3 Ways Leaders Can Foster True Inclusivity in the Workplace

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Jordyn Blythe

I have been engaged in aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion work for a decade – a significant milestone for a 24 year old to hit. My adolescence (as well as that of many other Gen-Zers) was shaped by the social upheaval of the time, and I knew from an incredibly young age that I would not be content with sitting on the sidelines.

As I’ve grown into the work, I’ve seen shifts in the way we talk about DEIAB (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging). What remains true, though, is that there is a high level of transparency required to achieve the goals many organizations have set in their aims to be more inclusive.

Here are three things to keep in mind as you empower your leaders and your organization to create a more inclusive environment: 

1.      Recognize that this work requires us to move beyond buzzwords. 

If you’re holding conversations about inclusion or belonging to check a box or because the terms are popular in corporate discourse, that is not nearly enough. That is the first thing to be transparent about, and frankly, the people you’ve tasked with doing the work will be grateful to know it. 

While doing some inclusive excellence work with my university, there were moments when it became incredibly clear that I cared more about achieving “our” goals than anyone in leadership. I figured that if I worked as hard as possible, I could make them see the importance of what my team was trying to do. This was, of course, a futile effort and I burned myself out in the process. My team didn’t have the support we needed from those making the decisions because they were not ready to move beyond buzzwords to execute, and it was incredibly disheartening.  

Leaders who are committed to cultivating inclusive environments must be transparent with themselves and those they are working with – ask the tough questions:

  • Are we truly ready for this?
  • What does committing to this look like?
  • Where might we be challenged?
  • Where might we excel?

Give yourself an honest answer and then buckle in. 

“This work will challenge us, and the only way to make it to the other side is by taking it one step at a time.” 

2.      Lean in with curiosity and excitement, not fear. 

It felt natural for me, a Black girl, to dive headfirst into diversity work that was largely centered on race and gender. Those conversations were incredibly easy for me because I could identify with the problems and potential solutions almost immediately. It took very little thought to see myself in the dialogue. Focusing on accessibility, though, is a growth area that I am still working on. Not because I don’t care, but because it is more difficult for me to identify with the struggle as an able-bodied, mostly neurotypical person.  

Often, it is harder for us to remember to factor in elements of the identity wheel we don’t relate to. Someone is not hearing-impaired, so ensuring closed captioning on videos doesn’t come to mind. Another person is financially secure, so they don’t consider the implications of holding a work meeting or networking event on a golf course. We might get nervous, then, when we realize we’re missing the mark. 

Instead of shying away from the parts of identity we don’t understand or being too afraid to engage because we’re worried about saying “the wrong thing,” I challenge you to lean in with curiosity and excitement. Do some research and learn from those who are happy to share their experience. Leaders who are not only able to raise their hand when they’re uncertain, but who are also engaged and ready to do the work to learn model that for their teams. This creates environments full of trust that only make learning and application richer. 

“Building great teams and cultivating well-rounded, inclusive cultures requires honesty with yourself and with those you work with.”

3.      Take it one step at a time. The only way out is through. 

This work will challenge us, and the only way to make it to the other side is by taking it one step at a time. Something that makes leaning in with curiosity easier is being able to take a look at ourselves critically and without shame. In Predictive Index training, you’ll often hear our facilitators say, “all PIs are beautiful, it is just data we can learn from.” We should think about our identities similarly. The different parts of our identity inform how we move through the world and how the world treats us. Being able to grapple with that reality can be incredibly uncomfortable.  

I come from an upper-middle-class socioeconomic background, and that intersects uniquely with my gender, race, age, ability, and a host of other factors. It used to be very hard for me to unpack these layers in conjunction with my socioeconomic status because that required me to deeply consider the privilege that money brings. Privilege is another one of those buzzwords that can ruffle some feathers. But once I was able to remove any feelings of shame associated with that part of my identity, I was able to understand myself more fully and engage with others in a more holistic way. 

These hard conversations can span a variety of topics at work, and it is essential that leaders have the skills necessary to facilitate them. Thinking critically about your identity and experiences and being willing to share your story with others are steps to creating more inclusive spaces. It goes a long way for people to see that a variety of identities and backgrounds are not only represented and included, but also that the leaders shaping the culture of an organization are willing to have tough conversations to ensure that stays true. 

Building great teams and cultivating well-rounded, inclusive cultures requires honesty with yourself and with those you work with. Only when we come to the table with an open mind and desire to be transparent are we able to effectively do the work. 


Check out the Social Identity Wheel (referenced above) from the University of Michigan.

Find out how to tame your self-awareness dragon in this informative episode of the Career Dreams podcast.