As the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace gains more attention, so does the need for inclusive leadership. Inclusive leadership is a critical component of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. It prioritises creating an environment where all employees feel valued, respected, and included, regardless of their differences. Inclusive leadership is not only a moral imperative but also has tangible business benefits, such as improving employee morale, engagement, and productivity, as well as reducing turnover. However, becoming an inclusive leader requires self-reflection, education, and intentional action. This guide aims to provide practical tips and strategies for individuals who want to practice inclusive leadership
What is inclusive leadership?
Inclusive leadership is a leadership style that prioritises creating an environment where all employees feel valued, respected, and included, regardless of their differences. It goes beyond simply acknowledging diversity and actively works towards ensuring that everyone is given equal opportunities to contribute to the organisation's success. Inclusive leaders understand that different perspectives and experiences can bring about innovative ideas and solutions that benefit the entire organisation.
Inclusive leadership is a critical component of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture. It differs from traditional leadership styles, which often place emphasis on a hierarchical structure and exerting authority over subordinates. Inclusive leaders work to break down these traditional power dynamics and create a more collaborative and supportive work environment. Instead of focusing solely on achieving business goals, inclusive leaders are focused on creating a culture that fosters inclusion, equity, and respect for all employees.
The importance of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture cannot be overstated. A diverse workforce brings together individuals from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, which can lead to increased creativity, innovation, and problem-solving abilities. Inclusive leadership is key to creating an environment where diversity is not only recognised but also celebrated and leveraged to achieve business success. Since a workplace that prioritises inclusion and diversity is one where employees feel safe, valued, and supported. This leads to increased job satisfaction, higher levels of employee engagement, and improved productivity. Inclusive leaders understand the importance of creating a work environment where employees feel respected and appreciated, regardless of their differences.
Why do employers need to adopt inclusive leadership, and what are the benefits?
Inclusive leadership is not only a moral imperative, it also has tangible business benefits. Studies have shown that organisations with diverse and inclusive workforces perform better financially than those that do not prioritise diversity and inclusion. A study conducted by McKinsey found that companies with diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.
Additionally, a report by Deloitte found that organisations with an inclusive culture were more likely to be innovative and agile, capabilities that are increasingly important in today's rapidly changing business landscape, affording inclusive organisations a competitive advantage. Inclusive leadership also helps to reduce turnover and attract top talent. When employees feel that their contributions are valued and that they are part of an inclusive workplace culture, they are more likely to remain with the organisation long-term. Inclusive workplace cultures are also more attractive for top talent who are seeking an organisation that values diversity and inclusion.
To become an inclusive leader, individuals must be willing to engage in self-reflection and actively work to challenge their biases and assumptions. This entails recognising one's own privilege and using it to amplify the voices of those who are underrepresented. Inclusive leaders must also be willing to educate themselves on the experiences of individuals from different backgrounds and understand the unique challenges that they may face.
Inclusive leadership also requires intentional action, such as actively seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences, creating opportunities for underrepresented groups to participate and contribute, and holding oneself and others accountable for creating an inclusive work environment. Inclusive leaders must be willing to have difficult conversations and address any biases or discriminatory behaviour that may occur.
Increased employee engagement
Inclusive leadership can have a significant impact on employee engagement, motivation, and loyalty. When employees feel valued and included, they are more likely to be invested in the organisation's success and feel motivated to contribute to its goals. Inclusive leaders can create an environment that fosters engagement and collaboration by actively seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences. This can involve creating opportunities for underrepresented groups to participate and contribute, such as forming employee resource groups or providing training and development programs.
Inclusive leaders can also create an open and inclusive culture by encouraging open communication and feedback, promoting transparency, and actively addressing any biases or discriminatory behaviour that may occur.
Inclusive leaders can also foster engagement and collaboration by creating opportunities for employees to feel recognized and valued. This can involve providing opportunities for career growth and development, offering competitive compensation and benefits, and recognizing and celebrating employee achievements and contributions. Inclusive leaders can also prioritise employee well-being by creating a supportive work environment that prioritises work-life balance and mental health.
