364 Jennifer Brown: Profiting from Diversity

How inclusive is your workplace or startup? Many of us launch businesses with friends and colleagues who look exactly like us – because we draw from our existing networks. Guess what? We’re missing a HUGE opportunity to create value.


I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who is transforming Fortune 500 companies and startups alike with value-building diversity strategies that boost the bottom line.

Jennifer Brown is the founder, president, and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting and the host of The Will to Change podcast, which uncovers true stories of diversity and inclusion.

As a successful L-G-B-T entrepreneur, Brown has been featured by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, AdWeek, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, Inc., CBS, and many more.

In a moment we’re going to talk about the benefits of inclusion, how to make your company attractive to minorities, and why it is imperative you do. And first …

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Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and an author.

Her bestselling book, Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace and The Will to Change makes the case for leaders to embrace the opportunity that diversity represents, for their own growth and for the success of their organizations.

Jennifer has led the way in talent management, human capital, and intersectional theory to redefine the boundaries of talent potential and company culture. Her new book, How to be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive will be released August 2019.

Jennifer is the host of the popular weekly podcast, The Will to Change, which uncovers true stories of diversity and inclusion. And as the founder, president and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, Jennifer’s workplace strategies have been employed by some of the world’s biggest companies and nonprofits in order to help employees feel like they belong and can bring their full selves to work. As a successful LGBT entrepreneur, Jennifer has spoken at many top conferences and events such as the International Diversity Forum, the Global D&I Summit, the Forum for Workplace Inclusion, the NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference, the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, Emerging Women, SHE Summit, Responsive, the Better Man Conference, INBOUND, Interbrand’s Best Global Brands event, as well as at organizations such as Allstate, Pepsico, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the NBA, Google, and IBM.

In the past several years, Brown has been named Woman of the Year by Pace University, Social Entrepreneur of the year by the NYC National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), one of the Top 40 Outstanding Women by Stonewall Community Foundation, and NYC Controller Bill Thompson’s LGBT Business Owner of the Year. She has also been a finalist for both the Wells Fargo Business Owner of the Year Award and for the Ernst & Young’s Winning Women Program.

So are you ready for Jennifer Brown? Let’s fly.

Melinda Wittstock:       Jennifer welcome to Wings.

Jennifer Brown:            Thanks so much. I’m happy to be here.

Melinda Wittstock:       It’s so important, the work that you’re doing. Tell me, what inspired you to walk into Fortune 500 companies among others and really, really ,help them make that shift to a policy of diversity and inclusion in their hiring?

Jennifer Brown:            It starts with a personal truth about me. I came out when I was 22 as LQBTQ. And as I built my company starting 12 years ago, I was deeply involved in advocacy work for LGBTQ on the corporate side in New York. So I was on these boards where I had people from [inaudible 00:13:42] and Deloitte and Law firms and IDM.

And they were all the early LGBT leaders who were helping their companies build more inclusive workplaces for LGBT people. And also building their companies first market outreach to that community. So I had this wonderful seat at the table to learn as a consultant what is our value as diverse or underrepresented people who are also leaders and executives and passionate individuals. And sometimes even low-level employees who really want change.

I saw that there was a usefulness for us to guide our companies in being more inclusive from the LGBT angle. But then what happened is, of course, I’m so much more than LGBT. I have a background in org design and organizational change and leadership development and training. I have a Masters on that and that was my lens.

And as a business owner I thought, I started as a leadership development and team building company. And then I thought I could [inaudible 00:14:51] it into diversity and inclusion, more broadly. But the origination was honestly finding my voices in LGBTQ person and the power of this community to impact giant companies.

Basically introduce new power seize that they need to have. Make the business case for more equal work places, more inclusive workplaces. And then from there it just went into the much more broad, all the topics that are contained within diversity and inclusion and not just LGBT.

And we built the company. Now we have a team of 25, we consult on strategy at the highest level of companies along all aspects of inclusive cultures that include LGBTQ but also women, people of color, veteran, people with diverse ability. Any sort of current demographic that I would say is underrepresented or historically marginalized.

