headshot of Ash Beckham with an image of two leaders in the background happily walking up stairs together to show this podcast episode gives tips for how to step up as an inclusive leader so everyone can bring their full selves to the job


How to Step Up as an Inclusive Leader

Being your authentic self at work makes it easier to do your best work. Learn how to step up as an inclusive leader and what you can do to foster a workplace where everyone can bring their full selves to the job.

Publish Date: August 1, 2023

Episode Length: 54 minutes

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In this Episode

In this episode of the Leadership 480 podcast, we interview Ash Beckham, speaker and self-dubbed accidental advocate for the LGBTQ community. Ash joins us to discuss how to step up as an inclusive leader today, so everyone can be their authentic selves at work.


Beth Almes:                        

Hi, leaders, and welcome back to The Leadership 480 Podcast. I'm your host, Beth Almes, and today, I'm talking about how we can step up to become more inclusive leaders who give both ourselves and our teams room to be more authentic and by extension, more engaged, productive, and satisfied at work. 

I'm very excited to welcome my guest today, Ash Beckham, who you might recognize from one of her multiple viral TED Talks, the most famous of which is, "Coming Out of Your Closet." Ash is a speaker and a self-dubbed accidental advocate for the LGBTQ community. She's also the author of Step Up: How to Live with Courage and Become an Everyday Leader. Ash, welcome to The Leadership 480 Podcast.

Ash Beckham:                    

Thanks so much, Beth. I'm excited to be here.

Beth Almes:                        

So in your popular TED Talk, you discuss the topic of coming out of your closet, which is obviously a term often used for the LGBTQ community, but your point is that everybody has some kind of closet, something they're holding back from being their authentic selves at work and that it's really hard to come out of that closet. When it comes to work, there might be some folks who say, "Listen, I don't need to be authentic at work. I'm just a professional and I don't need other people to be authentic, just do your job." But I think there are some benefits of being authentic at work. So, how do you see that play out? Why should you be more authentic at work?

Ash Beckham:                    

Absolutely. I think you can come to it from a couple of different angles. We all have the priorities and the ways we work best, and one of them is just purely efficiency, right? If you have to go through the mental gymnastics of what version of yourself you have to be in certain circumstances, you're just genuinely less present. I think a lot of times we want to turn that lens of creating an inclusive or an authentic space to work on other people, but we really have to look at ourselves and our unwillingness to do that. 

Especially when we're in a leadership role, it's really hard to ask somebody to do something that we're not willing to do, and so we have to make that brave first step as leaders. So, I think some people on that lens, it speaks to efficiency, right? I think also authenticity is so critical.

We're talking about innovation and creativity. If I can't talk about what I did last weekend because I'm afraid to say who I did it with because people might judge me, am I going to bring this new wild off the wall idea to give us a more creative lens on a project that we're working on? I'm not because I don't feel safe. 

So, for me to be vulnerable in so many aspects, I have to feel safe. Then recruitment and retention is similar, right? There's another angle of why it's so important to be authentic. Again, because I think we can have the policies, but in practice, it's the people at the workplace that are actually creating that culture. So, when we create these cultures of authenticity, we are laying the groundwork for it. So, people see that when they interview.

Again, you can have your best policy on your website, but if people come in and don't see it in practice, they're going to move on. Then that stunts us in a variety of ways too. So, I think authenticity is really the key to having this holistic workplace where everybody can be themselves and therefore we can all perform at our best.

Beth Almes:                        

Yeah, I really agree. One of the things I often see too and have probably done myself by the way is be a watered-down version of yourself. Yeah, it's me, but I don't want to tell them all of it. They'll think I'm crazy or I don't want to say what I really love about this. It's a little bit disappointing sometimes. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a conversation with someone that I didn't even really necessarily share their passion or understand what they were talking about, but I loved their love for whatever it was that they were doing. Do you see that happen a lot, people want to take the edge off of themselves?

Ash Beckham:                    

For sure. Our authenticity bar, you don't have a responsibility to tell everybody every single deep, dark secret you've ever had, right? Authenticity isn't black or white. You really have the ability. There's a nuance there and I think we're asking people now, especially new leaders and emerging leaders specifically, to be 5% more brave, 10% more brave, because I feel like I'm sure you've had this experience too where you become a little bit more authentic or you find that connection with somebody and it's hard to go back. 

It's like coming out of the closet in any way. Once you do it, it's really hard to go back in. I think once you start being authentic, it becomes less of something on your checklist. It's less of something you do and more of who you are. I'm not hiding certain aspects of my life for fear of repercussion or judgment in the workplace. Does that mean that I have a responsibility for full disclosure of every single thing? Absolutely not. 

