Alex Kudinov Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Tandem Coaching Academy’s Keeping Agile Coaching Non-Denominational podcast. We are your hosts today Cherie Silas and I Alex Kudinov. Today we have Anu Smalley with us and she is a CST with Scrum Alliance. And recently she became a CEC can CTC. Great achievement Anu. Congratulations.
Anu Smalley Thank you very much, Alex and thank you for having me on your podcast.
Alex Kudinov Absolutely! It is a pleasure. So let’s start with just maybe telling a little bit to our audience how you got to be CST to start with.
Anu Smalley So that was a long journey for me. I got into training purely accidentally. I had a colleague, when I was working at a bank, I had a colleague who would do the Scrum 1-on-1 for new employees and she asked me one day to help her given I was from the product owner world. She said, “Hey, can you stop in and help me because my regular partner is not available today.” I told her, “I’m not a trainer” and she said, “Oh, please come help me.” I said, “Sure but you owe me” and at the end of the day, I walked away going, “Oh, my god, I have found my calling. This is what I want to be doing” and till today, I will tell my friend, “I owe you. You’ve helped me find my calling. So that was my first step into saying, training is amazing and here’s the funny thing, my entire family, mom, dad, brother, sister, all teachers.
Alex Kudinov You didn’t get any hint? You didn’t get any notice?
Anu Smalley I kept thinking I’m the weird one. You know, I don’t have the teaching gene. It just took me many decades to figure “Yep, got the gene”
Alex Kudinov I bet mom and dad were like, “She has returned!”
Anu Smalley They’re like, “So you finally figured out what you’re meant to be doing.” So I, like I said, I was doing a lot of in house training, loving it, and then due to an acquisition, I got an opportunity to do more. During that time, I met a Certified Scrum Trainer. I didn’t know anything about the CST. At that point, I didn’t know what the life of a CST is and I started asking the CST a few questions and I said, “Can I hang out with you? I want to know what a CST means.” His response was, “Do you want to become one?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I don’t know what it is so let me hang out with you.” So I kind of shadowed him for a few classes and then I said, “Yeah…I think this might be my style; my cup of tea.” I started and here was the funny thing. When I started my journey, I was working at a bank so the presentation style was heavy PowerPoint, lots of words, I push information to 100 people in the classroom, and they sit there and say, “Yes, I understand” I watched one of his classes and went, “I am throwing out all my materials, starting over” and every class I taught with any CST I went, ‘Throwing it all out starting over’ because every time I learned stuff. My journey was two years. I took it slow. I did not want to rush it. I had some amazing opportunities to train with other people and by the time I got to the tack, I felt I was ready. I felt it didn’t matter whether I got it or not. I was there at the bar set for the CST and I was thrilled to be there. That was my entire journey to get to a CST, which started by pure accident.
Alex Kudinov I think there’s something to that accident. So now it’s been six years. What makes Anu a successful CST.
Anu Smalley Ohh what a good question. What makes Anu a successful CST? I think what makes me a good CST is I am looking to help people learn the values and principles and certification is a byproduct. They come to me for certification but that’s not what I teach to. I teach by storytelling. I do a lot of coaching, collect stories, and then come into my training classes. If they wanted to pass a certification, they could read the Scrum Guide and go take a test. They don’t need me to tell them there are three roles, five events, and three artifacts; they don’t need me to tell them that. What they need me to do is help them understand the importance of having a Product Owner, and why there should be a Scrum Master, and why we need cross functionality, and telling them stories. I think what makes me successful is I tell stories and I have fun. If you can’t have fun when you’re learning…oh my god…what a boring two-day certification class. That is not my style at all. So if you come to my class you’re going to listen to music, you’re going to do some scavenger hunts, you might even get up for a bit of time and dance a bit. Right? You’ll have fun. Yeah, you want to hang out with me, you’re gonna sing, and dance, and learn, and share stories. It doesn’t matter where you are in your agile journey. We all have stories and we learn from that.
Cherie Silas So lots of fun, really great trainer, lots of success. Everybody loves you. So why did Anu want to be a coach?