Melinda Wittstock:       What are some of the challenges that you encounter? And I want to split it up, from what is like in the startup stage as opposed to the Fortune 500s. Let’s start with the Fortune 500s and how they’re doing, are they changing and changing fast enough?

Jennifer Brown:                        No. Not fast enough, not fast enough.

Melinda Wittstock:       So you have a lot more work to do. What are some of the road marks? What are the things that stopped them from changing? Fortune 500s aren’t exactly necessarily the most nimble companies anyway. [inaudible 00:16:14] to change right? That’s why startup folks can go and disrupt them. What are some of the challenges and what are some of the ways that you’re able to bring them around?

Jennifer Brown:            We’re small but mighty, right? And I always say you can’t be a profit in your own land so I really love being a consulting partner because we’re outside. We also, we’re nimble; they’re not. We have the broader view of what’s happening in business across the board. So when we’re at the table, they know they’re going to hear what their competitors are doing and certainly not breaching confidentiality.

But we will help them understand like, “Here’s what you’re falling behind, here’s where your competitors are. If you want to be a best in class, if you want to catch up because you’re at risk of having losses or problems or you’re losing women and people of color and other current demographics that are fast clip”.

Often those are reasons we’re broad in to look at those things. Gather some data and make recommendations to change it. The reason progress is slow, so many things. That could be a very long conversation. Company leaders don’t want change. Some people believe that to give opportunity to underrepresented talent means that they have less opportunity personally.

So it’s like a hero sum equation, there are a lot of people who are [inaudible 00:17:42] to talk on that. Like, “Oh, you’re forcing me to hire more diversity into my team. But what if like my white friend guy is great? And like he’s the best person for the job. And like you’re telling me I can’t hire him. But I have to hire a woman”

Some people are just really stuck. There’s a lot of false believe in meritocracy. By the way this is applicable for entrepreneurs too. They just believe that like a plain field is level you just keep your head down and work really hard. And we’re all sort of making these super fair hiring decisions.

But the data really show that we hire people that look like us. We hire people we’re comfortable with. We hire from our networks, which aren’t very diverse, newsflash. And especially entrepreneurs are under the gun and in a lot of pressure particularly if you have founders. They’re like grow, grow, grow.

You are going to do the most expedient thing. Making diverse hires is not the most expedient thing often because we don’t have diversity in our networks which is the problem. Companies and entrepreneurship struggle with, “Oh, we just can’t find women technologists or female engineers or we just can’t find them”.

Melinda Wittstock:       You hear that all the time. We can’t find them. I hear VCs actually make this claim when they get 2% of the available venture capital in this country. And these are companies that are actually qualified. They have a scalable technology they could theoretically be unicorns. And the VCs are like, “Oh, we just don’t know. We don’t have enough”.

Again, they’re networks, right? It’s the network. So let’s dig down then. How does an entrepreneur make sure that they have a diverse network from which they hire so they are actually opening themselves up to all the available talent that is so much more than they could see necessarily in their own more narrow network.

Jennifer Brown:            It’s all that exposure. It’s the media you consume. It’s the people you mentor. It’s people you ask to mentor you. If you are white straight male say, and you’re VC and you really want to diversify your founders. You want to be exposed to diverse founders. You have to put yourself in places where they gather.

So if you’re invited to a conference and you’re invited to be on a panel and you look at that panel of VCs and it’s all white guys, there are women of color VCs, there are female VCs. So what you can do to use your voice to influence change is you can question every time you’re in an environment where there is no diversity.

You can question that. You can interrogate that. You can bring new voices to that. You can give up your seat on a panel for example to a voice that is not heard as often as your voice is heard. I really would recommend you should put yourself where people are gathering and there are a lot of meetups, there’s tons of community gathering of diverse entrepreneurs and startups that are dedicated to those.

You’d be surprised the diversity just in the audience in these events. And I think putting yourself there will allow you to hear the issues, will allow you to hear the challenges. It will be very eye opening for you particularly if you are a person that’s more in the majority in a certain industry however that might to be defined.

You’ve got to seek those groups out. And if you’re in a metropolitan area in a big city there’s all kind of activities going on. There is like a huge VC in Angel’s funding and Black Girls Who Code and like giant twitter conversations about all the underrepresented communities going on right now.

