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This episode was originally recorded for Closing the Gap on C-Suite Radio. Tune in as Jennifer Brown is interviewed by host Denise Cooper. The topics covered include how to build and sustain high performing inclusive cultures, and how leaders can develop a strong, enduring will to change.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • The importance of culture in organizations (12:00)
  • The fear that prevents people from having conversations about DE&I (17:00)
  • The need to change systems (24:30)
  • The self-examination that leaders need to do (27:00)
  • Why we need to extend grace to one another (29:00)
  • The danger of being in a vacuum (33:00)
  • What it looks like for leaders to take responsibility (35:30)
  • How to address past harms (41:00)
  • The need for allies (45:00)

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

JENNIFER BROWN: Hello, all of my listeners on The Will To Change. I am so glad you’re tuning in today. We are going through some really intense change as a country and on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion, which is my passion. And I know probably yours too. If you’re listening to The Will To Change, there’s so much to learn and so much to flex around that’s occurring. And so I wanted to make sure that everybody knew the kinds of support that we are providing. We are providing something every week on Thursdays at noon Eastern, which we called the DEI community calls. And it is a free hour long call, people have called it the DEI SPA because it is known to restore us, to connect us with each other, to remind us about the critical importance of our work, to remind us of the strength of our community and that we aren’t alone at this moment.

And the beautiful diversity within our community of people doing this work, whether it’s folks who are doing it as their paid job in organizations, folks who are volunteering your time, folks who write about and podcast about the topic and people who want to do this work, which is more and more all the time. So we hold these calls on every Thursday at noon. And I wanted to make sure that you have the text that you can send a text to get on the RSVP list. And once you’re on that RSVP list, you will always know about the upcoming calls, who the guests are, what the topics are. And also you will have the opportunity to listen to the replay, which is really important because sometimes we just can’t make that call at noon Eastern on Thursdays. You could also read the chat, which is really interesting in these calls, really vibrant, full of ideas and resources and links and offers to connect and offers to meet up offline.

And I know that much serendipity has been introduced into the world because of the connections that have been made on the chat alone for these calls. So I really encourage you to stay close to us because we were constantly pivoting in this changing world. We are constantly doing our head and our heart and our hands work to figure out how do we create change amidst so much uncertainty and chaos and countervailing forces and polarization. So if you would like to get on his list, you can text DEI community to 33777. So if you put 33777, into your text to field and then write all one word DEI community, it will prompt you to provide some information, which we will guard course and keep safe, but it will get you into the mix and onto the list.

And you can download a calendar reminder and you can join us and feel all the things that I described. 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, so please consider joining us. And now on to today’s Will To Change.

Coming out of 2020, we cannot afford to have people get discouraged because it’s an all hands on deck and many hands make lighter work moment where if we all contributed, and we all did something we could do from our arsenal for change, which that’s different depending on who we are in the world and what kind of circumstances we were born into, if we don’t all participate and maximize what we have at our disposal, we are going to create a future where a bunch of us are sort of following as opposed to leading and at an maybe future where it’s articulated and defined by one group without the participation of another group. And by the way, that is what our history has been.

DOUG FORESTA: Everyone has a diversity story. Even those you don’t expect. Welcome to DEI The Will To Change with Jennifer Brown, get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown. Hello, and welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Forester and this episode actually was originally recorded on closing the gap with Denise Cooper on C-Suite Radio. Denise is the author of Remarkable Leadership Lessons, Change Results, One Conversation at a Time. She is an executive coach and CEO of Remarkable Leadership Lessons Inc. And in this episode, you’ll hear Jennifer and Denise discuss what it takes to build and sustain high performance inclusive cultures, and what it takes for leaders to develop a strong enduring will to change, enjoy the episode.

DENISE COOPER: As life goes continue to go on, it’s the New Year and we have put 2020 to bed. Thank goodness, but we’re moving forward and we’re thinking about the new normal and the reason I wanted you, my audience, you guys to hear Jennifer’s perspective is that diversity and inclusion has become a huge topic with Me Too, George Floyd. Brianna Taylor, I mean, we’ve just got inundated in 2020 with when will it change? What is the next step? How can we make progress? And as a coach myself and executive coach and trainer and someone who is helping people generate the best conversations that actually do generate results, I have studied and thought about there’s two processes that we have to deal with. There’s finding a way, what is it that we want to do or finding a way to change? Which is actually the easy part of making change.

The hard part is finding the courage to change, or the will to change. And Jennifer’s book Inclusion, Diversity, in the New Workplace and The Will To Change, tapped into and taps into that idea of, it’s not just finding the way to change, but it’s actually finding the will to change because if you’ve ever had to change anything, you know that it starts out very exciting. We are all just gun-ho, we’ve got a lot of energy behind it. We feel success. And then there is the dip and the dip in it is just it’s hard. Why didn’t people react the way I wanted them to react? What does it look like? And all the noise in our head. And so today’s conversation with Jennifer is I want to pick her brain and find out exactly what her experience is as well as share mine.

