Bill Curtis-Davidson, PEAT’s Co-director, and Chris Wood, Executive Director and Co-Founder of LGBT Tech and Chair of the FCC Communications Equity and Diversity Council share personal experiences and insights to mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and LGBTQ+ History Month. Bill and Chris talk about the importance of digital equity, share tips for LGBTQ+ leaders in the workplace, and more.
Warning: This episode briefly mentions threats of violence and suicide.
Bill Curtis-Davidson: But we’ve done a lot of work at PEAT in immersive technologies like virtual reality, that are offering new ways for employees to connect, communicate and collaborate. They’re also providing ways for employers and governments and educators to build empathy and enhanced training, reskilling and upskilling. And when the needs of people with disabilities and other intersectional identities are considered as part of design, we can design that tech to be useful for everyone.
Intro: Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Welcome to the Workology podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. This episode of the Workology podcast is part of our Future of Work series, powered by PEAT the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT works to start conversations around how emerging technology trends in the workplace are impacting people with disabilities. Now, before I introduce this episode’s guests, I want to hear from you. Please text me the word podcast to 5125483005. You can ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. That’s podcast to 5125483005. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. As October is both National Disability Employment Awareness Month, also known as NDEAM, and LGBTQ+ History Month, in this episode we’ll highlight perspectives that touch on both with the focus on how workplace policies, practices and technologies can enable digital equity. Today, I’m joined by Bill Curtis-Davidson, co-director of PEAT and Senior Consultant, Inclusion, Accessibility and AI Integration with the Wheelhouse Group, and Chris Wood, Executive Director and Co-Founder, LGBT Tech and Chair of the FCC Communications Equity and Diversity Council, or CEDC and Diversity and Equity Working Group. Bill is a creative technologist who has spent the last 20 plus years advancing inclusive product design and strategic accessibility practices for clients in multiple industries.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: He uses his skills as a strategic consultant, program leader and product designer to engage stakeholders and increase their impact. At Wheelhouse Group, Bill serves as the Artificial Intelligence Integration Practice Lead with a special focus on AI, ethics, fairness and social justice with a focus on people with disabilities. Bill’s work centers around HR technologies, but also explores how AI interacts with emerging technologies such as extended reality, automated vehicles and more. Now, Chris, he has founded three non-profits focused on LGBTQ+ communities, one for the B2B profit space and a B2C company. He’s also taught as an adjunct professor around entrepreneurship and has spoken at over 100 events in the last ten years. Wow. His drive and passion truly took shape at 25 years old when he was taken hostage by the first suicide bomber in the U.S. And realizing from cradle to grave this life is too short and it was on him to make his dreams come true. To date, he’s grown all his non-profit or for-profit ventures from a small idea to a successful organization now employing over 15 people. Bill and Chris, welcome to the Workology podcast.
Chris Wood: Thank you for having us.
Bill Curtis-Davidson: Thanks for having us.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Let’s jump right in and ask you both. But we’ll start with Chris. What does digital equity at work mean to you?
Chris Wood: Digital equity really means the ability to have access or the same potential access to digital tools and resources, regardless of your background, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, your race, your geographic location. That digital equity is, really brings not only many portions of our community together, the community that is not a monolith, but actually the LGBTQ community spans all other minority communities. And when we’re all equally, when we all have equal access to different technology devices, different technologies, different types of technology, the same speeds, that really means that we have the ability to all equally participate at work and in our professional lives. For me though, this question goes a little bit deeper and maybe I’m jumping ahead a little bit. But I think it’s important to mention here is that digital equity at work really starts when we’re talking about digital equity all the way through your education. And having equal access to different types of digital devices or the digital economy is important because it allows us as individuals to show up, but also know what our potential is as a young individual. What do we want to get into? What, do I want to become a gamer? Do I want to, do I want to become a programmer? If you’re not exposed to different types of digital technologies, your ability to dream about those or be involved in them is really limited. And I think that goes through the very early parts of your work, your schoolwork or what have you, all the way through to your professional career. So that’s as I think about digital equity at work and digital equity in life, that’s really where I come from.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: What about you, Bill?
