Jackie - 00:00:10:
You're listening to the Diversity: Beyond The Checkbox podcast. I'm your host, Jackie Ferguson, certified Diversity Executive, writer, human rights advocate, and Co-Founder of the Diversity Movement. On this podcast, I'm talking to trailblazers, game changers and glass ceiling breakers who share their inspiring stories, lessons learned, and insights on business, inclusion, and personal development. Welcome to the Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox podcast. My guest today is Ruth Rathblott. Ruth is a TEDx and inspirational speaker and an award winning former CEO who is committed to creating inclusion for all. Ruth was born with a limb difference and currently speaks on issues of inclusion and diversity, the gifts of being unique, the freedom of accepting your differences and rising above life's challenges. Ruth, thank you so much for joining me today,
Ruth - 00:01:10:
Jackie, I'm so excited to be here and talk beyond the Checkbox.
Jackie - 00:01:15:
Absolutely. Ruth, will you tell us a little about yourself? Your background, your family, your identity, whatever you'd like to share.
Ruth - 00:01:24:
Sure. My story, and not to make it such a long story, but it really does start at my birth, Jackie, because a big piece of me was something that was part of my birth story, which is I was born in the days before sonograms and ultrasound. And so when I came into the world on June 26, I was a surprise to my parents in terms of my physical self. I was born missing my left hand. And that was something that, at the time, a lot of doctors didn't know a lot about, a lot of nurses didn't know about. And my parents had never even considered it as part of this little baby girl that was coming into the world. They didn't even know my gender. So, yes, this little girl that came into the world with a missing hand, a limb difference, was something that was a surprise. And what happened in the moment I was born is the nurses took me away, whisked me away. The doctors whisked my father out of the room so that they could talk to him and have a conversation, so he could go back in and support my mom. When they delivered the news about my hand and my father went back into the room, they definitely were somewhat bewildered and shocked and surprised. And luckily, Jackie, they had a nurse who diligently and sweetly and succinctly, said, she brought me over all swaddled up, and she said, you know what? You're going to take this little girl home. You're going to love her and treat her as you would any other child. You're going to treat her as normal. And that's absolutely what they did. They took me home and encouraged me to try everything. I got involved in sports, I got involved in theater, I got involved in student government. And that was great. And we didn't talk about it. And so part of my identity growing up was I was like everyone else, and we didn't talk about my limb difference. It wasn't mentioned. And so when I got to be 13 and like most teenagers and I imagine some of your listeners have teenagers currently, most of us have been a teenager at some point, so we know that feeling of wanting to fit in, it's almost magnified when you're a teenager.
Jackie - 00:03:47:
Ruth - 00:03:48:
And that was super important. And I was headed to a new high school, a new coed high school, and it was the first time that someone stared a little too long in this new school. And what I did in response to that is I tucked my little hand into the front pocket of my jeans, just what was supposed to be for the bus ride, because I wanted to look like everyone else. And then I got to school, and I kept it tucked in there for that first day. That first day, Jackie, turned into that first week that turned into that first year. Always promising myself I would stop. I would stop hiding. But I kept making excuses like, well, now no one will understand I've been hiding it. It's so awful. The stories I told myself in my head became so hard and so large, so much larger than life. And I continued on that pattern of hiding even and trying to unhide for 25 years. So it was absolutely exhausting. That's part of my story. That's a big piece of my story.
Jackie - 00:04:53:
Absolutely. Ruth, thank you for sharing that. Will you tell us a little bit about your process of unhiding? And what advice do you give to the rest of us for how we can begin to unhide or even understand what it is that we might be hiding? Right. And then how do we know when it's safe to be ourselves and to unhide?
