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On closing the gap of inclusion and diversity in the workplace - Jennifer Brown [Interview]

Anushka
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30
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On closing the gap of inclusion and diversity in the workplace - Jennifer Brown [Interview]
On closing the gap of inclusion and diversity in the workplace - Jennifer Brown [Interview]

About Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is the Founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting. She is an award-winning Entrepreneur and a well-known diversity and inclusion speaker. She is the host of the popular weekly podcast, ‘The Will to Change’. Jennifer has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, AdWeek, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, Inc., CBS, and many more. We are honored to have her on our interview series today. 

Aishwarya Jain

On closing the gap of inclusion and diversity in the workplace - Jennifer Brown [Interview]

We have the pleasure of welcoming Jennifer Brown today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick introduction of PeopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month. 

Aishwarya

Welcome, Jennifer. We’re thrilled to have you.  

Jennifer

Thank you so much for having me. 

Aishwarya

Thanks, Jennifer. Our Pleasure. 

So, Jennifer, let me start with the first question. If you could tell us a little bit about your work as a diversity and inclusion speaker?

Jennifer

Sure. So I started in this work over a decade ago, and I come from a perspective not just as a woman business owner, which has been in education. And not always the easiest road, but also as an LGBTQ+ person. I've been out since I was in my early twenties, and so a lot of my work is informed by my identity and that piece of my experience. 

It's also informed by a lot of other diversity dimensions that make me who I am that include both these, we might say, marginalized identities, and also the identities that give me certain privileges that enable me to do certain things as a change agent. So that's been the way that my identity has contributed to what I do today. 

But my career path was also an interesting way that I was led to this work. I was in non-profit activism in my twenties, so I worked for community organizations. I never thought I would work in corporate America, as we say, but I was always about impact. It was really important for me to work from a sense of purpose and justice, but I was also a singer. 

So on the side, I would sing all the time. I had bands, I was singing with the Boston Symphony. I finally got to pursue my dream by moving to New York to study opera. And so I got my master's degree in opera and I was on my way. And then, sadly, I injured my voice and I had to get several vocal surgeries, and I just realized through that process that it just wasn't gonna happen. My instrument would not cooperate and give me the career that I wanted. 

So I had to leave the arts and what I ended up pivoting into as luck would have it in fortune and I would probably say the universe steered me this way is that because I was good on the stage, I became a trainer, like a skills trainer. Or what we could call soft skills. But they aren't as soft as we know. They're very important. Soft doesn't equal bad. And I was a trainer in the classroom for lots of corporations and workplaces, and I enjoyed it as a performer a lot needless to say, but I'm very extroverted. So I loved meeting people and learning about them. 

But even more than that it was such an education in what was broken in the workplaces and in teams. Being in those classrooms every day, day after day, delivering across a variety of industries taught me a lot about leadership and all the things that we need to improve and that also, my voice could be important in improving that. 

So eventually I got real good at that. And I said, I kind of have a point of view and I really want to go out there more boldly and I founded my own company, Jennifer Brown Consulting, and we became a leadership and diversity firm, focusing on everything from inclusive leader training to employee resource groups and affinity groups which is honestly where I cut my teeth in the early days because those were the only people that would hire me because I didn't have a lot of experience. 

They were where some of my first dollars as a business owner. But from those LGBT ERGs who said, we like you, we want to bring you in. We think you have something to teach us or perhaps you can facilitate us through a strategic planning process.

And we would end up really specializing in ERGs in the early days and then building up from there to now, the strategy firm that we are, where we help companies develop their entire strategy, or we parachute in to certain places where they are in their journey and help that whether it's a training role out for inclusive leadership skills, or maybe they have five ERGs and they want five more, and they want to know how to position them well and which ones they should do. 

Whether they're having issues with employee engagement and certain demographics that are really unhappy and not feeling that they can bring their full selves to work. We will study that, we will make recommendations, we will run specialized programs. 

So we really get to kind of see the whole picture now of many different industries and many different companies that are all at different points in their journey. I mean it's really fascinating to be able to help these institutions be better and help them along their journey. Tell them what's next. Help them build whatever's next if they need that help. And I have a whole consulting team that actually does all that work. 

And meantime, I am these days writing books and keynoting, been now virtually but originally before the pandemic, I was on very large stages at all those sorts of HR conferences. All the big women's conferences, doing a lot of sort of corporate annual events where they would want a diversity and inclusion keynoter. 

