Episode 77 – Unstoppable Transformational Changer with Shilpa Alimchandani
Shilpa Alimchandani immigrated from India to the United States when only a few months old. As with many immigrants we have interviewed here on Unstoppable Mindset, Shilpa grew up experiencing two worlds. As she describes it, she grew up in a South Asian home experiencing that culture, and later she experienced the wider world around her as she went to school and went out on her own. Her perspectives on her life and what she has learned are fascinating to hear about.
As you will experience, in addition to living, if you will, between two cultures, the color of her skin also caused her to experience challenges. Her “brown skin” did not fit within the normal world of dark-skinned people and her skin was certainly not white. As she tells us, some of the treatment she experienced showed her just how unfair people can be. However, as you will hear, she rose above much of that and has thrived in the world.
Shilpa will tell you about her life journey that lead her to form her company, MUK-tee which means “liberation” in Sanskrit. You will hear about her life as a leadership coach and as a DEI consultant helping many to move toward true transformational change.
About the Guest:
Shilpa Alimchandani is the Founder and Principal of Mookti Consulting. Mookti Consulting partners with clients to break free from oppressive systems and facilitate transformational change. In Sanskrit, mookti मुक्ति (MUK-tee) means liberation. Shilpa has more than 20 years of experience in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), leadership development, and intercultural learning. She is a DEI consultant, leadership coach, and facilitator who works with clients to develop holistic solutions that lead to transformational change. In her independent consulting practice, Shilpa has conducted DEI assessments, co-created DEI strategies with clients, facilitated high-impact workshops, and advised clients on issues of racial equity and justice.
In her role as the Director of Learning & Innovation for Cook Ross, she built the learning and development function from the ground up and led the organization’s curriculum and product development initiatives. With her deep knowledge of various learning modalities, intercultural leadership development, and human-centered design, Shilpa is able to craft interventions that are targeted, impactful, and appropriate for diverse, global audiences.
Before her work at Cook Ross, Shilpa designed and implemented global leadership programs for the State Department, led the development of a global learning strategy for the Peace Corps, and taught in the School of International Service at American University. She has facilitated trainings in nearly 20 countries around the world, and has received numerous awards, including twice receiving the Peace Corps’ Distinguished Service Award.
She is the author of the book Communicating Development Across Cultures: Monologues & Dialogues in Development Project Implementation (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010), and has been an invited speaker at numerous conferences, including The Forum on Workplace Inclusion and the Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research (SIETAR). She has also been a guest lecturer at numerous academic institutions, including Georgetown University and the United States Institute of Peace.
Social Media Links:
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
Thanks for listening!
Thanks so much for listening to our podcast! If you enjoyed this episode and think that others could benefit from listening, please share it using the social media buttons on this page. Do you have some feedback or questions about this episode? Leave a comment in the section below!
Subscribe to the podcast
If you would like to get automatic updates of new podcast episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. You can also subscribe in your favorite podcast app.
Leave us an Apple Podcasts review
Ratings and reviews from our listeners are extremely valuable to us and greatly appreciated. They help our podcast rank higher on Apple Podcasts, which exposes our show to more awesome listeners like you. If you have a minute, please leave an honest review on Apple Podcasts.
Michael Hingson 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson 01:21
Hi there you are listening to unstoppable mindset glad you’re with us wherever you happen to be. Today we get to interview or chat with Shilpa Alimchandani and I got it right didn’t I Shilpa
Michael Hingson 01:37
and Shilpa has formed her own company. She’s worked with other companies. She’s very much involved in the whole concept of diversity, equity and inclusion and we’ll talk about that and and chat about that a little bit. But first Shilpa Welcome to unstoppable mindset.
Shilpa Alimchandani 01:56
Thank you, Michael. I’m really happy to be here.
Michael Hingson 01:58
Shilpa lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. I’ve been there before it gets colder in the winter a little bit colder than it does here in Victorville in Southern California. But we’re up on what’s called the high desert. So we get down close to zero. A lot of winters. And so we know the cold weather. We don’t get the snow though. But we cope. Well. Thank you for joining us. Why don’t you start if you would by telling us just a little bit about you growing up or anything like that things that you think we ought to know about you?
Shilpa Alimchandani 02:32
Okay, well, Thanks, Michael. Yeah, I live in Silver Spring, Maryland now. But this is not where I grew up. I grew up in the Midwest, in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. I was actually born in India, but just a few months old, when I came here, to the US, so grew up in, you know, pretty suburban neighborhood in South Asian families, so kind of navigated between two worlds my world at home, and you know, which was very much a South Asian eating Indian food and speaking Hindi. And, you know, spending time with my family and our small community, in St. Louis, and then going to school and being part of a broader world that was really different than mine at home. And I’m the firstborn in my family. So as a first born of immigrant parents, you just kind of discovering everything for myself for the first time and not having much of a guidebook to help me along, but just sort of figuring it out as I went. And it was a mostly white neighborhood that I grew up in St. Louis, which was very segregated at the time, black and white. Not a lot of people who are anything in between, though, so kind of made my way in school. And I actually went to the University of Missouri Columbia for college. And it wasn’t until I finished college that I moved out to the East Coast. And I’ve stayed here in the DC metro area since working in lots of different capacities in in nonprofit and higher education and government and the private sector, and now as an independent consultant for the fast past few years.
Michael Hingson 04:22
So where do you fall in the black and white scale?
