Jenna Miller of Betterworks On 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society
Do the work yourself. Lots of other folks have done the hard and laborious work of writing books, and articles, creating podcasts and webinars, and discussion groups. So instead of asking someone from a group or community that has suffered harm at the hands of injustice and exclusion, please take the time to educate yourself on these topics. We should not be putting undue burden on folks who have lived experiences of racism, sexism, hate speech, etc. to also relive those experiences and trauma simply to inform others on topics that can be found with a Google search. It will take time. And it might bring up feelings and questions and prove difficult at times, but it’s your job to keep going and keep learning.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Jenna Miller.
Jenna Miller is the current Chief of Staff at Betterworks. Prior to her current role, she served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman and CEO of Betterworks. Jenna has also held a number of strategic positions at organizations such as Business Wire, Fluxx and Optimizely. She’s also dabbled in marketing, recruiting, and fundraising, most notably for Horizons Foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Throughout her career and personal life, Jenna has always had a passion for helping others. Most recently, she has assisted in leading the charge to develop the Betterworks DEIB Initiative, ensuring Betterworks is a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Through this initiative, Jenna and other team leaders have promoted an organization of awareness and allyship.
Jenna earned an M.A. in Organizational Leadership from the University of San Francisco in 2010, and prior to that a B.S. in Nutrition from U.C. Davis in 2006. In her free time, Jenna enjoys spending time with her wife and two kids in beautiful, sunny Los Angeles, CA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in a midsize town in the bay area of California. I would say there wasn’t a lot of diversity where I grew up — pretty typical white girl, suburban upbringing. My parents were together. It was always interesting because they were politically on opposite ends of the spectrum. My mom was a hippie, and my dad was a Vietnam vet. We had a lot of interesting discussions and they taught me how to consider the person, the people, or the audience you’re talking to versus labels.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Giver is one that stands out to me. What I took away from it is not to take advantage of people and their kindness or their willingness to help. From an early age, that really resonated with me. There’s also a similar children’s book called The Giving Tree and that’s about not taking advantage of the fruits of the earth — nothing is promised. That was a good lesson for me since I was brought up in a pretty privileged upbringing.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
The one I use most often, and it might be overused, is the Maya Angelou quote: “When you know better, you do better.” That rings true in everything that you do. It’s about — it’s okay to make mistakes and it shows you who not to trust. That’s what I try to live by. It isn’t enough to just learn, you also have to take action.
On the contrary, there is one quote of hers that I actually don’t agree with: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” This assumes people can’t and won’t change, and I believe people can change. A lot of hate in this world is propagated from the fact we think people are so stuck in their ways and won’t change. But I think they do change. Obama’s stance on gay marriage and the evolution of that is a perfect example of knowing better and doing better.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think my definition has changed in the last few years. I’ve probably learned the most about leadership from our CEO at Betterworks, Doug Dennerline. I have had a lot of bad bosses and I’ve learned what not to do. But I would say he’s taught me some surprising lessons that I haven’t considered when it comes to leadership. The most important one is to show up consistently. I’m a very passionate, fiery, sagittarius redhead and I wear my emotions on my sleeve, which isn’t always a good thing. I’ve learned the importance of showing up consistently so that people around me feel safe. When others feel safe, they can show up how they need to show up. This consistency proves you’re dependable time and time again, which only builds trust. There is also no substitute for it! You can fake a lot of things, but for me, this is a constant practice and I’m trying to show up consistently everyday to build these levels of trust.
In the summer of 2020, the United States faced a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is, of course, a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on what made the events of 2020 different from racial reckonings in the past?
I think for maybe the first time , there was a collective suffering during the pandemic that absolutely discriminated based on things like socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, etc. In terms of who it affected, it was everyone. To what degree, depended on privilege and access. We can all probably agree the pandemic and covid affected everyone although not equally. I think this partly explains why people were a little more open to paying attention to the turmoil this time around, since everyone was suffering together. Most probably felt for the first time that they had a loss of control over their own circumstances. It woke people up in a way that perhaps made them feel like they weren’t immune to such things any longer. When George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement really took shape, it felt like everyone was paying attention. We were also coming out of a time where Trump’s presidency left us with so many incredulous moments; it really was unprecedented, at least in my time of living through it and not just reading about in the history books.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
As long as I can remember career wise, I’ve always been involved in such initiatives. I think partially it was because of those good bosses in the past, and also I think it was missing from my education, including higher education. When I got into the world of work, I was surprised. I had my first job in higher education at a community college, and conversations around diversity and equity and access were regularly happening. I had always had this sense of wanting justice in the world — not judging what is right and wrong, but knowing what words to use when I would recognize inequality — and it blew my mind that these things were being talked about. These were formative years. Everything I had been feeling or seeing, and nobody was really talking about, I could finally have some language and opinions about them.
