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Chuck Shelton, Founder and CEO of Greatheart Consulting, joins the program to discuss the work that he does engaging and equipping leaders from normative cultures to grow their business through inclusive leadership. Chuck shares his unique approach of inviting leaders into an “adventure” of inclusion.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • The “swagger” that leaders from the dominant culture often display (7:00)
  • The importance of safety (15:30)
  • How women can support men without taking responsibility for them (21:00)
  • The need for ERG’s (29:00)
  • How we can stand alongside each other (36:40)
  • Why leaders need to individualize their approach towards employees (41:00)
  • How the inclusion conversation has not been inclusive (46:00)
  • Why it is men’s self-interest to listen carefully and build trust with women (52:00)
  • The potential pitfall of measuring results (57:00)

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

JENNIFER BROWN: Welcome to The Will To Change. This is Jennifer Brown. My guest today is Chuck Shelton. Ever since he was tasked at the age of 13 by Reverend Woodie White to become “part of the solution” as a white person, Chuck has accepted the invitation to take responsibility for his culture. He would go on to write “Leadership 101 for White Men” in 2008, which is where I first discovered his work. He has influenced me as I began to explore my own role, my intersecting identities, and the implications of each of those in the world.

Today, Chuck is the Founder and CEO of Greatheart Consulting, consulting to over seventy organizations over the last 25 years on engaging and equipping leaders from normative cultures to grow their business through inclusive leadership. He has delivered nearly 400 presentations and projects on the topic (I’m catching up to him!) often focused on challenging white men to take personal accountability for their learning around gender and race.

His thought leadership and specifically his elaborate list of “deflections” feature prominently in my new book, How to be an Inclusive Leader. I wanted to focus on these because when they remain unexplored, and unarticulated, they stall our development; it animated my writing to explore, what can they be replaced with, so that we can all move forward, and large groups aren’t left behind in the great river of demographic and values change, in our workplaces, and in our society?

Speaking of who might be falling behind, Chuck used one of my favorite quotes in this episode, from the New Testament – “to whom much is given, much is expected”. I often think of this as the essence of privilege, and then the allyship that should accompany that privilege. While certainly not all white, straight cisgender men come from privilege, consider that they are only about 7% of the world’s population, but you wouldn’t know it from what he calls the “swagger” of this group – which holds disproportionately more power and resources than that percentage would dictate.

More power and resources often doesn’t translate into competency. This is precisely why I feel a kinship with Chuck. He loves surprising and inviting people from majority groups or multiple majority identities into what he calls the “adventure” of true inclusion. He is an agitator from the inside, but does so with joyful curiosity. Together in this episode, we puzzle through how to communicate that inclusion includes everyone – and we worry how not doing this effectively means we’ll fail in our strategic work, which is of course not an option.

Chuck’s own thinking certainly has evolved, too. We talk about how he’d approach his 2008 study, but in the present day, and environment. Our language has evolved – for example, we talk about working with one another, not for one another or at one another. These days he builds reciprocal structures across difference, when he can: rather than the traditional mentor/mentee which because of demographics has often entailed men teaching women about leadership, he encourages two-way relationships of mutual value between those in so-called dominant groups and others. Learning travels 360 degrees.

We also talk about who needs space to do this work, and the delicacy of finding our place and our role from majority cultures, as well as the resilience to push through fear about making mistakes along the way. As I always say, leadership isn’t true leadership if it’s not occasionally uncomfortable. The “not knowing” is part of the adventure.

Chuck, welcome to The Will to Change.

CHUCK SHELTON: Thank you, Jennifer.

JENNIFER BROWN: We’ve been friends for a long time, you and I.

CHUCK SHELTON: It’s wonderful to be included.

JENNIFER BROWN: It is. And you are included. You are part of the cohort that gives me hope. You take my “hope scale” and you push the needle because of everything you’ve done and what you’ve dedicated your work to at Greatheart, which we’re going to talk about today, and what you’ve studied. I think I discovered you probably through a white paper you wrote in 2012, but we’ll get to that, too. I want to start like we always start The Will to Change – with our diversity stories. Everyone has one, or multiple, and oftentimes they’re not visible. What would you share in answer to that question?

CHUCK SHELTON: I’m a white guy and I was a white boy before this.


CHUCK SHELTON: I’ve been one the whole time. I grew up in a family in the ’60s that was deeply involved in the church. What that meant for us was we were involved in what was going on in the world. The women, my grandmothers were entrepreneurs. My mom was a school board member. The men in my family were more gentle souls. I already grew up with a construct for gender not being a rigid thing.

When Dr. King was assassinated, my parents took me to a racial reconciliation workshop in Seattle. And Reverend Woodie White, who is now a retired bishop in Atlanta and an African-American pastor looked at me, maybe he pointed, I’m not sure, but I was 13 and he said, “I need you to take responsibility for being white so you become part of the solution and not part of my problem.”

Middle school boys are not known for their deep, reflective capabilities.


CHUCK SHELTON: But there it was. Somehow, at age 13, an invitation to me to essentially take responsibility for the cultures that have shaped me and to become a useful bridge-builder with people who have different life experiences. Also, I’ve learned over time, the responsibility to bring people from communities that I’m a part of to the work, to the learning, to the conversation as an ally. What that’s turned into over the intervening 50 years is a focus on leadership development with diversity and inclusion in view. That’s how my work and my commitment started. It’s turned into a lifetime of learning and some living on the spectrum between boldness and humility so that you can lead and try and get things done, but do it in a way that’s teachable and open and cognizant of how much we always have to learn.

JENNIFER BROWN: Boldness and humility, isn’t that the truth? Stepping in and stepping aside, stepping back, or stepping alongside. Reminds me of calling in, calling out, and I heard “calling forward” the other day.