So, as we’re thinking about this, we can help you close the gap. So Jennifer, to start one of the things I was fascinated is that your leadership and diversity consulting business, although you’re like everybody else, you give a way to change. So you can come up with a process, but the majority of your work is really on the front end of why do they want to change strategically? What you’re changing look like? When we get there, how will we know we’re there? Before you even come up with a way on how you’re going to get there. Talk to me about why you chose to go in that direction versus ride the crowd of here’s our process. Here’s our videos, put people through it. And what’s been your experience on that.

JENNIFER BROWN: Denise, thanks for having me. And I just love your words and the way that you lay this out. It’s so exactly the way I feel about it. And I think it stems from, I have a degree in organizational change and it really impacted me thinking about how change occurs. And I study the organizational context, but also the leader and human context. How do we change as part of a system? And then how does the system change? And I love that because it’s micro and macro at the same time, and it must be something about how my brain works that I enjoy and I find it fascinating. And I’m so curious about the systems level change and the individual change. Right?

And how those two connect to each other. The way to change yes, you’re right. I could have taken the company direction of products and videos and buy our kit off the shelf as we refer to it in this field. But I read a book called Flawless Consulting.


JENNIFER BROWN: Anyway. Peter block’s [crosstalk 00:09:26].

DENISE COOPER: Love it love blocks.

JENNIFER BROWN: Olive Goodie, yeah, it’s so good. And I realized I had this like moment, this was gosh, 15 years ago, maybe more. And I had this moment of realizing that I actually wanted to work from the blank slate. I wanted to be a partner in articulating, like you just exactly said current state. And then what does success look like? Let’s craft that together. And then I’m going to be a catalyst and a space holder for that, and a partner in your journey along the way, whether that’s cheerleader, whether that’s subject matter expert, whether that’s tough love giver-

DENISE COOPER: Yes. [crosstalk 00:10:07] it is.

JENNIFER BROWN: Whether it’s therapy, emotional support, whether it’s just enabling the person doing the changing to feel seen and heard. The compassion that underlines that I know you operate from that place too, which is that everybody is do that compassion, right? Do that respect. And that’s regardless of identity and all that. So it’s not a surprise that I feel like the company became much more, maybe bespoke is the word much more sort of let’s help shape this problem that we want to solve, or the gap that we want to close together. And inevitably, you come across both the methods for change, but also the way the will question. And in grad school, we thought of it as the X, Y axis of skill and will. It’s very easy to remember, right?

DENISE COOPER: Yep. Out of my goodies. I love that.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, it’s so good. It is.

DENISE COOPER: And every manager I tell you have to decide whether it’s skill or will they immediately get, “Oh, wait a minute.”


DENISE COOPER: I love that.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. And if you lack one or the other, then your strategy is different. So I’m always mindful that we’ve got to build the skills and change the behavior and give the tactics, and then we need to help reinforce that. Because by the way, humans, just like everything else you said, when the going gets hard with a new habit, what do we do? With the new diet or with the new workout regime or the new savings plan, we started out strong and then we lose the momentum and the discipline really.

But I think tapping into the will is this deep well of motivation that is so important to know, because it can wreck the best laid plans. I’m going to quote Peter Drucker now. Yes, it is culture eats strategy for breakfast. Another one of our favorites. So if culture eats strategy for breakfast, like best laid plans, right? We can do all the skill-building and investment in what do I do when do I do it? How do I do it? But if the will, which I think partially comes from the heart, I think it’s feels head heart hands to me as well. So that headpieces, okay, I’ve learned this, I’ve studied it. I know what I need to do. But the heart piece is, do I want to do it? How will I feel emotionally as I apply these skills?

And particularly with DEI, it’s so easy to get discouraged and you and I know this and yet we add coming out of 2020, we cannot afford to have people get discouraged because it’s an all hands on deck and many hands make lighter work moment where if we all contributed and we all did something we could do from our arsenal for change, which looks different depending on who we are in the world and what kind of circumstances we were born into, if we don’t all participate and maximize what we have at our disposal, we are going to create a future where a bunch of us are following as opposed to leading and and maybe a future where it’s articulated and defined by one group without the participation of another group. And by the way, that is what our history has been.

One group has had the power and we live in a world at their behest, right? In a world that doesn’t work for so many of us in a workplace that wasn’t built by and for many of us. So if we just turn around and what is the master’s tools, right? That’s quote, if we just turn around and say, well, now you don’t matter. Now you need to sit down. Now, I don’t care what you have to contribute. And by the way, you don’t have anything to contribute because you created this mess in the first place and you’ve caused harm, and you need to be in the penalty box. I don’t think that is the right application of this moment. And I know that if somebody told me to be in the penalty box and said, “Jennifer, you don’t, this is not your time. And we don’t want to hear from you and anyone that looks like you.”

