This episode was originally recorded as a DEI Community Call and features a conversation with Lewis Brown Griggs, Michael Welp, and Howard Ross. These three seasoned leaders discuss their personal journeys as advocates for equity, unpack the absence of white men in DEI efforts, and reveal effective strategies to encourage men to lean into DEI principles.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
LEWIS GRIGGS: One of the ways to involve white men is, by accepting where they are, is to try to notice where they are. In other words, if you can notice with your heart and soul as something you already know about this guy, that he is open enough to want to grow, then he wants to hear. I want to hear who you are, so I can relate to the real you, and I want you to know who I really am.
I want you to help take me... You don't have to fix me, be with me, to get rid of the left frontal lobe and the linearity and ask me questions you'd never dare to ask a straight way, and if you think I might be open enough to share it with you authentically.
And if I'm the opposite, I'm stuck in my left frontal lobe and the power and privilege I think I have, then we all have to... When I deal with those guys, I have to try to be in their shoes and imagine what will work with them.
DOUG FORESTA: Addressing systemic inequities has become a defining challenge of our times. Leaders understanding of their role and responsibility to others and to society is being questioned. On October 4th, Jennifer Brown will release the second edition of her best selling book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader.
She will share insights from over 20 years of experience, working with organizations to create workplaces where everyone thrives and belongs. Her widely acclaimed inclusive leader continuum provides a framework to lead individuals for the personal learning journey they undertake to become inclusive leaders.
News stories, strategies, and discussion guides equip leaders at any level to take action and step into their role in affecting change. Whether you're already a fan of the book, a reader who considers themselves an advocate for equity and inclusion, or just starting to understand how uneven the playing field is, this book is a must-read, an essential tool for leading into the future.
Visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com to pre-order your own copy or access special bulk rates. 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. Today's episode was originally recorded as a DEI community call and features a conversation about white men, DEI and privilege with Lewis Brown Griggs, Michael Welp, and Howard Ross.
These three seasoned leaders joined the conversation to discuss their personal journeys as advocates for equity, unpacked the absence of white men in DEI efforts, and discussed effective strategies to encourage men to lean in to DEI principles. All this and more, and now onto the conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: I'm going to move into our conversation for today. I have to give credit to... The IAC originally had this particular group of voices together on a webinar. And if some of you don't know the IAC, if someone wouldn't mind putting the link in chat to the IAC.
It's an incredible group that started again in March, April, May of 2020 to provide free education on DEI. And again, led by many of the leading voices in the field. I really encourage all of you to be involved, to attend the events.
They're incredible to, again, connect to the subject matter experts that show up in the context of the IAC. Howard, I know you have a huge role with them. Please know that's a resource for you as well. I kind of commandeered that group, and this is the group. I wanted to bring you all to my community and introduce you in case everybody doesn't know what you do and who you do it for.
Let's just start with Michael Welp. Why don't we start with you? And I'll invite you to introduce yourself to the group, share whatever you'd like about your work. And if you see any questions in chat so far for you, I'll be looking.
Maybe we can all just keep an eye on questions. And please everybody, use the chat for Q&A. If we miss your question, please feel free to reiterate it so we can see it at the bottom of the chat, because it's going to go fast.
MICHAEL WELP: Thanks, Jennifer. Greetings. Nice to meet everybody here. Looking forward to this exchange. I've been on my own journey for many years. I'm a late bloomer, I would say. I grew up in the Midwest of Iowa. I eventually ended up in Washington DC, in a graduate program that started to wake me up around issues of race and gender and sexual orientation.
I ended up in South Africa, working interracially for Post-Mandela's release work. I started to realize I had a lot in common with the white men there. I ended up in a dissertation process back in the US, How Do White Men Learn About Diversity in the 90s?
I found that we learned mostly everything from others, from women, folks of color, LGBT. And it's like, where is this process where straight white guys engage others to take the burden of education off of others? So we started a company, my colleague Bill and I, 25 years ago called White Men as Full Diversity Partners.
And so we've been doing that work. I love that process, because white guys learned that it's not about helping others with their issues, but it's liberating and transformative for ourselves too. That's one of the messages that I think white men need to hear, to see it out of an either/or zero sum game mindset.
It's a continuing edge for me. I find myself just on my learning edge as much as I was 25 years ago. How do I disrupt my peers? How do I put my own relationships at risk? There's a never-ending journey here for me, so thanks for having me.
JENNIFER BROWN: "How do I disrupt my peers?" And finding that courage and knowing when to step in and pushing and calibrating with that when you step outside of the group and look in, there's so much work to be done. Where do we start?
And when you begin to look at things through a new lens, there're just challenges and opportunities everywhere we look. I really appreciate that. Thank you, Michael. Lewis, introduce yourself.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Yeah. I just love hearing from you, Michael, how personal the work is for you because it is most critical that we all do our own personal work. And yet, we all have different doorways through which we had to come in order to learn to do that, in order to be that authentic about our own work.
In my case, I grew up also in the Midwest, in the twin cities of Minnesota, but in pure privilege. And the reason I say that is that for me as a sixties kid who thought it was enough that we treat each other all the same, which is to treat us our way, which doesn't work. I had to have a near death experience in order to get it. And so my TED talk called The Gift of Near Death shares the doorway through which I came.
