Inclusive Leadership Part One: It Starts With You

d&i strategies inclusive leadership Jan 17, 2017

This is the first article in a two part series on inclusive leadership. In this piece, we discuss the importance of helping your people become self-aware and getting curious about their talents and skills which are not immediately obvious.  

Why should employers care?

Four global mega-trends are influencing the business context to become more diverse and in turn impact business priorities. This creates an urgent need for business to reshape the capabilities required of leaders to succeed in the future. As per a recent Deloitte article, these mega-trends include:

1. Diversity of markets – emerging markets are growing which demands business leaders to take on a broader global mindset.  It is estimated that just 10 percent of executives believe that they have the full suite of capabilities needed to win offshore business.  


2. Diversity of customers - Empowered through technology and with greater choice, an increasingly diverse customer base expects better personalization of products and services. Leaders need to develop empathy and connectedness in order to better understand their customers’ worlds and future needs.


3. Diversity of ideas - The digital age and hyper-connectivity are disrupting business value chains and the nature of consumption and competition. There is an increasing demand to innovate and pivot business models to keep up with these changes. Leaders need to consider their people’s diverse perspectives and insights to make effective decisions.


4. Diversity of talent - Shifts in age profiles, education, and migration flows, along with expectations of equality of opportunity and work/life balance, are all impacting employee populations.  By 2030, China will have more graduates than the entire US workforce, and India will produce four times as many graduates as the United States by 2020.The Millennials, too, are coming of age. This generation will comprise 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020. With high expectations and different attitudes toward work, they will be integral in shaping organizational cultures into the future. These trends will require a leader to be truly inclusive and able to work with a diverse workforce.

If you're a people Leader why should you care?

“Inclusive leadership starts with self-awareness, being introspective, knowing your blind spots and possessing the ability to listen and learn.” - Dr Rohini Anand (Sodexo, USA)

An inclusive leader is someone who actively seeks diverse perspectives to become more insightful and make better decisions. They understand the power of linking diversity and inclusion with better business performance, and create diverse workplaces where teams can fulfill their potential.  

When I say, “it starts with you,” this is about understanding your own biases and how they affect your judgement. I recommend reading my earlier articles on unconscious bias, including How To Defeat Your Own Unconscious Bias and How Unconscious Bias Affects Hiring Decisions.  

The Harvard’s Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science.

Identifying your own blind spots may not be an enjoyable process, but it will encourage you to make future choices based on criteria and be more conscious of making less inclusive decisions based on ‘gut instinct.’ When we have an awareness of our biases and how they work, we can minimise their impact and open our field of vision to diverse points of view.  

What does inclusive leadership mean in practice?

So now that you’re seeking more diverse points of view, how do you find them? Use your curiosity. Search beyond obvious job roles and try to uncover individual skills and perspectives. Try to understand each person you work with to really see the talent in front of you.  

Talk to people and ask them to tell you their stories. Create an open space for people to step forward and share their ideas, whether they are an admin assistant or a department manager.  

One thing to be aware of is that inclusion does not mean consensus. You don’t need to follow every suggestion and thought to be inclusive, you just need to make sure everyone can be heard and considered.  

“Consensus is where everyone agrees but inclusion is where ideas are heard. At the end of the day the leader has to make a decision. Inclusion is a leadership competency, consensus is a leadership style.” - Dr Rohini Anand (Sodexo, USA).

For example, if you’re building a project team and you see that the gender balance is not where you think it should be, you give it back and say ‘come back when you have a better balance.  

Businesses with too much hierarchy which encourage command and control management styles can often discourage emerging leaders to remain open and curious about what their people know and think, and a competitive working environment which stifles collaboration may be too focussed on the task and results instead of it's people. Organisational culture plays a big role in allowing the inclusive leadership style to emerge and I highly recommend you seek out employers who value this approach.

For Part two of this series, where we discuss inclusive approaches for systemic and cultural change, please click here

Are you looking to develop an inclusive leadership culture? Get in touch to have a conversation about how we can help.


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