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Ashley Brundage: Using Privilege to Empower Others
22nd September 2021 • Working On Wellbeing • Salary Finance
00:00:00 00:40:03

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In this episode, we hear from Ashley Brundage, who talks about her experiences around transitioning, workplace equality, empowerment, and leadership principles.

For the full show notes, head on over to:

https://www.salaryfinance.com/us/podcast/Ashley-Brundage-Using-Privilege-to-Empower-Others

Transcripts

Anita Ward:

Today our show's live from Tampa, Florida, where we're joined by the remarkable Ashley T Brundage, the VP of diversity and inclusion for one of the largest financial institutions in the country. And Ashley is the bomb. So you're in for a very, very special treat. I would say for those handful of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting Ashley, I'm just going to read off a few of her accomplishments. And I'm going to embarrass you a little bit, Ashley, but I don't have the time. It would take the whole podcast to actually list all of your accomplishments for everybody. But I want to set the stage right. So first and foremost, everybody, she's a recognized leader in workplace equality. There's nobody who has a better leadership position and talks more authentically in the world about inclusion. Ashley serves on the corporate Advisory Council for the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, where I hear that you're now co-chairing their new global transgender nonconforming inclusion Task Force. That is awesome. And I can't wait to hear more about it. I think that this year, or last year, you were actually elected to the National Board of Directors for GLAAD. And my favorite, she's just an amazing speaker and motivator. And she's been in more media and journals, more than I can count, but I'm an anthropologist, so I don't count.

Anita Ward:

But she even had a feature story in Bloomberg Businessweek. So when you start thinking about diversity and inclusion, and equity, and Ashley's story, we'll start talking very distinctly and very clearly about the business piece, because at her core, she won't tell you, but she's an entrepreneur. This is the most successful businesswoman I'm ever going to meet. And she's got tons and tons and tons of awards. But I'm going to tell you, my dear friend, I think the best one is the one where the national Diversity Council named you as one of Florida's most powerful and influential women. So for me, that's really all it takes. I am so humbled, I am so grateful. I am so excited to have a conversation with you today because you're just one of my most favorite people in the whole wide world. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I'm so excited.

Ashley Brundage:

Honored to be here.

Anita Ward:

Congratulations on the new book. It's so amazing, Empowering Differences, everybody, and the new company and your book tour, isn't it? Where are you going on the book tour?

Ashley Brundage:

Oh, my goodness. For the next three weeks I have New York, I have Detroit, I have DC, I have Vegas, I have Costa Rica. I'm all over the place.

Anita Ward:

You're gonna need new luggage. I did see some really cute luggage called Birdy that is really cute. But there's so much happening. And the last time I saw you right before quarantine, this book was just underway. It wasn't finished. So did you finish it during quarantine while I sat around and ate chips at home?

Ashley Brundage:

Yeah, I not only finished it during quarantine, but I also got it published. And then I created it as a workbook. And then I also created it as an online course, all stemming to more leadership and empowerment for everyone.

Anita Ward:

And we can get that on your website. Right. So at the end, I'll make sure and share with everybody how they can get to Empowering Differences. Because, yesterday you and I were talking about this, but I'm super anxious to take a deep dive into the book and your company. But it struck me this morning that it's super popular right now to talk a lot about diversity and talk a lot about wellbeing but you've lived it. You've lived every aspect of wellbeing, physical, social, emotional, and financial. And you acted. So I thought maybe we could start with you setting the stage by maybe sharing your personal story, maybe starting where the book begins...

Ashley Brundage:

Yeah.

Anita Ward:

…first career, maybe? I love the way you position it as your first career and your first life. Could you start there for us?

Ashley Brundage:

Yeah, I can totally do that. I can take our listeners on my time machine trip back. And in the 90s, I wanted to transition my gender but I couldn't find enough resources to be able to survive. There weren't a lot of conversations about the transgender community happening in the 90s. So I hid in the closet to survive. And I latched on in the restaurant industry and grew my career. From a part-time server making $40 an hour to become a corporate General Manager leading a team of 50 people in the restaurant industry. It was, literally every day working in the restaurant industry, my way of tunnel visioning, my focus on the work and building relationships with people. And it really helped me just survive. And I was just surviving. That's it. Only just barely surviving.

