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7 Traits of Inclusive Leaders
As conversations around diversity and inclusion becoming increasingly common, leaders may be wondering how they can best do their part to move their businesses forward. Reaching quotas and having anti-bias training are good first steps but creating a truly diverse workforce goes much deeper.
In order to help managers and decision-makers evaluate their own strategies and approaches, we worked with VERCIDA Consulting to identify seven key traits of inclusive leaders.
Please use these as a guide as you work toward a more diverse, accepting workplace.
1. Fairness and Respect
The first step to combating bias and discrimination is recognizing and identifying it. Leaders must be acutely aware of any internal, unconscious bias that they may hold and understand that everyone does carry some level of this bias with them. Denial is just another way of ignoring and therefore exacerbating the problem. However, if a leader admits these shortcomings in themself, they can then take steps to correct them.
From there, a leader should constantly evaluate how those biases impact their decisions and actions in the workplace. Take these steps to ensure that you are act fairly and respectfully in your day-to-day.
- Make sure that you are listening to and valuing all contributions equally
- Speak up to challenge inappropriate behavior of all levels, from outright discrimination to micro-aggressions
- Do not police culture. Allow people to be authentic. (For example, a coworker should feel safe discussing the trip they took over the weekend with their partner, regardless of gender identity or sexuality)
- Work to identify and eliminate blind spots in processes to make sure that decision-making in fair and even
When a leader makes decisions from a mountaintop, they are sure to miss something. However, if the team works more collaboratively, less-heard voices will be amplified. There are many more opportunities to combat bias with more people in the room.
This is especially true when you have diverse voices on the team. Leaders should ensure that they listen to these voices, regardless of seniority level. Take their experiences into consideration and value those perspectives as much as you would any other. When speaking with your team about diversity efforts, you should listen to these voices even more closely.
3. Emotional and Cultural Intelligence
Empathy is extraordinarily important when fostering inclusion. A leader needs to be able to see and understand different perspectives to be truly inclusive. Recognizing one’s own privilege is key here. Knowing that your lived experience is different from those around you -- and taking steps to value that experience as much as your own -- is a great start.
Know that a privileged leader of any kind – whether that privilege comes from race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. -- has a lot to learn about those who are different from them. Be open to learning. Ask questions respectfully. Do your own research by listening to voices from different cultures and walks of life outside of the workplace. Be ready to alter workplace norms if deemed necessary. If you approach this knowing that you have work to do, you’re already on the right path.
4. Empowerment and Growth
Those with different experiences have different worldviews, and therefore may work differently. Embrace this and be adaptable to the way your colleagues’ work gets done. If a team member has a new strategy or idea, encourage them to try it out. Give them the autonomy they need to get the results you both want.
Take turns giving your team members high-level projects to work on. See that work is divided evenly and everyone has an opportunity to reach their potential. When they do succeed, make sure you shine a light on those successes and celebrate them.
As stated, recognizing one’s own bias and privilege is essential to becoming an inclusive leader. This is not a one-and-done situation, though. It requires constant evaluation and revisiting. For many, it is a life-long journey.
Question yourself and the common practices around you. Seek feedback from the voices you’re trying to amplify. Asking, “How can I be a better manager, and a better ally?” is a great step. However, don’t rely on them to be your teachers. You’ll have to do much of this work on your own.
6. Promoting Psychological Safety
Sometimes, the workplace can be a hostile place for those who are deemed “other” by society. Even though you are working to be inclusive and combat this treatment, those around you may not. This can greatly affect the mental health and wellbeing of your diverse team.
You can’t control the behaviors of others, but you should absolutely encourage them to do better. If disciplinary action is in your power, consider going that route.
Additionally, you can make the workplace safer for your team by encouraging them to challenge norms. This includes checking and questioning your own actions, words, and strategies. Ensure that it is safe for your team to bring up issues they have or ways that you can be more inclusive. If they do not feel nervous or scared having these sometimes difficult conversations with you, you are creating the right kind of atmosphere.
7. Trust Binding
Similarly, you want your diverse team to know that you will support them. Many people say that they are an ally, but won’t do the work when it’s difficult to do so.
Inclusive leaders use both their privilege and standing in the company to make way for positive change. This includes actions as well as words. Here are just some examples of the actions that you can take in order to earn the trust of your team:
- Use your voice to actively challenge bad behavior and unfair practices. Start those hard conversations at a higher level.
- Do not speak ill of anyone behind their back. If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, do so head-on and approach the issue directly.
- Admit when you make a mistake and learn from it. Showing humanity and owning up to your missteps is key and part of the learning process. It also makes it much easier for others to start on their own learning paths.
- Stand by your word and speak the truth. If you are transparent with your team, they will trust you. This creates a stronger team all-around.
Becoming a truly inclusive leader is a long road, but an important and valuable one. Through it, you will become a better leader for your team, and set the right example for other leaders in your organization to do the same.