The Includers: The Traits of Culturally Savvy, Anti-Racist Leaders

by Colette A.M. Phillips

Advice for white male leaders who want to be DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) allies. And also an argument for this approach:

If we want to end systemic racism, it’s going to take white men. Why? Because they hold that power.

p. 8

Phillips is not wrong. It is a lot easier to walk through open doors than break them down, and white men are still guarding most of the doors to American businesses.

And yet there is an elephant in the room: there are still too many white men leading businesses (and in other positions of power). Even if things are improving, white men are still heavily overrepresented in leadership positions. This elephant seems quite comfortable in this room.

Phillips gets so close to pointing this out in the later chapters of the book:

Your company can’t say it cares about diversity and inclusion and have a white, male CEO and an all-white board of directors advising your CEO.

p. 140

But then she waters it down with an example that suggests a solution: put a chief diversity officer (preferably someone who is “diverse” themselves, I assume) on the board. And come on, how many companies have a solitary person of color on their board, and that person is the DEI officer?

If the problem we’re trying to solve is too many white male leaders (it is), the solution has to be fewer white male leaders, not more white male leaders starting DEI initiatives to address systemic racism. I think if you are a white man who really wants to be an ally, maybe the best thing you can do is make room at the top for someone else by stepping aside and playing a supporting role.

Phillips almost says as much, later on:

[W]hite allies … are accomplices and advocates who, in solidarity, are willing to “lead from behind” …

p. 200

Leading from behind is pretty hard to do when you’re the one in charge, but Phillips won’t come right out and say that.

Yes, I’m being cynical while Phillips is being pragmatic. I am a white man criticizing a Black woman leader’s detailed proposal for moving the needle on racism. And probably not being entirely fair to her. I am complaining because I want to skip the marathon and teleport straight to the finish line. Phillips is actually running the race, doing the hard work, and as far as I can tell she is actually moving the needle on increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Boston business world.

Ugh, I sound exactly like Summerfeld’s white liberal (man).

So is it a good book? Part of me wants to dismiss it as just another thought leader’s fluffy business book. But if I’m struggling this much with this book—and I am definitely in the target reader demographic—I guess maybe it has been pretty effective at getting me to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion in some different ways. I guess if you are a white man in a leadership role, it’s probably worth a read.