Becoming an Inclusive Leader with Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and author. Jennifer is the founder, president, and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, headquartered in New York City and has been featured in media such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, AdWeek, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, and many others.

Jennifer is the host of the popular weekly podcast, The Will to Change, which uncovers true stories of diversity and inclusion.  She is also the bestselling author of two books; Inclusion, and How to Be An Inclusive Leader.


Website: Jennifer Brown Consulting




Inside this Episode:

  • What a Culture of Belonging Looks Like
  • Waking Up to Diversity & Inclusion
  • Recognizing Our Own Biases
  • The Problems of a Self-Perpetuating Meritocracy
  • The Challenges of Becoming an Inclusive Leader
  • Staying Relevant in a Changing World
  • Starting to Look Through an Equity Lens
  • The Importance of Recognizing Identity
  • The Relationship Between Inclusiveness and Performance
  • Corporate Culture Transparency and Accountability
  • The Power of Empathy in Culture
  • The Inclusive Leader Continuum

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John Ryan
You're listening to key conversations for leaders. This is episode number 42. Welcome, everybody. In today's episode, we'll be discussing becoming an inclusive leader with Jennifer Brown, we'll be talking about what a culture of belonging really looks like staying relevant in a changing world, and creating a corporate culture of transparency and accountability and much, much more.

John Ryan 0:23
Leadership is about vision. It's about creating a vision and sharing that vision with others in a way that inspires them to walk with you towards its fulfillment. Along the way, leaders encourage, motivate, guide and even challenge people to bring their best each and every day. And it's all done through conversations. That's what this show is about better conversations for better leaders, everybody, and welcome to key conversations for leaders with your host John Ryan, and today we have a very special guest, Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award winning entrepreneur, Speaker diversity and inclusion consultant and author. She is the founder, President and CEO of Jennifer brown consulting headquartered in New York City. She has been featured in media such as the New York Times The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Adweek, Bloomberg, Businessweek, Forbes, and many, many others. She is the host of the popular weekly podcast the will to change, which uncovers the true stories of diversity and inclusion. She's also the best selling author of two books inclusion, and how to be an inclusive leader. Welcome to the show, Jennifer.

Jennifer Brown 1:25
Thanks, john. I appreciate it.

John Ryan 1:27
You're very welcome. Thank you for joining us. You know, I wanted to start by asking you've written two books on diversity inclusion. And your most recent book focuses on inclusive leadership. When did you realize that there was a need for a book that really teaches leaders about creating inclusive cultures?

Jennifer Brown 1:46
Yeah, thank you for that question. If my first book was more of like a macro, 30,000 foot view of what is it and why should you care kind of thing. So a real context setter, the second book, I wanted to go deep into the the role of the leader in that system, right as the change agent, right as the agitator or the pearl in the oyster, the sand in the oyster, rather, that becomes the pearl, hopefully. So I really wanted to give a concrete tool with steps and phases, as I call them in a book so that somebody could read it quickly, it was really digestible, it was very, you know, the business world loves concrete things. So and I think there's a lot of myths and confusion and amorphousness about this topic. It's sort of, you know, we mistake being well intended and good people as being an inclusive person. And that while that the beginning step, it's doesn't go far enough. And so my book credit of encourages that proactive journey, what can you say? What can you do? How do you deal with the demons of like perfectionism, or, you know, feeling triggered by this whole year 2020 or feeling threatened and defensive? You know, and I think there's a range of emotions, a lot of people have felt. And so I've just been really grateful to have written that book a year ago, actually, in a couple years ago, because we know how long publishing takes. But it's written a couple years ago, right, anticipating this moment, I think, where there is mass confusion, hesitation, overwhelm, paralysis, and how critically important leaders are because many of the leaders, I think, when I say leader have power, access platforms, privilege, they have an opportunity to activate around a lot of who we each of us is, and that's what we need, we don't just need certain groups of people to be pushing. But it has to be met with full participation by everybody, because we want to build something better together.

John Ryan 3:46
I love that distinction between pushing and participation and really getting alignment and buying all levels. And but just to circle back for a second there on he had a really good point about, it's not just good enough to be a good person and to care about others. So this idea of, you know, be inclusive, it sounds like it's not inherent, like no one's born with an inclusive diversity, focus mindset. And it sounds like you'd really like to focus on here are the practical steps that you can do to make that happen. So this has to be learned then then being inclusive, and mindful and cultivating a culture of diversity. Sounds like it's a learned experience for all of us, perhaps.

Jennifer Brown 4:27
Yeah, I mean, it hasn't been on the job description for a long time forever. Because the workplace was built by and for, I would say, one group of people who identify in a certain way. And so it doesn't work for so many of us. And that's a real problem. It's a real risk in a world that's changing so fast in incoming generations of talent that is so fundamentally different than I know, my generation as a Gen Xer. So it's the preparedness that leadership never stops evolving, like the definition of what we need to know how to do It never stops evolving. But it has been, I think, frankly, really stuck. For years, I have all the books on my shelf, by the way, many of them are written by not my demographic. Right.

