#022: Expert Interview with Joanne Sprague Skip to the content

#022: Expert Interview with Joanne Sprague

Below are the items mentioned in this episode of the podcast:

You can get in touch with Joanne here:

Listen to the episode by clicking the play button below!

This is the “cat scarf” I mention in the conversation…

cat-scarf

 

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AUDIO TITLE:  Episode #22 – Joanne Sprague – Friend Factor

Jenn T Grace:

You are listening to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast, episode number 22.

Intro:

Welcome to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast where you’ll learn how to do business with and market to the LGBT community in an authentic and transparent way. We’re talking about the $790 billion lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. We’ll help you grow your business, gain market share and impact your bottom line. And now your host – she’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven and an advocate for the LGBT business community. Jenn, with two N’s, T. Grace.

Jenn T Grace:

Well hello and welcome to episode number 22 of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and as always I am thrilled that you are taking some time out of your day to catch up with me and listen to what’s going on in the world of gay business, LGBT business, and marketing and all that great stuff. So thank you for joining today.

I have a great interview lined up for you in just a few minutes, you will hear from Joanne Sprague with Friend Factor. And if you have not heard of Friend Factor before, by the end of this episode you are going to know all sorts of great things about it. So before I get into the interview I want to just talk with you about a couple of things.

So I have been flip-flopping quite a bit about the format of the show. I have been doing it for quite awhile where it’s gone from educational episode to an interview-based episode, and I’ve asked for your feedback and you’ve graciously provided your feedback, and yet again I have totally thrown off the way the show is formatted. So I apologize for those who may be tuning in looking for something that’s straight up educational, but I do have an interview again for you today. And what keeps happening is that I keep meeting great people and their stories are so inspiring, and they’re doing such great work in terms of LGBT business, LGBT marketing, in all regards. So I feel like it’s a disservice to you to not bring these awesome people on the show. So again, like I said today I’ve thrown it off a bit but as always you’re going to learn a ton of information; Joanne brings a lot to the table today with a business background who has some really great, insightful comments. So I am happy to have her.

And you will note that next episode, which will be episode number 23 on November 28th; that will be an educational podcast. And I say that right now and hopefully there isn’t some person who just crosses my path who’s also brilliant and gets placed in there. But as of right now I really want to just kind of start wrapping up 2013 with you in the November 28th episode. So stay tuned for that.

A couple of things to mention first…

So just a couple of things that I wanted to share with you before we get into the interview, is a personal win of the week and a business win of the week. And I was doing this earlier this year and I try to remember to bring these both up but I don’t always do so successfully in the podcast. But I’ll have you know that in 2014 I have already outlined by entire editorial calendar for the whole year, as it relates to podcasting, as it relates to new blog content, as it relates to all things marketing around my business, and content. So I have the entire 2014 calendar already squared away, and I gotta say it is quite intense. It is quite intense. There’s a lot of content headed your way in 2014, and I would say 95% of it is still free content. So I’m really still standing my ground on providing you the best free content I can on a regular and consistent basis. So I do plan on sharing with you how that content is all going to look and what new formats are coming, because there really is a lot of stuff coming. So that I will share with you in the next podcast, episode number 23.

And one of the things that I wanted to mention that’s kind of exciting, is that my blog celebrated its first birthday- its first anniversary on November 1st. So you may or may not have known that the blog really just sprouted up last November. So I wrote a blog post to commemorate the day on November 1st, so if you’re interested you can certainly head over to the blog and check it out. But I’m really, really, super excited and proud and thrilled with how the last year of blogging has turned out. I have developed a ton of new relationships with you who are either reading the blog or listening to this podcast, and I am really grateful for you and ’tis the season to be thankful since we are in November. So I am very thankful for all of your support, all of your encourage, all of your love, et cetera that has been happening throughout this past year. So thank you for that.

And let’s see- I had a couple of things that I wanted to talk about. I do want to invite you to my next free and live webinar that’s coming up, and it is on December 2nd. As I alluded to, the 2014 calendar is already squared away and I already have all of my webinars mapped out. So I want you to be aware that I do webinars every- between three and five weeks usually. So if you don’t make it to the December 2nd webinar, there will definitely be another one. And if you head over to my website it will always bring you to the next one available. So if you head over to www.JennTGrace.com/webinars that will bring you to the registration page for December 2nd.

And a lot of times the content that is on the webinars repeats itself, but I always do have a Q&A session at the end of each webinar with the content. So if you have a burning question around LGBT business or marketing, and you haven’t been able to get an answer to it- whether it’s from me or elsewhere, please feel free to join the webinar simply just to ask that question. I am more than happy to spend as much time as necessary answering all the questions that come up. And I do so on a regular basis. So please, please, please join me on December 2nd.

Also I want to encourage you and invite you to join my mailing list. So I have- what I believe to be a great following of people who are on my mailing list, and I get great open rates, I get great results from sharing content with you. So the purpose of the mailing list really, as it stands right now, is I’m just pushing out content to you that I think is valuable to you. So you’ll first start getting information about communications, you’ll get some information about marketing. And I really just drive you to specific blog posts and podcast episodes that I think that you would benefit from. So instead of having to try to find it all on my website, if you join the mailing list it kind of gets delivered to you automatically. So please consider doing that.

