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Organizations often hesitate to create single-identity learning & development programs. Women’s leadership development has been the main exception, leaving out LGBTQ+ folx, POCs, and others as lesser priorities. However, since leadership development is human development, program offerings must reflect the diversity of our talent.
Jennifer and her team run mid-career LGBTQ+ leadership development programs for two major banks, while Dominic’s Flourishing Gays Mastermind program is exclusively for highly accomplished LGBTQ+ men. Through sharing their own personal stories and professional experiences, Dominic and Jennifer shed light on the need for–and the value of–developing inclusive leaders through programs exclusively tailored to LGBTQ+ professionals.
- Recognize how LGBTQ+ leadership development helps employers to retain & develop LGBTQ+ talent
- See how identity-based programs develop the kinds of leaders most needed for today & the future
- Discover the unique challenges and potential for leadership development of LGBTQ+ professionals
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
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Ben Rue: Hello, and thank you for joining us for today’s podcast, Exclusive Programs for Inclusive Leaders. The Case for LGBTQ+ Leadership Development, with Jennifer Brown, of Jennifer Brown Consulting, and Dominic Longo, of Flourishing Gays. I’m Ben Rue, Program Associate here at the Forum on Workplace Inclusion. Organizations often hesitate to create single identity learning and development programs. Women’s leadership development has been the main exception, leaving LGBTQ+ folks, people of color, and others, as lesser priorities. However, since leadership development is human development, program offerings must reflect the diversity of our talent.
In this podcast, Jennifer and Dominic will make the case for identity-based leadership development for LGBTQ+ professionals, drawing on their experiences designing and facilitating such programs. Jennifer and her team run mid-career LGBTQ+ leadership development programs for two major banks, while Dominic’s Flourishing Gays mastermind program is exclusively for highly accomplished LGBTQ+ men. Through sharing their own personal stories and professional experiences, Dominic and Jennifer shed light on the need and the value of developing inclusive leaders through programs exclusively tailored for LGBTQ+ professionals.
Listeners will learn to recognize how LGBTQ+ leadership development helps employers to retain and develop LGBTQ+ talent, see how identity-based programs develop the kinds of leaders most needed for today and the future, and discover the unique challenges and potential for leadership development of LGBTQ+ professionals. Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, and diversity and inclusion expert. She’s the founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, a strategic leadership and development consulting firm that coaches business leaders worldwide on critical issues of talent and workplace strategy.
Brown is a [00:04:00] passionate advocate for social equality, [unintelligible 00:04:02] businesses foster healthier, more productive workplace cultures. Her book, Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change, 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, is a shortlist OWL Award, and Nautilus Book Award winner in business categories, and provides a step-by-step guide for the personal and emotional journey we must undertake to create an inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.
Flourishing Gays founder and managing director, Dominic Longo, PhD, draws on his diverse professional background in development and leadership for Flourishing Gays as a social enterprise. His greatest passion is flourishing the holistic development and transformation of individuals, communities, and organizations. Whether through mentoring, counseling, coaching, facilitating training, or teaching. Learning to flourish as a gay man has been a journey for Dominic, of creating and recreating himself and his form of life.
Dr. Longo’s book, Spiritual Grammar, published by Fordham University Press has just been released in paperback. He holds a professional certified coach credential from ICF, the largest guild of professional coaches globally. He also holds university degrees from Harvard and Boston College, and is an alum of a year-long advanced Arabic program at the American University in Cairo. Dominic is a native of Omaha, Nebraska, and a citizen of Italy and the United States.
Jennifer Brown: Thanks so much. This is Jennifer Brown. I’m so excited to be joining the Forum on Workplace Inclusion Podcast with Dominic today. Hello, Dominic. Welcome.
Dominic Longo: Hello, Jennifer. Great to be here with you. I’m excited to have this conversation.
Jennifer: Me too. Me too. We decided that we wanted to share the intimate details of some of the programs [00:06:00] that Dominic and I design and deliver, that are exclusive identity-focused programs, to build inclusive leaders and cultures of belonging. Dominic, why did this theme really animate you, originally?
Dominic: I guess it’s really somewhat in through our friendship that this communal importance on this topic came up. We both do different kinds of things, but LGBTQ specific leadership development is certainly the focus of Flourishing Gays. As I learned about you doing similar programs in your own work, I thought, “Wow, we really have some learning to do with each other.” Being a gay man in this line of work, my identity is, of course, part of the story.
