Today more than ever, we need business leaders who assert their commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the community.
Researchers at Harvard Business School and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business have documented an emerging trend of CEO activism. This activism is propelled by the nation’s increasing political polarization and the expectations of millennial employees, who want their leaders to lead successfully in business while promoting company values externally. Millennials yearn for authenticity and refuse to check their values at the doors of their organization. When company values such as diversity and equality are transgressed in the larger society, they expect their leaders to step up and uphold these values in the community.
Courage as a Trait of Inclusive Leaders
What are the traits inclusive leaders must have to lead successfully in today’s environment? Deloitte Australia undertook a study to identify six signature traits of inclusive leaders. Drawing from the experience of best-in-class leaders in diverse sectors across the world and subject-matter experts, the study identified courage as one of these signature traits. A highly inclusive leader is committed to lead with courage by speaking up and challenging the status quo while recognizing his or her personal limitations.
As a leadership trait, I find courage serves as an anchor to ground leaders in going beyond the old conventional wisdom of staying neutral on social or political issues. Today, we are experiencing moments that challenge leaders at all levels. Moments where courage is a most important trait, from my perspective, as we must speak up and challenge conditions that endanger inclusion in our workplaces and communities.
Leading with Courage
Amidst events that have shocked and impacted the nation, we see clear examples of courageous leadership across industries. In 2017, Gregory L. Fenves, president of the University of Texas at Austin, made a public statement regarding his decision to remove and relocate confederate statues after the events in Charlottesville. “The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history,” he said. “But our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university’s core values, the values of our state and the enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres.”
The same year, after the president’s decision to end DACA, more than 400 business leaders signed an open letter urging the president and Congress to protect Dreamers. Among them were the CEOs of Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Best Buy, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase. As Tim Cook, CEO at Apple tweeted, “250 of my Apple coworkers are #Dreamers. I stand with them. They deserve our respect as equals and a solution rooted in American values.”
CEOs are now wading into controversial issues. In 2016, PayPal’s CEO Dan Schulman took a stand against North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill by pulling the company’s plans for a global operations center that would have employed 400 in Charlotte. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, Schulman said that “with the passage of the bill, it really goes against the values of our company and we just couldn’t proceed forward.” Other companies with operations in Charlotte also expressed opposition to the bill including Bank of America and American Airlines.
Most recently, twelve CEOs of major companies spoke out against the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policy, which has resulted in the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their parents. Money reported that CEOs from Google, Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Chobani, and Cisco condemned the policy as “heartless, cruel, and immoral.”
In all these instances of courageous leadership, there is one common thread that supports the leader’s action – alignment with core values of the organization and our nation. We see leaders as the linchpin for inclusion at all levels, including the larger society. With courage, business leaders today are taking personal risk to raise their voice involving social issues that affect us all and providing a venue to resolve these issues.
Well said, Cecilia!
I applaud these inclusive leaders for taking a stand. This is a great showing of their commitment. However, to move the needle to becoming a more inclusive society at large everyone should play a part to be more inclusive in some way. With inclusion comes opportunity to learn, trust, and grow.
Thank you for your comment, Deborah. I agree we all should play a part in creating a more inclusive society. Inclusion starts with each one of us, with being aware of our own unconscious bias and disrupting it when we see it in our home, workplace and community.
I came across your piece while searching for ways to educate myself on driving diversity and inclusion within my organization that supports addressing the challenges happening in our communities (both nationally and globally). What you have written is all the more important today. With the brutal death of George Floyd played out for the world to see and citizens speaking out against police brutality and injustice in the black community, being a courageous leader in any organization is not an option. Thank you for the piece and helping me as a leader sort through my thoughts of how to respond and lead with courage.
Hello Cassandra, I am glad this article resonated with you. I agree that courageous leadership is a must today more than ever. Leaders today need to commit to racial justice in the larger society and their organizations.
The National Diversity Council recently launched a new effort, the Coalition for Racial Justice & Equity: http://ncrje.org/about/. In the coming weeks, we will announce an Antiracism Pledge for CEOs to engage leaders across the US in this effort.
Hi Dr. Orellana-Rojas,
I am very interested learning more from you about diversity and inclusion. I am trying to organize a series of webinar’s for my non profit organization that I am the President of and provide direction at my place of work that is in need of a D&I team. I have submitted information to try and be a part of my local San Antonio, Texas chapter, but I have not heard any thing back from them. I am a paid member and would really like to find out how I can book you or other speakers to talk about the ways to provide D&I in the workplace and how to put together a D&I team at my place of work.
TexTESOL II President
A great point of the view Cecilia !!!! It is very useful to demonstrate specifically speaking how we can develop behavior and traits to change. I am going to start sharing on my network some pills of the experience from NDC in order to prepare a fertile field for future initiatives. Thank you !!
I still look forward to partnering in the near future!
This is a great article Cecilia. Clear on the need and expectation of leadership and profound in the explanation of communication and courage. I agree with everything you’ve said and champion this perspective.
My concern: Leader authenticity and the dire consequence of not providing committed behavioral change to their courageous words.
Continue the great work Cecilia!! I look forward to connecting!!
Informative and concise