How do you focus on strategies for effective, inclusive leadership during times of crisis? By choice. And the Black Lives Matter movement, gender gap, and under-representation of people of colour and women in leadership positions is part of the crisis. Many leaders realize diversity and inclusion must be fostered and in fact will help deal with the societal inequity, the pandemic and this new normal.
Inclusive Leadership – What is it?
Inclusive leadership is a leadership that focuses on inclusion, diversity and having the “differences” present and participating in the situation. It ensures all people are represented and treated respectfully and all people feel valued and belonging. Leadership that is inclusive of all disparities or dissimilarities is what is needed. These differences can span national origin, industry background, gender, race, sexuality, age, education, neuro-diversity, introversion/extroversion and thinking preferences.
What could you do to be that leader that brings those less-heard voices and underrepresented people to the forefront?
Benefits of Inclusive Leadership
Diversity is important for many reasons. Beyond just the fairness and justice of equality for all, the bottom-line benefit for organizations is financial. Numerous studies from the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey to the World Economic Forum document that diversity leads to innovation and greater financial performance, often double-digit improvements in fact.
Every organization has innovation in its mission or vision or as a key strategy. Now most organizations need innovative ideas to deal with the unprecedented situation in which we all find ourselves. Diversity prompts innovation because different perspectives are present and hence we think differently. We question our assumptions. Challenging our assumptions opens ideas and solutions to potential thinking that wasn’t apparent from one’s insular perspective.
Strategies for Inclusion Leadership
The key to productive diversity is for it to be well-managed. Diversity that is poorly managed does not have the same positive returns. Here are some strategies for better inclusive leadership:
- Commit to being inclusive and be vocal about it. Make it a priority. If looking to hire someone new ask to see diverse candidates. Ask HR or your recruiters why diverse candidates aren’t being put forward if that’s the case. Require your leadership team or other leaders to mentor and promote underrepresented employees. Call out racism and sexism when you hear it and when you might say it. Be courageous in noticing it and naming it.
- Create psychological safety for people to participate. Psychological safety is present when someone is not afraid of a negative consequence (to their image or career) for who they are. Create safety by being engaged with your people, ask them questions and listen to the answer; have their backs especially when they take a risk; give them credit and appropriate visibility; condemn gossip and talking behind peoples’ backs; eradicate blame; give and ask for feedback; be self-aware and require others to be the same; build trust through being impeccable with your word; include others in decision making; explain why things are happening the way they are or why they are not happening; communicate openly, honestly and frequently.
- Be aware of your biases and blind spots and those of the organization. Look at your track record of hiring and promoting people. With whom have you historically surrounded yourself? Are they people just like you? How inclusive is the organization? Get the numbers on genders, POC, less-able-bodied, education institutions etc at all levels in the organization. What are the types of people the organization has fired or managed out? The numbers don’t lie. Ask people who are different from you about your biases and blind spots. Make it safe for them to tell you. Reflect for yourself on your thoughts when a woman asks for time off for a sick child versus a man (or do men ever ask?) or when you see a CV with the name Mohammed versus Michael versus Michelle.
- Invite all voices into the discussion. This is both a micro and macro strategy. On a micro level when you have a meeting ensure every person speaks. Encourage those who are reluctant. At this time of uncertainty, it’s good to periodically check in with everyone at the beginning of the meeting to get people talking and sharing to create a sense of all being in it together and to highlight how this situation is different for different people. On a macro level, bring different voices than usual into projects or discussions in order to challenge assumptions and provide different perspectives.
- Ensure equal access with remote working. Confirm all employees have tech and infrastructure to work at home if that’s continuing. Use closed captioning on virtual meetings and reiterate points in the chat box for those hard of hearing, or those that might need to be listening for a baby or child at that time, send info in advance of meetings so introverts and neuro-diverse individuals can process the information to prepare and therefore fully contribute.
- Be compassionate. Recognize and acknowledge that everyone handles things differently whether that’s with the pandemic, home life or work challenges. People are affected by things differently especially with all this uncertainty.
- Be humble. You don’t have all the answers, you might make mistakes, others might have better ideas and solutions. Your role as a leader is to unleash the potential in others to move towards the desired goal or outcome. Let others unleash their potential, don’t be precious about from where the next great idea or advancement comes.
- Be curious. Be curious with others to understand their differences, their differing opinions and ideas relative to the work. Don’t just stop at the superficial, delve deeper asking “what is it about that that is important?” Or “Tell me more” or “Help me understand what’s behind that”. Like a new puppy let loose in a playground, leave no stone unturned.
- Be vulnerable. Especially in an on-going crisis, acknowledge your challenges and vulnerabilities (those that are acceptable within your job; an accountant can’t say they are bad with numbers). Share the challenges of juggling work and home. This allows others to be vulnerable too and creates safety.
Consciously have diversity of people as a focus within your organization and strive to manage them well (if not exceptionally) to leverage each of them for the solid contribution they can make to each other, the organization and the goals.
What inclusion leadership improvements would you and your organization benefit from?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your leadership and address what might be impeding greater success.
¹ https://blog.capterra.com/7-studies-that-prove-the-value-of-diversity-in-the-workplace/ and https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/business-case-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/ and https://www.irelaunch.com/blog-diversity-in-the-workplace-benefits