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77: What a Transgender love story teaches us about inclusive cultures

Meet Danielle & Sophie Wood, a transgender couple who tell their heartbreaking yet uplifting story

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In this powerful episode, we dive into the lives of Danielle and Sophie Wood, a couple who’ve navigated the complexities of gender transition together.

From their early days as university sweethearts through the challenges of mental health, employment changes, and societal acceptance, their story is a testament to resilience and love.

Founders of Belonging Base consultancy, they’re dedicated to fostering inclusive cultures in businesses, drawing on their personal experiences and professional expertise in diversity and inclusion.

Their journey offers profound insights into belonging, identity, and the transformative power of understanding and empathy in both personal and professional realms.

Join us as we explore their remarkable journey and the impactful work they do with Belonging Base.

Key Talking Points:

– Navigating gender transition as a couple and its impact on relationships and professional life.

– The founding of Belonging Base and its mission to enhance workplace inclusivity.

– Challenges faced in the workplace and society as a transgender couple.

– The significance of LGBTQ+ month and raising awareness through personal stories.

– Mental health struggles and finding support during gender transition.

– The importance of allyship and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals.

– The role of Millennials and Gen Z in advocating for inclusivity and change in the workplace.

– Strategies for businesses to adopt more inclusive practices.

– Personal experiences with discrimination and the journey towards acceptance and belonging.

Connect with our guests:

Belonging Base on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/belonging-base

Danielle on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sophie-wood-deib-mhfa

Sophie on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danielle-wood-mcipd

Website: https://belongingbase.com

General Support with Mental Health and Well-being

If you have been affected by any of the themes in this episode, or are currently struggling with your well-being, the following resources may be useful.

 Mind website: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/

If you are feeling in distress or despair, including feelings of suicide, please do consider calling the Samaritans for free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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[00:00:00] Danielle Wood: So I go inside and, um, as I walk into the kitchen, I can’t describe it as anything other than a scene out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There was blood everywhere. As the police arrived, they were like, put that down, don’t touch that. Um, I was taken to one side, they decided that I potentially was a perpetrator and I’d attacked Sophie.

[00:00:26] Leanne: Hello and welcome to the Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture podcast, brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. My name is Leanne, I’m a business psychologist.

[00:00:36] Al: My name is Al, I’m a business owner.

[00:00:38] Leanne: We are here to help you simplify the science people and create amazing workplace cultures.

[00:00:42] Al: Welcome back. Welcome back. Lots of, uh, lots of love recently on LinkedIn for, uh, for our pod. There’s a dog sneeze in the background for you. It’s not, it’s not a sound effect. It’s a real dog. Uh, so welcome back. If you are new here, as we always say, then it’s all about creating amazing workplaces and amazing places to work.

[00:00:57] Al: Uh, Leanne’s the expert. I’m not. So I’ll be asking the questions that you probably have in your head. as and when we talk.

[00:01:03] Leanne: Yes. If you are joining us for the first time in 2024, welcome. It’s February. Hurrah. And February is a very important month for a number of reasons.

[00:01:14] Al: Yes. February is LGBTQ+ history month.

[00:01:16] Al: And we’d be interested to hear what your organization is doing for it. In case you haven’t heard anything about it. Don’t worry. Our guests are going to explain it all in a second. We thought the best way we can contribute as allies to bring you some pretty special guests in February. So we’re kicking things off for the extraordinary Danielle and Sophie from the Belonging Base Consultancy.

[00:01:37] Leanne: Yes, Danielle and Sophie Wood from University Sweethearts Navigating the Complexities of Gender Transition. Danielle and Sophie have weathered many of life’s storms together. Their journey encompasses challenges with mental health, employment transitions, and the intricacies of navigating diverse relationships.

[00:01:58] Leanne: In 2023, they co founded Belonging. They were driven by a genuine commitment to LGBTQ plus issues and mental health. And Danny and Sophie use their experience of leading diversity and inclusion teams to help business leaders build inclusive cultures that enhance the human experience. They are committed to positive change.

[00:02:20] Leanne: And today We’ll be learning more about their own lived experiences of belonging and how it shapes the work they do today with clients. This is an incredible story, and it’s one that covers a lot of themes that some listeners may find challenging, including experiences with adverse mental health and suicide.

[00:02:39] Leanne: Please do check the show notes. If you’re struggling at the moment, you’ll find some useful resources and support that you can access straight away. Let’s start our episode by meeting our incredible guest. Let’s meet Danielle and Sophie Wood.

[00:02:53] Danielle Wood: My name’s Danielle Wood, and this is my partner, Sophie Wood. We are a married couple and we’ve been together, um, 31 years.

[00:03:01] Danielle Wood: Um, and together we formed our own business last year called Belonging Base. We’re British citizens, but we’re living, um, a lovely life on the Sunshine Coast in Spain. Having been married as husband and wife 21 years ago, um, Sophie transitioned, um, as transgender in, um, 2011, and that has filled the story of the where we are today.

