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Episode 54

Building an Equitable 7-Figure Business with Jennifer McClanahan-Flint

Stop Waiting for Opportunity, Interrupt the Bias!

Before you move forward, you have to first understand your past. This is one of the crucial takeaways I hope you will receive from this week’s special guest, Jennifer McClanahan-Flint. Whoever you are and whatever your race, gender identity, culture, etc. may be, you will experience roadblocks and it’s important to understand why if you hope to grow as a person and a business.

How do you attract the right employees to your business when money is an issue? If you are a 7-figure business, that doesn’t always mean you have the ability to pay what you’d like to pay your future team members. Jennifer shares how she has navigated through this issue while still inspiring them to show up every day.

In order to become equitable as a business, you need to invest in people. This means your staff,  accountant, and even yourself should be made a priority. When you have the right people in place, you invest the time to get the systems and policies in place, you can remove a lot of avoidable conflicts. This is just as much for you as it is for your team.

When you tune in to this episode, you’ll realize that the opportunity for growth is knocking and the real question is, are you ready to answer the door?

What’s in This Episode

  • What to do when you can’t meet salary expectations
  • Inherited roadblocks based on culture and ethnicity
  • What is considered “normal challenges” in business
  • Understand your history so that you can understand your bias
  • Why does diversity matter to you in your business?
  • Types of bias to be aware of and how to respond

What To Do Next

  1. Join The Strategy Lab, Lisa’s insider entrepreneurial community that is learning, tackling, and coming together to support and challenge each other on all things business. Click here to join!
  2. Join Thought Readers and connect with other like-minded entrepreneurs in this popular book club for business owners.
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Where to Find Jennifer McClanahan-Flint

Books Mentioned in This Episode

Episode Transcript

Download The PDF Transcript


Lisa Larter (00:01):
Welcome to, She Talks Business. If you’re an entrepreneur, business owner or aspiring mogul, chances are you want to learn more about marketing and mastering and monetizing your business. She Talks Business is where you’ll learn all of that and more. My name is Lisa Larter and I’m an entrepreneur, high school dropout, wiener dog enthusiast and your host. Let’s get started.

Lisa Larter (00:00:24):
Hello and welcome to this episode of She Talks Business. I am super excited to be here today with Jennifer McClanahan-Flint. I have known Jennifer, oh my goodness, it’s got to be over a decade now, if not a decade and a half and I am just thrilled to have her here. She is one of my favorite people. Jennifer is the founder and CEO of Leverage to Lead. Jennifer created Leverage to Lead to help women and people of color build a career strategy that is rooted in clarity, value and authenticity.

Lisa Larter (00:01:03):
That work led to the creation of a team of exceptional women coaches, educators, recruiters, HR specialists, and fierce advocates. They help organizations build DEI statements, values, and commitments, and they design and facilitate group training programs and workshops to help people live those values and commitments. They coach their clients through career transitions, whether to new positions, new firms, or into their new role as CEO. Jennifer would say,” really ours is human work. We revitalize organizational ecosystems by digging into cultures, holding up a mirror to their values, reframing diversity and difference and helping everyone manage and leverage difference. We know that when you meet the needs of your most marginalized people, you meet the needs of all your people, their growth, creativity, productivity, help, and humanity. And we know that opportunity lies in people, not positions. In our corporate recruiting work, we serve as a center of connection and ongoing support for diverse talent and DEI committed organizations.” Jennifer, welcome to She Talks Business.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:02:29):
Thank you Lisa so much for having me and for the great introduction.

Lisa Larter (00:02:33):
I am so glad you are here and I am so glad that you do this work because it is so important and it matters so much and you are just a bright, wise, kind light in this world. So I can’t wait to have this conversation with you. So we met many years ago, when you were running a different business called Food On Our Table and your passion and your desire to help women and to, I’m going to say, create equal, DEI back then, diversity equity and inclusion was probably as passionate as it is today, maybe not. Tell me how things have changed? Tell me how you went from there to where you are and what has changed in the work and what has changed in you?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:03:28):
Oh, Lisa, well, that’s three hours, but we’ll start with, I started Food On Our Table because I was passionate about family mealtime. I had just had my daughter, Zoë, and we really just ate together as a family. And I knew that it wasn’t something, especially because at that time I was managing law firms, so I worked with a lot of lawyers who lived by the billable hour. And so I really wanted to say that you could be a, quote, great mom and still have a great career, that you didn’t have to choose between one or the other. And so that work really started to lead to the understanding that often, because I was working with so many lawyers and because I managed operationally the day to day and the budget and what happened in law firms, I realized that these women lawyers, many of whom were mothers, didn’t feel like they had any control over their time.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:04:26):
They had no capacity to actually manage their careers. So Food On Our Table just began to evolve based on, really, the needs of the clients that I was working with. So I had an idea of what I thought I was serving or providing a client and then as I work with a client, I began to understand more and more. What I was really helping clients understand is that their time is not the most valuable thing they have to offer. Your time might be valuable to you but your experience, your knowledge, your capacity to build a book of business connections and relationships, solve problems. All of those things were way more important than billing 10 hours in a day. And then as I was doing that work with lawyers, I really started Food On Our Table, was out on our own. It was women across industries that were having challenges.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:05:16):
And I would say though, 2013, it was the shooting and death of Trayvon Martin and the real resonance with me of the Black Lives Matter movement. It wasn’t that I didn’t know I was black up to this point, of course, I always knew I was black. I was often the only black person, not just woman, but person in a room. When I was in senior management leader meetings in the New York offices of the law firms I worked in, I was always the only black woman but it was something where I hadn’t really explored my identity and what it meant to be black. What did that mean? That was also coinciding with my daughter. She was going to school in a basically, private, all white, was majority white, predominantly white school. And so I also knew that I needed to figure it out for her, not just for myself.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:06:13):
How am I going to, she’s mixed but identifies as black, and so how am I going to be the mother she needs me to be, if I’m not actually aware of who I am as a woman, individual in the world. So I really started exploring race, understanding race. I mean, you and I, we started working together in 2015 and remember I was trying to shift my writing and you were like, you just have to post the article. You’ve got to start your, if this is what you want to write about, you have to write about it. And I was so resistant to write. It felt so scary. And I will say now, looking back and just understanding what it’s like to be black in America, there was a reason why I was afraid to do it.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:06:57):
I don’t look back and think, you weren’t afraid. Why were you so afraid Jennifer, right? The more I work with women of color and specifically black women, I understand the fear. But it really was who I was and the more I was myself and appreciating all aspects of myself and understanding, we talked about The Warmth of Other Suns and reading that book, and understanding black history. It helped me feel really rooted in this work and why it was so important. And then I just continued to explore, expand, understand, and my work grew right along with that.

