This episode originally aired on the Inclusion Cafe Podcast as Jennifer Brown discusses the topics of building successful D&I teams, positions, efforts, and the importance of psychological safety within teams and organizations. The episode was hosted by Joe Motes.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Info on The Foundations Course for DEI (3:00)
- What is Executive Privilege? (9:00)
- Establishing and Building diversity teams within companies (20:45)
- Phases of integration of D and I initiatives for change management (25:00)
- Avoiding “only and lonely” – getting the work done through a diversity of messengers (29:00)
- Equity lens and system change in the short term versus long term (34:00)
- The importance of psychological safety in the workplace (38:50)
- Monitoring for inclusion and interrupting bias (40:45)
- Managing your stigmatized or underrepresented identities (48:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JOE MOTES: This week. I am beyond excited to have with us an absolute celebrity within the workplace diversity and inclusion space, Jennifer Brown, Jennifer, welcome to the podcast.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hey, thanks, Joe. For having me and congrats on the podcast.
JOE MOTES: Yeah. Thanks. And thank you so much for being a guest. I have followed you for pretty much the whole time I’ve been in the diversity inclusion space and you’ve just wealth of knowledge for myself with your books and your podcast. So thank you so much again for joining us.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. I’m glad to know that we share a community that I am obviously extremely proud of and fond of. So
JOE MOTES: Outstanding. So starting off, would you mind sharing a little bit about yourself, kind of what led you into the diversity and inclusion space and kind of what’s the passion behind it?
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. Well, I think the short version of the winding road, because this field is a strange one in terms of all of our eclectic backgrounds, when you end up in DNI work, which I’m sure you can relate to, to Joe. I was a nonprofit activist in my twenties. So I always wanted to make a difference and that’s always and continues to remain important to me, but I was also a musician. And so as an aspiring opera singer and music theater singer, I moved to New York to make it, I got my master’s in vocal performance, which was really amazing, such a privilege, but through training, I injured my voice several times and I ended up having to get vocal surgery and sort of realized the writing was on the wall for my performing career, that I just wouldn’t have the stamina to make it work.
So I had to reinvent and luckily a lot of stage performers end up going into all parts of HR, I guess I would say, right. It’s a nice pivot for some of us given our skill set. And so I had friends who said, why don’t you look into training and development? And I said, “Oh,” they thought I would be good on platform in front of the adult classroom, teaching leadership skills. And it resonated. And I ended up getting a second master’s degree in leadership and organizational change in HR and launching my new career in this space. And with some HR roles and training and development roles where I got to focus on learning in the organization. And then I got laid off. I don’t think I’d ever thought about myself as an entrepreneur, but at that moment I thought I really need to work for myself. I don’t, I’m not liking this having a boss thing being told what to do and where to show up. And even more than that, I didn’t want to be an administrative head of something. I would think I wanted to be directly in line teaching people. So I think I wanted to go back to that facilitator role.
So subsequently I would stay independent. I would start to build up my relationships and deliver more training and then found my company and clients started to come. And this was maybe 13 years ago. You know one thing will lead to another. We pivoted into DNI sometime in that timeframe. When I realized that my identity as a woman and an LGBTQ person, who’s been out for more than two decades, and all that I could bring to that made me well suited for DEI work. And as I learned about the field, I realized I could pivot our consulting firm, which had focused on leadership and team building and coaching. We could easily pivot into this DNI space.
So I decided to do that and started to shape the team around that skill set and that competency and started to market the firm as an expert firm, even, probably before I even felt like I was an expert, honestly, because I had come more from the L and D world. Subsequently that would build the company, get clients, do lots of work across fortune 1000 companies. And then by the time I sort of felt like I was ready to come forward as a thought leader in this space. I decided to write books and keynote really, which is, characterize the last couple of years as being an author, keynoter, considered a thought leader in the space.
So I like to say I was meant to use my voice, just not as a singer. So that’s my big punchline in my keynote. And it’s funny how life just makes sense when you look through it and say, Oh, so this led to this, let’s do this, and it all makes sense. At the time it’s pretty miserable and pretty scary. So it definitely was not easy. But I sort of, I don’t know, I always kind of kept coming back to like, what is this meant to teach me and where can I be of most service in changing the world. And I really feel like now, I’m really in a sweet spot right now. I mean, if I’m not in the sweet spot, I’m getting extremely close.
