Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker and diversity and inclusion expert.
In this episode, Jennifer talks about working with a fully remote team, email management from the executive’s perspective, and how executive assistants can help cultivate an inclusive workplace. Enjoy the episode and be sure to take Jennifer’s free inclusive leader assessment here!
I tell my students, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
– Toni Morrison
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Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker and diversity and inclusion expert. She is the founder, president and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting (JBC), a strategic leadership and diversity consulting firm that coaches business leaders worldwide on critical issues of talent and workplace strategy. Brown is a passionate advocate for social equality who helps businesses foster healthier, more productive workplace cultures. Her book Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change (2016) will inspire leadership to embrace the opportunity that diversity represents and empower advocates to drive change that resonates in today’s world. Jennifer’s second book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader, provides a step-by-step guide for the personal and emotional journey we must undertake to create an inclusive workplace where everyone is welcomed, valued, respected, and heard.
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Jennifer Brown 0:00
Hi, I’m Jennifer Brown. Today’s leadership quote comes from Tony Morrison. I tell my students when you get these jobs that you’ve been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free someone else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.
Podcast Intro 0:24
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistants. Thank you so much for listening. Oh, I’m old.
Jeremy Burrows 0:39
How are you? Welcome to Episode 108, you can check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/108. Before we jump into the interview with Jennifer Brown, I wanted to invite you to join us at one of our future events. Go to leaderassistantlive.com to check out the schedule. There’s a variety of events at a variety of price points. So get that professional development budget from your executive and your company and join us at one of these exclusive training events with myself, Al Hussein Matt Hani and other top EA trainers and speakers. And yeah, hope you can join us leaderAssistantlive.com. Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. Today. I’m excited to be speaking with Jennifer Brown, Jennifer has written a book called How to be an inclusive leader. Your role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive Jennifer, how’s it going?
Jennifer Brown 1:44
Hey, it’s going good. Jeremy. Thanks for doing this.
Jeremy Burrows 1:46
So what part of the world are you in?
Jennifer Brown 1:48
I’m in New York City in Manhattan. Yes, never a dull moment.
Jeremy Burrows 1:53
Awesome. Well, what was your very first job?
Jennifer Brown 1:59
I was a receptionist, managing a switchboard when I was, gosh, 17 or so. And I loved it. I felt very important. And I remember liking the most like office supplies. I mean, and I’m still obsessed with going to staple copying, faxing, answering phones. And also, I was obsessed with looking like a little 80s career woman. So I had like the wardrobe. And I was really excited about like my shoulder pads and my little duck ties. So I’m aging myself, but some of your listeners might know what I’m talking about. I look good. I look good. I never knew I’d be the boss someday, that’s for sure.
Jeremy Burrows 2:42
Awesome. Well, what was your kind of tell us a little bit about your story and your progression in your career and how you ended up where you are today?
Jennifer Brown 2:51
Sure. Well, I moved east from Southern California and went to school at Middlebury College in Vermont. And I came out of school with a liberal arts degree, which nobody knows what to do with. And I think that’s still true today. And so I wandered a bit in my 20s that I didn’t know, I wanted to make a difference. So I landed in nonprofits, and I held a variety of jobs with some really cool community organizations. But I was also a singer my whole life, I was a musician. So I decided to finally go to grad school in New York City, which brought me here. And I got my master’s, sadly, through vocal training to be an opera singer, I injured myself, just kept happening. So I got a couple rounds of surgery. And I just at some point was like, you know, this is not going to work. So I needed to reinvent. And I like to remember like the did the performers that led me to my next career, and what would end up being my true love, believe it or not, which is this whole field of leadership, development and organizations and org Psych. I mean, it goes by a lot of different names. But I got a second master’s in that at Fordham University. And I was sort of on my way, as an HR person. It allowed me to get into corporate jobs. I ended up being a director of training and development. And then I got laid off at some point. And I thought, you know, the performer and me really just wanted to be what we call on platform in the training world, which means you want to be in front of people, that’s where you want to make your living and do your thing. So I became a for hire trainer, which meant that these training companies would send me out to their clients and I taught like, the whole soft skills catalog, like presentation skills, business writing, I really liked it. I loved the challenge of teaching a lot of things by the way that I wasn’t good at, or I had never really done before, which is the total performer in me. But I was good at it. And it was very intuitive and I enjoyed it. And I ended up getting a big client one day and deciding you know what, I’m going to become a company. And so that moment I I took that client, they paid me very well and I plow With all the money I could into my support team, and I would grow it, starting with my, you know, very first person who I found on Craigslist, believe it or not. And then I just built my team over the last 12 or 13 years to the point where now there’s about 25 of us all over the country. I barely see them all. But we’re always in touch over email, and Skype. And, you know, many of them are out there doing great work with our clients. And then the other half of them are helping me with marketing and admin and sales and operations and finance on the back end of things. So it’s been a real journey, and I love working for myself, and I’m really passionate about being an entrepreneur.
