Inclusive Leadership: Promoting Fairness and Respect

September 20, 2023
“The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is
what they become”.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

We are all by now familiar with the ‘business case’ arguments for having diverse and inclusive teams. Diverse thinking breaks Groupthink and leads to greater organisational creativity and innovation. Inclusive work environments have a positive impact on the psychological contract between the employer and the employee, leading to a higher sense of workplace belonging. This in turn impacts positively on employee engagement, motivation and overall organisational performance.

Research by BetterUp defines belonging as being associated with mattering, identification, and social connection. As they state: The unifying thread across these themes is that they all revolve around the sense of being accepted and included by those around you.

Their research found the following:

  • High belonging was linked to a 56% increase in job performance
  • A 50% drop in turnover risk
  • A 75% reduction in sick days

The problem for organisational leaders who strive to create a sense of belonging for all is that human beings are social creators, and as social creators we like to hang out in with people who are like us. It makes us feel good. And leaders, like all individuals see things and people from their own subjective – biased - viewpoint. The thoughts and feelings that leaders carry in their heads about people who are similar to them and people who are difference from them affects three basics drives:

  • A leaders’ attitude towards diverse groups
  • How leaders’ behaviour towards diverse groups
  • How leaders make decisions that impact positively on in-group members and yet negatively on out-group members.

Understanding the psychology of difference helps leaders to pause and reflect on the biases that they carry around with them and how these cultural mind-bugs create a set of unconscious behaviour patterns. Being aware of personal biases and the impact these have on organisational fairness and perceived levels of respect is one of the foundation stones of inclusive leadership. Perceptions of workplace fairness and respect are closely associated with perceptions of belonging.

Our research on inclusive leadership identified a number of ways in which leaders can promote fairness, respect and a sense of belonging. These include:

1: Valuing contributions for all team members equally: Many leaders are unaware of the biases they hold. They have a blind-spot which limited insight into understanding workplace favouritism or micro-behaviours that promote subtle advantages to in-group members. Inclusive leaders who seek to create fair and respectful workplaces put in mechanisms to mitigate their biases; they seek to gather views from a wide range of colleagues, not just in-group members.

2:Amplifying difference: Inclusive leaders adopt the principle of amplification; that is, they amplify the voices of people who are different from them by providing opportunities to present at, for instance, team meeting or to key clients.

3:Speaking up to challenge inappropriate behaviour: The inclusive leader lives by their personal values by speaking up when colleagues are being treated badly. They call out exclusionary and inappropriate behaviours in their peer group and in others. By doing so they send a strong signal throughout the organisation that such behaviour will not be accepted.

4:Allowing people to be authentic: Inclusive leaders don’t judge others for how they live their lives. Instead they create a sense of belonging and respect by not asking colleagues to compromise who they are through conversations about sameness disguised as strategies about ‘fit’.

5:Promoting fairness in decision-making: Inclusive leaders recognise that bias results in organisational patterns. They seek to promote fairness by forensically questioning trends in decision blind-spots, such as hiring, work opportunities and performance reviews.