Activating Our Allyship Meter: A Senior Leader's Journey Towards Advancing LGBTQ Equality with Erik Day

Jennifer Brown | | , , , , , , ,

This episode features a conversation with Erik Day, Senior Vice President of Global Small Business at Dell Technologies. Erik discusses his journey of helping start Dell’s first LGBTQ employee resource group in the early 2000s and reflects on what it takes to drive systemic change. He stresses the importance of intersectionality, using privilege and influence for good,  and enacting inclusive policies that support employees’ identities. Discover how senior leaders can leverage their roles to advance equality across organizations and industries.


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Jennifer Brown:

Hello will to changers. It's Jennifer. And I sit with this question, why does it seem increasingly difficult to be in conversation with each other, and who's missing from these conversations as a result? We all know it's become more difficult than ever to practice the imperfect art of allyship, however, we identify because there are few spaces where we can return to the building blocks of inclusion, places where we can deepen our self-awareness. We can analyze how trust is built, and unearth our story, and practice both sharing and listening.

As such, we are very excited to announce the very first Better Together Conference, a series of virtual conversations and workshops aimed to foster a learning connection, trust, and empathy, with the intent of articulating a vision for true partnership that includes and enlists all of us.

So whether you're looking to level up your allyship or aren't sure where you fit into the inclusion equation, this two-day event will enhance your competence and confidence to hold meaningful and authentic conversations that build bridges across differences. So I would love to see any and all of you joining us for the virtual two-day event. The date are October 18th and 19th, 2023, so it's just around the corner. And you can learn more about the conference and secure your ticket at That's We hope you'll come back to the conversations that matter.

Erik Day:

What I've learned is power and privilege is there, and there are people that have power and privilege, and there are people that don't. And those of us that have power and privilege can do one of two things. You can use it for good or you can use it for more power and privilege. And I of course do everything I can to use my power and privilege for good, and surround myself with people that also have power and privileges and are doing things for good so that we can have these conversations.

But I think anybody that's in this position knows the threat of getting more power privilege for more power privilege is always there. It's a very slippery slope, and I think everyone has to be conscious of it that has it every day to ensure that it's being used for good, and that it is used to bring those of our community members, and of our populations, and our friends and our families, and everyone else that doesn't have it, and to help bring them up.

Speaker 3:

The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author, and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She's a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier, and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results.

Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now onto the episode.

Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change. Today's episode features a conversation between Jennifer and Erik Day, senior vice president of global small business at Dell Technologies. Erik talks about his journey of helping start Dell's first LGBTQ employee resource group all the way back in the early 2000s, and talks about what it takes to drive systemic change. He talks about the importance of intersectionality, using privilege and influence for good, and enacting inclusive policies that support employees identities. All this and more. And now, onto the conversation.

Jennifer Brown:

Eric, welcome to The Will to Change.

Erik Day:

Thanks for having me, Jen Brown. It's so nice to see you. So lovely as always.

Jennifer Brown:

Thank you. Well, you and I just returned from Orlando where Disney hosted beautifully, the Out & Equal Workplace Summit. And I know, I think I'm in my 20th year. I can't believe that. What year was it for you?

Erik Day:

My first summit was in 2004, I think, in Minneapolis. We had just chartered our very first Pride ERG in the US. I call us the fabulous five. There was five of us who presented to Michael Dell in the early 2000s about our stories and about why LGBTQ equality in the workplace was so important, and how this ERG could completely change the trajectory of how Dell thought about diversity and inclusion.

And with a pleasant surprise, it was just a lot of love in that room from... I think even at that point in technology, I thought that in my head it wasn't all that inclusive. I mean, let's be honest. The world has changed drastically and industries have changed drastically. But to have seen that much support from such a high level executive leadership team driving the power of such a big company to be so inclusive to us and to the idea of this networking ERG about LGBTQ equality in the workplace was really wonderful.

And because of that, we founded Out & Equal. And I remember going to my very first one and just being.... My mouth was on the ground almost the entire time because Disney and IBM and Marriott and some of these big initial names, and I just couldn't believe how far they already were in their journey.

And flash forward to 20 years and to see Dell technology kind of being in that place, and for me to be in a position to where I'm helping new companies that are starting their initial ERG journey, it's a beautiful, beautiful place to be. And to be a part of that growth at my company after being there for almost a quarter of a century has just been an opportunity of a lifetime.

Jennifer Brown:

Wow. I love that you went there. I remember those early days, and I think about them a lot and how excited we were, how we had a seat at the table, how we were being listened to. And that surprise reaction, right? That you didn't know what you would get, and we assumed it would be a sort of obstruction and skepticism, or certainly not leadership. And yet, it was a yes, it sounds like, from your leadership. And how incredible that they had the foresight to bless this. And five people turned into how many people now in this past year?

Erik Day:

Oh gosh, we're approaching over 7,000. And we went from the US only to global. And I know that there are bigger companies with bigger Pride ERGs, but 7,000 for us is such a wonderful group. And I think about just the stories of breaking into India even before section 377 was broken down, and trying to do some creative things in places like Singapore before they actually went through some of their transformation, and what we're trying to do in other places where it still feels like 25 years ago.

I think we have this sense that a lot of this movement comes from more Western markets, and in some ways it does. I mean that's somewhat the truth. But I think we have to always remember, especially when you're part of a big global multinational company, that it's not the same everywhere. And we have to remember those and not forget those that are in areas... I'll never forget this past year in my board service, which I know we'll talk about, but I was lucky enough to present in Bangalore, India at our [inaudible 00:08:20] summit. And just to talk to people in the Philippines, and in Thailand, and some other places where they still are kind of at the beginning stages of this movement and the help that they need. I just think there is so much that we can not only do and still need to do just here at home in the US, but how much opportunity and how much progress can still be made otherwise.

