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This episode was originally recorded for Women Taking the Lead podcast, and features a conversation between Jennifer Brown and host Jodi Flynn as Jennifer discusses self-awareness and some of the truths we need to face in order to become an inclusive leader. Discover the difference between performative and authentic allyship and how we can become a more authentic ally in the workplace.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Introducing Jodi Flynn, executive leadership coach and host of Women Taking The Lead Podcast (6:30)
  • Jennifer’s journey to DEI consulting (16:00)
  • Truths (and privileges) we need to face in becoming an inclusive leader (22:00)
  • Drawing on our identities as assets (27:00)
  • Moving past allyship (32:00)
  • Developing the muscles you need to do the work (38:00)
  • Bringing your whole self to work (44:00)
  • Preparing for a diverse workforce in all ways (48:00)

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

JENNIFER BROWN: I just have to say, we’ve been doing these since March of 2020, every single week, and they have kept me going on a personal level. The checking in with the community reminds me of the magnitude of the work, but also the brilliance, and the intelligence, and the creativity of this community of advocates. And I know for me, it’s been a touchstone in 2020. So please consider joining us. And now, on to today’s Will To Change.

And now I’m realizing, when my mom said, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and it’s clicking in for me to say, “It’s not something to be denied or pretend like it doesn’t exist, or feel embarrassed and ashamed.” What I would like to hear, is all of us say, “Here’s how I grew up. Here’s what I had access to. Here’s why I felt safer. Here’s what was afforded to me. Here’s how I walk through the world now with greater ease.” And I’ve noticed it, I’m owning that, and then I’m saying, “Okay. Now what?” And when I’ve learned and been shown everything of this summer and this year, when I’ve come to understand, and read, and talked about this, we actually have a role to play to chip in in a very concrete way. So the question becomes sort of then how do I use that access, that comfort, that permission that I have?

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

Hello, and welcome to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. And actually today, normally it would be me and Jennifer talking about, especially when we have an episode like this, where this episode was originally recorded on Women Taking The Lead Podcast with Jodi Flynn. But I’m really excited because I do not have Jennifer, but I do have Jodi Flynn with me today. So Jodi, thank you so much for coming out and doing this. I really appreciate it.

JODI FLYNN: Doug, I’m honored and flattered to be here, so thank you.

DOUG FORESTA: Thanks. So we want to make sure that our listeners know a little bit about your podcast and about you. Say a little bit first about yourself and what you do.

JODI FLYNN: Yes. I am an executive leadership coach. My business is Women Taking The Lead. And I specifically work with ambitious women who work within organizations who are looking to develop themselves into senior leadership positions. And they’re typically kind of an in-between stage. They may be recovering from their last promotion or preparing for the next one.

DOUG FORESTA: Thank you so much. And then the podcast, I want to let people know, again, it’s called Women Taking The Lead. Jennifer was just recently on the podcast and that’ll be the interview that you’re going to listen to. You can go to, I assume pretty much anywhere podcasts can be found, right?

JODI FLYNN: Yes. It’s everywhere.

DOUG FORESTA: And then also go to womentakingthelead.com/podcast, womentakingthelead.com/podcast. We’ll put that in the show notes as well. You’ve been doing your podcast, Jodi, for about five years, right?

JODI FLYNN: Yep. I launched in March of 2015.

DOUG FORESTA: That’s awesome. So, what made … So congratulations, because I have to say a few people stick with it that long. It really takes a lot of dedication to do this. What made you decide to start a podcast?

JODI FLYNN: Well, a couple of different reasons. I have been getting feedback from different people in my network and my community who said, “You have a great voice, you should be doing something vocally to market your business.” I was interviewing on some radio shows and podcasts. Although they had been around, within my community, they started to become a really hot topic. And so I was like, “Okay. I want to start a podcast, but what do I want to talk about?” And what had been happening within my world, for the couple two, three years before I launched, was I was doing workshops, especially for people leaders who were either about to be promoted to a supervisory or management role for the first time, or they had been in the position for under a year.

