Dr. Tiffany Jana, founder and CEO of TMI Consulting, joins the program to discuss their diversity story, including being exposed to multiple languages at a young age, and shares insights about gender identity and expression. Tiffany also reveals the importance of exploring mental health as a dimension of diversity, and gives examples of ally actions that can help to create positive change.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Tiffany’s diversity story, including early exposure to multiple languages (11:00)
- Tiffany’s thoughts on gender identity and expression (17:00)
- The power of pronouns (19:30)
- Mental health as a dimension of diversity (25:00)
- The importance of self-care for the emerging workforce (31:00)
- Why parents need to hold a space for their children (34:00)
- The delusion of white supremacy (48:00)
- The power of embracing your own narrative (52:00)
- How to be an ally and an accomplice (55:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Tiffany, welcome to The Will To Change.
TIFFANY JANA: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited, Jennifer.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, me too. You and I just came off of super fun panels that we did at Pennsylvania and Texas Women’s Conference, oh my goodness. You were the moderator extraordinaire, I was panelist, and we got to talk about unconscious bias in the workplace to a very wrapped audience of mainly women at this audience, 7,000 person conference, but that was incredible. I saw you do your thing, and you’re just such a renaissance individual. I loved how you can talk about all aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion, but you’re also an author and you’re also an entrepreneur. So, we have a lot of similar roads that we’ve traveled and yet our diversity dimensions are shared and yet extremely different. So, I would like to acquaint my audience with your work, but first, who you are and what you consider to be your diversity story because we always began The Will To Change with an exploration of that. Let me hand that over to you, and tell our audience what they should know about you.
TIFFANY JANA: Absolutely, Jennifer. It’s such an honor to be here. I’m just such a huge fan of your work and your writing, and our panels were the number one panels at both of those conferences-
JENNIFER BROWN: Is that true?
TIFFANY JANA: Yes. Yeah, that’s why we keep getting those encores. Yeah. No, it’s a big deal. So as far as my diversity story, I think it goes back to being an army brat, honestly. I was born in El Paso, Texas, on the border of Mexico, and I ended up speaking Spanish before English just because of proximity, my friends, my babysitters, my teachers. And then, we moved to Germany, my father was a pediatrician in the army. We moved to Germany, parents thought, well, you already speak two languages, so why not a third, and Bavaria has one of the strongest school systems in the world, so I went to a German school, and by the time I was eight or nine years old, I was fluent in three languages. And when I say fluent, I mean, at the time, when I was in Texas, I was thinking and dreaming in Spanish, when I was in Germany I was thinking and dreaming in German.
So, I was deeply embedded in culture, and so before we reached the double digits, I had this really strong connection to the world. When my dad wasn’t on call, we were in a car and we were driving across the European countryside. We were on planes, I was seeing the world, and very, very young, I was able to see that there were myriad differences between people and that they were beautiful and fascinating, and there was so much to learn and take in and understand. And yet, I understood really quickly that the differences paled in comparison to the similarities. And just through my school experiences with kids from other countries, because there were Turkish kids and Czech kids and all kinds of folks who were around me, I was able to experience a phenomenon that when we’re lonely, it’s the same no matter where you’re from. When you cry, when you’re sad, when you’re happy, these states of being, this humanness, this essential humanness to the core is the same across all peoples, and the sense of wanting to belong and be understood and seen is something that’s universal.
And so, that notion has really driven so much about my life and the work that I do.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s beautiful. I love that. What a beautiful thought to start our conversation with. I wondered how you saw yourself and you understood your identities was unfolding to you and to your family as you grew up and started to go into your teenage years, et cetera. Well, you and I, we chuckle about this, but you introduce yourself as the multi intersections person, I think we’ve counted five. When we talk about your intersectionality, there are so many identities and you can reveal those over the course of our discussion today if you’d like, I mean, as they come up. But I’m curious which identities hit you first about yourself, and how did you come to embrace those, what messages did you get about whether they were okay or not? And it’s curious that you didn’t have this solely American experience too, which I think is an interesting lens in terms of what’s okay in the rest of the world, what are the particular issues growing up in America in terms of what’s valued and what’s not versus the rest of the world.
But what appeared to you first? What do you recall, either wrestling with or accepting or noticing? I know that over time, what’s primary for us shifts, as we get deeper into who we are, and as we accept more of who we are. What occurred first, I guess as you were maturing and growing up.
