Transcript of How Leaders Can Create Inclusive Cultures
John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Jennifer Brown. She is a leading diversity and inclusion expert, keynote speaker, author, and host of The Will To Change Podcast. We’re going to talk about her book today called How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive.
John Jantsch: So Jennifer, thanks for joining me.
Jennifer Brown: Thanks John.
John Jantsch: So really inclusiveness belonging has always been important, but sure seems like there’s a heck of a lot of emphasis on it these days. So has something changed? Why now?
Jennifer Brown: By now, I’m grateful that we’re actually there is… something has changed and the energy I’m getting back is palpably different than it used to be. I think there’s a bunch of reasons for it. There’s more awareness that there is a problem, there’s inequity in the workplace, there’s a lack of representation of really in the workplace it’s a lack of the representation of the diversity of the world that businesses do business in.
Jennifer Brown: So that’s like essentially the business case. We talk about the fact that really, in order to know a market and to sell into that market with cultural competency and respect, you need to understand that market inherently inside the company. And when you have a workforce that doesn’t look like that world, you’re in at a lot of risk of falling behind and kind of losing that edge and you don’t want to make mistakes.
Jennifer Brown: You don’t want to put out a PR campaign that gets pulled because you offended people. Yeah, so there is a lot of change. Millennials and generationZ, which is coming up behind them of course are also bringing that valuing of inclusion into the workplace in a very, I think louder way than generations before. And saying, look, I want to bring my full self to work and these are all the pieces of my full self and I expect them to be seen and heard and valued and hey, I love that attitude. I wish I had had that attitude. I’m not sure if you ever really felt that you could do that, but boy, if they are able to do that, that will bring a sea change from a demographics perspective.
John Jantsch: So a lot of organizations are taking this approach of, okay, yeah, this is important. We’re going to create an officer of that and we’re going to have a department of that. Is that really the way to handle it or does that just turn into a really hard job?
Jennifer Brown: It is a really hard job. It is honestly one of the hardest. If you don’t have a team or a person or a team, if you’re lucky enough to have a team, unfortunately, we say what gets measured gets done. And that team is really there to educate, to inform to, they certainly can’t hold accountable necessarily because they’re kind of a support function. But they can definitely inform that accountability and driving this and keeping it top of mind.
Jennifer Brown: I think without a team it is difficult to continue to make it a priority to help people understand how important it is that needs to be something measured just like every other business initiative as measured. And so, yeah, so I think without a team it falls off the radar and I think that’s actually kind of more dangerous. But there’s other unintended consequences of having a team.
John Jantsch: There have been, I have noticed it, this initiative or this movement is creating a lot of creative job titles though, isn’t it?
Jennifer Brown: Oh my goodness, yes. We have the office of innovation and belonging. We have all sorts of interesting… people are really-
John Jantsch: Head of hugging.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah.
John Jantsch: Exactly.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Yes, yes it is. But it’s good though because-
John Jantsch: Absolutely.
Jennifer Brown: … belonging is a very, I think it’s a word we can all and a concept we can all relate to that takes it beyond perhaps those negative associations that the word diversity might have for some people. It’s something we can say, look, belonging at work is the ultimate. If we had people that felt they belonged, they would do their best work, they would be so comfortable that it would be like, I have tons of creative energy.
Jennifer Brown: I have a lot of problem solving energy and sort of bandwidth to dedicate and not just that I want to dedicate it because I feel comfortable and valued and seen. And I think that’s the gap we’ve got to fix so that we can get workforces that actually feel that way about being at work, which would, boy, would that be a change.
John Jantsch: So, so a lot of organizations of course are approaching this idea because they feel it’s the right thing. But what are sort of the unexpected benefits that you’re seeing companies are actually deriving by taking this seriously?
Jennifer Brown: Well, I think it’s an argument for recruitment, honestly, in the war for talent. Our unemployment is an all time low. We really need to think outside the box about attracting talent. And we have so many open jobs. So I think it’s a prerogative of our companies to say like, look, I’ve got to attract the best and brightest and not just bring them in by the way but keep them, which is a whole different equation.
Jennifer Brown: Because the question of retention is more about the workplace culture and it’s very expensive to bring people in only to lose them two years later because they don’t see anyone that looks like them or shares their identity. They feel like the only lonely and the company’s not talking about anything related to belonging or inclusion. So I think it’s an imperative that companies take this seriously and invest in it.
Jennifer Brown: And I think they know that losing people is dangerous. It’s bad for their reputation, it’s bad for their brand, and they’re also going to make mistakes if they don’t have the right people at the table being listened to when they make marketing decisions, product development decisions. And, and it’s very difficult these days to come back from an embarrassing release.
