Episode Transcript

Real Talk About Diversity with Jackie Steele



[00:00:07] BS: Hey, you’re listening to Love Your Enthusiasm, the show where creators, teachers, and explorers share techniques and inspiration to help you stay focused on your passion. I’m your host, Britt Skrabanek.

My guest today is diversity educator, advocate, and feminist thought leader, Jackie Steele. In this episode, Jackie talks about her passion for diversity and innovation and Taiko as well. Jackie is a political scientist, who is an expert in diversity and gender equality policies, diverse talent mobilization, and inclusive decision-making.

Over the past several years, the diversity and inclusion discussion has become more and more prominent. I’m excited to share Jackie’s expertise and perspective with you all today. I personally learned a ton from Jackie during our time together.

Without further ado, please enjoy this important conversation with Jackie.


[00:01:33] BS: Hi, Jackie. Welcome to the show.

[00:01:35] JS: Hi. Thank you for having me.

[00:01:37] BS: I’m so excited to have you here. You are in Japan.

[00:01:42] JS: Yes. Northern Nagano.

[00:01:44] BS: Okay, cool. I think I’ve had two, maybe – No. I think, three people from Japan now on the show. One, you know, who is Angela Ortiz, who is super awesome and she introduced us to each other.

[00:01:57] JS: Yes. I’m so grateful.

[00:01:58] BS: Me too. Angela is fantastic. As a side note, because I do recommend her episode to the other listeners and we’ll get into a similar topic a little bit later. Angela Ortiz’s episode is actually one of the top episodes of all time on the show. She is Episode 26. Just a wonderful conversation that we had. I definitely recommend it to the listeners. I know Jackie listened to it as well.

[00:02:25] JS: Yes. It was great.

[00:02:27] BS: It was. The bar is set high in Japan.

[00:02:34] JS: I feel like I need to say, “Ganbarimasu.” That’s what we say in Japanese, like, “I will persevere.”

[00:02:39] BS: That’s right. I love it. You speak, is it three languages that you speak. Is that right?

[00:02:45] JS: Yes, exactly. I learned French growing up in Canada. Then was very interested in language as a result of that. Then I decided, “Hey, let’s challenge another language.” Japanese was offered at my high school. I went, “Well, okay. I guess, that solves that.”

[00:03:01] BS: Narrows it down.

[00:03:03] JS: Yeah. It’s a bit of an anticlimactic answer when people in Japan have asked me for 25 years, “Why did you want to learn Japanese? Or what was your interest in Japan?” It’s sort of, “Well, it was the only language on offer.” That led to an interest in Japan, ultimately, that was more deep than just the language. Yeah, it was an accidental entry point, I guess, into Japan. That this has really fundamentally changed my life course. That’s interesting.

[00:03:32] BS: The Japanese come easily to you, or not? Because I’ve heard it’s a pretty difficult language.

[00:03:38] JS: I mean, I did French immersion. I think, based on when you do an immersion in one language, you really strengthen your oral ability to pick up languages through learning by ear. I think that really prepared me then to do another language and have strong learning by ear. I was already doing music and piano and things, so there’s combination of how music and languages all reinforce how your brain learns to code different languages, I guess.

I found it very accessible in my high school for three years. I had a fabulous teacher. The kanji, of course, it just takes time to really invest in learning. I really found kanji to be so beautiful, and so picturesque in the way that it articulated concepts in a visual representation that was so different from boring alphabetic letters.

[00:04:29] BS: Yeah. It’s totally different.

[00:04:31] JS: Totally. I really loved the aesthetic side of kanji and the Japanese characters. I think, that really kept motivating me to really want to learn and go into the etymology and the genealogy of where these words came from and why are they put in these three little pictographs together makes this combination of a concept. I found that fascinating. The philosophical aesthetic side, I really, really loved.

[00:04:56] BS: Very cool. Well, I know that a big passion for you that I’m excited to learn about, because I know literally nothing about it is Taiko. Can you talk about your passion for Taiko as well?

[00:05:09] JS: Yeah. I guess, for the first time, I saw one of my girlfriends in Montreal. I guess, I met her in Ottawa and we worked together when I was an undergrad at McGill. From [inaudible 00:05:23], a summer part-time job, we ended up working for this conference hosting company in Ottawa and we were doing the welcome guiding activities together. Throughout that, we were the two Japanese speakers. I was doing Japanese studies in McGill and she was a Japanese-Canadian who spoke Japanese as well.

We got to go to this conference, where literally we were put out as the – I don’t know. In Japan, we would call it the ohana. It’s like the flower girls. You’re the you’re the flower decorations that are welcoming everybody to the conference. I know that’s very condescending and gender stereotyping, and it is in the way that pans out. That’s ultimately what we were asked to do at this conference that was bringing Japanese businessmen to Canada to this conference.

Through that weekend that we had to spend in New Brunswick for this conference, we got to be really good friends. Later when she moved to Montreal and she was involved in a Taiko community in Montreal, and this Taiko group is called Arashi Daiko and they’re fabulous. She let me know that there was going to be a concert. The concert was going to be putting on three Taiko groups, the group in Ottawa called Oto-Wa Taiko, the group from Montreal, her group, Arashi Daiko and the group from Toronto.

I was so excited, because I was doing Japanese studies at McGill and I was living in Montreal, and it was going to be at the McGill campus. I went to go see. Wow, just blew my mind, this powerful performance, teams working together, playing the Japanese taiko drums with the most beautiful rhythms and choreography and expressiveness. You can feel the heartbeat of the drums. I just thought, “Wow. I’m going to learn that performing arts.” It’s so powerful.