In that near death experience, I actually was asked the question of, "What is it, Lewis, that keeps you from being..." Not doing, right? I could do whatever I wanted. "What keeps you from being all you're capable of being?" And my answer brings me right here to what I'm doing today with you all.
The way I was raised, I had no clue how to do any of the bridging to connect at the authentic being heart and soul level with anyone different than my exact tribe. And I noticed that was a huge weakness and a loss that I didn't know how to do it. And all the rest of you had to do it to deal with me, us.
So when I got that answer, the answer I got back from the voice was, "Well, then that's your work." And I was sent back down. And then I was able to use privilege, which I've learned is an acceptable thing. As long as you use privilege to serve, then your privilege isn't necessarily bad. I used that and helped make 23 diversity training videos, value and diversity.
Some of you have heard of, I created the National Diversity Conference, the first one and sold it to Sherm. And I've been spending all these decades just learning myself first. And only able to teach other white men what I was able to learn myself, so I don't do any shame or blame or call them racist or anything, because that didn't work for me to start there.
I had to start with, "I'm ignorant, and it's my self-interest to learn how to see, hear and value the amazing diversity we each bring to one another." And in the workplace, especially because with a common goal, that diversity is a gift to one another to achieve that common goal. Whereas on the street, all we can do is like in Hong Kong and New York, just walk past each other.
That's why I do this work. It is personal work only. I am an MBA, so I know how to do the interpersonal, the business case, the policies and practices and the systemic. But that's all left frontal lobe, and I prefer not using that. I prefer using the heart and soul to say, "Who am I? Who are you? I see you," and then apply the rest. That's who I am. Thanks.
JENNIFER BROWN: That's great. Thank you, Lewis. That was so beautiful. I do think that the business case is getting kicked around as, "Should we use it? Shouldn't we use it? Should we have to use it?"
And by the way, using it hasn't worked. I think that's where we're sort of sitting. As a community of practitioners, saying it's not working in the way we thought it would, and we thought speaking somebody's language would change things.
But I think we still find ourselves in a really disappointing place. I have come to the same conclusion, which is that it's a personal transformation that we're inviting and encouraging and bringing it to the heart. But the business world is so unfamiliar with this, so uncomfortable with this-
LEWIS GRIGGS: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: ...that it is completely opening a door that people are super scared of. And yet, somebody said earlier, what we're talking about at the end of the day is our own transformation. But saying to somebody, "This is going to transform you. Trust me, have faith, because I know what's on the other side."
Sometimes it's like, "Why should I believe you, and what does that even mean?" What does that look like? So I think that you all telling your stories shows us what it looks like. You have to believe that it's possible.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Exactly. That's the only reason I got the MBA, so that people like us would trust me. If I just talked about heart and light, light and love, and spirit and energy, they'd kick me out and wonder what I was smoking. So at least here I can-
JENNIFER BROWN: You can be all of yourself. All right. Howard?
HOWARD ROSS: Hi. Thanks, Jen. Thanks for having me. And by the way, congratulations on the book. I know the original was fabulous and this one will be great as well. And I know that feeling all too well, of putting a book out in the world. It's a little bit like having a baby, I think.
Also just for people who are interested in the inclusion allies coalition, just very quickly, we actually started that in 2016, Jen. Margaret, Regan, and Mary Francis and Leslie and I, and Andrea got together about two weeks after the Trump elections, after Trump was elected.
And we just said we had to do something, because we knew people would be hurting, so for what that's worth. My background is kind of not dissimilar, but also I think maybe generationally is a little bit different. I grew up in the sixties. I was a sixties street organizer. I did a lot of work in civil rights, a lot of work with the farm workers, union trained by Linsky.
I got that kind of social justice background at the core. And then I went and I became an organizational development consultant, so I studied organizational change and theory and systems changed and all of those factors as well. And the two things came together in mid eighties when I started doing this... What at the time was this kind of new work of diversity in organizations.
So new, that I remember doing a workshop in a bank and people came in and after 10 minutes said, "Wait a minute. I thought this was about diversifying our stock portfolio." They had no idea what the termination meant in those days.
So it goes back a long way, about almost 40 years now. My family background is from Eastern Europe. We're Jewish by extraction. Lost God only knows how many members of our family in the Holocaust, which really fueled a lot of my early passion for social justice. And my sisters as well. My oldest sister became one of our nations leading immigration lawyers.
My younger sister was Barry and Wright Edelman's fundraiser at the children's defense fund for 15 years. That became sort of our family business. And then when I started doing the work in the early or in the mid eighties, a lot of it was very... I like to say we used the sledgehammer a lot, 'find them and fix them' work. Who are the bad people and how do we fix them?
And at some point I just realized that the problem with that, it didn't work. And that led to my stumbling into the whole conversation about unconscious bias, which of course became a major passion of mine. Very much because of the reasons that Lewis and you were just talking about, Jen, which is that we have to help people understand how they're making these decisions, why they're making these decisions from an ontological framework.