In the same way that we don't do that with all of our friends, there are these tiered versions of it, but there are certain things where I am one of an affinity group or I have this human experience that is affecting the way that I am in my job that I can disclose. I think it's more of an opening up to people. I can think of a few times someone has been authentic to me and I have thought less of them because of that. I almost always think more of them that they have the bravery to say the challenges they're going through or the struggles that they've had.

I think that that's walking into a meeting with your boss when you know you're fully distracted because you have a sick kiddo at home and you know that you and your significant other are going to have to flop at a time that's earlier that probably covers a meeting or there's somebody in the other room that's crying. 

To say, I don't want to be treated differently because this is happening, but for you to know the full picture of me, you've got to know why am I resistant to be able to get that done by 6:00 tonight because I just don't want to do it or because I have to go to my kid's school play tonight, but I'll have it done by 8:00. Those nuances of the humanity of who we are at work really gives us the commitment that we have to our organization when they see us as more than just that headcount.

So, there are accommodations that are there in place, but to be able to say in the middle of a late-night meeting at 7:00 to say, "Okay, we're going to take a break," or as the leader to say, "We're going to take a break because I want to say goodnight to my kids. Let's meet back in 20 minutes." That to me is what authenticity looks like in the world that we live in right now.

Beth Almes:                        

I love your example of how a leader can demonstrate that authenticity too, and it makes it so much easier for everyone else to then react that way. When you have a boss who says, "Listen, I'm going to prioritize my kids," not that this isn't important. It is, but I'm going to go prioritize that and then we'll return to this or we'll do whatever. We'll hit it hard tomorrow. It's such a powerful way of modeling that for everyone else. Sometimes you're afraid of that as the leader that you're going to be looked at as weak.

Ash Beckham:                    

I think that you frame it in a certain way, I'm not going home to have dinner with my kids. I know we all want to do that or to let my dog out or meet my best friend. All the things. It isn't just the family, but I will take a break from what we are doing right now, because there's a window which I can say goodnight to my kids and then I am here with you until we get it done. I think a leader, I think a lot of times, whether it's the way that work is portrayed on social media or in film or just what leadership looks like, that that softness is going to lead people to take advantage of us or think they can get away with more and it's just quite the opposite.

You want that permission for your individuality to be able to be brought in as part of your job. When so many of us have been working at home and working non-traditional 9:00 to 5:00 hours, we've really, I think, displayed our capacity to make work fit our life and we're working longer hours. I know we're checking our email later, but the things that are a priority, going for that run, catching that opening of an art exhibit, all of the things that we do in our real life, there's room for that when we can be honest and direct with our boss.

Other organizations are doing it and other teams are doing it. Our ability not to puts us at a competitive disadvantage for recruitment and retention because that's what people expect and want now, but again, like you said before, it has to be modeled by the leader. We have to be able to do that.

Beth Almes:                        

There's a piece of it too I think that there are some folks who might take a tactic that's more along the lines of, "I don't mind. You can do what you need to do, but I don't want to see it." Maybe that's fine where they say, especially when it comes to some really personal things around diversity. So, I've often heard something like, "Hey, I don't see race," or "I don't see religion," or "I don't see sexuality. I just see you as a professional." Does it matter, do you think, to bring those things to the workplace? Is that one way to go about it?

Ash Beckham:                    

Well, I think a huge piece of that is the people that say that are the people that are in the majority. You know what I mean? It is the straight, white, cis-gendered male who says, "I don't see it," who I feel like to a certain extent you've never had to, you've never experienced it. You don't care who I sleep with. 

It doesn't matter to me who you go home to. But if you don't know that, then you don't know what it's like for me to walk down the street holding my wife's hand and have to make a decision to drop it or not. As a straight cis man, you've probably never had to make that call. That affects me. If I'm a person of color in an organization and we go through the summer that we went through with George Floyd, that affects me as a human.

If you can't see that there's that difference, then you're not seeing me. Does that change the way that I work? Do I need you to check in every time I say I went out to dinner with my wife to see if I had to drop her hand? No, but I experienced the world in a different way than you do and to say you don't see it means you don't see me. I think a lot of times that comes from this perspective or this assumption that you need to know everything that there is, that you have to go through this crash course in diversity. That's not it. It's listening.

It's taking the time to educate. I think it's just an acknowledgment that the paths are different because of some of these extrinsic things that we don't control, that the world affects us, because you can create the most amazing inclusive, nurturing workplace in the world. I don't go to the grocery store at work. I don't take my kids to the park at work. I interact in the community in a way that can't be protected by the things that happen at work. So, there is an impact on me in so many of those ways and for my supervisor to not see it, and I think even worse, be unwilling to see it just doesn't create that sense of connection and belonging that I want in the workplace. I don't want to talk about it all the time either.