Bill Curtis-Davidson: Well, for me, digital equity at work means making sure that all workers, including people with disabilities and other intersectional identities, are able to pursue their passions and realize their potential. As Chris just suggested, it’s really enabled by digital technologies, no matter what path you pursue. Those technologies need to be designed, developed and implemented with inclusion in mind. And it is important to note that people who identify as disabled or LGBTQ+ sometimes often experience similar challenges, such as disclosing their identities or coming out, discrimination, microaggressions and isolation. This is layered on top of race, age and gender and other factors. And on a personal note, digital equity is important to me because I identify as a Gay man. I have people with disabilities in my family. I’m a husband, a father. I am an advocate for disability inclusion, and I’ve dedicated a large portion of my life to advancing digital accessibility policies and practices.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Thank you for both sharing, and it really sets the tone for the rest of the conversation and our time together for this podcast. I wanted to talk, to have you talk a little bit more about your personal journeys and maybe how you began working in DEIA and the technology space.
Chris Wood: Absolutely. I’m, you know, it’s interesting as I think about my own personal journey in the DEIA space, but also in the technology space. And as I’ve gotten older, I realized how much it played into my younger, my younger life, my adolescent life. And as I think about it, I think it’s first and most important, before I was ever, before I ever came out as a Gay man, I first identified as having ADD, or ADHD, constantly all over the place, very interested in in all kinds of different topics, anything from opera and Broadway to heavy rap and the sciences and technology. As a kid, I really, I, I can look back on myself now and see where some of my own challenges and some of the things that I was facing as an individual really played into the way that my life has come to fruition today. So even kind of starting my young college career and not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life, as I think a lot of entrepreneurs are, or those that are in these spaces often talk about, is that you’re not quite sure where you want to go, and you let the experiences of your life kind of drive, drive your passions and drive what you end up really engaging in. And that is very true of my story. Personally, for me, I ended up in the nonprofit world initially and eventually going into television, television marketing before founding LGBT Tech. And, as so many, as Steve Jobs said, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, but you can most certainly connect them looking backward. And I think that even today that continues to resonate with me as I look at the ways that I’ve gotten into, into the work that I have.
Chris Wood: Kind of tying this together in this question, I think for me, I really enjoy working with individuals and helping communities where I see that there’s an opportunity for change and opportunity for change for the better, an opportunity for us to use technologies in a different way to provide more. Because I truly feel at the end of the day, and I truly believe and I know that the research shows this as well, is that when we’re all included, all of us, whether it’s the disability community, whether it’s people from different parts of the world or, or LGBTQ individuals and the entire LGBTQIA Two-Spirited community, including all of them in all their experiences and all of their, their backgrounds, is so important to the technology and the things that companies and industry and governments are building today. Without all of these voices, without all these different voices coming together, we truly are not understanding how the technology and how this space really impacts society overall. And I feel like the more inclusive we can be, the ability to sit down and listen to each other and understand not only our own personal journeys, how we got here, and maybe some of the things that have shaped us are really, really important. So, it’s a very long way to tell my journey, but I think it’s one that’s constantly evolving for me and I think will continue to evolve for me and so many of the professionals like Bill that I have had the honor to work around for so many years.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: What about you, Bill?
Bill Curtis-Davidson: Well, you know, I think, I love, Chris, what you just said and thinking about this sort of reflection of what your past journey was. And when I think about my own journey, it really unfolded through phases that were really stitched together with threads involving the arts, creativity, design thinking and really tech experimentation. Media experimentation for me. Really, in the earliest part of my career, I began working as a fine artist and an exhibition curator. I actually studied drawing printmaking and computer graphics and received a Bachelor of Fine Art, or BFA degree from the Atlanta College of Art, which is now part of the Savannah College of Art and Design, also known as SCAD. And really as technologies were evolving, I really just pursued research and experimented in what I’ll call tech-enabled design and had an opportunity to work in some unique settings involving diverse multinational teams. This was a real foreign space for me at the time, but it was really exciting to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, which I really thrived in. And then during a pivotal moment in my career, I pursued and received a Master of Science degree from Georgia Tech in human computer interaction. And after doing so, it really launched me into user experience as a focus area, and that’s where I was first exposed to disability inclusion through technology and accessibility. And I worked in everything from assistive technology R&D to product design. And then in latter phases of my career, thus far, strategic program consulting and change management. And really that brings me to where I am today. I work on workplace diversity, equity and inclusion programs for our clients, and I’ve had multiple opportunities to leverage different aspects of my lived experience as well as to encourage others to utilize that as well through work with employee resource groups and many more. And so, I’m super excited to be a part of this discussion today.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: I love that both of you are able to share your background. It’s very different. It’s definitely not linear and I think that’s really important for everyone to see as they’re thinking about their own career progression trajectory or the path that, that they want to move forward on. The theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month or NDEAM for this year, 2022 is: Disability: Part of the Equity Equation. Can you talk about the role emerging tech can have in advancing digital equity?
