Owning Your Power: Jennifer Joins the Beyond Barriers Podcast

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

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In this episode, originally recorded for the Beyond Barriers Podcast, Jennifer discusses her own career journey and how to motivate yourself and others. Discover how to create a community of inclusion and the importance of making sure that all voices are heard. Jennifer also shares tips about developing your own personal brand and standing up in your power.

JENNIFER BROWN: I think you have to really pay attention to what you're told. And people will tell you what your brand is. People will tell you where you resonate.


JENNIFER BROWN: It's right there. And if it's not, maybe you're not paying attention. Maybe you're not putting yourself out there. Maybe you're not asking and saying, "So what is my unique angle?" When I say all these things that I say, you got to put yourself out there so that you can be heard. But then asking for that feedback to say like, "What's resonating most? Where do you really feel you have an aha moment from me and what I'm speaking into the world?"


DOUG FORESTA: The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, best selling 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 advised 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. The conversation that you're about to hear originally aired on the Beyond Barriers Podcast. We encourage you to follow the Beyond Barriers Podcast. You can find it wherever you listen to podcasts, or you can go to gobeyondbarriers.com/podcast. That's gobeyondbarriers.com/podcast. And now onto the conversation.


MONICA MARQUEZ: Welcome Jennifer. Thank you so much for joining us on the Beyond Barriers podcast. I am thrilled to have you here. I think we've been in the same DEI circle space for decades now, because we both started when we were five years old. But I'm thrilled to have you here and talk about your new book, all of the things that you are working on, and just to talk a little bit about your journey. I want this to be a little different because every time you are on all these podcasts, you get interviewed by all the big TV groups that are asking you about how do we influence and change diversity and inclusion, how do we make people more inclusive, you always have phenomenal expertise that you're sharing, but also you have your own journey and the ups and downs and you kind of having to fight your own battles and the systemic barriers and whatnot. So we're going to talk about both.

So to start off, let's just talk a little bit about your story, what you've learned along your journey, and maybe some of the key lessons that you've learned and how you got here today.

JENNIFER BROWN: How I got here, oh my goodness. Well, I have the story I always tell of having been an opera singer actually and having lost my voice as a singer and having to try to rehab it and get surgery and all that kind of stuff, but not really being ultimately able to use it in a musical sense and the same time kind of recognizing how much growing up in the performing arts influenced what I do today. Unbeknownst to me at that young age when I felt like my hopes and dreams were being shattered and that I had to walk away from something that I loved so much and still honestly brings me a fair amount of pain. I have to avoid thinking about what could have been. It's hard for me.

However, I love what I do now and I feel that it sort of found me and it rescued me in a way discovering the whole topic of leadership and specifically training. I found myself in an HR graduate program as I was reinventing myself out of music and found myself on a stage in a way facilitating groups. And it felt it drew on the same thing that I loved about the other stage, the connection with audience, the improvisational element of taking a group from point A to point B and learning that there was a craft to this, which is... I mean, I had an entire semester on facilitation skills. I felt like my head exploded and my heart exploded. I just loved it.

It was such a perfect role for me because I love to listen and I loved to elicit thoughts and ideas and shares from people who are learning. I love to learn with people. I love to be a learner in that context, even though perhaps I am facilitating. And it's something that I could do at that point without a lot of expertise, which is really interesting because facilitation is an art. It's an art that you can actually practice and do without expertise in domain knowledge. Because what it is, is it's pulling the wisdom and experience from the people in the room and connecting the dots and making... It's like jiu-jitsu. It's receiving something and you're turning it around and putting it back. And this was something I ended up, just like being really good at, loving, it was such a fit for what I do.

It's funny, as a keynoter now, I sort of push out a lot of information. It's a lot of like me to others. And now when you start to write books, people want to know what you think, think, think all day long. But honestly, my favorite moments are the fireside chats, the sort of group dialogue, the me getting to pause in my keynote and ask for reflections and then to be able to react to those in the moment unpredictably. Just being very, very present and also sensing what a group needs and sensing where a group is in its learning journey. And then also sensing you always have to realize everyone's at a different place. So the beautiful art of facilitation is holding all of that and somehow... But now I have that domain expertise and I sort of know where I want to go, but massaging the situation. Steering it, nudging it gently.