And I did a lot of that and it was really fun for me to kind of wrap my head around like, what does this audience really need to hear and learn? Who are they? What do they know about the topic? Can I give them the 3.0 version of my talk or do I need to give the 1.0 version of my talk?

So we're always adjusting and I know that your audience can really resonate probably with that dance that we do to meet people where they're at. Because especially with diversity inclusion, it is critical not to lose your audience. And it's so easy to lose your audience, right?

“Especially with diversity inclusion, it is critical not to lose your audience. And it's so easy to lose your audience, right?”

There's just so many assumptions about this work. There's so many misunderstandings about the value of the work. There are certain messengers about the work that people are more likely to listen to and I know that that probably works in my favor, when I'm walking into rooms that share some identities with me. I can be heard in a certain way, and I'm very aware of the responsibility that comes with that. 

And so I'm just really honored to do the work and I am working very hard to ensure that this work continues through the pandemic and out the other side. Whatever is on the other side for us, we need to be there, and we need to shape that. We need to ensure that our organizations don't push this to the side, but keep it top of mind. 

Aishwarya

Absolutely. That is so wonderful Jennifer and I think you've had such an inspiring career. And you’re just doing fantastic work out there. And as you said, there are buzz words about Diversity Inclusion. 

But can I ask you what really is Diversity and what really is Inclusion? Because I'm sure there's a lot of confusion out there. If you could just clear that up for us. 

Jennifer

Yeah, sure it is. And we hear them interchangeably used. And then we also hear Equity is in there. Oftentimes at least in the U. S, we will call it diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I can explain that word which is different yet again. We also hear, inclusion, and collaboration, right? So in some big companies I work with, they are also changing the order, and they're dropping a word or adding a word in terms of how they talk about the work. 

The other big word that's entering the conversation is Belonging. So let me define all of those quickly in five minutes or less. Verna Myers, who I think was previously at Netflix, she might still be there. I'm not sure, but Verna Myers is an incredible speaker. You should check out her Ted talk if you haven't seen it. She says...

“Diversity is being asked to the dance, and inclusion is being asked to dance. So it's really important but really different.”

Diversity, can I get people to the table, right? Do I have all kinds of diversity at that table? Not just visible, but invisible diversity, which is the harder part because people don't want to talk about the invisible stuff usually but those are both important and then all the diversities of thought as well, right? Diversity of extroversion, introversion, of analytical style, extroverted processors. 

All of that inclusion piece too goes into the mix and then we can just keep going from there, Industry Diversity, Education diversity, Socioeconomic. It's sort of endless. 

And then inclusion is being asked to dance, meaning what good is all of that diversity on the table if you cannot meaningfully engage that group of people to make contributions and feel the psychological safety to do so, right? 

So to me, inclusion is the ‘how’ and it's so important, and I think it's very under-documented in terms of best practices. And that's why I wrote my second book, ‘How to be an Inclusive Leader’. You can hear those words right in the title because I wanted to say what is it going to be about? How do I do this, right? And we do get a lot of questions about, okay, I get the reason why and maybe we can get people to the table but nobody's saying anything. People aren't comfortable or maybe they're the only in the room and they don't want to speak up all the time. 

Maybe they feel that they are judged in a different way when they use their voice, which all of these things are true for anyone that's in a non-majority identity. 

"Inclusion is the ‘how’, it's the skill set of leading inclusively. It's listening, it's noticing who's not speaking, it's creating a sense of trust and psychological safety. I would call it servant leadership as well."

So particularly if you’re a senior in any way, you're leading from behind. I mean, you really are trying, your job is to enable and to remove barriers to inclusion. That is your job. A lot of leaders don't lead that way and they don't know that's their job. It is their job and it’s all of our jobs.

It's not just the person with the stripes in the room as we say. Inclusive leadership can be driven from 360 degrees in any process, in any meeting, right? So we all have a role to play in ensuring everybody feels comfortable contributing. 

And then I would say belonging is the result that you want. You want to, through the proper management of diversity and inclusion, you want the result to be a sense of belonging because from a place of belonging, truly, this deep sense of like, 'I am welcome here. I'm comfortable here, and I'm safe here.' We have this feeling of being relaxed and as we are relaxed, we are more creative, right?

Because we're not managing all these aspects of our identity and wondering and anticipating that we're going to be negatively judged or we're not going to be heard when we get input or someone's gonna steal our idea or someone's gonna call us angry when all we're being is passionate and opinionated. 

