Being an LGBTQ+ Ally, with Bernadette Smith

Bernadette Smith is CEO of Equality Institute whose mission is to help organizations win bigger by treating workers and clients with dignity and respect. Bernadette has been featured on the Today Show, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio.
She is a nationally recognized keynote speaker, thought leader and consultant and an award winning author of three books, with her fourth book Unassuming Assumptions scheduled for release later this year.

Today Bernadette talks about her career as a wedding planner and how it shaped her becoming a speaker and D&I consultant, what it means to be an ally, unconscious bias, and so much more.

Bernadette Smith Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast LGBTQ Ally

Jackie Ferguson: Bernadette Smith   has been featured on the Today Show, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio. She is a nationally recognized keynote speaker, thought leader and consultant, and an award winning author of three books with her fourth book, Unassuming Assumptions, scheduled for release later this year.

Bernadette, thank you so much for joining us today.

Bernadette Smith: Thank you for having me. It’s really fun to be here.

Jackie Ferguson: Great. Can we jump right into your background and have our listeners get to know a little more about you?

Bernadette Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So my story starts when I was an idealistic young, 27 year old living in Boston, and I was living there when I heard the Supreme court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of same sex marriage.

So this was back in 2004 but there were, there were all of these protests. A lot of people were not excited about same sex marriage. So I attended the protest, so I was in favor of, and I was standing on the state house steps attending these public hearings. They were trying to change the constitution, but I was getting all fired up and looking around at these couples, many of whom had been together for decades.

And I just thought to myself. You know what, this is going to happen. Someone’s gotta plan the weddings, and it might as well be me.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s awesome.

Bernadette Smith: So I decided to start a business as a gay wedding planner but my vision was really to be an activist wedding planner to help these couples have, an experience free from discrimination to help them feel safe.

To help them navigate a very traditional, very straight bride and groom focused wedding industry. And it was an amazing journey.  That’s how my entrepreneurial journey started 16 years ago.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow.

Bernadette Smith: Yes.

Jackie Ferguson: Is there are a couple that particularly resonated with you, or a couple that you just fell in love with, and planning their wedding.

Bernadette Smith: Many, but the story that I’ll tell is actually part of my why, let me just back up by saying I’m a retired wedding planner. I don’t plan weddings anymore. But one of the couples that I worked with before is definitely part of why I continue to, to do diversity and inclusion work and why it is so important to me, to support the LGBTQ community.

And it was a couple named Joanne and Terry and when they reached out to me, we first met, Joanne’s specifically said, I want you to help me become the bride I’ve always dreamed of. Joanne was probably at the time, maybe around 55 or 60 and she was a transgender woman and she was previously married and had been a groom in her previous marriage. Right. And so had, her ex wife, her late wife died of cancer and she fell in love and, you know, met someone new, she’d only been out as transgender for about five or six years at the time, but she really wanted me to help her feel safe.

She wanted to feel beautiful and safe and supported, on her wedding day, and it was really an honor for me to give her that gift, and I really do feel like I gave her a gift. Being part of the experience, shopping for a wedding gown with her was amazing and transformative and seeing how amazing she looked in every dress. It was just a very special experience.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s awesome.

Bernadette Smith: Yeah. And then I just add one more thing real quick. Absolutely. On the actual wedding day. She walked down the aisle with her, escorted by her 90 year old father.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that.

Bernadette Smith: At a church to a performance by the Boston gay men’s chorus. So it was, it was magnificent. It was, you know, all of the feels.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. If you’re going to do it, you may as well do it big. Right.

Bernadette Smith: That’s right.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s so great. Perfect. Well, Bernadette. Tell us a little about yourself as a pragmatic idealist. So you describe yourself as a pragmatic idealist. What does that mean?

Bernadette Smith: It means that in a time like now,  in this Covid-19 pandemic era, I’m looking for the opportunities. What are the amazing opportunities that could come out of this situation that could be truly transformative for our world? I mean, I’m talking about things like universal basic income and healthcare for all, you know, and also different professional opportunities and, and so that’s sort of my idealistic side.

