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S2E15: Unpacking Misconduct Investigations, Neurodivergency, and Microaggressions with Kia Roberts

In our quest to foster safer and more inclusive work environments, it is paramount to navigate the complex interplay of internal dynamics, misconduct investigations, and the nuances of neurodiversity. Our latest podcast episode delves into these critical topics with two distinguished guests. We draw on the expertise of Kia Roberts, founder of Triangle Investigations and the NFL’s first director of investigations, as well as referencing insights from Shea, a neurodivergent autism specialist whose work and personal experiences offer valuable guidance.

Kia Roberts: A Leader in Workplace Investigations

Roberts, with her groundbreaking experience as a former prosecutor and key player in the NFL’s approach to investigations, provides an insider’s look at the delicate intricacies of handling workplace misconduct. She vividly illustrates how the Me Too Movement has catalyzed changes in organizational policies, leading to a more vigilant and responsive stance towards misconduct allegations.

The discussion with Roberts reveals that the journey toward inclusivity extends beyond the surface-level engagement with misconduct. It requires a systemic approach to reshape workplace dynamics, ensuring they are equipped to support victims and address issues with the gravity they deserve.

The Criticality of Neurodiversity with Insights from Shea

Although Shea did not join our conversation, his work and experiences are invaluable to understanding the critical nature of neurodiversity in the workplace. Shea’s journey, including the challenges and triumphs of disclosing his neurodivergent status, underscores the essential role that psychological safety plays in the professional sphere.

Businesses seeking to enhance their Diversity and Inclusion (DNI) initiatives can learn from Shea’s experiences. By fostering an environment where neurodivergent individuals can thrive, organizations can benefit from diverse perspectives and skills. Shea’s recommendations help in forming robust frameworks that not only recognize but also celebrate neurodiversity.

The Overshadowed Impact of Microaggressions

Roberts sheds light on the often-overlooked issue of microaggressions in the workplace. While they may seem like minor slips to some, these incidents can accumulate and significantly impact an individual’s sense of belonging and well-being. Roberts advocates for a thorough approach to investigating these subtle but harmful behaviors, ensuring that witnesses and victims feel confident in coming forward without fear of dismissal or retaliation.

She presents a compelling case study on a sexual harassment incident, demonstrating how the downplaying of such allegations by leadership can lead to a toxic work environment. This case acts as a stark reminder of the necessity for taking every complaint seriously.

Documentation and Due Diligence in Investigations

In the realm of workplace misconduct, Roberts emphasizes the critical importance of meticulous documentation. This serves as the backbone of any investigation, providing a factual basis upon which cases are built and resolved. She shares her seasoned approach to preparing witnesses and reconciling conflicting accounts, which is invaluable for ensuring that the investigation process is both thorough and fair.

Roberts’ experience with a CEO who minimized a sexual harassment complaint serves as a cautionary tale of the consequences of inadequate leadership response. It highlights the broader implications for company culture and employee morale when such situations are not addressed with the seriousness they require.

Our discussion with Kia Roberts, coupled with the highlighted insights from Shea, brings to light the multifaceted challenges and considerations in creating work environments that are truly inclusive. Their expertise and experiences offer a roadmap for organizations dedicated to promoting diversity, inclusivity, and a respectful work culture.

As we continue to explore these themes, it’s clear that the path to a genuinely inclusive workplace is ongoing and requires commitment, understanding, and a willingness to adapt. Through such conversations and shared knowledge, we contribute to building workplaces where everyone, regardless of their background or neurotype, can feel valued and supported.

