Episode 285 – Inclusive AF with Jen O’Ryan

Jen O'Ryan‘They need to be able to ‘get’ the concepts that I’m trying to convey in whatever space they have available on the top of their phone screen.’

Used to writing for an academic audience, Dr Jen O’Ryan quickly realised that she needed take a very different approach for her business book if she wanted it to make a difference. And she really wanted it to make a difference.

In this episode we talk about diversity and inclusion, in the workplace in general but also in publishing, about relearning how to write, about sweariness, and about the fact that you need a really big table to write a book.

Listenable AF.



Jen’s site (Double Tall Consulting): https://www.doubletallllc.com/

Jen on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pagingdrjen/

Jen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/PagingDrJen

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge January 2022: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/extraordinarybusinessbooks

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Dr. Jen O’Ryan, who is an Inclusion, Diversity and Equity strategist focused on helping people build authentically inclusive and welcoming companies. She combines a PhD in Human Behaviour with over 20 years’ experience in leading global launches of new products, policy, and consumer experiences, and understands the challenges leaders can face in developing a culture of inclusiveness for employees, clients and customers.

She frequently speaks on podcasts, panels and at events related to Inclusion and Diversity, organizational behaviour and humaning, which is a great word by the way. And she’s the author of Inclusive AF: A field guide for ‘accidental’ diversity experts.

I’m going to come to that title in a minute because it’s hilarious, just makes me think… there’s so much there, but let’s talk about diversity in organizations particularly, first of all, why does it matter and why is it so hard?

Jen O’Ryan: That’s such a great question. It matters because… so to give a little context I started my career in tech and it was alarming to me how many decisions were made for these global releases based on six people sitting in a conference room in Seattle, and there’s such a lack of perspective and lack of different ideas and really it’s having diversity for the sake of bringing all these different lenses and thoughts and worldviews into the discussion,

Alison Jones: When you say six people, you mean six white blokes, don’t you?

Jen O’Ryan: And I was there, but yes, basically. Yes. yes exactly. And so that’s the thing is we need these different perspectives and different worldviews because otherwise we get this myopic, end product and just so much is lost.

I mean, and not even just about the organization, but as humans being exposed to different life experiences and different things like that, it just makes such a better

Alison Jones: And the frustrating thing is that the science shows that, there’s so much evidence about how diversity improves bottom line, it improves outcomes, improves happiness.

 So why are people still so resistant?

Jen O’Ryan: People like change until it affects them. And that’s true across the board, as humans we like change as long as it’s somebody else’s change towards adapting to what we’re used to. And the thing is that we tend to be organizations and structures like that as if they’re something of nature, as if that accounting department just developed, it just is a thing like the Grand Canyon, right?

And it’s not, we’re a collection of humans. And so if 2020 has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that we can change. We can do things differently. We don’t have to do them simply because that’s the way it was structured in the 1950s. And then we also get into the really squishy idea of what do we mean when we say diverse.

Is it just the observable diversity’s, is it just, you know, how are we defining that? And it’s a lot of work. When I go in and sit down with people and talk to them about what their organization might need, people shrink back and they’re like, that sounds really expensive. And I’m like, yes, it is. But you’re working with humans and you need to have space for that.

Alison Jones: And the expense point is interesting because you have to build a return on investment case for it. And that’s hard to do. These are, as you say, they’re squishy outcomes.

Jen O’Ryan: Yes, yes, and I am a business major and I totally understand wanting to measure things and wanting to have this quantitative understanding, but we’re dealing with humans. And so it’s really difficult and time consuming to go and understand what’s going on in the organization. And understanding what’s the lived experience of a person working in a manufacturing floor in a small town versus somebody who is nine to five in the corporate office.

It’s just such a different understanding of that. And so it’s also, I mean, especially around inclusion, equity, diversity, these conversations can be really emotionally charged and we’re peeling back what people have learned from a very young age about what it means to be this, or it means to be that.

