Mo: Hello, hello, hello and welcome to this week’s everyday inclusion and belonging where we talk about everything under the sun as it relates to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Hope everybody is doing alright out there, these are wild times. Take care of yourselves, check in on people that you love. We are in a mental health crisis in this country so really be sure that you are checking in on folks and taking time for yourselves. And if you’re not OK, it’s OK to say that and get yourself some help.

I am super fired up to have Carter Stepanovsky with us today. Carter introduce yourselves, because I will never do you justice.

Carter: Yeah, thank you. I am a Colorado resident. I work in tech, identify as trans nonbinary, and I’m really passionate about showing up and normalizing what it means to be trans and nonbinary.

Mo: Alright, so we’re going to be talking about conscious leadership. We knew it was great because when we had our first conversation, Carter were like, do you want to talk about gender identity? Well, yeah, right? Of course, like it informs everything. Let’s start with this idea of conscious leadership and what is it and how is it related to inclusion?

Conscious Leadership

Carter: Yeah, I mean for me, conscious leadership is the means of building authentic connections through self-awareness and gender identity is all about self-awareness. So there’s a lot of overlap there for me and it does very much relate to that authenticity piece.

Mo: So, you it always comes back to ourselves, doesn’t it? So as that relates, then to leadership and creating, you know in our focus here in this series is really on work place because when we talk about the positive tsunami right in ripple effect that that has in families and communities. As that relates to being an inclusive leader, connect the dots for me.

Carter: Yeah, I mean, I think conscious leadership has enabled me to develop a sense of presence that gives me ownership and space to show up in the world an especially in how I react.

It can be a gender identity related dialogue or not, and conscious leadership I think allows me to be transparent and take 100% responsibility and really take ownership around my participation and be the resolution. And so that shows up at work.

Mo: And you just hold, hold.

People that watch this series are so used to me doing this. You just said so much in like four sentences. There was transparency, there was ownership there was, um, there was even more. I want you to drill down more points. Like what does it look like?

Carter: So, through my work with conscious leadership, which has included some weekend camps or seminars as well as two 12-month leadership programs. All focused on conscious leadership, that work has enabled me to peel back the layers around my own identity independent of gender and really bring awareness and recognition of how I show up in the world. And where I might feel like I have these sticking points of you know of not being 100% authentic.

And so that body of work has helped me, I think have more ownership over my gender identity, and that shows up in a lot of different ways.

So that’s probably the authenticity and transparency part, and ownership honestly, of owning how I show up and how I interact with other people.

Mo: You know, I am hopeful that there’s more focus. Certainly, the focus of the work that that we do, particularly with the app on shifting the focus from intent to impact, and really having people understand day in, day out.

Interaction with, how am I impacting others, right? In the way that I’m responding, In the words that I’m using, in the environments that I’m creating.

And so, what I’m hearing you say with conscious leadership, it’s like that on steroids in terms of really, really just always exploring and thinking about the vulnerability of showing up in a really authentic way and really being Cognizant, consistently cognizant of impact.

100% Responsibility

Carter: Yeah, I’m with you and I would say one thing that I really had to learn or that I am still very much learning, and I think something that was illuminated to me early on in my journey of conscious leadership is this concept of 100% responsibility. Because of how I was raised and where I was raised and family dynamics and learned patterns, you know I have a history of taking more than 100% responsibility. So one thing I’ve really learned is actually how to take less responsibility so that I’m really only owning my own self, my own approval, my own security. It’s obviously going to be a lifetime journey, but that’s been really important for me.

Mo: Oh Carter, that’s so right, because we hear so often about people not taking enough responsibility, right? It’s not my fault, sort of deflecting, and that was because of this, or because of that. Or that’s not, that’s not what I meant. And what you’re saying is right, taking too much. Taking on other people’s responsibility, what does that look like? I love that you unwrapped so many ways why that’s been the case for you.

And I would love to see some sort of sociological study on this that I’m guessing people from underrepresented groups and marginalized groups that may be the case more often of taking over responsibility.

So, what does it look like to take less responsibility an appropriate responsibility?

Carter: For me, I really check with myself and ask, do I have a full body? Yes, to helping somebody understand my pronouns or why asking me to do the emotional labor around somebody else’s learning may not be appropriate. And so, for me, 100% responsibility around my own kind of, you know gender identity journey, has really been around what am I taking on and do I want to take that on right now.

So, an example would be if I’m mis gendered, this doesn’t really happen right now, but if I’m mis gendered picking up a coffee at the coffee shop. I will pause and say, is it important to me, to correct this person who I may never see again or not? And so that’s 100% responsibility that’s just a very quick surface level example of, I probably won’t spend the emotional labor to engage in a dialogue right now about pronouns.

