The Changing Landscape Calls for Inclusive Leadership

Written By Emma Anderson
Businesswoman leading an informal team meeting.

The business landscape is changing rapidly, bringing new complexities and demands that require an evolution in leadership approaches. Globalization has created customer bases spanning diverse demographics, preferences, and values. Technology enables new competitors to disrupt traditional business models overnight. Employees expect more workplace flexibility, equitable opportunities, diverse teams, and alignment with their personal values.

To navigate this complexity and unlock innovation, growth, and sustainability, organizations need to tap into the full potential of their people. This requires an inclusive leadership style – leaders who actively seek out and synthesize diverse viewpoints and foster an inclusive environment where all employees feel valued for their unique contributions.

Inclusive leaders exhibit openness, curiosity, empathy, adaptability, and cultural intelligence. They commit to diversity and model inclusion in their words, decisions, and actions. They build trust through transparency, active listening, considering different perspectives, and relationship building. They leverage differences in creativity and critical thinking. The result is a diverse workforce who feel respected, empowered, and engaged, which drives collaboration, agility, and performance.

With inclusive leadership, companies can better understand diverse customers, increase innovation through varied ideas and experiences, and attract and retain top talent across demographics. This gives them a competitive advantage in capturing new markets and making smart decisions in a fast-changing world. The organizations that will thrive are those with leaders who embrace inclusion as a business priority and develop the mindsets and skills to unleash the potential of all their people.

What is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership refers to leaders who actively seek to include diverse people, perspectives, and ideas to make better decisions and achieve goals. Their inclusive leadership behaviors create an environment where all employees feel respected, valued, and able to fully contribute their talents.

At its core, inclusive leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They take responsibility for understanding their own personal biases and shortcomings and work to minimize them. They are empathetic and aim to see situations through others’ perspectives.

Inclusive leaders exhibit openness, curiosity, and flexibility. They listen without judgment, ask thoughtful questions to understand different viewpoints and adapt their approaches based on input from their team. They are comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, seeing these as opportunities for innovation.

Collaboration is key for inclusive leaders. They avoid top-down mandates and, instead, bring people together across differences to co-create solutions. They give credit where due and highlight team accomplishments. They empower others by distributing leadership opportunities.

Importantly, inclusive leaders put their words into action. They model inclusive behaviors daily, hold themselves and others accountable, and invest time and resources into diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. They advocate for equitable policies, diversify their networks, mentor marginalized groups, and call out noninclusive behaviors.

By living their values of inclusion, these leaders build trust in their teams. Employees feel safe to voice concerns, take risks, and be their authentic selves at work. They are motivated to go above and beyond to help their team and organization succeed. An empowered, engaged workforce leads to greater innovation, better decision-making, and an overall collaborative and high-performing culture.

In summary, inclusive leaders open doors for diverse contributions and create belonging that unlocks individual and collective potential. Their leadership has a multiplier effect on business results.

Why Inclusive Leadership Matters

Extensive research demonstrates that inclusive leadership positively impacts business performance. Companies with inclusive leaders are better positioned to innovate, grow, and make smart decisions in an increasingly complex world.

Qualtrics reveals that inclusive organizations have a 70% higher chance of tapping into new markets. Additionally, they surpass profitability targets by 36%, bring products to market 75% faster, and showcase a 19% boost in innovation.

Inclusive leadership unlocks these results by fostering employee engagement, creativity, and collaboration. Studies show that inclusive managers have teams with 30% higher performance. Their employees take 20% less time off and are 17% more committed to their organization. Collaboration and creativity increase as people feel empowered to share novel ideas without judgment.

On the flip side, lack of inclusion has significant costs. Employees who don’t feel valued or respected at work are 25% less productive and three times more likely to quit within 90 days. Organizations can miss major opportunities by not leveraging diverse perspectives and experiences in their products and strategies. A non-inclusive culture also takes an emotional toll on employees, hurting motivation, fulfillment, and well-being.

The bottom line is that diversity without inclusion does not work. Companies that merely check the box on diversity metrics without cultivating inclusive leadership often find a lack of advancement, retention, and impact of underrepresented groups.

Inclusive leaders close this gap by building trust, giving voice, and creating systems for diverse talent to grow and shine. Their leadership unlocks the full potential of all employees to drive innovation, reflection, and collective intelligence. In turn, this empowers organizations to better serve diverse customers, markets, and stakeholders – securing an advantage over competitors.

How to Develop Inclusive Leadership

Becoming an inclusive leader takes commitment, self-work, and concerted effort. Here are tangible steps organizations can take to develop inclusive leadership competencies at all levels:

Foster Commitment

  • Make diversity, equity, and inclusion a strategic priority tied to business objectives.
  • Hold leaders accountable for inclusion metrics in performance reviews.
  • Ensure leaders dedicate time for self-reflection, training, and mentoring others.
  • Have leaders publicly share their inclusion commitments and actions.

