Your company’s DEI professional can’t be in every room. Here’s how LeadBoston equips all leaders with the DEI skills they need.

LB April 2021_1

With organizations’ commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) skyrocketing this past summer amidst Black Lives Matter protests, so did their job postings for DEI professionals. According to CNBC, 2020 saw “hiring for experts in workplace diversity increased by 90% compared with 2019.” While we applaud organizations for strengthening their DEI efforts, YW Boston urges organizations to equip all of their employees with the skills they need to create a more inclusive workplace.

As LeadBoston alum Vernā Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, shared during YW Boston’s “Leading with empathy in the workplace” webinar last June, in order to grow and sustain diversity and inclusion in the workplace, everyone has to adopt an inclusion lens. After all, “it’s not going to be possible to have the [DEI] person there all the time,” weighing in on the equity implications of all decision leaders have to make. But if that “perspective, approach, and curiosity” is embedded throughout an organization, even if the DEI person isn’t in the room, “the mentality and perspective-taking is.” Whether they are leaders in sales, technology, finance, or any other sector, all mid- or senior-level staff should have the skills to have conversations about DEI and lead DEI-focused projects at work.

LeadBoston meets organizations’ demand for more inclusive leadership by equipping mid- to senior-level professionals with the knowledge, skills, and network to propel their leadership, and their organization’s success, forward. As a result of LeadBoston, each participant leads an equity-focused project within their workplace. It is clear from alums’ reports that they graduate feeling more equipped to address DEI issues, but how? What happens between their January orientation meeting and their November graduation? Here is a glance at what it looks like for a leadership program to meet and support participants along their DEI journeys.

The frameworks learned in LeadBoston help participants better understand how systems of oppression shape their own experiences.

Learning and sharing knowledge are key aspects of the LeadBoston experience. Throughout their months in the program, participants have the opportunity to meet and hear from leading experts in Boston on issues such as housing, economic inequality, and education. We also encourage participants to learn and personally reflect on key concepts of DEI, such as their social identities. In doing so participants learn how their identities shape how they show up at work, how others perceive them, how they interact with others, and their access to power within their organizations.

In March 2021, LeadBoston held its first Leadership Commitment Office Hours, a quarterly drop-in event during which participants can bring their ideas and questions as they develop their capstone action plan. One participant shared about realizations she has been having after three months in the program: “YW Boston has been able to tell me exactly what it is I’m experiencing. As a Black woman, I didn’t know, other than that I was experiencing racism. ‘I’m a nice person, I’m so warm and welcoming, why is this happening?’ After research, I realized, it’s a problem systemically. But it’s my personal issue. It is a system, impacting me personally.”

In learning how DEI relates to themselves and their peers, LeadBoston participants are better equipped to discuss these topics at work and to lead initiatives.

Participants can explore, practice, and brainstorm with a nonjudgmental group invested in their DEI success.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum likens avoiding talking about racism as ignoring the elephant in the room. After expending so much energy pretending racism, and other systems of oppression, aren’t an issue, it can feel like a relief, and even energizing, to finally be invited to acknowledge the reality around us. It’s hard to overcome a lifetime of being conditioned to not talk about racism, though. As with any change, acknowledging and naming these inequities takes practice.

For people who aspire to become more inclusive leaders in their workplaces, but aren’t sure necessarily where to start, LeadBoston provides a kind of third space where professionals can gather and have difficult conversations among supportive peers. Participants build rapport and trust throughout the year, arriving at a common understanding. Confronting inequity, especially if it’s part of one’s lived experience, can be exhausting. But as with a marathoner whose running club sustains them through the challenges of training, having a network of peers who have committed themselves to creating systemic change can make all the difference.

“Today’s session was instrumental for me,” wrote one LeadBoston participant, “because I was surrounded by 50 impressive individuals, all committed to sharing collective knowledge and ACTING on the fight on poverty, even if only through dialogue and an openness to understanding it better.” Another participant, reflecting on what she has taken away from LeadBoston programming thus far, wrote, about recognizing “How privileged I am, and how it feels uncomfortable but cathartic to talk about it with this group of people. I don’t feel judged.”

LeadBoston provides a space that, unlike workplaces, operate without overlapping project deadlines and without an established hierarchy. This provides them with the space and freedom they need to learn and brainstorm solutions together.

Ultimately, they become drivers of organizational DEI projects to benefit their organization.

Staff throughout your organization can and should be leading DEI-focused projects. While you may have a DEI professional or team leading organization-wide initiatives, there are always ways for any team to focus on equity and inclusivity. LeadBoston ensures that participants are able to take a DEI-lens to all aspects of their work.

LeadBoston participants are encouraged to take what they’ve learned and apply it at their workplaces. Jeff Rogers, LeadBoston Moderator, recommends that participants find the overlap between their ‘sphere of concern’ and their ‘sphere of influence’ to determine where they can make an impact on the issues most important to them. As one current class member reflected, “I found this to be really grounding, because sometimes I really feel at a loss and run down by things that are in my sphere of concern, but maybe I can start to shift my perspective and ask myself: What can I influence today? This week? This month? This year? And focus on that.

The network participants gain, including both their current class and the thirty years of LeadBoston alumni classes, provides the support and connection they need to develop and carry out an equity-focused project in their workplace. For instance, Trevor Samios, Class of 2019, utilized the knowledge and skills of his classmates when creating an inclusive website connecting affordable housing residents to essential services. As he explained, ““when you look back at the past decade-plus, pretty much every major health center, human services group, or youth development organization in the city has had someone in a leadership position go through LeadBoston and so being able to use that network to help get all of those groups connected on the platform was both affirming and definitely eased the process of doing so.”

Each LeadBoston participant develops and implements a project in their workplace, but the impact does not end there. They have learned the frameworks, found support among their peers, and developed action-planning skill sets. After taking part in this eleven-month program, LeadBoston alumni are able to put this into action and drive DEI within their organizations for years to come.

LeadBoston equips leaders on any team to drive effective DEI.

Ready to strengthen your company’s DEI efforts? Learn more about LeadBoston and sign up to learn when applications open.


About LeadBoston 

Become a part of YW Boston’s LeadBoston program and join a network of over 1,000 inclusive leaders in Boston. During this 11-month program, participants explore and learn how to address barriers to inclusion through facilitated dialogue, expert speakers, and peer learning. Through experiential activities, participants delve into the social, political, and socioeconomic realities of Boston and explore innovative solutions to inequity. Interested in learning more? Reach out to Rachael McCoy, LeadBoston Manager, at with any questions about the program.