JENNIFER BROWN: Gently, but enabling so much agency on the part of the learners that I'm working with so that they feel it's there, so that they feel bought in, so that they feel involved. We adults learn differently than kids is one thing I would learn in my program, that we have to be able to connect concepts to our lived experience. And so I liked that too because it's been true for me as well. I've been sitting in that room like learning and taking it in and witnessing amazing and talented facilitators. I've had the pleasure of watching how that happens, but it is truly an art. So it's kind of ironic that I would end up on the edge of the stage myself. Sometimes I even feel separated from my audience and I always am trying to break through that barrier because while I can be on that big stage, it feels far away from people where I really just want to be connected with people.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yeah, that's amazing. I remember the first time I heard you share that story, I was like, "Oh my God." And I knew we'd be instant best friends because same thing, my first two years in college I was on a vocal performance scholarship and the whole opera thing too. And then realizing I too fell into this place of facilitating and doing that. And I felt like this is a stage and kind of also evoking emotion out of people and getting them to the whole emotional intelligence and taking them from point A to... And I'm like, "It is a performance."


MONICA MARQUEZ: And so it was a little bit of that, of doing it. So I remember hearing that story and thinking, "Oh my God, we have parallel lives. This is amazing."


MONICA MARQUEZ: And so since then, had always been following you and just really taking in. Even your books are so informative, but what was so easy was to take the expertise you were sharing in your book and helping others, like almost in layman's terms of helping them understand what it meant to be an inclusive leader.

And I really loved the book The Will to Change, of getting them like it's all about you have to be ready to change. Like you said, everybody is on their own journey, you meet them where they're at, but that will to change. And then just your podcast, right? So tell me a little bit more about that. You found that this newfound love of yours, you pivoted because you had to, but then how did you gain clarity on really becoming this subject matter expert in the DEI space? How did that come into play for you and how did you then realize, "I'm going to double down on this"?

JENNIFER BROWN: I did. I doubled down many years ago, perhaps to my detriment. I'm not sure. I'm not sure the world and our clients specifically were ready to fork over for that and make that investment, right? It's been hard to be in the space as long as I have. We're only just now, I think, able to really have the impact and grow in the way that we deserve. And that's just not us at JBC, but the whole field. But how it all started was I was on this tiny little board, volunteer board in New York for Out & Equal, which you know, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: Which is the LGBT advocacy organization that's been around for 25 years, probably more. This was more than 20 years ago. I met and worked with on that board a bunch of professionals who were in corporate roles who were the first LGBTQ people. And we didn't even say Q back then.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Right. Yeah. I remember.

JENNIFER BROWN: In fact, I remember the switch from GLBT to LGBT, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: And that was the movement, like first baby step to being more inclusive of women of all identities. And that challenge persists. But anyway, so I was at this sort of ground level with these amazing advocates each in our own respective large company and kind of tilting at the windmills, right? Trying to educate our companies about how to welcome us more, how to market more respectfully and more accurately to the community and get that buying power, which is now by the way, I think a trillion dollars or something.

MONICA MARQUEZ: I know. It's phenomenal. Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. So back then the numbers were still staggering, but today they're even more. And I was this baby, newly minted HR person with big dreams of, I don't even know, I probably thought I would be a corporate person, maybe ahead of learning and development or something. Being LGBT and working in the advocacy space for domestic partner benefits and all these other policy changes that we were weighing in on, companies were really listening to us. And I watched my colleagues do this and bravely in their organizations being the first, being the only, really going to the mat. And I was so inspired. I also came to understand how organizations change through that good pressure and that expertise from a community. And we were being listened to, we were having that influence.

So my very first sort of little baby consultant dollar is when I finally went on my own, I said, "Let me do some strategy work for LGBT ERGs. And that was back then trying to get a couple clients that would entrust me with their strategic planning offsite. Honestly, I didn't even know what I would teach. However, having come from a learning and development and organizational development background and facilitation and all that, I knew, I was like, "Okay, so let's set some goals out. Let's take this group through this process." That was just really so thrilling.

And so then I would start Jennifer Brown Consulting, but we were not DEI. We were really team building and leadership and coaching. And that's where I thought I was going to be. And then I thought my LGBT identity was off to the side and it would never kind of conjoin. But then as I came to understand that there's a whole field, albeit small and niche for the DEI, and there were such a thing as chief diversity officers which just what they were called back then, and then I started to get to know them, they started to trust me with more opportunity. I was not the expert of course in DEI, so I hired.

