Ep 81: Beyond Optics: Leadership and Meaningful Inclusion with Sand Chang, PhD

Uncategorized Jun 23, 2023


It’s a word that evokes strong emotions and reactions for many people. Some see it as a polarizing issue that elicits extreme rhetoric, while others recognize the need for us to confront discomfort and take responsibility for the impact of our leadership.

We have to consider what inclusion means to us, what it feels like, and how it shows up in our work and personal lives.

Because all too often, inclusion is reduced to a performative, box-checking act, instead of an opportunity to invest time, resources, and effort towards sustainable building inclusivity.

In a world that values efficiency and productivity, embracing inclusion can be uncomfortable. It requires introspection, cultural change, and a departure from traditional notions of power.

Inclusion is inconvenient because it compels us to think differently and confront our own biases. It also reveals how those in dominant cultures often prioritize their own inclusion, sometimes at the expense of others.

But true inclusion benefits everyone. 

To foster true inclusion, leaders need to engage in deep work and shift their perspectives, beliefs, and actions. This transformation allows for the recognition and appreciation of all perspectives and contributions, ensuring that those in positions of privilege actively dismantle exclusionary systems.

Skilled leaders, like today’s guest, who guide individuals in this journey play a crucial role in creating a more inclusive society.

Dr. Sand Chang (they/them) is a Chinese American nonbinary psychologist, trainer, author, and DEI/organizational consultant with more than 20 years of experience. Through compassionate engagement, they partner with organizations and teams seeking meaningful structural and interpersonal change. Dr. Chang’s work is grounded in social justice, cultural awareness, and humility. Their areas of emphasis include trauma-informed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), LGBTQ populations, trans health, and body liberation related to racial justice, and eating disorders.


Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • Stretching beyond diversity to inclusivity and why a seat at the table isn’t enough
  • Why it’s essential to acknowledge the power differentials in our spaces and to do the work to deconstruct them
  • How organizations can move beyond optics to doing the work to support true inclusion
  • How urgency, perfectionism, shame, and fragility create barriers to progress
  • How bias and exclusion in research impact how we understand mental and physical health, and the limitations of “evidence-based” practices
  • Why people from privileged identities need to fight for marginalized people


Learn more about Dr. Sand Chang:

Learn more about Rebecca:


Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:

Sand Chang: It’s not up to one person or it’s not up to a team. It’s actually each person having to do reflection work, and that’s not easy, right? That is not easy work when we’re indoctrinated into systems across lifetimes, generations, intergenerational, ancestral influences that don't set us up to be thinking about other people in this way, don't set us up to be thinking about liberation for one person as connected to everyone else’s liberation.

[Inspirational Intro Music]

Rebecca Ching: Inclusion sure is a big word that brings up big feelings for many, and for some, the concept of inclusion polarizes and elicits extreme rhetoric. Maybe for others, it stretches our own capacity for discomfort and our ability to take responsibility for the impact of our leadership and the structures that we’ve supported but also exclude. 

So, what does inclusion mean to you? What does inclusion feel like and look like in the spaces you work and do life? Do you see inclusion as an obligatory box to check or as something you're willing to put your time, resources, and effort into so it’s sustainable over the long haul? Because, let’s be honest, inclusion as a performative box to check is sadly still too often the norm.

I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.

Inclusion benefits everyone. Yeah, everyone.


Now, inclusion does not mean some groups will be excluded, but it does mean a shift in power distribution that reflects more equity. Now, I want to note shifts in status quo power are very different than not being included, and I note this because those who’ve always been included often feel like they're being excluded when more people have a seat at the table and have a voice in how things are done. When there’s a shift in how you’ve always done things, how you think, how you lead, your discomfort level increases, and in a world that values efficiency and speed and productivity, we can feel pretty darn uncomfortable doing the internal work and the culture work to welcome inclusion. It goes against the grain of how we’ve been taught to work and what we’ve been taught about power and how things change. 

I often say inclusion is inconvenient, and because inclusion forces us to think differently, it stirs up a lot of our stuff lightning fast, often resulting in an interesting centering around this word, particularly for those of us in dominant culture, that can often take us out of perspective taking with the experiences of those around us. I notice how this word stirs up feelings of not being included in those in dominant culture or, at minimum, we go to great lengths to make sure we feel included, often at the expense of others.

I learn a lot from skilled leaders like my guest today who helps those who share a lot of privileges like myself and those in white-, and cis-dominant led spaces to do the deep work to be able to shift out perspectives, our beliefs and actions so we can create a standard of recognizing and valuing all perspectives and contributions.


Dr. Sand Chang is a Chinese-American nonbinary psychologist, trainer, author, and DEI organizational consultant with more than 20 years of experience. Through compassionate engagement, they partner with organizations and teams seeking meaningful structure and interpersonal change. Dr. Chang’s work is grounded in social justice, cultural awareness, and humility. Their areas of emphasis include trauma-informed diversity, equity, and inclusion, LGBTQ populations, trans health, and body liberation related to racial justice and eating disorders.

Now, pay attention to how Sand connects the importance of inclusion to sustain diversity. Notice when Sand shares how at the heart of inclusion it’s not about optics but creating an environment where people feel deeply connected and valued. Listen for how Sand names the role shame has in our efforts to be more inclusive by shedding down our fear of making mistakes instead of embracing our errors as a part of the process of learning. All right, y’all, I’m so excited to welcome Dr. Sand Chang to The Unburdened Leader podcast!

