Our Story

In 2004, founder Bernadette Smith was living in Boston when Massachusetts’ highest court ruled in favor of marriage equality. At the time, she planned events for a non-profit organization, but in the months following the ruling, she created a wedding planning business with an LGBTQ specialty to ensure that these couples felt safe and supported when navigating a very traditional space.

In the years that followed, Bernadette worked with couples at their most vulnerable, witnessing discrimination and unconscious bias first-hand. She identified as a planner-educator, wrote three books, spoke at countless conferences and events, and consulted with thousands of companies in the wedding and travel industries looking to better serve these couples. Bernadette innovated an industry and became a leading global expert on LGBTQ weddings.

As time went on, her corporate clients began to request non-wedding and non-LGBTQ consulting and training — and Equality Institute was born.

Why We Do It

We are pragmatic idealists. We believe in the win-win, that when organizations demonstrate inclusion and equality, everyone benefits. We believe that when workers treat their colleagues and clients with respect, those folks carry themselves with greater dignity, workers feel more confident and want to stay at their jobs, and organizations save money and have increased brand loyalty.

We believe that profit and inclusion are not mutually exclusive. We believe in pay equity. We believe in systemic solutions, not short-term fixes. We believe that front line and shop floor team members matter a lot. We believe that affinity groups are still incredibly valuable if properly supported and utilized. We believe in corporate social responsibility.

How We Do It

We know that your team probably rolls their eyes when they hear they’re scheduled for a diversity training. We believe that trainings need not be preachy or boring. Our approach is non-judgmental, interactive, and practical. Our modules are either in person, online, in English or Spanish. We've found a way to make these conversations less awkward and uncomfortable and more fun, ensuring your team members leave the training feeling inspired and energized. Because of our candid, practical approach, your team members will have actionable skills and outcomes that will have a profound ripple effect on your guest's experiences and company culture.

one of Bernadette’s first clients

one of Bernadette’s first clients


Get in touch

We know that finding the right consultant is a decision not to be taken lightly. That’s why we offer free consultations to walk you through your needs, the scope of your goals, and your budget.

Book an appointment ▸



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Bernadette Smith (she/her)

Bernadette Smith is founder and CEO of Equality Institute and award-winning author of three books. Her fourth book Un-Assuming Assumptions will be released later this year.

Bernadette has presented to enthusiastic audiences of CEOs, associations, entrepreneurs, leadership teams, sales professionals, account executives, marketing executives, human resource managers and more. Her expertise has been sought after by the New York Times, Forbes, the Washington Post, and Fast Company, among many others, and she’s appeared on the Today Show, the BBC, National Public Radio, and CNN.

In 2018, Bernadette was named one of Chicago’s Notable LGBTQ Executives by Crain’s Chicago Business and one of the Top 25 Women in Meetings by Meetings and Conventions Magazine.




Vanessa Sheridan (she/her)

Vanessa Sheridan is an expert business consultant, a respected author, a highly skilled transgender inclusion/awareness trainer, an in-demand speaker on transgender workplace issues, and a leading national voice for transgender equality and gender authenticity. She is currently the Director of Gender Equity and Inclusion for Chicago's Center on Halsted, one of the largest LGBTQ community centers in the United States. Since 1991, Vanessa has helped organizations enhance their cultural competence through her professional business services.



Dagyi Rivera (she/her)

Dagyi Rivera is Mexico City-based and conducts Equality Institute consulting and trainings throughout Latin America. She has a Bachelors Degree in Management and a Masters Degree in marketing for small business with expertise in advertising, marketing, PR, event and event planning. 

As a business coach and trainer, Dagyi helps companies more effectively serve their diverse employees and clients.