This episode, originally recorded for the “Unleash Your Greatness Within” podcast, features a conversation with Jennifer Brown and host TJ Hoisington as they discuss gender and sexual orientation, respect, kindness for all people, and how leaders can create inclusive cultures where everyone thrives.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- The changing nature of what it means to be a leader (11:45)
- The cost of hiding your true self at work (17:00)
- The demographic change that is occurring in the workplace (20:00)
- How to use pronouns in an inclusive manner (27:00)
- How to create more inclusion during meetings (33:00)
- The importance of “calling in” vs “calling out” (35:00)
- The power of voice (40:00)
- Why we need mentors (42:00)
- The myth of the meritocracy (47:30)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
TJ HOISINGTON: All right, without any further ado, let’s jump right into the interview. I’m really excited. Jennifer, welcome to the Unleash Your Greatness Within podcast.
JENNIFER BROWN: I am thrilled to be here, thanks for having me.
TJ HOISINGTON: Well, I’m excited to have you on the show. I’ve got to be honest, when your staff reached out to me and I read through a few things, I’ve felt like this is taking me out of my comfort zone, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yay, in a good way, in a good way.
TJ HOISINGTON: Totally a good way, totally a good way, but it just pays. So I’m really looking forward to the interview, I feel like we all have a lot to learn and there are insights. You and I had a quick phone call about a week ago in preparation for this interview only to make sure that we were on the same page and I felt like from that phone call, I felt your heart and I felt the goodness that you have and the passion that you have. And I think that is a powerful thing. So let’s jump right into it.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Yes, indeed.
TJ HOISINGTON: So one of the things we like to do with all of our guests for these success interviews is start off with your story.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, the winding road for many of us, I… So in my 20s, I’ll start there, I wanted to really make a difference in the world. So I found my way to nonprofits and I had every job under the sun in those great organizations. And I think I knew I needed to do purpose-driven work, it was really important to me, but I was also a singer on the side and that was always a passion but I never quite thought I could do it as a living. So I actually moved to New York and applied and got into a master’s program at a conservatory and got a master’s in vocal performance and I studied opera. And over the course of training for that, which I really wanted because I’d been a musical kid my whole life and it was something I was like, “What do I do with this talent and this passion?”
But sadly I kept injuring my voice as a vocalist and I had to get several surgeries. And you can recover from vocal surgery, but it’s hard. Your vocal chords will never be as flexible as they might need to be, particularly with repeated surgeries, so I knew I needed to reinvent and it was a really terrifying time. I felt like my passion was being kind of ripped away from me and my mechanism really to communicate and my mechanism to express my purpose in this world because it felt very personal.
But the good news is I had lots of performer friends who had to kind of find another way and things led me to what would become the second master’s degree I have, which is an organizational change and leadership development and HR at Fordham University. And I would then recreate myself into the field of training and development leadership and get some corporate roles. And so I moved up in HR teams to director level. I got laid off and then, this was about 15 years ago, and I said, “I think I need to be an external voice.” Because I want freedom, I have issues with authority. So I kind of didn’t want a boss, truthfully.
TJ HOISINGTON: I share that with you.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m sure you do, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
TJ HOISINGTON: Oh, yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yep. So I hung up my shingle, then I LLCed, and I started to kind of do what I used to do internally but from the outside. And it just felt amazing, I loved it. I loved facilitating trainings, I taught so many different soft skills classes. I was on my feet all the time. I was on planes, I was teaching things that I didn’t really know. And then the company sort of grew, I added to my team. We started to focus on diversity and inclusion, more specifically because all during this time of being a performer and then becoming an entrepreneur, I am a member of the LGBTQ community so I’ve been out since I was 22 and that was a while ago. However, I was closeted as a performer. I was worried about what will happen to my career if I’m honest about who I am. And so it was a tough road, I think.
And now I’ve sort of knitted all these pieces of who I am together and I embrace them equally and I’m the most aligned I’ve certainly ever been. And I’ve realized that our knowledge as a company can be utilized very effectively for furthering corporate strategies when it comes to diversity and inclusion. So that’s what we do today. I have a team of 25, we work with fortune 1000 companies. I get to keynote all over the world, I have two books. I get to use my voice, just not as a singer and that is really, really profound. And life sorts all of this out for you if you’re listening and if you hang in there long enough.
TJ HOISINGTON: Totally agree with that. It does sort it out, but you do have to be patient. I felt like when your team reached out to me, I immediately went to your website and I thought we worked for the same company, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Really?
TJ HOISINGTON: Because I noticed on one of the taglines you have on your website is, “We believe in unleashing the power of human potential, embracing diversity and helping people and organizations thrive.” So the words that stood out to me were unleashing the power of human potential, helping people, organizations and thriving. And I just thought, “Wow, we obviously have some things in common.” Do you find that most of what you are doing now is in the area of diversity and inclusion?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. But like you just said, actually, this is the human potential conversation. Yeah, it’s literally any of us who are passionate about leadership should be thinking all the time about who’s most enabled to be leaders? Who do we see when we say the word leader? Does a certain kind of person come to mind and another one doesn’t? Do we all have equal access to being leader, whatever kind of leader we want to be? And that’s where it gets really interesting because I’d say if you’re not uncomfortable on a regular basis, you’re not leading. So you should be seeking what’s uncomfortable and for a lot of the folks that we work with, the discomfort comes from difference.