And the first day, first thing we would do is go around the room and do introductions. And one of the questions that they had to answer in their introduction was, why am I here? What brought me to this workshop? And I found that the men were like, “Oh, because I’m going to be the president of the company someday.” And what I kept seeing for the women was they were like, “Oh, I don’t know why I’m here, or my boss told me to be here.” There was no ownership that they were leaders.

And luckily, these were workshop series. So I worked with them over five or six months. They were full-day workshops that would happen about every three weeks. And by the third or fourth workshop, the women would start to say, “I get it now. I’m a leader. Of course, I’m being picked to be a supervisor, of course I’m in this workshop,” but it was so painful to watch initially, and I was like, “Why are women plagued? Why am I seeing more women being plagued with self-doubt? Men seem to be, at least on the surface, so confident, and women are not. What is going on?”

And so part of what I wanted to do for the podcast was have other women share their stories of overcoming self-doubt, because I found that in the sharing of stories, we could see ourselves in other people. And when another woman told her story of a time in her life when she did doubt herself and what she did to overcome it, more women could see themselves in that woman and overcome their own self-doubt. I got really passionate about that. I’m like, “That’s what I want my podcast to be about.”

DOUG FORESTA: I love it. And again, I mentioned that Jennifer was, obviously the episode that our listeners are about to listen to, is the personal journey to be inclusive. And before we started recording, I was asking you, I wasn’t sure if Jennifer had reached out to you or you reached out to her, but it sounds like it was a little bit of both, but yeah, say a little bit about how that came to be and why did you want to have Jennifer on the podcast?

JODI FLYNN: Yeah. So someone in my network who I have a lot of respect for had reached out to me a few years ago, asking if I would like to have Jennifer on as a guest. And at the time I was pivoting, I was making some changes with my podcast, I wasn’t sure what direction I was going to go in. So I expressed to them like, “Maybe someday I’ll hold on to your email.” And I did have a lot of respect for this person. So I did hold on to their email and life just got busy. The email got buried, and then we’re in 2020. So the pandemic hit and conferences were canceled, networking events were canceled, and I found myself with a little extra time.

 And so I was like, “Okay. I’m going to clean out my inbox. I’m going to get to inbox zero,” and I came across this email once again. And it was over the summer and the events in the spring and summer of 2020 with the murder of George Floyd, and the reawakening, I think, for a lot of people that there is a lot of racial injustice out there, there is a lot of divisiveness going on, and that we all just need to be a little more aware, and I know through my own work, and Jennifer and I talk a bit about it on the podcast with The Maine Women’s Conference, we have an initiative for diversity, equity, and inclusivity, and we’ve been doing a lot of work on it.

And so when I came across this email, it was like a lightning bolt, like, “Wow, this is the perfect time to be talking to Jennifer about this,” because especially in the area she speaks to, which is leadership, like how to be more inclusive as leaders, I was like, “Yes, my community needs to hear about this. This is an important topic right now.” And it’s just like the stars came together and aligned. And so I reached back out and said, “Please tell me Jennifer is still willing to be on the podcast,” and she was very gracious and wonderful, as you’ll hear in the conversation I had with her, it was the perfect timing for this episode.

DOUG FORESTA: Well, yeah, that’s great. Thank you so much. And yeah, I do think that there has been this, like you said, this reawakening this year. And one of the things that, Jennifer just wrote a book called, her last book was How to Be an Inclusive Leader, and this idea that diversity and inclusion is really a key part of what it means to be a leader today. And I think that it makes a lot of sense to me to be having this conversation, given that this is a podcast for women leaders. It sounds like it was a great … I mean, I’ve had a chance to listen to it. I think it was a really interesting conversation. I’m glad that we’re able to introduce our listeners on The Will To Change, and I certainly encourage our Will To Change listeners to become listeners, if they’re not already, to your podcast, to Women Taking The Lead as well.

JODI FLYNN: I appreciate that. Yes.

DOUG FORESTA: Thank you. Jodi Flynn, thank you so much. Thanks for joining me today and taking the time for this.

JODI FLYNN: Doug. Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

DOUG FORESTA: Thank you.

