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Discover how white women and black women can partner and be in solidarity with each other and a vision for allyship. Jennifer and Adrienne explore the disconnect between the percentage of white women who see themselves as allies and the amount of support and empowerment that black women report receiving in the workplace.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: 45% of Black women say the vast majority of racism they experience are in their own professional lives. I can definitely attest to that. I’m a lawyer, I’ve worked at big law, I’ve also been in media and consulting, now in talking about systems of oppression. To this day, that’s something that I experience the most, it’s in my professional work life. Also, we have to consider that 3% of Black professionals want to return to the office, they’re prepared to return to the office full time, because of COVID, but the vast majority do not want to. They do not care necessarily about the trade off and having that interpersonal connection because so much of it has been toxic for us. It’s incredibly important that white women understand what we’re going through and to see it.
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 with 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. Before I introduce today’s episode, I want to let you know that the next DEI Foundations course begins on February 21st and registrations will be accepted through the first week of the program launch. This six-week virtual program will equip you or anyone on your team who is newer to diversity, equity and inclusion with the knowledge to become more inclusive and equitable in how they lead, while ensuring everyone in your workplace feels empowered to thrive. You can save 20% off, go to jenniferbrownconsulting.com, click on Courses and make sure or to put in the coupon code PODCAST for 20% off.
Today’s episode was originally recorded for the 3% Conference and features a conversation between Jennifer and Adrienne Lawrence, principal consultant for JBC. If you want to learn more about the 3% Conference, episode 27 features a conversation with Kat Gordon, who is the founder of the conference, as she talks about how she spent 20 years as a copywriter, creative director, and she saw how women often were left out of pitches in important meetings. When Kat did some research, she found out that only 3% of creative directors were women, hence the 3% Conference.
In this episode, Jennifer and Adrienne discuss how white women and Black women can partner and be in solidarity with each other, as well as a vision for allyship. They also explore the disconnect between the percentage of white women who see themselves as allies and the amount of support and empowerment that Black women report receiving in the workplace. You’ll also hear about the importance of learning and self-reflection, as well as some of the unique challenges that Black women face in the workplace. All this and more, and now, on to the conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: Welcome, I’m Jennifer Brown, this is Adrienne Lawrence. I’m thrilled to be here. I’ve been involved with the 3% community for years, and I’ve been on this stage talking about a variety of topics that touch diversity, equity and inclusion. Our company, Jennifer Brown Consulting, focuses on building more inclusive workplaces where all of us can thrive. I look at that problem and opportunity every day. Today, Adrienne and I are going to share some statistics about how white women and Black women can partner, can be in solidarity with each other, and what is the need for that, what is the current state, what is our vision for how that can look, what does it sound like in terms of the language we use with each other, and what are some concrete things you can do right away. This relationship is so critical to our future state, the future state we want, which is to thrive in workplaces that weren’t built by and for so many of us. This partnership is critical.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Absolutely, and coming together and seeing what we can do to bridge that divide and that gap. I’m excited to be having this conversation today. You know what? We might be talking about some issues that might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, but the thing is, there’s no growth if there’s not a bit of discomfort. We also might be focusing a little bit more about what white women can do. We’re not looking to blame anybody, what we are talking about, who is in a position of privilege and power in a lot of circumstances.
Also, we have to have everybody come to the table and we might be focusing, of course, a little bit more on uplifting Black women because unfortunately our society has somewhat of a hierarchical system. If we lift up those who are essentially positioned to be at the lowest positions and rank, unfortunately, when we uplift people in the essentially weakest or, arguably, as they say, least among us, then we all rise. As we have this conversation today, we really welcome you and ask you to join us in maybe a larger growth and thought.
Let’s go ahead and talk about the allyship gap, that divide that’s keeping people apart. When we look at the allyship gap, one of the things we see is that there’s a significant divide in thought. We have 80% of white women really seeing themselves as allies, yet 10% of Black women would really say that their allies are white. When we see that disconnect there, we realize that there is a significant problem here because we don’t have that uplifting element there of white women and Black women coming together and uplifting each other. Jennifer, I would love to ask you, in our candid conversation, why is it that there is a significant disconnect where so many white women believe they are uplifting Black women, yet that’s not what is resonating with Black women in workplaces?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, Adrienne, I think this is a case of intent versus impact. Our intent can be, “Oh, I believe this,” or, “I think I’m a good person.” I think because I believe something, or hold certain values even, of equality and equity that we’re actually shifting systems around us, but believing something does not activate it, it does not challenge it. It does not utilize the platform that I think a lot of white women don’t understand that we have. Honestly, we have access because of our identity. We can use the fact that we are insiders in certain respects to get in the room, to challenge, to ask why, to hold people accountable, to hold ourselves accountable. We have opportunities that, Adrienne, I don’t think you have in the same way. I can be a different kind of messenger, but I have to understand that my life is different. You and I might be in the same storm as women, but we’re in different boats. We’re riding it out in different boats.
