Invisible Stories Episode 4 with Betsy Cerulo
On today’s episode, I speak to Betsy Cerulo, author of Shake It Off Leadership: Achieving Success Through The Eyes Of Our Labels.
Betsy’s greatest professional accomplishment is designing a healthy workplace that advocates creativity, excellence, and unconditional acceptance. As an openly LGBTQ+ business owner, she is proud to create a safe workplace where they walk the talk of diversity and inclusion for all people.
In this episode we discuss:
- Who is going to benefit from hearing your story? Even if you just make a difference in one person’s life, it is worth it.
- Everyone struggles with feeling not worthy, not good enough. Write your book anyway! Just write for you. Write for your eyes only first. Then you can make that decision gradually to decide, ok, I wrote for me only. Now I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of someone else reading this. And moving from there, rather than trying to come from a place of perfection right out the gate.
- Timestamp:1:14: “I have Shake it Off Leadership coming out this summer, which is achieving success through the eyes of our labels. And I just thought it was time at this stage in my career, it was time to really tell the story of the journey. Because I think a lot of the younger LGBT community I think it’s wise from a history perspective that people understand the journey that many of us had coming out in the ‘80s, as well as the journey was for me for people out in the ‘50s and ‘60s. So it was time to tell the story.”
- Timestamp: 2:10: “My impact: I want to be the diverse community (and that diversity could be LGBT, non-LGBT) but there are so many other diverse communities out there. Because this book is really about leadership, and it’s about how our respective journeys and sometimes our pain and successes contribute to who we are as leaders and how we lead. If someone is non-LGBT and non-diverse picks up my book and gains a nugget of insight, then I’ve done my job.”
- Timestamp: 3:09: “I think over the course of time, so many more labels have come into play that we are hearing about in the media, in our general conversations. Lord knows women, LGBT, diverse communities, have been so impacted in the past since the 2016 election (I’ll leave it that way). And I think more labels have come to the forefront because of a lot of things that we’re hearing and that we’re experiencing. And also in the LGBT community, where it used to be you were just gay or not gay. Now we’re LGBTQ and a number of other acronyms, some that seem to change on a regular basis. So I think there are so many more labels out there, and I’ve seen it in my career that sometimes people wear their labels as a badge of honor. And some wear it from a victim standpoint that might make the journey even harder. So I just wanted to highlight that a lot of us wear multiple labels and we’re in this together to win.”
- Timestamp: 5:22: “It was very much in the closet. So I started the company in 1990. And it was almost like little by little along the way, I would come out to clients that I had relationships with. So the conversations were getting to be one-sided when we would get together for lunch or dinner. I would hear all about their lives. The whole concept of using the pronouns of “well ‘he’ was really ‘she’.” It just got to be ridiculous after a while. So I would start sharing who I was. And it really wasn’t until I found out about the NGLCC that I could be certified. So that happened in 2012—so eight years ago—one would think, ok, eight years ago, I was age fifty. You would think I would have grown up enough to be comfortable and it took that certification that almost was like the label that says hey I really do exist. There’s a lot of us out there. And that gave me the courage and the pat on the back to say “Hey, you’re one of us! There’s this community out here, come on! Let’s play!” And that’s really what had me saying it was time.”
- Timestamp: 10:15: I did ask myself the question, “So what happens if my company is impacted negatively because my clients or a client says I am not doing business with her because she’s gay.” You know, I had that moment of what am I going to do? I basically said to myself if that kind of person or organization has that kind of bias that they want to stop doing business with a high-quality company or they don’t want to do business with us, then they’re not the kind of client that I want. So I have only seen our business gain business as a result of having the certification and me being out as the cofounder. And I have to tell you when I go into work in the stations and I’m talking about admin because that’s forefront, and then there’s a small piece of the conversation where I talk to them about my work with the chamber. I light with such pride for that, and that then creates a whole other part of the conversation. So I am really grateful for that part of the journey.”
- Timestamp: 11:55: “Over the past couple of years, I had been invited to be a co-author for compilation books, where I would be telling small pieces of the story. And you know with a compilation you only have so many pages you can use. I thought, you know there’s more material here. And then as I was writing a narrative for my federal government certification, which is an 8A certification, I was telling more of the story. As I was flipping through all the pages of the narrative I said, you know there is some really good material here. And I have to say, when I went to the NGLCC conferences and you started to be there, with people that had books and some of those authors are now my dear trusted friends, I thought to myself, I need to do this! I need to do this. So I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I had to put pen to paper, even though that process in itself was long and arduous.”
