June’s PRIDE month has just passed and there’s still no better time to tell a diversity story that shows just how much we all still struggle with coming out and are prone to stereotyping others.
Yes, this particular tale applies even to those of us who preach inclusion for a living! And it emerged in an interview I did recently with StartOut.
You see, through Jennifer Brown Consulting, I coach corporate talent and leaders at all levels on how to tell and retell their diversity story. It’s one aspect of the business I started in 2006, a business I built to promote and perpetuate diversity and inclusion in the workplace, with an eye on fostering business growth and a healthy, inclusive, and consequently, productive workplace.
So, three years ago, in 2012, it struck LGBT people and allies supporting my invitation to do a TEDx Talk as ironic, to say the least, that I was only selectively “out” as an LGBT leader of my company.
They told me, without hesitation, “You need to tell your story and your story needs to include coming out.”
So I was challenged with that, and I won’t lie – I was definitely concerned about doing that on a stage in front of 800 people. But I did it, right in the middle of the talk, and it was successful. I wouldn’t say it went viral, but it’s used by a lot of people and I get a lot of comments about it to me directly. A lot of people who know me and know of JBC have used the talk for training on unconscious bias and how assumptions can be so wrong.
What I want to say about the value of this very public revelation can be summed up in another story, about a client who uses the talk for multicultural training with sales teams. Before I come out, in the middle of the talk, the client pauses the video and asks the sales force who they think I am, in terms of my family, my life. And they get it completely wrong! And then they roll the video and everybody has an “ah-ha” moment.
What many learn in that moment is to question whether they really “know” who they think they know, who they are working alongside of, serving, living next door to, or even talking to.
The whole experience reveals how curiosity and respectful inquiry can make us better leaders – in other words, to really be more proactive about that and build inclusive behaviors into the way we lead every day. Why? So that somebody like me wouldn’t feel that she had one foot out the door if she were working for you because you don’t see her, and all that she really is.
The interviewer at StartOut elicited these stories from me, and some other insights that make the mission of telling diversity stories compelling for me.
As a member of the LGBT community in a long-term monogamous relationship with my partner, for almost eighteen years, my identity has in fact defined me. I certainly identify with the community politically. I absolutely feel I am on this earth to create change and make it a more equitable place, and do whatever I can to model that – if that’s how I can be of the best and highest use, then that’s my goal.
What that translates into in the corporate world and the business environment is that my team and I work to influence institutions to take a hard and honest look at the kinds of workplace cultures that they are maintaining.
Ultimately, who feels welcome and who doesn’t matters. It matters in how you retain talent, reward and support talent, collaborate on teams and work with candor and a healthy productivity toward an inclusive culture. All while enhancing the bottom line.
This becomes especially important for middle managers, the day-to-day folks who may be more removed from the corporate vision of inclusion, and may have trouble applying it in practice.
So, if telling my diversity story here can lead just one middle manager to become more curious about a peer or subordinate and support their participation in an ERG that enables them to share experiences – be they LGBT experiences, or race, gender, disability or any other experiences of differentiation – I will have done my job.