Jennifer Brown 5:15
And so you know, we've learned at the knee of leader leadership gurus, I think that literally have written these best selling books that never addressed the diversification of the workplace, and of the world. I mean, they can get away with writing about this completely not addressing how so many of us don't feel we can bring our full selves to work. And therefore, productivity and creativity and bottom line is, is impacted. It's enormous. So I just don't know how it could not have been addressed for all this time. And it's and it's something that as somebody who studies leadership, because that's what I thought I would go into before I went into the DNI. So I have a master's in organizational change and leadership and learning and development. So that was kind of my, my entree into this world. And then I sort of, I put the, the DNI lens on that. But the foundation of my practice really is thinking about the organization as a system, and how does it change? And who changes it? Where does power reside? You know, who are the stakeholders and the, you know, what do we have to consider, and celebrating quick wins or managing resistance? You know, it's all the change management stuff that I got to study, which has informed every move I make. So yes, I think to answer your question, there's been this willful, like not looking at the problem. And I and I don't know, it's probably a mixture of I didn't know there's a problem, because I think it's a meritocracy. And the meritocracy has worked for me. Therefore, I'm kind of making the assumption that this is a fair process with no harm in it for everyone. Because it's felt that way for me, right.

Jennifer Brown 6:50
So this is classic kind of Golden Rule versus Platinum rule, golden rules, like Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, it's classic self cleanse, and then the Platinum being as they would have them, have you do unto them. And it's just this switch is a fundamental shift that has to happen to say, my job as a leader is actually to enable the thriving of people that don't identify as I do, because those are going to be our future leaders and our customers. And I'm not going to know the first thing about those identities, probably, and so that the learning curve is really steep. And I wanted to be a part of helping leaders get on that curve, and then stay on it. Because if we leave because it's new or uncomfortable, or we're being challenged, then we are, we are missing out actually on a huge opportunity for our own transformation, not just the transformation of organizations, but I've been transformed. By studying that stuff, I was a kid that grew up only seeing white people until I was like 25. You know, I grew up in a certain way. And then I came out when I was 22, is LGBTQ plus. And that was like the first kind of break with the way the world I was shown and the way it was explained to me. And so that was an enormous gift to realize that I have a foot in a world of marginalization, and are several feet in there. And also, you know, another sort of deep history of privilege. And so it's really been fascinating to unpack all of it. And it's, I think it's an opportunity of a lifetime to think about how might I resonate with others and literally change the trajectory for them, and with them, alongside them. And my own trajectory to write my own. My own identities that don't get named and aren't represented, are also very deeply meaningful to me as well.

John Ryan 8:44
Well, you've dropped so many amazing nuggets and ideas that anyone listening can take in. And I'm just trying to trace it back a little bit, because one of the inherent problems that we have is, if you're in that power majority, then there's the bias that is there. We have blind spots. And there's also the self preservation practices and policies, and, and all those types of things. The idea of like, starting the journey, and going on the journey. So it sounds like it begins with awareness, awareness that there is differential in power and opportunities and all these other things and that we can get into. But also where does that look like? What is a true diverse belonging, culture? like where's the end of that journey? Do we have an idea what that looks like?

Jennifer Brown 9:30
Yeah, yeah. So you're right, that it begins with coming out of what I would call even before awarenesses on awareness or asleep, or actually apathy or resistance, right? All the things that precede aware. We've got a lot of folks there. And so that is a waking up process and it it happens in a million different ways. We got to get really creative with sometimes and sometimes it's just an aha moment. Like sometimes it's the story that you're here that changes you forever, you know, or you know, something that happens in your Family So, but once you're aware, it's the learning stage. So it's phase two in my model, in the second book, how to be an inclusive leader. It's literally the firehose of learning of 2020. Read this, listen to this podcast, watch the show like you just basically making up for an entire, an entire missing curriculum in the way that many of us were raised. That's, that's a lot. So 2020 has been intense. And it's caused us to look at ourselves and say, How am I participating in this, even by my silence, even by my believing I'm a good person, right? How am I biased? What do you mean? I'm not biased, right?

Jennifer Brown 10:36
We all love to pat ourselves on the back and say that, well, that's not me. You know, so it is all of us. It is. It's me, and I do this work for a living. And I notice things coming up all the time, right, from my upbringing, from the messages I've heard. So we don't can't eradicate bias, but we can become more aware. And then we can make different choices in response to noticing it in ourselves and others. That's where the work really is. But then, so you asked, What do we do beyond awareness? Well, the next phase is active. And so the big, like, inflection point is, okay, now, I've been told, now I've learned, now I have to do something with it. And that piece is really scary and risky, and you're going to be imperfect, and you're going to make mistakes, you're going to have to apologize, and it's literally a very vulnerable place because of learning a new language and trying to show up particularly if you are somebody who everybody watches in the organization and emulates and has positional power and authority, it's very scary to show up and say, you know, this is something I know probably the least about of anybody in the room. You know, imagine, you know, executives being able to talk that way, so and so active is the that third phase like it's the try and fail and try again, growth mindset fail forward, like all that good stuff. And then the end, not really the end, it's an aspiration, right. I'm not sure any of us really achieve it.