Why am I seeing things the way I'm seeing them? I can give people all the data in the world, but if we haven't explored how we're processing that data or how we're rejecting some of it and keeping some of it, then all the data doesn't help. I do think that there's a place for all of it. I still think there is a place for the business data.
I think there's a place for all of those kinds of things, and I think any idea is dangerous when it's the only one you have. But I do think that we've learned that human beings are former rationalizing than we are rational. And so just giving people data does not change their mind if we don't do the other work as well.
So, I'm just glad to be here with all of you. By the way, can I see one other thing? I noticed that a couple of real dear friends, [inaudible 00:14:56], I want to say hi to you. [inaudible 00:14:57], I know you're there, some people I haven't seen. But mostly I can't see I'm on... I have to be on my cell phone because I'm away on vacation sitting on the side of the road, where I could get a good signal. I'm not seeing chats or messages as come in. If any of you are sending me notes, please know, I'm not rejecting you, or ignoring you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Commitment, thank you. Happy vacation, everybody is saying. Good for you.
HOWARD ROSS: Thanks.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh. We have a couple of questions already, and I think they dovetail nicely to what we wanted to talk about. One practitioner in the chat said, "I was being grilled internally, about my plan to engage those people." We all know who that's about. What's your strategy to engage this group. I'll bet everybody that is doing this work has faced that question. I love Lewis's answer, "I'm just going to reach in and grab their heart, of course." I don't know if that's going to win friends and influence people, it depends on how "With it" our colleagues are. What would you advise for those of us who are trying to build the bridge to this group, but also describing our strategy? How can we speak about this in a way that will not only do the actual work, but reassure all the jitters in the organization about this, and the history and the assumptions that this is never going to work, that it hasn't worked in the past, it's always been difficult.
I just wonder, is that true? Have we been going about it the right way, perhaps? Is there something you might recommend, in terms of shifting our strategy? Have we had a strategy? I honestly feel like sometimes, I'm having this conversation for the first time, over and over again. It's something that nobody has really sat down and mapped out, because nobody even wants to get started, because there's such negativity around it. Yet, it's one of the most important plans that needs to exist. I've just asked 10 questions. Let me let pause. Michael, pick anything in there and run with it.
MICHAEL WELP: We get calls all the time from a lot of DEI leads who are a lot of women, and men of color, or white women. It's like, "How do I engage this group? How do I get my leaders?" One thing I would suggest is, it is important to take your time, to get some champions who are white male onboard, to help co-sponsor the continued journey, including the focus on white men as part of the process. If white men, and sometimes white women, get uncomfortable with the focus on conversations about engaging that group, your credibility is at stake. You're carrying the heat. Getting a couple of white male line leaders through some of the processes of understanding this journey, they're the ones that can speak to their peers, say, "Hey, this may be awkward, but this is important. This isn't about we're broken, or something like that. We're all on a journey, everybody has work to do."
We don't have an ERG, like everybody else has an ERG to do. This is why we do our four day Whiteman's caucus, it's a temporary ERG. Sometimes, we need our colleagues to talk with each other about this, so that the burden doesn't continue to be on folks of color and white women to educate us. It's a journey. You've got to reframe it as a long-term journey. It's not a quick fix, and there's as much to gain out of it for you. We like to frame it as a leadership development process too, not just a DEI process. This is about growing leadership skills, and what better place to grow courage, integration, as Lewis says, of heart, than wading into messy diversity topics.
You have to start where white men are at. You have to acknowledge and validate this paradox that Lewis talks about really well, it's the sameness in difference. Most of us think the way to equality is to treat everybody the same, and we don't realize that we just reinforce our way of the cultural world in doing that. How do we start to see difference, that others are having a different experience of the world, and connect on our sameness, to start to accept more complexities in this issue, and not try to oversimplify? Which, is one of the things we like to do to, to take out all the uncertainty of this. I'll stop there, there's plenty.
LEWIS GRIGGS: I want to add that one of the ways to involve white men is by accepting where they are, to try to notice where they are. In other words, if you can notice with your heart and soul something you already know about this guy, that he is open enough to want to grow, then, he wants to hear. I want to hear who you are, so I can relate to the real you. I want you to know who I really am. I want you to help take me... you don't have to fix me. Be with me to get rid of the left frontal lobe, and the linearity, and ask me questions you'd never dare to ask a straight, white, yuppy WASP, if you think I might be open enough to share it with you authentically.
If I'm the opposite, I'm stuck in my left frontal lobe, and the power and privilege I think I have, when I deal with those guys, I have to try to be in their shoes, and imagine what will work with them. One way might be to find out something about them that will help them open. When you discover that I have a bipolar daughter who's been on and off the street, I must have had some learning there, and some sensitivity there. I've had a near death experience, or I just came out of cancer. I just killed cancer last year, as well as COVID. In anything, we all have amazing stories that get rid of our melanin, and our left frontal lobe, and our gender, and just get to us. Either they already have it, and you can jump in, or they don't have it, and you can help them get it, before you even deal with the business case.
