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Astrophysicist Nicole Cabrera-Salazar on Integrated Communities

Astronaut's Daughter
Nicole was finishing her PhD in Astrophysics when she realized it was destroying her inside and out. Now her company promotes innovation through togetherness.
Show transcript
00:16
I'm my pronouncer and a and I'm queer neurodivergent Latina
00:24
I used to be an astrophysicist and now I have my own company
00:28
movement consulting.
00:29
And what we do is that we go into scientific spaces and organizational
00:33
spaces and we build radically nourishing cultures there
00:37
That is so awesome.
00:38
Let's unpack all of that.
00:40
I'm so excited to get into it.
00:41
So you first started in Astrophysicist or astro?
00:45
Wait, how do you say it as Astrophysics, Astrophysics?
00:49
Do you wanna talk about a little bit about how you came into
00:52
that field and then how you kind of got into founding your own
00:55
company?
00:56
Yeah.
00:56
So I um I had a very non traditional path like into science.
01:01
A lot of my peers um when I was doing my physics degree in undergrad
01:04
were like, yeah, I was taking radios apart when I was like five
01:07
years old or like, I had a lot of them like have like a parent
01:10
or some sort of relative that is in science, but I didn't have
01:15
that my parents were working class.
01:17
Um And I'm a first generation college student.
01:20
And so for me, it was like, I just happened to go to public schools
01:25
that had an engineering component or a science component
01:29
to them.
01:29
And I kind of just fell into it.
01:31
I took my first physics class in the ninth grade.
01:34
I had no idea what physics was and my professor was so great
01:38
and I loved him so much.
01:39
I was like, wow, I just want to follow in his footsteps and I
01:42
kind of, you know, made my way to undergrad where I did my physics
01:45
degree, you know, I applied to several astronomy research
01:49
programs.
01:50
Uh you know, not knowing anything but just having the mentors
01:53
to kind of guide me along the way.
01:55
And I, I decided, wow, like, astrophysics, this is something
01:59
that I really love and like, I want to do this as a full time job
02:01
Like, how do I get there as a junior in college?
02:04
Right.
02:04
So then I'm like, OK, I applied to grad school.
02:07
It was a harrowing experience because it was right after the
02:10
stock market crash in 2008.
02:12
And so there was like, not a lot of programs, you know, it was
02:15
like, I think five times the number of people were that normally
02:18
applied were applying because there were no jobs.
02:21
It was, it was a very tumultuous time.
02:23
But I got into a phd program and I started my scientific training
02:27
when I was there, I started experiencing a lot of things that
02:31
I didn't anticipate.
02:33
There was a lot of, you know, negative experiences.
02:36
There were, there was a lot of discrimination, I would say
02:39
even like exploitation that was happening to me, but also
02:42
to the people around me.
02:43
You know, it was my dream to become a professor of Astrophysics
02:46
and I really wanted to do this thing and it was my life's goal
02:49
and I was like, working so hard to get there.
02:51
But in about my fourth year of graduate school, I was like,
02:54
I don't think I can do this anymore.
02:56
It's really taking uh an effect on my mental health.
02:58
Just the amount of stress that I was under.
03:01
I, you know, once I started writing my dissertation, I started
03:05
waking up with panic attacks in my sleep.
03:07
I, like, I lost um the year that I was studying for my qualifier
03:11
exam, which is this exam that's like you do your first two years
03:15
of your phd program and it's classes and then you take this
03:18
exam and if you pass it, you get to continue with your phd as
03:22
a phd candidate.
03:23
And if you fail, you have to leave with your master's degree
03:25
So it's this very, very, like important exam.
03:28
Could you retake the exam if you fail?
03:30
Yes, most places allow you to take it a second time.
03:33
Um But it's a lot, it's so much, I mean, you, you work for probably
03:37
six months preparing this for this exam.
03:40
Um And while I was studying, I, you know, I realized that, uh
03:44
I wasn't able to write in a straight line anymore.
03:46
I was getting cramps.
03:48
Yeah, in my hand while I was trying to write and, like, my notes
03:51
weren't legible and I've always had really neat handwriting
03:53
So I started going to doctors.
03:55
They gave me an MRI, they, you know, they sent me to a neurologist
03:58
and they couldn't find anything officially wrong with me
04:01
They were like, it's just stress and I've also heard of a lot
04:03
of women, um, and especially women of color, developing autoimmune
04:07
diseases in these types of programs because these things
04:11
the propensity for that lives in our DNA and then a stressful
04:14
environment.
04:14
Can you activate that?
04:15
Yeah.
04:16
That's crazy.
04:17
My mom, I don't know if your mom is the same way but whenever
04:22
I'm feeling really stressed or going through a very, really
04:25
stressful time, whether it was in college or in, you know,
04:29
now working full time and doing life, she would always worry
04:35
about my health because it's like stress.
04:39
You can't see it, you can't see when someone's experiencing
04:43
it, but the effect it has on your body.
04:46
I really didn't know that of, of how, you know, it's in our DNA
04:50
of how we're more susceptible to getting auto immune diseases
04:54
and, and getting sick because of stress makes so much sense
04:57
And I understand her fear now because I'm like, ok, that, you
05:01
know, that's a scary thing to experience.
05:03
And then also have doctors not really tell you or know what
05:07
exactly is wrong with you.
05:09
Exactly.
05:09
They're like, oh, it's just stress.
05:11
These programs are, they're so stressful and there's so many
05:14
expectations and there's so much overwork culture.
05:17
Right.
05:18
People like bragging about not getting any sleep or sleeping
05:21
in the office or like things like that.
