Podcast Reflections on Black History Month

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

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In honor of Black History Month, Jennifer shares her thoughts on several pertinent (and previously released) episodes from The Will To Change. You’ll discover what leaders need to do to increase empathy in their organization, the role of storytelling in DE&I work, how to challenge our own bias and more. Don’t miss this special episode!

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • How to avoid making assumptions about identity (5:30)
  • How to increase our empathy for others (10:00)
  • What leaders need to do to set the tone for their organization (12:45)
  • How to use our voice and privilege to support marginalized communities (15:40)
  • The need to challenge our own bias (21:00)
  • The cost of “covering” in the workplace (27:30)
  • Why representation may not be a true measure of diversity (33:00)

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

Doug Foresta:    Hello, and welcome to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta, producer of The Will To Change. Of course with me is Jennifer Brown. Jennifer, thanks for doing this with me today. We’re doing a special episode particularly for Black History Month, and you’re going to hear some clips from previous episodes that we especially picked out, because you know Jennifer, we have all this great content we realized, right, that people may or may not have heard.

Jennifer Brown:    Exactly, exactly. People tend to listen to the latest podcasts and we just wanted to dig up some of my favorites that I always quote, and that I think our listeners would really like to be alerted to. So yes, happy Black History Month.

Doug Foresta:    Absolutely. And I just want to say each month what we’re going to do is depending on what the month is and the theme of that month, we’ll pick out some other episodes for you to share sort of the best of The Will To Change. So lucky you, you get too, if you’ve missed episodes, then you get to hear them back, and I think it’s really cool that not only you get to hear it back in context, you get to hear Jennifer’s reflections about them. And I thought we’d start with, so the episodes that we’ve picked out today, we’ve picked out several episodes.

Doug Foresta:    The first one that you’re going to hear from is Malcolm Glenn, and Malcolm is the, that episode was actually episode 16, and it was called Advocacy and Accessibility at Uber, The Gift of Being an Outsider, and Malcolm is the head of global policy accessibility and underserved communities at Uber. And what we’re going to hear from him, I want to play a clip from our first clip from Malcolm that you’ll hear, and that clip is about Malcolm talking about his story growing up, and how we can’t always tell by looking at someone what all of their identities are. So why don’t we take a listen to that and we’ll discuss it.

Malcolm Glenn:    I was born in Denver, Colorado, and I’m a person of color, I’m black. And so I’m very used to being one of a few people who looks like me in a whole host of different environments, whether it was a school environment, involved in extracurriculars, and then sort of as I went on through my education and my career, I very early became extremely aware and quite frankly just used to being one of only a few people who looks like me in a room. And I think over time I’ve realized that what you look like is just one component of who you are, and I realized that diversity is a lot bigger than the aesthetic. And so I discovered that there were lots of people who perhaps didn’t look like me but had a lot of similarities to me. And there are people who perhaps did look like me, but came from completely different backgrounds.

Malcolm Glenn:    One of the things that was really interesting, particularly early in life was that people saw me a certain way, but there were a lot of things that they didn’t know about me. So for example, I grew up in a single parent household, and it was a unique experience getting to know people, and then discovering that I was raised by just my mom. And that wasn’t something they could necessarily tell simply by looking at me.

Doug Foresta:    So Jennifer, you know what I take away from that one is really interesting is, what Malcolm is talking about, which is that there are identities that we can “see,” but there’s so much more that we might not be able to. He gave the example of I was raised as a single parent, a single parent household. You can’t look at me and know that. I’m curious about your thoughts and what you take away from Malcolm’s clip there.

Jennifer Brown:    Yeah. Well, it’s a perfect illustration of something we talk about a lot these days, which is that many of our diversity dimensions, and in fact probably the majority of our diversity dimensions are not visible. People in the LGBTQ community know that’s true, right? Because some of us can “pass,” in our day to day life, and therefore kind of choose when we come out or don’t come out depending on the circumstances. People with disabilities, differing abilities, people with different socioeconomic backgrounds. There’s some shame around some of our diversity dimensions as well that we can hide, in addition to some that we can’t hide. Right? So I think it’s just when you meet Malcolm and when you meet anyone, when you think you know how somebody identifies and you think you understand what the most primary part of their identity is based on the assumption you make about what you see with your eyes, what’s really important is to check yourself at that moment and say, I wonder about all of the diversity dimensions of this individual.