[00:03:28] Al: Okay. As promised before, here is a short overview from Sophie of what LGBTQ plus month is and why you should care.

[00:03:34] Sophie Wood: Well, it started out, um, and. Danny backed me up on this. I think it was two teachers, wasn’t it? Who, who really wanted to increase the awareness of, um, children’s education around, um, LGBTQ communities and, and issues.

[00:03:51] Sophie Wood: Typical history syllabus would not include any reference to people from, you know, LGBT groups. So that was the kind of impetus behind it all starting. I can’t remember the teacher’s names, um, but fair play to them. I know it’s kind of grown into this, this kind of part of the calendar month where. We can actually tell people’s stories, and also when you’re telling somebody’s story, or if you’re giving somebody a voice to tell their own story, for example, then that’s when human connections, um, are possible.

[00:04:21] Al: So at this point, we’d usually set the scene and tell you what to expect from the episode, but these women have an incredible story, which they’re going to share straight away. So let’s start with Sophie.

[00:04:30] Sophie Wood: If I look at my personal journey, just to put it all into context, when I was in my mid thirties, I had, from an outlooker’s perspective, um, Got a dream life.

[00:04:40] Sophie Wood: So I had a great job working in the UK policing, beautiful wife, Danielle, great relationship with my parents, great friends, uh, extended family networks and everything going forward. But at that time I was experiencing sustained periods of depression and I was to the extent that I was actually self harming, um, which is kind of quite strange because there was no tangible reason why that should be.

[00:05:06] Sophie Wood: So I had to go on that journey to try and solve that problem. So. That entailed two years basically of CBT, speaking to a psychologist, and it was working through those two years of conversations. Um, they actually had an epiphany moment, which was, Oh my God, I, I am, I am Sophie. I am, I am female. So all of these kind of feelings, which had been with me since a small child, but I’ve been supremely and expertly locked down into kind of parts of myself, which, um, I didn’t want to kind of get in touch with.

[00:05:41] Sophie Wood: Suddenly came to the fore. So I made this huge decision, really brave decision, um, knowing that I could lose everything if I, if I came out to friends and family. Um, and, and, and initially that’s exactly what happened. It was worst case scenario. My family rejected me. I still haven’t spoken to my kind of parents and brother since the moment.

[00:06:02] Sophie Wood: Lost pretty much the entirety of our friends group by two people. Ended up losing the place where we lived, initially kind of lost the marriage relationship with Danielle, um, and also contact with her side of the family as well. But I kind of thrown all my eggs into one basket big time, uh, with that decision to actually do something, make my life better.

[00:06:28] Sophie Wood: And just after that happened, um, I got a letter from the kind of local hospital, PCT did the funding, um, at that time. Telling me that they weren’t going to send me to actually engage the NHS in terms of supporting my transition. Um, and that kind of, cause I just lost everything making this huge decision had a dramatic effect on my mental health.

[00:06:52] Sophie Wood: And that led to, um, uh, kind of serious self harm suicide event, which for the poor Danielle, who was dealing with my, the shock of my transition actually turned into an attempted murder suspect.

[00:07:06] Al: Now that’s how Sophie describes it. What about Danielle? What does she remember about that evening?

[00:07:11] Danielle Wood: Imagine this if you will.

[00:07:12] Danielle Wood: Um, we were both working for the police at the time and on this particular day, um, I was hosting an awards ceremony um, at police headquarters with the Deputy Chief Constable. Had a lovely evening. Um, packed up, wrapped up, got, started going home, drew up on the drive in the car and the front door’s wide open.

[00:07:32] Danielle Wood: It’s late at night. It’s dark. Um, and I’m thinking, what on earth is that front door doing open, I didn’t say I was on my way. Um, and so I called, I called Sophie’s name, and she said, leave the door open, leave the door open, and sounded quite panicked. So I go inside, and um, as I walk into the kitchen, I can’t describe it as anything other than a scene out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

[00:07:55] Danielle Wood: There was blood everywhere. And Sophie’s lying on the floor, kind of semi conscious. And I’m kind of in shock, I don’t really know what’s going on and all of a sudden the first responder arrives and kind of like appears in the kitchen and I’m, I’m, I’m just, I don’t know what happened because, you know, when you watch crime dramas on TV and they say, don’t touch the knife, well, I touched the knife and I not only touched the knife, I picked it up and my little kind of thing about cleanliness, I actually went to the sink and washed it up.

[00:08:31] Danielle Wood: Um, and put it on the side and, uh, as the police arrived, they were like, put that down, don’t touch that. Um, I was taken to one side. They decided that I potentially was a perpetrator and I’d attacked Sophie. And they decided that it was, um, I would need to be detained. So I wasn’t allowed near Sophie. I had a police escort.

