How to be a better leader in a diverse workplace, with Dr Steve Yacovelli, “The Gay Leadership Dude”

Dr Steve Yacovelli, aka “The Gay Leadership Dude”, literally wrote the book on leadership in a diverse workplace – “Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of Their Jungle“.  Today, Jackie and Steve talk about his experience leading multi-cultural teams on Disney Cruises, the Pulse Massacre and how that brought his hometown Orlando together, and the 5 layers of diversity.

Steve Yacovelli The Gay Leadership Dude


Jackie Ferguson: Everyone. Please welcome, Dr. Steve Yacovelli to our show today. Steve is an author, speaker, consultant, and owner and principal of Top Dog Learning Group; a learning and development and diversity and inclusion consulting firm with a focus on how to be a great leader. Steve, thank you for being here today.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Thank you so much, Jackie. So happy to be here today.

Jackie Ferguson: Great. Well, Steve, tell us a little about your journey. You didn’t start out as a leadership entrepreneur. How did you get there?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: So, I started my journey in the learning and development space, if you will, actually doing software training of all things. And that’s where I started understanding how humans, especially adults, kind of learn stuff. And, I actually got a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership because I wanted to be a college administrator at one point. That didn’t work. But the cool thing was, it was, it was very “HR-ey.”.

So, I focused on the leadership and work development side, and that’s where I was like, “Wow, this is really cool. I can take some of that training stuff that I learned and now apply to this different subject matter expertise.”

And, that’s really kind of where I’ve, I’ve hung my hat the vast majority of my career is, sticking both internal as well as external to be, kind of a leadership consultant, leadership coach both in and outside of businesses.

Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. And Steve, tell us a little more about your background. You’ve had some interesting jobs along the way, including Disney Cruise. Can we talk about that a little and some of the interesting steps along this twenty five year journey, right?

Dr Steve Yacovelli:  Yeah. Oh no, It’s two years. Come on. Um, no, I’ve, I’ve had the, uh, the really, really great fortune of working with some pretty large, cool organizations. Disney was one of them earlier in my career. And specifically it was with Cruise Line. I was an Internal Leadership Consultant. And, so my client base was all the folks who were on board at the time; the two ships, as well as the Island, Castaway Cay in the Caribbean. And, so I would pack up my stuff and go do training classes on a cruise ship, or do like, coaching sessions and– I mean, it was, it was a sweet gig. I had to say.

And I, a couple of things that, that still drove what I do to this day, one was just the whole consulting piece, you know? I was an internal consultant, but I was a consultant and it just, kind of did my thing and did my business travel. But, what I found most interesting and again, still impacting what I do, is that I had to design learning, specifically leadership learning for 52 nationalities. At the time it was 52.

And so, really having to think through, you’re not just adult learning theory, but as it relates to someone from Western society versus an Eastern society background and, and all these different things, and then you throw in the mix, oh, you don’t really have a lot of training space because it’s a ship. And every minuscule piece of that vessel is well-thought out.

Well, they didn’t have like this vast training room. We had a little conference room. And so it’s, you started, you know, doing my leadership training, literally on the beach at the Island, or on the deck of Deck Five. And so, you get really creative in both the delivery of it, but also the design of it because of the, the target audience.

And then I work for some other cool folks like IBM, uh, as a professor for a hot minute when I got my doctorate. And then I actually took my show on the road, if you will, about 13 years ago and started Top Dog as a full-time venture, just to see, can I make this thing stick as an external consultant? And, you know, knock on wood, here we are.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s amazing. You know, when you think about diversity and inclusion, a lot of times you don’t think about how that translates, like literally, right, to different nationalities and different cultures.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Mhm.

Jackie Ferguson: Because, you know, how you teach one group of people is very different and that is certainly part of the DNI conversation; the multiculturalism, right?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson:  I love that. Steve, talk a little about how you describe yourself. I always, like, ask this question.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: So, I, my kind of, social media, quick byline, if you will, is two parts nerd, one part rockstar, twisted with a dash of silliness. Or something to that effect. And it changes depending on, but, you know, I, I like to have a good time. I like to have fun, I like to smile, I look at the glass, pretty much half- full, regardless of the context. But I, I like to help people and, and that’s kind of been a running thread throughout all the roles I, I’ve had both with Top Dog and, and well before is just, trying to help people see their awesomeness and just be even more awesome after kind of coaching them, or teaching them, or just, kind of hanging out with them and having some, some cool conversations.

Jackie Ferguson: That is fantastic. Now, you earned a doctorate in distance education in 2005, and this is way before–

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: –distance education was really a thing, right? So, what led you down that road? And then how has distance learning evolved over the, the time that you’ve been in that lane?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yeah, it’s, it’s a great question. So, 2005, well, I mean, and distance learning has technically been around since correspondence schools. So to date ourselves back then, and, you know, and I remember being a kid and watching Sally Struthers promote her TV/VCR repair on TV, and you can, you know, get degrees in that.

So, technically that was all distance learning. And, in 2005, well, prior to that, about actually right around 2000 is when I decided, “You know? I want to get my doctorate in something.” And, I was going down the path of looking at instructional, instructional design as kind of the main thing. I had a coffee with a friend of mine who was in the K through 12 space, and, and he’s like, “You know, you’re really tech savvy, and you really like technology. You should really think about this, you know, technology thing.”

“I’m like, “Yeah, it’s actually a good idea.” And so, I started exploring a little bit. I’m like, “Yeah, I kind of like that better.” And so I, I went to Nova Southeastern University down in Fort Lauderdale. And, what I loved about the experience was, it wasn’t teaching us how to push buttons or use certain software. That wasn’t part of the jam. It was, your job is to lead the people who will push the buttons in that. So, it wasn’t about the technology itself. It was about how you kind of look at it from a strategic perspective.