What I was really good at is pulling, I think, clients to us, getting people to say to trust us as partners in the work. And then what I did is looked around and really I tried to partner and bring into my organization as contractors some amazing DEI trainer facilitators, people who have been in classroom after classroom after classroom and just sell them in. And so for many years I was not at all the expert and I never would've said I was, but what I could do is build the house and make sure that the plumbing is working and make sure the lights are on and make sure I could somehow connect this wonderful talent to the companies that needed it. And then just watch it and percolate on it myself and really build my expertise and move eventually from the kind of back to the front. Begin to write books, begin to keynote, begin to kind of assume that position of someone who is asked what I think and what I believe and what I foresee. But I didn't start that way. I didn't sort of announce to the world, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: But I did know how to market things. I did know for sure how to consult and look at things from a leadership perspective too. I think that we're such a leadership firm. And at the end of the day, I have an incredible group of not just DEI experts, but facilitators. So what I love most about our team is that the discipline we share is organizational change, is the conversation about the will to change, like why do people listen to something? Why do they take it in? Why do they take it on board? How does it move from the head to the heart to the hands? How do we generate motivation to not just change the system around us, but change ourselves so that we can change the system more effectively?


JENNIFER BROWN: So I think we all kind of share that. And honestly, people think DEI is a discipline, but it's a discipline of disciplines. So I think that's what's so wonderful about it, but also makes it really hard to teach and certify people, because what is it? It is a combo of... That's why I love it. It's so interdisciplinary. You've got to understand so many different things about human behavior and psychology and design and building trust. You cannot sell it in the same way that you might sell other things. It's very trust-based. It's very relationship-based.

I also put so much into the community. And I continue to invest heavily to give back. All my community calls, many of our webinars, we don't charge for a lot of stuff we do, almost any of the stuff we do on the education side. But I was always writing papers. I was always trying to say, "Hey, let's be better. What is my vision for the missing pieces or in terms of how we think about structure, how we help our clients collectively get their heads and hearts around this so that they can help us help them?" And so I was always pouring into that using my own money to do that and my own time. Look, it's trying to solve for the pain that I had, you know?

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yes, exactly.

JENNIFER BROWN: As somebody who was like, "Who am I? Who are my role models? Where am I going? What can I be in the world? I don't see anybody that shares my story or is out about it." I know how many of us are hiding in the workplace with really painful consequences and so much lost opportunity. So to me it was always there was this fire to do whatever I can. And then I had to figure out how to build a business that could grow, could be profitable, could make me happy, could make me proud.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yes, exactly.

JENNIFER BROWN: So there's sort of all those things going on.

MONICA MARQUEZ: I love it. I love that. Exactly I feel. You're passionate about it. And I do believe in you. It's just sometimes you're like, "I'm not in the business of motivation, but how do I tap into someone's intrinsic motivation? How do I get them to want to change and be that inclusive leader?" And like you said, there's so much psychology in trying to get them to understand what is going to make that eyebrow kind of like, "Oh, wait a minute. There is a business case to this. It's not just a touchy-feely thing." So more power to it. I mean, I've seen so much of how you've really driven and changed and seen this organizational change happen. And even in the organizations I was where we engaged you or really leveraged some of the resources that you provided of getting it and starting to see that needle move, and this is like we're going to celebrate every single notch that we can get that thing to shift.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that's for sure. It's slow.

MONICA MARQUEZ: So I think it's phenomenal. I've always just been enamored by the way that you were bringing in all of the experts. I think watching you do that was one of those things that helped me realize that like, "Oh my God, I don't have to figure this out all by myself, or I don't have to be the sole expert. Let me go bring in all of those." It was that light bulb moment of hearing you... I can't remember. You were speaking somewhere and you mentioned that how you were bringing in just the best of the best from everywhere, people who have been in the trenches and then being able to cascade that and scale that outwards, and I'm like, that was for me kind of a light bulb moment. I want to-

JENNIFER BROWN: The other trick-

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yeah, go ahead.

JENNIFER BROWN: ... just to elaborate on that is it's interesting to build up the amazingness of our team and then also to build my own voice and thought leadership. To be able to have both of that and also to know I'm just one of many... Not many but one of a handful of people on my team who solve problems differently, who bring different lived experiences, whose lenses are going to be different and diverse in every way, it's so cool to work in that way. I mean, I feel like I am so fortunate, but it took many years.

And I think to find my voice and feel that I could even stand alongside some people who just were such authorities and who would be willing to do work with us. Because that's a big piece too. I mean, a lot of people on our team over the many years have gone on to be the thought leader and write books. And there's others who are those things, but appreciate working in a team environment and maybe don't want to be the salesperson, don't want to be doing business development, don't want to be paying for all the things that we have to pay as a company to support doing of the work.

Anyway, so it's an interesting model. And I don't put any pressure on any of our team to bring in the work. That's also very unusual. Many times, senior people on a team who are delivering work are also responsible for goals. We don't even do that because we have such a strong brand that it sort of now is running on its own. Our marketing team is so incredible, so we just keep putting logs on the fire on that.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yeah, exactly.

