Our recent Mursion Future of Work Roundtable series continued with an enlightening presentation from Jennifer Brown, an award-winning entrepreneur, author, speaker, and diversity and inclusion consultant. As the successful founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, Jennifer is responsible for designing workplace strategies that have been implemented by some of the biggest companies and nonprofits in the world. She has harnessed more than 14 years of experience as a world-renowned diversity and inclusion expert through consulting work, keynoting, and thought leadership.
Below is an excerpt of Jennifer’s Roundtable session; you can view the entire presentation, as well as Jennifer participating in a live Mursion demo, on our YouTube channel.
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“Being LGBTQ+, using our voice is a long, hard road. Many of us are closeted. For me, still, even as out as I am after all these years and we’re certified as a woman-owned company and also as an LGBT-owned company and as a part of diversity world, which is a real honor and something I’m very proud of, it’s still something that gives me pause in terms of my own belonging in certain rooms, where I might look and think I see people that I assume, notice my words here, I perceive are not going to value all of my diversity dimensions, both visible and invisible.
Many of us are covering the workplace around a whole host of things, and we can absolutely cover visible aspects of identity. I’m female in an all-male-dominated room, or at least that’s what it looks like to me. I may not bring up examples from my gender identity and the experience of that. I may not raise a problematic comment or joke. I may not give that feedback over and over again because I don’t want to be that squeaky wheel. I may present myself in a certain way.
Since this is Pride Month, the example I like to use is of my gender expression is gender fluid, for example, I may default to a binary expression of my gender to make other people comfortable. To me, that would be appearance-based covering, which would be not inhabiting the most comfortable gender expression but inhabiting one and making choices that aren’t authentic to me. The workplace is a place full of covering of all kinds of identities. I’ve been really fascinated with it and I teach this topic all the time. If anything, in the pandemic, it’s become more acute because virtual covering is still happening.
In fact, sometimes the virtual world forces us to uncover. If I were closeted, but you see my same-sex partner walking around behind me because I’m on Zoom all the time and I have to be on camera because my manager makes me be on camera, all of a sudden, I’m outing myself or I’m outing myself about my socio-economic background and how I live because you can see that. It’s tricky. There’s pluses and minuses to this new world that we’re all coping with and that we’ve been working in when it comes to inclusion.
There’s pluses and minuses to this new world that we’re all coping with and that we’ve been working in when it comes to inclusion.
Some folks are sharing what covering has meant for us. It’s exhausting. It’s like working double-time, thinking about, ‘Okay. I’m here to do a job and contribute, but I’m also spending this equal or more energy, thinking about my psychological safety, thinking about what can I avoid or manage in terms of my image and what I share in order to avoid being stereotyped,’ which is so much extra work.
Really, the report that they did with Deloitte actually shows that it diminishes our sense of self when we do this, and that’s not surprising. It’s telling yourself that so many parts of who we are just don’t matter. They’re not germane, and that they can hurt us. Some of us carry a lot of these around with us. Many stigmatized identities, some of us carry more than one. We’ll get to intersectionality later.
Bringing Our Full Selves to Work
What we need to do is commit to bringing more of our full selves to work because it’s not only important for our own validation and sense of self, but really critical for others to react to that in a better way, to learn about who we are so that organizations can be more conscious about who is spending in an inordinate or unfair amount of time feeling marginalized because they’re underrepresented or of an underrepresented identity.
What we need to do is commit to bringing more of our full selves to work because it’s not only important for our own validation and sense of self, but really critical for others to react to that in a better way…
I think the challenge here to me and the action that I would like is for all of us to get comfortable being uncomfortable. The only way we’re going to shift towards belonging in our workplace cultures that have not traditionally done this well is together challenging where we set our waterline and thinking who else needs to see more of who I am.
I especially lean on leaders to do this because what leaders do is watched and very much sets the tone when you have positional power. Whether we agree with that or not, it just is the way organizations are configured right now. When I work with executive leaders, we talk about the waterline and we talk about what is your diversity story or dimensions? How do you understand this topic? What has been true for you in your life? What is the waterline and what’s underneath that waterline for you, and how much do you talk about it?
How to Approach Intersectionality in the Workplace
Intersectionality then, I referenced it earlier, the covering behaviors. I don’t just cover based on being LGBTQ, which is invisible about me, so it’s something I can actually literally hide, but being female as well in the male-dominated rooms I tend to be in, cisgender male-dominated rooms, my intersectionality which means the overlapping stigmatized identities.
