Translator delivers what it describes as “the world’s most advanced Diversity & Inclusion training system for corporations, schools, and non-profits.” The Certified LGBTBE® has been in operation since 2016.
nglccNY Media & Communications Chair Cindi Creager had a chance to speak with Translator CEO & Founder Natalie J. Egan, who shared inspiring insights about why she founded the business, in an interview for nglccNY about how it is helping Fortune 500 companies and the importance of certification.
Cindi: Tell me a little bit about Translator.
Natalie: At a high level, we build diversity and inclusion software for corporations, schools, and nonprofits. This whole experience is based on my transition. I have a unique perspective, having built another company in my former identity. I previously identified as a man, and now I’m building this company as a trans woman, and it’s really about creating empathy at scale. The thesis behind the company is how do we use technology to spread empathy and equality, and that’s the long-term big company purpose and vision. But at a more tactical level, we’re helping companies create a more diverse and inclusive work environment. There’s a crawl-walk-run approach. I always tell people we’re playing a long game. We’re not here to just sell a product today. We’re here to create and instigate great change and work with corporations who have a significant amount of influence and a vested interest in doing so.
More and more companies are realizing this is the right thing to do, but, ultimately, it comes down to employee engagement and retention. And those are the two levers that our clients use in order to justify the investment into a product like ours because we’re very unique in that capacity. There’s not a lot of diversity and inclusion technology out there and there’s very little that actually focuses on changing the culture of an organization, improving the culture of an organization, to become more authentic and transparent and open and really accepting of all people, regardless of your experience and your background. There are some people that have this perspective that this an LGBT-focused product or a transgender-focused product, but it’s really about anyone outside the center of power, anyone in a marginalized experience. How do we take the people at the center of power and turn them into stronger allies to really level the playing field?
And that’s the thesis behind the technology, and we believe that equality for all is actually possible, but it’s only possible through technology. And so that gets to our long-term vision. But corporations today have no tools, they have no technology, they have no processes, they have no metrics around diversity and inclusion. It’s all gut feel. There’s no real quantitative and qualitative ways of measuring the impact of diversity and inclusion and so we show up as this opportunity to help formalize it and put structure and data around it inside of an organization.
Cindi: Can you give me an example of the type of corporation that could benefit from your service?
Natalie: The top three types of organizations we’re working with, are banks, technology companies, and professional services organizations, in that order. Banks have the highest amount of demand, high tech companies are second, and then professional service organizations are third. They’re doing all these things internally. They’re doing lots of trainings. They’re doing lots of events. They’re holding courageous conversations. That’s become a buzz phrase. They’re doing all these things, but they have no way of measuring them, and our technology is designed to help them do those things, but now measure them.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a diversity and inclusion training, but they’re highly reliant on exercises, manual exercises that you have to do with pieces of paper and pencils and sticky notes, and there’s all these exercises where it’s like, if I’m the facilitator, I’m like, “Everybody in the room, stand up and stand in a line, and then the exercise that we’re going to do is called the walk of privilege, and step forward if both your parents went to college. Step backwards if you were ever ashamed of your clothes growing up.” And what ends up happening is you get all the people with all the privilege in the front of the room and all the people with not a lot of privilege in the back of the room, which is a really powerful way of helping people understand their privilege, but also causes a lot of problems.
And so what we’ve done is you can see that John is in the front of the room and you know that he’s lazy and he’s also the highest paid person in here and he also happens to have the most amount of privilege. That’s actually a problem, and so what we’ve done is we digitized it. So instead of stepping forward, you swipe forward on your phone. We’re basically digitizing these exercises that you would have normally needed to pass out pieces of paper to do, which makes them perishable. It’s a one-off event. All the work that’s done on this paper, it’s thrown out in the trash. We’re creating ways for corporations to be able to understand how their employees really feel about certain things and then put in prescriptive ways of addressing those issues before they become major problems.
Cindi: Amazing. You’re reminding me of a friend who works for a very large bank. She was telling me about one of those exercises and that it was really difficult and uncomfortable and she wasn’t sure just how much it was helping. She works a lot with her ERG.
Natalie: A lot of our clients are equipping their ERGs with this product. They’re letting the ERGs use it to facilitate courageous conversations and understand how the people in those ERGs are feeling about particular topics or issues. Are they feeling empowered? Are they feeling less than? And that’s the value that we’re bringing to the table.
