6 Steps Toward Inclusive Leadership

Workplace Diversity - Doing

Inclusive leadership is a journey, not a destination. Each time your team grows or changes or something new happens in employees' lives, you can choose to make an assumption or you can choose to find out more. Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to be curious and keep asking the questions, but as a leader with the highest expectations of success, you can't afford not to.

While it's an ongoing process, there are specific steps that can set you up for success. In addition to examining our own values and biases to be sure they're not getting in the way of providing equal opportunities to each of our employees, we also need to be deliberate about creating opportunities for us all to learn more about each other's perspectives.  These "doing" actions complement the "being" steps to workplace diversity discussed in this space earlier.

What kind of leadership actions and skills are we talking about?

1. Hire for diversity

It is a well-documented phenomenon that we hire those who are like us.  We meet them, the conversation naturally flows, and our mind is made up. It takes deliberate effort to counteract these powerful instincts. Heading into a hiring cycle, I sit down with my team to analyze who we really need in terms of strengths, personality and approach. Often it results in us looking for someone who is quite different from who we currently have on the team. Instead of us making hiring decisions just with our heart, we then make them with our head and our heart, so that we can secure the right individuals for our evolving needs.

2. Connect on a personal level

Google recently spent years analyzing what makes teams most effective, and finally reached the conclusion that the most effective teams are ones in which members connect with each other on a personal level. Take the time to find out what matters to each member of your team, how they would spend their perfect day, and who they consider family. Share these things about yourself also.

3. Engage in a dialog

Talking about difference is a touchy subject. But the worst thing you can do is avoid the topic. If you have a LGBT employee and you don't know how to refer to their significant other, ask. If you have an employee who is struggling with English and you don't know how to help them, ask them what they need. If you have an employee who is shy about speaking up, ask them how to help get their voice heard.

4. Provide opportunities to learn more

Encourage team members to attend affinity groups for affinities which are different from their own. Have multi-cultural pot lucks in which team members share traditions and food from their culture and heritage. Start a book group in which all employees choose a book that provides insights into what shaped them. Set up meet-and-greets for team members with others who they might not typically work with.

5. Recognize and celebrate achievements equally but not in the same way

Inclusive teams are ones in which every person feels seen, heard, understood, and respected. And recognition is a hugely important part of your inclusive leadership strategy. But not all employees want to have their name in lights; some people prefer a heartfelt note. Ask team members how they like to be recognized, and honor their wishes. Just be sure that all people on the team receive the recognition they deserve.

6. Practice a culture of learning 

To be inclusive we need to ensure we're all speaking the same language. Acronyms, inside jokes, and shared history can all create barriers for newer team members. Encourage everyone to consider what information needs more explanation, and to commit to taking the time to do so.

No doubt, true inclusive leadership takes effort. But once you've experienced the power of true workplace diversity that fully utilizes everyone's strengths, you'll be glad you did.

Written by: Helen Zarba

About the Author

Helen Zarba at Bright Horizons

As Vice President, Organizational Development & Learning Services, Helen oversees the corporate Learning and Development Function at Bright Horizons and is also responsible for maximizing the impact of the enterprise-wide integrated talent management suite. Helen has played a pivotal development role at Bright Horizons for eight years and previous to that worked in senior HR and Learning and Development roles in domestic, European, and EMEA environments for BMW, Gillette and P&G. Helen is passionate about increasing the strategic impact of learning and development interventions, and exploring the use of technology to replicate the power of a high touch culture.