Jennifer Brown: An embarrassing communication, a leak, a statistic that’s all of a sudden public about your gender pay gap or the fact that you’re enduring a class action suit because you have sort of systemic inequalities in your company. So these days are very transparent and it’s important that we do the right things on the inside because that’s very transparent to the outside world.
John Jantsch: So let me ask you about your job as a diversity and inclusion expert. Obviously, when you put that in your title, certain things are expected of you. Does your credibility ever get stereotyped? Does anyone ever say, “Well, you don’t look like diversity?”
Jennifer Brown: Well, interestingly, yes. I make a joke in my keynotes that I walk on stage and at some point I say to the audience, “I know what you were thinking when I walked up on the stage. They were like, what is this woman going to possibly teach us about this topic?” But I have some challenge around a few of my identities which I share on stage.
Jennifer Brown: Being a woman in business continues to be difficult and I don’t need to go into that unless you want me to. But also being a member of the LGBTQ community since I was 22 so several decades ago, it’s still been a journey for me of being out and bringing my full self to my brand, my audience, my corporate executive clients who may be in parts of the country or industries where this is a really rare thing.
Jennifer Brown: So it’s important for me to share those things on keynote stages. I like to say, even if I’m uncomfortable talking about them, it’s important that I do because it’s part of the normalizing effort, which is to say, hey, I have a diversity story. You made assumptions about who I am based on what I look like.
John Jantsch: Which is really perfect. I mean, right.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, I know, I know. But we also suffer from identifying ourselves too because that triggers stereotypes, bias. It impacts our credibility in front of certain audiences. And so I still, I think I still navigate a really careful line to make sure that my credibility is strong. That my expertise is solid, that I’m kind of more perhaps formal than I might be normally because I need to be taken seriously.
Jennifer Brown: But that’s exhausting for me. And it’s exhausting for a lot of other people who are kind of doing this double work of not only being great at what you do and really belonging in that room, but sort of stressing out about whether you’re going to be heard for all the expertise that you have.
John Jantsch: So some of the rooms that you end up walking in, especially at the highest level where people are saying, hey, we need to make change, but we got here a certain way. And so how much unconscious bias really… what’s the role of that first and foremost?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, it still permeates organizations at every level in every function I would say. I mean from the resumes that get screened out, to the interview slate that we put in front of candidates, to the promotion and advancement process where you might have slates that are being evaluated that have no diversity on them and nobody’s even noticed.
Jennifer Brown: So, and this is still a common occurrence and if there’s not a woman or say a person of color in that room, usually the topic doesn’t even get addressed or brought up because nobody notices it. So anyway, it’s everywhere. It’s really difficult to figure out like. It’s 15 ways I would tackle it, if I had a magic wand, but all of those… if we could fix all of those and turn people into inclusive leaders who are sort of on the lookout for this in themselves and in others, we can actually interrupt it as it happens.
Jennifer Brown: We could stop ourselves or call somebody on a comment or a decision that’s made. And we could through all of our efforts together kind of change the culture. But it’s difficult because it’s so pervasive.
John Jantsch: So I don’t think anybody sets out to create a toxic culture. I mean obviously they exist and, and certainly there are exceptions. There are people that are just not nice people. But I think it kind of happens sort of in this insidious way. So, and I don’t… as you just talked about it, I think people don’t even see it happening.
John Jantsch: So in your view, how do you get people to actually see that it exists first? I guess is going to be… I’ve got a second part to this question, but I want you to answer the first part.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Well, I think data really helps, especially for our left brain business world. So I often show data from like McKinsey and Deloitte and Pew Research about climate experience in the workplace for different communities of identity. I think the big aha moment for people is, wow, I might be comfortable in this work environment, feeling like the deck isn’t stacked against me.
Jennifer Brown: And I’m comfortable and I work with my friends who also I hang out with socially. It’s kind of my world. I think when you realize and you’re shown the kind of focus group data we collect from the very same workplace and sometimes in your same exact team, somebody may having a very different experience. It’s one of those aha moments where you’re like, well wait a second, am I a part of creating that culture and environment where that person that I really am fond of it doesn’t feel comfortable. Was that my doing?
Jennifer Brown: And I think if you can set up that cognitive dissonance, most people their empathy will be stirred or they will see the data and say, well the data is undeniable, so I need to act on this. And the other piece I want to bring up is, we are all very well-intended, there’s a huge difference between intent versus impact. And so I can be very intended to be gender progressive on how women experience in organization.
