Dr. Jen O’Ryan is the founder of Double Tall Consulting, specializing in Inclusion and Diversity. Leveraging two decades of experience in change management and organizational behavior, she understands the challenges leaders can face in developing a culture of inclusiveness for employees, clients, and consumers.
She is also the author of Inclusive AF: A Field Guide for Accidental Diversity Experts. Designed for anyone thinking about inclusion and diversity, IAF explains how to cultivate a workplace more welcoming for LGBTQ+ individuals – and for everyone else.
Daniel: I live in New York now. If you've been a long-time listener of the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast that I had a magical, beautiful experience living over in Europe, Belgium, Netherlands, and then Scotland in the UK for about three and a half years. I'll never forget going to DeConnick. I think it might mean the hand. I have to brush up on my Dutch, but I do remember that it was a lovely Belgian Beer, triple, I think. They had a brewery in Antwerp where we lived. There we are enjoying some great food, some wonderful drinks, and at some point had to make a rest break. I head up to the restroom and I'm there finish up, turn around and there's a big sink where you can wash your hand. It's like a huge circle.
Daniel: Multiple people all at the same place. I look up and there's what I observed to be a woman. I'm thinking, "Oh, did I walk in potentially the wrong restroom?" Well, no, that's just kind of how things are in Europe. Although it was shocking at first that became usual, normal to me. It wasn't a big deal. Life didn't end, nobody was attacked. That's just how they did it, probably for efficiency of space or maybe in terms of how they think about people in a more progressive lens. I'm excited for today's conversation because I'm joined by Dr. Jen O Ryan. Who's the founder of Double-Tall Consulting. She's an expert when it comes to topics like inclusion and diversity and really around ideas concerning our LGBTQ + kids. I know a lot of schools are thinking about how do we, how do we discuss students from these communities?
Daniel: For example, if a kid is transitioning and that kind of thing, you might not have all the tools to have those conversations with your community, at least until now. Dr. O'Ryan gives us a lot of practical tips on how to spark those conversations, how to really create those welcoming spaces, how to see and hear everyone in your community. I really appreciate the conversation we had. Enjoy the talk and pick up her book. Hey, it's Daniel. Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, a show for you, a Ruckus Maker that out of the box thinker and leader making change happen in education. We'll be right back with our main conversation, right after a few short messages from show sponsors.
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Daniel: All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn email@example.com. Hey there Ruckus Maker. I am joined today by Dr. Jen O'Ryan, the founder of Double Tall Consulting, specializing in inclusion and diversity beverages. Two decades of experience in change management and organizational behavior. She understands the challenges leaders can face in developing a culture of inclusiveness for employees, clients, and consumers. She's also the author of as Inclusive AF, A Field Guide for Accidental Diversity Experts, designed for anyone thinking about inclusion and diversity. This book explains how to cultivate a workplace more welcoming for LGBTQ + individuals and for everyone else, Dr. O'Ryan, welcome to the show.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Daniel: I'm excited because as I mentioned I am definitely a curious about your expertise and a learner. If nothing else I'm going to benefit and thank you for spending some time with me, but I know the Ruckus Maker listening is going to get so much value from your expertise as well. Where I'd like to start, I remember you sharing with me a story where you were speaking in a room full of educators and you were talking about inclusion and making spaces safe. A woman stood up and said, "I'm a school nurse and we have this one gay kid in our high school." Can you take us to that moment?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Yeah. It was such a fantastic question because the nurse was really hoping to find ways to make the environment more safe, make the student more comfortable and really signaled that they got it and that they were a safe place to land. In asking the question the way that she did. It was "there's one gay student." I gave the information that she'd asked and then I use that as a teachable moment to say, "Okay, I'm not a statistician, but I am absolutely confident you don't have just one LGBTQ + student in your school of 1200 people. That was a really good way to really open eyes and have some epiphanies around it's not just the observable traits that are typically based in stereotypes. It's this could have been the only kid who was out or the only kid who was perceived to be gay. A lot of kids aren't ready to come out yet and they still might be trying to figure out what it is that they actually are experiencing and who they are in the world. Using modeling behavior and things like that, not just for the one kid, but for all the kids.