JENNIFER BROWN: And then the work kind of accrues to all of us. And so I love being able to have each of us playing to our strengths and not having to put anyone in a position to do work that they don't like or don't want to do or find burdensome when it's work that we're good at and I might enjoy doing. It's the way that we support each other. Again, it's that diversity of those strengths, that zone of genius that each of us has.

Yeah. I like that. I like the model. But boy, I wanted to give up many times. Trust me. Trust me. We're looking at a good period for us and the work, but oh, it's been really hard over many years just to grow a business in the DEI space. Really hard.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yes. So Jennifer, you mentioned a really important thing of you were definitely pulling in and tapping in and bringing in the subject matter expertise, but in that same vein, you did something very important where you yourself identified your own voice, your own perspective, your own unique value proposition in terms of your own personal brand and somewhat making sure that you were standing up, standing out on your own. I find that really powerful because the women that we take through our program, we find these women a lot of the times will step out of the limelight and give everybody else the credit and not do a little bit of that self-promotion or not really be able to articulate their own unique value proposition, or they don't do it well. What was the key for you in terms of really finding that perspective, your own perspective, and making sure that you were also developing your own brand, but then tapping and creating a platform for everybody else to do that as well?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh, what a question. Yeah, I agree with you. It's harder for some of us who are underrepresented, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: Or minoritized. As Dax-Devlon Ross says on my team, who's an incredible writer, to step forward, to own your power. Yeah, I think I was very fueled by... The LGBTQ advocacy work community is so courageous and witnessing that courage and then saying to myself, "That could be me. That is me too. I have this army around me." And so remembering that you're a part of this wave. It's behind you, it's around you. There are other storytellers, other advocates, but I always tapped into others to feel my own strength and to say, "I'm in this community. I'm a part of this. I'm the fuel." And believing in the message, not just me, but the message. I just am a delivery mechanism for the message. As a musician and you too, we're an instrument. And so playing my instrument as beautifully as I can and learning and mastering that instrument. Understanding every single piece of it and how it resonates most.

Each instrument is different. Each violin is made by a different violin maker and has a different sweet spot, right? And so the shape of my instrument as I would come to understand it is, is that I was born the way I was, into the kind of family I was, exposed to certain things. I have a color of skin that I have, right? I have the sexual orientation, but the gender presentation that I have. Starting to really look at these things and locate myself in a system where we need more and more different kinds of change voices. Every system needs to change, right? But we all have a different lens on the change that needs to happen and then we have a different way in, the ways in that I would come to discover, come from my identity, come from my personality too. It's not just identity and diversity, it's a diversity of personality.

I'm extroverted. So some of those things will be very easy for me. I have this stamina of an extrovert, which means I can just go, go, go for hours and hours and hours, much to the chagrin of my partner who's deeply introverted. I can't even take to things. Before, she's looking at her watch and is like, "Can we go now?"

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yeah. "Can we go now?"

JENNIFER BROWN: I'm there until the lights come on. So I think some of these things are tailwinds then that I think we can identify and say the time is now for someone who looks at a problem the way that I do, and that there are some in the audience who really need to hear me in particular kind of decode this moment. And they need to see someone that looks like me or identifies me parsing through what this means because maybe they see themselves in me.

So I've heard that so many times. I think you have to really pay attention to what you're told. You need to listen. And people will tell you what your brand is. People will tell you where you resonate. It's right there. And if it's not, maybe you're not paying attention. Maybe you're not putting yourself out there. Maybe you're not asking and saying, "So what is my unique angle?" When I say all these things that I say, you got to put yourself out there so that you can be heard. But then asking for that feedback to say like, "What's resonating most? Where do you really feel you have an aha moment from me and what I'm speaking into the world or what I represent?"

You know, by the way, that work continues for me. I mean, it never ends. And I think it continues to evolve. Lately, I have really, really... I mean, I began to embrace the whiteness conversation probably 6, 7, 8 years ago, but I felt I was... My friend Janet Wakefield invited me into the Multicultural Women's Forum and I was leading the whiteness breakout. This is about eight or nine years ago, I think. And I thought to myself, "What do I know about this? I don't know what..." And I called on my facilitation skills, right? Don't need to be an expert. Just need to hold the space and make sure I'm following the agenda that was given me again, whatever.