Jennifer Brown: And I can say I have daughters, of course I get gender equity, but that’s not enough actually. It’s actually cultures are created to be inclusive and if we don’t do anything they will kind of slide back into that unaware world. So I just, I’m like, okay, I appreciate your well-intended, but the thing is this is about action and this is about impact and I hope that sort of stir people’s motivation in that way.
John Jantsch: So I am a white male baby boomer who has four daughters.
Jennifer Brown: Oh my gosh. So you know something about that.
John Jantsch: Well, I’m attuned. Am I good, I don’t know.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, yeah. Read the book. [crosstalk 00:00:12:31].
John Jantsch: So that’s really I was so interested in having you on today because this is a topic that I’m behind.
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John Jantsch: So I want to give you two push backs that I suspect you get a lot and again mainly so that you can deal with them. One, I’m sure you hear all the time, is that the pushback from people that don’t believe in embracing a diversity is, oh, so we’re just going to have quotas and we’re just going to take somebody because they are X.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, I hear that a ton. You’re right. Yeah, that’s probably the A, number one. It’s the meritocracy argument. I honestly, first of all, I don’t think it’s ever really been a meritocracy. I honestly think that people have hired and referred for jobs, people from their networks. That if you know someone, if you went to the same school, I’m vouching for you.
Jennifer Brown: So that honestly kind of wasn’t a meritocracy. It was really kind of grab your points of contact and fill that job quickly with somebody you trust who went to the right school and who somebody else knows and by the way, you may golf with on the weekends. So anyway. So to apply that then to now is not really true. It’s just not accurate.
Jennifer Brown: I would say the other thing is when you look at your workplace and you’re like, wow, were out of kilter with the world, meaning that our demographics are not reflective of that world, we’ve got to sort of, I think over-correct for awhile and introduce some targets in terms of really being proactive about rebalancing because it’s been out of balance actually.
Jennifer Brown: And it gets more out of balance the higher up you get in an organization to the point where it’s mostly white and male at the top of organizations. And mostly it’s largely there’s gender parity at the bottom and there’s also a ton of different ethnicities and represented. But then it all kind of winnows out as people move up the pipeline. So what we’ve got to do to rebalance or even bring some sense of balance to this because we’re out of balance now, is we’ve got to, I think, and this is a bit radical, but we’ve got to be really mindful of who are we bringing in the job interview filter in the promotion pipeline.
Jennifer Brown: How can we be extra mindful because it’s not going to be enough to just include one woman in the candidate pool. That’s not actually going to change the demographics of your organization fast enough. And she’s, by the way, she’s going to feel like a token. So that’s not that comfortable to feel like you’re being sort of identified as the one, and people are checking a box with you basically. So that’s I think the business case of wanting to reflect the world you do business in and also to be able to attract talent who literally look up and say, I don’t see anyone that looks like me. What’s up with this company? They’re not going to stay… they may not come, and if they come they may not stay.
John Jantsch: The other argument then is the sort of, well this was the best person for the job. I hire based on resume or experience. I’m a big fan of Tom Peters, I don’t know if you’ve… he’s a management consultant, a little couple of decades ago, really was his heyday. And I remember reading one of his books and he wrote a lot of these kind of short, very impactful things at 47 things.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, I know he loves the lists.
John Jantsch: Yeah. And one of them that always attracted me and again, this isn’t probably the most sensitive term these days, but he used to talk about hiring freaks. And really his whole point was that he was saying diversity really. And he meant it in a very caring, loving way. But the thing that I think really gets lost on hire the best person for the job is I don’t think we can determine the best person for the job because diversity brings so much innovation and so much creativity and so much different thinking that it kind of tips the whole best person for the job argument.
Jennifer Brown: You just gave me a great talking point. I love it.
John Jantsch: Sorry, I answered your question.
Jennifer Brown: No, no, it’s… yeah, you did. And that’s a beautiful answer though. You’re right, because one of the things we’re really encouraging people to think about is outside the box of the job description even. How many years do you really need to have spent in a job that prepares you for this job when the world, when the nature of work is changing so fast. What you really need is agile thinkers, thinkers who don’t have a conventional background for the role.
Jennifer Brown: Because you’ve got to see around corners that you’ve never had to see around before. And so how are you going to do that with the same old, same old people with the same education and the sort of group think and the homogeneity. That’s dangerous. We joke and we say maybe if it had been Lehman Sisters or there had been a few more Lehman sisters, we wouldn’t have had a Lehman Brothers scenario.
