Episode 1 – Cultivating A Culturally Conscious Mindset At Work – With Jennifer Stanzl

Episode Transcript


[00:00] Introduction to the podcast:
Do you sometimes wonder how you could truly have an impact when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging? How do you know you are moving in the right direction when it comes to becoming a more inclusive individual? As Diverse as Two Peas in a Pod brings topics such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion on the table. We talk about research and science, but also emotions, feelings and vulnerability. We discussed allyship, advocacy and privilege, but most importantly, we took action because without action, we stay still. And when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, stillness is never the answer. Welcome to as Diverse as Two Peas in a Pod!

[00:59] Introduction about the guest speaker:
Jennifer is the talent Management Head for UK and Ireland at Tata Consultancy Services. She focuses on driving the talent agenda to develop leaders and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. She works in close partnership with business leaders, diverse talent groups, clients and the community. In her early career, Jennifer has worked in several different roles, including employee engagement, internal communications, and corporate sustainability. She has led the development of one of the executive women’s leadership programs for TCS globally. Before joining TCS in 2008, she worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Media and Communications at the University of Augsburg in Germany. Jennifer is from Germany and she has lived and worked across US, Australia, India and UK. She’s a qualified leadership coach from the Academy of Executive Coaching, and she holds a master’s degree in Organization and Social Psychology from London School of Economics, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Media and Communications. She’s happily married, proud mother of a young daughter and loves traveling and marathon running. In today’s episode, Jennifer and I dive into the topic of diversity with a cultural lens and how each and every one of us can cultivate a culturally conscious mindset in the workplace.

[02:34] Julien:
Jenny, welcome. Welcome so much to this episode of as Diverse as Two Peas in a Pod, our podcast on diversity, equity and inclusion. Just to introduce yourself, I want to ask you, what’s your story?

[02:52] Jennifer:
Thank you, Julien. It’s wonderful to be part of the podcast. What’s my story? I would always say I identify myself as a German- American, living in the UK and married across culture to an Indian man. I’m a mother of a four-and-a-half year old daughter. I’m passionate about inclusion and diversity, and I’m a marathon runner.

[03:22] Julien:
Amazing. Thanks for sharing all that. You started mentioning a little bit about you being in between two different cultures, even maybe a few more, actually, but heavily between maybe a more Western culture and an Eastern culture. How’s that like?

[03:43] Jennifer:
Yeah, I think it’s been something kind of..I guess living and working across culture has been a key part of my life, as I kind of was mentioning: I’m originally from Germany, but I was raised in the US that lived there for about ten years, and then I studied and lived across Australia, Germany, India for some time and now in the UK. So I’ve always been interested and fascinated about different cultures, different ways of looking at things, different ways of living. And I joined in 2008 a company called Tata Consultancy Services, and they have their headquarters in India, so an Indian heritage company, an incredible company now working across 46 different countries with 500 000 employees so a global organization with a very strong Indian inheritance.

So early on, I realized that there are differences in the way we work, in the way we engage, in the way we connect at work. For me, at least, it’s been a fascinating experience because I believe we’re sometimes like if you think about culture, we’re like fish and water. You don’t really think about the water around you. If it’s just there, it’s something you need, but it’s around you. So only when you really step out of your own culture for you, you also more deeply understand your own culture and how you’ve been influenced in your ways of thinking. So that was my early experience. When I was ten years old, I moved from Germany to the US and could barely speak English. I had to kind of adapt to very different ways of being.

And so similarly when I stepped into the TATA organization at that time, I was like, oh, they’re working slightly differently. And it’s just fascinating because I think it enables me so much more to appreciate and leverage different ways of being and working. Yeah. For me personally, I love it, and I think it’s such a benefit.

[05:58] Julien:
So I want to dig deeper a little bit on the work side. But before I do, so, I want to ask you another question. So we talk often about the diversity and the inclusion within the organization or at an organization level, at least, having a number of benefits. And that’s probably a lot of the things we read about on the Internet if you look for any of these keywords, they talk about what’s the benefit for an organization to be more diverse and inclusive. We don’t always talk too much about what’s the impact as an individual. I’d love to hear in your experience, what are the kind of the skills that you have developed by being in a more diverse environment, being more inclusive as an individual as well? How does that helped you?

