Valuing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace


A large crowd got to hear first-hand about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion when they shared the personal story of ­Colorado motivational speaker Piers Kowalski at the Building Understanding: Why DEI Matters in the Workplace Closing General Session, sponsored by UZURV. Kowalski’s father was in the audience to hear him speak.

Kowlaski was born female. He explained “This label I was given at birth doesn’t fit,” as he recalled his multi-year journey to becoming the person he was meant to be, saying it was “an unknown thread that ran through my entire life.” Kowalski believes there is much that public transit agencies can do to make life easier for transgender people. It starts with something as simple as an email address. He urged agencies to have a policy that would allow a person that has transitioned to be able to change their email address without having to cut through large amounts of red tape that many companies and public agencies put in place.

Kowlaski also suggests having everyone in an agency add their pronouns to their email signatures. This is a sign of respect and acceptance for people in the LGBTQ community and takes very little effort.

Having spent many years as a government contractor, the lessons for public transit agencies can also be on a personal level. For example, Kowalski usually can tell when he shakes someone’s hand if the person is against his transition or accepting of his choice. It is important for agencies to give training, specifically in how not to have conversations that could make being transgender seem or feel shameful.

Kowalski appeals to agencies to remember that, at the center of a conversation on DEI, there is a person. “Recognize that people are human, that we are loving people, loving parents, caring neighbors.” Regarding the transgender community, he hopes the public can move from acceptance, to love, to celebration.

“Almost everyone either knows someone currently, or will know someone in their life, who is transgender,” Kowalski said. “Moving toward love is how do you want them to feel when they come out to you? When anyone, whether it is around gender or any other identity, finds themselves and who they truly are, we should celebrate that.”