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  • Writer's pictureTennessee Diversity Consortium

Making Corporate America a Safer Space with Stephanie Battaglino

Stephanie Battaglino, advocate and educator for diversity, equity, and inclusion in workplaces with over 40 years of experience in corporate banking and finance discusses how her extensive background as both a man and trans woman has given her a unique perspective in creating DEI in corporate spaces.


Stephanie Battaglino worked as the corporate Vice President of New York Life Insurance Company for 20 years, where she was the first transgender person to come out and transition in 2005. She now is an internationally recognized author and motivational speaker, passionate about changing the culture of corporate America.


“We can't shy away from those difficult conversations now more than ever,” she said, describing how important it is to not let the inevitably of mistakes deter a person from DEI-minded conversations.


In this episode of Speak Up for Equity, Tennessee Diversity Consortium Executive Director Robert Lawrence Wilson talks with Battaglino about her story of being the first transgender person to come out and transition at her company in 2005. Battaglino shares stories that encourage empathy for all and show how corporate America can become a safer space.


Stephanie reflects on both sides of her personal journey


Battaglino’s 40 year career in corporate banking and finance culminated in her role as corporate Vice President of New York Life Insurance Company. Having been socialized in corporate America as a man, Battaglino’s transition gave her startling clarity in understanding how it felt to be a woman in the industry.


“I faced the same conundrum that cis women in positions of authority on various levels and organizations have faced for years,” she said.


Battaglino discusses this more in her book, Reflections from Both Sides of the Glass Ceiling.


The experience taught her when to acquiesce and when to push for change in the workplace. She talked about the importance of context in each situation, and knowing when pushing the limits is going to help or hurt the change someone is trying to create.


“For cis female colleagues to find themselves in various positions of authority, you have to know the political landscape,” Battaglino said. “If you're savvy enough, you're going to know when you have to acquiesce versus when you're going to have to push the gas pedal down.”


Cultural velocity in a company


Company culture can vary widely in the DEI space, and Battaglino acknowledged the nuances that come with navigating those situations. It is important to know the cultural velocity of a company, which is how quickly they adapt to change.


“How much can you push before the culture pushes back?” she asked.


Battaglino went on to describe how culture pushing back may be personified, and how it isn’t always easy to face retaliation. She said that it is important to recognize when it is a problem of moving too fast as opposed to blatant discrimination.


“It's one thing to say we're not ready for it now. Whatever it is, you can fill in that blank on whatever initiative you might find yourself working on. Not just trans related things. It's one thing to say that and then it's another to say, well, we may never be ready for that,” Battaglino said.



Vulnerability in difficult conversations


Battaglino described diversity, equity, and inclusion as a series of difficult conversations. She emphasized the importance of personal vulnerability when approaching a conversation, especially among those with the power to change company culture.


“I think then there are the individuals that still have the power, that still have the privilege that can even make more of a difference. And I'm talking specifically to those individuals right now. And I say to you, what is your relationship with vulnerability?,” Battaglino said.


She recognized that DEI is an issue in the corporate world by looking at the young people in America. Battaglino observed that young people are generally not hesitant to come out in their personal lives, but are in the corporate world. Representation is essential to creating more inclusive spaces.


“A successful future to me is looking at an organization that has people that look like me. Visible leadership roles in your organization. We're not there yet, but that's where we need to get to,” Battaglino said.



To learn more about the ways you can get involved with the Tennessee Diversity Consortium, visit tennesseediversityconsortium.org/join-tdc. And be sure to subscribe to Speak Up for Equity wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.

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