One example of an organisation with inclusive leadership is Microsoft. The company has made a concerted effort to prioritise diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and this is reflected in their leadership style. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has spoken publicly about the importance of creating an inclusive culture, stating that "the key to success in the tech industry is building teams that reflect the diversity of our customers." The company has implemented a number of initiatives to foster inclusion, including providing unconscious bias training, offering flexible work arrangements, and forming employee resource groups.
Another example of inclusive leadership in action is seen in the US Navy. The Navy has implemented a number of initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion, including a diversity and inclusion strategic plan and a Chief Diversity Officer position. Navy leaders prioritise diversity and inclusion through various initiatives, including the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Symposium, which brings together leaders from across the Navy to discuss strategies for promoting diversity and inclusion. Examples such as Microsoft and the US Navy demonstrate the benefits of inclusive leadership in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture that fosters engagement and collaboration.
Inclusive leadership can drive improved performance by leveraging diverse perspectives and talents. When leaders focus on diversity and inclusion, they create a workplace culture that values and leverages the unique experiences and perspectives of all employees. This can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making by drawing upon a wider range of perspectives and ideas.
One way that inclusive leadership can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making is by encouraging open and honest communication. When leaders create a culture of psychological safety where employees feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and ideas, it can lead to better collaboration and more innovative solutions. Inclusive leaders actively seek out diverse perspectives and ideas, creating opportunities for all employees to contribute to the organisation's success.
Another way that inclusive leadership can drive improved performance is by fostering a culture of innovation. When employees feel that their contributions are valued, they are more likely to feel invested in the organisation's success and contribute their ideas and talents to help the organisation grow. Inclusive leaders can also create opportunities for employees to participate in training and development programs that help them build new skills and broaden their perspectives.
An example of how inclusive leadership can lead to improved performance is seen in the technology company Intel. In 2015, Intel launched a program called "Intel Capital Diversity Fund," which aimed to increase the diversity of its portfolio companies by investing in businesses led by underrepresented minorities and women. The program was part of a larger effort to increase diversity and inclusion within the company and leverage diverse perspectives to drive innovation and growth.
Another example of how inclusive leadership can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making is seen in the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. When developing a new drug, Pfizer assembled a diverse team of individuals with different backgrounds and experiences to work on the project. This diverse team was able to bring new perspectives and ideas to the table, leading to a breakthrough in the drug development process. The drug ultimately went on to become a best-seller for the company.
Inclusive leadership can drive improved performance by leveraging diverse perspectives and talents. Inclusive leaders prioritise creating an environment where all employees feel valued, respected, and included, regardless of their differences. This can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making by drawing upon a wider range of perspectives and ideas.
New perspectives and innovation
Inclusive leadership can promote innovation and creativity by encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas within an organisation. When employees feel empowered to share their unique perspectives and experiences, they can bring new ideas to the table and challenge traditional ways of thinking. This can lead to the development of innovative solutions and products that can give companies a competitive edge.
By prioritising inclusivity and diversity, companies can tap into the diverse skills and talents of their workforce. This can lead to a range of benefits, including improved problem-solving, increased creativity, and higher levels of employee engagement and motivation. When employees feel valued and included, they are more likely to be invested in the success of the organisation and motivated to contribute to its goals.
Companies that prioritise inclusivity and diversity can develop a competitive edge by appealing to a wider range of customers and clients. By embracing diversity and creating a culture of inclusion, companies can better understand and serve the needs of diverse communities. This can lead to the development of products and services that are more innovative, inclusive, and responsive to customer needs.
An example of how inclusive leadership can promote innovation and creativity is seen in the tech giant Google. Google is known for its diverse and inclusive workplace culture, where employees are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work and share their unique perspectives. This inclusive culture has led to numerous breakthroughs and innovations, such as the development of the Google Maps app, which was created by a diverse team of engineers who brought different perspectives to the table.
Another example is the consumer goods company Procter & Gamble. Procter & Gamble has a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion and has implemented a range of initiatives to promote diversity and inclusivity within the company. This has included initiatives such as "Supplier Diversity," which aims to increase the diversity of suppliers and vendors that the company works with. By prioritizing diversity and inclusivity, Procter & Gamble has been able to develop innovative products that appeal to a wider range of consumers, such as the Pantene Gold Series, which was developed specifically for women with textured hair.
