Imagine Belonging Summit “Teaser”: Conversations with Rhodes Perry on Handling DEI Backlash

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

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Tune in for a conversation with Jennifer and Rhodes Perry as Jennifer discusses her upcoming presentation at the Belonging at Work Summit. Jennifer reveals the need to gain strategies on how to artfully push back and establish the boundaries we need to resist the growing backlash to the progress DEI leaders continue to make in our workplaces.

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

RHODES PERRY: I can change my mind about the way I walk to go to get coffee or whatever, but to transform means that I'm leaving something behind and I'm never going to go back to it. It's the caterpillar that becomes the butterfly, the caterpillar's never coming back. There's some grieving that we have to do before we arrive at that beautiful place that we're imagining right now. You all say this about culture, which I really like, you say culture is an ever evolving or ever changing thing that continually reflects the beliefs, passions and experiences of all of us as we shape it. Culture is neither good nor bad, but it can be used as a tool to exclude people or bring people together.


The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She's a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier, and therefore, more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty.


And now, onto the episode.


JENNIFER BROWN: Rhodes, I am so excited to have you help me kick off this episode. Everybody who's listening to The Will to Change should know Rhodes Perry, one of my good friends, fellow advocates, such an ally, member of the LGBTQ+ community, fellow author, and somebody that I deeply respect as a practitioner and an advocate and using your voice in such effective ways and authentic ways, Rhodes. If you want to check out previous episodes that Rhodes and I have done, you can scroll back to episode 119, which I think was a couple years ago, and the title was Self-Care as a Strategy For Belonging. What a wonderful title, Rhodes, talk about more important than ever, but you have been somebody who's really carved out, I think, around this word belonging. In fact, your book, Imagine Belonging, came out in February of 2022. Everybody, if you haven't picked up a copy of Imagine Belonging, please do.

But Rhodes, you've been thinking about this topic for longer than most of us and really trying to define it in the organizational context, in the leadership context. You have a whole summit on it coming up, and that's what today is all about, is giving a view of my conversation with Rohit Bhargava for Rhodes' summit, which is coming up the week of July 11th. In fact, our session is going to air on July 11th, followed by a live Q&A with me and Rohit.

Rhodes, I just wanted you to come on and say hello and give people some context for the summit, how they can get involved, where they can find information about it, and give us a little bit of highlights of what you're most looking forward to, the sorts of amazing change makers you're bringing on. I always learn so much from them and I always learn about so many new voices that I wasn't aware of. Can you give us the thumbnail?

RHODES PERRY: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for inviting me here, it's always great to be on your show. The Belonging Network Summit is coming up, and you are one of our returning speakers. You were part of the inaugural summit in 2019, which feels like another world.

JENNIFER BROWN: The before days.

RHODES PERRY: The before days, yeah, an entire world ago. I think everything that we talked about at that time really was setting people up for at least having skill to work through some of these uncertain times. This year's summit is in the spirit of the new book, which is Imagine Belonging at Work on a Global Scale. We're trying to imagine futures that have yet to exist on the planet, let alone the workplace, and really connecting with thought leaders, such as yourself, to give us some direction and to help us overcome some of the most common reasons why our DEI commitments, our goals, either stall out or completely fail.

We start with the biggest obstacle, which is where are we going. We know that this work is important, we're taking actions, sometimes we're taking so many actions that we might be spinning around in circles, and so really that lack of that longterm vision of what it's for. What's your theory of change? Why are you doing this work? What are you hoping to experience in your workplace culture in 10, 20, 30 years? When all of this foundational work that you and your colleagues might be doing, you know it's important, you're starting to see those indicators of success, you might not experience it in the future, but you're doing it because you're trying to prepare for that future of work so that they don't have to endure some of the sting of exclusion, the things that get in the way to feeling that sense of belonging, reducing feeling invisible or feeling disconnected or discouraged, or shame for feeling all of those things. What about me is not adding value to this organization because I keep hitting these invisible fences?