When all that goes away, we can actually have a sense of belonging. And from there I think we tap into this meaning and purpose and this deep sense of wanting to contribute everything that we can. So if you look at that equation,

“Diversity +  Inclusion = Belonging”

...perhaps you can live it that way.

And then I just wanted to define Equity. I think I'll use the pandemic because I think that it's literally laying bare equity issues. So in the US right now, we're talking about systemic racism, for example, racial disparities in terms of who is dying from the virus. Black and brown communities are dying at a higher rate because of comorbidities but also because of the inequities that exist in our society.  And so an equity lens vs an equality lens.

"An equity lens asks, 'who is being disproportionately impacted?' An equity lens looks not at the level playing field but says the playing field is not leveled. Therefore, how can I differentially focus my efforts?"

If we're trying to adjust to bring things to equilibrium, how am I targeting my efforts here to enable in a differential way, in a focused way to raise to actually something that could be called a meritocracy? Which is honestly a myth right now and people use meritocracy as an excuse all the time. When I go to speak to groups, they say, 'Oh, well, Jennifer, you're telling me I have to hire a candidate that's not as qualified because I'm trying to meet a quota.' 

It's completely a wrong understanding of what we're actually trying to do, which is address a systemic gap that has been created and no one's done anything about. We're trying to actually raise that up so that we do actually have equal opportunity, and we're not there yet. So in Equity lens, there's a reason we talk about the pay gap, right? Pay gaps are equity issues. That's a system that was never questioned, that created and enabled and continued a gap to be present that is based on identity.

“So equality is not a strategy. Equality is something we all want to achieve at the end of all of this. But an equity lens is what we need to do to actually fix the problems that are continuing unchecked.”

And I think through this pandemic we're getting schooled in what equity really means and the inequities in our society and who is suffering disproportionately and how that impacts our workplace is, of course, people are realizing that this is our workplaces are a microcosm of our society. 

So look at the pay gap. It's a great example of how the inequities continue in the workplace, right? And why wouldn't they? Because workplaces are embedded in a society that's not fair. So anyway, I hope that was helpful. 

There's a wonderful slide you might want to share, it's three frames of people trying to look over a fence. And they have different heights. And so some can see over the fence, some can't see over the fence and sort of it delineates an equity lens, puts the box underneath the folks that can't see over the fence so that they could see over the fence and then

"True success looks like not even having a fence to see over anymore, getting rid of the fence, enabling total transparency and equity across the board."

Aishwarya

Yeah, definitely. That is an eye-opener I think and those are beautiful analogies there. And I also think that there is not a lot of awareness about these things because we don't like to talk about it so much in workplaces, right? It's always sort of taboo to talk about these things and we just like to pretend that, yeah, everything is okay. Everything’s fine. But that's not really true, right?

Jennifer

That's right. And there's a lot of fear of talking about, in America, the third rail really is talking about racism in an open way. Because when you start to talk about it, everybody kind of pulls back and says, 'wait a second. Are you calling me a racist?' Like they immediately personalize it and then when we lose the learner in the moment and we've got to figure out how to talk about this system that we all have grown up in and maybe we weren't responsible for, but we are complicit in and therefore what can we all do to change it? 

https://open.spotify.com/episode/6uYldnE2OhKXmuAjF2Ko7g

And I think about this a lot. I mean, it's a very present topic and in the US in particular, there's also racism playing out right now against the Asia Pacific Islander community, right? So it's May, it’s Asian Heritage Month here in the US, I don't know if globally that's celebrated in the same way. 

But racism doesn't just impact one or two communities, it impacts a lot of communities and that's a real eye-opener for a lot of people too, who aren't in that community. So my group of people, which is all the folks that built these programs and corporate spaces, education around this is very much top of mind right now. 

Also, the way that virus is impacting LGBTQ people. As a community, we use tobacco 50% more than the general population and have asthma and also there's a lack of utilization of medical care in the LGBTQ community, which goes back to an equity history, right?

It puts a question of why did we not feel safe with doctors? It's because we couldn't, we didn't trust them because we had to lie about who we were and who we are. And the doctors were homophobic. Therefore we were under cared for, right? We were under-diagnosed. 

This still continues to this day and is another community that's disproportionately impacted by the virus. So the conversation we're having here is this virus is not equal opportunity. I mean, in some ways it is, but it is so not from a privileged perspective, from an identity perspective. 

