DEI Is: This Queer Book Saved My Life!

It’s election day! Go vote!

And then come back here to listen to our podcast crossover event with the podcast DEI Is. Host Enrico Manalo and I interview Brian McComak the founder of Hummingbird Humanity. Much of Brian’s work focuses on LGBTQ inclusivity at organizations throughout the world, but his work is very expansive as a consultant, speaker, author and facilitator. He has a new book coming out in 2023: Humanity in the Workplace, A Framework for Developing a Human Centered Culture.

We talk about books and human-centered workplaces!

Transcript below.

This Thursday!

Don’t forget to join us on November 10 at Lush Lounge and Theater in NE Minneapolis for our 2nd ever live event! We’re recording the new episode “From Unseen to Seen” with author and publisher William Burleson. It’s free, but we recommend you RSVP: https://bit.ly/liveatlush

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Shout out time to Natalie Cruz, Bill Shay, Paul Kaefer, Archie Arnold., and Stephen D., for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Can you join them in helping to keep our podcast accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audience? Your sponsorship will directly support transcription services as well as website technical maintenance and all other behind the scenes tech stuff to keep us running and accessible. There are three monthly membership options you can choose from, starting at $5/month. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Today, we are doing a crossover episode with the podcast DEI Is hosted by Enrico EEM ah NAH Lo. It is a podcast about DEI practitioners, by DEI practitioners, for DEI practitioners AND the organizations seeking their help and support, diving deep on issues related to the DEI industry from an insider’s point of view.

Enrico and I co-host this episode and our guest is Brian McComack the founder of Hummingbird Humanity.

Please know that a new episode of This Queer Book Saved My Life! drops next Tuesday! And right now, enjoy DEI Is: This Queer Book Saved My Life!

 

Enrico E. Manalo

This is your host and DiVerity PBC’s Community Engagement Lead, Enrico E. Manalo. Books save lives. Not everyone agrees these days but, J.P. Der Boghossian sure does. That’s only one of the reasons why The “DEI is:” Podcast wanted to team up with This Queer Book Saved My Life! to bring you this episode with special guest, CEO and Founder of Hummingbird Humanity, Brian McComak, (who by the way runs the podcast Hummingbird Hour, which you can find on YouTube). In this episode, the three of us talk books, human centered workplaces, what we might have said to coach our younger selves through hard times, some of the value we’ve found in therapeutic relationships, the legitimacy and importance of rest, how important it is for us as human beings to reach out and get some help from time to time, how when we do reach out for help, it’s important not to shy away from discomfort—we’re all talkers, and we talk about A LOT of things in this episode, so check it out before I leave something out of this list. Just a reminder, if you find what we talked about on The “DEI is:” Podcast to be useful, insightful or just plain interesting, give us a like, share it with your friends, and of course subscribe! DEI is: This Queer Book Saved My Life! with Brian McComak starts in three, two,

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Hello, and welcome everyone today is a very special episode brought to you by both The “DEI is:” Podcast and This Queer Book Saved My Life! I’m Enrico E. Manalo, host of The “DEI is:” Podcast co-hosting this episode today with me is the host of This Queer Book Saved My Life, J.P. Der Boghossian. Books are so ubiquitous that we almost take them for granted, but in a very real sense they’re a part of so many of our stories as human beings, not just our personal histories, but the stories that we write ourselves into as we each navigate the complexity of the times we live in. Here today to talk books and human centered workplace cultures is the CEO and founder of Hummingbird Humanity, Brian McComak. Before we get started, I’d like to thank DiVerity PBC, especially Minsun Kevers, Jay Patel and Luis Espinoza, the kind folks at hummingbird humanity, including Mark Travis Rivera, or THE Mark Travis Rivera as I like to call him, and Lindsay Morton and of course, executive producer of This Queer Book Saved My Life!, Jim Pounds, and the folks at Normandale Community College that enabled J.P. enough space in his busy schedule to put this podcast episode together with me. Brian and J.P., how are you today?

 

Brian McComak

Oh, I’m great. It’s so good to be here with you both. And I think I must be super special because I have two podcast hosts together. So I’m not that hard to manage. But I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for having me.

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

Likewise, I’m really happy to be here and to introduce the listeners of This Queer Book Saved My Life! to “DEI is:”, which is a fantastic podcast that I have subscribed to for a while now. And so I’m glad and I hope that all of my listeners will keep joining in because of some really lovely work that happens here.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Great. So, J.P., I think I’ll hand it over to you. Well, excuse me, I have an audience question. So before we hand it over to J.P., which books (Queer or otherwise) saved your life? And I will pop that up on the screen so that people can respond. So over to you, J.P.

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

Yes. So I have notes to keep me on track today. Because I know that this is a great conversation to have. So I’ve got some notes with me, Brian, your forthcoming book, Humanity in the Workplace, A Framework for Developing a Human Centered Culture (very important) coming out next June, the sixth 2023, which is also Pride Month. So how did it come to be, so to speak? Give us that backstory?

