Ask Deborah: What Does It Take to Prepare the Next Generation for Leadership?

June 14, 2016There are many qualities that are associated with great leaders. At Catalyst we have found that the best leaders exhibit the EACH behaviors: Encouragement, Accountability, Courage and Humility. But how do we prepare future generations for leadership? What steps do we need to put in place to ensure they are set up for success?

Today, I have the pleasure and fortune of participating in the United State of Women Summit, hosted by the White House. This summit was designed to gather influential women to “celebrate what we’ve achieved, and how we’re going to take action moving forward.” Key issues surrounding gender equality will be addressed, and we will discuss how we can make an impact for generations to come.

This will be an important moment for both women and girls, domestically and internationally, and I am thrilled to be a part of it. Raising the next generation of women leaders is obviously an issue that is close to Catalyst’s heart…and mine.

Last year, inspired by Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, my niece Haley went to school and declared a personal day of silence. Haley is 13, so as I’m sure you can imagine, not talking for an entire day was no small sacrifice! On that day, when Haley was approached by a student or a teacher, she gave them a small piece of paper that explained that she had chosen to be silent as an expression of solidarity with girls around the world who had been denied the right to attend school.

By choosing to make the injustices facing girls in another part of the world her problem, Haley’s silence echoed loudly across her school and community. Haley chose to champion the cause of someone whose life experience was completely different from her own. That is not just the sign of a great and inclusive leader, that is something to celebrate.

The images we see, the stories we read, the voices we hear remind us that diversity is a fact. But inclusion is a choice. We were reminded of this yet again when an inclusive, accepting, loving, and proud gay nightclub in Orlando became the latest manifestation of hate, exclusion, and fear.

Inclusion is a choice we each make dozens of times each day. In grand gestures that have the power to transform the culture of a company or the global image of a country. In small gestures—who we speak to in the hallway, who we call on in meetings, what we notice, and who we notice. Gestures that tell colleagues that they belong, that their unique experiences, skills and perspectives are not only welcomed, but valued. This is what defines inclusive leadership now and in the future.

And yet, as we all know, equality and inclusion are still far from a reality. With the release of the 2015 Catalyst Census: Women and Men Board Directors, we see that women are still nowhere near parity with men in the boardroom or in the pipeline.

But you don’t need to attend a summit or take a vow of silence to prepare for leadership. You just need to keep striving and tell your co-workers, as well as your daughters, sisters, nieces and sons, brothers, and nephews that they should do the same. We are all in this together. The future generation belongs to all of us. Let’s make it equal.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.