To me, this is like a class in what we teach, this is to talk about how this very real example that we're all living in is really showing us privilege like other elements of privilege as well. Do I have a reliable wireless to work from home? Does my job require me to go into an unsafe space every single day? Or can I safely work at home and not be exposed? Do I have kids and I'm homeschooling because schools are closed? 

And I’m struggling with that and struggling with overwhelm and mental health issues are being exacerbated for certain individuals. So I just think that also the broadening of our sense of what privilege really means. It's very situational right now to think about how we're broadening that definition. 

Someday, there may be a privilege that comes with actually having immunity and also having the antibodies. And there may be access that's granted to the Haves and the Have Nots if you will. And that's gonna be a whole other level to talk about from a diversity perspective. So anyway, it's just fascinating. It's fascinating work, I know you agree, but it's when you start to kind of pull the thread out, there is so much rich learning right now.

And my prayer is that people are paying attention and really connecting some important dots so that they shift their leadership style and shift how they create a sense of belonging around them so that we feel open and trusting enough to talk about these things.

Aishwarya

Absolutely. And Jennifer thank you so much for that because I really do think that right now is a good time to revisit our employee experience or the inclusion strategies that we have in workplaces because there is a lack of awareness about all these statistics that you just mentioned about. I don't think that a lot of people know about that. 

And that really brings me to the question that how is it that we're supposed to solve this as leaders, as just employees of an organization? How can we mitigate this gap? How do we narrow this down?

Jennifer

Yeah, I think that by seeing our employees as whole people who are experiencing a lot of these things in their families or amongst their loved ones or in their communities and acknowledging that and I think educating each other about the statistics that we were just talking about is a huge first step because honestly, from where I said, I think most people are not paying attention to this. Most people don’t know. Most people cannot imagine why an LGBTQ person would not go to the doctor. 

Like literally, If I just ask somebody on the street, what's that about? The answer might be, 'Oh, I don't know, maybe they're lazy.' People just wouldn't understand. So we have to, I think, use these examples to help educate others who don't share the primary experience. 

Those who are in these communities that are being disproportionately impacted, no, those aren’t the folks that need the education. I shouldn't say that, actually, because just because you're in a community doesn't mean you understand historic homophobia and racism and all the things, the ills that exist in our diverse communities too.

So we're not perfect. But I do think it starts with education, and I love the word these days. I’ve been thinking a lot about how do we normalize certain conversations. You said earlier, there's just these things that we aren't comfortable talking about. I couldn't agree more. It's really forbidden. And it doesn't seem to be relatable to business, right? To business priorities. 

So whenever we've brought up these topics that are impacting communities and look, people coming to work. But they bring their lives with them and now they're not coming into work, they are in the virtual world and you can see their lives unfolding behind them like it's sort of this undeniable transparency now, whether we like it or not, and a lot of us, I think, don't like it. But we are on display. 

So being on display comes with that vulnerability and the risk that I think a lot of us feel scared to show our lives. Whether that means the shabbiness of our house or the fact that our kids are crawling all over us. There's so many things that we might have been able to downplay and not talk about that we don't have the choice to do right now. 

So I do think the opportunity there is to boldly share our real lives.

"I think that sharing needs to go both ways. So it's not just those of us who feel most sort of raw and scared about being honest. But I think the vulnerability that certain leaders and majority groups need to share right now is also really important."

We say majority groups, and I might just say, put a really fine point on that and say, in the US, our companies are dominated by straight, white, cis-gender men. And so the journey that they need to go on right now if they inhabit a lot of positions of power as they do is to lead from behind, is to sort of drop a lot of what I think were seen as leadership styles that got rewarded in the past, right? And start to really manifest some different and more balanced leadership techniques.

Vulnerability, transparency, agility, flexibility. Not at all sorts of command and control micromanagement right now. Not expecting the same productivity of work to be done in the same way at the same time by the same people.

“This is a time I would challenge leaders, in particular, to say you really need to revisit how you're getting work done and seeing the talent on your team and adjusting around the people who are struggling differentially right now, making room for them. Doesn't this sound like the best way to lead in general?” 

And why did it take a pandemic to force people to lead in a different way? I kind of wonder that. I'm very curious about that. And I hope that a lot of what we've discovered in this time doesn't ever go back to what it was before because what it was before was very unhealthy for a lot of us. And we knew this.

