Organizations are investing heavily in diversity, equity and inclusion programs in the workplace. This is both a response to the current political climate and an increasingly interconnected global economy that brings together employees from diverse backgrounds. This climate has increased interest in the concept of inclusive leadership. Supporting the growth of inclusive leaders in organizations has been shown to improve business outcomes and addresses the emotional and psychological needs of all employees by creating more inclusive workplaces.
What is Inclusive Leadership?
The term inclusive leadership was first introduced in 2006 by Amy Edmondson and Ingrid Nembhard, two professors at Harvard Business School, better known for their work around psychological safety. It was initially defined as both the invitation and appreciation for the contributions of others in the workplace. Their research found that creating psychological safety in the workplace required leaders who not only welcomed diverse viewpoints, but actively sought them out.
The concept has been further refined in recent years, with most scholars and practitioners in the field aligned that inclusive leaders strike a balance between valuing unique differences and facilitating belonging among all members of a team or organization.
Why does Inclusive Leadership matter?
The benefits of inclusive leaders are clear and go far beyond the business case for diversity. At the employee level, the benefits include increased psychological safety, organizational commitment, empowerment and creativity. Organizations who report inclusive leaders see reduced turnover, increased output from team members, more innovation and a 17% increase in overall performance. Investing in inclusive leadership yields benefits both in the short and long term for employees and organizations.
What are the characteristics of Inclusive Leaders?
Inclusive leaders show six traits, or behaviors, that indicate to others their commitment to building a work culture that both values the unique contributions of individuals and creates a sense of belonging or team identity. These characteristics are:
- Express Humility: Inclusive leaders actively express humility, share the spotlight, freely admit their mistakes and create space for others to contribute.
- Display Value for Diversity: There’s a personal commitment to diversity. Inclusive leaders hold a deep and unshakable belief in the need to create inclusive and equitable workplaces.
- Lead with Authentic Transparency: Inclusive leaders are open about their motivations, actively share challenges and are transparent about what drives their actions. There’s trust that actions and beliefs are aligned.
- Show Curiosity: Inclusive leaders are always asking questions, curious about others, demonstrate an openness to hearing different viewpoints, show empathy and listen without judgment.
- Build Awareness of Bias: Leaders who aspire to be inclusive are actively working to understand their own identity, seek out their own personal biases and blind spots, and work to create an equitable work environment for all employees.
- Commit to Action: Inclusive leaders show the courage to act. They constantly look for ways to increase belonging on their teams, ensure all members feel included, and take action, even in the face of push back or challenge.
As you consider your own style of leadership, or that of other leaders in your organization, where might there be opportunities to introduce the traits associated with inclusive leadership?