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November 22, 2022

Building a Trauma-Informed Workplace: Interview with Dr. Laura McGuire, Author, Sexologist, and Diversity & Inclusion Consultant

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Meet Dr. Laura McGuire, Author, Sexologist, and D&I Consultant

Omaralexis Ochoa: Today, I am so excited to introduce you to Dr. Laura McGuire (they/them), an expert in sexual health education, and an author who is paving the way for organizations to build safer and more inclusive environments for everyone. Dr. McGuire is going to talk to us today about their work in sexual health education and building a trauma informed workplace.But before diving into today's discussion, let me give a brief introduction:

Dr. Laura McGuire is an expert in sexual health education who has published two books on the subjects of consent and sexual misconduct. They have worked in sexual violence prevention across the public and private sectors as well as within academia. Dr. McGuire is also the creator of the world's very first professional certifications in trauma-informed care, which are arming organizations with the knowledge to create safe, respectful, and empowering environments for everyone.

They earned their Doctor's of Education at Fielding Graduate University and currently own a consulting practice, which focuses on teaching organizations how to approach these topics as well as diversity and inclusion. Thanks so much for joining me today, Dr. McGuire. Really appreciate your time, and I'm excited to jump into today's conversation.

How's your day going? 

Dr. Laura McGuire: Oh, it's going pretty well, and I'm really excited for this also. I love talking about business and being an LGBTQ+ person, and I'm glad we get to talk about the intersections here. 

What does trauma-informed mean?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Yeah, definitely. So, want to start this conversation with a pretty basic question, but what does trauma-informed mean?

Dr. Laura McGuire: That is a great question. And it's probably one of the most common ones I get right, because if folks don't know, that is one of the key areas that I create certifications for in different industries around. It's a broad concept. You can read a dozen books, a dozen articles, and each will give you a different angle on what its definition would be.

But I've come up with three key components that I think best explain what it is and how it's executed. So #1, it is understanding, simply understanding and knowing the depth and breadth of trauma in the world around us. Really having deep perspective on how big this experience and problem is in our world.

And then it is taking that knowledge and approaching every single person you meet as a survivor. So not requiring someone to come up and say, "I've been through something really awful. I've survived a lot of intense things in my life." We don't need to know that. We can just approach everybody with that same level of care and compassion.

And then last but not least, it is reframing inside of ourselves the question. "Why are they like this? Why is someone really grumpy? Why are they rude? Why are they difficult to work with? Why do they always forget things? Why do they cry all the time?" instead of asking "Why, why, why?" We wanna internally ask ourselves, "I wonder what happened?"

And remain curious as to their story. And again, by trying to better understand them, we can approach them in ways that are more productive. 

How does trauma-informed education take shape in the workplace?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Well, very well put. This definitely sounds like an approach that can really be applied anywhere. I feel like typically when you hear something like "trauma-informed", my mind immediately jumps to maybe like a more clinical setting, a medical / psychiatric sort of realm.

But definitely sounds like these are three really clear and intentional sorts of approaches and practices that can be applied really anywhere. So how do you think these practices can take shape in a non-clinical workplace or space? 

Dr. Laura McGuire: So I am very fortunate to be able to answer that based on the work that I'm doing, because that's exactly the issue we've had for a long time -- trauma-informed care came from the social sciences.

It was primarily applied for therapists and social workers, case managers, and then really made its way into schools and medical settings. But there's a lot of other places where trauma is very present, right? And so taking that knowledge, but not only saying, "Hey, here's the basic components of it," but what does it look like based on your field?

So we've been doing this a lot with attorneys, with insurance companies, with other corporate environments where they might be supporting someone in a really difficult chapter of their life. But they don't have this knowledge base. They're not getting this in their MBA or in law school. And so they're like, "How do I apply this to what I do?" and really making it specific to their industry.

 A lot of people have maybe taken classes on emotional intelligence or even customer service. People invest a lot of time, money into those. But really this is a deeper, next-level to all of those more familiar components. 

Omaralexis Ochoa: Well that sounds like a really interesting way to start melding a lot of these more clinical approaches and applying them into our everyday lives.

And I definitely agree with you that there's trauma really everywhere. You'll see it in certain manifestations where you'll have certain idiosyncrasies or personalities in the workplace, and all of these are valuable. And approaching them with that perspective, I think can really make for a more empathetic sort of world in general.

