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5 Attributes I Seek in My Future Leader: A Guide to Inclusive Leadership in the Workplace

 

My work contract is approaching its end and I’ve been diving into the job search, contemplating about what I want in my next workplace and from my future leader-essential factors that would help me truly thrive in my work. I’ve come to the realization that a sense of inclusion is paramount for me,and I’m not the only one who feels this way. The experts in the field are talking more about how important it is to foster an inclusive environment, recognizing its positive effects on both individuals (e.g., higher job satisfaction and work engagement) and teams (e.g., better creativity and productivity) as a whole.


This emphasis on inclusion becomes especially important in the wake of efforts to enhance diversity within organizations. Merely meeting diversity quotas without proper management of employee differences could lead to negative employee experiences, as diverse perspectives and outlooks resulting from differing experiences may actually increase friction and conflicts among team members. Furthermore, employees from marginalized social identity groups may believe they have to conform to the organizational culture while hiding their authentic self, resulting in emotional exhaustion, low morale, and ultimately leaving the organization.


In this regard, fostering an inclusive organizational culture is pivotal. Inclusive leaders play a crucial role in championing this culture, creating an environment where employees experience the two key elements of inclusion: A genuine sense of belonging while also perceiving their uniqueness as being valuable. In doing so, inclusive leaders see an increase in team performance and collaboration, and foster better work outcomes for employees.

Below, I outline five key attributes and behaviours of inclusive leadership that cultivate belongingness and perceptions of value in uniqueness and are qualities I hope to find in my future leader. This article is a tribute to International Women’s Day on March 8th, as women are frequently a part of marginalized social identity groups in many workplaces, even more so if they are racialized women. Inclusive leadership stands out as a valuable asset that can significantly benefit women in such settings.


Belongingness

1.      Supporting Employees

Inclusive leaders actively support their team, creating a welcoming environment where diverse opinions are valued. They make themselves available and accessible (e.g., making time, following up on concerns, checking-in, etc.) and address individual employee needs (e.g., work-life balance, flexible scheduling for childcare, etc.). By modeling these supportive behaviours, leaders inspire employees to behave similarly, cultivating a sense of belongingness for team members.

 

This environment is key to fostering psychological safety within a team, where members feel that they are free to express themselves without fear of judgement or negative consequences from other team members or their leader.The absence of psychological safety could lead to members silencing themselves instead of sharing ideas, questions, and concerns with the team. Furthermore, a lack of psychological safety has been linked to lower team productivity, evidenced by findings of Alphabet Inc., formerly Google. When they asked why some of their teams fared better than other teams, they found that psychological safety was the most critical factor to the success of teams, highlighting the overall importance of inclusive leadership in cultivating this sense of safety.

 

2.      Ensuring Equity

Inclusive leaders prioritize fairness and in turn, signal to employees that they are respected members of the group. They make sure that rewards (e.g., bonuses, recognition, awards, etc.) are distributed fairly, establish unbiased judgements for job opportunities, and ensure that all team members are represented fairly in decision-making. However, unintentional disparities may occur if leaders overlook individual circumstances.

 

For instance, when suggesting team-building activities or retreats, leaders must consider factors such as location, timing, and activities. For remote team members, offering virtual options or covering travel costs ensures inclusivity. Accommodations for disabilities, accessibility for all, and providing ample time for parents to coordinate childcare are also essential. Neglecting these considerations may undermine employees' feelings of inclusion, emphasizing the need for proactive and inclusive planning.

 

3.      Shared Decision-Making

Inclusive leaders are frequently characterized as flattening the hierarchy. This is realized by actively consulting employees and seeking group-wide participation in decision-making, particularly on projects or aspects of the work familiar to the employee. Implementing checkpoints within the team's process is one effective approach to shared decision-making, encouraging members to share information and collectively decide on the next steps. Alternatively, sharing reasons for certain actions post-decision or opting for a collaborative approach by taking action with employees rather than merely directing them are also effective methods of cultivating a sense of belongingness.

 

Value in Uniqueness

4.      Encouraging Diverse Contributions

Inclusive leaders play a crucial role in managing conflicts that may arise due to varying approaches and opinions within diverse teams. This is achieved by welcoming diverse contributions and different perspectives from all employees, a key defining trait of inclusive leaders. Consequently, they create a psychologically safe environment for team members, fostering open and honest communication.

 

In addition, inclusive leaders are attuned to their employees’ strengths and preferences, ensuring that all team members contribute fully by taking this knowledge into account. For example, they can empower quieter voices by allowing written input. In this way, employees can bring their authentic selves to work and perceive that their uniqueness is valued, rather than having to assimilate or, conversely, feel like a token within the team.

 

5.      Employee Learning and Development

Inclusive leaders prioritize employee learning and development and actively support employees in their pursuit of improvement, creating an environment that fosters continuous learning. By providing meaningful feedback and tailored guidance, inclusive leaders empower employees to grow in their strengths and improve in areas of weakness. This approach strengthens unique characteristics of individual employees, facilitating a sense of inclusion.


Reflecting on these five attributes of inclusive leaders, I’m prompted to revisit instances in my various work environments where the absence of psychological safety and inclusion left me apprehensive, fearing judgment and inadequacy. Conversely, moments of genuine inclusion within my team allowed me to embrace my authentic self as a racialized woman. This sense of inclusion not only boosted my confidence in the value I brought to the organization but also made me proud of the work I was contributing. As I embark on my job search, these reflections guide me toward a clearer understanding of the leadership style and organizational culture essential for my personal thriving, and the kind of leader I want to be when the time comes.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Dr. Clara Lee obtained her Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Calgary. Her research interests focus on leadership as well as biases in perceptions of effective leadership. She has previously taught undergraduate courses in I/O Psychology and Statistics and has consulted in both private and public sectors in matters of organizational effectiveness and employee assessment. Driven by a passion for cultivating positive workplace environments, she is dedicated to instigating meaningful organizational change in the workplace. 


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