Arts and Culture

17 books every business leader should read to build an inclusive culture

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One way executives and managers can educate themselves on creating inclusive company cultures is by reading. Image: Unsplash/Susan Q Yin

Marguerite Ward
Senior Strategy Reporter, Business Insider
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LGBTI Inclusion

  • Nationwide protests in 2020 put a spotlight on racial injustice and inequality.
  • Business leaders across the country are having frank conversations about diversity in the workplace.
  • Here are several titles every executive should know about, including "Inclusify" and "The Memo."

Since the summer of 2020, when George Floyd's death shocked the nation, more companies have been promising new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Part of that work includes leading employees in a way that promotes Black and brown voices.

One way executives and managers can educate themselves on creating inclusive company cultures is by reading.

Have you read?

Thankfully, there is no shortage of compelling books in this space. If you're looking for a read that will make you a more effective leader, consider one of these titles.

"Creativity, Inc." by Ed Catmull

Image: Random House

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Studios — the Academy Award-winning studio behind "Coco," "Wall-E," and "Toy Story" — shares his story of creating not just a top Hollywood animation studio, but a culture that encourages everyone to be the most creative and bold they can be.

Catmull shares what he learned from getting Pixar off the ground, sustaining a culture of inclusion over the years, and what he thinks all leaders need to do to get the most out of their direct reports.

"The Fearless Organization," by Amy Edmondson

Image: Wiley

Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School, shares her top learnings from years of research on what separates good companies from great companies. She argues that psychological safety, or the ability to bring all parts of your identity to a space, is the key to business success.

In "Fearless Organization," she outlines how to create an environment of psychological safety to attract, and more importantly, retain high-performing employees.

"The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table," by Minda Harts

Image: Amazon

Author Minda Harts is the CEO of The Memo LLC, a career development platform for women of color and an adjunct assistant professor at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Drawing on her years in the corporate world as a former consultant, Harts gives a first-hand, in-depth look at racism and sexism in the workplace, along with strategies women of color can employ to get the careers they deserve. Just as importantly, the book offers tips for managers and leaders who employ Black women and women of color so they are active allies.

"Success Through Diversity," by Carol Fulp

Image: Beacon Press

Carol Fulp is an adviser to CEOs and senior executives on diversity, inclusion, and culture. In "Success Through Diversity," she shares her top advice on how leaders can hire, retain, and promote more diverse talent. She argues that corporate executives need to switch their thinking from having diversity as a "nice to have" to realizing, in her words, it's "do or die" for business success.

"Inclusify" by Stefanie Johnson

Image: HarperCollins

Management expert Stefanie Johnson describes how employees have two basic desires: to fit into a group and to stand out as individuals. "Inclusify," provides a roadmap for leaders to bring out the best in others by not just embracing differences, but including them in workplace policies, in other words "inclusifying."

"Subtle Acts of Exclusion" by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran

Image: Berrett-Koehler Publishers/Penguin Random House

Sometimes bias comes out in the form of microaggressions, or indirect, often unintentional expressions of racism, sexism, ageism, or ableism. In this useful guide, Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran go through what to avoid saying and how to address microaggressions if you witness or experience them.

"Edge" by Laura Huang

Image: Portfolio/Penguin Random House

Most people think success comes from the absence of obstacles and shortcomings, but Harvard Business School professor Laura Huang has a different theory. In "Edge," Huang argues that success is really about confronting your perceived shortcomings and turning them into assets.

"#MeToo in the Corporate World" by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Image: HarperCollins

The #MeToo movement has changed nearly every industry in the US. Now, it's time for the movement to become more inclusive, economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett argues in her latest work. The book provides context for corporate leaders, reveals new data on sexual harassment in the workplace, and gives advice on how to make environments safer for marginalized people.

"Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring" by Lisa Z. Fain and Lois J. Zachary

Image: Berrett-Koehler Publishers/Penguin Random House

As the US workforce becomes more diverse, more mentors and mentees may come from different backgrounds. So how does one bridge the cultural gap? Authors Lisa Fain and Lois Zachary go through examples to illustrate how to become more aware, understanding, and effective in connecting with others.

"The Power of Disability" by Al Etmanski

Image: Berrett-Koehler Publishers/Penguin Random House

One in four Americans has a disability, yet representation of their stories — especially their stories of success — is largely underrepresented. Al Etmanski, disability activist, community organizer, and author, seeks to change that in "The Power of Disability." His book offers 10 lessons everyone can learn from notable figures with disabilities including Greta Thunberg, Stephen Hawking, and more.

"Breaking the Silence Habit" by Sarah Beaulieu

Image: Berrett-Koehler Publishers/Penguin Random House

In order for work environments to eliminate sexual harassment and respond to it effectively, more employees and leaders are going to have to start having uncomfortable conversations. That's according to Sarah Beaulieu, who works with companies to create safe workplaces. Her book outlines steps leaders can take to make change.

"In the Land of Men" by Adrienne Miller

Image: HarperCollins

At 22, Adrienne Miller got her break in the literary world when she landed an editorial assistant job at GQ. There, she learned how to make it in a man's world. She'd then go on to Esquire as the first female literary editor, where she developed a close friendship with famed literary author David Foster Wallace. "In the Land of Men," is a moving memoir about how a young woman found success in a male-dominated workplace.

"Whistleblower" by Susan Fowler

Image: Viking/Penguin Random House

In 2017, Susan Fowler wrote a blog post detailing the sexual harassment and retaliation she experienced while at Uber. The post went viral and ultimately led to the ousting of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and starting a wave of institutional changes within Silicon Valley tech companies. In the book, Fowler reflects on everything that happened since she went public.

"Able" by Dylan Alcott

Image: Harper Collins

Dylan Alcott is a three-time Paralympic gold medalist, Grand Slam tennis champion, and DJ who wants to change the way the world sees people with disabilities, as well as how people with disabilities see themselves. His inspiring book shows that for any one thing you may not be able to do, there are thousands of other things you can.

"Divergent Mind" by Jenara Nerenberg

Image: Harper Collins

Jenara Nerenberg was shocked to find out that what she thought was anxiety was actually autism and ADHD. In her book, "Divergent Mind," Nerenberg examines why neurodiversity is often overlooked in women and society in general, and how we can include neurodiversity more in society.

"The Economic Case for LGBT Equality" by M. V. Lee Badgett

Image: Beacon Press

Homophobia and transphobia aren't just hurting LGBTQ communities, they're harming the economy, according to M. V. Lee Badgett, professor of economics and the former director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In her book, Badgett uses data to show how equality is good for businesses, communities, and economies.

"We're All in This Together," by Mike Robbins

Image: Hay House Business

Leadership consultant Mike Robbins calls on leaders to break their silence on diversity and inclusion in the workspace, saying, "We can no longer opt out of addressing these things, even though they can often be confusing, uncomfortable, and difficult."

Citing research, Robbins says tackling inclusion head on will make teams work more productively, boosting a company's bottom line.

Robbins has given leadership trainings on topics including diversity and inclusion at companies like Google, Wells Fargo, Gap, and Microsoft.

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