Bring Your Whole Self to Work: Cliche or Call to Action?

‘Bring your whole self to work’ is an invitation that many companies in corporate America extend to their employees. Every company is traveling a unique D&I journey, but common among all experiences is the belief that embracing this cultural ideal is a competitive advantage to becoming (or remaining) a top employer and industry leader. Leaders are embracing the promise that a sincere commitment to D&I can bring to creating a workplace where you are valued for who you are and the talent you bring to our business.

Why is this important?

The foundation of inclusion is authenticity. Research shows that employees invest extra energy covering aspects of themselves and their lives out of fear: fear of being judged, fear of being excluded, fear of not being heard, fear of not being valued, and even in some cases, fear of losing their jobs. Since Americans spend more time working than any other activity, it’s important that the energy we invest into our work is positive, edifying, and sets you and your teammates up for success. One thing I know for sure – fear has never produced positive results for me or my team.

The traditional workplace culture sends subtle messages about what’s accepted, respected, and valued. These messages come through loud and clear, especially to those who fall outside of the normative standard. Unfortunately, these cultural micro-messages usually reflect personal preference, not requirements outlined by company policy, the Code of Ethics, and company Values.

When we cover based on the preferences of others (usually communicated by people of influence and in power), we generally guard themselves against authentic human relationships that form at work, thereby keeping us at arm’s length from integrating our work lives in a way that’s meaningful, fun, and fulfilling.

People cover (or underemphasize) their family arrangements, veteran status, disabilities, pregnancy status, socioeconomic backgrounds, faith, relationships, ages, and political affiliations. They augment their hair, religious dress, accents, mannerisms, and many more aspects that make us who we are. And when we diminish these parts of ourselves, we diminish our whole selves.

‘Bring your whole self to work’ is not a license to overshare and disclose intimate details of our lives around every watercooler in the office. It’s also not an invitation to wear your tie-die shirt while meeting our customers, crochet during a meeting, or otherwise let your freak flag fly. Within our workplace, we have freedom within a framework, and that framework is important. It outlines the expectations and norms we will maintain in order to properly function as a business. It is shaped by company policy, the Code of Ethics, and company Values – the requirements of being part of any great team.

It’s the freedom within the framework where the invitation to be our whole selves is extended. We are made up of a multi-dimensional mix of passions, purposes, and pursuits. When we check these aspects of ourselves at the door, there can be real costs:*

  • Cost of Energy
    • The energy we spend trying to cover up our uniqueness is energy that we no longer have for our work, our family, our friends, or our communities. We have less to contribute.
  • Cost of Ability
    • The very aspect of your identity that you’re covering just might be your secret weapon for success and greater contribution, or it might be the key that unlocks potential in a coworker.
  • Cost of Burnout
    • Lying by omission about who you are can contribute to anxiety and a sense that your life is dis-integrated, that work is something separate from your “real” life.

The result of ‘Bring your whole self to work’ ultimately will vary from person to person based on a variety of factors: trust; relationship with leaders and coworkers; tenure with the company; age; and ultimately, the desire to accept the invitation. However, if you’re open to accepting this invitation, here are some ways in which you can bring your whole, best self to work and create an environment where others can do the same:

  • Take time to self-reflect and consider what aspects of your life and your self are fundamental to who you are. If these elements of your personality, life, or character are intentionally hidden at work, consider probing more as to why.
  • Build trust with your team by consistently responding to challenges and conflict with courage and transparency. Trust is built through positive interactions over time.
  • Practice constructive curiosity with others. Setting an example of your openness to others’ areas of difference signals to others that it’s safe for them to be authentic in relating with you, within the respectful and appropriate boundaries of a working relationship.
  • Understand the difference between support and agreement. We do not have to agree with one another 100% of the time in order to fully support one another. We tend to like and affirm people with whom we agree, and conversely, distance ourselves from people with whom we disagree.

As you contemplate the invitation to ‘Bring your whole self to work’, I will leave you with powerful insight from the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux:

“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on.”

*Credit: with list of costs associated with covering.

Tolerance? No Thank You!

Tolerance has become a word associated with acceptance, and even inclusiveness.

However, to tolerate someone isn’t necessarily kind, considerate or inclusive. Tolerance does not create a high performance organization, either. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years as an educator in corporate America.

Case in point: I tolerate my friend’s occasional cigarette smoking habit. I don’t like it and I wish he would stop. I like him, he’s funny, and I can put up with his smoking. To Tolerate = To Put Up With.

Hearing it, as an out gay man, “tolerance” smacks of the old saying, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” “Tolerater” in that scenario has always sounded to me like “Hater.”

What Does Tolerance Mean at Work?

I see this bumper sticker, or other versions of it, all over my city of Atlanta:

I guess that the driver of the car bearing the sticker is trying to convey a desire to coexist peacefully in this wonderful world filled with people of varied cultures, religions, diets, politics, sexual orientations and life choices.

However, in the workplace, the world where I spend most of my time (and where you might, as well), the mental attitude of “tolerance” might have a surprising and negative impact on others, where differences between people are concerned.