The idea of the summit is to connect with other DEI leaders, most important. So many of us, either internally inside organizations or those of us who are consultants, can often feel like we're the few and far between, or the only and lonelies, really having the weight of the world on our shoulders to be responsible for transforming our entire workplace culture. We really want to bring in those of us who do this work day to day in those more formal positions, as well as those leaders inside organizations that recognize the future of leadership is more inclusive, as you do in your work, Jennifer, how to equip leaders with skills that they didn't necessarily learn in terms of whatever schooling they've had more formally or as you learn on the job. We really want to equip those leaders.

We want to talk about how we cascade our DEI goals throughout an organization, it doesn't necessarily live in one place in our organizations. Then really thinking about what oftentimes people think part of what this work is about, aside from training, one training, one time, but that misconception that this work is just about tokenized representation. We're really exploring deeply what real representation inside the workplace looks like as it's reflecting the communities that we serve, from the front lines all the way up to the boardroom. Then for those of us that do this work, how do we avoid burnout and maintaining the stamina to keep going? Especially in the world that we're in right now, it's a really challenging time.

In addition to all the speakers, and I'm happy to talk about some of the great speakers, including you, that are part of the summit, the very last day of the summit, I'm really excited about this, we are screening the film, My Name is Pauli Murray. We're bringing in one of the producers, Talleah Bridges McMahon, along with Kylar Broadus, who's the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, to talk about what this film means and the legacy of Pauli Murray. If people don't know about Pauli Murray, a non-binary, Black civil rights legend, that most of us probably don't know who they are, that was really prominent in the '30s and '40s, influenced people like Eleanor Roosevelt, former Supreme Court justices, Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a visionary, a visionary at a time when it was really difficult to live if you weren't part of the dominant culture, if you weren't white, if you weren't a man, to access basic rights. Pauli Murray had this vision at the rise of totalitarian governments all around the world, had this vision that we're still trying to create today in 2022.

I couldn't think of a better person to feature and lift up as we're having these really intense conversations about how we build belonging at a time when so many of us feel so excluded, particularly in the workplace. That's a little bit about what we're going to cover. I feel like I'm talking a lot.

JENNIFER BROWN: No, that's great. I love that you're whetting our appetite for the end of the conference, which is the end of that week, so that would be the 15th of July.

RHODES PERRY: Yes, yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Great. It is five days. How many speakers are you having? Maybe sprinkling a day?

RHODES PERRY: Yeah, we have three speakers every day, incredible people. Most of the speakers are DEI leaders, either inside bigger organizations or consultants like us. Then we have a few social justice thought leaders who are, who are joining us as well. We have three prepared talks every day. When people register, the registration link is, super easy, you register by just sharing your name and your email. Then you receive the days talk every day at 9:00 AM Pacific Time, 12:00 PM Eastern. You get to watch and re-watch those talks for free, it's all 100% virtual, in that timeframe. Whenever you're available during that day, you can check out the speakers that you want to hear from.

Every day we also have live Q&A sessions. For example, you'll be a part of our Monday Q&A with LaTonya Wilkins, who is the author of Leading Below the Surface. We'll be talking about vision, we'll be talking about equipping leaders and just answering questions that people have as they're able to move through the content and just getting some additional support. We're trying to think about concepts that they're learning and applying them to their daily practice. Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: How did you possibly curate and think about the voices you wanted to uplift for the summit? This is your fourth, so I know you've gotten probably clearer on what works best, but what was your logic around the lineup that you've created this time and what are you most excited about?

RHODES PERRY: Yeah. Yeah, the logic this time around is really thinking about those leaders in the DEI space, largely, that are doing this work, doing work in a little bit of a different way or thinking beyond the usual conversations that we're having, daring to talk about some of those, I call them the sidebar conversations when you go to a more formal DEI conference, where we're learning about unconscious bias or we're learning about general inclusive leadership traits, but it's really talking about the things that are challenging about this work, warts and all, beyond leadership buy-in, but some of those real challenges that are sometimes causing us to be silent because it's like, "Whoa, we've not experienced this before. We're not really sure how to respond to this."

