Key Takeaways

  • According to Dr. Helen Fagan’s research, inclusive leaders are open to diversity and inclusion, display high levels of empathy, and are often change-makers unafraid to challenge the status quo.
  • Inclusive leaders understand that becoming more inclusive is an ongoing journey rather than a destination. They harness the power of diversity to foster innovation and problem-solving within their teams.
  • Inclusive leaders are willing to take risks and stand up for diversity, even when uncomfortable. They value a holistic approach to diversity, recognizing the diversity of thought, political leanings, socioeconomic backgrounds, and more beyond race and ethnicity.
  • Inclusive leadership fosters productivity, psychological safety, and a positive team dynamic. Such leadership promotes financial gains, improved retention, and creative problem-solving, allowing team members to feel valued and comfortable expressing dissenting opinions.
  • To become more inclusive, one must confront and question their own biases.
  • Love plays a crucial role in unlearning biases and cultivating inclusivity.

Executive Summary

Ladies and gentlemen, we are delighted to have you back for another installment of The Leader Show with Lou Carter. Our guest today is Dr. Helen Fagan, a scholar, and practitioner in the field of Inclusion and Diversity. 

She is also the founder of the Global Leadership Group and a faculty member of Inclusive Leadership at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, holding a Ph.D. in the subject. Additionally, Helen is the author of a book called ‘Becoming Inclusive,’ which unveils the systemic challenges arising from organizational bias and prejudice.

The discussion mainly revolves around the importance of inclusion as a strategy to enable more people to participate, contribute, be heard, and be understood in the business. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Exploring Inclusive Leadership: Attributes, Impact, and the Continuous Journey towards Diversity and Inclusion

Firstly, Lou and Helen delve into the topic of inclusive leadership. Three main discussion points are outlined: the attributes of an inclusive leader, the impact of being inclusive, and the journey toward becoming inclusive.

Dr. Fagan shares findings from her research about the characteristics of inclusive leaders. According to her, these leaders are known to be open to diversity and inclusion, display high levels of empathy, and are often change-makers, unafraid to challenge the status quo. They are also marked by their courage, humility, and authenticity, with a genuine commitment to continuous learning.

The term “Becoming Inclusive,” which is also the title of Dr. Fagan’s book, reflects the idea that inclusivity is a journey rather than a destination. These leaders harness the power of diversity to foster innovation and problem-solving within their teams, an approach that thrives on their ability to navigate differences effectively.

A crucial characteristic of inclusive leaders, according to Dr. Fagan, is authenticity. These leaders don’t adopt diversity and inclusion as buzzwords or career boosters; instead, they have a genuine desire to learn about and connect with people. They are described as “connoisseurs of human behavior” for their ability to study and understand humans, which makes them compelling and attractive to others.

Navigating Office Politics as Inclusive Leaders Embrace Holistic Diversity

Next, the speakers discuss the risks that inclusive leaders face and how they navigate these challenges, particularly in office politics.

Dr. Fagan highlights that inclusive leaders are willing to put themselves at risk by admitting they don’t know everything and inviting input from others. This willingness to expose themselves to potential criticism is a part of their “higher order construct,” indicating that they value the conversation around inclusivity enough to put themselves on the line.

The conversation then shifts to the concept of risk and the importance of standing up for diversity, even when it might be uncomfortable or against the majority. Helen underscores that diversity encompasses more than just race and ethnicity – it includes diversity of thought, political leanings, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.

She introduces a holistic model of diversity that includes an inner circle of differences (personality), a second layer (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and abilities), a third layer (political, religious, social, economic, geographic, and background differences), and a fourth layer (organizational dimension of diversity). 

Helen emphasizes that all humans are part of the diversity dialogue, and leaders need to foster a space where disagreements can exist without jeopardizing intelligent conversation.

