Diversity & inclusion30 min read

Privilege and Power: Pass the Mic

An Exclusive Interview with Yari Blanco, Senior Manager of Culture and Diversity at The Wing

Innovation comes from diversity of thought. It comes from people from different backgrounds doing things differently – rather than the same people doing the same thing over and over again.

In this interview, we spoke to Yari Blanco, Senior Manager of Culture and Diversity at The Wing, where she shares her insight into how the privileged among us can foster innovation in our communities by simply passing the mic. Yari is also the founder of theGIRLMOB, a digital sisterhood for women of color. She aims to build spaces where marginalized communities can have a voice and be a part of important conversations. 

In this interview, you’ll discover:

  • The importance of diversity of thought within an organization or community
  • The meaning of code-switching and the importance of being your authentic self
  • How the ‘privileged’ can foster innovation in their workplaces by simply passing the mic and giving everyone a voice

Listen in above (cc available), or read below the transcript of our interview with Yari. You can also listen on Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

FIONA: Our guest today is Yari Blanco, the senior manager of culture and diversity at The Wing, which is a network of work in community spaces designed for women. In 2016, Yari founded The Girl Mob, a platform that highlights and celebrates women of color, bridging the communication gap through storytelling. As well as being a passionate expert in the culture and inclusion space, she’s also accomplished in brand and consumer marketing. Welcome, Yari.

YARI: Thank you so much for having me, Fiona. I’m so excited to be here.

FIONA: Can you give us a quick overview of your role and what you’re trying to achieve at The Wing.

YARI: Yeah. I actually joined The Wing right when it opened as a member, and around six months after I saw that they had an opening for a community manager role because they were expanding into their second and third location, and so I raised my hand. I was like, “I don’t know if you hire members, but I think I’d be great at this. I’m technically already doing this as a member, so I would love to do this.” Once I got on the team, I immediately started raising my hand around diversity inclusion, and ultimately a couple months into that role, pitched the current role that I have, which is the senior manager of culture and diversity, and very quickly, our CEO and COO, Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan, were like, “Yes, we saw you doing this anyways, and we would love to support that.” So that’s kinda the beginning story of how I got into the role that I have now at The Wing.

My scope of work is really focused on making sure that there’s diversity, equity, inclusion, in general across the board. What that means is diversity within our membership, making sure that there’s racial equity, but that there’s also diversity across age, across gender presentation, across religion, culture, anything that you could think of that, when it comes to diversity inclusion, I try to make sure that that’s represented within our community.

The other aspect of what I do is also making sure that other teams are held accountable. What I mean is that it’s very collaborative, so I worked with the partnerships team to make sure that whatever we’re pitching feels on brand and on course in terms of our goals when it comes to the impact work. I also work very closely with the programming team to make sure that we’re not being tone deaf and now there’s diversity of thought in a lot of the things that we do. I also, well my role, you would probably traditionally see it under the people or HR team, I actually fall under the impact team and so I do work as closely as I can with the people in HR team to just lend my lens and also to be an extra person that can give them that accountability. So that’s the nutshell of what I do at The Wing.

FIONA: Wow. You wear a lot of hats then. So today I’m going to be chatting with Yari about her experiences with inclusion and the work she’s been doing to drive inclusiveness and strong culture in her career. So first up I want to ask you something which we ask all of our guests on inclusion works. Can you tell us what personal experiences made you aware of inclusion and diversity issues and led you to shift from roles in brand and consumer marketing to a role leading culture and inclusion at The Wing?

YARI: Yes. So, oh man. So you know, I’m Latina, I’m Afro-Latina, I’m Dominican. I wasn’t born in the United States. I came here when I was eight years old. So I think my worldview is unique to that, because that’s my lived experience. I’ve been fortunate enough that when I was doing brand and consumer marketing, I always worked in multicultural spaces. So when I worked, for example, like my first job out of college and entertainment was for people in Espanol Magazine, and then I went on to work for smaller brands and I ended up with Mundos, which is no longer around, but it was like the little sister brand of Telemundo. Then I went on to work with BET, which is Black Entertainment Television. So I really was fortunate to always be around very diverse people, very diverse communities.

