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Interview with Rhodes Perry

ExtendaTouch October 2021

Rhodes Perry, MPA (he/him) is a best-selling author, sought-after keynote speaker, and an award-winning social entrepreneur. Rhodes has been nationally recognized as an LGBTQ+ leader with 20 years of leadership experience, having worked at the White House, the Department of Justice, and PFLAG National.

Media outlets like Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and The Associated Press have featured his powerful work as a diversity, equity, and inclusion influencer. Today, Rhodes serves as the Founding CEO of Rhodes Perry Consulting, global leadership and management consulting firm helping visionaries and change-makers build psychological safety, trust, and belonging at work.

Rhodes Perry started his career participating in many different forms of LGBTQ+ advocacy. One of his first experiences was working with the Ali Forney Center in New York City. The Ali Forney Center provides homeless LGBTQ+ youth a safe and supportive environment to escape the streets. 

While working at the Ali Forney Center, Rhodes became aware of the challenges and obstacles that the LBGTQ+ youth endured in New York City. 

“That was a really formative experience, being able to learn about some of the challenges that young people in New York City were enduring largely due to family rejection because of who they are based on their sexual orientation and gender identification.” 

During this period, Rhodes was studying public policy as a graduate student at NYU. He quickly identified the impact these LGBTQ+ youths were facing because of the lack of family stability and approval. This inspired Rhodes to begin thinking of programs to support young LGBTQ+ individuals while building a safety net around them. Rhodes wanted to elevate the LGBTQ community for young people and show them that they were not alone. 

This led Rhodes to acquire a position in the White House during the Bush administration. He began managing and budgeting the government spending going into public policy and safety net programs. 

Rhodes wanted to help serve the individuals in need. He would often ask, “How are these programs actually serving those that are most vulnerable.” This inspired Rhodes to begin working for national LGBTQ+ resources because he believed there was more to do for his community. 

Rhodes later began working at PFLAG National and was able to serve those in need of more support. Here Rhodes was able to push the LGBTQ+ agenda and integrate more programs and services for the community within the Obama administration. 

Rhodes was part of the New Beginnings Initiative, where he worked with the White House to push the LGBTQ+ movement and truly advocate for them. During the next eight years, Rhodes worked closely with the administration to create more public policies to serve the LGBTQ+ Community. Rhodes assisted in creating executive orders to stop bullying in schools, family rejection, and LGBTQ+ needs. 

After creating impactful public policies, Rhodes realized he could assist other government agencies, companies, and associations by creating inclusive change for them, which would grow the LGBTQ+ community across the nation. That is when he decided to become an entrepreneur and create Rhodes Perry Consulting in 2015. His business started out being LGBTQ+ focused but quickly changed to inclusion at work and creating an emotional trust for employees and their superiors.

“I’ve really enjoyed running my own business and focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion at the intersection of this element of belonging.”  

In Rhodes’ current consulting work, he identifies issues within workplace culture and finds actionable solutions for his clients to better their company. The most common challenges companies face can be solved by using proactive actions, which Rhodes highly advocates for. Rhodes explains these proactive actions as crucial to building a sense of belonging and trust for all employees. He demonstrates that through patience and trust-building, employees will experience higher productivity and motivation, which leads to quality work and job satisfaction. 

The three crucial proactive actions Rhodes advocates for are: 

  • Recognizing sonder – understanding each person has different world views
  • Deeply listening – learning about someone’s worldview by asking questions and deeply listening to them
  • Practicing the platinum rule – treating others in a way in which they want to be treated.

Rhodes dives further into these topics in his book “Belonging at Work,” where he uses his past experiences and knowledge to teach entrepreneurs and business owners the importance of inclusion. The book breaks down why belonging is vital for any employee and correlates to higher motivation and quality business results. After identifying the importance of inclusion, the book explains what course of action to take for any business looking to improve its workplace culture. The book also goes over the six traits for any inclusive leader to learn. 

Besides consulting and writing, Rhodes is also the creator of “The Out Entrepreneur Podcast,” He invites entrepreneurs from the LGBTQ+ community to connect and discuss the lessons they learned through their journey. The podcast is meant to teach existing business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs from the experiences of others while recognizing LGBTQ+ leaders in the community who have created something for themselves. 

“As LGBTQ+ people, there isn’t a roadmap for us… so we’re the artists of our own lives.”

Through Rhodes’ podcast, he has interviewed over 200 LGBTQ+ leaders, which has brought an immense impact to his life and his listeners. Rhodes loves to inspire people, so he created this platform for information that his community can listen to and learn from. By providing his community a trusted source to gain knowledge, he is also helping leaders build physiological safety and belonging. 

Rhodes does this by opening up to his listeners and revealing the uncomfortable situations he encountered in the past and how he overcame them with physiological safety. By doing this, he empowers his listeners to share their own stories and gain a sense of belonging with a community that supports them. He often recalls times in his life where he had to censor himself from his past because of the environment he was in, and from those stories, he challenges his listeners to not fear rejection and not hide. 

During his 5-day summit in July, Rhodes had the pleasure of sharing his teachings with over 10,000 Diversity, Equality, & Inclusion professionals. One of the main focus topics of the summit was surrounding a common question in workplace culture, “How do you repair after harm has been caused?”

Rhodes was also asked if he believed his teachings could benefit all individuals, not just those marginalized in the workplace. He replies that in talking about belonging and inclusion, any marginalized individual will be positively impacted by his teaching. Still, other individuals who may not have been marginalized can benefit as well. One of the main goals of Rhode’s work is to teach business leaders how to strengthen their relationships with marginalized employees, which in turn allows for a better workplace environment. His work focuses on challenging business leaders to bridge the gap between them and their employees who may be excluded. 

Rhodes is also releasing a new book called “Imagine Belonging,” where Rhodes continues the conversation of inclusion and dives further into the vision of inclusion and how an organization should prepare before implementing changes within their company. The book also helps identify the challenges and properly structure their organization using a defined roadmap. Rhodes believes that sharing possibilities of other changes around the world will inspire other business owners to embark on a similar journey to improve inclusion in the workplace. “Imagine Belonging” is set to release in January of 2022. 

Rhodes has spent years working to help others be their authentic selves, and when asked what moment stood out the most for him, he shared his experience working with PLAG and the impact it had on him. During his PFLAG days, Rhodes had the opportunity to speak with parents of LGBTQ+ youth and listen to the appreciation they had for their kids, finally embarrassing who they were. Rhodes shares how seeing these parents genuinely happy for their children made him understand how impactful and powerful his work really is. 

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