JOE MOTES: Jennifer, this is the second time I’ve had the opportunity to kind of hear your story. And I absolutely can relate a little bit to it, right from how you were kind of going in one direction and made just this drastic pivot, because the universe takes us where we need to go. I don’t know if you know this about me. I think this is the second or third time you and I have actually been able to have a conversation, but I was in the military for years, for almost 15 years. I was that career person who was going to go in the military straight out of high school and do 30 years and ride off into the sunset after I retired. One too many trips to the middle East kind of changed that for me, where I actually got injured.
I found myself in that place of, what now? Not only what now, but I was leaving a field or a career field, an organization that was governed off, values and esprit de corps and really team focused. I knew I wanted to get into something, a field that was that fulfilling. I had no clue at the time that I would end up in DNI, right? The ally and advocate from Northeast Georgia, who sounds like I’m from Northeast Georgia, by the way, right? Not probably your typical person you would think that would be in this DNI and in this career field. But I absolutely fell in love with working with these organizations and really kind of finding what I call that second purpose or that second life. So I love every time I get to hear your story.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. And it’s so funny that we can come from such different worlds. And yet if you find a really good metaphor that resonates with other people, it’s so helpful for connection, it’s like the details might be different, but we share that sort of unexpected turn through sort of losing a dream of some kind, and having to kind of find a new one, but never really losing all the things that we learned in the previous lives. Right? I think that’s the neat part that’s always yours. That’s always something you can carry forward and people are like, how do you get from opera to doing what you do now? And for me it makes total sense. It’s literally like everything I experienced as a performer equipped me so perfectly for what I do now. And I just couldn’t see it at the time, but something in me said, this won’t be wasted. Like nothing is wasted. It’s just maybe many years before you figure out how it is useful.
JOE MOTES: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And I think we could probably do a whole podcast episode on just that.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know Right. But that’s not what you came for, so…
JOE MOTES: Yeah. Yes. So there’s a couple things I want us to talk about Jennifer, during our time together today, I don’t know if you’ve listened to other episodes, we’d like to kind of choose a couple of topics to discuss regarding workplace diversity inclusion. There’s so much knowledge that you bring to the cafe.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know not enough time.
JOE MOTES: Yeah. I had a hard time narrowing down what we could talk about, there was so much, but I thought we would talk about the building and the establishment of diversity teams within companies, right? When a company has come out and they’ve said we want to increase inclusion, or not increased, but create inclusion and belonging in our workforce environment, increase diversity. They start their journey. And a lot of times they create these positions or teams within companies to lead these efforts. A lot of times they’ll contact consultants like JBC to assist them in the effort. So my question, I guess kind of my first question to get us started is when companies start this process, what are some of the considerations they need to think about to successfully maybe implement this type of position or type of team within their organization?
JENNIFER BROWN: These days the urgency is really palpable. And so we’re seeing, that sort of very clear need to respond to the social justice question that’s being asked this summer. So urgently. And so I think that organizations that I think never would have considered founding a team or hiring a diversity related role are considering it now, which is great. It’s earlier in the process, it’s smaller companies that are sort of waking up to this to say, we need this function because we need to do a better job. We need to be better.
So the readiness to undertake this work has to do with executive buy-in, the sort of social environment surrounding the company. So changes in the customer or the client base, which is getting by the way more and more diverse. And so any company who is not kind of investigating that is probably asleep at the wheel in terms of being able to pivot successfully into whatever’s next. And right now there’s so much uncertainty. You kind of have to prepare yourself for anything. What we do know though, no matter what is that the world is diversifying, spending power is moving into different communities and growing faster in some communities than others, right? And those are non-male non-white communities, and non-straight communities, basically.
So as the US’s demographics change, companies can sort of take their cue from that marketplace and make sure that they reflect internally the diversity of that external world. And I think that’s where the rubber hits the road and where companies are realizing they’re coming up short. And so getting a team in place or even just a person in place, a team is nice to have, normally it’s just a one hire, that poor person. Hey, you’re going to be our end all be all, which is a really like pressured job, because it’s impossible to lead this work alone. It’s just, it’s literally impossible. I don’t care how brilliant you are. But that one person can turn into two can turn into three, right? And then also the person can come in and start to lay down the foundation of metrics and data sort of capturing the current state of an organization, the data around representation, but also the data around employee engagement, cutting that data by identity, so you can basically ask the same questions from one group and get a very different answer from another group about how does it feel to work here? Do you feel supported? Do you see leaders that inspire you, do you trust leadership, all those really juicy questions that give you a chance to understand the culture.
