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Do you understand concepts like code-switching and why the BIPOC community sees the need to do so? While we’re beginning to understand that the overall needs of the BIPOC community are different from the needs of the white community, that doesn’t mean it’s being applied everywhere — like in the workplace.
Join us as today’s guests, the founders of the mental health app Shine, explain their personal journeys as BIPOC women in corporate America and how they came together to offer a unique mental health space to their communities.
Marah Lidey is the co-founder and co-CEO of Shine. She earned a spot in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2018 for Consumer Technology, and she was featured in Vanity Fair as one of the 26 Black female entrepreneurs who have raised more than $1 million in venture capital. She previously built her career in product and content at companies like American Express, Viacom, and Autotrader.com. Marah lives in Atlanta with her partner, daughter, and two cats, and in her free time enjoys cooking, binge-watching new Netflix series, and listening to podcasts.
Naomi Hirabayashi is the co-founder and co-CEO of Shine. Naomi was named one of the “40 under 40 Marketers” by DMN and the “Top 35 People to Watch in NYC Tech.” Prior to co-founding Shine, Naomi built her career in digital marketing for mission-based companies, as one of the first employees at Attention, the first boutique social media marketing agency. Naomi lives in DC with her husband, daughter, and cat Angus.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast, I’m your host Gabe Howard, and I want to thank our sponsor Better Help. You can grab a week free just by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Calling into the show today we have Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi. Together they are the co-founders and co-CEOs of Shine, a self-care platform and community that provides users with daily emotional support. I am excited to welcome both of you to the show.
Marah Lidey: Thanks, Gabe. We’re really excited to be here.
Gabe Howard: Now on the Shine website, I was intrigued by this statement quote, we started Shine because we didn’t see ourselves a black woman and a half Japanese woman, and our experiences represented in mainstream wellness, our bodies, our skin color, our financial access, our past traumas. It all often felt otherize unquote. Can you share with our listeners why you felt otherwise?
Marah Lidey: Thanks for asking that, and I it’s definitely an honor to be here. Naomi and I have read up on your story and just appreciate your vulnerability and just creating this safe space for people like us to come and talk about this stuff. In terms of why we felt otherwise, we started Shine because of a problem that we experienced. And just to give listeners context, Shine is really building the world’s most inclusive mental health membership. So that means if you’ve experienced hardship because of the color of your skin or the gender, you identify with the people you love the size of your body, anything really that’s made you feel like the only one and like you didn’t fit, you will find a home in the Shine app. If you haven’t experienced those hardships, but are someone who wants their mental health experience to be inclusive to everyone, that’s really what Shine is all about. To your point, Gabe, we met working together about 10 years ago. Naomi and I found ourselves in these really exciting jobs. Naomi was a chief marketing officer. I was a head of product at a nonprofit in New York City, and I think exciting because we had a lot of responsibility. We were on the senior management team. We had a strong community in New York. Both had partnerships, you know, from the outside looking in, I think you might think, Oh, I wouldn’t see an issue there.
Marah Lidey: Like, what could those two people be struggling with on the inside? And I think what tends to happen with so many of us is that we carry these burdens that we’ve often had since childhood. But the way that they manifest in our day to day is that we are often triggered, let’s say, by an awkward meeting or difficult feedback or going into ask for a raise or a promotion. And you have a moment where you say like, Oh, I didn’t feel good about that. And then instead of isolating, I didn’t feel good about that. How can I work on it? It becomes I didn’t feel good about that. What’s wrong with me? There must be something wrong with me if I can’t confidently go in and ask for a raise. And so Naomi and I found each other just really gravitating towards one another in the work environment. Having conversations about those exact instances, the what’s wrong with me moments, the moments that start from a smaller incident that manifests in the day to day stress and anxiety, but then very quickly can go deeper and can go to a place where maybe it’s not as productive or as helpful. Most people don’t have a Naomi at work, and what happens is what we call this spiral of silence.