Once I got to Japan, literally, I graduated and the following year, I was off to Northern Nagano and the city where I am still today. The first thing I did was I was like, “What’s the local taiko group?” I joined the local taiko group here called [inaudible 00:07:22]. It was just the most beautiful opportunity to not only be immersed in a team solidarity, building space. When you get on the stage and you’re a team performing together, it’s like magic. It’s both art, it’s music and it’s just magic. You’re so in the moment when you’re performing taiko. Your whole body is engaged.

It’s not only musically exciting, but it’s also an amazing workout. It’s a full-body workout. You’re using your legs, your arms, your head, your everything is engaged. You’re using dance moves, choreography, and rhythm, all in together, in tandem with the rest of your teammates. We call it kumi daiko, because you’re working as a group, or a kumi, to do this performance. It’s an actually newer version. Kumi daiko as a performance art is more post-World War II and it really was inspired by a lot of the work that’s now quintessentially tied to Kodo, which is a very famous Japanese Taiko wadaiko performing arts group, based on Sado island in the north of Japan, that’s inspired many people worldwide. I recommend it to everybody for the mental health, for the physical fitness, engagement, and of course, for the musical engagement and the community building. It’s amazing.

[00:08:43] BS: I love that you said how performing together, there’s this magic to it. That’s what I’ve always said as well about dancing. Even as simple as all of us getting together in a ballet class and that moment at the bar when we all hold the bar and start moving together in plies. It always gives me the chills, even – even though I’ve been dancing my whole life. I totally get it.

There’s something about people moving together in unison and feeling that rhythm and as you said, feeling the heartbeat of the drums, or feeling the heartbeat, or the music. It really is a magical experience. I hope that even if people don’t do that performance or movement, that they’re able to capture that feeling some other way, because that is pretty cool.

[00:09:36] JS: Exactly. I think in fact, in North America, taiko communities have really, I think, had a strong resurgence and building over the last 40 years, because it is such a beautiful engagement and physical fitness and musical engagement that you can do within a community. It’s not just about the performance, right? It’s the whole working and practicing together behind the scenes. Even if you don’t necessarily get put in a lineup to go on in the performance ultimately, or you can’t make the performance, you’re still working together behind the scenes, building up that – well, I guess there’s a togetherness and reading each other’s rhythms in how you play together. The more you practice together, the more you get a sense of that team expression that you’re going to deliver to eventually, whatever audience you are performing it for.

It’s in the doing, I think, and in the practicing together, and then getting out the drums and taking care of the drums and packing the drums up together. There’s all of these different tasks that go into running a taiko group successfully in solidarity with one another. I think it’s such a beautiful space of building civic engagement as well. In Canada, certainly, I performed with a group in Ottawa, so Oto-Wa Taiko for many years. I also performed as a group in Sendai for many years called [inaudible 00:11:04]. Then in Kawasaki, a group called Soul Taiko.

In each of those spaces, and certainly within the Canadian context, our taiko communities in Canada are very tied to the Japanese-Canadian community. There’s an element of raising awareness about Japanese culture. In some ways, I think, challenging stereotypes and challenging racism through a backdoor stealth mechanism of demonstrating pride for Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian identity within Canada. That kind of an anti-racist element by stealth, if you will, done through a very positive performance art, I think, is really powerful.

Certainly, we have so many women in our group. Then, it was also a means of challenging stereotypes about Asian women, or Japanese women, because the strength that you can perform and show, as well as the beauty and aesthetic, but really the strength required to pound those drums in a beautiful way, also was having that element of activism, through taiko, in a subtle, like in a really subtle way that I think was very positive.

[00:12:10] BS: Yeah. It sounds like a really beautiful way to express yourself with other people and to learn about another culture. I mean, I even from a young age, learned how to do dances from all over the world. I was really fortunate to be able to have some teachers who taught us how to do salsa, or tango, or all these different dance forms. It’s a great way to learn about other cultures through their art.

[00:12:37] JS: I couldn’t agree more with you, Britt. I mean, I know there’s a lot of soft cross-cultural understanding that happens that tokenizes a culture to be, “Oh, it’s Multiculturalism Day, let’s bring out the salsa dance. Let’s bring out the taiko group. Let’s bring out.” You do get a lot of that tokenization of certain parts of the folkloric dress, or the songs, or the dances of cultures. We sometimes do that in a way that isn’t empowering in the way it’s used at multicultural festivals.

I think, there’s the whole other element of awareness-raising, where it is an inroad. It is ultimately an accessible inroad to try and build curiosity towards another culture and to pique, I think, people’s interest to say, “Hey, in our culture, we do this kind of a dance. In that other culture, they do that dance.” Well, oh, that’s interesting. Well, so then maybe we’re not so different after all. We still have this commonality of needing dance and music as a part of humanity and a part of lifting up the soul. I think, in that sense, it is those cross-cultural exchanges can be an entry point. You don’t stop there. It’s an end. I think it’s positive.

[00:13:52] BS: Awesome. Okay. Jackie, today, we need to talk about your greatest passion in addition to your passion for taiko. I’d love to learn more about your journey as a diversity educator and advocate. How did this become your greatest passion?

[00:14:13] JS: Oh, that’s a challenging question.

[00:14:16] BS: You’re welcome.

[00:14:21] JS: Oh, gosh. I’ve always been raised in a family and with parents who were strong advocates of respect for difference and respect for others, notwithstanding where they’re from, or if they speak English with an accent, or if they have a different religion or skin color. Or if whatever the differences are, certainly my parents welcomed all different types of our neighbors in a very multicultural neighborhood in the suburbs of Vancouver. They just always made an effort.

