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In this episode, originally recorded as a Hummingbird Hour, Rohit Bhargava and Jennifer are interviewed by Brian McComak, Founder and CEO of Hummingbird Humanity. Rohit and Jennifer share insights about their new book Beyond Diversity and reveal how the book offers an actionable blueprint for creating a more inclusive world. Discover the hidden message on the cover of the book, the need for ongoing dialogue and discussion, and why change starts with discovering our personal stories.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
BRIAN MCCOMAK: One of the things that has happened in some of the spaces I’ve had the privilege to be part of and a facilitator is working with groups of leaders who are figuring out how to model vulnerability and figuring out how to have some of these conversations. And what I’ve seen is that they’ll come back and they’ll take the conversations to back to their families, to their kids, to their parents, to their significant others. And then they’ll bring back those examples to the spaces that we’re in together. One of my favorite stories is a woman who’s an executive leader who has a three-year-old son who decided that he likes to dress up in princess dresses. She was really struggling with it. She’s like, “I’m in this space right now where I’m learning how to break those norms and those perspectives, and yet, I don’t think my son should be wearing princess dresses.” And she shared with us through some tears in the group we were in, she said, “My husband was the one who said, ‘Who cares? If he wants to wear princess dresses, let him wear princess dresses and just let him be the beautiful human he is.'”
DOUG FORESTA: The Will To Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author, and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She’s a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now, onto the episode.
Hello, and welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. This episode was originally recorded as a Hummingbird Hour and is moderated by Brian McComak. He is the CEO and Founder of Hummingbird Humanity. And joining him for the conversation is Rohit and Jennifer as they talk about their book, Beyond Diversity. They discuss how the book provides a much-needed, actionable blueprint for creating a more inclusive world for all. Jennifer and Rohit talk about why they wrote the book, what the process was like for them to write the book, the power of storytelling, as well as the kinds of conversations that they hoped to spark from the book. All this and much more, and now onto the conversation.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Today, we have two wonderful guests with us. Jennifer Brown, who I’m sure many of you will already know and love, is an international bestselling speaker and author and consultant in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space. She has a book out that I use as a reference tool for a lot of the programs we do at Hummingbird Humanity around inclusive leadership, so I’m sure we’ll share those links in the chat. And I think there’s some great references in that book that certainly ignite great conversation and dialogue and thinking about being an inclusive leader and a human-centered leader.
And then we also have Rohit Bhargava, who is the author of Non Obvious Megatrends, another book that many of you may be familiar with. And we’re going to probably talk about some of those megatrends today as well. So with that, let’s kick off the conversation, and Jennifer… Oh, I’m sorry, we’re here to talk about Beyond Diversity. Hopefully I mentioned that already. We’re here to talk about Beyond Diversity. Actually, before I go into the question I was just about to ask, Jennifer, I saw a post from you recently that there’s a hidden message here on the cover. Would you tell us about the hidden message and what it’s all about?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. I have to give credit it to Rohit on this one. I don’t know if everybody sees it. We got to see it to be it, that’s a little clue. So if you see that we embedded be it in the design. Let me let Rohit actually share a little bit more about the cover design because it was something that was very intentionally done.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah. Unlike many of the cover designs that maybe we’ve done in the past where we just got a cover designer, on this one, we were lucky enough to commission a unique piece of mosaic art, which is what you’ll see behind the letters, from an artist named Zharia Shinn, who’s amazing and has done a bunch of different mosaic pieces. And so, we worked with her to develop these mosaics, which she had actually hand did. So it’s not just digitally creative, somebody actually created the mosaics and then scanned them in. And then we used those for the letters and did the whole cover concept around that. So there’s the whole backstory behind that, but we just love the hidden message but also just the bright, colorful, hopefully welcoming sense of design that you get from this cover as an introduction into what the books really about.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: I will say it is eye grabbing. It grabbed my attention when I first saw it. And having a book coming out myself later this year, I know I’m like, “How do we make the books stand out from the other books in the bookshop? What does that look like?” I think it’s a beautiful message.
Lindsay, I’m going to let you finish your slide-sharing duties and join the conversation with the group of attendees. Thank you so much for helping us get off to a great start here. First of all, Rohit and Jennifer, I want to ask a question. I shared a couple of highlights from your bios, which certainly does not do either of you justice in your careers, but I’m curious, would you share something in the spirit of let’s be humans together, something that maybe people wouldn’t know from your bios, something that might be a unique aspect of your life?
JENNIFER BROWN: You go first, Rohit.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: That’s not what we agreed. You were going to take all the difficult ones first, and now you’re going off script. Let’s see, something in my language non-obvious about me. Well, people probably know this about Jennifer already, her musical background, but I have a slight musical background myself. I’m a drummer. And interestingly enough, I find drumming to be great practice for what I talk about now, which is curating different ideas and putting pieces together to see the future. Because what drummers do is they have limb independence. My right hand, my left hand, my right foot, my left foot can all do something different at the same time because that’s how you play a drum set. And that’s a good analogy, I think, for what we all have to do in our lives and in business right now, which is juggle multiple things and be able to do them at once. So that whole pat your head and tummy thing, that’s easy for a drummer.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: I’ve been having this debate with my sister recently about whether we can actually multitask or whether we have to be present for what’s happening in the moment. And you just gave the argument for the multitasking’s a real thing because I always tell her, “You can’t do the two things at the same time.”