Anu Smalley So coaching, again, accident, lots of accidents, or maybe the universe telling me ‘Wake up!’ I actually became a really, really good Product Owner because my Scrum Master knew how to coach me. I am a CST, today, because my Scrum Master did not give up on me. He coached me to become a good Product Owner and helped me realize how I could help others. I learned from him and I said, “Oh my god, you’ve changed my life.” That was years ago and then I got into the CST path and during my training as a consultant, as an Agile coach, when I was at an organization, I was doing the standard Scrum coaching, setting up teams and I wasn’t connecting. I knew something was missing. I was doing all the things a coach is supposed to do but I don’t think I realized what a coach is supposed to do. So he was talking to a couple of CECs and I’m watching them and seeing them weave the magic they do effortlessly– or at least it looked effortless, right? From here, I’m sitting going, “Holy cow. How do you do that?” For me, it takes effort and that was my first lesson to understand that as a coach, if you’re exhausted and you put in so much effort, then you have not been in service to your client. You’ve got to create the container for them because they are the ones who are going to do the hard work. Our job is to show and hold space. The minute I realized that, the minute I saw that and I got it, that was my shift into saying I want to become a “proper” coach. I say proper in air quotes because today everybody is a coach, right? I realized I didn’t know anything about coaching. So I read books, I went to classes, and I hung on the coattails of people who I thought were good coaches. The more I learned, the more I knew I don’t know anything. It’s amazing. Like, you know, people tell me, “When are you going to stop learning?” I’m like, probably the day I die.
Cherie Silas The more you learn, the more you know you don’t know.
Anu Smalley Yeah. So for me, it was that thing of watching. As a trainer, yes, I can create ‘Aha!’ moments in class, transactional. As a coach, you can actually see somebody transform and that’s sustained. For me that is what brings me joy and I’m like, “That’s what I want to do.” That’s why I shifted into coaching. About five years ago, I shifted and it’s been another journey and here I am with the CEC.
Alex Kudinov Here you are with CEC and a proper coach
Anu Smalley and a proper coach! Yes, I hope.
Alex Kudinov What is proper coaching giving the Anu that she didn’t have before.
Anu Smalley It actually allows me to grow me as well as others. For me, I keep thinking about, “Why am I willing to coach and train in a week while I’m doing both? My days are packed.” Training can be actually mentally exhausting because you’re trying to make sure everybody learns the right thing. In coaching there is no right thing. What happens is what happens and it’s that beauty of whatever happens that I think that gives me some kind of joy and fulfillment that training doesn’t. It’s not this or this. They are two different things. I couldn’t compare being a trainer and a coach and tell you which one is better because they both have such strong influences on my fulfillment but I know that coaching is that long term sustainable thing; that’s what I want. I want to be able to help people over a course of time so that they can impact their lives. Rather than say, “Check, I got a certification.”
Cherie Silas Yeah, so great impacts to you. Kudos and I would love to understand what’s been the actual impact to your clients? What are some stories of success?
Anu Smalley So I, oh, my god, I mean…I am… That’s… I wasn’t expecting to have the stories that I heard back, which makes it more impactful. So I had a client who, basically after six months, they told me, “I was actually able to stand up for myself, and go talk to my boss, and asked for a salary that I should be getting.” and I’m like, “I did that?” and they said, “Yes, you did that.” I’m like, “Actually, no, you did that. You went and asked the question.” The statement she made was, “If you hadn’t given me the courage…”, I said, “I didn’t give you the courage.” She said, “but you did something that allowed me to go do this” and she said, “I love that! I feel I’m becoming a different person and my team is saying that I’m becoming a different person. My team is saying that I’m more confident.” This is a team manager who’s a woman. So she goes, “In my organization, it’s very male oriented. It’s a traditional organization so it’s hard to step up and go negotiate for a good salary and…I did!” and she said, “It was because of what you had worked with me that allowed me to do that.” I mean…I was smiling for a whole day after that. I had a leader who was a C-level executive, who after some coaching, he told me, “I realized that I was not being a good role model to my people. I thought I was but I realized that by doing the things I was doing, I was putting pressure on my people to keep up and do what I did.” So I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “So for example, sometimes at night after dinner I would send out an email and it was conversations with you that made me realize, when I work after hours people think I expect them to work after hours regardless of what I say. So there’s been so many shifts in my behavior as to how I show up as a leader and that role model has an impact my organization.” So those are just a couple of things and I just love hearing those stories.
Alex Kudinov Yeah, what sort of stories are fascinating, and it seems like you’re pulling stories from traditional organizations and changing people in traditional organizations. So I want to kind of get to what we’re talking about before our podcast, back to Scrum Alliance. So you are the first Indian woman CST, CEC, and CTC. Congratulations again.
