The Necessary Discomfort of Inclusive Leadership
The following is an excerpt from How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, a book in which diversity and inclusion expert Jennifer Brown provides a step-by-step guide for the personal and emotional journey we must undertake to create an inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.
Leadership is not leadership unless it’s uncomfortable. If you aren’t pushing yourself to do more, and pushing others around you to improve, chances are, you aren’t doing enough.
Of course, this necessary discomfort is an indelible hallmark of leadership, of any kind. Often, not only are those who are considered inclusive leaders also considered great leaders in the traditional sense, but they lead with an additional vigilance, care, and intention: to perceive and then address what might be getting in the way for others around them. They are dedicated to the thriving of others, particularly those who have struggled proportionally more to be heard and valued. They honor and value input, nurture purpose in others, and encourage authenticity for those who fear the repercussions of being authentic. They are passionate about challenging whatever obstacles to potential and performance they can, and they constantly seek to learn more about what they don’t know when it comes to cultural competency so that they can better resonate across difference and maintain trust.
And they don’t pursue any of this as a chore, but with enthusiasm and joy. They take a strong stand against bias, even its most subtle forms.
Inclusive leaders bring more of themselves to the workplace than other leaders, believing that through their own vulnerability and authenticity, they can create a space in which others can do the same. They don’t just push others to be blindly authentic but plan with them to stretch forward, to take calculated risks, while never encouraging someone to push themselves out there before they’re ready, or put themselves into career peril. They always offer to be present, alongside others, to lend a voice.
They seek as much feedback as they give. They are aware of, and know how to utilize, their privilege to raise issues, to challenge norms and behaviors, and to root out and prioritize core issues that perpetuate exclusionary dynamics. They push themselves as much as they push others. And they do all of this consistently.
It’s perhaps not surprising that two thirds of executives consider diversity and inclusion a rising priority. But that may not solely be due to the negative repercussions that can occur when you don’t prioritize inclusion; there are also many inspiring statistics that supportinclusion in the workplace. For example, when companies chose to promote their female employees to top management teams between 1992 and 2006, they generated an average of one percent more economic value, which typically translated to over $40 million. Similarly, Fortune 500 companies with at least three directors who are women have seen their return on invested capital increase by at least 66 percent and their sales increase by 42 percent. And that’s just diversity in gender for high-level leaders.
No matter which industry you’re in, being profitable matters. Leaders at every level are expected to model the behaviors and take the actions that support financial success. And, increasingly, core leadership competencies are shifting to prioritize the ability to engage and retain diverse talent, with a focus on making them feel included and supported. The importance of these soft skills has been underestimated in the past, but the world is changing rapidly and leaders need to adapt as these become hard skills that will increasingly be expected, measured, and compensated accordingly.
All of the aforementioned data shows we have much at stake in making our workplaces more inclusive and that we need to make a serious course correction.
We have the opportunity to build a different future, a better future. We can choose to jump into the river and start swimming, but many of us are lingering on the shore. And yet all of us are needed—to chip in, to contribute, to get involved—not just on paper, registering our good intentions, but doing the actual work of change, especially within ourselves, and following a learning path with discipline and commitment.