Ruth - 00:05:17:
Absolutely. I think one of the first pieces of hiding and unhiding is recognizing that it's a continuum, that there isn't an overnight process to unhiding. It's not like you wake up one day and you decide, I'm going to share this and everything in my head, all those stories I've told myself, all those messages I gave myself about this thing I'm hiding will disappear. So the first step is being okay, that this is going to take time, that this is a process. The second part is identifying what is it about yourself that you have where you felt different? How do you understand your difference? How do you understand the messages that were given to you or that you've given yourself about it and that maybe others? And how do you understand other people's differences? Right. So there's an understanding piece of it. And I use the space around journaling and therapy and talking to create that space. The way I unhide and what I often talk to others about is letting one person in. I call it finding your person, letting one person in to share that piece, to kind of check out as a reality check of is it as bad as you have told yourself it is. So for me, I invited someone in to start to share my hand with. And what it allowed me to do, Jackie, is it allowed me to start to actually look at my hand, to actually touch it for the first time, how to actually take care of it, because I had buried it so deeply in my pocket that I neglected it and didn't acknowledge it. I didn't want to see myself as having one hand. I didn't want to see others with one hand or differences. And so by allowing that one person in, they showed me how to love that part of myself that I deemed unlovable for so long. And that's the first step in unhiding. The next step is then starting to take the blinders off and starting to find community. So you start to find others who may be going through. And as much as we complain about social media and think of the tough pieces of it, the positive pieces are you can find a community for anything out there.
Jackie - 00:07:39:
Ruth - 00:07:39:
And find your people. I randomly happened to be in a Duane Reade pharmacy, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye a woman with one arm. After I was starting to accept that part of myself, I started to want to talk about it. There was this woman, and we started talking about our limb differences. And she said, well, you know, we're not alone. She's like, there's a group called the Lucky Fin Project out there. At that time, Jackie, it was over 30,000 people. Now it's over 70,000 people on a Facebook group. And it was when I went home to look at this, there were all these people who had my hand. I thought I was alone. And often when we feel different, we feel alone, like we're the only ones. And that happens with hiding a lot.
Jackie - 00:08:28:
That's such good advice. I really appreciate that because I think so many of us have or are hiding in some way. Right. And how do we begin to be ourselves? Right now in the workplace, people are talking about, bring your whole selves to work, right? And we might want to, but what is that process? And so I appreciate your sharing that.
Ruth - 00:08:53:
No, and absolutely. I even change the vocabulary around to say, bring your best self to work. And what is preventing you from doing that? Right. What is keeping you, holding you back? If it's a disability, a visible disability like mine, or if it's an invisible disability, or it's something about your race, your gender, your ethnicity, your voice, your religion, your politics, how is it holding you back from getting the support you need to bring your best self to work? And that's the piece. And I think, Jackie, it starts with leadership. And I fought that for a really long time because I was a CEO who often I can very clearly tell you the mantra that I used, which was leaders. Yes, leaders create culture, but I'm not working with robots, so we're all responsible for culture. And yet I didn't always take the ownership as a leader of what that culture and showing vulnerability, showing empathy, showing those pieces that are so critical to creating inclusive cultures where people feel safe to unhide.
Jackie - 00:10:00:
Absolutely. Let's talk about the fact that one in four adults are living with a disability in the United States. What perspective or understanding do organizational leaders, to the point you just made, need to support their teams and encourage them to bring their best selves to work? How do we begin to support our employees with disabilities?
Ruth - 00:10:29:
Yeah, no, I think that one in four number is super powerful because that means a lot of people have disabilities. And the key to that statistic is twofold. One is that disabilities can be visible again, like mine, or they can be invisible. So you don't always know what is going on with someone with a disability who has a disability. Right. So that's a piece of it. I've actually heard that 76% to 96%, somewhere in that range, are invisible disabilities out of that one in four. So that's a big piece of it. The ones that we can see only account, like the biggest group out of disability for visible disabilities is mobile disabilities. And that's the number one. So, yes, we can see them. And so how are we thinking about accommodation? How are we thinking about accessibility? And I really believe that is part of where HR has a critical role in DEI because it's part of the talent lifecycle. From beginning of when you're recruiting team members and potential employees, how you write that job description, how you make the job actually accessible then how you bring people on, how you onboard them, how are you talking to that hiring manager about this potential employee and the uniqueness and the gifts they're going to bring the different perspective. How are we valuing different perspectives in an organization? And then what are we doing with the information with people with disabilities when people leave? Right? And how are we creating those spaces? Whether it's a disability employee resource group so that people feel comfortable. How are we normalizing accommodations so that it's not scary to ask for one that you're not seen as high maintenance. If you need something that's different, so that all employees have access to accommodation and it's not seen as something that again, you're so special because you need one that is part of your job package that you are able to ask for without repercussion. And then how, as leaders, are we talking about disability? How are we asking about it? How are we measuring it? How are we making sure we're reporting on it? Because we often hear, and I love the Beyond the Checkbox title of your podcast, because I think sometimes we look at DEI as a checklist and that we've counted things. How are we as leaders making sure it's part of our goals, but also, how are we as leaders showing up and sharing our vulnerabilities and our disability? I mean, Jackie, it's amazing. I think the statistic is only 20% of leaders who have a disability actually talk about it. Wow. And that percentage of those who are have disabilities is really small. But only 20% out of that group is talking about it. Well, if we're not talking about it from the top, that's why leadership, again, is so important. We're modeling, we don't talk about it.