So usually that’s where a first time DNI leader will start to map the current state and then engage key stakeholders. And what does the future state look like? What do we want it to look like? What do we want to set as goals or targets, or, what does success look like a year from now? And that’s where they start to lay the groundwork for an initial strategy. They build out some training and learning programs. They think about hiring practices and policies and advancement and promotion and performance management. There’s a lot that rides on somebody’s shoulders when you are the first person in a role, in any kind of role, right? This is true, probably not just in D and I, and we could go into the competencies if you want, that are, I think are most important for that person. But yeah, I think that organizations really need to just take this work seriously, invest in it, know that they’re in it for the long haul.
This is not a short term like, Oh, we checked the box. We did this Black lives matter post, or we celebrated this or we ran a webinar or we had everybody do unconscious bias training. When we hear that kind of stuff, we like to go deeper and say, well, do you have a strategy in place? Does that strategy have multiple work streams that you’re working? Like, what are the metrics for accountability? Who’s involved? Is leadership on board? Who’s driving this, we have a million questions to try to figure out like, is this for real here? And certainly those are the kinds of relationships we prefer to work with because then we can really like hit the ground running and know that the investment and the commitment is there. But that’s not always the case, Joe, as you’ve probably surmised.
JOE MOTES: That’s an amazing answer, Jennifer. One of the things that I noticed, because a lot of my work you can probably see from my experience has been around DNI within talent acquisition, right? Recruiting practices and programs. And when I first started doing this, I fell into the trap of, okay, I got to have this phase. Phase one, phase two, phase three, phase four, and we got to roll out this whole phase across the whole talent acquisition organization. And you’re probably laughing to yourself because this work isn’t streamlined, right? Each phase probably means something different within each line of business.
For instance, I work a lot with biotechnology companies and some of their teams are organically diverse, either based off demographic of location, or the type of talent within the market. That’s available. A lot of the leadership teams are very gender diverse, right? So there’s portions of these phases that I kind of bring to the table that maybe are not applicable to them in that time. So I say all this, because I’ve had conversations in the past where these DNI initiatives are typically… It seems like to me almost always started within talent acquisition, right? To get that diversity piece, the hiring and things like that. But in your book How to be an Inclusive Leader, right? You say sometimes, hiring just a diversity leader to handle everything and kind of be that catch all, be all, sometimes isn’t enough.
And you alluded to this a little bit in your answer. What are some of the other areas when they’re starting this besides say talent acquisition, or just hiring that one person to come in and do this, what are some of the other things they need to consider? This could be maybe at the C suite level where, is it a message they need to put out? Is that clear? Am I kind of being clear in my ask?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, absolutely. Yep. I think the point I always come back to is that all eyes should not turn to the one person in the organization to solve all the things because it’s impossible. And inclusion is a really unique effort that has to enlist multiple stakeholders and really depends on the active and proactive support of leadership. It’s one of those things… it’s really essentially change management at its core.
And so the principles of change management are of course, that stakeholder buy-in, right? The identification of who’s going to be critical to the success of this effort. How should they be involved? How do we celebrate quick wins and successes and encourage people along the path, how do we deal with resistance? How do we plan for dealing with resistance? Because there’s big resistance on this topic in particular, and that you have to build into your plan. You’ve got to think about how am I going to drive this through, how am I going to leverage executive buy-in to tackle the resistance that for example, I may be facing in our field staff or our salesforce or our middle managers or parts of the country where we have operations that are not as bought in.
And so really the… It’s got to be run in that way because it’s complicated and it’s emotional. The emotional piece around this is, I think, the diversity and inclusion, the conversation about it kind of challenges people about the kind of person they are. And Robin Diangelo calls this white fragility, but if you’ve got a largely white and male leadership team, some of those folks will be very uneasy with the concept. And when people are uneasy with something, you have to be very skillful to nurture them through to a productive place because unease can turn into a lack of support, can turn into apathy, can turn into resistance. So you have to think through like, how am I to win people over to this? And literally sometimes I know it sounds painstaking, but you’ve got to go person by person because every person is like their own mosaic of feelings and ideas. And, already bought into this, not at all bought into this and everything in between.
