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Inclusivity Program Not Hitting the Mark?

The Great Resignation has been in the news for months, fueled by a new mindset in the workforce we call the Great Realization. According to research by McKinsey & Co, one of the top three reasons workers gave for walking off the job was because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work. 51 percent of total respondents cited this reason, and the percentage was higher among those who classified themselves as nonwhite or multiracial. 

Clearly, the role of inclusive leadership has never been more relevant or important, and increasing leaders’ confidence in their active role is key. We’ve supported leaders across many industries with INCLUDE, a solution designed to deliver that capacity by removing obstacles that can impede action towards inclusivity.  

We have had the privilege of working with hundreds of leaders in North America, Europe and Asia as they explore what it means to be an inclusive leader. They engage in a deeply personal journey that connects their own experiences to their organization’s role and mission. In a series of conversations with their peers, they relate their experiences of, and barriers to, inclusion and belonging that they may have experienced, witnessed or avoided. They learn ways to shape an inclusive culture through their daily leadership practices by reinforcing or redirecting the behaviors of those they lead. Through these discussions, they expand their empathy, curiosity and transparency, and unlock potential for action.  

Curiosity is the path to inclusivity 

Almost all of our participants mention that they are curious about understanding more about their peers and team members, but worry about being intrusive and feel uncomfortable broaching sensitive subjects. 

It is far more effective when leaders frame their curiosity as an invitation to others to share what matters to them, rather than asking probing questions that others must answer. We advise that leaders focus less on saying or doing the wrong thing and focus more on expanding their empathy to take in more of what others want and need. In other words, having less ego-focus and more other-focus significantly increases one’s skill and effectiveness in being an inclusive leader.  

A leader’s role in addressing micro-aggressions 

Micro-aggressions are subtle acts of exclusion (statements, words, behaviors) that members of underrepresented groups have historically experienced. “Micro” refers to the subtlety of these situations, and “aggression” refers to the painful impact on the receiver, even if unintended on the part of the sender. In our current cultural climate, there is a risk of polarization around this topic: one side critiquing the emphasis on the correctness of speech so that we shut down self-expression; another side critiquing the focus on language over action when so many institutional barriers still exist. 

Reframing these moments unlocks potential for action. Once a leader learns to identify micro-aggressions, they can rethink their own behavior as well as having the tools to intervene when they see it. 

Transitioning from meritocracy to equity 

Meritocracy asserts that race, gender, or other contingent factors do not play a role in life successes. (Example: “I believe that the most qualified person always gets the job.”) The idea of meritocracy is connected to fairness and is deeply embedded in U.S. culture. Many organizations have created performance and talent management practices that reinforce the meritocratic ideal. Yet, this framing can lock up the dialogue: On one side, leaders argue we are far from realizing this aspiration and more active intervention is required. On another side, leaders express concern about reverse discrimination if we pursue change without regard to fairness. Confusion arises about the difference between fairness and equity, and if there is a difference, does it matter? 

The challenge of meritocracy is that it conflates equality with equity. We help leaders understand that equality assumes a level playing field, and while we all aspire to equality, the reality is that individual starting points are vastly different. Therefore, we need to recognize the impact of these variations, that biases exist, and that we then need to adjust accordingly – that is equity. 

The value proposition for inclusion 

We ask participants what they will do to continue the journey after our workshops. They frequently say: 

  • Integrate new insights and skills into their existing, everyday practices as a leader 
  • Use more curiosity to explore others’ experiences 
  • Increase comfort and skill in addressing micro-aggression in the moment, especially in group settings 

Often, diversity and inclusion efforts fall short on demonstrating business value. It is our belief that an inclusive culture drives business value. When employees spend less time concerned about whether they fit in and what biases they need to fight, they spend more time focused on developing better products or selling more services.  

Creating an inclusive culture is more than just “the right thing to do.” It makes perfect business sense. Organizations with inclusive cultures are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes and twice as likely to reach financial goals. The importance of inclusion will only grow as The Great Realization deepens. 

Our INCLUDE program works by focusing leadership commitment and action, increasing employee engagement and performance through true belonging and inclusion. Importantly, the program draws on Right Management’s 40 years of experience in leadership development, which is an important foundation for incorporating inclusion into everyday practice.  

About the Author

Tony Rogers is a senior consultant in the Talent Management practice and serves as a subject matter expert for inclusive leadership at Right Management, offering 25 years’ experience as a consultant, psychologist, coach, organizational leader and business executive. He specializes in leadership development with an emphasis on inclusion, cross-cultural competence, collaboration, and innovation. Tony holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Texas.

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