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How to be an inclusive leader

Too often we link inclusion to diversity outcomes but it has much greater implications to engagement, collaboration and innovation

Unconscious bias GQ Man of the Year

Inclusion is not about diversity. It’s about competitive advantage. And it’s a choice.

Diversity is all around us but it is up to leaders to decide whether or not to make full use of the diversity in their organisation. Inclusion is about fostering the structure, culture and mindset in an individual and leader, that enables that person to say, I fit in here, I feel valued, and I can be my true self and do not have to hide parts of my character – and because of this I can contribute to this organisation.

If individual leaders are inclusive their teams will feel safe and trust them and then they will perform better, believes inclusion expert and co-founder of Mix Diversity Hayley Barnard, who has worked with companies such as Diageo, Skanska and UCAS to help them become more inclusive.

“Leaders have to have their own ‘why’,” she says. “Compliance is not enough. There is a moral and business case for inclusion and leaders and organisations need to know what their pull factor is.

“Inclusion is about diversity of knowledge, perspective and information and this diversity is often under-utilised in an organisation. Today, leaders need to capitalise on the strength of differences in their teams to enable collaboration and innovation.”

Here are the four traits that make up the truly inclusive leader according to Barnard:

The four traits of the inclusive leader: FAST

1. Fair

Inclusive leaders treat people equally in terms of opportunity and fairly according to ability. We can only do this if we know our people. Curiosity is a trait of the inclusive leader. One way to check how to be fair is by substitution. Substitute one group for another when you are looking at questions for an interview or the language you are using. Look at GQ’s Man of the Year award (pictured). It added a Woman of the Year in 2013 but she was unclothed while all the men were in dinner jackets [Ed's note, apparently Lana Del Rey requested to be pictured this way]. Substituting makes the point clear, how wrong does it look with a naked man?

Unconscious bias GQ Man of the Year cover

2. Take Action
Diversity is reality but inclusion is a choice. Diversity is all around us but we decide as leaders whether or not to make full use of diversity around us. Listen, observe and learn from people. Inclusive leaders are able to implement and model appropriate behaviour. They communicate frequently about inclusivity to the business, suppliers and stakeholders

3. Self aware
Ask what it is like to be on other side of you? Inclusive leaders realise they have biases and organisational blind spots and are prepared to take action. Highly inclusive leaders are aware of conscious and unconscious biases but are also realistic. They realise that teams and organisations have unconscious biases built in and will put processes and structures in place to mitigate these. The starting point is not to train people on unconscious bias but to develop appropriate strategies to mitigate bias and to never take objectivity for granted

4. Build trust
Inclusive leaders trust their people. They are totally committed to ‘we’ before ‘me’. If your people have to trust you as a leader you have to trust them to bring their expertise to work. Fostering trust will enable your people to feel safe and willing to contribute their unique perspectives

Hayley Barnard was speaking at a School for CEOs webinar event
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