05:23
We've talked about that before on the podcast of like phd programs
05:27
being so rigorous and being impressive that you have done
05:33
an all nighter or you're spending hours in the lab more and
05:37
if you're not doing enough, you're slacking off and you're
05:40
not taking it seriously.
05:42
That's crazy culture that we're in.
05:45
Absolutely.
05:45
Yes.
05:46
I mean, being in that environment, you just feel like you have
05:49
to, you have to do those things to prove yourself, especially
05:52
if you have multiple marginalized identities, right?
05:55
Because you're already, no matter what you do, you're seen
05:58
as not doing enough, you're seen as not being smart enough
06:01
not being good enough.
06:02
And it's really that environment that makes you internalize
06:06
those feelings of like, you know, insecurity or um that you're
06:10
an impostor or that you're not good enough to be there, et cetera
06:13
Um And so when I went through that, I was like, you know what
06:15
like it's not, it's not worth it.
06:17
Like this is causing me so much physical and mental distress
06:21
And so I decided, you know, I can't do this, like, even though
06:24
this was my dream, I had to put my health first.
06:27
And so it actually took me a while because at that point, I already
06:30
had my master's degree and I was like, maybe I'll do science
06:34
communication and I could, you know, I could leave and do that
06:36
with a master's.
06:37
I didn't need a phd, but I, I thought about it a lot because,
06:40
you know, as a Latina, I knew I was representing my community
06:43
and I knew that a lot of Latinas leave the pipeline.
06:45
Like I think right now, there's only probably like 11 Latina
06:50
astronomy professors in the US period, right out of like thousands
06:55
and thousands of people.
06:56
And I think there's only uh 16 black women who are uh in astronomy
07:04
Astrophysics, right?
07:05
Doing as professors.
07:06
And so it's, there's so few of us that you feel that burden of
07:10
like having to carry your community.
07:12
And so I saw a lot of counsel, I, I spoke to a lot of people and
07:15
ultimately I decided, you know what, I'm gonna finish my phd
07:18
I'm gonna finish what I started, but I have to figure out what
07:21
I'm gonna do.
07:22
I had two years left in my program at that point.
07:24
And I was so lucky to find a career counselor at my school who
07:29
really helps me.
07:30
And she told me from the beginning because I told her like,
07:32
I need to find a job.
07:33
I don't know what to do.
07:33
Like I'm gonna have a phd in astronomy.
07:35
Like, what do I do with that if I'm not going into astronomy
07:38
and astrophysics and um, you know, she was like, well, I don't
07:41
know, but we're going to figure it out during that time.
07:43
She was always telling me like, I see you doing your own thing
07:46
Like I see you having your own brand and I'm like, ok lady, like
07:49
I'm just trying to get a job you talking about.
07:51
I'm just here for advice.
07:52
Right.
07:52
Exactly.
07:53
I'm like, I just like, please help me like get these applications
07:55
out, please help me with my resume, that kind of thing.
07:57
But she was always adamant that um that I was going to do my own
08:00
thing and eventually, you know, I graduated and everything
08:04
and I started my company because I, I realized what in, in one
08:08
of my conversations, Ashley Watts is her name, like shout
08:10
out to her for just being, you know, my ultimate mentor.
08:13
But uh I, I told her one time I shot myself in the foot.
08:17
Like if I had done a lab science, like if I had done chemistry
08:20
or physics or something or biology, I could take that to the
08:24
industry and, and work in an industrial lab.
08:26
Like I wouldn't have to be in academia or something, right
08:28
And what she told me was like, no, like the fact that you went
08:32
through this right and got this phd and had these experiences
08:36
you're gonna be able to turn that into something, you know
08:39
And so I started, um I started my company about a year after
08:43
I defended my phd.
08:44
And I was like, you know, like I had so many difficult experiences
08:49
that nobody should have to go through in, in my phd program
08:53
And I saw, not only that, but I saw so many women of color get
08:57
pushed out of the programs, right?
08:59
Not being able to finish their phd, not being able to follow
09:02
the career that they really want and then not, not even being
09:05
able to like pivot in the way that I had the privilege to be able
09:08
to do.
09:08
So I was like, I don't want other people to have to go through
09:11
this experience.
09:12
And so I decided I have this insider knowledge of what it's
09:16
like, not only to be within this system of academia, but also
09:20
to be a multiply marginalized person with um with deep knowledge
09:25
about what that looks like and I can go into these spaces and
09:29
help shift those cultures.
09:31
No, I love that you're doing that because it's such amazing
09:34
work.
09:35
I, I we were talking about it earlier how I have never heard
09:38
anyone do this before.
09:41
So it's necessary to create those safe environments.
09:46
So that way people aren't experiencing the same experiences
09:49
that you do.
09:50
I really want to touch on the mental health aspects of like
09:54
going back a little bit.
09:56
Um And how, you know, I know you had such a physical reaction
10:01
to the stress and, and it was very mental and you thought, ok
10:07
this is just not, not worth it anymore.
10:09
I need to walk away first off, that takes such a strong person
10:15
to do that because I think most people would see that and be
10:18
like I failed like I did not push through.
10:23
I did not, you know, there is such big expectations of people
10:28
to just deal with it and just like the hustle is the hustle.
10:31
Like these are the things that everyone goes through and that
10:34
we have to just, you know, you're earning your stripes by doing
10:37
this and pushing through.
10:39
But when it comes to your physical health, then like you said
10:46
it's not worth it.
10:47
So do you have any advice for people who are feeling like, ok
10:51
if I walk away from something that I initially thought was
10:54
my absolute dream like this is, you know, I do this.