 

Brian McComak

Sure, sure. Well, you know, I want to just uh, I feel like I have to start with—and this is sort of one of the—not “sort of”—this IS one of the things that we believe in at Hummingbird is, amplifying the voices of others. And so just to answer the like, which which book saved my life, I still have to think about if there’s a Queer book that saved my life, I do love Anne Rice’s son, I think it’s Christopher Rice, if I remember correctly, I’ve read all of his books, I’m not sure they saved my life, but they’re brilliant. And Tuesdays with Morrie is, is the book that really has really captured my heart and soul along with The Last Lecture. And those those are two books that I highly recommend to anyone at any point in your adult life, maybe even in your if you’re a little younger in your adult life. Those those books have a lot of meaning and purpose to them. And I should say Anne Rice’s son is part of our community as well so so so that that fits the Queer side and then we have the two other books that I—have really fed into how I think about life and work and you know, are part of the book that I still can’t believe that I’ve written and that is coming to a bookstore near you. By that, I mean online/.com sites. And, you know, how did how did they get here? You know, back in college, I read a book called The Customer Comes Second by Hal Rosenbluth. I always like to just acknowledge that because because that book—of course, college was a long time ago, we’re going to skip the number of years because I’m still 25. And,

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

Me too!

 

Brian McComak

but, exactly, we’re all we’re all just 25, we’re—forever. Thank goodness for plastic surgery. So the—that book is—the concept of that book, which has been the guiding—I haven’t read it since college ,but what I, what I received from it was that the best way to run a company is to create a workplace (and this is the language I use today) where humans thrive. And if you do that, then your customers or your clients, they are going to benefit from that. But—but so often we focus on the profit margins, or the the Excel spreadsheets, and not enough on the people, the humans that work in our companies. And that was really Hal’s message. And that’s really been the guiding force behind my my career as an HR person, as a DEI person, as a manager or leader. And I won’t claim that I’ve gotten it wrong—or sorry, I should claim that I’ve gotten it wrong a lot because it’s true—I’ve learned I’ve made lots of mistakes over the course of my career, and have had people that have trusted me and respected me enough to give me tough feedback and help me grow and learn. And you know that that journey has led to this, you know, as my lived experiences as a gay man and a disabled person, and my professional experiences in organizational change and workplace culture, HR and DEI have led to this work that I get to do today and my perspective on “how do we bring to life human centric workplace cultures”. So yeah, releasing the next June. It’s not a coincidence that it’s Pride Month, [quietly] because I am gay!

 

Enrico E. Manalo

I heard that somewhere!

 

Brian McComak

You know, it’s sort of like all over the place now. So I, I will say just and then I’ll pause for a second. But if you would have asked me 25 years ago—I guess I did give away the age—when I started my age or career, when I be on a podcast or writing a book or like sharing the fact—about the fact that in all of these public forums that I’m a gay person, I would have said, there is no way in H-E double hockey sticks. And it’s still surreal to me. So I’m delighted to—that I get to do this. And hopefully we can make workplaces better for everyone.

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

I hear that I hear that. Can I ask a follow up question? So I’ve read on your blog, and you were just talking about like the “believer of the workplace culture” and the human centered workplace. Can you give us more about that? Like, what’s the foundation of that belief? The human centered workplace culture?

 

Brian McComak

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks. Thanks for asking. You know, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, having been an HR person and a DEI person, and an organizational change person and, and what I’m about to say, will be some—unpopular with some but but I also believe it’s true for most is that HR people generally aren’t good “culture and DEI” people,

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Yup.

 

Brian McComak

and “DEI people” aren’t good “HR people”.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

100%

 

Brian McComak

Thank you, thank you for being with me, I appreciate that. And DEI people typically don’t have the foundational understanding of enterprise-working and organizational change, which isn’t—which IS what HR people have. And and I think that I love the the introduction. That’s a that’s an unfair word to some degree, but of DEI, in our workplaces, it’s so important that we acknowledge that systemic oppression is real, and that we say it out loud, so we can tear down those barriers and roadblocks that marginalize others and create better systems. I also think that DEI is too narrow in its focus in the way we’ve brought it to workplaces. So my suggestion is that, to really ignite the heart and soul of the people that work at an organization, we should—which is developing a human centered workplace culture—that we should develop a function that is separate from HR that is responsible for social impact, holistic well-being, DEI, transparent communications, which is in partnership with a true “internal communications” department and human centered leadership, how are we fostering human centered leaders? Sometimes—so I think some organizations might put “employee experience” in that as well. And then HR is a human capital function that is managing the resource of humans in companies and it’s so important that they do that. But I think we need to separate those when possible to make sure that We’re igniting both the management of human capital as well as the heart and soul, which drives our companies.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

I love this articulation. And you know, I’ve heard so much frustration from people interested in working in DEI, and they’re looking for these organizational roles, and they’re reading the job description. It’s like, “hey, wait a minute, this is an HR function”, right? And so you see these companies like, “why can’t we get good DEI people?” like, “because you’re asking for HR people”. And as you just walked us through there, they’re not the same, nor should we like, lump them together. Right. And I think it’s worth saying that our educational cultures kind of predispose us toward hyper specialization, which does mean that there is a great diversity of specialization out in the world. But unless they can work together, then that specialization really doesn’t lead us anywhere. So you know, yet another reason why we need to understand diversity more fully, and how things fit together for the human being, because otherwise, we end up with workplaces that oppress people and dehumanize. And we’re seeing the results of that. So my follow up question to the audience is: what was one clear indicator in your personal and professional journey that told you you were on “the right path”, and for clarity’s sake here, or transparency, I’m not 100% sure that I am on the right path, either. Because the way that I think about DEI is evolving. I’ve been gravitating toward, you know, billing myself as like an anti-oppression person. But I still feel like that’s kind of incomplete as far as the impact that I’d like to have. So we’re just really curious to see what others are thinking, as well. So Brian, you mentioned that on your professional journey, you found yourself in a situation—well, I should say that Brian said this to us as we were preparing for the show, you mentioned that you were on in a situation where you felt it was necessary to go back in the closet, which I imagine must have been very painful. And so knowing what you know, now, how might you have asked someone to better support you along your journey? Or how might you advise your past self’s team and leadership so that they could offer the support that you now know you needed?

