|Jennifer Brown, Founder & CEO|
Jennifer Brown Consulting
Jennifer Brown Consulting (JBC) is in the business of Building Inclusive Workplaces for All.SM A strategic leadership, diversity and workplace consulting firm founded in 2006, JBC is committed to helping talent at all levels redefine leadership. JBC is in the business of transforming human potential aligning individual performance with organizational results.
Leading the team is Jennifer Brown. A highly sought-after speaker and thought leader, Brown has been captivating corporate leaders for over a decade. Her signature talk Finding Your Voice in the Workplace SM has been heard by thousands and transformed the lives of many who have heard it. One of Jennifer’s many passions in life is to help build more inclusive workplaces for all and she aims to do just that through her speaking across the country. In February of 2017 she released her much anticipated book, Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change. “Inclusion” offers a best practice approach to activating inclusion regardless of your role in the workplace.
Recently, Jennifer Brown spoke with me about this latest endeavor to welcome and engage new voices in the Diversity and Inclusion conversation.
How did you get your start in the Diversity and Inclusion(D&I) consulting world?
Personally, I was involved in many LGBT causes and specifically found myself in the LGBT and equality in the work-place conversation. It was my personal advocacy and I didn’t know how it would merge with what I was trained in, which was leadership and organizational development and change management.
I started JBC as a team building, coaching and training company. As my corporate clients moved into Diversity roles, I was exposed to who was being left behind in the workplace. Once, we realized how vital diversity training would become, it was a natural pivot and we began a focus on Diversity and Inclusion Consulting. We have always focused our work through a leadership lens, a change lens. We still carry that discipline forward.
How has that helped you in sharing your personal Diversity story?
I found my voice by easing into such a bold voice. I don’t think it would have been easy to stake a claim and be as bold as I am today. I think it would have been very difficult to have conversations without having the experience of the last 10 years. Today I am very comfortable in speaking about my personal diversity story.
How did your find your path to writing about Diversity and Inclusion?
Early on, I found myself on the Out and Equal board with the LGBT folks from all the big banks. It was quite eye opening to be part of the conversation in the very early days of the diversity conversation and what was shaping up to be corporate involvement.
There weren’t too many diversity consultants that looked like me. A white, LGBT woman. I sometimes think we are all too early when it comes to diversity and inclusion because I still meet with people who look at me as if I have 5 heads when I talk about D&I. There are people who think it’s no big deal, we don’t have a problem. They think we’re post the diversity conversation. I think many feel we want to have a conversation that many are not ready to have. Diversity used to be expressly race and ethnicity. Now we have a broader definition of who is diverse and what is a diversity story.
Today, we are talking about men, about allies, it’s a more inclusive conversation. We have the internet, we have a broader sense, richness of differences out in the world, we have more language to talk about it. We have more descriptors for ourselves and an understanding that identity is not a binary for so many of us. I think it’s cool in that the more we feel seen and not put into big monolithic groups the more effective we are going be when we speak about each other and ourselves in that very specific way. It means more people will feel seen and heard. I wanted to offer insights to how to have or, at least, start the conversation.
How different is this book for you? What has been the greatest challenge in culling your experience to come up with Inclusion?
The challenge in writing about D&I is that it’s such a moving target. The changes occurring in the last 4-6 months alone. People have seemed to awaken out of a sleep and said “Hey, wait, maybe I need to use my voice, my privileged for good” or “I need to be a part of the conversation,” whereas before I didn’t think they did. There’s a lot of awakening that is happening. If I were to write the book today, I would certainly have a different lens based on everything we’ve learned over the last 6 months.
I’m happy to have written a book that is evergreen. I have been told that this is a book that resonates with people whether they are D&I practitioners or the CEO of a Fortune 500 who loves it.
The book is appealing because there is an inclusion of people that are not typically included in the dialogue. It’s certainly not a book just about race, ethnicity, gender and LGBT. Its broader than that. I tried to cover all the things I’ve been exposed to in the consulting world for over ten years. I wanted to include the things I’ve seen, the stories that have moved me. The press and the research that I site and rely on to tell the personal stories I think need to be told. The inclusion of my own story and how and why I connect to the work on a personal level. It was challenging to figure out what belonged in the book. We’ve seen so many aspects of this conversation. I tried to identify what’s most helpful to someone who picks up this book and asks what is D&I? What do I need to know? My guiding principle was that I wanted to prepare as many people as possible from many different walks of life to jump into the conversation in any way that they can. It felt like a very broad book.
You inspire me and so many others in the community, who inspires you?
Matt Kidd’s dedication to putting on “Out Women In Business." As a white, cis gender, gay man who makes OWIB a priority is significant. That he is building a place for us to convene, putting the muscle and resources behind it so that we can all get together and while you are not part of our community and yet you are doing this for us. That is what an ally looks like.
How do you stay motivated?
I follow other people. I’m always looking to others to see how bold I need to be. I think we’re all inspiring each other and I don’t want to get comfortable. We must look to what we want our frontiers to be and ask ourselves “What’s the next step for me?"
What are best practices small businesses can access to cultivate a collaborative community.?
If you are a founder or CEO you are in the position to be overt about your diversity story. You can be an inclusive leader in any size of an organization. As a leader in business you are always teaching and you have opportunity to hold people’s feet to the fire when it comes to the basis on which you make decisions. If you are weaving D&I in your conversations or actions, you are teaching people it’s important to you. Exercise your economic muscle. Be an ally. Intentionally put yourself in places in which you are not the majority.
How do you think the conversation is changing?
More people are curious about how to have the conversation. People are looking for the language, ways to persuade, and asking “where do I start?" Working with the question of how is much easier than the question of why.
What is your message to the universe?
Spend time as an ally in other communities. Spend time listening. It is not always possible to “walk in other’s shoes." I really try to make time to do that when I need to know the basic issues for that community, so that I can speak to it. Creating opportunities to cross into other communities is really where the magic happens. It’s not only humbling, especially to people of privilege because of your color or gender or sexual orientation. It shows your solidarity but also gives you the language to advocate for that community.
As someone who personally reads a lot of this type of content, the title itself read not as a ”Call-to-Action” as much as a “Permission-to-Action” and that is powerful. We can all call-to-action but when people don’t feel empowered they aren’t going to do anything about it. The title alone is a permission saying “you can do this," “you can participate.”
"You can read what others have said about the book. The thing that resonates was that you can participate. No matter who you are, no matter where you fall on the bands of your company’s structure you can participate. Beyond that we need you to participate, please do, jump in!" - Jennifer Brown
To learn more about Jennifer Brown, her work and how you can get a conversation started. Pick up a copy of her book, Inclusion:Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change.