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In this minisode, Jennifer discusses the upcoming panels that she will be moderating with all male panels on the topic of male allyship. Jennifer shares her thoughts on the importance of allyship, what it will take for more men to step forward, and some of the questions that she is most looking forward to asking the panelists. Discover how men can be allies at any stage or level in their careers.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- The importance of naming ally behaviors (4:00)
- The vulnerability required to embrace our advantages (8:00)
- How to create systemic change (12:30)
- How organizations can get started with supporting male allyship (15:30)
- A potential pitfall for employee resource groups (20:00)
- What to think about when building a diverse pipeline (22:00)
- The need to teach men how to engage in allyship (25:00)
- Why sharing practices can be more powerful than sharing advice (26:30)
- How men can share their social capital at any level or stage in their careers (31:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
DOUG FORESTA: Hello and welcome back to The Will To Change. Of course, this is Doug Foresta, and of course with me is Jennifer Brown, and I’m going to be joining her today. We’re going to be talking about some upcoming panels. I’ll go through those in just a moment, but we’re going to be talking about some panels that Jennifer is hosting on male allyship and talk about those panels and about male allyship in general. Jennifer, thank you for allowing me to join you on The Will To Change.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Doug, for having me, quote unquote.
DOUG FORESTA: You’re having me. This is your podcast.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
DOUG FORESTA: I want to start with, if I could, let me just … and you tell me if I get these right. You’re going to be moderating at the Better Man Conference. You’re going to be doing the one in New Jersey at Unilever on the 27th of September. There’s also October 11th in San Francisco and then November 9th in New York city. Is that correct?
JENNIFER BROWN: 19th actually.
DOUG FORESTA: Sorry. November 19.
JENNIFER BROWN: International Men’s Day.
DOUG FORESTA: November 19th in New York City. That’s International Men’s Day?
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
DOUG FORESTA: Cool. Also, you’ll be in Florida for the Grace Hopper Conference, which is for women in technology, and that’s the week of October 1st through the 4th, and you’re going to be moderating. All of these panels are going to be discussing male allyship.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, and with all men on them.
DOUG FORESTA: With all men so an all-male panel.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
DOUG FORESTA: That’ll be exciting. I want to ask you a couple of questions. I think the structure today, what we wanted to do, I want to ask you some questions about your own perspective on male allyship, your interest in it, and then talk about some things that maybe you don’t necessarily have the last word on the answers for them, but more that you’re excited to hear what the panel … Some questions that you’re going to be asking the panel, some juicy questions that I think we might do a follow up on even. To start, I want to ask you about your own evolution to being the advocate that you are today. Can you say a little bit about how did you come to see your own behaviors as supportive and then how did you come to focus intentionally on allyship?
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s funny. I share a lot in my own journey with the men that I have the honor of sharing the stage with on these panels that we are all admittedly major works in progress, but that there were moments I think for all of us, and they’re eager to share these moments, and so am I because I think these are important things to talk about when you’re on the stage. There was a moment that somebody thanked you for something that you did or said or advocated for or pointed out or challenged when you saw it or heard it. For these men, as I was interviewing them, they said, “I was surprised because I was just doing my thing. I was leading as I know I think is best. Somebody came to me and said what you’re doing is … There’s a word for it.” All of them were pretty surprised to actually learn that it’s a thing. Once their behavior was pointed out as helpful, they began to do it more, of course, and they began to make it more intentional and more repeatable and ultimately more comfortable. I think they all probably independently upped the ante from that point.
Now I’d say the men that are as accomplished as the ones are that I’m going to have the privilege of sharing the stage with, they’re at the point where they’re mentoring other men forward. They’ve moved into that teaching role. It’s beyond mastery. It is the give back. It’s the, “now I don’t care and I’m going to use my voice and I’m going to both afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted and everybody in between.”
DOUG FORESTA: I love that.