It's funny, I still wouldn't call myself an expert, but certainly the reckoning, particularly of the last three or four years of speaking that, speaking about it, teaching through sharing my own journey transparently and being vulnerable around the things that I don't know, the things that I feel horrible about, the way that I cope with guilt and shame and regret and having my eyes open to really painful stuff. I think that is now a big part of my work, which is interesting because I thought my work was LGBTQ equality so long. And female stuff, like very much giving voice to myself and people that identify the way that I did in those respects. But I think we also have to just allow, be listening very closely and be willing to be shaped by the moment. What is the moment need of us? And then when can we reach inside ourselves and say, "What in me can meet this the moment and can somehow illuminate something that is in the dark?"

And so I think I'm illuminating, and I'm illuminating it for myself. The whole expert word is really interesting, or thought leader. Sometimes people respond badly to that. I would caution everybody listening to this, don't be afraid of these terms.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yes, it's so helpful.

JENNIFER BROWN: Some of us are socialized to say, "I can't say that about myself. I can't own that." And we, more of us, and I'll say us, and let me put myself in the minoritized communities. Our underrepresented communities, we have to... I'm so tired of seeing so many leadership books written by white men. It's not okay. Some of us need to break through. Many of us need to break through. We need to push. We need to claim it. We need to say, "Here's what I am in the conversation. Here's the role I'm playing." We've probably all worked double hard, and some of us triple hard, to even be called these things. But we need more of us out front, public, strong, writing, speaking, getting our thought leadership into the hands and the hearts of so many people.


JENNIFER BROWN: And so almost every person I talk to, I'm like, "Have you written your book? Do you have a TED Talk? Have you told your story? Have you written your memoir?" Whatever it is. But we have to stand up and be counted. I guess from a very early age, this performer in me was never afraid to be thrown on stage sometimes without a plan. That's why I'm so grateful for music, because it equipped me to be fearless. I'm so fortunate that I have that advantage. But I guess I just want to say without that performance background, like channel that, just really imagine that you belong on that stage, people want to know what you have to say, you can change the world with your story. Don't feel ever too small to do that. Lean on your community of identities, plural, to boost you up, to reassure you that your voice could lead a change. I just wish I could kind of bottle that because I know it's true, but some people just have to have faith like. Got to believe because the world lacks our voices and our stories right now.

The bookshelf needs to change. And it's changing. It's changing for sure. I mean, the number of women of color authors in the last couple of years is staggering. Even though the publishing companies that are publishing us have not really changed all that much, the authors at least have changed. And the stories they're talking about are changing. The truth that we're telling is so real, more honest than it's ever been. I think we're seeing more white male leaders even slowly but surely kind of coming forward and sharing what their growth journey has been like too. And we need way more of that.

If I could say one thing I want to see in here is people that share my skin color, speaking about their journey of reckoning with, "How was I born? Who was I born to and alongside and into. And what am I doing in this world to make it better using what I have access to?" That's what I really would like to see a lot more of, and specifically cisgender men. That's what I would really like to see. But you know what? That's 10 years from now. I think that's in its infancy. But there are books being written. There are people speaking out. I'm going to the Better Man conference very soon. That's like-

MONICA MARQUEZ: I see that movement, yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: It's so great.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Even in your books, even just the title itself makes you want to pick up the book in terms of how to be an inclusive leader, right? Your role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive, right? It's like everybody has a job. It's not the HR leader, it's not the CDO, it's not the diversity person in the organization. It's your job. It's everybody's job. If you take it upon yourself and you hold yourself accountable to create the microculture of even just your small team and all of these leaders are starting to create these microcultures, then the macroculture becomes inclusive by default, and I think it's phenomenal. Talk a little bit about that in terms of how leveraging or creating a community of inclusion, helping to do that. Talk a little bit about that. What was the goal of your book and the second book? What are you trying to do? What's that message you're trying to spread?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, there's a core model in the book. It's a four stage learning journey, growth model or a maturity model. There's a lot of words for it, but it sort of charts our progression and it allows us to find ourselves in change, going from unaware to aware, to active to advocate. I named those four stages. I remember it was a back of the napkin moment. I just was trying to build a slide at one moment when I was like, "You know, it kind of goes from this and then it changes to this, and then it becomes this." And it's neat because over the last four years since the first edition and now the second edition coming out, I've taught it now hundreds of times in the pandemic years now and heard how this resonates and what it means to people and added so much context around each one of the phases.

So it's become, if anything, more true. More, I think, dare I say, I'm going to have an ego moment here. I'm hoping it's timeless. When I think about the gurus of leadership models that really stand the test of time, many of them were created by men, like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the five stages of grief. Classic things that I've come back to again and again to kind of hook my human experience onto them and really feel, "Wow, this speaks to me." And even as you get older and change, it still speaks to you. You came back and you see something new in it. I wanted to revisit that model. I wanted to add into the second edition all the lessons and insights that I've gathered as people have wrestled with it and used it and reflected on it and grown from it, right?