Sand, welcome!

Sand Chang: Thank you so much for inviting me to be here!

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, I’m really glad to have you. I’ve been doing kind of a deeper dive on some words on the podcast that often get tossed around, sometimes with a little bit of lack of understanding of really what they mean, or they’re used even in marketing or to cover your bum kind of situations without a real depth of understanding or true alignment.


And so, one of those words that I want to go deeper into conversation today is the word inclusion. I want to note, too, that one of the reasons why I wanted to have this conversation with you in particular is because I have learned so much about inclusion, the depth of it more so than what it looks like to perform it or to think it or to analyze it, but what does it mean to live it and be in community with it. So that is why I’m really excited to hear from you and learn from you today and for those who are listening to get that opportunity too.

So I want to start with just kind of how do you define inclusion?

Sand Chang: Yeah, thank you for this question. You used the word aligned or alignment, and I think I just wanted to really honor that, that this is about inclusion across systems. It’s also around aligning what we think and what we feel and also aligning with what’s happening in our bodies. And so, these terms can be very sort of -- I don't know, can lead to a lot more of engaging in a cognitive realm and oftentimes we tend to forget what does it feel like to be a body in a particular space. And so, I'm always trying to listen for myself, and I’m just noticing there are parts of me that have a hard time with the word inclusion, and in my body I feel a little bit of resistance when I hear any of these terms (diversity, inclusion, equity, DEI) even though I work in these spaces and have for many years.

So, I think the idea behind inclusion is we know that diversity isn't enough. We know it’s not enough to get people of different backgrounds. Diversity is certainly necessary, but it’s not sufficient. We can't just throw a bunch of people together and think, “Oh, everyone’s gonna now feel like they're welcome and now feel like they're equally valued.”


And so, the idea behind inclusion, often I hear it termed or spoken about as let’s create a seat at the table, and when I hear this I think, “Well, who’s table is this?” and that inclusion’s not enough, right? It’s still someone’s table that was created with a certain kind of person or certain people in mind, and there are ways in which inclusion can pull for tokenization. It can pull for assimilation. “Come be part of our group.” For the person who may be trying to get a seat at the table because of survival, because of capitalism, it may not actually feel good to try to belong or to assimilate to feel like one that, “Oh, I’m joining your table now. I want to be like everyone else here. 

And so, I’m really interested in how do we create new tables. Sometimes I hear even people talk about, “Do we even need tables?” [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Sand Chang: You know, I don't know how much we want to go with this metaphor, but it’s like who created this space, how do we decenter certain folks who have always been centered, and how do we center the needs of the most marginalized or the most overlooked or the most under-resourced because of systems of inequality. 

So, when I’m thinking about what does true inclusion mean, I’m also thinking about where is the power, right? Sometimes we hear words like belonging and inclusion, and they're such feel-good terms like, “Yeah, we just want to feel connected to people.”


Absolutely, I believe connection is important. However, we can also bypass the fact that there are power differentials and that we need to look at who’s at the top, what does leadership look like, how is power shared, are those who are of the dominant culture, whatever the context might be, are they willing to share power or even give up power. So those are the things that I’m really interested in.

When I enter systems, I do DEI work with organizations, and I’m often asking questions like, “Who’s already been doing this work? I know that there are people who have been doing this work. Are they getting paid? Is there a way for them and their concerns to actually be heard or are they not seen as “experts” because they aren't “DEI consultants”? So I’m looking at things like that and looking at not just data commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but I’m looking at what are the concrete indicators of work and action, and especially, are the leaders engaged. So much of the time it’s people in leadership who, they might say, “Okay, I’m fine with that,” but are they actually engaged in the work? And if the leadership isn't engaged, then it’s really hard to actually get that kind of commitment and action across the whole system.

Rebecca Ching: So I have a couple follow ups here. What’s interesting as I listen to you share this definition about inclusion, there’s a curiosity coming up on who’s the one to say, “You're included,” and, “You’re not.” Who’s the gatekeeper there? So that’s standing out to me. Inclusion isn't just -- I would love to hear you talk a little bit more about, “Well, we included people that are different than me, so we did inclusion.”

Sand Chang: Mm-hmm. Sure.


Rebecca Ching: What does inclusion look like in action? You touched on it a little bit, like, how is power shared? How are decisions made? Can you go a little bit further on inclusion in action versus optics?

Sand Chang: Mm-hmm. Yes, sure. It’s a good question! Yeah, so okay, let’s start with optics. I think the past few years especially (but longer) because, yeah, these terms are buzzwords. They're marketing words too. So optics mean, “Oh, let’s get a photoshoot and make a brochure about our program, and let’s make sure that there’s a Black person, an Asian person, a Latinx person, and everyone looks really happy.” [Laughs] Or optics might be just even the statement of, “We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” To me, that statement doesn't actually mean anything if it’s not backed up with, “Okay, this is what we’re doing in our hiring practices. This is how we’re thinking about who’s even doing the interviewing and how that impacts someone’s performance in an interview.” It looks like who gets screened out before we even get to see, right, through recruitment systems. It looks like pretty much at every touchpoint, every aspect of a system, HR, built environments. Are we thinking about inclusion across the board with respect to cultural identity, diversity, ability, neurotype and neurodiversity, gender diversity? So, really broadly, intersectionally, and when I use the word intersection or intersectionality, I mean thinking about systems not just identities and systems that really aren't created for everyone to have equal access.


