Jonathan D. Lovitz, nationally recognized small business and public policy advocate, community organizer, and Senior Vice President of the NGLCC, joins the program to discuss what’s at stake right now, and what it means for disproportionately impacted communities. Discover where we can look for guidance and strength in the coming days and weeks, and the power of everyday ordinary allyship.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- The benefits of grassroots movements (10:00)
- The unique barriers for some communities around voter engagement (13:00)
- How to get stakeholders on board (19:00)
- How to rethink the way we discuss identities (23:30)
- The need for identity specific programming (25:30)
- Lessons learned in 2020 (29:00)
- How to be a better ally (33:30)
- How to amplify your message and be influential (46:00)
- How to lift up the next generation of leaders (48:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Hello. All of my listeners on the Will to Change, I am so glad you’re tuning in today. And as I sit here in early November, we are going through some really intense change as a country and on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion, which is my passion, and I know, probably yours too. If you’re listening to the Will to Change, there’s so much to learn and so much to flex around that’s occurring as we close out 2020, what a year. And so I wanted to make sure that everybody knew the kinds of support that we are providing. We are providing something every week, on Thursdays at noon, Eastern, which we called the DEI community call. And it is a free hour long call.
People have called it the DEI spa because it is known to restore us, to connect us with each other. To remind us about the critical importance of our work, to remind us of the strength of our community and that we aren’t alone at this moment. And the beautiful diversity within our community of people doing this work, whether it’s folks who are doing it as their paid job in organizations, folks who are volunteering their time, folks who write about and podcast about the topic and people who want to do this work, which is more and more all the time. So, we hold these calls on every Thursday at noon, and I wanted to make sure that you have the text, that you can send a text too to get on the RSVP list.
And once you’re on that RSVP list, you will always know about the upcoming calls, who the guests are, what the topics are. And also you will have the opportunity to listen to the replay, which is really important because sometimes we just can’t make that call at noon, Eastern on Thursdays. You could also read the chat, which is really interesting in these calls, really vibrant, full of ideas and resources and links and offers to connect, and offers to meet up offline. And I know that much serendipity has been introduced into the world because of the connections that have been made on the chat alone for these calls. So, I really encourage you to stay close to us because we are constantly pivoting in this changing world. We are constantly doing our head and our heart and our hands work to figure out how do we create change amidst so much uncertainty and chaos and countervailing forces and polarization.
So, if you would like to get on this list, you can text DEIcommunity to 33777. So if you put 33777 into your text to field and then write all one word, DEIcommunity, it will prompt you to provide some information, which we will guard, of course, and keep safe, but it will get you into the mix and onto the list, and you can download a calendar reminder and you can join us and feel all the things that I described. I just have to say, we’ve been doing these since March of 2020, every single week, and they have kept me going on a personal level. The checking in with the community reminds me of the magnitude of the work, but also the brilliance and the intelligence and the creativity of this community of advocates. And I know for me, it’s been a touchstone in 2020. So please consider joining us. And now, on to today’s Will to Change.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I want to be the best communications person or the best lawyer you’re hiring for your firm. And while I’m there, I would also like to be really active in your ERG. I would also like to help create a leadership pipeline to get more people like me, who never even heard about an opportunity like this through my college, through whatever, in line to be active in this kind of program. So, stop letting it just be the ER … The ERG can’t just be the meeting ground. If we all look forward to meeting at the ERG once a month, on a 5:00 PM, on a Friday, that’s the end point. That’s the finish line. We go up, we’ve made it, we’re with our friends. The ERG meeting needs to be the starting pistol. We got to get together and say, “What are we doing next? And who are we doing it for that isn’t in this room?”
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 in this episode, which was originally recorded as a DEI community call, it features a conversation with Jennifer Brown and Jonathan Lovitz, about what resilience can teach us, about how to navigate this moment and beyond.
Let me just say a little bit about Jonathan, so you have a little background on him and then we’ll get right into the episode. Jonathan Lovitz is a nationally recognized small business and public policy advocate, community organizer, and currently serves as senior vice president of the NGLCC. In his role, he serves as head of advocacy and political work and press secretary, where he’s been responsible for establishing more than 20 county city and state laws passed over the last four years, opening up contracting and economic opportunity to minority small business owners, including veterans, those with disabilities and LGBTQ owned businesses. In 2020, he created the PhillyVoting.org initiative to expand voter registration and confidence in his City of Philadelphia.
Locally, he’s a regular organizer, mentor and speaker for groups, including the Global Philadelphia Association, AmeriCorps, PA, Students Demand Action, PA, Philadelphia Diversity and Inclusion Summit, and more. You may have seen him on MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, and Bloomberg, among many other places. And the Advocate Magazine named him a 2019 Queer Icon, alongside some of the year’s top activists, artists, and political figures. And again, in this episode, Jonathan shares his thoughts in a conversation with Jennifer, about what resilience can teach us, about how to navigate this moment and beyond, what’s at stake right now and what it means for disproportionately impacted communities, and where we can look for guidance and strength in the coming days and weeks. Enjoy the episode.
JENNIFER BROWN: What would you like to tell folks about what you do today? Give us context, tell us more about where you are in Philly. And I know you’ve been so involved in what’s happening there and in politics in general, and so this was just so timely for you to agree to jump on. Give us the view from where you sit on everything that’s going on?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: As you can see out the window, the view is pretty lofty. It’s the boots on the ground that are doing all the hard work, as I think anyone who’s ever volunteered for a campaign knows on any side it’s it’s. It only looks glamorous on the West Wing. It’s dirty, it’s grunty, it’s a lot of midnight pizza. It’s anyone, I think anyone who works in political campaigns single-handedly helps fund the Kiehl’s stock for a while. So, it’s exciting. And Jen, I’m so grateful that you invited me into this group, and just looking at some of the names and faces I know here and many more that I hope I get to know. It’s a diverse group, it’s a conversation among people who want to help each other succeed, which, to what you were saying about the NGLCC, is why I’ve worked here for five, almost six years, is I have never experienced more willingness and earnest intention to help one another succeed, whether it’s LGBT women.
