As the vice president for inclusion strategy at Netflix, Vernā Myers ’82 guides how the entertainment company thinks about cultural diversity, inclusion, and equality in all its operations worldwide, across more than 190 countries and 9,000 employees. It’s a big job, but it’s one Myers is well equipped to tackle.
On July 23, she joined President Sian Leah Beilock in conversation for an exclusive online event, presented by Beyond Barnard, in which she shared her wealth of expertise and knowledge. The talk, which was geared toward students and alumnae, represented the third installment of the Insights: Powered by Barnard series.
A snapshot of Myers’ career shows how valuable her insights are. After majoring in political science at Barnard, she earned a degree from Harvard Law School, and in 1992, as the first executive director of the Boston Law Firm Group, Myers started advising law firms on recruiting and retaining attorneys of color. Since founding the Vernā Myers Company in 1997, the inclusion strategist has worked with organizations to eradicate barriers based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other differences with the aim of establishing a new, more productive, and equitable status quo. She’s written two books: Moving Diversity Forward: How to Go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing (2012) and What If I Say the Wrong Thing? 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People (2014).
In Beilock and Myers’ conversation, they discussed how to create diverse institutions, how to keep the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement going, and what Myers is watching on Netflix right now (she recommends The Last Dance, Dark Desire, and Unorthodox).
Read key insights from Myers below:
On how she approaches her role at Netflix:
“I realized that when you are approaching an institution, and most organizations in our society, you’re walking into an organization that is at the status quo. What I mean by that is that you are walking into an environment that has been shaped by racism. And so this idea of neutrality, that we have these neutral organizations, no, it’s not true. Neutral means status quo, and the status quo is racism. I really asked to have ‘strategy’ added to my title because I want people to recognize that this is a long-term strategic approach, and that means that we didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not going to get out of this overnight. I think the other [thing] that we’ve learned over a period of time, and I’m grateful that I’ve been part of that, is to help people understand the difference between representation — or what we used to call diversity — and inclusion. And how we’ve done a lot to try to bring people into institutions but haven’t had either the awareness or the courage or the commitment to do what is necessary to create an environment where people feel expected and reflected and respected.”
On how to get people to do the work of inclusion:
“You’re not going to be comfortable before you’re uncomfortable. But the upside of walking through the discomfort is you have more confidence, you feel better about yourself, and you’re useful. And what I mean by useful is now you’re in a place to actually be the person who you hoped you were, but you really weren’t because you were not willing to be uncomfortable. If I’ve ever seen anything prevent us from doing work, it’s because people have a sense of themselves as being good people and as a good person they couldn’t possibly be biased and they couldn’t possibly be racist or sexist or whatever, and so they’re so concerned about keeping that in place that they won’t venture out to figure it out.”
On her experience at Barnard:
“The longer you’re out of Barnard, the more you adore it. The thing about Barnard [is that] people are clear what the charge is, which is to graduate women who have a sense of confidence and competence and can take on anything. So on the gender side of this experience, it was extremely positive. People [support] you in that identity, and so you start to develop a sense of self that was not available to you if you were just out in the world. Now you can learn this in other colleges, I’m not saying that you can’t, but when an entire organization is dedicated to your success around that identity, it’s really important.
But I would say on the race side of things it was harder, because I came from Baltimore, where being Black wasn’t, like, a thing. I didn’t know really that I was Black — I mean, I did know I was Black, but I didn’t know it mattered. When I got to Barnard, I was so deeply underrepresented. I ran into interactions both with administration and also with my peers where I was like, ‘I don’t know how to explain this other than I’m Black.’ It was a mixed experience is what I think I’m saying, and I have so many wonderful powerful lessons from this institution that I have built upon.”
On making your dreams happen:
“Get help. Get help. You don’t have to do stuff by yourself. This has taken me a very long time to figure out. When you look at people that you really admire and you’re like, ‘How do they get all of that done?’ — almost always they have people helping them. Either it’s an editor that’s looking at their stuff, or it’s somebody that’s taking care of their kid, or there’s someone who’s helping them to have a regular physical regime or the right diet. Like, get some help. Don’t try to do the lonely ‘only I’m going to make it all happen by myself’ thing because for the most part it’s going to take you too long — you can do it, but it’s going to take you too long, and it might cost you too much.”
On her #SolidaritySundays event on Black-Jewish relations:
“The reason why I [hosted the event] is because I’m seeing that fracturing that is so common to movements where sometimes, when there is a movement that appears to be focused on only one group — I say ‘appears’ because really the focus is on white supremacy — what sometimes people are doing is they’re getting worried like, ‘My thing is important, right? Isn’t my thing important?’ and then there’s fighting. So what we saw last week were a number of well-known sports figures, entertainment figures who were Black, who were spouting anti-Semitic, deeply offensive, and painful stuff. We need to use this time to be aware that the way white supremacy works is to pit groups against each other. I often believe [that] if all the intentional racists stayed home and slept one day, racism would still proceed all day long, alive and well, because it’s on automatic. That’s why people keep saying you can’t be neutral about this, you have to be anti- this because the status quo is this. So how do we pay attention to that and the tensions that have happened, and how do we for once not fight over the crumbs but create an entirely different pie where there is enough dignity and respect and equality and opportunity for everyone.”
How do we maintain the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement?
“Here’s how we’re going to keep it going: Every one of us is going to commit to keep it going. It’s not that magical. Like when you have people removing Uncle Ben’s picture, and maybe Aunt Jemima’s going to come off that box for once, and we now have no confederate flags in NASCAR — there are just things that are happening, and they’re happening because each person is asking themselves, ‘What should I do? And how can I make a difference?’ And as long as we have people doing that, this thing is going to keep moving.”
*Responses have been condensed for length and clarity.
Watch the full conversation between Myers and Beilock:
—VERONICA SUCHODOLSKI ’19