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How to Be an Inclusive Leader for Justice and Equality

Sept. 28, 2021, 8:01 AM

The world is in a time of accelerated change. Each moment dramatically changes and shifts the economy, society, and environment, as evidenced by technological shifts, new product needs, a global pandemic, or a national crisis. No matter the issue, the call to inclusive leadership remains the same. Will you be prepared to lead your organization into the future?

Technical competence and business acumen will be expected. But what is often overlooked is the importance of a unique composition of leadership skills that focus on advancing the principles of inclusion.

Inclusive leaders recognize that diversity, equity, and inclusion are the foundation of business success. They embark on a lifelong learning journey to challenge their own biases, stereotypes, and prejudices in the furtherance of our shared humanity and common destiny.

A Leadership Framework for Action

Corporate leaders need to build the essential leadership competencies rooted in the principles of DEI, which manifests in healthy workplace relations, peak optimized performance, positive morale, and betterment of society.

There are four stages of learning: intrapersonal (engaging in self-discovery); interpersonal (building an authentic relationship with others); organizational (establishing strategic outcomes and promoting equity); and societal (developing sustainable, durable solutions).

The following is a brief overview of the first two stages.

Stage 1: Engaging in Self-Discovery

Leadership is a journey often mistaken for a destination. Embarking on this journey begins with engaging in a process of self-reflection.

What type of experiences have shaped your identity, culture, values, and beliefs? This personal narrative is your “leadership story.” One key dimension of your leadership story is your cultural background. This may include your age, race, ethnicity, and gender. These dimensions of your identity shape who you are, inform your worldview, and guide your life’s journey.

An inclusive leader recognizes commonalities and differences while fostering mutual respect, affirming the cultural heritage of others, and building trust. This is an ongoing process of self-reflection, learning, and growth with the practice of cultural agility at its center.

Being culturally agile focuses on your ability to develop self-awareness, be open to challenging your perspectives, and willingness to step outside your comfort zone.

What are your leadership values and commitment? Take a moment and write down three leadership commitments.

Stage 2: Building an Authentic Relationship With Others

Leaders can no longer afford to merely think about DEI. They must act upon it by building inclusive workplaces and organizations. DEI should be integrated into the mission, vision, and strategic plan of your organization; it is the thread that weaves an organization together.

How so? Every organization has a culture that shapes the experiences of the team. A culture that fosters inclusion is reflected in group cohesion, collective engagement, and increased performance. This reflects the Latin root of the word, cultus, which is defined as care. “Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal,” says Daniel Coyle, author of “The Culture Code.”

Strong organizational culture has a positive impact on the organization’s performance. According to a 1992 Harvard Business School study of over 200 companies, a strong culture yields an increase in net income of 756%, stock price growth of 901% , and employee growth of 282% over an 11-year period.

Studies have also demonstrated the positive impact of organizational cultures that focus on inclusivity:
• Gender diversity: Organizations with higher rates of gender diversity were 21% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability and 27% more likely to have notable value creation, according to a recent McKinsey & Co. report.
• Ethnic/racial diversity: Racially diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to lead in industry revenue, according to the same report.
• Cognitive diversity: Teams with the most cognitive diversity outperform teams with the least cognitive diversity by performing faster when presented with an unfamiliar challenge, according to a study published in the Harvard Business Review. The team with the most cognitive diversity has almost twice the rate of knowledge processing (the ability to create knowledge in the face of problems): 30.6 versus 18.8. This team also reduced the time of performance from 60 minutes (least cognitively diverse team) to 22.5 minutes.
• Board diversity: Organizations with a culturally diverse board are 43% more likely to experience increased profits, according to the McKinsey study.

All these benefits are derived from a diverse team’s ability to work together to reach shared goals of productivity and engagement.

How would you rank the effectiveness of your team as it relates to inclusion on a 1–5 scale (1 = poor, 5 = exceptional)? If the number is not where you want your team to be, what can you do to improve your team dynamics?

A Call to Action

Inclusive leadership requires a daily commitment to building a vibrant and healthy organizational culture. It is a daily practice of speaking up, being authentic, and leading by example, according to Miguel Ramos, senior director of diversity & inclusion strategy for the Minnesota Twins.

The culmination of these efforts will serve as a solid foundation for embracing our diversity as our greatest asset and maximizing the strength of inclusion.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Information

Dr. Artika R. Tyner is a professor at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota School of Law. She serves as the founding director of the Center on Race, Leadership, and Social Justice and author of “The Inclusive Leader: Taking Intentional Action for Justice and Equity.”