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Gina
Host
00:00
Hey, do you want to? Why don’t you introduce yourself to our listeners, tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, what you want to come on and Chit Chat with us about again? We’re just so thrilled that you do want to come and chit chat with us, so yeah, I’m happy to be here as well, thank you.
Kia
Interviewee
00:18
So I’m Kia Roberts and I’m the founder and principal of triangle investigations, and triangle is a group of lawyers and expert investigators conducting misconduct Investigations within workplaces, schools and other organizations. So when I say misconduct, think sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation Let me also do sexual assault investigations within college campuses and private schools. Prior to founding my firm, that was the first ever director of investigations for the NFL, where I did the investigations for NFL players and employees accused of violating the NFL’s code of conduct. So that was everything from Replace bullying, sexual harassment all the way to the super, super high profile Incidents involving allegations of domestic violence, sex abuse, animal abuse and child abuse. Prior to the NFL, I spent about a decade as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office in Brooklyn, new York, and I finished my time there. That’s a homicide prosecutor, doing murder cases. I got my law degree at Vanderbilt, I got my undergraduate degree at Duke and my husband I have a nine-year-old little girl and a five-year-old. So that’s that’s. That’s my spiel.
Gina
Host
01:30
Okay, I.
Kia
Interviewee
01:32
Already have me.
Gina
Host
01:34
I have questions already. Michael Vic Was that you.
Kia
Interviewee
01:42
I don’t talk about NFL stuff.
Nicola
Host
01:44
So yeah, I don’t know. Nfl Football I love. Is it that way? Is it like football with the American?
Gina
Host
01:57
Yeah, and there I’m so annoyed, just personally, not really, but personally because I want. I just wanted a yes or no. I didn’t need the details. I also didn’t want the details by the way, I’m lying to you I did want the details, please.
Nicola
Host
02:11
I tell that I tell this woman that a woman has been, unfortunately and horribly murdered. Oh my god, my street, and she’s like give me all the details. I was like I don’t have any details right now, except for what’s going on in the community. Um yeah, we don’t really have that right. It’s not really. It’s not really our thing is to have murders Did they catch the person we don’t know yet. They’ve got some positive leads, but we don’t know yet. It’s an island, it’s not like they’re going anyway.
Gina
Host
02:41
And it’s like just like yesterday, yeah, oh.
Nicola
Host
02:46
My goodness yeah first 48 at the end of my street.
Kia
Interviewee
02:52
Did you say first 48?
Gina
Host
02:57
I Dead body rolled up in a rug on a hundred forty-fifth and Frederick Douglass a few years ago and didn’t realize it until the whole Like sidewalk was cordoned off by police. And then I was like and then I read about it like on the internet Because I was like what’s going on, I was like googling it, and then I was like, oh, that’s the rug. I walk fast like totally oblivious.
Nicola
Host
03:22
Okay, so circling back, so when you did these, like when, when you started getting into like workplace Investigations, like what kind of lead you into that space, because I feel like that’s an in I realized that that’s an interesting Jump from like NFL into like more Corporate or different workplaces.
Kia
Interviewee
03:43
Nfl is Okay, got it, so the idea to found my firm came to me. I was actually on maternity leave with our baby, who’s now five. So this is 2018 and this is when the me too movement was really blowing up, and every other second you were hearing horrific allegations about Harvey Weinstein or someone else just horrible doing things to people, and I really saw a shift in Multiple ships. One of the main ships was shifts, and cultural expectations about what is and isn’t okay at work right, like certain comments or behavior were really starting to be frowned upon. And then I started to see that a lot of organizations at least organizations that were trying to do the right thing we’re really engaged in being Thoughtful and proactive about creating safe and inclusive Workplaces, and that type of work can take a lot of different forms. That could be that they were requiring their employees to attend anti-sexual harassment training. There’s all these different kind of.
04:48
At that period of time, there was a really big societal shift around this in a way that showed up tangibly in workplaces, in my opinion, and then actually not too long after after, if you consider the me too movement to be over and I’m not sure that it is, but not too long after me to really blew up. You know New York State actually codified some things into law around sexual harassment to really speak to this moment. So it was just like a really time and I just thought, you know, I have a resume that’s really well suited for this and let me jump out there and see where it goes. And it has gone up ceiling well and I’m just, I’m super, super grateful. I always say, you know, good news my business is going really well. Bad news people don’t know how to behave themselves, so Right well, right?
Gina
Host
05:39
Well, people are weird. So I love that. I love that you just kind of created this whole thing for yourself.
Nicola
Host
05:45
That’s I also love this. That’s so awesome. So what are some of the things that you’re seeing coming through most favoritism, lee, you know what are some of the things that are. You know you’re getting called up the most and you know would love to know as well, like, when do people call you? Like when is it in the, in the process, that they’re like oh shit, something’s going down.
Kia
Interviewee
06:11
Right, right, that’s an excellent question and it goes a few different ways. I Say, if you are being Thoughtful and deliberate, you call me or our firm, the lawyers that work with me, kind of the second that you start to get an inkling that there’s about to be some serious allegations, right? So you get that first call from HR or someone’s manager and you know a lot of the reasons that people call us instead of doing Investigations internally right within their own HR department is. There’s a lot of different reasons. People don’t have the bandwidth.
06:45
I think that a lot of organizations are realizing that the amount of hats that HR professionals are being asked to wear at this point it’s just completely unreasonable.
06:53
And somebody who knows how to handle Benefits and time off and onboarding is not necessarily the person that knows how to do an investigation into really sensitive occasions Related to ethnicity, race, sexuality, gender, etc.
07:07
So some people call us when they first realized, no, we really don’t have anybody in HR that we feel comfortable with doing this.
07:15
Option number two is the person who the allegation is being made against is in HR or it’s, like you know, a senior person within the organization and they just, you know, feel like for the appearance and to avoid any allegations of impropriety, it’s best to just outsource it. And then option number three is when things really blow up in the press. We get the frantic call from either the company itself, their crisis communication slash public relations people, or you know their general counsel, and, unfortunately, once things are in the press and you’ve gotten a skating article or you know A blurb on TV, it just it becomes super, super time sensitive and it’s just not a posture that you want to be in as an organization, you know, because it looks like you’re kind of trying to sit on things until you really got forced into taking action. So that’s kind of the range of Ways by which people approach us and find this and do you find people are coming?
Nicola
Host
08:16
Is it more around Like a sexual or harassment Allegations, or is it more around, you know, as we kind of become because I know you and I spoke about this when we first Held up is I’m curious to know is it becoming more prevalent that we’re talking more about race as well?
Kia
Interviewee
08:36
