Leading Inclusion: Creating Respectful Environments With Gena Cox

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Inclusion begins with respect: when we see, hear, and value each other, we create a world where everyone belongs. Gena Cox talks about how organizations can truly embrace inclusion in this episode, sharing gold nuggets from her book "Leading Inclusion: Drive Change Your Employees Can See." She explores the definition of inclusive leadership, emphasizing how respect is the cornerstone of inclusion in the workplace. Based on research and her own experience, Gena shares how to create environments where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. Tune in now and learn how to lead with inclusion.


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Leading Inclusion: Creating Respectful Environments With Gena Cox

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Dr. Gena Cox. Gena is the CEO of Feels Human. She's an Organizational Psychologist who works as an Executive Strategic Advisor, Coach and Speaker. She helps leaders optimize their impact and influence as they move toward the C-suite or boardroom and advises leaders in building inclusive respect to lead organizations.

Gena is the author of Leading Inclusion, an award-winning guidebook that shows how to counter the typically disappointing outcomes from diversity, equity, and inclusion work. It's a brilliant book. Go pick it up. Gena is a prominent voice in human-centered leadership, helping leaders see that inclusion tops diversity and that it must be powered by respect at the center. She lives in Clearwater, Florida, where she stays active in the beautiful sunshine. She was born in England and was raised in Barbados. It is truly an honor and a pleasure to welcome you to the show, Gena.

Tony, it's so delightful to be here. It's funny because I have this sense that I know you and don't really know you, but because we crossed paths over the last few years, it's fun to be able to finally sit down and have this conversation.

Yeah, me too. I feel the same way. You all go show up on the virtual world and we do all our sharing of our thought leadership, but sometimes we’ve got to sit down by the fire and get to know each other on a more deeper level, which I think is an important part of this. I'm looking forward to it. As we do on the show, we explore people's journeys to get to where they're making a big impact in the world, which you truly are. I want to explore what got you there. What was the journey that revealed this amazing human in front of me?

This is a very long story and so hopefully, you and your audience have a little patience with me as I tell it. One of the interesting things is that I came to the United States when I was twenty years old. I like to say that by the time I got here, I was a fully formed person. I thought I knew how I felt about myself. I knew about my emotions and I knew what I liked and didn't like, but when I came to the United States, it felt like I had stepped into a different world. Obviously, in the physical sense, that was true, but I made it in a sense. I began to realize that people who saw me were not reacting to me in the way that I was accustomed to having been reacted to for the preceding twenty years.

Finally, I concluded a lot of that had to do with the fact that I was a black woman. That's no big whoop. This is so important. Let me tell you why it matters. I'd grown up most of my life or spent most of my growing-up years in a society where this aspect of life didn't matter. This whole thing of race didn't matter. I noticed that in the United States, it was a big deal. I had to figure out why it seemed like such a big deal.

That would be obvious to someone who had lived here all their lives. I had to study that and I discovered the history is fascinating and so on. Once I understood that, though, and I eventually went off to work in Corporate America and do a variety of things, I knew for a fact from my personal experiences that it certainly wasn't true. Everybody was having the same experience at work regardless of whether it had to do with gender, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ status or so many other various ways that we differ naturally. I began to focus on this whole idea of what leaders can do to build healthy organizations in which everyone could thrive.

For decades, whether I was working with leaders on organizational culture or I spent a lot of years measuring employee experience using surveys and other tools to understand what matters to employees and what levers leaders can push, or whether I was myself serving others as an executive coach or whatever, all of that I’ve focused on what is the behavior for leaders that makes the positive difference. That's a long story of how I got to this point where I'm dead set and focused on putting respect at the center of all organizational life.

You came in with a bang, and I love that you've come to this place and realized that it's not about an A experience. It's about all the different experiences people have and understanding that not everyone is getting the same experience you had in the past. When you take an environment that you were brought up in where maybe it didn't feel quite the same, you brought it into a different environment and realize something's not right here. Something's not feeling like I'm getting a fair take. You wanted to have that for other people.

