Stop Assuming- Black people and Brown people and LGBT+ people are not simply skin colors, sexual orientations, or gender identities. They are full whole people. Do not assume that every person with this identity wants to speak on behalf of everyone. Do not assume that everyone in a marginalized community wants to talk about their identity. Don’t assume that a person’s professional expertise is in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Get to know a person as a whole person, not as a walking talking representation of just one facet of who they are or as a poster child for one aspect of how they identify.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kryss Shane.
Kryss Shane MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW is the author of the Amazon #1 New Release Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace. Kryss has over 25 years of experience guiding the world’s top leaders in business, education and community via individual, small group and full-staff trainings. She is also the author of The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion, the first book of its kind to guide educators, administrators, and school staff to become able and empowered to make their schools more LGBT+ inclusive.
Kryss has been featured as America’s go-to Leading LGBT+ Expert in The New York Times, ABC News, Yahoo!, and CNN. Her writing has also appeared in the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, Huffington Post, International Council of Professors of Educational Leadership, The New Social Worker Magazine, and many more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It seems that most people who work in leadership have a personal story or experience that draws them to this field. Growing up in small town Ohio, I was someone who was always the support person and the go-to person for my friends, but I never considered making a career of it until much later. I was always a believer in equality, and this led me to begin to become mindful of ways in which minority groups weren’t represented in my middle school and high school textbooks and in the media, I was enjoying. This led me to speak up a lot in class, asking questions that many teachers had no answers to because their education also lacked inclusion. I never saw myself as any sort of ally or activist or educator, I thought those were people who were much older and fancier than I was because those titles seemed reserved for these storied activists like Malcolm X or Marsha P. Johnson, larger than life individuals, not someone from small town Ohio!
Anyway, as I became increasingly more aware of the discrimination against LGBT+ people and people within the intersectionality (since any person of any background or identity can also be LGBT+ identified), I began to realize this problem in my community and in families. This led me to earn my bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Simultaneously, I was volunteering a ton with LGBT+ organizations. Over time, my volunteer work grew, and many began asking why I didn’t do this as my profession. It hadn’t dawned on me before then that I could. This realization sent me into my first master’s degree program, where I graduated from Barry University in Social Work, where I focused my studies on LGBT+ issues. As years passed though, I was always bothered by how often textbooks in schools still lack representation of marginalized groups. This led me to go back to school, where I earned my 2nd master’s degree, from Western Governors University in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction. I am currently working toward my doctorate in Educational Leadership from University of the Cumberlands, where I get to bring my LGBT+ work through the lens of leaders in our world, thus making me better at educating others and teaching them how to improve their allyship and activism. I am also working in undergraduate and graduate social work departments Columbia University and Brandman University, and writing articles, book chapters, and books that focus on the minority populations that have been too long left out.
That includes Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace
I still don’t see myself as ever being able to be at the likes of some of those incredible leaders but now I get the privilege of being surrounded by people like Andrea Shorter, Dimitri Moise, and Jazz Jennings, which only further inspires me every day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I always hope that the most interesting story is the one yet to come! That said, I’ve been told more than once that something I wrote helped someone heal and I’ve been told that something I said was repeated or posted to social media to help spread the message. Those two compliments are pretty much EVERYTHING to an author/educator! It taught me that I wasn’t talking/writing into a void, that people are listening and do want to do better!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Always! In addition to my 2nd book just coming out, I am always working as a curriculum consultant, writing or reviewing work and textbooks for inclusion. Plus, I am teaching at a number of universities. Lastly, I am in the last year of earning a PhD in Leadership! I plan to continue to use all of my education and experience to guide others toward a more inclusive society!
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think this is an odd time in the world. We have 4 or 5 generations working together with different life experiences and different expectations of one another. Technology means some bosses expect employees to be available 24/7 which means no real work break. With the cost of education and housing increasing faster than paychecks, people are working longer hours and being able to afford less than in prior generations. Then we add in systemic oppression. No wonder so many struggle or decide to become their own boss!
