Inclusive Leadership - Critical for Competitive Advantage By Malini Janakiraman Diversity exists in just about every part of the world and industry sector. As the world becomes “flat” and organizations continue to globalize, a diverse workforce is commonplace. Global organizations understand that a diverse workforce can be the primary source of competitive advantage. But simply having a diverse organization is not enough. Successful organizations share a common characteristic: They know how to leverage diversity to create a unified and inclusive global culture. The process includes developing a deeper understanding of culture and cultural differences as it applies to individuals, teams, functions, and organizations. Practicing diversity and inclusion on a global scale allows for more effective talent management (attraction and retention), alignment, and team performance, as well as improved efficiency. These factors all contribute to building a high-performance organization. An Overview of Global Trends Several key global trends that affect any workforce further underscore the importance of diversity and inclusiveness: The workforce is advanced; industrialized economies are maturing. The percentage of immigrants and minorities in the workforce and customer base in industrialized countries will increase. The proportion of women in the workforce and decision-making positions will rise. There is more recognition and acceptance of LGBT employees. People with disabilities are increasingly represented in the workforce. There are increasing cross-border/cross-boundary influences and dependencies (mergers and acquisitions, suppliers, joint ventures, stock- and stakeholders). Several generations with different needs and learning styles exist in the workforce. These trends are especially important for multinationals where differences across countries add to the benefits and challenges of diversity. Understanding Diversity and Inclusion Today, diversity has a much broader meaning than traditional definitions that focus on gender and ethnicity. In the global context, one can define diversity as visible and invisible differences, thinking and leadership styles, religious background, sexual orientation, age, experience, and culture. Inclusiveness is the quality of the organizational environment that maximizes and leverages diverse talents, backgrounds, and perspectives of all employees. In effect, diversity is the mix; inclusiveness is the lever. Many employers focus on attracting a diverse group of employees, but then struggle with retaining the right talent. Organizations with a highly diverse workforce that do not pay attention to an inclusive environment are likely to be more dysfunctional than those without a diverse staff. Research suggests that one can find the answer not so much in policies and procedures as in the mindset of leaders in creating an inclusive culture. In the following chart, “Relationship Between Diversity and Inclusion,” the upper-left Quadrant A shows high diversity but low inclusion. The lower-left Quadrant B represents low diversity and low inclusion. The bottom-right Quadrant C indicates high inclusion but low diversity, and Quadrant D represents high inclusion and high diversity. Organizations that practice inclusion and diversity can experience high levels of collaboration, engagement, and retention – thereby providing a competitive advantage. Relationship Between Diversity and Inclusion The leader’s role is crucial in driving performance in a globally diverse and inclusive environment. Traditional teams created with no particular emphasis on diversity typically perform at average levels. Global and culturally diverse teams experience heightened risks and opportunities, but high team performance occurs if the leader drives performance through inclusiveness. The Journey to Cultural Agility Focusing on inclusion starts with developing cultural agility: the ability to effectively navigate, communicate, interrelate, and function well in diverse cultural settings (see Chart, “Journey to Cultural Agility”). Culturally agile leaders are adaptable and flexible – necessary skills in reducing risk and maximizing opportunities to achieve performance and results. Developing cultural agility starts with an open attitude, which leads to self-awareness, other-awareness, knowledge, and skills to apply this knowledge. Leaders agile enough to diagnose team dynamics exhibit change-agent behavior. Leaders unable or unwilling to use this change-agent behavior can negatively impact the organization through unconscious biases in grooming individuals, unequal and inequitable standards, lag in using diversity and inclusiveness to further client relations and grow accounts, and inability to retain talent. Also important on the journey is a focus on micro-behaviors: small, subtle, often unspoken and unconscious behaviors that communicate dispositions, attitudes, biases, and sentiments. Body language, voice tone, and facial expressions can impact positively or negatively, putting some team members at a disadvantage and others at an advantage. Four key skills are fundamental to attaining cultural agility: Cultural due diligence: adequately assessing the possible effects of culture in relationships. Style-switching: ability to use a broad, flexible behavioral repertoire to accomplish goals. Cultural dialogue: ability to illuminate cultural underpinnings of behavior and performance, close cultural gaps, and create cultural synergy through conversation. Cultural mentoring: ability to advise, teach, and coach individuals in one’s sphere of influence to (a) recognize cultural underpinnings and consequences of behavior, (b) understand cultural and behavioral requirements for true inclusion, and (c) support change through inclusive behaviors, practices, and approaches (including policies and systems). Practical Suggestions to Start the Journey To become an inclusive leader and train others, one should consider the following steps: Check assumptions and biases, cultivate a non-judgmental attitude towards differences, and ask: Are my assumptions based on fact? Assume positive intent. Participate in meetings and discussions with a positive, win-win attitude to build an inclusive environment. Engage in constructive conversations to prevent, reveal, and transform exclusionary patterns and behaviors. Slow your responses: Think and listen before talking and develop listening skills to help build inclusive behavior. Scan social dynamics and interaction patterns for exclusion behaviors. Are some team members more dominant, and others more passive and quiet? Work to engage passive participants. Treat everyone as Number 1 and give everyone a voice. Deepen self- and other-awareness. Recognize one’s own behavior and how it impacts team behavior. Engage and motivate others in learning about differences and experiences non-judgmentally. Speak with peers and direct reports about the importance of cultural agility. Provide individual feedback and coaching to transform exclusion behaviors. Be forthcoming and let people know when their non-verbal or verbal behaviors are exclusionary. Model inclusive behaviors in one’s sphere of influence. To be successful, organizations and corporate leaders must embrace the differences people represent and demonstrate they are inclusive as well as diverse. Leaders lead by example. Malini Janakiraman is a global executive with 25 years of business experience in Learning and Organizational Development. She consults on diversity & inclusion, culture, and leadership development. Malini has an International MBA from Thunderbird University.