ROHIT BHARGAVA: It’s a real thing but not for deep work. Right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Good point.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: It depends.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: I mean, I can multitask and watch the Olympics and pay my finances and bills at the same time, and that is easy. But writing is not a multitasking thing. You got to turn off the internet and write.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Ain’t that the truth.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Agreed. Agreed. What about you, Jennifer?
JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks Rohit for going first, it gave me a second to think. Well, I don’t get to talk about my partner Michelle very much. She’s Filipino American first generation, and so I’m part of a giant Filipino multi-generational family. She’s also an animal rights. We met as activists in our twenties, and so I have this wonderful exposure to baby farm animals and animal rescue and veganism, which I aspire to, I cannot claim. But just what that has brought to our lives is so refreshing and inspiring and just soul filling and so dramatically different than what we focus on every single day, but interestingly, a field that actually has some DEI work to do as well. In fact, there’s a new report out on DEI in the animal rights world, which has some work to do. Anyway, we don’t need to get into that, but it’s been neat to see that community wake up to the same conversations that we’ve been having too.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, and I’m sure that we could probably spend the next hour on what are the industries and arenas that have not yet, or are just embarking, on the DEI journey. We at Hummingbird have the opportunity to start working with some of the Broadway producers, and that’s been a really interesting. I won’t take us there right now either, but there’s so much to explore. Before we talk about Beyond Diversity, you two, as I understand, met at the Beyond Diversity Summit, and that was where this idea ignited. Would you share a little bit about what it was like to meet and how did you come up with idea for this book? I throw it out there, should I ask… I’m going to say.
JENNIFER BROWN: Let’s do Rohit on that one.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: No, I think-
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah, you might want to direct it, otherwise we’re both talkers, so we’ll just jump straight in.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, that’s true.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: And I don’t think that’s necessarily what you want.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Jennifer, I think that Rohit went first last time, so I think it’s-
JENNIFER BROWN: Okay. Okay, that’s fine. So the Beyond Diversity Summit was where Rohit and I originally collaborated. It was a five-day, 200-speaker, multi track, very, very broadly diversified in terms of topics and speakers and identity and global. It just was this endeavor to broaden the lens with which we see this topic. I moderated a panel on D&I in tech, I believe, with Natalie Egan and a couple other amazing trailblazers. There was just so much good content that was pulled together, and we thought, “This is a book. It has to be a book. It has to be in a format that can be easily passed around and accessible and digestible for the world that maybe doesn’t think about these things very much.” And so we decided to do that and it was really tough to be constrained by the number of pages that are in a book and have all this amazing content.
The writing process was a challenging one and one that I’d never been through before, which was all of this original source material that had to be categorized and tough choices made around what fit, and also the diversity of stories that we included needed to be as complete as possible also. So it was a different writing process than I’m used to, but we’re really proud of it because I think we succeeded, I think, in making something so readable and making those really difficult choices. But at some point, Rohit, it felt like it was a mountain of stuff, and we did not want to leave anything on the cutting room floor.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah, that was the tough thing. I mean, we had so many voices from the summit. And when you have 200 speakers who are all not really DEI people, I mean, we had folks who might self-describe themselves that way and say, “Look, I spend all day every day working in the field of DEI,” but we also had people who would say, “My job is a casting director. And as part of a casting director’s job, I want to think about how to diversify roles. But that’s not my job, my job is to find the best person for all the roles, and my intent is to try and make that as diverse as possible.” And so, we had so many people like that whose work touched the world of DEI but who weren’t necessarily DEI people.
And that’s one of the things that I think Jennifer and I both really gravitated towards from our backgrounds too, because I’ve never described myself as a DEI person. I spend most of my time talking about innovation and strategy and trends, and that was the world that I was coming from. And then to pair with Jennifer and all of her deep knowledge on really all these things that huge companies are dealing with when it comes to setting their ambitions towards DEI, putting those worlds together was really valuable for us because there were blind spots that I had in terms of what I didn’t know and there was definitely the same for Jennifer, I think. If you look at the cover of the book, you might have noticed that besides my name and Jennifer’s name, we also had six other people’s names on the front cover. And that’s also intentional because we had six other contributors who were bringing their perspectives as well.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: I love that we’re in this chapter in our world that we’re paying attention and learning from each other in different ways. Rohit you mentioned that there was some learning moments for you in this journey. I’m curious, what has been the biggest aha for you or the biggest I wish I would’ve known this before? I’m going to make an assumption that the last two years for the two of you have been similar to me, a huge learning curve. There are some things that I wish I had known. Actually, I’ll share one of mine just to go first, is I was an HR person for many years and helped analyze and theme out the results from employee engagement surveys more times than I can count. What I realize looking back with the lens that I have today is that we always sanitized out any individuality in those analyses. We identified how does this composite group feel, whether it was a team or a department or a function or a population of employees, but we didn’t look at the unique experiences of those individuals.
