As diversity and inclusion goals expand from recruiting and mentorship in order to increase the representation of women, people of color and LGBTQ+ through employee resource groups and empowerment, organizations are more aware of men are an abundant and underused resource. As the #MeToo #TimesUp and #BlackLivesMatter movements continue to confront racism, misogyny and power dynamics, many men are hesitant to get involved for fear of reprisal. To make the changes required, someone has to go first. Discover how men can move through the fear of inevitable missteps with empathy and support for each other while embracing the reality that their differences and their advantages are vital to culture change and equity.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Why men need to be vulnerable (11:00)
- Why allyship is not an undercover journey (19:00)
- How to bring humanity back to work (24:00)
- How to be an effective ally across gender (28:00)
- How to make sure everyone’s voice is heard (35:00)
- The need for embodied allyship (38:00)
- The impact of COVID on allyship (39:00)
- The need for trust (40:00)
- The danger in moving too quickly to take action (50:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
ELFI MARTINEZ: Okay, well, hello and welcome everyone. My name’s Elfi Martinez. I am a senior director at Jennifer Brown Consulting, and we’re going to take the better part of the next hour to talk more about courage, talk about being comfortable, and talking about male allyship and what that means and what it means to actually do it and not just to say it. So we’re going to kind of go through something that at Jennifer Brown Consulting we refer to as the inclusive leadership model to help us kind of frame this conversation. And that of course goes all the way from being totally unaware and not thinking about this as an issue at all, to actually being an advocate and being an actual ally in both your words and your deeds. I believe that’s all that I’ve got for this piece. Anything to add, Robert, before we jump into the conversation?
ROBERT BEAVEN: No, that’s great. Thanks, Elfi.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Okay, fantastic. So here’s the model, we can see there are four different stages. There’s unaware, aware, active and advocate. So as you think about becoming a more inclusive leader, please be aware this is a journey. You’re going to start off from the unawareness piece and you’re going to build your skills and competencies along the way, but don’t expect to be able to flip a switch and go from being unaware to advocate overnight. That’s not realistic and we want to make sure you are setting yourself up for success. So we’re going to walk through the stages of the model in this conversation, but we are going to have this be as natural as possible. So let’s go ahead and get started with a conversation about what this means.
When we talk about phase one, being unaware, I think as men, we need to realize that there is an enormous cost to women when we are unaware of the impact of sexism in their lives. So I do want to have a moment to talk about what that means in real life. So we’ve got a couple of women that are going to be part of this conversation. So I want to hear from them first. When we talk about sexism, of course, Me Too, Time’s Up are very high in folks awarenesses, and that is part of the conversation. But of course there’s a lot more to sexism than just sex. When we talk about sexism in different arenas, we’re talking about the behaviors that diminish women.
So if we kind of change the lens to corporate America, we’re talking about things like who gets sponsored, who gets mentored, who gets to talk in the meeting. Who gets invited to meetings. Who’s been asked to take notes. Who’s been asked to make copies. There are a variety of different ways that sexism shows up throughout our lives. So first question would be for the women that we have on the panel, what is the burden that we put on women when we depend on them, and them alone, to deal with sexist behavior?
JENNIFER BROWN: Am I the woman on the panel? Or is it women on the panel?
ELFI MARTINEZ: I’ve got you and I got Kris. So both of you please share.
JENNIFER BROWN: So Kris, I’ll kick us off. Elfi, thank you. It’s so cool to see the model here and to hear you describe it. So for us on the receiving end, this is… feeling that if you don’t do the emotional labor of defending yourself or of challenging others, that nobody else will do it. So this is what burns us out. This is what makes us tired and fatigued and also by the way, distracts us from being all that we can be in any given moment. Imagine you’re in that meeting, you’re trying to present a new product idea and you’re dealing with mansplaining or ideas being stolen or being talked over, or the men in the room discussing with each other and other voices not being included. So it’s not just men and women. The model is intended to be any unheard voices, any stepped on identities. And so as we’re going through this, I would give the advice to think about all different identities and kind of think about how this is a similar dynamic of inclusion and exclusion. So let me just stop there, Kris, what would you say?
