Fostering Diversity through Leadership

December 16, 2021

Book Review by Taylor Berrett

Formatted like one big, visually pleasing infographic yet packed with valuable insights and information, The Inclusive Leader’s Playbook is an easy-to-use guide for any leader hoping to foster a mindset of inclusion and create a culture of equity in their organization. 

The book’s primary author is Elisa van Dam, head of the Allyship and Inclusion practice for the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership. In this role, van Dam works with organizations and leaders all over the world to help increase their understanding and practice of inclusive leadership behaviors. Her work is always research-based and deeply educational, and she’s translated those traits to the excellent The Inclusive Leader‘s Playbook.

The Three Levels of Inclusive Leadership

According to van Dam, inclusive leaders care about diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and allyship, as well as many other aspects of leadership. Becoming an inclusive leader involves taking action on there levels:

Level 1: Becoming Aware

At this level, we focus on developing an understanding of existing biases, whether they’re conscious or unconscious. For a leader, this should involve examining biases within ourselves as well as those that might exist in our institutions— our companies, organizations, teams, or partnerships. From there, we must recognize the problems inherent in historic systems of privilege and appreciate what can come from dismantling them.

Basically, at this stage our job is to learn and recognize. This can be an uncomfortable period for many leaders, particularly good ones, because it forces them to assess where they may be falling short in ensuring an equitable environment for their teams. But it’s a vital step, and it will help us grow and develop in the long run.

Level 2: Becoming an Ally and Upstander

After the assessment that occurs in level one, it’s time to start taking action. In Level 2, van Dam’s guide outlines the two important next steps— becoming a partner for success and an advocate for belonging.

Partners for success maximize their teams’ successes by ensuring all voices are heard, which in turn assures that you have the full benefit of everyone’s wisdom and experience. This sometimes means noticing when your social identity gives you unearned privilege and amplifying the voices around you who may not have that same level of visibility. Meanwhile, you should help correct any biased or discriminatory behavior you encounter.

By creating a culture of belonging, you’ll help stimulate creativity, innovation, and engagement. Belonging means feeling accepted, secure, and accepted, and people who feel this way at work are more likely to be satisfied and creative in all they do. It’s the opposite of fitting in, which means being like everyone else.

Create an environment where everyone feels appreciated and respected for who they are, and they don’t have to hide aspects of their identity. Create a sense of trust and allow people to take risks and make mistakes without fearing they will be punished. Make sure everyone’s contributions are seen and valued.

Level 3: Becoming a Change Agent

In the final level of van Dam’s structure for becoming more inclusive, we all have the opportunity to strive for an even greater level of inclusiveness. It’s at this point of our development when we seek opportunities to champion someone from an underrepresented group whenever we have the chance. It’s one of the most powerful actions a leader can take to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

The Bottom Line

Just as you have to learn to walk before you can run, you need to have a good understanding of your own biases in order to be an effective upstander and ally. This doesn’t mean you stop doing one action when you move onto the next. Instead, you will be incorporating each new action while continuing to engage in the ones that came before. As a powerful roadmap that will help lead you there, The Inclusive Leader’s Playbook excels.


Taylor Berrett

Taylor Berrett is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and host of the podcast Alone in a Room. His other book reviews can be found here.