TIFFANY JANA: The way that you phrased that question is so fascinating because the answer to the question that you think you asked versus the answer to the question that I’m hearing is really different, because I was prepared with the identities and the way that you phrased the question, what was present for me first, it’s otherness. I have spent my entire life being other in myriad contexts. So, it wasn’t one identity, like when I was in Germany, I was the only student of color, but I was also the only American or non-European student. I have been in so many contexts where I’ve been the only, at the time identified as a woman, and I was the only woman. So, I’ve spent my life being other, and having to learn to be exceedingly comfortable, not only in that context, but in order to survive, being comfortable in my own skin, and I think that that has defined my experience more than anything else, teasing out all of the identities, that’s an easier exercise. But for me, it’s the essential otherness. I’m almost more comfortable at an experience of other, than anything else.
JENNIFER BROWN: And talk about equipping you for this work. I mean, that’s the ability to enable audiences of all identities to see themselves in someone like you, I think is what really makes you so appealing. And I saw that in the room, that everybody feels they can connect to you along one of these identities that you openly share, and now we have the words for it. You and I were talking earlier, do you identify as a woman now? How do you see your gender identity and expression now? Do you want to share a bit about that and how that’s evolved?
TIFFANY JANA: Yeah. I’ll say that with the otherness, the way I’ve explained it for a long time is that I exist at the intersection of so many different identities, particularly the binaries and the polarities. I am in the middle of many of the contexts, which allows me to see and experience and empathize across so many different experiences, which is so fun. But yeah, I now identify, I’m really grateful for this expansion of language that we’re experiencing and identify as non-binary or gender fluid. I present largely feminine, and I have a very strong connection to black girl magic. I feel very feminine in great many ways, I also feel a very strong connection to my masculine energies. I feel that in a great number of ways, particularly in business specifically, that my masculine energies have afforded me a great deal of success as our culture privileges, masculine energies in an enterprise.
So, non-binary is the way that I identify, and sometimes I’m presenting masculine, sometimes feminine, and sometimes in the middle, and I just don’t make any apologies for any of it.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. And I think creating that cognitive dissonance for people is where that learning happens. That that, in and of itself is so challenging in all the right ways for audiences who I find are really curious about this these days. I know when I share … I have tried to make a commitment to share my pronouns on stage, and then I ask for show of hands as I identify as a cisgender woman, I say, how many of you understand what I mean by that, and why I just shared my pronouns, and I don’t see a lot of recognition in the audiences that at least I speak to. So, it is emergent, and yet there’s this really genuine curiosity and this want that I’m sensing to get it right, and simply to understand, how do I even broach this topic as somebody who wants to be inclusive of all gender identities and expressions, say, I’m a people leader, say I’m a manager, say I am a cisgender colleague. I think people get really stuck on the, how do I bring this up, and why should I bring it up and for what purpose, and then how do I bring it up?
So I wondered, could we take that little sidetrack for a moment and get your advice about that? Because it’s one of the questions I get the most after I present.
TIFFANY JANA: Absolutely. It makes a lot of sense. I mean, I owe a debt of gratitude to the younger generations for opening up this linguistic gymnastics, and giving us the opportunity to think beyond the binary and beyond little boxes. I think that probably what you’re experiencing with the audiences is a massive paradigm shift for folks of previous generations. As I look at young people, young people are using gender neutral pronouns as a regular course of conversation, unless there is a reason to know someone’s gender expression or genitalia or whatever, young people are refraining from gendering things to a much larger extent than we have ever been accustomed to. It’s easy for them to wrap their malleable minds around the new gender constructs. One of the things I watch older folks, and I consider myself in the group of older folks, so don’t think I’m making fun of anybody, but for us-
JENNIFER BROWN: Me too.
TIFFANY JANA: Right. To wrap our heads around the singular they, like, oh my gosh, it’s so hard, because we’re not used to it. So, I always recommend to people, try using they, them pronouns for 24 hours. Just use them across the board, practice when you don’t have any one that you’re actually talking about, and just get yourself used to using those pronouns in a context where it’s safe, where no one’s going to pick on you because you just got to wrap your … what do I say, get used to the taste of inclusion in your mouth, to just get used to it. It’s something that we have to do. And the idea that we are somehow too old to learn new tricks is really not giving ourselves enough credit. We have some mental blocks, and I would challenge anyone who’s struggling to really expand towards the other. For now, they, them are my preferred pronouns, and I’m really, really honored when people use them.