I find that heartbreaking personally. And believe me, I have watched social media. I’m very in it. And there is a message that travels around in those circles that a lot of us are hearing that says “You are not needed. And not only that, you in those sort of royal, you, I suppose, like the collaborative, the community you have identity is you are part of this. And therefore, you can’t do this. You don’t have the right. You don’t have the voice. You can’t say this, you can’t say whatever. And if I’m feeling wow, I have to kind sort through that and say like, is that message meant for me? Does that mean that I should close my business? Does that mean I should stop writing books? Does it mean I just need to listen for the rest of my life which I will do anyway, but I find it confusing.

And just, again, heartbreaking because I consider this will be my gift to the world. This, I want it to be deeply. And I know a lot of other people agree. We all have gifts to contribute to this movement, and actually I think the gift I can give is very specific for specific people, using the things that I have that are a unique combination of my circumstances, my privilege, my marginalized identities, all the mix of me is what I work from. And each mix is so unique in all of us. Anyway, I just think we’ve got to figure out a way to engage and equip and inspire and help people feel competent that I have the skill and then support that will to say, nobody can contribute if they’re feeling shame, blame, guilt no competence, I’m not good at this. I’m uncertain, I’m hesitant.

It’s hard to create from that place. It’s hard to help from that place. That will has to feel like I can do this. This is something I can learn. This is something I can get better at. This is something I can actually achieve through practice.

DENISE COOPER: I think it starts even earlier than that for me, because even before I can even begin to change my mind, I’ve got to understand that the possibility exists for me to even practice without judgment or practice without dying from it. Not necessarily dying, but being judgment depths, I guess, is what I’m talking about, I’m out of it. And I think one of the things that I found really interesting about our previous conversations that we’ve had is the typical way we think about diversity and inclusion sets up, you don’t know anything, white male, particularly charged white men, you don’t know anything. All you’ve done is recreate this thing that marginalizes everybody and wite women have benefited from all of this, not doing anything because we know you sat on the side, ut your man will come in and help you at any point.

And now there are people that are coming forward in that category and they’re afraid. I find that they’re absolutely afraid to say the wrong thing. So if I’m afraid to even try and engage, because I’m going to make a mistake, I’m going to cause more harm, et cetera. Then why should I get in this game at all? As I talked to many companies, executives, et cetera, I’m sure you get the saying, “Oh, well, someone told us we needed to get some diversity and we thought we’d bring you in.

And we really want you to talk to us in the board and help us understand what this journey might look like.” And then after you make this presentation and mine is very different because it’s really about, you got to change from, as you say, the heart. And everybody who listens to me or at least works with me, knows that I say we have to start with the heart first dismantle what the brain tells us, but encourage the heart to be true.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s beautiful.

DENISE COOPER: And so once we can start dismantling that self-talk upfront and then get to the heart and things go. But when you’re in that meeting even on Zoom, it’s so funny because I can see them go, “Oh, good, we’ve talked to her. And Oh, you mean, all we have to do is set up a link to a couple of sites where we can get recruits in, and that’s that’s it? Oh, well we can do that.” And then they go off and do it. I guess they think they’ve gotten something from me. Does that happen to you? Or is it just me?

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s odd. They want the checklist and it feels superficial and for the optics but how would they know that the work is deeper too? I guess when you’re just emerging into the understanding of this, there’s so much people just don’t know. So we can choose to be either offended by that and say, how dare they? All they want is a checklist and they just want a bandaid and they don’t want to do the hard work. I mean, the real question is what is the hard work? And can we help people see the systems’ problems and then support the courage that it would take to actually take on the bigger issues that are causing the harm in the first place. And I think what’s confounding to me is business leaders do this all the time.

Let’s look at the systems that created this, we miss this goal. They diagnose things all the time. And I think that takes courage because of course mistakes were made along the way, or we misjudged or we miscalculated or whatever. And there are consequences to that. Right? But it’s the way organizations innovate. There’s going to be a lot of failing forward, hopefully where it’s like, okay, we could have done this better. Let’s own this. We were accountable for this. Let’s try again differently and let’s achieve at this time. So I often am like, it’s just as simple as that?

I understand that it’s more sensitive. That there’s way more fear. There are people’s egos at stake. There’s also people’s feelings and the impact on others at stake. I get it. But I wish we could look at it as similar to the process we undertake to become more efficient, to become more effective and take all of this injury out of it. I wished we could, and I don’t mean be more clinical about it. I certainly don’t want that, but I think that the-

DENISE COOPER: That’s been around it, but it is the judging.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, it is.