Right. So I would say the hot topics right now are just general discrimination and disparate treatment, especially related to allegations of race. One other big trending Topic that I’ve seen, I would say, over the last year, is people having complaints about civility Right, which isn’t necessarily discrimination, but it’s just like people being really obnoxious to each other at work, right, in a way that, especially if you’re life from historically marginalized group, you’re like is this person a jerk or is it just? Or is this because I’m black or is it because I’m queer? Whatever it might be, and that can sometimes be very, very difficult to figure out.
09:17
I finished an investigation recently where, um, you, one of these team members you know, multiple team members were saying that this person deals with us in a way that is, it feels bullying, it feels like bullying, it feels like being personally attacked, and this person would send people emails like okay, so imagine I send Gina an email. You know half the words are in all caps. I’m putting different fonts, some of them are well, like I told you to, you know, just, and I think that the most of us that feels a certain way like reading emails that are written and scripted that way. So the point is that person did that and a few other things. People were like I don’t even want to interact with this person, right, like the root when they speak to me.
10:05
The emails are really nasty and I was working my way through it. And there are people who made the allegations against this young woman. They were a variety of races and ethnicities and I was just thinking to myself well, what is that Right? It’s not necessarily race-based discrimination. It’s just like you’re being a jerk. It’s equal opportunity jerkism.
10:29
Right, no, absolutely. So I’ve been seeing that a lot, where people don’t necessarily want to call it discrimination and they don’t want to call it bullying, but it is like a general lack of civility that’s affecting their workplace experience.
Nicola
Host
10:43
Did you get to the bottom of why this person does this way? Because that sounds almost like a neurodivergent scope.
Kia
Interviewee
10:51
That’s exactly what it was, that’s what she claimed, and then so that’s actually something I was going to get to. So this is something I’m like fascinated by, Like my team and I I want us to like, over the last few years, like trauma-informed interview techniques have become like super popular, right, and I think that there’s maybe a lane that’s opening for like neurodivergent investigations involving neurodivergent people. So when I interviewed this person who interacted with people in a way that people really found to be objectionable, she’s like I’m neurodivergent. She’s like sometimes I don’t understand that what I’m saying is going to be received by people in a certain way, and I think that’s fascinating because then what right and I’m not trying to say she was using neurodivergency as an excuse, but I think it comes back to one of those discussions is around intent versus impact, Right? So perhaps she did not intend to offend people or make them feel bullied or threatened, but that was the impact, and I just wonder how organizations are going to really work their way around that. I think it’s going to be really difficult.
Nicola
Host
12:01
It is going to be difficult. We spoke to a neurodivergent and autism kind of specialist who is autistic himself. It was fascinating.
Kia
Interviewee
12:10
Did he have any recommendations or tips, you know, on neurodivergency and the workplace and how to navigate it?
Nicola
Host
12:19
So he provide guidance to businesses on how better to equip the business with like a DNI strategy to deal with neurodivergency as well.
Kia
Interviewee
12:28
It’s right, that’s so good, that’s really interesting.
Gina
Host
12:33
I guess my question here is did this particular person disclose that she was neurodivergent?
Kia
Interviewee
12:44
She did to me during my interview with her.
Gina
Host
12:47
I’m sorry to the employer because I think one of the big takeaways with Shea was that he was like once you’re part of a group or a team. Disclose it, because then it’s up to the employer to help you make accommodation so you can work in the best fashion, like the best way possible. Like how can we get this person who’s really good at XYZ to continue to perform?
Nicola
Host
13:13
taking into account so the e-mails might be shit, right.
Gina
Host
13:16
So this guy, shea, who we spoke to, he had like an auditory thing, I think, right, like he could hear the humming from certain types of lights and it was amplified for him. Or he gave us an example and so somebody just gave him like noise canceling headphones, like the office manager arranged for the headphones, or removing the light and putting a different light. So if I’m just wondering if it would have gotten different for this person if they had divulged to them their employer? I am neurodivergent, you know. Maybe they didn’t know Like I can identify with this person. I don’t think I’m neurodivergent, but sometimes my emails can come across very, very much Like, very like, like it’s. Here’s the information. I’m not gonna fluff it Like, this is it, and it might rub people the wrong way, but when they have a conversation with me it’s totally different. So I’m wondering if maybe there was, you know, lack of understanding for the team, which is not their fault, cause how are they gonna be told if they’re not told they don’t know what they don’t know?
Kia
Interviewee
14:23
No, that’s an excellent point, but I also see the other side of it where a person may not want to share that, like I. Just I think that the difficult decision to make.
Gina
Host
14:35
And he did talk about that too, Cause he was like I don’t always divulge during the interview process, but after I’m employed there, then I will.
Nicola
Host
14:45
Also, there’s that element of psychological safety, right, if you don’t feel safe in your workplace to be able to disclose that you are neurodivergent or that you have any other hidden disability or whatever it is that you’re coming to work with, then maybe that’s what needs to be assessed, right, is that psychological?
Gina
Host
15:03
safety. Maybe that’s not a good company. That’s a good fit for this person who does have this sort of unseen disability.
Nicola
Host
15:10
This is fast, I love. We’re also fascinated by this. Now we’re like obsessed.
Gina
Host
15:14
And we sound like we’re experts.
Nicola
Host
15:16
We literally know shit about shit, we know shit.
Gina
Host
15:19
We have one really great conversation with this guy who does know and now we’re like, oh, we know all the stuff. All right, we know it all.
Kia
Interviewee
15:27
So I do think, though I do think what he spoke to us about is directly related to the anecdote you just shared, so yeah, yeah, I’m looking forward to that introduction Because I think where we’re going is we’re going to have to create a new like I don’t remember which one of you said, but it’s almost like a D, e and I offering or like a new consideration, and there’s gonna have to be a new framework totally built around what it means to be neurodivergent in the workplace expectations, disclosures, et cetera Cause so many people are getting having the tools now to proudly identify themselves as being neurodivergent and recognizing the challenges that that may present to them in the workplace. I just, I think it’s like this, really new and uncharted territory. I think it’s gonna be super interesting.
Gina
Host
16:23
Agreed, Agreed Cause. Now it’s being talked about so much more. I think it was never really talked about, you know, as widely as it is now Like anytime I open Instagram, it’s somebody’s like oh, I just found out I had ADHD or I’m neurodivergent, or you know.
Nicola
Host
16:43
So yeah, I definitely think it’s what’s happening for the person with the shitty emails what, what, what was?
Gina
Host
16:47
the outcome. What happened to her? Yeah, she quit.
Nicola
Host
16:51
Oh.
Kia
Interviewee
16:53
Yeah, yeah, she said it just seems like everybody hates me and I’ve upset everyone so much and I think it was just best to file it. I mean, I think it could have been handled differently, right? So like, even if the investigation landed that we found that she violated the organization’s policies around being, you know, respectful and professional in the workplace, that’s something that can be coached and addressed. I don’t think it was necessary for her to quit. Nobody, you know, pressured her. That wasn’t our recommendation that she be fired. She just said she just she’d had enough.