Chris Wood: This one has been so personal for me on so many levels. Sure, my work has taken me into the ways that technology has played a difference for the LGBTQ+ community, but I think even more so as I’ve started really looking at overall STEM fields or as I like to say, STEAM fields, science, technology, engineering, arts and math, I think it’s important to highlight one thing that that Bill just said in the fact of UX or user design. And I think that over the years from when I was born in 1985 to today, we’ve really seen a true evolution of the ways that technology and, really not just technology, but the way technology and humans interact and how important that is. And so, more recently I’ve really been pushing and challenging industries and, and, and government agencies to really make sure that they’re including arts, because art is part of our communication style, art is part of our equity inclusion, art in the way that we communicate, interact with each other or the, the devices in our life are really important. And I think this has come to fruition for me in a few different ways. One is I have a, I have a brother that is autistic, and the way that he uses technology is very different than others. And even the way he uses technologies, technology different than others who also identify as autistic is also very different. So that was really the first as my work was coming to fruition and really thinking about, how can, how can we ensure that these conversations are happening and that we’re really thinking about technology holistically? I’ve been thinking about the portions of my life, both, as Bill mentioned, lived experience, but also learned experience, by listening to those around us, by engaging with communities.
Chris Wood: This is really important in the ways that technology can, can really play a role in advancing digital equity. And the ways that we do that are by ensuring that individuals are included, ensuring all individuals from all different backgrounds, as I’ve, as I kind of opened with, but ensuring not only that, but that as those that are designing technology and working in these fields that we’re listening and applying that work. I think it’s so important. One thing I’ll leave, I’ll leave with or I’ll leave this off with, is that I realized working with my son or playing with my son, my oldest son, I recognized that it, I recognized through my own training of individuals with colorblindness and especially colorblindness on technologies. He was talking about a particular color on a screen. And rather than correct him and say, “No, that is green,” I quickly realized, because of my training, because I had listened to others around me and those with disabilities, I realized that he actually had a color blindness. So rather than correct him, I was able to push further and ask him to take a couple color blind tests and to begin identifying where his colors might be a little off. So, I think that’s where my work has fed into my personal life. But somewhere that if I hadn’t just stopped and listened, if I wasn’t paying attention to technology equity and why it’s important to really think about this, I would have corrected him. And in fact, I would have been wrong as a parent. And so, I think that was a really powerful moment for me as an individual.
Bill Curtis-Davidson: Those are great perspectives. Chris, thank you for sharing those. National Disability Employment Awareness Month is really special for me since I’ve worked in this field for so long. When we think about emerging technology, one thing that we should all keep in mind is that they were created, many of the technologies that are commonplace today, for example, speech-based user interfaces, are in everything from refrigerators to cars. And originally these were created as assistive technologies for people with disabilities, often for workplace settings, or education. And now those innovations benefit us all. These digital curb cuts or innovations were made possible, largely due, as Chris was suggesting, to the direct involvement and listening and working with, not for, people with disabilities who leveraged their direct knowledge, skills and lived experiences in developing them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been successful. Today’s emerging technologies can play a role in advancing digital equity, but only if they’re built with disability inclusion and intersectional accessibility in mind. For example, we’ve done a lot of work at PEAT in immersive technologies like virtual reality, that are offering new ways for employees to connect, communicate and collaborate. They’re also providing ways for employers and governments and educators to build empathy and enhanced training, reskilling and upskilling. And when the needs of people with disabilities and other intersectional identities are considered as part of design, we can design that tech to be useful for everyone. And then in another example, artificial intelligence, when we think about important areas like recruiting and hiring technology, these really hold a lot of possibility. But again, underscoring the important nature of the, the diversity of teams building, designing, developing and implementing these technologies. Otherwise, there is a real risk of harms that becomes more exponential with the complexity of the technologies and the systems that they’re implemented in. So that’s my perspective on NDEAM.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Thank you both for that. My next question for you both is how are connectivity and broadband key to workplace inclusion?
