What Is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership encompasses the mindset, behaviors, and actions of a leader that create a sense of belonging and an organizational culture where all people are treated fairly and with respect. Inclusive leaders exhibit the following traits:

  • Awareness of their own preferences and biases
  • Capacity to create a psychologically safe work environment
  • Openness to diverse ideas
  • Ability to leverage the strengths and perspectives of others

Leaders set the tone for inclusion and can have the biggest impact on whether someone feels included or excluded.

What Are Inclusive Leadership Behaviors?

Inclusivity is created in the following ways:

  • Embracing diverse ideas, perspectives, and experiences
  • Establishing an environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and sharing ideas
  • Establishing clear ground rules and expectations that support belonging and inclusion
  • Listening intently and asking questions
  • Asking for feedback and acting on it
  • Challenging the status quo or situations that lead to exclusion
  • Managing bias and treating people according to their unique characteristics rather than relying on stereotypes to guide behavior

coworkers in a group celebrating

Why Is Inclusive Leadership Important?

A commitment to inclusion has a positive effect at every level of the organization because it creates a safe and supportive work environment. Inclusive leadership ensures that team members

  • Are all treated equitably.
  • Feel a sense of belonging in their team and the organization.
  • Have access to the resources and support they need to maximize their potential.

Research shows that inclusive leadership has a positive impact on perceptions of business performance as well as actual business performance. Teams managed by inclusive leaders are

  • 17 percent more likely to report that they perform at a high level
  • 20 percent more likely to believe they make first-class decisions
  • 29 percent more likely to describe themselves as collaborative

In addition, if 10 percent more team members feel included, organizations can boost their attendance numbers by roughly one day each year, per individual.

What Are the Six Qualities of an Inclusive Leader?

Inclusive leaders possess six main qualities:

  1. Visible commitment: Inclusive leaders have a genuine commitment to creating conditions for a fair, respectful, and professional workplace. They are willing to consistently challenge the status quo and seek out new ideas. They consistently demonstrate their personal commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  2. Humility: They acknowledge their mistakes, are open to feedback, and make space for others to contribute ideas and perspectives. They recognize that they are not always right and resolve issues promptly.
  3. Awareness of bias: Inclusive leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They are willing to acknowledge that they have biases, blind spots, and imperfections and take steps to manage them.
  4. Willingness to build connections: Inclusive leaders create an environment where each person feels seen, respected, and valued. They provide opportunities for people to engage one another to create meaningful and trusting relationships and connections. They strive to be nonjudgmental, take a genuine interest in their colleagues, and empathize by listening intently.
  5. Social intelligence: Leaders don’t usually intend to exclude others but may inadvertently create conditions of exclusion, which is why social intelligence is so important. Inclusive leaders think before they speak and pay attention to how people respond to them in a variety of situations and interactions so they can learn more about the effectiveness of their approach.
  6. Collaboration: Inclusive leaders understand the value that comes from collaboration. They empower team members to work together and embrace diversity of thought.

How Do You Become an Inclusive Leader?

Leaders can start developing greater inclusivity through the following four practices:

1. Understand What Inclusivity Means

To become an inclusive leader, you must first understand what inclusivity means and why it is so important to your success as a leader. For some, inclusivity is viewed as simply treating someone with fairness and respect, but the term has a deeper meaning.

Inclusivity is the condition you create in your team where all people feel accepted and have equal access to resources and opportunities. It is about acknowledging the uniqueness of each person and using diverse perspectives and experiences to elevate the success of the team. It is giving people a voice and helping them feel confident with their strengths and ability to reach their full potential.

2. Build Empathy

Google found that the top contributing factor for team success is psychological safety, but one out of every four employees does not feel like they belong.

Develop your ability to express empathy as you engage in dialogue with others and create trusting connections. As you foster deep and authentic relationships, you will fuel a sense of comradery and security. This security is crucial in building a team that is unafraid to speak up and initiate change.

Leaders can work on building empathy by asking questions and listening intently. Be encouraging and compassionate as you engage others and help them solve problems or address issues. According to the Harvard Business Review, “a humble and curious question goes a long way toward building better empathy and situational awareness.” Be curious and seek out people’s unique experiences and points of view.

3. Manage Bias

Bias is an inclination for or against a thing, person, or group. Biases are often based on stereotypes rather than on known factors or actual knowledge about someone or something. It is a way of thinking, usually considered to be unfair. Everyone has biases that limit how they act, react, or behave, so it is important for leaders to manage bias and create an equitable and respectful workplace.

Acknowledge that you have biases, blind spots, and imperfections that affect how you lead others. Uncover what those biases are and how they are influencing your day-to-day actions, decisions, and thinking. Pay attention to situations, interactions, and business processes where bias tends to arise so you can better manage your beliefs.

Leaders can enhance their self-awareness and uncover blind spots though the following methods:

  • Seeking 360-degree feedback. Be sure to map out a plan of action to address opportunities for improvement revealed in the feedback. Be transparent about what you are working on.
  • Conducting 1:1 sessions. Leaders can also seek feedback during one-on-one sessions with team members. This can give individuals a chance to express ideas, thoughts, and feelings that will enhance your awareness and give you greater insight into potential opportunities for improvement.
  • Taking a Diversity and Inclusion course. Learn more about the barriers to inclusion and your biases by engaging in self-development. Take an e-learning course and find ongoing resources that will help you sustain your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

4. Create a Collaborative Culture

Breaking down groupthink and building a culture of collaboration is a mechanism for taking a team to the next level of success. Leveraging diverse points of view and exchanging ideas can expand your knowledge and open up new possibilities.

Empower your team and provide opportunities to engage in collaborative conversations. As you facilitate dialogue, encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone and break down thoughts that could limit the discussion. Help people feel that different perspectives are appreciated.

Create an Inclusive Culture Today

Creating an inclusive culture can be challenging, but it can also be extremely enlightening and rewarding. When people come together and work in a united way, you will move your organization to a better place, and everyone will feel included and give their very best.