But at the same time, there’s gotta be a practical piece to it. So how do we actually get there? And I don’t know. In this case, I, I don’t know the answers, but I do know that I am very idealistic about the opportunities and I want to talk to anyone who will listen about what they are and how we can collectively mobilize to make really huge systemic change, not only at the government level, but also within organizations. There’s an amazing opportunity right now to create greater inclusion within organizations. So how do we get there?

Jackie Ferguson: Exactly. Right. All right, great. Bernadette, you speak to audiences around the United States. Let’s talk about some of the topics that you cover and why you’re passionate about them.

Bernadette Smith: You know, it really comes back to this feeling of wanting to keep people safe. And I don’t know where, like, you know what sort of baggage I have around that, but that’s, you know, that’s something that’s really big part of who I am is, is wanting everyone, everyone in this world to feel like they have the freedom to walk through the world with dignity, whatever that means for them.

So that means however they might express themselves, whatever diversity dimension is part of their identity. They should have the freedom to just be themselves. My goodness. It’s really not a big ask. Right? Or at least it shouldn’t be. But I feel really passionately about that. And so a lot of the things that I talk about related to diversity and inclusion are truly about including diverse voices. Who are your customers? Including diverse voices among your team members. How do we get there? And again, it comes back to being a pragmatic idealist. I can certainly tell you the why all day long, why it’s so important, but when I’m giving a speech or leading a training, it’s about how can we get there and practical steps.

Let’s break this down. Let’s keep it simple because really treating people with dignity and respect is not rocket science, but, but how do we get there and how do we get there systemically? What are some of the systemic changes that we can make together to truly allow more people to feel included. And that’s the focus of my business.

That’s the focus of my trainings, my, my keynote speeches. That’s sort of the general gist and of course there are lots of angles there. You know, I do some that are about LGBTQ specific, some that are about just being an ally. Some of them are about inclusive leadership, but it really comes down to this core concept of allowing spaces for people to feel like they can truly be themselves and walk the earth with dignity.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s really fantastic. And you know, that’s something that everyone needs and should feel and it’s unfortunate that we don’t live in a society where everyone feels like that. I know that a lot of studies show that about 40% of LGBTQ individuals in the workplace don’t feel that they can be themselves.

They feel closeted at work and that’s something that we’re all working to move past so that people can walk through the world with dignity, as you said. I think that’s so great and it resonates so well.

Bernadette Smith: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. It’s one of the things I talk about, especially when I’m doing a session for folks within whatever marginalized group, is how do you actually use your own identity as an advantage? Because it is.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right.

Bernadette Smith: Right. You can. It is. If you really think about it, it can be an advantage. It can make you more empathetic. It can make you more understanding of your diverse customers like turn it around, reframe it.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. So important and that’s what you do at the equality Institute.

So are your speeches part of what you do there or is that specific work within organizations? Can you tell us a little bit more about your company?

Bernadette Smith: Yeah, so my company is really set up around speaking training, and so some of that is just keynotes that I do, and I have a separate website, that really focuses on my keynote talks, but essentially it’s all the same type of buckets. So whether it’s a speech or a training, whether it’s more interactive or you know, kind of a luncheon, keynote thing but also e-learning is really important, because it’s, it can be very hard to reach workers who are on the shop floor or who are in the field.

If you have a sales team or who are on the front line and they might not sit at their desk all day or be easy to pull out for a live training. So I have a number of e-learnings available and right now they’re all LGBTQ focused, but they are pretty cool. The, the e-learnings are great and we actually are making a big effort right now to sell them as virtual pride programming bundles during pride month in June.

Jackie Ferguson: Awesome.

Bernadette Smith: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: And Bernadette, can you tell us a little about what kind of topics are included in those bundles?

Bernadette Smith: Sure.  I know that a lot of people are like, they keep adding more letters. It used to be LGBT, now it’s LGBTQ, and sometimes it’s LGBTQIA, you know, like, you know, so what is the alphabet soup?