The tokenism of every time something happens in the LGBTQ community, do we go talk to Ash in accounting because she's gay? No, I don't want that either. Again, it's that black and white and that's the thing that's so hard about this is that there's nuance to it and nuance gets sticky and dirty and there's sometimes no right answers. I think the right answers are getting to know the people you work with as humans, not as coworkers.

Beth Almes:                        

I think you bring up some interesting dilemmas where people can also start to fear a little bit of, even when they're well-meaning, they become afraid of doing the wrong thing or approaching a sensitive topic in the wrong way. So, for example, something terrible happens in the LGBTQ community and I'm sitting there and go, "Oh, should I ask Ash how she's feeling? Should I not ask? Is she going to be offended? Is she not going to be offended?" 

So I do nothing because I'm afraid it might be perceived negatively or I might do it wrong or use the wrong term or do something like that. But you talk and write a lot about grace as well, so how can you foster and ask for that sense of grace as well as reciprocate it for those around you?

Ash Beckham:                    

Right. I mean, I think to go to your first point, I mean I think the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is saying nothing. I absolutely appreciate in the world of cancel culture that everybody is ready for you to stumble and fall and trip and do the wrong things and then call you out for it. So, of course, that scares people. 

But I think as we're asking people to be allies, and again, my lens is always from the LGBTQ community, but this transcends those diversity lines. If we want people to be our allies, we have a responsibility to be resources for them to be allies, to be that person that says, "Hey, I don't know what you meant by that, but this is how it came off. Here's a place you can educate yourself around it. This is why pronouns are important."

We can recognize genuinely when someone is trying, and I would so many times over rather give somebody the benefit of the doubt and be wrong about them than shortchange them or stereotype them on what I think they don't know and not give them a chance. 

So, I feel like there's this piece that feels incredibly empowering to me to the LGBTQ community is our ability to uplift allies, to make them bigger advocates on our behalf, because the beautiful thing about allies is they're in so many places that we're not. I'm never going to be in the men's locker room, but if I have a solid ally that has the verbiage around why homophobic slurs are wrong and how to stop that, that person saying that is so much more impactful than me.

I always look at people on the ally spectrum of aspiring allies and they're somewhere on there, but it's so much more relatable for somebody to go up to, again, a straight cis-gendered person who is an ally of mine and ask questions of how my wife and I conceived our children, what does healthcare look like, any of those things that exist. How do we navigate all of that stuff? Because they figure they've probably had those questions and that's one less question they're asking me directly. It's so much less intimidating to ask an ally than to ask the person you're trying to ally for. So, I feel like that resourcefulness feels like it has a ripple effect.

If I can be a resource and then that person can come to me and say, "Hey, I have this question on pronouns. I don't really get it," or "We have the first trans person on our team. You're the only person I know in that space, I don't know what to do," that humility and vulnerability that we are all seeking the same answers and we're going to figure it out together, I think, is so much more empowering than read the book, follow these people on social media, come back when you know enough.

When you have your Ph.D. in gender studies, then we can have a conversation. We're not bringing anybody to the table and we're not meeting people where they are. To be part of this movement of equity and inclusion, we have to have people at all levels knowing that everyone is just incrementally making those strides.

Beth Almes:                        

I think that point is so important around how we stop making some assumptions too about people's intentions. Sometimes a question is just a question or sometimes it is loaded, but maybe it's not as nefarious as you think it is. You've mentioned a number of times in your books and in your talks about how when you're in a group that is like you, you tend to assume their question is just a genuine question. When you're with people who maybe are not like you, you bring all these assumptions. Well, if they like this, then they're probably also against this. You start to go down that chain and none of that may be true.

So, do you have any tips on starting to switch that voice in your head about the intentions of the person asking you? Because your body's going, "Oh, they're asking me this because they're angry or they have assumptions." How do you start to flip that narrative?

Ash Beckham:                    

Yeah, I think part of it is just a genuine curiosity. I think a lot of people that are part of a historically marginalized group, survival has created really thick skin, which I think is important. You have to take that double take in stride, take that microaggression in stride. If you reacted to everything, you wouldn't get very far. But also, you become very quick in your assumptions because in a lot of situations, it feels familiar to life or death. 

When you're releasing cortisol and adrenaline, when you're getting into that fight, flight or freeze, it doesn't matter if the threat is real or perceived, your brain reacts in the same way as if it's an offhanded comment from a coworker or a saber tooth tiger there. It's the same chemical response in your body. So, you have to take that moment.

So, I think a deep breath is always important. I think a genuine curiosity of why. Why is that the perspective? What is the source of those questions? What is their history? I feel like we always bring up a lot of history of past wrongs. It gets to a culmination point before we actually do something, but we bring our baggage too. 