Chris Wood: I think this goes to some of the very fundamental pieces that I talked about in the fact that it’s before we ever get to a workplace, we grow up and we’re learning in the environment that we are born into. Us as individuals didn’t choose to be born in a particular place or in a particular part of the world or to particular families. And so I think it’s important that connectivity and broadband, especially for the LGBTQ+ community and initially a, recognizing that there was only subsets of the community that actually had access to it, depend on socioeconomic or also just geographic location when the internet was really getting started, is that the ability to be included in that all of a sudden exponentially increased your access to the world and not only the access to the world, but access to other people who share similar experiences, gender identity, sexual orientations as part of that. And I think for me, personally, this was very true growing up in the days of, of the first chat rooms and the first online chatting mechanisms is where I first saw and reflected on the fact that, without access to broadband, without access to the Internet, I really do feel that it would have taken me a lot longer to come to terms with, or even understand, my sexual orientation as a Gay male and begin to not only understand it, but be able to talk about it in a way that was empowering and furthermore be able to find community and really defend myself.
Chris Wood: Unfortunately, even in, in today’s world, there are many that may not have equal access to the Internet, to connectivity, and may, in that case, feel a lot more alone and not feel like they are connected to a community in which they can identify in, build a community of their own and, more importantly, thrive in. And so, as you asked this question about how are connectivity and broadband key to a workplace inclusion? If you don’t know that you are not the only one, or if you don’t know, if you don’t have access to information or community and to being able to build that, then you’re kind of left in the dark and you’re really left alone in a place. And so, when you are included in this, this ecosphere, when there’s opportunity to engage in it, regardless of where you’re at, it’s important and it provides a level of equity of knowledge.
Chris Wood: I think there’s just so much potential. And actually, the companies that embrace workplace inclusion, ensuring that there’s diversity and connectivity and are able to connect with those who may not be able to work in traditional workplaces, it will, actually they are the ones that are going to benefit initially and that are going to be able to benefit overall society in a greater way and will therefore come out ahead by being inclusive and ensuring that connectivity and that diversity.
Bill Curtis-Davidson: And it’s really interesting to think about our own journeys. I was reflecting as I was listening, Christopher, to your comments that I grew up at a time when there actually was no Internet until after I was an adult, and so my experience was really different and very isolated. I grew up in a rural community. When I was a child, I was even in more of a rural community, but even in high school years. So, we didn’t have the benefit of having connectivity to the broader world that people enjoy today. And I would argue today that our, people really can, that isolation can be magnified because, as you point out, there’s an inequitable presence for the connections and availability of technology for everyone. And, but yet, at the same time, in today’s world, especially in the hybrid workplaces that we’re all adapting to today, it really requires connection to the broader world, right? Jobs are no longer usually that local, and if they are, there’s still some connection to Internet enabled technologies. And we really need that connectivity.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: It’s so fascinating to me or different perspectives here, and I’m kind of in the middle. We had internet, but not throughout my whole childhood. I remember the first time I went on to write a paper and I was just blown away by the powers of technology and how you can develop relationships, build friendships with literally anybody all over the world. Really fascinating.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Let’s take a reset, shall we? This is Jess Miller-Merrill and you are listening to the Workology podcast. Today is super special in this episode because we have two different podcast guests. The first person we have been speaking with is Bill Curtis-Davidson, Co-Director of PEAT, and Chris Wood, Executive Director and Co-Founder of LGBT Tech and the Chair of the FCC Communications Equity and Diversity Council, as well as the Diversity and Equity Working group. This podcast is sponsored by Ace the HR Exam and Upskill HR, two of Workology’s training and development programs for HR leaders, but this is also part of our Future of Work series, and that is powered by our friends at PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. Before we get back to the podcast, I want to hear from you. Shoot me a text. Text the word podcast to 5125483005 to ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. Yes, this is really me. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you.