I like to describe privilege, not just as white and male privilege, but privilege with a small p, which means that the privileges I’m talking about, that are most helpful to think about, include being white, perhaps include being male, but certainly include a lot of other things like schools we went to, rooms that I can get into that somebody else can’t, permission to speak and to challenge systems that somebody else doesn’t have. It’s incumbent on me to activate the privileges I have and when leaders say to me, ‘Jennifer, I don’t really have a diversity story. I have had a very privileged life,’ my answer is, ‘Well, then talk about the privileges that you carry and talk about what you’re doing with them.’
Talk about the privileges that you carry and talk about what you’re doing with them.
To me, that is the measure of a great and inclusive leader. You don’t have to have the same kinds of experiences that others have in order to enter the conversation and be useful and be helpful and be a catalyst for change, it’s just that you have different raw materials with which to work. I hope that makes sense and is helpful in terms of thinking about the fact that each one of us carry some kind of privilege with a small p, every single one of us. How can I be exercising that in solidarity with others as an aspiring ally? That should be something we do regularly as part of our leadership.
Moving From Unaware to Aware
I came up with a model that is effectively a progression model but it’s circular instead of linear because I think it’s something that we travel up and down depending on what identity is under consideration.
At the unaware level, folks can say, ‘I don’t know there’s a problem. I don’t think that inclusion is a problem. We’re all happy here and we have great representation and everybody loves this workplace as much as I do because I feel comfortable. I’m assuming everybody else feels comfortable and that it works for them.’ Unaware could also be, ‘Look, I’m a good person. I believe in all this stuff. I have daughters, so I understand everything I need to know about gender equity.’ It can be, ‘I believe in these values, but to me, and I think we all can understand that believing in something is not the same as changing the systems around us. Just believing doesn’t actually accomplish that.’
The model is all about activating and taking actions and what do those actions look like? We want to wake up folks in ‘Unaware’ and wake up what’s unaware in ourselves. What do I really not know about? What am I not educated about? What am I not paying attention to? What hasn’t been important enough for me to look at and spend time studying, sharing, thinking about the implications for me?
Moving from unaware to aware means that I’m waking up, means that I’m consciously incompetent. I love the conscious competence model. Unaware was unconsciously incompetent and aware is consciously incompetent. Now I know what I don’t know. I know I’m not great at this. I know I need to investigate the difference between my intent versus my impact, and I may not be correct about my impact. I need to do a deep dive and think about what diversity means to me. I need to study different biases and be able to see them and be vigilant and then interrupt them. I’m reading books, I’m consuming media not built by and for people that identify as I do. I’m just soaking it all in, and this past year has been a big awareness year for some of us.
Unaware was unconsciously incompetent and aware is consciously incompetent.
For others of us, we’ve been painfully aware of the implications of our identity our whole lives. We have to qualify this by saying some of us are very late to this conversation, and some of us have been all too aware. Having that understanding is very, very important. In Aware we start to realize, ‘How am I going to get feedback about what I need to learn and how I need to show up?’ Which is a great question.
A little bit about microaggressions. They are often things we don’t intend to be harmful, but they’re things that nobody’s ever given us feedback about that they are harmful. It only usually has to happen once where somebody says, ‘That’s really harmful that you said that.’ Or, ‘It makes me feel less than.’ Or, ‘This is problematic. I heard you say this and I wanted to point it out and give you something alternative to say.’
Now we’re realizing with an equity lens that we need to see the differences because we can’t build a better system if we erase differences. If we say, ‘Well, I don’t see that, it doesn’t exist.’ It feels like an erasure for others, but it’s so well-meaning because it was, I think part of our generational lexicon and what we were taught inclusion really looked like and sounded like. Pro tip: Never say I don’t see color again, just give you that little advice.
Pro tip: Never say I don’t see color again.
Feedback is a gift. It’s hard in the moment. Certainly it’s very uncomfortable, but I think we have to take a moment and say, ‘Maybe I need a moment to think, maybe I need a breather.’ Or, ‘Let’s not make this about me and my response, let me make this about the learning that I’m intended to take from this.’ Calling out versus calling in as a great explanation of this. The call out is a public criticism of language or problematic behavior in front of people. Then the call in is the private conversation.
I think that’s more helpful in the business world for obvious reasons and gives the learner the grace to get the feedback and adjust without being publicly called out and often shamed, which can cause a lot of collateral damage.
Thinking about have you been called out? Have you been called in? Have you done either one of those things as you’re thinking about this? I think at the end of the day, we can come back to, ‘How would I want to receive this? How would I want to get this information?’ That’s always a good guide, because we all know what the right answer is and we know what the kind answer is, but we live in a very polarized time that I think is just charged with emotion.
A lot of us are a bit frayed and stressed. I think we aren’t necessarily on our kindness behavior when we’re under so much pressure like the last year has really put all of us under. We have to have grace around the anger behind a call out or a call in and say, ‘This is stuff that’s been persistent and has not been addressed for a very, very long time or ever,’ and really focus on the learning.”
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