And I think one of the things that I've learned in the board service in my last six years at Out & Equal is how passionate I am about some of that global work, and to take the story that I just told and be able to tell it to other companies that are going through similar things that we did 20 some years ago.

Jennifer Brown:

It's incredible. I mean, really that's the legacy. I know that you want to leave. And I'm so grateful that under Erin's leadership, Out & Equal has really stretched its global footprint and it is focusing and dedicating so many resources to countries around the world that are where perhaps our conversation was. Because what is the point of having gone through everything we've gone through and are still going through if we can't spread it around the world, and also, but meet those populations where they're at, and kind of take all that into account? And make sure that we support it being built, I will say. And benefiting from and acknowledging the differences, but benefiting from the best practices that we've seen.

When we consult with ERGs across the world for our multinational clients, it's such a nuanced conversation to meet environments, legal landscapes, employers, and offices around the world where they're at. And what does progress look like in that context, and how fast can they go, and how fast can change go, and what are the levers for change?

And it's such a fascinating challenge and such important... Obviously really important work. Not that there's not important work to do here certainly, and someday they will be coping with what we're coping with, and they probably already are all at once. It's probably really compressed, and the cycles of change are speeding up.

So I hope that the progress, what's taken us 25 years to see will take several years now. I mean, is that what you're seeing? Is there a compression of change cycles happening in countries around the world where it's all happening at once, and they're going to be quickly caught up and maybe surpassed, who knows, where our conversation is about workplace equality?

Erik Day:

I mean, I hope so. I think that in every area of the globe, I think they're going through a very different stage in their journey. And I think one of the things that I've realized is that my coming out story somewhat changes and evolves, funny enough, even as I go older. I don't think you ever stop coming out funny enough. And one of those things that I've realized, and I think my call to action into these countries that are going through this evolution and newness of LGBTQ workplace equality is executive leadership is so incredibly important.

And I remember when I first realized that allyship and somewhat how to use, I'll say executive power in a good light, the privilege that I have of being an executive, and the responsibility I have as being an executive, it was almost like a coming out all over again.

And I remember using that platform to be able to have some really tough discussions with HR departments, and legal departments, and PR departments, which ultimately in these countries have real concern around the safety of their individuals, and their employees, and their team members as we kind of go through this evolution of LGBTQ representation and LGBTQ equality in the workplace. And to educate them on the stories of the past, and the history, and how we work through those things, and how the power of the community actually comes together, and with really good executive support. The concerns around safety, and making sure that our team members are in a really good place end up being okay, because this network of folks become such amazing allies to this community, and more and more people feel comfortable telling their story, and being in community together in order to make progress.

And to answer your question, I do see this kind of really amazing energy and kind of grassroots approach to some of these things. One of the things that I'm really excited about is we're about to launch our Poland ERG. We're not the first company to launch a Poland ERG. But if you think about what's going on in that part of the world, to see the energy and the enthusiasm for this group of community members and allies that are just so incredibly resilient to get this done even in the face of so much adversity, is really truly inspirational that this movement and this mission that we have as a corporate community and an LGBTQ workplace equality movement can really work together to really make change, even in the face of adversity.

Jennifer Brown:

Yes. And I've always been... Notwithstanding I think some of the difficult news we've heard about companies equivocating on supporting us this past year and in recent months. Overall, I do think that arc of the moral universe, and really the arc of business is continuing to bend towards the future, and the future is more diverse in every way. More LGBT+ friendly, accepting, embracing. Certainly, we have the younger generation all over the world speaking up and beginning their own movements.

And tell me if you agree, but I view employers as sometimes the first safe space when you're talking about these cultural norms, and what happens to employees on their commute home, or what they feel in the office and who they can be professionally. Versus perhaps religious environments, whatever it is.

Safety, you talk about safety all over the world. To be who you are and to bring your full self to work looks entirely different. So I wondered if you continue, it sounds like, to have faith, a lot of faith in the ability of a company to change that dynamic.

Erik Day:

I think because of my tenure, and I think because of the advantage of my entire story from coming out in 1997 to today, and all that I've seen, and all that I've been through, and all the mistakes that I've made, and all of the challenges that I've faced, and picking myself off the floor, and trying to think about it, the funny thing is... And I've spoken this about before, those that have heard me keynote. But I talk about the struggle that I had when I came out, and how work became somewhat of this safe space. So this place that I could really dedicate myself, to pull myself somewhat out of the darkness that I went through in coming out, and getting through a really difficult time in my life and making some really bad mistakes. When I decided that I wanted to change my life for the better, I anchored on my work.

And I think it's one of the reasons that I've stayed at Dell for so long, and the reason I still after 24 years love this company and worked so hard for this company, is because they gave me that. They gave me the space to figure out who I was, figure out what I wanted to do. And to go from being a temporary consumer sales rep when I started at the company, to be running one of their biggest organizations, an important organization. I just owe them so much.

And when I think about what today looks like, and I think about all of the challenges that we're facing, and all of the media attention, and the change in the political environment, and the change in technology, and all of this craziness that we're going through as a community, it's given me the chance to put myself in other shoes.

And I think one of the things that I've really learned, I've really been trying to be a better ally to the trans and non-binary community, for example. I've been testifying in front of Congress, and testifying in front of the Texas State House, and doing all this other stuff, because I've just been so disappointed in how this community has become such a target. This small, beautiful community that has never hurt anyone, is kind of under this onslaught of attacks.

And so I've tried to take a step back as a leader and give space to this community. And we have a monthly community, trans and non-binary community meetings that I host every month at Dell, and they are saying the same thing that they are...