Sometimes it’s really difficult to even get to why people are resistant to certain change or certain introduction or, you know people using pronouns in their auto signature can seem very, very foreign and very like, why are you doing that? And you have to peel back the layers and do the work of getting it into that and really meeting people where they are.

Alison Jones: Yes, and that’s a really interesting perspective on the change, because change is bad enough, but change at that really fundamental kind of hardwired values level is really hard to do.

What has changed over the last 10 years or so is the lip service at least being paid to it. And you must’ve come across a lot of rainbow washing in your time?

Jen O’Ryan: Yes, yes, yes. And there’s so much of that and lip service is such a perfect way to describe it because typically when people think about promoting their company, organization as inclusive it is all about that. It’s the rainbow washing. It’s like, you know, June comes around and pride stickers show up on every product.

And then what happens in July 4th, right? People come back from holiday and it’s all forgotten. And to me, I approach it as like therapy and I am a huge proponent of therapy. Everyone should have all the therapy and unpack what’s behind that, but organizations need to start within.

 They can’t have a recruiting drive. They can’t have a marketing slogan. They can’t have a catch phrase on their website. They really need to start looking at how are individuals, not just employees, but potential customers and consumers, experiencing them as an organization, experiencing them as a brand.

Alison Jones: Yes and I like that point that you made about it’s for the people within the organization, it’s for the customers, it’s that whole stakeholder piece.

Jen O’Ryan: Yes, one of my favourite examples is if you look at launching a product, you start with all the market research and you start with all the, what are our competitors doing, what’s happening in the industry. And it’s this huge 18-month long initiative. And if you’re not looking at inclusion from a design thinking perspective, then something’s going to get missed.

And I’ve actually seen instances where everything was executed beautifully, it launched, it was well received. And then there’s a third party app that’s just a little tiny snippet of the experience, that says for whatever reason they need to identify a gender and it says male, female, other. All that effort, all that effort of 18 months and your customers are going to see that, roll their eyes and move on with life.

 You’ve absolutely lost them. And the thing is they’ll never know.

Alison Jones: Of course, because they’ve just gone. Yes, and you don’t get that feedback. You have to build it in.

And you obviously work as a very highly trained, very experienced consultant and you know, doing stuff with people, but you titled the book about for the accidental diversity expert because frankly not every company’s got somebody like you, have they? So I’m assuming that lots of people just end up in that role because everybody else stepped back or you’re doing a good job and somebody promoted them to it and, and there they are going Arghh!

Jen O’Ryan: Yes that very beautifully encapsulates exactly most of the journey

Alison Jones: It is going to be interesting to see how we spell that.

Jen O’Ryan: Exactly. We’re going to see it on LinkedIn it’s an actual job title now.

It’s so funny because I use the term accidental expert. It comes from a very loving place. It is a very endearing term because it is that person who is the only one who stepped forward when everyone else stepped back. Or it’s somebody who’s just really passionate about, they see how small incremental changes could make something so much better and not even necessarily about humaning, but the workplace in general, you know, you can make small changes that all of a sudden it’s contagious and people feel more positive and engaged and seen.

And so, yes, typically the accidental experts are either people who are really good at executing and getting things done, or they’re really passionate about improving something and they’re willing to just, they go to sleep thinking about it, wake up thinking about it, and they just drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, and find a way around or through the obstacles.

Alison Jones: And this is for them.

Jen O’Ryan: Absolutely. And that’s one of the reasons that I got into this is because I saw a huge gap between, you know, LinkedIn said that in the last year Chief Diversity Officer was the fastest growing C-suite title. And I have no doubt that that was the case, right.

But you give me two or three motivated program managers and we will change the world.

Do you know what I mean? It’s that between aspiration and that executive level and the lived experience of the people doing the work, you need to fill that gap and you need to be able to implement, safely and effectively.

Alison Jones: I guess in a sense it needs to be everybody’s job title.

Jen O’Ryan: Exactly. Exactly.

