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A Talk About Inclusion and Having Courageous Conversations
With David Pettrone Swalve and Lindsey Frey Palmquist
“When we start conversations — uncomfortable, courageous conversations — that’s what leads to change.” Join us for this conversation with Life Time Inclusion Council members David Pettrone Swalve and Lindsey Frey Palmquist as we talk about inclusion, diversity, having real conversations, and the work we can do to better ourselves and our communities.
David Pettrone Swalve is the vice president of education at Life Time and the inaugural chair for the Life Time Inclusion Council. Lindsey Frey Palmquist is a senior copywriter at Life Time and a business ambassador to the Inclusion Council.
- Often the words “diversity” and “inclusion” are used in interchangeably. However, they are distinct. “To me, diversity is about the range of perspectives and experiences and backgrounds you have around you,” says Frey Palmquist. “Inclusion is about bringing those diverse perspectives to the table.”
- Focusing on diversity alone can often lead to a visual-counting exercise that isn’t truly diverse at all. “It’s not an eye test for diversity,” says Pettrone Swalve. “It’s really breaking open the mind, cracking open the heart, and getting difference of experience, ideas, and making sure that those people are welcomed in your community.”
- The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 impacted people across the country, including many in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where it occurred and where Life Time is based. Our guests discuss how it affected them and the ways it sparked further action in their personal and professional lives.
- The more conversations we have, the more diverse our minds become — if we’re open to being vulnerable and listening. “When we start conversations — uncomfortable, courageous conversations — that’s what leads to change,” says Freeman.
- Oftentimes we engage in conversations solely to get a point across, which is not a productive setup. “Conversations that are an attempt to bludgeon another individual into submission to your point, that’s not a conversation,” says Pettrone Swalve. “A conversation means we’re meaningfully, intentionally seeking to understand the others’ perspective. It’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to be wrong. It’s OK to change your perspective for the promotion of humanity.”
- Life Time began laying the foundation for its Inclusion Council in 2018, officially standing it up in 2020; it now includes 500-plus team members across the country. The Inclusion Council works from the ground up within Life Time to integrate the value of inclusion within the company across all levels. The goal is to make Life Time communities welcoming for all and a healthy way of life accessible to everyone.
- The Ongoing Pursuit of Purpose and Why It Matters With NFL veteran Tim Hightower
- Dolly Chugh TED Talk: How to Let Go of Being a “Good” Person — And Become a Better Person
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
- How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don’t) Say About Human Difference by Adam Rutherford
- 1619 podcast from The New York Times
- Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
- How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
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Transcript: A Talk About Inclusion and Having Courageous Conversations
Season 1, Episode 1 | February 17, 2021
Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor in chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.
And I’m David Freeman, the national program leader for Life Time’s Alpha program. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we’re working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving forward in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.
In each episode, we’ll break down various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real, inspiring stories of transformation.
And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.
We want to take a moment to thank Invisalign, the official smile partner of Life Time and the Life Time Talks podcast. When it comes to getting the smile you’ve always wanted, Invisalign is all about superior treatment, and that’s exactly what you get with two decades of doctor-driven experience, from small shifts in teeth to big gaps. Invisalign has helped transform more than eight million smiles worldwide, and mine is one of those smiles.
A few years ago, I was feeling really self-conscious about how my bottom teeth had started to shift and overlap. But as an adult, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of braces. So, when I found Invisalign, I was so excited, and now I can say, a couple years since finishing my treatment, that I’m still so happy with the results. I’m definitely more confident when I smile really big these days. Invisalign aligners can change your smile, too.
Hi, everyone. I’m David Freeman.
And I’m Jamie Martin.
And welcome back to Life Time Talks. So, in this episode, we’re talking about inclusion, a topic that has been elevated for so many since the public killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis back in June. I know I’ve shared how this affected me, and how it was related to anxiety, insomnia, and frustration. I also want to say that it moved me into a mindset to better equip myself and my family with action through more education and awareness, and what it means to actually be an activist. How did it affect you, Jamie?
This circumstance, it shook me to my core. It gave me so much pause, because this, seeing this happen the way we saw it happen, and then knowing that it happens all too frequently in our society, it really spurred me to take some time to get educated, to be more aware, to do more work for myself, and my family, and the people I know. It’s been a lot, and it’s been good education that I know I personally needed, and I am continuing to do that work every day.
And I think one of the things that hit so close to home for so many of us, because I’m right in the Twin Cities area where this happened. You’re in Texas, David, but our parent company, Life Time, is based here in the Twin Cities. So, this is home to our organization, and so many of our team members and members live within a very close proximity to where this happened to George Floyd. You know, so, it affected our families, our friends, our community.
We saw firsthand, you know, what happened to those areas in our space, and it’s a lot, and it’s an important thing that we need to be covering. And I think what I’m so glad to see our organization doing, Life Time, our parent company, is it has given us the opportunity to do more as an organization. And one of those things that we’ve done is officially launched what’s known as the Inclusion Council. And David, you’re a part of that, and I know we’re going to talk about that more, but do you want to speak to that a little bit?
Yeah, one hundred percent, Jamie. So, we’re going to talk about it, right? We’re going to talk about the work that’s going to be done moving forward, the actions that we’re going to take. And in this episode, we have two special guests, David Pettrone Swalve and Lindsey Frey Palmquist. I know them both very well, and I’m extremely, extremely, I know you’re excited as well as I am that they’re joining us today.
