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When Inclusion Comes First, Diversity Thrives: Insights from Our Webinar with Harold Hillman

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To create a workplace where people can thrive, leaders must first focus on getting the soil right. Diverse plants in unhealthy soil will eventually wither and die. Your company culture is like soil and an inclusive culture sparks a workplace where diversity thrives.

In our recent webinar, leadership coach, author and business commentator Dr Harold Hillman unpacked his insights and recommendations on why inclusion and belonging are essential to high-performance organisations, and what it takes to create a culture that allows people to truly thrive and bring their authentic selves to the workplace.

Below is a summary of the key takeaways from the session to help you begin building awareness around how you can drive diversity, inclusion and, most importantly, belonging within your own team.

Diversity Before Inclusion

Harold began the webinar by sharing his first-hand experiences in the early days of affirmative action in America when inclusion was not yet the focal point of diversity. Having grown up in the housing projects of Washington DC, he became one of five African American students to be accepted into his freshman class at Muhlenberg College.

Although the university’s intention was to diversify the student population, in reality, it was more akin to tokenism than true inclusion, and Harold soon felt like an outsider among the other (primarily white) students. This feeling further exacerbated when he was initially not invited to rush any of the college fraternities – until he received a knock on his door that changed the course of his life.

Having noticed Harold’s exclusion, two of his white peers invited him to join their fraternity, where he was welcomed with open arms by the existing members. He went on to be elected as the president of the fraternity in the subsequent years. The experience taught him the true power of fostering inclusion and a sense of belonging, whether it’s in a university or in the workplace.

Diversity Before Inclusion

Fitting in and Standing Out

Life's Inherent Tension


Harold explained that in a corporate environment, there is an expectation that we assimilate to the social order. Our lives are defined by the inherent tension between the need to fit in and the need to stand out. Because of the human desire to belong, there is often a stronger pull towards fitting in, but constantly trying to blend in can strip you of the essence of who you are.

​Although standing out and bringing our authentic selves to work each day is difficult, it’s vital if we are to create a truly inclusive environment. There’s a standing assumption that a quiet team is a good team, but Harold argued that silence is not golden when it comes to allowing people to bring their unique perspectives and ideas to the business. Ultimately, if you really value inclusion as a business leader, it’s about turning the volume up on other people’s voices, not turning it down.

Creating a Culture that Allows People to Thrive

Harold explained that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still as relevant as ever in today’s business world, making the case that if you want diverse people to thrive in the workplace culture, it’s imperative to focus on getting beyond their basic needs:

How Humans Thrive

  • Physiological – As we saw at the height of COVID-19 when many people faced job loss and financial insecurity, taking care of basic needs, such as a roof over their heads and the ability to feed their family, is critical.

  • Safety and security – There is a big difference between surviving and thriving. If people are just trying to keep their heads down and make it through the week, they are not going to flourish at work.

  • Belonging – Most organisations tend to focus on systems and processes when inducting new employees, but making them feel welcome, valued and accepted is even more important. Belonging is what invigorates you to be your true self.

  • Esteem – As human beings, we need to know that our contributions are making a difference. A crucial role of leaders is to affirm their team members - say “thank you” and recognise the value they add.

  • Purpose (Self-Actualisation) – People must believe that the impact of their work is bigger than just a paycheck. One of the effects of COVID-19 was that many people developed a heightened sense of meaning in their lives, changing jobs or industries and reprioritising their time to find greater purpose.

At the end of the day, if you create a culture that helps people meet their physical and mental needs, feel safe, shows them they belong, affirms them and gives them purpose – this is what will enable them to thrive.

Find Out More

This is just a glimpse of what Dr Harold Hillman covered in the webinar – we encourage you to click below and view the recording and presentation slides to get a full picture of his insights on this pertinent topic.

Access the Presentation Slides


If you would like to discuss any of these points or find out how we can support you and your business, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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