Six Steps Toward Inclusive Leadership

As workforces start returning to a ‘new normal’, we suggest six steps to help leaders ensure they’re being inclusive.


Inclusive leadership is a journey, not a destination and while it's an ongoing process, there are specific steps that can help set you up for success.

In addition to examining our own values and biases to be sure they're not getting in the way of providing equal opportunities to each of our employees, we also need to be deliberate about creating opportunities for us all to learn more about each other's perspectives.

Here are six simple leadership actions to help create an inclusive atmosphere.

1. Hire for diversity

It is a well-documented phenomenon that we hire those who are like us. We meet them, the conversation naturally flows, and our mind is made up. It takes deliberate effort to counteract these powerful instincts. Heading into a hiring cycle, I sit down with my team to analyse who we really need in terms of strengths, personality and approach. Often it results in us looking for someone who is quite different from who we currently have on the team. Instead of us making hiring decisions just with our heart, we then make them with our head and our heart, so that we can secure the right individuals for our evolving needs.

2. Connect on a personal level

Google recently spent years analysing what makes teams most effective, and finally reached the conclusion that the most effective teams are ones in which members connect with each other on a personal level. Take the time to find out what matters to each member of your team, how they would spend their perfect day, and who they consider family. Share these things about yourself also.

3. Engage in a dialogue

Talking about difference is a touchy subject. But the worst thing you can do is avoid the topic. If you have a LGBT employee and you don't know how to refer to their significant other, ask. If you have an employee who is struggling with English and you don't know how to help them, ask them what they need. If you have an employee who is shy about speaking up, ask them how you can help them get their voice heard.

4. Provide opportunities to learn more

- Encourage team members to attend affinity groups for affinities which are different from their own.

- Simple activities such as multi-cultural pot lucks in which team members share traditions and food from their culture and heritage.

- Start a book group in which all employees choose a book that provides insights into what shaped them.

- Set up meet-and-greets for team members with others who they might not typically work with.

5. Recognise and celebrate achievements equally but not in the same way

Inclusive teams are ones in which every person feels seen, heard, understood, and respected and recognition is a hugely important part of an inclusive leadership strategy. But not all employees want to have their name in lights; some people prefer a heartfelt note. Ask team members how they like to be recognized, and honour their wishes. Just be sure that all people on the team receive the recognition they deserve.

6. Practice a culture of learning 

To be inclusive we need to ensure we're all speaking the same language. Acronyms, inside jokes, and shared history can all create barriers for newer team members. Encourage everyone to consider what information needs more explanation, and to commit to taking the time to do so.

No doubt, true inclusive leadership takes effort. But once you've experienced the power of true workplace diversity that fully utilizes everyone's strengths, you'll be glad you did.

To read further on this subject, take a look at Bright Horizons Head of Thought Leadership, Jennifer Liston Smith’s recent LinkedIn article here.