Zach speaks with Jennifer Brown, founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, and they take a deep dive into exploring what diversity and inclusion means. They also talk about what it really means to be inclusive as a leader, and Jennifer shares a bit about her latest two books.
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with the Living Corporate podcast. Now, look, y’all know what we do, man. [laughs] Y’all know. Listen, man, we try to drop–come on, Sound Man. Give me them air horns right here. [air horns sfx]. More fire for your head top, and look, today is no different. I ain’t even gonna get into a huge, long kind of, like, intro before I get into the interview, ’cause our interview was kind of long, but I really want y’all to hear all of it. I interviewed someone who is a strong–seriously, like, one of the leaders within the D&I space when you talk about, like, presenting content around intersectionality, diversity, inclusion. Her name is Jennifer Brown. She’s a facilitator. She’s a public speaker. She’s a consultant. She’s an educator. She has a background in change management, so there’s a lot of symbiosis between the both of us, and we had a really dope discussion just about what it really means to be inclusive as a leader, and then we had a conversation–like, kind of a meta discussion about the D&I space as an industry. If y’all remember–this was, like, way back in Season 1–we had Amy C. Waninger, and then we had Drew, A.K.A. Very White Guy, on the show, and Drew talked a little bit about the–, like, D&I as a business, right, and kind of, like, the capitalistic or corporate nature of D&I and, like, what that looks like, and we had a conversation about that too. It was really interesting. So anyway, what you’re gonna hear next is the discussion between Jennifer Brown and myself. She’s great people, definitely can’t wait to have her back on the show. Make sure y’all check out the show notes. You can look and see all of her information, including her latest two books, okay? So make sure y’all check it out, and we’ll catch y’all next time. Peace.
Zach: Jennifer, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Jennifer: Oh, thanks. I’m doing great. Trying to stay cool in this July.
Zach: Man, it is hot out here.
Jennifer: Yeah. Global warming. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] For real. Look, I gave a brief intro, but for those who don’t know you, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Jennifer: Of course, yeah. I–let’s see. I’m an author. I’m a keynoter. I’m a CEO and an owner of a consulting business, all of which is focused on building more inclusive workplaces for all kinds of talent to thrive, and it’s a passionate, personal mission that I have because I’ve been out since I was 22, and I’m in my 40s now, but the workplace was a place where I couldn’t really bring my full self to work. And I want to say it wasn’t just being LGBTQ. I mean, the workplace has all sorts of inclusiveness problems when it comes to people like, you know, us, and, you know, most people actually. Anyone that’s not a certain mold, and so as somebody who has–I have a master’s degree in opera, believe it or not. I came to New York to be an opera singer, and that did not work out.
Jennifer: Yeah, I know. [laughs] It’s crazy. Luckily I reinvented as a corporate trainer, because it’s all this–it’s like being on the stage, you know, and connecting with audiences. It’s just the topic is different. So I reinvented into that field, which remains really my field to this day. So we’re really–we’re a strategy and training company, and we’re working across the Fortune 1,000, I would say, on a daily basis. My team is all over the country. They’re amazing. They’re so talented at what they do. They have a lot more patience for client work than I do. [laughs] And yeah, we can talk about that if you want, but I’ve been a consultant in the trenches for a long time, and I’m actually really thrilled now to kind of be more living the keynote and author life. I just–I like it a lot. I love performing. I love big audiences. I like the challenge of thinking on my feet. I like having to write books on this topic and figure out, like, “What does the world need me to write next, and how do I take what I hear and learn and put it in a way that’s digestible for people?” Because it’s really–it’s kind of, like, a life-or-death situation from an inclusion perspective, and I deeply feel that, for myself and many, many others.
Zach: Wow. Well, thank you for that. Awesome. I’m already–like, my shoulders are kind of bouncing up and down. This is gonna be a dope conversation.
Jennifer: Woo! Yeah. [both laugh]
Zach: So today we’re talking about inclusive leadership, and before we get too deep into it, can we get some definitions on these terms? Like, from your point of view. Diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality. ‘Cause in a lot–in your content and in your IP, both written and your presentations, like, you use these terms a lot, and frankly your content is centered around these terms. For our audience, I’d love it if we could just, like, level-set what these things actually mean.
Jennifer: Yes, and you need to consider the history of the conversation. So in the corporate and workplace context, diversity is really–has been traditionally the “who,” right? The demographics, the representation in your workforce. Typically it’s [counted with?] gender, right? Which is where it started, and race and ethnicity. It wants to count LGBTQ and people with disabilities, but, you know, a lot of those folks can hide who they are, right? We are very good at hiding who we are and not checking boxes. So diversity has really been that representation, the mix, the complexion of the workplace [with a small C?]. And then inclusion really is the “how.” So “How do I make that mix work?” You know? “If diversity is the “who” in the mix, how do I make the mix work?” To quote my friend Tyrone Studemeyer, who is, like, a great chief diversity officer. He always uses that example. In fact, he brings a glass of milk on stage and pours in chocolate sauce, and then he stirs it, and he has this bit that he does. So it’s making the mix work, and honestly’s that’s really where behaviors come into play. And so it’s how–once you have that talent around the table, how do you make them want to stay? How do you include them, and how do you make them feel that they’re valued? And so inclusion is the how and the behaviors. And then intersectionality, something totally different. It is the mix, I guess, of diverse identities that make some of us who we are and kind of present unique challenges. Traditionally defined by Kimberle Crenshaw, of course, it’s the mix of multiple stigmatized identities that one person may carry. So why that’s important is that I think, you know, anyone who looks at gender issues, for example, as a white women’s topic, is not taking into consideration how women of color are impacted differently, how being an LGBTQ woman may mean that you’re not only dealing with your gender and all the headwinds that come along with that, but you’re dealing with the headwinds relating to sexual orientation. Or say you have, you know, a non-binary gender expression, or you are a woman of color and some of those things at the same time, or a woman with a disability. So it just goes on and on, and that’s a very helpful thing for the rest of the world, I think, to help people understand the levels of–and I would use privilege with a small P. I know that word sets some people off, you know, but I think we have to be realistic about some of us walking through the world feeling a lot safer and a lot more protected, a lot more supported. You know, right? Like, a lot more–that others are more comfortable with us because they’re relatively more familiar with us, and the sort of further you get away from I guess the straight white male norm that is, like it or not, the whole of the top leadership in the business world. The further you get from that, I think the more difficulty you have in kind of seeing yourself in workplaces, in being supported, grown, invested in, welcomed, proactively fostered. You know, all of the things that really, like, pull you up in an organization. So, you know, when you’re different in multiple ways, it’s kind of difficult to ever feel that you’re in that–in the place you should be in the machine that is the workplace. So, you know, this is where people fall out. They quit. They can’t stand it anymore. [laughs] You know, they go and become entrepreneurs, which is great, you know, but sad for corporations and large employers because, of course, you know, you’re bleeding out all of your diverse talent because your culture is sort of something that people can’t stand. That’s a problem. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] No, you’re absolutely right, and it’s interesting, right, because I was just having a conversation with a couple of close friends this morning, and I was talking about the fact that a lot of times, you know, when we talk about D&I in the most common contexts, it almost feels like some–like, really a competition between white men and [white women] for number one, and then kind of everybody else falls to the wayside. Right? Like, we don’t necessarily have, like–I don’t know if I’m necessarily always hearing, like, truly intersectional discussions around identity. I don’t know, and I don’t know if black women are often centered in those discussions. Of course in the past couple years we’ve seen, like, more and more content come out about it, so don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a debbie downer, but at the same time–
Jennifer: [laughs] But you’re right.
