A culture where people feel they belong, their uniqueness is valued and they can speak up, needs to be led from the top, through empowerment, courage, accountability and humility.
A global study of inclusive leadership by Catalyst into how employees characterise inclusive culture and leadership behaviors[i] showed that the more included employees felt, the more innovative they reported being in their jobs, and the more they engaged in team ‘citizenship’ behaviors.
“Creating an inclusive culture requires a business leader to really understand his or her organisation’s emotions, behaviours and attitudes and to take very deliberate actions to shift the negative ones that detract from the culture,” says Brenda Trenowden CBE, global chair of the 30% Club. “Those behaviours need to be role-modelled and cascaded through the organisation both by the leadership and key influencers. These values need to be aligned with and baked into the strategic aspirations of the organisation.”
And leaders must do more than just champion the cause of diversity – they need to lead in an inclusive way, ensuring everyone can express their differences, knowing that these differences can be leveraged to add real value.
“We now need leaders who will leverage diversity of thought, and who actually know how to go about doing it,” says Heather Price, owner and CEO of Australian diversity consultancy Symmetra. “Leaders who know how to embed psychological safety – in other words, how to make people who can bring divergent viewpoints to the table, feel safe to actually express them, and not feel punishment or humiliation if they push back, disagree, express concerns or experiment with unproven actions.”
Culture change is necessary, but not easy. “It is one of the hardest things you can do, because you are not asking one person to change their behaviour, you are trying to get a whole organisation to change their mindset,” says Kim Schmidt, global leader – leadership, people and culture at Grant Thornton International. “As organisations, to survive and thrive, we need an innovative culture, and diversity is essential for that.”
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