I’m like, “I wonder what we really missed,” because I’m sure we missed a lot and I missed a lot in that approach. I’m grateful to say I don’t do it that way anymore, but that’s been one of the big learnings for me in the last couple of years of the importance of looking at the experiences of different individuals through different identity lenses. What’s been the big learning for you? Is it Rohit’s turn to go first? Yes. We’re going to try to keep it fair on this call.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: That’s total equity, I like that. I’d say my big learning, probably, is that there are more places where I can personally have an impact on how diversity, equity, and inclusion is practiced in the places I go than I realized before. I mean, I’m a business owner, I hire people, so the easy thing to consider is, am I hiring as diversely and as inclusively as I could? But what I would forget about is I would go to an event where I’m the keynote speaker and I would show up and I would have a role to play in terms of being able to make the rest of that event as diverse and inclusive as possible but only if I take the initiative to do it, right? It’s very easy as a keynote speaker to get booked for an event, not pay attention to anyone else who’s going to be on stage because you’re the keynote. So you end up showing up at the event, you have no idea who else is speaking there, you haven’t actually talked to the event organizers proactively about whether their stage is diverse or not. And that’s a missed opportunity. And I never really thought like that before. I kind of thought, “Okay, as long as my message is diverse and what I’m saying is inclusive and I’m participating, that’s my role. I’m not organizing the event, right? It’s not as if it’s my event.”
But my mental shift and my perception shift through writing this book became, “It doesn’t have to be my job in order for me to actually be able to have an impact if I proactively go and ask some really specific questions. Who else is on stage? Have you considered these other individuals that I know who would be great on stage but maybe aren’t part of your set of people that you’ve been thinking about for whatever reason?” So I realized that there’s more that I could be doing if I were more proactive about it. So that was probably one of my big learnings.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Well, that’s a great way to demonstrate allyship as well because you have a role of privilege in that role, in that position as being a keynote, and how do you just engage the conversation to be an ally for others whose voices may not have been included in consideration? I know Jennifer and I have had some of those conversations in recent years of how she thinks about who’s going to be on a panel with her and whether you give up your seat, Jennifer, or whether you’re saying, “Hey, we need to really rethink the makeup of this panel or we need to invite some of these voices to the conversation.”
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. In fact, I just got a request for PRIDE podcast guests for June, and the person said, “Of course we’d love to have you.” But I was ready with a list of not me that featured a lot of voices that I have been investing in so that I’m ready for those requests. I’m ready. I’m more than ready. I’m like, “Oh gosh, here’s 20, and I have 20 more.” I’m proud of that because I’ve invested deeply in that. But you have to be secure enough. You can’t be coming from the scarcity place to say, “I have to grab this opportunity.” It has to be this generosity and taking your hands off the wheel and leading from behind. It has a different energy to it. But I think that’s something we can all do more of.
I would say, Brian, the really neat thing that I learned and have deepened my commitment to through this process is we hired inclusivity readers, also known as sensitivity readers, to go through the book. Rohit tells this story of what happened when we discovered that, for example, we used about I think 12 people for different parts of the book because we wanted all those lived experiences. It wasn’t just good enough to have one lens because we all know our lenses are limited, even sensitivity readers lenses are limited. But we also discovered there was a pay gap in terms of the pricing they were quoting us between each other. And it was an opportunity to practice what we preach, and I give Rohit credit because he was in the driver’s seat at that moment and said, “I’m going to take the highest paid hourly, and I’m going make that a benchmark, and I’m going to communicate to everybody that this is what they’re going to get.”
And so we had this mini lesson for ourselves and a reminder of how powerful, like Rohit just said, when you are in the driver’s seat and have the ability to make these choices. Even if you think, “Oh, what could I do with the pay gap?” well, you can do a lot. It’s these little examples of it. I think we really shifted how they think about themselves in the market, their value, I hope confidence. We’ve all underquoted. I mean, I don’t know, Rohit, if you have stories about that, I know I’ve underquoted, and it’s like hit me in face-
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Sure, I have.
JENNIFER BROWN: … and been like, “Oh how could I have done that?” But somebody put me in a position then of sort of not telling me what something was going to be compensated at, and then I underbid, which is very, as we know, gendered, and there are other things about that. So it’s such a lesson to keep learning but I think we can also affect other people’s lives in really concrete ways in this way. Yeah, Rohit, did I capture that accurately?
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think the most gratifying thing is to hope that once someone gets a certain amount from a publisher… I mean the book Beyond Diversity was published by IdeaPress, which is a company that I founded with my wife, and so we’re also the publishers of the book. And so here’s a real publisher going to these sensitivity readers and saying, “Look, what you’re worth and what we are going to pay you is this amount.” Our hope was that they would take that and say, “Oh, there was a publisher willing to pay me X, and so that’s what I should be charging people.” So it’s beyond just getting paid well for one job, hopefully, we give them the confidence to say, “Look, that’s what the rate is,” so now that’s what they hopefully charge moving forward.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah. Well, I know inherent in what you’re both sharing, and I know this is true for how I try to lead my team and my business, is my job is to challenge CEOs and leaders and decision makers to make these types of decisions you’re both talking about. I want to be able to say, if they turn around and say, “Well, do you do it at your business?” “Yep, I do, and here’s some examples.” I want to walk the talk as well so as that we’re authentic in how we’re championing for change.
Let’s talk about how change happens a little bit, just in that spirit of championing for change. Something that I know I’m delighted to see is that we seem to have… So let me just acknowledge that I’ve realized there’s always going to be some unopened doors that we still have to knock open or kick open if it were, but we’re seeing that the one-and-done diversity training time period seems to be passed, hopefully, where there’s the one, two-hour workshop, and we’re like, “Oh, good, we’re good now. We’re all diverse and inclusive and equitable here.”