Zach: [laughs] I mean, here’s a great example, right? So I think it was–yep, Indeed. So Indeed just dropped a commercial, and there was a–the setting was, like, a board room, right, and in the board room, a white man was in the front and he was getting a promotion, right? And, like, the boss was shaking his hand, and everybody was clapping, and then there was a white woman, and she was just kind of standing there, and it was clearly–like, by the framing, right, of the commercial, that she was passed over for this promotion and that the white man got the promotion over her, right? And I was like, “Okay.” And so then she looks down at her phone, and she kind of smirks because she gets a notification she’s getting an interview, you know, somewhere else, right?
Jennifer: [laughs] Oh, my gosh.
Zach: Right? So she’s like, “I’m leaving,” and then it said, “Indeed.” You know? I was like, “Okay, cool.” So great commercial, but what’s interesting about that commercial was behind the white woman–and I don’t believe they did this intentionally, but maybe they did–and if they did, yo, they are super cold–but there was a black woman and a black man out of focus right behind them. And so it was, like, super interesting.
Jennifer: [sighs] Oh, goodness. Wow. Oh, somebody needs to give that feedback. I’m sure they’ve heard about it already. [both laugh]
Zach: But, like, the idea that a lot of times we talk about D&I, right, it’s often centered around gender. We’re not having really authentic discussions outside of that. And so a question for you – you know, in your book “Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change,” you discussed the nuances of privilege. And you just talked about lower-case privilege, lower-case P privilege. And to make an effort not to vilify white men who have, quote, “seemingly won the privilege lottery.” Is it possible to manage the egos of leaders who are in the majority while also having frank and accountable discussions about empowering black and brown professionals or just non-white professionals in the workplace? You know, in your work, what does that process look like? To establish trust for those discussions.
Jennifer: Yeah. I mean, that is really the work, and it’s–I think it’s, like, the third rail, honestly. It’s funny – being in the LGBTQ community, there’s a level of–strangely, a level of comfort and acceptance of talking about being “I’m a proud ally,” you know, or putting that rainbow sticker on your desk or in your email signature. And it’s fascinating to me because–by the way, the LGBTQ conversation is also not properly intersectional, right? So there’s privileged dynamics playing out in my–this community. I was going to say “my” community. One of my communities, you know, that women’s voices aren’t well-heard. People of color and the LGBTQ community, trans people, are not well-heard and are not represented in leadership positions in the workplace when it comes to affinity groups and things. So each community has its kind of diversity within its diversity challenges. [laughs] So I just wanted to make that point, because–I often say, “Just because you carry a marginalized identity, or even two, does not make you an inclusive leader.”
Zach: That’s so true.
Jennifer: Like, I wish it were true, but it’s not, and it’s been proven to me over and over again that, you know, I’ve made that assumption, and I’ve kind of been wrong. Like, I’ve been shocked by what people say. So, like, these–like, a lack of that intersectional lens and that inclusive lens can live in all of us, by the way. Elitism and, you know, that blindness and bias. Unchecked. Anyway, that’s one point I wanted to make. So how do we center more black and brown voices when the leadership of so many companies–and when you say they are the majority, we always have to clarify. I say majority in leadership positions, because if you look at the aggregate in most companies, of course, women are the majority.
Zach: That’s absolutely correct, yeah.
Jennifer: Right, and then a lot of ethnic diversity lives in different functional areas of the business and, you know, whatever, right? But it just totally thins out, like, when you go up the org chart, right? So the problem is all the power lies with a sort of very homogeneous group, and so the onus is on that group to acknowledge that the world is more and more black and brown, right? That they have to build that confidence and cross those bridges of understanding, and they have to know how to build trust with their workforce. Both current and future, by the way, which is most likely not going to look like them. And then they’ve got to do it in such a way that they–that then their employee and their leadership base looks like the world that they serve, which is increasingly female, right? Think about the buying decisions. Think about the exploding buying power of the black community. The LGBTQ community is now a trillion-dollar buying power. I mean, it’s massive. So any brand that’s worth anything, and any leader that’s worth anything, must look at this, should look at this, and say, you know, “My demographic group–maybe it was okay for me not to understand what keeps people in the organization I’m a part of or keeps people on my team or how to be a good colleague and sort of step out of my shoes and think about what the other person’s experience is like, but I better search and pay attention to this.” So my argument is always I throw the business case to people, the demographic argument to people. Sometimes it’s a moral argument. Sometimes somebody, you know, has kids of a different race than they are. Sometimes they have lots of daughters. Like, sometimes, you know, they have a unique view on all of this, and so when you, you know, [see?] somebody that looks like a white, straight guy, you know, you just never know what their diversity story might be, and I’ve been just shocked and reminded that, you know, I can–I can walk in a room and people assume I know nothing about this topic, you know? And that’s happened to me. I’ve been on the receiving end of that. And there are things I don’t know, for sure, but I desperately want people to listen to me and somehow kind of wedge my way in and make them listen and convince them and all of those things. So being LGBTQ helps with that. So I’m this interesting hybrid of, you know, being of an identity that people are more comfortable with, like, based on maybe what they see, but then coming out and challenging them to the point where, like, you can hear a pin drop when I do that, and that’s kind of–let me tell you, it’s pretty uncomfortable when you’re standing there in front of, like, 1,000 mostly men in, like, light blue shirts and khakis. You’re like, “How is this gonna go?” [laughs] So it takes–for all of us, you know, I think it takes bravery to show ourselves. For some of us with invisible aspects of diversity, it takes kind of a unique kind of bravery to be like, “No.” Like, “Make no mistake, this is actually who I am.” And particularly if it’s a vulnerable aspect of who you are. It can feel really risky. That could include, like, divulging about a disability or, you know, mental health and addiction issues, or age, you know? There’s just this, like, widespread hesitation to bring our full selves to work on so many counts, but when you are black and brown of course the issue can be “I can’t opt not to show who I am.” Like, “Who I am is often visible,” and it will trigger the biases if those are there, right? And so it’s a conversation we always have about–it’s not the pain Olympics, and that’s so important to remember. Like, that it’s not–it’s not a race to the–through the oppression hierarchy to say–
Jennifer: Right? Because that’s a useless conversation. I think we have to think about, like, what are the–what’s the damage that happens when, you know, we feel shame, or we feel compelled to downplay who we are, even if it’s very visible to others? And how can we support each other’s voices and create that safety for each other? And that’s what I think about every day. Like, if I have been given some kind of privilege with a small P [in] several ways that has been totally unearned by me–my obsession is, like, what responsibility and opportunity does that come with? Which is interesting, because I’m in the LGBTQ community, which is so used to needing that allyship, right? We think about–we struggle to bring our full selves and be comfortable, and we hide, you know? And so allies really bring us out, you know? They stand alongside us and say, “Hey, I’ll tell your story. I’ll be next to you. I’ll have your back.” It feels amazing to have that, and I know what that feeling feels like, and so I am turning around and, like, trying to do that for others with my people, which often is my lovely, often good-hearted, you know, white, straight male executive clients, you know, to say, “How can we help you bridge to the future?” Because opting out is not–that’s not an option, you know? I think–and the more clued-in ones know this, and I think people are mostly feeling just, like, really–like, wanting to do more, very awkward, very afraid. I know in the light of MeToo, just purely a gender conversation, the–you know, that lean-in research that came out a couple months ago that says that, like, male leaders are, like, even more afraid now to be in these one-on-one scenarios with female mentees or colleagues, and it’s really discouraging, and it’s definitely going in the wrong direction, but I think that fear is probably bigger than just cross-gender. I think that it’s just kind of any moves you might make to say, “Hey, I want to be an inclusive leader. I’m gonna mess up. I’m gonna say the right thing. I really, really want to be better, but how am I gonna learn this thing that I’m gonna get wrong, and where am I gonna learn it? And how am I gonna know that I’m getting it wrong? And then how am I going to be given a chance to develop better skills?” And that’s a very legitimate question. So I think we’ve got to all kind of give each other a lot of berth and also proactive support these days to learn, and we’ve got to do that in partnership with each other, because otherwise we’re learning in a vacuum, and that’s hard to do.