JENNIFER BROWN: That is truly in alignment with the fourth phase in the inclusive leader continuum in my new book, which is advocate, which is that bold, that brave, that questioning stance, if you will. Somebody that holds people accountable, somebody that looks at both individual impacts of bias and microaggressions and inequity, but also looks at the system that caused it in the first place and that continues to cause it. That’s the definition of the advocate level for phase four in the book.
They are all I think showing up really big in the world, and I’m absolutely, like you alluded to, in a learning stance from them because I want to look at them as best practices that I can then take and cascade in our consulting work. Because I have to say, these people are few and far between in the hallways that I walk through and in the companies that I work with. This whole conversation is just getting started.
DOUG FORESTA: Well, that actually is a good segue to my next question for you, which is these are amazing people and we’ve had some of those people on The Will To Change, but why are we not seeing or why do we not have more men stepping forward as allies in your opinion?
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s going to be one of the questions for the panel. I know what the answer is going to be because I’ve thought about this a lot and written about it a lot. I think the whole concept we have in mind or the image of the leader, the executive leader who comes to mind, we usually picture a white male. Whatever, rightly or wrongly or however we feel about it, that one demographic dominates leadership positions. It’s not an accident that when we picture that, that’s what we see because that’s what we’ve been exposed to and that’s what we of course need to work hard to change.
I think the vulnerability and humility about your learning journey and what you have yet to understand and embracing that is counter to the way we think we need to show up. It’s viewed as weakness. It’s viewed as not having the answer. It’s viewed as being wishy washy perhaps. I could keep going and give you a lot of gendered words frankly for how men don’t want to be viewed as things that are maybe viewed also stereotypically as female.
DOUG FORESTA: It’s funny. I had someone share with me, and this person is a pretty decent leader in an organization, and he said something about not wanting to change his mind because it would be perceived as weak. He used the word weak. It just reminds me of what you’re saying.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, and not knowing the answer about diversity is so, so okay and understandable. Particularly if you haven’t walked in other people’s shoes, there is so much you need to learn and that’s a real thing. It’s not something you can hide or deny or pretend like you don’t need to learn it. It is what it is. It reminds me of privilege. I try to normalize the talking about privilege because those of us who have more of it, we didn’t earn it. It was given to us. We didn’t choose it or not choose it, just like everything else in life. To speak about it in a more neutral way and then move forward from the defensiveness or the denial to the ownership of it, so own if you don’t have the answers. Maybe own that you’re privileged. Talk about that.
What’s important to me always is what do you do about that fact? What do you do with it? What’s the responsibility that comes with things that landed in your lap that you didn’t earn in life? What-
DOUG FORESTA: Do you think that that also goes to a sense of vulnerability of what does it mean if I acknowledge that I have been given things that maybe were unearned?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Well, it sets yourself up to then have to earn it back, if you will, to make good on it. That’s the feeling I always have and honestly what motivates me in the work I do, which is why was I given all of this if I don’t use it for something? To me, it doesn’t make any sense. I feel like I have this cosmic rebalancing that I’m always doing with whatever assets I have. Yes, I think declaring it though, particularly in this day and age, you may get attacked depending on how you share it and to whom and how you describe it and what context you put it in. We need to choose our spots. We need to make sure it’s in service of something larger.
Yeah, you’re right, Doug. It can be be hugely vulnerable to talk about your PhD degree that you don’t talk about. It can be vulnerable to talk about how wealthy you were growing up or how many degrees you have or just things that could make people resent you or it’s not about you, but it’s about the larger inequality in the system that affects all of us every day and you become the bellwether of it.
I have to tell you. I invite a lot of people that appear to have privilege to me to share with me what’s under their waterline with the iceberg and what they cover about their background. I have to say I hear the opposite from most people. I just hear these amazing stories of how people grew up and their parents and whether had they had enough to eat and how their family’s coming to America impacted their identity and just so many fascinating things. I think that there’s actually a lot more shared experience on the other side than we realize. Every time somebody walks by us and we assume, oh, they know nothing about this, we’re often wrong. That’s what I think I love to put these male allies on stage in particular because they told me in the interviews, “People look at me and think I’ve got a lot of this figured out, but I’ve been a work in progress. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve been on my own evolution.”
