HeForShe: Murray Brown | Co-Founder, Wading Herons

Murray BrownMurray Brown is a purpose-led leadership consultant, strategist and advisor. His passion is helping business leaders of today and tomorrow enrich their colleagues lives.

Within a 20 year career at JP Morgan in business strategy, transformation and as a COO, Murray spearheaded new ESG initiatives, championed purpose-led culture transformation and pioneered social impact integration conversations. His talent is inspiring people to embrace change.

Murray is co-founder of Wading Herons, a counter-consultancy with a mission to make business more authentically human. He is a mentor and adviser to several social enterprises working for deep, systemic change in the world of business. He is also a B Corp affiliate (B Leader).

As an empathetic ex-corporate, Murray is asked to speak with larger organisations undertaking significant social and cultural transformation journeys. He is available to comment on: Purpose Strategy, Human-centred Leadership, ESG Strategic Advice, People and Culture Strategy.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

In one sentence, I’m a British-Aussie former banking executive turned social entrepreneur! It took me a couple of decades to acknowledge that my chosen work was in conflict with my professional purpose, which is to find a much healthier balance between the private sector and the world it serves. They say it’s never too late to start something new.

I co-founded Wading Herons in early 2020 as a fresh approach to business leadership consulting. Our mission is to help make business more authentically human and interconnected with its surroundings. Both my business partner and I began it out of a real concern for the health of the world we are each bringing our kids into, and for the toxic work cultures that too many people experience.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I used to admire my friends at school and university who had real career path clarity, I just wasn’t that way inclined. Every time I considered planning my career, some new opportunity or life event would come along that changed everything. My journey has been more gut led than head led. I’ve always been open to new challenges which has helped me navigate a pretty varied and interesting career.

However I’m very fortunate to be able to say that. I don’t for a second take for granted the good fortune I’ve had simply by virtue of being born into a nurturing family environment. One that afforded me life options that most people simply do not have.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Like everyone does, yes. I used to distinguish the larger challenges as either work challenges or non-work (life?) challenges, but I no longer do. It’s so obvious that what happens to us outside of work affects our work, and vice versa, yet our system of work has always driven people to develop multiple personas!

Women have felt this acutely for generations with the vast bulk of family responsibilities falling on them. And many believe that hasn’t changed much. It’s actually a good example of what we mean by making work authentically human – recognising that these differing personas are completely manufactured, and exploring why entrusting personal flexibility is a positive step for so many reasons.

It’s refreshing that we are starting to talk about encouraging people at work to be their ‘whole selves’, although the level of action is nowhere near the rhetoric yet.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Without doubt, playing a part in creating a new family that orbits around two awesome girls, aged 12 and 9.  Like so many hopeful parents, our path to parenthood was long, volatile and at times quite doubtful. Having daughters made me grow up, sit up and pay attention to the world around me, and they provide me with my professional north star.  

Professionally speaking – I think its been finding the courage to walk away from a well paid and safe career to embark on something pioneering with a social mission at its core. We’re very optimistic about the future and the value we bring to accelerating positive change in the business world. Bringing together a collection of world class experts who are independently making the business world healthier, which we call our Tribe, has been a real highlight so far.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

An unwavering sense of curiosity and a willingness to actively listen to other people’s stories.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

My past experience as a corporate mentee was mixed. It was most positive when I naturally found people at different stages in my career who had a genuine interest in helping me develop, and that I felt I could learn from. When it happened through formal mentoring programs I’d say I found it perhaps moderately useful.

Today I mentor several people, mostly through the amazing On Purpose career transition program, and I love it. They are the leaders of tomorrow, and the first thing I say in our initial meeting is that this relationship is as much about them mentoring me as me mentoring them. I get as much from it as they do, and I find that’s key to a successful mentor relationship.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

I think the biggest opportunity is to elevate the diversity and inclusion narrative from being something that’s fundamentally identity focused (i.e. race, gender, sex, age, etc) to one that emphasises the undeniable benefits that everyone gains by embracing diverse perspectives.

So much emphasis is placed on quantification that the driving reasons and benefits of diversity and inclusion are easily lost. The danger of this is that those in power today invariably just hear about things being taken away from them – e.g. jobs, opportunities, wealth – which drives inertia or obstruction. I think this has much to do with why macro level progress is so slow.

I strongly believe leaders achieve greater cultural value and energy when they actively promote different perspectives and experiences. Diverse thinking is the basis for true creativity and innovation. I’d recommend Matthew Syed’s excellent book Rebel Ideas for anyone keen to explore this further.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

For centuries our most powerful organisations, whether public or private, were conceived and evolved around a deeply masculine way of thinking and seeing the world.  As a man I’ve definitely benefited from that, even if I may not have realised it for a long time. There have been many great human advancements of course, but too often they have come at huge social and environmental costs. It’s now very clear to me and many people that this massive gender bias has been a major factor.

We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to following generations, to properly address the gender imbalance. To me this starts with a more intentional balance of feminine and masculine thinking. I stress the word balance here as we need a blend, its not about swinging the gender pendulum to another extreme.

An ambition for Wading Herons is to work with amazing people and partners bringing innovative approaches to progressive conversations, such as gender equality. Two standout examples are Pihr – the pay equity software company, and Contexis Index – the purpose and culture measurement service. We plan to promote more partners like this who help provide scale for the level of change required.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Stop trying to please your parents and friends, and listen to your own mind/body – if it’s telling you something is not right pay attention! It’s too easy to fall into and become trapped doing something that actually clashes with your own sense of purpose. Sadly its something most of us never recognise, or if we’re lucky we see it much later in our careers!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We are working on making our services highly accessible and immediately relevant.  Our approach and tools help with some of today’s most pressing workplaces challenges such as genuinely connecting with the next generation of talent, adapting to the great resignation, and experiencing effective hybrid working transitions.

As for what we want to achieve in the future, we hope to work with established large companies like Lego and Arup who are actively leaning into societal changes and bringing their people and markets with them. We would also like to work with inspiring young companies like Back Market and Triodos with their strong missions and disruptive mindsets

I hope in my lifetime to see all organisations commit and be fully accountable for any pledges or signals they send about their social or environmental intentions. That wherever a sustainability, ESG, purpose or any other positive impact agenda is being trumpeted, that it emanates from the organisations DNA and not from its marketing department. 

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