Jeremy Burrows 5:40
Awesome. So which of the you know your team? You said, You hired someone at the beginning? Was that was that an assistant? Was that a marketing person? When did you start bringing in maybe the more traditional assistant role where they’re scheduling and kind of doing anything and everything?
Jennifer Brown 5:58
Yeah, that was that first person. And actually, she’s still on my team. But she’s not not she has Ella, we will talk about today sort of the path from assistant newness and into other things. But she has like ascended. I mean, gosh, now she’s like an expert on our stuff. But originally, it was scheduling all of my technology, like getting us set up with Microsoft Office, like email systems. Marketing, yes. And even like client assistance, like projects cut, you know, do collating materials for client gigs that I would be going on, I think I used to do my own travel, for sure. She didn’t do bookkeeping, that was another piece that I immediately needed help with. And so I separated that off with somebody else. But then yeah, and then she, as I said, she sort of went through some family stuff and had, you know, built her family, or it had a kid. It came back. And I think people have come and gone in my team too, according to like, what’s going on in their life, and I will always welcome great people back, like always, and whatever role works for them, I am happy to have them back. And we’ll find a place for them. And I expect it to ebb and flow over the years. You know, and I think that’s one real hallmark of, of the best kind of relationship you can have with people on your team.
Jeremy Burrows 7:18
So your team’s virtual remote. You mentioned when we talked before about how they have each other’s backs and kind of fill in when that one of them’s out? And how do you kind of manage a virtual team and what’s kind of been the pros and cons of doing that.
Jennifer Brown 7:37
So the pros are, you know, we get to work in our PJs all day, we don’t have to, if we don’t have to go anywhere be seen by anyone. So and you know, and everybody can do the work when and how they have time to do it. And that’s all I really care about. You know, but then it is a little challenging only because like time zones are you know what they are, and there are business hours, right for our clients, they’re more on more traditional business hours. And so we try to kind of orient ourselves around when people are available when our clients are going to be available, because of course, you can’t like redo somebody’s schedule at nine o’clock at night when nobody’s paying attention, email, you know, so you do have to kind of be online during business hours. But they do have each other’s backs. They, they actually kind of manage their sharing of the work. It’s almost a Work Share kind of scenario. And they have found a happy meeting medium around, like who specializes in what like somebody does like a lot of travel. Somebody does a lot of like sales outreach and LinkedIn messaging and helping me kind of manage social media. And other person prepares us and me for speaking gigs, which is a whole, you know, very labor intensive piece of what we do what I do, because I’m on the road, like every week. So yeah, whenever anybody is out on leave, they train each other up, they explain everything to each other. And my experience of it is, is like seamless, I’ve really, I just need to know, you know, so just let me know your schedules and who’s going to be on point for this or not, but they literally will enter I don’t even need to ask that question because they’re anticipating my movements. Everybody has access to my calendar, have each other’s calendars. We’re constantly on Skype and all sorts of other chat programs, we text each other, we Skype each other, we there’s like, five different ways we get in touch with each other. And it’s interesting, like how you use different tools for different kinds of communication, typically, and certain people have their favorite tool and so you know, to always text them or you know, to always Skype them or you know, to not do any of that and email them or even call them. God forbid, you know, so yeah, so it’s really neat. And as I was telling you when we were prepping here I’ve never since that Craigslist ad for my first employee, I’ve never advertised and so great people know great people. I Um, every team member has led to another team member, and they tune they trust, and they know would be a good fit here. And, you know, they they know they could rely on. And to me, that’s, that is much better than me ever looking at somebody’s resume and imagining whether I can count on them or not. It’s just, I think it’s almost impossible to do that. So it’s hard. But I do think if you find a good person, and a couple good folks, you know that I think probably the best way to kind of think about it. And this goes counter, by the way to what we talk about, like, when we talk about bias and hiring, we say, you know, watch out from hiring too many people that look like you or are from your inner circle, because a lot of times our inner circles are not very diverse. But for us, that was always a priority, too. So we grew to be a diverse team that that, you know, doesn’t look like me does look like me, share some of my identities and doesn’t in other respects. And so we’ve ended up being a pretty diverse team in all ways. But it’s but uh, that’s, that’s something I think you need to think about though, as you’re, like, following the breadcrumbs from one good person to another good person, as you just need to make sure you’re not replicating one identity in your organization to the point where you don’t have any diversity, you know, one day you wake up, and you’re, and you’re, you have a problem.
