Inclusive Leadership - Donna M. Hughes

Point of View
4 min readJun 15, 2021


Donna M. Hughes

I was recently featured on the ‘Moments with M3’ podcast hosted by Mary Malone McCarthy discussing types of leadership, specifically inclusive leadership. The number one asset of organization are the people who work there, and so I actively work to champion my employees to grow personally and professionally. This is the key to sustainable growth of a company and can be done through inclusive leadership.

Mary included some of my background while introducing me:

“Donna M Hughes is the first Enterprise Chief People Officer for Emblem Health, the family of companies. One of the nation’s largest non-profit health insurers with 3.1 million members and approximately 5,000 employees. In her time at Emblem Health she has been focused on engagement, retention, diversity, equity and inclusion and driving a high performance culture during the company’s rapid transformation.

“In April 2021, Ms. Hughes was recognized nationally by Diversity Leadership Inc. as one of its 2021 top 50 HR professionals, which is no surprise. Ms. Hughes is passionate about developing leaders to give their best in business and in their communities.”

Below are some of my comments on inclusive leadership.

“Inclusive leadership is very broad and many people think of it in a much narrower way than what it truly is. I focus more on questions such as: do I interview, do I know a diverse slate of candidates, or do I have a diverse team?

“This is a good starting point, but if you don’t lead in an inclusive way, it doesn’t matter who’s on the team. This is because you’re not really inviting them to the table of discussion, you’re not really giving them the opportunity to grow and therefore the opportunity to be recognized and bring innovation to the organization. You’re not allowing them to have the potential for progressive leadership roles within your organization. I think many leaders are failing to be intentional in this way and to truly sit and think about what it really means to be an inclusive leader.

“There are so many things that can be done to make sure that you are inviting people to elevate their voice, be a part of the conversation and bring their contributions in. You can start with who you talk to most of the time during the day. Ask yourself ‘which of my colleagues am I spending the most time with?’ Then, find others within the organization who report to you that are different than your usual coworkers and really spend some time working with them.

“When you start a meeting, are you allowing people to speak within that meeting or do you start the meeting by saying ‘well let me tell you what I think this is?’ Or do you say ‘here’s what I think, what do you guys think?’ Even in this situation, there is a fair chance that the more senior you are, the more you will quiet the voices in that room. This is not done intentionally but it’s just the nature of the individuals who are in the room to think ‘that voice has spoken, they’re senior leader, they are responsible for the decisions, my idea was very different maybe I shouldn’t even pose that idea.’

“Being inclusive is really being open enough to provide psychological safety and provide space for others to contribute their ideas. Of course it is also thinking about how you mentor and grow others, but initially, there’s a lot of small changes that leaders can make that they would find remarkable results from.

“If leaders just stepped back and allowed people to truly be a participant within their teams and their organizations it would be highly beneficial. If people were really able to have freedom to do that; bring their own personalities to the table, their own experiences to the table, their own backgrounds to the table, their own way of thinking, their approach and style.

“Whether you may be an extrovert or an introvert, clear the room so that everyone knows that there is no silly idea and that you are an equal part of this team. Make sure that they know that you want them to bring everything they have such as background, thoughts, culture; everything that you have to be able to influence us to get to the right solution.

“All leaders should think about this. Leaders want people to bring a hundred plus percent to what they do every day, but should take a second to think about if there is anything that you are doing or not doing that doesn’t support that. Truly ask yourself if there is something that doesn’t allow that, really take time to think about whether or not there’s anything that you could do better, anything that you could change that allows individuals to bring a hundred percent to the table every day.”


About Donna M. Hughes: Donna is a human resources executive leader, attorney, and leadership coach with 25 years of experience in various industries. Donna uses her diverse background to drive transformative business solutions. Her legal knowledge aids her in driving business objectives that are clear and considerate of risk management. Donna applies the principles of servant leadership and coaches individuals and teams to reach their highest potential. She is committed to supporting the underserved through her volunteerism and is passionate about coaching the next generation of business and community leaders.



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