Anu Smalley Thank you.
Alex Kudinov However, putting that into perspective, we talked about that Scrum Alliance has 273 CTCs of which, only 31 are women. So it makes around 11% Moreover the women of color are a meager 1.8%. So, five of them. Which some people might say well, it makes you very unique but then what’s your take on that? What is it like for you to be in this organization?
Anu Smalley So let me tell you my first experience when I became a CST. This was in Prague and right after the interviews and TAC interviews, on Sundays, when we have our trainer and coach retreat. I was super excited to go there, I’d heard about the CTC retreat and I was super excited to be now in the ‘in’ crowd and go there. I walked into this retreat and we were sitting in a circle for Open Space. I was looking around, there were 50 people. Trainers and coaches were sitting in that circle. There were four women. There was one person of color; that was me. I looked around and I’m going, ‘How are we going to transform the world of work when this room does not represent the world?’ If you want to change the world, you got to get representation happening because we don’t understand what’s happening with people. Like this client of mine I talked about, she didn’t know how to go up and ask for a salary raise. That’s a fact of life for most women. For people of color, there are even more things that we have to deal with. So when I look at that I actually right then and there, I remember walking up to the Scrum Alliance CEO at that time and saying, “I want to do something about the diversity; I want to increase diversity” and it’s not just about women or women of color, it’s any diversity. Around the world, look at the globe, we want to represent the world. We want Agile values, and Scrum as a framework to go around the world you got to get the world engaged in the framework. You cannot do that by just having white men doing the work. You got to have all kinds of people engaged in that. So is Scrum Alliance a healthy representation? Absolutely not. Are they working on it? Very slowly; slower than I would like them to be but I think there are people who are getting engaged, and getting involved, and speaking out about stuff, and, actually, some of them are doing something to change that. So I am excited to look forward. Doesn’t matter where we were five years ago, I want to look at where we will be five years from now and I do not want to have the same conversation with you, Alex, five years from now. I want to be able to say the number went up from 5%, or from five people, or 11%; that we made a change. That’s what I want to be talking about in five years.
Cherie Silas So what are some of the things you’re doing that’s making that change?
Anu Smalley So I get as a CST and, as a TAC member, I get a lot of people reaching out to me to say, “Can I co-train with you?” and while, yes, I’m happy to cooperate with people, I want to encourage women, people of diversity, people of color to get to that great community. So over the past two years I’ve created a mentoring group and, to date, I have 13 people in there. It’s a large group and I’m starting to have to create a waitlist because I’m like, ‘I can’t handle more than 13 at a time.’ We meet once a month I help them practice for the TAC, I help them identify other CSTs to co-train with because most CSTs, if you do a cold call, they say, “I don’t know you, I’m not gonna react” but if I say, “Hey, I know this candidate, would you be willing to co-train? I have co trained with them and they are ready for another co-trainer.” So I’m trying to connect these candidates with CSTs who are willing to co-train. I am mentoring them through their application process. I’m mentoring them through their tax simulation. I’m creating a space for them to peer mentor as well. So they help each other they talk to each other and say, “Hey, can you check out my personal statement and give me feedback.” So that’s one thing. That mentoring circle is…I’m very proud of the space it’s created. Like I said, I have a waitlist. So my one condition for people to join the veterans circle, one requirement– they have to meet the prerequisites for a CST but the one requirement is they got to pay it forward. My goal is in 2022 one of them is going to become a CST by then, and they will take over the circle, and I will be their support, and I will create the next group, and the next group, and we’ll build circles within circles. So that’s one thing. The other thing we’ve just recently started doing is, I did a talk last year on gender parity and Daphne Harris, from Scrum.org who heads up the PST program, she was in the audience and then she reached out to me, she goes, “Hey, I’m trying to increase the number of women as Scrum trainers. Would you like to chat?” I’m like, “Yes!” Now we are competing organizations so it was powerful for her to reach out. We started talking and I told her I do this mentoring circle, she goes, “Oh, I want to do something similar” and then we decided to create an initiative called Agile Bridges. So Agile Bridges is an initiative, which is powered by women Scrum trainers. We did an event just before the International Women’s Day in March. We had about 38 people in this group. We had an Open Space. We talked about what is stopping them from moving ahead, what are their impediments, how can we help them, and we’re going to continue this initiative forward by getting Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org. to help us make it more visible; give us potentially some platform to help them create opportunities for them to show up. A lot of CSTs don’t get through because they don’t have community involvement. So how can we make space for you to talk at conferences and mentor you to speak at Agile 2021 or the next Scrum gathering? How can we do stuff? I’m very proud of that. It was two people talking and now it’s…within three weeks it went to 40 people and I’m super excited about that. I don’t know where it’s gonna go but I’m–the women who are in the little organizing team… man, they’re a powerhouse. So I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes. So those are two of the things that I’m working on.
