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Inclusive leadership: the key to unlocking the power of diversity

This week is Diversity Council of Australia’s (DCA) inaugural Inclusion at work week, which is a celebration of diversity and inclusion in Australian workplaces.

A common misconception is that if you have a diverse team then inclusion will follow. However, many organisations are recognising that if they wish to experience the benefits of diversity, they need to cultivate not just a diverse workplace but an inclusive one.

Leaders play a critical role in achieving this and choosing to be an inclusive leader is a journey and a practice, one that requires humility, curiosity and courage.

Inclusive leadership is not a destination. It’s a journey that requires humility, curiosity and courage.

Thais Compoint, Succeed as an Inclusive Leader

Last week I spoke to leaders at the Metro North Heath and Queensland Government's #NextCare Heath Conference about this topic and some strategies on how to become a more inclusive leader and share in this blog.

So, how inclusive are Australian leaders?

Leaders are critical to the success of Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, but there is a lack of inclusive leadership capabilities amongst Australian managers and leaders. Recent research from DCA, reveals the current level of inclusive leadership capability of senior leaders in Australian organisations is relatively low.

The average rating of the inclusive leadership capability of senior leaders was 5.8 out of 10 with 26% rating it as either 5 or 6; and 17% rating it as being below 5.

DCA's research also found that only 11% of Australian workers strongly agree that their manager actively seeks out information and new ideas from all employees to guide their decision making, this is a key capability of inclusive leaders. Furthermore, Australian workers from culturally diverse backgrounds are up to three times less likely to experience inclusion in their workplaces.

This research highlights that there is room for improvement to make workplaces more inclusive.

Leading with an inclusive mindset

To become a more inclusive leader, start with an inclusive mindset. This involves turning inwards to deepen your self-awareness and then turning outwards to practice curiosity and openness.

Turn inward to deepen your self-awareness

Building an inclusive leadership practice starts with a solid foundation of personal understanding as leaders need to:

  • Have a high level of self-awareness

  • Understand your own strengths, and weaknesses

  • Be comfortable in your own skin in order to be able to engage in acts of inclusion

  • Recognise how your experience has shaped your perspective so that you can understand your own biases and blind spots.

Turn outward to practice curiosity and openness

When you start to understand yourself, then you can turn outward to understand others and cultivate a practice of recognising that people value different things and to approach differences with curiosity rather than judgment is fundamental to inclusive leadership. To practice curiosity and openness, leaders need to:

  • Recognise that other cultures have values and behaviours different from your own and how their experiences have shaped their perspective.

  • People value different things (for example, some cultures value clear, concise communication, while others value tactful, nuanced language). Neither is right or wrong; they’re just different.

  • Listen with empathy and listen to understand as it can help you discover underlying feelings and values.

Cultivating a culture of belonging and inclusion

According to research leaders play a unique role in building cultures of inclusion. As role models, influencers and decision makers, it is vital that leaders develop, harness and display what it means to be inclusive for the people they lead and serve.

Many characteristics of inclusive leadership have not always aligned with some traditional leadership principles that currently exist. For example, leaders have been groomed to be excellent speakers but listening and taking perspective are hallmarks of inclusive leadership. Leaders are also often valued for their individual perspectives, but inclusive leaders are curious, have a growth mindset and admit that they do not have all the answers. This is paradox that inclusive leaders must be comfortable with.

This model adapted from the Inclusive Leadership Compass highlights the multiple perspectives that inclusive leaders must take at an individual level, people and teams and the organisation level.

Embrace courageous vulnerability

Inclusive leaders are courageous and practice vulnerability by increase inter-personal risk taking and practicing humility and bravery. Inclusive leaders are also self-aware to identify and share their own limitations.

Empower team members and diverse talent

Inclusive leaders seek input, ask questions, and challenge others’ ways of thinking in a respectful manner.

Enable diverse thinking and collaborative teams

Inclusive leaders foster connections, psychological safety and create diverse networks in the workplace to gain different perspectives and reduce isolation and exclusion.

Embed diversity and inclusion across the organisation

Inclusive leaders look for opportunities to embed diversity and inclusion across the organisation beyond policies and processes and looks at the organisational culture. For example this might be reviewing job titles if the organisation gender specific titles such Serviceman. Other examples include using more inclusive language in the workplace and facilitating inclusive meetings so that everyone is on an even playing field (i.e. don't have half the team in a meeting room and the other half dialling in online).

If you want to learn more you can download the cheat sheet in the resources section and connect with us.

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