Put yourself in there, do a lot of listening, be incredibly humble. But make sure you show up, make sure you’re paying attention, make sure you’re building you’re network intentionally. Because if you aren’t intentional about diversifying your network it is not just going to happen. It is not going to happen. You have to put sweat, equity and time. But it is there. So don’t ever believe it’s not there. But you’re not seeing it because it’s not in your circle which is part of the problem.

Melinda Wittstock:       Right. And I think in a lot of cases with startups right? You’re right. You end up starting it with a friend like a co-founder or your kind of community or maybe if you’re really young, straight out of college and your friends or whatever, through your contacts that you have met later in life however that works.

Say for instance if you are at startup stage. And you’re just so focused on, “Oh my God, like I got to hit this first revenue milestone this next one, got to do this got to do that”. And you’re in such a rush. And you don’t have those networks set up, what do you then?

Jennifer Brown:            I have a couple ideas. You can always have an advisory board. Even if funding is tight for example, maybe it’s not paid position. But I’ve seen founders who are very conscious of this but know that they don’t have a lot of diversity in their founding team. I’ve seen them strategically use advisory board members to bring that perspective.

And then as they hire their [inaudible 00:23:19] person they make sure that those people are not also white and male. That is very doable, trust me. You have to just put this wish into the world. And then you have to invest in it. And it will come. But I just think that most entrepreneurs aren’t even thinking about it.

And remember what’s really critical is how you build that founding team will signal to future talent that they are welcome at your company. So you go forward and you get your temp hire and your old guys who are all white. It is going to make it exponentially harder for you to attract non white and non male talent to your company as you grow.

This is really important. If you find yourself listening to this interview and you’re like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. There is not a business out there that can afford to not have a diversity inclusion lens on what you’re building, how you’re building it, who you’re building it with, who you’re building it for.

Literally any product company, any services company. Because your customer base is diverse. So you cannot afford to look like them. You just can’t. And you can’t afford to struggle to hire people because that woman that you’re trying to hire, and you’re wooing them, you’re throwing all kinds of money and offers at them.

And they’re like, “Oh, you don’t have any women. I don’t want to be the first”. Like what’s that’s going to mean for me? I get it, it is very risky or somebody to be the first. And it’s not really very fair frankly because then everything gets put on that person and it’s not the right way to do it.

Melinda Wittstock:       One of the things I want you to talk about though is why it makes business sense. And it’s not just nice. And yes you nailed it with, “God your customers are diverse”. So you need to be able to serve them that makes total sense. But let’s look at some numbers. What does it mean for a company? What’ the competitive advantage when say you look at their earning or their profitability or their competitive advantage or even their valuation. What’s the difference and what does [inaudible 00:25:29] on that now.

Jennifer Brown:            In the ESG world which is environmental, social and governance,  that’s the corporate social responsibility world. And there are metrics now that are being introduced and this is mainly for Fortune, big companies. But I think it would trickle down to but it tends to be one of those areas where big companies are actually ahead of startup because there’s more governance.

But one of the questions that’s being asked is, what is the diversity on your board? What is the diversity on your senior team? What is the makeup of your workforce? Because literally ESG metrics measure risk. And risk mitigation is what institutional investors are looking at. So they’re starting to really look at a lack of diversity as a risk factor.

And this is not going away. This is going to become more and more prevalent. How it shows up for smaller companies and bigger companies is what if you have a sales meeting and you’re quoting investors or you’re quoting a customer. And you don’t have any diversity to bring to that meeting. Your ability to close contract is literally compromised by that.

Because chances are that potential customer that you’re meeting with is going to bring all kinds of people to the table and they’re going to be looking at you as a potential partner, client or vendor supplier. And they are going to be evaluating you more and more. And I see this lot in the professional service as well, to law firms, consulting firms, services businesses. Are very much evaluated on who’s going to be working on my team? Who’s going to be working on my account?

And if that team doesn’t look like the potential client a customer that can be a check in the minus column for you in terms of winning the business. This pain is being solved but it’s not very often identified and talked about as a reason why you might have lost the contract or bid. Or why you may not have been the kind of company that an investor decides to invest in or not.

