In light of the diversity and inclusion calls after the Black Lives Matter and Feminist movements, it is clear that exclusion on the basis of race, gender, age, sexuality, or religion among others leads to unproductive workers by promoting poor performance, low confidence and unhappiness. Simply put, exclusion destroys culture. As such, companies are slowly coming around to the realization that to promote a great workplace, there has to be diversity and inclusion at every stage. Inclusion leads to happy and productive workers and this boosts the success of the company. Therefore, the need for inclusive leadership is more important now than ever.
A study showed that inclusive leadership resulted in employees that were 39% more likely to feel and be engaged. Therefore, companies cannot afford to ignore the perks of inclusive leadership as doing so is counterproductive. People are now learning and demanding of anti-bias, equity and antiracism. Leaders who fail to value these things will most certainly experience a negative impact on their bottomline and even worse, on their reputation as well. You really do not want to be seen as the brand that took the wrong stance as that can be a stain that never quite wash away especially in this digital age. We’ve already seen this in 2020 with backlash for companies that don’t value inclusion and people calling them out for their lack of commitment. As an extension, Forbes notes that it is easier to attract top talent if you are all-inclusive (forbes.com). This in turn will keep your company thriving.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to incorporate more inclusive leadership:
· Inclusion Should Be Both in Representation and Decision-making
Diversity can be easy to measure according to Fastcompany. However, while it is critical, it is not enough and that is why when talking about representation, we speak of diversity and inclusion. Focusing on representation alone can be counterproductive and lead to tokenism. While crucial, diversity is not enough and companies need to also develop a culture of inclusivity through appreciating the differences and their diverse values. Inclusion helps foster a sense of belonging and empowerment to speak up. Everyone should feel valued and empowered to do their best. Hence, inclusive leaders should seek to understand this. They should also unlearn lessons steeped in bias that cause harm and make employees feel excluded.
· Be Transparent in Committing to Inclusion
There is a tendency to take a laissez-faire approach when it comes to issues that confront deep-rooted lessons of biasness. However, inclusive leaders should be completely transparent about their commitment to inclusion by having actionable goals and sharing them publicly. Consistent meetings with teams to invite them to comment and critique the inclusion efforts that company makes can go a long way to display commitment and boost accountability. This can make leaders experience discomfort but committing to ensure inclusion is not a comfortable journey especially early on. Sticking to that commitment however, will have great benefits for your company.
· Express Support
Support is not only verbal but also includes actions. Inclusive leaders should support the employees through financial contributions, partnerships and other consistent actions. They are aware of their actions and conduct and how it impacts the workforce. They include this self-awareness in decision making processes and are willing to work on themselves to correct their mistakes. Support also comes in open communication too. Allow your employees to see your commitment, support and value for open communication as this will make them feel empowered to speak up and share their experiences and ideas. As Entrepreneur notes, using your platform to support inclusion will result in a more dedicated workforce.
· Promote Understanding and Empathy
Inclusive leadership has to be understanding and empathetic as Managers observes. While in the past leaders would get away with paying lip service to inclusion, now they have to fully embrace it for true connectivity. Develop empathy and understanding as a leader and hold yourself and others accountable for biases and personalities that undermine inclusion. Leaders should also ensure inclusivity is addressed at the highest decision-making hierarchies especially since these are the ones that decide who joins the organization especially at the senior levels.
· Be Vulnerable
Inclusive leadership means building strong relationships to garner support for change and inclusion initiatives. This therefore means that leaders must be willing to be vulnerable ad take a stand to promote what is right (inclusion) sin spite of push back from others within the company. Most companies have become rather comfortable with the state of things and hence, the conversation on inclusion and promotion of initiatives is bound to ruffle some feathers. However, inclusive leaders should be willing to share personal challenges and how they erred and how such errors have fostered their commitment to be more inclusive. Demonstrating vulnerability as well as taking the opportunity to start a dialogue among different diverse employees will be a great starting point for inclusive leadership.
· The Future
Aside from taking the step to be more inclusive, leaders should also move forward in ensuring that inclusion will be part of the fabric that is the company’s culture by planning for it. As Susan Goebel sums up, it is a business imperative to recognize and embrace inclusive leadership. However, marginalized groups should not be the ones carrying the burden of ensuring change within the company. Everyone has a role to play to promote this lasting change and it is up to inclusive leadership to clarify this.