[00:08:52] Danielle Wood: They took my house keys off me. I had tape around the house. I wasn’t allowed back in until scenes of crime had been in. Um, and do you know what the fortunate part for me was that that evening I had been with the deputy chief constable of that police force, which meant that when it came to alibi time, they were able to check me out pretty quick.

[00:09:12] Danielle Wood: So I, you know, I was back in the house the next morning, but it was, it was a really traumatic night, really traumatic night.

[00:09:19] Sophie Wood: It was, and we looked back on it with sense of humor, I think, um, because of that scenario, because we are big fans of crime dramas. But the serious note of that. Was, um, I ended up recovering from that and I was then spent a week in a mental health unit, which was a really fascinating, um, experience.

[00:09:43] Sophie Wood: Very, very scary, not enjoyable at all. And whilst all this was happening, um, we’re still both working at police headquarters. They were all of our colleagues at work got no idea that all of this stuff is happening. So I literally came out of mental health institution back into. Um, and everyone just thought I’d had, you know, short absence for, for some reason.

[00:10:09] Sophie Wood: The reason that I’ve started off talking about mental health is I mentioned that pre transition I had at least this kind of serious low mental health, with periods of ill mental health in, in dispersed over, over a series of years, but post transition, I, I I can only describe as a kind of inner light inside of me, um, which is actually quite beautiful, I think, which means that I have a kind of resilience within me that I can actually deal with most things that light throws at me and being a Bionic Transformer.

[00:10:49] Sophie Wood: Life is starting quite a lot in my direction.

[00:10:52] Leanne: It is quite the story. What we love about these women is how honest and open they are. This really is the first step in driving positive change because people’s lived experiences breed understanding and empathy and compassion. And for those with a similar lived experience, reassurance that they’re not alone.

[00:11:12] Leanne: So fast forward a few months and Sophie has made the brave decision to tell the world that she is transgender. So what was this like for Danielle?

[00:11:22] Danielle Wood: When Sophie first told me that she was transgender, it was I think in the April of that year, and then the incident in the kitchen was kind of later on that It was, it kind of rocked our world, and as she said, she was actually had, it got so bad that we ended up having to, um, section her for a while.

[00:11:45] Danielle Wood: She came out of there, and everybody in our lives had an opinion on what was going on. At the time, People were telling me what I should do, what I shouldn’t do. Every time we left the house, people stared at us, people made comments. They went round the Super Mafia aisles twice to look at us. And I just, I just was finding the whole thing overwhelming.

[00:12:09] Danielle Wood: And as part of that, I tried really, really hard to kind of like, carry on as, you know, life as normal. And after a while, it just got, it just got too much. My mental health was suffering. I had some time off work, I had counselling, I think the counsellor that I had helped me get to where I am today, without them I don’t know where I would have been.

[00:12:34] Danielle Wood: And when I say that, that’s because at the time, there was not a lot in mainstream media about, um, being transgender. There was hardly any resources on the internet, and I was really, really struggling to find help. And see doctors. decided, because they didn’t have anyone who dealt with this kind of situation, they sent me off to see three therapists to pick one, to see whether, you know, how it could work with them.

[00:12:58] Danielle Wood: And the, the one that I went to see that I, I kind of like felt an affinity with and we started to work together was one that said, look, I can’t say that I’ve had this experience before, but what I’m looking at is I’m looking at you and I’m listening to you. And what I’m hearing is. That you’re going through a type of bereavement, you’re going through a loss of your husband, the life that you have now, the way that you’re perceived in society, and also the loss of a life that you thought you had, the future you thought you had.

[00:13:34] Danielle Wood: Which really resonated with me because it was, it was a total U turn in terms of our life. The kind of, the question, which probably changed everything, was she said to me, what’s your greatest fear? And I said it was losing my best friend. And of course she looked at me and said, Well, why do you need to do that?

[00:13:57] Danielle Wood: And I hadn’t even thought, I thought it was a kind of all in or all out. And, um, so she, so from that, we worked with that. And, um, it, we decided that maybe do we just be friends or do we carry on in our relationship? And as part of that, um, she encouraged me to think about Other avenues and exploring other things.

[00:14:19] Danielle Wood: And I saw with all the white noise, with all of the staring, with all of the chatter, I thought, do you know what, I’m going to just make a break and I’m going to say, I’m going to go off and do something completely different six months, and then that will clear my mind, give me some space and enable me to work out what, what I want to do next.

[00:14:37] Danielle Wood: So I ended up packing up my entire life into the back of a Fiat 500, which you can imagine was tough. And driving down to the south of Spain and finding a job in Gibraltar, which is a English speaking British overseas territory. And that six months was, was pivotable to the rest of our lives. And in fact, strange enough, Sophie actually drove down with me to actually deliver me to Spain.

