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Michael Bach on Inclusive Leadership, Pride Month, and the Business Case for IDEA

Michael Bach on Inclusive Leadership, Pride Month, and the Business Case for IDEA

Michael Bach is a nationally and internationally recognized thought leader and subject matter expert in the fields of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). With over 20 years of experience, he combines his professional background with his lived experience as a member of the LGBTQ2+ communities and as a person with a disability, to help leaders create equitable workplaces in any industry.

Michael recently joined us “inside our boardroom” to dig into IDEA and explore what it looks in the workplace, including the long-term benefits and practical application of it, especially in the age of AI. Plus, with Pride Month upon us, we also spoke about what Pride means not only to Michael but to the greater communities at large.

We learned a lot from Michael about IDEA, inclusive leadership, and how we can all co-create inclusive spaces. We hope you enjoy the conversation below as much as we did, and contact us to learn more about Micheal and how he can help your organization do diversity and inclusion right.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

IDEA in the Workplace

Speakers Spotlight: What is IDEA?

Michael Bach: The acronym IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility) has evolved over time. When I started in this profession, we talked about diversity, and then we started talking about diversity and inclusion, and then equity came into the conversation. And there are other acronyms like JEDI, REDI, DEI, and EDI, but they all mean the same thing, as far as I’m concerned.

I choose to use IDEA because I want to make sure that we’re covering everything. Diversity is about the difference; it’s about the characteristics of individuals. Inclusion is more aspirational; it’s about creating space where people can bring that diversity to the environment. While equity is about recognizing that different people have different needs. We don’t all start from the same place, and it’s about treating people how they need to be treated, as opposed to how you want to be treated.

And then the “A” for accessibility is partly about people with disabilities and different conditions, but it’s also about access in general. There are so many ways that people access your organization — are they inclusive and equitable? To me, the acronym IDEA really sums up the entire conversation.

The founding CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI), Michael draws from his award-winning book Birds of All Feathers: Doing Diversity and Inclusion Right to equip organizations with a six-step model to jumpstart their IDEA journey. Hear more from Michael on the topic in the video below:

SpSp: You talk a lot about the business case for IDEA. What are the long-term company benefits to embracing IDEA?

MB: Deloitte did a study out of Australia which showed that diverse organizations — those with a diverse workforce and an inclusive environment — saw an increase in employee engagement by as much as 101%.

So, if you understand the concept of employee engagement, that a happy employee equals a productive employee, this study shows that you can drastically improve employee engagement by making sure people can bring their whole self to work.

You don’t have to do this work because it’s the right thing to do. That’s an argument that I don’t focus on. It’s not about the moral imperative. If we stay there, then we continue to think of people from equity deserving groups as less than, as in need of something extra in order to succeed.

However, if we look at this as a business problem, then this is about making sure you can attract and retain the best talent. It’s about making sure that you can identify issues within your organization and have the most engaged employees. That is far more lasting than the social imperative.

It is undeniable that a focus on IDEA is a necessity for every employer. Michael helps leaders articulate the infamous “business case” as to why IDEA is critical to their success in his presentations. He explores this in more depth in the video below:

How to Become an Inclusive Leader

SpSp: How do we move forward on becoming inclusive leaders?

MB: Lately, we’ve been talking about inclusive leadership and the need for it, but we’re not actually telling our leaders how to lead inclusively.

I think inclusive leadership involves four specific skillsets:

  1. Unconscious bias: Becoming aware of your biases and making sure they’re not getting in the way of your decision-making.
  2. Cultural competence: The ability to adapt to difference, not just ethno-cultural but all kinds of difference. It’s also the ability to recognize that different people have different needs based on their identities.
  3. Privilege: Making sure that you have an awareness of your privilege and that you are not operating from a place of privilege. It’s about recognizing your privileges so that you can use them to the advantage of others.
  4. Empathy: For a long time, I didn’t think we needed empathy, but over the past year I’ve come to learn that empathy is the missing piece of inclusive leadership. It’s the ability to acknowledge, recognize, and appreciate the emotion that exists within a lot of these conversations.

For a leader to be inclusive, they need well-developed skills in all of these areas. It is not something that will necessarily happen instantaneously or easily, but all research and data tells us that inclusive leaders are more effective. They get better performance out of their teams and have higher rates of engagement and productivity.

Michael dives into the four fundamentals of inclusive leadership in his keynote presentations, detailing how leaders can foster these essential skills in themselves and others. Learn more about inclusive leadership in the video below:

The Impact of AI on Diversity and Inclusion

SpSp: What concerns do you see with AI and the IDEA space?

There are two things about AI that I talk about in my presentations. First off, we need to recognize that, at this point, AI is not capable of thinking for itself. It requires input and there’s an old saying, garbage in, garbage out. It’s important that the input is diverse — that the people designing the AI are from a broad spectrum of identities — so the output is a good thing.

The second thing is people’s desire to have AI fix everything. I’ll give you an example that companies often ask me about, anonymous hiring. This is where you use software to remove the name and any identifiers from a person’s resume, with the goal being to remove bias in the screening process.

That’s great, but here’s the problem. If I’m black and I come into the interview, I’m still going to be black. And, if the person who’s doing the hiring has some racist tendencies, you have now created an environment where there’s liability. That person might say something like, oh, I didn’t know you were black. And as soon as someone says that, and if that person doesn’t get the job, they absolutely have grounds to sue.

So, AI is not going to address the problems that exist. AI can make things go smoother, it can automate things, but if you’ve still got issues of bias and discrimination, those are still going to exist. That is something AI can’t solve.

In his keynote presentation, “ChatGPT Can’t Fix This: Why AI Can’t Fix Your IDEA Issues”, Michael explores the complexities surrounding AI in the IDEA space, including what organizations need to do to ensure AI doesn’t create more problems and how to use it effectively. Hear more about AI and IDEA in the video below:

Celebrating Pride Month

SpSp: What do you look forward to most during Pride Month?

MB: July 1st. No, I’m kidding. This is my 37th Pride, so I’ve been around a long time. The thing I look forward to during Pride Month is knowing that it exists. We, as a community, are facing a lot of backlash. It’s coming from a very small minority of people, but unfortunately, a lot of people who are very much supportive of the 2SLGBTQI+ people are not standing up and saying, take your homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and get out of here.

Studies show that the vast majority of Canadians and Americans, more than 70%, are absolutely pro 2SLGBTQI+. But Pride Month needs to continue until that’s 100%. Until we don’t have legislators using dog whistle politics to exclude people and build up their coffers for the next election because they think that will get them votes.

We have a long way to go. And I’m not somebody who, frankly, goes to Pride anymore because it’s been 37 years — I’m a middle-aged man who likes to sit in his backyard and have a glass of wine to celebrate Pride. But I still believe it needs to exist. It gives us an opportunity to talk about the needs of the communities, of the issues that we’re facing. It gives us that focus that can really amplify some much-needed voices.

The founding CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI), CCDI Consulting, and Pride at Work Canada, Michael Bach brings a vast knowledge of leading IDEA practices to the stage. He was named one of the “10 Most Influential DE&I Leaders Revamping the Future” by CIO Views Magazine in 2023, and is the bestselling author of Birds of All Feathers: Doing Diversity and Inclusion Right and Alphabet Soup: The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion.

With extensive knowledge on unconscious bias, privilege, and active allyship and 20 years of experience implementing IDEA strategies in organizations across industries, Michael is an in-demand DEI keynote speaker. Contact us to learn more about Michael and how he can help your organization became an IDEA leader.