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Why real inclusivity starts with inclusive leaders

You can’t achieve true inclusivity without the right leadership. The potential benefits to business are significant – but it needs real action to make it happen.

Readers of HR Magazine will know that there have been plenty of studies in recent years that show very clearly that diverse companies overall have more favourable outcomes than organisations which are less inclusive, such as ensuring the engagement, commitment and wellbeing of their workers.

This is reflected in the workplace as a direct relationship between inclusive leadership and enhanced psychological safety, as well as lower psychological distress. As well, in supporting inclusive leadership, we can create a psychologically safe workplace where all individuals feel that they belong, while maintaining their uniqueness, and knowing that their contributions and experiences are valued.

It’s equally true that we are seeing more and more business leaders who are from multi-ethnic backgrounds. Some companies may even be fortunate enough to have people at the top table who naturally have the skills to put diversity on the agenda.

But for the vast majority this is probably not going to be the case.

Even then, there are many aspects of a business, not least recruitment policies, which, unless challenged, work unconsciously against the desire to be more inclusive.

So it is clear that until you have people at the very top who both recognise these unintentional but damaging practices, and act to change them, many efforts to improve inclusivity will simply fail.


Why diversity is also good for business

It’s not just real diversity which suffers if organisations aren’t able to ‘walk the talk’ on inclusion. Organisations that are less inclusive and diverse are more likely to struggle with attracting diverse workers, and also more likely to have higher turnover rates overall. Creating a culture that is more inclusive and diverse ensures e.g., increased creativity, problem solving, and performance.

Another area in which inclusive leadership can add value is indirectly on the bottom line through the ability to identify and develop new markets and products.

To really develop those markets, you need to have organisations that in their diversity and inclusivity truly reflect the consumers they are trying to reach. Consumers, whatever their backgrounds, are quick to see through companies which attempt to portray themselves as ‘inclusive’ or ‘diverse’ when they are nothing of the sort. Take the ‘Green Agenda’ as an example. Far too many firms have been embarrassed when their attempts to present themselves as environmentally cool are proved to be nothing but hot air. The same applies to any efforts to trumpet diversity and inclusivity which, under scrutiny, turn out to be empty and hollow.


True inclusivity starts at the top

So it’s easy to see why many are keen to highlight their inclusive credentials. They not only outperform their competitors, but they boost their attractiveness to a far more diverse range of employees, and a wider base of customers. But just as consumers are not easily fooled, employees too will very quickly see through efforts to practice inclusivity which are no more than warm and welcoming slogans on a company website.

To really build a business which is truly diverse – and thereby benefit from the many outcomes and opportunities that have been discussed here – you need to start right at the top.

Only when you have inclusive leaders will you in turn produce a more diverse workforce, which will in turn remain committed, be satisfied with their roles, believe in the organisation, and are better positioned to deliver the revenue you need to outgrow your less diverse and mono-cultural competitors, as they can see how their organisations value them.

So where can you go to develop the skills sets to become an inclusive leader?


How to become an inclusive leader

This is where organisations like The British Psychological Society (BPS) can help. The Inclusive Leadership CPD course has been developed specifically to enable you to explore your own approach to leadership. For example, just what are your leadership styles? How can these be applied practically? How can you both improve your existing skills and learn more about what inclusive leadership involves?

There is no doubt that inclusive and diverse businesses can and do offer more than their non-inclusive competitors – and on every measure, from higher profitability to lower staff turnover. But it takes real leaders to both understand and communicate the benefits, and turn their companies into fully functioning inclusive workplaces.

So to find out more about the BPS’s Inclusive Leadership CPD course click here

Start your leadership journey right now.

Roxane L. Gervais, chartered psychologist and HCPC registered occupational psychologist at BPS