They had a small town, Canada, rural Alberta upbringing, where neighborliness and civics is just really essential. Probably at the time through their own upbringing, it was probably also a part of their Christian upbringing. Frankly, a little bit that the civics and the Christianity was mixed together. To be a good citizen and a good neighbor, you needed to be respectful of others and to be welcoming into the community. That was very much a part of my upbringing within our family.

I think it prepares you for when you’re feeling may be marginalized based on certain parts of your own identity that you then go, “I wonder why these individuals are pushing me to the side for that reason?” Well, that’s not the way I was taught. That’s not the way I was taught to treat other people’s differences in my family.

You have a core value that you come back to. I think from that point, fighting injustice and social inequality, I think, that consciousness just was built through my upbringing. Then, I think another maybe really important eureka moment, if I could mention it, would be, I was studying at McGill. I was in third year of a four-year undergrad. I was doing Canadian politics within my political science degree and I was doing a double degree program, so I could continue to the Japanese studies focus and do the Japanese language intensively.

I was finding that within political science, I was focusing on Canadian politics and citizenship, and the diversity frameworks within Canadian federalism, within the Canadian Constitution, and then grappling with this idea that we accommodate diversity in Canada as a nation that says, okay, we were a country born of – so the mythology goes to founding nations of the English-British Protestant community that settled Canada, but then also, the war between Britain and France meant that the French-Canadian Catholic population that was predominantly located in what we call Quebec today, was colonized, but allowed to keep their language and religion.

Within federalism and the creation of Canada, you had to have this core power-sharing arrangement, so that French-Canadian Catholics could self-govern according to their own differences from the British-English speaking Protestant rulers.

Of course, there’s the whole trouble history of the colonization of First Nations that we are still grappling with in Canada and still trying to solve and still trying to work through reconciliation with our First Nations communities, and thinking about how that changes the narrative of the founding of Canada. I guess I was seeing like, diversity is so part of what we say to be the founding moment of Canada. Yet, why are there no women in electoral politics? Why are there so few women in Parliament? Why are there so few –

[00:18:05] BS: Good question.

[00:18:06] JS: Why are there so few immigrant descent, racialized Canadians in the Canadian Parliament? Why is it a white Parliament? What’s going on? We have such a multicultural country. I just thought, there is a disconnect between our promise and our rhetoric around the diversity that is core to our founding nation story of Canada. The fact that we haven’t take seriously the political freedoms and the right to self-government of women within parliament and with all local assemblies of self-government, but also of the racialized diversity in multicultural Canada and of course, in First Nations. Then thinking through LGBTQ communities weren’t really showing up and having a lot of representation, nor were people with disabilities.

As I went from that questioning to say, I’m trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on. These questions are circling my mind about what is the difference that we privilege what we call people’s, like nation people’s, or cultures as a group having the right to self-government, but we don’t take seriously the right of social groups that don’t have territory, who don’t have a territorial base to create a nation. Of course, women and men gender is cross-cutting across all nation-states. It’s not like, women all live in one country and you can give them self-government. There’s about out everywhere.

We need to then, mainstream self-government and power-sharing between women and men and non-binary individuals now that we’ve known also recognition of non-binary concepts of gender. During my degree at McGill, I started this course that was phenomenal. It was called Radical Democratic Politics. I fell in love. I just fell in love with the course material. It was the first time after having read the classics, which is literally – Western political theory is a whole bunch of dead guys. You had guys from Europe.

[00:20:01] BS: I understand. I don’t know if you heard this and you listened to one of my podcast interviews, so you got to know me a little bit. I got an international studies degree from University of North Texas.

[00:20:13] JS: Oh, my gosh. I’m sorry.

[00:20:15] BS: Yeah. It was political science and history and anthropology. I know exactly what you mean. I also had a lot of fantastic teachers there, including one professor who was from Iraq. We had some decent diversity on the teaching staff there. I really appreciated that. I was able to get outside of my bubble quite a bit, which was good.

[00:20:48] JS: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s so problematic when we’re teaching only one version of history and one version of Western political theory and one dominant narrative about, well, a whole bunch of privileged propertied and white men came together and created what we now know to be democracy. Yay. Bravo. Let’s think about their innovations and contributions and thought leadership to the exclusion of all of the others who were not considered to be citizens, or have rights at the time, including women.

Either that, wow, am I ever going to read women’s thought leadership or anti-racist thought leadership. This course, radical democratic politics, it was a re-reading of all of this classic Western political philosophy and political theory from black feminists critique, legal studies, critical race studies, radical democratic politics, in terms of how we radicalize what we mean by democracy and democratization so that it works for generating equality for everyone. Not just the few who are the power holders at any given time in a given society, or the power-holding culture, or the power-holding national group, or religious group, or linguistic group, or all of those identities.

It brought so much into clarity for me, in terms of saying, “Okay.” Now I understand the broad macrolevel norms and discourses and narratives and mythologies about male privilege and male supremacy, that are just subversively channeled into all of what we’re being taught, or about white supremacy, or about heterosexual, normalcy, and everything else being deviant. All of that was brought out.

We read lesbian authors, black lesbian authors, indigenous authors, indigenous women authors from Canada and from the United States and from other countries, anti-colonialism literature. It was the best course ever. From that, I just found, I ended up going to Japan for my three years to immerse myself and work for a local government, and to try – In some ways, I could think critically to say, well, in Canada, these are the ways that we talk about Canada. Of course, in Japan, they’re only really getting stereotypical tiny little bits about Canada, that then are tokenized. Canada equals diversity, multiculturalism. You have more advanced gender equality. You have this, that, and the other, and you have maple syrup.