Nicola
Host
17:25
So yeah, I’m curious to dig a little deeper now because in our first chat that we had we spoke quite a bit about microaggressions and how those are starting to reflect like in the workplace now and how hard it is to kind of investigate those right.
Kia
Interviewee
17:43
Sure.
Nicola
Host
17:43
So I’d love to go into maybe some of the cases you’ve had like not recently. Obviously we’re not going to go into like peoples investigations, but you know some of the cases that you’ve had where you’ve gone. Oh, wow this is actually really curly and really tricky to unpack.
Kia
Interviewee
18:02
Sure, sure, that’s a great question. Well, you and I said when we were talking last time, we’re like, maybe it shouldn’t even be called a microaggression, like, because that in and of itself, like minimizes the importance of what’s occurring. And what I said to you and what I’ll say to you again is how many microaggressions does it take before it becomes toxic, like, it becomes like a macroaggression or just like an awful place to exist and be a person from historically marginalized groups. So I want to think through this. I am doing the work with a lot of organizations right now, helping them figure out what are microaggressions, defining them in a way that people understand them, and what are we doing when people repeatedly engage in the microaggressions, right?
18:55
So I’m in the middle of an investigation right now and the person who’s made the complaint is a black woman and like, I would say like a middle management kind of position, and she was just like the amount of microaggressions that she’s been made to endure, it’s just non-stop.
19:12
Let me give you a few. She just says you know people say microaggressive comments to her like very much in the trope of like the angry black woman stereotype. So when I’m interviewing people about their relationship with her and their interactions with her. They’re like, yeah, she’s aggressive, she talks too loud. I feel like she’s yelling at us in the meetings. So they’re repeating the microaggressions back to me, right. So I’m like, well, this person is clearly not making this up, talking over her in meetings, telling her openly in meetings like I don’t agree with that, that’s not the way we do it, that’s not it. And then someone actually told her recently that she should really lead, she should begin meetings with new people by talking about herself, her background and her restimate, and that way people would respect her as the leader of a meeting. And okay, so put all of those together like roll it up in a ball.
Nicola
Host
20:14
And then we’ve got our gaggle. Did we go with a gaggle of microaggressions?
Kia
Interviewee
20:18
Like I can not turn to this person and say it’s just microaggressions, like the organization and I are now working together saying how do we address this? Because all of these things cumulatively is like a lot for someone to handle and a lot to deal with. And she wants to quit and I don’t blame her, so I get it. That’s terrible.
Gina
Host
20:40
So why do they think they can say that to someone Like? What do they think? Why do they think they can say that to someone? And then, what do you do when somebody like, what do you do? If somebody is actually has a very loud talking voice and it’s maybe not always appropriate, like they sit near you and they’re on the phone, or whatever, how do you then say like, hey, I’m so sorry, but like you might not realize how loud you are, or whatever, can you just? Like inside voice please.
Nicola
Host
21:11
Which is what I tell my daughter. But oh my God, I said that to my son in the car.
Gina
Host
21:14
I’m like we’re inside car voice. So it’s like, how then do you because again back to your point, keeley, people are stupid, people are humans, they’re gonna fuck up, they’re gonna mess up how do you get your point across in a way that isn’t considered a microaggression?
Kia
Interviewee
21:30
Right. So the first thing is, why did they think that they could do that? Because this particular organization, and where’s geographically located, is with a lot of people that have very little experience with being around people of color at all, much less working with them and very much so not being supervised by them. So, and the one thing I will say is like there are different organizations that have more sophisticated employees when it comes to these matters.
21:59
So there’s some organizations like do you think about like a big corporate company in New York, to be told and I was told that you did this, oh no, I didn’t mean that these people, just very straight faced, were like yes, that’s that to her. Like they’re not even educated in like the space to understand, like why these things would be offensive. I don’t know Just the way that the black woman interpreted people saying we feel like you’re yelling at us, it’s like it’s because I’m black and I’m leading a meeting and you’re very uncomfortable with the idea of being led by a black person. I think if it had been that alone, people say I talked well during meetings, we wouldn’t be where we are. But it’s just all of those things together, it’s just it’s been very difficult for her.
Gina
Host
22:46
So what is the point of having, like I understand that you’re investigating, but then what? What is the outcome of the investigation?
Kia
Interviewee
22:54
Is it?
Gina
Host
22:54
do you make recommendations to the company? Do you like, and how does that work in terms of legality, like do you sometimes have suggest the individual to sue the company? What do you do with all that information after you’ve gathered it through the investigation?
Kia
Interviewee
23:10
So at the conclusion of the investigation I do was called a final investigative report and that walks through introduction, the scope of methodology that was used for the investigation, the standard of evidence that was used, the preponderance of the evidence, was it more likely than not that the allegations occurred? And then the investigation report does end with findings, conclusions and recommendations for the path forward. So might be. You know that this person there’s a very wide range of course of corrective actions when an investigation lands with this person probably engaged in the misconduct. So that could be mandatory training, that could be sensitivity training, that could be microaggression training, that could be suspension, that could be termination. It’s just a really wide range of corrective action. And then I hand that to the organization when they decide how they’d like to handle it.
Nicola
Host
24:03
You know I feel like that’s something in New Zealand that we’re really just a little bit far behind on is kind of that microaggression awareness and that microaggression knowledge. I want to say and it’s something that I’m surprised that we haven’t addressed generally is that concept of microaggressions or how those could manifest or what those actually look like for people that are living them right? What would you recommend as you know for like a starting point for people to kind of start unpicking what it could look like in their workplace.
Kia
Interviewee
24:47
Right, right. So I think every workplace is different based on the demographics, but I think people can. They can do a Google search of microaggressions and look at examples. I think that is very important for organizations and senior management to really have that discussion with employees and identifying it by name. This is a microaggression. Here are examples of it. We have an anti microaggression policy. If you are found to have engaged in microaggressions, you know this is the range of corrective actions that you could be subjected to. This was interesting about that microaggression piece because this is such like a new and fresh and emerging area is that there is an organization that I’m not going to name, but it’s a very, very, very large company in New York City, based in Manhattan, and they have just made a decision that if you are accused of engaging in three microaggressive acts that’s based on, like you know, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, that automatically triggers an outside investigator coming in and doing the investigation automatically.