And the last thing I want to talk about is my online training course. So you’ve heard me talk about it before. The ‘How to Authentically Market to the Gay Community Course.’ And it is going like gangbusters these days. So if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, I highly encourage you to and you can check it out by going to www.AuthenticGayMarketing.com and there is a place for you to sign up to receive a three-part video series. So the three-part series really just kind of covers some high level things that you can do to help make your marketing to the LGBT community more authentic. That’s really the name of the game, it’s a matter of being true to yourself, be who you are, and really reaching out to the community in the most authentic and transparent way possible. So the course covers everything from basic communications around terminology all the way through developing an actual marketing plan that you can actually execute on when you are done with the course. So I highly encourage you to check it out, even if you just go over just to check out the three free videos, there’s no catch, there’s no nothing. So if you’re interested in getting the full course, by all means I would encourage you to join many, many others who are doing so as well. But if you just are looking for some additional information, please sign up and just get three free videos; it’s very simple.

So now that I’ve been rambling for a couple of minutes, I know that I started off by saying I wanted to share a personal win of the week and a business win of the week. And the business win of the week really was my leading into talking about the editorial calendar. The fact that I have completed all of what I want to discuss with you in 2014 is beyond a win of the week; that’s probably the win of the quarter. Because an editorial calendar for most businesses- I would say, let’s see. Since my business is very content-based, mine is going to be a million times more chaotic and harder than yours probably looks if you are a business where maybe you post a blog post a month, maybe you post one a quarter, maybe you do a quarterly newsletter. There’s a bunch of different ways that you can utilize an editorial calendar. And mine is so packed which as I said I’ll talk to you more about in the next episode. But to the fact that I have that done is pure bliss. I’m extremely excited that it’s done.

Random personal win of the week

And then the random personal win of the week is going to be what you may have guessed it would be, that I am still moving along slowly but surely on my half marathon goal for next November. So as I’ve talked to you about before, next November- let’s see, November 8th and 9th of 2014, I will be running my first marathon- my first half marathon, let me clarify I keep saying marathon meaning half but there is obviously a very big difference between the two. So I am still at my four miles per day and I’m quite pleased with that. I’m not going to try to go too crazy and go too fast and end up getting hurt. So right now I’m at my four miles and I’m quite pleased with it. And I still encourage you to reach out and share any tips that you have in terms of running a marathon- there I go again. Running a half marathon. Because I still- for the most part really don’t know what I’m doing, so I’m open to all suggestions that you may have. And going back to one of my first comments here, I so appreciate the tribe that has kind of formed around this community. So I’m really happy and pleased with how often you reach out to me, please know that I am an open book, I want to hear from you, I do reply to emails; so just keep on reaching out because when you do, you have fabulous things to say and I of course always want to hear from you.

Onto the episode…

So now that I’ve rambled on a bit, I am proud to present you with an interview with Joanne Sprague. So before I hit play on the interview, I want to make sure that the call to action is really clear from Joanne’s interview. And I will remind you again at the end of this interview that the workplace ally challenge that she speaks about has a time sensitive deadline of November 30th. And that’s actually one of the reasons why her interview has been bumped up to today’s spot versus this being an educational podcast; because I just wanted to make sure that Joanne had that opportunity to capture your attention and have you head over to her website. So I will make sure that the link to that website is very clear at the end of her interview, but just remember that there is a time sensitive nature to everything that we’re discussing today. So without further ado, here is an interview with Joanne.

So I am excited to be talking to Joanne Sprague today, she is the refounder and CEO of Friend Factor. And for those of you who are unfamiliar with Friend Factor, their vision is that, ‘We envision a world where everyone who cares about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality takes part in making it a reality.’ And their mission is really simple and it is, ‘We help straight people become visible and active allies in their workplace and campus communities.’

So welcome to the show, Joanne.

Joanne Sprague:

Thanks so much, Jenn. Thanks for having me.

Jenn T Grace:

I am thrilled to be having this conversation with you today, and I want to just start off with allowing you to just kind of tell us a little bit about your story and maybe a little bit about your history, and what your path looked like that led you to becoming the refounder- which I’m interested in hearing how that all came about- and CEO of Friend Factor.

Joanne Sprague:

Yeah, absolutely. So the story of how I got involved in Friend Factor and LGBT equality in general cheesily enough starts all the way back in about the fourth grade. I remember being in a classroom and learning about slavery and the Holocaust and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, but I remember my ten-year-old self sitting in there and saying, ‘This is just atrocious. And if I had been there back then I would have done something about it.’ So obviously that was very naive of a ten-year-old but that sentiment has really stayed with me and as I grew up and saw the inequalities that were going on in the world, I really couldn’t stay away from them and couldn’t not be involved in trying to equalize them and make a difference. So that actually first led me into the space of socio-economic and equality. I worked in international development in Kenya and India for a number of years in the first part of my career. And then when I came back for graduate school to the US, I decided to stay in the US, it was really very clear to me that domestically LGBT rights were the sort of civil rights movement of our time and the most critical issue for our generation. And so I was really compelled to get involved. And Friend Factor came along as I was actually starting to look at starting my own organization based on a couple of experiences I’ve had in business school related to getting straight people more involved in the movement. And Friend Factor had started a couple of years before and was looking for its next big move. And our model had a lot of opportunities to solve some of the challenges that Friend Factor had experienced with engaging allies and non-LGBT people. And so I had this great opportunity to merge with the organization and re-structure it under the vision I had; and that’s why I’m called a refounder. Is that we’ve taken the same general vision of getting more LGBT people involved in the movement, and I’ve just restructured the entire executional strategy for the organization.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow, that sounds really exciting. So for somebody who’s listening to this and they’re thinking, ‘Well what exactly does Friend Factor do?’ Could you explain maybe how you actually go about getting more straight people and allies involved in the community?

Joanne Sprague:

Absolutely. So I’ll tell you the story of how we got started, which might be in the form of a good sort of use to explain what we found were the really- the lynchpin to getting straight people to stand up and speak up and start to see themselves as allies. When I was in business school, I had just gone through orientation and was really excited about the school that I was in and found that I had an experience where a friend of mine was in the process of coming out and she had had a negative experience where someone had made an anti-LGBT comment and her frustration was not so much at the person who made the comment, but that all of her friends were surrounding her- not a single person stood up and said, ‘That’s not what our community is about, I think you should be respectful of our LGBT classmates.’ And when I started to dig more into this incident and understand what had happened, it wasn’t that people weren’t LGBT friendly or supportive, it was that they really just didn’t know what to do and it was this very negative experience for a lot of people in the room who had heard this comment.

What we started to do in response to that was some very basic ally campaigning; stuff that people had probably seen before. Pins, stickers and magnets for people to be able to show visibly that they were allies, educational programming for people to learn inclusive language and how to start a conversation about LGBT issues. And what was amazing was that all these people started rushing in the door of the organization that we were building around LGBT issues at the school saying, ‘I didn’t know I could be a part of this organization, I’ve always wanted to learn these skills. I’ve always wanted to show that I’m supportive, I just never knew how.’ And so the membership of our LGBT club quintupled in a couple of months. People started really speaking up and learning the things that they needed to do and it created a huge culture change in the school.

The learnings from that were that if you give people the tools to speak up and to be allies, they by and large come to the charge. They just don’t know what to do and that’s why they’re not speaking up.

The second one is the community-based aspect of this use case which was people who were a little afraid to maybe make a political statement or do something in their broader community. But when you brought it down to the place that they were coming every day, this was in graduate school, they were in this building surrounded by their classmates every day; they were much more incentivized to make that community more supportive and a more welcome place because that was they felt a sense of ownership of that community. Once they had that transformation of starting to speak up and identify as allies in their campus community, and they graduated and went to the workplace, I’ve had lots of people come back and say, ‘I want to do the same in my workplace because it’s where I go every day, these are the people I interact with every day, and I want to make sure that that’s a safe and welcoming place for my LGBT colleagues.’

So the long answer to your question is that Friend Factor works with community organizations; so that’s workplaces and graduate school campuses, to build ally programs that can engage more non-LGBT people in LGBT support and inclusion, and can actually change the culture of those organizations. So we run two main programs. One is called the MBA Ally Challenge; so we’ve expanded our MBA program into twelve business schools. And we challenge them to build the largest and most effective ally initiatives they can over the course of the school year. And then we are actually launching a new program that expands into workplaces in January, 2014 called the Workplace Ally Challenge, where we will challenge businesses to do the same- to build the largest membership of allies and have the most impact on the culture of their workplace that they can over the course of the first six months of 2014.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow, that’s impressive. And are you arming the folks either on the college campuses or in the workplaces with the materials and information that they need to really just succeed in growing these large communities?

Joanne Sprague:

We are. So there’s two ways that we do that. One is that we provide simply the infrastructure for these challenges for companies and campuses to have input and motivation to get involved and also all the resources and tools that they need. So we provide an intro training, we provide a baseline survey and collect all the data on it, we also do a post-survey to see how change has happened over the course of the challenge both on awareness about LGBT issues and the LGBT friendly culture of the organization. We provide- for workplace challenges will be every two months, we do check-in calls with all the leaders of the organizations that are building these initiatives so they can learn best practices, share their successes, share their challenges with the other organizations that are doing this so that they can bounce these questions off each other and share concerns. So we provide the infrastructure behind that, and then we also provide very specific content and resources. We provide a list of all sorts of activities and ideas that we’ve pulled from other organizations on what people can do to engage allies. We provide training materials, step-by-step modules for different activities, ideas for swag that they can pass out; basically all the resources that can provide a leg up so that none of these organizations are starting from scratch in building their ally initiatives.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome. That seems like such an important thing that you are doing- especially when you’re arming them with all the right materials and before we hit record on this I know that I was telling you a little bit about my audience, and of course they’re listening so they know who they are. But you know I really focus my efforts on really educating the allies to the community because I really believe that the LGBT movement in general- I think we have some good momentum happening right now, but I think a lot of it has to do with allies being engaged in the community because I know for myself personally that I know the topic of transgender comes up a lot on my podcast and it’s because I have a really strong commitment to furthering the mission and the cause for the trans folks of our community. So I know that me being an ally to the trans community, that I can help move that further and faster, just like I know that allies of the community such as yourself and your company- that you yourself can help move the movement forward a lot fast than even I could. So it’s so important to have this and it’s really great that you have this whole workplace challenge happening and is this rolling out to companies all across the United States?

