How to Realize the Benefits of Inclusive Leadership

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Training on implicit bias has seen a significant increase over the past year following national and international calls for greater justice, equity and inclusion. I know this firsthand because my business has been inundated with hundreds of requests from customers wanting all of their management teams and general staff to buy in. The central message of implicit bias training is that all humans have it as a built-in mechanism of safety and survival. Our brains are wired to be biased, but when left unchecked, it can negatively impact everyday interactions and decisions, especially in the workplace.

But just being aware that we all have prejudices won’t help us out. This matters more than ever, as the workforce and the market have become more global, multicultural, multigenerational and hyper-connected. On top of that, they all bring different needs, expectations, and ways of thinking, working and doing business. The ability to lead more effectively across differences is a key lever for attracting, engaging and retaining the best talent, spurring innovation and creativity, as well as expanding into new markets and serving new clients and clients.

In addition to training on implicit bias, in the past 18 months alone, my consulting firm has conducted nearly 100 listening sessions and over 50 surveys and focus groups on employee inclusion and engagement. , and the results have been consistent across industries, sectors and companies. sizes.

Workers expect their employers to:

  • valuing diversity, equity and inclusion
  • want their leaders to be authentic, preach and live the values ​​of the company
  • have the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and acquire new skills
  • work flexibly and have more autonomy in the way they work
  • be paid fairly and competitively
  • work in a ‘safe talk’ culture where their ideas and opinions can be shared without fear of reprisal
  • to be recognized and appreciated

And they report that if they don’t get it, they’re good to go.

Today, this threat has become real. The US labor market is slowly recovering adding thousands of new jobs, while experiencing the Great Resignation, where workers are leaving their jobs in record numbers. In June alone, 3.9 million people said ‘I quit,’ which is slightly lower than almost 4 million abandoned in April. In a recent Monster.com investigation, 95% of 650 American workers said they were considering quitting their jobs. The main reasons to quit smoking are very much in line with what our company has heard from workers in listening sessions and focus groups: they experience increased burnout, work-related stress, lack of opportunities to development and growth, low wages and poor benefits, a lack of work flexibility and toxic workplace cultures.

Wait, there is more. The 2021 Labor Trends Index Report conducted by Microsoft a few months ago studied more than 30,000 people in 31 countries. He revealed some startling findings that should be a wake-up call to all leaders. Five that stood out to me because of the consultancy work we do with clients around the world are:

  • over 40% of the global workforce plan to leave their current employer this year
  • flexible working is here to stay
  • leaders are disconnected from employees and need a wake-up call
  • authenticity will boost productivity and well-being
  • high productivity masks a depleted workforce

Wow, talk about having work to do to re-engage, re-energize, and retain existing talent. This is a clear and compelling business case and a loud cry for more inclusive leadership.

Successful organizations recognize that in order to attract the best talent, increase employee engagement and job satisfaction, drive innovation and creativity, and enhance the customer service experience, they must cultivate an inclusive corporate culture. And it begins and ends with inclusive leadership. It can’t be fun to do, it has to be intentional and a process of continuous development.

If culture is everyone’s business, leaders set the tone. I call them “thermostats” in the company because they regulate the temperature and create the atmosphere that the workers experience. In my 30 years in human resources, I’ve seen more often that people don’t quit bad jobs, they quit bad leaders and toxic workplaces. Many of the reasons listed above why workers quit or are considering quitting can be avoided / recovered by having inclusive leaders.

I understand. Being an inclusive leader is not as easy as it sounds. Inclusive leadership is more than having a title, hugging, and being kind. It requires a paradigm shift, an openness to different ways of doing things, some embarrassment, and the courage to embrace the unknown. Many leaders neither have the foundational foundational knowledge of inclusive leadership nor an idea of ​​what workers expect from their leaders today (they are out of touch, as the Microsoft study revealed).

At a minimum, employees demand that our workplaces be more inclusive, welcoming and respectful, that they create a sense of belonging and that they are free from harassment. For some companies with legacy cultures and others that have been around for over a century, this is an extremely difficult change management process. But it is necessary.

Therefore, every leader must improve their skills and develop new skills that will achieve these three things: re-engage, re-energize and retain employees. They must intend to value diversity and inclusion. Intentionality can include listening carefully to understand the perspectives and points of view of others, and creating safe and courageous spaces for staff to feel comfortable sharing their ideas without fear of reprisal. Instead of using the same person (s) to complete special tasks and projects, they should intentionally spread the opportunities. And that means not only inviting more diversity to the table, but soliciting diverse perspectives and ideas. When they observe or hear something inappropriate, insensitive or insulting, they speak out and call out to it. These daily acts of intentionality can go a long way in building trust and belonging.

Additionally, leaders need to increase their level of cultural competence, which can begin with self-assessment and a clear understanding of their own culture. They can also interact with people other than themselves (could be on a project, find a mentor, join various networks, etc.), and they can attend events and training programs that expose them to a variety of issues. cultural learning experiences.

Equally important is that employers need to hold their leaders accountable for being more inclusive. They can do this by incorporating inclusive leadership behaviors into their company’s values ​​and performance goals, frequently asking staff how they experience the culture across their leaders, and tracking employee complaints, turnover and levels. engagement and productivity.

I hope every leader will heed the warnings of these current and impending demographic changes and worker trends. That they will become more skilled and intentional in developing and demonstrating the skills and traits that workers need and expect in the workplace.

When they do, they will realize the benefits that come with it: corporate cultures that are viewed as “employers of choice” by top talent, that are high performers, are innovative and bring out the best in their employees. This contributes to the success of the business and its long-term sustainability.


Shirley Davis, PhD, is President of SDS Global Enterprises, Inc., a strategic development solutions company that helps organizations transform their culture, empower their employees and increase their productivity. She is also the author of Live beyond what if? Free yourself from limits and make your dreams come true.



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