Usually what I do before every summit every year is just looking at some of those big challenges that popped up or are popping up. This year was really as much as we recognize so many workplaces are committing to doing this work, what are the things that stall out that momentum, what are the things that get in the way even when people have the best of intention. That's what shaped this particular summit. I like to look to thought leaders like yourself and other more established thought leaders, we have Jerry Valentine, who is the author of The Thriving Mindset, an executive coach, really established leaders that have a lot to say because you have probably seen it all, you've heard it all, so really building up that confidence.

I also like to find thought leaders that might be newer to the space or just have a really different or fresh perspective. Bryce Celotto, they're the founder of Swarm Strategy and has a lot to say about real representation, along with Celia Daniels. It's a nice mix of established leaders, as well as leaders pushing us to really dream bigger in terms of doing this work inside of the workplace.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I think there's such a diversity within the practitioner community. It's like some of us are from corporate backgrounds, some of us are academic in nature, or we came from other functions in the organization, some of us grew up in more activism roles. It's that blend that you create that I think allows us to look at all the facets of this work, because it's all influencing the direction of the field, and needs to, we need all these pieces to check ourselves. The corporate types need the academic conversation. To balance those pieces is to do this work, I think, really well and continue to be as cutting edge as you can be, but also, for example in the organizational context, as grounded in organizational change and perhaps the business case and all those things as it needs to be as well. I think that you always do a good job, and like I said, I always am exposed to new voices through everything that you do. I appreciate your ecosystem, because we have some overlap, but we have a lot of difference in our communities, Rhodes.

Everybody, I want to reiterate, It's a five day, beginning July 11th. If you want to check out my session with Rohit with a live Q&A after with LaTonya Wilkins, please look at the afternoon Eastern time portion of that day, but please sign up for the whole thing. Rhodes, you've made it so easy to tune in as our time permits, which I really appreciate. Also, I would imagine people will be able to purchase or access footage after the event as well, is that correct?

RHODES PERRY: Yes, yes. We have a variety of extended access passes. If you need more time, you want to bring this content back to your DEI councils, your ERG network, to your leadership team, we have a variety of packages available. We want to democratize the information, depending on your budget. If it's not in your budget, it's free, a hundred percent. You just have to participate in the live action, which I find to be the most exciting because you get to connect with other people who are passionate and committed to this work and many folks who have this skill, to really activate the visions that you have.

JENNIFER BROWN: The one thing is about our community, we're so generous. You are so generous for doing all this work, which I know is not for the faint of heart, to mount this summit. Rohit and I know because that was the basis for Beyond Diversity, it was the five-day summit. We had 250 speakers, so it was a bit much, very ambitious. Boy, that made the writing of the book really fun as well, because it was hard to curate, but I like that you're going deeper with fewer voices. I think that's fair and it hopefully has been a little bit of a lighter lift for you, but still, just really appreciating the generosity that you always show our field, trying to make it better and just elevate us and provide a space for us, everybody, to come to plug in, to get inspired or reinspired or optimistic and hopeful again. It's been a really tough period of weeks here with all of the news and all of the violence and decisions that have been happening.

This is a challenging time and I don't think that's going to slow down, so let's restore ourselves when we can with a resource like this and a community like this, with some learning, with some community that you could literally reach out to. I know without even checking that people respond to outreach, to LinkedIn messages, on things like this, Rhodes, so do you, so do I, because we are so dedicated to making those connections and answering questions if we can or making an introduction where we think it makes most sense, because that's what our community's all about. It is what makes us so special. I think I wouldn't be able to do such hard work if it weren't for colleagues like you, Rhodes, and everybody that you're bringing together.


JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you very much, thank you so much. We look forward to the summit. Everybody,, and check out Rhodes' book, Imagine Belonging, follow Rhodes in everything that he's up to. I hope we'll see all of you on July 11th.

