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Season 4, Episode 1

How to Infuse Diversity and Inclusion Into Your Culture

With "The Gay Leadership Dude," Dr. Steve Yacovelli

About the Episode

In this episode, I chat with Dr. Steve Yacovelli. He calls himself “The Gay Leadership Dude,” and this episode is all about creating an inclusive culture. Dr. Steve is the Owner and Principal of TopDog Learning Group, which is a leadership, change management, and diversity and inclusion consulting group. Steve has worked with fortune 500’s like the Walt Disney Company and Bayer, in addition to amazing nonprofits like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Library Association.

What I loved about this episode is that he breaks down how you can infuse diversity and inclusion into your culture. He goes into depth on how to audit the current state of things, how to rank yourself on a scorecard, how to roll out these new policies and procedures, and how to embrace diversity and inclusion so you create a culture that attracts the most diverse group of people.

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Full Transcript

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26:47

Dr. Steve:
If folks don’t have that, if they don’t feel that they’re in a work environment digitally or virtually or otherwise, where they can actually speak their mind and pull out these different things it’s just going to really be pervasive within the workplace. So it starts, it does start at the top, um, you know, senior leaders of the organization, not just having the values of the group of the organization, but having those be truly lived is really one of the best ways to kind of combat that kind of silent collusion.

Chris:
You just heard from Dr. Steve Yacovelli. He calls himself “The Gay Leadership Dude. And this episode is all about creating an inclusive culture, which is super important right now. And always Dr. Steve’s the owner and principal of TopDog Learning Group. It’s a leadership, change management, and diversity and inclusion consulting group. That’s based down in Orlando, Florida. Steve has worked with fortune 500 grades like the Walt Disney Company and Bayer. He’s worked with amazing nonprofits like the bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the American library association, and then large universities like Ohio state and the university of central Florida. What I loved about this episode is he breaks down how you can actually infuse diversity and inclusion into your culture. So first, how to audit the current state of things like how do you know how you’re doing? How do you rank yourself on a scorecard then? How do you roll out these new policies and procedures and just overall embrace diversity and inclusion? So you create a culture that attracts the most diverse group of people. Really great episode. I think you’ll get a lot out of it.

Chris:
As you heard in the intro today, we’re talking with Dr. Steve Yacovelli and he refers to himself as the gay leadership dude, which I love! Dr. Steve, welcome!

Dr. Steve:
Good, Chris, how are you? Great. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much. Happy to be here.

Chris:
You said that right before we went on air that you actually, you trademark this, this

Dr. Steve:
Tagline. I did. So technically there’s only one gay leadership dude in the entire world, or at least from the legal perspective of the copyright office of the US government. Well, very clever,

Chris:
Memorable. So today we’re going to be talking about a really hot topic. You know, it’s on a lot of business owners’ minds, and it’s something we all want to do better with, I believe. So the topics, diversity, and inclusion as a team, we just read the book inclusion. Actually, it was our team, a team book club this last quarter. And so it’s been something top of mind for us as well. So I’m curious, how, how did you get into this? How’d you become a DNI consultant?

Dr. Steve:
Jennifer Brown’s book, you read. Yeah, she’s a friend. She’s a friend of mine, so I’d love it, love it, love it. Um, so I actually started falling into this work when I was internal to the Walt Disney Company, I worked for Disney cruise line, as an internal leadership consultant. And one of the areas of focus was being inclusive and, and helping in the case for, for us, it was the crew members are more the ship to help them be more inclusive with those around us. And it just kind of kept sticking to my career ever since. And, and it’s really now a massive part of all the leadership stuff that we do at TopDog Learning Group.

Chris:
So for anyone that’s just listening, just starting to dip their toe into this, how would you define diversity and inclusion? Is there an all-encompassing definition or an elevator pitch?

Dr. Steve:
Yeah, it’s a great question. So the way it was kind of taught to me was, you know, diversity in its simplest form is the differences and similarities of people, period. And inclusion is creating a culture where people feel that they belong, they’re respected and they’re heard. And the best way that I’ve heard about this when I learned it was diversity is being invited to the dance and inclusion is being asked to dance. And, uh, and I just thought that was like a cool way to really summarize it. Um, you also hear a term now that’s really being utilized called belonging. So diversity is the difference of people. Inclusion is people feeling heard, uh, belonging is now where it’s from the, in this case, employee-centric, where I feel that I belong, I feel respected that I can bring my true, authentic self to work and give 120% of who I truly am. And really smart organizations are starting to think about how do we create a culture of belonging for both our clients, as well as our employees. Yeah.

