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This episode was originally recorded on the Power Shift Podcast, hosted by Dr. Sharon Melnick. Discover how your upbringing and identity can shape your unique voice, and where power is really found in organizations. Jennifer also reveals the conversations that happen on executive teams that enable transformation and how to get through difficult conversations without blame. To learn more about Dr. Sharon Melnick, visit https://www.sharonmelnick.com/

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

Jennifer Brown: We talk about power redistribution, power sharing, all kinds of different power, privilege, access, comfort, safety, all those things that allow some of us to walk through the world relatively unencumbered, relatively free to do and say what we want to do, relatively safe. And if we can get people to understand, that’s your experience, that’s not my experience. If we can generate some empathy for that and we can generate a, your ability to thrive is bound up with my ability to thrive, if we can get there in organizations, then I think we would be co-building what works better.

Doug Foresta: Everyone has a diversity story. Even those you don’t expect. Welcome to The Will To Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.

Doug Foresta: Hello. Welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. And this episode that you’re about to hear was actually originally recorded on Dr. Sharon Melnick’s podcast, The Power Shift Podcast, and guess who I have with me today. Dr. Sharon Melnick. She’s the CEO of Horizon Point Inc and the host of Power Shift Podcast. Sharon, welcome. It’s great to have you here.

Sharon Melnick: Thanks for having me.

Doug Foresta: Thanks. Maybe you could say a little bit about what made you reach out to Jennifer to have her on your show, and say a little bit about what your podcast is about too.

Sharon Melnick: The Power Shift Podcast is about redefining power so that we can see it as a force that we can use for good. It approaches the topic from many angles. How a person can be in her power, how power works in the workplace, how we can shift and share power. You can see that the episode that I did with Jenny is squarely right in that topic.

Sharon Melnick: Let me talk about why I reached out to Jenny. Jenny is a renowned D, E and I expert, and really, diversity equity inclusion has everything to do with power and vice versa. It’s really about, who has power, who doesn’t have power, who needs more of it, who’s really been disenfranchised by systems and processes and Jenny talks about this in her interview. And how has business as usual caused harm for generations in the workplace?

Sharon Melnick: So many of your listeners have been trying to influence the C-suite so that there can be top-down modeling right of D, E and I, and how can we get buy-in. And Jenny and her team, they’re in the room. They are the verbalizer, they’re bringing the messages, they know what the responses are. And so you really want to listen in to this podcast because I asked Jenny, take us into the room. What is said, what goes on there, what are the power dynamics amongst the other executives? Of course a few other reasons, Jennifer Brown literally wrote the book on how to be an ally, and being an ally is part of what shifts power. And also you know her involvement in the Better Man Conference. I think her understanding of the man box. Jenny and her firm are really involved in creating the future.

Doug Foresta: I know that you had pulled out some things that stuck out for you in the conversation, and I was wondering if you could share some of that with our listeners.

Sharon Melnick: Oh my gosh, there were so many, absolutely. Gems and wisdom bombs in this discussion, but I just said that there were a few that I wanted to tantalize you with. One of the things when we started talking about power and I was asking Jenny to define it, she really thinks that power comes from alignment and authenticity of bringing all of yourself forth in any given moment.

Sharon Melnick: I think one of the most dramatic moments for me is when I was asking her about what goes on in the room with executives when you’re talking to them about transforming their culture towards a greater inclusion. She was saying that, I could give executives tactics, like fix your pay gap, do this, do that. And she said, “But it’s really not until they buy in with their hearts and minds, until they go beyond the intellectual checklist, that they really get it and they start to make culture change.”

Sharon Melnick: I said to her, “This is so ironic. Because if what you’re saying is that to be in your power really means to be bringing all of yourself in any given moment, and if you’re saying that there are leaders who aren’t fully connecting with all of their emotions around what’s going on within their culture, does this mean that there are many executive leaders who are not in their power? And I think we had a pretty interesting conversation around that.” That was the first one.

Sharon Melnick: Another theme that we talked about is Jennifer, and for all of you who are doing work in this area, that we’ve seen that as Jenny said, there’s been this monolithic way of showing up, and that it’s so cloned and many leaders just step into. I think it would be fair to say that it’s more of a, quote unquote, masculine form of leading. And she was suggesting that it’s done a disservice to the diversity of all men and women in the workplace.

Sharon Melnick: I really resonated that because in my work I’m often working with executive women who feel a sense of responsibility, want to leave a legacy and really want to be a change agent. I think what we see is the opportunity here is to expand the range of approaches that leaders can use to use their power for the good of all.

Sharon Melnick: She had such a beautiful phrase as she does. She says that there are more colors to paint with. I think that’s right. I think that we have these, quote unquote, masculine approaches, until we get better words for them, that have worked to set up systems and processes. I think they’ve obviously helped companies to get results. But I think that we’ve seen that in addition, these quote unquote, feminine approaches to power have really become the new model of leadership. I think for a leader to achieve both completion and compassion.

Sharon Melnick: When I was working with head of diversity for an organization last year during the reckoning around race and awakening of the need to be accountable within her organization, she was tempted to put more corporate scorecards and put PowerPoint decks on the head of her… on her leadership team’s desks. And instead really, we were thinking through about how could she hold space for the important conversations, the real conversations, what people authentically wanted for their culture? How could she share her powerful truth around, these were the numbers we aimed for but these were the numbers that we actually achieved, and what is really going on there.

Sharon Melnick: Rather than that perfectionist league, driven, put the numbers in front of them but more holding the space for the real conversations is what’s led to meaningful change within the DNA of their organization. I think that’s a great example of the addition of those feminine approaches. Another thing that Jenny was so articulately talking about is the need for power redistribution and power sharing and she was saying, power doesn’t exist on the organizational chart. And that it’s really all the different… I think power is like, it’s a life force. And it’s all of the know-how and all of the intentions, as well as all of the access and all of the relationship capital that people bring.

