BIDDING FAREWELL TO THE SIDE HUSTLE. The terms “moonlighting” and “side hustle” may not disappear but how we think about these terms will. That’s because short work stints will be the norm, instead of the exception.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Leilani M. Brown.
Leilani M. Brown is an award-winning executive and thought leader on workforce development, equity and inclusion, and the future of work. She has been a featured keynote speaker at numerous colleges and universities, companies, conferences, and national events and is the author of “From Campus To Career: 25 Tips For Your First Professional Year.” Brown earned her bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College and holds a master’s degree from New York University.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
My parents raised me and my sister in Queens, New York. They were both hard-working civil servants. My mother, a native New Yorker, worked for the New York City Board of Education and my father, a South Carolina native and Vietnam veteran, also worked for the State of New York where he secured benefits for disabled veterans.
Our family has always been very close and loving; and our home was filled with music and laughter. While we were not rich by any measure (and in fact I only knew later once I got to college that we grew up with “less”), we had everything we needed, and a few of the things we wanted. For the extras, my sister and I had to work and earn the disposable cash to spend on things that other kids might take for granted.
One thing I often think about is how my mother modeled determination, focus, and perseverance for me and my sister. While working full-time, being a wife and a great mother, my mother pursued and earned her college education by attending classes at night. She graduated from college the day before I graduated from high school! I garnered so many lessons from her experience: 1) It’s never too late, 2) Life is about choices, 3) There is no one starting point, pathway, or end point, and 4) You can do hard things.
The other thing I often reflect on is the fact that as my parents’ daughter, I find myself continuing the work they did. My mother was in education and workforce development and so was my father. I cannot ignore the full-circle reality that I now work in this space.
Lastly, I would also offer this — as a NYC public school kid, I was bused to school. Every day, from 1st grade to 12th grade, I left my Black neighborhood in Southeast Queens, to attend school as often the “only and lonely” Black kid in the class (As I grew up, the buses and schools became more integrated but in the advanced or SP “special progress” classes, I would often be the only Black kid in the class.) My father talked openly, matter-of-factly, and often with a lot of humor, about race, politics, and the world. In doing so, he instilled a level of confidence and pride that I still carry with me today. He didn’t want me to go to a majority-white school and feel in any way less capable, brilliant or beautiful than my peers.
I’m forever grateful that the lessons my parents instilled in me have allowed me to confidently “take up space” wherever I go. And I’m immensely proud of my upbringing and the woman I am because of it.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
Ten to fifteen years from now, I believe some things will remain unchanged. For example, workers, whether at the office, at home or hybrid, will still have the need to feel connected to an organization’s purpose. That means employers will still need to find new ways to engage their employees in workplace culture and help them feel more connected to the company and more invested in their colleagues.
Additionally, newcomers to the workforce and early career professionals will continue to need essential skills or professional skills that help them bring their best selves to the workplace and give them staying power. They will also need increased agility and be able to perform in roles and segments that likely don’t exist today. At the same time, employers will need to adapt and learn how to best accommodate workers’ needs and help them bring meaningful personal experiences to professional work.
Ten to fifteen years from now, I predict (and hope) that there will be marked differences in how we talk about issues related to equity and inclusion. At this very moment, the majority of people in the United States between the ages of 16 to 24 are people of color. That is the future of our workforce; so, we need to acknowledge that.
Diversity will not be that “thing” that human resources does or is the responsibility of someone else. Rather, leaders will recognize that the diversity of their workforce should be leveraged and a lack of equity and inclusion hinders that.
As we see evidenced through the Great Resignation, the working population has more choice and agency to choose their employers and they are making decisions based on culture as well as compensation. Employers of choice, competing for talent, will have to make complex decisions about who they are, what they value, and their work environment and culture. They must also accept that if these things don’t align with their potential workforce, they won’t attract the talent they’re looking for.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
My advice for employers that want to future-proof their organizations is three-fold. But it all starts with talent! People are at the heart of any organization.
First, I think it’s vital that employers really grasp a firm understanding of what is happening inside their respective organizations and why. Surprisingly, many organizations don’t have this foundation to work from. It’s vital that they have a clear picture of the status of their employee base. For example, are they experiencing high turnover or experiencing challenges related to finding talent? And why?
Second, once they have a solid picture, they must work toward developing strategies for onboarding talent and optimizing their contributions and skillsets. Along the way, they must ensure that these strategies reflect the companies’ core values.