The Tolerance Scale

To put the word and mental attitude into perspective, consider the “Tolerance Scale,” created by ProGroup in the mid 1990s. (I served as a consultant to ProGroup early on in my career.) The firm used a rather arbitrary numbering system from most inclusive to least:

5  Appreciation: You are different from and similar to me in ways that I appreciate

4  Acceptance: You are different from and similar to me in ways that I accept

3  Tolerance: You are different from and similar to me in ways that I tolerate

2  Avoidance: You are different from and similar to me in ways that I avoid

1  Repulsion: You are different from and similar to me in ways that I deem repulsive

What does this mean to you? Like many mental constructs, creating a thought exercise that directly impacts YOU, is often the best way to get our head around an idea.


*How has it made you feel during your life, especially at work, when your leader and/or colleagues APPRECIATED or ACCEPTED you as a part of the team? Frequent answers in our workshops include: fully engaged, a sense of belongingness, honored, validated and full of energy.

* How does it feel, especially at work, when your leader and/or colleagues AVOID or are REPULSED by you because of their beliefs about your values, religion, who you love, how you live or your cultural practices? I hope this is a thought exercise and not a real life memory, but common responses would be: excluded, marginalized, disengaged, lonely, judged, like an outsider — and, I hear often — looking for an “exit strategy.” Avoidance and Repulsion naturally create feelings of “why bother” and employee disengagement.

*Finally, how has it felt in your career when others, especially your leader/manager, are unable or unwilling to accept you for who you are and merely TOLERATE who you are as a person?I’m reminded of the character from the musical, Chicago, who sang, “I’m Mr. Cellophane.” “’Cause you can look right through me / Walk right by me and never know I’m there.” In fact, maybe worse than invisible, more like “why am I here?”

Moving Beyond Tolerance at Work

Tolerance is not enough to create the “ROI” of full employee engagement. If you are truly committed to creating the best team, with the highest levels of engagement, you might have some work to do in the “inclusion gym.”

  • Make a list of your direct reports and assign a number to them (1-5) using the Tolerance Scale above.
  • Be honestly scrupulous in your assessment of your attitude toward their differences: their communication style, non-verbal style, voice, story-telling approach, lifestyle that you know about outside of work, attire. . . . you get my drift. You’re not assessing their performance, just your attitude about them as a human being.
  • Focus on any person to whom you’ve assigned Tolerance, Avoidance or Repulsion. (Repulsion is rather rare at work, but these relationships do exist for many leaders.) Create a personalized plan for how you are going to improve the relationship with these teammates, over time, with the professional goal of moving them to at least Acceptance.
  • Consider that ACCEPTANCE does not necessarily mean approval. It means they are different. They are not the same. And that’s OK. You can accept something without judging it as “needing to be different.”

This is the HARD work of managing bias, conscious and unconscious at work.

Here’s to your journey of intentionally inclusive behaviors toward your teammates. The effort will be worth it through the dynamics of increased belongingness that ensues on your team.

Unconsciously Biased Listening

I’ll never forget the weekend I spent in Salt Lake City about 15 years ago. I was learning and practicing a new training class from an innovative consulting firm with whom I partnered. During this “train the trainer”, friends and colleagues who do what I do (facilitate diversity and inclusion educational workshops) were sharing a lot of best-practice ideas.

These were peers who had all been “out there in the trenches” (like me) delivering similar, potentially transformative workshops. We shared our successes and learned from each other.

On the plane flight back east, I sat with my friend and colleague, Mercedes, an Afro Cuban woman. At the time, she was already an accomplished consultant. Mercedes knows her stuff and has the clients to prove it!

During our airplane chatter, Mercedes took a deep breath and let me know she needed to share something with me. She described one of the “best practice” stories I had shared in Salt Lake City, reminded me of the praise I received from peers and leaders in the group.

She asked, “Do you remember where that idea came from?”

I explained that I had developed it from a series of “trial and errors” while facilitating the many workshops I had done in the past year.

Mercedes smiled, nodded her head and said, “I shared that idea with you when we were together several months ago. Do you remember that conversation?”

Whoa. What?

Me, an Idea Thief?

In my mind, I had come up with that idea. I told Mercedes, “You must have your wires crossed; I don’t make a habit of stealing ideas and taking credit for them! I’m kind of insulted that you would accuse me of that.”

I remember a quiet plane ride from that point forward. My mind kept replaying her “accusation,” and even began to form judgments about HER that I had never thought before. We landed at our destination and said goodbye.

About a week after this conversation, I had one of those moments that illustrates the expression, “It dawned on me.” Like the light of dawn, I remembered. Mercedes had shared this idea with me, at a moment when I had been frustrated and multi-tasking. I had simply forgotten where it came from. After I tested it repeatedly, I adopted the “credit” for figuring something out that was successful. None of this was intentional – but it did happen.

I was an idea thief. How could this be?

Meeting our Filters with Understanding

When I called Mercedes to acknowledge what I did and apologize for my actions, she said, “Thanks for the apology. I accept it. I want to you to know that this is a common occurrence for women of color like me. White women and men frequently co-opt our ideas. They don’t listen. It’s like ‘death by a thousand paper cuts.