Sharon Melnick: She was just saying, if we could just generate some empathy for other people and what it is that they bring, then there’s so much ability and power that is being bound up that we could unleash. We were both talking about that in organizations, organizations are leaking the power that they have. And they have a talent and in a way, they can work really hard to get the talent in the door. Then she was talking about, only to lose talent and untapped potential because a culture that can be toxic.

Sharon Melnick: We were appreciating the death by 1,000 cuts that so many people face in the workplace. I think Jennifer and her firm really work at the macro level to create that culture. I know the work that I do is working in more of a micro level. Whether it’s helping women of color talents to advance and to stay with the organization, whether it’s working with an executive who wants to be a change agent. Because it’s really for every executive, but especially for the women executives that I’m working with. Every woman executive, every leader in their power is a change agent. That really is the idea behind being in your power, using your power, and that’s how we shift power.

Doug Foresta: Beautiful. Obviously, I would tell everyone, make sure that you take a listen to this episode. I want to make sure Sharon, before we move into the episode, again, the podcast is called The Power Shift Podcast. I assume people can find it pretty much wherever they listen to the podcast.

Sharon Melnick: On every one of your media platforms, this episode was full of vision and really authentic, truth telling and sharing, and also full of practical strategies for all of you who want to create change within your organizations, so check out The Power Shift Podcast.

Sharon Melnick: My guest today is Jennifer Brown. She is a renowned diversity and inclusion expert and thought leader. She’s an award-winning entrepreneur, the CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, her firm, guides some of the world’s largest companies in their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. She is an acclaimed keynoter and a widely broadcasted podcast or herself with her podcast, The Will To Change. And her award-winning latest book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader, which calls on allies and advocates everywhere to activate their voice.

Sharon Melnick: And Jenny, you are also a dear friend of mine, so I know you are a humanitarian and I’m so excited to talk with you today on the Power Shift Podcast. Maybe let’s just get us started and have some context for our discussions. Tell me a little bit about your experiences growing up that helped you to form your ideas about power.

Jennifer Brown: Thank you, Sharon. I’m so honored to be on here. And yes, we are dear friends and we talk about these things all the time, so, and I love this topic. Something I’ve wrestled with, something I have embraced, and I think I’m very proud of my journey with power, actually. But it’s been a long time coming, so yes, you allude to growing up. We get certain messages about what we can and can’t do, especially as women.

Jennifer Brown: And I want to say, I identify as a cisgender woman. My pronouns are she/her/hers, but I’m also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, so I’ve been out for several decades now. There was a level, I think, of not being perhaps as powerful in my voice when I wasn’t being all who I am certainly. And I know that that’s a common experience for so many of us. Whichever family you’re born into or community or what workplace we find ourselves in, all of us are engaging in some kind of covering or downplaying identities that we know to be stigmatized in some way. And some of us carry several of those at once, and it’s constantly necessary to analyze what’s going to make me more safe or less safe in terms of disclosure, in terms of psychological safety, things that we think about that we spend a lot of energy around.

Jennifer Brown: I think that all of that gets in the way of power. But interestingly, I think defining, once you get a handle on that and defining against it and saying, what is my actual authentic voice and when am I going to be brave enough to embrace that and really lead with it? Because that’s where then the power source is ignited in us and there’s an alignment. I believe power comes from alignment and authenticity and knowing that we are honoring as many parts of ourselves as we can in any given moment.

Jennifer Brown: That’s when we become unstoppable, when we can create eight great things, when we stop people in their tracks, because they get the sense from us that we are fully present and we’re not making any compromises about who we are, what we want to say, and that power just flows from us and it gets people’s attention. It convinces people to do things. It changes hearts and minds. I think it can be incredibly powerful. And it’s really hard one for some of us because we just, we aren’t born into it and it takes some, in some many cases, years and a lifetime to really step into it. The older we get, I think the less we care and we start to really peel the layers of the onion and say, you know what, this life is about me and I want to give my brilliance and I want that to be unadulterated.

Jennifer Brown: I want my power to shine in the world and I don’t want it to be interrupted by things like bias, unconscious bias or microaggressions or stigma or being the only one. All of those things may be true. But I think actually, that can lead to the most powerful humans of all, as some of us that are able to take that and harness it and show up with it every day.

Sharon Melnick: Beautiful. What a beautiful definition of power, is so you’re not draining your power with all of that concern and covering and monitoring of other people in terms of how you show up. And also what you said is that you can bring all of you. You’re aligned and you can bring in. I think this is a phrase that we hear, bring your full self to work, and you’re really helping us to break it down, so we understand what that means. Tell us a little bit about, how did you come to be in your power?

Jennifer Brown: Well, I was a firstborn and very much a people pleaser with very ambitious parents. I think today, there were really beautiful things that they gave me and taught me how to do. Being organized, being professionals, showing up in life and doing what you say you’re going to do, and being somebody that people can count on and is professional. Even without having that word, I think that there was a very high bar for me growing up, of performance expectations.

Jennifer Brown: That has never left me. I think that power comes from showing up with all the tools in life or knowing where to get those tools, even if they’re not native to us or innate. I think I took all of that and I’m also a performer. There’s a piece of me too that was very much trained to be on stage.

Sharon Melnick: You were an opera singer, right?