KRIZ BELL: I would say, first of all, you’re just trying to show up to work. There’s a lot of campaigns or a bring your whole self, all of that. When I bring my whole self, I have to think about, “Okay, not only am I here to do the work, but I’ve got to do the work of defending myself, of figuring out what’s the best way to call somebody out.” I’m constantly weighing is that a big enough infraction that I call it out? If I let this one go, do I have to deal with it more later? So you have to be your own advocate. You have to do the emotional labor of maybe bringing somebody into awareness from unawareness. So it’s a lot of work it’s exhausting. And then people are like, “Well, that wasn’t my intention.” So there’s an intention versus impact. It’s exhausting and it’s a lot of work.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Fantastic. Thank you both for sharing. And I think this is what we need to be aware of, that it’s not free when men take a pass on being allies. We wind up putting all the burden on women, it’s exhausting them and it’s really making their lives a lot more difficult. The reality is power listens to power. And when men complain, men talk about, when men fight against sexism, that’s when it stops. So it’s really a responsibility on us not to pretend like this isn’t a big deal and leave it on just on women because we can hear from just women that are on our panel today, this is a huge burden. This is a huge cost and it’s not free for them. It’s very expensive for them to not just have to do their work, but they have to do our work as well when it comes to dealing with our emotions and dealing with our own sexist nonsense.
So that being said, let’s talk a little bit more about, okay, so I don’t want to spend my time in awareness. I want to get better. I want to be an ally. The first step is to go from unaware to aware, just kind of learning about what this means, learning about what it looks like. So you may become a student at Google university. Start learning. There’s lots of information out there, Jennifer Brown’s books, our website, tons of other information out there. Catalyst is a great organization if you want to learn more about sexism in the workplace, McKinsey has a great report on sexism in the workplace. There’s lots and lots of information out there. So the first step is to learn. Learn on your own, figure out what’s going on so you can start to have educated conversations with others.
The first two stages of the model are all about intention. Going from not knowing to wanting to do something, but then there’s the big leap from awareness to action. And that’s huge. And a lot of times we stop ourselves from taking that leap because of fear. So the next thing I want to talk about with the folks on the panel is the role of fear in becoming a good ally. Because as Ray mentioned earlier, when we talk about courage, courage does not mean the absence of fear. Fear is an important part of courage. Courage means that you’re afraid and you do it anyway. If you think about it, we’re just using that cowardly lion example. He was cowardly at the beginning and he was afraid throughout the entire movie. And he did things and he was still afraid, but he did them anyway. And he did it with his friends, with his allies, which made the journey easier. If he was all by himself, it would have been much more difficult so we need to remember that is none of us is as strong as all of us. This is why allyship is so important.
So when I talk about the role of fear and doing the work, we often hear about men not stepping forward and demonstrating inclusive male leadership behaviors against sexist behaviors it’s because they’re afraid. So I want to ask the men in the panel today and anybody, everybody in the panel today, what were you afraid of in the early stages of your journey to becoming a more effective ally? What were you afraid of? What made you decide to step forward anyway?
JIM MASSEY: I’ll jump in here and I’ll tell you, I was afraid of the women who were asking me to step forward. And let me explain this. I was asked to be an MC of an organization we called the Women’s Summit and it was a women’s empowerment program at my organization. And there was a panel of 10 leaders who had selected me to be the MC of the event. So they sent me an email, said, “We want you to MC the Women’s Summit this year.” I said, “No, I’m a man.” And they came back and politely said, “We got you, but we need you to come and talk about what you do.” And I was thinking that just doesn’t make sense to me. I was in my blissful, unawareness of the power I had in shape-shifting systems. So I said no again. And then I won’t say the individual’s name, but she called me, said, “Quit being an idiot. There’s a reason why five of us are in your network and we just found out you have helped all of us. And we need people to understand that.”
And it wasn’t until the day of when I was sitting in the auditorium, getting ready to introduce myself as the MC that I switched my introduction because I realized the fear I was having was what people were going to think of me that didn’t align with my value of what I was trying to do. And so why was I caring?
And I finally got over that fear of owning. I had even said, for many of you on this line, I’m going to say this and you’ll hopefully laugh with me or at me, I told them I don’t have any privilege. Now you don’t know me, but I’m a 6’4″, white, Western male, Protestant, cis-gender, all of these things, my partner is my wife, I’m a straight man, all of these things. And I was telling people I didn’t have privilege. This was about seven years ago and owning that. But just the fear of acknowledging, what that started to mean for me is what I had to overcome. It was more my own fears and no one else really cared that day. They appreciated the vulnerability. But ironically enough, when I did it, I didn’t feel vulnerable at all. I actually felt like I was authentically showing up as myself for the first time at the professional organization I was a part of.