If you’re like me, you don’t listen to people the same way all of the time. We listen through filters of gender, age, ethnicity, accent and physical size. Our learned biases form an invisible network of filters that influences our listening to others.

Most of us don’t have the same “listening” for our older white bosses, for example, as we do for a younger woman of color who is new to the team. Consider if this is true for you.

Intent ≠Impact

I’m not talking about explicit discrimination here. I’m talking about subtlety that is invisible to the “perpetrator.” It’s hardly ever invisible to the recipient, in this case, Mercedes. She saw my lack of awareness and inclusion, and it was palpable, familiar and painful.

The intent and the impact of our actions frequently don’t equate, especially when gender and culture among the players is different.

But there are behaviors and actions we can practice in our “inclusion gym” to prevent an inequity or unintentional slight to our colleagues, like what happened between Mercedes and me.

How to Recognize and Mitigate Biased Filtering

  • Be a focused listener.Practice mindfulness when you interact with others. Here are a few tips.
  • Assume positive intent.When giving or receiving feedback about your behavior, or the behavior of another person, try to presuppose that the other person means well. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Give credit where credit is due.Affirm your colleagues when they share an idea. If someone co-opts that idea in a meeting, circle back and remind the team where the original idea came from.
  • Be willing to explore and acknowledgeOur invisible biases around race and gender and other diversity dimensions influence how we listen to each other. When partnering with someone who is different from you on one or more dimension, double up on active listening and pay more attention to their contributions and ideas.
  • Acknowledge when you are wrong.As soon as you realize you have inadvertently let filters blind your actions, accept responsibility and communicate this to the person who may have been hurt. Now is the time to look inward and see what caused “filter blindness.” Were you paying attention to what they said? Did you dismiss their ideas because of implicit bias?

These practices work. I know, because I’ve been exercising them since my “Mercedes accident,” and I’ve gotten feedback on my intent listening from many women of color since then.

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. I’m proof.

Check out another great article on this topic from Fast Company:

COMING OUT – From the Outfield: Baseball, Broadway and Belongingness

Something you will never see on your local or network TV broadcast: Sports Time with SCOTT! My friends and colleagues know I’m not exactly a sportsperson. However, as with most topics, it’s a little more complicated than that. And by the end of this blog, I promise I’ll make the connection between sports and inclusion in the workplace.


Let me clarify the sports thing: It’s not as if I’m anti-sport. As a student, I attended every football at three different schools (Cedar Cliff High School in Pennsylvania, James Madison University, and Ohio State). That’s nine seasons! As a child, I also played little league baseball, albeit relegated to the outfield where I could do the least damage.

It’s not as if I didn’t scream like a super-fan when JMU’s basketball team rose to NCAA tournament prominence in the early ’80s; I loved the game, the action, and the community it brought to our otherwise sleepy Shenandoah Valley, Virginia former teachers’ college. It was exhilarating. Go Duke Dogs!

Finally, I appreciate when colleagues or friends use sports from the previous weekend as the icebreaker in meetings or calls, even though we know that not everyone follows or cares about sports. I don’t see it as inherently exclusionary if nearly everyone is involved in the chat or teammates are conscious enough to engage with the other (non-fan) people present.

But like any discussion, we need to be aware of drawing people into conversations that are intended to connect us.


I’ll admit I was a phony-fake sports fan for a LONG time. For years I decided to “go along to get along” to be able to talk sports at Monday morning meetings. I scanned the sports pages or caught the Sunday night local news sportscast so I had the bare minimum to participate in the inevitable sports chat.

It wasn’t very authentic. It was a cover.

I’m sure it has to do with my long and not-that-unusual journey of struggling to navigate male connection in a world where the masculine and the accompanying assumed restrictions on what’s normal to discuss in the US has largely been set by cisgender, straight, white males.

It was NOT exhausting to “cover” like this. It was really nothing, in hindsight. And, it wasn’t authentic. That’s all it was. I’m not overblowing this as non-inclusive culture, non-inclusive behavior, etc. It was and is the norm in many organizations I’ve worked in and supported. It was and is the norm, at least that’s what I still see as a consultant working with clients.

Here’s the point. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I kept on playing the game of what I thought was expected of me. Now I know better, and now I’m happier.


One of my clients, a USA transportation and distribution company, asked to partner with me to implement an inclusion strategy with three men who happened to be sports fans. We often began our weekly progress meetings with a perfunctory sports chat. On one of these meetings where I hadn’t done my Sunday night “homework,” one of the guys asked, “Scott, what did you think about the end of the Atlanta Braves game!!??”

(Crickets as my wheels turned: What to say?)

In hindsight, it must have been divine providence that caused me to inhale and announce, authentically for the first time, that I don’t follow sports . . . at all.

(Crickets as their wheels must have been turning. What the heck?)

After (probably) two seconds that felt like two minutes, the leader of the project said: “That’s cool, Scott. What are you into? We could talk about that instead of the sports stuff.”

After some thought and a deep inhalation, I said, “One of my passions, ever since I was in high school, has been musical theater, especially in New York, on and off-Broadway.”

I waited.

