Fireside Chat: Jennifer Joins Moody’s for their Women Empowerment Series

Jennifer Brown | |

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This episode was originally recorded for the Moody’s Women Empowerment Video Series where DK Bartley is leading a DE&I Evolution at Moody’s that has created a culture focused on Authentic DE&I and incorporate DE&I in all Aspects of the Moody’s Business globally. Tune in as Jennifer discusses the concept of the “iceberg” and what employees typically struggle to bury deep or cover up in the workplace.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

Jennifer Brown: How many of us have been uncomfortable in the workplace for a variety of reasons? And what I like to say is the workplace wasn’t built by and for a lot of us, most of us. It doesn’t work for us. And so we continually struggle and either cover our identities or keep that waterline really high, put a lot of energy towards sanitizing how we come across. And that’s the exhausting piece that also sadly prevents an organization from evolving. Evolution means to me that the workforce changes to accommodate and welcome more of us in a concrete way, not just in a, “Oh, you’re welcome here. You can come if you want to.” We need to be much more proactive in saying, “We see you and we hear you and we see all this stuff that we know exists under the waterline. And we know that this is problematic and difficult and it interrupts your ability to reach your potential.

Doug Foresta: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to The Will To Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.

Doug Foresta: Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta and this episode that you’re about to hear was originally recorded from the Moody’s Women Empowerment Video Series, where DK Bartley is leading a DE&I evolution at Moody’s that has created a culture focused on authentic DE&I and incorporates DE&I in all aspects of Moody’s business globally. This event was originally attended by over 2,500 participants and in it, among other things, Jennifer talks about the concept of the iceberg and what employees typically struggle to bury deep or cover up in the workplace. Of course, there’s much more to the conversation. So you’ll hear this and more. Enjoy the episode.

DK Bartley: We are very fortunate today to have quite the inspirational and I think representative woman, Jennifer Brown from Jennifer Brown Consulting, CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting. Jennifer has been quite inspirational globally in really educating audiences about diversity and inclusion. She’s written several books around diversity and inclusion. So she really is the authority on what it takes to go from one level to the next level. So we’re looking forward to the conversation today on International Women’s Day, how she’s chosen to challenge, which is the theme of International Women’s Day.

Jennifer Brown: DK, you know this. I was an aspiring opera singer, so I came to New York City to make it, so to speak, and studied really hard and practiced. And I really had big dreams, but was derailed because I kept injuring my voice through the course of training and I had to get several vocal surgeries to fix what kept happening. And I was, the recovery from surgeries, silence for weeks. And then when you’re finally able to make a sound by your speech therapist says, “You’re ready,” it’s just this unrecognizable little squeak of a voice, and you have to bring it back and hope that it comes back. You work really hard to bring it back. And I even just went through this several times during the course of building my career and eventually realized that my instrument… I couldn’t count on it and it would always be compromised in some way.

Jennifer Brown: So it was very crushing. It was a dream of any artist to be able to practice your craft. It was the realization that I’d have to reinvent and lucky enough, performers are really agile, creative people. And I was able to follow some ex performers into another field that would allow me to be on stage, but in a different way for a different purpose. And I ended up getting a second master’s degree after my master’s in voice in what’s called organizational development and leadership. And I went to Fordham University here in New York and studied adult learning, basically, how to train adults, facilitate discussions, and be on platform. So performing in a way, but just like I said, in a really different guise. I enjoyed it. I had some HR roles internally in different industries corporate-wise and then I started my own firm 14 years ago, Jennifer Brown Consulting.

Jennifer Brown: And originally we were leadership development, team effectiveness, soft skills, as we say, which we all know are the hard skills. We could talk about that a little bit, but I enjoyed it immensely, enjoyed teaching and facilitating adults and thinking about what was broken in the workplace and what conversations I wanted to have about how to fix it. And I just started to really develop strong ideas about what would a workplace look like that… And we didn’t have the word at the time, but that valued diversity, practiced inclusion and generated belonging. And so I would pivot the firm towards diversity, equity and inclusion along the way and today we have a team of 30 or 40 people. It’s growing constantly. And we get to really study every single day, how to build workplaces where we can all thrive.

Jennifer Brown: And this, DK, was really significant to me on another level, because I’m also a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And I was very closeted as a performer, not seeing any role models that I thought were there, which I’m sure were everywhere, but the point is, perception is reality. And if you can’t see it, you think you can’t be it. And so I was worried that contracts and roles and opportunities would be on the line. And then as an entrepreneur corporate person, I was struggling with the closet, for sure. And then as an entrepreneur, I’ve been able to be very proud actually, eventually of being woman-owned then certified, LGBT-owned and certified and be able to lead from that place. But it’s been a really long journey towards authenticity and embracing all of who I am and really understanding how that fuels my expertise, how it’s actually part of my value proposition.

Jennifer Brown: So I’m really passionate about out the voice because I now realize my role is to give voice to what’s not being voiced and voice to the voiceless in organizations and I really felt that was me and my story in many ways. And I had to really fight to find that and use it and I’m very, very fortunate to be able to use it every day, these days.