Joanne Sprague:

It is. There’s actually an opportunity for businesses in their pilot year, we’re trying to be as flexible as possible and we recognize that different firms have very different structures and numbers of people and different workplace settings. So the way that we’re doing it is that companies can sign up as a firm as a whole across multiple offices or they can sign up just for themselves. So if a company has an office based in Chicago or DC or North Carolina, that the individuals at that office are excited about building an ally initiative, they can do that on their own and sign up as just one office of their company, maybe even as a pilot program. Or they can do it across the board. So we’ve really focused on providing the resources that we have learned as best practices for building effective ally initiatives, but also maintaining as much flexibility as possible so that the leaders in these companies can take as much ownership as possible to develop creative ideas, come up with some things that they think is going to be fun, and that their office culture are the most effective with.

Jenn T Grace:

So now is this something that could be available to maybe a medium or small business who has just a few- maybe 100 or just a small number of employees?

Joanne Sprague:

It sure could. I will say that most of the companies that we’ve come across that are the most excited about this challenge have been the ones that have enough employees where it makes sense to have them establish an LGBT Employee Resource Group or Business Resource Group, usually with an ally program chair. That being said, if there are smaller or medium sized businesses, there’s no minimum number of employees, there’s no minimum office size to participate in the challenge. So if there’s a company that is excited about this and can absorb the materials and participate in the challenge, we would love to have them. I’ll also mention that one of my pie in the sky dreams as we grow Friend Factor is I would like to take this to a much more targeted small business initiative. So I would love to build a small business ally challenge as well. We’re not at the point where we have the resources to establish that as a separate program at this time, but like I said we have no limit on small or medium sizes that would be interested in building these initiatives and changing the culture of their workplace as well.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s really exciting. It’s definitely a good thing that you are certainly up to and I know that there’s many, many business owners listening to this, so my challenge to a business owner listening now, if this seems like it’s something interesting to you, your contact information Joanne will be on the blog post that goes with this particular episode and then of course I’ll have you- once we’re closing out, how do you- just give everybody ways that you can be reached. So via email, website, et cetera. So we will get into that shortly. But now that we dove right into the meat of the content which is awesome, and it’s really exciting, but I do like to just kind of throw my guests off by asking a really random question. And just to loosen people up, get people to know you a little bit more outside just having your business hat on. So my random question for you is there something that’s just really interesting or different about yourself that so few people know or would expect?

Joanne Sprague

Yeah. So I think- you had sent me these questions in advance and I was thinking about it and I was trying to think of something that people don’t know about me because I’m a relatively open book. And one thing that a lot of people do know about me personally is I’m very close to my family. But what they don’t know is that we are a group of very large nerds, and we love- one of our favorite family activities is to get together and play cards. But the Sprague family can never do anything in the way that a normal family does, so instead of just playing normal cards, we get together and play a game that we have created that we call Extreme Pinnacle. So Pinnacle is a game played by mostly old ladies in retirement homes; we have modified it to be a game that we- it’s the same game but we play it in extreme situations. So just a couple of situations in which we’ve played Pinnacle as a family has been in a safari car in Kenya, on the floor of a speedboat in Lake Titicaca and in the middle of a monsoon at an outdoor bar in a coastal town in India. So that’s my fun fact about me and the Sprague family is our affinity to playing Extreme Pinnacle in extreme locations around the world.

Jenn T Grace:

That is hilarious. That’s awesome. This is why I like asking that question because you never know what kind of answer you’re going to get, that’s awesome. Good stuff. Alright so let’s see.

Alright, I hope you are enjoying the interview with Joanne. I just would like to take a break for just one moment so we can hear from Mental Compass, which is a sponsor of this podcast. So hang on tight and just listen to Mike for just a moment and we’ll be right back.

Alright, it’s always so great to hear from Mike at www.MentalCompass.com, hopefully you get an opportunity to head over there and check things out. They have been a loyal sponsor of this podcast since it started almost a year ago. It seems a little bit crazy that it’s been almost a year but alas, it has been. So thanks for taking the time to listen to that and now let’s get back into our interview with Joanne.

The next question that I would love to hear from you- and I know that you- certainly when you were in fourth grade you weren’t having an ‘ah-ha’ moment but clearly when you were ten, you understood inequality. So my question for you is was there a certain time where you did have an ‘ah-ha’ moment when you realized that putting your energy and efforts into Friend Factor, or just even moving the LGBT movement forward was what you were meant to be doing?