Lisa Larter (00:07:35):
So Trayvon Martin, really, what happened to him was a defining moment for you in terms of figuring this out, not only for yourself and for your daughter, but it sounds to me like it was a juncture for your business as well?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:07:54):
Absolutely, because it was this moment that I underst-, I was just awake at that moment. It wasn’t that, that moment woke me up, but I was really understanding there’s something about race that’s going on here that I have yet to explore. And it’s not because if we work hard enough and if we code-switch and fit in right and appear articulate and smart, it wasn’t the entry into autonomy and agency that I had been sold. That I had been raised to believe. So there was this moment where I’m aware that this is not, there’s something wrong. Because I’m, at this point, working with women and knowing that women of all colors are being marginalized at work, especially in management roles in law firms. And I’m trying to figure it out because it’s my business.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:08:51):
I’m trying to crack the nut of what’s really happening so that I can better serve my clients. So I’m awake and observing when this happens and then I realize, oh, and you know who I will also name, I had worked with Christine Kane before that. And one of the things that Christine Kane always said was that you have to be like, it’s this CEO of your whole business, it’s your whole life. And it really made me understand that we weren’t CEOs in our careers. We kept waiting for someone to give us an opportunity in our careers. That’s what happened with all of my women clients, they were waiting to be noticed. If they kept working hard, someone was going to notice them. And so it was this moment where I really understood that, oh, to be the CEO of anything, but especially yourself, you have to look at all the aspects of yourself.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:09:48):
And figure out what’s great, what’s working, what do you market, what do you sell, what do you pull back. And in America, specifically, United States, if you don’t examine your race, you are handicapping yourself. It doesn’t mean that you have to think that you’ll have less opportunities. It doesn’t mean that you have to hold yourself back, but you do have to understand that there’s a strategy around how people are perceiving you. And sometimes you have to interrupt the bias that is holding you back. But I couldn’t interrupt the bias that was holding me back until I was just aware of all the implications of what it meant to be black, a black professional, a black CEO.

Lisa Larter (00:10:26):
So talk to me a little bit about how do people actually recognize their own biases? Because I think that, you talk about bias a lot and one of my favorite expressions is you don’t know what you don’t know until you know. So you do a lot of work, I mean, your work is all about diversity, equity and inclusion and obviously you can’t have all of that if you have blinders on when it comes to bias. So what should people do to get smarter about their own bias?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:11:05):
I mean, Lisa, one thing is you got to know history. So if you think that in America, everything is equal and you believe if everyone just works hard enough, they’re going to get ahead, that means you don’t know American history. So number one. You have to actually know what happened to the Japanese in California, what happened to the Chinese as they were immigrating to America, back in the 1800s. You got to understand slavery. You have to understand the great migration. You have to understand what happened to immigrants. When Irish came over and what happened when they weren’t considered white and then they were considered white. How does that happen in a country? So if you don’t understand the patterns of the country, you don’t understand your own patterns. Because we all live the culture in which we believe, so when people tell you that it’s equal and you think it’s equal because as maybe a white person you haven’t experienced the same lack of opportunity and oppression, you think it’s just a matter of people working hard enough.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:12:05):
You don’t understand. I was on a conversation with someone, a client, and they were talking about, they looked at the map of their city and actually saw the red lines and they were confused. Why was it red-lined? And I said, oh, well that was a governmental decision, which led to the value of property and who could live in a particular area or not. If you don’t understand that, that is part of what your city was developed as, of course, there’s racial bias in your city, because that’s other side of the track. But the other way, Lisa, and we were talking about this a little bit before we started recording, is that you don’t know how someone feels if you don’t have a relationship with them. So you have to know, we all have biases, we all categorize people.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:12:51):
We all judge people, whether or it’s weight, whether it’s race, whether it’s gender. We all carry stereotypes. So self-awareness that you have them and to be in relationship with people so that you understand who they are. And when you know someone, it begins to chip away at your bias because you’re like, oh, I never knew or oh, that’s not true, all black people are not that way because you know in a relationship with black people, not because they’re black but because they’re humans and you’re human and your friends and you know them. So you can’t even recognize your bias if you don’t actually bump up against it, by being in relationships with people who are different from you.

