The first step to leading more inclusively

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In order to make an impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion at your organization, every policy, program, and team needs to be viewed through a DEI lens. And like with any core organizational value, the key to making an impact on your culture is through examples set by leadership.

This reality is probably what brings you here, today. We are at a vital moment where the meaning of work, and what employees expect from organizations are shifting (often for the better).

You are likely reading this because you either want to validate you are an inclusive leader, or you want to see if there is something you’re missing when it comes to leading inclusively. You are in the right spot.

To lead inclusively, start with yourself and your thought process as a leader. It is only natural to automatically think “I don’t need to work on this; I’m already inclusive.” Or “My team is doing great; there’s nothing I need to change.”

But when was the last time you took an objective look at the way you think about talent?

To lead more inclusively, one must be willing to do a personal thought audit. When you inventory your decision-making process and keep an open mind, not only do you learn how to be more effective, but you also actively practice servant-led leadership.

If you are resistant to an idea or a new way of thinking, it is important to be willing to examine why you are reacting that way. This form of resistance can be a form of dishonesty. Not because you are lying to others, but rather you might be lying to yourself which prevents you from seeing a new perspective.

An honest look at your thought process is the key to seeing how you can be more of an inclusive leader. If you cannot acknowledge where you can grow as a person, you limit yourself and your team to your current level.

If you are ready to dive in and consider a fresh perspective, let’s jump in.

A visual experience

If I came to you and said, “While I was making my way into work this morning, I saw the police struggling to arrest someone as I was waiting at a stop light. They were yelling and it was a bit unnerving. I just sat there anxiously waiting for the light to turn green so I can quickly drive away.”

What details came to mind as you read that experience?

Did you envision a man or a woman? Did any physical attributes come to mind (i.e., race, age, disability, etc.)? 

There are no right or wrong answers. Whatever you imagined, that is where your unconscious mind naturally takes you. Each of us will have a different interpretation of these details because they are dependent upon our experiences in life that form these thoughts and beliefs.

They are shortcuts our mind takes that are so automatic and subtle, that we do not even notice them. And our brain works like this all the time.

So as leaders, we must learn how objectively examine our beliefs because our unconscious thinking might exclude others based on where our minds automatically take us.

A brief inclusive leadership questionnaire

Let’s take a moment to review an inclusion questionnaire. Ideally, take some time to mull these questions over.

You may realize you have additional or more nuanced observations after spending time with your teammates and revisiting the questions.

  1. Have you ever passed up an opportunity to help someone develop because you didn’t have time?           
  1. Have you ever been hesitant to give your time to someone with whom you didn’t have a connection?
  1. Have you ever passed over giving someone a promotion or opportunity because of a past experience (i.e., because they didn’t contribute in a past meeting, or contributed an idea you didn’t find valuable)?
  1. Do you avoid difficult conversations or giving people feedback? Have you ever received feedback that you avoid confrontation at work?
  1. Do you tend to listen to some people more than others?
  1. Do you tend to go to the same people whenever you need help?
  1. Do you discuss ideas with people who think differently than you? And are you truly listening to what they are saying, or are you just waiting to get your point across?
  1. Are you consciously expanding your network to include people who have different backgrounds and experiences than you?
  1. Have you ever made a talent/people decision based on subjective information or hearsay rather than objective evidence?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have an opportunity to be a more inclusive leader.

If this helped identify some areas of growth for you or your organization, I urge you to not wait until another department rolls out a new initiative. As a leader, you can start making changes in your talent development, hiring/promotion decisions, and company-led programs in small impactful ways. By starting now and making even incremental changes, you will create a more inclusive environment by being an inclusive leader.

Final thoughts

Successful companies take stock of their goods. Regularly and with a critical eye. The same goes for the leaders who continuously assess their processes and viewpoints to see what needs to be refreshed or revised.

In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), we have a saying that an alcoholic is a cucumber that has been pickled. Once you have been pickled, you can never be a cucumber again (that is, a non-alcoholic one again). Fortunately, when it comes to being a leader, you are not pickled in non-inclusive ways.

The first step of this work begins with an acknowledgment that there are opportunities for you to lead more inclusively. By humbly examining your own gaps of understanding, knowledge, and bias, and being willing to make changes in what you uncover, you can foster a more inclusive and psychologically safe environment for others.

My hope is that for now, you have been encouraged to dig deeper into what it takes to be a more inclusive leader. If you’d like to dive into what’s next, the remaining five steps and framework are outlined in my book Stepping into Inclusion.

About the author:

Visit www.steppingintoinclusion.com to learn more about this book and how author Jaclyn Weitzenfeld used her positive experience with Alcoholics Anonymous to develop her framework that brings inclusion to the forefront of how one leads.

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