What is your inclusion rider?

Earlier this year at the Oscars, award-winning actress Francis McDormand shared with the world a poignant tool that she uses to disrupt our often lethargic approaches to addressing inequality in the workplace: an inclusion rider. Performing artists, musicians, actors and more are accustomed to demanding provisions in their contracts (often called riders) which detail their desires; be it a preference for chewy (not crunchy) granola bars in their dressing rooms to detailing the types of hotel accommodations they want as a requirement for their participation. The artists place these requests, and they are often met to the letter by those seeking to hire them. In an inclusion rider, favorite food stuffs are replaced with minimum requirements for racial and gender diversity makeup in hiring of local crews and employees, supporting performers and more. These are the standards and expectations that she puts forth and requires in every aspect of the projects that she touches to create the world of work as it should be.

I first considered how I might put into practice declaring openly and with clarity, the expectations and vision that I have for a more equitable world – the conditions that ensure I continue to live the work I love - after seeing the terms of engagement for speaker, author and researcher Dr. Jason Fox. Jason is clear; he has no interest in being in all-male, white spaces. He will not speak on all-male panels, nor headline programming that further promotes inequality through exclusionary design. This seems antithetical to a purely capitalistic business model where you focus on the volume of dollars you can earn by accepting all offers that come your way. But if your work is truly about changing the world we live in, then Jason exemplifies how to use the power he holds to affect the things that are within his direct control. He says very distinctly, “If you want my services, my energy, my contributions, you must change for the better.” This is but one example of white allyship in action.


“Looks like they had some people of color scheduled as speakers. They are celebrities mind you, but there are some names I recognize.”

“We definitely have work to do, but there is some diversity in the room.”

“We looked at the numbers and our program enrollment is proportional to the racial makeup of our state.” 

“Well, we are a mostly white community, so I wouldn’t expect a lot of diversity in our local workforce.”

Each of these are real statements I have heard from white leaders on diversity in their spheres of influence. They each center on a resignation that belies their core belief systems and values which openly embrace diversity. It is a reflection on the sentiment that any small gains towards diversity are ultimately better than nothing. As someone who has risked much to break down barriers, I cannot rest easy in celebration over minor changes or mediocrity, when we know that exponential change is more than a possibility with appropriate effort.

In a recent conversation with Rachel Seigel, director of the Burlington, Vermont-based Peace and Justice Center, she shared with me some of the structural procedures their organization uses to better ensure equity. It is their philosophy that the work of dismantling structural racism and inequality is on white people to bear. As an organization, they will not engage marginalized people in their work, be it a consultative phone call or a keynote address without providing financial compensation. They have a policy that requires their board of directors has a majority of people of color serving and non-negotiable equity standards for any training provided under their umbrella.

So what is your personal or professional inclusion or equity rider? What are the standards that you feel are necessary to drive the changes you want to see? Are you willing to cede power to lift as we all climb and demand meaningful inclusion or will you accept minor gains and half-measures as signs of success?  Our vision of a diverse future must be radical, or it will fail.  Our vision must demand excellence. This is not a provocative ask as it is what we each want.

This is what we also know: the rise of bias, hatred and terrorism against our fellow brothers and sisters across the globe presses us to act now. The world cannot wait or placate sensitivities that might scare you from doing this difficult work. It must be done for a just world.

Here are four simple steps for white allies and champions to consider:

1.       Inquire about equity policies for the events, conferences, symposiums and summits you are planning to attend, participate in or sponsor in 2019. You may learn that the organizers do not have one; but they will never seek to build one if you do not ask. Press them to make their policies public.

2.       Take a moment to assess who is invited into the spaces and places you attend. Actively invite marginalized people to step into those spaces as peers. If for whatever reason, you find there is no “room at the table,” be willing to give up your seat for someone else to be there. Seriously. (You do not have to serve on a board or speak on a panel if it is not meaningfully diverse. Keep in mind, your voice is over-represented and embedded into the fabric those homogeneous spaces and places. Make room and mentor others.)

3.       Develop your own inclusion rider. It could be for you personally or your organization but should reflect your fullest vision of the world you want to see. Make it bold and true. Demand excellence.

4. Get help. This is important: remember, you do not have to go on this journey alone. Hire a professional to help guide you through this critical thinking. I am always happy to help. Remember, you may stumble and fall. You may make mistakes. In fact, you make completely fall on your face while trying to achieve your diversity goals, but as scholar Dr. Derald Wing Sue puts it, “It is not about how you cover your racial blunders, it is about how you recover.” (For additional learning from Dr. Sue, I recommend checking out his open letter to people of color.)

Overwhelmingly, I encounter people from all walks of life who desire meaningful diversity, not as an afterthought, but as a way of life. Still, the inclusive spaces we want cannot exist without your effort and earnest intention. So let’s get to work. If you want to learn more about how I can help your business or organization with diversity, equity and inclusion, contact me here.

With staff from the PACT Family Camp for transracial adoptees in Stowe, Vermont.

With staff from the PACT Family Camp for transracial adoptees in Stowe, Vermont.

Kiah Morris