Jennifer Brown on Rethinking Leadership

Jennifer Brown | |

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In this minisode Jennifer Brown shares her thoughts about how executives need to pivot and how to create a safe container for leaders. Discover the link between psychological safety and performance and the challenge of leading without having all the answers.

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

DOUG FORESTA: Hello, Will To Change listeners. Want to join the Beyond Diversity Book Insider Family? It’s easy to do. Visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com, and go to the tab that says “Books.” Click on that. You’ll see a dropdown for “Beyond Diversity.”

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JENNIFER BROWN: How can we, as a group, move together and support each other in that unique way that I think people with similar shared experiences can do? Just like maybe an affinity group does, right? That level of being able to be transparent with others who are similarly struggling. That should be happening at the executive level. Those conversations should be occurring on a regular basis.

People should have buddies. The buddy system, right? They should have peers and dialogue about like, “So what’s going well? What are you learning? What are you hearing? What did you try? What did you say? How did you respond? What are you going to adjust?”

Imagine if that were given time on the agenda, or that people were gathering to discuss that kind of learning. But that requires people to be extremely vulnerable with each other, and I think that’s the hurdle we’ve got to get over in order to get to the good stuff.

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.

Hello, and welcome back to the Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta, and this episode is a minisode with Jennifer Brown about rethinking leadership, and these questions … Many of them were posed by leaders who work with JBC Consulting and with Jennifer, about what leadership looks like at this moment and what needs to happen next, as well as just Jennifer’s thoughts about leadership and the evolution of leadership.

So I know you’ll get a lot out of this. I also want to say that this episode was recorded the day before International Pronouns Day, so you’ll hear a reference to that. But whenever you’re listening to this conversation, I know you’ll get a lot out of it. And now, onto the interview.

Hello, and welcome back to the Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta, and I am here with Jennifer Brown. In this minisode, we’re going to be talking about a whole variety of topics, a lot about leadership. But first of all, Jennifer, thanks so much for allowing me to join you again today. It’s always great.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks, Doug.

DOUG FORESTA: Thank you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve done one of these.

DOUG FORESTA: I know. I know. Yeah, I’m excited. I’m really excited. Yeah. I want to start with … Before we get into … We’re going to talk a lot about leadership and some of your thoughts there, but I just want to say that you made me aware that, we’re recording this in October, this month is LGBT history month. It’s National Disability Employment Awareness month. National Coming Out Day was 10/11. National Indigenous People’s Day was 10/11. International Pronouns Day, we’re recording this on the 19th of October, is tomorrow, and probably when you’re listening to this, it’ll be today, 10/20. Oh, and the other one was the Philippine … What am I missing? Filipino American history month.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. And my Filipino partner didn’t even know about that one, so …

DOUG FORESTA: That’s so funny.

JENNIFER BROWN: We are getting educated, as ever. So yeah, it’s a lot of stuff happening in October.

DOUG FORESTA: Yeah. And I know you said to me, especially as a DEI practitioner, you kind of had a love/hate relationship with these sort of identity months that we celebrate. Talk a little bit about that and some of your thinking. Has your thinking changed on that?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Yeah, it has. I think in the practitioner world, we … I think our frustration, historically, has stemmed from the performative commitment that you see during a specific month on the part of employers, right? That the programming would be only during that month, right? We always say about Pride, “Hey, hold on. I’m in this community and living this experience 365 days a year, but we only talk about it or we only invest with education or it’s only top of mind one month a year.” I think it’s changed, and I wonder if our listenership would agree.

But given what’s happened the last almost … Gosh, year and a half now, with our focus on going deeper than performative actions, behaviors, statements, to real commitment, to really seeing our workforce and all the diversity dimensions, often intersectional, that exist in the people that make it happen every day. The realization of how precious that is and the realization that we’ve got to really take our efforts to the next level and make it real, make it deep, make it concrete, make the conversations about whatever “heritage” month it is, making these conversations about real issues of equity.

So going beyond the … The celebration’s super important, but in the past, maybe it was only a celebration, right? And it was only a point in time. And over the last year and a half, we’ve gotten deeper. We’ve gotten more consistent.