Marah Lidey: And the spiral of silence is a social psychology theory that speaks to this idea of not only feeling like there’s something wrong with you, but that you are the only one. There’s something fundamentally wrong with me. I’m the only one experiencing this, and so I’m not going to talk about it with anyone. But it was lucky for me that I had Naomi and I was able to talk about what I struggled with on a daily basis. We were able to unpack what we were going through and help each other move forward with tactical solutions. And we knew that there was so much more opportunity to help people like us with that same companionship, to have somebody to talk about their mental and emotional health on a daily basis in a way that could help them move forward and, ultimately to thrive. So that’s what led us to start Shine was really that feeling of feeling alone, feeling not enough, that being colored by our backgrounds and our intersectional identities and being able to support one another and just really wanting to scale that support for other people.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that it sounds like you’re saying is that BIPOC folks are held to a higher standard in a corporate environment. You mentioned being nervous about asking for a raise and at first blush, isn’t everybody nervous for asking for a raise? But then you go on to describe the risks are higher. You’re more vulnerable. Are the consequences for errors or issues or vulnerability higher than for other employees?
Naomi Hirabayashi: Yes, I think the pressure to perform, the room for failure for BIPOC employees, there’s just less room for failure and there’s a lot of reasons why. But the reality is consciously or not, corporate America workplaces, what we deem is professional is white centric and predominantly white male centric. The leaders we celebrate, the styles we try to emulate, that all trickles down from years and years and generations and generations of a certain way of being. And that is male and white. And so when you’re anything outside of that, if you are a woman, if you’re a woman of color, a queer person, whatever your identity may be, that isn’t that quote unquote norm, one you’re consciously or unconsciously viewed as other. I think we judge and question or fear things that are other and that happens in so many different ways in the workplace. It could come from maybe not getting the benefit of a doubt when you make a certain comment or what you’re wearing being judged as different or eccentric or whatever it may be. So that that judgment is one of the things that can happen when you are viewed as other. I think the second thing is, racist stereotypes, what often happens is when people have something that contradicts that stereotype, they view that as an exception versus actually changing the way they think and changing that stereotype or creating anti-racist thinking and openness.
Naomi Hirabayashi: You might be viewed as the exception, or you’re like, you’re one of the good ones, and there’s a lot of examples of where I can speak to it, like where that’s happened and that in itself, you think about carrying that experience day in and day out where you’re not fully seen or taken into account or you’re tokenized, that is hard to do work in. That just will fundamentally change how you exist in a workplace. And then the third thing is, there’s both how you perceive yourself and there’s how the world perceives you. We like patterns that we can recognize. So, for example, for myself, as a half Asian-American woman, the world has told me that I’m more palpable when I’m like, agreeable and nice, and I have internalized that to some degree. While that might be some of my own personality, naturally, there’s definitely a pattern that I’m being served and I’m also abiding by. And so if I were to speak up, maybe in a more direct way in a meeting, I’m just dealing with more friction in that experience than, most likely kind of broad strokes, a white male is because those patterns are different for that person.
Marah Lidey: And so there just is less room for failure. There is less room for risk financially. There are incredibly real consequences for mistakes, or things that might be perceived as mistake rather, in the workplace or for not being accepted in the workplace. I think Naomi said this so well when you spoke to professionalism being so white centric. So that means that, for example, things like having your hair a certain way, whether it’s a certain hairstyle, dreadlocks, wearing a certain outfit, that might be something that is very comfortable and natural for you, culturally or speaking in a certain way or speaking about certain things that are just natural to who you are when that’s not a part of the white centric narrative and you have your employer, potentially coworkers, when you have people that kind of perpetuate that, you are outside of the norm. You have two options, but one option is that I can conform, which so many people do, it’s called code switching.
Marah Lidey: So how can I fit into this environment so that I can continue to sometimes feed my family right so that I can continue to work here so I can continue to grow my career and accelerate my career here? Or the other option is authenticity, and that authenticity often has very real consequences.
Gabe Howard: Marah, one of the concepts that you mentioned was code switching. Can you talk more on that and explain what that is and the effects that it has on the BIPOC community?
