Leading With Empathy & Allyship Show

Strengthening LGBTQIA+ Leadership In The Workplace with Jennifer Brown

Leading With Empathy & Allyship promo with the Change Catalyst logo and photos of host Melinda Briana Epler, a White woman with red hair and glasses, and Jennifer Brown, a White woman with blonde hair and blue blouse.

In this episode, Change Catalyst CEO Melinda Briana Epler speaks with Jennifer Brown, Founder & CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, about Strengthening LGBTQIA+ Leadership in the Workplace. We discuss language, covering, coming out, intersectionality, employee resource groups, and creating safe and inclusive workplaces.

Learn more about Jennifer’s work at jenniferbrownspeaks.com/



We discuss language, covering, coming out, intersectionality, employee resource groups, and creating safe and inclusive workplaces.


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Guest Speaker
Jennifer Brown, a White woman with blonde hair and blue blouse

Jennifer Brown
Founder & CEO at Jennifer Brown Consulting

JENNIFER BROWN is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker and diversity and inclusion expert. She is the Founder 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 delves into the “business case for diversity” as she helps businesses foster healthier, more productive workplace cultures.With over a decade of experience consulting to Fortune 500 companies including Toyota, Starbucks, and Capital One, Brown is a highly sought-after expert source on changing demographics, specific communities of identity including women, people of color, LGBT individuals, generations like Millennials, and the role of male leaders in change efforts.Brown has appeared in leading media outlets such as The New York Times, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal, and on Fox News. In the past several years, she has been named Social Entrepreneur of the year by the NYC National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), a finalist for the Wells Fargo Business Owner of the Year Award, a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Winning Women Program, one of the Top 40 Outstanding Women by Stonewall Community Foundation, and NYC Controller Bill Thompson’s LGBT Business Owner of the Year. Most recently, she was named one of Databird’s Top Female Executives of the Year for Small Business (2019), and one of Hive Learning’s most influential D&I Leaders (2019). Brown’s book Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change (2016) inspires leadership to embrace the opportunity that diversity represents and empower advocates at all levels to find their voice and be a driving force in creating more enlightened organizations that resonate in a fast-changing world. Her second book,How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive(2019), calls on allies and advocates everywhere to activate their voice, and is a Shortlist O.W.L. Award winner in Management & Culture, and a Nautilus Book Awards winner in Business & Leadership.


MELINDA EPLER: We have a code of conduct at changecatalyst.co/codeofconduct. The next slide talks about the upcoming talks. And the podcast is available on favorite platforms. And video and podcast series, Leading with Empathy & Allyship. This is episode 7, Strengthening LGBTQIA+ Leadership in the Workplace with Jennifer Brown, Founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting and @Jenniferbrown on Twitter. Why don’t we get started? I know people trickle in over the next few minutes but in conscientious of everyone’s time, we will take down the slides but please continue to introduce yourself in the chat. Welcome, everyone to Leading with Empathy & Allyship. I am your host, Melinda Epler the founder and CEO of Change Catalyst Change Catalyst where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting and events. This series go deep and gets real and we build empathy for underrecognized people. I just want to go over a few logistics before we get started and introduce our guest. On screen, we have Jasmine, an ASL interpreter and it is sponsored by interpret now, a deaf owned company. This is being live captioned by Maggie at White Coat Captioning. If you want to turn on captioning, down at the bottom of your screen is a button called closed caption. Just turn that on there and then you can also adjust your settings. Zoom has changed it so that you can adjust the size right there. So click on subtitle settings in that closed caption menu and you can adjust the size. And thank you to our team. They will be monitoring the chat and the Q&A throughout our time. In general, please be kind and radically inclusive. Focus on that and you will be great. We do have a code of conduct online so you can check that out. And lastly, just use the chat for chat. Share what you are learning, share your a ha moments. That helps us know, Jennifer and I know, what’s resonating for you and helps us know that people are listening and then use the Q&A function down below if you have specific questions you want us to answer. We will have a good amount of time at the end for Q&A so put your questions in the Q&A throughout your conversation. Today, we are discussing Strengthening LGBTQIA+ Leadership in the Workplace. Please welcome a great friend and colleague, Jennifer Brown who is the founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting. JBC. 

>> Thank you for having me. We are going to talk specifically about LGBTQIA+ leadership. We will leave a little bit of time to maybe talk about a few other things but we will focus mostly on that even though we can talk about a breadth of things. Briefly, can you tell us your story of how you came to be working on diversity and inclusion? What brought you there? 

