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Beyond the Box | Resilient LGBTQ+ Innovators

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In celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month, we are excited to highlight LGBTQ+ Innovators who have innovated “Beyond the Box” in their workplace and beyond. In our discussion, we gained valuable insight into how they are resiliently changing workplaces across a wide variety of industries, and how they are continuing to pave the way for others to innovate as well. 

LGTBQ History Month reminds us of the importance to reflect on the innovators before us, among us, and in the future.

The LGBT community is the one of the only communities worldwide that is not taught its history in most workplaces, homes, public schools, or religious institutions. LGTBQ History Month sends an important message to recognize those innovators for this community in our history, with a new LGBT Icon featured every day of October.

In recognition of LGTBQ History Month, I wanted this month’s #BeyondTheBox series to not only give our LGTBQ+ innovators the opportunity to share their unique insights into the space but also to discuss their challenges as they continue to innovate in a not-so-perfect but improving world for LGTBQ+ people and their allies. Resilience is key, and innovation is certain.

Host:

Monica H. Kang – Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox, Author of Rethink Creativity: How to Innovate, Inspire and Thrive at Work

Moderator: 

Jenn T. Grace, Founder & CEO of Publish Your Purpose Press, Author of several books including “House on Fire: Finding Resilience, Hope, and Purpose in the Ashes”

Panelists:

  1. Gwen Migita, Sr. Principle ESG at Point B ( Previously Vice President Social Impact, Sustainability, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Caesars Entertainment, Inc.)
  2. Zaylore Stout, Attorney and HR Consultant at Zaylore Stout & Associates, LLC, Author of Our Guy History in 50 States
  3. David Ricciardi, President of Proximo

HOW DOES YOUR IDENTITY INFLUENCE HOW YOU INNOVATE?

Identity is intersectional, that is you are never just one “identity,” but there’s a different lens that those who identify as LGTBQ+ bring to the table as an innovator. And as National Coming out Day is also in October, it’s important to discuss how the lack of being able to share your identity can also affect innovation. 

David Ricciardi started and ran his business before he came out, and he found that once he felt comfortable sharing his identity, he had room in his “mind space” to innovate and be creative even more.

“I had been in business over a decade as a ‘straight man,’ but then things kind of changed. And when I look back on it with the benefit of time and perspective, I can see how it made a big difference. I was really able to be free with customers, employees, with relatives...In hindsight that mind space that was being used for other things was now open. That’s where innovation and creativity was able to be a part of my daily routine. I think there’s a lot of things I would not have done if I hadn’t come out.”

David Ricciardi

We can often forget how much time and mental strain is put on people who feel they cannot show up authentically, and we need that mental capacity free for creativity! As Zaylore Stout added, “coming out” as an LGBTQ+ innovator is something that they must do over and over again in the workplace and in their personal lives. Therefore, it’s essential that we’re all mindful of this phenomenon and create safe spaces for people to show up, free of mental baggage.

“Coming out is a very personal thing, and we have to come out all the time,” Stout said. “In a workplace conversation for example, you have to decide whether you say ‘my partner’ or ‘my husband.’ It’s important for all of us to come out.”

Zaylore Stout

LEADING INNOVATION FOR DIVERSITY & INCLUSION ACROSS INDUSTRIES

Gwen Migita, being an expert in the sustainability, diversity, equity & inclusion space grew up in environments that didn’t embrace the full spectrum of sexuality and identity, said that innovating towards diversity and inclusion requires standardizing what a “successful” company in those terms looks like.

“Usually DEI is around gender and race, but how many companies are actually measuring progress in a more holistic way?,” Migita said. “I think there’s a lot of advocacy that can be promoted in and outside to pressure the public companies to measure ‘apples to apples.’ And everything is about numbers and inputs rather than outcomes.”

Gwen Migita

For example, many companies may tour their increase in percentage of LGTBQ+ team members, but won’t go into the detail of what that means for their culture, productivity, and beyond. Building a culture of inclusivity is incredibly important for supporting the LGBTQ+ community, among others, because being the “only one of x” in the room can be isolating. But as Gwen discussed, being the minority can also become an opportunity with a curious and open mindset.