And, I remember the first class in that program and my first professor and he said something to the effect of, “Good distance learning will mimic the in-room experience as closely as it can.” Obviously, it won’t always be the same, but you know, whatever you can do. And if you really think hard enough, you can take any topic, any competency, and teach it via distance.

And so, of course we always tried to stump the teacher, like, “Horseback riding!” He’s like, “You can do virtual reality and you can do that.” We’re like, “Okay. Okay. Um, you know, sexual harassment training.” He’s like, “Of course you get…” like, and so we think about things like that. And flash forward to 2020, 2021, and that’s still the case.

The technology, of course, is different. I mean, we have these cool things now that allow us to, you know, for some of us to be okay with working from home. But the concept to me is still there. How can we mimic the experience to be as close to the real time as we can? And I love kind of that challenge of it.

And I’m working with a client right now. We’re taking two face-to-face leadership programs we do for them, we’ve done for like seven years, and turning them into something different. And so, you know, me and my team are figuring out like, “Hey, how can we do that?” Flip chart activity and, and, you know, through the tools that are out there.

And I think it’s really exciting because now we’re breaking away  those physical barriers to some extent, and that just makes more learners accessible to the learning. And, you know, obviously there’s caveats with internet connectivity, all that good stuff. But I think on the other side of COVID, this is going to be so exciting for people like me, because we can reach more people, still in an engaging format and, and really help them learn a few things a little bit differently than maybe the pre-COVID, because what I’ve seen with most clients real quick is they like distance learning kind of, “But no, we’ll just bring you to our conference room and you’ll do it that way.”

Okay. That’s cool. Well, now that we’ve had to do it this way, on the other side, their learners are going to be like, “Well, why can’t I just do this from home?’ Or, “Not have to schlep my cookies to XYZ conference center for three days.” And I’m, I’m super excited about that stuff.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that. And you know, it, it really has changed over the past year and how we’re working, how we’re learning. I’ve done so many online speaking engagements and the first one that I did, it was going from an in-person privilege walk. And I don’t know if you know what that is, but it’s, you know, you’re taking steps forward and back based on, on types of privilege. And I had to change that in March of last year to an online experience.

And I was like, “How do I do that?” But now, I do that all the time. I do is, like several of those a month. And, one of the great things I think about DNI learning virtually, is that you kind of have that safety of being in your own space, right, while you’re learning and exploring these, sometimes uncomfortable topics and new topics.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Absolutely.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s why I think that it’s fantastic.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: And I, I sat Jackie, I found the exact same thing. One of our signature conversations that we do is, pre-COVID, was an eight-hour, being a constant, inclusive leader. And we do it usually in tandem with some other components of learning within our clients. And we, you know, go there, myself or my “Top Doggers,” as I call them, and we do this, and it was, a lot of it is on unconscious bias, we talk about privilege, you know, some of the 101 kind of diversity inclusion and equity things.

So, we turn that into a four-part online, and I love the design better because you know, we’re giving two hours of bite-sized stuff and then people go away and think about it. And, the coming back and debrief conversations are so much more rich. Because, for the more introverted in the room, you know, you’ll give them eight hours and yes, they’re processing a lot along with our extroverts who are babbling out loud–


— Included. But, now what I’m seeing is you open it up to the next session after topic number one, and the conversations are so gorgeous and, and people who really want to think about it are, are thinking about it, and they’re Googling their own stuff. And they’re like, “I did project implicit as the homework, and then I found this,” and it was, it’s like, yes! So, I think it’s really cool.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. I love that. Because I’m the opposite, right? I’m an introvert. I like to think about things and listen to what people are saying, and then somewhere between the end of that meeting and the next morning, right? I’ve formulated great ideas.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: And that’s so great because it allows for people who are extroverts–

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yep.

Jackie Ferguson: –And people that process things quickly to be able to speak in the moment.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yep..

Jackie Ferguson: And also allows introverts and people like, who like to really process through things, to be able to participate in that conversation. What a great idea for inclusion. I love that.

Dr Steve Yacovelli:  Yeah. I love it.

Jackie Ferguson: Perfect. Well see if, tell us some more about Top Dog and how it benefits new and seasoned leaders.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yeah, so of course, you know, in true learning and development, I like to kind of think about Top Dog Learning Group as our doghouse sitting in three different, but insanely complimentary areas. We focus on leadership and organizational development. We play around in diversity inclusion and belonging. And we focus on change management and resiliency. And what I found over the years is you know, for example, you know, when I was at Disney, I did leadership and diversity training.

When I was at IBM I was a change-management consultant, and they’re all kind of the same thing. And that’s why I like sitting in the middle, because for example, if you’re going to try to teach a workforce to be more consciously inclusive, you can pull in threads of a typical change-management strategy to help make that happen. From formal training, executive sponsorship, communication strategy, all that cool stuff.

And I just think it’s really fun. So we work with both, you know, brand new, shiny, out of the wrapper leaders, as well as a more experienced one, doing things like executive and group coaching, face-to-face trainings when we can do those, or virtual, some off-the-shelf, self-pace solutions. And sometimes it’s just stand up, bring your fresh eyes to this consultative table, Steve, and see what we’re missing kind of stuff.

It’s been really, really a cool experience, especially understanding the differences in corporate workplaces, which I think is so fascinating. It’s like, I jokingly say in my book that I’m like a gay Jane Goodall going in for the, you know, looking at the culture and trying to understand, you know, what is influencing what’s happening within the workplace? And is it really the route that, that our clients want to go?

Jackie Ferguson: Wow, that is fantastic. Tell us a little more Steve, about some of the clients that you work with now.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Typically speaking, we tend to work with larger organizations, Fortune 500’s, large not-for-profits, a couple of smaller mom and pop, or mom and mom, or pop and pop shops, if you will.

