How to be an inclusive leader

Different coloured pencils forming a circle, representing inclusive leadership.

Being an inclusive leader is hugely important. The office, physical or virtual, can be a place where colleagues must interact with people they might not usually associate with, but through work, a common purpose binds them together.

Let’s be honest for a moment and say that inclusivity is most brought up as a cousin to ‘diversity’ and is largely (and wrongly) seen as a check-box-exercise for many companies.

But when you break down the definition of ‘inclusion’, it feels odd that it is so widely considered a new ‘buzzword’ thrown around by corporates rather than an integrated policy accepted by businesses globally.

The definition of inclusion according to the Cambridge Dictionary is “the idea that everyone should be able to use the same facilities, take part in the same activities, and enjoy the same experiences, including people who have a disability or other disadvantage”.

So why wouldn’t this be standard company policy?

In this article, we look at some of the ways you can ensure you are an inclusive leader in your organisation.

6 ways to ensure you’re an inclusive leader

  1. Build psychological safety.
  2. Be aware of unconscious bias.
  3. Call out exclusivity.
  4. Don’t overlook small things.
  5. Be wary of micro-messaging.
  6. Be aware of your privilege.

We’ll explore each of these elements in more detail below:

1. Build psychological safety

Creating an environment where fellow employees feel safe enough to express their true selves is important. If you can foster an environment of trust and realism, then colleagues tend to be more creative, more confident and to contribute more to the organisation.

Psychological safety is incredibly important, in the virtual space, even more so. You need to ensure that your participants feel secure and safe during your virtual workshops, to get the best out of them and optimise the learning transfer. Learn how to create psychological safety with this video.

2. Be aware of unconscious bias

Its basically impossible to understand all the values, beliefs, normality and personal rituals that are important to everyone you work with. But, to be an inclusive leader, a good start can be understanding your own unconscious bias; what you assume about other people.

Noted here that having these assumptions isn’t a bad thing. It is how everyone can reach understandings quickly. But it can become a problem when you aren’t aware you are making those assumptions.

Hold yourself accountable for your thought process. Pay attention to the moments when you are assuming and determine whether that is the correct thing to do in that situation.

3. Call out exclusivity

When striving for an inclusive culture, everyone should feel comfortable and empowered enough to challenge bias when it appears in the workplace. You, as the manager, are the role model for this.

When you can see prejudice starting to set in, seek to raise your concerns without attacking or blaming individuals. Focusing on evidence and asking questions to understand where the exclusivity is coming from, can help to change behaviours and increase awareness.

4. Don’t overlook small things

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking “Well, it’s not a big deal” – but that can be your unconscious bias getting involved. What doesn’t feel like a big thing to you, might be huge to a colleague.

If you witness someone being dismissive to a colleague, call it out. It’s not about finding fault or throwing around blame but sharing what you have noticed and suggesting helpful alternatives can help to change these learned behaviors.

5. Be wary of micro-messaging

We all micro-message, whether we are aware of it or not. These are small, unconscious behaviors that can make people feel more included, or left out.

Having more emphasis on your micro-affirmations, like eye-contact, direct addressing and asking for input, as opposed to micro-aggressions, like sighing or checking your phone when someone is speaking.

A great way to shed light on how you are thinking is to ask yourself; is my door half-open, or half-closed?

6. Be aware of your privelege

Everyone is different, and everyone’s race, gender, mental health, sexual preferences, gender identity, culture, physical abilities and religious views can afford them different levels of access and privilege across different circumstances.

Being an inclusive leader means to recognise that members of your team all have different challenges and considerations.
This is why, as well as trying to be thoughtful and considerate of others, it is also vital to be understanding if your colleagues approach a situation differently to how you would have done.

Final thoughts

Inclusivity is increasingly important, and understanding its facets is the first step in being an inclusive leader. It is the skill that makes your team diversity work and is proven to not only result in happier, healthier teams, but also more productive and successful output.

So, embracing inclusivity as an organisation isn’t just the right thing to do as a well-meaning human being, compassionate and understanding of others, but also, just good business sense.

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