How do we define all of those terms? Take us on a little history lesson, you know. When was homosexuality accepted in history in the past, and it was. Where did things start to go downhill? So a little bit of a history lesson, a very deep understanding and explanation of what it means to be transgender and also what it means to be non-binary. How to be a great ally

to someone who’s transgender or non-binary, or gay or lesbian, or bisexual and or pansexual. So allyship is definitely a topic. And then there are scripted scenes with actors in real life scenarios. So a couple of those scenarios are customer service focused. A couple of them are focused in human resources or between the coworker, a team member and a manager who might come out as transgender or non-binary.

So if you’re a fly on the wall during that conversation, when a team member comes out to their HR manager as non-binary. In four minutes, what’s the best practice, what are the best practices there? And so we, we really break it down and outline your, you know, sort of the do’s and don’ts for that. And also another scripted scene is, let’s just say there’s a, a memo goes out that one of your team members has come out as transgender.

If you’re a fly on the wall, what are some best practices in allyship among two non-transgender to cis-gender team members were, one is explaining to the other how to be a great transgender ally. So we talk about these concepts and then we bring them to life. And you’re all done in 25 minutes. So it’s a whole series of short videos and you’re done in 25 minutes. It really takes you through a lot of great content.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s amazing. Can we talk about what it means to be an ally? I know that’s a question that some of our listeners may have. So let’s talk about some of the best practices there and what advice you can give to our listeners about how to be a great ally.

Bernadette Smith: I love this question and I think that it’s truly everyone’s responsibility. The best definition I’ve heard of being an ally is you are someone’s voice when they’re not in the room. And I don’t know who said that, but I think that’s very precise. As an ally of someone who’s transgender, I’m a cisgender person who is an ally to folks who are transgender, and I am their voice when they’re not in the room.

So I am ready to speak up and use my words and educate or be thoughtful and engage in thoughtful conversations to perhaps to build other allies or answer questions, to have someone’s back. Because those of us who are marginalized, however we are marginalized, it can be exhausting having to always explain ourselves, right.

I remember when I first became a parent, everyone was so many people, well, meaning people were asking me like, how’d you do it? You know, it was one of you, the dad, like, you know, those kinds of silly questions, but they’re, well, you know, I, I didn’t take offense. But it got exhausting after a while, and it’s nice to have an ally to take some of the heat and answer some of those questions for you.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely.

Bernadette Smith: But it certainly can be challenging to find the words as an ally. So I take my clients through this three step process called the arc method to, as a way to to be a better ally or to really get clarity in any situation.

Jackie Ferguson: Right. And can you explain what the arc method is.

Yeah. Arc method, arc stands for ask, respect, connect, and so asking is really simply a matter of getting clarity. So let’s just say that you did hear someone at work make a comment. You know, how many more letters are they going to add to the alphabet soup of LGBTQ?

Like what’s next, right? Let’s just say you heard a comment like that as an ally, you can say. Can you explain what you mean by that? I didn’t quite get it right. So that’s the ask, right? You’re asking for a little bit of clarity and maybe they can’t explain it and it’s no big deal, right? But the trick, of course, is to take a pause and use the right tone and you know, not to ask in a way that’s immediately going to put people on the defensive, but to ask, ask in a way that’s coming from a place of curiosity, not confrontation.

Bernadette Smith: That makes sense. That’s such an important differentiation.

Jackie Ferguson: It is and when I take people through the arc method, my goal  is to empower them to change people’s behavior, not necessarily their beliefs. Right? So anyway, so the A is for asking, so asking clarifying questions. And then the R is for respect.

So be an active listener. Don’t interrupt. Don’t put someone on the defensive and challenge them.  They are entitled to their own opinion, so respect that and then C is to connect. So paraphrase what they said, reconnect or you know, comment in some other way to tie it back together and not leave the situation from a place of tension.

So that could be a matter of, you know, thanks for explaining your side of things to me, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. All right. Let’s move on. Right. And, and it’s just, it doesn’t have to turn into this big explosive situation if you handle it right. And I think the arc method is effective in doing that.

Bernadette Smith: Perfect and when you were talking about becoming a parent, some of the things that you said that people would say to you made me think of microaggressions. Can we talk about microaggressions and what those are and how we work with those, work around those and mitigate those.