That moved you into this space of feeling like you want to do more work in this space. I want to get back and rewind into what truly prompted you to get into this work. Twenty years old, you say you're coming into this country. That's about the age of being in college. Were you already prompted to say like, “I'm going to go in and do study psychology?” What got you thinking, “This was my path?”

I came to the United States to go to college and when I came here, I wanted to be a journalist. My dream job to this day, when I see Christiane Amanpour on CNN, I'm like, “Could I be her?” I wish. The closest I’ve come to that is I have a cool khaki jacket with lots of pockets that I wear whenever I travel, but that's what I wanted. My dad, who had worked in the newspaper business, had said, “All journalists are alcoholics who smoke a lot.”

I remember him telling me this. He said, “Study something else and you can write about that.” I liked psychology, so I decided to study it. What got me involved in Industrial Organizational Psychology is that I met a professor as an undergrad who had earned her PhD in Social Psychology at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. This woman took me under her wing. For whatever reason, she said, “Gena, you need to go to graduate school.” I don't know why she saw that. I said, “Sure.” She started explaining the various options in psychology to me.

When I landed upon organizational psychology and discovered that it was possible not to study human behavior but to do it in the context of the business world, which I was very much attracted to, it was that that prompted me to eventually get a PhD in Organizational Psychology. More so, it was that prompted me to think about organizations as an ecosystem. It's got all these certain dynamics that are like the experiences that people have in other social systems, whether it's the school that they're in or whatever. I fascinated by the village of organizational life.

The dynamicism of that ecosystem and how it changes, add new elements into it and change, even with societal pressures from the outside coming in, what does that affect? I think about it even in the context of how we're facing the Gen Z coming in and how that changes the generational effect of what it looks like to be an organization.

By the way, you mentioned Gen Z. I have to go off on my little soapbox. I love Gen Z, I love Millennials, I love anybody who's younger than me. Let me tell you why. It’s because when I hear people criticize, I realize that they not necessarily be noticing the benefits that Gen Z and younger people are bringing for us. I was working at IBM back in the day when I remember the Millennials coming in and not liking the performance review system. It had a lot of pages, a lot of forms, and a lot of things that people had to fill out. They were like, “We don't understand how this is helping us to become more effective in our jobs.” This was when at the beginning when you were having things like think about an internal Slack channel or intranet so people could communicate directly to the leaders of the organization.

People started talking directly to the CEO and the senior leaders and say, “These are the changes we'd like to see.” I'll never forget when they threw out the whole performance review system and implemented something that was simpler and easier and more focused on showing not whether you had checked the box on various tasks but on whether you had the opportunity to reveal all of your various strengths that the company might not otherwise see. I thank the Millennials for that and for helping to create a greater focus on the things that employees want leaders to focus on. That has continued. I say thank you, Gen Z. Thank you, Millennials for raising issues that my generation didn't feel like we had permission to raise.

I love that you share that because there's something about disrupting the system. It comes from all different angles. We always first fear things that are different and then we have to say like, why do we fear it? It brings about change, and, at the very core, being different is scary, but if we get rid of the fear and then embrace it, it can actually become the most powerful force of change that moves us forward.

The reality is difference is normal. Similarity is what's weird and unusual because what if we all look like each other. Walking down the street, we might feel more comfortable that we look like each other, but at this point we would go, there's something very strange here, yet we see different. We haven't trained ourselves to say, “That's interesting.” We've trained ourselves to be like, “Humans.” I don't mean this is how humans are. We avoid difference when we ought to look for ways to get closer and understand.

Even in my own journey, I’ve felt this sense of whenever things felt like they're stuck in patterns or felt like monochrome in nature. It's like that doesn't feel like I'm alive. I don't feel like I'm connected to anything. When I feel the vibrancy of my life, I feel that connection to creativity; it's because all of the colors come back in. There's a lot of different variety and things are changing. Things are different and that’s what keeps us excited and inspired. I think that’s an important part of it.