JENNIFER BROWN: Accidental it is probably true for a lot of us that end up this work but looking back it makes sense. I was a nonprofit activists in my 20s working for community justice organizations. Loved it but was also an opera singer on the side. I am not sure a lot remember that about me but it brought me to New York to “make it” and I got a master’s degree and did theater but sadly, I kept injuring my voice and I had to get several rounds of vocal surgery which deprived me. I had to reinvent and performers, some go into HR because we are people people, hopefully, and I kind of followed some mentor’s advice and found my way to this field that I didn’t know existed which is leadership development. I ended up becoming a corporate trainer. Like somebody that delivers training over and over again and in various company settings, usually in organizations, and was in HR for a while and head of training and development and went out on my own and at the moment I was laid off I said I think I need to be outside the organization influencing in because my point of view was Crystalizing about all of the things that were broken that I had heard over and over again in the corporate training classroom and I think I wanted be a part of fixing that but fixing that on my own terms and not working for somebody. The company built and I started to build my team but being LGBTQ and I had been out since I was 22. I was also an advocate of out and equal and that is specific to LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace. I was on one of the first local boards in New York, 15 17 years ago, and I was at the table with all these incredible people who were building their company’s first LGBTQIA+ marketing and talent strategy. IBM was there and Merrill Lynch and others there were. These were my friends. I learned what is an ERG and there is something called the chief diversity officer? I was able to join my leadership development in organizational change background with my identity and consult from this place not just of expertise but personal and lived experience and I think that’s when we pivoted the company in that direction. I had a lot to learn. I am so humbled by all the people who have been at this DNI stuff for 30 years. It is incredible to see how it has evolved and I stand on lots of shoulders and I am so honored to this in my own way that, hopefully, resonates with someone because this work, as you know, Melinda, takes all of us. Not just the message is what matters in this work, too. I am very aware of that and try to do as much as I can with that. 

MELINDA EPLER: A couple weeks ago on episode five, I spoke with Tiffany Yu about people with disabilities. One thing that struck me and I have been thinking about for some time is people with disabilities pool everyone together from the disability community under that one umbrella of people with disabilities but the LGBTQIA+ community does not do that. The LGBTQIA+ adds letters and includes more people as it grows. You know, I still think that there is, you know, people that are left out of that alphabet but the idea here of building that alphabet and growing that alphabet and rainbow is, really, I think a powerful thing in the LGBTQIA+ community. Is there specific language that’s important and maybe can you talk about language overall for the community? 

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, for sure. One of the places I start is maybe this is I totally already know this but sexual orientation is different than gender identity. We can think of these are two parallel but not the same continuum. The movement coalesced but the diversity within the diversity is staggering. There are so many different identities being collapsed into that group that conflate sexual orientation and gender identity. LB and G are sexual orientation. T is gender identity. Q is an umbrella term that is popular amongst younger generations and older generations have a specific reaction because it was used as a bad word against us for years but I really like Q because it encompasses to me, everything that’s non normative in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, so a lot more people feel comfortable. Now what we understand about identity is it is not a binary. We are all somewhere on these continuum. It is not just the community on the continuum but I would argue everyone in the population is on the continuum. Even if you identify as heterosexual and cis gender there are no two of us alike. Intersex is I. I just watched a show on Vice about intersex Olympians and I thought it did an excellent job about educating me about the identity of that community and the reason why it needs to be its own letter and A refers to asexual which is a recent addition. I have incorporated pronouns. My name is Jennifer and my pronouns are she/hers/her. I find that interesting to have people think about what I mean and think about their assumptions about how people identify and how we don’t want to make assumptions that the world is through our lens only. I consider that something very important that I do. Usually when I do it on the keynote stages of old, pre pandemic I would say my pronouns are she/hers/her does anyone know what I am talking about and depending on where I was in the world and what generation I was speaking to lots of confused faces. There is just a lot of opportunity to kind of back up and bring people forward with language. Melinda, I think we sprint fast ahead because we are impatient for change and I know this is what we stare at all day, but most of the people we work with that I try to influence, I need to really meet them where I am at and make sure I don’t get overwhelmed because overwhelmed people feel stressed, shame and give up. You want to keep people in the dialogue so they keep learning. 

MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, and I think in terms of the plus, there reason there is a plus is there are a lot more identities that are not encompassed. A is also androgynous and pan sexual is another in the plus and I know there are others I am for getting but I want to acknowledge that. I think that’s really important to keep opening and keep learning and keep adding. 

