Category: Business, Diversity Equity and Inclusion
Publication date: September 27, 2022
Extent: 208 pages

Growing the Elephant

Increasing earned advantage for all

Chris Altizer
Gloria Johnson-Cusack


** Business Book Awards 2023 Finalist **

‘Amazing book: Clever, insightful, relevant, and actionable.’ Dave Ulrich

If you find discussions of inequality painful, aggravating, exhausting, or even scary, it’s time to explore the elephant.

Growing the Elephant is the story of Advantage – Earned and Unearned. Earned Advantage is the part of the Elephant we know. Work hard – get rewarded; form relationships – get opportunities. But while anyone can earn Advantage, some have more opportunity than others. That’s the story of Unearned Advantage.

Unearned Advantage is the part of the Elephant we avoid. It is so hard to talk or even think about that those with it ignore or deny it while those without it are exhausted or incensed by it.

Growing the Elephant is for anyone working to increase innovation, performance, and inclusion by building practices and mindset to meet and stay with what’s difficult. It is for leaders and contributors at any level and those who help them build and sustain diversity, equity and inclusion.

A seasoned human resources executive, CHRIS ALTIZER, MBA, MA consults and coaches executives and lectures on business, management. and inclusive leadership. He has led teams and worked with senior leaders across industries around the globe. His research and work have been published in journals and covered by Forbes Magazine. Chris practices and teaches mindfulness, yoga, and martial arts.
GLORIA JOHNSON-CUSACK, MPA, is a servant leader and changemaker who consults to leadership teams and boards of public and private foundations committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in education, financial security, and health. She lectures at Columbia University and serves as Board Chair of the Firelight Foundation supporting communities in Africa. She holds degrees from American University and Columbia University.


I found this book especially compelling because it was one of the first I’ve read to bring a spiritual angle into the workplace and challenge the concept of whether business dealings have to be a zero-sum equation, or whether maybe there is a better path forward.


The advantages of leveraging diversity through inclusion have been widely recognized, if not often successfully reaped, for decades. Why is it that now we are all so focus on this topic. Amazingly there are still a lot of people who choose to ignore this, while there are ways to ensure you are not seen as disrespectful. Chris Altizer and Gloria Johnson-Cusack not only provide explanation to recognize diversity but also use it through true life examples

HR Director


Growing the Elephant offers road-tested inspiration and practical support to you in maximizing the possibilities inherent in working well together across the lines of real and perceived differences in our workplaces. Read and share to deepen your understanding of privilege and how to use it – and possibly transform it – for good.
Rhonda Magee, M.A., J.D., author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice

Chris and Gloria brilliantly weave together insights and tools from mindfulness, competitiveness, and change to the challenge of DEI. By delineating the assumptions and actions of earned vs. unearned advantage and by learning from the four archetypes, this book dramatically advances how people in any setting grow and relate to each other. Amazing book: clever, insightful, relevant, and actionable.
Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan Partner, The RBL Group

This groundbreaking book offers a new and exciting paradigm for enhancing diversity training. Using a model of earned versus unearned advantage, which seems eminently sensible and wise to me, it weaves in contemplative and mindfulness practices so that we are not stuck in “now what do I do?” with no place for healing or action. This book is the “now what.” I am confident the wisdom and compassion of this methodology will be used widely for the benefit of many.
Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and author of The Little Book of Being.

Years ago, I was with Chris Altizer in that DEI workshop in the story. Like Chris, I didn’t like how I felt then, either. Life experiences and the practices in this book have helped me begin to get square with my own unearned advantages. I believe this book opens the mind and the heart and can help all of us, whoever you are or wherever you’re from, face the elephant in the room and grow earned advantage – for everyone.
Jeff Kindler, CEO, Centrexion Therapeutics

As a Latina who has led many nonprofits committed to creating opportunities for all, I continue to apply really important life lessons about privilege or what this book quite appropriately calls “unearned advantage.” Many more of us need deeper understanding because, then, we can do better problem-solving. As I read this book, I recall moments when Gloria, a co-author, and I, would exchange smiles of appreciation when someone other than us – who was not of color or not a woman – would call out the “elephant” in that room of national CEOs where we gathered for several years. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our most productive discussions happened when individuals of different identities had taken the time to learn. Whether you are a CEO, board member, staff member, or community volunteer, your time will be well spent reading and reflecting on the rich insights you’ll find here.
Anna Maria Chavez, Chief Impact Officer; President, Encantos Foundation; Board Chair; Founder, Fearless Global Girl Initiative; Former National CEO, Girl Scouts of America

At a time of increasing public debate around the topic of equality and after many organizations’ well intended, but often ineffective attempts to move the needle with DE&I training, Chris and Gloria offer a meaningful shift in the discourse and reframing of the discussion. Rather than zero-sum thinking, they demonstrate a practical and action- able approach utilizing a growth mindset. Their book is a thought-provoking prescription for advancing DE&I by growing earned advantage for all.
Michael Goettler, CEO, Viatris Inc.