I personally say that I’m not offended by she, because I do present largely fem and I’m a mother, and I’ve spent a lot of time invested in my feminine identity. So what happens for me is I don’t hear when people use she, her pronouns. I hear it when they use they, them pronouns. And my situation is different, I’m not trans, I’m not moving from one gender to another, mine is a more expansive and inclusive. So to me, it’s not offensive, but for some people, it is. But what I say is, when you take the time and you make that little bit of effort to meet someone where they want to be met, the amount of grace that you’re extending and the amount of belonging that you are wrapping around that person, it’s extraordinary, and it just cannot be overstated.
JENNIFER BROWN: I agree. I mean, just that pause to get out of our own, and then to basically create that space and just make that small statement of sharing pronouns, it just opens a door for … I think not just for people to share their identity, but many other aspects of who they are. I mean, it creates this trust, it deepens the relationship, and I think it sends a message that you’re the kind of person, kind of colleague, kind of manager, whatever it is, that is a place where someone can bring their fuller selves to any interaction with you. It’s a signal. As you do by LGBTQ people, if you’re an ally for that community, chances are you’re going to understand and anticipate better in a more emotionally intelligent way, other differences.
TIFFANY JANA: I liken it to my honorific, I’m Dr. Tiffany Jana, and I don’t expect everyone to call me Dr. Tiffany Jana, but when people do, particularly as an African American, particularly as a gender minority, whether you see me as female or non-binary, it’s a big deal for my demographics to have a doctorate degree. And when people do use it, I’m like, huh, respect. Thank you. So, when people use my correct pronouns, I’m like, huh, respect, thank you. You see me.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that.
TIFFANY JANA: I experience that as being seen, and it literally … like a little gust of warm, fuzzy, benevolent energy floods over me, and my heart extends in your direction because I see you as extending your heart towards me.
JENNIFER BROWN: Doesn’t that feel good, that is incredible, and I know sometimes we don’t get that kind of response back, and we need to be more of a self-sustaining mechanism. I know that sometimes you find yourself in places where you may not have such a hospitable audience or an audience who sees all of you, or is comfortable with all of you. Do you sometimes hold back and give people what you estimate to be just what they can digest at the moment, plus a little? Or have you gotten to a point where you’re pretty uncompromising and you’re a purist about honoring all of who you are and bringing your authenticity in the same way every time?
TIFFANY JANA: I mean, there’s a little bit of both because you know what happens once … once you pass over 40, the level of “you-know-whats” that you give, they certainly decrease dramatically. It’s like the hormones go away, the “you-know-whats”-
JENNIFER BROWN: So true, I love it.
TIFFANY JANA: … also dissipate into the air, so that’s very real. The idea of hiding who I am or shrinking who I am, or bending who I am to conform to your little standard does not appeal. There are some interesting exceptions, and I’m on this journey against the delusion of white… deconstruct my own understanding of the way the world works, and I have to balance very carefully in this space. But there are times when I’m having a conversation with someone who is very senior, when I’m saying very senior, I’m talking 85 and up. There’s a certain level of seniority on the planet, where to me, it’s an act of grace and goodwill to just not go there. And I’m not saying that’s the right choice. I don’t have to be validated and seen by every person. I’m more interested in … my energy is going to move authentically through every space in which it resides, and I’m looking for an authentic resonance of energy from the people I encounter.
So, when I’m talking to someone’s very dear grandmother, and she is projecting love and kindness in my direction, I’m not going to diversity train her, I’m going to accept that love and kindness and leave her exactly where she was because she’s probably interacting with me on a very real level and enjoying herself, and I’ll just let that be. Now, if the context is a little bit different, I’ve got somebody who’s maybe approaching 40 or just crossed 40, it’s actually going to serve you to understand this construct. What I understand about the experience that people have with me, is that I make it very safe for people to ask the hard questions or understand. And while it is never the job of anyone of any marginalized identity or underrepresented identity to educate anyone else, it’s never our job, this is the career I’ve chosen. So, I’ve actually made it my job. And while I don’t have to be all on the clock 24 hours a day, I do understand that I have a way of relating to people that opens their hearts and opens their eyes and allows them to see and experience something that they previously couldn’t understand.
So, I put myself in that space to serve humanity, but I’m always going to be thoughtful about when I open that space up.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love how you just described that. I know you feel like you’re not honoring your activism when you do encounter who you call the tenured folks on this earth. Right. I love that. But you’re right, there’s a deep respect for where … I always think of where the learner is, and in choosing our battles, or the battle isn’t the right word, but just choosing our spots, and also by the way, managing our own energy. Because I don’t know if you feel you’ve learned where to give and where to stick a point, where to have the grace to let things go, how to be breathable, to me, it always feels like I’m breathing with, and I’m meeting folks where they’re at, I’m subtly guiding, and it’s the furthest thing I think from call-out culture, it’s very much that calling in energy, the grace energy, the let’s go further together, and let me challenge you in a wonderful way, in a loving way.
