In this minisode, Jennifer discusses the upcoming Better Man Conference and a fireside chat that she will be moderating at the event. Discover Jennifer’s preparation process for moderating a panel with two executives from Intel as she explores their “Men As Allies” initiative. Jennifer reveals some of the common themes that she sees arise when it comes to DE&I initiatives and why we need a conference for men.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • What makes the Better Man Conference unique (2:00)
  • A “fireside chat” panel that Jennifer is moderating at the conference (5:00)
  • Jennifer’s preparation process for the panel and how she chooses her questions (6:00)
  • Some of Jennifer’s questions for Intel’s Chief Diversity Officer (10:45)
  • The most common challenges that arise in DE&I work (15:30)
  • The need to shift the narrative around men in leadership (18:00)
  • The importance of helping everyone in an audience feel seen and heard (22:30)
  • The pushback that can occur when developing a conference specifically for men (23:30)

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

DOUG FORESTA: Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta, and welcome back to another “minisode.” Of course, I’m here with Jennifer Brown. We’re going to be discussing the Better Man Conference, which is coming up, if you’re listening to this, around the time of late October. We’re going to talk about some of the things Jennifer is doing there, including leading a panel.

Jennifer, as always, thank you for letting me join you here on The Will to Change.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Doug. I’m in New York for less than 24 hours before I head out again.

DOUG FORESTA: Yes, a quick stop in the Big Apple. Let’s talk about where you’re headed. First of all, I know you’re going to be speaking and moderating a panel at the Better Man Conference. For those who are familiar with the Better Man Conference, can you explain whatever it is?

JENNIFER BROWN: Sure. It’s a relatively new conference. It’s very unique. I’ve never been in a room like this before. Last time I was there, there were about 300 folks, many of whom are men, some women as well, hailing from different cohorts from different companies. Given that the conference is in San Francisco this Friday, it’s all the local companies. A lot of tech is in the room, but fewer banks than you would see in the New York version of Better Man, which is happening November 6th. If anybody is listening to this who is local, please send us an e-mail at info@jenniferbrownconsulting.com. We would love to see you there.

I expect the one on Friday will be about 300. It’s funny to describe it this way, groups of men walking in who were probably tapped on the shoulder to attend. A discussion about masculinity, a discussion of the role of men as a potential allies, not just for women, but for inclusiveness in general.

Really, focusing on the role of men as agents of change and that whole journey. I would say that while people on the stage have been focusing on this topic – keynoters, academics, and really impressive, amazing people as the teachers in this community. In my experience, the attendees are at a variety of stages in their journey, many of whom are clustered in earlier parts of that journey, where a lot of people are stuck right now. I’m well meaning, I believe in equity, I don’t want to be part of a world, system, company, or practices that aren’t fair, but I don’t know what to do next. And I have that additional level of being a little hesitant or fearful to do something, for fear of getting it wrong. I would say there’s an openness, wariness, and cautiousness.

I’m thrilled that there’s a room full of people who have made an entire day available to talk just about this topic and their role. I’m a happy camper.

DOUG FORESTA: I’m not even going to ask you the question, I’m just going to say that if you’re listening and you’re asking yourself, “Why do we need a Better Man Conference?” just listen to what Jennifer just said about all the reasons.


DOUG FORESTA: I don’t even want to go into it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Aw! And you are a better man, Doug.

DOUG FORESTA: Thank you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Just watch Doug, actually; that’s what I do. You give me hope.

DOUG FORESTA: Thank you. I do want to talk about the fireside chat, is that what it’s called?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, I’m doing a fireside chat with two leaders. I’m giving a short keynote, and then I’m going to sit down with the Chief Diversity Officer and VP of HR at Intel Barbara Whye and one of her colleagues, Jonathan Luse, who has been involved in their pilot that they’ve been running – a men as allies initiative. I’m going to learn a lot more about, and I’m hoping you and I can have a subsequent conversation about what I’ve learned on that panel.

DOUG FORESTA: Absolutely, I will follow up.

JENNIFER BROWN: What we thought about doing was talking about my preparation process for that panel and some of the questions that I plan to ask and I’m really excited to ask. When you get to peer into a company, it’s so cool. It’s a real learning moment to do that in front of a lot of people. Companies do a lot of things in isolation within their four walls and you never get to see what’s going on. What you hope for is honest discussion about what worked, what didn’t work, how did you set it up? What were the key decisions made along the way? What things would you do differently? If you’re in a pilot, what would you do when you roll it out to lots of people?

