Leaders need to take charge and exhibit Courage, Authenticity, Respect and Empathy (C.A.R.E) to nurture inclusion. Along with enabling infrastructure, practices, and policies, this will definitely make the workplaces more inclusive.
The world today, more than ever, is talking about Inclusion and Diversity (I&D). I&D is discussed and deliberated at workplaces as also the social spaces. In a 2020 PwC survey, three-fourth of the respondents echoed that diversity is the stated value or the priority area for their organisation. On the other hand, however, it is ironical that there is a huge dissonance between I&D’s perceived benefit and leadership commitment toward creating a culture of inclusion at the workplace.
The business value of an inclusive culture and diverse workforce has begun to materialise and accelerate. It has graduated in the maturity cycle from being a ‘compliance’ and a ‘good to have’ aspect of the business to a source of competitive advantage. A heterogeneous workforce brings in a diverse perspective, resulting in a tangible impact on the bottom line through enhanced innovations, employee engagement and a more sustainable organisation.
Let us begin with the perennial question, “What comes first, diversity or inclusion?” While there may be varied opinion, but according to me, inclusion, as well as, diversity are different, and we need to understand them independently.
• Diversity: Diversity is the aspect of human personality, psyche, values, and background that sets one individual from another. It includes demographic difference, viz. gender, generation, culture, race, ethnicity, and cognitive differences.
• Inclusion: Inclusion is that tenet of culture which enables employees to feel valued for their uniqueness. It is about creating an environment at the workplace where employees feel respected and have a sense of identity and belongingness. It is about creating workplaces that are free from biases, and where opportunities are given to everyone to unlock their full potential and make a difference.
Having impressive numbers that reflect on the workforce demography matrices would hardly impact the business unless there is a culture of inclusivity. It enables diverse groups to bring their best and most authentic versions to work without any inhibitions. Employees express their truest selves. In its purest form, Diversity is an outcome of a culture of Inclusion.
Fostering a culture of inclusion is easier said than done. Some of the cultural tenets, for example, meritocracy, empowerment, fairness and equity set the foundation for workplace inclusion. Certain leadership behaviours perpetuate a culture of inclusion. Leadership behaviours that foster a culture of I&D in the organisation can be acronymised as C.A.R.E for Courage, Authenticity, Respect and Empathy.
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” – William Faulkner
Creating an inclusive culture needs a departure from deeply entrenched organisational practices and attitude that prevents inclusion to flourish. While charting the path for inclusion, leaders need to challenge their own assumptions and the perceptions of others. They are also required to acknowledge and address the fallacies in the existing systems.
This involves personal risk for leaders.
This transformation journey to foster an inclusive culture causes discomfort at multiple levels. At a personal level, leaders have to commit to the cause and align their personal values of equity and fairness with the I&D agenda and overcome preconceived notions. It is not easy to acknowledge one’s biases, and a lot harder to challenge them. We have witnessed leaders expressing their imperfections and sharing their vulnerabilities. This is where humility plays the role of a perfect catalyst.
At an organisational level, leaders question the perceptions of others and influence them to change their mindsets and overcome biases and stereotypes. This will evoke resistance from many. Leaders make an impact by manoeuvring through this with courage and humility at the same time.
“When you show up authentic, you create the space for others to do the same. Walk in your truth.” – Anonymous
How often do we see people shielding their real self at the workplace? How often do we find people code-switching to avoid any negative stereotyping? Because of the affinity of bias of the others, they don an untrue version of themselves in a quest to look similar to the prevalent group. Eventually, they lose their unique identity.
Authentic Leadership cultivates a psychologically safe work environment where diversity spreads. Authentic behaviours enhance self-awareness for leaders which is the bedrock of cultural competence. An awareness of strengths and shortcomings about their assumptions, biases, and perspectives helps them to remove the roadblocks and pave the path of an inclusive culture.
Authenticity mirrors authenticity. Authentic leaders implicitly encourage authentic behaviour from others. People feel inspired to show their uniqueness with an assurance that they will be valued for being what they are. They are also governed by their true north and their behaviours during the process of cultural transformation go through the filters of their moral compass.
“Respect begins with this attitude: I acknowledge that you are a creature of extreme worth.” – Gary Chapman
When Aretha Franklin recreated the Otis Redding song, RESPECT, and gave it a new meaning, it instantly became the anthem of the feminist movement in the US during the late 1960s. With this song, Franklin beautifully depicted the ordeals of women devoid of the respect they deserve.
Respect is the feeling of being valued for what you are, for the traits you have, and for what you bring to the table. It has great power; it instils confidence and commitment to deliver the best and go beyond.
When a leader demonstrates respect toward the employee, they feel more engaged with their work. Fairness and meritocracy prevail when there is mutual respect at the workplaces. Perceived respect helps minority groups feel less stressed when their point of view does not align to that of the majority.
Inclusive leaders think beyond their affinity group and are sensitive towards cultural backgrounds, cognitive abilities, and emotional needs of people. They respect the others’ opinions and the ideas they generate. They free your minds from biases and actively listen to the ideas expressed by others.
True empathy requires that you step outside your own emotions to view things entirely from the perspective of the other person.” – Anonymous
Perhaps the most talked-about leadership trait today, Empathy sounds easy but is extremely difficult to crack. Leaders cannot afford to be insular. Empathy is required to appreciate the preferences and aspirations of diversity groups. A high degree of social awareness is required to create an inclusive culture where nobody feels secluded.
Empathetic leaders invest themselves in understanding the verbal and non-verbal cues of people. Empathy allows one to foresee the impact of leadership decisions on people. Woking with a multigenerational and multicultural workforce, empathetic leaders manage the career development needs of employees well. Empathy enables them to manage and leverage the experience and perspectives of diverse groups well.
In this data-driven world, insights drawn from data may not represent the real issue. Empathy enables a system thinking approach to understand the emotion behind actions and data points.
Creating a culture of inclusion is a daunting task. Leaders need to take charge and exhibit C.A.R.E - behaviours which nurture inclusion. These ‘role-model’ behaviours along with enabling infrastructure, practices, and policies, will definitely make the workplaces more inclusive and help to sustain it.
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