10:57
If I walk away, I'm going to be so unhappy.
10:59
I mean, first of all, I do want to say that in the moment, I didn't
11:03
feel like I had a choice.
11:04
I, I really, you know, after probably the third night of waking
11:07
up with a panic attack, you know, in my sleep, I literally had
11:11
the thought like, if I don't do something about this, I'm going
11:13
to end up um in a, you know, in a mental hospital like against
11:18
my will.
11:18
Like I'm gonna have a nervous breakdown, right?
11:20
And that was very scary to me.
11:22
Like it didn't feel, it didn't feel like an option.
11:24
And honestly, I did feel like I failed and not just because
11:27
that's not a thought that is intrinsic to me, but everything
11:30
in the environment was me that I feel people around me were
11:33
speaking about it as if I had failed.
11:35
If there's this attitude in academia that if you don't, if
11:37
you don't become a career academic, then like, you didn't
11:39
make it right.
11:40
And and that necessarily means that there's something wrong
11:42
with you.
11:43
So I want to say that like uh that was the experience and it's
11:47
only now in retrospect, I had to do a lot of therapy.
11:50
I even had to do deep trauma therapy about the things I to me
11:53
in grad school, right?
11:54
That, that shit is serious, you know, and so I, I just want to
11:57
say that in retrospect, I can talk about it and be like, yeah
11:59
that was the best decision I ever made.
12:01
But in that moment, I felt so not just like I failed, but also
12:08
I felt so angry and bitter because it was like, I, I fought through
12:15
poverty, immigration, uh you know, being the first in my family
12:19
to go to school, everything I was fighting tooth and nail and
12:23
I had gotten so far and then not from my own lack of potential
12:28
or lack of trying.
12:29
But by other people squandering my potential right is where
12:33
I, I had to make that decision for myself to survive, right
12:37
And I don't think that's a decision that anyone should have
12:39
to make, right?
12:40
Which is why II I had to do a lot of emotional processing to get
12:44
to the point where I am now.
12:46
And I'm like, yeah, I I made the right decision for me, right
12:48
But I do want to say that like in terms of advice, you know, I
12:53
think that a lot of these spaces and it's not just academia
12:56
it's not just science, it's not just stem I think this is,
12:59
it's not unique to any industry, right?
13:01
It happens from the society that we are part of, that's capitalistic
13:05
that's individualist, right?
13:06
That treats human beings as laborers as bodies to, to go and
13:12
do this work.
13:12
That makes a very, very small percentage of people, very wealthy
13:16
right?
13:17
And so, you know, we're treated as this and it's very difficult
13:21
not to internalize that.
13:22
And so we feel feel guilty for resting, we feel guilty for taking
13:25
naps, we feel guilty for taking paid time off, even when we're
13:27
sick, right?
13:28
This is something this is not unique to, to academia, but there
13:32
are certain ways in which those spaces can exacerbate that
13:35
right?
13:36
And so I, I would want to say like first and foremost, like you're
13:41
a human being and you deserve to be treated as a whole human
13:45
with all of the things that you need.
13:48
You know, we, we are not robots, we're not machines, right
13:50
We need rest, we need food, we need, uh you know, activities
13:54
that make us feel whole, that make us feel alive.
13:57
And so, you know, if you find yourself in a situation like that
14:00
just know that like it doesn't have to be that way.
14:03
And that's what I'm, you know, with the work that I'm doing
14:05
now, that's what I have to teach people.
14:07
Because in these spaces, there's, there's a mentality that
14:12
it has to be this way.
14:13
Either you work 50 60 hours a week in the lab or you are not going
14:20
to be a successful scientist.
14:21
And that isn't true.
14:23
It's not even based on science, right?
14:25
We know from, you know, uh neuroscience that a brain can only
14:30
concentrate for maximum four or five hours a day.
14:33
Anything after that you are, you are, you know, going toward
14:36
burnout and then once you burn out, you're out for the count
14:39
for many weeks, right?
14:40
So it actually makes more sense for us to work less, right?
14:44
But the environment is such a glorification of this over work
14:48
culture and again, not just in academia that it's very difficult
14:51
to go against that.
14:52
0 100% it's so relevant to this conversation is so applicable
14:56
because it's like, yeah, that is so true.
14:58
We're such an indi individualistic uh culture that we're
15:02
like, OK, my success and me succeeding is what's important
15:08
and I have to grind and I have to work all these crazy hours and
15:12
if I'm not doing that, I'm not doing enough.
15:14
Like, and you're constantly comparing yourself to other
15:18
people around you.
15:19
And so I, our phd programs also very competitive or is it very
15:25
like, I'm just doing my own thing.
15:27
I'm just getting my phd or do other, did you find yourself comparing
15:31
yourself to other people as well?
15:32
Oh Yeah, definitely.
15:33
And not just me, like I was being compared to my peers, I was
15:36
one of two Latinas.
15:38
Um And then the uh the, you know, then she finished, she graduated
15:43
and then it was just me for a while and then like eventually
15:45
there was another um Latina that like came in, right?
15:48
And so uh it was very isolating and something that I noticed
15:53
too when I was in my phd program is that uh among the students
15:58
there was gender parity, right?
15:59
So we had 50% women, you know, 50% men, which is great because
16:03
in the whole field, it's, I think slightly fewer than 30% women
16:06
So it was like, this was like touted as like a great thing.
16:09
However, it was mostly white women and, you know, throughout
16:12
my phd program, I was like, I was going through things and I
16:15
was looking around and I was like, OK, I thought it was because
16:18
I'm a woman, right?
16:20
But I see that the white women in my program are not experiencing
16:24
the same, quite the same things as me.
