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A Conversation on Inclusive Training Design with Jolene Jang

When I participated in a DEI-focused session led by Jolene Jang at a recent conference, I just kept shaking my head. Every time she pointed out another way learning design can be more inclusive, and quite frankly inviting, to all learners, I shook my head as I thought: there’s something else I’m not currently doing. I walked right up to her after the session and asked if she’d be willing to share some more thoughts on Train Like You Listen. Here is our conversation.

Introduction 

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I am your host. I’m also the Co-founder of this cool little training organization called Endurance Learning. If you want to know more about us, you can go to www.endurancelearning.com, but that’s not why we’re here today. Today, I am joined By Jolene Jang. She has been interviewed by Oprah, Good Morning America, Phil Donahue, Diane Sawyer, and today she takes on me. She’s going to talk a little bit about inclusion in training programs. 

Jolene Jang: YAY!

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES) But before we get to her, I just need to let you know that today’s podcast is brought to you by Endurance Learning’s new L&D Professionals Academy. It’s an eight-week-long cohort-based program for people looking to break into the learning and development space, or maybe people who have been in L&D for a while, but have never formally been exposed to all the theories and fundamentals. It’s a combination of self-guided eLearning and live virtual sessions. You’ll build skills, you’ll begin to create a portfolio, and you’ll make connections. If you’d like more information for that, go ahead and visit www.endurancelearning.com/academy

Six-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: Okay, Jolene. All of that is out of the way, we get to talk to you. You are an Asian inclusivity Speaker, and I want to make sure that we have you introduce yourself the best way possible, which is according to this podcast, in six words. Can you give us your six-word biography?

Jolene Jang: Culture explorer creating curiosity to captivate. 

Brian Washburn: You know, I thought I was going to have trouble saying Asian inclusivity Speaker, and you come up with the alliterative. 

Jolene Jang: It’s more fun that way—culture explorer creating curiosity to captivate because I think it’s– my life is all about curiosity and being able to harness that curiosity to motivate, inspire people to want to learn about something new or other people. I think no matter what I do, it’s always in the way to be able to intrigue people.  

Brian Washburn: Well, I’m intrigued. I had the good fortune of being able to attend one of your sessions a few weeks ago at a conference here in Seattle. And I was so taken in by everything that you were presenting. I was really excited to get you onto this podcast, so thank you for joining me. You talk about inclusivity in all sorts of contexts, and this podcast is about training and learning. And so I’d love to hear from you just as we get started, when it comes to training and learning design, what are maybe the top three things that you’ll see, whether it’s in a classroom training or an eLearning course where– you’re just kind of shaking your head. 

Top 3 Inclusion Fails in Instructional Design 

Jolene Jang: Well I’m shaking my head at “top three things.” First I’d like to, for the listeners who cannot see us, I am Japanese, Chinese, and Swedish fourth generation in America. I’m middle-aged really getting right up there, Brian. And I’ve got long ground here and I’m rather kind of spunky. I’ve got a red background and with studio lights because you know what? I do a lot of videos. 

When I speak about inclusion, I'm talking about racism.

So to get to your question, the top three issues and challenges that I see with inclusive design. First, I’d like to define inclusive and inclusion. So as an Asian inclusion speaker, when I speak about inclusion, I’m talking about racism. So I don’t want to mince my words. And corporate speak is a lot about– sometimes it’s about, diversity. It really is about racism, classism, sexism, colorism, ableism, but we have to, as a diversity speaker, we have to Disney-fy our words and code them as we can’t say white. We can’t say privilege. We can’t say racism. 

1. Inclusion Should Encompass More Than Just Black and White

So when I speak, I’m talking about racism, classism, and sexism. And the challenges that I see is that when people talk about inclusive design, as well as diversity, it’s black and white. Meaning black people are discriminated against and let’s talk about it, and white people look at your privilege but not– they don’t say privilege. So it’s black and white, and there are a lot of marginalized communities that are ignored. 

2. Without Personal Stories, Learners Can’t Relate

Another challenge I see is that there are speakers who are talking about diversity, but they're not using personal stories, so you can't relate. You can't understand the impact.