JENNIFER BROWN: I really liked that. More language is so helpful. That’s like when people say, “LGBTQIA, how am I ever going to make sense of all these letters?” But it’s so wonderful that we live in a time when we can be specific about identity and specific about our roles.


JENNIFER BROWN: You’re really specific about your role, Chuck. Back to the study that I first read by you, 2012, the study on white men leading through diversity and inclusion. It felt like a thunderclap to me. I had never seen anyone – I didn’t see many men writing about this stuff. I certainly didn’t see any men owning their maleness and their whiteness. And then it was geared to be read by and about male leaders and their responsibility. It was really formative for me, I have to say.

So, tell me, was that the point and the catalyst for you to actually own that this is the work I’m going to do in the world, I’m going to be unafraid, I’m going to be bold, and I’m just going to own it? You probably got a lot of reaction to it.

CHUCK SHELTON: Yeah. The study followed a book in 2008 on Leadership 101 for White Men, and that had been percolating for a long time.

I think for me, the opportunity to test whether inclusion actually can – or the degree to which inclusion can actually include everyone is the space that I’ve been interested in for a long time. Because I’m from virtually every normative culture, at least in the US context, although since I’m a boomer, that’s a little bit less – I wouldn’t say I feel very marginalized by that, but it certainly isn’t the norm like it was for me earlier in my career.

Other than that, I’m coming from a place of not being in an employee resource group, of often at diversity and inclusion events feeling like I’m with my own people, but they’re looking at me like, “I need to get to know you because you’re a little outside my lived experience.”

I think what that’s meant for me is it became pretty clear early in my career that the most work I’ve done has been across gender and now is certainly gender, learning that’s not binary. And a lot of my learning across race and ethnicity has been with the black community, it’s been a community of reference for me and lived experience in the church in particular.

And then, increasingly, early in my career, the exposure and the invitation was more global. There are white guys all around the world. We’re only about 7% of the world’s population.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my goodness.

CHUCK SHELTON: But you wouldn’t know that by the swagger that we carry and the position of power and resources that we have available to us.

One of the parts of the New Testament that’s been important to me says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

JENNIFER BROWN: I love that.

CHUCK SHELTON: I look at the 7% of us and the way we are in the world and the 30-40 million white guys who are in leadership roles around the world, it felt like that was a space that I certainly understand and live in and probably suffer from as well. It felt like a space that I’ve had really clear messages, particularly from women, from global people who aren’t white, and from African Americans in particular that if I was going to actually turn out to be useful, then I needed to build bridges and focus and bring my guys, bring people who are aligned with me and who look at me. If you and I say the same thing, Jennifer, it’s not going to land the same. You and I need to be saying the same thing and they need to sort that out.

It’s felt all along that there was a place for my voice and how I could be useful, as long as it was done in the construct of building relationships of trust and accountability with others.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. That’s why I love facilitating with you, because you and I are a one-two punch.


JENNIFER BROWN: We can each respectively say different things and be heard differently, which theoretically is not a great thing because I’m typically heard less and in a more diminishing way than you are, but interestingly, depending on the room, you are absolutely suspect in terms of who are you?

CHUCK SHELTON: Absolutely.

JENNIFER BROWN: Why are you here? What’s your agenda? All that.

CHUCK SHELTON: Yeah. Are you kidding me? The question bubbles are pretty rich outside people’s heads for both of us. Right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Totally! (Laughter.)

CHUCK SHELTON: I’m super grateful that they don’t actually appear in real life.


CHUCK SHELTON: It would freeze me up, man.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I would run. I would totally run!

CHUCK SHELTON: I wouldn’t able to keep going.

JENNIFER BROWN: I call it out. I know you do, too. I call it out and say, “Hey, I may not be what you expected to see when you read that you had a diversity speaker.”


JENNIFER BROWN: I’m sure you’re really not what people expect to see.

CHUCK SHELTON: Oh, my gosh. We had a client last week in Chicago. It was a two-part workshop. And after the first part, she said, “When I saw there was a white guy who claims to be a CEO and he was going to be one of the co-facilitators, my reaction was like somewhere between this I’ve got to see and give me a break.”

JENNIFER BROWN: What a thing to walk into.

CHUCK SHELTON: Maybe I’m clueless. It wasn’t that scary, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, you didn’t know.

CHUCK SHELTON: My advantage is just so massive, I don’t even worry about it. I don’t know. But it was cool that as we talked about her learning, she saw the invitation that when we say inclusion means everyone’s in, the next thing we need to say specifically is, “That means that this is for all of us.” So, if you’ve been from your majority-ness, from your place of normativity, if you’ve been externalizing what this is about saying, “Well, it’s diversity, it’s about them,” then we’re trying to disrupt that way of thinking. We’re trying to rebrand what this D&I thing is about because since inclusion has to mean everyone’s in, for there to be any integrity with the use of the word, I just love surprising and inviting people from majority groups or multiple majority identities into the adventure. To be able to move from a place of fear and shame and not knowing and deflection, like we’ve talked about so many times, you can’t lead and even live well from that space.

Not everybody’s interested in the invitation. There are plenty of people that have think I’ve gone over to their side or somebody got to that guy, but I’m not here for those folks. Honestly, somebody else I hope is. I’m here for the people who are ready to run, and it’s shocking to me how every week we come across leaders in big organizations that are ready to go, even if their point of view is still early in development when it comes to them actually showing up and learning how to lead inclusively.

JENNIFER BROWN: I agree. They’re coming out of the woodwork. They want to do more, they’re saying they want to do more. You and I love that. We’re like, “Please, jump in, the water’s warm.”

