We had the pleasure of meeting Deanna Jones, a longtime professional and executive at Cisco Systems, through our ongoing relationship with Harmony, the LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
When you first meet Deanna, an emerging thought leader on the transgender workplace experience, you’re struck by her authenticity and gift for storytelling. While she’s certainly dedicated herself to formal speaker training and practice, we know no one gets this good simply from attention to craft.
For Deanna, storytelling is also a gift–a gift born from pain but currently reveling in her newfound joy since transitioning. Her joy comes not only from living as her true self, but helping others to do so. Even more, it comes from a place of helping people in the workplace build understanding and compassion for their transgender colleagues, giving them safe opportunities to ask big questions without fear and get real answers from a real expert.
My life is better for meeting Deanna Jones, and yours will be, too. In my book, she’s a hero. I hope you enjoy this interview she did recently with our own Casey Shaw. –Brian Castle, Founder
Casey: Thanks so much, Deanna, for sitting down with us today. Let’s get started with your new venture, Deanna Jones Now. Could you provide an overview of Deanna Jones Now, its origins, and what you aim to achieve?
Deanna: Sure, Casey. Deanna Jones Now emerged from my involvement with Harmony, an LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, where I quickly rose to a board position. While participating in a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conference for the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, I was part of a panel addressing transgender experiences at work, representing Cisco Systems. While sharing my story, which was intimately connected to my transition and the challenges I faced, I noticed people’s genuine interest in understanding transgender issues.
This pivotal moment triggered my drive to advocate for the transgender community and rectify misconceptions propagated by a select group attempting to undermine our rights. My speaking engagements received tremendous feedback, leading Kade, the President of Harmony, to suggest I form a business. Given my history with public speaking, including Toastmasters, I found a platform to speak for those who needed a voice.
Deanna Jones Now became my company’s name, born from an incidental email handle during my transition. Unlike typical presentations filled with impersonal data, my approach involves intertwining personal stories to convey the emotional essence. For instance, I narrate my journey, explaining terms like “assigned gender” and the lifelong impact of societal gender norms. I emphasize the personal aspect of transgender experiences, dispelling myths like social contagion, highlighting that people usually possess a core understanding of their gender identity from a young age.
Through Deanna Jones Now, my aim is to facilitate understanding, empathy, and awareness by breaking down the complexities of transgender experiences and providing unique insights into the lived realities of transgender individuals, all while promoting acceptance and diversity.
Casey: What do you want to help organizations achieve through your presentations?
Deanna: As I address organizations, I want to immerse people in the transgender perspective. To achieve this, I devised an exercise where attendees imagine themselves in a different gender and profession, simulating a transgender moment. I ask them to network under this identity, observing how they grapple with discomfort and ultimately revert to their original gender, highlighting the complexity of the transgender journey.
Understanding these challenges is crucial for businesses. With Generation Z, nearly 20% identify as LGBTQ+, companies must recognize the changing landscape. I emphasize that fostering a diverse, inclusive culture is not only ethical but also strategic. Employees who can bring their authentic selves to work are more engaged and contribute meaningfully. Moreover, I share instances of missteps, like misnaming, underscoring the need for comprehensive policies and education.
By advocating for a supportive workplace and sharing my journey, I aim to help organizations navigate the intricacies of transgender experiences, foster acceptance, and realize the immense potential of embracing diversity.
Casey: Could you describe the challenges you faced when navigating the process of transitioning at your workplace?
Deanna: My support group proved invaluable in my journey to approach HR about transitioning. The group helped me understand that I wasn’t alone in my feelings, providing validation and strength. A pivotal moment occurred when a fellow Cisco employee within the support group encouraged me to take steps toward transitioning and provided me with a direct contact in HR, making the process less daunting.
Allies and well-defined policies are imperative. Having someone who understands the complexities of transitioning can ease the process and alleviate fears. Additionally, comprehensive policies are essential to ensure employees know their rights and protections. Transitions should be a shared responsibility between employees, allies, and organizations, enabling everyone to feel safe, supported, and empowered.
Casey: What impact do you believe Gen Z can have in creating a more inclusive workplace and fostering understanding through personal stories?
Deanna: My hope for Gen Z is significant. I envision a future where coming out as transgender is as seamless as any other life experience. I hope to see companies unafraid to support their employees, recognizing that diverse, inclusive policies correlate with increased profitability.
Gen Z has the potential to be the catalyst for change, not only in the LGBTQ+ community but across all identities. By sharing our stories, we can bridge the gap between different experiences and foster empathy and understanding. It’s essential that we listen to the stories of people from various backgrounds, races, religions, and orientations. These narratives lead to deeper connections and help us truly understand one another. Gen Z’s willingness to seek resources and embrace diverse identities will undoubtedly reshape workplace dynamics and societal perceptions, creating a more inclusive future.
Casey: What’s your target audience for your services?
Deanna: My journey is driven by a deep desire to make a positive impact. While I’m currently engaging with smaller companies and chamber meetings to share my experiences, my aspirations extend to larger platforms, including Fortune 500 conferences. I envision becoming not just a consultant, but also a speaker and even a keynote speaker. My goal is to emphasize the importance of authenticity and diverse narratives, creating a space for various communities to share their stories.
As I evolve, I hope to expand my reach and amplify the message of being true to oneself. I firmly believe in living authentically.
Deanna Jones performs transformative work for companies, civic groups, and trade organizations seeking to be on the leading edge of creating inclusive experiences where everyone feels a sense of connection and belonging. Please visit her website, https://deannajonesnow.com/, for more information.