Every big accomplishment is born from small, consistent efforts to get better. Steph Curry spent thousands of hours practicing his shot before winning a championship. Dolly Parton dedicated decades of her life to music on the way to becoming one of the highest-earning musicians of all time.
The same is true for inclusive leadership. There is no three-month plan to be more inclusive. There’s no hack to achieve diversity. Being an inclusive leader means embedding a series of small, intentional practices in your everyday routine as a manager.
This post explores some practices to build into your day-to-day so you can establish and grow an inclusive culture in your department and organization.
A core concept of inclusive leadership is getting to personally know each employee. This helps you understand their unique background and motivations. One-on-one meetings help you develop this relationship.
These meetings are a way to create a dedicated space to talk about work, the employee’s career development, as well as challenges and successes they’ve had. Carve out a piece of time in your one-on-one to talk about yourselves. This isn’t small talk. It’s a way to find out how your employees see and live in the world so you can manage them more effectively.
One question to ask in one-on-one meetings is, what are you passionate about outside of work? Follow up by asking what led to that passion. This conversion will help you understand all sorts of things about the person, from the way they learn to what parts of the job they find energizing.
For example, you might discover your employee likes fixing old cars in their spare time, which could lead you to find out that they’re an introvert. You can research the best strategies for managing introverts and help them excel in an environment that fits their working style.
Team meetings are a perfect place to foster inclusivity and promote diversity. We already looked at the 2-and-2 approach, which is a strategy for generating diverse ideas in a group setting. Another way to amplify inclusive behaviour is to share your power and privilege as a leader. Inclusive leaders showcase courage by being humble and admitting that while they may have more experience, they don’t have all the answers, This simple act invites your team into discussions rather than setting up a wall between you and them.
Another strategy is to assign a different team member to lead a meeting every day or week. This provides employees with a space to develop their own, unique voice as a leader.
Lastly, find ways to promote diversity in your meetings. Designate one meeting a week where you discuss lessons you’ve recently learned. Acknowledge a team member for something they did to strengthen inclusivity. Recognize a cultural holiday that doesn’t get a lot of attention.
The impact of the outside world
Events that happen outside the workplace have an impact on employees and their performance. You can’t (and shouldn’t have to) check feelings at the door. Instead, an inclusive leader understands how these outside forces affect employees and supports them through difficult times. It’s the right thing to do, but it also helps employees feel valued and perform better.
The impact of the outside world can take many forms, from an employee becoming a new parent to a team member experiencing fear or anxiety because of a recent encounter with discrimination.
For example, there’s been a recent surge in anti-Asian sentiment and coverage of the issue. This isn’t a new problem, but recent events have raised its profile. As a leader, you can educate yourself on these events, understand how they might affect members of your team, and address them by creating space for people to express their feelings. Approach employees you think might be affected and start a conversation to show support. You don’t need to express your opinions, pass judgment, or provide a solution. Asking how they are doing can go a long way.
Education and training
Every member of your team should be connected to resources that can help them develop inclusive behaviours. Your job as a manager is to empower them in this learning process.
One simple way to start a culture of continuous learning is to create a shared document where you and others on the team can add interesting and thought-provoking articles, videos, and other content. This can fuel regular conversations in one-on-one and team meetings.
The next step is to formalize education and training in this area. Take a piece of your budget (or advocate for additional budget) and use it to set up regular diversity and inclusion training for your team. There are many companies, individuals, and software programs out there that specialize in this kind of training. One of our favourites at Fiix is Crescendo.
Integrating inclusive leadership targets into your quarterly or annual performance reviews not only helps you build a plan to pursue these goals, but also keeps you accountable to them.
One way to build performance reviews around inclusive leadership is with 360 reviews. This review structure solicits feedback from three levels of your organization—your manager, your peers, and your direct reports. This allows the ideas of a diverse set of people to be heard, which formalizes an inclusive culture. It also allows you to create a regular space for you to assess your leadership style, hear where your strengths are, and identify where you could be doing better.
Keeping your goals and behaviours visible is crucial. Embedding it into your performance review framework is one of the best ways to achieve that.
Small steps lead to big gains
An inclusive workplace can’t be built quickly. It takes time and sustained efforts to embed it in your team’s everyday routines. Every little bit you can do, whether it’s a simple conversation in a weekly meeting or dedicating budget to quarterly training, will push you, your team, and your business toward a more diverse and inclusive culture.