HOWARD ROSS: Jen, I really want to have us look at the question itself, because I think one of the challenges is, of course, we have a tendency to homogenize. There's a sociologist, I guess he was a social psychologist, George Patron, who created this, he discovered what he called the out group homogeneity phenomenon. That means that basically, when you're outside of a group, you tend to make everybody in that group similar. I think, just like any other group, there is no white men with common mindset. I think, a lot of times as practitioners, we have to work on our own mental models of how we come into the work. I was listening recently to Ibram X. Kendi in an interview, I'm sure most everybody knows who Kendi is. He said that the power of a transformational idea doesn't live in how it makes you feel when you say it, it lives in the impact it has on moving people to action.
I think, in a lot of cases as practitioners, we're coming from our own wounding, whatever that wounding is, and we deal with people from that wounding. When we look at any group, whether it's white men or anything else, I think it would make a lot more sense for us to take a situational leadership model. What kind of a mindset does this person who I'm dealing with work with? There are white men who are MAGA supporting white supremacists. There are lots of folks who are uncomfortable with this stuff, but they're not hateful. There are lots of folks who are just ignorant about this stuff. There are a lot of folks who really want to do the right thing, but have no idea what the right thing is, and are afraid that coming into the diversity space without knowing that will just make them a target.
There are some who are passionate and full-throated, and everything in between. When people say, "How do we include people?" My question would be, which of those people are you talking about? The strategies are completely different. I think a lot of this does live in getting to know people, and not making assumptions about them, just like we teach about everything else, when we're talking about diversity, inclusion, and equity. That is, to really do some listening, to get a sense of where people are coming from. Are they resistant, or are they scared? Systemically, to distinguish between systemic white supremacy, systemic male supremacy, which can play out in our organizations and systems, versus the individual beliefs of specific people. I think that's a very important distinction as well, because while we look at things like privilege from a systemic standpoint, that doesn't necessarily reflect on the same experience for each individual person in that framework.
JENNIFER BROWN: I hear you on that. I think the systemic stuff can overwhelm if you don't have a working framework, and a level of maturity, I think, to look at that.
HOWARD ROSS: That's right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Teasing those apart, I hope everybody's hearing the strategy there, and also, the strategy of meeting somebody where they're at, and not viewing a group of learners as a monolith. We never can do that, and that's true for this group as well. It's just like any community. Look at the diversity of needs and inclusiveness, or exclusionary dynamics in the LGBTQ plus community. We've got diversity within the diversity that we struggle with, from an inclusion perspective. I think it is not a different community. There's a question in the chat that's so good, and related, which is, doesn't this mean we're centering a group at the time when we should be centering other groups that haven't been centered?
I would imagine the pushback I've gotten any time I've tried to build a specific, identity group learning program, even for LGBTQ leaders, for example. The client will say, "We can't really sell this in, because it's exclusionary, and it's calling out one identity. Aren't allies invited?" My answer sometimes is, there's something so powerful that occurs within an in group when they're doing their work together. There's a level of automatic safety, and the learning could be deeper, and faster. I have some graduates from that program that actually, I'm talking about on the call today, but it's so powerful to see. It's really the accelerant, I think. The pushback will be, aren't you just centering the people that we have the biggest problems with? What would you recommend as the answer to that?
LEWIS GRIGGS: I think we have to learn more about each group about which we don't know what we need to learn. Inclusion means inclusion. For all those on the far right at the moment, and I assume some on the far left, they're not inclusive of difference, and we're noticing how dangerous it becomes. Since inclusion means inclusion, we need to include all of us who are able and willing to be included, and able and willing to include others. That means we have to work on our own work, and we need to allow others to work on their own work, because we all have the work to do.
HOWARD ROSS: I think it's important to also recognize that this is an issue of power. This whole issue we're talking about is about power. It's about power, it's about access, agency. Clearly, if we're looking at shifting the power dynamics in organizations, we have to work with the people who hold that power. Now, that doesn't say that we're necessarily only centering a particular group. We work with other people in different ways. We work with, for example, people of color, to look at things like, how do I develop my ability to function well in that system? How do we provide what's needed to get folks from that group to feel included, to feel that sense of belonging, to feel seen, successful, and liked?
We work with women around particular issues that are related to gender, and with LGBTQ. I could go through the whole list, but the point is, there is no one size fits all, and we should be centering all these groups. We should be having distinct ways approaching the particular needs of all groups, at the same time as we do the broader inclusion of everybody. One of the challenges is that so many of our organizations are limited in terms of the time, money, and other resources that are devoted to this, that people have to make choices. "If I'm going to this work, then I can't that work," as opposed to really taking a whole list of things [inaudible 00:28:00].
MICHAEL WELP: Yeah.
HOWARD ROSS: Ultimately, we have to find ways to invite everybody into the conversation.
MICHAEL WELP: I've got a couple of thoughts. If you think about the historical way diversity has been framed, and you think about gender, who do we talk about? It's focused on women. We don't typically examine the role of men, from a binary perspective at least. Race, we focus on people of color. We don't look at whiteness, or we don't look at heterosexuality that much. The focus is always on the outsider groups, if you want to use that term, and the insider-ness remains invisible. To Howard's point about power, one of the ways it gets perpetuated is not being examined, not being explored. The implications for that are that everybody thinks that the folks that get focused on are the ones that need to lead diversity. It's about helping them, and white men don't have a place, can't teach. The collusion of that focus, without expanding the focus, I need to understand, what is my experience as a white male? Knowing, per what Howard says, it's individually different for all white men, but there are some common narrative experiences.