Shilpa Alimchandani 04:25
I’m neither right so as someone as South Asian did not kind of fit into the dominant white majority culture that I was a part of growing up and did not fit into black American culture either because that’s not my heritage. So it was a really interesting space to, to navigate to learn in, in a in a culture where race and skin color plays a big role in your identity development and the opposite. unities that you have, you know, it was something that I had to just sort of figure out where do I fit? You know, and what’s what’s my role in what appears to be kind of an unfair system that we’re a part of. And then as I discovered how unfair things were, might the question became, well, how do I change that? What’s my role? Being me and my brown skin? You know, to? to question the systems that are unfair? And to change things to be more equitable for everybody?
Michael Hingson 05:32
Do you think it’s unfair all over the world? Do you think it’s more or less unfair here? Or what?
Shilpa Alimchandani 05:39
Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, every place is unique. And so I don’t think like, you know, necessarily, what we experienced in the United States is the same as it is, and other countries in this hemisphere or anywhere else in the world. And I think there are some global themes around power and identity that really can cut across cultures and countries, you know, human beings are used to kind of creating hierarchies, you know, and, you know, some people having more authority, more power than others, sometimes that’s based on things like skin color, sometimes, you know, that’s based on gender, sometimes that’s based on caste, or that’s based on tribe or some other ethnic identity, there are lots of different identities that are used to kind of implement that hierarchical system. But there are some things that are in common across all of them, right about how people in power retain their power, how people without power, learn to kind of accept their circumstances. And, you know, and kind of not necessarily pushback, because when they do, there are consequences to that. And so that it’s like a reinforcing system that we get used to, and we sort of take for granted. Well, that’s just like, how the how the world is, that’s how life is. And it takes a lot of courage to question that and say, Well, no, well, it doesn’t have to be that way. And we can make things more fair for everybody.
Michael Hingson 07:20
Do you think though, that here, we we see more of that than elsewhere in the world, or you think it just seems that way, because we’re here,
Shilpa Alimchandani 07:30
and probably seems that way, because we’re here, I mean, you, you know, you, you know, you’re more in touch with what’s happening, usually in your own environment. And I think, for the United States, with as much promise as it has, as a country with, you know, ideals around equality and fairness and justice, there’s just a really difficult history that we haven’t fully grappled with, that continues to impact people every day. And so it is a history of, you know, genocide of native peoples, it’s a history of enslavement of African peoples. It’s a history of patriarchy, where, you know, women haven’t had the same access and rights, it’s a history of ableism. You know, a topic, of course, that you know, very well in this podcast deals with in a really nuanced way, where people who don’t fit into the norms of, you know, able bodied neurotypical folks, you know, are marginalized. And, and, you know, LGBTQ plus, folks are also marginalized. And that’s not unique to the United States. But it is part of something that’s part of our culture, that we need to acknowledge in order to change, kind of pretending like it’s all in the past, and we don’t really need to worry about that anymore, doesn’t help us to make things better moving forward.
Michael Hingson 09:01
If there’s a difference in the United States, it is that our country was founded on and we keep touting the fact that all of us are free, and all of us are equal, but in reality, it hasn’t worked that way thus far.
Shilpa Alimchandani 09:20
Right? That’s exactly right. And I think that it’s often people from marginalized groups, who really believed most passionately, in that promise in those ideals and therefore want to push to make that a reality.
Michael Hingson 09:39
Yeah, and, and understandably so because we’re the ones who tend not to have truly experienced it.
Shilpa Alimchandani 09:49
Right, exactly. And so, you know, it’s fascinating to me to Michael on this topic of, you know, recognizing the you know, the inequities and the oppression that exists And what we want to do to change it is that you would think that if you understand or experience oppression or marginalization because of one aspect of your identity, that you would then also have empathy across lots of different experiences of marginalization, right. So for example, as a woman, I’ve experienced marginalization because of my gender. And so you would hope then that I would be empathetic to, you know, LGBTQ folks, or I wouldn’t be also empathetic to people with disabilities. And I could translate my experience of marginalization and say, oh, I want to advocate for others who’ve experienced marginalization. But that is has not necessarily been the case, right? A lot of times, we kind of only focus on our own experience, the one that’s familiar to us and have a harder time seeing how there are connections across lots of different identities. And there’s power in us actually making those connections instead of, you know, operating in our silos.
Michael Hingson 11:11
Why is that? Why have we why have we not been able to take that leap? When we are part of one group, which clearly is marginalized, as opposed to other groups? Who are also marginalized, but we think essentially, we’re really the the only one in town from the standpoint of not translating that.
Shilpa Alimchandani 11:35
Yeah, you know, I think it’s, we are as human beings, much more aware of when we’re kind of the outsider, and things are harder for us. And we’ve experienced adversity that we need to overcome. But when we’re in that insider role, right, in the group that has more power, the dominant group, it’s really easy to not pay attention to that to kind of forget it, to take it for granted. Right. So I can say that, you know, as, as a cisgender person, as a heterosexual person, I have at times in my life kind of taken for granted that I belong to those groups, because the world is sort of set up for me, I can date who want to want marry who I want, I don’t have to worry about people looking at me, you know, strangely, when I’m with my partner, I don’t have to think about having photographs of my family, you know, on display, these are not things I have to worry about, just because I’m part of those dominant identity groups, right. And when it comes to my experiences of marginalization as a South Asian person as a Hindu person living in the United States, I’m very, like, hyper aware of those, right, because that’s where I have felt left out. That’s where I have felt like I haven’t been treated fairly. And so I think, because all about sort of like a complex mix of lots of identities, we tend to pay more attention to the ones where we experienced marginalization, and less attention to the ones where we are part of the dominant group.
Michael Hingson 13:13
But we don’t translate that to other groups.