JODI FLYNN: Hello everyone. And thank you for joining me. I’m here with Jennifer Brown, and she is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, and diversity and inclusion expert. She’s the founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, a strategic leadership and diversity consulting firm that coaches business leaders worldwide on critical issues of talent and workplace strategy. Jennifer is a passionate advocate for social equality who helps businesses foster healthier, more productive workplace cultures. Her book, Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change, inspires leadership to embrace the opportunity that diversity represents and empower advocates to drive change that resonates in today’s world. Jennifer’s second book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader, provides a step-by-step guide for the personal and emotional journey we must undertake to create an inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive. Holy smokes, hot topic. Jennifer, welcome to Women Taking The Lead. And please tell us a little bit more about you and how you got into this much needed work.

JENNIFER BROWN: Sure, and it’s not recent. I’ll tell you that. We’ve been in the trenches for a long time, but originally I was a nonprofit activist in my 20s and always wanted to make a difference, but I was also a singer. So I got a chance to move to New York to study opera and vocal performance, which was a dream come true. But when I did that, and studied really hard and finished my master’s in vocal performance, unfortunately I just kept injuring my voice and you have to get surgery to fix that. And I just, over time and several rounds, I realized I would not have the kind of instrument that could enable eight shows a week, and international travel, and all the things that I’d hoped for.

So sadly, but sort of with resolve, I as a performer were agile and I said, “What else can I do with my gifts and my passion and my energy?” And a couple of performer friends said, “You love being in front of audiences. Why don’t you consider becoming a trainer and a facilitator?” And I didn’t know what that was, and I ended up getting a second master’s degree because of their coaching and mentorship in organizational change and leadership, and really felt that it was the heartbeat of business. It was something I could really connect into on an altruistic level, on a purpose level. And I would subsequently have some HR roles and becoming the head of training development. And then I got laid off and I said, “I think I want to work for myself.” And this was 13 years ago.

So I hung out my shingle, I started to do trainings, and then I started to build my team. And then we pivoted towards D&I along the way there, because I’m also a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And I started to realize I could bring my identity in and my network of change agents that I have from that community in to my organizational change and leadership consulting and kind of make this combination that was enhanced I think by not only what we know how to do, but who I am, and my own experience. And we know today, of course, thinking about this topic, that it is much about the lived experience that some of us have and how we’re seen and heard in the world, what we experience that’s different because of our identities.

And so I think I was able to marry all that, and that was a really incredible moment when I realized that I could actually, in a way, do the work of healing my own workplace experience of somebody having been closeted, both as a performer and a corporate employee, and then as an entrepreneur for a while. I mean, today I’m not, and I’m very much out there, but I still hesitate to bring my full self into certain rooms, depending on what I see, who I perceive to be in that room and what they will think of me, how they might judge me, how I want to play my identity or not. And that’s what I teach a lot about, is just the exhaustion of that, the fact that so many of us are engaging in this double work of managing our identity and whether we feel psychologically safe, and being brilliant at what we do and being present, and relaxed, and creative, and all those things that we want to be, and that organizations need us to be.

So it’s been this really surprisingly deep well to draw on. You would think maybe how did you go from opera singing to doing what you do now? To me, it makes perfect sense. It’s like there’s so many things that trained me to do well that I’m pulling on right now.

JODI FLYNN: Isn’t it true though, that when you’re just living your own life and you’re following your own interests and passions, everything makes sense, and there are stepping stones. I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to that have had the experience where they look back on this career that seemed to be twisty, turny, and windy. And they say, “Gosh, every next move I made led me to the next stepping stone, and the next stepping stone.” And so it seems crazy when you try to jumble it, but at the time, it’s like, “Oh, it makes sense for me to move here. Oh, it makes sense for me to go back to school. It makes sense for me to take on this work, to build my team and do all these things.” And there were so many things just in your introduction that I wanted to talk about, but I’ll step back a little bit. And something you and I were talking about before we hit record, to let the audience in on this too, so welcome everyone who’s listening, and thank you so much for being a part of this conversation. It’s really, this work is life-changing.