So, just to give a little background, David Pettrone Swalve, AKA DPS, he’s our vice president of our education in Life Time, as well as our inaugural chair for executive relations for the development for the Inclusion Council. Lindsey Frey Palmquist, she’s a senior copywriter at Life Time, and she’s a business ambassador to the council. Both these individuals bring unique perspectives, experiences, and passion to the important work that we’re going to be bringing in the months to come and the years beyond.
I’m truly grateful to have them, and for them to be willing to join us for the conversation today. And before jumping into the episode and passing the ball back to you, Jamie, I want to share a quote from Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” So, I’m going to pass it to you now, Jamie.
Yeah, I would say, I mean, such a beautiful quote to move us into this episode, just encouraging our listeners to be open minded, to maybe, as we’re asking the questions of each other throughout this episode, to maybe also, maybe pause and ask yourself some of those same questions, and give yourself time to respond as well. But come into it with an open mind, and we hope that this episode is really informative and inspiring as well. So, here we go.
Alright, we are back with another episode of Life Time Talks, and today’s topic is going to be inclusion. We have two special guests. We have David Pettrone Swalve, and we also have Miss Lindsey Frey Palmquist is here with us, super-excited to have both of these individuals on. They bring a wealth of knowledge, so when we talk about inclusion today, you guys will hear different bits and pieces. Definitely get your notepads out, or make sure you remember a lot of what we’re going to be talking about today, because we’re going to go deep.
Yeah. So, a couple things. I know we have two David’s in this episode. So, for the ease of remembering, we’ve got David the co-host of Life Time Talks, and we have David Pettrone Swalve, who we will call DPS for the purpose of avoiding confusion. David, why don’t you kick it off?
Coming into this, guys, we talk about inclusion a lot, and a lot of times within inclusion, people also speak on diversity. So, when we think about inclusion and diversity, what does it mean to each of you?
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
So, to me, diversity is more about the range of perspectives, and experiences, and backgrounds that you have around you, and inclusion is really bringing those perspectives and experiences and backgrounds to the table. So, we kind of live in a society, well, not kind of, but built for white, mid-to-high socioeconomic level, cis-gender, heteronormative, neurotypical people, and that’s kind of the blanket perspective that we get with things.
So, inclusion, to me, is really about bring all these diverse perspectives to the table, and giving everyone equal amplification and importance in conversation.
David Pettrone Swalve
I love that, Lindsey. When we start talking about diversity, inclusion, I think that people banter the words around together, don’t differentiate between them, and I think it’s partially because this is fairly new for us as a society, talking as a whole. We’ve certainly had these conversations in pockets, but certainly new for all of us together. I think, as I start to reflect on what inclusion means for me, you know, the great analogy that people talk about is, is that inclusion is being invited to the dance, right, is that you’re able to get there.
But I think that probably is an umbrella to create diversity. If you want diversity of thought, experience, and ideas, you have to open your doors up to as many diverse backgrounds and experiences as you can, but candidly, that’s not enough. When I go to a dance, I want to make sure that the music I like to dance to is played, and that’s belonging. I belong where somebody knows the music that I want to play. They embrace that music, and they welcome that music.
The difficulty, of course, is that a lot of us simply focus on diversity, and they turn that into a bean-counting practice, and they say, show me a picture so I can count diversity. Well, I’m from Boone, Iowa. If there are three other people from Boone, Iowa, I can guarantee you that they don’t look like me, but our diversity of experience and thought is pretty much the same. So, it’s not an eye test for diversity. It’s really breaking open the mind, cracking open the heart, and getting difference of experience, ideas, and making sure that those people are welcomed in your community.
I love that. Just to piggyback off that, I used this visual so many times, but when we think of inclusion and diversity, I reference the Avengers, right? And when you think of each one of the superheroes within the Avengers, you look at the Hulk, Black Panther, Black Widow, Thor, Iron Man. As individuals, they’re unique within their own superpower, right, and we know how powerful they are as individuals. It’s when they come together as the Avengers, is when they can take down the nemesis, as far as Thanos.
And in this case, when we come together, the social injustices, the gender inequality, and all these other things that we’re facing. So, that’s how I utilize my vision, when I look at diversity and inclusion, and how powerful we are together. I always reference stronger together. So, that’s why I’m excited about this episode, and diving deep into what inclusion and diversity and what that means as a whole.
Absolutely, and just to tag onto that as well, I mean, I think some of the things, it includes the diversity of thought, it includes us looking different in our bodies, having different beliefs, and having all of those welcomed, and feeling safe and respected in who we are in any given moment. To me, it’s about, you know, bringing ourselves just as we are, and feeling safe and welcome and heard, in many cases.
So, you know, I think we all come from different backgrounds, but again, that creates a greater collective, hopefully. It’s that mixing pot that hopefully helps us move forward, and innovate, and do all these things that lead to a greater world. So, moving on, I know there’s a lot that’s happened right here in our community. Life Time is based in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis is our home, and you know, the circumstances of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in our hometown has hit so many of us so hard, not just here, obviously, but all across the country.
And it’s just one of way too many examples of oppression in our society. So, DPS, if you don’t mind starting us off and sharing, like, how did George Floyd’s murder here in our hometown spark you into further action around this, at Life Time and beyond?
David Pettrone Swalve
Yeah, great question. The difficulty of watching George Floyd’s murder, of course, is as a person of color, you know, we all experience then, and it’s probably fairly new for a lot of our listeners, racial trauma, right? We see ourselves in that individual. Obviously, race is a construct. It’s not real. If you talk to any type of biologist or any type of scientist, they’ll point out that very quickly, but we’ve been conditioned to believe that race construct is so real, and groups of individuals have been oppressed because of their race.