But for someone that maybe I’m working with every day, you know different circumstances will, I think, build that foundation of yes, I’m ready to take this on and take more than 100% responsibility. But again, it starts with do I want to do this, do I have a full body, yes, and if I do, then I’m willing to take more than 100% responsibility, but really, my work has been around taking less responsibility.

Mo: Yeah, well, I think that the emotional labor parts enormous. I never want to make assumptions about what people know or don’t know, in terms of even like, what’s emotional labor.

You know, one of the core reasons we created the app was to take that emotional labor away from people from underrepresented groups, right?  Like we have a whole section on gender- and gender-neutral pronouns.

Even breaking down, what the difference between gender and sex is right? What’s the difference between gender identity and gender expression and gender norms and pronouns? And what do you know? What are they? Why are they important all of that, so that it’s not me coming and saying Carter, help me understand.

Like, what’s a gender-neutral pronoun or help me understand. An if somebody says they’re genderqueer, what does that mean, right? Like you’re like, alright, really? Like I just want to do my work today.

You know, I often will talk about my daughter as a person with a disability and there are days that and I’m going to quote her that she’s like I don’t owe you sh*t right? Because she’s so tired of having to do so. And that comes with all sorts of privilege.

Thinking about this emotional labor and not taking too much responsibility, then it’s on. We all have different kinds of privilege, right? Whether it’s around you know for me, white cisgender, able bodied right? And then thinking about what do I need to get smarter about and how do I need to? So, then I think about going back to this conscious leadership piece.

What am I taking responsibility for day in, day out around my impact? Um, and what do I need to learn? And then what do I need to not take on? I’d love that, right? Because there are some days that um, it’s like I just don’t want to be your guide in this.

Carter: Yes, and I would, I don’t want to discourage folks from learning and having curiosity an asking, you know, those that may represent topics or concepts that you don’t fully understand. I don’t want to discourage that completely. I guess my recommendation there is ask, don’t assume that someone has the emotional labor to engage in that dialogue, but rather I love when folks say hey, would you be open to answering a few questions about this, and are you OK if I come back to you and ask a few more questions?

It’s just that curiosity, which is, I think, the opposite of an assumption that is really refreshing, and so that gives me an opportunity to consent or not.

Mo: Right, giving choice and I think there’s the you know I’ll save this till I’m blue in the face. That curiosity is an inclusion superpower and so for coming at things instead of assumption but with curiosity and then doing that check in. Our recommendation to Carter is always come with some base knowledge.

Carter: Yes, yes.

Mo: Right now, are you more open if somebody is like, here’s what I’ve learned. Versus like Carter, educate me.

Carter: Absolutely yes and coming with the curiosity coming with a learning mentality and certainly having done research because we have access to so much information now there’s really no excuse. You know, I think I would have yes, I would have a very different reaction to someone who has done the research and is hoping to fill in the gaps with some real-world perspective from one person who doesn’t represent anyone else other than themselves is also my stance.

Yeah, yeah, that’s a that’s a meaningful engagement and even still, depending on the circumstances, I may or may not be willing to engage in that dialogue, just depending on you know, the circumstances.

Mo: Right, like my you know, my kids were exhausting this morning. I’m on a deadline.

Carter: Yeah life.

Mo: Give me if you would three conscious leadership tools.

Carter: Yeah, so 100% responsibility is definitely one of them. Just I think pausing and having that check in of am I doing more? Am I taking on more than I should? That’s the question I asked myself, but maybe for someone else. It’s hey, am I not taking enough responsibility here.

Mo: Right, so a pause and asking yourself some questions specific to responsibility?

Carter: Yes, yeah.

Mo: I’m just curious because it’s one that I asked myself and I don’t know if it fits in this framework. It’s what’s my responsibility in this, like what have I done to impact this situation or this person?

Yes, I’ll even sort of pull back in that way when I’m at my best Carter.

Start With a Pause

Carter: Yeah, absolutely another one I really love and it’s similar to 100% responsibility, but it’s and you’ll notice a lot of these, start with a pause and for me that’s been really helpful. With reactivity, we’re all emotional human beings, and so having that pause has been really helpful.

But another concept would be this idea of above the line or below the line. So, am I feeling open, you know, do I have choice and curiosity and trust and playfulness in this situation or am I below the line? Which is, you know, I’m closed or contracted and there’s blame or shoulds or gossip involved.

So, for me when I’m in a scenario and there’s an opportunity to react and I have that that chance to pause I need to check in and if I’m below the line that’s OK too. I mean, the conscious leadership is not about always being above the line, it’s really just about that opportunity to check in. And like where am I and where am I coming from? And even sometimes just having that awareness allows me to shift.

