Today it is evident that diversity and inclusion are vital for future business growth and development. The uture of work with all of it’s complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity embraces Diversity of Thought, Diversity or Leadership Styles diversity of perspectives which enable systemic thinking and disables group think. Some organisations are more Diversity Mature than others, often driven by conscious and inclusive leadership from the top.
Importantly, it must filter down from the top. Leaders and Managers need to ensure that they are role modelling Inclusive Leadership to the next generation of inclusive and conscious leaders.
Before jumping into the characteristics of inclusive leaders that translate through an organisation, let us first review the concepts of diversity and inclusion and why they matter to the bottom line. The terms “diversity” and “inclusion” continue to evolve and can be defined as narrowly or as broadly as makes sense for a particular organisation’s culture and needs. For purposes of this article:
- Diversity in an organisation means a work environment comprised of staff from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives who are reflected and valued throughout all levels of the organisation.
- Inclusion is the means by which individuals from all backgrounds are engaged, integrated, motivated, and valued. Inclusion means that diverse individuals are fully integrated into the process by which individuals have exposure to the work, and relationships that are critical to development and success.
The five key pillars of Inclusive Leadership for all organisation should be:
‘Leadership’ – making inclusive decisions and manage unconscious bias.
‘People’ – Attract, retain, and get the best out of diverse talent
‘Strategy’ – Create a ‘golden thread’ of systemic inclusion
‘Excellence’ – Pinpoint, articulate and embed the business case for diversity
‘Performance’ – Ensure measurement and accountability to demonstrate your diversity performance to staff, stakeholders and to the public at large.
Where will you find your ‘inclusivity ambassadors’?
Inclusive leaders tend to share six signature traits that not only promote diversity on their teams, but also improve their capacity to innovate and deal with uncertainty.
These traits allow executives and managers to engage much more effectively with a wide range of culturally, demographically, and attitudinally diverse stakeholders. They also help leaders access a broader spectrum of ideas and perspectives. This can improve their decision-making and their ability to innovate, handle uncertainty, and anticipate the future.
Commitment. Cultivating a diverse, inclusive workforce takes time and energy, two of a leader’s most precious commodities. What motivates some executives to champion this issue? Added to a belief in the business case, inclusive leaders are driven by their values. This also includes a deep-seated sense of fairness that, for some, is rooted in personal experience. They believe creating a welcoming culture begins with them. They also possess a strong sense of personal responsibility for change. When executives devote time, energy, and resources to nurturing inclusive workforces—by investing in people and inspiring others to share their passion and goals—their actions signal a true commitment.
Courage. Inclusive leaders demonstrate courage in two ways. First, they are not afraid to challenge entrenched organisational attitudes and practices that yield the same ‘old’ results, even if their recommendations are politically or culturally unpopular. Nor are they afraid to display humility by acknowledging their personal limitations and seeking contributions from others to overcome them. Some leaders find it difficult to admit they do not have all the answers; in that respect, courage and humility go hand in hand.
Cognisance of bias. Inclusive leaders understand that personal and organisational biases narrow their field of vision and preclude them from making objective decisions. They exert considerable effort to identify their own biases and learn ways to prevent them from influencing talent decisions. They also seek to implement policies, processes, and structures to prevent organisational biases from stifling diversity and inclusion. Without such measures, inclusive leaders understand that their natural inclination could lead them toward self-cloning, and that operating in today’s business environment requires a different approach.
Curiosity. Open-mindedness, a passion for learning, and a desire for exposure to different ideas have fast become leadership traits crucial to success, especially in challenging times. Curiosity and openness are hallmarks of inclusive leaders, who hunger for other perspectives to minimise their blind spots and improve their decision-making. In addition to accessing a more diverse array of viewpoints, inclusive leaders’ ability to engage in respectful questioning, actively listen to others, and synthesise a range of ideas makes the people around them feel valued, respected, and represented. They also refrain from making fast judgments, knowing snap decisions can stifle the flow of ideas on their teams and are frequently tinged with bias.
Cultural intelligence. Knowledge of other cultures is essential for leaders and managers. Beyond “book” knowledge, cultural intelligence signifies a leaders’ ability to change their styles in response to different cultural norms. For example, culturally intelligent leaders who are typically extroverted and demonstrative will make an effort to show restraint when doing business with individuals whose cultures or personality traits value modesty or humility. They regulate the speed and tone of their speech and modify their nonverbal behaviours—gestures, facial expressions, body language, and physical interactions—as situations dictate. In addition to understanding other cultures, these leaders also demonstrate self-awareness of their own culture, recognising how it shapes their worldview and how cultural stereotypes can influence their expectations of others.
Collaborative. Inclusive leaders understand that, for collaboration to be successful, team members must first be willing to share their perspectives. To that end, they create an environment in which all individuals feel empowered to express their opinions freely with the group. They also realise that diversity of thinking is critical to effective collaboration; thus, they pay close attention to team composition and team processes. For example, they prevent teams from breaking into subgroups, which can weaken relationships and create conflict. They also engender a sense of “one team” by creating a group identity and shared goals, and by working to ensure team members understand and value each other’s knowledge and capabilities.
How can you recognise an Inclusive leader when you see one?
If you want to make sure that When you draw attention to how different leaders make you and others feel you will ultimately know.
Actively sponsor and advocate for a
Actively bring people in to a conversation
Take time for 1:1s and
In summary, the preceding six characteristics will help you identify those inclusive leaders and hopefully your organisation can reap the benefits of greater success and prosperity through a commitment to Inclusion and Diversity.
So where to next? There are three steps to this approach.
- Identify future inclusive leaders
- Ask the question ‘where are they now?’
- Having found them, hone and develop their skills
***This is where a proactive approach will benefit forward thinking organisational and business leaders now and for the future. The most lucrative ‘pool’ of future inclusive leaders is your middle management. Team leaders, supervisors and line managers who are experiencing the benefits.
At Clearbird Consulting we help organisations and businesses develop inclusivity and diversity through our training programmes and Executive one to one coaching. For more information click here: (to be added) We would be delighted to hear from you.
If you would like a copy of the McKinsey & Company ‘Diversity Matters’ Report please follow the link here: (link to be added)