New and Improved: On Writing my 2nd Edition, with JBC's Adrienne Lawrence

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

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This episode, originally recorded as a LinkedIn Live, features a conversation between Jennifer and JBC Vice-President Adrienne Lawrence, as Jennifer discusses the highly anticipated second edition of her book How to Be an Inclusive Leader which launches on October 4th, 2022. Jennifer reveals why she made the decision to tackle a second edition of the book and the need for a more balanced leadership style. She also discusses how to reframe the concept of privilege and the need to call leaders in instead of only calling them out.

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

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: How do you see the notion of maintaining some neutrality as a leader, given our highly polarized context in the US?

JENNIFER BROWN: Neutrality is an interesting word. And yet, we're also being asked as leaders to take stands and yet be inclusive. And maybe there's disagreement on our teams. Maybe we disagree. Maybe we have certain beliefs. But we have to lead every day and show up in an organization that has committed often ... A lot of our world, thankfully, the values that are stated by the company are, "This is what we support. We are evolving as our world evolves, as our customers get more diverse in every way, as our workforce diversifies." Because by the way, millennials and Gen Z, they are not here for exclusion. They're watching, they're listening, they're holding accountable, they're demanding, they're asking, they're expecting. Neutrality isn't enough for that contingent.

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

Hello and welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. Today's episode was originally recorded as a LinkedIn live and features a conversation between Jennifer and JBC vice president, Adrienne Lawrence, as Jennifer discusses the second edition of her book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive. And I just wanted to mention that you'll hear details about the book. If you go to, click on the books dropdown, you'll then see How to Be an Inclusive Leader. When you click on that, you'll see how to get notified and order your copy of How to Be an Inclusive Leader, second edition, as well as some special offers on that page as well. So make sure to check that out. And now, on to the episode.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: We are talking with Jennifer Brown about her highly anticipated upcoming second edition of How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive. And that launches on Tuesday, October 4th. Welcome in Jennifer.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks, Adrienne. Thanks for joining me and celebrating my ... I think this is the fourth book baby.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: I'm so excited for you. That's fantastic. Yes. And I am Adrienne. Adrienne Lawrence, the vice president at Jennifer Brown Consulting, where we invest in helping workplaces create environments where all feel welcomed, valued, respected and heard. And I am very excited to be hosting this conversation with Jennifer. And Jennifer, let's go ahead and really jump into it. And also for those of you out there who want to jump into questions, please feel free to submit any questions into the chat. The comment feature. And we're going to go ahead and put them all together and hopefully we will get to them in our Q&A portion of this conversation.

But to turn to your amazing second edition of the book, I have to ask as a precursor question since it was first published in 2019, your first edition, it's been huge. Over 50,000 copies sold of How to Be an Inclusive Leader. So really what drove you and motivated you to tackle writing a second edition of the book?

JENNIFER BROWN: That's a great question, Adrienne. We wondered that many times during the writing process. But actually, honestly it flowed really well because in reading something and anything that's written in 2019 it's an experience of feeling like the before times and the now times. Yes, there are timeless concepts in this work, as we know, and there's always best practices and things that will be evergreen, but in rereading 2019 and what I wrote, I was a different person. The world was different. The pandemic I realized really deepened I think our skillset as a team, also Adrienne. And in myself, I felt so much more equipped to be more specific, more directive, more helpful. I felt like I understood better having done 200 virtual keynotes, basically over the course of the pandemic and hearing the chat and answering questions and understanding what was on people's minds and hearts.

I had so much to say. So I'm a different writer now. I'm a different level of practitioner, I think. And I just have such a deep empathy and I think understanding of what people are struggling with based on all the feedback that we've collected. And so rewriting it, it just flowed out of us. And I'll say us because I had this incredible small team working with me, including Karen Dahms, and Varshini Balaji. And between the three of us and our editor, Berrett-Koehler, it shaped itself around the continuum that we kept. But basically we rewrote 70% of it, which we didn't need to do because second editions don't need to typically be that rewritten. But we felt from an integrity perspective that it had to be rewritten and updated.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: That's a really powerful thing. And I agree with you. Over the pandemic a lot of us changed. Our world changed. And for you to channel that into helping people understand how to be a better leader in this new world, shall we say, is a very, very important thing because I know people are looking for that guidance coming out of this pandemic and possibly even rolling into a new one. And so when it comes to the second edition, I know that you talk about leadership traits, things including humility, empathy, vulnerability, resistance. And so I'm wondering why have these traits become such a central part to leaderships in terms of skill sets?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I mean, Adrienne, we know inclusive leadership is good leadership. And it always has been. But I think we've put a really fine point on it these days. And I think this trend of revisiting leadership competencies obviously has been happening for a really long time. But this really pushed it over the edge because all of a sudden, I think leaders realized over the course of 2020 and 2021, what I've been doing is not going to work anymore. It's not going to work in the same way because the context has shifted. And leaders don't exist without followers. They don't exist without the respect and the trust and the ability to generate partnership and collaboration. I think many of us woke up that we're leading from a different playbook and realized I need to fundamentally revisit what I do every day, how I do it, how I think about my place in the system.