Jennifer Brown 12:01
But the fourth phase is advocate. And the way I define it is that advocates are practiced, comfortable, comfortable being uncomfortable, seek being uncomfortable, because they know its growth. They agitate the system, they ask the uncomfortable and inconvenient questions, they push on how we always done things and why and who's harmed in this process? Who's held back in this process? They're the agitator. And so I have the pleasure of knowing people of every identity that are advocate level on at least one or two identities. So if you're a parent of a kid with a disability, chances are you're an advocate, you know, because you know, that issue in and out. And so you see your workplace, for example, through that lens to say, what kind of workplace are we for people that need accommodations? Like, how much do we what are we missing. And so, it can be because you could be an advocate level because of the lived experience in yourself, like being LGBTQ. Or being sort of adjacent to and having loved ones and others that have influenced you in a way awakened to you. And then you've gone on this journey. So we kind of figure out for many people in the workplace, how to enable that commitment, how to enable that, I want to learn more, and I want to, I want to know enough to create change around me.

Jennifer Brown 13:28
And especially if you do or somebody that has you just to look at you a lot of privileges, and and even knowing people's backgrounds, I have leaders all the time that say to me, I don't know anything about this, like I grew up so comfortable, I had access to everything, I wasn't afraid for my safety because of who I love. I felt mentored, I felt supported, as I moved up in my group mean, you've got people who are very vulnerable and sharing that and saying, so now what do I do? Like how do I show up at a time when I'm not sure I just feel awkward and I'm not sure what to offer about how I can help. And that's when we we dovetail into this really beautiful conversation about all the kinds of privileges we have that aren't just white privilege or male privilege. There are so many, there are so many levers we can be pulling to change outcomes for others. But we've got to know how those outcomes are differential. We've got to know that first we got to understand the statistics and the research and what that tells us about different identities of women, for example, what gets in our way, you know, what's the pay gap? You know, I even find people don't even know there is a pay gap. So you can action around something that you don't even know exists. And then you deny because oh wait, I'm a good person. We're a great place to work Wait a second that couldn't possibly be and then to go deeper to say and by the way women white women have a different pay gap than women of color and you should know that number two, and then we need to gear our strategies accordingly. So there's just, there's just a lot of missing pieces. And it for me, it's always like, Well, where do I need to jump in and provide the bridge so that this person can get to the next step can get to the next step can get to the next step. Because that's, I think that's how people learn. And it's how people grow. And you got to meet people where they're at. I mean, that's sort of one on one of consulting so and it's, it's, it's an adventure keeps me on my toes.

John Ryan 15:27
That it's, it's amazing, and the depth and the simplicity of which you draw that map on awareness, awareness, and then into the active and an advocate. That's the right though correctly. Which one? Because it sounds like you said the vulnerabilities and can you imagine, imagine executive saying, Listen, I'm the like, the least person in the world who's qualified to say this, but we need to have this conversation? Where's the the hardest part for people? Is it going from the unawareness to awareness, it seems like those adjacent experiences can be the catalyst for that. But shifting into the advocate role can also it's like also also shifting your identity there to where do you find is the hardest part?

Jennifer Brown 16:07
I'd say the right side, the phase three active and the phase four, advocate, those those are when you go more public, those are when you start to really put a stake in the ground and say, like you just beautifully modeled, I want to talk about this, I want to have a conversation about this, I'm not gonna have the answers, I'm going to get things wrong. I'm going to do my own work, and my work is continuing. And here's what I'm doing. Right. So that is, I think that he, for some of us, it can make our ego feel threatened, I think, you know, the way that we've been celebrated for successes. And, you know, I always say I hate to say it, but what got you here won't get you there to quote Marshall Goldsmith, right, the world is changing, and you are at a major jeopardy of falling behind, if you don't share a lot of the lived experiences, or at least aren't adjacent to those on a regular basis in like, you know, your day to day life. Because you're just in a vacuum, you don't have that exposure and not having exposure is deadly.

Jennifer Brown 17:11
For a leader who's trying to pivot, you know, into being a sought after, you know, leader who's people trust, who's able to generate psychological safety, you know, who knows, who knows who doesn't feel safe in the workplace, and what identity has to do with that. It. So if if, you know, if you're not working really hard, and dedicating a lot of time to kind of rejiggering your leadership competencies, and what you're comfortable with, your your your days are sort of could be numbered. And that's true for companies to companies that are not digging deep right now to say, how our systems and processes causing harm keeping people down, not facilitating growth and acceleration and thriving and contributions. Anyone that's not taking a deep dive of introspection right now is really in a risky spot. It's a choice, not one I would make. So I would answer your question that activating. I think you put yourself on the line, you put your company on the line in your statements and the press right you make statements that you don't know if you can ever can ever achieve. You know, you get you get sort of overly eager, but you don't are not walking the talk to back it up.