I think it comes from stepping out of, “Well, my life has been this way and I’m comfortable here at this workplace.” And, “What do you mean other people aren’t? What do you mean things are getting in their way? What do you mean they hear comments and jokes that might make them feel discouraged and uncomfortable or that sort of offend them on a personal level but they don’t feel like they can say anything?” It’s very interesting that two people can be having a radically different experience of belonging at work, of reaching their full potential based on who they are. And that’s kind of where we’re at. So leadership needs to be inclusive. Now we have to, as leaders, kind of step up and say, “So what is everybody else’s experience here?” And be able to step out of our own lens and say, “I want to care about that. I actually want to make sure that nobody feels they have the obstacles that I’ve never experienced.” And that’s a huge opportunity.
TJ HOISINGTON: That is well said. I think I don’t know of any person that couldn’t agree with anything that you just said, right? Everybody should feel included, people shouldn’t be marginalized, right? Everybody has value. One of the things that I totally believe in for 25 years now in terms of human potential, I’ve been in organizations really helping people unleash their greatness within. And that means all people and means with all backgrounds, right? I’m a big believer that oftentimes it’s not… And you might have a different stance on this I don’t know, but I argue that it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. And we all come from different backgrounds, different circumstances. And I hope that my message is reaching out to people to teach, think big, push yourself, fight through it, be a victor, not a victim, those kinds of concepts.
And I just wrote down here, “We believe that all people have value in individual work, no matter where you come from, you can succeed. Everyone has a voice and they should express it.” And that I also believe I wrote down here, I just thought about it after reading your book, by the way, here’s the book.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, there it is.
TJ HOISINGTON: Yeah, How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, love that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Fab. [crosstalk 00:10:20].
TJ HOISINGTON: Well, I read through this, I spent all day yesterday going through it, taking… I don’t know if you can see that. [inaudible 00:10:28].
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that, that makes authors so happy when you see things like that.
TJ HOISINGTON: Oh, man. Oh, I go through stuff and I think through it, and I argue with myself. And that’s what I love about visiting with you and having you on the show, is I felt like you’ve come from a place of inclusive, of…
JENNIFER BROWN: I hope so, yes.
TJ HOISINGTON: … Right. Everybody matters and I think messaging has a big role to play. So here’s a question I have for you because on one of the first videos I watched of yours, the TEDx that you did.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
TJ HOISINGTON: And you talked about bringing your whole self to work. What does that mean, bringing your whole self to work?
JENNIFER BROWN: It means different things for different people and I think that’s the important part of it. Well, it’s become this mantra in the companies I work with because we know that when we’re comfortable at work and we feel we’re relaxed and we aren’t afraid or managing whether we belong or not, we actually do better work when we’re creative. And that’s so obvious, right? It’s so intuitive. But I think when we say, “Bring your whole self to work, bring your best or full self,” or whatever the word is, it is easy for some of us to do that and it’s not as easy for others. And that those of us it’s not easy to do is when bringing your full self to work means that you’re taking on some risks in terms of alienating people, you’re the only one that has a certain identity and nobody’s talking about it and yet it’s a really big part of who you are.
So I’ll just give you an example, 50% of people who identify as LGBTQ are closeted in the workplace, so one in two. So imagine the lengths to which you have to go to have no pictures on your desk, to sanitize pronouns when you’re speaking about loved ones, when you can’t talk about what you did over the weekend. And I guess depending on if you’re sitting on a certain side of the table, you might say, “Oh, please, everyone’s fine with that now.” Like, “We’re so beyond that.” But we’re not beyond it because one in two people are literally hiding who they love and who their family is on a day-to-day hourly basis, literally. And if you can imagine what that feels like, just imagine all of our heterosexual listeners using a same-sex pronoun to describe your significant other every single day and all the reactions that you would get at work.
I mean, that’s just a small sliver of what it feels like to walk through the world when you don’t see anyone that looks like you, you don’t hear anyone speaking comfortably about diversity and including that aspect of diversity. And so the result is then you have a lot of people who are hiding. And when you’re hiding, there’s no way you can show up with that executive presence. There’s no way you can be fully present in a creative meeting or come up with that next big idea. There is no way that your colleagues can feel they really trust you because it’s all about relationships in the workplace. And when you have to hide all of that stuff, you might get feedback that you’re, “Oh, I don’t really know them. I’m not sure I know…” Because we trust what we know. And if so many people are hiding because they’re afraid of how you’re going to react to who they are, you’re definitely not going to feel that warm and fuzzy. And then you may not promote that person, you may not think of that person, you may not feel close to that person.