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. And I was a kid musician too. I was five years old on the stage with orchestra doing solos, and competing in piano competitions and so I’m used to performance. I’m used to the stress of it and I can be very present in the midst of situations where many people would lose their power, perhaps. That is what a gift, because you know, Sharon, that’s all the working world rewards you for, is the ability to be extremely present in all kinds of situations and not lose your compass. Remember who you are, remember what you’re there to do. Be able to hold many things in mind at the same time. Enable people to feel seen and heard while you’re feeling seen and heard, which is the ultimate power.

Sharon Melnick: If you’re not feeling seen and heard, how to feel seen and heard inside and then help other people feel that way. We’ll get to that in a few minutes.

Jennifer Brown: True. How to do it for yourself when others don’t do it for you. We have to be our own weather system. We’ve got to take care of ourselves and have that hygiene and that practice and that muscle. You’re right, regardless of the situation, we can still be in our power. That’s when you really know that you’ve gone to the moon and back with the skillset, because you’ve seen it all. You’re tested. You’re road tested.

Jennifer Brown: That’s an amazing feeling, but I think it comes from many years of being in a variety of situations. But we should step back. If this describes you, you should really celebrate the skillset that you’ve built. To be powerful in these moments is in the most unexpected cases, to still be proud of the way you show up, and convey confidence and convey in charge, and yet enable others to feel seen and heard at the same time. Sometimes we misinterpret power as maybe control or dominance. I think there’s a lot of differences between all that.

Sharon Melnick: Well, let’s pick up on that, and I just want to highlight what you said because actually the World Economic Forum just came out with research. They said, top 10 skills that are going to be needed for 2021 and self-management. That ability is sort of amongst them, so I think everybody is really appreciating that. Let’s continue on that vein. I think traditional notions of power right or control or power over, and it sounds like you have a different definition or a different way of training people about how to be in their power and use their power. Tell us about that.

Jennifer Brown: I think at the end of the day, I’m not just a consultant but I’m also a marketer and a salesperson. I run a firm and you have to be. I don’t know what people do if they don’t like marketing and selling. But really, essentially though, it’s really endearing people to you. It’s really solving a problem for, or with someone. It is lighting a light that wasn’t lit before, causing an aha moment or a connection of dots that weren’t connected.

Jennifer Brown: My process of really as a teacher, is that if I can impart something but also ignite something. Again, these words are so different. Imparting is like, let me give you knowledge, or give you tools and techniques, et cetera. But conveying things and capturing somebody’s imagination or their heart or their mind, and doing that in a way that feels really good as a process for them, and that they feel seen and heard, which is at the base of this, enables that connection.

Jennifer Brown: I think once you have that connection, that is a form of power, because then you can lean into that connection, you can influence, you can push, you can encourage, you can control, you can… But at least you’ve won over. I’m a woo on the StrengthsFinder. I love that. That’s the last one of the strengths. There’s I think 35 strengths and it’s winning others over. It’s called woo.

Jennifer Brown: When you know you have that, you meet other woos and you feel like you need to go off and be together, because we’re people. But for us, it’s the perennial challenge of, if I know what the destination looks like, which in my case, I am a thought leader in this space of inclusive workplaces, so I’m always thinking about the future, I’m always thinking about that vision. I can see it and then backing up and meeting people where they’re at and thinking about, how can I be of service in somebody’s journey?

Jennifer Brown: And you do that, Sharon, with your coaching. Exactly, it’s whatever is needed, meeting somebody where they’re at. Giving them just the right thing at the right time. Then the reward of that, it’s not just power for power’s sake, it’s the reward of seeing the blossoming of something, of seeing the progress, of being a part of what instigated something is hugely rewarding. I think it’s this gift that just comes right back to us.

Jennifer Brown: I do think it’s power though, because power is, to me defined as like the ability to shift things in others. I receive part, when others are powerful around me and shifting something in me, I welcome that. I appreciate that if it’s done in all the ways we’ve talked about it. There’s the good way and the not so great way that doesn’t make me feel honored in that process.

Sharon Melnick: It’s so interesting, the way that you’re talking and redefining power here, when you say winning people over, the way that you’re describing, it’s almost helping someone else to connect to something in them, which transforms them.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. I guess it’s bit of slight of hand. It’s soft power certainly, and it’s not visible. That’s what I think makes it so mysterious. And these other kinds of power we should explore that aren’t the power on the org chart, the power that derives from seniority or position, or I’m louder than you, or I may extrovert, and I’m going to suck up all the air in the room. It can be quiet and powerful and subtle.

Jennifer Brown: I wonder, Sharon, if you believe too, this is something perhaps women do in a particular way. And perhaps I might even get really philosophical about that and say, did we have to learn how to have power that way? Because we weren’t allowed to be powerful in the way that the men in our world were. Because we would be called certain things if we showed up in that way. We just had this double [crosstalk 00:22:29]-

Sharon Melnick: That’s right. We know there’s a social penalty.

Jennifer Brown: Total penalty. We’ve developed this other competency that I personally am a fan of. Even though we developed it because we had to develop it in secret, I think it is a beautiful manifestation of all the colors of power that have always existed, but they just haven’t been used in at least over and visible to a lot of us.

Jennifer Brown: I love that we’re having this conversation because it’s making the invisible visible, and it’s saying, hey, there are way more colors to paint with, with this concept. There are many sources of this and you have access to those sources because they’re accessible to all of us. But I do wonder if gender-wise, we have greater access and practice with them because of necessity. Then imagine if we’ve developed this whole shadow skill set around power, and then we add on the other kinds of power that perhaps we’ve seen role modeled by men in our lives.

Jennifer Brown: I certainly have learned a lot about watching power dynamics amongst men, I mean, a lot. I’ve spent so much time in those worlds and figuring out, how do I speak my language with this and feel authentic that I’m honoring how I think things should be done, and yet I’m borrowing some of the techniques that I know are respected and used. I love trying those on, but blending them with my own definition of power, which feels, it feels really cool.