Boosting Productivity, Fostering Psychological Safety, and Driving Innovation Through Diversity

Moving on, Helen and Lou talk about the impact of inclusivity in an organization. The former mentions that her research suggests inclusive leaders foster productivity, psychological safety, and a positive team dynamic that attracts others. Such leadership promotes outcomes ranging from financial gains and improved retention to creative problem-solving. The inclusive environment also leads team members to feel valued, heard, and comfortable expressing dissenting opinions.

Lou notes the importance of inclusivity for fostering productive relationships, preventing legal disputes, and avoiding other potential issues. He highlights that creating an emotionally intelligent and inclusive environment is a crucial foundation for collaborative relationships.

Dr. Fagan adds that inclusive leaders intentionally bring diverse individuals into their teams, despite the human brain’s natural tendency toward similarity. They appreciate and utilize these differences to promote innovation and increase productivity. 

As an example, Lou brings up a conversation he had with Bernie Marcus, founder and CEO of Home Depot. Marcus attributed the company’s success not to his own genius but to his inclusion of diverse perspectives within his board, advisory board, and employees.

The Crucial Role of Inclusive Leadership in Decision-Making and Nurturing a Positive Workplace Culture

The value of diverse perspectives and disagreement in decision-making, especially at higher levels in an organization, is also discussed. Dr. Helen suggests that as leaders climb the ranks, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to hear the truth from their subordinates due to fear of potential consequences. Therefore, inclusive leaders who encourage their employees to speak out and challenge them are extremely valuable.

Lou adds that such leadership not only benefits decision-making but also has practical implications for understanding the market and expansion. 

Dr. Fagan goes further, arguing that inclusive leaders, who she describes as “connoisseurs of human behavior,” prioritize the needs and aspirations of their employees. They support their followers in achieving their dreams and view this as a mutualistic relationship. 

The employee contributes their time, talent, and energy to the company’s success, while the company provides them with opportunities to pursue their individual goals. Inclusion, therefore, becomes a central component of a positive and productive workplace culture.

Insights into the Evolution of Inclusive Leadership and Strategies for Challenging Unconscious Assumptions

Moving on, Dr. Helen discusses her personal journey, starting as a child growing up in Iran to a diversity and cultural competence leader at a large health system. She mentions the struggles and hardships she faced, moving to England, learning English, then moving to the United States alone at the age of 15, and how these experiences shaped her perspective on leadership. She admits that her path to becoming an inclusive leader hasn’t been easy, emphasizing that she is continuously learning.

Lou also shares his experiences with religious prejudice and how he chose to respond with love. He also shares the story of a mutual friend, David Noor, an immigrant from Iran who became a successful entrepreneur in Atlanta, despite starting out with only a few dollars. These stories underline the potential of inclusivity and diversity to create compelling narratives of success and resilience, adding further evidence to the importance of inclusive leadership in fostering a supportive and prosperous work environment.

Effective Approaches to Challenge Unconscious Biases and Foster Inclusivity

After that, Helen and Lou delve into the process of deconstructing biases and assumptions. They talk about how, in order to become more inclusive, one must confront and question their own biases. Fagan poses a powerful question to her students and leaders: “Who do you not want your child to bring home as their future spouse?” This question is designed to help them identify their unconscious biases and consider how these biases may influence their decision-making, especially in a leadership role.

Fagan also describes a class project she assigns, which involves students selecting a population they have biases toward, learning about that population, and then volunteering to serve them. This project is intended to help students confront their biases and learn to see people from different perspectives, ultimately becoming more inclusive in their thinking.

Rewiring Perspectives and Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for a More Inclusive Society

Finally, the speakers focus on the deeper meaning of love and how it’s connected to the process of unlearning biases and cultivating inclusivity. Love is often defined as a fluffy concept but is actually all about respect, care, and appreciation. It’s about taking active steps to rewire oneself.

Fagan brings up the concept of sacrifice in relation to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). She asks herself daily how she has made sacrifices for DEI – whether she has elevated someone who doesn’t look like her or provided opportunities for those who don’t think like her.

