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  • Inclusive Leadership: The Secret Sauce to Diversity


    Let me introduce three individuals.

    A. Networker. Organizer. Influencer. Logical thinker. Golfer.

    B. Natural Leader. Programmer. Creative Innovator. Disciplined. Runner.

    C. Negotiator. Tinkerer. Builder. Philosopher. Basketball player. Chess Player.

    These three do have a few things in common though; Hard working, conscientious, love for math and science, responsible, independent, highly evolved abilities to call each other creative names at the dining table, a goofy dance and music act that will not get past round one of "America's got talent",  ethnic identity of "Other" in school forms and they also happen to live under the same roof as me.

    In reality not very diverse in the traditional sense, but talk about diversity of thought! Once I was telling them about a difficult situation at work. A. was very empathetic and asked how she could help. B. said 'uh huh, you will be great, mom' and moved on to describing her school day and C. was worried that I was going to have too much time on my hands to spy on his activities.

    With these diverse opinions, decision making process is a slightly involved affair in our household. Making tactical decisions of "which restaurant should we go to this weekend" or strategic decisions like "Should we get a second pet" or " Is season's pass at the Six Flags necessary this year" could be at times as time consuming as trade negotiations (usually with BATNA i.e., Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement, considerations with pros and cons analysis, and on rare occasions disintegrating into bribes, name callings and a tear or two).

    At the end of the day though, I am happy to say that they do own the decisions. I have even overheard them explain to their friends the reason why they are doing an activity they were not particularly fond of.. and I was filled with pride that the reason did not include 'because my mom made me'!

    Diversity (or lack thereof)  has been a hot topic recently in hiring, executive ranks and boards of companies in and out of Silicon Valley.  As all of us know there are several complex factors that contribute towards it. I have read some heated debates on how planned and deliberate organizations have to be for their diversity program. Some of these definitely are macro economic and social issues that each of us might not be able to solve immediately. Small steps that we take now that would probably yield results in years from now.


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    I think there are factors that are much closer to our own daily interactions that can change the culture one person at a time. This does not need changes in HR practices, company culture or require permission from anyone to proceed. This could have an immediate impact and will have long lasting effects on nurturing diversity in the work place.

    I believe that organizations as part of their culture, have an unconscious and some times even a conscious bias to certain types of individuals, behaviors or interactions. This by definition, could shut off talented people with diverse ideas and thoughts. Even after hiring a diverse group, there has to be a cultural shift in companies to keep these folks engaged and keep the diversity alive and thriving.

    This secret sauce is Inclusive leadership.

    • Being inclusive could manifest itself in several ways. It could be..
    • Seeking out the opinion of a timid person in a meeting when they are drowned by more vocal, confident colleagues
    • Listening to the words, body language in discussions.. and the silence - understand what is being said and what is not being said.. Exploring and really understanding the reasons for that and acting on it
    • Encouraging constructive debates on ideas so folks are not stuck to one line of thought and get mired in groupthink
    • Explicitly ensuring that in a conference call or video conference the remote site or the remote person is able to actively participate in discussions and debates.
    • Encouraging cross functional thought process to look at a problem from different dimensions
    • Leaders standing on the sidelines and letting their employees shine
    • Practicing empowerment to let teams and individuals take ownership and giving them the air cover to learn the right way - which includes learning from their mistakes
    • Practicing letting go - of ideas; limiting beliefs; the way things have always been done..

    Inclusive leadership is probably the most powerful way of encouraging and nurturing diversity of thought in the work place. It takes diversity from something that is a board room topic to incorporating that into the fabric of the culture itself.

    I would love to hear from folks on the different ways leaders and organizations have been inclusive and how they can continue doing it.

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