Jennifer: That’s right. As is mine. I didn’t even know it, actually. I think we originally started this program we’re going to be talking about, because I’m certified as an LGBT owned business, with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. I was approached there, through that relationship, by the client that I have in mind as we’ll be talking today. Who was really gung ho on this single identity development, and had a whole compliment of educational programs and professional development related to it. I have to say, I wasn’t sure I ever had seen something like what we’re going to talk about, and I still don’t see very many.
I think our explorations today for the audience, Dominic and I obviously are deeply committed to this kind of work. We believe it’s important to do this kind of targeted development and space holding for certain communities of identity who’ve been traditionally underrepresented [00:08:00] and marginalized in workplaces. Our hope, I think, is that you listen to this and feel you have a better understanding of why this makes sense as a development mechanism, to add to your developmental efforts in any organization.
That perhaps you could see this as a vehicle to transform your entire organization really, because it gives voice to the voiceless in organizations so powerfully. Dominic and I have very different structures that we’ve employed, for different kinds of audiences. Maybe I’ll just use that as a segue. By the way, we’ll get to our personal stories at the end of this podcast, but we wanted to jump right in, and I wanted to ask you, Dominic, the Flourishing Gays mastermind program is exclusively for highly accomplished LGBTQ+ men. It mostly focuses at the executive level. I was curious, how did you decide to narrow your focus to just that participant profile?
Dominic: I just want to acknowledge at the outset that being executives and highly accomplished, in many ways these are people who enjoyed privilege of certain kinds, and they have power. There is a real question of, why create a program just to serve them? I did some exploration at the beginning of my founding Flourishing Gays, really throughout the LGBTQ community. I mean, focusing on men, and I came down on– Like landed in this profile because I really saw a tremendous need that just wasn’t being served by any other offerings.
As people move up, they have fewer confidants, fewer peers, and it’s this demand to [00:10:00] mentor others. Help other people in their development, as if they’re cooked and like, “Oh, you’ve reached the, whatever, executive vice president level, or you’ve made partner at that firm, or your own business is flourishing and thriving, so your development’s done now, right?”
Dominic: Of course you–
Jennifer: For real, that’s ridiculous.
Dominic: Exactly. It’s not the case at all. One of the things I noticed is really a jagged development among gay men. That is to say that certain parts of themselves were super highly developed, you can imagine, with this profile, as inspiring speakers, or as having real technical skill and expertise in certain areas, or even in some cases, building amazing relationships with clients that have a lot of trust. Then other parts of them have been left behind. Which are parts that are often hidden from view, but nonetheless, in need of real care.
The safe container that we create together started to let such men, often who have sparkling resumes, to let down their guards rather quickly, and show with vulnerability, some of those tender parts that had been left behind. As I saw that happen, I just realized, “Okay, this is really both a need and an opportunity that I have to go after.”
Jennifer: That’s beautiful. Jagged is such an interesting word. I would imagine the generation of to be at the executive level means that you’ve actually run this gauntlet of being closeted, probably, and coming out selectively, perhaps. The whole, [00:12:00] what’s the collateral impact and damage that you carry along with you as you go through that process and come in, hopefully, into an authentic place where you can actually be out as an executive.
I would imagine some of your executives may not even be fully out all the time. I would think it’s so complicated, particularly at that level, because it’s– What do we say? It’s the windiest at the top of the mountain. That is not an easy place to be, and particularly the generational norms or the journey has taken a toll on you.
Dominic: That’s right. I’m certainly not just serving white American cisgender men. Now, it has been primarily cis-gay men. That is, cisgender gay men, but ones coming from different cultural backgrounds, mother languages, living in different countries beyond their home country, sometimes the US, sometimes in Europe, and all of that, we bring all of that with us [crosstalk] to those windy places at the heights of corporate America or wherever. The other piece I want to mention, women’s leadership programs had been a model for what I’ve created. Indeed, this is part of the conversation that I think you and I started some months ago.
We’ve realized that women’s leadership programs make a ton of sense for all kinds of reasons. There are particular challenges and opportunities that women have as leaders that typically, organizations are not savvy to. Many women have “become men” in their way of being leaders, and there’s an unlearning of that, and there’s vulnerabilities about that, and women’s leadership programs, many of them have been extremely successful, I think, in helping women be women, and be great leaders with all of that, however that shows up for them in their particular gender expressions.
Well, that’s the single identity, [00:14:00] the so-called exclusive program that I really modeled the Flourishing Gays mastermind on.
Jennifer: That’s awesome. I love it. There’s the whole question of masculinity and privilege. I think there’s been so much that’s been revealed this year, in 2020, about redefining these silos of identity. At the same time, it’s interesting to think about excluding to include, because at the same time, we’re also trying to expand the palette with which we express our identities, and we’re trying to see things in an intersectional way.