[00:23:28] BS: Of course. Yes, maple syrup.

[00:23:30] JS: That was the baseline knowledge that people took to be unproblematic. Then I would say, but actually, we actually have a really strong history of racism in Canada. Colonization of our first nations or we interned Japanese Canadians during World War II and they’re like, “What? Japan was at war with Canada? What?” I can at least then, I guess, in my grassroots work, working with a local government, trying to bring what they called international exchange. For me, which meant, okay, let’s build local democratization a little bit through these literacy building moments of togetherness, that then I can share not only the best of Canada, because yes, I’m supposed to represent Canada and be proud of that.

For me, that means also bringing in the humility that Canada has made a lot of different mistakes. We didn’t get to where we are on inclusion and multiculturalism and reconciliation, or gender equality, or LGBTQ, same-sex marriage equality. We didn’t get there without a struggle for democratization and without massive movements within Canada grassroots social movements, fighting against the injustices that were very present in Canada, and remain present.

It’s a labor of love. Democracy is a labor of love. For me, as someone who now is working as a political scientist for 25 years and as a diversity advocate, what it comes down to is, I just love the promise of democracy and democratic self-government, because I see it as such an important tool to freedom. Not just freedom for the people who are property holders and have power and influence, because that’s not what democracy is about. That’s maybe what capitalism is about, but that’s definitely not what democracy is meant to be about.

That led to when I came back from Japan, I went into working with a women’s organization at the federal level, that was basically working on how to get legislative reform to our laws and policies in Canada so that we had all of the diversity of women in Canada, all of those realities, enriching our policy frameworks and our laws so that it was – those laws were working and giving equal benefit of the law to all of those diverse women in Canada. That was one of the most exciting projects to work with the National Association of Women and the law in Canada and with coalitions of women’s organizations across the country. Just fabulously powerful. We were a force for democratization.

I went to Korea for an academic conference a couple of years ago, and there was this amazing shirt that I wish I had bought and I need to figure out where to find one. It basically said, “Feminism perfects democracy.” I think that is so true. I mean, if democracy was, in some ways, white, Western European men’s thought leadership. Well, diversity feminism for me, is women’s thought leadership about perfecting what inequalities in democracy we haven’t solved yet.

[00:26:34] BS: Awesome. Thank you, Jackie. Also, it was really cool for me to learn all of that about Canada because you were talking about people in Japan and what they know about Canada. I think the same can be said for people in the United States. Just down south. It’s just amazing how little we know about our neighbors because we just learn about it.

[00:27:01] JS: No, it’s true. I think in some ways, I think Canada, frankly, is also too shy to get out there in some ways. We need to do and Canadian representatives and public officials and I don’t know, through our foreign policy strategy. I’ve got an op-ed coming out that I wrote with a colleague. I keep for the last five years, in particular, thinking, why doesn’t Canada get out there and share more about who we are, what we believe in, what our thought leadership is on diversity and inclusion as a citizenship model? Why don’t we share that more openly and actively?

There’s almost a, I don’t know, a lack of confidence, or a humility about Canadianness, that we don’t get out there and say, actually, we’ve got a pretty good model to offer other countries, if you’re looking for one. It’s in the shadows of United States, that does go out building and say, “We are the symbol of freedom.” The Canadians are going, “Really?” Keeping that, “I don’t know that you’re the model in the United States.”

We don’t get out there and put out the Canadian model then, with pride and with not necessarily with arrogance, but at least just putting it out there in a more active way would be so welcomed, I think because there’s a lot of rich success in the Canadian statecraft and law and policy. I mean, we’ve been practicing intersectional diversity as a public policy tool for over 30 years, I would say. Not perfectly. By any means, it’s not perfect and we don’t do it at all local through national levels, but we do take seriously this need to say, let’s map out the full diversities of the population. Let’s have good disaggregated data from Statistics Canada that knows from the surveys and the census of who our population is. Let’s make sure that our laws and policies are aligned and responsive to the needs of our actual diverse population.

We do really have a strong scientific evidence-based approach. Plus, combined with this intersectional diversity tool that in fact, when I was working with the National Association of Women and the Law, we were using that framework in how we were analyzing laws and policies that were falling short in integrating diversity for women. Certainly, that’s something that came very much out of a lot of the feminist legal studies, and intersectionality was coined – the term was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, who was a law professor in the United States. It has blossomed really since she coined and wrote that article.

Is really core to feminist movement, activism in the United States and Canada. Now is this rich public policy tool that I’m extremely passionate about and using very much in my work as a diversity educator here in Japan, and have been doing in my political science and research for the last 15 years in academia, in I guess, the Japanese national university system.

It’s just evidence-based and also, principled, and conceptually rich, so we don’t have to cut corners. We really don’t have to cut corners. I think statecraft is an art. It’s scientifically-based, it’s evidence-based, but it’s also an art and it’s philosophically driven by a commitment to anti-oppression. If you have statecraft that works for anti-oppression and anti-inequality, so you’re dismantling inequality by design intentionally and your lawmakers and your public policy professionals and your civil servants can understand and work towards that. Wow, how much faster can we move as a society to build inclusion and innovation, frankly, that’s really cutting-edge in making our societies vibrant?

[00:30:50] BS: Absolutely. It’s a little appalling to see how slow government still moves in today’s day and age. I don’t understand it with all of the technology and just the digital transformation that has happened in so many other areas, including small businesses, especially over the last year. Then, it seems like our governments are still just, I don’t know, stuck in the dinosaur age. I can’t figure it out.