Jeremy Burrows 11:25
So before we jump more into the, you know, the inclusive topic was, do your assistants or do some of your multiple of your assistants handle your inbox, your email inbox and manage it and even reply as you at times?
Jennifer Brown 11:44
Yeah, we’ve tried that. I would say, I would say no, not currently, I’m able to kind of live in my inbox so far. So far, I say, because they just don’t know what life holds. Like, as I’m more on the road, they’ll go in and get something they have login information, they’ll go in and get something that they might need, like, if we’re missing an email, or somebody reached out, but we didn’t. We didn’t, Sir, I didn’t see the email. And so that’s why I always try to copy just, you know, more folks than not. And I know, it looks really weird when I’m communicating but that I that there’s like an army of people on CC, but I try to explain in my emails, we sort of job share, we you know, the we have a team approach, so somebody on the team will get back to you. So I really like that, because then they can sort it out. But at least you know, everybody’s kind of seen the scene, the message and have a lot has logged it so that somebody will make sure that it’s taken care of. Sometimes when we send emails out, somebody will log in as me and help with sort of sending things if it’s pretty labor intensive. And it’s not like a distribution list scenario. So yes, and you know, that trust is really, really critical, because there’s a lot of confidential stuff in everybody’s inbox. You know, me, I’ve got financial stuff floating around and senior management, executive team conversations. So the discretion that the team has is really so important. And I have never ever doubted trusting them. And it’s never been abused. But But, but I very selectively share my inbox password. Like it’s very rare calendar, totally different thing, right. But inbox is pretty confidential. But as you grow, you know, you need to send out a lot more more getting messages. And I don’t know, as you scale, I would think you’ve probably got to give your inbox get some help with your inbox. But on the flip side, you know, I’ve known clients who has have told me Don’t email me here because my assistant has access to that, like that inbox, email me here. Like if it’s something confidential I’m working on with them. I read I will never forget the first time I heard that. And I thought, Oh, my goodness, that’s so interesting. Like, two different setups. Yeah. Yeah. So I yeah, what
Jeremy Burrows 14:08
would you say if, like, so I, when I hear that, what I hear I’ve heard that before, what I hear is the executive doesn’t trust their assistant. So or, or they, they’re, they just struggle to give up control of their inbox. It
Jennifer Brown 14:24
could be or it could be really valid. I mean, giving anybody the benefit of the doubt. It could be it could be a little bit like me, like I’ve got different things going on. Like there are some tasks that are truly admin that are all logistics and maybe there’s one part of my calendar that’s purely meetings like say, busy executive, right and, and it’s purely so the person transacting and not as is managing logistics and confirming details and locations and all that stuff. And then maybe the other. I don’t know if you’re lucky enough to have multiple people, maybe The other is more sensitive information or communications between you and like teams and team issues. And but yeah, I don’t know, I think you’re right. That the trust piece, the client, I’m thinking of actually all the admins kind of gossip with each other. And I think that the executives were so used to this, that they just knew that they couldn’t put anything, you know, personal or at all, you know, and that’s a real bummer. I agree with you, I remember. And it was one of those environments where the admin, the admins were, like, lined up, like outside the executive offices. And so, you know, I really like the office plans of the old days were so hierarchical in nature, and they still bother me so much, because I used to be that person sitting in the cube. So I do think it’s kind of set up to be frustrating. I don’t want to say to fail, but to be frustrating. And also, I think, discretion is so important when you’re an admin, like, it just like to have an even Iota, that somebody’s talking about your personal business with everybody else’s assistant is such a deal breaker. You know, so I don’t know. I think it’s it’s a caution for anybody listening to this, that your currency is your discretion. Yeah. At the end of the day, and you have to take that seriously.