DK Bartley: Wow. Wow. So a lot to unpack Rachel, but I’m going to start with the LGBTQ piece because I think that’s huge when we’re talking about overcoming adversity and challenges. Clearly you had a perception yourself of what kind of barriers that presented for you. How did you make the decision that it was okay to come out of the corporate closet at work?

Jennifer Brown: Well, gosh, at some point, if you talk to anybody in the LGBTQ+ community, it just becomes too uncomfortable. The lies start to pile, up the omissions, the inauthenticity that I think holds us back from building close relationships with colleagues, which is literally the lifeblood of how business works, right? We get things done with people we trust and it’s always a challenge to cut off so much of a part of yourself and then be that trusted colleague, but be this black box from a personal standpoint. And so, I remember I came out. Finally, I decided in one of my corporate roles at an insurance company where you talk about no diversity, this was about 20 years ago. It was me and 35 white guys, sales guys, because I was a sales trainer in the team.

Jennifer Brown: But I just got the courage one day to say, “I need to have the conversation with my boss, with my team. I need to stop this madness.” And so I have a partner that I wanted to tell them about and that made it a little easier. So I just took a picture of Michelle, my partner of 23 years and just said, “This is my [inaudible 00:08:21]. I just want to let you know. We haven’t talked about it before,” and I was terrified, but we all are and it almost always goes better than we think it’s going to go. And then once you rip that band-aid off, you realize that you were imprisoning yourself in your own cage to a degree. But I do want to say that there’re other parts of my identity that protected me as an LGBTQ person.

Jennifer Brown: I have a lot of privileges also. And so I feel all these puzzle pieces make me who I am and you can see certain things about me and not see other things about me and certain things I may feel I am underrepresented. I have a marginalized identity or two, but I also then realize that my LGBTQ experience has been nowhere near as risky. And so the choices I make when I need the courage to do something, may not apply to somebody else who is also a person of color, who also has other intersectionalities, as we say, and is navigating multiple stigmas going on and multiple opportunities to be stereotyped and microaggressed and all of that. So I’m very keenly aware of the particular makeup and the unique makeup of me and where it means that I need that allyship, but that I can also be that ally. And that’s where I live every day these days.

DK Bartley: So let’s talk about that a little, because I think when we talk about barriers or breaking the glass ceiling, you said something that’s really key. You understand your privilege and someone meeting you, you literally, you can’t say that you’re LGBTQ or not, right? It’s not something that you directly see in regards to an identifier and how that may influence someone’s decision or how they interact with you. How would you describe that? How do you think that relates to other groups or other… You have ageism, you have colorism, you have racism, there are all these other isms, right, that are a little bit more visual. How would you describe that and think how that’s impacted your ability to either break through or what I would call be successful?

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. You bring up, DK, such an important point that only some of our diversity dimensions are visible. I would almost say, anecdotally speaking, more of them are invisible actually, or hideable or downplayable, right. Yeah. And I brought a slide actually, DK, that I think does a really good job of describing this and honestly, this slide is literally like a world unto itself, which you can all see. But I use it in my keynotes to talk about the iceberg as a metaphor for what we bring to work. When we say, “Oh, bring your full self to work.” It’s so easy to say and so difficult, I think, in practice, particularly for some of us that have more marginalized or stigmatized identities, things that are not spoken in the workplace, things that aren’t understood. So when you look at this slide, organizations are like icebergs too, right?

Jennifer Brown: There is this what’s visible and what people feel courageous enough or is accepted enough to show or talk about. And then we have all these dimensions that are hideable or literally invisible, unless we make the choice to what I say, lower our waterline and take that leap of faith with a colleague to say, “Actually, here’s something I’m struggling with,” or “Here’s a part of my identity that is really a big deal for me, but it’s something that I would never dare articulate or ask for support around here, because I don’t think it will behoove me to do that.” So this slide, I keep adding things under the waterline. Every talk I give, I ask people to let me know what I’m missing.

Jennifer Brown: It just keeps growing because I think we all want to feel seen and heard and we want to be working from this place of alignment and truth and the more energy we spend downplaying making decisions about what people know or don’t know or see, or don’t see, and what the resulting impact is going to be on us, that is an exhausting and fatiguing process. It’s very distracting. It’s really bad for productivity and by the way, for retention. So when we say we want to retain our talent, if they’re fighting every day to wonder where do I keep my waterline so that I can stay safe in my job and not make people too uncomfortable with what’s going on for me, it’s depleting for us. And it is read as inauthenticity, I think sometimes. And they know that as a closeted LGBTQ person, it says sometimes when you’re closeted, “Oh, I don’t really know that person that well,” or, “Oh, I don’t know about their family,” or “We’ve never spent time with them,” right.

Jennifer Brown: So we’re not necessarily going to reward that person professionally because we’re just not going to have a sense of them. But this is true for so many dimensions and I’ll just go like left to right on this iceberg and please and chat everybody. Please add or reflect on what is true for you and you think, “What do I not bring to work?” And this can be your current work or previous or whatever. Can depend on a boss, can depend on a company, what the company says and does and whether there’s a leader like DK. You educating and holding the space for diverse identities, but age based covering can be true for young people around being of a younger cohort, but managing a multi-generational team so that adjustments that people make or things that they don’t say to highlight their age.