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s beautiful. 

MELINDA EPLER: My team did research and according to the human rights campaign, 46%, or half of LGBTQIA+ workers in the U.S. are closeted. That was a 2019 study. 59% believe it is unprofessional to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. Whew. Let’s talk about covering and just to really quickly, define it and, Jennifer, please add if you have more, but covering is essentially actively hiding a piece of your identity. Most people cover in the workplace and often cover at home and as they go out into the world. It can be damaging personally but people do it because they fear discrimination, mistreatment, violence if they don’t cover and so how, Jennifer, how do we create safe spaces for people to come out in the workplace and to bring that piece of them to the workplace? 

JENNIFER BROWN: Let me define covering and I will come back to how we can create cultures of belonging where we cover less which is the goal. Ideally, we eradicate that behavior. It is downplaying a known stigmatized identity. This work is called uncovering talent and it is still available online. I would recommend reading it. I love teaching about covering because to me it feels like something I do to myself. It is a decision I make to play small and to kind of conveniently not talk about maybe the elephant in the room or just not talk about anything at all. Maybe people don’t know it is an elephant in the room. It is just something I straight out never discuss. It is also the modification of our speech patterns, the way we look, and the interests we share or don’t share with our colleagues because we are afraid of being judged. Something we do in anticipation of bias, and it is almost like  stereotype threat, it is that knowledge that a stereotype will be made about you and you have a lot of choices. For some people this is an every day, every hour occurrence. How are people going to deal with me? Which is perceived diversity. Lots of layers. We are not everything we look and there is so much invisible going on. Kind of the reason as an LGBTQIA+ person I try to come out constantly and not take advantage of what my friend calls the passing privilege because I can walk through the world and not be necessarily identified as a member of the community that I am a part of and I think about that a lot because it comes with awesome responsibility but as a stage performer, well, I was closeted pretty much, and I was terrified I wouldn’t get cast in roles as the young love interest/bride, whatever, you know music theater, if people knew who I was and as a business owner I was afraid my ability to thrive would be hurt if I disclosed. So, anyway, we do cover a lot of aspects of who we are, mental health issues, family and needs for flexibility, our what’s happening in our families because of systemic racism and oppression, socioeconomic difficulties. We downplay our femininity or masculinity. For LGBTQIA+ people, we are masters of disguise. The numbers for LGBTQIA+ people in the paper are the highest of many groups because, you are right, 50% of us are closeted in the workplace. That can take the form of straight out or the covering some people know about me and some people don’t know about me and having to come out every single day if you are in a client facing role or traveling a lot or    the gay community says we have to come out constantly and sometimes those times don’t feel safe for us. There is a tremendous risk to authenticity for some of us. The act of covering is exhausting because it feels to me like running two hard drives. I am the expert and author and speaker and then there is am I safe? Can I share? What will it do for my message? I am already a woman and most of the time in groups full of men trying to work with senior teams and boards. We do this math in our head and say how much of me can people handle and what’s going to be triggered by that and then am I really up for that today? Like, there is also the question of like, how do you feel today? How strong? How brave? Had you courageous? What sort of backstop do you have? How mentally fit and emotionally strong are you feeling today? And I just think imagine our coworkers and colleagues walking around carrying this and doing this constantly. Kind of going through this equation, Dr. Vivian Ming who is a data scientist, I know we are both friends with her, Dr. Ming calls it the tax we pay on being different and she has quantified that with some of her cool data science ways. It would be needed to understand how productivity leaks out in the covering behavior and experience. We are not as sharp, as focused, physically our body tells us we are tired or anxious and sweating. You will have physical reactions to it. The most pernicious, though, is that I think it makes us feel small and those subconscious messages to your psyche and soul add up over time. I call it death by a thousand cuts. When you are in organizations that don’t value you or perceive they don’t value, it wears at you and at some point it breaks and the break is, you know, I am going to leave and go to another company that may do this better where I feel like I can thrive. When I speak to company leaders, I say this is what’s happening across a vast swath of your organization particularly for any kind of diverse talent and you, I know, care about bringing them in and keeping them in this organization and yet it doesn’t feel like a place of belonging for them so what do you want to do about that? That’s when we can roll up our sleeves and do some cool work. 

MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, just one kind of reaction to one of the things you said is that that constantly coming out and I think that is a part of allyship. That’s why we put our pronouns in our social media and Zoom because we, as allies, also need to do that and create a safe space for everyone to do that works. 