The purpose of my role on the stage as a moderator is to take them back to those moments because those moments of vulnerability of, “you didn’t always do this right, and, by the way, you still make mistakes today because all of us are still learning,” those are the moments when an audience can really see themselves in somebody’s story because it’s annoying to see the finished product all the time of people. What’s much more interesting and I think formative for learners is to say, “okay, so how did you get from that person you were 10 years ago? What was the next step you took, and then what was the next step and the building of it?” I try to take the conversation back to that because I think it’s most helpful.
DOUG FORESTA: I’m going to ask you a question that I believe you’re going to be asking to the panel. I want to ask it both to you and then also to get your thoughts about what you think will be the response to this. This question is about do you focus on supporting individuals, so that would be the mentoring inclusion lens, or challenging institutions and systems, that equity lens, and which one is more energizing and which one do you decide to focus on?
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m fascinated by that question because my theory is that a lot of mentoring and support by allies is being done in private and also being done in a one-on-one environment, which of course is the easiest place to start, but for real systemic change, that has to be complemented with a systems focus. We have to get to the heart of why the inequalities and the difficulties and challenges are continuing to happen. It’s the difference between treating a symptom and putting the bandaid on and recognizing why you got sick in the first place and addressing that. Organizations are like that so they can have tons of systemic problems that are baked into business as usual and be playing a game of whack-a-mole effectively trying to rescue this person who’s about to quit and address this lawsuit that’s coming down the pike because the culture is so horrible. It’s a lot of responsive action.
I’d like to see more allies step forward and ask the harder questions about why do we do it this way? Why is this happening? Who is complicit to use a loaded word, but how have we let this go on? How have we looked to the side? How have we not asked the more difficult, challenging questions, which are very inconvenient questions? They’re uncomfortable. You may be threatening some folks with power in asking those questions. I do think those of us who are lower levels of the company, we can do this, but I think it’s especially important for people with any power or platform to be the ones that challenge the system because that will be heard, listened to, heated and maybe even if you have power, you also have the carrot and the stick to actually force the organization, the stick side of the equation to force the organization to look at something and to remedy it and to take the hard choices and actions to make sure that it doesn’t continue to happen.
That’s a systems lens. Again, back to the book and the four stages or phases of the continuum, that’s also level four question asking. It’s the why. Why is this happening and what can we do to fix it, and who is going to fix it and by when? I want a report. It reminds me of, we always talk about Marc Benioff, Salesforce, discovering the pay equity gap in his company. First thing he does, write a $3 million check that goes to all the people who have been experiencing a pay gap to remedy it, period. That’s not a systems solve. The systems answer is why did this happen in the first place? How can we prevent it from happening in the future? By the way, let’s now do a pay audit every single year, not just for Salesforce but for all the incoming acquired companies. There were 60 in a year at Salesforce.
DOUG FORESTA: That’s amazing.
JENNIFER BROWN: Literally he has to start all over again and do a pay gap analysis for all of them because by the way, it’s going to dry down his numbers at Salesforce and all the good work he’s done to inherit all of these horrible gaps that have never been remedied on the part of the acquired companies. I think it’s just a great example of understanding this.
DOUG FORESTA: That’s great. That’s fantastic. The next one I want to ask you, which again is another question that I think you’re excited about asking the panel, but for companies that really don’t have allyship programs in place or don’t have programs in place to focus on diverse talent pipeline, where do you recommend that they start? I’m curious about your thoughts about this, and are you excited about asking these questions to the panel?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, because my not so secret agenda is I do think men as allies groups are in our future organizationally. I’m not seeing a ton of them. I’d say I maybe know about 20 of them perhaps in the bigger companies we work with, and they’re not always the bigger companies actually. In fact, some of the nonprofits we work with have them because the whole conversation in nonprofits and advocacy groups is pretty different than in the corporate world. I think there’s a level of readiness for this that I don’t see in corporate. The question I will ask of the panel who worked for very forward enlightened organizations, Intel is one, Bloomberg is one, VMware is another. Those are some places where this conversation is fairly mature.