YARI: Growing up in Queens, same thing. I, you know, grew up around Colombians and Indians and Chinese people, and like all the people that you could think of. So I always just assumed that this was what everybody else had access to. It really wasn’t until I went to college that I was like, “Oh, wow.” I was in the minority. It was like 95% white and 5% under the diversity umbrella. I say all of that to give you context because when I turned 30, I had a moment where I no longer wanted to be in entertainment, and not in, like I’d love entertainment, but I wanted to shift gears and really lean into what

I feel like my purpose is and what my career, in some way, shape, or form, and even my upbringing have led me into, which is to be a bridge for people and to really be brave for others.

I’ve always been someone that like roots for the underdog, considering myself an underdog in many ways. So I think a lot of my work around culture inclusion and diversity are really about making sure that people, marginalized communities that have very often been left out of the conversation or have not been passed the mic to, myself being part of that community, I wanted to champion that. So that’s kinda when I joined The Wing and I saw that, I was like, “Wow,” my light bulb went off. Like, here’s a community that I really care about. Here’s a brand that I’m really emotionally invested in, and here’s something that I know that I can naturally do and I can lead at. I’m just grateful that they saw that as well and they were like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” And let’s try to lead the way in this conversation that a lot of people are struggling with, or that other companies really wants to do well at, but haven’t been able to find their lane in.

So that’s how I ended up transitioning into the work that I’m doing now, but it’s been really awesome. I think it’s like I listened to my intuition, I saw my natural talents, and then I was like, let me just invest in that, and it’s paid so far. It’s paid tenfold for myself.

FIONA: That’s really inspiring.

YARI: Thank you.

FIONA: So just to go back to your college experience. So I noticed you were in a sorority, and actually I was too. What was your sorority experience like?

YARI: Oh my goodness. So, yeah, so when I went to college, I went to Marist College, It’s in Poughkeepsie, New York, it’s upstate New York, and it was my number one school. I was so excited to get into the school, and again, I just didn’t even think about what the cultural shock and change was going to be for me until I got there. But unlike my friends who came from similar backgrounds as me, I was very much like, “Well I’ve never really been around white people before in this amount, like in this mass,” and so I really wanted like to learn. I think even if it would have been the opposite, I mean I would’ve been like, “Well, I’ve never really been around black or Latinx people, and so I want to learn from that culture as well.” So yeah. So I wanted to immerse myself and learn from other people, and unfortunately I wasn’t very welcomed, but I’m very happy that I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t really give up that easily.

YARI: So I was like, you know, I’m not going to let this ruin my college experience. So immediately I kind of started looking for, my tribe, my community. I went to a party at a neighboring school called Newpaltz, it’s State University of New York, it’s in Newpaltz, and the party was thrown by this Latino organization. I saw them strolling, which is like a form of dance, and I was like, “Oh my God, I want to do that.” Like I love to dance, I love to be in front of people, so I want to do that. That was kind of how I got introduced into, Latino orgs and Divine Nine, which in the U.S., because I don’t know if in the UK they have this, but in the UK the Divine Nine is for African Americans. Anyways, so I loved my sorority. I ended up going with, I’m a member of, Armana de Sigma Iota Alpha, aka the Lovely Latin Ladies.

YARI: Really joining that organization did two main things for me. The first was it completely changed my undergrad career. I had access to immediately, once I cross, I had access to hundreds of women that not only were undergrads, but that had also graduated and were still very much invested in the organization. So I immediately, when I didn’t want to be on campus and I wanted to meet other people and feed that need to be around other cultures and learn from other individuals, I was able to road trip. So I road trip all over upstate New York. I met so many different people I got to talk to. It was just like such an amazing experience. So there was that part and that aspect of sisterhood and community was really, really embedded in me at that point.

YARI: The second thing that it taught me was leadership skills, because when I was an undergrad I served as president of the organization on my campus, I crossed a line of three other women in the spring of 2008, I held events, I organized, I fundraised. So those are all skillsets that no other classroom would have taught me in the way that that taught me. It also taught me conflict resolution, because I love my ladies and I love my women, but when we’re around each other we tend to get a little bit in our faces about certain things. And that doesn’t mean like being catty, it just means like we all have different ideas and we all want to see them through. So it really taught me to work with women that, while we had a lot of things in common, we were also like our own individual selves.

