378 MINISODE Jennifer Brown: Gut Check

Women Innovating Networking Growing Scaling – that’s WINGS … I’m Melinda Wittstock, my mission is to help women soar to success in business and in life – without tradeoff or apology, stepping into the light to have a transformational impact on the world. So on this mentoring Minisode of Wings of Inspired Business … we talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and why Fortune 500 corporations are oddly ahead of a good many strappy startups where founders still tend to attract people like them to the founding team. The business world is finally waking up though to the fact that diverse and inclusive cultures outperform others – by any metric: revenue, profit, valuation among them. We also talk about why your success is dependent on having the right mentors, making sure you have the right oversight and checks and balances on your leadership as you grow your company, so you can focus solely on what you uniquely do best.

Here with us today to provide her insights and inspiration is …

Jennifer Brown.

Jennifer is the founder, president, and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting and the host of The Will to Change podcast, which uncovers true stories of diversity and inclusion.

As a successful L-G-B-T-Q entrepreneur, Jennifer has been named Woman of the Year by Pace University, Social Entrepreneur of the year by the NYC National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), one of the Top 40 Outstanding Women by Stonewall Community Foundation.  Featured by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, AdWeek, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, Inc., CBS, among them, Jennifer also hosts the popular weekly podcast, The Will to Change, which uncovers true stories of diversity and inclusion.

And if this is something you think you don’t have time for …you probably are exactly the person who needs to make time. Because you’ll get further in those 4 days than you will in 4 months plus we’ll show you how to turn time from a scarce resource into a limitless one – we call it “return on time” … so you to have all the time you need for business, love, parenting, friends and fun. Wingsexperiences.com/apply

And now to the inspiring Jennifer Brown.

She’s an award-winning LGTBQ entrepreneur, speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and an author.

Her bestselling book, Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace and The Will to Change makes the case for leaders to embrace the opportunity that diversity represents, for their own growth and for the success of their organizations.

Jennifer has led the way in talent management, human capital, and intersectional theory to redefine the boundaries of talent potential and company culture. Her new book, How to be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive will be released August 2019.

And as the founder, president and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, Jennifer’s workplace strategies have been employed by some of the world’s biggest companies and nonprofits in order to help employees feel like they belong and can bring their full selves to work.

Melinda Wittstock:       Jennifer, welcome to Wings.

Jennifer Brown:            Thanks so much. I'm happy to be here with you. I'm excited for our conversation today.

Melinda Wittstock:       Me, too. I want to know what's inspiring you right now.

Jennifer Brown:            Oh, my goodness. I think that what I love is that companies who are my primary clients mainly Fortune 500 companies are not at all slowing down on their commitment to building more diverse and inclusive workplaces where everyone can thrive, which happens to be what my business is about.

I'm really encouraged by that. I'm encouraged by their commitment particularly in the face of a more socio-political environment where a lot of these inclusive values are being questioned right now. I'm super encouraged that corporate leaders, that CEOs, that business in general is so gung-ho and continuing to invest in this area.

Melinda Wittstock:       It's wonderful. And it's also in their own self-interest at the same time because how can you have access to great talent without having an inclusive policy?

Jennifer Brown:            That is right. They know that. Although it's funny. To you and me it is obvious. But believe it or not I still get paid often to come in and explain the why. Why do we need to pay attention to diversity and inclusion? And it's like this aha moment versus what I really like to do and we do get to do this with some clients just walk in and talk about the how. Really.

But some are still stuck on the why believe it or not. Even though there is a preponderance of evidence and data and research from McKinsey and Deloitte and Pure Research and all of these amazing think tanks about how the world is changing and how your company including your leadership and those faces on your masthead need to reflect a diversifying world. And yet newsflash, the makeup of your talent pool right now does not reflect that world. But I think the problem is that some people don't see this as the emergency that it is and I think they're very slow to change.