How is that a different experience than my women colleagues at work, or my LGBT colleagues, or people of color? What are the implications for me as a leader, being able to lead or not? If I assume sameness, which we over assume sameness, I under index on difference. I don't even tune into the fact that others are navigating things. I might not be open to hearing that I have things I don't have to navigate, being white, until somebody acknowledges, again, back to where I'm at, that I grew up in a challenging class, which isn't the case for me personally, but for a lot of white men, they feel like they've struggled their whole lives to make ends meet. When you tell them they're privileged as a white person, they're like, "I don't feel that," you know? So how do you get the both-end-ness of acknowledging you've had to deal with a lot of stuff and you haven't had to deal with some things others are navigating. And that doesn't make you a bad person. It just is part of the complex reality.
So taking a very broad perspective of all the dimensions of insider-ness, outsider-ness, where I might feel like yeah, somebody sees that I get left out because I'm an introvert, or because I'm a lawyer in an engineering-dominated firm, outside the core function, all those insider-outsider dynamics, can I see myself in some of those? And then, can I also hold up some of these core dimensions, where I haven't had to tune into my outsider-ness, because I'm an insider. Can I see where I'm an insider, and then back to using that privilege honorably to engage my colleague insiders?
LEWIS GRIGGS: You know what that reminds of, Michael? I want to share, especially in this group, and that is to come out of my own ignorance, which meant to come out of my own ethnocentric tribe, that was so narrow that if you weren't just like me, Ooh, it was lonely in there. So what I learned was not only in the near-death experience, that we're all one, that the source from which we come is all the same, and then when we land in these bodies, we are the only DNA in the history of life on Earth, so we are uniquely different, every single one of us. So it's simultaneously true that we're all one and uniquely different and everything in-between.
But the here-on-Earth version of that that I learned was that to move from a straight, white, Anglo, yuppie, heterosexual, all of those labels, to think to feeling that everybody who was other than that had a problem, okay? It was not just a difference. It was a dysfunction. That's where I started, okay? And once I started going by there, going, "Okay, but at least I have to accept that oddness, that oddness, that oddness," it may sound strange to you, but it was life-changing for me when I started to imagine, even, what trans means, and that film about the... Was it the Norwegian girl or some other girl, five years ago? It wasn't Norwegian, but you know what I mean? Some of you.
I went, "Whoa," and now that I have friends whose daughter is now being a male, and whose son is now being a female, and what it's enabled me to do is to go over what I learned in the light, which is, actually, it's not I'm one of those, and you're one of those, and you're one of those, and you're one of those. It's about there is a spectrum, that our bodies weren't created the way I thought, to be just barely all male or all female, right? Or all heterosexual. Because basically, our bodies are the same, as most of you know, and then there's a slight difference, which was created to create life. But now, I much prefer getting the, yeah, even though there's truth in that, we came out on a spectrum, where every single one of us is just wherever we are on that spectrum.
And god, I got free to realize you're you, and you're you, and you're you, and guess what. That enables me to be just me, not even one of those labels that I am. I'm just me, and you're just you, and what ah gift for me, to be able to be open to that, and to see you that way. Woo.
JENNIFER BROWN: Breathing on that. Thank you.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: It's so true. The binary is so... just keeps cropping up constantly, "I'm this, you're that, they." You know, we miss so many invisible diversity dimensions, more broadly defined in any group that we put into that box, and I get questioned a lot about how I do the work and what people think of me and my credibility, based on what they see about me, and they may not know who I identify, and the way that I... First, I come out all the time, and even when I don't want to, even when I'm not feeling psychologically safe, even on big stages where I look out to a sea of mostly white, male faces, which is not the most comfortable thing in the world.
But I also immediately talk about privilege. I talk about different kinds of privilege that I've had, and that I have, and how I use it, you know? And why I'm standing there on this day, wielding that, because that's what I have to work with. And these are the ingredients that make us who we are, many of which may or may not be visible. But we have to assume that everybody is a potential change-maker. The thing I think we have not bridged to is to explain what someone can use, and how they can use it, and for what purpose. So I've been talking about privilege really differently. Go ahead, Michael.
MICHAEL WELP: Well, I think what you're both talking about is what I call the individual group paradox, that it's helpful to see what insider-outsider dynamics am I a part of, and yes, there's a lot of intersectionality around that, and I'm unique, unlike anybody on the planet. And do I look through the world as that individual lens, and not through the group lens? What do I not know, that others are experiencing? So if I over-index on individuality, a lot of white men, we defend our rugged individualist, unique personalities. I'm not like, "I'm Michael. I'm not a white guy." And yet, I don't see how that gives me more access, power. I'm not navigating challenges others are navigating.
And then, also the sameness-difference paradox. Am I typically wanting to say, "I don't see color. I don't see race. I just treat everybody the same." And that impact is others are fitting into a world that looks like mine, has been founded by people like me, and I don't even know that I have a culture. I don't even know that there's a white male cultural norm set that I'm assimilating to, others are assimilating, which are things like don't ask for help, don't ask for directions. It's like go it alone. I get value by fixing things, doing versus being, stay in my head, disconnect from my heart, because that's seen as breaking credibility of my data. I am in a cultural prison that I don't even know I'm in, that affects my relationships in and out of work, my partnerships, so I have as much liberation at stake as any person else around DEI, and-
LEWIS GRIGGS: Ditto.
