Establishing an Inclusive Practice, Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Students

Note: This blog uses terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers. It Gets Better Project offers a helpful glossary.

Happy Pride Month, IECA!

In June, the month of the historic Stonewall Uprising of 1969, we celebrate with Pride the global LGBTQIA+ community and the Black and Brown trans foremothers of the gay rights movement, people who fought for equality and justice in the face of violence and harassment for being their authentic selves.

Pride Month is about celebration, but it is also about advocacy and activism. As IECs, we are in a prime position to be allies and advocates for our LGBTQIA+ students.

Supporting LGBTQIA+ People

The first thing we can do to support our LGBTQIA+ students and families is to ensure that we support our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and people in our everyday lives. Learning how individual schools, colleges, and therapeutic programs serve LGBTQIA+ students is important, but that information will land flat if our consulting practices and professional associations don’t operate inclusively to begin with.

Let’s start by recognizing the falsehoods and societal norms we’ve internalized and re-educate ourselves so we can be effective allies.

Misinformation and false assumptions cause harm to LGBTQIA+ people. Having a gender identity or sexual orientation that does not align with cisnormative, heteronormative standards is not someone’s lifestyle choice or political statement. It is the true, lived experience of a human being.

Being raised with recent social norms can result in anti-LGBTQIA+ bias and internalized homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism—even for people within the LGBTQIA+ community. These norms lead us to expect that people are heterosexual and identify with the gender they were assigned at birth unless we’re told otherwise, unless the person “comes out.” These assumptions are unconscious until we make an effort to examine and counteract them by seeking education.

Educating Ourselves

LGBTQIA+. Heteronormative. Homophobia. Transgender. Ally. Microaggression. Gay. Queer.

Some of these words may be familiar. Others may not. Make an effort to learn them. Find a buddy to practice with and help you use them. Pronouns and chosen names, in particular, require practice.

Education helps us be informed and effective allies. Don’t rely on an LGBTQIA+ person to define terms or tell you why certain language is hurtful or offensive. Use Google and accept responsibility for your own learning. (You’ll find numerous resources throughout this blog.)

Being an Ally Requires Action

Allies take action even when it’s uncomfortable.

For example: Speak up when you observe microaggressions against an LGBTQIA+ person or group. Correct a speaker who has misgendered someone. Don’t let others use words like “gay” or “queer” in a negative way or tell an LGBTQIA+ person to act or look differently in order to fit in. When you make an inevitable mistake, apologize, correct it, and move on without calling further attention to the blunder.

Be an Ally by Protecting LGBTQIA+ Students

We live in an unjust world where LGBTQIA+ students are not always safe, even at home. If a student comes out to you, respond with appreciation, respect, and affirmation. Listen attentively. Ask if they need any help or resources.

Maintain student confidentiality in conversation, communication, and written notes. It is critically important that we don’t “out” a student to anyone, including their family. Consider specifying in your client agreement that you will maintain student confidentiality except in cases where you are a mandatory reporter or choose to follow such guidelines.

Develop a list of local and online organizations that you can share with students if needed. GLSEN’s When A Student Comes Out to You blog provides helpful advice for education professionals, and their Coming Out blog and handout are excellent resources for students.

Other Actions That Build an Inclusive Practice

  • Create and promote a non-discrimination policy.
    Be sure your policy includes non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Ensure that it applies to all individuals, including students, parents/guardians/caregivers, employees, vendors, and your professional network.
  • Conduct a content audit.
    Are your forms, resources, and photos inclusive of all identities and family structures? Do you use inclusive language in your online content and communication with families?
  • Ask for chosen or preferred name, rather than nickname.
    A nickname can be informal or trivial, whereas a trans student’s chosen name is a vital affirmation of their identity. To be inclusive of trans students, use the term chosen name or preferred name, or simply ask “What would you like me to call you?”
  • Don’t require, or even request, a person’s legal name.
    A trans person’s legal name may be dysphoric for them. Only ask for it when absolutely necessary, such as on applications that will need to match the student’s high school or medical records.
  • Avoid “othering” trans and non-binary people when requesting pronouns.
    When requesting pronouns from clients, provide a blank line where each respondent may fill in their own answer. This is preferable to trying to list all possible pronouns and avoids minimizing the identity of someone who might otherwise have selected “Other.”
  • Don’t make sharing pronouns compulsory.
    A student may feel unsafe sharing their pronouns, especially in a group setting. Likewise, someone who is struggling to determine their true identity after years of hiding it may not be ready to share definitive pronouns. Make sharing an option, not a requirement. Use the person’s name when referring to them until they share their pronouns or you can ask privately.