Jackie - 00:13:31:
Absolutely. And back to your earlier point, Ruth, about vulnerability. Right. It's so important for leaders to be vulnerable because it helps their teams think about trust. Right. And just understanding that back when I started working, the boss had all the answers, the right answers, the only answer. Right. And now what we want as a society, as employees, are leaders that are human and leaders that see us, and leaders that can share what's going right, what isn't going so great, and how they're going to address it. But one of the things that's so important for employees nowadays is being able to trust their leaders and being able to share that and be vulnerable is so important. Right. And if the leader can't share it, why do you expect that an employee feels comfortable in sharing that as well? I saw a study, I guess this is probably two years ago, that when we think about accommodations for people with disabilities, we think as leaders, oh, that's going to be so expensive. But it's really under $500 per employee with a disability to make sure that you're accommodating what it is that they need to be successful in the role. So it's not a big number. It's not this mountain that's so difficult to climb. It's really often such small things and easy things to make sure that they're feeling seen, feeling valued and able to contribute their best work. So it's so important.
Ruth - 00:15:25:
Absolutely. And I think a piece of it is, what's the return on investment if we give that accommodation right. If we provide that accommodation because then we are able to get the best out of somebody we're able I mean, I can share as someone with a disability, I have had to think outside the box my entire life. I've had to be creative. Those are skills we value in the workplace. But if you don't feel seen to your point, if you don't feel heard, if you don't feel like you belong, you're going to hold those back. And so the company loses out because I now feel like I can't do my job at 100%, even 120%, because I don't feel valued. And so, yeah, accommodations, that's why. How do we normalize accommodations so it doesn't feel like that stressor of a leader saying, oh, it's too expensive, or wow, that person's high maintenance and listen, I understand budgets are tight, especially now with what's going on, and it's investing in your team. It's the idea of getting the best idea and realizing the long term benefit and the innovative ideas that you're going to get having people with disabilities in your orbit.
Jackie - 00:16:36:
Ruth that's so true. And another thing is, as we have gone through this great resignation, right? If we think about employees staying put and the profitability that comes with that when you have turnover to fill, that position is so expensive, more than we even realize a lot of times as leaders. And so for that small accommodation or small set of accommodations you've got now, someone that wants to be there, is excited about being there, feels supported, and they're going to stay with your organization and just that increases your profitability exponentially.
Ruth - 00:17:21:
Absolutely. And I think no to this conversation, too. I think what I hear you also saying is that's why I work with leaders, Jackie, is because starts with leadership and understanding A, where they have felt different and their spaces and what they think of difference. But absolutely to that point of thinking long term about things. Because I know as a leader, there were times that I didn't create an inclusive work culture, and I created a culture that in many ways mirrored my not sharing my disability and my vulnerability. And so it didn't allow other teammates to share theirs. So it created this perfection culture and a culture where people felt like they were getting in trouble if they didn't do things. But there was turnover. And so I had to do a lot of deep reflecting when I was writing my book about where was I inclusive and where was I not inclusive as a leader. And that's why I think it's easy sometimes to talk to leaders because it's almost like their shoulders drop and they're like, oh, you did that too. I'm like, yeah, because we were taught, to your point from before, to be always thinking about productivity and performance and getting things done and being like we had all the answers. We don't. And we miss out then on what our teams offer us in terms of solutions. And I did it myself.
Jackie - 00:18:41:
Absolutely. And let's talk, Ruth, about your book single handedly. What inspired you to write it, and what can we learn by reading it?