Lou appreciates this perspective and highlights how just one person implementing this mindset can lead to a ripple effect of change. They agree that if everyone aims to provide opportunities for those unlike themselves, society will make significant strides toward becoming more inclusive.

Thank you for listening!


Lou Carter : Hey, it's Showtime. I'm Louis Carter here in the Louis Carter Show. It's great to have Dr. Helen Fagan with us today. I'm really excited because we're talking about becoming inclusive. It's an a really important topic today not only in boardrooms, but inside of companies, because you're thinking to yourself, well, how do I enable more people to not only talk, be heard, be understood, really though to take part in the business itself, the business strategy, because becoming inclusive is not only the right thing to do, it's good for business.

And Dr. Helen Fagan has written a book on it called Becoming Inclusive. So, I'm gonna put that up here so you can see what it is. Here it is. The book is called Becoming Inclusive, and you can get that on Amazon. A little bit about Dr. Helen Fagan. She's, you know, she's an Inclusion and Diversity Scholar, Practitioner. She's the founder of Global Leadership Group, and she focuses just on this, right? She's a faculty member and inclusive leadership fellows at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. She's got a PhD on it. It's great to have Dr. Helen Fagan on with us today. Hello, Dr. Helen.

Helen Fagan : Hello, how are you? I'm excited to be here and get to chat with you and your audience and get to connect and talk about the book and fun things going on.

LC : Well, that's what it's all about. And these are the three things we're gonna talk about today, the attributes of an inclusive leader, what is the impact of being inclusive and the journey to become inclusive? So let's start with the first one, the attributes of inclusive leaders. Tell me more about that.

Inclusive Leadership: A Journey of Empathy, Courage, Humility, and Authenticity [02:12]

HF : Yeah, so we have been collecting data and doing research on what are the attributes of inclusive leaders, what makes them different. We know that they are very open to the idea of diversity and inclusion. We also know that they are high in empathy. They're change makers. So they're not afraid to upset, you know, current status quo. They're willing to put themselves out. They're courageous, and they also are very humble, humble in that they recognize, it doesn't matter how many degrees I have, how many years I've been in the boardroom, or the CEO or whatever. I'm still learning. I'm on a journey.

And the reason I called the book Becoming Inclusive is because we're all becoming, we're all on that journey together. We don't ever arrive at that place. And so our research shows that these attributes combined together, create higher order thinking in the individual that helps them to navigate differences in a way where what they do is they take a team of people who are extremely different, different backgrounds, different upbringings, different values, different beliefs, different race, ethnicity, different education, you know, different political leanings, whatever it is, there's differences.

But these leaders have the capacity to bring this team of diverse individuals together and help them to be innovative, to solve problems in ways that they've not, we've not been able to solve them before. And so, in our research, that's what we're seeing is that those are the key attributes of inclusive leaders. Another attribute that's really important is this piece of authenticity. You know, they're authentic in that they recognize, they're not trying to put on a persona or a facade. You know, I'm gonna talk about diversity because it's the thing to do right now, and it's kind of gonna get me that next promotion.

They're really genuinely desiring to learn and connect with people. I say they are connoisseurs of human behavior. So they really are studying human beings, which are the most complicated beings on the planet, and they really tune into people in such a way that just gets people excited to be around them.

LC : Wow. Connoisseurs of human behavior.

HF : Yeah.

LC : That is such a huge, huge thing, right? To be, because there's different kinds of connoisseurs, isn't there? Right

HF : Yes, there is.

LC : Of wine, of things, of sometimes, you know, intangibles really well, some might think mine is more tangible, but of the human behavior of people, right? And, it's not a facade. It's something that they truly believe in, and they're humble in the approach. Have you seen situations where a leader, an inclusive leader sort of is the messenger and basically Barb is kind of the, we, we used call 'em an od, I don't know if this is the right word to be using, either they call them ritual pigs, right? Because it came from this sort of barbaric approach, have the sort of shoot the messenger approach. Have you seen that? And if so, how can inclusive leaders not set themselves up to be shot like that?