I want to get back into something you mentioned earlier, something about your important journey, the resistance you faced in early days. This work is not easy work, obviously, it still isn't easy, but I want to talk about your early days of getting into this field. Where did you hit the resistance? I'm sure you did.

My area of focus is leader behavior in organizations. From your question, one of the things that I know that people ask me a lot about is I wrote a book called Leading Inclusion. It has that word inclusion. It lets people know that I have also got a particular focus on this idea of how we can help all employees to thrive.

The Virtual Campfire | Gena Cox | Leading InclusionI’ve told you about my academic and professional lens on this. Still, from a personal point of view, one of the things that interested me was that for decades, as I worked in Corporate America, I started looking down on myself as I was having these experiences. I realized that I was often disappointed. I would fall into the category of one of those people that Deepa Purushothaman describes as the first, the few and the only. I tended to be the first Black woman with a PhD in most of the situations that I was in, which was great.

It was great, meaning I had prepared myself in that way, but the disappointment often came where, despite my years of preparation and being overqualified in a lot of ways, I still didn't get the opportunities. I was not usually the first choice for the opportunities. Even when I would raise my hand sometimes, it was as if people couldn't see me in some of these situations.

My awareness of that and also watching other people have that experience is definitely one of the things that has dramatically influenced my focus or my willingness to focus on this whole idea of inclusion in a very specific way. The book and some of the things I’ve done in the last few years, and I'm sure we'll talk about this at the appropriate time, were significantly influenced by the events of March and May of 2020 where we had a lot of upheaval as a result. Those directed me to say, “What is the change that you want to see in the world?” That is how I define purpose, by the way, Tony. “What is the change you want to see in the world and what will you do, Gena, to be a part of that change?”

I love how you brought that in because it's so important to say like, “What is the agency I'm taking in my life to move the needle in the direction of what I want to see?” I think that's so cool. I think knowing that you're rising to this top of there's a level where you know you're making an impact, but then looking down and saying, “Where are the other people who are like me or who are going to take on the mantle when I'm moving along?” You think about the challenge that you face. You have this face of like, “I need to make sure that other people are feeling like they can come to that level and come to this place where they feel comfortable belonging in this place.”

There's the personal joy that comes from being well-prepared and getting the things that you feel that you've worked hard for. There is indeed the profound disappointment that comes from always being the first; only being the first is difficult. More so, it's the recognition of how much talent is being left and wasted that doesn't have the opportunity to do.

I gave a talk to a group of women executives who were together and in the very informal Q&A afterwards, someone asked me, “What do you think we ought to do that we don't always do? What can we do more of?” What I say is if you believe in something, you've got to lean in. One of the phenomena, for example, that I have observed over time is that when women as a group now get to certain levels of authority within organizations, the C-suite or the next level down or what have you, they're often reluctant to hire other women or they're cautious because they don't want someone to say, “She's hiring that person because they're a woman.”

Similarly, when people of color have those kinds of opportunities, they are surprisingly often more reluctant to hire more people who look like them because they don't want someone to say, “This is all self-serving.” I say you have to know first of all what it is that you believe, but when it comes to performance, hire the best person even if they look like you, which is putting it the opposite of what most people say. It's okay if the person looks like you if that person is the best person. It is also okay if that person doesn't look like you if they're the best person.

When it comes to performance, hire the best person.

I think that's a great insight because I’ve seen that play out where you feel like there's a judgment that people who are like, “Now there's a different club being formed, I guess.” They need to withhold their judgment and say, “Maybe this person is qualified or even more qualified.” This has me thinking about a lot of things lately about how we often have our first judgment about everything on the intranet. Let's look at that. The first thing we do is we react. When we see something that triggers us, it's like retreat or hate it or not like it because it's not what we want. When we lean in, like you said, and lean in has gotten a weird vibe lately, and say why, maybe I need to learn more. Maybe I need to figure out what's going on, take it from the surface level a little deeper, and learn why this person was chosen.