Zach: It’s so complex though, right? Because it’s like–like, there has to be space for grace, and then there also has to–like, on both sides, because there’s grace for you to learn–there’s grace for me to give you space to learn, but then there’s also–there has to be humility for you to receive that learning, right? And then there needs to be empathy on the person who is learning for their teacher in that there is a level of emotional labor, right, that goes into me even talking to you about this at all, right? I had a conversation with some colleagues, like, about a month or so ago, and I was like, “Look.” Like, something happened, and, you know, it was an educational discussion, and in part of my conversation I said, “Hey, you know, I don’t talk about this because it’s exhausting.” I said, “But being in these majority-white spaces–just me being here is exhausting,” and I explained that to them, and I said, “It’s not just me. It’s exhausting in some way or form or shape for someone in a minority to engage in majority spaces.” Like, it is, and so, like, for the people that are doing the work to educate and train and teach or even partner–like, that’s–like, there needs to be some empathy on that part, you know what I mean?
Jennifer: Yeah. Well, we talk a lot about compassion fatigue, and I think that–and then us being asked to step forward and represent an entire community and their experience, which you and I know is never gonna be accurate. You’re just one person talking about your experience.
Zach: Right. Not [?], right.
Jennifer: Right, but what you’re talking about is something–what I say in my next book, right, “How to Be an Inclusive Leader,” is that you need to do 80% of the emotional labor yourself before you ask someone to help you on your journey.
Zach: Oh, I love that.
Jennifer: It’s so important, yes. And so for me, what that looks like is I intentionally consume certain media, for example. I listen to certain podcasts. I watch certain films. I acquaint myself with cultural norms across communities that are not mine, right? And in some cases it’s a struggle through some of that media, because that media is not built for you. It’s not a conversation for you, right? [both laugh] And I’ve had white friends, and I talk about, like, a podcast we may love. Like, one I love called “Still Processing.” I don’t know if you know it.
Zach: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. “Still Processing” is fire. Shout-out to y’all, yes.
Jennifer: Oh, it’s so good. So good. And they’re queer too. Like, I just love them. I mean, talk about intersectional. They’re brilliant. And anyway, I sometimes have a hard time keeping up with it, but also getting all of the cultural references–and sometimes even I will feel, “Gosh, I’m such an outsider, and this is so uncomfortable for me, to try to hang in with the conversation.” And then I say to myself–and this is what I say to leaders–“Notice the discomfort, because this is what other people feel every single day in majority-white spaces.” Every day of their lives, right?
Zach: Right. [laughs]
Jennifer: Like, you’re uncomfortable for one second, right? Like, get used to it. Like, you should be putting yourself in this discomfort all of the time, because this is the competency. Like, this is the skill that you need to learn so that you get some iota of empathy for what it feels like every single day for other people. The other thing I wanted to say is we just had an LGBTQ–we called it LBTQ. It was just for women actually, so we dropped the G. [laughs] Which was–you know, people can have issues with it, but we dropped the G. It was just meant for Q-identified women. And we had this big conference, and we asked–we had a TON of diversity on the stage, which was my commitment, and we had a couple activists that were trans women of color, and they said, “I will come, but I want you to know, like, Pride is exhausting for me.” It was in June. “It’s exhausting for me. It’s exhausting for me to walk into corporate spaces, to educate, to be that voice on stage, and I’m sort of doing this, but I want you to know it’s, like, a lot of labor for me,” and I want I guess for all of us that put panels together, for all of us that are speakers and on panels–it was such a learning for me to understand that when you ask someone, you’re trying to be inclusive, but it is so seen through this lens of “Oh, I can take the day and go speak at this conference ’cause I work for myself,” or, you know, “I’m an activist or an advocate.” Like, an activist doesn’t always look the same or have the same level of privilege or income. What is the lost income from taking a day out to go into a space you’re not comfortable in and educate people about your experience? Like, it was really humbling. And what we ended up doing, by the way–and this may be helpful advice–is for all the speakers, that day we had 30 speakers, we really want to intend that we take up–we have a stipend and honorarium for people who take the time out to come into that space. There’s a question of real money, you know, to offset that time and that labor. And again, this was another kind of learning for a lot of privileged people of the privilege that allows them to come in and speak all of the time on things that have a full-time job, you know, that have benefits, you know, that aren’t witnessing, you know, the really, really painful reality of certain parts of our community every day. I just thought it was a really interesting demonstration within a marginalized community of sort of the gulf in our experiences, right, even within LBTQ women. So I think being mindful of intersectionality all of the time, it’s incumbent–it’s incumbent on anybody who has that platform, that voice, that comfort to whatever degree, to ensure spaces are diverse, to ensure voices are elevated, to center stories that aren’t our own, and to make sure that those stories are given the proper platform and that people aren’t overly requested to give up their time and education. But that means that each white person, each man, you know, when they support gender equality, I would ask, like, “What are you reading? What research do you have under your belt?” Like, “How are you exercising your muscle to show up in allyship, and what are you doing?” And then, and only then, can you ask for tweaks and feedback from people in affected communities. You know, “Did what I say resonate?” “Did the story–did I do this justice?” “Did I use my voice in the right way?” “What more could I have done?” Like, “What feedback would you have for me?” That can be asked, but so much has to be done and earned before that. And then–you know, and then bring somebody in to give you that feedback and make you better, because, you know, without that feedback I can promise you people aren’t gonna get better, and they’re just gonna keep stumbling, and stumbling is not good for anyone. [laughs] It’s humiliating.