Alex Kudinov It’s funny, you’re referring to them powerhouse, you are a powerhouse. So now you have 40 powerhouses.
Anu Smalley Yes. Can you imagine what would happen!?
Alex Kudinov 40 powerhouses is much better than 1 powerhouse. So you’ve heard from these women, you’ve heard from people of color, so what is stopping them? What is not there that allows them to to express themselves fully to blossom into success that you are?
Anu Smalley Wow. Wow. That’s a cool question. I think it is opportunities. I am blessed. I was in the right time, right space, right time, right people who gave me opportunities, who say, “Oh, look, I’m opening the door for you, walk through.” Not everybody gets that lucky and blessed. I want…I think a lot of these people say, “I’m not getting opportunities to speak at conferences because nobody…they don’t take my abstracts.” So okay, “Let me help you create a kick ass abstract so that you have an opportunity to get in.” or I can reach out to different meetups I know and say, “Hey, so and so is a fantastic speaker. Why don’t you give them an opportunity?” It’s about opening doors and women, my belief, I think women by their nature — most, not all of them — they are hesitant to be aggressive because if we are aggressive, we are not called aggressive; we are called different words. When men are aggressive, they’re truly aggressive and they’re pouring through stuff. When women are aggressive, we’re called other words. So how can I help them be aggressive, and yet, push forward? For me, I think that’s what stops most of these women because they knock at doors and nobody opens and they go, “Alright, I’m out” and they go back to what they were doing. I’m going to refuse to let them back away.
Cherie Silas So for those who are listening who say, “Yes, I believe in this. I want to try to help push people forward, especially women, especially people of color,” and they’re saying, “Yeah but I don’t know where to find these people. I don’t know what to do short of saying, ‘Hey, who wants a free class?’ So what then?
So if you’re looking for people to help–if you’re looking to help people and you say, “I want to help more women, advance as Scrum Masters, or Product Owners,” or whatever, send me an email. I will connect you to people. I will take all the emails you can send me. I, like I said, Agile Bridges is a group of amazing women who are looking for opportunities so that we can open up doors for them. If you got a door that you can open, point me to it. I will send you a bunch of amazing women who can walk through it, it will make you very proud. If you are CST reach out to me, I have many people who are looking for co-training, mentors, and co-training opportunities or feedback on their application. You want to give me some time, I don’t want you to give me a free class. Give me five hours of your time so you can sit with the CST candidate and help them with their application, with their training skills, give them feedback on, “That’s not a good approach.” Give them feedback on classroom management, on student engagement; give me your time. You want a CEC or a CTC just like I am? I just had a chat with Cherie, I am going to nominate three women to the CTC and I’m trying to get more women to nominate them to CEC. This is all costing me time. It cost me nothing but time and time is one thing that’s more precious than anything you can give me, so give me your time.
Alex Kudinov So time is precious and I am pretty sure people will hear that and they will come forward. So I want to ask you about something a little bit different. So we talked about nominating people for CTC and CEC. So I’m curious there. You yourself went through this journey, and it’s been a long one, so why would anyone knowing how long it was for you, even step on that journey.
Anu Smalley Because the other side of this journey is an amazing you. If you want to help transform the world of work or just the world, you got to transform yourself first. Charity begins at home. You gotta start with you. You said “Oh, but you are a powerhouse.” I am a powerhouse because I went through that journey. I did the hard work. I did the classes. I did the coaching. I did the training. I have a coach who kicks my ass every two weeks. Whenever I fall down, she kicks my ass and says, “Get back right up” and pushes me. I still have mentors. That’s why you should do this journey, because you are going to be amazed at the person who comes out at the other end. The world needs those people.
Alex Kudinov I agree with you on that. Definitely professional coaching is our specialty and then there’s another side of this opinion or another opinion that professional coaching is not enough for coaches. We just released Best Agile Articles of 2020.
Anu Smalley Yes! Woo hoo!