Why the person was chosen or whatever the particular circumstance is because I do agree that one of the weaknesses that we have in our culture and one of the weaknesses that seems to be a global problem because of the internet is that it's easy to get the quick answer. The concept of googling has taken on huge proportions. We google everything and we have the answer.

Now, with AI, we think if we ask AI a question and we get the answer, that's the answer Truth, only to discover it could be completely false. That whole idea, I think, is influencing us to think that we know the answer, but there's no substitute for talking directly to a person. There's no substitute for doing your research. There's no substitute for making sure you have the information before you make a judgment. There's no substitute for that.

There's a realization that we all have biases in the way that we react, but we're humans. If we want to come at a problem or solve something from a deeper level, we have to be able to say, “What else could be possible here? What else is going on?” If I want that to come to fruition, I have to have a conversation. I think that's why the work I'm doing now, and not to make it about me, but I think it's about making deeper connection with people. The only way to do that is to talk to them.

There is absolutely no shortcut. I think another thing that goes along with what you do and what you're describing, Tony, is we have got to give people grace. Not that we have to agree with everyone, but let's at least give every person that one assumption they have good intentions, but of course, if they're carrying a gun or if they're looking like they're going to cut your head off, don't do that. I'm saying in the normal course of life, that's what we ought to do. What that does for you is it gives you the opportunity to go up to someone in a room and say, “I'm Tony.” “I'm Gena. What brings you here today?”

We have to give people grace.

You probably know who Alisa Cohn is. She is neat. I pay attention to what she talks about because I do agree that she's the master of figuring out how to connect literally with someone in a space. I interviewed her for my book. We talked a little bit about the little questions that you could ask to get a conversation started. It doesn't sound like a big deal when you think about it that way. Ultimately, that's where the rubber meets the road. It's in these one-to-one and one-to-many interactions.

Brilliant. I love what we've got here. This is my favorite topic. I want to shift gears and get into a little more about the book and hear about some of the big takeaways that you want people to know from the work that you've done. I know you've already talked about its leading inclusion, not about diversity. I want to hear more about why inclusion is on top.

That's a good question to start with because one of the things that unfortunately has happened in the media is that all of these terms have been clumped together, and now people don't understand that they mean very different things. My book is called Leading Inclusion and not Leading Diversity because we keep hearing about diversity, equity, and inclusion, those three words together. Those individual words are important, but they have different meanings. They don't have this meaning that some people ascribe to them.

When I use the word diversity, I'm talking about representation. What proportion of people in a certain group do you have in your organization relative to that proportion in the general or available workforce? That's what diversity is about. On the other hand, it's my definition of inclusion is about the day-to-day experience that any individual has in an organization. Hopefully, that experience does not vary as a function of their personal characteristics. In other words, regardless of what I look like when I show up, we can pretty much have the same experience because we get treated the same, we have the same resources and so on.

Equity of course, is about outcomes. If you have a group of people in one situation, is it reasonable to say that they each have the same opportunity to get to the same outcome, assuming that everything else is equal? That's what equity is about. The book is called Leading Inclusion because I'm all about the experience. I'm focused on the experience people have when they walk into an organization, even before they're hired and, of course, as they talk about the organization and interact with the people in it. The things that I focus on, my big ideas, one of them is that inclusion tops diversity.

While there's all this talk about diversity, it's strange in the United States right now because we have this conversation in certain states, especially about DEI as woke and it's so horrible and so on. I happen to be living in one of those states. The weird thing about it is you would think that after George Floyd was killed, something had magically happened, some floodgates had been opened, and some disproportionately large number of people of color had been hired into organizations, promoted into organizations, allowed into the Ivy League schools and taken over the country. You would think that.

The reality is that all of the outcome measures, whether we're talking about economic measures, educational attainment measures, whether we're talking about home ownership or promotions to seek to management positions, those numbers have not changed significantly. We still only have 28, let's say, Black people who have ever been CEOs of a Fortune 500 company since the list was started in 1955.