But it’s, it’s been really cool because the one thing that, I was working with a business consultant who was kind of doing like, business analysis for me. And, he made a point to say, he’s like, “You don’t have a, like an industry specific.” I’m like, “No, I don’t. And I like it that way because we can play with pharma, we can go with manufacturing, we can do entertainment.” Like, and that’s, that to me is exciting because what I find the value, is say, talking to my farmer clients and saying, “You know what’s interesting, you’re doing something very similar to this global media company. And let me tell you what that looks like you know, without giving their names.” And so that’s kind of the fun part is, is pulling those threads and connecting them for clients that maybe they didn’t have that if they were just sticking within a certain industry.

Jackie Ferguson:  That’s awesome. And you know, good leadership and diversity and inclusion is necessary for any industry. So, I think that’s one of the reasons why you just are great across all of them. It’s because it’s needed. It’s needed.

Dr Steve Yacovelli:  Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: Love that. Steve, tell us what it means to be consciously inclusive.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: I love saying it like that. And I’ll tell you how that story came about. It was actually when I was at Disney. And I was just kind of starting in the, the diversity and inclusion kind of conversation. And I always layered it through the leadership lens. You know, how you be an inclusive leader. And so, I’m doing um, you know, kind of like unconscious bias workshop with some folks, and there’s this gentleman in the back of the room and he was so clearly voluntold to be in this session.

If you don’t know that phrase, you know, it’s people, you’re like, “That’s a really good idea if you go.” So he really wasn’t there under his own volition. And he’s there in the back, you know, kind of doing that nonverbal thing. And so I’m watching it, and get to a break, and I go up to him very discretely and say, “Fred,” we’ll just pretend it’s Fred, “What’s going on in your head? What, what are your reactions to what we’ve talked about so far?” And he’s like, “Well, you talked about unconscious bias.” I’m like, “Yeah,” “Well, if it’s unconscious, I can’t do anything about it. So why bother?” And I’m like, “Ah, good learning for me.” So ever since then, I’ve really tried to change the phrasing to be more consciously inclusive.

So yes, it is unconscious bias, but it’s taking it from a more active perspective. And so, ever since Fred taught me that, that, you know, how some people could look at the phrasing, I like to, to say that all leaders can be consciously inclusive and, and whether you want to call it under the banner of allyship or, or just mitigating unconscious bias, or whatever’s the right phrasing, gets that as a leader if we want to be even more successful, we need to think about how we’re including everybody and creating that sense of belonging for, not just my team members, but for everyone, 360 around me. And that’s kind of the, the not-so-hidden agenda that I’m sharing with everybody in the stuff I do, whether it be through my book or the keynotes or whatever it is that we’re doing.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that. And intentionality is so important in this work. Isn’t it?

Dr Steve Yacovelli:  Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: Love that. What are some of the struggles leaders have in being consciously inclusive in the workplace?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: The first thing I think about is, and when I, when I tee this up in the trainings and the conversations we have, I say it’s, really comes in three steps: you, “Think In, Speak Up, and Act Out.” And, the idea, I might have a slide for this, actually, I may not on this one, but the idea is that when we are a consciously inclusive leader, we have to, you know, “Think In” is yourself first. And, and so it’s, you know, what are my potential unconscious biases that I might have to get over myself or, or at least become aware of so I can start to de-bias myself and really focus my energy there. So that’s kind of the first layer. And then I, I think that the next layer is then, okay, so obviously you work on your own house. But then, what can you do to help the other houses around you? Meaning your team members. And so, you know, what’s, what’s my inclusive language that we as a collective are using and, and, you know, are we engaging in silent collusion?

And if we are, how can we stop that and hold each other accountable to not do that? And then the next, the final layer out is “Act Out,” which is okay, now you’re an ambassador for inclusivity for the entire enterprise, whatever that means to you, whether it’s non-profit, K through 12, my, my workplace. And so it’s really helping to understand are we able to look at how we do business and, and all those things to, to find those areas that maybe aren’t as inclusive as we’d like them to be.

Jackie Ferguson: I love that: “Think In, Speak Up, an Act Out.” That’s, that is fantastic. I’m going to probably use that from time to time.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Please do. Please do. Give me credit. That’s all I ask.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Steve, you often talk about the “Five Layers of Diversity.” Can you share those with us?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: I can. Truth be told this is not my stuff. It’s by two amazing women in the DNI space, Lee Gardenswartz and Anita Rowe. I love these women. They’re just rockstars, but they came up with, and it used to be four layers, and they’ve since added on the fifth. But it’s a concept on how to define diversity. And ever since I learned this many, many young Steveling moons ago, it always resonated with me because, and I’ll explain the reason why, but I’ll kind of go quickly through the food model, but basically it says that we are all five of these layers.

So this little graphic here is representing one human. And so, all of these layers contribute to how we look at the unique world. So, the first layer at the dead center of what makes every human unique is “Personality.” Of course, we talked about that a bit. So yes, it’s introvert, extrovert and all that, but everything else around our unique personality that makes us the shiny, snowflake unicorn that will never, ever, ever be repeated.

So that’s the core of individuality and diversity. Their next layer out, they call, “Internal Dimensions.” And these are things that typically speaking, don’t change throughout our lifetime. So things like race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical ability, asterisk on that. These are things that, that pretty much stay solid.

Now, these are the things that some more, some less sophisticated workplaces that I play with, I, you know, I’ll ask a question, something like, “Do you consider your workplace inclusive?” “Of course it is. We have ‘blank month,’ and they go here.” And it’s like, “Good start. Nice. So, but let’s kind of keep going with that.”

So that’s kind of the “Internal Dimensions.: The “External Dimensions” are things that, that change quite frequently, sometimes daily, and it’s things like my geographic location; where I live, my income, recreational habits, my marital status, parental status. Stuff that’s very malleable, but still contributes to how we are unique and look at the world.