And this is my work, right? It's constantly saying to executive teams, this is how your workforce feels. Here's how this particular group in your workforce feels, which is different, right? And it needs to be addressed. And like we were talking about equity, right? The equity lens to say I'm not going to treat everybody the same and assume that everybody feels great just like I do because they don't. 

I've never met a company that doesn't have those different experiences among certain communities of identity. So I would say it was a long answer for you. I hope there's some ideas in there to normalize the conversation, be real with each other, lead differently. Do not expect productivity to look the same. And that's a good thing. 

Jump into this and realize what may actually go better. What actually may unleash performance, what actually may make people's lives easier so that they can give more of their hearts to their work, which is where the really magical work happens is when people are really feeling that sense of belonging and that sense of community, and that's really difficult to create in a virtual environment. 

So it's going to challenge a lot of us just to sort of get our heads around belonging when you can't physically be co-located with people. But at the same time, I think actually some people feel more comfortable in this virtual world and I want to leave a lot of space for that because I think there's something really interesting in that. 

Aishwarya

Absolutely. I do agree with you. The way you look at your employees, the way you'll have to really shape yourself for your employees, as you said so with leadership, that would be an important point to focus on, right? And it's just about being genuine, being transparent, showing empathy for communities that don't feel really visible out there. 

And maybe I'm not sure, is it this community, do they feel underwhelmed? Are they under-confident about asking for help or just speaking up? Are they even aware of themselves? 

Jennifer

Yeah, that's an interesting question. I think when you're inside something, you don't necessarily like a camera lens, you don't zoom out to see the bigger picture. And if you're not interested in it and you're not engaged as an educator or you're not an activist, or you're not sort of really truly embracing your identity and being very out about it, chances are you probably don't know those statistics and yet you can't see yourself, right? 

And I think if we could zoom out and see ourselves. I'll tell you one thing we all do know is that we all know what the closet feels like at work. We all know that we are scared. We all know that where you feel like we're gonna lose our job. In over 30 of the United States, you can still be fired for being LGBTQ. There are no protections. And do people in the community know that statistic?

I don't know. I mean, we should, we certainly should but that's a really sobering statistic. So that's why I like to use my voice really loudly to try to educate, not just about the communities that I'm a part of, but all the communities that I feel I can be a voice for because sometimes I'm the only one that somebody is listening to. 

And so I see my job as making sure those statistics are constantly being shared in my Twitter and in my talks that I am. If people can't get in the room and I can, I'm responsible for telling those stories and making sure those statistics are heard and that they are known, particularly by people who aren't impacted by them. 

Because what I want to generate is allyship. I want to generate empathy, and then I wanna generate action based on what somebody has learned. I want somebody to hear something and do something about it, and I think that that piece is frustratingly slow in my experience with the leaders that I work with because it's just so foreign to people. 

These communities, they don't understand. I mean, it has been so difficult to just get people to say L G B T right? And then we add the Q on and then we had the plus on and the I and all of a sudden, like people's heads explode. And then they just give up because they feel overwhelmed that they're never gonna get it right. 

So they may be incredibly well-meaning, but they feel sort of paralyzed from taking action. So we have to be really careful how fast we run with this stuff because we've got to realize that, not everybody looks at this stuff every day, all day like I do. 

But it's a really interesting challenge to think about how do I slow down and give people just enough and challenge people just enough, make them just uncomfortable enough that they don't throw up their hands and say, this is too much I can't handle it or I feel uncomfortable. How do you keep them in that uncomfortable space where the learning happens? And that's always the question I ask myself. 

So yeah, your question is interesting. I think because you're in a community does not mean you understand the reality for that community. Some people are just in their day to day lives, and honestly, they don't have time to pick their head up and look around and think about the systemic issues and then they certainly don't have the luxury of stepping out and teaching about it. 

Because when you are surviving every day and you feel like you're under siege basically as a community of identity from an economic perspective, social perspective, racism, etc. You are fighting every day on the level. I think that's asking a lot to also be educating. 

So I mean, we also have to keep in mind that some of us are talking about privilege, some of us have the bandwidth to educate and to bring this. And if you have any bandwidth at all right now, you must be using bandwidth to raise awareness about who's being differentially impacted by this and using your voice in that way.

“We also have to keep in mind that some of us are talking about privilege, some of us have the bandwidth to educate. And if you have any bandwidth at all right now, you must be using it to raise awareness about who's being differentially impacted by this and using your voice in that way.”