Chris:
Super important. So, you know, if for companies that are trying to focus on this and be intentional about this, what does a focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace look like? Like, what is the, what’s the best practice to start doing?

Dr. Steve:
One of the things I do, with our clients, is creating a bunch of programs and kind of help folks start this conversation. And I boil it down to reality, it’s three different things think in, speak up and act out. So you think about yourself. And so you start with you as the human, as the leader, what unconscious biases do you have? What are some things that you can explore about your own self as it relates to you and being biased and engaging a stereotype? So that’s kind of the first step, the second step then is looking at the folks immediately around you. And so that’s the second part. And it’s really looking at how am I interacting with people? Am I using inclusive language? Do we engage in what’s called silent collusion in the workplace where maybe we’re we’re, you know, someone says some, some cruddy thing, and no one says anything to refute it. That’s not being very inclusive. And then the third part is really just looking at the overall organization. What does your marketing look like? What assets are on your website? You know, when someone says it needs to show an image of a family, what does that look like? And are we showing the differences and being inclusive in those types of artifacts, if you will, within the business.

Chris:
Wow. Okay. So, so much to dig into, uh, I, you know, the idea of silent collusion of just, you know, if you don’t speak up, you’re kind of part of the problem, right. Do you find that that’s common? Is that a pervasive

Dr. Steve:
Sadly? Yes. Um, you know, it, there’s a whole bunch of things that we could kind of talk about, but having leadership courage is one of the many characteristics. Um, if folks don’t have that, if they don’t feel that they’re in a work environment digitally or virtually or otherwise, where they can actually speak their mind and, and pull out these different things, it’s just going to really be pervasive within the workplace. So it starts, it does start at the top, um, you know, senior leaders of the organization, not just having the values of the group of the organization, but having those be truly lived is really one of the best ways to kind of combat that kind of silent collusion in the workplace.

Chris:
So I would imagine if a leader is listening to this podcast, they’re already starting to think, and they care about this. They want to be part of this conversation. What would you recommend as an audit or an assessment? Where should they start to look to figure out how they’re doing?

Dr. Steve:
I would ask the employees, ask the team members, ask the members of the group, um, whether you are an army of one, maybe have somebody else ask, ask for you. Um, or you, you know, you had asked your team members, how, how do you feel included in the workplace? Do you feel respected? Is your perspective being honored and, you know, may not be agreed upon that’s totally fine, but at least as it is heard, and I think to start with the employees and see what they think, and then maybe look at customers, maybe look at vendors and other people that you’re interacting with and get their opinion and their perspective in a holistic manner.

Chris:
Okay. Great suggestion. So I know I’m guilty of this, but I’m curious about your perspective on it when starting the business, you kind of bring in team members that are out of convenience. And so you’re tapping into your, your own close network, your friends, your who knows, who knows someone that can do this. Um, for us, it’s shifted around 15 people. And I’m curious if in the, in the companies you’ve worked with, is that a normal size to start working on this? Or what, when should you make this a focus?

Dr. Steve:
Yeah, Chris, that’s a great question. I haven’t really seen any like anecdotal data on like what’s the tipping point number? A lot of the companies we work with are usually fairly large more Fortune 500’s and more, um, you know, big non-for-profits. So, but I, I would guess just now thinking with my little human behavior hat on, um, you know, when you, when you get, uh, even three people together, you start to form a culture, whether it’s defined or not. And so I think when you, when you start looking at it from that perspective, um, you know, three is a magic number to start, but you really start to see how, whenever you add one more person to any group of humans, the dynamic shift. And, and so, uh, you know, it could be just that one new person who just has a different perspective. Maybe they’re more introverted. One facet of diversity could be race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, whatever. There’s a whole bunch of different ways to define what makes someone unique, you having that and seeking that out. When you get above two people, I think is a smart move.

Chris:
Okay. So super early than two or three people. So I’m thinking about our own company. And, in many ways, building a company is like building a club or something, right. And it’s kind of like, if you imagine a bar or nightclub, there’s the certain decor, there’s a certain vibe. They play certain music and the bigger it gets, you know, they, they developed this reputation for being a club that is like this style. And I think this happens with the company. So changing, you know, the makeup of the people on your team is almost like switching the music and having a different theme every night and having, you know, and if you build a more kind of vibrant place, but I’m curious, how can you attract different when things start off the same? Like how can you show that you know, this is a place where we want more diversity and we value inclusion.