JENNIFER BROWN: We need to make sure there are allies doing that and saying mental health is an issue for lots of people here. We just aren’t comfortable talking about it. What would it look like to make that more a part of everyday discussions and strategies and funding and support and visibility? That’s the question allies should be asking. Why is our system biased in this way? Why are things OK and other things not? And raising attention and using any kind of privilege we have, which I would argue straight allies are privileged compared to LGBTQIA+ people, because the world is heteronormative in so many ways and cis normative. Allies can, and that’s an example of one incredibly important way, that I have been supported by allies to make a space. And then if the space is made, I need to be able to choose to do I want to walk through the door, come out, am I comfortable, do I feel psychological safety to do that? But I could never be and do all I am without the allies seeding the ground for that. 

MELINDA EPLER: And what are some of the things that allies can do and that companies can do to create that safer space? 

JENNIFER BROWN: I think you have to do it consistently over time. I think some allies fall into the I didn’t get the response I want and I am done. How is someone going to trust you with their most vulnerable truth just because you asked once. And it is not just question asking but sharing and being vulnerable yourself about things that have been challenging or are being challenging in your life. I think when we vulnerably share, and I think during the pandemic it is a great time to practice this muscle which is what is proving difficult for you? The onus ante just on concern people to do this. I find some leaders I would say are the least practiced in this. Some of us used to sharing the story are always doing it and hoping more people come. But the ally reality is there is a lot of folks hesitating and holding back. So I do think people watch other people’s behaviors. If is a white cis male leadership, the stories that group engages on can shift entire cultures quickly because people look upwards and look at a leader and say it is OK for that person to be talking about it. Right now, it is a very special time to be doing that, obviously and really uncomfortable for people. It as a good time to investigate how little you know about your colleagues, actually. . We are beaming into each other’s houses and seeing same sex partners and kids. Maybe we can’t hide that anymore. It is on display whether we like it or not. I am also hoping this is like ripping off a Band Aid. I have had people say I am a woman of color and finding I am putting less energy toward all of this. There are statistics that show women in open office plans feel scrutinized about their appearance. It is one of the many pieces of data I have found interesting in terms of what’s not working at the open office and I don’t know if we will ever return to those again so maybe we don’t need to talk about that for a while. I have had a friend who is non binary to say it is incredible to be on Zoom and not feel mis gendered. Our physical appearance triggers assumptions in others and to remove all of us, it opens up the door, I think for some sidestep of some of the diversity dimensions that really prove difficult for a lot of us. Not a perfect fix but just a really interesting thing to think about. I do think that there is a possible quantum leap here for being seen and heard for our work. And being more purely interacted with at this distance which is really ironic because you would think that would have been more possible in a physical world. But, Melinda, I think a lot track of your original question. 

MELINDA EPLER: What are a few practical things that people can do in the workplace to really create that safe space to ensure, whether it is through working on the culture, or it is working on policy? Internal workplace policies. 

