Childcare: 3 million+ women+ and caregivers left the workforce over the course of this pandemic and we are going to need to fight to claw back every job. Returnships are going to be important, flex work, working from home policies, and opportunities that speak to the experience people in caregiver roles have had. I’ve been working from home in this pandemic with my kids for over a year now. I have had my 6 years old in virtual kindergarten. The amount of stuff I can’t put on my resume that I should be able to brag about, that I think do speak very highly of my abilities aren’t valued in work environments and it’s absolutely absurd. I want to see “stay at home parent” on more resumes with listed caregiving skills and multi-taskers being highlighted as strengths we need on teams
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Di Ciruolo of Di Ciruolo Consulting.
Di is a white-Hispanic, queer woman living in Boston, Massachusetts where she graduated from the foster care system as a young adult. After aging out of the system, Di struggled to find stability, spending time homeless in Atlanta, Georgia. Now she owns a consulting business teaching inclusion and advocacy in the workplace.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Sure! So I’m Di Ciruolo, (Di like the princess, Ciruolo rhymes with Derulo as in Jason) I was born in Salem, Massachusetts to parents who could not take care of me, and I was removed from their care permanently by the time I was 5. I was placed in the Massachusetts foster care system, and I went from one bad home to another until I was put in a permanent placement situation with a long-term family north of Boston. That family used me as a live-in cleaner and punching bag all while telling me and everyone else that I should be ‘more grateful’ because at least I wasn’t being sexually abused anymore. That kind of abuse that only falls on one person is actually pretty common in families like this, but at the time, I blamed myself. I thought my abuse was about my worthiness. I share that because it’s really important to me that when people ‘see’ me, they see the real story, not just the old fake “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” narrative that is so commonly sold to people in my position. Later, when I aged out of foster care, which is to say that I became a legal adult and the state no longer pays the foster family for housing and food I became homeless. In an effort to shorten the gap between what I needed to survive and what I had, I moved from Boston to Atlanta to take advantage of a cheaper cost of living and to start over. I put myself in therapy (which I highly recommend) and eventually college. It was in college that I really shined. I went to Georgia State University and obtained a degree in Anthropology; specifically the foundations of what became diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. When I was graduating, I thought that I had achieved everything that had been asked of me, and even though I had done the impossible alone, and without support, I expected that I would have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. That was not the case. I had friends at top ten schools who were being recruited out of college and when I tried for those jobs I was basically told ‘applicants need not apply. And it didn’t matter what I did, no amount of hustle was going to get me a seat at any table with just what I had. Moreover, I had people saying to me “well, do you think you’ll get a Ph.D.?” Why? So I can be in more debt, and then be “too qualified’? Pass. My point in retelling all of this is that even when you come from poverty and you manage to ‘make it? The goalpost of what you ‘need to be qualified’ just keeps moving down the field because of systems that are made to keep you from transcending them. That fight is still what drives me today.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
That is a really tough question because I am an obsessive reader. I probably read at least 2–5 books a month for myself. If I’m honest, reading probably saved my life by showing me that my life wasn’t normal, and I like so many owe my love of reading to Levar Burton and Reading Rainbow. I say that out loud a lot because it’s important to remember where we come from. One of the books that got me when I was in school was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I related to being alone and observing humans from the outside, especially adults. I related to being smarter than other kids and not knowing how to communicate. I related to Ender’s experience where he wasn’t safe in his home, or at school; because his differentness made him unsafe. I related to finding out that everything we had been taught about ourselves and our history is being told from “the victor’s” perspective and that continuing to believe comfortable lies is complicity. It’s a little problematic in spots, but it has a lot to say particularly about ideas like “us” and “them”.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
YES. Actually, one of my favorite poems is Invictus by William Ernest Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
And I often whisper the bolded lines to myself when I am feeling like I have nothing left and there is so much more to do, and it’s all urgent work. “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”. And it reminds me that I am finally in the driver’s seat of my own life and whether I win or I learn to do it better next time: it’s mine. No one else is driving my life now and I can do anything.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership for me is only about good leadership: The ability to empower a team of unique individuals on different (often competing) tasks while supporting and understanding all the moving pieces, including the things that aren’t only work-related, such as social context, in such a way that promotes psychological safety. As an example, often on teams where we have psychological safety, we also see a good amount of intentional sponsorship happening of women+ and BIPOC individuals which are about advancing their careers and getting them to the leadership team. Good leaders usually ‘get it’ and just need help finding the right path for their team.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high-stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