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
We know that a happier workplace increases productivity, profitability, and employee health and wellbeing. This has long been proven. The real question is whether the people at the top care enough to invest financially and culturally into what is needed to make employees happier!
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Get Educated and Keep Getting Educated- You can’t help if you are ignorant. Seek out authors and speakers and activists and listen. If it hurts you to hear it, dig deep into whether this is hitting a truth you haven’t yet examined. Be brave and examine it. When you know better, you can do better. When you know yourself better, you can be better. [author’s note: Kryss’ books, “Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders” and “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion” offer guides for anyone working in business or education or raising children.]
2. Shut Up- When people in a marginalized community are kind enough to share their experiences and their stories with you, listen. Do not turn it into a story about you or try to be “devil’s advocate.” It’s a gift they are giving to you, be grateful and be quiet so you can take it in.
3. Make a Payment- We have to stop expecting people in marginalized communities to offer guidance or quotes or work for free. Stop telling people that it will be “great exposure” and pay them. Showing that you value them and their work is vital to being a part of ending systemic racism in the workplace, in academia, and in society.
4. Use Your Privilege- Figure out what aspects of your life give you a break in life and use them to support others without that access. Maybe this means mentoring someone, maybe it means donating money, maybe you show up to protest, maybe you write letters or emails to politicians in support of inclusive laws. Whether it’s financial, time, passion, writing skills, knowledge, or anything else in your wheelhouse of awesome or in your categories of privilege, participate in supporting those who are working toward change.
5. Stop Assuming- Black people and Brown people and LGBT+ people are not simply skin colors, sexual orientations, or gender identities. They are full whole people. Do not assume that every person with this identity wants to speak on behalf of everyone. Do not assume that everyone in a marginalized community wants to talk about their identity. Don’t assume that a person’s professional expertise is in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Get to know a person as a whole person, not as a walking talking representation of just one facet of who they are or as a poster child for one aspect of how they identify.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I think we have to all work harder to be better bosses when we are in that position! I think a great boss is someone who is transparent in their goals, who is open with their support, who is empathetic without being a pushover, who is accepting of employees for who they are, and who recognizes that their work is to make their employees successful.
I am part of numerous networking groups and there have been many stories shared during the time of the pandemic. I have found it has been consistent across industries that the bosses others have bragged about have been those who worked with their employees to adjust to covid-19 stressors, those who were non-judgmental of their employees needs, and those who focused on checking in with employees with offers to help sort through any problems. I think it speaks volumes about how important it is that those being led feel encouraged by and important to their leader and that taking a moment to be kind and to show compassion matters much more to most employees than having all of the answers or than making periodic mistakes.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Many think that leadership is easy because it means just telling others what to do. A good leader sees that there is a way to do this with kindness and guidance and transparency and a clear mission. A great leader sees that they cannot lead well unless they continue to work to improve their own leadership skills. Before, during, and after giving feedback, it is vital that a leader checks in with themselves (and with a mentor or superior) to be sure that they are continuing to improve their own skills both in general and as a result of what they have learned through each experience of providing feedback to someone they lead.