MICHAEL WELP: So the more I realize that, the more I reclaim a choice of what part of my own humanity do I leave at the door, at work or even at home? And what freedom is at stake for me too? And it's different for every white male, too. We're not all alike. So again, helping white men see, do you over-index on seeing everybody as individuals because this other stuff is just too complex, and do you over-index on trying to just treat everybody the same, because you think that's the simplest way to be equal, and you're not, as a leader, able to recognize different experiences? And then how does that actually free you up too, around some things that you never even dreamed of were possible for you?
You know, the white guys who went through our caucus in that catalyst research, they listened 33% more according to coworkers, you know? It's like, because they got out of the box of, "I only listen to fix. I only listen to debate." No, "I can listen to understand and connect," and it's like I've opened up another channel to enrich my life. And it sure helps the bottom line on business.
HOWARD ROSS: Yeah. You know, I think it's really interesting, because I think so much of our ability to be successful has to do with not so much what we're doing or saying but how we're doing and saying it. Jennifer, you just used the term change-maker, you know? And I often talk about the important distinction between being an advocate and being a change agent, because the energetic way we approach things might be quite different, depending... If I'm on social media, or if I'm writing for myself, or if I'm participating in a Black Lives Matter march, or something like that, I'm being an advocate. The particular energy that I bring to that might be very different than if I'm working with a group of people.
And one of the things we found... Excuse me, I'm sorry. One of the things we found when doing a lot of the research, especially for my last book, for our search for belonging, started talking with a lot of these social scientists about what actually has groups change. And you know, the science of that, the brain science of that, and the social science of that is unequivocal, and that is that people don't change because of most of the things that we have done around diversity and inclusion. Like you've talked about before, Jennifer, you gave the example of just giving people data, you know? The business case or stuff like that. We know that people can rationalize their way out of that.
We know that when people feel like you're trying to fix them, it triggers activity in the dorsal posterior insula of the brain, which is the same region of the brain associated with physical pain, and any of us who are in a relationship and try to fix our partner know how well that doesn't work. And yet, we come into doing our diversity work, "You have to change, because there's something wrong with you," and then we're surprised that people resist it.
And again, I want to be really clear. Maybe it's just age, now that I'm in my 70s, you know? My pragmatism, I see, is rising, because I'm not willing to waste my time with things just because they make me feel good. I want to spend time on things that actually create change. And what I found is that when you approach things in that way, people shut down, whereas when you approach things teaching but also listening at the same time, giving them a chance to share their experience, you could do almost anything. I mean, I've conducted work over the last couple of years using all of the same stuff from 1619 and other similar projects, and teaching that history in ways that people didn't resist, and they didn't feel like it was being shoved down their throat, and that they actually embraced it, and the result...
One particular large project we were working on with a major institution is we did work with their top 800 leaders. Coming into the program, 27% felt comfortable talking about race. After the program, 84% felt comfortable talking about race in the workplace. So there are ways that we can do that where we're not selling out, we're not letting people off the hook, but we're being generous in our listening, so we give people an opening in which they can... They don't have to defend their point of view. They can let go of it and explore new ideas. And I think that's on us as practitioners, to learn to do that in skillful ways.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Mm-hmm. You know, you both remind me of two... I loved waiting, because you both reminded me of two ways I want to answer these questions about power and privilege for me, my answer. One very oversimplified one is for me, equity means no power over or under one another, so in relationship, in talking, in communicating, even if you have a job higher than I do or knowledge different than mine or I do, in our conversation, I want no energy which feels like power over or under. That is the kind of equity I want in our relationship. That's number one, no matter what task we're doing together, in co-creation.
And the other way I want to describe how to utilize privilege is that we each have different skills. We each have different privilege, okay? So when I say, when I, human individual and human ego, say, "I produced 23 videos, and I created the National Diversity Conference," bullshit. I was one part, and the most important other part, in addition to lots of employees with different expertise, let's say my wife, who is global, speaking many languages. I am the ethnocentric Mayflower boy who didn't know what I was talking about, okay? So when we created Valuing Diversity videos and others, she ran the entire creative end of it, and all the content, and the script, and the research. I didn't know any of it.
I raised all the money that I knew how to do, and to communicate with white male executives and leaders, and so they would trust me, and I ran the company, and I did the public speaking, and TV and radio, so that everybody knew me, but they don't know her. Well, she loved it that way, but we didn't think of ourself as 50-50. We thought of ourself as 100-100. None of it would have happened without what she could do. None of it. I would have had to sell life insurance or something, or be a banker, you know? She couldn't do... None of what we did would have happened if I couldn't do what I did, with the way I was raised, and my skills, and et cetera.