[00:15:07] Danielle Wood: And then she stayed a couple of weeks and I put her on a plane back to the UK two weeks later. And the moment she left, I felt like I’d lost her. My arm or my leg, it was like, I knew in that moment that I felt like I’d made a mistake, that being a part wasn’t what I wanted, but in actual fact, it was probably what I needed to solidify that thought because that time period made me realize that your connection with a human being is much more than.

[00:15:44] Danielle Wood: Being husband and wife and being seen as acceptable in society, that heterosexual couple, which blends in. Yes, things were going to be more tough. Yes, people were going to look at Sophia’s transgender. And actually, she’s now thrown me into a world where the rest of the world sees me as in a lesbian couple, if we stay together.

[00:16:04] Danielle Wood: So that was really hard for me as well. And it still, to this day, remains uncomfortable in certain situations. Particularly in work situations where, you know, you’re meeting new people and you’re not sure whether you trust that somebody is going to be supportive or not, which is fundamentally one of the reasons that when we decided to pool our resources and experiences, um, to, to form Belonging Base, it was about helping people to not have to go through those really, really uncomfortable experiences in their personal life and at work, because.

[00:16:40] Danielle Wood: When you’re feeling that you’re hiding, that you’re being cautious about who you trust all the time, it just puts you on edge and you don’t really, you don’t, you don’t really progress.

[00:16:52] Al: Talking of the workplace, we wanted to know how Sophie’s colleagues reacted.

[00:16:55] Sophie Wood: So, my experience in the workplace has been largely positive because of the people who are working with me and the way that they actually kind of treat me.

[00:17:06] Sophie Wood: Now, because they’re dealing with me day in, day out, they just see me. As the same as them, a human being doing a job. So any kind of, uh, trans disappears, usually within about two hours of meeting me. And then it’s just a normal human relationship. We make human connections with each other, just like people do in teams all over the world.

[00:17:28] Sophie Wood: Um, but what I found in all organizations is what I call these concentric circles of hate. So the inner core of people who deal with me and know me. Get on absolutely fine, there’s no issues at all. Um, and then when you go wider into the company where people don’t see me or interact with me on a daily basis, their kind of behavior, um, towards me and the language that they use that’s reported back to me on occasion is, is, you know, it gets worse and worse.

[00:17:56] Sophie Wood: And then when you go into the wider company in quite a few organizations, then they just have this experience.

[00:18:02] Al: Now, the media does seem to like this subject. There are so many articles online and many of them dismiss transgenderism, easy for me to say, as a mental health condition. I must admit, until I met Sophie, I wasn’t entirely sure how it all worked myself.

[00:18:19] Al: So I asked Sophie to school me.

[00:18:21] Sophie Wood: It’s, it’s not a mental health condition. It’s, it’s, it’s quite difficult to explain to people because it’s, it’s just kind of an innate, an innate, um, feeling in my case, I’m a binary trans woman. So my, my gender identity is congruent with who I am on the inside. Everything is lined up and people try and kind of turn it into like a physical exercise and go into like definitions and things like that.

[00:18:48] Sophie Wood: People always say gender identity is in the brain, but it’s more than that. I think it’s in the brain, but it’s also in your heart and in your soul. And it’s absolutely definitive. Um. And it’s also something that should be really prime it to me, ideally in life. It really shouldn’t impact anybody else’s life.

[00:19:09] Sophie Wood: Um, And in the main, it doesn’t at all.

[00:19:11] Leanne: Some people who dismiss the transgender experience use the argument that it shouldn’t exist in the first place. Despite the complexities and social constructs surrounding the idea of gender, some people believe that if you are born with male genitalia, you’re a man, and if you are born with female genitalia, you’re a woman.

[00:19:32] Leanne: Their argument is that nobody can be transgender. Sophie explains this way of thinking isn’t quite right.

[00:19:39] Sophie Wood: So basically it’s a, it’s a belief that sex is immutable. So it’s kind of, you are born male or female, that’s the term in play, genitalia, and there is nothing else in science that exists outside of that.

[00:19:54] Sophie Wood: Therefore, a trans identity is completely invalid. That’s, that’s kind of simple way of describing that belief system. The science doesn’t back that up. Um. One of the frustrating things for me, I came out, as I said, in 2011, is these kind of debates all across Europe and in many other countries around the world, these debates were settled in, uh, you know, kind of from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and it’s, it should be a complete non issue.

[00:20:26] Sophie Wood: So those kind of. Macro issues, if you, if you kind of think about the, the kind of press coverage around transit issues, which remember between 0. 1, 0. 5, 6, I don’t know the exact figures, percent of the population, it’s absolutely tiny. And it really shouldn’t be public interest at all, but it is used as a, as a kind of way of distracting people from what’s actually really going on.