Jennifer Brown: It’s just building out the full manifestation of the concept and then knowing, I need this style for this, I need this style for that and we’re constantly shifting depending on, how are we going to be heard? How are we going to be listened to? How will we get credibility? How will we be given the authority that we deserve in a situation? That requires a lot of flexing, because it really all has to do with the audience.

Sharon Melnick: Love it, love it. Appreciating all the colors of power that we already have access to. What you’re saying, it’s all about that situational specificity, and that match between what you can bring and what your audience or listener needs in that moment. So inspiring. Maybe bring us into your world a little bit. If you have to then lead the ground for us, what does diversity, equity and inclusion have to do with power? And then, we really are intrigued. Share with us your observations about power dynamics and what you’ve observed, like you just said, amongst male leaders, and then let’s learn some lessons.

Jennifer Brown: Power has everything to do with diversity, equity and inclusion. In fact, we are getting to that conversation finally, in this field and with our audiences because of 2020. Because of what’s been questioned this year, what’s been challenged. The truths that have been shared about differential power. Who has it, who doesn’t have it, who needs more of it, and who has been really disenfranchised by systems and processes and business as usual as we say, which has caused harm for generations in the workplace.

Jennifer Brown: A lot has been learned this summer about those who don’t have a voice in organizations, and who has cared about that, and who hasn’t cared. More important emphasis on the second. Even though, not withstanding my firm’s efforts and so many others efforts to shine a light and hold a mirror up to say, here’s what your employees feel in terms of their ability to belong and therefore be creative and innovative and want to stay and want to build a career here.

Jennifer Brown: I think we’ve really crossed a threshold this year of truth-telling. We do think of DEI as power. In the executive term, which I work a lot in, it’s really to me, what will change, what needs to be changed is power sharing. We have to redistribute power. There’s a huge debate about, do we need to just burn existing structures to the ground and rebuild them in a more equitable way? That’s one philosophy.

Jennifer Brown: For me, I’m more of an, I guess, incrementalist, if that’s a word. Again, I love to transform people from within and I always believe in the potential of people to change, at any level, of any identity. I speak a lot to senior leaders about sharing social capital, sharing professional capital, reputational capital, platform. I talk a lot about privilege. Privilege is power. It’s not just white privilege and male privilege. There’s a list, I have a list of 50 kinds of privilege that I put up and I say, think about the rooms you can get in. Think about how you can be heard and believed the first time. Think about how you can say something and challenge something without paying a price professionally. Think about who you could pick up the phone to tomorrow and get something done. Anyway, it just goes on and on.

Jennifer Brown: When you describe power in that way, it feels very actionable. Particularly when it comes to D, E and I, which is a very overwhelming and very triggering concept for some people, particularly if you feel like you’re the target of all that’s not going right I have to turn people around and point them in the different direction to say, hold on, you’re all in your feelings and you’re feeling guilty and full of shame and you’re paralyzed this year and you don’t want to say the wrong thing and I get it. But there’s so much in the meantime you could be doing that actually would remedy in small ways and large ways, the pain, and then not being seen as being experienced [inaudible 00:28:00].

Jennifer Brown: So many of us for whom the workplace was not built. It was not built for us, it was not built by us. And so it’s not a surprise that it doesn’t reflect all of our voices, all of our input, all the contributions that would have been considered in structuring it. Just look at parental leave, horrible. This whole country and the way it handles family priorities and careers. We’re learning a very hard lesson of that right now when we look at the numbers of how many women are leaving the workplace here in 2020.

Jennifer Brown: If you don’t know the number, I’m not going to get it wrong. It depends who you ask, but it’s like hundreds of thousands of women left the workforce in September of 2020. And under 100,000 men left in that same month. Definitely a workplace that’s not working and hasn’t worked for so many of us. Then you get into people of color, disabilities, LGBTQ people who are closeted in droves in the workplace. 50% of us are still closeted in the workplace, so something to really think about in terms of psychological safety or lack thereof and how that impacts.

Jennifer Brown: I know for me being closeted meant that I just was not at all making all of the contributions I could or unleashing my genius or in my power. It was such a tragedy, and it is such a tragedy. It’s such a loss. You always use this word, Sharon, leakage organizations-

Sharon Melnick: Leakage of power.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. And we leak our power, true, when we give it away. Organizations are leaking people, because we get so fatigued and tired about being disempowered, feeling that way over and over and over again, even though we’re trying to be our own weather system and we’re trying to make sure we’re coming in with this good attitude and doing 150% and it’s not a joke and not untrue to say that some of us are working double hard to be in the same exact environment. And that’s exhausting. It’s a real cost that we pay and it’s a cost that organizations pay.

Jennifer Brown: We talk about power redistribution, power sharing, all kinds of different power, privilege, access, comfort, safety, all those things that allow some of us to walk through the world relatively unencumbered, relatively free to do and say what we want to do, relatively safe. And if we can get people to understand, that’s your experience, that’s not my experience. And if we can generate some empathy for that and we can generate a, your ability to thrive is bound up with my ability to thrive, if we can get there in organizations, then I think we would be co-building what works better. But we’re not there, sure. And, oh my gosh. It’s so-

Sharon Melnick: You are on the front lines. You are literally doing this power shift thing. Take us into the room a little bit. What are some of those conversations like when you’re introducing topics around power sharing, redistributing, what are the actions? How do you help executives who have power be on a journey towards seeing what’s in it for them, or what’s in it for the organization? You are the whisperer share with us.

Jennifer Brown: I have. I’m in the room and I’m… It’s funny-

Sharon Melnick: And then what happens?

