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Rhodes Perry, consultant, author and podcaster, joins the program to discuss his own journey of being a transgender man in the workplace and what he has learned from his experiences. He reveals how creating a culture of belonging in the workplace can leader to greater innovation and productivity and explains why transgender and non-binary people can act as bridges when it comes to gender conversations. He also discusses practical steps that leaders and allies can take to create positive change.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Rhodes’ diversity story of being a trans man in the workplace (3:00)
- The concept of “belonging” at work and why it matters (9:45)
- The abundance vs. scarcity view of inclusion (13:50)
- How to neutralize “resisters” who may not be ready for change (16:50)
- Why trans people can act as bridges when it comes to conversations about gender (20:00)
- How the workplace can be a safe place for trans and non-binary people (25:30)
- The importance for leaders to “self educate” (29:45)
- What allies can do to help trans voices and stories be heard (31:00)
- The leaders that Rhodes chose to feature in his book and why his chose them (35:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Welcome to The Will To Change. This is Jennifer Brown. If you want to know what difference it makes if we can bring our full selves to work, ask someone like my friend, Rhodes Perry.
The author of Belonging at Work released in 2018, and a successful podcaster with over 100 episodes, Rhodes dedicates his work to building workplaces where he could have fully thrived, but where instead, he struggled with the fear that his history would be discovered. In today’s workplace, as we know from so many of our interviews on the Will to Change, there is a lot of energy being spent on navigating our truths – particularly if we are in traditionally marginalized or under-represented groups, and lack basic employment protections should we reveal our real stories.
Nevertheless, maintaining his steady commitment to authenticity over the years, Rhodes has risen to be considered a foremost resource on the topic of inclusive organizations, with his work featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, and the Huffington Post. He is, like me, a certified diverse supplier, with a uniquely intersectional approach to driving culture change for his clients that we’ll dive into more, in this episode.
I was honored to contribute to Rhodes’ book, alongside a small group of thought leaders, as he lays out the case for the relatively new term of “belonging” in the diversity and inclusion context – and why we should care about cultivating it as a feeling, that can actually be tied directly to the unleashing of performance. As fellow practitioners, we are both obsessed with the ingredients for change, and the importance of enlisting stakeholders in any effort –from true champions to the movable middle all the way to our recalcitrant resistors, who test our will the most, but from whom we can potentially learn the most, as well.
Through the changes in his life, Rhodes also shares with us the experience of sexism from both sides, and becoming a bridge, or a translator between the very binary ways we understand and experience gender. This perspective has the potential to shift the way we think about how gender assumptions and narrow definitions constrain ALL of us. As a self-described feminist today, he writes about many ways bias intrudes on our everyday functioning and behaviors, and how aspiring inclusive leaders can mitigate these dynamics for so many others. Rhodes Perry, welcome to The Will to Change.
RHODES PERRY: Thanks so much for having me Jennifer. This is a great opportunity. I’m very excited to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: Me too. Especially, on the eve of the publishing of your first book Belonging at Work which we are eagerly anticipating and in which I am featured which is so cool, along with some other subject matter experts from a variety of domains. I love the format and so we’re going to talk a little bit about why you choose it and perhaps what you wanted to elucidate in this whole conversation about diversity, inclusion and belonging in particular by formatting and organizing the book in the way that you did. But we always start The Will to Change with our diversity stories. We say everyone has a diversity story and I know yours, but I want our audience for The Will to Change to hear it directly from you because it is fascinating. We’ve been friends for years and we’re fellow advocates and I find you a constant inspiration. So, why don’t you in your own words share a little bit more about yourself with our audience.
RHODES PERRY: Of course. Thank you for that really thoughtful introduction. It’s exciting to be here and I love that you start off with our diversity stories. For me, it’s kind of complicated to figure out where to start with this, but I guess I will go with what I feature in the book which is a time just right out of grad school – for context, I’m a trans guy. I came out early in my life, in my early 20s. Going into the workplace for myself I socially transitioned which basically means I changed my name, I started using male pronouns, I dressed like a guy and the world began to see me as I saw myself my whole life.