Some of us are identifying our own intersectionalities, and we have this language now to speak about that, and to talk about the compounding effect of being also a person of color, and being LGBTQ+, and being executive, or country-wise, hailing from non-US background, different cultures. At the same time, you and I are both really passionate, I think, about liberating male leaders from, my thinking, a very unhelpful or perhaps very narrow, and some would say perhaps toxic playbook of what it means to show up as a leader.
In a way, fostering LGBTQ+ male leaders is actually broadening the ways that male leadership is being articulated, and that encouragement is just like encouraging women in these women’s leadership development programs, is going to shift the way that we see what we think a leader looks like. As we support, we provide this tailwind behind female leaders to do better, to feel more confident, to feel more equipped, and supported, and sponsored, and all the good stuff that comes out of those programs. We are literally redefining, I think, what a leader looks like. [00:16:00] It’s really transformational.
I think these days it has to be done through an intersectional lens. I love how inclusive it is for you to have a program specifically for men because we might assume men have it all figured out because of perhaps the situational power that’s given to them in so many organizations, but I know you and I have talked about the sort of underbelly, and that soft part, and that part that’s been denied, and that part that has been stigmatized. Parts, I should say, plural, and how much harm that’s caused for men, as well as the rest of the organization, because it’s never been true, and it’s never been an accurate representation of all of who we are, including the men.
Dominic: That’s right. I think that LGBTQ folks really have a possibility to be more creative in our gender expression, in our leadership, in our ways of being ourselves. In part, because once we break out of the heteronormative boxes, it’s like the whole world’s our oyster. We can be however, whoever. That’s really one of the benefits that I see my participants in the six-month long small group, cohort-based program, finding. I’m curious, I’ve talked about some of the benefits of my program, how does that square with the experiences that you’ve had doing LGBTQ leadership development at the financial institutions where you’ve done this work?
Jennifer: My audience has been a little different. Only because that was what was requested by the clients. I’ve done these kinds of programs, but we’re really working with the middle. That place which arguably is pretty tough as well, for different reasons. [00:18:00] It’s not the windy top of the mountain, but it’s definitely the pressure on the middle of the sandwich, so to speak, is intense in a different way. It’s, “Get it done.” It’s very metrics schools-driven, day-to-day. There’s a lot of urgency at that level to just execute. I think it’s harder to sit back and have these soul-searching conversations.
We’ve typically done programs with consecutive days, where people come together, from all over different geographies, and this was in the pre-COVID world, but physically coming together, with a bunch of strangers who identify as you do, from all over a big institution, and meeting each other, and being in community for three full days or two days with some interstitial webinars. Two days separated by six months, and then another day, six months later, with some coaching in the middle.
I’ve done this a couple of different ways, but at that level, it’s about your leadership. It’s, “Day-to-day, how am I managing people? How am I unleashing performance, unlocking performance? How am I inspiring? What is my career vision for myself?” Which is just building at that level. This is 10 to 15 years into your career. The programs I’ve built are very much leadership programs through an LGBTQ+ lens. We get to talk about all the usual topics we love and relish and cherish in our manager development program, say, but through an LGBTQ lens, and taught by an LGBTQ faculty, or facilitated.
The room is safe. It is diverse in a million ways, in all the ways you would expect. I hate to say it, there’s way few cisgender and transgender women in the rooms than there are cis-gay men, and there are [00:20:00] way more white individuals in the rooms than people of color. This is financial services. [laughs] However, other than that, though, there is tons of family diversity, and parenting, and there’s grandparents. Even though your middle manager doesn’t speak to what generation you’re in. We actually have multiple generations in the room, too.
It’s just this powerful place where people say, “As I’m learning, I’ve never felt so comfortable, and I feel like my learning is faster and deeper because I’m able to do it without managing my psychological safety at the same time. It is like a huge weight off my shoulders.” It leads to a lot of emotions, and tears, and deep and fast bonds that are created, and lots of vulnerability, which we hold space for, because the community needs to heal.
There’s just this accumulated trauma. When you finally get into a room that you didn’t even know you needed, and you can breathe together, and everybody’s shoulders go down, it is like quite a, I’m sure, Dominic, it’s quite an experience and a privilege to just be any part of that kind of container building and space holding while people come into their own, and perhaps realign their leadership journey and step back and say, “Who am I as a proud LGBTQ leader?” It’s a transformational thing, but it’s the realization that it is jagged. They come into the room jagged, for sure. Then there is an alignment that happens.