And that’s one of the things that I love most about working in the LGBT context is, we are women, we are people of color, we have disabilities, we are veterans, we are immigrants, we are, we are, we are. So this experience, for me, going from, similar to your background, from the arts to television, to media, to advocacy, it’s been a wild ride, but the journey has been just full of incredible collaborations with great people who believe in more is more, is more, that we are really tossing out that pie metaphor, that if you succeed, my piece of pie gets smaller. How about we all get together and bake some more pie and spread it around? Shall we? And that’s really been at the crux of the work.
And I have been political ish ever since I was a younger person. I did not know that it would become my career, but I think similarly to you, we tripped and fell into these opportunities. And I think all the things we’ve done thus far in my life, have been helping me pull the sales taught, so that when the wind was ready, I could catch it. And it’s also, I’ve learned a lot over the years about if you don’t have the door you want in front of you or if that door is closed, get some hammer and some nails and build a door. And that’s what’s happened with, particularly, case voting project here in Philly, that I’m so proud of.
A couple of friends of mine who were all political nerds, were like our red wine in West Wing group that get together pre-COVID and we were talking about, “Well, what are we going to do to galvanize particularly the minorities in Philadelphia, because it is such a heavily minority city.” Black and LGBTQ people here are a vital part of the democracy. And the places where folks go to be galvanized around, not even, remove candidate, just elections and governance, and getting excited about process, are things like community centers and churches and bars and restaurants, where you see flyers and interact with people. So, since none of that was happening, what can we do? And ironically, we were sitting around at a bar because you do outside safely. And we noticed, what was everyone using to look up the cocktail menu, because we’re not using paper napkins and air paper menus anymore. QR codes.
So we said, “Let us get a QR code, let us buy a website and let us put these posters up literally everywhere.” Every small business, every church, every nonprofit, anyone who’s got a window. We begged, we pleaded, we thought it would be an uphill climb. Everyone said, “No, no, no. Can we have extras? We want to hand them out. Do you have postcards that we can hand out as with [inaudible 00:10:38], with our napkins?” People were so kind and so supportive. And a lot of people think these grassroots movements can take a lot of money and a lot of time. We bought a website, went through a woman, a black and an LGBT on print companies, so we could make sure we were putting our money where our mouth was and investing back in the community. They ended up donating a lot of product to get these posters printed.
And before you know it, this thing that after, I was just looking at the metrics, so we could talk a little bit about it, we started it the first week of September, so we would try to get a lot of folks on that final ramp up to register, to vote. Just a couple of guys in a website ended up getting over 4,000 clicks and over 800 direct click-throughs to voter registration websites. And Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, as well as I Will Vote nationwide. And this was just because we said, “Well, if it’s something we need, why would we wait for other people to do it?”
JENNIFER BROWN: True. Congratulations. That’s incredible. Thank you.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Thank you. But I say all that to say, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what so many people are doing, but those drops add up to a flood. And I am so excited about just the energy and the momentum, and the democratization of Zoom. I’m seeing a lot of nodding heads and smiling. I hope you’re enjoying this and/or looking at cat chips or the both. But one thing I have found and really loved in this moment of that we’re all going through is the democratization that Zoom has brought us of speakers, that we used to have to paying a lot of money to get the big wigs from corporates and the news and politics and all that. We had to fly them out and put them in hotels and do all that. They’re all sitting around like we all are, in a shirt, jacket and gym shorts. You can’t see it, wearing it, right?
So, they’re all sitting around with the same kind of free time we have. Get them engaged in your work. And especially, I talk with a lot of college students about using their phone to make a difference, because look at a Twitter thread, it can be you, me, Beyonce and Donald Trump, all within a block of each other. And each one of us carries the same weight to our eyeballs. So, if you’ve got one of these and you’ve gotten a platform, whether you reach two people or 2 million people, use it for God’s sake, because otherwise, someone else will.
JENNIFER BROWN: So true. Oh, my gosh. Honestly, love it.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: So that was the quick intro. I’m sorry. That [inaudible 00:13:03].
JENNIFER BROWN: That was so great. No, it’s so great. It’s so great. So, congrats on that many. That’s amazing. And imagine if all of us did this, how much we would add to the roles and how much we can contribute? And you focused particularly on communities with your effort. I love that. So what do you learn about the unique ways and mindsets and realities that exist or unique barriers that exist for certain communities in the voting process?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Well, and I think what’s universally true about voter engagement is universally true to anyone here that works in DNI and community management and any of those fields. And frankly, I learned quite a bit of this from my dear friend, Amber Hikes, who I know was also going to be a part of this conversation. And she’ll be back. She’s busy saving democracy for truth justice and the American way, but, Oh, that old thing. But she taught me a lot about, we’ve all heard about if there’s not a seat at the table, bring a folding chair, but part of the problem is getting the word out to people that there’s a table to be sitting at.
And so what I have learned in this experience is how we have to leverage each other as amplifiers. That it cannot end with your LinkedIn post. You’ve got to then go to your 10 friends who have big networks and say, “How can I help you out? Would you mind posting or resharing this for me? Would you talk about why it’s personal?” I said in Philly alone, we targeted primarily LGBTQ and black voters. Why? Because in 2016, the margin between the Democrat and Republican nominees, there were 44,000 votes. 150,000 LGBT people were unregistered. 200,000 black people were unregistered in the Commonwealth, 200,000 people rode the SEPTA, the subway system here in Philly, when the Eagles won the Super Bowl Go Birds.