Inclusive leadership can promote innovation and creativity by encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas within an organisation. Companies that focus on inclusivity and diversity can tap into the diverse skills and talents of their workforce, develop a competitive edge by appealing to a wider range of customers and clients, and develop innovative products and services that are more responsive to customer needs.
Better decision making
Inclusive leadership can promote innovation and creativity by encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas. When employees feel valued and included, they are more likely to contribute to the conversation and share their unique perspectives. Inclusive leaders can create a culture of innovation and creativity by encouraging open communication and feedback, promoting psychological safety, and creating opportunities for professional development and growth.
Companies that prioritise inclusivity and diversity can develop a competitive edge by tapping into the diverse skills and talents of their workforce. By embracing differences and encouraging diverse viewpoints, companies can unlock new ideas and solutions that may not have been considered otherwise. This can lead to a more innovative and competitive business strategy that can set the company apart in the market.
One example of how inclusive leadership can lead to better decision making is seen in the healthcare industry. In healthcare, decisions can have life or death consequences, making it crucial for leaders to incorporate diverse perspectives and experiences. One healthcare organisation, HealthPartners, created a diversity and inclusion council made up of employees from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. This council helps inform decision making by providing valuable insights and perspectives from different viewpoints and experiences.
Another example is the cosmetics company Sephora. Sephora has a commitment to diversity and inclusivity, both in their product offerings and their workplace culture. They have created a program called "Colour Up Close" which encourages employees to share their unique perspectives and experiences to inform product development and marketing strategies. This has led to a more diverse range of product offerings and a deeper connection with customers who feel seen and valued by the company.
Inclusive leadership can promote innovation and creativity by encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas. Companies that prioritise inclusivity and diversity can develop a competitive edge by tapping into the diverse skills and talents of their workforce. By embracing differences and encouraging diverse viewpoints, companies can unlock new ideas and solutions that can set them apart in the market and drive their success.
8 examples of inclusive leadership
Clearly, inclusive leadership offers organisations and individuals value in many ways. However, it can be difficult to picture what inclusive leadership looks like in practice. Solet’s look at eight different examples of inclusive leadership:
Curiosity is a crucial trait for inclusive leadership as it promotes open-mindedness, creativity, and innovation. Leaders who exhibit curiosity are eager to learn and understand new perspectives and ideas, leading to more innovative and inclusive solutions. Cultivating curiosity in the workplace can be achieved by encouraging employees to ask questions, seek out new experiences, and challenge assumptions.
Leaders can create a culture of curiosity by promoting continuous learning and providing opportunities for employees to engage in professional development and attend conferences and workshops. By demonstrating a willingness to learn and explore new ideas, leaders can encourage their employees to do the same, leading to a more engaged and innovative workforce. For example, Google encourages their employees to dedicate 20% of their work time to pursue their own curiosity-driven projects, which has led to the development of successful products such as Gmail and Google Maps.
Cultural intelligence is an important trait for inclusive leadership as it enables leaders to better understand and connect with employees from diverse backgrounds. Leaders who exhibit cultural intelligence have an awareness of different cultural values, customs, and behaviours, allowing them to navigate diverse workplaces with sensitivity and respect.
Leaders can develop cultural intelligence by learning about different cultures through books, seminars, or engaging with individuals from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, actively seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences can help leaders broaden their understanding of different cultures and develop empathy towards individuals from diverse backgrounds. By displaying cultural intelligence, leaders can build trust and rapport with their employees, promote collaboration and inclusion, and create a more welcoming and supportive work environment. For example, Microsoft has implemented a "cultural toolkit" that provides employees with resources and tools to better understand and navigate different cultural norms and customs, promoting cultural intelligence across the organisation.
Collaboration is a key trait for inclusive leadership as it promotes better decision-making, increased innovation, and improved performance. Leaders who prioritise collaboration create a culture where employees are encouraged to work together to achieve common goals, leading to better communication, creativity, and problem-solving. Collaborative teams also bring together diverse perspectives, leading to more comprehensive and effective solutions.