TIFFANY JANA: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’ve seen you do this, and you do it beautifully, but I get so many questions about, what do I do with my anger? Or what about accountability? Or you’re letting people off the hook from responsibility, and I just feel like we get like wrapped up in this and we need to shout and scream and be angry and make our point. And that doesn’t tend to be me, and I don’t think it’s you.
TIFFANY JANA: No, no, not at all. Not at all. I mean, I don’t read the comments, I don’t engage on social media. There’s something essentially present that is required to really connect with another human being, and I am definitely more inclined to push those relationship boundaries when the relationship has a certain tenure. So, if it is an 85-year-old member of my family … I actually just recently went to visit some elders in my family, and I don’t know the extent to which everybody is actually on social. I remember one of the patriots I know is not on social media, so he probably had very little idea about my transition, and my first coming out, because my LGBT identities were never hidden. I was never in the closet, but coming out as non-binary definitely felt like a coming out, which was very interesting. And so, I chose to engage in this conversation, I never had to do that. I didn’t have to do that, but I thought to myself, this is a person who loves me deeply, who has known me my entire life.
I know the rest of the family is having this conversation, and so it is to me, important to be able to engage in this conversation, provide whatever information he needs directly from me, no matter how challenging it may or may not be, because this relationship has legs, this relationship will last regardless of whatever might come up now. We’ve got history, and if I can’t move this person to more towards a middle ground, then who’s going to do it? So, I wouldn’t do it with your grandma, but I certainly would do it with an elder in my family.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I think what you’re talking about is the investment in the relationship, and you called it tenure. And yet when we’re in rooms, and we’re just there for a day, the empathy that we could still have is I think very similar to that, which is I’m here to see all of you as you’re learning, as you’re trying, as you’re getting things wrong, I’m here to hold that space as you learn with me and care about you, and not dehumanize the audience as not getting it, or being remedial in terms of their learning journey. It’s so interesting because you always have a mix in the audience too, you have folks who are very perhaps defensive, perhaps assuming the worst, or perhaps feeling like inclusion is not an inclusive conversation for them, and then you have other people who are like go, go, go, keep going, you’re saying you all the things I want to say, and I can never say it, and you have everything in between.
I’ve seen you, the way you present the information, I feel like people like you and I have to be great at giving people a lot of breadcrumbs depending on which door they want to enter this conversation through.
TIFFANY JANA: Precisely, yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. It’s like sometimes it’s the data, sometimes it’s the story, sometimes it’s how you show up vulnerably, I think is a huge teaching point. Me too, when I come out, people are like “thank you for your bravery”. And it’s funny because I realize I’m like, oh that’s still being brave to a lot of people. I’m so used to identifying who I am, but that’s quite a radical act. Because you, you are like the living, breathing, most intersectional whole person. It’s awesome.
TIFFANY JANA: I just remembered … we were trying to think about the identities and I can’t keep them all straight because there’s so many, and then depending on what context I’m in, they change. Right? So to speak, exactly. I can’t keep them in order, but the other one is I have an invisible disability. I remember the first time that I confessed that on stage was that the … there was a forum on workplace inclusion, and I mentioned being invisibly disabled, and it’s depression and anxiety, and I also have a chronic pain disorder. And so, it was interesting because I shared it on purpose, I hadn’t planned on how I was going to reveal or how much, but I received an applause for sharing the fact that major depressive disorder was something that I had struggled with, and it was extraordinary. I was not expecting, that was the first time I think that I named it from stage in that manner, and at that point, I realized how important it was to do that.
The number of people who approached me after, they were all women, but the number of women who approached me afterwards and thanked me for sharing that piece of vulnerable information, it was extraordinary. It’s something that we don’t talk about enough, it’s something that I think we’re starting to hear about it more, but I think that as those of us who can stand in spaces where we can be stand-ins and placeholders for role models because we’re entrepreneurs, because we’re authors or experts or whatever, to be able to stand up and say, and here’s my story, and here are the identities that I have, and here’s the way that I am broken, here’s the way that I’m similar to you. These points of connection make everything so much more accessible.