Jennifer Brown: So not just mature workers, but it can be true for everybody. Neurodiversity can be dyslexia, Tourettes. It can be being on the spectrum. It’s a very fascinating field that I’m still learning a lot about. There’s also family status. I’m going left to right here, religion, spirituality, legacy company norms, socioeconomic status. Some of these have been very much put on display during the pandemic and in this virtual world, weirdly. It’s ironic that we’re separated now physically, but actually our real lives in many cases have been more on display and we haven’t been able to hide or conceal as much because our life is unfolding behind us. And so we’ve had to actually trust each other, I think, on a deeper level, whether we were comfortable doing that or not, right. As I’ve described, there is a lot of fear around disclosure and honesty and transparency, particularly when you suspect that your identity is one that’s going to be misunderstood or hurt you really and hurt your career prospects.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. So food security. I think of pandemic privilege. I would say who of us has a quiet space to work in? Who has a good wireless signal? Who’s not parenting and working and home schooling? Who doesn’t have family members who are disproportionately impacted by COVID, frontline workers and our families, et cetera. So there’s so many ways to think about different privileges and it’s one of the things, DK, I find myself talking a lot about that, it’s such a useful conversation to sensitize ourselves to these things that we hold both earned… there’s unearned privilege and earned privilege. Unearned is what was I born into, what was easier for me, what was I given that has sped me along my way? And then earned privilege… Maybe I have this degree, I went to this school, everybody admires or hires from this background and I have that background.

Jennifer Brown: So I think we need to think of privilege as beyond white and male privilege, which is typically how we reduce it. I say it privilege with a small P. But thinking about all of ourselves as being combinations of different identities and where these sit in the iceberg, and then the challenge for all of us, of course, is to build cultures of belonging, to lower this waterline. So challenging our comfort ourselves and this is particularly true for senior leaders. And I give them the slide and I say, “You need to participate in the lowering of the waterline that’s going to create a more authentic workplace. You can’t just expect everybody else to do it and not do it yourselves, but for some of us on International Women’s Day, I think it’s very important more than ever to bring more of ourselves authentically and taking risks with our stories, our truths, our diversity dimensions, because doing so shines a light for others.

Jennifer Brown: When we say role modeling, some of us may say, “Well, I’m going to work harder than everybody else. I’m just going to show people how dedicated I am.” That was a, I think, a generational lens on role modeling. I think the whole concept of role modeling is shifting around what people want to see. It’s not as necessarily going to resonate what we used to resonate. What we thought we were teaching is shifting based on the norms and expectations of incoming workforce and what they value, which is fundamentally different than what Gen X valued, which is my generation. What we were told were the ingredients of success. And I will tell you that one of these ingredients these days is where do you set this waterline? Are we comfortable being uncomfortable every day because if we aren’t, we’re not leading and we’re not growing.

Jennifer Brown: How can we build in vulnerability and authenticity and bring in more of our diversity dimensions, not just for our own success, but really to normalize, or like I like to say, to usualize all of these identities that exist in the workforce, but have not been voiced, have not been named, have not been supported and that we are not even really sure exist. But I can tell you, and I’m sure you all know these exist across workforces and so the [crosstalk 00:18:59] commitment, yeah, let’s look at the waterline and investigate it.

DK Bartley: Yeah. This is really a powerful slide. I actually may borrow some visuals from it. Really good slide. But definitely want to dive into… You spoke about the slide and this happening years ago, and what’s happening now. From a… and I think you’re really keen on speaking about this, from a woman’s perspective, when you think about things like, Me Too, et cetera, et cetera, how does this change? I don’t think, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that a lot of the things that are under the waterline, even though they existed some 20 years ago, trying to explain it 20 years ago may have been a little bit more difficult. So how has this changed particularly related to the… or not changed, depending on your answer, particularly related to the challenges that face women, both older and younger today?

Jennifer Brown: Yes. Well, we are ascendant as women in the workforce, right? We are climbing and we are accelerating. We are taking our places in business. And I know this past year, as I say, that I’m acutely aware of how many women we’ve lost from the workforce. So extremely troubling, tragic. Very much an emergency in my view. But at the same time, we have a voice now and I think a power to influence that we’ve never had, DK, because this past year starting with the murder of George Floyd and even before that, I would say with the pandemic, everything has been shuffling. Everything has been changing. Things have been being named and declared, and pressure has been applied to be seen and heard and fundamentally, with Black Lives Matter and the voice of that community in the summer.

Jennifer Brown: But I think to me, that gave permission for a much larger conversation, a more multifaceted conversation to happen about how many of us have been uncomfortable in the workplace for a variety of reasons? And what I like to say is the workplace wasn’t built by and for a lot of us, most of us. It doesn’t work for us. And so we continually struggle and either cover our identities or keep that waterline really high, put a lot of energy towards sanitizing how we come across and that’s the exhausting piece that also sadly prevents an organization from evolving.