And that is a perfect opening to think about, well, what does a more balanced leadership style look like? The one that I think we've always craved ... I'll probably speak for you too. When I was in organizations, most leaders just didn't cut it. I mean, at all. And hence I became an entrepreneur. Because I felt there was these huge gaps in people's competency and also willingness to be inclusive, to consider what that really means on a day to day basis. So yes, now we're having this expansive conversation about redoing our leadership competencies, making them more complete and more inclusive and orienting them around ... The best leaders know how to generate belonging. The best leaders have an equity lens on every policy process they follow, every conversation. The best leaders lead with an intersectional lens. Meaning I see your difference. I not only see it, but I anticipate what do I need to do to ensure that you are thriving?

So I try to give these phrases to people I speak to to say these are the things you need to begin to say. And by the way, we have to say them early, often, consistently, repeatedly. Because remember, people are entering the workplace and are in the workplace with a lot of trauma. They're carrying a lot of not feeling seen and heard, a lot of struggling with belonging. So the best leaders are really leaning into this hard and asking themselves, I know it's uncomfortable, I know I don't have a script for this, I know I've never seen this done probably because we don't have a lot of role models in certain generations and in certain identities and lived experiences, but we've got to make it up and we've got to begin to shift how we show up for people and alongside people because we will never get people's full contribution if they feel psychologically unsafe and if they struggle with belonging on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Absolutely. And again, something that seemed to come out of this time in quarantine with the pandemic is people really nurturing themselves and figuring out what's important to them. And what is seems to be important to them is to have a leader who gets them, who invests in understanding the struggles, the triumphs, the challenges that people are facing. And also who shows up differently than just do you let me give orders? But more of let me invest in your inclusion and have a better understanding of that. And so when it comes to those inclusive leaders out there, what would you say really seems to differentiate them that sets them apart from the average leader, particularly in this new world?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I mean, I wish we knew more of them. I think we see a lot of people in progress. People trying, people getting comfortable being uncomfortable. People wading into the waters and not sure of the outcome. And that is to me, the definition of a growth mindset. It is fail forward. It is get into the arena. And not needing all the answers. Not needing to be perfect. So I do think we see a lot of folks growing in real time. And I feel that I'm in the same process. I'm not any different. There's so much I don't know. So inclusive leaders listen a lot, step back, participate and put themselves in places that are unfamiliar, speaking of the growth mindset. Have a deep empathy and put themselves in others' shoes to the extent that we can. Most of the time we cannot literally. But learning enough about somebody else's lived experience that you can anticipate what challenges they may face in a given system. Which by the way, most systems are biased. We know this. They were not built with a full compliment of architects at the table. And this is the workplace that we are faced with.

And so I think that inclusive leaders acknowledging their place in that system and whether they're an insider or an outsider or maybe both at the same time ... Like I feel like I am an insider and an outsider at the same time because of my skin color, because of my ethnicity, because of my maybe gender presentation, because of perhaps my socioeconomic background, but outsider as an LGBTQ person, outsider as a cisgender female in a cisgender male dominated world, for example. So inclusive leaders are constantly I think, taking a pulse on which system am I sitting in now? And then what is incumbent on me to do, to say, to alert, to raise, to challenge? And finding the voice in the situation.

So what's needed from me right now? Should I speak up? Should I challenge? Should I support and center someone else? Should I step forward? Should I step back? Should I step to the side? I think the inclusive leader develops this vigilance around what's needed in the moment, but they've done that through homework. They've done that through personal relationships with people across different. So that if I am the only one in the room that can speak to somebody's experience who's not in the room, I'm going to know enough to know what to say and how to direct it. And by the way, this is available to all of us. We are always in some way the only in the room. Even if it's maybe not along the usual categories that we think about. But there's always an opportunity to activate.

