20 books on how to build high-performing, inclusive cultures that every business leader should read

Tiffany Jana
Tiffany Jana, diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist, is co-author of the book "Subtle Acts of Exclusion."Tiffany Jana

The start of a new year is a good time for CEOs and managers to reflect on their goals for the coming year. For many leaders, one top goal is to make their teams more diverse and their cultures more inclusive, according to an April survey of 400 CEOs on their 2023 goals conducted by Gartner, a management consultancy.

There is no shortage of compelling books in this space. If you're looking for a read that will make you a more effective leader, consider one of these titles.

This article was originally published in October 2020. 

"The Waymakers," by Tara Jaye Frank

The Waymakers by Tara Jaye Frank
Amplify Publishing

In this recently published book, Tara Jaye Frank, a DEI consultant and speaker, offers leaders a roadmap to creating inclusive cultures within their companies. She focuses on how people can be better allies to those from marginalized groups, or how to "make way" for others, hence the title "The Waymakers."

"Tara is masterful at leadership-capacity building," Nika White, a Fortune 500 consultant previously told Insider. "She helps leaders and allies translate DEI strategies into daily choices and behaviors. Any leader needing this kind of support should consider this book and after reading it, read it once again, and then again."

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"The Diversity Gap: Where Good Intentions Meet True Cultural Change," by Bethaney Wilkinson

The Diversity Gap cover by Bethaney Wilkinson
Harper Collins

Sometimes leaders have good intentions but end up making mistakes when trying to enact change within their companies in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

That's exactly what Bethaney Wilkinson, a diversity and inclusion facilitator and executive coach, tackles in her book. In "The Diversity Gap," Wilkinson lays out how managers can better understand today's racial climate as well as how to embolden people from underrepresented backgrounds to feel seen, valued, and make their best contributions.

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"Inclusify," by Stefanie Johnson

‘Inclusify’ by Stefanie K. Johnson

Management expert Stefanie Johnson describes how employees have two basic desires: to fit into a group and to stand out as individuals. "Inclusify" provides a roadmap for leaders to bring out the best in others by not just embracing differences, but including them in workplace policies, in other words "inclusifying."

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"The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table," by Minda Harts

the memo minda harts

Author Minda Harts is the CEO of The Memo LLC, a career-development platform for women of color, and an adjunct assistant professor at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Drawing on her years in the corporate world as a former consultant, Harts gives a firsthand, in-depth look at racism and sexism in the workplace, along with strategies women of color can employ to get the careers they deserve. Just as important, the book offers tips for managers and leaders who employ Black women and women of color so they are active allies.

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"Subtle Acts of Exclusion," by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran

‘Subtle Acts of Exclusion’ by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran
Berrett-Koehler Publishers/Penguin Random House

Sometimes bias comes out in the form of microaggressions, or indirect, often unintentional expressions of racism, sexism, ageism, or ableism. In this useful guide, Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran go through what to avoid saying and how to address microaggressions if you witness or experience them.

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"The Fearless Organization," by Amy Edmondson

The fearless organization by Amy Edmondson

Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School, shares her top learnings from years of research on what separates good companies from great companies. She argues that psychological safety, or the ability to bring all parts of your identity to a space, is the key to business success.

In "Fearless Organization," she outlines how to create an environment of psychological safety to attract, and more importantly, retain high-performing employees.

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"Success Through Diversity," by Carol Fulp

Success Through Diversity
Beacon Press

Carol Fulp is an adviser to CEOs and senior executives on diversity, inclusion, and culture. In "Success Through Diversity," she shares her top advice on how leaders can hire, retain, and promote more diverse talent. She argues that corporate executives need to switch their thinking from having diversity as a "nice to have" to realizing, in her words, it's "do or die" for business success.

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"Edge," by Laura Huang

‘Edge’ by Laura Huang
Portfolio/Penguin Random House

Most people think success comes from the absence of obstacles and shortcomings, but Harvard Business School professor Laura Huang has a different theory. In "Edge," Huang argues that success is really about confronting your perceived shortcomings and turning them into assets.

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"Creativity, Inc.," by Ed Catmull

Creativity, Inc. audiobook cover
Random House

Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar Studios — the Academy Award-winning studio behind "Coco," "Wall-E," and "Toy Story" — shares his story of creating not just a top Hollywood animation studio, but a culture that encourages everyone to be the most creative and bold they can be.

Catmull shares what he learned from getting Pixar off the ground, sustaining a culture of inclusion over the years, and what he thinks all leaders need to do to get the most out of those who work for them.