Alison Jones: Let’s talk about swearing, shall we? I literally sprayed tea all over my keyboard when I was reading the book. Y ou mentioned in your acknowledgements, your thanks for all the people who had put up with your profanities, which were, you said like glitter over a macaroni art project, which was the best simile I’ve ever heard, hands down. Brilliant.

And so you’re obviously a naturally sweary person. Thanks for holding it in check so far, by the way. I’m guessing you had a few debates with the publisher, with yourself about the use of swearing in the title, in the book, all that kind of stuff, because on the one hand it signals something very strongly that there’s no messing here.

You know, this accessible. This is down where you are, but on the other hand, that actually is off-putting to some people, isn’t it? So talk me through your thinking with the whole profanity thing.

Jen O’Ryan: It is, it is. And honestly, that was the working title for a very long time. And I was not going to use it, but as I was getting ready to publish, you know, it’s 2020, we have all this uncertainty and pandemic and loss and struggle. And where are we even coming out of this? And every time we hear the title, I swear I can hear my mom saying Jennifer Wood don’t call it that. Call something nice, call it something nice…

Alison Jones: That I can be proud of.

Jen O’Ryan: That she can show her bridge partners. My intention in doing that is that, and I did get a lot of people who were like, don’t call it that, you will never sell a single copy. And honestly, one of the major retailers will not advertise it because of the title.

And, but I also realized we can’t be inclusive please, or inclusive if there’s budget or inclusive, if it doesn’t make people uncomfortable. We have to be all in on this. We can’t sugarcoat it, we can’t wait. We can’t do assessment evaluations on what is the ROI of inclusion. We’ve got to be all in.

And so this was very precisely targeted as that person who wants to disrupt, who wants to create change, even if they don’t have any budget, even if they’re just one person, it’s like, here’s things that you can do when you’re standing in line at a market or in your work or if you’re the CEO, here’s what you can do.

And it really is just that let’s scrap all the lip service and mottos and catchphrases, and let’s just really get down to what we need to do.

Alison Jones: It sort of dictates the tone for the book as well, doesn’t it? When you pin your colours to the mask that firmly, and it almost gives you permission to be who you really are, to speak in a really accessible way, to not, as you say, sugar-coat things and not to climb behind a lectern, which is quite often the temptation for people who know an awful lot about their subjects and feel very strongly about it.

Jen O’Ryan: Yes, yes, it really is. And that image of a flag is so true, right? So it’s like, you just raise your flag and the people who want you, will find you. And the other side of that is that it’s not going to be, you know, performative. Who just want to have an inclusion, equity and diversity book on their shelf because it looks good, but they’ve never read it. This is not going to be that book.

Alison Jones: And there will be many of exactly that kind of book in this space.

Jen O’Ryan: Exactly, exactly. But this is for about the people who really want to change the world and just really don’t know how or where to start. And actually, one of the things I love about the book is that it has narratives interspersed.

Alison Jones: I want to talk about those. yes.

Let’s onto those because I mean, storytelling obviously is something that everybody aspires to be able to do because it communicates so brilliantly, but I love the way that you frame these as narratives.

So yes absolutely, tell us why you chose that form, how they work, what they’re doing in the book.

Jen O’Ryan: Well, so I am a huge business book geek, right? I love reading business books…

Alison Jones: You are so in the right place.

Jen O’Ryan: …but I wanted this to be a blend of not just business, this is about humans. And a lot of the people that I talk to and work with, it’s not coming from a place of malice, microaggressions that people, generally speaking, it’s they’ve never had to think about it because they walked through the world very differently.

And so what I wanted to bring to this practical application, roadmap strategy book was here’s why we’re doing it. Because here’s some very personal vignettes about people walking through the world in a way that the person reading it may not have ever had to think about.

But you also see yourself, at least I see myself, in almost every aspect of the stories and the narratives, just because it’s a human experience.

Alison Jones: It’s such a great use of storytelling, that idea of shifting your perspective and in a sense, creating empathy really isn’t it?