JENNIFER BROWN: I so agree, and we’ve got to go first. I could argue, you and I, we’re in the safe zone. I mean really, when I think about privilege, which we all have, the privilege of the platform that … you’re an entrepreneur, you have tons of books, if you say it’s so, I’m unsalable in many ways. And I do feel too that I’m able to say those things and be … if I’m the brave one and I can be, I need to be. I have to be.
TIFFANY JANA: Amen, yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Amen. And tell me, so mental health, I’m not surprised you got applause from that. But it is the deepest, most deeply buried aspect I think in the workplace honestly, and it is so stigmatized. And I predict, I know what you think, but I predict in two to three, to four years, it’s going to be made much more visible by our workforce who is really struggling with this.
TIFFANY JANA: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: And we’re going to need to reconcile it as a diversity dimension that complicates our intersectionality, and it’s going to … perhaps how we’ve treated things like LGBTQ coming out, is coming out as having mental health challenges, is one of those that I think is next in line to normalize, to maybe hear … In a perfect world, I’d like to hear senior leaders being more transparent about how this touches their lives because we know that normalization happens not just from the things we can do at our level, but when somebody’s very visible does this, it has this massive ripple effect. So, do you agree? I mean, and what is the road to get there on that front?
TIFFANY JANA: No, I absolutely agree. I’m really grateful that we have these awareness weeks and awareness months where we can lift up these things and share our means and various things. I think that everyone should be, like you said, particularly people with a platform who are in the safe zone, should be willing to share this. Because the reality, we know the number of people that we work with, that we’re surrounded by who are on medication, who are suffering, who are in therapy, who should be in therapy. I mean, depression and mental health, mental health and mental wellness stuff are, it’s normal. I dare say that-
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, it is.
TIFFANY JANA: … in our culture where we’re expected to work ourselves to the bone with not enough sleep and not enough time off, not enough rest we are making mental imbalance our default state, and that said, we’re all in the safe zone. I think that if we all just honestly raised our hands and said, yeah, I’m not doing so great, we would find a field of flowers just like us. So, I agree with you, I think that that is in fact the case. And like for me, it was a journey. I didn’t find out until my terminal degree that mental health was a protected ADA category, and that I could have had a ton of support through school that would have really served me, it might not have taken me 10 years to finish my undergraduate degree had I known that I could have withdrawn, that I could’ve had five extra weeks for my courses.
It was so much support, so I made sure that my children knew, and I make sure that everyone that I know has the opportunity to understand yes, you can’t cure it, you can only treat the symptoms, which means it is an Americans with disabilities act protected category, every student, if they’ve got a diagnosis that needs to be shared with their school so that they can like … you’ll never fail a course if you have your protections in place, you can get an incomplete, you can withdraw, but you never have to fail if you’ve got these issues. And there’s all kinds of wonderful support that can be put in place, and in the workplace, mental health days are real. If you suffer with any kind of mental health stuff, you just need to let your HR department know, your supervisor doesn’t have to know, the whole company doesn’t need to know, that stuff is protected, but you can absolutely get the support that you need. Now don’t abuse it, don’t take a mental health day and then get caught out-
JENNIFER BROWN: On Instagram.
TIFFANY JANA: On Instagram in the mall just chilling, doing whatever, whatever. But within reason, I think that if we use that responsibly, it’s an incredibly powerful resource and support structure that can keep us from burning out at work or keep us from quitting when we don’t need to.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, no, that’s so right. We got to put our oxygen masks on, and this is particularly important for our advocates and The Will To Change audience. This is a lot of folks who are making extra time to drive things in their teams and in their organizations, and many times unpaid, but because it’s a passion, and maybe it’s something that they ultimately want to transition into, and so they think about that. But just showing up and having an identity that puts you in an underrepresented group or having marginalized experiences or hearing microaggressions like every day, this stuff … Imagine that, and then mental health challenges layering on top of that, and it becomes this question of, what do I reveal about myself? The truth about what I’m struggling with when I’m already facing identity-based resistance and stereotypes and all that the second I walk in the room, the second that people look at me, it becomes a game of what can I hide in order to stay in this room in order to be accepted? Right?
And it’s like, it’s this bargaining process I think that people do, and it’s literally bargaining with authenticity. It’s so harmful, it takes so much energy, it’s not fair, and the burden falls to those of us who have the visible and invisible aspects of our identities.