So it’s very insidious in terms of the opportunity cost of all of this for so many people. And LGBTQ is just one example. I mean, I do a lot of seminars with women and female leaders who are sort of what we call covering all the time. So wondering how to soften their message, say they have a strong opinion about something that they know they’re not going to be heard in a fair way. They’re going to be called angry or defensive when all they’re being is emphatic, for example, that’s a very well-known double standard. So women engage in this, I would say, people of color are walking around workplaces where there’s not a lot of people of color, particularly in the executive level, there’s almost none. And then if you’re multiple things, right, at once, then you have this calculation to do. By the way, this all takes tons of energy, tons.
TJ HOISINGTON: Well, and it does for the heterosexual group too, because they’ve got to figure out…
JENNIFER BROWN: Who’s not telling me who they are, what’s getting in the way of their performance?
TJ HOISINGTON: … For sure. I listened one of your podcasts you had with Rob Smith, founder of the Phluid Project, which I thought was a great interview and I thought he came across really well. He said toward the end, “I may misgender someone at some point,” something to that effect and I give you permission to correct me. So I just think it takes a lot of energy as I travel and visit with groups and so forth. In a sense it’s not really a new world, but it’s a new in many respects. It is more real, probably in the workplace probably now than it’s ever been before.
JENNIFER BROWN: And it’s not going away.
TJ HOISINGTON: For sure.
JENNIFER BROWN: So the demographic changes is massive and it’s here to stay. And so now we have Gen Y millennials are the dominant generation from a numbers perspective in the workplace. So that’s a sea change. And then when you think about how diverse that group is, right, in every conceivable way, way beyond gender and ethnicity and there’s major mental health issues for Generation Z in particular, where they’re going to be bringing their full selves to work, right? Because this is our mantra and this is good. It’s actually good for business. We need to see full people, we don’t want people to sanitize themselves. That’s actually not great for business and for innovation and all the other things.
So we’re coping with a huge change and these younger generations really prize inclusiveness, it’s a world that they’ve grown up with. And then they come into these corporate spaces and they’re like, “What is wrong with these people?” They seem to be totally clueless, nobody’s talking about this when I just came out of school where everybody’s talking about it. They don’t understand what allyship is, which we can talk about that today if you’d like, but it doesn’t just mean you don’t just have to be a diverse person to be supportive. A lot of people in the younger generation, no matter how you identify, this is a generational value that’s across the board.
So you’ve got this group coming in and then they’re like, “Wait a second, we have to go to mandatory diversity training? Why do I have to be taught how to value other people?” And they value themselves more fully, I think, than our older generations did where we had to engage in a lot of behaviors to sort of hide. Just ask any woman who wore the duck ties and the shoulder pads in 80s, you had to conform or die. That was the only choice. And now we have so many people coming in and wanting to be asked their pronouns. I was part of the opening team meeting, it is really different.
TJ HOISINGTON: So let’s pause there and just for the listener sake, because I asked this on the call because it was really great…
JENNIFER BROWN: I loved that you asked.
TJ HOISINGTON: Oh my goodness. So help us understand the whole pronoun. I think I heard somewhere as I was studying, we don’t call it preferred pronoun anymore or something like that. Okay, something.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right, that’s right.
TJ HOISINGTON: So I’m trying to learn.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.
TJ HOISINGTON: So explain that. Because when I went to your website, one of the first things I did was go to the about page and then I looked at all your team members and underneath all their pictures is their name. And then the pronoun that I assumed they prefer being…
JENNIFER BROWN: Referred to with.
TJ HOISINGTON: … Referred to with.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, yes.
TJ HOISINGTON: Right, right. And so some of them I got them here. Underneath some names you have she, her, hers while for someone else it’s maybe they, them, there and so forth. So just explain that, would you?
JENNIFER BROWN: Sure thing. Okay, so in the old days, I think we, including me, I think mostly understood sexual orientation, right? As a continuum of identity, gay, straight and bi and all these other things, but it’s a continuum. We called it LGBT and we put it on a binary like you’re either gay or not. But identity has never really been a binary, it’s just been a sort of shortcut to make it easier, but that’s never been true. And so identity is always a continuum, not a binary. And so sexual orientation is where your romantic affiliation, right? The gender of the person you want to fall in love with, be with, create your life with. And then gender identity is totally different actually, which most people don’t understand and gender identity is also a continuum, but they kind of live this way. They’re not the same, they’re actually two different continuums. And everybody can be on a different places on each of these.
So for me, I’m in the LGBT community and I choose to have my life with my partner 20 years, Michelle, but on the gender binary and the gender expression continuum, sorry, not binary, I identify as a very feminine presenting. So my gender identity it’s called cisgender, which is the opposite of transgender. So cisgender means that I was born in a body whose gender matches my sense of my gender, my sense of my gender is a woman and I was born in a woman’s body. So that means I’m cisgender, cis means same in Latin. And then the opposite end of the continuum is trans and then in the middle there’s gender non-binary or gender fluidity. You mentioned the Phluid Project and Rob Smith the other day, that’s gender neutral clothing. So that was the guests that I had on my podcast.