We’ve thought about, “Okay, it can be five different heritage months or celebrations at once. And we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” as I often say, and encourage our corporate friends to remember that there is intersectional dimensions of identity within each of these communities, so there’s such an opportunity when there are multiple identities being remarked on, celebrated, invested in, focused on, that it can actually be a demonstration of how we can have an intersectional lens, and speak about, for example, LGBTQ people of Hispanic heritage.

DOUG FORESTA: Right, right.

JENNIFER BROWN: We can talk about pronouns, International Pronouns Day or Coming Out Day, and how that looks through the lens of somebody with a disability. So that’s a quick definition of what “intersectionality” really means, but this is just a great time to practice it.

So, I have revised my kind of eye-roll about heritage months, because I think the whole landscape around us has shifted, and now there is an understanding that this has to be 365 days a year, and it can be all the things all the time, and that’s the way that it should be.

DOUG FORESTA: I liked what you said about, you recently had a conversation with Rana Reeves, who has been on the podcast before, about this idea that our calendar is changing, I think is the way he said it?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, he said … I loved what he said. He said, “We’re moving from the calendar that has Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, July 4th. We’ve moved from that to a human rights calendar.” And so, what he’s advising his clients … and he’s a branding and creative director, and has an agency, so he’s building campaigns for companies.

He is literally in these conversations that I just described, which is, “How do we shift our focus and talk about these issues differently? How do we commemorate new days?” Right? Juneteenth now has, I think, and will be cemented into the calendar.

Indigenous People’s Day is a question, versus Columbus Day. How is that evolving? Pronouns Day, I don’t think was ever probably a thing. I would have to go back a couple years to see whether it was something we were even talking about.

And there are new days that are going to be created, of course, because this whole era we’re living in now is about … The equity lens asks us to name difference. It asks us to be very specific about identity, and to not sweep it under the rug as, “Oh, I don’t see color, or pronouns don’t matter. Aren’t we all the same?”

Or just whatever. “I don’t want to be labeled.” Yes, but … and I get that. And some of us feel that way, and all of us have probably have days when we’re like, “Why do we have to put each other into these identity boxes?” But the flip side of it is, when language is very specific about identity, it enables people to feel seen and heard in a very deep way.

And so dismissing language as unimportant, when it has to do with identity, is never a good idea. And I say that over and over in my keynotes these days, to say like, “Don’t diminish this.”Just because you don’t need that …”

And maybe “label” isn’t the right word, but just because you don’t feel the need to lead with that and it’s important to you, that probably means that you’re in the dominant culture, and that culture refers to you in a way where you feel fully seen. And so, let’s acknowledge that there’s so many of us that don’t. And I just think that’s so simple, Doug, but boy, do we get a lot of pushback on that.

DOUG FORESTA: It’s interesting you mention that. It’s a good segue. Like I said, in a moment, I want to ask you some questions about leadership, but as you said that about when people say, “Well, why do we have to lead with this?” It’s a good chance that whatever the organization or society is or expects is a good match for who I am, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Right, right. Yeah, a good fit.

DOUG FORESTA: Which is my case is really the case, for the most part. But I remember you saying that your friend, Carole Watson, she was talking about the word “belonging” and some of the maybe problematic aspects about belonging, even though we talk about belonging quite a bit. Can you say a little bit about some of the issues that she was talking about, around the word ” belonging,” why she doesn’t like that word?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I just saw Carole, who’s an amazing thought leader, and some in the audience may know Carole’s work, but she said, “I just don’t like that word, because what it makes me think of is that, as we strive to belong, we are pointing our energy towards belonging in a system not built by and for so many of us.”

And I really heard that and it really landed on me, because here I am, trying to help mainly executives these days, and we’ll talk about that in a moment, Doug, create a culture of belonging, and to stop outside of their definition of “belonging,” actually, to define it from somebody else’s point of view, and really almost training them to develop their different lenses, so that they can put on different filters based on what they’ve been studying, I hope, around different identities besides their own.

And so that work is happening, but at the same time, Carole’s question is a deep one, which is: If we’re saying that the system wasn’t built by and for so many folks to feel welcomed, valued, respected and heard on a day-to-day basis, why are we then encouraging belonging into that system, when the system itself really needs to shift and be shifted by us, and I mean all of us, to really more accurately speak to all of who we are?