Jennifer Brown: And it’s tongue in cheek, but there was a collective blind spot in the financial crisis. So you’re right. I think that we really have to, we’ve got to expand our criteria. We’ve got to make ourselves uncomfortable as often as possible because that’s a sign that you’re actually growing and you’re doing things differently. And honestly, try not to hire folks that look like you because that’s just.. if you’re in the quote unquote majority group.
Jennifer Brown: If you’re not, then I think you’re probably many women and people of color, but not all are on the lookout for hiring decisions through their lens. And they tend to hire more diverse talent perhaps because they understand the value. So innately of doing that, but we’ve got to help all of us to kind of think outside the box on that. So thank you for that point.
John Jantsch: So let’s talk very specifically about some of the practical aspects of the book. We’ve been talking really very maybe globally why this is important, but now a company says, hey, I need to do something about this. You talk about stages of you don’t do this overnight. There are stages to doing this. You have an assessment tool to help companies do this. So kind of unpack your stages so that somebody gets maybe a sense of the progress of this.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, I just thought when I wrote it and developed the model, I thought people really crave knowing where they are. And I think it particularly in times of fear and hesitation, which honestly is the world we’re living in right now about saying the wrong thing and intruding and not being welcome and being called out potentially publicly for making a mistake.
Jennifer Brown: So I really had that in mind because I think that we can’t afford to lose people from this conversation make now more than ever. So it’s a four-part model, the first stage is unaware, the second stage is aware, third stage is active and the fourth stage is advocate. So unaware is, I don’t see the problem. I don’t think there’s a problem. This what this sounds like might be, oh women love working here. There would be no difference if I asked this whole group of people like how they feel from an engagement perspective.
Jennifer Brown: There would be no difference at all. Like that kind of that is unawareness because usually there is a difference, I can tell you because I’ve been looking at this data forever. So there’s not a problem or the diversity team is taking care of that. So I just need to send everybody to unconscious bias training and then I’m done for the year.
Jennifer Brown: So that is like a total unawareness. And I think it’s unaware to say, I know nothing about diversity. This is not my job. So we moved from unaware to aware, which is the second phase, which is, okay, now I know there’s a problem, there’s a challenge, there’s a gap. I know that now I want to know the hard truth. Like I want to know the facts.
Jennifer Brown: And, and in aware, the goal is to learn, it’s to yourself into positions where you’re maybe the only one so that you can do a lot of listening about different cultural experiences, different identities that lead to covering behaviors in the workplace. They break that belonging piece, so that awareness is like, I know what I don’t know and I’m going to go pursue that.
Jennifer Brown: And I think that these are kind of stage one and stage two are kind of private. And then for active stage three, it’s really that next step with awareness to say, well, now that I’ve learned it, how do I practice it? How do I start to use my voice? How do I… what do I say when I have the microphone? How do I bring attention to the things that I’ve learned?
Jennifer Brown: And this stage is really one of, I might make mistakes, I need to experiment, I’m going to have to apologize. I’m probably going to use the wrong language and I’m going to yet I’m still going to persist. I’m still going to take that feedback and I’m going to come back again and I’m going to try again.
Jennifer Brown: And this becomes more public. So I think that the reason you said earlier, like this should take a while, you don’t want to jump into the deep end when you haven’t been taking your swimming lessons. You don’t want to run a marathon without having trained with shorter runs for six months. Otherwise, you’re going to injure yourself. And injuring in the corporate in the workplace context means that you may get criticized, you may get questioned, and that may happen in front of a room full of people as you try to exercise your voice.
Jennifer Brown: So get feedback, prepare yourself, build your muscle, practice in small private settings first. Get the go ahead from people you trust that have your back and then as you start to use your voice, you become more comfortable, even more fluent. And you won’t kind of pay a cost to not doing it wrong, to doing it wrong. Sorry, you won’t kind of damage the trust that you want to have because you want to be an inclusive leader.
Jennifer Brown: But you’re not going to do it perfectly. I can tell you this. And then the fourth stage is advocate, which is literally the person who’s done all the stages, they’re like, I’m bold, I’m brave, I’m going to use my voice. I’m fearless. I’m not going to ask for permission. And I know where to target my efforts. This is powerful. There’s not a ton of advocate level folks. I mean I know a bunch of them, but I think if we could sort of pull people up this model, we could see more.
Jennifer Brown: And I’m literally at this stage asking why do we do it this way? Why is this happening over and over again? Why haven’t we changed that policy or that process so that this bias doesn’t happen in hiring, et cetera. So I’m asking kind of these systems questions that are deeper questions and often I have the power to ask those questions because I’m maybe a C-suite executive or I’m somebody that has identities that sort of protect me. And so I’m an insider and if I’m using my inside status to challenge the status quo, I would say that’s very much advocate level. So those are the four stages.