So gender neutrality or fluidity or nonbinary is exactly that, which is it’s somewhere in this continuum between the binaries and what we’re learning about identity now that we have a lot more science and physicians and not everybody wants to have surgery, not everyone wants to transition completely. They may want to live in the middle and that’s where they’re comfortable. And so it’s interesting for pronouns because my pronouns are she, her, hers, yours might be he, him, his.
TJ HOISINGTON: It is. [crosstalk 00:21:17].
JENNIFER BROWN: Yep. And my friend Cats are they, them, theirs because Cat identifies as a non-binary. So anyway, it’s an interesting and challenging time and I don’t think it’s going to slow down. I think [crosstalk 00:21:32].
TJ HOISINGTON: It is because I think of the books that I write, right? How far does it go, right? Anyway, it’s just a new world to think through.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s a new world.
TJ HOISINGTON: So that we’re being respectful of everyone, right? That’s the end goal.
JENNIFER BROWN: So managers will ask me often, “Okay, Jennifer, I get it.” Or my kids identify as nonbinary or my kid has a friend who’s… I mean, more and more kids are coming home to the dinner table, bringing this to our dinner table. Like it’s happening. And then it’s happening in our workplaces too, in our teams. So what we don’t want to do, like you referenced earlier is misgender folks by assuming that what we think we see as their gender is actually correct because they may not identify as that. And so the thinking is that we want to inquire and create a safe enough space for people to share that should they choose to. So what it sounds like is if I’m a new manager, I might say, “Hey team, I’m really excited to get this project going.” Maybe I’ve put together a team, “Let’s start with our introductions, I’ll go first. My name’s Jennifer, my pronouns are she, her, hers. Next.”
Literally just nothing, easy part of our day-to-day. And then it’s not a forced to have everybody do the same, but it is an indication that I’m trying to be an inclusive leader, that I am not presuming that everybody shares my identity just because that’s my identity. And that’s what’s called just to throw a really big word, when we assume everybody’s heterosexual it’s called heterosexism. It’s meaning that it never even crosses your mind so when you meet somebody that looks like a man, you assume they identify as a man and you also assume they might have a wife or a girlfriend. So you might say, “Oh, so what does your wife do?”
And then that puts a person in a tough position to have to come out to you if they want to and if they trust you, right? If you’re a client, if you do business all over the world, it’s very risky to actually come back to that and say, “Actually let me correct you,” or whatever. So anyway, people just go silent, they don’t say anything. And not saying anything turns into months and years of not saying anything to the point where you’ve created an entire lie about who you are. And then you have this giant decision to make at some point in your career to say, “Hey, by the way, I’ve been lying to you for all these years.” It’s like, “This is who I really am.” We don’t want to put people in that position.
TJ HOISINGTON: So do you expect everyone like what I go in and provide my pronouns? Is this everyone should be doing it kind of a thing?
JENNIFER BROWN: Well, I mean, if you’ve got younger people on your teams, you’ve got to know that this is one aspect of language and identity that they’re pretty comfortable with. And when you are not comfortable with it or it seems that you don’t know anything about it, they may just notice like, “Okay, this person is of an older…” Don’t you love this okay boomer stuff, I’ve been reading about it online. So interesting. But it’s literally like, “Okay, so maybe this manager isn’t quite informed.” And I don’t know if as leaders we can really afford… The only kind of leadership is the kind of leadership that’s received, that’s actually followed. That’s all that matters. Perception is reality, it’s not, “Oh, I’m a great leader. And I think I’m a great leader, it doesn’t matter what everybody else needs. I’m going to enact leadership in the way that I was taught.”
That is a very dangerous place to be. And I’m not saying morally, I mean, I think it’s a moral argument, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s literally to me, how do you want to generate followership? How do you want to enable your colleagues to feel welcomed, valued, respected and heard? And do you want to be that person that creates that dynamic or not?
TJ HOISINGTON: So I imagine at least in some of the organizations you go into that there’s probably some pushback, is that fair to say?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, absolutely.
TJ HOISINGTON: Because in the training, the corporate training we’ve done for many years and still do, I’ve got to be honest. We talk about brainstorming norms that aren’t serving the organization, or we go through these exercises where we talk about processes and so forth that are impacting culture or are limiting the effectiveness of employees and so forth. And I’ve got to say, when I was reading your book, as I was reading it, I thought, “I agree.” In terms of I agree with the base principle, right? Of inclusion and being respectful and kindness. And there’s actually specific words that you used in here that everyone should go read it. Because you have a lot of information in here that it does open your eyes to some different things. I feel like there are some people that are probably in these teams, in these organizations that I mean, struggle with having them to accept this and I get that we need to, because every human has value.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. And we can’t afford to leave any of that human on the sidelines when it comes to making sure we are responsive to the world that we live in, the world that we do business in, the world that we hire from. It’s sort of a not a winning strategy to sort of say, “Well, I don’t care about this because I think I can hire without knowing about this. I can hire without looking at my processes. I can build great teams and not think about diversity of thought.” I mean, how that sort of creative abrasion happens in order to create a one plus one equals three scenario. So it’s a choice for sure, and you can sort of say, “Well, I think I do this anyway as a leader, I’m inclusive. I don’t need to read the book.” I think a lot of people actually think they’re great at this.