And when I say “we,” that’s sort of all of the diversity of the work force and the marketplace that we exist to sell to and to serve and to market to. So it’s a profound question, and I get stuck sometimes, Doug, because sometimes, you have to hold multiple things that seem contradictory at the same time, and then you have to consider your audience and say, “Well, am I having this conversation? Or am I having this conversation right now? How do I meet different learners and different people in these systems with a different message, in a way?”

And I don’t think it’s inconsistent. It’s more the ability, and this is what I would advise, really good practitioners can hold all of this and can make sure everybody’s moving along and progressing in the way that they need to hold themselves accountable to do.

But I do think what I really don’t want to do is cause a lot of angst and fatigue because we are trying to fit into this system that needs to be rebuilt. But that being said, the system has its … and you and I were talking about this, Doug. I think you made a point about schools, and the markers that, for better or worse, make a difference in terms how you progress as a student, right? And at the same time as you’re trying to shift the system, you’re trying to perform in the system.

DOUG FORESTA: Right, and we don’t want people who have diverse identities to then drop out of school, to say, “Well, I don’t belong here, so I’m not going to get a degree. I’m not going to move on to get the freedom to do the things.” And yet, at the same time, like you’re saying, you also don’t want to just have it forever that, “This is the way it is and you need to assimilate to it.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Right, exactly. So I think we’ve got to … This is a both/and. It’s a classic “walk and chew gum at the same time.” Am I doing what I can to shift the system to be more inclusive from wherever I sit? And not just incrementally, but making big moves. I think we need people with power to be making big moves.

But then we also need those of us who are challenging that system to continue to raise our voice to say, “This is broken. It doesn’t work for me.” And really the big unknown is, what would work for all of us? And those are those big, big questions of, if we have this chance now, and we have an opening like we’ve never had to reinvent the workplace, what are we creating instead?

DOUG FORESTA: Yeah, and to be fair, Jennifer, I just want to say that you have said many times, alongside “belonging,” that the system was not created for us or by us. Anybody who’s a listener to The Will To Change will have heard you say that many times, to acknowledge that.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Yeah, that is very true. All the time, I say it.

DOUG FORESTA: Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: And that was true for me, and not just because I’m LGBTQ, and not even because I was a female in a male-dominated environment, both of which were true, but also, I felt my creativity was really stifled because of the structures, because of the way work happens, because of how hierarchical it was.

I very much struggled to give my fullest contributions, not just because of identities that were underrepresented around me, including mine, but the whole thing. So I mean, I was really happy to discover entrepreneurship, and have the ability to make that work, which I know not everybody has.

And that’s why I think I go back to, if very few of us can be entrepreneurs, we have to go back to the workplace and those big employers, and make sure that they are changing fast enough, and they don’t go back to sleep and they sort of slide into status quo again and business as usual, which I think is the risk in a year like 2021, where the reality is setting in, right?

The fatigue is setting in. The, “Do we really need to change?” Or, “Oh, good. The spotlight’s not on us. We can sort of take our foot off the gas.” So a lot of us, I think, are trying to keep the pressure on, and keep these companies awake so that they do the work that is very overdue.

DOUG FORESTA: You mentioned something, actually, that I wanted to discuss with you, about creativity and about … So kind of pivoting here a bit, about leadership and how that looks in organizations, can you say a little bit about the link between psychological safety, and then how creative I can be at work, how I perform at work?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I have this equation I’ve started using in my slides, because the world I present to a lot likes the logic, and the linear argument of an equation, I suppose. But it really does make sense. I’ve been thinking about our sense of belonging. Before that comes psychological safety.

And psychological safety, to me, means that I’m in a room and I do not feel any trepidation, hesitation, fear around my identities triggering bias, triggering stereotypes, triggering microaggressions. And so, I’m not fearing all that. I mean, ideally, I’m not even aware that that might happen, right? That I completely, I sort of have a straight shot ahead of me to be fully myself, engage all of my head, my hearts, my hands to contribute, without the guard rails, without the caution, without the hesitation and trepidation.

So if I feel that sense of psychological safety, and I’ve made contributions, then I feel that I belong, right? I feel I matter. I feel that I can come from a sense of, maybe my purpose can be awakened, but I can make a full contribution that I’m really proud of, and I can make it with the least amount of effort, from an identity perspective.

