West Philadelphia native and Bucks county resident, Nikki DiCaro, sat down with OUTWORD.Today to discuss her recent book releases, her transition as a transgender woman, and her work as a corporate diversity and inclusion consultant and speaker. We also learned a few fun facts worth sharing!
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in the heart of West Philadelphia, the oldest of three in a workaday family and a hardscrabble environment. We lived in a row house with a large storefront, small living room and eat in kitchen. My siblings and I walked to school every day and played outdoors at every opportunity. We had one car and that was shared between my parents.
Share with me a favorite childhood memory.
My favorite childhood memory was playing street hockey after school. I learned about competitiveness and bonded with siblings and friends.
I also played co-lead in the play Harlequin and Punchinello. I learned more about myself in terms of focus, commitment, and the ability to feel comfortable before an audience.
Tell us about your educational background.
I attended a Parochial grade school where the class sizes ranged from 45 – 55 students. Nuns and a few lay teachers ran the school. I was a nerd, bookworm, and early academic with scant athletic ability, finishing 3rd in my class.
After grade school, I attended a single gender small high school (400 student body) run by the Vincentian Fathers. I discovered minor athletic ability, running track and cross country before my running career was cut short by a bow in my left calf bone. I was a member of the National Honor Society, making the honor roll four years in a row. I finished second in my class and walked away with four subject honors.
I was the only sibling to attend college. I applied for and was accepted to Notre Dame in Indiana and St. Joseph’s College (so named at the time). Receiving a full scholarship from the City of Philadelphia made St. Joe’s an easy choice.
At St. Joe’s I found my social self after joining a fraternity. As a commuter, the fraternity offered me a connection to campus life in a resident-focused environment. Because of the family situation, I was relegated to commuting. I worked full-time throughout college, making more money than my father and contributing most of my earnings to keeping a roof over the family and food on the table.
Do you mind if I ask you a few personal questions about your transition?
No, not at all.
When did you realize that your assigned gender did not align with your true gender identity?
The earliest I remember struggling with my gender identity was age 11. It may have been sooner.
What finally pushed you to embrace your authentic self?
I finally embraced my authentic self when I realized I suffered from a medical malady, a disease called gender dysphoria. I learned I wasn’t the only one struggling.
During the discovery phase of my authenticity, I came to love myself for the first time. After finding self-love and self-respect (what I call my epiphany), I was fueled to complete the physical transition needed to match my internal gender marker.
Can you share with us something about the transition process that people might not understand?
The transition process is many things to many people. The process is an awakening, an epiphany, a learning experience for the transgender.
It is also an incredibly valuable teaching opportunity for those whose lives we touch. Failing to embrace the teachable moment with empathy, patience, and sympathy will make physical transition monumentally more difficult.
If you could come back being born physically as a woman, would you? Or would you take this journey all over again?
Given what I’ve experienced and from where I’ve come, I would like to experience the female birthright.
How do you think your life would differ now?
I’d have a gaggle of kids and a career as a chemist. I would also be an advocate for empowering women.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with gender identity?
I have several key pieces of advice:
- Read my Practical Guide for Gender Transition
- Ensure you love yourself
- Understand that transition is not a solution; it is a different series of challenges
- Transition is real and is not to be taken lightly. Do not run down this path unenlightened or partially enlightened lest you will be incredibly disappointed and possibly broken physically and emotionally.
Share with us your career path, prior to your activism and speaking business.
I’m an accountant by training and a CPA, but my passion was science. I wanted to be a chemist but was redirected by my guidance counselor.
Most of my career has been spent working with turnarounds, restarts, and startup companies. I was fortunate to be mentored by three very astute and supportive business leaders under whom I was encouraged to achieve my full potential.
I worked for a fledgling newspaper during the last two years of its ill-fated four-year life moving from staff accountant to Assistant Controller with signing authority.
After five years working with Comcast, where I turned around their accounting division and participated in a multi-month project that quintupled Comcast’s cable subscriber base, I was lured away to join a small late-stage venture firm where my career continued its meteoric rise from Controller to Chief Financial Officer, Managing Director, and General Partner.