Adrienne, we write about privilege in the book a lot but redefined as basically whatever we have access to that someone else does not. And how are we utilizing that in the system to challenge the system to be better? And that is the definition. So it's not a heavy thing. It's not, oh, I feel bad about who I am and how I was raised and what I was given. It's no, let's work with what we have today and let's use that to tackle systems from the place that we sit with all of the advantages we have. And perhaps from the places where we've really struggled and been challenged with our identity, we can be extremely powerful change makers too in a system.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yes, yes. Incredibly so. And getting people to recognize their privilege and embrace it and be able to use it as a tool to really help create more equitable environments and more inclusive environments is ... As far as I'm concerned, it's a privilege in its own. And I know on that topic, it's really been a loaded one for many people. And in the second edition of the book, you talk about reframing that concept of privilege as a call in to leaders instead of a call out. Why is that framing of privilege so incredibly important?

JENNIFER BROWN: Well, I really think we've inadvertently left a lot of folks out of the change equation. Folks because of how they identify. Because maybe the perception was and is that they have nothing to contribute because of their lived experience or their ... I think diversity is so broadly defined, but I think some of us make an assumption that someone's not diverse, whatever that means. And I don't think there's an understanding of what contributions can be made from privileges. I just don't think that we speak about it that way. And in not speaking about that, we have sent this message to a huge group of people with a lot of power, by the way, to create change. Probably more power than I have and you have Adrienne. We have sent this message that well, you don't have anything to contribute. You're not welcome. We don't want you. We're not interested. You've caused the harm, therefore you sit in the corner.

But the problem is that systems respond still. Until we reinvent them to be more equitable and democratic, they still respond to power and there's many kinds of power. So as smart change makers, we have to think about where does power sit? How can we leverage it? How can we be in solidarity with it to accomplish what we want to accomplish? What I want to accomplish, which is inclusive workplaces of belonging, which are safe, which are healthy, where all of us are given ample and equal and equitable opportunities to thrive. We're not going to accomplish that with just some of us doing the work of that. But who has articulated the partnership that needs to exist? What does it look like?

I grew up in this work consulting to ERGs and I wrote a paper on executive sponsors. And executive sponsorship really gave me my first look into what allyship looks like at the executive level. And it was so inspiring. And there was so much opportunity there. And there were so few executives who really knew how to leverage their power, knew how to step in, knew how to go into an unfamiliar place and have a conversation that still resulted in a connection and in trust being built. And so I've always remembered those early executive sponsors as people that ... Honestly, I don't know how you feel, Adrienne, when you meet somebody like that, but it is inspiring in a whole different way, because it's somebody who is in the power structure as it is today. One aspect of the power structure. But they're literally thinking about, "I'm going to do everything I can from where I sit to participate and drive change. I'm going to do my part. And my part looks different than the part I play than the part ERGs play than the part early in career talent play." But it needs to be this coalition.

So when we talk about privilege as a rationale for dismissing the contributions of certain people with this kind of power, I don't think we can afford to speak about it that way or think about it that way. Because honestly, this work is complex. Changing systems is hard enough. And for some of us, by the way, to exhaust ourselves like the fly against the screen door. Trying to change things when we are coming from our place in the system without the pull and the partnership of others, of all kinds of identities, because I always say the messenger matters with this work as much as the message. The messenger. The package that it is delivered in, it means the difference between whether we are heard or not. It means the difference between getting something done quickly and taking 10 years to do something.

I don't know. I studied organizational change for my master's degree when I first started this work and I'll never forget the things that I learned there, which is about complex systems, which is about how change management happens and is most effective. And stakeholder analysis. Thinking about who needs to be at this table, architecting this, partnering. What do they need to be doing from where they sit? It's fascinating. And I think DEI, it would behoove us to step back and say, so where have we really created the most effective, lasting, most painless change? The quickest, the most efficient. What is the shortest way to get to where we need to go?

The shortest way is to partner strategically with all kinds of people and leverage what they have to contribute, period. So we can think all the things. And believe me, I'm angry about the way things are. And I'm happy that I became an entrepreneur, but I was saddened about how it felt to be in the organizational system. It's not that I'd agree with it. But we do need to meet the situation where we're at, and then we need to change it, build a new plane while we're flying the old plane. Somehow figure out how those things dovetail because we have to work with what we have. But the good news is allies are waking up. The good news is 2020 happened. A lot of people were just like, "Whoa. I never knew how I could be involved, but I want to be involved." And let's leverage that. Let's leverage that. And I think this book really speaks to that audience.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Absolutely. Yes. And if you're just joining us, what we're talking about is How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, the second edition, which launches on October 4th. And we are extremely excited about that. And if you do have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments and hopefully we will be able to add them to our conversation today. And Jennifer, you had mentioned your studies and where you have been on your journey. You talk a lot about that in your book, in the second edition here. And so I wonder if you can tell us more about the journey that you've had and really what else you've learned along the way that you feel has contributed to the second edition.

