Disruption. It’s the only real certainty in today’s shifting business environment. From a pandemic to a labor shortage to a pressing inflation problem, organizations are grappling with a lot. To cope with what they have in front of them, and what may be ahead, they need to be resilient and nimble—which is only possible with an innovative, productive, and collaborative workforce. One of the best ways to get there? Empower managers with new skills that will enable them to help you build an inclusive environment that attracts and retains employees who will be united in their commitment to creating shared success.
Let’s explore how managers can develop their self-awareness, knowledge and skills to become a powerful force in contributing to the creation of a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. But first, for the full picture, let’s look at how inclusion and specifically inclusive management, can release the power of diversity.
How inclusion releases the power of diversity
According to research consultant Korn Ferry, “To survive in the face of increasing complexity and disruption, organizations need talent that matches the world they operate in. In other words, they need diversity.” But experts also argue that it’s the combination of diversity and inclusion that create a huge advantage. Korn Ferry’s research shows that diverse and inclusive organizations, when compared to their peers, are 87% more likely to make better decisions. And according to the Center for Talent Management, they are 75% faster at bringing products to market. “To thrive, companies need to unlock the power and potential of all that talent, including women, people of different races, ethnicities and socioeconomic status, and those with different physical and cognitive abilities. In other words, they need inclusion.”
Inclusion makes employees feel like they belong, that they have a place in the organization in the long term and that they will be appreciated for their hard work. These are the conditions that can lead to the kind of inclusive culture that releases the power of diversity.
Why is inclusive management so important?
Inclusive management is perhaps the most critical component of creating a more inclusive work environment. That’s because, for workers, managers are universally known as the face of the organization. They lead teams, serve as a conduit to leadership—and have a pivotal role that can make or break the relationship between employees and their organization.
Research featured in HBR shows that inclusive management can directly enhance performance. Inclusive team leaders are “17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively.” What’s more, they “found that a 10% improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases work attendance by almost 1 day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism.”
Inclusive team leaders are:
- 17% more likely to report they are high performing17
- 20% more likely to make high-quality decisions20
- 29% more likely to work collaboratively29
What are the qualities of an inclusive manager?
You’ve probably experienced their positive influence and power. Inclusive managers have some distinct qualities. Let’s take a look at their typical characteristics, what drives them and their unique formula for unifying employees around a common mission, vision and purpose.
Inclusive managers have:
- Self-awareness. They are open to reflecting on and addressing their own biases, with the knowledge that everyone has blind spots. They realize the world is constantly shifting and that riding the waves of change means embracing a quest for life-long learning and personal discovery.
- Empathy (that they put into action). They care for everyone on the team, and so they foster a sense of belonging, treat everyone with respect and actively support their employees’ psychological safety, mental health and overall well-being.
- An appreciation for differences. They value differences, seek out varied opinions and understand the benefits that a diverse workforce can contribute to an organization.
- Authenticity and trust. They work to earn the trust of their employees and the organization they serve. They are a model of integrity, honesty and are always striving for transparency.
- Humility. They admit, own up to and learn from their mistakes. That’s because they know they are fallible, just like any other human being, and that their world view is not the only one that’s important.
- The ability to empower employees to be their best. At every opportunity, they support employees to reach their full potential. They place value and emphasis on collaboration and a team-oriented approach, with the understanding that a siloed leader-only strategy is a thing of the past.
Nine ways to become a more inclusive manager
Drawing from the qualities above, here are nine ways you can cultivate your skills and knowledge to become a more inclusive manager.
1. Be curious and stay open-minded
Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D., best-selling author and award-winning global thought leader has this to say about why it’s so important to stay curious. “Curiosity leads to continual growth and learning, which drives positive personal, team and organizational outcomes.” Similarly, staying open-minded is equally as important, as it helps to cultivate our sense of appreciation for diversity, along with the new ideas and perspectives it has to offer.
2. Increase self-awareness and emotional intelligence
According to Harvard, “Emotional intelligence is a set of skills and behaviors. While some people will be naturally more adept at certain aspects, EI can be learned, developed, and enhanced. The four main components of EI are self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social skills.” Training and education can be effective ways to gain these skills, as they relate to diversity and inclusion. But there’s an important caveat. Because there is no more powerful connection to a human being than to hear another person’s truth, it is important to tap into the kind of learning that will enable you to hear real people telling their own stories. This will empower you to broaden your understanding and appreciation for people with different cultural backgrounds, identities, and perspectives.
