A fresh perspective in El Granada
A conversation with new GCSD board member and big-thinker Jen Randle
Jen Randle won’t call herself an activist. However, she does believe that helping individuals step into their power is movement-making. For nearly 20 years Randle has advised executives and teams for some of the world’s largest companies. As a principal at SYPartners in 2018, Randle helped create anti-bias training for 175,000 Starbucks employees in 8,000 stores after a viral racial-profiling incident in Philadelphia.
Born and raised in San Mateo, Randle studied sociology at Howard University in Washington, D.C., before earning a Master of Business Administration from Columbia Business School in New York City. Now she’s back on her beloved West Coast.
In recent years, the El Granada resident and newly elected board member of the Granada Community Services District has committed to using that same skill set to support marginalized individuals and people of color. Randle’s North Star is to unlock human potential. She believes in the power of change, or more specifically, that people can alter systems just as much as systems can alter people. As a local board member, she’s also interested in the creation of more just and equitable spaces. Coastside magazine’s August Howell recently sat down with Randle at the home she bought and built in El Granada to discuss the value of introspection and how she plans to leverage her work experience with GCSD. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you describe the work you did at SYPartners?
SYPartners is a consulting firm that helps leaders at the most senior levels really articulate their purpose for the company. What's their reason for existing? Then, it’s about designing the system that's needed in order to realize that vision. How do you get your people, across the company, marching along, moving toward that purpose?
While I was there, I worked with companies like Nike and Starbucks. With Nike, it was about helping their leaders come into their own as a group and then helping them demonstrate what leadership looks like at the company and taking on new leadership behaviors and skills. We also helped them think about their employee experience and how they articulate what they're promising their employees.
Can you explain the Starbucks training? Your company made some headlines.
That was in response to the issue that happened in Philadelphia (in 2018) where two young Black men were arrested for being in the store. That was really interesting for a number of reasons. At that time I had not worked with Starbucks, but SYPartners has a long history with them. Particularly Howard Schultz (former CEO of Starbucks) and Keith Yamashita (founder of SYPartners), they’ve done a lot of work together over the years.
I flew to New York and we had a three-day working session with them. This was at the end of April. They’d already announced they were doing this and picked the date of May 29. So we only had five weeks to make this happen. I flew on the plane with them back to Seattle and started the work there. I led the efforts on the ground in Seattle and we went from a big wireframe, like what are the big beats of the conversation to, like, all the way down to what is the content. We also had separate training for leadership because we didn't want power dynamics in the space. But there was no facilitator in the stores with the partners. We created guides and then they each had a notebook and one iPad to share and watch videos on. Can you believe, there were 300,000 pieces of paper created for this training? Actually, I don't like calling that training. I call it a conversation.
How challenging were those conversations?
It was super rewarding and challenging. At the end of the month, I facilitated the training for the top 30 or 40 global leaders of Starbucks. I literally had lost my voice from stress. But I think for me it was very much a meaningful opportunity to be a part of something so powerful. Starbucks is a place of a lot of pride. People that work there really believe in the work that they do.
They have strong connections to their colleagues and to the mission of the company. So when you walked in at that moment, it was like the place was gutted. You could tell that they were completely demoralized and deflated by the incident. Going into that work and being able to help breathe some life back into the company and into the people was really meaningful for me.
I think it was also a really powerful lesson for me around intent versus impact. We talk a lot about that in the work I do. People can have really great intentions around doing certain things, but if you don't understand how it's gonna land at someone’s feet, then your intention doesn't really matter, right?
What was the training meant to accomplish?
The idea behind their policy was that if the store manager thought people in the store were unsafe they should call the police. So the intention wasn’t necessarily wrong. But the challenge is if you don't provide enough support around that, then what you're left with is people deciding how to navigate difficult situations using whatever they have, and usually that ends up being your bias.
It’s your own experiences, your own proclivities, and your own beliefs that are going to influence your actions. And without any counterbalance to that, without any training around how to navigate those situations, like de-escalation, that's all they're left with, and that's all that that store manager was left with. And, unfortunately, she made the wrong decision.
That was an interesting learning experience for me. It really demonstrated on such a grand scale what the difference between intention and impact can look like. This is pre-George Floyd. This is pre a lot of the awakening that we've had as a country. That was a really big moment for a lot of people to start having conversations they weren't having at that time.
Tell me about the ethos behind the company you created, SGNL.
I started SGNL over three years ago. A lot of the work I've been doing has been around employee-experience design. It’s about how to create an environment where your employees can thrive. How do you create the most enriching and rewarding (system) where people can feel like they can show up and bring whatever parts of themselves they want into a company and do the job you've hired them to do well?
That's really been a lot of the focus of my work. In the last couple of years, it’s also been a lot of one-to-one work helping people step into their leadership. I’m currently primarily interested in helping folks of color, queer folks, and women understand how to operate from a different place. The work can benefit anyone, really. It’s what I call intrinsic way-finding. Understanding how to really look at yourself, look at your own capacity, look at your own skills and experiences to operate from a centered place and of internal knowing.
I want you to really navigate from an expansive, abundant place, from what’s possible for yourself, for your career, for your life. But also really spend time deconstructing a lot of the systems or the constructs that limit us. It’s about understanding how these systems, these constructs that exist in our society, how do you start to internalize them yourself and embody them? They become limiting beliefs that cause you to start turning down your brilliance and your ability.
So it’s an intersectional approach to understanding systems?