 

Brian McComak

Yeah, and just to for all of you who are with us, or watching later or listening later. So I came out in my early 20s. And it was, as I was wrapping up college and, and I had worked at AMC Theaters since high school, and I went full time with AMC after college and that environment as as my experience in service environments, frontline environments, like retail stores, and restaurants and hotels, those are environments that my experiences led me to say like, “it’s okay to be you in those environments”. But I went back to school to get my master’s degree in Human Resources and Change Management and got an internship at Red Lobster, which at the time was owned by Darden Restaurants. And, and this is nothing, you know, my my decision to go back in the closet has nothing to do with that company. It’s—was a great company. But I the world around me the messages, nobody said it explicitly. But I heard the messages that “you should be careful being you when you walk in that door”. And there’s two things I talked about. One is, I also knew that I should take off as I call it, my “coat of emotions”, like I’m not supposed to bring a motion with me, I walk into this workplace, and I just have to be the robot that that is expected to do this job that’s on this job description. So I knew that but again, nobody said it. And the other was, “it may not be safe to be gay here”. And so I went back in the closet. And when I stepped into that, that job. Now, I was incredibly fortunate and so I think maybe this is where the, the hopefully the experience might be helpful to others. The—one of the managers that I worked with in that department, it was the Employee Relations, or Red Lobster, we called it Crew Relations, the crew relations team, one of those managers was a rising star in the company who was an openly gay man. And he quickly figured out that I had something to share. And he made it a point to talk—which I think he also would have done anyway, because that’s just who he was—but he was talking about his husband. And so all of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh, I can talk about who I am” and, and we talked about that. And not only did he share a little bit about his journey and how safe he felt being himself at Red Lobster, he also was able to help share other senior leaders at the company who were out and publicly out and had chosen to share their stories, including someone who was identified as the successor to our CEO, which was also public knowledge and and so very quickly, and that first job, I knew that it was okay to be me day-to-day because I worked with someone who was like me. And I also knew that I could have a career journey because there was someone at the top levels of the company who was like me as well. And, you know, that was a really powerful experience for me that—you know, so much so that I’m talking about it a few years later, quote-unquote, “a few”. And, you know, and it’s one of the one of the reasons that, you know, some—it’s something that people follow my LinkedIn channel for is, I have a series that I’ve been posting about, for about three years now called Representation Matters. And really, the, the idea of Representation Matters, and when I post this, I want to expand the conversation about representation. Yes, it is about who works at your company, but it’s also about “do people see themselves in your company?” In your benefits and your leadership teams and your advertisements, and so on. So I try to celebrate when we see those moments of representation, but it’s all anchored in that moment, when I was 24, started at Red Lobster, went back in the closet and had Kim Kim Shave [unsure of spelling] his his name, helped me be me—helped me know, it was okay to be me.

 

[music]

J.P. Der Boghossian

After this break, we ask Brian about his take on how there has been a lot of positive change for multiple generations of queer people working and living in all of our respective organizations, and yet, the world is still struggling on how best to handle this complexity. Hear more on the flip side of this quick break.

 

Lucious news! This Thursday we’ll be back at Lush Lounge and Theater for our second ever live-recording! We’re calling the episode From Unseen to Seen. Our guest is William Burleson, author and founder of Flexible Press. Flexible Press supports publishing under-represented voices, in the belief that at its best literature is often a catalyst for change. The event starts at 6pm, tickets are free, but we do recommend you RSVP. The link is in the show notes and on our website!

 

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Big, hug, gigantic thanks to Natalie Cruz, Bill Shay, Paul Kaefer, Archie Arnold., and Stephen D., for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. If you’re like them and feel accessibility is important, can you join them? Your sponsorship will directly support transcription services as well as website technical maintenance and all other behind the scenes tech stuff to keep us running and accessible. There are three monthly membership options you can choose from, starting at $5/month. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook

 

In addition to the identities that we carry that are marginalized, each of us has an identity that has some privilege to it, whether it’s because we are cisgender, or able-bodied, or white-bodied. How can we address that in the workplace? Here’s more of Enrico’s and my conversation with Brian.

 

[music]

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Wow. So we talk about “belonging” a lot in these kinds of DEI—you know—it’s growing—people add “access”, “belonging”, but even if you build a place that on paper is like, “yeah, anybody can come here”, unless they really feel at home, then that’s just straight up not gonna happen, right? There’s no Field of Dreams when it comes to, to organizations, right, “if you build it, so what?” basically. So I mean, I guess the follow up question that I might have is, you’ve mentioned, it’s been a few years since that happened to you. And so I imagine—quote, unquote, right?—I mean, I’m just kind of wondering what it’s like to see all the societal changes that have happened, right. So like, going from—into the situation where it’s clear to you that like, “oh, maybe I need to be a little bit cautious here” and you’re seeing newer generations, younger generations, rather, have people identify as Queer LGBTQIA+, in relatively a short time, right, so I don’t know—are there people that you’d like to understand—now that there are like multiple generations of queer people living in the world, but the world is still kind of struggling to, to handle the complexity of difference in general.