RHODES PERRY: Jennifer Brown and her team at Jennifer Brown Consulting are committed to building more inclusive and representative workplaces of belonging, where everyone can thrive. She's a bestselling author and an inspirational keynoter on leadership, courage and change. She is joined by Rohit Bhargava, who is on a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world. He is the founder of the Non-Obvious Company, a popular keynote speaker, and the number one Wall Street Journal bestselling author of seven books on marketing trends and how to predict the future.

We're very fortunate that these Wall Street Journal bestselling authors are joining us today to help us navigate the uncertain waters of advancing our visions for building more safety, more trust, and more belonging at work where we can all thrive, yet knowing that there's a growing backlash to the progress that we continue to make. We're going to be learning from both Jennifer and Rohit on ways that we can artfully push back and establish the boundaries that we need to resist caving to this backlash as we inspire existing and future generations to remember DEI and culture transformation are not optional, they are requirements.

Like most of our summit talks, there's a lot of nuance to this conversation, and quite frankly, to most of the other conversations that you're going to be listening to and learning from over the course of the next week. The important thing here is if you want more time to process this talk, definitely be sure to use those free workbooks that you have, take lots of notes. Inevitably, you may need some more time after this week. If that's the way that you'd like to learn from all of the great content that you're receiving, I really, really encourage you to check out those extended access passes. They're great for you as an individual, they're great for teams. If you're on a DEI committee, if you're a part of an employee resource group or business resource group network, go ahead and share this content.

Definitely this week, encourage people to register and consider getting some of those group access passes. Know that every purchase that you make will help fund the summit, making sure that it's free and available to anybody who wants to participate this week, and also to compensate powerful speakers like Jennifer and Rohit, people that are sharing their time, their wisdom and their expertise all to help you gain greater insights on how you can build those enduring cultures of belonging.

Okay. Thanks so much for listening to that, thanks so much for being here. Let's jump into the interview with Jennifer and Rohit.

Welcome, Jennifer and Rohit. It is great that you are both here for our summit. I really believe that your thought leadership and what you've provided in Beyond Diversity is going to add so much value to our collective journeys to imagining belonging on a global scale. Just that phrase, it really is an invitation for those of us who are inclusive leaders to begin thinking about the kind of vision we have for our workplaces in the future and really to commit to getting there.

So much of what you offer in this book is a how, it's going to offer those concrete actions to get there. I think that's a really key place for us to start, because so many of us right now are struggling with managing or bracing for a backlash. This backlash is coming from those executive teams who believe that our efforts to changing workplace culture, to transforming it, is not happening "fast enough".

I'd love to start with this question for both of you, which is what role can inclusive leaders play in managing those outsized expectations that can help us buffer from this backlash when it comes to truly transforming our culture?

JENNIFER BROWN: Rhodes, what a question. There's a lot of pent up energy and frustration, and I think it was unleashed in a way I had never seen in, to be precise, March, April, May, June of 2020. Then commitments were made, grand gestures happened, but then in 2021, it's like, okay, the work gets real now, did we mean what we said and how are we going to make it concrete? I think the disappointment started to build last year, and continues into this year, around is the work actually happening, are we going back to sleep, vis a vis we're going back to what's comfortable, we're going back to status quo. Keeping that sense of urgency high is hard for any human. I think too, to live in this constant state of vigilance and the need for quick action and response when the world around each organization is also swirling.

I think sustaining, sustaining the interest in this, sustaining the commitment, is the long game. It is unfair, I think, to expect a small but mighty team of advocates within the organizational context to create that change magically and to make it stick. I mean, that's just never been realistic, but organizations aren't ... I think in the aggregate, many employees still see this as somebody else's job, they see it that they're not accountable or involved and they don't understand how they can contribute. Unfortunately, we're still at that place of not understanding what participation really looks like, but what we are at a place of, happy to say, I think, is more energy and more interest, more curiosity, I think more investment in getting involved.

