Creating Culture Champions: First Class of 87 Staff Leaders Graduate from the Inclusive Leaders Academy

Staff Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement to Open Nomination Period for Second Class This Month

Creating a culture of inclusive excellence requires the proactive, intentional, and focused efforts of leaders. After engaging in up to 24 hours of study and practice through the Inclusive Leaders Academy, 87 staff leaders emerged and were celebrated as “Culture Champions” during the program’s closing ceremony on October 24. Nearly 400 attendees came to the closing ceremony to recognize the graduating class and hear keynote speaker Brené Brown discuss the essence of “Daring Leadership.”

Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, founder and CEO of Brave Leaders Inc, and author of four No. 1 New York Times best-sellers, offered these insights to the first class: “Ask yourself, ‘Do I choose comfort or courage?’ Courage is a prerequisite for leadership and culture change, but leadership is hard, uncomfortable, and ultimately to serve others, not ourselves. To be an inclusive leader, you need to be willing to be uncomfortable because you are choosing to enter the ‘arena,’ a place where showing up and being brave requires us to face uncertainty and risk emotional exposure.”

Launched earlier this year as a pilot from Institute Diversity’s Staff Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement unit, the Inclusive Leaders Academy is a professional leadership and legacy development program for managers at Georgia Tech.

“Positive and sustainable culture change begins with leaders modeling our institutional values and valued organizational behaviors,” said Pearl Alexander, executive director of diversity, inclusion, and engagement and co-founder of the Inclusive Leaders Academy. “The program was created to provide managers with an opportunity to engage with other leaders, to learn the science of inclusion, and to practice valued behaviors that increase inclusivity, engagement, and resilience. Ultimately, through the personal transformation and growth of individual leaders, we are transforming our culture by modeling inclusive excellence.”

The curriculum was designed to blend neuroscience and social science in ways that spark insights and in turn guide personal transformation. Key learning benefits of the Inclusive Leaders Academy – and core curriculum topic areas – facilitated self-awareness, social intelligence, and co-active leadership. In addition to the online, self-guided modules from the NeuroLeadership Institute on unconscious bias and from Brave Leaders Inc, which is based on the research of Brown, 60 course sessions were offered through the Inclusive Leaders Academy this year, including 26 wisdom labs, four co-active leader dialogues, 19 individual coaching sessions, and 11 group coaching sessions.

“I was impressed with how well the program was put together,” said Randall Burke, sergeant for the Georgia Tech Police Department. “The Inclusive Leaders Academy encouraged out-of-the-box thinking through the online curriculum, wisdom labs, and coaching. I particularly enjoyed collaborating with other participants during the wisdom labs to learn how they applied the curriculum.”

More than 120 staff leaders representing over 40 campus units joined the first class of the Inclusive Leaders Academy earlier this year and gained exposure to the concepts being put into practice. Based on initial feedback, 100 percent of the participants would recommend the breaking bias content from the curriculum.

Melissa Arceneaux, financial manager II for Procurement and Business Services, stated, “The Inclusive Leaders Academy taught me what it takes to be a brave leader, how to embrace vulnerability, and that we all have unconscious biases. Anyone who supervises others and wants to foster an inclusive environment should participate in this program.”

“The Inclusive Leaders Academy was life-changing for me as it opened my eyes to being more open,” said Tina Clonts, director of administration and finance for Institute Budget Planning and Administration. “From this program, I learned about being engaged, present, and vulnerable. When I open up and show my vulnerability, I am creating inclusiveness.”

The nomination period for the second class of the Inclusive Leaders Academy will open on November 30, 2017. The next program will start in February 2018, feature a few curriculum enhancements, and span four months, wrapping up all coursework in May 2018 based on participant feedback during this year’s pilot.

“I strongly endorse and encourage all current and future managers at Georgia Tech to participate in the Inclusive Leaders Academy,” said Paul Strouts, vice president for Campus Services. “I am proud of the managers and HR leaders from Campus Services who are now ‘Culture Champions’ and actively practicing greater inclusivity and fostering engagement as a result of this year’s program.”

Brené Brown added, “Georgia Tech is blazing a trail that is uncommon and remarkable. We are grateful for leaders like Pearl Alexander and Cheryl Cofield who are courageously leading the efforts at the Institute to make the campus and world braver.”

For more information on the Inclusive Leaders Academy, visit

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  • Inclusive Leaders Academy Roundtable Dialogue and Closing Ceremony

  • Inclusive Leaders Academy Roundtable Dialogue and Closing Ceremony Keynote Speaker Brené Brown

  • Pearl Alexander, Brené Brown, and Cheryl Cofield at the Inclusive Leaders Academy Roundtable Dialogue and Closing Ceremony

  • Inclusive Leaders Academy Members with Brené Brown, Archie Ervin, Pearl Alexander, and Cheryl Cofield

  • Inclusive Leaders Academy by the Numbers

  • Inclusive Leaders Academy Program Process Graphic

For More Information Contact

Annette Filliat

Communications Manager

Institute Diversity