And so, I’ll give you the most concrete example I can think of is if I walk or step into a building and I can’t access an all-gender restroom, immediately that’s gonna impact my experience of however long I’m in that space or whether or not I’m going to even stay in that building. And so, that’s such a fundamental thing, right? If this is a workplace, that’s a cue already, and I could tell you lots of stories about these situations. No need to get into it, but yeah, it’s thinking about the ways that we expect people to communicate. Whether it’s all expected to be verbal when, for some people, that’s not the best way to access information or that’s not how people’s brains process information. I think you understand a lot about this, right? 

Rebecca Ching: I sure do.

Sand Chang: In order to make certain changes, because so many systems are set up not to be inclusive, in order to make changes, usually it takes money.

Rebecca Ching: Money and time. 

Sand Chang: Yeah, money and time, and is that something that an organization is willing to invest in because everyone’s all happy, and it sounds really good until they realize they have to pay something, give something, effort in some way, or change something, and can it be done in the time that it takes, not a, “Here, let’s throw money at it. Can you fix it,” which I think is a common approach.

Rebecca Ching: “By next week.”

Sand Chang: Yeah, a really common approach to DEI. “Can you come and do a one-hour training and fix this problem?” That’s impossible.

Rebecca Ching: Exactly, versus, “This is gonna be something that’s a practice that we’re gonna sit with the discomfort of.”


You know what’s standing out to me too, and I haven't put language to it this way. I’m curious how this lands with you is with inclusion, especially around the time and money piece is do I really believe -- I can put together a brochure or I can put together a statement for the website, right? But do I really believe that that’s important, that inclusion is important, and do I know how to do it or am I willing to invest in the support to help make that happen. So there’s a, “I have to do this so that people don't ‘cancel’ me or so I don't get sued or I can keep people happy,” that kind of attitude versus, “This is important to me, so how can we do that?” It’s almost a belief. So then once it’s a belief it isn't, “How do we get everyone to be happy,” versus, like you're talking about, “How do we develop the systems so that our hiring practices and our workspace reflect what’s on the brochure or the website mission statement.” How does that land?

Sand Chang: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Fill in the blanks that I’m missing.

Sand Chang: No, yeah. I mean, I think as you're talking I’m really thinking about how it’s so easy to look externally or to seek an external solution for a problem that feels external rather than to know that if everyone is part of a system that is showing a problem (for example biases in hiring), that it’s not up to one person or it’s not up to a team. It’s actually each person having to do reflection work, and that’s not easy, right? That is not easy work when we’re indoctrinated into systems across lifetimes, generations, intergenerational, ancestral influences that don’t set us up to be thinking about other people in this way, don't set us up to be thinking about liberation for one person as connected to everyone else’s liberation.


We live in a very kind of white supremacist, colonialist, capitalist system that says, “More for me, and if you get more I’m gonna get less.” It’s a scarcity model.

Rebecca Ching: Total scarcity model.

Sand Chang: Yeah, it’s just a very competitive and hostile environment, right? The buy-in on that is actually really challenging. I have really different experiences with different organizations, and I can really feel it almost immediately in a 30-minute “discovery call,” and sometimes even people reach out to me and say, “We really need your help because part of the work we need is for you to convince our CEO that this is important.” And so, I often get these kinds of calls, and I really feel for the employees in those situations, a lot of whom have been doing a lot of free labor, exhausting labor, when there’s something that’s blocking movement, and when that can't actually be seen as, oh, this is beyond the optics. This is beyond profit. This is beyond looking like you're at the cutting edge. This is actually about knowing that when people feel connected, when people feel valued, that it makes for a better environment for everyone.

Rebecca Ching: That’s a tough one, and there’s something about -- it’s so ingrained if you're -- and I’m just speaking from how I’ve been trained and what I’ve been taught that it’s you or me. It really isn't we.


And there’s the piece around efficiency and urgency that really just is like, “I’m so over this. I’m so over this. Can we just, like, move on and get back to it?” I’ve been that person, and I feel like part of even parenting my children has helped me continuously eat a ginormous amount of humble pie with my own ableism and my own kind of worship of tidy and neat, along with just intentionally being in community with people who have different lived experiences.

You touched on this briefly, that within 30 minutes, you're kind of able to assess the spectrum of inclusion, what that means, and the flavor of it from a space. And you talked about for you even walking into a building and is there a bathroom that you can use that feels welcoming to you, like something as fundamental as that. Are there other thought processes or metrics that you have that help you determine if a space or a person is or is not inclusive?

Sand Chang: Well, I mean, I guess I will say that, also, inclusion is not one thing, right? It’s got all these -- and sometimes that’s where the breakdown is. We’re doing so well with this aspect of inclusion that we’re not paying attention to everyone else who’s still being excluded.

Rebecca Ching: Yes.