Joanne Sprague:

There was, and I alluded to it earlier, I’ll tell a little bit more in depth of the story which is a few days into graduate school- so I was going to the Fuqua School of Business at Duke. And to be fair I had been a little nervous about going to a school in the south after having grown up in California in a very liberal environment. But I was really excited and everyone I had met was fantastic, and I was just so thrilled to be there for two years. A few days after orientation I sat down for a drink with a friend of mine who was in her second year at school, and she was in the middle of coming out to her classmates; she had met a woman that she fell in love with at school and was coming out and telling them about her first relationship ever with a woman. She was getting really positive responses, but then she was in a second year diversity workshop and someone stood up and made a comment that probably a lot of people on this webcast have heard. ‘Sexuality has no place in the workplace, we should be not talking about these things in an office environment, Don’t Act Don’t Tell shouldn’t be repealed.’ And my friend was sitting just two seats down from this person who said this. And she told me- she said, ‘Joanne it was so upsetting, not because of what he said but because I was in a room of 100 of my closest friends and classmates and not a single person got up and said, ‘With all due respect to your opinion, this isn’t what our community is about.’ And so it was that moment that I realized that I wasn’t in a homophobic or an LGBT exclusive community in this school. I was just in a community of people who wanted to be supportive but had no idea what to do. And that that was from a business perspective, an undercapitalized opportunity, a potential resource. And I started looking into the numbers that over 75% of Americans care about LGBT equality, support it, maybe even vote for it. But only 14% of people have ever spoken up, made a statement, responded to an anti-LGBT talk. And so that is to me a major reason behind the- what could be a much faster pace of change in this country, if we could get all of the 75% of people who care about LGBT equality to actually speak up and do something about it on a daily basis. So that was my ‘ah-ha’ moment that got me involved in the very beginning.

Jenn T Grace:

That is a really powerful ‘ah-ha’ moment and I did not know that statistic of 75% versus the 14% that actually speak up. But to your point and to the whole premise of your business, when people don’t have the tools or the resources to know how to speak up, how can we expect them to? So that’s really- wow that’s really kind of- I don’t know, I feel like I’m at a loss for words which rarely happens by the way. That’s a really powerful ‘ah-ha’ moment and I think that it’s a matter of- in my own personal day-to-day interactions I can give you a pretty entertaining example. I was on the phone with my mom last night, and my five-year-old son wants his grandmother to teach him how to knit. Which I think is hilarious because what five-year-old in general wants to knit, let alone a five-year-old boy? So we go to the craft store, and I don’t know the first thing about knitting needles and they were so overwhelming, this whole aisle of knitting needles. So I’m like, you know what we’re going to settle and we’ll crochet; which is not much of a difference in terms of like me not knowing what I’m doing. And I’m telling my mom this like, ‘Hey we got him crochet needles instead and I’m trying to make him a scarf,’ and it was hilarious because I should take a picture and put it on the blog with this podcast because the scarf is a complete wreck. So I’m just saying this to my mom saying, ‘It’s funny to me that a five-year-old wants to learn how to crochet and the fact that he’s a five-year-old boy-‘ and of course I’m here all about gender, boys can do things girls can, girls can do things boys can. But we know that we’re in a society where there’s still a lot of areas where boys having any feminine qualities are still not accepted. So I just randomly say this to my mom and her response is, ‘Don’t stereotype.’ And I thought that that was really- it kind of just shows how far my mom has come in terms of how open minded she now is because of my involvement- of course the fact that I am a lesbian, I have a wife and we have kids together. But it was really interesting for her to have just kind of like chimed in to that comment to me about ‘Don’t stereotype, boys can do thing that are feminine too,’ when I feel like she would say that exact thing to somebody else. Like somebody- not necessarily a stranger, but an acquaintance. And I feel like it’s having those day-to-day interactions with people that are going to make them feel more comfortable about speaking up in the right scenarios.

Joanne Sprague:

Absolutely and you Jenn, my own personal story comes very much from a long path of understanding really what comes down to privilege that we don’t see and the ability to fully walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and understand what they’re going through. And it’s something that I was just reading up on empathy last night. We really have to practice it, it’s not something that we just learn and then it’s part of us. It’s something that we have to practice and continue to recognize of how those ‘ah-ha’ moments every day in order to maintain that and really be able to walk a mile in each person’s shoes as we meet and get to know other people. So incorporating that into our lives and bringing out that part of our human potential is something that’s a challenge and that’s why it’s so important why I’m doing it.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, it’s exciting and it’s really good work, and I think anybody who’s doing anything to help move the LGBT movement forward is awesome, so this actually leads into my next question really well about inspiration. So- and I say this on almost every single podcast that I do, that this work is not easy. You know, helping move an entire movement forward is never an easy task, but it’s really rewarding. So in spite that it may not be easy at times, what is your inspiration and just keeps you motivated to continue doing this every day?

Joanne Sprague:

Absolutely. So I have a file on my computer that I go to when I’m having a bad day or feeling uninspired about the work. Because sometimes- I mean let’s be honest, when we’re talking about business diversity initiatives it’s easy for it to seem like [Inaudible 00:38:14] or greenwashing, or focused on PR or not really having impact. And so I have to remind myself sometimes that there is true real inspirational value in this work, and it’s not just lip service. And so that file on my laptop is full of stories and testimonials of individuals in my life, individuals who have been impacted by Friend Factor’s ally initiative or just by an individual in their life stepping up for them outside of Friend Factor. So I just wanted to share a couple of those stories, if that’s okay?

