How did Michelle Silverthorn ’04 end up on stage as the featured closing speaker of the Women 20 Summit at the G20 in Aurangabad, India, last spring? “This is a lovely Princeton story,” she says: A fellow alumna connected Silverthorn with another alumna who was involved with the summit and looking for a speaker who could share the U.S. perspective on equity and inclusion. Silverthorn fit the bill.
“It was so extraordinary,” she says of the gathering of more than 100 female delegates from around the world. “There were so many different cultures and religions and political values, and yet we were able to unite around one common goal, which is improving access and equality for women everywhere.”
The speech she gave there was special, but not out of the ordinary for the diversity keynote speaker who gives around 110 speeches to various organizations around the world every year as the founder and CEO of a diversity and inclusion company called Inclusion Nation.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Silverthorn started her career as a lawyer at big law firms. She then decided to pivot into the teaching and training space, taking a job with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, in which she gave diversity and inclusion trainings to the tens of thousands of lawyers in the state.
Then, in 2018, she wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune about implicit bias. “It went super viral — like, a lot of people read that — led to a book deal, and that book deal led to the TED Talk — and all of that happened within the same month,” Silverthorn says. “That was when I decided I had this opportunity to start something different.”
Inclusion Nation was the “something different” born out of that moment. The organization provides three main service areas: keynote speeches, trainings, and workshops; consulting services; and an on-demand e-learning module. Silverthorn’s work focuses mainly on the first bucket.
“Sometimes it’s organizations who just need that one big moment that they need everyone to feel inspired,” she says. “And then for many organizations, it’s their third or fourth or fifth time with me and they’re really trying to dive deeper into unlearning damaging behavior, into recognizing how bias interrupts career success, into designing equitable systems for women and marginalized professionals to really deliver on that work. So my training, whether it’s 60 minutes or two and a half hours, what we really try to do is, again, build new habits and build new behaviors.”
She says that Inclusion Nation’s ultimate goal is to help organizations make an inclusive workplace that can benefit everyone, especially those from marginalized communities who have historically been excluded from traditional workplaces. In addition to the W20, Inclusion Nation has also worked with the Oscars, Pfizer, Sweetgreen, and Gap, among many others.
“I get to choose my clients, I get to choose my work, and I get to make it impactful and meaningful,” says Silverthorn. “I can say to my kids, ‘I did this today and it changed someone else’s life,’ and I love doing that.”