Calls for societal change have sparked unprecedented demand to create more diverse and inclusive organizations — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s also the smart thing to do.
Research has shown time and again that diverse and inclusive organizations outperform their peers. Just one example: according to the 2018 CEPC whitepaper, Diversity & Inclusion in Corporate Social Engagement, diverse and inclusive organizations are 70% more likely than their peers to capture new markets.
Yet, despite spending more than $8bn a year on diversity programs, very few organizations have achieved their goal of becoming truly inclusive and diverse. So where are they going wrong?
There are various elements that go into building diversity and inclusion. And it’s important that organizations get all these elements right, whether they are developing talent acquisition processes that attract diverse perspectives, experiences and contributions or reducing biases and barriers to employee development. But there is one key element that all others depend on: inclusive leadership.
The problem for organizations is that skilled inclusive leaders are rare. In fact, our research shows that only 5% of leaders globally can be defined as inclusive. The good news is that inclusive leadership can be assessed, coached and developed.
What is an inclusive leader?
Through fieldwork and analysis of over 3 million leadership assessments, Korn Ferry has identified the five disciplines and five traits that define an inclusive leader. To learn about these disciplines and traits in detail, you can download our whitepaper or explore the model below.
The top takeway is that inclusive leaders are leaders who interact with the diversity around them, build interpersonal trust, take the views of others into account, and are adaptive. These abilities increase their effectiveness and the impact they have on:
- Organization as a whole
In the following sections, we’ll explore each of these areas in more detail and look at some of the specific benefits inclusive leaders bring to your business.
Individual benefits of inclusive leadership: unlocking potential
Inclusive leaders help organizations attract the best talent from talent pools that haven’t yet fully been tapped. This is crucial, not simply because it spells more high-quality talent for your business, but bringing in perspectives and experiences from traditionally underrepresented talent groups provides insight into the perspectives and experiences of underrepresented customer groups as well. This can also help shed light on problems that more homogenous teams have been stuck on and unable to resolve.
But attracting diverse talent is only the start. The biggest advantage of inclusive leadership is that inclusive leaders know how to unleash individual potential and create an environment where all talent can thrive and grow.
A 2019 Korn Ferry Institute survey of talent management, HR, and diversity and inclusion experts identified some of the key ways inclusive leaders can unlock individual potential. Among those surveyed, there was almost universal agreement that inclusive leaders:
- Enable individuals to feel free to bring their authentic selves to work
- Provide individuals with a sense of empowerment to take risks
- Reassure individuals that there is equity and fairness and that they will be challenged with job stretch opportunities
Research shows that leaders who are seen as fair and respectful, encourage collaboration, and value different ideas and opinions are 2.5 times more likely to have effective employees on their teams. In other words, the ability to unlock individual potential benefits everyone that is led by an inclusive leader, but it benefits underrepresented talent even more. Why?
Individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups face additional biases and barriers to their professional development. If they do not feel included in an organization, they are unlikely to reach their full potential. Inclusive leaders help underrepresented people understand that they have the power to take ownership of their own careers and equip them with the specific insights, strategies, and tools they need to drive their development forward.
They do this through mentoring, sponsorship and coaching, and they are advocates for individuals who they think are being treated unfairly. They also help individuals develop greater self-agency, encouraging them to speak up, be heard, and optimize their contributions.
Team benefits of inclusive leadership: unlocking collective intelligence
A study by the Canadian researcher N. J. Adler has revealed that, while diverse teams do indeed outperform and out-innovate homogenous teams, they can also at times be significantly less effective.