Dr. Steve:
I think it starts with, you know, I love your analogy with the whole dance club thing, but I think there are fundamentals that permeate throughout any corporate or organizational culture, you know, that feeling of respect that, you know, we’re not gonna agree upon stuff maybe, but I’m going to respect you enough to honor your opinion and your perspective and listen and hear you. And so that’s, you know, you got those commonalities, then you can add all the differences to the mix. And so I think it’s never too early in my experience for any business, any organization to define what their values are and what’s the ultimate culture you want to create. And then as people start to be part of that culture that organizations have organizational values for reason. It’s kind of like the standard operating procedure and how you should do your work.

Dr. Steve:
And if you, as a leader are honoring that and saying, Hey, you know, we want to be respectful. We want to be inclusive. We want to honor work-life balance or whatever the right values for your business, as long as you make that stated upfront when people come to the door and like, yeah, I want to be part of your group, Chris. All right, great. Here are the values that you need to abide by, is that cool? Yeah, I could get behind that. And then you’re good. And then now you have this difference of opinion different perspective, but there’s still that commonality and that’s a good place to be.

Chris:
So how, how can we be more intentional with our recruiting efforts with our partnerships alliances? Like, you know, if we want to foster this, because I believe strongly in our values and our, and being, you know, a place that people belong and they feel comfortable and they bring their whole self and they can talk and share their concerns. And we work really hard at that. So how do we be active around our recruiting efforts or attracting

Dr. Steve:
Another great question? So one of the challenges that any human faces are your unconscious biases kind of getting in the way of your decisions. And we don’t have a whole lot of time, but if you go, if you Google, um, project implicit in this for anybody, there’s a free assessment. So you can actually take to find out some of your own potential unconscious biases. But as an organization, you start to look at your business processes and say, is there bias creeping in, for example, if I’m going recruit and my recruiting from the exact same places, where do I see a trend that I have a bias? Okay. I went for my Masters, I went to Ohio state go bucks. And so I am blatantly aware that I have a bias for people who are Buckeyes. I know that, but if I look at my hiring practices, do I tend to snub people from the University of Michigan, no offense friends, but you know, there are that rivalry and stuff.

Dr. Steve:
And it’s a, it’s a cheeky example, but it’s one that’s very valid. You know, you see people who their patterns of behavior, because it’s familiarity, it’s unconscious bias. It’s whatever you start to do the same things. And so you look at those types of practices. Um, you look at your just something as simple as your business, your HR forms, do you have male, female, or do you, do you leave flexibility for non-binary potential employees or candidates or whatever, and just little things like that can go massively far in creating an inclusive culture for anyone coming through your door.

Chris:
I love those little tips. How about on your website? Are there simple changes, quick wins you can make to your website to show that you’re a more open place?

Dr. Steve:
One thing is to just blatantly say it. But then also look at the subtle things. Like what, what are the images that you’re using? Is it, you know, just canned stock photos? Is it all like white dudes? Uh, you know, like, like some of those things that really can, can mean a lot also things like, um, what about someone who’s visiting your site, who maybe has a different visual ability, um, are you using reds and greens together? Because some people are color blind and they can’t see that differential. So little things like that that you can, you can go through just to make things seem a little bit more inclusive or be a little bit more inclusive can really go super far for those people who are looking for those on websites or other areas.

Chris:
Yeah. Great suggestions. Okay. So when you’re working with someone as a consultant, do you find that they usually have some problem or some reason that they’re reaching out to you, or is it getting super proactive?

Dr. Steve:
Yes, unfortunately. We do have some clients who come to us and it’s more of the punitive we’re in trouble. We need help. I don’t like to work with folks like that, quite frankly, although, you know, within reason, um, I like the folks who say, you know, we’re doing something wrong. We need help. Yes. Cause you’re one step ahead. If the people who come in and say, Oh, we got dinged by XYZ PR article because we weren’t this, but that, you know, that that can be a learning opportunity as well. But, we tend to veer for the folks who were coming to us saying, you know, what we want, we have our, our flagship program is called being a consciously inclusive leader. People like, you know what? We need that. And I’m like, yes, you do. And let’s have a chat about that and see what, how it can help you and start that conversation within your business.

Chris:
So I’ve got to ask, are there common reasons they get in trouble? Because, you know, I, I love to think that as a company that does training and processes and SOP is if there are any materials we can put out widely to help curb some of these offenses, you know?