YES. I am a big fan of the ‘rest is revolution’ movement, and I follow The Nap Ministry and others. I am very intentional about my self-care. I live near the ocean so I spend a lot of time there, I take really fancy baths, I journal, I track my sleep, all of that. I find that if I’m not moving enough I build anxiety so that’s something I’m putting more plans around now too because it often comes last. I also do this thing where if I have something ‘big’ I have to do I can get what’s called “ADHD paralysis” which those of us who have neurodivergence jokingly call “my waiting mode”. It’s exactly what it sounds like, the complete inability to do anything except worry while I wait for something to start while my brain spins on the 12,000 I have to do. But learning about myself has been really great because I’m learning how to ask for help with these things where most of my life “help” has been a four-letter word.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Sure. We started in this country with slavery and then moved to the worse version, chattel slavery which was slavery that was passed down from mother to child. As the US started “thinking about race” it was tainted by racism. As Ta Nehisi Coates famously says “Race is the child of racism, not the father”. Everything that we know about ourselves is passed through the lens of white supremacy. History that is taught in the US teaches white children that they have history here, and everyone else is a supporting character, at best if not totally absent from the history being taught. That creates two different realities. The reality for BIPOC and the reality for those who are “white”. Two different realities, two different sets of rules, different representation in government. Laws being made and passed that dehumanize you, that removes your rights without your consent. And now in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd, we are coming to a place where everyone can see the absolute horrors of the injustices being visited upon people who don’t look like ourselves very easily because of technology. We can discuss what we’re seeing at the speed of the internet. That’s powerful, and people know it because we’re starting to hear arguments against people being taught certain parts of history that don’t prop up an entirely white supremacist narrative. And people are tired of propping up those systems that harm others and themselves. I’m seeing more and more people get involved in these conversations and my role is just giving folks the information they need to have effective and respectful conversations in their work and social communities.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
Yes. So a lot of companies think that their DEI problems are hiring-related, as in ‘we don’t have a lot of diversity, we need to hire more people when in fact, leadership is where we see our DEI initiatives go to die. Because without corporate buy-in, any ERGs I set up won’t do well because they won’t have proper funding or support. Any measures we try to do will be fought against, same with policy, and forget about getting your middle managers to do anything if your C-suite isn’t engaged in your DEI initiatives. These changes come from the top down. Or they don’t work.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Yes. Easy. Diverse executive teams make businesses more money. According to research McKinsey has been doing since pre-2015, “The most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability. Our 2019 analysis finds that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile — up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014”. Which is to say, the argument for a DEI strategy as a growth & business strategy has never been stronger and some people still have their heads buried in the sand because they think the storm will pass.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
1. Childcare: 3 million+ women+ and caregivers left the workforce over the course of this pandemic and we are going to need to fight to claw back every job. Returnships are going to be important, flex work, working from home policies, and opportunities that speak to the experience people in caregiver roles have had. I’ve been working from home in this pandemic with my kids for over a year now. I have had my 6 years old in virtual kindergarten. The amount of stuff I can’t put on my resume that I should be able to brag about, that I think do speak very highly of my abilities aren’t valued in work environments and it’s absolutely absurd. I want to see “stay at home parent” on more resumes with listed caregiving skills and multi-taskers being highlighted as strengths we need on teams.
2. Healthcare: We need real healthcare in the US. Not just the private-issued healthcare, but real healthcare. Our healthcare should not be tied to our employment. During this pandemic when we lost millions of jobs, millions also lost their healthcare in a global pandemic. Similarly, we know in the US that our healthcare system is SO broken that we have different health outcomes for the same diseases based on race which is entirely a social construct. Did you know there are no diseases that only impact certain races? None. Blew my mind in college. By the way, did you know there was a study where like over 40% of the first-year medical students thought Black folks had ‘naturally’ thicker skin? I could go on forever on this one. Don’t get me started on the horrifying history of Obstetrics.