Now, it's the how, which I love that it's the how and not the why. I'm living for that. If that helps to think about what gets us out of bed, it's now there's a push and a pull, it's not just a push. Where's that pull coming from and can you work smarter, not harder, through others? Can we activate today's and tomorrow's allies, for example, and equip a larger team to accomplish the work ahead? There's no sense in burning ourselves out and feeling that we're the lone person pushing the boulder, but sometimes it can feel that way and I think we've got to be really careful to not let that dynamic happen, because sometimes there's only one of us or two of us in a massive organization. I would just really encourage people to think systemically, think about lining up stakeholders and change management.

We have to return to some of our key principles of how do we get this giant ocean liner that is most companies to ... You spin the wheel and then 20 minutes later a very small imperceptible movement happens, that is how change occurs. It can be hard to sustain our own energy and our own interest and not get fatigued in the face of that. It is a true test, but it is so worth it. Honestly, if you change too quickly, that change, I don't know, will not be lasting, it may not be in the tissue of the organization. I know we want to alleviate the pressure and the frustration, but real change work in complex institutions is a long game.

I don't know if that's encouraging or discouraging, but that's the way I look at it. Then what I tell myself that I want sustainable change, I want deep change, so I'm in it for the long haul.

RHODES PERRY: I'm curious, as we're just thinking about navigating objections to investing in this work, Jennifer, you were just sharing small teams, small teams trying to turn the Titanic to make this great transformation and there's two people in an organization of 100,000 leading this work, how do we navigate objections when change isn't happening fast enough and this work isn't being appropriately resourced, we're not having enough people leading it, we're not having enough people identifying those opportunities that are showing up right now in the great resignation? What kind of advice can you all offer to those folks that are listening right now and thinking about, yeah, stamina is needed and I'm feeling really, really crispy and almost burnt out.

JENNIFER BROWN: I love the word crispy, I use that all the time. I'm feeling that way. Yeah, I would say it's so important to meet the learner where they're at. I always come back to that, it's a principle of org development and consulting and training, which is my original discipline. Objections and resistance and deflections and denial are information. They tell us a lot about the variety of both intellectual and cognitive disconnects, but also emotional struggles and challenges and obstacles, barriers that we have as humans as we try to change, as we grapple with change. Our ego is involved, remember, our protection of ourself and what we think we need to protect. Notice I say think we need to protect versus what we really need to protect.

I think we've got to become real observers of the ways that humans change. As practitioners then, and advocates, meeting folks at that place and saying what is behind this objection and this deflection, this denial? How can I invite a learning moment or conversation, or even just sometimes space to be heard? I think there are a lot of leaders that are fearful, that understand that they're not equipped for this moment. Believe me, I've been screaming about, "Hey, get equipped," for so many years, and so have you, Rhodes, and Rohit too. It's like change is coming, change is here, change or die, but there has been a head in the sand thing going on for a really long time and a lack of investment, maybe organizational investment, yes, but not personal investment in this.

Now, it's hitting really hard and people are finding themselves unequipped and not ready. I think we have to play catch up. As learners, I think many of us, unfortunately denial just kicks the can, it just to delays the evolution that is available to us. What so many people I think don't understand is that this evolution is what you want. This is not eating your spinach or taking your medicine, this is literally leadership evolution, human evolution. To take in the diversity of our world, to think about how do people perform best, how do they thrive, how can I be part of the thriving of others, and then to look at equity and say, "What are the systems that were built so long ago that are causing harm and continuing to perpetuate these inequities," and cultural competency and all those other amazing learnings that are available to us in this day and age, to actively deny that, to me, feels like obsolescence, irrelevance, an inability to flex and change and resonate with today, but really tomorrow.

To me, I've been speaking about this as survival, really the difference between the pivoting with the system and the maintenance of relevance in that system. I think that's what a lot of us want. We're living longer, we want to contribute for longer. Some of us struggle with generational differences, where we didn't hear this conversation until two years ago because we lived in our bubbles, we were protected by our privileges. So much of this, for some people anyway, is very new, it's new language. Every time I explain gender pronouns, mine are she/her/hers, I realize where we are and where we're not.