YARI: I love my organizations. I still rep it very hard and I’m super proud of having joined SIA as an undergrad, and seeing all the things that they’re doing now, as someone who has graduated, that graduated a couple of years ago.

FIONA: Thanks for sharing. I was laughing when you were talking about conflict resolution, because I can absolutely relate to that. I think anyone who’s been in an organization with a hundred people living in close quarters, and you ended up having conflict, it’s inevitable.

YARI: Yeah, and I think that’s an aspect of us as women, that we’ve definitely been labeled very much as catty, and I think that there’s truth to that, but I think that sometimes, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Confrontation doesn’t have to mean an argument. It doesn’t have to mean that we’re at odds and like we hate each other. That’s not the thing. The thing is we have two different viewpoints on what we think should happen next or how to approach something, and there’s always a way to find common ground.

And I think that was ultimately what I ended up learning in terms of conflict resolution. Like, okay, here’s this person who I love, this person is my sister, and they have this viewpoint and I have this viewpoint.

Quote by Yari

You know? Taught you how to be selfless and not be selfish.

FIONA: Everything, like in organizations too, where you see those high levels of trust and cohesion, right, is where people feel comfortable to be their true selves, to state their true opinion, to have those conflicts, which are actually important for getting the best quality decision making and the most creativity and those sorts of things.

YARI: And that’s how you get diversity of thought. You have people that come from different backgrounds, like whether you grew up with a single parent home like myself, or you grew up with 10 other siblings, or you grew up rich or poor, or like all those different things end up building who you are as a person, and that’s what you bring to the table. That’s what makes us special, because then we’re not producing or doing the same thing over and over again. The point is to be innovative and that’s the only way that you get there is through a group of diverse people. Again, not just in terms of race or age or cultural background, but that think differently and see the world through a completely different set of eyes.

FIONA: So in 2016 you founded the Girl Mob, which you’ve called a digital sisterhood for women of color. Can you tell me a bit more about it? What’s the idea and where did the idea come from?

YARI: Yeah. So as I mentioned, when I was in consumer marketing, I really was at very multicultural companies, but I always felt that I grew up on magazines. Like I remember when I was younger, one of my dreams was that I was going to be a fashion editor at Latina magazine. I grew up reading these magazines, but I always felt like we were very much in silos. It would be like Essence Magazine for African American women, and Latina Magazine for Latinx women, and then whatever else was out there was out there, but I never felt like there was one publication, or one hub, that really held all of our stories together, and that helped us see the thread that connects us, again, no matter what our background was. I wanted to start that, because I saw that my girlfriends weren’t just one specific type of person. They were all types of women.

YARI: So the purpose of the brand is exactly what you said, which is to…

bridge the communication gap across cultural lines and to really help build unity in a way that feels authentic and approachable.

Which is something that I’m really, really proud of. The brand, anytime we host an event, the women that are behind the brand that are helping me build this thing are there. Our audience, or the women that follow us, come to it and they’re like, “Oh my God, you guys are so relatable. I see my sister in you or I see my cousin and you or my best friend,” and I think of when you, you know we talk about representation and diversity and inclusion spaces. So it’s like a no brainer. It’s literally you see yourself, you feel represented in a respectful way that you can feel proud of, and so you want to support that thing. That’s the kind of brand that I aim to build and that’s the brand that I’m continuing to build with the team that I have.

YARI: It’s something that I feel, it makes me so happy when like someone random in the street, which I know I’m not a celebrity or anything, I don’t want to sound like that, but the other day I was at a thrift store and this girl was like, “Oh my God, are you Yari Blanco from the Girl Mob?” And I was like, ah, yes. And I’m like, I don’t know what was gonna happen next, but she was like, “I love it. I love your brand so much.” I was like, “Oh my God, thank you.” It’s so nice to know that the work you’re putting in is being received in a positive manner and that that idea that I had years ago, where I was like, “I think the world needs this, even if it’s only like a hundred people get to see it, but I hope that it makes an impact on those 100 people.” So far, it’s been, for me has been really successful. It’s something that feeds my soul and keeps me going. I also think that has driven me to the work that I’m doing at The Wing.