Break: The Workology Podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at Peatworks.org. That’s Peatworks.org.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about a topic that I believe more people need to discuss, and that is mental health. I wanted to ask about maybe some tips that you can give employers for us using technology to create a more inclusive environment for employees who identify as having mental health disabilities.
Chris Wood: So I’ll, I’ll take one perspective on this. I think that mental health is extremely important. You know, I think, as a PTSD survivor, as a hostage that was taken at bomb point, the first, one of the first hostages taken at bomb point, I spent a lot of time dealing with mental health and thinking about, in my own personal life, and thinking about access to it and also what I needed in order to feel like I was in a safe place and I could get to a place where I could continue and continue to grow. Obviously, it was very motivating and driving for me. I already had a lot of drive and passion behind who I was and what I wanted to accomplish in life. I didn’t have a lot of perspective on how I was going to get there, but I will say that the ability for me to gain access to mental health services was really crucial. And even when I was going through that, there wasn’t a lot of access. It was traditional health care, traditional mental health care where you go and sit in front of somebody. But today that’s really changing. And I think in response to this question, I really want to look forward because I see a lot of opportunity and I see a lot of individuals in different spaces providing a lot of, providing a lot of opportunity to go ahead and engage in immersive technology, newer technologies that we can really engage in a way that is really important.
Chris Wood: One of those is actually XR, or virtual reality is what I’m talking about specifically here. I have seen in recent years more immersive technologies like virtual reality become a place where individuals who are working through or working with mental health spaces be able to rely on peer-to-peer support networks, on virtual reality, on the headsets that we’ve all seen splashed across either commercials or on, on YouTube videos or what have you. And, rather than just being a gaming platform, which I think a lot of people saw it as, a lot of the first virtual reality pieces were coming out of gaming systems and stuff. But, as we’re getting more into these spaces where they’re independent headsets and different technologies are really growing in these spaces, we’re seeing spaces that are being created like peer to peer support groups, mental health and cognitive therapy based programs and HIPAA compliant applications that are being put together for individuals to connect, not necessarily with a therapist, but more with a guide or a coach, someone that may not have a degree in therapy, but has definitely gone through some training and is using things like cognitive therapy tools in some of these platforms to have conversations about, and work through issues
Bill Curtis-Davidson: And when I think about mental health, I’m reflecting some on what, Chris, what you just said, which is the new technologies and what’s been capable, they’ve made more possible. And also, what’s happened as a result of this pandemic that we’ve all been living through. And so, what I see and we’ve seen with a lot of our collaborators is the telework expansion. And for, for so long, people with disabilities in the workplace have sought accommodations like telework. And now with the situation being what it was or has been, we have seen a lot of strides and there still are more yet to come. But, in just making sure that these technologies have baseline accessibility, whether that’s access, if you’re, if you’re someone without or with low vision or someone who’s deaf or hard of hearing, speaks a different language, we’ve seen a lot of advances in things like captioning and transcription, things like that. And, and then at PEAT we’ve often touted even simple solutions like allowing in your policies, allowing audio only status which can be mentally beneficial when we’re all sort of in fatigue over this virtualized telework kind of mode that we’re in. And then some other tips that have, as well, been realized with technologies like XR, virtual reality, is that there can be a variety of uses to support mental health and wellness at work. For example, as Chris just alluded to, virtual support groups of different kinds, providing stress relief, offering unique ways to build skills, complementing health and wellness programs, and then overall reducing the feeling of isolation that can result from remote work itself, on top of the other feelings that individuals have as they pursue their passions and drive toward their goals.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Amazing. Well, again, thank you for, for both your responses. With October being LGBTQ+ History Month, can you talk a little bit about your perspectives on what LGBTQ+ leaders bring to the workplace?
