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Inclusion is the Key to Benefiting from Diversity

Feb 24, 2020

Part 3 of 3 in RLG Series: Behaviors of an Inclusive Leader


This article carries on from Parts 1 and 2 of Behaviors of an Inclusive Leader. In those, we shared the insights that guest speaker Helene Harding, retired VP at ConocoPhillips, brought to a standing-room-only session at RLG’s recent Best of the Best conference. In Part 1, we highlighted that inclusion and diversity starts with the leader, in their mindset and in their actions. Intuitively we all know that. The hard part is in the execution. In Part 2, we highlighted the importance of self-awareness and authenticity in a leader’s journey to building an inclusive team. Now, in part 3, we will explore the leader’s role in going beyond the diversity numbers to developing an inclusive environment. 

Diversity is about the numbers and compliance within the workforce demographic. In order to become more diverse, companies track data on gender, gender identity, ethnicity, disability status, and many more too numerous to mention. Some even skirt the line on politically correct labels and stereotypes, creating awkwardness and fear among the HR leaders and privacy concerns among the workforce.


Yet, data suggests that there exist financial benefits to companies who strive for gender and ethnic diversity. In 2018, a McKinsey & Company study shows a direct correlation to financial performance when companies have gender and ethnically diverse leadership. See: Delivering through diversity– McKinsey & Company.

Armed with diversity KPI aspirations, “you manage what you measure” is alive and well, but will hitting the diversity targets ensure that financial performance will follow? Here is a challenge; How many initiatives in your own companies have succeeded without these two main ingredients: leadership buy-in and employee engagement? That is where we would like to focus today.

Inclusion is about focusing on the people within your workforce and creating an environment where they can thrive. This goes far beyond numbers. For a diversity strategy to pay off, leadership must be committed to forming an inclusive work environment. But what does this mean in a practical sense?


As a leader, you might start by adopting the mindset that your success is a direct result of the performance of the team, including you. It’s symbiotic – each depending on the other. Simon Sinek, the author of three best-selling books, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take ActionLeaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t; and Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration, said it well,

Leadership is not a rank; it is a responsibility. Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.

- Simon Sinek

Helene reinforced this when described how “caring about people is imperative”. Caring is ensuring that people are seen and heard.

“Inclusion and caring go hand and hand.”

- Helene Harding

Caring is one of those “blinking words”. We know what it means when it comes to our significant others, kids and pets, but what does it look like in the workplace. You might try with these steps to demonstrate caring in your team and workplace:

  • Actively listen – pay attention and prioritize listening to what’s being said – both with your ears and with your eyes, because listening builds trust and enables truth
  • Gather inputs – which are ideas, suggestions, feedback, critiques, contributions and co-leadership, because all these leverage the power of diverse skills, experiences and ideas to accelerate results
  • Give opportunities – to both challenging assignments and to pursue special initiatives, because both open doors for individuals to demonstrate their capability and display their interests
  • Deliver feedback – in a sharing, truthful but sensitive way, because without a feedback loop, team members will develop slower and not recognize where they are succeeding or going wrong.
  • Be inquisitive – seek to understand differences and help people open-up and share their experiences. Ask, what can I do to help you feel more valued or comfortable? What more can I do to support your career? What is it like working in this company?

linkinchain350The difficulty is that leaders often feel that being too caring or inclusive will negate their ability to lead or be recognized as a leader. The truth is that your team will need and expect you to be decisive and make the difficult decisions, and sometimes this will mean their ideas or inputs will not be implemented. However, if you have led from the position that your success is tied to team success, and you have actively listened, you have gathered inputs, you have given opportunities and you have delivered feedback, then the team will not only understand your decisions, but respect you for including them in the process.

Inclusion and caring do not mean that you give up your leadership responsibilities. Instead, inclusion and caring are about enhancing your team’s ability to perform and ultimately contribute to the financial performance of the company.

We hope you enjoyed this three-part series “Behaviors of an Inclusive Leader,” and find the topic as useful and interesting as we did. In the weeks and months ahead, we plan to continue sharing our ideas and those of our trusted partners in Diversity and Inclusion. Interested in continuing the conversation? Join us on our LinkedIn company page and comment, share or like. Want to get in touch? Contact us.

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