I think that, fundamentally, we’ve got to look at that in ourselves and teach about that, which is what we spend a lot of time on, and then I think the, “I’m a good person,” piece. I think the scarcity factor too. I’m sure this has come up in this conversation around there is such a few spots for us that we pull the ladder up. We protect the power that we have achieved. We assume that there’s not enough to go around. The converse of this is the abundance to say, if I step aside to make room for you or I bring you along and make sure that you are positioned to succeed, it will come back and support me as well and I will grow and I will succeed as a result. I think we’ve got to check ourselves. Whenever we’re feeling there’s not enough. We’ve got to shift our mindset to one of abundance and understand, especially now in 2021 and going forward, I do believe there are more and more opportunities for us. It might have felt… Scarcity was real in Israel, but we can’t then protect and turn around and protect what’s ours and participate in that kind of system, because that kind of system was broken and always has been broken and that’s how we got to the place we’re at.
So this is really important. Investigate your impact. Check in with people to say, “Is my intent coming through? What is the impact for you? What would solidarity look like? What would support look like?” I’d also would recommend we don’t assume that we know what support will look like for people and not sort of be the savior riding in on the horse and saying, “Well, I know what needs to happen here.” Checking in with those who are affected, you are only an ally if somebody in an affected community calls you an ally. This is not something that I wear my badge and say, “I’m done.” It’s not done. Ally is a verb. It’s something that you earn, and it’s a designation that you’re given.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yeah. And I think that’s a great observation you make in terms of ensuring that the level-
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: … that you are providing what support is needed. Because just like they have, what, love languages, you might be thinking you’re loving someone, but if, “Hey, my language is gifts. I’m going to need some gifts to feel the love, and your acts of service aren’t necessarily cutting it.” So definitely checking in, I think that goes a long way, and listening to people and really seeing what they need to be uplifted. I think that’s very good point. Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Beautiful. I have a question for you. So why aren’t black women communicating the need? Or are they communicating the need, and am I just not hearing it?
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: I think that’s a good question, because I see that, historically, there has been this disconnect between white and black women, in part, because it seems like, “Well, we’ve been saying it forever in terms of oppression,” or, “Hey, this is racist,” or, “This marginalizes me,” or, “You have power, can you help me?” And you feel like at a certain point in time that I’m just screaming into a void. So I definitely think that black women have been communicating it for a very, very long time. But at that same time, it’s a matter of, “What will change?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: “Will you actually listen?” And we’ve seen this socially in society, where we saw where they were talking about essentially Rodney King and people watching that video, and it’s like, “Finally, we have something documented to show essentially how police treat black people.” Yet, we still are getting the same verdict, where nothing necessarily changes. So I think a lot of black women have been in that position where they have been essentially saying, “Hey, this is what’s been going on,” and been ignored so many times, but then will something actually change? So that’s kind of a very big issue for us in terms of, “Do I want to expend more emotional energy in tax, in reaching out if you are not going to reach back?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: And it’s incredibly important, because as we talk about this allyship gap and people being allies, we look at the numbers here, and we see that only 39% of the supposed white allies really confront racial discrimination when they see it. So less than half are saying, “I’m an ally. But when I see someone marginalizing you or mistreating you on account of your race,” what you have just less than 40% will actually say something or intervene. And then you also have only 21% advocating for new opportunities. And this is for women of color, so that’s a broader group as opposed to just black women. But essentially, what we’re seeing is people saying they’re allies, but not necessarily stepping up. So Jennifer, I’d love to know what’s going on?
JENNIFER BROWN: What’s going on? I think it’s… I’ll say my first answer is perfectionism. I’d say we only show up if we’re certain, and this gets back to scarcity. We think we only have one shot. We think we’ve got to have it all figured out, all the right language. So instead of intervening in the moment, maybe when it’s needed or having the hard conversation, we are, I think, hesitating, because we’re not sure we can do it perfectly, whatever that means.