To think that we're coming in clean I think would be a mistake. We are coming in with all of the histories that we've had of positive and negative interactions with people around assumptions. So, we want to stand our ground and stay firm, I think, in that way. Sometimes it's hard to know where we are when we can't put someone else's location down.

But I think if we have a genuine curiosity and we want to know why they think what they think, especially in most work environments or general environments, there isn't ignorance, but it let's not confuse ignorance and stupidity. Ignorance is just not knowing, a lack of exposure. It has a negative context, but there's like a history that gets people there. It's what they've been taught, it's how they were raised, all of the historical things. To think that we're going to change that in a 15-second soundbite is not going to happen, but to have a continuing conversation, that we're not getting people to go from here to way up here. There are these little mini steps.

We don't necessarily need them to think that their perspective is wrong, it's just that there's a different way. It's more of an enlightenment. I think when we share in that way without the intention of changing someone's mind, just for them to see our perspective, it takes such a huge weight off our shoulders because it isn't on us anymore. 

We share our story, we explain our way, we explain the way something they say affects us, then they know and hopefully, you do well until you know better and then you do better. So, I think that that is what we're trying to get people to do. We want it to be so fast. We want to just flip people to allies as quickly as we can. If we want it to work in a real way and not in a performative, wear a rainbow lanyard for June way, but in an actual way, then I think we need to know that it takes time. Changing minds takes time.

Beth Almes:                        

It doesn't happen in a moment. Some of the stories you have shared have struck me about it's amazing how the questions of kids can be incredibly disarming at times, they can almost be scary for us adults because they will ask you anything with no hesitation. They'll ask you like, "Oh, are you fat? Are you poor?" They will not care and ask you a question straight out, but the amazing thing is that it's just a genuine question. They just want to know the answer.

Ash Beckham:                    

Yeah. They're just giant data gatherers. You know what I mean? Yeah. I feel like a little kid asking me if I'm a boy or a girl is no different than them being like, "Is this a table or a chair?" Our brains naturally want to categorize. Again, who am I if not relative to you? So I know what it means to be a girl. What are you? Then I know these things about you. It is very categorical for them. 

Again, without all the things that are loaded, but there's this political correctness I think that doesn't allow us to have these straightforward conversations or these assumptions that you should know better. There's obviously value in that, but I think gone too far, that can be limiting.

That goes to what you were saying earlier, people that are afraid to say anything because they're so fearful, they're going to say the wrong thing. The negative impact that would have is worse. That fear or perceived threat of that is worse than any connection you have by saying the right thing. It's like when you have a friend who has a death in the family and you're like, "Oh, I don't want to bring it up if they're not thinking about it." 

They're always thinking about it. It comes to them all the time. They know about it. You're not surprising them with it. You have the people that aren't trying. Then you have this huge section of the middle of people that want to try but are so mindful and empathetic of the potential impact and hurt that they can cause that that overwhelms them into saying nothing.

 But if we can get that middle section, think of the amazing connection, education, and up-leveling of allyship we can do if we can get that group brave enough to say something. That's the thing. It's the other side of the same coin. The reason people aren't authentic at work by far, the biggest reason is fear of repercussion or judgment. 

That's what we're afraid of. So, what we need to do as workplaces is make the space more safe. Where you know in this cubicle, on this team, in this department, you do not have to fear repercussions for being who you truly are. It's the exact same with allies. It's just that who's sitting in the driver's seat are people that are in marginalized communities.

It's the LGBTQ person or the person of color or the person with different abilities who's sitting there and saying, "Okay, this is a safe space for your questions. Here you can be safe. Here you can be yourself. I know you don't know what it's like to be me, but I would love to talk to you about it." You don't do that. Again, it's not just because I see a pink triangle on somebody's cube. We have a relationship. We talk about baseball or the weather or our kids in the same school or travel or whatever we do. You start with that trust because trust builds connection and collaboration.

But then when that happens, we can have these deeper conversations, but it's hard to sit in this space and say, "We want people to be allies. We want people to be brave," and not create a space for them to be brave, not be willing to answer those questions, not trust that their intention is good enough that if they say something that offends us, that's not a moment to correct and connect and say what it is. 

We, the LGBTQ community, people of color, and marginalized communities have as much to bring to this too. That's giving people a safe space to land, to ask questions, to get the information, to say the wrong thing in learning what the right thing may be, but we're part of this too. We can't ask people to do what we're unwilling to do.

Beth Almes:                        

It applies to so many areas of life, whether it's LGBTQ or other. You were reminding me of one of the stories in your book about someone who was, I think, a veteran who was working at a very liberal tree-loving organization and was afraid to really say much even about their own military service, just with the assumption of, "Oh, these folks are probably not supportive of my background." Turns out they're going to find a connection if they just were to share that, right?

