Inclusive Leadership

Empower to include: The cultivation of inclusive leaders

The conversation around inclusive recruitment has been going on for a number of years – breaking down the barriers our biases build and, in turn, introducing more diversity into the workforce. But once an employee joins an organisation, it’s the leaders they encounter that will spur them on, uplift their talents, and ultimately drive meaningful progress in the careers of marginalised groups. So, what are the traits of an inclusive leader? And what’s in it for them? 

Inclusive leadership is active. It’s about showing up with what you do, not just what you say. And it takes work. The rewards for these efforts however, are substantial.

The potency of a diverse team doesn’t simply materialise when a group of individual talents and perspectives are thrown together. A diverse team relies on inclusive leadership to thrive. Of course, allyship and inclusive behaviours within the team are crucial, but it’s teams with inclusive leaders that are 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. In no small part because leaders are role models and tend to dictate the cultural landscape of the workplace. 

Diversity in the UK workforce is increasing and projected to reach 21% by 2051, but just 6% of management positions are held by ethnic minority professionals. It seems we are still lacking the leaders to empower and champion diverse professionals to climb the corporate ladder. And in a 2020 McKinsey report, mentions of leadership with regards to DEIB were 56% negative. One of the five key areas of suggested action in that report was to place leaders and managers at the heart of an organisation’s DEIB efforts, in order to drive inclusive leadership and better accountability. 

There’s also a Catalyst report that found 45% of employees’ experiences of inclusion were explained by their managers’ inclusive leadership behaviours. Catalyst is an organisation helping to ‘build workplaces that work for women.’ Their Inclusive Leadership Report lays out a compelling model for leaders. Leading outwardly with accountability, ownership and allyship. And leading inwardly with curiosityhumility and courage. This highlights the necessary work of the individual leader on their inner world, alongside more demonstrative inclusive behaviours. In our blog Braving Our Bias, we discuss the importance of self examination, awareness and acceptance. This foundational aspect is key to the development of an inclusive leader. 

As a leader, being held accountable for your organisation’s diversity and inclusion goals can be a lot of pressure. It’s easy to feel stuck, struggle to find ways to lead a fragmented team cohesively, or feel you simply must get it right at all costs. That’s where training and actionable frameworks can support leaders. Cultivating a positive environment to work within is a no-brainer, so with the right encouragement, leaders will commit to the cause and to their personal growth. And of course, taking action to address their inclusivity skill set will also benefit their future careers, as we look to a future where good leadership means inclusive leadership, across the board. 

Deloitte breaks down the elements of inclusion as:

Fairness and respect: That you are treated equally based on your unique characteristics as opposed to stereotypes, and are respected as your authentic self.

Value and belonging: That your uniqueness is celebrated and you can make a meaningful contribution, whilst feeling socially connected to the group.

Confidence and inspiration: That the conditions are in place for you to speak up with confidence, and feel motivated in your work.

Alongside these elements, Deloitte also lays out the six traits of an inclusive leader:

Commitment (both to the business case for inclusion and to personal development)

Courage (to have the humility to fail and the bravery to grow)

Cognisance of bias (to check yourself and your team, and to champion fair play)

Curiosity (to listen, seek new perspectives, and lean into ambiguities)

Cultural Intelligence (to strive for increased knowledge and promote adaptability)

Collaboration (to empower the whole team to speak up and contribute in a safe space)

The success and multiplication of inclusive leaders in our workplaces relies heavily on the systemic integration of this approach. We need to view leadership in a new light, away from the traditional patriarchal traits that will do little to ignite the diverse teams of the modern day workplace. The work is in the hands of the individual, but must be driven; championed; insisted upon by organisations seeking to uphold their DEIB principles and reap the rewards of a truly inclusive business.

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