Inclusive Leaders Aren’t Born: Unlearning, Relearning, and Committing to Inclusive Leadership
Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. I am a cisgender, straight, white man. In fact, I’m the only person with this lived experience on our team at Hummingbird Humanity. It is certainly uncommon for me to be the only person with these intersecting identities at a company, but that is why our mission at Hummingbird, to amplify the voices of the unheard, resonates with me. Being the “only one” at a company may be rare to me, but to the folks I work alongside and those we serve, this isn’t a unique experience in their lives or workplaces.
As the company’s first full-time hire, I joined Hummingbird Humanity in June 2021. I was excited and nervous about getting started because the world of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consulting was new to me. While I’ve spent my entire career focused on creating social impact, owned and operated my consulting firm, and tried to be aware of my privilege and position to do good in the world, so much about this next step was new to me. I knew there would be moments of getting it wrong, and I certainly have gotten it wrong over the past 14 months.
One area that has required me to stretch and learn is working closely with team members who identify as trans, non-binary, and/or gender non-conforming. While I try to be mindful, there have been moments where I accidentally misgendered a colleague and quickly apologized–– growing up, I didn’t have access to language or an understanding that allowed me to fully comprehend that gender and sexuality runs on a spectrum.
Another area where I am constantly unlearning is the conditioning I experienced early in my career, participating in and benefitting from companies that center white supremacy in their company culture. As one of the older members of the Hummingbird team, at age 44, I am also aware of how my background, experiences, and professional career have led to a series of beliefs and behaviors that show up in how I approach the work we do and how I lead. This is why I always appreciate my colleague, JD Valladares-Williams, our internal authority of all things content development and research, for always bringing to light new information and data related to the impact on human-centered cultures at work.
A pillar of white supremacy is a sense of urgency. I struggle with time (and other things at times). Time is important to me, and sometimes I can create a sense of urgency that is unfair or unhelpful. I often find myself making excuses for myself (but time is important!), but one point often presented in the research is to slow down enough to ensure you are being inclusive and fair in your approach to how you partner and collaborate as a team.
I love Brian’s list of ways he approaches being an inclusive leader: Curiosity, inviting feedback, acknowledging experiences, accountability, and seeking guidance. However, I’d like to add some additional points that have helped me throughout my career and during my time learning and growing with Hummingbird.
Humility: I can’t stress enough how important it is to approach our work as leaders with humility. We will absolutely get it wrong and often do. However, if there is one thing I believe I do well as a leader, it is to admit when I am wrong, apologize, and work to learn from my mistakes and get it right. I certainly appreciate this characteristic in Brian, as he alluded to in his blog, and the human-centered culture we work to build at Hummingbird. Remember, being vulnerable and talking about our weaknesses or areas we can improve on as leaders is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Awareness: This can and does look like many things. Awareness of my own bias. Awareness of the differences of others. Awareness of how my beliefs and decisions impact my colleagues or clients. Awareness of the systems in which we operate and how that impacts our team. Being mindful of how we interact with each other, our clients, and our partners matters. Without this awareness, we can’t proactively work to do better, be better, and change the systems we operate or the interpersonal relationships we engage in daily.
If you are reading this, you are a leader who desires to consider a different approach or perspective. That can be hard. It can be uncomfortable to feel like we get it wrong, that we can do or say things that negatively affect folks when that isn’t the intent. But I promise the answer isn’t to bury our heads in the sand or pretend that the change we need to make, as individuals or companies, will go away. Trying to protect ourselves from the guilt or shame of getting it wrong won’t help our teams, businesses, or ourselves as we strive to be inclusive leaders.
President & Chief Operating Officer
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Nick Reich brings over fifteen years of experience in innovation, strategy, program development, and collaboration to help companies across a variety of sectors tackle some of society’s biggest opportunities.
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