Jennifer Brown:    How could I create the kind of safe, inclusive environment where somebody would trust me as a colleague, a coworker, or a manager to reveal all of who they are or more of who they are than what they’re currently feeling comfortable with. And I think if Malcolm were able to talk about all of his diversity dimensions, all of his intersectionality, being raised by a single parent was probably an enormously formative aspect of his life. And depending on the day, the situation, in the hierarchy of how he views his various identities, maybe that would be something that he would consider to be primary. And it can shift, right, depending on where we are in our careers and the life stages that we’re in. But I think the takeaway, Doug, is we can’t assume based on what we see how somebody wants to be identified, and we also have to really resist that kind of I guess single dimension way of seeing people.

Doug Foresta:    Especially if someone has a diversity identity that may actually, one diversity identity that may be very visible to us, and just assume like you said, that it’s just, so it’s like it’s people are not monolithic.

Jennifer Brown:    That’s right.

Doug Foresta:    Diversity.

Jennifer Brown:    That’s right. And there’s a lot that we hide from each other because we’re afraid of the stigma, and being raised by a single parent, being a single parent, being divorced, I’m hearing a lot of those issues come up in my keynotes about all the kinds of things people hide because they don’t see others who have succeeded, particularly when they’re looking up the org chart, right, and they’re trying to decide do I belong here? Can I succeed here? The problem is if leaders don’t show that this is their truth and their experience, then a lot of other people who are watching them are assuming that nobody that looks like me or shares my story can move into leadership here.

Jennifer Brown:    And I think that that’s the challenge with the things that we choose to kind of hide or not talk about, is that somebody desperately really needs to see that in order to feel like their experience is more normalized and more common. And I think that we have to fight against that, because that leads to isolation. Whenever you feel like you’re the only, you feel like you have no community, and that’s never true. We all have community. We just can’t see each other.

Doug Foresta:    And speaking of that piece about sharing our story, I want to play the second clip from Malcolm’s episode, where he talks about the idea of the importance of stories and his passion for stories. So let me go ahead and let’s take a listen to that.

Malcolm Glenn:    I like telling stories of others, and I think something that makes one good at telling the stories of others, whether that means you are a reporter, or someone who works in communications and public policy like me, or someone who represents the needs of other communities, or someone who writes stories, whether that’s a novelist, I think being able to put yourself in the position of others is really, really important. And so being a part of the community that is perhaps not as well represented by definition just makes you have to put yourself in the position of others, because the perspective being put forth by most of the people is perhaps a different perspective than you would put forth, but it helps you broaden your mind, it helps you think outside the box if you will, and I think it helps you get better at telling stories.

Doug Foresta:    So it’s interesting, you’ve talked about this before and of course this episode is about the gift of being an outsider. You’ve talked about this on previous episodes, Jennifer, this idea that there’s a gift in being an outsider, there’s a gift in being in a marginalized community, that it forces you to develop that perspective. Can you say a bit about, I’m just curious about your thoughts about what Malcolm has shared, and also this idea of this gift of being an outsider.

Jennifer Brown:    Yeah. To me, Malcolm is talking about empathy here, and the particular empathy that is generated by being in a day to day world where so many people maybe don’t share your experience or their experience is not familiar to you, and where you kind of have to relate well and skillfully, because it is a survival mechanism. Those of us who have figured out how to navigate a majority world and whatever that means, we get good at that, and I think we get good at listening at a different level, establishing trust quickly, understanding what makes others comfortable or not comfortable. And we also I think generate a real appreciation for stories, because I think you look at yourself and you say, who really knows who I am? And that increases, I think empathy for your own story.

Jennifer Brown:    And I hope it kind of lights a fire under leaders, like it did clearly with Malcolm to tell his own story as well. So in honoring other stories and kind of being the audience for those, and the channel for those, I think that those of us that have had to kind of navigate from the outside in, we have a special currency or ability or skill set to actually get stories told. And I think it honestly comes back at the end of the day to the fact that we’re not sure our stories are told or understood and we don’t see them reflected in the media, we don’t see them reflected in leadership. So I think it does come back to really empathy for yourself, and my hope is that more people will step forward with their stories, of course, that they have hidden or not felt comfortable sharing, and build their brand, if you will, around using their voice and their wisdom.

