How Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Raised the Bar on Inclusion in the Workplace

Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was questioned recently about the genesis of his 15 men and 15 women gender-balanced cabinet.

His response: Because it’s 2015.

As he announced Canada’s new cabinet, I was attending The Healthcare Businesswoman Association (HBA) Annual Meeting, and learning from over 900 of brightest leaders in healthcare. And unlike most of the meetings I’ve attended during my career, 10 or so guys and I were in the minority.  

I support organizations like the HBA, Lean In, and Know Your Value because my smartest, best performing teams were diverse. I’m also a father of two wonderful teenaged daughters and waiting 25 to 80 years to close the gender gap is unacceptable.     

There’s an adage that you can’t fully appreciate the joy of winning until you feel the sting of losing. I also believe it’s difficult to be a fully inclusive leader if you haven’t felt what it’s like to be different.

I also attend the HBA’s meeting to feel what’s like to be in the minority. 

On paper, I have an ample of amount of career “attaboys” to justify some swagger in my step. Yet, I still experience nervous butterflies, and my self-doubt and inner-critic hold me back from jumping in and fully contributing, at times.

Most of us experience these emotions from time to time. Yes, even executive coaches and— I’m taking a leap here — even Donald Trump. After all, we all have our good old “friend or foe” limbic system stirring up worry, anxiety, and cautiousness when we feel different. 

For me, last week’s butterfly moments only lasted a few days before I was able to reenter my majority world. But for many female leaders, people of color, or LGBT, being in the minority can feel routine, especially during those far too common 10 men to two women conference and boardroom meetings.

Now, we all know our team members’ success is driven by their choices and doesn’t have to be trapped by limiting beliefs or emotions. But part of being a leader, as shared by the HBA’s Women of Year Denice Torres, and the event’s keynote speaker, Robyn Benincasa, is creating an environment that is inclusive, diverse, and that strengthens a key building block of emotional intelligence, relationship management. 

But too often we allow group-think or unconscious bias to prevent us from building diverse teams. As a result, too many innovative ideas die on the sidelines. Leaders often encourage team members to be bold, courageous, and vulnerable; yet, who among us would dare take the risk in the absence of trust, understanding, and connection?

Here’s my challenge to my fellow male leaders (especially if you are a father of a daughter(s)): Attend an important event or meeting where you care about your perception and are in the minority by a factor of 4 or 5 to 1.

Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

Did you act the same way as you do when you are in the majority?

What was different?

Do your minority leaders feel the same way at work? 

Now, how do want to lead in 2016? 


I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences about diversity in the workplace. Share your comments and let’s start a dialogue