My client replied, “I LOVE Broadway! My wife and I went to New York a while back and we still talk about how great the actor Patina Miller was in Sister Act. We’re getting ready to book another trip.”

His colleagues then named their favorite shows and then asked me to name my top three favorite shows of all time. (If you care: Hamilton, Rent, and Godspell.)

The Broadway baby part of me was suddenly beaming. And here’s the thing: I now know, truly know, that it doesn’t matter if they like what I like. Me being authentic and having others acknowledge my passion or interest is enough. Even if they don’t do that, I have decided, I gotta be me. Maybe it’s maturity (probably). Maybe it’s working in DEI for 30 years (definitely doesn’t hurt). Or, maybe we’re evolving as we do the work of helping organizations and managers and teammates to acknowledge that diversity isn’t an ideal; it’s the reality of people showing up to be with each other in work or play.

And so that’s the personal learning I bring to workshops lately. It’s not enough to ask your teammates who they are, what they value, or what matters to them. If leaders aren’t able and willing, and even excited, to “go below the waterline” to be a little more vulnerable, we can’t expect those we lead to feel that it’s safe to share their love of Broadway, their passion for anime, their healthy addiction to a video game, or their volunteer work with animals. We are whole and complex people seeking a sense of belongingness for our whole being, not just our skills and talents.


*Remember the power of open-ended questions in one-on-ones or staff gatherings.

  • What’s something you do in your free time that brings you joy?
  • If money was no object, what would do with your time to contribute to the world?
  • What should I know about you so that I can be a better manager or mentor to you?

*Remember that leaders usually set the stage for what’s safe, what’s acceptable, what’s allowable, and what is normal in the workplace culture. Be willing to answer the above questions yourself first, even before you ask others to share. You are the model, the pacesetter.

*Check out this book I like: Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work by Kathryn Jacob, Sue Unerman, and Mark Edwards, 2020.

In-Between Gender

How Unconscious Cultural Assumptions about Gender Impact Transgender Workplace Inclusion

By guest bloggers Linda Herzer and Gabrielle Claiborne, co-founders of Transformation Journeys Worldwide

What is the biggest stumbling block to achieving transgender workplace inclusion? In our work as transgender-focused diversity trainers and consultants, we find it to be the unconscious cultural assumptions people have about gender. Fortunately, when people receive training regarding these unconscious assumptions, they are empowered to work more comfortably and respectfully with trans colleagues and clients.

So what are our cultural assumptions about gender?

Challenging our Assumptions about Gender

Two cultural assumptions about gender are quickly revealed by considering a question pregnant people are often asked: “Are you having a boy or girl?”

This question assumes there are only two genders. But doctors and medical researchers know that biological gender is not so clear cut. They know there are also intersex persons, individuals for whom the biological components of sex (internal and external reproductive organs and chromosome patterns) do not manifest in typical male and female patterns. Surprisingly, best estimates are that intersex people are as common as individuals with red hair!

In spite of the reality of intersex people, the U.S. continues to organize itself around the cultural assumption that there are only two genders. We even have a term for this cultural assumption; it’s called the “gender binary.” But not all countries operate under the gender binary. Currently there are 12 countries that allow their citizens a third gender option on passports. In addition, three U.S. states – Washington, Oregon and California -also allow residents a third gender option on some legal documents.

These realities are evidence that, with education, states, countries and likewise, workplaces, can change their cultural beliefs about gender.

A second assumption revealed by the question, “Are you having a boy or a girl?” is the belief that gender is determined by genitals. Transgender people challenge this cultural assumption, because they say a person’s gender is determined not by their genitals, but by their gender identity. (Gender identity is “who” one knows oneself to be – male, female, some combination of both, or perhaps, neither male nor female.)

Trans people’s assertion, that all people’s gender is determined by what’s between our ears (knowing), and not what’s between our legs (genitals), runs contrary to our cultural assumptions. Consequently, many people assume that what trans people say about their own gender identities are signs of a mental disorder. But the American Psychological Association (APA) has determined that being transgender is not a mental disorder; it is simply another aspect of our diverse human experience.

Nevertheless, as humans, when our deeply held, unconscious cultural assumptions are challenged, we are more inclined to dismiss the claims of those making the challenge than to carefully consider the evidence. Columbus certainly experienced this in his day! Likewise, we see this happening today in public debates about which bathrooms trans people can use, and whether they should be able to serve in the military.

Fortunately, the APA, and the countries and states that no longer operate under the gender binary, have carefully considered the growing evidence that shows that gender is much more diverse than we ever thought. Many companies are beginning to do the same.

How to Rethink Our Beliefs about Gender

Of course, reprogramming our deeply held cultural assumptions is not as straightforward as rewriting a computer program. It’s an organic process, not a technological fix.