Zach: No, you’re absolutely right. [laughs] The thing about it is there’s nothing–so I think the only thing worse than being loud and wrong is being really polished and wrong, right?
Jennifer: Ooh, that’s interesting.
Zach: Right? It’s like, you know, you’re talking, you got the presentation, and, you know, you got your little clicker, and you got your three points and your–[both laugh] And your pantsuit looks great, but you are wrong.
Jennifer: Oh, my gosh. It’s in the corporate speak.
Zach: Right, it’s in the corporate speak, but–
Jennifer: People can see through it.
Zach: But you’re absolutely wrong. And your earlier point about Pride, yeah, and, like, this past year was so big because it was the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and it’s interesting ’cause you talked about–you were talking just a bit about, like, the dissonance there and, like, the emotional labor for everyone who is a minority, but then specifically we’re talking about trans activists, and it was so interesting because–I believe it was on the 30th. Like, right at the end of Pride there was a situation at Stonewall Inn where, you know, there was a desire from a trans women to speak up. She wanted to talk a little bit about the day and just reflect, and she was shouted down.
Zach: Yeah, by gay men who were there in names of, “Hey, we just want to party. We don’t want to hear all of that,” and then eventually she was able to speak, and she spoke for about 12 minutes, but it was just really interesting. She read the names of the black trans women who died and facts and the disproportionate abuse and oppression that black trans women have and continue to face, and so you’re absolutely right. Like, and I think it’s incredible. I have yet to have the privilege to directly interview a black trans activist. Like, that’s actually a serious [goal] of mine.
Jennifer: I can hook you up.
Zach: Well, let’s do it. Let’s talk about that after the interview. For sure.
Jennifer: [laughs] Yeah, for sure. So yeah, it’s been such a learning for me. And this is why I feel so–the ally energy in me these days, even in the LGBTQ community technically that I’m in, I feel so activated as an–and I don’t even want to say, like, “I am an ally,” because we’re only allies when others give us that–give us that name and that honor, right? But I’ll tell you, whether it’s me as a cis woman–you know, I spend my time on the keynote stage asking people in the audience, “How many of you know what I mean by sharing our pronouns and why it’s important? And how many of you know what cisgender means?” And sharing my identity and coming out as cisgender so that–and sharing my pronouns so that I’m not acting like heterosexuality and cisgenderness is normal, you know? We have to make it visible in order to even point out to people that this–we shouldn’t be assuming this is normal, and you shouldn’t be walking around every day assuming everybody shares your identity. Like, and we’ve that. I mean, so many of us have been so comfortable and–you know, I’ll share it. You know this statistic probably, but it’s so startling that 1 out of every 5 people under 34 is non-cis and non-straight. So 1 out of 5. So as you walk around your life, as you hire people, as you work with teams, as you meet customers, 1 out of 5, and yet the chances are that they’re hiding that from you and they’re not comfortable for you. So what can you do to say, “Hey, this is a safe place. I am someone that you can bring your whole self to me, around me, and I will see you, and I will be not only just open to it, but I will be embracing of it, and I won’t assume that you’re like me.” You know, “I will give you the chance to self-identify,” and I will self-identify. I will be brave in doing that, because, like, I’m not gonna put all the burden on you to talk about your experience, but I’m not gonna remain silent and not talk about mine.” It’s funny, because I get a lot of questions afterwards. People come up to me and say, “How do I start that conversation with someone?” To say, “Hey, I’m doing my work. I’m trying to learn. I want you to feel comfortable. What would you like me to know?” And we sort of walk through, like, “How do I even start that conversation?” Because people are really–they just don’t know how to begin, and they don’t know whether it will come across as authentic, and they’re worried they’re gonna be out of their depth really fast. [laughs] Which, by the way, they will be. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] You’re absolutely right, but I think it’s the internal getting yourself comfortable with being uncomfortable and being comfortable with being ignorant, and ignorant truly meaning just not knowing, and seeking to learn, right? Like, MLK Jr. talked about this. Like, he was quoted saying something like, “White people, as part of their superiority, think that they have so very little to learn when it comes to–” Like, just race, matters of race, and I think that can be extended and expanded, right? That if you’re a part of a majority, a part of a privileged class, it’s easy for you to think that you just–you don’t need to learn, but being curious, right, and seeking to understand is, like, one of the greatest signs of humility, and really it’s endearing. Like, the right people, in my experience–when I come to people and I say, “Hey, I really just want to understand. I want to learn from you. I genuinely want to learn.” Those discussions go well, because they–
Jennifer: They do.
Zach: Right? They go well, because you’re humbling yourself to listen and to receive. You talked about the statistics, about 1 in 5 today, [and] I think that really leads me well into the next question. So a good deal of your book discusses the future of work and the role inclusion will play. What are your predictions on how organizations will need to adapt to attract future diverse talent in the next 10 years?
Jennifer: Oh, my gosh. Well, they’re all, like, woefully behind already and have been. [laughs] It’s like the ostrich with its head in the sand. I think, you know, when business is good and the economy is good, it covers–it’s like high tide, you know? It covers up a lot of things that low tide reveals. And I think a lot of people are too comfortable. You know, I just think that business leaders in particular–and to your point that you just made, right? If life is working out for me, like economically I’m comfortable, I’m not afraid of, you know, being pulled over, you know, as I’m driving. I’m not afraid for my child in the world. You know, all of those things that are blind spots for some people. You can kind of sail on through life and through your work in being a leader, believe it or not, and not really be held accountable for a lot of these things. People deny that it’s an urgent situation, but I see it as a really urgent situation, that the fact that, you know, the number of women and people of color at certain levels in companies–which I’m kind of obsessed with the mid-level, because the mid-level is where people–they’re really tired of hanging on, like, white-knuckling it up the pipeline, trying to, you know, get supported, get promoted, get–you know, have somebody take an interest in them, have somebody run interference for them. You know, when you’re undermentored and undersupported, and then you’re underrepresented as well, and you look around, and you look up, and you don’t see anyone that–you know, we say “you’ve got to see it to be it.” You know, you get tired, and it’s no wonder to me that the numbers and the representation of anyone who’s not a straight white male have been kind of really flatlined, you know? And even the best and most progressive companies are really struggling to hold onto people, to raise them up to the level where I want to see them, right? Which is the executive level, because then they can make all–a whole world of difference, you know? An executive leader can, with one signature, you know, create a policy or address the pay gap, you know? They have so much power. Or hold a customer accountable, or take a stance on a political issue in social media. And so if people can’t make up there, and we decide to bail out because it just proves too arduous and we’re just, like, physically tired, and we’re emotionally tired, and the compassion and fatigue and the emotional labor and all of it, being the spokesperson for an entire community. It becomes too much, and, you know, then we leave and we create our own businesses, which is a great solution, which was, you know, the thing I did. [both laugh] You know, ’cause I was like, “This is not gonna work for me.” But that’s a loss, because not everybody is set up to be an entrepreneur. You know, you need a lot of capital. You need–we talked about privilege. You know, you need certain things in place in order to make that work, and it’s just not tenable for most people. So workplaces have to work for people, for all of us. So the future of work, you know, I get asked a lot about quotas and targets. I personally–I hesitate to say this, like, super publicly because companies are really twitchy about requirements and quotas, and you get a lot of pushback, but I’m honestly–I’m at a point where I feel like if people are left to their own devices change doesn’t happen, and if change does happen it’s slow and it’s not widespread, and it’s too slow to make a meaningful difference in the short amount of time we have to really see change.