Marah Lidey: Yeah, so code-switching is quite literally the idea of speaking multiple languages and being able to do that and bring that from different environments. When we hear the word language, we typically think of a language like English or Spanish. But when I use language in this context, I mean truly using different jargon and body language to make yourself fit into a specific environment. So that means when I’m comfortable and I feel psychological safety, most likely I’m speaking in my native quote-unquote language, meaning that I’m able to use jargon and body language and expressions that are more comfortable to me. But when I am in an environment where I don’t feel that psychological safety and I feel a clear sense of homogeneity that is the antithesis in many ways of my language and my comfortability, code switching is what happens when I don’t stick with my authentic language in my native self, right? And instead I switched to that more homogenous shape and way of being. And so the way that that manifests in workplaces is often quite literally using different words, it’s suppressing your natural instinct to speak in a certain way or have a specific tone. And I think for Naomi and I, there’s so many levels of this that we’ve been experienced transitioning into venture capital.
Marah Lidey: Particularly in the early stages of building Shine. What we found was that our authentic selves were very different than, I think the homogenous we see in the VC space that is 95% white men that we found ourselves not only picking up this new language and switching code, switching in that way, but truly suppressing ourselves. We wore, you know, the suit jackets with the heels that we felt like we were supposed to wear.
Marah Lidey: We suppressed some of our more warmer energy to make sure that we were coming across, quote unquote professional. And we got feedback that actually perpetuated that where people said we needed to like present more like a typical CEO. One of the most difficult things is when you have a fear or doubt or insecurity and you’re just looking, you’re just looking for any signs that confirm that fear or doubt or insecurity. And when someone quite literally says it to you, it can be very, very difficult to detach from that and to undo the damage from that. But Naomi and I were so lucky to have each other because we found ourselves kind of slipping away from our authentic selves. We call it like wearing shoulder pads, but speaking to kind of the 1980’s view of feminism where you had to “be like the men.” But we found ourselves doing that where we just were changing ourselves and morphing into something that looks less and less like the people that authentically started Shine because of the passion that we had.
Marah Lidey: We started Shine because we felt alone. And if we morph ourselves into these other CEO types, all we’re doing is perpetuating the problem of becoming more of the same of what’s out there. And we were able to empower each other to get to a place where we said, Look, this whole system doesn’t exist if we aren’t our authentic selves. If founders don’t start companies focus on the problems that they’re uniquely experiencing. The playing field is not equal by any means. It’s a very normal and natural thing to think that it’s not the default that’s wrong, it’s me that’s wrong. I need to shift, I need to change and I need to code switch. And I think we have the opportunity and we’re exposed to enough of these conversations, that’s when that light goes off. That really helps us to understand, like maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it’s not me, maybe it’s the environment, and I need to figure out how I can stay authentic and really work against that.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi, the co-founders of the mental health app Shine. It sounds like you had a lot of pressure to sort of represent on behalf of a larger group. Like you couldn’t just be you. You had to represent for other BIPOC folks. Did you feel that way? Do BIPOC folks in general feel that way? I imagine this would have to be a huge burden on somebody’s mental health, but also on just their ability to move freely or to be seen as an individual.
Naomi Hirabayashi: Yeah, I love the move freely and, Gabe, I listened to the recent podcast interview you did with the founder of DRK Beauty. And you talked about how in so many workplaces, while they might have some representation when it’s not at the top, it’s harder for particularly BIPOC employees to move freely, and I thought that was such a good way to describe what is tough and where there’s just so much opportunity to improve. This idea, when you are a woman of color, a person of color, an underrepresented group in some room to represent and the pressure that comes with that. So we did a daily Shine meditation and an article on this concept of representation burnout. And to date, it’s been one of the most popular and compelling things that we’ve done for our community because we gave the language to that feeling. And that feeling is exactly what you said, when you are the only person around a boardroom or at the water cooler or in the interview, that is of a certain identity that is not represented in that setting. There is this idea of being the one, the one that feels pressured to kind of represent an entire community or monolith. And obviously, that just isn’t the way the world works. But because, again, of these white centric spaces that so much of our culture is occupied in, that’s what happens. And so we had a teacher actually reach out to us when we did that theme and say, Thank you.
