An inclusive workplace doesn’t just happen by accident—organizations must actively work to make it an explicit part of their culture.
Leaders, in particular, must look to create an inclusive work environment that recognizes and leverages all the unique traits, talents, and experiences of the people on their teams. Inclusive leadership not only allows and encourages each team member to have a voice, but research shows that it also supports better business performance:
- Research conducted by Cloverpop found that inclusive teams make better decisions 87 percent of the time.
- Bersin by Deloitte found that companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers, achieving 2.3x higher cash flow per employee.
When leaders create an inclusive environment, they’re able to bring out the best in each individual, helping them perform to their potential while benefiting the organization and the bottom line. Here are four key characteristics of inclusive leadership:
Respect for Individuality
Inclusive leaders respect and embrace individual differences, ideas, and ways of working. They do not expect or want employees to be the same because they recognize the value of a team composed of a wide range of skills, passions, and viewpoints. To demonstrate their interest in the perspectives of others, respectful and inclusive leaders ask insightful questions and actively consider others’ viewpoints when leading the team on a project or initiative. Kristie Rogers, a management professor who researches respect in the workplace, explains how respect for individuals delivers a range of benefits: “Employees who say they feel respected are more satisfied with their jobs and more grateful for—and loyal to—their companies. They are more resilient, cooperate more with others, perform better and more creatively, and are more likely to take direction from their leaders.” In essence, respect for individuals in an inclusive workplace doesn’t just benefit employees, but the entire organization.
Inclusive leaders proactively adjust their leadership approach and adapt workplace practices to meet the needs of others, as appropriate. For example, inclusive leaders may tailor their leadership style to ensure each person on the team has the tools and resources they need to learn in the way they learn best. Similarly, when it comes to interpersonal communication, inclusive leaders recognize that some people rely on face-to-face conversation to receive direction, while others respond best to email or other written instruction. It’s important to note that being adaptable doesn’t mean that leaders fundamentally change who they are or rewrite the goals of the team. Leaders can prove their adaptability by remaining flexible and being open to making adjustments that enable others to perform at their best.
Creates a Sense of Belonging
Research by CultureAmp found that a sense of belonging is strongly correlated to higher employee engagement. By cultivating a strong sense of team and belonging, inclusive leaders open the door for employees to feel a greater sense of commitment and motivation to do great work and achieve success for the team. Inclusive leaders build a sense of belonging through the following actions:
- Developing a shared vision for the team that everyone can rally around
- Encouraging employees to get to know each other as people and form relationships through common goals or interests
- Routinely communicating to individuals that they are valued and wanted on the team, and demonstrating this by asking for their input and feedback when appropriate
Inclusive leaders recognize that collaboration—sharing ideas, resources, and energy—is critical for executing team goals and creating an inclusive environment. They expect team members to work with and not against one another, and to look out for others on the team so that no one fails. As a result, inclusive leaders build collaboration both within and across teams, gather diverse perspectives, and leverage a range of experiences. In doing so, inclusive leaders create an environment where individuals feel empowered to offer their ideas and expertise to others, and where everyone recognizes that they are accountable for giving their best effort to ensure the success of the team.
Inclusive leadership is a critical component of effectively leading others and building a strong workplace culture. Inclusive leaders recognize individual differences, listen to employees’ voices, and utilize their talents and skill sets to achieve greater organizational impact. When leaders know how to create an inclusive culture, the organization gains the most from each individual’s knowledge and experience.