The New Normal. It’s a phrase we have uttered and heard countless times in the last few months surrounding the global health crisis. It’s how we describe what has been a complete upheaval of our current routines, habits and social practices. What if, instead of feeling powerless to these changes, we took charge of what that phrase means? Use it to experiment with new social norms, leverage the time to redefine our priorities and habits. We are at a point rich with opportunities to radically change how we live.
One person that could help us re-imagine the future is Dr. Janelle Briggs. She is a biracial Black startup founder, feminist, and scholar committed to social justice. Dr. Briggs understands the value and beauty of humanity and, more importantly, how to empower others to disseminate a message of inclusion and social change. She is the co-founder and CEO of Stackhouse, a container living company specializing in Eco-friendly, elevated living alternatives to the rising cost of urban housing.
“To empower someone requires that we give folks both the capital and authority to make decisions that they believe are in their best interest. The only way these decisions will come to pass is if those in positions of power stop assuming their best practices will always apply.”
The impact that COVID-19 made on the economy has been felt the hardest by those that were already struggling to find that capital. Many businesses have closed, elevating the already high unemployment numbers and causing major conflicts between landlords and tenants. Many people may now be moving around the country to find work. Dr. Briggs and her partner at Stackhouse are building a way for many people to avoid those conflicts and still make sure people can own their home.
Dr. Briggs also notes how important it is to think about the way institutions wield their power. “In January I was lucky to hear Carmen Cueva speak at the 2020 Women in Construction event at Pima Community College. Carmen spoke about the duality of construction as both commodity and legacy, meaning that the built environment makes up the material world we inhabit, while at the same time our buildings quite literally decide who gets to move through that world and how. As leaders we have an obligation to consider the holistic impacts of what we build, who we welcome, and the worlds we make im/possible.”
Our social, government, business, legal and other foundational intuitions are an enduring part of our lives. Like any organization, they embody the personal character of their occupants and especially of those with a larger influence. It’s important and necessary to audit the structure, function and culture to ensure these systems are not excluding anyone from success.
Dr. Briggs says, “In June The Transparent Collective published “The Definitive Guide to Investing in Black Founders” in response to the outpouring of resources for Black founders from predominantly white institutions. The authors state that “In order for this new energy to birth change in Silicon Valley and beyond, it’s important to break down the core challenges that ultimately set the stage for why Black founders receive <1% of venture capital” and go on to list the following four key challenges that must be overcome:
1. We Solve Different Problems and Have Different Solutions
2. Different Surroundings, Different Resources
3. Different Culture, Different Communication
4. The Continuous Threat of Unconscious Bias”
We asked Dr. Briggs what advice she has for young women that might be afraid to step into a leadership role.
“Be open to adventure and when you find an opportunity to do something exciting, take it. If you’re anything like me, you will be afraid of failure, of making a fool out of yourself, and of saying the wrong thing. You will fail at something, at some point. You will make a fool out of yourself, probably more than once. And you will say (and do!) multiple things that you wish you could take back. Everyone knows you learn from your mistakes. Maybe more important than the individual lessons each mistake taught me was the overarching message. Failure is survivable. You will survive those moments when shame washes over you. I promise. You are bigger than your fear of failure. Perfection is a social construct that women are taught to strive for - and in our striving, we often miss out on doing good because it could be done better.”
Thank you Dr. Briggs for your #LeadHership!
September 30th , 2020