Lisa Larter (00:13:36):
Right. Exactly. Yeah, that’s really powerful. So talk to me a little bit about your firm, because one of the things that I know is really important to you in building a seven figure, potentially down the road eight figure, business, is building one that is equitable to everyone that works for you. And so a lot of times when we hear people talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, people lump it all in with Black Lives Matter. And the truth is it’s not all about black people, it’s about more than that. So talk to me about your core, your values around this and what it’s been like building a firm through this lens? Because you’re very, what’s the word, you’re very intentional about how you’re building this business. You are not building an equitable business by accident.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:14:39):
No. I mean, my team will tell you, agency, they’re so sick of hearing that word. But I feel like what you, ultimately, you want to give people the clear understanding of who you are as an organization so that they can always opt-in and if it’s time, they can opt-out, but they are opting in knowing that it is fair and it is equitable. I mean, the common sense reason why I do it is because ultimately I need people to be giving me their best thoughts. They need to be free to explore. They need to be free to make mistakes so that we can recreate because we’re creating an equitable and inclusive environment, something that doesn’t actually exist in the day to day. So we don’t have all the answers. It’s very humbling. We make mistakes. And so we have to have the trust and the relationship and the values such that as we’re working to ensure that our culture is equitable. When we make that mistake, we hold each other accountable.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:15:35):
So we have a partnership that’s really based on agency, but when we’re in it, when it’s working at its best, we are always creating and seeing something new. It’s fun and it’s exciting. But I will tell you, it is hard and humbling. As fair as I believe in fairness, I’ve always believed in fairness and consistency, I get annoyed by how much work it takes. It’s a lot of work. I have to care about how people feel, which isn’t necessarily part of a normal culture. We’re not even supposed to be bringing our emotions to work, but not only do we say you bring your emotions to work, if we are not actually acknowledging the emotions that are happening for people, we actually can’t get to the heart of connection. And so it is from our compensation plan and philosophy, from the job descriptions we write, from how we onboard.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:16:37):
What we know and have experience with organizations, if you do not create structures and systems that are nurturing, you will either have structures and systems that are oppressive because we’re going to do what we always know and often power is a big part of how we build structures, or what we also see is people say we’re going to have a flat organization. We’re going to have distributed leadership, which often doesn’t have structure and with chaos, breeds bias and discrimination, because people will do, left to their own devices, will live out on their own biases. In order. It’s not just so much that we believe in it or that we share how we feel or that we see people, but we actually consistently create interview processes so that we’re trying to be ourselves equitable with who we hire. We’re in the process of doing that now. It’s also challenging because even though you talk about how much they’re my people, we are interviewing for a new role and we’re not paying enough.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:17:42):
We had four people who turned us down. They were very interested in the role and the organization but said, it’s just not enough money. And so we’re trying to make sure that we pay everyone enough money, which doesn’t mean it’s a, even though we’re seven figures, as you know does not mean you are anywhere close to a millionaire. So it doesn’t mean that we can just pay as much as we want to pay. And so that paying people equitably, being transparent about that means, on some level, we’re all getting paid a little less than maybe we would otherwise want to get paid. And I think that’s just a matter of also growth and it inspires people to work harder, be creative about getting retainers. Which is also interesting, I think Lisa, the equity in that we’re creating also gives everyone a stake in the company.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:18:38):
So they’re really engaged in what’s going on, financially, for us. They’re engaged with our clients and the clients we’re working with and how do we get and retain and expand the work because they know it impacts what they make, but they’re also not worried about am I being treated fairly, can I take time off when I need to take time off. All the things that occupy, whether I’m going to bring my full self to work, isn’t part of that equation. So the payoff is great, but I’m not going to lie, it’s like, we’re always being countercultural. It’s a lot of work.

Lisa Larter (00:19:13):
Yeah. It’s a lot of work. I was actually just going to ask you, the work that you do is very human, it’s very emotional, I’m sure, it’s very triggering at times, I’m sure. I know from some of our conversations, you can bump up against a lot of resistance because sometimes people don’t want to be called out for what the truth is, even though they want change. And so when you look at your organization and you think about your own desire to build a company that is equitable and to do work in this space, what have been some of the biggest challenges that you have experienced in being able to do that? Because when you’re being equitable, the money side of me would say, potentially, you’re leaving money on the table from a business perspective, right? But you’re looking at it at a different level, a different way. It’s not just about the bottom line number to you. So what is it like building a business like that?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:20:18):
It’s intense because, so we’ve had this conversation Lisa, about how much do you pay someone and then how do you know what they’re doing with their time, how are they spending their time. And so we don’t have a billable hour rate. We don’t track billable hours. A lot of it has to do with the institution of that practice, starting in slavery, and that it was before slavery, but slavery really perfected the idea of how much someone’s value was by the hour. And so we are really intentional in not doing that, but that means that everyone who manage someone has to be really connected to them. We have to have conversations. It takes time. You have to understand and be in relationship. You have to understand, emotionally, what’s happening for them. So this week they may not be as productive as they will be next week.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:21:10):
You have to really think about and be connected with your clients because you have to understand the value that you’re giving them so that you know whether or not you’re charging enough. Because you cannot, we will not say, well, we’re going to just charge a thousand dollars an hour and this is it and if we get 10 hours out of a thousand dollars, it’s a great month or a great week and then that’s the value that someone gives. Because honestly, we had one week where after every client meeting, we had a couple of group client meetings, everyone was in tears because you just felt the sense of connection and you could see people really being themselves with their coworkers and saying really difficult, vulnerable things at work. And so that’s invaluable.

Lisa Larter (00:22:00):

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:22:00):
Right. [crosstalk 00:22:01].

Lisa Larter (00:22:01):
If you can’t do that internally within your own organization, you can’t be the facilitator of that inside of another organization.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:22:09):
And if you think that people are going to be free to get to that level while they’re also thinking about, am I getting my billable hour requirement in, I believe you’re not actually asking people to bring their best selves. You’ve got part of them preoccupied with something that isn’t necessarily the be-all end-all value of the work that you’re giving.