JENNIFER BROWN: Somebody brought up there can be privilege and allyship within diverse groups so I want to dive into that for a minute. It is so important. Privilege doesn’t just end because you are in a diverse group. You are an infinity group and do inclusive leadership perfectly. It doesn’t mean you have the skills and consistent behavior of an inclusive leader. We all have work to do. In the LGBTQIA+ community there are still white cis gender men in the community and those identities carry privilege with them. I think the onus, we have to walk the talk in our own communities at the same time we expect this behavior in everybody else in the organization. I think we have to get real about that within our communities. I know for me what I do with that is I have been out for 25 years now. You know? I am pretty out in who I am but there is so much learning I have to do and I consider as an ally, as a cis gay woman, there is a ton of learning I need to do about sexism, homophobia, and others in the LGBTQIA+ community and how I can use my voice as an ally as an insider. Allyship is not just one demographic on high sort of imparting something. It has to start amongst us and we have to be careful about how we silo our identities. ERGs are great and important but it is also encouraged that vertical thinking instead of the cross identity allyship we really need amongst us. I encourage all of us to do this thinking. Everybody has some kind of privilege that you are probably under utilizing. Let’s see. I am reading the questions in the chat. This is fascinating. Thank you, Libra. Really good to see you. The allies teleworking is better or worse for people to be seen at work. I just honestly think there is a lot of potential, if we are just like removing that physical appearance piece, and we are just sort of shoulders up, I do think    imagine the implications for trans folks and gender non binary folks to choose how to show up and not being on video at all and being a voice on the phone is, I think, a fantasy for a lot of people who walk around in bodies that trigger. So, you know, just imagine that. I think if you are somebody who this is not resonating with, I am telling you it is true for a lot of other people. Part of the work of allyship is when I am the only one in the room and I can reflect these realities that’s my job. Allyship means, you know, using that voice and ensuring others are brought to that table, but if you are the only one at that table, it is incumbent on you to make sure it is raised and changes going forward. It has been an incredible learning experience. For me, it is interesting also I am now applying my aspiring allyship to the community of people are disabilities. Melinda, I have learned so much from you about how you have managed your calls and subtitles and interpreters and how you narrate all the content on your slides. You are    I have to compliment you and I have learned so much and so much of the business world is not doing any of these things, so as a practice I am trying to do things for my calls and illustrate what I am doing and why I am doing them so it is always a teaching moment, and I think that that means that somebody else doesn’t have to come forward and point things out because I am pointing them out. That means less emotional labor for somebody that’s probably struggling to bring them full selves and struggling with bias. If I can shoulder some of that, give it to me. You asked what can we do in organizations? Allies have to be more overt. We have to have more people talking like this, more people raising issues, more people sharing vulnerably about who they are even if they look like they have a certain privilege. I never know who is in the room. I have been surprised and humbled that I wasn’t being an inclusive leader either. That’s been humbling to me and really beautiful, actually, that people trust you with this stuff. We have got to encourage executives and people who don’t think diversity is somebody else’s job. We have got to build that muscle and those leaders to be able to be fluent in this and do it in an authentic and personal way. Not just from the head but from the heart. 

MELINDA EPLER: And also, to be OK with some missteps and to help them as they misstep because inevitably as allies we do. And I feel being careful about shaming and by provoking guilt and feelings of shame and guilt are not the answer. I think we have to also create that safe space for leadership to be able to learn and grow and support them and push them in that learning and growth. It is so true, and I mean, who learns from a place of shame, it can be a temporary state, I think. It probably needs to be felt because we should be ashamed of what we have participated in and what we haven’t challenged. Right? But I can’t necessarily work forward with somebody that’s stuck in that place and the problem with same is I give up; I feel overwhelmed and discouraged. We have to believe allyship and different behaviors are possible for ourselves in order to undertake that journey. It is human psychology. As hard as it might be and as frustrated as we are with the pace of change, it is like why are allies asking for checklists? Why do I have to explain, again, how to do this and that. I just think we have to be careful with that because so much of us are in this work, we listen to it all day, some of us it is a lived experience so we know this, but there are so many people that don’t. We say in consulting like meet the client where they’re at. Meet the learner where they’re at. Really, remember, that you were on a learning journey at some point. You probably are on a learning journey. 

MELINDA EPLER: Hopefully we all are. There is no way we can all be perfect allies for each other in this space even if we are from multiple marginalized identities. There is a lot of room for growth and understanding other marginalized identities. One thing that occurred to me as we are talking is part of allyship is recognizing those feelings of guilt and those feelings of shame and moving past that because I know the first time that I heard the word privileged, I was like, oh, I did not like it. And now, I am kind of, you know, I recognize it and know that I have this privilege but it took me, there was some shame and guilt in that and in some was probably misplaced and some of it was real, and I think part of allyship is really that part of as well is recognizing that and moving past that. 

