Scott Horton

Unconsciously Biased Listening

By Scott Horton, Founder, Delta Concepts Consulting, Inc.

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:

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.

Military Veterans Served Our Country; Now Let’s Serve Them

By Guest Blogger, Greg Jenkins

There are more than 21 million military veterans in the U.S. What is it that propelled these men and women to serve in our uniformed military services? Many have been deployed around the world to stand guard or fight for us, our allies and our freedoms. Make no mistake; it is no small decision or obligation to sign up for what can be a life-altering experience; in fact, it’s a commitment like no other. What does it take to make this sacrifice?

It has been said:

“A military veteran is someone who, upon volunteering to serve, writes a blank check payable to ‘The United States of America,’ for an unknown amount, but up to, and including, his or her life.” — Unknown

It takes great courage and selflessness to leave behind one’s family, loved ones and friends to deploy to a distant place under dangerous conditions to perform extraordinarily hard work, all the while offering up one’s health, wellbeing and possibly, one’s life, for another service member or citizen. But so many of our veterans have done just that.

A Diverse Military

Our military comprises amazing and brave people from all walks of life. They are our family members, neighbors down the street or from across town. They come from our counties, parishes, states, U.S. territories and from around the world. They are a diverse bunch from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, from education and socioeconomic levels to gender, race, geographical location, sexual orientation, color, ability, national origin, religion and many other dimensions of diversity.

Veterans Achieve Great Success

And yet, amazingly, they come together to serve on, and lead, successful, sustainable, high-performing diverse and inclusive teams. They are in many ways the embodiment of what it means to be an American. These men and women are unique in their willingness to serve something bigger than themselves. They work and live by high standards of excellence. Words like value, commitment, honor, duty, selfless service and loyalty have deep meaning for our veterans in ways many of us may never fully appreciate.

Veterans also have attained some of the highest positions our nation offers. Veterans can be found at all levels of success and achievement within our society throughout history.

You may even know some well-known Americans who you may not have realized were veterans:

  1. John F. Kennedy, 35thPresident of the USA, U.S. Navy
  2. George H. W. Bush, 41stPresident of the USA, U.S. Navy
  3. George Carlin, Comedian, U.S. Air Force
  4. Bea Arthur, Actress, U.S. Marine Corps
  5. Drew Carey, Comedian and game show host, U.S. Marine Corps
  6. Ann Dunwoody, First female four-star General, U.S. Army
  7. Ice-T, Rapper and actor, U.S. Army
  8. Eileen Collins, First women to command a space shuttle mission, U.S. Air Force
  9. Harriet Tubman, Abolitionist and political activist, Union Army Soldier
  10. Tony Bennett, Singer and performer, U.S. Army
  11. Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Senator, U.S. Army

And many, many more . . .

Each year, more than 200,000 veterans honorably complete their military service obligation and as citizens continue to serve in meaningful ways that benefit our communities and nation. They return to the workforce, run for political office, serve as community volunteers and leaders, start their own businesses, return to school to advance their education, and beyond. They are a well-trained, disciplined and motivated group of American professionals, but sometimes they can use our help as well, and here is where we have an opportunity to serve them.

Serving Those Who Served Us

We have a chance to serve veterans in a unique and positive way. We can invite veterans into our communities, schools, workforces, organizations and teams. We can help them learn our organizational culture, our methods of business and show them how we perform our tasks and support and live our organizational values. We can provide mentoring and coaching to veterans who are working hard to join our teams, and if we do those things well we’ll have helped to make our organizations better and will have enhanced the successful transition of many veterans.

The good news is you don’t have to be a veteran to serve as a veteran mentor, in fact, your civilian expertise, experiences and perspectives can help many veterans in the midst of their transition from military to civilian life.

For more information or to become a mentor to veterans, contact Greg at 573.205.2859 or

Here are some additional on-line veteran mentoring programs you can sign up for to serve as a veteran mentor, all of them free to you, the veteran and their family members:

eMentor Program –

American Corporate Partners –

Veterati –

I’m proud of all our veterans, and I’m forever grateful to those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for us.  Their service and sacrifice allow us to enjoy our loved ones and our way of life. Thank you.