Jen O’Ryan: Exactly. And then it sparks a question. What else haven’t I been thinking about? And you know when I’m sitting in a conference room with six other people or five other people who are all white men in that certain age group, whose perspective isn’t being brought and who else should we about. We think about accessibility. But do we think about neuro-diverse humans and how they’re interacting with the story?

Alison Jones: Yes, brilliant. I want to talk about the writing as well, Jen, because it’s a million miles away from your PhD dissertation, isn’t it? Was that a bit of a culture shock?

Jen O’Ryan: Yes, it took me years to unlearn writing for an academic audience. My emails would be chunks of text that were very carefully crafted and people couldn’t consume them

Alison Jones: Clearly, this has been created by an artificial intelligence bot.

Jen O’Ryan: Exactly that’s how it read. Yes, exactly. I mean when you get to the point that you can write an entire paragraph, but it’s one sentence, it takes a while to unlearn that. And so I was actually in a meeting and people were scrolling through their phones and you can kind of see them, you know, scrolling with their thumbs and it clicked for me. It’s like, they need to be able to get the concepts that I’m trying to convey in that space, in whatever space they have available on the top of their phone screen. And so yes…

Alison Jones: Way less than a traditional paragraph.

Jen O’Ryan: Way less. yes And so I just decided to write in my voice. So the book to me reads like you and I are sitting at a coffee shop and you have questions about, you know, you want to work through some strategies and it’s a collaboration and it’s conversation. And that to me is exactly what I wanted to put out in the world. I’m like, if people buy it, fantastic, if one person buys it in Kansas City, Missouri, and it helps them change their corner of the world, I am done, I am done. And the people who shared their stories, those are out into the world and hopefully those will be consumed by people.

And that really was the tone and the message that I wanted to convey

Alison Jones: What was the lived experience of that? So you’re writing in a completely different way, in a way that you’ve had to almost unlearn everything you knew and give yourself permission to do it differently. I mean, I guess that’s quite energizing, but also it’s quite vulnerable making isn’t it?

Did you enjoy it? What was going through your head as you were doing it?

Jen O’Ryan: I enjoyed it tremendously once I leaned into the fact that this is going out into the world and not everyone’s going to love it. As you’ve mentioned, people might be put off by the title. They might be put off by some of the cultural references and social references that I put in there.

But for the people who really need it, it’s going to be accessible for them.

Alison Jones: That coming to terms moment, was there a sort of shift in you and you went, actually, this is what it is and that’s okay? And what happened around that?

Jen O’Ryan: Oh, that’s a good question. Actually, I do weirdly, because I had spent so much of my career and most people do, right, who work for companies, creating things for other people and filtering my thoughts and my voice and what I want to do in the world through the lens or the agenda of somebody else.

I’m like, this is my one opportunity. I am taking the stage. I am putting this out in my voice and doing it for me, but doing it for other people who can, who can pick it up and run with it.

Alison Jones: It’s such a great point isn’t it, I remember after I left corporate, seven, eight years ago. The first time I put out a tweet at a conference and I was commenting on something and I remember that kind of mental check-in, is this okay? Is this kind of, I was like, oh, it’s just me. I can say whatever I like.

And it was a real frisson, but scary. Well, what DO I think, actually?

Jen O’Ryan: And it’s funny because once you do that, once you get over that ledge, it’s like, what else could I do?

Alison Jones: Yes.

Jen O’Ryan: and then it just opens up so many possibilities and for me, it was very liberating. But also, as you mentioned, very vulnerable and scary because now I’m taking this very raw, word baby that I have spent months creating, and now I’m handing it to a copy editor whose job it is to redline and tough, but fair feedback and question some of the things that I’ve done.

It’s going to be painful, but at the end, it’s a better product. And even that is a conversation, right. Because it’s just one person’s suggestion about what they think based on their life experience. And then taking that feedback and saying, okay, but this is why I structured it that way.

