Show Up and Be Real with Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen
In Episode 9, we talk inclusion riders, the importance of pronouns, and how all of us can better support folks from marginalized communities.
If there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s that we’ve got to stick together—and that means supporting and centering the voices of folks with less opportunity and privilege than us. In this episode, we talk with designer and educator Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen about how listening, and finding community, can help us do just that. They also share how parenting shaped their career path, what it was like to come out at work, and why they see allyship as something we practice, not something we have. Listen up.
If I show up at work as myself, then I’m in a state of being in my greatest power. And I think if you can find a workplace where they want you to be there in your greatest power, then like, yeah, show up. This is how you do it.
—Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen, designer and educator
Here’s what we get into—and of course, there’s a full transcript, too.
If you didn’t catch the Oscars, don’t worry—we start the show by filling you in on our favorite parts. Of note:
- (Ahem) Janelle Monáe’s pantsuit (photo)
- Jordan Peele’s win for Get Out and the amazing fan art he posts on Instagram
- Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech mentioning inclusion riders (hell yeah)…
…which we go on to explore:
- Did you know Justin Bieber requires that his dressing room be filled with carnations? Riders can be wild.
- More important: Nicole Sanchez writes about taking inclusion riders beyond Hollywood and into fields like tech—and apply them to everything from speaking gigs to job offers. Yep.
- We also touch on Lara Hogan’s wonderful piece about applying inclusiveness to your hiring process, the Enterprise UX Conference’s journey through inclusive programming, how the Design & Content Conference put together a diverse conference production team, and Women Talk Design’s mission to empower organizers to create more diverse events.
Interview: Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen
It’s not hyperbole to say it was an honor and a pleasure to talk with UX designer and educator Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen. Stevie tells us about the causes that drive them, establishing a career in design, navigating coming out as queer, and what it really means to practice allyship. We talk about:
- Where Stevie lives in Vancouver, which is the unceded land of the Coast Salish people, particularly the Squamish, the Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.
- Stevie’s work with Out in Schools, a program that engages students on issues of homophobia, transphobia, and bullying.
- How having a child while establishing a career—and then making choices about your career and your future—become intertwined in a way you never expected.
- What it means to realize you’re queer at 27—and what happens next.
- How we can better support marginalized people by practicing ongoing allyship, and provide safer spaces for those communities. (More on the idea of practicing allyship from Mariame Kaba.)
- Demystifying and sharing pronouns—and deconstructing the hard-coded way we think about each other.
We end the show with a little self-love and high-five because, fuck yeah!—we made the New & Noteworthy list on Apple Podcasts! AND it reminds us of all the amazing women-hosted podcasts we listen to and love—including a show you should definitely check out, called Good As Hell hosted by Lizzo.
This episode of NYG is brought to you by:
WordPress—the place to build your personal blog, business site, or anything else you want on the web. WordPress helps others find you, remember you, and connect with you.
Katel LeDû This episode of No, You Go is brought to you by Shopify, the leading global commerce platform for entrepreneurs. And did you know they’re growing? If you want to work with a diverse, passionate team that likes to get shit done, then you should talk to Shopify. The best part: they don’t just want you to apply to them, they want to apply to you. So visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re all about.
Jenn Lukas Hey! And welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.
KL I’m Katel LeDû.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher.
SWB I’m so excited today to talk about one of my favorite topics: inclusion. And, more specifically, we’re going to talk about how people like me, like all of us, can step up and make an impact for underrepresented groups in any field. To help us out, we sat down with a friend of mine, Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen, to learn more about what real inclusion can look like. But, first up, did you all watch the Oscars last week?
KL Uh, I did, and I have a few favorite things I kind of want to share because, first of all — you didn’t have to watch it just to see all the pictures that come out of it but Janelle Monáe’s fire red, like military-inspired pant suit was phenomenal.
SWB She looked amazing.
KL She looked amazing. I also would really like to make a very genuine request to Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph to run for presidents ASAP.
SWB Like, co-presidents?
KL Like, yeah, absolutely and then, I mean, to top it all off: Jordan Peele won for best screenplay for Get Out, which is just fucking so awesome. I saw that movie and I was so obsessed, I loved it so much that I started following Jordan Peele on Instagram, and he posts a lot of Get Out fan art, it is absolutely worth following. It’s magical.
JL I loved that movie.
KL It was so good.
JL Yeah. Um, also, I love this pantsuit. I just Googled it.
SWB Get on the internet right now! “Janelle Monáe Oscars pantsuit.” The cape portion of it or whatever that kind of swoopy back is is amazing! So I loved that she really made it her own. Like it was not the kind of look that not just other women were wearing but that, like, anybody was wearing. But it also felt so completely Oscars. Right? Like it felt like she had the whole vibe — fantastic. Ok. So we can keep talking about the Oscars which I also did not actually watch. Uh I like to look at outfit photos later. But, instead, what I was hoping we could talk a little bit about was the story that came out about Frances McDormand and what she said at the end of her speech. She said something about how she wanted to leave the audience with two words and those words were “inclusion rider” So Nicole Sanchez wrote this piece that Jenn actually sent around to all of us, that was about what inclusion rider means in tech or what they could mean in tech. So Nicole is awesome. She is a diversity consultant who runs a company called Vaya Consulting. So she spent a long time looking at diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. And she wrote this piece where she talked about where inclusion riders come from and what they mean. So she credits Dr. Stacy Smith at USC for originally coming up with this concept, and says that it comes from diversifying talent in the media. And the concept is kind of pretty simple, right? It’s like: if you take a rider, which you may have heard about from the music industry—
JL So a rider is like what you request if you are going to be performing somewhere. And it could be something like, “I need to have sparkling water, or I need to have a soundcheck of two hours before I’m going to go on.” It could be—
KL A fancy rug.