Shilpa Alimchandani 13:16
Yeah. Because, again, we can we have the capacity to do it. But uh, sure, more effort, right.
Michael Hingson 13:22
Sure. And, and it’s all about, though, what, what we know, and what we feel. And we, we don’t tend to take that leap. We’re very capable of doing it. But for some reason, we don’t recognize or don’t want to recognize that we’re part of maybe a bigger group of marginalized or unconsidered people. And I think that’s probably really it, that we look at ourselves as well. We are, we are who we are, and we make our own way. But we, we don’t have those other people’s problems. And so we tend to ignore them.
Shilpa Alimchandani 14:07
Yeah, sometimes it makes us feel better about ourselves like, oh, well, you know, at least we don’t have to deal with that. And I think when it when it comes to like race and ethnicity in the US context, there’s been a conscious effort to divide people of color from different identity groups. We do have different lived experiences, I don’t have the experience of someone being black of someone being Latinx of someone being indigenous, at the same time, there are some things in common across not being white, right? And what the the the exclusion and some of the disadvantages that come with that. But it’s to the advantage of the group that’s in power right? For other marginalized groups to be continuing to sort of fight with one another and not see what they haven’t Common, because then that allows the majority group to maintain their power. Right? So you can keep fighting amongst yourselves, right and arguing about who was more oppressed than whom. But it, it, what it does is just allows the people who are in power to keep it. So it really is incumbent upon us to bridge some of those divides like you were talking about, like, why can’t we extend and see how someone else has experienced marginalization in order to change things because it’s that collective action is necessary.
Michael Hingson 15:33
Yeah. And that’s really it, it’s collective action. Because somehow, we need to recognize that the group in power isn’t really jeopardized by other people, sharing power, or not being so marginalized, but rather is strengthens all of us. Mm hmm. That’s what people tend to not perceive that they’re, the whole concept of their power in numbers, there is power in numbers, really is just as applicable across the board. But we don’t want to recognize that because we’re too focused on the power, as opposed to the rest of it. Yeah. And that, that becomes pretty unfortunate. And, of course, dealing with all those other groups, and then you have people with disabilities, which is a very large minority, second only to women from a standpoint of what we call minorities, although they’re more women than men, but then within disabilities, you have different kinds of disabilities that different people have, right. And that, that causes, I think, a lot of times another issue, because it is more difficult to get all of those groups sometimes to combine together to recognize the power and numbers of everyone working together. And everyone overcoming the prejudices is about for about their disabilities or toward other people and their disabilities.
Shilpa Alimchandani 17:06
Yeah, absolutely. And to even consider, you know, the, the intersections of our identities, right, so there are people with disabilities, many different types of disabilities, like you said, and then there are people with disabilities who are white, or people with disabilities, who are people of color, there are people with disabilities who are, you know, identify as cisgender women or cisgender men, or non binary or trans, right. And so when you kind of look at those combination of identities, it gets even more complex. And it also challenges us, right, it humbles us, I would say, to acknowledge that, wow, I may really be in touch with what it’s what the experience of being a person with disability in this country, and but I don’t have the experience, for example, of a person of color in this country, or a person of color with a disability in this country, and that those are different experiences. And to appreciate those differences, right? We don’t need to erase those differences in order to understand each other,
Michael Hingson 18:13
while the experiences are different, what isn’t different, oftentimes, is the fact that we do experience prejudice and discrimination. And we talk so much about diversity, that I think you’ve pointed out, we don’t talk about the similarities. And we’re, we talk well, we’re talking about becoming more diverse, and that’s great. But that becomes overwhelming at some point. And so how do we bring it back down to we’re all part of the same thing? Really?
Shilpa Alimchandani 18:47
Well, I think, um, there’s, there’s a, there’s kind of a journey that that we go on in understanding difference and understanding identity, you know, at first we may not be at, you know, totally aware of some of the differences around us, and then we might move to a place of feeling polarized around it, you know, that like us them dynamic, yep, there are differences, but we’re better than you, you know, and that kind of a thing, and then we get to a place. And what I’m describing here, broadly, is the intercultural development continuum, a framework that’s used a lot in the DEI space, you can come to a place of minimization, which is really focusing on commonalities, right. We are human, we have common lived experiences, we can focus on common values, and let’s minimize the differences right? But that’s not the end of the journey, because minimizing the differences is at times denying the reality of of people’s different lived experiences. And it doesn’t help us to really change things to make them more fair where they’re not. So then we move to kind of accepting the differences not with value judgment, but just acknowledging them. And then ultimately adapting across those differences, I would take it a step further that not only are we bridging or adapting across the differences, but that we need to learn to be allies, right? So especially if we’re in a position of being part of a dominant group, like as I am as an able bodied person, you know, what does it look like for me to be an ally, for people with disabilities, and that’s a responsibility that I have, right. So if we minimize differences, and we just kind of stay in that place of let’s just focus on what we have in common, we don’t then have the opportunity to accept, adapt and ultimately become allies. And that’s really the journey that we’re on,
Michael Hingson 20:44
what I don’t generally hear is not so much about what we have in common, or recognizing that we all can be allies, which I absolutely agree with and understand. But we don’t get to the point of recognizing the vast number of similarities that we have. And we don’t get to the point of recognizing that a lot of the so called differences are not anything other than what we create ourselves,
Shilpa Alimchandani 21:16
we do create differences. And we need to understand those differences in terms of systems, right, like entire systems in our society, and the way that our, you know, workplaces are set up and within the way, you know, physical spaces, as well as policies are developed. And those systems are not necessarily designed as fairly as they could be. And so that’s when I think paying attention to differences is really important, and not just focusing on similarities, because the same system is impacting people differently, depending on what identity group they belong to. And we’ve got to be able to surface that in order to change it.
