What is inclusive leadership? We work to connect talented individuals and inspiring organisations to build the most successful working partnerships. Our work gives us the unique position of seeing first-hand the power and opportunity that arises when organisations adopt best practices regarding diversity and inclusion. This piece will explore what it means to be an inclusive leader in 2021 and what the benefits are.
Benefits to an organisation that fully embraces diversity and inclusion throughout its operations are increasingly recognised. However, it’s essential to feel confident in what the terms diversity and inclusion mean and the benefits of embracing them. You can find out all you need to know in our dedicated piece here.
Cultivating leadership throughout your organisation that’s inclusive is critically essential to adopting diversity and inclusion best practices. These best practices have proven business benefits when this happens successfully. So, the question is, do the leaders within your business truly understand what it takes to be an inclusive leader? And, how can you support them in achieving this?
What is an inclusive leader?
There are several aspects to being an inclusive leader. Deloitte categorises inclusive leadership into six traits:
Leaders need to have a good level of self-awareness and the realisation that we each carry our own bias based on our own experiences. Being aware of our unconscious bias is the first step in overcoming discrimination and favouritism. An inclusive leader makes a habit of challenging their decision-making process
An inclusive leader needs to have a natural curiosity to hear new ideas and ask questions. Without this, the team risks falling into groupthink and bypassing innovative ideas.
3. Cultural intelligence
Inclusive leadership is sensitive to the fact that people have different backgrounds and experiences. Promoting inclusivity means appreciating that not everybody sees the world through the same eyes.
A leader can’t promote inclusivity without encouraging collaboration. This means bringing ideas together, bouncing off one another, and recognising that every team member has an important role to play.
Inclusivity isn’t an overnight process or something that leaders can accomplish with a one-off training session. It’s an ongoing commitment that needs constant nurturing. Leaders must sincerely recognise the importance of inclusivity and be committed to achieving their aims.
Being an inclusive leader is a challenging feat. It involves opening yourself up to criticism as a leader (both from your peers and yourself) and having the courage to tackle challenging issues surrounding D&I.
How to cultivate inclusive leaders
Although some leaders will have a high level of emotional intelligence and display a natural ability to promote inclusivity, businesses must recognise the ongoing need to educate leaders on D&I both in a group setting and on a 1:1 basis.
An inclusive mindset can be cultivated with leaders by challenging their thought-process behind critical decisions. This forces leaders to switch their biases from unconscious to conscious, resulting in better decision-making.
In addition to training, organisations should ensure there are structured D&I processes in place to help guide leaders when making crucial decisions, such as assessing employees for promotions.
Authenticity breeds authenticity
When leaders feel comfortable being themselves at work, they are more likely to breed a culture with their employees based on confidence, openness, and acceptance. In turn, this gives others the confidence and permission to be their authentic selves too.
The power of being authentic also enables more open discussions, sharing of ideas and experiences that can lead to both personal development and professional innovation, and problem-solving.
Empathy and awareness are vital tools for a leader to have in their leadership kit. However, authenticity is powerful if the leader is in the majority, for example, due to their gender, race, and sexuality. They need to employ empathy, awareness, and authenticity when leading employees, not in the majority. For example, their gender, race, or religion are some of the most known examples.
During this scenario, successful inclusive leadership incorporates the awareness that employees from a minority will find it more challenging to be their fully authentic selves at work. They will also be tempted to ‘cover’ or code-switch to be more representative of the majority. When this happens along with a personal conflict for the employees in question, the business also loses some of the innovation, perspectives, and ideas that come from a genuinely open and diverse workforce.
Leaders can support employees who are not representative of the majority by creating a culture where differences and diversity are celebrated. Identifying cultural barriers are also a necessary inclusive leadership action. Cultural barriers are expressed through social norms. For example, dress code, language, and religious awareness can subtly discriminate and heighten ‘otherness,’ creating distance. Leading inclusively brings awareness and openness to these situations and brings people together in a positive culture.
Creating an inclusive environment is driven by the leadership team. If businesses want to be successful, they need a dual approach: ramping up levels of both diversity and inclusion at the same time.
While an organisation can hire a diverse workforce and implement inclusive processes, it’s the leaders who create a clear understanding of how companies will achieve equality and diversity, what inclusion means and looks like, and how it feels amongst employees.
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