JL Or a fancy rug. It could be all these things, you know, maybe you want to make sure that you’re going to have some sort of food. Or in the famous case of Van Halen, you might say, “I demand there be no brown M&Ms.” Which really wasn’t a demand that they needed, they stuck that in their rider to make sure that it was actually being read. So it was one of those things where if they got to a venue and they saw that there was no brown M&Ms, then that means that someone actually read the rider, and the requests that they were going to do, and that they were going to have a good show.
KL Paying attention. I mean it matters.
JL That’s why Justin Bieber requests that his hotel room is decked out in carnations of a specific color pattern — I’m not making this up!
KL I told you! It’s—
SWB Ok so, so the Bieber rider is not also what we want to talk about tonight. Although we could. Um instead I mean I really like the way that this concept applies to other facets of life. So what Frances was talking about at the Oscars was like, “Ok. If you are an in-demand name in Hollywood, you have an opportunity, in your contracts, to stipulate that the people who are working on the set, and the people who are working with you, um are coming from diverse backgrounds. You have this, you know, you have the opportunity to say that you want to make sure that they’re being paid fairly. You have an opportunity to make some demands that might actually be relatively small in comparison to what you could be getting paid if you’re a big star, but are really, really huge for people who aren’t you.” And so, what Nicole talks about in her article is really applying that other places like, let’s say, a tech conference. Like, if you’re an in-demand speaker, you also have a lot of power. And you can say, “I would love to speak at your event, but I’m going to need you to do some shit for me first.” And getting really specific about what you expect to make sure that that event is inclusive and welcoming to people who are not in demand like you are.
KL Yeah, I really like what Nicole wrote because it made it really obvious and seemed really reasonable to have this filter out into a lot of different areas, right? And, like you were saying, you might not be a speaker who’s super in-demand, you might just be starting out. But I think a lot of it is just knowing that it’s very fair and totally appropriate to ask questions about the thing that you’re about to sign up to do.
SWB Totally! That reminds me of what Erika Hall talked about when we interviewed her which is like the importance of asking questions and the power of asking questions. I have been thinking about this a lot and I talked about this a little bit actually on Twitter today. Like, one of the things that I’ve started doing is when I’m asked to speak at conferences which, you know, I’ve written some books, and I’ve done a lot of speaking. So I do get asked which is great but I’ve started asking some questions back and I try to make them pretty consistent, across the board, because I find if I ask the same stuff over and over, I’m more comfortable asking and it also feels a little less weird, like it’s not a special standard, it’s just my standard. And so I have a few things that I would say are kind of in my rider, or at least like, they’re in my Go/No Go [chuckling] kind of file, right? Like I won’t go to your event if you don’t answer these questions in a way that I can live with. So it’s things like, you know, for me I always ask like, “Does your event have a code of conduct?” That’s something that’s on Nicole’s list too. But I also ask things like, “What are you doing to ensure that your event has a diverse lineup?” And I ask it that way specifically because I want to hear how people think about it. And if they tell me things like, “Well, we just want to have the best speakers.” Then that’s a big red flag for me because I question, “Well, how do you know you have the best speakers? ‘Best’ according to whom? According to like people you already knew? People your Twitter connections already knew?” You know it’s like it brings up a lot for me. Or at least it’s an opportunity to have a conversation with them. And depending on how that conversation goes, that can tell me a lot about whether I’m interested in coming there, and also it’ll tell me whether I’m interested in investing time and helping them identify speakers they hadn’t heard about, which I’m super happy to do if I feel confident that, you know, if I recommend a speaker who is from a more marginalized group, who’s maybe less experienced than I am, to go to an event, I don’t want that person to be treated poorly. I want to make sure that I’m sending them to an event where somebody’s going to take them seriously. So I feel like by having those conversations, it gives me a chance to feel out how much somebody’s thought about this, how open they are to change, and how willing they are to kind of put in work. Because it is. It takes work, right? Just like we talked about on an earlier episode: it takes work to think about, you know, not centering all your events on drinking, which is a really answer. It takes worth to think about something like onsite childcare but like every single detail you do as an event planner is work and I want them to think about this as an important piece of their job.
KL Yeah, I mean, you just said that you have an opportunity to do this and I would almost say that established folks, like yourself, I imagine feel like they have a — an obligation to.
SWB Absolutely. I don’t know that everybody does. I wish more people who felt like they had some sway — and I, you know, I have like some level of sway. There’s people who — who are like much more in demand and who make a lot of money speaking in our field. And I think that they have a huge responsibility. But I definitely, 100 percent like I — yes, I think of that as an opportunity in the sense of like, I’m glad to have the opportunity. But 100 percent it is an obligation and it is a responsibility.
JL Yeah, um I’ve always did a similar thing to you, Sara, where I had a list of a set of questions that I asked every conference opportunity that came up and, you know, like you’re saying, it helps when you have the standard because then you can send an email back that’s like, “This is what I ask all my conferences. No matter what.” And I wrote a post about this awhile back, mine were focused a little bit more about seeing if they — if speakers were paid, and one of the things that I really like to ask is, “What is the cost of the conference? And how many attendees do you expect?” And then afterwards I would say, “What is your speaker fee?” To make sure that then, you know, if a conference will write back, “Oh our conference cost 12 hundred dollars, we’re expecting, you know, a thousand, 2,000, 5,000 people and then the speaker fee is zero, right?
KL Then that math is wrong!
SWB That math speaks for itself, right? Like it’s like, “Mmm, hmm, how do you like the way those numbers look on the page?” Right.
JL Not — not too great um so I think it’s really important, you know, for — to realize too and like it’s a mix of educating also, where I think some people never— never thought about that. And I’m not saying that that’s ok. But like it is — then I become, “Well, here are these questions and why I’m asking them because it’s not ok.”