[00:20:50] Al: You may have seen the other argument from certain people who we won’t name on YouTube, that this is just an excuse for men to get access to female only areas. So is there any truth to this? Well, who better to ask than someone who had a complete access to the National Sex Offenders Database? Here’s Sophie again.

[00:21:07] Sophie Wood: Um, so the main kind of myth of trans people at the moment is that we are a threat to women and girls in private spaces. So the theory is that somebody who is not trans, who is a predatory male, will actually go through and engage with, um, a kind of gender transition in order. To facilitate their modus operandi, their MO, in committing a sexual offence, um, against a woman or a girl.

[00:21:37] Sophie Wood: Now, when you actually consider that in the cold light of day, it’s, as a proposition, it just dissipates on contact with air really. It’s, it’s actually quite a ridiculous notion. When I worked in the police service, I trained and had access to all of the national kind of crime systems. So I had access to national crime data at my fingertips.

[00:21:59] Sophie Wood: I, I trained the National Sex Offenders Database. I had access to all of that data. And at that point, there was zero crimes recorded in the UK following that modus operandi. There was only one crime I found. I was searching the police national computer, which was somebody taking on the guise of a female to make their escape.

[00:22:19] Sophie Wood: So it was some guys did over a post office and they dressed in burkas to actually kind of disperse themselves into a crowd. So that was the only time in the whole criminal justice history of the UK. Um, as of 2015, which, you know, hopefully is quite informative to people who like things like that, um, that it is completely a non issue.

[00:22:38] Sophie Wood: And if you look at B, the kind of countries who practice, you know, self ID, you know, places like Malta, Ireland, just to name two, they also have zero instances of people being threatened at all. So it’s a complete fallacy, but this informs what is supposedly this grand debate, cultural debate. In mainstream media, which you will never see a trans person partaking in.

[00:23:05] Leanne: It’s an absurd notion that trans people are predators, yet it’s one I hear spouted online a lot. This narrative is not only incorrect and grossly unfair, it’s dangerous. This misinformation spreads fear, which spreads aggression, which spreads violence. Transgender individuals and communities experience shocking amounts of violence and discrimination.

[00:23:32] Leanne: In fact, transgender people are over four times more likely to be victims of violent crime, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated assault. This narrative is dangerous. This narrative needs to stop.

[00:23:46] Al: Yeah, clearly there were a lot of changes for both Danielle and Sophie when Sophie transitioned, but there was something that became glaringly obvious to Sophie when she presented her new self.

[00:23:55] Sophie Wood: When I presented as Sophie, and I didn’t look very good in terms of what people termed passing at the time because I didn’t do any kind of, you know, any preparations or what not, then I wasn’t perceived as female, I was perceived as other, okay? But the thing that hit me right in the face was I lost all of the male privilege.

[00:24:17] Sophie Wood: That I’d had up to that moment in my life, the ability to walk into a shop, you know, to go into a bar, sit down, read a book, start a conversation with somebody completely disappeared overnight. Now, I didn’t know that I had male privilege until I didn’t have it. And that’s the challenge. And that’s why that kind of mindset is wrong.

[00:24:43] Sophie Wood: But it’s a real tough nut to crack. The greatest trick Privilege ever pulled is convincing people it didn’t exist.

[00:24:51] Al: Now Sophie did concede in the full interview that she’s paraphrased Kaiser Soze from the usual Suspects movie there, but still, what a line. As we’ve alluded to before, Danielle and Sophie have set up a consultancy to help organisations be more inclusive.

[00:25:05] Al: Here’s Sophie to explain their reasoning and she starts by telling a story about when she was working for the police service in the UK.

[00:25:11] Sophie Wood: It’s East Midlands Regional Group of Forces I was there speaking about my journey and I liked a bit of audience participation. So I threw it out and said, why are you here today?

[00:25:21] Sophie Wood: And a police officer at the front said, I’m here as a punishment. And there was a group of police officers, like 10 of them who had done something bad in their, in their duties, um, out in the community. And as a punishment, they’ve been sent on this diversity course. And I found that quite amusing at the time, but it really started.

[00:25:42] Sophie Wood: My brain working overtime, and I suddenly realized that they were the people that I needed to speak to. They are the hearts and minds that I need to change if I want to make, you know, my diversity inclusion work actually effective when we’re talking about transgender issues now, we’re having the same conversations I was having back then over 10 years later.

[00:26:07] Sophie Wood: And I’ve noticed that in the corporate DNI world, nothing’s really moved forward. And because of that experience. That’s informed my belief that in order for D& I to be effective, you need to talk to the 95 percent of people who don’t give a shit about D& I rather than the continual 5 percent who really get it.

[00:26:31] Sophie Wood: Um, and if I was going to characterize corporate D& I at the moment, it’s this giant echo chamber of people who are really passionate about diversity inclusion, speaking to people who are interested in diversity inclusion and therefore really get it. And so I think that’s one of the main reasons why things just haven’t moved forward.

