Are you an inclusive leader?

Inclusive workplaces (a.k.a. positive cultures) experience higher engagement, performance, and results. But many people feel unable to bring their true selves to work, instead spending valuable energy minimizing or managing aspects of their own diversity – of identity, background, experience – to succeed. This takes a toll on people, but also on organizations!

Jennifer Brown, author of Inclusion and How to Be an Inclusive Leader, shared her wisdom in the Leadership for a Changing World online summit in September.
She says: “Leaders need to establish trust and overcome differences so others can do their best work. It’s critical now that change is going so fast and this cannot be delegated! Leaders need to increase their ability to work with others and increase beloning in the workplace. It’s exhausting to downplay parts of your identity and you won’t deliver your best work in a workplace that’s not inclusive, but judgmental.”

Covering parts of yourself

Deloitte’s research uncovered the four A’s of covering identity:
Appearance: we try to fit in (this is what we do at work)
Affiliation: we avoid this with stigmatized groups (are you seen as a professional or as a working mom?)
Advocacy: we are penalized when we advocate some issues, so we keep quiet
Association: we don’t want to be seen in the proximity of a stigmatized group or identity
For instance, you might think: “I don’t want to join the women’s network or the diversity group at work because I want to be judged for the work I do”. Deloitte found that 61% say that they have been covering some aspect of themselves.

Bringing your full self to work

Bringing your full self to work is not easy for African Americans (79%), LGBTQ (83%), women (66%), Latin people (76%), Asian Americans (77%), people with disabilities (65%).
The percentage of this group shows the part that is covering some aspect of their identity. Even among white males, 45% cover some aspects of self at work. They are ashamed and don’t share everything; political views, family, needs, errors, and so on.

We all have a diversity story – we all have vulnerabilities or things where we differ from others. That’s no surprise, but sometimes we judge others and aren’t aware of our own faults – or our privilege for that matter. Our identities are layered, with aspects above and below the waterline.

What do we cover up? How can we develop safety so that people want to share more? These hidden aspects are strengths as well.
Ultimately, people leave when they don’t feel seen and heard. You cannot be your best when you hold back. That’s why leaders have to develop trust and lower the waterline. Moreover, leaders need to go first.

4 Phases of inclusive leadership

Brown’s model is helpful for leaders and co-workers alike. She discerns four phases, from being unaware, to aware, to active, and finally being an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion.
Being an inclusive leader or person means taking on the difference as your own, being courageous in conversation and action, and transferring the benefit of your privilege to others without a focus on self. In phase 4 as an advocate, you share the power, speak up, help others, share your capital and relationships.
Where are you?

  1. In phase 1, you are unaware. You think diversity is compliance-related and simply tolerate it. It’s someone else’s job, not yours. “Show me the business case. Is it that bad in our workplace?”
  2. In phase 2 you show up aware: you have a role to play and are educating yourself about how best to move forward. “Whoa, now I get it. Here’s my awakening that black lives matter – and how privileged I have been.”
  3. In phase 3 you become active. You have shifted your priorities and are finding your voice as your begin to take meaningful action in support of others. “We experiment, make mistakes, but at least we go public and do something!” It’s okay as long as you know how to apologize, don’t get shy, and stay in the arena.
  4. In phase 4, you’re an advocate. You are proactively and consistently confronting discrimination and working to bring about change in order to prevent it on a systemic level. “We do long-term thinking, and aim for systemic change instead of bandaids.”

As Jennifer Brown says” “There’s equity talk, but there’s bias in all systems and policies. We have to stay in the discomfort so that we can grow. Because: what’s the super power of inclusion? It’s the unleashing of performance that is possible!” That sure sounds like thriving. Inclusive leaders are positive leaders, developing a positive culture.

(Source: Leadership for a Changing World online summit, September 17, 2020).

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