Alex Kudinov Yeah, it was good effort. One of the big articles there was basically saying that the trend in pushing a lot of professional coaching on CTC and CEC candidates is wrong. What’s your take on that?
Anu Smalley I wouldn’t call it wrong, I would say it has to be equal part Agile, equal part professional coaching. You may be a fantastic Agilist but not have a single clue of how to help coach people, or leaders, or product owners. So you need the professional coaching skills to be able to help people and if you just have professional coaching skills, and you don’t have a clue what a product owner is supposed to do… because sometimes– I was just talking to somebody else, and they were talking about coaching versus soft coaching/mentoring. So you kind of blur those things. You’ve got to know some of this stuff to be able to help them. So I think if you are going to want to coach a team, for example, a Scrum team, I think you need both. You need your Agile knowledge, and you need the coaching knowledge, and attending a CSM does not mean you have the coaching knowledge. I also want to make that clear, I see a lot of people who come into an ACSM with me and go, “That’s coaching!?!?! I’ve never–what!?! I’ve never done that.” “Exactly and now do you see the impact that can have on your team now that you know a little bit of coaching?” Imagine what you could do at a Sprint Retrospective if you could coach your team to talk, and collaborate, and identify phenomenal things to do forward. Imagine what you could do if you could coach a team leader to not micromanage the team and allow them to self-organize and shift your own pattern from manager to leader. Imagine what you could do as a Scrum Master as a coach. I think there’s power in both. Yes, I’ve also heard that, “Ugh…here come the professional coaches.” I’ve actually had a student in a class who actually told me, “I don’t want to hear any of your mumbo jumbo, tree-huggy, professional coaching stuff.” I sat there going, “Why are you in my class then?” and he said, “Well, I want the certification.” I’m like, “After this, I don’t think I’m gonna certify you. I’m not going to..just because you– I’ll return your money.” He said, “Well I’ll go get a class somewhere else!” Knock yourself out.
Alex Kudinov It’s interesting. So I’m trying to remember when the last time I did tree hugging I did in professional coaching. The answer is never.
Anu Smalley Exactly and there’s this impression out there, that if you’re a professional coach, you just hold hands, and hug each other, and sing Kumbaya, and that’s it. That’s all you do and you get paid a ton of money. I’m like, “No, that there’s effort that goes in there. There’s structure that you have to build. It’s not just ‘Oh, yeah. I can listen. I’m a coach.'” No. That’s not how that happens. So, I think you need to do both and that’s why when you get to the CTC and the CEC level, I love the fact that one of the some of the requirements are, ‘Do you know some professional coaching skills and competencies?’ I think that’s critical especially if you’re trying to shift organization mindset. You can’t just walk in there with Scrum knowledge, you got to have some coaching knowledge there. Alright, did I answer your question? Okay. All right. Did I say yes or no? I’m like, Yeah, I think they need to be– both have to be strong.
Cherie Silas Yeah. So we talked a lot about the work you’re doing to get women into the CST realm. So how do we get more women and underrepresented people into the CEC and CTC room?
Anu Smalley So I think there are two avenues there. One, if you’re already an amazing coach and you’ve been there, done that, and all you need somebody to nominate you, reach out. I’ll figure out what I can do to help you. If you are now going, “Huh, I want to be what you’re doing. I want to become a CTC and I don’t know how”, reach out. I’m going to talk a little bit about what Cherie and I talked about yesterday. We have a dream. We have a dream where we can bring in people who want to get to the CTC and the CEC path. We want to help them learn and grow with us, not in a two day class, but more in a two year journey and help you get not just the professional coaching certifications but also the Scrum coaching certifications. So that’s…I think I would say come talk to us about what’s our dream and can you be part of the start of that dream to help us kick it off. So if you are looking for, “How do I start this journey to become a CTC?” Send us an email and we’d be happy to tell you what our plan is, where we want to go– as Cherie put in an email to me ‘Our plan to rule the world.’ There you go. Wonder Woman. Female power to the rescue, that’s what it is.
Cherie Silas It’s gonna be really exciting to be able to work with you, and just cracking this thing wide open, and helping all people move up in their career, being representatives of, “Hey, you know what? We’re women, and we’re at the top of this field, and we can do this.”
