3 steps to chart a course towards inclusion

With our systems and infrastructure failing multiple facets of our societies, work to promote diversity and inclusion has never been more important. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

With our systems and infrastructure failing multiple facets of our societies, work to promote diversity and inclusion has never been more important. Image: Clay Banks on Unsplash

Mariah Levin
Executive Director, beVisioneers: The Mercedes Benz Fellowship
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  • With our systems and infrastructure failing multiple facets of our societies, work to promote diversity and inclusion has never been more important.
  • A more assertive course of action to advance diversity and inclusion focuses on efforts by the Forum of Young Global Leaders to strategize, upskill and report.
  • We will re-examine our process for identifying and selecting YGLs to ensure it is one that helps inspire and open doors for new generations of leaders from diverse backgrounds.

When I was 14, I spent Take your Daughter to Work Day doing home visits with my dad, a medical social worker. At one crumbling low-rise in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we walked up urine-soaked stairs and reached a third-floor apartment where plastic wrap covered windows in place of glass and rat faeces marked the floor. Rodrigo, the apartment’s occupant, was gracious and skeletal. Living without a functioning radiator on a blustery April day, he had full blown AIDS.

Just as HIV/AIDS disproportionately impacted Brooklyn’s communities of colour in the 1990s, the COVID-19 pandemic has Black and Hispanic populations suffering up to six times more fatalities. It has not only highlighted the insidious consequences of racial discrimination; social distancing and protective policies have also severely affected individuals with disabilities. As schools remain shut, millions of women have had to leave the workforce. Those who were climbing out of economic precarity over the last decade have plunged back into it, as 30 years’ progress on ending global poverty stalls.

Have you read?

With our systems and infrastructure failing multiple facets of our societies, work to promote diversity and inclusion has never been more important. Research on the economic benefits of inclusive policies in the workplace abounds. Social awakenings across countries have spurred pivotal policy responses. Injustice documented on social media has escalated action against the vile outcomes of prejudice. Now is the time for renewed commitment and energy.

Diversifying leadership

Foundations like mine, the Forum of Young Global Leaders, were established to champion diversity and broaden leadership demographics. Each year, we identify and celebrate a remarkable pool of leaders under 40 who represent different communities, backgrounds, regions, issues, sectors and industries. These individuals’ diversity and accomplishment inspire hope; their examples shift our mental images of who and what comprises leadership. For many years, a diverse cohort of Young Global Leaders has been our contribution to diversifying leadership.

But, over the past year, we have understood that the change the world needs and we want to realize requires more than celebrating diversity in leadership. With the help and guidance of impassioned and insightful YGL community members, we are undertaking a more assertive course of action to advance diversity and inclusion. We have much to learn and are not a team of experts. Our approach to strategize, upskill and report on our actions follows a spirit of continuous exchange and learning.

1. Strategize: We have co-created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Roadmap

Inclusion is at the core of the YGL mission; we bring a diverse community of responsible leaders together, across borders and sectors, to accelerate a more inclusive and sustainable future. Our community is comprised of 1,400 highly diverse individuals from around the world. However, we have learned that inviting diverse individuals to engage with us is not the same as curating environments and spaces that enable broad and equal participation.

Drawing from discussions at our virtual Young Global Leaders Annual Summit, we began collaborating with a community task force specifically put together to build a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy addressing governance, programming and other activities. With this group’s guidance, our Diversity Equity and Inclusion Roadmap identifies a collaborative path to proactively advance our ambition to support more representative leadership. It is a starting point for learning and action with our YGL Advisory Group, interested parties within the community more broadly, and other teams across the World Economic Forum. We are certain of blind spots in our own thinking, and we seek to overcome them through collective intelligence and experience.

2. Upskill: We are bolstering leadership skills to end systemic discrimination

In approaching the post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery, leaders are being asked by their stakeholders – employees, customers, boards and citizens alike – about the role they will play in devising a more equitable and inclusive social contract. It is our conviction that responsible leaders must actively construct a fairer world, and we are making it our job to support them in conceiving a concrete “to do” list.

In partnership with the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, our team is designing a bespoke education module on Leading for Racial Equity. The course will provide our YGLs with the knowledge and tools to drive meaningful change within their organizations, with the potential to affect hundreds of thousands of employees and accelerate greater inclusion across sectors. Exchanging with experts and peers, we are creating space for our community to explore race, bias, identity, systemic inequality and their leadership contributions in achieving greater equity.

3. Report: We are encouraging our community members to keep us accountable

We firmly believe that our efforts to instil and advance a more concerted diversity, equity and inclusion agenda are critical; we also know that working towards ambitious and meaningful objectives requires accountability. As we look to maintain regular progress on this issue, we have incorporated experts on mental health, gender, race, disability and indigenous rights into this year’s 2021 class. We hope they, amongst our many other YGLs passionate about advancing equality, will raise our ambitions on diversity and inclusion as a community.

As our primary accountability partners in achieving a more sustainable and inclusive world, YGLs will meet monthly to inform and adjust the path our foundation undertakes. Over the course of this upcoming year, we will also re-examine our process for identifying YGLs to ensure it is one that helps inspire and open doors for new generations of leaders from diverse backgrounds and life experiences to thrive.


What is a YGL?

When I walked into Rodrigo’s apartment 30 years ago, it was difficult to believe his reality co-existed with mine in the world’s wealthiest nation. Today, it is difficult to believe how we have enabled such systemic inequality to persist. It is time for each one of us to act, however we can. Our incremental changes may feel inadequate. There may be missteps along the way. But we cannot allow systemic injustice to endure another three decades.

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