When that group of individuals see another individual, in this case, murdered, suffocated to death by another human being, what that does is that really stirs inside of me, at least, the reminder, and it’s happened way too many times, that that could be me. And when that happens, and you start having those build up over time, at some point you either have to decide to lay down and just wait for it to happen to you, or to stand up and find a way to be part of the change that could prevent that from happening to you.
So, it’s fairly selfish, but at some point, I think I finally woke up in the middle of the night and said, I’ve got to do more than I’ve been doing in the past. It’s not only my responsibility, but I certainly need to step further into the gap to be able to assure I can be part of the solution, a vocal part of the solution. I think from that point on, I decided to make this a focal point of my time. You know, I’ve had to acknowledge that I suffer from the same things that other people do.
I have bias. I have prejudice. I’ve had to find ways to assess those bias and those prejudice, and then I decided after that I’ve acknowledged it, after I’ve assessed it, and I’m going to find a way to engage with my family, friends, and loved ones. And in the past four months, that engagement’s caused tears. It’s caused pain. It’s caused fissions in lifelong relationships, and at the same time, it’s gotten all of us to think a little bit deeper, so that we can start to expand our communities.
That’s really, then, what I feel my responsibility is, is after watching that, is that I’ve got to find a way to expand the community of human beings that want to celebrate other human beings’ lives, that value other human beings’ lives, and can honor and promote the concept of love conquers all. That’s where I am today.
Lindsey, how about you?
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
Well, first, I feel like I should say I’m a white person. I’m a white woman, that’s how I identify. To me, when George Floyd was killed, it was a horrible disregard for humanity. It was murder. It was a horrible thing to watch. I felt like it was something that I had hoped would shake an awakening in a lot of my peers to what other people are experiencing in their lives, and what you don’t have to experience if you’re a white person because of the color of your skin.
The privilege that you have inherently in the society that is built around protecting you, and white women, I think, have a certain level of sanctity in that as well, that you have to come to terms with. It really proved to me that, as much as I felt like I was doing things, I felt kind of safe in the actions I was taking in anti-racist behavior, I still wasn’t doing enough. I’m still not doing enough. I still am working on practicing. Allyship, I don’t think, is something you ever even really achieve, as long as the system exists.
I’ve been really working harder on looking and examining my own complicity, the things that I can do and where I do have power in my community, or amongst family and friends, to tackle racism, and be a better, aggressive anti-racist, and find the places that can make a difference there to help dismantle the system for the people that I care about. It’s definitely a tough journey.
It’s uncomfortable, and the things that we need to accomplish are things that we have to do together, and I think seeing this Inclusion Council come out of Life Time as a response to this shortly after was really a thing that I felt very positive about, and I have a lot of hope for at least making steps toward change in our organization, and how that can affect and greater reflect in our community.
David Freeman, I don’t want to miss that you are also part of the Inclusion Council, and on that and were a founding member, and I want you to be able to speak to this, because you and I have had conversations, and you talked about it on the podcast, about some of this that’s affected you, and how it has affected you.
One hundred percent. So, I echo, I want to say thank you both for sharing your thoughts there. I echo a lot of what DPS just said, just for the simple fact that having a son, being a son, having a father as well, all resembling that George Floyd individual. So, when we look at our current state of state, understanding, we’re in a pandemic right now, and we’re speaking of the Coronavirus within the pandemic. When you look at racism, this has been a virus for many years. The difference is, it was affecting one demographic within racism, versus Coronavirus is affecting everyone.
So, therefore, it’s a more focal point on it. So, when we speak of, whether it’s the Black Lives Matter, and you get the debates about this, that, and the third, one, we can have a very holistic approach to this conversation by having a conversation. So, having allies, right, and having individuals really do the work to stand up for those who are oppressed, that’s the game-changer, because when we start with those conversations, those uncomfortable, well, like how DPS puts it, courageous conversations, that’s what leads to change.
And change, a good friend of mine, I like to call him a friend even though I never met him, Sam Cook, change is going to come. We just have to stay persistent, and the more and more we have these conversations, the more it’s going to lead to change. Both Lindsey and David, they couldn’t have put it any better. I like both of what they said, but the conversation, it starts with the conversations, and continue to push forward.
David Pettrone Swalve
Well, and I just want to jump in there. I think that it’s so important to double down on these conversations. It’s so important to double down on being courageous and vulnerable during these conversations. Ultimately, the more conversations we have, I think all of us have, the more diverse our minds become. If we’re open to listening, first and foremost, and we lead with listening, then the appropriate questions, the appropriate responses happen.
But conversations that are an attempt to bludgeon another individual into submission to your point, that’s not a conversation, and I think a lot of individuals believe that that’s the purpose of engaging in these conversations, on either end of the spectrum, if you will, right? I’m an advocate for this, and an ally, so I’m going to beat these people up, and get them to wake up, and over here, nothing’s wrong with us. Our society is great, my world’s great, so I’m going to beat everybody else up with words and with “a conversation,” and that’s not what it is.
A conversation means that we’re meaningfully, intentionally seeking to understand the other’s perspective, and I think that a lot of times, we engage in conversations to get a point across, rather than to be able to empathetically understand the person’s plight that they’re in. So, for us, we have to be more than just intentional. We have to be the individuals who establish ground rules, help people understand that it’s OK to be vulnerable, it’s OK to be wrong, and it’s OK to go ahead and change your perspective for the promotion of humanity.