So, what that then means is, then I can create. I can participate in the creative process. I trust my colleagues, because I feel comfortable. I create with them, and do one of those sort of force multiplier of “1+1=3” when you get that wonderful diversity sort of all working together.

And then, you can create, and therefore, you innovate. And that’s, to me, the ultimate result. And so, when you speak to business leaders, often we have to lead with that “business case,” and we used to have to lead a lot more with that. I think, again, the shifts that have happened over the last year and a half mean that I am talking much more about the “how” these days, than I used to have to talk about the “why.”

But the “why,” arguing the “why” was what a lot of us had to get extremely good at and creative at it, speaking of creativity, really creative at expressing it because it felt like a battle every day. It felt like the “why” was constantly being diminished. I mean, before you even started, you knew that you’d get the pushback. You’d get the questions. You’d get the skepticism.

You’d get, I don’t know, like lots of unpleasant, I will say, moments in that conversation, because it’s very invalidating to have to argue the “why” when really, what you want to say is, “Look. People matter. You either believe that humans matter, you either believe that people need to feel a sense of safety to do their best work, or you don’t.”

And you have to be willing to say, “My sense of safety does not translate to safety for somebody else.” You have to be willing to acknowledge that. So yeah, I like that equation. And so, just to recap it, the way I see it is, psychological safety, which creates a deep sense of belonging, which then leads to my ability to be creative, and then which leads to the innovations that result from true and deep and aligned creativity.

DOUG FORESTA: Talking about safety, how about safety for leaders? We’ve seen, especially, I think especially over the last year and a half, it’s been really interesting to see the different responses, but some leaders are clearly very, very … I mean, actually, I should ask you this as a question. Do you see leaders that are really worried about saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, maybe having a freeze response because of that fear? And how do we create a safe container for leaders to explore questions that might not always have simple answers?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I mean, I’m so glad you asked that, Doug, because it’s like a twist on this whole concept of psychological safety. I mean, the way I just described it is for people who feel underrepresented in the room, who feel trepidation about their identity.

But you flip it, and you look at the executive experience right now, and you can say the same things, that … not the underrepresented piece, but you can definitely say the, “I feel I’m not comfortable, and therefore I can’t then create,” because they’re human. They’re not just executives. They’re human, right? So they’re having a human experience.

And so, but what we need them to do is create, and what they need to create is really their next iteration of themselves as leaders. They need to actually access creativity around, “How am I going to lead in a different way, in a different context? Everything about the situation has changed, and leadership is situational. Everything around me, what people need me to be, and how they need me to show up, is something that is totally unfamiliar to me.”

That is where people are sitting, and I don’t envy that. That’s an incredibly uncomfortable place to be, and it feels, rightly, there’s a lot on the line and the stakes are high in terms of needing to get it right, because you have the levers of power in the executive suite, and one move this way or one move that way, it just matters. It dictates thousands of people, and sort of micro-behaviors, and sets a tone or doesn’t.

So, I think psychological safety for leaders is an interesting thing to unpack, to say so like, how do I, as somebody who observes leaders, who partners with leaders, who perhaps sees … I think I see myself as an ally to leaders, in terms of what I can teach and reflect to them.

Yeah, and I think that creating a container for that learning to happen, and that belonging in the conversation to happen, so that they can create in the way that we need everybody to create, but we definitely need senior leaders to create.

We need them to innovate themselves. We need them to create a new way of being, that is by definition, scary, uncertain, awkward, unfamiliar, totally new territory. But to do that, we need to back up and think about the psychology of, how does that leader then go through that process? And I don’t think this is coddling. I don’t think it’s a lot of what other people say it is.

DOUG FORESTA: Right, I was thinking that, like how people say, “Oh, we need to make white men more comfortable,” right?

JENNIFER BROWN: No. No, no, no. That’s not what I’m saying. No, I mean, but I think we’ve got to acknowledge, back to our conversation, Doug, about the system as it’s constructed now, we have to meet the system where it’s at, at the same time as we’re changing it.

So to me, meeting the system and those who have, for whatever reason, and we can debate that, but for whatever reason, have risen to where they are, and have the access to the levers of change that they do. I think it behooves us, all of us, to think about their particular role in having us achieve a new, a reinvented workplace, because each of us has a role. It’s just that our roles are different.

