There’s no longer any doubt that diversity is good for business performance. But what the headlines gloss over - or miss altogether - is that simply building diverse teams isn’t a silver bullet. Leaders have to be able to activate and engage those diverse teams; they have to be inclusive of the multifarious viewpoints, perspectives and styles that diverse teams offer. Inclusive leadership is what makes diversity work.

Leaders are making progress in building cultures of diversity and inclusion (D&I), but much more needs to be done to close the gap. According to our research, 87 percent of respondents reported there is more focus on D&I in their organisations today than five years ago. However, 59 percent feel there is still an element of unconscious bias when it comes to diverse backgrounds such as religion, race, gender or sexual preference.

Inclusive leaders are essential to closing this gap between policy and practice. These leaders are able to leverage the wealth of knowledge, insights, and perspectives that diverse teams offer through creating an open and trusting workplace. By truly valuing diversity, these leaders unlock the competitive advantage that inclusive workplaces generate, becoming a magnet for the very best talent.

Moving from diversity to inclusion: Inclusive leaders are essential to closing the gap between policy and practice. Click To Tweet

Moving from diversity to inclusion

Moving towards inclusion is a challenge in itself. Even leaders who fully embrace the business case for diversity—understanding that homogeneous teams, although easier to manage, are more likely to result in “group think”—often feel unprepared to be inclusive. But facing into this challenge is the only way to unlock the potential that diversity offers.

Research shows that inclusive leaders generate high-impact benefits, from improved collaboration and higher productivity, to increased motivation and greater creativity.

The necessary shift from diversity to inclusion won’t happen automatically, but inclusive leadership can be developed through conscious action and awareness building. The starting point is increasing individuals’ exposure to diverse people and situations that challenge their preconceived notions and force them to overcome the unconscious biases we all hold.

The five signposts of inclusive leadership

Shifting the whole organisation towards inclusion requires commitment to developing the leadership traits and skills of flexibility, adaptability, openness and authenticity. Through fostering inclusive leadership at the top of the organisation, senior leaders can nurture a culture where everyone is welcome and able to contribute their very best.

Leaders and organisations can track their progress in the transition from diversity to inclusion by observing the five signposts of inclusive leadership:

  1. Openness and awareness: A leader’s ability to adapt their behaviour to work with other individuals and cultures is the foundation of inclusive leadership. It enables leaders to understand how their preferred style may (or may not) be helpful and productive when working with diverse team members.
  • Effective advocacy for diversity: Talking the talk is critical. Inclusive leaders fully embrace the business case and champion initiatives that make inclusion a priority, including through linking leadership teams’ compensation to tangible diversity goals.
  • Trusting, open teams: The reality is that diverse teams are harder to manage than homogenous teams. The answer isn’t to fall back on searching for similarities. Instead, inclusive leaders lean into difference and create environments of psychological safety where differences can be explored productively.
  • Leveraging difference for greater insight: When inclusive teams sing, difference becomes the basis for enhanced innovation and strategic thinking. Leaders draw on their greater adaptability to make better decisions and execute strategy more effectively, creating benefits for the entire organisation.
  • Driving results: Inclusive workplaces effectively capture the achievements of diverse, well-managed teams. Greater diversity and inclusion spark innovation with tangible outcomes in product development and ability to tap new markets. From this, corporate reputation grows, improving attraction and retention.

The Inclusive Leader report, identifies the traits, abilities, and specific competencies that help leaders become more inclusive in their thoughts, perceptions, and actions──and to inspire an inclusive mindset in others. Download the report now.

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