And the next layer out is in the context of the “Organization.” So obviously, this will change depending on where we’re looking. So workplace dimensions, organizational dimensions, you know, I’m at work, I’m part of a social group, whatever that looks like. Things like functional area, the department I work in, my management status or union status.

I actually started using the phrase “legacy organization,” because I tend to work with a lot of Fortune 500’s who, mergers acquisitions, but you still see shades of the previous owner, kind of pulling through as part of like, that, the way they look at the world. So, that’s kind of the organizational dimensions and then not too long ago, Lena Nita added what they called, “Country of Operation,” meaning wherever you’re actually working or being, actually influences how you’re looking at the world through, through that lens.

So, things like business etiquette, the laws, language, social structure, political systems, and the values, those still permeate, how you’re, you’re looking at the world. And, when I first looked at this layer, I’m like, “Okay, this totally makes sense. I have a lot of German-based, multinational clients.” I don’t know why. There’s, it kind of worked that way.

And, I do see, and it’s a trend, not a stereotype, but I do see a trend in how the expectation to operate the business goes through that cultural context. And I’m like, “Okay, that kind of makes sense.” So, those are kind of the Five Layers of Diversity. I think it’s just a cool way to start to have the conversation about diversity.

Because everyone goes to “Internal,” which is absolutely important, do not get me wrong. But I also think that understanding the other layers still contributes to seeing that uniqueness that makes up a human.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And it’s so important because a lot of times, people that are just being exposed to diversity and inclusion say, “Well, diversity doesn’t apply to me.”

Right? And it applies to everyone because everyone has these layers.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yep.

Jackie Ferguson: And, you know, it’s not just about gender. It’s not just about sexual orientation. It’s not just about race. There are so many aspects of diversity. So, I loved it.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: And what I find really helpful with this is, especially when you’re talking in-and-out groups, you know, because guarantee, of course, we’ve all been in and out.

And, and so when I pony this up as kind of the beginning of all of our workshops and conversations. People can even, even the people who are very privileged or advantaged, can find the time when they’re like, “Oh yeah, you know, I’m not a parent. And there’s times that I feel like totally on the outs because I’m single,” or whatever.

And they’re like, that’s the feeling you want to talk about, friends, because let’s apply that to another facet of diversity. It’s just a good way to kind of bring everybody together.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, you’re also called, “The Gay Leadership Dude.”

Dr Steve Yacovelli: I am. Trademark on that because I’m the only one in the world. Or at least in the U.S.

Jackie Ferguson: So, tell us how that evolved.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: When I first started writing my latest book, Pride Leadership, I was, and continue to work with an insanely incredible publisher, Publish Your Purpose Press,  Jennifer Grace. And,  we met at a conference. I’m sorting my business cards, she’s sorting hers, and we just struck up a conversation and she’s like, “What are you doing?”

I’m like, “Oh, Top Dog Consulting,” blah, blah, blah. I said, “How about you?” She’s like, ” I’m a publisher.” I’m like, “You know, there’s a leadership book in my head that needs to come out.” She’s like, “Let’s get that book out of there.” So we started going down the path, and at one point, and she’s an insanely  smart marketer, like that’s her consulting, is that she’s not just a publisher, she does that.

So she was always coaching me on things like, “Hey, you need to buy the URL that’s, and then you can redirect it wherever you want.” I’m like, “That’s so brilliant. How silly?” So, side note anyone, if you want to find my latest book, But that’s Jennifer telling me that stuff.

So, at one point she said, “What’s your personal brand?” I’m like, “Top Dog.” She’s like, “No, no, no, that’s your business. Your business can survive without you. What’s your personal brand.” I’m like, and I just immediately said, “Well, I’m going to be the gay leadership dude.” She’s like, “Then that’s your brand.” I’m like, “You’re absolutely right.”

So that’s kind of how they work in tandem. So Top Dog is my business, but my, my title, if you will, is not just the owner principle, but I’m also known as, “The Gay Leadership Dude.” And that’s kind of the personal stuff. Keynoting, that’s really kind of where I focus my energy, if you will.

Jackie Ferguson: That is fantastic. I love that. And, and I love the question, “What’s your brand?” Like as a professional–

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: –That’s something that you have to think about, right?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yeah. And so when, when I introduce myself or, you know, people say, “The Gay Leadership Dude, Steve Yacovelli!” And I say, okay, you immediately know three things about me from just that title.

That I’m gay, that I self-identify as a dude, and I really like to talk about leadership, and let’s have that conversation. And it’s always a nice intro thing. The other thing too, that I like about it, and I didn’t think about it before is that, you know, as an invisible, or potentially invisible minority, I throw it out there, you know?

Because I’m a white, cisgendered dude, and people could make assumptions, but now that’s like, you can’t assume anything if you’re meeting the gay leadership dude. So it’s there. So, and I like that.

Jackie Ferguson: That is so great. I think that is fantastic. Well, let’s talk about your book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of Their Jungle.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yes.

Jackie Ferguson: The active minds’ proven leadership traits and the uniqueness of the LGBTQ+ experience into an actionable guide. I loved it. And it’s so great. You know, very often when you read leadership books, it’s that, “The How To,” what’s the, right. It’s the step-by-step. And then, you know, you’re like, “I’m going to push through it. It’s got great information.”

But this book was funny, it was so great with, you know, great information, actionable information. It also had personality and I love that. Can you tell us a little more, and I think I’ve just sold it, right?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: I hope so. Okay, I’ll do this background because it’s more appropriate. So, Pride Leadership Strategies for the LGBTQ  Plus Leader to be the King or Queen of Their Jungle. I say “Plus” instead of plus only because I lived in France for a while and it’s just like, my stupid little thing. People are like, “What’s plus? Is that yet another like, alphabet thing we need to know?” I’m like, “No, I’m just a geek who like, magpies language.” You know, I guess people say, “You appropriate.”

