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Woman to Woman: Lessons from a Lesbian Executive.

Updated: Mar 26

Transgender activist Eva Echo poses questions to lesbian executive Nancy Di Dia on gender equity in the workplace, trans allyship and finding new life in retirement.


Black and white photos of Nancy Di Dia, a white lesbian woman and Eva Echo, an East Asian non-binary trans woman, enveloped in pink speech bubbles.

At We Create Space we're passionate about forging connections and solidarity across different identity groups. In this new series we're pairing together different change-makers from our Global Leadership Collective and asking them to interview each other, sharing wisdom from their careers, personal lives and lived experiences as Queer Leaders.


Nancy Di Dia is a highly accomplished corporate executive with over 25 years of experience in the field of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, and Belonging (DEIJB). Nancy is known for her leadership and expertise in creating inclusive workplaces. Throughout her career, Nancy has been a fierce advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, particularly as it relates to patients and healthcare.


Eva Echo is a highly respected trans activist, writer, and public speaker with a passionate focus on transgender rights and mental health. Eva is well-known for their courageous legal action against NHS England in the High Court, challenging the unlawful waiting times for trans patients, and for her vital role on the Crown Prosecution Service’s hate crime panel.




Eva: You’ve had a long and distinguished career, where you’ve no doubt inspired so many but who or what was it that inspired you to commit to wanting to pave the way for so many?


Nancy: During the late 80s and early to mid-90s, discussing one's identity as a lesbian was taboo in many corporate environments, unlike being gay which was more readily accepted. In the financial services institution where I worked, the mandated dress code of dresses and heels felt restrictive and didn't align with my personal style. I often felt like a "peacock in a penguin suit".


Encountering other trailblazers early in my career who defied norms, challenged biases, and carved out spaces for marginalised voices is what inspired me to commit to paving the way for others. Though the journey has been far from easy, I take pride in the strides made towards a more inclusive society. My commitment to supporting underserved, underrepresented, and marginalized communities remains unwavering, fuelled by the belief that every voice deserves to be heard and valued. We all want to belong.



 


Eva: As a trans woman, my internalised transphobia tells me I have no place on IWD.  As an ally, how do you see trans women not only fitting in but playing an integral part in equality and equity for all women?


Nancy: As an ally, and lesbian woman, I see trans women as essential contributors to the fight for equality. Our struggles intersect, and our victories are intertwined. Trans women bring unique perspectives, resilience and strength to the table. When we embrace their voices, we enrich the mosaic and tapestry of womanhood and unity. Being allies to each other is so crucial, it allows us to maximise our impact.  



 


Eva: Workplaces are environments where complete strangers are essentially thrown together and expected to thrive. What do you see as being the key ingredients to ensuring the workplace culture nurtures gender equity?


Nancy: I often say workplaces are microcosms of society from a socio-economic, educational and cultural perspective, to name a few. That means we will come up against a variety of similar and conflicting perspectives, opinions, and experiences. To me, no one experience is the best or the right experiences, the collective of all those experiences is what makes a highly functioning culture and place of belonging, knowing you’re valued, appreciated and heard. 


Creating a workplace culture that nurtures gender equity requires deliberate action. Here are the key elements I have learned that have an impact.


  1. Inclusive Policies: Organisations must adopt policies that address pay gaps, parental leave, and flexible work arrangements. These policies need to benefit everyone, not just women.

  2. Education and Training: Regular, immersive and experiential workshops, not training, on unconscious bias, diversity, and inclusion work to sensitise employees. Knowledge empowers change. Does your culture invite differing perspectives? How are those who do not know the unwritten rules treated? You can tell a lot about a culture based on how employees feel about their identity, expression, and authenticity. 

  3. Leadership Accountability: Leaders must champion equity and be a role model through their actions and words. When they prioritise diversity, it sends a powerful message of commitment, accountability and allyship.

  4. Mentorship and Sponsorship: Women need mentors and sponsors who advocate for their growth. Allies play a crucial role here.

  5. Transparent Metrics: Organisations should track progress and hold themselves accountable on employee life cycle metrics such as promotions, hires, turnover, etc.


 


Eva: Why do you think some organisations are still reluctant to fully commit to creating gender equity even though the solutions are relatively simple?


Nancy: When organizations are still reluctant to fully commit, this indicates to me they were always wavering and just doing what they thought they should do, rather than believing the real benefit to their business, their clients and above all their staff. Change disrupts comfort zones. Organizations that understand their business, their customers and the incredibly competitive marketplace and landscape of talent, lean in to creating cultures of belonging, inclusion and walk the talk. 



 


Eva: You’ve done so much for others, and even though you’re retired, you keep going. You’re an absolute inspiration! But what do you do for yourself, to celebrate your womanity and how far you’ve come?


Nancy: Sometimes, I have to pause and say ‘wow” I really did accomplish a lot. I now find myself having more time to write, reflect and transfer my wisdom of the years. Retirement has not dimmed my light, instead, it has brightened my commitment to wellbeing, health and always making time for the garden. A garden represents a chance to replant, to cultivate, to grow, to weed, and dig out.  I love that metaphor, because my career was like a garden, it needed care, at times it flourished, other times, it needed to be raked and dug up and newly planted seeds to start over where needed.  Like life, I will always be my own gardener.  





Eva: What can be done to continue conversations about women’s rights outside of Women’s History Month and IWD and to deepen allyship between cis and trans women?


Nancy: Every day is IWD, we just don't call it out.  Women keep this world revolving in our ways of loving, giving, and advocating for our bodies, each other and our human rights.  The challenge is that the topic is not always top of mind. We need to celebrate our womanity every day, independently and collectively. Use your platform to uplift women, share their stories, achievements, and struggles. Have  a “no competition” mindset and welcome those who may be even more successful than you to the table too. 


I like sending a note to a variety of woman friends a couple of times a week to let them know how awesome they are, the impact they're having on the world and my pride in holding them near as friends and loved ones, Showing appreciation for each other is an act of collective love and support we need to continue to share and amplify. 


In this journey, we are not alone. We’re symphonic, harmonising for a more equitable world. Let us keep expressing ourselves with our voices and hearts and pave the way for the needed change in our future. 




A headshot of Nancy Di Dia, a white cisgender lesbian woman with short grey hair. She is wearing a blazer and smiling at the camera.

Nancy Di Dia (she/her)


As a gay female, Nancy has a deep understanding of the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community and served as a Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for over 20 years. Her extensive experience and expertise make her an invaluable resource for organizations looking to improve their DEIJB efforts and create more inclusive environments.


Find more information about Nancy here.


A headshot of Eva Echo, an East Asian non-binary trans woman. She has long dark hair and wears a red flowery dress. Her neck is heavily tattooed and she wears a nose ring and large hoop earrings.

Eva Echo (she/they)


Eva is an accomplished leader, serving as the Director of Innovation at Birmingham Pride and Trans In The City. Eva is passionate about workplace allyship, intersectionality, and mental health, and has a wealth of knowledge on language and terminology, identity, trans rights and healthcare.


Find more information about Eva here.


 

While you're here...


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