Staking Your Claim: Millennial Mentors Take Center Stage

Jennifer Brown | |

You can also listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play.

In this minisode, Jennifer shares her reflections on episode #32,  Reversing The Generation Equation and how Millennial mentors are taking center stage. Discover what all of us can learn from developing and sharing our point of view and why the world needs to hear it now.  Jennifer also shares some of the content marketing methods that she uses in her business, and shares tips for becoming a thought leader and influencer in your field.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • How to navigate generational diversity (2:00)
  • Covering behaviors around age in the workplace (3:00)
  • How to build thought leadership (5:30)
  • The need for diversity in the leadership space (9:00)
  • The fears that can stop us from becoming thought leaders (11:30)
  • The power of collective voices (14:00)
  • The new model of leadership (17:30)
  • The qualities that younger generations are looking for in role models (18:40)
  • A powerful app that is helping increase awareness of women’s voices (19:30)

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

DOUG FORESTA: Welcome to The Will to Change, this is Doug Foresta, and of course Jennifer Brown.

Today, we’re going to be doing a follow-up. I would encourage you to check out the episode about Reversing the Generation Equation and reverse mentoring at Pershing.

First of all, Jennifer, welcome. Thanks for joining me, of course.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks a lot, Doug.

DOUG FORESTA: Thanks. We just did an episode as of this recording about reverse mentoring. The first question I wanted to ask you about was this idea of the generations in the workplace, your experience with how different generations interact with each other, and just in general, your observations about generational difference.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, thanks. I’ve always been intrigued watching generational diversity and what I fondly refer to as “creative abrasion” between the generations, which can get a little nasty sometimes, and I don’t think should, actually.

I watch it as an element of diversity. Generational identity is yet another diversity dimension for all of us. Sometimes it can be really powerful. I might not equate it to certain things that may be other fundamental diversity dimensions like gender, race, or ethnicity, but it can be very formative and it can interfere, honestly, with our seamless working relationships quite a bit.

Ask anyone in the workplace today, and I’m sure they will have a litany of things that they struggle with, whether managing a multi-generational team, or whether they are a very young manager managing older generations. That’s happening more and more as millennials become the majority generation in the workplace.

In addition to mature workers, maybe older gen Xers or baby boomers, who are struggling with a lot of covering behaviors themselves. Whether that means women standing up in my programs saying, “I stopped coloring my hair.” It’s so interesting to notice how people refer to me or how I feel different now that I’ve gone gray. It’s these little choices we make, but they’re huge choices to either be open, honest, and authentic about our age, or feel that we need to cover relating to our generation—particularly when there seems to be a favoring of certain generations over others in the workplace. This is real.

When I heard about this reverse mentoring program that Bank of New York Pershing is doing, I wanted to write about it. As a journalist—my other identity—I wanted to capture how it worked and how executives felt about having millennial mentors, and being the mentee. That’s an unusual construct for our executive friends.

I love it on so many levels, Doug. I always think about the future of work. I think about the democratization of work. I think about millennials being the largest generation at work, starting to move into leadership positions, or already in leadership positions, and bringing their values—including valuing inclusion as one of their top values.

A lot of us think that they can’t come soon enough into the workplace and into leadership roles so that they can shift those uphill battles that we all have been working so hard to shift.

It was a great experience. The white paper is out on Bank of New York Pershing’s website. We’ll provide the link in this episode. It’s called Reversing the Generation Equation. I got to write it with some of the millennial mentors who were fabulous, Jamilynn and Kayla. On the podcast, which came out today, we brought in Lisa Dolly, who’s the CEO of Pershing, and who has gone through four mentoring relationships with four different millennial mentors. It’s really cool to learn that this is possible and to think about it as organizational architects and what we might be able to accomplish with this concept.

DOUG FORESTA: I’m curious, Jennifer, about the white paper itself. How did that come about? Is that something you approached Pershing to do? How does that happen? How does one do this? I’m sure we have some people listening who, themselves, want to be thought leaders. I’m curious about how that happens.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks for asking that question, Doug, because I get to put my business owner hat on. The folks who have been following us for a while know that we wrote a couple white papers over the last decade of being in the diversity consulting space that have become great calling cards for us.

My goal was to lift up our field with those white papers. It’s something I didn’t charge for. Sometimes I’ve been paid to do them by a sponsoring company who would give us some money offset the cost of the research, the writing, and the design.

Oftentimes, we’ve gone it alone. Whenever I can, I love writing them. I love being able to put something in people’s hands for free that educates them or captures a best practice that they didn’t know about. From where I sit, given how many companies we touch all the time, our knowledge and what we’ve seen is no good to us if it just lives in us. Our challenge always is to disseminate this knowledge in as many formats and channels as we can. That’s why I’m so grateful for the podcast as my newest way of doing that.

Being able to write a white paper in the business world is huge. People respect them, they are given a lot of credibility, they’re shared. They’re digestible because they’re shorter than a book. They are written in more of an outline style and format, people can quickly go through and pull out a stat or repeat a story that was told.