I shared with you that I was a part of a group that was doing a 21-day racial equity challenge. So it was all about becoming aware and learning more and hearing from different perspective, and goodness, there’s so many articles, and websites, and videos that we’ve been watching. And one thing that has been made so clear to me is my privilege, right? Even though I can make the argument as a woman or someone who grew up poor, I was disadvantaged. I’ve also learned about intersectionality. And so just by knowing that, just by being white, there are certain privileges, there are certain things I don’t have to worry about, and I haven’t been brought up to consider, right?

It’s almost like we’re brought up blinded by these other things, because they’re just not a part of our experience, and they’re not a part of our world. And for anyone listening, if you’re getting triggered, it’s human, right? This is a human, human experience. But what this does is it can create environments where people who are not like me, are not like us, don’t feel included. And it’s not that we’re doing it intentionally. We might say, because I know being a member of a board in Maine, we’re very white. And in the beginning we were very white. We were 100% white. And we might have said, “We would love to have more women of color as a part of our board,” but there were things we couldn’t see and things that we were doing that we weren’t aware of that was not making women of color feel like they were a part of our organization, like they had a voice in the work that we’re doing. Okay. So I’m coming back around to my question.

JENNIFER BROWN: You’re doing good.

JODI FLYNN: So this work of inclusion, it really starts with self-awareness, right? Being aware that perhaps people are being made to feel that they’re on the outside of things. And your book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader, highlights the deep work that needs to be done to create an environment where everyone is welcomed, valued, respected, and heard. And you describe it as the personal and emotional journey we must undertake, you have that in your bio. So let’s call them truths. What are some of the truths that we need to face to open ourselves to becoming that inclusive leader?

JENNIFER BROWN: Well, you just brought up one, right? Which is that privilege has many different aspects to it. It’s been kind of weaponized and it’s used in often relating to male privilege or white privilege. And that’s important to understand. There’s other privileges, things that make our lives easier, like our educational background, what we were exposed to or not growing up, our mental health status on any given day, if we struggle with that. I think in a pandemic not having to homeschool children gives me extra bandwidth to marshal in solidarity with somebody who is struggling. So I just think that we’ve become much more sensitive to each other in this pandemic, which is one of those unexpected gifts of the situation. And we’ve seen so much about each other. We’ve really trusted each other with our truths because we kind of have had to, because we’ve been showing up really vulnerably and we’ve had no choice in many cases, right? Otherwise, we needed to have that honest conversation about not being able to hit a deadline or not needing a mental health day or week.

And so I just love that we’ve … I think it sensitized us to the way we walk through the world and what we have access to that others may not have resources, socioeconomic background. Yes, race and ethnicity. I mean, think about the statistics around how is COVID impacting nonwhite communities differentially, and how is that impacting the families and the people in our networks, on our teams, in our neighborhoods, et cetera. So when we start to learn about these things, we realize there’s a million kinds of privilege. It just depends like what aperture you look through.

And I think that rather than kind of sitting there and feeling super bad about it all and not talking about it, I think that’s kind of gotten us into trouble because a lot of us have kind of opted out of the conversation because we’re so uncomfortable, because there’s that guilt, or that shame around this was maybe given to me or it’s easier for me. And maybe I didn’t earn it, because oftentimes we don’t earn these kinds of things. Sometimes we do, but a lot of times they’re just given to us. They’re accidents of birth.

And so I find that it really paralyzes people. So my work is to bring people out of paralysis to say … Like the way I talk about my privilege and my, and by the way, my more marginalized identities. So I’m a woman in a male dominated business world, and I’ve always been aware of my gender, when I walk in every single room. And then being LGBTQ+, which is an invisible aspect of my diversity unless I choose to make it visible. So those are two definitely I would say not privileged identities in sort of the current world that I function in.

But then I also have other privileges on the other side that these days I’m really trying to talk about them in terms of things I can activate around, things I can utilize, things that I’m probably under-utilizing. When I think about who has relatively more obstacles in front of them? Who’s facing more headwinds because of bias and microaggressions? What is my role in shifting those things? And that’s where privilege can be used. That’s what it should be used for. And now I’m realizing, when my mom said, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” And it’s clicking in for me to say, “It’s not something we denied, or pretend like it doesn’t exist, or feel embarrassed and ashamed.” What I would like to hear is all of us say, “Here’s how I grew up. Here’s what I had access to. Here’s why I felt safer. Here’s what was afforded to me. Here’s how I walk through the world now with greater ease.”