And so, I’ve been finding myself thinking, just a whole lot lately, I know what my role is. As an LGBTQ woman, I know what my role is. I’m pretty certain about the role of those of us who don’t see ourselves reflected. And I could go on and on about that, but I think it’s not very explored or publicly written about, or acknowledge that we will go further faster, if we can create a partnership that works here, between all levels of an organization, between all identities within that system, and that inclusion includes everyone.

And any sort of future that some of us build without everybody is going to just replicate the problems of the systems we built in the past, which were just built by one group of people. So let’s not … I have moments where I’m like, “Maybe we just can’t go forward together, like maybe there’s just too much history there. Maybe there’s just too much work involved. Maybe it’s not the right place to put our energy.”

But that just kind of conflicts with my humanness, and conflicts with the values that I carry, which is that every voice needs to matter. Every diversity story, particularly you don’t see, matters. And I think the opportunity to evolve our leadership, particularly for some of us who’ve been very comfortable as leaders because of the skin we’re in and the identity and the gender that we’re in, that opportunity … I want people to discover what that change feels like, and get to the other side of it.

I really want that. I don’t know. Maybe some people don’t agree with me, but when I see … I just saw Mark Greene again, who’s been a guest on our show, Doug, as you know, and an expert on men and masculinity. And when I talked to Mark, he said to me, just yesterday, he said, “Thank you for seeing us.”

And what he meant was, he was speaking for men and we were talking about the Better Man Conference that he and I often present at, and he said, “Thank you for seeing me and what I’m capable of. Thank you for believing that I can change. Thank you for having a vision that includes me for the future.” And it just really took my breath away. It was beautiful, and …

DOUG FORESTA: And you don’t want to miss that, right? There’s …

JENNIFER BROWN: No, I don’t want to miss it. Because you know what? Somebody could have dismissed me. I mean, I always bring it back, as we do, we bring it back to ourselves and think, “What if somebody dismissed my contribution and said, ‘We just really don’t need you, Jennifer. Can you just go somewhere else?'”

DOUG FORESTA: Right. “What am I supposed to do with my life?” Right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. And then you have legions of people too, of all identities, that have, I don’t know, like really woken up in the last year and a half, to like a deeper purpose that touches inclusion in some way, right? That is, “I’ve been doing this job over here, and I’ve been really asleep at the wheel and kind of phoning it in,” and all those phrases we use, around sort of not feeling deeply aligned with what you do.

And then all these people now are waking up and saying, “I want to do something that matters. I want to do something that contributes to humanity. I want to locate myself somewhere, even in a small way, in the change that’s occurring, and I just want to be proud of myself and my contribution, even if it’s late in the game, even if it’s late in life.”

It’s never too late to get involved and make that contribution. And I think if the want to be involved is coming from that place, I think our job is to figure out, how can we get all of these contributions rowing in the same direction? Because it’s hard work, what we’re trying to shift, and we cannot accomplish that if we’re just going forward with certain people and not with others. I don’t think it has the right energy.

DOUG FORESTA: I want to also pose to you a question about this idea of being a leader right now, and your thoughts about being a leader right now, not having all the answers, right? That’s part of the safe container piece. But then I also need to train, I need to lead leaders, and maybe I’m a step ahead of them. Maybe I’m not, right? Maybe I’m not, and boy, that’s different than traditional leadership. So, say a little bit for leaders who might resonate with that dilemma.

JENNIFER BROWN: Totally, Doug. I have a client I’m thinking of, where we’re doing these senior leader sessions, and it’s with the leaders of the leaders. So the question then becomes, to just make it more complex, for fun, is how do the leaders leading the leaders, or trying to sort of create a place to learn for their direct reports, who are also leaders of functions and parts of the organization and many, many people?

It’s a tricky pivot that we’re asking people to make, to not only accelerate their learning journey personally and gain competence in this skill set of inclusive leadership, but then to turn around and … and to use old kind of old language that I don’t love, “hold people accountable” for their journey and their progress.

What we could say instead of “hold accountable” is to create the space for the people who work for them to undertake the journey, right? To feel that they won’t get penalized for trying and failing, or not having an ideal result. I mean, “failure” is a strong word. But how does the leader of the leaders become almost the coach, the one who builds a container, the one who invites the conversation?