That alignment is where power comes from. That alignment is where you start to show up differently, because an aligned person has pulled all these pieces that we’ve [00:22:00] banished about ourselves. We’ve pulled that in, and we’ve added it and interpreted our leadership through it. It ends up being this additive thing that when you return to your job, the managers are like, “Oh, my goodness, what happened?” [laughs]
It’s like, “Well, what happened is that people have been closeted and covering for years, and they’re exhausted and fatigued and confused, and they’ve lost their north star, if they ever had it, because they’ve been so isolated, and being the only takes a toll.” It’s not for everybody. Some of us really enjoy being the only, and the first, and being that icebreaker. That boat that cracks through the ice. Some of us are made for that, but I would say most of us are not. I think that putting Humpty Dumpty back together again is a really [laughs] neat feeling.
Dominic: It sounds like, in terms of energy and tone, there’s a lot of similarity to the programs that I run and that you run. For our listeners, let’s bring out a little bit more of the distinctions. I’d love to hear, for example, just some illustrations of the kind of content or curriculum that you structure your three-day event on. Then perhaps we can talk a little bit about the Flourishing Gays program and structure as well.
Jennifer: Yes. Dominic, you used some language that I hadn’t heard before that I thought was really interesting. You said your program sounds like a horizontal program, and mine is a vertical. I’ll try to re-interpret that, and tell me if I’m getting this right. If ours is horizontal, it’s three days of leadership modules, it’s skill-building. It’s skills and knowledge building. Then I’ll let you describe what vertical is. For us it’s– Funny enough, the business world, as you know, and we can talk about this, too.
The business world [00:24:00] requires programs to be this like, “What’s the ROI? What are people going to come out with? We want to see proof, and results, and–” You and I know it’s as much a spiritual journey as it is a skill-building development. It’s really, self-awareness is fundamentally, but it’s a rare organization and company that is willing to invest in certain things. You have to kind of package things in a different way. I’m not unhappy that it’s a horizontal program because we get to the vertical.
It is in between the lines at every moment, and what happens in the rooms stays in the rooms, too. So, we can go any direction we want to go, as long as that container is provided for the company. Just to describe some skills we do, our vision as leaders, we talk about storytelling and bringing the vision to life. We do an assessment, we use the DiSC profile. We add to that understanding of self. We do feedback, delegation, stakeholder engagement, mentoring and sponsorship, talk a lot about how we need to be pulled up and by whom, and are we activating that, and how are we then turning around and paying it forward and being that for someone else in the community?
All of these things through that LGBTQ lens, where that piece connects the dots for people, because they’ve always wondered, “Well, my LGBT identity is over here, and I don’t really know how it informs my leadership journey.” By the end, it’s very clear that we do this really neat brainstorm called the gifts of being LGBTQ. I just grab a pen and we riff, and we say, resilience and emotional intelligence and courage and innovative and empathetic and servant leadership and [00:26:00] knowledge of being an outsider and a knowledge of exclusion.
You look at this list and you think to yourself, “These are the leaders we need in every organization for the future.” When participants look at that, again, it’s part of putting the pieces back together, to say like, “I am that. I am that kind of leader, and I’m proud to be that kind of leader. It’s a product of my identity and the path that I’ve traveled.” That’s part of, I think, the confluence between the deeply personal and emotional part of it, and then the building of the skills and how they wrap together. Tell me about the vertical.
Dominic: Well, first of all, I see what you mean about it being a management development program. It’s like, “Well, how do we bring ourselves as a queer person to delegation, or to feedback.” It’s like all of those modules of a good management training program, but really fronting that identity piece, and with that wrapper of safety and owning your unique power around it. Thank you. I get it more.
First, this distinction of horizontal development versus vertical development, and it comes from this realm of research in adult human development. A kind of sub-discipline of developmental psychology and human thought. Which I’m not a scholar of, but I’ve certainly been a student of, in my professional work for the last number of years. The horizontal development is skills and knowledge.
Everything that we basically do in a university course. Every time we’re learning content, every time we’re acquiring a new skill, like how to delegate effectively, how to time management, these are things that– One metaphor is to pour more water into the container of ourselves. Pour more stuff, and good stuff there.
Vertical development, on the other hand, [00:28:00] is a rearrangement and an expansion of the container. The metaphor is like, instead of pouring more stuff into the glass, the glass gets bigger. It’s a transformation of capacities and perspectives and ability to take perspectives. It’s navigating complexity and finding one’s way in it. It’s a different order of, let’s say, human potential that is developed in this vertical. Normally, when we talk about vertical development, we’re thinking about children, like suddenly, they get a sense that they are not their parent, for example. Really the infants.