And I’ve noticed it, I’m owning that, and then I’m saying, “Okay. Now what?” And when I’ve learned and been shown everything of this summer and this year, when I’ve come to understand and read and talked about this, we actually have a role to play to chip in, in a very concrete way. So the question becomes sort of then, how do I use that access, that comfort, that permission that I have? And activating around your privileges like this feels extremely, I think, proactive. It feels very much like I am participating. I’m not sitting back feeling guilty or paralyzed. I’m actually moving forward, I’m developing new skills. I’m checking that my impact aligns with my intent, which is really important, right? A lot of us kind of go strongly forward and say, “I’m an ally,” and allyship is I say not something we claim, it is given to us if we earn it by people who are impacted. So it’s something we earn constantly.

And I just have felt so … Like the big aha is that I can be all of these things. I can have the identities that need allyship so much, and then I can provide that solidarity too. And those are ways I can use everything that I am, like all the parts of who I am, nothing is wasted. Nothing is, like you were saying earlier, when we look back on our career paths, nothing is wasted. It just might take a while to understand like, what was the message of that? What was the learning I was supposed to have?

Same thing I think with drawing on our identities as assets. When we are vulnerable about something, when we’ve overcome something challenging, when we talk about that, it literally connects us to others in a way that deepens our trust and our relationships. And when, particularly, I would say like white male, straight leaders do that, it is very powerful. So some of the workshops we do, I challenge people to say, “What is your diversity story? What do you know about this? How has it impacted you or your loved ones?” And things come out that are really surprising that are always educating me. Because this is not just something some of us understand. I think there’s a way we can involve all of who we are in this work.

JODI FLYNN: Jennifer, this conversation-


JODI FLYNN: Oh my goodness. I was like … Okay. There are three things I want to address in what you said that have clicked off in my head, and hopefully I’ll be able to remember all of them. I have had the experience as a recovering perfectionist, I like to say, perhaps perfectionist, and as a white woman, of this experience of just tell me what to say, just tell me what to do, help me get it right. I don’t want to miss a step. I want to do the right thing. And that’s a fight you can’t win, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: That is so true. Thank you for saying that.

JODI FLYNN: Because you can’t. It’s not about saying the right thing, it’s not about doing the right thing, but there can be that resistance at first of like, “I don’t want to do anything or say anything because I’m going to get it wrong.” And we have to embrace that as a part of this work and the conversation. So I love that you brought that up where we just have to face that, we have to just put ourselves in that messy, like, “We’re probably going to get it wrong, but that’s okay. We can learn, we can acknowledge it,” and move on from there.

And boy, I think my brain exploded at first when you had brought up, like there are some things I can be an ally for and some things I need allyship for. And then when I realized like, “Oh my gosh, I’m in that same boat too,” and most of us are in that boat, where we can be an ally to others if we earn it, and we need others to be our allies in order to get that equity that we’re looking for. And it really brought me back to, in my career, some of the men who advocated for me and mentored me and allowed for me to rise through the ranks in my organization, that without their saying yes, and putting their stamp of approval on me, which they didn’t have to do, I could have easily have gotten stuck.

And this isn’t, I’m going to come back to, I truly believe that gender issues, specifically, are not really gender issues. They’re cultural issues. It’s not men against women. Like we were brought up in the same soup and we’re dealing with that. Okay. So, you said the word allyship, which was something I definitely wanted you to address. And for those who can’t see, because you’re listening, Jennifer and I can see each other. When she said allyship, she patted her chest like, “I’ve earned the badge.”

JENNIFER BROWN: You’re right. You’re right.

