To lead a company is to set the tone for the entire organisation. The principles and policies that you deem appropriate will be those adopted by the business; the attitude you take towards certain behaviours will set a precedent for others to follow.
In an era characterized by increasing polarisation of gay rights and gender diversity, business leaders must spearhead the change, championing the cause to create inclusive workplaces for individuals of any gender, sexual orientation, social background or ethnicity.
Of course, it’s easy for leaders to call themselves inclusive leaders, or to mark a tick in the box for workplace diversity based on a hiring quota. What’s more of a challenge, however, is crafting an inclusive culture that welcomes and encourages new ideas and fresh perspectives, no matter who they come from. While this is a goal that many organisations would like to achieve, it undoubtedly requires effort from the top.
Trickle-down diversity will never be a silver-bullet solution on its own, but recognising the ways in which the executive team can aid in building a safe environment for all, should be the first step in promoting diversity and inclusion.
The importance of inclusive leadership
It goes without saying that psychological safety is a prerequisite for employee engagement and in turn, productivity. When members of staff at every level feel they are working in a climate of trust and respect, they are better able to contribute, collaborate and even challenge the status quo. Without it, creativity and growth become stifled – either because members of staff feel isolated, or because groupthink has kicked in and the homogenous nature of the team has prevented innovation.
Leadership teams play a critical role in the creation and sustainment of inclusive cultures; they have a unique responsibility in shaking up the boardroom and ensuring archaic opinions are eradicated before they can hurt the bottom line. As well as inspiring behavioural transformation through their organisation, executives must act as pioneers for positive change within society; they must show their employees that their desire for a diverse and inclusive workplace does not solely exist to reap the business benefits.
Tackling unconscious bias in senior management
According to the ENEI’s 2016 report, Inclusive Leadership…driving performance through diversity, inclusive leaders can be defined as those ‘…who are aware of their own biases and preferences, actively seeking out and considering different views and perspectives to inform better decision making. They see diverse talent as a source of competitive advantage and inspire diverse people to drive organisational and individual performance towards a shared vision.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, research undertaken by the ENEI suggests that a business leader’s ability to navigate the modern business landscape will continue to be hampered by a string of social biases towards the people they hire and promote. Unfortunately, it’s these biases that steer organisations towards a narrow, one-track way of thinking and threaten their ability to adapt to change accordingly.
If leaders are to take charge and disrupt the status quo to create inclusive working environments, they must let go of the iconic image of a leader as the hero and embrace an open culture that celebrates diversity.