Man speaking to a group of people about team building.

Why Inclusive Leadership Works In The Workplace

Companies are growing increasingly diverse in their methods of operation and organization inclusion initiatives. Businesses that once adopted a leader-based mode of leadership are now leaning towards the more inclusive leadership method. But does inclusive leadership truly offer benefits? More importantly, can this type of leadership be sustained in a workplace?

If you are considering adopting a leadership change that offers social and economic equality in your organization, inclusive leadership is the way to go. Below, we have provided everything you need to know about inclusive leadership and why it works in the workplace.

Diversification And Equality In A Workplace 

In 2023 and previous years, equality and diversity have been two crucial yet touchy subjects in the business world. Surveys and reports have captured the importance of diversity in any organization. 

A 2013 report showed that diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets. Another showed that companies with above-average total diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues on average. 

Organizations have a diverse mix of people, from races to genders, ages, religions, and beliefs. While this diversity in workforces may improve creativity and make it easier to solve problems by harnessing the ideas from this diverse pool of employees, it also poses several challenges, such as bias in the workplace.

To eliminate or at least mitigate this problem, the clamor for equality in the workplace has been on the rise. People who believe equality should be a part of a workplace believe every employee should be treated equally and enjoy equal benefits. 

Although organizations are nowhere near ensuring their employees are treated equally and are privy to equal rights, it is safe to say the leaders in organizations are taking a giant step towards creating an environment where every employee can be comfortable in their difference. 

These leaders are creating an environment where all employees matter regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, identity, age, sexual orientation, or religion. One way workplace leaders cultivate a culture of equality and acceptance at work is by adopting inclusive leadership.

What Is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership is a unique and authentic leadership style that focuses on leading and managing a heterogenous mixture of people with no discrimination. It is a type of leadership that accepts every employee’s differences, respects the employees’ uniqueness, and leads the employees in a way free of bias. In essence, inclusive leadership focuses on including employees in operations, letting them and their inputs feel valued, and not favoring one employee over the other on the basis of their characteristics.

Inclusive leadership focuses on a leader’s commitment to treating employees equitably. By doing so, the leader enforces a ‘teamwork makes the dreamwork’ work culture while keeping an open mind about employees and making employees more accepted.

Inclusive leadership is the ability to lead people without biases or prejudices concerning their differences. This is not only done to improve productivity through collaboration but also to create a safe work environment where individuals are treated fairly, respectfully, and in a way that they feel valued.

In previous years, many companies had a clear homogeneous structure. These workplaces were usually made up of employees from similar ethnicities and cultures. Traditionally, these organizations also adopt a hierarchical system of power and leadership where the power is distributed unevenly.

While this would have been acceptable in previous years, inclusion is quickly becoming a statement in the business world. Today, business mindsets are shifting, and workplaces are increasingly accommodating their employees’ differences. Organizations are beginning to notice the benefits of diverse workforces and are implementing inclusive leadership as a strategy to harness and enjoy these benefits.

Although equality in the workplace is still being debated, with inclusive leadership, businesses can foster a culture of equality. 

Man covering his face while two colleagues gossip behind him.
An organization without inclusive leadership paves the way for bias and prejudice.

Characteristics Of Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leadership emphasizes the importance of creating an accepting work environment. Although numerous traits are usually found in inclusive leadership, there are six vital characteristics unique to leaders who practice inclusive leadership. These characteristics are:

1. Cognizance Of Bias

Inclusive leadership involves the creation of a work environment free of bias. As a result, inclusive leaders understand that allowing personal and organizational bias in the work environment creates a myopic sense of judgment that clouds their ability to make good decisions concerning the organization. In inclusive leadership, the leader or person in power is mindful of their personal biases and therefore learns healthy ways that will prevent these biases from judging employees unfairly. 

Cognizance of bias means leaders are self-aware of personal biases and self-regulate by implementing ‘fair-play’ policies and strategies to help them embrace all employee’s differences. 

By doing so, leaders can limit personal biases, thereby eliminating blind spots that may arise due to these biases. This creates a welcoming environment where the leader will be able to accommodate different opinions, ideas, and beliefs that arise from each employee’s diversity.

2. Cultural Intelligence

A diverse workplace includes employees from different cultures. For an inclusive leadership system to work, these cultures should be respected and understood. This will not only foster a community of employees that work together but also ensure every employee feels safe and comfortable as they work together.

Inclusive leaders are culturally intelligent and strive to understand the different cultures of their employees. They do this to improve productive cross-cultural interactions within the workforce. Through cultural intelligence, inclusive leaders can regulate their tone and speed, gestures, expressions, and knowledge to match the cultural understanding of the employees that they are communicating.

3. Courage 

Successful and efficient inclusive leadership requires a courageous leader. This leader not only displays their courage by challenging the status quo of homogeneity in the workplace but also by being humble and vulnerable when necessary. 

In an inclusive leadership system, leaders are not afraid to communicate their mistakes or be honest about their strengths and weaknesses. They do all these to be able to help their employees feel comfortable as they perform their duties.

In a hierarchical workplace, leaders often find it difficult to admit their limitations as they do not understand the need for courage or humility. On the other hand, inclusive leaders are not afraid to speak up about their mistakes or challenges and seek feedback to encourage employee productivity and efficiency.

4. Curiosity

Inclusive leaders are open-minded. This is an important characteristic that enables them to accommodate the different ideas and opinions usually found in a diverse workplace. Inclusive leaders desire not only to hear employees out but also to understand the employees’ different points of view. 

Inclusive leadership demands a passion for learning, a craving for exposure to different opinions, and a hunger to see ideas from the perspective of different employees. This trait requires active listening and respectful communication, along with the ability to make every employee feel like their input is welcome. 

