Inclusion Isn’t Just Another Leadership Buzzword. It’s Essential.

Now, perhaps more than at any other time in our world’s history, inclusive leaders aren’t just “good for business” – they’re essential to create thriving organizations where everyone feels valued.

“Inclusive leadership is about recognizing and valuing diversity or difference, and valuing people, recognizing them for their skills, experience and talent, and treating them equally and fairly – irrespective of their ethnic background, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, or of any disability they may have.” 

-Moorvia Gooden

Inclusion. However much it’s been used particularly recently, it’s not just a buzzword. It’s a value to be lived and expanded throughout the organization.

And it shouldn’t be simply glossed over as a “nice-to-have”, fluffy concept. Not only does inclusion have immense positive value in our world, but it’s an important business strategy, too. Study after study reveals the enhanced performance of employees when they feel included, valued, and respected.

A Harvard Business Review article by Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido cites the benefits of inclusivity as a business practice.

Teams with Inclusive Leaders Report Many Benefits:

-17% higher performance

-Teams are 29% more likely to behave in a collaborative manner

-20% report more high-quality decisions

Inclusion even improves employee absenteeism rates, too, which is an obvious benefit to organizations large and small. And the list of positives goes on and on…

Given all these benefits, BOLD leaders recognize the importance of inclusive leadership. After all, doesn’t everyone yearn to be included? It’s a human need to feel a part of something. When we were kids, most of us wanted to feel like we ‘fit in.’

It’s no different for us as adults. When we feel included, we feel valued. We feel like we have something unique to bring to the table. It also helps us to see the value others bring, too.

Yet, a study in Harvard Business Review explained that even though businesses spend nearly 8 billion dollars annually on inclusion and diversity trainings, 40% of employees say they still feel isolated at work.

So, what’s needed?  Effective inclusive leadership.

Effective Leaders Must Be Inclusive

Inclusive leaders embrace diversity, encourage collaboration between all employees, and manifest a sense of caring about everyone. It’s a commitment to the belief that everyone is unique and has something to offer.

What traits make up an inclusive leader? An article in Harvard Business Review cited six behaviors that are characteristic of inclusive leaders:

  1. Cultural intelligence
  2. Humility
  3. Interest in others
  4. Outward Commitment
  5. Display an awareness of biases
  6. Focus on team cohesion

The article also cited specific responses by employees praising inclusive leaders such as:

“[This leader] will openly ask about information that she is not aware of. She demonstrates a humble unpretentious work manner. This puts others at ease, enabling them to speak out and voice their opinions, which she values.”

“[This leader] has taken the time to learn the ropes (common words, idioms, customs, likes/dislikes) and the cultural pillars.”

The non-inclusive leader was also noted by employees:

“[This leader] can have very set ideas on specific topics. Sometimes it is difficult to get an alternative view across. There is a risk that his team may hold back from bringing forward challenging and alternative points of view.”

As a BOLD leader, where do you see yourself? (Be really honest.)

The Path to Becoming an Inclusive Leader

Listening to constructive criticism can be challenging for some, but effective leaders realize the importance of knowing how their employees perceive them.

When looking to ensure an inclusive work environment, Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido write in Harvard Business Review that forming a diverse advisory board is helpful. Composed of peers a leader is comfortable speaking with, important day-to-day feedback on just how inclusive a leader is can be discussed. A leader can learn if their inclusion efforts are effective.

Bourke and Espedido also suggest leaders share their stories on the road to inclusion: by letting others know what they’ve learned, it can be a role model to help others as well.

Placing themselves in uncomfortable situations is also an effective way for leaders to learn inclusive tactics. Sitting in with a diverse group, hearing comments and answering questions can be a valuable learning tool.

“Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.”

-Doris Kearns Goodwin

Why Become an Inclusive Leader?

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends research, 78% of people believe inclusion and diversity provides a competitive advantage. Research also showed 69% of executives felt diversity & inclusion to be important issues.

Ryan Jennings, writing in Inc. cites reasons for becoming an inclusive leader:

  1. The diversity of our workforce is increasing
  2. Diverse companies outperform competition
  3. Our world is connected by technology, which can unite a global workforce
  4. Diversity unleashes the creative flow, encouraging innovation

Studies consistently highlight the benefits of inclusion in the workplace. It’s a win-win situation:  employees feel better, perform their tasks more efficiently, absenteeism decreases, productivity increases. With an increasingly diverse workforce – whether racial, ethnic, age or gender differences – inclusivity just makes sense.

As a BOLD leader, are you promoting and embracing an inclusive workforce? The outcome of your organization depends on it…

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.”

— Sundar Pichai

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