So what things can you do, as an individual, to engage in the reprogramming process? We encourage clients to allow every experience of “gender discomfort” to serve as an invitation to reconsider their own assumptions about gender, and to allow those beliefs to grow and change. For example:

  • Suppose you refer to someone as he or she, and that person corrects you, saying, “I use the pronouns they, them and theirs” (as many non-binary trans people do). If this gives you an awkward feeling, ask yourself if that’s because you’re coming from the cultural assumption that there are only two genders, so everyone should be either he orshe. Use this as an invitation to reprogram your understanding that gender diversity includes more than just male and female.
  • Suppose you feel uncomfortable seeing someone in the restroom whose gender expression is not typically male or female. Might this discomfort be caused by the cultural assumption that genitals determine gender? Use your discomfort as an invitation to more fully embrace gender identity as the determinant of gender.
  • If a colleague pursues a gender transition, how do you and your co-workers respond? Do you celebrate this important life transition in the same way you would celebrate a colleague’s marriage or retirement? If not, what cultural assumptions about gender are reflected in your responses?
  • Talent Acquisition. Often highly qualified trans job applicants have disparities between their current gender identity and their legal documents. Do your cultural assumptions about gender cause you to see such an applicant as “not a good fit,” or are you willing to navigate through these document disparities to bring this person onboard?

According to a recent Harris Poll, 12 percent of Millennials currently identify as some form of trans, and that identification is becoming more prevalent each day.

The time for individuals and organizations to address their cultural assumptions about gender is now. The question is no longerifyou will need a trans inclusive workplace, but how sooncan you create it.

To learn more, contact Gabrielle and Linda through their website,

Supplier Diversity: Why it Matters

When you shopped for the holidays in the last few months of 2017, did you think about the nuances of supplier diversity? Most of us did not, of course. Yet where we bought gifts for our loved ones — clothes, toys, electronics, books, accessories, tools, perfume, and even gift cards for massages, movies tickets or restaurants – has a critical impact on the economy. All of these items came from suppliers – the companies and individuals who sell their goods and services to organizations and retail stores.

Department stores and retailers buy from manufacturers. Grocery stores buy from farmers and food distributors. Your corporate office buys its office furniture and office equipment from suppliers. Suppliers are the backbone of commerce. In fact, without a healthy and diverse community of suppliers, our economy would suffer greatly.

So what is supplier diversity?

Supplier diversity is a proactive initiative that organizations use to ensure they are considering all types of suppliers from which to buy goods and services for their operations and customers like you and me. Diverse suppliers are small businesses and businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities, LGBT and other historically disadvantaged vendors.

What prompted the creation of the term “supplier diversity”?

The practice of supplier diversity stemmed from necessity. During World War II, Congress passed legislation to enable small manufacturing plants the opportunity to be considered to win bids to produce badly needed war products, and subsequently passed legislation that continued similar benefits during peacetime. Further iterations were created over the years, and in 1953, Congress created the Small Business Administration (SBA), which has since furnished millions of loans, loan guarantees, contracts, and other forms of assistance to small businesses.

It was not until 1969 after much civil unrest, protests and deaths of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. that President Nixon signed Executive Order 11458, which focused on developing a national program for federal agencies to seek to actively pursue business opportunities with minority-owned business enterprises.

It’s from that executive order that successive federal government acts were passed such as the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, which included small businesses owned and controlled by women within the goals for awarding procurement contracts to small businesses, and the HUB Zone Empowerment and Veteran’s Entrepreneurial & Small Business Development Acts in the late 1990’s, which focused on awarding contracts to HUB Zone and Veteran and/or Service Disabled Veteran-owned companies. All of the above legislation was passed to ensure that small and diverse businesses are provided every practical opportunity to participate as viable suppliers in our government and marketplace.

Why is supplier diversity important to you and your organization?

According to the SBA, small businesses make up 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms. They also comprise 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs, 49.2 percent of private-sector employment, 42.9 percent of private-sector payroll, 46 percent of private-sector output, 43 percent of high-tech employment, 98 percent of firms exporting goods, and 33 percent of exporting value.

Without small and diverse businesses playing an active role as strong suppliers of goods and services in the U.S. marketplace, our economy would face serious decline. The jobless rate would exponentially increase and innovation would deteriorate. Organizations that support supplier diversity and small businesses show their understanding of the great impact that these businesses have not only on the U.S. economy, but also on their organizations as a whole. These organizations are able to provide the best and most competitive products and services to their customers and improve the efficiency of their operations. They are also able to tap into and understand new market opportunities where they can promote their brand, products and capabilities.

What are some ways you can support Supplier Diversity?

You don’t have to be a corporate or government buyer to support supplier diversity. Here are some simple ways you can show your support for doing business with small and diverse companies:

  • Reach out to small businesses in your neighborhood when you’re looking to purchase items or services for your home
  • When shopping for office products from major office supply stores catalogs, look for products that are manufactured by small and/or diverse businesses
  • Publicize and provide small and diverse-owned businesses a chance to bid on your upcoming work related projects
  • Donate your time or resources to mentor small and diverse businesses
  • Ask your larger suppliers to subcontract or hire small and/or diverse businesses where possible
  • Attend small and diverse business networking events in your city to meet and engage with the owners of these businesses and learn their stories (you might just catch the bug to start your own small business!)
  • Sponsor small and diverse business events in your community
  • Create a program or process within your company to proactively provide opportunities to do business with small and/or diverse businesses

Have any further questions about supplier diversity? Please contact Lissa Miller, First Vice President – Supplier Diversity at SunTrust Banks, Inc. at

Messages, Memes and “Manilow-isms”

The Messages, Memes and Manilow-isms that Shape our Implicit Associations

Barry Manilow is brilliant at penning songs and jingles that penetrate our “automatic” brain. His legacy includes hits like Mandy, Copacabana, I Write the Songs as well as jingles such as “like a good neighbor State Farm is there”, “I am stuck on Band-Aid, ‘cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me,” and “you deserve a break today.” I know these words by heart because they are stuck in my consciousness like, well, a Band-Aid.