Now we have work to do, don't get me wrong. We are not perfect. But to hear these coming out stories of people that have started their transition in the last year even through all of this mess, and to hear them use Dell as the place that they felt the most safe in utilizing the tools that we've provided. We have this great transition toolkit that we give to our transitioning trans team members that they can use with their teams, and with sensitivity training, and understanding their healthcare, and all of this stuff. It's not rocket science, but it's those little things that make them ensure that when they walk into their Zoom room if they are remote, or they walk into a building because they're coming to the office, that they feel safe, they feel seen, they feel heard.

And we're going to continue to do that. And I think we need to do that across all unrepresented minorities in order to continue to evolve, because the landscape is changing. The new generation is changing the landscape of the workplace, and we have to listen, we have to understand, and then we have to act. And I think that that's the reason why the workplace has to continue to be a safe space, because we can't always count on the world around us to be safe. So we need to ensure that we drive safety within the workplace, in order to retain talent, and to be competitive, and to be a place that people really want to be at.

Jennifer Brown:

Yeah, it's about so much more than work and who employs you. It's culture, but it's commitment. It's values in action, and it is a commitment to employees to say, "This is the experience that we are committing to you having, wherever you are."

And it's really interesting, companies that kind of put that stake in the ground and say, "This is what we're about and this is what we stand by," and it's not perfect. I take your point, and every company has work to do. There isn't a single one that has this all figured out.

But I know that Dell is doing also really incredible stuff around neurodiverse talent, hiring, retaining. You and I have I think had other podcasts with your colleagues.

So it's very impressive, and it's incumbent on employers in my view, to be ahead of these curves, to really be anticipating, "Okay, our folks are safe here, not safe here. Protected here, not protected here."

How do we kind of fill in the gaps, and also how do we proactively educate and create an environment where would be allies are awakening to the experience of others in this exact same workplace? And understanding that we can be having a radically different experience in the same company, depending on where we are in the world.

Depending on where we are in our journey too, I mean we can set the environment and set the table. But coming out as a lifelong process that does not follow a timeline, that does not look the same person to person. And so I think companies meeting employees where they're at on their own, like you just were describing, your journey of how it's changed, how you talk about it, how you share it, the depth that you go into. Maybe your allyship, which you just described, which I think is beautiful. And the more that we can role model the fact that we need the allyship and we can provide the allyship at the same time, and that maybe during certain parts in our life, we need it more or we give it more depending on the other identities that we carry, the other rooms that we can get into, the other ways that we can be heard, and the reasons that we can be heard. I think we mature into understanding all of the ingredients of who we are, and how to leverage those, and deploy those.

And I'm sure you're probably feeling like I am at this stage in our careers and in the movement, like we know what to do most of the time. We know who needs to be heard if it's not us, we know what needs to be said. We know how to use that power. You were talking about soft and hard power, official and unofficial.

I love envisioning you going around the world and having these probably pretty uncomfortable conversations. Uncomfortable for you, but probably more uncomfortable for the others to say, "Here's the commitment we hold. What does progress look like? What is the expectation? How do we get through some of the cultural," whether it's beliefs or obstacles or challenges or the assumptions or the fear, honestly, probably. Or just the lack of understanding of what workplace equality can and should look like. I'll bet those conversations have been really interesting and they're ongoing.

You must learn so much from some of those. And I just wondered if there are any you would like to share, when you are actually kind of laying down the tracks for workplace equality around the world. Anything that comes to mind that is a good reminder for us about where things are, and where they have yet to be?

Erik Day:

I mean, what I try to do... And again, not perfect, right? I am not perfect in any means. I have work to do on myself. But one of the things, and you see it in the back, and I know you're a fan of hers as well, but I was lucky enough at a women's conference that we held virtually during the pandemic, I was lucky enough to interview Glennon Doyle about allyship, and she's the one that really talked to me about how when we are in a position of power, allyship is really how you use that power to drive good. And I truly believe that allyship needs to be turned on every single minute of every single day.

And it's hard to have it turned on all the time, but it is so incredibly important when you are in positions where you can make real change, that your allyship meter is on always.

And so as I go around the world and as I'm visiting these different countries and I'm visiting different cities around the United States or whatever it might be, I'm constantly making sure on my agenda I have listening sessions with the Pride ERG, or another ERG, or my sales team that represents different fabrics of the population, and look different, and sound different, and are a different races and ethnicities so that I can truly do exactly what allyship is about. It's listening, hearing, and acting. I've learned so much.

I'll share one really poignant topic that I'm really wrapping my hands around is this idea of dress code and the evolution of dress code. If you've been watching the news recently in the United States, you'll see that the Senate is going through this really funny thing about Chuck Schumer takes away the dress code. And then yesterday, unfortunately in my opinion unfortunately, decided to unanimously vote for a professional dress code in the Senate because Senator Fetterman came in with a hoodie and shorts.

And there was something lovely and gorgeous about that. At first, it made me uncomfortable, a senator coming into the chamber with shorts and a hoodie. But at the end, I kept hearing all of these voices that I've been talking to about this. Whether it's the voices of the trans and non-binary community, what they can afford or not afford. And maybe professional dress is not in their budget, or talking to the Black community and understanding how important their hair is, and how their natural or however they decide to wear their hair is such a part of their identity, and how that should be respected and loved. And how does all of these things about people's identity be worked into, I think what ultimately we have seen as a very binary way to think about the way that you need to appear when you come to the office.

Do I know what the future lies? No, but I sure as heck know that I have to be part of the solution and the conversation, so that people within other buckets of power within the company that do have decision-making power on this, we are able to have the conversation to maybe change the language of being less binary, to change the language to be more inclusive, so that everyone that works at our company, every person that works at every company can truly feel like they can be themselves at work.

Because the data shows... And Jen, you talk about this all the time. When people can show up as they are, their work, their productivity increases. And at the end of the day, you talk to any corporate CEO including my own, and their focus is around productivity. It's around people being able to do their best when they come and work for the company that they've been hired to do. And one of the best ways to do that is to be able to show up as yourself.