Championing Inclusion Amidst Risk and Office Politics [05:52]

HF : Yeah. So one of the things about inclusive leaders is that they are willing to put themselves out there. In the process of putting themselves out there, they admit they don't know everything, which is something that takes a lot of courage. And so when you talk about shooting the messenger, what we see is that these individuals, for lack of a better word, they're okay with, Hey, I am sharing this information with you, but that doesn't mean it is the end all and be all. I wanna hear from you. So that they're listening, they're engaging, they're wanting to learn.

And the idea of being shot because they're the messenger is part of this higher order construct in their idea, is that I am willing to put myself out there and risk because this is important enough.

LC : You know, that's important. Is the concept of risk.

HF : Right?

LC : So, you know, we often have to understand and listen and empathize, and in the process, sometimes we give in too much.

HF : Right.

LC : And we listen to what other people want and what they feel comfortable with, even when the mix isn't necessarily heterogeneous, right? Mm-Hmm. So, you know, sometimes it's not about diversity, sometimes about thinking styles or political underpinnings. And in that case, it really is important, I believe, to stand up for, and that's what you're saying, inclusive leaders stand up and say, this is really the right way. And yet I understand you're coming from this approach because this is that true.

HF : Right. The thing is, Lou, that diversity involves diversity of thought, diversity of political leaning, diversity of socioeconomic. It isn't just about race and ethnicity and gender and sexual orientation and religious differences. The model of diversity that we use in our work is a holistic model. And it begins with this inner circle of differences. At the core is personality. Then we get to this second layer, which is differences in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and abilities.

Then we get into this third layer, which is differences in things like political, religious, social, economic, geographic, location, background. And then we get into this fourth layer, which is the organizational dimension of diversity. So, diversity as a word is a very broad word that most people think of it as only relating to race and ethnicity. But in our work, we think of it as a holistic term. It really relates to all the ways human beings are different.

So, in that sense, white males are part of the diversity dialogue because of the differences that every single human being has. Diversity isn't about this other group of people, it's about all of us. It's about all of the differences that we have. And do we as leaders have the capacity to sit with people who disagree with us and do it in an emotionally intelligent way while hearing from them and recognizing that I can gain something from you, even though we may never agree on a particular topic.

LC : And office politics sometimes get in the way, right?

HF : Of course.

LC : And I don't want to do this. I, because if I say it, I may get fired. I don't or I might not be seen as the person who understands the most. I'm not the most intelligent. So we go to that one person who has the best relationship or most connected relationship to the boss and say, Hey, is this right? Cuz we feel comfortable saying to one person rather than a group of a huge group or even smaller groups themselves. So, dyads really one on ones only work, and that's really what creates this kind of, I think damaging hierarchical structure.

HF : Yeah. And the thing is, we know that inclusive leaders have gained the skill and the ability to be able to maneuver those office politics in an effective way. And they're not doing it because they're in it to gain for themselves. They're doing it because they see how the politics is getting in the way of inclusion.

LC : Absolutely. Absolutely. They recognize it. Let's go to the second, second aspect that we are gonna be talking about today and about becoming inclusive. And the second aspect is the impact of being inclusive, right? The impact. Yep. Tell us more.

The Power of Diverse Perspectives in Creating Innovative Teams [10:38]

HF : Yeah. So again, we, in our research, we wanted to know what is the impact of that these leaders have in the work environment. Not only what are their attributes, but what happens when you have an inclusive leader who's working with this team? Do these teams really outperform other teams? Do these teams seem, what is it? What do they do? And what we found is that productivity increases, psychological safety is increasing. There's an attraction of people. Other people want to be a part of this team because of this leader. And the ways that they have created the dynamics that they've created in terms of interaction with people, that there's a high rate of positive outcomes from everything from financial gains, all the way to retention, all the way to creative problem solving.