TIFFANY JANA: It certainly does, it certainly does.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, for sure. I had a question for you then. I have been reading a lot about mental health issues in Generation Z, and I know that you have a couple of those. You are a parent also, just to add to all the fun in your life, but I know that you’re so intentional about parenting vis-a-vis seeing all of the individuals that you have, the custodianship of at least until a certain age, and that you’re really … I would imagine, gosh, I mean, to have you as a parent would probably be what everybody’s dream would be in terms of having somebody who embraces all of who you are, and therefore parents through that lens. And so, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that, I don’t know, maybe what would you want to share with other parents in the audience about what you’ve learned or best practices or emerging things that are really important to you that you see, because they are going to be our future workforce. In fact, Generation Z is starting to enter the work world, and we thought millennials were maybe a challenge. Just wait.
TIFFANY JANA: Oh, that’s so interesting that you said it that way, because my mother my whole life was saying every child should have a Tiffany. I remember her starting to say that when I was seven years old when my younger brother was born, and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a parent because it was just extraordinary just watching a little human become themselves. I mean, the first thing for me with parenting, and my kids are 23, 21 and 12, and they’re all extraordinary overachievers, and when I hear the stories of what other parents have been through with their children, my heart goes out to them. I’ve had nothing but joy filled experiences with my children that make me happy and proud. I have not had the parenting drama that a lot of people have had or the struggles, I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate. But for me, the very first thing with my children was to remember what it was like to be a child, because I think that adulting is hard and adults lose touch with what it felt like to be a young person.
And if you remember how hard it was to be a little person who’s developing some sense of agency and having to live under someone else’s regime, that can be the first thing that provides empathy.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that.
TIFFANY JANA: Because they want control but they can’t have it. Right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
TIFFANY JANA: So being able to communicate in ways that help them understand. My mother was my best friend through my entire childhood and continues to be my best friend to this day. And people were like, well, what about when you were a teenager and you were rebellious? I was like, well, my rebellion was very limited because when my mother said that I wasn’t allowed to do something or that something just was not happening, I trusted implicitly that if there was ever one human being on the planet that was not going to set out to cause me harm, it was that one. So, even when I didn’t agree, I knew that she meantt me no harm. Even when she caused me harm because of something that we were not aligned on, I knew that she didn’t mean me harm, and that was enough for me to not resist. So, I allowed her to raise me to the best of her ability, and I knew one day I’d be free and I can do whatever the heck I want, and boy, did I.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yes, and then some.
TIFFANY JANA: …And then some. So then the last piece is just looking at your children and becoming an incredibly good observer of the human spirit and the human condition, and creating the space around them for them to show you who they are. The biggest mistake I see parents making is trying to overlay all of their ideas, beliefs, desires, constructs, hopes and dreams on their children, when the easiest thing to do, honestly, there’s far less resistance when you just step back and allow these beautiful babies to show you who they are, and then believe them, hold it lightly, allow that to be an ever evolving, don’t get attached to the first thing you see, know that it will change as they grow, but then provide them with whatever resources you can in support of who they wish to be. I mean, that’s been my sauce, and I think it’s working out okay so far.
That’s what my parents did for me, they just let me be who I was, and now I’m an adult who gets to be who I am, and I’m just not concerned with what anyone else thinks about that. The amount of freedom and my ability to just be who I am wherever I am, is something that I’m now learning is unusual and extraordinary.
JENNIFER BROWN: It is. And that’s, I think why you were equipped from a young age to be a teacher and a space holder someday, that it was forged. I think that was probably not an accident, not to get too lulu. But you were meant to do the work you do, and I think that the ability to hold a lot of different identities together, and then to make that okay for others to explore with you and grow. I mean, I wonder, are you ever uncomfortable in this conversation anymore? I mean, as you teach, as you lead, as you hold space, I mean, you seem so centered and aligned, does anything blow you sideways, something you have an unexpected reaction to, something that you discover that, wow, I need to make a mental note of that, and I think a bit more about that, or think about how I’m going to respond. Or are you sitting in a place now in this work where you can predict basically what you’re willing to hear to a large extent?
TIFFANY JANA: My mother helped create diversity, equity, and inclusion as an industry. So, I grew up with a behavioral psychologist and a practitioner in this field as a parent, and she modeled every day and every aspect of her life, everything that it takes to make this work, work. So, that is the foundation, that’s the house in which I was raised. There are moments, I think that the most … I can’t think of any now because I strive to find that center. I make it my business to meditate daily, I make it my business to seek the truth of who I am, and how that fits in the construct of the world and to serve humanity. That’s important to me. And so, if I find that, I immediately run straight towards it. The most recent thing for me was, like I said, the delusion of white supremacy, and I use that phraseology intentionally. When we say it without the word delusion in front of it, there could be an implication that whiteness was ever supreme.
