BiGS Actionable intelligence: Despite our uncertain economic times, corporate leaders possess the power to sustain the inclusive cultures they’ve built over the last two years if they focus on the intention and motivation that sparked this movement in the first place.

BOSTON – March 24, 2023 – As companies such as Microsoft, Ericcson and NPR slash jobs and layoff numbers mount in 2023, large organizations run the risk of shelving certain human-centric initiatives that may appear less critical to survival. Specifically, typical corporate cost cutting has the potential to jeopardize some diversity and inclusion initiatives that many companies established following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

But this needn’t be the case, according to Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Hise Gibson, who teaches technology and operations management (TOM), design thinking, and inclusive leadership at the school. Gibson argues that C-suite leaders who drop the ball on inclusive leadership have no excuse.

Fortunately, the way to retain the benefits of inclusion—and protect the results of enhanced collaboration and innovation—requires many of the skills that executives already have, Gibson and co-author Nicole Gilmore, MITRE Corp.’s talent director, tells us in an op-ed published in HBS’s Working Knowledge newsletter.

And leaders who succeed at this exercise will reap rewards.

“Remember this: economic headwinds will pass. But a strong culture of inclusion and belonging that stokes new thinking will flourish in their wake—propelling your company to its next innovation,” Gibson and Gilmore write.

Check out their op-ed for more details, but here are the key takeaways:

  • Remain confident. Trust your leadership abilities, even though it will be tough given the big issues—such as profit targets—competing for priority status.
  • Remain focused. Remember the intention and motivation that sparked this movement in the first place and that prompted you to elevate inclusion across your entire workforce.
  • Remain committed. Don’t forget the actions you took, such as establishing new employee affinity groups, possibly for the first time in the company’s history.

How does this process work for executives? Gibson suggests these questions:

1. Look inward: What’s happening in your organization?

Block out time on your calendar for quiet, honest thinking. Put away the spreadsheets, turn off your phone, Gibson and Gilmore tell us.

Whether you write down your thoughts in a journal or talk with a trusted mentor, consider the current state of your organization:

  • What are our capability gaps?
  • Does our current team reflect our current and future market?
  • What is our talent pipeline and retention strategy?

Leaders must constantly assess a dynamic environment to gain contextual intelligence to make sound decisions, and to gain a heightened sense of their decisions’ impact on operations and people.

2. Look outward: How are your employees feeling?

Speak with your employees and use company surveys to review changes in employees’ sentiment following upheaval and stress. Ask questions such as:

  • Do you see trends?
  • What significant changes were initiated that met resistance?
  • How do your teams work together?

Understanding the answers will reveal opportunities to build stronger teams through active inclusion. Unlike passive inclusion, which is basically being polite, active inclusion calls for using specific actions, such as empowering junior team members and avoiding insider acronyms, to engage employees.

Workplace changes prompted by the pandemic have made employees more flexible. However, persistent change without time to process it causes employee fatigue. Employees respond better when communication is clear, when leaders are transparent about decisions, and when they believe that they are part of the process.

3. Look at the big picture: What has your company achieved?

Now, consider the culture that your company has cultivated. In their 2020 book, Unleashed, co-authors (HBS Professor) Frances Frei and Anne Morriss use an “inclusion dial” to gauge the degree to which employees feel that they belong. First, companies must make employees feel safe. From there, employers can work toward making people feel welcomed, then celebrated, and ultimately, cherished.

Consider where your organization falls on the dial, and how it could improve to create a more collaborative and effective workforce. Identify the workplace changes that are worth safeguarding.

Editor’s note: We want to hear from you!

If you’re familiar with Harvard Business School’s storied case method, then you know that we pride ourselves on asking the right questions – and we know that you probably do, too. So we encourage you to send your questions, comments, media interview/speaker requests or ideas to the editor, Barbara DeLollis, at or via LinkedIn. And don’t forget to join our growing BiGS’ community on LinkedIn. - BD