So, we've seen a lot of those things show up in the impact that these leaders have on people. And as a result, those people feel valued and cared for. They feel heard, they're comfortable in being themselves, they're comfortable with disagreeing with one another, but doing it with an ability to recognize, I don't know it all. And so that discourse is used in a positive way to grow collectively together.

LC : Mm-Hmm. [affirmative] a positive, positive way to grow collectively together. And isn't that so important? Right? Because, you know, we connect and connecting it to the business result is also important. And it may be as easy or simple as saying, okay, in this discussion or in this new partnership, it needs to be emotionally intelligent. It needs to be inclusive. It must be inclusive. Because without it, I have not a friend, not a collaborator, but I have a foe. I have a foe.

And in that foe I could have legal disputes, I could have problems, I could have all sorts of things happen that just aren't helpful. So being inclusive and enabling psychological safety, being empathetic is the foundational aspects for productive relationships.

HF : Right. The one thing that makes it really uniquely different, Lou, is that they intentionally bring diverse people into the mix because the human brain is wired for similarity, right? So, our brain wants to be around people who think like us, look like us, believe like us, act like us. That's why we end up hiring people who are like us.

So, inclusive leaders really intentionally work to create a diversity of thought, a diversity of backgrounds, and people, experiences. They're looking for that, and they engage that into their teams. And because of that, that creates this opportunity. They then say, okay, we're different. Isn't it fantastic? We all see this differently? Let's work together to create something we haven't done before. And that's why productivity increases, because they see differences as a positive.

LC : I think of a great founder and CEO of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus. So, I was talking to Bernie and said, Hey, Bernie, tell me a little bit about how you created Home Depot. Is it that you're a genius? He says, well, I'd like to think I'm a genius. Oh yeah, I'm a genius. But it is not about me being a genius. It's about me inviting diverse perspectives and people into my board and my advisory board, my employees. He said, people who aren't necessarily yes, people.

HF : Yeah.

LC : They're people who disagree with me. And he said, I want people who disagree, who can challenge me. And I can hear all those diverse perspectives from different people because not only do they represent my market, they represent what I might be doing it correctly and what I need to see around the corners.

Nurturing Potential and Championing Dreams in a Diverse Workforce [14:48]

HF : Brilliant, brilliant description. Absolutely. The one thing you said, Lou, that really struck with what our research has been showing and what we're seeing is that, you know, the higher you get up that rank, which is CEO and founder, right? You could n't get higher than that, but the higher you get up that rank, the harder it is to hear the truth from people. Because people are, again, that political leap. You know, I'm afraid what's gonna happen? Will I lose my job if I say to him how I really think? You know?

So, the higher you get, the harder it is to hear the truth from people. But if you give people permission, you say, Hey, this is my mission. This is what I am after. If you see me doing something that's different than that, call me out on it. Come to me. I give you permission. Come to me and explain to me how that's different than what I'm doing. From your vantage point, leaders who are courageous enough to do that are the ones who really have fine tuned that inclusive leadership space.

LC : Absolutely. They have very well at that. And they'll make enterprises, right? And most of them huge enterprises, and it's those leaders and CEOs who say, okay, this is my market as well. And they may not be in touch with their market as well. By involving that and including the diverse perspectives and diversity of all, in all types you're saying, I can open up my available market [laugh]

HF : Right.

LC : I can open it up. My marketing is better, my sales will be better, my business development will be better. There's, it's the locus, it's the central control of all business strategy.

HF : Right. And then in the end, the people that are involved in this process, their needs are met, right? So it's, it's this, it's this legacy. What do I want my legacy to be as a leader? What impact do I want to have on people beyond expanding the market, beyond those things. Those things are valuable, right? But connoisseurs of human behavior, inclusive leaders care about people. The people that are in their charge, their followers, they really want to see them succeed, achieve their greatest dreams, achieve their greatest aspirations, so they become cheerleaders for other people. So the CEO that you were just describing, that in an inclusive leader, wouldn't be afraid if, if I as a employee came to them and said, Hey, I really want to get a degree and become a physician. What I'm doing at Home Depot is a job I'm doing during my college [inaudible].

