Behind the Scenes: Courageous Inclusion

November 8, 2022

By Martha Maher

When I learned in a recent Forbes article that 46% of employees feel excluded at work, I was saddened but not surprised. Exclusionary behavior is far more common than we think.

Exclusion is wrong from an ethical standpoint. It’s also bad for business. It destroys engagement, productivity, loyalty, and all the other qualities that make for a successful company. An enterprise with an unwelcoming culture is one destined for trouble.

I helped design Courageous Inclusion™, Blanchard’s newest offering, which addresses the pervasive problem of exclusion at work. In this course we partnered with diversity and inclusion expert Jennifer Brown, author of the bestselling business book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader. The course teaches learners how to cultivate a mindset that promotes diversity and inclusion and provides a process that helps them become advocates for inclusion in their workplace.

Creating the Courageous Inclusion course was an opportunity to not only teach about diversity and inclusion but also try new approaches to make the course itself more inclusive. Here are some of the highlights of the course and my experience.

Powerful Prework

One of the things we did differently with Courageous Inclusion was to frontload prework in a short, self-paced online activity that introduces the Courageous Inclusion Model, the mindset, and some key concepts.

This approach gives learners time to absorb the principles prior to attending the facilitated sessions, which in turn allows them to spend more time in small group discussions during the sessions. Being exposed to the experiences of others and building empathy and understanding is an essential step toward becoming more inclusive.

Real-Life Perspectives

Helping people become aware of their unconscious biases is an important aspect of the course. The facilitator gets participants talking as soon as possible about how their biases can affect their beliefs toward diversity and inclusion. This lays the groundwork for exploring the four-step Courageous Inclusion Model. Having an opportunity for active discussions helps learners broaden their perspective and become more sensitive to the challenges others face.

Learners explore how exclusion feels by watching a video interview with a blind individual. This person shares their challenges and how they felt when they were excluded. Watching the video is a moving experience and helps learners be receptive to what's to come. Later in the course, learners see another video featuring the same person talking about their work as an advocate in the workplace. Along the way, learners have opportunities to consider what their own Courageous Inclusion journey could look like.

Thoughtful Word Choice

Many aspects of equity and inclusion, especially bias and privilege, are sensitive topics. People often feel guilty or become angry or defensive when first exploring these subjects.

The course uses language that helps people consider these and other aspects without feeling triggered. We developed the Courageous Inclusion mindset to help people broaden their perspective and embrace inclusion.

To make this experience more personally meaningful, we ask participants early on to think about an inclusion issue they want to learn more about. Then, as they go through the course, they start planning how they will take action. Through large and small group discussions, learners get support and feedback to help them refine their plan and strengthen their commitment to moving forward on this issue.


Some people feel uncomfortable speaking in breakout groups and may need time to think about questions before discussing them. We address this by providing prompts in the Activity Guide and giving participants a short amount of time for individual reflection about a topic so that they are better prepared to join small group discussions.

These moments of reflection may sound like a small thing, but they are of tremendous help to many people, especially those who are introverted or neurodivergent.

It Takes a Global Village

I’m extremely proud of the team that created Courageous Inclusion. We worked with a diverse group of advisors and contributors from around the world to ensure a variety of perspectives as well as material that would be relevant to a global audience.

We can create a more welcoming workplace one person at a time. Courageous Inclusion provides a blueprint for making this a reality.

About the Author

Martha Maher is a Senior Learning Experience Designer with The Ken Blanchard Companies and the design lead for the company’s Courageous Inclusion course.

Previous Resource
DevLearn: We're Better Together!  Reflections from my favorite industry conference
DevLearn: We're Better Together! Reflections from my favorite industry conference

Learning design expert Ann Rollins shares key takeaways from DevLearn 2022

Next Resource
Struggling with a Matrix Environment? Ask Madeleine
Struggling with a Matrix Environment? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, I work in a company that has recently gone to a matrix environment. It is kind of a disaste...