We only have ever had five Black women who have been CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. I count the number on one hand, and I say that to say that that's about diversity, the counts and so on about diversity. However, you can't have sustainable diversity in an organization if you don't first create a carpet of thriving. That's what inclusion is. I say inclusion is this whole idea that when I show up in the organization, I would feel like there's a place setting for me.

The Virtual Campfire | Gena Cox | Leading Inclusion

I don't want to feel like I’ve come to this dinner party, I'm the 11th person and there are only place settings for ten people. Inclusion is about how my sense that the leader anticipated that I was coming, the organization knows I'm here, I have what I need to do my job well, and I don't feel like the way that people interact with me on a day-to-day basis interferes with my ability to enjoy this dinner party. That's why inclusion is my focus.

There's something about that. It's like the biggest, the most important metric of them all. It's like you can bring some into the room, but if you're going to put them into the corner of the table and ignore them, that's not going to help. I think it's important to make sure that everyone has that sense of like, “My voice counts in this room. It feels like people understand what it means to be included.” I love that you brought this up and then there was something you shared that I wanted to come back to. Now it's escaping me, so I'm going to come, need a moment to think, but it was around inclusion. I'll come back to it.

I will tell you then, though, that within the inclusion bucket, my primary focus is on respect. What I have noticed is that, for example, after May of 2020, there was this headlong rush by leaders of organizations to do the things they thought would make a difference. I think they had good intentions. There was a lot of focus on implicit bias training. There was a lot of hiring of chief diversity officers. There was a lot of, “Let's get more people of color into these jobs.” None of those 3 things is bad independently, but none of those 3 things is actually going to make a significant difference.

As we have seen over time, they could not because those things were done without first laying that foundation of inclusion. As you say, people would come into these organizations with good intentions, like, “I'm here, got the job, I'm so happy,” and then they would feel like they didn't. This was not the place for them.

I tell leaders that what the literature says, what the research says is the outcome that they ought to focus on delivering for all employees, including people of color and LGBTQ and neuro-diverse, immigrants and people who speak a second language. All of these people, all of us is focused on respect because respect is the thing that people will say that is the thing they're sticking. The data from Gallup and McKinsey indicate that respect is always in the top three reasons why people leave organizations, but we don't talk about it.

I say respect is a triad of experiences that employees need to have. They need to feel seen, heard and valued. If they can get those three things, which anybody can deliver and which they can also share with other people, they will feel respected and they will stay because a lack of respect is the primary driver of people leaving our organizations voluntarily.

A lack of respect is the primary driver of people leaving organizations voluntarily.

I think that is at the cornerstone of this, and it's so great that you pointed out those elements. I know you talk about respect in the book at length, which is great that you do. It's awesome. I was thinking about the idea that a lot of companies use a lot of lip surface on this. Originally going after being a journalist, journalists often accentuate certain facts, bring out certain things that make us think that things are certain way, but in reality, they’re not.

I think knowing that where we're at right now, this sense of maybe we're at this stage where things are going well or maybe not so well, it's because of the fact that we're focusing on things that are not necessarily the reality and we're only seeing the sensationalized view of what DEI is doing. I think we need to get real about what's going on.

I think that is one key aspect of what you maybe think about is this idea of don't stay at the surface. Think below the surface of what the facts are. What are you seeing people experience? How are you treating people? Are you treating them with respect and is that something that you can point to in your organization?

There's so much literature and so much research that clearly makes the case for diversity and inclusion, and so on, that at this point, I don't think that leaders understand that. I think they understand that. The challenge is that it goes back to something you said earlier. Everybody knows that when you introduce a person who may come from a different background, doesn't dress the same way, speaks differently, doesn't go to the same school.

There is a period where you have to agree that this is going to feel awkward for some. That's human nature. It has nothing to do with anything else. It's why when you and I are going to special events where we know we're going to be in our peer group, we think carefully about what we are going to wear and what shoes and what sweater. Is this a good occasion for me to bring that hat?

We go through this process not because we have a good sense of fashion, although we do. We do it because what we want is to not have our entrance into the situation become a barrier. We want to get in as quickly as possible. That works both ways. That works for a person like us going into the situation. It also works for the organization into which we're going. Ideally, we'd like for it all to fit together nicely.

