Inclusive leadership is defined as “leaders who are aware of their own biases and preferences, actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision making” by the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei). “They see diverse talent as a source of competitive advantage and inspire diverse people to drive organisational and individual performance towards a shared vision.”
But what does this mean in practice?
The business world is diverse, not just within the workforce, but also amongst customers, both those you wish to attract and those you have currently. Diversity is also in the messages we share or read via various platforms, and within the markets you probably want to expand into.
Inclusive leadership has emerged as a unique and essential tool to help businesses adapt to diverse markets, customers, talent, and ideas. It balances all these elements by using their talents to swiftly react and adapt to alternate perspectives and diverse scenarios with a non-judgmental and open approach in order to bring about the best possible results. Research has shown that when performed correctly there are many benefits; these include such things as improved team performances, increased collaboration, better overall decision making, and improved employee wellbeing.
Why is inclusion so important?
When an employee feels that they “belong”, they are more likely to engage, contribute and perform at their highest level; both for themselves and for their employer. The impact of this is enhanced idea sharing, creativity, performance, problem solving, loyalty and productivity.
Whilst you may plough all your efforts into creating teams from rich and diverse backgrounds and experiences, if you fail to create an inclusive working environment, you will not be able to utilise or keep the value of the diversity and your teams will probably disintegrate.
What does inclusion mean within the workplace?
Inclusion makes clear and coherent business sense to ensure your company is inclusive, and it is not simply a case of people or profits. The two are interrelated and not mutually exclusive. Understanding this small, yet essential detail, will ensure your productivity increases. Productivity brings profit, productivity brings staff retention, which in turn leads to a happy working environment and attracts top talent.
In UK employment law, everyone is protected. Under the Equality Act 2010, certain “protected characteristics” include:
- Gender identity – including transitioning, binary/non-binary, and gender reassignment
- Race – ethnicity, nationality, and culture
- Religion and beliefs – faith and ideological beliefs
Sex – binary/non-binary
- Sexual orientation – sexual identity
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Marital/civil partnership status
Who is responsible for inclusion in the workplace?
The perfect answer to this question would be, everyone is responsible for inclusion and championing it in their everyday life. But in reality, business leaders play a key role, particularly within the workplace. Whether individuals feel included or not, according to the Harvard Business Review, account for a 70% difference in what leaders say and do. As you can see, this makes a substantial contribution to the feeling of inclusivity.
Qualities of inclusive leaders
Inclusive leaders are said to share certain signature traits, skills and strengths, which commonly include:
- They are loyal ambassadors of diversity and inclusion. These individuals never miss an opportunity to spread the word about the significance of D&I in the workplace
- They accept their own vulnerability and are not afraid to show it
- They are a force for good against old-fashioned paternalistic leadership styles
- They are aware of their own biases and have an ability to challenge their own habitual patterns of behaviour
- They are excellent communicators – for example, great inclusive leaders are good listeners with an innate sense of curiosity
- They understand and can adapt to a variety of cultural norms
- They are team players who are only too willing to do what is best for the team as a whole and help each individual meet their own goal within that team
Benefits of inclusive leadership
Put bluntly, diversity and inclusion are good for business. When compared with competitors, companies that promote diversity and inclusivity are:
- More likely to capture new markets
- More likely to see ideas come to fruition
- More likely to see greater revenue from innovation
- More likely to make better decisions
Inclusive leadership underpins this competitive advantage. They are the ones who bring companies closer to being all-encompassing places of diversity and inclusivity. They lead the effort to design systems to unveil the potential of all their talent and champion diversity initiatives that advocate for structural changes, act as role models, and hold other leaders accountable for increasing underrepresented talent. In this way, inclusive leaders are fundamental to a company’s success.
Putting inclusive leadership into practice
Inclusion consultants recommend framing an action plan for diversity and inclusion around inclusive leadership traits. The action plan could include commitments such as:
- Developing an awareness of bias
- Demonstrating an awareness of bias by questioning your own and your business’s assumptions when making recruitment and promotion decisions
- Show your commitment to diversity and inclusion by setting targets with accountability
- Measure commitment by analysing rates of promotion considering factors such as race, gender, and disability status
Deepen cultural intelligence by attending workshops, seminars, or courses on disability etiquette
- Model curiosity within your professional network by seeking diversity
- Encourage collaboration and respect differences by offering your employees a number of ways to contribute their ideas and opinions
- Display courage by calling out bias, and by admitting when mistakes are made and that you don’t necessarily have all the answers.
Some say that courage to admit to mistakes and show humility can be one of the hardest traits for business leaders to develop, but the most successful inclusive leaders constantly question and challenge themselves.
