Inclusion Isn’t a Product–It’s a Leadership Process

Originally published by the Good Men Project, written by Phil Bohlender

Ask an Ally: My boss, the CEO, doesn’t think “inclusion” is important. He says stuff like, “that’s nice, but it’s not what we do.”

My boss, the CEO, doesn’t think “inclusion” is important. He says stuff like, “that’s nice, but it’s not what we do.” I keep trying to show him that inclusion isn’t a product… it’s a leadership process that good companies do. He wants to “focus on our core strengths and nothing else.” How do I persuade him that inclusion will help us with our core strengths?

When I began my corporate career in 1982, leaders were not having conversations about inclusion. Introducing leaders to training on differences in the workplace was not even a topic of discussion.

I have seen my fair share of resistance on the part of leadership to the introduction of changes into organizations that were meant to bring awareness and acceptance of the diversity that exists.

Resistance to change is inevitable in the workplace when people are seeking consistency. There is no greater challenge to change than leaders who are unwilling to make progress with new ways of thinking and more importantly, new ways of acting.

I found that the irony of resistance, more often, has a far more detrimental impact on business than the proposed change.

I have closely followed one trend in business for many years, the impact of closed-minded leaders on introducing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into the workplace.

The research and studies have shown unequivocally that companies that accept and implement programs, policies, and programs focused on DE&I are far more likely to have an engaged workforce, create more innovative products and solutions, and attract top-tier talent and retain them.

I hold tightly to the belief that leaders have a responsibility to develop their unique style which must be guided by a set of core principles and values.

Inclusive leadership is typically based on a set of principles that include being sensitive, empowering, and mindful.

The behaviors associated with each of these characteristics are skills-based which means anyone can do it if and when they put their minds to it.

As an Inclusive Leader, throughout my career, I have focused on Building Skills, Developing Strengths, and Being Supportive.

1. Building Skills: Inclusive Leadership requires individuals to focus on building skills that include accepting people, involving people, and empowering people.

2. Developing Strengths: Leaders who leverage their strengths are more confident, competent, and courageous when working with a diverse group of people.

3. Being Supportive: Inclusive Leadership has at its core the drive to advocate for the people who would otherwise be overlooked.


The business case and the benefits for introducing and implementing Inclusive Leadership to any organization are readily found in the business impacts and outcomes.

Inclusive Leadership creates a company culture where customer service satisfaction is consistently measured very high, customer loyalty is demonstrated in repeat customers, and customer sales are reported significantly higher than the competition.

Most companies invest a significant portion of their annual budget in compensating employees.  Compensation is adversely impacted when attrition rates are high and hiring and training new employees is an ongoing pursuit.

Bringing inclusion to the company gives it a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top-tier talent.

I want to loop back to the notion of resistance to change, organizations that are committed to introducing and implementing inclusion must have a cadre of champions who are willing to step out into the scary place of staking a claim for it.

Some resistance in the initial stages of introducing and implementing an Inclusive Leadership style and culture is beneficial to make sure that everything has been thoroughly thought through and people feel like they were included in building the new ‘scary’ thing.

Leaders can learn by taking on new knowledge or by experiencing a situation that shifts their mindset. I find the latter is the one that creates the most significant change that lasts for the long term.

I will share three tactics that have worked for me when encountering leaders who were resistant to Inclusion in the workplace.

Introduce the need for inclusion based on something measurable. It might be the need to increase sales in an untapped market, the need to attract niche skilled talent, the need to reduce hiring and training costs, or the need to innovate new products and services. Make the business case based on potential positive impacts on the financial position of the company.

Create a situation for leaders to experience the negative feelings and emotions associated with being excluded. Intentionally leave off an invitation to a meeting for the leader and see how he or she reacts or responds to being left out. Even the most stoic leaders have feelings and when they are hurt, they are likely to speak out about them. It is when they speak up, that some of the best conversations take place.

Invest in the leader who is struggling to accept inclusion in the workplace when and if, he or she is willing to learn the importance and value of it on the business and its culture. There is a  list of renowned programs that specifically focus on supporting leaders as they learn new ways of doing things while updating their leadership style. A coach is another great way to invest in leaders who need that extra support to move from resisting to championing Inclusion.

Companies of all sizes across the globe with leaders of varying degrees of experience and proficiency are finding the value in creating an inclusive workplace.

I think in the end, it is the responsibility of any company to do what is in the best interest of its employees, customers, and shareholders which means that some decisions might be driven harder than others when so much is at stake.

It is inevitable with the younger generations taking on more prominent roles in leadership that Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging will not only be talked about in business meetings but also drive developing strategic goals.


Originally published by the Good Men Project, written by Phil Bohlender

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