So look at the disparity in those numbers between voter engagement and people taking the damn subway to the Super Bowl party. And part of it wasn’t just talking to community advocates. Was, no one had come to them and said, “This is what’s at stake.” No one had bridged those communities. And if there’s one thing you and I think have learned in working in the DNI space, particularly with employee resource groups is, incredible. But it is so important that each group has their safe space and their individual networks, that the LGBT group meets on Tuesdays, the women meet on the third Wednesday of the month, and all of that. But if we’re not coming together, if there isn’t a once a month kumbaya of all organizations and all movements, then we’re not learning from each other. We’re not hearing what the other has to say.
If you’re doing a Black History Month, but it doesn’t include the black trans woman experience, you’re not talking to all women. If you’re having a Hispanic Heritage Month and you’re only talking to citizens and not talking to those who are on the immigration journey, or those who are dreamers, or those who are the children of, and beneficiaries of immigration, you’re not talking about the full Hispanic experience. So, there’s just a way to make sure you’re bringing all of these communities together. And there is no high-end team, but there sure is an inclusion. And that means bringing yourself and demanding everybody else bring their own selves to everyone else’s meeting to be an ally.
We talk a lot about allyship and I’m sure everyone in this group knows that they are one. They wouldn’t be here on a Thursday, in the midst of whatever we’re going through if you weren’t. But to ally is a verb now. It’s to call garbage out when you hear it and see it. It’s to stand between someone less vulnerable under attack and the person launching those attacks. It’s to use your platform to make a difference, whether it’s one person or a million people. So allyship is a verb. Now, it’s something we have to do. It’s not just the sticker you put up in the cubicle to say, “I’m an ally here.”
And you should carry that with you. The amount of allies I see in Philadelphia, we’re famous, pardon the gritty on this, but famous for the black and brown stripes being added to the pride flag here, because again, we were having too many conversations about the future of diversity and inclusion [inaudible 00:17:17] a majority, minority city, but these conversations are being led by straight white men, over 50. No offense to any of those on the line, but you’ve had about 270 years of really good control here in America. So, let’s add a few more seats to the table. Shall we? And just seeing allies, straight allies, women, all other communities wearing pins like this in spaces around Philadelphia, says, “We will not stand for whatever kind of nastiness you want to bring.”
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so right. And can you hold that up again, Jonathan?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Oh, sure.
JENNIFER BROWN: So Amber Hikes was very involved in the effort to add the black and brown stripes, right?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Absolutely. And now, this is actually from our Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, it’s all there is now. This is our city of LGBTQ symbol now. And in fact, I love wearing this pen, which was a gift from a colleague of mine. It’s Black Lives Matter, it’s queer rights, it’s trans rights, it’s just a heart for humanity, for God’s sake. It’s that subtle nod too, right? It’s why you put that ally sticker in your cubicles so that when your queer colleague walks by and goes, “Okay, I know I can count on Jen to have my back.” It’s the same thing. This doesn’t tell people I am anything. It says I believe in something.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my gosh, I love what you just said. Can we pause on that? Because, wait, so ally is not a destination that we achieve. It is something we earn, we work towards it. And you’re only an ally if someone in an affected community calls you an ally. And you just said, “I don’t wear it because I am. I wear it because it’s what I believe.”
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: In the same way, there are some who say certain political parties have co-opted the American flag. Take it back. If you believe in whatever you believe in, in America, we are the damn flag and then tell people why you do that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. There’s so many questions I want to ask you. And by the way, everybody, bring the questions in chat. Okay? This is your chance, because you’ve got [crosstalk 00:19:22].
JONATHAN LOVITZ: My Twitter, my email, my website, everything is in this chat. Please, please, please, do not let this be the last time we talk. I’m just watching the feed here. This is awesome. You all, I am sober. I hope I’m invited back to just be a participant, because it’s a lot of really great people in this.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re always, always welcome.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I have learned when Jen Brown asked you to do something you say, it’s always the right answer.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. It’ll be fun. No matter what. And you and I have shared so many stages and it’s been incredible. You alluded to your theater background. We do. We have a theater background in common, you and I. I also wanted to tell everybody, you’ve been named Queer Icon by Advocate Magazine. Jim Obergefell officiated your wedding. So everybody, Jim Obergefell, of course, was the plaintiff, the marriage equality plaintiff in the landmark, gay marriage case. Right? So-
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Yeah. That was really special.
JENNIFER BROWN: And it was so special. Jonathan’s partner, Steven, is a meteorologist on NBC News. And so just, I want to contextualize a little bit of your life, but anyway. But back to, I guess, this group, we talk a lot about intersectionality. We talk a lot about the lens that you just described, and to me and you and others on this call, it feels like, so literally, look at everything in the corporate world through an intersectional lens, if you’re doing programming for your educational series. What do you see as the way to explain the value of this and the need for this? And even just to get our folks and stakeholders on board, because I feel like we can tend to take care of our own, right? We can tend to silo into our identities, and you and I saw this. The LGBTQ community has had a ton of diversity issues and challenges. And I’ve had an awakening and I know you’ve had an awakening too, over the years, to realize that. When you go to LGBTQ conferences 10 years ago, what kind of diversity did we see? When we went to business owners-
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Jen, organization I worked for was, like all organizations, was the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, because that’s even what the task force and other queer organizations were called, because it was just gay rights for a while. And sure, we represented everyone, but yeah, it’s that point about to invite people to the tables. One thing, you really want them to stay, put their name on the tent card in front of their plate. And so we called it out. We said, “LGBT,” and really inherently, everyone is there. Yeah. As Ken Sanchez says, “It’s the power of language.” It is. Words matter, whether printed or said or tweeted. And you’re absolutely right, Jen. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your question there, but it’s just, it’s exciting to see that we are all being more cognizant than ever about intersectionality, because it is around us. And I think we’ve always known that. We haven’t been able to articulate what that means as well.
