Get Interviewed
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Get Interviewed

Episode 12: The “Lead with Love”

Nita Baum will move you with the energy she brings in shaping a world of equality, and making a better life for all to co-exist

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

“Life has taught me that the unknown is much more vast than the known.” ~Nita Baum

I had the pleasure to meet Nita Baum a few months back while attending Design Leadership Camp through The Bureau of Digital and was immediately drawn to the work she and her team have been up to.

She’s the Founder of b*free, a self-organized network of culture leaders with a vast collection of cross-industry experience, and mastery to co-create a more equitable future for all people. 👏

In a more recent chapter of her career she’s also now the Founding Board Chair of a nonprofit called SolarResponders.org. This is a group of amazing people that have come together to put solar panels and battery storage on first responder stations, and critical infrastructures in Puerto Rico.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Her words are truly so moving, and inspiring so it’s better to just hear it from her. I’m feeling very lucky to be able to partner with her, and tell her story with you all. Enjoy!

✨ About Nita Baum

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Nita

I’m a Native New Yorker, and grew up in Queens NY. I’m the daughter of Indian immigrants. Being a caregiver to my two parents as they were both dying, and being an aunt to my two sisters’ kids have been amongst the most transformative, impactful and cherished experiences of my life. I’ve come to appreciate the power and value of suffering and tragedy as vehicles for shedding light on what a gift it is to be alive.

What enlivens and energizes me most in my work is being in partnership and co-creating with people I love, respect and admire. I’m moved to work on the complexities of navigating our individual and collective human experiences of relating and creating work together across our differences. In particular, I do this with workplaces and systems characterized by and aspiring to respond in new ways to inequity, unfairness, dehumanization and trauma.

Inside of those challenges lies tremendous transformative and healing possibility and power. I’ve loved learning my whole life (to me life is learning). The current focus of my learning is being in the long-term, emerging and evolving experiment that is b*free, and our effort to put our spiritual and philosophical perspectives into practice.

From our work with clients (how do you bring equity, humanity and fairness to life in people and organizations for greater wellbeing?) to how we are structured (as a self-organized network of co-creators, where power and leadership are dynamic, depending on what we are working on), this inquiry into putting philosophy into practice shows up across who we are, how we move together and what we do.

💡 Philosophy

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
When partnering with teams to help cultivate equity leadership in their organizations, what is unique about your personal philosophy?

Nita

I view the purpose of equity and liberation work is to ensure the holistic wellbeing of ALL people. The emphasis here is on two things:

  1. Wellbeing:
    I start with the inquiry of what the purpose of work is. My sense is that it is to contribute to our wellbeing (holistically, from body to mind to spirit aka creative aliveness or life force). If we want a real paradigm shift in equity in and through the workplace, I feel we need to start having conversations at this fundamental level; aka why do we work? Because if the way we work, and the conditions within which we work harm our wellbeing… we need to pause, and acknowledge that. An inquiry I invite our clients organization into is “What is our internal value proposition to the people who create the work (that creates the value that benefits us and sustains us in the marketplace)?” If organizations are “extracting” value from people inequitably because they are looking at some of them as resources or tools to create products and profit (much the way we look at the planet as a resource rather than something that warrants being served, protected, and nourished), then not only are we deeply limiting the promise, and possibility of how work can add value to all of us, we’re also creating further inequity, adding to the burdens and challenges of the systems, and the collective at large as we work. Work can actually add value, add wellbeing, possibility, wonder, awe, and joy to our lives. That’s not necessarily about the content of the work, it’s about the process, aka the culture, and relationships and conditions we are doing it in. At b*free we say, how you build a thing is what that thing becomes. In other words people, and work aren’t products to be commoditized or commodified. We’re living breathing whole processes.
  2. ALL People:
    We need to re-center and radically change how we include those who have been most harmed, undervalued, underinvested in, unseen, unheard, unvoiced, and excluded. In the United States, we know that Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), misrepresented groups across gender, sexual orientation, ability status, immigration status, age, and much more suffer holistically from the traumatic impacts of inequity. Those are inequities of all kinds, from love, acceptance, appreciation, and respect on one end to the more material expression/tangible investment of that into their professional development, elevation into leadership, and compensation. This is a loss for the workplace and our capacity to create impact with clients, customers and the systems at large. This is a loss for ALL people. Workplaces can be, and do much more.

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
How does that help motivate you to think forward and inspire others?

Nita

Well, it makes me check myself and inquire where I am biased, where I exclude, and it encourages me, as the instrument of my work, to explore and learn how to embrace greater difference in all aspects of my life.

How can I be the change? One idea I play with is that the people we avoid, shy away from, exclude, dehumanize, fail to notice and care for are the human form of the shadow/unconscious parts/emotions within ourselves that we don’t want to deal with. What happens when we actually begin to face who and what we fear or find uncomfortable or different and threatening?

I think a new kind of capacity to love emerges. I feel that love, equity and diversity are intimately connected. To co-exist with another human being who is different than you, to work together- that is a very powerful expression of love. I feel we are quite capable of this- we love family, friends, spouses even with our differences. Can we get better at this, in the workplace, in all places, and expand our capacity to hold and appreciate difference? I feel absolutely yes we can. We are beings who develop, change, grow, and learn. That motivates me to engage with people and learn how to do this together.

🎯 Process

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
What does your approach look like when you’re providing guidance to teams and empowering them to embrace an inclusive, and human centered culture?