“I think you need to be constantly curious … I had to realize that my colleagues and friends have good intentions, they’re just ignorant,” Migita said. “There needs to be a space for humility and learning. I have turned discomfort and ignorance into an advantage. If I am light hearted about it, people tend to be more open. One you get acceptance, you can start branching off into creation and innovation”

Gwen Migita

Stout also saw his “oneness” as an LGTBQ+ person in law (among being black, an attorney, etc) as an opportunity to create a safe space for others and advocate for laws and hiring policies that meet people where they’re at. He intentionally forces people to innovate in an industry that is more susceptible to using the same processes over time. Conversely, Ricciardi, who is in the data and analytics space has no choice but to innovate for his community within an industry where processes are already being rewritten and rewired constantly. 

In short, the industry you’re in makes a difference in the methods through which you innovate or perhaps the ease of which these processes will flow. And reframing your mindset when you’re the only one in the room who seems to care, to be an opportunity rather than a crutch, is key.

IF YOU COULD GIVE A PIECE OF ADVICE IN TERMS OF BUILDING A RESILIENT MINDSET, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Being an innovator means having a certain resilience that will help you overcome the challenges, missteps, and ignorance you will undoubtedly encounter. For this question, every panelist was given the opportunity to answer in a “quick-fire” round.

Zaylore Stout - Grace

“For me, it’s grace and humility. It’s providing people the ability to stumble, say the wrong things, and still be able to grow and learn.”

David Ricciardi - The ‘Family Mentality’

“For me, it’s connections to people - the ‘family mentality’ - taking the same kind of care that you have with your family and extending that to the people around you. I really try to … mentor, nurture them (my team), and in turn they’re here for me which gives us the space to be creative, innovative.”

Gwen Migita - Balance

“I would say to be firm about my beliefs and values, and the value that I bring as a professional in the workplace...but also flexible and meeting people where they’re at it. Balance creates resilience.”

Jenn T. Grace, - Vulnerability

“The more that we can show up and be vulnerable and be our ‘messy raw selves, gives people permission to be their ‘messy raw selves.”

HAVE ALLIES SUPPORTED YOU AND WHAT MORE CAN THEY DO TO HELP?

As a straight ally, I love having the opportunity to have intimate conversations with LBGTQ+ innovators and I want to highlight that it takes so much courage for someone to be themselves. It is so important that we all honor that as an ally and recognize the power we have to help.

“Strangely enough it’s allies that got me really involved in my LGBTQ+ advocacy. Not long after Trump was elected president there was an organization called the Allies of St. Louis Park that got started by a cisgender white woman who wanted to be able to push back and be an advocate for those who are most marginlized in our community,” Stout said.

The allies in this organization gave Stout the opportunity to do roundtables with trans kids during the bathroom ban challenges. He said he was then able to use his advocacy as an attorney to make those spaces more safe through legal action.

This shows that you shouldn’t be fearful or afraid to help.

Migita added that it would help if more allies joined LGTBQ+ boards, for example.

CAN EACH IF YOU GIFT US A QUESTION?

We know that our #BeyondTheBox series contains a lot of insights, but we also think it’s important to stay curious and ask ourselves – what questions do you have? So I asked our panelists to end the talk with the gift of a question:

Jenn T. Grace

“Who can you go out and have a conversation with that thinks differently than you do in order to get a better understanding of the world?”

Gwen Migita

“How can we live with better balance everyday?”

David Ricciardi

“Who can you go and engage with and HELP through a mentorship, partnership, or whatever in another community?”

Zaylore Stout

“What can you do to help the lives of young LGTBQ folks today?”

I think we could have an extended conversation on each of these points, but the depth of these topics that we are able to get to be extremely meaningful for me and I’m sure all the others on the panel. I hope that more people have felt heard and curious after this Beyond the Box. And my main takeaway? If we don’t feel that in the workplace we can speak our minds in any way, then all the ideas in our minds become hidden treasures. And we can help uncover those treasures together.

Missed it? Intrigued to learn more and hear it all? You’re in luck! We have the full event video for you to watch below. Also, follow us on our YouTube channel and get your popcorn out – you can binge on it all!

P.S. Join our newsletter to learn and find out more about our continued conversations.

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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