Safer Spaces Start with Us

Establishing an inclusive practice for LGBTQIA+ students and families requires that we continue to learn and grow. The resulting strength of our personal and professional relationships, and the joy of a well-supported and well-advised student, remind us why the effort is worth it.

Suzanne Lewis, M.Ed., is founder & CEO of Meridian Educational Consulting LLC. As an active Professional member of IECA, she serves on the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Committee, was a 2021 Summer Training Institute (STI) faculty member, and co-founded the LGBTQIA+ and Allies Affinity Group with Chris Andersson.

Resources for Further Study

Many local and national organizations provide resources and education for you or your constituents:

PFLAG – With over 400 chapters across the country, PFLAG provides confidential peer support, education, and advocacy to LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies.

GLSEN – Their mission is to ensure that every member of every K-12 school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Provides student programs, advocacy, research, and policy work.

The Trevor Project – The world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. Also offers resources and education for people working with LGBTQ youth.

  • Read the report from their 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

It Gets Better Project – Their mission is to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth around the globe. Offers inspiring content and mental health tools.

Campus Pride – The leading organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBTQ students. Known for the Campus Pride Index database of LGBTQ-friendly campuses, they offer a myriad of other resources for college students and those building college lists.

The Williams Institute – The leading research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. Ensures that facts—not stereotypes—inform laws, policies, and judicial decisions that affect the LGBT community.

  • Published a report in May 2022 on the “Experiences of LGBTQ People in Four-Year Colleges and Graduate Programs.”

New Year, Fresh Start

While many of us have already made—and broken—resolutions for the New Year, I wanted to offer a few ideas for independent educational consultants (IECs) still exploring goals and direction for 2022.

1. Establish a personal care plan.

No one—not a parent, teacher, or an independent educational consultant—can take on the concerns, anxieties, and emotional baggage of clients without a plan to care for their own emotional well-being. Explore some of the many mindfulness apps, begin a walking routine, join a book club—whatever works for you. Choose something that will help you escape the work you do. If you get into the habit NOW, it will already be part of your normal routine when the next busy season arrives.

2. Remember the personal care needs of your employees as well.

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of COVID-19, let’s also remember that your accountant, client-services rep, tutors, and essays specialist are also dealing with demands of work and disruptions to family norms. Think about offering flexible scheduling, time for exercise, and responsiveness to COVID-related scheduling changes, and resolve to give your team space to thrive.

3. Consider how rough it has been for so many people.

In addition to health care workers, many others are bearing relentless attacks by those who seemingly blame them for things well outside of their control. This includes food servers, teachers, store clerks, and airline workers. Let’s resolve to show some grace and offer words of affirmation to those whose work has become unpleasant.

4. Take advantage of technology in ways that make your life and your clients’ lives easier.

Talk about a win-win! Consider online payment platforms, meeting schedulers, offering digital resources, and using a new social media platform—just a few examples of technology use that ought to be on your radar this year.

5. Uncover ways that you can be a better IEC to under-resourced and under-supported communities.

This could take the form of pro bono work or volunteering with a community-based organization. It can also mean looking at ways you could do a better job understanding and responding to the changing face of adolescents. As America’s teens become more diverse, resolve to take coursework, get certified, and become more knowledgeable about inclusion—whether the differences are based in race, religion, sexual identify, physical disabilities, or neurodiversity. Becoming an advocate for the under-served or marginalized makes you a stronger IEC in your own practice and in educating peers.

6. Finally, get involved in your professional IECA community.

Become a mentor, request a mentor, learn a new specialty, attend an IECA conference, present a session or lead a discussion at a conference, join Affinity Groups, and become active in your Regional Group. This is how we make the profession and the association stronger. Resolve to recommend membership to an unaffiliated IEC. Let’s strengthen our community, together.