I come to this with patience, but the sense of call to action is not from a moral point of view, although I believe it is a moral thing, I think I come to it sometimes, and I have to come to it, with this conversation about this is an inflection point and a choice to evolve. I find sometimes I can get through in a different way and I can engage a part of people where they understand, whether it's self-interest, whether it awakens a desire to grow and change, whether it's fear. I don't know, like Rhodes, you probably think to yourself, "I'll take it in whatever package it comes," because at least then there's a push and a pull in the conversation and you can get somewhere.

Anyway, I do think get underneath the objections, try to understand where someone's coming from, a certain place of either their own humanity, their fear, their uncertainty, their lack of preparation, fear of irrelevance, and think about, actually, you're very relevant if you can change and grow and meet this moment, you can actually help successfully meet this moment, and recasting somebody's role in change, because fundamentally that's, I think, what we're talking about.

Honestly, everything I just said, I don't really feel like we talk about DEI in that way. Let's think about how we can talk about it differently and I think we will win more hearts and minds, gain more partners, and honestly, those partners with power in particular that we need to actively participate in building what's next because I don't think we can get there without everybody.

RHODES PERRY: I'm curious, from your perspectives, how do we cancel out some of the toxic elements of dominant culture and bridge that to amplify a culture that celebrates our differences, where we are experiencing healthy bottom lines, our products are better because we're able to serve different communities because those communities are reflected on our teams, how do we get there? How do we have that coexistence? I'm curious, when you wrote that, what was popping up for you of like, okay, we're describing something to work towards, what's the how in this? Wherever you want to take that, I'm just really curious about this one.

JENNIFER BROWN: It is privileges too. When you're part of a dominant culture or an overrepresented culture in leadership, say, you set the tone and you have these invisible unknown norms in a way, invisible to even you because you're in it, it's the water you swim in. To make that visible, to educate yourself about the norms of my culture, even if you assume you don't have a culture, some communities' identity are so pervasive it's like you're not aware of having a culture. It's sort of like men engaging in a gender conversation and people saying, "Well, you have a gender and this is a conversation that's pertinent to you too." It's really fascinating. Same with heteronormativity, same with cisgender normativity. Anytime it's invisible to you and you take advantage of it in every moment, that's the opportunity Rohit's talking about to make it visible and then to begin to notice the invisible tailwinds that are speeding some of us along and begin to verbalize that, begin to talk about it.

This is where it probably feels pretty risky, but I think I try to talk about all of my identities, both marginalized as a LGBTQ+ woman, also identify as cisgender, white, socioeconomically disadvantaged. I try to speak about all these parts of my identity more openly so that I can role model what a culture that does this more readily would sound like and look like, because what's most important then is to get to, well, if I'm part of a dominant culture, how am I aware of what I have special access to do or to affect? The question is privilege doesn't just exist as something that is, but it comes with an instruction manual, it comes with directions. To who much is given, much is expected, to quote my dear mother, been hearing that since I was five. When I think about where can I operate, where can I get access to, what can I say with less risk, what can I challenge, where am I going to be believed without earning that faith, where am I going to be an automatic insider without any effort?

I do think we can make these things visible, speak about them and bring a whole cohort out that's been hiding and unsure how to contribute because people have been locked up in fear and I think diminishment of parts of ourselves. I don't want anyone to feel that way. I think that the only way we can ... We think about the iceberg and that water line being really high and all of the richness of who we are that we keep hidden because we fear that we will be penalized if people know what it is, organizations change when it's psychologically safe enough to lower the waterline and we bring more of our full selves to work. Slowly, the dominant culture becomes more representative as more of us rise up and say, "I want to tell my story. I want to be seen and heard. Here's what is my culture experience is like, here's what our norms are like."