Chris Wood: Absolutely. I think this is important. I think it’s important for LGBTQ leaders in the workplace to really bring their whole selves to work. And I know we’ve been saying that for a very long time. We’ve seen some executives come out, some top-level individuals come out. But I think, more importantly, I think it’s, it is important for those individuals to come out, it is important for those individuals to be present and bring, you know, bring as much of their selves to work as possible. It’s important for companies, boards running companies to make that a priority because, in order for individuals under the executive level to come out and feel safe and feel seen and be able to be a supportive individual in those workspaces, it really needs to come from the top. And individuals that are in various parts of the company need to feel like they are supported and have the ability to bring their whole selves to work as an LGBTQ individual. So, as I think about LGBTQ leaders in a workplace, I think we’ve made strides. I think we need to do a lot better. I think we need to do a lot more. And I think LGBTQ leaders really need to bring their whole selves to work and be really forward and talking about their experiences, their lived experiences, their learned experiences, or giving space for others to provide those.
Chris Wood: That’s especially true. I think it’s important, and I often talk about the fact that I am a Gay white male, and being a Gay white male comes with a lot of privilege. And it’s important for those that don’t look like me, that are part of the LGBTQ community, but part of many other marginalized communities, but also identify with the LGBTQ community, it’s important that they see people that look like them, that have similar backgrounds to them, that have , grew up in similar situations, similar areas, similar geographic locations. Maybe, maybe they immigrated to the United States or maybe they moved from the United States. It’s important that LGBTQ leaders provide space for others with various experiences to be able to tell their story, to feel comfortable in being who they are, and being protected and seen in places that they’re trying to make a difference and provide the knowledge that they’ve learned, whatever that is. I think one of the, one of the things that in LGBT Tech, LGBT Tech’s world I’ve really tried to do is ensure that we’re talking to LGBTQ individuals in STEAM fields that come from these diverse backgrounds, that really encompassed the entire LGBTQ community and really the full makeup of society overall and ensuring that it has a varied perspective and voices.
Bill Curtis-Davidson: As another Gay white male, I do want to plus 100 to everything you just said, Chris. And I think, while we all, LGBTQ+ people, experience similar challenges like coming out and always coming out, discrimination, microaggressions and isolation, they vary so much based on our other intersectional identities and some of the same challenges, as I said earlier, experienced by people with disabilities where, for example, the idea of coming out is interesting if you think about being LGBTQ+ and being disabled with an invisible disability, right? You may have some nuances to that, you will, that will significantly vary from people that don’t, quote, look like you, as you said. And so, I think we need to explore all of that. And that’s what I like to think about for History Month is ways to learn from what we know and ways to apply it. And then I think another important thing is that research has been showing if we think about STEM careers and pathways for STEAM or STEM careers for LGBTQ professionals, in just the last few years, there’s been research shown that there are systemic inequalities for LGBTQ professionals in STEM careers. They showed that LGBTQ+ STEM professionals were more likely to experience career limitations, harassment and professional devaluation than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, and this resulted in more reported health difficulties. On a positive note, I would like to say that I’ve read some interesting research that state, that talks about how confronting these challenges and inequities that often are experienced by LGBTQ+ leaders, can bring values of adaptability, intuitive communication and creative problem solving to the workplace. One book that I like to refer to is, it was focused on Gay male leaders, was The G Quotient, which found that organizations under the leadership of white-collar Gay males experienced 35% higher levels of employee engagement, job satisfaction and workplace morale in addition to reporting greater employer loyalty and productivity. And I think what’s interesting is we need more of these types of studies, but on an intersectional lens, right, to sort of tease out the qualities that LGBTQ+ people bring to not only society but to the workplace.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: What is your best advice for workplace leaders on how they can consider and adopt inclusive technology policies and business practices that support employees with intersectional identities, such as those who identify as having a disability and also belong to the LGBTQ+ community?