16:26
I'm being much more heavily scrutinized, right?
16:28
And I think a lot of that has to do with the xenophobia of like
16:33
I'm, I'm Latina, I'm different.
16:34
Uh I do things differently.
16:36
I speak differently.
16:36
I behave differently and I'm not expected to perform at the
16:41
same level level as my peers.
16:42
It's a very stressful, hostile environment.
16:46
And I think that something that I know now because this is,
16:51
this is what I teach people is that and, and this is what I tell
16:54
students now.
16:55
If I had gone back and, and created a community outside of my
17:00
department where I felt very like everything was just very
17:02
anti.
17:03
Um I think I would still be doing astronomy because I think
17:08
it's really hard to be in an environment where either everyone
17:10
is getting a phd or they have a phd, right?
17:14
Fewer than 1% of the world's population has a phd.
17:16
But in that environment, you're so you're like in this little
17:19
fish bowl, right?
17:20
And so like if you don't have people uh who are in, from your
17:24
community or even just encouraging, right?
17:26
I, I think now for me, it's less so people who share my identity
17:30
as share my values, right?
17:32
Because I value community, I value collaboration.
17:34
I value rest and wholeheartedness and like, being seen as
17:38
a whole human, right?
17:39
Like, and I think that the values that are in the structure
17:43
of academia, I is the complete antithesis of that.
17:46
What is the kind of work that you're doing now in your company
17:50
and what you're currently working on?
17:52
It's interesting.
17:53
I like to tell people that what we do is we teach folks basic
17:59
human decency.
18:01
You know, I say that jokingly, but there's so many things that
18:04
we do not get taught through school or uh whatever work environments
18:08
that we're in.
18:09
What we do is we learn everything that society is teaching
18:12
us through media through, I mean, mostly media, right?
18:15
Because we we absorb these messages everywhere.
18:18
And it's that hustle culture, you were talking about that
18:21
grind culture, I need to make it, I need to succeed.
18:24
It's very individualist, right?
18:26
And so we don't question it.
18:28
It's not something that we ever even think about, right?
18:31
And so in, in these spaces, these organizational spaces,
18:35
there are vertical power structures, meaning that you have
18:38
somebody at the top and then somebody reports to them and then
18:40
another person, right?
18:41
And so there are people with more power and people with less
18:45
power, right?
18:46
And the higher up you go, the fewer people like us you're gonna
18:50
see in those positions of power, right?
18:52
Because of individualism.
18:53
Because of capitalism, our communities have been very uh
18:57
sort of uh separated, right?
19:00
We don't have, you know, back, back in our home countries,
19:03
right.
19:04
I'm from Chile community.
19:05
Is everything right?
19:07
You, that's how you survive, right?
19:08
And, and a lot of people of color communities of color know
19:11
this, right?
19:12
But then you get into these systems and it's like every person
19:14
for themselves, like the Nobel Prize is awarded to individuals
19:17
not teams, even though large scientific teams are what make
19:22
these innovations happen.
19:24
And so for me, it's a matter of I come in and I have to teach people
19:28
and not just me but my whole team, right, we come in and we teach
19:31
people.
19:32
How do you in a place where there is a power differential between
19:38
between different people based on their identity, based
19:40
on career level, et cetera.
19:42
How do we go back to being in right relationship with each other
19:46
which is a concept that indigenous people have taught us
19:49
where everything everyone is interconnected and we have
19:53
a responsibility, a duty toward one another and to care for
19:56
each other, right?
19:57
That is definitely not something that you see in most workplaces
20:00
and not just in academ in other workplaces too.
20:04
It with promotions with raises with anything like that.
20:08
It's so competitive that you're kind of like fending for yourself
20:11
like every man for themselves because you're fighting for
20:14
that next promotion.
20:16
It's so toxic because it's like, well, I'm friendly to you
20:20
and I'm, I'm seemingly, or I'm seemingly friendly and we have
20:24
somewhat of a community and because we're all in one place
20:27
we're all working as a company or we're all in a cohort together
20:32
But if there's a promotion up for grabs, then you're kind of
20:36
like eyeing each other and you're right.
20:38
It's very toxic.
20:40
Yes, it's very competitive.
20:42
And the thing is like a lot of people don't realize this, but
20:45
capitalism is built off of uh a false scarcity model, meaning
20:49
that the resources are scarce.
20:51
This is what we, this is the myth that we believe resources
20:54
are scarce and therefore we have to compete with each other
20:57
for these scarce resources.
20:59
But it's actually not the case, right?
21:01
Uh Wealth is abundant, right?
21:03
Resources are abundant.
21:04
It's just the way to make those resources and create those
21:07
opportunities, create those roles.
21:10
It's about how they're distributed too, right?
21:11
So when a very small percentage of people have all the resources
21:15
then of course, like the rest of the people are supposed to
21:17
compete with each other.
21:18
And that's the thing, competition fuels disconnection,
21:22
right?
21:22
We how can we form community with people that we are competing
21:26
against?
21:27
And it's the same way even in a college classroom, right?
21:29
The myth is that there's only a handful of a s that are available
21:34
and so you have to compete with your classmates over who's
21:36
gonna get the top grades, right?
21:38
Because the people with the top grades are gonna get the top
21:40
jobs, right?
21:41
No, that's true because it's the most well connected people
21:43
who are gonna get the best jobs and usually it's people of power
21:46
privilege and wealth, right?
21:47
But we are, we sell this idea and we think like, you know, most
21:51
people are gonna get BS and CS, some people are gonna get FS
21:54
and a few people are gonna get a so in the classroom, we compete
21:57
with each other, right?