Lisa Larter (00:22:36):
So I heard a stat recently that pre-COVID only 4% of women-led companies ever exceed the seven figure mark. Post-COVID, that number has dropped to 2%, obviously, because I’m going to guess 50% of those women needed to probably take on bigger responsibilities at home and had to let their businesses go to the back-burner. I don’t know what the percentage would be for black women run companies, but I’m going to assume that it’s even smaller. As a black woman running a seven figure business, what are some of the challenges that you face that are unique to you? And the reason that I want you to talk about this is I’d like you to talk about some of the challenges and how you overcame them. I want you to imagine that there are other black women listening right now, who look at you as a model for what is possible for them. And I want them to know that some of the challenges that they may be experiencing are normal, that you have experienced some of these challenges and what have you done to overcome those challenges?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:23:59):
So, when I first started my business, Lisa, I started coaching attorneys and I was talking to, I guess he was a friend, he was a family acquaintance, and we were talking about our work and he was Asian. And so he asked me, he said, “well, this coaching thing sounds interesting and good for women lawyers but who’s going to be your clients because I don’t think Asian women would work with you.” And it was so interesting because I had two Asian clients at the time, which I didn’t bother to tell him. But it wasn’t something I didn’t realize, and I think this is this journey of cognition of like, I need to understand my identity, but I did know that if I was a white female coach, it probably would’ve been easier. The idea that I understood business. That I understood, really, the business of law, which I had been in for 16 years. When I talked to women lawyers who had been in law for a while, they totally understood that I knew what I knew.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:25:05):
But if you didn’t know that about me, the assumption would be that I didn’t necessarily have the experience to lead people to successful careers. I will tell you that one of the clients who’s worked longest with me, who is Asian, is well into the seven figures and when we started working, I mean, she was an associate in a law firm making about 185K. And so I still laugh at the guy who was like, “well, how could you help her? What could you possibly do?” But I know that’s been a challenge. I also know we switched, we keep trying to find a bank that will treat us decently. So I went to, I recently changed banks. And so when I signed up for the bank and we’re an S Corp, I’m the sole officer of the business, the person who actually did all of our banking paperwork, didn’t list me as a full owner.
Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:26:14):
Now I’m like, who else would there be? So the bank calls and says, you’re not listed as a full, if there are other owners, there have to actually be signatures on the account. So I had to go into the bank, change that I had full ownership and then the banker, when I went in, was questioning whether or not I knew the status of our business. Were we a LLC or were we an S Corp. And I was explaining in California we have our California LLC but we did file an S Corp for tax reasons, blah, blah, blah. And so he was arguing with me because he was on the California State LLC website, and so we leave. As I’m leaving, which he, I had a three o’clock appointment, he saw me waiting. This other guy went in and he sat down and waited and talked to the other guy. I knocked on the door and said, I have a three o’clock appointment and I’ve got a 3:30 appointment. So we really need to get this taken care of.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:27:08):
Anyway, when we were leaving, he says, you seem to be so sure about the status of your business, so I’ll check-in and let you know if you’re right or wrong. I was like, and you know what happens, I don’t know, it happens a lot to me as a black woman. I’m so stunned at moments that I don’t even necessarily know what to say, but he said, well, if, which they didn’t tell me because I assumed they never thought I was, but they’re like, well, if you make over a million dollars in your business, you could have your own banker. I was like, well, that would’ve great to know last year. I’m dealing with all you knuckleheads, you really don’t know how to classify my business, but I don’t think the assumption was that I would, if I had a business that I actually knew what the status of the business was, that I actually would make enough money to qualify to have my own banker. That, I’m sure, was the intersectionality of my gender and my race.

Lisa Larter (00:28:07):
Right. So what I’m hearing you say is that women of color, other women of color will likely experience this and they need to, A, know their stuff and, B, stand their ground.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:28:19):
And so the PPP loan, if you had a relationship with your banker, your ability to get that loan was so much easier. That was actually what made me decide to go get a new bank. I did get a PPP loan when they first came out, but I had to go through some service with some anonymous bank that I didn’t know. It worked out but there was no one, no banker calling me, no one helping me with my paperwork, no one’s saying, oh, you know what, let me give you a hand. And I’m realizing in my business that if I don’t have a good relationship with the bank, being able to get a line of credit, all the things that you need to be able to do to have the cash flow and the fluidity and to make sure you’re actually getting the most out of the bank requires a relationship with your banker.
Lisa Larter (00:29:11):
It’s funny that you say that because on the last episode that I had with Andrea Hood, she was talking about the same challenges with her bank and how she actually changed banks during COVID because of that. So it’s interesting that, sometimes I feel like as women, it’s the little pat on the head. You mustn’t know that much about money.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:29:40):
And, definitely, not know the structure of your own business.

Lisa Larter (00:29:43):
No, somebody else must own that dear. Can’t possibly be you.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:29:49):
Which of course then I’m like, so I’m just waiting to find the bank of my dreams. This one isn’t it either. But it’s better than the one I had before because I’m actually going in and talking to people but, and then you end up with banks that charge you way more fees. I don’t know that this is true because I don’t have a good relationship with the bank yet to tell you whether, how it would come out or not. But when I see what happens with law, when I see what happens, I work with women in investment banking and wealth managers. There’s always a way to save a little more money. Or there’s the thing that if someone just told you it would make all the difference in the world.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:30:29):
Most of those things don’t come out, either, A, unless you have someone who sees you and advocates for you. So if you have another black female banker, who’s going to give you the inside track and the other way that those things come out are in the, “by the way.” So if someone’s having a conversation with you because they’re interested in you and what you do, and they think you’re legitimate and they learn more about your business and you have this conversation, and then they say, “oh, by the way, do you know, blah, thing.” But because people aren’t building a relationship with me as a black female owner, all the benefit of them understanding what could help me in my business is left with them because we’re not building relationships.

