Leadership Development

How to build inclusive leadership at work

Inclusive leadership leads to happier, more productive employees. Here's how to put inclusive leadership skills into practice.

Rita N.A Akekelwa

Published on 

March 29, 2023

Updated on 

Time to Read

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Creating a healthy work culture is the key to any successful company. When employees feel heard and are treated with respect, it’s easy for them to feel like they’re part of a team. 

Not only are happy employees 20% more productive, but studies show that organizations enjoy up to 37% more revenue when employees feel motivated and engaged with their company.

Every organization wants these kinds of advantages. What we need to recognize, however, is a leader’s role in promoting inclusion. Inclusivity has proven to advance the outcome of business goals, rules, and procedures.

While creating an inclusive work culture won’t happen overnight, this article will unpack a few ways you can start incorporating inclusive leadership in your company today. 

Who is an inclusive leader?

An inclusive leader is someone that creates and promotes equality in the workplace. They are passionate about prioritizing diversity in all business decisions and professional relationships. 

Inclusive leadership means leading by example and acting thoughtfully in every action. Being mindful naturally influences the mindset of others and changes the dynamic of the entire workforce.

Fortunately, executives can adopt more inclusive behaviors and attitudes. The way that leaders communicate changes as they put these habits into practice. This starts to alter the workplace and gives everyone a more inclusive experience.

Some traits of an inclusive leader include:

  1. Empathy - Listening to and supporting employee interests and using meaningful phrases to encourage employees at the right time. 
  2. Recognition - Employees must be seen, recognized, and appreciated for their efforts. This encourages and motivates them to perform their absolute best. 
  3. Adaptability - Responding effectively to changes and challenges that arise. Adaptability necessitates acquiring new abilities and habits, creating frameworks and procedures, and utilizing interpersonal thinking skills.
  4. Integrity - Credibility is the number 1 force in influencing customers and employees to stay loyal to the company.
  5. Vision - Keeping an eye on where the company is headed provides motivation and focus.
  6. Influence - Employees can be motivated to adopt the business vision and company goals.

It might seem quite daunting, but these traits don’t develop overnight. Learning these skills is the first step in creating an inclusive workplace culture, and leaders will flourish with constant attention and practice.

Why be an inclusive leader?

Inclusive leadership is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do.

Research has proven time and time again that diverse and inclusive organizations outperform their peers by stretches.

Calls for societal change have sparked a high demand to create more inclusive and diverse workforces. But few companies have made meaningful changes in their attempts at diversity and inclusion over the last few years. 

Inclusive leaders improve a company's overall performance through their huge impact on the workforce. An inclusive workforce increases workplace satisfaction and revenue while enhancing a company's overall performance. Most significantly, it highlights employee voices that might not otherwise be heard.

Even though many workplaces are diversifying, not all are utilizing the unique talent within. Here are ways inclusive leadership can benefit workplaces.

1. Expanding the business market 

Inclusive leadership has proven to capture new markets by up to 70%. This means that your company's growth skyrockets to an all-time high. This includes attracting new clients, increasing your market influence, and being protected from market changes. 

Expanding your business also means an inevitable increase in diversification and larger access to global talent. 

2. Increasing productivity

According to research, companies that utilize inclusive leaders are 75% more likely to see business ideas (like dropshipping) become productized (marketable). 

Increasing productivity can benefit the economy, the business, and employees. It’s especially beneficial because it positively impacts market availability, climate-smart agriculture, and staff satisfaction.

3. Higher revenue

When employees feel a sense of value and belonging, there’s a positive impact on social connectedness. This inspires employees to perform their best, thus increasing productivity and revenue. 

Inclusive leaders make an effort to involve every member of the team. They are open to trying out new ideas and enjoy hearing them from others. Every team member will feel more appreciated and like a valuable member, which makes the workplace more fun.

The 6 C’s of inclusive leadership

Inclusive leaders are highly adaptable and value diversity at their core. They care about the people who work for them and how they can improve the lives of those around them. 

