Joe Gerstandt isn’t just a straight white dad with tons of tattoos. He’s also an expert on diversity and inclusion who has trained leaders at Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, the government, and more. He also speaks on how each of us can become conscious champions for diversity and inclusion in our work and in our lives. Jennifer and Joe talk about his journey from small-town America to where he is today, and what he teaches that changes so many people.
- Joe grew up on a farm in a small town in a class of 26 kids. From there he went into the Marine Corps for four years, a transformational experience in terms of diversity. Then Joe went from sales to working in a non-profit, and finally into corporate life before becoming the thought leader he is today. But when Joe talks about how he got from there to here, his guiding principle was that he was a person who made mistakes and LEARNED from them. As a young adult, Joe didn’t believe things like racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination really existed. Joe shares how those feelings changed radically over his professional career.
- One of the things that ‘lit him on fire’ in the Marine Corps was, despite the terrible pay and living conditions, Joe believed in what he was doing. He had strong leadership and a chance to advance through meritocracy. Why does this matter? Because Joe believes in bringing the same passion to get people to rally around becoming champions for diversity and inclusion. He explains the lessons he learned in the Marines and how he’s applied them to his current endeavors.
- After he worked in a sales job – a very dark time in his life – Joe became part of a non-profit for AIDS. He had long since left his homophobic beliefs behind, but he didn’t leave behind the need for purpose like he felt in the military. Joe shares the shocking revelations he had while working for the non-profit that reshaped the way he looked at the world and his place in it.
- The next stop in Joe’s journey landed him as the Diversity Director at a healthcare facility, where he built the diversity program from the ground up. Neither the company nor Joe had a clear idea of what he should be doing, and Joe reveals the worst thing the company did when it came to its attitude about diversity and inclusion: they considered themselves ‘good people.’
- After that last work experience, Joe finally found his purpose, and he decided to work for himself. But the way it happened wasn’t what he expected, nor did he expect to be as such peace about it. Joe had some rough times as he stepped out as a speaker and consultant, and he shares one of the most pivotal moments in his early days of self-employment. From that experience, Joe gained the confidence to have a Fortune 500 client within months. Joe didn’t always make enough to pay the bills in the beginning, but he shares how he leverages social media, the Internet, his network, and even local Chambers of Commerce to grow his speaking career. He also shares one of the biggest mistake new speaker make with their plans and dreams.
- You might wonder what kind of reception a straight white guy from Omaha gets when his topic is diversity and inclusion when he doesn’t necessarily have the same insights as others. Surprisingly, Joe only dealt with a little of that early on, and here’s why: Joe will be the first to admit that he still benefits from gender and racial privilege. He explains what it’s like working from a place of privilege in a field like diversity and inclusion.
- What makes Joe’s diversity and inclusion message different? For one, his message is jarring. It’s not ‘kumbaya.’ He talks about how the corporate culture has taken control of the words and made them mean something else, and Joe explains why that keeps us ‘behind the times.’ He shares what diversity and inclusion really mean, and it’s not the number of different people you have in a department. Joe likens diversity to gravity: it exists. Will you work with it or against it?
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Where To Find Joe:
Joe Gerstandt Website
Written by Joe Gerstandt:
Joe Gerstandt Videos:
Joe Gerstandt & Jason Lauritsen – Talent Anarchy