Gina
Host
26:02
How do those?
Nicola
Host
26:02
get like logged.
Gina
Host
26:04
I was just going to say how does it get reported and how is it proven? Like I feel like it’s going to be so difficult. You have a great example where the people don’t even know how to like cover their own asses with this one woman, wherever you were originally describing the microaggressions, but, like you know, if it’s in New York City, most people are savvy enough to at least be like oh my God, I had no idea. Even said like they might do a little CYA right Whether and I think it might be harder to prove when there’s more savvy people involved. So let’s hear about that.
Kia
Interviewee
26:39
My experience at the human resources business partners within this particular organization. They are really excellent record keepers, right. So it’s like you know. First I heard that Gina, may you know, misgender someone. Then I heard that Gina made a nasty crack about Pride Week. Then I heard that Gina made a nasty crack about Black Lives Matter, right. So you’re just you’re documenting this and really trying to have like a system in place where you’re like that’s three. This is just an example. I’m not like that. I appreciate this organization’s stance that they’re taking, because they’re realizing like it can’t just be that HR is like eh, you know, these are interpersonal issues, because at a certain point it gets way beyond being interpersonal issues and it’s like I don’t want to be here. Yeah, I don’t want to be here. So you know they’re trying to pay attention to it. I’m very interested in seeing how long they keep this going and if they’re seeing results, right.
Nicola
Host
27:43
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Because, like you know again what are the outcomes. So you’ve got this new policy in place of three strikes and you’re out essentially. So you know what’s the outcome of this. Do we have people that are now fearful or, oh, you know, something I might say is misconstrued? As a microaggression or am I just being a blatant asshole at work Right?
Kia
Interviewee
28:10
Sure, I think that people could definitely be fearful, but I also do understand the long-term implications of what occurs when people just keep saying offensive things whether you want to call them microaggressions or not, it just it has a really, really like just a really negative effect on the workplace overall.
Nicola
Host
28:31
Yeah.
Gina
Host
28:32
So. But I feel like, with all these rules right, like how does that create a psychologically safe that’s what you’re saying, nicola, like the fear. How does it create a psychologically safe work environment where you know if somebody did say something and you want to report it, or if you said something and you truly didn’t mean it. That way, like I misgendered somebody once and it was a complete accident, like I called Ahia Shi or vice versa, I don’t remember. It was just like I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was like getting to my point and it just accidentally came out. Like I don’t know I would, I would be terrified of doing one thing wrong in a situation like that.
Kia
Interviewee
29:16
Right. I think people have to be terrified of doing one thing wrong. I just I just think that’s where we are right now and I don’t know if that’s the right answer, but I think that what’s what happened to my light. I just think that and I mean and I want to make this clear when there are instances where in this organization where they’re saying you know, if you are alleged to have engaged in like three micro aggressive comments, et cetera, that automatically triggers an outside investigation, that does not mean that person’s going to be terminated. It just means that we’re going to get a fresh set of eyes on this and maybe you need education and training. Regarding the micro aggressive statements and why what you said was problematic, the organization that particular organization, I think is approaching it for much more of a learning and growing angle as opposed to being super punitive for people making mistakes which.
Nicola
Host
30:14
I think is the right.
Kia
Interviewee
30:14
I think that’s the right way to handle it.
Nicola
Host
30:17
Yeah Now, because I know I know a number of lovely people and I know that the question is going to be like you know, yeah, but what’s the point? Right, what’s the point? Because, you know, microaggressions are really just imagined.
30:39
You know there’s a whole system of thinking where actually microaggressions aren’t really a thing. So what do we say to these people? What are we saying to you know, aunt Agnes, who has got no concept? What are we saying to the people that are not aware of the problematic nature that comes with microaggressions? Because I think there’s probably going to be some of our listeners that are like there’s no such thing. Come now, stop there, stop that crap, Right.
Kia
Interviewee
31:09
What’s the big deal? I mean, I think there are some people who are just generally resistant to it as a concept, but what I always try to explain to people is it’s death by a thousand paper cuts, right? So standing alone, maybe it’s, you know, not earth shaking, but just being subjected to that again and again, and again. And one example that I give people is imagine something you’re insecure about the way that you look, the way that you dress your financial situation, whatever, whatever and someone just keeps on making weird comments about it. Number one first time, yeah, maybe let it roll off your back, but after a certain amount of time, this is something that is a core part of your identity and who you are. Can you agree that at a certain point, you would start to feel angry, hurt, disrespected and marginalized? And when I say that to people, they do start to get it.
Nicola
Host
32:08
Yeah, that’s actually a really good example because that gives you like that you personalize it for people, right, Because I think that’s the big thing is people don’t get that. There is an end.
Gina
Host
32:21
It’s a hard thing to be empathetic about, unless you’re thinking about it, how it might personally affect you, right? Because it’s like you don’t really, especially if you’re not, like, very self-aware, you know. So. I don’t think many people are self-aware. I think it’s rare that you have high functioning, high good employees that are also completely self-aware. Like I think it’s a very rare combination, but yeah, I mean.
Nicola
Host
32:53
It’s such a fascinating topic. I think that you know, and then again I’m guessing you can combine the two together. Now you’ve got microaggressions, you’ve also got neurodivergency as well, and you’re combining those two together for, like a perfect storm of you know situations in the workplace that would lend itself to being very toxic, and you’ve got people around you that are just going like what is happening.
Kia
Interviewee
33:21
Right, and I think that a lot of organizations have been put on notice. I was watching the news this is years ago. This is not my face, I did not come up with it, but I stole it and I like to use it all the time Just talking about, like social media and cancel culture, and the person on the news was saying that what we’ve seen over the last few years has been the democratization of the microphone, right? So it’s not. You don’t have to go file a lawsuit, you don’t have to go get a PR person to get a message out there. You can just send out a tweet or you could post something on LinkedIn, right?
33:55
And I think a lot of organizations that have recently gotten pressed bad pressed about being organizations that are toxic or harmful for black people or queer people, etc. It’s usually because of a bunch of microaggressions. So you now have 20 people that identify as being queer and they each have five microaggressions each. They feel like they’ve endured. You put that together and now it’s a New York Times article, right, about how this is a really difficult, you know, place for a certain group of people, and that’s why, you know, when we do like the microaggression math, you have to be really careful with how you’re quantifying it and how you’re quantifying things and how you’re counting things.