Jeremy Burrows 16:24
Yeah, you I mean, you can even look at what happened with President Trump’s assistant. You know, all politics aside, she Yeah, you can’t do that.
Jennifer Brown 16:34
Good. Not good. Yeah. But your point about micromanaging, I think, is another really real thing, too. Yeah, I think I bet a lot of executives, I’m very different. I have a high trust level, but I know that I’m a little bit unusual. With that. The other thing is tone and email, you know, if people are communicating on your behalf, I really, I found people who do this intuitively. They have my voice, they have my professionalism, they don’t make spelling mistakes, their grammar is perfect, they have the right blend of warmth, and professionalism and detail. And that is something that I think is a little tough to teach. So I don’t want to discourage folks. But it’s, it’s to me that that is, um, it is a lifesaver when somebody knows how to communicate, and in those ways, in your voice. And you know, by the way, my voice is not the same as any other meter, you know, somebody may have a very, very direct, low context kind of executive who doesn’t appreciate longer emails with a lot of detail in it, you know? So it probably varies, and I think you have to adjust your style, but you also have to figure out with your colleague slash boss, like how, what what’s, you know, watch their communication? And like, try to gauge you know, what, how much is too much? What is what how do they define professionalism? What is their tone? How, how do they expect you to be the face of their face, when they can’t have they don’t have the time to communicate, and then emulate that ask for feedback, you know, try to really gear your, your, your style, and by the way, it’s a great, that’s a great exercise, because you’re going to need to communicate a lot of different ways over the course of your career. So some, some may be native to you, and some maybe really not and require a lot of extra work.
Jeremy Burrows 18:22
Yeah, yeah. So what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever asked one of your assistants to do?
Jennifer Brown 18:33
I really don’t ask her personal stuff that much. But one time, I was a bit overwhelmed with like a family travel scenario with a lot of moving pieces, and I don’t have a very process oriented brain. That’s why I sort of need a lot of help. So I said, I said, Can you could you look at all the pieces of this and help me kind of sort everything into its right place and tell me what’s missing. And it was, it was flights and it was hotel, and it was itineraries, and it was dates, and I was like, this is just not my sweet spot. And I and that was a, that was a huge level of trust to and I and I didn’t I didn’t love crossing the line and asking somebody on my team to help me with something personal. To me, that was not anything I had done before. And I have to say, I don’t that was like one time I don’t do that. I really don’t I have never done it again. And I didn’t feel bad. I mean, I think I think I mean we had to actually we had a little fun doing it and you know, I my team member like really enjoyed getting to know my family and like understanding like, kind of feeling like she was on the trip too. And but it was not um I don’t know. I like those lines to be a little clearer if I can because I really want to respect people’s time and I am a bit private Believe it or not, I’m I’m a public figure. But I struggled to be a little more detailed about my life and being like an open book to the team, it’s interesting. And when you work virtually you can kind of, you don’t know as much about each other on a day to day basis, you know, you don’t walk into the office, and you’re having a horrible day, and everybody can read it on your face. So I actually kind of like that. Like being able to process things on my own, you know, and sort of choose my moments, because I, honestly, and in many ways, that’s, I think that’s important time for some of us to process what’s going on and kind of put ourselves back together, you know, and say, the right thing versus the first thing that comes to mind, right, or lose your temper with somebody or, you know, I don’t know, make a judgment that is too hasty. But on the flip side, you asked me earlier, what are the downsides, it is it that is the downside to it’s literally like keeping track of everybody’s life, and what’s going on in their life, what’s important to them, and their kids and their family and their loved ones. And just the context for them, which is so important for me to know, just as a human. And that is harder to keep track of, especially as your team grows. And so I I literally take notes on what people tell me so that I can reference them so that I can remember, because they meet so many people in a given day, and I but I try to really pay special attention to that piece. And the other sorry, long answer. But the other thing that’s hard is collaborating with a virtual team is, is tough. I would say it’s just, that’s the downside, I think being able to just grab a room, grab a whiteboard, sit it together, knock something out, figure it out, together, get everybody’s buying in, you know, and then go your separate ways with the plan where everybody felt heard, and doing that in a spontaneous way. That’s really, really hard on a virtual team. Yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 21:54