TJ HOISINGTON: I am sure you’re right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But when I’ve done the training over the years, I just thought, “We’ve done a lot of what you’ve talked about in the book in terms of the core principle,” to the point it blows me away, the whole concept of gender or sexual orientation, if I’m saying that right. I apologize if I’m not.
JENNIFER BROWN: You are, you are. They’re different. Yep, good job.
TJ HOISINGTON: Okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: Good job.
TJ HOISINGTON: It’s never come up and maybe it’s because you said on one of the phone calls that one in five people… What was the wording? You don’t identify…
JENNIFER BROWN: One in five people under the age of 35 identify as not straight and not cisgender.
TJ HOISINGTON: Okay. So maybe in these meetings that we have, we talk about respect in the workplace and all these different things, but it’s never been brought up specifically as a talking point.
JENNIFER BROWN: I think the reason it’s not coming up, there’s a lot of reasons. I think there’s a lot of fear to bring it up. If you feel you’ve been left out of the conversation, nobody listens to you. I’ve had the experience as a woman of being in many meetings where I’m the expert and I’m the most senior person in the room, but everybody responds to things I say by looking at my male colleague. Literary it’s like…
TJ HOISINGTON: I get you.
JENNIFER BROWN: … Right? Or being spoken over or having ideas stolen or feeling that you can’t jump in because the extroverts are sucking up all the air in the room. There’s all kinds of meetings or perfect Petri dishes for inclusion and exclusion. They are great examples of places where so many exclusionary behaviors are sort of allowed to happen unless somebody is actually noticing them. And so if you see, you said you do a lot of sort of consulting on what’s effective brainstorming, but brainstorm is only as good as people’s comfort in bringing themselves to that table and to being heard. And if somebody is feeling smaller then because of their difference of identity and they feel smaller then in general in the company, and they’re may be the only one at the table or even in the company or at their level. That person is, I can promise you, is sort of probably wrestling with, “How much do I say and do I belong here? And will I be listened to?”
TJ HOISINGTON: I believe that there are of the thousands of people we work with in a given year, for example.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
TJ HOISINGTON: There are people that feel that way outside of the sexual orientation or gender issues. I mean, just people in many respects are just afraid to share their ideas, that there might be some form of reprisal at any level.
JENNIFER BROWN: True, true.
TJ HOISINGTON: And so encouraging the listeners, you have to be willing and step in here if you have a different take on this or whatever, you’ve got to have courage to be a force for good. You have to have courage to stand up. For example, if you prefer to be referred to as a pronoun they, them, there, you’ve got to make that known. And understand at the same time that that might throw some people off. And that might be a little different for some people because of their belief system, their map of reality. And so both sides, would you agree with this? Both sides need to be patient with each other.
JENNIFER BROWN: I agree with that. I think, yeah, and there’s a lot of we like to say calling in versus calling out. So I don’t know if your listeners would know what call-out culture is? Call-out culture’s the unfortunate… It is when people are publicly shamed for saying the wrong thing, when it comes to everything we’re talking about and maybe doing that in Twitter, maybe calling out a CEO who’s trying to make remarks about diversity and how important it is. It can happen in a lot of ways. And it is very, I think, really harmful. What we like to say instead is calling in and the calling in energy is, “Hey, can we have a conversation about this? Maybe we can share stories, maybe I can share some about my life and you can share about yours. And we can come to a greater understanding so that we can both be respectful and maybe know what we don’t know.”
And so much of the book is about kind of making sure that as you’re learning that you’re creating a safe circumstance for learning for yourself so that if you make a mistake, you have somebody who has your back. You would just ask me like, “Jennifer, how should I use this language?” “That’s a great question. I am so happy to guide you on that and I’m the perfect person to teach you.” So I think the important thing is don’t make me Jennifer do all your work. Do some reading yourself, try to sort of consume media that shares about certain communities of identity that I have.
TJ HOISINGTON: Listen to this podcast, listen to your podcast, listen to others. Okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly, exactly. Totally. And then once you sort of step out and you say, “Do the right thing.” So maybe you as my ally, you’re in a meeting, you’re a coworker of mine. You notice that I’m getting spoken over a lot, or you notice that normally I’m really opinionated, but I’m being really quiet. What you could do is say, “I know Jennifer, you have some great ideas about this.” So hold on a second, Jennifer just made that point. And I want to redirect this back to what she said. So you can constantly be when you’re an ally to those who have less of a voice because of unconscious bias, because that’s happening all the time.
When you become sensitive to that, you can actually play referee for all that stuff. And you then you lessen my work, which would be, “Oh my gosh, I’m not feeling heard, I’m just going to sit back. Oh, I’m never heard. I’m never taken seriously. I’m going to leave this company because nobody ever listens to me and there’s so much unconscious bias and nobody’s noticing, let alone helping me. So unless I say something nothing’s going to be said. And I think that’s what leads to that hopelessness. And I think that leads to retention issues.