Jennifer: I mean, I think the house is on fire. [laughs] You know, I think economically people are falling behind. They’re not getting promoted. They’re therefore missing out on economic growth and opportunity and wealth, and, you know, I’m just not seeing it, when the world is changing so fast and companies are not keeping up with it. And so is the bottom line impacted? Is ROI measured? You know, we really–we have to have, like, an honest conversation about losing customers and clients and people leaving the organization, and companies have to wake up and say, you know, “If we don’t do something really serious about this, we’re gonna be sitting in the same exact place in 10 years.” So, you know, I’m all for the more radical solutions. You know, I think–honestly, I think slates, interview slates, need to have a required number of women on them and a required number of people with diverse ethnicities. LGBTQ is tough because we don’t disclose. So the companies I work with struggle with something called self-identification. We don’t trust our companies–and this just speaks volumes–we don’t trust our companies enough to check a box about who we really are, so we can’t be counted. [laughs] So we–so, you know, there has to be, like, faith that we exist in organizations upwards of maybe 10% of the population, because we’re only–on paper, we’re only recorded at, like, 1%.
Zach: Yeah, and that’s just not accurate, right?
Jennifer: No, it’s not accurate, but we’re doing that because we’re terrified, you know? We’re terrified of losing our job. We’re just–even in the best companies. And that’s true for people with disabilities too, but I think [some] companies have to [?], and I think they’re gonna get pushed back. If they roll things out like this, they’re gonna get a lot of pushback. People are gonna say, “I don’t want to be forced to–” You know, “I believe in a meritocracy, and I want to hire the best person for the job, and you can’t force me to hire a candidate that’s less than,” and my answer to that is if you did a good job of having enough of a pipeline of all kinds of talent, it wouldn’t just be one candidate you’re looking at and you’re feeling like somebody, you know, is forcing you, holding your feet to the fire to hire them. You would have lots of choices. And so we’ve got to do a better job of filling that pipeline, keeping people in the pipeline, not letting them leave, and investing in them so that they feel they can thrive at a company long-term instead of wanting to bail out because they can’t stand it out anymore, you know? That’s just a sad commentary on workplace culture, but unfortunately I think it’s the experience of tons of people that I talk to.
Zach: The thing about it is the challenge with it is like–your earlier point around change, like, not–you know, that if left to its own devices will happen so incrementally, so small, that it won’t be–it won’t have–
Jennifer: So slowly. It won’t be meaningful. It won’t even be big enough, yeah.
Zach: And I think when you look at American history and you look at the history of civil rights in this country, it’s really–I don’t know if we have, like, a tangible example of truly radical sustained change from a culture perspective in this country. I think when you look across–especially when you look at, like, this current presidency, it’s actually forced a lot of people to really, like, look at the history of race relations in America, especially if you want to examine, like, the past 55, 60 years, and you look at–and if you look at, like, the economic positioning of blacks today versus blacks in 1967, you know, you don’t see the needle moving much at all. In fact, in a lot of areas you see the needle moving down. So it’s interesting, so I 100% agree with you that there needs to be some genuinely radical–I’m gonna use the word again, radical–change in thought in terms of just what it’s gonna look like, because–and we talked about this in another interview too. We talked about the future of work and we talked about the future of learning and education. You know, as the economy shifts and changes and more and more folks are not going to school, because school is going to continue to get more expensive and–like, all of that, it’s gonna create a completely new environment that I don’t know if we’re really taking the time to really examine and consider.
Jennifer: I know. We’re still having the conversation with managers to say, “Hey, don’t hire from the school you went to. That’s bias.”
Zach: Right. [laughs]
Jennifer: You know, literally that’s where we are. But you’re talking about, like, the 3.0, which is literally that people are not gonna have these traditional college degrees or any degree. They’ll go to trade school or whatever it is. Like, they’re gonna have completely non-traditional backgrounds. They will have been, you know, previously incarcerated. They will be, you know, of different statuses, and we have to figure out–like, workplaces need all the talent they can get, and yet they’re completely behind in terms of how they seek that talent, where they look. People, like, throw their hands up so too easily, you know? They just say, “Oh, we just couldn’t find anyone.” [laughs] You know, it’s just, like, endless, the stories I hear. And I don’t know. It’s laziness. It’s–I don’t even know. I mean, it depends on the day, like, how cynical I am about it all, but I don’t know. [laughs] I just am like, “Really?” Like, if you really wanted to find people, they’re there, and I–believe me, ’cause I’m on Twitter, and, like, Black Twitter is on fire. Like, you know, the number of angel investment groups, the number of VCs, the number of start-ups, the number of black girls who code. Like, there’s such a great community to recruit from, and I just–I wonder, like, what is it–what is it that people aren’t doing or won’t do? Like, what is the hold up?
Zach: Oh, no, 100%. You know what, Jennifer? I’ma say this. Hold on. You know what? You’re a real one. I appreciate you. That’s a really good call-out, ’cause you’re absolutely right. Like, Black Twitter is poppin,’, and, like, there’s so much–there are so many pools, right, of talent for you to engage in. There’s Black Code Collective, like, in D.C. Like, there’s all types of stuff. Like, there are people–and, like, to your point around, like, how people are learning today, there are people who went to culinary school and then, like, are now learning how to code, and, like, they’re good at it, right? There are communities now that will welcome you in for free. You will–you can learn, and you can genuinely understand and learn how to code. And so there’s plenty of opportunity to deepen your pipeline, so yeah, that’s a really good point. There are things that people either aren’t doing or are choosing not to do, but the talent is definitely out there. You know, you talked about cynicism. I think that really leads to my next question. Like, can we take a step back and just talk about, like, D&I, or I&D, as an industry, right?
