Why Inclusive Leadership is Here to Stay

Categories: Global Leadership

This is the first in a series of insights adapted from the upcoming book “Inclusive Leadership, Global Impact,” co-authored by Dr. Ernest Gundling and Dr. Cheryl Williams. To order the book, please visit Amazon.

The need for “inclusive leadership” is here to stay in the U.S. and in other countries, driven by powerful social currents around the globe as well as calls for greater social justice. There are two common approaches that some executives take in response to proposed inclusion initiatives. The first is to “hunker down” and wait for the inclusion movement to blow over and be replaced by another faddish topic; the second is to make a show of supporting initiatives, going through the motions of minimal compliance with little enthusiasm for anything further.

However, both technological innovation and demographic trends make half-hearted approaches to inclusion unrealistic and unsustainable for modern organizations. Digital technologies connect people across oceans, mountains, and deserts, linking workplaces every more closely while magnifying negative or positive interactions almost instantly. There are almost twice as many people on the planet connected to the internet—now 60% of the global population—as there were a decade ago, with rapidly increasing bandwidth.

Along with greater connectivity, there are several key underlying demographic changes that are not only roiling global markets but are also transforming the headquarters operations of nearly every major multinational organization. These include:

Population Growth; Shifting Demographics

We’ve nearly tripled the planet’s population in the last seventy years, from 2.5 billion to almost 8 billion, and this has affected every region of the world. Almost all of this explosive population growth is occurring in emerging markets, with billions more people on the way over the rest of this century to reach the earth’s projected peak population of 9 to 11 billion. 90% of the world’s children under the age of 15 currently live outside the developed economies of Europe, North America, and Japan. This means that many new markets, customers, employees, and suppliers are likely to come from the Global South.

Differences in birth rates are leading to major demographic changes both between and within countries. The highest birth rates globally are in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Niger, Angola, Uganda) South Asia (Pakistan), and the Middle East (Egypt), with the lowest rates being in northeast Asia and in Europe (Taiwan, Japan, Germany, Italy). To provide an illustration of how stark these contrasts are, in a recent year approximately the same number of babies were born in Niger, with a population of 21 million, as in Japan, with a population of 126 million. In the U.S., non-Hispanic whites currently comprise two-thirds of the nationwide population; this ratio is predicted to shift to less than half of the overall country population in 2050 due to comparatively lower birth rates, in spite of a recent decline in minority births. Major states like California and Texas are already majority-minority, with others like Arizona, Florida, and New York soon to follow.

Urbanization and the Middle Class

The expansion of new cities is driving two-thirds of the world’s GDP growth, with millions of people moving to cities each month from rural areas in search of new opportunities. Hundreds of vastly enlarged cities, nearly all of them outside of the West, will be required to house these new urban dwellers. The citizens of each growing city will need to purchase manufactured goods, transportation, food, and energy, with additional implications for the natural environment and ongoing climate change beyond those already caused by the more developed economies. Many urban residents are unfortunately still living in acute poverty, in giant slums and shantytowns. At the same time, there is a huge and rapidly growing new urban middle class of consumers that will soon number a billion people or more; its members in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America desire many of the products and services enjoyed by residents of the current high-consumption markets.

International Migration

Migration across national borders, both legal and illegal, has increased by almost 50% since the year 2000, with the primary flow of people moving to high-income countries. Millions of people emigrate every year to escape from dire poverty, conflict, persecution, or natural disasters. A United Nations study notes that the number of migrants as a fraction of the population residing in high-income countries has risen from under 10% to almost 15% on average. Three-quarters of these migrants are of working age, and they normally seek to join the workforce as quickly as possible in their new locations.

What Modern Leaders Need to Know

The bottom line for inclusive leadership going forward through 2021 and beyond? These trends are massive, inexorable, and will affect almost every corner of the globe. “Head-in-the-sand” or xenophobic responses will not change the twin realities of increasing digital connectivity and demographic shifts. Embracing these changes and taking an inclusive approach to the changing mix of people inhabiting our shared planet is the only feasible option for organizational leaders. Whether your job is with a global team or in a local office with limited opportunities to travel, chances are that your workplace and the tasks you are engaged in will involve a more diverse range of counterparts from this day forward.


“Inclusive Leadership, Global Impact” provides a welcome guide for leaders who seek to make real progress with inclusion.