DENISE COOPER: I got a camp of leaders working with me now. And one of the problems is as they’re having a lot of listening circles and sessions and whatnot, and they’ve done that for a while now, and they’ve tried to make some change and come forward and now what they’ve done is they’ve opened up this, “Hey, you’re going to hear my story. And now you got to listen to my story.” And the leaders are behind that. They’re just like, “Look, we’re not going to do it perfect.” And they didn’t do it perfect. I mean, their first steps out were really rough. But getting people to realize that that reaction only pushes people away. I understand their point of view because they haven’t been heard, they’ve got a lot of pain, they haven’t worked out the pain part for themselves because often what to come to work, you had to compartmentalize. And I can’t feel that I’ve got to take that. And so now it’s kind of coming up.

So I get all of the dynamics are in this, but what I haven’t seen is a strategy or at least an attention to the fact that one of the things every leader is going to face is this puking bear syndrome. Right? It doesn’t feel good when you’ve made an attempt, you’ve made a mistake and everybody’s going, “Wait, you made a mistake. You should know better.” And of course, you’re the leader who’s supposed to be perfect. Right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Of course, which is the policy at the heart of all this to say like, oh, we have set them up to have to be perfect. Especially on a topic where you have literally, the learning is so imperfect, and it needs to be.


JENNIFER BROWN: Yes it’s a steep learning curve, and no time to learn and no time to, I think, deepen into the work because it might start in the head, but it takes time to digest a meal. You don’t want to force feed someone. It’s not the Coney Island, hot dog eating contest. 2020 has been an inundation of really challenging information that is very new to a lot of us because we have not been taught a full history of our country. We have not had the diversity in our friend groups, in our families, in our worlds. We live in bubbles. And all of a sudden, that sort of white hot hard truth is being articulated at scale.

DENISE COOPER: On top of my business is failing or could be failing.

JENNIFER BROWN: And it’s a pandemic.

DENISE COOPER: Yeah. And oh, by the way, I can’t even show up and be face to face. I can’t even get that energy of being in the same room with you. And to be able to, that you could at least see my body language clearly that says that I didn’t mean to hurt you so that can soften the blow. The kind of thing. And so, because we haven’t spent all those soft skills, which are now, we’re kind of figuring out a hard skills, like listening, being able to communicate-


DENISE COOPER: Empathy and the whole idea of, it’s about the vision. It’s about delegation and empowerment, enablement, not so much empowerment, but enabling people to do the work and then follow up and ensuring follow through. I mean, that’s all a leader has to do. And yet that is so complex, right? So many moving parts in those four or five buckets that you’ve got to deal with. And so I do feel for them, and the training that we’re offering, again, back to what you said about systems. So if both sides stay static and don’t learn any new skills, then the system gets to recreate itself as a new way.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s the danger.

DENISE COOPER: And I think that’s, what’s kept us 50, 60, 70 years at trying to do better is because we only look at one side of the system. And so talk to me about when you’re thinking about strategy and when you’re helping a company think through the strategy of it, what are the steps, but also how do you take into the account that both sides? So those people who have been marginalized have to shift their thinking, dismantle their head trash and allow their heart to come through? In a time when previously none of us were told that we should really pay attention to those soft skills, relationship building. Right?

JENNIFER BROWN: You’re doing a lot of air quotes for people that can see.

DENISE COOPER: Yeah. Like feel [inaudible 00:26:05].

JENNIFER BROWN: I mean, right the organ is rejected by the body. Like, we can’t talk about emotions. We can’t talk about who we are. And now all of a sudden, we in our work have been saying, bringing our full ourselves or our best selves to work is important. People are everything, blah, blah, blah, like all the jargon, which you, and I know is deeply true. And yet we have never done it well, we are still treated like widgets. In a system.

DENISE COOPER: That’s exactly right. And some algorithm, some AI algorithm decides scheduling.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. And we are units of value that are measured, right? We are assets to be capitalism extracts.  We are extractable right. It’s not the whole person at all, and you’re right that many leaders are like, wait a second. I was told my whole life, I’m not allowed to talk about this with people. And now you’re telling me that it’s what a leader should be doing. And I say, well, yes. I mean, the problem was that we have been saying this, but nobody’s been paying attention and there’s been a wind at our backs. 2020 was the wind that we’ve been looking for in our sales to say, change or die, evolve or die as leaders. Quoting Marshall Goldsmith. “What got you here, won’t get you there.” We are in a new place.

Now that’s been creeping up on us. You have been asleep at the wheel or not. Or if you’ve known, you haven’t had the will, to look into this, to investigate this, to invest in it as a leader to say, “I need to continue to grow. Even if I’m in my ’40s, ’50s, ’50s, it doesn’t matter. You always need to be evolving to resonate with a changing world. And if you put your head in the sand, that’s an incredibly risky strategy. And I just put that out there.

