Inclusion may not be rocket science, but it is human science. And, in today’s environment, it is non-negotiable. Inclusion is imperative for leaders to drive up innovation and drive out institutional racism. A Deloitte Insights article by Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon, “The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths,” reveals that organizations with inclusive cultures are eight times as likely to achieve better business outcomes and six times more likely to be innovative and agile.
Daniel Sanchez Reina, Senior Director Analyst for Gartner, in the article Diversity and Inclusion Build High-Performance Teams, notes that diversity and innovation are correlated, “but inclusion is the key to leveraging diversity.” And, leaders are the linchpins to inclusion. In the Deloitte Insights article, Bourke and Dillon highlight what they call the “power of a leader’s shadow.” Leadership behaviors can “drive up to 70 percentage points of difference between the proportion of employees who feel highly included and the proportion of those who do not.”
But, for many leaders, exactly how to be inclusive is elusive. In an HBR article, The Key to Inclusive Leadership, Juliet Bourke and Andrea Titus cite their research indicating “only one in three leaders holds an accurate view about their inclusive leadership capabilities.”
Every leader has the potential to be radically inclusive; creating a culture where people feel safe, valued, and a sense of belonging. Inclusive leadership is everyday actions done with eyes open and ears engaged. Inclusion happens when leaders know and treat each person like the unique and valuable human they are.
“Inclusion happens when leaders know and treat each person like the unique and valuable human they are.”
A truly inclusive culture begins with leaders with truly inclusive habits. Organizations can move the needle on inclusion by equipping leaders to act inclusively as part of their routine interactions with employees. Most people are just not aware of the biases that get in their way. It’s like being tripped up by invisible ghosts – you’re stumbling and just not sure why. This is where the human science comes into play.
Neuroscience in Action
Neuroscientist Beau Lotto in his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently teaches us that “Every decision you make in the future will remain grounded in history.” We draw on experiences to inform our actions and decisions today. How we treat others may be the result of perceptions formed by past events. Lotto’s research provides insight into how we can “use our brains to change our brains” by re-writing our past perceptions, so we make better decisions in the future.
The first step for leaders looking to act more inclusively is learning to surface, question, and recognize the impact of assumptions and biases on their behavior in certain situations or with particular people. Seeing the implications of assumptions and biases kick starts an intrinsic drive; motivating leaders to ask questions like “what else might be true?” to replace unproductive perceptions with possibility thinking. They have formed a “new past” to reference when faced with these situations or groups.
With potentially limiting assumptions neutralized or replaced, leaders now need to get comfortable selecting and tailoring inclusive actions to fit their situations and the unique humans in their care.
Finally, leaders need methods and practice in the formation of habits to promote daily use of these inclusive intentional actions. To ensure habits stay ingrained, organizations are wise to design requiring environments rich with accountability and recognition for inclusive leadership.
Which brings us to the organization itself. Just as leaders desiring to behave inclusively bump into personal ghosts, organizations are haunted by the institutional ghosts of historic and systemic racism. In her Forbes post, Four Strategies For Moving Diversity, Equity, Inclusion And Belonging Beyond Lip Service, L’Wana Harris explains, “It’s your responsibility to reimagine and redesign your organization to create an environment where all of your employees can thrive. We must go beyond simple “inclusion” work and venture into the work that reforms and disrupts. Conduct an enterprise-wide audit for bias and discrimination.”
Organizations must identify and address the myriad causes of imbalance among employee groups. The key question to go after is, what are the business practices, systems, and processes tripping up the progress, engagement, and productivity of people of color, women, people with disabilities, and other underrepresented employee groups in our organization? Organizations with an inclusive culture spearheaded by inclusive leaders unlock the power of diversity to drive innovation needed for market success and for identifying and unseating inequitable business practices.
“The Diversity and Inclusion Revolution: Eight powerful truths by Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon, Deloitte Review, Issue 22
Diversity and Inclusion Build High Performance Teams, Gartner, IT Leadership, September 2019
Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto