Inclusive Leadership

Tyler Fisher
Tyler Fisher, PHR

Table of Contents

Inclusive companies make more money, retain employees longer, and are more innovative. Looking to develop inclusive leaders in your organization? Here are a few steps to get it right.

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What Is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership is dedicated to including as many viewpoints, backgrounds, and cultures as possible. Inclusive leaders understand the value that diversity brings to an organization. Everyone has biases. Inclusive leaders are not perfect, but they take action to reduce their biases and become more inclusive.

Why Is Inclusive Leadership Important?

Inclusive leaders are a business investment; they are a crucial differentiating factor from your competition. Inclusive leaders are not only good at listening and building environments of collaboration, they also positively impact your key organizational goals. When working on inclusive leadership training, it is important to fully understand not only how much of a difference they will make in your organization, but how much of a personal difference they will make in the lives of your people.

  • Humanizing the workplace. Your people are your differentiating factor, so it only makes sense to empower them to be the most authentic version of themselves. Inclusive leaders create an environment that allows superstars to shine. Inclusive leaders understand that people are the most creative, bold, and engaged when they feel safe to be authentic. Inclusive leaders empower great people to do great things and nurture collaboration with as many different voices as possible.
  • Retention. Retention is an evergreen challenge. Organizations will always clamor for ways to retain their people due to the high cost of wages and the high cost of replacing people. Studies show that organizations with an inclusive workplace enjoy a 5.4 times higher retention rate. As you help leadership make strong business decisions, it is important to approach the conversation around DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) from a standpoint that it will help the business’s bottom line. Inclusive leaders help your organization retain more of your best people.
  • Ability to recruit top talent. An inclusive workplace is one where people of all kinds of backgrounds and differences feel welcomed, valued, and heard. The key differentiator when referencing recruiting is the “all kinds of people part. Inclusion means a larger pool of people to recruit from, which means a bigger opportunity to find the right person. There are marginalized groups, under-represented groups and groups that just don’t yet have a presence within your organization in every area you are looking for. Inclusive leaders are important because they are aware of their biases, blind spots, and shortcomings and work to grow past them. They intentionally create recruiting processes and workflows that avoid disparate impact and discriminatory treatment.

The Characteristics of Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leaders understand that inclusion is a journey and not a destination. They constantly work on self-improvement, including their own ability to collaborate and be more inclusive. Inclusive leaders understand the broader picture of diversity and inclusion. They understand that inclusion is important at levels beyond filling gender, race, and ethnicity percentage goals. They strive to be aware of their own biases.  Characteristics of inclusive leaders include collaboration, emotional intelligence, empathy, and authenticity.

Team Collaboration

Inclusive leaders know that organizations thrive or struggle based on their ability to collaborate effectively. When more people with more voices work together, the flow of information stays current and helps people better find solutions to problems. Team collaboration supports company-wide initiatives by increasing employee involvement.

Emotional Intelligence

Most people are familiar with the term “IQ” to measure someone’s intelligence. Similarly, “EQ” measures someone’s emotional intelligence. Inclusive leaders lead with high emotional intelligence, which includes the ability to perceive and understand the emotional state of others on their team or in their organization. The ability to intelligently express, control, and convey with emotion is essential when building a culture that creates a healthy space for all voices.

Empathy

Empathy is an essential characteristic of inclusive leaders because like emotional intelligence, empathy is the ability to understand other people. More than just hearing other people, empathy is the ability to internalize what someone else is feeling and feel with them.

Inclusive leaders are able to empathize with people who come from different backgrounds, think differently, and are experiencing life differently. One of the main reasons people don’t feel included at work is that they don’t feel their leader understands them. Empathy is the connecting piece that allows leaders to truly express understanding for their people.

Authenticity

When people feel comfortable at work, they are primed to perform their best. People feel comfortable when they believe they can be authentic with their leader as well as when they feel that their leader is being authentic with them. Authenticity is the key that opens up people’s creativity. Inclusive leaders implement this on a large scale by allowing all people with their diverse voices to be authentic and solve problems together.

Tips to Promote Inclusive Leadership in the Workplace

You’ve probably already been convinced that inclusive leadership is worth the investment, so here are some tips to promote inclusive leadership within your organization.

Tip 1: Practice Self-awareness

It is very difficult (or maybe impossible) to be inclusive if you are not aware of the ways that you are being un-inclusive. Self-awareness practices can be as simple as taking a moment to remember to be inclusive all the way up to taking professional courses in ways to be more self-aware. The act of being self-aware helps leaders stay open-minded and listen to understand their people.

Tip 2: Listen to Understand

There is a difference between hearing and listening. There is also a difference between listening and listening to understand. Listening to understand is the practice of putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. It is the practice of consciously trying to understand where someone is coming from, what has made them think the way they do, what value their thoughts might have, and what insight they may have that you do not. Listening to understand is the best way to encourage inclusion.

Tip 3: Intentional Networking

In order to be more inclusive, you have to understand the value of other voices. In order to understand the value of other voices, you have to hear and be exposed to other voices. The only way you are going to hear and be exposed to other voices that you are not typically around is to network strategically. Strategic networking includes networking with people and groups that you would not normally network with. Building a diverse network emboldens leaders to broaden their own mindsets and skillsets.

Tip 4: Foster Curious Work Environments

Fostering curiosity is the perfect way to infuse engagement into a burned-out or unengaged workforce. Inclusive leaders keep their people curious. In order to keep people curious, they understand their people’s interests, strengths, ambitions, and aptitudes. The way that inclusive leaders foster creativity within their people is by remaining curious about themselves. When inclusive leaders practice curiosity, they give themselves the tools to keep their people curious and model the same.

Examples of Inclusive Leadership

Include Others

It sounds simple because it is: include others. The easiest and most accessible way to start being an inclusive leader and creating an environment where others are inclusive is to invite others to conversations and start seeking out others’ thoughts.

Use Inclusive Language

Creating a culture of inclusive etiquette or using inclusive language is a simple but powerful tool to invite others to the table.

There are many common buzzwords that are not inclusive: try replacing words like bro, dude, and guys with a team or just using someone’s name.

Learn and respect people’s preferred gender pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them). Sometimes this takes practice, and sometimes you may make mistakes, but people will understand and appreciate when they can tell that you are genuinely attempting to learn, grow, and respect them.

Spread Inclusion Broadly

Anyone can be an inclusive leader. Company-wide DEI initiatives do need support from the top, but virtually anyone, regardless of title, can be an inclusive leader. Inclusive leadership is more likely to be effective when more people are involved. Invite everyone to be an inclusive leader.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Inclusive Leadership

The biggest challenge of promoting inclusive leadership is that most biases are subconscious. We are not usually intentionally prejudiced, closed-minded or exclusive. It is challenging to change something that is not a conscious part of our way of thinking. The challenge is discovering what subconscious biases we hold and then learning how to consciously guide them to more inclusive places.
The shortcoming of inclusive leadership is viewing it as an end destination. With the billions of people on this planet and the continuously evolving world, it is shortsighted to view inclusion as an achievable goal in the sense of measuring it with an endpoint. Inclusion is ever-evolving, and we can always find ways to be more inclusive.
Tyler Fisher
Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler empowers Talent Acquisition professionals, HR business leaders, and key stake holders to develop and execute talent management strategies. He is igniting the talent acquisition process through: team building, accurate time to fill forecasting, driving creative talent sourcing, and fine-tuning recruiting team effectiveness.

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