I really like them. I always believe in contributing to your field, whether paid to do that or not. I’ve always looked at it as part of my job to contribute to the knowledge of other practitioners, and to put knowledge in people’s hands so that they can be change agents in the most effective way.

I also write about things that I want to signal to my audience are going to be the next thing. When I write about something, I feel it’s feeling present to me that it is coming. It’s around the corner. I am also trying to equip our practitioner community and our advocate community with being able to be ahead of the curve so that they can guide others around them to prepare.

The space is so dynamic. It’s changing all the time. Language is changing. Obviously, there is innovation happening, and reverse mentoring is one of those things. I thought, “Wow, this what we really need.” We don’t need to dismantle other traditional mentoring programs where the mentor is the senior person with all the knowledge.

DOUG FORESTA: It doesn’t take away from that, right.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s complementary. I’m a big fan of generating thought leadership. It’s important for all of us to be predictors of the future. It’s also really important, Doug, as a woman thought leader, if I can just riff on that for a moment. There are not a lot of us. When I look at the table of leadership books at Barnes & Noble, I notice that it’s 90 percent male authors writing about leadership.

DOUG FORESTA: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: I’ve noticed that there are not a lot of women putting a stake in the ground saying, “Here’s what I predict,” and owning the mantle of being a thought leader.

I think that’s something we need to notice about ourselves. Also, another startling statistic is that women write only 10 percent of op-eds in major publications.

DOUG FORESTA: I didn’t know that. That’s crazy.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. There’s something called The Op-Ed Project that is doing incredible work around women owning their role as voices, thought leaders, and leadership experts, politicians, whatever we want to be—all of it.

It’s so much about how we look at ourselves. For some reason, I have just enough confidence and ego—hopefully not too much—but I have enough to say, “I want my name to be in there.” And I want to see more women’s names in the leadership guru, thought leader, futurist ranks. That’s always been important to me, and I’m not afraid to do it.

I do want to point out to our audience: Notice if it strikes terror in your heart to think of yourself as a thought leader. Notice the thought process and the feelings that you’re having around that. Some of us who have not had a voice, we’ve got to step forward and claim our expertise, state it as fact, and position ourselves in our own hearts and minds and in front of the world as people who are ready to step up, lead, and guide others to say, “Pay attention to this, understand this, know this, lead this way.”

We, as women—along with others who have been underrepresented in the leadership conversation—have a lot to say about how we define leadership.

This comes back to the millennials. How do millennials define leadership?

DOUG FORESTA: Right, because it’s different from boomers or gen Xers.  Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. We need to tune into underrepresented voices. They’re going to be leading the conversation about redefining some of these very core assumptions that have, historically, been defined by the majority—who have stepped forward to write the op-eds, who have written all the books, who do all the TED talks. We have a lack of diverse voices defining what leadership means. That’s a real problem because we have a lot to say.

DOUG FORESTA: It’s interesting. I know you have talked about this before, that you’ve got to “see it to be it.” But the same time, your writing a white paper like this with Pershing is trailblazing. At some point, we need someone like you to also be a trailblazer where there is no path so that other women and underrepresented talent can actually “see it to be it.” They can say, “Jennifer Brown is a thought leader, I can write a white paper, I can step out there.” Right? Can you say a little bit about that? Are there times where we just new a few people to be the trailblazers where there’s no example before us?

JENNIFER BROWN: We do. Some of us are built for the change process in a certain way. Not everyone’s going to be the first to crack through, for a lot of reasons, very valid reasons.

DOUG FORESTA: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: I think of myself as the tip of the spear in many ways. I have a lack of fear about this and a conviction around, perhaps, going first where I need to, and where I can, by the way. I acknowledge the levels of privilege that come with who I am—just the body I was born in, the family I was born in, the schooling that I had, the socioeconomic background that I had which allows me to even write a paper and decide that I’m going to do that. I’m aware of all those things.

That doesn’t hold me back. We’ve been talking a lot about this Doug, I’m aware of the privilege that allows me to do that, and almost obligates me to do that.

DOUG FORESTA: Sure.

JENNIFER BROWN: As I do that, at the same time I’ve got to hold the door open for other people to do the same. I do that by trying to highlight and throw my weight behind other thought leaders who are also intersectional in different ways than I am, and point people to the voices they should be listening to. I do that on Twitter, I try to highlight other voices on Facebook and other social media platforms.

As you ask, “Should I be the first to speak and to take a stand and have a point of view and draw a line in the sand?” My answer is: Yes. And if you struggle with how do I do that? How do I have the confidence to do it? Who would listen to me? What do I have to say? If you’re going down that road, you almost have to say to yourself, “Jennifer told me not to think those thoughts.”

Don’t give into being small. Don’t give into the voices that are telling that you that your point of view is not important enough or unique enough. Not to be too radical about it, but they are the voices of the patriarchy. It’s a strong statement, but the voices that tell you to be small are the voices all around us every single day that we’ve been raised with.

You’ve got to know, that is what you’re up against. It’s people saying, “I haven’t seen any women take a stand, writing in major newspapers, or producing movies, or movies about women with dialogue by women.” If you start to really look at this, there is a total lack of our voices.