Sand Chang: And there’s still an approach of let’s put out fires and this fire is more important, and you don't see that all these fires are connected. And so, everyone wanted to put out the fire of 2020 after George Floyd and uprisings, and everyone wanted to throw money at trying to get to racial inclusion or maybe appear to be inclusive, and I heard a lot at that time of, “Okay, well, we can't get to trans stuff yet. We can't get to stuff around neurodivergence yet,” you know?


I get it, that we need to put effort towards all these different areas, and I see that as one of the obstacles. I think many of us are indoctrinating these systems that are very binary, are very much about right or wrong and about categorization. And so, there are all the characteristics of white supremacy. There’s the urge to fix, and I’m really aware that that urgency is paired with people already feeling tired, overworked, and so, it’s a setup, right? Because it’s like, “Oh, well, this is going to take time.” No one wants to hear that. So it’s like, “So this is going to take time,” and, “Well, how is that gonna happen?” Everyone is already so over-stretched, so this is actually a larger problem around labor practices, around workplace culture, around grind culture, that actually is in the way.

Then, of course, there’s the perfectionism. I hear so many companies say, “We want to get it right,” and I’m like, “I get that sentiment, and I appreciate it. it comes from a well-meaning place,” and they get it right, the perfectionism, which usually is coupled with shame, is often an obstacle too, because if you are so set on getting it right, then when you make mistakes, which are just part of the learning process, often that shame shows up to shut everything down, and I’ve seen that again and again.


Organizations are really interested or appear to be really interested, and then when the work gets hard and when there are feelings and when there’s a challenge, that shuts things down. I think that is one of the biggest barriers to being able to move forward is shame and fragility.

Rebecca Ching: Mm, how do you differentiate shame and fragility, because part of me feels like they're the same. And forgive me if I’m missing something there, but I feel like shame is at the heart of what will make me reactive and then center things on myself or shut down or walk away or tap out. Yeah, correct me if I’m missing something. 

Sand Chang: Yeah, I mean, and of course, I’m also really interested in words, like very, and semantics. So just even in this moment, I’m like, “Oh, that is that difference?” This is just what I’m coming up with in this moment is that I always think about shame as coming back to the person and the “I’m bad,” right? The spiraling into, “I’m bad. I can't do this, and it’s so intolerable to be with shame, that, “Okay, I’m just gonna quit. I can't do this.”

Rebecca Ching: Mm.

Sand Chang: Fragility I often see as having an energy that is focused on the other person like, “I can't handle this. You're calling me out. You're being mean to me. I’m being corrected.” I often see fragility paired with framing of one’s self as a victim when one actually has the power in the situation.

Rebecca Ching: Okay.

Sand Chang: I don't know if that makes sense. That’s what’s making sense in my brain at this moment. I’m sure they're cousins, you know? 


Rebecca Ching: Yeah, I think that’s a fair statement. To me, it’s almost like concentric circles. I would say that piece of, “I can't handle discomfort or accountability or being disagreed with,” or whatever, my internal capacity, to me, I inextricably see that linked to my relationship with being able to tolerate the feelings of shame or even guilt in that conviction. 

Sand Chang: Yeah, and, you know, as we are both Internal Family Systems therapists, I’m also aware that we all have different parts that react differently to shame or, in other words, when shame is there, we have different protectors with different strategies. And so, one way to think about it is that -- because fragility, I think of it more as something that’s expressed because people can feel it in the environment when you're expressing fragility. I almost think about fragility almost as a strategy of a protector.

Rebecca Ching: How it blows through a room? How fragility blows through a room or how I navigate my experience with shame in the moment may or may not have the same quality as fragility? 

Sand Chang: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Okay.

Sand Chang: Also we’re just two people with two perspectives, and someone else could be like, “That’s totally not how I see it,” and I’m like, “Great! There’s no right way.” [Laughs] 

Rebecca Ching: I really appreciate you saying that because that’s actually one of the biggest fears and concerns that comes up with those that I work with. Really wholehearted folks that are like, “Crap, I’ve been getting it wrong, and I don't want to get it wrong. Where do I start?” Sometimes they firehose themselves with all of the books and the terms and the language, and they don't want to get it wrong, and they don't want to do harm, and so yeah.


Sand Chang: Yeah, I mean, that’s just making me think about really early memories of being in school and looking up definitions. It was such a big part of -- which, yes, it’s good to know. I think it is good to know what words mean so that we can be intentional and try to express what we mean, and there are assignments, right, around how do we get definitions, and I witness this a lot in the work that I do. People want definitions. I may have just spent an hour talking about trans experience and trying to change how we view gender and our capacity to think critically about the binary systems of gender or about cis-hetero-centrism, and in the Q&A someone will just get really caught on one word I use that is actually not very important to the message usually. [Laughs] 

And sometimes people get really caught on, “I need to know the definition. I need to memorize the thing so I can get it right.” And I’ve said this a number of times, don't memorize me because we can't just go around trying to memorize, “Oh, you're this person from this group, so I’m gonna memorize --.” I don't know how your graduate training was, but my psychology graduate training had these textbooks with horrible generalizations about, “When you work with Asian people, keep in mind that they don't make eye contact,” or, “When you work with Latino folks, remember that there’s this --,” you know? I mean, it’s just horrible 

So that’s not how we learn how to be good to each other. We do it in relationship, and we do it by making mistakes, and we do it by actually engaging emotionally, not just with our heads.


Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and it’s even coming to terms that we’re gonna mess up. For me I realized the toughest piece was, “Okay, I’m gonna mess up. I’m not gonna be perfect, duh. So how do I want to respond when I mess up? What are my practices when I mess up?” Even then it’s a practice, and what do we do in relationship? but if I’m trying to perform and trying to avoid perceptions of myself versus centering the person who’s been hurt, right, that’s how I feel like, oh, my gosh, am I trying to protect myself, or am I trying to go, “Oh, crap, I just hurt someone I care about, and I need to hear this out.” And then, obviously, for me, my IFS practice helps me go, “I got you! We’ll take care of this. Can you give me a little space right now so I can really hear this person and really listen well, and then we’ll take that back and work on it,” you know, having a pause in that moment.

It’s such a dance, though, in a world that still teaches, “You’ve got to be perfect or it’s like death.” It’s this weird...

Sand Chang: And never admit you're wrong. You always have to be right, and that it’s weak to be wrong. It’s weak to make mistakes. I feel so sad about kids who are continually still today internalizing that message.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, they get taught it still. I still hear it with my kids. You know, they get in trouble for making a small mistake or a huge penalty, some of the ways of educating. I’m like ugh, so a lot of lessons still real time with folks who aren't leading well at a young age. [Laughs]

Sand Chang: Right.

Rebecca Ching: You touched on this already, on some of the common barriers that we’re talking about that get in the way of cultivating inclusion. We’ve talked about shame, we’ve talked about fragility and perfectionism.


Is there anything else that you feel like is important, just to name some common barriers that get in the way of us trying to really be in relationship with folks who are different than us?

Sand Chang: I mean, there are all of those things. There are all of those ways that we’ve been socialized, and then, I mean, it’s just deep, deep cultural trauma, you know?

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

Sand Chang: It’s hard when we’re trying to fix things that happen in a moment but that actually span centuries of trauma. And so, I often feel like my job is actually I can try to help all I can, but sometimes it does feel impossible because we can maybe try to support -- you know, when you're working with someone and then you might be able to make some progress in helping someone in a therapeutic setting, and if they're still going home to a system that is teaching them that they're bad for being them, it’s really challenging with everything that’s very grooved, you know? We’re trying to create these new pathways. I fear that I sound really pessimistic. [Laughs] That’s a very dreary -- you know, there are days where I’m just like, “Wow, this is not easy.” This is not easy work, and yet, I feel it’s important to stay with it, and I feel inspired that there are people who are doing the work and that I don't have to be alone in doing it.

Rebecca Ching: I definitely resonate with that feeling at times, and to me, it doesn't sound like pessimism as it is just the state of affairs.

Sand Chang: Mm-hmm.


Rebecca Ching: It’s like here we are, and when you look at the black hole and you're like, “Whoa,” and those little moments like you and I still do clinical trauma work and seeing those little moments of someone who does the healing work, the legacy work, and then seeing how, then, that shifts how they show up in their homes and in their workplaces and in their communities, and then the domino effect of that, that’s the hope.

Sand Chang: Yeah!

Rebecca Ching: And that can happen in our workplaces and in our schools and in our faith communities, in our neighborhoods that we can be little contagions within this, and even if it feels like first order change and not full on second order change, it has to come. Yeah, I hear you.

Sand Chang: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: To me, though, it’s not cynical or pessimistic. It’s just a realistic state of the union.

Sand Chang: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: And that helps me have hope, though, to keep doing this one person, one group at a time.

[Inspirational Music] 

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[Inspirational Music]

I want to shift gears a little bit. You and I can geek out talking about research, right?

Sand Chang: Yeah! Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: We both love research. We love to talk about how people talk about research. [Laughs] Oftentimes, we’ll hear people go, “Well, I did my research.” I’m like, “That’s not Googling!” And I don't want to be a jerk about it, but I’m like, “That’s not --!” “I did a lit review,” or, “I saw what Google said about this.”

So there’s a really big movement kind of coming out -- there are a couple different movements where people are being held accountable particularly, and you and I also have specialties within the eating disorder community, and I’m excited to see a lot of the research around, we’ll use eating disorders as an example, has not been inclusive. And so, yet there are these huge studies that have been done, gold-standard research, but the people that they studied, there was not inclusion in the representation in those.


And so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how a lack of inclusion in research impacts the way mental health and physical health treatment approaches are given along with the wellbeing of those who are not in dominant culture.

Sand Chang: Yeah, I think eating disorders, yes, is a perfect example because there is so much bias within the field, and there’s bias about who is impacted by eating disorders. I mean, the majority of the research we have on eating disorders, and a lot of other psychological research, is done on college students. So already there, there is bias and exclusion. There are certain ways that, yeah, you’re doing research on people who have a certain kind of access, that’s going to have an impact in terms of racial diversity, class diversity. And so, the way we frame questions in research -- so are we asking the right questions? That can be a problem. There are ways that in demographics -- like simply including people and asking the right questions in a demographic survey can really give a lot more information. If there are limitations in data collection including demographics, it’s really hard to generalize findings, and it leaves whole populations out.

So I’ll give you an example you may be aware of. In 2015, there was a large-scale study of college students, and it was about eating disorder symptoms by Elizabeth Diemer and her colleagues, and it was really the first study that I know of and that I think many of us kind of in the field know of that just even included transgender as a gender option instead of just man, woman. 