JENNIFER BROWN: What a question. Gosh, Adrienne, we have both been in this work for a long time. I feel like I'm coming up on 20 years. So who was I back then? I think I was very proud and coming into my own as an LGBTQ person and also certified woman owned and LGBT owned business too, which is a big part of our story. Something I'm extremely proud of and something that has enabled me to build these really lasting relationships with organizations and clients who are so dedicated to diversifying their supply chain. It's just amazing to see. In fact, I am beaming in right now from the NGLCC, which is The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Conference. And it's a place where I have met some of our most enduring relationships that I know Adrienne, you get to do the work into and so do I.

So that piece I think is going all the way back, helped me find my footing as somebody who was closeted. Who struggled as I don't know how many of you know that are tuning in. You may not know this, but I came to New York to be an opera singer and have deep, deep roots as a musician and as an artist and a performing artist, and then lost my voice and had to get surgery and had to stop singing and reinvent. And so this work, it came to me. I got my second master's after a master's in voice in organizational development. But being LGBTQ, I never understood how all these things could dovetail beautifully. And I think when I gave myself permission to dive from the leadership development space into this field, DEI, that I didn't even know had existed, I was elated to discover that I could get paid and set up a company that focused on this topic and then also transcend and grow beyond my deep identification with the struggle for LGBTQ equality in the workplace, and begin to broaden my aperture to look at DEI as a whole.

As I built JBC from just me, a couple of my first hires were experts who'd been in this work for 20 years. And bringing them in and having them lead our programs. And that was how we started to be in the DEI space. And Adrienne, it wasn't until ... I sat in the back. I might have been the founder and perhaps the head sales and marketing person and occasionally the consultant, but I was able to, and so fortunate to bring in people who really had a handle on the conversations that needed to happen and platform them. And until such time as I became more of an expert and started to write books and started to really find my own point of view in the system. So I didn't start JBC as the expert.

And it depends how we define expert. I don't know if any of us are. This work is never done and expertise is this rolling thing that we develop over time. But I think the act of writing books began to crystallize ... And I think my first was in 2017 with inclusion. It started to really crystallize my thought leadership. Maybe some of you listening to this are somewhere in this journey and maybe this is inspirational to you because we have to get our feet under us. We have to get the confidence to step forward. I mean, it is terrifying. Every book I've ever put out, I've had those moments where I've just wanted to say, "Oh, I don't want to do it. Cancel everything. It's not ready. I don't know enough." Those attacks of imposter syndrome are so intense. I don't know if they happen for you, Adrienne. Do you still get them?


JENNIFER BROWN: Occasionally. Yeah. I think I've moved beyond most of them. But honestly it's real. And as you step forward and say, this is my point of view, this is my commitment. I'm putting it in print. And all the things I didn't have room to say, all the things that I wanted to add that I couldn't, and you just have to give it up. You just have to give it. You pour your heart into it and you give it to the world. And book writing has been one of my favorite things I've ever done. The proudest thing I've ever done, honestly, in addition to founding Jennifer Brown Consulting. Having something I can give to people that they can use without me or you Adrienne, or any of our team being there to nurture the conversation, but they can nurture it themselves. They can access what we think about and our advice and the context that we explain and just the way that we can make sense of all of this chaotic world that we're in right now to be able to pick something up and feel they have a piece of us even if we don't get the chance to interact, that was always really important to me.

Because we are what's called a B2B company at JBC. Meaning we're business to business, which means we get hired by companies. And we haven't until recently had the ability to reach the individual learner, the individual practitioner. So books enable you to do that. And so yeah, it was a missing piece for me for many years. And to have this out ... And who knows, there're probably more ahead. So hey, everybody listening, we're always open to suggestions. What would you like me to write on next? I think I have an idea. I have a long list actually. But it's hard to choose because the opportunity is huge. I have a lot to say. There's a lot that I think could be helpful. And the world is changing so quickly it feels like priorities are constantly going like this. But please let us know. I'd always be very, very open to feedback. And I think there's a lot of books in my future.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: I like that. That is fantastic. And anybody out there who wants to get in on that second edition of How to Be an Inclusive Leader, please go to You can get notified by registering at the page for book updates. Everything you want to know, and it will come to your inbox. So go to and get in on the intel for the second edition of How to Be an Inclusive Leader, which launches on October 4th.