SWB Yeah, I mean I wish that everybody would have thought about this by now. I kind of feel like, “C’mon, like you sh— c’mon, you should be thinking about this already.” However, I also accept that that’s not the case and if my goal is to make more people aware, and hope that more people come along with me on this particular journey, then I do feel like part part of it — being able to do something than education is ok and important. I don’t expect everybody to do that, in all circumstances, but I feel like I have enough like sort of comfort and confidence of where I am that I— I can do that. And I think that’s a service to — I’m not so much worried about doing it as a service to the conference organizer, I think that’s like a side benefit. I think about that as a service to the industry, at large, and to the people who need that information to be more widespread.
JL Completely. And, you know, I would say that, as a speaker, I did this but as an attendee I’ve asked for things too. And so I feel like people should feel empowered to ask questions as an attendee also, you know, “Will you have a vegan meal?” “Will you have a vegetarian meal?” And that’s something that I used to ask a lot um you know, “Is there a place to nurse?” Or “Is there a place to pump?” And like, “What sort of facilities will be available?” And, as an attendee, someone who’s paying for a conference, you should definitely feel empowered. I mean as a speaker, you should too, that wasn’t taking away from that. But you should definitely feel empowered to write the organizers and make sure that they will have these things available to you also.
SWB And I’m also deeply suspect of any event that makes you feel bad for having— like if some event makes you feel bad because you ask for a vegan meal or you ask for a nursing room, like, “I’m sorry. What the actual fuck?” It’s one thing for them not to necessarily be able to meet every need, that’s like a different conversation. But I think if somebody comes to you with a need, and you write them off, or you minimize it, or you pretend like it doesn’t matter. Like, I don’t want to go that event. And I don’t want — I don’t want those people to have my money, or for them to use like my face and my talk to promote their event.
SWB Um so there were some things though on Nicole’s list that I’d never thought about before that I’m super glad to have heard about now. So for example, I had not thought about — and I feel silly not having thought about it but I never thought about asking about the people who are working the event. So like the laborers, the people who are doing setup and takedown, the people who are doing food, like how are they being paid? She specifically mentioned, you know, what are the labor conditions, are they part of a union? I think there’s probably a whole lot of different questions you might ask depending on your particular interests or your particular kind of like stance but I think asking about the welfare and the support of the people who are not kind of seen as like part of the conference, but are, in fact, like what makes the conference run. Like that’s a huge area that I’m going to be thinking more about.
KL And the fact that, you know, she points out, is there — is there a process for intake of these kinds of requests, or like these kinds of questions, right? For like just handling that and — and talking about them.
JL So I think the conversation that keeps coming up again and again, from conference organizers saying, “How do I make this happen? How do I diversify my lineups? How do I diversify my speakers?” And I think some people have provided solutions and ideas for this. An article I read recently on Medium was about the Enterprise UX Conference which um they’ve been working on this for four years and every year have slowly iterated on how they’ve been handling things. And I think one of the things that is really great about that is they didn’t just give up after year one. They’re like, “Well, I don’t know how to do it.” Is that they’ve been slowly trying to improve their process and they wrote about this and they were saying that one of the things they did was make sure to have different people, besides three white men, choosing the lineup and being in charge of the themes. And as soon as they started expanding from that, then so did their speaker lineup.
SWB You know one of my favorite conferences, Design and Content, actually a conference that Stevie, our guest today, is going to MC this year, they’ve done a really similar thing where they have a selection committee and what they specifically did is they intentionally went out and identified people from a bunch of different backgrounds and then they paid them for their time to be on that committee. And it dramatically changed how they come up with who’s going to be on the roster for the year. And they’ve written about it publically, we’ll put that in the show notes, because I think that they have a process that is — is something that other people can follow. And, you know, part of it came out of their first year. They had really good intentions. They went out and thought about, you know, “You know let’s make sure we have a good, diverse lineup. Let’s ask some people who we’ve never seen before, and some new faces, et cetera.” And an attendee called them out for it at the event and said you know, “This lineup is really white.” And they had to take a step back and be like, “Yeah, it is.” And sit with that. Right? And figure out what to do about that. And I think that that’s hard but I think that’s one of the responsibilities that we have is to be able to hear those kinds of feedback and say, “Ok I’m going to listen to that and then I’m going to figure out how do I change?” And, you know, and that’s one of the reasons I like to ask these questions I ask, right? Is it’s like, do I get defensiveness? Or do I get somebody who can say, “Yeah, you know, we haven’t that diverse of a lineup in past years. You’re right that’s something we should change. I have some ideas but I would love to hear more,” or whatever it is. But that — that openness is really, really important. So, um, that’s one of the things about Enterprise UX that I think has been great as well is that they’re willing to write about it. Like they’re willing to admit it that it wasn’t great year one! Which is sometimes hard to do, right? You have to be able to look at your work and say like, “Here are the ways that this wasn’t where we wanted to be. And then here’s what we did differently.”
JL Another site that I found interesting was womentalkdesign.com. Their tagline is that they “elevate the best talks about design from women and empowers event organizers with tools, approaches, and information to engage more women speakers.” So this is a neat project because it’s an answer to that question of, “Well, I don’t know where to find these speakers!” And so I really like it because they went out and tackled this specific question that people kept asking.
SWB Yeah, I mean Christina Wodtke who is one of the people who created that site, I know that part of this was born of her frustration. Like, she’s been in the industry a long time, working in tech and in UX. And people would frequently ask her, “Well, where do I find all these diverse speakers?” And now she’s like, “I don’t have to answer that question anymore!” Right? Like she’s like, “They’re out there. You just have to do a little bit of work, to get outside of the bubble that you have,” and then she was like, “Ok, let me go and do some of that work.” And um — and so the result is that it’s like, “Oh! You’re looking for more diverse lineups for your event?” That’s certainly not everybody, by any means, but like if you haven’t at least gone through that, like you’ve done not even the bare minimum.
