067: Jennifer Brown – Inclusion: Diversity In the New Workplace

The Will to Change

Jennifer Brown is a leading diversity and inclusion expert, dynamic keynote speaker, best-selling author, award-winning entrepreneur, and host of The Will To Change podcast, which uncovers true stories of diversity and inclusion.

As the founder, president, and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, Jennifer’s workplace strategies have been employed by some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits – including Walmart, Microsoft, Starbucks, Toyota Financial Services, T-Mobile, and many others – to help employees bring their full selves to work and feel Welcomed, Valued, Respected and Heard.

What We Discuss with Jennifer Brown:

  • How she dealt with the downplaying of a known stigmatized identity
  • Ways people cover themselves against exclusion in terms of race, gender, etc.
  • What “inclusiveness” means and the four stages of the diversity continuum
  • How to find a topic for your book and how to time it
  • The power of testing your title and subtitle that translate to your audience
  • Some challenges in writing Jenny’s book
  • How you can stay motivated in marketing your book
  • Making peace with feeling like an outsider being part of an LGBT community
  • The shift of inclusion in terms of leadership roles
  • Changing the narrative around “privilege”
  • How you can leverage your book to grow your authority

[01:05] Overcoming the Downplay of a Stigmatized Identity

Covering is common in the LGBTQ community where there’s downplaying of a known stigmatized identity. To rise above this, Jennifer displayed, in her office one day, a picture of her partner, Michelle.

There are so many ways people cover themselves. The stigma is not only limited to the LGBTQ community but it also applies to females in the workplace, people of color, mental illness, mixed-race relationships, multicultural identities, different educational backgrounds, etc. It’s a universal experience.

There are also certain levels of exclusion that are painful and detrimental to our performance and potential. Examples would be microaggressions, or just purely aggressions, and stereotypes.

Everyone has a diversity story. And there are certain identities that trigger bias in the workplace. This keeps professionals back from thriving and progressing in their careers.

[05:38] What Does Inclusiveness Mean?

Inclusiveness is raising the awareness and mindfulness of that reality and not denying it.

50% of LGBT people are still closeted at work today. You’ve got colleagues walking around and denying their families and their stories because of fear. The very first piece of inclusiveness is raising your attention to that and not denying it’s true. You want to learn more about it and then comes the behavior change.

We all have all kinds of privileges. With that comes an opportunity to create space for others to ensure others are heard, to use your voice, and to challenge behaviors that aren’t inclusive.

The ultimate manifestation of inclusiveness is that you don’t care. You don’t ask for permission. You are bold. You’re brave. You know how to use your voice as well as who is listening to you and who are not being listened to. You utilize all of that to build a culture of belonging anywhere you go.

[10:22] The Four Stages of Inclusiveness

You can make wrong assumptions just by looking at the crowd. Just because you’re in a marginalized or underrepresented community of identity, that doesn’t make you an inclusive leader either.

Every diverse community has its own diversity issues. Exclusionary dynamics can be propagated within these groups that are supposed to know better.

The four stages of the continuum include:

  • Unaware
  • Aware
  • Active
  • Advocate

To understand the level of diversity in the room, Jennifer calibrates folks before she walks into the room. She’s then armed with aggregate information about the group and where they are in the four stages of the continuum. She looks for the commitment and the will. Skill is the knowledge but the will is the willingness to do it.

[15:00] How to Find a Topic for Your Book and How to Time It

Along with her team, Jennifer wrote all of their favorite terms and combined them in different ways. They figured out the hot, emerging word about something. 

For instance, for her to call the book “Inclusion” was a radical act at that point. Not too many people know about it so it’s harder to measure. Diversity refers to the people sitting inside the room while inclusion is basically the “how” which can be more difficult to capture.

For her second book, her publisher pushed a very specific, tangible, concrete “how-to” book.

[17:10] The Power of Title and Subtitle Testing

Title and subtitle testing is critical. Build a survey and get it out to your mailing list. Give them a chance to weigh things in. Plus, they would feel super included in the process that they become part of your book insider community.

Jennifer played with a lot of different titles and surveyed hundreds of people to understand how they respond to different title combinations and subtitle conversations.

[19:45] How to Stay Relevant and Motivated

Think about how to explain the topic to people who don’t care and that don’t have empathy for it. If you’re a true change agent, think about what you should be writing about, who needs your message the most, and how can you be of most service.

The book is not only for people in marginalized communities but also for those who are battle-weary. But a lot of people are hiding in plain sight because they don’t want to be the one. They don’t want to be the token or the only voice and all the extra work that’s going to come their way. They don’t want to be the spokespeople and so you should be able to opt-out of that if you don’t want to be.

[26:08] Your Voice is Needed

LGBTQ people have to make peace with being the fifth wheel. But it’s difficult not to feel like an outsider. Jennifer chooses to talk about it when she gets on stage. It can be scary but remember that people need to learn from you and they want to learn from you. People are desperate for this.

Inclusiveness is noticing when you’re making the comfortable choice. For leaders, making that same choice with a comfortable choice means you’re making the best choice. If you’re not comfortable on a daily and regular basis, you’re not leading.

Diversity background has been shown to generate better outcomes if it’s managed well and inclusively. Again, remember that good intentions don’t shift towards inclusion. Ultimately, actions are what matters and that’s what’s going to shift cultures. Inclusive cultures don’t just happen. They’re created by all of us.

[35:40] The Shift to Inclusion in Leadership Roles

California just introduced a law that you have to have one woman on your board if you’re a publicly-traded company by 2021. That said, the work of inclusive cultures has to happen ahead of time and has to be in place. As you bring in diverse voices, people feel welcome. They don’t just have the will, but also skills to manage inclusion.

What goes first: diversity or inclusion? Inclusion needs to be in the muscle of the organization so that when you introduce diversity in, it’s not expelled by the body. It should be embraced and woven into the fabric of business.

We have to retain more diverse leaders in the pipeline. People tend to leave at the point where they move into executive leadership because they’re so tired. All of us should share the burden so that person doesn’t get so burned out that they feel they have to leave.

[40:00] Privilege as an Opportunity

Change the narrative around privilege. Instead of feeling guilty of being privileged, take that as an opportunity. Look at it as something you can utilize to support others. Use that privilege to help rebalance the world.

[43:33] Leveraging Your Book to Grow Your Authority

People esteem authors deeply, regardless of what’s in the pages. Books are such a powerful reinforcement mechanism of all the concepts you teach. It increases your stature and it gives you something to sell.

Your book can serve as a tool for gathering data. Take the assessment Jennifer has created to help you figure out where you are in the continuum.

Episode Resources:

Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown Consulting

The Will To Change podcast

Take the Inclusive Leader Assessment Listen on: