Racing Towards Diversity — Racing Toward Diversity - Spring 2013
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Jennifer Brown Story Offering Solutions To Corporate America’s $64 Billion Retention Question
Jae Bryson


Diversity, not surprisingly, is a many-faceted circumstance. In America, it arose from the mid- 20th century Civil Rights Movement, but its message of dignity and equality spread to include other communities – women, various ethnicities, non-Christians, the differently-abled and the LGBT community.

Jennifer Brown, founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, or JBC, based in New York City, isn’t sure even that the early message of racial inclusion has caught on one hundred percent, but her business is to help companies, large and small, understand the quickly shifting market realities highlighted by census tallies and marriage equality rallies.

Brown, a former New York City-based opera singer, founded the strategic leadership and diversity firm in 2004 and it has been growing steadily since then. Her technical background is as a designer, trainer and facilitator. Outside of her boardroom, Brown holds leadership positions with Out & Equal, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), and the LGBT entrepeneurship start-up, StartOut..

JBC offers metrics-driven guidance for clients’ talent management/human resources, diversity and Employee Resource Group strategies. JBC, along with its business partners, helps create more inclusive and innovative workplaces through the delivery of consulting, training, coaching, benchmarking and events services. JBC counts among its client base many employer-of-choice organizations which are a veritable “who’s who” of the Fortune 500.

“Group learning is my specialty,” Brown said. “You start to get into the heart of organizational change when you get into this work. All roads lead back to whether a sound core strategy exists or not. All of that becomes germane to our work. It’s challenging, multidisciplinary work; very complex. You are working with the DNA of an organization. Once you have a handle on that, you form the strategy with them.”

JBC spends a significant amount of time generating data, quantitative and anecdotal, for a company profile that serves as a guide for ongoing work. Though it is equipped to handle all types of diversity issues, one of the company’s strengths is the LGBT market, especially internal “talent” markets of LGBT and ally professionals.

Diversity of sexual orientation differs in some respects from race and ethnicity by the fact that corporate executives may need look no further than their family homes for “aha” moments.”

“The business case resonates,” Brown said. “The market argument is compelling if you consider [LGBT] buying power. But, the light bulb moments depend on what an executive values. For some, it’s having family members and friends [who are LGBT]. They say to themselves, ‘I have someone in my family who is gay but I haven’t brought that understanding into my role as an executive.’”

Brown said the sudden realization by corporate decision-makers that there are disenfranchised workers in their midst can open their eyes to practices to which they had previously been blind. “They may see it in terms of lost productivity and retention,” Brown said. “They may wonder, ‘What makes people feel like they can’t bring their whole selves to work?’

“Or, they may say, ‘I never thought it was an issue having 25 guys and one woman at the table. I never thought anything about it.’”

LGBT diversity has become a front burner topic in much of the media. Gay marriage is legal in 12 states in the US; the Obama Administration has been successful in letting the Defense of Marriage Act die on the vine, as well as abolishing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the nation’s military ranks.

But, according to blogger Wesley Combs, of DiversityMBA Magazine, in 2012 it was legal in 29 states to fire a worker for being gay or lesbian.

“Moreover, the consequences of alienating workers are significant,” Combs wrote. “Losing and replacing the more than two million American workers who leave jobs due to unfair treatment and discrimination costs employers an estimated $64 billion each year.”

Brown is aware of the cost of discrimination, but says there are a number of companies she admires for the strides they have made in LGBT workplace inclusion.

“There are companies that get it,” Brown said. “Cisco, for instance, is fiercely intelligent about diversity. Wells Fargo, Target, Toyota, McKesson, and Novartis do good work. But, companies consist of people and there is generally a range of leadership. Some executives might be resistant for any number of reasons. How are there companies that get a 100 Index [a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index, or CEI] and still have people who are closeted? It’s often necessary to tinker with those kinds of cultures.”

In her company’s favor is an America that is seeing its younger citizens joining the workforce in ever-growing numbers. Corporations that don’t adapt, will do so at their peril.

“Any industry relying on young talent is going to realize the need for diversity,” Brown said. “Gen Y is challenging the established notions.”

She and JBC will be there to help large and small businesses navigate those challenges.

“I love the topic of being a diverse-owned business,” she said. “We are a very active part of that dialog and trying to demonstrate and be a part of that diversification – to provide new ideas and prove the diversity business case for proactively seeking new, diverse suppliers. It’s nice to be a part of this change and to be an educational mechanism. It’s a win-win-win all around, for the community, the company and for innovation.”