Yeah, microaggressions are insidious. They are everywhere. and essentially they are little comments. A lot of times they’re offhanded comments that diminish another person. And, you know, they might be, I didn’t mean to accidentally offend you. Accidental offense, you know, is, is often, A form of microaggression, but it could be comments, you know, where are you from?

No, where are you really from to someone whose ethnic background you’re unsure of? Right. It could be.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right.

Bernadette Smith: Right. It could be mis-gendering someone who’s transgender, that’s a microaggression. Assuming someone is straight, if they’re not, that’s a microaggression. A lot of microaggressions are based in assumptions.

And again, when I’m, when I’m talking to folks about combating microaggressions, I go back to the arc method because really it does work in that situation as well. You can simply say, Oh, can you explain what you meant when you said that? You know, which one of you is the dad? Like, I didn’t quite get what you meant by that.

And again, if you handle it right and the tone is right. You asked the right types of questions. I have a PDF I can give folks of some conversation starters for the arc method, if that would be helpful.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. That is fantastic. Yeah. I found with microaggressions, sometimes people don’t realize that what they’re saying is offensive, and if you just talk to them, you know, they’re apologetic and you’re educating them on something where they’re not offending the next person with that comment. So.

Bernadette Smith: Exactly, exactly. And I think, like I said, the, the emotional labor of responding to microaggressions yourself, if you are a victim of microaggressions, can be intense but it’s also great for allies to speak up when they hear microaggressions. That’s a really important role for allies.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s talk about Bernadette, your desire to impact the customer experience by educating frontline associates.

Bernadette Smith: I am so passionate about this. I have just found that a lot of companies are not investing their diversity and inclusion budgets in the front line. And I understand that a lot of times frontline employees have a high turnover or they are you know, merely hourly workers. Hopefully they’re starting to get some more love and value these days because they truly are on the front lines of Covid-19 but in general, a lot of companies do not train their frontline employees on how to not accidentally offend their customers, right? But these frontline workers are they’re the face of the brand and there is so much opportunity for things to go wrong, especially with, with everyone has a camera in their hand, in their pocket.

So much opportunity for things to go wrong in the customer experience. And I’m really passionate about reaching the front line and helping them understand some simple tips to just be more inclusive in their interaction with others.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And you know that’s so true because diversity and inclusion originally started in the workplace around human resources, a compliance thing. And then it started to resonate with people that, Oh, we need to make sure that we’re impacting the C suite and the CEO needs to be on board and understand and, and sharing these messages. But a lot of times people do forget about the people who are interacting with customers and clients every day, and how important it is to make sure that they are empowered with inclusive language, to be able to respond appropriately.

So. That’s something that definitely we need to shine a light on.

Bernadette Smith: Exactly. I think that it’s a missed opportunity, but again, as a pragmatic idealist, I think that right now we have lots of opportunities and I know that many companies have increased the pay and the benefits for their frontline workers.

Hopefully it’s not just a short term thing, but it’s a sustainable change, and perhaps it means that they also increase the training of their frontline workers and have more inclusive training available for them.

Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. And Bernadette, we have said the word inclusion many times in this podcast so far. Let’s talk about from your perspective, what inclusion means for our listeners.

Bernadette Smith: Inclusion is  paying attention to everyone’s voice.

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.

Bernadette Smith: Valuing everyone’s voice, respecting everyone’s voice, giving them, giving everyone the opportunity to walk through the world with dignity, it comes back to that.  Inclusion is about also about making people feel safe, whether it’s physically safe or psychologically safe. There are lots of layers to it, but it does come down to safety, dignity, and empowerment.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s exactly right, and you’ve used the word safety a couple of times, and I think that people sometimes don’t understand how important that is to be able to function in your everyday life in the workplace.

Let’s talk about that a little bit and just have people understand a little better about what it means to feel safe in your environment and how some people do and some people don’t.

Bernadette Smith: Yeah. Everyone has something right. We all have something that’s happening in our life that is perhaps not ideal, whether it’s, a medical issue or whether it’s  our sexual identity or gender identity or our religion, or who we voted for, we all have something, right?

And that something if we don’t show up authentically at work can be a distraction. It can mean that we’re less productive. It could mean that we are disengaged and when we create environments for people to safely share all of themselves, then we have a much more productive and engaged workforce.