We want to see how the sausage was made, if you will, and get the personal experiences of these leaders, in particular this male leader, and have him talk about the experience and transformation that occurred for him to set him up as a role model. Not that he’s done everything perfectly, and you’re only a role model when others call you one, but any leader who is invested in a process like this one at Intel is worthy of attention. They are someone who is asking tough questions, putting themselves in uncomfortable places, and going against the norm. Many men look at men like him and say, “Why would you do something like that?”

DOUG FORESTA: Yeah, why put yourself out there?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. What are you guys meeting about? Masculinity? What’s that about? We don’t know how to talk about maleness in the diversity context unless it’s #MeToo and where we go right now as a society, and that’s a hugely negative conversation. It needs to be because it’s truth, and of course we’ve had episodes about that. It is very important that we focus on that, but at the same time there is this other group of people that we want to keep in the inclusion conversation. We want them to be engaged. We don’t want it to be only about shame, inappropriate behavior, and breaking the law. There is a whole other area we’ve got to talk about and keep on the radar screen.

DOUG FORESTA: Let’s talk about some of those. I’m really curious about your preparation process and some of the questions that you plan to ask.

JENNIFER BROWN: For those of us who have listened to our previous minisode –

DOUG FORESTA: That’s right, there’s one about how you get ready. People should definitely check it out.

JENNIFER BROWN: Panel, moderating, yes. Can you tell us which episode that is? Sometimes you don’t know a whole lot about who your speakers are and what their story is. I thought about these two leaders, Barbara and Jonathan, and I asked, “What would be most helpful for the audience to hear about this story?” I should have been a journalist, it would have been a really fun alternate life.

How can I create a safe space, have them be vulnerable and honest, and not just tell me everything is great, perfect, and wonderful, but really level with us and create that transparency and vulnerability in the room. But I want to pull out the lessons, make it real for people. I imagine people in the audience work for companies that are household names. I’m hoping they wonder, “Why am I not spearheading something like this? Why am I not suggesting something like this or championing something like this with my head of diversity? Maybe I should.”

My goal, in a very short amount of time, is to move people from a total lack of understanding about what this looks like in a pilot at Intel to the point where they feel like they know enough pieces of what this looks like that they can investigate more and understand at a deeper level. That is my goal as I have time with these two leaders, and that informed the questions I drafted.

DOUG FORESTA: Beautiful. I love it. First of all, I want to say The Art of Paneling is the episode you mentioned, and I will put a link to that in the show notes for people.

Let’s talk about some of those questions that you plan to ask.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. I thought about different questions for each person based on their roles. Barbara Whye is the chief diversity officer at Intel, and she owns a program and the design of a program. She was the one who had to sell this, construct it, prepare, and socialize this concept, line up leaders, and get them on board to support it and participate.

My questions for her are to start at the 30,000-foot view. Tell me generally about Intel’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Where do you focus? You’re the chief diversity officer, where are you taking the organization? What is your vision for change?

And then I’m going to ask: How did you identify male leaders as a priority? Where did you start? How did you think about that as a logical next step? What was not happening that needed to happen? Where did you start? Was it conversations? Was it a strategy that you socialized? Did it take three months? Did it take three years? And where did she start in terms of identifying champions? How did she look into her organization and say, “Who should I call first about this? How do I line those people up?”

Typically, these are people with power and influence, so you’re working at the top of the house. Not always. Sometimes male allies and communities form amongst the manager level or even at the individual contributor grassroots level.

This is not that. I’m fairly certain that this was driven from the top. We will know more after I talk to them, but I am sure that the CEO was informed about this, and possibly even sponsored it. Possibly was the one who approached Barbara and said, “I want to do this.” Intel has a great CEO and has been noisy in the news about its own diversity and inclusion commitments. I would love to know the impetus. Who was the driver, and where did it go from there?

I’m going to ask her about strategizing men at the middle manager level. In what you built, did you look at senior men? Junior men? Men and women? What was the role of women in either a mentoring role or participants? Were women not allowed? And I want to know what kind of resistance she’s faced in building this and how she responded to that resistance. That’s always one of my favorite questions. How are people feeling about this these days?