And Jennifer, when we talk about the work that we do at Jennifer Brown Consulting, which is something that I love doing, I love being a VP there and being able to help people craft their inclusivity goals and overcome challenges and really just be able to provide optimal performance when it comes to leadership and investing in DEI programs. And so we know that a lot of companies have been investing for years yet we haven't necessarily seen a lot of progress at times in certain segments and areas. And I'm wondering why is that?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my goodness. That's the question. I think part of it is, Adrienne, that we haven't engaged everyone and given them the right role to play in change. And yes, there's been resistance to being engaged for sure. I want to say that. There's absolutely a denial of how important this is. There is the, "Oh, this has nothing to do with me." Or, "Somebody else is going to take care of this and tell me what to do." Absolutely. But I think going forward at least we need to begin to have a different conversation with people that have not been meaningfully participating. We've got to figure that out. Because I just think we're exhausted and, like I say, we're never going to achieve the sustainable, deep lasting change that we want if we're not going to involve everyone. Because I think that's a key ingredient to creating what we want to see.

It's funny, we've talked about the business case for years. We have related DEI to bottom line results, to better shareholder returns. We've correlated all the things. And the messengers of that have been the big consulting firms, have been all the think tanks. The entities that you would think are extremely respected. They're established. They are the ones that businesses go to for answers. We don't have a dearth of research either. It leaves you with the question of human behavior and the humans in this equation. Because the facts, the research, the rationale, the business results, all that, we could always refresh that. We could always present it in a different way, but I feel like I've been beating my head against the wall with the business case for so many years and what I really want to do is speak from the heart.

What I really want is the empathy that I have felt grow in myself through my relationships with people across difference. Like Adrienne, our conversations. The things that you've shared with me, I carry with me and they make me a better leader and a better human and a better citizen and a better person in the world. I don't understand exactly the mindset that so many folks carry of well, I don't want to change, I don't need to change, I don't want to be challenged, I don't want to be uncomfortable. I understand it. I wonder if there's a way for us to make space for the discomfort and name more of the emotions that come up during change. The change that we're asking for.

It's fear, it's trepidation, it's feeling threatened perhaps. It is for sure anger, shame, and guilt. I think a lot about the things that hold us back when we're given the playbook and we still don't use it. Why? One of my next book ideas is ... And this is the road I was on before we did the second edition was to really begin to clarify the emotions that get in the way of me doing the right thing. Exhibiting the new behaviors, or trying to meet my inclusion goals. What is preventing people from doing that?

I don't know if we've gotten our heads around that and our hearts around that or really explained it, named it, made space for it, talked about how to get through it. Because that's the other thing. I know I've had experiences where I'll watch something and perhaps as a white person, I will feel triggered. I will feel shame and guilt. I will feel my whole hard drive crashing. I literally feel it. And I'll be at the bottom of the dark well of shame and guilt and horror and regret and wondering where do I go from here? Because it is overwhelming what we've learned. If you're really listening, it should be very overwhelming. It should be very shame and guilt inducing. It is. It is. It's a fact.

The question to me is, so where do I go from there? How do I process that? How do I metabolize it? How do I digest all of that and yet move forward and move through? And again, it's really interesting because I'm not a psychologist. I know what I am and I know what I'm not, and yet it feels to me like somebody needs to unpack that. And if we can unpack it in a way it's like Humpty Dumpty falls apart. How do you put Humpty Dumpty back together again? How do you get back on at the same time as you're feeling so many feelings that I'm incompetent, I don't have the skills, my heart is broken? How do I get back and continue to grow and do the work in spite of or alongside all of those things that I'm feeling, which I should be feeling because I'm human and I'm in this world?

It's a very deeply personal answer to that question. And each one of us, that's why I think that the continuum in the book, that's why I wanted to keep it. Because I feel like what I tried to do with this model, which is four stages of development, is to say, it's okay where you are. I see you. I am also on a journey. We are all. You're not alone. We're on a journey. We are imperfect. We are flawed. We are coping with all that we're learning and taking in. We're trying to figure out what the right next step is for me, from where I am. And I just want to help. I just want to help in that, because I believe if we lose a generation of people who could have been participants, but because they're unsure and unable, whether it's a cognitive, an intellectual challenge, or whether it's an emotional challenge, I'm not able to, I'm not willing to, I'm afraid, I feel bad about myself. A lot of that stuff I think is swirling.