JODI FLYNN: I earned the allyship badge, but it is something you have to earn. And a couple of terms in allyship that have been thrown around, and I want to make sure everyone who’s listening is clear on them, is performative versus authentic allyship. So if you could cover for everyone, what is the difference between the two, and then also, what are some of the ways that we can be an authentic ally for others as leaders in our workplaces?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I’m so glad you asked that. And it’s a mouthful, performative allyship is I think a chief complaint on the part of a lot of our loved ones and community members, who identify as black and brown, and LGBTQ, to say like you’re an ally when it’s convenient for you, or maybe you say a statement and you don’t really walk the talk on a long-term basis. So we saw companies this summer do performative allyship, right? It was maybe the Black Lives Matter post. And meantime, everybody in that workplace is sort of rolling their eyes because they know the work hasn’t been done internally. So that’s sort of the ultimate, I think, example of performative, meaning it’s when it’s convenient, it’s when it’s easy.

JODI FLYNN: When people are looking.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, exactly right. It’s sort of the optics of it. And the really unglamorous work is the inside work. It is the failing forward, getting it wrong, not being a perfectionist, coming back and trying it again. That’s hard stuff and that’s kind of the opposite of performative, which is I’m in it, I’m in the soup, I’m swimming around. I may feel like I’m drowning sometimes, but I’m in it and I’m not going to seek the safety of the shore. I’m in it, whatever is needed, I’m here to do that. And by the way, I’m doing my own work. I’m not just leaning on others to teach me. That can also be a little performative, like checking in with your black friends. For the friend, they’re like, “This is really out of the blue with no context.”

It was a little bit of that too. It was what we call virtue signaling, which is sort of signaling my intent to be an ally. But again, all of this involves I think looking underneath behind the curtain, underneath deeper in ourselves to say, on a daily basis, what can I practice? What can I do today towards my goal of being someday seen and considered to be an ally. And another word we really like is accomplice. So accomplice has a bit of a different energy to it. Accomplice feels to me sort of like I’m alongside you and I’m co-conspiring to change things with you.

Ally can sometimes feel a little like the Knight in shining armor, savior sort of thing. And also sometimes we talk about allyship in terms of power dynamics and differences. So the sharing of power between people who have it and people who don’t, which is not by the way a bad thing, but it’s an aspect of it. But if you do too much of the, I’m going to bestow what I have or share what I have, I think that’s a bit … It’s assuming that it’s not more of a mutual relationship. I think accomplice has a beautiful mutuality to it.

And to your point that you heard in what I said, the sort of the needing of each other, right? The dependence on each other that ideally we move forward together and one plus one equals three on this journey. But there is some work that we need to do, like you’re in your group, and I would say that work, as a majority white woman group, I’m assuming, is incredibly important that you’re … What you’re doing is literally you’re doing your homework and you’re up in your ally and accomplice skills in those conversations, and you’re doing it with each other so that you’re not causing harm to others who are sitting around and feel that you’re always looking to them for the answers.

You’re always relying, you’re doing your work yourselves. And I really commend that and I honestly think that is kind of that middle piece to our growth. We’ve got to find communities of learning for ourselves where we can kind of crash around like, “Here’s what I did. And here’s what didn’t go well. And how did you do this? And have you tried this? And what might I say differently?” Or, “It didn’t have the impact I wanted. Why?” And there’s a lot of that that people that look like you and me can do. And then by the time we sort of take it on the road, we’re more practiced, we’re more comfortable, we’re more prepared. We know the impact that’s needed.

And I think that’s the vacuum a lot of us are in after this summer, is … What I’m hearing is, “I don’t know what to do, and I don’t want to lean on others to help coach me because I’ve heard that, and I understand that the burden right now is really intense on some of us.” So there is a bit of a conundrum there or contradiction there because at the same time as we’re saying we need to do our homework and be prepared and build the muscle, and not show up perfectly, but show up having done homework.

JODI FLYNN: Right. That’s a great distinction. Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s it. That’s always expected. But some people don’t even do the homework and just show up and hope to be the ally. And that’s I think what we’re, I think that’s what we’re trying to kind of correct for. So yeah, I think the grace that we need to show each other though on our learning journey is so critical, and that can be really hard because feelings are really high right now, reality is very difficult, more difficult for some of us than others. Some of us are shielded, some of us can opt out of protesting. For example, we can opt out of the “work”, and we can retreat into comfort. And I think even noticing that those choices are choices we make, and I’m not saying we can never step back to do some self-care, I think that’s actually really important and that should be available to all of us, but thinking about how we pace ourselves to develop this muscle I’m talking about, and not get overwhelmed, not get paralyzed, prepare, and then take feedback in a beautifully gracious way and not kind of personalize it and get really fragile about it.