That’s on purpose.

Corporate advertisers pay a lot of money for slogans, jingles, tag phrases and the repeated TV, radio, internet and print ads that imprint their brands into our minds with a catchy phrase, symbol or song. We know this. We collectively laugh in our workshops on unconscious bias management that 99% of us cannot NOT think of the company that has the slogan, “Just Do It.” (Nike. I know you know, but in case you’re that 1% that didn’t.)

I can’t possibly look in my historical rear view mirror at my youth and remember when I first heard one of those jingles. They are just on a ubiquitous loop. I don’t know WHY I call a facial tissue a Kleenex, a cotton swab a Q-tip, or a photo copy a Xerox. I just do. I resign myself to the knowledge that my early messages (a form of mental programming by those Madison Avenue Mad Men/Women) has created advertising memes in my product associations through consistent repetition.

Cultural Programing Impacts our Decisions

What does this have to do with diversity and inclusion?

Does any of this sound familiar? Blue is a boys’ color. Pink is a girls’ color. Black people are crime prone. Asians are shifty. Homosexuals are pedophiles. Catholics are idol worshippers. Women are bad drivers. Men are unemotional. Welcome to a taste of MY diversity programming as a child in Central Pennsylvania. While Madison Avenue got paid for those marketing jingles, slogans and product repetition, I received my initial diversity programming for FREE, thanks to my father, brother, neighborhood friends and media representations of people. And, get this, those repetitively stated stereotypes (by others) and heard (by me — and you) live in the same part of the brain.

It’s futile to think that I can block an association in my mind when I meet someone from one of those groups I mentioned, or to have a fast (often negative association) about someone who is different from me when I’m making decisions about who to hire, give that great assignment to, or during and after their interview. Remember the impossibility of trying to not think “Nike”? It’s the same Stimulus-Reaction dynamic with deeply engrained messages about race, gender, age, orientation, disability, accent, religion … you get the point.

Slow it Down

Does this mean that we are doomed to a lifetime of pre-programmed fast associations about those topics? NO. You have an incredible, “deliberate” brain. Unlike other species, we can push the brakes on the “automatic” (or programmed) brain. We can tell ourselves when we’re making decisions about our teammates to “slow down” and pause to check into what’s happening in our automatic brain.

We can ask:

  • does this person remind me of someone (in a good or bad way) from my past?
  • is my decision being influenced by my current mood? (not enough sleep, stress, up against a deadline, etc.)
  • if this person performed exactly as they have and that behavior was exhibited by favorite teammate or direct report, would I view their performance the same or different?
  • what else might be true about the conclusion I’m drawing about this person’s intentions, value to the project and outcomes I’ve seen that could challenge my judgements about them?
  • what do other people who I value, who are different than me, think about this person and the behaviors I’m assessing in this current decision?

Use the Inclusion Muscle

We have the ability to “go to the gym” of exercising the emotional intelligence (EQ) skill of slowing down and pondering the influencers that might be shading our decision-making process with invisible biases. Our goal is to be truly inclusive … and that Nike/Fast Brain/Automatic Pilot/Tinted Lens of Bias is ALWAYS trying to make us go faster, without pausing and letting the Deliberate Brain do some verification of our assumptions.

What we know for sure is, like going to the gym the first few times, the first few passes at slowing down and engaging the deliberate part of our mind feels cumbersome and even unnatural and uncomfortable.But it’s important to develop the Inclusion muscle of slowing down (you can call it mindfulness, if you like that term).

Those who can strengthen that muscle can develop truly inclusive leadership.

For more ideas on how to “nudge” the brain toward greater inclusion, you might check out the book Inclusion Nudgesby Lisa Kepinski and Tinna C. Nielsen.

People Need People…
To Reshape our Biases

“People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world,” sang Barbra Streisand in the 1964 Broadway musical, Funny Girl. Although I had heard this song probably thousands of times, I recently looked up the lyrics and discovered a deeper meaning:

A feeling deep in your soul
Says you were half now you’re whole
No more hunger and thirst
First be a person who needs people

We need relationship with others to be whole. Someone who leans in to being in relationship with others is satisfying a human need on par with hunger and thirst. Those moments when we feel known and seen by another, and/or when we really see and know another person, are some of the luckiest experiences we humans can have. That’s why, when Streisand sings, “people who need people,” it resonates.

Relationships with family, friends and colleagues enrich us. We even make meaningful connections with random airplane seatmates on a short flight. Moreover, what about relationships with people whom you see as different from you? Research says we need those people, too.