And a friend of mine who actually runs DNI for a major food company, said, “We know this better than anybody. Think how many times you’ve picked up a … How many of us love a skittles or an M&M’s, but if you put them all in the same dish, you might not notice, and you might think that they all look alike and that they’re all just candy, but there’s a very big difference, even if they have the same color on the outside of their shell, between the one that’s peanut butter and the one that’s sour tart in the middle. So, you’ve got to look below the surface. We may all be in the same bowl, but the fact that there’s a different flavor in there, no matter what you pick up, means there’s always a new experience and that dish got better because it was more colorful.
JENNIFER BROWN: That is another great metaphor.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I’m also [inaudible 00:22:57], so I can [inaudible 00:22:58] food metaphor for a while.
JENNIFER BROWN: Candy and alcohol. Yes. So, I just love that metaphor. It’s so true. The invisible aspects of diversity and the visible ones. And I think too, Jonathan, you’re making me think a lot about the privilege that exists in some of our communities. And I think in the LGBTQ community, in the old days, I would be one and the only CIS women, and I didn’t even have the word cisgender. We didn’t even say that.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: No.
JENNIFER BROWN: But I would be the only one walking into rooms. And I knew there was an exclusion just at that level. And why I was the only CIS woman in the room. And now we’re having such a different conversation and I really, we have to celebrate how far we’ve come, but I still find myself, and I think a lot of us have to repattern the way we’re thinking about identity in workplaces, right? We’ve had these siloed named ERDs and affinity efforts, right? And we need to keep, we say, excluding to include. I think it’s still incredibly important. And the LGBTQ leadership programs I teach, we do exclude to include, because that safe space is so important.
It’s so important for all underrepresented talent to have that place. But it does raise the question of what’s the future of single identity spaces in a world and in an emerging demographic that is deeply intersectional and wants to have a more fulsome conversation about identity. And so, I mean, maybe you can also reflect on what are you seeing about young voters. You must have learned so much about how they want to be spoken to, how they identify, how they define their own diversity, their own intersectionality. And I would imagine we all have a lot to learn and at least my generation, for sure.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: We sure do. And that’s such a good point, Jen. I think about it when in, I guess virtually in ERT spaces now, which I miss a lot of you, I miss your headquarters.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, me too.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: But it’s thinking about these conversations that we’ve had over the years about just that, which is we invite people to join ERGs and things often about the most visible thing about them. Ignoring the fact that even in a disability group, of which many corporations have more of, can be subdivided into visible and invisible, into communities that have auditory versus visual, because even there, you’ve got different thoughts, schools of thought on how to make life better. So even in LGBTQ spaces, I mean, we’ve got, I think about I’m on the board of the LGBT center here and we’ve got queer programming, but we also have trans-specific and black trans-specific, and transitioning specific program, and because there’s unique needs and everyone is welcome, but it’s focused on safe spaces for that.
So, it’s almost like the breakout groups, right? We could all go into a mixed group here and we may all look alike, but when we start talking about who we are, where we’re from, what we believe in, all of these things, we realize, wow, the only thing we had in common was that we showed up for Jen’s fantastic Zoomner. So, it’s really about smashing down those things. And I’ll give you a practical example because what I’ve learned a lot, lobbyist is usually a heavy word and people associate that with the guys trying to make cigarettes good for kids. That’s not what I do. I’m a lobbyist on the advocacy for minority communities and economic issues.
And when I go into state legislatures and city councils to open up their programs to expand what you were saying, these procurement opportunities, not just for women and people of color, but for LGBT and veteran and immigrant, and all these other certified communities, there’s always pushback of, yeah, but a black woman in contracting, who is also a lesbian, could just be a woman and could just be African-American. Why do they need other things? And I sit there as the CIS white guy invited to the table, to make the argument and say, “The best thing I can do right now is shut up.”
And turn the mic over to the person who’s living this experience. And I will have you, senator, commissioner, counselor, whoever is there and say, “I’d like you to meet so-and-so, an African-American, lesbian woman business owner who has been told,” and this is a real example, who is up for a black business owner of the year in her local chamber, and then said, “Well, I would like my wife to present the award to me,” when they said, “Who would you like to be up there?” Where they like, “Actually, that award is no longer available.” So-
JENNIFER BROWN: [inaudible 00:27:44].
JONATHAN LOVITZ: They were only interested in the most visible thing about her, not the other elements of her life. And as we all know, that ain’t it. So that’s why it’s so important to, particularly for those of us, again, the privilege of privilege is having … the privilege is having the microphone. The privilege of privilege is turning it to the face of someone who didn’t. So, I love when I get to go into these meetings and bring someone there with me who can then say, “This is my lived experience and this is why we have to make it safe for people like me. I may be one in a million of the people who are going to go through a program like this, but that meant you now have one more person who needed to be here.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh, so good. Tell us about that ally. So you just described one of the key ally behaviors, right? Is, I have got the privilege is having the mic and then the privilege of privilege is passing the mic. That was so excellent, Jonathan.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Oh, thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, can we talk about, this has been a crash course year for allyship, right?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: And has really raised the bar on all of us. So what have you learned about allyship and activating privileges you have? And also the allies you need as somebody who has marginalized identities as well. You sit in the middle like so many of us do, I’m just curious, I’m sure your learning curve has been massive like all of ours this year. So what has happened like and what have you learned about your own ally journey that you can pass along to us? That was just a wonderful kernel you just gave us, but I’m sure there’s many more.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Well, thank you my friend. And I’ve learned so much from you about this over the years, just about listening and being intentional about when you go into spaces. I think half the people on this call would be subject matter experts. And yet, even in a space of experts, there’s always something to be learned. So, leaving any meeting you go into with one new bullet point and giving attribution, I think really matters, saying, “A brilliant colleague who lives this experience told me X,” because sometimes it can sound like, “Oh, I read in DNI journal today about the latest stats on no.” When you say a woman with a disability told me about what it was like to be a woman with a disability and how those two things make life harder in the workplace or better in the workplace.