Chris Wood: I think Bill did a great job of kicking this off by saying we need more research in this space. We need, we need to really look further into how LGBTQ and, more so, more than just Gay men, but how all of the other parts of the LGBTQ community, how those leaders are really inspiring and creating companies that are, that are filled with diversity and changing, changing the world. Sure, there’s a, it’s kind of a chicken and the egg of like, yeah, but we need to identify those leaders in order to be able to research it. So yes, we’re definitely challenged by some of the things that are happening societally and ensuring that, that we can actually study these things. I think it’s also important for leaders to be taking themselves out of their comfort zones and really spending true quality time on looking at who is not in the room, at who is not represented, and digging further into understanding why they may not be represented, why they may not be in the room, why they may not be part of the company. As leaders, if we are doing that and able to remove ourselves or talk to people or engage with different intersectionalities across our community and the disability community as well as other marginalized communities, I think that us, as leaders, it is time well spent.
Chris Wood: You have to be able to break down your own bias. You have to be able to think about those that are not in the room, those are not represented. And if you’re taking the time to really pull yourself out of your own box and think about those things, think about where you might be missing so much. Maybe it’s as simple as a flier or a game that was designed, and you couldn’t have recognized that by putting those two colors together,
Chris Wood: someone actually can’t read it. They can’t see what you’re trying to convey. Therefore, they are left out of the conversation. Maybe they are someone that would actually buy your product or participate in your NGO or, or have information that would be crucial to the success of your company. Those are areas where I think it’s important to make sure that we are continuing to break down our bias, continuing to look, look at all perspectives.
Chris Wood: I think one of the other things that as a leader, one of the most important things as a leader, is ensuring that when you are wrong and when you have made a mistake, that you are transparent and honest about that, where you go out and seek advice where you may have been wrong, or as you learn and educate yourself. It’s okay to be wrong. That’s the way we learn. As, as an entrepreneur myself, the only way to learn is to fail. And being honest and transparent about it makes you human and makes those around you feel empowered to fail and make the same mistakes and know that they can learn from it.
I think some practical things that I think are very important are, as you said, Chris, start, starting with having a safe space for people to identify, share their stories. You know, I’ve been fortunate to work in many different settings and with many different clients over my years of work in this area. And I’ve had unique opportunities such as reverse mentoring, where people who did identify as LGBTQ+ or as disabled shared their stories with people who are not identifying as disabled or LGBTQ+. And I think that’s an interesting technique that can be used with leadership and with middle management as well, and then can help drive programs and, again, layering on top of that, different aspects of intersectionality. And then, from an organizational policy perspective, of course, many efforts exist to build out accessibility programs, making sure technology is accessible to everyone and can be utilized equally, as well as business practices like employee resource groups and how those can really be, Chris, I think you had a post on LGBT Tech about ERGs as engines of progress, and I could not agree more that ERGs, as have been reported, can really help boost recruitment, retain people in these workplaces that are more and more hybrid and are driving really the development of offerings. And I’m delighted to work for an employer, Wheelhouse Group where I’m one of many people very, very much attending to this ongoing effort to consider the value of DEIA in what we do. And largely what we do is change management and organizational transformation consulting, and it could not be more important to think about all of this literally, literally as a business imperative.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Can you tell us how people with intersectional identities are helping design and develop workplace technology so they are more inclusive.
Chris Wood: I think Bill’s the expert here, at least at least on this podcast, but individuals, as individuals, we bring so many different perspectives to the workplace. And I think this is really found in some of the programs that, that I’ve mentioned and that we’ve created for, as LGBT Tech. When we, LGBT Tech, really operates as an organization, we’re not necessarily, we’re not big and working like an HRC or ACLU or GLAD, GLASS or any of the major LGBT organizations who do a lot of great work for our community. But where I do feel like we’ve done a great job is we have really looked at where has technology or where can technology play a crucial role for our communities. So really looking at that intersectionality between the technology and the LGBTQ community, that’s what’s really helped us form some of our programmatic work, like our Power On program, where we’re distributing technology to individuals, LGBTQ individuals, who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. And that can be anything from a laptop to a cell phone, tablet. It’s also distributing the technology to LGBTQ centers who may not have the funds to go out and buy computers for a computer lab or have access to a virtual reality headset. And so, I think, to answer your question, is that I think that people with intersectionalities, and all the different intersectionalities, you know, throughout your life. So, for me, you know, I’m a military brat. I grew up in a military household.
