These mindsets are the hallmarks of an inclusive leader

In this piece, we explore the questions and considerations you should take on board in order to become a truly inclusive leader.

What is inclusive leadership?  

It is the people within a business who can make it or break it, and while this applies to everyone from graduate recruits to senior managers, it is particularly true for business leaders.

Poor leaders lack vision, reduce customer satisfaction, feed a workplace culture that drives away good talent, cut productivity, and fail to meet business goals.

But inclusive leaders nourish profit and performance, team engagement, new ideas, employee wellbeing and a respectful culture with lower levels of harassment and discrimination.

Inclusive leadership is popular in Australia’s business community, but it is often unclear what organisations mean when they talk about it, including how it supports diversity and inclusion.

Diversity Council Australia defines inclusive leadership as the mindsets, knowledge, skills, and behaviours that ensure a diversity of employee perspectives shape and improve an organisation’s strategy, work, systems, values and norms for success.

Who we are – our age, cultural and racial background, gender, profession, sexual orientation, and so on – shapes our perspectives, experiences, how we see the world and how others see us, but can also influence our approach to leadership, work and what drives us.

Our Building Inclusion research shows that what leaders say and do impacts their workforces and workplaces.

Here is what you need to ask – then answer.

What do I need to become an inclusive leader?  

You don’t become an inclusive leader overnight, and inclusive leadership isn’t a trend – it is a research-backed approach that delivers actual results but requires investing the time to learn and practice a unique set of capabilities.

DCA’s researchers interviewed executive and senior managers identified as having inclusive leadership strengths and analysed industry and academic literature to develop an evidence-based inclusive leadership model.

How can I start building an inclusive leadership mindset?

The evidence-based model for inclusive leadership recognises that there are five key mindsets – Identity Aware, Relational, Open, Flexible and Growth-Focused – with associated skills and behaviours.

Our model is one that builds on itself and proposes that one mindset and its associated knowledge, skills and behaviours influences another. For example, if you’re identity aware you are conscious of connecting with and investing in professional relationships with a diversity of people, are therefore more open to them, more flexible about their opinions, and prepared to change the status quo for them, rather than people who are just like you.

Inclusive leaders are identity-aware, which means they believe diversity can significantly improve a business or organisation’s performance. They learn about their own and others’ identities and how these can affect their experiences of inclusion at work.

We’d encourage people to grow their identity awareness by:

  • Focusing and reflecting on diversity when recruiting, selecting, promoting and developing team members
  • Seeking out opportunities to work with a diversity of people and promote success stories of diverse employees across the organisation
  • Showing respect for individual and identity differences and proactively addressing identity-based biases that impact on decision making

Inclusive leaders take a relational approach to creating teams and networks, ensuring a diversity of people feel that they belong and are valued and respected by others. Actions to become more relational include:

  • Considering the impact of your decisions on a diversity of people
  • Showing empathy and care towards everyone equally and acknowledge the contribution of a diversity of people
  • Coaching the people around you at work to confront stereotypes or biases affecting working relationships and actively create an environment where different opinions and views are valued and respected

An open mindset enables leaders to be curious about and open to new and different perspectives from a diversity of people, which has the impact of fostering innovation and creativity. Leaders can become more open by

  • Actively seeking new and different ideas, perspectives and experiences to contribute to decision-making and planning work activities, meeting times and social gatherings to ensure everyone can participate
  • Demonstrating a willingness to learn and encouraging divergent and creative thinking
  • Being non-judgmental about different views, practices, values and perspectives

Diversity and inclusion are dynamic and can’t be achieved with a ‘set and forget’ approach, instead of requiring leaders to be flexible about and in response to the perspectives and experiences of a diversity of people. Being more flexible would include:

  • Considering new and creative ways of approaching a problem or dilemma
  • Ensuring teams explore different perspectives and acknowledging that each employee has individual interests, strengths and preferences
  • Adapting in the face of new information or different perspectives and actively supporting flexible working models

A growth-focused leader challenges accepted practices and incorporates different perspectives into how business is done to actively create a business or organisational culture that prioritises diversity and inclusion at its core. DCA research shows leaders with a growth-focused mindset:

  • Ask for feedback from a diversity of people as part of the decision-making process
  • Encourage people to come up with new and better ways of doing things, and ensures that different perspectives and diverse views are reflected in team outcomes
  • Develop a diverse leadership pipeline and ensures responsibility for diversity and inclusion is shared across the organisation

Research shows that inclusion benefits businesses in several ways and inclusive leadership is one way to access those advantages because inclusive leaders leverage workforce diversity to achieve innovation, performance and productivity.

DCA’s Inclusive Leadership Model proposes that there are five capabilities necessary for a person to be an effective inclusive leader and these are based on building the mindsets outlined above. Of course, each mindset is associated with specific knowledge, skills, and behaviours which can be read about in more detail in our Building Inclusion report.