Ruth - 00:18:51:
Sure. I speak a lot with companies on a global basis, and there were certain questions that I was getting, and I was only in 60 minutes. You're only able to give a glimpse of a story. You're only able to share a little highlight. And the questions I would get back from people are, wait, what were you hiding? How did you hide? What were the things like, what started you hiding? How did you stop hiding? What were some of the tools and things like that. And so as I started to think about my book, it became apparent that I went through almost like a hero's journey or a heroine's journey. It was this idea of being kind of presented with a conflict, of somebody staring too long, learning to hide as a way to really deal with it. And also what I will say about hiding is that it benefits people sometimes too. It benefits the person hiding because they feel in control. It also makes people comfortable, right? You don't have to deal with my disability, then you don't have to ask the question. You don't have to be uncomfortable. So this hiding piece I saw as a real piece that needed to be talked about. And then what comes on the other side of it? What's the freedom and the benefit of unhiding? Because I went through that trend and I had a guide, I invited somebody in to help me do that, right. As I shared. So there's this hero's journey, and then I was on my own for the next journey, which was this space about. And again, I go back to I love the title of your podcast. And when I first saw it, and talked to you. It's what intrigued me is because I think oftentimes we have a framework around diversity, equity and inclusion, conversations around race and gender and sexual orientation, which are super important platforms. And disability what I think of, and many think of as the largest minority group because it cuts across all lenses of intersectionality. It's true intersectionality and diversity is it doesn't get caught, talked about as part of the agenda. And so I was finding myself left out of DEI conversations, even though I'd be on panels, even though I would attend panels, I often didn't hear disability talked about. And even as companies were rising in terms of prioritizing diversity initiatives, only 4% were actually talking about disability. And so that was a piece that I knew needed to be included in the book. So the book is yeah, my Journey from Hiding to Unhiding. And then this next chapter in this next phase of how do we expand the diversity conversation to be fully inclusive so people do feel seen and heard and like they belong in the workplace?
Jackie - 00:21:32:
Absolutely. And, you know, Ruth and the work that I do talking about disability is important because as you said, it cuts across every type of identity. And the thing about it is there are certain groups that feel I'm not really a part of this conversation or how can I contribute to this conversation? But when you talk about things like disability or even aging, that's something with disability, that any of us can become a part of that group at any point, right? And so we have to have that conversation. And it's so important, I think, about I've had conversations with people with different types of disabilities over the seasons of the podcast. And one of the things that I talked about a lot, especially with people who have invisible illness, as we talked about earlier, is that they wanted to be able to work from home or have like a hybrid schedule. And before COVID most employers were like, oh no, we can't do that. We're not going to be productive if we allow you to work from home more than a day here or there. But as we have seen, it works, right? And we had to move into that virtual environment. But now we can see that with most organizations, they're hybrid and it does work. And so as we think about the accommodations that we need for people and employees with disabilities, that's one of the ones that was so way out there and we definitely can't do that. But really it works. And so back to the accommodations, that's just one example of so many that I've had and so important in the conversation, just a hybrid work environment. Sometimes those accommodations are so simple.
Ruth - 00:23:34:
No. And it opened up a whole work talent pool in terms of people with disabilities that could now work because they were able to have that accommodation of working from home and thinking about what that meant and not having to commute that hour to an hour and a half because of the transportation challenges, because of the even workplace challenges that come along with it. Oftentimes accommodations actually benefit everyone. That's the beauty of accommodations, is that we find out that if we had done this and to your point, sometimes they're so super simple. And as managers and leaders, sometimes we focus so much on performance and productivity that we forget about people in this equation. And so that's where the accommodation piece can also be helpful, is how do you think about the people on your team? How do they need your support rather than thinking about only the output? What do they need in terms of support to get, again, that best self to show up those most creative ideas, those most innovative ideas. And to your point, it can be super simple.
Jackie - 00:24:38:
Absolutely. Ruth, as children, so many of us had questions. When we see people that look different from us, but many of us had parents, I'm sure most people can relate that said, oh no, don't say anything, don't ask. Right? And so now we don't know how to ask. So what is your recommendation for respectfully asking about someone's difference?