And I think this is one of those things that I'm learning as I go around on the importance of things, and where I'm having conversations about facilities, and accessibility, and for our differently abled community. And we're having conversations about security and what security looks like.

I mean, I just had this crazy conversation around, how do we ensure that we just have roaming security in all of our offices in a really secure place, in a consistent place, so that people as they come back to the office feel really secure as they do that?

Jennifer Brown:

Yeah. You're so right. And I know that at this conference that we were just at, there was a lot of controversy about Florida, a lot of controversy about, "Do I go, do I not go? Who feels safe? Who doesn't? Are we supporting? Are we not?"

I mean all this debate, I know you and I in our prep call, we were kind of mussing on the divides that divide the movement also. The energy that we spend disagreeing with each other, and the pushing and pulling, and the tensions that exist, and the differences of opinion. And how some of that is really great and really important, and some of it kind of defeats the purpose in terms of shoring up our energy and our unity. But how can you unify such a wildly diverse community?

And so it's such a conundrum, right? I can imagine you've had a front row seat in your board position, seeing how Out & Equal has pivoted, and grows, and continues to be inclusive of, even of opinions within one community that's allegedly fighting for workplace equality.

But within that, how we get there, and who's included, and what are the priorities? It just has been such an experience for you to be there.

But I wondered, your advice for the community. Our energy is invaluable, and our fatigue is real. And I wonder sometimes if we fatigue ourselves. We are being fatigued by the battle that we're fighting. But I wonder also, whether there are points where it sort of exhausts ourselves, and we can't afford to give that energy and get distracted or spend time. And it's tricky, because we face an opposite side, I guess if I can say, that seems to be extremely unified, and well-funded, and organized and strategic. And I think a lot of us are coming into this year and next year in particular feeling concerned about what's happened with... That the pendulum has swung so far in a certain direction, where it felt like it was in the opposite place the last couple of years.

And I know I'm seeing this in the erosion of the DEI commitments on the part of companies, and the fear that's turning into hiding, that's turning into the downplaying of the efforts, that's turning into the postponement of the efforts. We're all kind of feeling the after effects of that change. So I wonder what your advice is as you sit where you sit, not that we will ever be unified in our opinions. We will always have that really creative abrasion.

But how do we come together, and what can we focus on I guess, that should unify us so that strategically we can make sure we are as powerful as we possibly can be? Because I think a lot of us are really worried about our own energy, about the energy about this conversation, and particularly going into next year.

Erik Day:

Wow. Jen Brown.

Jennifer Brown:

I know, I'm putting you on the spot.

Erik Day:

That's a hard one. That is a hard one. Listen, I am one man. I am one person. I'm blessed to have had the experience both being a member of the board of Out & Equal and working with amazing people that teach me every day, as well as an amazing company that teaches me every day.

And over the last six years that I've been on the board and the last 20, 30 years I've been out of the closet, this is what I've learned, and I think that will kind of come into the conversation that I had at summit this year.

But what I've learned is power and privilege is there, and there are people that have power and privilege, and there are people that don't. And those of us that have power and privilege can do one of two things. You can use it for good, or you can use it for more power and privilege.

And I of course do everything I can to use my power and privilege for good, and surround myself with people that also have power and privilege that are doing things for good so that we can have these conversations.

But I think anybody that's in this position knows the threat of getting more power and privilege for more power and privileges is always there. It is a very slippery slope, and I think everyone has to be conscious of it that has it every day, to ensure that it's being used for good, and that it is used to bring those of our community members, and of our populations, and our friends and our families and everyone else that doesn't have it, and to help bring them up. That's the legacy I truly want to live.

And to go deeper into the question that you asked, when I was at summit this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would say. What I would say on stage, what I was thinking about. And I thought about when power and privilege is used for more power and privilege, one of the things they do is they try to take away the power from those that are trying to use it for good. They try to fracture it, they try to create arguments and dissent, and to ultimately ensure that we can't use our power and privilege for good, and for change, and for progress. And if we're not careful, we'll let them.

And to kind of go deeper, as we think about all of this noise around what people are trying to do around DEI programs, what it's doing to the African American community, the Hispanic community, LGBTQ community, it's creating confusion, anxiety. It's causing so many emotions, that it's causing us to forget why we're all here in this mission together. And it's to have the conversations, to not allow the few that want to separate us succeed. We can't, and the only way we can do it is to bring people together and have those conversations.

I talked in my remarks just simply about this just crazy thing that's happened in the last year around Target and around Bud Light. Now, I have been out for a long time, and I know a lot of listeners on it probably have been out as long as I have, or maybe a lot of your listeners are brand new. They don't know the story of Target and Bud Light. But in my opinion, I remember going to my first pride event in Dallas holding a rainbow-colored Bud Light.

They have been part of our community for such a long time. Target used to be a customer of mine. They have been a major, major part of our community for a long time. They have one of the biggest participations in the Minneapolis, [inaudible 00:35:00] Pride Parade I've ever seen. And they really were trying to push the envelope, and I think Bud Light was as well. And no company's ever going to get it right. There's a lot of division right now.

But we have to remember to always stand by those who stand by us. And we have to make sure that instead of quickly jumping to action, we sit down and have a conversation. "What's going on? How can we be helpful? What can we do as a community?" And that goes across all of these diverse parts of our community.

We were lucky enough for the first time after a few years at Out & Equal at conference this year, to have these amazing community engagement groups. I was lucky enough to have one talk about craziness in our own community. I hosted the one on faith. There was one for people of color, one for trans and non-binary, one for neurodivergent, which we talked about earlier, or neurodiverse. And ability. We had an amazing... Carson Tueller came in and did the one for disabilities. These are the engagements that we have to have, and then we need to figure out how all of these different parts of our community then come together around the same table to understand how we support one another in ensuring progress.