ELFI MARTINEZ: That’s fantastic. And let me ask you, what was it in you that helped you overcome your fear? How did you decide I’m going to do it anyway? What happened for you?
JIM MASSEY: I thought back to that moment in the silly cartoon, the Lion King. Remember the little lion had gone off somewhere and he gets up into the clouds and all of the previous kings were calling out to him. I don’t know if you guys remember that or not.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Oh yeah.
JIM MASSEY: I thought about the most significant leaders who sit on my shoulder every day and say step up, lead. And I thought, what would Michelle, Catarina, Helen, Heather or Trish be screaming in my ear to do? There was no Michael, John, Jim, Tom, or Peter. And the women who had helped me become the leader I had become, were screaming in my ear step forward and lead. Not because it was a women’s summit, because I needed to lead at that moment in time. And that’s what got me. I finally started to reflect and piece together the puzzles of why I am the leader I am today and I owed it to them.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Excellent. Thank you for sharing that story. Anyone else on the panel when it comes to being an effective ally across gender, around sexism, what’s holding you back? What are you afraid of? What have you been afraid of?
RAY ARRATA: So, Jim, I didn’t know you were 6’4″ so you got half an inch on me. Check, check, check, check, check to all the privileges that you owned. The fear thing so that the audience gets some additional flavor, not repetitive. Is that fear, how I look at it is the little boy in me was afraid. And so I use fear as a bell of awakening to remind myself, do I want to be that little boy? Or do I want to be the mature, healthy, masculine leader? So can I breathe into the fear? Can I keep going? Somebody once to told me, “You know those butterflies you feel in your stomach? Get them to fly in formation and keep going.” So many of you have heard me talk in the past about a conscious partnership of the head and the heart. And we’ve touched upon emotional literacy in this series. So my invitation is to feel the fear, don’t retract from it, breathe into it and summon that courage and keep going. So that’s more present for me. So hope that helps.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Fantastic. So what is it, Ray, that helped you overcome that fear and decide to do it anyway? So you’ve been afraid, you’ve been reluctant, how did you decide I’m going to do it anyway?
RAY ARRATA: The answer would be my consistent willingness to look inside and to do my work as a man to develop my emotional literacy, to really understand, “Oh, fear shows up in my stomach. Oh, when I feel fear, I start to write a story in my head about what I think is going to happen.” And learning to slow down and go, “Wait a minute, whatever used to happen when I was little, that’s not current right now. And how can I go to that grownup part of myself and be the leader and ally that I want to be.” And my little asterisk is okay, I’m going to be courageous and I’m going to go forward and I might make a mistake. Right off the heels of that is, “Oh, I’m human.” And then I can resolve to clean it up and keep going. So anytime I’ve talked to people that are in other non-dominant groups, I ask them, “How does this sound?” If I look at myself, keep learning, keep going, screw up, clean it up, keep working. How does that land and I’ve gotten the affirmative, “Keep doing your work.”
ELFI MARTINEZ: Fantastic. And I think this is an important part of this conversation is the ability to give yourself grace and the permission to understand and realize you’re going to do and say the wrong thing, especially at the beginning. It’s just inevitable, it’s part of the journey. You got to open mouth, insert foot, more than once. It’s going to happen. So if you expect that you’re going to be able to just jump in and be an expert at this that’s not how it works. Anyone who gets good at anything has to practice, practice, practice, practice. No one hits a baseball the first time they pick up a bat. It just doesn’t happen. It takes a thousand swings first, before you ever make a connection. So the reality is that this is a journey. You have to give yourself permission to understand you’re going to need to crawl before you can walk before you can run and that’s okay.
Another thing I think we should really emphasize, this is not an undercover journey. You’re not supposed to be doing this by yourself in secret. If you want to be an ally, declare yourself, say, “This is what I’m doing. This is why I want to do it.” If you do that, other people will come to you. They will be encouraged by what you’re doing. They’ll be inspired by what you’re doing and they’ll want to join you along the way. And this happens all the time, especially with men, everything has to be just me. The hero’s journey. That’s all bullshit. We need help from our friends. We need to have help along the way. So please declare yourself. Please say, “This is what I’m doing. This is why I’m doing it.” And people will give you the grace and the good will, and they will help you get better, but you have to let them know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. That’s how you get grace from other folks during the conversation.
