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Top 5 leadership skills needed for a radically inclusive workplace

Top 5 leadership skills needed for a radically inclusive workplace 3

Top 5 leadership skills needed for a radically inclusive workplace 4By Salma Shah, An Accredited Coach, the founder of coach training and leadership development platform Mastering Your Power, and author of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging in Coaching: A Practical Guide (Kogan Page)

Leaders need to embrace radical inclusion. Internally you need to be open, non-judgemental, reflective, curious about our own personal biases, privilege and assumptions. Externally you need to understand and have empathy with the lived experiences of those from very different backgrounds, identities, life choices, beliefs, dreams and feelings to us. Each of us has a sphere of influence around us where we can take the decision to be an ally and not just a bystander. A deeper understanding and empathy of the lived experience of someone who has been excluded because of their identity.

Here are 5 core leadership skills for a radically inclusive workplace:

  1. Embrace radical inclusion

A good starting point to become a radically inclusive leader is to reflect on times when you have felt socially excluded. How did this impact you? Now be curious about how this may have had an adverse impact on someone else’s confidence and self-belief.

Does the organisation culture feed into behaviours that exclude? For instance, having a ‘hurry up’ culture with high pressure, tight deadlines where employees are spending the majority of their time plate spinning and against the clock. Under these circumstances it is easier to short cut decisions, go with who we know. There is no time to reflect and check-in to ensure behaviours and thoughts are inclusive. The solution is to look at the wider system and culture of how things get done and assess the fault lines and short-term thinking which not only excludes but  can also lead to a longer-term drop in performance. Having assessed take radical action to change how things are done. The answer isn’t necessarily to slow down, the answer may lie in doing things differently or involving different people in the process whose lived experience and ideas will be positively different. However, people who are excluded, if given the opportunity to connect with others and have an opportunity to be sociable, they will do so even if there is only a remote possibility of social affiliation. Those that have experienced exclusion are still very motivated towards social acceptance – especially with those who aren’t involved with their experience of social exclusion.

  1. Recognise the difference between appropriate and inappropriate workplace ‘banter’

Jovial teasing, suggestive language and sarcasm can pass under the radar of appropriate behaviour as just a bit of light heart-hearted office banter. However, there is a point where the lines get crossed and the jokes for some are rude, discriminatory, bullying and exclude. Ignoring, denying and shrugging off banter at the cost of others is giving employees the green light to carry on as usual. Banter can also play out as micro-aggressions and microinvalidations. Start by educating yourself about micro-aggressions and microinvalidations. A microaggression is an example of a behaviour or comment which is negatively targeted at someone form a marginalised group, undermining a culture of inclusion and reinforcing privilege. Microinvalidations is communicating that subtly exclude negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality. For instance, telling someone that they are being oversensitive about an inappropriate remark. Or worse case playing devil’s advocate or getting defensive when someone is sharing their experience of exclusion. Have a clear and no-nonsense policy on what is appropriate banter and what is inappropriate banter, both in the workplace and on social media employees.

Be aware that those who are excluded or have had to put up with banter may have learnt to stay silent and don’t assume they are quiet because they have little to say.

  1. Practice slowing down

Following on from the ‘hurry up’ culture we also more likely to be biased under pressure, practice slowing down before jumping to a conclusion. Before connecting with others who you suspect you’re biased towards, take a moment to slow down and check in with yourself. Think of an example of when you met someone from that same group with whom you had a positive experience.

  1. Challenge resistance to change

Explore how you can actively choose to be anti-exclusive and radically inclusive. Are there examples of empire building and silos in the organisations where people are resistant to change and protecting their areas. Self-interest at the cost of the wider organisation by excluding others and creating covert barriers to entry. Is it enough to lead through consensus in these situations and things carry on as business as usual? Take the courageous decision to break down these silos.

  1. Build strong, trusting relationships with your workforce

It is very important that leaders spend time building the relationship with their teams to create psychological safety. Slow down your own cognition so you can become mindful of your own biases and distorted thinking. Invite individuals to share their current reality so they feel heard and seen. Acknowledge and recognise the impact of their lived experiences. Invite employees to name and acknowledge what isn’t working and prepared to listen and act. Finally be patient, for someone who has been excluded trust will take time to build.

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