21:58
Even if that's something that we're not told explicitly,
22:01
that's the vibe.
22:02
And so we don't collaborate with each other.
22:04
So one of the projects that we do is called the collective classroom
22:07
And we come in to undergraduate science classrooms like chemistry
22:11
physics, astrophysics, uh biology.
22:14
And we take these individualist traditional classrooms
22:17
and we create a collective where the students are working
22:19
together uh with the professor, the professor is also part
22:23
of the community and it's a professor's job as a person with
22:25
the most power in the room to listen to the anonymous feedback
22:30
uh of the students biweekly and then uh implement those changes
22:35
in real time to serve the collective, right?
22:38
And so and the students get to decide, OK, what is the best way
22:41
for us to learn and how do we care for each other?
22:44
Right?
22:44
And at first, the students are resistant because everything
22:47
around them is telling them that you have to compete and that
22:50
you know, maybe you have this little like woo woo classroom
22:53
or whatever, where you're taking care of each other, but everywhere
22:55
else out there, you're gonna have to compete.
22:57
But by the middle of the semester, the students start to take
23:00
really uh internalize these ideas and they start to say, hey
23:03
actually, it's much better when we care for each other, when
23:06
we collaborate together and we're not competing in this way
23:09
right?
23:09
And so that's what of the things that we like to do is we come
23:13
into these spaces and we build an awareness first, you have
23:16
to know that this is systemic, this is not interpersonal,
23:19
right?
23:19
This is not like racism, for example, is not something that
23:22
I say to you, it's literally a system, right?
23:25
It's it it's in the larger society, but it's also in these little
23:28
microcosms that we inhabit.
23:30
And so we build that awareness and we say this is what's happening
23:32
in the system.
23:33
And then we say right now that you have this context, how do
23:37
you do the internal emotional work and the relational work
23:42
in order to level those power differentials as much as possible
23:45
so that we can build community with each other?
23:47
Because often times people get so disheartened by saying
23:50
you know, like racism is this giant thing.
23:52
People have been struggling, like many, many, many thousands
23:55
of people have been struggling against this for hundreds
23:57
of years, right?
23:58
And so what is one individual gonna do?
24:00
Right?
24:01
But the point is community, we don't have to do it alone.
24:04
Matter of fact, it's never gonna happen alone.
24:06
We do it together and we are only responsible for our sphere
24:10
of influence.
24:11
That's the vibe that we bring to these people.
24:13
So you're doing the work with people in positions of power
24:17
who are influencing other students in their academic environment
24:24
right?
24:24
When you have these workshops, do you ever find that people
24:28
are hesitant to be open and to really want to do the work or are
24:33
these the people who are like, OK, I see a need for this.
24:37
I really want to take this in and open up.
24:39
Um Do you see like a balance or a difference with people wanting
24:44
to do the work and not wanting to do the work?
24:45
Yeah, absolutely.
24:46
So, luckily for us, something that I, for me personally, I
24:52
used to be of the mentality that like I have to convince people
24:57
who don't think there's a problem that there's a problem,
25:00
but that's not my ministry anymore.
25:03
Because what I realize is that the energy that I'm spending
25:05
on folks who don't think there's a problem is energy that I
25:08
could spend on the people who are marginalized, who are going
25:11
through it, who need support.
25:13
Yeah.
25:13
So I don't, that's not my ministry.
25:15
I, if I were a white person with power and privilege in that
25:18
sector, that would be, that would be my business, right?
25:22
But that's not my business right now, right?
25:24
Uh in the in the role that I am.
25:26
And so what I, what I do is that the I am and not just me, right
25:32
My whole team, what we do is we say this is the work that we're
25:36
going to do.
25:37
It's going to be vulnerable, it's going to be uncomfortable
25:41
it's going to be difficult and it's going to be transformational
25:45
right?
25:47
And we say that up front and then folks are like the people who
25:50
come to us are the people who are ready to do that work.
25:53
The people who are tired of just learning about things or tired
25:57
of things just like the status quo, not changing all the time
26:01
And they want to see something different and they themselves
26:04
they know that that something has to change, but they don't
26:06
know where to start, right?
26:08
And so we create these learning communities where uh especially
26:13
you know, people in power and uh who are white, who have privilege
26:16
who have wealth, right?
26:18
A lot of times, you know, there are spaces in which you probably
26:21
shouldn't be like processing your feelings about your anti
26:25
blackness or, or, or about your whiteness and things like
26:28
that, right?
26:29
Like you probably shouldn't be processing that in a room of
26:31
people of color, of black, indigenous and Latina people,
26:33
right?
26:34
Because that's not the place, but there should be a place where
26:38
you can do that in support and encouragement and uh where you're
26:42
going to be challenged, but you're also gonna be, you know
26:45
space is gonna be held for you because if you don't do that
26:48
then how are you going to do the rest of the work?
26:50
Because you start internally and then you move to the relational
26:53
right?
26:54
And then you move to sort of like policy changes and things
26:56
like that, right?
26:57
Use leveraging your power for that.
26:58
But first you have to start off with the foundations and if
27:01
you don't feel safe doing that, then it's gonna be really difficult
27:05
for you and it's gonna take a lot longer for you to be able to
27:07
overcome that.
27:07
I think safety is the most important takeaway of like providing
27:12
that space, safe space and that safe environment for you to
27:16
come to and be vulnerable and be emotional and really be open
27:21
as much as possible to making those little changes for the
27:24
better.
27:25
Something that in my personal experience being a part of companies
27:30
who are training their employees on psychological safety
27:34
on what it means to come to a space where or come to um your manager
27:39
or someone that you work with or even just hr and feel like you
27:44
can share and be open and vulnerable, right?