Jennifer Brown: Evolution means to me that the workforce changes to accommodate and welcome more of us in a concrete way. Not just in a, “Oh, you’re welcome here. You can come if you want to.” We need to be much more proactive in saying, “We see you and we hear you,” and we see all this stuff that we know exists under the waterline. And we know that this is problematic and difficult and makes your ability to thrive… It interrupts your ability to reach your potential and we should be obsessed with that. We should be extremely committed to saying we want… The talent we fight so hard to get in the door, our measure is going to be, “Can we keep them and can we grow them and can we ensure that promotion and advancement processes are applied fairly? And I can tell you that there is not a single process in companies as they’re built that doesn’t have bias in it, because most of our processes weren’t built by diverse teams.

Jennifer Brown: They were not contributed to by all of us saying, “Here’s what would work for me,” or, “Here’s the question I want to be asked,” or, “What’s not being seen about my ability to perform or challenges,” et cetera? So, we have a really huge opportunity ahead of us, DK, you know this. It’s really a wholesale reinvention of let’s make this workplace work for all of us once and for all and-

DK Bartley: I love the example that you just gave about that it’s not just about bringing them in. It’s about retention. It’s about promotion, right? Because I think very often when we speak about diversity and inclusion and belonging and equity, there’s this whole concept of what can a corporation do to bring more in, without the focus on retaining what you have and developing it? And I’m hoping that we were doing a pretty good job of that here and focus on it, because it’s going to take some time. Right. It’s not going to happen overnight. Can I piggyback off of that a little bit because I think you’ve worked with some of the best companies in the world. I could throw some names out there that I think will be quite impressive, but I’ll let everyone Google that. But if you could talk about how that translates itself within different organizations at different stages of growth, when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, that would be excellent.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Different… You mean like different career stages?

DK Bartley: Yes, absolutely. The woman coming in and [crosstalk 00:24:26] who is starting their career, the woman who’s been here 20 years and feels that, or other thing. She has another 20 years left-

Jennifer Brown: Maybe more. We’re going to live forever [crosstalk 00:24:36].

DK Bartley: Exactly right. Infinity. [crosstalk 00:24:39] Because I do think that that’s important because to your point, first and foremost, you go into other forms of DNI of things like ageism, et cetera. But depending if you’re a huge company, that may have some challenges if you’re a small company, if you’re in financial services, if you’re in tech, if you’re in entertainment, if you’re in health and you’ve worked with all of them. So I think from your perspective, I think would be unique in talking about how is that different so that within our organization, we’re financial services, we’re tech, we could have employees that see what their unique path forward can be and maybe identify some of those challenges in advance.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah, that’s so important. You’re reminding me of I think the importance of mentoring and sponsoring relationships and those are different. I just want to distinguish. Mentoring usually is the coaching behind the scenes, the sharing of career wisdom perhaps, or possible career paths, or working through problems and developing solutions. Sponsorship is the joining of our capital with someone else. So sharing that power that we have, and by the way, wherever we are in our careers, we have a level of power to be utilized. If you’re early in career and you’re late twenties, I would expect that you would be sponsoring some younger talent, right. That you would be joining your capital that you’re developing. And I mean by capital with a small C that’s social capital, professional capital, your relationship capital, right.

Jennifer Brown: It’s who you know. It’s what you have access to. It’s the unwritten rules that you are learning and understand how to pull the levers for, right. It’s a lot of the intangibles that honestly fuel workplaces. So I think what is imperative is that we are constantly thinking about what could I be activating on someone else’s behalf? And then alternatively, what do I need activated on my behalf? Because we’re usually reaching up and across at the same time as we’re reaching down in the hierarchy. And so wherever you find yourself in this mix, I would say, for those of us who have capital to be shared, we need to be intentional to see that through an intersectional lens, meaning that we should be investing in and putting time towards talent across difference.

Jennifer Brown: It’s imperative for organizations that, where there is a lack of role models for what I might say, underrepresented talent, it’s imperative that there’s power sharing going on with those who have the influence and the power. So I think the most successful organizations are very aware of that and don’t leave it to chance, DK, but actually construct… They don’t say, “Oh, sponsoring is all about chemistry. So, we can’t really put that on a spreadsheet and we can’t really formalize an effort,” and I would very much disagree. I think if we leave things to chance, people will mentor and sponsor people that look like them and that they’re comfortable with and that’s what will happen. And it will happen off the radar screen and it will not be systematic and it will not reach enough people to really make a meaningful change from a representation standpoint.

Jennifer Brown: So, Bank of New York, for example, has a reverse mentoring program where they identified a cohort of millennial mentors and executive mentees. That’s what I’m talking about. Really flipping the assumptions we’ve had about acknowledging power and influence and knowledge on one level, which is held by senior people, but acknowledging the power and knowledge that lives in our younger cohort, when it comes to equitable workplaces, when it comes to belonging. The younger cohort in our workplace knows the most about that and is the most practiced about it, is the most comfortable talking about identities, right and lowering that waterline. And we at my generation in my identity are the least comfortable and the least knowledgeable. So we have this really interesting… Like the assumptions, I think even we need to challenge about what’s the center of gravity in organizations? Is the center of gravity the top of the org chart? Why? And according to what?