Anu Smalley Exactly. You know, one of the things I’ve been weaving with the Agile Bridges, people keep talking about, ‘women need to break the glass ceiling.’ There is a different phenomena that I’m focusing on, “You need to fix the broken rung.” The broken rung is the first step of the ladder. If you don’t get on the first step, you’re not going to be up there to break the glass ceiling. So how do we shore up those rungs of the ladders so women can climb, people can climb, people of diversity, people of diverse backgrounds? How do we fix that broken rung to help them climb up? If you have a whole bunch of people out there, that glass ceiling has no choice except to shatter. How do we build that? That’s what I’m excited to work with you , Cherie, on. Me, when I talk to you about what we want to do, I see that broken rung being fixed, and shored up, and made real sturdy so people can step up and move up so that we have more people to break the glass ceiling.
Cherie Silas Yeah, you know, talking about this broken rung and people coming in and we’re gonna get nominations. I want to take a little quick step back before we have a free for all craze. Just because there’s a nomination path doesn’t mean it’s just as quick as an email, right? We’re gonna work with you to do the work. So it’s still a journey. You have to have the expertise, you have to do their work, and we will hold your hand along the way, walk with you along the way, point you in the right direction, help you get the education you need. So the professional coaching education, which is where Tandem Coaching is and where that’s our strong suit, and then the adult education, which is where, Anu, you are and you’re strong suit. We do the Agile education too but it’s marrying these two things together at senior positions, senior level training and mentoring so that when you come out the other side, you’ll be ready to either have us nominate you or fill in the application and go for it yourself.
Anu Smalley Absolutely and powerhouse notwithstanding, it took me and my own journey to get through nomination. Just because I’m known in the community or I’m a CST did not make CEC a cakewalk. I had to follow the process, get through the nomination, do the hard work, and actually make sure I was ready for it. Yeah, so doesn’t matter who you are. Can you get there? Yes. Will you get there tomorrow morning? Probably not but we will be with you. We will stand with you as you go through your journey.
Alex Kudinov So you’ve been working on it for quite some time alone. Now you have these 40 small powerhouses that hopefully will magnify the success. What help do you need from Scrum Alliance?
Anu Smalley I don’t know quite yet. So we had our first event a couple of weeks ago and, in a couple of weeks, I’m going to meet with a small group of five women and Daphne, who we came together to put that event up, we’re going to meet together and we’re going to review it in an open space. We got lots of feedback on what help people need. We need to kind of process that, and digest all that, and create an ask. So I’m not ready at this point to say what I need but I think we want to be able to…at the end of that meeting, I want to be able to come out and ask Scrum Alliance for…I don’t know. Is it a platform? Is it space to create speaking opportunities? Is it some financial funding to get them some training? I don’t know what it is but it is coming and by — this is March — middle of April, I will have a good idea of what is it that the women in that group need. These women are not just based in the US. We have people from all over the world. The only place that was not represented was Australia because the timezone just didn’t work out. We have people from North America, South America, all over Europe, from India, from Philippines…I mean, it was an amazing space for women to share their stories and talk about, how do you show up and how do you– the theme for the International Women’s Day was ‘Choose to challenge’ and then our theme was ‘Choosing to challenge the status quo” How do we shift something? It was amazing to hear their stories and I will know more in April.
Cherie Silas Awesome. So Scrum Alliance is an organization, great. We want them to get involved. We want Scrum.org to get involved also. My bigger question for you is there’s over 270 CSTs in the world. There’s over 250 and there’s over 150 certified coaches. What help do you need from those people?
Anu Smalley So there are different groups that I’m trying to separate out. So the CST mentoring circle could use help with mentoring. “Do you have a couple hours to come hang out and talk to my group? Do you have an hour to come and spend with somebody to give them feedback on their CSM class materials?” There are only so many ways to teach the Scrum framework, right? So it’s not about IP or anything. If somebody is teaching the wrong thing, can you give them feedback on — again, going back to time — feedback on how to be a better trainer, how to be a better Agilist? For the Agile Bridges, do you have an opportunity for an amazing young woman to come speak? Do you have space for an amazing young woman to come and do a webinar for you? Reach out, I got 40 of them waiting for opportunities. They would love to get some space and recognition for what they’ve already achieved.
Cherie Silas Yeah. So I’m going to get really real right now. Yes, talking about diversity. I know that I heard a story from you about walking into a room full of high level coaches and you being the only one that looked like you.
Anu Smalley Yep.
Cherie Silas Then later, much later,
Anu Smalley Two years later
Cherie Silas someone’s saying, “What was that like for you?” Um, yeah. Let’s crack that open and see what’s there.