And that's the way that we protect important programs like D&I programs across all of these corporations, is we come together as a community to educate and to inform, and to remind the other parts of the power and of the privilege on the importance that this brings to our company. To remind them that the company should be the safest place. And if we stop the funding, if we try to pull back on these programs, because we let a very small fraction of our political systems around the world try to discourage us from doing what we know is right, that is where we can break down. And I think that's how we have to be careful.

And when we think about these programs, we have to think about inclusivity. We have to think about inclusivity of all. I talk about this all the time. I don't agree on every issue, with every person I work with. I work for a massively large company that has customers on every different side of the spectrum, from a views and a belief system, that you can imagine. I have to figure out inclusivity means inclusivity for all. And we have to be able to come to the table with all of those voices, to ensure that everybody's educated on the importance of us growing as a company, and being there for all people, and being a safe place for all people.

Jennifer Brown:

So much good stuff on that. So good Erik.

Erik Day:

I really hope I answered. It was a very hard question.

Jennifer Brown:

Yeah, you did. You did. I'm just admiring the way you laid that out. It's beautiful. It's just perfect. I think it's a beautiful call to action. What I heard in it is the importance of us practicing intersectional allyship with each other first. If we cannot figure out how to do that, how can we role model it for the world? How can we make sure we are walking that talk and doing our own work, and in ourselves?

Erik Day:

And let me add one more thing because I think this is important. We just invited Caroline Farberger, I think I got her name right. She is a out trans CEO of a large insurance company out of Sweden. She's amazing. You can get in touch with her, have her on your podcast. Her story is just unbelievable. And she talked a lot, and she reminded me of unconscious bias. And you know what she said, which we sometimes I think forget because we are in one community or another? Everyone has unconscious bias, and we have to use positive intent in our own community to remind each other of that so we can learn. And positive intent when talking about unconscious bias is so incredibly important.

Because I think within different levels of the community, there is a certain sense of hurt and damage, and all of that is real. And we have to ensure that we are being sensitive to that hurt and sensitive to that, not mental struggle, but that what is inside of them. And we have to be able to be called out on our bias, but we need to be called out our bias in a really positive way, so that we can continue to be open up to conversations so that we can fix it, so that we can continue to evolve in representation, so we can continue to look and feel like the community that we're supposed to serve, and look and feel to be the community that can support our very diverse workforces. I think that is so incredibly important.

We talk a lot about unconscious bias, but we don't realize that when people show their unconscious bias, I think we forget that it's unconscious sometimes. And if we're not careful, we can get hurt from it. And the hurt is what drives our action. And I think as a community, we need to remember that we are all in this together. We are stronger together. We need to be called out on our bias, but we need to do it in a positive way, so we can have a conversation about it and fix it.

And I think that's a lesson that a lot of communities across the ecosystem need to realize, because it's hard. It's hard work. But when we come together, and we come to a common table, and we have the discussion, I think that's where we can make real change.

Jennifer Brown:

Yeah, I agree with you. I call it calling in versus calling out, and the call in is the invitation to learn. It is the gracious way of handling a bias that is presented to you. And it is very hard work not to get triggered by that, not to get angry, not to get frustrated, not to lash out, not to operate and make decisions like you said, from the hurt place.

And the hurt place is a very important piece of information obviously. It's important to feel it, right? Feel it, feel that fire, feel the pain of it, feel the betrayal, feel the, "How dare you not know or how could you not know? How could you treat me this way?" It's righteous. I get it. I go through all of those cycles. We talk about sleeping on it. We talk about giving things time, and giving them sunlight, and allowing the healing to happen, but a healthy healing process. Not a burying, not a denial.

There's an art of an apology that is a beautiful skillset that I work on the leaders that I'm coaching. We sort of construct the language of the apology. We interrogate together. "Well, why did we not know that? Why hasn't anyone brought that to my attention before?" And by the way, leaders, and particularly senior leaders who have so much power and privilege to change the game, are told I think the least amount of feedback, because it is terrifying to give that feedback to a leader. And it takes a very enlightened leader and a very humble leader to accept that, and to actually seek it, and to take it on board, and to change oneself.

I mean ultimately you and I, we believe that's true of good leaders. Good leaders are humble, transparent, flexible, resilient. So when they get that information, they take it and they do the right thing with it, which is, it changes me, it changes my language. My discipline gets deeper when I make different choices in the future because somebody called me in, somebody showed me grace.

And we forget sometimes in our righteousness and our hurt that people have given us chances. And I always kind of try to remind all of us, none of us is a completely, "I've learned all the things. I do them all. I have all the expertise I need. I'm never going to utter a microaggression," that is not humanly possible. If you're human, you're biased.

So I love what you say. It's so important. It's important for us in our community to practice this, and it perhaps is the most difficult because the betrayal is really strong. Not only is the external world betraying us, but I think there's a history of that in every community, not just the LGBTQ+ community. Right?

Erik Day:

Well, and here's something else, Jen, that I've learned in my board work and in the service that I've done for Out & Equal. I am a sprinter. I like to do things fast. I like to make quick change. I like to get things done quickly. Anyone who knows me knows I like to do things quickly.

And I think when I came into the board, I felt like, "Oh yeah, it's going to be huge. We're going to make these huge sweeping changes," and blah, blah. And then you're just reminded whether it's Covid, or technology, or getting people back in person, what I learned is that this work is a marathon. We are trying to undo hundreds and hundreds of years of precedent. And I want to sit here and be like, "Okay, our history is bad president," or whatever. It is hundreds of years of institutional binary thinking that we as a community are trying to change, in a very short time.