Anita Ward:

You were 17 or 18 at the time, right?

Ashley Brundage:

g through the world. And then:

Anita Ward:

So there's a part in the book that I find so compelling, where you talk about, I think you're 21 or early 20s. And you were at the pinnacle, you were the youngest General Manager at the organization, maybe ever. And you contrast that with what it was like to have privileged then, when you were presenting as a white cisgender, straight man. And it gave you a different perspective on privilege, which I think many of our listeners don't understand. Can you talk a bit about privilege and what you shared in the book because it's deeply emotional. And I think something that only you have the unique perspective on.

Ashley Brundage:

So the word 'privilege', usually, will scare the most privileged people in society. I mean, honestly, they see that as an opportunity that people might attack them about their privilege. I recommend that when you're listening to the podcast today, or watching the replay online, that you think about the word privilege, and not from a negative context. Think about it as an opportunity where you can create empowerment for others. And that's how you manage privilege appropriately. If you have the privilege to something, whether that be white privilege, whether that be cisgender privilege, or straight privilege, or whatever it is. If you have a privilege because you're one of the more privileged people in society because of that item, then you should be thinking about how you should utilize empowerment to be the difference-maker for others. And that will create a stronger society, it'll create a stronger workplace where you work, it'll create a better society for everyone to be more empowered. And that, at the end of the day, is what we're looking for.

Anita Ward:

pairment, when you talk about:

Ashley Brundage:

Yeah. Oh, it was

Anita Ward:

What was that like?

Ashley Brundage:

I spent about:

Ashley Brundage:

And then I started showing up to job interviews, not authentically, at first. I showed up to a job interview, and I kind of use my privilege still as a cisgender male presenting person. And I move right through the interview process, that day was an entry-level position. And they were like, *Well, oh my goodness, we would love to have you. If you come back tomorrow, we'll fill out your paperwork and then get you started*, and all of that. I said okay. And then I showed up the next day as Ashley and I said, You know what, if I'm going to start at the bottom again, I'm gonna end up killing myself. It's heartbreaking to say that because so many people face suicide, but it was a reality that I was in, in that target demographic.

Ashley Brundage:

Transgender people face a 42% suicide rate. But the reason it's so hard to find employment is it's so hard to have people support you and friendship. So I said, *You know what, I'm just gonna show up and be me*. And I'm gonna own it. I walked in and they were like, *Oh, you don't have a job interview here today. You have the wrong address.* And then I was like, *Okay, I see what's happening here. I'm facing discrimination for the very first time.*

Anita Ward:

Right.

Ashley Brundage:

And I needed to face that kind of hardship and that kind of discrimination because it's what led me to really uncover the rest of the steps of the four-step empowerment process.

Anita Ward:

And didn't you take a stint while you were sort of figuring out who you were, where you were taking care of the boys? You were a stay at home parent at that point, right? So you're at that Pinnacle, at the general management, and said, *"I can't do this, I'm going to take a step back, and I'm going to, I'm going to shift and focus on my family."*

Ashley Brundage:

Yeah. And that was really the knowing yourself step. To know everything that's about who you are. And my kids are such an important part of who I am. Being with them really gave me the empowerment that I needed. They literally gave me the toolkit to overcome every single item of discrimination, harassment, and homelessness that I faced the next three years.

Anita Ward:

So when did you end up at the bank? I love this story of the first day at the bank. Because I feel like every organization should listen carefully to how you describe what that first day was and how safe it felt. But how did you end up? Because your resume would have been way off the charts to give you a part-time teller position. What goes on in that courageous head of yours to say, *I'm going to go do this and get there?* Because that's a big difference.

Ashley Brundage:

I had basically been dumbing down my resume, because I felt if I could just get my foot in the door and a major organization, then I would be an internal candidate. And that path was going to be a lot easier to navigate than trying to move in at a middle manager level for an organization. It's a bigger list. It's a bigger trust requirement needed for that. So that's what led me to being willing to take that part-time teller position. I thought it was a full-time teller position. And when I realized it was part-time I was like, *Okay, let's make this even harder. I got this.*

Anita Ward:

Knocking down...