After eighteen years of hustling, we unwound the venture fund and I began a ten-year career in the public sector, first turning around a major division of a Philadelphia Research University, and then moving to a translational research and development organization focusing on behavioral health solutions for drug and alcohol addiction. My efforts there increased revenue and streamlined operations. These efforts allowed the organization to survive two additional years before it was absorbed into a larger organization.
Tell me about your consulting business.
As a subject matter expert in gender transition for transgender, employers, families and educators, I work with companies as a speaker, trainer, and presenter on all topics involving diversity, inclusion, and equality.
I offer customized program development and implementation services, providing training, coaching and continuing education in the areas of unconditional equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Unconditional Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion are critical components to organizational success. With each new generation entering the workforce comes widely variable views of the world and the workplace. The needs and expectations of these diverse employees vary significantly, often turning an orderly environment into one of disarray and confusion.
Success requires including different views and ideas into company strategy and tactics. This can only be accomplished with well-designed, thoughtfully implemented and consistently reinforced training and education programs.
In order for businesses to attract and retain qualified candidates, they must position themselves as models of unconditional equality, diversity, and inclusion. This means not only including appropriate language in policies but instituting, supporting and nurturing practices that will provide a reason for employees to want to make valuable contributions and also feel appreciated.
The relationship and connection between employees within organizations are becoming more important to ensure cohesiveness, continuity, nimbleness and flexibility in the face of global customer demand.
Research has continually proven that organizations embracing diversity have performed significantly better for long periods; sustaining growth and encouraging innovation.
What can you bring to businesses as a speaker and consultant?
Through conversational learning, I work with clients to identify immediate areas of opportunity to build a customized knowledge and education program.
I then facilitate the education sessions through engaging, conversational presentations, encouraging attendees to actively participate through sharing relevant experiences that lead to improved business relationships and professional bonding.
I make sure that employees have the tools needed to implement these lessons both inside and outside of the workplace and teach that leadership practices do not begin and end at the four walls of employment – true leadership is embedded in the life of each person.
Finally, I provide structured opportunities to utilize new learning and circle back with the client to offer continued education.
You are a wonderful and energetic speaker. What is your favorite topic to speak on?
I am passionate about unconditional equality as the concrete foundation and flying buttresses that support diversity and inclusion. Unconditional equality is a binary concept; two people are either equal or they’re not. With this as a starting point, diversity and inclusion can be more effectively propagated.
I heard you took part in the Disrupt HR event in Philly. Tell us about your experience.
DisruptHR was an intense and energizing experience. No cue cards, few words on slides, and five incredibly intense minutes of reaching the audience on a raised stage in hopes that 250 pairs of eyes would hang on my every word.
The preparation was fluid, although I changed the delivery multiple times. When my name was called, my mind kicked into overdrive and my message poured effortlessly to the audience.
Share with us the best advice you ever got from someone?
Learn to love yourself and you will be able to love others
Congrats on your newly released book!! Share with us what’s in the book and why we should pick up a copy.
I’ve released two of my target five guides for gender transition:
- The Practical Guide for Gender Transition
- Employers’ Guide Supporting Successful Gender Transition
These guides provide unvarnished, practical questions to consider before beginning transition. They also provide direction to employers for supporting transitioning employees and also appeal to employers to understand the absolute value of diversity and inclusion. Finally, they provide real insights into the necessity for effective support networks and constructive and thoughtful planning prior to beginning transition. Readers can obtain a real-world education on what transition requires and the commitment by the transgender to address a medical condition that existed from birth.
And for fun….what’s your favorite movie and why?
My favorite movie is: It’s a Wonderful Life. The story reminds me that everyone impacts the life of others. We each add uniqueness and value to others. Reminders of the value of life always energize me to do more, to contribute more and to leave a permanent and lasting legacy of positivity in my wake.
Who’s your celebrity Crush?
This is a tough one. I guess my biggest celebrity crush is Bradley Cooper. His captivating smile and intense gaze lock on me like a tractor beam!
To learn more about Nikki DiCaro or to hire her for consulting services, click here.
To order DiCaro’s book, Employers’ Guide Supporting Successful Gender Transition: Building Diversity and Equality, click here.
To order DiCaro’s book, A Practical Guide to Gender Transition, click here.