ROHIT BHARGAVA: We’re trained.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: “We’re trained and we’re good to go.” Gold stars and all that. I know that what I’m seeing, and I think this is true for how you thought about the book is what is emerging as a recognition that we need to have dialogue and discussion. We’re not going to learn all the things. I’m never going to have all the knowledge about all of the different lived experiences that I need to have. Every day I’m learning something new. And so then the way that I’ve been thinking about it is it’s a skillset. It’s an ability to have critical thinking and to interrogate and to understand and to be open to sensitive conversations. I know that that played into how you crafted this book, do you want to talk a little bit about that? Rohit, I think it’s yours turn, I’m not sure. I’ve lost score, but we’re just going to go with you anyway.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Okay. Yeah, I think it was. I mean, one of the things that we did very intentionally from the beginning of the process was we took the title of the book to heart, of going beyond diversity. Because for us what that meant was that we were going to talk about diversity in every dimension, including the dimensions that often are missed in conversations about diversity. So ageism, for example, is often not talked about in conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion even though there are people who are getting discriminated against because they are considered too old for a situation or too young. And so they’re discriminated against based on their age. And that’s across genders and across ethnicities.
So we wanted to talk about that. We wanted to talk about disabilities, but we didn’t want to segment people in such a way where we would write a book and say, “Okay, chapter one is about disability. And chapter two is for people who’ve been discriminated against because of age. And chapter three is for this ethnicity.” We didn’t want to organize things that way because too often what we’ve seen in the world of DEI is that’s how conferences are organized, that’s how events are organized, that’s how books are written. We wanted to go beyond that and say that there are ways that we can talk about topics that affect all of us and do it across all of these different categories. And so, when you look at the structure of this book, it’s got 12 themes, and each one of the themes are human themes. For example, storytelling, technology, education, governments, identity, culture, family. I mean, these are things that are not based on your gender or based on your ethnicity or age, these are things that affect all of us. And that’s how we wanted to try and talk about diversity because we felt that that was the really inclusive way of doing it.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: As you dive in here, Jennifer, I’m also curious why storytelling was first.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, well, you know, I mean it all starts at the personal right, the power of our stories to shift systems around us and also shift the way that we believe in ourselves in those systems, the way that we can activate ourselves. So for Rohit and me, we wanted to lead with that because it captures the heart and mind in this unique way that sticks with us and stays with us and which identities aren’t being elevated. To us it was walking the talk and making sure that we started with that discipline of elevating it. And we needed to share our own stories, too, Rohit’s and mine, right, to orient the reader in why us, like why this book, why us, why are we ones that want to put this together, and what is our purpose?
I think that it framed the rest of the book really beautifully. And we want a new generation of storytellers to be elevated and new lived experiences and intersectionality of storytellers to be elevated too. I think we knew that it would capture the early reader and make sure that that they really got excited about sticking with the rest of the book. But I would love to hear Rohit’s answer too, because you’re all about stories too, Rohit, and how they pertain to really making a book come alive and feel very at the same time as it feels like a great resource.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah. I mean, most of my career I spent in the world of marketing and advertising, and that’s really the business of persuasion. Sometimes people use it for evil reasons, to persuade you to buy something that’s going to make you less healthy or make you feel more adequate even though you shouldn’t need it. But in many cases it is persuasion for good things too. And it all starts with storytelling. I mean, center to great marketing and advertising is storytelling because that’s how we are persuaded as humans. And so, storytelling was a natural place to start a book about a topic like this because that’s how we were going to engage people. If you dig through the book or start flipping through some of the different chapters, you’ll see that everything is filled with stories. I mean, we don’t take an academic approach to this topic, we take a story driven approach.
And so, because we had so many speakers at the summit, because we wanted to bring their stories into it, the book is really filled with us talking about examples. It’s one example after another. It’s one story after another. In business language it’s, to some degree, one case study after another. I mean, that’s really the approach that we took to try and bring all of these lessons to life. We wanted to tell them through the real stories of people, entrepreneurs, businesses, examples that maybe you hadn’t heard before.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: I know, Rohit, as we were talking just before today’s conversation, you mentioned that one of your hopes, yours and Jennifer’s I’m sure, was that this book and the messages would ignite conversation or spark conversation. Can you share more about what that hope is and what you hope that means on the other side of those conversations?
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah, it’s funny, I mean, Jennifer and I are about to put together a mini session for another event, and they asked us, “What do you want to talk about? We’ll give you five minutes, what do you want to talk about?” And you could probably already tell from having listened to Jennifer and I that giving either one of us five minutes is totally [crosstalk 00:28:40]
Five minutes is not enough time.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: No, it’s not enough time. But the one thing we did know is, well, we only really have time to answer one question, so let’s make it a juicy one. And the question we landed on, which I think is totally relevant to the question you just asked, is why is diversity so hard to talk about? Because it is a tough topic. I mean, it feels like a loaded topic. It feels like that conversation, especially in a business context, that we just don’t want to have. Because partially I think the first reason why we naturally shy away from it, most people do, even DEI people shy away from it is because we feel like the first thing we have to do is justify why we should even have an opinion about it in the first place, because of the things that we aren’t.