We’re going to have higher employee retention. We’re going to see greater innovation and creativity, greater team building, more leadership, more people willing to step into leadership. Those are some of the amazing outcomes that can arise, when people feel safe to truly be themselves, even if that makes them vulnerable or they might feel or fear being vulnerable.

I’ll give you an example. A few years ago I went through a divorce, but when I went through divorce, I was a wedding planner and I had clients for whom I was their role model. I was their lesbian role model, married. I had a kid like I was a little poster child, right, for gay weddings. And then I went through this divorce, which devastated me, shocked me, and devastated me.

And I did not tell my clients, I was in a period of significant distraction. I was not doing my best work. And, I felt checked out in a way, and I had this really serious  feeling of shame about my divorce. And, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I mean, so many people have been through divorce, right?

And it can be downright traumatic. That’s something that I went through that kept me from truly being authentic. I didn’t feel safe for whatever reason to share that experience. I guess I didn’t want to taint the wedding planning experience for my clients, but I just didn’t share it and it had negative consequences for me.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s true. When I went through my divorce many, many years ago, a lot of people didn’t know I was going through that until my name changed on my email, and it’s because I didn’t want people thinking that I couldn’t do my job or that I was going to be distracted at work. So there are these different things that we all go through that keep us from being our authentic selves, and those are the things that help us be more empathetic to groups that have to experience this on a regular basis.

Bernadette Smith: Exactly, exactly. Yeah. For me, I mean, that was a relatively short term thing, and I probably had the internal struggle for maybe a year or so, but I mean, it feels so far in the rear view mirror now, but I certainly am a more empathetic person as a result.

Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. Bernadette, your new book, Unassuming Assumptions is due out later this year. Tell us about that book and what we can expect.

Bernadette Smith: Thank you for mentioning that. The idea of the book is that we all make assumptions. It’s just the way we’re programmed, right? We all walk through the world making assumptions about other people, judging other people. People are making assumptions about us constantly, but assumptions are actually a form of bias.

Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, they are a form of bias and we’re not seeing the full picture when we’re making assumption. So the idea of the book is really to provide a blueprints to minimize the assumptions that we make in the world and our workplace. And also what are some steps that we can take to create a, tangible, practical diversity and inclusion roadmap for an organization that is just starting their journey. It’s essentially a blueprint, a how to guide, and it really does keep things practical and share lots of positive best practices from diverse organizations around the world who are doing things right.

Jackie Ferguson: Perfect and Bernadette, let’s talk about unconscious bias.

I’ve done some research lately and realize that everyone has unconscious bias. Some people don’t think they do. So let’s talk about everyone having unconscious bias, what that means, and some of the ways that you recommend that we mitigate those or manage our biases.

Bernadette Smith: Sure. So bias has a negative connotation. So I prefer to talk about the assumptions we make, right? Because again, you know, assumptions it’s a little more palatable. I’m having these conversations during a training. But the way, way our brains work is that there are, you know, many million stimuli coming at us in any given moment. And our brains need to be organized.

They need to be efficient for easy recall, and they also need to be efficient to keep us safe, if there is a risk of danger. You know, one of the shortcuts in my brain is that, well, you know, boiling water is hot. Be careful, right? You know, like little simple things like that that keep us safe. And it’s because our brain categorizes similar things into, let’s call it similar boxes.

They categorize things together for simplicity sake, for easy recall, but not only does our brain categorize similar things, but it also categorizes similar people. It essentially turns our brain into little boxes of stereotypes.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right.

Bernadette Smith: And those stereotypes, those shortcuts mean that we’re not seeing the full picture. We’re not seeing someone as a true individual  and we might be missing out on the gifts they have to share with the world.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right.

Bernadette Smith: Simply by making an assumption. So because our brain is moving so fast. Yes. And our brain is making these boxes as a way to recall and problem solve quickly.

The easiest way to unassuming assumptions is to slow our brains down, right? So the, the instinctive part of our brain that puts people in boxes and sees the most stereotypes. All right, well now that we have a little bit of information about how our brains work and how those boxes can lead to bias. And the missed opportunities that result from that.