And I can say, “And if you’d like to follow up, I’ll reach out and connect you because I think you could learn a lot from each other.” Specificity helps a lot, so that people know that these examples are real, that they are from someone, because sometimes it can sound like we’re talking a little bit about hypotheticals out there. Oh, echo and attribute. Yeah, that’s a perfect way to say it. And also around allyship, I’ve always found it, especially recently, found it so valuable to stop relying on celebrity influencers. And I say that with the air quotes and the lowercase, because I think, particularly in the LGBT space for a long time, we allowed … Yes, visibility is amazing and we are thrilled to see it, but I don’t need the cast a willing gray speaking for me about my queer rights issues.
I love them. Don’t get me wrong. Would have drinks with Megan Mullally anytime she asked for them, but I’m much more interested, like you said, in having Jim Obergefell, the man who fought the fight, be the guy who whispers in my ear about what it means. And look at the gun rights issues. You had big, big celebrities who were coming out around Parkland and other major shootings, even Pulse. My family’s in Orlando, Pulse was my nightclub in college when I would go home on weekends. And so to hear Orlando celebrities was amazing, to hear late teenage kids and early 20 somethings who were all college students there, many of whom are first-time voters right now, talk about this experience, I think carried a lot more weight, because they became the validator. It’s less about … I think allyship can be validated and amplified, and doesn’t need to be celebrified like it used to be, because we have enough people talking about it now.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re getting a lot of great questions and chat.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Oh.
JENNIFER BROWN: Everyday ordinary allyship, right? That’s what I’m hearing. Also we have a really great question here. How do we persuade well-meaning companies to pivot away from finding the right program on behalf of everyone and speaking for groups, and then start, instead of listening to you and sharing power with intersectional individuals? So, power sharing is where I think the real rubber hits the road. And that’s what scares. I guess, I understand why I don’t have a lot of patience for it, but I think we have to talk about it because we’ve got to get, it’s a thing and it’s real. And that I think is the, even if it’s not named, it is an assumption, it’s an incorrect assumption that sharing power means less power for me. And that’s the rub that we’ve got to get through. And I wonder, I don’t know. I’m sure you do have a way of speaking to people that have that paranoid, whether it is articulated or not. Yeah, go ahead.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I think of it this way. This is not a holistically complete metaphor. I’m just thinking of this now, but hopefully, maybe collectively, we can flush this out that we all have a new metaphor to take away. But I think a lot of us have seen, particularly anyone on Instagram that follows even one LGBT person, we’ve all found out that a lot of people are new gardeners since COVID. A lot of plant people have come into our lives. And if plant people can teach us anything … I see a couple of people laughing with beautiful plants behind you. Looking good. If plant people can teach us anything, it’s that when you cut a little piece off to then start a cutting to give a friend, the other plant doesn’t die. It regrows and gets stronger, and then we have more plants.
So, I think of it that way. Think of how we can be better about trimming a little off, because any of us in a position of privilege have plenty. Even if it’s not much, we have plenty, because we’re already succeeding. So cut a little off, share it with a friend and watch it grow. And then it’s one thing to put a plant in the corner, but I think a lot of us have watched those same friends put 10 plants on the corner and now they’re living in the Rainforest Cafe and it’s pretty cool. So I think that’s really great and I want to see more of that. So, cut a little off, watch it grow, and then we can all get back together and celebrate at our next Zoom plant party.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my gosh. And you’re the King of metaphor, is I’m loving this. Everyone’s loving it. This is called cottage core. I just picked that up from Kate, cottage core.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I love it.
JENNIFER BROWN: What a weird world we’re living in. So tell us about, Jonathan, the voting, the youngsters. I mean, I know you keep such good tabs on the generational differences and … I guess they came out in droves. Young people of color came out in droves, right? Like let’s make no mistake about that civic engagement. And so what do you want us to know? And I guess there’s some clues in that, I think, to what we need to prepare for in the workplace. I think a lot of us on this call are more, I don’t know. I don’t want to assume our ages, everybody. Who knows? Maybe we’re older millennials, maybe we’re Gen X-ers, maybe there’s a baby boomers on here. I think we make incremental progress and we pat ourselves on the back in extremely flawed system. A system that I often say it was not built by and for so many of us in the workplace. We didn’t construct it. It was not constructed for and by us.