Jennifer Brown 18:24
So there's there's some stake in the ground and accountability that you introduced both for yourself and for institutions at that at those upper levels of application. And, yeah, and I think that people just don't like to be raw, and he's uncomfortable not to know. And we've gotten addicted to, I think, our perfectionism how we show up. It's kind of counterintuitive, I think, to a lot of the norms, the norms of today's workplace. And that's what's what needs to be challenged to is the fact that it's so scary to admit these things and to make yourself vulnerable. You know, in this moment around diversity, equity inclusion that you you, you don't know the answers is, is literally the opposite of what we pay people to have, which is the answers. So I mean, think about like, what we've been trained to be, and how we've been told we need to show up this is exactly the opposite. And we need to then create the space in organizations for people to be learning together not getting it right. And that is who I mean that will make your organization amazing. But But organizations are bad at tolerating failure, and protecting those who are learning and fumbling. And then we have these one on one conversations across difference, right? If I'm a manager and I people on my team, like those are perilous to like we perceive them to be really scary, so we avoid them. And we don't want to say the wrong thing. We don't want to alienate somebody we want don't want to get in trouble with HR. So I mean, I've been listening to a lot of resistance points for years. Years and years. So I just have to get in there and figure out like, Is it just the perception that it's so scary? Is it is it really real? Like, what's I mean, and when I say what's the worst that can happen? I guess you can shut me down and say I get fired. Okay, so let's back up from that, let's try the big one.

Jennifer Brown 20:21
Yeah, let's just try not to lose our jobs. But if we always default to the, well, I can't do anything because I, I'm not going to do it right. And something bad is gonna happen to me. To me, I think that's a failure of courage. But I also would look at the organization and say, like, this needs to be a protected space in a way so that we can do this learning together and in community in perfectly like that has to be created. So, to me, that's a question of a culture norms that have been recognized, rewarded, you know, you and I know, some of those are very toxic, you can't fail here, you know, you, you know, only bring ideas forward, you know, if they are like, vetted by 100, people, you know, run things up the chain, respect the hierarchy and process, you know, they it's very bureaucratic. And it's really super bad for innovation. But it's also really bad for the what I'm talking about, which is, which is to create a living, breathing learning organization. So, yeah, it's a big pivot at that point. And then to be advocate as a whole next level, I mean, I think when you're ready to really rattle the cage, you kind of have to, I'd say, you have to have the privilege of putting your job on the line. I mean, when you're that outspoken, you know, you've got to have the socio economic wherewithal and the stability, to put it on the line.

Jennifer Brown 21:44
And that is, I can never, I can never promise anything to people that are willing to do that. Because I it's not, it's not my place. But you have to know that, look, I couldn't work, an advocate would say I could not work at a place that doesn't embrace this that isn't walking the talk that doesn't protect employees, and want everybody to thrive and really, like put some muscle behind that. I don't want to be at a place like that. So some of us choose to stay and be the squeaky wheel. Because we like that, right? And don't mind being the contrarian, don't mind stepping out of the box, and looking back critically to say, even to our peers. And there's other others of us who I think it really fatigued, having to be the advocate over and over again, having to speak truth to power having to challenge things being sort of separated from the in group, because the stakes are really high when we break, especially if you're an insider, when you break and you call people to account or you disagree, or you start to question, you threaten the power structure, and like you said, the power structure protects itself. So you know, it's a it's it's a very complex and sophisticated game at that level. And, but I am so grateful for what advocates that have come before me have done to kind of crack the ice. And maybe they've paid for it. But they've cracked it so that others of us can come through. And he made that first crack. Right. And that's, that's just something I'm hugely grateful for.

John Ryan 23:16
You've really identified the core of it, I think, and I'm sure there's specific resistance points, as you said, as to why someone wouldn't be an advocate and and really go for that having that real authentic discussion. Fear is probably behind all of it, and just in different forms. But then there's also that conflict, where you said, it's a value structure, like why would I want to be aligned and organized with an organization that doesn't treat people fairly look for a diversity and inclusion actively rather than as maybe a checklist or something?

Jennifer Brown 23:48
Yeah. And I would tell you younger generations, they are expecting all of this. So that's the other pressure point, I always give a gift to say, You've This is a table stakes for them, and they will leave and start their own thing. Or they can bring their full selves to work. So we bought the best and brightest talent, we still need people in companies, right, we still we got to capture their imagination, their sense of purpose. And also we've got to make sure they feel seen and heard and all of their intersectional identities because that is table stakes for them. So that's a huge warning, I think from the future, and a huge opportunity.

John Ryan 24:23
Well, I think that's one of the things I think is really interesting. You said, I believe you wrote this down that like 50% of the workforce by 2025 is going to be the millennials. And this is not a to be nice. Like this is what they actually expect. Like they grew up in a global world. And it's not tolerated like just for this is the way we've done it, it doesn't fly with them. So adapter died. One of the things I took away from Yeah, adapter die, I think you said earlier like, and I love how you're framing it from if you don't change, you're gonna get left behind. It's not just a moral responsibility an obligation, it's actually to your advantage. To adapt with the culture.