Lastly, employers must work to operationalize and institutionalize their strategies and long-term goals of their respective organizations. This will help inform their path forward and get them to where they want to be. That’s why focusing on workplace culture is so important.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
I think the biggest gaps we’ll see relate to shifting expectations between employers and employees. Old notions about what it means to move ahead and be professionally “successful” — both on the part of employees and employers — will most certainly change. More employees will expect and demand flexibility when it comes to work hours and location. And employers will have to decide if they’re willing to acquiesce to these shifting expectations. The changes we’re seeing today will most certainly continue to challenge hierarchical systems tomorrow.
What’s more, any successful strategy to reconcile these gaps must include defining one’s core values. This is true for workers who must determine the most valuable characteristics when it comes to assessing a potential employer. And it’s true for employers that must be clear on their own core values when it comes to identifying and onboarding talent and maximizing their contributions.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
One thing’s for sure — we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Things have changed forever.
And not everyone had the privilege of “working from home” or had a great remote work experience.
Essentially, employees will continue to look for flexibility in the future and will resist the micromanagement of their time and space. Meanwhile, employers will be thinking about productivity and what the heck to do with all their unnecessary office space!
I think this “global experiment” will continue to inform how we prioritize work and better determine how it fits into our personal lives instead of the other way around.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
I think pandemic-related migration shifts will continue to impact how our society functions. That means key parts of our societal infrastructure — including access to health care, transportation, and education — will need to support the future of work in a way that works for everyone. I think flexibility will be the key word going forward.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
My greatest source of optimism about the future of work relates to upward mobility among workers of underserved and underrepresented groups. The Great Resignation has forced employers across the country to reckon with mandatory college requirements. Let’s face it — a college degree shouldn’t be a determining factor for measuring how likely someone is to find professional success. And in recent months, employers have been forced to recognize this and hire workers — many of whom are members of underrepresented groups and do not have college degrees — to fill their open positions. My hope is that groups that have been on the outskirts of opportunity for too long finally have their well-deserved opportunity to participate in the workforce in higher paying roles.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
I cannot emphasize this enough — it is vital to the future of the workforce that employers encourage, promote, and offer both in-person and virtual mental health and wellness activities on a regular basis. To better manage stress, employees must ensure they’re investing in the basics: eating well, drinking enough water, getting enough rest, and spending time with family and friends. There is something to be said about approaching work as a well-rested individual. If you are, you’ll be more focused and ready to power forward. If not, you might experience diminishing returns. The bottom line is: both employees and employers alike must be intentional about health and wellness.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
By now, leaders should have heard the message loud and clear — they must evolve. They must define specific strategies and make specific commitments to attracting and retaining talent. And they must do it in ways that support their core values. In short, companies need to better determine what they stand for and dig deeper. That’s how they’ll attract and keep their best talent.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- BIDDING FAREWELL TO THE SIDE HUSTLE. The terms “moonlighting” and “side hustle” may not disappear but how we think about these terms will. That’s because short work stints will be the norm, instead of the exception.
- DON’T BE A JERK. The way we show up and perform at work — whether that means virtually or in-person — will always matter. Essential skills like relationship building will continue to serve an important role. The fact remains: people like working with people they like!
- DIFFERENT FOLKS AND DIFFERENT STROKES. Differing work routines may continue to divide us along telework lines. Have a long commute and like working independently? Maybe you’ll be part of the country’s “work-from-home crew.” Have a short commute and hungry for the camaraderie of an office? You’ll be part of the “office crew.”
- DELIVERING RESULTS. As our society becomes even more fast-paced, companies will still expect their employees to work hard and deliver results on time and without excuses.
- TURNING DOWN THE VOLUME ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I think we’ll see more and more reminders about the need to use social media wisely. Job seekers will need to remember that potential employers are watching.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
I love a good quote, so it’s hard to choose just one. But one quote I keep with me right now is one by William James: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I would want to host a delicious low country brunch in Charleston, SC — my new hometown. I would invite Morgan DeBaun, Rihanna, Arlan Hamilton, and Serena Williams. I will let the readers figure out the connection beyond the fact that they are Black women. But I think that brunch would be both interesting and fun!
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
I’d welcome the opportunity to stay in touch with you and your readers. They can follow me at @LeilaniMBrown or visit my website: leilanimbrown.com.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.