Dr. Lorri Sulpizio, Director of the Conscious Leadership Academy

In this episode of The Brand Called You, we have a leader from San Diego with us, Dr. Lorri Sulpizio in conversation with our host Ashutosh Garg. Lorri is the Director of the Conscious Leadership Academy at the University of San Diego. She talks to us about her journey from being hired as the youngest basketball coach to getting fired on the basis of discrimination and then finally finding her true calling as a leader. She tells us that Conscious Leadership Academy(CLA) helps solve problems that require unlearning and relearning. Their main motive is to promote the inclusion of diverse human beings in an organisation and make them feel a sense of belonging. She informs us that self awareness in the most important quality a leader can have among other qualities. She talks to us about the paradigm shift that has happened in the western societies, especially the USA, in embracing and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. Lorri remarks that one shouldn’t aim to remove the biases from the society but to educate the people and make them more aware about the community so that acceptance happens naturally. She tells us that children should be able to learn about the LGBTQ+ community at their schools so that they become more accepting. Tune in!

Dr. Lorri Sulpizio, Director of the Conscious Leadership Academy


There are some things I’ve always loved. Sport and fitness. Writing. Issues of justice and equality related to women and gender. And, as I look back, making a difference. I was an athlete all my life. I was voted “Most LIkely to be on ESPN” in high school. I began coaching basketball when I was an undergrad at Cal Poly SLO. At Cal Poly, I also started a NOW (National Organization for Women) campus chapter. I came out as a lesbian and spoke on panels. I loved making a difference. I got to my current role as Director of the Conscious Leadership Academy in a bit of a tragic way. At least it was tragic for me. I began coaching women’s basketball at San Diego Mesa College in 1998. I loved athletics and I loved the community college level. I wanted to work my way up and become an athletic director and then perhaps a higher-level administrator. I started the Ph.D. program in Leadership at the University of San Diego, and I began research focused on athletics. All seemed to be going well. My college team was one of the tops in San Diego, I was an integrated member of Mesa College, working hard in many aspects of campus.
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I was digging into research and even co-authored a chapter about sports and gender, and felt life was going well. One day, I was called into a meeting with my athletic director. He simply told me, “I am not reassigning you as head coach.” He gave me no reason or justification. He wasn’t willing to have a conversation with me about it. I Basically, I walked into the meeting and was fired. I left in shock. I was pregnant with my third child and in the middle of a Ph.D. program where my work was focused on athletics. What was I going to do? A few stars aligned for me then. First, the lesbian basketball community is a small one. The news of my firing spread quickly and I had some amazing people offer help. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), along with Matt Stephen (San Diego Lawyer) and Leslie Levy (Boxer & Gerson, LLP) took up my case and we filed a suit against the Athletic Director, the college and the district for Title IX retaliation and homophobic discrimination. It was a LONG three years, perhaps the second hardest thing I’ve been through. We won our case in a trial by jury. While that part of the story has a happy ending, being forced out of what I loved (and still love) to do was painful and hard. Every November, when basketball season comes along, I think about how I wanted my life to be as a college basketball coach. Second star that aligned was that I had an amazing advisor at USD who was also a basketball coach, Cheryl Getz. She helped me refocus my direction and find new avenues for my work. I shifted my focus from coaching basketball to young women to developing leadership, and actually, there are many similarities. I began teaching and with the support of the Dean of the School or Leadership and Education Sciences, Paula Cordiero, we started the Center for Women’s Leadership. I completed my dissertation, studying women in authority, specifically how women face challenges and navigate issues of voice and power. Slowly, my work at USD expanded and now I find myself in an amazing role as Director of the Conscious Leadership Academy where we attempt to develop a different kind of leader… one who is aware and authentic, courageous and kind, and still is able to get things done and effectively achieve goals.



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