That’s super powerful and it’s something I personally am working on and trying to figure out how to have those courageous conversations. I think your point about setting some of the ground rules around it is a really good point, and I would love to hear from you guys about how to do that. How do we begin to set those ground rules to create a safe space for these courageous conversations to happen, because they’re really challenging.
I, like you, DPS, am from a small, rural community, and have encountered some situations where, you know, I probably haven’t, I have not said things, and should have, and I look back on that, and I’m like, now’s the time. Now, going forward, I am going to do those things, and I have that opportunity now. How do we do it? How do we help to set those conversations, whether it’s with an elder of ours who has a different perspective, and still be respectful?
I would love to hear your guys’ thoughts on that, because I think we each as individuals do have a responsibility to start having these conversations, but being opening to listening, learning, unlearning, all those things.
David Pettrone Swalve
I think part of it is practice, right? I’m thankful that I have, if I’m being candid, a younger sister who has always been my number one fan and ally. It just happens to be that we’re not of the same, again, “race.” Ultimately, you know, she gives me the permission to be an idiot, to make mistakes, and to engage in these conversations in the wrong way. Luckily enough, she gives me grace and forgiveness, comes back and helps me modulate how to be able to engage in those conversations.
You can look at all the rules that you want on how to be able to engage, and you can look at every step and the way that there is on what you’re supposed to do, right? Hey, do you have a moment to talk about this? Here’s what I saw, here’s what it made me feel. This is how it makes other people feel potentially. And we can go through all of that, but I think that the how is up to you. All of us have to be the initiator. We can’t sit back and wait for somebody to bring it to us. We can’t wait for the perfect forum. We can’t wait for the opportune moment.
Now is the only time I have, and if that’s the case, then I’m going to go back to, again, my recommendation and what I’m learning on engagement, engage the people around you that you trust, that will give you grace and forgiveness. Ask them to give you feedback on how it is that you talked about it, and then use that practice to be able to go forward and engage with the other individuals that you think are necessary to make change in your microcosm of society. Necessarily doing what’s important for you and your community will change what’s important for our country, and this incredible world in which we live in.
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
I think, for me, I’m certainly not perfect, and I’m still learning all the time. So, I have a giant sign actually, over by my desk, that says, “I constantly make mistakes, and that’s OK,” because this is a really difficult journey to be on, and you have to relearn how to address defensive behavior. I think starting with yourself is really probably the best point into even having these conversations, and looking at where you’ve made mistakes on your own gives you, especially if you’re addressing other white people, like a way to say, you know, I had to learn this, too.
And you’re not attacking, and then they become less defensive, but I think, you have to look at the benefits you received. You have to look at the mistakes that you’ve made, and then, you have to listen to the voices around you, and amplify the BIPOC people in your life. Number one is to just normalize having the conversation. Number two, it’s, you just remind yourself constantly not to be defensive.
If you’ve caused harm or you’ve caused hurt to someone and they are either calling you in privately, or they’re calling you out on social media, or something, for something you said, ask more questions, you know? Start by saying, OK, you know, tell me more about this, or what did this feel like to you? By that, you can start to understand their perspective. I think that’s just part of this huge sharing in conversation, is their feelings are their feelings, and you need to be respectful of that in your responses.
So, sometimes it can be difficult to even start, not knowing how to even approach the person. So, if you’ve done that work within yourself, I think that gives you a good angle to relate with them, to have the conversation and start that.
Awesome. What I think of is the touches. You hear me reference this a lot, experience is the best teacher. What we tend to do, it’s affinity bias. We tend to want to connect to the people who agree and think like us. And therefore, we think just within our thoughts, because we’re around those people all the time, we feel we are right. It’s the conversations that we’re avoiding is where the opportunity is. And when you look at this word that we call a label, label itself, I could say a word right now, and it can create division.
Watch this: Republican. Democrat. Black. White. Woman. Man. It’s just that simple, and once I say something or you say something that doesn’t agree with what I feel, you’re wrong, and I don’t want to talk to you anymore, and I need to unfriend you and block you, versus, hey, what did you mean by that? Let’s talk about that. It’s not for me to change your opinion, or how you feel. It’s for us to understand and respect our differences, and we can still be cordial with one another.
That is how you start courageous conversation, but you have to get ready to not always be right, and step outside of your comfort zone of always hearing the yes-mans and the yes-womans, and go to those who do not agree with you all the time. That’s the change that needs to happen, and when we start having those conversations, we’re going to be in a better place.
So, it’s about coming to the table, right, with an open mind.
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
And I think building trust, I think building trust with the people you’re having the conversation with, because people default right now to feeling attacked, or to assuming that they’re being attacked. The more that you do the work and the more that you examine and educate yourself abut having these conversations, because there’s plenty of resources, too, on how to do that, you learn the ways that are appropriate to engage others, and have an accountability there, and talk to them about maybe what you heard them say without immediately putting them on the defensive.
David Pettrone Swalve
I also think it’s fair to ask people to begin with if they want to engage to be able to grow and learn, or if they just want to be able to have a bully pulpit to talk about what they want to talk about. I tend to be a learner. I love picking up any book, or watching documentaries, engaging with people in intelligent conversation, and I think that the importance of, Jamie, as you articulated, that open-mindedness is the key to growth as a human being. Let’s face it, we have to make decisions, so many decisions.
I think that I’ve read recently that compared to our founding fathers, we make as many decisions in a day as they did in their lifetime. If that’s the case, which it feels like it is the case, that we can easily be overwhelmed as a human being, and we have to intentionally, intentionally put importance on the growth of being a human. So, I use the analogy that these open-minded conversations, and trying to find allies, and trying to be able to get people to engage in the larger group is somewhat like driving on a super-highway, right?