Ruth - 00:25:07:
Yeah, so it's definitely bifurcated, I think, with children, I think allow them to continue to be curious. Right. Because when we shush children, we've taught them two things, especially around disability, we've sent the message don't be curious because that's not a good thing, even though children are naturally curious. And most often their questions come out of a place of curiosity and kindness, not out of maliciousness. So that's a piece of it. We've also sent the message that means when we tell kids not to talk about disability is that disability is something we don't talk about. And so we've made it a bad thing. So as adults, we've grown up to your point with that message is we don't talk about disability, we're going to get in trouble with disability. None of us wants to go into HR because somebody complained that we asked about it. And yet here's the second part that's a little bit tougher, is each of us with a disability is in a different space with our comfort level around our disability. And so while I may prefer to have someone ask me, I often like it when they ask me because if it's coming out of a place and when it's coming out of a place of kindness, of curiosity and support, not because it's something that, oh, my God, what happened to your hand? Because you're nosy, but because you actually are curious and want to support me. And that's when it's helpful, when you aren't making assumptions about my ability, but you're rather saying, hey, how can I support you with this project? How can I support you doing XYZ just like you would ask anyone else? And then as we get to know each other, how can I then share that part with you? Because I know it's a safe place. And similarly, what I'd ask in return is that you're going to share something with me about yourself, where you have felt vulnerable or different, so that it's not one sided that we're making people with disabilities out themselves and be okay to ask. But are you willing to share something about yourself where you have maybe held shame or hidden so that I can feel there's some kind of it's a safe place? But oftentimes we put on us on people with disabilities to be like, oh, you're supposed to reveal everything about yourself and I'm not going to tell you anything. So how do we again create that mutual space for sharing? And is it relevant to why do you need to know? And asking yourself, why do I need to know about their disability? I know I have a disability. Got it. I will let you know in the time that I want to let you know. And there's people out there, Jackie, that they'd be okay not sharing it with you right now. Again, I'm good. If you ask me. I've done a lot of work to get there, though.
Absolutely. And I love the advice of share something about you. It's not a one way street, right. So if you're not willing to be vulnerable yourself, you can't expect someone else to share that vulnerability. So such great advice. Thank you for that.
Ruth - 00:28:12:
Yeah. I think we are all afraid of getting in trouble, especially around the DEI conversations, that we're going to say something wrong, right. And so is there a space that we can allow for questions that may feel, oh, I'm uncomfortable. Okay. Is that a learning opportunity for some people to say, hey, I know you asked me about my disability. I just want to let you know for the next person here's how you might reframe it and not get them in trouble, but that actually realize that if they're coming from a place of curiosity and kindness and support, that you can help them too. So that somebody else doesn't have to feel uncomfortable as we move forward. Because that's how we learn from each other, not by getting in trouble.
That's exactly right. And as leaders, we need to create those environments where people feel comfortable asking questions, using new words. Right. And with coaching, not negative repercussion. Right. And that's so important.
Ruth - 00:29:16:
100%. And as leaders, we may have things that we stumble over too. And so how do we learn? Because we're not perfect to our points from before. We don't have all the answers. We still are continually learning. And I even share with leaders as I do work with them, is, again, it's about the understanding of yourself and where you have felt different, what you think about difference, and then going out proactively and doing the learning, not expecting someone. I have a disability. Don't expect me to teach you about disability. First of all, I'm one person. It's my perspective, it's my life, it's my journey that I've been on. I don't represent all people with disabilities. And what's the history of disability? Do you know it? Can you learn it? Can you think about how some of these practices went into place? I had friends, including myself, who were surprised that the ADA came about in 1990. Half of my life I spent without that. Well, what implications then would that have on work? What would that have on my life and what still needs to happen? So then I can show up and listen to people. And I know there was nothing truer than when Black Lives Matter was really rising in its heightened first state. And I had staff who came to me and said, so what's our action strategy? What's our action plan? And I took a step back and I said, I have to do some learning. And shame on me, really, for not doing the learning ahead of time. But it's not your job or the kids that we work with or the families we work with to teach me. It's my job, proactively, to go and learn now so that I can actually come to these conversations listening and not relying on you to teach me. It's now you listening to what's the act. And that can frustrate people because it's a slower process, but it's a more real process, I think, is acknowledging where you need to still learn.