Well, let’s, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re passionate about. So you wrote a book, How to be an inclusive leader, can you tell us a little bit about your, your book and what’s about
Jennifer Brown 22:05
Sure thing, so I specialize in diversity and inclusion, and we build strategies for companies. So our lens is often one of of consulting and training to a leadership team of some kind. Or to like the diversity network leads, who are sometimes volunteers are really enthusiastic. And sometimes they’re sort of they have like a mid level job managing the diversity activities and accompany so the book, the book is meant to be a prompt, and to lay out the path for, especially people who are who are sitting on the sidelines of this whole topic, and who are reticent to get involved don’t want to say the wrong thing, feel sort of left behind with this whole conversation, don’t know where they fit in, and what they might know or not know about diversity. And so the book welcomes that kind of reader. And that kind of leader at any level, you don’t need to be a people manager, to be a leader and be inclusive and, and sort of give others the sense that you’re somebody that they can bring their full selves to work around. And with. So the book is four stages, it’s a model that we developed from like unaware to aware to active to advocate. So it’s, it’s a continuum of progress. And it elaborates and goes deep into each one of those and talks about like, so if you’re unaware, you know, you probably feel this, or you’re probably wondering that or you are doubtful about this. Maybe you don’t know where to start, maybe you don’t think it matters, maybe you don’t think there’s a problem, maybe you think you’re a great human being and like you don’t need to know about this. And so we so we sort of take the learner on this journey, and I sort of I hope I push people to undertake the journey. And then once they’re on the journey to sort of know where they are in the process, because I think we all deeply want to know, like, Where do I stand? Like, once you’re once you’re kind of in the learning mode, you’re like, Okay, tell me, like, what are all the things I’m getting wrong? And how can I be better. So that’s what I’m hoping it achieves. And there’s an assessment that goes along with it that lives on inclusive leader, the book.com. And it’s a free assessment to gauge where you are in the four phases so that you can know kind of how much you’re thinking about these things, how much you, you know, bring them with you to every interaction or whether you don’t think about them at all, which is really good information.
Jeremy Burrows 24:43
Awesome. So I can’t remember if I got this from I think I got this from the book description or summary. But the quote I pulled out was, whether you’re a powerful CEO, or a new employee without direct reports, there are actions you can take that can drastically change the day to day reality for your colleagues and the trajectory of your organization. So, could you share maybe just a couple of these practical actions that specifically assistants could take?
Jennifer Brown 25:14
Yeah. So I think that it starts with an inventory of ourselves, I think, and then the organization. So if you’re a woman, and you look at your organization, and you realize you’re, you know, women are really underrepresented, or perhaps people of color very underrepresented, or there’s no out LGBTQ people are the people you know, that are LGBTQ are closeted in the workplace, you can be someone that normalizes difference, you can be somebody who acknowledges that people are having an experience, even in just the way that you support colleagues, you know, the way that you might mentor, somebody who’s just joined the team or joined the organization. And if you notice, who’s underrepresented in the organization, you would you learn and doing this work is it’s, it’s a very isolating experience. And maybe some of the folks listening to this know what this is like, because you have been the one that’s isolated, and you have been the one that’s entered an organization and looked around and thought to yourself, wow, like, there’s no leaders that look like me. And all the admin administrative staff looks like this, you know, or looks like that. Or nobody may may share your