Every day, I wake up and say to myself, “Don’t make perfect the enemy of the good. Don’t get stuck in that.” Because I think it’s where so many people are stuck right now. We’re living in really challenging times where we’re being shown a lot, and we’re developing new language and new vocabulary, even around being with each other. And I get stuck on, “How do I intervene? What do I say? What if it doesn’t go the way I want to? What if I harm someone in my good intentions?” Okay, how can we learn something if we don’t stumble into it? How can we learn to ride a bike if we don’t fall off the bike and get back on? Ideally though, when you fall off the bike, you don’t want to kick your self and berate yourself and you don’t want to criticize the mistake.
So what I see happening in organizations is there’s a lot of pressure. There’s no room to learn together. There’s no room made for us to be a learning culture in our companies. There’s no space and grace to fumble, to not get it right. And I think there’s fear around giving feedback too, for really legitimate reasons, to say, “Hey, I know what you were intending, but that really didn’t land in the right way.” But Adrienne, I know that if you gave me that kind of feedback, you’d give it to me in a way that was gracious and kind, you know?
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Oh, maybe.
JENNIFER BROWN: Maybe. Yeah. I’m hoping you would.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yes. Yes, I would.
JENNIFER BROWN: Because we’ve learned best when we are not being humiliated and shamed for what we don’t know, but when we’re invited in, or I might say called in, and not called out. So I do think, “How do we use our voice? Are we afraid to also break with the power structure?” So white women, we know we benefit from our proximity to white men who are the most powerful in the system. So when we choose to do that and hold other people accountable for things that we’re seeing and hearing, we are breaking out, and there’s risk to breaking from that. There’s always risk from breaking from a group. When I do work with men, they talk a lot about the man box and the expectation of men. And the second they step out of that and say, “Hey, that’s not cool. I don’t appreciate hearing that language or whatever,” there is a risk of ostracization, a risk of loss of power.
So notice when you’re not willing to speak up and step up. Notice what the dynamic is around there. What are you protecting? And I can promise that the opportunity, if you stop protecting and start thinking about how to use your voice, that’s actually a skill that will pay many, many, many more dividends for you as a leader going into the future.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Great. So, Adrienne, I have a question for you. So what do you think white women can do to bridge our gaps?
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Acknowledge the gap. I think what we definitely already hit on the fact of listening and learning and engaging in some self-reflection. You have to look at, “How am I contributing to the problem?” And also in addition to looking at, “What am I missing? And how can I actually provide support?” But taking that inside look, an in-depth look at yourself, your actions, and being willing to learn, because I think a lot of people want to associate racism or racist behavior or racist antics with being a good person or bad person. That’s not it. It’s not a reflection of whether you are good or bad. And we, unfortunately, have this whole binary system that we have to walk away from. The fact is that we live in a society that’s really socialized in this way, where we’re getting messages, and they show up oftentimes in our unconscious bias. It’s a matter of, “What is the investment we’re making to address those things?” And it’s so incredibly important that we take that step. And in this same vein, we have to talk about racism, because that’s what the real issue is here. That racial hierarchy, that thought that some people are better than others simply because of their melanin count, their culture, who they are, as opposed to seeing everyone as their own individual.
Adrian acts that way because that’s Adrian’s personality, not because Adrian is black. And so when we look at racism, what we do is we need white women to look at it with us because we live it, and we have to live through it every day. And it’s so incredibly important to understand what racism looks like for black women on the job. 45% of black women say the vast majority of racism they experience are in their own professional lives.
I can definitely attest to that. I’m a lawyer. I’ve worked at big law. I’ve also been in media and consulting now and talking about systems of oppression. And to this day, that’s something that I experience the most. It’s in my professional work life. And also we have to consider that 3% of black professionals want to return to the office. They’re prepared to return to the office full-time because of COVID. But the vast majority do not want to. They do not care necessarily about the trade-off and having that interpersonal connection because so much of it has been toxic for us.
And so it’s incredibly important that white women understand what we’re going through and to see it. And so, Jennifer, I’d love for you to just take it as an opportunity, what would you tell white women, those who get it, much like yourself, and those who aren’t getting it and those who aren’t even interested?