[00:31:23] JS: If I can go a little bit more philosophical and historically contextual, we really have seen in the last 40 to 50 years a neoliberal shift to say, “You know what? Big government is bad and governments don’t work for the population, and they just take all of our tax dollars, and then they don’t help us. [Inaudible 00:31:43] everything to the private sector. Companies are really efficient. Companies get everything done. We should work for lower taxes for companies and put the money back in the hands of the individual citizen, to give their money to a private sector company.

As you’ve seen this full onslaught of ideas and the knowledge system saying, governments aren’t there to provide freedom and equality. They’re just taking our tax dollars. You’ve got this huge anti-democratic, anti-democracy, anti-self-government philosophy that has been capturing the minds of citizens, particularly in the United States, and even to some extent in Canada for the last easily, 40, 50 years.

Increasingly, then citizens are thinking, “Oh, well. What does the government do for me? Why should I pay taxes for that?” Yet, if we don’t pool our baseline tax dollars into some safety net, we just leave that to the private sector, then we live in a capitalist society. A capitalist society without democracy is also full of tyranny. It’s the tyranny of the market. It’s the tyranny of anybody who has money has control over those who do not. You have no say. There is no self-government in companies. There is no right to have access to recourse really meaningfully within private sector spaces. Because a company is owned by the president and whoever creates that company, they own it, it’s their property, they can decide how things are run internally to that company, to the extent that they’re not really violating the law.

Even if they’re violating the law, you would need to take them to court and have enough money to take them to court to prove that they violated your rights and freedoms. If we abandon the commitment to democratic self-government and investments in, we do decide to pull some of our resources as citizens sharing a territory and a space together to have one Canada universal healthcare so that no one is making a choice of not taking their child to the doctor, because they can’t afford it.

We need to have certain safety nets. We need to have access to universal daycare, which we have in Japan for working, to working families, or if you’re a single parent working and you’re gainfully employed, there’s access. There’s universal access to daycare. There’s still a shortage of daycare spots in the greater Tokyo area, but there is this move to say, we need to have a common infrastructure of safety net for the core elements of our healthcare, our daycare, our childcare, our eldercare.

Because if we don’t work together as a society, then we get into really deep divides of economic wealth. As that exacerbates, the promise of self-government really fails to be meaningful anymore, because it’s really a society where if you have money, you have voice. If you have money, you have power. If you have money, you have influence. If you don’t have money, well, good luck with that. Good luck.

[00:34:51] BS: If you have money, you have care, you have healthcare.

[00:34:55] JS: You can buy it all. You can buy it all.

[00:34:58] BS: You can take care of your family and yourself because you can buy that.

[00:35:01] JS: You can turn inward, right? You can say, “Oh, I’ve got enough money to look after myself. I’ll just go, care me, myself, and I. I look after me, myself and I and my family.” You’ve got this divide, where people no longer have a sense of civic-mindedness of saying, No, I actually care what happens to my neighbors and I actually care what happens to people in my broader community. I actually care when the economy tanks, because of a global pandemic. Because what happens to all the other businesses who go bankrupt, means I can no longer have access to my services anymore.”

There is a core interdependence that the philosophy of saying capitalism will solve everything for us. No, it won’t. The more that capitalism cannibalizes democracy, or democratic institutions and takes them hostage and makes them only work for people who are giving campaign contributions to elected officials and only those people have voice.

Democracy is supposed to be about the majority having a say in their self-government, but also protection from minorities against that majority, if they’re violating and going too far and taking up too much space and not making it livable for people who are, for example, LGBTQ, or people who are racialized in North America.

If the majorities are crowding out the space of freedom for the minorities, that’s also not democratic. The global pandemic has shown how interdependent we are. I mean, today is the anniversary, the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.

I mean, I was in Sendai 10 years ago with a seven-month-old baby. Your first lifelines are your neighbors, your community, people within walking distance of you. If we don’t keep building a sense of civic-mindedness and caregiving for our neighbors in our communities, in our local to national political community of we’re self-governing together, these are the shared rules we think would be effective for us to get along and have our differences, but also cooperate.

Let’s think about what those shared rules of engagement and rules of togetherness should be. Let’s all give our voice to the elected representatives to help those representatives decide the rules of togetherness. We have to caregive that and we have to be vigilant to keep caregiving that. If we turn inward and say, “I’m going to delegate all of that to representatives and I’m just going to check out. I’m going to check out on democracy and self-government because I’m too busy. It’s too much work to follow all the information of what’s happening, or I just don’t care, because I have enough money and I can look after myself and my family.” It’s such a danger. I think we saw when that happens, we’ve seen. We’ve seen in the last too many years –

[00:37:47] BS: So much of that over the last year.

[00:37:49] JS: – what happens when democratic self-government is taken for granted and liberty, and protection and equality are taken for granted as achieved when they’re never achieved. It’s always a labor of love. The work of democratization never ends. We need to keep vigilant because we are our first lifeline for each other. I think that ethical role of self-government and really thinking about that as a balance, a counterbalance to capitalism. They go together. We need the freedoms within the free market economy, but we also need the freedoms of democracy and they balance each other. We need to keep that in a really good equilibrium, so one doesn’t take over the other.

[00:38:33] BS: Jackie, I’d love to know which impactful life event made you have a deeper appreciation for diversity.