Yes. We’re so overstimulated and overactive. Everything is coming at us a thousand miles per hour. It’s what you see in terms of us being reactive and feeling triggered versus having more of a reflective response. Has there ever been a time when you knew something was true? When you just knew “I need to do this thing,” or “I just know that the answer is this,”or “I just know that this is the course I have to take.” It's not because you're just relying on your gut. It's because your head, heart, and intuition are all aligned and you're operating from this place of knowing. When we get indecisive and when we start second-guessing ourselves and we want more data, oftentimes it’s because we’ve been conditioned to believe that someone else, some external factor, has more information or insight than we do.
Can you give me an example of how this process works?
One of my clients is a young entrepreneur starting an amazing company. He's a young Black man and a classically trained pianist. He’s brilliant and is going to be successful. But when you talk to him, he’s going a mile a minute. Every second of his day is accounted for.
He can't take a shower without listening to a podcast. He can't go on a walk without thinking about strategy. Everything is just go, go, go. Part of our work is thinking about what if he actually did less to create space for more to happen? You’re so busy trying to fill your time with everything that you're not actually allowing yourself the time or the capacity to have any inspiration, or any new sort of stimulus, to come in. There's no exploration, there's no curiosity, there's no questioning.
That comes from a capitalist construct where you've got to be efficient, you've got to be busy, and you've got to always be working. It also comes from a white supremacist construct, which is, don't be lazy as a Black man. Always show you're capable, always show you're worthy.
The idea of doing less to create more is very counterintuitive based on all of the constructs that exist around us. So my work is basically helping people understand what are these limiting systems and beliefs that we're carrying in ourselves and manifesting.
Care to share another example?
A friend of mine, a gay Latino man, mentioned that people ask him how many times he’s been to Paris. He’s been 20 times. He said he feels embarrassed saying that. I asked why because that’s his story and that’s what he’s done. He said, “It’s probably because I feel like I shouldn't be able to go that many times.”
But I said no, you absolutely feel like you should be able to go to Paris. But you are likely so used to managing the comfort of everyone else around you. When you show up in spaces as a gay Latino man, you are always looking at the room and trying to understand who's in it and how you need to show up in reflection to them. So you modulate and monitor yourself so that you don't make anyone else uncomfortable.
So, you saying that you've been to Paris 20 times makes someone else feel, “Should I have gone to Paris 20 times?” That's what you're managing against. But that's not your job. That’s not your responsibility. You don't need to make yourself smaller to make others feel comfortable with your presence.
Folks are brilliant and have potential to do amazing things and bring personal offerings into this lifetime. But there are so many things that we're dialing down about ourselves because we've been told that we should for whatever reason. What if they were gone? What would that mean for us?
Have you considered your impact in this space as a Black woman?
I often talk about being an N-of-1, meaning there's no one else like you that's in the space. I think for folks like me that carry many identities, usually other or marginalized identities in this society, you're used to being the N-of-1. You're used to being the only one of you in that space.
So, you become very aware of yourself in those spaces and how others are reacting to you. And if you're anyone who sees any success in predominantly white spaces, or male spaces if you’re a female, you become an expert. For me, I've had my fair share of experiences as a Black woman, navigating the world that has led me to realize and believe that this work is vital.
I've done a lot of work realizing that there’s more to the world than what we've been fed. We live in a very scarce, limited, binary society. We believe that in order for one person to get something, another person has to lose. Or if someone gives something, I get something taken away from me. And that's just not true. But that is the narrative. That is a construct that we operate under.
I don't perceive myself as an activist in the sense that I'm not out on the streets, but I do believe that there's an opportunity for us to dismantle a lot of the things that are creating limited, scarce mindsets. I believe that my opportunity is about helping individuals see that there's far more power and more abundance in this lifetime possible for us. That these are false choices that we're making. I believe that if more people believe in their own gifts that is movement-making.
How does this tie into your work with GCSD?
I've always been really busy professionally. I've never really been able to volunteer. So what I've always done is give back with my skill set to nonprofits or boards. But when I moved here, I wanted to feel very much like a contributor to this community. I shared with a friend that I'd love to get involved in local political efforts just because I feel like there are a lot of things that are decided for us that we could be a part of influencing. I met with (GCSD Director) Barbara Dye to learn more about it. I thought it was really interesting particularly because of the park and recreation aspect of it. How are we thinking about ensuring that we're protecting the beauty of this place but still making sure that it feels welcoming for all? That was really important to me.
What are your thoughts on the proposed new recreation center, which essentially means the loss of Picasso Preschool?
When I applied, I didn’t know (Picasso) was such an issue. But I believe now that whatever we end up doing shouldn’t exacerbate the situation for the community. We should be able to create a solution that allows for the community to solve their needs as well as do what GCSD’s already set out to do. We're down a path, that's just the reality of it.
The more I got into it, going back to what we were talking about before, I think what struck me was obviously families are displaced and they're upset about that. And I think it's a really important thing for us as a board and representatives of the community to be thoughtful and address. But I felt there was advocating for specific needs. There was a lot of conversation about coastal families, but it didn't feel like the solutions that were being offered or the approach or the pushback was about all families. It was about serving the 45 or so families that were already at Picasso.
During the election, I had a conversation with (San Mateo County Supervisor) Ray Mueller and he mentioned that we were in the top seven most expensive (school) districts in the county for early childhood care. I was as struck by that then and continued to be, and I think there has to be a solution that is about our whole coast. I think that the preschool or the shortage of education for young children is a coastal issue that needs to be solved in an equitable way.
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