Jenn T Grace:

Absolutely.

Joanne Sprague:

Because I think that they’re really powerful.

Jenn T Grace:

Yes please.

Joanne Sprague:

So one of them is actually my board member Evan in one of his first days, he went to Harvard Business School and he comes from a sales background of sometimes being out in the workplace, sometimes not being out in the workplace as a gay man. And came to Harvard Business School and wasn’t sure how out he could be. And about a month into school when it was National Coming Out Day and their LGBT club had given- had started handing out these little rainbow stickers that students could put on their name placards in business school; you’d put these little name placards up when you go into a classroom. And he got up in front of a class to give a presentation and looked around, and about 80% of his section had these little rainbow stickers on their name placard, including people who are ex-military and people from conservative southern states, evangelical Christians who knew. And he was just amazed to see this wave of support right in front of him in a community where he hadn’t been sure if he could be out about who he was. So those little things, it makes a huge amount of difference for an individual because he ended up being a co-chair of his LGBT alumni organization for Harvard Business School.

Another story is my friend Jamie who is a partner of a business school colleague of mine, and had had a transphobic incident directed at her because she presents more masculine. And what she said was so amazing was the outpouring of support from her community but specifically that it was the non-LGBT people who were the most vocal and the most active. They actually planned a whole- they all wore ally tee shirts to the party that night to show support to specifically of her. And I tear up when I’m thinking about this because she says that she’d always assumed that she was going to get support but it was going to come specifically from her LGBT friends, and classmates. And it was that much more powerful to her that she was part of a community where it was straight people who were really taking the wheel.

And then the last story I’ll share is an email that came in- we work with Pacific Gas and Electric in San Francisco, and they through Friend Factor ran an ally campaign that encouraged middle managers and executives to print just a picture of themselves on an ally sign and say, ‘Here are three things you might not have known about me.’ And two of them were fun facts about themselves and the third one was, ‘I’m a proud ally of the LGBT network.’ And in response to that campaign being visible out in their corporate headquarters, the CEO received an email from an employee and it was just so appreciative of the CEO standing up as an individual and coming out as an ally. And the quote that he put in there was, ‘In the six years I’ve worked for PG&E, this is the first time that I’ve seen such a clear, honest and influential connection from our leadership.’ So that little thing just assigned with a couple fun facts in sort of a basic campaign around National Coming Out Day transformed this individual’s impression of the executive leadership of his company and the way that he feels that he can be who he is in the workplace. So those are the stories that I turn to, to get inspired on a bad day.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, I can see why that would keep you inspired and motivated because I would imagine that those are just a couple of a list that’s just going to continue to grow as you continue to do this work. So that’s really awesome, and it’s such a good idea to keep a list of the things that do inspire you. I feel like I might kind of rip that idea off; it seems like a good one.

Joanne Sprague:

Feel free!

Jenn T Grace:

Okay, so I have a couple more questions and these are a little bit more business focused, not that we haven’t been already. But my first questions is, do you have a specific piece of business advice that you were given at some point that’s just kind of one of those guiding principles that you operate off of?

Joanne Sprague:

I do and unfortunately I can’t think of who to attribute this to; I’m sure I’ve heard it multiple times at conferences and from individual entrepreneurs over the years. But I think that the best piece of business advice I’ve ever gotten is to combine my personal and my professional passion; and do what I am the most inspired by and passionate about. I think we have this conversation in the US about work life balance, and I think that the piece of advice that has stuck with me is that concept kind of misses the point. Right? It implies that work is a thing you have to suffer through to get to your real life. And the advice was that you know, basically life’s a lot more fun if you can find a way to do what you love every day and make that your life’s work. So I think that that has really driven me to stay in sort of the social entrepreneurship field, and find the ways to combine my ‘work’ with my ‘life,’ and make those two run in alignment to each other.

Jenn T Grace:

That is really brilliant business advice and I can actually see perhaps some sort of Extreme Pinnacle situation happening at a conference.

Joanne Sprague:

Perhaps the next Out & Equal Summit? I think I hear a volunteer for that, Jenn.

Jenn T Grace:

I will co-facilitate with you, how does that sound? That could be pretty fun. Okay, so let’s see. My next question- and this is something that I talk a lot about and I’m really interested in hearing your perspective on this. Is that the majority of the people listening to this podcast- or I should say everybody who’s listening to this, they’re looking for tips and tricks and- not tricks necessarily, but tips on how to effectively market to the LGBT community. And many of them are allies to the community which as we have discussed over and over again, are fantastic to have. So for somebody listening to this, do you have a piece of advice for them to market to the LGBT community that you think would help them be more successful?

Joanne Sprague:

Of course, they should join the Workplace Ally Challenge.

Jenn T Grace:

Duh!