I’m not a woman, so should I even be talking about anything related to women, right? That’s the first natural impulse that any of us have to justify why we should have an opinion in the first place because of what we aren’t. And it’s a defensive way to go into a topic that is really important. What we wanted to try and do, especially through stories but even just through the entire book, was to say to people, “This needs to be talked about, and it doesn’t always have to be this difficult, loaded conversation.” The only way to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion isn’t to focus your entire conversation on racism. That’s one aspect, but there are other elements to this conversation that we should all talk about, about how to create a more inclusive world.
And so, the way we wrote the book and the fact that at the end of every chapter we have these really thoughtfully broken-out lists of what you can do, what needs to change in society and conversation starters, we have entire online resources, which I know you’re going to share with the audience through the chat and afterwards with links to conversation-starting questions, and we have a whole PDF presentation with more than 70 of these interesting questions that you can use to start a conversation, whether it’s in a book club or an employee resource group, or inside of the university context for classes and courses. Really what we wanted to try and do is spark that conversation by giving people entry points. And that’s what you’ll find throughout the book, these entry points to be able to have that conversation in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re putting everyone on the spot or that everyone feels like they need to defend themselves going into it.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah, I love that. I love that. Well, and I really appreciate you highlighting the reality that… I’ll put it in the words that I often say is we all have to have these conversations now, and none of us were taught how to have them. We have to have these sensitive, emotional, real conversations. Many of us were told to be color blind, and we’re like, “Well, that’s not the way the world is. So we have to have conversations about color now and race and ethnicity but we were told not to talk out about it and not to see it for most of our lives, so how do we have that conversation?” And many other examples around the experiences of different gender identities or queer individuals or people with disabilities and so on.
I think it is a skillset and a muscle that so many of us have flexed. I know I’m always still learning every day. Some days I still get it wrong, and I’m grateful for those people who say, “Hey, Brian, maybe there’s another way to think about this.” Rohit, you may know this, but Jennifer has been one of my mentors for a number of years, and I’m incredibly grateful. These are some of the things I know I’ve learned from Jennifer about just being gracious in those moments of learning. Jennifer, as you think about the messages here and those conversations we need to have in our commitments to driving change, what are some things that emerge for you as you think about the messages of the book?
JENNIFER BROWN: Well, at the end of each chapter, I think Rohit alluded to this, but we have this rubric at the end that’s very practical and applicable right away, which is what needs to happen, which is the systems question, right? We want readers to come through that chapter and say, “Okay, so what’s the change that’s needed? What’s the problem or the gap or the opportunity, right? And then what can I do?” And then the conversation starters are the language. And so, I agree with this with both of you that we’re having to use a new language we have never learned. Even within the LGBTQ community, I mean, Brian, with gender pronouns and making sure those are confirmed and checked and then articulated consistently is still, for some of us even within a community, new learning and new language and new disciplines.
I’m really proud of that part of the book, and I’m actually adopting it in my second edition of my next… I’m doing a second edition of my previous book, and at the end of each chapter I really want to land the plane. I really want to give people the checklist they want, even though we resist to that, I think, sometimes because we want people to do the work themselves. But I do think in such a rapidly shifting landscape we do have to boil it down. We do have to say, “This is what good looks like. Here’s where you can start. And here’s what it sounds like.” But I agree, people are very… They’re very stuck. Generationally, I think some of us struggle relatively more because we have that lack of lived experience both in ourselves, particularly in leadership of organizations, but also around us, just the proximity to difference is lacking, not just in our workplaces, but in our communities, et cetera.
So can the book bring some of these lived experiences to be closer to us? Can it leave us with a feeling of having spent some time with a storyteller, spent some time with an entrepreneur that’s really broken through? I hope so. And we also have videos, actually, of the entire conference too. So it’s not even in just the pages, it’s in the footage. I think that a lot of us who are trying to increase the diversity around us need to seek out media. And however we learn and gather information, whatever our preferred method is, proximity and frequency is so important to begin to broaden our lens, and it starts there. And then ideally it moves forward to, do I actually know someone with this lived experience? I’m not just reading about them. I’m not just watching a show about them. They’re actually in my life.
And then the next iteration of it is, do we have a trusted relationship where that person can actually give me feedback, and vice versa? And we can have that flexibility and resiliency and trust where we can be honest with each other about how we’re impacting each other. And that’s then the application of what we might learn on the pages. And so there’s just these gates that we go through as learners. I hope that the invitation’s always open in our network and mine to give us feedback, and Rohit, we’ve gotten some already on some of the stuff in the book too, right? Like a few turns of phrase-
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah. Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: … that somebody found problematic. And it’s such an opportunity to go deep into the topic and learn and research and say, “So how might we have termed that differently?” We went through a whole thing on whether or not to capitalize the word white. We learned so much in the exploration of that. We ended up deciding to capitalize it, and we talk about why actually in the book. You have to read the book to find out, but we do talk about our sources, we do talk about who we consulted. I was transformed by that digging process. It deepened and widened my understanding of, boy, the importance of language. All we can do, really, even those of us who talk about this all the time, is just share how the sausage is being made in ourselves, not having any fear to say, “Here’s a learning I had recently. Here’s something that I might not have gotten right but what I learned and how I’m trying to incorporate and what I may still get wrong.”