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh! Yeah, it’s tricky. Knowledge is helpful. It’s not always the only tool that we need, but I think showing statistics like this and all of this, by the way, everybody’s from Lean In and McKinsey who do a report called Women in the Workplace. I would really recommend you, you memorize it. If you’re in an educational conversation, you can say, “Did you know that this gap exists? Did you know that this is the experience of somebody I really care about out? Somebody on my team, a good friend. This is how it shows up for her.”
And what I’d love is, Adrian, for you to share your experience directly if you’re in the room, but often you’re not in the room with me. Often I’m surrounded by other white people. And so the choices we make to raise issues in those places where we maybe are a little bit of an insider, outsider, hybrid, to say, “By the way, this is what I’ve heard. This is what I hear. This is the statistics that back this up. Here are the gaps. What are we doing about that?”
We’re so limited by our lens. I always think of my lived experience dictates my lens, which is really limited. It’s me walking through the world and how the world responds to me. I think so much of this work is about understanding Adrian like, if I put your lens on, and I walk through my day and I think about, okay, microaggression comment, bias, discomfort. And I think about Adrian’s brilliance. And I think, what is interrupting Adrian’s brilliance and contribution? How can I be okay with knowing that’s going on? I’m not okay with it. But I need to understand it, and then I need to increase awareness and educate others about it, and then need to have a conversation.
Those of us who have the ability to change systems, we have the ability to make a decision, we have ability to have a conversation and hold somebody accountable in a way maybe that you don’t. That’s incumbent on me to activate that. That’s my job. That’s what I can do. And that’s how I activate, I think of it as my privileges. And I say, plural, I’m LGBTQ. I’m female in a very male dominated world. So I’ve got parts of my identity that are, I would say marginalized, but I also carry the access that this gives me, education, socioeconomic background, I don’t know, extraversion, certain ways that I can activate capital, my social capital, my professional capital.
And I can make sure, Adrian, that I understand what’s getting in your way. What can I do? And dictated by you, ideally, I want to raise that comment again. I don’t always know all the answers. In fact, often I’m not going to know them. I want to say, “Adrian, I saw that. I heard that. I understand that. What would you have me do, say? What would you like me to follow up on? What conversations would you like me to have? Where would you like me to deploy what I have within my power?”
And if we had white women walking around with that energy, that curiosity, that investment, that trust too, because you’re not going to tell me the first time I ask. You’re not even going to tell me the second time I ask. I have to earn it to say, “I’m not just checking a box by having this conversation with you about how you feel here. You and I are going to be in dialogue about it.” I don’t say my door is open. That’s too passive. I want you to know, and I want to earn it so that you anytime you can come to me and say, “I do need your help.”
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yep. Yep. That’s right. It’s so incredibly important, particularly that black women also try to work more, of course, with white women, and taking that extra step. But at the same time, it’s so incredibly important that white women realize that we’re coming from a place of where we have been reaching out, where we have been supportive. We just saw this at a major media company where it was a black woman who led the march, so to speak. And she was the one who was, a transgender woman, was the one who was terminated first in terms of being fired.
We have to realize that so many instances where we had the Me Too Movement, that centered on white women’s voices and white women’s experiences, despite the fact that black women suffer sexual assault and violence and workplace sexual harassment and all these things at far greater rates. What are you doing to essentially uplift, to have these conversations, to include, to say, “Hey, I’m noticing everyone’s story who’s being told, or everyone who’s getting an opportunity happens to look like me.” Let me reach across the table and say, “Hey, why don’t you come and have a seat?”
That level of inclusion is so incredibly important, and that’s what we need to talk about. Where are we going next? And so as we do that, we want primarily to look at what are you doing to speak up, also to step up and to lift up? Because when it comes to speaking up, what we see right now in terms of the stats are that black women are just as likely as white women to speak out against racism, but three times more likely to face retaliation. Do you have to consider that?
And you might ask yourself, why aren’t black women speaking up as much? But it’s because we’re three times as likely to face retaliation. And we are the ones who are suffering the racism. So we can’t speak up all the time, especially when we’re more likely to be fired or to be essentially persecuted for it. So we need people to actually speak up and to use your privilege since it’s far less likely that you are going to suffer the harm.
And then when it comes to stepping up, it’s also incredibly important because black women, twice as likely as white women, overall, to spend a substantial amount of time in DEI. It’s essentially black women are doing the work, when we’re the one suffering and who generally know the work a lot better because we are the ones who have the most experiences with microaggressions, with being held down and to being mistreated.