You’re in this highway, and you’re driving along, and you can go as fast as you want to be able to go to, and most of us know the rules of the road, and we go to the right if we’re going slower than the car behind us, and the middle is kind of where we need to be to keep going without necessarily slowing down too much, and that far-left lane is, go as fast as you can. And that’s kind of where we are right now on this topic, right? These topics are the -isms that we’re dealing with.
We’re in the far-left lane, we’re going fast, but we find ourselves from time to time rolling up on these cars, and the car’s doing under the speed limit in the far-left lane. We honk our horn, and we flash our lights, and we curse under our breath, and we gesticulate with our hands. And then, after about two miles, we realize, I’m not going to be able to teach this person that the far-left lane is for the fast cars, and ultimately, we have to go back to the middle lane.
We go around them, get back into the left lane, and go. I think a lot of us are stuck behind cars, and we’re constantly honking, even to the point where we’re running our car into the car in front of us to tell them they’re wrong, we’re right, get out of my way, and ultimately, we have to be intelligent enough to know who wants to engage in open-minded conversations, who understands the rules of the road, and who wants to push humanity forward. We don’t have time at this speed, with the volume of decisions we are making, necessarily, to wait for everybody to catch up with us.
So, I think that’s part of the frustration right now, as we’re going through these conversations, as David said, so easy to be divisive, because any time you put a word in front of human being, you devalue that human being. And so, here we are, talking about a topic that’s really important to us, and we have to find ways to be able to help other people make it important, and make it intentional in their world as well.
I love it. I love it, so…
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
It also, it made me not miss driving in traffic lately.
David Pettrone Swalve
It has been pretty nice, hasn’t it, Lindsey, that we haven’t had to drive in the density of traffic that we’ve had before.
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
Especially in that left lane.
David Pettrone Swalve
Yeah, that far-left lane frustration is gone.
Well, let’s talk about, I use this reference a lot as far as perception is reality, and some people look at the development of the Inclusion Council at Life Time as being reactive versus proactive. How would we respond? I say we because I’m part of it as well, but how will we respond to people who might be thinking like this?
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
That’s something that I have talked with a few people about, so I’m comfortable kind of starting with that, but I will obviously defer to you, David and DPS about the origination of it. What we’re doing here is with place for everyone, is really a bottom-up approach, and that, to me, says that we’re kind of building a pace, we’re integrating it within the company so it doesn’t just burn out quickly.
It’s something that definitely takes time, and I think even having this conversation on this podcast about it is something that sets us up for accountability for that. While it’s in its kind of infancy, I think putting this out there and knowing that this is something that we’re building together is really encouraging and super positive. I would encourage people who feel like it’s performative to definitely keep checking back with us so that we have that accountability there.
David Pettrone Swalve
Lindsey, I love the accountability piece that you put on the end there, because we certainly know that we’re engaged in activities that will give us something to be able to measure going forward. I do want to take us back a little bit. The difficulty for most organizations is that as you move into new initiatives, it’s not like you publicly say, hey, we’re exploring and researching these topics right now. We have no idea what our findings are, but we wanted to let you know that we’re out here doing this research, right? In 2018, Life Time invited in Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
What we did with them is we looked at what makes a great leader at Life Time, what makes a great club at Life Time. Ultimately, what drives performance at Life Time? Some of the undercurrent questions that we ask during the survey, and the focus groups, and the interviews that we did were getting at this topic of inclusion. How often do you feel welcomed? How often do you feel as though your voice is heard and appreciated, and we got a baseline for what the organization thought at that time, in 2018.
Not only did we get a baseline for that, but what we found out was something that the book The Diversity Bonus talks about quite a bit, which is non-homogenous teams at Life Time performed better. We also found out, and this isn’t a coincidence, plenty of research out there, that women leaders tended to have a better performing team at the general manager level. Those two things really spurred a lot of conversation at the executive level. So, we laid the groundwork in 2018.
We went through all the data, found as many salient issues as we could, and in 2019, we took that research, and we started going deeper into this topic of inclusion. So, if some of the listeners today are Life Time team members, they may have been invited to what we called listening sessions, asking about inclusion. We conducted about 14 large group listening sessions, where we took our team members through the feeling of belonging here at Life Time, and did a variety of surveys again to be able to come to an understanding of what the organization needed, what they wanted, and how to be able to make change.
So, for two and a half, almost two and a half years, this organization was doing the groundwork, doing the heavy lifting, to be able to stand up this Inclusion Council. But to a lot of our team members, and probably to the general public, they didn’t see that going on below the surface of the water. And now, all of a sudden, there’s a tip of the iceberg that comes out of the water, and they see the tip of the iceberg, and they say, look, it’s just an ice cube. It’s not true.
There’s an entire glacier underneath the water of what we’ve been doing, and we have a multi-pronged approach. The Inclusion Council is just one of three primary approaches that we’re going about to be able to push and pull the organization to that evolved position that our CEO and founder had been asking us to do. So, in my conversations, I tried to go ahead and let people know that that’s happened. If the conversations are in my office, I show them the reports from ‘18 and ‘19, but more often than not, the conversations are from individuals who are looking to poke holes in progress in the organization.
And they say things like, you’re just being reactive because it’s temporal. You’re just doing it because George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, you’re just doing it because…no. I’ll tell you why we’re doing it, we’re trying to continue to evolve the country, to make Life Time a place for everyone, to expand our communities, so we can maximize, so we can maximize people who get access to a healthy way of life. It’s pretty simple.
