Inclusive leadership: Why it is important and how to improve it

Inclusive leadership works to make everyone associated with a company feel welcome and empowered to be themselves.

Leading inclusively not only makes employees and customers feel accepted, it also increases company revenue and workplace satisfaction. Most importantly, it amplifies employee voices that might not otherwise be heard.

For example, when Tori Armendariz from Tennessee talked to a coworker about her girlfriend, she realized that not everyone accepted her.

“The director of that place took me aside and told me I couldn’t talk about things like that.”, says Armendariz, who is now a generalist in technical personnel operations at Trainual. It became clear that the director of Armendáriz’s previous company did not accept his girlfriend or the LGBTQ + community.

Armendáriz’s experience, although disheartening, inspired her to create an inclusive workplace during her time at Trainual. She wanted no one else to suffer the same treatment as her simply by being herself and ultimately becoming an inclusive leader.

Inclusive leadership involves leading while being aware of implicit biases and being open to diverse perspectives. Being an inclusive leader means making all types of employees, clients and customers feel welcome by fostering an overall inclusive work environment. In practice, this can translate into ensuring that benefits are distributed equitably, providing diversity and inclusion training, or establishing safe spaces for employees, such as ERGs (Employee Resource Groups).

Inclusive leadership ensures that everyone’s voice is truly heard, applied and protected in the workplace, regardless of personal identity or background. Leading inclusion by example also shows employees the important expectations and values ​​they should follow and how to best treat their colleagues within a company.

The tech industry aims to be a place that encourages innovative thinking and pioneering ideas, but this same mindset has not been equally reflected when it comes to the industry’s diversity and inclusion.

While whites represent 62% of all technology positions in the US, Asians represent 20%, Hispanics and Latinos represent 8%, and blacks, at 7%, constitute the least represented racial population. About half of women say they have experienced gender discrimination at work.

Without inclusive leadership, this can make it difficult for those who do not fit the mold to acquire the resources and support necessary for their careers.

“Many companies have been reported for paying women less than men, BIPOC less than white people, for the same work and responsibility”said Everett Harper, CEO and co-founder of Truss. “It is clear that this does not demonstrate an interest in inclusivity and is one of the reasons why many underrepresented people leave the sector.”

Lack of diversity and ignorance of the importance of inclusion can unintentionally lead managers and leaders to create a hostile workplace. Even actions such as using heteronormative and sexist language in onboarding packages or organizing all-male panels contribute to creating an unwelcoming work environment.

“When the people on your team don’t feel like they really belong on your team, they will either stop showing up to work every day or find another place where they are included as part of your team,” says Armendariz.

Investing in an inclusive and diverse workplace means employees feel connected and supported to do their best work and achieve results. In fact, inclusive companies are preferred by most job seekers and workers, and can lead to greater work engagement and income.

“A diverse, fully contributing workforce leads to holistically stronger performance”said Lauren Sato, CEO of Ada Developers Academy. “Products are better aligned with consumers, financial results are better, and there are higher rates of innovation and resilience.”

As diversity becomes a hot topic in tech, some companies have made plans to rework their workplace language and engineering terms to be more inclusive. It’s a good start, but true inclusion isn’t built on words alone: ​​employees want to see leaders deliver on their promises.

When companies demonstrate inclusive and inclusive leadership and create diverse teams that accurately reflect the outside world, everyone benefits. Here are some examples of how companies can make inclusive leadership a priority.

  • Pay attention and listen to employees.
  • Update hiring strategies.
  • Reevaluate company policies.
  • Create safe spaces for debate.

Diversity and inclusion, although often talked about in the same breath, are two different things. A company can have a diverse workforce, but not make an effort to include and listen to its employees.

“Ask yourself who is being heard in the room”says Harper. «Do managers accidentally repeat all the men in the room and ignore the women? “Do men summarize women’s original ideas without giving them credit, and the manager does not recognize it?”

To get more honest feedback from employees, Truss managers made the process more accessible. Instead of asking for feedback in a meeting and hearing it from the same people they are comfortable speaking with, managers and teams use a Google Doc. Each team member adds three comments and then managers share them in the meeting.

“According to group communication studies, this tactic allows introverts to contribute and marginalized voices to have an equal platform,” Harper explains.

Tech recruiters want to hire top talent and often look first at graduates from prestigious universities and bootcamps. With such a limited search, many talented candidates could be falling through the cracks.

“Liberal arts computer science degree programs and software development bootcamps are essentially the only two paths into technology.”says Sato. “As a society in general, we have invested a lot in these two avenues and, unfortunately, both reduce diversity.”

Be open to candidates who are self-taught or come from unconventional backgrounds. Encouraging diverse candidates to apply is a good first step, but passive candidates also need to be reached directly. Remote work has opened up a wider range of candidates, so companies can now also more easily expand their geographic diversity.

It is also worth looking at the balance between senior and junior employees. While it may make sense in the short term to hire more experienced engineers, not having enough young talent and training opportunities is a disadvantage. Accommodating new perspectives and talent with different levels of experience produces a well-rounded team.

Demographics are just one part of developing an inclusive workplace. Be aware of the assistance available to employees. Study compensation rates, benefit packages, and DEI funding to see where improvements can be made.

Take stock of your team’s performance: Is there someone who seems to take more time off than others? Does anyone participate less in scrums? Instead of criticizing them, ask yourself what policies or tools you could put in place to help them perform better.

Some employees may not yet be familiar with workplace inclusivity and may not be able to put it into practice without guidelines to follow. Creating a foundation of expectations for how employees should treat each other may require appropriate educational and informational resources.

Provide access to training tools that cover topics such as DII, anti-harassment, and mutual respect in the workplace, and be open as a leader to answer questions about these topics. People learn in all kinds of ways, so it’s important to educate through any avenue possible, from oral instructions and written policies to videos and activities.

A little goes a long way, especially in the way you address and converse with employees. Inclusive language is intended to encompass all employees and not be exclusive to one characteristic or capability.

Inclusive language can consist of using the pronoun “they” to refer to theoretical people instead of “he” or “she”, using plain language instead of idioms or metaphors to communicate, or using the terms “all of you” or ” people” instead of “guys.”

Above all, everyone should feel safe at work. A workplace where everyone is respected will put people in a position to do their best work. Cultivate an environment that welcomes all opinions and allows employees to be who they are at work.

“I think the best thing retros can do without guilt,” Harper states. “The key is to focus on learning, not blame, so that everyone on the team can operate at a higher level”. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a leadership mistake – owning up to mistakes makes your team more confident that you’re willing to learn and grow.

At Ada Developers Academy, inclusivity depends on a consistent practice of accountability, according to Sato. Regular self-reflection allows your organization to stay on top of issues, and that constant evolution has made it a place where tech workers of all backgrounds have a strong voice.