Jennifer Brown 25:02
Yeah. And we call this kind of the business case, if you will. And a lot of us as practitioners, we get really frustrated at being asked for the business case over and over again, right? Can you imagine how it sounds? For people who are like, well give me an yet another statistic about why this is good for the boss. I mean, it's almost like this sort of like this, like, prove it, prove it over and over again. And it's never enough. It's never enough. Because literally, Google the business, and it's everywhere. You know, it's Deloitte, it's McKinsey, it's the Pew Research, thought thought, you know, think tank, it's all these sources of information on innovation and Performance and Results, I mean, endless. So, but I do like, and then there's the moral case, which we, we wish could be enough. We wish, because, like, for me having to argue for like, why it's important for me to be able to thrive in your organization, like, why should I have to do that, you know, why shouldn't that just be apparent?

Jennifer Brown 25:58
You know, if you work so hard to hire me and find me, hire me, onboard me, only to squander it, because my workplace culture is so bad that I leave. It's incredibly expensive. It's really demoralizing. It's horrible press. It's all that stuff, right? So, but the moral case doesn't convince people here in you know, on a on a scalable way. So I love this adapter die thing, which is, hey, self interest, you know, do you want to pivot successfully. And in order to do that, you don't want to be on your heels, you don't want to be in reaction mode, you want to be kind of putting money in the piggy bank ahead of time. It's kind of like you, you invest in your network, before you need a new job. You want to make sure you're seeding all of those relationships and not kind of in a panic, you know, activating things that you haven't been investing in. And so this is one of those things that you want to be practiced in it, or at least familiar with it. So when something comes up, and it's a crisis, you have a thoughtful response and a plan of action, because it's not catching you unaware with no context. That's, that's it, that's also a very dangerous place to be in any business challenge. That's it, that would be a dangerous place to be.

Jennifer Brown 27:09
So you know, for example, you have somebody come out as trans on your team, I would say, and by the way, it's like one in five people under the age of 35, identifies is not straight, and also not cisgender. So I am I'm a cisgender. Woman, my pronouns are she her hers. So my sense of my gender matches the gender of the body, I'm in CIS is a Latin root means same. So we've got one in five under the age of 35, not identifying as heterosexual or cisgender. And so I personally as a leader would be prepared for this eventuality. One in five, in my work teams, in my organization, and in my family, and my kids, friends, and all of it, like I just would be studying so that I understand, for example, the importance of sharing pronouns, like I just did, I would be prepared, just like I would be prepared with compliance issues, or what's happening in my industry and the landscape. And why not like why isn't the workforce studied in this way? Why is why is it not assessed? And why is there not accountability around these things, when it's people fuel, fuel companies, they fuel product development, they fuel customer insights, and they fuel the way that we serve in the workplace in the in the marketplace? So I mean, if we're in business, we exist at the behest of our employees and the world that we sell to. And so if that world looks fundamentally different than we do internally, we there's a, there's a dangerous mismatch there. And that and but I know, we've been talking about both like demographic match and mirroring, but also the anticipation of the behaviors and the norms and the expectations, and you know, how people want to engage. So it's not just about representation, which is the who we often talk about diversity is the who, so the, you know, it's it's visible and invisible aspects of identity. But the How is really inclusion, which is how is that diversity galvanized to create better outcomes? And how is that leadership piece? How do I manage that diversity once I have it, so that I don't not just not just lose that diversity, but like galvanize it to create a one plus one equals three? So those are sort of those two words we hear? And I wanted to make sure I define them because they get used interchangeably.

John Ryan 29:34
Absolutely. When I think of diversity and inclusion, I think it's more the composition like the the who versus the how, and I wonder if that's the general consensus. So the next level is harnessing the power that you have with a diverse and inclusive workforce. And where does one begin without let's say that there's a right you're beginning to change the culture and you're getting more and more diverse inclusiveness? How does one go about harnessing that really?

Jennifer Brown 30:06
Well, I think it is. Acknowledging identity is is important. So, you know, you might have said, I'm not sure how your listeners identify. But we we might have been raised in a generation that said, seeing I don't see color and telling yourself you don't see color is really important. For the purposes of equality, right? We've learned this year that we have to see things through an equity lens, and an equity lens helps us see the differences and not sweep them under the rug. And actually gear our strategies and solutions are around that sort of differentially adjusting to level a playing field that looks like this right? To create that meritocracy that everybody seems to love and talk about all the time. So, and it hasn't been it hasn't been an equal playing field at all. I mean, you know, running the corporate race for people of color, and women and LGBTQ people has been like having hands and feet tied behind our backs. It's a fact, it's just a fact, because it just wasn't built in a way that accounted for us, you know. So, you know, I'm not casting aspersions, it just to me, this is just factual. So let's live. So then let's do something about it. It doesn't need to be like this huge moral argument, it just is. Let's think about how do we is it? Are we okay with that? Do we want to change it? How might we change it?