TJ HOISINGTON: Yeah, hopelessness. And it does connect to retention issues, I heard that loud and clear.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes it does, yes for sure.
TJ HOISINGTON: So I just want to say everyone should be doing what you just said anyway, regardless of where you come from.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, true.
TJ HOISINGTON: And I love it when I see in our meetings where someone will be a referee for someone that probably has lost… Stephen lost their voice. Stephen Covey said in his book, The 8th Habit, when I was reading your book, it was drawing me back to Stephen Covey’s book, The 8th Habit, where he said two things, “Find your voice and inspire others to find their voices.” And then he goes on to say, “You are either finding or expressing your voice, or you have lost your voice. The path to mediocrity straight jackets, human potential, the path to greatness unleashes and realizes human potential. Voice is powerful, and everybody should have a voice and should be able to express it.” I’m a huge believer in that.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that.
TJ HOISINGTON: All right. I know that we’re looking at, well, not too close, but we’re coming up on time a little bit. And I feel like I got so much to go over. Okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: Okay.
TJ HOISINGTON: All right. So I did hear last night, I just happened to flip on the TV and Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota said, “We live in a world that’s addicted to being offended.” As I was thinking over the past week and studying these concepts which I think are important, I really do. I think all people have value and we got to respect and be kind. I think kindness is king, kindness is queen, kindness is the right way to be… To me, you can’t argue that, every one of us can be more kind at all levels. But I do wonder if we live in a victim kind of culture a little bit. Any thoughts on that? Just how to be balanced a little bit?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Well, I like to counsel the young people I work with who are new, say in corporate America, or they’re emerging leaders or they’re high-potential leaders, that valuing our ourselves starts with us. If you are different, if you are underrepresented, if you have been marginalized, if you do here what we call microaggressions which is a word that’s important for I think your audience to look it up. It’s the little comments and jokes and things that we have traditionally thought were really innocuous, but that actually are sort of usually offensive relating to somebody’s culture. And I do think that our language has a ton of bias in it that we probably could stand to improve. I mean, that is a fact, it’s a fact. I hear teenagers sometimes, “Oh, that’s so gay.” I mean, think about how that feels to hear. And I’ve had those conversations in my own family and they’re, “Oh, I just mean it’s funny. Oh, I just mean it’s strange. Yeah, okay. So…”
TJ HOISINGTON: But the receiver may hurt.
JENNIFER BROWN: Okay. So I think those young leaders that I try to counsel to say, “Celebrate all of who you are and in living authentically and bringing your full self to your workplaces, you are going to create positive change.” And I know that that’s really difficult for some of you because you look around, you don’t see anyone that looks like you. Maybe you work for a company where you look at the senior leadership and there’s nobody that in an obvious way shares your identity. So what we think when we’re at that level looking up is, “Oh, there’s no chance for me to get there. There’s nobody that has done it.” And therefore, the sad thing and the tragic thing is that we sort of surmise them that there’s no way I can make [crosstalk 00:37:51].
TJ HOISINGTON: No way. I think if you think you can, my thoughts, defy the odds, go after it. Don’t believe it’s not possible.
JENNIFER BROWN: Don’t give in to that.
TJ HOISINGTON: Don’t give in to that, don’t succumb.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know, I know. If people don’t have people like you and me in their lives, where are they going to hear that message? How are they going to be strengthened through mentorship to say, “No, you are actually so talented and you could be the first and you can crack through that ceiling. And you can be all those things, even though you don’t see them, you can be them.” And I think it’s easy for you and me because we’re so confident, but there’s so many people that when you pick up this vibe that you sort of internalize it, then it results in you playing smaller, it results in self-doubt, it results in imposter syndrome which I’m sure you’ve talked about on your show.
The imposter syndrome is not equally felt, imposter syndrome lives I think more commonly in anyone who’s underrepresented because you’re literally the first person that you’ve ever seen. And you’re sort of feel like you’re hanging on tenuously to everything you accomplish. It’s almost like, “Oh, I’m not sure I even belong here.” But even though you’ve earned your place there, you are always doubting whether you belong there or you’re sort of having to be like 150% perfect and have like 10 times the qualifications, because you also are representative of an entire group of people that has never been at that table before. So it’s very intense, this is not a joke.
And I know it’s hard for people to understand and you just have to believe me, I guess. This is something that happens to us and I can speak from personal experience that I’ve literally studied how men behave in business and I have emulated it, I have copied it, I have practiced it because I have lacked role models and I have struggled with the imposter syndrome and whether I belong. But that’s me, lucky me, I was supported to do that. I happened to look a certain way that’s acceptable in the business world, whatever. So I had things going for me that made my journey a bit easier than a lot of other people and I’m still saying as a published author, as a major keynoter, I still have those moments where I play too small, because I don’t think I saw anyone living the life that I’m living. And honestly I didn’t, particularly women who were at the level I’m at now. So I think a lot about how I can be visible for others because that wasn’t something that I had.