Doug Foresta:    But boy do we need leaders and organizations to again, create that safe space where people can feel like, I can do this. Right?

Jennifer Brown:    Oh yeah. And I always say the leader needs to go first. We can put the onus on diverse talent, marginalized talent, underrepresented talent to tell their stories, and it can feel a little tokenizing if one group is being asked to take those risks and be vulnerable and truthful, but other groups are not. And so Doug, you and I know, we speak to executive leaders on this podcast who wouldn’t necessarily identify in a marginalized group, and we do a lot of storytelling work. To say everybody has a diversity story, what is yours and what will you share and how will you put yourself in an uncomfortable position? Because by the way, all marginalized talent in your organization is feeling uncomfortable on a day to day basis. So there’s no reason that other leaders shouldn’t be uncomfortable too.

Jennifer Brown:    And I think discomfort is where the greatest growth occurs. And so that reaching for the empathy that I’d like to see more executive leaders exhibit, that reaching is really formative, it teaches a lot, it puts them in other people’s shoes, kind of like what Malcolm is saying, but in reverse. And I think that that that would help kind of increase the empathy, particularly among senior executives for the day to day dance that so many in their organizations are having to engage in and know what that feels like on a sort of small basis.

Doug Foresta:    Well, let’s move on to our next one, which is Trudy Bourgeois, and that was episode 33. The name of the episode is Ella and Maryland, it’s one of my favorite titles, other than the episode with Ella and Maryland, Venus and Billie Jean, Using Our Privilege to Keep the Door to Equity Open for All. And we, this episode, Trudy is the founder and CEO of The Center for Workforce Excellence, and she talked a lot about the sort of women, particularly white women really examining themselves and examining their own role in things. And so let’s take a listen to this first clip from her episode.

Trudy Bourgeois:    What’s going to awaken us? When can we start to have the kind of conversation that you and I are having this morning where we really touched the truth, and we talk about the fact that we as women need to clean up our own house. We need to stop pointing our finger at white men or any other men, and blaming them because the cultures aren’t inclusive. We have power seats, we’re just not using them for this effort. And we need to become unapologetic about the focus that needs to be placed on leveling the playing field.

Doug Foresta:    Well, I was going to say I love the way she does not mince words. We have a power seat. But I’m really curious about your thoughts about that. I mean, yes, women have a power seat. Men historically have had more of a power seat. Yeah. I’m just curious about your thoughts about her very eloquent and straight forward assertion that women need to examine their own and use their own power seat.

Jennifer Brown:    That’s right. And some women have more of a power seat than others. Right. Yeah. Intersectionality, I mean all you need to do is look at the pay gap, which is different for white women than it is for women of color. It’s important to know that certain of us that have maybe an aspect of a marginalized identity still have an aspect of a privileged identity, or multiple aspects. I would put myself in that category. So whoever we are, we all have the opportunity to use our voice for others. And I wish I saw this more amongst women. I do. I mean, I’m the recipient, the beneficiary of wonderful generosity on the part of other women. I intentionally am generous to other women and think about what do I have from a platform perspective, from a voice perspective, from a protection perspective that I can provide or offer.

Jennifer Brown:    And I’m really intentional about making sure that the beneficiaries of what I have to give are ones who would really most benefit from what I have to give. So I pick and choose, and I really spend my time and my resources and my social capital carefully and intentionally in order to do what I can to level this unequal playing field. And I know, we love the title of this episode, it struck me, she talked about Marilyn Monroe sort of insisting that Ella Fitzgerald have the stage on a certain night in a certain theater, and was getting push back, and so she threatened to literally take her business and her show from that theater if Ella did not get that night-

Doug Foresta:    That was such a beautiful story, and such a powerful illustration of how women exactly, like we all have some level of privilege and how do we use that privileged part of our identity to help to help someone else. That was a beautiful example. Yeah, I love that story.

Jennifer Brown:    Yeah. And I was teaching a workshop recently for senior women, and a lot of the conversation was how do we get men to support us? How do we get male stakeholders and mentors and sponsors more involved in our career development? And we’re spending all this time on this. And then I realize, I look at this room of executive women and high potential women, and I said to them, how are you helping each other? How is this group using its social capital on behalf of each other? Are we even doing that, or are we sitting here and focusing on what others can do for us? And to your point, Doug, yes, there are real power differences, men to women, and we absolutely need to focus on how men can use in any positions of power or not, or just privilege just because of who they are, can do for others.