They don't see that as a challenge to Home Depot's success. They see that as, hey, we are on this journey with this future physician. We're helping them achieve what they need to, which is their greatest aspirations, their dreams. In the process, you are giving something to us. The gift that you have, which is your time, your talent, your energy is what's gonna make us successful in this process. And it's a reciprocating relationship, and we're giving you the opportunity with a job, but also we believe in your dream that you have.

LC : Absolutely. So that brings us to sort of the dream itself, and this is a journey to become inclusive. And I bet you have a journey as well. Is that right?

Personal Narratives and Lessons in Inclusive Leadership from Diverse Experiences and Backgrounds [18:35]

HF : Oh, yeah. Oh, you know, the reason I wrote the book, I, the book weaves in my own story of growing up in Iran, the daughter of the head of export oil for the National Iran Oil Company in the seventies. And then moving to England, learning to speak English, then moving to the United States, to international boarding school without my parents at 15 and graduating high school. And I got here just two months before the US hostages were taken in Iran and what it was like to be a teenager without family in this country.

And, you know, just the experiences that I had and how those shaped my perspective as a, what is, what is a leader to be who is a leader. And then my own journey to creating and leading a diversity and cultural competence programs at a health large health system. And what I learned in that process that led me to want to research this. So, I use myself as an example of a person who's on the journey to becoming inclusive, fallen, worked hard, fallen, got back up, fallen, got back up, learned and learned and learned, and is continuing to learn. So just because I've been doing this work and researching it doesn't mean I've arrived at being perfect at it.

LC : And it's so important, and as you were describing it, you know, to say, alright, these are the things I went through and these are the lessons that I've learned as a result. Right? You know, you know, I think in, you know, the incredible experiences you've been through in Iran, and I've heard, I've actually, I have a good friend, David Noor, I don't know if you know David. You know David, yeah. And who is also from Iran and had a similar journey to the US and really is inspirational in the way that you were describing.

And it was a lot about being, you know, having nothing when he got to America, right? And the journey for him being, becoming an entrepreneur. He was, he had a few dollars in his pockets that his parents gave him, and he became a successful entrepreneur in Atlanta. And, you know, these are the kinds of things that are really extraordinary. And, you know, I think back to, you know, being a kid, and, you know, I experienced religious prejudice. As a result of me experiencing it, what I did was I showed them love, right? And eventually they came around, they basically were disarmed [laugh].

HF : Right. Right.

LC : “This guy isn’t evil, he doesn't have horns in his head. Oops. My parents told me he does, but he doesn't” [laughs]. Right. So this deconstructing prejudice is so important. And because you deconstruct it through your behaviors.

Overcoming Personal Biases to Cultivate Inclusive Leadership and Drive Equity in the Workplace [21:21]

HF : Right, for sure, for sure. You know, one of the things that I ask my students, and I ask leaders when I work with them, ask leaders when I work with them, I said, I say, is, who do you not want your child to bring home as their future spouse? Because everybody's okay with diversity, justice, equity, and inclusion until it shows up at their front door and it's gonna marry their child. Right?

And that's where you really know, how comfortable are you with this? And the reason we have to answer that question, even if for nobody else, but for ourselves, the reason we have to answer that question is because we have to uncover those biases for ourselves. And then we have to say, how is this bias impacting my decisions? Whether it's my hiring decision, my promotion decision, my what, whatever decisions I'm making as a leader, how is that?

So when you're talking about deconstructing bias and understanding inclusion, we have to go there. We have to really dig deep. And for me, I talk about my digging deep in the book. I talk about my experience with this, and I talk about my continued journey with this, you know, in, I have good friends and colleagues who work in like the plant sciences field. And they talk about how a plant, if it doesn't have water and it's bad weather, and then you provided some of these supports, it can become resistant to disease and grow even better. Right? And when we use that philosophy with human beings, challenges in the process of us becoming inclusive, it's really about us taking those challenges and turning them into positive things. And really, you know, like you were just describing about yourself, that religious, you know, persecution and, and prejudice that you, you turned that into something positive. You love them, which disarmed them, but in the process, you gained something from it. Right? So what is it that you gained from it? And how did that propel you forward?