Michael Hingson 22:02
But we do need to recognize that a lot of that comes because of the system, as opposed to whether there are real differences, or there are differences that we create. Yeah, well, I mean,
Shilpa Alimchandani 22:13
humans create systems, right. And so we can agree design systems to, but what happens is a little bit like a fish in water kind of scenario, that we don’t really recognize the water that we’re swimming in, you know, we it really takes us having to leave the environment and look back at it to be able to say like, oh, that’s what’s going on. Right? Most of the time, we don’t pay attention to those systems, we just operate within them without thinking about it.
Michael Hingson 22:43
And that’s my point. And that’s, that’s exactly it. And so we sometimes somehow have to take a step back or a step up, maybe as you would describe it to get out of the water and look at the water, and see what we can do to make changes that would make it better. And that’s the leap that I don’t generally see us making as a race yet.
Shilpa Alimchandani 23:12
Yeah, they’re, you know, they’re definitely great examples of that, you know, in, in our history, and in other parts of the world as well, like when made, you know, when countries that had been colonized for a number of years, you know, finally get their freedom when, you know, there’s real truth and reconciliation efforts after a war or a period of conflict. It is it is possible, it’s something that has happened. And, and I think, you know, we’re kind of in a moment in our culture, where people are asking a lot of these kinds of questions. What, what’s not working in the status quo and the way things are, and what needs to shift this, the pandemic, has really brought those issues front and center, the movement for racial justice has has done the same. And I think it’s it’s actually an exciting opportunity and exciting moment to be like, oh, people are actually talking about systems now.
Michael Hingson 24:14
Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting. Henry Mayer wrote a book called all on fire, which is a biography of William Lloyd Garrison. Have you ever read that? I have not. Okay. So William Lloyd Garrison, you may or may not know was a very famous abolitionist in I think, the 1840s there was a reporter and he got very much involved in the abolishing slavery. And as I said, Henry Mayer was a biographer of his and wrote this book called all on fire and in the book, there is a section where, where Garrison wanted to bring into the fold, some women the Grimm case sisters, who were very much involved in women’s suffrage. And he Garrison said to his people, please contact them, let’s bring them in. And their response was, but they’re not involved in this their field dealing with women’s suffrage, and they’re not interested in this. And Garrison said something very interesting, which was, it’s all the same thing. He took the leap. And he said, It’s all the same thing, whether it’s suffrage, whether it’s slavery, abolition, or whatever, Abolishment. It’s all the same thing. And that’s the leap, that we generally don’t take any of us on any side.
Shilpa Alimchandani 25:39
Yeah, I don’t know who to credit for this quote that I’ve heard many times. But the idea that none of us is free until all of us are free.
Michael Hingson 25:48
Yeah. Right. And interesting and interesting, quote, and true.
Shilpa Alimchandani 25:52
And that’s really, you know, I had shared with you, Michael, that my, my practice is called mukti. And Mukti means liberation or freedom in Sanskrit. And that was really kind of what was behind, you know, like, I was thinking about, like, why do I do this work? What, what motivates me? What is this ultimately about? And to your point of, you know, these experiences, whether it be suffrage, or abolishing slavery, or whatever, having some really important things in common is that we want to be free, we, as humans want to be free. And there are a lot of things that get in our way. And so that kind of became the heart of my practice is like, what does it look like to work for that freedom?
Michael Hingson 26:38
Well, let’s go back to you personally, and so on. So you grew up? I think you have, and that’s a good thing. And so how did you get involved in all of this division, this business of Dei? And and what you do today? What What got you started down that path? And what did you do that got you to the point of starting this company?
Shilpa Alimchandani 27:02
Yeah, so you know, certainly growing up in the 80s, and 90s. In St. Louis, there really wasn’t a dei field as such, it wasn’t like one of those careers that you know, about and, and prepare for, like, you know, like being an engineer or a doctor or a teacher or something like that. So it was a kind of a winding indirect path to get to this place. I knew pretty early on that I cared about justice that I cared about people understanding each other and bridging differences. But I didn’t know that could be my job. So at first I thought maybe I’ll become a lawyer. And then you know, I could use like legal skills to fight for justice and things like that. I even took the LSAT and never applied to law school, I was like, I don’t really want to be a lawyer. So I explored a bit I worked in nonprofit, and in higher ed, and began to learn that well, there really is kind of a in the late 90s, early 2000s, like a an a growing field, in educating people about diversity. And that was kind of new to me, I was excited about that. I wanted to learn more about it. And early on, it was kind of more focused on representation, right? We need to bring people together from different backgrounds, in workplaces, and schools, etc. And then that sort of evolved into, well, it’s not just enough to bring people from different backgrounds together, you need to have an environment where people feel included, where they feel valued, right. So it kind of evolved from not just diversity to diversity and inclusion. And I think kind of the more recent iteration of the field is the E in diversity, equity and inclusion. And the equity piece being really looking at that systemic part, we were just talking about, how are our systems working for us? Where are their inequities built into those systems? How can those be corrected? So that we actually have a place where people from different backgrounds can feel included and valued and feel treated fairly, and paid fairly? For the work that they do? Right, so that’s when all of those come together? Of course, there’s additions to that as well. Some organizations add accessibility as an aide to that, you know, some include justice. So there’s, this becomes a bit of an alphabet soup, but all with the this idea of differences, valuing differences and treating people fairly at the heart of, of this work.