JL And I— I don’t think inclusiveness just stops at these conferences, right? I mean one of the things that came out recently was Lara Hogan wrote a great article about how to apply inclusiveness to your hiring process, and how to like tackle that, and one of the things that she had was to make sure that you have a diverse group of the team interviewing these candidates, and I think that’s great thing: making sure that it’s not just one group of people that are interviewing all of your candidates as they come in.
SWB And I think it also goes back to some of the same stuff that we talked for like an inclusion rider is that if you are in a position where you feel like you have some choice about the job that you’re taking, which I recognize not everybody is in, but if you’re in that position and you’re thinking about, “I want a place that’s going to give me the most growth opportunity, I want the place that’s going to offer a really good salary package, et cetera, et cetera,” you know, I think that it’s another responsibility to be able to say, “I want to place that is willing to kind of put its money where its mouth is when it comes to being an inclusive environment,” and to ask those same kinds of questions, right? “So what are you doing to increase diversity in your team?” And “What are you doing to support people who come from different backgrounds? And like — what does that look like?”
JL I love this question. I love this so much. Um I think it’s like— as a candidate, as an interviewee, you might be like, “Well, how do I phrase this? How do I make sure that this job is going to be a good job with me?” And I think that’s a great way to phrase it. Um when we interview people, one of the questions I always ask is, um I phrase it as: “Diversity and inclusiveness are really important values to us. What are some important values to you?” And, you know, it’s a very leading question but you’d be surprised at how many people go on some sort of tangent that is, like, “Ah. You know? I want to make sure that I have like — snacks.” No one’s ever said snacks! That’s an exaggeration [sure] but it’s certainly something that’s like, you know, not appropriate for the answer or where I was hoping that they would go.
SWB We talk a lot about sort of how this relates to people who are working in like tech and design fields, but this is the kind of thing that I think is really transferrable to almost any field, right? Like that it’s not really about the industry that you’re in, it’s like if you were working in an industry that is not necessarily perfectly inclusive, which is like, newsflash: probably all of them. Then you know I think that the— the same kind of stuff applies and you can kind of bring some of these same principles and ideas along. So I’m really stoked that we’re talking about inclusion riders, I don’t think it necessarily has to be like a contract in every circumstance, I think it’s much more about how can you apply that concept to whatever it is that you’re doing in your professional and however you’re interacting with people who hold power in your industry.
JL [Sponsor] No, You Go is proud to be supported by wordpress.com. Whether you’d like to build a personal blog, a business site, or both, creating your website on wordpress.com can help others find you, remember you, and connect with you. That’s why nearly 30 percent of all websites run on WordPress. You don’t need experience setting up a website, WordPress guides you through the process from start to finish. And takes care of the technical side. In fact, we use WordPress at No, You Go. WordPress also has 24 hour customer support, which is great because we all have different schedules. Plans start at just four dollars a month. Start building your website today! Go to wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off any new purchase. That’s wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off your brand new website.
Interview: Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen
SWB Our guest today is Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen. I first met Stevie back in the summer of 2015, after I gave a talk at a conference up in Vancouver, and they approached me afterward wanting to chat about my talk, which was very flattering. But more than anything, what I really remember about that conversation was that this person I just met had come to me with so much kind of kindness and generosity, and our conversation felt so uplifting. And over the next few years, I have paid a lot of attention to what Stevie’s been up to and the things that they’re talking about and interested in. And this year, fast forward, Stevie is now going to be the MC of that very event where I met them: the Design & Content Conference. They’re also a UX designer, a design educator who works with youth and teaches in two different university programs, and somebody who’s just really active in their community in Vancouver, and in design in general. I am so excited to welcome Stevie to the show today. Thank you so much for being here.
Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen Thank you for having me. Can I add a moment and just also acknowledge that I am also on unceded Coast Salish territories, and while we may call it Vancouver, it is the unceded land of the Coast Salish people, particularly the Squamish, the Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.
SWB Thank you for doing that. I think that actually sets the tone for this conversation really well because I think one of the things I would love to talk with you more about is sort of the way that you look at your role as a designer in your community and sort of the impact that you have on community and on the way that people from different backgrounds within your community are represented. So can you tell us a little more— how did you get to this place where you start a conversation and you say, “Actually, can we remind ourselves of the indigenous people whose land this is and this land has always been?” Like, what was your process of getting to a place that you were comfortable doing things like that?
STAN Honestly, every time I have these moments where I’m like, “Oh! I need to say something, I should say something, this is the right thing to say,” and it is still really, really hard because I think always makes me uncomfortable not knowing how the other person may respond on the other end. Yeah, these issues are political and they are uncomfortable for people to talk about, hear, or acknowledge. I don’t know if you know what’s happening right now in Canada, but Tina and Coulton were murdered and people don’t talk about it because people don’t care. And so we need to bring these things up even though it’s really hard because people are dying. So that’s my response I guess. When I began to recognize that when we don’t talk about things, people die. And the more personal we make it, the more people who we spend time with who are directly affected by these things, by systemic oppression, the more we recognize the power that we have as individuals when we are in a place where we have to acknowledge these things.
SWB That’s a pretty difficult topic and I think that that’s something pretty challenging to our audience — I mean, you mentioned that it’s hard for people to talk about, I think it’s hard to talk about on a podcast like this where we — where we really do want to talk about, you know, finding some joy even when things are difficult. And I don’t that that means erasing talking about the things that are difficult, by any means, and so, with that in mind, what is your day to day work?
