5 ways to… lead inclusively

The importance of inclusion

Inclusion has become a significant corporate focus – and rightly so. How can leaders rise to the challenge and cultivate a more inclusive leadership style?

After decades playing second fiddle to diversity, inclusion has rocketed up the corporate agenda. The harmful impact of workplace exclusion is clear, and the benefits of a diverse workforce performing at its peak are plentiful. Changing culture begins at the top – leaders are instrumental in ensuring everyone feels like they belong.

  1. Build psychological safety. When employees feel safe to express their true selves, they’re more creative, confident and contribute more. Cultivate this feeling by responding to ideas with curious questions, encouraging healthy dissent and asking others for advice – then acting on it.
  2. Mitigate bias. Bias is natural and unavoidable – our brains make thousands of subconscious snap judgments every day. Instead of trying to eliminate it (impossible), be aware of it. Mitigate bias in decision-making by setting criteria, gathering data and taking time to evaluate it objectively.
  3. Call it out. In an inclusive culture, everyone should feel comfortable enough to challenge bias – and you’re the role model. When subjectivity creeps in, raise your concerns without attacking or blaming. Use questions not accusations, and focus on the evidence. Sometimes asking “what do you mean by that?” is enough to change behaviour.
  4. Manage your micro-messages. Exclusion is pernicious because the majority of cases are unintended. Subtle, unconscious behaviours known as ‘micro-messages’ make people feel included or left out. Make an effort to display more ‘micro-affirmations’ such as eye-contact and asking for input, and watch out for ‘micro-aggressions’ like sighing or checking your phone when they’re speaking. Ask yourself every day – is my door half open or half closed?
  5. Practise pivoting. Once you’re aware of your own micro-aggressions, you can spot when others are at risk. Reverse exclusion as it unfolds by ‘pivoting’ the situation: legitimise opposing views and ask questions to draw out dialogue. This will protect both parties and help everyone to ‘lean in’.
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