A spotlight on bias
All human beings have bias. Biases have been described as mental shortcuts which allow people to make judgments and decisions efficiently without usually having all the information to hand. Research has shown that in times of stress or anxiety, biases become amplified. In a best-case scenario, such biases provide individuals with an instinctual mechanism for self-preservation during times of crisis. However, you do not want these biases to spill over into a workplace environment and infect your contribution to diversity and inclusion.
Affinity bias leads people to associate with individuals they believe are the same as they are, rather than those they do not or cannot identify with. Inclusive leadership intentionally seeks out talent outside the usual “go to” pool for assignments or opportunities.
Confirmation bias is where people only consider information that confirms their already formed point of view. Inclusive leaders will create spaces to connect more deeply with teams and colleagues in order to overcome confirmation biases.
Personality error bias assumes that an individual’s behaviour is core to their personality, without considering external factors. Inclusive leadership recognises that others may display behaviour that is the result of circumstance, not who they are as a person.
Importance in diversity & inclusive commitment
Diversity and inclusion are typically recognised together, a D&I fondue melted indistinctly. But it is important to recognise they mean different things, and that both must be present if you are to make a real difference.
Employees who have worked with an inclusive leader reported 81% improved performance and productivity, 84% increased motivation, 86% increased innovation and creativity, 79% improved collaboration, and 81% greater engagement. The biggest challenge for any business is to create and promote growth, and D&I initiatives will play a huge part in helping you to achieve this.
Measuring diversity and inclusion initiatives within your business
Diversity and inclusion are difficult things to measure, however some of the more popular metrics to use include:
- Employee productivity
- Employee morale
- Employee engagement
You can include more senior employees and ensure management accountability for their diversity and inclusion performance via:
- Performance reviews
- Salary increases
- Business/department reviews
Demand for inclusive leadership within businesses is growing but finding such outstanding individuals may not be easy. The good news is that because inclusive leadership attributes have been defined, individuals already within your organisation can be coached and developed.
Best practice for employers
Even though you may be trying to create and manage a diverse workplace, you should be aware of the best practices to follow. Some of the must-follow diversity and inclusion best practices for employers include:
- Establish a sense of belonging – this brings out the best in employees and is arguably one of the most important psychological requirements that need to be met by an employer. This is because it enables employees to feel connected to the business.
- Treat all your employees fairly – this is a crucial requirement for employees to feel valued and accepted. Unfair pay, salaries, and benefits packages for employees from different backgrounds will inevitably lead to an unhealthy workplace and is also the fastest route to an employment tribunal.
- Offer equal growth opportunities – one of the primary factors that attract and keep top talent within companies. You need to take care you offer fair and equal growth and career advancement opportunities to ALL your employees.
- Rewrite job descriptions and job advertisements – this really is a no-brainer. If you want to attract more diverse talent, altering the language you use in your job postings will pay dividends. A recent study found that more masculine words such as “ambitious” and “dominate” were less appealing to female applicants.
- Support innovation and creativity – you must support creativity in order to build a diverse workplace. If innovation and creativity are not high up on your list of business priorities, it is going to be harder to build and maintain diversity within your workplace.
- Educate your employees on diversity and inclusion – employees need to be educated about the benefits of diversity and inclusion, and you should provide a best practice framework to support those initiatives.
- Support teamwork and collaboration – this is the bare minimum that employees can expect from their employer, and this should be one of your business’s core values.
- Support flexibility in the workplace – offering flexible work locations and hours will help you to attract and retain a more diverse set of employees. Flexibility is one of the best workplace policies to attract diverse candidates.
- Restructure your recruitment process – a valid and reliable personality assessment is a great tool to measure a candidate’s personality traits, skills, and motivations. A study of 150 companies found that those who used a personality assessment questionnaire during their hiring process had more racially diverse workforces.
- Promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of your business – for diversity and inclusion initiatives to work, all levels of your business’s hierarchy need to understand and support them.
DavidsonMorris’ specialists in HR work with employers to support and advise on diversity and inclusion strategies, including specialist guidance on inclusive leadership development and training, driving organisational and cultural change through enhanced D&I. For expert advice, contact us.
Inclusive leadership FAQs
What are the seven traits of inclusive leadership?
The seven core traits of inclusive leadership are fairness and respect, cultural intelligence, collaboration, empowerment and growth, psychological safety, insight, and the ability to build trust.
Why is inclusive leadership important?
Inclusive leadership is seen as critical to a business’s success. It unlocks individual potential, enhances the collaborative power of teams, and supports your company’s ability to grow and innovate.
Last updated: 14 June 2021