So that’s the other really, for me, big piece, is when I intend so much to be helpful and I get something wrong, it devastates me, it just sidelines me, I just go down the shame spiral. And so maybe some of your listeners can relate because it’s something you so desperately want, but you’re so far from perfect. And the worst thing you could possibly imagine is causing any kind of harm right now when you know so much harm is happening and has happened. So, yeah, so I think that this is this nugget that I sit with a lot, which is how do we take the learnings we need? How do we not make it about ourselves? But those feelings are real. How do we move through them in a productive way and not deny them because they’re going to happen, because you know what? It is, it’s our fight and flight and freeze mechanism. That’s our deepest, primal brain, it’s going to happen. But what I don’t want is a generation of potential allies going back to sleep.

So, let’s not go back to sleep, but let’s be honest about what this journey feels like, and talk about these pieces so that we see them for what they are, and yet we persist, and yet we come back. And I love Carol Dweck’s work, she wrote Growth Mindset, it’s fail forward. We’re going to fail forward, we’re going to do it together. And by the way, there’s nobody else in this world who hasn’t also failed forward in their own learning journey. There’s nobody that’s a finished product. I mean, many people in my network, non-white friends of mine, have been on a massive learning journey about LGBTQ+ issues. Like going from literally not knowing anything and saying harmful things, to getting on the train, to doing their homework, to being in relationship with me, and now being this proud, aspiring ally that it warms my heart.

And so we can all come to this work about different identities that aren’t our lived experience. And I think that’s what’s so cool about the mutual destination that we’re all trying to reach, not reachable, it’s really about the journey. But the learning never stops. And as the world continues to change, there’s more diversity dimensions that we … Like mental health, we don’t even know how to talk about that in the workplace. Parenting issues is a challenge, challenge now, always has been, but now is exacerbated, but there’s still, I think, a lot of shame around that. Abilities issues, hidden disabilities, there’s stigma around military background and what veterans experience in the workplace as they try to transition into the civilian world. It just goes on and on. This stuff is, I love it, because it’s like the gift that keeps giving.

JODI FLYNN: It really is. And I think that was my initial experience when we really started going into the work as a board for The Maine Women’s Conference, just to put it in context, when we really got committed. There was the intention at first, we have this intention, and then we were like, “This isn’t working. Having a good intention is not getting us anywhere. We need to commit to this.” And so when the commitment was there and we started really diving into what does it mean to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive, it was Pandora’s box. It was like, “Oh my goodness, there’s this, and there’s this, and there’s this.” Okay. This isn’t just a skin color issue. This isn’t just about making our conference more accessible, this is-

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s holistic.

JODI FLYNN: It’s holistic, and it’s going to take some time and there are layers to it, you know? And I think that’s the thing, is another thing, and what you had said earlier that came up for me is like, it can be frustrating because I love to take action. Like, “Tell me what I can do and I’ll do it. I’ll just get it done.” But really the work here is educate yourself, become more aware, right? That is the first step, but know that as you are educating yourself and putting yourself into caucuses and cohorts, and whatever it is, book clubs, and having these conversations, and doing the research, that opportunities start presenting themselves and you learn more about what you can do to be an authentic ally, and to do good work, and to collaborate with others to bring this work forward.

There’s one question I definitely want to ask you before we run out of time, and you touched on this in the beginning, in the intro, you talked about being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and how sometimes you have to decide whether or not this is something that you disclose. And I know that one thing in your materials talks about how there are benefits to bringing our whole self to work, and that when we hide aspects of ourselves, there’s something that goes missing for us and for others in our workplaces, you know? And so to underscore it all, you advocate that it’s important that we bring our full selves to our work. So tell us what that means and how does that work play out?

