5 Voices on What it Means to be an Inclusive Leader

June 13, 2022 | New Workplace Leadership | 6 min read

As organizations cast an eye to the future, reinventing what was once known as “the workplace,” one message rings clear: building a culture of inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a must do.

And the data doesn't lie, organizations with inclusive cultures are:

  • 3x as likely to be high performing
  • 6x more likely to be innovative and agile
  • 8x more likely to achieve better business outcomes

In a time when building inclusive cultures is critical for both employee retention and achieving business goals, creating a culture where every employee feels welcome and included is a leadership imperative.

Leaders hold the keys to activating and empowering diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) among their teams and broader organizations – research has found that teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say that they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. Further, the behaviors of leaders can drive up to 70 percentage points of difference between the proportion of employees who feel highly included, and those who do not.

So, this raises the question, how do we develop inclusive leaders?

Inclusive leadership is an art and a science. It’s an always-on commitment versus something that’s dialed up or down based on the day and time. And leading with a mindset of inclusion is rarely something that comes naturally — it’s a skill that many need to learn and build a capacity for, cultivate and continuously evolve.

In the month of June, we’re reminded of the importance of nurturing this mindset of inclusion as we celebrate Pride Month and Juneteenth. At Skillsoft, we’re committed to strong positive actions to advance, nurture, and sustain a culture that appreciates and champions, diversity, equity, and inclusion. And on the journey to build leaders at every level who lead from a place of inclusion, we recognize that it begins with learning, which in turn, all starts with listening.

And so in honor of Pride Month and Juneteenth, I asked our own employees and members of Skillsoft’s Inclusion Council and Employee Advocacy Groups (EAGs) to share their perspective on five skills that every inclusive leader should develop:

  1. Authenticity
    Authenticity is a central skill for leading with a mindset of inclusion. To create an environment of trust, leaders must be transparent about themselves, their decision-making processes, what they expect of their team, and how their thinking may evolve over time -- putting the “we” before the “me." An authentic leader encourages others to be comfortable in bringing their whole selves to their role, which in turn creates a psychologically safe environment for all. Further, authenticity calls on leaders to become comfortable with having the humility to acknowledge that which they don’t know. But in order to be truly authentic, leaders must first have a solid grounding in who they are and how they interact with others; meaning, leaders must also have high Emotional Intelligence.”

    -Skillsoft’s Inclusion Council
  2. Recognize Your Own Bias
    “To truly become an inclusive leader, we must all develop the ability to identify and examine our own individual implicit bias and construct a plan for how to overcome it. By putting in the work to educate ourselves through training, conversations, books and more, we can become stronger allies to those who may be the receivers of bias or microaggressions in the workplace.”

    -UNITY: The Skillsoft Network For Underrepresented Racial Groups
  3. Curiosity
    “Inclusive leaders accept their limitations and have a deep desire to learn from and understand their employees and co-workers. They know the value of different world views and enjoy contemplating diverse perspectives. Curious leaders inspire others to embrace a growth mindset, while demonstrating that they are open to new ideas. Staying curious takes time and effort, but the result is loyalty from people who feel valued, along with a richer set of information that results in better decision making.”

    -SUPERBIA: The LGBTQ+ Community and Allies At Skillsoft
  4. Respect and Equity
    “Inclusive leaders must strive to build the capacity for respect and equity in dealing with others. Organizations are made up of diverse sets of individuals, each of whom have their own situational variables, emotions, motivations, worldviews and more. Inclusive leaders must focus on creating a workplace where every employee is respected and given equal opportunity, fostering an environment in which all individuals are empowered to express their thoughts and feelings openly.”

    -WE ARE ABLE: The Disabilities & Neurodiversity Community & Allies Network at Skillsoft
  5. Empathy
    The key skill that inclusive leaders should develop is empathy. Empathy allows leaders to listen effectively, understand, and create a sense of belonging for their team members. Empathy helps to mitigate misunderstandings and formulate solutions that are beneficial to all. Empathy drives inclusive actions, such as amplifying marginalized voices.”

    -WINS: The Women's Initiative for Networking & Success at Skillsoft

Organizations are made up of diverse individuals who are on their own unique journey as it relates to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and inclusive leaders understand that there is no one “right” answer or set of practices that will achieve their goal of DEI. Leading with a mindset of flexibility and having a tolerance for ambiguity is critical, as nobody knows what the future holds. Mastering the art of adaptability and embracing differing voices that challenge the status quo is essential.

Ultimately, the most crucial investment any organization can make is in their leaders. Managers and supervisors have significant influence on employee retention and are best positioned to build a foundation of inclusivity across their organization. If they don’t have access to the resources that they need to build their leadership skillset, the entire organization will suffer. Building a foundation of leadership means creating a learning strategy that helps leaders identify blind spots and provides opportunities to practice and hone skills in real-world situations will lead to immense organizational and cultural value. It all comes down to reinforcing learning so that genuine, behavioral change takes place.

And if you’re looking for a place to start the learning journey to inclusive leadership, we invite you to explore a variety of new resources we’ve put together this month:

Leadercamp: Inclusive Leadership: Practical Things You Can (Actually!) Do As A Leader

Join us on Thursday, June 23 at 12:00 pm ET / 9:00 am PT for a special Skillsoft Leadercamp, “Inclusive Leadership: Practical Things You Can (Actually!) Do As A Leader,” as we invite DEI Leader and Executive Coach, Flavia Moreira, to discuss the role that everyone, particularly leaders, can play in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

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The Edge Podcast: Impactful Learning Starts with Purpose and Passion

On this episode of Skillsoft’s podcast, The Edge, host Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek welcomes Antonia Forster, a Senior XR Technical Specialist at Unity. Together, they chat about her learning journey and how she uses technology in unique and meaningful ways to assist in her greatest passion: her advocacy work for women in tech and the LGBTQ+ community.

Off-The-Shelf Book Club: LGBTQ+ Pride

Explore our virtual book club featuring a bookshelf of resources that honor and recognize LGBTQ+ language, culture, history, and heroes.

Off-The-Shelf Book Club: Juneteenth

Explore our virtual book club featuring a bookshelf of resources which commemorate the end of African-American bondage within the United States.

And for even more learning, we invite you to visit our DEI resource page.