Another challenge I see is that there are speakers who are talking about diversity, but they’re not using personal stories, so you can’t relate. You can’t understand the impact. So we can tell people, “don’t use the N-word, that’s offensive.” Yeah, agreed, but let’s hear about when was the first time you were called an N-word and what was impact. You know, like that speaker needs to be able to share these stories so we can understand so it can motivate us to not do these things. 

An example that I like to use is usually a lot of times usually a lot of times used with Asians is “Where are you really from?” And certainly, when I go to Texas and Florida, which I don’t plan to do again, but yeah, of course I’m asked that and I’m like, “Oh, Oh, thanks for being curious.” Because I don’t– I haven’t experienced that much racism, so I’m very lucky, but everybody else has who is Asian American. And so I have listened to hundreds of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders to understand what that means to them. It means you don’t belong here. You will never belong here. You’re different, and we don’t like you. You’re not normal. 

And there is this on my website, www.jolenejang.com. I have a video and this Asian halfie guy, he talked about all the reasons why you don’t want to say where you’re really from. And so I think the importance is to share that impact because it’s easier to remember when you can understand the emotion. 

3. Participants Are Too Afraid 

You know, a small embarrassment from you can really support somebody else. Imagine what they're going through. 

And then I would say the third thing that I see that’s cringy is that the participants don’t interact. They’re fragile. They’re feeling embarrassed. They’re really nice. They don’t want to say anything wrong. I love everybody. I don’t see color. And so they don’t want to embarrass themselves. And so what I tell my Asian allies is, you know what? A tiny embarrassment for 30 seconds could save somebody from being hurt and having– you know, and harming themselves. You know, a small embarrassment from you can really support somebody else. Imagine what they’re going through. 

So I think– and if, you know, talking about inclusive design, when you’re talking about eLearning, there’s, again, it’s black and white, right? We’re not seeing different body types. We’re not seeing all the diversity out there. It is just black and white. So really trying to expand what is inclusivity. Who does that include?  

Brian Washburn: There are so many things in what you just said that I want to get into, and I don’t know if we’ll have time to get into all of it. But I want to kind of back up because one of the things that I noticed you doing at the start of this, as well as at the start of the session that I attended, is that you described what you look like, physically, what you’re wearing. Why do you start by doing that? 

Describing Yourself and Your Environment to Include Everyone

Asian Americans are so diverse and we're all bucketed into the same group. And you're not supposed to say, “Where are you really from?” the first time you meet somebody, so how will you know?

Jolene Jang: I do what I look like so people who have low vision or are illegally blind, so they can help envision what I look like because that helps. I talk about– I start with my ethnicity because I want you to know I’m Japanese, Chinese, Swedish, fourth Generation American because it is so– Asian Americans are so diverse and we’re all bucketed into the same group. And you’re not supposed to say, “Where are you really from?” the first time you meet somebody, so how will you know? So I want people to know this is what a Japanese, Chinese, Swedish, you know, middle-aged woman from Bothell looks like. So I want to be able to educate and I want other people to share their identities so people who have limited exposure– like I’m going to do this thing in Louisville, and that’s, you know, one of the least racially-diverse states and also has the least education and least exposure. And they have all these bans against marginalized people, so it’s important that I share what my identities areas are so I can teach and be an example. 

Brian Washburn: You know, I love your approach, right? So you talk about this idea of needing to tell stories in order to illustrate a point and the impact. 

Jolene Jang: Yeah.

Brian Washburn: Not only do you talk about it, but you do it. And so you’ve already shared several. One of the other things that really was striking to me when I attended your session several weeks ago was when you talked about the importance of things like the language we use or using people’s names–

Jolene Jang: Yeah.

Brian Washburn: –and taking the time to learn people’s names and pronouncing their names and not just giving them a nickname because that’s easier. Can you talk a little bit– and I have a feeling that you have some stories here as well– can you talk a little bit more not just about the language you use, but why is that important? And how does that impact somebody’s ability to receive the information you know, the inclusive design of something?

Using Inclusive Language in Training and Instructional Design

I didn't understand that before because I'm very privileged. I do understand that now. And so understanding the visuals that I see in my head I think can help people illustrate the pain that happens with the language. 