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s interesting. And it’s not even just to work, right? Sometimes I realize these are life skills, these are parenting skills, these are community skills, right? We all lead … Anytime you’re in community with at least one other person trying to achieve something, you’re in a leadership role. I mean, you’re leading yourself, right? But yeah, when I realized how many of us are covering in the workplace, meaning we’re downplaying parts of our identity that can be visible by the way, like I’m visibly a female identified person, but I can very intentionally not talk about “things that might remind people that I’m female”, interests, role in the family, parenting, things like that. So we actually get very good, I think, at sensing that there will be a bias that we’re going to encounter. And we either sanitize ourselves or we just downright hide and don’t talk about something.

In the gay community, we’ve always called this being closeted. Closeted means, more traditionally, just literally not being out to people. But covering is more subtle. It’s a downplaying or a minimization so that you don’t highlight your difference, but your difference may be very obvious. Like if I’m a black woman, you see that I’m a woman and you see that I’m black. There’s nothing I can do about that, but I can sort of never talk about those things. I can sort of avoid other black women, for example, and sort of association based covering, or I can not raise a comment, or a joke, or a phrase that is a microaggression, right? Because I want to distance myself from that because I don’t want to be assumed to be the “angry”, or somebody who’s biased towards people that look like me or identify as me.

So, there’s a lot of this energy sucking activity that’s going on, and there’s research that shows this that was done by Deloitte. The paper is called Uncovering Talent, and I always reference it. And it’s just so meaningful to people on a variety of dimensions. So bringing our whole self to work can be problematic. It can actually hurt, remind people of our difference, remind us of the stigma, and actually derail us in other people’s eyes in terms of our potential and our performance. And also make us feel really small, because I think when we downplay parts of who we are, that we’re actually really there that are important to us. I think it internally makes us feel less confident that those matter, that they’re important, and they may have played a very big role in who we are.

And so we are literally wrestling constantly, and I call this working double time. It’s literally the tax we pay on being different. But the thing is, we’re not alone. There’s a lot of us, especially with hidden diversity dimensions that nobody is saying anything about. And therefore we can’t find community. We can’t realize that we’re actually not alone. And then we also, when we bring our fuller selves to work in community, which is safer, then organizations need to listen to us, they need to realize that we are everywhere. When we are LGBTQ and we’re closeted, we actually don’t know that anybody else’s in the organization like us, and that can be a tremendously dangerous and isolating place to be.

So I think that it’s two fold. It’s being brave and courageous enough to bring our full selves, because we know that there are others that need to see us doing that, and it will enable the connection of community, right? But then organizations need to prepare themselves for a diverse workforce in all ways. And so we need to stand up and be counted, and organizations need to meet us halfway. And when we leap, that net needs to really appear, and that’s the work I honestly focus on, is making sure organizations are ready so that when we bring our full selves, they are actually, it won’t trigger biases, but it actually will trigger even more creativity, even more resources, and support, and acknowledgement of equity issues, and all those things that we haven’t talked about in the past. So that’s my Nirvana, is that all of that happens together and we can all move forward, both individuals and organizations, and also the organizations where we work, play, live and thrive.

JODI FLYNN: Awesome. There’s an opportunity here. Do the work now, get ready now because that day is coming. And so for those of you who are listening, I know your ears are perking and you want more information. And I just want to underscore Jennifer’s second book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader, this should be on your nightstand. So grab it, gift it. And for those of you who work within organizations and you know your organization could utilize Jennifer’s expertise, and experience, and training, please reach out to her. Jennifer, that’s a great segue. Tell everyone how they can connect with you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Yes. Thanks for that. So the book is How to Be an Inclusive Leader. My podcast is called The Will To Change. So tons of really great guests on there. And then Jennifer Brown Consulting is our consulting company side of the house. And then Jennifer Brown Speaks is my author, speaking, podcasts site. In social media, I’m @JenniferBrown on Twitter, @JenniferBrownSpeaks on Instagram. And on LinkedIn and Facebook you’ll find me. I’m really kind of everywhere.

JODI FLYNN: You are easy to find, I’m going to say that. And for those of you who are out for a run or driving in your car, do not worry. You know you can find the links to this episode at womentakingthelead.com. You can put Jennifer Brown in the search bar at the top and her show notes page will come right up. Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time to inspire and enlighten us. We are all better for having met you.


Women Taking The Lead