So, anything else about fear? Anything else anyone wants to add about this idea of fear holding you back from becoming a better ally and why you did it anyway? Why you decided to deal with your fear rather than run away?
JENNIFER BROWN: Elfi, I’d love to make just a quick point. What helps me with my perfectionism, which by the way, if you study white supremacy culture, perfectionism is a big part of that. So that’s not an accident. And I would also argue some people of diverse identities struggle with perfectionism because we haven’t been at the table or we’re not represented at that table so we have to show up as 150% all the time. But the point I want to make is different about fear, which is that I realized that I have so much less fear, real fear and real risk, because of the privileges that I have than the fear, the real fear and the real risk, being faced by those of us who are trying to bring our full selves to work have real reasons to fear for our safety, have real reasons to literally detest the micro-aggressions that we hear every single day. The real fear and risk of being always the one that brings up a comment or a joke and saying, “That’s not right.” Because we get penalized when we do that, when we’re part of the affected group.
So as an ally, I think about whenever I feel fear, I put it in the context of this is actually perceived. I’m not sure how real this is. And then I compare it against the real risks that other people are taking for their own authenticity and their own truth every single day and you’re looking at something that literally looks like this. And I would argue we also hear, all of you know this, we hear from our executive leaders that like, “I don’t want to do this, say this.” I would argue executive leaders are actually in many ways more protected than anybody. So when you say, “but do it loudly, do it overtly, do it publicly” because that’s going to normalize the doing of this and other men in particular, just to use one example, are going to look at this other man doing it and saying, “Wow, the sky didn’t fall. Like maybe this is something I could do.”
But I just don’t buy, I don’t know, I’d be interested in Jim’s thoughts. I don’t think that fear, or the risk I guess is a better word, is as real when you are kind of protected in terms of your seniority and your position. And yet I feel like it’s this overblown reason and rationale for not doing anything and not saying anything.
JIM MASSEY: Yeah, I agree. I was looking at, I think Chris Pope said that his privilege allows him to avoid. And I actually think as a senior leader, an executive within an organization, I’ve got to deliver the business is an easy excuse to say, “I just got to worry about this quarter’s results.” Which then often translates into avoiding because boy, I’ve got a bigger purpose. No one will have a job if this business isn’t doing or working this way. And I think also it’s why we see the trending data of even those underrepresented groups that get to executive levels often are more critical and harder on those that resembled them more and it’s about just you made it and so just take care of the business now.
And it’s something that we’ve been talking a lot about is the humanity at work. How do we start to bring that back? And even this conversation has me thinking about the simplicity. Another transition for me was starting to get, as I evolved as a leader, I started to learn more and more it was never about me. And I think that that has been what spending my privilege is about even down to wearing my mask, something that is so polarizing in our country, but I wear my mask not for me, but for everyone around me. It’s the best that I can do. And right now it’s all I can do as a non-healthcare professional in trying to fight the pandemic is sometimes just showing up with a mask. And so for those of you who don’t know, Raygun is a Midwest firm that sells masks and they print stuff and mine says, “The mask is the new smile.” So when I’m out in public, people can at least see me attempting and I try to use my eyes to signal.
I think that that’s the same conversation for me in the DNI space is especially with the privileges that we represent. It’s not about me, but it’s about the systems that represent who I am that I don’t want to be. And that’s what I’m trying to change. And I think it comes down, Jennifer, to your point, it’s less about fear. I spoke about fear about what took me to step up and that was self-induced. But I think for many of us it’s blissful ignorance and avoidance because it’s tough.
ELFI MARTINEZ: And that’s a great point. Not only is it tough, it’s an option. When you are in a place of privilege, you have the option not having to deal with it because there’s no real consequences for you. The fish never knows it’s wet. The world was meant for you and you get to do what you want to do without having to worry about other people. And going to Jen’s point that yeah, fear is a thing. Fear is real, but we should not allow fear to overwhelm us from action. The reality is that when it comes to getting second chances, it’s going to be men that talk about sexism a hell of a lot more than it’s going to be women. Because men have the power and the privilege in this world to not deal with sexism.