So, we know that needs to change in order to unleash the potential in the performance of these incoming generations. We don’t want to lose them. We can’t afford to lose them, on so many levels. And yet, when they come in and they’re like, “Oh, this is hopeless. I’m covering all day long in multiple ways. I can’t bring my full self to work. We’re not having an intersectional conversation. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my pronouns.” I mean, I can just go on and on around the sort of death by a thousand cuts, which interrupts that relationship. And over time, it erodes to the point where, “I don’t want to be here anymore. This company doesn’t get it, my boss doesn’t get it, the leadership doesn’t get it.” So anyway, if you could equip us with any understanding about this, that I personally am on a learning curve, but I think you’re closer to it, I hope. I know you are.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Well, if young people have taught us anything, particularly in this election cycle, is that issues matter more than identities. We have more gun voters than ever before pro and anti. We have more environment voters than ever before. I wouldn’t say pro and anti. I would say science-based and then whatever university we’re existing in based. So, I think there are those ways to look at it, which is, how are we galvanizing communities, especially intersexual community grounded issues. Because again, we can bring 1,000 of us together to talk all in favor of, let’s say it’s voting rights and if … I’m sitting here as there’s count ballots and stop the counting of ballots just out behind me. So, if we all want to get together and talk about the importance of voting rights, there’ll be ask, you bring 1,000 of us together and you’ll get 1,500 opinions.
So, one of the things that we’ll find is there are gradients on that scale, but we’ll all agree that we have to do something. And so even among young people, I am finding they do not all agree on methodology. Certainly not. They want to … Let’s look at something like gun controls. There are people saying, “We’re not talking about ripping up the second amendment. We’re talking about you getting guns out of our schools so we can go to school safely. And we’re talking about how gun violence is tied to things like racial injustice and the incarceration problems we have particularly focused on black men in this country and things like that.” So, you can use these common ground entry points to then diversify the conversation. So, I guess lure everyone when in with ice cream and then tell them the only thing that eats the salad bar. So-
JENNIFER BROWN: I love it.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Yeah. So, we’ve got to get everyone in the door with something we all agree on and then start making some tough choices and tough conversations. And I think the young people are teaching us that really clearly. And they’re telling us that and things like hiring. That, “I don’t want to be your gay hire.” That was 20 years ago. “I want to be the best communications person or the best lawyer you’re hiring for your firm. And while I’m there, I would also like to be really active in your ERG. I would also like to help create a leadership pipeline to get more people like me who never even heard about an opportunity like this through my college, through whatever, in line to be active in this kind of program.”
So, stop letting it just be the ER … The ERG can’t just be the meeting ground. It’s got to be the … If we all look forward to meeting at the ERG once a month, on a 5:00 PM, at a Friday, that’s the end point. That’s the finish line. We go up, we’ve made it, we’re with our friends. The ERG meeting needs to be the starting pistol. We got to get together and say, “What are we doing next and who are we doing it for that isn’t in this room?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Let’s pause on that. Just adjusting this. Okay. This is good stuff. Really good wisdom. Who is not in this room right now? Who are we not thinking of? Who’s not reflected here? What are we doing about that? I mean, I challenge ERGs when we do our consulting, we’re constantly, as all of you know, because some of you are our clients, to say, where’s that intersectional lens? Who’s missing from the leadership? Who are the loudest voices? Who are the voices that are missing? And I love the, when we talk about disabilities, we talk about the curb cuts, right?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: The curb cuts on the curb. The curb cuts were originally designed for folks in wheelchairs, but they’re actually incredible for all of us in so many ways that we didn’t anticipate. So last week we had on, Carmen Jones and John Kemp-
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Oh, nice.
JENNIFER BROWN: On disabilities. Yeah. You must know John Kemp, I’m sure. And the concept of universal design was such an eye opener for me to think about that, what’s good for the most marginalized amongst us is good for all of us. Like subtitles and real time can be better for our comprehension. Even if we don’t have, we’re not deaf. So, there’s so many things we’ve discovered these days that are, we’re never going to forget. Whenever the world has for us in the future, there’s so much we’ve learned this year about universal design and accessibility and what we need to flourish, what we need to thrive. And strangely enough, some of us are actually really doing well because this virtual world enables us to be in some really strange ways, like more authentic. I don’t know what you think about that, but …
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I just saw someone had made a really great graphic and if I can find, a short video, I should say, on the Interwebs, that I’ll find and see if I can send it to you, Jen, maybe share with everyone, that I thought was so cool, especially about, and it correlates exactly with what Stephanie was saying in the chat here. If you’re not designing for the lease in your organization, you are not designing, you’re not organizing for your entire company. I could not agree more. You need to be thinking about where the innovations come from that help one person, so that it’s scalable in a way that helps everyone. I don’t know. And that the video that I saw was so neat and it was like a late ’80s, early, and I think, maybe late ’70s, early ’80s, clip of Stephen Hawking in his assisted mobility chair with his vocoder and all the equipment used to help him speak.
And then cuts to 30 years later. And the new iPhone update has a translate button in it where I can just stand here while it’s standing at a cafe in France and say, “I would like a baguette please.” And it will speak it back out in French to the person on the other side. One begat the other. So, my ability as a perfectly able traveler is influenced by the same kind of technology that helped one of the least among us. And I don’t know, I’ve heard this story a couple of times. I think it might be apocryphal, but I like the idea. So we’ll run with it like a mouse. The idea of the mouse was to help people with the kinds of impairments that prevented them from using a keyboard and track pad more available, more readily. So the mouse was invented to help people access work.
And then remember how many of us, pre laptop, lived with a mouse in our hand for decades. So, these are things that matter because they were designed for someone. I mean, I’m sure all of us who are getting those nifty new, low light, blue lenses, because we’re all staring at screens all day, that along the way, I’m sure was informed by someone who did something to help someone who needed an assistance with their vision to be a more efficient worker. And yet here we are with this commercial product that’s going to make all of us more efficient. So, I love that. I think that’s something we need to tattoo it across the foreheads of all HR people and chief innovation officers at companies, is who am I doing this for? Am I doing this for the masses or am I doing this for the person who needs it most so that the masses can thrive because they’re there?
