2020 has been revolutionary. An eye opener for HR. DE&I was present and important a year ago, but now, it better be your lead initiative. At the very least as an HR and Recruiting professional, you better be listening. And listening hard.
I started listening about a year ago as we began launching my employer’s new DE&I initiative. And part of listening is finding new voices, those different from our own, challenging the status quo we all have.
I found Madison Butler one day on LinkedIn. I had seen a tweet noting she’d be threatened online and in person for her DE&I riffs. I was horrified. I don’t know what it was about the tweet, maybe the timing? But I had to find out if she was okay. And I wasn’t the only one. If you read Madison’s posts on LinkedIn, she shoots straight from the hip in a take no prisoner style. She’s incredibly authentic about who she is and her lived experiences, and I get that the no holds barred honesty can be disruptive. But death threats? Nope, we aren’t going to stand for that.
I want you to meet Madison Butler, and hear her voice and all that it means to DE&I moving forward into the next decade. I hope she’ll continue her game changing rifts and rants and calling in the conversation to change the way we work. Below are a few questions I posed to her pre-Thanksgiving so you could learn more about this new voice on the DE&I scene.
How did you end up in the recruiting>HR>DE&I world? You were an English major (and soccer player) at Nichols….how did that happen?
Madison: Honestly it happened on accident. I had worked in retail management for quite some time and knew I wanted a change. Someone I knew from retail had moved into high volume recruiting and asked if I wanted to try it out. I took the risk and realized I liked it, but wanted to have more impact so I eventually moved internal.
Of your varied work experiences, which one was the most pivotal to getting you where you are now?
Madison: Moving internally at Qualia was a pivotal experience for me. I learned that I not only loved talent but I loved development, culture and focusing on psychological safety. These are things you don’t get touch when you’re consulting. I wanted to be able to create environments that allowed people to be exactly who they are. This is also where I learned I love startups, I wanted to be in the thick of the fast paced environment and the rawness that comes with being at an ever changing company.
Your commitment to DE&I isn’t just about your work, it’s about your life. Who do you listen to? Who are your influencers?
Where do you sit on the SHRM drama?
Madison: I’m quoted in Business Insider talking about what an absolute joke SHRM is. SHRM is such a horrible representation of the new age of HR. They want to focus on why breast feeding is “bad” but refuse to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter.
Social Media, it’s really become an experience, and for you, it’s been part of your life since forever (I’m assuming, correct me if I’m off on this). You’ve seen the good, the bad and the tremendously ugly. I’m disappointed in the lack of action on LinkedIn’s part in the suppression of Black voices and more importantly the slow (was there any?) response to the harassment you were victim to. You soldier on and post every day, engage every day. What keeps you coming back?
Madison: The good is what keeps me coming back. I am moved by so many of the messages I get from people, that I know I can’t stop. My goal is help the world hear and understand the lived experiences of those who have previously been voiceless. I want to remove the stigma of having these hard conversations. Lived experiences shouldn’t be stigmatized, they should be talked about, and understood. Of course. I have been on the receiving end of harassment, death threats and a slew of other ugly things but I understand that hurt people hurt people. I have been that person, that journey is what led me here. I’ve been hurt,
I’ve bubbled over with internalized hatred, I have hurt people. I do this work because I want the world to be safer place, a place where we accept people for who they are, without debating the validity of their identity.
Putting your old recruiter hat back on, do you think LinkedIn is still a viable channel to connect with talent? Or is it pivoting (whether it wants to or not), into more of a media engagement platform? Is that a good or bad thing in your mind?
Madison: I think it’s both. I don’t think those things need to be separate. I think it’s harmful to try to separate our “professional” personas from our actual selves. We are indoctrinated to believe that those two things cannot coexist, and they can and should. Social issues inherently impact the workplace. The world is constantly politicizing the identities of marginalized communities and that bleeds into the places that we work. I think Linkedin is a unique platform because it allows us to peel back the layers of everything that is broken in corporate america, it is a place where you can learn about the broken pieces you never thought of and it is also a place where we can start to rebuild.
I had a true blue Brene Brown moment the other day when I read this in one of your posts: “….freedom of speech is not freedom of consequence.” Wow. And I didn’t take this statement as don’t speak….but more be ready to defend your thought process, be ready to engage, just don’t dump and run. The vitriol we have seen online has been prolific in 2020….do you think the consequences will have impact well into 2021? Do you think if people oppose (or have opposed) inclusivity on any level, they will make themselves unemployable? Particularly in the HR space?
Madison: I speak on this topic often, mostly because people think they can’t be fired for racism, threats, homophobia or transphobia, when that is simply not the case. Not everything is up for debate, “evidence” or not. People’s identities are not an opinion. People’s existence is not something we can throw articles at to defend our hatred. People’s identities are not for others to define.
I do believe if you oppose inclusivity you will become less employable. People do their best work when they are allowed to exist in peace, people who don’t want that have no place in our organizations. If our goal is psychological safety, we cannot in good conscience continue to employ those who actively harm marginalized communities.
As we roll into 2021, what expectations do you have of Corporate Inclusion programs moving forward? I saw your comments in the Going Ahead with Gage item in early 2020, and I know in my corporate life, metrics are a focus. But I find more of a focus this year has been active listening with engaged responses. So as you raise the bar for the corporate world, what do you want to see them doing to push forward Inclusion in 2021?
Madison: Metrics are great, but they aren’t the end all be all. Metrics do not paint the whole picture. We must be actively focused on the environments we create and how we make people feel. Psychological safety cannot be measured on the metric scale, but it must be our focus in 2021 if we want to strive for true inclusion. We cannot continue to ask people to show up authentically and then punish them when they show up. We have to be intentional about the cultures we curate. Authenticity is not conditional.
I can’t thank Madison enough for spending time with us on FOT. I hope you’ll follow her posts on LinkedIn and really listen to this new voice on the DE&I scene. She is also the queen of hashtags so I have to close with a few of her Madison-ism’s… #dobetter #isaidwhatisaid #dei #thatsthetea
Kelly is the Recruitment Manager for Westat, a leading social science research organization headquartered in Rockville, Maryland.