God, that is an example of equity, using her privilege and my privilege to co-create something that otherwise wouldn't have happened. That's what any two of us can do together, in whatever different ways. That's how I value power, not over, and privilege to serve and co-create together in a way that helps others.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Like, multiple ingredients. No one ingredient is more important, and they all need to be contributed to create the whole. If we could lay it out in that way, it's not threatening, it's to me very concrete, but I think we're just at the beginning of explaining, Louis, then what are those pieces I can contribute? Because I have taken, somehow, the message that I don't have anything valuable to contribute within the bunch of ingredients. But power is a critical thing, and power defined certain ways is a critical thing, or platform, or access, or social or professional capital. I mean, there's so many ways to look at it, that I think would leave leaders with a, "I can do that" feeling, like that energy of, "That's something I have access to. I can activate. I can contribute that. I understand it."
LEWIS GRIGGS: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: You know? And sometimes, I find like I just need to give people a list.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Go down the list of different things that you can do more easily than others, with fewer questions, or doubt, or skepticism, more access, more permission, more safety. What are these things that you can do on a day-to-day basis? But it requires like that... I don't know if it's emotional intelligence to step outside of it and say, "Oh yeah. That's probably easier for me. This is something I can do in like 10 minutes," you know? So I think we have to kind of help people think about this differently, and then task them with... And hopefully, they'll task themselves with, "What have I done today from my list?" And just be very concrete.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Yes/and. That reminds me that What Color Is Your Parachute does that, and says, "What are all the things that I've done pretty well? No matter what my job, what's the thread of things that I do well? And those are my gifts and my privileges." And as strange as it may sound, the greatest gift we each have might come from, as I was asked, in the white light, "What is it that keeps you from being all you're capable of being?" And I came up with, "I don't have a clue how to do this bridging across difference." And I was told, "That's your work."
If my greatest weakness was ethnocentrism and inability to communicate with any of you, even strange white guys like Michael and Howard, right, who aren't exactly like me, wow. Therefore, my greatest weakness became, and therefore I say this for each of you, "What is your greatest weakness that prevents you from being all you're capable of being, might become the learning opportunity through which you can become an amazing teacher of something." How else could I ever have become a diversity leader? Are you kidding me? Only by, as Mike said well also, learning my own weakness. And what's my growth? And how does that help me to value what it need to be?
HOWARD ROSS: Yeah, I think, if I could jump in for a sec. Jen, I don't want to lose something that you brought into the conversation, which I think is really important, which is this whole notion of self-talk, what Freud called the super ego. I like to call it the internal Supreme Court that we have, so this judgments that over the course of our life that are constantly telling us how we're supposed to be. And you were talking about it from the standpoint of the messaging that a lot of white women, men and women of color, and other people who are in disenfranchised groups get, which are, "You're not good enough, you're not worthy." Sometimes it's called the confidence gap with women. I prefer my friend Susan Brady's interpretation, which is it's a worthiness gap. People are told long enough that they're not worthy and they begin to question themselves.
And I think that this is one of the distinctions that's really hard for us to see until we really dig into it. And again, it ties to a lot of the inner work that we've been talking about. Because similarly, people in high power positions, whether that's because of race, gender, or whatever, also get self-talk. And that self-talk is similarly self-protective. It's very much the same way. It's there to protect their egos. "If you act this way, then you will be valued."
So growing up in a culture that tells you that if you're a guy, you're supposed to be a particular way. If you're not that kind of guy, you get punished for it. You get ostracized, you get made fun of, you get teased, you get all these kinds of things. And so, you learn to stay inside that box because that's what's safe. And so, until we really get into deep inquiry with each other, and some of the best work that I've ever done is just giving people a chance to share their stories with each other, extended periods of time to share their stories with each other.
Because the truth is, the more we know each other for who we are, the less we treat each other what we are. We can look at each other by our identities. And you said something earlier when we started about labeling. I think there's a distinction between identifying and labeling. I think we can identify people by race and gender. When we start to attribute values to that because of their race and gender, I think that's when it really becomes labeling more. And I think that a lot of that comes from this thing about, "How are we supposed to be? How are we going to be accepted for how we are?"
I remember when I was, I don't know, maybe 13, 14 years old. I was in a youth group. I had a big brother in my youth group, and I went out on my first official date. And the first thing he wanted to know the next morning when he called me was, "Well, what'd you get?" Obviously, referring to any kind of sexual or intimacy kinds of conversations. And I was like, "What business is that of yours, first of all?"
But that happens. And then, all of a sudden, you have to start to promote yourself in a way if you're going to be successful in that community. And it carries on to other things later in life. So I think it's really... Again, none of this lets people off the hook. It lets us understand where this comes from. And the more we understand where it comes from, the better able we are to engage people to get out of that tract of learning that they've been in. If we see it as an inherent flaw in human beings, there's not much we can do about that. If we see it as learning that can be unlearned or relearned, then we have a lot of power to do the great work that Michael does, for example, in his workshops, to help people really look at that learning. "How did I get to where I am? And now, what changes do I make to get to where I know I should be?"
JENNIFER BROWN: And it means tolerating the instability that we're creating. Really, we're asking people to either step away from the script or the narrative or the way they've always showed up.