Joanne Sprague:

But beyond that, I think that particularly the concept of coming out as an ally and being an ally in people’s everyday work is something that I have seen be really effective in the ability to brand one’s self and one’s business. And I want to clarify here that when I talk about being an ally and acting as an ally, that goes for people who identify as LGBT and people who not identify as LGBT alike. Jenn, you mentioned being a trans ally and our definition at Friend Factor of an ally is an individual who takes action to promote the equality and inclusion of others, regardless of personal identity. So it’s not about being in the majority and advocating for the minority, it’s just about taking action to promote the equality and inclusion of others. So specifically, what does that mean, right? Because being an ally is something that we can talk about until we’re blue in the face without having any real concrete strategies for doing that and for making that part of our professional brand and our business values. So the first thing that I would advise people to do is to really focus on changing their language, make it inclusive. So this has been a struggle for me that I had to learn to refer to my opposite sex partner, as a partner or a significant other, because that little change of language from boyfriend or girlfriend, or husband or wife, signals to other people that I’m inclusive and that I’m part of the community of people who is not making assumptions about people’s sexual orientation or gender identity without knowing them. So changing that language to be inclusive and really working to do that on an everyday basis.

The second one that I would challenge folks to do is to start conversations about LGBT issues. We actually have a number of resources to help with that, but it’s just getting the conversations started. Start it at the dinner table, starting it at a PTA meeting, starting it with a client. Just starting to have these conversations on a more frequent basis; when we do trainings we ask people to start one conversation with people they’ve never talk to about LGBT issues that week. Just to find out what people are doing, get engaged, and start to see yourself as an ally, as a representative, of LGBT issues within your business community or within your personal community. Because people start to ask questions and start to come to you as a trusted advisor.

And then the third thing is showing up at events and activities. So in our busy lives we often forget sort of the necessity and the value of just showing up and being a butt in the seat sometimes. But you know you say that showing up is 90% of the battle and all that kind of stuff. And what I learned is that the most effective way that I can as an ally understand the LGBT community and be an advocate for it, and therefore have that come back to me in a positive business sense. Is by being a- putting myself in a position where I am a minority for a change. So that’s showing up at LGBT events and networking events and summits, where being straight and being this gender is a minority status. And experiencing the butterflies that come with that. Leaning into that discomfort and learning and recognizing that that is what LGBT people go through on a daily basis and be the rest of the world. And that has allowed me to really fill that empathy muscle that I was talking about. And I think that that’s a really powerful way to start to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and start to genuinely be an ally. And that work comes back and will really- can really help people to be seen as allies to the LGBT community and therefore be able to market to that community in a more effective way.

Jenn T Grace:

That is brilliant advice, and I always love when somebody starts off their advice with numbers, because I know it’s going to be good. So you had three really good pieces of advice there in terms of really just being more engaged to market to the LGBT community, and I want to just throw it out there because you and I did not know each other previous to having this conversation today, other than the joys of Twitter and the fact that you and I were Twittering back and forth with one another about the definition of an all; and that’s how I ended up inviting you on here. So I wanted to throw out that random tidbit for folks. I love Twitter and I think that there’s a lot of power in having conversations with people because if you are unfamiliar with the LGBT community, just going in there and searching for things you can get involved in the most random and powerful conversations you’ll have in awhile.

Joanne Sprague:

I completely agree.

Jenn T Grace:

Just a random note there. Okay, so this question is going to be almost like a, ‘why are you even asking this question?’ but I’m going to ask it anyways because it’s one that I ask all of my guests. And the question is how have you been able to leverage your status as an LGBT ally?

Joanne Sprague:

So it’s interesting because in the context of the work I do, I’m leveraging my status as straight within the LGBT community which is a little bit backwards from how people who identify as LGBT, leverages their status in the broader business community. My board chair who’s the original founder of Friend Factor, Brian Elliott, is always telling me that I need to come out as straight more often. So that’s been a powerful lesson for me. But I think more than my status itself, is my personal journey, that has been very powerful for me and it’s been effective in building this movement around allies. So the story of sort of transforming from someone who cared about this, so I define that as a passive supporter of LGBT issues and LGBT equality; to going through the personal transformation in graduate school to being a representative in the community to being an active ally. That is a journey that I speak to because I’ve gone through it, and therefore I can understand people who are at a different point in that journey or aren’t as far along. And I can use that to be a role model for other aspiring allies or people who want to be supportive but either don’t see why it’s important or don’t know how to stand up and speak out. And so I think it’s the ability to- what I’ve done to leverage that has been to continually tell that story, speak to folks like you and to continue to just highlight this is a process and this is a transformation and that it has a huge amount of power in transforming as an individual people and members of the human race, as well as business people and as organizations that can really be on the forefront of creating a more inclusive society and moving up to the next level of the game.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s really powerful; you’re just really leveraging the hell out of your status, and most of the time when I’m talking to people on here, they really are doing something that’s being able to leverage your status whether that’s as LGBT or an ally or in any scenario. So it’s excellent, you’re doing excellent work, and the final question I have is more of kind of like a tactical type of question I guess. Is there some sort of business book or some kind of program or tool or something that’s just really helped you go about your business a little more efficiently or just given you a new type of idea or a different type of mindset? A lot of people listening to this, they a lot of times come to me in terms of like me recommending whatever book I’ve just read or whatever program I’m using to help streamline things. But I always like asking that of my guests too, because a lot of times it’s stuff that I’ve never even heard of. So do you have anything in particular?