How did you get involved in sexual health & trauma education? How do you find clients?

Omaralexis Ochoa: So one question I have for you is, how did you get involved in this space? I know that your background is quite varied. You've written books, you specialized in sexual health education and consulting with all of these organizations as well. How did you get started on building this certification for building trauma-informed workplaces?

Dr. Laura McGuire: So I really got started way back when I was a classroom teacher. My first ever teaching job was in a one-room schoolhouse. (Believe it or not, they still exist.) And it was really interesting. It was not a very trauma-informed school, but it was full of teen parents who really needed that. And so I then started working at a school that was partnered with the Department of Juvenile Justice, and that school trained us on trauma-informed.

And I did really well there. And I moved up less than a year in to their corporate office, their headquarters, and started creating trainings for all of the teachers and counselors and mid-level managers, executive directors, et cetera. And I made this a focus of my research when I was getting my doctorate, and then have continued to weave the this theory into the work that is more clearly in need of it, right? 

The sexual misconduct prevention, diversity, equity and inclusion. But now being able to take those pieces and bring it into these other environments has been really amazing to see.

Omaralexis Ochoa: In terms of how these clients and folks that you've worked with in the past -- how do you approach these conversations? Do they come to you? Do you reach out to them? 

How do you find a right fit for a business or practice that is looking for trauma-informed certification and care? 

Dr. Laura McGuire: So I've been very fortunate that everyone we've certified -- our certification program is obviously the most in depth -- they've all reached out to me and said, "I hear you're doing something like this. Can you do this for us? Can you customize this to us or our industry?" 

And love getting those calls or emails because I'm like, "Yes! This is gonna be amazing." I always like pushing myself to my growth edge and saying, "Okay, what industry don't I know a lot about? Who needs this? How can I grow and understand them better?" 

And so they've reached out. And a lot of it too is then getting the publicity, getting the exposure, because -- all business owners will relate to this, right? You have this amazing product. You have something that people are super in need of and want and are sitting around saying, "if only this existed," and you're like, "I exist! I'm right here!"

So it's finding that balance of where are the places where people are gonna know this is available to them. And then getting them to connect with you so you can start making a plan for that. 

What impact does sexual misconduct & trauma-informed education have on a business or organization?

Omaralexis Ochoa: And it definitely sounds like something like these workshops and certification can have a direct impact on an organization's internal satisfaction, as well as just an overall impact on their approach to diversity and inclusion.

And those I think, are important traits a lot of organizations, especially in the corporate world, are in dire need of. But also have some direct correlation with their internal KPIs where we'll see: better job satisfaction, higher retention rates, stronger marketplace performance. So within your consulting work with some of these businesses and organizations, how have you seen this education make an impact on their organization or their performance?

Dr. Laura McGuire: I see it primarily on two very distinct levels. And the first one is, of course, that forward facing piece of how they're able to serve their customers or clients better. And it's great because it's education. It's not that you have to download software every year, or you have to keep up with some appliance that you're bringing in.

It's just really having that solid foundation of knowledge and then also continually refreshing that and building on that, so that creates this environment where their customers are so much more satisfied with them. Want to retain with them, want to refer out for them. They become their best marketing because they're like "these people are treating me so different."

And then the other side of it too is internally where teams, departments are really able to communicate and respond and support each other so much more effectively. And that leads to lower turnover rates, lower issues with burnout, and it also makes them a really attractive organization for people just leaving college.

 As Gen Z is entering the workforce, they're looking for companies who are invested in these things. Being an industry leader in trauma-informed care, that's something they're familiar with. And so this is really benefiting them from all of those different perspectives. 

Omaralexis Ochoa: Yeah, that makes total sense, especially from the recruitment perspective.

I feel like organizations today -- oftentimes you'll hear in this sort of post-COVID work environment, it's definitely more of a "job seeker's world." Plenty of options out there as organizations are looking to rebuild their workforces and optimize for remote work. So I think that makes a ton of sense.

What resistance or pushback have you gotten from clients when educating them on this subject?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Through your consulting work, what would you say has been an uphill climb or resistance that you've gotten in terms of working with them to implement some of these practices? Do you find there are some parts of the organization or ways of doing things that are hard to let go of? 

