Inclusive leadership is about ensuring that everyone within a group feels valued and that they belong. When individuals are treated with equity, are accepted for what makes them unique and are supported to reach their full potential, it benefits everybody.
Even since before the pandemic, the way in which we lead our teams has been going through somewhat of a revolution and cultural shift, and traditional hierarchical, authoritarian models of leadership had started to become stale and out of date for the transforming workplace. Inclusive, empathic, people-first leadership has played a crucial part in this process, especially since the challenges Covid has brought to both our workspaces and our personal lives, with the boundaries in between becoming somewhat blurry, and a necessity to understand each individual employee’s unique circumstances, coping strategies and required support structures has evolved.
In order to attract, retain, support and nurture inclusive teams and support individuals to thrive and succeed to the best of their ability, there are several things to consider.
Eliminating bias in the workplace
According to the Cognitive Bias Codex, there are over 180 cognitive biases, and there are certain bias traps we can typically fall into in the workplace:
Feelings overload, and
Need for Speed
When we are in these situations our brains often push aside important pieces of information to make shortcuts. Some of the specific biases that can occur in each circumstance are:
Confirmation bias – this can occur when we seek out information that supports our existing beliefs. There is also often an experience of a dopamine pleasure rush when processing information that confirms our beliefs, which can cause our judgement to become unreliable and our decisions inequitable.
We might have an automatic preference for a particular choice, regardless of value, and this often happens when we make our first impressions of people, i.e., regarding their character, ability, friendliness etc, which give a biased perspective. When we are faced with an influx of information, we often start to filter it. For example, if recruiting for a role and we find we have a pile of CVs to sift through, we may lean into our biases, which may cause us to discount anyone who doesn’t have a degree, or definitive experience within our sector because it will help us reduce the pile and make speedier assessments. It’s important to be aware of the reasons that might trigger us to behave in ways that aren’t inclusive, even if they aren’t intentional.
Anchoring bias – this is when we often become over reliant on a single piece of information. We can have an automatic preference for the first one regardless of value, and this often happens when we make our first impressions of people; their character, ability, friendliness etc, even though there is more to each of us than a first impressions can ever capture.
Blind spot bias – This is when we are not aware of our own biases. We might consistently overlook what is actually happening, which can lead to faulty thinking and bad decisions.
Psychological safety and modelling behaviour
The most important job we have as leaders is to nurture an environment both within our own teams and across our organisations where people are given the respect and permission to feel included, to learn, to contribute and to innovate. Leading with inclusivity and empathy is a powerful tool in helping drive innovation and belonging within an organisation, but how do we actually put this into practice? It starts with self.
We need to identify ways to create a safe space where diverse experiences, traits and perspectives feel welcome. When employees feel comfortable asking for help, sharing suggestions informally, or challenging the status quo without fear of negative social consequences, organisations are more likely to innovate quickly, unlock the benefits of diversity, and adapt well to change (McKinsey, Psychological safety and the critical role of leadership development), and when we set the tone and model the behaviour we wish to flourish in our organsations, these behaviors become embedded and emulated by others.
Being genuinely curious about others and listening with empathy and without judgement allows us to respond in a way that is supportive and empowering, which in turn allows a healthy and safe space for employees to nurture their own unique attributes, strength and abilities.
Collaboration and cognitive diversity
When individuals feel valued for their unique contribution, and are supported in playing to their strengths and passions, everyone benefits. Developing skills and techniques to lead with inclusivity benefits the whole organisation, creates a positive work culture and encourages people to want to stay with your organisation for the long haul, as well as driving innovation.
People are much more likely to feel included in a team when they feel that their talents and their individual strengths are needed. But we very often tend to bond with ‘people like us’ and this can create a tendency towards ‘group think.’ We often are keen to create change, but we can hinder our own progress by making presumptions and not spending enough time listening to what people’s actual lived experiences are. Without listening and taking time to truly understand others, we cannot expect to have a realistic perspective.
Inviting cognitive diversity and utilising different strengths give us a bigger variety of perspectives and help us collaborate creatively. By recognising bias, emphasising empathy and curiosity, and making true understanding a priority in the workplace, we can unlock the potential of every person we encounter (Murphy, Fuller & Chow, Leaders guide to unconscious bias).
This blog takes highlights from Eastern Leaders 2021’s July learning theme, Leading with Inclusivity. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing a variety of discussions around the topic of inclusivity in the workplace, along with a video compilation with guest contributors speaking about what inclusivity means to them. Join the conversation with your own experiences and what inclusivity means to you and your organisation across our social media platforms.