And what I figured out as that conversation started to really gain some traction and emerge, I learned the extent to which the delusion of white supremacy was actually holding me back. The ideas of professionalism, and there were many years in my career as an entrepreneur where I wouldn’t touch that phraseology with a 10 foot pole, where I wouldn’t say very much in the way of pro-black rhetoric, because I was afraid of this invisible monster, this construct that is a very real construct, it’s not a correct construct, but all of our systems have been built around this idea of patriarchal superiority, and of the racial hierarchy. I want to blow that up in terms of a mental construct and a societal construct, and I’m not afraid of it. It was actually Ryan Honeyman, co-author of the second edition of the B Corp Handbook and the B Corp Handbook that I wrote with him, the second edition, he really got up in arms about it, and I got really uncomfortable.
I was freaking out and we started this group, just happened by accident out of a B Champions Retreat that was the dismantling white supremacy group, and I had to name on one of our Zoom calls, I was like, yo, this is scary guys. I just want y’all to know that just saying that hurts ma feels y’all, I don’t like it. And then of course, a bunch of other people were like, oh, I’m glad you said that, because this is kind of uncomfortable, but that was the last conversation that made me go, “Ugghhh”, I don’t know how much I want to be in here. But now I run headlong into it, I’ve written a couple of medium articles that were not subtle at all. My heart is for humanity, my heart is for the cause, my heart is for the underdog, the those who are not being given an equitable opportunity, and the reality is that being pro-black is not anti-white.
And so, when you asked me that question earlier about the identities, what is very present for me at this life stage is I am black as much as black and race is a social construct, that identity is very present for me as is the non-binary identity. So being able to step straight into what it means to be a black person, a black entrepreneur, I am black and proud, that is very real for me, and I am also non-binary. And it’s very interesting because I also identify as spiritual, religious Christian and non-binary kind of. It’s the trans, it’s in the T of the LGBT, and I identify as LGBT, and all of these identities don’t necessarily interact in the best ways in our society. But I don’t care. I don’t care if any black people don’t like that I’m LGBT, I don’t care if any religious people or spiritual people don’t like that I’m non-binary, because I am what I am, that is how I arrived, that is how I will leave, and I do not believe that God made me broken. I believe that God made me exactly who I am at this time so that I could serve the world.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my goodness. And mic drop.
TIFFANY JANA: True that, Jennifer, It’s who I is!
JENNIFER BROWN: Bring it on. Oh that’s so beautiful, and pure and crystal. It’s truth and it’s gorgeous, and I hope … I mean, I would love to ask you your favorite, favorite ally action for you in owning all of that, that you just said. What can people, because we’re all allies and I know you believe that too. We’re all advocates potentially for each other, we have things we can do in a 360 degree way. So it’s not just allyship like, oh, I am enabling you from on high. It’s literally this lateral thing, it’s again, 360. But what is one piece of advice you’d give wannabe and aspiring allies, and we might even say accomplices, which is another word I’ve been using a lot of, what is one thing you think people could do to enable more truth to be told, more stories to be embraced, more of that authenticity that you just showed us. What can some of us do that we’re probably under-utilizing that would make a huge difference to this?
TIFFANY JANA: So, in the allies and the accomplices and co-conspirator space, I have to say I’d give two things, two things. One is embracing your own narrative, that the one thing that each of us can do right now … because I’m going to give you the easy one and the hard one. The easy one where you don’t need anyone else’s input or permission is to really sit with your own narrative and sit with who you are. There is nothing more powerful, fascinating, the story of you, and not the sanitized one that’s on the social media, like the raw, down, dirty, unfiltered story of who you are. If you told the truth of who you were, it would be a guaranteed bestseller, but most of us are spending an inordinate amount of energy hiding who we are because we’re afraid of what everyone else is going to think.
Embracing who you are, really owning that narrative and breathing into it for better or for worse is the most powerful thing that you can do because it is through … The crazy thing is it’s not the victories and the high points in the journey that are the most powerful, the places that will connect you to the world that is hurting, the world that you would like to embrace, and that you might even like to serve, the world will connect to you through the hurt places, through the mistakes, through the parts of you that aren’t perfect. That’s what’s so amazing about this journey. So hiding all of those, and obfuscating the truth of who you are isn’t serving anyone, least of all you. So embrace who you are, figure out that narrative and start to get comfortable. The reason that I’m able to do a great number of the things that I do is because I’m extremely comfortable in my own skin. I’m not perfect, I have F-ed up, I have failed in a great number of ways, and I just keep going, but I’m comfortable in my skin and because I’m comfortable in my own skin, other people are comfortable around me, and that opens so many doors.
