by Rob Owens, EdD, LCMHCA

In an era of telework and hybrid workplace schedules, feeling disconnected from coworkers and colleagues is a real threat to team cohesion and positive organizational development.  Wellness professionals can proactively assume a primary role in creating positive organizational growth and change. Being multiculturally competent or having the ability to work well with others of different cultures (Mio et al.,2012), is an important part of facilitating connection and employee wellbeing. For this reason, it is unsurprising that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become a strategic priority of many CEOs and other C-suite executives (Randel et al., 2018). However, within many organizations, multicultural competence (or what is sometimes referred to as cultural competence) is often seen as a means for reducing microaggressions in the workplace (Chan & Reece, 2021). Instead of creating spaces for employees to appreciate and embrace the myriad of cultural variations, Human Resources (HR) professionals are charged with the development and implementation of employee wellness programs that adopt a deficit-based approach, relying on risk mitigation rather than maximizing human strengths or optimizing human potential.

To bring a positive change and promote employee wellbeing, wellness leaders should champion inclusive leadership practices. While a singular definition of inclusive leadership has been illusory, it is generally understood as those creating “cultures of belonging,” (Brown, 2019) where individuals perceive themselves as valued members of the group. One aspect of inclusive leadership practice is cultural humility, which is the “ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the other” (Hook et al., 2013, p. 2).  Contrary to cultural competency, it takes into consideration the iterative, dynamic, and evolving nature of culture within organizations and rejects the idea that cultural awareness precipitates action/advocacy (Chan & Reece, 2021). Moreover, it highlights the need for wellness leaders to become “more attentive to the cultural realities experienced by those within their organizations” (Chan & Reece, 2021, p. 131). Leaders who promote DEI initiatives tend to do so in a “top down” manner. In other words, many cultural competency training programs are devised in part on leaders’ perceptions and attitudes not necessarily on the experiences of employees. Inclusive leadership avoids the pitfall of “top down” approaches to DEI by creating cultures of belonging, where members of underrepresented and historically marginalized groups feel that their voices are not only heard but also valued.

Based on her experiences consulting with top Fortune 500 companies, Jennifer Brown (2019) proposes a four-phase inclusive leadership continuum. At phase one, wellness practitioners are unaware and think diversity is compliance-related and not part of their role or responsibilities. At phase two, practitioners become aware, understand the role they can play in creating cultures of belonging, and seek guidance and consultation from others. In phase three, the practitioners strategically shifted priorities to include DEIB as an integral part of wellness programming and initiatives. In phase four, practitioners advocate for systemic level change within the organization. An assessment that measures where wellness leaders are on the inclusive leadership continuum is available on Brown’s website.

Creating a culture belonging within organization is every employee’s responsibility. Through inclusive leadership practices, wellness leaders can become cultural change agents within their organizations.


Rob Owens, EdD, LCMHCA

Article contributed by: Rob Owens, Master Coach

Leadership and Performance Mindset Coaching, Valor Performance




Brown, J. (2019). How to be an inclusive leader: Your role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Chan, L., & Reece, A. (2021). Positive Cultural Humility in Organizations: Improving Relationships in the Workplace. Positive Organizational Psychology Interventions: Design and Evaluation, 125-140.

Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Owen, J., Worthington Jr, E. L., & Utsey, S. O. (2013). Cultural humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60(3), 353-366.

Mio, J. S., Barker, L. A., & Tumambing, J. S. (2012). Multicultural psychology: Understanding our diverse communities. Oxford University Press.

Randel, A. E., Galvin, B. M., Shore, L. M., Ehrhart, K. H., Chung, B. G., Dean, M. A., & Kedharnath, U. (2018). Inclusive leadership: Realizing positive outcomes through belongingness and being valued for uniqueness. Human Resource Management Review, 28(2), 190-203.