27:48
To maybe better their own experience.
27:51
Like I, I remember um like my first working experience and
27:56
working underneath um literally the top of the top like CEO
28:01
S the most powerful position you can have in a company and not
28:06
feeling safe and not feeling like I could speak up and say anything
28:12
because I thought I was, you know, I bottom of the barrel, I
28:15
like barely make a difference here.
28:17
No one has, no one really cares what I have to say.
28:20
I got yelled at once so I never want to open my mouth again.
28:23
And like, I think, you know, having and doing that training
28:28
and having managers or people in academic positions, doing
28:32
those trainings and wanting to do it is like, so amazing.
28:37
And I wish more people or there are more opportunities for
28:41
people to do that because as someone coming into the workforce
28:46
and not being my first experience, I was like, oh, this is the
28:50
work force and every company is like this, I don't want to work
28:54
I don't want to do this.
28:56
Yeah, I think that one big issue that I've seen across many
29:01
industries is that we, when we do these trainings, right?
29:05
They're geared toward people with the least power, people
29:11
who are marginalized, right?
29:12
And so that's called a deficit model where we assume that you
29:15
have a lack of something, right?
29:17
So I've seen uh big companies do mentoring programs where
29:20
they'll like mentor, you know, marginalize people so that
29:23
they can level up and get into these management positions
29:26
and, and get promoted and things like that.
29:28
And oftentimes they fail and the reason that they fail is because
29:31
they're not focusing on the actual problem, right?
29:34
Which is the environment and the policies and the systems
29:36
because as much mentoring as you can have or like you can give
29:40
them all the advice in the world, but they're gonna get to that
29:43
hr panel and that's gonna be biased and that's gonna, you know
29:47
the, the manager is gonna have their favorite person and
29:49
that decision is going to be biased.
29:51
And so it's like, instead of focusing on the people who are
29:55
experiencing that marginalization, we need to zoom out and
29:58
focus on what is the culture here, what is the environment
30:01
doing that is preventing certain people from getting promoted
30:04
certain people from achieving, you know, their career path
30:07
and what they want to do, right?
30:09
And the other thing I wanted to mention is that in our company
30:12
right?
30:12
We have a team, I believe there's 11 of us now and we go in and
30:17
we, we enter these spaces and we teach people how to be in right
30:20
relation with each other, how to build community, how to build
30:22
coalitions, really as a company, we have to embody that first
30:28
right?
30:28
And so it's difficult to do because, you know, we're in a capitalist
30:34
society, this is a for profit business, right?
30:36
And the way that it's set up, they ask you, you know, who's the
30:40
CEO, who is, who is the owner of the company, who is the founder
30:44
because that person is liable, right?
30:47
And so like I put, I put my, uh you know, my liability on the line
30:52
I put my social security number on the line for this business
30:54
right?
30:55
And I have a disproportionate amount of liability.
30:58
And so at the same time, we're trying to get to a place where
31:01
we're more of a collective where we engage in collective decision
31:04
making where I'm not the only person, you know, saying this
31:06
is how it's gonna go and it has been a struggle because we don't
31:10
have models for that, right?
31:12
We are literally, you know, building the plane as we fly it
31:16
What are some of the struggles that you face when you're trying
31:19
to do that?
31:20
That's a really good question.
31:21
So I think a lot of the things that we run into is this mentality
31:29
that we have to do things on a deadline that things have to be
31:34
rushed.
31:35
And so when you're engaging in collective decision making
31:38
it can take a little bit of time because there needs to be discussion
31:41
and people need to agree and everything like that, you need
31:43
to hear everybody out.
31:45
And so we run into this problem where we're like, oh no, but
31:47
we have to do it by this deadline and stuff like that.
31:49
And so the default is much easier.
31:51
The default is I'm gonna make an executive decision and this
31:54
is what we're gonna do, right?
31:55
That's like the swimming upstream kind of feeling where you're
31:58
like OK, this company, we want this company to do well and to
32:03
and to thrive.
32:05
And we also want to do it in such a way that nobody else is doing
32:08
it.
32:08
I don't wanna say nobody else because people have been building
32:10
collectives for a long time.
32:12
We're definitely not the first people to do it, but we hit these
32:15
walls where we're like, OK, we have a, a very important uh task
32:20
to bring revenue into the company so that we can, everybody
32:23
can eat and we can do the job that we need to do.
32:25
And then we also need to slow down and make these decisions
32:29
in a way that incorporates everybody's everybody's uh perspective
32:34
That's so interesting.
32:35
What size company do you have?
32:37
Like who's on how many people are on your team?
32:39
There's about 11 of us and they are not all full time.
32:43
Correct?
32:43
No, I'm the only person that's full time.
32:46
Yeah, that's awesome.
32:47
So they're super passionate about being a part of this company
32:50
Oh, absolutely.
32:51
Yeah.
32:52
Honestly, I think the, the thing that best illustrates this
32:55
is that, you know, we've been in business for four years and
32:59
each year we, we grow a little bit more, but it hasn't gotten
33:02
to the point where we are completely stable as a company.
33:05
And so last fall, we got to a point where I had to, you know, make
33:10
an announcement to the team and I was like, we have depleted
33:13
all of our cash accounts.
33:15
Right.
33:15
We have no more cash in our accounts and I was like, if something
33:20
doesn't change soon, we're gonna have to, like, close in December
33:23
because obviously people, we can't have people working without
33:25
getting paid.
33:26
And as a Latina business owner, it's very difficult to get
33:30
funding as a company.