By Mark Sklarow, IECA CEO

Empowering Girls: A Responsibility We All Share

By Jill Dalby PhD, CPCC, Certified Professional Executive Coach, Maroon Creek Coaching LLC

As independent educational consultants (IECs) dedicated to helping students choose the best path to foster academic and social growth, what would you do if you learned that half of your students may not be well served by any of the schools or colleges you are recommending? It sounds absurd, but abundant evidence exists that success in school fails to translate directly into success at work for girls and women. Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychology professor and author of Mindset, summed it up: “If life were one long grade school, women would be the undisputed rulers of the world. But life isn’t one long grade school.”

Girls are better students and better educated than their male counterparts, but they aren’t learning the breakthrough leadership skills they need to be successful in the workforce. In the classroom, they are rewarded for getting it right, being prepared, and conforming to expectations. But girls are not rewarded for taking risks, standing out, thinking on their feet, or making unpopular decisions—all important leadership behaviors.

Understanding what gets in the way of women’s empowerment is a responsibility we all share and doing something about it is our collective obligation. Although there are many ways to steward change, one way to make a difference is to become aware of the ways in which girls and women give away their power and then do something about it. I hope you find the suggestions below, which I originally presented at the IECA 2018 Fall Conference in Los Angeles, to be useful.

Communication Patterns

Women and girls walk the line between saying what they think with clarity and directness and adhering to feminine norms around communication. They have learned that what’s at risk is being heard, feeling valued, and having influence. Consequently, they have adopted habits to get their messages across gently. They hedge by using such words as just, kind of, and almost and qualify their ideas by saying “I’m no expert but…” They may even unknowingly demure by sitting in chairs on the room’s perimeter rather than at the table.

But when women and girls come across as tentative and unsure, they are giving up their power and undermining their message. By helping students recognize when they are using ineffective communication patterns and offering them alternatives to use when it’s wise for them to do so, you help them present themselves as strong, credible, worthy communicators one word at a time.

Be Likable, Then Be Competent

It’s important that girls and women understand the value of making strategic choices about when, where, and with how much strength to communicate. Psychologists Amy Cuddy, Susan Fiske, and Peter Glick have shown that humans are hardwired for safety and connection. When encountering a stranger, we quickly first want to know if the person is friend or foe and only then do we assess their competence.

Our assessments of competence are slow to change while judgments of friendliness and trustworthiness are easily modified. Further, an unfamiliar person is seen as both warm and competent only when they come from a “high-status” group. Others, such as girls and women, are seen as being either warm or competent, but not both. So, when women and girls begin a conversation with an explanation of their competence and effectiveness before establishing a connection, they can be perceived as being defensive and compensatory.

Use this information to help girls and women understand how to walk the fine line while working to change it. Let all your students know why it’s crucial to create connection and engagement at the beginning of an encounter before discussing skills and abilities and about the cognitive biases formed against low-status groups. Information is power—for you and for the students you serve. By understanding what’s behind the tradeoffs, you can help girls shed ineffective communication habits without setting them up to fail in those environments that aren’t ready for a woman who will adapt her style but won’t compromise her value in order to be heard.

Hiding Strategies

Girls and women are really good at using hiding strategies to mask procrastination and relieve anxious “I’m not ready yet” feelings. Expressed as the tendency to overcomplicate a process, endlessly polish an outcome, curate everyone else’s ideas except her own, and omit her story from the narrative, hiding strategies appear to be important tasks but really keep girls and women playing small because the underlying behaviors don’t produce the forward momentum that catapults them into the spotlight.

Help your students see when they’re making choices that keep them safe but far from centerstage, and then invite them to approach things differently. If they tend to work in isolation, suggest that they tell their friends what they wish to accomplish and ask for feedback. Or explain the benefit of efficiency that comes from sharing an early draft version. If they tend to overcomplicate and overpolish, model clarity and simplicity. And finally, empathically discuss the cost of perfection. As Lisa Damour, clinical psychologist and author of Untangled, pointed out, “We need to remind girls that when any score above 90 counts as an A, the difference between a 91 and 100 is a life.” In your work as IECs, you have the chance to help girls believe in themselves and change their self-limiting behaviors.

Unhealthy Attachments to Praise and Criticism

To know we matter is a fundamental human desire. Rather than looking inward for self-assurance, though, many seek external validation to find their identity and worth. More so than men, women tend to seek outward approval to feel acceptable, worthy, and capable. At the same time, they avoid criticism for fear of feeling unacceptable, unworthy, and incapable. This unhealthy attachment to praise and criticism is another way that girls and women give away their power.