Jennifer Brown: So let’s think about it horizontally. We talk a lot about the flattening of the organization, right, the democratization of the workforce. We talk about the voice that the younger generation’s going to come in and literally expect to be seen and heard and embraces, I think, all of their identities that might have been under the waterline for a lot of us. That’s right out there. As an LGBTQ person, young LGBTQ people would never understand why I wouldn’t be out in a job interview. Why? “I wouldn’t want to work for a company,” they say, “that would make me hesitate around that.” And that’s so important.

DK Bartley: That’s a good example, but let’s talk about that, because that’s interesting. You just said young LGBTQ. Now, do you think that’s an America thing? Do you think that’s a global thing? So we’re a global company, right.

Jennifer Brown: Right.

DK Bartley: So let’s talk about that. I mean, how would you… and it’s a really good question, right? Because, to your point, we live in this bubble, right, where we think everyone operates like we do in the United States or what’s happening with Generation X, Generation Y. It’s yeah, that’s the way it is and the reality is that maybe in our little bubble, an LGBTQ teenager, young person may do that. But when you go to some other countries, not only can they not do that. It’s legally like-

Jennifer Brown: Punishable.

DK Bartley: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Jennifer Brown: It’s criminalized. For those of you that don’t know, it is criminalized in many, many countries to be LGBTQ. So this is real fear and real safety issues and we have so much to be grateful for for some of us in this bubble, DK. Yeah. I mean, look, I think the globally, in some cases, a company like Moody’s and other companies that I really admire, the workplace is actually the safest place to be. It’s the place where you actually can find community amongst your global colleagues where maybe you can be out on your team working for a company like Moody’s and in your personal life and in your community and your family, it’s a whole different issue of safety and disclosure.

Jennifer Brown: So I just want everybody to realize that you’re right DK. We have to have a global mindset on this issue of comfort and psychological.. It’s not only just psychological safety, but real safety. And I would say on International Women’s Day, this is true for women too. I mean, women are running the gauntlet commuting to the workplace, but then when you get to a progressive employer and you’re in that virtual or real workplace, hopefully someday real again, or a hybrid, you may feel valued in a whole different way because things are being discussed and norms are being challenged. And maybe you work for an employer like Moody’s, who’s basically saying like, “You can be anything here and you’re going to be supported in doing that.”

Jennifer Brown: So, I just am always mindful that the workplace can be a place of safety and a refuge and a place where you can explore your identity. This isn’t a perfect world and not every employer lives up to this, but this is the vision that workplaces are places where we can reach our potential and not be so interrupted by these norms of identity that hold us back in so many aspects of our lives. I mean, that’s really a challenge for all of you leaders, is to think about your global teams. Think about what goes on in people’s lives and the challenges, and then how can we mitigate, if we can? How can we, at least for what we are responsible for, our sphere of influence, how can we ensure a culture of belonging, at least around us?

Jennifer Brown: How can I build that safety so that my team trusts me with what is proving to be difficult or challenging or there’re stereotypes and assumptions being made? I want at least the workplace that people work in to be one where that noise is not interrupting our potential and our performance.

DK Bartley: So what’s the number one advice you would give a woman starting her career right now?

Jennifer Brown: Yeah, I would say, so remembering that we are invaluable voices in our organizations and we can step into being change agents. And knowing that the workplace is very behind, I think in many ways where it should be, and that the questions we ask and even just the way we bring our authenticity and our, what we call lived experience, DK, in our world, it’s not just what you know, it’s who you are is really important too. and how a workplace culture resonates with you or not. So I think investigating all of that and bettering, stepping forward to better your organization through being involved in women’s networks, right, through being involved with diversity and inclusion initiatives, through endeavoring to lower your waterline and bring your fuller self to work effectively makes it safer for others to do so.

Jennifer Brown: But I want to say, DK, you know this, there’s not no risk attached to some of these things, right? Our manager may not be in step with the company conversation, right, so your direct boss has so much to do with whether all of this, basically… I mean, your direct boss has everything to do with your job satisfaction more than your job and more than the company you work for. So people leave managers before they leave the job and the company. And so I think we’ve got to look at that manager. That’s an important relationship and gauge what is going to result in penalties for me if I were to do what Jennifer’s talking about.

Jennifer Brown: But I think that’s also an argument to say other ways of getting involved and getting support in your organization that exists that you should be taking advantage of because managers come and go, but what you’re doing is you’re building that personal brand and your job is really to connect with as many people as possible to show your work, show yourself, and at the same time challenge the environment to be better because I can tell you, it needs to be better.

Jennifer Brown: DK’s fabulous and you work for a fabulous company. So that is a huge privilege, great wind at your back. So really your job, if you’re early in career, is to take advantage of everything you possibly can. Be strategic about lining up mentors and yes, sponsors, although it’s more difficult to find sponsors. But just start to open your eyes up to all that and set that intention and then really make inroads with as many people as you can, because your career is long. And there’s a lot of people that you will need to champion you over the course of a career. And it’s never too soon to start building those relationships and think what you can give. You can give. Also, it’s always reciprocal.