The basic change that happens when the infant figures out, “Oh, no. Actually, mommy and I are different. When mommy leaves the room, I don’t lose a part of myself.” That’s a kind of mindset shift that happens in a developmental standpoint. What does that mean for adults, and what does that mean for LGBTQ leaders? Well, one area we could talk about would be emotional intelligence. From a horizontal standpoint, it’s like, “Well, what is emotional intelligence? Why is it important? How does that impact decisions? How does that impact relationships?” That would be the horizontal version of it.
The vertical version of it would be to actually notice, closer and closer to real-time, “Oh, I’m having this feeling right now,” and the ability to not be overwhelmed by it, but to notice that it’s there, and be separate from it. Not be overwhelmed by it. That’s a different kind of– It’s not knowledge, it’s a change in our basic way of being ourselves. With identity would be another area which, for our leaders, is crucial. Just simply understanding intersectionality, understanding the different [00:30:00] privileged and marginalized parts of ourselves, and how, of course, that can impact our experience in a room of clients, or peers, or board members, or whatever.
That’s horizontal knowledge and understanding. Kind of a social science approach, in a sense. A more vertical way would be to really have a deep sense of how these different parts of me changed my way of seeing myself. For example, I’m American, and I’m gay. Well, that’s very different than being French and being gay. I might not understand that on the head level, but in a deeper sense of like, “Oh, there are legitimately different ways of being a gay man, for example, and wow, I got something to learn from this.”
The perspective-taking is to be able to step into that French way, for example. I’m thinking of, I don’t know, my French gay friends, for example, for some reason right now. Being able to step into their shoes, imaginatively, and really learn from that, and adopt that other perspective. Not as, “Well, they don’t quite get it.” No, it’s just a totally different way of being in the world. The different capacities to take on multiple perspectives gained from them, that’s a vertical development shift.
Jennifer: That’s beautiful. I think it’s such an eye-opener for the cisgender men to hear the queer women in the room share about their experience, and it’s oftentimes, the very firstly time that conversation has really happened, and so they’re learning about sexism through the lens of being in an LGBTQ context.
Jennifer: It’s a huge aha, and you realize how little we really [00:32:00] understand about each other, even though we’re in the same community. So there’s just so much work. Then with your group, even though they may share that masculine identity, there is like, “Oh, my goodness, I didn’t know that you dealt with that, walking in your shoes, or walking in your skin, or–” The empathy starts in our community.
We need to do this with each other, and practice this with each other as we go out into the world then, of course, and lead, and take on board positions, or have a community role, or move up. There needs to be, I think, this sense of yourself as a bigger advocate than maybe you’ve ever seen yourself before.
Jennifer: More of like an inclusive leader, actually, which is where I push them that direction. To say, “I want this community to be an example. I want this community to be role modeling what this really looks like. I want to see full intersectionality. I want to see us deal with our own exclusionary or privileged dynamics, which if we’re not extremely careful, we can replicate because those are the waters that we all exist in.” To go against that, and swim against that tide, and say, “If I’m a gay white cis man, I have so much to learn.”
We actually do the privilege walk. Dominic, I’ve described this to you. Take a step forward if you grew up in a house with more than 50 books, take a step back if you were ever hungry when you were growing up, or you feared for your safety. Some of us, even within the same community, we end up on extremely opposite ends of the spectrum, and it brings a lot of tears, and a lot of conversation. Please, do not try this exercise without a skilled facilitator because you talk about the activation of trauma.
It’s so humbling for a community to see the diversity within the diversity, and to have grown so [00:34:00] fond of each other and yet to see somebody at the back of the room, and be at the front of the room, and vice versa. Anyway, it’s just we have so much capacity, as LGBTQ+ people, and I think it just needs to be unleashed, and the different structures you’re using and I’m using are places to explore all that and find the source of our biggest power and influence and our voice.
Dominic: Yes. Well, I do want to say a few things about the structure of the Flourishing Gays mastermind program, to give some examples of, how do you even foster vertical development? I actually want to just point out that the work that you do in really moving somebody along your inclusive leader continuum is ultimately more vertical than it is horizontal kind of development. You need some knowledge to move from ally to advocate. You need some skill, like, “Okay, what’s the language that you use?”
Ultimately, that shift in mindset, that growth of possibility, that capacity to step into the other person’s shoes. Let’s say, a deaf person shoes who’s in the room, and actually see from their perspective, what’s happening, and how they’re being left out, and then in the moment, to intervene in a way that is more inclusive. That takes vertical development. That’s not just like, “Oh, I get it. I get what’s going on.” No, it’s actually a nimbleness and agility. It’s real-time. That takes vertical development.
