Ashley T. Brundage used the power of her own differences to create a successful career. Now she wants to help others do the same
TAMMYE NASH | Managing Editor
Ashley T. Brundage knows the importance of finding power in your differences. As a teen she worked her way up from server to HR manager in the food industry. After transitioning in 2008, she started a new career as a bank teller and worked her way up to vice president of diversity and inclusion. Now she owns her own company, Empowering Differences, which lets her share her life lessons with others.
Brundage — who recently celebrated her 18th anniversary to her spouse Whitney, with whom she has two biological sons — recently published her book, also named Empowering Differences, and she will be in Dallas on June 12 for an Empowering Differences workshop and to sign copies of her book. She recently talked with Dallas Voice about her life, her work and her drive to help others.
Dallas Voice: Tell me how your company, Empowering Differences, got started and about your background in this kind of leadership and diversity training. Ashley T. Brundage: I started my company when I saw how important leading with empowerment was in navigating my personal and professional journey. Personally, I started developing leadership skills really early on in life, working as a manager while I was just a teenager. I developed my first career from server to HR manager in the restaurant industry, and then, in my second career, I had to develop as an out trans person from part-time bank teller to vice president of diversity and inclusion in less than five years. Both these careers, along with my lived experiences, have given me a fresh look on both leadership and diversity for sure.
Tell me about the programs/courses your company offers and the team you work with. Your website mentions professional development, keynote speaking and training courses. Yes, my team works to provide educational sessions for corporations connected to empowering others. This includes teaching the valuable concepts of accessibility, inclusion and broader leadership skills.
One of my newest offerings is an online leadership course called “The 10 Empowering Actions to Leverage Change,” which is the next step for organizations attempting to help connect diversity programs to actions that drive real change. This course is the follow up to my new book and has the book and workbook included with enrollment, as well as being a professional development plan with more than 40 hours of potential earned credits.
When did you decide to write this book, Empowering Differences? And how does the book expand on and enhance the training and other programs you offer? I had been writing a book about my journey of overcoming homelessness and surviving gender transition, but I didn’t want to write a trans memoir. I also didn’t want to take away opportunities for other trans people to tell their stories.
I felt that answering the question of how I was able to grow my career so quickly with no college degree, while being authentic each and every day, was going to be helpful to a very broad audience. That is what led me to capture the 10 key “Empowering Actions” that I used to grow my career, and relate it to all people as our differences.
We all have differences, all 7 billion people on this planet, and it’s the differences that truly make a difference. They should be empowered and never hidden.
What, from your perspective, is the biggest benefit of expanding and enhancing diversity in the workplace? How does it benefit a company overall, and how does it benefit the individuals who work for that company? The differences we all have bring strength to an organization. Sometimes the word diversity can scare people, or even alienate them, as they might feel that it doesn’t apply to them. If you have all college educated people on a team or in a room making a decision, then they might not be able to speak to or capture exactly what you are asking about: perspective.
Perspective is always in the eye of the beholder, and it will lead to uncovering additional opportunities, thus growing your organization.
When it comes to diversity training, it seems we hear more about how enhancing diversity improves a company overall. But how can an individual improve their own career and job performance by focusing on what sets them apart, on the differences within themselves? Self-actualization will lead to more empowerment. This is key in the journey, and this is why my online course participants take the self-assessment
(EmpoweringDifferences.com/SelfAssessment; I made this free for anyone to take to help create more empowerment for all). Unlike computerized self-assessments, this one is based on self-actualization, as the participant has to examine themself and answer open-ended questions surrounding privilege, empowerment and other lived experiences. Then when they finish the online course, they are instructed to go back and read what they wrote, and then retake the self-assessment a second time. This will help them in their journey of better categorizing their differences and then lead to more empowerment.
What else do people need to know about you and your company and your book? What are the important points — about you, your company and your book — that I haven’t asked about? That 10 percent of all sales from my book and course are being donated to GLAAD to help amplify and protect LGBTQ+ voices. I am proud to volunteer my time, and I now serve as a vice chair of the national board of GLAAD.
Also, if anyone reading this article has a hardship and needs more empowerment they should contact me directly at Ashley@empoweringdifferences.com, as for each corporation that enrolls someone in my course, I match that in a donation for a nonprofit organization or individuals who are needing access to this content.
Empowerment isn’t meant to be easy, but we can always work to empower others through selfless actions.