Jennifer Brown: I feel like I’m on a bridge and there’s people on either side that don’t want to cross the bridge and there’s white water going through and under the bridge. I’m sitting there like trying to make sure the bridge doesn’t collapse and then make the bridge safe for people to come and join me or join each other, really. And it’s not so obvious as that. Oftentimes it’s really subtle. When I walk into rooms, ideally I’ve done my homework, I understand sort of where of people are on the topic that I’m going to be talking about. I often feel like I’m the Trojan horse that’s at the castle gates. I look like an attractive gift that you want to bring into the castle walls.

Jennifer Brown: But inside I have the army. And the army, I think of as all the voices and all of those of us who are endeavoring to live our truths and lead an authentic life, and be respected and all of that. So those are the people I represent. I feel that deeply in my bones because I have so much in common as a person of several marginalized identities and somebody who studied that for years, that’s where I belong. But I also belong inside the castle walls talking to power. And so sometimes all those constituents are in the same room staring at me, wanting me to help them along.

Jennifer Brown: Those of us who are disenfranchised that I know where those people are in the room, and I know I have a very sacred responsibility to I think, hold the space and represent what’s not being said, and I can verbalize that. So I am the verbalizer. I am the one that brings it into the room and I am the one that holds it with respect. And then the other constituents in the room may be varying degrees of resistant in denial, angry really just passive, like apathetic. That’s more often, more often what it is and then just clueless but well meaning.

Jennifer Brown: So that describes a lot of people who are on their journey of coming to understand what’s broken. It’s just so much learning that has to happen right there. Like so why do you not know it’s broken? If you know it’s broken, do you care? Broken for whom? What do you think your role is in fixing that? And all those things I think for some reason, as I look at this field we’ve let people languish and let them off the hook frankly, from leading conversations about this and really owning it and being accountable for it. Perhaps because there’s consultants in the room like me who are doing like I’m sweating.

Jennifer Brown: I’m working so hard. I try to not let anybody see me sweat. But it’s hard work to keep a group together where all that is going on and keep the focus moving facilitate towards something that’s valuable, and know that so much of this is personal and so much of it is emotional too. And has so much to do with our makeup like how we grew up, what we were told, how courageous we are, how much exposure we have to diverse perspectives and experiences. Many of us live in our bubble.

Jennifer Brown: So for real, some of this information that I teach around demographic changes and experience of being black and brown in organizations is literally new, like brand new information for people. I think 2020 had a whole lot of brand new information for people. I think folks are like okay, now I feel horrible, I feel badly, I want to be accountable but I don’t know how, and then I don’t know what I should be accountable for. So anyway, so that’s the room. That means facilitation is… I’m so glad I studied it in grad school. It was a whole semester and it’s everything we do.

Sharon Melnick: What’s so interesting, is that when we’re talking about power sharing or shifting power to make it more equitable within organizations and the endpoint of this is advancement, and pay equity and retention. But what you’re saying is that where the rubber hits the road is really people’s private experiences, their feelings, their narratives of how they were shaped, the information that they’ve been exposed to. That’s really sort of where the work of shifting you’re saying, has to go on or is at least an important part of it in order to move people forward.

Jennifer Brown: I think so we debate this a lot in the field. I can give leaders a checklist, I can say fix your pay gap. And they can be like [inaudible 00:35:42]. I’ll go do that. Not understanding, not personally reflecting on, why did I never know there was a pay gap? Why if you would’ve asked me a month ago if there was a pay gap, I would’ve said no way, never not in my organization. We would never do, we would never do that. So it’s the literally like the sort of painful objective look at ourselves to say, what have I known? When have I known it? What haven’t I known? What did they know and when did they know it?

Jennifer Brown: It sounds like it’s about some political situations that we’ve been in the last couple years. But it’s like how could you not know it? That’s really an interesting question. If you’re a leader and you’re responsible for things and you are paying people differentially and the data shows based on identity and you didn’t know, that’s really common. But then I can give you a list of fixes and you can do them cognitively and intellectually and tactically, you can execute on what I tell you to execute. But it’s almost like the heart has to catch up.

Jennifer Brown: And really when you can find a leader who not just intellectually understands and from a leadership perspective, understands, and organizationally knows and understands the bottom line and all that, but has really also spent time with the emotions of it all. And re-self reflection and looking at our own biases and being critical of some of the things we’ve said or learned, or not said where we’ve been silent.

Jennifer Brown: And then reflecting on relationships with colleagues, reflecting on the bubble we live in and how we kind of perpetuate comfort. And to us as humans, comfort means somebody looks like me, means our kids go to school together, it means we hang out on the weekends together, it means I know the degree that you did because I did that degree, so you’re my friend or you like the sports team or whatever.

Jennifer Brown: It’s the commonalities that have, I think enabled the pickle that we’re in right now which is that people have hired in their own image unchecked since the beginning of business. And it has not been a meritocracy. In fact, it has been hey, your son’s looking for a job. That is definitely not a meritocracy which is ironic because I feel like everybody’s so busy holding our feet to the fire about oh, you want me to hire more women? But I want a meritocracy here. I’m like okay, well hasn’t ever been fair?

Jennifer Brown: So what we’re trying to do is actually make sure that our workforce reflects the world that we do business in, if it doesn’t then we’re going to miss all kinds of innovations, product development, customer insights, we are not going to be able to retain talent that looks like that world and then we’re going to fail as an enterprise. So if anybody ever wants the stakes, that’s what I say. It’s sort of the or else. And it’s not the moral argument. Like, oh, be a better person, I wish I could say that. I think that’s transformative but when we have to get really creative in my field about how we present these ideas so that we can be heard by as many different learning styles as possible, so that we can get as many people on board as we possibly can.