Jennifer Brown: It’s not just a take, but I always give before I ask. And so I constantly think about how can I add value? How can I contribute as a way of showing maybe perhaps what I’m good at or what I’m passionate about. And people will notice these things.

Jennifer Brown: So let yourself be led by that, but know that your voice is really important as an instigator of change. We need those voices. We need you to push the workplace to be better and work for all of us as we’ve been talking about.

DK Bartley: Excellent, Jennifer. Excellent. So we’re going to open it up to questions now so that we could get some. I’m quite sure there’s going to be a lot of them, some insight from our audience. So I’m going to have [Rushma 00:37:35] actually read the question and then I’m going to repeat it, Jennifer. So I want to give you some time to answer. And then I also want to make sure that we have some clarity. So Rushma’s going to read them and then I’ll repeat them, or maybe in some cases, reinterpret to make sure that we can get some insight moving forward of what that path is. “How can you keep race in a below the waterline, right, and what’s the status?”

Jennifer Brown: Oh, DK. Do you have an observation on how you have kept race under the waterline for you? I know how you identify. But I wonder if you’ve downplayed in your career. I don’t mean to turn the tables, but I’m just interested because you may have a really illustrative example of what I mean.

DK Bartley: Yeah. Well, I mean, there’s so many. I think I’ve kept it below the waterline in the sense that I’m very… Particularly when you’re on the phone, right? So when someone is speaking to you on the phone, they really don’t know what race you are or how you look and there’s clearly a lot of perceptions. So I always, depending on who I’m speaking to also, when, if it’s in the morning or the evening, a personal question, I always try to give as much information and talk about things that are much more global. That’s why I always bring the global piece in there as opposed to making it very specific to me, right. So if you’re asking me about something, I’ll say, I’ll give you an example of not me, but someone else so that you’re not clear unless you Google me what I look like, or et cetera because you shouldn’t make those assumptions around stereotypes if someone’s articulate or not.

DK Bartley: And then the other piece of this, I think, which I think is probably most important is when people make comments that are reflective like, “Oh, you’re so articulate.” Well, that’s not necessarily a compliment, right? You’re making an assumption, particularly when they’ve just preface it with saying, “Oh, I didn’t know that you were black or African American,” or something of that sort. People don’t, full transparency, do that a lot anymore. But before 20 years ago, to your point, [inaudible 00:39:56] been quite immensely and then I would correct them. And that’s where my waterline moment will come so that they’re aware, you’ve got to think twice. It’s about awareness and not just about being reactive. That’s my answer. What’s yours, Jennifer? I’m turning it back to you.

Jennifer Brown: Excellent. No, I’m so glad. I’m sorry to put you on the spot, but I knew that you would experience this because, somebody, I think the questioner meant, “How can you hide when you are clearly black?” Or “You’re clearly female?” Or “You’re clearly of a certain age?” My point about the waterline is it’s this subtle thing that DK just described where we downplay or we point somebody in a different direction, like you just described or we speak in a certain way. Young people have told me, I present myself more formally and I don’t talk about perhaps my recreational interests or I don’t even celebrate my birthday. I don’t tell people because it will remind them how young I am. And I have so many age related isms coming at me that I am correcting for those things all the time.

Jennifer Brown: And so yes. Is it above the waterline? Is it obvious to our eyes? Yes. Although I would argue our eyes see very little that is accurate about somebody and you would not see that I’m LGBTQ, right? So you would be incorrect in assuming how I identify. Anyway, so I think we instinctively keep this waterline high and then we are constantly assessing the harm that may be caused through highlighting our differences too much or at all. And so we may just not talk about them. I may come out as LGBTQ, but I never then subsequently talk about my family, right, or tell stories about what we’re interested in or like. So I could be simultaneously technically out, but keep my waterline about my identity very high. And I hope that that answers your question. We are all doing it.

Jennifer Brown: It’s subtle. I call this death by a thousand cuts. It’s so subtle but the problem is with this covering behavior is over time, particularly if we’re intersectional and we have a lot of different identities going on, some are visible, some are not. The constant calibrations is distracting, exhausting and I think leads us to feel smaller, honestly, in our own truth, diminishing our confidence. And also the exhaustion leads us to want to go somewhere else and find a different scenario professionally, but it’s sneaks up on you. And so it’s not overt bias that I’m talking about. It’s the ways that we anticipate bias is going to happen to us and we are constantly adjusting so that we can survive and keep our jobs and keep everybody happy.

Jennifer Brown: But in turn, we are diminishing who we are and I think that there’s a cost to that to everybody, not just to us, but to the organization. Because how do organizations change if they aren’t challenged by all of who we are? That’s how organizations learn. That’s the learning that has been missing for so long. For example, about mental health in the workplace. Now we’re getting schooled in it because it spiked in the pandemic, but it’s always been with us and it’s never been spoken, let alone understood, educated about, addressed and supported and normalized or usualized, like I like to say. We are on that path now and I’m so relieved that we’re starting to have realer conversations because this derails so many talented people and it doesn’t need to. It does not need to, but we’ve got to bring it above that waterline to deal with it. The first step of that is disclosure by a lot of us that struggle with mental health so that it becomes this undeniable fact to people who have decision making power, et cetera.