Anu Smalley So that was…I, honestly, didn’t realize in the moment that…that was weird because it’s been like that for 30 years. I’ve been in this country for over 30 years, it’s been like that. Most of the places that I go to– most of my career has been in financial industry; banks. So not too many people who looked like me, at least not back in the 90s. Now, yes, a few more. So I’m so used to that that it didn’t even…I didn’t realize it was weird and I realized after a little bit of time saying, “So all the examples and all these stories they’re talking about their childhood…it makes no sense to me because my childhood was so different.” People were talking about how they’d never seen a person of color before they were ‘x’ years old. I’m like, “Where do you live?” It’s not good or bad. It’s just their facts of life. A lot of times they didn’t know how to relate or talk to me, because I look different. They’re like, “Is she going to be weird Indian?” No, I could be weird American. You just need to actually come talk to me. The few people who reached out and we’re talking they go, “My god. You have such an interesting life.” I’m like, “Yeah, like yours; very similar.” You need to ask. Recently somebody in that group actually told me something. They said, “You know, an amazing thing happened. I was in another group and there was this one woman who was of color and I asked her, ‘Hey, you’re the only person of color in this room? How’s that sitting with you?’ She looked at me and she said, “I don’t know. Was that the right thing to do?” I’m like, “Absolutely!” She was like, “I don’t know, was I…was I calling out that she was the only one?” I said, “No, you gave her a lifeline.” You were the only one in the room who gave her a lifeline to say, “When things get really awkward and uncomfortable. I’m going to look around the room and find you and go, ‘Hey, friend, remember when you asked me how’s the sitting with me? It’s not. Help.’ You just gave her a lifeline” and she went, “None of us gave you one when you came into the group two years ago” I’m like, “Nope.” She goes, “Oh, my god.” I said, “and just to let you know, none of you still have. 2020 has been the crazy year. You still haven’t called out the fact that I am the only person of color in the entire group.” This group decided to have monthly conversations about the problem of race in this country and they invited all the people in there and they said, “Can we talk to you ahead of time just to make sure we’re not stepping on a landmine?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” We had conversations and I was talking to them about, ‘When I go into a store, I always ask for a receipt and my husband never does. My husband’s white and the first time he realized that I always asked for a receipt, he was getting annoyed. “Why do you ask for a receipt?” I’m like, “Oh, you’re with me. I don’t need a receipt.” He goes, “What do you mean?” I said, “When I’m alone, I always ask for a receipt because I never know. I’m the one who is stopped.” So as I was talking to these people, they said, “Oh my god, it would be great if you could share all these stories and help educate!” I’m like, “I’m not gonna be able to attend your calls.” They said, “Why not?” I said, “I have a job. I’m a teacher, I’m a coach. Middle of the day…I’m in class, so I’m not gonna be able to attend your race conversations.” They said, “Well…so the only person of color in the group can’t attend the talk about color?” I’m like, “Yup” and they went, “Oh my god, we need to change that” and I’m like, “So just remember, you made an assumption that I would be there. Did you make the same assumption about everybody else in the group?” and they went “No…” I’m like, “Yet you expected me to show up.” So it’s…and I’m not angry, I’m not even frustrated anymore. I am…it just is. People don’t know how to approach this stuff and in the lack of knowing what to do, either they do nothing or they do something like this and go, “Okay, we’re never gonna do this again.” No, just come ask a question. Right? I told them and then they asked me, “When can you attend?” I’m like, “At this time.” So we moved all the meetings, and I’m showing up, and we’re having a good conversation. It’s amazing how many people are dealing with something similar, where somebody talked to me about, “We expected you to dance without inviting you to the dance.” Like, yeah, you assumed I would show up and dance when you didn’t even give me an invitation. So it’s interesting how many of these experiences have come to life in the last couple of years. I think the more people get aware of what is it that they are doing, or not doing, or how they’re doing it…maybe something will change for my grandchildrens’ lifetime.
Cherie Silas Well, I certainly hope so.
Anu Smalley I hope so too.