And until we name that, we may get participation in change. Superficial participation. We may get, oh, I'm going to check the box. Oh, I'm going to do these things that everybody's telling me to do. But what I worry about is the sustainability of these efforts. I worry about the person and the human and the heart in there, because the best change is head, heart, hands. It uses all of us. And if I'm just cognitively participating, and God forbid, if because I have to, that is not going to be sustainable. It's actually not going to help us achieve what we need to achieve.

So the question for all of us ... And I'm not answering the question because I don't have the answer. But I want us to get really deep and specific and go to these places. These squishy places where we're getting stuck. Where people are getting stuck. And unstick it. So what are our ideas for how to unstick it? This is an open question. I'm still trying to figure it out. And all I can say is I feel deep feelings of negativity and self blame. And I challenge myself to see those and move through it, but not deny them because they're there. Feelings are an important signal for us. They're important. We must cherish them. They are telling us something really important about who we are as people. So don't deny them, don't bury them. Find your people to talk about them. That's my advice too. Find your crew.

ERGs have been the space where a lot of us have been able to bring this and say, I'm feeling this way. I'm feeling tormented. I'm feeling stuck. I'm deeply, deeply in guilt and shame. I'm feeling angry. I just need to air this and find our people to air this with so that we can get it out of our systems and get out of the hijack of our amygdala which is the fight and flight piece of us, that primitive part of us as humans, as animals and just acknowledge that and give it some space because it's there for a reason to protect us.

And then ask the question that comes from a more evolved place. The frontal cortex. So now, okay. I'm feeling those things and I need to lead. I need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I need to be a bigger person. I need to use this and see this trigger as a learning opportunity. And that's at least my process for my own self as I move through this.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yes. That speaks to a lot of journeys that individuals have in this area. And it sounds like you answered one of the questions I was going to ask. When people are asking about how do we address this behavioral need to change in organizations? And so identifying how you're feeling and the fact that we don't necessarily have the answers. And I would say in part, because this is sociology. Behavior is always changing. Motives for it. All of these new things that are coming up in our society. But I guess in my practice, one thing I love to explain to people is to decenter yourself. Because when you find yourself focused on your own feelings and your shame and your this and your that, you're youring. It's all about you. As opposed to maybe the marginalized group or the person who needs that inclusivity, who needs to be brought to the table.

And so taking it from the standpoint of it's not about me and let's talk about what I can do moving forward, as opposed to just sitting here and focusing on me and how I feel. And I definitely can tell you you'll feel a lot better when you get up and use your privilege or use your power to try to right the wrong. To try to fix it. To try to make it better. And that's something you do, which is awesome with the second edition. You build on something that was already great and find a way to make it better. And so I'm wondering, because you talk a lot about identity in the second edition, how has your perspective about identity changed really in the years between the first and second edition?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. I can answer that very specifically. Well, lots of changes happened in our political system and I felt all the feelings that so many of us did and recognized ... I remember I went to a women's march. One of the big, big, first ones in New York City. And I recognized and would come to learn that women of color didn't feel comfortable. Many did not feel comfortable participating in it. While I was in the march feeling my feelings. And I think that was a real shift when things started to click in about intersectionality. Things started to click in for me about, wait a second, I have identified as a member of the LGBTQ community in that fight for so long. It's been so much a part of my identity. And yet there are these other identities that give me different privileges, different advantages, different access, different comfort, different safety in certain places, different community in certain places. And it really deepened my ... I think it awakened the ally in me so powerfully and I began to become a student again and again, again, because we were never not students of other experiences of other women of different identities and begin to reconcile how I could be having both the marginalized experience and the experience of the protection that privileges bring.

And that started to click in. And I honestly, being LGBTQ and everything I learned through that fight obviously never will not be a part of my DNA and all the conversations ... I worked with ERGs for so long and deeply steeped myself in their experience. And not my identities, but other identities that are represented by ERGs. It was such a gift and a privilege. You talk about privilege to be in rooms where I could be listening and I could be learning and I could take that information with me.

But something really flipped between the writing of the first and the second book about my allyship, my accomplicing, my solidarity, how I need to show up from this place, perhaps on the side of the power that I have access to to utilize it. It just became which parts of my identity I pull to the front now and how I speak to people that look like me and perhaps people that might give me unearned access and credibility and authority and my recognition of that. And then my wielding of that. And I will use that word. It's deployment. It is wielding. It is literally ... I'll share this. Maybe some of my clients are here. This is the inside process that I go through, but just say, what needs to happen here and how can I utilize what I have to make that happen? That is my job.