Ashley Brundage:

What's that?

Anita Ward:

...breaking down obstacles, knocking down doors, that's who you are.

Ashley Brundage

I was like, *let's make it even harder.* But in all seriousness, I really felt that if I can get my foot in the door, then I would have a path to diversity, equity, inclusion. That was my ultimate goal. I wanted to work in an organization where I knew they had a program, and I would find my way there. And so I started as a teller part-time, and that first day I showed up, I was like, *Okay, I'm in the right spot*. I'm in the training room. And it's the most diverse group of people around me. I wasn't even the only transgender person in the room. I was like, wow. Statistically speaking, there are 12 new hires in this one training class, what were the chances that there would be two transgender people in that class?

Anita Ward:

Kudos to the bank, right? Because there must have been intentionality around that.

Ashley Brundage:

Yeah.

Anita Ward:

Good for them.

Ashley Brundage:

Our training instructor was openly gay. It was every single age, background, ethnicity, race covered on these four people. It was just amazing. I was so excited. I knew I was at home. And I knew that I could work really hard to showcase results, which kind of stems to the other steps of the empowerment process that helped me grow my career.

Anita Ward:

I want to talk about the ground rules in your book right now. Because I think they could be used in every single situation. So you talk a little bit about knowing who you are. But how do you figure out who you are?

Ashley Brundage:

Well, you take my self-assessment.

Anita Ward:

[inaudible] There you go.

Ashley Brundage:

Take my self-assessment. I know that you're probably saying*, Oh, my goodness, Ashley, another self-assessment. Please, I don't want to do another self-assessment.* But my self-assessment is much different than all the other ones that you've taken. Because mine are open-ended questions that lead to a better understanding of who you are, about you, your empowerment, your privilege, your comfort zone, and how you are ready to start empowering others. And these open-ended questions really, ultimately, are going to get you thinking about this empowerment level and making you dig deeper to really know yourself and set you up for step two. And ground rule two, step two, is to know others. If you don't know, and you can't statistically speak to each difference that you hold around the economic buying power, or, the census data of who represents you, what the statistics say about the country that you are in, the laws surrounding the country that you're in around inclusivity and diversity, then you need to work harder at steps one and two.

Anita Ward:

And I will admit that there was a part in the self-assessment as I went through, and I thought, *Oh, my gosh, Ashley, you're really making me dig deep here.* And there was a point where I'm like, *Oh, I don't want to go there.* But I realized that if you don't go there, then you can't finish that step number one. So educating yourself about yourself is just as important as educating yourself about everything around you. And I think the first step was the hardest in many ways.

Ashley Brundage:

Definitely. Definitely, it took me a lot of years to get through step one.

Anita Ward:

Exactly. Look at the mirror, Anita, I'm like*, Oh, God, Ashley [inaudible]*

Ashley Brundage:

Four years.

Anita Ward:

But I think what your story does is show like you said, it took you four years to get through that step. I think it's that journey, though, that shows that once you get through this, then you're motivated. What I will say is, once I'd completed the assessment, I was a little more motivated to say, *Okay, I can, I can do this, I'm starting to know about me, and I'm being honest.* So that honesty and authenticity that you present happens in your self-assessment, and you force others to present that in a sort of Mary Poppins supercalifragilistic way. Because I didn't feel like I was being forced to do anything, but it's a great assessment. So I very much enjoyed learning about me. So thank you for that. I think that what you just said, for those first two, knowing you and knowing the people and the environment around you. Then it's about what? The third one is...

Ashley Brundage:

strategy. You have to develop your strategy. And really developing your strategy is actually two ways. So first, you have to develop your strategy around how and when and where and why you're going to empower your differences and which differences you're going to be empowering, and in what setting. So for me, especially during the interview process, I knew that my status as a transgender person was going to be the number one question every single HR person had on their head. Every time I walked into a job interview. It wasn't going to be my female status, my hidden disability, it wasn't going to be my red hair, it wasn't going to be any other one of my differences. That was going to be their number one question. It was going to be my transgender status. They wanted to immediately ask every single question about that, but they can't. So if I didn't address that, and be able to position that with empowerment, then I was never going to move forward. And that was how I had to develop my strategy early on, and which difference to empower. But then as I started moving through this journey, developing your strategy became about each and every difference. So that's one part. And then the other part about developing your strategy aligns with the 10 empowering actions, which should set you up to step forward and take action. You have to develop your strategy around how you're going to prioritize those 10 actions, because if you aren't developing your strategy around that, then you're going to have pitfalls like I did.

