A Year of Success: Inclusive Leadership Institute

Bauer College Celebrates First Year of Inclusive Leadership Institute

The C. T. Bauer College of Business is celebrating the first official year of the Inclusive Leadership Institute (ILI), which connects leaders across academia, corporations and non-profit organizations to accelerate inclusive leadership in companies and communities. 

Founded by the college’s Department of Management & Leadership, the institute is led by the Institute Director Alejandro Fernandez, a professor of practice in the Management & Leadership department, under the guidance of the Department Chair Steve Werner. 

ILI has developed three main goals — act as a focal point for faculty-led research and best inclusive practices in industry, establish relationships to identify processes that are hindering organizations as they attempt to become more inclusive, and maintain an ongoing relationship between industry and academia to further knowledge creation and inclusive leadership development. 

"Even though our base mission is very broad, we have our core value set on leadership,” Werner said. “We are looking at all aspects of leadership that inclusivity can be tied to which could include employee wellness, corporate source of responsibility and sustainability.” 

The institute’s journey began in 2015 when college leadership launched the Working Families Initiative to focus on research for better work-life balance. The Family Friendly Task Force was created one year later to research how this idea could become an official university institute. 

“This progress led to a number of initiatives including our outreach programs to companies, research and course development,” Werner said. 

In 2019, the college rebranded the concept to the Inclusive Leadership Initiative, broadening the focus to four different values of supportive leadership: family, diversity, health and social responsibility.  

From there, the initiative officially became the Inclusive Leadership Institute in April 2023, with the immediate goals of launching an annual conference and creating a board of industry professionals. 

Held that fall, ILI’s inaugural conference brought together industry professionals with Bauer faculty and staff for networking and discussions on leadership development. 

“The grand idea of the inaugural conference was to get people together from academia and industry to create our framework,” Fernandez said. “We wanted to create a place where they can share ideas and develop collaborative research to discuss what the best practices in the realm of inclusive leadership are.”  

ILI has also had a curricular impact, with Bauer offering a graduate Certificate in Leading Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, with plans for a similar undergraduate certificate as well. 

“The idea is that we wanted to open these programs to outside organizations so they can certify their people as inclusive leaders,” Fernandez said. “We really think developing these inclusive leaders, who have people engaged and bring out the best in everybody, can lead to tremendous success in any industry.” 

Growth is the top priority for ILI long-term, with the institute serving as a top research channel in inclusive leadership and creating a communication channel for industry professionals to share their ideas, Werner said. 

“We want organizations to understand that having diverse people does not fit into a single category,” Fernandez said. “It means bringing in people with different perspectives and backgrounds and letting everyone participate in a way that makes them feel a sense of belonging. In that moment is really when the motivation, creativity and understanding will happen, and organizations will improve.”