JENNIFER BROWN: I agree. There is no timetable. There is no, you know, timeline. I only ask leaders to just make sure you are moving forward even if it is small steps and even if you perhaps achieve a milestone and you stay there for a while because things also, with this work, have to be embodied. It can’t be intellect or performing allyship. It has to be deeply felt and that takes a while. That is not something you can snap your fingers and say you are an ally tomorrow. You can start by putting rainbow flags places or sharing your pronouns or, you know, talking about pride more openly and how you are an ally, but we also say in the community pride isn’t just once a year. It is 365 days a year I am proud. Organizations have to resist the temptation to kind of pull out all of the stops around one cultural celebration but not really be there on a day to day basis. It is really, to me, where the rubber hits the road isn’t necessarily pride but it is how many people are still closeted in the workplace? To me, that’s the metric that keeps me up at night. It is like what is it about our system that is making people feel, even though these companies are award winning companies, they are on diversity top 50 companies, they have tons of closeted employees. It is just this conundrum and same with people with disabilities. When we are asked to check a box about who we are and we get that employee engagement survey we don’t trust our institution enough to check the box. And then leaders are coming saying we don’t have that many folks and therefore how do we know this is a pressing issue for us from an employee engagement standpoint? I am not telling everybody you have to be out but I am pointing out how my consulting brain works which is if the struggle is real, and I don’t want anyone to feel they will have to come out into an unsafe space. I wouldn’t do that. Maybe that’s why I became a consultant because I was like this is a waste of my time and I want to be all of who I am because that’s where I can do the best work period. I know there was a question about do we have to be out as somebody to be a leader and voice in DNI? Do we have to declare our labels to contextual the work? He took me a side and said I recently came out. I am a 55 year old married man. I have a heterosexual relationship with my wife and I am starting the process of coming out. That person was an ally on my panel and wasn’t ready to be out. So, again, there is no timeline. I think when you disclose is up to you. I think just remember that part of our work is aligning ourselves and bringing our full selves to work so that we have the credibility and really, frankly, the power of that as we are change agents. It is like fuel. It is like rocket fuel. So, while we don’t have to be out, I think the effectiveness of having a personal connection to this work, and that lived experience and that passion, and that context makes you extra powerful and effective when you join it with all of the other organizational skill change you need as a leader in the DNI workspace. 

MELINDA EPLER: As I said, we can talk for hours. We just grazed over a few things I want to call out and I don’t know that we have a lot of time to address it. We address ad little bit as we were talking. One is intersectionality which we said in different ways but didn’t say that word and I think it is really important in all of this workaround diversity and inclusion is recognizing that some people have many marginalized identities and LGBTQIA+ community is no exception. You can be multiple letters within that. And then particularly transwomen of color, transwomen of color with disabilities, are a subset of that community that are really important to make sure that we hold space for, to support, because so many unique things happen with them and barriers that are placed in front of them and someone in the chat also mentioned class which is another aspect and age. I wanted to call that and make sure we say that out loud here because it is so important. And then I also want to make sure we address ERGs because you have done a ton of work with companies around ERGs which are employee resource groups, affinity groups, sometimes companies have specific names based on their company name as well. ERGs    you have done a lot of work around helping companies to set them up, lead the foundations and then to make them as successful as they can be within the workplace, as supportive as they can be within the workplace. Can you talk about the best practices around LGBTQIA+s ERGs in particular? 

JENNIFER BROWN: One of my favorite topics. ERGs are how I cut my teeth as a baby DNI Consultant. The first dollar I made from this work was a generous LGBTQIA+    we didn’t say Q at the time, that brought me in as a baby consultant and trusted me with their off site for strategic planning. I have such fond memories of shaping my understanding of the business case by going to conferences like out and equal and hearing how this community, along with the corporate equality index, which is super helpful from HRC because it gives you a roadmap of inclusive LGBTQIA+ organizations. It is a benchmark for our community and workplaces. It is very detailed and companies fight to get 100%. Every two years they up the ante and all the companies follow suit and make sure that  they are providing everything in the list because that’s Gold standard. Not perfect at all. Don’t at me. It is something. I think it is something that actually a lot of communities don’t have that orients what this looks like and defines it and gives companies something to shoot for. ERGs for LGBTQIA+ they need to be intersectional. I want to come back to your point about intersectionality coined by Kimberly Kershaw and it was the overlapping stigmatized identities and ERGs need to be full of this. I encounter a women’s network with no women of color and I will say where is the diversity here? What signals are being sent around the welcoming nature of the group? The leadership and the goals and strategy the group is taking on. I will find an LGBTQIA+ group that has perhaps all cis men into the leadership position and in fact, that’s a very, very common thing. So we have got to watch that. I think we have to orient the groups. Now there are so many groups and some of the companies I work with there are like a 100 network groups and maybe 12 primary groups and a lot of other kind of interest groups, I would say. There is an opportunity for intersectionality to be fostered in the membership of the groups, in the programming and education the groups provide, and I agree, Melinda, if we pay attention to those who are dealing with the most intersectionality dynamics, then our strategies will benefit all of us. Let’s focus on the most marginalized and it is a word I have a tricky relationship with    marginalized. I like underestimated and perhaps, you know, you can fill in a lot but literally if we focus on that group, all of us will benefit in terms of the conversation that we can have. I fully expect, you know, I task ERGs when I am working on their strategy with them to look through everything with an intersectional lens. Who are they attracting and not attracting right now, why, what would be appealing and helpful in terms of what ERGs exist to do which is build community, educate their organization, advise the company on the stuff in the marketplace, make sure that talent demographic is moving up the pipeline with as few challenges and headwinds as possible which is still requiring a lot of work but I think we can’t afford any more to just get some people through. We have to get all of us through. That’s the intersectional lens in my mind. I think now is the time to have a deep and honest conversation about equity. With this pandemic we have been shown so many disparate impacts and I think finally, I think some folks are connecting the dots to say, you know, diversity as it was practiced wasn’t inclusive. You know, could we build something better and with the next generation coming in, who is super intersectional, they are expecting, I think, you know, some of these structures that have been in place for a while to be intersectional and I think if you don’t know what that word means you are behind the eight ball quite a bit. I am really excited. I wonder if ERGs and I am asked a lot will they disappear and as this next generation comes in that doesn’t have such a need for safe space, whose perhaps out in the interview, who is incredibly proud of being gender non binary and is like why wouldn’t I share that? Or getting into an interview and saying what do you mean you don’t have an LGBTQIA+ network? Or particular leadership programs for this community and other communities. These are the tough questions I am counting on this next generation to push on because companies are behind the eight ball in so many ways and, you know, not at all ready for a super diverse and inclusive and self appreciating, I hope, generation that’s coming in and saying this is all of me. Here is everything I come with and I expect to bring my full self to work and not cover and I want to work for a company whose values align with mine. What a great call to action that I think our generation has moved the ball considerably but there is nothing like a tsunami of a generation with totally different viewpoints coming in and ascending into leadership. It is really going to change the culture, I think, probably faster than we have been able to. 