So we wanted updating that with the help of my wonderful team. We kind of co-wrote it. We all kind of pitched in on it. I'm just so happy that it's continuing to resonate. And if anything, the book was ahead of its time in 2019, or I wrote it in two 18 way before all of this.

MONICA MARQUEZ: All that happened, yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. So I think too, for those of you who are writers who are listening to this or wondering if you have a book in you, it's really neat to create a model for understanding. It might be something neat to play with. And then revisiting it and continuing to update it and write about how it's being applied differently in the context of our times. Because now we are ready to change, the will to change, as you were talking about, which is the name of my podcast, has fundamentally changed I think for some of us. Not for all of us. Not fast enough for sure.

And yes, are we seeing a rich entrenchment in 2022 vis-a-vis the bold goals that were set in 2020? Yes, but I think many hearts have been awakened. I think many people have began to work look critically at, "What am I doing? What am I not doing? Where am I staying silent? Am I proud of my legacy as a leader, as a parent? Who do I want to be to other people and in community?" So I think updating it is only going to draw more people to it, because now it's got this model that was really popular, but it's got the context is so timely and updated.

So anyway, I would recommend it. It was hard to rewrite a book and keep it short. We had to get rid of a lot of original stuff because it was such a personal book to me, because I basically feel like I'm writing it for myself so that I can understand my own journey. And then if it's helpful to a reader, that's sort of a bonus. But I think a lot of us write our own books to figure out our own story. And that is completely okay actually, because in making the ins and outs of our questioning of ourselves and our interrogations and not having the answers, that makes for a very powerful book too.

So I would also encourage anyone listening to this, it's not like you have to have everything wrapped up in a nice little package, you won't. It's impossible. And I think leadership now more than ever is asking the right questions, is holding the space, is showing up authentically without in the messy middle of your becoming. And those are beautiful books to read. I'm tired of reading the books with the prescriptive answers because that is not realistic in these times. We are in really new territory. Anybody that says that they have answers [inaudible 00:39:16].

MONICA MARQUEZ: Answers or the recipe, it's like, "No, absolutely not."

JENNIFER BROWN: We're all in the new world and we're all figuring it out together, and we're only going to figure it out together. That's the thing. I don't love this guru thing. I don't listen to any of them. When people ask me sort of, "Who are your mentor, gurus?" or whatever, and I'm like I just don't even... I think each of us has the wisdom, and our job is to bring that out and to share it with the world.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yeah. And I will tell you that I do feel like... And I don't know, and you've probably heard it before, but I do think that the model that you presented that continuum of from awareness to advocacy is a powerful one and one that I'm constantly revisiting myself in various different dimensions of diversity, right? Because like you, I'm a woman. I'm LGBTQ, I'm Latina. But then also wearing that hat of a DEI expert or thought leader, there's always a dimension of diversity that you're like, "You know what? I can't speak to that." So where am I on this continuum and how do I make sure that I am gaining the awareness and really being able to understand and hold space and then become an advocate in that way?

And so it is a powerful model. I think I'm so excited with the second edition in terms of being able to contextualize that because the contextualization is like you said, it helps individuals or adults anchor like, "Oh, this makes total sense." It connects the dots. And so I'm constantly revisiting that. I've used it time and time again. Even in sessions or conversations that I'm having with individuals, I go back to your model of being able to like-

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, thank you.

MONICA MARQUEZ: It really did spark the light bulb moment, right? And then going back and saying, "Okay, up here I realize I don't know what I don't know. Let me think about myself and look at this model and carry myself whatever dimension that is." It's changing. It's evolving. We're learning more. Even just in Hispanic Heritage Month, and everybody's wanting to understand like, "Help me understand Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, Latine. What does all of this mean?" and having to even me step back and saying, "Okay, let me really just start for myself creating the awareness around Latinx and why Latinx, and now Latine and why." So I really do always go back to that.

And so I think it's phenomenal to know that you were thinking on the back of a napkin like, "How does that happen?" But it really did help everybody really kind of understand their journey or their understanding or, "How do I do this?" It's a continuum. It helps you kind of like, "I need to go from here to here" and you can measure it. It's almost kind of that little yardstick for yourself of like, "Okay, I need to check myself."

JENNIFER BROWN: I hope so. Because people, the question now is, "How do I know where I am and where I need to go and what the next step is?" I love that you just said, "I can be all these things, but then I'm a beginner in terms of my understanding of these identities." There's no audience that I ever talk to that that's not true for. So the humility of looking at ourselves and saying, "There's so much I'm not exposed to, that I don't have any familiarity with." And even within my own culture, if I have to step forward and talk about, I mean for me, gender identities, right?