As you’re working on this and you want to make it a priority even if you don’t have representation amongst your founding team, my advice is to talk about diversity and inclusion as a priority. And talk about your plans. Talk about what you’re putting in place. And then make sure to be putting those things in place don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk of course. But-

Melinda Wittstock:       Exactly.

Jennifer Brown:            But you don’t have to be done and perfect with these stuff. I think it’s about being on a journey and being transparent about that journey. And by the way you want to do that not just for potential customers et cetera but you also want to be transparent about this with potential new hires as you’re building your team.

I get asked a lot of questions by companies with entirely white male executive team. And they say, “What do we do? We just have to hire more women tomorrow so that our optics will look different because we know that it’s a problem and we’re being told that’s the problem”.

And I say, “Do not fix this, in 24 hours it’s not going to be a sustainable change if you do it that way. You need to commit to the journey. And it’s going to take a while to diversify a team that looks like that. It really is. You can’t just and you shouldn’t just hire people to meet your metrics. You really shouldn’t do that.

You should track your metrics but if you don’t have a culture where they want to stay, once you bring them in, you’re going to loose them”. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. So culture matters. But the metrics matter too so you need to be working both at the same time. They’re  both really important. Can you get them and can you keep them?

Melinda Wittstock:       So many women in particular but just our society in general, has this attitude that we can do anything we want as long as we’re really, really, good at what we do. It’s kind of a merit to credit mindset. In your book though, one of your book by the way, “How to be an inclusive leader”, you say that this meritocracy is actually a myth. And I want you to explain why to everybody. Why is it a myth?

Jennifer Brown:            The way that the meritocracy argument is used in my world which is mainly large companies but I think that probably a lot of that are under the illusion that, “Oh, I work really hard to get here I deserve what I have”.

But if you’re somebody for whom the path has been easier because of what I would call the identity that we’re given at first, that we didn’t earn them. They were just born into certain circumstances or not, that has given some of us a huge leg up.

For us to then say, “well, I hired [inaudible 00:30:33] for the job and it’s a meritocracy and it’s an even playing field and you’ll be rewarded”, that hasn’t been really been the for some people who experience via [inaudible 00:30:46] or unconscious in workplaces day after day after day. It has not been an equal experience. It hasn’t been equally inclusive comfortable experience for everyone.

And so that’s one of the big aha moments we try to create with our training program for readers when they say, “Oh, I don’t see color” , or, “I hire the best person for the job and you know you’re telling me I have kind of quotas and all these pushback around why do I need to have diverse team”.

Meritocracy tends to be this argument and this word that brought up, “I am a fair person”. And the problem is you may be a fair person but the system hasn’t really been. It has not been an equal playing field. So that acknowledgement is really, really, important. And therefore what do you do with that?

I have one founder friend and some of your listeners may know Adam Pisoni who co-founded Yammer and sold it for I think a billion dollars to Microsoft.

Melinda Wittstock:       Nice going.

Jennifer Brown:            It’s really incredible. But he is a white straight guy, Italian, American. He’s been on my podcast. And as he was building his education startup which is his next venture called ABL Schools. He had to seriously bias his hiring process towards women and people of color. Because what he was getting as he built his team was all his friends that were guys that were from his network.

He literally had to say, “I don’t want to interview any of you. Like I don’t want any of you to be interviewed, I only want candidates to get through the shelter of our pipeline who are diverse because I know that sends a signal working in the education world, that’s a very diverse world. Students in that world are very diverse. These generations of course that are coming up are the most diverse in history”.

His startup is it’s oriented around that as their constituents. His team needs to reflect it. But if he didn’t take serious concrete action, his team would look exactly like him. This isn’t really an interesting example I know it’s an extreme example but he had to do that as a founder and lucky enough he has such a great reputation as a founder of course.

He had to slow down the process of growth to make sure that that happened. And they were more intentional about who got through the hiring process. It’s an extreme example but the concept is interesting. Which is that in order to even the playing field it can’t just be, “Oh well, I support women so I just hope that I’m going to get more women in my organization”.

