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by Josh Williams, 2Y 2019

In mid-April, we celebrated Ally Week at Kellogg, a time when a diverse coalition of Kellogg’s community members join together to host learning events, small group dinners, and more to promote allyship and inclusion at our school. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian, relatively tall, American man, I am quick to recognize the wealth of unearned privileges I have been allotted, and given these characteristics of my identity, I am also eager to advance diversity, inclusion, and justice at Kellogg and beyond. During my two years here, I’ve served on the Diversity & Inclusion Committee and D&I Student Experience Council, written letters to administrators and class papers to encourage the continuation of D&I as an organizational priority, taken courses on managing diverse organizations, and participated at a Pride@Kellogg Faith and Sexuality Hear My Story event. As our school and many other organizations around the world push toward greater equity, diversity, and inclusion, I occasionally sense the need to articulate the importance of why these efforts are so essential. More often than not, it feels that this case needs to be made most frequently to individuals in the dominant majority — in the United States, that means people like me.

With that, here is a bit more about me, and the reasons why I aspire to be an ally and an inclusive leader.

My life in two paragraphs

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and my parents are both retired Methodist ministers. As a kid, I internalized the values of love, service, and community promoted by my faith, and I applied these by trying my best to be a good person. I lived in a mostly white town, had mostly white friends, went to college and joined a mostly white fraternity, then spent two years working at a mostly white consulting firm in Denver, Colorado.

At age 24, my life took a dramatic turn. I made a hard pivot in my career, applied to Teach For America, and moved to New York City to become a teacher. During my six years working as a special education and English teacher, then administrator, at Hyde Leadership Charter School in the South Bronx, I built meaningful relationships with students, families, and colleagues across broad lines of difference, I engaged in conversations about race, privilege, and power in America, I read books about intersectionality and oppression, and I began to find my voice in conversations on justice. At age 30, I returned to the Midwest and came to Kellogg, eager to continue building meaningful relationships and to promoting a culture in which all people belong.

Why I aspire to be an ally and an inclusive leader

To me, there are two primary reasons why everyone, especially emerging business leaders, should be invested and engaged in efforts to advance equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice.

  1. It is a moral imperative.We are members of a human community, each of us with distinct, multifaceted identities, and it is right and just that we should be made to feel that we belong. I would never want to be excluded, undermined, or threatened because of any aspect of my identity, and as such, I would never want anyone else to be excluded, undermined, or threatened because of an aspect of theirs. This is a fairly simple, yet revolutionary idea, and too often, we collectively fail to embrace it. We can do better.
  2. It is a professional imperative.Globalization is accelerating. According to my International Business Strategy course, the size of the global marketplace is approximately $88 trillion dollars per year, yet only $20 trillion of that is attributable to trade, a figure which has grown at 3% annually since World War II. In short, there is plenty of runway for continued globalization, and with technological advancements and reduced barriers to trade, it is almost certain that businesses will continue to cross international borders, and leaders will require multicultural leadership competencies now and into the future. Not only that, but managerial studies conducted by organizations ranging from Scientific American to McKinsey & Company have proven that effectively leveraging diversity within organizations leads to improved performance. In short, to be a highly successful individual in the global economy, emerging leaders must cultivate advanced inclusive leadership skills.

To be clear, the moral argument is what drives me, but the two are not mutually exclusive. By happy coincidence, the just choice and the strategic choice align, yet the road ahead is a way full of difficulties.

Work in progress — where we go from here

A friend of mine and fellow teacher in the Bronx has a tattoo that reads, “Work In Progress,” a testament to the fact that we are each always forming, growing, and becoming. I write aspirationally about my desire to be an ally and an inclusive leader, because I see that I am on a journey. Moving along the Ally Continuum from apathy to awareness to action to advocacy is no simple task, but I believe that if we each commit to love and curiosity, to forging intentional friendships with those who are different from us, and to humbly joining the conversation, learning from mistakes, and improving, we are best positioned to collectively creating diverse, inclusive, successful organizations.

In sum, I aspire to be an ally and an inclusive leader because I love and respect each of us. Moreover, I aspire to be an ally and an inclusive leader because I hope to be successful in an increasingly interconnected world. Finally, I know that the road to diversity, inclusion, and justice is not easy, it will be riddled with error, challenge, and immense discomfort, but it is the right path, and I believe that true leaders embrace the fact that often the best course of action may be the most difficult.

We can do it.