So man, woman, transgender. We could go into a whole conversation about how we collect data around gender identity, which we can't do right now, but let’s just say for this one even included transgender and found that trans folks actually endorsed being diagnosed with an eating disorder in the previous year, the number was eight times higher than in cisgender heterosexual women, and even higher than cisgender heterosexual men. And so, all of our eating disorder treatment, diagnosis, assessment really centers white, cisgender, heterosexual college-aged women, and that’s the eating disorder stereotype, right?

So that affects, also, our popular conception of who suffers, and if that’s happening, then people are gonna get underdiagnosed. They're not gonna get the treatment they need. And also, the understandings we have about eating disorders are gonna really be missing crucial pieces like food scarcity, like poverty, not just, “I want to be skinny,” right? So these really, really huge pieces that can add to someone not being able to just (I’m gonna do this in air quotes) “eat when they're hungry/stop when they're full” because I don't actually believe that that is like some kind of moral imperative. [Laughs]

Yeah, and then this is what really, really pissed me off. We’re also in a system that overvalues the idea that research is the only way to justify something and that if it’s not “evidence-based” that we can't believe it, so we can't believe lived experience. So this is all tied in with colonialist practice around knowledge attainment and what feels valuable or true and how we understand human beings. And so, there are a lot of problems in all research on humans pretty much.


And so, obviously I care about research. Well, maybe not obviously. I do care about research. I’m not someone who’s like, “I don't believe that study about vaccines!” I do very much believe in research, and research is not the only thing, and if there isn't something that hasn’t been studied, part of it is that there hasn't been any funding for that study because no one cares about this community. No one wants to put money there. So that is just kind of a loop. 

Rebecca Ching: It’s a big loop. The eating disorder is a good kind of metaphor for how that plays out with other, whether it’s mental health or physical health, issues, though, and the lack of inclusion. So that’s why I brought it up. I knew you’d have a lot to say about that.

Sand Chang: Oh, yeah, I do! [Laughs] Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: You know, before I forget, and also discounting lived experience and this evidence-based piece, there’s a hierarchy and a supremacy in that where also those modalities are a lot easier to test than some of these mind/body approaches.

Sand Chang: Absolutely. Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, there are so many things that we do, healing practices that we can't measure, and measurement itself changes the thing. Observing it, trying to quantify it actually might take the magic -- I don't want to use the word magic -- but might take what’s actually effective out of what is being done.

So, okay, an example that really pisses me off is that I’ll still go to medical offices and talk to people who are Western-medicine trained, and they say things to me like, “Well, acupuncture isn't evidence-based,” and I’m like, “Oh, are thousands of years of my people not evidence?”

Rebecca Ching: Ooh.


Sand Chang: Western medicine is so much newer than Chinese medicine. I’m not saying Chinese medicine is better and Western medicine is bad. I’m not saying that.

Rebecca Ching: It’s just not to be discounted, yeah.

Sand Chang: Yeah, but I think that that’s something that I experience again and again and again, and so, it’s like, “Oh, what?” How do you measure evidence? How do you measure effectiveness? How do you measure whether something works? “Oh, it’s because this paper said it did.”

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and that’s where it’s interesting. I just came off another leadership team with Dr. Frank Anderson, who’s a lead trainer in IFS, and he was just saying with neuroscience, so many people talk about neuroscience like it’s a monolith. It’s like there are people who do not agree with polyvagal theory. They actually think it’s false, you know?

Sand Chang: Mm-hmm. Oh, absolutely. yeah.

Rebecca Ching: And so, I think just for us, if we’re gonna be quoting something or we hear that being quoted. Find the original research, see who was studied. See how many people because sometimes it’s like a sample that wants to lead to a bigger study. And then where can we all advocate for honoring lived experience but also the funding for populations that haven't come and been studied because then there’s a treatment modality (again, physical or mental health) that’s been studied for a small population that’s getting generalized for everybody because it’s gold standard. Again, I love good research, but a good research study, if it’s not inclusive, is still lacking, yes?

Sand Chang: Right. Yes. Yeah, and I completely agree with you. Go back to the study. Redo the methodology.

Rebecca Ching: Yep.


Sand Chang: That is the thing that I do to help me to discern whether or not I should listen to whatever this study is saying. I mean, this really taps into how do we gain knowledge and what do we believe is true, which is, like you mentioned earlier, don't just Google it. I’m also like don’t just believe something that someone said because they wrote about it on Facebook. Facebook is not a credible news source or social media.

Rebecca Ching: It isn't? What?

Sand Chang: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: Are you sure?

Sand Chang: I know, this is tricky, right? I think about this a lot because I’m like, oh, anyone can go on Instagram or any social media platform and say, “I am an expert. I am a coach. I am a blah, blah, blah,” you know, “And this is what I believe to be true,” and then if they have enough followers, then they may appear credible. And so, I’m like, uh, this is a little dangerous. And because there’s so much gatekeeping around knowledge -- 

Rebecca Ching: Yes. Yes, yes.

Sand Chang: -- and gatekeeping around academia, these platforms actually can be really great sources of information sharing.

Rebecca Ching: So helpful.

Sand Chang: And they’ve helped so many minoritized communities to be able to find each other, to be able to understand, within, information about ourselves. And so, I feel very mixed about it. 