I want to affirm that we’re both doing vertical and horizontal stuff. My program is probably a little bit more focused on vertical development overall, with much less curriculum or content because of the nature of what these folks need at this point in their lives. I guess also just the niche that I’m [00:36:00] trying to fill because there are just so few opportunities for LGBTQ men to grow in that way.
Jennifer: Very true. You have some pillars of your program though, which may not be content, but more are like pillars. They’re themes or focus. So, what are those four that you all return to?
Dominic: Well, one of them is simply something we’ve already talked about, healing gender. The antidote to toxic masculinities, and that way that we can, as LGBTQ folks, actually make a contribution to gender dynamics for all kinds of folks. Men, women, and non-binary, whoever. Healing gender is one. Purpose and meaning. Finding greater purpose and meaning in our lives, and in our work is another. Especially for these best little boys in the world that I’m working with who have checked off all the things on their list, and gotten all the degrees, and maybe the money, and maybe the vacations, and the way [crosstalk]-
Jennifer: I look so good on Instagram.
Dominic: Oh, exactly. Then they’ll be scratching their head and like, “Now, wait a minute. Who was I trying to prove myself to? Whose approval was I ultimately seeking? Do I really want to have the rest of my life going down this track?” That kind of yearning for more is part of the ultimate profile of the men that come to Flourishing Gays, and so finding greater purpose and meaning. That’s a unique answer for each person. It’s not like, “Oh, I know what it should be for you.” No, I don’t.
I have a hunch that in contributing and serving the world, we find our purpose and meaning. That’s part of my point of view that I certainly bring to it, but ultimately, the clients need to find it for themselves. Then there’s a [00:38:00] pillar around genuine intimacy. That’s not just our romantic partners, but with our friends, our family members, even our parents, and potentially even with our clients and our colleagues. Finding true vulnerability, genuine connection that is loving and caring and real, that’s another pillar. The fourth is simply leadership development, personal growth.
These are the, like you said, there is some content, let’s say, about these, but it’s not a curriculum like, “Okay, well, once you figure out your purpose and meaning in life, okay, you’ve checked that box.” We start the program with the leadership circle profile, which is a 360 feedback tool that is fantastic. It’s not my tool, but it’s one that I’m using. It gives a snapshot of like, well, what is personal growth for this person at this moment in their lives? It draws on this field of adult human development, draws on scholarship of leadership, and gives, with real granularity data and insights, for them to then make their own personal development plan.
The backbone of the program are twice a month group meetings, and the cohort is capped at eight participants. It’s quite intimate, we spend 90 minutes, and the participants take turns bringing challenges or opportunities that are really alive in their lives, and the others ask questions. They practice that perspective taking. They use their curiosity and compassion to help grow that man in whatever ways they see possible, and I hold space and facilitate that process. We also have a few leadership workshops that do have particular themes.
This is where there’s a little bit more horizontal stuff, skill-building. For example, we [00:40:00] had one on difficult conversations. We’re playing doing that and noticing our internal dialogues. We recently had another one, and I bring in guest facilitators for these. It was a Jamaican, African-Caribbean, straight but not narrow man [crosstalk] in Granada, who co-facilitated with me. We did that workshop on masculinities in and across cultures.
Then as a follow-up, the participants could do the Intercultural Development Inventory, and have a coaching session with my co-facilitator to further their own reflection on, how does my gender and cultural identity, how do those develop, and what’s my openness to other ways of being? Those are just some examples of the components.
Jennifer: Wouldn’t we all like to be in a program like that?
Jennifer: It’s excellent, excellent stuff. I know, Dominic, that there’s a lot of objections to, or I guess, a lack of vision about these kinds of programs, I think, in my experience. I wish that I were leading like 15 of these across all different kinds of companies. I wish I saw specific identity-based development dollars and investment being made in these multiple populations within each company, because we’re not just going to achieve our goals with representation and inclusive environments, I think with traditional methods. I know you and I are big believers that there’s a quantum leap that’s possible for the people that go through either one of these kinds of models.
That differential investment is needed because that playing field is not level. Everyone’s always going to be playing catch up. [chuckles] It’s very hard to accelerate the path for people, just because we’re human, we can only do so much. This is [00:42:00] such a deep investment, that I think pays enormous dividends. You and I see it, but there’s these objections about the program. Like, how is it inclusive? That’s not our message. We’re preaching this, but then we’re dividing. How is having this closed-door experience going to look externally to others? I think that’s another interesting thing. When people come to my program, they know they’re going to get back to a lot of questions.
They’re going to come back to their branch and their manager is going to want a presentation about what they learned. You talk about vulnerable. How do you talk about a vertical and horizontal experience back at the office? That’s hard to describe. They are challenged to do that. They’re challenged to return very different and transformed. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen it work. I think that the investment, the time away from the desk, virtual desk now. Now we can’t travel, so it’s even harder because I think part of it is also just physically being co-located with each other. As we’re doing this, there’s something energetic that’s really important.