Michael Hingson 29:50
And that’s really what it’s about. And as you point out, it’s really about equity. I’ve noticed and I’m still very serious We maintain the whole concept of diversity is much less of a really good goal to seek. Traditionally, diversity leaves out disabilities. In fact, I interviewed someone a few weeks ago. And this person talked about different kinds of diverse groups, and listed a number of things and never once mentioned disabilities, and I asked him about that. I said, I’m not picking on you, but you didn’t include disabilities. And he talked about social attitudes. And he said, well, it, it includes social attitudes in some way. And my point was, No, it doesn’t really, because social attitudes are a different animal and don’t have anything to do with dealing with disabilities to disabilities is a different kind of thing. Yeah. So it’s, it’s interesting how different people approach it. Now, this particular individual was a person who is involved with another, another minority group, but still, we have to face that. Yeah. And it makes for a very interesting situation, and it makes for a challenge in life.
Shilpa Alimchandani 31:16
Yeah, I mean, it’s one of those places where, you know, I have privilege as someone who doesn’t experience disabilities in my life on a daily basis. And I That means for me, like to be an ally, like, what we were talking about earlier, is that I need to educate myself, right? I need to look for those opportunities, where I feel like well, yeah, sure. This is easy and accessible for me, but it wouldn’t be for our friends and colleagues and people who don’t have the same abilities that I do. And what can we do to change that? Okay, that that’s what ally ship looks like. And I know, it can be overwhelming, right? People say, oh, there’s so many, you listed so many things under this umbrella of diversity? Like how can how can we possibly, you know, pay attention to all of it. And I actually don’t think it’s, it’s too hard for us. I think, as human beings, we have this amazing capacity for empathy, we have this capacity to our minds are malleable, we can continue to learn and grow throughout our lives, we have to have the will to do it. Right. And, and put the effort in to do it. But it is possible.
Michael Hingson 32:27
It’s interesting to look at and one of the things that I think I see, and this is from my perspective, as a as a blind person, or let’s say a person with a disability, it’s it’s interesting how I think sis Thai society teaches that all the rest of us are better than persons with disabilities to a great degree am. And I think it’s very systemic. And I think, to a very large degree, it does go across all sorts of different lines. But we teach people that I teach our children that disabilities make those people less in ways that it doesn’t necessarily apply to other groups. Although the concept and the overall process is the same, it still comes down to, we’re in power, we’re better than they, but it does go across a lot of different lines. And when we teach people that disabilities are less, that’s a problem that somehow we, as part of all this need to overcome.
Shilpa Alimchandani 33:37
Yeah. And you know, it’s ultimately, Michael, to your point, it’s dehumanizing. We’re dehumanizing entire groups of people. And sometimes it’s like, quote, unquote, well intentioned, but it’s really more of a pity than it is an understanding of respect and empathy for someone else’s experience. And nobody needs that. Right. Nobody wants to be felt sorry for, you know,
Michael Hingson 34:06
yeah. And I think that that probably is more true. When you’re dealing with a person with a disability, then a lot of other groups, you won’t feel sorry for them, you may distrust them, or whatever. But for disabilities, we feel sorry. And that promotes fear. Gosh, we sure wouldn’t want to be like them.
Shilpa Alimchandani 34:29
Right? Because that’s the worst thing that could happen, right? So it creates more of that division of, I’m not like you and I don’t want to be like you, you know, right.
Michael Hingson 34:40
Right. On the other hand, disabilities is an equal opportunity, kind of a thing. Anyone can join us at any given time unexpectedly, or maybe expectedly. But to use a bad word expectedly I don’t know that’s not a word. But anyway, Yes. So we have to learn to speak. But still, it is something that anyone can experience. And we don’t try to equalize. So it is a it is a challenge. But But again, let’s look at you what what was your career like getting into this? So it wasn’t a job that really existed as such. And then you kind of discovered that maybe it really was. And so you decided not to be a lawyer, and we won’t talk about the the legitimacy or efficacy of not being a lawyer, although, oh, many lawyer jokes out there. But But what did you then do? Yeah,
Shilpa Alimchandani 35:45
so, you know, my early work was at a nonprofit that no longer exists, but it was the national multicultural Institute. And they were kind of doing diversity training for organizations, and like the World Bank, and educational institutions, and some nonprofits and, and then, so I discovered, like, Oh, this is becoming a growing thing that businesses organizations want education, around issues of diversity, and how they can work better together across difference. So that was really fascinating to me, I also got involved in cross cultural communication. So when I was teaching at American University, it was in the School of International Service, which has had as a requirement for any international studies major, to take a course on cross cultural communication, to recognize that, you know, depending on what culture or part of the world we’re from, we really kind of think differently, communicate differently. And it doesn’t mean that that thinking or that communication is good or bad, but it’s different. And we really need to appreciate, you know, how some cultures are much more direct, and some are much less so right, very indirect, how some cultures were engaged in conflict, really, you know, emotionally and others are much more emotionally restrained, you know, and some are much more individualistic, and others being more collectivist. So I started really studying these issues, and realizing that there really was an opportunity to educate people about some of these cultural differences and identity differentials, and ultimately power differences that exist in our societies. So I worked internationally, I worked at the Peace Corps, and I’ve traveled with the Peace Corps to different countries, to train staff who worked for the US Peace Corps. I worked for the State Department, and I did leadership drug development work there to prepare Foreign Service officers before they go abroad and during their service on how to lead effectively in those global environments. And then, I decided to leave government after a while and, and pursue private sector. And there’s a lot like in the private sector. Well, there are a lot of organizations that invest heavily in diversity, equity and inclusion, big training programs, a real focus on how to make their policies and procedures more equitable. So that was really interesting, you know, to get into that consulting space, first working for a firm called cook Roth, and then three years ago, I went out on my own and, and started my own practice. And I love the work it’s it’s challenging, you know, there’s some people who are in it for the right reasons, and others, maybe not as much. So I’m learning a lot in this field, now 20 to 20 plus years into it, but but also feeling quite fulfilled in
Michael Hingson 38:46
the work that I do. So what does cook Ross do? Or what did they do?