Guest Blogger, Greg Jenkins is a diversity and inclusion consultant, leader, facilitator, coach, mentor and small business owner dedicated to helping people and teams achieve higher levels of inclusive performance.  Greg completed a successful 28+ year U.S. Army career that ranged from overseas duties in Germany, South Korea and combat duty in Iraq to include several stateside assignments culminating at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Greg is a life-long learner and passionate volunteer who actively mentors and coaches several U.S. military service members and veterans.

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

Lissa Miller pic

By Guest Blogger Lissa Miller, FVP Supplier Diversity – SunTrust Banks, Inc. (SunTrust is a current unconscious bias customer of Delta Concepts Consulting)

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

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



By Guest blogger and Delta Concepts Consulting customer, Tommi Paris, Manager of Diversity and Inclusion, Southern Company Gas


‘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.

Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Empathy: Leadership Essentials

By Guest Blogger and Delta Concepts Consulting Facilitator, Monica McCoy




Work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment. In fact, 90% of the world’s workers feel disengaged or unhappy at work, according to a Gallup poll that surveyed 230,000 full-time and part-time employees in 142 countries. Those numbers are alarming! How did we get here?

For a long time, men and women climbed the corporate ladder believing that to achieve success, they had to put on their best face, manipulate and walk over others, and never, ever, make a mistake. Sadly, this belief led to many organizations creating a culture of exclusion, with the vast majority of employees feeling unsatisfied and becoming actively disengaged.

Disengaged employees are not merely just unhappy at work; they act out of their unhappiness, often undermining the productivity of engaged employees. They kill morale and have a negative impact on customers by providing bad customer experiences. This drains a company’s bottom line.

Large corporations and startups alike should be asking themselves, what can management do to transform disengaged employees into engaged employees and move their businesses forward?

How Companies Can Engage Employees

While many organizations have come to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion, there is still a disconnection that is a drain on resources. Innovative businesses like Google and Facebook, which continue to grow, understand that diversity is nice, but inclusion is even better. However, there are additional forces that must be at the core of a company’s culture for employees to feel engaged and want to give their best. They have created a culture where their employees are not afraid of making mistakes. They don’t encourage selfishness. They don’t instill a fear of making a mistake at work.

The surprising forces that move businesses forward are empathy, vulnerability, and authenticity.

Empathy is the ability to connect with and relate to others. In the workplace, it creates an environment that encourages employees to share ideas free from the fear of rejection or ridicule. When employees feel comfortable sharing, ideas flourish, driving innovation and results. Free from the classic idea box or sporadic, unproductive brainstorm meetings, employees can be vulnerable and authentic when an environment of empathy is engrained in the culture.

Cultural Change Starts with Leadership

This doesn’t happen easily or overnight.

It starts where every other significant shift in an organization must start: At the top. Managers and executives must show vulnerability in order for their employees to feel safe being vulnerable. They must be willing to admit their mistakes and promote the idea that no one is perfect. Experimentation must be welcome.

This type of environment also encourages authenticity in the workplace. When people feel comfortable making suggestions and bringing up ideas, they become more likely to voice their true opinions. They feel valued. Valued employees add value to their companies.

How to Cultivate Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Empathy

Cultures aren’t created by management alone. Employees must show up and actively participate to create an environment where empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability are standard.

Here are three key strategies you can take to promote and excel in this sort of environment:

  1. Be a proactive communicator. Keep your team in the loop. Proactive communicators don’t wait until smoke hits the fan. They report their progress and any setbacks so that there is plenty of time for people to either relax or move on to plan B. Proactive communicators never hide mistakes and don’t make excuses. This communication style builds trust, which is key to produce an empathetic and authentic culture.
  2. Engage in deeper conversations with colleagues. Getting to know a person outside of a business meeting helps you understand who they are and why they make the decisions they make. This knowledge will naturally help you become more empathetic to their beliefs and build a stronger, more resilient relationship. Strong relationships in the workplace make it easier for people to be vulnerable and authentic.
  3. Don’t wait for people to ask for help. When you notice a need, act on it. Being proactive, dependable, and available when help is needed makes other people feel they can be vulnerable around you and trust you.