Daniel: I get the idea of what you can observe. Uou said a lot of times that's based on stereotypes. If we're going to change the lens in which we view students and want to create these inclusive environments. What are some ways we can find out who exists within our community to make sure that we're serving them at a high level and what their needs are?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: My recommendation is always make sure that the policies and the behaviors and the programming that you have is really designed for students of a multitude of ways of being. Whether that's related to their attraction or their gender or their gender expression or the religion. It really just makes sure that there's an understanding of does this support all of our students because we are never all just one thing. We talk about identities that they're silos and there's so much intersectionality, and there's absolutely no way until you've heard somebody's story to know who they are in the world. One, don't make assumptions about anybody's attraction or gender the same way that you wouldn't make assumptions about anything else about them. Make sure that it is really inclusive and available for them should they want to come out or should they decide that they want to take advantage of a resource or an opportunity.
Daniel: I like that you focused on, um, hearing people's stories. Do you have any strategy or tactics that school leaders listening could use to collect and hear those stories of their communities?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Yeah. A lot of it often is gaining that trust and confidence. Especially in schools, you can have safe space stickers, you can have things like Gay, Straight Alliances and it's the perception that it's safe place to be, but it's really those daily interactions between humans that make it a safe place to be. Consistently demonstrating your safe and evaluating the language that you're using. Are you putting a lot of gender into your examples or the materials that you use in class and take a step back and look at the materials and see, "Are these images really representative? Do we really have a lot of visibility about all the different ways of being and the language and the images have a huge contribution to how we interpret ourselves in the world and who we want to be more close to, who we want to be more vulnerable and share those stories." Honestly, it's having that foundation and just making sure that people know if they are so inclined that it's a safe place to share their stories. As the story is being shared, also keep an eye on what else is happening in the room and making sure that if there is some kind of question or another experience that needs to be evaluated that's also addressed at the same time, and it's just being really mindful and intentional about the space that you create and the conversations that you have.
Daniel: The idea of story,too. I'm definitely for creating safe spaces in creating communities where everybody is championed and their worth is valued, they're seen, and they're heard. Within my leadership community we have this time called the hot seat where somebody presents a challenge. I want to share a sort of a challenge beause I'd love to hear your take on it. I'm not going to give up too much information in terms of where the place is located. It's on the west coast and it's a school that is a faith based school and tends to be more conservative, even though it's in what I see as a more progressive area. The school, even though it's a faith-based the assumption I usually have with faith-based places is that they're more conservative in their thinking.
Daniel: This one is actually quite progressive and open-minded and welcoming of the different ways people identify and how they show up. The community isn't necessarily like that. I'm just wondering, since this is your expertise, when we have a heart to create these places where everybody is seen, heard, and valued, and then there's another community part of a school where they feel like maybe they're losing something or maybe their principles are being violated. I think I see you nodding. I'm just wondering, what's it like? What do you do and how would you approach it?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: It's so complicated because especially in communities that they're, I don't want to say isolated, but we tend to surround ourselves with people who are like us and think like us. It's a natural human tendency and can be really difficult for communities to understand that this isn't an erasure and this isn't a front to their beliefs. I'm wholeheartedly supportive of people's beliefs. I feel that that's a really important part of the human experience, but it does also come along with understanding how to bring other people along in ways for healthy. We're not asking people to change their beliefs, we're asking them to understand that there are other ways of being. In example, like the LGBTQ population, if somebody has, um, deeply held religious beliefs about what it means to be queer and what it means to walk through the world, a queer person, that's their beliefs, but it can't extend to the place that it's harmful or damaging to other people or damaging to the team or damaging to the school system. So that's kind of where I draw that line. A lot of it honestly is sitting down and having conversations with people in a very real way and listening to their thoughts and their concerns and what it is they're struggling with, because it's very valid that they are feeling a certain way. It's just matter of how do we find that common ground and how the conversation to bring them along to see that this is also, you need to recognize somebody's humanity and have that respect and day-to-day and trust.
