This post was submitted as part of Forté’s Inclusive Leadership Blog Series spotlighting a unique course at New York University (Stern School of Business) covering diversity and inclusion and benefiting students. Read more about Forté’s work to reach campuses and men with gender diversity and inclusion efforts.
How many times as a kid were you asked: what do you want to be when you grow up? Perhaps you are still asking yourself that question. But how often were you asked, or have you asked yourself: what kind of person—what kind of leader—do you want to be when you grow up?
That is the question that the class on Inclusive Leadership I am co-teaching with Linda Basch at NYU-Stern is designed to answer.
From the University of Missouri to Yale University, the urgency of addressing this question could not be greater. Doing so starts with admitting that all of us use mental shortcuts (known in the academic literature as unconscious biases), when interacting with people who are different from us—different not only in terms of race, but also age, sexual identity, religion, socio-economic status, physical or intellectual capacities, nationality, ethnicity, and so on.
The question is not whether we notice difference—but what we do with the information. Being aware of our mental shortcuts and crossing the barriers of difference is not easy or comfortable. As Dina Dublon, the former Chief Financial Officer at JPMorganChase, and a current board member of Accenture and PepsiCo, recently said in our class, anyone who is different from the white male norm in corporate America is constantly struggling with the issue of how much to fit in and how much to stand out.
As we are exploring in class, this is not just a question for each of us as individuals; it’s also for our institutions and our leaders. Leadership matters, and it is becoming an increasingly urgent matter for many companies around the world. According to a 2014 survey of over 2,500 business leaders in 94 countries conducted by Deloitte, 86% said that leadership is an important or urgent talent issue facing global companies today.
It is also true that leaders are not born; they are made. They are the product of lots of decisions and choices by both the individual and the institution.
Much work has been done to understand the reasons—both individual and institutional—behind the lack of diversity in leadership across all sectors. But much of the research and the resulting conversations have taken place without fully examining the model of leadership itself.
So, what kind of leader do you want to be? By the end of the semester, our students will have thought deeply about this question…even if they don’t yet have all the answers.
Anne Weisberg co-teaches the Inclusive Leadership Class at NYU Stern. Her post introduces Forté’s Inclusive Leadership Blog Series and will be followed by posts from students of her class that share inclusive leadership lessons.