Jennifer Brown 31:26
So to your question, I think seeing identity and celebrating it and acknowledging it, and investing in it, is I think how people want to be seen and heard in organizations, far from the adamancy color, it's see me and hear me. And for younger generations, it's very baked into their generational identity is the see me hear me all of my identities, I'm going to bring all of that to the workplace, and I'm going to insert in a way insist on being seen and heard in a different way than I think I ever would have been comfortable with. I don't know about you, is not it was not the language, you know, we used, we had to fit into the system. So I think that's a first step. And then having a real authentic walk the talk, ongoing conversation about a workplace of belonging from the top is something that people listen to they look for. We we are on the hunt, I think to belong. And in order to belong, I think we can agree we need to feel valued, for all of who we are. And it's not just our work product, it's who we are, as well. So I think that's another thing that's really changing. We were my generation was judged by my output, it didn't matter what you know, it didn't matter what it looked like, from a bias perspective, certainly. But, um, allegedly, it's about the output. I think the output, though, is informed by our sense of belonging or not, you know, it is impaired. If I don't feel I, you know, that somebody is speaking a language that makes sense to me, and that I that my values align with the place that I'm getting my output in. And so and these could be things like, do I see someone that shares my identity has been very successful here? Like, is there diversity in senior leadership? Often we look at the mass heads of companies, and they are extremely homogeneous. So there's a gap there that then we have to think about, gosh, we've got this whole sort of cohort of coming in of young, diverse talent diverse in every way visible, invisible, and what are the what are they being greeted with? And what are they hearing or not hearing on a day to day basis? And where do the cracks start to appear? in relationship with them? And it can be subtle, it's death by 1000 Cuts? It's it adds up? It's little things. It's what we say or don't say about Black Lives Matter. It's who is like I said, what kind of representation Do we have of all different kinds of identities? Are those leaders? Do those leaders seem to be fully authentically themselves? Or if they're LGBTQ? Are they closeted, tons of closeted senior people tons. I know, a bunch of them are just not talking about who they are, because that's just not done. And so when you enter, imagine entering a workplace like this and kind of doing the math and saying, I don't know how I can thrive here, I don't see a pathway. I feel you know, I look different. And I am also outside of this quarter sort of mysterious power structure that I'm clearly outside of. And that seems to kind of give a hand to people that look like them, because that's more comfortable.

Jennifer Brown 34:46
So imagine that kind of day to day experience. And it's you can imagine how alienating it is and you certainly don't do your best work from that place. So yeah, I think what you can do so so representation at the top constant dialogue about the topic. So to end the walking of the talk, not just the talk, but the walking, which is the harder part. The, you know, marking setting goals marking progress, you know, speaking about and sweeping under the rug, different identities and how they're important in order to fuel innovation and productivity. Yeah, and then like, do you do your manager training, do inclusive leadership training, you know, have certain structural pieces or to have some sort of diversity and inclusion Council, or you can have diversity networks, which we call affinity groups or employee resource groups.

Jennifer Brown 35:34
So if you work for a larger company, you may know what I'm talking about. These are, these are employee led groups that are based on identity. And they're so powerful, so important for retention, so important for insights about these diverse communities that make up our customers, and really serve as a pipeline for that future leadership, right? They grow, they identify and grow, I think that next generation of leader that might not have been thought of, you know, when we thought of our leadership pipeline, because there's so much not seeing and hearing in the workplace of certain identities, you know, so, I mean, I can go on and on. It's, I think people get a lot of ideas from the two books that I wrote, though, particularly, I think, probably the first one on this, all of this.

John Ryan 36:21
Well, it sounds like on the outside, imagine some of the resistance points, I'm sure you come across it when someone says we'll make the business case. And really, it's probably a smokescreen, for other, anything, not awareness, all the things that you've mentioned there as well. But so it's got to be institutional, it's got to be multifaceted at the top at the bottom everywhere inside. And and it sounds like the gold standard is to have everyone be at that advocacy level to have the topics out there, even though it's uncomfortable, and also even be willing to challenge you know, things like microaggressions, like, so not talking about Black Lives Matter or not even addressing it. Like Is that Is that considered a black? A microaggression? Can you define that for us a little bit?

Jennifer Brown 37:06
Yeah, in a way, in a way it feels like it. It's a it's an omission. And it's a really harmful omission. And that's why you saw a lot of companies scrambling to make a statement, who weren't really doing the work. And that was that I think is like good instinct. But be careful on that execution, right, because that we also live in an age of transparency. And so there's no hiding, eventually, the truth about what your workplace culture really feels like, and you know, how people feel in that culture. It's very transparent, and social media, the accountability for companies and brands has never been more intense. So that it is a it's a, some would even say, it's a macro aggression, you know, to work for a company that remained silent on everything that happened this year, it's like inconceivable to me, but it is really common. It was an opportunity for us to even just to admit to say, I have not learned enough about this topic. And I we we have not addressed and even understood how we do with our workforce of different identities. And now I'm making a commitment to start to collect the numbers and collect engagement data and look at that data through the prism of identity and make a plan and have a strategy. So we do strategic consulting, meaning so our phone is ringing off the hook. That's such an old example, isn't it? My photos, I'm dating myself, I'm showing my generation, our emails have been blowing up of companies saying,

