Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive Leadership

How to be an inclusive leader?

  • Understanding the issues of inclusive leadership
  • Clearly defining the notion of inclusion and inclusive leadership
  • Be aware of your own behaviours and know how to change


1. Introduction

1.1 Challenges

In a global economy, the diversity of markets, customers, ideas and talents requires good diversity management. But having more diversity in a company does not necessarily mean that all its members will feel included.

Diversity is complex and has multiple effects on the functioning of teams and on the feeling of inclusion :

  • high diversity is more representative of the social population with its minorities, which gives a positive feeling of inclusion
  • but increasing the diversity of an organisation means that different people cooperate, with the possibility of more discrimination, making the working climate less inclusive.

Achieving a good level of organisational inclusion is particularly important in order to benefit from the full richness that diversity brings. This is where inclusive leadership comes in: it helps diversity to foster a sense of inclusion within the organisation.

As a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a diagram showing explicitly the difference between integration and inclusion. Integration is a generic term mostly used in the field of disability. It means, in common language, the adaptation of "different" individuals to a so-called normal system. In inclusion there is no "specific" group, equality and difference find their place, diversity is the norm.


1.2 The feeling of inclusion

A sense of inclusion can be defined as the degree to which an individual feels that their authentic and unique self is welcomed and valued at work, that they feel they are treated fairly and respectfully, and that they have a sense of belonging. The more people feel genuinely included, the more psychologically safe they feel to express themselves, to collaborate and to engage, which ultimately benefits the performance of the organisation.

Individuals' sense of inclusion is influenced by their experiences with the organisation as a whole, with the organisation's leaders, with their peers and with team members.

1.3 The inclusive leader

The inclusive leader is a person who, through the impact and behaviours he or she adopts, creates in employees and other stakeholders of the organisation a sense of being considered for who they are and even strengthens their sense of belonging, regardless of their characteristics.

Inclusive leadership seeks both to foster a sense of belonging and to value uniqueness. In other words, it enables each team member to meet two essential socio-psychological needs: to belong to a social group and to have a unique identity. It is the satisfaction of these two needs that allows for a sense of inclusion.

According to Harvard Business Review, the words and actions of leaders make up to 70% of the difference in whether a person reports feeling included. So leaders have an essential role!

2. The six traits that characterise the inclusive leader

Research has shown that inclusive leaders share a set of six characteristics:

  • Visible commitment: Inclusive leaders express a genuine commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority. They stay the course over time.
  • Courage and humility: They are modest about their abilities, dare to talk about their own imperfections, admit their mistakes and create space for everyone in the organisation to contribute.
  • Self-awareness of prejudices: They are aware of their personal prejudices and weaknesses, as well as the flaws in the system, and work hard to change behaviour and ensure a meritocracy.
  • Curiosity about others and empathy: They recognise that different ideas and experiences promote development and growth and are open-minded. They show a deep curiosity about others, listen without judging, empathetically seek to understand those around them, and let them feel heard. Empathy makes the leader approachable, trustworthy and shows openness to work with and support others.
  • Cultural intelligence: Because not everyone sees the world through the same cultural framework, they are attentive to the culture of others and adapt when necessary.
  • Effective collaboration: They know that a team with diverse ideas is greater than the sum of its parts. They empower others, are attentive to diversity of thought and psychological safety, and focus on team cohesion.

3. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

3.1 The inclusion of women: an equity issue, but not only

Women and men bring different skills and perspectives to the world of work, including a different approach to risk and collaboration. This notion of complementarity is essential, as it is more beneficial to growth than simply increasing the employment rate of women. Research has also shown that companies improve their financial performance when the composition of their boards is more balanced between men and women.

Unfortunately, despite some progress, the gaps in labour force participation between men and women remain considerable. This inequality of opportunity between women and men carries a huge economic cost in terms of productivity and growth. According to a recent IMF study, barriers to women's entry into the labour force (tax distortions, discrimination, socio-cultural factors) have a higher cost than previously estimated, and the benefits of eliminating gender inequalities are even greater than previously estimated. It is therefore becoming urgent for policy makers to do everything possible to remove these obstacles.

3.2 Invisible differences

When we talk about diversity, we usually mean differences in colour, culture, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability, etc.

For some of these singularities, actions can easily be implemented in companies (e.g. accessibility to the office, specific arrangements, etc.). But diversity management has difficulty in adapting to invisible differences.

People with this condition SEEM to be part of the main block of normality, but their attitudes, reactions and outputs appear out of step with expected outcomes and this can cause problems for both their team and themselves.

These invisible differences are, among others, High Intellectual Potential (HIP) and singular intelligences, Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD, dys (dyslexics, dyspraxics, etc.). This is not about labelling or diagnosing, but about noting behaviours that may be attributable to real differences in the functioning of the people concerned. The inclusive leader is attentive to - and aware of - the differences, he does not judge them, he makes sure to include the person with his particularities, which he considers as an asset.


Are you an inclusive leader?

How would you score on each of the six characteristics of an inclusive leader? (1 being a low score / 5 being a high score)

What could you do concretely to increase your score? What behaviours could you change?

1 / Visible commitment 1 2 3 4 5 Action : ____

2 / Courage and humility 1 2 3 4 5 Action : ____

3 / Self-awareness, prejudice 1 2 3 4 5 Action : ____

4 / Effective collaboration 1 2 3 4 5 Action : ____

5 / Cultural intelligence 1 2 3 4 5 Action : ____

6/ Curiosity about others 1 2 3 4 5 Action : ____