Six Tips for Inclusive Leadership

What do leaders bring to an organization? Vision. Inspiration. Action. They compel and captivate. They are compassionate and steadfast.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

But our understanding of what leaders do has evolved throughout the years. In the 1800s and 1900s, we saw a leader as a lone wolf. He — almost always a “he” back then, and white as well — was a paternalistic maverick figure who made all the decisions. Workers were expected to follow the leadership of the head of the company.

Today, if we want to create a workplace based on a strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy, leadership needs a new paradigm.

What Is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership isn’t just about leading. It’s about creating a diverse workplace where everyone feels welcome and where everyone has a voice. This requires leadership to reflect the diversity of their teams. It also requires leaders to listen, to be aware of their own biases, and to learn.

Inclusive leadership asks CEOs, managers, and leaders at all levels to be more vulnerable. Rather than leading with a top-down approach, these professionals consider more perspectives. They ask questions. They’re willing to admit they may be mistaken or don’t know something.

Let’s be honest: this can be scary for some leaders used to a more traditional approach. But it’s also essential to make the change. A study from Deloitte found that 80% of talent looks for an inclusive workplace when deciding what job to take, and 39% reported they would leave for a more inclusive workplace.

At the same time, most population growth and wealth accumulation are happening in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. That means the future of talent, customers, and markets will look more diverse by 2030 and beyond.  The people buying your products and services, the employees and leaders who will take your organization into the future, and your suppliers will continue to reflect more diversity. Your leadership needs to keep up.

There’s plenty of room for improvement. Only 31% of workers polled said the leadership at their organization was inclusive. At the same time, there’s reason for hope. Examples of inclusive leadership abound. Google leadership publishes DEI data every year so leaders can act on the findings. In 2019, McDonald’s leaders put their support behind the company’s Gender Balance & Diversity Strategy. And P&G and Salesforce are examples of inclusive leadership, where leaders routinely speak with employees at all levels and in all departments to get new ideas and elevate voices.

Adopting the Six Cs of Inclusive Leadership

Leadership coaches have narrowed down the traits of leadership into the six Cs of inclusive leadership. Here’s how to make them work at your organization.

1. Commitment

To be inclusive, leaders need to truly believe in the importance of DEI in their organization. Not as a “nice to have” or as something to work on “someday” but rather as something essential to the core of the business and as something urgent, requiring significant action now. All c-suite executives, department heads, and managers have limited time and attention. They must believe in inclusion and diversity so passionately that they’re willing to invest these limited resources in the effort, every day across the company.

So how does commitment happen? Dr. John Kotter, an expert in change, believes that both the emotions and the intellect need to be involved for us to make changes in our behavior. This may mean leaders need to understand the positive impact of DEI on their organization to intellectually understand why it’s important. They may also need to connect with their own inner sense of justice and desire to do right to create a compelling emotional reason to lead with inclusion.

2. Courage

Inclusive leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders need to be willing to be uncomfortable and to take risks if they’re to be inclusive. They may need to speak up to challenge a system or others. For example, if an organization has always recruited through networking, a leader may speak up and request that the company recruit with inclusion in mind. Speaking up can mean a leader’s ideas are questioned, especially when those ideas challenge the status quo. Inclusive leaders have the fearlessness to speak up anyway.

Courage is also required because inclusive leadership requires vulnerability and humility. Inclusive leaders reflect on their own biases, their own bad behaviors, and the changes they need to make. They need to admit they’re wrong and don’t know everything. In other words, leaders need to leave behind that old idea of the leader as the solo hero or maverick and replace it with the idea of the leader as a member of the team.

3. Curiosity

Inclusive leaders are ultimately leaders willing to learn. And in order to learn, they need to be curious about the world around them. Inclusive leaders are always asking questions:

  • What have we been doing that could be creating less inclusion?
  • What can we do about that?
  • How are my own biases creating a lack of inclusion in the workplace?
  • What do I need to work on?
  • How can we measure inclusion in our organization?
  • What should our target be for inclusion?
  • What exclusionary practices have we been tolerating & how can we address them?
  • What parts of our company should be a priority for DEI efforts?
  • What resources do we have that could help us in our efforts?
  • What are some possible microaggressions in our organization & how can we address them?

Being willing to explore means leaders are willing to be open-minded and look at problems from different perspectives. This is essential for an inclusive workplace because it opens a door. It allows leaders to consider the possibility that more needs to be done. It gets leadership thinking about solutions.

4. Communication

Strong leaders are always excellent communicators because they need to be able to express a vision and inspire others to adopt that vision. Inclusive leaders take it a step further. They first listen deeply to others inside and outside their organization to learn more. They learn about pain points and inclusion and listen to others’ ideas. They then communicate ideas, inspiring entire teams to act.

Inclusive leaders have a fundamentally different style of communication when compared with more traditional top-down leadership styles. Inclusive leaders are sharing their ideas, but they are using communication to elevate other voices, too. Communication becomes a strategy for creating inclusion. Inclusive leaders may adopt types of communication that allow more people to take part. They might create an anonymous platform to allow people to raise concerns and make suggestions anonymously, for example, to allow everyone to feel comfortable speaking up. They will acknowledge the ownership of the ideas they are sharing, too. They will ask people for their opinions and then act on suggestions.

5. Creative Collaboration

Creative collaboration can be a radically inclusive act itself, so it’s no surprise that inclusive leaders adopt it. Again, this core tenet moves us away from a centralized style of leadership to one that includes others.

With creative collaboration, leaders work together with their teams, including employees at all levels of the company, from new hires to workers in different departments. The goal is to include a variety of perspectives to generate exciting new ideas and solutions.

Creative collaboration can include all-hands brainstorming sessions for new products and initiatives. It can mean creating Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for women workers, racialized employees, LGBTQ+ team members, workers living with disabilities, veteran employees, and other workers. These groups can meet to socialize, raise awareness of issues, and work on professional development together.

6. Cultural Competence

Cultural competence means learning about cultures, traditions, histories, and beliefs. A leader may learn about Hanukkah celebrations, for example, or about the history of Indigenous peoples in their location.

Alone, cultural competence isn’t enough. However, when it’s combined with the other six c’s of inclusive leadership, it can help leaders empathize with and see the perspective of others. This was illustrated by a study published in the Harvard Business Review, in which researchers found that when leaders understood their bias and showed an understanding of different perspectives, employee feelings of inclusion rose by up to 33%.

Cultural competence can also create inclusion in a workplace by ensuring the needs of others are met. For example, understanding the different religious practices of your workforce can enable you to accommodate prayer times, days of significance, and other religious practices. You may learn that you need to provide a place for prayer, flexible working schedules or holidays, or other religious accommodations. .

How Can Diversio Help?

Diversio is a woman-led, people-centered company. We have created the first AI-powered DEI dashboard as well as a suite of services to help organizations across industries make measurable changes.

Diversio for Companies is designed to help businesses create measurable change, while Diversio for Portfolios captures, benchmarks, and analyzes DEI data across a portfolio of companies, helping you understand and act on the big picture. If you need a public-facing expression of your DEI commitment, Diversio Certification can be a solution for you. If you’re a leader, Diversio DEI Academy makes learning fit into your schedule with online courses.

Diversio is a trusted partner for committed leaders who understand that diversity without inclusion is exclusion. These leaders turn to us for field-tested, actionable, and data-driven solutions. Diversio works with leaders to create forward-thinking workplaces where top talent wants to work.

Find out how Diversio can transform your leadership. Book a demo or contact us today.

Diversio DEI Expert
Diversio DEI Expert
Diversio's DEI expert shares everything about diversity that you need to know.
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