Daniel: That last line on in terms of seeing other people's humanity and to be able to have that dignity and trust there. I hear a lot of leaders talking about bringing down the temperature and that kind of thing. The last question I have at least around this part of the topic, which is sort of self-serving for the leader who is in our community listening to this show but these parents were the ones who felt like they were losing some part of their identity. I'm all for having conversations and learning, listening, hearing the stories. Do you have any strategy or help for the Ruckus Maker listing in terms of how do you engage in those conversations when the emotions are so high.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Yeah. That is definitely my sweet spot, the Ruckus Makers. That's the intended audience for the reason that I wrote the book is because there's so many people out there that individually can make a huge difference and they have that spark inside and they want to make the world a better place. The bystander effect is very real. How do you actually interrupt that in a way that's safe in a way that doesn't put somebody in harm? My guidance to the Ruckus Makers out there is to really have a good understanding of where you are in the environment. If you're in a classroom or you're in a school and there's a kid who's being excluded, understand what that kid needs in that moment, and then ask how you can support them.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: The difficult thing is that as parents and as adults, oftentimes leaders, we want to champion and go take down the people who are causing this harm. But that actually causes more harm to the people that we're trying to support. Often times there's a place for cooling down the temperature, but there's also a place where we have to have real conversations around. You can not continue to damage this person. You can not continue to exclude these individuals and I've had conversations where especially around bathroom access and facility access, where I've got one set of parents, of a child who are very much in fear of that child being in a locker room or bathroom with a trans kid and the parents of the trans kid saying, we just want our kid to be able to go to the bathroom.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Both of those can be very, very heated and very, very emotionally charged, but it's appealing mock of what are we actually trying to solve here. And in getting that parent through that, that their fears are not really grounded in research. If you're going to be part of this collective, then you need to, you need to understand the rules of dignity and respect and trust. Oftentimes, I mean, we also look at people who are resistant as like this very far end of a spectrum and the people who are champions very the records makers are at the other end, but most people are kind of in the middle somewhere. Oftentimes what I find is that when you're talking to somebody with a different belief systems, they just have, for whatever reason, maybe never had to think about it. And so sitting down and just humanizing the issue is extraordinarily effective.
Daniel: Connect, the dots. I heard you say a lot of times we isolate ourselves or we surround ourselves with people with similar beliefs. By doing that it would create sort of blind spots or limit our circles of competence and exposure and understanding of these issues. I appreciate you bringing that up.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: I spent a lot of time in Seattle and the west coast corridor. I naturally talked to a lot of people who work in schools and organizations and do a lot of inclusion work. When I travel, oftentimes it's very striking to hear how other people perceive that work. It's very real perception for them. My immediate reaction is what are you talking about? How do you not see that this is important for human rights and human wellbeing? I have to get past that first instinct and listen and have that discussion and find out why they feel that way and share how I feel like that. As long as people are open to new information we can get good work done.
Daniel: Why do you have to get past that first story you tell yourself is it because it shuts you down that you stop listening? I don't want to put words in your mouth. I'm just curious for you, Dr. O'Ryan. Why did you have to stop that.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: I have to get over that because it shuts down the conversation. Nobody wants to be told, especially by a complete stranger that everything they know is wrong and everything they believed is wrong. It goes back to if your grandma told you to wait 30 minutes before swimming. I feel like I'm a better person because I followed that advice. All of a sudden, someone from Seattle shows up at your workplace and says, "that's wrong." You're going to dig in your heels and say, "Well, I'm going to justify why it's right." That's how we're wired. We got to protect the ego and we want to keep things the same. If you come at it from "Tell me more about that", that is opening the, conversation and that's where you can really bring people along to see things differently.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Oftentimes, it's changing my perception as well. We can't have an experience together and not think about things differently. I was working with a colleague in a very rural part of Missouri, and it never occurred to me that they didn't have internet connection. There's some places that they have a landline attached to the wall and that's how they get the communication. I'm so outside of that reality that it never occurred to me. We take and learn from each other all the time.