I’m like, “No, I just listen to stuff and I pick it up.” And so, that’s actually like the foreword of my book. I say, I’m like, “I’m not appropriating. I’m just gorgeously influenced in my language.” So anyway, side note on that. But it, it started with Jenn and, and the leadership book coming out story, uh, pun intended.

But I was, I was going to go down the path of just kind of writing, you know, generic leadership book and, and kind of go from there. And then, you remember Sex and The City–

Jackie Ferguson: mhm.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: –Which is coming back out now, apparently. I, you know, I love that show, of course, “Hey, gee, I’m not gay,” but anyway, I love that show.

And, um, I remember how Carrie Bradshaw would always sit down at her Mac and she’s like, “I couldn’t help, but wonder…” And, and so that actually went through the back of my head as I’m starting to formulate the outline for the book. Because I do a lot of work in social justice, especially with the queer community.

And, and, I’ve led groups, you know, volunteer and stuff here in central Florida and beyond. And just because leadership was, was, and usually is on top of mine. I started watching my queer brothers and sisters who are leading these different initiatives. And then I couldn’t help but wonder, Carrie Bradshaw, is there something about being an LGBTQ Plus person that leads you to approach leadership, or at least get exposed, or the opportunity to exercise your leadership muscles differently than our straight brothers and sisters.

So for example,  I was looking at the different competencies and at one point I had post-it notes all over this office working with a friend of mine who, since I’m an extrovert, I need another extrovert to kind of, you know, process stuff.

And we must have had like 40-some post-it notes on all these different competencies that we, because he’s also in the OD leadership space. And we just like, what we saw working, started trying to cluster them together to see what are the ones we really want to focus on. And then I started thinking about like, “Okay, so I’m watching my queer leadership brothers and sisters do their thing.”

And I’m thinking about something, like, “Well, authenticity.” You go back in the generic research on, on leadership. And people have been saying for years, “You’re being an authentic leader, is successful.” Well, yes, of course it is, because you build trust and all that good stuff, but what does that look like through the lens of being a queer person?

So, you know, if I’m an out, trans person in the workplace, or I’m an, out gay or lesbian or bisexual person, that’s amazing. And so you’re, you know, it’s not to say that it’s better leadership, but it’s just different leadership that we have the opportunity. So, that’s kind of how I framed the six competencies I talk about in Pride Leadership, which is, you know, authenticity, having courage, having empathy, effective communication, building relationships, and then shaping, you can see culture, there’s culture right there. But culture is the purple one.

And so this is kind of the lens I put it through, but Jackie, to your point, I’m actually hearing from a lot of allies how much they love the book because as my, my editor, Heather, which I think is funny, Heather The Editor, that’s fun to say. But, when she, you know, she first read the book and gave me the first piece of feedback, I was like, nervous as anything. I’m in a coffee shop in downtown Orlando and, and waiting for a call. And she’s like, “Steve, I need to, before I give you feedback, I need to preface something.”

I’m like, “Okay.” She’s like, “I am not your target audience. She’s like, “I’m a white, cisgendered, straight woman.” I’m like, “Ugh.” She’s like, “This is the book I wanted from my MBA program when we talked about leadership,” I’m like, “What?”

And you said, she said things like you, it was very approachable, it was funny, it was cheeky, dad humor, but it’s, I mean, I’m an academic nerd. There’s like, solid leadership research theory back there. And that’s what I tried to bring to the voice was that approachability to it, some cheeky fun-ness that hopefully sticks with the learner or the reader, but really can help be kind of like a, “How To” guide to be a bit more of a consciously inclusive leader.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And see, are there different challenges for LGBTQ “Plus“, a leader–

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yay!

Jackie Ferguson:  And for cis, hetero leaders. And for those who are new to our shows, cis, hetero means that you identify as the gender you were assigned at birth, and you’re attracted to men if you’re a woman, or women if you’re a man.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: I think there are, I think with any of us “Others,” there’s always going to be some nuance or difference that we need to think about than kind of the “Norm,” quote-unquote, or more of the larger population. I think for queer folks though, one of the things that I think is the oppor– you know. Disney, we never said a problem, we said, “You have an area of opportunity.” And I think this is the area of opportunity; is, is for us to own our authenticity and make sure that we’re out.

And the latest studies by the Human Rights Campaign says still, that about 50% of LGBTQ Plus people are not out at work. And that’s, I mean, that’s the latest one that, they haven’t brought out the next one. You know, and I’d be curious to see does the, the SCOTUS ruling from last summer about Title IX and all that good stuff, see how that plays out. But regardless, 50% in 2021, half the people from my community are not out at work. And that’s, that blows my mind for a couple reasons. One, why? You know what I mean? Like, and we all have our own reasons, obviously I was in that boat at some point, and I’m never going to out somebody or tell them you need to come out.

No, that’s not my jam, but I do want to ask people why? Because I know when, before I, I owned my authentic self in the workplace, the jogging around a pronouns, and, “What did you do this weekend?” And, “Who’d you do it with?” You know, like, “Where’s the pictures in my office or my cubicle?” You know, all that stuff takes energy. And that’s energy you could be focusing on to be a more awesome leader.

And so I always think that with other minorities, obviously there’s a big asterisk on this, so it’s not a big generalization, with other minority groups, you kind of are forced to be out, whether you like it or not, for in most instances, not all of course.

Whereas for, for many queer folks, you’d make that choosing. And so it, it’s always there. You know, I know every workshop I do, every virtual keynote I do, obviously with The Gay Leadership Dude, it makes a heck of a lot easier. It’s kind of right out there. But when it, that’s not part of the conversation, when I’m with my Fortune 500 clients, I have to make that choice to say, “Do I come out to these folks or not?”