3. Understand the environment in your organization
Organizations are like people, no two are alike. Each organization has a unique history, culture, and set of identities among its employees. To become an inclusive change agent in your organization, start by becoming an authority in your own work environment. Do this by digging into the organization’s past, understanding the present and paying attention to the aspirations for the future, as articulated by its leaders. Reflect on questions such as, “To what degree does the organization place value on diversity, equity and inclusion?” “What are some of the barriers to change?” and “What can I do to make a difference?” “How can I contribute to making everyone feel like they are valued and that they belong?”
4. Use empathy and compassion as your anchor in handling challenging situations
There’s no escaping the fact that change toward a more inclusive environment can involve talking about difficult topics. Each of your employees may have sensitive touchpoints, some of which may be rooted in their past experiences or differences in their culture and identity. Empathy and compassion will be your greatest asset. Research shows that empathy is one of the most important leadership skills. It can help you spot and address troubling signs among your employees before they become issues that may ultimately result in detachment and turnover. And it is also part of how inclusion can curb organizational disruption. According to sociologist and author, Tracy Bower, Ph.D., “…as we go through tough times, struggle with burnout or find it challenging to find happiness at work, empathy can be a powerful antidote and contribute to positive experiences for individuals and teams.”
5. Take steps to reassess your management practices
Rely on your quest for learning to get the information you need to reassess your management practices. Start with looking at your hiring, onboarding and advancement practices. Reflect on questions like these: Are you tapping into a diversity of sources to feed into the hiring process? Have your job descriptions been screened against biases? Are your job postings focused on ensuring you receive a diversity of resumes from prospective employees? Are you engaging diverse panels to interview potential candidates? Do you have a consistent set of questions and criteria for evaluating potential new hires? Is your process for onboarding designed to connect your new employees to their peers in a way that fosters collaboration? Are your advancement processes equitable, clear and transparent?
6. Apply a human-centric approach to management
Being an inclusive manager means treating every interaction with your employees as an opportunity to lift them up to be their best. According to the non-profit organization, Business Relationship Management Institute, “Human-centered management empowers employees to do their best work, clearly communicates the company’s goals, and shows them the path to success. Moreover, employees remain a company’s most valuable asset. Thus, it becomes increasingly important for businesses to treat their employees with respect and appreciation.”
7. Become adept at managing diverse teams
All of the strategies listed in this piece will help you be more skilled in managing diverse teams. But there are a few other practical points that can help you get there. To start, do your part to cultivate a listening culture within your team. Solicit feedback and model active listening. Facilitate meetings in such a way that everyone has a voice—and each team member listens attentively to the diverse perspectives of their peers with openness and respect. You may need to put special emphasis on the quiet members of your team. Encouraging them to share can reveal innovative ideas and solutions for the rest of the group to consider.
8. Connect with and learn from other managers and employees
Along with your journey to better understand your organization, review the list above on the qualities of inclusive managers and take note of people in your organization who are clearly displaying those traits. In some cases, they might be leading teams and in other cases, they may simply be an employee who applies inclusive practices in how they collaborate with their peers. Don’t just look to your superiors as your models, as inclusive managers are not exclusively at the top of the organizational rung. Once you have identified them, watch how inclusive managers interact with others and start picking up on their strategies for tackling difficult situations. Connect with them on their thought processes and consider what you might want to apply to your own unique style and approach to management.
9. Provide constructive ideas and useful input for leadership
Becoming an inclusive manager is most powerful when your insights and perspectives are shared with top leaders of the organization. Your input and feedback can help them not only acknowledge your successes, but also to adjust their expectations and fuel their aspirations for the future. As a manager, you have a valuable role to play in ensuring that the strategies the organization wants you to implement are the ones that are going to work. No one knows your team better than you do. That’s why your insights are essential to helping your organization to create a more inclusive work environment where everyone can thrive.
As you embark on the journey to becoming a more inclusive manager, remember that there will be progress as well as setbacks. It takes courage to change, as well as a certain vulnerability and willingness to make and learn from your mistakes. It’s that mixture of qualities that will make you a better manager, a stronger leader, and a more compassionate person—at work and beyond.