inclusive leadership

      Inclusive Leaders – What Are Their Roles in a Workplace?

      By Linda Devonish – Mills, CAE, CPA, CMA, MBA, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant

      Characteristics of an Inclusive Leader                    

      When conversations and emphasis on diversity practices began over 20 years ago, the acronym D & I, referring to diversity and inclusion, was popular. In recent years, it is not uncommon to see the acronym, I & D to place emphasis on the importance for organizations to develop inclusive environments within workplaces to achieve success with diversity. This need for careful attention to inclusion becomes even more important when examined in the context of work teams. An inclusive climate within a workplace is considered a prerequisite for inclusion and allows for making use of a wide range of perspectives and ideas that can enrich decision-making processes and boost the performance of diverse work teams. The attention has thus shifted toward from simply achieving diversity to the need to foster inclusive working environments to be appreciative of differences among work colleagues. 

      Can organizations experience success with developing inclusive environments without inclusive leaders? It may be possible but the outcomes will not be as strong as team leaders being encouraged and trained to become inclusive leaders. Who can be an inclusive leader? According to a study conducted by the global accounting firm, Deloitte, any leader can be inclusive if they embrace the definition of such a leader. Inclusive leadership is a style of where leaders seek collaboration and communication with colleagues to carry out effective decision-making and problem-solving in the workplace. Inclusive leaders utilize the knowledge and experience of their entire team when making decisions with the ultimate goal of success driving their behaviors.

      Inclusive leaders usually have distinct communication styles in order to execute their leadership style. Here are the top three communication styles of an inclusive leader according to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review:

      • Use of Audience Centered Language – According to the research, inclusive leaders use language that is personalized to their audience 36% more frequently than the average senior leader. For example, if a senior leader of an organization is talking to employees that belong to an Employee Resource Group (ERG) about the organization’s progress with key diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, the leader would describe such progress in a way that resonates with them. The same scenario would apply to investors of an organization. The same conversation or presentation can take place with investors but with language that describes how success with DEI initiatives result in financial gains related to their investments.
      • Demonstrating Subject Matter Expertise – The research also showed inclusive leaders using language that demonstrates subject matter expertise 21% more frequently than the average senior leader. It is important for an inclusive leader to be sensitive with using audience centered language when demonstrating their subject matter expertise to avoid their audience losing interest with the discussion topic.
      • Demonstrating Authenticity – This is probably the most important communication behavior trait for an inclusive leader. An inclusive leader demonstrates authenticity when speaking in their own voice, not a voice based on a script. According to the Harvard Business Review’s study, former PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, is well known for her speaking style. Her tone and gestures are relaxed and natural.

      Who are the typical Inclusive Leaders at Organizations?

      Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer

      The most common mistake that some companies make is assigning oversight of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to an employee in addition to their current responsibilities. A more effective approach is to conduct an internal and/or external search that leads to an appointment of a senior DEI leader that may have the title of Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer (CDEIO). The CDEIO should be embraced by an organization as its primary inclusive leader. The role should be established immediately after an organization obtains buy – in from its stakeholders to move forward with DEI initiatives. An external search for the position should be conducted in a similar manner as searches for other senior leadership roles, which may involve retaining an executive search firm to conduct the search. Candidates considered for the role should have some of the following qualifications:

      Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Qualifications:

      • Bachelors or Masters Degree in Business, Human Resources, Social Justice or any other relevant discipline.
      • Completion of a certificate or certification program that confirms the candidate’s competency level with DEI concepts.
      • 10 – 15 years in a DEI leadership role that required for the candidate to lead an organization with a cycle involved with establishing DEI initiatives; e.g., strategic planning, developing content and execution of initiatives, establishing internal and external strategic partnerships that support the organization’s initiatives, and measuring the organization’s progress with DEI initiatives.
      • Strong verbal and written communication skills as the candidate will serve as a key spokesperson for the organization.

      Candidates should be able to demonstrate core values while executing responsibilities affiliated with the role:

      • Ethics and Values: Honors the core values and beliefs in their choice of behaviors; consistently embodies appropriate behavioral choices in both stressful and non-stressful situations; practices behaviors they advocate to others.
      • Influencing Others: Encourages others to cooperate, participate, provide resources or make decisions, in service to the work at hand; uses verbal and non-verbal skills to communicate respect for others, and to generate energy, passion, and commitment to an idea; creates an environment that others want to participate in.
      • Integrity and Trust: The CDEIO Is seen as trustworthy by others; executes direct, and transparent communication; keeps confidences; admits mistakes; doesn’t operate with hidden agendas, responds to situations with consistency and reliability.
      • Interpersonal Skills: Establishes good working relationships with all others who are relevant to the completion of work; works well with people at all levels of an organization; builds appropriate rapport; uses diplomacy and tact; and avoids communication triangles.
      • Conflict Management: Understands the dynamics of negotiation among conflicting interest groups and how to achieve mutual agreement; reads situations quickly; can find common ground and get cooperation with minimal anxiety.
      • Team Building: Blends people into teams when appropriate; leads the team successfully through difficulties and challenges; creates strong morale and spirit in their team; shares wins and successes; defines success in terms of the whole team; creates a feeling of belonging and pride in the team.