It is a time of tremendous scrutiny. I wanted to ask you, you wrote the paper in 2012. I think a lot of your deflections that we should talk about, which is in my second book, I literally use some of Chuck’s deflections in Chapter 2, which is about the unaware stage of the inclusive leader continuum. I believe that these deflections, whether verbalized or not, they hold us back from believing that we can actually get this, that we can do something about it, that we can lead.

And they’re a combination of self-doubt, there’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of reputational risk or fear. There’s also stuff that’s disguised as “I’m a good person,” which is a deflection, actually.

CHUCK SHELTON: Might be true, but still a deflection.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, exactly. Might be true and you may mean well, you and I talk a lot about intent versus impact.


JENNIFER BROWN: And I always say, “Hope is not a strategy.” Voting a certain way or having a certain level of politics, that literally does not build inclusion because inclusion in organizations takes literal effort and it’s consistent and it’s tangible and it’s done over time and it’s real and it’s authentically delivered. We want people to be on this journey and not just checking a box. I wondered, what would you change if you were to do the Study on White Men Leading again now, how would you structure it differently to speak to the times we’re living in? What would you ask? What did you ask and find and then what would you do now?

CHUCK SHELTON: It was a really intensive and thorough design, partly because I’ve been doing this work for a long time before a lot of people were ready to go. Both my book and the study were probably a little too dense.


CHUCK SHELTON: Yeah, a little too challenging. We had big companies that did the survey, but a couple of them, their initial response was, “It’s not even legal to ask these questions.” Which was pretty funny, because the attorneys at Bank of America and Walmart said they were. We had to sort through some of that.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s interesting.

CHUCK SHELTON: I’d say that the only thing that I would probably substantively change or add to the design was making sure that we needed more questions about people who don’t identify as white men, their experience of us. It was very much focused on white men leading through diversity and inclusion, and as a design for the research, that was super useful in that 2011-2012 timeframe.

Now, what’s changing, to the step up, step back – I’m talking a lot about the way that we need to do this work with one another, not for one another or at one another.

I think one of the particular challenges I see men around gender and white men around the combination of those things, right now is how do I pursue psychological standing in the sense that I need to have the confidence that I have a voice. How do I do it in a way that people will receive it for what it is while I stay teachable? And how do I do it in a way that’s safe? The need for psychological safety is no surprise to anyone. Even the conversation around safety, which actually came after the study in a lot of conversations because of one of the findings in the study being, as it turns out, white guys in leadership jobs need to feel emotionally and relationally safe as well. It’s a human thing.


CHUCK SHELTON: And, of course, I have a couple black female colleagues who said to me point blank, “You know what I mean when I tell you this, but me and my kind haven’t felt safe one day in this world because of your kind.”


CHUCK SHELTON: It wasn’t easy to hear, but it was good to hear and we were speaking representationally with each other, because that’s part of this work, too, is not being so a walking stereotype that we think somehow the cultures we’re from have delegated us to speak for them. But at the same time, to be able to be representational to one another and really learn in that space in a way that we take it personally in the right way, but not in the wrong way.

JENNIFER BROWN: There was so much in that. Being representative of non-white perspectives, non-binary – men that identify as non-binary, so more representation of all those voices, which I think the conversation has very much changed since 2012 and we know so much more.

I’ve also heard the safety need and conversation for majority communities, as you say, and call it, is an interesting one. It comes up in the reference of white men or men trying to start men as allies groups in companies.


JENNIFER BROWN: And the pushback around, is this really needed when the world is your safe space? Right? We say that glibly, but it’s not very fair because, you’re right, psychological safety is a human need. Honestly, I would argue, and boy, you could probably tell me all sorts of things about this, but that being the masculine norms and the “man box,” as we talk about with some guests, is super restrictive and unhealthy for so many of us, including the men that are squarely in the middle of it and living it every single day. It’s what’s led to toxic workplaces. But to blame the person and not the system that’s been created, you have to parse that out a bit and say, “This environment is bad for you, too.” Any environment that’s bad for women and people of color and others is likely bad for everyone. And so that’s where we’ve got to start to look at dismantling it. It’s a big job.

CHUCK SHELTON: Yeah. It’s a question I have, I guess, for you as well. In this moment where we, once again, hear via the Lean In research that 60 percent of male managers are reporting discomfort – being uncomfortable doing daily tasks with women colleagues – traveling together, one-on-ones behind closed doors, dining together, even such powerful things as mentoring and sponsoring.

Obviously, there’s a lot of people who report discomfort who also have really successful relationships with women at work and across their personal lives. I’ve found to help men work through what that’s about in the last three weeks after that data point came out in my conversations with women, including a lot of women doing diversity and inclusion work, and partly I think this is a reflection that they know who I am and they trust me, but their action has pretty much universally been some version of, “What’s wrong with you guys? Are you kidding me?” It’s been a reaction. I’m not judging it. I’ve also found myself saying – so one of the things we hear with clients is people will say, “Well, it must be a great time to be a woman in technology because they’re getting all the jobs.”


CHUCK SHELTON: Well, there’s no data that indicates that’s true. And if you talk to any women in any tech work, this is not their lived experience, right?


CHUCK SHELTON: And the reaction often I’ve seen, even with colleagues and clients is some version of, “Tough cookies, that’s not the data, quit feeling that way.” I think I understand the impulse behind that, at least to the degree that I can as a guy.