When I train leaders, I’m like, you can choose to job this out to your diversity team. You can choose to diversity train or unconscious bias, train everybody, and check the box and then go back to your business as usual, you can choose to do that. But I can promise you that if you’re not investigating yourself and where you fit right now in this conversation, in this mix, how am I going to endear people to me? How can I build psychological safety? So people feel comfortable and trusting of me that I am a safe space for people to bring their full self. And if they don’t, I want to know exactly what it is that I can do to engender that. And if that…

DENISE COOPER: And what’s one thing, tell us what’s one or two things, okay, I’ve heard this podcast. I like what you’re saying. It makes me feel like, okay, I understand it’s more than just the desire to change. Because this is a right thing. There’s some skill in this.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, there is.

DENISE COOPER: But the skill is this head trash heart thing. Right?


DENISE COOPER: What’s something that they ought to focus on. Give me a couple of things.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I mean, and I want to address that answer if we can pick two sides of this, like you just said, we have to extend grace and space to each other. And I know you agree with this. And this is why we’ve really bonded. If the anger is white hot and it’s deserved, and it’s real, I do think that teaching or being in community with others from that angry place, can be tricky because there’s a lot of noise that comes along with that. And there’s a lot of what I would call collateral damage in the workplace. And so anger fuels us and we need to tap into it. I think we need to live into it in certain situations. Right? In community, for example, with others who can share that, right?

Who share it by identity, when you can get into a room virtual room now and close the door and to say, “I am so angry, I have to just get this out and process it and vent and like let it out and just be justifiably, incredibly, frustrated, heartbroken right? About, and I think this year actually reminded a lot of us about why we are so tired and we’re so fatigued and we haven’t gotten a fair shot. Yes. Like all of that.

But in terms of our relationships we need to sort of, okay, so I’ve got that, it’s not my whole lens. It’s a piece that I’m carrying with me, but there’s so many other skills, like you said, that we have to access, which is okay. So conversationally, how will I… it’s patience, it’s grace, it’s compassion. It’s teaching where we can anyway. I think teaching can be very exhausting when everybody’s looking to us to say, “Tell me what I need to know and what I’m doing wrong.” That is its own kind of exhaustion and very unfair. So I try to counsel leaders to say, look, you need to be doing your own work and not leaning on people who are already incredibly tired and frustrated and being reminded of how rageful they should be this year.

Let’s not add to that burden. But I think so from both sides though, if we can hold that space in the middle to meet in the middle, to meet on the bridge of understanding and the trust each other enough to approach each other. And that approach is what everybody’s terrified about. And I get it. This is a new language. It’s for both sides with you feel you’ve been discriminate against you don’t feel seen and heard, but also those of us who are just waking up to the fact that we may have been complicit in enabling the not seeing and the not hearing, how do I remedy that?

And I think it may just be as simple as just saying what I just said. Like I counsel leaders to say, approach with, I am learning so much, I am overwhelmed, I’m feeling a combination of perhaps confusion and some guilt. But I also feel really excited to learn and to grow. And you’re going to see me making mistakes as I learn and grow as I try to apply what I’m hearing, as I try to come into conversations and  get comfortable being uncomfortable.

What my commitment is to you is that I will share all of that. That’s going on. That I will always come from this place of doing my own work and approaching with respect. But I also want to know, where am I getting it not right. Or dramatically wrong. It’s not just I welcome feedback. That’s way too passive. I don’t even think that’s really an open door. It’s honestly like, which of us is going to feel empowered enough, by the way, if a woman, person of color, all of the above, like who are we to approach somebody to say, hey, that was a microaggression. I just want [crosstalk 00:33:02] no-

DENISE COOPER: And if we can talk about the business and tell the leader the truth about when we’re feeling in the business, we’re certainly not going to talk about it from a personal point of view.


DENISE COOPER: That’s not happening.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s not happening.

DENISE COOPER: Yeah. And I think leaders do have to come forth and say, “Look, I’m learning and I’m going to do this,” but you’ve got to be mindful of the fact that you’ve already created this community and this company, this culture, and you don’t get to truth in the first place anyway.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so true and that’s what I say. You are in a vacuum. And when you are in a vacuum, you are at serious risk as a leader. I mean, no, you cannot address anything that nobody’s telling you because they’re afraid to tell you. It’s like mental health issues. I just look at it now, understanding it as we do in 2020, right? The pervasiveness of it in our workforce, the stigma around it, the stigma we have in certain communities of identity where we don’t talk about it either.


JENNIFER BROWN: It’s not even okay for me to seek help. And then we have an organization that’s willfully blind to the fact that this is widespread and being totally not talked about. So I think too, we’ve had our head in the sand about things that make us uncomfortable, but that’s not courageous leadership on the company’s part, if you are told. And this is where we, I think and I say, we, because I always identify, I love the saying Denise, afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted.

DENISE COOPER: Ah, okay. Likes that. That’s suitable [crosstalk 00:34:30].

JENNIFER BROWN: I love it, it’s very good.

DENISE COOPER: That’s a tweetable moment [crosstalk 00:34:31].

JENNIFER BROWN: So I give you that it’s a gift.


