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This episode was originally recorded and released for the Reboot Podcast with Jerry Colonna.

In this release, Jerry Colonna sits down with leading diversity and inclusion expert Jennifer Brown to explore her latest book, ​”How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive.”​ In this conversation, recorded at the beginning of 2020, Jennifer reveals why inclusive leadership is not only risky, but often uncomfortable, and why discomfort is necessary for individual and organizational growth. Jerry and Jennifer analyze why true inclusivity requires removing the barriers to belonging in the workplace and share that when those with whom we work feel a true sense of belonging, trust and productivity increase within an organization. They examine the power of pronouns, make the distinction between allyship and advocacy, confront the ways in which our biases direct us, and describe why leadership without inclusivity is not true leadership.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Why inclusion is crucial for businesses (7:00)
  • The role of risk taking in leadership (15:00)
  • Why we need to move outside of our comfort zone (18:30)
  • Why talking about change isn’t enough (25:00)
  • Why we need to address mental health in the workplace (28:00)
  • Important questions that leaders need to ask themselves (34:00)
  • The challenges that employees from marginalized groups experience (38:00)
  • The role of covering in organizations (41:00)
  • Why inclusive leaders embrace vulnerability and authenticity (46:00)

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



JERRY COLONNA: It’s so exciting to see you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, it’s so exciting to see and, and talk to you and collaborate with you today.

JERRY COLONNA: Yeah, yeah. Let’s, let’s, let’s make some good trouble together.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I like that.

JERRY COLONNA: Yes. Yes. So, um, uh, before we begin, uh, why don’t we take a moment and if you could just introduce yourself however you’d like to do that.

JENNIFER BROWN: Sure. Uh, I have been a diversity and inclusion advocate and consultant and now expert. I think I can call myself after wri- wri- having written a couple books, uh, for about a decade and I came into this work from the training and development and learning and development field, so I have a masters in OD. Uh, and I never knew I would pivot into DNI per se, I was more of a trainer and I loved training, soft skills in particular.

Um, but I realized first of all, identify as LGBTQ, and so I’ve been out for 25years, long time. And I think the, the work of learning and development and training, um, I think led me to realizing that I wasn’t bringing my full self in to the classroom, for example, as the teacher, as the facilitator. And so I was leaving myself out of the frame and that was too much cognitive dissonance for me at some point. Um, and that wasn’t the job I was there to do, but I think what clicked for me was, wait a second, this is, this is actually something that I could teach from.

This is something that would, uh, give me a voice in a certain field of expertise if I wanted to focus and specialize in it. So I would subsequently, uh, pivot my learning and development company, my Jennifer Brown Consulting towards diversity and inclusion pretty exclusively now. And we were very well known. Um, the books have really cemented our thought leadership, my name, um, and the demand for the messages that I’m talking about. And then the world, the, you know, the road has risen to meet this .

 I’ve been waiting in the wings a long time. Uh, but I do think, and I think you’ll probably agree that there’s a huge appetite for this now and it’s only growing. It’s finally sort of caught fire. And we are very, very grateful for that because I’ve been, I’ve just been ready for this. But that it was always a sensation of pushing the conversation, you know, really feeling like our services and guidance was more of a nice to have than a need to have with the big companies that we really want to serve and that were I think, very good at serving, right?

That’s the world we know. So, um, it’s, it’s never been better. Um, it’s an s- it’s an interactive di- discussion now with clients. Um, uh, not a sort of, what do we need to do, the check the box or meet our compliance or not get sued? It’s very much now, um, it’s, it’s still a little bit of how do we not get sued, let’s be honest. But it’s, uh…


JENNIFER BROWN: … but it’s really way more around being a, an inclusive culture, ’cause they know that it’s good for, in the war for talent, you know, you’ve got to recruit people. Once you recruit those people, you’ve got to retain them, which is a whole other, uh, focus area. And you need to do well and good by the markets that you’re trying to sell to and market to. You know, you need to do that respectfully. You need to do it knowledgeably. And that means that you’ve got to keep people, diverse people long enough at a company that they can be sitting around a table generating ideas and products and working all together. And that’s all about inclusion. So you know, it, it’s all kind of converging in a, in a way that I’m extremely grateful for.

JERRY COLONNA: Well, and, and I’m grateful for that full introduction. Your new book is How to be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive. And you know, before we started recording, I did share that, you know, I got a galley and I got a note from a publicist and, and I actually pulled this one out, and I read this in one sitting on an airplane ride, start to finish. And, uh, we don’t record video, but I already showed, uh, Jennifer that my copy’s all marked up. And what really caught me was the notion of creating a, a culture of belonging. Um, because, um, you know, as we were talking, uh, before, so much of what we try to do at the company and so much of what my life is really organized around is this notion of, of really exploring the things that stop us from being better humans, because I believe that better humans make better leaders.

And when I said that to you, you smile because I think we’re in, we’re in agreement that working with our unconscious biases, working with the ways in which we had met, we may have been socialized racially, working with a part of ourselves that we don’t really want to look at…

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

JERRY COLONNA: … um, is an important component of actually leading well.


