Q: Tell me a bit about yourself and your role as Director of Operations and Innovation
Sure, my primary role as Director of Operations and Innovation is to lead our Service Delivery Team to provide highly strategized and individualized services for each of our clients. I try to bring innovation and creativity to the table to understand the issues our clients face and develop solutions that address systemic challenges. I also work to ensure that Tangible Development remains true to our values while continuing to be cutting-edge in our approach to understand systemic issues within organizations and creating pathways to belonging for folks with marginalized identities.
Job aside, my most important role in life is Dad to my two kids, Elliot and Theo, and my bonus kid Oliver. Not too different from what I do with clients, I try to teach the kids how to develop healthy relationship dynamics and resist systems of oppression by modeling non-traditionalism at home. My household is a multi-parent, multi-generational blended family. Our family dynamic is the result of an intentional and conscious decision to live in a way that questions what it means to be a parent and co-parent. This has taught me and my kids that there are a lot of ways to have relationships and many ways to have a family.
Being a Trans dad within a family of multiple co-parents with multiple children helps me to be present and continue to question societal pressures and parental norms. This informs my work with Tangible Development because it forces me to recognize when societal pressures or power dynamics impact a person negatively. In order to address the issue we have to acknowledge its existence, understand how the issue evolved and where it came from, then work to resolve it. We use similar approaches in our work to address issues of racism, power dynamics, or other forms of oppression that hurt folks with marginalized identities.
Q: Tell me about your career and how it led you to DEI work
Well, originally I got into the work because I was a Trans person looking for community and support. It took me seven years to graduate from undergrad for a lot of reasons including the fact that I needed validation in my identity to grow as a person. I found that validation while working at the LGBT Center at Syracuse University on my campus because my colleagues, Adrea Jaehnig, Amit Taneja, and Lauren Adamski nurtured me both literally and metaphorically.
My colleagues taught me so many things that I try to model at Tangible Development today. They taught me how to do things in a highly collaborative model – and we did everything together. They also showed me how organizations can work with a decentralized power dynamic which you can see in Tangible Development’s current leadership structures. During that time I also learned how to look at policy with an equity and intersectional lens.
After the Syracuse LGBT Center, I tried to be an educator for a short while then later found myself running my own LGBT Center and other kinds of DEI work, then landing a role as the Special Assistant for the Vice President of the University of Florida where I got a front row seat to how machines like universities are run. That role influenced my dissertation to understand how DEI work can be influenced by power dynamics that follow a top-down approach. From there I continued to explore DEI work for organizational change which led me to Tangible Development where I could apply theory to practice and build services that help our clients try to create real systemic change that addresses organizational issues.
Q: How does your experience as a Trans person inform your work in DEI?
Ideologically, I don’t like to think about things in a reductive way. Nothing is black and white. There are few things that frustrate me more than when a complicated issue is narrowed down to one thing or another – it’s demeaning.
You can see this ideology in how I approach my pronouns. I use any and all pronouns because I don’t want to be reduced to being a man or woman. Part of the reason I am okay with people referring to she/her pronouns is that it keeps me accountable to the ways in which femininity is socialized out of us and socialized as a negative. I want to stay attuned to that part of myself and allow for the multiple truths to happen.
This doesn’t mean I can’t be misgendered because there are some typical feminine words/associations that just don’t feel right for me. I feel misgendered when someone calls me a “lady”, “ma’am”, or “miss”. Again, two truths can exist where I am okay with she/her pronouns but being referred to as a woman shows me you don’t see me as I am a masculine-presenting person. I know this is complicated and that complexity has and will cause people to misgender me. When I’ve let someone know about the language that works for me and I am still misgendered, what I typically need is for the person to make a quick correction or apology and then continue moving the original conversation forward.
This is how I view the world and the work I do. I want to teach people how to think more complexly about issues in the workplace around things like gender, racism, and inequities. What my team and I do in our work is look at the multiple truths that are going on for your staff, determine what’s going on through the data we collect, and then find multiple paths to fix the problems in a collaborative way. If more people were to approach issues as thoughtfully and holistically as my team does, the world would be a better place.
Q: What current issues do Trans people face in the workplace that you observe in your role?
The answer to that can be seen consistently in nationwide data about Trans people and the data we collect from our clients. The National Center for Transgender Equality does a huge survey every four years about the state of Transgender people in the US. It has consistently determined that Trans people are hugely underemployed.
We know Trans people exist in huge numbers. Yet the data Tangible Development collects from our clients consistently shows a low number of people who identify as Trans. It’s not hard to see why Trans people aren’t comfortable coming out to their employers when the other side of the data we collect tells us that Trans people consistently receive the lowest scores for tolerance among all other identities including women, race, and sexuality. This demonstrates two major issues for employers to confront: 1. the organization’s hiring practices are not attracting Trans people, and 2. the organization’s workplace culture is hostile to Trans people.
The reality is that the proliferation of Trans hate and anti-Trans bills throughout the country is making it more difficult for Trans people to exist let alone get employed. If you want to hire Trans people and retain them, your organization has to take a stand and proclaim its support and validation of Trans people within its workplace.
It’s time for organizations and employers to turn the mirror on themselves and ask themselves why aren’t they able to employ Trans people? Why don’t Trans people feel welcomed and affirmed? If I were to hire an open Trans Woman of Color, how disruptive would that be to my workplace?
Q: What do Trans people need to feel safe and included in the workplace?
The easy truth is that employers who don’t create inclusive spaces for Trans people are missing out and are only hurting themselves. Trans people are among the most brilliant, creative, thoughtful, and dynamic people I know. The hard truth is that if employers don’t also make an effort to change their workplaces, Trans people will continue to experience the highest rates of poverty, violence, suicide, and trauma, especially Black Trans women.
Safety is the baseline. I can feel safe within an organization but not feel included. Sometimes safety looks like tolerance. However, there is a huge gap between tolerating someone and affirming them. Inclusion is affirmation. Inclusion is not the absence of hostility, it is the affirmation of their existence, identity, and safety.
Many employers will think that not being outwardly hostile to Trans people is enough. If you want your workplace to be inclusive of Trans people, you have to look at how your business practices can be affirming. This can look like creating explicit messaging about supporting Trans people in the workplace, reevaluating healthcare benefits for Trans needs, inclusive bathrooms, and having practices around pronouns. All of these things will help current and future Trans people know they can exist and thrive in your workplace, but it also requires workplaces to evaluate how gendered their workplace culture is
By making these changes you can start to ensure that the culture is inclusive and more welcoming to your Trans employees present and future.