Jennifer Brown:    But I do think for women, in particular women of any kind of privilege, we’ve got to ask a question, are we doing enough? And I get that there is a mentality in a way of, well, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, you need to suffer in the same way I did. And I see this back and forth, particularly generation to generation. I see, even if it’s not verbalized, I hear the inside monologue of more tenured senior women saying to themselves like, I had to do this. I had to do that. I had to fight for myself. I have all the scars to prove that I broke through multiple glass ceilings. Yes, yes, yes. And I’ve a lot of compassion for that journey because it was incredibly hard, the women that blazed the trail for younger women, but I-

Doug Foresta:    But do you have to make it as hard for everyone else.

Jennifer Brown:    Yeah, yeah. Right. And really, I know, that doesn’t seem quite fair. So I do think we do need, like Trudy says, we need to take a look at ourselves.

Doug Foresta:    I want to play the next clip because it also talks about another issue that she points out, which is how women sometimes don’t see themselves as leaders. So let’s take a listen to that.

Trudy Bourgeois:    We as a population have to come to grips with the fact that because of our biases, we don’t see each other as leaders. So we’re just as guilty as others who use labels and stereotypes, and we have to own that bias. Okay? We can’t say no, I’m, all of us would want to say no, I’m not biased. But you and I both know, and the research is very loud and solid, that of course we’re all biased. The question is, do the biases have you or do you have your biases?

Doug Foresta:    Oh, I love that.

Jennifer Brown:    Very good.

Doug Foresta:    What a great question. Right?

Jennifer Brown:    Right.

Doug Foresta:    And the idea that of course we all have biases. So yeah, say more about that and your experience, Jennifer.

Jennifer Brown:    Well, I think this is why I’m so passionate about role modeling and making sure that I highlight the stories very intentionally of certain underrepresented women leaders, which is all women leaders, by the way, when you consider there’s I think fewer than Five Fortune 500 CEOs who are women right now. So we have a real dearth of role models, particularly for younger female talent, and for male talent to see that when we say leader does a man appear. And I think it’s fascinating. We all have biases. I’m sure Trudy would agree, we all catch ourselves in those moments when you hear about someone you don’t know what their gender is, and because of the profession, you assume it’s a man. And I still do this.

Doug Foresta:    Right. If I were to say fire chief, most people would picture a man.

Jennifer Brown:    Yeah. Or a CEO. Yep. Yep. So I think she’s right that we’ve got to challenge ourselves. We’ve got to hold others accountable. We have to, when we story tell back to Malcolm’s point, I think that we can address this in very real practical ways by picking and choosing storytellers in a very intentional way, knowing that there is a lack of voices that sound like, that look like, that have that experience. And those of us who have choices, whether you’re filling a panel, say for a conference, whether you’re choosing presenters, whether you’re highlighting people in social media for a particular cultural celebration month, being intentional about centering voices that aren’t traditionally centered, I think is the way that we start to broaden our own minds about what a leader looks like. And oh, by the way, it can be a woman, it can be a woman of color, it can be a queer woman of color.

Jennifer Brown:    It was Audre Lorde’s birthday two days ago, and I just dug into all of her incredible poetry and shared a lot on Instagram, and I was so refreshed and inspired again with her own intersectionality ,and the way that she taught us and that she showed up as all of the pieces of who she was. And so I think that that you’re right, that we’ve got to be part of the change. And then I encourage male leaders that I work with in particular to center stories, like to push themselves and broaden the stories that they talk about in the leadership context and in the business context. Because for them to raise a story about a female leader is very different than myself doing the same thing. And like it or not, them choosing to do that I think has this exponential ripple effect because it’s a man talking about what leaders look like to him.