STAN Hmm my day-to-day work probably doesn’t look too different from many people. I’m a parent; I have a five, almost six-year-old, son. And I have shared custody with his father. And so on days when he’s with me, I actually wake up at like 4:30 in the morning, and I wake up, and I shower, and I go to make a matcha latte for myself every morning. And I come out and I answer emails, I try my best to catch up on like Slack, on text messages, on WhatsApp, on Viber, on Signal, on my work email versus my personal email, and um what else is there? Messenger. So that’s kind of normal, I imagine, I think we all have these mornings of having to try to catch up with all that stuff. And then I get him ready for school, take him to school, and it’s a privilege that allows me to do that, and I come back and I work. And so some days that’s with Out in Schools, where I’m talking about queer and gender issues with young people in high schools. And sometimes in elementary schools. And other days it’s going to meet my own clients at their offices. And then other days, it’s staying home um and doing like UX work. So for me that’s everywhere from leading a workshop, like I did this morning, where I’m presenting to clients whatever our ideas are, whatever our proposals are, and then other days I’m heading off to go teach. And then I come home and I try to fit in some yoga somewhere. And pick up my son and then do things with him in the evening, feed him, put him to bed. And do some more work and then go to bed. That’s my day.
SWB I think a lot of our listeners can relate to sort of the juggle and trying to figure out what the right mix of things is in a day and how to have some time for yourself amid everything else. Can you tell us more — like what was your journey into becoming a designer? How did you end up in this sort of life that you’ve crafted for yourself now?
STAN I lucked into it, I think. I remember I was in high school and I had really no real idea about what I wanted to do and somebody came into the school who was an alumni and did a presentation. And she worked in — she worked in marketing for an ad agency. And I just thought her job sounded really cool. I liked that she got to like talk to people and I liked hearing about how she got to like come up with ideas to do things and like sell things to people, which I feel so much like cringey shame about now. But at the time it sounded really interesting. Um so I went into the university and studied communications but partway through my program, I did a certificate in innovative leadership from SFU, Simon Fraser University, and it was an eight-month program where the first four months we did workshops, and the last four months we got to do like a practical project with a local company. And the company that I happened to work with was a leadership development company. And at the end of this project, which was, funnily enough, all about looking at how people within the organization viewed their leadership skills, as opposed to people who are like several levels away from them. How did those people view their executives leadership skills. At the end of the project, the person I’d been working with at this company said, “Oh I noticed you like — maybe had some graphic skills. You know we really need a graphic designer.” And I’m like, “Well, I’m like — I’m taking my first course in design right now.” “Well, that’s great! That’s more knowledge than we have!” And so they hired me and I started off just like making PowerPoints and doing a lot of things in print, working within business development and supporting people people in sales. Packing suitcases. I did a lot of packing suitcases. But along the way I learned a lot about like leadership and leadership models and um when we talk about adult learning, that realm is something that I gained a lot of experience with over six years. And so at the same time I was still in school, had abandoned communications, and had — was fully in design now, and then I went away on an amazing field school and came back and was pregnant! So I took a year off. And I will say this is like — this is an important part of my professional journey, this is an important part of my growth and journey as a person, because having my son changed everything. I’ve always been someone that was really into research. So the moment I got into something, or the moment I found out about something new, I’d like totally geek out and go read every book, watch every movie and documentary, and talk to every person I could find about the thing. Uh I get really excited about new hobbies and interests. So I got really excited about being pregnant, and about birth, and about breastfeeding, um and about being a parent. And when that happened, I began to see the ways in which I had to make really, really clear decisions. So the same way in marketing or in design, you have to have a reason as to why you’re doing something for a certain desired outcome, I knew that I wanted my son, I wanted my child to be happy, and I knew that I wanted him to be really kind, and I knew that I wanted him to be really safe. Like I wanted him to live. Right? Like that’s all I really wanted and I knew that I had to make decisions to support that. And so that was like — we raised him vegan for the first like year because we felt it was important for him to have the choice, right? It was important for him to know that you don’t have to eat animals but you can and that’s your choice. But do you know what you are doing if you are going to that? So he still doesn’t really eat animals. But that’s still something that applied to me in my life. I began to think about like what am I doing? Is this who I want to be? Is this how — what powers do I have as an individual to like make all those things happen for him? And it made me really political. Like all of a sudden, things that I have always had values about like really mattered because I’d made an investment in the future by having him, and I needed to invest in the future. And then I got laid off from my job. The job that I’d had for six years. I was a marketing assistant or a project assistant but I was never actually a designer. And I was feeling a lot of doubt about this and I have a mentor at school, Russell Taylor, who is kind of the father to like so many of us in this design program. And I reached out to him and I said, “Well, I got laid off. I really love design but I have no design skills. I didn’t finish my degree.” And he goes, “Well come back and teach for me. Um like you know this stuff. You’ve taken this course and I like — I feel confident that you’re going to do a good job in this.” And so he brought me back and had me teaching his second year course with him. And then at the same time he was developing a conference that was in its second year. And at this conference, he brought in agencies and different companies to like do talks but also to do interviews. And while I was teaching, I also applied for an interview at this conference, and I came out of the conference and I was offered — I was offered some jobs! My first job in which I would get to call myself a designer. And so, Sara, this is where it kind of comes back around to you because this job was the first job that I gone in to do the interview and really felt like, “This is who I am. And like I don’t know these things. This is what I’m working on. Um please see some potential in me!” Like, “Please take some faith in me because I think I can do this.” Uh and I felt really good about some of the things that I felt were just really natural and inherent to me. And they absolutely said, “Yeah!” Like, “We think you can do this. We think that you can kick it out of the park. I feel confident putting you in front of like our — any client, right from the getgo.” And this was my manager, Robin Ashmore, and so it was the first job where I’m like, “Oh. Ok. Like I can admit that I don’t really know this but I can learn this and I can develop in these areas where I think I’m good.” And part of how he supported me was allowing me to go to that conference DCC, Design & Content, which is how I met Sara! And at this time though I was beginning to get really bitter, um I was beginning to look around and see that we, as designers, have all this potential to build things that really make a difference in the world and really help people, and yet we’re like focused on how to get snacks. Or we’re building technology that is actually enabling violence against marginalized people. So I — even now I tell people that I feel shame around calling myself a designer because as a whole, this industry is causing so much more problems than it is helping and I think so many of us have this power and opportunity to actually do something about it, and we’re afraid to. And we don’t. For whatever reasons. And some people have more ability to do something about it then others and I really do mean this in like ability, privilege, some people have more privilege in order to make change happen. Um but I went to this conference, I went to DCC, I met Sara. I’m like, “Oh!! There’s designers who really do see the same things I see! Who really are concerned about the same things that I’m concerned about.” And there are people who, like you, Sara, who want better things out of tech, who want designers to do better things — the tech industry to do better things. And so I began to look for places in which I could try to do better things and I could try to learn on how to be a better designer. This is where I’m at right now. Like I’m still working on that. I’m still trying to influence and like bring kindness into the world, bring safety into places where I think people need someone to invite them in or to support them while they’re there. So yeah that’s where I am right now.