Dr. Steve:
So the three main reasons why any organization starts to think about diversity and inclusion and belonging. One, the law says you have to, so they’re doing it from that tick box mentality, too. It’s the right thing to do to make the world better. And that’s of course where my heart sits, however, three it’s the right business thing to do, you know, businesses who are more inclusive, do better in the bottom line. And there are studies that are repeated over and over and over that show the business case for diversity and inclusion and belonging is huge. You look at, um, big companies that have, uh, more female representation at the C-suite do much better at the bottom line. You know, those who are recruiting from a variety of areas tend to have better talent, tend to be more innovative. So there are the three reasons, um, let’s hope it’s more, the intrinsic makes the world better, but, uh, but you know, ultimately your clients and your customers see when you’re more inclusive and I want to spend my money there versus someone who’s not so much.

Chris:
Got it. Okay. So, so now let’s talk about the process of actually implementing some of this, rolling it out when you work with someone or when they make these types of changes, is it that they’re working on values and organization-wide, uh, you know, things like that, or is it more than they’re, they’re rolling out policies and, and then you know, training or like which side is it, or is it both

Dr. Steve:
Really cool question when I would have answered it very differently about 20 years ago. Um, so I started my career in training, and then at one point I actually, um, I worked for IBM as a change management consultant. And so the concept is, you know, and so the IBM has, we’re making the really cool thing. My job was to make the humans use it. And so, I mean, my team would go in and we’d have this whole change, uh, strategy. One of which was training, but training is never the answer. So smart organizations are saying, you know what? We need to make sure that we’re not just throwing a training class at it. Yay. Tick box. We’re done. It’s the culture around it. It’s, you know, and it starts with measurement. How are you going to know when you got there? You know, is it you’re not going to have as many complaints related to diversity inclusion and belonging, both clients or employees, are you going to look at the demographics three years down the road and see a, a variety of folks working with your business?

Dr. Steve:
So you start with that measurement, and then you start to put the pieces in place for both training, but also communication and executive sponsorship and, and having it less be a, um, when I worked for the cruise line, we would do a ship dip. I’d run onboard, the cruise ship, dumped the crew in training, and run away. That’s not how, that’s not how you make a change. You know, it’s a start, but you really have to have it as not a one-off training or a lunch and learn, but it’s really the pervasive conversation throughout, uh, the way.

Chris:
Yeah. You’re, I love, I’ve never heard shipped it. I love that. I’m going to use that again. But even though Trainual is a, you know, we’ve got training baked into our name, but I don’t think training is like, you show up in a classroom, you check the box and it’s over to me, it’s all about, you know, having clear communication and reinforcing your beliefs through your, your regular and that’s, and that starts with your initial orientation. And it starts with your change management of new policies that roll out. But then you’ve got to, you’ve got to continue it through the reality. Is there, is there a frequency you would recommend revisiting this, you know, surveying people about it, you stay on top of it.

Dr. Steve:
It really should be part of the organization is trying to truly be inclusive, that’s a daily thing. Um, you know, and it works. It’s asking those questions, you know, are we being the best we can be and as inclusive as we can be. So I don’t think it’s every six months. Oh, my, my outlook just told me that let’s check in with this. No, that’s, that should be a pretty common occurrence. And coupled with that is the accountability piece. How is your organizational culture holding everyone, including the C-suite, um, to that accountability to be more inclusive, but that’s truly what you want to do versus the tick mark, or look, we’re inclusive? Yay. Come buy from us, you know, that’s disingenuous and people will.

Chris:
Right. Okay. All right. Well, you mentioned one of the motivations is it’s just the right business thing to do. It’s a smart business thing to do it with people that are very ROI-focused listening to this, how can they measure this? What can they set up so that they can actually report that this is moving the needle for them?

Dr. Steve:
Yeah. It’s going to depend on the business. Of course. I know some of the organizations we work with, um, you know, for example, one is a large restaurant conglomerate, and they have, you know, 600 plus restaurants in North America. So we did a diversity and inclusion program. And, um, one of their existing metrics was complaint line, you know, both for employees as well as customers. So we said, let’s make that go down 10% or whatever. And then we would go to the, um, the legal friends, cause it was a large company and said, what’s the typical cost for lawsuits that have to do with this? Oh, well, here’s the average number. Right? So then we could show that we reduced, um, complaints by 10% and get an average on, you know, th that, that reduced the number of blank by blank lawsuits.

Dr. Steve:
Hey, we just saved the company this much money. Or you look at, uh, employee retention. And if people feel that they’re in, in a sense of belonging, they’re not going to leave. So what does the hiring cost look like for the business? And then what does that look like from, uh, we’re not, we’re not churning and burning folks. We’re keeping them longer. We’ll are we saving re uh, the startup costs for a new employee? So there’s just two things off the top of my head, um, to kind of think about, um, it, it is business-specific. Anytime we can talk about measurement from, from the stuff that we do at TopDog. Um, I look at existing metrics first. I’m an, I’m a numbers nerd. I mean, not doctoring stuff. Um, but, uh, but a lot of people who do what I don’t think that they’re like, it’s the right thing to do. I’m like, yes, but how are we going to know? And what’s that cost store business, because that’s the sweet spot when you can show the fiscal advantage, but, you know, you’re making the world a different and better place.

