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Inclusive Leadership: Why It Matters and How To Put It Into Practice

17 Mar

Organizations are always changing and evolving. What worked for companies a century ago likely won’t work in the present day. One example of an organizational change for the modern era is the addition of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. While many organizations have focused on increasing the diversity of their employees, fostering inclusion in the workplace is the next step to fully realizing the benefits of a diverse employee pool, both for employee wellbeing and for a company’s bottom line.

There are a number of definitions online, but for our purposes, an inclusive workplace is one where everyone feels that they belong, are treated fairly and that they can bring their authentic selves to work. With this in mind, let’s explore why inclusivity matters and how inclusive leadership can be implemented in the workplace.

Why Inclusion Matters

Many organizations have, historically, struggled with a lack of inclusion and diversity through the years. And, in turn, the underrepresented demographics that are hired may feel less than included, according to a study by McKinsey & Company.1 There are a number of reasons companies should have a vested interest in promoting more representation and belonging in the workplace, including higher revenues and greater employee retention. In another McKinsey & Company study, greater gender diversity on executive boards has been shown to increase revenues by 28%.2 In the same study, companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity among executives are 36% more likely to outperform on earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margins.2

Inclusion especially speaks to greater employee retention, with inclusive workplaces boasting 5.4 times higher employee retention rates.3 Data shared by Great Places to Work further shows the positive benefits of inclusive workplaces. Employees who feel that they and their colleagues are being treated fairly at work are:3

  • 9.8 times more likely to look forward to going to work
  • 6.3 times more likely to have pride in their work
  • 5.4 times more likely to want to stay a long time at their company

This boost in employee morale can create a workplace that not only retains diverse employees, but attracts diversity, as well.

How to Foster Inclusion in the Workplace

Companies that are unwilling to embrace inclusion efforts may struggle, especially when it comes to employee morale. When employees feel included and their diversity is celebrated, that’s when they thrive and can better develop professionally and personally.

Let’s take a look at ways to begin embracing inclusion in the workplace.

Promote Psychological Safety

Organizations can foster inclusion through leaders promoting psychological safety. In the workplace, employees experience psychological safety when they believe they can speak up and share ideas without risking retaliation, punishment or humiliation.4 For the workplace to feel psychologically safe, leaders can encourage employees to take risks and share ideas, even when they might not be fully realized.

Psychological safety is a major factor in driving quality decision making and greater innovation, as well as healthy group dynamics and relationships.4 When people feel psychologically safe, their organizational commitment increases, as they feel they are working for a company that values them.

Recognize Biases to Overcome Them

Inclusion and inclusive leadership means recognizing and addressing biases in organizations. Bias is defined as, “an inclination of temperament or outlook, especially a personal and sometimes unreasonable judgment: Prejudice.”5 Biases are all around us, and everyone holds bias. In the past, it was acceptable to not explore what biases surrounded or were part of organizations. But today, recognizing and addressing these biases is encouraged and even necessary for workplace harmony.

Some examples of workplace biases include:

  • Implicit bias: Making assumptions about a person’s abilities based on personal characteristics (race, gender, sexuality, etc.).6 This could look like your boss making a positive or negative assumption about you because of your race, which, in turn, could determine the way you are treated by them moving forward.
  • Confirmation bias: Seeking out and interpreting information in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs about a person or situation.7 This could look like making an assumption about a colleague and finding information that confirms what you have assumed.
  • Age bias: Making assumptions about a person’s ability based on their age.8 Many times an older employee is judged because of the assumption they can’t handle or do as much. This is simply not true.
  • Gender bias: Making assumptions about a person’s ability based on their gender.9 This typically presents as prejudice against women based on their sex.
  • Ability bias: Making assumptions about a person’s ability to do work based on an existing ability or disability.10

When the information is laid out like this, it’s easy to see why these biases would be especially harmful to a workplace and leadership that is moving towards inclusivity. These are exclusionary practices at best and unethical practices at worst. Recognizing the biases like these exist is the first step to overcoming them. Once biases are identified, leaders and employees can begin dismantling them through effective communication and collaboration.

Step Up to Be an Inclusive Leader

In the video “Seven Considerations of Inclusive Leadership,” William & Mary associate professor, Inga Carboni, Ph.D., discusses what it means to lead inclusively. She touches on seven ways everyone can practice inclusive leadership. People who are already identified as leaders are obvious candidates to make the workplace more inclusive, but everyone has a hand in helping others feel like they belong.

Check out a preview of the video below:

Access the Full Video

Learn More About Inclusive Leadership With William & Mary’s Online MBA Program

At William & Mary's Raymond A. Mason School of Business, we strive to be on the forefront of best business practices for student success outside of the program. Our Online MBA program will help you develop an inclusive leadership mindset, among many other valuable skills that will help you stand out over other MBA graduates.

In courses like Organizational Behavior, you’ll find a framework for understanding how people and groups within organizations behave and promote productive behavior within an organization. The result of this training is a foundation for the effective management of people, from inspiring individual motivation, to structuring positive team dynamics, to building and maintaining a functional organizational structure.

To learn more about the Online MBA program, reach out to one of our helpful Admissions Advisors.