[06:50] Jennifer:
Great question. Yeah. I think when you step into an environment where you just feel safe, where you feel you can voice your opinions, you can share your perspective, you feel those are valued, those are heard. You just bring everything out that you have. So in some ways, if that environment, that safe environment is around you, I think you can contribute much better your perspectives and opinions. That’s I guess the culture that is there and that will benefit the organization in a way that you’ll just get more diverse perspectives, you’ll get input to solve problems differently, you’ll find more innovative solutions. And I think for me, leading a team, I think that’s the culture I would want to create, because that’s how I can make sure that my team: I hear their different voices, I hear their perspectives, I can help them personally realize their potential by just letting them be who they are.

And otherwise, you know, there’s research on this. If you have to constantly hide part of your identity, it takes a lot of energy right if you’re in an organization and like: I don’t want to talk about my family at home or perhaps my religion or my sexual orientation. You constantly have to check on what you’re saying. And that energy is so draining, and that energy can be put into your work, or it can just help you be much more productive. I think that’s why inclusion in this environment is so important for an individual.

And kind of to the point of the skills I’ve learned. I think for me, the skills I learned very early on as a child growing up across cultures is curiosity. You kind of just, you know, when you go to another country, you I’m curious, like, how come they do it in this way? I’m used to doing it in that way. I mean, a bit more of a funny example, but it just struck me early on in the US, I remember asking someone or someone on the street actually asking me, how are you? And in Germany, a normal response would be, I’ll tell you my life if someone asked me, how are you? I’d take it serious. I’m gonna tell you how I’m feeling. And as young child, I would just kind of pour out my heart. And the person was at the other end of the street when I finished my first sentence. And my first instant thought was, oh, how superficial! They don’t even want to know about me. Why are they then even asking it? Without realizing that: How are you? in the US is almost like saying Hi. It’s a way of just initial conversation. But it’s just those small little things you have to understand the diferences, because otherwise you make assumptions and you can quickly judge someone just based on what you think should be the right behavior. So early on, I realized that.

And I think the other thing, which as a child, I always remember playing with one of my American neighbors. And we neither spoke each other’s languages. But as children, that didn’t matter. You know, she would point at an airplane and tell me the English word for it. I would point at it and tell her the German word. Or we look at kind of cartoon books and try to explain to each other what we’re going to do. So that simplicity of connecting with someone without language, just being curious about each other. I think that curiosity, I think, is a key skill and then really trying to not judge someone based on their behavior, but rather think, okay, here is to know how come you did it in this way, what your thinking behind it?

And I think that has helped me at work as well. It’s just not assume I know what someone is thinking or where they’re coming from, but to ask a few more questions and in that way, kind of then come to a better solution in the end.

[10:58] Julien:
It’s a very interesting point, actually, you’re making. And I love the story and the image with the two children who don’t speak the same language, because I think our words carry so much when we communicate with others. That actually that example of not having the words to be able to express something actually removes a number of possible judgments and assumptions that, as you said, we need to stay away from. And I think I agree with you here as well: one of the things I love and you you’ve done some coaching as well, like me, so you’ve probably heard about it. But I love the way to phrase it where it’s not about removing that judgment, because I think all of us have some of that judgment from our experiences, and sometimes it’s a good thing, possibly as well, but it’s about releasing that judgment, it’s about consciously saying, yeah, it seems like I’m going into an area of judgment, but how am I going to put it in a box on the side for now? Because that will impair my way of being able to be curious and be vulnerable and to see what the other person has to bring. Thank you so much for that story and and sharing that.

And so if we jump a little bit on the work side, and I’m sure you’ve seen as well that trend happening. We always talked about diversity and equity and inclusion, but more and more actually, there is the word belonging coming as well, which is being added to all these concepts. And I think that’s a key word I think that comes up here. Why is belonging important in the organization?

[12:55] Jennifer:
I love the saying, and I’m sure you might have heard of it. Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion being asked to dance and I think now adding on belonging is to dance like no one is watching: you can just fully be yourself and you’re part of the party. So I think belonging is such a fascinating concept because from a psychological perspective, we actually all have a deep need to belong. And, you know, interestingly enough for me, I after living for about ten years in the US, I decided to go back to study in Germany. I came back to Germany kind of thinking, well, I’m German, right? I’ll fit in, I’ll go to University and I came back and I really struggled to identify with a lot of the other students, or I just felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t have the same experiences growing up. I had no idea about the German kind of politics at that time or the pop culture and no, so when you’re in a conversation, you’re just missing certain elements. So that’s the first time where I really talked about the concept of belonging and to does my identity have to be connected to a nationality? And because that’s I think how I try in the US every time someone would ask me if I’m German, of course I’m German. And when you’re kind of outside of your country, you hold that very strongly. And yeah, so that was when I really kind when I rethought of about myself and identity. And I think belonging and identity are so deeply linked that’s kind of what you identify with. And for me, at least at that time, I had to really rethink and think actually, I don’t feel I need to belong to one national culture, but I can belong to different ways of being or thinking or to a global community.