Cindi: And does this also allow for more anonymity?
Natalie: Yes, it’s totally anonymous. You get your own score on your phone. You get your own privilege score and then you can see a distribution of privilege in the room so that you can see where you are relative to the room, but no one knows who you are. We don’t know who you are. No one else knows who you are. It’s just a way for you to understand… “Wow, I’ve got a lot of privilege and I never really thought about that, and the question now is what do I do about my privilege?” That’s the action item. People will say, “well, now what?” Now we can go into actionable things. You now realize that you actually have a huge competitive advantage over everyone else in this room, from just simply the way you were born and all these situational things. How do we use that insight and that awareness, which is now called self-awareness? It’s becoming conscious of your own identity. How do we use that for the greater good of everybody?
Because it’s not about shaming you because you have privilege. It’s about saying, “well, okay, now that you understand your privilege, how do we use your privilege to help those with less privilege?” One of the fundamental problems with in-person diversity exercises is that all these efforts are trying to train people who don’t have any understanding of their own self-awareness or their own identity, so, literally, everything you try and teach them just bounces off them because they don’t even understand themselves yet.
Cindi: What prompted you to start this business?
Natalie: This whole thing is based on my own experience coming out as a transgender woman. I experienced bias, discrimination, and hatred for the first time in my life three years ago, and the reason is that I lived my life in a bubble of white male privilege and with access and resources. If you had asked me to define the word identity, I didn’t even know what that meant. I would have thought you were talking about fingerprints and cybersecurity. I confused the word empathy with sympathy all the time, but I used the word and people thought I knew what I was talking about.
And so when that bubble burst for me, it was a really eye-opening experience of how most of the world experiences it from a marginalized perspective and I had never felt that before. I was in the 1 percent and, all of a sudden, I got woke real fast, and I basically put a stake in the ground saying, “I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life and my experience and my privilege to help other people become the best versions of themselves so that they can accept and understand other people regardless of who they are.”
Cindi: Wow. That gives me the chills. I think it’s phenomenal. What parts of your business inspire you the most? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Natalie: Great question. It’s got a funny name, like a file name, but it’s our cultural framework and it describes the hierarchy of what guides us and what defines us. Our high-level vision, the north star and why we started this company, is equality for all. That’s the long-term vision. That’s why we get out of bed every day, to save lives and create hope. That’s really what drives every one of us at the core. Every single day we are spreading hope that people can be themselves, whoever they are.
The letters I get from people saying, “You’ve inspired me to change jobs,” that’s what gets me out of bed. I have freed that person from the prison of what’s keeping them in their current job. In this case, it was an auto mechanic who worked for a family auto business, and he went in and he quit and he enrolled in a massage therapy school. And his whole life, he was scared to do that because of the judgment… that his family would think he’s gay, his friends would make fun of him, and all this stuff. And he basically said, “Look, if you can change your gender, I can change my job.” And that’s the fuel that gets me out of bed every day.
If you look at the hierarchy pyramid, it’s like there’s the vision, which is equality for all, there’s the mission, which is to spread hope and save lives, and then the business itself is to make companies more inclusive. That’s what keeps the lights on. That’s what we do every day.
Cindi: What have the organizations NGLCC meant to you and why do you think certification is important?
Natalie: NGLCC has been groundbreaking for me and opened up so many opportunities. The national conference has been particularly rewarding. For us, it’s the opportunity to compete for very significant corporate contracts that we wouldn’t normally have access to because we don’t have the resources and the representation and we can’t get through these processes the way people with privilege can. And I spent my life with so much privilege, I didn’t even understand what a competitive advantage it was. Certification gives you access to things you wouldn’t have had before. It’s still up to you to make things happen, but you now have an access point to get exposure and opportunities from a revenue and business perspective that you would never have had. It allows you to grow your business in ways that you never could.
And it’s unique for us because we’re building diversity and inclusion software. We’re primarily selling to the targets that are in diversity and inclusion. And we’re in New York City and we’re built to sell to corporations.
Certification is particularly crucial for the mom and pop t-shirt shop in the middle of a red state that is often struggling to find employees and clients because of their status. The value to them is that having a contract with a big company can be game-changing. To me, that’s the real economic lever behind this whole thing. There’s our version of it, but from another perspective, it’s about enabling those types of opportunities for smaller companies.