Chris Wood: That is part of my experience. And everybody has these different parts of their experiences, these different intersectionalities of their identity that make up who they are. And it creates this fingerprint that is unique to us of what we bring to the table. And it’s when we are empowering those individuals to get involved in technology, to provide opportunities where they can learn and explore and play and kind of figure out how some of these technologies work, that we are creating an opportunity for individuals to foster a thought process unlike any other, very unique to their identities, but probably in many ways overlap others who are very much like them or have similar experiences. I believe Bill kind of talked about our similar experiences where in the LGBT community they may be similar, but very different, and I think those intersectionalities are extremely important for us to create, design and develop technologies that actually work for society and help solve some of society’s easiest or hardest challenges. But it’s just such an honor to be here as well, to listen to some of the work that Bill has done and some of the perspective that Bill has, because although I can identify with some of it, I also learn a lot from individuals like Bill and other leaders in our community who have really brought these intersectionalities together. So, with that, I’ll let Bill kind of go a little bit deeper with this.
Bill Curtis-Davidson: Thanks, Chris. I’m learning a lot from you as well. So, I’m super honored to be having that opportunity here today and ongoing. I’ll just say that as we wrap up, this idea of how our people with the identities actually working, there’s a lot of ways that’s happening. And I have been really, really lucky in my career, really to have opportunities as an accessibility strategist and consultant to work on numerous accessibility programs, different kinds of products over the years. All of them involved people with disabilities in significant roles. And if they weren’t involved in significant roles, we got them involved and made sure that there was also a lens of intersectionality and diversity applied to whatever the task at hand was in these different settings. And really, if I talk about the work we do as the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology, a large part of what we do is convening communities. We’ve been known to found, grow and sustain communities like Teach Access and XR Access, where people with disabilities and other intersectional identities are front and center, building out these communities, making sure that they advance the accessibility of technology for the workplace. And we need all of those perspectives at the table. And what we’ve tried to do with leveraging Wheelhouse Group’s methodology, The Method and the Magic, is really to build out a kind of playbook for how we do this, which we’ve published on our website, the Emerging Technologies Playbook, and it has a lot in it in regard to gathering stakeholders and convening them and making sure everyone’s at the table for these important initiatives. And I want to applaud the work, Chris, that your group has done. I’m really impressed by all of the work your team is doing and all the collaborators that we’re all lucky enough to work with as we pursue a more inclusive future. So again, I want to say thank you, Jessica, for having me and Chris on this podcast. It’s been really exciting and a true joy.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Well, I appreciate both of you and your perspectives and your resources. And with this being and NDEAM and LGBTQ+ History Month, they’re both happening this month here in October. This was such a great way and an opportunity to talk about intersectionality around accessibility and inclusion. And I so appreciate your guys’ insights. We’re going to link to a lot of really great resources in the transcripts of this particular podcast episode. You can go directly to Workologypodcast.com or Workology.com and be connected to this episode so you can get access to just a great grouping of resources on NDEAM, LGBTQ+ Voices, ERGs, all the things. Thank you again, Chris and Bill for your time.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: This podcast was great. Was that not? It was so good. It was so good. I was just saying to Bill and Chris after we ended the recording that I really loved this interview and I appreciate them sharing their stories with us because I think we often forget about the different types of intersectionality and it is so inspiring to hear from them, their stories and what they know because it’s those lived and learned experiences that are so powerful. And as HR leaders, it’s so important for us to hear these and understand these and learn about these so we can better support our organizations and our employees too. And, speaking of better serving communities, I want to hear from you. Send me a text, text the word podcast to 5125483005. That’s podcast to 5125483005. You can ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions. This is my community text number and I want to hear what you need, what kinds of resources you want to learn more about on the Workology podcast, which is sponsored by Ace the HR exam and Upskill HR. These are two HR development and certification classes offered by Workology. This podcast is also powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. They have been a great partner over the years. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you soon.