4 Essential Leadership Skills That Will Lead to an Inclusive Future of Work
Inclusion and diversity are critical for business and are a top priority for organizations today. Leaders play significant roles in making this a reality, as employees are looking to their leaders to create inclusive workplaces and to build cultures of belonging. This requires an intentional effort that engages both internal and external stakeholders. Most importantly, an inclusive leader must be committed to inclusion and diversity beyond just “checking the box.”
At CES 2022, one of the themes we discussed in our virtual Equality Lounge® was how leaders play a significant role in creating inclusive workplaces. While many of the panelists we collaborated with are leaders in the technology industry, their insights into the essential skills for an inclusive leader are relevant across all sectors. Here’s a bit of what we heard.
1. Include others in the decision-making process
When developing policies and strategies, it’s important for leaders to tap into their own teammates and peers for ideas and solutions.
“The great thing about diversity is that it’s a team sport. It cannot live as a silo, and it cannot live alone,” said Christena Pyle, Chief Equity Officer, Americas at dentsu. “Building a community around diversity is the biggest factor in its success.”
This “team” mentality allows everyone to feel more included and to experience a sense of belonging. As a leader, you’re not here to fix things. Instead, you want to learn how to build on what’s been done.
As Titilayo Ogunyale, principal of corporate social innovation at MITRE Corporation, said, “People want to work at an organization where they can feel included and their ideas are really going to be heard and leveraged. They want to feel engaged.”
Another word of advice: When including others in the decision making process, be sure to seek out perspectives that aren’t identical to your own.
“Ask questions to the right people and the more diverse the group, the better. Getting really different perspectives and being honest about not knowing the answers,” said Jen Whelan, vice president and head of B2B Marketing at Yahoo.
2. Put employees at the center of your business
Connecting employees with a purpose gives them a sense of belonging and helps them develop the right skills and learning experiences.
“We have to feel seen and heard and like we are part of something in order to have impact,” said Nilla Ali, executive vice president at Commerce at BuzzFeed.
As Ali said, making sure that employees feel that they are making a meaningful contribution contributes to them feeling motivated and accepted. Additionally, encouraging peer-to-peer guidance and support through formal and informal mentorship programs makes everyone feel like they’re part of a team.
It’s important to note that this relationship isn’t a one way stream.
“I believe in reverse mentorship. It has to be an exchange back and forth, regardless of experience,” said Jeannine Shao Collins, president of SeeHer.
3. Be your authentic self
It’s important for leaders to set the model for authenticity throughout the organization. An inclusive leader is honest, transparent and generous with their knowledge and they own up to their mistakes. This work starts within.
“In order to be authentic, you need to be comfortable with yourself, and in order to be comfortable with yourself, you have to believe in yourself and what you think,” said Janet Lee, vice president and CMO of mobile experience at Samsung Electronics America.
When leaders inhabit these characteristics, employee-to-leader trust increases. In fact, in authentic environments, “almost 80% of employees say they trust their company’s leaders to make decisions in their best interest,” said Maria Colacurcio, CEO at Syndio.
Plus, an authentic leader empowers their teammates to be authentic, too, which is good for individuals and good for business.
“People want to feel like they can be themselves. When they’re comfortable, they can speak up,” said Meg Haley, global head of revenue product specialists at Twitter. “They can bring their whole selves to work and feel confident that they can contribute.”
4. Give yourself and your team permission to fail
An inclusive leader is not afraid to make mistakes. In addition, by being mindful of the mental health of their team, this leader creates a culture of psychological safety so others know they will not be punished for any failures.
“Permission to fail is the biggest contributor of feeling psychologically safe in doing your work,” Pyle said. “Letting people fail forward is the first essential step.”
This is where you need to lead by example and show your team you’re there for them through thick and thin.
“Simply put: In good times, leadership is about leading from the back, and in challenging times, it’s about leading from the front,” said Wendy Clark, global CEO at dentsu, as shared by Christena Pyle.
By doing so, you will leave a lasting impact on the people you work with.
As Kara Calvert, head of U.S. Policy at Coinbase explained, “When I think about women who have empowered me in my career, it’s been leaders who were secure in their jobs, knew I could do mine and lifted me up.”
What leadership skills do you think drive diversity and inclusion forward? What types of leaders have been helpful throughout your career journey?