Melinda Wittstock:       Gosh, that's interesting. Because I've been an entrepreneur for so long now, I can't imagine running a company that's not diverse. No, I mean-

Jennifer Brown:                        There are so many people that are doing it.

Melinda Wittstock:       Seriously.

Jennifer Brown:                        Yeah, I know.

Melinda Wittstock:       But that's just me.

Jennifer Brown:                        I know.

Melinda Wittstock:       I think you build companies that are reflective of your own ideas or attitudes. You track people. But then, on the other hand, startups have such a pressure though too to be hyper-relevant because you're competing with some of those Fortune 500 companies.

Jennifer Brown:            Oh, yeah. I would tell you, I hate to say it, I might disagree with you. I think that entrepreneurs, they are grabbing warm bodies. They're growing really fast. We tend to hire from our own world and our own worlds are not diverse. They look like us. They look like us.

Oh, yeah. I would never say that entrepreneurs do this better. In fact funny enough I have mostly women on my team. Diversity issues for me are very pressing. They're just defined differently. That's me, right? That's me having a lot of women gay for me. But I have different needs in terms of if I grab people who come my way and I really like them, I'm going to have separate but equal diversity issues even as an entrepreneur even as somebody who focuses on this.

We all have a role to play and you have to be especially careful how you build your early-stage company. Who you attract to that company really matters as you grow because like attracts like. And if you aren't aware of the biases in your own self as you're ramping up and hiring. I think it's the exception to the rule that a founder has this incredibly diverse group of colleagues, networks to hire from. I'm sorry, but I don't-

Melinda Wittstock:       Actually, you know-

Jennifer Brown:                        I actually think entrepreneurs have a really hard time with this.

Melinda Wittstock:       Okay. Upon reflection in the very early stages, I think you're 100% right. It's where this load up gets a little bit bigger, right?

Jennifer Brown:                        Yeah, yeah.

Melinda Wittstock:       There's a lot of attention paid to culture and what kind of culture do we want? A lot of the best ones. But yes. If you just even look at a show like HBO's Silicon Valley, right?

Jennifer Brown:                        Yes, exactly. That's on point. Yeah.

Melinda Wittstock:       Okay.

Jennifer Brown:                        [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:04:27"].

Melinda Wittstock:       I stand corrected.

Jennifer Brown:            Yeah. The bro culture there. It's funny. People ask me, “What industry does it best? What companies do the best?” Everybody always expects you to say, “Oh, Google. Oh, you know whatever, Lyft or Uber”, or I don't know. They just assume because tech talks are really big about all this stuff. But honestly, the most impressive work with diversity and inclusion I see is in my banking clients and my insurance clients. I know-

Melinda Wittstock:       Oh, my God. Really?

Jennifer Brown:            I know. Yes. They have this multi-decade commitment to this work. It may have originated certainly through class action lawsuits and being held up by the regulators and all that stuff. But regardless now what it is JPMorgan Chase, their CEO Jamie Dimon, they're doing super progressive family leave. They just announced this huge thing this week that literally is setting a new bar.

And I can give you a lot of different examples as to why we may think from a sort of activist perspective like how could the banks ever be doing anything right. I have to say they are very sophisticated and very mature in terms of how they are pipe lining diverse talent, how they're working on retaining that talent. They have diversity networks that are global, they have thousands of people on them.

What I mean by that is the women's network, the LGBT network, the people of color network, the black network et cetera depends on the size of the company. But these companies, these are like cities unto themselves. They have these huge programs going. And I think tech gives a lot of lip service to sing because everyone is sort of being texting, “Oh, well, I'm progressive and this is the way I vote. Therefore my company should feel comfortable for everyone”.

Because we're still entopically blinded. Or I don't know what people in tech tell themselves like they're building a better world. But that's not reflective in their hiring practices and in their human capital practices.

Melinda Wittstock:       That's really good and surprising new. Jennifer I wanted to ask you a little bit because we all have challenges in our startups. And what are some of yours?

Jennifer Brown:                        So mine is not really a startup anymore, I have a company for 12 years.