How Contact with Others Alters Your Brain

Contact is the opposite of avoidance. It requires stepping in, stepping forward, risking connection and risking rejection. Our beliefs, fears and biases can prevent this connection and contact with people who are different from us. And, by my way of thinking and seeing the world, this is a tragedy.

Many of us can relate to the experience of having a fantastic conversation with an Uber, Lyft or taxi driver about something they are dealing with, no matter what their cultural heritage or background. When we listen and share in an open, non-judgmental way, we are changed. We feel “fed.” We feel that connection of shared humanity. Although we may not immediately recognize it, these interactions change our brain.

The psychologist Gordon Allport, in his seminal 1954 book, The Nature of Prejudice, proposed that our filters or biases are reframed when we have contact (and even more significantly, when we have relationship) with people who are different from us.

In our unconscious bias workshops, we share several research studies to support Allport and many other social psychologists’ perspectives that stereotypes and intentional and unintentional discrimination are reduced when we have contact with groups we may consider “other.”

This is Your Brain on Relationships

In a 2012 study by University of North Carolina examining the hiring behaviors of 1,300 heterosexually married men in the US and UK, the men married to homemakers overwhelmingly chose male candidates over female candidates, qualifications and accomplishments being equal. Men with wives who had careers of their own equally chose male and female candidates in the study.

The message in the study is clear: Conversations about work and career between wives and husbands can “rewire” men’s implicit associations about women in the workplace, and can break down social programming about gender roles.

In 2014, in the largest study of white male leaders’ engagement levels in corporate diversity and inclusion efforts, Greatheart Consulting and PwC discovered that white men who had a female or non-white confidante in the workplace were 30-50% more likely to recruit, hire, mentor and promote women and people of color than white men who did not have similar relationships.

Again, Gordon Allport’s contact theory is at work: I see candidates and teammates through different lenses … with less bias … when I have been in significant contact and relationship with people from often-stereotyped groups.

One of my mentors, the founder of Innovations International, Dr. William Guillory, is fond of saying, “The biggest challenge to a stereotype is reality.” How can I hold a bias when I have so many examples, through meaningful contact, that old, tired beliefs or attitudes that I may have absorbed and adopted from societal and family programming is just that: Old and tired?

While on her book tour for Becoming, former FLOTUS Michelle Obama told an interviewer, “It’s hard to hate up close.” Same idea, framed differently and elegantly.

Practice: The Trusted Ten

In our workshops, we present the idea of the ease of gravitating into relationship and trust with people like ourselves and the value of intentionally developing relationship with people who are different from us with an activity called The Trusted Ten. Check out this short video that explains how this could help your leadership efforts and expand perspectives on the teams you lead:

My Holiday Wish: Just Connect

During the end-of-year holidays of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and winter solstice, I hope we all remember to extend our eye contact, our smiles, our kind words and our conversations to people who dress, eat, worship or look differently from us … and not just to “PLU’s “ (people like us).

I hope, while we’re winding down the last days of this year at work and at home, that we connect with others through authenticity and kindness. I hope we can see past political disagreements with our families and our teammates, and look deeper to remember that we need each other. Let’s take the loving words of holiday songs to heart and live them.

Happy holidays, and here’s to a fantastic New Year for you, yours and the new and different connections you’ll make.

And Now a Word About Our Sponsors

A new study shows that nearly three-quarters of executives choose protégés that mirror their own race and gender. In the wake of #MeToo, how can implicit bias training break a dangerous cycle? 

Of all the career strategies designed to land you in the C-suite, finding a sponsor who will introduce you to senior leaders, provide tactical career guidance and advocate for promotions is one of the most valuable. It’s also one of the hardest to get right.

The sponsor-protégé relationship is professional, but it is also, in a sense, very personal. Protégé literally means “one who is protected.”  We take a protégé under our wing. We have their back. We stand in their corner, sticking our necks out for them. With that kind of emotional commitment at stake, it’s not surprising that people in powerful leadership roles tend to sponsor protégés who remind them of themselves.

Overwhelmingly so: According to the Center for Talent Innovation(CTI), an organization that focuses on advancing women and minorities, 71% of sponsors choose protégés who are of the same gender or race. In past studies, CTI has found that 58% of women and 54% of men choose protégés because they “make me feel comfortable.”

Like Me Bias

Our brains are wired to seek safety, and conscious or unconscious biases drive us to find people who seem just like us. The “like me” bias can apply across age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status and nationality. Many of us rarely step outside of our bubbles. We go out of our way to help people who seem like they are part of our tribe, whether by writing a letter of recommendation for our neighbor’s daughter or supporting a struggling family member. Our biases don’t end there, of course. Our race and gender implicit biases are pervasive, whether we are aware of them or not.

This instinct seems to override the best of intentions, especially when we sense risk or fear exposure. Since the rise of the #MeToo movement, the number of male managers who are  uncomfortablementoring women has more than tripled, according to one study. Almost half of the male managers surveyed said they now felt uneasy working or socializing with female colleagues.

