Inclusive Leadership is Important in Today’s Workplace

Inclusive leadership must go beyond flying a rainbow flag and declaring allyship.

By Amrit & Loralyn


As we wrap up another PRIDE month and applaud the added vigilance of law enforcement at the parades to help keep people safe, we dig into the definition of inclusive leadership. Flying a rainbow flag (in June) and pledging allyship is not enough. Over the course of the next three months, we will be exploring a new theme each week. Together, we plan to evolve away from the box-checking that a person is this or that. We want to shift towards true inclusion where we go beyond the labels and to a corporate culture that truly respects people for who they are and all the ways that they add unique value to the workplace.

Let’s begin by meeting a couple of relatable people. Benjamin is a project leader in an emerging tech company. He is known throughout the company for his open approach to inclusive leadership. Recently, when the company embarked upon a new project, it required collaboration among teams from different departments; this was unusual as most departments worked in silos.

During the initial meetings, Benjamin noticed that some team members were hesitant to share their ideas and opinions. A few weeks earlier, two people in his department had quietly expressed to him “offline” that their voices were not being heard. One of the project’s participants from another department, David, was highly vocal during the meeting. In fact, David dominated it.

Benjamin knew that needed to take immediate action to ensure that the interdepartmental project would be completed, ideally on time and on budget. What did he do?

Inclusive leadership in action

Benjamin scheduled one-on-one meetings with individual team members to understand their unique perspectives. It was also important for him to understand what challenges they faced. He also recognized the importance of being fully present during the meetings; he was deliberate about putting his phone in his desk drawer at the start of the meeting with each person to demonstrate that he was there to listen attentively. Benjamin also assured each person that his office was a safe space and encouraged them to speak freely – but respectfully.

For the co-workers that operated in different departments, he had to take a slightly different approach. He did not know most of the people on the project from the other departments and they did not know him. His first step was to establish trust. To do so, he offered transparency and authenticity. “I know that you don’t know me, and I don’t know you yet so it will take time for us to learn to trust each other. That’s okay. I’m here for the long-haul and open to feedback to make our relationship smooth and productive. I also promise to listen to you more than I talk. On my team, you will be heard and valued.”

He openly acknowledged the different experiences and backgrounds of the team members and emphasized how, collectively, those differences in perspective made their team stronger. Benjamin nudged them individually and as a group to contribute their ideas freely. During a meeting, it was not uncommon for him to praise the specific efforts and contributions of different team members and he did so without any bias to rank or preferential treatment: everyone was an equal contributor to the team because “job titles won’t be a factor in the success of our project, but ego will be,” was something he repeated often. Benjamin established a culture where every member felt valued and respected for their unique capabilities – that unique part was key – everyone had something special to offer.

His approach yielded great results. The project became a resounding success and exceeded expectations. Their team even set new industry benchmarks for an ERP rollout.

It worked because Benjamin practiced “inclusive leadership.” He prioritized listening over talking and empowered each team member to contribute regardless of their background, education, or rank. Everyone felt heard: some team members were openly vocal and celebrated Benjamin by telling others in the company, “It’s the first time that leadership here treated me like a human being.” They felt comfortable to bring their authentic selves to work; some were jokesters (nothing offside of course, just good, clean, appropriate humor) whereas others were shy and contributed by creating materials that they shared online instead of talking about their effort during the meeting. He was able to nurture a workforce that was motivated, engaged, and most importantly, eager to contribute to the company’s success.


Why today’s workplace needs something different

The modern workplace is a dynamic and ever-evolving environment, shaped by the presence of a significant number of Generation Z employees. This generation brings a unique set of characteristics and expectations that influence the dynamics within organizations. Gen Z is highly diverse and, combined with Millennials (Gen Y), now make up nearly half (48%) of the workforce in 2023 according to Gallup®.

One prominent characteristic of Gen Z employees is their heightened intolerance towards bias. They value equality, inclusivity, and social justice, and are less willing to tolerate discriminatory practices or biases in the workplace. This generation actively seeks workplaces that foster an inclusive and diverse environment, where individuals are treated with fairness and respect.

With greater job options and a willingness to explore different opportunities, the trend of quiet quitting has been on the rise. Gen Z employees are not afraid to seek out new opportunities if they feel their current workplace does not align with their values or fails to provide a supportive and inclusive environment. This trend emphasizes the importance of creating a workplace culture that values employee engagement, development, and well-being.

Furthermore, the modern workplace is characterized by a diverse workforce, encompassing individuals with varying backgrounds, experiences, abilities – and genders. The latter is relatively new as a concept in the workplace and goes beyond pronouns. In fact, it requires inclusion at all levels from policies to workplace practices. It is crucial for organizations to cultivate an inclusive environment that acknowledges and embraces diversity in every flavor that it comes in. This includes accommodating different physical and intellectual abilities, providing equal access to resources and opportunities, and fostering a culture of respect and acceptance.


Be inclusive

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about significant shifts in the work ethos, particularly among Gen Z employees. A growing number of employees now prefer the flexibility of remote work or having adaptable schedules. In addition, they seek increased autonomy and empowerment from their leaders. They expect leaders who possess effective communication skills, provide constructive feedback and support, and foster collaboration within virtual teams.

But getting it right is a challenge for many Millennials. This generation was largely in the role of an individual contributor prior to the pandemic. Most have never been taught to lead, let alone manage people. Many Millennials were thrust into the role of leadership and placed into a hostile work environment with staff highly vocal and against return-to-office coupled with high levels of burnout. It’s tough enough to lead a happy, productive team let alone one that is rallying against working.

Nevertheless, the pandemic has also presented challenges in terms of employee retention and engagement. Many employees are grappling with burnout, stress, and feelings of isolation. Consequently, there is an increasing phenomenon of employees contemplating leaving their positions without providing formal notice, known as quiet quitting. A new movement of just quitting altogether without the traditional two weeks’ notice has also taken hold. To address this, inclusive leadership becomes essential as it creates a sense of belonging, recognition, and purpose for employees. Inclusive leaders can help employees navigate through change, uncertainty, and adversity by offering empathy, fostering resilience, and instilling optimism.

One of the first things that you can do on the path to inclusive leadership is to follow along with our 10-part series on Inclusive Leadership. We will be offering tips, best practices, and lessons learned about what not to do. And we’ll be making a world-first announcement …

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