Going into the workplace I didn’t have a problem with being this misgendered, so I was very, very fortunate in being recognized as just another guy. The challenges that I had were really in exploring my past, right? So, it’s really difficult to build team comradery when you’re not sharing more about just childhood stories. So, things, very benign things would come up around, “Hey what sports did you play when you were a kid?” Or, just talking about siblings and things like that. I often had to sensor just different really again, benign things about my past. For example, I played softball, most boys when they’re younger play baseball so that’s kind of something that would stick out. As well as just kind of censoring having an older brother being reared as a young girl and a young woman in the world.
That was really, really tricky and really created a lot of static between me and my coworkers. That experience was really challenging because at the time I had a great job. I was working at the White House. I loved it. I loved everything that I was doing and often in this work we talk about if we can’t bring our whole selves to work what is lost for that individual worker and for the organization as a whole? For myself, I was probably spending about 25% of my time worried about, “Okay, what if someone finds out about my gender history? How do I navigate that? Will I lose my job?” At that time the White House didn’t have protections for gender identity and I very well could have lost my job.
There was a lot of I think, wasted energy on that fear. I’m fortunate that we’re in a better place in the world where at least 16% of people in the United States knows someone who is trans. At the time I was working it was less than 10%, I think it was 8% in this one scenario. That really sparked me early in my career to say, “Alright, I have more to give back into the work place. I want to make it better for other trans and non-binary people.” I did a lot of advocacy outside of my full-time job. After I had left the White House I was working in a national LGBT organization and began doing a lot of work for employment protections for LGBT people as a whole and really doing a lot of internal education in the LGBT movement about where trans and non-binary folks play a part in this really diverse movement that we have and what more could be done for a really marginal part of our rainbow family.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s beautifully said. So many thoughts. You just casually threw out transgender and non-binary folks and I know there is gender non-binary, gender non-conforming GNC, so there’s some additional language that’s been I think, introduced to the mainstream conversation. Perhaps those terms have existed in the transgender community for a longer time, but I know for our audience quickly could you pause and just kind of give us a quick lay of the land around perhaps what is the main terminology and why has it shifted? I know we both believe it’s a good thing because more language is better. More specific language is better about identity because we don’t like to put into a false binary when identity is a rainbow as you said for each of us. So, could you give us a quick tutorial before we go any further on the terms and how you feel about the evolution of the language at this point?
RHODES PERRY: I think more language is always better. We’re getting more and more sophisticated about how we talk about gender. As you know and as past guests have brought up it’s complicated and a lot of it is socially constructed. Quickly, for someone who is identifying as transgender it essentially means they were assigned a sex at birth and as they matured throughout life and they could identify as a gender different from the sex they were assigned at birth as early as two or three. That’s when gender really becomes solidified. Folk can transition at 60, right? But essentially, the sex you were assigned at birth differs from how you identify now.
That’s different for most people on planet are cisgender which basically means you were assigned a sex at birth and when words were available for you to say what gender you were, that matched with the sex you were assigned at birth. That’s kind of the crash course of kind of understanding the difference between folks who are trans and folks who are not. Then underneath the umbrella of transgender folks could express their gender in more binary ways, in more gender conforming ways and folks can express their gender in ways that are traditionally masculine of feminine. Some of those folks might identify as non-binary and folks can be both non-binary who are transgender and who are cisgender both, so it’s a little more complicated.
I’m grateful there is more language now to kind of discuss both our gender identity, whether we think of ourselves as men or women or a different gender and then language talking about how we express our gender. There’s more nuance in that language.
JENNIFER BROWN: And, whether we express our gender truly and accurately in the way we are most comfortable depends on of course, the workplaces that we find ourselves in and the communities and where we live in the country and the world and the degree to which we feel we need to hide whatever is going to be quote/unquote stigmatized of course. You and I are both as a result, passionate about the concept of belonging at work which is this sense that bringing your full self to work is going to be not only tolerated but embraced and perhaps even celebrated. I mean, dare we say it? That is the promise of the healthiest workplaces, are places where this does not cause any static for us whatsoever. Maybe even workplaces can be some of the safest places to articulate our true selves, particularly if you’re fortunate enough to work for companies that have overt protections, that have inclusive cultures and that really walk the talk. Which is all a question mark sometimes for so many who come and work at different companies depending on how committed they are and whether that commitment is actually felt by the workplace, which are two different things.
