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29th March 2021

The Importance of Inclusive Leadership

Feeling included, heard and valued at the workplace is essential for every employee. Although policies and practices play a big role, the main responsibility falls on the leader. People are the most valuable asset of an organisation, therefore, having leaders who recruit and develop employees of different gender, race, cultural and socioeconomic background inevitably creates an environment which produces breakthrough ideas. In this article, we explore the importance of inclusive leadership.

What Is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive Leadership (IL) is described as the capacity to manage and lead a diverse group of people effectively while respecting their uniqueness in a non-judgemental and unbiased way. It includes actively seeking out and considering different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making. Inclusive leadership is also about inspiring diverse people to drive organisational and individual performance towards a shared vision.

Research has shown that only one in three leaders holds an accurate view of their inclusive leadership capabilities and a third of all leaders believe they are more inclusive than they actually are. A third also lack confidence in their capabilities and may not have enough courage to challenge the status quo.

Inclusive leaders typically share common traits, such as:

  • Effective collaboration – placing value on psychological safety, encouraging team cohesion and empowering everyone to contribute and share their ideas
  • Commitment – articulating a genuine commitment to diversity and making inclusion a personal priority
  • Awareness of bias – paying attention to biases, both their own and those of others, and challenging negative behaviour
  • Humility – being ready to admit own mistakes and demonstrating modesty
  • Curiosity – having an open mind and listening to others without judgement
  • Cultural intelligence – being considerate of people’s cultural background and adapting as required

An analysis of the 360-degree Inclusive Leadership Assessment (ILA) completed by almost 4,000 participants suggests that although those traits operate as a cluster and are interdependent, a leader’s awareness of biases, both personal and organisational, is the most important one for their colleagues. This, for example, involves leaders challenging their own biases regularly while also encouraging those around them to do the same.

Why Is IL Good?

People who work with inclusive leaders tend to be more productive, engaged and satisfied with their jobs compared to those working with non-inclusive leaders. Moreover, inclusive leadership positively influences loyalty and creativity in colleagues and gives them the motivation to go the extra mile. On an organisational level, it is linked to higher employee retention and a more diverse talent pool.

Why Is IL Important Right Now?

Leaders are under significant pressure to make decisions and lead their team through very challenging times. However, being in crisis mode can make even the most thoughtful and well-meaning leader fall into the trap of biases and exclusion. When stressed, people often rely on their instincts and heuristics instead of making deliberate decisions. Therefore, it requires more effort to actively avoid such behaviour.

Moreover, on an organisational level, the current Covid-19 pandemic has enforced the need for innovation within organisations as a way to survive the crisis. Innovation is boosted by diversity and organisations that have a diverse team of employees and explore issues and ideas from different perspectives have a better chance to create innovation.  This puts more pressure on leaders to build inclusive work environments and choose the right leadership strategy as that would pave the way to long-term recovery.

There are a few things that any leader can do to ensure they treat their colleagues fairly:

  • Encourage transparent communication. Managers have access to more information than the average employee. Often some of them choose to share details with only certain employees which may breed dissent. Inclusive leaders need to ensure that information is transparent and available to everyone.
  • Avoid playing favourites. Favouritism can decrease morale and be de-motivating to the employees who feel negatively affected by it. It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that everyone on their team feels valued and recognised.
  • Be intellectually curious and seek exposure. Along with being aware of biases and preferences, inclusive leadership is about considering different views and learning from others. Managers should actively seek to put themselves in uncomfortable or new situations that expose them to diversity and make them question preconceived biases. Using open-minded questions when communicating with others can also help them expand their horizons.
  • Establish a diverse Personal Advisory Board (PAB). Leaders can benefit from having regular meetings with a group of peers who they trust and know would talk straight. That way they can receive honest feedback on interpersonal behaviour around the office that inhibits or supports inclusion. Do they spend equal time with everyone? Do they tend to refer to only one gender when giving examples? PAB meetings can also help them check whether any changes they are making are hitting the mark.

To demonstrate inclusive leadership during the pandemic, it is also particularly important to:

  • Show compassion. The current crisis affects individuals differently and for some, this may include providing care to immediate and extended family and anxiety. Managers should recognise the need for people to take time off if they are sick or need to care for a relative. They should consider pushing back deadlines and giving colleagues more flexibility in terms of working hours. Managers need to appreciate that people might be experiencing barriers affecting their productivity such as lack of private space at home or other circumstances that might be out of their control.
  • Ensure that all employees have equal access to technology for remote working. Access to technology right now is what can ensure productivity and connection within the team. Managers should not assume that everyone has the required software and hardware, or access to a steady internet connection. They should ensure they speak to everyone on their team to understand what they might need to maintain comparable levels of productivity when working from home.
  • Consider how gender bias might play a role. Research shows that women at work tend to be penalised for being visible caregivers. Because of the pandemic, women now have even more responsibilities at home, including childcare. IL is about looking out for biased language when evaluating the performance of female employees working from home, especially when it comes to their reliability and productivity during work hours. Managers should show consideration and empathy for working parents and have regular check-ins with them. They should offer support and show understanding if children occasionally interrupt video meetings.

 

Although difficult, this period gives us a unique opportunity to examine new ways of how to be more inclusive. Inclusion is not difficult and is a characteristic that every leader should seek to embody. We at Impact offer individual coaching and personalised leadership development programmes, aimed at developing and supporting established and aspiring leaders. If you want to find out more about how we can support you and your organisation, get in touch with us here.