Nicola
Host
34:44
So I feel like and this is maybe the incorrect thing, right but I feel like with sexual you know, sexual inappropriateness, because that could be very many things, right I feel like that’s more like cut and dry You’ve got a really clear indication that oh yeah you get.
35:03
you gave me the heebie-jeebies, you touched my boob, like whatever it is. I feel like you’ve got a really clear indication that this is not the right thing to do, whereas now you’ve kind of got this really like, I want to say, almost grey area of information, where you’ve really got to deep dive and really kind of get into the workplace’s culture to understand exactly what’s coming out of it more. How do you approach that? Like when you go into an organization, like what are some of the first questions you’re asking to kind of get that culture pulse check?
Kia
Interviewee
35:45
Right. So I generally like to start with the person who hired us, so that could be their general counsel, their head of human resources, their head of the employee experience, just like how would you describe the culture of this place? People are usually pretty transparent about that. Like, eh, people don’t really like it here. We have a really high turnover. We have a problem with recruiting this particular type of historically marginalized group of employees to come here. We have a problem with people leaving. You know, and one of the things I always say is, like, do you know what your trending issues are right now? Like, is it racially based microaggressions? Is it misgendering? Is it sexual harassment? And I feel like once I have kind of put my arms around that, then I’m in a better position for understanding the culture of the organization, to address what’s going on in a way that’ll be helpful.
Nicola
Host
36:36
And what are some of the questions you end up asking the employees? Do they kind of know you’re coming? Are they prepared for that? You know how can someone prepare for you coming in to question them?
Kia
Interviewee
36:49
Sure. So there’s some language that I send to whoever the person is. That’s going to make the introduction between myself and witnesses and it talks through who I am, what we’ll be discussing and I you know. If you have anything that you think would be helpful for me to see ie emails, text messages, screenshots, etc. If you could have that ready for our meeting, that would be great. And in terms of preparation, you know, I always say that it’s very rare that I speak to someone once. Right, I’ll speak to. I have an interview with someone once and let’s say, oh my God, I forgot to mention this and then we’ll get on another call, because we’re human and that’s just the way our brains work. But I always want to give people as much opportunity as they want and need to really walk through what their experience has been and so that we can approach it in a substantive way.
Gina
Host
37:39
Because I think, like, especially with talking about microaggressions like versus, you know something that might be a little more cut and dry, like what Nicola said sexual inappropriateness. How does it, how do you stop it from becoming a? He said? She said, because I just like in my head it just feels like somebody’s going to be like well, you said blah, blah, blah and X me.
Nicola
Host
38:01
You said I was too loud in the meeting. Okay, well, you were too loud in the meeting.
Gina
Host
38:07
Or just like oh no, I didn’t say that, I insinuated it like, or you know, like. I just feel like it can be so muddy like, and so hard to kind of pull out the truth, because you know, everyone has their own idea of the truth or how they experienced the situation, and it’s like you have to come and kind of find the middle ground which is the actual truth. So how do you do that with and like, how does that work? Like I wouldn’t I? The whole idea overwhelms me in my mind. I’m like oh my God, I wouldn’t know what said be like everyone’s talking at me, they’re using too many words. Please let me look like yeah, how do you?
Kia
Interviewee
38:46
What exactly like? What’s the approach for what piece of it?
Gina
Host
38:51
Well, like when you’re gathering, he said that he should, she should, and from getting like being bogged down and so and so said this, and so and so said this. And how do you kind of arrive on your truth?
Kia
Interviewee
39:09
So right, and just by nature of a lot of these investigations, a lot of them are, he said, she said situations. That’s just the way it is. You know, this person did not make this offensive comment in front of the whole team, they just said it specifically to you, right? So when it lands that way, you know I’ll try to, I’ll try to speak to the person that made the complaint right when I’m like you know what this is a tough one. I’m not saying you made something up or you were being overly sensitive, but don’t really know where to land with this one. I’ll say, ideally, what would you like to have in here? And I found that to be a super, super helpful question because I might will just say I just don’t want them to do it again and I can go to the person and say, listen, this is what you said, this is how it was interpreted and received, this is the impact it had upon this person.
39:59
In the future, maybe we should try to fill in the blank, right? And I think that that sometimes that’s the best. It’s going to be right, like it’s not always going to be. Oh my God, I cracked the case. I know what happened here. It’s not always going to be like here comes the hammer and you’re getting fired and walked out by like security right, like there’s a lot of shame.
Gina
Host
40:22
Sure, because I’m like. I’m like, oh my God, what if you went into someplace and found like a whole like embezzling scheme that was big. You know, like this is like the stuff like TV makes you think right, like go live, and all these things. It’s like you go into, like settle a little thing, and then it’s like there’s a big thing behind it. So I’m waiting to hear that story, which you may not have yet, but you know, yeah, it was on.
40:48
Amazon Prime is about a lawyer who, like took a small case and then it turned into this big thing. So, as he was investigating it, it like turned into like a whole like thing there was. Like you know, good, I like it very good, it’s very good look, there’s no more season for a new show.
Nicola
Host
41:06
Yeah, the lie in the consultant. Have you done the consultant yet?
Kia
Interviewee
41:09
Yes, and I really, really liked it. We’re obsessed with it.
Gina
Host
41:16
I didn’t like the issue too. He’s gold, he’s just a man made of gold. He’s a non entity, he’s just like a machine. Anyway, we digress. Try Goliath, we digress.
Nicola
Host
41:34
Circling back. So okay, so coming in.
Gina
Host
41:40
So many of those crazy investigations where it turned into be something way like you were like, oh shit, that was just like the tip of iceberg. If you have to think about it, the answer is no, because you would know. Yeah no, I don’t think so it’s so big that you would be like yup.
Kia
Interviewee
41:58
I don’t feel like I’ve had a ton of investigation where, like the scope becomes like huge, I’m like, oh my goodness, like it usually stays pretty confined, no scope creep. But I will say this is once I enter the picture, people are usually extremely excited to speak with me. Usually they just are.
Gina
Host
42:22
Do they just want to spill the tea, Are they like? Let me tell you what John Smith did to me one day.
Nicola
Host
42:28
Oh my God, Shannon. In accounting the worst.
Kia
Interviewee
42:31
They almost turned into like therapy sessions and I just have to sit there. I’m like, well, that’s some, you know. It’s like, well, I don’t know anything about what John said to Sue, but I do know when I was on maternity leave, they kept emailing me and they wouldn’t give me a break, you know. So you just have to let people speak about their experiences, and which is also good, because at the conclusion of the investigation, I’m able to go back to a client and say I know we were investigating this specific allegation, but I want to make up where other concerns that people have brought up during my conversations with them.
Gina
Host
43:05
No, and don’t you think that kind of gives you an uh like a sort of brief snapshot of the company culture, when you’re hearing all like, when you start hearing extraneous things, but they’re all sort of starting to line up?