And I do. I mean, I always do. I have, my, my husband of 23 years would probably be pretty pissed off at me, excuse me, if I didn’t. But that’s not who I am. I mean, authenticity is the number one thing I talk about. So, that’s for me personally, that’s the opportunity I see. And, and I think that’s, that’s maybe that, the challenge or area of opportunity that queer folks have is to own their authenticity. Because that also takes courage too–

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: — To do that as well.

Jackie Ferguson: Especially when you’re in an environment where you have, you know, these microaggressions and these, these little off color jokes and statements because people are listening to that. And that’s what I would try to remind leaders and organizations all the time, your employees are listening. Right? They’re, they’re hearing what you say, they’re hearing what, you know, the– the body language, they see it. You know, they’re, and, and it, it changes, you know, how safe they feel in that environment, so.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: A thousand percent agree with you, Jackie. And I, I say this to all of my leadership “Friends,” I call them. You know, as a leader, you can’t take that off. You can’t go backstage. Very sparingly, you can. Because people are always watching you and that’s, that’s the blessing and the curse of leadership, isn’t it? Because people are always influenced by you or they’re judging you. And by what you do or what you don’t do. And I, especially talk about this in the context of silent collusion, and how you can be the best of intentive leaders from that heart, and that disparaging remark happens, and you don’t refute it, people notice that.

And it may not be about my group, but I’m going to say, well, gosh, you know, Jackie, my leader didn’t defend women, what happens when they’re about gay folks? And what’s she going to do then? And it’s always happening.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. Steve, tell us who inspired you as a young person to be who you are today?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: You know, and that’s such a fun question, and I have to think about that. And, and I, I tried not to overthink it when you shared that with me as one of the potentials and, you know, honestly, and this is going to sound really trite, but it’s insanely from my heart, my parents. I come from a very modest, blue collar background. Mom was a secretary, Dad worked in a factory his whole time. And, they just taught me some really awesome things. And in fact, I even cite my mother as giving me the best business advice in my book. And, and you know, her, basically, she says, “Never underestimate the power of the ad men.” Because she was absolutely right.

And talked about the context and, and you know, who owns the power in certain situations. But, you know, my parents have always inspired me to, to work hard and give back. And really also trust those who you let in. And just really try to do the right thing. And they, I mean, knock on wood, I’m so blessed to have them still to this day.

They’re just in the Philadelphia area; talk to them. I taught them FaceTime, so that was a cool COVID success. And they’re pretty tech savvy, but they just never did that before. So that was kind of cool. But yeah, they’re, they, they’ve always been such a really big, both educators in me, but also have always been in my corner. Even, even during the coming out time and all that fun stuff.

And, and, you know, there was a little bit of a challenge for them to just understand it, but they’re like, “Hey, we love you, you’re our son, and we’ll figure it out.” And that’s kind of been their attitude the whole time.

Jackie Ferguson: That is so fantastic.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: And yeah, I’m lucky. Not everybody gets that.

That’s right.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s absolutely right. Steve, tell us about your family. I know that you’re in Orlando. You mentioned that.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: I am the, all of my family’s still in Pennsylvania, my, you know, my birth family. So I’m the only one who decided 24 plus years ago to escape to the warmth. And, and, you know, as, as we’re recording this right now, um, that’s a nice thing, cause it’s like 80 degrees here and I, I’ve made it a vow since kind of COVID all became a thing.

I have not worn pants since March 13th. And so that’s– my goal is to see, yes, I have shorts on, of course. But my goal is to see if I can make it one full calendar year without putting on pantaloons. So we’ll see if that works. And that’s actually going to be the, title of an article I write, called, “The Year I Didn’t Wear Pants and What I’ve Learned During COVID.”

But no, I’m, I’m, you know, here with, in downtown Orlando with my husband, Richard. And like I said, we’ve been together for 23 years and have two canine children, no human children in this particular life experience, which I’m so cool with this. We’re awesome uncles to my nieces and nephews, but like I said, all of my family’s up North. When they were younger, when all the kids were younger, they loved you. “Uncle P,” they used to call me because I used to work for Disney and I still have Disney connections and you know, my husband does stuff for universal.

And so we were like, my one nephew and niece called us the “Funcles” because we’re the fun uncles. And of course then there’s the family you make, which are both, you know, here in central Florida as well as you know, well, well, well beyond. And I, I am very fortunate that,  when you say family, I have a lot of really awesome people in my world that I’m very fortunate to still have connections with regardless of geography. And that’s another blessing of COVID in my, my perspective, is it forced some of those folks who didn’t necessarily embrace this kind of technology to do it. So it’s like, “Yes, I can still see you!” And, you know, see my, what in essence in my head, is my niece who’s only three-ish in LA. And I can just watch her and say hi to her and stuff. So it’s been a, to me again, a good, good experience.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s so great. Steve, can we talk about the Pulse nightclub shooting? We discussed it lightly in a previous conversation that we had. But can you share about that experience from your perspective in there in Orlando?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yes. So, I am physically sitting about, not even a mile from where the Pulse Massacre happened. And of course, being a member of the community, I’m familiar with it. Demographically speaking, we didn’t go there a whole lot just because it, it was a little bit younger crowd, if you will, so to speak.

But the, the night of, um, that Pulse happened, we were actually out at Disney at a friend’s birthday. And so they’d gotten, it was a big birthday, they rented a limo, we drove down there and had a beautiful dinner. We were coming back. We’re like, “Hey, let’s go dancing.” And so, we talked about it and then were like, “Ah, we’re all too old. We can’t go to Pulse tonight.” And you know, we’re not going to go to this other bar and all that. So, you know, and I’m like, and I had an early flight the next day and call it a night. So the next morning, I get up early because I was flying to LA, or San Francisco that day.