Dr. Laura McGuire: Yes, and I think a lot of it is generational divides. Just talking about the trauma informed care in and of itself: people who have been in an industry for decades saying:

"Listen, nobody cared about my feelings for the past 40 years."

"Nobody asked me, 'how are you feeling? What's your childhood trauma?' Nobody paid that any attention."

"Why should I do that now for someone else?"

And I think that's an important feeling for people to feel and process because they're right. It isn't fair. And it was really hard and sometimes there's kind of a feeling of like animosity of "Well, why do they have to have it so much better than me?"And the other thing is we talk a lot, whether it's trauma-informed care, my work in sexual harassment, sexual misconduct prevention or DE&I we talk about the intersections of how inclusion impacts trauma, how it's a vital part of our conversations on inclusion to talk about all of these other areas of violence and crisis. And that's also an area we get pushback. 

"Well, why are we learning about pronouns when I'm supposed to be learning about trauma? Well, why do I have to care about identity if I'm here to learn about sexual harassment?"

And it's like if you already know that those are totally connected, you would say, well, of course, because it makes sense because they are all intersectional. But again, for maybe people who are coming from a generation where these are all new conversations, there can be a lot of confusion or hesitancy or feeling like, "Oh, this is part of some big agenda that I didn't sign up for." 

How has your experience as a queer person informed your expertise in trauma-informed education & DEI consulting?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Yeah, definitely. And you, yourself, as a queer person and thought leader in this space I think are uniquely positioned to really communicate about this and interface with folks on this topic.

So how would you say your experience in the queer community has uniquely prepared you or informed you to be able to approach these conversations as an expert? 

Dr. Laura McGuire: I love that question. I think that it prepares you in the sense of anyone who's ever come out. Many of us have come out as many different things throughout our life. In many different ways that we've had to do these really deep dives on understanding ourself, on understanding what words mean when we relate to the world and we describe our experience. 

And so we have that understanding, hopefully that humility that even for experiences that we don't have a lived platform to be speaking from -- that this, this still really matters, right? Because I understand different aspects of that journey. 

And so that comes into everything that you do. And I think also it's interesting as someone who, especially throughout my life, has passed as many different things that are more privileged. I am privy to a lot of interesting conversations that, especially in corporate or higher-ed environments. People don't think they're speaking to someone who is part of the community. And so they'll say all kinds of stuff, and that's really good information because I can say, "Listen, this is still a huge issue. This is still something we need to invest in addressing because here's what people are really saying when they think no one is taking it in." 

Omaralexis Ochoa: Right, exactly. And having that insider perspective is definitely a great area to work from, especially as you approach, other conversations with these external organizations. You mentioned attorney practices. 

Can you tell us more about your books on consent & sexual misconduct prevention?

Omaralexis Ochoa: So I wanna pivot just a little bit over into the books that you've written. I know that you have two books currently. The first one being "Creating Cultures of Consent" and the other being the "Sexual Misconduct Prevention Guidebook"

Can you just talk to me a bit about those books? Why you focused in on those particular topics and how it's been relevant to the work that you've been doing?

Dr. Laura McGuire: Absolutely. So post-doc, I started the first sexual misconduct prevention education program for the University of Houston, and then ended up doing that work for other organizations afterwards. And so really became deeply embedded in Title IX and these different topics we were having for the first time, really around consent. Around how, again, all those intersectional pieces, how different survivors experience these things and need different kinds of support and face different barriers.

And so I really became someone who was known as an expert in this field. The first book I wrote for parents and teachers who -- especially seeing everything that was going on with the Me Too movement and cared about it -- wanted to be part of the change, but really didn't know where to start.

 And so that book is really positioned from the standpoint of 101: you're just getting into this. You need that foundational information, but you wanna start applying it to the conversations you're having with your kids or your students. And we talk about queerness in there, and we talk about how being LGBTQ+ inclusive and an ally is directly integral to preventing misconduct and understanding consent.

And then the second book is more for the professionals who are working in this field, especially in higher education or in the military, and really want to have that deeper understanding, want to really see all of the history and again, kind of multilayered perspectives. What's been done right and what's not been done so well, or what has had a poor impact and how do they improve that?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Wow. Well that sounds like it definitely covers a lot of bases from the perspective of some of that 101 as well as the more expert, professional-level. 

Those two books: what have been some of the feedback or reviews or anything that you've gotten that have really stuck with you so far? 