Because you can’t hold people accountable in the way we have meant it traditionally, when it comes to inclusive leadership. It’s not something that can … It can be forced. It can be forced, I suppose, right? For example, leaders can hold other leaders that work for them accountable for their workforce demographics. That can be something that is measured month by month, quarter by quarter, year over year.

It can be tied to compensation. It can be tied to performance reviews. Same thing with inclusive leadership can, in more sophisticated environments, be measured, like through for example, employee engagement surveys, that typically you can cut the data from an employee engagement survey by function, and you can trace the results of a particular function to the leader. And in my more cynical moments, like in all of our cynical moments, we like the saying that, “the fish smells from the head down.” So it’s a little gross.

DOUG FORESTA: I like that one. I hadn’t heard that before.

JENNIFER BROWN: But sort of, you have to go back to the source when you look at data from a certain function and say, “Hm, something isn’t right here. Something’s really not going right here. Let’s trace it.” Usually, it’s traced to the leader, and what the leader is doing or not doing, or how they’re walking the talk or not, et cetera.

So it’s very interesting to consider the carrot and the stick. The stick is the accountability. The stick is the requirements to meet certain metrics around diversity and inclusion, and those need to be present. But the invitation into a psychologically safe container where I can learn and not get it right, and learn again and try again, and iterate on my own development, is …

I think it’s a conversation, I would guess, not a lot of leaders have with the leaders that they are responsible for, on the org chart, anyway, because it’s so uncomfortable just in general. And it’s a new way of speaking to each other. It’s a new way of being with each other, I think.

It’s a very vulnerable conversation for a very senior person to have with another senior person, to say, “I can ask a lot of questions, but I don’t have the answers, and I am not optimized on this either. And so here I am, trying to guide, when I really have no business guiding.”

So it kind of makes your head hurt, because I think those of us who study how organizational change happens, we think about the carrot and the stick a lot, but I think the stick has been used a whole lot. I think that has been the way accountability and-

DOUG FORESTA: There hasn’t been a lot of carrots, no.

JENNIFER BROWN: There’s not a lot of carrots. Yeah. And if they are, they’re not cooked to perfection and delicious. They are, I don’t know, like difficult, uncomfortable, things to be avoided, right?

DOUG FORESTA: Yeah, yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s like, “Eat your vegetables.” Not the delicious kind of carrot. So, yeah. It’s just really interesting to ponder the coaching we give leaders to be different, to open up different parts of their competencies and to start to bring vulnerability and empathy and transparency to the fore, and to really be open about what they don’t know, and to de-center themselves so that others can be on stage or in the frame, talking about the things that they have to teach us.

It really requires a flipping of the hierarchy. It requires the democratization of the workplace, I think, which is something I have been talking about for a really long time, wanting the workplace to make way more for that sort of horizontal energy, the collaboration that’s not predicted on levels, that’s revisiting and challenging where the knowledge lives in the organizational hierarchy, right?

And you know, Doug, I always say this. The most knowledge about inclusive workplaces and belonging lives in the sort of younger generations that are coming in, right? That are rising through the organization. They know. And this is one of those things that senior leadership knows the least about.

So we’re in this really challenging … Yeah, challenging dynamic, generationally even. So senior leaders have got to figure out, “Where do I fit in all this? And how am I going to support those around me, who often look like, by the way, and identify the way that I do, so we are all clueless, in a way, how can I support my own growth, the growth of others? And how can we collectively hold ourselves accountable for our own journey?”

I think that’s the language I land on, which is: How can we, as a group, move together and support each other in that unique way that I think people with similar shared experiences can do? Just like maybe an affinity group does, right? That level of being able to be transparent with others who are similarly struggling. That should be happening at the executive level. Those conversations should be occurring on a regular basis.

People should have buddies. The buddy system, right? They should have peers and dialogue about like, “So what’s going well? What are you learning? What are you hearing? What did you try? What did you say? How did you respond? What are you going to adjust?”

Imagine if that were given time on the agenda, or that people were gathering to discuss that kind of learning. But that requires people to be extremely vulnerable with each other, and I think that’s the hurdle we’ve got to get over in order to get to the good stuff.