MELINDA EPLER: Absolutely. If anybody wants to look deeper into how the LGBTQ community has been negatively affected by COVID 19, the human rights campaign, did a study and there is information and we will include that in our follow up resources available on the event follow up email as well as our YouTube channel and our SoundCloud channel as well. Jennifer, we have one question in the Q&A that we haven’t addressed which is, it ties into some of the things you have been talking about which is how do we transform LGBTQIA+ plus pride spaces that are historically dominated by cis, white gay men and bring more diversity into those spaces. 

JENNIFER BROWN: I have a lot of thoughts. This really needs to change. There is a lot of exclusionary dynamics in the LGBTQ community and I refer to it as our dirty laundry. It is hard to talk about. You don’t want to give people ammunition to tear us down but the truth is we are all a microcosm of the world we exist in. So when we build systems, we build them and they, unfortunately, carry a lot of the bias of our day to day lives and the organizations. If we are not careful we end up propagating the same stuff. So I think that I might, if I had to reins to make decisions, I would require network groups to demonstrate the diversity of leadership and membership and I would give, probably, I would give goals and expectations, actually, for the network groups to reflect more accurately the workplace and workforce we exist in. I would look at programming through that lens. I would look at, you know, whatever the celebrations are through that lens. I would make it real because I don’t know. We have to kind of build understanding but at the same time there has to be accountability. You know, but accountability really solves things. Pay gap. I am going to fix this and ask the question why did the gap happen and why has it been perpetuated. We have to fix it right away and ask the question like why is this continuing to happen. That’s more of a belonging conversation around why would people come and then unjoin or people step up into leadership roles. We know representation isn’t enough. I do think representation is hugely important when you think about the voices and the faces that you see in terms of whether or not you were a part of something. You have to see it to be it. We have to see ourselves reflected in order to think we are going to be welcome there. That’s, you know, that’s human behavior. If I see an entirely male leadership team in a diversity network group, I am probably going to be less like to get involved as a cis woman or any women identified individual to say I just don’t know is there a place for me there. For allies it is interesting because allies think there is no place for them because they look at leadership and say, well, I am not welcome there, or I don’t know how I would get involved and this is why ally leaders are an important concept. I know this is important and these spaces are for a certain identity but the allies within that construct is so important. For me to know I can come into a space and I am not invading a private conversation, that I am welcomed to be there and that there is an intentional want to have me there and people that look like me there. That’s a dynamic playing out too which is fascinating. I think that I would probably ally strategy there must be intersectional programming and diversity in membership and leadership but I would say robust ally strategy where it is not just oh, all are welcome. You can come if you want. To me, that is dishwater. It is not strong enough. You know? Like if I am the program leader, I will sit all of the leaders down and say how many allies came to your events and if they didn’t, why and what are you doing besides slapping an A on the end of your program invite, you know, to encourage this, or even require the inclusion of allies. But again, Melinda, you know it is complicated but I would never want to take away a safe space for communities that need the safe space so much and it is this ongoing debate of do we exclude to include? You know, it is a fundamental question. My clients love asking me. They think they have got me. It is a like a gotcha moment. But Jennifer, aren’t these groups divisive? 