I do my best. As a cisgender woman, I really feel very called in my allyship to my trans and gender non-binary loved ones and friends, and it's funny, the allyship within the community. What are the voices and stories that are not elevated? Why is mine so easy to elevate? Why am I the one that's invited? And then looking critically at that and saying, "Let me seed my platform too, or let me share this spot, or let me decent her so that I can make sure another voice is heard" because you've heard enough from people that identify as I do, and I want to move into the audience and learn. I want to move into earner.

But even about our own identities, we need to do this. And then there's other others who are very closeted about a lot of these identities in men, I think too. So I think there's also an awakening that I see happen in my audiences sometimes where an African American cisgender man will say, "I have really, really been hiding out. I've been covering. I've been not leading. I don't talk about this, I don't talk about that. I don't. Or I'm a queer person of color. So I'm sort of constantly kind of bargaining and making these decisions."

What you've made me think about is like, "Wait a second. Am I doing everything I should be and that I can be doing?" And then I get to do, using all of who I am, "Am I living in this other narrative that's not serving me anymore? And then am I stepping into the need that others have to see me, see me lead using all of my identities, celebrating all of my identities?" Because we all have been, as you know, cutting off parts of who we are, and we've gotten good at that, and that's how we've survived.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Exactly. And there's danger in that. And so I'm always coaching and teaching around, listen, there's acculturation and assimilation. Assimilation is dangerous. And the whole idea around learning to be multicultural, bicultural, and understanding that every organization you go to... I've worked at many different organizations and everyone has their own culture. I've got to learn how to be bicultural in that organization, but I don't want to assimilate to where I lose myself. And knowing where that line is, it's really dangerous and it's hard. We do cover. And we start covering. The more you cover, the more you kind of check something at the door, you lose who you are. And then you look up one day and you're like, "I'm miserable here. Why?"

And so I think it's so powerful and I love what you just said about being able to celebrate every dimension of yourself, but also understand that maybe sometimes you don't know. You need to unpack that, right? And you need to level that. Look at the model that you've shared and saying, "Where am I? And how can I start being an advocate in that space too, not just for me, but for others who resonate with me?"

JENNIFER BROWN: That's a good one.

MONICA MARQUEZ: So I think it's so powerful. I love it. And I could talk to you for hours and hours.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know. I know. I love it.

MONICA MARQUEZ: But I know that we got to wrap it up so I'm going to jump to our lightning questions because I think we're going to have some fun with this first question. But my first question that we always ask our guests are, what book has greatly influenced you?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my goodness. I'm going to go way back. So we talked a lot about facilitation. I'm thinking about grad school actually, there's a book called Flawless Consulting that I really loved. It's by Peter Block. What it did, he's still alive and has a team, I think, I've never met him, but I just read a couple pages and I was like, "Oh, my expertise can be what I have to give, what I can build a business around." And it doesn't need to be baked. It's what happens between two people. It's what is created out of nothing when you can help facilitate a journey to a goal.

So Flawless Consulting gave me permission to show up without a lot of, I think, established expertise and still begin to work with clients. It was just such a gift. I mean, I don't know why it was such an aha, but it's just not the way the world kind of tells you you need to show up and start. But if you start by asking the right questions and holding space for somebody to go on their own journey, it's incredibly valuable to other people. And it will fuel what you're trying to create. And then you have to of course build the business around it. But just the permission, I think that's very powerful for a lot of us who may not have the traditional background or may not have all the privilege of certain, whatever, degrees, expertise, whatever. And now more than ever, our lived experience is that well that we draw on to put our offering into the world.

So in a way, for a white guy to write that, I don't think he even understood what that means for a lot of us, but this is a way to think about ourselves and our value in a non-traditional way but understand that it has value.

MONICA MARQUEZ: I love that. I'm going to have to look that one up for sure. Second question is what is your favorite inspiring quote or saying?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, let me answer as a business owner since we've been talking about that today so much. Say yes and go figure out how.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Go figure out, yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: I love that.


JENNIFER BROWN: One of my friends told me that. She was a shameless salesperson, would ask somebody for anything, right? But I needed to hear that too, because again, speaking of permission, that's like you have the resources. Again, it's not down to... You and I have been talking about you're not alone. You're not alone doing this work. You have the strength of a community of knowledge that you can draw on. But saying yes, it's like, "Yes, I'll figure that out. Yes, I can help you with that. Yes, let me try. Yes, let me look for that and get back to you." You just never know where that's going to lead. You may discover a whole passion that you didn't even think would resonate or something that ends up being a product or a service or a piece of thought leadership.