[00:26:52] Sophie Wood: as much as they should do.

[00:26:54] Al: This is such a revelation to me, because Sophie’s absolutely right. There is zero point in talking about this to people who already converted that whole preaching to the choir thing. It’s the non believers who need to hear this, which is why I genuinely hope that this is an uncomfortable but necessary listen for some people.

[00:27:11] Al: But when it comes to seeking change in the workforce, Millennials and Gen Z are, as usual, spearheading the campaign.

[00:27:17] Danielle Wood: One of the things, um, that we’ve been coming across time and time again, through research and actually speaking to members of, um, Generation Z, Gen Z, is that their, their views and their values are very different in what they want in an employer, in a workplace.

[00:27:37] Danielle Wood: This started with the millennials and now Gen Z and by, I think it’s 2030, about 30 odd percent of the workplace will be from that generation. And they’re looking at their workplaces and going to interviews and asking these two way questions. It’s no longer an interview where the business just asks you about your skills and experience and what you can bring to the table, but they see it as a two way conversation and they’re finding out whether the employer is a good fit for them.

[00:28:06] Danielle Wood: And if they don’t have inclusion at this, the front and center. Of what they do. And if they’re called, you know, corporate social responsibility, et cetera, their ethical values are not aligned, they’re unlikely to want to pursue a career with that organization. And so I think businesses really do need to think about this because.

[00:28:28] Danielle Wood: As we move through the next couple of decades, the people that don’t put so much importance on it will be falling out of the workplace. And if business owners don’t start to look at making sure that their culture is inclusive, they just won’t attract and retain the best talent. So I always say it’s a little bit like, you know, are they heading towards extinction?

[00:28:52] Danielle Wood: Um, are they dinosaurs?

[00:28:54] Leanne: Danielle and Sophie have had extensive experience working with organizations to improve inclusion and belonging. So who do they think is doing a particularly good job? Here’s Sophie.

[00:29:06] Sophie Wood: I think a good example from the UK that I’m aware of, where their kind of external values are, you know, really live vicariously through their, their kind of value sets within their teams.

[00:29:19] Sophie Wood: And they’ve got a really great inclusive culture. It’s actually Anne Summers. So I’ve got some former colleagues who, who, who work at Ansembles in the UK, and they are, I think, really, really switched on in terms of everything that we’re talking about. One of the things that they’re doing really well is they’ve, they’ve introduced a kind of, which would traditionally be termed the kind of learning experience platform where, um, people can access, you know, personal growth, um, learning, but they’re, they, they’re using it as an effective learning tool for people.

[00:29:54] Sophie Wood: That can be accessed remotely through all of their, their retail networks. Um, but they’re also using that platform to kind of effectively communicate their, their culture and their values to shine lights on areas of the business and people in the business. Who, you know, wouldn’t normally get a look in and they created, um, some really great levels of, of human connection.

[00:30:20] Leanne: What’s interesting is that both Danielle and Sophie totally accept that the traditional way of incorporating DIB into business is not working as well as it should be, but with their new consultancy, Belonging Base, are they doing things a little differently?

[00:30:37] Sophie Wood: What we’re trying to do at Belonging Base is.

[00:30:41] Sophie Wood: To say, we’re not going to focus on what I call the kind of painting by numbers, you know, diversity inclusion models. We want to actually really get into the cultures in organizations. We want to be getting into the team level, speaking with people, helping them to deal with each other in the best way that they possibly can.

[00:31:07] Sophie Wood: So we want to focus on the things that we have in common with people rather than the differences that set us apart. Now, one thing that we know. We all have is mental health. Um, and that is a really good way of helping to change the conversations that people have in their teams and in their workplace.

[00:31:27] Sophie Wood: And when I trained up as a mental health first aid instructor, um, we actually discuss things like practicing the skill of listening non judgmentally to other people, we do a big piece around what’s called the frame of reference, which is a model to help you realize. When you’re dealing with somebody, they bring their whole life experience, their identity, their sexual orientation, their beliefs, their socioeconomic background, their work experience to that point.

[00:31:58] Sophie Wood: And all of those factors in their individual frame of reference, make them who they are at that moment in time. And that frame of reference is going to be entirely individual to them. They’re completely different from yours. And just by appreciating that you have an immediate change of mindset in how you deal with people in terms of what kind of, I hope the change that I see in cultures is that people will no longer be talking about the business case, but it’s a diversity inclusion, but one of the things I would say, if I was kind of, if I want to see a new startup coming into, into the marketplace and they set aside money that I think, yeah, let’s do some DNI work, then.

[00:32:38] Sophie Wood: I would urge them not to spend that money on a DEI specialist. I would get them to spend that money training their leaders to be the best people that possibly can and facilitating these kinds of team workshops. where, where people can really make those connections.