These three strategies can help create trust amongst colleagues and encourage an empathetic, authentic, and vulnerable workplace.

Every organization wants to be the leader in its prospective industry. Managers and executives want to be known for getting results. With a culture that encourages empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability, managers can lower the number of disengaged employees and efficiently move the business forward.

What steps have your organization taken to promote empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability in the workforce? How are these effects measured?

The Forgotten Workforce: How to level the playing field on the job for people with disabilities

By Guest Blogger Jill Thomsen 


October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, a fitting time to look at the workplace issues that people with disabilities face on a day-to-day basis. This blog explores the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), current workplace standards, and how to build a more inclusive workforce to address equitable treatment of people with disabilities.

What is the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Nearly thirty years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed landmark legislation designed to make the U.S. more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. Among other requirements, the ADA mandates both nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodation in the workplace for the roughly thirteen percent of the U.S. population who report having a disability. Since 1990, legislation, executive orders, and court decisions continue to advance the cause of people with disabilities in the workplace, ultimately resulting in a more expansive definition of disability, increased disability employment litigation, and disability utilization goals for certain employers with federal contracts. The work continues. In July, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it would make $15 million in grants available to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Despite these efforts, much more needs to be done to make employment opportunities available and workplaces more inclusive.

People with Disabilities Face Excessive Unemployment Inequities

Employment is one of the greatest challenges facing Americans with disabilities. Unemployment rates for this population remain shockingly high. In 2016, more than ten percent of individuals with a disability were unemployed, almost twice that of those without a disability. (Unemployed individuals in this study were those who did not have a job, were available to work, and were actively looking for a job.)

Employees with disabilities were also far more likely than their non-disabled peers to work only part-time or become self-employed because their hours had been cut or they were unable to find full-time employment. Even those with college degrees are challenged in accessing employment as only one in four college students with disabilities can secure employment, leading to poverty rates twice the national average.

Those who do find employment also face lower earnings than their peers. When people with disabilities find work, their hourly, weekly, and monthly wages are substantially lower than those without disabilities. On average, employees with disabilities earn only 64 percent as much as those without disabilities.

Case in point: researchers at Rutgers University recently conducted an experiment by sending out job applications for more than 6,000 hypothetical accounting positions. Two-thirds of applicants disclosed a disability in their cover letters, one-third did not, and qualifications were otherwise equal. Appallingly, applicants with disabilities received 26 percent fewer responses from employers. Whether due to ignorance, stigma, or unconscious bias, employers are neglecting a vibrant, qualified, and available pool of talent.

Failure to Include Disability in Diversity Programs

Workforce inclusion efforts also tend to overlook disability. Philip Kahn-Pauli, the policy and practices director of the non-profit organization RespectAbility, states, “[Employers] think about race, gender and sexual orientation/identity . . . [t]hey do not think about disability. What they may not recognize is that disability is a natural part of the human experience and cuts across other barriers that divide us. . . . We are the only minority group that anyone can join at any time due to accident, illness or aging.”

Disbility cartoon

To combat these trends, a growing number of companies are implementing outreach and inclusion programs explicitly targeting workers with disabilities. Not surprisingly, early estimates reveal that disability-specific services are in fact delivering the results-oriented outcomes valued by employers.

Best Practices for Including Disability Services in the Workplace

How to build and implement disability-specific services and protocols in your organization:

  1. Centralize Your Accommodations Policy, Procedures, and Budget

Admittedly, the reasonable accommodation process might at times be time-consuming and complex. Managers also assume accommodations are costly and permanent even though research establishes otherwise. Given these variables and misconceptions, an internal resource specifically dedicated to disability compliance and inclusion ensures that accommodation decisions are appropriately personalized, documented, practical, and consistent.


  1. Hire a Specialized Disability Recruiter

Increasingly, companies recognize the intricacies involved in successfully recruiting, hiring, and onboarding people with disabilities. An internal company recruiter or external community organization dedicated to workers with disabilities not only helps to fill the employment pipeline with qualified talent, but also provides customized guidance and coaching to both applicants and hiring managers throughout the selection and new hire process.