Hope is not a strategy. It’s not going to be enough because the playing field is actually so out of whack, it’s like so deeply out of whack. But I think in order to get parity we have to really be honest and look at this and say how are we going to fix this? And we don’t have 10 years to fix this.

The world is diverse now. And it has been. Whether or not we know our business is suffering because we haven’t done a good job of it you will know in the future. It will be concrete and it will be bottom line. And it will hurt in terms of your ability to attract diverse talent and all those things. I can guarantee it.

Whether or not you feel that pain now or soon, it’s something that’s right under our doorsteps. And I just think it’s better to tackle this also by the way when you’re not in a crisis. We can all find ourselves in a crisis. Either somebody say something on social media about how we have no diversity in our team. Somebody writes about it. We’re just in such a transparent age. So we have to consider that it is not something that we should put off for a whole hunch of reasons. I’d love just to say it’s the right thing to do. But I know that that’s not enough.

In my opinion it should be enough but I have to argue like 15 different ways in order to have people understand it. And that’s okay, some people everyday get oriented and it’s not going to be a moral argument. It’s not going to be, “Oh, I’m an executive who has daughters therefore I know I want women to feel they can thrive in my organization”. That’s great but can be well intended is not going to actually change the metrics of an organization. We really have to look at equity.

Melinda Wittstock:       This is so true. One of the things that you write about in your book is that everybody does actually have a diversity story. And I think that’s interesting. Even white middle aged man has a diversity story. I want you to expand on that a little bit. But just having that story isn’t really enough. We can go on empathy but empathy isn’t necessarily a strategy.

Jennifer Brown:            That’s right. I do really want to be inclusive of everyone having a diversity story and that’s challenging for a lot of people. Because I think when we thought on all about diversity we focus on underrepresented groups and those continue to be focused.

But if we’re truly being inclusive of all that we all are, much of which by the way is hidden about us or it’s hide-able or we can minimize or diminish it. Like for example I can pass as somebody who is heterosexual. So I can walk through life and not really need to come out and get all of the privilege that comes from doing that so my life can be easier.

However if I’m bringing myself to work and I’m authentic then it’s really important for me to have integrity about that. Not only just for myself but I know that I’m shifting outcomes for others when I am authentic about that, right? Because you’ve got to see it to be it.

And if I can be a role model for somebody or I can challenge somebody who believes what a member of my community looks like, and the fact that they made assumptions about me when they met me, it’s a very powerful aha moment. And I actually do that in my keno talk. And the audience when I come out just goes totally silent. Everyone has like, “Oh gosh, that’s the first assumption I made and Jennifer is here to teach us about all the assumptions we make”.

So yes, everyone has a diversity story. Often it’s not seen or visible. And there’s a lot of fear around sharing, what if we have challenges with mental health? What if we have addiction issues in our family? What if we have disability issues? What if we have mixed race kids? And people don’t know that my I’m my kids’ parents, sometimes.

There are so many things that cause friction for us in our lives and then when we come to the workplace we downplay or minimize it. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t think it matters. If I thought being LGBT didn’t really matter I guess I could not talk about it.

But I know that it matters because 50% of LGBT people are closeted in the work play today. This is a tragedy.

Melinda Wittstock:       50%?

Jennifer Brown:            50%. So my voice is really important. But the white straight male leaders I work with have different stories that are equally powerful. Like, “Oh I didn’t graduate from college but my kids don’t know that I didn’t graduate from college and I don’t talk about but I’m really ashamed about it”.

Or, “I’m Jewish and I don’t really say anything when the company schedules meetings over my High Holy days”. Or-

Melinda Wittstock:       So Jennifer are you saying that really, the more transparent we can be in leaders. Like when we’re creating a great company culture. If we can de-stigmatize, like everybody has these fears. Like, “Oh, gosh if they knew this they wouldn’t like me or whatever”. So that’s a thing that all humanity shares.

But if you can create a type of culture where everybody rewards transparency and openness and diversity. Say for instance how a leader, a CEO of a company or the executive team or whatever show up in such a way to encourage people to be much more open about who they are. Just their holistic self if you will, right? What are some of the things that they can do to create that sort of culture? Because that is inclusive. It’s hard to be inclusive unless everybody is willing to be open. Right?