Mo: So, if I’m below the line then is my best choice is to disengage?

Carter: Maybe, I think it just depends on the person and maybe you don’t have the choice to disengage, right? Like maybe you’re in a situation where you have to be engaged. So, for me just having the awareness of where I’m coming from, I think allows me to show up in a more aware way and I can even say hey, I’m really below the line on this.

Mo: And so, then there’s some conversation with your team, right understand what’s above, excuse me what’s below the line. That’s interesting.

I was on a call Carter about two weeks ago with the team, and it was with the potential partner.

And there was a series of things that took me way below the line, right? And I could not disengage. And what I found myself saying was I don’t really know what to say right now. Right, and like I left it because what I really wanted to say was wildly inappropriate, but that was a way that I consciously had checked in with myself like I am pissed right? Like I’m in a bad place right now but I couldn’t disengage, right?

Fact Vs. Story

Carter: And then the third one would be this concept of fact versus story. Yeah, and so for me that’s been really, really illuminating to be able to parse apart in a situation. What do I know to be true? What is a fact, and then where am I making assumptions or filling in the gaps with my own narrative?

And that’s a story, and so having that recognition of the distinction between fact and story, I think also allows me to be more aware and more present and more authentic in in a situation and I also find that it gives me an opportunity to own my story and say, hey, you know I have this narrative that XY&Z is true and having an opportunity to confirm or clarify whether that is the case.

Because I have noticed a pattern when I don’t clarify the narrative and I assume the story is true, then that leads to all sorts of miscommunications or lost trust. You know that the list there is probably limitless.

Mo: Both positive and negative bias, but I think sometimes you know we think about story and we think about fact versus sometimes we’re filling in a story with positives that may not be earned there.

Carter: Yeah, that’s a good point.

Mo: Yeah, I know it always comes back in ourselves doesn’t it? And by the way y’all, Carter wrote a really great piece out on medium and I will, I will put that in the comments after.

When I read that Carter and you were talking about like being able to show up as authentically you in the workplace and what that meant.

When we’re thinking about gender identity, what are three things that you wish workplaces, or leaders or coworkers would do? I don’t know why three is the number today. Carter 3 is the number.

You can have more or less!

Carter: I’ll take it’s a good exercise and distilling to maybe what feels the most important, so I’ll try.

So, the question is 3 things that a workplace can do.

OK, um I think make space for folks beyond the binary and that is, you know, a really broad, maybe a cheap way for me to take more than three. But you know, that includes benefits, it includes applications, you know it includes bathrooms.

Um and nomenclature in the workplace. You know, I think just, there’s a huge opportunity for us to be more inclusive, and one of the ways that we can be more inclusive around gender identity is to think beyond the binary.

So, the first is, think about services and paperwork. And you know all of the things that show up in a workplace that may be exclusionary. And then secondly, I guess this is maybe the biggest one is ask. Ask what folks need and I think that is that goes beyond gender identity. That goes for everyone. It’s you know anybody who might need an accommodation or who doesn’t necessarily fit into the norm, whatever that is.

Um, my ask would be to just ask and not assume and that goes for everything from pronouns to services to and beyond.

Mo: And I’m on a personal crusade to get rid of the word accommodations. I only say that because it comes from like oh, we need to accommodate you. Yeah and right like I get it from the legal blah blah blah blah blah.

Yeah, I want us to find better language because accommodation is, it feels just so othering to me.

Carter: Yeah, that’s fair. Yeah, what do you, what would you prefer?

Mo: I don’t know and that’s what we, that’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. Like what, like what inclusions could we make or and I don’t think that’s perfect language and y’all who are watching this I would love as a community to come up with better language.

Carter: let’s crowd source it because I’m sure there’s a lot of opinions there, and that’s a great point about the othering of accommodations.

Mo: Yeah, right? Like if I’m asking you like how can I accommodate you Carter?  right, just.

Carter: Maybe yeah, if given the opportunity to reword, I would say maybe you know, ask what support folks need. yeah, and so yeah, so thank you for checking me on that.

Mo: Oh no, that’s truly is me just recently thinking about that language, and I don’t know if It really hit me when I was watching an if you haven’t watched **** camp, it’s amazing. OK the **** camp it’s the story of these. It’s really this camp that ended up producing all of these amazing disability rights advocates and we have the ADA because of them.

Like all of these things and at the end when they 80 is finally passed, all this has happened. And Judith Human, who’s amazing and we should all know about her, but of course that history isn’t taught to us. She said, you know, I’m tired of being grateful for a bathroom that I can use.

Right, and that’s and that’s where I started thinking about this idea of like the language of accommodation. So, I love this crowd, source it.