So when we say it, we’re the ones that get listened to we’re the ones that get credit for it. Terry Crews got thundering applause for saying things that women have been saying for a hundred years. The reality is that men listen to other men. So it’s incumbent on us to look at our fear and say, “Yes, I’m afraid and I’m going to do it anyway.” A lot of people are thinking, “Oh, if I do it, I’m going to die. The fear is going to kill me. I’m going to be done for.” But I want to make sure that we understand and look at each other, everyone on this panel today has been afraid, has done it and none of us are dead. We’re all still here. We’re all okay. We came to the other side of fear and as long as you learn something from it, fear is not useless. Fear teaches you. Fear is a teacher, you never learn anything in your comfort zone. So the reality is until you do something different, until you face your fear, you’re never going to become better, bigger than what you are right now.
So we’ve only got about 10 minutes or so for the conversation. I would love to switch it over to the next phase of the model, which is going from, again, attention to action. Because the reality is behavior is truth. We are what we do, not what we say. So when it comes to behaviors that we can actually demonstrate to show people that we are actual allies and not paper allies or bystanders, what advice would you give folks that want to actually be leaders when it comes to sexism? What are some behaviors that we can demonstrate that will show others that we are serious about this? Would love to hear from folks on the panel, what are some things we can do in the real world that other people can see that demonstrate we are an ally when it comes to dealing with sexism?
RAY ARRATA: First of all, Kris, can you address your screen? Because your computer thing is showing up there. Another little human experience. All good. So, Elfi, can you repeat the question? I was a little distracted.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Yes. What can you do? What are behaviors that you can do that other people can see that demonstrate that you are a male ally dealing with sexism?
RAY ARRATA: So here’s one thing and I didn’t realize I was doing it, but Jennifer Brown and I spoke several weeks ago. She taught me this concept of de-centering. So utilizing my voice, my privilege, my position to have somebody else, other than me, be center stage so that their voice, their perspective can come into the space. That’s one thing that comes to mind.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Okay. Anyone else? Behaviors that you can use to demonstrate that you’re an ally? What have you done? What can you do?
JIM MASSEY: Ray and Jennifer, I should say, Jennifer’s training of Ray and ray you’re sharing here is going to make me. I want to believe that I’m an advocate, that I am in there fighting, I’m watching my words. I’m doing all I can. And something Ray just did is he talked about that F word we never want to use, which is that moment of failure, even de-centering and moving out. And I try to do that. I love the de-centering.
And an example I want to give you is the most critical leader in my life is my life’s partner, my wife Emily. And we were on a joint call with four other people and, Jennifer, in that first question about when sexism shows up and how does it treat women, you said, “Sometimes it’s not being engaged.” And I didn’t want to join this Zoom call and Emily was like, “You’ve got to join. You got to be part of it.” Within 10 minutes the other male and I were talking about a topic we were both passionate about and the other four had disengaged and at one time Emily said, “I looked and all of us were sitting there like this.” And she kept hitting my leg and I thought she was saying, “Keep going, you’re engaged. You didn’t want to be on this.” And she was practically slapping me upside the head.
It wasn’t until after the call, she talked to me about that. So here’s a man who I’m so proud of all that I’m doing and I just minimized not only the other leaders on the call, but the most important in my life, my partner and didn’t realize it. And so Elfi, thinking about I want to share that as an example of someone who takes pride in doing this and I was unaware in the moment to the most important person in my life and I center-staged myself on a topic and in a personal call in a pandemic where this is our only way to connect with others and I took that mental wellbeing establishment away and made that moment.
And so for me, it’s similar, yes, the de-centering, but then admitting when we fail because several of you have said that we’re going to keep doing it, but that happened three nights ago. And it’s one of those things where I just have to keep sharing the more failures, because someone in one of the things said it, fear of failure is going to get us. You’re going to fail. It’s the speed with which you can learn and adapt and change and be more present. And right now I’ve mansplained too much, I’m going to stop, but that’s a behavior I’m trying to do.
