The inclusive leader

Optimizing diversity by leveraging the power of inclusion.

Inclusive leadership as a bottom-line, beneficial goal.

Diversity by itself is not enough: Leadership in the 21st-century demands that executives and their organizations move beyond diversity alone to capture the potential that comes from inclusion. If diversity is ‘the mix,’ then inclusion is making the mix work by leveraging the wealth of knowledge, insights, and perspectives in an open, trusting, and diverse workplace.

With inclusion, organizations can capture a competitive advantage from changing demographics across the workplace and in the marketplace. An organization with a reputation for inclusiveness becomes a magnet, attracting top diverse talent; in turn, that talent can better tap markets’ potential, whether in emerging economies or among a broader set of consumers at home. A diverse talent mix also can spark greater creativity and propel innovation that can help organizations distance themselves from their competition.

But inclusion is a challenge in itself. Even leaders who fully embrace the business case for diversity—understanding that homogeneous teams, although easier to manage, are more likely to result in ‘group think’—often feel unprepared to be inclusive. When discussing this approach, Korn Ferry often hears this from clients across multiple industries: “We don’t have an understanding of what to do and how to do it differently.”

Companies in recent times have improved their recruiting and hiring of more diverse talent. There is greater diversity today— by gender, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation—than five or ten years ago at the entry and supervisory levels. Today, women are nearly at 50% parity in the workforce with men given greater level of education and advancement (International Labour Organization 2018), and people of ethnic and racial minorities in the United States account for 22% of the labor force (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018). But many organizations struggle to keep that talent and advance it to positions of leadership and influence.

This paper takes on the challenge of inclusion, with a specific focus on the traits and abilities necessary to become an inclusive leader. Korn Ferry research, including from mining more than 2.5 million leadership assessments, identifies the traits and competencies needed for leaders to be inclusive in their own thoughts, perceptions, and actions—and to inspire an inclusive mindset in others. Such leaders are self-aware advocates for diversity, and possess the skills to leverage the differences within the diverse team to achieve better performance than would occur with homogeneous teams.

This paper also discusses inclusive leadership within and across organizations in which teams are open and trusting, able to work inclusively, leverage diversity for greater adaptability, and achieve results.

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