Jennifer Brown: Yes. And then I think I said, survivor status is survivors of assault. So again, more ubiquitous than we realize. And some of you may say, “What does that have to do with leadership and the professional world?” I think this remains to be seen. I think we’re expanding our vocabulary, which is the most important thing, but survivors will tell you, it is an enormous part of their life. People who are sober and in recovery will tell you that their meetings are critical and that they’ve lied about their meetings for years. They never tell the truth about it. And that in the pre-pandemic world, alcohol was such a part of our business dealings and the environments in which alcohol is used are uncomfortable environments, not just for some of us who are sober in recovery, but maybe for LGBTQ people, right, maybe for women and yet those places are places where so much value is exchanged, so much capital is exchanged, so many opportunities are casually shared. And so when we opt out of business as usual practices, we’re the ones that suffer because we cut ourselves off from access to that.

DK Bartley: Wow. I want to get some more questions in here, so it’s just going to go directly to it. “Thank you, Jennifer for coming to speak to us. Your story and background is inspirational. What are your thoughts around the impacts of working from home on women and their career paths? What ideas do you have on what company/management can do to properly address any struggles that might disproportionately impact women, I.e. adopting flexible work?” I thought that was a great question so I had to get that one in there.

Jennifer Brown: Such a great question. Like I said, the workplace is broken and does not work and hasn’t ever worked for some of us. We’ve known that, but it was exacerbated like the rug was pulled out from under some of us who were barely hanging on because we were doing so many things because disproportionately women bear so much more responsibility in the home, and then you add homeschooling and all of it. So some of you who are managers have probably wrestled with really needing to redefine what performance expectations are, how work gets done, who gets it done, how do we share and collaborate and support each other, as some of us are dealing with disproportionate responsibilities because of the pandemic?

Jennifer Brown: And others of us, like myself, I don’t have human children. I have furry children. You’ve probably seen them behind me, but I have that pandemic privilege in so many ways. And so if I were in the organizational context, DK, and even in my own team, actually at JVC, it’s constantly saying like, “How can I help? How can I plug in? What do you need? What would support look like? What kind of support would enable you to get the things done? And unfortunately, this is a huge systemic problem in the U.S. We just do a very poor job in general, and we can’t look to the workplace to solve all of our issues, but I think what we can do is normalize or usualize the adoption of flexible work. We almost should start with the assumption, I think, and it’s radical to say, “Flex should be our starting point.”

Jennifer Brown: So if we could customize and curate the way we work, the time we work, what we’re able to get accomplished, how there’s an ebb and flow to our bandwidth, right, to our hours, the best hours of the day to do work… I’ve been working this way with JVC. We’re a virtual team and so we’ve been working this way. I’ve never had an office and we’re all flex. And to me, I can’t imagine the structures of the workplace because they would feel so confining for us in getting our work done. So I think we’ve got to embrace the lessons of the pandemic and really jump into a reinvention of like coming back to work expectations. Who is that harder for? Who does equally good work at home? When do they do that work? What kind of support? People with disabilities, for example.

Jennifer Brown: Sometimes workplace accommodations are not optimal, but home is great. Or not having to have a commute is actually better. So, there are some things that have been enabled in this constraining world we’ve been in that actually are better in some cases, but then others of us, who knows. I don’t want to speak for everybody who may want more structure and want to return to office because home life is just too chaotic and it’s difficult to perform in it. But again, DK, it’s like, let’s establish a new baseline and then let’s construct that baseline together. Let’s get the voices to the table and hear from and consider and bake in to whatever is next. Let’s bake in as many voices as we can and what the workplace really needs to look like. I mean, this is our opportunity. We’ve never had such a wholesale questioning about all of these things as we have right now. I could have never dreamed up a scenario like this, which would challenge the fundamentals. Let’s not go back and repeat what was an exclusionary system that didn’t work. Let’s build something better.

DK Bartley: Wow. Let’s start with flex, as you said.

Jennifer Brown: Yes.

DK Bartley: So I’m glad you answered that question because you actually answered about five questions. But within that, I’m not even kidding, but here’s other one that I think is really good. “Hi, Jennifer, this is a great session. You mentioned you help resources with the, with.” I’m sorry. “You mentioned,” I think they wrote this wrong. “You help find resources and focus on a variety of soft skills. Could you please state a few of these resources you think are critical to succeed?”

Jennifer Brown: Soft skills. Yes, yes, yes. Yeah. I think I referenced soft skills being the real skills.

DK Bartley: Yeah. That’s exactly what you said. You said, “Soft skills are really the skills that you need to succeed.” So as opposed to the other skill sets-

Jennifer Brown: Like the technical skill sets, right. It’s like what you went to school to do, right?

DK Bartley: Yeah.