So when I come into rooms physically or otherwise, virtually, and think what needs to happen here and what do I need to pull out strategically to make it happen? And how will they hear me? And what credibility will they give me? And by the way, how will they challenge my credibility? Because by the way, every room I walked into and still walk into, I'm aware that that's also going on. So it's this intuitive sense after speaking so, so much to so many different audiences. You can mind read a little. A lot. And so you know ... You're like, okay, so this is happening. This is being thought about me. This is being assigned to me. This is being assumed about me. This is how I can speak somebody's language because I'm from that world.

And there are certain of us like me, who I think we need to be doing this work because I don't want somebody else to have to be in the place I'm in and deal with all of the microaggressions, all of the biases, all of the unfair treatment that I may not get saying the exact same things. So again, to make my point about how each of us have this really important role to play in the system, I just am extremely aware these days of the place that I inhabit and how to maximize every angle that I possibly can from the place that I'm in so that somebody may not have to deal with the uncomfortable questions, the doubts, the skepticism, frankly, the bias, the questions that probably need to be asked and need to be dealt with and answered and put into context.

But perhaps I can do that. And Adrienne, I can save you that conversation. And you can save me some conversations. You are a huge ally yourself for LGBTQ people. You have lots of identities that you deploy and I know that's why you and I have so much fun being the two of us because we're like, there is nowhere to hide.


JENNIFER BROWN: And I love that.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: I do too. Because you see so many inequities in the world and when you see the power and the privilege that you bring to the table and that you can stand up and use your voice, it's a very empowering thing and it feels good. And so this next question ... And we don't have very much time, so I'm going to try to hit a few questions hopefully before we close out our conversation today. But this question came about standing up or saying something and it is, how do you see the notion of maintaining some neutrality as a leader, given our highly polarized context in the US?

JENNIFER BROWN: I get this question so much and often I have to answer it in front of hundreds of people. I'm like, thank you very much. That's the third rail. Does inclusion really include everyone? And again, I don't know if I'm going to wrap this one up in a nice little bow for all of us. I think neutrality's an interesting word. Yes. And yet we're also being asked as leaders to take stands and yet be inclusive and maybe there's disagreement on our teams. Maybe we disagree. Maybe we have certain beliefs, but we have to lead every day and show up in an organization that has committed often. A lot of our world thankfully the values that are stated by the company are, "This is what we support. We are evolving as our world evolves, as our customers get more diverse in every way, as our workforce diversifies." Because by the way, millennials and gen Z, they are not here for exclusion. I mean they're watching, they're listening, they're holding accountable, they're demanding, they're asking, they're expecting.

So leaders, neutrality isn't enough for that contingent. And I would say neutrality isn't enough in my opinion. However, but fair treatment ... What is fair? In whose eyes? That's always been a very subjectively applied concept. But I think we've got to ... If we're lucky enough to work for an organization where we can lean on as leaders the commitment to certain values of inclusiveness, I think that's an important piece to orient our leadership around. Which is that this is the kind of workplace where we want everyone to be able to thrive, to feel seen and heard, to feel safe. And without that, we won't get their best contributions. And we know this. We know this. And we want to have that cultural intelligence around the table so that we can not just respond to a diversifying world, but pivot ahead of it.

And we're never going to be able to see around the corner if we don't have as many viewpoints as possible around that table feeling safe enough to contribute. So I think for leaders, are we being asked to take stands on social issues and political issues more and more? Yes. And companies are being asked to do this. And so in a perfect world, we've got alignment between me as a middle manager or leader and the C-suite and that CEO who has the hardest job of all, because believe me, it's getting really, really tricky up there to deal with all of this and be shepherding a workforce through these waters and also dealing with boycotts and threats and legislation and protecting employees, which ultimately has to be where leaders come down onto is I'm here to protect. And more and more, everybody, this is what it's coming to.

To me, it feels that you're either on the side of your employees or you're not. And you're either paying attention to what your employees want, what they need, how they define safety, how they define bring your full self to work and have that be honored and valued. So does neutrality go far enough? No. But I do think if we can apply that equitably, if we can be threading the needle ... Welcome to my world. I mean, welcome to leadership. Leadership is not leadership unless it's uncomfortable and yes, we're being challenged on this, but this is this beautiful challenge to remake how we think of our workplace, which should be a place of purpose, which should be the best place. Adrienne, I know you love what you do. I love what I do.