Nita

Our team brings a multidisciplinary perspective and lots of compassion to this work. We start with deep listening. The work is really a partnership — we have a lot of respect for what we don’t know, and what we haven’t experienced- aka institutional knowledge, history, context of our clients. So we aim to co-create with clients, a multi-perspective picture of what is happening and illuminate the equity issues that are most present and alive to work with. We encourage clients to pace themselves. There’s a lot of work to do to address inequity, so we listen for and sense into what is most present, alive, relevant for the specific org we are working with. We coach and consult on the inner work of shifting perspective and becoming aware of bias, inequity, racism and we support orgs on the journey to do the outer work of aligning their systems, processes, policies and communications to reflect their newly found awareness of equity.

We focus a lot on the process itself as a great opportunity to humanize, embody equity, liberation and justice, and contribute to wellbeing. So we pay attention to who is present, why, how sessions are designed and facilitated, the pacing of our work, how to balance structure/planning with emergence to attend to new information or perspectives that arise.

👩‍💻 Projects

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
How is your background playing a pivotal role in the success of your projects?

Nita

These ongoing practices support me to be a regulating force in the mix:

  • Psychosomatic healing
  • Trauma studies and practice
  • Restorative justice
  • Conflict resolution
  • Self-regulation learning and practices
  • Meditation
  • Breath-work
  • Yoga
  • Martial arts

This work is emotional, charged and lot a like org therapy as our clients describe it. In my experience it takes an emotional capacity, mental stamina, spiritual discipline, a sense of humor, and levity to have longevity in this work.

How do I not take myself and all of it so seriously while respecting its gravity, the weight of people’s grief, and experiences of inequity? I also have learned that I become this container for so many stories, I need creative time, and creative space to process them. I need to grieve, and I need to feel the joy that arises when people have breakthroughs.

Photo by Eneko Uruñuela on Unsplash

Processing is always an experiment for me. Sometimes I’m really moved to write. Last year I started a janky little case story series on YouTube I’m still working on and have been pretty slow with. The impetus for that was to share the stories, and the learning that comes with it. I need play, music, and solitude to be with all the learning and gifts of this work. When I invest in those things, I’m more able to show up in ways that I think benefit our clients, and the learning journeys they are on.

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
What is the most interesting or exciting project you’ve worked on?

Nita

Last year, we worked with an organization that was experiencing a racial equity rupture/organization-wide conflict around racial inequity. We led learning & healing sessions where we harnessed the power of the conflict as an emerging opportunity for growth, and evolution. The CEO of the org, at one point in the process said, “I think I need to lead with love.”

That felt like a mic drop to me! It was exciting, because it was all about responding equitably, justly, fairly in the moment with attention to all of the complex relational dynamics. It was beautiful to experience how those who felt they had been harmed, demonstrated and embodied leadership, thoughtfulness and care that was inspiring and that the folks who had done the harming, did the very same. It was amazing to watch them invite and elevate each other. Tentatively at first, and more boldly as the process progressed.

It was exciting to feel that the container of dedicated space and time to care and attend to this conflict. The frame shift, and the encouragement we provided; combined with the clients really dedicated engagement, and co-creative energy yielded so much learning. A necessary healing, and a shift that as we understand it had a transformative impact that lay the groundwork for long-term, and ongoing change.

Our work didn’t resolve the long list of things they need to attend to by any stretch. But their willingness to engage in the very moment of the conflict or the pattern they needed to disrupt unleashed a lot of healing, and learning. All that I think can’t be unfelt, unseen, and unlearned. That has the potential to create sustainable momentum for continuing to engage in this work. That’s what we’ve seen with them so far.

What we experienced on that project was a microcosm for what I feel we need in our country for the times we are now living through.

👉 Here’s an article on leadership Nita wrote inspired by this conflict project.

Photo by Guillaume LORAIN on Unsplash

👋 People

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
How do you see yourself evolving over the next decade?

Nita

Life has taught me that the unknown is much more vast than the known. I mean we thought the world was flat until we didn’t. So I try to hold lightly to what I ‘know’ about now, the past, and the future.

So the truest answer is that I don’t know. What I like to imagine though is that maybe I’ll evolve in a direction where I learn more, and how to learn. Spend more time living my questions, inquiries, being cool with uncertainty, and learning to surf it. Feeling less attached to a need to know and therefore having great capacity to really support people through hard change, and conflict in an emergent way that is responsive to their needs and the times.

I think we’re going to need that and already do.

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career similar to your own?

Photo by Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash

Nita

I’d invite people to consider how you want to relate to your career in the context of your broader life. For me, that question has illuminated a few things.

It’s led me to ask and then be intentional about who I want to work with, and why. It’s led me to wonder what work means to me. While one way to view b*free is as a “coaching and consulting business,” my experience of it is more aptly described as a creative process, and a learning journey.

b*free is a vehicle that allows me to express my contribution to the world, and it is a way I get to practice living my values in ways that I hope benefit others.

👏 Thank you for reading!

Nita, ohh-emm-gee. WOW! I can’t thank you enough for all the beautiful, and positive vibes you are bringing to this world. It’s no secret that people need it now more than ever. The drive you have for your work is so inspirational, and moving. I’ll continue to spread the word about it any chance I get. Can’t wait to see where your journey takes you next. Be you, be well, and b*free 🙏

This interview with Nita Baum is part of a blog series by Joe Pascavage ✍🏼 called “Get Interviewed”. If you would like to learn more about this initiative you can read about it here.

Do you want to share your story?

Send me a DM or tweet @joepascavage letting me know that you would like to “Get Interviewed”, and I’ll take it from there.

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