Inclusive leaders must do all these without being judgemental or making biased decisions that scare employees into offering their opinions. Needless to say, a curious leader gains access to a diverse array of ideas and viewpoints that will otherwise be stifled in a hierarchical workplace.

5. Commitment 

Inclusive leaders are committed to embracing diversity and inclusiveness in a workplace. Creating a welcoming community in a diverse workplace requires time and patience, both of which an inclusive leader should be ready to give. 

Many leaders are driven by personal values and the belief that inclusion should be a part of the workplace. This is what fuels their drive for inclusive leadership, as they possess a strong belief that a welcoming culture begins with them. As a result, and usually, without even knowing it, many inclusive leaders are so committed to creating an inclusive work environment that they see no problem dedicating their time and energy to the cause.

6. Collaborative

All heterogeneous work environments are centered around collaboration. Inclusive leaders understand that for productive collaboration among all employees, employees must first feel safe and comfortable enough to share their opinions and perspectives. To make this possible, inclusive leaders create an environment that empowers members to share perspectives comfortably. 

By eliminating the risk of prejudice, embarrassment, or punishment for sharing one’s perspective, inclusive leaders create an environment that harnesses the benefits of differences instead of creating problems.

Men and women sitting around a desk looking at a computer.
Inclusive leadership fosters unity regardless of gender, race, or religion.

Why Does Inclusive Leadership Work In The Workplace?

In a survey, 80% of respondents said inclusion efforts matter in an organization they choose to work with.

Leadership sets the tone and culture of any organization. In inclusive leadership, the tone is quite clear and communicates the message that everyone and their opinions matter regardless of their differences. 

Inclusive leadership involves every employee level across the organization. From executive teams to managers and every other employee whose input can affect the company’s output is encouraged to work. But why exactly does inclusive leadership work in the workplace? More importantly, why does it even matter?

Inclusive leadership is effective in a workplace because it promotes innovative thinking and creativity, boosts employee morale, and increases employee engagement. It fosters team spirit, thereby improving the support for the organization’s objectives. More importantly, it includes every employee, thereby creating a work environment that accommodates employee differences. When this is broken down, the reasons inclusive leadership works in the workplace include the following:

1. Improves Creativity: 

Rather than shunning the opinions, ideas, and perspectives of employees, inclusive leadership makes them feel valued. This encourages all employees to be comfortable about offering opinions concerning certain topics or projects. 

As a result, employees are more involved in sharing their ideas with others and contributing to the organization’s overall success. Essentially, Inclusive leadership encourages diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds, which in turn encourages innovative ideas and creative solutions or the ability to think outside the box.

2. Boost Employee Morale:

The simple act of helping employees feel valued goes a long way in boosting employee morale. Including leadership develops a sense of belonging that helps employees feel seen and heard. 

Because they feel appreciated, employees are motivated to be more involved in matters concerning the organization. In turn, this creates a workforce of productive employees.

3. Improve Decision-making

When leaders have access to diverse opinions, ideas, and takes, it becomes easier to make decisions. Since decisions can affect an organization positively or negatively, inclusive leadership is undoubtedly effective in helping leaders make better decisions.

4. Increased Employee Retention

66% of employees will quit if they do not feel appreciated. In today’s world, employees go where they feel valued and leave environments where their full potential is not truly appreciated.

Inclusive leadership creates a positive environment where employees feel safe, valued, and appreciated. Employees in this environment are not shunned, discriminated against, or face bias because they differ from the status quo.

As a result, these employees stay with the organization as long as they can and are necessary. This is one of the reasons for high employee retention and a low turnover rate (is your company losing employees? Here are the reasons why turnover rates are so high). 

5. Improve The Company’s Reputation

The 2013 survey mentioned above also showed that diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets. Another survey showed that 78% of respondents believed diversity and inclusion offer a competitive advantage in the marketplace. 

Inclusive leadership can improve the organization’s reputation and attract top talent. When an organization embraces employees that fall outside the status quo, such as people associated with the LGBTQIA or people from other races outside the organization’s usual demographic, it is known for its diversity and inclusion culture.

As a result, this organization is more likely to attract employees who share similar values. 

6. Supports Company Values

If a company’s value aligns with diversity, inclusion, and celebrating employee uniqueness, there is no better way to show it than by introducing inclusive leadership into their operations. 

How To Promote Inclusive Leadership In The Workplace

Building an inclusive workplace requires time, effort, and a good strategy. Some easy ways organizations can incorporate an inclusive culture in their environment include:

  • Begin by diversifying the work pool. Hire candidates that are not only physically different from the stereotype of what your usual candidate should be but also candidates who bring a differentiated perspective.
  • Build an inclusive team
  • Be aware of unconscious bias and deal with the problem
  • Develop a strategic training program that communicates the importance of diversity
  • Encourage a healthy work-life balance to boost employee well-being and retention
  • Acknowledge the holidays of all cultures 
  • Assess company policies
  • Encourage “speaking up” in employees
  • Mix up your teams
  • Track progress over time.

As a leader who is new to inclusion in the workplace, you can:

  • Ask questions to know about the employees
  • Invite all employees to meetings regardless of their backgrounds and experiences
  • Consult with people outside your circle
  • Intentionally seek out employee perspectives and opinions
  • Listen to understand
  • Practice self-awareness 
  • Humanize the Workplace
  • Practice intentional networking

Becoming An Inclusive Leader

Inclusive leadership is a form of leadership that triggers, encourages, and sustains active employee participation in the workplace. Today, inclusive leadership is one of the integral components of a successful establishment.

Do you know inclusive leadership is more likely to work in a psychologically safe environment? To help you, here is a guide on how and why you should make psychological safety a priority in the workplace.

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