Smitha Chellappan

Leadership Competencies for an Inclusive Workplace | Smitha Chellappan | Head | Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Interweave Consulting

Smitha ChellappanWhy are employees feeling excluded in spite of inclusive and progressive policies?

Why is there no needle movement, despite meeting the diversity targets and implementing programs focused on DEI?

Why is it a challenge to retain diverse groups?

These are some of the often asked questions by companies that are embarking on the journey of building an inclusive culture at the workplace. Creating and sustaining a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment requires time and a focused approach backed by a clear roadmap and strong metrics in place. The core responsibility, however, comes down to the leaders to set the stage and ignite the spark towards an inclusive workplace. There are empirical evidences to suggest a direct correlation between employees feeling valued and included to the behavior of the leader at the workplace.

Being an inclusive leader in not as simple as it seems, it takes commitment and an intentional approach from leaders to be seen as inclusive and fair. Employees are looking for more from their leaders that go beyond traditional methods of effective leadership styles to a leader who can provide a safe space, is unbiased, questions status quo and is not afraid to be vulnerable and transparent.

So, what does it take to be an inclusive leader and demonstrate visible commitment to inclusion?

While, there is a plethora of information on inclusive leadership competencies available on various platforms, here are some of the key competencies for leaders to develop in their journey of becoming an inclusive leader

1. Embracing and Valuing differences: Organisations today are highly diverse and it is important for leaders to understand, embrace and value the experience and perspective that diverse employees bring to the table. Leaders must take proactive steps to examine and reflect on their own biases and actively seek to understand different perspectives, culture and backgrounds of their employees. This will go a long way in helping leaders appreciate the differences and improve their sensitivity while working with a diverse workforce and develop an inclusive way of communicating.

2. Care for Others: When employees feel cared for, they are more engaged and invested at the workplace. This immediately translates to higher retention and productivity of employees. To demonstrate care for people at the workplace, it is important to practice active listening with the intent to change, seek feedback regularly to understand the impact of one’s own actions and modify behavior to be sensitive to how others feel and collectively create flexible ways of working to accommodate different needs.

3. Unbiased Actions: Leaders must always be mindful of how they interact with employees and make decisions in the workplace that are unbiased and fair for all. When employees perceive a lack of fairness in the decision making processes, there is a feeling of exclusion, thereby impacting their motivation and commitment at the workplace. Leaders must closely look out for systemic and structural inequities and ensure that all processes are free of biases. When leaders demonstrate unbiased behavior, employees follow suit and are more invested in creating an environment that is equitable, respectful and inclusive for all employees.

4. Active Advocacy: As leaders, it is important to be visible as strong advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion at the workplace. To support inclusion, leaders must take the responsibility to hold self and others accountable for a transformative and sustainable progress in the DEI journey. Employees are inspired by leaders who lead by example and courageously walk the talk in inclusion. Leaders must use their power beyond just workplace and participate actively in external forums to influence larger communities and changes makers on issues related to DEI.

To conclude, having a diverse workforce or implementing diversity programs round the year will not ensure an environment of belonging and fairness. This requires leaders who are strongly committed to drive a culture, where all employees feel respected, included and valued. Inclusive leadership is a key element in bringing about a cultural and mindset shift that reinforces true inclusion.