The most successful cultures that strikes me are not monocultures, that's never been successful. In nature, that's not successful. Think about the diversity of the forest, think about the cooperation between so many different plants that make that ecosystem possible. But our workplaces have been monocultures at the leadership level. We have to create the safety, bring our full selves to work, and those in dominant cultures need to begin to step outside of their lens and educate themselves about same storm, different boats. This is easier for me, I'm understanding that this storm is being experienced so differently. We're each equipped differently, we're each supported differently. Some of us have more emotional fatigue and burden that we're carrying, and therefore we can't perform equally. But once we can get leaders to that point of recognition of that, I think that's half the battle.

I spend a lot of time thinking how to explain this in a way that feels I'm not attacking you for who you are, what you've earned, how hard you've worked, but really articulating that we each actually have a diversity story. There's not any of us that doesn't have that iceberg with the things under the waterline. If we can be inclusive in the way we speak about this, I think it welcomes more people in to consider what is that thing I'm hiding, and that's present for all of us. I think we all need to do the work. The disclosure of difficult identities isn't just up to the LGBTQ person, it's not just up to people of color in organizations. Everyone's got to take the leap, we all have to get comfortable being uncomfortable and be vulnerable. That's how cultures are going to change.

RHODES PERRY: A big theme for this year's summit is talking about leadership accountability and transparency.

JENNIFER BROWN: That's good.

RHODES PERRY: Usually when that's brought up with executive teams you can just see the tumbleweeds flying and people ready to run out of the room.

JENNIFER BROWN: That is true.

RHODES PERRY: You struck a nerve. Just that piece, we're thinking about bridging empathy gaps, the role of sponsorship programs, reverse mentee programs, what a great way with that structure, I like what you're saying about assigning or just making sure that the person that you're sponsoring doesn't remind you of a younger version of yourself. Maybe start there and then-

JENNIFER BROWN: That's really simple.

RHODES PERRY: Yeah, yeah, and I think more structure. What you're adding to that is super right on. This work also, just going back to where we started, this work requires all of us if we want to transform, if we want to say goodbye to what's not working and move into something different. You all talk about the difference between bystanders and upstanders. I'm curious, the role of upstanders, how do we get people there? If you could first just share your definitions of both, and a way of inviting in, you talked about giving people permission, how do we invite more people in so they can recognize their diversity stories and be a part of this change using whatever social power influence that they have?

JENNIFER BROWN: The bystander, the Kitty Genovese story is the classic one. You can look that up, I won't take our time to describe it, but harm happens when we stand on the sidelines and think somebody else is going to be responsible to it and for it. That's the bystander. The upstander concept then is I'm stepping in, I'm getting into the arena. It reminds me a lot of this concept, some of us are critical of the word ally sometimes because it has this energy of doing what's easy and what's convenient and also watching somebody struggle from a distance and saying, "Hey, I'm in your corner," versus if they're in the water struggling, we're jumping in, we're jumping in. I'm in your getaway car, you tell me when I'm needed and I'm ready and the engine's running. I'm willing to roll my sleeves up alongside you and be in solidarity.

I love the word ally, I'm not knocking that word, it's the accomplice. A different twist on it is the partner, the co-conspirator as we also call it. I would say the upstander is the voice, it's the interrupter, it's the, "I'm going to step in. I'm going to do something. I'm going to initiate something. I'm going to make myself and others probably uncomfortable." That's going to be part of my habit building activity, which is that someday this will be comfortable or more comfortable as I do it more.

Bystander behaviors, there's bystander trainings for safety for people on the street. If you're really interested in this concept, that was originally where I heard it years and years ago, but as it's pertained now to DEI, it's about that co-conspirator or energy. I want to make one more point, Rohit, and then I'll hand it over to you. It's not for us, even as eager as we might be to be upstanders, it's not for us to decide what the remedies are. I just want to also acknowledge that in our zeal, we may decide we know better or we may decide we want to solve something and show up and get that credit for showing up, but one of the most important things I learned is checking in and calibrating and saying my support is here, it's being offered. How it is steered and how it is deployed is up to the person that's been affected. That humility, we have to temper our enthusiasm and our zeal with every move, as much as possible, being informed by those that we want to be in solidarity with.