identity, either visibly or invisibly, right, because LGBTQ and disabilities for to, to name two things are sometimes things you can hide, and sometimes you can’t, so so you can set a tone of being curious, being supportive? Kind of No, I think you have to kind of know that those dynamics are going on, and then set your mind and your heart to how can I make sure people feel welcome, you know, heard, valued, included in the team. And that, you know, you’re you can use your voice or your knowledge or your community and network to, you know, proactively make sure that people have a community to kind of come into in the workplace, because I think that that’s where that’s where it’s, it’s just awkward, and I think those first months and year or so are times when you’re settling in, and I think that that can be very alienating. And you know, virtual workplaces are especially challenging, you know, when you’re new, you don’t, you literally don’t have a physical place to go to. So how can we more proactively EXPRESS Welcome to our virtual colleagues? And how can we, how can we, quote unquote, see each other’s difference and create an environment where that is like, not swept under the rug, but celebrated. We do this, this exercise called the iceberg. And the gist of it is 10%, of who we are, is above the waterline and 90% is below in the workplace. And we’re afraid to bring our full selves to work. And there’s some things that we don’t really talk about, because we sense that they’re they’re stigmatized. And so we’re all doing this. And, you know, I think that’s what needs to really change. We talk about transparency at work or authenticity or vulnerability. A lot of these are buzzwords but they’re really, to me, this is where we need to go next is how can we create workplaces of belonging and belonging is when, of course when you feel you feel super comfortable, you can let your guard down you can, you can ask for what you need, you don’t hide what’s going on for you. You trust your colleagues enough to know who you are, and your your life, both at work and your dreams at work and your purpose. And you know, what, Jazz’s you up but it also is about like what’s going on outside of work. So, you know, if you can be a colleague that opens up, opens that aperture up and shares your own water line, and what’s you what’s under your iceberg and you know, makes that safe, that creates that psychological safety, then I think you could, you could really make a difference for someone, and that can, and that can actually shift I think organizations because we can’t just wait for senior people to set a tone that sort of, you know, travels down the hierarchy, it’s going to take a long time. And in my world, we call it the frozen middle. The middle of organizations is where things sort of get lost, or not paid attention to or not prioritized. And so your senior leadership may be all for diverse diversity and valuing inclusion and and saying all the right things, but then your immediate boss may not seem to care at all. And so that’s a challenge in terms of how you can lead from wherever you are that you can, you can actually, you know, be a leader and set a tone own in your immediate workgroup. And you never know that may that may create a groundswell. And you will find a community that cares about this. You can also, by the way, employee resource groups, if any of folks that are listening to this work at a company that’s big enough to have diversity networks, like the Women’s Network, or the black, African American network are diverse abilities. Those are amazing communities. And if you don’t have one that you can join and take a leadership role in, where you can learn about difference and find community, you can suggest that multicultural affinity group has started, for example, you know, and that can be a place where you learn about diversity, you find your own story, you find your voice, and you build your community, and you in the process, make it safer, a lot of kinds of difference to feel like, wherever you work is like home. So those are just some ideas.
Jeremy Burrows 30:58
Great. So what what do you encourage and challenge executives and managers and HR departments, employees to do when they maybe they’re not necessarily the best people, managers, but in their very driven, you know, produce business. Bottom line. But they it’s not, it’s not always that they don’t care about being diverse, or that they don’t want to include people, it’s just that they, they’re just kind of a one, one track mind of, like, let’s grow this company, and let’s, you know, sell more, build more, grow more. And, again, it’s not that they don’t want to do it, but they, they struggle to have the kind of invest the time and energy into it, when they see the, you know, maybe the heart more hard ROI, or easily quantifiable ROI. On their other.