I think there's so much pride that can be unleashed and so much belonging that can be unleashed at work. And remember institutions right now, not our government, but companies are the most trusted institutions right now. So think about what comes with that. Think about why that happened. It's because our employers can go so long and so far in terms of creating that safe space. I mean, think about around the world, by the way. Being LGBTQ is a crime in so many countries, and yet we have the IBMs. We have companies that have offices all around the world and that one employee who might feel the safest in the workplace context and maybe not on the commute home and maybe not in the culture, but safest working for a company that states its values and states them loudly. We are truly ... Maybe not for some of us that live in certain parts of the world, not saving lives, but I think saving somebody's emotional health and their psychological health and their sense of belonging and taking care of mental health challenges, making sure that family is supported, parenting is supported. I can't even imagine something more important.

And my prayer is that we all find ourselves at some point working for that kind of institution. And if they're not there yet and there's a lot of neutrality going on or worse, silence, we feel you. Call us at JBC. I think we're actually really excellent at working with companies that are really not at all understanding where they need to locate themselves and how they need to grow and why and all that stuff. So anyway, long story short, but if you have the neutrality, I would use those wonderful business cases I just described. I would describe how the world is changing. I would know how generations are expecting different things. I would acknowledge the generational difficulties that people in my generation have with wrapping their heads and hearts around this moment and how to lead. But I would say always be on the side of the future. And as leaders we always need to be doing that. And so if we're anticipating this world that is more diverse, more multicultural, our teens have all kinds of gender identities and expressions on them. We have all kinds of humans and our job comes down to really getting the best out of those humans and enabling them to feel safe enough to make those contributions. I mean, there's really nothing else I think to talk about.

Adrienne Lawrence : I agree very much and that's a very beautiful vision for the future. Because I think we do want leaders to step away from this thought of neutrality because it's not inclusion. And the commitment isn't to neutrality, it's to inclusion. And so when people truly start to focus on that and elevate it, I think that's when we are going to see monumental change. And so as we are wrapping up our conversation today on your second edition of How to Be an Inclusive Leader, I must ask you, let the people know why should they get this second edition? What does it bring to the table?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, please get it. It's not your average second edition. Like I said earlier, Adrienne, you asked me why did you do it and then how much is new. It feels like a new book and yet wrapped around the inclusive leader continuum, which like you said, that so many people have found that model helpful. I didn't feel like I was done with it. I just wanted to put new context around it. To make it even more helpful and useful and relevant for our time. So please don't look at this as 10% new book. We think it's about 70% new. Please bring it in. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for anybody who hadn't discovered the first one. Start with the second one. Start with that one. Bring it in. Have book clubs. Have reading circles. Have discussions. Invite me to come in and say a few words and I probably will just because I like to do that and I always find groups that are reading the books to be so thoughtful in their questions. It's the most rewarding conversation that I have is when people dig into a book like this and come prepared because they thought about it. And then we can both learn together is my favorite thing.

So please know that it's updated, it's timely, it's from the heart. It is informed by three or four very difficult, challenging, amazing years. And I just think it's a book for our time and we'd love to have you all pick it up and spread it around. And let's all make a commitment together to getting this book into new hands. Let's not just preach to the choir, but if there's any book I feel like that you can give to somebody who knows nothing about this topic, it's one of mine and it's this one for sure.

And for some of you that feel like, ugh, this one's too hot, this one's too cold. It's like the porridge. It's sort of a this one's too technical, this one's too academic. I think this book is for leaders at any level. And it's for humans who are just trying to make sense of this and take that right next step and might be in the weeds of confusion, overwhelm. Lots of those feelings. I hope that it's a grounding book for those of us who just need to get started in change and don't know how.

Adrienne Lawrence : Absolutely. I love it. I love it. I love it. I love how you meet people where they are. That is fantastic. It's How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, the second edition, which drops on October 4th. That is a Tuesday. So please stay plugged in. Head over to and you can set it up to get notifications if you register for the book updates. So definitely please do. That's at and thank you so much for joining us for this conversation today, Jennifer. I appreciate it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks so much and thanks for everyone who joined us. I'm seeing so many old friends and new. I really appreciate all of you ahead of October 4th. Thank you for the support. I could never do this without knowing that I have this army of amazing people that are with us. Adrienne and some of them joined today. And thank you everybody for carrying this message like you do. You inspire us and you enable us to keep going.

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

DOUG FORESTA: You've been listening to The Will To Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you've enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown visit Thank you for listening and we'll be back next time with a new episode.