JENNIFER BROWN: I feel Well, very much like I have a foot in two worlds. Right? I’m I am the afflicted and I am the comfortable, because those are my identities. Right? LGBTQ woman. I’am alicted, and I also I’m such an activivist so I’ in solidarity as an accomplice with so many afflicted groups and I’ve studied them for so many years. And I feel when I say us that’s often what I mean, right? This is this community that hasn’t been seen and heard of all these different identities that I deeply care about and love. And so comfort the afflicted, that’s the conversation I have with leaders to say the empathy that we need to engender in ourselves, that the seeing not denying, but the seeing and the acknowledging and the actioning.

This is what a leader’s job is, is not to put your head in the sand, is not to not see things, is not to wait to find out, “Oh my goodness, we have a pay gap in our organization. What do you mean? Like, that’s not me. I would never let that happen.” People, women and people of color feel completely empowered in this organization just because you think they are like, do you really know? Have you really investigated it? Do you care enough to make that your job, not somebody’s job to tell you once the harm has happened and been happening.

But what I really want to see is that proactive equity lens, every leader needs to have to say, “I’m not going to wait for HR to say, Houston, we have a problem. Like this is my job. I need to know.” And if I can’t generate trust enough that people will come to me and say, “I want you to know this is what this is like for me, for others that are over my identity for the organization as a whole,” we got to seek out those wake up calls. And if we aren’t getting that from our organizational partners, we got to make it our job to find out, and then we need to agitate. I mean, I want to see leaders being the sand, the grain of sand oyster, bothering the oyster.

DENISE COOPER: Well, and I think one way they can do that is you don’t have to pick out 10 people, but you can find one or two people. Who you can make up a mentor, mentee pack, or lack of a better way of saying it in terms of, well, tell me your lived experience. Right? It’s help me, if I made a mistake, I need you to come and say, “Hey, what you just said might not hit the way you think you might hit.” I.e the head of what Wells Fargo, . Somebody should have been whispering saying, [crosstalk 00:37:24].

JENNIFER BROWN: Goodness that happened it’s not going to go well.

DENISE COOPER: I`t’s not going to go well. But also when it happens, we’ve also got to step forward. We’ve got to have that same person who we are in this relationship to go back and say, “Look, you made a mistake, it’s okay. Pick yourself up and get going.”


DENISE COOPER: Because it can’t come from people that look like the white male or white female or whatever, the person who’s who’s in the majority, it can’t come from another person like them. It’s got to come from us to say, I love this an analogy. If you had a child and your child was learning to walk. And the first thing they did was they got up and then they fell back down. You wouldn’t look at them and say, “You bid dummy.”


DENISE COOPER: You would say, “Oh my God, you tried.”


DENISE COOPER: You didn’t go the way Ray, let’s try this here. You’d hold your hand out and you’d help lift them up. And so yes, I know I’m angry. Yes. As a black woman, I hear these horrible comments that come, that I know this person who gives them to me does not understand that that’s it. I also hear the same horrible comments from people of color and marginalized people across.

JENNIFER BROWN: Sure. It doesn’t mean it’s not an exam test.

DENISE COOPER: Come out of your mouth, even permission for it to come out in somebody else’s because you’ve told the universe you’ve told every… you sent it out that I’m ready to receive this kind of pain back. That’s my belief. I’m sorry.

JENNIFER BROWN: No, I agree with you so much.

DENISE COOPER: So I try really hard not to put out that even when I see the most egregious things in the news, and we get inundated with it, we have to hold ourselves accountable around. If we want to see the change, we have to be the change. It’s not about welcoming or holding our hand out to just anybody, but it is about building a relationship and you don’t build relationships in a moment it’s over time. And it means I have to stay in relationship with you when you’re doing well. But also when you’re not.

JENNIFER BROWN: In sickness and in health and really the commitment, why don’t we have the same compassion that we have for that child? Wat is it about the business world? And you can argue, well, the business world has never been compassionate to so many of us?


JENNIFER BROWN: That’s true.

DENISE COOPER: That’s true.

JENNIFER BROWN: That is really true.

DENISE COOPER: Absolutely.


DENISE COOPER: And if we’re going to move forward, we cannot be recreating the same things we’ve always had. It just doesn’t work that way.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know we want to be satisfied. Right? We want that pound of flesh. We want that reparation. I get it. I am very torn about it, right? Because part of me, I don’t know if you saw Will Smith, the 30th anniversary of Fresh Prince, I guess, just happened and Will Smith had a beef with an older black woman? I think she plays his aunt on the show. I never watched it, but she’s like this towering successful Broadway Actress, like Shakespearian trained, whatever she thought Will Smith was not funny. And she let him know on the show and years ago. And so he had it out for her and literally ruined her life, ruined her career for years came after her. And if you want to read about this and hear about it, Will Smith just came on the Red Table Talks by Jada Pinkett Smith.