  1. Develop a Disability Network or Dedicated Employee Resource Group

Approaches are varied, but most corporate disability networks count workers with disabilities and caregivers of those with disabilities amongst their membership. The types of disabilities represented run the gamut, from blindness, epilepsy, and autism to diabetes, cancer, and anxiety. Not only do disability networks provide both professional and personal support to their membership, but these groups also assist with larger corporate efforts on outreach and recruitment, mentorship, accessibility, and social responsibility.

  1. Assess Your Disability Inclusivity

To truly understand a company’s culture of inclusion – strength of current practices and ideas for improvement – a disability survey is imperative. A few national disability organizations have created and currently employ such tools, some of which are free of charge. In addition, these organizations provide expertise on implementing recommended next steps and developing successful inclusion programs in a practical and cost-effective manner.

In celebration of Disability Employment Awareness Month, I hope you are encouraged to strengthen disability inclusion at your own company by improving the way you engage workers with disabilities. Employment enables all of us to lead full and productive lives. Given nearly thirty years of ADA legislation as well as the currently competitive landscape in the war for talent, it is high time to incorporate innovative and proven methods of disability inclusion into corporate practice.

Jill Thomsen is principal and founder of the Equal Opps Collaborative, where she builds partnerships, programs, and policy recommendations for employers, community organizations, education professionals, unions, and government agencies to establish pathways to in-demand, meaningful, and sustainable careers for underutilized populations.

Smooth Sailing?

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Smooth Sailing. My alarm does its thing this morning at 5:45 am. Loving that coffee pot timer that has already done its thing and filled the house with the aroma of Starbucks Morning Joe. Enjoyed a peaceful warm yummy cup, since Mom was nice enough to take the dogs last night until I return tomorrow.

Smooth Sailing. Showered…dressed…and in the car and off to Hartsfield Atlanta Airport by 6:30 am. No traffic, if you can believe that…in ATLANTA. It keeps on being a smooth sailing morning with a great parking space and shuttle to pick me up, like clockwork.

Smooth Sailing. I love CLEAR: two fingers down on the piece of glass, scan my boarding pass and shuttled to the front of the TSA Pre-Check line.

Smooth Sailing.

My sailboat is ready to crash, and this is hard to write. I wasn’t going to write it. I didn’t want to even think about it. But I have to. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t. I’d love to pretend that this stuff only happens to others, to people who attend our unconscious bias training classes. But this is ME.

I chose a luggage X-ray line from the 3 available. I waited…kept waiting…for a spot to open in the new conveyor belt/grab a bin/put stuff in bin/push bin forward into an open spot system that Hartsfield is using.

I timed my push between two bins moving on the moving conveyer belt and when I did, created a jam. The TSA agent pushed my bin back and said, “I just announced to wait for me to tell you when to push your bin.”

I said, “Sorry!”

The black woman who had admonished me then said, “No you’re not.”

My sailboat crashed.

I said, “OH!

Just one word, but if you could have heard my inflection, my righteous indignation, my mental vibration that was behind that one word, this is what you would have intuited.

How dare you! Who are you to scold me? Who do you think you are? I’m the customer, the Diamond Medallion, Two Million Miler. If you were really doing your job you would have managed the flow of this line much better and I would not have had to wait 60 seconds to get a spot with a bin to go through this stupid system.

Yes. If you could have recorded my thoughts that burst from my brain in that split second response, all of that was contained in my “OH!

AND…her gender and color were in the formula too…OF COURSE…because they always are. My fast burst of superiority did include a fast and, usually, unexamined racial and gender based positioning on the ladder of societal pecking order.

Have I said this is hard to type? I’m carefully choosing each word now, unlike when I was engaging with the TSA Agent.

I can acknowledge what my ego/(me) blurted out this morning when a women doing her job decided to let me know that she didn’t think I was sorry; that I intentionally was rushing and being, perhaps, inconsiderate and pushy/entitled. Its much harder for me to acknowledge, that, on analysis now, sitting in my upgraded seat flying to NYC that I know my reaction would have been different if she was male and/or she was white. It’s impossible for me, right now, to play it out in my mind exactly to know what my reaction would be, but I know it would be different.