What I also find is that sometimes that doesn’t create much space for me in my work with guys. It’s like if I’m operating out of fear, if I’m operating out of a sense of loss, even if it’s fabricated, a sense of a loss of my own opportunities or the fear of the loss of opportunities for my son, who’s a white kid. It’s an interesting time. To put the burden on women to fix men or to take responsibility for our emotional reactions is ludicrous and part of the problem we’re trying to solve for. And at the same time, I haven’t quite known what to do the last three weeks in those conversations because I don’t want to – part of me agrees. Inside the world of men, we have a lot of work to do. And I also really feel how much we need the right kind of support for women, in a way that doesn’t put the burden back on women to fix it.

I don’t know, how do you sort that out? Again, not that you’re representationally speaking for all women, but you and I do these conversations. What’s your thinking about how do we work our way through so many men being uncomfortable in a way that women can be supportive, but not in a way where women are supposed to fix it?

JENNIFER BROWN: Right, that’s the emotional labor that we don’t want to put and folks who are already doing so much emotional labor just to be in the organization, just to try to get promoted and be successful.

Yeah. Gosh, I wish I had a nice and tidy answer. I think about the one thing I’m clear on is that men need to learn in community with other men in a safe place, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: We know that that’s true because of the level of honesty that those places can generate, where you don’t think anyone’s watching you and critiquing you and while you’re learning, while you’re dismantling some of the behaviors or beliefs that you have or narratives that are going through your head, I think you need to surface all of that. But that surfacing will not happen, absolutely, if it’s the kind of environment without the right supportive people either not in the room or if they’re in the room, playing a very specific role and being very carefully curated to be in that room.

I think it’s about roles, honestly, and being rather choosy and really prescriptive about if there are non-white, non-men, non-white men in this room, there are women in this room, what is their role? Is it to solve problems? Is it to direct the conversation?

I think, actually, the struggling of being in a room with men with other men in a room figuring out, okay, we just started this group but we don’t know what to talk about and we don’t know how to talk about it. And we’re not sure what we’re missing. That struggle is part of the goodness. It is to say, “Wow, I can’t believe we don’t know what to talk about when the world is burning down for some people, and we’re sitting here wondering what our agenda should be.” You’ve got to really resist the urge – and business does this. Business railroads you. It’s like, well, you’re going to have a men as allies group. What are your outcomes? What are your deliverables? What is your timeline? I want to see a strategic plan. We literally bury the seedling, which needs to be protected so that it is fragile. It’s fragile. It needs to grow without a lot of pressure until such time as you get the training wheels, you kick the training wheels off, and you’re ready to go.

There’s an incubation period. It’s fascinating to me. I don’t think that’s very “businessy.” Business is such a pressure cooker. There are so many expectations, there’s so much scrutiny. There’s no such thing as private, safe, and slow. It needs to be probably a bit slow. It needs to be like, okay, let’s figure this out. And until we do that, let’s not ask anybody else to do the labor for us.

CHUCK SHELTON: Well, because they can’t.


CHUCK SHELTON: It makes me think we should have a bumper sticker that says, “Evolution is not a deliverable.” (Laughter.) You know?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, do I love that.

CHUCK SHELTON: That’s what it feels like, you know? I think what’s so right about what you said is that one of them – I think people will look back at this time and say the biggest things happen because they gripped onto both and they didn’t let go. We have work to do as men. I see over and over in our work with men how we will say things that we won’t say if women are in the room, we won’t go very far if there aren’t some men in the room who actually come with a point of view and have things to say and are there to be with the guys, not to teach them or force them or to do any of the toxic stuff that we do with one another, but that we also operate inside our culture, and if that’s a teasing kind of humor and it works for us, then it works for us, right?

Honestly, I see that when the design of our evolution, of our work, of our deliverables is “both and,” where we’re in culture and we’re across culture. When we’re doing some of our own work, and it’s connected also to dialogue and interaction and connecting it to the way you lead day in and day out in your relationships with women, and with people who don’t identify in a binary way, then you hit the two angles you have to hit for this to be sustainable.

So, the whole conversation a couple years about, “We’re just going to get rid of employee resource groups and have everybody be together.” That’s just so profoundly naive in terms of, one, how culture works. We need to be together by aspects of our identity, and for those of us who have not had to develop a point of view around our identity, we haven’t had white guy ERGs, because to everyone’s point, the world’s a white guy’s ERG – it’s built by and for you. You don’t have to go there.

Now, we’re being asked to go there and to recognize when we look in the mirror that we aren’t just our name, but people see us for the color of our skin, people see us as we appear as men, and that’s the evolutionary fragile part of this work. Fragile is such a good word. Some of it can only happen when we as men do it together. And that’s true for women, I believe, and it also can only happen if we do it together. So, to say it’s got to be, well, we can’t learn what we need to learn unless we’re all working together, we actually can’t learn what we need to learn if we’re together all the time.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. It’s the tension. It’s a “both and,” it’s so true.  We do LGBT leadership programs for high-potentials at a bank. Every time the question of, “Are allies invited into the three-day leadership program?” The bank has a very hard line and says, “No, this is specifically for this group.”

I feel torn about it, but I believe in both approaches for different reasons. And I love the psychological safety of the only LGBTQ space. And, by the way, there are diversity issues playing themselves out within that group, too.


JENNIFER BROWN: There’s some exclusion and inclusion.

CHUCK SHELTON: It’s not uniformity once you define it by one way of thinking about it. Oh, my gosh.

JENNIFER BROWN: No, no, no. Just ask the women and people of color in the room. Usually of 30 people, I have five women, just to give you an example. So, the number of queer L or B identified or trans women is tiny who are out at the bank.

Anyway, the bigger point is the safe space accelerates learning to the point where people are so relaxed and trusting each other that they deepen into it so quickly, they report that it is a transformative experience. Everything is deeper and richer and more pointed and makes a bigger impression and they’re able to absorb it differently. They feel supported while they’re doing that. They feel seen and heard and many of the say, “Well, I actually have never been in a room full of people that are my people.”