Cindi: You participated in the Biz Pitch in January at EY. What was that experience like and do you think it will be helpful to you in vying for future contracts?
Natalie: The Biz Pitch format of it is wonderful because it teaches you how to pitch in front of corporations. That is an unbelievable thing that isn’t normally just afforded to smaller companies. To get honest feedback after pitching a product to a corporation, especially if you’re from a marginalized experience or background, is incredible.
For Translator, it’s an opportunity to do business with EY. To us, it’s a showcase of, hey, we’re coming in. EY is sponsoring this and they’re our target. This allows us to put them into a qualified prospective client pipeline. And so the exposure that we’ve gotten inside of EY as a result of that has been phenomenal. This type of collaborative conversation does not happen outside of an environment like what has been created with the Biz Pitch. It may happen from time to time, but it’s such incredible alignment of passion, and business needs, and capabilities. You can’t find it any other way.
Cindi: Can you tell me about one of your biggest successes or one of your proudest moments so far in business?
Natalie: I was in the Wall Street Journal, which was really big for me. I’ve always thought if I can ever be in the Wall Street Journal, I’ll know that I’ve made it. And I was actually quoted talking about the New York City bill to get LGBT-certified businesses in the system. That was a big moment for me.
Cindi: I saw that. Congratulations!
Natalie: Thank you. I think the big accomplishments for us are selling our product to enterprise corporations. It’s a little bit inside baseball, but we’ve got real SAS, which means software as a service, contracts with major corporations and that is a really hard thing to do.
They’re committing to buying technology on a recurring basis. And I’m probably most proud of that because two and a half years ago, honestly, people laughed me out of the room when I talked about this company. Investors that invested in my previous company were like, “You’re crazy. Not only does this whole identity thing blow my mind, which I can’t even wrap my head around, but there’s no market for the product that you’re talking about.” And for me to have pushed through that and two and a half years later be signing major contracts with Fortune 500 companies, public companies, it’s a pretty major accomplishment, and NGLCC and nglccNY have been a major part of that. We have a two million dollar pipeline of qualified business and 75 percent of it has come from nglccNY and NGLCC. It’s a real business. This is real.
Cindi: Wow. That’s incredible. Can you name some of your clients?
Natalie: Ultimate Software, a public company that just went private about three weeks ago for 11 billion dollars, so it’s a very well-known company. They build payroll software and HR solutions software. They compete with ADP. They’re a great customer of ours. Arconic, formerly Alcoa, the aluminum company. I’ve got a Fortune 500 public software company that’s an HR solutions provider and then, on the flip side of that, I’ve got a 150-year-old manufacturing company that builds aluminum products for skyscrapers and jet airplanes. New York City Department of Education is also a client.
Cindi: You’re an amazing trailblazer. What advice would you have for other LGBT business owners who may not have your level of confidence?
Natalie: Well, thank you for saying that. I don’t always feel like I have confidence, and I think that that’s probably part of the challenge is that my confidence actually isn’t always there. So you have to build it up, and there’s a lot that goes into showing up as your authentic self and speaking powerfully about the opportunity you present. It takes a lot of failures. It’s not about going out, building up the confidence, going out and trying it, and making it work. It’s about what you learn from the times that it doesn’t work. And I oftentimes think I’m mischaracterized as successful, and I understand what people are saying, but what I’ll tell people is, “If you think I’m successful, all this is is the manifestation of millions of failures, micro-failures.” I’m constantly testing, iterating, testing, iterating, trying, failing, trying, failing, moving on.
I’ll just try something like… “Hey, I’m going to see if the client reacts to this thing or not and if they don’t, then I might put it in my back pocket and maybe try it again later with somebody else. Maybe that’s the second or third time I tested that thesis and it didn’t work, and so now I move on.” But, eventually you find the nerve and you find what works and you go back and then you keep repeating the thing that works. It’s a discovery process. You’ve just got to keep going back and repeating and learning. Failure is what creates success. Success doesn’t create success.
This blog was republished from the nglccNY News Blog as part of a series celebrating Women’s History Month 2019 by highlighting the contributions of female LBT business owners. Interested in having your Certified LGBTBE® in the spotlight? Email [email protected].