RAY ARRATA: Elfi I just, I want to just say one thing off the heels of what Jim said, courtesy of it being pointed out by my partner, Kris. And that was as an ally, knowing that we’re going to make mistakes, how I receive feedback. Kris, I think you mentioned, you called out my flex, my ability to take in the feedback for messing up and willing to hear it, not being defensive and growing from it. So I want the women and anybody else for that matter to hear the mark of a true ally, who’s seeking to become an advocate, is one’s own willingness to take that in and grow from it. So that’s equally important. So Kris, elasticity, that was the word you used. Thank you. So that’s it for me.
ELFI MARTINEZ: These are great points. I mean, this is exactly what we’re talking about. The fact that you’re going to be afraid, you’re going to make mistakes, that’s okay, that’s part of the process. And I think something Jim was mentioning also that’s really important is that when you are in a position of privilege and power, one of the greatest things that you can do, one of the most helpful things you can do is amplify the signals of others. If you have folks that are not being listened to, if you have folks that are not being marginalized, utilizing your voice, because you are listened to, and because you are valued, unfortunately, more than folks in marginalized groups, using that power to amplify the messages of others.
What am I doing to make sure that people are being heard? How am I providing air cover to give people the space to say something and not have them take the brunt of all the blow back, but it comes back on me. Because the reality is a lot of times when you’re in a place of privilege, it doesn’t come back on you. You’re given second, third and fifth chances whereas that person in the marginalized group gets labeled a troublemaker and somebody who just doesn’t fit and when the promotion comes, they get passed over. So it’s extremely important for us to amplify the message.
We’ve only got about five more minutes left. And I think one thing that’s important for us to really talk about is the other side. So if people are afraid and they’re going to take this leap of faith, they want to know that it’s worth it on the other side. I want to ask the folks on this panel today, people that have taken these opportunities to become better leaders, how has becoming a more inclusive leader with women helped you connect with them more effectively? How has it impacted your relationship with women before and after? What’ve you got?
RAY ARRATA: Before I answer the question, I’m inclined to invite Jennifer or Kris to answer because I’m conscious of the man-opolization that’s occurring.
JENNIFER BROWN: Kris, you want to do the honors?
ELFI MARTINEZ: Yes.
RAY ARRATA: With good intention.
KRIZ BELL: Well, I would say I’ve been wanting Ray to share this story about when he and I attended an interracial sisterhood event together because from his posture, the stories he told, the guy who walked in there is not the guy who left that event. And when he walked in there, it’s the, for me, assumptions is such a huge piece of this. You see somebody, you assume something. He went there and he was the only white heterosexual cis-gendered guy in there. The only one. And it’s always valuable for people to have an only one experience. I’ll let him tell his part of the story, but there were pieces… And I know him and I know that he knows the work and he’s engaged in his work and he’s elastic, but there’s always that potentially cringy part. I’m bringing this guy in here, what’s he going to do? How’s he going to show up in this only one situation? Because being all the things that he is, a lot of times he’s cushioned from having to do that.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Well Kris from your side, I would love to know what did Ray say or do, that you saw, that helped him connect with women? What did he say or do to build that credibility, to build that trust? What did you see?
KRIZ BELL: Mostly, it’s what he didn’t do. He didn’t talk, he didn’t sit there with a posture that said, “This is my joint and I’m on my thrown.” He listened and he actively listened without having to center himself in the conversation to let everybody know he was listening every minute. And he brought all those things away. We talked about it. He continued to listen, he asked questions to kind of touch base and take the temperature and he’s shared the story. So when it is his time to share and other people are listening to him, he’s modeled what he did. So I would invite Ray to share his side of the story because that was part of the impetus for this panel, was you’re going to have to be uncomfortable. And there’s a big thing that happened for him in that story that is part of that discomfort. That is far beyond fear. Fear, it’s important, it happens, but it’s definitely in the early stages and active is something that happened with him. Ray?
RAY ARRATA: Thank you for that reflection partner. So first off and I’ll, conscious of time, very quickly. I did not know I was the only white cis-gendered guy. I knew there was hardly any men, but Kris pointed that out to me so blinders. Second thing was at the end a woman of color in front of me shared, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes, I’m willing to take the hits as a woman of color.” Because this whole event was called Sisterhood and it was about bringing white women and women of color together to create allyship.