RHODES PERRY: I want to end on just the question of the future. In the very last chapter of the book you offer an Alice Walker quote, which I love, which is, "Look closely at the present you are constructing, it should look like the future you are dreaming." As we're thinking about action, that's the biggest call to action in your book, is stop talking about this and start doing what's available, what's within reach. What might be one action that you all are thinking about taking right now, that's available to you, that is moving you into the future that you're dreaming of, whether it's in your work or your life that maybe will inspire other folks at the summit just to think differently and to be like, "Oh, I can do this too."

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I would say, gosh, I'm realizing I have a bias for extroversion on this interview, I'm going to give what sounds like extroverted advice, however, maybe it doesn't have to be, I just think we need to inventory the people that we surround ourselves with, our go-to people, our trusted folks. Even getting to the point, we're very detailed, we map that network and we say, "How do people identify? Do I even know?" Well, that's a really great place to start. What's under their water line of that iceberg that maybe we've never had that conversation, maybe I've never invited it, and maybe I can go first and be vulnerable and set a tone where that vulnerability will be reciprocated and we can have a deeper, more authentic and more complete conversation. I would take an inventory of who do you make time for.

I would think about what power do I have access to, and this is not just the providence of certain people. Each one of us at every point has something that is easier for us, something that is easy for us to do or say or introduce or suggest or make happen. That's another piece I think we need to look at and inventory that. Then, okay, who am I not around often enough, what can I offer? Then leaders get stuck at how do I initiate that, people get real locked up in what do I say, how do I begin that. It's awkward and I would just say get ready to feel super awkward. Don't make perfect the enemy of the good is one of my favorite things to myself too. When you don't have the language, the will to struggle through it for sake of the goal is part of the work and over time you'll find the language. But just noticing all these things as you endeavor to grow and diversify your world, noticing what makes you uncomfortable and doing it anyway.

But the most important thing is that you are in community across difference, because just like Rohit said, it's the consumption of media and information that challenges us, but it's also those lived experiences that can challenge us. Maybe one of your superpowers is you have a platform to share. Rohit and I both, it's in the book, and Rohit did this beautifully with Beyond Diversity, he decentered himself and brought on 200 speakers. That was a beautiful way, and I think a way that might be comfortable for introverts too, to position other storytellers and other stories and lived experiences. What's the point of building a platform if you can't share it and hand it over?


JENNIFER BROWN: That's what I challenge myself with, do I need to be the speaker? Do I need to do this? Can someone else do it? Who's missing and can I suggest those people? I have a big network of folks that I am eager to show to the world, to push out there so that their story's heard. I'm never at a loss for that, but that's taken years of investigation and curiosity and relationship building and keeping my eyes and ears open and networking with people. If I see them on a webinar, I might just shoot an email and say, "I really appreciated your remarks. I wondered if we could have a virtual coffee." It's not as hard as we make it, but it needs to be a discipline and it does get easier.

RHODES PERRY: Thank you again. Thank you for growing this belonging movement on a global scale. I look forward to watching your successes. Hopefully, we're inspiring more people to join you on this journey. Thanks again, really appreciate it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Rhodes.

RHODES PERRY: Congratulations on your amazing success with this book, Wall Street Journal best seller. For folks that are interested in picking up a copy, where's the best place, is it, to go to?

ROHIT BHARGAVA: I wish we had that URL. It, unfortunately, wasn't available, but we do have nonobviousdiversity.


ROHIT BHARGAVA: You can certainly pick it up in bookstores. It's actually in the front of airports at the moment, but perhaps by the time people are watching this online, it'll be in every online bookstore as well. You shouldn't have any trouble finding it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website, over at 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.


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 Thank you for listening, and we'll be back next time with a new episode.