And so we also need you to step to the table and to make the investment. And then also to lift up. We know about the pay gap. We talk about it every year. There’s not really what a white women’s equal pay day, there’s a women’s equal pay day. And then it’s essentially that whole acronymed after that. To realize you’re in a position of privilege and power. Black women, less than 21% of white women in terms of income and in terms of pay. So there’s the gap there. Lift up, do a better job at sponsoring. 26% of black women say that they have equal access to sponsorship. So you see that gap there. You have the opportunity to lift up and also you have the interest. 64% of black women, according to Nielsen survey, want to be at the top of their profession. They want to be able to do their best, but what they need is access to sponsorship. And so uplifting people is so incredibly important. And Jennifer, you talk a lot about inclusion, because that is one of the hallmarks of Jennifer Brown Consulting and also you as a person, making people feel welcomed, valued, respected and heard, it’s so incredibly powerful. And so I would love for you to speak on that inclusion, just really the essence of it when we talk about bridging the gap between white women and black women, as we wind down our time here today.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Thanks, Adrienne. And Adrienne’s an incredible consultant for us. I just want to say whenever Adrienne’s in the room in the physical, virtual, I know that you have this beautiful balance of facts and passion and the ability to persuade, and I hope you all have found this helpful and feel motivated and clarified, and really that this isn’t a hard thing to do. When I started thinking about what I activate, that I have access to immediately, there’s so many things I’ve taken for granted, for example, sponsorship. Somebody may reach out to do something as a sponsor for me. I think that’s an opportunity for us as white women to say, “So how does this system work? Let me notice, let me maybe take advantage of this or maybe think about why does the system privilege me? Why did this happen for me and who is it not happening for in the rest of the organization?”
And then I might say, “Let me have a conversation and kind of turn the table and say thank you for that sharing of power, that sharing of capital. Let’s redistribute that. Let’s redirect it. Let’s put it towards-“, and Adrienne, we started this half hour talking about the least of us. Being in the LGBTQ community, I used to be in roomful of white men. We didn’t know it’s cisgender men. We didn’t know gender identity was different than sexual orientation. I mean, these were 20 years ago, but I remember feeling like the only, and there was a moment, but now looking back, we never centered the least in the community. We never did that until very recently.
And it’s been such a realization for me in a community that I care so deeply about that was so formative to my work to realize I’m so privileged within that context, and I have access to so much and that I hadn’t necessarily held my feet to the fire and others’ feet to the fire to make sure that we were putting on the stage those voices, those storytellers that aren’t heard, those identities that we don’t understand as much as we should. And if we do a good job at that level, we will all benefit. This is the whole concept of intersectionality, which is looking at the most intersectional within our communities, even those marginalized communities. If we do a good job there, we have the recipe that will benefit the rest of us. And we will have done a more complete job, a more holistic job with inclusion.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: So I just, I want everybody to think about what do I have access to? What are the tailwinds that are speeding me along? I need to look at those tailwinds. I need to think about, do I yes, take advantage of them. We’re all we’re in the same storm. We’re still in a storm as women, but who is not being the beneficiary of these offers of the inside scoop, of the way that things really happen here? What am I privy to that I’m not sharing? And make a point everything single day to think about what did I do towards this today? And it can be something very small. It can be planting a seed. It can be sending an email. It can be making an introduction. It can be having a touch base to check on how people are feeling.
We’ve got to get much better at especially virtually, we have to get extremely good at asking questions about belonging, which is really difficult because we don’t have the cues. I can’t look at Adrienne and read your body language and say, “Hey, are you okay?” You’re on a screen to me. So another call to action for us is to do all that we’ve talked about, but somehow get extremely expert at doing this virtually. And that means, I think we’ve got to ask more. We have to check in more. We have to offer more proactively. We need to make sure we don’t lose a generation of talent that we worked really hard to get in the door because we’re in such a chaotic, uncertain work environment. So I would also ask us all to sort of step up our proactiveness around all the things we’ve talked about today. Make sure we don’t lose these generations of amazing talent and that we can all rise together.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yep, because we can only do it together. Definitely using your resources, recognizing your privilege, reaching out and getting to know people, giving your time, giving the things that you are grateful to have and the knowledge you have, that can go a long way. So thank you so much.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Adrienne. 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 and Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast in 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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