Lisa Larter (00:31:11):
Right. So it all comes back to relationship?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:31:14):
Everything, in my mind, everything. This idea that we get ahead. That’s why we say opportunity comes from people because we’ve been sold this. People of color, women, have been sold this idea that if they work hard and alone, someone’s going to recognize them and they’re going to figure it out. And then sometimes feel uncomfortable when they get a hand up. Sometimes we feel like, oh, it’s somehow not good for me to have someone help me get ahead, like they’re taking advantage. When what you know is, one of the first books I read with you, Lisa, was Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey. That book changed my whole mindset about race because the first part of the book was talking about organizing, productivity, how you manage, your email, all the things so that your intentional space was larger. And the second part of the book was scatterfocus, was all about connecting with other people, connecting your idea with other people’s idea.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:32:20):
And I realized as women of color, specifically black women, if you aren’t organized, the amount of attention and time that takes for all the microaggressions and the bias and the racism and the marginalization takes up so much of your intentional space, that your capacity to connect the dots with other people and other opportunities, it’s limited. Because you’re in the meeting and someone says something asinine and you’re trying to figure out, oh, do I say something? Do I not say something? Do I say something later? And the meeting’s still going on, all the ideas, all the things that you should be sharing are still going on and you miss the ability to contribute the greatest thought that you might have, or connect to the greatest thought because you’re still stuck with your attention on whether or not I’m being marginalized, whether or not I’m being treated fairly.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:33:17):
And ultimately, Lisa, that book was the foundation of how I started creating the equitable culture because it was this idea that if no one has to worry about who they are in the meeting and how they, if they say the wrong thing, they’re not like, because they made a mistake, they’re not a mistake. They can always continue to contribute the best ideas. They can go out and meet new clients and bring new clients in because they’re high thinking, creative. This is what we’re doing. I can tell you about our work. This is how the work works. Instead of worrying about, am I getting paid enough? Am I getting a fair shake? Do they actually recognize me? Do they care about me? So really it was me trying to say, that’s the experience I’ve had for so long and it’s, I mean, I’m really smart, I do a lot of great work and I just, if the bank partnered with me, where would I be?

Lisa Larter (00:34:11):
Yeah. If you didn’t have to fight against so many of the other things, what’s the potential. I hear you talk about that and I think, okay, so as a woman I experience some of these things as well.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:34:25):

Lisa Larter (00:34:25):
But I experience them only as a woman. I don’t experience them as a woman of color. I don’t experience them as a visible minority in that way. I don’t have, I mean, I’m Canadian but unless I use the word “about” nobody knows. So it’s a little bit different for me than if you came from another country and you have an accent or you look different or whatever. And I know how triggering it is for me when I’m in those situations and it doesn’t happen that often, so I can only imagine how triggering it is for you.

Lisa Larter (00:35:07):
So I want to just, I want to double click and talk a little bit about a couple of things that you said. So one, you said it’s really important to understand history if you want to understand your bias, and I think it’s also really important to have a certain level of curiosity around why people respond to things the way they do. So many years ago, I wrote a blog post about, I don’t know, I think it was like a Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift argument. And I wrote something about what happened. And I shared this post that I wrote inside of Marie Forleo’s B-School community, and this one woman took me to task basically for being racist towards Nicki Minaj and I had no idea what she was talking about. And I remember coming to you and asking you, basically, for guidance.

Lisa Larter (00:36:11):
I wanted to understand. So I was curious, because I’m reacting. My initial reaction back then was to defend, then to justify, then to, and this, I feel like a terrible person saying this, but I wanted to parade out my black friends and family members to be like, no, you misunderstand me. That was my protectionism coming to the forefront. And because I have a relationship of trust with you, you were able to ask me questions and help me to see why she was perceiving my communication the way it was and why my communication was being perceived that way. I’m not blaming her. It was the way that I wrote what I wrote and the way that I responded. I think I said something stupid back then, but I don’t see color and I didn’t understand what all of that meant.

Lisa Larter (00:37:11):
But there’s also this whole conversation that goes on online today around free emotional labor support and how we, white women, white people shouldn’t expect black women to teach us what we should know. And so I’m curious because you are doing this work but you’re not in the business of doing this work to give out free emotional support labor. And yet, because I have a relationship with you, you have given me some free emotional support and I recognize that it’s because there’s a relationship, that there’s give and take back and forth. But what advice do you have for people who are having those moments where they’re curious and they want to learn more? What should they do so they’re not expecting someone to help them for free because it’s no different really than somebody knocking on my door every day saying, hey, I need help with my business or, hey, I heard you have Crohn’s disease, could you tell me what you did when this happened? What would you say to people about this?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:38:31):
Well, at this point there are so many DEI practitioners out there that if you know that you continue to stumble in unconsciously to behaviors, dialogues, conversations in which you are being perceived as racist or with bias, you would go get therapy if you were having some type of disorder that you didn’t know how to diagnose and you needed someone to help see, go invest in your own personal development. Go invest in it.

Lisa Larter (00:39:02):
So what if you don’t know what you don’t know though? So let me just double click on that for a second. So what if you don’t know if you have blinders, should you still invest in that? Should you still go to somebody and say, look, I want to understand my own behavior better. I want to understand whether I’m building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and I don’t know what I don’t know about DEI work.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:39:32):
Yes. I mean, if you, Lisa, when a woman comes to you and says, oh, I want to build a business. You’re like, you better get to know your numbers. You cannot build a business. They may not know anything about numbers. They might say, oh, I’m not really very good at math, I don’t know what to do. And you’re like, you’re not bad at math. If you can add and subtract, you can figure out how to manage your numbers. If you are living in this world in 2022 and don’t understand that racism is at play in almost everything we do, then you aren’t living in the world with most of us and or you have the privilege to not be impacted by it.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:40:16):
But if you can care about it, then you need to learn. And here’s the challenge that we come across is because our culture is such that leaders are supposed to just know the answers, when you talk about corporate culture. So leaders often have no idea about how to manage equity and inclusion. When racism happens, what do they do? But they don’t have the freedom, often, not even necessarily the humility to just not know the answer. It’s always high stakes. And if they get it wrong, it’s publicly wrong. It’s a super-

Lisa Larter (00:40:51):
Which is scary and intimidating for people.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:40:53):
Absolutely. And so if you run a business and you care, then you need to actually build the competency to manage all of the people. Especially if you want to hire straight out the best people because the best people come in all shapes, sizes, stripes, colors.