[00:38:44] JS: There’s been many, I’m sure. I think, maybe in terms of – I mean, I had been doing, as I said, intersectional diversity and intersectional analysis of diversity as it affects law and policy design, since my McGill days and then working with the women’s organizations in Canada, in my 20s. I think, when I lived through the triple disaster 10 years ago, today, in Japan. Anyhow, it’s March 11th in Japan morning. What I came to realize was I had been pursuing a policy and research – a feminist policy and research agenda, as a professor at the University of Tokyo, and had predominantly been – my main core passion had been diversifying democratic institutions. No surprise there.

I was looking at policy design mechanisms and electoral systems design mechanisms worldwide, gender quotas, ethnic cultural quotas, quotas for people with disabilities and electoral offices, quotas for generational diversity, so making sure that younger citizens were getting electoral representation. Looking at what political parties were doing in different countries, and also looking at what the laws were regulating, mandating and then making, imposed on all political parties to even the playing field, so that all political parties had to abide by these DNI inclusion rules, really, for electoral competition.

That flattening of the playing – leveling of the playing field of electoral competition with those rules of engagement really mean, you can diversify democratic institutions and you can diversify parties much quicker, and in a sustainable fashion that really generated results. If you maintained these rigorous electoral rules of inclusion and diversification of the candidates that would come through political parties and then into parliament, by three and four electoral cycles, you really could change dramatically who was holding power and the power-sharing that you were getting built into your legislative body. That was very exciting.

Ultimately, if we can diversify the decision-making institutions, then the voices and the diversity that needs to be heard in Parliament, at those moments of debate, can make sure that the laws and policies that get adopted don’t have as many blind spots. That the laws are more holistically built and that they’re more innovative and they’re more responsive to the full diversity of the population.

For me, the stepping stone to really getting inclusion and diverse citizenship, and really meaningful equality and anti-oppression was to say, we need to first, diversify our instances of this decision-making at all levels look to national. We lived through the triple disaster. I was living in Sendai. I had a spouse from Quebec, who was not speaking Japanese. She and I had a seven-month-old child. We were not a recognized family by Japanese law, because there is no recognition of same-sex partnerships, common law, or married. We’re living as foreigners, foreign nationals in Japan.

I thought I’m a Japanese speaker. I’m fluent in Japanese. I can tune in to the NHK Japan broadcasting radio and follow what’s going on to get the minute-to-minute updated information on what’s happening, what is the disaster response, what’s happening with the tsunami; trying to educate myself real-time in the immediate aftermath of that event. I thought, “Wow, what happened to the foreigners all across Tohoku, who don’t speak Japanese? What are they doing now and how are they coping? What’s the disaster response mechanism of the local communities, the local governments?”

I mean, I worked for three years at the local government in Northern Nagano. I’m thinking, “I wonder.” Having experienced that, I thought, “I’m sure, they probably – most of those local governments absolutely don’t have a multilingual response prepared to make sure that there’s baseline information in Korean and Chinese and English. Yet there is local multiculturalism on all sorts of regions of Japan.” I thought, wow, disaster risk governance, disaster risk reduction, or what we call emergency management, I guess, in North America. How is that a feminist policy issue? How is that so deeply connected to diversity and inclusion, and making sure that equality in peace times – if we don’t ensure equality and peace times, then oh, my goodness, equality in a post-disaster context is exacerbating all of those marginalizations, all of the exclusions. The disaster exacerbates and magnifies that compound to the nth degree.

[00:43:37] BS: I didn’t even think about that, Jackie. It just gives me the chills thinking about it. I do want to just give a quick side note here, just for the listeners who aren’t as familiar with this. Jackie wanted to record her interview today, and Japan is 3/11. This is something that Angela Ortiz talked about in great detail in her episode of Love Your Enthusiasm. In March 2011, in Tohoku, Japan, there was the triple disaster as a tsunami and earthquake and a nuclear meltdown. Correct?

[00:44:10] JS: Right. The earthquake magnitude, just unprecedented size of an earthquake, that then yes, led to an unprecedented tsunami that wiped out the whole coast; a huge area of the coastline off of Tohoku. To the extent that it also affected the nuclear power plant that was very close to the coast in Fukushima, and led to the problem with the nuclear power plant coming under dysfunctionality and leaking.

It’s been 10 years, and we’ve been rebuilding for 10 years. That experience made my whole research shift. I decided, okay, I need to work on diversity, gender, the exclusions around gender, and the full understanding of intersectional diversity that comes with disaster risk reduction policymaking in Japan, and also at the international level. I shifted. I just completely shifted and said, I need to bring these Canadian feminist policy frameworks and the political science frameworks and the law frameworks that we use in Canada for so many years with success, to do this analysis, and to bring that perception of the challenges to say, let’s change the way we think about disaster risk reduction in Japan, how we think about reconstruction that the government was pursuing and the reconstruction council would be created, but there would be one woman.

You have a whole council that you forgot to include, like women’s representation in the disaster reconstruction council, and then the reconstruction agency being created. There wasn’t a gender equality section that would be making sure that gender equality considerations were mainstream. Well, 50% of the population that needs rebuilding and reconstruction of their lives and having their needs responsibly taken care of our women. Yet, those realities of all that women are managing in Japan and women in Japan manage the caregiving for children, for elderly, for people with disabilities, for children with disabilities, for adults who have any additional challenges. The women disproportionately in Japan 90% of the time, are the lifeline for all caregiving.

Yet, you’re going to not have that rich breadth of expertise in a rebuilding strategy of those women from their local grassroots, all the way up to the national level designed into your institutional response, designed into your reconstruction policy and your approach and present in the debates, present in the considerations of what do we need to spend money on and where are the needs?

