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Dropping Pebbles Is The Key To Making ID&E Doable And Sustainable

Co-authors of Daily Practices of Inclusive Leaders, Eddie Pate is Founder and Chief Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity Officer of Eddie Pate Speaking and Consulting, Inc. Jonathan Stutz is the President and Chief Diversity Officer for Global Diversity Partners, Inc.

Executive Contributor Eddie Pate and Jonathan Stutz

Leading inclusively requires heart, courage, and a strong sense that everyone should have equitable access and the opportunity to thrive in their professional and personal lives. Here, we leverage Debra Meyerson’s work on how leaders inspire change at work from her seminal book, Tempered Radicals: How Everyday Leaders Inspire Change at Work.


Portrait of cheerful mixed age range multi ethnic women.

Meyerson uses two analogies that we will reference in our forthcoming book. She equates small, impactful actions to “dropping pebbles” that cause ripples, which cause more pebbles to be dropped and result in more ripples. The aggregation of these pebbles or small, impactful actions lead to systemic and cultural change. Meyerson also equates “rocking the boat” with the courage and heart needed to do what is right and not what is expected. 


Being a tempered radical means rocking the boat, but not so hard that you knock yourself and others out of the boat. You need to be in the boat to effect change. Like Meyerson, we want leaders to understand that they don’t have to create an enormous change all at once. Instead, we ask leaders to drop a pebble of change, one that causes a ripple, which in turn motivates someone else to drop a pebble that also causes a ripple, which in turn motivates someone else to drop a pebble, and so on. It is the aggregation of all those pebbles that leads to waves of systemic change.


This is a big shift in how ID&E is practiced today—and a long overdue one. Breaking down the work into daily practices, what we call pebbles of inclusion, makes Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (ID&E) much more doable and sustainable for incredibly busy people. And it gets people excited! We’ve seen relief, excitement, and a new resolve in leaders when we’ve offered this framework during engagements and training. This approach to inclusive Leadership has proven itself to be an effective means of empowering others to play a part.


Daily practice of inclusion

Practice means to work repeatedly to become proficient to acquire or polish a skill. This is what inclusive leaders do well; they are lifelong learners who hone their skills every day to become increasingly effective at leading an increasingly globally diverse workforce. Daily practices of inclusion reflect the expectation that inclusion is a lifelong practice—one that is part of the rhythm of the business and not a separate one-off effort.


A daily practice of inclusion is an inclusive action or behavior that is integrated into the way a leader operates on a daily basis. Each practice is informed by the leader’s evolving awareness of the intersections of identity present in each human interaction and business decision. Each is a pebble that they drop into the sea of their organization’s culture and that gradually causes ripple effects of change that build a culture of belonging. It is important to walk away from this section understanding just how significant this new approach is. So many leaders struggle with how to make ID&E effective, how to integrate this work into business strategies, and how and when to hold people in their organizations accountable. But there’s never enough time, energy, or resources to do this work! The result? Defensiveness, sometimes testy attitudes and behaviors, and an obvious lack of support. Nobody needs more work that they don’t have the time to do.


What makes this daily practice approach so effective is that leaders do not have to do it all. They simply need to practice daily. All they need to do is drop pebbles that cause ripples and hold others accountable to do the same.


Imagine if twenty-five people in your organization dropped pebbles of inclusion, each of which caused a ripple. And those ripples encouraged fifty more people to drop pebbles, and so on. Before long you have a critical mass of pebbles (i.e., inclusive wins) that leads to systemic and organizational change. Quite literally, cultural change happens as the result of an aggregation of small wins.


It has been so gratifying to see lights go on when we explain this to leaders, leaders who’ve wanted to get engaged and do meaningful ID&E work but just could not figure out how it was possible.


A culture of belonging

We all can talk about feeling connected; we all can talk about feeling part of a greater purpose; we all can talk about feeling valued, supported, and heard. These are all important elements of belonging, but they’re not the whole picture. The reality is that each person working for you has a different, very personal definition of what belonging means.


Building a culture of belonging begins with the day-to-day interactions between you and your team members. It includes taking the time to get to know each person at a deeper level—who they are, where they come from, what their experiences and backgrounds have taught them, and what makes them special and unique, besides what is on their resume. A culture of belonging develops over time from both formal and informal conversations, shared laughter and shared joy, collective accomplishments, struggles, failures, risks taken together, and highs and lows, both inside and outside of work. This trust built over time is what enables people to feel “I belong here.”


Call it ID&E

Think for a moment of your place of work as a home. Before you invite people into your home, you typically want to ensure that your home is a safe, warm, welcoming place where people can be comfortable, can relax, and can be themselves. When they share thoughts and opinions, you don’t want them to worry about being ridiculed or, ostracized, or not fitting in. We believe that your organization should be as welcoming and as safe a place to work as your home would be for employees to visit. For this reason, we prioritize the importance of inclusion. Putting the I before the D and E is a gentle and intentional reminder of the primary importance of inclusion. It’s a small pebble we’re dropping that contributes to the ripples of change in thinking and in the culture.


Eddie Pate and Jonathan Stutz, Co-authors of Daily Practices of Inclusive Leaders

Co-authors of Daily Practices of Inclusive Leaders: A Guide to Building a Culture of Belonging.

Eddie Pate spent 20 years leading ID&E efforts in some of the largest companies in the Pacific Northwest. He was the Director of Inclusion and Diversity for the Worldwide Operations (WWOPs) organization at Amazon. He was responsible for the development and implementation of all Global ID&E efforts in the largest organization at Amazon.

Jonathan Stutz, MA is the founder and president of Global Diversity Partners Inc. He has over 25 years’ experience working in leading-edge companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Zulily. Jonathan led Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (ID&E) for four international businesses within Amazon’s Worldwide Operations group.



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