Jennifer Brown: One [crosstalk 00:50:42]

DK Bartley: So I think what they want to say is if you’re looking at those soft skills, there’s a variety of them, what are they that you think are a must have? That’s the way I would-

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. I would say listening is so critical and again, the pandemic has been the opportunity and the necessity to do more listening, right? We’ve been talking about being super curious, really open and flexible, really responsive and agile to not knowing the answer. I mean, if you are a boss and you’re listening to this, a manager, a senior leader, you’ve probably been incredibly challenged to be real with people, which has been something in my generation, DK, I don’t know about you, but we were told that wasn’t appropriate at work. That we had to keep that waterline really high because otherwise it would be viewed as unprofessional. So in workplaces where it’s unprofessional to ask for a flexible work arrangement, I don’t want to work in places like that.

Jennifer Brown: So, literally the soft skills would be for leaders and managers and colleagues. It’s taking off our lens and it’s putting other lenses on and seeing their experience and believing their experience of the workplace. And then thinking to ourselves, “What can I do to improve that? What can I do to remove obstacles? If I have any capital at my beck and call, how do I activate that on behalf of, or in solidarity with coworkers and colleagues and those people that we’re trying to pull up that pipeline, right, so that we can succeed?”

Jennifer Brown: So I think that the soft skills of the listening, the curiosity, agility, no attachment to being perfect, but actually embracing the imperfect. I know for me, as I learn about my own identity as a white person, particularly in the context of the discussion, I can’t make perfect the enemy, the good and how I show up. So I’m constantly saying, “This is me learning. This is me trying to get better and I’m going to make mistakes,” but perfectionism is an addiction in our workplaces. And particularly the more senior we get, the more we’re expected to have all the answers and do everything perfectly. And with DE&I and how the workplace is evolving, really you are not going to have the answers, actually. The answers are going to come through the invitation to the dialogue and that should be where we go.

Jennifer Brown: If you’re young in career, by the way, my advice is a little different, which is soft skills, like I was describing earlier, building your influence, expanding your network, building relationships with people, lowering your waterline and bringing your more authentic self to the workplace and being real and authentic from where you sit early in your career, as an energetic voice for change, knowing that change is needed and that you can be the messenger for that. So that might be influencing. That might be sharing your story. It may be speaking your truth. But it’s also building relationships with the older generational cohort because the learning… I’ll tell the young people listening in to this.

Jennifer Brown: The learning has to go both ways. No single generation has all the answers and if I could wave my magic wand, DK, I would say there’s something created by all of us that is one plus one equals three that would be better than the sum of its parts. There’s no one generation that has all the answers, but if we could co-create what’s next and take, particularly the voices we don’t hear and bring all that to the table, I think we’re going to build something much better, but it’s not about necessarily one generation taking the lead or another. It lives in the middle of all of us, so.

DK Bartley: Amazing. Last question. You have two minutes to answer it.

Jennifer Brown: Oh my gosh.

DK Bartley: But it’s the perfect question to end on on International Woman’s Day. “Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge with us. Women frequently get advice about ensuring your compensation reflects your value and is equitable. Money is such a sensitive subject and we have been taught not to speak about it. How do you recommend having these conversations?”

Jennifer Brown: Oh my goodness. We have to get over that discomfort right away. If you look at the pay gap, you’ve probably, if you’re a woman you’ve probably been underpaid. You’ve not negotiated adequately because of the way we’re socialized about this topic and I think it’s very gendered, unfortunately. We are not getting what we need and what we deserve. So I would say that negotiation skills are critical for all of us, knowing how to advocate for ourselves and then benchmarking, doing our own benchmarking to understand what is my compensation? Is it appropriate? And sometimes this is why networks are so important, right, that go beyond our immediate teams and managers, because these are uncomfortable conversations to have, particularly with people that have the ultimate power and say over what we’re paid. So while we need to negotiate in those conversations and push, which we need to get comfortable, and I know it’s uncomfortable. We need to get comfortable with that and skilled and that takes practice.

Jennifer Brown: In fact, if you suspect you need practice with this, there are negotiation classes that you can take and there’re entire organizations that are dedicated to just this topic. But do your own homework. Activate your network so that you can learn what should I be asking for and demanding and what is acceptable and what are the skills and tactics that I need to do while I’m negotiating for that? And then what do I do if I don’t get what I want and need? [crosstalk 00:56:49].

DK Bartley: Yep.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah.

DK Bartley: Jennifer Brown-

Jennifer Brown: Uh, there’s never enough time, DK.

DK Bartley: I know, right. This happens on a normal basis.

Jennifer Brown: Yes, I’m sure.

DK Bartley: Thank you for your time though. This has been quite knowledgeable, educational, insightful, and definitely inspiring. On behalf of our audience, our company, and all of our employees, we really appreciate you taking the time to share International Women’s Day. We have a plethora of activities, so I’m sure you helping us kicking them off really sets us in the right gear. So thank you once again and I look forward to working with you in the future.

Jennifer Brown: Oh, I do. I think we do have some of that coming up, DK, but happy International Women’s Day, everybody. I believe in you and activate your voice and do more and get comfortable being uncomfortable. We are the messengers for the workplace of the future.

Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

Doug Foresta: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change, Uncovering True Stories of Diversity 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.