Well, one of the solutions is just to use that information to take a pause to think before you speak. It can truly, truly be as simple as that. I mean that it might be an oversimplification, but you can use that same concept and apply it to systems. What sort of interventions and questions and nudges are you applying to systems to force you to take a pause and see the full picture.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. That’s so important. And these assumptions are part of the things that we do on a daily basis at work. When we’re interviewing people, we make assumptions and we could lose out on an amazing employee based on the assumptions that we make.

It seems like, people think through, you know, does this person remind me of someone in my past? And they can have a negative reaction based on that or, you know, the things that they’ve been taught, by family members or media when they don’t have experience with a certain demographic. It’s interesting how that can affect in the workplace, ability to hire, ability to promote, ability to mentor. So it’s so important that you take time to pause, as you said, and just make sure that you’re treating that individual at face value and allowing them to bring themselves to the conversation and go from there.

Bernadette Smith: Absolutely. Absolutely and when I’m doing a talk about this or a training, I use myself as an example because goodness knows, I have made plenty of assumptions about other people and other people have made assumptions about me. And I share some of those stories because I share them at the very beginning of my talk because I, first of all, they’re funny and I want people to laugh and you know, loosen up.

And also because I want to make fun of myself a little bit because it happens to me too. Right? It happens to all of us. And you know, when I’m, when I’m using that, that angle of kind of making fun of myself for the assumptions that I’ve made about others, it brings up this emotional trigger of embarrassment.

Hmm. Cause I asked the question, have you ever made an assumption about someone else? Yeah. Have you ever put your foot in your mouth because of an assumption you made? Have you ever embarrassed yourself in front of a client? Pretty much everyone has an experience like that.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right.

Bernadette Smith: And it brings up this emotional trigger of embarrassment and shame, which is so powerful towards behavior change, and in my opinion, it is an underestimated and underutilized emotional trigger. We always talk about empathy as the emotional trigger for change, and that’s huge but embarrassment is as well.

Jackie Ferguson: That is a great point, Bernadette. Wow. You know, that’s right. People think automatically about empathy, but certainly embarrassment is a trigger for immediate change, isn’t it?

Bernadette Smith: It really is. I mean, so I tell the story just quickly, I tell the story about, you know, an assumption that I made of someone who’s pregnant who wasn’t.

Okay. Many, many people have had that experience and I, you know, even though that story happened to me 20 years ago, I will never make that mistake again.

Jackie Ferguson: Right.

Bernadette Smith: Exactly. So, you know, it really is powerful.

Jackie Ferguson: Great. Thank you for sharing that. Bernadette, you talked in a previous conversation about a micro solutions focus. What is that and why is that valuable?

Bernadette Smith: Micro solutions focus is valuable because it focuses on changing behaviors, not beliefs, and focuses on micro behaviors that are part of an organization’s existing training and systems.

So for example, when I’m doing a training for frontline workers or a training of managers of frontline workers, I like to look at the existing training they already have, and how can I just put this layer of diversity and inclusion on top of that so it doesn’t feel like extra work.

It doesn’t feel like this whole, Ugh, gosh, check it said for diversity training. No, it’s just a micro solution that’s embedded into the existing policy training, core values or whatever of an organization. So it feels like an integrated solution for inclusion. Again, focused on changing behavior, not beliefs.

Jackie Ferguson: Hmm. That’s so important. And I think another thing that people struggle with in organizations is that diversity and inclusion is this, this huge undertaking. And in fact, they can take these small measures and small changes with and implement those within their organization to make real change that is seen by their employees.

So it’s not so much this huge project and undertaking all at once. It’s the small gestures forward that really can make a difference to your employees because employees can see that you’re making changes and steps forward and they respond positively to that.

Bernadette Smith: Exactly. And a perfect example of a micro solution is including your pronouns in your email signature or on your LinkedIn profile.

It’s something that anyone can do, but it shows your transgender peers, colleagues, clients, coworkers, whomever, that you have their back. And it’s incredibly powerful and it, it’s incredibly powerful, especially when it starts with leaders and they demonstrate that micro solution.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And Bernadette, let’s talk about asking someone about their pronouns. So I know this can be an uncomfortable question for people who don’t have experience with it. So. Is it just that simple? What are your pronouns?