Dr. Laura McGuire: I think some of the feedback that I've gotten that's been really helpful is how action-oriented they are and how people who are in those different spaces have found that really helpful.

 Because it's not just a ton of theory, it's also very focused on, "and here's what you can directly do with this today," and I think that's the most important. 

Omaralexis Ochoa: That's so important, especially as you mentioned, for many people, this can be the first time that they're broaching this topic either in their own life or in their professional environment. So having those more intentional, action-oriented recommendations are going to be really critical.

How does spirituality & religion impact your work? Why is that important?

Omaralexis Ochoa: So you mentioned being a seminarian and being interested in approaching this conversation from a spiritual perspective as well. How do you think those two topics will intermingle, and why do you think that's important?

Dr. Laura McGuire: I think it's important because, well, a lot of different reasons. Let's start with the first. I think that growing up, I was raised between Southern Baptists and Catholic families. I got both. Most people only get one or the other. I got both. And so religion played a huge part in my life and the way that I understood sexuality and the way that I understood relationships and understood interpersonal violence or lack thereof in understanding it.

And so when I started doing this work, I kept coming back to how spiritual messages, religious messages, or misunderstandings really perpetuated these patterns of harm. Whether it was making people feel intense shame for their sexuality or gender identity, or making them stay in toxic or abusive relationships.

 And I knew that had to be addressed in more depth. And so I wanted to understand it better for myself. I wanted to be able to have really good answers for when people came to me and said, "Well, but you know, this religious text says..." I wanted to not just say, "Well, I think you're incorrect," but to have a real position to kind of stand on and push back against. 

And then the other thing is, especially as a survivor, but even as a queer, non-binary person, I did not find a lot of faith leaders that I could connect with and talk to. There are many out there who are doing this work, but at least in my local area, someone I could connect to in person.

And so I really wanted to make sure that was more widely available and one of my goals. In the future is to be able to provide more what we call "pastoral counseling" to individuals who wanna talk through this with somebody who can speak as a faith leader. So if they're coming out and they're saying, "I just have to talk to someone with that authority to know that God's really okay with me" to be that person.

Or if somebody's saying, "I need to know where God is when I'm being abused, or my family isn't safe," I wanna be that person. So that's really where I see it, having this direct applicability. 

Omaralexis Ochoa: I think that's so important, especially from the perspective, of the queer community. Because I think oftentimes, at least in my experience living in Los Angeles, the community here is a lot more agnostic or atheist for one reason or another.

The interaction that a lot of queer people have in their experience with religion, they sometimes feel like maybe it's not for them. And I think that certainly doesn't have to be the case, especially for folks who, are coming out, but also have a strong family connection or spiritual connection to a particular faith. And maintaining that connection, I think is really just as important. 

Dr. Laura McGuire: Yes. Yes and there was someone who recently spoke on this and said, this is one of the first things you lose when you come out. Is the ability to connect to whatever your image of God has been. 

And that's horrible because that is not for anyone or any community to define or take away. But it is true. It becomes really hard to find spaces where you can worship in the ways that feel good to you or read holy text from a perspective that isn't going to invalidate who you are and your identity. So the more conversation we have, the better. 

Where to learn more about Dr. McGuire's work

Omaralexis Ochoa: No, I think this was fantastic. So before signing off, just wanted to see if there was anything else that you wanted to mention or just highlight to anyone listening that might be curious or interested in learning more about trauma-informed care, whether it's in a clinical setting or just in their workplaces?

Dr. Laura McGuire: Yes. Well, I would definitely say there are so many books out there that are really good on this. Everything from investigating more on polyvagal theory to spoon theory and books like The Body Keeps the Score, which is like the ultimate beginner entry point into this. But if you wanna learn more about my work specifically, you can visit my company's website at http://equityandagency.com/

Or about me you can visit http://drlauramcguire.com/ 

Omaralexis Ochoa: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciated this.

Dr. Laura McGuire: Thank you. I hope you have a great rest of your day.

Photo of Omaralexis Ochoa, host of The Gay Pro, and author of this blog post.

Omaralexis Ochoa

Data analyst, podcaster, pasta-lover... I'm many things, but above all, I'm a creator. I created The Gay Pro because I love sharing stories of queer success, with the intention of empowering and inspiring other queer leaders.