Kia
Interviewee
43:18
Yes, I think that’s exactly right. I think with the work that I do, sometimes it becomes very clear to me that I have the complete buy-in of the leadership and you know they are really taking this seriously and sometimes it’s like you aren’t taking this seriously at all. You know, like it’s a risk management move. There was an investigation that finished recently and it was a man that was accused of sexually harassing his female coworker. So I completed the investigation. This I feel very confident that this happened. Like this man sexually harassed her at a company event. Her face falls like the whole table is looking like it was very obvious that you know he said something right. So I complete the investigation. I found that he did, you know, engage in this conduct and he violated your company’s code of conduct regarding sexual harassment. Like he’s going to have to attend a training. I have a good friend who does that type of training. He’s like got it, got it.
44:17
I’m like, okay, now this is the CEO of the organization. He was like thank you so much. Okay, so let’s set up a call between you, him and myself and we’ll talk through your findings. I’m like let’s do it. I mean, we do that all the time. We got on that call, the CEO like threw me under the bus Weird way. He’s like I don’t see anything here. I’m like we just spoke about this yesterday Like you could not be serious. So in organizations like that, you know, the CEO was like we’re on the world of college, where he’s on board, we’re on board. He’s like I got it, I got it, I got it. And then we got on the call with the person who engaged in this sexual harassment and you’re like minimizing it and like questioning the investigation and I was like what was the point of this exercise?
Gina
Host
45:02
You know what I mean. Like, why did he do that 180? That’s so weird.
Kia
Interviewee
45:08
Because this particular organization, a lot of their money, is based on sales and he’s one of their best salesman and I think once he got into that meeting, he started to think I don’t love that he did this, but at the same time I don’t want to ostracize him and make him leave. I think that’s exactly what happened.
Gina
Host
45:27
But couldn’t he just say that? But, like, I do think you did this, it was, like you know, a small blip on your radar Like, obviously this is inappropriate. We’re going to send you for training, we’re here to. You know, like couldn’t he have announced like or just like discussed it in a way that was nurturing rather than minimizing?
Kia
Interviewee
45:44
like you know, we’re not going to point you very much, chose not to and it definitely felt like a good old boys moment, you know, like a nonsense, and it’s like you know what. You did not have to hire me for this.
Gina
Host
45:59
You could have just ignored it. You get paid. At the end of the day, you get paid. Who fucking cares? I’d like get that money.
Kia
Interviewee
46:09
That was pretty rare. Most people don’t get.
Gina
Host
46:12
Yeah, like, does that? Does it feel demoralizing when that happens? Are you just like, whatever I did what I was hired to do, I did a good job and now it’s out of my hands. Like, how do you, how do you feel? And again, you said it was rare, so you know.
Kia
Interviewee
46:29
I don’t say it was demoralizing, but it was shocking, like because the CEO seemed like a guy and I think usually when people hire me it’s because you’re taking this seriously, Like if you’re involved in cover ups and like you know, sticking your head in the sand, you’re not hiring us, like you’re just not so for you know for us to have been hired and then for them to have for him to have taken that position on the call with him. It just was confusing. But I think I’ve just realized that you know it’s one of those organizations that is very concerned about bottom line and profitability and he’s one of their best salesman and the takeaway that I got from that conversation was that you know profitability and margins in that organization are more important than workplace culture.
Gina
Host
47:15
That was the takeaway which is probably detrimental to the company as a whole, versus just like just approaching this one good sales person and then say like we value you, we don’t want to lose you, we do need to send you for this training. Let’s figure out a way you know collectively to make you better and more comfortable here, Like I do believe it was a one off, like you could have even thrown the guy a bone, like you were probably drunk, right, wouldn’t have done this normally.
47:42
Whatever you could have given him a bone, but still gotten the point across and done it in a way that maybe makes him even feel valued as an employee there.
Kia
Interviewee
47:54
Very confidently that this person is going to do this again.
Gina
Host
47:59
Just, I heard too many things. But I mean you know better than me, so like, but you know, I mean he probably will yeah and he had a thing with the young sales women always being around and he wanted to mentor them. It was just like a lot of things that put my radar out.
Nicola
Host
48:17
Yeah, yeah, this was one off, so yeah, you know, we’re kind of coming into the silly season, right, what we call the silly season, which is a great opportunity for us to have Christmas parties and get drunk and do inappropriate things for no particular reason. Because, you know, just because we’re wearing I heard at a conference the other day just because we’re wearing the hot hot dog suit doesn’t mean we stop being. You know, joe from HR. What are the things that people can do to avoid that happening at their functions or work? Things that are coming up Don’t drink, you can’t.
Kia
Interviewee
49:04
You’re like you can only be responsible for yourself, right? And this, this person who made it sexually inappropriate remark to this to his female employee. He said to her Do you know why you’re the number one salesperson in your region? And she’s like because I work really hard. He’s like no, it’s because you’re f and hot. You know just so. So in that particular situation there’s not anything that this woman could have done to stop him saying that with me that I’m like, that’s not even that bad, I’ve had worse.
49:36
Oh my well, she, she, she. But when I spoke to her she was like it’s two things. First of all, I thought it was inappropriate. She’s like. Second of all, we’re like you know, like one of those big rounded table. She’s like I had a visible reaction because I was upset and embarrassed and everyone’s turning and looking at me like what’s going on over there, and she was like a number three. I work extremely hard. She was like so it was, you know, offensive to me for all of those different.
Gina
Host
50:01
I’m not saying that it’s not. I’m just saying what the fuck is wrong with me, that I’m like comparison everything else I’ve been through and like my, my like whatever 20 plus career of being, like you know, working.
Kia
Interviewee
50:13
I’ve had worse said to me as well, which is also why, when the organization hired me to do the investigation and then kind of like this 180 at the end, I was like huh, that’s interesting.
Gina
Host
50:25
Yeah, I mean, granted, all those things that happens to me were like in the early 2000s, like I don’t. I think we’ve come a long way in corporate culture in America in terms of what is appropriate and what’s not.
Kia
Interviewee
50:38
Takeaways. So one thing that I always tell people and this is whether it’s related to microaggression, sexual harassment, bullying, just anything that is making your workplace experience negative.
50:52
Document it right, I think sometimes people think what it looks like to assert yourself or really properly document was happening. You right, you don’t need to go get a lawyer, that you don’t need to pay a retainer, you don’t need to go get like a secret recording device. You know, you can just use a note section of your app and you know this date, this time. This person said this. We were here. It may be this date, this time. This person made me feel this way and you know, ultimately, whether a person decides to go to human resources, or they decide to file a lawsuit, or they decide to get a lawyer to help negotiate their exit, it’s helpful in every single instance. So that’s my one that I always give everybody. If you are being subjected to things that you don’t like and don’t feel good within the workplace and you know really bearing on the edge of misconduct, just keep a really good record of it while you’re going through the decision process of deciding how you want to handle things.