Sharon Melnick: Absolutely. Oh, I so share a mission with you Jenny. And you know one of the things that you were pointing out, some ironies that I think is so ironic about what you were saying is that, being great if a leader takes a first step to start to check the boxes and change policy. But you’re saying when they really can be a leader that creates transformational change is when they embody it and really feel it, and my sense is that they can transparently share their own process or what they’re going through. And what’s so interesting is what you’re in a way what you’re implying is that if they haven’t been connected to all of the things that you’re then helping them to connect with in a way, they’re not bringing their full self into the room.

Jennifer Brown: That’s so-

Sharon Melnick: Because the great irony that we… You started talking about what it means to be in your power and how to use it. So are there any observe that you can share with us about, you said, you spend a lot of time with senior executives, a lot of them or men, not always but a lot of them are like, and you said, oh, I’ve seen it all, the power dynamics, anything that you can illuminate for us?

Jennifer Brown: I think one of the most fascinating things to see and to notice is how people of the same identity can use power with each other. I always say the messenger matters just as much as the message. And so in the DNI world, we need people that look like me, people that look at you, all different identities because again, it’s about the arsenal of tools. And the message and what the messenger looks like and how people respond to that messenger, and how they feel they can relate to that messenger is one of your tools. There a source of power is actually having some levels of insider status of course. This is not a news flash.

Jennifer Brown: But I think when you’re trying to have difficult conversations, it helps. I think of, it’s funny. I think of the mosh pit, remember? Jumping out, I never did this. I didn’t live that crazy kind of life. However, the image of jumping into a group and me becoming a part of many hands, sharing and you’re be jumping around. It’s like an ’80s reference, I’m sure it doesn’t happen anymore.

Jennifer Brown: But the trusting of the group to leap. The to leap in number one. And then to harness the power in the room for your own purposes. If you can harness the powerful to buttress you, then you can work, you’re not alone in your effort. This is why I talked about earlier, preparing before going into rooms and trying to understand where people are at, who are the helping hands? Who are the ones who will be heard?

Jennifer Brown: If I’m struggling to be heard in a room and I feel the room is turning against me. And this is a common depending on how you identify, I’m sure people this sending to this can relate. When you are the messenger and you’re bringing a message that makes people feel uncomfortable and you look a certain way that people are less familiar with, or they may have assumptions and biases around, you can be shut down and not succeed often, often. So you’ve got to be very skilled. But I do think-

Sharon Melnick: Hear this all the time from my female [crosstalk 00:41:58]-

Jennifer Brown: Yes, yes.

Sharon Melnick: … not hers.

Jennifer Brown: But you got to remember, work smarter not harder. I might be the only woman in that room but I’ve got to know where my helpers are. If one messenger that isn’t me says something in the group and it shifts the tone of the conversation, that’s accessing power through someone else’s power. And so I always working smarter not harder to me means like lining up your allies. Preparing for success but not always assuming it’s up to me and me alone to create. And yet we can have this savior complex. We can be going in with all guns blazing like, I’ve got to do this and I will be heard. I think that’s the brute force strategy.

Jennifer Brown: You got to work with what’s around you and in the end use it as an enabler. So notice power in the room. Others have power also. Power can be the opportunity, the likelihood of being heard in a different way because ultimately we all want the same thing. We want to get to a goal. But what I want for all of you listening is the easiest and the shortest path that exhausts us the least. Because you know, you know-

Sharon Melnick: Stay in your power while you enjoy it.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah, exactly. It’s the duck on the surface with the feet or like paddling, paddling, paddling. And we’re going to have to do that sometimes. It’s a tenuous situation and you got to fix it. But I do think and it makes me feel less alone to think about who are my allies in this scenario? Who has my back, whose comments or opinions can I harness to buttress the conversation, to activate so that my job is easier because somebody else is doing some lifting. And so I think this requires, like I said, preparation and planning and thinking through. How am I going to navigate this terrain and who’s in my camp?

Sharon Melnick: Yeah, absolutely. Definitely. So notice that when you’re strategic, I see this in my clients all the time, is when you’re strategic and the way that you’re talking about, you can turn a no into a yes. That’s really inspiring. Along those lines, what have you learned about what, you were talking about power sharing. What incentivizes a leader to share power?

Jennifer Brown: I know that what’s in it for me is so critical and we always have to have it as a lens. I think first we have to get over the scarcity assumption, which is if I share something with you, it means less for me. That is like classic. If I have to tell you one or two top resistance points, that’s one of them.

Sharon Melnick: It’s a zero sum game.

Jennifer Brown: Zero sum. There’s only enough to go around. And by the way we women do this, this is why we don’t mentor and sponsor other women because we think the pie is finite. And we’re protecting our peace which is not good for the sisterhood and we are so much more powerful together, in all ways. So I think-

Sharon Melnick: We share that.

Jennifer Brown: Yes, yes, yes. I think that scarcity piece to say, look, one plus one equals three, this is a multiplier. And the what’s in it for me of course, is if I enable the success and the thriving of others, they will be more successful. It will make the organization better, it will reflect well on my team if they’re on my team. I will look like a magnanimous leader which people have egos. They want to be seen as somebody that people trust. I hope they really want to be that but maybe they just want the image of being that.

Sharon Melnick: And actually it’s aligned with the stated objectives of our organization, right?

Jennifer Brown: Yes it is-

Sharon Melnick: That too.

Jennifer Brown: Exactly that too. That’s small detail. It’s like, oh by the way, we worked really hard to get this talent in the door and then only to lose them because they find our culture toxic, and they don’t feel seen in her or that anybody is sharing the power with them so that they can progress. Minority talent, and I use the small m, I just use that in terms of whoever’s underrepresented in the workplace. We don’t get enough feedback, we don’t get the kind of feedback, people are not honest with us, we’re not insiders.