Any woman, I would be hard pressed to say that you don’t have something to say. I feel like everyone I meet has such a beautiful, incredible story to tell. What they may be struggling with is the bravery to tell it and the belief that it will make a difference to someone in hearing it.

DOUG FORESTA: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Don’t kill your story before you tell it. Don’t judge it. Don’t give into all of those voices. Those are not your voice—they’re the voice of the world that you’ve been raised in. You’ve got to know the difference. Meditate on that for a while.

DOUG FORESTA: That reminds me, Michel Lerner from Tikkun magazine. He talks about “surplus powerlessness.” It’s the idea that there’s a system that says, “Don’t bother to even try,” which actually creates a situation where we give away the power that we do have.

I think writing a white paper, although as you said there is a certain amount of privilege involved in being able to do that, the reality is that there are many people who probably could be doing it who have diverse voices who aren’t doing it because of that internalized voice that says, “Don’t even bother, look on the shelves in Barnes & Noble, look on Amazon. Who’s writing books on leadership? It’s not people like you.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. We need precisely people like you. I’m out here swinging every single day—trying to be bolder, trying to be uncomfortable, trying to make sure I’m growing. And how you know you’re growing is when you’re uncomfortable, so noticing that is important.

I’m hoping that people are watching the process that I’m going through. I’m trying to make it as overt as possible, and I’m trying to be honest about it because we’re not perfect. In fact, one of the challenging things about how we perceive leadership is that perfection in the past. It’s that need to have all the answers. What is being redefined about leadership, among many things, is essentially that leadership has to have all the answers, that it has to be perfectly performed, that it has to be authoritative.

When we watch Brené Brown and we think about the power of vulnerability, for example, just to pick one thing, it might feel counterintuitive to admit that that. And yet, back to our millennial talent in particular, they want to see the whole leader. They want to see who you are, not just what you’ve achieved.

That’s what I love about the stories in the reverse mentoring program. It puts the millennial in the driver’s seat as the mentor, and the executive has to listen. They have to admit what they don’t know, they have to be vulnerable and trust somebody of a different generation who doesn’t have that kind of expertise, but is going to challenge them on what does success actually look like for leaders in the future? What is that skill set? What is that competency? Whether it’s vulnerability, comfort with ambiguity, or flexibility and adaptability, or admitting when you don’t know the right answer and having curiosity or a sense of inquiry.

Our ability to ask questions is going to be one of the key success factors for leaders at any level. Asking questions means you don’t know the answer. I’m not asking a question like, “Is this right or wrong? Yes or no?”

DOUG FORESTA: I get very worried when I meet people who have all the answers.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, I do. That can feel a little like “mansplaining.”

DOUG FORESTA: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s become a joke. It’s funny, Doug, there’s a new app out that you can put in the middle of the table in meetings that picks up the number of male voices versus female voices and the amount of time each one is speaking in a meeting just generically, and gives you a report around what gender were the voices that were speaking and what percentage of time.

The significance of this can’t be overstated. For me to take up the bandwidth of the world by saying, “I’m a thought leader, I want to have a point of view. I want my point of view to be in the world. I want people to read this, take me seriously, and assign credibility to me.” That’s a very radical act.

I’m aware that I’m doing it. I am doing it intentionally. I would like to see a lot more people doing precisely that. We’ve got to flood the airwaves with our points of view in order to make our stories available so that others can learn from them. But if we are being quiet, shy, not speaking up in meetings, not writing, not blasting it out to our Twitterverse or putting it on LinkedIn, we don’t have the chance to change hearts and minds.

I want all of our listeners to think about their relative comfort with how you play in the world, and if you think you don’t have a point of view on things, I would challenge you to develop one. That will probably come from your own experience, it will come from your stories, it may come from your diversity stories broadly defined. It may come from your experience in organizations. It may come from how you define leadership differently. What are you proudest of in terms of how you lead? Far from taking that for granted, “Oh, that’s just the way I do it. That’s just the way I’m comfortable.”

Strive to discover what might be universal in your experience that other people will be able to relate to and latch onto. I can tell you, it’s a really cool experience to have people say, “I’m so glad you said that, because it’s something I have felt. And it’s something I believe, too.”

When that starts happening, it will help you have a louder voice in the world because you’ll realize it’s not just you. You’re onto something very important, and the more you can write about that, share about that—hopefully podcast about that, too! Because, Doug, we’ve been talking about how few female podcasters have really hit the big leagues.

DOUG FORESTA: I know. We need more female voices out there.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, we do.

DOUG FORESTA: Literally female voices.

JENNIFER BROWN: We do, literally. Let’s step up.

DOUG FORESTA: What a great call to action. Jennifer, thank you for being the tip of the spear, and of course, for sharing your words of wisdom today.

JENNIFER BROWN: Doug, thanks for backing me up all the time.

DOUG FORESTA: Absolutely. It’s my pleasure and honor. Thank you.

USEFUL LINKS

Women Interrupted