And so, we’re not doing this as a reaction, this is a natural progression of the Inclusion Council. To Lindsey’s point, is a way for us to ensure those values of inclusion, of belonging, of equity, are engaged, that, communicated and held, I’ll call it close to the heart, at every single one of our locations across this great North American continent. So, I’m really proud of the work that was done before the Inclusion Council, and I’m also really proud of the 500-plus members we have on our Inclusion Councils, because they’re the ones who make the change. Our executives are making change for themselves. They’re all on personal journeys.
We’re all on personal journeys together, and then there’s the organization, and what hold us all together are those great ambassadors at the club level, and we wanted to give people the empowerment to be able to have voice and make change. So, David, it was a great question. I get that people see this as a reaction, but this is really a culmination of two-plus years of work.
I love that. I mean, I’m going to jump in, answering my own question here, too, if you guys are OK with it. So, a reference from The 12-Week Year book by Brian Moran, three principles. So, I’m going to answer the question first, and then I’m going to draw a reference from somebody. So, you have accountability, commitment, and greatness within the moment. The groundwork, the foundation, you got to be able to stand up on two legs here.
So, you can hear now, two and a half years of work has already been done. It might not have been to the public eye. Accountability, Lindsey hit on as well. Hold us accountable. Look at us, you know, months from now and see how we’re progressing. So, the accountability’s going to be there. The commitment is amongst one another. We have 500-plus individuals that are part of this Inclusion Council, and as so many other individuals, you don’t need the label. I got air quotes going on, you don’t need the label to help create a movement.
The commitment is to everybody being part of something greater than themselves. Everybody’s part of this movement. So, you have accountability. You have the commitment. The greatness in the moment is the last piece. When you think of greatness in the moment, when we start to see the changes, that’s not a surprise. Are we excited? Are we happy? Yes, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. You know, every year when your birthday comes, it’s your birthday, but we act surprised, though. You know, it’s your birthday, right? Happy birthday. It’s not a surprise.
So, when you look at those three principles, the reason why I wanted to stay there, we look at accountability. Their reference point, Michael Phelps is the reference point in the book. Every day, he stayed with his same routine, prepping for the ’08 Olympics. He was committed to doing what nobody has ever done before. He had the mental capacity to go to bed and wake up, not go party, not go do all the crazy stuff, to stay focused on what he wanted to achieve. So, when he wins by a hundredth of a tenth of a second and makes history, everybody’s like, wow.
But they didn’t see the iceberg illusion that DPS referenced. All the work underneath the water, they don’t see that. They just see all those gold medals, and him breaking all these records. So, I want us to understand. Tim Hightower, and I used it yesterday on our call, what’s important now? We’re going to have so many metrics that people want to see. What about this? Why don’t we have this here? Just understand, greatness in the moment is coming, and patience is a beautiful thing. That’s how I would answer if somebody was to ask me that question.
Yeah, and I just want to add, I have benefited so much personally and professionally over the past several months from the resources that the new Inclusion Council, I also am using air quotes around “new” as well, I know nobody can see us, have benefited so much, and I will say that the learning that I’ve done extends well beyond what we’re doing at Life Time, because I can’t tell you how much I’ve shared with those I love, and who I’m in conversation with, to kind of spread around what I’m learning and benefiting from the work our own organization is doing.
And again, that’s about, like, it’s changing me personally, but it’s also my community, the people I love, and I think this is the power of what this kind of work can do, is it expands beyond the walls of an organization or a place to more of our society.
David Pettrone Swalve
Well, Jamie, I appreciate you saying that. You know, I think I can echo that. I definitely have learned a lot in these past four or five months, and I think that one thing that keeps jumping out at me is that the Life Time nation is different than any other organization I think I’ve ever seen. Obviously, people come to Life Time for a healthy way of life, but our team members at Life Time are truly selfless. They join us not to become the richest person in the world. They join Life Time because ultimately, they know they can help other people achieve goals and grow, and that selflessness, that human touch is what differentiates Life Time from every other organization.
So, as we’ve started to put resources out for our team members, the accelerated growth, the acceleration and the velocity of conversations that have been happening have really both been awe-inspiring for me, and a bit scary, because it’s forced me to continue to grow on this topic.
It’s forced me to be able to acknowledge that I have a lot of work to be able to do, and ultimately, it’s forced me to really wrestle with, what is this ideal of equality? If we’re truly all in this pursuit of happiness, what does it mean that I have to be able to do differently, and that challenge from the learnings that have been coming out of the Life Time education in partnership with the Inclusion Council has really been causing, for me, deep reflection on what it means to be human, and obviously in the social context that we find ourselves in, with economic distress, with pandemic, with all of the things that are impacting us now, it’s really shook my foundation, if I’m being candid, as to how and what to do to be a better leader, to be a better human being.
So, I echo exactly what you’re saying, Jamie, because it’s not just about being the leader in Life Time. It’s about my sister, my mother, people in my life, my partner, all the things that make a difference in who you are. Those are the ones that I think are being impacted by all of these resources and conversations we’re having, and I’m trusting it’s being impacted in a positive way.
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
If I can jump in one second on kind of how we’re talking about this, too, going back to David’s original question about performative nature, and I think what’s really exciting about this, and I don’t want us to, you know, we can pat ourselves on the back for having this council and for doing this work, and we have to look toward the future, and continuing to make that progress, and demonstrating that. But I think one thing that I find very exciting about this is looking at how democratic it really is, of the company as kind of a microcosm of our society.