JENNIFER BROWN: I don’t even know what this feeling is, but I love it and I want more of it. It’s very interesting. That’s been a debate, but I agree with you. I think ERGs will continue to exist until such time as there are not multiple communities who don’t feel safe in the workplace to be themselves, to show up fully as who they are. They’re just going to continue to be a thing.

But they also have to work across at the same time as they work within.


JENNIFER BROWN: It’s “both and.” By the way, this is really good brain training. You have to be able to hold a lot in your brain in this world. You’ve got to be able to hold the seeming contractions. To me, it’s not a contradiction, it’s just two sides of a coin.

CHUCK SHELTON: Yeah, we saw in the ’80s with diversity awareness training, and we’re seeing it now with unconscious bias training, when they’re viewed as panacea or starting place, but with no clear idea about, well, what happens after that? Then awareness raised, but not applied is a sad thing. It speaks as just such potential for us.

Part of the solve for the complexity here of the “both and” that we’ve been talking about in culture and across culture is, in our view, we’re thinking about the build from diversity to inclusion. The next part of the build for us is reciprocity. Our reciprocal mentoring lab, for example, focuses on rising women, typically the mentee is a woman moving into a senior mentorship role, and her mentor is an executive man.

But what we like about reciprocity is that the heart of the idea is that it’s structuring a two-way relationship of mutual value. And it puts both people in the position to be mentor and mentee and expects of the person who’s more junior and equips the person who’s more junior to be a source for improving the inclusive leadership of the person senior to them. And it opens the door for mentor to sponsorship so that as you get to know a mix of people and you start factoring differences like gender into your mentoring and sponsoring work, that not only opens the door for the woman who is the more junior person in that situation, although she might be a director or a senior director or a managing director role, to help her move up in the company and solve for that challenge.

It also can be transformative for the more senior executive, who’s typically a man, because that affects the way he views his leading his mentoring and sponsoring work going forward. And that two-way street part of it, one of the things I’m hearing from my team is we’re tired of – we’re from minority or marginalized or disadvantaged identities. We’re just tired of that whole construct. Some aspect – a mix of things about who I am, some of which I’ve chosen, some of which I didn’t, is always being associated with disadvantage and marginalization and I’ve seen this particularly among millennials who are just sick of some of the historical constructs, which aren’t sociologically, historically, economically, practically untrue, it’s just that it feels to me they’re shaking it off and saying, “I’m not going to be determined by the collective disadvantage that accrues to people like me.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, do I love that. That’s good.

CHUCK SHELTON: That’s powerful.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so powerful. Interestingly, ERGs and other ways we structure our strategies are going to change because a lot of them were premised on our perceived need to create a safe space, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: But certain generations are like, “What do you mean safe space? I’m bringing my full self to work, and if you don’t like all of those parts of me, that’s your problem.”

CHUCK SHELTON: It’s that tight labor market, baby.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah! I love that.

CHUCK SHELTON: I’ll brush off my resume. My son-in-law, when my daughter got pregnant for the first time, they were both 28, he’s an electrical engineer. And I asked him, I’m not trying to tell him he’s going to get a lot of crap from the other guys, but there’s certainly a history of stigma from men about, well, your wife had the baby, so why are you taking all this time off.

And so I just said, “If you get pushback from other men about taking time off and being a day the way you’re going to be a dad, how will you respond?” And he looked at me like, “Okay, you’re asking me a diversity question, I see where you’re going with this.” And then he just said, “I brush off my resume and I look somewhere else.” It was right there, front of mind, he was already there.

JENNIFER BROWN: So good. Can you imagine?

CHUCK SHELTON: I’m jut thinking, look, our workplaces are not set up for this way of thinking.

JENNIFER BROWN: No, they are not. My gosh. They’re like, “Why do we have diversity training? Why do I need to be taught how to appreciate somebody else?” What’s up with that?

Chuck, let’s talk about the really innocuous things that people have been taught were the right things to say, like, “I don’t see color,” for example. I find myself having to really slow down with a lot of the audiences I speak to and explain that, why that is an erasure and is experienced in a different way than it’s intended.

But how do you counsel someone who’s straight and white and male, for example, in their relationship, supporting whether it’s mentoring or being reciprocal mentored or just a colleague on a team? How do you counsel them to support – indicate that, hey, I am here for your success and I also am not erasing any difficulties you may be having, but I’m also not assuming you’re having those difficulties because I think where people get stuck. It’s like I tell them, for example, to understand what intersectionality means. And I say to them, so, if you are supporting or a colleague of or working for a white woman, her experience may be different than if she were a woman of color or a queer woman. Right?

That lens, know enough that that’s a thing. But then I get stuck in terms of, so, what am I then – because I don’t want them to ever tokenize someone or put them in a bucket of oppression. I want them to know the research and the stats and be sensitive to it, but then they need to go in with a fresh slate with conversations, but yet I want them to indicate to certain people that, hey, I’m not assuming your experience is like everybody else’s. I’ve done my homework. I know, and I’m not going to assume that my experience is the same as your experience in this workplace, because we are different. And yet, how can I stand alongside, behind, underneath, wherever you need me to be? And is that offensive to some people to say, “Well, what do you mean? Are you saying that because I’m a woman or a person of color that I’m having a harder time?”

Literally, getting down to these brass tacks of conversation, this is where this fear comes. If I don’t have an answer for things, then I really get worried. I look at this all day and I find myself asking, what would I say in that case? How do I strike this balance of signaling to people? I am on a path and I want to help, but I’m not tokenizing you, I’m not assuming I know your experience, and I don’t even want to say I don’t see your color. But I do see your color; I do see it. I know enough to know that that may be interfering or affecting how you are moving through an organization.