Show Courage

  • Challenge exclusionary traditions and policies; overhaul if needed.
  • Model vulnerability and authenticity as a leader.
  • Speak up about microaggressions and non-inclusive behaviors.
  • Advocate for advancement, resources, and support for marginalized groups.

Raise Bias Awareness

  • Make unconscious bias training mandatory for all employees.
  • Implement hiring practices like blind resume reviews to reduce bias.
  • Seek diverse perspectives when evaluating policies and decisions.
  • Audit existing systems like performance reviews for unintended biases.

Listen Deeply

Build Connections

  • Sponsor employee resource groups to build community.
  • Create cross-functional teams to increase interactions.
  • Host social events and networking initiatives.
  • Assign mentors and sponsors to support marginalized employees.

Practice Vulnerability

  • Admit mistakes, share learnings, and thank others for feedback.
  • Share stories of failure and challenges at company talks.
  • Participate in 360 reviews to identify blind spots.
  • Let go of ego; be open to learning from all employees.

Provide Resources

  • Invest the budget into diversity and inclusion training, events, and groups.
  • Fund employee time for inclusion mentoring and volunteer work.
  • Offer learning opportunities related to equity and cultural competence.
  • Review policies and benefits to ensure inclusion for marginalized groups.

Recruit for Inclusion

  • Seek diverse candidates using targeted outreach channels.
  • Include criteria like empathy, adaptability, and bias awareness in interviews.
  • Promote internally those who model equitable practices.
  • Assign “culture carriers” who exemplify diversity and inclusion.

Track Feedback

  • Survey regularly on the sense of belonging, equity, and psychological safety.
  • Solicit ideas on improving inclusion through town halls or anonymously.
  • Debrief after events and initiatives to identify gaps and successes.
  • Review exit interviews to understand reasons for turnover.

Ongoing development is key, as inclusion is a continuous journey. With time and commitment, these steps can help a leader progress in demonstrating the behaviors that foster belonging and empowerment for all.

Measuring the Success of Inclusive Leadership

To assess the impact of inclusion efforts and continue improving, organizations need to measure both qualitative and quantitative results. Some key metrics to track include:


Regularly survey all employees to gauge a sense of belonging, equity, empowerment, trust in leadership, and emotional security. Look for discrepancies based on gender, race, seniority, or other factors.

Diversity Metrics

Track diversity representation in recruitment, promotions, leadership roles, turnover, performance ratings, compensation, and utilization of benefits like parental leave. Set goals to build diverse talent pipelines.

Team Performance

Assess collaboration, participation, innovation, and output of teams. Compare the results of those with inclusive leaders versus traditional managers.

Business Impact

Connect inclusion efforts to key performance indicators like revenue from new markets, products and services, decision quality, productivity, safety metrics, risk management, and profitability.

Leadership Evaluation

Conduct 360 reviews and employee engagement surveys to provide feedback to managers on their equitable practices and areas for development. Hold them accountable.

Inclusion Index

Some organizations have created a weighted inclusion index that aggregates survey responses, diversity metrics, training participation, and tracking of microaggressions and conflicts. The index provides a quantitative benchmark to measure progress.

While metrics offer crucial insights, the lived experiences of employees ultimately determine the degree of inclusion. Leaders must continue engaging stakeholders through listening tours, employee resource groups, and open dialogues. This provides the qualitative data to bring numbers to life and guide priorities.

A multifaceted evaluation system empowers organizations to pinpoint areas of opportunity, recognize successes, and strengthen inclusive leadership at all levels.

The Path Forward with Inclusive Leadership

The stakes have been raised for leadership approaches that unlock the potential of all people. Inclusive leadership is mission-critical for organizational success today. By embracing diverse perspectives, managing diverse teams, building trust, and adapting to bring out the best in people, inclusive leaders position their companies to thrive.

Inclusive leadership empowers teams to collaborate, innovate, and make smart decisions to capture new opportunities. Employees feel valued for their unique contributions and empowered to take risks, share ideas, and be their authentic selves. The result is a high-performing and agile culture ready to address complex challenges and deliver for diverse customers and markets.

The call to action is clear for organizations – develop inclusive leadership capabilities at all levels. Provide training, set expectations, measure progress, and hold leaders accountable. By taking concerted steps to support unifying actions, organizations can become employers of choice and realize the multiplier effect on performance.

The future belongs to organizations whose leaders embrace inclusion as both a moral and business imperative. When leaders commit to unleashing the power of all people, they propel their companies to the forefront of innovation, growth, and sustainability. The inclusive leader sets the tone for a thriving organization, championing diversity initiatives, and nurturing an environment where everyone belongs.