3. Food Security: When I was a kid I often went to school hungry and dirty. I couldn’t focus on what I needed to do, I couldn’t learn, I couldn’t be a kid. It is ridiculous to me that some people in this country pay no taxes while children are going to bed hungry. It should be a national shame. But it isn’t because of the way we think about social programs in the US and there is almost an abuser mentality around placing the blame for poor people being poor on themselves and not on people benefitting from systemic inequity by paying little to nothing toward their fair share.
4. Education: The way we fund public education in this country is one of the many ways we perpetuate inequality. Here schools are funded by local property taxes. Which means ‘nicer’ areas have better funded schools, teachers, and support programs. Whereas poorer neighborhoods receive less funding, have less access to the programs they specifically need (food programs), ESL resources etc are tragically underfunded, the teachers they get have less to work with and always more to do. Secondly, the way we keep those schools “safe” through School Resource Officers perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline through racism. When white students play roughly it is considered “age-appropriate” or “boys will be boys”. Black and Brown students experience “adultification” when they play, and are seen as aggressive instead of “age-appropriate”. I’ll give you an example: When I was a child I was talking to a kid at a new school I was at (I bounced around a lot), he had to go to the bathroom, and I went with him. I was “caught” by a pretty, young, white school teacher who immediately grabbed me out of “the boys’ room” and asked me if I could speak English. I can. Well, the sign had a girl on it! I thought it was a sign to let you know you pee there if you’re wearing a dress. Because maybe there’s special equipment you need. I was 5. She immediately dragged me bodily to the administration office to question me about whether I was trying to do something sexual with that boy. Obviously, I was not. I just didn’t have parents so no one had explained public bathrooms to me. Before she left, the pretty teacher remarked that she wished DSS would stop dumping their “throwaway kids” in with “our kids”. I have a million examples like that. Ask me how often I was the prime suspect when something went missing. Absolutely always. It was never me, usually, kids just don’t remember where they put things. The school when I was in third grade went so far as to “redistrict” to get me out. And that’s just the way things are.
5. Living Wages: This country has a minimum wage which was intended to be a living wage where each person who worked 40 hours a week could afford to live. Now, wages haven’t kept up with inflation or the cost of living. So here a lot of us are, needing help, having been taught that any needs that we have that aren’t being met by us are our fault. Similarly, many of us believe people who do minimum wage jobs apparently don’t deserve the same things we all need as humans. We Millennials are like 50% of the workforce now and we want, we expect better from our employers. And yet, semi-post pandemic here, I’ve seen a million articles from centrist and right-leaning news sources suggesting that because some (not even all) are receiving some government benefits to get by (and trust me, it’s not a lot, I know people), that we are experiencing “a talent shortage.” In reality, people are less interested in those often-predatory jobs (think of the folks trying to get you on salary for their benefit) post-pandemic. Candidates don’t want to go back to that old way and we, as leaders, need to find new paths. Not just for them, but for ourselves. Sidenote: many Millenials are getting to leadership and not being psyched when we get there. There’s a lot to unmake.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Am I optimistic that racism will be solved? No. Am I optimistic that at least with the understanding we can be talking about where the pain points are and getting to real solutions? Yes. I’m even more encouraged by the science that suggests the more we understand about other people, the less we can hate them, and the less we can be weaponized against them by bad actors. I’m inspired to keep going by the idea that we can get there. If we really want to. We all just need to decide if we really intend to see the change made. And I’m all in, everyone else needs to decide if they are.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Can I give you my list? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, The Rock, Oprah, Tyler Perry, Ibram X. Kendi, Ijeoma Olou, Dolores Huerta, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Austin Channing Brown, Dr. Robert Livingston, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dulce Sloane, I can literally go forever…
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow me on LinkedIn! Di Ciruolo or online diciruolo.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!