If we had more leaders role-modeling that, that would create a lot of safe space and psychological safety, I think, to learn in public look. But our world doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for that these days. So not sure, not sure. There is a risk to it, but if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not leading, Brian, as you’ve heard me say a million times.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, you started to step into that space of one of the problematic aspects of most organizational cultures is this desire for our expectation of perfection, which we all know perfection is unattainable. And yet we’ve conveyed messages that perfection is the goal and is the barometer on which we’ll be judged and what we expected you as a leader. And so then modeling vulnerability becomes challenging because it’s counterintuitive to the messages we’ve learned along the way.
One of the things that has happened in some of the spaces I’ve had the privilege to be part of and facilitator is working with groups of leaders who are figuring out how to model vulnerability and figuring out how to have some of these conversations. What I’ve seen is that they’ll take the conversations back to their families, to their kids, to their parents, to their significant others, and then they’ll bring back those examples to the spaces that we’re in together. One of my favorite stories is a woman who’s an executive leader who has a three-year-old son who decided that he likes to dress up in princess dresses. She was really struggling with it. She’s in this space. She’s like, “I’m in this space right now where I’m learning how to break those norms and those perspectives, and yet, I don’t think my son should be wearing princess dresses.” She shared with us through some tears in the group we were in, she said, “My husband was the one who said, ‘Who cares? If he wants to wear princess dresses, let him wear princess dresses and just let him to be the beautiful human he is.'”
I love that story and that moment, and that’s just one of many. The reason I mention this is one of your chapters is about family and the DEI in family, which I don’t think is one of the things that we generally think of when we say the acronym DEI. Of course, I know some really diverse families in my world and in my universe, I’m sure you both do as well. So tell us a little bit more about the family aspect and the chapter on family. Jennifer, I think it’s your turn. You got to go first this time.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s my turn. Yeah, well, gosh, we see this being so challenged in just to pick the workplace lens, how family needs and priorities have not been resourced and supported by employers and how many, for example, millions of women left the workforce. I think it was last year or the fall of 2020, I think, were those really eye-popping numbers. It’s such a tragedy and there’s nothing that makes my blood boil as much as this topic because to lose generations of talent in a workplace because the workplace wasn’t built by and for, and to work for so many of us so that we can optimize ourselves, right, where we can give our best contributions, it’s frustrating to me that that it’s never been a priority. And then we had to pay this dear, dear price that sets us back so far.
But on the flip side, I love the parents… To join you and your parent story, Brian, the parents that say they come to this as, all of a sudden, I’m thrown into the deep end of the pool as an ally for my child or I’m realizing that I’m really out of step and I don’t want to be out of step. I want to be able to speak to my kids and relate to them. And so sometimes, oftentimes I think, that the people in workplaces are also having that human experience where they really are craving what we’re there to talk about. They want to have this fuller conversation about what’s happening in my family. And there’s also political diversity happening in families and spiritual and religious diversity.
There’s caregiving pressures, both up and down and everywhere. There’s sandwich generation people who are managing elder care and also children. I think that this conversation is long overdue and that even our HR policies, Brian, as you know, because you were probably determining them for years, are so biased towards a heteronormative, two-parent situation and have not taken into account how the family is changing. Again, this is one of those things I really want to bring to the fore, along with some other themes like mental health and others that have really not been adequately discussed or resourced or structured to help people bring their full self. How can we bring our full self when we’re managing all of these dynamics that interrupt our ability to be productive and engaged? That is a huge drag on the bottom line of any system. So anyway, I was really excited about this chapter. I mean, Rohit, I know you also really to some of the words on the page on a personal level too. I’ll invite you to share what that chapter meant to you.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah, well, and before you do that-
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah, this one-
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Before you go ahead, I just want to acknowledge, one thing that, Jennifer, you reminded me of is Mita Mallick just posted an article she wrote in HBR about the need to change bereavement leaves because the definition of family has changed so much. I just wanted, maybe Mark, Carol, and Lindsay, if we can find that and share that in the chat, I would love to amplify that incredibly important message. It’s a drum I’ve been beating because I wanted to be a drummer, Rohit, and I didn’t do it, but it’s a drum that I’ve been beating for many years that we got to change those policies.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Got to.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Sorry to interrupt you, Rohit. I just wanted to make sure I amplified that message because I think it’s an important one. So tell us about your thoughts on the family chapter.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah, I mean, Jennifer mentioned that it was a deeply personal chapter, and I think it was for both of us, because family is personal, right? And anytime you’re writing about family you see things from your perspective. I had, I don’t know, maybe a little bit of a chip on my shoulder when I went into writing this cheese chapter, I think I can say. Because I came from a working world where I was struggling with the bias opposite of the stay-at-home mom bias, which was the stay-at-work dad. You’re expected to work a certain amount. If you say you want to take off any time to go and see your kids do anything, you’re looked at weird because it’s not supposed to be your thing. Like “Can’t your wife take care of that?” basically is what that looks says to men in the workplace.
It’s not fair to men who want to be there and be there for their kids and be a shared parent. So I came at it writing from that perspective and also acknowledging that men have had it pretty good. We can get away with things that a lot of times moms in the workplace cannot get away with. And so, “Should I even be complaining at all?” was something I had to struggle through in this chapter. When you think about family or issues that have been faced by parents in the workplace or workplace discrimination against parents, it is hugely weighted towards women. So who am I to write about feeling biased towards me as a dad when I have everything that I could possibly want in the perception of anyone else who might be reading, right? And so we had to work through all of that because just because one group is biased doesn’t mean anyone else doesn’t deserve to feel biased either, right? It’s not like they’re eating the entire pie and so there’s none left for you. I mean, it’s not that situation.
