A conversation with Inclusion Nation Founder Michelle Silverthorn

BY Rekha Chiruvolu

As part of Nixon Peabody’s ongoing commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive organization, we recently welcomed diversity speaker and culture change practitioner Michelle Silverthorn for a firmwide program to discuss how to enact tangible change and become stronger allies. A former practicing lawyer, Michelle is founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation, as well as a TEDx speaker and author of the forthcoming book, Change the Rules. Change the World: How to Recruit, Train and Lead a Diverse Workforce.

As someone who has trained thousands of professionals about implicit bias and diversity and inclusion in the workplace, Michelle provided valuable insights that can apply to our own firm, the broader legal profession, and the communities in which we work. Following are some key themes from our conversation with Michelle.

How to make change happen

For many of us, it can be challenging to know how to enact meaningful change when it comes to issues of racial inequality and allyship. Michelle suggests beginning by asking yourself, “What is your why?” Doing so presents the opportunity to rethink why we—as individuals or as an organization—are committed to change. She also suggests starting small, such as educating yourself on the statistical disparities between the career and leadership opportunities of comparable young professionals from disparate racial backgrounds and genders. Then dig deeper to understand why these disparities exist. These difficult discoveries are important to putting in place long-lasting change. It will likely be uncomfortable at times, but “leaning into the discomfort” is part of the process, Michelle said.

Understanding unconscious bias and microaggressions

Understanding the meaning of unconscious bias and its impact should begin with listening, learning more about historical racial inequalities and resulting disparities, and recognizing where racial biases do exist, according to Michelle. She noted that while there’s a great deal of dialogue around bias, there’s much less conversation about what unconscious bias “looks” like and how much it hurts—even seemingly unintentionally derogatory assumptions or comments in passing. Michelle shared some examples such as a colleague interchanging the names of two Black co-workers or a potential mentor preemptively thinking, “I don’t have anything in common” with a young professional who is a different race or gender.

How to be an ally and enact antiracist principles

Small actions can result in large changes, and it is incumbent upon each of us to use our voices and understand the role of privilege in systemic racism, Michelle said. We can become allies by holding ourselves accountable and speaking up on behalf of inequity. She noted that no one is born antiracist; this comes through upbringing and teaching. Having an antiracist mindset means that you have an understanding of systemic inequalities and are determined to make a change in the world.

In closing, Michelle presented two everyday exercises to put her discussion points into practice: the “Ten Rules for Allyship and Justice” and the “Name 3 Challenge.” Michelle’s ten rules for allyship and justice focus on fundamental actions and personal ethos—respecting the value and dignity of others because of your own moral code, standing up and speaking out when you see something wrong, and helping to change systems that have perpetuated inequality, including recruiting and promotion practices and health equity.

We are excited to continue more conversations centered around racial injustice and diversity in the coming months. Click here to learn more about Nixon Peabody’s Diversity & Inclusion journey.

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Rekha Chiruvolu

Professional Staff

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