John Jantsch: There’s a term that was new to me. It may be a commonly used term, but it was new to me that I’d love for you to explain and that’s understanding diversity dimensions.
Jennifer Brown: Yes. So there are so many diversity dimensions that I define as making up all of who we are. So, and many of them we hide in the workplace, so that could be military background, a disability, it could be a cultural difference. It literally could be introversion and extroversion. If you’re an introvert on an extrovert’s team, you know the unique pain of that diversity dimension because you’re freaking exhausted at the end of every day.
Jennifer Brown: You have to behave as if you want to hang out with everybody endlessly at the bar, but you really don’t like you’re really depleted, but you may hide that. And then there’s of course, gender identity. In the LGBTQ community, you are deeply in the closet. 50% of us are closeted in the workplace. So we are wrestling with that diversity dimension in terms of how it’s going to trigger stereotype and bias and literally hurt our careers. And by the way, we can still get fired in 30 States for being LGBTQ because there’s no federal protections.
John Jantsch: Yeah. So it’s not just a matter of saying, okay, we’ve got this inclusive program. Look, we’re diverse. It also has to be a culture that allows those dimensions to come through.
Jennifer Brown: Exactly, because if I have Brown skin, you can put me in a community and you might actually wrongly identify me, but you at least can see that you can see my gender. Although you may be seeing the way I express my gender, you may not be seeing my true gender. And then you can kind of guess my age, but there’s so many other… in fact, there’s many more dimensions I’d say under the waterline as if we are icebergs.
Jennifer Brown: There’s so many under there and I think that the role of leadership is to think about where do I set that waterline at work for my iceberg and is it serving me to do that? Is it or am I kind of managing, downplaying, hiding who I am, how much energy is that taking? And then also am I depriving others that are looking to me to maybe see themselves.
Jennifer Brown: And meanwhile I’m an executive who’s doesn’t talk about most of my personal life or the difficulty I’m going through with a kid who’s struggling with addiction or I’m struggling with mental health and depression, or I’m a caregiver and I can’t, I’m really struggling with somebody called it, not just the sandwich generation, caring for elderly parents and kids, but they called it the club sandwich generation because there’s literally so many layers going on it’s just, I loved that.
Jennifer Brown: And so anyway, we’re all wrestling with something and that’s a commonality that we have and we all kind of deeply sense when things are not accepted or going to be celebrated in our workplace. And therefore we put tons of energy towards not talking about it and not getting what we need in the workplace. And that is what’s causing people to leave because they are so exhausted from doing this every day.
Jennifer Brown: Maybe they’re the only black person in a team or in a business unit or they are closeted and tired and they want to go work for a company that’s really pro equality and inclusion. So people make decisions and they leave because they’re tired and they’re not feeling supported and it’s never talked about and they don’t see anyone that looks like them and they just feel the bias sort of they or microaggressions.
Jennifer Brown: It isn’t even sometimes overt like concrete bias. It’s honestly a lot of those little microaggressions that they hear. And I could go into a lot of those. So there’s a lot of examples of those in the book. But those add up to, I say it’s like death by a thousand cuts.
John Jantsch: Speaking with Jennifer Brown, the author of How to Be an Inclusive Leader. So Jennifer, where can people find out more about you and your work in the book?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, thanks for asking. So this is my second book. It’s called How to Be an Inclusive Leader. It’s on Amazon and in independent booksellers all over. I’m getting a ton of orders from bookstores, which I’m really excited about. My first book was called Inclusion from a couple of years ago and it’s also a good read if you want to understand the why.
Jennifer Brown: So [inaudible] identify which one they might want to start with. I’m on Twitter @jenniferbrown. I’m on Instagram at @jenniferbrownspeaks and then Jennifer Brown Consulting is the name of my company. We’re on LinkedIn and Facebook and as you mentioned, I have a podcast called The Will to Change. And I also encourage folks, if you can put this in the show notes, John, the assessment that goes along with the book.
Jennifer Brown: You can find it at inclusiveleaderthebook.com and you can just put in your info and get right into the assessment and you’ll get a PDF report. And I honestly think you could either take it before or after or even during your reading of the book. It’s all helpful and there’s no right answer for it. But please do take the assessments so you can kind of understand where you are in your learning journey. I think it will really help.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Thanks, Jennifer. Hopefully, we’ll run into you out there on the road somebody soon.
Jennifer Brown: I hope so. Thanks for this opportunity.
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