Ash Beckham:                    

Yeah. I love what you said earlier. I can be passionate about anything that you're passionate about. It can be anything. It doesn't matter where I land on the spectrum. I think there are parameters around hate. You know what I mean?

Beth Almes:                        


Ash Beckham:                    

But just reasonable things, it would be nothing I would ever engage in, don't have an interest in or have never gone to. But if you love it, I am here for it. That is that connection of humanity. If you bring that up with all of the preconceived bias you're not even going to bring it up to me because you assume what my position is going to be. 

I think we have these markers of people of, "Do I red flag when I hear somebody talk about the church service they went to? Am I all of a sudden like, oh, religion, homosexuality doesn't really work?" This person is bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, right? We'd categorize and we do whatever as opposed to engaging. If it wasn't that thing that flagged me, nothing they said, nothing they did, nothing about them prior to that point, except my assumptions about them.

But if they're passionate about the fundraiser that they had or the openness of celebrating their first female pastor, I don't know until I ask, until I dive in. Again, it doesn't mean I have to go to the church. It doesn't mean I have to take up the hobby that somebody's talking about, but that's the humanity where we make that connection. It inevitably happens I feel like when we make those connections with people, that then you see something in your community, online, in the media that makes you think of them. Then that's just a quick email, a quick text of, "Hey, I just saw this thing. It made me think of you. Hope you're well."

Again, we see them as multifaceted. We see them as more than just that job description or how they relate to me or our struggles at work from one end. Whatever it is, we see each other as humans doing a job as opposed to a job description. That's how I want to be seen too. 

Does that mean I'm going to invite every single person over for my kids' birthday party? No. Or our anniversary party? No, but I'm willing enough to dive in because if it matters to them, it matters enough to me to care about it. I'm not making a compromise. There's no extension of energy that I don't have. It's literally just caring because they care.

Beth Almes:                        

You were approaching a topic I wanted to ask you about a little bit too, is that 98% of the time, if you share with someone, you're going to find a connection and you're probably going to find they're much more accepting than you thought they were. Maybe they have whatever it is. 

In the case of the military guy, he found out the person he talked to at work, they had family in the military. They totally connected with everything. More often than not, you'll probably find that connection. There is a small chance in some circumstances that when you open up, you learn something about someone that you really are uncomfortable with.

As you mentioned in your book, it is a perception and a reality for someone of how they feel about something. So, the question is, when you find something about someone, maybe something that you are at least at first uncomfortable with it and it could be any variety of topics, as a leader, how do you start to think about that for yourself and question about, so where do I go from here? 

I found out something about somebody that I didn't know before and it's making me feel uncomfortable. What's my process for dealing with that? Because I still really need to work with this person and connect with them.

Ash Beckham:                    

Well, I think there's a variety. I think we all have the ability to make relationships just work-based. It doesn't have to be personal. If the quality of work is there, if the commitment, if the honesty, if the dedication is what it needs to be, we can have a very transactional relationship and that's fine. We don't have to be friends to work together. I don't need to get to the bottom of it. We can just interact. 

As long as we are on the same page with expectations, it can just be that and that is fine. You can approach somebody who just is unwilling to open up and you don't have to keep going back to break someone. That's not what we're trying to do. You know what I mean? Break them into authenticity. Is that our goal? So I think, you let it go and you step away.

But if it's something that you learn in that way, to me, I'm just always so curious as to the why. What gives them that perspective? Why are they willing to share and dig into that a little bit? Maybe they won't be willing to be vulnerable. But I think that there's something really empowering, especially as a leader, is I know at this point in my life, I'm the things that I hold true in a significant way that can be offended, I guess, for lack of a better word. 

No one's changing my mind on that. I believe my moral compass of right and wrong is pretty solid. I think for a lot of the LGBTQ community, we're so unsure and we have this change and then we say it and we're worried about somebody's reaction. Does it change who I am?

I mean, I think it gets a little bit scary in that way, but when you're solid in who you are and I know I'm not trying to change their mind. I'm just trying to get to know them better. That's the beauty of empathy. I don't have to agree with, I don't have to take on somebody else's opinion. I just want to know why they got to that opinion and what it would be like to experience the world in that way. That's all empathy is. 

What would it be like to sit in their spot just for a moment? That gives you a compassionate understanding of almost everyone. I think all we have to do is try to do that. All we have to do is try to engage. Again, I don't have to agree with them. We don't have to be friends.

We don't have to sit by each other at the company picnic, but I will have a better working relationship with that person if I put forth the effort to try to understand them. Now, there has to be, again, some reciprocity in that. Sometimes you just have to let it go and make it transactional. But as long as you try, you know you've put your best foot forward in that, again, with genuine curiosity, not trying to change their opinion, then I think that's the best you can do.

Beth Almes:                        

You don't have to agree, but that understanding of the why and where they're coming from can go such an incredibly long way. So, one of the topics you also take talk about in your book, it's called Step Up. One of the things that I think leaders have such a challenge with is figuring out when to step up. For a lot of people, that's really tricky to figure out how to do it at work. Nobody wants to be the PC police, and that's not even necessarily a good thing. We don't want to embarrass other people at work, call them out or correct them and things like that when it's not appropriate.

So, there's a balance of some moments of, "When do I step up and say something? When do I give people grace and let things slide?" So any advice you have on how we can step up appropriately at work in a way that feels kind and inclusive and not embarrassing other people for not being as far along on the journey or anything like that?

Ash Beckham:                    

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think there are a couple of different ways to approach that. I mean, the first is the idea that I referenced in the book that was from Amber Hikes, who's just brilliant in her social organizational work and it's this idea of calling in versus calling out. So, you calling somebody in is the same way you would tell them that they have broccoli in their teeth. 

You plum them over after the meeting and say, "Hey, sorry, I know this is hard and I know that this is new, but we have this new person on our team that goes by they/them pronouns. You messed that up a couple of times or you said the wrong ones. It's not even messed up. You said the wrong ones a couple of times. I think that might've been hard for them. It was really hard for me. I just wanted to make you aware of it."

It's bringing the knowledge to the people. It's not in the meeting making it a big deal because what we're trying to do is bring more people on the team. We need to be inclusive of everybody. By definition, in many circumstances, calling that person out is an exclusive behavior. 

Now, there are some situations where you need to call people out where in a vendor meeting, that is not the language that we use. It is a very clear, not here, not now, not ever statement, but those are pretty rare. It's those more nuanced conversations or the conversation someone has when somebody leaves the room. They're those smaller ones.

I think for me, if you start with a neutral opinion about most people, if you just start from the center, if there's a behavior that they have and it starts to move you into this place of judging them or thinking wrong of them or thinking less of them, that's the time to say something, right? It's an internal compass based on how I'm avoiding this person. 

Now, there's this back-channel conversation about them. Once it starts to go negative, I think that's when we have the conversation. That's when we really try to bring people back in. I think we're always constantly as leaders, who's feeling left out, who can we bring in? I mean inevitably, there are going to be people that are going to be left out. It's the only way you can ever make decisions in a business, but for the most part, who are we leaving behind?

Who doesn't feel like they have a place here? Who doesn't feel like they belong? As I start to ostracize someone because their actions are falling short of my expectations, that's when I have that conversation. We don't see it in the same way, but it's the same way that things would come up on a performance review that you would bring up to somebody or the same things in any DEI initiative that you're going to have similar conversations with. 

It's a little bit more nuanced, and the conversations are a little bit harder, but your bar of when you say something to someone is when they start to not hit the expectations that you have. In the diversity and inclusion space, that's no different. We want to correct. We want to get to the point where we're not writing someone off.

Beth Almes:                        

Your point too about feeling like we have to move forward quickly, and make some decisions. Are we taking the time to be inclusive? I get that argument. When you're working in a business, a lot of times you're going really quickly, and sometimes it feels like inclusion can slow you down. There are different ways to think about it, but a lot of us are trying to just get through our day-to-day, and meet certain deadlines. 

But there was a story in your book that resonated with me where you talked about patience and the value of it and learning and managing a softball league with your dad of the different styles of going about how you made decisions in a patient versus a quick thinking way and then in the long run, it actually changed your efficiency.

Ash Beckham:                    

Yeah, absolutely. I think that that's a huge point is people want answers. They look to us in leadership roles to have answers because a lot of times, what do you do next? It's just moments. It is taking in all of the information because I think a huge piece of that sense of belonging is feeling that you're heard. 

You're never going to make everybody happy, but to know that someone's perspective is taken into consideration in the calculation of the final decision. People can sit with that. They can work with you want more funding, but we don't have the funds now, but we hear that you need that. As we go through the next round of funding, that is something that we're going to pay attention to.

Or we talk about what the marketing program is and how representative that is or what training looks like or where our outreach is. People want to hear. They want to know that their voices matter. Because if your voice doesn't matter, then you're just a cog in the wheel, but that doesn't mean we have to do what everybody is asking. Nobody expects that. It's an impossible leadership position. But to take that breath between getting... That can literally be a breath or it can be after a meeting with all the feedback, I know what my decisions are going to be, but I'm going to sit on it for two hours and send out an email. If the final decision sits with me, I'm really going to process it. I'm going to go through all the people that were there.

I'm not going to make that knee-jerk decision. I'm going to think about the ways that we can get the most amount of needs met and then move forward and be able to communicate that adequately. Because when people know that again, that their voice is at least heard, then they know that they're part of the solution. So, I think it's taking that mental space to be able to make the call in the way with that long-term view in perspective, I think, is really, really, really critical.