JERRY COLONNA: And you know, I would argue, right, and I have, um, I’m, I’m kind of a posterchild in some ways for this notion of authentically showing up and being vulnerable. And, um, I think that, um, the, this book is one of the best books I’ve ever read on how to actually be more than, forgive my words ’cause these are words coming from my daughter, more than just an ally. But a co-conspirator.

JENNIFER BROWN: …an accomplice. That’s the other word.

JERRY COLONNA: An accomplice. Right. My, my, my daughter, uh, I remember once giving a talk at a women’s leadership summit and I said something to, to Emma, who’s 27, and I said, you know, “Hey, you’d be proud of your dad,” you know, and she goes, “You know, dad, uh, it’s great that you’re an ally, but what are you doing to overturn white supremacy and patriarchy?”

JENNIFER BROWN: You gotta love that generation. Talks about this in a whole different way than even my generation did. Certainly baby boomers, I’m a Gen Xer, but it’s…


JENNIFER BROWN: … the language has changed so much and I, I love it. And yet when you work with, uh, all generations in terms of influencing change you need to make sure as we say in consulting, meet the client where they’re at. And this discussion of white supremacy can totally bring progress to a standstill if the audience isn’t ready for that conversation.

JERRY COLONNA: I, I, I, I hear you, I hear you. And I bring it up only, only to acknowledge that I identify with, with the pronouns he, him, his…


JERRY COLONNA: … that I am white and I am male. I am cis-gendered and I have power that I don’t even recognize just simply by walking down the street in the meat bag that I happened to have been born in. And I feel, um, um, a moral and ethical responsibility to name that. Um, and so I hear, I hear that and um, uh, I love being challenged because that’s how I grow.

JENNIFER BROWN: But you’re like the rare person. We do not like being uncomfortable and particularly about this topic, you know, because it’s so personal and it’s…


JENNIFER BROWN: … it’s been, I think feedback has been delivered in a bit of, sometimes in a bit of a, uh, adversarial way. Uh, because there’s so much emotion behind it that’s so real for so many of us. You know, there’s righteous and right anger, I would say, and frustration with the pace of change and, um, that I tell my, my audiences, if, if you’re not uncomfortable every day, you’re not leading. And so why would that be…

JERRY COLONNA: Oh, I love that.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Why would that be… why would that be true in all these other realms of your leadership? Right? So I’m uncomfortable ’cause I’m launching a new product or I’m hiring a whole new team or I just… we’re going through org changes. All of that is really uncomfortable, and we somehow, we learn how to navigate it and we, we view it as sort of the ability to do that as a skillset. But we expect diversity and inclusion to somehow sort of magically, you know, magically come down from above and land in our lap.


JENNIFER BROWN: Um, but it’s uncomfortable too. And I just, I, I, I’m, it confuses me because I’m like, well, anything, things that are worth are often work, you know, their work, they require discipline, they require changing your habits, they require trying new things, they require making mistakes, they require apologizing.

You know, and that’s kind of the, the journey we have to go on with this work is, is um, stretching ourselves and our competency and also relying on others and not getting it right. And th- and particularly this topic because it’s changing constantly, the language is changing constantly. How do people want to be referred to? Um, we, I’ll just give you an example, a tiny nuance. You’ve shared your pronouns as a cisgender man.

I’m a cisgender woman. Uh, cis is C-I-S which means same in Latin. It means that there’s a congruence and a matching between the gender of the body I was born in and my sense of my gender, so I’m cisgender. Um, I guess the opposite of that, although I hate to think in binaries, is transgender right? So trans, cis, and then we have gender non binary, gender fluid. And there’s a continuum between these two. Uh, but we should, we just shifted from saying preferred pronoun to pronoun. And it is like a total subtlety. And this is total inside inside baseball.

But it’s maybe helpful for people who are listening who say, “What is this whole pronoun thing? Like why is everybody talking about they, them, theirs and…


JENNIFER BROWN: … and it sounds grammatically incorrect vaguely. So I don’t, I’m not really comfortable…

JERRY COLONNA: Right, right, right. Which really stumbles every time I speak my mind.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know. You know, and I’m like, “Are you really making your grammatical comfort more important than somebody wants to…

JERRY COLONNA: in a sense of belonging. Right, right.



JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, well, yeah, we have to admit that and then, and then move past it. But so preferred pronoun versus pronoun, it’s not preferred, it’s actually your pronoun.


JENNIFER BROWN: It is actually the gender for a trans person or for anybody who’s gender nonconforming who may identify with a different pronoun than other people assume they do. Uh, it’s, it’s a truth. It’s not just preferred. You know, it’s not a choice, it’s, it’s a reality. It’s a fact. So even that nuance is something that people, even within my community and within the DNI world where we’re, we’ve specialized in this, we, I may slip up and say, “Well, what is your preferred pronoun?” And I try to then just say, “What is your pronoun? Like? How would you like to be addressed? With what pronoun would you like to be addressed?” And so anyway, it’s just, it’s even, I just want to make a point that this all can be very overwhelming and it can paralyze us as learners and as leaders, uh, because there’s such a fear of making a mistake with, with things that are so sacred to people.