Rhodes, I know that your podcast was is called The Out Entrepreneur. You are on your 100th episode.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Which is just incredible. Airing on November 20, 2018. It’s celebrating and mourning and otherwise marking the Transgender Day of Remembrance on that date. I’m just thrilled to be a part of your book and the messaging. I do want to talk about your book and how you laid out the argument for belonging at work through your featuring of different lenses, different stories, different story tellers like myself and others. Who did you decide to feature and how did you decide this was the right kind of format to get your message across? Tell us a little bit about the message of the book as well.
RHODES PERRY: Yeah, definitely. The book itself is really broken down into three parts. One, just kind of level setting to understand what are we talking about, where does belonging fit into kind of the mix of diversity, equity and inclusion and why should we even care about cultivating a feeling of belonging? Then it kind of pivots to talking about more of the human imperative and obviously, the business case of if you’re talking to some of the most recalcitrant people who are like, “Oh belonging, this is a soft skill. We shouldn’t focus on this, it’s not going to help us maximize profits.” It actually shows kind of the concrete business case of actually if you do focus in on those feelings, you’re going to get more innovation, more productivity, your team is going to have more comradery and you’re going to achieve your goals faster.
I usually like to start with the heart, like it’s the right thing to do and then I get to the yeah you need this –
JENNIFER BROWN: So, what’s the business case?
RHODES PERRY: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: Give me some of the KPIs? I love how you said the word recalcitrant, that is such a good work for just the resistance, the deflections. Also, the good intentions defense like, “I’m a good person of course, I believe in equality.” It can range from that sort of benign and yet really harmful good intentions excuse all the way to the nasty side which is, “Oh, you’re taking something away from me because you’re prioritizing inclusion of others which means less for me.” I know you and I live in this space all the time of having to defend, explain, cajole, compel and hopefully not shame too much into action. But honestly, don’t you feel sometimes like you have to have a million tools at your disposal to do what we do?
RHODES PERRY: Oh, yes. Yeah. Like what you said, it’s not a zero-sum game. There’s lots of fun memes on social media where it’s equity and inclusion is not pi. It’s kind of moving away from that scarcity mindset of if we make this workplace better for other folks then somehow, I’m going to lose something because I’m part of the dominate group where I have power. It’s kind of moving to that abundance mindset where if everyone feels like they belong and their contributions are both seen and valued and they can see that it’s moving the needle for the organization, that’s a win for everyone.
You and I get this, right? It’s for audiences that are new to this work and even for the seasoned diversity practitioners that are out there, I think the why section of this book just offers more talking points so that we can be more effective as a group of professionals just doing our magic in these organizations. That’s my intention. That’s my hope for that section.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. I think there’s a lot of diversity fatigue. I might even call it compassion fatigue out there amongst that community of advocates. Wherever you find yourself being the only voice trying to educate. Facing bias as you educate, the greatest irony at all, that in educating you are penalized. You’re sort of pushed back into a corner in terms of your identity which is already negatively stereotyped. We are really putting ourselves on the line. Our bodies, our souls, our self-worth, our value. I think more and more books that can provide not just talking points but like you and I try to do is that sort of moral support, emotional support, psychological support and really the question becomes why are we having to do all the work when there are so many leaders out there who want to be better leaders that could be doing more. Even just a little bit more but cumulatively could really shift things and relieve some of the burden that a few of us have been carrying for a long time.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: That gets to the whole point of allyship, which I’m sure you talk about in the book.
RHODES PERRY: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s really the third part of the book is the how section. It’s really for leaders that they get it and they’re almost overwhelmed with where to start. Basically, that section of the book really breaks it down into scaffolding. Start where you’re at. If you need to start at the most basic level of this self-education, here are some suggestions on where to go. But it builds and I think one of the pieces that I really like and that I enjoyed writing was really taking my advocacy days and kind of mushing them and blending them into this work which was kind of helping those folks that were reading the book identify other champions in the workplace to build strength in numbers.