So that's my call to action for people and one of the things we talk about is, do not leave all the work to the community members that are suffering the most. Don't leave all the work for educating to that group. Make sure you know the statistics about multiple communities that are not your own. And make sure that you are addressing those too in your particular communities that probably don't know. I mean, that's my guess. 

Aishwarya

Yeah. I absolutely agree with you. I think sometimes the lens that we see, we see something forward that could be different for different people. So comes back to the same issue that probably the awareness levels are really low, right? 

Talking about an inclusive workplace, right? How important of a role do you think technology or digital makes in the inclusive workplace of the future? 

Jennifer

Yeah, I think it's huge. Honestly, I mean, putting aside the very important point that access to technology, access to like the bandwidth you need to run the apps and a computer with an updated operating system. Those are equity issues, right? That we need to address in order to even have the conversation about what could be enabled with virtual. 

But I do think technology on the flip side, what we've been doing on our Zoom calls. It's a tip for everybody that's listening is, we've been adding our pronouns to our names on zoom. You can actually rename yourself. And so if you look at the participant box, you can rename yourself and add your pronouns. 

And if you're listening to this and you don't know what I'm talking about, you can look it up. Pronouns mean that I'm not assuming that everybody shares my cisgender identity, right? And so I need to say I'm Jennifer Brown and my pronouns are she/her/hers. So this makes space for others to do the same. 

And I think in the digital landscape, interestingly, I think that small gesture digitally is somehow more psychologically safe to do. And I would imagine it might be a bit more safe for those who identify as non-binary individuals, those who prefer they/them pronouns, those whose gender expression may not align with the pronouns they want to be called, so it enables us to disclose, and I think me doing my part in that creates a space and creates a dialogue and an opportunity just to say, 'Oh, by the way, my pronouns are they/them.' Easy. Done. 

And I think actually that's a lot scarier to do when you are face to face with people. I had a friend who said I am so able to bring more of myself in this virtual world. I'm not getting misgendered all the time, which is really interesting.

"I think that the virtual world technology enables us to have our work product be judged in a more objective way. We can be a voice on the phone, we can be our work and it's fewer judgments. It's less discomfort."

And when we talk about diverse identities, part of what happens when we walk in the room and we're not normative is that we make other people feel uncomfortable. If I’m a LGBT woman who is masculine-presenting, there's discomfort right away. Wait a second. I don't understand and this is distracting our co-workers from just getting down to the work. Same with other communities, the same with people with disabilities. 

So we're focusing a lot on what could go right in this virtual world. People with disabilities can thrive in this world because you are in your home, which has the accommodations you need. You do not need to take this onerous commute every single day, which comes with all kinds of problems and barriers for some of us. So we are comfortable in our setting. 

Now, some of us are not comfortable in our setting. We may be living in these really tight quarters. We may have lots of family members. We may not have any space to get work done and be productive, and that's a whole different issue. 

But purely technology-wise, I think that I love how democratic online meetings can be. You can allocate time or fairly, managing for inclusion you can make sure nobody is dominating the meetings, in a way you can put timers up. You can get real-time transcription in Zoom now of your meeting, so there's no note-taking by somebody who is the most junior member of the team or perhaps the only female on the team. There's like note-taking technology through AI.

There's signers you can actually hire. And I've been thinking about doing that for my meetings as well. It's a little bit prohibitively expensive right now because every dollar counts right now as a small business owner. But I am mindful that that's my goal, to have signing and subtitles for everything I do. Because that's just the way that we should be. That's the way we always should have been. But now is the time to do it.

Anyway, there's so many things that I think will be enabled with tech. Slack is another really interesting implication for this. I had somebody sharing on my calls that on Slack, you can change your emoji. You can all agree that you're gonna have like a red, green, orange in terms of how you're feeling that day, or how you're feeling that hour and I think getting to know each other's rhythms in this different way and if we have extra bandwidth cause we're feeling energetic and we wanna contribute that to the group.

Maybe we talk more openly about that in a Slack channel and Slack channels right now and other channels are great too for sort of creative solutions for energy and community and what are we struggling with and brainstorming. 

And so I think tech is enabling again that sort of transparent sharing and problem solving that we're going through right now in a very democratic way, which makes me really happy, because it's always what I wanted to see. So I am all for it. I mean, there is Zoom fatigue for sure. It's a lot of sitting. There is a lot of I think physical activity is kind of taking on a whole different level of importance. This is a lot of screen time. I think about that, too and the impact of that on all of us as well. 