JENNIFER BROWN: Amazing, amazing. You’re getting a lot of good comments. I want to go back to a question about unregistered voters, Jonathan. So how can they think about themselves in a way as fully invested, involved and essential, and not just a token demographic and see themselves in the process like you were talking about earlier? How do we, I guess, and this is dovetails into what is the way forward? I know we’re all sitting here and we’re hearing thank you for sharing some election developments in the chat. They’re happening in real time, but I know we’re all waking up this morning feeling alternatively hopeful, but heartbroken. Heartbroken about the way the beliefs and the values and the way so many people voted in this country, and yet we have so much potential to focus on in terms of, and so much work to do, I think around empowering, to say, you matter in this process, not just every four years, but on an ongoing basis. So, I might want to ask you, what’s next for your voter work? What form is it going to take? Yeah.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: You take a long nap.
JENNIFER BROWN: A nap.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: No. It doesn’t stop, Jen. I mean, this is, remember there were elections every year. And I think this actually gets at the heart of what you were just asking, which is, it is one thing to galvanize minority communities to be voters every four years because they think the future of their community and their livelihood is at stake. The majority of the laws that affect our lives on a daily basis happen at the state level and the city council level. And I can tell you as a guy who works in those spaces, I look left and I look right and nobody’s there, at half these meetings. Their seating their voice to the straight white men over 60, making all the choices for them in a majority, minority nation. Cut that out. Because, and it actually really does underscore exactly what you were saying. And many in the chat were saying about power sharing. It is the fear that if I let someone make a choice for me, it will be against me.
People are elected to be the megaphones of their communities. And so if you want something to happen, I mean, I can’t tell you the number of senators and legislators I have swayed with one email and one letter sign on from 100 folks in their district, because they realize, “Oh, my God, no one’s ever brought this up to me before. I had no idea this was such an important issue.” Well, now you have it. And now you know what to do with that information. So, would you let someone tell you what to order for lunch? Probably not. But if you’ve got a kid in school and you’re worried about how state school funding is going to influence school lunch programs, and whether or not they’re going to get a healthy option or a packaged microwaveable pizza, you are letting someone else tell your kids what they could eat. And that then influences you because you have to work harder as a parent to keep your kids healthy.
So, everything is scalable and personal. So that’s how we get people involved and that’s how we hopefully lock them in, is that we remind them there is nothing sexy about this ballot amendment to get more parking cones appropriated for our local parking administration, but you know who that does affect? You when you go to park for your kid’s game and there’s nowhere to park and you end up being, you miss your kid hitting the game, winning whole run, because you were still circling the block 10 times for parking. So, you got to make things contextualized and personal. And I think people do that really well in the corporate setting, particularly around opportunity, that it’s not all about showing the intern can be the, we talked about that metaphor of the intern can become the CEO. Absolutely, they can.
That trajectory is not quite as cut and dry as maybe the graph shows it, but what we need to show people is why, why does that person need to see that? And what are the steps along the way? Showing them that if they stick around this company and they become the manager, they’ll have the agency to create equity for others, that not only do I want to promote you, I want to ask you to help us identify five candidates that we’re looking at from an HBCU and what sounds best to you as someone that we plucked out of a school like that.
So, it’s getting by in an agency for people who are participating. I have seen it and I think all of us are a little guilty sometimes of celebrating the success story and then putting it on the shelf with the other awards. Check back in on that success story. That person who you promoted from intern to middle manager is probably ready by now to become a senior manager. What have they learned that has been informed by their experience? You gave them the MVP award for being a diverse employee five years ago. Who do they want to give it to next, because you’ve challenged them to be the mentor?
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I love that. That’s 360 degree sponsorship too, right?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: So we talk a lot about it. Sponsorship is literally sharing our capital with others and having that capital be shared with us. And it is the way that we rebalance power. And I love what you just said., we can simultaneously need that. And we need it a lot, especially when we’re underrepresented. Sponsorship is critical to be pulled up by someone with the capital to do that. And to check back in, you just said, I mean, Jonathan, I wish, if I could wave my magic wand and change one thing, I would like to make all senior leadership accountable, to not just check back in, but choose and be assigned whichever way they want to go, kicking or screaming. I don’t really care, but be assigned that upcoming generation of leaders. Raise them up. Make sure that there’s no obstacles in their way so that they someday leave because they’re so frustrated and heartbroken.
I mean, it’s heartbreaking what happens when every single person that is not underrepresented leaves an organization because they’re so uncomfortable. There was really no excuse for that. That is a failure of strategy. And yet, we leave so much of this stuff in the workplace up to chance and chemistry. That’s what I really love. That sponsorship relationships have to exist only if I feel a chemistry with someone. Who am I likely to feel chemistry with? This was somebody that looks exactly like me, that went to the same school as I did, whose kids know my kids. It’s not enough. We have to rebalance this. And I love your idea too. Like I say to 30-year-olds I speak to, “You can be a sponsor to someone else. You can be pulling up. And you have to be.” And then how diverse are your networks? Who are you making time for and who are you asking for time from? We’ve got to do it for ourselves at the same time as we’re making time for it on the backend too. And I think if we did that better, our pipeline would be flowing more effectively.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I totally agree. And actually someone made a comment in the chat here that I thought was really great, about learning from fear. What are we not achieving because the programs that we have in place or the initiatives underway, are meant to elevate people out of a situation without actually addressing why that situation exists in the first place.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that’s good.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: So, I think about an example, I was guest speaking back when I was living in New York, when we were neighbors, Jen, and I got invited to speak at something about the evolution of social justice and the intersection of business and civil rights and things like that. And it was held at, in a community meeting space at 60 Centre Street, which is the counter at the Courthouse. There was really low minority attendance because, just as a symbol, that’s not a place people want to be. We were told that it affirms all the worst things about ICE officers wanting to pick families up at the Courthouse, even though that’s a violation of the law. Too many folks connected to particularly black and brown injustices, said, “Hell no, I’m not spending any more time in that building than I should, because all that it represents a storage plea and probably going forward.”
