But there’s another way of looking at this. If you’re not actively creating a respectful and inclusive culture, what could you be missing? What are you risking?
That perspective might lead us to rethink how we prioritise inclusion. It might help us appreciate that the actions we take and the words we use have a significant impact on how included people in our team feel, how safe they feel to speak up with ideas and concerns, and, in turn, how well the team and business performs and innovates.
What does inclusion mean?
Inclusion is more than being treated with respect, though that’s fundamental. (And respect at work is the core of new legislation requiring a ‘positive duty’ on businesses and organisations to prevent sexual harassment.)
In an inclusive team culture, team members feel valued for their unique talents, are trusted, can be authentic at work, and have high levels of psychological safety. It’s safe to speak up with ideas, questions and concerns without negative consequences.
Our understanding about inclusion and psychological safety has benefited from a great deal of new research over the past decade across the fields of psychology, leadership, and neuroscience, giving us numerous insights about what to do, and what not to do, as we lead increasingly diverse teams.
Why does an inclusive culture matter?
High performing teams are both demographically and cognitively diverse. They thrive in inclusive environments.
Deloitte research shows that organisations with inclusive cultures are six times more likely to be innovative and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. Services, advertising and communications that are developed with diversity and inclusion in mind bring more customers.
On the flipside, many of us know what it’s like to work in a culture that’s not inclusive. We see, and perhaps experience, microaggressions (subtle acts of exclusion), in-groups and outgroups, and poor interpersonal relationships. Psychosocial hazards, such as bullying, harassment, lack of role clarity, and poor support may be causing stress and harm.
At its worst, when people don’t feel safe to speak up, or when they’re not heard when they do, it can lead to disastrous consequences (think BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or the NASA Challenger mission in 1986). Studies suggest that cultures of silence still prevail in many workplaces, with around 50 per cent of employees keeping quiet at work.
What do inclusive leaders do?
Let’s think about our role as leaders in creating an inclusive team culture. It’s significant.
BCG research of more than 27,000 employees showed that at companies whose senior leaders are committed to DEI, 84 per cent of employees feel valued and respected. By contrast, only 44 per cent of employees feel valued and respected at companies where leaders are not viewed as committed to DEI. Direct managers ‘are a crucial part of the equation’ too.
There are a range of frameworks mapping the competencies or signature strengths of inclusive leaders. But perhaps the most tangible way to build our understanding is to start with something practical and familiar – meetings.
The way meetings are run is becoming a defining feature of innovative organisations, especially as the office is no longer the cultural touchpoint it once was.
Whether in-person, remote, or hybrid, with two or twenty people, meetings provide a tangible way to demonstrate inclusive leadership behaviour and generate all the benefits that diverse and inclusive teams bring.
What would we notice in a meeting with an actively inclusive leader? To start the meeting, they’d actively invite a range of perspectives. They’d encourage others to contribute before sharing their view (to avoid sunflower bias, the tendency for groups to align with the views of their leaders). They’d be mindful of not dominating air-time. They’d validate contributions.
They’d pay particular attention to quieter voices and those from historically marginalised groups whose presence is often diminished or overlooked. They’d be attuned to individual needs, making adjustments for neurodiversity and people with disability.
They’d challenge stereotypes, especially gender and cultural biases. They’d be mindful of affinity bias, where we gravitate to people like us. They’d share what they’re learning, and welcome feedback. They’d create space for team members to challenge the status quo without fear of retaliation. They might even seek out information that challenges their beliefs and assumptions. (Yes, that’s a big list. But just doing one or two can make a positive difference to the team culture.)
Leading inclusively is not about adding to our workload. It’s about paying attention to how we encourage diversity and create an environment where people feel safe to speak up and contribute every day.
Ultimately that’s going to help us tackle the business challenges we face today.
Diversity Partners has provided Inclusive Leadership workshops and one-on-one coaching to thousands of leaders in Australia and New Zealand over the past decade. Our new two-hour workshop covers the positive duty required of businesses and organisations to prevent sexual harassment, as well as broader inclusive leadership practices to build a respectful team culture. Learn more here or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.