What do you counsel people to say to communicate all those things at once?


JENNIFER BROWN: Tough question.

CHUCK SHELTON: I think it’s a lot more psychology than it is data, sociology, or a deliverable or some of our normal ways of organizing.

To me, one of the intriguing aspects of many straight, white guys, American born, English speaking, pick your multiple normativities. Many of us, one of the unexpected transferrable skills we have is partly because we see ourselves as individuals, not particularly as culturally connected.

We often, at least those in leadership, are quite good at individualizing. Sometimes that’s a problem because we think, “I intend to act nicely towards you, and not recognize the systemic nature of the world that you live in and the advantage that accrues to me.” Or the way that my advantage is structured around things that don’t happen to me, for example.

But what I find, there are two kinds of really normative white guys when it comes to this. There are the guys who want to be seen to be doing it, but really aren’t committed. Honestly, that’s where I go. As a function of leadership, are you committed to bringing an emotionally intelligent approach to the people you’re working with, to your direct reports, to your peers, to the people above you in the organization, to your customers? If you’re not, then it’s not probably worth having a conversation very deeply. That’s the prerequisite. You actually have to care about other human beings.

What I find is that almost every leader, when I’m that direct, or even if I’m saying that to a group of people, everyone will at least claim to be someone who really understands that to be a leader and to actually be a good human person, it means to care for other people as individuals. This is not rocket science, right?

Then, the invitation becomes that impact is what matters in this construct, especially when you have the position power. And you know that your results as a leader derive from the success of your team. And a high-performing team is made up of high-performing individuals.

I know a lot of white guys start to breathe a little more deeply and say, “So, what you’re saying to me is I need to really individualize the way I lead.” I try and finish the sentence if they don’t go there, and I say, “Yes, that means you take into account how aspects of identity that you may have bias around or that they may have experience around are taken into proper regard.”

Is everything about race and gender? Well, when you’re first starting to learn about it, it sure feels like it is because you don’t know anything or you know very little. But pretty soon you find out, and we see this in a two- to three-hour workshop, when we’ve created a safe environment and people were well prepared and ready to talk out loud about the mix of their lived experiences, white people say, “I did not know that. I can’t believe that’s true in our organization. I’m so sorry you experienced that. I want to be part of the solution, not part of your problem.”

And people of color are watching and saying, “I’m provisionally open to the possibility that you actually mean it.” They may not be saying that, but –

JENNIFER BROWN: Provisionally! (Laughter.)

CHUCK SHELTON: Yeah. But you start trafficking in hope and you start creating a sense among people that people actually might change and grow and relate to one another as human beings in a very fundamental way with our differences. In view, but without doing the wrong things with them.

And what I find with the people who are coming from super-normative backgrounds, and especially for those of us who are just realizing that’s how people see us, you know? And that’s probably something we need to wonder and learn about for ourselves, that to use words like “adventure” and “curiosity” and to start to inform their own – to help them inform their own sense of self-interest, what’s in this for me? Not in a narrowly construed, I’m only going to do inclusion because I can get something out of it, because I think that probably won’t take you that far. People will smell that a mile away. “I’m not into inclusion, I don’t want to be an ally so that people will say I’m one or that I declare myself one.” I’m doing it because it will help me be a better leader, a better human being, a better husband, father, brother, citizen, or whatever.

And when we start to connect behaviors that are the core behaviors we work on in our inclusive leadership work are own your story, listen to build trust, seek feedback courageously, respect individuality and build belonging. Those values, those behaviors in the construct of attending to impact, what we find over and over again is if you have an executive team of 40 people and you’ve got three or four women who are ready to lead with gender in view, not assuming that all women are wanting to do that. And you have three or four people, executives of color, who are ready to lead with race and ethnicity in view, not assuming that all executives of color will do that.

And you have three or four or five white guys who are activated and open and working on the humble piece. You’ve got 12 people maybe, 12, 13 people out of 40. The game’s not over, but the trend is going to be irreversible because when they’re doing that work themselves and they’re doing that work together, of the other 27 or 28 white guys on the executive team, five or ten of them are going to say, “This is just political correction. I need to get out and sell business or work on the product.”

But there’s another 15 or 20 white guys who have daughters who are coming the way the history is going. And so from a change perspective, when we engage people at a human level, not in spite of differences or without regard to differences, but with them in view in a way that is actually resonant with who the individuals are, because to women aren’t the same. You know? The individualizing of the invitation and then coming alongside. I think one of the things that really guides our work is appreciative inquiry. It’s the using of questions to generate learning and conversation, which means, like you said, you don’t know always where it’s going to go. You can’t turn it into a deliverable prematurely. But it’s done with the belief that people have the wisdom, the lived experience, the commitment, the connections to come up with the answers that will work for them and for their organization.

And I’m just finding that creates so much space for leaders to step in and take responsibility. And, honestly, the guys who don’t get it, who don’t want to get it who in our engagement scale on the lagging side, they’re starting to isolate themselves by hunkering down inside that as just a left-wing political plot or whatever. Whatever the deflection is. You want to be a leader in this world, you want to get things done, you want to be able to retain your talent, you want to have your reputation for being able to not just work with talent, but also with customers. Then you can do this.

Some of this is so practical and so lovely and so – I had no idea how good it feels to climb out from behind the not knowing and the shame and the guilt and the not understanding why people look at me the way they do.

