By Katie Jacobs
Wherever you live and work in the world, it’s likely the society around you is becoming more diverse, driven by factors like globalisation, immigration and the increasing accessibility of travel.
But while our communities and workplaces may be becoming more diverse, that doesn’t automatically play out into greater levels of inclusion. People from a range of different groups may still not feel involved, valued or respected. In a society that risks becoming increasingly, dangerously polarised, leaders need to focus on bringing people from all backgrounds together and creating inclusive cultures.
It is easier said than done. Managing diversity can be challenging as difference can often bring conflict, but getting it right brings tangible rewards. As research from McKinsey puts it: “The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion is stronger than ever.” McKinsey’s analysis consistently finds that those organisations with greater representation of women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds outperform those businesses that are less representative.
Whether an organisation is diverse and inclusive matters to talent as well, with research from Glassdoor stating that 76% of job seekers and employees want to see evidence of a diverse workforce when considering new opportunities. With many organisations facing persistent and damaging skills shortages, it’s another powerful reason why leaders need to take diversity and inclusion seriously.
Inclusivity is a core pillar of human leadership. The best, most human leaders are naturally inclusive, instinctively recognising the value of diversity and in helping people be themselves at work. Here are five ways to bring inclusion to life through the lens of human leadership…
- Demonstrate visible commitment
Inclusion withers without active and visible commitment from leaders. Be prepared to speak out, to challenge and to hold others to account where necessary. Active allyship from leaders should inspire similar positive activity throughout the organisation, creating a culture of inclusion. Human leaders recognise the power of acting as role models for integrity and ethical behaviour. As the saying goes: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
- Develop self- and other-awareness
Self-awareness is at the core of emotional intelligence; we cannot hope to understand and manage our relationships with others unless we can manage and understand ourselves. Understanding our strengths matters, but so does understanding our biases (and we all have them), so we can seek to mitigate them. Develop other-awareness through being genuinely curious about others from all backgrounds and in every part of the organisation and really listening to them. Which leads us to…
- Give people a voice
Inclusive human leaders create spaces for others to share their authentic selves and to enable a range of diverse voices to be heard. Listen deeply and without judgement, recognising that often when we talk openly about diversity and inclusion it can uncover messages that are challenging for leaders to hear. Push through any discomfort as seeking diverse views is critical both to creating inclusive cultures and optimising performance.
- Focus on team cohesion
According to research from Australia’s UNSW Business School and Deloitte Australia, inclusive leaders are skilled at fostering effective collaboration. Core to this is building team cohesion and psychological safety within teams. Human leaders create cultures of respect, taking the importance of building social cohesion seriously. Building respectful relationships should allow others to flourish, whatever their backgrounds.
- Take a strength-based approach to performance
All too often performance and talent management systems can be perceived as (and may in fact really be) biased in favour of ‘the in group’. Taking a strength-based approach whereby unique talents are valued, potential matters as much as experience and there is transparency around progression and goals can help mitigate some of this. Human leaders understand that everyone should be given the opportunity to be their best, and that focusing on strengths can help individuals from all backgrounds to thrive.