Beth Almes:                        

That's going to eliminate a lot of rework and changes down the line. It might seem a little bit slower in the moment, but faster in the long term.

Ash Beckham:                    

Absolutely, because I feel like everybody genuinely will bring their perspective. So, you don't know the challenges you're going to run into if you're not hearing from this department or this engineer or if you're not hearing and to take the time to not accommodate, but make sure that those are part of the solution. Again, people see it from their lens and so they know where the stops are going to happen. You can really avoid a lot of that because people want their leaders to make decisions, but they want them to make the best decision.

I mean, that's what their role is. I mean right or wrong, the decision is the decision when the decision was made. It was the best decision in the moment. The right or wrongness probably depends on external factors that happen after the decision was made so many times. But to make the best decision in the moment with all of the information available, that's all we can ask our leaders to do.

Beth Almes:                        

Taking in those perspectives to do the best you can. So, I want to add one more piece to the conversation, which is not strictly business related, but I think relatable for many leaders, which is for a lot of us having positions of leadership is not just about the job and the work, although obviously, it is for a certain paycheck at the end of the day and wanting to do a little bit more to change the world, leave a little bit of a legacy behind you. It struck me that you talk about becoming an accidental advocate and in many ways too, also as more kids came into your life wanting to do more and leave things a little bit better.

I think a lot of us have probably witnessed too, when you watch kids around you, the authenticity that they have when they're young and sometimes you watch that fade away as they get older and the social pressures on them start to fade away. Oh, all of a sudden, they don't really like science anymore, because it's not cool or whatever it is, but wanting to leave that better legacy. So, when you think about the legacy you wish we would leave behind in the workplace for the next generation, what does that look like? What do you think the steps are that gets us closer to that?

Ash Beckham:                    

Well, I think there's something so inspiring about the genuine authenticity of the new generation of workers. They don't know anything. I think they have a lot of that. They've been celebrated, and a lot of them celebrated for so long for being who they are. 

I mean, you have kids that are coming out in high school, grade school that they only know one way to be and that's how to be themselves. Hopefully, for a lot of them, they lived in environments where that was honored. Not that they didn't go through struggles, but that they came out the other side. There's something, at least for the LGBTQ community.

So many people would be out, but then they would get a job, they'd be out in college, they would get a job, they'd go back in the closet and then they would eventually come out at work or maybe during a job transition or there would be a different time where they would come out where that is just absolutely not the case now. 

I mean, not to say that people aren't still having those realizations about their life at different times in it, but people are coming. They know who they are. There's so much representation in the media that you can see people that look like you no matter who you are in the world. So, I think that gives you a way to identify yourself. So, I think that there's this inherent authenticity that is coming up through the ranks.

So, I think the sooner we celebrate it, the better it's going to be, a way to make sure that our leadership pool is representative of the people that we have, that we're really doing the work to make sure marginalized voices are elevated, not just represented by a senior leader who's the head of their affinity group, but rather by those voices themselves. 

I think we have this collaboration, especially around culture, that has to be inclusive of their representatives from every tenure within the organization if we want to make it truly inclusive. I think another huge thing we can do right now to create that legacy is really to be honest about where we are as organizations relative to DEI. A lot of times we don't want to do that or you don't want to call it out.

You don't want to see where you are on the scale, but if you don't know where you are, you can't figure out where you want to go. I feel like those used to be internal metrics that were kept under lock and key, and now organizations are becoming more and more open about where they are and what their diversity scores internally are, and how they're trying to make those better. I think what gets measured gets changed in business. So, the more that that's happening, the more we're moving forward. I think that was probably a tough pill to swallow in the beginning, because you never want to admit that there's room for improvement, but there's room for improvement whether you're willing to admit it or not.

As soon as you admit it, you can start making the moves that are necessary. You can get the attention of the C-suite, and hey, this is a problem that we need to start addressing immediately if we want to be the most highly regarded organization in our industry. That's just a new industry standard.

Beth Almes:                        

This prompts another question of whether we're getting better. Things are improving, you are seeing more. As we've recently surveyed, we see a lot of data, especially amongst C-suite leaders that they think DEI is done. We did it. Check.

Ash Beckham:                    


Beth Almes:                        

We're done. We see some things from folks lower down in the organization saying, "We're not sure we're there yet." What's your sense of how far we are on that path? Are we there? Are we done? Are we 75% of the way there? It's better, but there's still work.