In that moment of her scolding of me, I looked down on her. I converted my slight shame of being “busted” for being pushy into a lightening fast judgment of her job, her authority and of HER…her humanity. That’s so hard to acknowledge.

My fingers are freezing up between each sentence.

I’m ashamed that my embedded privilege and nearly-always-unacknowledged-white-male-sense of superiority came flooding out of me in that moment of truth…that moment when my smooth sailing day was interrupted by a woman calling me on my obvious rude behavior.

And, I’ve been educating our workshop participants for over 3 years now that, it’s natural. To be human is to be biased. We see the world through a set of lenses that are uniquely ours, developed by our life journey, our background. We make sense of the world through pattern recognition. If we are not mindful, our conditioned patterns of implicitly biased associations, learned from our families, media, stereotypes and significant emotional events….our reptilian or “fast”/automatic pilot part of our brain pushes out a reaction and we say, “OH!”….or worse…when a black woman at the airport calls us out for not following instructions.

Or fill in the blank on what the incident is:

*a woman speaks confidently about her accomplishments in an job interview

*a person with a “thick” accent speaks up with an idea in the meeting

*a person of a different ethnicity moves into your lane without signaling or waiting their turn when you’re in a hurry

*a younger person keeps looking at their device during the meeting you’re running

Humans are biased. From those biases, we project assumptions, judgments and even characteristics onto others, often with little or no knowledge about that person’s motives, story, values, morals…or consideration of their humanity. (There’s that word again.)

Humanity. That’s the word I’m going to focus on today now that I’ve taken the time to write this down. For a few seconds, I forgot that word during my peaceful, smooth sailing morning. If I could replay it, I would said: “I need to slow down, I’m sorry.” Or “ Thank you. I apologize, I wasn’t listening to your announcement.” I would have smiled and sent her love for a smooth sailing day of her own.

A tip from our workshop is to catch yourself in the act of judging, projecting or taking a superior position toward someone who is “different” and THEN tell someone you trust what you did. The teacher is still very much a student. Thanks for reading my story if you made it this far.

A man opened fire on concert-goers in Las Vegas as if they were soda cans on a country fence,  two days ago. I feel angry, helpless, and deeply sad, if I allow myself to think about it long enough. I condemn violence. We need more love and compassion.

I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world and carry the TSA agent’s face in my mind today as a reminder that SMOOTH SAILING is my wish for every human on the planet.

You Don’t Look Latina! Blurring the lines of ethnicity, race and nationality


By Guest Blogger, Delta Concepts Consulting Senior Consultant, Josy Laza Gallagher 

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Being Black and Latina is a beautiful and unique experience. My heritage runs deep. It’s also challenging.

I’m Cuban-American. Both of my parents were born in Cuba. My mother was mulata and my father was Black. That’s who I am. I am not one or the other. I am the best of both worlds and I am proud to be both. My Cuban roots and my African roots intermingle and reside in me.

Hispanic Heritage

My Latina Heritage

I love being Latina. The Cuban culture is very rich, and I proudly display the Cuban flag and my “cubanismo” – pride for Cuba — in all that I do, even in my email address, josy4cuba, and my car plates, 4Cuba!

Being raised in a Cuban family meant that I grew up dancing to the music of Havana-born Celia Cruz, eating rice and black beans, roast pork and plantains. We celebrated saints in the Orisha religion, a blend of native African religions and Roman Catholicism. We belonged to the Cuban Social club in New York where I danced at my quinceañera, which in Latina America and among Latinos is the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday and her transition from childhood to adulthood.

In New York, I grew up in an Irish-American neighborhood. There were only three families of color in the neighborhood and I went to the local Catholic school where there were only two children of color in the entire school, including me. I tried my best to fit in.

Shifting Between Cultures

It was when I read Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women and the Struggle for Professional Identity by Ella L. J. Edmondson Bell and Stella M. Nkomo that I understood the term “shifting.” After conducting an eight-year survey of more than 800 black and white female managers, Bell and Nkomo explained how we all engage in some form of adjusting who we are depending on our environment. Some of us feel that we must engage in shifting more than others.