For a long time, the workplace focused on minimizing employees' personal lives. Nowadays, employees are encouraged to bring their best and complete selves to work. 

According to Deloitte, the six inclusive leadership traits for business leaders to imbibe are:

1. Communication

Leaders must have the ability to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. Respecting many cultures and communication styles requires using language that everyone can understand.

2. Collaboration

Leaders must be able to collaborate with people from all backgrounds. They need to be confident and effective in cross-cultural interactions and mindful of how their culture might impact their view. In other words, having an open mind to many viewpoints, ideas, and methods of operation is crucial. 

3. Creative problem-solving

Leaders must be able to come up with original solutions that involve everyone. This entails thinking creatively and developing solutions that are acceptable to everyone. 

Creative problem-solving allows employees to solve complex problems, adapt to change, and fuel innovation and growth. 

4. Commitment

Commitment means actively seeking out different viewpoints and involving everyone in decision-making.

A dedication to inclusion and diversity includes treating each team member fairly and respectfully. It’s also important to recognize individual differences and ensure team members feel included.

5. Courage 

When it comes to inclusivity, leaders must have courage. This means being prepared to defend what’s right even when doing so is unpopular. Inclusive leaders need to have the guts to own that they don't know all that needs to be changed or how to fix it.

6. Cultural sensitivity

Leaders must be knowledgeable of and sympathetic to other cultural traditions. This entails being aware of and respecting various cultures, practices, and beliefs.

The 6 C's of inclusive leadership offer a framework for a more diverse and inclusive world. 

However, leaders need one more important trait when creating an inclusive environment. We’ve set up a bonus trait as follows:

7. Awareness of bias

Inclusive leaders are responsible for educating themselves on different cognitive biases, including implicit preconceptions and confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is defined as the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values. 

Inclusive leaders must develop the ability to self-regulate and take appropriate action to ensure fair play. They need to establish clear guidelines for deciding on promotions, awards, and task assignments based on merit. 

Putting it into practice: 5 strategies for building inclusive leadership at work

Diversity and inclusion are built through various components. And it's crucial that companies get all these components right, whether through talent acquisition or removing biases and obstacles for positive employee development. 

Inclusive leadership starts when businesses commit to change. Here are a few ways you can kickstart your inclusive and diverse workforce today: 

1. Strategic alignment

Be sure to accentuate inclusive leadership as a critical component of the company's diversity and inclusion strategy. Explain to your employees why the inclusion strategy is crucial to the business's success and begin to implement symbolic workplace changes. 

2. Connecting employees with mentors 

Most organizations have some kind of diversity training. But to engrain inclusion, empathy, and belonging in the workplace, connecting employees with mentors is crucial. A study by Heidrick & Struggles revealed that 3/4s of diverse employees participated in mentoring programs when organizations offered them. In short, diverse employees want mentors. We have a complete guide here on starting a diversity-focused mentoring program.

3. Provide rewards and recognition 

Leaders that exhibit inclusive behavior deserve praise. It’s important to highlight the advantages gained from the actions of highly inclusive leaders throughout the organization. This will spread awareness and positivity around the subject of inclusivity and diversity. 

4. Leadership development

Formally evaluate top leaders' and people managers' capacity for inclusive leadership. Establish leadership development programs to close organizational and individual growth gaps. Also, encourage leaders to get unofficial feedback on their capacity for inclusive leadership from their peers. 

5. System integration 

To measure participant readiness and train present and future leaders, it’s important to incorporate inclusive leadership into the organization's mobility plan. Think about how the organization's innovation strategy and procedures connect with inclusive leadership and the larger values of diversity and inclusion.

Ensure that leaders form teams with various viewpoints when engaging in ideation or problem-solving exercises. Also, make sure individual and group biases are minimized during group discussions.

Bottom line

In today's business world, the diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and skills is unavoidable. Leaders are prepared for success when they clearly understand what it means to be highly inclusive—through the six c’s and practical five steps. 

That said, better leadership behaviors, better interactions between teams and peers, and a more welcoming atmosphere all result in better, more fruitful, and more satisfying individual experiences throughout an organization.

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