And when she said that, it really hit me hard. And so I wasn’t doing this. I was actually kind of like this. And I was kind of maybe going like this. And the woman moderator, she looked at me, she goes, “I was hoping you’d raise your hand.” And so I said, “I just want to acknowledge what this woman said. And it really affected me because it’s people that look like me that need to be willing to take the hits.” And that’s what I shared. And that’s right now, that’s what I’m feeling a lot. And I’m going to hold this and bring this to next week because that’s what’s going to be needed. So to your point, Kris, less is more, you said the points. It was better coming from you than it was coming from me so thanks.
ELFI MARTINEZ: That’s great. We’re going to transfer in a moment to break out rooms. Thank you, Ray, for sharing that. But before we do that, there’s one voice I think that’s extremely important to hear on this before we move. Jennifer, you spend almost all your time in male dominated environments where the people in charge are men. So what have you seen out in the world? What behaviors have you seen men do that demonstrated to you that they’re allies and that has helped you connect more effectively with them?
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for asking, Elfi. We often talk about head, heart and hands. So corporate leaders particularly, they start with the talking points that are written by somebody else for them and that’s head. It’s an exercise. What is it? Conscious incompetence. It feels awkward. I’m trying to ride the bike, I’m falling off, trying to ride the bike. And you can tell these are the leaders that mess up the LGBTQ, kind of roll their eyes or they get it wrong or they laugh at themselves. They’re in the learning phase. And I think we have to be very grateful that they are on that journey actually and they’re doing it in front of other people. That’s really risky. We want those leaders to show up as well as they can, but we also want them to be able to say like, “Here’s where I am and here’s where I’m not quite yet.” That’s okay. So the head is the intellectual understanding of what does showing up as an ally look like, sound like, what do I need to say?
But then the embodiment and the heart is now it has sunk into me on a personal level that everybody has a diversity story, including me. And that there’s something perhaps where I can put myself in an uncomfortable risky position to share what that is, because I don’t want to expect everybody else to do the work that I’m not willing to do. And I would wager everyone, and I have learned this lesson, you can walk into a room that looks like it’s a bunch of straight white guys, and there’s tons of diversity stuff going on, often totally invisible. You do not know how somebody identifies. You do not know about mental health, socioeconomic background, that their kids are a different ethnicity than they are, adopted families, kids that are addicted, suicide in their family, religious differences that they never talk about because they’re the one Jew on a Christian management team, all of this. So the humanity we need to have for that, we need to sharpen that saw and not make assumptions about what’s under people’s waterlines. And so the heart is when I listen to you speak, I believe you, I feel you.
And then the hands is the what am I willing to do as a leader with this? What are the actions I’m going to take? And I think being very overt about… And it doesn’t need to be wrapped up into a nice little neat bow because this work is never done. It’s a journey, not a destination. And you need to talk about the work in progress like the answers you don’t have, the questions you’re asking. It’s okay. And I think that our culture of leadership, and particularly as it’s been mainly male and mainly white, it’s been an unassailable leader, strong and confident having all the answers.
And you talk about the pandemic has totally done a 180 on a lot of us where we’re like, “Oh shit, I never developed all those empathy skill sets. I’ve kind of not really developed that muscle and now I’m being called on to have it.” And have it in an authentic way that resonates. This has caught a lot of leaders on the back foot. But I think if we think of that three-part model and work on ourselves in each of those, that I would argue it’s sort of a progression. I’d probably say the heart is the last thing to come for some because that’s the most vulnerable and the most delicate and we have to trust our audience with that information. If we leap will the net appear? And the net appearing to me is when we bring our stories that are vulnerable as a org, have we done the seeding of the ground to make sure we can be received when we do that? And have we prepared with feedback with people that are our inner circle to say, “Am I going about this right? Is this going to come off in the best way?”
So I think we need to be smart about how we do this. This isn’t just something. And I caution leaders who are action oriented, do not jump into this without preparation and without feedback and without rehearsal and without running things by people. Don’t do that because executive leaders are so critical and when they do make a move, there’s so many eyes on them. There’s so many eyes on the first person that goes first and steps out of the man box, that we always talk about on these calls, and steps out of that and takes that risk. So I’m not saying you need to be a perfectionist about it, but I am saying be smart and respect the process because it’s there for a reason, and this is a muscle. You don’t want to run a marathon without having trained for six months, you’re going to hurt yourself. So take this seriously. This is serious and deep leadership work.
ELFI MARTINEZ: Great example. Thank you so much, Jen, for sharing your wisdom.
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