Cultivating equitable workplaces through inclusive leadership

Cultivating equitable workplaces through inclusive leadership

Colleen Reaney and Brandon Pendleton of our Executive and Professional Education Center share behaviors, strategies, and tactics to become a more inclusive leader in the workplace.

"Inclusive leadership is more of a practice than an actual label," says Brandon Pendleton, adjunct lecturer for the Executive and Professional Education Center at Quinlan. "An inclusive leader is someone that understands that in order for collaboration to be successful, individuals must be willing to share their diverse perspectives and experiences."

In pursuit of more equitable and welcoming workspaces, business leaders are applying the principles and tactics of inclusive leadership. Pendleton joined Colleen Reaney, director of the Executive and Professional Education Center, on a Q Talks Podcast to discuss how to build the behaviors, habits, and business case required to be an inclusive leader.

Below are three insights from the discussion, which is part of a Q Talks Podcast miniseries on race and business. You can listen to the full podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Start within your sphere of influence

Even without buy-in at the organizational level, leaders can build a more inclusive workplace by influencing the people immediately around them.

"What you'll find is that if you're able to do that, you'll probably get this momentum going and now you maybe do start to get the ear of other key stakeholders in the organization," says Pendleton.

He gave eight steps for being an inclusive leader within your immediate sphere of influence:

  1. Start with accountability. Hold yourself accountable and enforce the same rules for yourself that you would expect from employees.
  2. Have courage. There will be times when you're faced with some sort of resistance that goes directly contrary to your guiding principles. Courage to follow your own moral compass becomes extremely important.
  3. Create a level of transparency. Establish trust by being transparent about areas where you need to improve. Be vulnerable about your own growth areas.
  4. Be fair. Treat others as you would like to be treated. The more you focus on being fair, the more you will eliminate some unconscious biases.
  5. Take action. You have to implement your thoughts. Model the behavior you want to see in an inclusive environment.
  6. Be self-aware. As a leader who's trying to influence people, you have to be aware of your own biases and things you need to work through yourself.
  7. Put processes in place to mitigate biases. Once you've recognized an unconscious bias you have, create processes that will help to avoid biased decisions and actions.
  8. Trust people. Let your team know that you are committed to the "we" instead of the "me." Trust the individuals working for you, which will help your employees to feel safe to contribute their perspective.

DEI is good for business

Inclusive leaders support diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at their companies. Pendleton argues that making the business case for DEI initiatives helps to solidify a long-lasting commitment. He outlines a few of the business arguments:

  1. Win the war for talent. Organizations that embrace a DEI type of culture are more inclined to attract and keep their top talent.
  2. Improve decision-making quality. If you bring in a lot of different perspectives on what will work and what won't, the quality of your decisions will improve.
  3. Increase customer insight and innovation. When making marketing decisions, having a diverse group of people sitting at the table will create opportunities for broader insights.
  4. Drive employee motivation and satisfaction. Companies perceived as having a diverse and inclusive environment tend to report higher employee motivation and satisfaction with their jobs.
  5. Be on the right side of history. People speak with their wallets, and the companies that were doing the right thing will be viewed more favorably.

Create a DEI plan

For leaders looking to get started on a DEI plan, Pendleton provides a road map to begin.

  1. Do an assessment of where your organization is now. At the leadership level, reflect on how unconscious bias affects evaluation, what promotion criteria you look at, and how decisions are made. At the organizational level, conduct an anonymous survey to ask if the organization values diversity, if the organization values women, and if employees feel there are opportunities for promotion.
  2. Make goals based on the assessments. Create actionable, measurable, and evidence-based goals rather than an immeasurable theme.
  3. Provide a budget and resources to address the issue. Show the issue's importance by putting real dollars behind the initiative to give it serious weight.
  4. Require diversity training. Focus on behavioral-based training that teaches the kind of behaviors the organization would like to see from the employees.
  5. Identify leaders and non-managerial employees to be sponsors. Find people who are excited about this kind of work and treat it as core work. Consider creating a full-time position with a related job title that has the responsibility and budget to work through these initiatives.

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