Jennifer Brown:    And so it is as much the messenger as it is the message, and we do need to be cognizant of who, if they say so who has more or less power in terms of changing what we actually think a leader looks like. And it’s one of the many assignments I give my coachees, particularly male executive coachees, is to say, who do you story tell about, what do you say about them when you story tell about them, what do you talk about in terms of their expertise, right? It’s not just, oh, she’s such a great team player and so great collaborating, does so much for the community, you know? No. Like is she a hardcore technician? Is she like a trailblazer? Even in the language we use that’s biased in terms of how we describe each other. So that’s another piece where I really try to sensitize leaders to noticing that we do use gendered language in terms of how we talk about others. And so anyway, that’s a whole, I’m sure we have an episode on that stuff.

Doug Foresta:    That’s a whole episode in itself. Exactly. Or a whole episode in itself. I want to, our last guest and our last episode that we’re going to reflect on here is Wade Davis, and that is episode 35, really interesting episode. Sports Stereotypes and Sexual Orientation, Lessons from a Gay Ex-NFL Player, and Wade is a in fact former NFL player, he’s a thought leader, writer, public speaker, educator on gender, race and orientation equality. He’s also the NFL’s first LGBT inclusion consultant. And I want to play this clip from Wade, it’s really one that stuck out for me. I’ve always remembered it in 70 plus episodes that we’ve done, his discussion of what was it like to be in the NFL? Let’s hear Wade describe that for himself.

Wade Davis:    Imagine living your dream and your nightmare at the exact same time. Like that is the only way that I can really articulate what it felt like to stand on the NFL field, to get your pinky broken by a hall of famer like Brett Favre, but then to also be watching film of yourself, thinking how gay you look. Right? So it was a gift and a curse. And what I’m so grateful now is that I’m able to, as an LGBT and gender trainer and consultant for the league, I’m able to have the types of conversations with coaches, with owners, with players, that would have made the NFL a more welcoming space for someone like me.

Doug Foresta:    So really interesting. He describes it really as it’s like your greatest dream and your biggest nightmare at the same time. Doing the thing you wanted to do, and yet you’re in this environment that it doesn’t feel safe. I mean, I think this goes back to what we’ve been talking about the idea of that leaders again have to create, it has to come from leadership to create an environment where people feel safe to bring their full selves. Clearly Wade didn’t feel comfortable to bring his full self into that environment.

Jennifer Brown:    That’s right. That’s right. So Wade was probably covering, right, traditionally defined. I am sure his colleagues and team members knew he was gay, but it’s something maybe they didn’t discuss, which is covering, which is downplaying, a known stigmatized identity. Right? It’s not denying that it’s true, but it’s just avoiding making it an issue. And it makes me mindful of, the sports teams have been such an interesting space to watch as they’ve kind of weighed in or not on social issues, and including LGBTQ inclusion. We’ve seen in the world of basketball, like a lot more I think candid and position taking pro inclusion than football. So I think there’s differences between sports, and I’m not a sporting person, but I just find it fascinating because it’s such a hyper masculine in a world.

Jennifer Brown:    But I think that if Wade’s team and leadership had been weighing in or involved in talking about inclusion and why it’s so important, somebody like a Wade might have felt more comfortable bringing his full self more to his playing. So I think when he goes into companies now, probably he talks about to them about you’ve got so much diversity in your players, and how can you signal to them that they’re not only welcome here but embraced, and this is a comfortable, safe space for everyone to perform their best. Because you talk about being a high performance athlete, all of these other things that we navigate about our difference that we’re afraid of are taking energy away from our potential, our performance literally on the field or in the business environment.

Jennifer Brown:    And so we’re leaking out all of this capacity I guess. And it’s this leaking, leaching out, it is the sort of daily and sometimes multiple times daily microaggressions that we may be hearing, or just aggressions as somebody pointed out. They’re not micro, they don’t feel micro when they happen to the person on the receiving end. So imagine Wade’s performance and how it impacted that, and what his team members might have done or probably did frankly, to indicate that they support him, that they would have his back, that they do have his back, and also what his leadership could do. And this is why I think it’s just so important when companies and CEOs are evaluating, do we take a stand, do we respond to something like the Pulse Nightclub shooting?

Jennifer Brown:    And how do we respond, and how publicly do we respond? I can promise that LGBTQ and ally employees are listening and waiting for a signal that they’re important to the company. And this is powerful whether it’s LGBTQ issues, whether it’s issues of police brutality that impact the black community, whether it is me too and the impact on women in your organization that are feeling a lot of jitters about this, or perhaps being sort of re-traumatized by the whole conversation, and perhaps they’re having me too moments right in their teams. So I think it’s important to think about what would have reassured somebody like Wade, who is a relatively less powerful person that can’t really impact his own safety so much. What are the external factors that might have ameliorated his experience, his performance, and relate that to your organization and relate that to you, and maybe what you don’t know about your coworkers and what you could be indicating in terms of support.

