Inclusive leadership: is it an important managerial approach or just a culture-washing slogan? The answer depends on your professional intent.
When implemented well, inclusive leadership can be a vital management strategy that prioritises embracing and leveraging diversity, whether through thought or demographics, within an organisation.
It can create a productive and creative environment where individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives feel empowered to contribute their unique ideas and talents - which, in turn, can encourage employee retention.
What is inclusive leadership?
At its core, inclusive leadership is about creating an atmosphere where everyone feels welcomed, respected, and heard. It goes beyond policies and initiatives, emphasising the intrinsic worth of each team member.
Unfortunately, many of us experience subpar or even a lack of managerial leadership throughout our careers, which can lead to feelings of being undervalued, overburdened, and ultimately, disenchanted with an organisation - even if we enjoy the work itself.
The statistics show a bigger picture;
A study conducted by Visier, which surveyed 2,100 UK employees, found that 43% of workers have left a job at some point in their career because of their manager.
It's important to note that leadership and management are two separate distinctions. However, when we consider leadership as the ability to wield professional influence, a significant overlap between the two becomes apparent.
So, how can we categorise leadership?
The link between leadership and culture
Ultimately, leaders are important components in a company’s culture ecosystem. While they can exist outside of the workplace too - for instance, you might find business leaders like Steven Barlett, a high-profile British entrepreneur who’s often credited with thought leadership - internal leaders are important.
In an organisational setting, leaders are people who carry a great deal of influence.
And their influence holds the power to reshape company culture. It can manifest in various forms, from motivating colleagues to align with company values to facilitating the smooth adoption of new technologies.
Because leaders do have social sway over their coworkers and peers, their actions come with a degree of responsibility. One critical aspect is promoting inclusivity, whether that be within a team, project, or organisation as a whole.
A leader who shows integrity, transparency, and a commitment to ethical conduct sets a powerful example for others to follow. Equally, a lack of ethical leadership can erode trust, damage the company's reputation, and lead to detrimental consequences. Therefore, the role of leaders in upholding ethical principles is paramount in nurturing a culture of trust, accountability, and long-term success.
However, inclusive leadership doesn’t only have to operate on an individual level; it can also be represented at an organisational or corporate level when the right infrastructure and policies are put in place.
Why is inclusive leadership important, and how does it impact the organisation?
It’s easy to assume a term like “inclusive leadership” has value, especially if you already believe factors such as employee happiness, satisfaction, and creativity should be part of the workplace experience.
While critics may label the term as a fluffy, new-age corporate lingo, there is tangible evidence of its impact not only on how employees feel about a company but profitability too.
The implementation of inclusive leadership positively impacts the organisation in several ways:
Enhanced creativity and innovation: An inclusive work environment encourages employees to bring their authentic selves to work, leading to increased creativity and innovation. Diverse perspectives contribute to a broader range of ideas and solutions, leading to a competitive edge for the organisation.
Improved employee engagement and productivity: Inclusive leadership promotes higher employee engagement and job satisfaction. When employees feel valued and appreciated, they are more likely to be invested in their work and strive for excellence.
Reduced turnover and talent retention: Inclusive organisations are more likely to retain top talent. Employees are more likely to stay in an environment where they feel respected and valued, reducing turnover and associated costs.
Better problem-solving and decision-making: Inclusive leadership leads to more effective problem-solving and decision-making processes. Diverse teams can identify blind spots and potential challenges more effectively, leading to better outcomes.
Increased adaptability and resilience: Inclusive organisations are more adaptable and resilient in the face of change and challenges. They can draw upon the diverse skill sets and experiences of their workforce to respond effectively to evolving market conditions.
Enhanced reputation and brand image: Organisations known for their inclusive leadership are more likely to attract customers and partners who appreciate and value diversity and equality - this helps build a positive reputation and brand image.
Meeting global market demands: In today's interconnected world, businesses need to cater to diverse global markets. Inclusive leadership helps organisations to understand and respond to the unique needs of diverse customer bases.
Inclusive leadership examples
Below, we explore how some inter-company policies and values are already making an impact in some organisations.
Salesforce, a leading customer relationship management (CRM) software company, has been recognised for its commitment to promoting inclusivity and diversity within the workplace. Here are some ways in which Salesforce promotes inclusivity:
Equality for all program: Salesforce actively fosters diversity and inclusion through its "Equality for All" program, which targets underrepresented groups and sets workforce representation goals.
Pay equity commitment: The company conducts regular pay equity assessments to ensure fairness regardless of gender or ethnicity, and it offers comprehensive benefits, including support for transgender employees.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Salesforce supports a range of ERGs that provide community and advocacy for employees from diverse backgrounds, focusing on issues like gender, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and more.
Community engagement and transparency: Salesforce engages with communities, supports diverse suppliers, and maintains transparency through regular reporting on diversity demographics and progress, with visible leadership commitment to inclusivity.
Google often practices what it preaches when it comes to actionable inclusivity. Rather than just ‘inclusive-washing”, they are committed to breaking down barriers and building its reputation as a driver of equity and inclusion initiatives - they even employ a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO).
Diverse workforce recruitment: Google actively seeks diverse talent from various backgrounds. They collaborate with organisations and attend job fairs aimed at underrepresented groups in technology, such as women, people of colour, and individuals with disabilities. Through inclusive hiring practices, they strive to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of society.
Unconscious bias training: Google provides its employees with unconscious bias training to raise awareness of the biases that can affect decision-making in the workplace. This training helps employees make more inclusive choices in areas such as hiring, promotions, and project assignments.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Google also supports numerous ERGs that create spaces for employees with shared backgrounds or interests. These groups, which focus on various aspects of diversity, such as Women@Google, Black Googler Network, and LGBTQ+ Googlers, offer networking opportunities, mentorship, and advocacy.
Final thoughts on the benefits of inclusive leadership
Promoting inclusivity is an easy sell - it boosts employee engagement and retention by creating an environment where everyone feels valued and included. This leads to higher morale, overall job satisfaction and lower turnover rates.
Additionally, it can improve business performance, whether you work with clients or customers, as it means you can better understand and cater to a wide range of needs. Compliance with legal regulations, positive reputation, global competitiveness, and ethical responsibility further underscore the significance of inclusive leadership.
But it shouldn’t just be considered through a corporate lens. Ultimately, it aligns with societal values and supports the creation of fair and equitable workplaces - this benefits us all.