Leaders can promote collaboration in the workplace by creating cross-functional teams, encouraging employees to work together on projects, and providing opportunities for employees to connect and share their ideas. For example, Amazon promotes a collaborative culture by creating "working backwards" documents that outline goals and objectives, encouraging teams to work together to achieve them, and promoting open communication channels that allow employees to share feedback and ideas. By fostering collaboration, leaders can build trust, encourage diverse perspectives, and create a more inclusive and innovative work environment.
Commitment is a vital trait for inclusive leadership as it helps leaders build trust and credibility with their employees. Leaders who demonstrate commitment show that they value diversity and inclusion and are willing to take concrete actions to create a more inclusive work environment. This can include advocating for diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, promoting diverse perspectives, and holding themselves accountable for creating an inclusive culture.
By displaying commitment, leaders can inspire their employees and promote a sense of shared purpose, leading to increased motivation, engagement, and loyalty. For example, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has made a public commitment to diversity and inclusion, setting goals for increasing representation of women and underrepresented minorities and advocating for equal pay and opportunity. By demonstrating his commitment to inclusivity, Benioff has built trust and credibility with his employees and created a culture that values diversity and inclusion.
Courage is an essential trait for inclusive leadership as it helps leaders challenge the status quo and advocate for change. Leaders who demonstrate courage are willing to speak up against discrimination or bias and take risks to promote inclusivity in the workplace. They understand that creating a diverse and inclusive culture requires challenging entrenched attitudes and behaviours and are willing to take a stand even when it's not popular or easy.
By showing courage, leaders can inspire their employees to speak up and advocate for change, leading to a more inclusive work environment. For example, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson showed courage when he closed all 8,000 stores for a day of racial bias training in response to an incident of discrimination at one of its stores. By taking a bold and decisive action, Johnson demonstrated his commitment to inclusivity and sent a message that discrimination would not be tolerated at Starbucks. This act of courage helped build trust and credibility with employees and customers and reinforced the company's values of diversity and inclusion.
A community-focused approach is critical for inclusive leadership as it enables leaders to build strong relationships with their employees and stakeholders. Leaders who adopt this approach prioritise the needs and concerns of their community and actively engage with them to create shared goals and values. They understand that their company is not just a collection of employees and shareholders, but an integral part of the broader community.
By demonstrating a commitment to social responsibility and sustainability, community-focused leaders can inspire their employees and community members to support their company's mission and values. For example, Patagonia's CEO, Yvon Chouinard, has long been an advocate for environmental sustainability, and the company has established a reputation for environmental activism. By demonstrating a deep commitment to sustainability, Patagonia has built a loyal customer base and attracted talented employees who share its values. This community-focused approach has helped the company differentiate itself from competitors and create a positive impact on the environment and society.
Self-awareness is a key trait of inclusive leadership as it enables leaders to understand their own biases, perspectives, and limitations. By developing self-awareness, leaders can create an environment that values diverse perspectives and promotes inclusivity. Self-aware leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses and actively seek feedback from employees to identify areas for improvement.
They engage in regular self-reflection and introspection to ensure they are acting in accordance with their values and promoting a culture of inclusivity. For example, a leader who recognises their own unconscious biases may take steps to mitigate their impact, such as by creating objective hiring criteria or seeking out diverse perspectives in decision-making processes. By cultivating self-awareness, leaders can better understand their own blind spots and work to create a more inclusive workplace.
How Thomas assessments help with inclusive leadership
Thomas assessment tools are specifically designed to help organisations promote diversity and inclusion in their recruitment and leadership decisions. By providing valuable insight into a person's strengths, potential derailers, and behavioural traits, Thomas assessments can help identify individuals who possess the skills and attributes necessary for effective and inclusive leadership.
With Thomas assessments, organisations can also determine whether their leaders are self-aware, excellent communicators, and capable of adapting their behaviour to suit a variety of situations. This can ultimately lead to a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture, where employees from all backgrounds feel valued, respected, and included.
If you're interested in learning more about how Thomas can help you develop inclusive leadership skills and promote diversity in your organisation, don't hesitate to speak to one of our team today.