Leading inclusively to ensure all voices are uplifted.
As 2020 winds down, it’s natural to start thinking about what’s to come in the New Year. It is human nature to look at this time as a fresh start; an opportunity to leave struggles and conflict in the past. But this is not the path to take if you want to make sure that you and your organization remain committed, focused, and active in the fight against discrimination.
2021 will be a year driven by change. So many dynamics have been altered by the pandemic—technology, civil unrest and the resulting surge in attention on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at work. What does this mean for leadership? First of all, it requires them to develop a robust long-term strategy. Changing a culture takes more than a month, a quarter, or a year. Board members and executives need to acknowledge this period of reconciliation and renewal and establish a plan for consistent DEI development within the organization that spans at least three to five years into the future.
For far too long the workplace has looked at DEI as a problem that needs to be solved. In reality, embracing differences and tapping into unique talents, new ideas, and cultures is a powerful opportunity. The business case for DEI has already been established and persistent inquiries often serve as a subtle form of resistance and excuse for not addressing DEI in the workplace. McKinsey research has consistently shown the positive impact of DEI in organizations every year since 2014. In fact, the business case is stronger than ever demonstrating that companies who rank highly in ethnic and cultural diversity were 36% more likely to outperform competition on profitability, and similar figures appeared for gender diversity. Developing a mental framework that aligns individual behavior and systemic policy with ROI can be a powerful way to demonstrate how advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is good business.
DEI can be a polarizing topic in many offices, but this does not need to be the case. To truly lead inclusively, we must find a harmony. There must be room for courageous, important conversations. But there also has to be room to focus on what keeps us grounded and embrace laughter and all of the things that evoke gratitude. With this in mind, create space for error; space for those just starting their journey to inclusion to make mistakes. Yes, everyone must be held accountable, and accountability should inspire courageous action. It should help galvanize others to learn from their experiences in a way that results in positive, transformative progress. Good leadership creates boundaries to respect marginalized groups and remove the emotional burden that often comes with being seen as the “expert.” It is the duty of the leaders to create spaces for brave conversations to happen healthily and productively. This is a cross-functional process. Things will be messy and clumsy at times. It’s up to leaders and employees to be open, vulnerable, and graceful when embracing a new way of working—and being. Simply said, great leaders are inclusive leaders.
Rethink the Economic Model
There’s been a hit to the economy. When the economy is down, businesses naturally begin to reassess budgets, reassess human capital, decommission programs, and so on. I urge you: keep DEI on the docket. It’s a long road and needs sustained support to be successful. Luckily, there are a lot of cost-effective ways to engage employees with listening sessions, storytelling and DEI trainings. For example, I have hosted a series of virtual Leadercamps with learning technology company Skillsoft that are available completely free online. Interactive virtual learning experiences can serve as an effective resource to begin building the understanding and toolsets needed to make sustainable change. Consider the lasting benefits of consistently investing in DEI.
Leading inclusively is a way of being. It’s not about an event, or crisis communications, or a point in time. Leading inclusively means learning, unlearning and evolving to ensure voices of all identities are uplifted. We are in a unique position to ensure that this moment becomes a transformative movement that inspired a desperately needed new model for leadership—inclusive leadership. It is up to everyone—leaders, organizations, and individuals—to make sure that this momentum is not lost and leads to new standards of engagement that mitigate performative allyship and lip service and elevate a culture of accountability, understanding, and grace.