LC : Well said in my, I'll answer in my, in my life. You know, it’s about every single experience realizing that there will be some form of prejudice

HF : Mm-Hmm.

LC : And that's okay. And I made peace with it.

HF : Yeah.

LC : And, you know, as I made peace with it, I chose love, which is care, respect, and appreciation for other people's definitions of success to choose love. You know, if it's David, I remember them very clearly. I was seven to 12 years old. It was David, I won't say the last name. David, Steven and John back of my head. I remember them, I remember their parents. I remember the things they said to me. Everything. And they were still my friends. We still played kickball, we still played baseball in this vacant lot every single day when I came home from school. And we were buddies, you know, yet their parents gifted them [laugh] with these thoughts about who I might be.

And they're like, mom and dad, what are you talking about, [laugh]? This guy plays kickball and baseball in the vacant lot every day after 2:30. He's not that. So it is kind of like making peace with the fact that there has been some legacy prejudice that kind of may have rubbed off on new generations, or they may have just for whatever reasons. And you be your, you be your authentic self in everything I do. And, and open myself up to create communities regardless of their prejudices. [Laugh], that's what, that's how I arrived. That I, and so go ahead.

HF : I love what you just shared. I love what you just shared because I think it makes me go, it takes me to my class and, you know, I ask my students, who would you be most afraid to bring home to your parents and introduce to your parents as your future spouse? Right? And so what happens is, and you know, parents, we can love our children. And I mean, I had, I had two, and I'll give you an example. I had a brother and a sister. The sister was like four years older than the brother. He was the youngest child in the family. There was four. He was the youngest child in the family. They both attended University of Nebraska, Lincoln. They both ended up in my class, four years apart.

Ask the same question. The sister graduates, you know, and she goes off and she goes to Zambia and she's teaching her dream is to become a basketball coach. She's graduated now, you know, years past. She's graduated with a Master's degree and is Assistant Basketball Coach at a college here in the United States. But this was her while she had just was working in Zambia teaching, right. Getting life experience. And then she comes back for Thanksgiving one year, and she's asking little brother, Hey, how's school going? What's your favorite class? And he's like, Hey, I'm Dr. Fagan's, teaching assistant in the leadership and diversity class. And she's like, oh my gosh, I love that class. What population did you choose?

LC : Yeah.

HF : Yeah. So the question, and he said, homeless population, she said, oh my gosh, I chose the same group. Why? Because their parents had said to them, go to school, work hard, get a job, don't be lazy. Make a positive impact in life. So their brain, their parents never said, homeless people are bad people, but their young brains filled in the gap with, if I'm going to school and I'm working hard and I'm making a living, then I must not be homeless. I must have a place to live. I have a job. So they created this picture of who are the homeless population unintentionally. So my thing is with my students is, okay, now that you've discovered this, I want you to learn more about this population. So they have a four-part project that they have to do. Biggest degree grade in the class is this four-part project.

First they have to propose the population and explain to me why they chose this population. So we do a whole lot of work, internal work to understand ourselves and our biases. So they do a whole lot of that. They write a paper and they say, this is the population and these are the reasons I've uncovered during the course of the semester. That's led me to do this. Second part, go out and learn about the population. You can do it by reading, observing, interacting, interviewing, whatever it is. Go out and learn about the population. You gotta use multiple sources, different, vary it up and learn.

And I tell people this, you don't have to be in college to do this. Anyone can do this. And say to yourself as you're learning this new knowledge, okay, how does this go against what I know and what I believe?