TJ HOISINGTON: Well, you were really authentic there. To be really real, I love it. Okay, so a couple of thoughts.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
TJ HOISINGTON: I learned early on that sarcasm splits the spirit in half.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, wow.
TJ HOISINGTON: Sarcasm, I taught my children that, it’s never okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: I don’t like it either, so in agreement with that.
TJ HOISINGTON: I don’t like it. When someone is trying to be funny and sarcastic to me, I feel like sarcasm eats at the lowest common denominator. So that’s number one, it’s just a quick thought. Another thought I had was as you were talking is I wrote a chapter in one of my books The Secret of the Slight Edge, said, “If you are what you do, then when you don’t you aren’t.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Ooh.
TJ HOISINGTON: Think about that. If you are what you do, when you don’t you aren’t. Here’s my point. If you base your happiness and fulfillment in life based on the results you can create, if that’s the basis of your happiness, I got news for you. You will probably be unhappy a lot of the time, right? Happy people are people that are grateful people, that are abundance-mindset people, that have the tendency to look for the good, not the bad. And I remember early on Dr. Phil once taught, he says, “People treat us based on our own behavior.” So I think in the later portion of your book where you talked about messaging and getting people to align with you, but doing it respectfully and calmly is the way I would say is really important. Now, here’s a quick question I have a little pushback on, I’m not sure that I do though.
JENNIFER BROWN: Okay, try me. Totally.
TJ HOISINGTON: You’re going to help educate me.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sure.
TJ HOISINGTON: So in our society, we’re taught that anybody can achieve their dreams if they just work hard enough, that’s the American dream, right? Or the meritocratic mindset is often reflected in the workplace. But you say and how to be an inclusive leader, you say, “Meritocracy is a myth.” Now let me pause you before you answer this because I had to read that portion of the book several times, the term privilege came up. So based on my research this week, probably more than ever before, I realized I’m a person of privilege…
JENNIFER BROWN: And so am I.
TJ HOISINGTON: … But it’s a definition thing, right? If nothing else, simply because I’m a white male, therefore I’ve been blessed with certain opportunities afforded to me that others weren’t afforded. My question is life isn’t fair. For example, I came from a family of eight children. My dad was in the army. Growing up was always financially tight. I did not have a silver spoon in my mouth, but when I locked on the idea by listening to a tape start in at 15 years old of a motivational speaker named Jim Rohn, who was Tony Robbin’s first teacher, Jim Rohn.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, interesting. I didn’t know that.
TJ HOISINGTON: I was laying in my bed and he taught me that I could be anything that I wanted to be, that I didn’t need to allow my circumstances to define my reality.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
TJ HOISINGTON: And so I remember taking that and looking at my circumstances. So this is where I was. My circumstances I felt like were here, but my ideal vision of where I wanted to be was up here. And between that, we call cognitive dissonance, right? So in this space creates a lot of energy and power and motivation to either move toward the desired ideal or to resort to the old or the current or whatever.
JENNIFER BROWN: The victim [crosstalk 00:44:39].
TJ HOISINGTON: Or the victim. So I wrote here, I actually printed out this out of my book. “If you think you can…” As I said, I didn’t say this in the book, but I wrote on the side, “Some people were born with circumstances where they received privileges that they didn’t create. But the flip side, and this is what makes America great, is that you can start out with nothing in this country and make something of yourself. And I got stories and stories and stories over the years of immigrants that came to the country with 10 cents or 50 cents in their pocket and became millionaires and unbelievable opportunity. And I write in the book, “True achievers make the habit of not sitting around waiting for their break, they create it. They take action.”
Howard Schultz, Starbucks Coffee founder and chairman asked, “What distinguishes the talented person who makes it from the person who has even more talent who doesn’t get ahead? Part of what constitutes success is timing and chance. But most of us have to create our own opportunities and be prepared when we see the big ones that others can’t see. I just want to encourage all listeners. And given your take on this in terms of meritocracy, I get from the definition, I’m a person of privilege, but on the flip side of that I felt like I wasn’t a person of privilege, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, right.
TJ HOISINGTON: Because I came from a little bit more of a difficult upbringing and I was able to kind of fight through that. And so where’s the balance there?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I’m so glad you asked about this because it’s where a lot of people are stuck. The word privilege, first of all, has been a bit weaponized, right? So even I have felt that when I’m honest about my… I had a very different background than you, even though maybe somebody would lump you and me together based on what they see, but actually you and I are vastly different from a socioeconomic diversity perspective, right? So you and I are diverse in that way. But we have traditionally talked about diversity a lot is gender and ethnicity-based because those were the underrepresented demographics in the workplace and still are and many programs have been oriented around that. So when you say that we’re diversity, those are the things that come up, like affirmative action will come up, for example.
But now the way we talk about diversity is literally all the nuances of other kinds of diversity. Like the one I just said between you and me, we are both white and we may be both cisgender, I’d say, but we have socioeconomically incredibly different kinds of families. And so when I open up to say everyone has a diversity story, I would invite if you were an executive in one of my rooms, you would have shared what you just shared. And I’ve had Jewish executives say, “I’m on a Christian-dominated management team and I’m in a part of the country where that’s the predominant religious value here.”
