Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

 “Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation.” – Ronald Reagan


When my children started school on July 31st, I was reminded of the stark contrasts between generations.  K-12 schools are different. Colleges and universities are different. And workplaces are different. I often tell my children, “I remember when…”, and then they have to spend the next 25 minutes listening to a story about how things are different today.

Usually, we compare our generation gloriously in contrast to the negativities of the current or previous generation. And we reminisce in a way that may stymie constructive change and innovation. Think about what’s going on in Congress right now. There are some people who serve as obstructionists just for the sake of keeping Capitol Hill in deadlock. Their inability to advance, or progress, illustrates how holding on to the past can derail the future. Now let’s compare a different example of constructive change.

My 16-year old daughter has to take a child development class this year. She told me that students would have to take care of a baby doll with a nanny cam feature so the instructor could make sure that the children are being responsible. At first I began to object, while reminiscing about how parents used to be responsible for teaching children about pre-marital sex and childrearing and more—but then I remembered the teenage pregnancy epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s. I don’t know if it was a lack of information from the parents or if it could be attributed to a lack of supervision or if it was a combination of the two—but the ball was dropped somewhere in Generation X.

Today, however, more children are learning—even if they are learning through the schools. Teenage pregnancy indeed has decreased significantly. In fact, the rate of teenagers becoming mothers has declined so rapidly, that according to a 2012 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were fewer teenage mothers in 2010 than in any year since 1946. The average teen birth rate decreased 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching an all-time low for women aged 15 to 19. That’s a 44 percent drop from 1991 to 2010.

I used this illustration to help you think about doing things differently, and not complaining about it. While we may have been at the company for 10 years, or worked with the last great CEO, or oversaw the development of a new program several years ago, what are you doing today to embrace innovation?

Innovation generally refers to renewing, changing or creating more effective processes, products or ways of doing things. Being innovative does not mean inventing; innovation can mean changing your business model and adapting to changes in your environment to deliver better products/services (or to help others embrace diversity and inclusion).

Following are some common themes for innovation:

1. Conduct an analysis of the current environment for generational collaboration. Also, evaluate how managers respond to different generations. 

2. Connect with employees and customers/students from different generations to develop ideas for improving processes, products and services.  Be open to new ideas and adaptive to change.

3. Train and empower multiple generations to think innovatively from the top down. Inspirational leadership and motivation is what drives change in organizations.

Finally, keep in mind that innovation is the key to competitive advantage for your organization. It can also help diversity and inclusion run more smoothly. Don’t dig your heels in because you remember when…



By Leah Smiley


Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, a professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information, log onto:

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