Lisa Larter (00:41:12):
Right. So can I ask you a politically charged question?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:41:16):
Sure. I may or may not answer it, but go ahead.

Lisa Larter (00:41:20):
So President Biden recently made a very bold statement about wanting to hire a black woman for the Supreme Court.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:41:32):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nominate.

Lisa Larter (00:41:33):
Nominate. Yes. Wanted to nominate, and so if you are, there’s obviously people that think that’s great and there’s people that think that, that was discriminatory in itself by saying I’m going to hire somebody because of the color of their skin. How do you recommend employers approach that because what, and you and I have talked about this before, where we’ve had conversations about attracting diverse talent and really looking to find the right people that are qualified to do the job. Should you be so overt and you don’t have to talk about what Biden did, I’m using it as an example, but let’s just say in my business. My business is diverse. It’s not as diverse as I would like it to be. I have diversity in my business, but I would like it to be a little bit more diverse, but I would never come out and actually say, I want to hire a black account manager on my team because I would feel like that’s inappropriate. Is that inappropriate? Or is that something that business owners should be thinking about as they build their teams?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:42:51):
It’s something that business owners should be thinking about as they build their teams. Look, it’s not-

Lisa Larter (00:42:56):
Do they need to be explicit about it though? Or just thinking about it?
Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:42:59):

Lisa Larter (00:42:59):
I’m thinking about it but I’m not explicit about it.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:43:03):
So here’s the thing. This goes back to the idea that if you don’t have a system or structure for diversity, you won’t have diversity. If you’re not explicit that you want diversity, you’re not going to do it because you mean, often we think we’re good people and we’re fair and we’re going to do the right thing. So if you’ve had a black account manager interview with you or white account manager interview with you, you would really pick whomever you think is the best person. But whom we think is the best person also comes along with a lot of bias. So when we look at, if you talk about the name on the resume and the name sounds very black and ethnic, we begin to assume that person is not as qualified as the white sounding name, even if they have the exact same qualifications. So if you-

Lisa Larter (00:43:53):
And there’s data that shows that.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:43:55):

Lisa Larter (00:43:56):
[crosstalk 00:43:56] but, yeah.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:43:57):
So it’s not enough to say, oh, well I want to hire the best qualified person, if we don’t actually build the structure to say, I want to make sure that we have diversity. I think the real question to ask is why does diversity matter to you? So often we’re, now people are hiring the best black person because they should and it’s the right thing to do. Not because understanding that what diversity brings is conflict and uncertainty. It’s can be healthy conflict but if we all see the world the same way with the same perspective and the same temperament, we get the same outcome.

Lisa Larter (00:44:39):

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:44:39):
Right. If you want to push the envelope on what you do and how you do it and how you serve clients and really feel, I love that I am so engaged in my work. It’s the thing, we were talking some days I’m like, I can wrap this up and go to Mexico for the next two [crosstalk 00:44:57]. But the thing that-

Lisa Larter (00:44:58):
[crosstalk 00:44:58] take care.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:45:00):
But when I’m working with my clients and I see what they’re bringing and the impacts that they’re having, it’s so satisfying for every person to have the opportunity to reach the potential that they choose to reach. And that if they’re a part of your organization, they could push your organization with an idea or a perspective that you never would have occurred to. I mean, I was reading this article this morning. I don’t want to talk about the Oscars and what happened with Will Smith, but they were saying that the how groupthinks that said. That’s groupthink happens with the Republican party, groupthink. Was, what is it appropriate happened? Did groupthink happened at the Oscars? Because no one stood up and said that was outrageous. So they’re talking about this idea of groupthink. If you hire people that look like you, they’re going to think like you, and if you think that your business is going to evolve, it won’t.

Lisa Larter (00:45:54):
No, because you’re going to stay the same. And if you’re staying the same, you’re getting worse. You’re not getting better. I think it’s a really, I love what you’re saying. And I also love it on a, what is coming to mind for me, on a different level is we need more healthy conflict and diversity inside a business. And as women leaders, we need to teach young people how to be okay in conflict because this is what happens today. We all hold up our cell phones and we break up with our spouses over text instead of having real conversations with people. We don’t know how to have conversations. And so I think that it means that it’s even more important because we are such a screen distracted generation or time.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:46:45):
One of the hardest diversities that I personally deal with is age diversity. For me, I am happily stuck sometimes in my 50-something self, but I know that my 50-something self doesn’t have the best ideas. I am not the best on social media. I want a diversity of age in my business. It’s just part of the deal. And so I also have to understand how someone younger than me is showing up and what my responsibility is to be engaged and not dismissive of what it is that they’re bringing to the table. How they see the world, they see things that I don’t see. It also means that we have to be super intentional about how we engage with another and the conversations that we have and how we talk because we have, that’s just another point of diversity.

Lisa Larter (00:47:34):

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:47:35):
Which is really good for my business. It’s good for me as a human. It’s good for me as a mother, but it’s, I think for me personally, it’s the most challenging. I was, we were talking about pronouns and using pronouns and I still don’t, everyone has their, she/her, they/them, he/him, we/they pronouns in their Zoom box, not everyone, but in your Zoom title and I don’t have it. And I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with me? And I’m like, oh my God, it’s my age bias. It’s a mind shift for me that my mind understands, my mind welcomes. Yet, I still haven’t done it. And so it’s also just good for me to be human and humble about that as well. I’m not perfect. No one is. So part of it is continuing to grow and expand as well.