Anyway, I think that I have a really hard time convincing the organizations that this is one of the most efficient ways to accelerate talent that is underrepresented up the pipeline, which is what we are all trying to solve for, because if we can’t increase the velocity of our career trajectories, then we’re just not going to catch up fast enough to make it to that executive level, and beyond, to create more diversity at that level, which is what’s so needed for all of us who are still in the early days of our journey. We need to see that, and we don’t. This is part of the problem. We can’t see it, and so we think we can’t be it.
We lack those role models. We lack the [00:44:00] C-suite executives. The ones that are there may feel to you and me like there’s been so many compromises along the way, that they may not come across as very authentic, or there’s just been tons of trade-offs. I’d see this for women, and I think it’s so difficult for younger women to look at more mature women at a certain level and have compassion for what that journey was like. We can’t possibly hold different generations to the same standard that we have, as we’re looking upwards from a different generational perspective.
It’s difficult to get the buy-in. People are afraid, I think, of sticking their neck out and saying, “This is important, and we’re going to do it. You can protest, and you can have an issue with it, and you can say, ‘This is unfair. This is like a resource that’s being given to certain people and not to others.'” [laughs]
Dominic: The subtitle of this episode is about making the case for LGBTQ leadership development. Let’s riff off each other and really do that. First, drawing on the research of these women-only leadership programs. What we know from the studies is that participants report having a distinctive sense of safety, a sense of mutual understanding that allows for vulnerability quickly with other participants, and intimacy that allows for a kind of being seen and being known for who they really are. All of those pertain to LGBTQ folks. We need that just as much as in a gender-specific one. People of color need that too, by the way.
All of what we’re saying, I think, pertains to other groups. Leaders have an impact [00:46:00] on everyone else in the organization, by definition. That’s what it is to be a leader. The higher up in an organization you go, whether it’s for your banks that you’re working, doing these programs, and it’s a middle management, or somewhat above that, in the more senior levels, where my program is focused, there is a huge impact on all. Not only the pyramid below, but also on those above, and the clients, and so on.
There is a real need to create some kind of place where the leader can test out, experiment with, new ways of being because you know what, the more successful they are, the more comfortable those old habits become, of like, “Oh, this kind of defensiveness, this kind of may be cynicism, this kind of workaholism, or whatever, has served me so well for so long.”
What I find in my six-month program with the field and forum approach, where they’re coming together, and going back to the office, and going back to work, coming together, it allows a soft nudge, again and again, to really empower taking risks, reflecting on how it went, adjusting course, and that’s how deep change really happens, and real deep learning. What else would you add to that for the case for why we should have these programs?
Jennifer: I just think about the number of non-traditional or underrepresented talent leaving organizations, and just spilling out of that pipeline. The fatigue that is being experienced by those that remain, with the daily microaggressions, the daily systems that weren’t built by and for so many of us. Were not built to work for us. Feeling like an outsider and the harm that it causes to our potential and our performance. [00:48:00] I just constantly come back to that, and I say, “How can we have a meaningful space to talk about what that feels like? On a day-to-day basis, to see others experiencing the same thing?”
It’s very similar to the value proposition for affinity groups. When they get together, there’s a collective sigh and some breathing, and then a strategy. Groups are powerful when they’re together because you feel seen, and heard, and motivated, and you don’t feel alone. Isolation is one of the most dangerous things that you can do to a human. I just try to tell companies that they are leaking out all this talent that they work so hard to attract, and hire, they can’t retain. This goes for all of these talent demographics.
I say like, “This couple of days will buttress them, and unlock some things, connect some dots, enable them to feel recognized, as well, and important.” To the point where actually, the CEO comes into our programs and spends a lunch hour together, just talking to the group, talking about– There’s business questions in there that have nothing to do with LGBTQ, and then there’s other questions about, “What are we doing about this community? What are we doing about this? I saw this ad and I was uncomfortable. How about that scandal?”
It’s really this amazing dialogue where a CEO gets to be really, really vulnerable with some talent that doesn’t look like him. I’ll say him because it’s often a him. [laughs] Almost always. It’s a huge eye-opener. It’s a really incredible platform, and opportunity to have a voice in such a large institution, even for that moment. You’ll never forget what that feels like, to be important. Many, many legions of people haven’t felt seen and heard. That’s why we’re at [00:50:00] where we’re at, in 2020, but it was happening for a long time before this.