So, it’s complicated and the setup is really important, really important that you lay the right groundwork so that the initiative can go smoothly. And when things get rocky, you have the right support set up and the right sponsorship and champions and advocates in place that you can call on. So the work is very unique in that you’re literally… you have tendrils into the organization into different functions and silos and leaders, and you activate them here and there to help you because you’re an only lonely as we refer to it lovingly.
And literally you have to get your work done through others. I mean, this is one of those extreme tests of working through influence. So yeah, and especially thinking about… you can’t always be the face of the effort, because if you are, say you are a woman of color you’re dealing with your own biases in the organization. And some people in that org are just not going to be able to hear certain things from you looking the way you do. And I don’t agree with that. I don’t like it, but it is the truth. And so the diversity of messengers we need around this work is so critical. We’ve got to diversify the number of people that aren’t in the DNI team that can talk about this, that can champion it. And if it’s our straight white male leaders even better because those folks are the ones that typically have the most power in the organization. And when they do something, people listen in a different way. So leveraging, again, your partners being conscious of a diversity of messengers so that we can hit the most people and sort of get the adoption as wide as possible. I mean that’s really what’s going to enable something to take flight or not.
JOE MOTES: Yeah. Yeah. There’s so many moving pieces to this, right? And it’s almost an initiative of relationship building, right? And trust building. I’ve read several books, Stephen Covey’s The Speed of Trust and it talks about a lot of the things that… techniques you can use in getting buy-in to initiatives like this. I have kind of one other question around this, Jennifer, before we take a few moments and talk about the other topic. So I’ve explained, in the past, inclusion and belonging as kind of a climate shift versus weather, right? Because weather, it’s immediate, it’s instant, it comes, it goes, but a climate shift or change happens over time. Right? But a lot of times leaders, when they hire these positions or these teams, they want immediate results. They want their IT department to be at 8% female leadership by the end of the month. Right? I guess my questions are, what expectations do you set with your clients or those that you counsel in DNI on timelines of creating this inclusive environment from a measurable stand point?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. They do want it fast and they want it soon. And they also… people want to complete tasks all the time. Like they want to be done with something, particularly things that make you uncomfortable. I mean, why wouldn’t you? Why would you want to stay in the discomfort? Right? And yet this work, discomfort is where you’ve got to live, because it represents not only sort of an intellectual or cognitive change process, but a really an emotional journey that we go on. And that’s really when the work is like grounded in the organization, that’s when it becomes part of the DNA is when people feel it, they don’t just preach it or they don’t just like pair at the talking points, but they’re actually in it, like they’ve made a personal connection to it. So that’s, that’s sort of Nirvana. But I think this sort of short term focus, it just permeates business in general.
I mean, think about how… Think about the short term sort of incentives that we use, that we reward, we’re very bad at long-term efforts. And so who knows if that’s capitalism, I think it’s one could argue, these are some hallmarks we’re talking about of white supremacy culture, not to get too heavy, but just purely sort of in an objective sense people who’ve written about what the hallmarks are of that culture. A lot of what we’re talking about are in those lists. And so go ahead and Google that if you’re curious, but these sort of the checking off of the tasks, the perfectionism doing things right, and being done, or the short term focus or the leaving out a certain stakeholders, because they don’t matter sort of progress and metrics, and bottom line is the only thing that matters. It’s that kind of focus on that that is really dehumanizing honestly.
And I think it’s what’s alienated so many people from the organization, and people can tell when the commitment really isn’t there for the long haul, and the long haul is what’s going to be needed because I don’t care who you are. I think it’s impossible to address the systemic issues of equity and most organizations in a short timeframe. It’s really, really hard to do that. Like my favorite example is Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, discovered a pay gap in his organization, and was shocked, shock and awe, like no, not in our organization. And then sort of immediately wrote a check for $3 million to gross up all of the gaps. So to get people paid equitably. But that was the short term. The long term was asking the question about how did this happen in the first place? What do we need to change in our policies and practices and behaviors and expectations and incentives and all of that, to make sure that the gap doesn’t appear again, after the short fix that I just… the band aid that I just put on it, and then he needs to go back and revisit this over and over again, because Salesforce continues to grow through acquisition and they keep acquiring companies with pay gaps that those companies may or may not know about. And so they have to fix it again and go back to the root cause.