Ashley Brundage:

When I was in the job interviews early on, I was using the actions a little differently. I was leading with education. And leading with education is actually one of the immediate things that many in the LGBTQ plus community do. We want to say, *Oh, this is what transgender means.* Or, *this is what it means to be an ally* or we go to do a Trans 101 or LGBTQ training and try to help people understand. Because that's just where the heart lives, wanting to help people understand. thinking that that's going to lead to more empowerment, and it doesn't always lead to more empowerment. So those conversations were going great, but it wasn't leading to any job offers.

Ashley Brundage:

Then I tried to leave with inspiration, which, for my course, and the book, is largely tied to how you communicate with others. And I would say *oh, you know, you see this thing I have on my shoulder. It's a big chip, and I'm here to show you how I'm going to have an amazing chip on my shoulder to prove that I belong in your organization. I overcame harassment, discrimination, and homelessness to be in this job interview here today. Imagine what I'm going to do for you.* And that would be leading with inspiration. And that was great, but it wasn't leading to any job offers.

Ashley Brundage:

So then I had to bring the empowerment, I had to bring the empowering data to the conversation. And so leading with empowerment, then inspiration, and then education in that order, is what led me to say, Don't ever self-identify anything about any difference that you have to someone else, and leave it on an island on its own. If you say that you have a disability, or you say that you are LGBTQ or you're trans, or whatever it is, or you speak English is not your first language. Whatever one of the 10 most common differences that you're sharing with someone, don't share it on its own. If you do that the other person then can pick it up and take it any which way they want to take it. If you share it with empowerment, then they have the ability to be empowered through that difference. And that is the difference.

Anita Ward:

That's a huge difference. Because then what you're putting forward is this holistic view, right? And how all of them together make up the whole

Ashley Brundage:

Don't be on an island on your own. So I would say, *Yeah, I am a transgender person. But I'm just one of approximately 2 million transgender people who live in this country.* And by surrounding myself with 1.999 million other people, I'm putting an economic voice to it. And that's empowerment.

Anita Ward:

There's a piece I wanted to talk about. The 10 steps, because, you know, that's really how you empower. But there's a piece in the empowering section around the ground rules, where you talk a lot about how organizations empower others. Is there advice or examples that you could give to organizations? Because it's not enough that just the HR person buys in and says, oh, okay, I get, but the organization has to empower through their action as well. Are there other stories you could tell? Or things that you might share around that too?

Ashley Brundage:

The lowest hanging item would be to definitely enroll all of your employees into my online course. I just I had to take that one. But besides that...

Anita Ward:

Your entrepreneurial skills, [inaudible] our differences.

Ashley Brundage:

Yeah. But honestly, each of the actions carries a certain amount of weight. Obviously, I could have had 100 actions in this book. But the rest will be for Book Two or for Book Three

Anita Ward:

You've got the workbook too so I count that as a book for you

Ashley Brundage:

Yes. You can make a major impact immediately for people with access and creating access for others. Whether that be physical access to a building, whether that be access to your executives. So that way employees can set meetings with them on their bookable calendar. I think that that is an amazing thing that any executive can do. They can create 15-minute time slots and offer 10 of them a month, or whatever it is. The employee should have the ability to do that, and have that true open-door policy that doesn't exist in this virtual world. Just a couple. There are so many more examples...

Anita Ward:

You know my favorite chapter's about the trust, right? It just happens to be my favorite piece, because I feel like it's just so fundamental. We're both in financial services, it's fundamental in the financial wellbeing world too, because you can't really talk about money or inequities without a level of trust. How do I bring my authentic self to a situation without trust? I think that of all of them, you talk about how trust and privilege and education go hand in hand. But the thing that hit me the most was how you encourage people to listen. You know, your 15 minutes where you're saying open the door, even if they open the door to be accessed, the person can't come in and be their authentic self if all you are doing is talking at them. Let's talk a bit about why is listening so important to go hand in hand with trust?