Carter: Yeah, I look forward to the day that I’m not grateful for finding a bathroom to, yeah.

So, the first one was yeah, it was like kind of support and services and awareness that that extends beyond the binary and second is asking and giving folks a voice and then I think third, it comes down to leadership.

Conscious Leadership Starts at the Top

And that inclusivity and belonging needs to start at the top, and it needs to be infused in a culture so that it’s just normalized. I don’t want to be a token person in a culture. And so, you know I would love for leadership teams to be more representative of our populations. Yeah, and so yeah, those are not necessarily in order, but those would be the three.

Mo: Here’s one, and if you would, as we’re wrapping up here, I think about the fact that you know I was sitting with family and gender-neutral pronouns came up.

And people like I don’t like what if I make a mistake blah blah blah blah blah, this time say sorry, then move on, right? Or, sorry she, move on, right?

And I just think that’s so fundamental because I have seen this with people with physical disabilities, people who are gender nonbinary, that there is a politeness that can happen because of fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, and I feel like polite is the opposite of inclusive.

Um and not the opposite, it’s a barrier to inclusion, if I’m just in a very superficial way, polite or avoiding.

So, I would love to just have this conversation about, mistakes are going to be made around everything about inclusion, and I think that loops us back to conscious leadership. Yeah, you know, in 100% responsibility.

Carter: I have a story there that the root there is actually fear, folks don’t want to be wrong. and I think there’s a fear of messing up, and what does that mean about me?

And that’s just my personal take on it. I think you can still be polite and inclusive. You know, and so yes, I agree with everything you said about if you do mess up, what’s the best way to move on? It’s absolutely just quick acknowledgement restate, you know whatever the correction may be and then move on because as soon as it becomes bigger than that, it actually becomes about the about you.

So, if you were to, you know mistakenly mis gender me and then fumble and stumble and a lot like you know. It’s actually about placating your mistake, right? And so, then it no longer becomes about my pronouns and recognizing me as I want to be recognized. I couldn’t agree more with hey, quick correction, keep moving.

Mo: Yeah, and just this idea, Y’all were all whether it’s around pronouns or you know who knows what. Like again, so I screw up all the time, right? And learn and move on and acknowledge learn, move on.

And that that fear right? Then, if we can get rid of that root of fear and come 100% responsibility.

Carter: And above the line actually really fit something like if you can be above the line about a mistake then you have, you know trust, and playfulness and curiosity and this openness rather than, you know I should have done it differently and I’m going to blame myself and I feel overwhelmed.

So yeah, I think above and below the line comes in there too, which is about taking 100% responsibility, but that that concept I think of above and below can visualize that experience.

Mo: Are there a couple of resources around conscious leadership that you in particular find a value?

Carter: Yeah, so this all came out of an organization called the Conscious Leadership Group, so that’s  I think is their website.

And so, there are a lot of resources there and their book, the 15 conscious commitments I think and hope hopefully I’m representing that correctly, is a great resource. And then you know, here in Colorado, there’s a great facilitator and educators and that’s who I’ve worked with. And she does camps and has a number of resources you can even just subscribe to her blog or newsletter and get a lot of really valuable information. So, there are practitioners who I have taken this body of work and bring it to the world, so I would recommend those two in particular.

Mo: And then, like other than our app, good resources around gender and gender identity?

Carter: I guess there’s one. So, there’s a website called and they have this concept of the gender Unicorn, which I think it actually relates a lot to what you were saying around, what is the difference between gender expression versus gender identity?

So, that is something that I like because it’s a visualization that folks can really understand the differences of you know, how do you feel versus how do you show up in the world? Yeah, so that comes, that’s top of mind.

Mo: Cool.

Carter: Yeah.

Wrapping Things Up

Mo: OK, so we have talked about everything from the power of the pause, 100% responsibility, above the line below the line fact versus story. Um, making space, asking about support. And then I took us on a little tangent around accommodations.

Carter: Yeah, now it’s good.

Mo: And just so much leave, leave us with one last truth bomb if you would.

Carter: Yeah, I think I would encourage everyone to look inward. This is all about the work that that you can do. We can do that, I’m doing around self-awareness to have better and more authentic connections. And so, I think if it’s of interest, it starts with you.

Mo: Yeah, yeah, oh my gosh, I knew this was going be phenomenal and thank you so much I’ve got like so many wheels turning. Y’all go and if you just search Carter’s name, that medium post will come up or just put in Carter Stepanovsky and Medium and it will. And I would say that should give everybody sort of this aspirational idea of what their workplaces can be like to be really, really inclusive. So, Carter thank you, thank you, thank you and everybody we will see you next week on Everyday inclusion and belonging. Cheers.


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