And I think we have to give each other a little bit of grace. And I've had to do the same for myself of, "Okay, I can't do it as fast as I want." And I know that our communities, all the intersectional communities that we support want fast change, and they deserve it. If you want to know from an ally, you deserve it. Every single one of you. Whether it's women, whether it's Black, whether it's Hispanic, whether it's disability. You think about these ERGs that are created. Everyone right now deserves a seat at the table. I truly believe that.

But the problem is that we want to go faster than a much bigger entity, call it society, whatever it is. And we have to work together to figure out how to get through that, to make it faster. And it is going to continue to be a marathon.

And that's the reason why even six years later, some of the days I feel like no. Most of the days, I feel like I'm doing more work than I did before. And that just tells you that things are changing, things are progressing, because we're able to have conversations now that we would've never been able to have 10 years ago.

And that's great. Is it as fast as everybody wants? Probably not. Do I want it faster? Absolutely. But we have got to work together to figure out how to continue to progress and bash through these walls, and continue to bash through glass ceilings and do all the things. Because after you get through one glass ceiling, I'm here to tell you there is another one, and then there will be another one, and there will be another one, and there will be another one. It will not stop until we are all equal, and it will take time.

And I'm not asking for people to be patient, because that's impossible. We are I think, impatient beings at our core. But what it needs to do is motivate us to continue to use organizations like Out & Equal, to come together, to have these conversations, and figure out what our next plan of action is.

Jennifer Brown:

Yeah. What's that proverb? Going further, going together, right? And it may be going slow to go fast. I sometimes say to leaders I'm working with, "This doesn't operate in the same way as what you're used to."

And I think it dovetails really interestingly, Erik. I'm sure you probably agree with this, that there's a fundamental change in leadership. What we expect of leaders, how they lead, go ongoing.

My friends just wrote a book called The End of Leadership as We Know It, and it's a good read. It's two white guys, and they do a good job. They have some good content that I could have written in there. But it's interesting though that they're writing that book, because there is an ending and there is a reinvention going on right now that is... I think the essence of it is what you're talking about, which is the democratization of our processes. It's the going slow to go fast to ensure that the representation is there, to ensure the voices are not just at the table, but heard, acted upon like you just laid out. That's the important other part. You got to go full circle on inclusion.

But it's a different way of leading with a tremendous amount of input, because you cannot command and control your way through this. And it's not going to be the heroic leader that has any of these answers. And in fact, the humility, and the inquiry, and the curiosity of that next generation leader is going to mean that as you're describing, who's missing, who's not being heard, who doesn't feel comfortable and psychologically safe enough to speak up? Which is I think, a fundamental question to ask. And then how are people heard, and acted upon, and how do we close the loop to say, "You, your input was invaluable. It is invaluable on an ongoing basis. Here's what the result is of your input," and the encouragement that gives, and the next generation of voices that that process will grow into that next generation of leader.

I think the role of a lot of us in our generation, if I can say, is to set that table, and use that power and privilege to set the circumstance, so that all of these new plants can grow, and that they are fostered and watered, and cultivated, and given enough space to stretch. I love all these gardening analogies and plant analogies because there's so much diversity in the plant world-

Erik Day:

[inaudible 00:49:42] this weekend.

Jennifer Brown:

I know. This is why I live in where I live these days. I got out of New York City, and I'm pondering the systems that really are healthy. Right?

Erik Day:

Jen, I'll tell you something on what you said, because I think what you said is so incredibly important. One of the reasons that Dell Technologies got so involved with GenderCool, and you see my books in the background.

Jennifer Brown:

Yay. Shout out to GenderCool.

Erik Day:

Yeah, of course, is because they are our future. If we are not providing support, and mentorship, and internships, and dollars, these kids blow my mind. They blow my mind. I think they are doing such a great job putting this beautiful, positive spin on how the work that is being done in the transgender community, and how we're giving them the skills and the development they need to be incredibly successful as they go into the world is beautiful. And it's encouraged me to figure out how I'd be more involved in other unrepresented communities that need the same.

Because we have such a responsibility, whether it's Dell, whether it's bigger companies, whether it's these nonprofits, whether it's the Out & Equals of the world, to figure out ways to hold folks accountable to ensure that the skills, the education, the leadership, all of these things are inputted in order for us to build a better world for the future. Where every single little boy, little girl, little non-binary royalty, little whatever it is, it feels like they see themselves and they say to themselves, "I can do it." And they can do everything they can to pull them out of the situation they're in, or to grow the situation they're in, or whatever it might be, so that we can have this world that I think so many of us want, that looks, and sounds, and feels so incredibly inclusive.

And you're right, we are the ones that are trying to set that table, which means that we need to be held to a count to be having those conversations, that we are able to understand and learn so that we can help put the action plan together, so that we are making it better for generations to come.

Jennifer Brown:

Yeah. Erik, I'm just noticing you're so fluent in this language. I know it's not just words. It's obviously deeply, deeply what you believe. How do we get more executives that look like you on the street, but that haven't been steeped in what we've been steeped in? It's been such a privilege.

I always say I'm so grateful. It really changed this trajectory of my life to fall in love with the first woman that I fell in love with. It just opened... And I took it further than just, "Technically, who am I attracted to?" I parachuted into this community that taught me everything about change, everything about human experience, and evolution, and courage, and what the world wants, and what's missing. I mean literally, so we've had this benefit of being shaped so much, and we've become actors in that system. And we become teachers because we've seen that it works, because we believe in it because it's real. Because we know we somehow can see that future, because it's a future that we wanted for ourselves. Like you just said, it's what we wanted, and craved, and we didn't have. So at this stage in our life, of course our legacy, when we turn our attention to having fewer years ahead of us and way more years behind us, to really make sure that what happened with us doesn't happen again, right? To safeguard the workplace experience, which is such a fundamental and profound...