- Timestamp: 14:00: I think it was about two years ago that I participated in your training for authors. […] Usually when I have a deadline, when I knew there was a hard and fast ending to that workshop, I was motivated. Because once I say I’m gonna get something done, I’m gonna get it done. And then when you provided all the information—if you want the book to be this long, you need this many words, and this breaks down to this much time—I’m a process person so that helped me. Every time I would sit there and start writing and use the Scrivener program, I’d start to see something materialize. And I thought ok, there’s a flow here. So when I thought, I am going to keep moving and I’m gonna get this done after it was over, and when I had the bones of the book done, and I started to really flip through it, I went through my own “I’m not good enough to do this. I’m a leader, I’m a CEO, I’m in the HR recruiting industry… I’m not an author! So who am I trying to kid here?” So it took me a long time, especially because some of the material was very personal. There are components of it that are the leadership that would help inspire, but there were the painful components that were part of the journey and I would put it down. How long did I let it sit? And then even when I finally committed to you and I handled all the financial part, it still wasn’t done, because my “not enough” stuff was really kicking in. And I can’t remember what specifically changed it, but I know that along the way when I would be in conversation different people including people on your team, I just said if I hold this story back because I think I’m not good enough, what happens if I could be making a difference for one person? What happens if one woman goes and starts a business? What happens if one kid is able to stand up to their parents in a different way because they saw what my journey was like? And I thought I need to put this out there. Because I wanted it to be my legacy. Look, I’m no spring chicken, I’m 58. This is all part of what’s next for me in my own maturation as a leader.”
- Timestamp: 17:45: “I think also through the editing process, your team just gave me really good feedback on can you expand more of this, maybe this isn’t a good fit. But even some of the pieces that we took out, which weren’t a lot, the fact that I put pen to paper and wrote those words – that in itself was very cathartic for me. And I found the process very healing.”
- Timestamp: 19:00: “It surfaced many times along the way because I wanted to get it ‘right’. And I’m also looking at how other people were doing it. So obviously I read a number of the books that you had released. I’m then reading along the way as I’m writing and again I’m going into, well maybe I need to put more here. And wow! I can’t believe that was said, so maybe I can do this or not do that. So it was a really interesting process for me to determine how should I do the book. But I can tell you what did come from it, once I really got to the end of it and I submitted the final manuscript, then what came up for me is the next book. It’s not a memoir. Because it’s something I enjoy to do is to sit and to write, I find just a wonderful process in the written word, it’s just helped me create what the next one is.”
- Timestamp: 22:51: “The more we come out and speak, the more we are going to interrupt the behavior, and that’s really what has to happen. It’s gotten so bad out there that we see on a daily basis. This is not the kind of leadership that I want my grandkids to learn from. So, to me, we have to model the good behavior, we have to put out there the communication to support what leadership really is, what empowering—I mean, there’s crap leadership, and there’s good leadership, there’s empowering leadership. We need to put out books and speaking and presence out there that’s empowering leadership. That’s what our kids need to learn if they’re going to have a chance to have a really great life. And if we have a chance for, as crazy as it sounds, to have world peace someday. Hey, it may never happen. But I’m not going to give up trying.”
- Timestamp: 24:19: On what impact Betsy would like her book to have when it comes out: “I could tell you what I’d like it to be. I’d like it to be where people are more respectful of those of us who have been in the workforce for a long time, and who have the scars to show it. And leadership and success – it’s not about money. Yeah, money is a factor, but making a million bucks is not what leadership should be about. I think I would want my impact to be that somebody took a risk, a positive risk, that they may not have taken before.”
- Timestamp: 26:39: “I think that in the federal space, young folks have to be mindful. I think whether you’re in corporate or you’re in government, there’s no guarantee that just because you feel good about it, that the culture that you’re in is going to be accepting. And though that’s not how we want to be, I recommend to people that you have to be really mindful of your surroundings. I’m not one of those people that’s going to be standing on the bandwagon, waving a rainbow flag “The more people that come out, the better!” Yes, it is better that more of us when we’re ready—that’s the difference—when you’re ready gives more power to our community. But you can’t be forced, you can’t be pushed. I think that is one of those really personal choices, up there with some other critical things in your life that’s a personal choice, that is such an intimate, personal choice about when you want to come out. And you deserve that right, and that privilege, to do it in your own timing, versus what the community or an activist tells you.”
- Timestamp: 34:09: “I can tell you that there have been many times where I would normally be quiet about something or I’ll let that go from my past, or whatever I was conditioned ‘must be quiet’. Now at this point in my life, when there are certain things that come up it’s like “Oh no. This girl ain’t gonna be quiet about that.” But I think, too, the journey is how we deliver it because I can go upside and downside somebody in a nanosecond that my Jersey-Italian comes out with such majestic grace. And that is not the best way to create collegiality. So those of us who have a little more fire in our belly, we have to do work around that on how to get the point across as inviting even when it’s a difficult topic.”
- Timestamp: 35:46: “I think you practice, put yourself into groups or environments that number one are safe, and where you can start to discover your voice. So say you’re LGBT and you have this dream in the background that you would love to start a business. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next year. Start to reach out to people that you know are LGBT business owners. See if you can get some time with them. I know years ago when I started my company I met with people in the staffing industry. It had nothing to do with being gay, it was about flourishing. And I met with people all on the east coast that were owners of big companies to pick their brain. And they were willing to sit down and talk with me even if it was for half an hour. I think if you want something, whether it’s a business, whether it’s to come out, whether it’s leaving a job, some kind of risk… Go and surround yourself with a person or people that are doing some of the things that you want to do.”