[00:32:57] Al: Now we’ve talked about belonging on the pod many, many times before, but here we have two women who both have experienced a huge change.

[00:33:03] Al: And as they mentioned before, the change was not accepted by everyone. So I asked Danielle what belonging really means to her and how we can build a culture of belonging and inclusion in a workplace.

[00:33:13] Danielle Wood: The feeling that we, we had when we first. Went through the transition was that we didn’t feel like we belonged anymore.

[00:33:20] Danielle Wood: We felt like we were kind of like outsiders and the people that have made our experiences great moving forward, it wasn’t necessarily a particular company, it was particular people and managers and teams that made us feel welcome and helped support us in developing our careers. So for me, it’s not about, because there are lots of companies that win awards, you know, don’t get me wrong, but if you spoke to every single person in that business, do they all feel like they belong?

[00:33:49] Danielle Wood: One of the things that I, I came across through one of your old podcasts actually, was the quote by John Amici, the, uh, cultures defined by the worst behavior tolerated, which I absolutely agree with because that’s. That, that kind of backs up what I’ve just been talking about, which is that depending on where you are, if you let banter happen, if you let discrimination happen in your area, everyone thinks that’s okay.

[00:34:21] Danielle Wood: The reason we picked Belonging Base, one of the reasons was we started with that feeling of belonging. I think for us, it was really personal. So there’s a quote, I think, I think it was BrenΓ© Brown talks about. Belonging and the difference being the opposite to belonging is fitting in. And we spent a lot of time just trying to fit in and stay under the radar.

[00:34:47] Danielle Wood: And it really does affect your performance and your mental health. So what we would like to do, if it’s, even if it’s just one company at a time, one team at a time, we want to be the people that you go to, if you really want to have that feeling that. That create that culture where people feel that they truly belong, be their best selves.

[00:35:08] Danielle Wood: It’s, it’s all about that belonging feeling for us. We felt it, we didn’t feel it, and then we feel it again. So, and it does make such a big, big difference to what you’re capable of at work.

[00:35:20] Al: What’s so interesting about the story is that Danielle is really open about her own experiences and challenges with being Sophie’s partner.

[00:35:27] Al: There are a lot of stories out there from the perspective of the person transitioning. What about those who are most close to them? Here’s Danielle again.

[00:35:34] Danielle Wood: I think when you’re a partner of somebody that’s going through a transition, it’s For me, anyway, it was a journey I didn’t think I would be on, one that I didn’t want to be on, and one that I had a very adverse reaction to initially, so much so that I threw myself into work and had a burnout.

[00:36:01] Danielle Wood: I basically crashed and burned, and then spent a whole week in bed, and then seven weeks off work. So, and I, I thought my whole world had fallen in. And I, and I had some very dark thoughts. And I look at my life today and we’re living, we’re living our dream really now, you know, behind me. We go confidently.

[00:36:22] Danielle Wood: We, we are living our dream. We’re living in the south of Spain. We’re living our best life now. And had I let that get the better of me at the time, we may not be sitting here today. I went through a whole period of denial for quite some time and I couldn’t get myself out of that. And I think with the help of a professional, I actually got to the other side.

[00:36:46] Danielle Wood: And if you don’t feel comfortable speaking to a professional, reach out to people like us that have been through the experience, because we’re always happy to talk to people who, um, are in that dark place and can’t see the way out because it’s. It does, it does knock you at six when something like this happens and your life kind of gets totally turned upside down.

[00:37:07] Danielle Wood: So my advice would be talking to people and getting professional help.

[00:37:12] Sophie Wood: Find somebody you can trust. Um, make sure that you speak words out loud. That’s really important for your internal processing, but first and foremost, focus on the future, however, kind of dark you’re feeling. If you focus on the future, even if it’s one day in the future, one week in the future, or a month in the future, you’ll just automatically start looking forward to something.

[00:37:41] Sophie Wood: And that’s the essence of hope is that looking forward to something in the future, and that’s the, that’s the key to still being around. I mean, I’d say at the age of 52, um, it’s only alternative dream life in Spain, you know, beautiful property, lovely kind of cultural surroundings. Three beautiful dogs living their best lives, which could have ended so easily.

[00:38:07] Leanne: Transgender and gender identity is a complex topic and one that is not spoken about enough, certainly in terms of the actual facts. If this is all new to you, if you want some help understanding what it is to be transgender and how to better support people in your workplace, Sovie has some excellent book recommendations.

[00:38:28] Sophie Wood: So the first one, I’d highly recommend this. It is, it’s called Trans Britain, a journey from the shadows by the wonderful Christine Burns. And if you really want to kind of find out what really the trans community is all about, what we’ve achieved over the last few decades, that’s the read for you. If you want to kind of look at in more detail, the kind of culture wars that are going on at the moment, this book is an absolute showstopper.

