Small Giants Community

Chief Storyteller | Small Giants Community

May 21, 2021

Ask, Listen, Believe: Inclusion is the Responsibility of Leadership

Struggling to talk about race and identity in the workplace? You're not alone. But avoiding these topics in the workplace can harm your company culture, business outcomes, and ultimately your team members. 

Like it or not, people bring their whole selves to work. You can't check current events, cultural context, and social identity at the door (even on Zoom!), and it's every leader's responsibility to care for team members in the totality of their lives.

At a recent Small Giants Virtual Roundtable, we facilitated an open discussion among purpose-driven leaders about how to build more racially diverse, equitable and inclusive organizations. So many great ideas and tips were shared that we wanted to make sure even those who didn't attend could learn from the discussion. In this recap, you'll learn how to: 

  • Create a safe space for conversation in the workplace and how to broach the topic
  • Start a book club with your team members and which books the experts recommend
  • Build your cultural competency and begin to empower your team members to take action

Watch the roundtable recording below and read on for the top takeaways from our discussion that you can take back to your organization right away.



Experts on the Call
  • Jes Osrow is Co-Founder of The Rise Journey, an HR, DE&I, and Organizational Development Consulting firm. She is also Head of Learning and Development at Quartet Health
  • Michele Lewis Watts, Ph.D. is Chief Equity Officer at Woods & Watts Effect & Director and Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Madonna University
  • Sommer Woods is Chief Inclusion Officer at Woods & Watts Effect, a team of transformation engineers. Woods & Watts adeptly designs programs that assess your company’s strengths and areas for improvement relative to inclusion and social equity and provide viable solutions.

Resources At-A-Glance
Full event notes and resources 
The Rise Journey
Watts & Woods Effect
Want a More Inclusive Organization? Start with Building Community
Is Hiring for Culture Fit Perpetuating Bias?
Intercultural Competency Tool / Assessment
Visions of Equity from Time Magazine 
Anti-Racism Library from

Book Club Recommendations
"White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo
"So You Want to Talk About Race?" By Ijeoma Oluo
"Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions" by Tiffani Jana and Michael Baran
“We Wear the Mask” Paul Laurence Dunbar

Not Just Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces

Submitted Challenge:

We have a very diverse workforce that was built organically, not intentionally.  How do we make it safe to have conversations in the workplace so that we understand the perspectives of people of color?


How to Create a Safe Space:

  • Admit what you don't know — you don't have all the answers.

  • You don't have to have all the answers, but you are expected to know when you have a blind spot and it's time to bring someone in to support the conversation.

  • Self-reflect and assess: are you already having tough conversations with your team? In truly welcoming and inviting environments, you're already having tough conversations that prompt growth (think open conversations about finance or mental health).

  • When you take the right approach, tension is where growth happens.

  • Create a safe word for your group to use during tough conversations to indicate they are no longer feeling safe or comfortable participating (pick a fun word like 'pineapple' to cut tension).

  • Be consistent. Are you having these conversations daily? Weekly? Is it part of your all-company meetings?

Having Conversations:

  • Once you have a safe space, book clubs are a good catalyst for conversation. See Resources At A Glance at the top of the page for facilitator recommendations.

  • Books about social identity give your group a framework to talk about tangible topics and begin to dive into their own personal experiences and share.

  • Conversations about identity also build allyship in your organization by showing employees they are not alone in their experiences and building empathy with others.

  • Know when it's not your place to lead the conversation. Bring in subject-matter experts or open the floor for employee-led conversations.

  • Aim for not just a safe space, but an empowered space. In empowered spaces, team members can bring up these topics of conversation, not just leaders.

Ask, Listen, Believe

Submitted Challenge:

I certainly understand the need for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. But to be honest, before the events of the last year, this topic never really came up.   Where do we start?


Build Your Cultural Competency: 

  • You don't know what you don't know. Use the Intercultural Development Inventory tool (IDI) to assess your own cultural competency and where you stand. 

  • Understand the idea of intersectionality and that people are bringing a diversity of experiences, perspectives and identities to the table. The term 'diversity' is often a word we use to hide behind the things we don't want to talk about.

  • What are you doing personally to expose yourself to things you don't understand? Be proactive and take the initiative to research and experience other cultures, attend cultural events, watch documentaries and build your cultural competency. You'll start to move differently in the world and the workplace when you do.

  • Have the team engage in new experiences together. Get out of your comfort zone and do activities that will prompt new conversations – from escape rooms to sports to cultural excursions and see what comes out of it. Remember to consider accessibility and past traumas when picking out an activity.

Ask, Listen, Believe:

  • Believe people when they tell you their experiences. Especially if you're asking, your role is simple: ask, listen, and believe. 

  • Allow people of color and people of other marginalized identities to lead the conversation (women, LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants, and others) and be an ally by listening to their experiences.

  • Own up to the conversation. If it doesn't go well, say so! It can take several tries to get tough conversations right, and it's important to admit, "We may not have been the best in this space."

  • Allow people to show up unapologetically as themselves. Ensure your company culture is one where people can dress, speak, express themselves and move as they do in their day-to-day lives. Hiring for 'culture fit' often leads to a homogenous organization. 

  • Give people a platform. Celebrate events like Pride Month, Black History Month, and other important national cultural events and invite employees to join in, tell their stories, host activities, and lead the conversation. 

  • Institute Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or affinity groups to bring together employees with similar backgrounds or interests. ERGs can have a powerful influence in the workplace.

Meaningful change takes time – inclusive, equitable organizations don't happen overnight. When you enroll yourself or an emerging leader on your team in the Small Giants Leadership Academy, you'll spend the year learning to master the the topics that matter most to purpose-driven leaders, from DE&I to training and development and giving and receiving effective feedback.


Enrollment is now open for the Small Giants Leadership Academy.

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