top of page

Inclusive Leadership in an America that’s Less Free for Everyone

“I want to paint my nails blue,” my son said to me a few months ago.

When I protested (more to do with my concerns about the toxicity of nail polish; I wasn’t allowed to paint my nails until I was 10), he responded with:

“They’re my nails. I should get to choose what to do with them.”

He had a valid point.

We agreed upon one coat of paint every six months and his favorite teacher put on a bright blue hue on his little fingers the next day.

My son’s dad grew up in India and I was raised in Singapore in an Indian family. This was not the kind of discourse either of us had with our parents growing up, and certainly not at age five.

But when my partner and I debriefed the conversation we had with our kid, we had to acknowledge–as have many immigrant parents I’ve talked to–our child is American. He will grow up with American values (even the ones I’m not too sure about!) AND a big part of why we chose to raise our family here (the choice is a privilege to be sure), is so that he would feel confident and empowered enough to say boldly…here’s what matters to me and I get to make my choice.

My addition to this approach is: As long as you’re not harming anyone else or yourself.

(A story for another day is how my child once counseled me when I had an argument with a loved one that I was the ‘boss of me’ and not to let other people boss me around.” Yes, he’s five!)

The American value of, “it’s my body, my choice” is something I’ve learned immensely from in the 10 years I’ve lived in this country. Some of it has been empowering (I grew up in a deeply fatphobic country and believed I should hide my body because it didn’t conform to media ideals of beauty. I’ve thankfully learned better since.) Some of it has been concerning and deeply confounding (We can’t mandate masks or vaccines during a global pandemic when both have proven to save lives?)

And then, something else entirely happened on June 24, 2022 when the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the protections of a person’s right to abortion.

It felt distinctly unAmerican. Inhuman. Anti-science.

I have lived in America as a woman of color long enough not to be entirely surprised. But it was a devastating gut punch.

Here’s the truth: this decision will most impact those furthest from the centers of power and privilege: low income people, womxn of color, undocumented people, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities, as a start. Intersectionality matters.

Abortion is healthcare. The very same people who lack access to equitable healthcare will be most egregiously harmed by this decision. Which, by the way, the majority of Americans don’t support.

And lest those in “liberal” states think it’s not an issue that affects them–here in WA state where abortion rights are protected (for now!), research show that demand for abortions could increase by 350% so we can accommodate out-of-state abortion seekers. This will put immense strain on our healthcare systems, not to mention healthcare providers. It impacts all of us, of course, in disproportionate ways depending on our privilege.

None of us are free until we are all free.

So where do we go from here?

I’m still processing, but here are three to-dos that come straight to mind:

  1. Please speak up about abortion rights if you’re in a position of privilege and power and you deeply believe inclusion is leadership. It may be uncomfortable, but we really, really need you to speak up. And if you work for a company that has publicly declared they’ll support paying for employees to travel out-of-state for an abortion, but have a track record of funding anti-abortion causes and political candidates who fueled this horrific turn of events (here are some examples), then make a noise. Understand that this is an absolutely devastating time for many employees. Show empathy and make space for grief. That’s inclusive leadership.

  2. Fund womxn of color-led organizations providing direct services to those most impacted by this decision. This is a list I’m donating to. Recommend yours! That’s inclusive leadership.

  3. Vote. Get involved in local and state elections. My friend Jamie Van Horne reminded me (in my moments of despair) that we can make a difference by electing pro-science, inclusive leaders such as state Senators and Governors. More about her incredible efforts to make change here. Change the system today for a future when these things are not up for debate. That’s inclusive leadership.

This ongoing fight for true freedom is long and grueling. We’re going to make change only by being intentional, aware and working together to get to the other side. Please, please take care of yourself when you need to, rest often, take breaks from the news and do whatever it takes to build your reserves.

Then: Armor up. Speak up. Build community.

That’s inclusive leadership.

In solidarity,

Click here to subscribe to the weekly Inclusion is Leadership letter.

bottom of page