      Other qualifications may be considered for the position depending on the nature of the organization’s business. Internal candidates can be considered for the position. However, it is important for an internal candidate to obtain the training and resources needed to successfully execute the role as they may not have been in such roles previously in their career.

      Chief Human Resources Officer

      A Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Chief People Officer (CPO) is a corporate officer who oversees all aspects of human resources management and industrial relations policies, practices and operations for an organization. One of the CHRO’s chief tasks is to design and carry out a talent strategy, which encompasses recruiting, hiring, developing and retaining employees. A talent strategy incorporated by a CHRO should result in a diverse pool of talent that can be considered for a leadership pipeline or succession planning. Organizations make the mistake of a CHRO taking on the responsibility of a CDEIO, which usually results in DEI initiatives not being executed at its full potential. The appropriate role for a CHRO with DEI initiatives is to collaborate under the leadership of the CDEIO.

      The typical skill sets and qualifications of a CHRO are for that person to have a Bachelors or Masters Degree in Human Resources management. A person in the role of CHRO has strong leadership skills in order to influence executives, and provide insights that lead to key decision making within the business. A CHRO is responsible for policy formulation, development, and implementation of key HR strategies and procedures. The CHRO also demonstrates strong business acumen and general management experience and capabilities that enables the person in the role to effectively assess the internal business environment and deliver transformative change where necessary.

      An example of Inclusive Leadership

      A few members of a branding and marketing team dominate the dialogue during a planning meeting. How can the manager of the team executive traits of inclusive leadership in this situation?

      • Invite participants to be conscious of each person having time to share his or her reflections, ideas, and insights.
      • It may be helpful to invoke the ground rule of sharing time equitably when a few individuals dominate the discussion.
      • The manager should inform team members that he or she wants to hear from those who have not said much. Participants will look to the manager to restrain domineering members.

      This situation is an example of how any of the team members could step in and execute inclusive leadership to ensure that voices of all of the team members are heard.

      Inclusive Leadership Takeaway

      It is very important to note that team diversity does not automatically result in an inclusive environment. This means that intended outcomes of HR diversity practices within organizations are not effectively realized by only focusing on the diversity numbers. Instead, inclusive team leadership is a prerequisite for diverse teams to develop at a team level, an inclusive environment in which different team members are valued for what they bring to work practices. In summary, each person that is part of a diverse team in a workplace should be encouraged to become an inclusive leader beyond leadership obtained by a CDEIO, CHRO and other senior leaders within an organization.

      3 Perceptions That Derail Diversity Recruiting

      When company leaders sit down to plan diversity initiatives for executive recruiting, several objections often immediately bubble to the surface. The first centers on the pool of potential candidates. The consensus is that diversity recruiting is particularly difficult in executive search because there simply isn’t a large enough pool of qualified talent. The thinking goes that even if a company wanted more diversity among the executive ranks, finding a qualified executive who fit the bill would be nearly impossible.

      Another objection is related to company size: smaller businesses that want to hire diverse executives often struggle to compete against larger entities in the executive talent pool. They argue they may not have the resources, cachet, or prestige to convince enough executives from diverse backgrounds to join their firms.

      Finally, there may be apathy and intransigence when it comes to doing the difficult work of diversity recruiting. Companies recognize that executive diversity should be pursued, but the perceived immensity of the task can cause them to take a more passive approach than is advised. They will fulfill their obligations under relevant laws, but they will only do the bare minimum they must do to avoid legal trouble. Diversity recruiting goals become nothing more than lip service to satisfy shareholders, customers, and regulatory authorities. This is the most troubling perception of the three, and it would be naïve to think it does not happen.

      Some of the objections above may have some merit. For instance, some smaller businesses really do struggle to pull in top candidates. Larger companies like Google or Nike can easily identify and attract diverse talent from all over the world, but a small or medium-sized enterprise not located in a major city may find it much more difficult to capture those candidates’ attention.

      That said, board- and executive-level diversity cannot be ignored. Company leaders cannot bury their heads in the sand and try to ride out the trend toward more diversity with minimal effort. Instead, companies have to take practical steps to improve their odds of finding game-changing candidates from diverse backgrounds.

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