Lisa Larter (00:48:40):
So if you were going to give people some advice on scaling their organization to seven figures and beyond and doing it in the most equitable way possible, what two or three things would you tell them that they should consider?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:49:03):
They have to know their value. Unequivocally. I mean, working with you, Lisa, has been a real help and one reason why I continue to work. I don’t know that you can always see your own value all by yourself. So invest in someone to understand the value of what it is that you offer so that you do not hesitate to charge. Grow slow. So we could, we have enough or could have enough business to have at least three more employees but we couldn’t have three more employees and bring them on in a way that would ensure that we’re really being as equitable and intentional as we want to be. Because then the business, the amount of business runs your culture, you don’t run your culture. So if you, so culture always has to come first, if you want to be equitable and inclusive even before business.

Lisa Larter (00:49:51):
Can you talk more about that?
Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:49:53):
So if you begin to chase the dollar and the business, and every time I pay payroll, I’m like, okay, we got to make sure we have enough money. And so the temptation is like, let’s charge more and if we could take on more business, let’s take on more business because it’ll really help the cash flow. And then you’re losing sight of the experience that people are having in your organization. And if you want to be equitable and inclusive, it requires not that you just have systems and structures but that you follow them. And if you are too busy and have too, I am literally on the cusp of too busy to, I want to shortcut this hiring process. It would save me so much time and so much energy and it would not be equitable. So you have to be able to have the time to be equitable.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:50:49):
And I can’t have more than four people report to me and then be in a relationship with them enough to not charge by the hour for them if that makes sense. So how many people are we going to hire? Who’s going, what’s the org chart in that? How much responsibility do they have? If they’re working with clients, do they also have time to manage people? So the first I had, I did the work and then I hired an HR person and a finance person. They’re not, the HR person does do billable work, but I invested in the HR person because I needed someone who would push back on me on my emotions. One of the things we talk to, we do this thing about emotions at work and when you have emotions and I’m not necessarily the most emotionally aware person. I disassociate from my emotions a lot.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:51:43):
And every time my staff or team does something challenging, I want to just get another policy. So instead of diagnosing how I feel, what’s happening, why is this frustrating to me, I’m tired and I don’t really feel like dealing with this. I just like, go get a policy. So our HR person, again, will be like, do you need a policy or are you feeling a way? And so that we have a culture where she can push back on me, like the policy would be easy for you but it wouldn’t really solve the problem. So I invested in people who could help me be accountable to the culture. I didn’t think that me alone, even though it’s the thing I believe in the most, and I am very much slowing our growth so that we have an equitable environment. I still know that I couldn’t do it by myself.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:52:36):
So I invested with people. And then the other thing that we did, very hard and a lot of compassion, is we did our own value statement. That, it took weeks and tears and I literally, every other week wanted to quit. I was like, why am I doing this? Why am I signing up for this? So the other thing is also, I don’t know how many I’ve given you, but as the leader of someone who wants to have an equitable organization, you need support. I have a business coach. I have a lawyer that I work with and she believes in equitable environments. So she helps me think about all the things that we do that, what the law says we have to do versus what we do. I have an accountant of color who’s thinking, so I have all of these people in my life who are also like, we’re working towards it.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:53:32):
They’re not all the same color. They’re very diverse. They come at me with different thoughts. You challenge me often on the business structure and it’s great because it makes me question, so am I doing the because it’s quote-unquote diverse or am I doing it because it’s really good for the business. And so I have to have the space to be able to think critically about it. And so I can’t just hire a ton of people, even though, so I see other DEI organizations doing it and sometimes I’m curious, how are they doing that? Not for me. It’s really slow intentional growth.

Lisa Larter (00:54:12):
I think it’s really easy to say that you work in the DEI space. I think it’s harder to create that within your own organization. There’s lots of, what is the expression, cobblers out there without shoes. Lots of people don’t do their own work.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:54:26):
Yeah, and not everyone on my team always feels included. So I think we think DEI, it’s going to be this string, like oh my gosh, we’re all together and it’s a beautiful place. But the point of a equitable and inclusive environment is someone can tell you when they don’t feel included and you’re aware, and then you do the thing that’s going to make them feel included because you weren’t aware. Which comes back to at least to the original question, if you want it, you’ve got to go get professional development because you’re not going to, every person has what they need to feel included, which is an intersection of their identity. It’s not because black people need this or women need that or Asian people need this. It’s the intersection of who they are, where they’re from, how they’re raised, what they want that tells you what they need to show up as their full self. So you have to build an environment, a partnership where they are free to tell you so that you can make the next necessary change.

Lisa Larter (00:55:23):
Right. But you can only do that if you’ve done that work yourself.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:55:27):

Lisa Larter (00:55:28):
So if you don’t understand history and you don’t understand your own biases and you don’t understand your own triggers and shortcomings and all of the things that you need to know, then it’s a lot harder to surround yourself with people that can help you with the areas that you want to grow in.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:55:44):
And that are willing to stand with you. So it’s a lot for my team to tell me that they think I’m doing something that’s not equitable. That’s a lot to ask of someone. So you have to really actually lead with the humility that it’s okay if you’re wrong because I’m wrong. We’re all wrong at times. One last thing I want to talk about, Lisa, because we talked about this before, is this idea the intersection of power for women of color, specifically black women as leaders because, I talked about it briefly with the bank situation. But when we do work with organizations, we talk about power dynamics and you have positionality, and there’s socialization around the leader’s power and if you’re not the leader, you have no power. And then you also have systems of oppression that play in. So often as a black woman, I might be in an organization, I served on a board where when it came to equity and inclusion issues, I was esteemed as having power. I was the go-to. I was the expert.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:56:50):
But when it came to the finance of the organization, I wasn’t, although I run my own business. So the system of oppression that saw me as not having the capacity to be as knowledgeable as the white guys in finance work, was something that I was excluded from that conversation. And when I would lend my talents to the audit committee, the comment was, oh, I’m so glad you want to expand your skills, without actually understanding, well, if you’ve run law firms for 16 years, you actually know about audit. You actually know about risk. This is part of what I have done all my life. I find it really interesting, which is why another reason why I like running a business, but the way they saw me, wasn’t someone who possibly could know that. And they never were curious, no one ever asked me, oh, well, what is your expertise?