To discover your purpose, which many of us do through the work that we do in the world, is one of the most profound defining experiences of our life. And so what you're describing, it has forged you, the you that I see today. And when I think about the executives that haven't been in this kind of development process, I'm like, how can they get there? How can they get there faster? How can they almost simulate, because they haven't been in the trenches. They haven't had to come out over and over and over again. They haven't had to have that resilience and courage. And it's not armor. I'm not going to say it's armor actually. I think it's actually a softness. I think it's a resilience that is tremendously strong, and at the same time open and loving.

And to be able to be super strong in that loving grace place is so incredible. I mean, you just become this undeniable change agent if you can come from this place that kind of combines all of these things together.

But anyway, I always find, how can I create a circumstance for people who haven't had that direct lived experience to lead, to say the things that just came out of your mouth? I hope in a couple of years, every white male leader that I meet is fluent in what you're fluent in, has found their own version of what you just said, right? Because it has to be real. It has to be authentic. It's not going to mimic you, but it is going to feel authentic to me listening. It's going to feel like you've done your work. It's going to feel like you deeply believe and you're committed. And I can count on you.

So I just wish... I am just sitting here sort of thinking about executive leaders and what I wish for them, and I wish I could accelerate their journey. I wish they could... And maybe this is possible. I mean, it's what we're all working towards, but they inhabit, like we've been talking about, that the levers of change at their disposal are so unique to them. It is so unique what you can do at your place, in the organization, at your place in life, and your place in your career. And we desperately need that power and privilege to be activated.

So I guess, what can we do best to support and accelerate, light the fire, hold the space, hold accountable, give grace? How can we raise that? Some people would say, I've heard this Erik, and you've probably heard this too. "Let's leave them behind. Let's leave this whole generation behind. They just need to go away. They need to retire." It's really interesting. I mean, literally, and sometimes I say to myself, I don't believe that, but-

Erik Day:

It's not that easy. And I get it. I get it. I get why people say that, but it's not that easy. So I think to answer your question, I think about it in three parts. Part one is with this generation we just talked about, what I would say is my executive leadership team, the people that are above me.

I truly believe no matter what company it is, when you are running a company, you wake up every day, and you go to sleep every night thinking about how to grow that company, how to evolve that company. And I respect the fact that there's not a lot more place that they have in their day than to do that, because they have to meet with customers, they have to meet with suppliers, they have to meet with investors. I can't imagine what's on their plate. And I think we as a community need to understand and respect that.

But, what I've learned as we think about the position that I'm in, as we influence those above us, we have to A, always show that we're contributing to what they think about as they wake up and what they think about as they go to bed.

I know that because I love what I do for work, what I do every day, the way I lead my team, the results that I get, it gets me the visibility I need to give me access to those people, so that they can see me at work.

And when Michael Dell asks to come to our Dennis and Judy Shepard event during pride month this month, or come to a GenderCool event pride year a couple years ago, that means I am making change. And I think our responsibility at the people in my level, and the reason you do board work like Out & Equal, and the reason that you lose sleep, and the reason that you have to go above and beyond, and the reason you have to work 70 hours a week instead of 40 hours a week, is because you have to give that influence so that they continue to evolve as well. And as they move on, as they serve on other boards... Because guess what? They might retire, but they're still going to be there. And you want them to make sure they can use their power and privilege to continue to act on this. You need to help the other ERGs and the other community leaders be able to do the same, and they are.

And ultimately, that then leads to the next step, which is your peer group. How are you activating? This, again, is the reason I signed up for board work. Not multiple boards, not just one, not just two. Doing things on the capital, focusing on things like ensuring that we have a company that is trying to drive real change, because you need to influence those around you.

I can't tell you how many times people of my peer group come to me going, "Erik, I look at what you're doing and I want to do more. The energy that you produce drives that." It's almost kind of like how marketing works. I use my experience and my work as a marketing tool to get people to start asking me questions, and I listen to them. I meet with them. I figure out time on my schedule. And I ensure that I have people that can be generals with me, in order to be able to do the work. And the more that we expand, the more we have those conversations, the more generals we have, then it gets to step three.

You have to motivate the troops. You have to motivate the next generation. You have to ensure that you do things like get on stage, or do panels, or do things that actually activate the troops. One of the conversations I have with a lot of my peers is, "I get you are an executive and I get you have to do step one a lot and step two a lot, influence above and influence the below. But your job is also to influence below, and to get involved, and get in the trenches, and have conversations, and listen, and speak." Again, I'm not patting myself on the back, but I go back. This trans and non-binary community group that I'm having at Dell is hard for me. I'm learning. I'm not trans and non-binary, but I'm in a position of power. I've stepped in it, I've made mistakes. But at the end of the day, I tell that community I'm being vulnerable, and I'm trying to learn, and I'm spending time with them every single month, because I want to make it better for them, and I can't unless I learn.

Even to the point where I saw our head of facilities in the hallway the other day and I said to him, I said, "Mark, I have to talk to you about the bathrooms." I said, "As we get people more back in the office, I know we have a couple gender-neutral bathrooms here, and here, and there, but can I tell you what we do it Out & Equal. We literally change the community bathrooms to gender. And I know this is super progressive, but this bathroom is gender-neutral with urinals and this is gender-neutral not. I don't know if Della is there or not, but I need to work with you and your team on having those conversations, because having two here, and two there, and one here, and one there is not going to be enough as we change the world." And so there, you can see the whole entire three-step process work, right? I ultimately talk to the troops. I worked with my peer group, and I'm trying to influence above.

And I really think that is what is going to spread to more and more people. And the more things I do without an equal, the more things I do with other nonprofits, the more people come up to me and say, "Teach me." And if I teach five, they'll teach another five, and they'll teach another five, and they'll teach another five. And that's all we need to focus on.