Shilpa Alimchandani 38:50
They’re a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm, that they work a lot with the fortune 500, even fortune 100 corporate sector. In my independent consulting practice, I’m doing less kind of corporate work and more work in the NGO sector, with smaller businesses, nonprofit organizations, and the like.
Michael Hingson 39:13
What made you decide to go out on your own?
Shilpa Alimchandani 39:16
Oh, I had thought about starting my own business many times, and really erred on the side of stability and a stable paycheck for so many years. Until finally, I had some supports in place, right, talking about systems. I had some supports in place to make it possible for me to go out on my own. I had a partner who had a steady job with health insurance for for us and for our two children. My parents moved closer to where we live. So I had some family support in the area. And then, you know, decided just to take the leap and have confidence in myself and what I could offer as a consultant as a facility cater to clients. And the vast majority of my work is through word of mouth, I really don’t even do much marketing. And I’m very fortunate to be in that role, but it also just showed me like, oh, you might have maybe you could have done this sooner. But it took me a while to feel like I had the the support and the confidence to do that.
Michael Hingson 40:21
But even though you’re on your own, do you still have a relationship? or do any work with cook Ross? Or do you still teach
Shilpa Alimchandani 40:29
other consulting firms, small consulting firm, so I subcontract for them. And if this I, in addition to my consulting, press practice, I, I became a certified coach, I went through a coaching program, and became an international coaching Federation, certified coach. So I work one on one with people, largely women of color leaders who are, you know, in periods of transition or growth in their lives and in their careers to help guide them through that process, and help them really tap into all of the strength that they have, and the wisdom that they have within themselves. So I have a lot of variety in the work that I do, which I really enjoy.
Michael Hingson 41:15
So you, you, you keep connections open? And that’s always a good thing. Of course, indeed. So what kind of changes have you seen in the whole field of diversity, equity inclusion and such over the years?
Shilpa Alimchandani 41:32
You know, there have been a lot of changes, I think I mentioned early on, there was a lot of focus on representation, I think a big and then, you know, looking at the culture, and how can we be more inclusive, but even in that conversation about inclusive, Michael, there was a bit of teaching people to be like us, right, like, so there was still sort of a dominant majority white male, you know, able bodied, you know, cisgender, heterosexual, you know, culture. And we invite people who belong to other groups, marginalized identities to join us, but to kind of be like us, right, and then I saw shift will know, the point is not to make everybody act like the majority group, the point is to actually create a place where people with different experiences, different identities, can all thrive in the same environment. That means changing the environment, right? That means actually looking at some of those systems, looking at the culture, and saying, you know, if it’s a culture of like, everybody goes out for happy hour after work, or they have important conversations on the golf course, or whatever, that that is really fundamentally excluding a lot of people from those informal ways that people hold power in the organization. So how do we create cultures and systems that are more fair for everyone, I think, now, especially post the murder of George Floyd in 2020. And a real reckoning with the history of racism in the United States, there’s much more attention being paid to some of those systemic issues in with particular guard regard to race, but also other identity groups. And that’s a big shift. There were a number of years when I worked in this space, where people were still, like, uncomfortable naming race, they would talk about diversity broadly, talk about all the different things that make us the rainbow people that we are, but not deal with some of the harder, stickier Messier subjects. And I think there’s more of a willingness to do that now.
Michael Hingson 43:42
And they won’t deal with the words. Yeah, go ahead.
Shilpa Alimchandani 43:45
Yeah, there’s, there’s more. So there’s like a caveat to that. There’s also a lot of people who say they want to do that more difficult and challenging work. But when confronted with it, actually retreat and say, Oh, no, I’m not comfortable to this. This is a bit too challenging, too threatening. It’s making me really uncomfortable. And so there are organizations, there are leaders who have said one thing, right and publicly made announcements about how they’re anti racist, or they’re, you know, all about equity or whatever. But then that hasn’t necessarily followed through in the action. So that’s, that’s something that’s we’re dealing with now, in the field. In some places, there’s a openness, a recognition for some of those difficult topics and other places. It’s really just on the surface. As soon as you go a little bit beneath the surface, you realize that the commitment is really not there.
Michael Hingson 44:44
Now you have me curious, so you’ve got you’ve got the company or the group that does go out on the golf course and make decisions or that goes out for lunch and has martinis and make decisions and There are reasons for it. The reasons being that you’re going away from the company, you’re going away from the environment. And you can think and you can have all sorts of rationales or reasons for doing it. But nevertheless, it happens. How do we change that? How do we address that issue? Do we, when we have people who were excluded, because they don’t go out on the golf course? Do we create an environment for them to be able to go on the golf course? Or do we do something different? Or are we there yet?