So when we talk about having an equity lens and systems, this is the kind of stuff we need. It’s not the band aid, it’s the deeper questioning of how we’ve done business as usual, that is harmful to some people and the outcomes and their ability to thrive. It’s ferreting all that out. And then it’s remaining committed to keeping that a priority for the business and eradicating the problems and the barriers for some of us to succeed. And then it’s replacing it with more equitable processes. And that takes time. It takes time, it takes courage. It takes patience. It takes, honestly, the ability to even spot inequities, takes time to build that lens, to see things through.
Like if I turned around and said to a leader, okay, I want you to go into this meeting, and notice every microaggression that happens in this meeting, most people wouldn’t even know what a microaggression is, let alone what they’re looking for. And it takes some study and some attention and some conversations to sort of deepen your knowledge about what does this even look like? So that when I see something, I can say something. So that’s the journey we’re on. And that is not a short term thing, but I don’t also want it to feel like a chore. To me this is literally sharpening our leadership saw it is equipping us with a whole new toolkit to generate empathy, to generate engagement, to generate performance, to be the kind of leader that people actually want to work with. It is wrapped up with all of that.
And so it’s absolutely not this side of the desk, “Oh, I’ve got to go and comply.” It’s to me, it’s this amazing opportunity to position yourself for the future and to position your brand, if you will, as somebody that is future focused and has been investing in ourselves to get better at this so that we can be the kind of leader where others can thrive, who are around us. So long answer, Joe. But that it’s a pain point for people that do what we do is this whole, I want it fast. I want it now. I want it fixed. I want you to fix it, external person, which by the way, all we can do is advise, it’s got to be owned internally and it’s got to be owned by the top. And the DNI person, if one exists, is there to advise and to guide and to hold space and to give feedback and they can drive it too. But you just have to be careful where you put… who you put in the driver’s seat really matters because you want people to own it. And they don’t want to own it sometimes, or they say they want to own it, but then they get… They have, all kinds of, I don’t know, feelings, resistance, it’s difficult, it’s difficult work. It’s a hard conversation to consider that “Gee our workplace isn’t as constructive for some people as I thought it was,” it’s a hard thing to admit to, and then to know where to tackle it first.
JOE MOTES: Yeah. I feel so selfish right now. I’m just sitting here writing note after note taking here. No, I couldn’t agree more. Long answer or not, I thought that was amazing. You made a point about, maybe it’s the capitalism approach. You also talked about us being so task oriented in corporate America. Right? And I think that’s what happens. We make DNI a task, it’s not a task, it’s not something that we check off because it’s ongoing. Right? It’s ongoing as we are working to become an inclusive organization or organization or belonging. And once we’re there, it’s not something we say, “Okay, we’re done.” Six months later, you’re back to where you were. And that’s, that’s not the message or brand you want anyway. So thank you for sharing all of that.
I do want us to cover the other topic. I’m a little bit over time, but I’m going again, be selfish since I have you here, because your information or not your information, but your, your insights on this psychological safety in both of your books, Inclusion, and How to be an Inclusive Leader. There were sections that I recall that you talked about psychological safety. Okay. People outside of DNI, I’ve come to realize, aren’t as familiar with that term as people like you and I would like for them to be right? So could you take a moment and just talk to us about what psychological safety means and how important it is for companies to create psychological safety within their workplace and their teams?
Yeah, that’s really where the rubber hits the road from a day to day leadership and management perspective. I teach this model called the iceberg and I didn’t make it up, but I populated it with a lot of different diversity dimensions, both visible and invisible, and the visible ones and the acceptable ones are the ones that are above the water line. And then there’s like 90% of who we are that we’re not bringing into the workplace is under the water line. And so the ability to create a safety where people feel they can lower their water line and bring more of their full selves to work, particularly around stigmatized identities and not like downplay and minimize those identities, but really feel comfortable sharing about them asking for accommodations related to them declaring their truth for LGBTQ people. This means, feeling comfortable being out to your team members or not.
