Inclusion is a priority, but how do leaders actually become inclusive?

Posted 06 February 2023 by
Global Marketing

4 min. read

We’ve heard a lot over the last few years about developing more inclusive company cultures. Most will agree that this is a worthy goal, yet we struggle to achieve it. In its 2019 study, Gartner found that:

For some organizations, inclusion probably isn’t a high priority and takes second place to other objectives. And, of course, there are those organizations with toxic cultures that don’t value inclusivity at all.

However, many other organizations sincerely prize inclusivity but don’t have a clue how to begin promoting it. There are three things to understand that are key to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and specifically to inclusivity.

First, diversity isn’t effective without inclusion. While it’s helpful to have diversity initiatives in an organization, when inclusion is left out of the mix, those diversity initiatives can feel insincere and potentially even backfire, according to Harvard Business Review (registration required).

Second, inclusivity must be addressed at the individual level. This isn’t to say that corporate initiatives can’t be effective, but they won’t be any more effective than individuals’ willingness and ability to change personal behavior. Addressing inclusivity individually ensures that DEI strategies have actionable behaviors associated with them that’ll shift the company culture for the better.

To change behavior, individuals must be able to recognize which of their current behaviors positively contribute to a more inclusive workplace and which behaviors make peers feel less included. There are some behaviors that are obviously more inclusive, but the average employee often isn’t aware of behaviors that lead others to feel isolated.

Third, the example must come from the top down. A company will be no more inclusive than its leadership. But it’s not as easy as asking managers how inclusive they are. Our research on inclusivity in leadership found that leaders often fall into a self-perception trap when it comes to inclusion. In fact, two out of three leaders hold an inaccurate view about their own inclusive leadership capabilities. In addition, one out of every three leaders believes they’re more inclusive than they’re perceived to be by those around them.

Here are some of the critical elements of inclusive leadership identified in the research.

Defining 'Inclusion'

To achieve inclusivity, we have to first understand what it means. The Society for Human Resource Management says that inclusion describes the extent to which each person in an organization feels welcomed, respected, supported, and valued as a team member.

So how do diversity and inclusion work together?

Imagine you’re trying to build an electric lamp. Think of diversity as different components that you could design your lamp with, all the pieces of hardware: wires, cords, bases, bulbs, knobs, and more. The more variety you have in your lamp components, the more options you have to build the best lamp for the job. In fact, you could build a great lamp with all these different pieces, but it would never fully function without one thing: electricity.

Inclusion is like electricity. It’s what enables organizations to realize the business benefits of diversity.

What are the things that allow a person to feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued as part of a team or organization? The Myers-Briggs Company’s working definition for inclusive leadership involves eight components:

Inclusive leaders display these behaviors and traits on a daily basis and actively work to reduce or eliminate actions that detract from them.

Leaders who are flexible, for instance, are open to changing their behavior based on input from people who might come from very different backgrounds or see the world quite differently. So how do leaders go about developing these behaviors and traits so that they can model them for their teams?

Here’s where awareness of personal bias comes in. Remember that statistic above about one in three leaders rating themselves higher on inclusivity than others would rate them? Without awareness of differences between ourselves and others, we can’t look out for places where we might hold bias.

To see how leaders can develop the behaviors associated with inclusivity and help shape a culture of inclusivity within their organizations, look out for my next post on this topic.

This article was written by Sherrie Haynie, Sr. Director of US Professional Services at The Myers-Briggs Company, and first published by Forbes Coaches Council, July 2021.


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