Inclusive leadership.

Inclusive leadership shows when leaders in the organization commit to creating and supporting an inclusive culture where all employees feel like they belong, they are welcome, accepted, and valued—especially those from underrepresented groups. 

Leaders take on responsibility for a work environment that recognizes employees for their uniqueness, commitment, and energy for the organization. 

The benefits are clear: motivated team members, increased performance, high-quality decision-making, and collaboration. So, let’s explore actions to install inclusive leadership in your organization. 

Actions 1: Train inclusive leadership skills.

“Inclusive leadership is about regular, tangible comments and actions practiced every day.” (Michele Mees, Co-founder of Inclusion Now)

Because inclusive leadership needs to be visible continuously, it requires training and regular repetition to keep leaders alert on these skills and behaviors. 

  • Top inclusive leadership skills.

Inclusive leadership entails numerous attitudes, behaviors, and skills. 

These skills balance stereotypically “masculine” and “feminine” leadership behavior. It is not linked to the leader’s gender but to what is appreciated and encouraged in your organization’s culture. 

Reading tip: Discover more about it in Michele Mees’ book: “The Balanced Leader: Exploring the Dynamics of Masculine and Feminine Energy.”

Your organization’s culture and your employees’ needs will prioritize different leadership skills.

Tool: Do you master inclusive leadership skills? Take the Catalyst Quiz.

Reading tip: Travis, D.J., Shaffer, E., & Thorpe-Moscon, J. (2019). Getting Real About Inclusive Leadership: Why Change Starts With You.

  • Optimize your inclusive leadership training

Use external facilitators: They have the necessary knowledge and methodology to teach inclusive leadership behaviors. They also provide unique access to best practices from other organizations. During training, having an external trainer means you have a valuable fresh perspective, objective insights, and feedback about your company culture and the dynamics of your leaders.

Create a safe space: Leaders must show a certain level of vulnerability to successfully discuss and learn inclusive behaviors. They need to reflect on their shortcomings to improve and develop new skills. A safe space is essential in doing so. 

Set up peer learning: Make room for leaders to exchange experiences during training. Let them discuss which inclusive behaviors work best in your culture and which skills are priorities to create change. Every leader can benefit from fellow leaders’ knowledge and experience. Both insights from seasoned leaders with a lot of knowledge about the culture and the fresh outside perspectives and insights from new leaders add value to your training. 

Repeat regularly: Changing behaviors takes time and repetition. You need to rewire your brain to make inclusive behaviors the new go-to behaviors. Foresee come-back sessions after your training to discuss the implementation of new behaviors, discuss progress and talk through challenges. Repeat key messages and tips regularly by embedding them into other training content. That will keep leaders alert and improving.  

Action 2: Install feedback loops.

The n°1 challenge of changing behaviors is realizing whether you are showcasing the newly learned behaviors. The easiest way to keep leaders alert is to create several feedback loops. 

  • Feedback from team members.

Integrate inclusive leadership skills into your current feedback mechanisms for employees to evaluate their leaders. As primary recipients of inclusive leadership, they are in an excellent position to evaluate the impact of new behaviors and assess how a leader comes across them. 

Giving feedback to someone higher up the hierarchy can be tricky and feel unsafe. So instead, make sure employees can provide feedback anonymously. 

If employee feedback is only asked for once a year, try to install additional feedback moments for direct feedback in the period after the inclusive leadership training. 

  • Feedback from fellow leaders.

A come-back session after the initial training is an excellent opportunity for leaders to give each other feedback and resolve challenges they have encountered when practicing their inclusive leadership skills. Discussing real-life situations and asking for feedback can inspire others to make behaviors more concrete and applicable.   

Integrate short feedback exercises as icebreakers or wrap-up for your leadership meetings. 

  • Opportunities for external coaching.

For leaders, an outside perspective to reflect on their leadership skills is essential to keep growing. Therefore, having an experienced coach with inclusive leadership knowledge is a good idea to coach and support leadership development in an increasingly inclusive organization. 

Action 3: Spotlight role-models.

Make inclusive leadership behavior visible. 

Spotlight role models you have at different levels of the organization. Don’t forget the lower levels. Give them a platform to share their story, ideas, and best practices. 

Highlight which specific DEI goal they represent daily, e.g., counter-stereotypical role models, being an ally of underrepresented groups, etc. 

Add tips and tricks for others to do the same, so you can inspire and spread enthusiasm to show inclusive behaviors. 

Become a DEI expert.