Joanne Sprague:

Yeah, so I’m going to make a plug for actually an entire field of business knowledge that I was turned onto while I was in graduate school in the field of Behavioral Economics which I’m sure most people have heard of, at least to some extent. But the books I’ll mention are Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Nudge (which I’m sure people have heard of), there’s another one called Free Market Madness by Peter Ubel, Predictable Irrationality by Dan Ariely. And right now I just started read Drive by Daniel Pink. That’s just a starting assortment of books on behavioral economics which is really the study of- understanding sort of the quirky and sometimes irrational ways that we function as individuals and as a society. So the feel of behavioral economics, I think is so powerful because when we- really business just comes down to understanding people and how they function and how they make the decisions in the world, right? Particularly when they get into marketing. And so the better that we get at understanding the human mind and how that drives us to our decision making, the better we’re going to get at business. And the extra point that I’ll put in here is that that really comes down to ethical business. So when we start to understand how we function as individuals and how we interact with our environment and how we make our purchasing decisions, we can choose two areas. We can choose to manipulate that knowledge to convince people to buy things- the products and services they don’t need. Or we can use that to nudge people in the right direction, it’s where the book Nudge really has this concept of libertarian paternalism which I hate as a phrase and love as a concept. But it’s driving our free will towards utilizing and understanding that we often think of things that are not in our best interest, and utilizing our better understanding of how we interact with the world to move us as a collective society to making better decisions. And the value of doing that as a business, because marketing and product development and sales really from an ethical perspective come down to getting the right products and services to the right people who need and want them. And so if we can utilize our understanding of the human brain to ‘manipulate’ people into buying things that they do need and they do want and that our society is not to address, then business can be a really positive driver of change for our world.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow those are some really great resources and as I mentioned before, I will make sure that any of the things that we’ve been talking about- links that came up, the titles of those books- I’ll include those in the blog post as well so somebody doesn’t have to go and try to search for them.

Joanne Sprague:

Fantastic.

Jenn T Grace:

And so now that we’re wrapped up here I would love for you to give yourself one last plug and let everyone know where they can find you; what’s the best way to get in touch with you or with Friend Factor?

Joanne Sprague:

Absolutely. So our website which is www.FriendFactor.org has a lot of resources, it also has information about both our MBA ally challenge which is in its second year right now so you can get all the data and stats and current  standings for our MBA program. As well as the new information about our Workplace Ally Challenge which includes a registration form for those who are interested in signing up right away and getting involved to participate starting in January. For folks who are interested in learning more I’m happy to speak to anyone who’s on this call who would like to learn more about Friend Factor and what we do, and either getting involved or supporting the organization. I am available at Joanne@friendfactor.org so that’s the easiest way to get in touch with me.

Jenn T Grace:

Awesome, this has been great. It’s been so great talking with you, I know that the audience is learning a ton of new information today so this is fantastic. And hopefully we will certainly stay in touch.

Joanne Sprague:

Great, thank you so much for having me on Jenn, this has been really exciting and fantastic.

Jenn T Grace:

Okay there you have it. There is a fantastic interview with Joanne Sprague of Friend Factor. She was great to talk to and as I mentioned in the top of this episode, the Workplace Ally Challenge has a November 30th time sensitivity to it. So if you are interested in heading over there, the web address is www.FriendFactor.org/workplace-ally-challenge. And if you do not go there and would prefer just to email her directly, she did just give out her email address which is joanne@friendfactor.org.

So I really hope you enjoyed the episode today and learned a great deal about allies; we all know allies are super important. So hopefully this episode clarified some things for you and maybe it’s going to make you even more active in your community than you already are, so that’s pretty exciting.

So I invite you to hop on over to the blog after you listen to this and check out any of the resources that we talked about in this episode. And you can do so by going to www.JennTGrace.com/002 and that is for episode number 22. So everything that we talked about on the podcast today will have a link to it on that page to make it easy for you.

So the last thing that I would like to mention before I let you go is to (A) make sure that you stay tuned for the next podcast episode. And (B) to reach out to me on social media in any way, shape or form. So you can reach out to me on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter, et cetera; and you can search for me even on Google Plus, actually just gave me my own custom URL finally. So you can reach out to me in any of those places by just going to JennTGrace. That’s my handle on almost all those outlets.

And a random thing that I would like to note is many of you choose to connect with me on LinkedIn versus friending me or liking my Facebook page, which I think is really interesting and I’m happy that you are connecting with me in all forums, but I did just surpass my Facebook likes with LinkedIn connections, which I think is really interesting. I just reached 1,670 LinkedIn connections and I think I’m only at 1,663 Facebook likes. So if you have liked me on Facebook but have not connected on LinkedIn or vice versa, I encourage you to reach out. I love staying in touch, I love staying connected, and yeah that’s about all I’ve got for today.

So yeah, there you have it. There’s episode number 22 of the podcast. I look forward to hearing from you in episode number 23. Thanks so much and we will talk soon.

 

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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