And he did a takeover of the Red Table Talks on YouTube and invited this cast member on to apologize. And I felt apology fine, but how do you make up for years of harm years? And it just really struck me, I was stuck in this, I want to acknowledge Will Smith’s work on himself. And the road he had to follow to come to the place of being able to apologize and identify how he caused harm. And she accepted it so beautifully. And I don’t want to spoiler alert, but it also struck me like, how do you readdress harm? And it’s the question I sit with and how, I think that it’s going to unfold in 2021 in a more assertive, sophisticated way.

I think we’ll talk about… I want to have both hand where harm can be addressed in a way that satisfies the harm caused. But there’s a lot of creative ways that we can do this. I think and it’s not always monetary. Sometimes it is right? I mean, Salesforce is CEO, the story discover the pay gap, Mark Benioff. And he wrote a $3 million check immediately to gross up everybody’s pay that was underpaid and said, “By the way, I will keep doing this, but we have to then let’s get underneath. Why did this happen in the first place?” And nobody talked, nobody addressed it. Right? I think we have to think about the systems change, the redressing of the harm, a variety of ways that we can look at power being shared.

Because I think that actually is the most powerful way we’re going to be able to redress is through economic opportunity. And to me, there’s been so many of us shut out of promotion and advancement, often it’s not the willful I’m going to keep you out because they don’t want you to be at the table. And I don’t want you to be in the C-suite, but the results, sadly of unconscious bias, just running through our organizations, like the water we drink and breathe.

DENISE COOPER: Yes. That’s our already [inaudible 00:42:52].

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. So we got to really be honest with ourselves. And I think the difficulty is going to be to there to honest assessment, however painful it is to say our organization causes harm. So if that’s true, let’s take apart our processes or systems let’s readdress. This let’s apologize where we need to. Let’s say this is our action plan for our accountability. And let’s create solutions that include all of us at the table when we architect those solutions, let’s be incredibly mindful of who wasn’t at the table originally when everything was done, that right? The system that was built not by and for so many of us let’s have the right people at the table and let’s create an inclusive place where people feel the psychological safety to give their input and know that it will be acted upon. Let’s do it right this time. And it’s so within our reach, this is not impossible, and it’s a huge 2020 has opened up this for all of us to fix what’s been needing to be fixed for so long.

DENISE COOPER: And to truly have inclusion and belonging for everyone, not just them and not just this who’s in a popular lane right now that we need to pay attention to, which is really a way it feels to me that what we do sometimes as we pit one against the other, because we still live in this mindset of-


DENISE COOPER: Yeah. And scarcity, well, there can only be-

JENNIFER BROWN: Binary ans scarcirt.

DENISE COOPER: … two at the table. There can only be, and while we’ve got this one and this one while this time, I look this way and so we’re always just trying this game of what feels like a game. And I know it’s very serious work. I’m not trying to marginalize it or even put it down. But sometimes I think we get so stuck in what’s in the way that we can’t see the way. And that’s what happens because we’re trying to do one year, three years, five year gaps when we really ought to be measuring is in the next 30 days, the next 60 days, the next 90 days, what’s one thing we can do to deepen a relationship?

What’s one more thing that we can do that will engender a conversation that’s more authentic than it’s been before. What’s one more thing that we can do that brings transparency to this problem. What’s one more thing that I can do to allow somebody to meet wrong and not kill them with judgment.

JENNIFER BROWN: Please. Because we need those potential allies. Remember the clueless person today is the potential champion of tomorrow. So when I say to people, when you burn that bridge, just think about what you’re doing. Because I have seen the results of a journey, a hard one journey progress. I know that it’s possible. And maybe listening to this, you might think it never happens. I’ve never known a leader like that. I’ve never, but I can tell you from where I sit, I won’t say I know plenty of them, but I know a bunch of them. And I know a bunch of works in progress. And I have a huge hopes and expectations for those people that they will grow, that they will become more comfortable, that they will be able to develop competency and courage with this.

And one of the most important sacred jobs that I have is to say, you can do this. I’ve seen how I see a head for you. I see how if you read this and do this and practice this and get comfortable being uncomfortable, I see your path. You may not see it yourself. And we need to help encourage because somebody encouraged us. I also say that to those of us who are the afflicted, remember, like you just said, we can be our own worst enemy. We have all the same ills that everybody else does just because I’m in the LGBTQ community doesn’t mean that we don’t experience toxic masculinity, cisgender privilege, male privilege.

We have racism in our community, transphobia in our community. So I give that hard message to some of us who think we’re holier because somehow our marginalized identity gives us a pass. We are still a product of this world and if we’re not extremely careful, we replicate that in our communities that should know better. So the change you said, change starts with me, let’s role model in intersectionalism, let’s role model grace, space, patience, compassion. Let’s role model inclusion and hold ourselves and our accountable and our feet to the fire about how well are we doing in our community? Like colorism, what kind of conversation are we having about all these things that these dynamics that play out?

