#SHRM18 Speaker Interview with Jamie Velazquez and CaMesha Reece



If you have been following the SHRM blog leading up to the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition in Chicago, you have likely read several speaker and vendor interviews from fellow bloggers. I enjoy these insights into sessions that go beyond a website description. We have one of those interviews for you today and will produce several more on the blog in the upcoming weeks before the event.

One of the things we look for when interviewing speakers and vendors is that they, of course, fit our audience base. Since we are unique in that we cater solely to small businesses, we want to make sure the session content and vendor also cater to that group. I spoke on Monday about how hard it can be sometimes at large events to find sessions that don’t require big budgets or huge teams to implement. When I invite speakers to be interviewed on this blog, I ask them how what they are sharing could be implemented in an environment with little resources, both time and money.

Further, and specific to finding speakers to interview, I wanted to talk to individuals who went beyond compliance or things that we have to do from a legal perspective in HR. Of course, that is important, but small businesses should be focusing on more than just compliance. They need leadership development programs. They need diversity and inclusion initiatives. They need the same focus in the era of #metoo that big businesses are giving to respectful workplaces.

Which is why I wanted to speak to Jamie Velazquez and CaMesha Reece. Their session: Cultural Competency & Humility Training: Leadership Development in Disguise piqued my interest for so many different reasons. After speaking with them I’m excited to share a bit of our conversation.

This talk comes out of the work both ladies are doing around cultural competency. Jamie works for the Crittenton Services for Children and Family. The California Department of Social Services decided that cultural competency and humility training should be conducted but, as is the case, left the specifics for conducting the training up to each provider. The directive was to do it and make it work.

The story of our lives right?

CaMesha worked with Jamie at the time, although has since moved to another company, and the two set out to figure out how to conduct this training in a way that was meaningful. Before I explain further, let me say that sessions that walk you through how someone went about implementing something at their company are my favorite. Nothing beats real life experience, lessons learned and successes.

One of the things that I think will make this session unique from other sessions that speak around the same topic is that in Jamie’s words: “CaMesha is a beautiful woman of color and I, being a white woman, sit in a seat of privilege. This allows us to talk about this topic from both angles and present a very raw, honest viewpoint.”

The idea of cultural competency and the foundation of this session is authenticty, listening and humility. I asked both why they thought these simple concepts were so hard for organizations to implement. They expressed that what they have seen is that having these open and honest conversations is hard. People are afraid to speak up because they don’t want to offend. Rather than ask a question about a culture that may help them understand their co-workers better, they stay silent and then sit with their own misconceptions or unconscious bias. Further, so many businesses have group think issues and don’t realize there is a problem or lack of inclusion.

Specifically, in small business, we talked about how, at least initially, you hire who you know and replicate an issue of sameness. This is so true in my experience. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into meet with a new client’s leadership team for the first time to have the CEO say, “wow, having you sit here makes me realize how lacking we are in diversity at the leadership level.” If a white woman in the room is the most amount of diversity that table has ever had, lacking in diversity is an understatement.

I asked Jamie and CaMesha what the take-a-ways for their session would be. They shared the following:

It’s ok not to know how to do this.
The session will provide tips on how to go back and have the conversation with company leaders
It may share a new perspective considering the diversity in the two speakers.

I shared that at WorkHuman in April, one of the things Brene Brown said that stuck with me was that in order to really create momentum in this area, we are all going to have to concede the fact that we are going to get it wrong. When we start to open up and have these conversations with one another, we are going to mess it up at some point. Jamie laughed and said that through this process she has gotten it wrong a lot and that even for these two ladies working together, this has been a learning process. I appreciate her authenticity and know she will bring that to the session.

I feel like this session is going to be a very open, raw conversation about these issues. I don’t think either of these ladies will claim to have all the answers but can give amazing insight into what they have done, what has worked and roadblocks they have hit along the way. I’m excited to hear it and have added it to my schedule.



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