How does this differ? So your friends, they're like, oh, wait a minute. We're playing kickball, we're playing baseball. That goes against this knowledge that I have about what my parents told me. So in the case of my students, it's their parents may have never said those things, right? But they've picked it up somehow, you know. And so values I say, are more caught than they are taught. Bias is more caught than it is taught, right? In so many ways. But anyway, so then that's the second part is they learn more information. The third part is volunteer to serve. The volunteering to serve is because it's really hard to serve people that I have biases towards. It's really hard for me to hold onto biases when I'm having daily interactions with people. Like your friends describe, they were having daily interaction with you.

It was hard for them to hold onto that idea, right? So they do, my students do this. And, the other thing is they're learning about emotional intelligence. So all of the attributes I mentioned earlier, they're, they we're learning about this and discussing this, and then this gives them the lab practice. You know, you go out there, you volunteer to serve, you notice, you know, your ruffles, your feathers get ruffled. When someone says something or does something, and you're like, oh, wait a minute, where's that coming from for me? How's my upbringing? My background made me do this. And so that process, I have found in the 11 years I've been teaching this course, has a magnificent impact on the perceptions that individuals have.

And I've had students choose everything you could possibly imagine from homeless, to black to white, privileged male to democrat, republican, pro-life, pro-choice, Muslim, Christian, evangelical, Hindu, Catholic, you name it. You know, someone who's got a drug record, someone who's GLBTQ, someone who's everything. And again, I tell them, I'm not here to change your core values and beliefs. What I want you to do is to wrestle with this idea that you have and challenge yourself. Challenge yourself to experience new things, to learn new things to, and then, and then hold yourself accountable to how are you going to lead now that you know this about yourself, how is that going to influence your leadership?

LC : That whole concept of challenging your assumptions and using critical thinking to move forward in life and say, this is where I was and this is where I want to become and where who I want to become. And we have to let go and think critically of what it was we were thinking.

HF : Right.

LC : That's what you're really doing for your students. Saying, let's look at this. Let's deconstruct this. I have a friend, Terry Jackson, who we had a really deep discussion about George, the George Floyd incident. And how much it impacted him. And our line that we both shared in our video we did was deconstructing racism to get to love.

HF : Yes.

LC : Deconstructing racism to get to love. And….

HF : That’s powerful.

LC : And that's the core of it. This concept of love is not as fluffy as people think it is. [Laugh], because it's around respect, caring, and appreciation. When you have those three things, you are in essence rewiring and retraining yourself and others.

A Deep Dive into the Power of Understanding and Love [32:15]

HF : Yeah. Rewiring and retraining. I love that because. Absolutely. And it's not a fluffy kind of love, like you said, Lou, it's a sacrificial kind of a thing. It's a, and you know my question I ask myself every day, Helen, how did you sacrifice for DEI today? How did you sacrifice, this means because am I elevating someone who doesn't look like me? Am I providing opportunity for someone who doesn't think like me? Have I done things in a way that would honor the things that my research is finding? How am I sacrificing? And to me, that is the greatest way that we express love

LC : Like that. Am I providing opportunity for someone who is not like me?

HF : Yep. Yep.

LC : And if one person does that today, just one person today as you just watched this, we will have done our job.

HF : Right. A ripple effect.

LC : A ripple effect. They'll pay it forward to somebody else, and those other people will pay it forward to others will have made it impact today.

HF : Yeah. Yeah.

LC : Well, you've said it all, Helen [laugh], you've said it all. Dr. Helen Fagan. You have to go get Helen's book is Becoming Inclusive. Yes. And, go on Helen's website too. There it is. There. Helen has a wonderful website and it’s called So we have to go on Helen's website and learn all about how to become inclusive even more than you did today. Right. And call Helen and become inclusive in your company and your leadership.

Thank you, Helen, for joining us. It's good to have you.

HF : Thanks Lou for having me. I'm excited and I'm really proud of you. The stories you shared are magnificent examples of inclusion. I'm so honored to know you and connect with you.

LC : Thank you, Helen. That means a lot to me. Thank you so much.