The Future of Leadership Symposium

Changing the World in 2020 and Beyond

Inclusive Leadership in the Midst of COVID-19

Malia Samonte

In the age of the coronavirus, people in leadership are being called to step up and navigate our institutions and organizations through uncertainty. In Arianna Huffington’s 2020 article “The Eye of the Hurricane: Leadership in the Age of COVID-19,” she cites survey results saying “people are craving strong leadership and clear communication” (Huffington). As we continue to work through COVID-19 and move forward with this “new normal”, it is imperative to understand the importance of inclusivity. To be inclusive, one shows respect and acceptance of others no matter who they are. With the recent events surrounding xenophobia against Asians and Asian Americans due to the virus’ origins and police brutality against Black Americans, we need inclusive leadership. ​When a leader is intentional with their actions and prioritizes inclusivity, public confidence in our leadership in both local and national environments will increase, strengthening our communities as a result.

People are more inclined to listen to leaders who are aware and accountable for their actions and feel like their voices matter. For example, growing up, I moved around because I am a part of a military family. Through Kindergarten to 12th grade, my father was stationed at multiple Coast Guard bases on the East and West coast. As anyone can imagine, moving was difficult. I didn’t realize that the color of my skin and the culture I came from would impact the way I interacted with people.

In general, I remember growing up being self-conscious about how dark my skin could get. Since I played soccer, I was always in the sun and my tan got very dark at times, unlike my fellow teammates. Even as I moved up to playing competitively as a soccer player, my clubs were filled with girls who did not look like me. It made me feel out of place when people mentioned how dark I was, but my culture made me a victim as well. ​For example, in high school, ​one of my coaches told me after I scored a goal: “That was good for a Filipino”. I was floored. I had no idea what to say…so I didn’t say anything. When I moved to the Bay Area in the middle of high school, I realized how much self-doubt I had built up when I lived in an area where I was the only Filipino in my school. Here in Vallejo, California, I still struggled with fitting in, but I was surrounded by a Filipino community. ​I saw people who looked like me. I made friends with similar morals. I started to feel like I belonged. In this environment, my presence and voice was not cast aside but instead heard and accepted, allowing for a better learning environment both in and out of the classroom.

These experiences are why I believe diversity and inclusion should be on a leader’s agenda. One feeling that prevailed through every move, including when I moved to college, was the desire to feel like I belonged. I felt most empowered when I felt like I mattered. It taught me why “belonging” is important for success – not just as an individual, but as a community. Inclusion is a way to show support of the historically underserved, underrepresented, and marginalized communities around our nation. Inclusive leadership will uplift communities affected by the current racial pandemic and make better decisions for the sake of the whole community.

The first step to being more inclusive in leadership roles is to educate oneself on their own history and then learn about the history of other cultures. During an APAPA workshop with Solano County surrounding the “Wash the Hate” movement, one of our presenters, Mel Orpilla, used the phrase “​No History, No Self; Know History, Know Self”. By learning about others’ backgrounds, one gains a new perspective by understanding where another’s privilege and struggles come from. Through this historical understanding one can empathize with one’s current struggles. Empathy is the driving force behind inclusivity. It is understanding that the way one speaks impacts others in different ways and one must be conscientious of all groups of people. With this foundation, it is imperative to go beyond basic education. One must take initiative to take classes or read books on ethnic studies. The writings of Kimberlé Crenshaw and her coined term of intersectionality is one example of the way I have expanded my knowledge on the intersection of different levels of diversity that create everyone’s unique struggle as a marginalized individual.

Inclusiveness begins with education. The reactions of the events of police brutality, xenophobia around the coronavirus, and the targeting of several people of color, show that our nation’s leaders and many citizens are lacking in education of why diversity and inclusion are important for their roles in society. As Huffington said, people need clear, strong leadership in these uncertain times. Leaders in the local, state, and/or national scene need to unify their respective communities, showing accountability for the failing organizations that are plagued with discrimination, and leading by example by protecting people’s inherent rights to be who they are. As the new generation of leaders come into power, we must learn how to be inclusive and then teach others the same thing.

I am starting with my college community. ​This past year, as a first-year in college, I was a part of an organization called the Multicultural Business Program. Through this program, I received a mentor that guided me through my first college experiences academically, professionally, and socially. Being a member of the API community, I am a part of the marginalized communities at Cal Poly – SLO. However, with this program they showed how my culture is a strength not a weakness. Their mission is “Matter, Belong, Persist.” Beginning my second year at Cal Poly, I will hold a leadership position as a mentor and intern for the organization. I plan to continue to advocate for diversity and inclusion in all organizations with my voice and through my actions. APAPA has given me the opportunity to speak out and share my ideas of what the future leaders of our country need – inclusion. Now is the time to be a leader in your own community, small or large, by teaching the importance of inclusion and showing what it means to be inclusive through your own actions.

Malia Samonte is studying Business Administration at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She is a mentor/intern for the Multicultural Business Program and is the Co-Campus Life Chair for Cal Poly Relay for Life.

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