Ashley Brundage:

I'm one of those people that takes notes. I have my notebook here. I think it's important to be such an active listener. It's one thing to listen, it's the difference between listening and hearing. It's a whole other thing, right? I just really get passionate about this ability to allow people to be fully voiced. It's a whole process that revolves around trust, it's so incrementally important to that. You have to be doing all the empowerment for that to happen. And if you don't know yourself, you don't know others, you won't really be able to hear what the problem is. You're not going to be putting forth an environment where someone can actually literally say, *Hey, I think that maybe you want to change the verbiage of the way that you say that, the way you greet everybody in a meeting, I feel it's not inclusive*. But if you haven't put forth that environment, where someone will know that you're going to listen to what you have to say, then you're a little bit further on. You need to move back in the steps and it's okay to move back into four steps.

Anita Ward:

I promise you, I'll be going back to step one, quite often over the next 10 years as I still continue to discover myself.

Ashley Brundage:

Exactly. And as you do discover things about yourself, you will have to really go back through this again and say, *Okay, this is what I've done. Now, I know, I need to know this about myself.*

Anita Ward:

verybody talks a lot about in:

Ashley Brundage:

Yeah, it was not good.

Anita Ward:

That financial stress is such a burden. And I wonder, how do you address these systemic issues? Is there a role for an employer? Is there a role for a banker? And how do we overcome that and help bring down stress levels, particularly financial stress, and help with wellbeing? Obviously what you're doing with your program, and Empowering Differences, is critical. But I also wonder if maybe financial wellbeing and financial inclusion should be part of the DEI agenda?

Ashley Brundage:

I think that financial empowerment also, we think about the African-American, black community who have not had the opportunity to access wealth for hundreds of years like the white community has. And there are certain resources that need to be put forth. I think that empowerment and access, obviously, are super important in this space, as financial services organizations. They have a responsibility to put resources where they are needed. But I think also the other piece of this, that is kind of the lowest hanging fruit, is the removing of stigma associated with those communities. I talk about walking into employers and literally having a door slammed in my face from an employer. That happened to me. I got trespassed from a job interview. This is stuff that happened to me in Florida 11 or 12 years ago. But it's still happening today. And people are being emblazoned more today than they were 5, 6, 7 years ago. I flew under the radar for the most part. And now people are pinpointing and looking for those people who are intersectionally different. People are being emblazoned to attack people saying that they're not [inaudible] or that they are a foreigner. This all comes from miseducation, stereotypes, biases. The educational space that could accomplish so much. I actually led a workshop about the transgender talent pipeline because 40% of the transgender community is unemployed. And then 40% of the transgender community is also underemployed, to your point, around the $10,000 average income.

Anita Ward:

And the fact that you dummied down a resume, right? Just get a foot in the door, only to skyrocket your career I might add. Because you went from that part-time teller to a VP in like four years or something crazy. So I think there's still something to be said by that. But as I heard you talking, I started thinking, you know, in some ways, right now, it takes courage to empower your differences.

Ashley Brundage:

Yes.

Anita Ward:

It didn't hit me until you just started saying that.

Ashley Brundage:

The other piece of this, it takes even more courage to be someone who might not necessarily think that you have these kinds of differences. And maybe we haven't mentioned it yet on this if you're listening. And you might identify in a majority race, or a majority religion, or a majority gender, because I guess there are more women in this world now than there are men. But if you are a white cisgender, male ally, or soon to be ally, and you're listening, it might even be harder for you to empower others' differences. But you do hold the key back to that privilege conversation we talked about. Back to educating others, point them to this podcast, point them to the resources, point them to my resources. That's where you actually can make that impact with others. If you change one person's opinion every single day, and everyone listening did that we would start really moving forward past our differences. There are 7 billion different people on this planet, we are all different. And if we all concentrate on empowering others, just imagine how successful we will be.