Bernadette Smith: That can feel a little bit jarring if it just starts with like, what are your pronouns? So I think that there are a couple of approaches which are better.

And the idea here is to normalize it, to sort of make it part of the background. One of the ways is to say as an ally to someone my pronouns are she and her. What are your pronouns? So you’re making yourself vulnerable first. You’re putting yourself out there first. Right? So yeah. So that’s one way to ask someone their pronouns is by sharing yours first.

But I think systemically I better practice is to actually have pronouns be a part of an introduction at meetings, especially if it’s people you don’t know if you have name badges at events, put pronouns on name badges. But again, put them in your email signatures. Have that be part of the SOP, the standard operating procedure, and then it becomes kind of background, so it’s not this upfront thing.

It’s not something that’s this huge big deal. It’s just part of, you know, name, title pronoun. Just kind of kind of how it goes.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s great advice. Bernadette, tell us about One thing I Learned Today.

Bernadette Smith: So about a year ago, I was walking down the street after I had attended an event here in Chicago, and I was reflecting on the event and what I learned, and I just had this idea pop in my head like my mom said, you know, you learn one thing new every day.

Oh, I should make a video about that. So I just stopped on the Chicago streets and made a selfie video of sharing one thing I learned, and then I posted it to LinkedIn. And I’ve pretty much done it every day since, almost every day, almost every weekday. I’ve narrowed my focus since to be focused on positive news. So it has to be something that I consider to be a good news or a best practice, and it has to be related to the corporate social responsibility or diversity, equity and inclusion. And honestly, it is really hard sometimes because there’s a lot more negative news.

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.

Bernadette Smith: But, you know, there are also some great practices that I find and I curate them, in these daily videos.

And then every week I send out a newsletter called five things I’ve learned this week. And, you know, as a business owner, social media sometimes can feel like an after thought or a chore. But having this daily habit not only keeps me in the spirit of learning, but also keeps me in the spirit of sharing and being of service, and again focuses on that practical idealism, pragmatic idealism that I have.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s amazing and Bernadette where can we find your, one thing I learned today. What social platforms?

Bernadette Smith: Certainly search hashtag one thing I learned, the number one thing I learned today on LinkedIn and Twitter, and it’s also on YouTube as well. So I mean, mostly I focus on LinkedIn, but you will find it on the other platforms as well.

And actually sometimes lately you will see my nine year old son featured in the videos helping me explain some of these ideas and having his own thoughts on that. So it’s, it’s been pretty fun having Patrick involved in some of the videos.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s so great. So, Bernadette, what is the one thing you’ve learned today?

Bernadette Smith: Well, one thing that I learned today is that the national LGBT chamber of commerce of which I am the member, is sending out a guide on how companies can have virtual pride events. And I learned how I can be a part of that guide because I will be having virtual pride, educational offerings available for purchase.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s fantastic and Bernadette, as we wrap up, what’s the one thing that you’d like to leave with our listeners today?

Bernadette Smith: Check your assumptions.

Jackie Ferguson: Yes. Absolutely.

Bernadette Smith: And when in doubt, ask, don’t assume. I mean, this really truly comes back to my days as a wedding planner because wedding planners and the whole wedding industries completely programmed one bride, one groom.

What’s the name of the groom? They don’t say it. They don’t say, what’s your fiance’s name? They say, what’s the name of the groom? Bride’s name, groom’s name on the contract. Bridal suite. Bridal party. Everything is the bride and groom. I spent years focusing on helping the wedding and travel industries becoming more to be become more inclusive.

And it, it really comes down to stop making assumptions about your guests or your clients,

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right.

Bernadette Smith:  And, but again, we all do it and we make it throughout our lives, every aspect of our lives is about assumptions and shortcuts. So ask, don’t assume are my parting words.

Jackie Ferguson: Perfect. Bernadette, thank you for sharing your story and insights with us.

You can learn more about Bernadette by visiting and and look for her book on Unassuming Assumptions to be released later this year. Bernadette, thank you so much for joining us.

Bernadette Smith: Thank you. It’s been really fun.

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