And therefore when my company scheduled a meeting over my high holidays and I went home to my wife and I said, “Should I say anything?” It didn’t occur to anybody. And we decided that I wouldn’t say anything. And I just went back to work and skipped my holidays. So it’s just that extra sensitivity to who’s in the room that is often invisible. So we talk about visible diversity and invisible diversity. For me being LGBTQ, it’s like something I can choose to hide or to share. And oftentimes when I share it, I feel like I’m sort of out on a limb and I’m taking a really big risk because I feel like I could hurt my credibility, I could hurt my ability to be listened to. And I know you wouldn’t support that as my friend, as my colleague, as my boss, you’d be like, “No way, Jennifer’s got the goods.” But the problem is not everybody’s aligned with you. And I know that, so I’m not going to talk about that, I’m going to minimize it and hide it.
Anyway, but I’m a person of many privileges. And I think funny enough, all of us have privilege actually. No matter who you are, you’ve got some, I say to my diverse audiences where there’s a lot of black and brown faces. I’ll say, “Look, you’re in this room today. The fact that you could take a day off and come listen to a speaker like me means that some company’s paying your salary and you didn’t have to leave your hourly job and come and listen to me and risk your job.” So anyway, it’s so universal and instead of weaponizing privilege as something to be ashamed of, the way I talk about it is that my privileges and I would define that maybe as the things that have been relatively easier for me in my life. So you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, but the fact is though that as you looking like you went through the world, people were relatively, perhaps more comfortable with you being a leader and being an author because they’ve seen you before, right?
TJ HOISINGTON: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: So you’re not unusual from a demographic perspective. So when you put an idea on the table, people are going to be like, “Of course, we believe you totally.” So anyway and you’re very charismatic, you’re confident, you’re an extrovert, you’re a tall man, even height has a lot to do with our believability. Anyway, so the things that you might say, “Well, I earned it all.” I would argue, yes, you totally closed that gap, but you had some helping factors, just like I had some helping factors. And actually I can still get into rooms and tell the truth and challenge people in a much easier way than somebody that doesn’t look like me. I can literally say the same exact thing, but I can make that point.
TJ HOISINGTON: I believe that.
JENNIFER BROWN: So that to me, privilege comes with an opportunity to get into rooms, to say things, to challenge up here, to take a risk on the part of somebody that needs some help being seen and heard. And it’s just very simple, it’s actually good leadership. To your point, it’s noticing, “Where can I maybe intervene here? Where can I point something out? Where can I maybe just take somebody aside and make them aware of what they’re saying, what they’re doing, that they probably don’t even mean to be harmful and exclusionary,” because so many of us don’t see ourselves operating. We don’t see the blind spots in our own leadership. So we need that reflective mirror. And it would help me as a woman in the room when you’re in for you to say, “Hey, we’re interviewing all these people for this new role, there’s no women on this list.”
And that would be great for you to point out instead of me to have to always be the squeaky wheel to say, “Hey, where are the women? Where are the women? Where are the women?” Like, “Do you think this is smart? When we have like 15% women at VP and up in this company and there’s no women being considered at all of these talent reviews or interview processes.” That should be concerning just from a demographic perspective alone. And if you notice that, it’s more powerful than if I notice it.
TJ HOISINGTON: That’s right. And we’re moving into a world and into a future where more of this is going to be a priority.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
TJ HOISINGTON: So this is great. Listen, I know that your message and this is why I had you on the show. I just felt a connection to you. I feel like what you’re doing, what you’re striving to do is a positive thing, is a good thing to bring awareness around these issues. First of all, everyone…
JENNIFER BROWN: The book.
TJ HOISINGTON: … her book is how to be an inclusive leader, make sure that you go to Amazon or go to any bookstore where it’s located and get your copy. Is there anything else that you would like to give direction to your website or how can people get in touch with you?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, absolutely. And I want to say I did the audio book myself, so I used to do voiceovers. So if you like the sound of my voice, feel free to-
TJ HOISINGTON: Do you sing a little bit. [crosstalk 00:52:53].
JENNIFER BROWN: No, I kind of can’t, but that’s okay.
TJ HOISINGTON: [inaudible 00:52:57].
JENNIFER BROWN: And then let’s see. So I have a first book, if you liked this one, you might want to rewind and read Inclusion, which was my 2017 book, which was my first. And then I have a podcast called The Will To Change. It’s on iTunes and anywhere you can adjust your podcast content. And then on social, I might add Jennifer Brown on Twitter. I’m @JenniferBrownspeaks on Instagram and Jennifer Brown Consulting on LinkedIn and Facebook. And if you’re curious about our consulting services or me as a keynoter, which I do a lot of and I really enjoy, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TJ HOISINGTON: Perfect. It was great to have you on the show and I feel like we just touched the tip of the iceberg.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know.
TJ HOISINGTON: All right. Well, I’ll let you go-
JENNIFER BROWN: Read the book.
TJ HOISINGTON: For sure. Make it a great one and I wish you continued success.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.