JENNIFER BROWN: Um, and then also that are so, that are just, have so many feelings behind them. And I, I do think that it’s a, it’s risky. It is risky, but I think in a very beautiful way. In a, in a way that leadership requires risks, you know, that’s how we grow. And that’s how organizations grow. And that’s how organizations grow together is by collective risk-taking. It’s by joining hands and saying, “As a senior leadership team,” for example, “We’re all going to leap. We’re all going to talk about our diversity stories. We’re all going to share our pronouns in our next, you know, all hands.”

JERRY COLONNA: Right, right.

JENNIFER BROWN: We’re all gonna do this and we’re gonna bring ourselves up to speed. And there’s really safety and numbers with this stuff. Like that’s why the, the lone accomplice, a senior leader who, you know, is the one that I’m buddies with because they’re like, “Oh gosh, I wish they would just get it.” You know, I’m…

JERRY COLONNA: Right, right.

JENNIFER BROWN: … I have, I have a trans kid and I’m like, I’m there, you know, and I, I just feel like we’re sort of, the rest of us are lagging behind. Um, we’ve got to do it together and we have to, we have to reach back and bring each other forward to like, we’ve got to, it’s not enough to just be running ahead and to get it, I think the responsibility of leadership as well as to look at the org as a system and say, “Overall, does this culture feel and isn’t experienced by people as a place of belonging?” And if you can’t answer that or you don’t know what I mean by that, um, I think it’s all new language in a way. It’s a new way of thinking about like, am I a good leader or not?


JENNIFER BROWN: It’s very new definition. And so we are all charting this path together.

JERRY COLONNA: One of the things that I often, um, suggest to clients and guests and, and the folks with whom I work is that part of our experience of, of being a leader is to lean into the sharp edges of the places where we might feel guilt and shame, where we feel inadequate, where we feel incompetent and to allow the experience of that means to allow the fullness of our humanity to come forward. Which then contributes to the fullness of belonging, the fullness of the humanity for everyone around us.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

JERRY COLONNA: And you know, one of the organizing questions I will ask is if your child came to work for your company, how would you feel? And however your child identifies, would you want them to feel that they belong? And I have yet to run into somebody who says, “No.”


JERRY COLONNA: That’s not what I want.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s true. That one works. That one works a lot. I use that.

JERRY COLONNA: Well, by any means necessary.

JENNIFER BROWN: I, you know, I pull out the kids all the time. I’m like, “Okay, so clearly, this isn’t working, this isn’t working. Maybe this argument will work.” I mean…

JERRY COLONNA: But we have to also acknowledge that, that, that not everyone, uh, uh, e- e-experiences, um, uh, children in the same way. But the point is to really speak to those whom we love and to think about their hearts.


JERRY COLONNA: And then to lead from a place of that open-heartedness and the danger and the risk there is that I will feel pain. I will feel your suffering. That’s the risk.

JENNIFER BROWN: Very true. Very true.

JERRY COLONNA: But that to me is that, you know, I identify as Buddhist right? And the basis of Buddhism is compassion, to be with someone suffering.

JENNIFER BROWN: Hmm. You know, um, it reminds me of watching When They See Us as a white person.


JENNIFER BROWN: It is an uncomfortable watch, and it’s a m- it’s a must. I mean it for your, particularly for everybody, but particularly when you are not in danger of those things happening to you, has happened to those kids. You have to bear witness and you have to be uncomfortable for, I always say for a moment, the living in empathy with someone for a moment even, imagining that that reality is a day to day reality for someone and it may be a momentary discomfort for you and it may be a daily discomfort for others around you. And the workplace is the same. I mean, when you’re a woman on a tech team


JENNIFER BROWN: … that’s all men and you have to, you know, just overhear and listen and be sort of part of microaggressions every single day, um, you know, you put up with it. Um, but it’s, it’s very, it’s, it wears on you. It wears on anybody of difference. Um, and so the empathy that some of us have, need to have from a place of comfort or safety, not being doubted, not being stopped or mistrusted, um, being given the floor, um, being assumed to have authority and knowledge and expertise, all the passes that some of us get because of just, you said that the, say the meat , what did you say?

JERRY COLONNA: The meat bag.

JENNIFER BROWN: The meat bag, the meat bag of…

JERRY COLONNA: The meat bag of me.

JENNIFER BROWN: But are, but we can transcend…

JERRY COLONNA: That’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: … we can transcend all these things. We have those choices. And our own biases, you and I were chatting before this recording started that our biases direct us, um, all the time. And uh, those are, those are things that need to be examined. But in order to examine them, we’ve got to heighten our awareness to them in ourselves and others. And sometimes people are really even stuck there. They don’t see themselves in action. They can’t pull away, they don’t have anyone that trusts them enough or feels comfortable enough to tell them when

JERRY COLONNA: That’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: … they’re saying something that’s making people, um, not feel comfortable. So, so this is not sort of a solo sport. I think it’s very difficult to do it alone. I think you’ve gotta, you’ve got to enlist people and hopefully people will step up because you’re a beloved leader in colleague and I h- and that is my hope and I’m sure your audience is full of people like that. Uh…


JENNIFER BROWN: Or not, and they’re trying to, trying to try to get there.