SWB Well, I am so proud and kind of tearing up a little bit to think that I played even just like a tiny, tiny, little role in your story—
STAN Big role!
SWB —oh gosh! Ok, ok I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t oversell that. I really think like, you know, your work and your what you are bringing to your community is— is big and different than anything that I do. So I definitely don’t want to oversell what I might’ve played a role in. Something that I’m really interested in hearing more about that you mentioned a little bit ago is the work that you’re doing with Out in Schools. So can you tell us a little bit about that organization and how you got involved with them?
STAN Yeah, oh. So I guess one of the key parts of the story that was a huge pivot point in my life, that happened shortly before I met Sara, is that I realized that I was queer. And I like to say that I “realized” because it was something that kind of — it’s always been a part of me. It’s who I am. I am a queer person. But I didn’t have the words for it and I didn’t know that’s what other people were calling it and when this happened, I was 27, I had already had my son, Noah, and I had a cis male partner. And realizing I was queer, finding queer community, making queer friends, really like embracing and exploring what that could mean for me was like so amazing! It sounds so cheesy, but I really did feel like I was born again. And I was also really disappointed and sometimes embarrassed to admit that I was 27. And I think about how I grew up with very conservative parents. I think they’re a little bit more liberal now than they used to be but they are conservative, they’re still very Catholic. I grew up in a very Catholic cishet family. And I was also really protected, care for, loved, I still am. And for them, that meant sheltering me from just sexuality in general. And so that included putting me in an all-girls private school um great school, I mean great academics but it was also an all girls Catholic private school. So we didn’t get sex-ed. And when I was 27, I realized that I was queer and I was so happy about it because I think like being queer is so liberating, and so fun. I really wanted to make it happen — or contribute to a culture where queerness is normalized. And so I found the Queer Film Festival, I met some people there, including some facilitators from Out in Schools, and they became my friends. Jen Sung, in particular, reached out and was like, “Hey! You kind of said that you would love to do this. Were you serious?” And I said, “Yes!” And she goes, “Well! We’re hiring! You should submit an application!” And I submitted an application and became an Out in Schools facilitator. So we’re led by Gavin Somers and Brandon Yan, and we go around to high schools, and elementary schools, and we talk to young people about queer and trans issues using media, like using film. So we watch movies with them, we watch music videos with them and we lead discussions. And it’s interesting in the ways in which like that also ties back into the skill I have around facilitation because that’s part of what I do in my job as a designer. So I get to practice, like, being in front of people, and presenting, and engaging with audiences. Like, in everything that I do, in many places in my life.
SWB That’s such a cool additional piece to your professional profile that I didn’t know about until — you know just now, right? Like you being involved with Out in Schools seems like, in some ways, you know, really different from doing the design work, but it feels very natural, the way that you talk about it all together.
STAN Thanks. It feels really natural to me.
SWB I’m also curious, you know, you mentioned coming out as queer at 27 and sort of realizing to yourself that that was even the case and I know that in that same time period you also started going by different pronouns, and coming out as non-binary, and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about what that was like? And especially what was that like, you know, in the context of work where that seems like maybe it could be a challenging thing to do.
STAN Well, what had happened was that you did this amazing talk and you were really vulnerable and real and talked about how important it was to like create spaces and technologies that allowed and encouraged people to be who they are uh rather than try to force them to fit in any particular box. And I came up to you and I was in tears, I remember this, because I had this name tag and the name tag actually had my name, like “Stevie” was on it, but Stevie’s like — is not my given name. And I was expressing to you, like, “Oh my god, how amazing is it that, yeah the Eventbrite form for the conference was like, shout out to Steve Fisher and Shannon Fisher for recognizing the significance and importance of this. But the conference signup form allowed me to input my name. Like it didn’t ask me for a piece of ID to like prove that that was my name.” And I’m like tearing up now, thinking about it, but yeah that’s like it was the first piece of paper that I wore around my neck that allowed me to identify myself and identify myself to other people as Stevie. And it was in a professional context. And then all the speakers, everybody that I met that weekend like called me Stevie. Like everybody that knows me from that time onwards, calls me Stevie and so it felt so good. I came back and I didn’t immediately do it but from then on, anytime I introduced myself to somebody I was like, “No, Stevie.” Like I’d been doing this previously, as a nickname to personal friends but not professional contacts. And being at Design and Content, meeting people who would use my name eventually I think, a couple weeks later, gave me the confidence to actually casually, jokingly at work say, “Actually! Like all my friends call me Stevie.” And so my co-workers were like, “Do you want us to call you Stevie?” And I’m like, “Yes!!!” And I had another amazing colleague, like Jason Landry, he reached out to me privately on Slack and said, “Hey, I know that you’re going by Stevie.” And like, “Awesome! Stevie’s a great name. I just wanted to check in. Like have your pronouns changed? Like what pronouns would you like me to refer to you as?” So at the time I said, “Oh um like no, like, she/her is fine.” And she/her is great. I just don’t use she/her anymore. Like they/them is super comfortable to me. Like it makes me feel really good. And so I use they/them and eventually like it was people in my team making me feel like welcome. And doing that work of like welcoming me as opposed to me having to step out and be vulnerable is what allowed me to come to work and tell people, “My name is Stevie.” And now like over time I’ve built enough confidence to include it in my email signature. If I meet someone new, I always say, “Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen. My pronouns: they/them/theirs.” So I try to assert myself and I know that from what we tell young people in schools, every time that I do that, I can help somebody else feel more comfortable sharing their pronouns. And as a practice of allyship, that’s the best thing folks can do is share their pronouns.