Jennifer Brown: And so power sharing is also that taking someone aside and the information. The access to that next opportunity, or hey, I think you should go for this, I’m going to put your name out. So we’re not having those conversations. And if somebody isn’t having them with us we missed out, we make the wrong move, we don’t push ourselves as hard as we could. And how would we know what we’re supposed to do because we didn’t write the rules and nobody shared them with us. Anyway, it’s perfect storm for talent that’s underrepresented.

Jennifer Brown: We just don’t have the role models, we can’t like look at somebody’s path and say, oh, I’m going to follow that path because there’s nobody to look at. So anyway, so I do think leaders cannot afford not to embrace this and think about how and I be of service to the success and the thriving of those around me? Which reflects well on me, which enables the accomplishment of business objectives, which retains talent, which is every leader wants that. And I hope kind of transforms the leader in the process.

Jennifer Brown: This is the piece I don’t think they get, which is that having people trust you with all of who they are. If I’m the kind of leader that somebody says, I trust you and I want to tell you this. And here’s where I’m struggling or I have one foot out the door because of this. That is a beautiful moment for leaders to be trusted with that information. I can’t imagine why you would want to operate that and I’m not sure how you can operate without those relationships because you lose somebody and it’s a surprise to you.

Jennifer Brown: To me, that’s a bad reflection on a leader’s ability to build trusting relationships so that somebody feels psychologically safe with you to say, I’m struggling and I need this, I need an accommodation, I need flexibility, I need to revisit my objectives in this year. This year has been an enormous opportunity for empathy and flexibility and revisiting performance-

Sharon Melnick: Remodel the leadership. Absolutely.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Like all of that. So I just wonder, if you’re resisting that, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot because the future’s here and these changes aren’t going away. And if anything, younger generations of talent want more transparency, more authenticity, more vulnerability, more values alignment, more corporate social responsibility and company as civic actor. This year has also been about accountability for organizations, where do you stand on these things that are important to me, whether that’s climate change or sustainable supply chains or human trafficking, or Black Lives Matter and racial injustice. There’s nowhere to hide. And so-

Sharon Melnick: Definitely the thing that leaders say that is the reason that they want to be a leader, not just the title and the position of it. But what it means to really be a leader is when people usually define it, they’re usually saying that they want that connection, right? And they want to be able-

Jennifer Brown: They do, they do.

Sharon Melnick: … inspire. So this is, you’re giving them an opportunity to do that. I planned to ask you a question enclosure but I have to insert one more because you brought up something that I know you have such depth of observation and experience and passion. Let me ask you the question you brought up the term toxic, and I know that toxic masculinity is something that you think about, you kept it interact with and you have a lot of things to say about this. Can you just share some of your most important passionate thoughts with us about this toxic masculinity?

Jennifer Brown: My goodness toxic masculinity, people bristle at that because they want to separate masculinity from toxic and that’s fair. Toxic is kind of a show stopper. Unfortunately the most toxic might be rather rare, I think in this pantheon on of men, but it gets a ton of play obviously. And me too brought that toxic behavior to the surface, of course. And that was like hugely transformational.

Jennifer Brown: I think toxic can all also be the subtle micro aggressions that come from the cluelessness that come from the lack of interest and curiosity in other people’s lived experience. And I think can be a product of privilege and living in our bubble and all those things, that can be experienced as toxic. And I wish leaders understood that these are the reasons people leave.

Jennifer Brown: And so it’s not just like the overt, like I’m a harasser kind of thing. Yes. But the hostile work environment even is somewhere in there but I want people to realize there’s a more nuanced toxicity that builds up over time, I call it death by a thousand cuts and it’s toxic, not to be seen and heard over time. And by the way, you made a point earlier. What about some of male leaders themselves not feeling seen and heard?

Jennifer Brown: The workplace hasn’t been a healthy place for anyone actually, so if we’re really going to have a fulsome conversation about what needs to change, I would guarantee you, men will say, I have struggled with the toxicity that I feel, and I’m on the inside. I’m feeling it. That bullying, that insider outsider stuff. If I challenge what’s called the man box. The man box is this extremely narrow palette that we are allowed to exercise as men, the emotional stuff’s off limits. All these things are off limits.

Jennifer Brown: And I think it’s been this monolithic way of showing up that it’s cloned so many leaders, like after the same pattern, which has done a disservice to all the diversity inside my in and the diversity of men. A LGBTQ man of color is not going to fit neatly into all that. And going to feel funny enough, many of the things jar that we struggle with and talk about all the time. Yes. Does he have male privilege maybe? Does he have cisgender privilege? Sure. Because we all have some kinds of privilege. But there’s this insider outsider thing that’s really, I think, important to have compassion for and to name.

Jennifer Brown: So the toxicity is universal. And so the question then becomes, who is perpetuating this? If it’s causing harm even for people who are inside that box, why can’t they break out? Why can’t they challenge the status quo and breaking out of the man box is a dangerous, risky thing because you are giving up your man card. You’re basically, you’re not siding with that group anymore, you’re breaking it and you’re standing outside and you’re criticizing it, or you’re giving feedback, or you’re agitating.

Jennifer Brown: You become that inclusive leader that all of a sudden you’re going to be the one that’s always saying, that’s inappropriate. You should say this instead or that’s a micro aggression or I’m going to give you feedback or that’s not enough, this isn’t good enough. And funny, I see CEOs doing this all the time actually with their direct teams because they have the power, speaking of power, they get to do that. So I love meeting a CEO. Who’s really holding people’s feet to the fire and agitating, and breaking out of those norms and trying to-

Sharon Melnick: Using his power or her power.

