October 22, 2021

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#LearnActImpact: Inclusive Leadership with Dr. Brenda Allen

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Brenda J. Allen is the instructor for the new course Inclusive Leadership: The Power of Workplace Diversity. In this entry-level course, she draws upon her extensive experience and expertise to educate, equip, and empower learners to become more inclusive leaders.

Dr. Allen is a retired Chief Diversity Officer and Professor of Organizational Communication, and renowned as an excellent educator and compassionate communicator. She has a track record for scholarship, teaching, service, mentorship, and training relating to communication, social identity, and leadership. 

What is Inclusive Leadership: The Power of Workplace Diversity? Why is this topic important and how is it applicable to today’s world?

Inclusive leadership has emerged as a unique and crucial capability for achieving the benefits of diversity in the workplace. In today’s world, “diversity” expands beyond gender and race. It also encompasses nationality, sexual orientation, religion, social class, age, ability, diversity of thought, and so forth. To promote inclusion, leaders need to consider all aspects of diversity—among employees, clients, customers, contractors, patients, students, and other stakeholders. Take employees, for example. They are expecting—if not demanding—equal opportunities and work-life balance. Employees want to work in environments where others value and respect their unique skills and experiences. They seek contexts where they have a strong sense of belonging, where they can “be themselves.” This course guides learners to cultivate that type of context. 

How did your personal experiences with leadership influence your decision to create this course? 

While serving in a wide variety of roles, I realized that many leaders do not know how to “walk the talk” of valuing diversity. So, I started offering workshops on diversity and inclusion for a leadership development program at my university. Participants in that year-long program are current and aspiring leaders at all levels. The workshops were so well-received that the Associate Vice President for Digital Education and Engagement invited me to create a course for Coursera. I readily agreed, and I’m glad that I did. I appreciated the opportunity to share knowledge and practices that my colleagues found useful. Plus, I welcomed the chance to design a course for a global audience.

What do you want prospective learners to know about this course?

To inform prospective learners, I’d like to share feedback from individuals who have completed the course. A learner from Austria wrote: “The course is highly inspiring, thought-provoking, and practical – full of strategic topics, case studies, and real-life examples.” 

Course content explains and exemplifies how leaders can help all members of groups feel valued and respected—whether leading a large or small organization, a department, a work team, a committee/task force, a class, a performance group—you name it. Learners gain information and practical insights from global research on six proven traits of highly inclusive leaders: commitment, courage, curiosity, cognizance of bias, cultural intelligence, and collaboration. 

A learner from the Netherlands stated: “I learned how highly inclusive leaders from around the world use processes of social influence to interact effectively with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds. This included deepening my understanding of the benefits of diversity and exploring a wealth of perspectives and practices to help me to reap those benefits.”

A learner from Germany asserted, “I really enjoyed the additional reading material and feel well equipped on how to approach workplace diversity in the future!” Learners who have the time and interest can dive deeper into course topics through optional readings and videos for each lesson. As a bonus, they can consult an array of materials in the Resources section, which I often update. I recently added a file on Inclusive Leadership, Racial Equity and Racism that includes international viewpoints.

Who should be taking this course, but might not think it’s for them?

One learner said it well: “This is a great course for leaders in any leadership role and discipline.” The course is especially relevant for early to mid-career learners who are currently in managerial or leadership roles or aspiring to be in such roles. Learners in high-level leadership roles can also benefit from the course. I’m working with an executive leadership team that is taking the course to enhance the professional development that I’m providing them.

Prospective learners might assume that the course focuses only on for-profit organizations. In actuality, the course content is relevant for learners and leaders in any type of workplace: for-profit,not-for-profit, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, international/multinational firms, armed forces, charities, small businesses, media, law enforcement, healthcare—really, any place where people are working together! 

After completing this course, what will learners be able to add to their resume or claim they understand? 

The quotes from previous learners offer excellent examples of what future learners will be able to claim that they understand. In general, learners can indicate that they have knowledge, skills, and abilities related to a variety of topics, such as:

  • Proven leadership practices that promote and enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  • Inclusive communication 
  • Contemporary DEI concepts
  • Signature traits of highly inclusive leaders
  • Current DEI challenges and opportunities

In addition, learners who earn the course certificate can list it on their resume as evidence of their commitment to valuing DEI, which many organizations seek in prospective employees.

What is one of the most surprising things about Inclusive Leadership: The Power of Workplace Diversity that you cover in this course? 

Learners will probably be surprised at how much this course encourages them to know themselves and grow. Self-awareness—a crucial element of leadership in general—is imperative for inclusive leadership. I model this by disclosing my own experiences, including times when I doubted myself or I wasn’t as inclusive as I would have liked. I also share ways that I’ve felt good about myself, or when I’ve helped others feel valued and respected. The course includes videos and readings about other individuals who describe their challenges and successes. These stories and examples bring to life course concepts like emotional intelligence, implicit bias, privilege, power, and microaggressions. And, they illustrate how to develop and enact the signature traits of highly inclusive leaders.

Get started → Inclusive Leadership: The Power of Workplace Diversity


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