I’m also big fan of email because I love to write and because I love that writing is something a person can refer back to. However, writing comes without the nuances of non-verbal communication the way voice or facial cues can give. I am a believer in giving compliments in writing as quickly as possible after the good thing happened. I am also a big believer in taking time between writing a criticizing email and sending it. (Tip, don’t put the recipient’s email address into the email until you are ready to send it; this prevents accidental sending!) With a critique, I recommend journaling or drafting first. Figure out what went wrong and why, as well as what is within their control and what they should have known. This helps to eliminate muddy directions or blaming an employee for something outside their job or task description. Consider what you could or should have done differently and be willing to take ownership. Also, consider how you want the situation to occur differently. This way, when you write the email, you are clear in identifying the problem(s), explaining why they were the responsibility of the person, talk about future prevention of a repeat situation, and you can outline what you need the recipient to do either now or in the future. This offers clear information that is focused and direct and allows both sides to refer back to the email in the future, either to double check the work beforehand next time or in case the problem repeats.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Oh wow, there have been so many who have positively impacted my life or my work or encouraged me when I struggled. While it is so tough to call out just one person, Andrea Shorter has really been this ray of amazingness in my life. I met her socially, on a cruise actually, and we were in this small group of people who wanted to spend some of their cruise time talking about inclusion and social justice. Out at sea, without internet and such, we spent the week knowing nothing about one another except what we discussed. I adored her energy and she was just such a lovely person to be around and we traded cards before the end of the trip. For the first few years, we exchanged periodic emails and would meet for a meal when we were in the same city at the same time. A while later, I couldn’t find her card and wanted to reach out so I googled her. I’d had absolutely no clue that she is an LGBT+ pioneer! Admittedly, I came to her with hat in hand about it and she just laughed. I know now that there are so many who would love a moment of her time or to hear her thoughts and I think I got very lucky to have met her as a friend first… though she thinks me quite weird now days when I fan-girl out about her! (laughs)
As I was working on my first book, “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion,” I reached out to her, nervous that I might be bothering her or asking questions far beneath her (remember I told you I was a fan?!). Instead, she wrapped me and this project up in a giant professional hug! She cheered me on for the ideas of the book and she was the very first to read it in its entirety. I will never forget her texting that she’d finished reading and asking if we could talk. I was certain it was not going to be a good call, since who was I to write something and have it be read by THE Andrea Shorter?! I was so tentative when I answered her call. The first thing she said? “Oh, it’s so good. I absolutely hear your voice throughout the whole book!” The first sentence was the world’s biggest relief. The second was something I didn’t know I’d wanted but, when she said it, it felt like the realization of everything I hoped the book to be.
When my second book, Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, began to come to fruition, she was one of the first to know. Not only was she genuinely excited for me, she volunteered to be a support in any way I needed. She proved to be invaluable… sometimes she was a sounding board, sometimes she was an interview subject (her interview is inspiring, you won’t want to miss it!). Throughout though, she was a cheerleader. Knowing I had the true support of someone so epic and someone so admired made me feel like a superhero. (laughs) Admittedly, Andrea sometimes played this to her advantage; she knew I trusted her without hesitation, so when I had moments of doubt or responded to her encouragement with uncertainty, being reminded that I trusted her meant I had to trust that she was right in all of the wonderful things she was saying about me!
I also know that she will always call me out if I misstep, which means I get the privilege of not just having support but also consistently being encouraged to grow and to become better. Goodness, I could go on all day about how grateful I am to know her but I can envision her telling me to stop (laughs)… she’s just the best!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve been told many times that my work and my writing has led family members to better understand their LGBT+ relative. I’ve been told that employers are actively using the insights to better their workplaces. Every time a book comes out or a talk is given, the audience wants to know what I’ll be doing next so they can participate. Success to me isn’t in fame, it’s in knowing that my work is supporting increased inclusion throughout the world!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. -Audre Lorde
For me, this reminds me to use every position of privilege I have (whether by luck or having been earned) as a way to reach my goals or the goals of those I am leading. It reminds me that, though I may sometimes struggle or fear getting leadership exactly right or hitting every goal exactly perfect, I cannot and should not be rooted in fear. It reminds me that my fear cannot be the reason why I lose vision or why I do not act.
Being a leader is really difficult and sometimes it is scary to know how many are depending on you to know what you are doing and to know how to reach the goal. By acknowledging the reality of the fear and understanding why the fear is not the priority or the most important part of the work, I can be a more successful leader, which means those I am leading can be more successful too.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My whole life’s work focuses on inclusion within everything around us. That said, I don’t need to inspire my own movement, I truly believe we will have resolution as we continue to dismantle systemic oppression. Fredrick Joseph, Indya Moore, MJ Rodriguez, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, Dimitri Moise, Laverne Cox, Daniel J. Watts are all within a giant overarching movement. They all give me hope because I know they won’t stop until we reach out goals. I won’t stop either. I am so proud to fight alongside them!
My website: ThisIsKryss.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!