Melinda Wittstock:       So Jennifer this is all very encouraging in a lot of ways. Although there must be challenges as well. We as female founders, as all entrepreneurs always have challenges in our businesses no matter what stage that we're at. What are some of yours right now?

Jennifer Brown:            I am about 12 years in but I remember the early days very very well, they're buried in my brain. The challenges of charging enough for your services, of building your platform, of getting recognized in the market and building your brand. Of valuing your voice in the market place.

I think [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:07:54"] is in here 12 years in, I have books now, I keen on all over the world. All of that investments of time and money and getting myself in front of the right audiences. All that was very expensive for many years. I got myself on planes, I put myself at conferences so that I could be seen and hired hopefully amongst audiences where a lot of  my potential clients were all around. I needed to buzz drop all of that.

So you're always kind of working on the business at the same time as you are the chief cook and bottle washer. You're delivering all the work as you're selling all the work. Yeah and-

Melinda Wittstock:       It's a hard stage, that chicken and egg stage. Really, really hard: I've been there so many times as a similar entrepreneur. And it's never easy. But what a great segue into our advice section of the Minisode. What are the top three pieces of advice you would give women in business at whatever stage of their business that they're at.

Jennifer Brown:            Yeah I would say, I did not have the right mentors to guide me and protect me. I would say, be very, very, proactive in terms of having people who are guiding you, who've been there before. Particularly women founders who are further along than you, make sure they're mentoring you. But men too for sure. A lot of my mentors were men. Make sure that you're protecting yourself.

I think that one mistake can really sink you financially when you're just starting out and every dollar counts. And there are some mistakes that I made because I didn't trust my voice or my gut. The other thing is trust the right people.

And I think have some checks and balances on the people you hire by an advisory board or a group of mentors who are looking over those people. Making sure your finances are being looked up by somebody that knows what healthy finances should look like.

Make sure that somebody is helping you set up back end of your cost metrics and your structure so, what's your cost for sales? What is your markup? What is your profitability? You've got to learn all this. For me I was a selling marketer [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:10:06"]. I was not an operations finance person.

I very quickly realized those would be my key first hires in order that I can go and do what I do best in the world. I needed very specific support that was complementary to my skillset. Because I could sell all day long but I could not at all build the processes of the company.

So I took every dollar I got and I reinvested it in some folks who could do that piece for me. Otherwise I knew that I would never thrive. Do that consciously carefully important.

Melinda Wittstock:       That's such good advice. The mistake I see a lot of women making is trying to do it all themselves. And instead of doubling down on what you're strong at and hiring your weakness, they're like, “Oh gosh, I got to do it all”, and so the faster the hire and reinvest in that and know where your weaknesses are, the better.

Jennifer, how can people find you and work with you? We know that a lot of startups as well as Fortune 500s needs your skillsets. So what's the best way to get in touch with you?

Jennifer Brown:            Thank you. Thank you for that invitation. We have two websites. One is really my personal brand website as a speaker and author, it's Jenniferbrownspeaks.com. And on there you an access my podcast, “The will to change”. We're already at 65 episodes. And we're having a blast, it's wonderful. And it's also on iTunes and Stitcher and all those other places.

Soon to be two books. First book is called, “Inclusion”, out in 2016, second book is called, “How to be an inclusive leader”, which is out in August in 2019. I'm really excited about that. My other website is jenniferbrownconsulting.com. And that's really where we direct consulting clients.

Meaning if your company of any size needs help with your DEI strategy or unconscious training, affinity group advisory services. Anything having to do with building a culture of inclusion. That's what my team specializes in. So that's jenniferbrownconsulting.com.

And I'm very active on social so you can find me on twitter @Jenniferbrown. My Instagram is at Jenniferbrownspeaks and then we're on LinkedIn and Facebook, Jenniferbrownconsulting.

Melinda Wittstock:       Wonderful. Thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.

Jennifer Brown:            Thank you. I appreciate it.

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