Embracing Change - The Principles of Inclusive Leadership

Creating an inclusive culture requires that leaders embrace change and actively seek to improve their inclusive leadership competencies. Fortunately, becoming an inclusive leader is not a quality that is fixed or strictly inherent, but something that can be assessed, measured, coached and developed. 

Only 5% of managers would qualify as inclusive leaders. That’s what shows a study that analyzed 24,000 leadership assessments

Fortunately, becoming an inclusive leader is not a quality that is fixed or strictly inherent, but something that can be assessed, measured, coached and developed. 

Benefits of Inclusive Leadership

The diversity of markets, customers, ideas and talent are four mega-trends shaping today’s global marketplace. In that sense, leaders who will thrive in maximizing opportunities and leveraging competitive advantages will be those who embody inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders role model a willingness to evolve their own approach which helps to promote a willingness to change among both individuals and the organization.

Inclusive leaders help assure that individuals of all groups are equally valued, supported, empowered, able to be authentic and to fulfill their potential. They enable people to bring their whole selves to work, feel safe to take risks and trust they will have fair access to opportunities for development. These inclusive leadership competencies may not be the qualities that many leaders learned to develop when they began their careers.

Global DEI expert Rohini Anand, PhD explains how critical it is that leaders change in order to lead change within their organization. She dedicates an entire  chapter in her newly released book Leading Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations

Without inclusion, diversity can create issues in team dynamics and lower organizational performance. Juliet Bourke suggests if you’re not catching up, you’re becoming obsolete: “For leaders who have perfected their craft in a more homogenous environment, rapid adjustment is in order.”

According to Bourke and Titus, research shows that teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report being high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. Just a 10% improvement in the perception of inclusiveness reduces absenteeism by nearly 1 day a year. 

Because they create space for all voices and diverse perspectives to be heard, bring others along with change, and move ideation through to implementation with collaboration, inclusive leaders are also essential to driving better innovation.

Studies also indicate that leaders who are seen as fair, respectful, encouraging of collaboration and valuing different ideas and opinions are two and a half times more likely to have effective employees on their teams. Diverse teams that are well managed by skilled inclusive leaders ultimately outperform well-managed homogenous teams over time. They are more likely to capture new markets, see product ideas to market, earn higher innovation revenue and make better decisions.

The more employees feel included, the more they speak up, go beyond the work checklist, and collaborate with others. Leadership is fundamental to feeling included, Bourke and Titus point out: “what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included.” 

Characteristics of an Inclusive Leader

In How To Be An Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, Jennifer Brown introduces the Inclusive Leadership Continuum of Unaware, Aware, Active and Advocate: which gauges where a leader stands on the inclusive spectrum and how they can develop. As Davis states in Fast Company, being an inclusive leader “requires a paradigm shift, an openness to different ways of doing things, leaning into some discomfort, and demonstrating the courage to embrace the unfamiliar.”

Inclusion and exclusion are experienced by employees in various interactions throughout the day. Despite attention to policy, values, and culture in an organisation, a company’s ability to leverage a diverse workforce comes down to the skills of individual managers and employees. Pulsely measures these skills through our Inclusion Competencies  which are based on global research on traits of inclusive leaders.

  • Courage to engage: willingness to get out of the comfort zone and engage in difficult conversations
  • Cultural intelligence: acknowledging the influence of different cultures on values and behaviors
  • Allyship: actively championing people  different from ourselves and fostering productive conversations about differences
  • Learning from others: believing one can learn from the perspectives of others rather than defending their intent
  • Addressing bias: recognizing that actions must be taken to keep bias from influencing behaviours
  • Awareness of systemic bias: recognizing flaws in the system that need to be addressed and monitored
  • Willingness to adapt: changing one’s own behaviour to foster the inclusion of different backgrounds and perspectives

While commitment is a prerequisite within a leader, it’s then visible awareness of bias that is the single most important factor to generating a sense of inclusiveness. An inclusive leader gains trust and catalyzes change by daring to point at the elephant in the room and within themselves, and with both humility and empathy. 

In an interview with The Glass Hammer, our co-founder and director Betsy Bagley talks about the characteristics of inclusive leadership in action: “The organizations I experience that are creating the best opportunity for progress are where the leaders are role modeling a willingness to engage in difficult conversations and admitting where they’ve made mistakes. It’s a different place to begin the conversation.”

Inclusive Leadership In Practice 

Bourke and Titus have found that only a third of leaders judge their perceived ability to create inclusiveness accurately (36%) - while a third overrate it (32%) and a third underrate it (33%).  What is evident is that inclusive leadership in practice is not about “occasional grand gestures, but regular, smaller scale-comments and actions” that are tangible and put into action every day.

The five inner enablers of an inclusive leadership are authenticity, emotional resilience, self-assurance, inquisitiveness and flexibility. From that core, the five disciplines of inclusive leaders are building interpersonal trust, integrating diverse perspectives, optimizing talent, applying an adaptive mindset, and achieving transformation.

“What leaders say and do has an outsized impact on others, but our research indicates that this effect is even more pronounced when they are leading diverse teams. Subtle words and acts of exclusion by leaders, or overlooking the exclusive behaviors of others, easily reinforces the status quo,” write Bourke and Titus in HBR. “It takes energy and deliberate effort to create an inclusive culture, and that starts with leaders paying much more attention to what they say and do on a daily basis and making adjustments as necessary.”

For an individual, inclusive leadership will look like engaging at every level, mentoring and sponsoring under-championed employees who are different from you, filtering biases from recruiting and promotion, speaking up when acts of exclusion appear, reaching deeper into the organization for ideas and decision-making, remaining coachable and showing vulnerability.

For an organization, it means putting into practice process changes and daily actions towards inclusive leadership at every level - from visible championship, to interviewing and recruiting processes, to performance review and acknowledging achievements, to leadership development and integrating into systems.

Inclusion is measurable. By taking stock of the Inclusion Competencies of individual leaders in your organization, and how that translates to and interacts with Inclusion Experiences among your employees, Pulsely focuses on moving leaders along the continuum of inclusive leadership towards a culture where more individuals and organizations can thrive.

Get real-time access to your data with the Pulsely DEI Dashboard

Visualize your organization's strengths and challenges in the dashboard and monitor your progress as new and updated answers come in.

Diversity & Inclusion Scientific Framework

More from the blog

Assess behaviors to drive a culture of inclusion

Talk with our team to find the best solution for your current challenges
Book a meeting
Become our Partner in Diversity & Inclusion