Last week, I was invited to a diversity and inclusion boot camp. As I read the details, I wondered, “Is it better to teach leaders inclusion or to hire leaders inclusively?”

According to Deloitte, the global trends shaping us today are diversity of markets, customers, ideas and talents. So it’s no surprise that inclusive leadership — treating everyone like they belong — is in high demand. Research also shows inclusiveness directly enhances performance.

Every week, I read articles about what those inclusive leadership skills are. Curiosity. Collaboration. Cognizance. Courage. Commitment. Cultural intelligence. And every time I am struck by the realization that I’m more of a leader than I thought.  

As a brown woman in journalism, I’ve faced challenges in the newsroom. These experiences gave me an understanding of what it meant to belong and how to adapt and connect with others. And I’m not the only one. Statistics show the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs are white males, telling us where the untapped talent lies.

Having diversity in leadership can impact how decisions are made and trickle down to the rest of the organization. Here are three ways to flip the leadership narrative.

Change the definition. How we look has as impact on how we’re perceived as leaders. When height, voice, dress and handshakes are used as superficial markers of leadership, our success has already been decided. If your top tier is homogeneous, then your company is overlooking the full spectrum of leadership. Take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, who was waiting tables and is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Or Arlan Hamilton, who was homeless and then founded a venture capital fund. Both women’s experiences informed their leadership.


Hire differently. When only 2% of job applicants make it to the interview, we must be vigilant about hiring not only for years of experience, but a matrix of unique experiences. Women are often told to be more aggressive in response to reported differences in how men and women apply for jobs. But maternal walls, pay inequities and other discriminatory practices can create workplaces that are structurally hostile to people at the margins.

It would make sense, then, to look for leaders who developed their skills outside the workplace — places such as networking events, within communities and through organizations that work with people with disabilities, women of color and older people.

Develop effectively. A leader is just a title unless they are set up for success. First comes hiring, then comes development through leadership cohorts and stretch projects. Inclusive leaders also need resources and respect to create organizational change.

It also means sharing power. Leaders need outlets to be published in, panel discussions to talk at and opportunities to promote their work, in conversations not driven by tokenism.

Right now, diversity and inclusion is trending. But what happens when it’s not? What will remain are those of us who were committed yesterday, today and tomorrow because our life lessons are ones we can never detach ourselves from.

Change comes from the top, but then we need to change who’s at the top. From this will follow the role models and mentors who can create real inclusion.