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An Introduction to Inclusive Leadership

A question that I get asked all the time is. ‘How can I become a more inclusive leader?’ This is a great question, so let’s start by looking at what inclusive leadership is, what the benefits are, the qualities of an inclusive leader and best practices for inclusive leadership.

According to Korn Ferry, only 5% of leaders globally can really be defined as inclusive. Organisations really need to push for workplace strategies which encourage inclusion and develop inclusive leaders.

What is inclusive leadership?

So, how do we actually define inclusive leadership? What is it exactly?

There are many different definitions of inclusion. One of the best ways to describe it is this: inclusion is a mindset, an attitude and a belief that embraces the fact that everyone has value to add. Inclusion is building a community that is accessible to everyone. Inclusion means adapting the environment to make everyone feel welcome. Inclusion is finding each individual’s strengths and intentionally planning for their success in the group. Inclusion fosters belonging.

It’s also important to note what inclusion is not, to separate the idea from common misconceptions. Inclusion is not a programme. Inclusion is not a favour or a charitable act we do for someone. Inclusion is not making everyone fit into a certain norm.

Inclusive leadership is the concept of supporting all employees and leading and managing employees without bias or prejudices. An inclusive leader is someone who can create a working environment in which all individuals are treated fairly, are respected, feel safe and feel that they belong regardless of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic.

Going beyond that, being an inclusive leader means you have a good awareness of the different cultures in your workplace, you are aware of your biases and have an open mind. An inclusive leader is someone with a lot of empathy.

Why is inclusive leadership important?

Well, according to the Harvard Business Review, what leaders say and do makes up to 70% difference as to whether individuals report feeling included. In an inclusive workplace, employees feel that they can share their opinions safely and that they contribute toward improving the company’s performance and overall well-being.

As a leader, a manager or someone who wants their organisation to thrive, you play a big role in keeping your people engaged. Your behaviour at work has a much bigger impact than you know. As an inclusive leader, you need to be mindful that the everyday small actions you do have the potential to contribute to larger changes in your workplace and have a huge impact on inclusion.

Additionally, an inclusive culture and a workplace where employees feel respected, valued, and can be themselves isn’t just a good thing to do, it’s also good for business. In an article by the Harvard Business Review, companies with above-average diversity had 19% more revenue from innovation. Furthermore, found that 85% of CEOs with an inclusive and diverse workforce could see increased profits.

Creating an inclusive organisational culture actively encourages diversity and promotes collaboration. The more that employees feel included, the more they speak up, go the extra mile, collaborate and improve performance.

Many workers indicate that diversity and inclusion are among their top priorities when looking for a job and evaluating a workplace, showing that inclusive leadership has a direct impact on talent attraction.

Employees that feel included in their workplace are more likely to be invested in their work and be more motivated, significantly improving talent retention.

Inclusive environments and diverse teams can lead to better and more innovative business decisions as they help to unleash individual potential and promote creativity, which allows organisations to compete in a fast-changing environment. The study by Korn Ferry found that organisations with diverse and inclusive teams are 70% more likely to corner new markets, 36% more likely to outperform profitability targets, 75% quicker getting goods and services to market and 19% more innovative.

What skills does an inclusive leader need?

To become a truly inclusive leader, you need a broad range of skill sets, both qualitative and quantitative. On the qualitative side, you need to have empathy, passion, and compassion and to be adaptive. You need to listen and share stories. However, you also need to have quantitative skills to set goals, measure performance and track progress, i.e. setting a goal to have 50% of women in senior leadership positions within 3 years.

How can you become a more inclusive leader?

We’ve listed below some of our top ways to become a more inclusive leader at work.

  1. Firstly, you need to make sure that you have senior buy-in and commitment so that your efforts and initiatives to become more inclusive will have the required buy-in and resources behind them.

  2. Secondly, you need to show your commitment to inclusion. Make sure that inclusion is embedded into the whole organisation at all levels - include it in the business strategy, bring inclusion initiatives into meetings, into recruitment processes and into reviews. Review policies to make sure they are inclusive. Make sure you track and measure your progress and then report on it. Be open and vocal about your commitment to inclusion.

  3. Be more accountable. Speak up when you witness any microaggressions - become an ally and an advocate.

  4. Become more intentional - challenge the status quo within your organisation - look more closely at processes that are excluding and challenge them. Ask everyone in the meeting for their opinion and to speak up. Actively seek opinions from people with different backgrounds and characteristics.

  5. Listen and learn - ask questions instead of making statements. Re-evaluate and discuss issues with your team. Collaborate and communicate to work through business challenges and make decisions in a collaborative way.

  6. Educate yourself - be aware of your biases or lack of knowledge and seek education and learning to become more culturally aware and sensitive. Use inclusive and respectful language.

  7. Educate your leaders on what inclusive leadership is and how to recognize unconscious bias. You need to hold every leader accountable to being inclusive every single day and recognizing when they need to improve. Do not underestimate the influence of your leaders, as even one non-inclusive leader can create a toxic work environment. You need to speak up when a leader is not being inclusive.

  8. Ensure that your leaders understand the advantages and privileges they were born with and also understand the obstacles faced by women, people of colour, LGBT+ employees, disabled employees, etc… Reward inclusive leaders.

  9. Finally, lead by example. Take risks, speak up and stand up to injustice.

How can Inspired Human Help you?

We can support you in your efforts to foster a more inclusive working environment and become a more inclusive leader. We can educate your leaders and support learning and development through a variety or workshops such as:

  • Diversity and inclusion framework

  • Inclusive language

  • How to become an ally

  • Neurodiversity training

  • Unconscious bias training

  • Inclusive leadership in remote work

  • Employee resource group support

If you enjoyed this article and feel empowered to become a more inclusive leader then get in touch with us to find out how we can support you.

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