The joke I… It’s not a joke actually, joke is the wrong word, but the term that I’d heard thrown around in the world of DEI, which was unfamiliar to me but I’m sure you have heard is, Oppression Olympics. I didn’t realize we were doing an Oppression Olympics thing by trying to out-compete one another for who felt biased, but I realized that a lot of that can come to the forefront when you come to families, right? When you have a huge conversation about parenting in the workplace, people who don’t have children feel excluded by that, even though they might be caregivers, and caregiving is basically what parenting is, right, but you may be caregiving for someone who’s not a child.
And so there’s all these different dimensions to family. I mean, you think about adoptive families and the difference between what they get in terms of rights and legal rights, according to the government versus others and the struggle that’s involved there. I mean, there’s so many different dimensions. Really, this was one of those chapters that I think for anyone reading it, it should really open your mind to what family really actually means based on what you think family is versus what might be important to other people.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There’s two stories that were in my mind, one of them just left, so we’ll see if it comes back. But the first one that I remember was at one point time I was the head of HR for a company in the Americas, I’ll leave the name aside for the moment, because we had a policy that parents received two additional days off to do things for their kids. I was then, and still am today, single. And I’m like, “I’m so glad we’re doing something for parents, but this policy really angers me every time I have to say, ‘Yes, of course you can take that time,'” because I’m like, “I have people in my life that are important to me too.” It was a tough one that I really, really struggled with.
Oh, I know the other story I was going to share is. And yet, to your point Rohit, parenting, in particular, is such a gendered conversation in the workplace that really needs to be bright-sized for many, many reasons. One of my learning moments was I have said more times than I can count to a woman with kids, “I don’t know how you do all the things.” One of those women shared with me once, “But Brian, do you say that to the men who have kids?” I was like, “Unless they’ve just had a newborn, then my question is often to everyone, regardless of gender, ‘Do you get any sleep?’ That one I can say is truly gender agnostic.”
But I finally took that that phrase of, I don’t know how you do it all out of my list of things to say even in humor because I was perpetuating a stereotype that’s not helpful and certainly is not being part of the change that I want to be part of. So always learning. Well, in the spirit of always learning, I want to ask a question. Just doing this work, the way that this work happens, when you work with someone on a project like this, you learn a lot about each other and from each other. I’m curious to hear, is there something that you’ve really taken from each other each of you that was like, “Wow, I’m really glad I had this moment with Rohit or I had this moment with Jennifer.”? Rohit, I think it’s your turn, so you get to go first.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah, a lot. I think probably where I’d start is in my twenties I spent five years living in Australia, which is a very direct culture in terms of people saying what they’re thinking, to the point where if you come from America, and especially if you come from growing up in the Washington D.C. area, which I think is fair to say is more politically correct than many other places in America, being in Australia is pretty shocking. But once you get accustomed to that, coming back is even more shocking. And that’s kind of what I did to myself. And so, as a result of that, I think that I had learned through my time in Australia to have a very high threshold for getting offended. I don’t get offended pretty much at all by anything anyone says. I think certain things would be offensive, and I’ve gotten better at seeing what’s offensive, but I personally don’t get offended by a lot.
I think what I learned through the process of this book was that the line for different people is very different and it’s not up to me to judge whether their line for being offended is way too low, because different people set what they’re offended by differently based on what their life experience has been. And I don’t know what they’ve gone through up until that point to be offended by something that I thought was completely innocent. I really had to think about that for myself because the temptation for any of us is to see the line for these sorts of things similarly to where we trace it for ourselves. And maybe a little bit differently, but we all have that kind of bias. If I let someone offend me, I personally feel like I’m letting it get to me and I shouldn’t, and that’s not the way that a lot of people think.
I think what I learned from Jennifer was to really understand people where they are instead of taking my own experience into that. I don’t know if you just naturally do that, Jennifer, but I think you’ve definitely trained yourself also having worked in this world and having had so many different collaborative experiences with so many different people that it’s a skill, it’s a skill that you have. I think that when people talk to you, when you talk to people, they see that, they see that empathy. And so that was something that I think was really important in the type of work that you do but also something that I could learn from as we were collaborating.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. That’s so lovely, Rohit. Thanks. I would say, I guess my appreciation is… and Brian, thank you for the question, we haven’t been asked this actually… that watching you go through that process is wonderful. That was very fulfilling for me as somebody who always needs more cisgender men in my life that are learning and talking about their learning and willing to be challenged and open to shifting. You’re so fast to shift, you aren’t attached, and it’s so true that that’s one of the competencies, that disattachment and the objectivity, that I wish for more leaders, particularly those that tend to get really protective about what’s true for me and what I understand and whether I disagree or agree, that disagree/agree binary that we get really stuck in.
I’ve seen you really like learn through the process and be unattached and completely not just willing but open and seeking a different way to look at things. You’re right that it’s something it’s trained and practiced, Rohit, in me, the sensitivity to it, and I miss a lot too. Between you and me, we’re missing a bunch. And I remember our writing team was so helpful for this too, that Karen, Dons on my team would see something and say, “I’m not sure the statistic really communicates what we believe and the most inclusive message here. Can we pick something else?” And so it is a discipline, but I think it is best accomplished with as many lenses on things as possible and a lack of what I might call fragility, if I can borrow Robin DiAngelo’s word and use it differently, which is fragility meaning I’m going to protect what I think and my egos involved. I’m not going to humble myself to how this might read for someone.