Jennifer Brown 32:10
Yeah, they’re their priorities. Yeah, well, you’re talking a little bit about a communication style. So like the driving driver style, which shows up in a lot of different assessments is very, like hard charging, bottom line to very tactical, very low context. And not very, I would say, not very relationship oriented. So when you’re really task oriented, it can feel when you’re on the receiving end of that, if that unless that’s your style, so but when you’re on the receiving end of that it can feel cold, kind of uncaring, very clipped, and, you know, relationship style that’s oriented towards relationships is is is an easier one, certainly to have, like deeper conversations about who we are and what makes us tick and what we care about. And, yeah, so if you have a leader like that, it’s um, you know, it’s to know that it’s actually a communication style, like you just said, it’s not, it’s, it’s probably not something that they can change. However, you can still be a driver and driving for results and, and see diversity and inclusion as a as a way to achieve those results. And I think that that’s the Holy Grail, honestly, I mean, I feel like that’s what we talk about all day long is, is is showing the value of this work, for example, you know, making sure I’m interviewing a diverse slate of candidates for an open role. When I’m putting a team together, making sure that team is diverse, so that I have diversity of thought and perspective, because that’s going to create a better outcome. And that’s been proven by a lot of studies. Diverse teams are more innovative. But there has to be an openness to those innovative ideas, right? So it’s not just enough to put their diverse people around a table. Folks also have to be engaged in a welcoming way, you know, so that they will give their best ideas. You know, we in my world, we say, Vernay Meyers, is I should quote her. She says all the time, diversity is being asked to the dance inclusion is being asked to dance. And then lately we’ve added for belonging is bringing your best dance moves, or perhaps being asked to design the playlist for the party. Right? So it’s a multi step process. And if you have one and not the others, then you sort of risk failing, also. So anyway, so I think that speaking to and educating people about how this actually grows better teams, stronger teams, better collaboration, more innovation, and by the way, it’s important for business staff to look like the clients that they serve and look like the customers that they serve. And so when you if you work for a consumer products company, or you say you’re an education startup, if you’re serving schools and students and teachers chances are There’s a lot of diversity in your end users, if you will, right your target audience. But the problem with most companies is particularly in the leadership ranks, that it’s not reflected in that group of people. So that, to me is a liability, it’s a risk. And it should be viewed as a business risk. Because what can happen is, you don’t know your own biases, you don’t know you’re, you don’t notice that who’s not at the table, that’s giving input to something. And you go down a road as a company, you develop a strategy, you do a new product, you do a marketing campaign, and it just, you know, falls like a lead balloon in the market. And it’s because you didn’t have the right people at the table. And they didn’t feel empowered to contribute, and they perhaps didn’t feel listened to, even if they weren’t contributing. So. So it’s really like a risk of liability. It’s a huge retention risk in terms of keeping your employees, people don’t want to stick around a place where they don’t feel seen and heard, or whether over and over again, they’re the only and lonely. It’s very exhausting. It’s tough to always be representing a community that is very diverse, but all eyes turn to you, whenever a question comes up about something, you know, and that’s a lot of extra work to be asked to do. So on the one hand, you want to be valued for your perspective, but on the other hand, you don’t want to have to be the only one that has that perspective. And having people sort of over utilize your time, if you will. Yeah, yeah. So it’s, it’s a balance, it’s balanced. But um, I would say the business case is really powerful, particularly for those driver leaders, because that is the language that they understand. So if you can put like a white paper in front of them by McKinsey, you know, that talks about challenges that women face in the workplace and say, you know, I just thought we could maybe talk about this or bring a consultant in or maybe our next off site, we could, you know, discuss, you know, how we recruit. And, and again, leaders may be challenged by all this, you know, may feel like very much stepping out of line, depending on what your role is. So, you may need to go really slow. And you may also, by the way, your manager may not be the person that you bring these issues to, you know, I would recommend for everyone listening to this, that you find other mentors, besides your boss, like very few of us have a boss, that’s also a mentor. So, you should always be looking out for people that can support you, that may get you in a in a better quicker way, you know, that may, may want to talk to you about like, where you see your career going, you should always be looking for people like that, and having having them in your back pocket. And maybe those are the people that you talk to about this, if your manager isn’t open to it.