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, it is complex. It is complex, but I wanted just to bring that up so that we’re not just in this kind of highly consumption of news. A lot of folks that listen to this show, they're sharp cookies and folks who appreciate these things and want to be thoughtful, and it doesn't take a PhD just to go and do a little search on what are we quoting, how are we quoting it, and also what are we supporting with our research dollars. 


Before you go, I would be remiss to not acknowledge that -- and we’re recording this in the spring of 2023, and I just saw an NPR study, and I looked into the NPR study, and I checked their sources before I brought this up. [Laughs] 

Sand Chang: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: Over 400 anti-trans bills have been proposed in many states here in the United States, okay? That’s just -- I don't know. I’m having my own physical reaction. I’m even feeling it in my head and my eyes. And I want to hear you share what you believe the stakes are for all of us if we don't get involved and do the work to fight these dangerous and not inclusive and dehumanizing proposed laws.

Sand Chang: Yeah, no. Thank you for acknowledging that. Anti-trans bias has existed for a really long time, and there have been barriers that trans people have faced for a really long time. But never before have we seen this kind of the ways that there are policies being created specifically to block access to rights, all kinds of rights (healthcare rights, participation in sports, access to different kinds of resources, education). It’s actually hard for me to talk about because we’re so in the middle of it, so I’m not gonna pretend to say something really smart and concise about it. I’ll say we’re in a really dangerous and violent place when it comes to the attack on trans bodies and trans rights and decisions that are about bodily autonomy and sovereignty.


When we start to allow these bodies to make decisions for people, let’s say, oh, it’s about trans people. It’s not just about trans people. I mean, trans rights are connected to all aspects of gender justice, so connected with what people might deem as “women’s rights” or “abortion rights/reproductive rights,” anything, really, about our access to care. Once this is codified and seen as legitimate -- I mean, it is. It already is. It’s not new, right? There are states that have banned healthcare (medically-necessary, life-saving healthcare) for trans folks, especially trans youth, and also adults in some places.

So yeah, this is really scary, and I think everyone should be pretty terrified, you know? And so, trans communities can't just on our own be trying to fight for these rights. We need other folks. We need everyone to do their part in being part of movements that are fighting for rights. Because, like we talked about earlier, it’s all interconnected. So I think that’s what I’ll just say for today. [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: If you're comfortable saying, what are you even noticing what you're feeling right now as we sit with this question? Anything else coming up for you?

Sand Chang: Mm, let’s see. A part of me is feeling so much grief because there is this -- I don't know, maybe there’s another part of me that believes that progress happens, we move forward, things get better, just that simple idea like, “Oh, it’s getting better. Okay, incremental growth and change, it’ll get better.”


And so, it feels like it’s really moved backwards. But there is grief there for sure. There’s anger, you know? There are times where it just feels like, “Ugh,” you know? Exhaustion. I think it’s a challenging time. It’s challenging to try to find where are those pockets of hope, pockets of resistance. 

Rebecca Ching: You said something briefly that it can't just be on the trans community alone to be fighting against these kinds of oppressive types of laws and regulations and all of the backlash that comes from that. So what does that look like to you? I mean, because there are a lot of people I talk to that feel the enormity and then go, “I don't know what to do. I don't want to --.” First is their perfection part that comes in, and then there’s the overwhelm, and then sometimes I’m just like do you care about humans being treated well? Do you care about folks having access to healthcare so they can live meaningful lives and functioning lives? 

And so, there still seems to be a disconnect. We still other folks that don't connect with our lived experience, yet as you keep beautifully saying, it is all interconnected. So what would you say to folks listening who are like, “I hear this. It feels far away though.”


Sand Chang: Yeah, so I think about this a lot when I’m doing any kind of teaching or training and we’re talking about intersectionality and we’re talking about different aspects of human experience, cultural experience, identity within these systems, and my invitation to consider what is a movement that you don't feel personally connected to. I know that’s really hard because usually our motivation is because of something autobiographical. It’s really sometimes challenging to find the care for something that doesn't feel like it’s connected but it is connected. So then I just think about what are the movements that I don't feel as connected to? I do believe it’s my responsibility to try the best I can to learn about those things because with the marginalized identities I have, I also have immense privileges. So those are the areas where I need to do the work, right, and where I get to be an ally.

So yeah, I think the challenge slash invitation is how can I do something that isn't necessarily or doesn't feel personally connected to me, and it might be how can I move my money? How can I participate in supporting movements, giving money to organizations that are doing this work? If I don't know what to do, how do I educate myself? How do I have conversations with my neighbors, with my loved ones, people around me. Just having these conversations. How can I make calls to legislators? It doesn't take a long time to pick up a phone and make a call or write a letter. So those sorts of things that help. It would be very helpful and is helpful when people are willing to do that kind of thing.

Rebecca Ching: I think that’s a great word. Thank you for that reminder. I’m gonna be sitting with that. How do I center things that don't feel personally connected to my story, and where can I be of help?


And those little things, I want to say, do matter. As someone who worked in a senator’s office and started off answering the phones, they wanted a tally of who called from what state on what issue, and they would give a report to the senator every week on those calls --

Sand Chang: Wow.

Rebecca Ching: -- and the mail. It matters. It matters.

Sand Chang: Thank you for saying that. yeah.

