If you want the individuals on your teams to contribute effectively and work well with their leader and colleagues, they need to feel psychologically safe. This is the heart of building an inclusive culture. Inclusive leaders recognize and accept our inherent biases as humans, and actively work to mitigate them by consulting with others, seeking diverse opinions for decision-making, and fostering a sense of inclusion in the workplace. This can be achieved through mindfulness in language, appreciating cultural diversity, promoting curiosity, and deliberately nurturing psychological safety among team members.
Here are 3 steps you can take to begin your journey towards building an inclusive culture.
1. Develop Self-Awareness
“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”
Being an inclusive leader hinges on self-awareness. We need to recognize that we all have unconscious biases and that many of us have power and privileges that others lack. Historically, certain groups of people have “held the microphone” in various contexts for a very long time. Inclusive leadership is about shifting that dynamic. It’s about paying attention to when this happens and giving other people an opportunity to shine. A good place to start is with monitoring your own “airtime.” If you find yourself doing a disproportionate amount of the talking in a meeting, it’s a cue to stand back and let your team members take the floor.
2. Educate Yourself
A Well-Educated Mind Will Always Have More Questions Than Answers.”
Learning requires humility, vulnerability, and curiosity. Develop a thirst for understanding lived experiences that are different from your own. Make your learning visible to your colleagues. Bring in materials and reference points that demonstrate that you are continuously learning about the workforce and communities that you serve. Declare your commitment to learning. Let your colleagues and team know that you are on a learning journey, that you will do your best to create inclusion and a sense of belonging on the team, and that this is important.
Give people permission to bring things to your attention – places where something rubs them the wrong way or where you make a mistake or missed something you should have noticed. Invite them to tell you right away or to pull you aside after a meeting to chat about it. You can’t commit to being perfect, but you can commit to listening and learning. Remember that it takes a lot of courage for people to “speak truth to power” in this way, so make sure you appreciate them for doing so.3. Be an Active Bystander
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the hardest things for leaders is recognizing that they’re responsible for setting the tone. This requires being aware of micro-aggressions, noticing them, then taking action. A micro-aggression is a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.
Note: the “Micro” prefix is NOT a measurement of size. Micro-aggressions happen at “micro” level (between individuals) as opposed to “macro” level (social structures and institutions.)
For example, if someone says something that might be offensive – even if they didn’t intend it that way, even if they were trying to be funny – it’s the leader’s job to pay attention, notice it, and address it. This might mean calling it out, distracting the group, or chatting with the person it happened to. To begin with, it often means simply noticing, then shifting gears to create some space to think so that you can understand what to do next, then following up later.
It takes time and commitment to learn these new skills.
Many people worry about getting it wrong. The requirement to be perfect, especially when it comes to language, can be a significant barrier. It can even lead to paralysis. My advice is to do the best you can.
Set the tone ahead of time. Let others know that you’re on a learning journey, and that you’re open to feedback. If you make a mistake, you’d like to know, and there won’t be any repercussions for pointing it out. You’re committed to doing better. Additionally, if someone on your team feels excluded or like they don’t belong, let them know that you’re available to talk.
Creating an environment where everyone feels valued and supported is essential for productive teamwork. You want your team members to feel empowered to do their best work and bring their best thinking to the table. Ultimately, “inclusive leadership” is simply good leadership.