Jeremy Burrows 37:52
What would you say to we were talking before about when you hire, you know, when you have a diverse hiring and onboarding, that’s not the that’s not the end. Like it’s not like, Oh, all right, great. We hired you. They’re done. The percentages are balancing out. And we’re very diverse, and we’re hiring well. And we’re inclusive and our hiring, but it doesn’t stop there. So talk for just a minute about
Jennifer Brown 38:21
law. I’d say we’re Yeah, we’re we. So I would ask a couple questions like, what level? Are you hiring in diverse talent, right? So often, we see a lot more diversity in entry level roles, then we see or perhaps in support roles and functions like marketing, HR, admin ops, compliance, but we’ll see a lack of diversity and other functional areas, for example, and then we’ll also see a real difference. So it’s funny when companies say, Oh, we have 50% women, I’ll be like, at what levels? So 50% in the aggregate, but, you know, is there are you making up for your gender parity with your customer service center, for example, like that’s in the city, you know, so headquarters is over here, but your customer service center is over here. And so you really have to tease that apart. When companies say that they’ve reached parity, I’m always very suspicious. So you have to unpack that. And then what you and I were talking about was bringing people in doesn’t mean that you can keep them. So that is another difference between diversity and inclusion, if you diversity is the who and it’s basically like how can we count heads if you will, of our employee base. But then if inclusion is the how it’s well how do those people feel that this is a place they can stay and build their career and that’s where being the only lonely as I said, as you move up, you become more and more scarce? To the point where at some point, you are literally, like the only woman in the women’s bathroom like all day. Like that’s like a real thing. Anything that comes up for women in tech, for example. And, and some of us are cut out to be the only, like, we’re really strong, we don’t mind we, like we enjoy the challenge. But you know, others of us and even those of us who feel really strong about it, I do think it kind of wears on us. So your work isn’t done when you bring people in. And in fact, losing somebody after they’re on boarded, after they settle in, they need some time to be productive and actually start to, in a way sort of earn back right their value, you don’t want to lose them at that point, you know, you don’t want them to have such a bad experience in the culture every day in the workplace, that they can’t stand it and they need to go because that’s, that’s going to cost you three times somebody’s salary. That’s the latest metric for that. So that’s a real cost and not doing this well means that you’re going to lose people as fast as you can bring them in. And that’s, that is a demoralizing for the person, but it’s also really bad for morale for everyone that’s left behind. They all see that they all talk about it. i There’s so much chatter when firms lose, or companies lose like that one senior woman, or that one out leader, or that one, you know, person of color on the executive team, everybody like freaks out. Because, you know, they had so much vested in that person succeeding, and I think that they read it as, oh, my goodness, like, what, what really happened? Like, why did that person leave? Yeah, and the worst intent is assumed. So anyway, I think you know, you got to do this well, and carefully because a lot of eyes are on your every move. When you’re a leader, and you haven’t you want to you want to you want to endear your workforce to you, you want them to believe that you’re walking the talk, you want to you want people to want to stay and feel that they can see somebody as a role model for them to move up towards and I personally didn’t see a lot of role models that shared my stories, LGBTQ person. And you know, 50% of us are still closeted, closeted in the workplace, which I think is a startling statistic. But when you remember that, there there is all kinds of hiding in the workplace. There’s, I mean, you wouldn’t believe the things I know that nobody else does, because somebody shares that with me, and they sort of are viewed in one way. And then you know, you know, what’s going on for them. So we’ve got to somehow close that gap, be more real with each other. And, and really investigate the culture every day and make it better.
Jeremy Burrows 42:43
Awesome, Jennifer, well, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to share your thoughts on this topic. I think it’s very important for assistants, we have the ear of the top executives in the top companies of the world. And so I think it’s important for us to be educated in this area. And even just be aware, like you talked about the continuum move, move from unaware to aware and an active and become an advocate. So thanks so much for chatting, and where can we find you online? And how can we support what you’re up to?
Jennifer Brown 43:19
Thank you for asking. So I’m on Twitter and Instagram a lot. So my Twitter is Jennifer@Jennifer Brown, Instagram is @JenniferBrownspeaks. And I think I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn under Jennifer Brown consulting, I have a podcast, also called the will to change and I bring on all all manner of people with their own diversity stories for a really broad, broad group. And I really enjoy that I’m on my third year with a podcast. And please do check out the book, How to be an inclusive leader. And I think I mentioned this, but there’s the assessment in the book. And also online, you can find it at inclusive leader, the book.com. It’s free, and I would recommend taking it and reading the book in no particular order. But I think they go hand in hand and they’ll help you kind of assess where you are. And hopefully we’ll give you some ideas for what you can focus on to be more inclusive and to create that kind of environment for others to thrive.
Jeremy Burrows 44:20
Awesome. We’ll all share all those links in the show notes including the free assessment. I think that’s a great idea for all the assistants listening to jump on and take that and just kind of get a personal gage on how you’re doing on this topic. And yeah, thanks again, Jennifer and we’ll talk soon and good luck to you.
Jennifer Brown 44:37
Jeremy Burrows 44:38
Thanks again, Jennifer for a great conversation. Be sure to check out Jennifer’s book and her website and connect with her on social media. You can find all those links at leaderassistant.com/108 Talk to you next time
Speaker 4 45:11
please loom you on Apple podcast. Goburrows.com