Lisa Larter (00:57:45):
Right. What is your experience in this area? How do you know all of this? Nobody’s inquiring.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:57:49):
Assumptions that I just didn’t know and I was learning on their dime. And that was, even though I was in a powerful position in the community, I was still impacted by systems of oppression and it’s exhausting.

Lisa Larter (00:58:05):
So what advice do you have for women who find themselves in situations like that? Maybe within their own business, maybe you have a black woman who is building a successful company and there’s a power dynamic or power struggle between her and other members of her team. Maybe it’s with a white woman or maybe it’s a man that’s part of the team. What advice do you have for standing in your power? Because to me it’s complicated because our perceptions are not always someone else’s intention, but we judge ourselves based on intention and we judge others based on perception.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:58:55):
Lisa Larter (00:58:56):
So how do you as someone who is sensitive to things like that, because you’ve experienced so much of it in your life, how do you handle it when it happens so that it’s a growth opportunity for your organization and your team and not a power struggle?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (00:59:18):
So emotional labor, I think is a good example of this. We talked about black women often have the emotional labor. So if you’re a black owner of a business, your emotional labor is triple because you are responsible and then you’re supposed to work out how everyone feels, everyone’s comfortable, educate them. And so one of the conversations I had with my team is, look, we all have emotions but I am not responsible for your emotions. So I really had to create boundaries around what I am responsible for and what I’m not responsible for and I expect people to respect them. I think people think of boundaries as a hard yes or no. Boundaries can be flexible based on the relationship that you have with someone. So a boundary around not doing emotional labor might differ for the relationship I have with you than the relationship I have with a new hire, as a relationship I have with NJ, who I’ve been working with since 2019.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (01:00:17):
And so you build relationships and connection, but you also, when you understand your emotions and you understand the emotions of other people, you also might have to build a boundary in which you can actually also be safe and highly functioning. So they can have an emotional moment but they’re responsible for their emotions. I need to see their humanity, if I want to live in an equitable and inclusive culture. I’m going to see the humanity of their emotions. I may have empathy for how they feel. I might work with them to understand what we can do about how they feel, but I am not making you feel that way. You own your emotion.

Lisa Larter (01:00:56):
Right. Which means that as a leader, you also have to own yours.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (01:01:00):
So when I get upset and want to create a policy, I have someone who says, do you need a policy or are you feeling a way? And then I have to own, oh, yeah, I’m feeling a way.

Lisa Larter (01:01:14):
Okay. I have one last quick question to ask you before we wrap up because I realize I’ve kept you way over time and I apologize if you had something on your calendar and I’ve hijacked you, I’m sorry. What is your entrepreneurial superpower?

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (01:01:29):
I do not like suspense. It’s probably all kinds of childhood business. It might be all kinds of things, but I am clear and I am, clarity is, I think it gives you so much freedom. Let’s just be super clear and then we can choose what we want to do. If you don’t want to come, don’t come. If you want to come, come. But we all know where we stand financially. We know where we stand from a standpoint of policies and procedures, from projection of what I expect from you, what you expect. We are clear. And if I’m not clear, it’s taking too much of my energy to run the business. I cannot be guessing.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (01:02:19):
So I think it’s the gift that I’ve given almost all of my clients. It’s like, where do you stand? It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks, believes. What do you want? Where do you stand? Because you’re clear, you can make a decision based on your values and your value, if it’s disrupting your values, you’re super clear and you’re making a choice but you’re not just aimlessly reacting to what is happening around you or guessing. That’s why I like working with you, because you make me think about the numbers in such a clear way that I know where I stand.

Lisa Larter (01:02:53):
I love that, and I can totally see how the values become a lens that help you gain clarity on other things. Because if you know what your values are, then you can look at things through that lens and say, is this, this and that gives you a stronger ground to stand on. All right. Jennifer, thank you so much. I feel like I could’ve to talk to you for three hours, but I didn’t book you for three hours so that would’ve been incredibly selfish and rude of me. But I just want to say thank you for everything that you shared, for adding as much value as you did on this episode. And I hope to have you back again so that we can continue this conversation.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint (01:03:37):
Thanks Lisa. It was just, it was really a pleasure. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Lisa Larter (01:03:42):
All right, everyone. Thank you so much for listening. One of the books that Jennifer referenced at the beginning was The Warmth of Other Suns. I am going to put the link to that book in the show notes. It is a fantastic book. If you are wanting to start to understand history, I could not recommend it more. I will tell you it is very big book. You don’t have to read it quickly, but you should read it. Thanks so much for listening and we will see you next week on another edition of She Talks Business. Bye, for now.

Lisa Larter (01:04:13):
Thank you for joining me for this episode of She Talks Business. If you enjoyed the show, you know the drill, leave us a review, tell someone about it and join the conversation on social media. Thanks for listening and until next time remember, done is always better than perfect.


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Lisa Larter

Founder and CEO of the Lisa Larter Group, master strategist, author, speaker, podcast host, social media expert, consultant, and business coach. Lisa inspires entrepreneurs and business owners to see the possibilities for their organizations when it comes to strategy. She uncomplicates modern marketing and creates (and implements) strategies for businesses that are guaranteed to increase visibility, inbound leads, and revenue.

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