The other folks that you’ve had conversations with, your inner circle and trusted allies, really kind of sparking just a few other people to start taking actions, any action and there’s many in the book where you can start where you feel comfortable. Then it’s kind of looking at those folks that are somewhere in the middle, which is the majority I think of most people in the workplace of I don’t quite understand why I actually care about this, but I do know it’s important and I’m too busy to kind of dig in. It’s kind of getting the champions to make the case to the moveable middle, that’s what I call them and kind of expanding your network of kind of the strength in numbers.
Then the last piece is how do you neutralize the recalcitrant folks, I call them the resisters. Often, that’s a smaller group of people but they tend to be the loudest and people tend to spend too much time on trying to convert them into why this work matters rather than just neutralizing the concerns that are often hyperbole or not really based in reality and kind of moving forward with the group of people that really want to make that positive change in the workplace. I think that section will be really helpful in just kind of really mapping out a plan of being intentional and really finding the right people to kind of move the work forward and not spinning your wheels by engaging in conversations with people that might not be ready for it, or people that may have done this work in the past and have had that compassion fatigue and may have thrown their hat in. Thrown their hands up in the air to say, “We’ve tried this before and I don’t know why we’re doing it again.” It’s like, “Just go off to the side. We’ve got this for you.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Wouldn’t that be nice?
RHODES PERRY: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: I think it’s like a relay race, tag somebody in.
RHODES PERRY: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Somebody used a beautiful analogy that I believe it or not as a musician it hadn’t occurred to me, but in the extensive choir seeing that I did a choral singing in the first half of my life, there’s massive section within the choir of sopranos, altos, tenors and bases. When you need to take a breath you’ve got 20 other colleagues singing along and everybody is taking breathes at different moments, but the effect on the audience is still one of continuous sound, right? We take breaks when we need to. To translate that to diversity and inclusion work, we get that selfcare, we go and plug in, we don’t need to fight every battle and we can step out sometimes. But we can only step out if we’ve got more folks carrying that water alongside us, right?
My argument always is that carrying some of the water, even a little bit, is easier and less risky for people in the majority or people that are relatively less stigmatize based on their visible identify. If we believe and know; we don’t even need to believe it, we know it because it’s factually based that certain of us walk into a room and we’re given more or less credibility immediately based on who we are.
I wanted to ask you quickly Rhodes, I know we didn’t prepare to talk about this, but I’m also fascinated by male privilege and lack of female privilege I guess, if we can set that binary up for transgender members of our community and colleagues. I’m always fascinated. I wonder if walking through the world identifying as a man, presenting as a man you’ve noticed that difference? What does it tell us about how the genders are still viewed particularly in our workplaces? Do you have any reflections on that?
RHODES PERRY: Oh yes, yes. Just full disclosure, growing up hardcore feminist. I’m still a hardcore feminist. Yes, men can be feminist. Just in my observations of transitioning, early in my career, this was before I transitioned so experiences from 18 to like 23 as being seen as a young woman in the workplace. I didn’t realize the amount of sexism until I transitioned, and it was just like this moment that I can’t pin it down, but everything from walking outside in the world of catcalling that women experience on a daily basis, it just stopped. That stopped. In the workplace as that kind of goes into the workplace it was, I would speak and I was so used to speaking and having to say my point five or six times in order for someone to be like, “Oh.” Then coopting it as if it was there idea.
JENNIFER BROWN: Of course. Of course.
RHODES PERRY: Then I would say something once and people would be like, “Whoa, that’s a great idea Rhodes.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.
RHODES PERRY: It’s just those kinds of things that it’s really hard to kind of point out when you’re experiencing it. I think this is the beauty of trans folks where we are bridges. We can translate these experiences of gender which are in the dominate world it’s very binary. It’s very male or female, very feminine or masculine. So many of us just have this unique experience of seeing so many different dimensions of gender and I think that’s one of our strengths and one of the reasons why it would behoove most business people to consider trans people being active leaders within an organization, because we have this lens that is so different and so unique.