 

Brian McComak

So one thing that I’ll offer that—to start this is, so for those of you who can’t see me, I’m a white cisgender man, which, of course, I—it’s important to say that out loud. And with being a white cis man who also—I’m—actually Enrico and J.P., I don’t know, if you know, this, I’m also six feet six inches tall. So I have like stature. And I’m heteronormative. Although I don’t care what—you know, I don’t spend too energy worrying about that, I know that that’s where I fit as well. So in many ways, corporate environments were built FOR people like me, and I can choose to put away the gay part of the conversation if I want to. I—so I just want to acknowledge there’s privilege with my identity, which is not true for every member of the Queer community. And, and also, that means with what you know, that’s important. What I want to say, first is, once I came out, I knew I never wanted to go back IN the closet, you know, I come out in my personal life that came out of AMC, I went back in the closet, I—you know, to your point Enrico, that didn’t feel good. And I don’t want—ever want to feel that way again. So any interviews that I’ve had since then I always make sure that the company knows in some way that I’m gay, I don’t shout from the rooftops that I’m gay, but I find a way to make sure they know. And, you know, it might be for many years, it would be when I was part of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, I’d say I’m part of this organization. Now you don’t have to be gay to be part of that organization. But it’s an assumption that people are going to lead with. And if they don’t want me, I don’t want to be there. Now, I realized that I have some privilege, and that gives me that opportunity. And that’s not true for everyone. You know, I think that’s also what’s been interesting for me, though, is, I’ll share I’ll share one of my powerful moments of learning, as in this work that I get to do now to be an advocate for others, I was the head of inclusion at Tapestry (which is the home of Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman), I was working with the pride committee pride ERG, our Pride celebration, and I asked this group of individuals that were predominantly Queer People of Color, nonbinary, transgender, women, so that was the group that I was with not people that look like me. And I asked them like, “what are you excited about? What do you want to see this year”? And I’m really, I’m—I hope that this is what they felt. But I was proud that they I created the safety enough for them to say, “we want it to not be about cisgender gay white guys”, which are people that look like me, right? And I’m like, “You’re so right!” Because because I sort of thought back to all of the things that I had seen. And they’re like, “We want pride to look like us”. And so that was a really nice opportunity. They showed me enough trust to share that with me and for me, to help them to create those stories and to share those messages, and to work with our brands to bring those messages to life and the Coach brand in particular, they did a 50 years of pride the following year, centering around Queer People of Color for their celebration and Stewart Weitzman and Kate Spade did wonderful things as well, all the brands really stepped in. So you know that that is I think something I continue to think about is how, how the, you know, the you know, to your point Enrico, this diversity conversation or inclusion of differences, like I—gay white guys, like me are just a half-step below cis white guys. And there’s a whole range of people that are so diverse, that are still trying to find their space in corporate America and truly have the opportunity to succeed, like the world has given me opportunities. And, and I’m grateful for those learning moments. And I want to continue to see how we can can tear down those barriers to acceptance and inclusion that allow everyone to thrive.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Wow, I love that. And thank you for sharing. I mean, it should be obvious from the acronym that there IS diversity within the queer community. But I do think that, you know, human, the human mind is a strange thing. Like we go for simplicity. And so you know, it’s like, “oh, yeah, that whole acronym, it’s . . . Brian”, right? But it’s not.

 

Brian McComak

Yeah! Yeah, and I SO do not represent the breadth of the amazing community that I’m part of. But I will also fully acknowledge that, I don’t—I mean of course, I knew people that were different than me. But I don’t think I until that moment, when someone was brave enough and trusted me enough to say, like, “hey, we want the rest of the story to be represented”, had I thought it—thought through with that lens. I wish I could say I was that human. Sometimes people need to help me on my journey too and, and so now I really just try to lean into that, and which is part of where, you know, coming back to the “amplifying voices of the unheard” is part of our—is our mission of Hummingbird is. I have space for my voice, and I’m grateful for that. And I want to use my voice and help others.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

J.P., I wonder if you’d like to jump in on this question as well? And if not, of course,

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

No, yeah, it’s, it’s, I was in a—so yeah, I mean, we’re not giving away our ages, right, we’re 25—to be coming of age, I think, you know, in the 90’s. And then beginning my professional career in the aughts, right, when there was all this legislation that was, you know—we were, we were “out” but we weren’t “out”, if that makes sense? Like we were still like “pushing” and then over the past 20 years to see all of this progress. And now to just be facing this wave of legislative bans, right, coming at us. And, and you know, not to plug an episode from This Queer Book Saved My Life! but I was talking to—

 

Brian McComak

You’re going to plug an episode, aren’t you? [overlapping]

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

I’m gonna do it! [overlapping]

 

Enrico E. Manalo

It’s your show too, let’s go! [overlapping]

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

The reason why I’m going to do it is this right, so we had an author on Alison Bechdel, right, who is this prominent, you know, lesbian comic, and she writes this amazing graphic memoir, Fun Home, right? And it gets published and picked up by a, you know, mainstream, you know, publisher. All of this attention, really great reviews turned into a Tony Award winning musical, right, a few years later. And now, Fun Home is being banned in K-12 schools. Right. And so I was asking her, I was like, “well, well, how do you feel about that?” And she said, something that so resonated with me, she’s like, “I—” She’s like “A) I don’t know how to process it. So I’m still processing it” right? To have had “this” and now to be back “here” again. But she said something that was like [exclaims], which is like, “I’ve never known how much I can trust”,

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Oh, ouch.

