Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How Inclusive Leaders make those in a minority feel that they belong?

Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How Inclusive Leaders make those in a minority feel that they belong?
By Jiten Patel (2020)

Having been in the field of equality diversity and inclusion for over 20 years and having worked alongside renowned experts, I have learned that a compliance approach may bring about equality, and diversity can create the potential for exceptional performance. It is only when we embrace inclusion as a fundamental leadership competence that we fully drive excellence for the individual, the team, and the organisation. My 6w Inclusive Leadership framework helps individuals to come into their own as inclusive leaders. You may have counted only 5 ‘Ws’. Trainers, facilitators, and many others will recognise that the sixth one appears at the end of the word…How.

Perhaps the starting point really needs to be the ‘Why’ rather than the ‘Who’ in this title. It goes, almost without saying, that the practising inclusion is the right thing to do. In moving from a mono-cultural to a culturally diverse status, organisations can only yield the widely identified benefits of a diverse workforce when all the diverse individuals (including our stereotypical white middle class men) in its workplace feel a genuine sense of belonging. I reference culture, here, in its broadest sense. Think about a time when you felt or were made to feel out of place and perhaps that you did not fit in. Were you able to feel you could be yourself and that you could give your best at that time? 

There are many theories about what constitutes an inclusive leader. For me, at its core, an inclusive leader is someone who understands what makes different people tick. They apply the principles of emotional intelligence to adapt their approach to reach others, making them both visible and valued. This then makes the other feel they have been acknowledged, that they matter and, more importantly, that they belong. When a person feels this sense of belongingness, they are more self-confident and bring out the best in themselves. This allows greater creativity and innovation within the team and the organisation.  It truly develops the concept of the learning organisation and moves away from an organisational blame culture.

Conscious inclusion is a continual process. One-off initiatives are a good starting point but do not provide consistent and sustainable results. I am reminded of an anecdote about a disciple and his spiritual teacher. The disciple observed that, every day, the master would sit down and polish a copper pot. His curiosity finally got the better of him and, one day, he asked, “Master, why do you continue to polish the pot every day when it is so shiny. The teacher gave him the copper pot, asked him to keep it in a cupboard and then bring it back to her in 6 months. The disciple duly brought back the pot in 6 months and presented it to the master. The master asked the disciple what he noticed about the pot when compared to an identical pot the master had been polishing every day for the past 6 months. The disciple had a paradigm shift seeing the impact of neglect on the pot left in the cupboard; it had lost all its lustre and did not gleam like the other one which the master had been polishing each day for the past 6 months.

Consciously inclusive leaders take every opportunity to provide support and inspiration. This can be done in board meetings, in one to one session, in keynote addresses, in regular communications, in team meetings, etc. They do this both internally within their organisation and externally amongst peers, at conferences, and in publications amid other places. In short, consciously inclusive leadership can be practised everywhere and integrated into everything we do.

A consciously inclusive leader engenders the feeling in minorities that they belong through a variety of ways. One of the most effective ways is by engaging with people who are different to them. It could be as simple regular attendance at meetings organised by staff affinity groups/diversity networks. This allows the inclusive leader to build up a repertoire of the lived experiences of people. In turn, it allows the leader to counteract the effect of inherent biases which we have integrated through years of conditioning grounded in negative stereotypes and fear mongering.

Inclusive Leadership is everyone’s responsibility. However, it needs to be practised and role modelled by our senior leaders, especially the C Suite. Custom and practice have demonstrated, time and again, that managers (often unconsciously) emulate their bosses. Creating a culture of inclusion cannot be left to the Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion alone. That post holder can provide a lead on strategic positioning and operational implementation; execution, to be effective, has to be delivered top-down.

Inclusion is a competency which, to be developed, needs to be practised consciously and persistently until it becomes an unconscious competence, functioning automatically, overriding inherent biases. 


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