Daniel: You brought up bathrooms and gender identity. I'm curious, how the Ruckus Maker listening might approach that discussion. If that's something that they're thinking about within their schools. How do they approach that discussion with parents?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: There's a couple of different ways and oftentimes it's peeling back the fear. If we're looking at, they're afraid that something will happen, or they're afraid of generalization here they're afraid of predatory, heterosexual men going into the bathrooms, and there are ways to prevent that. It also then sparks the question, look at how many things we do in our lives as humans to prevent ourselves from being exposed to predatory men, instead of addressing the predatory men is a problem and correcting from that. Oftentimes it's they have misconception about what a child is experiencing in their gender and figuring that out. To the Ruckus Makers, I would caution them to educate themselves, look at the research journal of American Medicine Pediatrics has done some really good work around this and find ways that you can explain to parents what it means and what it doesn't mean because we spend so much of our lives protecting our kids and we want to insulate them and make sure that they're safe and we're wired for that.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: If it's not anything that's really based in research reality, educate yourself and then help use that to educate others. Actually bring people along with you. Once you have these conversations with people who are ambivilant and make them champions. Get them to talk to their peers and communicate that way. Oftentimes if you can peel it back, move fear-based to rational base, it's the one thing I would caution Ruckus Makers, especially when you're dealing with kids in school and middle school was such a tumultuous, awful time for everybody. There's also a lot of preconceptions that this is a phase that, that gender fluidity or non binary gender is something that the millennials made up and something is new, and it's actually not new. If you look at the science and you look at the history it's been around forever.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: I would caution the Ruckus Maker, to make sure that they are not asking the questions or allow the questions to be asked around, "is it a phase?" If somebody is identifying as gay and then they're identifying as BI or they're identifying as non-binary, and then they're, they're exploring what it is they're experiencing and finding ways to describe it and that evolutionary process. Not necessarily a base, but a process of figuring out how to articulate what I'm feeling really difficult for adults to kind of understand how deeply ingrained this is in the kiddo. Also understand that there is a lot of fluidity around it.
Daniel: Personally, I don't see it as a phase. I hear what you're saying though something new from this conversation that I just learned. I believe you said there's evidence and stories from history around gender identity and fluidity. Did I catch that?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Yes, actually, it's interesting because gender really is a social construct. We can do an entire hour on that, but Native Americans, first families they have the two-spirit and that is the embodiment of not just male or female, not just a masculine and feminine, but combined, and many, many cultures have the same or similar and it's just fantastic. Once you get into the exploration of how other cultures experience gender, it's not just biology. It's not as tidy as X, X, and X, Y just, it's not, what I mean?
Daniel: I'm loving this conversation, Jen, and we'll continue it in just a second, but we're going to pause here just for a moment, for a short message from our show's sponsors. Take the next step in your professional development with Harvard's online certificate in school management and leadership. Learn from Harvard faculty without leaving your home, grow your network with fellow school leaders from around the world as you collaborate in case studies of leaders in education and business. Apply now for our June and July cohorts at BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com/Harvard. That's BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com/Harvard. Better Leaders, Better Schools is brought to you by school leaders like principal Katerra's is using Teach FX special populations benefit the most from verbally engaging in class, but get far fewer opportunities to do so than their peers, especially in virtual classes, Teach FX measures, verbal engagement automatically in virtual or in-person classes to help schools and teachers address these issues of equity during COVID learn more and get a special offer from Better Leaders, Better Schools, listeners at teachfx.com/BLBS. That's TeachFX.com/BLBS.