Jennifer Brown:            That’s true. And it’s all about the tone. The leaders are first I always say. This is not a kind of exercise that you put everybody through but you mean well but ain’t really participating in it. The leaders set the tone and what leaders do really matters. It’s really watched, it’s really scrutinized. It’s a [inaudible 00:39:46] that the employees read everyday.

And so if you’ve got a leadership team who maybe looks to you like a bunch of straight white guys, those individuals could be incredible inclusive leaders. They could. I wish more were but I actually do know some amazingly verbal public inclusive leaders who are talking about the work they’re doing on their own learning, who are sharing their stories.

And sometimes your diversity story is not necessarily your story. Maybe it’s a story of a loved one. You can have a straight white guy executive with a gay brother who is the executive sponsor of the LGBT network. And who knows all the right things to say and has done their work and has really been around this conversation to the point where they can really be an ally. And a voice who use their platform to raise awareness.

I think that those stories live in that group of people. But traditionally, particular executive levels has not felt comfortable being vulnerable on any front. It’s just not part of these expectations we have of executive leaders in particular, and also managers honestly. It hasn’t really been a part of the expected skill set and confidences.

And there will be a day when your behavior as an inclusive leader are measured. It’s not just diversity is measured which is already happening in a lot of the companies I work with. On your performance review literally it’s like, “Okay, so who’s on your team? Who are you promoting? Are you promoting a diversity of talent? Or not and why not?”

But really inclusiveness is another metric that can be measured round behavior and confidences. You can do 360s on it, you could say like, “So what is the environment that people say you create around you?” And that day is coming. Where we are evaluated based on that. So it’s not just getting the right people on the team. It’s literally how that team feels working with you.

We often say diversity is being asked to the dance and inclusion is being asked to dance. So those are two separate related but very important metrics sort of the who and then the how. And those are in the most advance companies I work with, both of those pieces are being measured and being compensated accordingly in terms of people compensation plans.

It’s really an interesting time. I think that sharing our story can say, “Hey, I’m committed to diversity inclusion. As a leader I know I have a lot to learn. I want to have this see and open discussion on our team through something that I can share that feels challenging for me to share. I’m uncomfortable talking about it. But it’s a part of me and makes me who I am”.

And creating that environment and safety. It’s also your language. For me in LGBT community when I share somebody say partner when they’re inviting me to company events et cetera. It sends me a signal that they’re trying to be inclusive. It’s lovely. It’s great. That’s a huge thing that you can do for all that 50% of LGBTQ people who are closeted. When you hear a leader who is straight say something like that, you immediately say to yourself, “They have been paying attention”.

You want to be known as the kind of leader who is paying attention. You also don’t want to sweep things under the rag that are happening outside of the floor walls of the company. If there’s so much in the news right now and there’s so much happening that is devaluing marginalized communities like the Trump’s ban military, the [inaudible 00:43:37] incident from last year.

The question becomes a leader is as [inaudible 00:43:42] between a workplace and the world. And my employees are bringing this into the workplace and struggling with how to be productive on a day when something really bad happens. How do we talk about it? Do we have a watch and learn? Or do we just sweep it under the rag and not say anything?

And I can tell you that’s not the right answer but I would like companies to acknowledge that people are people 24/7. They are living in their skin like every moment of their life. And when they come to the workplace we should not ask them to put everything to the side and put their head down.

Because there’s a lot going on in the world. And we need to view people as full whole people in order to get their best contribution.

Melinda Wittstock:       Absolutely. So Jennifer as we wrap up, there’s one thing I wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss. Which is really about Me Too. Because the Me Too movement has done some amazing things for women. Women have really found their voice just in terms of this inclusiveness and times up and what not.

And yet it’s also had the unintended consequence in a lot of cases of making men so nervous. They won’t even take a meeting with a woman. I’ve heard all kinds of stories, or perhaps some excuse. I’ve heard all sorts of stories in Silicon Valley of female founders not even getting meetings. And so is that a backlash or what is that? What’s going on there?

