Truth: Work may be the only place you regularly have to get along with people you might not otherwise choose to interact with. In fact, as you read this, it’s likely you pictured a certain person in your head.
But that’s one of the reasons why being an inclusive leader is so important. If no one’s setting the example on your team, it becomes far too easy for your employees to become exclusive. Not only is that bad for productivity and morale, but it’s also the wrong way to lead.
Now, I’ll be honest and say that “inclusion” gets brought up by companies as a check-the-box exercise in political correctness. But when you break down the definition—T. Hudson Jordan defines it as “…creating an environment of involvement, respect, and connection—where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed to create business value”—it seems strange that it’s considered a “buzzword” and not a policy accepted at organizations nationwide.
So, what can you do today to be a more inclusive leader? The following five moves are a good place to start:
1. Recognize Your Unconscious Bias—and Be Humble About It
It’s impossible to understand all of the values, beliefs, norms and rituals that are important to every person at work. But work to understand your own unconscious bia about what you assume about others.
Notice, for, example, what assumptions get made about who should take notes in meetings, and why. It’s far more common for a woman to get asked than a man, under the assumption that they have neat handwriting.
Another example: Bosses in today’s workplaces who are selecting candidates for a promotion might automatically overlook working parents, because they just assume they wouldn’t want the added responsibility.
In order to hold yourself accountable for (or even question the accuracy of) your thought process, you first have to know what is it.
Having assumptions isn’t wrong or bad: It’s part of how all people fast track understanding. The problem arises when you’re not even aware that you’re making assumptions.
2. Make the Unwritten Rules Obvious
Every group and organization has cultural norms. But if they aren’t written anywhere, and are treated as understood, it can be harder for new members of diverse groups to know them. This is especially true on international teams where people from different cultures or backgrounds don’t know the rules and accidentally misstep.
Duc was a brilliant engineer whose promotion to engineering manager included relocating to the U.S. His boss became concerned when he noticed Duc rarely spoke in meetings, even the meetings Duc was leading. He shared his observation with Duc and asked if everything was OK.
Duc shared: “Where I am from, it’s a sign of disrespect to interrupt someone or cut them off when they are speaking. I want the people on my team to know I respect them, but I sometimes don’t know how to make myself heard.”
Spirited conversations where everyone talked and interrupted were normal at the U.S. office. Duc’s supervisor suggested he teach his team that, when he raised his hand or said, “excuse me”, he wanted to be heard on a point. These strategies helped him be heard without changing a deeply-held belief and habit.
This one example points out why it’s so important to avoid making assumptions and to instead proactively look for ways to make sure all employees are comfortable.
3. Don’t Overlook the “Small” Stuff
When you witness someone being rude or dismissive to someone else, call it out. Don’t focus on finding fault, but stating what you notice and suggesting alternatives that include everyone.
It sounds like this: “You know, not everyone in our group celebrates Christmas. I wonder what we could do this holiday season that would be both a chance to celebrate the holiday for those who do, and be a chance to involve others regardless of their faith?”
Or, maybe you notice that an employee is (perhaps unconsciously) ignoring the contributions of female team members in meetings. Get back to and amplify their points with a comment like, “I agree with what Jane said earlier about…”
4. Understand the Advantages You’re Born With
Each person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, culture, physical ability, and religious practices afford them different levels of access and privilege.
Even in simple tasks like walking though the work parking lot at night, not everyone feels safe.
Women traditionally take more care in booking travel than men do, because they’ve learned to be more cautious about their personal safety. People of color are disproportionately complimented on how articulate they are, which is, in fact, a microaggression suggesting the other person wasn’t expecting them to speak proper English.
You may be noticing a theme here—that inclusive leaders recognize that members of their team have different considerations. So, along with striving to be thoughtful, it’s also important to be understanding if your employee approaches a situation differently.
5. Believe That People Are Created Equal, But Not The Same
Inclusive leaders are able to notice and talk about difference without making anyone feel objectified or singled-out. To boot, managers are more successful when they see the unique qualities of each individual on the team.
In my work, I encourage people to acknowledge the differences in a respectful ways. For example, while I mentioned that you don’t want to go as so far as to hold working parents back from opportunities, you do want to recognize that being a parent is part of who they are. You can still hold a father to the same standards as everyone else on the team, but also make it clear he can leave early to pick his daughter up from daycare.
Either way, inclusion’s the skill that makes diversity work, and diversity is proven to make companies more successful. So therefore, embracing inclusivity isn’t only the right thing to do as a human, but the smart thing to do as a leader.