For economic doors to relational doors to anything you can possibly imagine. Manifestation, if you’re into the woo woo, things happen because you’re comfortable, and that creates an openness, and an openness creates attraction. So, there’s so much that happens when you embrace your narratives. The second thing I would say is if you’re trying to create that sense of belonging and inclusion and reaching out and creating equity in all of the spaces that you occupy, I would say move beyond words. Right now, there’s a lot of conversation around diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and it’s great. I’m here for the words, the words are great, but if you’re going to be an accomplice, if you’re going to be a co-conspirator, get past the words and start doing stuff. So, if you are willing to stare down the barrel of the truth of what’s happening in the United States of America and our gnarly ass history around racism, then you need to make sure that you’re educated about the truth of our history.
Read the 1619 Project from the New York times, read Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How To be An Anti-racist, read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Get yourself educated, start investing in black businesses. If you’ve got local businesses or even national brands that are minority owned, make sure that you’re voting with your dollars and that you’re being a co-conspirator in an alley. Nothing says, I’m sorry about racism and hashtag reparations like doing business with people of color. So, you can have all the conversation you want, you can talk about being woke, you can talk about being an ally, where are you spending your money?
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that was so good. All right. I hope everybody took notes on that. That was excellent. So embracing your story, literally bringing the broken parts of ourselves because that’s actually what connects us to others and enables all of us to feel less alone. Really, what you’re talking about is that isolation and loneliness. There is nothing worse for our souls, and so when we take that risk to trust others with all of who we are, we are reducing that loneliness, we are creating connection, literally, we’re impacting the mental health of our humanness and our humanity. And then secondly, going beyond words, to action. In my book, I have phase two is awareness and phase three is active. And so, moving from, okay, I’ve made myself aware, I’ve learned, I’ve educated myself, now what am I going to do with that in a tangible way? And that’s I think agree with you, that’s where we shift into that accomplice or co-conspirator place where, and again, this is not about getting kudos for our allyship, it is about concretely, how are we supporting different outcomes to address our history and to change that playing field that has been so imbalanced historically.
I think that was great advice, I know you could give 15 more, but Tiffany has a book coming out in March 2020 called Subtle Acts of Exclusion. Is that right from, Barrett Kohler?
TIFFANY JANA: That is right.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m so excited.
TIFFANY JANA: Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to understand, identify and stop microaggressions.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, so good. So, there’s going to be a ton more good and tactical and practical information in there beyond language, although probably including a lot of language too because there’s a lot of language issues and microaggressions. But it’s out in March. Tiffany, tell our audience, how can we support you in your work? What are all the various places we can find you and stalk you? In a great way.
TIFFANY JANA: Well, I am Tiffany Jana on all social media. My Instagram is the one that I’m the most active on because I do have an enterprise and I’ve got a lot of brilliant people who are posting for me across things. Certainly follow me on medium, I post stories and articles on there all the time, and just posted one on the diversity avalanche that I’m pretty proud of. That one was just featured on the Leadership page today. I would definitely love for folks to check out the book, the Subtle Acts of Exclusion is available for pre-order now. If you are looking for speakers, I was voted inc.com top 100 leadership speakers in the world. I do keynote for folks all over the world, and I’m happy to do that. So, I am available and always interested in connecting in any way that I can help create a greater sense of belonging within your organization or your community, I am there.
JENNIFER BROWN: There for it. Thank you for everything and everything you bring, and all your courage, and bravery, and authenticity, and role modeling, and teaching, and space holding and grace. Thank you, Dr. Tiffany Jana.
DR. TIFFANY JANA: Thank you for having me, friend. You’re the best.
- Influencing the Systems We’re In, with Egon Zehnder's US Head of DEI Dede Orraca-Cecil
- Trust in Action: How Inclusive Leaders Can Create a Better World with Author Jim Massey
- Designing for Identity, with Author Jessica Bantom
- Amplifying Diverse Voices at Hearst Television: ERG Business Impact with Elfi Martinez and Yasmine Osborne
- Meeting the Moment: Navigating DEI Challenges in 2023 and Beyond with Jennifer and JBC's Elfi Martinez