JENNIFER BROWN: Uh, but to surround ourselves with truth tellers and folks who will


JENNIFER BROWN: … um, who love us enough to say, “Hey, when you say that, I’m not sure you understand how it comes across. And I know, and I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt because you know, I know your heart, you’re well-intended.” But what we, a lot of us have to learn is where we can be well-intended and be the most biased person ever. And, and many of us are. I would say most of us are, if you haven’t gone on this journey and you know this if you haven’t truly taken your behavior apart and notice who do you who do you give the most eye contact to in meetings?


JENNIFER BROWN: Uh, do you interrupt, um, you know, a woman’s idea being taken by a man in the meeting. And how do you do that? Do you, or how public are you? How brave are you in terms of interrupting things when you see them or are you still very quiet about it? Like we’re all, we’re all along this journey and we’re constantly making choices to say, “Am I, am I ready for this next level of boldness and sort of challenging the system?”

And that’s something I think some of us are born loving to challenge the system, but I think most of us are kind of finding those training wheels and trying to kind of get our legs under us so that we, we know when we challenge the system, we can withstand the, um, the isolation. And honestly, sometimes the, the criticism that comes back to us from the in-group and, and when I do men’s work, one of the most dangerous things you can do is break the man box.

When you break the box of male behavior, norms and you say, “You know, that’s not cool. I’m really not comfortable listening to jokes like that or how you referred to our female colleague or…


JENNIFER BROWN: … or the fact that we go to this bar and here’s what’s happening at that bar.” Um, you, that ostracization like really can kick in. And I think, I think that’s something you build up to from a, from a strength of character perspective and, and you know, when you’re ready. But I, I would never throw everybody that’s anywhere along this journey into the deep end on some of this. Um, it’s, it’s a, it’s a journey where you find your language, you develop your muscles, you train your muscles, uh, your times get, your running times get faster, right? As you get in shape, as you, you know you find, you find new reserves of strength.

You know what sort of community you need behind you to sort of be there for you when you fall, when you falter, when you feel weaker, they buoy you up, they encourage you, they say, “You can do this, and you know, I’m thankful to you for doing this.” And, and, and that person then keeps going. And one of my friends said to me once, “I never knew what ally even was until somebody said to me, thank you for being an ally.” And I said, “Well, what is that?”


JENNIFER BROWN: And um, and the person explained, she happens to be an incredible straight ally and this was a LGBT person just being so grateful to her. And she said, I, she said, “I can do more of that. Thank you for telling me.” And I just loved it. And now she’s just really out about her journey, out as an ally because allies have their own coming out process. You know, that’s the risk when we are honest about the fact that we stand up for stand up alongside, um, stigmatized communities, we by proxy sort of take on some of that stigma.

And so, you know, there is, there is an association, um, happening there that comes with its own perhaps repercussion for some of us. Like, why are you standing up for that? Or why do you have such a problem with that? Or you’re not part of that community, are you? Why do you care? And so

JERRY COLONNA: Right, right. Well, that, that’s the language that can keep a boy in the man box.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s right. Yep. So…

JERRY COLONNA: I, I, I will tell you that the times in my life where I have bumped up against the edges of the man box… had been hard


JERRY COLONNA: … and worth it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Aww, I’m so glad to hear you say that.

JERRY COLONNA: And um, my aspiration is to create, um, is to bust the, the, the walls, the man box and I will fail in that full aspiration but I will not stop trying.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. That’s beautiful. That’s the definition of courage to me and character, what you just described. It’s failing forward. It’s growth mindset. It’s openness to feedback, it’s willingness to change. It’s eagerness to change. I wouldn’t even say willingness, it’s literally, I know change is necessary. So how, the question to me is like, how can I best change? How can I most quickly change? How can I, how can I, um, how can I embody change and start to lead from that place organically?

It’s, sometimes I hear leaders talk the talk and I wonder how deep this is in them yet? Right? Is, is it a path they’re walking? Is it, so if I pushed him, would they bounce back? Would they be like a weeble wobble or would they like bought them out? Right?


JENNIFER BROWN: And to me, that’s that resilience that give, that flex, that, um, that beautiful humility to all the teaching and all the teachers in our journey. Um, and I, I would love to see more leaders. I think the problem is there’s so much ego with leadership. There’s so, there’s such a reticence, particularly for public or high level leaders that are always, you know, being watched and scrutinized, that it’s, it’s, it is true that making a stumble, or not having the right answer, not saying maybe anything, like maybe it’s remaining silent on something that really matters to others around you. Like, say there’s some horrible news that happened over the weekend for a certain community and you come into work Monday and you don’t say anything because you don’t know what to say. Or maybe the lawyers are like, “Don’t say, you know, no.”

JERRY COLONNA: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: You know, if we say something about this, then we have to say something about that. And it’s a slippery slope. And there’s going to be all kinds of, um, all kinds of fear around you. And I think to be the eye of the hurricane  of that fear and have this tremendous as you know, as a Buddhist, like the stillness, the certainty the lack of knowing and the comfort with not knowing and the, and the seeking of being taught, and then the, um, try again and again, and learning through the trying. Um, and then role modeling ’cause by the way, the more you do this, others are watching you iterate. Others are watching you triumph, stumble. Um, get it partially right. Uh, say what you don’t know. I mean sometimes I’ll admit on stage, I like to be very vulnerable on stage.