Daniel: Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder, Organized Binder develops the skills and habits. All students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, whether at home or in the classroom, learn firstname.lastname@example.org. Hey, we're back with Dr. Jen O'Ryan, the founder of Double Tall Consulting and author of inclusive as , what a field guide for accidental diversity experts. Thank you, Jen, for being on the show. I'm learning so much from you already, and we've only talked for half the time. Something that I love to hear about. I made a note that you have some mental hacks for your brain. If a student is transitioning, I think that'd be very helpful for the Ruckus Maker listening.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Oh, yes. Fantastic. One thing I get questions about quite a bit is if you had a student who's transitioning and most educators and people in school system are familiar with the cycle, but a large majority of kids who decide to transition do it at the beginning of the school year or when they come back from winter break in January. The reason for that is because they might be figuring it out. Getting internalizing the change and you're getting really comfortable with and getting comfortable talking about it. It's not uncommon at all to have kids come back in September with, this is my name, these are my pronouns. This is who I am. To the larger question, it is absolutely challenging to rewire our brains to this name and pronoun set when we're so used to looking at the human.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: All of a sudden it's this a really good way around that is, especially if you're referring back to the child or the student in past the memory is looking at an image of the kiddo. If you've got a yearbook picture, you've got a school ID or something, looking at the picture and action saying it out loud the name of the pronouns, because that creates new patterns in your brain. When you do, they raise their hand and you call them them, it will go to the correct pronouns.
Daniel: That's good. It's something that just a small thing. I learned this in Alton Bay where where I coached sometimes, in identity and use of pronouns was newer to me about almost two years ago. I never heard heard of it. We started talking as a coaching community, why it's important to use them and why they're important in the workplace and that kind of thing. You can see that in my zoom, it says, Danny Bauer, my pronouns are he and him. It's just a small thing like that to say, "Hey I see you hear you, you're safe to share yours." I get that with referring to your students and having it there for you and rewiring your brain in that way, because we're so used to probably just acting on those assumptions and what we can only observe. How we've been brought up or something like that. Appreciate you sharing that. Other tips regarding the Ruckus Maker or maybe a teacher listening in sparking these conversations? I heard you say hearing the stories not allowing a discussion around if it's a phase or not, but anything else? I don't know if you have scripts or any other just sort of helpful ideas how to bring this up?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Oh, absolutely. One question that I get frequently from educators is how do they bring other teachers along who might not be there. Who are warn down with the pronouns who don't want to learn new things. It's like any other industry, if you're going to have innovation and you're going to have things that change and improve, there will be new things to learn, and our brains don't want to do that. If it is small things like challenging each other, if somebody's struggling with a name and a pronoun call each other out when they use the incorrect one, and that's a really good reminder. Also signaling, as you said, you've got the pronouns in the zoom and that does a couple of things. It shows people that you understand that this is important, and it also can spark questions about what is that have not seen it before.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Tell me about that. It's important and you've touched on a couple of different things that I really wanted to bring up again. II hear you and reinforcing that because if you look somebody in the eye and you generally see them for who they are and that's tapping into a very human need that we need. We all want to be seen and valued as ourselves and as who we really are. The people to share their stories enhances that quite a bit. One thing that I really want to emphasize, especially with the Ruckus Makers, in this industry is you are uniquely positioned to see kids over a long period of their development. If you have a kid in sixth grade and you see them in seventh and eighth grade, you can see if they are starting to struggle.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: If they might be being bullied at home peers in the community, there's all different ways. You have that opportunity to be the one person that can change the trajectory of their life. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but research has stanchions that one supportive person in their circle who sees them, that can make the difference between healthy development later in life or potential risk for negative outcomes. It's that making sure that you see them and making sure that they know that they are seen and valued and don't expect that you have to be the expert on everything. You don't have to know every pronoun. You don't have to know every orientation or attraction because they're evolving, but it's show up as that. Who was there
Daniel: Any ideas or a helpful feedback when you put your foot in your mouth, Or like, "I messed it up. I didn't want it to do that way." I think helpful for us there.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Yeah. One, we are going to mess it up. We're going to get wrong. I screw things up all the time. It was in the airport. It's been the before times. I told you about this. There was somebody in front of me at TSA and something fell out of their bag and I immediately went up to them and said, "Oh, ma'am you dropped your lotion." It's like, man, I don't know their gender. I don't. I'm making assumptions. The best way when you trip up or if you're called out, or somebody says, "Hey, this didn't land with me very well" is just take a breath, take a moment and just process it. Because the first thing we're going to want to do is defend why we did it or explain why we did it or diminish it, or it wasn't really that bad.