Otherwise, I think we'll get way too overwhelmed with the responsibility and what it is. I focus on those three steps, and ultimately and organically people will come to you. And I know that I'm influencing the top. I know I'm influencing my peers, and I know I'm influencing the troops. And that is going to continue to spread.

I see it every year. Every year it gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and we just have to be patient and let it grow.

Jennifer Brown:

Love it. I love it. Teaching to fish, that is your legacy. It's your legacy too. And I love how you see yourself in the system, and you understand that you're teaching, and having different conversations, and leveraging, and influencing strategically depending on where you're applying the pressure, but also you're showing up and it's infectious.

So it is a push sometimes. It is a sort of muscling through, but sometimes there's an attraction, and a magnetism, and a pull from a marketing perspective that you're creating a pull to you, because you are demonstrating, and we all need to demonstrate what a new way of leading really looks like.

And people just don't know. And I think we have our heads down, and we have our tasks, and we have what's worked for us, and we have what's made us successful in the past. And I think some of us though, are trying to live into and walk a different talk, and hope that people see it. They see it in action, they see that it works. They recognize that, "Oh wow, I don't know this yet. I don't understand this yet. I'm not thinking in this way yet."

And so essentially, what we're talking about is role modeling just by being who we are. But also, I think sometimes it requires a lot of proactive intention, like you say, to look at checking your boxes. How am I right now influencing what's my plan this week? What do I want to influence with my senior team? What conversations am I having with my peers? And then how am I elevating that next generation using the platform that I have, making sure those voices are at the table, heard, involved, given credibility, etc.?

We have so much we can do, and I hope everybody listening to this, when you hear people say, they say to me, I can't believe they say this. "I don't know what to do, Jennifer. I'm not diverse," and all that sort of, "I can't contribute. I don't know what I could give," etc. I hope you can listen to Erik and how you just articulated this, that this is available to each of us. I don't care how you identify. It is available. And if you are just learning, you've got an Erik in your organization, and everybody on every level of team, there is an Erik. It's not you, you're irreplaceable. But there is someone who is that light, the lighthouse. Somebody who is the instigator, somebody who is out there kind of trying to reinvent both themselves and the environment around them.

And those folks are our catalysts and they're invaluable. And I think probably the LGBTQ community especially that goes to summit is all instigators. We're all catalysts. We aren't perfect, but we are brave, courageous, and have figured some things out, some things. And we're not afraid to say, "Look, here's where the future is, here's where we're going. I don't have all the answers, but do you want to come with me?" And like you just said, they come out of the woodwork. And I'm sure if I saw the demographics of people that came out of the woodwork like you were just referencing, they'd probably be a lot of different kinds of people, maybe unexpected.

I also love in this work discovering that somebody's on their journey towards allyship that I wouldn't have thought. And I think that's also so important to check that bias that we will have sometimes come up, which is this person is limited in their expertise, or they have this lived experience, therefore they're not able, or capable, or willing, checking that bias. Because I still have it. It's deeply programmed in us to discount who our fellow travelers and catalyzers are.

And so I also love that as a principal to take with us. Remember, you'd have no idea what somebody's capable of. You don't know how interested, you don't know how invested, you don't know what their lived experience is, because so much is invisible. And Erik, look what a joy you are to get to know and to follow. And I just think you've given us so much today.

I am so excited to have people listen to this and to be in touch with you. And I just said a lot. If you'd like to kind of add another thing because we're out of time, and let people know where they can follow you, find you, listen to you, read things that you're putting out there, and just kind of bring us home.

Erik Day:

Yeah, I'll end with where this kind of began. It was about my board service with Out & Equal, and how it's changed me. I think so much of this work that we're doing requires resource and it requires a community. And Out & Equal had more partners this year at summit than they've ever had before. And as we continue to grow this community of businesses that are getting this resource, I think this is really where some of this changes have made, where we really are coming together as a community, and having these conversations that are really going to make massive positive change, and continue the progress that we're already making.

And obviously you can always follow me on LinkedIn, you can follow me on Instagram and everything else. But I just want to make sure that we together are doing the work to better understand one another so that we can listen, hear, and take action, and use the resource around us in order to make sure that we do that.

And it has been an absolute pleasure. I love this work. I love Out & Equal, and what it's doing, and the changes that we're making, and the progress we're making. And no matter what I do next, whether it's another nonprofit, I will always be involved in this work. And I'll always do everything I can to ensure that progress continues to be made. Because like I said before, as much as I'd like it to be a sprint, it's much more like a marathon.

Jennifer Brown:

And the beauty is in the slowing down, and the paying attention, and the time that it takes to be changed by others, by their stories, and to be galvanized. And I see in you somebody that's been galvanized. And the more you know, the more you realize you don't know. And that is such a beautiful example of how leadership is changing.

So Erik, thank you for role modeling that, and letting us peer into your process, and how you've changed and been changed. And thank you in advance for all the things that you will do in the future, because I know you're far from done, even though maybe transitions on boards come and go and you've spent an incredible bunch of years.

But everybody listening to this, I'm sure Erik would love to mentor around board service. So I'm going to sign you up, Erik.

Erik Day:

Love to.

Jennifer Brown:

Okay. Thank you for that. I think that's really... And particularly those of you listening who are more tenured in your career, I hope you got a special window today into what this looks like at this point in your career, because there is so much that can be contributed that is the result of those many, many, many years, and the rooms that you can get in, and the rooms that you've been in, Erik, where you can influence in this very specific, invaluable way. So thank you so much for everything you do.

Erik Day:

You're welcome my friend. It was great to be here. Thank you so much everybody for listening.

Jennifer Brown:

Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

Speaker 3:

You've been listening to The Will To Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity & Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you've enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit Thank you for listening, and we'll be back next time with a new episode.