Jennifer Brown 38:39
companies say, Gosh, we need help. We know that we are horrible at this, we haven't done enough. We are being asked to do more. We don't know what more looks like, Can we get started. And what we'll do is do focus groups, data collection, surveys will collect some organizational data, we'll have quantitative and qualitative information. And then what we'd recommend is every organization needs a strategy, you should have a one or two or three year strategy in place. And you should be driving, whether it's your recruitment, retention, customer initiatives, product development, all the different functions of a business, meet their own goals. And then those goals need to roll up into a strategy that is at the macro level kind of tracking how the organization is doing. And then you've got to work, work the steps, you know, and then you're not going to always get things right things aren't gonna, you'll be surprised by what goes really well. And you may be horrified by something that you know, you don't get right. And it's about owning all of that, you know, it's about really communicating the full picture because that I think that it's not the perfection that is being looked for. It's the it's the effort and the holding accountable and the progress so when we get Stuck on Oh, I can't report anything back because it's not done or it's not perfect or we're just starting, what we've got to do is communicate our journey and say what you know, show the guideposts on the path. And we've got to say, here's where we're going, here's where we want to go, we've heard you, here's what we're, you know, we're going to accomplish. And, and along the way, there's going to be all the things I've just said, you know, well, well, intention, missteps, things that don't resonate, thing, you know, mistakes straight up. But a lot, I think effort and consistency and commitment and investment, over time count for a lot. And I think there's, there's grace for that. There's space and for that, because you cannot say I we want to be 100% better a month from now, Jennifer, like make us make us better, it's actually and it's actually not something a consultant can do.

Jennifer Brown 40:57
So, spoiler alert, it though, the water has to be carried by organization and specifically by senior leaders, not by those of us who have been laboring to be seen and heard in organizations not built by and for us. So remember that to the accountability shouldn't rest for change. With those of us who've been the most frustrated with the the system not working for us, right, we don't have the power, we don't have the mic, they don't have the numbers don't have the power, we don't have the, we don't have the power of the pen like that decision making power that this is a privilege, right to be senior means that you have seniority privilege, just to give that example of literally signing something, and changing an outcome forever. That's something if you hold that, then you shouldn't make people work for 10 years in your organization to like, try to push a change, when you can make that change immediately. And with the, I think, very little risk. So we've had it kind of backwards, we've put a lot of the onus for progress on those of us to kind of who are marginalized, to educate and to, you know, do all the heavy lifting, unpaid, most of the time, in our volunteer capacity, because we're so passionate about this, because we care so much, because we want our workplaces to be better for the future. So there's a lot of willing people that have done a ton of labor. And then we've seen kind of people with power, sitting on the sidelines being very passive and letting everybody do the work.

Jennifer Brown 42:37
So my second book I wrote was a call to action for anybody that has been doing less than they should, and less than they can, you know, this is I don't like sheds too much. I mean, I think back to my point about, like, You have no idea how this will transform you. It's incredible to learn people's stories, it's incredible to celebrate the richness of identity, to have a workforce that is alive and current and resonating in the world and anticipating who our customers of the future are. I mean, beyond the business case for all of that. It's an amazing human journey to have people trust you. And then be co creating with people that you have a deeper seeing with, it's just the level of performance is exponential, because I feel comfortable with you, you feel comfortable with me, like we've gotten to know each other I care about who you are, I want to be a part of lessening difficulties that you face, you want the same for me.

Jennifer Brown 43:39
It just is a it's a much more truthful interaction that I think would just be personally, I think, a tremendous retention vehicle, if we can harness it, you'd have a lot more people. Instead of saying, screw this job, like I hate this place, I'm gonna go be an entrepreneur, it would be oh my goodness, I love where I work. I love how I'm included, I love I feel seen, I feel heard. I feel like we're doing the work. I trust my leaders. I love our customers. We're literally like planning for the future. And we're very inclusive in that planning. And I have lots of friends who are who are very feel very, very deeply satisfied, I think with the institution they work with, and feel they can bring their full selves to work. So I know it's possible, but it's just not the norm. And that's the piece that really keeps me up at night.

John Ryan 44:28
And that's why you do what you do, love it. Well, it's so true. I mean, belongingness you know, basic Maslow, right, it's part of our human needs. And when you feel like you belong, you're going to have that commitment. So the business case can be handled, the moral case can be handled there as well. And also the human case, just the connection that we all crave and the okayness that we really want inside. And it sounds like it's paid by conversations, being willing to have that conversation and to be uncomfortable and get out of the comfort zone that we have. Especially top down because leadership has to be in Divine Masculine because because obviously conversations are a part of what you do. And there's certainly something that we value here at key conversations, what's a conversation around diversity inclusion, or in any area of your life that that has impacted you most or significantly, in professionally or personally,

Jennifer Brown 45:20
I always think about the the gender identity conversations really powerful to me. So, you know, when I have stumbled in identifying someone, or miss assuming pronouns, for example, and the end the reminder, for me that there's so much I have to learn, even though I'm part of a certain community that that technically includes transgender, non binary people, people that aren't cisgender, I can be simultaneously in that community and have a level of work that still needs to be done in me. And so you'll see me call myself in on stage sometimes, because I always commit to, or maybe I'm moderating a panel or something. And I always commit to sharing our pronouns with sometimes I'll forget to do it for myself, and then invite others to do it, and then have a conversation about it. So it's just a, it's a reminder, and also making my journey visible of imperfection, and where I am towards trying to be better and more skilled. And so those have really the the gentleness with which the calling in has happened as well, when others have invited me to not omit this or not make assumptions about how people identify, and to up my game in terms of language. And make sure I'm using the latest terminology, which is always changing.