FIONA: So can you tell me a little bit more about all the inclusion and culture work that you’re doing at The Wing?

YARI: Oh my God, it’s so much. So much, so exciting. We’re scaling very quickly. We’re recording this right now, it’s March 5th?

FIONA: March 5th.

YARI: And by the summer we’re going to be opening in LA, Chicago, Boston, and London, and right now we are, we have three locations in New York, we have one in DC, and one in San Francisco. So we’re basically doubling by the time the summer comes around, which is insane, but also extremely exciting. So what I’m really focused on is that scalability and that sustainability and making sure that each location has almost like a mini Yari that can feel empowered to help me push through all of the initiatives that I’m trying to build. So that’s like number one on my list.

YARI: Number two is making sure that all of the communities that we have that exists within The Wing feel seen, heard, and appreciated. One thing that we really pride ourselves at, at The Wing, is…

…getting feedback and taking that feedback very seriously from our members.

So something that I do is I hold office hours, we do surveys, I started something called Culture Club at The Wing where we read three articles around one topic and then we discuss it as a group. So I’m mentioning all that because that really feeds into the kind of work that I do and the things that I focus on. So hopefully I want to be able to do that across all locations. I’ve been able to do it in New York and in DC, and once we open in LA I want to be able to do that on the west coast as well. So that’s number two.

YARI: The third thing is really focusing on our programming, right? Which is like taking that feedback and building it and infusing it into our programming. So again, making sure that all of these different communities feel represented and not just on like Black History Month, which in New York alone this year we did 16 events, we want them to feel seen and represented and also elevated, like make it extra special, but also sprinkling that love across the entire year. We shouldn’t just celebrate one specific group during one specific month. That’s something else that we’re really working hard on.

YARI: Then the third thing is, as we’re opening in these new, the fourth thing, as we’re opening in these new locations is I do a lot of local outreach to collectives and thought leaders and community leaders to make sure that one, they know that we’re coming into their city and their community, but that we’re not coming there like how they did Haiti, where it was like, we know what you need. We’re coming here with open arms and we want them to feel welcome, them to know that we want to collaborate. That’s really, we’re just creating space for the things that need the space to flourish.

YARI: All of the outreach that I do is around that, to make sure that they know that we’re coming into the city, to make sure that we’re there to collaborate, to make sure that if they have any questions or that they need any answers, that they can contact me, and that my role exists within the company because I know that a lot of companies, a role like mine doesn’t exist, and there’s companies that are legacy companies that have been around for over 20 years. So I think having someone like myself, having something like the impact team at The Wing, sets off an alarm for other people in the cities that we’re coming into, where it’s like, “Oh wow, like they really care about this and this is something that is a priority.”

YARI: So those are things that I really care about to make sure that we get the word out there and hopefully, at the end of the day, I want people to join. So that’s like my ultimate goal, right, that’s like goal number one, because if they don’t join then we can’t have those diverse communities that we’re trying to build. I think it’s about creating trust and it’s slow relationship building. That’s also part of my scope of work and it’s something that I thoroughly enjoy.

FIONA: And how do you encourage your members to bring their whole selves to The Wing?

YARI: Yeah. You know, that’s a great question. I mean I do it, I think hopefully, by leading by example. I come, I show up as myself, even when I’m hosting an event, when I moderate something for The Wing or when I’m programming something and I introduce myself, I’m just Yari from Queens and I don’t try to be anybody else.

I don’t code switch for anybody.

I’m going to be my loud, funny self and that doesn’t take away from how intelligent I am or how capable I am. So I hope that me showing up as my authentic self helps them also see that while there’s room for that here, and I think we do it through everything else. We do it through our programming, we do it through the things that we have in this space.

YARI: I think about when you walk in, what is your experience even if you’re not a member? So something that I’m really proud of is our beauty rooms have products for all hair textures. It sounds like something that’s so small, but I know that as someone, myself, that someone else has curly hair, that’s something that people are constantly tweeting and tagging us on, because they cannot believe that our spaces have edge control, because no other place has that.

