Lead With Inclusion

It's time to advocate for inclusion

March 27, 2024

I have been engaged in conversations with corporate leaders and DEI practitioners who are challenged with how to move forward with DEI initiatives that were started in 2020 or 2021 but have since lost steam.

When working with corporate leaders I visualize many different frameworks and I think the one that is most applicable here is the one below. While working with Sonya Kaleel, M.S. of The Inclusion Practice, she used a beach metaphor and it resonated with the framework I presented so I modified it.

 

If you’ve read my book, you know that the main framework I operate under is one of awareness, alignment, action and advocacy. However, when you lay it across a beach, you see that ‘awareness’ is on the sand, we have to dip our toes into the water and get in alignment and eventually we need to wade into the deeper water. The deeper water is where the action happens. Those who have participated in my education sessions know that I enjoy having a little fun and I jokingly said to one group that they weren’t even on the beach yet, they were in the parking lot deciding whether or not they wanted to take off their shoes and sink their feet into the sand. While it was humorous in the moment, it was a very accurate representation of their reluctance to be open to the information I was providing.

Right now, to take the comparison one step further, we are dealing with lawmakers who are blocking the entrance to the parking lot. They are so afraid of the information that we are teaching and the facts that create a desire for inclusion and community, that they are doing everything within their power to stop others from being educated.

Whenever a dictator or a group wants to control others, the first thing they limit is access to information. Think of the occasions where access to information has been limited and censure is the norm – North Korea, Nazi Germany, and during the slave trade are just a few examples that come to mind. And while we in the United States like to pride ourselves on being so much better than countries with political oppressors and dictators, we are blind to the atrocities that we have allowed in the past and are once again allowing, right under our noses.

To continue the comparison, people in Nazi Germany could not say or write whatever they wanted. Examples of censorship under the Nazis included:

  • Closing down or taking over anti-Nazi newspapers;
  • Controlling what news appeared in newspapers, on the radio, and in newsreels;
  • Banning and burning books that the Nazis categorized as un-German;
  • Controlling what soldiers wrote home during World War II.

Sound familiar? No? In the past few months in the United States we’ve experienced:

  • Texas state law, now not only banning diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives from public colleges and universities, but they have now prohibited public colleges and universitiesfrom having diversity, equity and inclusion offices.
  • Teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade being prohibited from discussions surrounding sexuality and gender identity and books regarding the subject banned from schools in Florida.
  • Book bans, sweeping the nation with some states going as far as making it a felony for a teacher or publisher to provide “obscene matter” to a public school. “Of course, book publishers and distributors aren’t putting pornography in schools. And it is already a federal crime to distribute obscene materials to minors, rendering these new bills unnecessary, if that were their goal. But these bills aren’t actually about obscene materials. They’re about giving book ban activists another way to advance their broad censorship crusade.”
  • U.S. House Office of Diversity and Inclusion dissolved as of March 25.
  • Republicans in a House Committee meeting describing diversity, equity and inclusion offices as a “cancer”.
  • Congress blaming DEI programs for a rise in antisemitism rather than the handling of the Israel-Hamas war and the way both Palestinian and Jewish students have been assaulted on college campuses.

Though Florida’s legislature has approved measures and bills too numerous to count that ban teaching of facts to schools and within corporations, just a few days ago, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Individual Freedom or “Stop WOKE” Act violates the First Amendment.

Whether you want to Lead With Inclusion or Be An Inclusive Leader, you are eventually going to have to let your opinions be known. And THAT is what many of us are afraid of. We know that what is occurring is wrong and we have hoped we can continue to stay silent and fly under the radar until this all blows over.

I’m grateful that counterpoints to the falsehoods being spread are beginning to take root and want to thank the group of researchers who have provided evidence-based expert responses because while this is currently relegated to institutions of learning, we know that fear and ignorance spreads. We cannot ignore what is happening, just because it isn’t currently happening in our industry.

If your corporate mandate is to stick to the way you’ve always done business while avoiding the needs and requests of your employees, staying silent when voice is needed, I’d like you to remember this writing by Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

Lucky for you, you won’t have to face police dogs, be arrested for your protest, confront a cult leader or even sign a petition. And today, I’m not even asking you to wade into the water . . . yet. Right now, if you want to be an inclusive leader or lead with inclusion, I’m asking you to start with awareness.

If you want to improve DEI initiatives in your workplace, you are going to have to leave the parking lot and wander down to the beach, walk across the sand and get ready to swim. And if the metaphors are too much, let me be direct: I am encouraging you to Be An Inclusive Leader by committing to figuring it out. You have a responsibility to not abandon efforts or use political pressure as an excuse to disband DEI initiatives.

What will it take to move you towards action?

I have been building a space for people to have the open conversations that are needed in a safe space where you can curate community and also share best practices. There is still space to join us for our April cohort.

If you’d like to learn more about our program or have a discussion with me about anything I’ve shared today, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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