So, long answer. Sorry, but there’s so much that’s sobering right now. I certainly see a lot of evidence that when we construct the right kind of invitation and then we don’t get in the way of people’s learning. We push and shove and love them with the pressure, but I see a lot of people stepping up and saying, “I’m going to figure this thing out.”

I think the countervailing pressures that we see, the forces of reaction that create so much fear and such tangible pain in people’s lives right now, not that that’s ever going to go way because it’s a human experience, but I think the trend line is inescapable. It’s really exciting to see majority people start to explore what accountability really looks like.

JENNIFER BROWN: It is. There was so much in that answer. It is really lovely to see that “ah-hah” moment and have the light bulb happen for people and really to realize how much certain folks have felt very “othered” in the conversation, that the inclusion conversation hasn’t been inclusive.

CHUCK SHELTON: Absolutely.

JENNIFER BROWN: It was never intended that way. Perhaps, in trying to be very specific and nail down the problem and the communities that were being adversely impacted, I don’t think over the years I’ve been in this work, we haven’t really talked about everybody else. We haven’t really been very helpful in terms of saying, “Hey, here’s the way you participate in this. Here’s your role in it. Here’s what it has to do with leadership.” It’s been an omission, I suppose. And the effect, as we talk about intent versus impact, the impact of being omitted and not really mattering, not really mattering in the equation. Which you and I know, this whole other group of people matters a tremendous amount because not only for the reason that so much of the power lies in this group of people.


JENNIFER BROWN: To leave them behind and march forward is going to only hurt our change efforts. It’s funny because I feel like some people are holding their nose and doing this like, “Okay, we have to be inclusive now. What are we going to do for the guys?” And some of them, like you said, some of them don’t want to learn. Some of them are happy and clueless. Some of them are being like, “I’m afraid and I don’t want to step in because I’m going to get busted and do the wrong thing.”

But I agree with you, there are so many more people who aren’t saying any of those things and who are literally for the first time seeing that they have something to contribute. That is such a deep human need. You want to bring something, you want to be asked to the party and you want to be asked to be there and you want to help, you do.

I do agree, I think that has shifted. We have a lot more to work with today than we did when you first wrote your paper – thankfully. And another thing I’m talking a lot about, mentoring comes up a lot in those one-on-one relationships.

I’m challenging the mostly male mentors that I might be speaking to traditionally. And as you said, a lot of that’s changing and that’s a good thing.

CHUCK SHELTON: Yes, it is.

JENNIFER BROWN: And I’m asking them, “Where have you mentored? What time have you mentored? Have you set those relationships up through your lens of comfort?” And never really having thought about where would my mentees or my colleagues feel the most comfortable having this conversation? And letting that drive the structure of the relationship, the place and time of the relationship.

And if you’ve got mostly white men in the mentor position, they’ve been calling the shots with that degree of blindness around, well, it’s comfortable for me, why would it be uncomfortable for anybody else?

And I think these things lead to discomfort, which leads to the problems that we’re seeing around inappropriate behavior and not understanding people’s intent and all that scrutiny. I think it’s just one example of the power of our lenses to say, “What have I been looking at that I do as part of my daily life as a professional that I am still overly informed by my definition of comfort and my cadence and my space and my time and my life?” Which, by the way, flows very differently than so many other people’s in the workplace.

I’ve been saying to people, “Look, if you don’t have anything to worry about with Me Too, you should not be slinking away into the corner right now.” You should be stepping forward more strongly into these relationships, and you must because so many people need your partnership right now.

CHUCK SHELTON: Yes. Part of what will help us as men, help us as white people, help us as Americans and straight people continue to find new levels of courage is also making sure that the voices of people who haven’t been getting heard, like Me Too represents, get heard. And so we distinguish between discomfort and damage. We believe that transformation, the dramatic growth of performance and character only happens when there’s discomfort. Not only discomfort because there needs to be some joy and like I didn’t know that and light bulbs go off for a lot of reasons. But discomfort actually we all know as humans is a very powerful source for learning – damage, not so much.

The discomfort that comes for us from normative cultures when we hear other people’s truths and when we listen and we do that learning in relationship, so we don’t disengage – this is like the world’s best time as a man to demonstrate that you can build reputation as someone who collaborates well with women. Women’s expectations of us are so low right now, and clearly, our expectations of ourselves aren’t very high either, because more of us are worried about this than were a year ago.

To me, right now, the self-interest part is like if you want to demonstrate that you’re an excellent leader that’s in line with the aspirational values of the company, this is a great time to be seen as somebody who’s listening carefully and working on trust. If you’re a man, women are saying about you, “I want to be on his team. I want him to be on my team. I want to be on a project with him because I know he collaborates well, he’s a great leader.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Wouldn’t you like to be regarded that way? It would be incredible.

CHUCK SHELTON: You can tell, worse like “invitation” and “adventure” I think are powerful words, and part of what makes it an adventure, because the word adventure speaks to organizing risk in a way that you can survive, maybe have some fun, and maybe brag about it later if you’re a guy. That’s how we think about it, right? (Laughter.)

Adventure is the kind of thing where you don’t quite know what’s going to happen. You’re going down the river and you heard there are some rapids, but you’re not sure what’s going to happen. Well, there’s an energy to that and a confidence that comes with going through it that you don’t get by sailing on smooth waters all the time. God help us if we make sure that people’s experience is being told and voices are being heard, however – especially when it’s really hard and toxic and I can’t continue to live this way. Then, that’s not fun. That’s hard. That’s what courage and leadership and being a strong human being looks like right now.

We do need to listen to people who are from majorities and push and prod and support and love us into the process. The only way we can do that is to make sure that everybody’s voice is getting to be heard the way it needs to be heard. This is tricky territory, right? Some people will feel like, oh, great, now diversity and inclusion is all about the white guys, wow, really?