SWB I love that story so much and I’m so thankful that you had a colleague who reached out to you sort of made it ok for you to say like, “Yeah, actually I prefer to go by different pronouns.” Was that a scary conversation to start to have? Like the first few times you were doing that in these professional settings?
STAN Mm hmm yeah. And I mean, let’s be honest, my team, most of the people on my team are great. They use they/them pronouns. Some people still make mistakes. I think it’s interesting the way in which every time someone new comes onto the team, if I don’t already know them, I have to find a time or an opportunity to, hopefully, quickly get in there and let them know that my pronouns are they/them/theirs before they hear maybe the wrong pronoun from somebody else, or make an assumption, and then I eventually have to awkwardly correct them. But yeah it was initially really hard because I didn’t even understand the — like once I understood how it felt empowering to me, it was hard because there was always a lot of explaining. People like need explanations or they look at me, you know, like, “Wait. What does that mean?” And they like — I think — I think people look at me and they’re like, “Wait. What does that mean for your body parts?”
SWB Which um is — has nothing to do with it at all.
STAN Exactly. But—
SWB It is not an appropriate question for work — like pretty much ever.
STAN Well it’s just like — I don’t think it needs to be even verbally said sometimes, it’s just like people stop and look like the same way. Some folks know — like particularly feminine-presenting folks knows what it looks when someone looks at you and looks you up and down [mm hmm]. I think like queer and trans and non-binary folks, we know what it looks like when you look at us and you’re like, “Mmm,” like, “What’s under your clothes and how do you have sex?”
SWB Which I, you know, I understand that it’s kind of uncomfortable for people when they are first presented with pronoun and gender stuff that they’ve not encountered before and that they don’t understand, and um and then even still, you know, I mean I think I, for example, like I have several friends who would identify as non-binary or who identify as, let’s say they’re trans, and I have tried to unlearn some of that like default gender binary language and it’s hard. And I screw it up. And I screw it up oftentimes when I have, you know it’s like something gets coded in my brain early on, whether it’s an assumption, or whether it’s something where, you know, I have a friend who I met when they presented as male and they, at some point, came out as trans. And they’re a woman. And I sometimes still have like that little mental like kind of hiccup right? That like is about the history that I have with them, and sort of having to shift my thinking, I mean that just is what it is but that that’s up to me, right? Like it’s my job. It’s my job to figure that out. It’s not their job to figure that out. And if I feel weird or if I have to like go through an extra like you know mental circuit in order to make sense of it and make sure that I’m doing it correctly, like, that’s work that is on me to do. And that the more I do that kind of work, the easier it becomes. And that’s kind of like the way that I’ve tried to deal with it but I think it’s — I think it’s something that seeing people like you who are willing to be vulnerable and to say, “Hey, this is who I am.” And to know that you might get reactions that aren’t positive and that aren’t good. I think that that’s — it’s such a gift, I think, to the rest of us, in terms of opening our minds and helping us get to a more inclusive place.
KL I also just want to say that— that you said something, you said the words, “practice of allyship,” and I wrote that — I just wrote that down because I like that so much and I feel like if we can just share that as much as possible, that is — that is such a gem of a thing to think about.
STAN Let me — let me credit that Mariame Kaba who is @prisonculture on Twitter because I heard Mariame — actually I may be pronouncing this wrong: M-A-R-I-A-M-E. I heard her speak on a webinar, which is run by Talila Lewis, TL Lewis, who does not use any pronouns, and this is what they — the whole discussion was about, was about the practice of allyship. That no one gets to say like, “I am an ally! So I am done!” Like it’s not about what this identity, it’s about how do you continue to practice allyship.
KL Exactly. It’s like — it really, truly is a practice. It’s like all things that you, you know, I’m — at least I know for myself that I want to get good at, you know, between yoga, and just being a, you know, a better friend and publisher and coworker. It’s— it really, truly takes practice. And you have to be — you have to be aware of that.
STAN Yeah, and it takes like that, like what you talked about earlier, Sara, that constant, the constant practice and I think when we’re in community with other people, we’re all practicing our allyship to marginalized people, and marginalized communities, there has to be a practice of forgiveness as well. Like grace, for us as individuals, and the practice of forgiveness for each other. Like I wouldn’t know anything I know if somebody didn’t tell me I was wrong if somebody didn’t like — wouldn’t forgive me, and like didn’t cast me out of their life because I made a mistake, but it also has to come from a place of like being willing to sit around and like shut up sometimes.
SWB So as somebody who has gotten more comfortable bringing your whole identity to work, and who has kind of gone through some of those scary parts, what would you tell someone or what advice would you have for somebody who is thinking about some of the same things, about being able to be more of their authentic selves in their professional environments and being able to kind of fuse maybe some of the stuff that they’ve kept personal or private with the way that they present professionally.