Ash Beckham:                    

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean there are a couple of challenges. A, it's not black and white. I don't think it's a finish line. I don't think there is one. I think the finish line is constantly moving. I think we are better than we were. But also if you look at over the last 20 years, what has happened in the workplace and what affinity groups have looked like, the different ways that those are structured in employee resource groups and what do healthcare benefits look like, self-ID. All of the things that are happening that we're moving forward as organizations, you're never going to cross the goal line. That's a good thing, I think, because if we think that there's somewhere to go, then it's something that we finish.

There are as many diversities as there are people in organizations because what we're searching for is not highlighting and making sure everybody's diversity is recognized. We're looking for these more well-rounded ideas of what authenticity looks like, that we don't just make sure, "Well, the LGBTQ employees are taken care of and the BIPOC employees are taken care of and our veterans are taken care of." 

It's not like that. It's so interwoven and the way that that affects the whole culture that we're creating a space where everyone belongs. I think that that's something that inevitably is recognizing the uniqueness of every single person. I think that is a much longer goal, something to strive for. So, I mean, I don't know.

We're probably closer than we've ever been, but I think the end line is changing faster than we will ever get there, which as an organization also fits right into a growth mindset. Nobody's just going to go as the organization and meet their goal and hit their quota and do the things that they want to do and be like, "All right, we're good. We're done." No, we're not. There's always more. It's part of it. It's not just something we're checking off. I mean, I think that's the change of DEI is not an HR issue. It's an organizational cultural issue.

When it becomes part of our culture, we become so much more nimble because we don't have these objective deadlines that we think we need to make or this quota system that we need to do. It's part of who we are as an organization. That morphed as it has for years with changing trends, technology. All of the things that happen that change our business also change our workforce. 

We need to be able to continue to adapt knowing that we'll never rest on our laurels with DEI in the same way we will never rest on our laurels with any kind of innovation initiatives. Just not how business works. If a business is not moving forward, it's dying. It's the same with our people.

Beth Almes:                        

It's a great analogy. So, the last question I have for you is one that I ask all of our guests on the show. Can you share with me a moment of leadership that changed your life? So for good or for bad, if you said, "That's the way I want to lead," or "Nope, not like that person," something that changed the way that you viewed the world because of a leader.

Ash Beckham:                    

Yeah, absolutely. The one that came to mind when I first heard that was my sister. This wasn't even in a business context, but it was the way in which you handle people. So, my dad had had a stroke. We were on vacation when it happened. We were trying to get him home. I had for years worked at an airline. So, I worked at on the ramp at Vail. 

So, I had moved multiple people up and down stairs in those little mini wheelchair things. So, we were doing that. We're still trying to get my dad home and I'm the oldest. So, I was having this interface with the social worker and she's like, "Well, if you can't walk, you can't get on a plane." I was exhausted and emotionally spent in all the things and just enraged. But this woman had to sign off on it.

I had to get her to do the thing that I wanted her to do. I had all the facts in the world and the historical experience of this person being incorrect. I was making that very clear. I was going to argue my way out of it and dominate my way out of it. My sister, I don't know if she was in the room or maybe outside and she just came in and tapped my leg and said, "Ash, hang on one second." 

She talks to this woman and says, "I love your shoes. They're so great." It was this absolute attack from me and I was just throwing facts at this person in an unkind, probably demeaning way because I wanted what I wanted. My sister came in and with one olive branch of connection, within four minutes, the paperwork was signed and we were on our way to the airport.

I mean, it was the wildest thing of how humans respond and what do you want? That's that long view. What do I want from this relationship? Not in I get something that means you don't have something. Not in that way, more in a, "How does this work out for both?" There's always a way that this worked out for both of us. How can I have that perspective of it's not a win-lose, it can be a win-win? I just have to figure you out. 

I have to figure out your why and come in with that piece for connection and then we're collaborating, right? It was a beautiful moment. Anyway, that was the one that came, was just the kindness that I thought had zero to do with the facts of what we were trying to accomplish or my rightness in my perspective, but absolutely got us exactly what we needed significantly faster than my fact-laden bluster.

Beth Almes:                        

Oh, that's an amazing story I think of pulling together, just recognizing someone for a moment for their humanity, something about them that they brought, and it just changes everything. It flips the switch when you figure out what they're bringing to work. Chances are I'm sure she had no reason that she was denying this to you in the first place. She probably didn't know or didn't know where the forum was. Who knows?

Ash Beckham:                    

Yeah. It doesn't work when there's no connection. It's not how things happen.

Beth Almes:                        

Great story of the power of connection there and living that authenticity. So, thank you, Ash. We appreciate you being here today on The Leadership 480 Podcast.

Ash Beckham:                    

Thanks so much, Beth. I love what you all do, and bringing these different perspectives of what leadership looks like is so inspiring. So, I was thrilled to be part of it.

Beth Almes:                        

Thank you to our listeners who took part of their 480 minutes to be with us today. Remember to make every moment of leadership count.

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