Because strong, capable women seek out feedback and meet with their critics, help reframe your students’ perspective on feedback. Teach them it is an opportunity to learn what others expect; it is not a reflection of worth or intelligence. In doing so, you will support your students to unhook from praise and criticism while growing a healthy self-regard from the inside out.

Fear

We humans are hardwired to attend to our feeling of fear because it protects us from harm—getting eaten by the sabre tooth tiger or falling off the cliff. It motivates us to practice again so that we’re ready for the performance. And it signals a desire to stretch out of a comfort zone in search of our potential. But when healthy fear gets supplanted by imaginary beasts like failure, rejection, and even success, we get hijacked by paralyzing fears and our power is diminished.

Other fears disempower too. Women’s fear of conflict sabotages leadership potential. And women who unnecessarily share their successes with others or use the “royal we” for fear of standing out or appearing selfish, squash their opportunities for recognition and advancement.

When fears remain unexplored, “stuckness” happens, but fears that are faced and overcome become sources of power. The first step is to identify the type of fear that is being experienced and then get curious about it. What is good about it? What is bad about it? What is to be done about it? Supporting girls and women to work with fear rather than against it is crucial to their empowerment because when they triumph over fear, they are emboldened to do more and to be more.

Self-Doubt

Women are ruminators. They are more likely than men to replay what went wrong and to believe they’re at fault. While men tend to get angry, blame others, and move on, women listen to the voice in their head that repeatedly questions and castigates. What ensues is an inner dialogue characterized by self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. For women, this voice of the inner critic is often the loudest and when that voice speaks, power is silenced.

By encouraging girls to recognize the voice of their inner critic, you help them neutralize its impact. When you suspect a student’s loud and mean voice of self-doubt is talking, ask her to notice it and talk back to it kindly. Teach her to separate herself from the inner critic by giving it a name and distinct characteristics. When it shows up, say: “That doesn’t sound like you. That sounds like your inner critic. Why don’t you tell it ‘Thanks, but no thanks, not today.’” Invite it to go sit in the other room or turn down its volume.

After her inner critic has left them room, call on her inner mentor to come out. That is the voice inside her that wants the best for her always. It speaks in a peaceful, quiet voice from a place of wisdom, love, and guidance. It’s our true north. It’s our mindful self. By helping girls and women identify the many active voices talking at one time, you allow them to overcome the inner critic’s need to keep them playing small and you support a lifelong empowerment process.

These are only a few of the patterned behaviors and socialized processes that disempower women and girls. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just as Dr. Seuss’s Once-ler made his passionate appeal at The Lorax’s end, I say to you: “Unless someone cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

Change happens one person at a time through insight and action. Empowered voices can work together to create systemic change. Whether you change your own actions to model a more empowered approach to life, incorporate these new insights when advising students, or explore ways your own actions may be inadvertently disempowering others, find novel ways to enhance your practices and change your behaviors while simultaneously helping women succeed in the long run, not just the short run. Because if you don’t, who will?

Additional Reading

Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion, Or Job. Hachette Book Group, New York, 2018.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance, What Women Should Know. Harper Collins, New York, 2014

Tara Mohr, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead, Penguin Random House, New York, 2014.

Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success. Harper Collins, New York, 2017.

Making Character Count in Admission

by Mark H. Sklarow, Chief Executive Officer, Independent Educational Consultants Association

Let’s assume you were an admission director for a day. One spot remains for the class of 2019 with two folders in front of you. Candidate A is a brilliant young woman, with a 4.0 GPA which she achieved without breaking a sweat. In fact, she cruised through high school, never once experiencing a downturn personally or academically. Candidate B achieved a GPA a bit lower, let’s say a 3.6. But she did it faced with challenges: personal, familial, and academic. She wasn’t scared off by tough classes and succeeded with grit, determination, and a healthy dose of persistence.

Securing Students’ Success, not Admission, Makes IECA Unique

By Mark Sklarow, CEO, IECA

Recently, a small group of new independent educational consultants (IECs)—all college-focused—were gathered at an IECA event. Seeing me, they waved me over. Why, they wondered, did we not have the word admission in the organization’s name? I noted that the word admission didn’t appear in our name, our by-laws, our purpose statement, or any tag line at any point in our 40-year history. Jaws dropped.