He said, “I don’t want to be a n_ _ _ _ _ in the bushes about this but…”

February is a month that often causes me to pause and think about leaders of the past and present. What can and should leaders of today do and say to advance inclusion? What could they do to advance respect and dignity? What could they do to deepen their personal understanding of people different from themselves? What could they do to change their behavior with clear intention and sincerity in an effort to engage the tossed salad of diverse people in this country and globally? When will we all claim our own leadership role in advancing inclusion?

The quotation above is not a statement from the 60’s or 70’s. I directly heard it just three weeks ago. The leader who said it, days later apologized by saying he was sorry “if” he offended anyone. The people who heard this offensive statement during a conference call, were Black, White, American, Asian, and British. The “apology” was sent to everyone via email.

February is not just about attending a community event to celebrate African American history, or reading only the most noted books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fredrick Douglas or Rosa Parks and then going back to our “normal” behavior. It is about deciding that now is the time to speak up and speak out in a way that fits our own authenticity and values. It is time to speak up and speak out when there are injustices or indignities forced upon others simply because of the color of their skin, their gender, sexual orientation place of birth, or other difference.

You do not have to be a political activist to speak up and speak out. You can make your voice heard in many ways. All of us are leaders:

If a woman or other under-represented person speaks in a meeting and the others ignore her, but then a man later shares the same idea, you can say, “John, I am thrilled you think Kenya’s idea is a good one too. Let’s explore this further”.

When hiring slates are presented for approval, but show no diversity do not accept the slate. Tell the recruiters to keep looking for qualified diverse candidates. Saying, “We just can’t find any” in 2013 is no longer acceptable. Look in different places; ask others for help.

Join or start a community discussion on diversity and inclusion issues and explore ways to collaborate.

When someone says something offensive, don’t wait for the person who is in the group that was denigrated to speak up, let the offender know you were offended. Assume positive intent. We all make mistakes, but start a dialogue so the person knows we are all in this village together.

Each of us is responsible for moving the diversity and inclusion needle forward. No major sustainable change will happen without each of our voices.