So I’m up at like four-something in the morning and I, I hear helicopters. And we’re downtown Orlando, but there’s some big highways and like, “Oh, it must have been a big accident.” And then I, I just, you know, was drinking my coffee, waiting for my Uber, and I’m looking at Facebook and I’m seeing things unfold.

And my first thought was, I didn’t know who I would know who was there. But I did know that one of our good friends and neighbors is a police officer and usually he would be the off-duty police officer at the door every Saturday night at Pulse. And so, that was my first thought was, “Oh my gosh, is he okay?”

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: And, and, and so he’s, because of his job, he’s not on social media. So I’m trying to reach out to, what’s now his husband, it was his fiance at the time. Of course it’s early in the morning, I’m not getting anything. So now it’s all becoming clear what’s going on or at least in the moment. And so now I’m in the cab, just watching, listening, getting on my airplane, watching this at like, like they, the flight attendant made me shut down everything cause I refused to, I needed to know.

So then I get on a plane, I’m, I’m in lockdown because it’s a plane and you know, it’s, I, I make it to LA, I’m frantically trying to figure things out. Did I know anybody? What’s happening? And just finding out the story. And then by the time I left Los Angeles and got to San Francisco is when we knew a lot more.

And of course, texting my husband and trying to find out all this stuff and, some folks who unfortunately, did not make it. It was really not, it wasn’t a very good experience for so many of us, but, you know, and again, being a glass half-full person, kind of getting on the other side of it is, is two things that really were a silver lining for, for me personally.

And,and one is that the outpouring of love globally; it literally, globally was, was profound. We have, I, I lived in France briefly. We have a lot of friends over, over in France, you know, and, and when they turned the Eiffel Tower rainbow for, you know, the, the victims of Pulse. And, and, you know, big things like that to little things like, you know, I, I have a handful of friends in the Bay area who were just like, “You’re coming out to dinner with us. You don’t need to be alone in your hotel room,” you know, that kind of stuff. And then, the second thing that I found, and still find to be incredible is the Orlando community is insanely awesome. And people, they just think, “Oh, Orlando, Disney, Harry Potter Land, Shamu, conventions.” And you know, those stereotypes are fine.

Bring your tax dollars and we can use that. That’s awesome. But the outpouring of love and protection at that moment for my community was, was phenomenal. I mean, everybody had a rainbow flag if they were, you know, ally or, or queer. And, you know, the people lining up for blocks and blocks blocks in, in the dead of heat to give blood because that’s an action they could take. To see the outpouring of, of everybody assembling in the center of the city for the candlelight vigil. You know, obviously, I was out in California for work. I’m streaming it, watching it on the beauty of social media, and just really missing my family. And flash forward to now. Orlando is still that community.

It has not gone away. And so, when any of us “Others” have something happen. The rest of us come, come and charge and be like, “Nah, not in our house, get out.” And, and whether it be people of color, Muslim, queer, doesn’t matter. And that’s, to me, we were always an inclusive community, but we just amped it up because of the Pulse massacre. And I think that’s a silver lining or one of the few silver linings that have transpired from that.

Jackie Ferguson: Steve, thanks for sharing that. If you think about, what if we were all like that? What if we all have that community created? That kind of community to where we rallied around each other? What a, what an incredible world we would have, right?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: And, and that’s, that’s why I like talking about, you know, being a consciously inclusive leader, because it feeds that. It’s allyship, it’s that inclusivity that we all can do for any of the “Others.” And I think that’s, that’s why I’m so passionate about having these conversations because we can do this.

It just takes a little bit of thought and, and maybe a little extra coaxing from some other people. And that’s why working for me, working through this at a business, you know, and we always talk about, well, “Why should we as a business go down this path?” And you know, of course on one end, hey, it’s the right thing to do. It makes the world that much more awesome. You and I get this, I would guarantee you the vast majority of people listening to this, get that part. Not everyone does. So then on the opposite side of that spectrum is, “Ooh, punitive damage. Let’s avoid getting our hand slapped, or fined or,” or insert bad reasons here.

Is that a reason? Sure. Is that my favorite reason? No. Does it work? Yeah. And then I approach it in the middle. I say, you know, obviously, you know where I sit on this conversation, but let’s just talk about the business sense this makes. You know, you don’t have to be on board, but study after study after study shows that those businesses that are more diverse in their leadership do fiscally better.

And so, you know, I’m . Like, I would love you to be at, “This makes your world just more awesome for every single one of us.” If you’re not there. Okay. Let’s start with the business. You know, we’ll start with money and help you go down that path. Because I guarantee once you start getting here, you’re going to be like, “Wow, it, it does make business sense, and look how much better the world is because we’re being more inclusive.” Like, “Haha, got ya!” And I’m cool with that, you know.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely, right. You know, I, I was talking to a group today and I was talking about a specific statistic where Oxford University did a study that showed that they were people that are happy at work. And employees that are happy at work, and feel included, and feel safe are 14% more productive.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yeah.

Jackie Ferguson: What that breaks down to, is it, basically an hour a day, additional productivity, right? And if you think about what that means per employee, give them three weeks off, right? That’s like 250 plus hours a year per employee of more productivity. And if that doesn’t tell a business leader that they need to have an inclusive environment, I don’t know what does.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Right? And so, that’s where I get really excited and talk about, you know, let’s look at the measurement of this. I always talk measurement with my client partners, whether it be just for, for learning or for diversity inclusion, because that’s the stuff that really will turn heads for the people who aren’t on board with our story and our message. And, and fine. If that’s what gets you on board, fantastic. Just, let’s go down this path because eventually it’s going to rub off.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Steve, one of my favorite questions to ask is, tell us something about you that not a lot of people know.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Can I tell two?