YARI: So talking about representation is not just seeing people that look like you. It’s also about those things in the beauty room, it’s about if in Chicago, or excuse me in San Francisco, there’s a large population of XYZ community, is that reflected in our menus, right? So like Dani, who is our culinary director, like she makes sure that whatever city we’re in, that there’s a portion of the menu that represents the communities that are historically from those cities. So like all those little details we really, really pay attention to, and when you put them together, that’s a signal that we’re sending to you that tells you I belong in this space, and that’s ultimately what we want. I think that’s how we encourage people to be able to show up as themselves when they walked through those doors.

FIONA: So thinking about the 80 20 rule, what’s the 20% of stuff you’ve done it at The Wing that’s yielded 80% of the value?

YARI: That’s extreme, that’s a hard thing to say. I say this because diversity and inclusion work, for anyone that’s doing this work, knows how hard it is and how much emotional labor it takes to do this kind of work. So I really don’t have an answer of like a specific thing. I think, I wouldn’t say it was 20% of it, but I think the main thing that I did in the beginning that has really laid the foundation for everything that’s even happening this year, is that I was a squeaky wheel and I rang the alarm every day.

YARI: I was waving that flag left and right. I didn’t care if people were tired of me saying it. I was like, this is going to be a thing that happens at this company. Speaking up and being brave about it and not having any holds barred, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m in my thirties and I’m no longer scared, I don’t know what it is, but I think really setting myself up as that person that was gonna hold everybody else accountable has laid out the foundation for the way that I think we’re doing work now. Where it is literally a company wide goal this year for us to drive our mission through our impact initiatives, which is obviously something that falls under the work that I’m doing. Again, I don’t know if that was 20%, I would probably say that was like 50 or 60% of my first few months at The Wing, but it’s absolutely opened the doors for so many other things to happen.

FIONA: Being bold and being courageous is a necessity for a role in inclusion, I think.

YARI: Yes, for sure.

FIONA: So what is one simple thing anyone could do this week to build inclusion in the workplace?

YARI: I think one simple thing would be to do research. The Googles exist. Go into the interwebs and just see if there’s something in particular, like I’ve said so many terms in this conversation, like what is code switching? Literally Google, what is code switching? And then…

notice if your coworker who’s a person of color or is part of the LGBTQI community, if they’ve ever done that around you and you’re like, oh wait, that’s something that I’ve noticed where like to me, as a non person of color, they’ve spoken to me or said something to me in one way and then they turn around and like to a coworker of that looks like them, they completely switch it up.

So that’s code switching and that’s a form of survival for people of color in spaces that are majority white. So like something as simple as that.

YARI: I think if you’re a little more advanced, maybe if you’re in a meeting and a person on the team that’s from a marginalized community speaks up and you see that nobody else is paying attention to what they just said, don’t speak up on behalf of them, in terms of saying what they just said, because that’s not helpful, but maybe saying, “Hey, y’all, actually Maria just said something really valuable that I think would be super helpful for what we’re trying to do in this project,” and let Maria take center stage.

YARI: I think something that I’ve always told my white counterparts, and this is literally something else you could Google because there’s so much data around it, is that a white person, and especially like in a company setting, has so much less to lose than anybody else that’s in that room. The likability of you being listened to or heard is like a hundred times more than anybody else.

Quote by Yari

You have nothing to lose and I promise you it will, again, it will do wonders not just for yourself as an individual, but for your career, for your department, for your team.

It feels very simple, and it is something very small, and it will absolutely change your life.

FIONA: I love that. Thank you, and thank you so much for all those insights. I’m sure there’s a lot for our listeners to take away from this session.

FIONA: If anyone listening wants to stay connected with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

YARI: Yeah, so you can find me on Twitter, on Instagram. I’ll spell it for y’all. It’s the, T-H-E, Yari, Y-A-R-I, Blanco, B-L-A-N-C-O. TheYariBlanco on Instagram and on Twitter, and if you DM me and let me know that you heard this podcast, I will definitely respond.

FIONA: Thank you. 

 

Be sure to follow Yari as @theyariblanco.

 

Check out our other interviews with inclusion’s change-makers, thinkers, and influencers.

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