Doug Foresta:    For this last clip here, we’re going to hear from Wade talking about the difference between people, sometimes when organizations say, look, we are diverse, look at all these different faces, and let’s hear from Wade, his thoughts about diversity versus as he calls it really inclusion of power, truly.

Wade Davis:    A lot of times we’ll see an organization, and you’ll go to a happy hour or a town hall or an offsite that your organization is doing, and you’ll see women, you’ll see folks of color, blah, blah, blah. Right? But what you don’t understand is that there’s a power dynamic that exists right, that at the top of organizations, you don’t have women, you don’t have folks of color, you definitely don’t have women of color. So just because you may see these faces, and people typically oftentimes go, well because I see the diversity, then our organization is diverse. It may be diverse, but it’s not inclusive, and it’s definitely not inclusive when it comes to systems of power.

Doug Foresta:    So yeah, I mean I think this is a really great point. I kind of just want to open it up to you, this idea exactly the difference between, look, we have diverse faces here, what’s our problem?

Jennifer Brown:    We do great. There’s tons of women here. Women feel really comfortable here in my organization.

Doug Foresta:    They love to take notes and memos and-

Jennifer Brown:    Oh, gosh.

Doug Foresta:    It’s a wonderful job for all the women here.

Jennifer Brown:    She makes such great coffee.

Doug Foresta:    She makes great coffee.

Jennifer Brown:    Yeah. I think we have unfortunately incentivized a lot of leaders around counting the faces in the room, right? Because we’ve measured diversity traditionally from a representation perspective, and that was how we measured success. And there is nothing wrong with that because that’s important for sure, so I’m not taking away from that. But it’s sort of what gets measured gets done. And it’s also careful what you incentivize because people will go do that. And so somebody may feel they can check the box by saying, I have X number of women in my org, or I see this in the hallways or whatever.

Jennifer Brown:    And what Wade is talking about is, but do people, even perhaps more important than representation is how people feel included in that culture. In fact, I would say representation is a lagging indicator after an inclusive environment. Like, if that’s working, if the feeling of belonging is achieved, which-

Doug Foresta:    And you will find more of those in the organization.

Jennifer Brown:    Yes you will. And they will stay, and they will stay. Because you could be looking around the hallway or at a party at a point in time, I can guarantee you a lot of those women, people of color, LGBTQ people, if they’re even out by the way, will be gone from your organization within the next couple years, usually because the day to day effort of being the only and lonely as we often say, or of the sort of death by a thousand cuts, which is the self doubt and the doubt of whether am I included here? Do people have my back? Am I being supported for success? Am I being set up for failure?

Jennifer Brown:    Really who’s lobbying for me, and who’s protecting me and looking out for me because so much of the business world is kind of about that question, sadly. Newsflash, it’s not all about how hard you work and how great you are at your job.

Doug Foresta:    Right, in case you’ve never held a job, right?

Jennifer Brown:    Yeah, exactly. It’s about who you know and who knows you, and who is pulling you up and who’s protecting you and who’s advising you and giving you the real scoop. So whether you stay in the organization, to me is a much more interesting one. And that’s where the conversation about inclusive environments and cultures really becomes so critical, because if you can bring diverse talent in, that’s tough, but you can do that easier I think, than retaining that same talent that you spent so much attracting and onboarding, only to lose them a year or two later because they find the culture and tolerable. So I would say let’s measure more than just representation. Let’s measure representation over time, to see who’s actually making it up through that pipeline to senior leadership roles, which is where we really, to me that’s kind of the benchmark. If we can hold onto diverse talent all the way through, and start to diversify that C suite, then we know we’ve been really successful in building cultures of belonging where people feel they want to stay and where they can thrive.

Doug Foresta:    Well. Thank you so much, Jennifer. This has been amazing and I really look forward to doing more of these minisodes with you where we revisit some of the amazing stories and takeaways from previous episodes.

Jennifer Brown:    Thanks, Doug.