I want the panelist, again to the point earlier, I want them to take us back and if they were in a new company and they had to start from scratch, where would they start? I’m excited to hear, is this a grassroots effort? Is it a tops down? Is it something that’s created by executive order, if you will, from the leadership? Is there a right answer? How do you find that one person that leads to two that leads to three of those first core group members that come together with an interest in this even? I think people are hiding out, and people who believe in this I think are, like I said earlier, doing it privately, and they don’t know that what they’re doing is actually allyship.
Part of the education we need to do in forming groups, if that’s where we think this is going is to say, “hey, what you’re doing has been acknowledged as ally behavior and people see you in this way.” Having people have that aha moment and then saying, “and by the way, what you’re doing is a game changer and it’s a next practice. Can we come together and speak about what are those practices that all of us do as a course of doing business but have never really wanted to be recognized for and haven’t really thought was a theme? We just thought it was good leadership.” Because that’s what I’m hearing over and over from people. What maybe people don’t know, they’re being humble about it and they may literally not see themselves doing it. It reminds me in a weird way on the opposite side of bias. We don’t see ourselves doing it.
DOUG FORESTA: It’s the opposite of unconscious bias, not opposite but it’s a parallel. Yes, you have unconscious bias. You have unconscious allyship.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. It’s interesting because we don’t see it, therefore we keep doing it. It’s just the total polar opposite. We need to come together, recognize that it’s powerful, recognize that we’re on to something, find other people that are doing it and similarly passionate and then the effort spreads from there. That begins to normalize this behavior. What my real vision is, is to have these behaviors be hard-coded into performance reviews and competencies that are expected of leaders. Someday it won’t just be people who are doing it on the side of their desk or not thinking it’s a big deal. Personally, I know it sounds a bit cynical, but I would welcome more people trying to get the cookies and the good performance review by making time to lift others up. I personally would welcome that challenge. I know some people are cynical about, well, what’s the motivation? Is it just to get the kudos or to be able to check the box or whatever?
DOUG FORESTA: We should be so lucky, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m like, who cares?
DOUG FORESTA: Exactly. Who cares? Another question that I know that you’re looking forward to hearing the answer about is about what is a newly created … If we’re going to create these men as allies groups in organizations, what are they going to look like? What would it entail to start on? Say a little bit about your thoughts about that question and what you anticipate.
JENNIFER BROWN: There’s a couple of watch-outs and cautions that if I were waving my magic wand, I think everything we do these days needs to be done with an intersectional lens. ERGs or employee resource groups, business resource groups have I think suffered and will suffer more in the future if they’re not really committed to intersectionality. I think they’ve become microcosms of our society in terms of how siloed they are and how … Believe it or not, even though they are diversity groups, they can be very homogeneous. For example, we can see a lot of white women in the women’s group. Nobody has questioned that. Nobody said, I wonder why we’re all white women. Why is that happening?
Men could theoretically end up being a bunch of white guys, cisgender men potentially, and not really have the representation of the LGBTQ plus community in the group. It could also not have the representation of men of color and other men of differing backgrounds, educations, functional diversity within the company. It could be all housed in one area of the company and one geography of the company.
I think immediately the challenge of these groups is to apply the intersectional lens, be very proactive in making asks and in invitations because like what we were talking about before, the invitation is necessary because people don’t even see themselves being this helping support to others. They just don’t see it. Somebody has got to come to you, knock on your door, say I’ve heard these great things about what you’re all about, your purpose, how you mentor, how you’re very intentional about utilizing your voice. Hey, come over here. We have this thing going, and we’d love you to be a part of it.