Jackie Ferguson: Yes!

Dr Steve Yacovelli: I actually use this as, excuse me, I use this as like an icebreaker for some of the workshops that I do. So the first is, technically, I’m a Lord of Scotland. Because with the last name of Yacovelli, you of course assume that I’m Scottish. I’m not. But legally speaking, or at least according to some things, I can write, you know,  Lord Dr. Steven Yacovelli if I wanted. And it’s a half joke, but there’s, you know, websites you can go to and you can save a tree.

And, you know, there’s a, of some rule, if it’s really true that if you own land in Scotland, you can claim Lord, or Laird or Lady. And, so I did that for my, myself, my husband, and our two neighbors. We’re like they’re gay sons. They’re like my parents age and so we have a four by four plot of our four trees somewhere in Glencoe County, Scotland. And we got a Tartan, so we have the full regalia. We kind of made it, made it our own thing. And, so that was, that was the, probably the funniest one, because we were like, “Uh, your last name is not Scottish.” I’m like, “I know it’s kind of Americanized Italian, so.

Jackie Ferguson: Oh, I love that. And Steve, just staying on that point. My last name is Scottish.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Yes, I know.

Jackie Ferguson: You can see, right?. But, yeah, I might have to look into that because I’d love to have to be called “Lady.”

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Lady Jackie, of course.

Jackie Ferguson: Okay. What’s the second thing?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: The second thing is I was actually in Rocky Five.

Jackie Ferguson: What?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: But it’s not that fancy because, and it was in college. I was in a group scene, in the big fight, and it was such a fun experience. But as it turned out in the final cut of the movie, you don’t really even see that scene except on a TV. So there’s no way in heck you’re ever going to see it. But I was in Rocky Five. I have like the little coupon and everything, the little ticket.

Jackie Ferguson: Steve, what would you like to leave our listeners with today?

Dr Steve Yacovelli: So, one of the things that I’m trying to share with people is something we talked about a little bit ago, about you’re trying to mitigate silent collusion in the workplace and, and beyond. And so, if you, and it will be in the show notes, but if you go to, M-O-P-S-A-M, I’ve created a, we call them “Learning Toppa’s at top dog, little bite-sized learning nuggets. And “Mop+Sam” is the, it’s a silly, cheeky little joke. It’s actually in my, in my book, Pride Leadership as well, but it’s ” The Six Ways to Beat Silent Collusion: M-O-P-S-A-M.” and it’s introduced by this dog named Sam, whose breed is a Hungarian Puli Mop, or a Mop Dog.

So “MOP+SAM,” and it’s cheeky, it’s silly, but it’s a way to remember that in that moment, when someone says their stupid, disparaging remarks about any of us others, and you want to be a conscious, inclusive leader and stop it, or at least, acknowledge that I am not on board with this. I’m not silently colluding, you can pull out one of these six strategies to kind of show. And so, “MOP+SAM” is the strategy I created. And feel free to use it, it’s a free, little learning nugget, and hopefully you can use those in those times when you need to.

Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. Steve, tell us how people can get in touch with you, and tell us where they can buy your book, Pride Leadership: For the LGBTQ Plus Leader.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: That’s very good. So, the best place to go is just our main website,, B-I-Z.  If you mess up and, it’ll get you the right spot. But there, you can see the top. There’s stuff about the book, it’ll send you to Amazon, or if you want a hard copy or all that good stuff.

The audio book actually came out, if I could tell a really quick story, which is kind of fun. So,  the way Jenn, my awesome publisher, kind of shared is you have your book, the physical book, which mine came out, pun intended, in June of 2019. And then she, her strategy is the anniversary of the book is when you should have the audio book. Unless you want to do the whole enchilada, but usually it’s a lot for you to cover.

So, I had already planned what became the middle of, of last year to have the book come out.  The audio book. And so, I was working with my audio producer, so it’s a little different process, and we just couldn’t get good audio because we would, we would something like this, you know, where we were live and in person. The editor would do his thing, I would just read the book.

That was the first decision I decide, “Am I reading it or my hiring somebody?” And then, you know, as, as you look at my, my Six Competencies, well, the very first one up there in red is “Authenticity.” That would probably be kind of crappy if I like, farmed it out to somebody else. It’s not very authentic.

So, I kind of figured, I better do it myself. And I’ve done voiceover work. So, it wasn’t kind of foreign to me. Well, as I’m working with this producer, he’s like, you know, “We’re just not getting good live audio for us to work together. You’ll have to record it, and then I’ll edit it afterwards. So you have to find a really quiet place in your house, you know, good connectivity.” and so, the best place in my house that I recorded the six and a half hours of my audio book, my gay leadership book, is in the closet. So, yeah.

Jackie Ferguson:  Got it.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: So, I just thought that was funny. And so, but the audio book is available, you hear me do all the cheeky dad jokes and the humor, and I had a good time with it. The only thing I didn’t like is my closet had no air conditioning, so that was a bit hot. And so, that’s also like to,, you can find the audio book as well.

Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. Steve, thank you so much. I really enjoyed every moment of this conversation. Thank you for spending time with us and sharing so many amazing tips with us.

Dr Steve Yacovelli: Thank you, Jackie, and thank you for the work that you and, and, and all of the listeners do in this space. I mean, it, it takes an army of us to, to foster inclusivity and senses of belonging within our respective areas. So, thank you for leading this opportunity for voices and thanks for all the listeners for all of the work that you do as well.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Thanks, Steve.

Full Episode Transcript

MOP+SAM, Inclusive Language to Beat Silent CollusionTop Dog Learning Group
Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is presented by The Diversity Movement and hosted by Jackie Ferguson. For more information including the latest webinars and other DEI content, head over to Podcast production by Earfluence.

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