Jennifer: Oh. [laughs]
Jennifer: Speaking of cynicism, I think I know where you’re going with this. I’m ready to go there with you too, so I think I know. [both laugh]
Zach: So there’s a growing sentiment, right, that the largest voices who are advocating for diversity and inclusion in highly-visible or corporate/corporatized spaces are themselves members of the majority and, by relation, have some inherent blind spots within the subject matter that they espouse expertise in. Do you find any merit to that concern? And, like, what have you done to challenge your own blind spots? You spoke to this a little bit earlier, but I’d love for you to expound on that and if you have any other advice you would give to others.
Jennifer: Hm, that is such an interesting observation. It’s funny, because I could make the counter-argument that I think we’re in a time–like, you ask any white diversity leader right now, and their credibility is questioned on a daily basis to be in the role they’re in. Like, that is the truth. In fact, they get, like, threats.
Jennifer: Yeah. I’ve seen some people get some serious heat just for having the audacity of even having the position or accepting the position.
Zach: Oh, wow.
Jennifer: Yeah. So there’s many stories, right, on all sides of this issue, and like I said, I think–I don’t know if I said it earlier, but when you’re a marginalized community, it also doesn’t mean that you’re a great leader on inclusion necessarily.
Zach: That’s true, yeah.
Jennifer: Because I’ve seen plenty of–you know, like, we were talking about white gay men at Stonewall who were–you know, can be, like, very misogynistic, very racist, very–and so, you know, that can carry forward into a diversity leader role, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are totally, you know, not effective practitioners, and it also doesn’t mean because you’re a person of color that you’re an effective practitioner, right?
Zach: That’s right.
Jennifer: So to me–and you respect this–it’s a skill set, you know? It is a skill set, but it is also your identity, right? And it’s how you deal with your identity in the world, and it’s how you integrate those two things that makes you an effective voice. But also you’ve got to be an incredibly savvy change agent to have these roles. I mean, they’re very difficult roles. They’re some of the most complex roles that exist, I think, in business, because it’s part influencing, it’s part executive, you know, believability, credibility. It’s passion. It’s change agility. It is storytelling, right, and being, like–but incredibly data-oriented and, you know, convincing, and knowing the business so that you can make the business case, right? So you need to know the business you’re in in order to make the argument for D&I, and you’ve got to be able to do all of those things. And by the way, you’re probably part of a marginalized community, and you’re dealing with all of the biases personally, like, that you’re getting, at the same time as you’re leading an entire institution, like, through this morass, you know? Through these really difficult, tense, and, you know, complex times. So it’s really, like, one of the toughest roles, and I have so much respect–I worry about our practicioner community, both on the consulting side but really our internal–my internal clients, ’cause they’re just–they’re holding up, you know, this planet, you know, these giant organizations. Anyway, but to answer your question [of] “Who’s allowed and who has permission to do this work?” It’s a very good question. I mean, I’ve even questioned–you know, ’cause somebody hasn’t dug into who I am and has judged me just based on what I look like, and that’s okay. I mean, I would say, you know, it hurts me, but whatever. Like, that doesn’t matter. It’s most important, I think, for us not to judge each other, I think for us to look at the skill set objectively, but I do think the optics of people in these roles are important. You have to be, like, a really amazing, humble leader. Like, you have to be–you have to be really deep in the work, I think, to take on that role as a majority identity. If you’re a–say you’re a white guy. I don’t know a lot of white straight guys in these roles. I do know white gay guys, and they–every day their privilege is pointed out to them. Every day. Nobody lets them forget, you know, that they are–that they have an enormous responsibility in that role and that, like, they have a lot of work to do. And if you talk to any of them–and I know some of my clients are of that identity, and it’s a tough lift for them. I know some straight white women, and again, they are pretty enlightened people, and they’re very humble, and they’re very, like–they’ve been studying this for a long time. Some of them have sort of really personal relationships. I know a lot of gay white women actually in these roles, and they–and sometimes I know gay women of color in these roles, and they’re amazing. I mean, amazing amazing. Like, and the intersectionality they can bring to it is deep, and I find–not to say, you know, certain combinations of identities are, like, more important, but to be able to speak to so many different identities in your workforce in a direct way, you know, there’s kind of–that’s a wonderful shortcut, to be able to do that and on top of that be, like, somebody who’s, like, been in HR for 20 years, you know, and is super savvy about playing the politics and all of the other things you need for the role, but I would like to think that we can all–we all have a role to play, and some companies are more embracing of–I will tell you some inside baseball. Sometimes I get asked to send, you know, a white man to a consulting engagement, and–that is true, you know, and talk to anyone in the work that I do, and they’ll tell you that’s [?]. And we will push back. We will say, you know, “We’re not sure that’s the right answer,” and “Let’s talk about it,” and, you know, sometimes strangely it is the right answer for certain groups who have been really, really recalcitrant and resistant, and the messenger matters sometimes more than the message. Like, certain people can be heard in certain ways, and we know this is true. So we–that’s why we have such tremendous diversity on our consulting team, because we just–we have to get creative sometimes and make sure that we build a pairing, for example, that’s gonna be in front of a room that maybe the client is really, really struggling to be heard in front of this business unit or this team or this, you know, office in a certain region in the country, and we’ll need to switch it out. You know, we’ll need to put a different voice in front of people to see, you know, and sadly the messenger is something that needs to be considered. And I wouldn’t let it rest, and I wouldn’t not challenge it, but I do think we–we’ve got to use every change tool in our arsenal, particularly with those who are really resistant and really stuck and I think experiencing a lot of bias per the messenger that they’re hearing the message from. And it’s funny. You know, I have to be really careful. I can’t be the angry–I have to be careful to not be the angry woman and the angry gay person, and I can’t imagine what it would be like delivering that truthful message that I do and also being a person of color, right? I’m very aware that I have a lot more latitude for my quote-unquote passion to come through, right, and to be–and not to have it seen as being threatening, you know?
Zach: Absolutely. And, you know, your point around, like, changing up the messenger and mixing it up, it’s really interesting because in the work that I have done, I have a similar strategy–and it’s interesting, because I do that without even being asked. Like, I’ll just be like, “Look, I know that for this I just need to have a really approachable white face to deliver this message,” and they’re partners for me in that. And honestly, Jennifer, I do that even just at work. Like, if I have a big meeting–
Jennifer: Of course. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] If I have a big meeting or, like, you know, there’s just something going on and it’s like, “Okay, I really want to share this thing, but I know that if I say it, then it’s gonna get an eye roll or it’s not gonna be heard, so let me go ahead and mobilize this white woman or this white guy.”
Jennifer: Your allies.
Zach: Yes, and then I’ll have them say it, or I will let them know that I’m about to say it.
Jennifer: I wish that weren’t true.
Zach: Say that again?