And sometimes the questions are hard. We mentioned a disabled gamer in page four, and it’s something that we had heard there was some disagreement about language even within the community with disabilities around people first language, but we used disabled gamer. And then, lo and behold, somebody wrote us and said, “Hey, that’s not people first language. That’s not the way I’d like to be referred to, and I don’t think you should do that, et cetera.” But just that Rohit had the flexibility that we have, and I love that we also happened to be working with the publisher, right, so we can make these changes quickly. Like how great is it to have total control to get things as right as we can and the willingness to do whatever it costs too. It’s never been an issue. We’re both just at this place where we can make those kinds of investments quickly and without any drama and without attachment, with only the purpose of learning.
And so I just really appreciate having written a book like this with you, because it’s too important not to approach in that way, but if either one of us hadn’t been aligned around that, I think we would’ve come up with a much less beautiful product.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Yeah, for sure.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: I love that. I want to echo what Rohit said about you, Jennifer. I fully agree, you have always let me be wherever I am in the moment. And sometimes I was in places that were dark and mysterious-
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, thorny thickets of…
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yes. Well-
JENNIFER BROWN: We’ve all been there. We’ve all been there.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah, absolutely. And this journey is about learning and being uncomfortable, as we would all agree. If you want to be a part of change, then you got to live through some discomfort. Rohit, it sounds like you’ve already gained some great skills here. There’s a tool that I use and that we teach at Hummingbird, it’s called practice the pause. We encourage people to run through five questions; does it need to be said? Does it need to be said right now? Does it need to be said by me? Can I say it with care and respect and love, if that feeling’s appropriate for that moment? And can I say it in a way that the other person can hear it?
When I use those questions, that’s my way of getting to that how do I let someone be where they need to be? Because sometimes I’m like, “Just keep your mouth shut, Brian. You don’t need to say anything, it’s okay.” It’s added peace to my life and it’s, I think, allowed me to see other people and fear other people in a different way.
We are at the finish line, this went so quickly. I want to just ask you both if you can share how people can connect with you. Rohit, you get to go first this time. How can people connect with you or follow you or learn from you after today’s Hummingbird Hour?
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Me personally, my website is rohitbhargava.com, and you’ll find a Subscribe button on there to my newsletter. Every Thursday I write a newsletter that’s the most fascinating, diverse, interesting stories of the week, along with a quick take on why they matter, it’s called the Non Obvious Insights Newsletter. And so if you just want someone’s take on the most interesting stories of the week and things that you might not have seen otherwise, that’s a great newsletter for you. So I definitely encourage you to subscribe to that, and that’s pretty much where you’ll learn about everything else that I’ve got. And I know you’ve got links up there for the book as well that we’ve been talking about, nonobviousdiversity.com/book, where you can get all the purchase links. But also straight from there you can get links to watch the 50 videos from the summit, which is more than 50 hours of content that you can watch, as well as all the online resources and everything that we’ve been talking about, and all that stuff’s for free. So you don’t have to pay anything, you can just go and check that out.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: We love free. Thank you so much, Rohit.
JENNIFER BROWN: We do. We do.
ROHIT BHARGAVA: Everyone loves free. Everyone.
JENNIFER BROWN: All right. All right.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Absolutely. Absolutely. And Jennifer, how about you?
JENNIFER BROWN: So everybody, you can check us out, Jennifer Brown Consulting is our consulting company. It’s part of our company which is where we help large and medium size companies with their DEI strategy and training. So if there’s any needs there, my team is incredible, as Brian knows well. And then Jennifer Brown Speaks is where I keep info on my books and podcast, which is called The Will To Change, so please check that out. In fact, we’d love to re-air this as an episode, Brian, if that’s okay.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Let’s see what else. I’m in all the socials, @jenniferbrown on Twitter, jenniferbrownspeaks on Instagram, you’ll find me on LinkedIn. But I would just say get on our mailing list particularly for calls like this, which we have monthly, the community calls, and also our webinar series, which is an educational webinar series that tackles different topics and centers different kinds of storyteller. So just get involved in our world, join us, lots of free stuff, lots of candid conversations and conversations I don’t think you’ll get anywhere else, particularly amongst the community of advocates that really care about these topics but don’t really have a safe place to unpack them. And so I see that as perhaps my most important role and one that I enjoy a lot. Thanks, Brian.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, and for anyone who is watching or listening and you don’t know this, I got my start in the DEI consulting space with Jennifer Brown Consulting. And so, I’ve learned a lot from Jennifer on her team, so we’ll always be grateful for that opportunity. And in the spirit of recognition, I thank you for acknowledging the question I asked you earlier as the first time that someone asked that. I should give credit to Mark Travis Rivera who gave me that question. I’d love to say that I was the brilliant source of that question, but it was Mark. It was Mark.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Mark.
BRIAN MCCOMAK: Yeah. So Mark and Lindsay behind the scenes, thank you for helping bring this to life. Rohit and Jennifer, thank you so much for being with me today and being with all of us and sharing and for bringing your book, Beyond Diversity, to life so we all can continue learning and growing together. For all of you with us, thank you so much for being here. I wish you a wonderful week ahead. Stay safe and be well. We’ll see you all soon.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity & Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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