Organizations are little petri dishes, right? They can grow either great or not-so-great things, as we’ve seen with places like Uber. But they can also be incredible laboratories. I want to get into how the organizational body reacted to this. Did it reject the organ or accept it and how did you deal with that?

I would imagine she might say, “We didn’t have to do a thing, because the CEO said this is important and everyone lined up,” which is very effective, but it’s effective because of pressure, right? One would hope they line up organically and people say, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve been waiting for this. I really want to learn about this, and now I’m being given a format in which to learn it. Somebody is doing all the work so I can show up and be a better leader.” Would I be the happiest person if that were the reason why? It’s probably a combination of a lot of these things, but we’ll see.

I then want her to talk us through the programmatic efforts so far. What have you done? A year or two from now, what do we see at Intel as this program is successful? How do you know you’ve been successful? Always a fabulous moderator question. What does success look like? Those are my questions for her.

DOUG FORESTA: Before we go into other questions, I want to say these are such juicy questions. Of course, we don’t have the answers yet.


DOUG FORESTA: We’ll definitely have to do a part two in order to debrief on this. I’m really curious. Do you have an idea in your head about how this will play out or do you take the answers as they come? I’m curious about that, too, in your own process.

JENNIFER BROWN: I’ve heard every possible answer by now after consulting for so long. Whatever she says, I’ll pivot and build on why it makes sense. There is no one answer to this stuff, that’s the thing. That is the crazy, wonderful thing about what I do. There is no formula. That’s why everybody’s so eager about every book that’s written on diversity, inclusion, and equity. The facts are the fats, but inclusion as the “how” is still being defined. It can look a million different ways because it’s so personal to each of us how we define that.

Organizationally, there are some key concepts that repeat. Like the question of who drives change, what’s the role of the CEO? Who started the conversation? Is there resistance? There’s always resistance to change.

DOUG FORESTA: You know someone will say, “Oh, God, we just all have to change, where do I sign on?”

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, woo-hoo! Bring it on! (Laughter.) You know that’s a great question. There is always resistance.

The important thing is if you’re the one asking the questions, close the loop on that and ask, “How did you deal with that? What was your answer?” We can always learn so much from that.

If you’re lucky enough to have a really vulnerable conversation going, people will tell you, “We wish we had done this better because what we did here generated resistance over there. If we had had this in line, then that would have happened.”

All of us want things to be as smooth as possible. We want to glide into change effortlessly and gracefully, but it’s rocky. And this particular topic gets everybody’s hackles up. It’s threatening.

I just interviewed Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility. We’re going to release that episode soon I think. Do you happen to know? Sometime in November?

DOUG FORESTA: Within the next couple of weeks. We’ll be releasing it within November, yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: November 2018. Yes. She and I both have been asked to remove the word “white” from our slides in the past by organizers of conferences. This whole conversation is triggering for some people who think they’re going to be attacked the second you talk about men and male leaders, right? Sadly, that might be what they’re habituated to. We haven’t created a counter-narrative to balance that – a positive conversation about leadership vis a vis diversity and inclusion. It’s very interesting. To me, it’s telling that everybody gets tense about these things. I wish it weren’t that way, but you’ve got to know what the past is when you’re coming into a conversation. You have to name it because it allows people to relax. If you beat the audience to the punch and name the obstacles, doubts, skepticisms and what Chuck Shelton would call deflections: That’s not my problem. I don’t have to do that. Somebody else is going to take care of that.

People look at Barbara, the chief diversity officer, and say, “Well, that’s her job.”

DOUG FORESTA: Why did they hire you? You’re supposed to take of all the diversity.

JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. That’s your job, that’s why you were hired. That’s not my favorite deflection: This is not my responsibility. Not my favorite.

I’m watching for that. I’m trying to let the audience speak through me a bit. People might be wondering this, they might be doubtful about that. Or they might say, “Why do men need a space to gather to talk?” It’s a fascinating question that comes up on both sides, by the way. That comes up from men who say, “What do you mean? Why would we want to get together as a community of men and talk about inclusion?” Or there are angry men who want a men’s group as a resistance to the women’s group.