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

“this visibility and all of these rights that we’ve been getting, because it’s always felt tenuous”, right “to me”. And, you know, I’m a, I’m an Associate VP of Equity in Minnesota at a community college, you know, biggest community college in Minnesota, we’re in the Twin Cities, lots of protections really Queer-friendly, but when I talk to my colleagues and outstate, Minnesota, I mean, sometimes what I hear them telling me what they’re going through, I’m like, “it’s still like, 1990’s, where you’re at up there”, you know, and so I think there’s this—I guess, ultimately, what I want to say about that, there’s this weird dichotomy of folks, you know, and I think like Brian, and you know, and I think we’re experiencing a lot of the privileges, right, and we’re able to live out and we’re able to have our careers and we’re able to, you know, experience all these things. And also at the same time, there’s a lot of folks that aren’t living that. And there’s this weird dichotomy of that over the past 20 years. And now there’s just this huge wave of legislative bans on all fronts, all fronts that are just ready to throw everything back into the early 20th century if we’re being honest here, but it is a wild thing to think about. And yeah, there, there’s my there’s my take on it I guess.

 

Brian McComak

Yeah, I wanted to offer something there, J.P., and I’m so glad that you reminded us and me in this particular moment of—my lens is I’ve lived in New York City and Los Angeles, and now Fort Lauderdale. So when I talk about “people that look like me” and have this you know, similar identity, I’m also thinking, thinking of it through the lens of metropolitan cities that are—tend to be more inclusive, there are absolutely people who look like me in other places in our country that do not feel that way. And so, you know, I also just want to acknowledge anyone who’s listening who has that identity, like I see you as well. And I know that there is work to do for all of us, and I hope we get there. And I really appreciate that story as well of you know, I—I live in Fort Lauderdale, I actually try consciously try not to mention Florida, I realize that it is the state. And I get that question all the time. I have people I have friends that won’t visit me because of—I live in Florida. And they they’re like, “I love you and I want to see you but it’s not going to be in Florida”.

 

Brian McComak

Is it because they’re afraid of Florida Man?

 

Brian McComak

Well, there’s—Yes, we know. It’s, I mean, there is a safety question. You know, and there is that and yes. So it’s a—I mean and there have been times recently that I have also thought, “Hey, I’ve chosen to make—to like share my story so publicly, and is it going to be safe for me if this legislation passes? Like, what? What’s that going to look like?” And I have had those moments at 6’6″, I don’t usually worry about my safety so much. But but you know, I but 6’6″ doesn’t help when you’re faced with a gun. Right. And that is the reality that some some members of our community are faced with in their lives and certainly around the world. So hate is—hate feels like it’s emerging in ways that that so many of us hoped that it wouldn’t ever return. And I hope that—my belief is that this is the last stand for hate. And that the energy is fueled by the fact that those of us on the “right side”, quote, unquote, of history are winning. But I don’t know.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Thank you both so much for sharing all of that with everyone who’s watching. And I think what was coming up for me, as both of you are talking is we often conceive of progress as—as a line, right? So like we started at “this” point, we’re going “here” and progress looks like advancing along this axis, when what we know is true of humans is when it comes to change and growth, we—it might be two steps forward one step back, it might be two steps forward, one step to the left, one step to the right. It’s not so simple, right? There’s complexity and everything we do. And every time that there’s a—especially if we’re framing things in “wins and losses”, right? If somebody’s quote, “winning” something, somebody else is out there thinking “I just lost”, and then they’ll come back and try to win again. Right? And I think it’s that kind of scarcity mindset. We talk about so much in conflict resolution, like we talk about expanding the pie, making things better for everyone. But not everybody wants a slice of pie. You know, not everybody wants that future. They want their—what somebody like myself, perhaps people like us would say, like a “narrower”, more bounded reality. And it’s not for me to say whether that’s right or wrong. And I think that’s really frustrating sometimes, especially when there’s—I mean—I just look at all the things that both you and J.P. have gotten up to, like in terms of activism in terms of your professional lives, and the amount of passion and energy and just like endurance that’s gone into that. You know, it’s like it’s really an incredible thing. And what’s disheartening is there are people who are just as dedicated, just as passionate in making sure that people who identify as Queer, LGBTQIA+ or somebody that looks like me do not share the same advantages.

 

Brian McComak

Yeah, you know, I want to—so first of all, I love what I get to do, I love this work, I would not trade it for anything else. I work harder than I ever have in my life, in this phase in my career, and every day is exhausting. And I wake up the next day, and I can’t wait to start again. And maybe we can have a conversation with my therapist about whether this is good for me. But that’s a different story altogether. And as you’re all hearing is, I believe in levity in this because that’s one of—one of the ways that I get through this is, I find humor in like the journey and the story, I—not humor in the plight of others, because that is painful and I want to honor those experiences. And we have to find ways to navigate this journey in ways that allow us to have self-care and to keep our sanity. And, you know, one of the things—and J.P. and I met today before this call for the first time, and the one of the things—and I say that because one of the things that keeps me going and particularly in those moments where I feel overwhelmed and exhausted and I do say “can I get up tomorrow and do this again?” is I know that there are people like J.P. out there, and there are people like Enrico out there. And people like my new colleague, Andrea, who just joined the Hummingbird team a couple weeks ago, and, and, and and and and and, that there is an army of us out there around the globe who are saying, “We all deserve to be treated with respect. Everyone deserves to have their humanity honored. And hate has no place in this world.” And you know, so then I say, “You know what, I have to do my part because they’re doing their part. And together, we’re going to change things, step-by-step, one day at a time”. And the other thing that keeps me going, and I had this—last week I was—I spoke on the panel about my disabilities. And I had someone email me afterwards, who shared—because I’m one of the one of my experiences, I’m sober. And she reached out she said, “I’ve never heard anyone in a public forum like that talk about their sobriety”. So it’s those, it’s knowing that there are others, like the two of you out there, and it’s knowing that there are people—even if it’s a person that I’ve impacted, and then sometimes I just gotta find the humor, or sleep, I love naps on the weekend. You know, like, it’s those different things that I find and, and sometimes we do feel like we’re alone in this work. And if you’re someone out there who feels like you’re alone, that that feeling is real, and I’m not going to try to make it disappear. I will also say with confidence, you are not alone. There is someone out there who cares about you and loves you. And there’s a whole world of people who are trying to make the world better for you.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