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"#MeToo in the Corporate World," by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

'#MeToo in the Corporate World'

The #MeToo movement has changed nearly every industry in the US. Now, it's time for the movement to become more inclusive, economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett argues in her latest work. The book provides context for corporate leaders, reveals new data on sexual harassment in the workplace, and gives advice on how to make environments safer for marginalized people.

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"Dare to Lead," by Brené Brown

Dare to Lead

Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, five-time bestselling author, and star of Netflix's "The Call to Courage," spent years studying vulnerability and leadership. In her book "Dare to Lead," she shares her top findings on what makes meaningful and effective leaders, including how to develop trust and workplace values.

"Leadership is not about titles or the corner office," she writes. "It's about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage. The world is desperate for braver leaders. It's time for all of us to step up."

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"Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring," by Lisa Z. Fain and Lois J. Zachary

‘Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring’ by Lisa Fain and Lois Zachary
Berrett-Koehler Publishers/Penguin Random House

As the US workforce becomes more diverse, more mentors and mentees could come from different backgrounds. So how does one bridge the cultural gap? Authors Lisa Fain and Lois Zachary go through examples to illustrate how to become more aware, understanding, and effective in connecting with others.

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"The Power of Disability," by Al Etmanski

‘The Power of Disability’ by Al Etmanski
Berrett-Koehler Publishers/Penguin Random House

One in four adults in the US has a disability, yet representation of their stories — especially their stories of success — is largely underrepresented. Al Etmanski, disability activist, community organizer, and author, seeks to change that in "The Power of Disability." His book offers 10 lessons everyone can learn from notable figures with disabilities including climate activist Greta Thunberg and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

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"Breaking the Silence Habit," by Sarah Beaulieu

‘Breaking the Silence Habit’ by Sarah Beaulieu
Berrett-Koehler Publishers/Penguin Random House

In order for work environments to eliminate sexual harassment and respond to it effectively, more employees and leaders are going to have to start having uncomfortable conversations. That's according to Sarah Beaulieu, who works with companies to create safe workplaces. Her book outlines steps leaders can take to make change.

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"In the Land of Men," by Adrienne Miller

‘In the Land of Men’ by Adrienne Miller

At 22, Adrienne Miller got her break in the literary world when she landed an editorial assistant job at GQ magazine. There, she learned how to make it in a man's world. She'd then go on to Esquire as the first female literary editor, where she developed a close friendship with famed novelist David Foster Wallace. "In the Land of Men" is a moving memoir about how a young woman found success in a male-dominated workplace.

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"Whistleblower," by Susan Fowler

‘Whistleblower’ by Susan Fowler
Viking/Penguin Random House

In 2017, Susan Fowler wrote a blog post detailing the sexual harassment and retaliation she experienced while at Uber. The post went viral and ultimately led to the ousting of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and starting a wave of institutional changes within Silicon Valley tech companies. In the book, Fowler reflects on everything that happened since she went public.

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"Able," by Dylan Alcott

‘Able’ by Dylan Alcott

Dylan Alcott is a three-time Paralympic gold medalist, Grand Slam tennis champion, and DJ who wants to change the way the world sees people with disabilities, as well as how people with disabilities see themselves. His inspiring book shows that for any one thing you might not be able to do, there are thousands of other things you can do.

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"Divergent Mind," by Jenara Nerenberg

'Divergent Mind' by Jenara Nerenberg

Jenara Nerenberg was shocked to find out that what she thought was anxiety was actually autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In her book, "Divergent Mind," Nerenberg examines why neurodiversity is often overlooked in women and society in general, and how we can include neurodiversity more in society.

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"The Economic Case for LGBT Equality," by M. V. Lee Badgett

‘The Economic Case for LGBT Equality’ by M. V. Lee Badgett
Beacon Press

Homophobia and transphobia aren't just hurting LGBTQ communities, they're harming the economy, according to M. V. Lee Badgett, a professor of economics and the former director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In her book, Badgett uses data to show how equality is good for businesses, communities, and economies.

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"We're All in This Together," by Mike Robbins

We're All in this Together
Hay House Business

Leadership consultant Mike Robbins calls on leaders to break their silence on diversity and inclusion in the workspace, saying, "We can no longer opt out of addressing these things, even though they can often be confusing, uncomfortable, and difficult."

Citing research, Robbins says tackling inclusion head on will make teams work more productively, boosting a company's bottom line.

Robbins has given leadership trainings on topics including diversity and inclusion at companies like Google, Wells Fargo, Gap, and Microsoft.

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