The Inclusive Leaders Academy (ILA) celebrates its eighth successful year, with another cohort of graduates joining its growing ranks. To date, more than 500 individuals have completed this transformative leadership program and received the designation of Culture Champions. 

Launched in 2017, ILA continues to serve as a cornerstone of leadership development at Georgia Tech. By fostering inclusive leadership and nurturing a diverse workforce, ILA plays a vital role in cultivating a supportive, respectful, and engaged community. This advances the Institute’s values for thriving on diversity and nurturing the well-being of our community members. 

Fostering Self-Awareness 

“It was fascinating to learn there are over 150 biases that are a natural part of our daily neural networks. ILA allowed us to understand biases both multidimensionally and comprehensively, engage in constructive conversations, and create counter-bias pathways, said Ana Rusch, research faculty and associate director of inclusive excellence in the College of Computing.

“Beyond the unit on biases, every workshop and module opened new conversations that we rarely engage in but that are truly life-changing,” said Rusch.  

The curriculum is designed to enhance self-awareness, social intelligence, and courage. As a self-paced program, ILA gives participants space to be self-reflective while offering practical tools they can integrate into their leadership practices. Many sessions are facilitated by subject-matter experts who have conducted research in intercultural leadership development. For example, the NeuroLeadership Institute is a key partner and workshop facilitator.  

Impacting Team Dynamics  

Jennifer Myles, HR business partner in Administration and Finance, said, “The remote and hybrid workforce I support increased significantly since the pandemic. Some leaders have embraced the new way of managing while others are staunch believers that ‘closer is better.’  

“I wish I had known about the distance bias sooner. Being equipped with this new perspective will allow me to explain that closer does not always mean better. In addition, it will reinforce guidance and tools provided for achieving 100% engagement with a remote or hybrid workforce,” said Myles. 

ILA’s interdisciplinary approach seamlessly integrates elements of social psychology and neuroscience. It introduces participants to positive workplace practices like mindfulness and meditation, alongside topics like team dynamics, bias awareness, and courage-based leadership.  

With a focus on evidence-based practice, ILA frequently conducts anonymous evaluations of program effectiveness. As a result, this year ILA piloted a module on Psychological Safety for Teams.  

Chris Ruiz, staff and community development coordinator in Housing and Residence Life, said, “It provided me with a lot of insight into creating a team that is open to listening and learning from each other.” 

“I will begin to incorporate more one-on-one debriefing with my team members to ensure they are being heard but also give me feedback on how we move forward,” said Ruiz. “I also want to make sure I am acknowledging their contributions and helping them to grow their ideas together.” 

A key component of the ILA program is storytelling for leadership development. Participants learn how to develop their personal narrative, fostering vulnerability and enhancing communication skills that are essential for building trust with colleagues and navigating challenging workplace conversations.  

The intensity of self-reflection required for storytelling often comes as a surprise for first-time storytellers, but ILA participants understand that becoming an effective storyteller allows them to better understand themselves, connect with others, and inspire action toward shared organizational goals. 

Empowering Compassion 

On May 16, the closing program featured a keynote workshop on mindful self-compassion by Kristin Neff, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a pioneer in self-compassion research. The discussion on the impact of self-compassion and empathic resonance for effective leadership provided ILA participants and guests with tangible resources for practicing self-compassion.  

“Self-compassion is a way of emotionally recharging our batteries. Rather than becoming drained by helping others, self-compassion allows us to fill up our internal reserves so that we have more to give to those who need us,” said Neff. 

Pearl Alexander, executive director of organizational culture and professor of the practice in the Scheller College of Business, expressed enthusiasm for ILA’s ongoing impact. “We are proud to support a network of empowered leaders committed to fostering mindfulness and social intelligence at Georgia Tech,” she said, encouraging all people leaders to become Culture Champions and contribute to the transformation of our organizational culture. 

“The amazing aspect of ILA is that the value you get from this program is not just from the incredible content, but the facilitators and the community you create with other participants,” Rusch said. “I have been a part of countless inclusivity programs outside of Georgia Tech, but none can compare to the Inclusive Leaders Academy. As always, Georgia Tech leads the way.” 

Download a full list of the newest cohort of Culture Champions and view the photo gallery here.

Nominations for the 2024 cohort will open in the fall. If you’d like to receive an email notifying you when nominations open, please submit this form.