So I think that that psychological safety is something that a leader and a manager and even our colleagues, doesn’t need to be the quote and quote stripes in the room that carries the water for all of this. I think we all can be monitoring for inclusion in every room we’re in, in every conversation we’re in. And we can raise a hand or interrupt bias when we see it. Or we can, maybe, shift a conversation or ensure voices are heard in a room or follow up afterwards with someone that might have said something that was exclusionary or not the right language and give that feedback. So we can constantly be, I think, taking the ownership of psychological safety for ourselves and for others in particular. And I think by sharing vulnerably and lowering our waterline, we actually build psychological safety because we trust others with our truth. And that takes a lot of vulnerability and courage to do that. And it sets a whole different bar.
Like once… I find this all the time, when I share my story, it makes it okay for others to do the same and we can kind of go further together. But I had to go first because perhaps I was the voice in the room, or I’m the one on stage, or, I have the floor at that given time that really can be any of us. So when we take a risk with each other, we are comfortable being uncomfortable, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us feel for the good of the group. I think it sort of enables this collective lowering of that water line and then the sharing and the transparency with each other that so many of us struggle to have in the workplace because things are so surface level. And also there’s a lot of stigma around a lot of identities, whether it’s mental health struggles, whether it’s trying to parent and homeschool right now in a pandemic and maybe even tied to mental health, that’s an intersection right there, or, being a black woman right now, working for a company that doesn’t really talk about what’s going on and is sort of just not acknowledging it or maybe doing it awkwardly and feeling that I’m working for this organization. This just doesn’t see me and hear me. So I think that it’s a two way street to create the psychological safety. Some of us we’ve got to go first and take that high road and put ourselves out there so that others will follow our lead. But I think two… I think of it as sort of the ally stance on that is somebody who maybe does feel more relatively more psychological safety because of their identity in a given environment means that we have to be the ones that are holding the standard for that safety. And that means speaking up, interrupting, pointing out, giving feedback, asking why, talking about who’s not at the table or who’s missing from a slate of candidates. Say, it’s, allies and accomplices can be that squeaky wheel to say, “Hey, I know it may not be my lived experience, but I know enough and I’ve studied this enough and talked to enough people that I understand that people don’t feel safe here.” So what can we do about that as people who do feel relatively more safe here who do feel like they’re a little more, you’ll ask some people and they say, I can totally bring my full self to work. What you see is what you get. And I’m like, “Well, that’s great for you, but there’s a lot of people that are dealing with stigma that you don’t probably even know is going on because they hide it and you haven’t experienced, and you have no proximity to somebody of that identity.”
So, we live these really sheltered homogeneous lives, both in the workplace and also outside of the workplace in our communities and places of worship and everything. So it’s really a problem to not be exposed to difference and to not have the opportunity to learn through that, those conversations and proximities and relationships and friendships and all that. So I think we both got to meet in the middle somehow and somebody’s got to go first and we have to make it real. And then we have to hold that space and make sure that it’s, we are monitoring that space as a place where all of that can continue to be brought to the surface. And by the way, and if you do all of that well, you will innovate like crazy because you’ve got everybody so present, feeling relaxed so they can be creative because they’re not managing identities or experiences that they don’t feel are acceptable to others. And we can really be present and create together. I mean, that’s sort of team diversity, Nirvana.
JOE MOTES: Yeah. I think that psychological safety as a topic is probably almost an addiction for me, because it’s actually something that I’ve had to develop as a trait within myself after leaving the military, because in the military, it’s not… the teams there. It’s not something that’s really known of. You voice your opinion and you can be who you want to be right? No in the military. It’s who they tell you to be right? It’s kind of you’re in this box and the teams are the same way.
So when I left the military, I kind of became aware of psychological safety before I actually got fully into DNI, and before I understood it was a term and things like that. So my sister is a member of the LGTBQ community. They live in a small town, her and her wife live in a small town here in Northeast Georgia. And I remember going to their house one weekend and my sister’s just really upset. There was something going on at her company that she wanted to be a part of. It was a large project for a new product line or something. And she had these great and amazing ideas. Right? But everybody on her team were heterosexuals about 80% of them were males all from Northeast Georgia, right? From the Southeast. And she did not feel comfortable bringing her opinions and sharing her insights. Right? They all knew, she was out, but there were times where she knew that she wouldn’t be listened to, and this is one of them. So like, I sat there and I thought, how does that have to feel, these are people you spend 80% of your day with. You can’t feel comfortable enough on this team to contribute, simply because of who you are or something like that. So, thank you so much for sharing your perspective on it and everything because it’s, it’s really a passion of mine.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for sharing about her with me. I’m honored to learn that. And I think what you’re talking about is this dynamic of not necessarily being in the closet, but covering. So I really like teaching that concept because it’s not denying who I am. It’s just not talking about it. It’s not putting it in people’s faces, quote on quote. Right? Because you sense it’s not going to be okay. And then for her, remember her intersectionality too, that she’s a woman in a male dominated environment.