Jennifer Brown:            That a lot of [inaudible 00:45:25] and ringing about this right now. I’m including my own. We [inaudible 00:45:31] a study last year and then we repeated it this year around the comfort of male managers around female colleagues. Whether it’s a mentoring relationship or on a client team that’s remote servicing a client somewhere.

Actually year over year it’s showing that there’s actually even more hesitation and fear this year than last year, which is really disturbing. But you’re right, it is a discussion. And there’s already fear I think and uncertainty I’d say and hesitation around the whole diversity and inclusion topic in general I think.

People don’t know how to step forward, they don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to get involved, they don’t want to say the wrong thing. And that was always true. And then with the Me Too overlay there is a particular paranoia around the, “What if I say the wrong thing?”, et cetera.

If you have something to worry about these are the Me Too situations. That’s one thing. But most of us don’t. And really what’s so important for male leaders even if you’re feeling the fear and you are catching that cotangent and you find yourself pulling away from those one on one relationships which by the way are so critical.

So especially critical to underrepresented talent. To have those relationships and that what I call power sharing that happens, is a number one differential between people that actually women and people of color who are sort of another marginalized community to sort of break through and get through that pipeline is that support. And is a solidarity.

So if you are a leader who is finding yourself pulling away, being hesitant and fearful. I would say to you now more than ever is the time when all talent needs your support and investment. And what I would say is actually take this opportunity and think about where do you mentor people? What circumstances? What time of the day are mentees comfortable with where these one on one relationships happen.

Because I think we have a tendency in business where it’s like, “Oh, let’s go to a sports club. Let’s have drinks at the client, after work”. It presumes that if I’m comfortable with this environment that means you, woman mentee or female colleague or gay colleague is also comfortable.

And I think what we really need to take this moment to challenge is we have shaped these relationships through our own lens. And we have not really been critical about, “If I’m comfortable does it mean that somebody else is comfortable?” Let’s take this opportunity to revisit where mentoring happens. Where would you feel safe having a one on one conversation and comfortable? What time of day? Not over the weekend when you have family stuff going on.

Literally I just think that there’s this bias on the [inaudible 00:48:39] to like, “If I’m comfortable they’re comfortable”. And that’s never been true. And so I think this is the great time to say, “Across the board, how I’m I going to be in one on one relationships? And support people and invest in people’s careers and spend time with colleagues in places that they like”. Let them drive. Let them define what’s comfortable.

I know the answers are out there to that question but that question hasn’t even been asked in the past. The decision has been made for people. And I think that’s where we run into trouble.

Melinda Wittstock:       Yeah absolutely. Gosh really well said. Look I wish we had more time to talk about this. You’re going to have to come back on the podcast another time.

Jennifer Brown:                        I would love that. Yes yes yes.

Melinda Wittstock:       Because it’s such important work that you’re doing Jennifer. So how can people find you and work with you?

Jennifer Brown:            Yeah. So I have a new book coming out, August 2019 called, “How to be an inclusive leader”, which goes more deeply into everything we talked about today. My first book was in 2016 called, “Inclusion”, so that’s also available on Amazon and anywhere else you buy your books.

I have a podcast called, “the will to change”. And you can find more about that on iTunes, Stitcher, et cetera. I have a consulting practice called Jenniferbrownconsulting.com. I have a wonderful team who deployed at any given day in work places and other employers all over the country in the world.

And so for any corporate clients or institutional organizational nonprofit clients that are interested in strategy consulting and training. We do a lot of [inaudible 00:50:14] work inclusive leader work. A lot of affinity grouped structuring and leadership.

And then Jenifferbrownspeaks is my website you can see my ted talks there. You can access the podcast. And I do a lot of keen notes and writing which I really like these days. I’m finding big events are really fun for me. Having been a performer before I was an entrepreneur.

My social handles are at Jenniferbrown on twitter and at Jenniferbrownspeaks on Instagram. And we’re also on Facebook and LinkedIn at Jenniferbrownconsulting.

Melinda Wittstock:       Fantastic. Thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us today.

Jennifer Brown:            Thank you. It’s fun. Thanks so much.

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