[00:38:57] Sophie Wood: The Transgender Issue by Shon Fay. Absolutely extraordinary author and really kind of picks all that bullshit out in a very articulate and entertaining way.

[00:39:07] Al: And of course, if you want to chat with these amazing people, then here’s how to get in touch.

[00:39:11] Sophie Wood: Best way to access us is through our LinkedIn profiles, follow belonging base on, on LinkedIn.

[00:39:18] Sophie Wood: Um, you can go on our website as well. And just click on the contact us and we’ll be happy to take things forward with you.

[00:39:27] Leanne: During LGBTQ plus history month, Danielle and Sophie are offering sessions for anyone who’s interested, kind of like a lunch and learn.

[00:39:35] Danielle Wood: So we delve into, you know, what is LGBTQ history month?

[00:39:39] Danielle Wood: Some of the key changes that have happened in terms of history over the last 50 plus years through our lifetime, which is actually. Really recent history in terms of, um, equality, right? And then we look at things like the language, the confusion around language, how people are worried that they’re going to trip themselves up and reinforcing, you know, it’s not a problem, don’t worry.

[00:40:03] Danielle Wood: And also we look at, um, a little bit of our personal journey about the belonging, the not belonging, and the belonging again, and how important that is in the workplace. And talk to businesses about allyship, um, as well.

[00:40:16] Sophie Wood: We’re kind of intermingling that with our own. Timeline of our little life on earth so far and hopefully being quite entertaining at the same time.

[00:40:24] Leanne: We could do another three or four episodes with Danielle and Sophie alone, let alone expand the conversation around the transgender experience. It’s, it’s a big, complex topic that is misunderstood, but one that. is really important. We engage with, we do better to understand, and we don’t shy away from, we don’t fear.

[00:40:48] Al: Yeah. And as Danielle said, the younger generations are looking at you and they are judging you on whether you’re actually taking on board all this stuff, whether you’re actually doing something about it. Now, kind of the thing which really surprised me was the whole idea about the sort of white male privilege.

[00:41:05] Al: And of course, Sophie’s got this unique perspective in that she’s, you know, she’s been both on both sides of that of that fence. And I suppose I joke about it on quite, quite often saying, you know, I’m sort of a Gen X, white, straight, all this kind of thing. I’m kind of quite lucky to take advantage of that privilege, really.

[00:41:24] Leanne: And also the opportunities, well, I think that you have to support, um, the people around you to be an ally to women, to trans people, to members of the LGBTQ plus community. Um, we’re not hating on, you know, I think a lot of the media hates on, on the white straight male. It’s not that it’s more a case of male privilege is real.

[00:41:45] Leanne: White privilege is real. If we can. Use this privilege to support people around us and, and improve the whole human experience for everyone. Then that is really something that we should be doing, especially as business leaders, as people in these positions of authority, we should be taking accountability for the human experience.

[00:42:06] Leanne: I loved what Sophie said, you know, it’s, it’s, we’re all humans. You’re only a human being too. And that is making it. hugely simplified and we’re not taking away from the complexities of the experience and stories different, different communities have. But when it boils down to it, if we actually just consider the human experience within our organizations, it’s a pretty good first step.

[00:42:30] Al: Yeah. And as Danielle said, It’s okay to get it wrong. It’s if you are, if you want to get it right, that makes a big difference, I think. So next week we have the incredible Dr. Claire Hughes from Mind. If you’re not from the UK, you don’t know what Mind is. It’s a huge mental health charity. Um, it’s a really big deal.

[00:42:48] Al: And then we have the amazing author and podcaster Bruce Daisley. And then rounding off our LGBTQ plus month, we have the father of workplace culture himself. John Amaechi.

[00:42:58] Leanne: Yes, it’s gonna be an incredible episode, an incredible lineup. I’m so excited. And what a way to continue our February content with the incredible Danielle and Sophie, and bring you our very small contribution towards LGBT.

[00:43:13] Leanne: Q plus history month, definitely go and follow them on social media, on LinkedIn to see everything they’re up to. Danielle and Sophie, thank you so much for your contributions to this episode. It has been an incredible one and one that I think will always remain very special. Thank you.

[00:43:30] Al: Okay, we’ll see you next week.

[00:43:32] Al: Bye.

[00:43:40] Leanne: Alice Grumpy, Grumpy Grumpy Al, Grumpy

[00:43:46] Leanne: Al.

[00:43:47] Leanne: Listening. Listening. Listening.

[00:43:51] Leanne: Listening. 17.

[00:43:55] Leanne: 2017. At this point, if you’re watching this on a blooper, and you actually watch the bloopers, and you know what I mean when I say 2017, I want to take you for a drink. Get in touch.

[00:44:07] Al: We’ll fly you out to Mostar.

[00:44:09] Leanne: Carry on, Al.

[00:44:11] Leanne: Okay.

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