I love that. Yeah. You know, one of the things I’ve been reflecting on as I’ve been, you know, continuing my journey as a DEI professional, is, I couldn’t imagine being in another field where I’ve met, like so many just incredible and incredibly nice, warm people, you know, and sure they’re making it their job to, you know, center humanity, but you don’t get into this line of work unless you really care, you know. And something else that I’ve learned through podcasting—I know each of you are podcasters, as well is I’m kind of shocked at how open people are if you just reach across the void and say, “Hey, I’d like to meet you”. There’s so many people out there who say, “You know what, I’d like to meet you too”. And then that’s the start of something. And, yeah, more than maintaining a professional reputation, I think one of the things that keeps me going is like, “I can’t let J.P. down, I can’t let Brian down. I got to, you know, do what I can to make sure that everybody’s being taken care of.” Well, let’s ask the audience a question. Let’s see, we got so —oh, yes, “if you could coach you younger selves through parts of your personal history, what advice would you offer?” And you know, this question comes from a place of love, you know, I’m somebody that one of the things that I’m working on in my own therapy is getting out of that negative self-talk, you know, I’m my own worst critic, and everything. And so I often find myself in that space of “I should have done this, I should have done this differently”. And then it’s my job from the President to be compassionate. “Well, you couldn’t know that,” you know. So, thinking through how I could have made things better or how I can plot my course more clearly for the future. I have to treat my own self with the kind of love and compassion that I’m able to offer to others. So I don’t know if that resonates with either one of you—if you’d like to answer the question.

 

Brian McComak

It’s there was an immediate answer that came to my mind and I haven’t thought about this in a while, but it’s it really appropriate for some of the things we talked that we’re talking about this conversation. One thing I want to say just before I answer the question is an earlier I talked about the HR/DEI professionals, I also just want to like, similar to what you said, Enrico. I love my HR community, and I love my DEI community. These are people that want to make workplaces better for humans. And the training and skills don’t necessarily serve the needs of today’s workplace in some ways. So it’s not a—it’s just an acknowledgement of the journey we’re on. And not a—you know, intended to dismiss the important work that either of those groups do. You know, and I think that, you know, this is this is one of those things that I, you know, that sort of, you know, connecting that back to this experience, there’s two things that I’ll share. One is, the first answer that came to mind was, “when the guy asked you, the senior executive”, his name’s Kevin Cunningham at Red Lobster or Darden Restaurants says, “Brian, do you want to start the Pride ERG” I don’t think we called it Pride back then maybe we did, “at Red Lobster and I said, ‘No, I don’t want to be the gay HR guy’, say, ‘Yes!'” I wish I could go back and say yes. Because it has—what I’ve learned is that my identity is not my detriment, it is my superpower. And my stories are the things that allow me to be the great HR person or great DEI person and, and leaning into those conversations and learning. I think the other thing that I might have said to my younger self, because I’ve learned some of these skills over the over time is there’s such a parallel between di and HR work and therapy. And I always thought about going to school for therapy and to become—for psychology, I didn’t have pics in psychology in college—I think I would have leaned into that more earlier. Because I do wonder how that would have influenced some of the decisions I made as an HR professional early in my career that I wish I could go back and do differently today, as I understand other humans in a different way. I don’t spend energy worrying about the things I did, because I can’t change them. But I just want to learn from them as they like—I want to do it better going forward. And and that is one of those things, though, that I have learned since that time that I wish I would have leaned into more earlier.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Nice, thank you for sharing that.

 

Brian McComak

I don’t think about things at all. Like I’m very simple. Like I just [laughing] I just it’s exhausting to be in this brain, by the way. But it’s but it’s also I’m very, I’m very grateful to have it as well. J.P., what about you

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

A little bit of what you’re saying they’re really resonates, I think with me of you get all these I’ve heard about you know, trauma—I mean different types of metaphors of it, right, or, you know, really negative experiences, kind of just like, you have this wound that kind of gets frozen, right, and you and that the point of the therapies to help like “thaw it” so that it can, your body can release it. And I think that would be something that I would coach my younger self on, is embracing that idea of, “I don’t have to endure it, I don’t have to carry it all with me” right, and to engage in a therapeutic relationship earlier on. And there’s one particular modality that I—or protocol, EMDR, which wasn’t actually like “a thing”, when I would have needed it, it sort of developed or, you know, much more so and providers have trained in it and are more so like right now, but to engage in that and to begin to let some thin—process some things and just kind of let it “melt” and “thaw” and let my have my body let it go, I think would have been really beneficial, because then it would have helped me I think, in that career journey, right? And the choices that I was making early on, which was very kind of haphazard, right? Because as a Queer person, you’re just sort of like, “I’m just gonna do whatever right now, right? Because who knows what’s gonna happen”, you know, so like that planning that, you know, can take can take some time for some people, that’s what you know, mine was like, so I think that that really resonates with me about the “engaging in in a therapeutic relationship early on”, to just have that time to say, that compassion, to say, you know, “you’re okay. And we’re gonna, we’re gonna, we’re going to heal this and we’re going to let it go. And it’s going to be in your past”, right? “It’s not going to be this continuous present of constantly happening to you, that we can we can heal that and let that go and kind of resource yourself so that you can move forward in a more healthy way.” Because, like you said, I’m in a poly relationship. And I sleep most of my Saturdays now at this point. You know, my partners are like, “do you want to do something?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m doing it right now. I’m asleep on the couch. And that’s what I need”, you know, “right now”. So I know that feeling right, Brian of you kind of like at the end of the day, you’re like, “ugh”, and then you get up the next morning, like, [growling] “we’re gonna get it done today” right. And that’s a thing, that’s a thing in these roles. And so, having that, you know, those resources for you are really important, whether that’s sleep, whether that’s connections with other people knowing that you and Enrico exist and are doing this work as well. It’s all everything that you’ve said clearly as I keep going on and on, resonating with me. So