Rebecca Ching: You got it. You got it. Gosh, Sand, I hope that you consider coming back because there is so much more I want to talk about and continue to talk about these issues. I really appreciate you taking the time, and I have a great appreciation for the labor it took to talk through this too. So I really am grateful.

Sand Chang: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: I’m wondering if you're comfortable moving to a little bit of a lighter note, I’d just like to ask some quick-fire questions.

Sand Chang: Yeah! Sure, let’s do it.

Rebecca Ching: Okay, thank you! So what are you reading right now?

Sand Chang: Okay, I’m reading about 20 things -- [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Sand Chang: -- and pretending to read about 20 other things, but really, most recently I have been listening to the audiobook of Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hersey.

Rebecca Ching: So good. So good. Yeah.

Sand Chang: Yeah. Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: What song are you playing on repeat?

Sand Chang: Yeah, I had a hard time coming up with this one, but the one that I often play all the time when I’m doing a workshop, a training, DJing the training is “Human Nature” by Beautiful Chorus. I can listen to that, and it feels so good. It feels so happy.

Rebecca Ching: Beautiful. What is the best TV show or movie that you've seen recently? 

Sand Chang: I recently finished the last season -- well, no, actually, the most updated episodes of this show on HBO called Sort Of. It’s brilliant. I love it.

Rebecca Ching: Ooh.


Sand Chang: Watch it. Yeah, it’s Sort Of, and it’s about a Pakistani, nonbinary, Canadian young-ish person and their life and their relationships, and it’s really beautifully done. The characters are awesome. The writing is great. So yeah, I highly recommend.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, adding it to the list! Do you, by chance, have a favorite eighties movie or pop culture preference?

Sand Chang: Mm-hmm, yeah. I was raised on eighties dance movies, and I’m a dancer, and so, yeah, eighties dance movies are like my comfort place. I mean, they're all really problematic [Laughs] and formulaic, but there’s something incredibly comforting. So I would say my favorite is Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, no you didn't! No, you didn't.

Sand Chang: [Laughs] I love, love that movie.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh. Isn't it heartbreaking, you really named it, this paradox of problematic and comforting.

Sand Chang: Oh, yeah, sometimes I’m like, “Don't go back. Don't go back. You'll ruin it. Don't watch it,” because the eighties will surely be extremely offensive. [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: Yep. Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah, Sixteen Candles, aye yai yai.

Sand Chang: Oh, yeah. Yeah. 

Rebecca Ching: Horrible. Horrible.

Sand Chang: Yeah, but I loved that movie growing up, right? Yeah, loved Better Off Dead. All the movies are like racist, classist, homophobic. It’s just horrible, and the dance montage, that speaks to my soul, you know?

Rebecca Ching: Oh, that dance montage, yes.

Sand Chang: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: What is your mantra right now, Sand?

Sand Chang: Yeah, this has been my mantra for the past few years: just because I can doesn't mean I should.

Rebecca Ching: Amen to that. What is an unpopular opinion you hold? 

Sand Chang: I think this is unpopular, but it’s all bodies are worthy of care.

Rebecca Ching: Yes. And who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?


Sand Chang: I think just seeing people around me. When I see collective care, when I see people who actually are all struggling and supporting each other. I see that a lot in the communities that I engage in with healing. Yeah, I think just seeing people connect, that is inspiring to me to keep doing what I’m doing. So yeah. 

Rebecca Ching: That's beautiful. Thank you, Sand. Where can those listening find you and connect with you in your important work?

Sand Chang: You can reach me at my website which is www.sandchang.com. You can also find me on Instagram @heydrsand. I don't do a lot of social media these days, but I post when I have events and things that I want to share.

Rebecca Ching: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for this conversation and for sharing a little bit of your heart and your incredible amount of wisdom. I’m really grateful. Appreciate you.

Sand Chang: Thank you so much. Appreciate you too.

[Inspirational Outro Music]

Rebecca Ching: Okay, before you go, here are a few key nuggets I want to make sure you leave with from this incredible Unburdened Leader conversation with Dr. Sand Chang. Now, Sand reminds us that the work of inclusion involves making mistakes and moving through the discomfort of them together while staying connected and curious. They also point out how shame is a fierce barrier to moving forward with expanding who is included and who has a seat at the table. They note how we need to be very wary of the different ways shame likes to protect us and the ways things have always been done. Lastly, they noted how the work of inclusion takes time as the burden of these exclusions are often rooted in generations of trauma.


Now, I’m curious, when have you felt excluded, and what do you believe is at the heart of these feelings? What actions can you take to include more diverse perspectives in the decisions you make, in the spaces you hold power, and in ways that bring value, not just optics? And how can you do something to support people in communities that are not in direct connection to you? Now, our relationship to inclusion and what it truly means to include and cultivate belonging brings light to our practiced, not just professed, values, our biases, and fears. When we place inclusion at the center of how to be an effective leader, we recognize all benefit when we make a priority to truly welcome those who typically are under-represented. This is the ongoing work of an Unburdened Leader.

Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can find this episode, show notes, and free Unburdened Leader resources, along with ways to work with me www.rebeccaching.com, and if this episode was particularly meaningful to you, I would be honored if you would leave a rating, a review, and share it with someone you think may benefit from it. Thank you so much!


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