Opportunities to interact with senior leaders are critical for gaining visibility. When leadership at a company is overwhelmingly white and male, and those executives choose mini-me protégés, the opportunity for women and people of color to get access narrows. Women reportfewer interactions with senior leaders than men do. Women of color are much more likely to say they never interact with senior leaders, either formally or informally. How do you become a leader if you never have access to them?

Promoting diverse sponsor-protégé relationships can help break this cycle.

Seek difference intentionally

Just as inclusion is a source of competitive advantage to companies, it’s also key to your own personal success at work. Investing in people with different backgrounds can lead to more creative and productive brainstorming. Championing diversity on your team will also help you to be a more effective, inclusive leader.

How to get started

  • Check your bias.
  • Take a look at the people who surround you at work and in your community. Do they share the same gender, racial or ethnic background? Dig a little further: If you don’t think you are prone to implicit bias, test yourself using assessments developed by scientists.
  • Look for perspectives from people who don’t mirror your own background. If you really want to broaden your scope of knowledge, look for someone who can fill in your knowledge gaps. You may find that people outside of your circle can teach you new skills or bring critical awareness about your company’s changing global market.
  • Work with a professional implicit bias trainer to develop a plan to counteract the “like me” bias. Expand your network, even if that means experiencing some social awkwardness. Attend affinity group meetings, company volunteer or networking events and purposefully introduce yourself to people with whom you don’t typically interact.
  • If you are in the position to sponsor a protégé, consider candidates from outside of your typical groups. Try to find diversity in race, gender, language of origin, religion and sexual orientation.

Identifying your own biases and making the unconscious, conscious, can help you to understand where your blind spots are. Taking specific action to overcome those blind spots can help you find the right sponsor-protégé relationship, one that will benefit both of you.

Laura Wenner is a writer and executive communications consultant who helps companies share insights on diversity and inclusion, women’s leadership and corporate social responsibility. Learn more at

Nudging our Brains Towards Inclusion

When it comes to inclusion, our brains need a nudge. With the best intentions, humans . . . even the most “woke” among us . . . can and do frequently default to automatic-pilot decision making, especially when the people we’re making decisions about are different from us (and that means everyone else on the planet).

Our brains have evolved to be good enough, most of the time, notes Sukhvinder S. Obhi, Ph.D., the director of a neuroscience center at McMaster University. However, we still need to stay vigilant about our brains’ natural tendency to stereotype and shut down.

That concept is at the core of the work we’ve been doing with huge, medium and small organizations since 2014.

Here is a refresher on our brain defaults.

  • Since childhood, our brains have been absorbing repetitive data (like stereotypes and advertising slogans and jingles) and this repetition creates “implicit associations” that kick into gear in our daily lives.
  • Some of the most powerful and heavily imprinted implicit associations in many people’s “automatic brain” are about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and age, among others.
  • If we aren’t mindful (paying careful attention to our thoughts and decision processes), we default to the imbedded implicit association of bias, which is frequently negative and may ascribe “inferior” to the “other.”
  • We can (and should) use our intentional brain – think of it as the clutch on the engine, or the rider on the “wild elephant” – to disrupt conditioned patterns of thought and biases in order to be more inclusive, fair and equitable.

Convert Judgements to “Nudge-ments”

I encourage you to “nudge” your mind, the minds of others you work with, and our decision making at work. These “process nudges” can serve to minimize bias and create greater belongingness while gaining access to a broader range of talent we might be missing out on when we allow our blind spots to run the show.

Credit here to Tinna Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski for their book for managers, Inclusion Nudges Guidebook. The DCC team used the book at our January 2019 retreat as an opportunity to “sharpen our saw” and to create more examples for what managers can do during their day to be more inclusive leaders.

Talent Acquisition Nudges

Prior to reviewing a stack of resumes (or even one resume), remind yourself to not allow the following to impact the manner of reading of the person’s experiences: name, address, university, Greek letter organization affiliation, years of graduation, etc.

Before conducting a candidate interview, determine if there’s anything going on in your private or work life that may prevent a fair, focused and unbiased interview. Consider rescheduling if you need to. Research shows that medical student interviewees are rated lower on rainy days than on sunny days.

Ask yourself if the candidate you are interviewing reminds you of someone you know and if that’s creating a positive or negative “projection” on the answers they share and interaction you are having. Adjust accordingly.

Team Meeting Nudges

Start a meeting with a personal learning about inclusion from a book you’re reading. Incorporate this idea of having an “inclusion moment” before every meeting. A few books to check out:

Quiet by Susan Cain

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Inclusion Nudges by Tinna Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski

Before a meeting, remind people to be more mindful of listening to understand, vs. listening to be understood (credit to Franklin Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)

Talent Readiness/Succession Planning Nudges

Before performance reviews or succession planning, review 2-3 common biases that may enter into the process you’re preparing to undertake. This primes the brain to PREVENT the bias trap from “taking over.” Go to this link to review some of the most common bias errors in talent decision making:

Make sure you are keeping photos of people you’re speaking about on the screen so that visual representation is observable: color, gender, age etc.  Studies show that seeing the people you are making decisions about prompts you to assess whether bias is impacting your process.

We’ll be sharing more nudges in the future. Try your hand at least one of the above ideas and let us know the outcome.