6 Diversity and Inclusion Leaders Share Their Reading Recommendations

November 12, 2020

Photograph of books on shelf

Do you have anyone on your holiday gift list who has made a commitment to exploring the causes of systemic injustice or becoming a better ally? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

We asked six highly regarded diversity and inclusion leaders for their personal D&I book recommendation. Their suggestions tap into critical topics such as the history of systemic racism, biased data, and the powerful possibilities of agile and inclusive leadership. So, read on:

Fiona Vines recommends Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

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The head of inclusion, diversity, and workforce transition at the Australian mining giant BHP, Fiona has been tasked with getting the company’s workforce to gender parity by 2025 — it was 17.6% women when she started in late 2016. One of her tactics has been to work with vendors to get them producing clothing, helmets, and even heavy machinery that are designed specifically for women rather than men. Fiona’s thinking and approach have been shaped by Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed by Men, the 2019 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year. 

“Caroline Criado Perez’s research,” Fiona says, “argues powerfully that human history is composed of a pervasive gender data gap that effectively silences and erases women’s accomplishments, experiences, needs, and daily lives. We’ve used the book widely at BHP, particularly to help our leaders — especially our male leaders — understand where bias is and take action.”

Damien Hooper-Campbell recommends Rituals of Blood by Orlando Patterson

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In Rituals of Blood: The Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries, Patterson, the John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard, lays out the ramifications of the United States’ early and extended embrace of slavery. 

“Like few other books I've read,” says Damien, the chief diversity officer at Zoom Video Communications, “Rituals of Blood provides a deep and detailed analysis of some of the root causes of the racial inequities — both structural and cultural — that the Black community and broader society are living with today.”

Cindy Owyoung recommends Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele

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Steele, an emeritus professor at Stanford and a pioneering social psychologist, wrote a layperson’s guide to his research and views on stereotype threat in Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do

“In this book,” says Cindy, the vice president of inclusion, culture, and change at Charles Schwab, “Dr. Steele dives into the concept of social identities and the expectations or stereotypes that come with each identity. He details very powerfully how, when confronted with negative stereotypes, people will often underperform. But when you take away this stereotype threat, people meet or exceed expectations. Perceptions impact performance, and it is an essential concept to understand in developing strategies to mitigate bias in the workplace.” 

Cindy also throws in a bonus recommendation: The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind by Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at Wharton. “It’s not specifically a D&I book,” Cindy says, “but an extremely useful one for D&I practitioners in my opinion. Because making progress in D&I is ultimately about driving change — in behaviors, mindsets, and cultures. This book outlines different tools and strategies anyone can leverage to transform organizational culture and ignite social movement.”

Sandra Sims-Williams recommends The Rise of the Agile Leader by Chuck Mollor

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Mollor is the founder of MCG Partners, a leadership and talent optimization consultancy. He wrote The Rise of the Agile Leader: Can You Make the Shift? before the pandemic and his focus on agility seems prescient. 

“This is a timely blueprint for leaders during this immensely changing and challenging landscape for organizations,” says Sandra, the SVP of diversity and inclusion at Nielsen. “Leaders needing to transform their abilities to meet these changes are given a fresh methodology to make the pivot. Leadership starts with you, and the book starts with a personal assessment. There are pearls of wisdom and sage advice to give leaders something to think about and activate on a daily basis with their teams. Great read!”

Pascale Thorre recommends Inclusive Leadership by Charlotte Sweeney and Fleur Bothwick

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Pascale, the global head of inclusion and diversity at The HEINEKEN Company, points to Inclusive Leadership: The Definitive Guide to Developing and Executing an Impactful Diversity and Inclusion Strategy as “a great book with which to start your I&D journey.” Sweeney and Bothwick have built their advice around a STAR model — Starting out, Taking the leap, Achieving change, and Reaping the rewards. 

“This book is an excellent guide for you to shape and deliver a comprehensive and pragmatic I&D road map,” Pascale says, “and it is packed with no-nonsense tips to foster a truly inclusive culture.”

Gerri Mason Hall recommends 10 Must Reads on Diversity (with bonus article, “Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity,” by David A. Thomas and Robin J. Ely) from Harvard Business Review

Gerri, the chief diversity and social responsibility officer at Sodexo Americas, doesn’t have an all-encompassing book to recommend — she suggests different titles for different situations. Instead, she has been pointing teams and new D&I practitioners to HBR’s collection of articles on diversity.

“I am a huge fan of HBR’s research,” Gerri says, “and routinely incorporate it in continuous learning for my team. This collection of articles is ideal for challenging current programs and D&I assumptions.”

HBR combed its archives looking for past articles that would help companies “create a culture that seeks and celebrates difference.” The collection includes “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev; “Managing Multicultural Teams,” by Jeanne Brett, Kristin Behfar, and Mary C. Kern; and “Race Matters: The Truth About Mentoring Minorities,” by David A. Thomas.

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