Anita Ward:

And you used one of my favorite words, ally. Right. And so this whole idea of allyship, I know you had strong allies through your journey as well, including your wife, Whitney. You had strong allies through the process as you share in the book. How do I show my allyship to people? So we just told everybody to come forward, everybody be allies, speak up, no matter who you are, we can change the world. Where do I start, Ashley?

Ashley Brundage:

My favorite thing is that, as allies that take action. Use any one of my 10 empowering actions to leverage change, because they're all great ally tips. And so that could be conducting a daily privilege check. When you get up in the morning, count out how many privileges you have. You woke up, right? You have an alarm, that meant that you probably had internet. that means you probably had power. And you probably had, all of these are privileges I have.

Anita Ward

I have a bank account. I have a job. I have...

Ashley Brundage:

Right. I could stand in the room, I can open the door, I can see the alarm clock. I could hear the alarm clock. All of those things are potential privileges, and we signed into this podcast recording studio, and we did a soundcheck and a video cha. We should do a privilege check every day. Do a daily privilege check. It can be so actionable. And then once you realize that privilege that you hold, do something to make it easier for someone who does not hold that privilege.

Anita Ward:

That is incredible advice. There's a piece in your book where you talk about one way to build trust is with small acts of generosity that don't have any strings attached. I've decided I'm going to give you credit all the time. But I think just leaving our listeners with something like that is this sort of small act of cerebral generosity that has no strings attached. The best advice right now is what you just said around privilege and around doing a privilege check. And I can promise you Ashley I'm going to embrace that. But what I'd like to do is tell people what's next for you. Where can people find you? Where's the tour? Where's you know, where can they purchase your book? Where can they sign up for your leadership program? Is it all under empoweringdifferences.com?

Ashley Brundage:

Yes. That's the place where everything is, empoweringdifferences.com. And if you're listening today and you're thinking, *Oh, I want to do that, y*ou can use coupon code "empower", and you'll save 25% off any of your purchases. Thank you for listening. And that's empower, whether that's caps or lowercase doesn't matter. And you can also follow me on social media at @AshleyTBrundage. And you can also follow Empowering Differences, because there's a lot of really great curated content. And there are groups on social media, where you can connect with other people who are in the empowerment journey together at @empoweringdiff. And that's because of course, empowering differences was just too long of a name, and Twitter has character limits.

Anita Ward:

I'm going to get a little emotional because in the front of my book, I'm so lucky, everybody, because Miss Ashley actually wrote in the front of my book for me. But in the book, in this part, you challenged me to empower the world together. And so I want to take this opportunity to challenge everybody listening. As you said, all of us together, millions of people, everybody listening, if we did decide that we could empower the world together, think about the change that we would have. And just the idea of empowering your differences, embrace who you are, embrace who we are, embrace the loveliness of all of the differences that we bring. The world is so unique and so amazing. And then Ashley, I'm going to challenge it back to you to say turn empowering differences into a social movement. And let's all work together. It's more than training. It's more than this. But I think just taking the steps and moving it together, helping people with emotional wellbeing. Helping people with social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, all those pieces together. I think we should create a social movement based on this empowerment and embracing our differences. So I can't tell you how grateful I am. You have changed a bit of my life. You have made me self-assess. You have made me you know think about *how do I change the world*, but you raise the bar so high that now I have to step up and figure out what can I do. So you're stuck with me and we will change people together even if it's just one person at a time. So I'm really grateful, Ashley, thank you. Thank you for being so authentic. Thank you for being such a human being and a hero to all of us. And I'm so grateful for your time with me today.

Ashley Brundage:

Oh my goodness, I'm so glad to have spent this time with you and your listeners. And I'll also just give you one more piece of good, cerebral generosity, which is...Don't forget that as you're going through this journey together, and we go through this journey together, and you've finished the four steps. At the end of the day, go back and take the self-assessment again. And by doing that, you'll be able to uncover the self-actualization that sits there, just sitting there waiting for you to assess it. And self-actualization is literally the moment when you will really see the empowerment actually working.

Anita Ward:

Thank you so much. I will see you soon. Thank you everybody for tuning in today.

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