A Bullish Take on Inclusive Leadership

Yoshita Agrawal, Contributor
Sapan Shah, Community Editor

The RC Inclusive Leadership course had many detractors, but intrigued many others. Yoshita Agrawal (MBA ’23) opines on the latter.

The Inclusive Leadership course has had mixed reviews this semester. While most of my classmates found it lacking in a multitude of ways, and there was a consensus on how it was not helping HBS students understand biases, I found myself in the minority who felt that the sessions helped me reflect deeper within myself. Not only did the course give me insights on the primary forms of discrimination in the US—which is important for me given that I only arrived in this country last year and sometimes felt lost in the completely new cultural context—but it also helped me reflect on my inner biases, frustrations and emotions. I felt more self-aware and equipped to navigate these issues. The third session on calling in and calling out was definitely the one that sparked the most insights. At the same time, I found that the people around me were at either ends of the spectrum in their opinions on the subject.

I felt extremely moved emotionally by the video that was shown during the session, featuring Loretta J. Ross. There have been several instances in my life where people that I loved very dearly did not share in a lot of my viewpoints on feminism, the Indian caste system, etc. Conversations with these individuals tended not to go very well. One, neither me nor the other party saw each other’s point of view. Two, there were raised voices after a point, and I ended up feeling really bad about myself. I felt conflicted about my feelings about these individuals, and felt them eroding over the course of multiple similar conversations.

It has been a constant struggle to think about how I can convince them better to see my point of view. Holding a constant anger is not easy—once your feelings towards someone devolve into hate, it occupies a permanent place in your heart, continuing to hurt and trigger you over time. On the other hand, forgiveness is not easy either—it feels like giving in against what your moral compass tells you. However, forgiveness would bring me peace once and for all. Once I forgive someone for their opposing beliefs, they might find it easier to understand me and reevaluate their position. In essence, calling in might make me, the other party, and the world a better place.

It was also interesting that Ross drew parallels between ‘calling in’ and the non-violence movement. It really struck a chord. In India, the fight against colonialism was two-pronged—the non-violence movement led by MK Gandhi and the radical movement led by Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose, etc. The non-violence movement had several merits and is widely credited to have won India her freedom. One, it put the independence struggle on the world map. Two, it made dissenting against the occupants easier because a calmer and steadier party in a debate often garners support. Anger, impatience, and violence make you lose credibility, even in a disproportionately imbalanced debate, since both parties can be accused of wrongdoing. At the same time, the non-violence movement on its own wouldn’t have been enough to drive the colonizers out. Sacrifices of the revolutionaries played their part in jolting the cruel regime who would not have responded to nonviolent movements alone. These sacrifices also accelerated the process—the peaceful protests alone would have taken many more decades before India saw the light of freedom.

I felt moved by Ross when she said, “Everyone has their own solution to a problem. When everyone feels for a cause but takes their own paths, that’s a movement. However, if everyone conforms to a single path, that’s a cult.” This, in turn, also means that both calling in and calling out need to co-exist. Individuals need to be called in and called out according to what the context demands. Some of us might be better at calling in and others might be better at calling out. But the key is in understanding what situations need what treatment and who is the right person to deliver that treatment.

Unfortunately, the IL session did not not explicitly convey that both need to co-exist. Several individuals find it extremely difficult to be patient in every context—it takes a toll on one’s mental health to keep arguing benevolently with people who do not care about the blatant inequality in the US. Not everyone has the time, patience, and emotional bandwidth to call in and not everyone deserves such a benevolent treatment. However, I agree that as a leader in the corporate world in my future, calling in will be more useful to me than calling out. Calling in would make me a more peaceful and secure person as I fight against the multiple systems of injustice I feel overwhelmingly strongly towards reforming, i.e., sexism and casteism.

I am not strong enough, comfortable enough, or calm enough to use this tool to its full potential. However, I am trying, and one day, I will be.

Yoshita Agrawal (MBA ‘23) hails from India. She is passionate about creating lasting impact with innovative yet simple, low-tech business models. Yoshita started her career at BCG and later, worked with Pratham Education Foundation to improve access to quality education in India’s rural community. She finds happiness in dancing and traveling.

Sapan Shah (MBA ’23) hails from India. Before HBS, he worked in consumer goods and non-profit healthcare, and during the latter had been vital in the implementation of India’s HIV/AIDS control strategy. He spends his leisure time immersed in popular culture and quizzing.