Women are the lifelines in rural Japan. They know and keep track of each other and know what’s going on across the community. To not have all of that breadth of worldviews and experience and live realities. Reaching that, I thought, wow, that’s going to be a disaster on top of what we’ve just experienced. It’ll be a manmade disaster, a political disaster. I started doing research action with two women’s organizations in Japan. One was led by [inaudible 47:05] and they were building a coalition of women’s organizations across Japan to lobby the national government to say, “Hey, don’t you think you’ve forgotten something?”

They really made some important gains in getting more women on the reconstruction council, appointed to the council, and getting the gender equality section put into the disaster reconstruction agency, making sure that disaster risk was going to be redefined to be a policy issue that needs gender equality inputs and analysis. I tracked that lobbying effort for five years, the last five, six years of my research.

I also tracked young women, young individual women who are in the grassroots in Tohoku, trying to bring their own voices and to be social change agents locally. These are young 20 to 45-year-old women, trying to be the change locally for their communities and working to understand and help the gaps in terms of what the local government in a very male-dominated, analytical framework thinks to be the need of spending on architecture and infrastructure only, but failing to take seriously the social infrastructure and the social architecture of equality and inclusion and diversity, that women’s realities and women’s voices and women’s expertise would bring in and caregiving expertise, and problem-solving expertise at a community level was not being really integrated enough.

It fundamentally changed not only my approach to what democratization and peace times needs to accomplish, so that we are prepared when the disaster hits, and that we don’t have all of these needless manmade inequalities and oppressions further hampering our collective recovery. The pandemic, I think, exposes this. Again, that why is it that now disproportionately, during this global pandemic, is women, because of caregiving, the lack of safety nets, social collective safety nets around caregiving and medical care. That women are having to leave employment during the global pandemic, to be able to caregive family members and therefore, now are going to be economically more unequal moving forward and are being set back, like the gains that we had made over the last 20 to 30 years on women’s economic equality, the pandemic has revealed that.

It hampers the whole economy. It doesn’t just punish women. It punishes women. It punishes women’s spouses and their loved ones and their families and their children’s opportunities and it hampers our whole ability as a society to rebuild and stand back up faster. Getting that interdependence to be taken seriously at the highest levels of political decision-making is I think, for me, the biggest key as a feminist political scientist interested in democratization, but also now is a diversity. When I say a diversity in innovation because for me, it’s innovating democracy within corporations.

As a CEO of enjoi Diversity and Innovation, our company is attempting to say, we’ll help companies bring innovation into their ecosystem and build space for diversity to create a diversity-positive corporate culture, but we need to start with the ecosystem and the design of the corporate ecosystem. Whether or not there is an anti-oppression analysis underpinning, underpinning the policies of how people work together, the rules of engagement within a corporation. Is it working for anti-oppression? Is it working to actively by design, build equality? Are we challenging racism and homophobia and misogyny, at its core of how the company ecosystem works?

If we are, then we’ll get equality, and we’ll get innovation that is sustainable because people show up with all of their unique creativity when all of their diversity is welcome in the ecosystem. They don’t have to hide parts of themselves. They don’t have to fear backlash, because they’re gay or lesbian. They have to fear backlash, because they’re a foreigner, or because they’re a woman who says her mind and oh, they don’t want to be called a difficult woman for speaking your mind.

All of those fears and lack of psychological safety, it hampers the ability for individuals to show up with all of their beautiful, creative powers and radical individuality, to really break their talent to invest full wholeheartedly with their teams to drive innovation. When you’re driving that output towards innovation, you really need to have equality, solidarity, and psychological safety. That means the ecosystem first has to have that anti-oppression lens, and a full build out in the policies and practices of the company.

We’re really talking about democratizing the spaces within companies as a DNI strategy. It’s a business strategy, but it’s also helping the broader framework of the civic engagement of a shared equal space together, to show up and bring our gifts, bring our individual guests to the table. That is, I think, so beautiful if we can support that.

[00:52:21] BS: Okay. Jackie, diversity and inclusion, we’re hearing so much about it now. So much in fact that there’s misinformation that is that is happening as well. I know that we could have a whole other hour-long discussion about this. I’m sure.

[00:52:38] JS: Indeed.

[00:52:40] BS: If you could just in a couple of minutes, maybe even say, maybe what the most common misinformation is, that there’s just the one thing that you hear a lot and what a better approach would be?

[00:52:53] JS: I started paying attention to the diversity and inclusion conversations in Japan and North America, I guess, in the last three years. I was so shocked, first off, by this idea that predominantly, people in these DNI roles and with corporate experiences or their business management backgrounds were saying, “This is the business case for diversity. It’ll help us get more innovation.” I thought that’s an interesting – I started looking for the evidence. Okay, what’s the evidence that they’re citing? Well, they weren’t ever citing any evidence, or there was one research study that was only 200 people in a United States company that was very specific, then that was generalized to the whole world.

I thought, “Wow.” Not only is it bad social science to generalize a tiny little study, to say that we have a business case for diversity leading to innovation as a causal effect. That’s not proven in what I’ve found in the research. Secondly, intuitively, when you have worked on democratization and equality and oppression for as long as I have, you know that within the case of gender, if you take a patriarchal ecosystem, a male-dominated ecosystem, where there is a belief of male supremacy and you add a whole bunch of women into that ecosystem, you just add women and stir, is the joke, you don’t necessarily get a peaceful outcome. You don’t necessarily get an empowering space for women.

You get women facing microaggressions daily. You get women facing sexual harassment. You get women working within ecosystems, where there is no recourse when they are sexually harassed because there’s no one to turn to. There’s a complaint system that is basically, just talk to your superior. If your superior decides to back the male colleague or the male superior above him who was actually harassing you, you’re out of luck.