Cherie Silas So I’m going to get even more real. So I have an interracial family, have for 30 years. You know that. Many other people may not know that. So yes, I’ve seen that side of it. I’ve seen when the police pull you over and I’m driving, and I’m like, “Why are you pulling me over? I was not speeding, you’re lying” and my husband’s like, “Oh, god, please stop. Please stop. I don’t want to go to jail today. Please stop.” He would have never done that and he wasa police officer. He would have just said, “Yes, sir. Give me the ticket.” So my question around that is– or my statement is that…even though I’ve lived just a small little piece of this life, because I still don’t even understand, right? After 30 years, five children of color, and yet, I find myself in a place where I’m like, I want to do something and I’m so afraid that if I step out and say, “Hey white girl over here, what can I do?” I’m gonna get the, ‘Yeah, just keep waving your hand. You don’t really mean it’ reaction. So those who legitimately want to help, like me, like, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how. Tell me how. How do I step out, crack the door open and say, “I’m on your side? I want to help”
Anu Smalley Yeah. That’s a fantastic question. All of last year, given what’s happened in our country, I’ve had lots of people ask me, “How can I support you?” I am like, “Why do I need support? Why is it suddenly you realize I need support? I don’t need support, I’m good.” I realized halfway through last year that it was that, “I’m on your side, help me.” I was so tightly wound that I was like, “Back off. I don’t need your support. I’m good. Now you realize you can help?” So there was a lot of that. “What!?!?! Get away from me” stuff attitude. It was a conversation with, actually, my daughter that made me go “Hmm.” So I know that I want to help and I know you want to help. So how do we open up spaces? For me, it’s about…not the grand gesture but it’s what I call the ‘micro-dues’. So what’s the next right thing for you to do to help somebody? Don’t ask– like somebody said, “I don’t want to ask somebody to relive their experience.” Don’t. Go ask somebody who you care for, “How can I make your life better today? What can I do? What’s one thing I can do to help you be you?” Like I was telling you earlier, I’m sometimes scared to walk through the airport by myself because of the way I look. I’m like, “What if…what if they don’t believe I’m an American”, because I don’t look like a white American. Somebody asked me, I said, “Walk with me through the airport. Give me the courage to be who I need to be.” I don’t need you to fix my problems for me. I need you to stand by me while we fix our problems. It’s not my problem. It’s not your problem. It is our problem. I cannot fix it by myself, neither can you. So have a conversation with somebody who you know is a person of diversity. Whatever makes them diverse, doesn’t matter, and ask them. “So how can I help you be you? What can I do to help?” It’s not abou, “I read a book.” Good for you. “I listened to the podcast and it was awesome.” Fantastic. What are you going to do with it? Did you walk up to– I have a lot of CSTs who say, “Well, you know, we give free seats to underrepresented people.” I am like, “You really want to do something? Walk into a predominantly black university offered to do a free class for the business students or whatever students. Do a free CSM. Two days, it’s time. It’s not about, ‘can you give me money?’ Nobody wants a handout. Can you give me your time? Go mentor somebody. If you want to ask somebody– like this person I was saying, when you see that there is this one person in the room who is different, go be their lifeline. Be the lifeline and say “Hey, this is weird, isn’t it?” and it’s not about, ‘I noticed you are the sole black person in the room.’ It’s not about that, it’s about, “…So this is weird.” Be their friend. Be there for them so that when that moment comes, when they can either step up or sit down, they’re gonna look at you and go, “you got my back, right? I’m gonna step up.” That’s what you can do. That doesn’t take anything except your time and awareness of what’s happening around you. If you have a best friend, right? Cherie, you have a family that experiences this. Share their stories. The first time I told people I’m scared to walk through an airport, they go, “What!?!? Why?” I’m like, “Because of this. I don’t look like you.” Oh, and I used to actually plan my driving trip from Philadelphia to Ohio, where my brother used to live there, I would have to plan my trip, so that I did not have to stop at certain rest areas, after dark. They went, “Why?” I’m like, “Again, because of this.” We get to do things that normal people, white people, don’t get to do. It’s just become part of life now. So ask me how you can help me change that default behavior that has become my skin.
Cherie Silas Thank you.
Alex Kudinov Anu, a very powerful and very simple message and I cannot express how much I appreciate that. I’m grateful for your coming and talking to us today. What I wish for you is to have absolutely endless stash of fuel for that powerhouse so that it powers you through 2021, and beyond, and brings a lot of success to your life, and to the life of people who you’re touching.
Anu Smalley Thank you Alex. That’s a beautiful wish.
Alex Kudinov This has been our Tandem Coaching Academy’s Keeping Agile Non-Denominational podcast and we were your hosts today, Cherie Silas and I, Alex Kudinov, and we had Anu Smalley with us. Bye now.