Chris:
Yeah. So, I mean, I think for us retention is a great one, but then also, you know, we’ve been measuring NPS, like the, how likely you would be to recommend since day one. And I think that’s that things like belonging and inclusion, if, if this isn’t part of your workplace, that’s hidden in the negative scores, you know, because of a small company, especially you can have a lot of autonomy and you don’t have much red tape. It’s not this bureaucratic large environment. So the things that people would leave for is they don’t feel like they can be themselves, or they don’t feel like they can express themselves. And so I think I would, I would argue anyone with negative scores as a smaller business. This is one of those things hiding in that metric. Yeah.

Dr. Steve:
And it, it, it’s a, it’s a really good point. And I think if you, as a business, even if you have three employees, aren’t doing some sort of employee satisfaction. Check-in whether it be a nice little survey monkey thing, or if it’s just a sit down with a coffee and saying, how do you feel about working here? What do you, you know, you’re, you’re missing an awesome opportunity to get that feedback.

Chris:
Okay. So as we start to wrap up here, tell us about your book pride leader.

Dr. Steve:
Yeah. So I’ve been in the leadership space, you know, pretty much my whole career. So, you know, three years and no, it’s like 25 years and I’ve worked with a lot of leaders, with some organizations. And I started to see a pattern of behavior with those who were like rocking and rolling, and those who are crashing and burning. And, and so I started kind of like watching this and I was at a conference, um, a couple of years ago and I’m sort of my business cards and the woman next to me, she’s doing her thing. And, um, she’s like, what are you doing? I’m like, Oh, I have a consulting firm, change management, diversity inclusion, blah, blah. What about you? She’s like, Oh, well, I’m a publisher. I’m like, I have a book in my head. She’s like, well, let me help you get that out.

Dr. Steve:
Like, okay. So I started going down the path of like, just creating this generic, um, leadership book. And then, um, I do a lot of social justice work as a volunteer thing, pre-COVID, um, in the LGBTQ plus community. And, um, seeing my peers do their thing and I’m like, I have a hypothesis. Um, you know, if you remember the show sex and city, I couldn’t help, but wonder. And, um, so it’s, so it’s, it’s, I couldn’t have, I wonder, is there something about being, and I’ll use the generic term leader, um, that gives you exposure to exercise certain leadership competencies that maybe other folks have to work at to get those. So, for example, um, out of the six, I talk about authenticity as number one. And so if I’m an out executive or I’m, uh, a trans person being my authentic self in the workplace authenticity, that’s it, that’s the definition.

Dr. Steve:
Well, if you look at the generic conversations around good leadership, authenticity is like high up there. If I’m an authentic leader, regardless of, um, mindset, my demographics, people trust you, people follow you, people will engage with you. Yes. So that’s kind of what pride leadership does is I take the top six competencies that I have seen work, uh, within the workplace and just kind of dive deeper into those. And, and yes, of course, it’s not just for the LGBTQ plus community. My ally friends love my bad dad jokes that are seeded through it and all my examples and stuff. And as my, my, uh, first editor said, she’s like, you need to DK the book. I’m like, no, I’m not going to my, but my ally friends will still like it anyway.

Chris:
I’m not, well, I’m glad pushed back.

Dr. Steve:
So thank you for bringing so much authenticity to this conversation, uh, for anyone that wants to continue the conversation, where can they find you? The best way, to connect with us is a, um, if you go to TopDog.click/podcast, it’ll redirect you to our, our kind of check-in point. You actually get a free chapter of pride leadership there, uh, both the PDF version, as well as you can hear me do the audio. Um, quick side note, Chris, uh, that was my project to do on the schedule before COVID happens. So then, of course, it happened, I couldn’t get into a studio. And so that the producer I worked with was like, well, find the quietest place in your house. I’m like, okay, what was my walk-in closet? So ironically, I read my 356-page gay leadership book in the closet. So, but you can get a free copy there if you’re interested.

Dr. Steve:
That’s funny. I love that. All right. Well, thank you again for being here. This was an amazing conversation. Um, we’ll have to follow up offline about more of the work that we can do behind the scenes support companies. And, uh, and I appreciate it again. Thank you. Thank you so much, Chris. Take care, take care.

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