JERRY COLONNA: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: You know, and say, “I, I didn’t do this perfectly and, and I do this for a living.” ‘Cause I think that permission for the audience to say like, “I… this is, it’s really okay and I’m on whatever timeline is comfortable.” Well, a little bit uncomfortable hopefully for me. Um, but there is no like right answer for how this journey looks. And um, I know mine’s been unique to me and I’m sure yours has as well and there’s life always has surprises around the next corner. So when people say to me, “Well, I think we do great with women why do I need to know pronouns?”

And then I say like, “There is so much diversity just in your colleagues that people probably aren’t sharing with you because they, you don’t know how to ask and open the door. They don’t feel comfortable bringing their full selves and don’t think that’s going to be honored. “Um, and imagine the, the imagine the trust and the openness and the productivity we’d have if we all were walking around with that. If we all engendered that sense of belonging that we were curious about, what was, what was impairing that or blocking that or, um, getting in the way, if we all said it, “Hey, if I’m an accomplice, um, how can I remove obstacles to, to belonging?”


JENNIFER BROWN: Um, and maybe it’s, maybe it’s unheralded, maybe nobody sees me do it, maybe nobody knows about it. Maybe we need the private leadership and we need the public leadership.



JERRY COLONNA: Well, I, I, uh, I think that that the thing about, um, the work that we’ve done at Reboot, thing that I do feel proud of is, um, we have leaned heavily into the marginalization that might occur around mental health.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s is such an emerging issue.

JERRY COLONNA: We have… And, and, and we have talked about, and it began with me being quite open about my own struggles with depression and suicidal ideation. And, and what I experience is that, uh, when someone who has, who carries a certain amount of power by projection, right? People look at me and say, “He, if he struggles right, then all of a sudden it, it actually creates an opening.” And there’s a famous article that was written about me two or three years ago from wired magazine, it said, “This man makes founders cry.”


JERRY COLONNA: And, um, and I always joke about that because really what I’m trying to do is make the workplace safe for feelings. And sometimes when you start to make the workplace safe for feelings, a feel a predominant feeling that may arise is sadness because there’s been so much suffering. And an area that I know I still need to grow it is to widen the net of that, uh, uh, experience to identity, to be, to include, um, the fullness of people. Now, what you just said about, wouldn’t it be great if we created a workplace where the full person was allowed to show. Well, we’ve been talking about that for years.


JERRY COLONNA: And I don’t give us passing grades for talking about that in relation to identity.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, you’re right. It’s been a, and I was in the leadership space before diversity, so I know many leadership gurus still don’t talk about identity as a, as a factor.


JENNIFER BROWN: And I feel like it’s all I see everywhere because obviously that’s the lens I see everything through and it’s not the whole story but it’s been a huge missing piece for coaches and, and leadership development experts. I mean when I, when I think about coaching, just to take an example, I just spoke in a coach conference, the IOC and um, it’s a partnership with Harvard and, and um, the way I connected the coaches experience, they are coaching more and more across difference. They’re coaching outside of their familiar terrain and yet they feel very unequipped to understand the experience of a woman of color.


JENNIFER BROWN: Say that they’re, you know, a white cisgender, uh, excuse me, coach. And so they’re feeling very ill-equipped. Um, ’cause the discipline hasn’t, hasn’t embedded this as a, as a rigor, with rigor into our teaching and our coaching and our, our certifications even. I mean, the required reading for anyone who is helping leaders grow is to understand that I can’t coach everyone the same way. I can’t support everybody the same way.


JENNIFER BROWN: Because they’re dealing with the headwinds or the tailwinds of identity. Whether their identity positions themselves in a more privileged place or more comfortable place gives them more ease on a day to day basis or whether it gets in their way every single moment of every day. Like, how could you not talk about that in the context of a helping relationship? Um so, so I know, I, it struck me and then when I started to Google diversity, uh, practices for coaches, I found very little.


JENNIFER BROWN: And now honestly it’s an idea for a next book for me…

JERRY COLONNA: It is. Hold on to that…



JENNIFER BROWN: Hold on to holding.

JERRY COLONNA: Because, because the, the, the, the, and I can, and I will acknowledge that some of this that, you know, there’s a privilege implicit in not having to confront this lack of training within the industry.


JERRY COLONNA: And, and, and, and so, you know, if I’m gonna live up to my aspirational values, I’m gonna have to even step it, as an individual, I have to step into that uncomfortable spot. And, and here’s a hint to all the folks listening, it’s not so uncomfortable. It’s a little scary when you’re on the outside. But when you get used to saying things like, “I don’t know, I’m not skilled. I haven’t had the experience. I have biases that have prevented me from really understanding this and I want to listen and I want to grow.” It doesn’t actually, nobody comes down and yells at you…


JERRY COLONNA: … and says what an awful person you are.

JENNIFER BROWN: They want to help. They really want to help. I mean, I know if somebody approached me that way, I would, there’s a little asterisk to what you just said, which I, tidbit, pro tip, I want to give your listeners, um, do as much of the work as you can yourself.

JERRY COLONNA: Right. Don’t put it on, don’t put the burden on the marginalized person.

JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. So we call that emotional labor. Um, and in my world, uh, many diverse people, meaning anybody who’s not in a majority group, I’d say, right? And companies, particularly in leadership is, is volunteering, for example, to run the diversity initiative or the women’s group or teach the organization how to market to people of color. And they’re doing this because it’s a passion and they’re solving their own problem.

JERRY COLONNA: Right, right.

JENNIFER BROWN: But, um, to lean then on those folks to educate us is a big burden, additional burden, and then they’re already sort of tapped out. So I think of it as the 8020 rule, like do 80% of your work and then use that less 20% to ask really targeted questions. Um, that, show me that you’ve applied yourself and done reading and consume media and listen to podcasts and like familiarize yourself with the language of all the different diverse communities so that you have a starting point.

JERRY COLONNA: Right. Yeah, I, I, and I would say, you know, uh, folks who listen to this show and folks who know me, um, know that a big, um, uh, mantra that I carry is what I refer to as radical self-inquiry. And it’s it, you know, put simply, it’s the means by which the, uh, the, the, the masks that we wear are compassionately and skillfully stripped away until you have no place left to hide. And I often advise that to look at the roots of the behaviors that you’re most likely want to change. And so a core operating question that defines this would be, how have I been complicit in creating the conditions I say, I don’t want?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh. Oh, that’s like the million dollar question right there.

JERRY COLONNA: Yeah and, and…

JENNIFER BROWN: I say I don’t want them, but I’m participating.

JERRY COLONNA: But, but I’ve been really benefiting from them.

JENNIFER BROWN: Uh-huh (affirmative).

JERRY COLONNA: And, and, and, you know the truth is as, as all of us every day, I am learning every day, And one of the things in reading your book that helped me understand was that th- my encouragement of myself and others to do, to use radical self-inquiry to grow as a leader is incomplete if they are not willing to look at the biases that they have been acculturated with and grown up with. The way they may have been racialized, the way they may have seen what, what, quote unquote, is normal what is a norm, even just language around that? And if you really want to experience some fullness of a fully actualized self as a leader, um, uh, this is yet another area that you must take a look at, especially if you want to create that kind of place where those who love feel like they belong.

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s so true. I mean, I, I think belonging is about, is about love in a way. Uh, loving yourself enough to show up at work and bring your full self and challenge the norms. I think that’s a love, a self-love, right? It’s a self-honoring that, um, a lot of us were cl- have been closeted about who we are. We’ve been sort of heavily assimilating or covering or downplaying our difference and that, um, chips away at our self-esteem and our, our satisfaction and our happiness and you know, our ability to really be brilliant in all the ways, because we’re managing our identity all the time.

And I think that’s very difficult to do and really reach your potential. It’s just difficult. I mean, if I’m closeted and I’m trying to show up on a team and I’m constantly managing the narrative and what people know and what they don’t know, what I’ve lied about and who knows what and like ,and, and who you love and your family is so, so critical and such a big part of all of our lives. And yet the people don’t realize that somehow in their behaviors or their lack of, um, attention or dialogue that they’re actually complicit in not challenging the, the, the closeted-ness of, of coworkers. So it’s sort of don’t, you know, don’t ask, don’t tell. Um, it’s why do we need to talk about this? Why do we need to make diversity such a big deal? Um, when we, when we push back on it in that way it’s heard on the other side as, well, I don’t, I guess I don’t matter.


JENNIFER BROWN: And, um, if I fight for myself, it’s going to be, um, generate negative consequences for me and there’s nobody around me that looks like me. And so I’m really alone and there’s, you know, that’s difficult. Uh, because then that becomes a very big risk. There’s no solidarity. There’s no people to sort of, you know, get with and shut the door and say, “Oh my goodness, I just have to vent.” You know, I heard this comment or you know, I got this performance review and they said that I’m aggressive or you know, it’s, it’s these things that a lot of us are on the lookout for, speaking of biases that these things are sad. Oh, it’s actually, I could, I write a lot of them in my book, they repeat over and over. Believe it or not, there is a real pattern to all of this.


JENNIFER BROWN: Like the things I hear from leaders who are not in a majority group, very similar. You’re too this, you’re too, you know, they’re being assertive and is viewed as aggressive. Um, they, you know, they aren’t team player or like it’s, it’s interesting the diversity lens-

JERRY COLONNA: They’re not culturally fit.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. You’re not a fit.

JERRY COLONNA: Right, right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Um, yeah, it’s really curious. And then sadly, sometimes people are told straight out that they’re a diversity hire or a diversity promote. I mean, I have friends still who are told that, you know, “Oh well, you know, so you’re a woman so you know, that’s in your favor here,” and I’m like, whatever. I mean, this stuff is said all the time in interviews and everything. So I, I think, um, these biases are real. Ask anyone. If they trust you, they will tell you what their day to day life is like and the kinds of things they hear. Um, and that’s, believe them when they tell you these things . ‘Cause I don’t think a lot of us make these things up to be difficult. Um, if they hurt, they hurt.

If they get in the way of me feeling good about my workplace, um, I would want to know that as a leader and as a friend. And you know, why don’t we love our colleagues in the same way as we might love our family members . I mean, I know that’s kind of a controversial thing to say, but it’s, it, work is 24/ 7. There’s no boundaries anymore. We, we say we want purpose-oriented people in our companies. We say we want to unleash their potential.