And it just ended up being an amazing experience. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Alison Jones: That’s really heartening. And I have to say, publishing has got its own diversity issues. There’s all sorts of reasons behind that, but typically the chain of people who are looking at your text tend not to be the most diverse set in the world.

Jen O’Ryan: And can I, this is a bit of a segue, but can I ask to share a story?

Alison Jones: Do!

Jen O’Ryan: One of the reasons that I started focusing more on the content review and things like that and inclusivity rates and sensitivity rates is because in an earlier version of my book, I had a copy editor go through and every time I said that they or them, the copy editor actually changed it to he and she.

Alison Jones: Yes, old-fashioned grammar meets 21st-century sensibilities…

Jen O’Ryan: Yes. Yes.

Alison Jones: It says it all, doesn’t it?

Jen O’Ryan: Yes, and it wasn’t from a place of malice. It wasn’t from a, oh, we have to have a gender binary in your book. It’s like, no, they didn’t know. They thought it was improper grammar and just force of habit, that muscle memory changed it.

And it created an opportunity for me to say, okay, well, I didn’t really need to evaluate this, but also the lack of diversity and understanding in the editing industry and the publishing industry.

Alison Jones: It’s shocking, and sensitivity reads have become much more of a thing which is really good, but I mean, you’d like to think it wouldn’t be necessary because actually people would take it on board. It’s like having a diversity officer, isn’t it, rather than it being really ingrained in people’s DNA, but it’s going to take a while, I think.

Jen O’Ryan: It’s going to take a while and people just calling it out when they see it, like, okay, you’re writing case studies, but all of your case studies are white humans from North America or US or Canada. So I’m sure there’s people in other regions and other parts of the world that are doing amazing research, but it’s not getting cited.

Alison Jones: Yes, and I think as an author, you do have a responsibility, don’t you? You have a platform and you have privilege and use it, use it well, use it wisely and fairly. That’s really interesting.

I want to ask you very briefly about systems as well. Sorry, this is not at all ideological, I’m just always interested. When you write, when you research, what’s your kind of best tools and systems or any sort of things that you do, are you at a record cards kind of girl, or are you Trello or, you know, what do you use?

Jen O’Ryan: So I use a combination, it took me a long time to stop using Microsoft Project, just because that’s what I came up with and that was it. That’s such a very linear structure, right. And so really for me, it’s a combination of… I do like Trello. I like the visual representation of that, but honestly I have four whiteboards in my office and I color-coded post-it notes and all these, you know, Sharpies everywhere.

 And that’s how I mentally mapped things out because for me, I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar, having talks with writing processes, that it’s not linear, you have an idea here and maybe you realize, you know, this actually needs to go over here.

And so having something tangible that I can touch and move and see, that’s my happy place.

Alison Jones: That kinaesthetic idea of having something physical that you’re working with and be able to map ideas, I’ve got a big table next to me at the moment with all this stuff on, but I can’t remember who it was but I was reading a book the other day that said you know, that how the author was kind of laughing hollowly at the myth that people have that you can just kind of sequester yourself away in a cafe with a notebook in a corner. And she’s like, you need a conference table to write a book, you’ve got to put it all out there.

Jen O’Ryan: You do, yes. Yes.

Alison Jones: Trello is great, but you still need something, there’s something about the physicality of having it on a wall or a whiteboard or a table, isn’t there?

Jen O’Ryan: Yes. Yes, exactly. Actually one of my friends is a huge book geek and she will use ebooks, Kindles, things like that, but it throws her off because she says, I don’t know how far I am in the book.

Alison Jones: Yes

Jen O’Ryan: I don’t have that sense of, oh, I’m getting to the end, it’s going to be good. It’s only this many pages, how are they going to wrap this altogether? Because you’re just scrolling and yes, it’s got the percentage of the bottom, but…

Alison Jones: Yes, suddenly it’s the end and you’re like, no, I wasn’t ready for that.