 

Brian McComak

I love it. I love it well, and I want I want us just for something else, that just to build on what you’ve just shared of that a phrase that I’ve really embraced more and more, and it’s not a judgment, it’s just an acknowledgement of, that “hurt people hurt people”. And, you know, I, you know, coming out, regardless of what part of the community you’re part of, is a painful process, and it involves hurts and it involves a collection of motions. And if you don’t have the chance to process, they go with you wherever you go. And I can—I’ve done a lot of work. And really sobriety has been the journey that has made me as—a human that I really like, and in love today, it took me a long time to get there. I’m glad that I’m there today. And I can now see, I’m like, “Oh, I brought THAT to work”. And I didn’t want to I didn’t mean to, and I don’t think anyone’s blaming me for that. It’s, again, I don’t spend energy there. But I can, I CAN see it in through a different lens now. And I do think these careers that are where we are. And actually I can say that this is for people managers and leaders as well, but certainly for HR professionals, and DEI professionals, and organizational development consultants, or—all of the people that are in this space that are working with humans, I think it is important for us to do work on ourselves. So that way we can bring the best version of us to the work that we do. And I wish I had gotten here more quickly. But I’m glad I’m here now.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Yeah. Well, we’re definitely glad to have you here now. And before we move on into our last kind of question area, I just want to affirm that 1) sleep and rest are legitimate human activities. So if you’re feeling for that, yeah, I know, I know. I just got the—somebody tweeted it at me today. So now I’m sharing it. No, I’m kidding. But just affirming that, but also, if you’re somebody who—I was resistant to seeing a therapist for a very long time. But there’s there’s new stuff out there. So if you are thinking—if you had this one idea of “this is what therapy is” it might not even be that anymore. So so check it out, you know, we’re social creatures, we all need help sometimes, as you know, my colleagues here have said multiple times. Don’t be a prideful ass, you know, I was I still am sometimes. Working on it. In therapy! So back to you, J.P.

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

No, I think that’s a really—that’s a that is a really fundamental point, like when you do an intake with a new therapist, it’s as much an audition for them as it is for you. True, right. And if you’re not getting a good vibe, “thanks”, you know, you’re not getting charged for that, you know what I mean? So finding that that person who clicks with you, and well, you know, you’re like, “yes!” And finding that modality. And there’s a lot of interesting modalities now (I don’t know if that’s the right word), but like things that you can do, whether that’s, you know, Cognitive Behavioral therapy, so you’re doing that traditional, like “talk” therapy, you’re doing art therapy, you’re doing EMDR as a way of processing things, which I’m a big fan of, because I tend to over intellectualize, as you probably can tell right now, and EMDR just completely short circuits that so I can get in my body, right? So I think that’s really important to know that there are other ways of doing therapy now, and that it’s as much an audition for them, you know, you’re hiring that person to help you. And if you’re not feeling it, then you find the next person. So

 

Brian McComak

It’s like hiring a coach if you work with the coaches in the corporate environment of—the only thing I would build on because I agree with everything that Enrico and J.P. have said is, and I love that we’ve like leaned into this conversation because I battled anxiety and depression and like, talking about it and not letting like the, the stigma of it, like guide my journey, getting help is important. And, and, and calling it what it is, is important and it’s not nothing to be ashamed of. But the thing I would build on is—and I didn’t understand this early on, I used to think about when I was picking a therapist or I’ve had a chance to work with some coaches, it was like “did I like them?” Liking them is irrelevant. It is “will I listen to them?” And and that—and I have a therapist now—I have a big personality as I’m sure you figured out in this conversation. And she does not let me get by with my stuff. She’ll be like “Brian. I’m gonna stop you right there. That is that is flawed thinking let’s talk, let’s dial that back and talk about it.” And her name’s Robin and I am so grateful to have someone who just calls me on my stuff. Because that’s what I’m paying her for. I’m a paying for her to help me feel better not to—to help me do better not to always necessarily “feel” better, although that comes with the territory.

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Yeah, great points. And, you know, just to really drill down there, that’s also what people are hiring us for, you know, to call them on their stuff. They don’t always want us to do that after, you know, we’ve signed the contract but nonetheless, that’s what we’re here to do.

 

Brian McComak

Oh, they don’t always like it. We were talking about that, I think right before you joined our prep call J.P. of I was with a client earlier today and, and the emotions came up, because I said some honest stuff. And so some anger came out. And, you know, it’s—we were doing a survey debrief, and that’s okay. Like, it’s okay for those humans to have those emotions, because I’m telling them stuff that’s uncomfortable. My job is to make people uncomfortable. I also absolutely believe through discomfort is where we ignite change. So let’s make it happen.