Jolene Jang: So I’m going to key on first, the language. For example, in the program that we did at Learnapalooza with all the instructional designers, I talked about language – a couple of examples. So when you’re saying, “Hey, Brian why don’t you take a stab? Yeah. Try it out. Stab.” You know, and you just use the word stab, not in the literal sense, but you’re using it as “trying.” Well, when I hear the word stab as an Asian American, I envision all the Asian Americans I have seen stabbed, and this is a daily occurrence that people don’t know about. Stabbing means stab an Asian—that is what I have in my head. And I think also sharing that video with all the stabbings, right? Cause white people don’t know that this happens because it’s not on the news. So having that visual with it, I think is helpful. And the same word with shot or kill. When I hear the word shot or kill, I think of Black Americans being shot by cops. And Asians, I also think of being shot, not by cops, but by people. And so the whole murdery thing with the word kill, like, “Oh, you’re killing it up there.” No, let’s not kill it. Let’s use these violent words for their literal meanings and let’s use another because it is triggering. And I didn’t understand that before because I’m very privileged. I do understand that now. And so understanding the visuals that I see in my head I think can help people illustrate the pain that happens with the language. 

Oh, oh, okay. And Brian, I’m going to go to names and I just discovered this the other day. So pronunciation is, of course, important for names, but I also learned in China, it is customary for the parents and family to go to a fortune teller and learn about the favorable names, like the five or 10 names that mean success or good luck and good fortune and all that. So there’s a lot that goes into a Chinese name. An Ethiopian name—it’s like your first name, but then your father’s name and your grandfather’s name. So I would be Jolene Gary Henry, and it would mean something, it would mean something meaningful. 

So many of the other countries have these origin names that are so important, and when people come to the country they’re asked to, “You got to speak English. Don’t wear your native dress. No, we do things differently here. You got to be American.” So you’re asked to drop all your culture at the door and you have at least your name, but no, we’re going to give you a nickname. We’re going to rename you like you’re a slave. You know, it’s like you’re mine to rename. So I have a whole program about that on my website. I also have free resources talking about the importance because my name is Jolene, Dolly Parton sings about it, It’s not a hard name. I don’t know what it means really. I mean, it’s not that important to me, but to other people, there is a high significance. 

Brian Washburn: And you also touched upon this other idea that people should– they shouldn’t feel like they have to walk on eggshells, right? So if they make a mistake, acknowledge the mistake, learn from the mistake, take 30 seconds, and be embarrassed, but it can really save like a world of hurt for other people. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong and Make Mistakes

Silence is violence. Silence is compliance. I don't think we have time, but it's like, I talk about that and how I lost my whole network, my white network, because they don't want to be involved with somebody who talks about their Asianness.

Jolene Jang: Yes. Because with your centering yourself, like “I don’t want to be embarrassed.” Well basically “Brian, I’m– you know, your name Washburn, what is it? I remember you’re not worth it. You’re not worth remembering and I’m not going to take the effort.” It is a lack of effort because either I am lazy or I’m embarrassed. So when you can make a mistake, it was in order to help. We’re all going to make mistakes. I make mistakes all the time and I will continue doing it because then I learn. Silence is violence. Silence is compliance. I don’t think we have time, but it’s like, I talk about that and how I lost my whole network, my white network, because they don’t want to be involved with somebody who talks about their Asianness. We like the happy fun specialist, Jolene, the one who’s always out there doing fun things and singing and whatever. And so that silence is really painful.  

Brian Washburn: Yeah. Why are you always talking about this? Life is good. Come on. Can’t we– right?

Jolene Jang: Shut off the news!

Brian Washburn: Yeah. So one of the tricky questions that I’d love to hear your thoughts on gets into this idea of training and limited budgets for training teams. 

Jolene Jang: Mhm.

Brian Washburn: And so after hearing you know a conversation like this, some people might think, “Huh. Maybe I need to go back and look at the imagery that’s in my eLearning course, or some of the language even, some of the colloquialisms that I have in there, but we also have all these new programs that we need to create. Maybe I’ll just kind of use this new learning on the new programs.” What is your philosophy? Should people after kind of being aware that perhaps their current materials aren’t as inclusive as they should be, should people go spend time and money going back and changing already existing materials? Or should they just say, “You know what, now I know I’ll do better the next time I create something.” 