Shilpa Alimchandani 45:31
Um, I think we’re there. I think that first of all, you we need to recognize that some of those informal practices are in fact unfair. And then if you’re wanting to let go of them and say, Well, what we liked about that was that it was somewhat informal, right? But are those the only informal spaces you can create? Right? Not necessarily. There are other ways that people can connect informally in an organizational context that aren’t around, you know, alcohol or, or aren’t around a particular sport, or aren’t around a particular, you know, activity that necessarily excludes or that are always after hours. So this is something that women have really struggled with, is that, you know, if those important conversation side conversations are happening, not during work hours, and they’re still to this day, women have more responsibilities at home with family than men do, then that’s an automatic disadvantage. Like you you’re not even in the room, you’re not even there to be part of those exchanges. That doesn’t just apply to women. But that’s just that’s an example. So how do we then think about leadership differently, how we develop people, what our decision making processes are, how we hold each other accountable for those decisions, it kind of comes down to your organizational values, and how you live those values in the way in which you lead and the way in which you engage in your work and your interactions with your colleagues. It’s easy to say on paper much harder to practice those values. Why is that? Oh, well, you know, everybody likes to have on their website or on the wall in the conference room. Oh, we believe in integrity, we believe in inclusion, right? We believe in collaboration or whatever the values may be. But what does that actually mean? What does that look like? How do you make on how do I Shilpa behave in accordance with those values? Right? Question.
Michael Hingson 47:45
It gets back to Talk is cheap. Absolutely. Talk is really cheap. Talk is really cheap. It’s easy
Shilpa Alimchandani 47:53
to make these pronouncements and to say the right thing. It’s much harder to practice them. And so when I engage with clients, it’s really looking at those organizations and those individuals that are interested in making some change. They’re like, Okay, we know this is not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen, because you did one workshop with us. And then we all went home, it’s going to be it’s going to happen over time. By articulating the behaviors. We want to practice building the skills to practice those behaviors, building the accountability for us to actually implement those behaviors and those changes in our policies, then we can actually create some long term change. That’s not easy. It’s not sexy, it’s hard to work. And that’s how you create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization.
Michael Hingson 48:47
And it is very uncomfortable, and it’s what really causes a lot of the hatred. So why is it that people hate race differences so much, because they’re different than us. They’re not as good as we are. And although in reality, they can demonstrate that the hair is equal is we are whoever we are. The fact is that they’re calling us on it. We don’t like that we don’t like change. And the reality is we need to learn to change.
Shilpa Alimchandani 49:16
Yeah, this whole idea, you know, we all think of ourselves as good people, right? So when someone points out some way in which I have exclude been exclusionary or discriminatory in my behavior, my first instinct is to defend myself, but I’m a good person, I would never try and hurt another or discriminate or exclude. But in fact, as a human being that operates in these systems that we are a part of, I haven’t times excluded, I have at times been unfair in the way I’ve treated people and just and been discriminatory. And so it’s important for me to be able to acknowledge that that I can be a good person, but part of being human is that I do have some of these checks. Challenges, then only can I change it and work to change some of the systems if we’re going to live in denial like, Nope, we’re good people, and therefore we can’t hear any of this criticism. It’s not possible for me to be unfair, unjust or discriminatory. And then how are we ever going to change?
Michael Hingson 50:16
Right? Which is, which is of course, the whole point, isn’t it?
Shilpa Alimchandani 50:19
Yeah. But it’s hard. It’s a tough, but I really, I always come back to humility in this work, you. If you are to engage in a sincere way to build a more equitable and inclusive world for everyone across identity groups, you will be humbled time, and
Michael Hingson 50:37
it’s hard because we haven’t learned to do it. And also, many of us just really, ultimately don’t have the desire to learn to do it. And that’s what we have to change. What are some of the major mistakes that you’ve seen organizations make? I think you’ve referred to some of this already. But it’s worth exploring a little more.
Shilpa Alimchandani 50:57
You know, one thing that we haven’t talked about yet, but I often hear from clients who seek out my services, is that, oh, we really need to focus on recruitment, right, we just need to get more diverse leadership team, we need to do a better job of reaching out to, you know, XYZ group that’s underrepresented in our organization. And they put a lot of effort into recruitment. And then what happens, you bring in people from all these different backgrounds that you said, weren’t represented, and now they’re there, but there hasn’t been much emphasis on inclusion or equity. And you’ve created a revolving door. Because very soon, people from those marginalized identity groups discover this isn’t a place where they really feel like they’re valued, or it’s not a place that set up to really support them to be successful. And they leave. And then those same organizations are like, well, we put all this money and time and effort into diversifying, what did we do wrong? So to that, my I, what I say time and time again, is we have to start with equity and inclusion. And then the diversity will come if you don’t start with diversity and with recruitment, and then just with wishful thinking, hope that it all works out. Once everybody’s together in that organization, quite often it doesn’t.
Michael Hingson 52:18
It ultimately comes down to changing the mindset, which is really what doesn’t happen. And diversity doesn’t change the mindset. And I think that’s something that conceptually inclusion can really help to do is to change the mindset if you’re really going to look at what inclusion means. And that’s why I’ve always loved to talk about and I have a speech called moving from diversity to inclusion, because people clearly have already changed diversity to the point where it doesn’t necessarily represent everyone. But ultimately, all those people, I think, still try to do it. You can’t say you’re inclusive, unless you are, you can talk about being partially inclusive. But that doesn’t mean a thing. Either you’re inclusive where you’re not, then that means changing a mindset.