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

One quick thought to that something that a colleague once told me doing contract work is they’re like, “you know you can . . . cancel the contract, right?” If you’re getting to a point where you’re hitting your head against the wall, there’s a clause, you can just say, “you know, what? We’re good.” And, you know, say that “maybe you need to work with somebody else on that.” And that was a freeing thought for me, but I’m looking at the time and Enrico, should we go to that last question? Even though I don’t want to I want to keep going. Well read the questions about the future. Right. So should we do that? Or do we still have time?

 

Enrico E. Manalo

Yeah, let’s go for like another 5, 10 minutes, something like that.

 

J.P. Der Boghossian

Okay, so, Brian. So if we’re thinking about the future, and you’ve got your book coming out, like what do you what do you hope for your book and for your consultancy, and for Hummingbird Humanity, like when your book is coming out, (Developing a Human Centered Culture)? What do you what are you hoping for it in the future?

 

Brian McComak

Yeah. Thanks for reminding people about my book again. Because again, I still can’t believe we can say “Brian McComak wrote a book.” I—I envision workplaces of the future that are welcoming and inclusive to everyone where everyone can bring their unique skills and capabilities and experience to the better of that organization and the work they do. I see that possibility. Even in light of like the legislation, you’ve mentioned, J.P., or the hate that we’ve seen around the world. Certainly, I want to acknowledge the or the Iranian women and the Jewish community and the hate that’s been disputed in those communities right now, which is unwarranted. You know, I do hope we get past all of that. And I hope that the, the message of my book ignites a conversation, you know, the book is framed through this lens of, I won’t pretend like I have a point of view, but I don’t pretend that I have all the answers—I—That would be a highly ego-driven message then. And while I do know, I have a good mind, I’m also learning every single day. So the book is really an invitation to reflect on a different possibility. And I hope it sparks conversation and reflection in boardrooms and in C-level rooms, and with leaders and managers, that that they figure out in their own way, whether it’s the way I’ve suggested or not that “how do we help work with our workplaces be environments where humans thrive?” and that business benefits or the organization benefits. So that’s what I hope for, you know, and I shared with you earlier, I also just want to be part of the change. That’s part of my hope, and desire for the future. And we’re will be launching a —the, the legal name will be the Hummingbird Humanity Foundation, we’re still thinking about what the what the actual name will be. But we’re watching a nonprofit to focus on bringing diversity to education, because that is so important. Our stories, and the LGBTQ+ community should not be erased from education. It’s okay to talk about heterosexual relationships. And it’s also okay to talk about homosexual relationships and all of the variations in between. and, and we should do it in age appropriate ways, of course, but, but we don’t have to hide those stories. And so I want to be part of that change as well. So those are just some of the things that I hope for the that we can continue. And only I guess I’ll land on this thought, which is, I believe, and how we work at Hummingbird is, we try to ignite shared humanity. So the three of us are here, because we’re all members of a community that we connect with. And we that we have, we have ways that that we can find bridges and we also have very different stories. And so through I mean, and you just said a moment ago that you’re in a polyamorous relationship J.P., I can only imagine how some people don’t feel—how they feel about that relationship. Yeah, and you know, like, I’m like little I’d like to learn more about you because we’ve built a connection through shared humanity and shared experiences. And I’m like, “I don’t really get it necessarily, but that who cares?” Like it’s more about like, I’d like to understand more about your experience. And that’s our goal and hope to Hummingbird is to ignite that shared humanity that opens the door for everyone to understand the individual lived experiences of others, so we can break down those barriers to to growth and progress, eliminate systemic oppression so that way everyone can thrive.

Enrico E. Manalo

I love that, you know, somebody that you work closely with. Ben Greene just did a Community Event—

 

Brian McComak

He’s not, no, don’t mention him he’s—really, no, Ben is one of the most spectacular humans on the planet, I totally jest!

 

Enrico E. Manalo

I agree, like and very quotable. So something that he said in our Community Event the other day was “Understanding can come at day one, day ten, or day 100, as long as respect comes at day one”, and it’s like I keep thinking about that, it’s so good.

[music]

J.P. Der Boghossian

I’d like to thank my esteemed co-host Enrico for teaming up with me for this special episode. And many thanks to Brian for sharing his time and insights with us.

If you’d like to connect with Brian as a consultant or speaker, you can find him BrianMcComak.com or HummingbirdHumanity.com

His book, Humanity in the Workplace, A Framework for Developing a Human Centered Culture comes out next June. It is not available for pre-order just yet, but check back on his website or on our Bookshop page and when it is available we’ll have up for pre-order.

Links are in the show notes.

I really hope that you continue to listen to Enrico and the DEI Is podcast. New episodes come out every other week. I recommend their inaugural episode as a good entry point into the podcast. You can follow Enrico and DEI Is on all major social media platforms. I’m including all the links to all the things in the show notes.

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian

Thank you so much for your time today. See you this Thursday at Lush Lounge and Theater in NE Minneapolis for our second ever live recording.

As we wrap up here and before you get on with your day, please subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, or your preferred podcast listening service, and leave us 5-stars. When you do that, it helps Apple and other podcast providers get this show in front of new queer listeners. Sharing is life-giving for this and other podcasts you listen to.

And in the meantime, stay tuned to this space every Tuesday for new episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life!, 7 Minutes in Book Heaven, or our cross over episodes. And next Tuesday we have a brand new episode of This Queer Book Saved My Life! with Dr. finn schneider and we’re queering the novel Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.

Until then, see you queers and allies in the bookstores!