I think that to really bust up these conversations around gender in the workplace, I think this is the value that we can add that can help us advance further and raise a mirror to kind of increase our collective self-awareness of how this shows up. There’re so many examples, but that’s just kind of my most basic example that I often use where people kind of get it. Where it’s like, “Yes.” Mostly when I talk with women most women are like, “Yes, I get that.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. I do think LGBTQ people in general, you can actually broaden it around our emotional intelligence was a survival mechanism for so many of us that we developed or overly developed to survive these competencies that happened to be some of the most prized competencies of leadership in general. The experience of being an outsider is powerful. The experience of establishing trust quickly when you are at the same time hiding parts of who you are, I mean, that is a trick.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Many of us, given that almost 50% of us are closeted in today’s workplace is a stat that I always try to say from the stage in all of my keynotes because it shocks people. I say, “Think about what this means about your colleagues and what they’re showing you? What they’re comfortable or not comfortable? How they’re spending valuable energy that could be spent towards productivity, engagement and feeling really connected they’re spending that feeling disconnected, and isolated, and scared for their jobs literally.” Then it doesn’t help of course that the political messaging right now is, so I don’t even know how to describe it, anti-LGBTQ and whether it’s done for votes in the short term or whether it is a deeply held belief, who knows?
But the impact of the erasure of transgender experiences in particular, but the impact on the whole community is forcing so many of us to doubt whether we can bring our full selves to any situation? Whether we do need to hide to actually save our jobs, to even be employed because unemployment in the trans community – what is the statistics Rhodes, around some of that?
RHODES PERRY: Yeah, unemployment for trans folks and non-binary folks is at 15% which I think like a year ago that was more than double the national average although I know those numbers are changing now. Poverty rate is 30% which is more than double. Trans folks are four times more likely to earn less than $10,000 a year. 83% experience some form of mistreatment on the job. Like what you were saying, 77% of trans people if we’re luckily enough to be employed, we often try to move ourselves out of situations where we could be mistreated on the job. Some folks go so far as delaying their transition because of their fear of losing their job. Really job security is huge.
Only 20 states have protections for folks who are trans or non-binary having gender identify protections in the realm of employment. So, when we were talking about the workplace being a place of kind of one of the best places to be if you’re lucky enough to work in say a Fortune 100 Company, I think almost every single Fortune 100 Company has protections on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. That’s huge. If you’re living in a state, one of the 30 states that does not have gender identity protections and you’re fortunate enough to work for a great company that sees your value and wants to protect your job, that might be the only place where you have support.
Outside of that your community might not be safe for you to be 100% out. You might not feel comfortable being 100% out to certain members of your family. So, the workplace definitely plays a role in disrupting these feelings of being isolated or alone. But it takes leadership and it takes really savvy leaders to understand where trans and non-binary folks fit in and to shift from this acknowledgement or resignation of, “Well, we have a trans person on staff or maybe we will so we’re going to do this out of protecting the company.” Shifting that mindset to kind of being more proactive to what are the strengths and resiliencies that really smart qualified trans and non-binary people can bring to our organization? I want to see that happen more.
I’m starting to see that with some of the clients that I work with. I want that to be a movement. I believe that we will get there. As scary as it feels right now, and this is just in reaction to what happened in October where the administration was rolling back regulations and protections for trans and non-binary people, I feel hopeful because there are so many more champions, so many more allies, accomplices, folks who are cisgender, anyone who is not transgender saying, “This is not right.” People that aren’t even connected to our rainbow family just standing up it’s such a difference than 20 years ago where it did really feel like, “Wow, people don’t even know that we exist.” That’s kind of my silver lining.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for that.
RHODES PERRY: Sure.
JENNIFER BROWN: In these dark times. I want folks to think about we have a lot of LGBTQ-plus listeners on here, but we have a lot of allies as well, and I get asked a lot how do we indicate that we are an inclusive leader? That we are the kind of leader you can bring your full self to work around? How do we indicate our support? Do you have some advice? I’m sure you get to this in the book, but what are the small things we can do actions, behaviors, language to indicate that inclusion is a priority for us as leaders however we identify? Perhaps, what’s good for LGBTQ-plus people in terms of feeling of belonging is good for all kinds of underrepresented talent and all kinds of talent that has ever felt marginalized. Which, I think, is another beautiful business case if you will, when I work with managers to say, “We’re all watching for all kinds of signals. I think we can take one signal and it may not be a particular signal to us, but it shows us that a particular leader or manager is someone who has thought about these things and is someone we can be honest with and we can utilize not just as a manager but as a mentor as well.” Which really should be all of our goals listening to this, to be both of those things for the people that we work with and for and who work for us, so what are some of those things?