And the work that we’re putting in from the ground up in this way is allowing everyone to have that voice in the same way that the way our government works, in that you can kind of speak to your representatives. Your representatives take that information to the leadership in the government, and our company’s employing a very similar model in that, where we get to all have a voice. That voice on the ambassador level, where I am, goes up to the council chairs and the committee chairs, and then, that is taken directly to the leadership of the company.
And I think it’s really important for people who don’t understand fully how the Inclusion Council operates to see the potential for change in having that system set up that way. So, I was wondering if you guys would talk a little bit more, even, about how you envision these conversations going up toward the executive leadership.
David Pettrone Swalve
I will jump in there. I think that it’s important for us, and thank you, Lindsey, for asking that, you know, real and challenging question. I think it’s important for us to share with the listening audience what the council is really about, right? I think we talked about it to begin with, that we’re continuously renewing our community, where all of our team members can feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued, to fully participate, but the council itself, that’s the end goal, right?
That’s the aspirational goal that our founder and CEO is driving us towards, but we have four cornerstones in which we’re influencing the organization. The first is that culture of inclusion, and Jamie, you mentioned it on the learning and the development, the engagement forums that we’re having, the open conversations that we’re having. We really think that’s the first step for us to be able to drive a place for everyone. Second cornerstone is then, we call it close the gap.
We know for a fact that in our society, people of color, indigenous individuals, women, have not been represented at the executive leadership the way that they represent the rest of society. We want to close that gap. We want to ensure that we’re a reflection of our community. We want to influence the organization to be able to get there through recruiting and casting, intentional efforts to be able to drive those populations that have been under-represented, and many times oppressed, and denied the opportunity there. So, that’s our second cornerstone.
Our third cornerstone is mentoring and coaching. What we hear a lot, and what research tells us, is that women BIPOC don’t always have access to a mentor, don’t always get access to the coaching necessary to be able to break through the boys’ club, or to break through into the board room. And we’re aiming to ensure that we have certified coaches for inclusion. We’re aiming to ensure we have codified mentoring programs, that people who want to develop into that exceptional leader can have the means to be able to do so.
And our fourth cornerstone, and we intentionally make this our fourth cornerstone, is to expand the community We have to start within, drive our culture of inclusion. We have to reflect the community of who we are at Life Time with more women leaders, BIPOC leaders, and we have to have a pipeline of development for our team members. If we’re doing those first three, then our ability to expand the community, and to offer the healthy way of life and Life Time to those under-represented groups, is going to be a slam dunk for us, and really drive it forward.
The difficulty, I think, a lot of people see, and Lindsey shaped the question around, you know, how do we ensure that those messages are shared with our executive team? At Life Time, our executives are leading the way. Our executives are on a collective journey to be able to be way out in front of the empowerment of the inclusion at Life Time, and are working collectively to be able to understand the needs of the organization, understand their own perspectives on these topics, and create new pathways, policies, and procedures that make it a place for everyone.
So, they’re doing some real work, and they’re giving us the opportunity to be able to take all of the information from the ambassadors, and we sit with them once a month to go through all of the topics that we’ve been addressing and dealing with, and then every two weeks, we’re reporting back to them to the actions that are happening. And I can tell you right now that, why it’s so exciting for me, might hear some excitement in my voice right now, why it’s so exciting for me is I’ve never seen a group get more excited about changing the way in which they lead than this group of leaders at Life Time.
And that emboldens me. It really emboldens me, because they’re actively listening. They’re educating, and introducing new ideas to our organization, and then they’re customizing and inspiring the way in which they lead downline as well. So, we have this push-pull going on, right? We have these ambassadors who are pushing the organization higher and higher, and then you have these executives are saying, hey, but I’m a great athlete, I’m going to be out in front of the organization, I’m going to pull the organization.
Show me another organization that has those two aspects of a push-and-pull leadership going on, and I’ll say, great, we want to partner with you. But right now, for us, we have the attention, and I believe we will continue to have the attention, when I say “we,” it’s all team members at Life Time, have the attention of our executives. I’m tickled pink that they’re working so hard to be able to get us there.
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
And that’s what I kind of meant. I wanted people to understand that the emotional labor and the work being done is not just being done by people maybe at lower rank within the organization. It’s really going all the way to the top, which I think is what makes this exciting. It’s what makes it a good model for even other parts of the country to look at how to do that. Instead of just putting up a social post for your company saying that we care, we’re working on things, you know, you’re actually doing things at this foundational level to craft a new way of working together.
David Pettrone Swalve
And it’s real work, it takes time, Lindsey. I think that’s the thing that, you know, Dolly Chugh has some great research out there. I don’t know if people watched her on the TED Talks, or on, you know, Google Visits, or a variety of things. But Dolly talks about a little bit of the bell curve, right? We have 20 percent of the people on one end. Those are the hyper-emotional, really advocating the change in the society that needs to happen.
We have a 20 percent on the other end of the bell curve that are like, there’s nothing wrong with society. We don’t need to change. You’re only challenging this because you don’t like me, or whatever that thought process is. Then we have the 60 percent of the people in the middle that are like, hey, you know, what’s going on? How do we help humanity evolve? I think that for those groups of individuals, they need to understand that it’s OK to go ahead and say that they want to change and don’t know how, and we turn discussion into a debate, where I’m right, you’re wrong.
