top of page

The truth about inclusive leadership and content creation

By Crystal Whiteaker, founder of Crystal Lily Creative

“Inclusion is so important.” “You’re doing great work.” “Thank you for all you do.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times variations of these statements have been said in my presence.  

If you’re white, cis-gendered, neurotypical, non-disabled and/or a heterosexual leader in any community — whether you have a small following, or you have a platform that reaches thousands — this is for you.

While you’re acknowledging the importance of inclusion, you could be doing more harm than good.

Genuine inclusion isn’t something that you achieve through acknowledging its importance, attending a few training sessions, writing an inclusion statement, or  a marketing campaign showing people from diverse backgrounds. Change isn’t made simply through surface level actions or being nice to people with marginalized identities.

Genuine inclusion takes work — deep, disruptive, work — and here’s the truth: A lot of people in positions of privilege aren’t ready to let go of their comfort to do the real work that’s required of them, in order to examine their participation in the oppressive, capitalist, white supremacist system that still rules every aspect of our lives — yes, even our businesses. This is a system that many people have learned  how to operate in just to survive.


Lasting change starts with disruption

As an inclusive branding and leadership development consultant, I spend a lot of time guiding people through the process of examining bias, before they can even begin to be genuinely inclusive. We work to disrupt everything that feels familiar and comfortable to identify that bias on personal, professional, and community levels. This process starts with an examination of  their own behaviors and beliefs, as well as those of the people and environments they’re connected to. 

First, we clarify the importance of inclusion, as well as examples of key terms and behaviors, before getting to the roots of their existing brand, where we re-visit and re-define core values, beliefs, and commitments. After doing this deep work, then — and only then — can we get into creating an ethos that reflects inclusion in a way that’s rooted in core values.

It’s vital to first do the deep, inner work that brings awareness to the ways we all participate in systems that create harm within historically marginalized and oppressed communities. 

Examples of harm include not speaking up when you notice harm taking place; spiritual, emotional, or experiential bypassing; using or excusing racial slurs, sexist or homophobic language; talking negatively about someone else's appearance, or disability; or using and excusing microaggressions. Even in the form of a “joke,” these things can all cause harm, whether someone points it out or not. (And often out of fear of retribution, they won’t.) There’s a lot of nuance to being inclusive, including being mindful of the language we use since there are plenty of words and phrases that have been normalized in the way we communicate that are actually harmful.

It’s tempting to jump right into using inclusive messaging and visuals. However, if you avoid addressing and engaging in the inner work first, without holding yourself and your community accountable, then you run the risk of causing even more harm. That harm takes the shape of:

  1. Action Bias: The need to develop and act on solutions just to feel good about “taking action” before a problem is even defined or understood — especially when it doesn’t actually solve the problem.

  2. Performative Allyship: Outwardly showing support for a community or group without doing any real work behind the scenes to understand the challenges or needs of the communities you’re attempting to connect with.


Creating truly inclusive content

When you do the deep inner work and you’re ready to create inclusive content, then it’s time to consider your message and who you’re inviting into your brand and community. You have to create from a place of understanding and consider that everyone has their own unique lived experiences in addition to their personal identities, which influences the way they connect with brands and the content that gets shared. Something important to understand is that diversity brings people in, representation gives them a voice, and inclusion makes them feel welcome, heard, and understood. 

When you're incorporating genuine inclusion into your life and business, your goal should be to provide people with a sense of belonging. With that in mind, here are a few questions for you to consider: 

  1. What’s your motivation for bringing inclusion into your brand and community?

  2. How is inclusion connected to your core values?

  3. How do you account for unique/individual lived experiences?

If you want all people to feel welcome, you'll need to make sure they can find themselves represented in the content you share, in a non-tokenizing way. It’s also important to be consistent. Your brand should include ethical representation of the people you're inviting in.  Avoid stereotyping, engaging in cultural appropriation, and using people in brand photos who don’t actually identify with the audience(s) you are looking to connect to. It’s important to be consistently inclusive in practice while being mindful of the language and imagery you share in public and in private. This also includes the relationships you keep and the organizations you support.

The truth about inclusive leadership and content creation is that every action you take toward building a genuinely welcoming community requires awareness that can only be achieved through examining bias. It requires continuous work, recognition, and mindfulness.


To start digging into this work, grab your copy of the Free Guide I created to help you revisit your core values and beliefs to draft an inclusive, aligned brand statement that lets your community know your brand philosophy.

Or better yet, sign up for my workshop Examining Bias: The Impact and Behaviors, taking place on June 20th at 12pm EST. Together with Tanisha Rodriguez, we created a heart-centered workshop with space agreements where you can show up as your whole human self to learn and ask questions without judgment. This isn’t a standard lecture style DEIB training. 

Learn about what influences bias and ways to manage discomfort when navigating bias.

Together, we'll explore:

  • Shared language on bias

  • What impacts bias

  • Different types of bias

  • Recognizing intersectionality

  • Using awareness to acknowledge others

Tickets are ONLY $47. 


Crystal Whiteaker

Crystal Whiteaker (she/her) is the Founder and CEO of Crystal Lily Creative, and Author of Brave Leadership is a Choice: An Inclusive Guide to Creating Belonging. Crystal is a photographer by trade and an Inclusive Branding and Leadership Development Consultant who helps mission driven brands and leaders create human-focused messaging and environments rooted in core values. Crystal brings 20 years of practical, creative, relational, process driven experience across multiple industries.

She's a self-described "corporate trained, creative hippie” who puts a strong focus on core values to help people connect, communicate and lead with belonging in mind. Crystal cares deeply about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) and is an advocate for leaders and organizations that provide resources and support for healing. Beyond her work, Crystal enjoys spending time at the beach, connecting with people, and exploring new places.



bottom of page