Jennifer: I just wish it weren’t true, like, that you have to do that, and to me that’s, like, the extra tax that we pay. You know, that’s extra labor. You have to literally not only have the brilliant idea, but you have to, like, strategize about who is, like, sitting next to you or, you know, backing you up when you have a brilliant idea, or who’s gonna echo your–you know, women deal with this, and we all know this is, like, a fact of life. But I appreciate what you’re bringing up, that it’s a universal experience for so many of us, and it’s just–if we look at it on the bright side–let’s, like, look at it as a glass half-full, which I always do. [laughs] You know, I think this all makes us really savvy, like, very emotionally intelligent, right? Because as limited as our audience might be in terms of seeing us, doesn’t this make us–it sort of sharpens our saw. I mean, I think when you have to think about “How am I gonna get this group over the finish line?” Like, how am I going to get them to listen to me, to believe in what I say and to give me the credibility when I’m walking in the room and I know what they’re thinking about me?” You know, “How am I gonna do that?” And to me it’s, like, a–you know, it’s a brain twister, but it makes you be very creative. And by the way, I hope in enlisting those allies that they know why they’re being enlisted and that it really raises their awareness [of] the permutations that so many of us go through in the workplace to be heard. You know, that’s–I hope that they’re noticing that. Like, that’s a really important learning, to be approached by someone–to say, “Hey, would you have my [back?] in this meeting? I’m gonna bring this up,” and, you know, to me that is, like, such a sad commentary, and at the same time it’s such a demonstration of how far we have to go for people to be heard and the space that we have to learn to hold for each other. Like, we’ve got to do that–you know what? We need to do that without being asked. That’s where I really want to get, right? So that if I’m in this meeting and I hear you bring up this brilliant idea, you don’t even need to ask me to have your back. Like, I am gonna instinctively know if you’re talked over or if somebody steals your idea or somebody poo-poos it that I’m gonna intervene, and I’m gonna know what’s going on, and that to me, that would be sort of nirvana in the workplace, that those pre-conversations, that pre-planning that you just described doesn’t even need to happen because everyone knows it’s an issue and everyone’s on guard for it. Like, can you imagine? Like, if we were all like, “Oh, no, no.” You know, “She is not gonna be talked over,” or “His idea is not going to be dismissed,” you know? “And I’m gonna quote it, and I’m gonna bring the attention back to him and, you know, his idea.” It’s like the women in the Obama cabinet. I love that story, where they literally decided, like, that this was not gonna happen anymore, and they all banded together and made the plan.
Zach: Yes, I loved that.
Jennifer: And then they went into–I know. And then they went into the meeting, and they all, like, echoed each other’s ideas and mentioned each other by name and made eye contact with other women in the room. So they sort of redirected everybody’s attention. I’m still–believe it or not, if I go into a meeting with my male colleague, they will talk to him. Like, it still happens to me. Oh, yeah. And I’m a CEO, and he works for me, you know? [both laugh] So yeah, it’s still a thing. And he’s really good, because he’ll, like, redirect back to me.
Zach: “Um, actually, Ms. Brown, what do you think?” [laughs]
Jennifer: Yes. Well, he’ll say, “Well, as Jennifer always says,” right? “As somebody who is an acknowledged expert.” I love that. [laughs] But yeah, we need to do that [?], and that would be nirvana. So I really talk about that a lot in my book. Like, the emotional labor of having to ask for help, I really, really wish more of us would know that help is needed. Like, we would know the data. We would know the research. You know, for God’s sake, like, read the McKenzie report on women that they do every year.
Zach: Oh, it’s so good.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s so good, and you’ll realize that women of color have different headwinds than white women. Just that, you know? And if you go into meetings and you see this dynamic and you have any level of privilege, any level of positional power where you’re listened to in a different way, you need to activate that so that you change those numbers and those outcomes. Like, you must do that. And it’s such a small thing. This takes two seconds. Like, that’s the thing when people are like, “Ugh, inclusion takes so much time, and I’m so busy, and I don’t know how–it competes with the business priorities, and I have a long list, and, like, I’m already strapped for time.” All of that–I don’t think this takes a lot of time. It just takes a moment of attention to [bias?] your own others, a quick conversation to check in with somebody, a request for feedback, a “Hey, you know, I wanted to follow up with you after that meeting.” Like, “I really thought your idea was great. I want to support you. How can do I do more of that?” That, like, takes two seconds to say, and like you said earlier, it’s so welcome. Like, I think that’s the–people are like, “I don’t know how to start that conversation.” [laughs] It’s like, “Most of these conversations are, like, a gift to so many people who are never asked these questions to begin with,” right? So please approach me. Ask me how can you support me more differently. What could you say in a meeting? What could you say after a meeting to someone when I’m not around? You know, I think that’s the other piece, right? Like, give feedback to people that look like you. Like, I always say, you know, “Men listen to other men in a very different way.” And so, you know, if you’ve got the privilege of being listened to. You know, the messenger, not just the message, and you can take the burden off of my shoulders to have a hard conversation with somebody, to say, “Hey, that joke made me uncomfortable.” Like, that’s a very risky move for me to do, ’cause I–you know, that is drawing attention to my difference. I have no idea how that person is going to react. And so I really–as a woman, I really appreciate men who proactively are like, “What can I do to–” Really it’s kind of protect you in a way, and it’s not protect in a sort of damsel-in-distress kind of way. It is literally–like, it could be protecting an idea. It could be making sure you don’t fall victim to politics in the office. It could be that I represent you when you’re not in the room and I talk about how brilliant you are, you know? It’s that kind of thing, because otherwise we’re sort of hanging out in the wind. And one of the things I always say is diverse talent is undermentored and very undersponsored, which means that we’re not–we literally aren’t looked after, like, informally. We are not–like, somebody’s not like, “Well, let me have that career conversation with her to make sure that she’s up for that role, so that she has P&L experience, so that she’s then positioned so she can get that promotion,” because there’s all of these, like, unspoken and unwritten rules that we’re not privy to when you’re not in the power structure. So I often task people I speak to, like, “Look at the people you mentor. Look at the people you sponsor. Do they look like you?” You know, if they do, and you are a certain demographic, like, you must remedy that. Like, you’ve got to be mentoring across difference, sponsoring across difference, and–by the way, it should be reverse mentoring as well. It should be mutual so that you’re learning–to your point earlier, like, how are you getting your learning about cultural differences? It’s in the context of these really, really important one-on-one relationships. So wherever you can power share, wherever you can be influenced or learn somebody’s experience, as a senior executive, your biggest risk is that you’re isolated from all of this, and therefore you’re not an effective leader. You’re not positioning yourself for the future. You’re harming your company, because you’re setting this vision every day, but you–there’s so much you don’t know. So, you know, I think that’s a good wake-up call for people usually. And if that doesn’t work, [laughs] I don’t know. I give up.
Zach: [laughs] I don’t know.