HOWARD ROSS: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: It's a persona we've created that we've learned over time. It's become kind of who we are and what's expected of us. And I think I see people struggle with a, "Okay, so you're telling me to throw the book away and you're saying I need to lead differently and be more vulnerable, more transparent. More questions, fewer answers, less command and control, more ability to live in the ambiguity and lead from the ambiguity, both in myself as a learner who's realizing how little I know. And now I have to leave from this place of having no rug under me anymore." And I could be bitter and say, "Well, hell. Welcome to the experience of the rest of us." You know what I mean?
LEWIS GRIGGS: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
HOWARD ROSS: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: That's the moment when you just want to say, "You don't understand. What you're feeling for a moment right now and you're not able to cope with it, is literally what most of us cope with every single day."
HOWARD ROSS: Right. Right.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Oh, yeah.
HOWARD ROSS: And look. We're all part of this massive social pathology that's been going on hundreds of years before any of us were born, that we were all raised to be a part in and affects us all. It's a little bit like being out there... I was in a rainstorm the other night. It wasn't a personal rainstorm, but I got very personally wet when I was out in it.
The social pathology were part of is not personal. It's not stuff that each of us do, but we're all deeply affected, each of us in our own way for it. Now, some of us have been fortunate. I'd say I consider myself immensely grateful that I have to grow up in a family where I was raised right, not a hundred percent. My parents were from a different generation. But my point is, we were told as a family, which is why we all did it, "Get out there and do something about this. Make this better. Make the world a better place."
But most people are told, "Survive. Get a job. Get a family. Be safe. Keep yourself." And so, they haven't done that work in really understanding this social pathology. And as a result, when it's exposed to them, either personally or collectively, it feels like somebody's making stuff up and shoving it down their throat as opposed to something being revealed that's been hidden.
LEWIS GRIGGS: And as Ramona just said, and Jennifer alluded to as did you, Howard, I want to read this from Maryanne Williamson that we've all heard.
HOWARD ROSS: I think we've all heard that one, for sure. Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that.
LEWIS GRIGGS: I want us to hear it again. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. So we ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world." I love that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Gorgeous.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: How can we find men like you, in a sea in our organizations, in a sea of what sometimes feels like, "I'm doing this alone," are there any advice you give for folks? Somebody said way earlier in the conversation, "Where do I look to find and build my coalition?" Right? I think Howard, it was you. How do we know what to look for? How do we know how to invite that in? I know it's there, and I wouldn't be still doing this work if I didn't feel there were sometimes invisible champions kind of working behind the scenes that just need to be... I need to get connected to so that I'd feel less alone in the work. But what would you recommend for that?
HOWARD ROSS: Yeah. Look. First of all, I think that we have to recognize we have to get diverse voices into the conversation if we expect a greater, truly inclusive environment. And I can't tell you how many times I'm sure everybody has seen this where you see, for example, a diversity committee or a task force is put together in an organization of 60% white men and there are three of the 25 people in the task force who are white men. And then we're surprised that that doesn't have the kind of impact that it can. So I think we have to get those voices into the room. We have to build those relationships and then get those folks to invite other people in.
It doesn't mean that when... For example, I found over the last few years that working with ERGs that are more theme-based or issue-based than they are identity-based could be really helpful. So gender equity ERG, for example, as opposed to women's ERG, which includes both men and women who are committed to gender equity.
Now, that doesn't mean that you can't still have some times when they meet separately. So one client, I had set it up so that the beginning of each meeting, the men would be in one room, the women would be in another room, and then for the second half of the meeting they would come together and share what they came up with and do some work together. So there's lots of ways you can play with this.
But I think we have to create space for people. We have to a real genuine invitation to look around and say, "Who's missing from this conversation?" Especially when the people who are missing or the people who have the most power to create change. And that's what I think is so important. That gets back to what I said before about being pragmatic about what actually creates change and not getting lost in our own, what makes us feel good, when we need to be strategic and pragmatic. And that was one of the things I learned from Malinsky many years ago. He said, "Use your emotion to fuel your passion, but don't let it cloud your strategy."
JENNIFER BROWN: What a good note to end on. Oh, I hate to let you all go. This could be hours and hours as you all can tell. And I would love it to be, and gosh, I wish we had this conversation more often. I think it was really holding us back not to. And I really appreciate each one of you and your head, heart, hands, and all the ways that you've shown up over the many, many years that I don't even know about, but I know is part of your history and your legacy.
HOWARD ROSS: Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, everybody.
LEWIS GRIGGS: Thank you, Jennifer, for seeing us and having us.
JENNIFER BROWN: Stay safe. We'll be in touch then.
HOWARD ROSS: All right. Bye-bye, everybody. Take care as well.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.
Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work. And discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
DOUG FORESTA: You've been listening to The Will to Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you've enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast in 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.
- Understanding our Evolution: Why an Adult Development Lens is Critical to Inclusivity, with co-authors Christopher McCormick and Aman Gohal
- Second Chance Hiring with Fifth Third Bank’s Chief Economist, Jeff Korzenik
- Speaking from Lived and Learned Experiences: Insights on DEI Storytelling with Carin Taylor
- The Legacy of Belonging: Jennifer Joins the BE the CHANGE Podcast
- Activating Our Allyship Meter: A Senior Leader's Journey Towards Advancing LGBTQ Equality with Erik Day