I mean, each of our communities, mental health and all the other things that also tie us together even also that having those intersectional identities be represented. I like to go beyond race and gender when we talk about diversity dimensions, there’s more than that. We can walk into gum at the same time. We can have a more fulsome conversation about all kinds of identities you just said, “Oh, well, we can’t tackle the the LGBT thing, because we’ve been tackling racial justice this year.” We can’t have an incomplete way forward. I think we have to have an intersectional conversation that is, there are black identified people in the LGBTQ community, newsflash, and there are LGBTQ people in the black community. And if we can have that conversation about the most, I don’t love the word marginalized.

DENISE COOPER: And white male, I mean, it’s so just typical-

JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. [crosstalk 00:48:40].

DENISE COOPER: Okay, you didn’t know.


DENISE COOPER: I know that work again. It’s always everybody, if we come to the end of this and it’s like, we’re just revving up in terms of the conversation here. And so I have to say whatever, we have to come back and talk a little bit more-

JENNIFER BROWN: Let’s do it.

DENISE COOPER: … because several of the things that you talked about are sitting in my new book, that’s coming out and-


DENISE COOPER: … this really [crosstalk 00:49:07].

DENISE COOPER: I’m excited for you.

DENISE COOPER: I know, right? When you talk about the leader who can’t change, there’s one woman who’s who made it, her mission that she wasn’t going to take it like woman who said, “I’m not going to take this.” And she helped this white leader figure out how to become much more aware in a way that wasn’t embarrassing to her. By the end of the year, they were just like, “Oh my God, we’re friends. We’ve figured it out. We’ve learned to live.”


DENISE COOPER: Even down to black man who was he was gay and he was working for homophobic black manager.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my goodness wow.

DENISE COOPER: There’s just rich stories in it. And yes, this is a plug and I’m sorry.

JENNIFER BROWN: I can’t wait to read it. Oh, this is so good. You’re really charting a path or a new conversation, honestly.

DENISE COOPER: That’s the point of it. Isn’t about the strategists like you and me who are helping these leaders do this, but it is about what everyday people who are in this and just have made the decision. You know what? I am not going to do this again. I’m not going to walk this way. I’m not going to let somebody else pick it up for me. I’m going to learn how to find the skills to be able to move forward myself. I’m going to get in this game. And there’s a little thing that I can do because I can have a relationship with one person and I can make sure that one person is better.

JENNIFER BROWN: And that builds a pattern in us. But that first step is the hardest. So I love how you boil it down to say, tackle this in a bite size piece, and then enable yourself to feel a job well done, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: That the gratification of that, but also that’s how we start building a competency. The muscle starts with that first trip to the gym, right? And it’s going to be uncomfortable. You’re gonna be sore. And but if you keep going, you’re like, wow, I can do this. I can get stronger. It’s actually happening. So allowing that to the recognition for yourself that I am, I might be an old dog.

DENISE COOPER: But I can new tricks.

JENNIFER BROWN: I can do this. And I have to do it. If you can’t do this, then I worry for you. I believe we are that plasticity of our brains and our hearts continues. And in fact, there’s so many arguments that when we get older, different avenues open up for new behaviors and new skills, and we have so much wisdom at this age. So I just feel like, gosh, I’ve never been, in a winy ways, I’ve never been more able to connect the dots and adjust. And so it can really happen.

It needs to continue to happen because we are literally keeping this portal open for ourselves as humans, to our hearts and to being willing to be changed, right? And be changed and transformed in relationship with someone else is the holiest thing in our lives is to have somebody trust us with their truth is the, I think with the whole human experience is about that to be trusted and to extend love and to be given that compassion, there is no other thing. In the business world, doesn’t like to acknowledge that this is what’s going on, but it’s at the heart of our ability to create together and belong together.

DENISE COOPER: Yeah. I agree. I agree. So we’re at the point where, how can people get ahold of you?

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you too.

DENISE COOPER: I know it’s going to be in the show notes, but tell us what preference is.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Oh, it’s been such a lovely conversation. So we’ve got two books. We’ve talked about a couple of them. The first is Inclusion, Diversity, the New Workplace on the Will To Change. And then second book is How to Be an Inclusive Leader. So that came out in 2019. And then I have a podcast called the Will to Change, which I love that you’ve honed in on that actually. And I want to give credit to Bell Hooks work. So Bell Hooks has a book called Will to Change, which I recommend everybody go read because Bell Hooks is amazing. And then I have all the social handles like Twitter is @enniferbrown. Instagram is @jenniferbrownspeaks and please I have a whole amazing consulting team that goes into organizations and builds DEI strategy and develops customized learning programs. We do just really, I’m so proud of the work we do. So please call us if you’re interested in checking out our consulting work. That’s at jenniferbrownconsulting.com.

Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over @beta.hashe.com. You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live, head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes to learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.