By Jon A. Kaupla, Executive Director, The Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development
In today’s rapidly changing world of work, organizations are recognizing the value of diversity and inclusion as key drivers of success. Inclusive leadership is emerging as a critical factor in creating a workplace that not only celebrates differences but also leans into them for innovation and growth.
What Is Inclusive Leadership?
Inclusive leadership is a leadership style that goes beyond embracing diversity in the workplace. It involves actively promoting an environment where every individual – regardless of their background, identity, or characteristics – feels valued, heard, and included. Inclusive leaders cultivate a sense of belonging, fairness, and respect among their team members. They understand that diversity alone is not enough.
Why Inclusive Leadership Matters
The inclusion of diverse perspectives drives organizational success in many different ways.
- Enhanced innovation and problem-solving. Inclusive leaders encourage the sharing of diverse viewpoints, which can lead to more innovative solutions to complex problems. When employees from various backgrounds collaborate and contribute their unique insights, the result is a richer and more creative decision-making process. At the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development (CPED) we’ve had great success with assembling project teams that include employees from different departments, at different levels, and with different perspectives. I’m confident the outcomes of these diverse project teams are much stronger and innovative.
- Improved employee engagement and retention. Inclusive leadership fosters a sense of belonging among employees, which in turn boosts their engagement and commitment to the organization. When people feel like their opinions and contributions matter, they are more likely to stay and invest in their work. At CPED, we regularly do pulse surveys and all-team feedback sessions to gather opinions and ideas from our employees. And more importantly, we take action and implement ideas generated from them.
- Attraction of top talent. Companies that prioritize inclusivity are more appealing to a wide range of talent. Inclusive leadership practices can help attract the best and brightest individuals, giving your organization a competitive edge.
- Enhanced reputation and brand. In today’s socially conscious world, consumers and investors are increasingly looking for companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion. Inclusive leadership not only improves internal culture but also enhances your brand’s reputation.
Key Principles of Inclusive Leadership
- Self-awareness: Inclusive leaders start by examining their own biases and assumptions. They are open to learning about different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives.
- Empathy: Understanding and showing empathy towards the experiences and challenges of others is a fundamental trait of inclusive leaders. It allows them to connect on a deeper level with their team members.
- Active listening: Inclusive leaders actively listen to their employees, creating an environment where everyone’s voice is heard and respected.
- Flexibility: Being adaptable and open to change is crucial. Inclusive leaders are willing to modify their approach when necessary to accommodate the diverse needs of their team.
- Accountability: Inclusive leaders hold themselves and others accountable for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They set clear expectations and measure progress.
Practical Steps to Foster Inclusive Leadership
- Training and education. Invest in diversity and inclusion training programs for leaders at all levels of your organization to raise awareness and build the skills needed for inclusive leadership. CPED offers world-class diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, and we have designed customized DEI programming for all levels of leaders – from frontline supervisors to senior executives.
- Honor and celebrate all religions and cultures. First, seek understanding of the various religious holidays and cultural recognition events/months. Honor employees personal cultural and religious holidays by offering floating holidays. Host theme celebration months or events for cultural recognition: examples include Black History Month, National Women’s History Month, National Arab American Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month and LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
- Diverse hiring practices. Implement practices that ensure diverse candidates have equal opportunities during the hiring process. This includes examining job descriptions, creating diverse interview panels, and offering unconscious bias training to interviewers.
- Inclusive policies and practices. Review and update company policies and practices to ensure they are inclusive and equitable. This includes pay equity, promotion processes, and family-friendly policies.
Inclusive leadership is not a trend; it’s a fundamental shift in the way organizations operate. It empowers individuals, drives innovation, and positions companies as leaders in their industries. By embracing the principles of inclusive leadership and taking practical steps to create an inclusive workplace, you can foster an environment where diversity thrives, and your organization flourishes.
Jon Kaupla is the executive director of the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional and Executive Development. He has over 18 years of human resources experience with organizations ranging from non-profits to Fortune 500 companies. Jon has led human resources strategy in the healthcare, financial services, marketing, and retail industries. Jon has a Bachelor of Science in psychology and social work from Florida State University and a Master of Arts in education from Alverno College.