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What is ‘Inclusive Leadership’ & How can it benefit your organisation?

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Inclusive Leadership is the set of behaviours and principles that ensure every individual feels welcomed, included, trusted and valued. Inclusive Leaders actively seek out different opinions and views from diverse perspectives to better inform decision making. They view diversity as a competitive advantage and seek to include as many diverse opinions as possible. This is critical to an organisation because the more people feel included, the more they contribute, the more they collaborate and the more they take risks and innovate— all of which ultimately raises an organisation’s performance.

Diversity & Inclusion are two distinct but required pieces of the same formula. They are mutually inclusive activities both necessary for success. Diversity & Inclusion advocate Verna Myers describes it well with the analogy

“Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

There is value in the simplicity of this analogy but it misses the value of this mix and the responsibility of the current party organisers. Just because you got the invite doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy the party; and certainly doesn’t mean the organisers cared you attended. They got to check a compliance box but they might not have noticed you attended. I have iterated on the analogy a little and come up with what I feel is a better description.

“Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is adding to the playlist & agenda.”

In this scenario, not only were you invited, you were an active part of the planning and creating of the party. You were included in the decision making and you don’t need to wait for an invite to dance — as you’ve ensured your likes and interests are represented. Building on this analogy, imagine we had just a single cohort of like-minded individuals create the playlist and food menu. They are going to create the party they and people like them would enjoy. The food they enjoy and the music they like. This ‘groupthink’ leads to echo chambers and bias blind spots. Expanding the analogy, when those newly included attendees can’t eat the food or don’t enjoy the music they feel even more excluded. They were invited but didn’t feel welcomed or included. The organisers won’t understand why they weren’t happy — “they got their invite didn’t they”. Through unconscious bias more than intentional malice, these diverse perspectives have not only been ignored — they have been seen as unreasonable and divisive. “Why can’t the vegans just enjoy the meat BBQ we’ve organised? Selfish!” “Why can’t the adults just twerk with us! Lame!”

Now, let’s imagine diverse cohorts were included in the party planning decisions. This will lead to new music discoveries, unique party ideas and new and exciting tasty foods to try. Think Reggaeton, Tex-Mex, Sushi Samba. The fusion of foods and mixing of culture leads to new discoveries, new experiences and new ideas. The diversity of perspectives has not only made everyone feel included it has lead to an even better party. Diversity & Inclusion has become a true competitive advantage.

What are the benefits of inclusion to an organisation?

An Organisation’s objective is shareholder value through profit growth over time. That is, they want to sell their products and services to the widest audience possible. The larger the total addressable market, the larger the audience and thus the higher likelihood of increased sales and revenue. Now, statistically the larger the audience the more diverse it becomes. We live in a world made up of great diversity — of opinion, of race, of thought, gender, beliefs etc. So to ignore this diversity and not include these voices in the decision making of the products to serve these very communities is not only morally wrong, its economically unsound.

In fact, Professor of Economics Scott E. Page, of University of Michigan uses mathematical modelling to show how variety in staffing produces more productivity and organisational strength. In other words, diversity is economically better than homogeny.

A 2020 analysis by Pipeline Women Count on female diversity & inclusion found that of the UK listed companies, those with no women on their executive committees have a net profit of 1.5% versus those with more than one in three women at that level reach 15.2% net profit margin, more than 10X.

A 2019 Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. Those with above average diversity scores had a 45% increase in innovation revenues.

From an employee perspective, diversity brings different ways to view a problem and thus different ways to solve it. If people have the same schooling, the same training, the same tools, the same models, the same background — guess what? They are more likely to think in the same way; and get stuck on the same problems.

How can we be more Inclusive People Leaders?