And I think similar at work, it’s kind of and, you know, it’s a feeling that actually someone has. So that’s why probably belonging is also much more harder to quantify, to put metrics against and things like that. But if I step into this organization who I feel like I can belong, can I be myself? But do I also, you know, I guess, see an environment where where I see myself represented in leadership, in the way people are being and how they’re connecting, or is a very kind of groupy and is it just only kind of one way of being where where I don’t feel like I belong? I think that’s why belonging is so powerful, because it’s actually based on our human need of deeply kind of feeling, a connection with wherever we are.

[15:51] Julien:
One of the things one of the points you made, which I really like as well and links a little bit to to some of the things we’re talking about before is the fact that that belonging and I think you described very well, is it’s always something that I decide whether I belong or not? So if you and I were working together, I can say I’m maybe a diverse person because I have a friend and a colleague who is from Germany, the US, wherever I can easily quantify it. But one thing I cannot do is to decide whether there is not even a way to say where I make you belong. Somehow. It’s for you to decide, actually, whether you belong or not and linked to what we discussed before. I think the only thing I can do is to be curious enough to understand whether I have done the right things for you to be able to belong or not. But the decision at the end of the day is in your hands. And that’s where the identity, I think, is a beautiful way to phrase it, because we tend to forget, actually, that it’s not because we do all these things to become more diverse and more inclusive and bring equity and equality to our teams, to our surroundings, that actually we create that belonging as well, always.

[17:20] Jennifer:
And, you know, it’s interesting what you’re saying. And I guess there’s two sides to it, because I think, yes, there’s an individual: How do I feel about belonging, which I think is critical to it. And then there is, I guess is the organizational culture or the elements we put in that make sure we create a culture where people can feel like they belong. It’s kind of because I think sometimes it’s hard to say, well, it’s up to you just kind of an act yourself and feel like you belong. And sometimes it’s in all these small little things in organizations, you know like, when they’re different religious festivals is that actually considered when you’re doing your team meetings or how considerate, are you of different time zones when you’re working globally or your systems, how are they really enabling someone from a different gender identity to put themselves within the system or is it female/male? Those little small things are indications of: do I feel a sense of belonging, do I see myself within the organization and the culture. So, yeah, I think it’s kind of an interconnected element of bringing in the diversity, then having that inclusion element, and then I can feel a sense of belonging.

[18:46] Julien:
No, completely. It’s a good jump here we were making, actually, because we can start talking maybe a little bit more about actions and what can be done. And maybe let’s start with at an individual level, actually, so I’m part of your organization, and you are the only German or you’re the only woman in the team. And sometimes I feel it can be difficult for people to maybe know what to do, and quite often also maybe not what not to do, but from where you stand on the cultural side, what can I do to be more culturally inclusive?

[19:34] Jennifer:
Great question, yeah. I think for me, it’s always about asking and throwing again, that curiosity. Because similar to my story, I think many would have similar stories. Whilst I’m German, probably many of my friends say I’m probably the least German they kind of know, because of my upbringing and I guess my way of being. But I think that’s also sometimes tricky. Right? Whilst, I think cultural awareness is critical, and I think there’s an element of thinking of culture, almost like an onion: kind of understanding the outer layer, what are some of the stereotypes we have about another culture is really important because we all have stereotypes there through media or through own experiences and ways of being, we have them and kind of just being really aware of them. And then going a little bit deeper on: Okay, there are different ways of being cross cultures, which is helpful. And then there’s the individual in the middle. So I think when you have people from different cultures, working in your team, really kind of connecting with them and understanding, you know, what’s really important to you. And are there festivals, it could be even connecting on festivals, or are there certain holidays that are really important to you that should I be aware of, or is there certain work style that’s important to you? And I think the more we can just connect individually and be curious about each other, I think it helps. And when once we build a trusting relationship, then I can also say, hey, Julien, that I didn’t feel was really that kind of went against you, I don’t like this kind of conversation in my culture, that’s not really what we talk about. So I think that’s kind of if you can connect and build a trusting relationship, it’s much easier to work across culture, actually.

[21:28] Julien:
You actually you saying that reminded me of a very, very good example. So a friend of mine from a very different culture, actually, lady. And I did my: clearly as well being very vulnerable here. I did something that was very culturally not right. By being French, I met her the first time, and I went and kissed, because that’s one thing we do French people: we just kiss everyone that, especially friends actually, we don’t do that always in the work environment, or friends of friends, this is a natural thing to do. And it’s interesting the way you said it, because it took her one year, actually, because she didn’t want to upset me and to make me feel bad, it took her one year to say, you know what? We don’t really do that in my culture. It’s not normal or not that it’s not normal, but it’s not a common thing to do. And it’s not always appreciated. And Like, I blocked at that point of time because I’ve been across many, many cultures. But this is something that I didn’t even cross my mind at the time. And and you’re right, actually, that element of kind of psychological safety and trust and creating that bond and relationship becomes very important here because it’s a both way thing then. She feels safe to be able to say, let’s not do that anymore, because it’s not really the right thing for me. It doesn’t work for me. And I’m like and I completely understood, of course, I was not upset about it, but it’s that time for that person to feel safe and also be very vulnerable on her side to be able to say, I need to speak up.

[23:35] Jennifer:
Yeah. I think it’s such an important point as well what you’re saying, Julian, around. I always pick this example of, like, if you’re standing on my foot and I don’t tell you you’re standing on my foot, you might not notice. It’s kind of like if we also don’t share that I’m hurting or that’s not quite right the other person might also not know. It is kind of I think a two sided thing. We, as individuals, have to be somewhat conscious and aware that our actions or perhaps different ways of being is not always appreciated or might have different implications. And there’s there’s to a certain extent, you can create, you can inform yourself, you can be really sensitive, but you can never know, because some people will have different sensitivities for understanding.

I think there’s that second element, actually I have to speak up if something isn’t quite right for me. And the more you have that environment that’s safe and that open stage, that means you were saying, if it can be vulnerable yourself, that always helps in opening up for others as well.

[24:37] Julien:
And for sure, I mean, the great thing as well with that example for me is that we probably have a deeper bond now as well, and a deeper relationship, because obviously, after this happened, I hugely apologized for stepping in the wrong direction. And yeah, because, again, I don’t always know everything in the moment. I am also in the learning process, and she understood that. And I think now we can have discussions that are very different. She knows that she can have those kind of conversations with me. And I can also be more open in asking other questions, because that first example came. And then now I can actually dig deeper and understand better her culture as well.

[25:27] Jennifer:
And you know what it just reminds me of, sometimes you’re going to be in friendships or in relationships with people where you can develop deeper connections, and they can almost be your cultural ambassadors in many ways as well. And sometimes you’re going to be in a cultural environment where you’re just going to instantly connect with someone, but you don’t have a chance to deeper connect.

And I always remember this example on: so as I mentioned, I got married to an Indian man and we had actually a wedding in Germany, in the UK and in India. So it was all about culturally, really embracing our different sides. But when we got married in India, there was a tradition at home that you would serve food to all your guests. So as kind of new bride and groom, we would walk around and serve food to our guests. And, you know, from a German mindset, I would go around and I would ask, would you like some more food? And they’re like, ‘no, no’. I was like, okay, let me move on and serve more food. And so I would do the round. At some point, my husband at that time just came behind me and said: Jenny you need to ask like multiple times, they’ll think you’re really rude, you know, not offering them enough food. But I’ve asked and they said ‘no’ and I respect their ‘No’. But it was just something where the culture was so different. And I wasn’t aware of that. And I didn’t have time to connect with all of them deeply and built that relationship. So it was really helpful that I got that culture insight and saying this is how your behaviors perceived, because in the Indian culture, people will, you know, it’s almost like you offer many, many times and then after a point, they’ll just say yes to the food. So that’s kind of a very polite way and respectful way.

And so I think it’s really helpful as well, bringing that back to the work culture: kind of have some cultural ambassadors. So if you’ve build some really deep connections with some people kind of thing: okay, I’m going to be working with some Indian colleagues. Can you just help me understand a little bit to what’s important, again, not to stereotype. And I think it’s always important to try to connect with the human, but there are certain ways where, certain ways of being are culturally defined, and I think it is helpful to have that to best navigate across culture.

[27:52] Julien:
It’s a very good, a very interesting point here. And I was wondering, in your opinion, for organizations that are kind of starting on that journey of developing more diversity and inclusion and equity in their workplace, what can HR and leaders do to kind of activate those allies and ambassadors across the organization?

[28:23] Jennifer:
I think sometimes in this diversity, equity and inclusion space I think sometimes it can be very, very much always for a minority group of people, right? We’re just going to look like the underrepresented groups and underprivileged and see how to support, which is an absolutely critical element, because we’re trying to create equitable opportunities for all the equitable workplaces. So we do have to look at certain groups which over time have been marginalized. And how do we create a more equal system?