Nicola
Host
51:53
What are some of the things that people can keep a track of like other than you know noting down? You know interactions. Or, let’s say, in the case of microaggressions, you know, noting down what the microaggression was, for example, yeah, you know so and so misgendered me today on purpose. You know whatever it was. What other things can people keep evidence of?
Kia
Interviewee
52:20
Um, so I would just say that my general rule of thumb is, like we all know, when things don’t feel good, right. Like when somebody makes a comment and you can’t necessarily define it or maybe put a name on it, but you’re like you know the young kids say like it gives you the X right. Like somebody just says something that you don’t like, just just just put it down, even if you never do anything with it. If you’re at the job for another six months and then you leave for your dream job, it’s just good to have, because you don’t know at what point things are going to change, essentially gonna say, oh my goodness, I’ve got to negotiate my way out of here, and now you’re trying to piece together these previous experiences that you had. It’s really good to have it down on paper in one centralized location, or not on paper, but like in your phone okay and okay.
Nicola
Host
53:07
so what are some other ways, like Businesses, for example, what are some ways that businesses can prepare or like almost get ready for if you were to come in and Investigate them, what is the best way for businesses to prepare in that instance?
Kia
Interviewee
53:24
Now I would say that a lot of organizations really need to be thoughtful about when do they think it’s time to pull an independent investigator right.
53:31
But I think that lies within a lot of organizations being very brutally honest with themselves about the capabilities and experience level of their human resources function. You know there’s a lot of working in Jason’s. They just said we love our HR people, they’re the best. They don’t know how to do this type of work, so we have to get you and your firm to come in. So I think that there are a lot of organizations who realize that and I think that’s the first thing, like organizations being honest with themselves about what is the capacity in bandwidth of our human resources team? Do we feel like they are equipped and Educated and knowledgeable enough to handle an investigation into really sensitive allegations of misconduct related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. And then organizations really have to do the work of Creating you know what their non-negotiables are right. So like really that’s not just sexual harassment anymore. You know, like I said earlier talking about civility, that’s become like a really hot topic lately and a lot of organizations that I’ve been doing work with him.
Nicola
Host
54:36
Just people speak to each other rudely and sin rude emails, you would assume that civility is just kind of a given.
Kia
Interviewee
54:43
It’s not. I Did an investigation recently and I shouldn’t laugh because it’s not funny, but it was like this person like checked the wrong box. You remember like we used when you would get paychecks at work and you could do like tax elections, like there’s a certain amount of taxes come out of the paper and she like checked the wrong thing and got a paycheck for like three dollars or something because she’s like check the wrong boxes.
Gina
Host
55:13
I feel like, yeah, I feel like I’ve done something like that. I’ve been like I thought I was helping myself, but I like the language is so sort of murky that you’re like doing the exact opposite. Yeah, I so she’s going nuts.
Kia
Interviewee
55:27
So she’s reaching out to the human resources business partner I want my money, I want my money. How do you think it would be okay to pay you three? Pay me three dollars. And the woman’s like you check the boxes, like this is how we got here. So she’s like I want my money, I want my money. And to the point that the human resources person now reaches out to me and was like I need you to do an investigation Into her, against me. She’s bullying and triggering me at this point for a mistake that she made.
55:56
Yeah, so when I reach out to the who went nuts about the paycheck. I’m like let’s just let’s set some time on the calendar. I just want to talk about what happened. This person was really upset about the interactions that they had with you and the way you behaved about the paycheck, and this person called me stupid. She was like this is stupid, you’re ridiculous, you’re a joke to me.
Gina
Host
56:16
You’re like I’m just, I’m just a third party man. I don’t have any skin in the game.
Kia
Interviewee
56:20
We alone, which I actually found to be interesting. That is a very extreme example. Most people when I come around are like on their best behavior, this person not so much. So the way she was, you know, really coming after the HR business partner, calling them all hours of the night. It’s 11 o’clock, where’s my money? I mean, what are we calling that? Bullying, harassment and civility? I think organizations really have to be thoughtful about how they’re defining certain types of misconduct and then creating a really concrete set of corrective actions for the misconduct when it’s when it’s found that it has occurred.
Gina
Host
57:00
Yeah, so what ended up happening with that one particular thing? I’m curious.
Kia
Interviewee
57:05
Well, bonnie, you should mention that, because my recommendation was for this person to be terminated, right, because this person that had multiple blow-ups of people and just seemed just really unstable and just it just didn’t seem good and I was worried about this, you know, continuing to be a recurring issue within the organization. That particular organization I was called in after a really, really really high profile publication wrote a scathing article about the workplace culture and Senior leadership was too scared to fire this person because they thought that this person was going to go back to the press and say some more bad things. So she remains at that organization to this day.
Gina
Host
57:49
Did she ever get the whole pay thing figured out? Yes, like that, like I don’t understand how, like, got to that level like I would just like oh shit, I marked the wrong box. How can we figure this out so I can Unmark on market and just pay me what I should have been paid like? How well, how does it get to like such a crazy level like that? I don’t have an answer. I know that I got and it may.
Kia
Interviewee
58:16
it cracked me up, no pun intended. I was like I’m a joke, you check the wrong thing you stupid bitch who can’t read today, who can’t?
Nicola
Host
58:27
read. You can’t read. You know what I like to do, that I’m like you’re probably right, but the issue at hand here, like just agree with them.
Gina
Host
58:34
Let him. Let him go on with the bill. Okay, I’m a joke and you mark the wrong box.
Kia
Interviewee
58:44
Yeah.
Nicola
Host
58:48
I’m here because of you, but I’m a joke. Okay, yeah, please tell all of our.
Gina
Host
58:50
Our followers. If anyone’s still listening to us at this point in the game, anyone’s still with us at the end of this episode. I’m amazed. Anyone who has made it this far in all of our podcast for all of creation.
Nicola
Host
59:04
Ever Tell us where we can find you, kia, and we’ll link everything for our enough.
Gina
Host
59:11
My firm’s website is wwwcom. I’m here because of you, but I’m a joke, Okay, yeah please tell all of our, our friends.
Kia
Interviewee
59:21
Wwwtriangle investigations with an scom and you can find me on LinkedIn Kia, kia last night, roberts, this has been a lot of fun.
Gina
Host
59:30
Oh good, I’m so glad. Thank you about Goliath. It’s on my list.
Kia
Interviewee
59:36
All right, new friends, y’all are fun. Let me know when it goes, we will do Okay. Thank you for having me rest today. Thank you, you too. Bye.

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