For example, I can still remember in school enthusiastically singing the song “Molly Malone” at a St. Patrick’s Day event. The nuns thought that it was so cute to see this black child singing this song that they had me sing it to a group of nuns visiting the school. I did not think anything of it then, but it stands out now in my memory as an example of feeling separate and apart from my schoolmates.

When I started my career in corporate America, I learned that there is negativity associated with being Black and that sometimes being a Black Latina made it easier for others to accept me. I was often surprised that when some people learned that I was Latina, they would say that I was a “different” type of Black and more readily accepted me.

At first glance, I am always categorized as Black — until I speak Spanish. I am met with astounded faces. “Wait, are you Black?” people ask. (Why yes, the last time I looked, I am Black!) They ask, “Where did you learn to speak Spanish?” And my personal favorite, “Oh, you’re Latina? Then you must be Dominican.” Latinos are more familiar with seeing Black Dominicans than in other Latino groups.

I’m used to these reactions, because in the eyes of many I don’t look Latina because of the color of my skin.

But what’s a Latina supposed to look like? And why is there only one image of such a diverse culture? The truth is that Hispanic is my ethnicity, Black is my race and American my nationality.

Blurring the Lines of Ethnicity, Race and Nationality

The truth is, I am not easily categorized, and I’m not often “seen” in the media. I am not surprised that most people do not see a Black person as a Latino. The media does not represent us. If you turn on the Spanish-speaking channels Telemundo or Univision, you do not see an Afro-Latina as the main character in the soap operas, variety shows or as news anchors. Occasionally we are featured in the soap operas as the maid or the healer. We even have our own Oprah — her name is Cristina — and she is blond and blue-eyed! Spanish magazines rarely showcase Black Latinos. And yet, there are more people who look like me in the Latino community than not.

Crossing Over Made-Up Boundaries

As a Black Latina, I have struggled with a constant struggle to gain acceptance from both groups.

You speak Spanish but may not be fully accepted in the Hispanic community. You are brown, but you speak Spanish, and may not be fully accepted in the African American community.

Then there is what you look like. Skin color, facial features and hair texture constantly comes up during conversations within the Latino community. You are considered pretty if you have “good hair” (straight and long) as opposed to “bad hair” (tight curls, kinky). The beauty ideal is to have thin lips vs. thick lips and a straight nose vs. a wide nose. Lighter and brighter is constantly being reinforced in the Latino community. We hear it growing up: “To improve our race, you should marry someone lighter than you,” “Stay out of the sun or you’ll become black like tar.”

Are You in the Right Place?

As much as I love being who I am, being a Black Latina can be overwhelming. It seems like there’s not a day that I don’t have to explain myself. A few years ago, I attended a luncheon for Hispanic professionals in D.C. and was questioned if I was in the right conference. When I approached a few tables to find a seat and asked if the seat was available, my Latino colleagues told me that it was saved for a friend. I finally found a seat at a table where non-Latinos welcomed me to join them.

Another time, I was co-facilitating a session for professional Latinas/Hispanic women at a Working Mother conference for multicultural women, and as I greeted the women entering the room, they were confused and asked me if I was in the right place. There was another session for African-American women across the hall and they thought I should be in that session. My co-facilitator was a light-skinned Latina and no one questioned her right to be in that session.

You Belong

Here are a few tips that help me navigate these situations.

  1. Bring your whole self to work. Although it might sometimes make a colleague feel more comfortable to be able to identify you as one type of race or ethnicity, don’t fit yourself into a box. Be yourself.
  1. Share your experiences and thoughts about being a Black Latina. By doing so, you can not only inspire other Black Latinas to be proud of who they are, but you can also educate other people and open their eyes to bias.
  1. Show commonality. There are multiple ways that our cultures crossover to one another. People often connect over food, music, dance and family stories. Although our cultures are different, we can acknowledge the similarities in our traditions. It helps us be able to better see each other.
  1. Be open to listening. It can be difficult to deal with stereotypes. If we want to be valued and respected, we need to value and respect others who may not understand that their words are offensive, or that they have an unconscious bias driving their behavior.

I am proud to be a dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking Cuban-American woman. When I show up as who I am, share my story and question biases and restrictive boundaries, I make the world a more beautiful and culturally rich place to be.

You can do it, too.