I think leaders underestimate that aspect of it, the fashion choice aspect of it, if you would. They underestimate the emotional experience that they, the organization and the people they're bringing into the organization have. Here's another secret that I think leaders miss. Leaders do not usually know what that experience is. They don't know if it varies, and they don't know what the factors are that cause it to vary.

I first had this epiphany when I went to work for a large tech company and it was my first big project. I went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and we were going to meet with a client the next day. Consultants usually have a dinner meeting the night before, where we get together, have something to eat, have a drink, and talk about the client. We talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we strategize what are we going to talk with the client today or the next day? Who's going to take the lead on that and whatever. Here we are. I'm a PhD IO Psychologist. I know my role. I get to the city, and I'm expecting to see my colleagues, but I can't get ahold of anyone. This was before everybody had an iPhone, but I tried emailing, and we texted and did stuff.

I couldn't get hold of anyone. I eventually took a shower, ordered room service, got into bed and started to relax after a long travel day. At about 9:30, I got a text that said, “Why don't you come meet us all at Restaurant A?” I was like, “Restaurant? That's weird.” I had to make a decision. Do I go or do I stay? First of all, I'm all cozy in my bed in Milwaukee, but they're at dinner. Eventually, I said, “I’ve got to be a team player. I'm the new kid on the block.” I got dressed and I went to the restaurant. All of my colleagues were there when I got there. The team was there and I was meeting them for the first night in person. The client was there and the client's husband was there.

They were having such a good time. I think they had already had supper and they were a little bit intoxicated. My manager would've been in New York City but would've been not a part of my team, because when you're a consultant, you go off to meet your clients, your boss is never there. I realize, “I'm in this situation. They don't know this is the experience that I'm having. They don't know that my colleagues have handled this situation very poorly and that now I'm going to put on the poker face and pretend everything is okay.”

I'm always going to be watching to see if this is the precursor of what my experience will be like forever in this company? Long story, but Tony, what I'm saying here is that leaders don't usually know what that experience is and they ought to be more aware of the fact that find ways to figure out the reality of the experience.

I know it was a long story, but I think it was insightful because it helps to bridge the gap across many people who have had that experience or feeling like you are being blindsided into these types of why wasn't I in the loop? Why wasn't I brought into the experience? You’re feeling completely left out.

The manager is oblivious. The manager is sitting here thinking, “I heard this lady. She's gone off to Milwaukee.” He or she isn't thinking about it because they're assuming something good is happening. Now it's up to me to decide am I close enough to my manager to tell him the reality of my experience.

In reality, if we have the right environments, you would feel comfortable saying, “This wasn't cool. I think we need to have a conversation about how we handle these in the future.”

Most people don't. Most people give it to themselves because, especially when you're new. Think about this at the emotional human level and not at this only at the systemic level of headcount and that thing.

Before I switch to the last question, which I always ask, I want to ask one more question. You've been on quite a journey and I want to know like what are some things you've learned about yourself, maybe a lesson or so that you'd like to share that you haven't already shared?

What I have learned is that I have very strongly had held values about things like fairness and honesty and so on. Those are my values. I’ve also learned that I can make the biggest difference when I take it one step at a time. Put the blinders on, not worry about what somebody else's journey is or what somebody else's impact is because there will always be someone smarter, richer or further along the path than you and so on. I tell people, including my daughter, “Do the one thing. Do the one thing, and then tomorrow do the one thing.” Right now, I'm eating a lot of lentils, and the reason I'm eating a lot of lentils is that, first of all, I love lentils. I could eat them every day, but also, I want to lose some weight.

If I buy the things I normally buy and go to the grocery store and do whatever and not be thoughtful about it, I probably would gain a pound at the end of a month. Every time I eat these lentils, it's like a little bit of a ritual to say, “This is one little thing that you're doing that's going to help you on your journey because it's got carbs, but it's also got this protein.” Do the little thing that you can one step at a time.

