On September 9th, the William & Mary Raymond A. Mason School of Business welcomed Jennifer Brown, an award-winning author, speaker, and diversity & inclusion consultant as the host of a webinar titled “How to be(come) an inclusive leader: An evening with Jennifer Brown”. The event spotlighted the importance of educating young leaders on how to create an inclusive business culture. All 118 first-year MBA students attended the webinar and students had the opportunity to explore how they can utilize differences to become better leaders and build more inclusive organizations.
To kick off the webinar, Brown highlighted the common practice of covering, which involves the downplaying of an individual’s known, stigmatized identity. As a member of the LGTBQ+ community, Brown described her experience of not seeing people like her represented in the workroom.
“Parts of my identity may trigger biased microaggressions and hamper my ability to have authority in the room… I’m working double time where I am in the room to be an expert, but I’m also spending just as much energy scanning the room and guessing how I am going to be perceived,” she explained.
This aspect of Brown’s experience is just one part of what made Brown the perfect speaker to share her knowledge at the Mason School, according to moderator and Clinical Assistant Professor of Management Communications Phil Wagner.
“Jennifer brings such great experience, having done diversity and inclusion work as a consultant, but also, as somebody who's been in the world of work and understands what this looks like at the ground level,” he said. “Jennifer has a variety of different access points into her own understanding of diversity and inclusion. She always leads with a focus on her story—that’s a powerful entry point in conversations on diversity, equity, and inclusion”.
Wagner also noted that Brown brings demonstrated experience working with leaders from a wide variety of social, political, and industry backgrounds, allowing her to “cut past the noise that often crowds this space and speak right to the heart of the issue.”
Brown touched on the recognition of intersectionality, which describes the interaction between different stigmatized identities that can often overlap and create unique dynamics. For example, Brown stated we need to explore “what’s different for queer women of color versus queer white women and what’s different for transgender people versus cisgender people. We’ve got to train our lens to notice this and see whose stories haven’t been elevated.”
During the webinar, Brown incorporated a myriad of identity elements, from race, to faith, and beyond. She also spent considerable time discussing topics of diversity that are less obvious but shape an individual’s viewpoint, such as experiences of grief and loss, PTSD, immigration status, and beyond.
Many students echoed the ideas Brown spoke about when reflecting on the webinar.
“Cultivating and nurturing a generation with high emotional and cultural intelligence (CQ) improves cross-functional and cross-cultural communications. The gathering of diverse experiences and backgrounds permits a genuine understanding of the new population emerging,” said Nikki Smith, Full-Time MBA ’23.
Tyran Askew, Full-Time MBA ‘23, who is also a Captain in the US Army said, “I’ve had Soldiers from multiple races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and overall identities. America is a pot of gumbo, with flavors and ingredients from across the world in the form of ideas and perspectives.”
Brown’s words brought actionable ideas for students as well. Emily Kearney, Full-Time MBA ‘23 described that the webinar left her feeling “challenged to become a leader that advocates for authenticity and acknowledges individual value in the workplace, working to amplify the voices of those most often silenced.”
Creating intentional space to have these sometimes difficult and often uncomfortable conversations about diversity and inclusion in the workplace is integral for the Mason School, perhaps now more than ever.
“Belonging is one of The Mason School’s core values. We want to make sure that our students know what it means to practice principles of belonging so they can achieve effective results in their leadership,” Wagner said. “It's important that we run these webinars and open up spaces for students to have conversations on tough issues so that it's not new to them when they go out into the world of work. More and more organizations recognize that diversity and inclusion is a critically important facet of the enterprise, but don't understand how to do that work well, and so our goal here is to give our students the vocabulary and skills to go out and be leaders in that space so that they can contribute meaningfully in the world of work.”