STAN Hmm. What would I tell someone? I think the first thing I would want to make sure is that person feels safe. And I know this word like “safe” or “safety” gets thrown around a lot. But, quite honestly, what are your risks and dangers? And what violence may you face if you fully — if you bring yourself fully? And this is me speaking from a position of privilege of where I am able to bring myself to work, where every part of me is at least, at the very least, recognized and acknowledged. And then I would say: surround yourself in community and with allies to support you through it. I don’t think I could do it if I didn’t think — like I don’t think I could show up, assert my name, assert my pronouns, talk about my politics, if I thought that I would be attacked in any way, or punished in any way. And so that — that’s sort of required first. Make sure you’re safe and make sure you have support. And then, like show up and be real. This — it’s, again, cheesy sayings but I was tweeting, I tweeted about it this morning. But this idea of like nobody — I don’t know anything other than my own experience and I have so little that I know, but all I know is like myself. And so if I show up at work as myself, then I’m in a state of being in my greatest power. And I think if you can find a workplace where they want you to be there in your greatest power, then like, yeah, show up. This is how you do it.
KL I love that.
STAN Does that help?
SWB That’s so great. That is so great. Yeah. So, very last question then is you mentioned safety and the importance for people who are going to do something vulnerable, whether that’s you know coming out at work or anything else, to feel like they have some sense of safety. So what can listeners do who feel like they can — they have some power in their workplace or in the organizations they’re part of, to help foster that safety for people. Like what are some of the ways that we can ensure that more of the people that we work with feel safe around us?
STAN Well I think for people of marginalized identities, yeah, showing up so that you can be that example, so that you can be another person who like makes someone feel safe because you see someone who’s similar to you. That’s one way. But if you aren’t, like if you are someone who is in a position of privilege and power, gosh, like: not punishing people. How do you make — how do you make that space? Inviting it? Educating yourself? Like and making it — like I’ll bring it back to the beginning: like making it personal. I think if you genuinely care about the people in your company, then these are things worth learning about and these are things worth like not just acknowledging and recognizing and forgiving, for some reason, like if you think it’s wrong and you “forgive” them for this thing. Like get past that point where you can love them for that.
STAN I think that’s it.
SWB I have a pretty important Fuck Yeah tonight. It’s the Fuck Yeah to the um real champagne that Katel brought over today.
KL Uh we have to take this moment to say a little “Fuck yeah” to ourselves because we made it onto the New and Noteworthy in Apple Podcasts and I’m really excited because we are a little, indie podcast that we started because we just really wanted to talk to each other and see where this went and, I’m psyched.
SWB We started talking a while back about how much we were really hoping we could get onto the New and Noteworthy list because it’s a really good way to get new audience, and have people kind of be aware of you, plus it just feels good to know that what you’re doing is working. And, when I started looking at the other shows that were on there, almost all of them were supported by a bigger brand. It was like a podcast coming from Gimlet, or a podcast coming from Slate, or some other organization that was backing them and funding them, and so it’s a kind of a big deal to have a podcast like this that’s completely independently run be able to make it onto that list. Or at least, it feels like a big deal to me.
JL Fuck yeah! It’s a big deal!
KL Feels like a huge deal.
SWB And I was also thinking about how much of a big deal to see a podcast ran by women, and more podcast run by women coming out because I feel like for a long time, there were just so few. I remember seeing a stat the other day that was like something like 70 percent of podcasts are run by men. And I don’t know if that’s true. Like it wasn’t the kind of stat that I felt like I could easily back up. But it is something that’s talked about quite a lot in the industry is just how male-dominated podcasting is. And how almost all of the biggest name podcasts are run by men. And, you know, there’s some really great podcasts run by men. It’s not like there aren’t but like man, there are so many interesting women doing interesting things. And I would love to hear from more of them. And, like, that’s what we’re doing.
JL Yeah! I mean, also, fuck yeah women’s history month! And with that in mind I just started looking — I went a little Google-wild again and I just started looking at all these like, you know there’s all these lists, it’s the internet; of course there’s lists. But I just started looking into more like women-run podcasts and I just started going through them all — and I just — I have so many queued up right now. I’m so excited to listen to them all because I feel like, again, the more we support each other as women podcasters, the more that we get our — like we share our message! And we keep listening to each other and raising each other up! So it’s been so fun to try to listen to some of these other podcasts also. Katel, I know that you have been like super into one recently.
KL Yeah, I gotta be honest: I’m actively looking for more podcasts that are just basically more diverse voices. And one that I really like lately is by a music artist that I just really love, her name is Lizzo. And if you don’t know her, just Spotify that shit immediately because it will make you feel good and it’s totally worth it. But she has a new podcast, that I think launched like right around the same time ours did, which is so cool, and it’s on Spotify. She describes it as, “A safe space for the baddest women in music.” She’s an alternative rapper, she sits down with iconic queens and rising stars and basically sets the record straight on making a name in a very male-dominated world in music. So I just love that. I love her. I’m so happy that I get to hear her not only sing but also talk and talk with other women.
JL What’s the podcast called?
KL Sorry, I should’ve said that! It’s called Good As Hell which is also just a really fucking good name. And yeah it’s really inspiring and you should take a listen.
JL Maybe we could do a crossover episode: No, You Good.
KL That would be amazing!
SWB I love this whole concept because it feels like a sister podcast to No, You Go. Because I think that that’s really like — similar stuff we’re trying to do. Obviously we don’t have as many connections in music but if any, like, musical stars want to be on our show, that’s great.
JL Kesha! [Ahem.]
SWB Kesha is definitely like Jen’s number one dream guest. She’s literally on a spreadsheet right now. But I think that — that’s a lot of the same stuff that we’re trying to talk about, right? It’s like who are the most badass women and non-binary people we have encountered in our professional lives who are doing great things and who have something to say to the world? And how can we talk about ways to elevate their voices and make spaces that are more inclusive? So fuck yeah to women-run podcasts.
JL Fuck yeah!
KL Fuck yeah on New and Noteworthy.
JL Well, that’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go! The show about being ambitious— and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen for being our guest today. If you like what you’ve been hearing on our podcast, we would love it if you subscribed and rated us on Apple Podcast where we’ve been New and Noteworthy! And fuck yeah! New and Noteworthy! Deserved! Your support really helps us spread the word. We’ll be back next week with another great guest.