Jennifer Brown: Yeah, exactly. I love that. It’s excellent to see because it just gives me so much hope. So anyway, I just want to say that I spend a lot of my time not with the toxicness but with the role models that I want to see in the world that I want to encourage. I’m part of the Better Man Conference. For example, we meet several times a year for a full day. It used to be in person. Now it’s virtual. Hopefully we’ll be in person someday again. And it’s men taking a full day out to just think about their journey as inclusive leaders and humans and parents, and colleagues. And just reflect on what that journey is and be in a community, which is really powerful. Other men endeavoring to ask those questions too.

Jennifer Brown: So it’s been very healing for me. So I would tell you, if you all feel like you don’t have men in your life that are exhibiting what I’m talking about, you got to find them even just one. And it gives us hope, it energizes us. It allows us to plug in our outlet for a little bit to say like, this is what a healthy interaction feels like. This is what feeling honored and heard feels like, this is what a man sounds like and looks like when they’re leading from a humble place.

Jennifer Brown: Those are examples that we then have to encourage and make visible to others. And that’s why I like the Better Man Conference because any conference as you know, like positions. Positions is the role models. And they’re not perfect but they are willing to get up and talk about their imperfections, talk about their journey, be vulnerable to not having the answers, all these things I think that are counterintuitive to the way we were taught, we needed to lead. And men got that message more strongly than anybody because they were the closest to the sun. Whose wings melt when they’re too close to the sun.

Sharon Melnick: Absolutely.

Jennifer Brown: The [inaudible 00:54:58] story. I think there’s very courageous work happening on the part of some men to say, you know what? What kind of leader do I want to be that is divorced from these things that I know cause harm? And probably learning from the women in their life about alternate waste to lead which is a beautiful, rebalancing, long overdue in the universe. I know you’ll agree Sharon. Let’s have more representative leadership. We haven’t, that’s why were in this position. That joke about Lehman Brothers and Lehman Brothers [crosstalk 00:55:32]

Sharon Melnick: … only Lehman sisters. So what you’re talking about here is redefining masculinity as well as redefining power. And one of the things that I’ve heard from you over the years and really learned from you is that everyone has a diversity story and you could be a very senior level white man, a straight man and you could be covering. Or you could be concerned about a neurodiverse aspect of your experience or your own graying hair or balding hair, whatever it is, is that everyone.

Sharon Melnick: And it’s really about culture. It’s not necessarily about masculinity per se but it’s really about the culture that we live in, in the way that you spoke so eloquently too. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your work on redressing some of these issues. And I guess, the last thing that I just wanted to ask you is how have you become even more in your power from doing this work and where are you going in terms of being in your power toward, like, what is your vision of the workplace you’re here to create?

Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Being able to steer a conversation on a global scale. And I mean conversation like a big one. Whether that’s just being part of the zeitgeist of now and also shaping and informing a better future. It would be my highest, highest honor would be to leave a legacy that lasts, through my thought leadership, through books, through all of our recordings, like this one and all the podcasts that I do.

Jennifer Brown: And so I guess, to quantify what it would look like, we could… It’s in the like a marketing plan of audience or views or clicks or books or sales of books or a number of clients and all that stuff. But I think that’s part of it but that feels a little external to me. This is to me, a really like heart centered mission that I’m on. And I may never know the impact of everything that we’re. And I say we, because I have a whole team that’s also doing beautiful work and every single day and transforming hearts and minds and supporting leaders, and that growth that we’ve been talking about and doing it beautifully and elegantly and graciously.

Jennifer Brown: I have to believe we’re, we are really shifting things. And sometimes it’s hard to see but I know that it’s happening and that feels like I can be very satisfied. When I put my head down every night that I… And I’m so fortunate to work from this deep purpose that feels very aligned, and to be able to embrace all of who I am and not be in danger to have the comfort I have, to be in speaking the truth I’m doing so from this incredible place, this cushion of privilege.

Jennifer Brown: So there’s never a day that goes by that I don’t think about like, [inaudible 00:58:33] this is my sacred duty. Because if I can’t do it then certainly people with less or more danger in their lives because of who they are. They can’t hope to be, to bring that change in the world with all the headwinds. I think that if I could just shoot right to the source and dispense with all of the details and the tactics of life, and just like the able to exist in this heart conversation every single day, and know that people are transformed. That’s really all I want.

Jennifer Brown: The scale may go up and grow and I hope it does. The firm I hope will grow, the team I hope will grow. I hope to have, I don’t know if it’s power, but I hope to have a shelf of books written by me. I can see it. And I feel like I’m just getting started because you know a lot of women are late bloomers and I sort of twist and turned and was a singer for a bunch of years. It just took a long time for everything to click into place and be like, oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

Jennifer Brown: I’m hoping I’m blessed with a long runway, even though I’m nearing 50, you know that I can be more wise, more gracious, more fluent, have more impact, have more scale, have more touch, more hearts and minds and lives. I hope too, we can expand to really make a difference. That’s not always such a commercial endeavor. And I struggle with that. That’s a piece about like having to run a business and have everything be profitable and make sure I get paid.

Jennifer Brown: Founders struggle with these things. And make sure all the economics of it are working but at the same time focused on the most in need of these messages and the most in need of support, which should not be an economic argument or doesn’t need a business case. I think too, that’s another piece I’m going to be wrestling with in the future, is thinking how can we stretch into those conversations-

Sharon Melnick: Absolutely.

Jennifer Brown: … and support that. Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over @beta.hashe.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 and iTunes to learn more about Jennifer Brown on visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.