We’re cautious with religious networking groups that propose a charter in the companies we work with. Multi-faith is awesome because it increases cultural understanding, and even single-faith groups can be very effective. They’re not very common and they can be effective, but their charter matters, their vision, their reason for being. It can’t be, “Well, the gay people get a group, so we get a group.” It can’t be, “We are going to exist as a counterpoint to another group’s rights and voice.” We don’t like to see that.

Not to go off on a tangent, but religion and faith are a fundamental part of so many employees’ lives. There’s something valuable there. By the way, there’s also better marketing that could be done if we understand all the different faiths within our customer communities. Who knows, maybe we target our marketing or recruit differently. Anyway, it feels like that. There are the men who might say, “Well, I want to exist in resistance to something else.”

There are also women and other diverse communities who don’t believe that men should be centered in anything right now. That sounds really harsh, but historically, what we need to understand is that there’s a very real history of having no voice and having the men suck up all the air in the room about everything and having all the toys.

DOUG FORESTA: It’s a feeling of, “Well, they’ve had their time; they’ve had plenty of time.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. You’ve had your time. They’ve been in charge and they’re still in charge, by the way. But “they” is such a dangerous word.

DOUG FORESTA: Yes, it is. Because everybody has a diversity story.

JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. Ah! So good! (Laughter.) That’s right. I look at an audience and I have to do my own bias work in my head to say, “There is a story in every single individual staring back at me. My job is to not alienate or shame them, but help them feel seen and heard, invite them to the conversation, welcome them, and give them some steps.” That’s what I see as my sacred responsibility.

It will be my goal to hold that connection between the audience and my panelists to make sure that the pieces of understanding are being exchanged. I’m the conduit through which it goes back and forth.

To deny that there are some people who don’t believe this conference should be a priority is something we have to keep in mind. That’s part of the resistance, by the way. I said “resistance” by other men at Intel, and I’m going to ask the question. But I’m also going to say, “How did you position this initiative vis a vis your other diversity efforts? Did anybody feel like they would have to sacrifice their resources to enable this program? Were they angry about that? Was there a scarcity mentality you had to deal with? Do I have less because they’re being given something after they’ve already been given so much?” I would imagine there was an undercurrent of that, even if it wasn’t spoken.

DOUG FORESTA: This is so great. We’re bumping up on time here, but I wanted to make clear that you’re going to be asking questions to Barbara and to Jonathan. Are there any questions that you want to share specifically that are meant for Jonathan?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. For Jonathan, he’s in the group and probably had a leadership role in facilitating, sponsoring, and participating. I’m sure he had his own journey and transformation through the process. That’s what I really want to know. What did he learn about himself? What did he think going in? Where did he think the men in the organization were, and what has he learned not only about himself, but where the conversation is generally? What does he think the work looks like at this point? How will he continue to be involved and how will they get more interest in the program? How is he going to use his voice as a general manager in a senior position at Intel to be an advocate? What resistance does he expect? Has it gotten personal? Has he gotten an outpouring of gratitude?

The other question I have is: How public have they been about this? That’s the other interesting thing. Many companies hide these things away. They want to make sure the pilot is completed, that they learned, they adjusted, it’s not ready for prime time. I understand that. That’s a very wise move, of course, on anything. We want to test it off the radar before going big and bold and shout it from the rooftops. Otherwise, we open ourselves up to criticism and resistance but also excitement, too. The longer you keep something under wraps, the more time goes by that you’ve missed an opportunity to answer a very present need.

I want to know all of that from him as a personal learner, a champion, and as somebody who walks around as a white male. It’s assumed you have a whole lot of privilege, true or not, and I want to know what additional language he’s gotten with which to speak about who he is as a leader, and perhaps challenging who people think he is.

DOUG FORESTA: Oh, man, such juicy questions!


DOUG FORESTA: As you’re saying it, I’m thinking, “I want to hear the answers.”


DOUG FORESTA: We will hear the answers. We’ll hear about your experience in a debrief. I’m really looking forward to that. You definitely could be a journalist as well, you ask such great questions. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

JENNIFER BROWN: You are so welcome, Doug.

DOUG FORESTA:  Thank you so much, Jennifer.  I look forward to the debrief episode, and thanks again, as always.

JENNIFER BROWN:  Thank you, Doug.


Better Man Conference