Naomi Hirabayashi: I’m 65 years old. I have been a teacher for 40 years and I was, for her it was the only maybe black woman at that school, and she spoke to the exhaustion that she’s felt throughout her career of being the only one. And she said, I finally have a word for what that is. And when, again, you think about the daily manifestation of that emotional weight or feeling alone or feeling tokenized or feeling other-ized, there’s a real cost to that. There’s a real burden professionally and emotionally and personally that comes with that. On a personal note, I think what like just speaking openly about my specific experience being biracial Japanese-American. I’m very Asian presenting in terms of how I look. But culturally, you know, I’m fourth generation, so I didn’t grow up with a lot of Japanese culture in terms of speaking the language or the decor in my home. You know, I went to Japan for the first time when I was in my thirties. It was incredibly powerful and I’m excited to reconnect with my culture and my heritage. But it’s complicated like everything, you know. And so what I feel in so many of those settings, particularly as a woman, a woman of color and a Japanese-American biracial woman, right? All the layers, particularly in the VC space, is I just feel like I’m not enough of anything, you know, like and I feel less, less of that now.
Naomi Hirabayashi: But I think early on to Marah’s point, when you’re just getting started and you feel like you’re in this totally new world that was very much not designed for people like you. It can feel even harder to get grounded. That’s what’s been tough. And that’s what that feeling of other-ized can manifest as it’s like, I guess unsettling would be the most simple way to speak to it. What is powerful is as we start to have more conversations about how does race come to life or racism come to life in workplaces? How is that part of the foundation? How can we create more conversations about learning from people’s experiences and taking that and creating more cultural competence and cultural curiosity? I’m getting much more comfortable in my own skin and honoring the fact that that’s my own story versus for so long, I think what we all grow up with, is just wanting to fit in, wanting to be quote unquote normal.
Marah Lidey: Big snaps and snapping metaphorically over here so,
Naomi Hirabayashi: Thanks, Marah.
Marah Lidey: So beautifully said, Naomi. For me, as a half black woman who has also these hidden parts to my identity, like we all do right, like I come from a pretty low socioeconomic status background. I grew up with a parent with substance abuse issues. There are several parts of my identity that are hidden and that happens for so many people and to your point, Naomi, there’s how you present and what do people take away from how you present? I think for me, being biracial as well, that ambiguity and the being lighter skinned, there’s components of my experience that actually are a privilege that so many people don’t have, especially my family members, right? Like, if I were to get pulled over, for example, by the police, I would have such a different experience than if my dad were to get pulled over by the police, which is something I think about all the time, just the privilege that I walk around with.
Marah Lidey: And there’s also the unfortunate I think you mentioned this, Naomi. There’s the unfortunate connotation with being lighter skinned and representing blackness that for some reason I am one of the good ones, or if anyone listening has ever heard the term, like talking white, which is an inherently racist concept, but just the idea that if you have a certain style of grammar that you are closer to whiteness, which is pretty ridiculous. But, there’s layers to all of this. And I think as a culture and as a society, we’re just in the middle of unpacking it. Whereas even 10 years ago to say things like that, were kind of normal. The pressure that I feel and have felt historically is how to kind of be on my best behavior to represent all parts of me in a way that is additive and doesn’t make someone judge. And I think that is a reflection of what has really been put on me by society, a reflection of being acceptable and palatable and enough so that I’m able to move through spaces more freely, as you mentioned Gabe, and also create more space for those behind me.
Marah Lidey: That’s something that’s so important to both Naomi and I, that’s creating more space for people of color and for people of all marginalized backgrounds. And it is a really tricky and difficult and it sometimes feels like a game that you play to really step into your truth and own your power and your authenticity, and also know that you’re working against a system that has been in place for a very long time. That change won’t happen overnight. And so how might I continue to own my power and make that space for myself and for others, while also acknowledging the very real constraints of the system and trying to work as much as I can within that on top of against it? For so many people that are listening, I hope that what’s helpful is just knowing that if you are someone who has felt the pressure to represent everyone like you within your many different identities, you’re certainly not alone. And if you’re someone who hasn’t felt that pressure, just kind of acknowledging in your own perception or actions where that might come up, where you might be, you know, maybe categorizing someone based on their interactions with you and categorizing their whole race or people like them kind of in one bucket.
Gabe Howard: This next question is one of those questions that people seem to be discussing, but I’d like to hear your take on it. And the question is why is it important to make mental health more inclusive?