DOUG FORESTA: This is such a great conversation about … I mean, we could go on and on, and we should. We should do more of these about leadership and what that looks like right now. But I would be remiss if I didn’t … Anybody who’s listening to this, you’ll hear the information about Jennifer’s new book that she co-authored, Beyond Diversity.

And I know that you have a community call coming up. I want to make sure that we share that information with our audience. Can you explain what that call is? Yeah, just say a little bit about that, and how can people find out more about it?

JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. So everybody that’s listening, I hope you all have come and joined us on a community call in the last year and a half. We’ve done a bunch of them, but we have a special one with myself and Rohit, my co-author, yes, of the book called Beyond Diversity, which is out November 9th.

We have a special community call, November 2nd, which is a Tuesday, so some of you may be used to our Thursday cadence, but this one will replace the Thursday call that week. It’s November 2nd. It’s at noon, Eastern. We will put the link to register for this and all community calls in the show notes also, but if you want to just check out jenniferbrownconsulting.com, and you can see there, register for our community calls there, as well as other resources.

So yeah, Doug, it’s really exciting. We had fun doing this book. It was a different thing for me because it’s not a leadership book, and it’s not specific to the workplace, so I got to kind of stretch my wings and think about different domains like education and government, and identity and culture and so many different aspects of how DEI plays out in our culture, in our society, in our schools, in our systems.

So I think of the book as a really excellent primer, in a way. Wonderful reading for students and for professors to assign, by the way, and include in curriculum. But also, I think the workplace leaders, it would behoove people to read it, because it gives a great overview of the status of the conversation and the status of progress through so many different lenses.

And I think it also probably lifts people out of the workplace to say, “Wow. Change is happening everywhere.” Our systems are all being challenged by the conversation that we’re having now, and so much is changing, and so much needs to change.

And the fact is, we’re not just workplace employees. We are family members. We’re parents. We’re community members. We’re on the school board. We are part of religious institutions. So reading a book like this, I think, will really broaden the aperture for the reader to say, “Maybe I’m feeling overwhelmed. Maybe I don’t know where to start, but there’s also a place to start. There’s also an ecosystem that we find ourselves in, where we can lead. We can lead a conversation. We can ask some questions. We can make some suggestions. We can start to push.”

And I think the book really opens that up too. And then when you come into the workplace, then you can have a broadened view and palate, with which to color in your leadership role, or as you are advancing through your career, but you can think about it more holistically, because it really is … I think that’s where it gets really interesting, is to realize how much things are changing.

I mean, change is happening very fast everywhere, and I find that exciting. I mean, I think it’s a great opportunity to pivot and not be afraid, honestly, Doug. My final thought is, fear of change, when change is happening and it’s inevitable, and we’re in a “change or die” moment, the opportunity to be transformed in this world, and let yourself be transformed by change is so profound.

So I think redefining it or shifting our mindset about … Putting the frustration aside, putting the fear aside, putting perhaps that sense of being a victim aside, putting that stuff aside for a moment and just considering that the opportunities are all around us to be transformed, and to welcome that and to trust that, in doing so, we will find a place to make a contribution that we never considered and that we never thought was possible.

And I just want people to bear that in mind. That’s really where we’re going, long-term, so it’s very exciting. It’s long overdue, and let yourself be swept up, because I think it’s a very unexpected and amazing ride.

DOUG FORESTA: Well, Jennifer, I am glad that you’ve stayed in this journey, and not removed yourself from it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow, thank you. And there have been moments. There have been moments, but yeah. I think everything is getting real right now. I think everything we predicted, everything that we’ve been feeling, there’s a big reckoning happening.

And I think things are sort of adjusting in a way that’s been really, really pent-up and overdue, and I’m just really … I know it’s disturbing and hard for some of us, and so many identities, right? This is a really, really hard, stressful time.

I think we’re all stressed with the uncertainty, right? With how our lives have been upended, how the pandemic just doesn’t seem to be ending. It just keeps changing and shifting. But I would say, if you can somehow kind of tap in and stay grounded, and just pay attention and observe what’s happening, and don’t miss this opportunity, because opportunity’s all around in moments like this.

DOUG FORESTA: Jennifer, thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Doug.

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 on 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.