JENNIFER BROWN: We know that they perform better when they’re comfortable and they’re bringing their full self to work. And to me though, then how do we put a boundary around that and say, “Well, this is okay but this isn’t okay. And I don’t want to know this and we shouldn’t be talking about this.” And, um, you can’t have one without the other. You can’t have pieces of people and not whole people. Um, and, and we spend like how much of our lives in, at work?

So it’s, it’s just, in America, in particular, such an achievement oriented culture. I mean it’s, it’s, we’re so identified with it. So, um, for anybody who feels that need to parse out their identity and, and divide it and sort of, um, you know, constantly bifurcate themselves or maybe for, for those of us who are managing multiple intersectionalities, I’m not sure if you talk about that a lot on your podcast, but that word basically means the, the intersections of multiple stigmatized identities.

So intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, she talked about the experience of women of color, um, walking into room and having to deal with sort of double potential stereotypes that are going on. Uh, and then if there are further dimensions of diversity that they’re coping with, the who, about who they are, maybe it’s being LGBTQ, right? Maybe it is, um, struggling with mental health issues.


JENNIFER BROWN: In fact, I just met somebody who said, “I’m already a black woman. I can’t talk about being bipolar here.” Literally just said that to me last week.

JERRY COLONNA: Right. “I’m already a black woman.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I’m already a black woman. And, and then if you’re LGBT, you hide it. So if you can hide it, you will because you’re dealing with other stuff and that’s so overwhelming . So anyway, so you get the drift. Like that’s, that’s the definition of intersectionality. And I, and I would, and when I give keynotes, I put a twist on intersectionality for me and I take a little bit of a liberty. Maybe you’ll relate to this. I think you probably will, uh, Jerry, that it’s, um, it’s a twist. And so I’m not being true to the, the original definition. And I always define the original definition and I attribute it properly. This is very important.

 When you quote people, quote them by name, defi-, you know, do them justice. But my add is my intersectionality. I think because I’ve led such a privileged life and because of the skin I was born in, the, my gender expression, I don’t know if it’s more normative, who knows? I’m sort of a, a f- feminine expressing person. That’s how I’m most, most comfortable. Um, I can walk through the world and get away with a lot of things. Um, I can pass.

Uh, so my intersectionality is perhaps some marginalized identities and also some very privileged identities. And, and so what, that, that mix that makes me who I am, it comes with needs and opportunities to support it. So my needs are for ally-ship and accomplices because I need my straight allies. I need my male allies. I need, I need those every day. Like I, I appreciate them. I relish those relationships. I, they give me strength they push me beyond what I think is possible for myself. They advocate for me to have my back, et cetera, et cetera. Um, I need to turn around and do that from my other identities of privilege and be that ally and be that accomplice.

And so that is how I kind of define where I fit because I think many people are stuck with where do I fit? I don’t fit in this conversation. And, and to me that’s just a failure of how we’ve just, how we’ve described it, I think because everybody does fit. We all fit. We’re all intersectional. We all, you know, have things that are visible, mainly not visible, that are, that are sources of shame or challenge or things we don’t talk about. Um, things that, that we would never share as a leader. Um, but when I open the door and talk about this and say, well, we all, there’s many things that all of us aren’t bringing to work. I mean, when we talked about the man box earlier, I think the workplace is very harmful for lots of different kinds of men.


JENNIFER BROWN: But we don’t talk about that. And we don’t talk about the experience of men of color, um who simultaneously have to fit into this culture but are people of color and walk into the room as a person of color and you can’t take that off. Um, s- and we don’t, we don’t talk about queer men and we, you know, we, so even within each of these communities that we assume when we look at people that they have it easier, it’s not always true. Um, you know, I can walk into a room that looks a lot like me and I have, I have now trained myself. You talk about bias, I have trained myself to say there’s so much I don’t know about each one of these people.


JENNIFER BROWN: And you know, my job here is to ensure a space for that work to happen, that comfort to and that trust to be generated. And I’m gonna go first by the way, because I have a position of power in that particular moment. And I’m going to share first, right? So I, I don’t expect everybody else to do the work and I’m not going to. And so between all those things though, I can usually like really unleashed some, some amazing sort of humbling, uh, stuff that’s never been shared before. Uh, leaders saying, you know, I, I don’t understand what this piece of my childhood or this experience in my family has to do with my leadership.

And we can actually bring that around full circle. And they can say, you know, “I’ve never felt I really understood this diversity thing but I kind of feel like I’m starting to feel like I’m a part of it.” And that was honestly the biggest goal for the book was to say like, “How can we get more people to feel they’re a part of this journey and not kind of outside and therefore not having a role.” Because many of us are tired. You know, we’re, we’re, we’re really pushing a lot and we have been for a long time and that’s why I’m focusing on ally-ship and accomplishing so much these days. Because I think many hands will make light work. And I think if we can, if we can successfully enlist folks to do small things, it’s not like the big gesture.

It’s not always the, you know, the big risky move. It’s, you know, it’s not the declaration Vermont high, it’s not the press release, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s just warming up your engine and making it a part of your leadership hygiene. I’s, it’s how was I inclusive today? How do I know if I was inclusive? According to whom? Because I think I’m a great person. I think I’m totally inclusive and I get it and I’m a, maybe I’m a man feminist or maybe I have daughters or you know, whatever. Um, it doesn’t mean for all of us. I’m LGBT and there’s da- there’s moments I’m sure that I don’t get it right.