Marah Lidey: Gabe, one of the things we talk a lot about at Shine is that to be inclusive, you have to be specific, and that means talking about the specific issues that are plaguing different communities. We know it’s important to focus on inclusivity because mental health is not created equally in the United States. So, for example, we know that only one in three black adults in the U.S. who need mental health care will actually receive it. Not only are black adults, for example, plagued by just longer bouts of depression, more depression and more anxiety, and it’s more pervasive throughout our life. But we also have our own mental health disorders like racial battle fatigue, which speaks to the feeling of the kind of physiological effects that manifest from daily microaggressions and just dealing with that on a day to day basis. When we look at the provider side, there’s not only a lack of cultural competency in understanding the language that we use and the way in which we think about our mental and emotional health and the stigma around it. But there’s just a pure lack of representation of black therapists and psychologists think five years ago, only three percent of psychologists were black.
Marah Lidey: And so when we think about just even just that one very specific group, when we think about the bigger term BIPOC, there are so many groups represented within that. And if we are not getting specific about the issues that we face and treating our mental health as if it’s all equal and we’re all experiencing anger or exhaustion or anxiety in the same way, then we’re not actually helping people because we’re not talking to you. We’re talking about this extrapolated theme or idea that’s not going to be that specific or helpful to you. So it’s not only important that we talk about the the solutions and how can we get specific and people’s mental health care. But we have to just acknowledge, to your point, Gabe, the problem and the fact that there are different challenges that we all face with our mental health because of the way the society treats us and the systems that perpetuate the way the society treats us, that aren’t going away anytime soon. And so we’re working within ourselves and our own mental and emotional health, but we’re also working against and often within those systems.
Naomi Hirabayashi: Those stats are so important to highlight the problem, and it’s just interesting even thinking about that discussion online around why do we need to make mental health more inclusive is so indicative of the problem. It’s like, who’s saying that right? Like, those are most likely people that have always been included. So it doesn’t seem like a problem and, Marah, when you were talking about the need to be specific, if it’s like you have a very specific acute injury, do you go to a general practitioner or do you go to a specialist? It’s like you go to a specialist because you have an acute need that needs attention and why can’t we apply that same, very pragmatic approach to people and experiences?
Gabe Howard: It is really a foolish question to ask, but I think it’s born of this idea surrounding the stigma of mental illness, right? Mental illness is stigmatized hard stop. So people think, well, if it’s an illness and we treat it like an illness, then everybody needs the same treatment. But if we think about physical illness, not everybody gets the same treatment, right?
Naomi Hirabayashi: Right.
Gabe Howard: It may look a little bit the same, but there’s differences, right? You know, the severity of the illness and your age or other physical attributes determine care is looked at by a doctor. But for some reason, people think that mental health is no every single person with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia exactly the same, and we don’t take into account that well. Frankly, external forces impact our mental health.
Naomi Hirabayashi: Right, and I think I think it I think so much stuff comes from just fear, right, it’s actually about acknowledging systemic racism or acknowledging systems of oppression or acknowledging that we all people experience the world and our culture in this country differently. And so in that effort to say, Oh no, no, everything should be exactly the same because everything is fine and everyone’s treated exactly the same, and it’s ignoring and refusing to acknowledge and address the systems at play that absolutely play a role in our mental health. You know, you fill out an intake form when you go into the doctor to talk about your family history. Why aren’t we talking about social or systemic history that absolutely, absolutely plays a role? And I think just the history of abuse on black bodies by the medical field. So where does that come into play? And that’s just one of many examples where things are not created the same for different communities, and we can get to solutions a lot more quickly and help people a lot more quickly if we just get over ourselves and address that, accept that we’re not perfect, but we want to be better and start talking about solutions. But there’s so much defensiveness that unfortunately, I think we’ll block the ability to progress.
Gabe Howard: Marah, Naomi, thank you both so much for your candor and for being here, it’s really appreciated. Where can folks find you on the web? Where can they download Shine?
Marah Lidey: People can go to TheShineApp.com where they can learn more about Shine and download the Shine app.
Naomi Hirabayashi: We also have a new offering, Shine at Work, where you can take the impact of the Shine product and everything we just talked about today and offer it to employers as a mental health benefit.
Gabe Howard: Thank you, Marah, thank you, Naomi, and thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” as well as a nationally recognized public speaker. And I would love to be at your next event. You can grab my book on Amazon, or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag, or learn more about me, just by heading over to my website, gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please follow the show. It’s absolutely free. Subscribe, also take a moment to review the show. Tell other people why you like it and why they should tune in. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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