So, no one had taken that into account. And it was one of the things where I wish I had known where the meeting was going to be a little earlier. It’s like an raised it. And I think that’s a great example to people of, have meetings in neutral spaces, have facilitators like you Jen and others out there who can be neutral arbiters of conversations to say, “I understand why we’re all here. Let’s take a minute to figure out why some people aren’t and why some people have been sitting quietly through this conversation.”
JENNIFER BROWN: I mean, and not to go on a tangent, but think about where mentoring takes place sometimes, right? Where we’re, I’m the woman and I have a cisgender male mentor and I’m in a bar, and I’m uncomfortable. LGBTQ people have been uncomfortable in that scenario for a long time. So when we back up and consider the system and the business as usual answer to things, we realize how many people are uncomfortable in that system. And that’s the curiosity and the commitment I want to see to investigate that. And to not leave any stone unturned, to say, I want to assume actually that bias exists everywhere in every single thing.
So the work of equity is literally revisiting every single core process and looking at it through that lens. Who has been historically uncomfortable, felt been reminded of their marginalization here, or having not felt safe? And we would just discover so much that needs to change. And that’s the work, right? And yes, I mean, does it make us uncomfortable to look at that because we sense we’re going to lose something we’re comfortable with? Okay. But we also have an unfair advantage because we’ve been enjoying this system because it’s been comfortable for us for so long. So how do we push [inaudible 00:53:30]?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Well, Jen, another great example of that is a colleague of mine on a panel that we did not all that long ago, said, brought up an example that someone had said to her about, “You know how absolutely gut-wrenching and horrible it is when we see those images on TV, of an escort helping a young woman into a planned parenthood for …” Who knows what? It’s a health clinic. It’s none of our business what’s going on in there. But the fact that a woman needs an escort into that building is wrong and happens. And thank God for the people who are strong enough to stand next to her and help her into that building. That is the same kind of fear and trepidation that particularly many young, particularly employees of color feel when they’re going into review time. And it’s six white, straight hiring managers right in front of them giving them their review.
They don’t think of it that way, because that’s not their experience, but you’re walking in front of a crowd that historically has not been on your side. So, it is so important to even just be thinking cognizantly about the optics of the rooms we’re creating. And that does not mean tokens, my friend, because I think everyone knows here, we do not need window dressings. I do not need you to … It’s not ordering a prefixed menu. Okay. I’ve got my salad, my soup, and what minority can I have at the table too? It’s not that. It’s, who’s supposed to be here and why? And more importantly, if it is six white dudes deciding the future of this employee, where the hell are the women and where the hell are the other minorities, because this table is not it.
JENNIFER BROWN: Have you heard of the power of three, like three out of every 10 is when it starts to feel safer?
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I like that.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s a ratio. I think of it as a ratio. When we can go beyond being the only, and we have a critical mass where we can be seen as more than our identity. And then we can break out, and to your point earlier, be seen for all the things we are, not just the thing that is visible about us or assumed. Excellent. I love that.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: Is it [Mandis 00:55:27]? I apologize if I’m saying your name wrong. In the chat, said, “[inaudible 00:55:30] the acquaintance was being interviewed in position of all white women.” And he said that he felt immediately defeated. Look, being aware of your own identity is one of the keys to being able to help others. And I know as a cisgender, white guy, upper-middle-class, Jewish guy, who’s got a lot going for him, I am not at the epicenter of most acts of violence and prejudice. However, when I went to speak at the Association of General Contractors Conference on construction, as the only, let me say the only out LGBT person in the room-
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Yeah.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I sure knew what a lot of people in that room were thinking about me, but more importantly, I knew that it mattered that I was there because the amount of people who chased me down the hallway and said, “Can we go somewhere private to talk? I need help. I need answers, I need suggestions,” showed me I went to the right room and it was worth me being a little uncomfortable, but I can be a little uncomfortable. I’m a cisgendered white guy. So, I’m okay with that. It’s probably okay. So, that matters. And I know, again, we don’t want to layer down on tokenism of any kind. And that is, it is important that we always smash that, but also take advantage of agency and ownership of your identity in those spaces. If I am on a panel of corporate leaders and no one has, I try to throw in my pronouns whenever possible, if for no other reason, to let someone in the audience know, I’d love to hear your pronouns. And that it’s a safe space for you to share with me your identity.
Do you need to know that I have a learning disability and I’m openly gay and things like that? No, but it definitely made the person who feels like me in that audience feel like they’re seen and represented, when just looking at me, I probably look like another CIS white dude. Maybe not so much straight with the outfit, but CIS white dude sitting on the panel, having conversation about diversity. I want you to know that I live at least some part of your experience and what I don’t know, I will fight for.
JENNIFER BROWN: I want you to know I live a part of your experience and understand it. And what I don’t know, I will fight for. I love that.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: I’m not trans. I am not transitioning. I do not understand that lived experience, but my God, do you deserve to experience that freely and fairly and safely for yourself? And I will do whatever it takes to make sure that you can and replace being trans with being black and voting, with being a woman and getting healthcare, with being a Latino and trying to help your family get the documentation you need. Whatever it might be, just be there and be out for someone else.
JENNIFER BROWN: My friend, you’re so good.
JONATHAN LOVITZ: My friend. And with the same thing and any chance I ever get to speak in front of people, I always end with the same thing because I hope you take it to heart with you. The quote from the great queer anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.”
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 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.
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