JENNIFER BROWN: I know, rolling eyes.


JENNIFER BROWN: Cue the skepticism.

CHUCK SHELTON: Obviously, it can’t be that. But to the degree we hear white male middle managers saying in surveys, in focus groups, at breaks at workshops and presentations, “I don’t think I’m going to stay with the company much longer because it doesn’t look to me like, as a white guy, this is a place for me.” This is not what the organization believes. The organization knows it cannot survive if these white guys start doing that. And you can say, “Quit whining, the whole world’s already set for you.” It’s not like if you deconstruct that it’s not true.

But that doesn’t really matter. If that’s your perception that inclusion does not include you, then we’re failing in our strategic work, in our coms work, and we all have work to do to sort that out.

JENNIFER BROWN: You said, “Love us into the process.” The energy of that is so benefit of the doubt, seeing the heart of every one of us, and extending a hand. That’s what we need to do. We’re overdue for that. And a little kick in the butt sometimes, but you know what? If it’s not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.

CHUCK SHELTON: Sometimes, love looks like – I’ve had it come this way towards me, so when you said that, this is how it made me feel.


CHUCK SHELTON: Don’t ever say that again.


CHUCK SHELTON: And if somebody who loves me tells me that, or at least I know that they care for me and they want the best for me, then man, hard to hear, embarrassing, I can feel the deflections and the defensiveness in me, and where else am I going to get that kind of gift? Where else am I going to get an intervention that tells me that officially, “Stop it, man.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Stop it, you’re being ridiculous.

CHUCK SHELTON: Stop it. I like dogs, it’s like a choke chain. It’s like, “Don’t do that again.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Don’t do that.

CHUCK SHELTON: It’s like, okay.

JENNIFER BROWN: Okay, okay. What should I do instead?

CHUCK SHELTON: Yeah. Sometimes not doing stuff is absolute progress. Quit doing that horrible stuff. And when we bring that analysis to systems and we see – we say, well, we’re going to bonus – we’re going to set a requirement that diverse slates and diverse panels, every slate and panel has to be diverse and we’re going to bonus it if you prove that you did it.

You can game it. You can put the same people of color, the same women in every candidate pool and they never go anywhere. They’re just representationally getting interviewed. This is not what we’re doing. There are times where not only personally do we get the feedback, but we look at our systems and go, “We just cannot keep doing that.”


CHUCK SHELTON: This is terrible. This is super counterproductive.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s incentivizing the wrong behavior. This is the dark side of, “What gets measured gets done.” I always tell people, really watch out for that. If you don’t have the foundation underlying the decision that enables that person to not only get the position, it’s a whole different question. Build it for the long term.


JENNIFER BROWN: In order to do that, you cannot be checking boxes. You’ve got to be thinking through. I’m not just satisfying a requirement, but I’m really, really preparing the person and the system for success in the long term, which is a really different lens. I think a lot of people would slow down if they realize the system will spit you out if it hasn’t been changed and you’ve done some cosmetic changes, it will literally reject that different behavior. But it does take all of us together to lock hands and say, “We’re all going to do different behaviors, and we’re going to ask the systems questions and not just the questions of our own behavior, and that will change it.”

CHUCK SHELTON: And that’s another “both and.” If we focus on behavior or awareness and we don’t apply it to systemic and cultural change, then a lot of people who have been paying and are paying a price for being different from the norm will see that a mile away. You’re not solving the ecosystem, you’re just trying to plot me down inside a place to say, “Now, you’re here, welcome. We feel good about ourselves because we’ve attracted a pool of employees, now become like the norm.”


CHUCK SHELTON: Typically early in the process when people say, “Well, how do you measure it?” It’s like this – I don’t think they are consciously deflecting, but it’s like if you can’t measure it, the way I’m used to measuring is done, it’s not really anything. It can’t last around here.

And so my response usually is, “So, let’s talk about what it is, first.”


CHUCK SHELTON: Then let’s talk about how to measure “it.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Let’s talk about what measure means.


JENNIFER BROWN: What is a measurement?

CHUCK SHELTON: Oh, my gosh.

JENNIFER BROWN: Let’s revisit that. What does success look like? Oh, my goodness, the business world has these ways of looking at things that sometimes overwhelms people like you and me because it feels like you’ve got to tackle so much of the DNA of how we like measure behavior and action and how we reward things and that short-term thinking and all these things that seem like they’re impediments to achieving what you and I are so passionate about achieving and so many of us are.

Chuck, we’re out of time. I could talk to you all day. Tell people where they can find out more about your work, any research that you’re working on or anything that you want to point people to?

CHUCK SHELTON: Yes. Well, as usual, our website is GreatheartConsulting.com, you can find out about our work.

I’d say in the context that we’ve been talking about, the Rise in Reciprocity workshop and the Reciprocal Mentoring Lab as a development program are really well suited to this conversation. It is about that two-way street that solves for the systemic problems like retaining and advancing more women into more senior roles and it does it in a way that includes everybody in the learning, and hopefully not just transforms behavior and leadership relationships, not just solves for the challenge to advance and keep people in certain roles.

Those two things really are core to the work. I know that the way both of us work and the things that we’ve grown to be committed to are aligned in that regard.

JENNIFER BROWN: Totally. Super aligned. Chuck, thank you so much. Chuck Shelton, everybody. Really excellent work. Thank you for everything you’re doing in the world which is making my life easier. Keep on blazing that trail on the front end.

CHUCK SHELTON: Well, we’re in it together. It’s a joy to be a colleague alongside you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK SHELTON: Thanks, Jennifer.


Great Heart Consulting