RHODES PERRY: Yes, I would say first and foremost and this goes beyond being aware of trans and non-binary people. It’s the act of self-educating – not expecting someone who has been historically undervalued or underrepresented in the workplace, not expecting that person or group of people to educate you about what you don’t know.
So, just starting to acknowledge, “Hey, I don’t know much about trans or non-binary people.” I saw this great book by Sarah McBride or someone who’s visibly trans out in the world, I’m going to read about this. I’m going to read about what’s available around understanding the workplace issues that pop up for trans and non-binary people before expecting the one trans person on staff to educate me about the basics, and then for me to get to know them as an individual. Right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
RHODES PERRY: That distinction is really important. Outside of the work that I do, there are people in my life who come into my life that I care about. It’s really clear to me if that person wants to get to know me as Rhodes and part of my gender history and things that are important and matter to me, versus, “Hey, tell me everything that I need to know about trans people.” That’s placing a huge amount of burden on one person. I only have one teeny, tiny lens of this experience and our community is so diverse and so rich that I would be doing a disservice to my fellow trans and non-binary folks.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. And every person of color has been there, too.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: We call this “emotional labor.”
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s laziness on the part of the learner, and I’m going to be writing about this a lot in my second book due out in April that we cannot shift the burden to others to educate ourselves to carry that.
You have to remember, educating everyone, and also representing a whole community because they’re often the only one in an organization or at a level of seniority. We see the number of women and people of color thin out considerably as we move up the seniority in most organizations. Right? So, you end up being the “only.”
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It also feels exploitative, too, to be asked these relatively intimate questions that are not really appropriate.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I want to learn. I love the impetus of “I want to learn.”
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: But, please, consume media that is about different experiences. Read those books. Start a book club. Curate that list of books to be representative of different stories. Story tell around different storytellers. When we talk about centering the stories of others, Rhodes, I want to give you my platform today. I’m not going to sit here and “cis-splain” to you, right? (Laughter.) I’m not “mainsplaining,” “straight-splaining,” “cis-splaining,” you know?
RHODES PERRY: I love it.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m going to give you the floor. I just made that up. “Splaining” happens everywhere. Sometimes I’m “splained” around my extensive knowledge of inclusion and diversity, having written two books on it for people who are trying to understand these things. I know what it’s like to be on both sides of that and we need to center the stories of others, center other storytellers, go to the source when we can, share the platform when we’re given a platform because of our privilege. We have the opportunity to choose to maybe give up our seat – our virtual seat or a real seat at a conference. There’s the thing we laugh about so much, “manels” instead of “panels.” Right?
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re talking about gender equality and you’ve got five guys. It didn’t occur to anyone that that would be at all problematic. Maybe those guys are really “woke.” Maybe they’re multicultural, they have diversity stories, maybe they’re LGBTQ-plus. Maybe they are more diverse than we see when we look at that alleged “manel.” I want to hold the space for that. I hope that’s true. And they need to sit on that panel and share those diversity stories.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: On the face of it, it’s problematic who we center or don’t center as storytellers these days.
RHODES PERRY: Yes. Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Speaking of that, who do you center in your book? I love that you are an expert, you could write the whole book without telling anybody else’s story. But you have made it about five amazing storytellers and experts. Tell us a little bit about each one of them.
RHODES PERRY: Yes. Well, I like that you brought up the “manel,” right? When I was thinking about sharing what I know and the experiences that I have working with my clients, I really wanted to bring in other diversity thought leaders.
I was thinking and pulling a list together. If I had a panel of thought leaders up in front of a room, would people appreciate the substance of what they’re saying, sharing the diversity stories that they have, but also visibly seeing differences. That was really important to me, especially as a white guy.
So, the people that I featured in the book are, I would say, from very, very different backgrounds. Just going through this list that I have here. I have Ashley Brundridge (ph.), who works in a Fortune 500 company, does diversity and inclusion work there, and she’s a trans woman. She’s white and she lives in the south. I thought, “Okay, there are some differences there.” A fresh perspective.