Dr Jen O'Ryan: I had a bad day that makes it about us and we need to make it about this other person. I was especially with the pronouns or the name apologize immediately. Don't qualify it. Actually it's good. Sometimes depending on the relationship you have to say, "thank you for reminding me and I'm going to do better" and then get out the picture, practice in your car, say it out loud and actually get better. Absolutely don't belabor the point because it makes it even more difficult for that person. Just apology, I'm going to do better and then do better and then move on.
Daniel: Got it. Well, Jen, if you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for one day, what would your message read?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: We're all going through it be kinf. We're all going through it. Dtreaming after that would be remember, there are other ways of being, because if we can implant that into our brains, as a mantra when we were walking through the world, everybody's going through something, you have no idea. There are different ways of being.
Daniel: If you were building a school from the ground up, you didn't have any limitations, just your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be the top three priorities?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: I actually thought about this for quite a while because I have a really interesting imagination. Um, I would actually have, um, schools that were structured, um, in communities, but with almost like a, like a Tardis or a time portal or something. Where you could actually drop kids into a different school environments in different countries, in different regions and actually have conversations with people that you would probably otherwise never meet. Because I think that travel in that exposure just is so illuminating to we tend to think of ourselves as the baseline for normal, like what we do as normal and how our culture is organized as normal. If we expose ourselves very young ages to different and different people in different cultures and different styles, it's fantastic. It's mind blowing, especially at that very young 2, 3, 4, and 5 year olds. That's when they're just soaking everything up like little sponges. I would also think it'd be fantastic to have futurists come back and tell us how things are going and what we should focus on.
Daniel: Yeah. I like how you're playing with time there. That's quite interesting. I haven't had that as an answer yet, so I want to thank you Jen you've been a wonderful guest on the show. Thank you so much for being a part of the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. Of everything we talked about today, What's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Dr Jen O'Ryan: Never underestimate the potential that you have as an individual to create change, not just in your school and in your culture, but also in one person's life. We all have teachers, we all have educators. There was one teacher that made a difference for us and we can't go back and thank them, but just know that you're making a difference in kids' lives and you'll probably never, never know the extent to which you did.
Speaker 4: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the # BLBS level up your leadership at Better Leaders, Better Schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.
- Talk about inclusion and making space safes for your community.
- Actionable for the listeners on how you engage in emotional conversations.
- Mental hacks and scripts you can do now to spark conversations on gender identity
- Think about people in a more progressive lens.
- practical tips on how to cultivate a workplace more welcoming for LGBTQ + and hear everyone in your community.
- Peel back the fear and initial instincts to get the work done.
- Gender is a social construct. Understand the misconceptions.
- Helpful feedback for when you put your foot in your mouth.
“The reason that I wrote the book is because there’s so many people out there that individually can make a huge difference. They have that spark inside and they want to make the world a better place. The bystander effect is very real. How do you actually interrupt that in a way that’s safe in a way that doesn’t put somebody in harm?”
– Dr. Jen O’Ryan
Dr Jen O’Ryan’s Resources & Contact Info:
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