Jennifer: I’m like, “I’ve given you now two books to read.” You know, 63 podcast episodes. You know? Come on. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] “What more do you want more from me?”
Jennifer: What more do you need? It’s writing on the wall. Wake up, you know? Get with–get on the train, you know, and be willing to make mistakes as we were talking about earlier, and, you know, even know how to do a good apology, ’cause, you know, I think there is a real art to a real apology. I think you said earlier [that] there’s nothing worse than somebody who, like, says all the right things but, like, in this really authentic kind of faux, polished way.
Zach: Yes. You know what? We’re gonna have to have you back just to talk about the topic of apologizing [?]. Like, for real.
Jennifer: Yeah, right? I love that apology. I mean, I love that topic. Sorry.
Zach: No, no, you’re good.
Jennifer: But a good apology can make up for everything, and it’s almost like a required skill set, particularly for those in the majority, because things are gonna happen. Like, you’re gonna mess it up. You are. And so being comfortable with uncomfortable, comfortable with hard feedback, and, to me, not slinking away into the corner but saying, “Thank you so much for that, and I’m gonna try it again, and I’m gonna do it differently.” Like, wouldn’t that resilience be really neat to hear and see in our leaders?
Zach: It would. It would be great, and I think–you know, believe it or not I’m actually a little bit encouraged coming out of this conversation. This has been really good.
Jennifer: [laughs] Really?
Zach: Yeah, I am.
Jennifer: Oh, that’s good, ’cause we talked about some cynical stuff. [laughs]
Zach: We did, we did, but it was real though.
Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah, it is. It’s such a mixed bag, but like you said earlier, like, we’re living in really interesting times of awakening, and you’re right–like, I think ever since the 2016 election I would say is when so many people and so many companies were like, “Oh, my goodness,” you know? MLK Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” One of my favorite quotes, but guess what? We have to bend the arc. Like, the arc, it ain’t gonna bend itself.
Zach: Right? It don’t just bend by itself. Right. [laughs]
Jennifer: Like, that’s the thing. So to me we’ve got to take that and bend it, and I think what we’ve realized is it’s not this destiny, you know? Things aren’t gonna happen without–and they aren’t gonna happen because of good intentions. They’re not gonna happen because we have maybe progressive values. They’re not gonna happen because “Oh, I’m a male leader and I have daughters, so therefore, like, I am an expert on gender equality.” No.
Zach: Right. [laughs]
Jennifer: No. Like, you have to do something, and you have to do something publicly, consistently, constantly. I used an example in a book of Marc Benioff, who is the CEO of Salesforce, who discovered he had a huge pay gap and literally wrote a check for $3 million, like, right away and was like, “I’m gonna gross up pay for people, because I’m not gonna let this stand another day, then we’re gonna do the harder work,” right? Which is rooting out, like, why did this happen in the first place. And then as he’s done this–he does it every year now–they’ve discovered, by the way, pay gap–not just gender but ethnicity pay gaps. Not surprising.
Jennifer: And then they’ve acquired so many 10s of companies that also had pay gaps as Salesforce acquired them, and they had to do a new audit, you know, and to look at their pay gaps and, you know, gross it up. So, you know, literally there are people that are–that are just being relentless on this, because under their watch they’re not gonna let this persist. And so I do see a lot of courage amongst leaders, and that leaves me really hopeful. I wish I saw it more, and I wish I saw it more publicly. I think there’s a lot of really interesting conversations going on with privately with lawyers and, you know, the board and, you know, sometimes I’m privy to those, and I’m really, really heartened by the interest I see in the C-Suite. I have to say, people are getting it, and I think their question now is “How do we change it?” And that’s a much harder question to answer when you’re dealing with a giant organization that does business all over the world and has to contend with laws in various parts of the world, and, you know, it’s hard to know where to start, and I think that’s where people are at, that they want to start, and that’s a relief to me. I mean, it makes my job easier because I’m not fighting the “Why is this important?” battle all of the time. I am now able to–we’re able to, like, roll up our sleeves and consider, you know, “Okay, let’s get started.” And it doesn’t need to be perfect. We’re not gonna accomplish everything in the first year. I love that you want gender parity, you know, next year, [both laugh] but please don’t shout that from the rooftops and promise it to your board, ’cause, you know, you have some problems, and you don’t just want to fix things cosmetically. You really want to build it to last, you know? So I am hopeful too. I mean, otherwise I wouldn’t be in this space. It’d be just too damn frustrating. [laughs]
Zach: No doubt. Jennifer, this has been an amazing conversation, and I feel like we could keep on going, but before we go, do you have any parting words or shout-outs?
Jennifer: Oh, my gosh. Well, can I give people the info about where to find me and my work?
Zach: Do your thing. All of that. Let it go.
Jennifer: Awesome. Awesome, awesome. Okay, so my new book is coming out August, “How to Be an Inclusive Leader.” That’s my second book. My first book is called “Inclusion,” and it came out, as I said, in 2016. Good timing, at the end of the year. My podcast is called The Will to Change, and–I call it True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion. I’ve had some really amazing people on there. And on Twitter I’m @jenniferbrown. Yes, I’ve been on Twitter for ten years. I got my own name. It’s pretty awesome. And I love–I love Twitter. I learned–like we talked about earlier–learned so much, so much, from those long threads where everybody’s arguing about things. Like, read them, study them, listen a lot. You know, start to study your language and get ideas for how you should approach things. Twitter is great for that. And disturbing for all of the reasons that we know. @JenniferBrownSpeaks on Instagram, and then Facebook and LinkedIn I think I’m Jennifer Brown Consulting, but, you know, if people are interested in getting on our mailing list, please go to JenniferBrownSpeaks.com, and right on the homepage you can join. And please pick up a copy of the second book, which is really about the conversation that we had today. It’s honestly about folks who are kind of sitting on the sidelines. How can you get into the fray, but in a thoughtful way, in a way that doesn’t cause more labor for others? How do you get ready to apologize, because you probably will need to? [both laugh] But get in to the game, you know, even if it’s in a very small way, even if it’s in a private way. You know, just begin, and I think that if I could have more leaders sort of be less intimidated about the whole process and show a way forward–it’s like, “Come in, the water’s warm. You won’t get–” “I hope you won’t get hurt.” [laughs] I know there might be some high feelings, but everyone is needed because the task is enormous. And so that’s my goal, to kind of make it more comfortable for people to do more.
Zach: So Jennifer, first of all, two things–we’re gonna make sure we have all of the information in the show notes, so we’ll make sure everybody goes there, and then we also on the website have our Favorite Things, and we’ll make sure to have both of your looks listed as Favorite Things. So we got you.
Jennifer: Oh, you’re the best. Thank you.
Zach: Yeah. Okay, well, Jennifer, we definitely consider you a friend of the show, and we can’t wait to have you back. We’ll talk soon.
Jennifer: Count me in. Always. Thank you.
Zach: All right. Peace.