So anyway, I think that was very important as I was starting out, because there wasn't a lot of paid DE&I work to go around, so you had to say yes. You had to go out and figure out how to build it.


JENNIFER BROWN: I didn't know what I was doing, but I was like, "I think I can somehow figure this out and do a decent job, but most importantly sort of add this to my library of learning and do it better next time." And that's how you start.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yeah, absolutely. I love that one. So what is one word or moniker that you would use to describe yourself?

JENNIFER BROWN: I'd say light. I'd say light and illuminating.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Light and illuminating. I love that. It totally fits.

JENNIFER BROWN: It's something visible. Mm-hmm. Good stuff.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yes. What is one change, habit, behavior, action that you implemented that made your life better?

JENNIFER BROWN: Digging deep to build my team. I think a lot of us stay solo, but I could never do this all alone. Not just logistically, but even just spiritually speaking.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Yeah. Like you said, leveraging the superpowers of others and bringing it all together, just the compounding effect is phenomenal.

JENNIFER BROWN: The lifesaver.


JENNIFER BROWN: And the stamina you need and the way that you can lean on each other, particularly if you're doing hard work in the world. Some of us are okay solo.

MONICA MARQUEZ: But you don't have to do it alone. And I think that's the biggest mistake most of us make, is that we have this thing that we feel like we have to do it alone and you don't reach as many people. You can't scale. You can't scale by yourself, so yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: That's true too.

MONICA MARQUEZ: This is my favorite. So being the performer you are and you're walking out onto stage, what power song would you want playing in the background as you walk out onto that stage?

JENNIFER BROWN: I always choose... I love Jill Scott. She has this song called Golden. It's this celebration song. She says, "I'm living my life like it's golden." It's beautiful. I feel so fortunate to be where I'm at through much, much, much, much hard work, heartache, financial stress, but just standing in the light and feeling that and asking in it. She just has so much joy in that song. I love it. It's just such a great groove too. I just love all of the song.

MONICA MARQUEZ: I love it. Well, we'll be making a playlist of all of our podcast guests songs.


MONICA MARQUEZ: And so definitely that one will be one that I think we will all be able to bask in the golden light. I love it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Good stuff. Good stuff.

MONICA MARQUEZ: Well, thank you so much, Jennifer. I know that I'm going to have lots of people reaching out because it's definitely going to be one of those podcasts where people just feel it and get motivated. But how do they learn more? How do they follow you, the new book, the second edition of the book? Where do we find it? How do we follow you? How do we continue to hear more of these amazing nuggets of just becoming more aware and self discovery?

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Thank you so much. Everybody, I encourage you to just jump on into our communities and get on our mailing list. So you can go to Jennifer Brown Consulting and you can see that amazing team that we've talked a lot about today. And then I have another website, Jennifer Brown Speaks, which is more focused on books and speaking, so you can see some of the video. We did a little mini documentary recently about my life and my journey. So if you want to dig in more into that, that's on there. And then the books are as usual on big, bad Amazon. But check me out as an author. I have actually four books now. The one before the second edition was called Beyond Diversity with Rohit Bhargava. It's a great book. Very accessible. Not all about leadership. That's a good one, right?

MONICA MARQUEZ: That's a good one for anybody.


MONICA MARQUEZ: I mean, just individuals who aren't really in the DEI space trying to learn, teach or whatever. I mean, anybody can read that book. I think it's phenomenal.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I think so too. That was our goal. So that book is a, I call a general audience book. And then my other books tend to be leadership books really. So podcast is called The Will to Change. Please give a listen. And then send us feedback at info@jenniferbrownconsulting.com if you have ideas and or opportunities for us to speak or to be involved with organizations. We do DEI consulting. Our consulting and training work is really incredible. So that side of JBC, I'm not sure a lot of people know about it because they see me. But really the bulk of what we do is help organizations get their ducks in a row, begin their journey, enhance and accelerate their journey, and have the structural pieces in place so that they can make sure they're walking the talk, that they have the sort of goals set for success and they're working towards those. And so that's a whole kind of system that we partner on with them, and that's how we create sustainable change. So I'm super proud of that side of the house, so to speak. So that's Jennifer Brown Consulting.

And then all the socials, @jenniferbrown on Twitter, @jenniferbrownspeaks on Instagram. You all probably can find me pretty easily. Just to put my name in and then put anything DEI related and I'll probably come up. It's a lot, but people like I think gobble up everything we put out, so we just keep putting it out because people are hungry to have resources to lean on. And we certainly continue to pour a lot into the space, so please join us.


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 & 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.