Something about what you shared has me thinking about this idea of tending to our own gardens planting our own seeds and focusing on that in the long game. To borrow from our friend Dory, this idea that those things pay off is focusing on our own thing instead of always worrying about what other people are doing and what they're up to and how I am comparing them. Keep on doing one thing at a time, focusing on things you want to focus on. It actually comes to the place where you've started to look back and say, “I did that.”

I talk about my daughter a lot, but my daughter's an adult now, but talk about her a lot because I’ve learned so much from being a mother. I remember when she was learning to drive, and would say to her, “When you're driving, going down the street and you see someone's behavior that makes you uncomfortable like they cut you off or they give you the finger or something, what you ought to do is let them go. Let them have the way. You stay here. Let them have the way and you stay in control of your emotions and you don't interact with that person.”

All of these little things that happen around us don't have anything to do with us, but they sure can get us into an accident or a conflict or set us off feeling badly about ourselves or cause us to run off the road. To the extent that you can see all the good and bad things, and either way, say, “I'm still going down the highway. I still know what my destination is.” Maybe I need to pull off to the road and take a breath because it was stressful or because it was wonderful. Whatever it is, though, you still have to stay on your path.

I could have this conversation all day, but I want to come to the last question, which is, what are 1 or 2 books that have an impact on you and why?

This is a very easy question, Tony, and I love that you making it easy for me. I read a whole lot of books, and it's gotten to the point where I read a lot of business books. However, when I was a young teenager, I heard about a woman named Maya Angelou. I got this book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I read the book, and it blew my mind because I grew up in a country that was a former colony of England. A lot of our books were English. We did read Caribbean writers every now and then, but mostly we were reading Shakespeare or European literature and there was nothing wrong with that. I found Maya Angelou and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and I discovered that she looked like me.

The Virtual Campfire | Gena Cox | Leading InclusionShe was tall. She had darker skin. I read this book and I’ve become a lifelong devotee. I’ve learned many lessons from her. One of the things that I talk about constantly is when someone shows you who they are, you believe them the first time. That is to say, I give everybody grace. If you show me that you give grace and that you're fair, honest, considerate and respectful, we're in and you'll see me again. If you show me something negative about your view of life and humans and so on, I'm gone. That's the last you'll see of me. I always say that's what I want to be one of those people who, when I show up, people say I do no harm at the very least.

Hopefully, maybe I can bring some good vibes along with me so that they can say, “What she showed me is that she's somebody who's worthy of being around.” That's my big Maya Angelou thing. From Toni Morrison, another writer. They both are now deceased, unfortunately, but Toni Morrison has written many books, many of which are on the band book list by the way, as are Maya’s. Toni Morrison says, “If there's a book that you haven't read that you want to read and it hasn't been written, then you need to write it yourself.” There you go. I wrote a book that is very non-traditional for that very reason.

That's like advice right there for us to hear. What is the book that you need to write that hasn't been written? I loved what you shared. It's this idea of grace that you shared around Maya Angelou. It's what you embody and it also seems to be your legacy that you're creating. I think that's such a great sentiment. We give people grace and that's a good starting point for all the things we do.

It's not easy, but it's certainly possible.

I know that feeling. I have to thank you so much for everything you've done here. This has been amazing. I love your stories, insights, and absolute brilliance. Thank you for coming on the show and sharing what you did.

Tony, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here. This has been a wonderful conversation, the kind of conversation that I would've had with you over a cup of coffee in a physical space. It felt that good. Thank you for having me.

Before I let you go, I need to make sure that you know the people who are reading know where to find you. What's the best place to reach out if they want to learn more?

We can always go to my website, which is GenaCox.com. I would say that LinkedIn is a wonderful place for you to find me first. We can reach out by messaging or whatever. I'm very responsive to people who reach out to me that way. You can learn more about me in the process, so my LinkedIn or my website, the two best places.

Thank you, again, and thanks to the readers for coming on this journey with us. I know you're leaving completely inspired and feeling this sense of grace. Thank you.

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