Five things inclusive leaders do everyday

inclusive leadership leaders

Leaders set the tone, which is why inclusive leadership is crucial to creating the kinds of environments in which everyone can flourish. Work is a both an opportunity and a powerful crucible for developing inclusivity as it may well be the only place where you meet and interact daily with people you might not otherwise spend time with. But just being open or ‘knowledgable’ about inclusivity is not enough – you have to be active about it. Inclusion is a living practice and expanding mindset, not a box-ticking checklist or buzzword. And if you’re assuming that diversity automatically means inclusivity, and not purposefully setting the example then it’s easier for your team to slide into unconscious exclusive behaviours. As the saying goes, ‘diversity is getting asked to the party, while inclusion is getting asked to dance at the party.’ Here are five simple things that truly inclusive leaders will do every single day to make sure everyone can join in.


Acknowledge your unconscious bias

Bias? Not me, no. Oh yes, you do. Everyone has bias, the assumptions that we have about people, regardless of how open and inclusive we think we are. Working to bring to light and understand your own biases is a crucial part of growing into your space as an inclusive leader. Assumptions are a natural part of how people fast track their understanding of the world around them, and not ‘bad’ in themselves. But if you don’t realise you’re making assumptions then you are looking at things through an unconscious filter that may be excluding members of your team – perhaps the working parent that you assume wouldn’t want the added responsibility of a project, or the shy employee you pass by to make the crucial presentation. You have to know what your thought process is to begin to question the accuracy of it – and move past it, to be able to see the realities of situations rather than how you automatically perceive them.


Shine a light on the unwritten rules

Companies and organisations, like every kind of human grouping, have ‘cultural norms’, many of which are written out explicitly in company materials, but equally many of which are implicit in the everyday. This can make it hard for new members of a team, particularly when they are from a different country, culture or background, to interpret and work within them. The potential for making a mistake or being excluded can be high – and to empower them and make them comfortable means, again, challenging your own assumptions, and looking out for ways in which cultural crossed wires can be untangled. For example, a colleague might be from a country where interrupting someone is considered rude, and therefore find it difficult to be heard in spirited meetings where ideas are being developed.  In this situation, the assumption that they are ‘just quiet’ needs to be challenged, and a creative intervention folded in to ensure they can contribute fully – such as your team knowing that if this person raises their hand they wish to speak.


Understand privilege

Privilege has been defined as ‘a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group’ – and gender, sexual orientation, culture, physical ability, and religious practices can all afford different levels of access and privilege to people. We do not all understand or make decisions from the same points of reference, and this can inform how we operate in the work environment. Inclusive leaders acknowledge and respect that members of their team have different considerations and that in turn this may mean that they approach a situation differently.


Believe in equality and difference

While acknowledging difference, though, inclusive leaders are also – crucially – able to talk about it in ways that do not single out anyone. Appreciating the unique qualities of everyone on their team, while not objectifying them is key. For the parent that you are not excluding from opportunities with your unconscious bias, for example, it is equally important to recognise that being a parent is still a key part of who they are. In this way, you can hold both aspects together; expecting the high standards you would expect from anyone on your team from the parent, but also making it clear that it’s okay for him or her to leave early to do the school run.


Realise that nothing is too small to notice

Being active in inclusivity means holding that space without exception and calling out any level of rudeness or exclusivity that you witness. Nothing is too ‘insignificant’ to highlight. The culture of an environment only changes when the bar is set higher, and as the leader of your team you are key in ensuring consistency. If you let something slide – no matter how small – you are communicating to your team that you operate in a culture where exclusivity is acceptable. When highlighting behavior that is exclusive, be aware it may be an unconscious bias on someone’s part though. They may need – and be open – to doing work on their biases and behavior through learning and development. So avoid ’fault finding’, instead state what you notice and highlight the potential effect of that, suggesting alternative thought or action.


More resources on the everywomanNetwork:

Workbook: Diverse and Inclusive Leadership: a guide to getting started

Book Review: Succeed as an Inclusive Leader, by Thais Compoint

Article:  Why the Little Things Matter when it comes to Equality


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