The term inclusive leadership has only been used for the last 20 years according to the Journal of Leadership Education.* So how do you define inclusive leadership? I really like Deloitte's definition of Inclusive leadership as six traits: cognizance of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence, collaboration, commitment, and courage.* (I have put the links below to read all about these traits)
Here are three reasons why inclusive leaders are important to your company and how I try to live these every day. To clarify, an inclusive leader doesn’t have to have direct reports. You can be an individual contributor and still be an inclusive leader.
#1 They are self-aware and know themselves, including their limitations. In 2019, I went on short-term disability, and I remember the day when I told my husband, Alex, that I couldn’t take it anymore. I broke down in tears, and he knew I had reached my limit. I was working in a toxic environment with a toxic manager. It is interesting how I thought that professionals in EDI would be empathetic and be role models of inclusive leadership; unfortunately, this is not always the case. I took three months to sleep, bake, walk the dog, and spend time with my family. It was during that time I realized I needed to find another job outside of the company or another job (outside of the current team) inside the company. I could not stay in the same role and team anymore.
#2 They uplift and sponsor others. Sponsorship, for me, is defined as using your privilege and power to uplift others. You give opportunities to people who are not at the executive table. Mentorship is defined as giving advice to someone. Research shows that when Deloitte gave talented women leadership opportunities, the number of women on our global board jumped from 16% to 30%.*** Sponsorship works for everyone, and traditionally, men have been doing this for years by playing golf and going to sports games. Inclusive leaders also sponsor people who do not look like them. This is an important criterion, as we sometimes sponsor those with similar backgrounds and experience, aka affinity bias. Who is doing great work in your company that may not have access to opportunities? Find them and sponsor them. Talk to other managers and have a succession plan in your company.
#3 The last behavior of inclusive leaders is they value community and connection. I call this modern-day networking. Inclusive leaders always have time for conversations and to hear from their employees. They listen actively and appreciate their opinion even if it’s a different viewpoint than their own. It just so happens that through networking, I found a husband. I was taking an IT program 23 years ago, and there was a focus on "getting out there" to do informational interviews and go to networking events. Well, the thought of networking made me feel sick to my stomach and didn’t feel genuine. My roommate at the time said, "Hey, I ran into my friend Alex who works at IBM, and he said he would grab a coffee with you and share what he does." I was so grateful to my roommate and thought to myself, "Wow, maybe I will get a job at IBM." Well, I didn’t get a job, but finding a partner to spend my life with was a pretty great alternative.
In conclusion, inclusive leadership is a strategic model that will have continued focus in companies for years to come.