Shilpa Alimchandani 53:01
It does mean changing a mindset. And that mindset allows you to change some of your practices, like it can be as simple as like, how do you design an agenda for a meeting? And how do you facilitate that meeting? And how do you actually include all of the voices of the people who are part of that group? A lot of just a thing about how many times people and organizations how much time people spend in meetings, and a lot of them are not particularly inclusive, like half the people are checked out. There are a few people who dominate the conversation. Right? And it seems it’s such a waste. It is such a waste, because there are ideas that are not getting shared, there are conversations that are not being had, there are conflicts that are not getting resolved. Right? Because we’re just used to doing things in the same way. If we can change that mindset, like you said, and, and also some of the practices, even small things like that will make a difference, right? People will start speaking up in a different way. Right? Well, dialogue shifts,
Michael Hingson 54:07
and that’s what we really need to work toward is that dialogue, shift that mindset change, and that makes a big difference in in all that we’re doing. Tell me a little bit more about your company about mu T and what it does and how people can learn about it.
Shilpa Alimchandani 54:24
Great. So yeah, Mookti the M O OK T I. Consulting is my organization. As I mentioned earlier, Mookti means liberation. And I have two parts to my practice. One is organizational training and consulting. So I provide and facilitate workshops and and Leadership Development Series for organizations on all kinds of dei related topics. From you know, interrupting bias to Um feedback on microaggressions to you know, a leading with an equity lens and using the system’s lens to solve problems in your organization. And, and I really enjoy that work that organizational training and consulting work. The other part of my practice is coaching. And that is one on one with individuals, primarily, I focus on women of color leaders, because coaching remains a white dominant profession in the US. And there’s a real opportunity for people of color to enter this field and a lot of clientele who are looking for coaches who understand not just their leadership journey, but also how their identities impact them every day. So being a woman and a woman of color in a leadership role in an organization is different than being a man or being a white man in particular. And so those of one on one coaching conversations that I have with my clients really can unlock their potential, can free them up to make decisions that are more aligned with their values and make choices in their career that are more fulfilling for them. So in all aspects of my work, I’m about you know, freeing people, from the systems of oppression that limit us, some of that work is organizational. And some of it is individual,
Michael Hingson 56:21
if people want to reach out and contact you and explore working with you, and so on. How do they do that?
Shilpa Alimchandani 56:29
Sure. So my website is the best way to learn more about me and my work and also to contact me. And the website is simply mookticonsulting.com
Michael Hingson 56:40
Have you written any books? Or are there other places where people can get resources that you’ve been involved in creating? Yes, I
Shilpa Alimchandani 56:49
mean, I did write a book number of years ago, communicating development across cultures, which is more focused on cross cultural communication in the international development field. So not as much on organizational dei work as I’m doing now. I’m quite active on LinkedIn and and do post my own articles on LinkedIn. So that’s a good place to find me as well.
Michael Hingson 57:16
How can people find you? Can you? I assume, by your name, can you spell
Shilpa Alimchandani 57:20
Shilpa Alimchandani in LinkedIn, I’m the only one so you’ll find me pretty easily there.
Michael Hingson 57:26
Why don’t you spell that? If you would, please? Sure.
Shilpa Alimchandani 57:29
So Shilpa S H I L, P as in Peter A. and Shilpa Alimchandani is A L I M as in Mary C H, A N as in Nancy, D as in David A. N as in Nancy. I. So it’s a long one, but a phonetic name. In fact, on my website, I have a little button where you can click pronounce. And it tells you how to pronounce all, you know, with an audio clip of how you say the word book, The and also how you say my name Shilpa Alimchandani
Michael Hingson 58:02
Well, I hope people will reach out. Because I think you’re you’re talking about a lot of very valuable things. And I think we really need to look at inclusion and really create a new mindset. As I said, I have a speech called moving from diversity to inclusion. In fact, it’s the second episode on our podcast. So if you haven’t washed, I hope you’ll go see it. There’s my plug. And then my fourth episode is a speech that Dr. Jacobus tenBroek gave Dr. Tim brick was the founder of the National Federation of the Blind. And one of the foremost constitutional law scholars in the speech he gave at the 1956 convention, the National Federation of the Blind has called within the grace of God, and especially the last two paragraphs of that speech, I love but it’s a great speech that I think, whether you’re talking about blindness or any other kind of group, it applies. And he was definitely a visionary in the field, and was a was a great thinker about it. So that again, that’s episode four, I hope that you and other people, if you haven’t listened to it will go out and listen to
Shilpa Alimchandani 59:11
know Michael, I did listen to that, upon your recommendation that episode four and that speech was really moving and inspiring, and what I would say more than anything else, I felt that it was empowering. It was so empowering, and thank you for recommending that.
Michael Hingson 59:27
And he thought that he was being gentle with people in talking about discriminations and so on. In later years, he delivered another speech in 1967. Called are we up to the challenge? And he thought that he was much more forceful in that he started the speech by saying, and again, it’s about blind people, but it could it goes across the board. He said mind people have the right to live in the world, which is interesting, but I still think is 1956 speeches was says best and I think there are others who agree with that.
Shilpa Alimchandani 1:00:02
Well, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you, Michael, thank you so much for inviting me on to the podcast.
Michael Hingson 1:00:07
Well, I am glad that you came and I hope that you will come back again and definitely anytime you have more insights or whatever or there’s any way that we can be a resource for you, and I’m sure others will feel the same way. Please let us know. But Shilpa I really appreciate you coming on and all of you I appreciate you listening today. So, we hope that you will give us a five star rating and that you will reach out. Let me know what you think of what we had to discuss. I love your thoughts. All of the information will be in our show notes, including how to spell Shilpa his name and we hope that you will let us know your thoughts. So once more Shilpa Thank you for listening, at least you declare you listen to thank you for being here. Thanks. Thank you all and we’ll see you next time on unstoppable mindset.
Michael Hingson 1:01:00
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.