And the people left in the middle are simply saying, I think that we should evolve as human beings. How do we do that? But we have all of this conversation going on in both ends of the spectrum. And so, I think the challenge, you’re saying, Lindsey, is, can we embolden people to have some confidence, to know that our organization is doing what it takes to have long-lasting, sustainable change, and secondarily, that it’s OK for you to step into that gap, and say, I want to be part of the solution rather than the silent part of the non-solution going forward.
And the more people that we’re able to engage with and say, hey, this is what’s happening, the more people are telling me, great, I want to get involved in the evolutionary change of the organization. So, I think that your question was right, Lindsey, to say, how is it that we’re really doing it? You know, our founder and CEO says things like, I love this stuff, we need to push hard. You know, he just loves it. He loves it, and I can just sit back and say, I’m so respectful of our executives, and I’m so respectful of our team members, because they’re both in the same mindset, that we can evolve as an organization.
And that’s what a healthy way of life is about. It’s about being smarter, jumping higher, running faster, feeling better about ourselves, having that mental quietness because we understand that where we are as a human being is a good place to be, and that’s how the Inclusion Council is making the change. It’s reminding everybody that you belong here, that this is a place for you, and we love you.
So, you said something in that, DPS. You said long-lasting, sustainable change, and I think, you know, our organization has always been working towards that with people’s health and their wellness. And this, and health and wellness is not just physical. It’s mental, emotional, it’s all of these pieces. So, I think that’s part of it, is like, it’s not something that happened. There aren’t quick fixes for these things. It takes practice, to your point, it takes touches, David, every single day, and we are working towards it, and we’re going to slip.
We’re going to take two steps back sometimes, and we’re just going to have to keep going. Again, Lindsey, you said we talked about mistakes. We’re going to make mistakes, but it’s about coming back. Come back to that table. Practice it, and that is what is going to get us towards that long, sustainable change, and a real kind of, hopefully a better world, and a more inclusive world. So, David, any final thoughts you want to put out there? Do you want to go right into your power minute?
Yeah. Tools and resources I’m going to throw out there real quick, and I know we’ll put that in our podcast notes. So, DPS referenced a TED Talk, and we’ll get that information to you guys, too. I would recommend one that kind of hit me, was 13TH on Netflix, thought-provoking documentary that had different scholars and activists talking about the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom. So, that’s great, to actually go educate yourself and look at that. Just take that in, and understand what I said earlier.
Perception sometimes becomes reality, as what we view people as. So, that will be a good one. There’s so many other opportunities out there as far as tools and resources. So, Lindsey, DPS, if y’all had some quick ones that you want to throw out there?
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
One that I plan to reread on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder every year is Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. That one is a great place, if you’re a white person and you’re kind of not sure where to start, I would start there. It’s hard work, and it’s uncomfortable, and it’s gutting, but you need to understand your complicity in the system.
David Pettrone Swalve
Yeah, I think that all of us had different ways and different means of learning. I love sitting down for documentaries, 13th was a great one. I also tend to be a reader. You know, I think that a couple books that I’m into right now, which have been challenging for me, and one makes me smile, because it gives me some science. The first one is Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, The Origins of Our Discontents, and for those of us who think that we understand the -ism of race, I would encourage you to pick this up, because it really asks us to think about the hierarchy of human divisions, and really asks us if we are able to see how we have cast other human beings below us.
The second one that I would say, as an advocate, it was actually recommended to me by Scientific American. They have a section in the back of their magazine every month that is, here’s some books to read, and I tend to take a look at them, and this one’s called How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don’t) Say About Human Difference by Adam Rutherford, and some people know Adam Rutherford’s name out there. He’s a bestselling author and has some great TED Talks as well.
That one really, you know, if you will, gives me the science, and allows me to be able to talk science behind these individuals that want to talk to me about the differences between human beings. Those are the two recommendations I’d make.
Love them, and I would add, just as something somebody who’s going back and looking at what I learned in school and how do I question that, way back when, I listen to the 1619 podcast by, from The New York Times, which was fantastic. It gives a really interesting and honest look at the foundations of our country and how oppression has been part of it from the very beginning. And I’m also reading Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi, before I get to How to Be Anti-Racist.
So, there are, I mean, doing different things, but those are two right now, like, really going back to what are the roots of this, and how do we question that and learn more. So, those are two for me.
Awesome. Alright, here we go, y’all, power minute. We always do this at the end, and we want to leave our listeners with something that, we’ve already hit them with some thought-provoking things, but just something that you want to leave them with. So, what is one key takeaway from each of you that you want to leave our listeners with?
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
I would say mine is awareness. So, become aware of what is both happening and how you are complicit in that, and how you are working on that within yourself, and to empower the people around you — and listen. Listen to people.
David Pettrone Swalve
Mine would be that it’s super hard work, it’s going to take a long time. This isn’t a sprint. It’s not a marathon. It’s the human race. Find something that motivates you, find something that drives you, inspires you, aspires you. Mine is a simple quote from a song, right, is that, “I’m going to keep going at this until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.” And when we get there, I know we’ll be there, but I’m motivated by that every single day.
That’s so great. Thank you both so much for taking the time out of your schedules to have this conversation with us. We just can’t thank you enough. So, listeners, if you have questions, please feel free to send them to us. We’d love to hear from you, hear what you want to learn about. If there’s other questions you have that we can address separately, we’d love to hear from you. So, thanks, you guys.
Thank you, guys.
David Pettrone Swalve
Thank you, Jamie. Thank you, Lindsey. Thank you, David. It’s been an honor.
Lindsey Frey Palmquist
Thanks, you guys.
Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?
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Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins and sound consulting by Coy Larson. A big thank you to the team who pulls each episode together and everyone who provided feedback.
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