Inclusive Leaders Play an Integral Role in Improving the Employee Experience

Author(s): Camille Galindez

As organizations build their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, they realize that to make diversity meaningful, they must create inclusive employee experiences. To achieve this, organizations must plan to shift their culture to align with the definition of inclusion.

When an organization has created an inclusive culture, all employees will feel a sense of belonging, valued for their differences, and empowered to participate and contribute freely.

At McLean & Company, we have found that shifting towards inclusion requires organizations to embed inclusion into their overall values, model inclusive behaviors, and adopt inclusive work practices. While everyone has a role to play in creating an inclusive work environment, people leaders have a critical role. When people leaders are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, they have a significant impact on the employee experience.

According to a 2018 study by BCG of employees who identify as women, LGBTQ, and/or people of color, almost 20% of respondents experienced less bias in their day-to-day. Additionally, they also saw less obstacles to DEI in employee processes such as advancement, recruitment, retention, and leadership commitment. However, when an employee’s direct manager isn’t committed to DEI, they are twice as likely to feel excluded at work and three times more likely to seek employment elsewhere.

However, organizations are not hopeless when it comes to shifting behaviors. Organizations can integrate an inclusion competency into their current framework and identify learning opportunities to help people leaders develop their inclusive behaviors.

Based on McLean & Company’s research, inclusive leaders exhibit the following four behaviors:

  1. Inclusive leaders ensure everyone is heard.
    Some ways leaders will exhibit this behavior is by modeling good listening skills, getting to know their employees, and creating regular opportunities for everyone to share input. In our Embed Inclusion Into Your Culture research, we’ve identified that one way to teach leaders to identify opportunities for everyone to share feedback and ideas is to reflect on their work practices by leveraging inclusive design principles. This process requires leaders to reflect on how they collect input from their team members, whether they are forgetting others, and identify how they will include those who are excluded. For example, leaders may create multiple channels for feedback to ensure that their team members are able to provide input through ways that meet their needs.
  2. Inclusive leaders make it safe to propose new ideas.
    Leaders who make it safe to propose new ideas will actively solicit new ideas from their team members, acknowledge their own personal limitations, and show respect for a variety of perspectives. They are especially gracious when others disagree. When leaders exhibit these behaviors, they help create a sense of psychological safety that can help promote innovation at the organization. Our research has identified that resilient behaviors supplement this inclusive behavior and we’ve developed training resources to help managers develop these resilience behaviors in themselves and their teams.
  3. Inclusive leaders will give team members decision-making authority.
    When people leaders display this behavior, they allow members to propose and implement solutions, delegate their role, and encourage team members to self-identify as leaders. Our research has found that trust begets trust, but it can be difficult to give trust. To help managers overcome this challenge, we’ve developed resources that equip managers to apply an informed trust model. Our research has found that using the informed trust model allows managers to empower employees, which in turn helps them feel included.
  4. Lastly, inclusive leaders will share credit for their success.
    Inclusive leaders are aware of the contributions made by all those around them. It’s important that people leaders say thank you for their team members’ contributions and ensure that credit is given where it’s due. Saying thank you and being gracious about the contributions made by other team members should not be left to only special occasions. Though saying thank you may feel like a small practice, exhibiting it shows an understanding of the collaborative effort.

People leaders have critical roles to play in creating an inclusive employee experience. It’s important that the organization’s overarching strategy makes this responsibility clear and you implement the right resources to help people leaders develop their inclusive behaviors.

For more information on this research or the tools I’ve mentioned, see McLean & Company’s Equip Managers to Adopt Inclusive Leadership Behaviors training deck and downloadable LMS module or our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resources page where we have multiple blueprints and training solutions to make your organization more inclusive.

By Camille Galindez

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