Jackie - 00:31:08:
Definitely. And back to that inclusive leader that we were talking about. Authenticity is also so important as a characteristic of inclusive leadership. So absolutely. Ruth, what are some of the mistakes companies make around inclusion that are shared in your report, how to Create an Inclusive Culture?
Sure. It's interesting. I think there's a first step, a very initial step, which is looking at how are we actually measuring disability in the workplace? Have we asked the question about disability? Have we created the safe place to talk about disability in the workplace and that people can then self identify? Because there's still a huge group of people who would never self identify according to them. So what does that look like? Because then we're not actually getting information about how many people are in the workplace with disability. So there's a measuring piece, there's a naming piece. Let's name it. There's a measuring piece and then there's a goal setting piece around. Well, how are we making sure this is part of our DEI strategy, that this is something important? Are we setting up employee resource groups in companies that are focused on disability so that A, people can either identify as someone with a disability or they can be an ally to those with disabilities? Does that ERG or employee resource group have senior executive support so that it's taken seriously at the senior levels? Does it have a budget so that they can do activities and bring in speakers? Oftentimes companies bring in outside speakers like me so that they can start the conversation, because there's still stigma and stereotypes around disability where people don't want to talk about it. Even allies say, if I join that disability group, that means someone's going to think I have one. Okay, well, what does that look? What does that mean? So how are we naming it in a company? How are we owning it? How are we measuring it? I think those are places where I've seen companies struggle with those pieces of it.
Jackie - 00:33:21:
Absolutely. It's so important to think about inclusion and what that means. Right. And so often we're very as leaders because this is not a concept or a practice that we've had consistently or that we've been taught as we enter into leadership, you don't get a class on inclusion right before you jump into that role. And so what does that mean? How do we think about that holistically and it's so important. Ruth, let's talk about your TEDx. When I stopped hiding, I found freedom. Tell us a little about the message that you shared there.
Ruth - 00:34:08:
Sure. It was really the precursor to my book. It was this idea that hiding is exhausting, hiding is lonely. We do it for reasons that either we've sent ourselves messages about something that's different about us. And so I introduce the concept of hiding and how I hid. I use my hand, Jackie, as a tool to talk about this idea, this concept of hiding and unhiding. And so in the TEDx I shared with people, the first thing I say is because I think when we talk about diversity, we often have an image of what diversity means. And so I talk about it, and I use a checklist. I said, I'm white, I'm female. I'm she series pronouns. I'm heterosexual. I am not who you typically think of when you think of diversity. And that's okay because for much of my life, I didn't want to be seen as different. And I then share the examples of how disability can enter that conversation of diversity. And then I share the part of how I learned to unhide. And by unhiding, I gained freedom. I got my life back. I experienced joy again, because, again, hiding can be exhausting. It can be lonely, it can be time consuming because you're constantly worried it's a little bit jackie like lying. You know, when you tell a friend you can't meet them out for dinner one night and you have to come up with an excuse, so you're like, oh, I was sick, I can't come. And then they ask you the next day, how are you feeling? So now you add on to the lie and you're like, yeah, I'm feeling a little bit better. And then they see you a few weeks later and they ask you about it. And then you keep yourself in a pattern of lying. And even though it feels like white lies, that's a little bit like hiding, because what happens in hiding is it gets harder to unhide the more that you hide. And so I share with people that journey of how I hid, how I unhid, and still the assumptions that we also make around disability, A, having it not included in the diversity conversation often, and the assumption, even though I'm not hiding, the assumptions people make about us and our abilities without even asking. And I think that happens to people with disabilities all the time.
Jackie - 00:36:38:
Absolutely. I'm glad you mentioned assumptions, because we do make assumptions about people with no information about who they are, what they're capable of, and that's the wrong way to approach it. We need to have more conversations and get to know people a little bit better because it's our natural inclination to just, oh, I know who this person is. Even though you've not met them yet, right?
Ruth - 00:37:12:
To fill in gaps, that's our natural brain thing, is to fill in gaps. I mean, that's what unconscious bias really teaches us, right, is that we fill in gaps about things that because of either knowledge we have, or because that would make sense to what I would do if I were in that situation. We fill it in, even to the .1 of the things that happened during I took a sabbatical and I went to Belize and this is in my TED Talk, is I went zip-lining and I show up and have you ever been zip-lining Jackie?
Jackie - 00:37:44:
I have, actually, pretty recently. A friend talked me into it and terrified.
Ruth - 00:37:52:
I loved it and I wanted to do it, and I was all in. And so you know how they harness you up into that harness and they put a belt on you? Well, I remember having a friend who said she went zip-lining, and she said, Just remember, get those gloves with the extra padding. Like, make sure your gloves have padding, because you hold on, and you want to make sure that it doesn't rip through, because hers was starting to rip through when she went zip-lining. And so I got to the zip line group, and I noticed everyone I got harnessed in, and I noticed everyone around me had these orange gloves, and I didn't. And so I called the guide over, and I said, oh, I think because I was last, you forgot to put my gloves on. And he said, oh, yeah, no, you'll be going on the back of a buddy. You don't need the gloves. Now, I knew what he meant because he had seen my hand. And so I said, oh, no. I came here for the same experience as everyone else. Like, I water ski. I kayak. I do everything. So, no, I want the gloves. And he made an assumption about my ability, right. Without asking me what I could handle.
Jackie - 00:39:02:
Ruth - 00:39:02:
Luckily, there was another guide there who came over and heard this, and he said, what's going on? And I told him. He said, oh, well, you actually only need one hand to zip line, and that's for the break. He said, yeah, you'll be fine. Here's your gloves. What that taught me was, again, just like we're talking about, we make assumptions about people thinking we're helping sometimes. Like, he didn't do it to be mean, right. He did because he thought he's being helpful, and, oh, we won't have to deal with this. We'll just give you I figured it out for you. People with disabilities figure things out more often than you know, and we've spent a lifetime doing that. And so sometimes we just need to ask people, how can I best support you? Here's the situation. Give me the ground rules. Tell me what the situation is, and then I can help make the decision, because I know myself of what I'm capable of and what I'm not capable of.
Jackie - 00:39:59:
Ruth - 00:40:00:
And that's it. It was so simple. But again, we do that with people with disabilities, both visible and invisible. We do it with every lane of diversity. We make assumptions about people's ability without asking and checking in.
Jackie - 00:40:13:
That's exactly right. And, Ruth, just to share a similar story, I have a friend who's blind, and we had a meeting, and then he had walked out and was walking to his wife was picking him up in the car, but there were three or four steps that he had to go down. And I'm watching him out the window, and I'm like, Should I help him down the steps? And then it hit me. This guy climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. He does not need me to help him down the steps, right? But we do that, and we have to stop and say, okay, hold on. Right. I'm making assumptions about another person. And it was at that moment that you realize that that still comes back and you still make those assumptions, and you've got to slow it down for yourself and stop and say, wait a second, let me inquire here, right. Let me find out how I can be supportive, as you said earlier. And in that case, I didn't need to do anything.
Ruth - 00:41:25:
Right, but yet you filled in the gap. Oh, I should help, right. At first, before slowing down is such an important part of it. And that's where, even in workplaces, again, we focus so much on performance and productivity that we forget about asking people what's going on and if they need support, like slowing down and saying people have a whole life before. They get to work. They have a whole life during work and they have a whole life after work. And we forget about those pieces of what else is going on in someone's world. And again, not that we need to create workplaces that are therapy sessions, but that we slow down to realize that to get the best out of people, we may need to ask them where they need support.
Jackie - 00:42:10:
Absolutely. Ruth, I love the unofficial details on your website about your favorite color and where you've traveled and those small little pieces that normally it would take someone a long time to get to know. Why did you put that out there? And how can it benefit us to be our full and authentic selves? And then additionally, as leaders, how do we support that freedom for our employees?
Ruth - 00:42:39:
Yeah, well, I think as I talk about unhiding and I'm asking other people to join me in this movement of unhiding, how could I not unhide myself? How could I not share details in addition to, yes, the limb difference, disability, part of myself? But what else do you need to know? Because there's nothing better than getting to know someone. The small details of them, whether it's I love travel or you know what, I go to bed early some nights. I'm a morning person. I like to get up. I prefer Fresca over Coca Cola. You get to know pieces of me. So how could I ask others to share those small pieces of themselves if I'm not willing to do it myself? And I think that's what's going to really create this movement is how do we create space, even with the small details? Because when we start to unhide, Jackie, we create connection with people. When we unhide, we create connection.