I probably have spent the longest time working to advance the LGBTQ+ movement, specifically of which I am a part of in terms of identity. I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t do DEIB work because it’s just the lens through which I do everything now. Some people might be surprised to know that it’s possible as a white person. It takes time to develop that muscle, but I bring that voice to the table everyday now if needed.
Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
They are the most visible. When you go to any company website, you can see instantly who their leadership team is. In terms of visible diversity, you can’t expect to attract people to buy your product, use your website, apply to your company, etc. without showing or having some sort of understanding of your audience. It’s something I always have my eye on when I’m looking at vendors and things like that. Without this visibility, it’s important that you offer other ways for people of color or people of different backgrounds to get involved. For example, we have our HR Council and Customer Advisory Board at Betterworks where we involve many backgrounds and different viewpoints. If you really want to put out there that you are championing people of diversity, it’s a conscious effort. It isn’t just putting your leadership team on your website, it’s also doing the work to engage different people.
Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”? Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Do the work yourself. Lots of other folks have done the hard and laborious work of writing books, and articles, creating podcasts and webinars, and discussion groups. So instead of asking someone from a group or community that has suffered harm at the hands of injustice and exclusion, please take the time to educate yourself on these topics. We should not be putting undue burden on folks who have lived experiences of racism, sexism, hate speech, etc. to also relive those experiences and trauma simply to inform others on topics that can be found with a Google search. It will take time. And it might bring up feelings and questions and prove difficult at times, but it’s your job to keep going and keep learning.
- Get comfortable with uncomfortable topics. I think the only way you can grow or make strides is if you stretch yourself, which is often uncomfortable. Let that be a sign that you’re doing the work and headed in the right direction. Many times, people get started doing this work and give up because it’s hard. And it is hard. But you also have to keep going and come back to work eventually. It’s okay to pause, reflect, take breaks, or do anything you need to do to keep going.
- Believe communities and people who have been harmed. When communities are telling you or showing you that they lack access to clean water or there are higher rates of murder in women in Indigenous communities, believe them. Of course it’s okay to question facts and figures, but you also have to believe these people that they’re being harmed. I have a Kindergartner and she’s navigating a lot of feelings these days. We talk about intent over impact. Maybe the intent is not to have harm, but if the impact is there, you have to take that as fact and act accordingly. You can’t just say we didn’t mean to — that’s not good enough. Say your sorries and commit to changing behaviors once you know.
- Don’t be a fair weather ally. I learned this lesson in the LGBTQ+ community. I think there is a lot of great capitalistic upside to supporting this community. But if that’s all you’re doing as an ally, is just celebrating with us in those moments, then that’s not really doing the work. This is a version of putting your money where your mouth is and not basking in the glory of someone else. You have to be there when the times are hard too. It only really works if you go a step further than what you’re normally comfortable with.
- Take action. Forever. Learning and growing as one person isn’t enough. Teach your kids, buy them books on topics of race, gender, equality, etc., and make sure they are historically accurate.
We are going through a rough period now. What makes you optimistic about the future of the US? Can you please explain?
Kids — witnessing kids be the change. I’m fortunate because I have kids and I probably see it more often than other people do. As an example, racism is taught, not innate. There needs to be more of us that are teaching kids the right way. I have no problem pointing out that some parents teach their kids the wrong way and that’s just what it is. There’s a huge movement in this country to use the school systems as grounds for some false parents’ rights movement. Parents have rights at home, but kids still have rights at school. The kids are right.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with myself to take some time to reflect. I feel like working moms do enough. We do enough already and I deserve a meal alone in silence.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Jenna Miller of Betterworks On 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.