What would happen if you — if everyone, even — empowered differences? That’s what Ashley T. Brundage, Founder and President of Empowering Differences, wants you to consider.
Ashley T Brundage has a striking history of empowering her own differences. While seeking employment at a major financial institution, she self-identified during the interview process as a transgender woman and subsequently was hired. In less than five years, she was promoted to VP, Diversity and Inclusion.
Since beginning transitioning in 2008, Ashley T Brundage has worked tirelessly to promote awareness and acceptance of gender identity and expression. In addition to being a community advocate and volunteer, she is a dedicated mom and has also devised the Empowering Differences approach. Recently, she and I chatted about her inspirations and hopes.
Todd Wellman: Your Empowering Differences approach reminds me that people may care more about those around them if they first have a chance to share who they are. I can just “hear” that part of the logic model! Though it’s true and effective, do you find this a good thing or unfortunately necessary or a mix of the two?
Ashley T Brundage: Yes, this is a good thing, and it’s so important to never place things about you all on an island on their own. Someone can make a preconceived notion about your community or difference and then form a negative opinion from only knowing that item. When people share their differences with others while combining them with at least one of the 10 Empowering Actions, it will lead them to more control of the narrative concerning their differences. This will allow their relationship to blossom and lead to more empowerment for each other.
TW: Who inspires your work? What about those inspirations keeps you going?
ATB: Well my kids inspire me the most, and often I refer to them as Ashley’s Allies. They were the reason I didn’t give up hope when we were facing homelessness and I was facing discrimination and harassment. In the business world, I have several inspirational leaders like Sarah Kate Ellis, the President and CEO of GLAAD. Her command presence, communication, and leadership has moved mountains to create so much inclusion for the LGBTQ community. Also, I think about our trans and gender non-conforming youth many times during the day with all the attacks they are facing. That keeps me laser-focused on making this world more inclusive for all people.
Explore Ashley T Brundage’s Empowering Differences book at https://empoweringdifferences.com/product/empowering-differences-book/ and the related self-assessment at https://empoweringdifferences.com/selfassessment/.
TW: Between the two of us, we’ve given or hosted at least a thousand talks and workshops — and know that people learning about differences isn’t the same as people acting to include or honor others. “Diversity and inclusion and belonging initiatives” in corporations fall flat when the only success is, say, a group of queer employees doing the work of teaching their colleagues. What about your approach helps people move beyond gaining knowledge to begin acting on that new knowledge?
ATB: It really stems from the interweaving of empowerment through each of the actions I center my concept around. You point to how these diversity buzzwords are just thrown around and then it is a box-checking mentality. We have to use platforms like the online course to help people really connect these buzzwords as the Empowering Actions that they are to truly leverage change in an organization.
TW: After someone has started acting on their new knowledge, how does someone then help organizations make necessary structural or systems changes? What’s an example of those necessary changes that someone could support?
ATB: Well for starters, all the content in my online course is highly geared to this as each Empowering Action has a list of implementations, but two of my favorites are Mentor and Access. Suggesting leadership create or expand a formal mentoring program regardless of the size of the organization is a first step. Then think about how you can advocate for others to have more accessible technology features like how my online course has closed captioning embedded. Actions like these have empowerment deeply connected because they require giving power and authority to others. The entire book and course go much deeper on these system changing strategies so I really look forward to hearing about the impacts your audience all makes when they begin to showcase Empowering Differences.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Read more about my nonfiction writing here.