Jackie - 00:43:38:
Absolutely right, Ruth. And I was just going to say that it does create connection because there are so many things that when we think about people, very often we say one, two, three things, right? Whether it's part of the person's identity or what their role is or whatever. But there are so many little details and ways that we can say, oh, I do that, or I like that, or we share that in common. And if we did that more, I think we'd be able to really recognize each other's humanity a little more and move away from those assumptions and really just see each other as people that we have more in common with than we think.
Ruth - 00:44:20:
You're absolutely right, because the fact that I put out there that I love to travel allows you to say, oh, I love to travel too. Where have you traveled? And then we start a connection in a conversation. Or you may say, I love to stay home. So we now know that that's different. I'm not going to bore you with all the details of my travel, but are there other places that we connect? Right.
Jackie - 00:44:41:
Ruth - 00:44:42:
So, yeah, it's points of connection that's what I'm hiding and sharing details is about.
Jackie - 00:44:46:
I love it. Ruth, what message would you want to leave with our listeners today? And I've enjoyed this conversation so much.
Ruth - 00:44:56:
Yeah, there's so many and one I can share. Even just in talking to you in this conversation. I think the big message is that the key to connection is unhiding. And so how do we continue to build that out? I also think if I can add a second message, is let's look beyond the checkbox of how we think about diversity and include disability as part of that lens. Because as we've talked about disability, it doesn't matter what age you are, it doesn't matter what race, what gender, what sexual orientation, you will either be born with a disability or acquire one at some point in your life, or you'll be taking care of somebody with a disability. And so it affects us all. And so how do we include disability and expand the conversation around diversity?
Jackie - 00:45:46:
Absolutely. Ruth, how can people learn more about you, get your book, stay in touch with you?
Ruth - 00:45:53:
Yeah, the book is super exciting. So the book is on Amazon, Jackie. It's in the form of print, it's in Kindle and it's on audiobook. So it's very fully inclusive to all forms. If you like to read things and hold books in person, I guess it's the best way to say it. If you like to go online and listen or even read online, it's available that way, so it's totally inclusive. It's called single handedly learning to unhide and embrace connection. As you mentioned, I have a TEDx Talks that is on YouTube. It's also on the TED Channel. I spend a lot of my time on LinkedIn and connecting with people on LinkedIn. So I encourage your listeners to think about connecting with me and seeing and joining the conversation there. And then I have a website, so that's a place, ruthrathblott.com, where people can also engage. And part of what I'm building out is a space for people to share their stories of hiding and unhiding, because that's truly my next book, is a space of how do we create a place where people can share where they felt like they had to hide? And what about the triumphant journeys of unhiding?
Jackie - 00:47:08:
Ruth, thank you so much. I've enjoyed every moment of this conversation, and you've provided so many amazing insights on disability, on unhiding, on being yourself, and I appreciate your time today. I enjoyed it.
Thank you so much. I knew it was going to be a great conversation just because of what you're doing, Jackie, and amplifying this message of diversity. So thank you, seriously.
Jackie - 00:47:42:
Thanks for joining me for this episode. Please take a moment to subscribe and review this podcast and share this episode with a friend. Become a part of our community on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. This show was edited and produced by Earfluence. I'm Jackie Ferguson. Join us for our next episode of Diversity Beyond the Checkbox. Take care of yourself and each other.
Join us as we sit down with Ruth Rathblott, an award-winning CEO, TEDx and inspirational speaker, and limb difference advocate, to discuss her inspiring journey of overcoming challenges and embracing her uniqueness. Ruth shares how she learned to unhide and live authentically after hiding her missing left hand for 25 years. As a passionate advocate for creating inclusion for all, Ruth speaks on the gifts of being unique and the power of leveraging your individuality. In this episode, we explore the importance of including disability in the diversity conversation, the assumptions people make about abilities without asking, and the power of unhiding to create connections. If you feel the need to hide—and unhide—something, this episode is for you.
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