And I might argue, I mean, that’s definitely enough of a challenge, right? And it’s something that you can’t hide and it triggers bias and stereotypes in others, whether you like it or not, it’s something that you are as you walk in the room. And so that hesitation and managing of the… your stigmatized identities or your underrepresented identity, you’re always aware of it. Everywhere you walk, you are thinking to yourself, am I going to be given a fair shot or am I going to be heard? Am I welcome in this space? Do I, you feel psychological safety and like it or not, you could be with the most enlightened roomful of leaders that don’t look like you, but if you’re the only one you’re noticing, and if that repeats itself throughout your day, you’re not only the only one on your team. You’re the only one on your floor. I mean, women in technology companies tell me this stuff all the time that they’re always the only woman that they see in the women’s bathroom. It’s very isolating. Yeah. It’s isolating. And when you’re a person of color, and a woman, that’s where intersectionality becomes really important to account for in ourselves and sort of acknowledge the difficulty of that, but also for others to have compassion for that journey and what that feels like, you just said, I want to think about like, what does that feel like, let me… you can’t put yourself in her shoes, but you can be, you can investigate it and you can never forget it.
Once you think about it and you think what can I do then as somebody in this organization who has some kind of lever I can pull, what could I do to improve that situation that she experiences? And sometimes there’s going to be something you can do. And sometimes there’s not. But I think just being aware that is going on and then watching for that, in your interactions with her, if you are her manager, her colleague, whatever, I don’t know if it’s running interference, some people don’t want that kind of allyship. And so we have to be careful we don’t assume how… We don’t want to assume that we’ll sort of jump in and always say the right thing that’s correcting somebody else or interrupting something or, thinking I’m being an ally, but it’s really not experienced that way. We have to get good at thinking about and being sensitive to how people want our allyship to show up. And that’s going to be different for every person, which is a complexity to this work.
Some people are like, “Yes, please. I’d love you to have that conversation with that leader so I don’t have to. Thank you for offering.” Somebody else might say, might think you’re overstepping your bounds. And so this is the tricky part I think, around allyship. But the question I get constantly is sort of how do I know when to step in and when not to step in? How do I know where my help is needed or wanted and appreciated and where it’s not? And how do I… how do I not get that wrong? And there’s a lot of trial and error in this on that front. And it’s, I don’t have a recipe. I can’t wrap it up in a nice little bow, but even if you’re asking those questions, I think it’s really you’re on the right track. And maybe what it sounds like is following up with somebody saying, “I’d really like to offer to say something when I hear a comment like that.” But I want to make sure this is something that you appreciate and that I’m supporting you and your success in a way that feels comfortable for you. So it’s always very focused on… you put the other person in the driver’s seat and you let them tell you what allyship looks like to them. And then you try to live into that and that’s like the best way I can kind of distill it down. But it is not one size fits all that is for sure. More fun challenges.
JOE MOTES: So much good insight, Jennifer, thank you so much. That’s all the time we have for this episode. I want to thank you again from the bottom of my heart, all the way to the top of it. This has been amazing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Joe. I appreciate it. And congrats again.
- Power, Patriarchy and Privilege: Better Man Movement's Ray Arata on Galvanizing Male Leaders
- Holding Ourselves Lightly: Fear as a Companion to Growth with Author, Acrobat, and Entrepreneur Robin Zander
- Growing the Next Generation: Boys and Girls Club COO Lorraine Orr Joins the Will to Change
- Imagine Belonging Summit “Teaser”: Conversations with Rhodes Perry on Handling DEI Backlash
- What Gets Measured, Gets Done: Progressing Global Gender Equality with Sandra Quince, Michelle Charles and Silke Heinrichs