33:31
Right.
33:32
It's not as, you know, it's not as easy as you would have, even
33:36
for like a tech startup and something like that.
33:37
Like those of us who are minority business owners, we have
33:40
a harder time with that.
33:41
And so a lot of this is like self funded or, you know, we, we,
33:45
we bootstrap it just so happened that day that two of my teammates
33:49
were over at my place and we were co-working together because
33:51
everybody's remote, but a lot of people are in Atlanta.
33:54
And so I sent this message out and I just, I was bawling, I was
33:58
just crying and my teammates were having a meeting upstairs
34:01
and then they came out and they saw that I was, you know, sobbing
34:05
and so they came and they sat next to me and they were like, what's
34:08
going on and I told them like, I'm so afraid because, you know
34:11
as the person who's leading this company, I feel so responsible
34:14
for people's, you know, financial well being and I'm like
34:16
I'm supposed to provide, right?
34:18
And I was like, we're gonna have to, we're gonna have to close
34:21
up shop.
34:21
There's like no way that I can see this moving forward after
34:23
I made this announcement to the team, my two teammates who
34:26
were, there were like, first of all, we're not gonna close
34:28
up shop.
34:29
If even if we have to volunteer our time, we're not gonna do
34:32
it.
34:33
And then I had people sending me messages privately saying
34:36
hey, like, what do you need?
34:38
Like we're gonna, we're gonna make this work no matter what
34:40
Like this company is not gonna go under.
34:42
And the thing is, you know, people were calling me and like
34:46
giving me words of encouragement and saying like, hey, like
34:48
we're in this together.
34:49
It's not just you, like you're not the only one with this responsibility
34:51
We all have a stake in this and I try to communicate to people
34:56
You cannot get that kind of culture overnight.
34:59
That's not something that just happens, right?
35:03
Where we literally are there for each other.
35:05
Like a family would be.
35:07
And a lot of times you hear like, oh, this place is a family red
35:09
flag, right?
35:10
Run away, run the other direction.
35:13
But in this space, it's like we have chosen to care for each
35:16
other in such a way and the company itself, the way that we care
35:21
for people as whole human beings.
35:23
They want that to continue, right?
35:25
This is they a lot of them are part time, they have other jobs
35:29
right?
35:29
That they have to do.
35:30
But this is the space that they're like they feel that they
35:33
can be their, the truest version of themselves.
35:36
Right?
35:36
And that building, that kind of culture takes so much intention
35:40
and so much work.
35:41
I mean, it's, it's not easy, right?
35:43
Like, I think a month after that, uh one of our teammates called
35:48
a meeting with, uh with the whole company and they were really
35:51
frustrated with the way that, you know, we're not, we, we,
35:54
we claim that we're a collective, but we're not truly doing
35:57
that.
35:57
There's a lot of individualism going on.
35:58
There's a lot of decision making that's, that's happening
36:00
that doesn't include the whole team.
36:03
And, you know, like I'm not a confrontational person.
36:06
I hear those things and I'm like, oh my God, like I fucked up
36:08
and I'm doing things wrong and everything like that.
36:11
And I have to do so much internal emotional work to address
36:15
my trauma and the things that are coming up for me so that I can
36:20
show up and be fully present in that conversation and not make
36:23
it about me and really say I hear your concerns.
36:26
You're right here are the things like, you know, what do we
36:28
do?
36:28
What should we do now?
36:29
Like, let's move forward and address these things.
36:32
Yeah.
36:33
And, and we're constantly coming up to things like that.
36:35
So that's not the one and only time that that has happened right
36:38
this week it happened you know, a different team, you know
36:40
came and they were like, we're frustrated about XY and Z things
36:43
Well, I think that's a really good point of not letting your
36:45
past trauma check what's happening in the now because although
36:49
you're the CEO and you're the founder of the company, you are
36:53
a community that you created and that means that you also get
36:59
constructive criticism back and kind of like it keeps you
37:03
on check because going back to what you said, it's like, how
37:06
can you as a company, advise other people to create safe and
37:11
open environments um for, you know, for other people, if it's
37:15
not reflective of your own company, you know, and I love that
37:19
mentality because it's like you and your employees truly
37:22
believe in what you're, you're um teaching other people and
37:26
it's an embodiment of your work and your entire company.
37:31
And so when you're doing and sharing all of this knowledge
37:35
that you have based on your previous experiences, it's like
37:37
it comes off as so you in.
37:40
But I think that's really amazing that you are doing the internal
37:44
work on yourself and in your company.
37:47
So that way you can show up better for other people and do the
37:50
work.
37:51
Um But with that being said, and you having like ups and downs
37:56
with your business, you're still, you're still afloat, you're
37:59
still working.
38:00
So that's awesome.
38:01
I mean, that is literally because of the community that I'm
38:05
in and something that I've learned from them is that like,
38:09
because, you know, I come in with this mentality like, I'm
38:12
the CEO I'm basically the mom, right.
38:14
I'm like, y'all are my babies and I have to provide for you.
38:18
And if I'm not doing that, then I'm failing somehow.
38:20
And they're like, first of all, no, they literally told me
38:23
they were like, we are adults.
38:25
We know that we have bills to pay like we're here for out of choice
38:28
And um they've taught me that the mentality that I had about
38:33
like being in charge and being a leader and like wanting to
38:36
provide for them, it was preventing us from becoming a true
38:39
community where I was also a community member, right?
38:41
And I get to lay my work down and, and, and take a step back and
38:46
be like, I don't have it today.
38:47
Can somebody else step in?
38:49
You know, and without that like you cannot build it, it has
38:53
to be built on mutual aid.