Aishwarya

Yeah, I completely agree with you. Sometimes you just want to get off technology. But if you look at the overall picture, technology has really made us closer. If you might want to say and it's just so simple to connect with each other now and that's a huge advantage, like you said for people with disabilities, people who are more introverted.

And just having that binding connection and just to talk it out, which might be much more comfortable for people who are really not okay face to face.

Jennifer

Can I make another point? The employee resource group communities that I'm deeply a part of, they're finding that they are connecting globally in a totally different way because before the headquarters location tended to be or the corporate side of the business tended to be where all the activity was because it was based on face to face, right? 

It was based on coming together for a celebration or a speaker. So now, actually, those groups are becoming the minds that have shifted and the technology has forced us to understand what that one employee out in India, that one LGBTQ employee, getting that input and including them in a more meaningful, concrete way versus as an afterthought because I think so much of our mindset has been at headquarters. 

So programming, I mean, everything is changing on that front, and I think we're going to come out of this with a completely newly revived global perspective on these communities of identity because we've been able to build more meaningful relationships with people all over the world. So for LGBTQ people, that's the difference between the privileges and safety we have relatively in the US versus the importance of understanding that we are literally who we are is punishable by death in certain countries. 

The solidarity that we now can tap into for those colleagues is so important and now we have the reason to do and I hate to say this, it sounds so sad that we didn't do this before and I do think some companies did. But it always inevitably kind of came back to the center of gravity, which is where most employees are, right? They get all the resources, all the Facetime, all of it. So all of that has been pushed out, which I think is really cool. 

Aishwarya

Absolutely. It really helps the equity problem that we're facing and I think you're absolutely right in bringing awareness about technology and how people are getting visibility in the most remote corners of the world probably, so it's a boon for them. So thank you so much for that.

And I just like to wrap this interview up by asking you if you have any other important soundbites that you'd like to leave our audience with? 

Jennifer

Thank you for asking. And thanks for having me. I would say be committed to the invisible aspects of diversity that are coming to the fore right now. Understand them. Don't assume that other people are having the same experience as you are. And that means that you need to build trust as a leader or as a colleague, as a friend, so that somebody will actually share what this is feeling like because we can't act unless we know.

And in order to know, we need to build the trust to be confided in, and we need to do that by being vulnerable ourselves about how we're experiencing this.

But I would also say if you have a level of strength and comfort and stability right now, it is really time to show allyship, to be aware of what you're talking about, when you speak and if you have any kind of platform, what are you educating people about right now? We have a lot of choices about what we talk about. And I would argue, a virtual cocktail hour may not be as important as what is actually happening for a lot of people right now. We have to be real.

“I think that you are what you talk about as a leader.”

And that really makes up your character and what you will be remembered by and how much you will be able to resonate with people across difference. So right now is that time to build the ability and the emotional intelligence to resonate with people, you don’t share, you may not share the same experiences, but you should be really building your empathy right now and your knowledge so that coming out of this, you're the kind of leader that will be knowledgeable and will be ahead of the curve and would be able to say, I'm anticipating this and this is gonna happen because I'm listening to this and I'm learning and I'm reading this, and I'm understanding this, and I'm sort of putting that all together, and I'm connecting some dots. 

This is the war for talent. I'd like to think that war for talent is not over. And there are certain companies that are going to flourish coming out of this, and they're going to be capturing all the talent. And I think the companies that are doing really poor jobs of telling the truth right now and being real and being flexible for people and all those things, like all of that, is being watched right now. 

So it will be remembered. It will have something to do with it. I guarantee you, whether you keep and you retain an engaged workforce coming out of this, don't lose people because you did a bad job right now of really, truly, seeing the whole person, accounting for that, building that into getting our work done. And I think that companies that lead with empathy right now, are going to be places that people will be very loyal to going forward.

Even if they lose their job with a certain company, we talk, brands have reputations, word travels. We want to see real leadership right now, but it doesn't look like the leadership of the past. So I hope people take that opportunity to be different. 

Aishwarya

Oh, thank you so much for that wonderful message, Jennifer. I really do think it is time to upskill. Good time to upskill. So thank you so much for that. It was wonderful talking to you. I think I could just go on and on with you. But…

Jennifer

Me too.Thank you

Aishwarya

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. 

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diversity
workplace diversity
inclusion
inclusivity
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Jennifer brown
aishwarya jain
organizational culture

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