sharing my experiences with Legally Blonde & Blind in my experiences as a blind student in general, because there's nothing, there's nothing I should hide.

Even when I was younger, I was told, “oh, you don't have to disclose your disability” in an interview. But I made that sort of decision where it's like, if they're not going to react positively to it, if they're not going to be receptive to the work I'm doing on Legally Blonde & Blind, do I really want to work with this organization? Do I really want to be a part of something where I'm not going to feel like I'm included?

Shaara: Exactly. Because at the end of the day, you need to be able to bring your full self to work. Right. And you don't want to code-switch. You don't want to hide. You don't want to live this lie essentially, right?

Because you are you, and that's what they should be hiring for everything that you bring to the table. So I agree. And I think that is super important to draw that line in the sand and say, yeah, I'm going to tell you all about me and I'm, you know, obviously kind of appropriately. And this is what you get and hopefully, that will lead you to the right place.

Marissa: Yes. And what's interesting too, is I think it's harder to disclose it just like on an application, because when you apply to college, it asks for your ethnicity, right. It asks for your religion, and your gender, it's not going to say, are you disabled click here? So it kind of like, it falls a lot more into your own hands to disclose it. But I think at least for me, I found it very powerful to do.

Shaara: Yeah, I agree. I think it is very powerful. And I think that from, you know, from an HR perspective, if you're sort of deciding to go into a career, you know, in that space, I think it's something for us to be thinking about. How do we really make people feel more included proactively, you know, what can we do to ensure that you're successful and can thrive in this organization? You know, are there special, special things that you might need to ensure that you're successful here? Right. And I think also just sort of finding words from an employer perspective that are not so harsh, right? Because this sort of accommodation and the way kind of the laws are written sometimes that sort of come down and just make it seem so sterile when it's really a human conversation that is happening and that you are trying to just be helpful and kind to someone who it goes back to that equity, right. That needs a little bit of extra, extra help and support. Help them, you know, be able to sort of bring their full selves and deliver what they're fully capable of, of doing. And when people bring their full selves, they're going to be able to contribute so much more to whatever organization they're working at.

Marissa: So like you said, it benefits everybody, not just one person. Now we're reaching the end of the episode. Is there anything else that you'd like to add or tell our listeners about how they can connect with you?

Shaara: Sure. Well, first of all, thank you so much. This has been a terrific conversation.

I know we chatted a lot, so this is going to be an extra-long podcast. But absolutely, I am on LinkedIn. It's very simple. It's the, if you just sort of, well type in Shaara Roman you'll find me there. My LinkedIn URL is, um, just my first name, Shara. You can also go to my website,, and check us out there and be happy to continue the conversation with anyone else who would like to do that.

Marissa: Well, thank you so much again for joining us. This has been an amazing episode.

Well, everyone, I hope you enjoyed listening to today's episode. As much as I enjoyed making. I think Shara has such a unique perspective and I am so glad she was able to come on here today and share some of her experiences with us. If you like today's episode, make sure to subscribe to Legally Blonde & Blind on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you listen to your music and shows you can also follow Legally Blonde & Blind on Instagram at @legallybb_. And you can also check out my Facebook page.

Thank you all for watching, and I hope to SEE you soon!


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