But I think one thing to just shift in the mindset of organizations and leaders is that actually inclusion and belonging, having a culture of inclusion and belonging will make the workplace better for everyone. You know, if you’re a white male, like you Julien, right, you’re incredibly diverse. It doesn’t mean all white men are the same. Right? And sometimes I think that’s where we miss out in connecting with our individual diversity. We all have different lived experiences, different backgrounds, different beliefs, different ways of being, different sexual orientations and so on. And I think it’s for one, just appreciating that diversity within us and also understanding it for ourselves. And then appreciating everyone else’s diversity.

And secondly, I think it’s also thinking about intersectionality. That’s another word that gets thrown around a lot in our space. But just very simply, intersectionality is also thinking about, you know, I can be a woman, a gay woman, I can be a black gay woman, and that intersectionality means I’m not just one identity, and I’m probably not even just those three identities. But because I’m part of those three, there will be certain elements that might hinder me even further from progressing, because there are lots of stereotypes or systemic discriminations against certain elements of those groups. And so I think that awareness is really helpful.

And then we have a concept in TCS, which we call ‘Ally of Diversity’. How can pretty much anyone step into the space of being an ally of diversity? And that means one understanding yourself a diverse and then secondly, others, but then also really stepping forward for people who are distinctly different from you and saying, okay, let me more deeply understand that community. And I personally think employee resource groups or employee networks are such powerful ways in organizations to create changemakers, to enable diverse groups to share their voices and those voices being kind of amplified and heard. So if you’re in a leadership position, I would always recommend: see if you can be an executive sponsor for any of the employee networks. Can you just be part of them? Can you be part of meetings because it will just open your eyes and your ears to kind of what are those important issues for them?

And I mean, I think it’s again, being really conscious on how you lead your team and your own behaviors, because as a leader, you’ll be a role model, right? So are you using inclusive language? Are you creating a space where people will have a voice and that voice is heard? Are you constantly checking in on your biases? And I do think it’s really helpful to have coaching, to have reverse mentoring with people who are really different from you, have training, because all of that will continuously make sure you have a mindset that is actually open for diversity and inclusion. Yeah. I think some of those are the actions you can take.

[32:22] Julien:
Brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing that. It’s been wonderful talking to you. And I think we could be here for a very, very long time. But I wanted to ask you maybe a last question that I tend to ask most people usually jumping in: what’s your words of wisdom that you want to leave us with?

[32:47] Jennifer:
Uf, that’s a hard question right at the end. Words of wisdom? I think. I mean, you know, sometimes it sounds so simple, but I really think if we we could shift more to really deeply and actively listen to ourselves and to others, we can connect much more deeply with ourselves and others. And I think that connection, that human connection is something that will take us forward. I think we’re…I feel like the pandemic is really, it’s like Mother Nature telling us something: You know, it’s like, go to your room, sit there and think about what you’ve done to the nature, you know, it’s what we’ve done to our climate, to the nature, how we’ve been engaging and interacting with each other. And there seems to be lots more coming right with all the all the things are happening right now. So I think there’s so much for us to learn, and I almost feel like we should be listening more, listening in more internally and listening more to others without that judgment that we were talking about, or at least just let’s set that aside and let me just listen to who you are. You know, who are you? Not sometimes you get also so caught up in the words and the language and opinions and perspectives. But I want to just connect humanly with you. And I think that’s that’s beautiful. When we can create more human connections, I think we can actually create a better world for all of us.

[34:37] Julien:
Beautiful end of our conversation. Thank you so much for that. Last thing I’d like to ask you is if anyone would like to hear more about you or reach out, if they have questions or they want to connect with you. What’s the best way for them to do that?

[34:54] Jennifer:
Yes. I’d love that. Love to hear from any of you. I think LinkedIn is the best platform. I try to share and write things on LinkedIn so you can find me under Jennifer Stanzl. So feel free to connect with me there.

[35:07] Julien:
Brilliant. Thank you very much for that. And I’ll put the link in the notes as well to your profile. So thank you so much for being here with me today. It was a pleasure to have you. I hope we’ll have you again in the near future. Maybe will talk deeper on some of these topics. Thank you so much, Jenny.

[35:30] Jennifer:
Thank you so much, Julien. Wonderful to be part of it.

[35:37] Julien:
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to help support the podcast. Please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. We’d love to hear from you. To catch all the latest from us, you can follow us on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube at As diverse as Two Peas in a Pod. Thanks again, and I’ll see you next time!