Just like we always talk about, curate that slate and make sure that it’s diverse because however you have this founding team, therefore you grow, and you grow more into more of who you are at the beginning because you grab your friends, and your friends aren’t from a diverse group of people and your colleagues. You start to replicate the limitations of your own network whenever you’re part of a founding team. We talk to a lot of startups about this too. How you set that compass is critical. That founding team and that leadership team is what people are going to look at to say, am I welcome in that conversation or not? Am I welcome-
DOUG FORESTA: It reminds me of our conversation with Adam Pisoni.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know. I loved that interview.
DOUG FORESTA: Yeah. If people haven’t listened to that one, you should go back. It’s one of the earliest ones we did about he demands that there be diversity in the startup team.
JENNIFER BROWN: As a white, Italian, straight, cisgender man, he said, “If I didn’t demand that we only interview women and people of color for our first round of hiring, I would get all guys that look like me, and we’d have 40 guys that look like me and no women.” Justifiably, as a founder, he’s really worried, and he’s running an education startup called Abl now. When you think about the imperative that’s coming to him in terms of the communities he’s going to be serving and the faculty and the administrations he’s serving and schools, this is critical. You talk about a business case. That’s a great episode.
Doug, I think intersectionality is critical. I’d also say be ready for maybe some pushback. I think there will probably be some raised eyebrows across the board about why are we putting energy towards men as allies group? What does that mean? What are they going after? What are they about? What are their motives? What are they solving for? Who are they to solve for these things? The resilience you need and just come to me and fill your cup back again if you feel depleted by all of this because there is a lack of trust for men on the part of many people. I’ll just be really super general and diplomatic about all of that. There is a school of thought that says the people who perpetrated the harm cannot be the parts of the solution to the harm.
Personally, I understand that and yet we are at the same time building strategies in organizations and really not addressing the elephant in the room, which is the fact that in order to create change, we need to enlist everyone-
DOUG FORESTA: That’s right. Even perpetrators.
JENNIFER BROWN: … in creating that change. Perhaps especially. Perpetrator is a strong word. There’s so much unintentional harm that’s created through doing nothing and saying nothing. We have to teach people how to do something and say something. That’s the work. I feel strongly about it. I have faith and hope about it because I know some people that are doing this so I know that it’s possible. It just may not be a lot of people. It’s a small list. However, I am here to tell you they exist. They keep me going every day. They give me hope personally when I want to give up because I channel certain people who are using their voice fearlessly from a majority position. I say if there’s one person that can figure this out, I think we could figure out a way to get more.
DOUG FORESTA: The last one I want to ask you is, again this is a question you’re going to be asking to the panel, curious again about your thoughts about it too, which is advising, what would advice be for younger female talent if they’re advising younger female talent to garner support of potential allies? How do you approach that conversation? I am again both curious about your thoughts about the answer to that and what responses might be from the panel.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s really interesting. One of the men I was preparing with said people don’t want advice. They want to know what you’re doing. I love that. It felt really good because I think people can sit up on panels and give advice all day and not really be walking the talk. It reoriented our conversation around specific practices that you do on a regular basis, sort of a show, don’t tell. I really am looking forward to asking these men literally in the last two weeks, how have you concretely advised, supported, nudged a certain young person a certain direction, called them on certain behavior or comments they make?
Somebody shared. I’m hearing a lot of I don’t want to work on nights and weekends to develop that technical skill or polish this or get this certification. He’s like, look, you’re going to have to work harder because you’re underrepresented in tech, but by the way, I’ve got your back. Make no mistake. You may need to work hard. Everybody has to work hard. There is no shame in hard work. I wondered whether that was a generational thing. I was really curious about why he was hearing that because I know you and I Doug, there were lots of nights and weekends, we know, to get to where we are.
DOUG FORESTA: I was going to say. I don’t think of it as working hard. I just think of it as doing what I want to be doing. It’s different.
JENNIFER BROWN: Loving what you’re doing. That’s true.