JENNIFER BROWN: So each of us I think has to look at ourselves and say like, am I growing in this discipline?


JENNIFER BROWN: And it’s such a wonderful journey. How could it ever be bad to learn more about what makes people tick and what their truest truth is? Like that’s beautiful stuff.

JERRY COLONNA: Yeah. Well, I, I want to tell you that I, I think you accomplish the goal that you set for yourself.


JERRY COLONNA: And I think that that’s really important. And I’m going to close with reading to you, um, a part of uh, really early part in the introduction. Um, a, a section that really struck, uh, struck me and then maybe we’ll start to wrap with on that thought. “Inclusive leaders bring more of themselves to the workplace than other leaders. Believing that through their own vulnerability and authenticity, they can create space in which others can do the same. They don’t just push others to be blindly authentic, but plan with them to stretch forward, to take calculated risks while never encouraging someone to push themselves out there before they’re ready or put themselves into career peril.

They always offer to be present alongside others to lend a voice. They seek as much feedback as they give, they are aware of and know how to utilize their privilege to raise issues, to challenge norms and behaviors and to root out and prioritize core issues that perpetuate exclusionary dynamics. They push themselves as much as they push others and they do all of this consistently.” I read that and I had a pause on an airplane. Because I can’t think of a more powerful definition, not of inclusivity, but of leadership. Because I no longer want to define leadership without inclusivity.


JERRY COLONNA: It doesn’t make any sense to me.

JENNIFER BROWN: No, it can’t. Not in the world where we live in and not, not with the incoming

JERRY COLONNA: Not in the world I want to create.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right, exactly. We don’t, we can’t create it just for some of us who happened to get someplace faster. Right?

JERRY COLONNA: That’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s, and, and not through, yeah, I get that, I worked hard, I worked hard too. You know, there’s, I have to go back and forth with people to say, “Well, I, I had difficulty in my life and, and I’m like, yeah, but there’s some systemic tailwinds that enabled a faster journey and that, that’s nobody’s fault. You know, we were all born in the places we were born, you know, and I, I have wondered, why was I born into the comfort that I was and, and now I know because of how I’m dedicating my life, right?

To, it makes sense because I was given this so that I could, I could do this work and be heard, perhaps seen by someone, understood. I could crack something open. I could, maybe I could lead the charge. Maybe I, I think of myself as a Trojan horse, you know, I could get up-to the castle walls and I could, I could talk somebody into opening the door. And then if I could get in there, I could bring everyone in eventually with me and they’re under me. They’re in me. I mean, they’re in, but like it’s the packaging and the messenger.

The messenger of this work is just as powerful as the message. And, um, and I feel that we, all of us, all of us have a role to play. So the quest should really be like, what is the exact, what is my best and highest use in exhibiting this and changing things around me and challenging people? Like we all, we all can do this. We have more power than we realize and we’re very underutilized. We’re underutilizing ourselves.

JERRY COLONNA: I’ll, I’ll, I’ll share with you and we’ll close with this. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll share with you something. My, my dear friend and teacher Konda Mason said to me in a podcast a couple of years ago, she said, “You don’t have to feel guilty, Jerry, but you have a responsibility.” And, um, I take that responsibility really seriously.

JENNIFER BROWN: And, and shame and guilt are non-starters I think for action and forward movement. So, you know, I’d say don’t retreat into that feeling for very long. Certainly feel it. Notice it.


JENNIFER BROWN: Notice it like a cloud going by. Say, “Okay, I’m feeling that, I’m feeling that, I’m feeling it,” but don’t, don’t wallow in it. You know, I, I think move not past it, but through it.


JENNIFER BROWN: You will probably never lose it. You may carry it along with you. I certainly do because it keeps your heart open in order to remember that shame and the guilt and the, and the discomfort, the regret and the, all the things we didn’t understand that we understand now. You know, we’ve been shown, we’ve been shown a different way. And to me the measure of a leader is you’ve been shown, so are you choosing to be on this journey? And that’s, I think you and I would probably very much agree is the measure of, you know, that, that um, that next level leader. Um, so I agree, inclusion is a must, must be embedded in this. Every time we talk about it, it needs to be a part of the DNA of the conversation. And, and, and it gets to be a part of it. Like it’s just such a discovery. It’s, um, I honestly feel, um, when we talk about this in the rooms I teach in there are, there are family connections being made in people’s minds. There are loved one connections. There’s, um, anytime you’re, leadership is present anytime you’re in community with yourself or another person.

JERRY COLONNA: That’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: And so any, any format or, or place in your life that you can apply this, you’ll find it has this sort of applicability that makes you so much a better parent, a better spouse, a better friend, a better partner, and a better leader. So, uh, there’s a lot in it for us to take this journey.

JERRY COLONNA: Well, thank you so much for this conversation as, as I thought would happen, I’ve learned a ton.


JERRY COLONNA: And again, I can’t recommend the book highly enough. Thank you for writing it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you so much for having me.



Reboot Podcast