Our unwillingness to discuss the topic advantage has created a culture where it’s simply avoided – like a huge elephant in the room. Chris and Gloria invite readers to examine “the elephant” through a compassionate mix of stories and practices that open the mind and the heart. In a time of increased division and decreasing dialogue, when discussions of in- equality are so difficult they are becoming legislated, Chris and Gloria bring a different approach to how we address it – from the inside – out. This book meets people wherever they are without judgment as they explore the elephant and helps us all find ways to grow earned advantage for everyone.
Shelly Tygielski, author of Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World and Founder, Pandemic of Love

After the senseless murder of George Floyd, I had the opportunity to speak with many African-Americans who shared gut wrenching and heartbreaking stories. Stories describing what it was like raising their children, needing to give them the “talk” about how to behave if they were pulled over and how they worried for their children. I also heard from White Americans that wanted to reach out to their Black friends— especially those in the workplace, knowing that they were hurting, but afraid to broach the subject.
This practical and impactful book gives people the tools they need to address these issues. It describes the journey that we can take together to better understand each other in a way that is helpful, effective and meaningful. The tone is not accusatory; rather it strives for being understanding of each other. We can all learn from reading Growing the Elephant.
Gail J. McGovern, President and CEO, American Red Cross

As a DEI consultant with 30 years of experience evaluating existing and creating new DEI programming, this book pro- vides a major alternative to the focus on the damages resulting in inequality by instead focusing on preventing the im- pact of inequality through positive approaches and solutions to support everyone, regardless of advantage. It also provides a methodology to prevent negative impacts and promote equal advantage for all.
Kent D. Lollis, Esq., DEI and Educational Consultant; LSAC DEI Vice President Emeritus

Theory tells us that a more diverse workforce can lead to better decision making, greater organizational vitality, and long- term success. But what are the practical steps organizations must take to realize these benefits? For everyone who has lived through the shortcomings of traditional DEI programs and seminars and avoided them ever since, Chris Altizer and Gloria Johnson-Cusack provide a new approach. Based on extensive interviews and research, their approach uses contemplation, meditation, and mindfulness techniques to stimulate personal growth and discovery. Not a silver bullet, but an approach that, with time and concerted effort, can produce insights among individual employees and break-throughs for their organizations.
Larry Stimpert, Ph.D., President, Hampden-Sydney College; Author


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

A Word from the Authors

Introducing the Elephant

Growing the Elephant – Our Approach and Intent

An Approach to Reading this Book

Growing and Learning – Not Always Comfortable

Closing Chapter 1 – Terms and the Team

Why No ‘Disadvantage’?

Chapter 2: Recognizing Advantage

Through the Eyes of…

The Authors on Recognizing

Recognizing Advantage – What Am I Looking At?

Recognizing Earned Advantage

Earned Advantage Exercise

The Unearned Opportunities for Earned Advantage – Unearned Advantage

Sources of Unearned Advantages

Unearned Advantage: Who We Are

Whence you came

STOP – Begin to See the Elephant

Recognizing the Entire Elephant

The Discomfort of Recognizing Unearned Advantage

Emotional Awareness of Advantage Reflection

A Brief Introduction to Windows of Tolerance

Chapter Summary

Chapter 3 Working with Advantage – the Mindset

The Team Explores Advantage Mindset – Fixed or Growth?

The Growth Advantage Mindset

Exploring Mindset

The GAM Exercise

Alvin Explores Intentions

What They Are, How They Work

Maria’s GAM Intention.

The GAM of Whence You (we) Came

Yvonne’s Intention – Self Compassion (and Robert’s, Too)

Advantage Compassion – for Yvonne and Robert (and the rest of us)

Chapter Summary

Chapter 4 Growing Earned Advantage

Unconscious Biases – Seriously Uncomfortable…

Little Things That Add Up

The Turbulence of Language Ownership – Claiming the Baggage


Awareness of Microaggression

Claiming More Baggage – Unpacking Gender Personal Pronouns

Unpack Some Baggage

Literally Harder to Carry – Disability

Grow the Good – Feel the Real

Watering the Seeds of Earned Advantage – RAIN

Growing Earned Advantage – Things You Already Know

Growing Earned Advantages for Two, Please

Asking for Opportunity for Earned Advantage

3 Kinds of Awareness

Increasing Awareness?

Claiming “Woke” – The unPolitics of the Growth Advantage Mindset (a box)

GAM Leadership – and Followership

Chapter Summary


Growing Earned Advantage – the Fertilizer of Courage

Holding More Unearned Advantage

Holding or Supporting Less Unearned Advantage


Dynamics of Advantage

Awareness of Advantage Exercise:

TBC – Additional Resources & Reading

Resources 84

Background Design Statement – Chris Altizer 86

Advantage, Not Privilege 86



Paperback / 9781788603881 / September 27, 2022 / £14.99

Ebook / 9781788603904 / September 26, 2022 / £7.99

Paperback and eBook Bundle / £16.99


Chris Altizer

Currently teaching at Florida International University, Chris Altizer, MBA, MA has led teams and worked with C-suite and senior leaders around the globe. He holds MBA and MAHRD degrees, has written extensively and published peer-reviewed research, and teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction®, yoga, and martial arts.

Gloria Johnson-Cusack

Gloria Johnson-Cusack, MPA, is a servant leader and changemaker who consults to leadership teams and boards of public and private foundations committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in education, financial security, and health. She lectures at Columbia University and serves as Board Chair of the Firelight Foundation supporting communities in Africa. She holds degrees from American University and Columbia University.