You’ve certainly heard a lot about the importance of having a diverse staff, but having a diverse workforce is simply the beginning. You won’t gain from your employees’ different points of view if they don’t feel heard, valued, and respected. This is where the concept of inclusion comes into play.

It is up to you, as a leader, to make your workplace more inclusive. According to Harvard Business Review, what leaders say and do can make a 70% difference in whether or not a person feels included. Despite this, only one out of every three leaders has a realistic assessment of their inclusive leadership qualities, with one-third believing they are more inclusive than others consider them to be and another third discounting their efforts owing to a lack of confidence.

You can utilise varied thinking that ignites creativity and accelerates innovation when all employees feel appreciated, respected, and heard, resulting to real results such as increased team problem-solving, employee engagement, and retention. Here are 5 critical steps to get started.
Identify Your Personal Biases

Developing awareness of your own biases is the first step toward becoming a more inclusive leader. Bias stems from a basic fear of diversity in our brain. As a result, no one is immune to prejudices, and the only way to overcome them is to recognise them. It’s time to take out the magnifying glass and evaluate your own biases, as well as those embedded in your company’s culture, policies, and processes.

Consider completing this Implicit Association Evaluate, which was developed by Harvard academics to test your biases and provide feedback on where your vulnerabilities are and how they may affect your decision-making. You could also find it beneficial to enlist the advice of a group of trusted advisers who can provide you with honest feedback on behaviours that are preventing inclusion.

Declare Your Commitment to Inclusion and Take Imperfect Action

Make your commitment to using various viewpoints public, and back it up by dedicating time, energy, and resources to making your workplace more inclusive. Ensure that underrepresented and marginalised people have access to the opportunities, relationships, and resources that are necessary for success, and be willing to advocate for them. When you have to call someone out for saying something inappropriate or insulting, you may feel uncomfortable disrupting the current quo, but don’t allow that stop you from taking action. When you hold yourself and others accountable, you give others permission to do the same, and you create an environment where speaking up feels safe.

Have each member of your team identify one thing they can do differently to foster a more inclusive workplace as a way to demonstrate your commitment to change and encourage others to get involved. Then, at your weekly meetings, set aside time to discuss progress, including any missteps or learning opportunities. This makes an issue that can feel intimidating and abstract concrete, motivating everyone to take personal responsibility and start a conversation.

Lead With Humility and Show Vulnerability

You must put your ego aside and be willing to demonstrate vulnerability in order for your inclusion efforts to be truly effective. According to Harvard Business Review research, when prejudice awareness is combined with a high level of humility, emotions of inclusion might improve by up to 25%.

Accept responsibility for your mistakes, don’t be embarrassed to confess that you’re still learning, and solicit open input from staff on how you can improve. Listen to team members’ feedback with an open mind and without passing judgement. When faced with criticism, it’s natural to feel defensive, but resist the desire to respond with a retort and instead ask thoughtful, clarifying questions. Then make a commitment to change and share your success with others. Remember that inclusion is a process, not a destination, and that feedback and implementation will be ongoing.

Team members will feel appreciated and trust that you are committed to change if they see you taking action based on their feedback on a regular basis – even if you don’t always get it right!

Seek Out Diverse Perspectives

You can’t genuinely be an inclusive leader without seeking out multiple perspectives and taking the time to grasp the unique experiences and perceptions of the many different individuals inside your organisation, no matter how much time you spend looking inward to recognise your prejudices.

Engage employees in discussions about prejudices, discrimination, and impediments. Don’t jump into problem-solving mode when a team member is discussing an issue. Instead, ask important follow-up questions and affirm their experience to gain a better understanding. Then schedule a follow-up meeting and include the person in the problem-solving process. Consider holding focus groups or office hours to help facilitate these discussions and gain insights from a variety of perspectives.

If you think employees from underrepresented or marginalised groups in your company would be afraid of retaliation if they express their true feelings, consider giving them an anonymous avenue to do so, such as through a survey. Giving people a place to speak their opinions without fear of repercussions demonstrates how much you care and are committed to fostering a safe, inclusive workplace where all voices can be heard.

Create a Safe Environment for Effective Collaboration

According to a research by N. J. Adler, diversity without inclusion has a significant risk of becoming chaotic, resulting in reduced productivity, engagement, turnover, and litigation. When you focus on diversity while ignoring inclusion, you run the risk of making underrepresented groups feel as if they’re only there to check a box or meet a quota. As a result, they may feel compelled to comply to company conventions and beliefs in order to avoid standing out, rather than offering their distinctive viewpoint.

If you’re ready to be a more inclusive leader, we challenge you to take immediate action and develop a strategy for moving forward. Make a list of your responses to the following questions:

  • How will you develop awareness of your own biases?
  • What processes, policies or structures can you put in place to limit the detrimental effects of bias and enhance inclusion efforts?
  • How will you demonstrate your commitment to diversity and inclusion?
  • How can you create an environment of psychological safety and ensure that all perspectives are being heard and valued?
  • How will you measure your success?

The research is clear: how you present yourself as a leader has a significant impact on how included your colleagues feel. You can create an environment where everyone can contribute meaningfully and thrive by prioritising inclusion.