The Journey To True Inclusion: What’s A Good Leader To Do When Facing Hot Button Issues

Let’s be clear—you can’t be a 21st-century leader if you aren’t tackling the systemic issues that limit true inclusion.

Case in point: SB8, the Texas abortion law that creates a new enforcement structure allowing private citizens to bring a civil lawsuit against individuals who assist women in their efforts to secure an abortion. This not only includes doctors who conduct abortions but can also include the admin who works at the local Planned Parenthood (where, on average, only 3% of services are abortion-related), the Lyft driver who takes a woman to an abortion clinic, or the friend who holds the hand of a woman getting an abortion. In other words, anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, this is a threat to our democracy. Fifteen states are considering introducing a copycat law to limit abortion access in their states. Still, others are using the law as a model to curb what teachers can teach and to restrict which bathrooms transgender students can use. It doesn’t take much to envision how states might use this type of “vigilante justice” to increase voter suppression, ferret out the undocumented, or subvert racial justice efforts.

It feels as if every woman I know is up in arms over SB8—for some, it is the issue of choice; for others, it is the concern over the chipping away at our democracy. For all it is the ongoing divisions that harm this nation and undermine the rights of our citizens.

But amongst the vast majority of men I speak with, SB8 isn’t even on their radar.

When I ask the good men I know how they can view themselves as true allies if they are ignoring the biggest challenge to women’s rights in the past decade, they tell me they don’t know.

The good news is some leaders do know:

  • Salesforce offered to relocate any of its employees living in Texas who were concerned about access to reproductive health care;
  • Lyft and Uber have committed to pay the legal fees of any of their drivers accused of aiding and abetting a woman trying to get an abortion;
  • OKCupid went so far as to change its product design to include an “I’m Pro-Choice” button on its dating app.

And 55 companies just signed a “Don’t Ban Equality” statement which addresses the financial implications of the law to their businesses. The statement reads: “It impairs our ability to build diverse and inclusive workforce pipelines, recruit top talent across states, and protect the well-being of all the people who keep our businesses thriving day in and out.”

I am NOT advocating that leaders must be pro-choice. I am advocating that a true ally understands he can no longer stay on the sidelines when it comes to hot button issues.

Whether it is the insurrection against our U.S. Capitol, or the drive for racial justice, or the manipulation of our legal system to limit our freedoms, today’s leaders can no longer convince themselves that the demands of business are separate from the day-to-day realities of our lives.

As one man shared in our recent 21st Century Leadership Lab for male leaders, “I finally understand my silence supports the status quo and if I want to be a true ally, I have to speak up and act.” Yes!

So, what’s a good leader to do?

It starts with your “why.” Be real with yourself and ask these questions:

  • “Do I really want to make a change, or are my intentions more performative—an effort to quell the demands of an insubordinate employee base or pressure from external stakeholders?
  • Why do I want to be an inclusive leader?
  • Who do I want to make change for?
  • How can I use the power I have to make an intentional impact for others?”

Once you get clear on your “why,” the rest becomes obvious.

As Marc Benioff wrote in his book, Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change The most important thing leaders can do to promote equality is to open themselves up, take an honest inventory, listen to people, and never be too proud or defensive to make corrections.”



Lisen Stromberg

Lisen Stromberg is the CEO and founder of PrismWork and a 2GO Advisory Group consultant. She is a workplace culture innovation and leadership expert who works with clients to help them build next-in-class 21st century cultures with the future-forward leaders their company needs to succeed. As an award-winning independent journalist, her work can be found in The New York Times, Fortune, Newsweek, and other top media outlets. Her book, Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career, reveals how trailblazing women disrupted the traditional career paradigm to achieve their personal and professional goals and how forward-thinking companies create workplaces that enable women to thrive.

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