Budget-Friendly Ways to Design Inclusive Training Programs

When you are talking about diversity, please use people to represent us. I'm just, I'm tired of people of color being represented by paintbrushes and balls of yarn and crayons, inanimate objects, and colored puzzle pieces. We are people.

Jolene Jang: I don’t know. Some of that training is really old. So if it’s really old, then it probably is really offensive and not up to date and not ADA standards. And so I think it depends on what we’re talking about, but that’s where, you know, somebody might call me and ask me, “Like, well, what do you think about this?” And I can say, “Oh, that’s not my expertise on this particular one,” or I can share. But if you have training that was just done and some curriculum, you could also make it better. It’s hard to justify more money, so make it better with adding different names, adding ethnic names, and using examples that are not the two-person family with the straight kid and the– you know, like mix up your examples and that imagery. When you are talking about diversity, please use people to represent us. I’m just, I’m tired of people of color being represented by paintbrushes and balls of yarn and crayons, inanimate objects, and colored puzzle pieces. We are people. So there are ways that you can dress up your current training to refresh it and have it reflect different pronouns and that sort of thing. 

Brian Washburn: And before we get out of here, I want to make sure that I give you a chance just to share for people who are listening. This can be a really difficult thing to get started, right? It’s a big topic. What would be your advice for somebody who’s thinking, “All right, I would like to do better, I don’t know where to start”?

Mix it up and please make mistakes. It is very fruitful. That means you're doing something. You know, when I don't get nervous for a long time, I'm like, I'm not doing it right.

Jolene Jang: Well, if you want to be more inclusive in general, start. Like silence is compliance. That’s what you’ve always been doing. It’s painful. There’s so much. The world is a tough place, and so doing nothing, that is offensive. So start with some podcasts. Just bring in more inputs, more into your feed, whether you’re on LinkedIn or you’re on Spotify or YouTube, bring in other voices intersex voices. Like intersex, what’s that? Well, it’s part of the LGBTQI, hey! Indigenous voices, Hawaiian voices, listen to Two Disabled Dudes podcast. If you don’t do podcasts, add people to your feed on YouTube and on Netflix. Oh, New Amsterdam. That is– that talks about all the issues that are out there right now. So there’s ways that it’s not painful, it’s actually really interesting. And I think that people who are more knowledgeable are way more interesting. I don’t want to be with dull people who do the same thing all day long. That’s boring. I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t even want to talk to you. You bore me to tears. So mix it up and please make mistakes. It is very fruitful. That means you’re doing something. You know, when I don’t get nervous for a long time, I’m like, I’m not doing it right. You gotta be nervous once in a while and make sure that you are challenging yourself. And because I’m rather confident, it’s hard for me to be nervous. So I got to keep pushing. And I’m sorry, Brian, I’m not nervous today. But that’s cause I was on Oprah. So anyway.

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING) I know my place. I’m totally fine. Jolene, before we finish, how can people find you if they want to talk with you or learn more about your work? 

We've got to start talking about it, that's where we can try and solve things.

Jolene Jang: Well, I am very lucky being an Asian—there’s only one Jolene Jang. Because if you meet a John Chen or Sarah Wong, like good luck finding them on LinkedIn. So Jolene Jang, ENE, and I’m on YouTube and my website, and I’ll be starting a blog soon because I just have to share stories. And then a podcast will be to follow soon. I do have thousands of videos where we’re talking candidly like this with Asian Americans and also white folks and black folks to try and bring conversation around race and ethnicity and disability because we’ve got to start talking about it, that’s where we can try and solve things.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely. Jolene, thank you so much for giving me some time, and thank you, everyone, for listening to this episode, which I think is really, really important. If you also agree and think that this is really important, then go ahead and share this podcast with other people that you know. If you would like to know every time that there’s a new podcast that’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple or Spotify, wherever you listen to podcasts. Even better is if you give us a like or a review. 

Until next time,  happy training, everyone.

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