Wendy Horng Brawer, Intune Collective: Transforming leaders and company culture
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The Companies that Care podcast highlights business leaders who are making a difference in the world. I have a passion for companies that care and give back to their communities.
This week I interview Wendy Horng Brawer, cofounder and chief of learning and innovation for Intune Collective. Wendy is an executive coach, consultant, experience designer, somatic awareness coach, parent, and rock drummer. I was excited to learn that we both lived in Japan when we were younger.
Wendy is putting into practice what she teaches, running a company “from guts up,” as she described.
“How do we build a company that walks their talk every day? How can we lead from the inside out, becoming whole human leaders helping whole human companies?”
Wendy got to this place in her life by following her curiosity and not allowing herself to be boxed in by others’ cultural and societal expectations of her. After graduating from college, she began looking for finance jobs in New York City but realized that kind of job and lifestyle was not for her. It was then that the seed of finding her own way was planted. She has followed that path throughout her adult life.
Growing up in an Asian family, charting her own course was difficult at times.
“My parents sacrificed a lot to be in the United States. My mom’s pathway was, ‘Go be a lawyer and your brother is going to be the doctor, and that's just how it’s going to be. This will be your career.’”
But when Wendy applied to grad school, she got a master’s in public policy instead of going to law school.
“I felt myself take the reins back from my mom and turned the dial up a little bit higher on listening to my inner voice. Doing that exercise in my early 20s was empowering to do, and it's just been more magnified as time has gone on.”
I asked Wendy about her experience being an Asian-American woman in the workplace. Working for Dun & Bradstreet in Tokyo early in her career, she was excluded from social events that her American male peers attended.
I mentioned how challenging it is when Americans lump all Asian countries together. Although Wendy was born in Taiwan, people sometimes say “I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand.”
“Look, there's diversity in Asian culture, just like there's diversity in Latino/Latinx culture…In many Asian cultures there's a certain ethos that translates through like hard work, respect of your elders. You know your lineage is really important and the role of shame to shape people is a driver in these cultures, but to different degrees.”
We need to stay aware and open to learning more about the nuanced individual and collective differences among us.
Wendy shared about Intune Collective, the company she helped found.
“We are a company that sees working with clients as partnerships, and that’s reciprocated because we're called partners by our clients…that feels really good because we're showing up in as holistic a way as we can, and we apply something that we call synergistic consulting. We help clients bring it all together…heart, mind, and community.”
Intune designs training, learning, and coaching experiences to meet the real circumstances faced by clients and present it in digestible bites.
The Intune team works to diminish the toxicity, stress, anxiety, and pressure, so that organizations can apply their valuable human energy towards positivity, connectedness, and human relationships. She shared some examples of how she’s doing this in her daily work with clients.
Ignition team meeting: They come together, inviting other practitioners, to discuss the best way to move forward with a new client. This builds a network of practice, an Intune community, and derives best practices through playing and creating together.
Regular capabilities assessments: Intune looks at their capabilities, using a matrix to track what each person is capable of doing, what they love doing, and what they do really well but don’t necessarily love doing. They revisit this matrix from time to time and ask how one person might step into greater leadership or develop new skills. Wendy calls it flexibility with structure.
Wisdom book: Every week they ask themselves what they are learning from each other and from their clients. They capture that knowledge in their wisdom book.
Energy grounding: Their meetings start with a two-minute energy grounding for teams. “I might have everyone take three breaths together and then look up at each other and make eye contact with each other and then take three breaths together as a team…it sets the tone.”
Wendy believes the most important step for executives to develop caring relationships is making a personal commitment. They need to be willing to model their own growth, develop emotional intelligence, and show vulnerability.
“You’re learning in front of your team. You're going to make mistakes. You're naming your mistakes and forgiving yourself and others. You're modeling the behavior you want to see. You’re practicing.”
The same practices apply to implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
“The simplest frame I can come up with is that DEI work is about putting people first, and that means all people, regardless of who they are and what they're coming to the table with.”
This is the work of organizations who care.
She recommends starting by shifting our thinking about fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging as work, or an initiative, and instead viewing it as fostering dignity, belonging, and safety for each person in the company.
“Because fundamentally, regardless of who you are, what your race is, what privilege you have…dignity, belonging, and safety are terms that every human being can relate to and understand from personal experience.”
I asked Wendy for her perspectives on the fact that women are leaving the workplace in droves.
“If you're in a partnership with a woman, can you look at your share of the work? How do you do the second shift when you get home? Distributing work more equitably at home is one way. At the policy level, we need to change maternal leave and paternal leave and include elder care, so that there's more space for people to stay employed and also take care of their families.”
Wendy’s been involved in her community leading a network of educators called the Transformative Education Network, which brought people together who believed that everyone has a genius within and that school should be about bringing this out in students. She is also board chair of Calculus Roundtable, which seeks creative, innovative, and highly engaging ways to help underrepresented Black and brown students access STEM learning, develop a passion for it, and continue on career pathways related to STEM.
Wendy recently launched a new podcast called “The Business of Being Human” with her Intune Collective partner Christine Hildebrand. They interview practitioners in HR and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, along with executive leaders. They share client stories and case studies and connect listeners to practices, mindsets, and behaviors that help them better connect to themselves and to each other. How do you elevate JOY in the workplace? What is this era that we are in? The era of new possibilities!
Wendy and Christine end each episode with a micro-practice that helps listeners get a taste of becoming leaders who can bring more equanimity to the workplace.
“So often I hear people say I can't do this. That's not possible. We don't have the resources. It's not the right time. For all the energy that we spend in that kind of thinking and doing, what if we turned it around and said, ‘What would it take to make this possible? What would it take for us to move in the direction that we know is right ethically, morally, as a conscious business?’”
Wendy advises that people who want to create companies that care should start with their values.
“How do your values show up when you're working with clients? How do they show up when you're working with each other? How do they show up if you have conflict and disagreement? You can create a living document or a manifesto that anchors you around your values, and it can become a grounding touchstone for your teams and people.”
Wendy is also a somatic coach, and she has trained with the Strozzi Institute in Petaluma, CA. She runs Unbound, a program for women of color to explore what it means to be free, whole, and alive. To learn more, visit www.wendyhorngbrawer.com.
I enjoyed my conversation with Wendy and the specific tips she shared on creating companies that care about people.
Next week on the Finding Fertile Ground podcast I feature my amazing friend Amira Stanley. She has so many grit and resilience stories that I ran out of time and am already planning to invite her back for another conversation!
On both of my podcasts I strive to highlight voices from underrepresented populations, especially people of color, women, people who are LGBTQIA, non-Christian, and immigrants, people who don't always get a platform. You can find all the information on my website and social media.
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