MELINDA EPLER: And my answer is it is not either/or. I think both need to be possible. Allies do need to have a place to learn and to know that they can be allies and are welcome and invited to be allies and also, I do think that there is an important space we need to create for people to be who they’re, and without having to have that extra burden of educating allies. 

JENNIFER BROWN: Totally. I want to share a story. I work with a big bank. This is a lovely institution and they are so on their DNI journey and we do a three day LGBTQIA+ program with them where it is just LGBTQ people in the room. There are tears. The learning is deep and fast because people aren’t covering in that room. They say I have never had the experience of being in a room of just LGBTQIA+ talking about leadership, vision of a leader, storytelling and just working on myself and that the bank is supporting this and funding it because I am important enough for this. This bank also has a black leader program, Hispanic leader program, people with Diverseabilities and veterans leadership program. We lead the LGBTQIA+ vets and people with disversibility program and it is humbling to be in those rooms. You realize how much work we are doing. It is the duck with the feet furious paddling under the water but everything looking seamless above. When you get in that room, you can actually talk about the furious pedaling and you can talk about you didn’t realize the angst you had, you didn’t realize the fatigue you had, you didn’t realize the isolation and it is profound. They are very insistent allies are not in that room and allies are not for them. That’s an example of where the work needs to be closed door, I think, but you are right. It is a both. We have to incorporate both but it doesn’t mean it is open season on everything for allies, either. This shouldn’t be a sort of careless thing. It needs to be a really thoughtful and respectful think. 

MELINDA EPLER: OK. We are running out of time. I think the last question, and obviously brief, is where people can learn more about you and your work and I will say that this is probably backwards but this is on my bookshelf. 

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s my first book. 

MELINDA EPLER: There is another one. 

JENNIFER BROWN: There is a second one. I am a glutton for punishment. 

MELINDA EPLER: I am still working on my first. And you also released a report on your website. Quick. Where can people learn more? 

JENNIFER BROWN: So please visit us at jennferbrownspeaks and you can download a first chapter of the second book which is called “How to be an Inclusive Leader”. You can also take a free assessment, the inclusive leader assessment. It is 10 minutes and gives you a report with resources about where you are in the inclusive leadership continuum which is the basis of the second book. I am big on social. @Jenniferbrown and @Jenniferbrownspeaks on Instagram. And we have a wonderful thought leadership paper on inclusion in the future of work that’s come out of a lot of the community calls we have been doing that has made me so much filled my head with a lot of ideas about what’s possible and that would be great to share perhaps after the fact and I will get you the link. You can end us an email at info@Jenniferbrownconsulting and we will make sure you get a copy of the report. 

MELINDA EPLER: Thank you for all you do. Everybody keep this going. Keep the learning and the conversations going. Be brave. Use new language. Take action. Thank you all for joining us. Joining us each week for leading with allyship. You can sign up to attend live with audience Q&A or catch the podcast or video and you can stay in the loop by going to changecatalyst.co and signing up for your newsletter. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast and YouTube channel and we will see you next time. Thanks, everybody. Have a good week. 


About the Host

Host: Melinda Briana Epler

Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.

As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.

Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.

Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.

In The Press

Watch Melinda’s TED Talk

Speaking Engagements

Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.


The show shaped my scope of reasoning on the dynamics in the corporate world, brand building, harmony across board with team mates. Your series has helped me feel less alone and less daunted by the challenges I face as a leader at a company that is used to moving fast with decisions and making swift progress across the board. I so earnestly want to grow and deepen my perspective when it comes to diversity and allyship; it’s not always clear how to do it. This series has felt like a path I can follow and revisit and draw strength and insight from. Thank you.

This show has given me clear opportunities to learn in the midst of 2020’s numerous social and personal challenges, including engaging remote content. I’ve learned new terms, heard new voices, diversified my interests and internalized personal narratives that have inspired me to get more active.

I watched many of your live shows in 2020, and I learned something from every discussion. They were inspiring on many levels. Early on during the pandemic (especially), the show also provided me with a sense of community that I was sorely needing. Thank you.

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