Jen O’Ryan: Yes. Exactly.

Alison Jones: So true, isn’t it? That almost never happens with a business book still…

Jen O’Ryan: Yes.

Alison Jones: I was ask people, Jen, for their best tips. So if there’s a first time author listening, if they’re still mired in the early stages, what would you say to them?

Jen O’Ryan: Just start writing, just start writing. Just… I don’t know how many times I felt myself, like who am I to write a book? And then I would write a section that I thought was really good. And then I write another section and a series of articles started coming together and I was talking to a colleague and I’m like, I just can’t do this. And they said, you’re already doing it. You’re doing it right now. It’s just not organized in a linear chapter with the table of contents and a reference section.

And so my advice is just sit down and write, even if it’s just for you. And I think you’d be surprised how quickly you see themes emerge and ideas come together and pretty soon you’re connecting concepts that seem totally unrelated and in a way that is really going to be fantastic for the reader.

Alison Jones: That’s such great advice. And that sense that actually, you know, ‘I can’t do it.’ You’re doing it, if you’re writing

Jen O’Ryan: You’re literally doing it. Yes.

Alison Jones: Exactly. And you can build on that. But if you’re not writing at all, then you got nothing. Yes, great tip, beautifully put. I hope you’re listening, everybody.

Would you also like to recommend for us a business book that’s particularly impressed you or you think it’s a good example of its kind?

Jen O’Ryan: I am blanking on, I’ve lost the author’s name, but I listened to an audio book when I was doing some heavy road trips over the last month. It’s called Do the Work…

Alison Jones: Yes…

Jen O’Ryan: …and I became so, I wish I could remember the author’s name is totally blanking, but Scottish person. Just the approach was so raw and so humaning and so anyway, so I became…

Alison Jones: I’m thinking of Steven Pressfield. Do you mean Steven Pressfield?

Jen O’Ryan: No, it’s like a Gary. He also has a book out, I became obsessed with his approach. And so I started listening to all his other books and one is Un-F* Yourself. And so maybe we’re kindred spirits and maybe that’s why I was drawn to the work, to his work, it was so, just real about getting out of your own way, getting out of your own head and then practical advice and guidance on getting to the place that you really want to be, and being really intentional about what you want to do with your life and make it good.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. So I’m going to have to do the research now and come up with this…I got Gary John Bishop.

Jen O’Ryan: Yes.

Alison Jones: That’s the chap, is it?

Jen O’Ryan: And he does the audio for his audio books as well. And it’s just, if you find yourself driving two days through the desert in the middle of nowhere, highly recommend.

Alison Jones: Well, I’ll keep that in mind. I can’t imagine…

Jen O’Ryan: I’m sure it applies to other ways as well, but that’s just me.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. Thank you. And Jen, if people want to find out more about you, more about Inclusive AF, more about the work that you do, where should they go?

Jen O’Ryan: So Inclusive AF is available globally, and it is on your favourite online retail platforms.

Alison Jones: Or even your least favourite?

Jen O’Ryan: Even your least favourite, it’s on all of them. I was, it’s a bit of a segue, I grew up in Seattle. And so one of our big local bookstores in Portland Oregon, has my book available online and I actually took a snapshot of it and sent it to my dad. And I’m like, literally, this is, I am done here.

Alison Jones: I can die happy.

Jen O’Ryan: Right. Yes, exactly. So back to the original question. Yes. So it is available online as a paper book, if you like making notes in the margin, or obviously ebooks as well. And you can find more about me Double Tall Consulting or @PagingDrJen.

Alison Jones: PagingDrJen, brilliant.

Jen O’Ryan: That is my Instagram, social media handles. And also the web page.

Alison Jones: Love that. Brilliant. Well, I’ll put those links up on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com along with the transcript of this so that you can read it, there is so much good stuff there.

And thank you so much for your time today, Jen, absolute pleasure talking to you.

Jen O’Ryan: Thank you so much for having me. This has been great.

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