Jennifer Brown 46:50
Those, to me are the most amazing opportunities for learning, but I have to say, I really appreciate the way that it's been done. And that is this concept of calling in which is done with, with grace and patience, and, and really love and care. Whereas calling out might be for example, if I were in front of 1000 people, and I did not ask about pronouns, or we, we didn't have that discussion, you know, somebody could stand up in the audience and call us out. Or somebody could call us out in social media, right, and sitting there on their phones saying, I can't believe we're talking about this. And this wasn't said, or this assumption was made. Or this question wasn't asked or invited. So anyway, I, as somebody who is learning in public, like I am, I deeply appreciate the call in. And, in fact, I am really, I feel very called to write my next book on something about this because I think the conversational skills on on many sides on all the sides of the equation, whether I'm the learner, or the teacher and the space holder, or the person trying to introduce some change and accountability. This is an art to grow together on such a sensitive topic that nobody wants to touch. Like, this is the ultimate exercise in conversation and listening and open ended questions and space holding and follow up and trust building and psychological safety. So it is Utah, it's this is not just a conversation, conversations across difference are the ultimate gauntlet. If you do that, well, you are the kind of leader for the future because it's going to be there's going to be more and more of this. And it has to be a comfort zone. And and by the way, through practice, it will become comfortable. I also want to say that I just feel like sometimes we get overwhelmed with a difficulty perception or reality. But the thing is, as you exercise the muscle, and you go to the gym and you keep lifting heavier weights, you're gonna get you're gonna get stronger, and this is going to be more comfortable. Maybe it never will be 100% but it because we should always be making sure we're uncomfortable on a regular basis, right? You've never kind of achieved Oh, I'm done. Like That was tough. Guess what I have like 10 more things you've got.

Jennifer Brown 49:15
Um, but, but to enjoy the journey, you know, it's a it's, it's such a it's so rewarding. I don't know how I convince people to not be afraid of it because it's beauty, the vibrancy of, of our identities and, and then need for us to have the workplace be a place where we, in all of our struggles can be acknowledged, and resourced and supported so that we stay. So let's talk about mental health. Let's talk about the difficulty of parenting, and homeschooling while we're working full time. Let's talk about the intersection of parenting and mental health. You know, And oh, by the way, being LGBTQ being a single parent, being a grandparent, raising small kids So many different configurations that have really, I think, been very revealed to us this year. They've always existed. But, but the transparency of the reality of each other's lives this year has been unprecedented. And we've been given a huge gift to see into each other's lives into our homes, into our families into our identities. And it's been really hard to see some of that and hard to have yourself on display. In that way, strangely over the screen, there's a lot that can be seen. But I think it's it's served as an incredible opening and invitation to conversation on a whole different level. That is exactly what we always needed. So this year has given it to us.

John Ryan 50:42
Yes. Thank you so much. And thank you for being a beacon of light and shining light on such an important topic that is going to be with us for a while, unfortunately. But hopefully, it'll continue to change in a positive direction. What is the best way for our listeners to get in touch with you and find out more about Joe for brown consulting?

Jennifer Brown 51:01
Thank you so much. Yes. So two books first is called inclusion. Second is how to be an inclusive leader. I'm on social media, Twitter, I'm at Jennifer Brown, Instagram is at Jennifer brown speaks. And you can find me by consulting companies called Jennifer brown consulting. So if you work for a company that needs strategy or training, please look into what we do at Jennifer brown I do lots of keynotes. I love it. It's something I really enjoy as an X performer. And so let us know if you're interested in that. And I have a podcast, I think you mentioned this earlier called the will to change. So we've been going for three years and have I think we're on episode 140 or something. And really enjoy those. We have a weekly community call on Thursdays at noon Eastern. So if you're interested in that, check us out on social media, we're always promoting the RSVP link. And you can come and listen to amazing speakers that we bring on who end up being in a really kind and beautiful and inspiring community of advocates. Yes. So I think that's everything. Thank you for asking.

John Ryan 52:06
You're welcome. I'll put links to those as many as I can find in the show notes for sure. And thank you again, Jennifer being here on the show. I appreciate it.

Jennifer Brown 52:14
Excellent. Thanks so much for this.

John Ryan 52:15
And for those of you listening and watching until next time, develop yourself, empower others and lead by example. Thanks for listening to key conversations for leaders with your host john Ryan. If you enjoyed the show, please let us know. Give us a rating or write a review. And if you'd like to connect with me and other like minded leaders, I invite you to join our Facebook group called Develop, Empower, and Lead where I deliver free live training every week. If you go to It will redirect you right there. Hope to see you there soon.

John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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