The mechanisms of recourse, do you have recourse when there is inequality in the ecosystem? What is the recourse? Is there a meaningful check on that violation of power, that in a company, it’s a hierarchy? People in a position of authority over their subordinates are presumed to have the right to give them orders, to tell them what to do and there’s not a lot of recourse for the subordinate to say, “I’m not sure I agree with that.” Because if you want upward mobility, you bite your tongue. This is particularly the case in Japan.

Adding a bunch of women into that space, and this is the strategy, the women on strategy for the last eight years that has been vastly critiqued and that has vastly failed as a policy response and has not moved the dial on gender equality in Japan. It added a whole bunch of women into the paid labor force in company positions. Well, where they are basically at the mercy of an ecosystem and of superiors and of colleagues who do – not all of them, but there is a cultural norm of male supremacy that just isn’t – it’s in the water that you’re swimming in. It’s just in the water.

People tried to say, that’s unconscious bias. It’s not unconscious. It’s pretty conscious. It’s pretty consciously channeled. It’s pretty consciously channeled through the way we speak to women, the way women are spoken to, the way power harassment and sexual harassment manifests, the way women are challenged on their life choices and not seen as having agency to be self-governing, to be independent to their husbands.

If you just add women and stir, or if you just add LGBTQ staff and stir, that’s not a solution. That is not a solution in terms of one, it generates more aggression and psychological violence, and cultural violence towards those minority groups that the ecosystem is not ready to host. Ecosystem has not adapted and been put through a change management, a cultural change shift, where the policies and practices have taken out all of those inegalitarian norms and cultural beliefs and attitudes.

First, we need to work on how the corporate ecosystem is becoming diversity positive. Really making sure that senior leaders are educated on how mindset shift to be diversity positive in the way they manage. Otherwise, we’re just basically exploiting and creating more oppression in the paid labor force for all of those individuals, because we haven’t solved the ecosystem.

This myth that you’ll get more innovation automatically by having a diverse talent force is not true, in the what I’ve seen. It can be true, absolutely, when you build equality in the ecosystem when you build psychological safety into the system when you have senior leaders who have high emotional intelligence, then you absolutely get tons of wonderful spinoff benefits in terms of sustainable innovation over time and creativity.

That myth really needs to be challenged. We need to take seriously that more diversity in these spaces, if it’s not an ecosystem that’s fostering diversity, positive solidarity across differences, it’s just generating a lot of conflict and it’s generating a lot more oppression for those minority positions, those minority groups. I think we need to be very careful about how we see as a quick fix, that just the fact that you have a managerial position, or a great corporate job as a new grad on the market in Japan, with a good company, that’s a good brand, that that’ll solve all your problems of economic standing and status. You go to work every day and you get micro-aggressed, or you get sexually harassed, or you suffer through racial microaggression, or you suffer through homophobic comments of your colleagues.

You can’t have economic equality without all the other pieces of racial and gender and inclusive equality frameworks across disability and LGBTQ. They all are together. We don’t have single-issue lives. We have complete complex lives that bring all of those inequalities into dialogue. We need to solve them all together in a strategic business strategy that we offer DNI as a business strategy that is based in anti-oppression.

It’s a long-time commitment. It means you’re doing it for two to five years to really change your ecosystem. Then you can sustain it so much more easily for the next 15 and 20 years. That first commitment of two to five years is really key, first. It requires a really rigorous policy and practices design at an institutional level. We offer that. That’s our niche, because of the law and policy background that we’re bringing on these institutional approaches for the long game. We gain for the long game.

[00:59:45] BS: Awesome. Jackie, thank you so much. I learned so much from you today. I know the listeners did, too. How can the listeners stay in touch with you and find more info?

[00:59:55] JS: Well, we have a website. The company name is Enjoi, but we spell it E-N-J-O-I. Because it’s basically, bringing together two Japanese characters, that means building solidarity across differences. The website where you can find me is www.en-joi.com. I also have a live stream that airs every Monday, I guess, evening for North America called Diversity Rocks Innovation. I feature, there’s about a 100 thought partners in my Enjoi network and their leaders who are bringing diversity positive leadership forward in Japan and across Asia Pacific. Some of them are in Canada, United States.

I feature one thought partner every single live stream. You get to hear more about their experiences, their diversities, their professional expertise. We’re hoping that through really bringing together the full breadth of all of that diversity that is inherent in each individual, we can really help people understand that that is the power to getting innovation to move forward. Certainly, all of these individuals have strong commitments to equality and equity. Those go hand in hand and we’d love for you to tune in.

[01:00:58] BS: Wonderful. Jackie, thank you. Such an important conversation. I’m so happy. I had it with you today on the show. Thank you for being here.

[01:01:07] JS: Thank you, Britt. This has been so lovely. You’re a wonderful host, and I am so glad that I listened to your interview before showing up today because it was so lovely to get to know you before we had this conversation too. That was genius.

[01:01:18] BS: Awesome. Thank you.


[01:01:23] BS: If you’re looking for related content, I recommend Episode 26, Choosing Empowerment Over Fear with Angela Ortiz, which I mentioned in today’s episode. Angela is the CEO of Place to Grow, a volunteer-led non-profit that strives to connect and inspire a rising generation of leaders and disaster-stricken Tohoku communities.

Today, Jackie, and I touched on the 3/11 disaster in Tohoku, Japan. Angela and I talked pretty extensively about it, including how this experience led Angela to begin her social impact career. Angela’s episode is actually one of the top episodes of all time, so be sure to check that one out.

Thank you for tuning in to Love Your Enthusiasm. Until next time.


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