Wise Inclusion Strategies for Equity - The Blog

W.I.S.E. words and strategies for the equity-minded leader

“Firsts” are still a big deal

diverse leaders diversity marginalized identities representation representation matters representative leadership Jan 12, 2023

There is often much attention and celebration around diverse “firsts” in various professional, vocational, and academic endeavors. This is especially true when the “first” is female, Black, a person of Color, LGBTQ+, disabled, or any intersection of these and other identities that are not white and male.  


Many ask the question: Why the fanfare and fascination? Why the special emphasis on the demographic and not just the accomplishment? Instead, of asking these questions what we should be asking is:


• Why we are still having firsts? 


• What does it mean when any demographic has been historically



• What does it say about our field, organization, and even country that we are still having “firsts” in the 21ST century? 


The short answer is representation matters – who and what interests the individual represents matters, what their accomplishment represents given bias and barriers they faced matters, and what the lack of representation means about that field of endeavor matters.  


Three reasons why diverse representation matters:


1. Voices, experiences, and interests: Having a seat at the table means you not only bring your unique perspective and lived experience into the room, but that you can also advocate for those who have not been included. From an organizational perspective, diverse representation means diverse problem solving, and decreasing the chances that you will overlook or neglect diverse communities and customers.


2. Role models and mentors: There is saying that “children cannot become what they cannot see.” While not impossible, it is difficult to imagine and dream the possibilities for yourself if you have never seen anyone who looks or lives like you achieving that dream. Many “firsts” had no professional role models who looked like them, and most have said that having someone who looked like them would have helped scaffold their success. Additionally, diverse role models are important for not just a source of inspiration and pride to the represented group, but it also demonstrates to all organizational stakeholders that leadership and success is not exclusively white, cisgender, heterosexual, Christian, and/or male.


3. Change, hope, and resilience: When someone succeeds and even dominates in a field in which they are the “first”, it represents change and hope for those who come after. It also represents the personal resilience it takes to overcome the barriers to access and exclusion (both social and legal) that others have not had to contend with. Change, and how you manage it, represents growth and adaptability which is imperative for organizational sustainability.



The next time you read about a “first”, consider not only what this says about the people represented, but also why it took so long for them to get there. That is where we as leaders need to focus our attention, on making the pathways to success accessible and equitable for all.