DOUG FORESTA: It’s different.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s curious to have somebody who is young and emerging leader that you’re wanting to support say something like that, like I’m not sure I want to work that hard. I just wonder if that’s a generational thing. Not sure. I hope not. I think nudging people, holding them accountable, pushing them beyond where they’re comfortable, holding out that bigger vision for them than they have for themselves, and also being a role model and saying, hey, I got here. You can get here too. Here’s the pieces of my journey, and sharing those at those critical moments when people want to give up because they’re so frustrated and rightly so of trying to break into a field where they don’t see anyone that looks like them or where they’re an unlikely candidate, and they know it, and they feel unsure about how they will feel inside an organization.
Once you can even get jobs, you enter these environments, which we talk about on The Will To Change all the time, which don’t feel very hospitable to you and feel like a strange land. Can you imagine doing your best work in a place like that? Can you imagine being able to focus and concentrate? Can you imagine signing up for challenging projects and wondering who has your back and who’s supporting you and who’s running air cover for you and who’s giving you the unwritten rules and cluing you into what does success really look like for you with this project, which is often not what is the stated success?
DOUG FORESTA: They can often be very different when you are, as you have said many times on The Will To Change, the only and lonely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, exactly. I expect these men as allies are going to share all the ways that they support both publicly, privately, how they prepare the ground for someone, a new star to come in. If it’s a female technologist or a new woman into the engineering team or she maybe doesn’t come from the same industry and maybe they never hire from the outside for these kinds of roles. You’ll see an ally protecting and preparing and advocating and making sure that she’s got the right people in her network so she’s connected to power from the beginning. Once you put this lens on and you realize that actually at any level you’re at, you do have some power.
I don’t just want us to think that power lives at the top. You could be a 30-year-old looking out for a 23-year-old who just entered the organization. There are ways that you can put whatever influence you have, your social capital in play for that person and alongside that person and check in and make sure and understand what challenges you’re coming up against and how are you feeling and what can we do to make this place better for you so that you can thrive. That’s leadership. We can be doing that at any level, at any stage in our careers.
I try to do it as much as I possibly can, as much time as I have to mentor people. As I’ve mentioned, I’m super intentional about who I give my time to, and I make sure that it’s given to someone that can’t get it otherwise, I guess, if that’s an elegant way to say. What’s the point of-
DOUG FORESTA: I think that makes perfect sense.
JENNIFER BROWN: … pouring into a cup that’s already overflowing?
DOUG FORESTA: That’s right. Which is unfortunately what we often do in society, is we give to those who have already so much and then-
JENNIFER BROWN: They are by the way the squeaky wheels too. That’s really interesting because they will just literally browbeat you into submission before you give them time on your calendar. I think that speaks to the confidence that some of us have and some of us don’t have in terms of making the ask for help. Something we need to work on. If you find yourself hesitating from asking for allyship in a way and being very … pointing your energy towards building that support network for yourself so that you have this wonderful support we’ve been talking about today. It is incumbent on all of us, especially in the early days of our career but that never stops. You’ve got to keep asking for more. You have to keep identifying who might support you and champion you.
Sometimes you may need to point out the ally behaviors to somebody and say, “That really made such a difference what you did back there.” That may change somebody’s perception of themselves and their behavior, and they may get on a totally different journey as a result of you pointing that out to them. Please make sure we’re giving it, we’re acknowledging it and pointing it out and reinforcing it when we see it because that’s going to create more allies in the world.
DOUG FORESTA: Well, this has been fantastic. What we have to do is, if you’re up for it, is a follow up after this whirlwind tour that you’re going on about lesson learned, takeaways, things that are surprising. I’d love to do a follow up to see how this all shakes out. It just sounds really important.
JENNIFER BROWN: Me too. I’m hoping to learn a lot and I’m happy to report back.
DOUG FORESTA: Excellent. All right, Jennifer Brown, thank you so much again for allowing me to join you in The Will To Change and thanks for sharing your words of wisdom and look forward to continuing the conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks, Doug.
DOUG FORESTA: Thank you.
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