That truth of, “Here’s what it feels like to work here, and be this identity.” Unpack it all and really look at it and say, “Is this my perception?” I love what you just said. Revisiting the patterns and the behaviors. The protections. The place to remove the armor and build something different in its place. Something softer. There’s got to be a space for that, and it is a workplace issue. This is not, “Oh, go do that in therapy.” [laughs] It is a workplace issue because we need leaders who are flexible and nimble, I think you used those words earlier, and emotionally intelligent.
That starts with ourselves and how hard we are on ourselves. If we can get into some space, and some skilled facilitator can hold that, and build that container, and then your leaders can go through the dismantle to reimagine and rebuild. All of that can happen with guidance and safety. Who wouldn’t want that? I understand why people are envious of the program, but what they don’t understand is that it’s literally a lifesaver for people who are hanging on by a thread.
That’s what people don’t understand, who challenge these programs, because if you are in an affected community, you know what you and I are talking about, and you know how sacred these kinds of efforts really are.
Dominic: Yes. The last point that I want to make is that the long tail of an ongoing group, or a one-on-one coaching relationship that can really support that is crucial to this kind of development happening over time. Well, thank you. This has been such a lovely conversation.
Jennifer: I know, [00:52:00] Dominic. This is wonderful. We didn’t get to share too much about our personal stories as LGBTQ leaders. I just have to say, when I was in one of these classrooms, as the facilitator, I’m growing. I’m putting the pieces together. I actually got my first TED talk invitation from a participant in the storytelling module. I had to jump up and role model, telling my story, and I told a very vulnerable, soft part of my story with a lot of shame attached to it. It was losing my voice as an opera singer, and just all of the baggage of that.
I didn’t think it was really relevant to the group, but I was trying to take one for the team and demonstrate the skill. It’s an uncomfortable skill, if you’re not a storyteller all the time. Somebody in that room said, “You know, I know the organizers at TEDxPresidio. I think you need to tell that on the stage, in front of a thousand people.” I thought, “No way. Oh, my gosh.” Lo and behold, it all happened. The invitation and the connection was made, and I, terrified as I was, and thinking, “This does not matter.” Like, “I do not need to tell the story. What is it? Who cares? What is it going to do in the world? I’m just going to have to work for months to do a 10 minute talk? Is that what happens?”
It was transformational, what happened. I was seen by those people in that room, my potential was seen, and I was a facilitator. It just gave me this wind beneath my wings and pushed me to lead. I think that was the beginning of the era I’m in now of using my voice. It was a tremendously like mutual gift giving experience.
Dominic: That environment that you were in, in leading the program at the bank, was a place for you to grow into some vulnerable part that hadn’t quite flowered yet.
Jennifer: That’s right.
Dominic: That’s just, yes, a great [00:54:00] personal example of this, it was like, “We’re not cooked yet either. We’re not done.” As we do this work, and as I hold space with my small group, for example, of course, I am learning and growing and expanding thanks to them, and what pull from me, what I hear from them, sometimes they don’t even know. Sometimes I’m telling my story, too. That’s part of why we do this, isn’t it?
Jennifer: It’s beautiful. Well, thank you so much, Dominic.
Dominic: Thank you, Jen. This has been [crosstalk].
Jennifer: Thank you for what you do.
Dominic: Yes. Delight.
Jennifer: It’s really wonderful. I hope this was helpful for our listeners, and is our honor to come on today and share this inside view into some of these programs. Our entreaty is to give the space, create space for our underrepresented talent to really grow into what we can be, grow into what we can be, and support us in this way, and we will blossom exactly like you just said, Dominic, in ways that we can’t even expect.
Dominic: Yes. Well, thank you again, Jennifer, for this. I hope this to be one of many conversations that we continue to have.
Jennifer: Indeed. Thanks to The Forum.
Dominic: Yes, thanks to The Forum for having us as well.
Ben: Thank you both so much for that amazing podcast and wonderful conversation, and thank you to our listeners for joining. If you’d like to learn more, continue the conversation, please feel free to reach out to Jennifer or Dominic directly. At Jennifer, at jenniferbrownconsulting.com, or Dominic, at email@example.com. Please join us for future podcasts. You can find more podcasts on our website, forumworkplaceinclusion.org/podcast. You can also listen to our podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Anchor, and Stitcher. Thank you, again, for listening, and have a great day.
Speaker 1: Thank you, again, for listening to the Forum on Workplace Inclusion Podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast to get updates in the latest episodes. [00:56:00] Also, tell us what you think by reviewing our podcast. We’d love to hear your feedback. For more information, visit us at forumworkplaceinclusion.org, or search, Workplace Forum on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thank you very much, and have a great day.
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