CEO / Founder
Rhodes Perry Consulting
Guiding The Corporate and Non-Profit World On Diversity and Inclusion
“Fascinating” is a word that quickly comes to mind when interviewing StartOut member, Rhodes Perry, on his professional and personal journey to date. From his coming out while at Notre Dame, to working at the White House, to guiding the likes of PFLAG and various corporations on LGBTQ diversity and inclusion, this “government policy nerd” is as accomplished as he is captivating. Over the past year, Rhodes has joined the LGBTQ entrepreneurial ranks striking out with his own business, Rhodes Perry Consulting. This includes his burgeoning podcast on iTunes, “The Out Entrepreneur” in which he has featured a number of StartOut members.
What is your background?
I am about a year and a few months into my new business — I started my own consultancy Rhodes Perry Consulting. Prior to this, my background consisted of being either an LGBT paid lobbyist or advocate and working within government and largely focusing on trying to make government services more inclusive for LGBT folks.
I grew up in Central Florida, a purple area, with progressive parents. I went to college at Notre Dame where I first came out. I’m kind of a government policy nerd, so I moved to DC after undergrad where I worked for the federal government for my first few jobs. I went back into the world of LGBT advocacy in New York before I went to grad school. I was working at The Ali Forney Center which, if you’re familiar with New York, is one of the oldest LGBT homeless organizations.
I went to grad school at NYU where I studied policy, nonprofit management, and public management. After I graduated, the White House was interviewing and I landed at the Office of Management and Budget under President Bush. At that time, it was actually ranked as the #1 place to work in the federal government. It was the “black box of government” which is where real work gets done — the real sausage-making.
I left the White House to go and work at PFLAG national. That’s the time when Obama was entering the White House and they were looking for someone who could help build out (this is really nerdy) how to lobby the Executive Branch on the administrative side of things. Rather than just try to change laws on Capitol Hill, they were looking for access to both branches. Because here was an administration that was willing to open up the doors and wanted to sit down with LGBT advocates and figure out how to how to make government services more inclusive
How important is it for you to be out?
You know I’m both bisexual and transgender so ten years ago I was very out about my sexual orientation — that was even under a Bush administration. For the White House department I worked for, they hired really smart people, and they wanted to keep us there and for us to be happy, so it wasn’t really an issue. I did not however, feel safe at all about being out about my gender history. For anyone who’s LGBTQ, I just know how many of us work in a big corporation or government agency, and how we cover different aspects of ourselves just trying to fit in to make sure that our jobs are secure.
“It’s estimated that there are 1.4 million LGBTQ business owners in the United States alone doing all kinds of things. Right now in New York for example, they want to be setting aside and do a certain percentage of business with LGBTQ-certified businesses.”
Why kind of work do you with your consultancy?
I work with companies and organizations in two ways.
First, I work with businesses of 15 or more people as a diversity and inclusion consultant. If a company is looking to be cutting-edge and appeal to discerning talent, especially younger people like Millennials, I am part of the process to really create an intentional culture they can connect with — the people that aren’t necessarily part of the dominant culture of that organization.
And second, I do a Mentoring Program for HR and diversity professionals who have been tasked with — “we need you to recruit more LGBT talent or you need you to come up with a policy because we need to comply with the law.” I’m really targeting states that already have these kinds of protections, helping the HR professional from soup to nuts take a law and then help their organization comply with that workplace law, and then take it even further.
For the people who are enrolled in my Mentorship Program, it’s typically a learn at your own pace. There’s group coaching scheduled every week and there’s also a teeny tiny assignment — so collectively it’s about 10 hours every month. What it leads to is the same kind of transformation that I do with clients over six months, as I walk the HR professionals through that exact process.
There’s about 40 years of research that says mandated diversity training — that some people dread — or these kind of grievance procedures that are very legalistic, they actually decrease rather than increase inclusion. There’s a lot of conversation around if these interventions work and we know they don’t. We really need to double-down on what we know works, which is things like leveraging mentorship programs and employee resource groups, and doing a lot of cross-training, so that there’s exposure between employees and departments.
What would you like to share with StartOut about your podcast?
My podcast “The Out Entrepreneur” officially launched on January 17 so it’s still a baby podcast. It’s growing and I’ve had over 1,000 downloads so far. I started it as I really wanted to support other people who have been in my shoes. Starting a business can be really overwhelming. I also know I’m fortunate in that, with the podcast, I’m also getting mentored by a lot of people that are further down the path than where I am right now. I figured if they’re willing to provide this kind of mentorship to me, then why not just record the conversation and then broadcast it.
What advice do you have for new StartOut members?
At a minimum introduce yourself to other StartOut members in the Online Community Forum and kind of map out who is closest to where you live. So even if you’re in a more rural area and find others 50 miles away, at least you know there are other fellow out-bosses that are supportive of what you’re doing. As a community, we want our businesses to succeed and we’ll find ways to kind of leverage our networks to help other people, and so I think it’s just really important to introduce yourself.
Okay, in a nutshell — introduce yourself in the StartOut forums … don’t be quiet … and don’t silently read the forums without engaging. We just won’t know if you exist.
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