I featured Kyler Broadus (ph.), who is a longtime trans advocate. He’s African American; he’s from the Midwest, and I have deep, deep respect for him. He’s one of my mentors. And Joel Brown, who is out in the Bay Area. He’s an African-American guy, he’s in higher ed. He’s a small business owner. Trae Demming (ph.), who is based in North Carolina, she’s an African-American woman, has been doing diversity and inclusion work in higher ed for the past 15 years and another mentor of mine.
Someone relatively new to my circle of colleagues is Ben Duncan, who lives out here in Portland. He’s an African-American guy and he is the chief diversity officer for Multnomah County, which is the biggest county in the state, and he, again, has been doing this work for over two decades.
Really different industries, really different perspectives. Some of the folks are within the rainbow family, some are not. I was really intentional about trying to mix it up and making sure that the things that I was asserting in the book of what I think is trending or what to expect over the next five years, we know this work changes so fast. I wanted to make sure that these kind of assertions that I was making based off of the research that I did either aligned or if folks had a different perspective, I absolutely wanted to lift that up and to use the platform that I have to make sure that the readers of the book are exposed to folks like yourself and all of these other amazing thought leaders that I have so much respect for.
In the interviews that I did with everyone, I gained so much from it. Deepening the relationships, understanding the perspectives that these different professionals have. I think it makes the book so much richer than just me positing a bunch of ideas and sharing a little bit of the war stories that I survived with clients and things like that.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s funny, you’ve fought to have your own authentic voice, but it is, and this is what we all have to do, we’ve got to put that voice that we have fought so hard for in its place, but then we have to be intersectional in our approach and inclusive of others because we are just one voice.
I know you and I are equally passionate about the concept of intersectionality, which was coined by Kimberly Crenshaw over a decade ago who is now a professor, but I always try to mention her original definition, which is the interplay of multiple stigmatized identities. A woman is not a woman is not a woman. She’s a woman of color.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: She’s a queer woman of color. She is a woman with a disability. All of these things intersect and impact how people experience their identity. Some of us can cover parts of our diversity, and some of us can choose when to reveal things about ourselves, and some of us cannot hide when we walk in the room.
RHODES PERRY: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: These are things that are important concepts, but I love that you filtered your writing and your message through so many different perspectives and you took great care to select this as a check on yourself and the biases of your own lenses, which we all have, even people that have done the work as long as you and I have.
RHODES PERRY: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s very painful to realize, but they’re there.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Also, I think the white experience in particular is something we have to be particularly cognizant of as change agents these days.
RHODES PERRY: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’re living and working in a multicultural world, and yet in the workplace, our workplaces are not representative of the diversity of our world in all kinds of respects. The workplace is lagging, particularly in leadership, and we don’t see ourselves in those groups of people. It’s very harmful for younger, diverse talent to come into organizations which don’t reflect them.
Obviously, it’s hard on the bottom line, but then the consumer group and those who you’re trying to sell to and market to also don’t see themselves reflected in the products and services that are created by those companies who don’t have the diversity internally.
I hope, Rhodes, that your book, your work, and mine as well motivates and lights a fire under decision-makers who might think this doesn’t apply, who aren’t sure what to do, and that this is, indeed, important and we can each do so much in our own sphere of influence wherever we sit in organizations. Even people in marginalized communities can extend the lens of intersectionality and acknowledge our privilege. We all have some form of privilege and we can always be using that on behalf of others.
Rhodes, where can folks find out more about you? I know you are very active online. We also dialogue back and forth in the ether.
RHODES PERRY: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Where can folks follow you?
RHODES PERRY: Well, definitely RhodesPerry.com is the best place to find me and all of the social media that you like to consume, you can probably find me on that platform. For the book, Rhodes on Amazon.com is probably the best place to find the book.
Thank you so much, Jennifer. This was a great conversation and I’m really honored to be on your show.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m really honored to know you and thank you for your voice in the world.
RHODES PERRY: Likewise. Thank you so much.
- MLK Day Replay: Intersectional Panel on Civil Rights including Jennifer and other L’Oréal USA DEI Advisory Board Members
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- Owning Your Power: Jennifer Joins the Beyond Barriers Podcast
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