38:54
We help each other, not I'm saving you or I'm I'm providing
38:57
for you.
38:58
Like this is a community where I, I really wanna get to the point
39:01
where and I think we all want this in uh on our team is that I'm
39:05
the CEO in name only because I am just as much a community member
39:10
and I don't have, you know, the the power to like sway people
39:16
right?
39:17
Because I'm the one who's like paying their checks, it's very
39:20
difficult to do because you still have these, the power dynamics
39:23
are still there and you have to acknowledge them, right?
39:26
And every single one of us, not just me is doing that internal
39:29
work and showing up for each other and uh and also willing to
39:33
engage in generative conflict, right?
39:36
Conflict.
39:36
That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but that brings us closer
39:40
to the world that we're trying to build.
39:42
Do you have any exciting plans for the future with your company
39:45
or anything like that?
39:46
Yes.
39:47
So when I started this company, it was literally because I
39:52
didn't want to work for white men anymore, I wanted to do my
39:55
own thing and I was like, I want to do the work that I want to do
39:58
on my own terms.
40:00
But now I feel like it's bigger than me, you know, there are
40:04
so many people who are invested in the work that we do and the
40:07
the team that works with me, you know, something, the dreams
40:10
that I have now are so different.
40:12
It's like I want us all to be at a point where we're financially
40:17
stable.
40:17
Like I want us to be a company where, you know, 30 hours a week
40:22
or less is like, you know, 25 hours.
40:24
That's the, that's full time and there's plenty of time for
40:28
creative pursuits, right?
40:29
Where everyone has health insurance and everyone, you know
40:33
has like a, a salary and we can, we can use the profits that
40:37
we make in the company to reinvest back in the community.
40:39
Right.
40:40
So for us, it's like we want to expand and not just work with
40:45
universities and, and scientific spaces.
40:49
Is it just, are you just working in scientific academic spaces
40:53
Are you going to move maybe in other areas of business?
40:58
Yeah.
40:58
So we have mostly worked with scientists because most of us
41:02
are scientists on our, on our team.
41:03
And that's definitely my niche.
41:06
But something that we're realizing is that the, the things
41:08
that we're teaching are so fundamental to any organization
41:11
that we want to be able to take those lessons everywhere, right
41:17
And so that's something that we want to do.
41:19
I think that it's a little bit different with organizations
41:22
because you have to have buy in from the top real like we do not
41:30
work with folks who are not ready to do the work because we want
41:34
to create lasting sustainable change.
41:36
Wherever we go, we want to make sure that like by the time we're
41:39
finished with our partnership that is going to continue,
41:42
right?
41:42
We don't want to like just like you get, you get a sticker and
41:46
then we move on and everything goes right back to the way it
41:48
was.
41:48
We are very committed to this work in that way.
41:51
And so I think that moving into working with organizations
41:56
it's like, all right, like, if you know who we are, if you,
41:59
if you vibe with what, you know, with the energy that we're
42:02
putting out, then, yes, absolutely.
42:03
Like we would love to work with you.
42:05
We would love to show y'all how to create a culture that everybody
42:08
wants to be and that, that people are committed to each other
42:12
and taking care of each other.
42:13
And also we, I mean, we're building a future in which it doesn't
42:18
have to be like this.
42:19
It doesn't have to be like this, this the way that things are
42:21
right now is actually detrimental to all of us.
42:24
You know, I'm sure you felt it like there's so many people who
42:27
are not willing to work uh in these terrible conditions anymore
42:31
There's been so many strikes, so many labor strikes, so many
42:34
people that are like, yeah, I'm not doing this.
42:35
I mean, they're starting my own thing.
42:36
I'm working for myself.
42:37
I'm gonna find a job where I can work from home.
42:40
Something that treats me like a human.
42:42
And I think there's so many people who are going to start demanding
42:44
that now, something that I like to ask our guests each time
42:48
at the end of the podcast is if they had any advice for either
42:52
themselves or a younger version of themselves.
42:56
Um, something they'd like to tell themselves back then that
42:59
they know now.
43:00
Yeah.
43:01
Oh, man, it's gonna make me emotional a little bit, but it's
43:06
ok.
43:06
Yeah.
43:06
So I think what I would tell myself is that I deserve to be treated
43:15
as a whole human being and that there isn't anything that I
43:20
need to do differently, that exactly the way that I am is perfectly
43:26
ok and is going to get me very far and I don't need to compromise
43:30
on anything, uh, any part of who I am in order to be successful
43:35
and that I can define success for myself.
43:37
And for me, that means it means community, it means being in
43:40
right relationship and it doesn't have to be what everybody
43:42
else has defined it to be.
43:44
I love that.
43:45
That's amazing.
43:45
I feel like in our community, we're so used to changing ourselves
43:50
or making ourselves smaller or less talkative, quiet or in
43:57
all these different spaces and reminding ourselves that
44:01
we don't have to do that, right.
44:03
We deserve so much more.
44:05
We deserve the same respect as everyone else in our field,
44:08
regardless of the field.
44:10
I think that's really great advice.
44:12
Thank you.
44:12
Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
44:14
I really enjoyed our conversation and I, I honestly think
44:18
you're doing such great work because, you know, not many people
44:21
know if they're not in those spaces of academia who are not
44:27
getting phd s, they might not know what those experiences
44:30
are like.
44:31
And to know that people in people who are marginalized are
44:35
experiencing all these negative, you know, experiences
44:40
and So I think you're doing such great work and I hope more people
44:44
follow in your footsteps because it's so great.
44:47
Thank you so much and thank you for having me.
44:49
Yeah, of course.